The Pioneers by James Fenimore Cooper
"And calling sinful man to pray,
While Richard and Monsieur Le Quoi, attended by Benjamin, proceeded to the academy by a foot-path through the snow, the judge, his daughter, the divine, and the Major took a more circuitous route to the same place by the streets of the village.
The moon had risen, and its orb was shedding a flood of light over the dark outline of pines which crowned the eastern mountain. In many climates the sky would have been thought clear and lucid for a noontide. The stars twinkled in the heavens, like the last glimmerings of distant fire, so much were they obscured by the overwhelming radiance of the atmosphere; the rays from the moon striking upon the smooth, white surfaces of the lake and fields, reflecting upward a light that was brightened by the spotless color of the immense bodies of snow which covered the earth.
Elizabeth employed herself with reading the signs, one of which appeared over almost every door; while the sleigh moved steadily, and at an easy gait, along the principal street. Not only new occupations, but names that were strangers to her ears, met her gaze at every step they proceeded. The very houses seemed changed. This had been altered by an addition; that had been painted; another had been erected on the site of an old acquaintance, which had been banished from the earth almost as soon as it made its appearance on it. All were, however, pouring forth their inmates, who uniformly held their way toward the point where the expected exhibition of the conjoint taste of Richard and Benjamin was to be made.
After viewing the buildings, which really appeared to some advantage under the bright but mellow light of the moon, our heroine turned her eyes to a scrutiny of the different figures they passed, in search of any form that she knew. But all seemed alike, as muffled in cloaks, hoods, coats, or tippets, they glided along the narrow passages in the snow which led under the houses, half hid by the bank that had been thrown up in excavating the deep path in which they trod. Once or twice she thought there was a stature or a gait that she recollected; but thc person who owned it instantly disappeared behind one of those enormous piles of wood that lay before most of the doors, It was only as they turned from the main street into another that intersected it at right angles, and which led directly to the place of meeting, that she recognized a face and building that she knew.
The house stood at one of the principal corners in the village; and by its well-trodden doorway, as well as the sign that was swinging with a kind of doleful sound in the blasts that occasionally swept down the lake, was clearly one of the most frequented inns in the place. The building was only of one story; but the dormer-windows in the roof, the paint, the window-shutters, and the cheerful fire that shone through the open door, gave it an air of comfort that was not possessed by many of its neighbors. The sign was suspended from a common ale-house post, and represented the figure of a horseman, armed with sabre and pistols, and surmounted by a bear-skin cap, with a fiery animal that he bestrode "rampant." All these particulars were easily to be seen by the aid of the moon, together with a row of somewhat illegible writing in black paint, but in which Elizabeth, to whom the whole was familiar, read with facility, "The Bold Dragoon."
A man and a woman were issuing from the door of this habitation as the sleigh was passing, The former moved with a stiff, military step, that was a good deal heightened by a limp in one leg; but the woman advanced with a measure and an air that seemed not particularly regardful of what she might encounter. The light of the moon fell directly upon her full, broad, and red visage, exhibiting her masculine countenance, under the mockery of a ruffled cap that was intended to soften the lineamints of features that were by no means squeamish. A small bonnet of black silk, and of a slightly formal cut, was placed on the back of her head, but so as not to shade her visage in the least. The face, as it encountered the rays of the moon from the east, seemed not unlike sun rising in the west. She advanced with masculine strides to intercept the sleigh; and the Judge, directing the namesake of the Grecian king, who held the lines, to check his horse, the par ties were soon near to each other.
"Good luck to ye, and a welcome home, Jooge," cried the female, with a strong Irish accent; "and Iím sure itís to me that yeíre always welcome. Sure! and thereís Miss Lizzy, and a fine young woman she is grown. What a heart-ache would she be giving the young men now, if there was sich a thing as a rigiment in the town! Och! but itís idle to talk of sich vanities, while the bell is calling us to mateing jist as we shall he called away unexpictedly some day, when we are the laist calkilating. Good-even, Major; will I make the bowl of gin toddy the night, or itís likely yeíll stay at the big house the Christmas eve, and the very night of yer getting there?"
"I am glad to see you, Mrs. Hollister," returned Elizabeth. "I have been trying to find a face that I knew since we left the door of the mansion-house; but none have I seen except your own. Your house, too, is unaltered, while all the others are so changed that, but for the places where they stand, they would be utter strangers. I observe you also keep the dear sign that I saw Cousin Richard paint; and even the name at the bottom, about which, you may remember, you had the disagreement."
"It is the bould dragoon, ye mane? And what name would he have, who niver was known by any other, as my husband here, the captain, can testify? He was a pleasure to wait upon, and was ever the foremost in need. Och! but he had a sudden end! but itís to be hoped that he was justified by the cause, And itís not Parson Grant there whoíll gainsay that same. Yes, yes; the squire would paint, and so I thought that we might have his face up there, who had so often shared good and evil wid us. The eyes is no so large nor so fiery as the captainís Own; but the whiskers and the cap is as two paes. Well, well, I'll not keep ye in the cowld, talking, but will drop in the morrow after sarvice, and ask ye how ye do. Itís our bounden duty to make the most of this present, and to go to the house which is open to all; so God bless ye, and keep ye from evil! Will I make the gin-twist the night, or no, Major?"
To this question the German replied, very sententiously, in the affirmative; and, after a few words had passed between the husband of the fiery-faced hostess and the Judge, the sleigh moved on. It soon reached the door of the academy, where the party alighted and entered the building.
In the mean time, Mr. Jones and his two companions, having a much shorter distance to journey, had arrived before the appointed place some minutes sooner than the party in the sleigh. Instead of hastening into the room in order to enjoy the astonishment of the settlers, Richard placed a hand in either pocket of his surcoat, and affected to walk about, in front of the academy, like one to whom the ceremonies were familiar.
The villagers proceeded uniformly into the building, with a decorum and gravity that nothing could move, on such occasions; but with a haste that was probably a little heightened by curiosity. Those who came in from the adjacent country spent some little time in placing certain blue and white blankets over their horses before they proceeded to indulge their desire to view the interior of the house. Most of these men Richard approached, and inquired after the health and condition of their families. The readiness with which he mentioned the names of even the children, showed how very familiarly acquainted he was with their circumstances; and the nature of the answers he received proved that he was a general favorite.
At length one of the pedestrians from the village stopped also, and fixed an earnest gaze at a new brick edifice that was throwing a long shadow across the fields of snow, as it rose, with a beautiful gradation of light and shade, under the rays of a full moon. In front of the academy was a vacant piece of ground, that was intended for a public square. On the side opposite to Mr. Jones, the new and as yet unfinished church of St. Paulís was erected, This edifice had been reared during the preceding summer, by the aid of what was called a subscription; though all, or nearly all, of the money came from the pockets of the landlord. It had been built under a strong conviction of the necessity of a more seemly place of worship than "the long room of the academy," and under an implied agreement that, after its completion, the question should be fairly put to the people, that they might decide to what denomination it should belong. Of course, this expectation kept alive a strong excitement in some few of the sectaries who were interested in its decision; though but little was said openly on the subject. Had Judge Temple espoused the cause of any particular sect, the question would have been immediately put at rest, for his influence was too powerful to be opposed; but he declined interference in the matter, positively refusing to lend even the weight of his name on the side of Richard, who had secretly given an assurance to his diocesan that both the building and the congregation would cheerfully come within the pale of the Protestant Episcopal Church. But, when the neutrality of the Judge was clearly ascertained, Mr. Jones discovered that he had to contend with a stiff necked people. His first measure was to go among them and commence a course of reasoning, in order to bring them round to his own way of thinking. They all heard him patiently, and not a man uttered a word in reply in the way of argument, and Richard thought, by the time that he had gone through the settlement, the point was conclusively decided in his favor. Willing to strike while the iron was hot, he called a meeting, through the news paper, with a view to decide the question by a vote at once. Not a soul attended; and one of the most anxious afternoons that he had ever known was spent by Richard in a vain discussion with Mrs. Hollister, who strongly contended that the Methodist (her own) church was the best entitled to and most deserving of, the possession of the new tabernacle. Richard now perceived that he had been too sanguine, and had fallen into the error of all those who ignorantly deal with that wary and sagacious people. He assumed a disguise himself--that is, as well as he knew how, and proceeded step by step to advance his purpose.
The task of erecting the building had been unanimously transferred to Mr. Jones and Hiram Doolittle. Together they had built the mansion- house, the academy, and the jail, and they alone knew how to plan and rear such a structure as was now required. Early in the day, these architects had made an equitable division of their duties. To the former was assigned the duty of making all the plans, and to the latter the labor of superintending the execution.
Availing himself of this advantage, Richard silently determined that the windows should have the Roman arch; the first positive step in effecting his wishes. As the building was made of bricks, he was enabled to conceal his design until the moment arrived for placing the frames; then, indeed, it became necessary to act. He communicated his wishes to Hiram with great caution; and, without in the least adverting to the spiritual part of his project, he pressed the point a little warmly on the score of architectural beauty. Hiram heard him patiently, and without contradiction, but still Richard was unable to discover the views of his coadjutor on this interesting subject. As the right to plan was duly delegated to Mr. Jones, no direct objection was made in words. but numberless unexpected difficulties arose in the execution. At first there was a scarcity in the right kind of material necessary to form the frames; but this objection was instantly silenced by Richard running his pencil through two feet of their length at one stroke. Then the expense was mentioned; but Richard reminded Hiram that his cousin paid, and that he was treasurer. This last intimation had great weight, and after a silent and protracted, but fruitless opposition, the work was suffered to proceed on the original plan.
The next difficulty occurred in the steeple, which Richard had modelled after one of the smaller of those spires that adorn the great London cathedral. The imitation was somewhat lame, it was true, the proportions being but in differently observed; but, after much difficulty, Mr. Jones had the satisfaction of seeing an object reared that bore in its outlines, a striking resemblance to a vinegar-cruet. There was less opposition to this model than to the windows; for the settlers were fond of novelty, and their steeple was without a precedent.
Here the labor ceased for the season, and the difficult question of the interior remained for further deliberation. Richard well knew that, when he came to propose a reading-desk and a chancel, he must unmask; for these were arrangements known to no church in the country but his own. Presuming, however, on the advantages he had already obtained, he boldly styled the building St. Paulís, and Hiram prudently acquiesced in this appellation, making, however, the slight addition of calling it "New St. Paulís," feeling less aversion to a name taken from the English cathedral than from the saint.
The pedestrian whom we have already mentioned, as pausing to contemplate this edifice, was no other than the gentleman so frequently named as Mr. or Squire Doolittle. He was of a tall, gaunt formation, with rather sharp features, and a face that expressed formal propriety mingled with low cunning. Richard approached him, followed by Monsieur Le Quoi and the major-domo.
"Good-evening, squire," said Richard, bobbing his head, but without moving his hands from his pockets.
"Good-evening, squire," echoed Hiram, turning his body in order to turn his head also.
"A cold night, Mr. Doolittle, a cold night, sir."
"Coolish; a tedious spell onít."
"What, looking at our church, ha! It looks well, by moonlight; how the tin of the cupola glistens! I warrant you the dome of the other St. Paulís never shines so in the smoke of London."
"It is a pretty meeting -house to look on," returned Hiram, "and I believe that Monshure Ler Quow and Mr. Penguilliam will allow it."
"Sairtainlee!" exclaimed the complaisant Frenchman, "it ees ver fine,"
"I thought the monshure would say so. The last molasses that we had was excellent good. It isnít likely that you have any more of it on hand?"
"Ah! oui; ees, sair," returned Monsieur Le Quoi, with a slight shrug of his shoulder, and a trifling grimace, "dere is more. I feel ver happi dat you love eet. I hope dat Madame Doleetí is in good Ďealth."
"Why, so as to be stirring," said Hiram. "The squire hasnít finished the plans for the inside of the meeting house yet?"
"No--no--no," returned Richard, speaking quickly, but making a significant pause between each negative--.. "it requires reflection. There is a great deal of room to fill up, and I am afraid we shall not know how to dispose of it to advantage. There will be a large vacant spot around the pulpit, which I do not mean to place against the wall, like a sentry-box stuck up on the side of a fort."
"It is rulable to put the deaconsí box under the pulpit," said Hiram; and then, as if he had ventured too much, he added, "but thereís different fashions in different Countries."
"That there is," cried Benjamin; "now, in running down the coast of Spain and Portingall, you may see a nunnery stuck out on every headland, with more steeples and outriggers. such as dog-vanes and weathercocks, than youíll find aboard of a three-masted schooner. If so be that a well-built church is wanting, old England, after all, is the country to go to after your models and fashion pieces. As to Paulís, thof Iíve never seen it, being that itís a long way up town from Radcliffe Highway and the docks, yet everybody knows that itís the grandest place in the world Now, Iíve no opinion but this here church over there is as like one end of it as a grampus is to a whale; and thatís only a small difference in bulk. Mounsheer Ler Quaw, here, has been in foreign parts; and thof that is not the same as having been at home, yet he must have seen churches in France too, and can form a small idee of what a church should be; now I ask the mounsheer to his face if it is not a clever little thing, taking it by and large."
"It ees ver apropos of saircumstance," said the French-. man--" ver judgment--but it is in the catholique country dat dey build dc--vat you call--ah a ah-ha--la grande cathťdrale--de big church. St. Paul, Londre, is ver fine; ver belle; ver grand--vat you call beeg; but, Monsieur Ben, pardonnez-moi, it is no vort so much as Notre Dame."
"Ha! mounsheer, what is that you say?" cried Benjamin; "St. Paulís church is not worth so much as a damn! Mayhap you may be thinking too that the Royal Billy isnít so good a ship as the Billy de Paris; but she would have licked two of her any day, and in all weathers."
As Benjamin had assumed a very threatening kind of attitude, flourishing an arm with a bunch at the end of it that was half as big as Monsieur Le Quoiís head, Richard thought it time to interpose his authority.
"Hush, Benjamin, hush," he said; "you both misunderstand Monsieur Le Quoi and forget yourself. But here comes Mr. Grant, and the service will commence. Let us go in."
The Frenchman, who received Benjaminís reply with a well-bred good- humor that would not admit of any feeling but pity for the otherís ignorance, bowed in acquiescence and followed his companion.
Hiram and the major -domo brought up the rear, the latter grumbling as he entered the building:
"If so be that the king of France had so much as a house to live in that would lay alongside of Paulís, one might put up with their jaw. Itís more than flesh and blood can bear to hear a Frenchman run down an English church in this manner. Why, Squire Doolittle, Iíve been at the whipping of two of them in one day--clean built, snug frigates with standing royals and them new-fashioned cannonades on their quarters-- such as, if they had only Englishmen aboard of them, would have fout the devil."
With this ominous word in his mouth Benjamin entered the church.