This book, like others from the same hand, is chiefly remarkable for the purity of moral feeling it evinces. There are, however, passages and traits of considerable power in the description of the struggles in Roger Acton’s mind when first tempted by the greed of Gold, and in the Murder Scene.
The Twelfth Chapter we give as one of the best painted interviews between humble lovers, extant, and because it well bears being detached from the rest of the book, besides giving a favorable specimen of it.*
With earliest peep of day arose sweet Grace, full of cheerful hope, and prayer, and happy resignation. She had a great deal to do that morning, for, innocent girl, she had no notion that it was quite possible to be too early at the Hall; her only fear was being too late. Then there were all the household cares to see to, and the dear babes to dress, and the place to tidy up, and breakfast to get ready, and anyhow she could not be abroad till half past eight: so, to her dismay, it must be past nine before ever she can see Sir John. Let us follow her a little: for on this important day we shall have to take the adventures of our labourer’s family one at a time.
By twenty minutes to nine, Grace had contrived to bustle on her things, give the rest the slip, and be tripping to the Hall. It is nearly two miles off, as we already know: and Grace is such a pretty creature, that we can clearly do no better than employ our time thitherward by taking a peep at her.
Sweet Grace Acton, we will not vex thy blushing maiden modesty by elaborate details of form, and face, and feature. Perfect womanhood at fair eighteen: let that fill all the picture up with soft and swelling charms; no wadding, or padding, or jigot, or jupe, —but all those graceful undulations are herself: no pearl-powder, no carmine, no borrowed locks, no musk or ambergris, —but all those feeble helps of meretricious art excelled and superseded by their just originals in nature. It will not do to talk, as a romancer may, of velvet cheeks and silken tresses; or invoke to the aid of our inadequate description, roses, and swans, and peaches, and lilies. Take the simple village beauty as she is: did you ever look on prettier lips or sweeter eyes,—more glossy natural curls upon a whiter neck? And how that little red-riding-hood cloak, and the simple cottage hat tied down upon her cheeks, and the homely russet gown all too short for modern fashions, and the white well-turned ankle, and the tidy little leather shoe, and the bunch of snowdrops in her tucker, and the neat mittens contrasting darkly with her fair bare arms, —pretty Grace, how well all these become thee! There, trip along, with health upon thy cheek, and hope within thy heart; who can resist so eloquent a pleader? Haste on, haste on, save thy father in his trouble, as thou hast blest him in his sin,—this rustic lane is to thee the path of duty, —Heaven speed thee on it!
More slowly now, and with more anxious thoughts, more heart-weakness, more misgivings, —Grace approached the stately mansion: and when she timidly touched the “ Servants’” bell, for she felt too lowly for the “Visitors’,”—and when she heard how terribly loud it was, how long it rung, and what might be the issue of her—wasn’t it ill-considered? —errand; —the poor girl almost fainted at the sound.
As she leant unconsciously for strength against the door, it opened on a sudden, and Jonathan Floyd in mute amazement caught her in his arms.
“Why, Grace Acton, what’s the matter with you?” Jonathan knew Grace well, they had been at dames’-school together, and in after years attended the same Sunday class at church. There had been some talk among the gossips about Jonathan and Grace, and ere now folks had been kind enough to say, they would make a pretty couple. And folks were right too, as well as kind: for a fine young fellow was Jonathan Floyd, as any duchess’s footman; tall, well-built, and twenty-five; Antinous in a livery. Well to do withal, though his wages don’t come straight to him; for independently of his place, —and the baronet likes him for his good looks and proper manners, —he is Farmer Floyd’s only son, on the hill yonder, as thriving a tenant as any roundabouts; and he is proud of his master, of his blue and silver uniform, of old Hurstley, and of all things in the general except himself.
“But what on earth’s the matter, Grace?” he was obliged to repeat, for the dear girl’s agitation was extreme.
“Jonathan, can I see the baronet?”
“What, at nine in the morning, Grace Acton? —call again at two, and you may find him getting up. He hasn’t been three hours abed yet, and there’s nobody about but Sarah Stack and me, I wish those Lunnun sparks would but leave the place: they do his honour no good, I’m thinking.”
“Not till two!” was the slow and mournful ejaculation: what a damper to her buoyant hopes: and Providence had seen fit to give her ill-success. Is it so? —prosperity may come in other shapes.
“Why, Grace,”· suddenly said Floyd in a very nervous way, “what, what makes you call upon my master in this tidy trim?”
“To save my father,” answered Innocence.
“How? Why? Oh don’t. Grace, don’t! I’ll save him, I will, indeed, —what is it? Oh don’t, don’t.’’
For the poor affectionate fellow conjured on the spot the black vision of a father saved by a daughter’s degradation.
“Don’t, Jonathan? it is my duty, and God will bless me in it. That cruel Mr. Jennings has resolved upon our ruin, and I wished to tell Sir John the truth of it.”
At this hearing Jonathan brightened up, and glibly said, “Ah, indeed, Jennings is a trouble to us all: a sad life I’ve led of it this year past; and I’ve paid him pretty handsomely too, to let me keep the place: while as for John Page, and the grooms, and Mr. Coachman, and the helpers, they don’t touch much o’ their wages on quarter-day, I know.”
“Oh, but we, we are ruined, —ruined: father is forbidden now to labour for our bread;” and then with many tears she told her tale.
“Stop, Miss Grace,” suddenly said Jonathan, for her beauty and eloquence transformed the cottager into a lady in his eyes, and no wonder: “pray, stop a minute, Miss, —please to take a seat, I sha’n’t be gone an instant.”
And the good-hearted fellow, whose eye had long been very red, broke away at a gallop; but was back again almost as soon as gone, panting like a post-horse. “Oh, Grace, don’t be angry, do forgive me what I am going to do.”
“Do, Jonathan?” and the beauty involuntarily started. “I hope it’s nothing wrong,” she added solemnly.
“Whether right or wrong, Grace, take it kindly; you have often bade me read my Bible, and I do. so many times both for sake of it and you, ay, and meet with many pretty sayings in it: forgive me, if I act on one,—‘It is more blessed to give than to receive:’” with that, he thrust into her hand a brass-topped red-leather purse, stuffed with money. Generous fellow! all the little savings, that had heretofore escaped the prying eye and filching grasp of Simon Jennings. There was some little gold in it, more silver, and a lot of bulky copper.
“Dear Jonathan!” exclaimed Grace, quite thrown off her guard of maidenly reserve,” this is too kind, too good, too much, indeed, indeed it is: I cannot take the purse:” and her bright eyes overflowed again.
“Well, girl,” said Jonathan, gulping down an apple in his throat,” I, I won’t have the money, that’s all. Oh, Grace, Grace,” he burst out earnestly, “let me be the blessed means of helping you in trouble,—I would die to do it, Grace, indeed I would!”
The dear girl fell upon his neck, and they wept together like two loving little sisters.
“Jonathan,”—her duteous spirit was the first to speak, “forgive this weakness of a foolish-woman’s heart: I will not put away the help which God provides us at your friendly hands: only this, kind brother, —let me call you brother, —keep the purse; if my father pines for want of work, and the babes at home lack food, pardon my boldness if I take the help you offer. Meanwhile, God in heaven bless you, Jonathan, as He will.”
And she turned to go away.
“Won’t you take a keepsake, Grace, one little token? I wish I had anything here but money to give you for my sake.”
“It would even be ungenerous in me to refuse you, brother; one little piece will do.”
Jonathan fumbled up something m a crumpled piece of paper, and said sobbingly, “Let it be this new half-crown, Grace: I won’t say, keep it always only when you want to use that and more, I humbly ask you to please to come to me.”
Now, a more delicate, a more unselfish act, was never done by man: along with the half-crown he had packed up two sovereigns! And thereby not only escaped thanks, concealed his own beneficence, and robbed his purse of half its little store; but actually he was, by doing so, depriving himself for a month, or may-be more, of a visit from Grace Acton. Had it been only half-a-crown, and want had pinched the family (neither Grace nor Jonathan could guess of Ben Burke’s bounty, and for all they knew Roger had not enough for the morrow’s meals), —had poverty come in like an armed man, and stood upon their threshold a grim sentinel,—doubtless she must have run to him within a day or two. How sweet would it have been to have kept her coming day by day, and to a commoner affection how excusable; but still how selfish, how unlike the liberal and honourable feeling that filled the manly heart of Jonathan Floyd! It was a noble act, and worthy of a long parenthesis.
If Grace Acton had looked back as she hurried down the avenue, she would have seen poor Jonathan still watching her with all his eyes till she was out of sight. Perhaps, though, she might have guessed it,-there is a sympathy in these things, the true animal magnetism and I dare say that was the very reason why she did not once turn her head.
“The Crock of Gold . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 15 August 1845, p. 1.