[Moral Tales] “My Schoolmates, No. 2: The Inquirer,” by Abbie (The Youth’s Companion, 12 June 1846; pp. 21-22)
It was Saturday evening. In a pleasant and commodious upper hall of the Seminary of R. some seventy young ladies had slowly gathered together. It seemed to be a hallowed spot, for as they approached it, the mirthful laugh had died away, the buoyant step of youth had become more slow and cautious, and the gladsome smile had given place to an expression of chastened and subdued feeling, as each one entered, and seated herself in reverent silence. It was the hour of prayer, and so sweetly did the voices of nature harmonize with the spirit of devotion, that even the most thoughtless could not fail to recognize its melting and sacred influences. Most touchingly did the praise of our evening hymn mingle with the incense of adoration that was ascending from earth’s thousand altars, as the glories of a summer sunset flung over her their parting radiance. While yet the last rays of daylight lingered, we listened to the teachings of the sacred word, and as twilight deepened, the low voice of prayer moved all as by one impulse, to lift the heart and bend the knee to God.
“Hush! ’tis a holy hour—the quiet room
Seems like a temple, while the twilight sheds
A faint and starry radiance, through the gloom
And the sweet stillness, down on bright young heads,
With all their clustering locks, untouched by care,
And bowed, as flowers, are bowed with night—in prayer.”
On the evening to which we have alluded, there was one present in our circle, who had never entered it before. She had been our school-mate for nearly a year, yet she was not only a stranger to the prayer meeting, but as far as sympathy and social acquaintanceship were concerned, an unknown being to most of her companions. It was, therefore, with no slight emotions of surprise, that when our number had mostly assembled, the door was slowly opened, and we lifted our eyes upon Laura Richmond. She crossed the hall with her usual proud, yet graceful step, and seating herself by an open window, dropped her light shawl from her shoulders, threw off her straw hat, and supporting her head upon her hand, while her elbow rested upon the window sill, she remained, with an air of nonchal[a]nce peculiarly her own, apparently a mere spectator of the scene before her.
Instead, however, of her presence acting as a restraint upon our social exercises of devotion, they seemed to be animated with renewed tenderness, and our meeting was characterized with more fervor and interest than usual. The twilight had long since faded, giving place to the full moon, yet the voice of prayer and praise still flowed forth as the natural out-pouring of many hearts; and it was evident, as the clear moonlight shone full upon the face of Laura, and revealed the changes of her expressive countenance, that however she might have entered, she would not leave our circle an entirely uninterested observer.
The young lady whom we have introduced, was the daughter of a distinguished lawyer and statesman, who resided in the vicinity of the city of B. She was the only daughter in a family of five sons, and from her earliest years, the indulgence of parents and brothers, acting upon a temperament naturally proud and haughty, had insensibly, but surely, impressed upon her the presumption that she was a person of consequence. Her talents were good, her powers of mental perception and discernment unusually clear. She was a despiser of show, affectation and frivolity, and in proportion as she saw those qualities manifested by others among whom she might be thrown, in that proportion did she arrogate to herself a mental superiority, the dignity of which she would not deign to transgress by familiarity with those whom she deemed incomparably beneath her in character. She assumed no preeminence on account of the wealth of her parents, or the high station in society they had always sustained, neither did she seem conceited of her fine person, for she was too proud to be vain. It was of herself she was proud, her character, her sentiments, her lofty views and feelings; that while the many young ladies about her lived to dress, to shine, and to attract attentions as light and unmeaning as themselves, she sat upon a pinnacle immeasurably above them, and could regard all their frivolity with the richly merited meed of contempt and scorn which it deserved. She seemed fondly attached to her parents and brothers, though in the family she was capricious, and seldom willing to yield her own will to that of others. With the
exception of the winter months of a few years, she had always resided in the country, and although she had been surrounded by those whom she might have made associates, yet her natural pride and reserve led her to avoid the selection of companions, and aside from her household friends, to find her society in books, music, and embroidery.
In this state of things, Laura had attained her seventeenth year, when her father, on returning after a long absence from home, seemed for the first time to perceive that her haughty and taciturn habits, were entirely unfitting her to become a useful and esteemed member of society. Hence, by mutual consultation, her parents decided that their daughter should be sent from home and placed in a boarding school, where as they thought she would necessarily form acquaintances, and become more sociable and companionable. Laura was informed of the determination, and diametrically opposed it; but for once she learned that it was the will of her father to rule rather than to be ruled, and she was obliged to yield to his wishes.
Laura Richmond accordingly became a member of the Seminary at R. but this by no means reached the root of the evil which her parents wished to remedy. She studiously kept herself aloof from all by whom she was daily surrounded in the boarding house or school room. She had ne[i]ther room-mate, nor desk-mate, and usually had no companion in her solitary walks. Her school-mates were not long in ascertaining the drift of her sentiments, and as no one desired to intrude her companionship, she was left to the enjoyment of as much solitary dignity as she could desire. Still, there were some among our number whose characters she appeared to respect, and with whom she would exchange observations upon matters of general interest; and here and there one was found, whose merry voice and sunny smile seemed to melt away the frozen indifference of her heart, and call from her a candid salutation.
Notwithstanding there was not a member of the school who would have awarded to Laura the superiority she manifestly claimed for herself, yet she was generally respected. There was about her an originality of character, an independence of the opinions of others, and a freedom from petty foibles, which gained for her a certain kind of esteem, though it was entirely unmingled with affection.
The afternoon session of school had closed, and its members, rejoicing that the day’s restraint was over, had rapidly dispersed from the seminary. Two of the class whom we called “little girls,” yet remained in the recitation room, deeply discussing the contents of a paper before them. It was a subscription list, which had been started to secure a grand desideratum in the view of our body politic, and Effie Campbell, as a general favorite, had been employed to circulate the paper.
“There Lizzy,” she said, after carefully counting up the amount affixed to her list of names, “I want five dollars more, and the question is where shall I get it, for I have given my paper to all the girls, who I think will be willing to subscribe.”
“Have you presented it to Miss Richmond?” asked Lizzy.
“Miss Richmond! Laura Richmond!” repeated Effie, opening wide her blue eyes with astonishment. “You don’t suppose I am going to take it to her? Pray, how should I go? send a messenger before my face, to ask audience, and then dropping upon one knee, present my petition with, “I humbly crave your ladyship’s attention.” No, not I. The day is far off, when I ask a favor of Laura Richmond.”
The two arose to go. “Stay till I get my books,” said Effie, as she stepped into the next room near the open door-way, of which they had been seated. But as she crossed the threshold, she gave a sudden start, while her quick Scotch blood mounted instantaneously over her neck, face and ears, for there with her finger between the leaves of her half closed book, sat Laura Richmond.
“Don’t be disconcerted,” said Laura, with a kind smile, “you should certainly be willing that I should know what you think of me. But let me see the paper you were talking of,” and taking her pencil, she added Effie’s requisite sum, five dollars.
This little incident was soon reported among all our number, and seemed to produce a slight reaction in her favor; and as it occurred but a few days before the Saturday evening to which we have alluded, the unprecedented circumstance of her attending our prayer meeting, rather tended to deepen the favorable impression. A week glided away, bringing again the hour of social prayer, and again Laura was present. A third time she entered our praying circle, and although the circumstances of her thus changing her practice elicited from many a remark of suprize, yet it was generally recounted merely as a passing freak of her somewhat capricious conduct.
It was late in the evening, that a gentle rap was heard at the door of Emily Davis. Her surprise may be conceived, when, on opening it, she beheld Laura Richmond, with disordered hair and inflamed eyes. “I intrude upon you, Miss Davis,” she said, inquiringly; but as Emily assured her she was entirely at leisure, she entered, and sinking upon a chair, while a fresh flood of tears gushed over her already swollen cheeks, she said, “I have come to see—can you tell me, Miss Davis, what I must do to be a Christian? Will you pray for me?”
Had an audible voice from heaven fell upon Emily’s ear, her astonishment would scarcely have been greater. That she, the proud and haughty one, should so sink before her, clothed in the sackcloth of humility and grief, for a moment so overwhelmed her in amazement, that she seemed to lose her power of utterance. But it was only for a moment, for the flame of christian love in Emily’s heart was always brightly burning, and enlisting her warm sympathies in the case before her, tenderly and fully did she point out to her the path of duty, as embraced in the simple conditions of the gospel, and then most fervently did she pray that the seal of God’s forgiving love might be impressed upon the returning wanderer’s heart. Now that Laura had found courage to speak of her feelings, she seemed to find relief in giving them an unrestrained expression.
“It is about a month since,” she said, “that this passage was read and commented upon, at morning devotion, ‘A proud heart is an abomination to the Lord.’ It came upon my mind so vividly, so forcibly, that it seemed as if it were engraven there in letters of flame. I knew that I was proud, and I gloried in it, but the thought that I, who had conceived myself so superior to many others, was on that very account an abomination—oh how much that word expresses—an abomination to the Lord. It is this, that has haunted me day and night, and made the world darkness to me. I tried to throw off the weight that was sinking me to the earth, but it only pressed upon me the more heavily. I felt that I must become reconciled to God, and earnestly I have read the Bible to learn how I can do it, but it has been of no avail. I attended your meeting, hoping that some one might be induced to talk with me upon the subject that engrossed my thoughts, but I suppose I was regarded as an indifferent observer, for I have been there three times, and no one has yet spoken to me. I could wait no longer, and therefore I have come to you to-night.”
Again did Emily speak of the freeness of salvation, and urged her to partake of the rich fullness of a Saviour’s forgiving love. Laura seemed to be relieved and encouraged by the assurance of her sympathies and prayers, though she left her with a still heavily burdened heart.
The remainder of the week she kept her room. The cause of her absence from school was generally known. The fact that Laura Richmond was humbly enquiring the way to life, came home to many hearts, as the most impressive lesson of religious instruction they had ever received. It seemed to exert a subduing sway over every mind, and its influence passed not away with the passing moment.
It was Sabbath morning, still, bright and holy. We slowly assembled in the hall at the hour of morning devotions, and among the last, were Emily Davis and Laura Richmond. They entered, each with an arm about the other’s waist, and strange as it seemed to see Laura in such close companionship with any one, it was stranger still to mark in her every expression the wonderful change that had come over her spirit. There was an air about her so gentle, so unassuming, that we could no longer regard her as a stranger. We felt the wall of partition that she had reared so high was broken down, and that she had become one of us. The long shining braids of her raven hair were still wound about her finely formed head, yet the commanding look we had ever thought they imparted to her, was beautifully tempered by the meeker grace of submission. The crimson glow upon her cheek had deepened and blended more richly with her clear olive complexion, but it was evidently the flush of happiness, not of fancied superiority. Her dark eyes had assumed an expression of tenderness they had never worn before, and though her lip had lost its curl of pride, it was more sweetly graced by the smile of humility and love. There was a peace within her heart which the world gave not, and a joy too deep for utterance, though the glistening eye, the quivering lip, and the tremulous voice which softly greeted our ears after the music of our morning hymn, witnessed that her spirit could not remain with folded wings. Most bitterly did she speak of her sins, and most touchingly of the agonies of her grief, and the depth of her penitence, and then with streaming eyes how ardently did she magnify the love of her Saviour in granting her the priceless boon of his pardon. She urged all to partake of her joy, assuring us that she had already caught the echoes of heaven’s music, as she had been led in spirit through its green pastures, and by its still waters. That low earnest voice, with what subduing power it came over our hearts, how did it impress upon us the great realities of the future, and woo us to the open gates of heaven; for it was the voice of one over whom the angels of God were even then rejoicing.
Several years have glided away, during which, Laura Richmond has ever been the active and devoted Christian, seeking to do good by her wealth, her labors and her influence. But so deeply were the events I have narrated engraven on my heart, that every subsequent item in her history, has brightened rather than dimmed their distinctness. And when among the forms of the absent and the loved, her image floats before my mental vision, it is ever graced with her sweet humility, as The Inquirer.