Three Hundred Years Hence, by Mary Griffith

Chapter I.

IT is seldom that men begin to muse and sit alone in the twilight until they arrive at the age of fifty, for until that period the cares of the world and the education of their young children engross all their thoughts. Edgar Hastings, our hero, at thirty years of age was still unmarried, but he had gone through a vast deal of excitement, and the age of musing had been anticipated by twenty years. He was left an orphan at fourteen, with a large income, and the gentleman who had the management of his estates proved faithful, so that when a person of talents and character was wanted to travel with the young man, a liberal recompense was at hand to secure his services. From the age of fourteen to twenty-one he was therefore travelling over Europe; but his education, instead of receiving a check, went on much more advantageously than if he had remained at home, and he became master of all the modern languages in the very countries where they were spoken. The last twelve months of his seven years’ tour was spent in England, being stationary in London only during the sitting of Parliament.

His talents thus cultivated, and his mind enlarged by liberal travel, he returned to America well worthy the friendship and attention of those who admire and appreciate a character of his stamp. He had not therefore been back more than a year, before his society was courted by some of the best men in the country; but previous to his settling himself into a home, he thought it but proper to travel through his own country also. His old friend, still at his elbow, accompanied him; but at the close of the excursion, which lasted nearly two years, he was taken ill of a fever caught from an exposure near the Lakes, and died after a few days’ illness.

Edgar Hastings was now entirely alone in the world, and he would have fallen into a deep melancholy, had he not engaged in politics. This occupied him incessantly; and, as his purse was ample and his heart liberally disposed, he found the demands on his time gradually increasing. He had occupations heaped upon him – for rich, disengaged, and willing, every body demanded his aid; and such were the enthusiasm and generosity of his nature, that no one applied in vain.

His first intention, on returning from his tour through his own country, was to improve an estate he had purchased in Pennsylvania, promising himself an amiable and beautiful wife to share his happiness; but politics interfered, and left him no time even for the luxury of musing in the evening. But a man can get weary of politics as well as of any other hard up-hill work; so, at the end of seven years, seeing that the young trees which he had planted were giving shade, and that the house that they were to overshadow was not yet begun, he fell to musing. He wanted something, likewise, to love and protect – so he fell to musing about that. He wished to convert a brisk stream, that fell down the side of a hill opposite to the south end of his grounds, into a waterfall – so he fell to musing about that. He wanted to make an opening through a noble piece of woods that bounded the north side, that he might catch a view of the village steeple – so he fell to musing about that. A beautiful winding river lay in front of his estate, the bank of which sloped down to the water’s edge; this tranquillizing scene likewise operated on his feelings, so that politics faded away, and his mind became calm and serene. Thus it was, that at thirty years of age he had these fits of abstraction, and he became a muser.

Men of his age – sensible men – are not so easily pleased as those who are younger. He admired graceful, easy manners, and a polished mind, far before beauty or wealth; and thus fastidious, he doubted whether he should marry at all. Every now and then, too, an old bachelor feeling came over him, and he feared that when his beloved twilight found him sitting under the noble porticos which he intended to build, his wife would drag him away to some far distant route in the city; or that she would, untimely, fill the house with visiters. So, with all the dispositions in the world, he lived alone, though every fit of musing ended by finding a wife at his side, gazing on the dim and fading landscape with him.

While his house was building, he occupied a small stone farm house, at the extremity of the estate. Here he brought his valuable books and prints, well secured from damp and insects by aromatic oils; here did he draw his plans during the day, and here, under a small piazza, did he meditate in the evening, transferring his musings to the little parlour as soon as the damp evenings of autumn compelled him to sit within doors.

Adjoining his estate lived a quaker, by the name of Harley, a steady, upright man, loving his ease, as all quakers do, but having no objection to see his neighbours finer or wiser than himself. He took a fancy to our hero, and the beloved evening hour often found him sitting on the settee with Hastings, when, after enjoying together an animated conversation, he also would fall into the deep feeling which fading scenery, and the energy of such a character as his young friend’s, would naturally excite in a mind so tranquil as his own.

At length, the quiet quaker spoke of his daughter, but it was not with a view to draw Edgar’s attention; he mentioned her incidentally, and the young man was delighted. In a moment, his imagination depicted her as a beautiful, graceful, accomplished creature; and there could be no doubt that she was amiable and gentle; so he strolled over to his friend’s house, and was regularly introduced to her. She was beautiful, and amiable, and gentle – all this he saw at a glance; but, alas! she had no accomplishment farther than that she wrote an exquisitely clear, neat hand, and was an excellent botanist and florist. But “propinquity” softened down all objections. Every time he strayed away to Pine Grove the eligibilities of the match became more apparent, and his love of grace and polish of mind seemed to be of comparatively little importance, when he listened to the breathings of the innocent quaker, who thought all of beauty was in a flower, and who infinitely preferred the perfume of a rose or a lilac, to the smell of a dozen lamps in a crowded room. Her name was Ophelia, too.

Mr. Harley, or friend Harley as he was called, was nowise rigid in his creed; for the recent lawsuits between the Orthodox and Hicksite quakers had very much weakened his attachments to the forms of quakerism. He found that the irritable portion of his society had great difficulty in keeping hands off, and in preserving the decorum of their order. Peaceful feelings, equable temperaments, being the foundation – the cement, which, for so many years, had bound the fraternity together, were now displaced for the anger and turbulence so often displayed by other sects of Christians.

Litigations amongst themselves – the law – had done that which neither fine nor imprisonment, the derision nor impositions of other sects, could accomplish. The strong cement had cracked along the edge of the bulwarks, where strength was the most necessary, and the waters of discord and disunion were insinuating themselves into every opening. The superstructure was fast crumbling away, and friend Harley looked to the no very distant period when his posterity should cast off the quaker dress, and naturally follow the customs and obey the general laws which govern the whole body of Americans.

This was sensible Valentine Harley’s opinion and feeling; in rules of faith he had never been inducted – are there any quakers, apart from a few of their leaders, who can define what their religious faith is? So, although he loved the forms in which he had been educated – although he wore the quaker dress, and made his son and daughter do the same – yet when Edgar Hastings left off musing in the twilight, and was seen at that hour walking slowly down the glen, with Ophelia hanging on his arm, he only heaved a sigh, and wished that the young man said thee and thou. But this sigh was far from being a painful one; he felt that when the obscure grave, which shuts out all trace of the quaker’s place of rest, should close over him, his memory would live fresh and green in the heart of his daughter. Far more should he be reverenced, if he gave her gentle spirit to the strong arm, the highly gifted mind of such a man as Edgar Hastings, than if he compelled her to marry a man of their own order – to the one who was now preferring his suit, friend Hezekiah Connerthwaite, a rich, respectable, yet narrow minded and uneducated man.

That he consented to his daughter’s marriage willingly, and without an inward struggle, was a thing not to be expected; but he was too manly, too virtuous, to use a mean subterfuge with his sect that he might escape the odium which falls on the parent who allows his daughter to marry out of the pale. He would not suffer his child to wed clandestinely, when in reality his heart and reason approved of her choice; when her lover’s merits and claims, and her own happiness, strongly overbalanced his scruples. She might have married privately, and her father, thus rid of the blame of consenting to her apostacy, could, as usual, take his seat in their place of worship, without the fear of excommunication. But Valentine Harley scorned such duplicity and foolishness; Ophelia was therefore married under her father’s roof, and received her father’s blessing; and here, in this well regulated house, Edgar Hastings spent the first year of his wedded life. Here, too, his son was born; and now no longer a being without kindred or a home, he found how much happier were the feelings of a husband and father than those of a selfish, isolated being.

As he was building a spacious, elegant, and durable mansion, one that should last for many years, he went slowly to work. It was begun a year before his marriage, and it was not until his young son was three months old that he could remove his family, of which Mr. Harley now made a part, to their permanent home. The younger Harley, who had married and settled at a distance, being induced to come among them, again to take the property at Pine Grove, thus adding another link to the bond of friendship which this happy marriage had created. In the month of May the younger Harley was expected to take possession of his father’s house.

It was now February. The new house was completely furnished, and every thing ready for their removal as soon as Mr. Hastings returned from New York, where he had some business of importance to transact. As it called for immediate attention, he deferred unpacking his books, or indeed taking them from the farm house, until his return. It was with great reluctance that he left his wife, who grieved as if the separation was to last for years instead of a fortnight; but he was compelled to go, so after a thousand charges to take care of her health, and imploring her father to watch over her and his little boy, he once more embraced them and tore himself away. His wife followed him with her eyes until she saw him pass their new habitation, cross over the stile and turn the angle; here he stopped to take one more look at the spot where all he loved dwelt, and seeing the group still looking towards him, he waved his handkerchief, and a few steps farther hid him from their sight.

The farm house was at the extremity of the estate, and as it lay on the road leading to the ferry, he thought he would look at the fire which had been burning in the grate all the morning. Mr. Harley said he would extinguish it in the afternoon, and lock up the house, but still he felt a curiosity to see whether all was safe. His servant, with the baggage, had preceded him, and was now waiting for him at the boat; so he hurried in, and passed from the hall to the middle room, where the books were. Here he found an old man sitting, apparently warming himself by the still glowing coals, who made an apology for the intrusion, by saying that he was very cold, and seeing a fire burning, for he had looked in at the window, he made bold to enter.

Mr. Hastings bade him sit still, but the man said he was about to cross the ferry and must hurry on, observing that he thought there would be a great thaw before morning, “and in that case,” said he, pointing up to the hill, at the foot of which the house stood, “that great bank of snow will come down and crush the roof of this house.” Hastings looked up and saw the dangerous position of the snow bank, and likewise apprehending a thaw, he begged the man to hurry on and tell his servant to go over with his baggage, and get all things in readiness for him on the other side, and that he would wait for the next boat, which crossed in fifteen minutes after the other. He gave the poor man a small piece of money, and after he left the house Hastings wrote a note about the snow bank to Mr. Harley, which he knew that gentleman would see, as he was to be there in the afternoon. Knowing that he should hear the steam boat bell, and feeling cold, he drew an old fashioned chair, something in the form of an easy chair, and fell into one of his old fits of musing. He thought it would not be prudent to return to his family merely to say farewell again, even if there were time, but a melancholy would creep over him, as if a final separation were about to take place. In vain he tried to rouse himself and shake it off; he closed his eyes, as if by doing so he could shut out thought, and it did, for in less than five minutes he was fast asleep.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14