“I have lived long enough.”
Before I proceeded to open this letter, I reasoned some time with myself. The will by which I had come into possession of Ada’s effects was, as I knew, informal and possibly illegal. But it was the expression of her wishes, and there had been no one to dispute them or question my right to the inheritance she had so innocently bequeathed me. At the same time I felt a hesitation about opening this letter, as I had about using her money; and it was not till I remembered the trust she had reposed in me, and the promise I had given her to support Mr. Barrows’ good name before the world, that I summoned up sufficient determination to break its seal. My duty once clear to me, however, I no longer hesitated. This is the result:
September 23d. —Evening.
My Beloved Ada:— Could I by any means mitigate the blow which I am forced to deal you, believe me it should be done. But no words can prepare you for the terrible fact I am about to reveal, and I think from what I know of you, and of your delicate but strong soul, that in a matter of life and death like this the most direct language is what you would choose me to employ.
Know then, dearest of all women, that a duty I dare not fly from condemns me to death; that the love we have cherished, the hopes in which we have indulged, can have no fulfilment in this world, but must be yielded as a sacrifice to the inexorable claim of conscience and that ideal of right which has been mine since I took upon myself the lofty vocation of a Christian minister.
You, my people, my own self even, have thought me an honest man. God knows I meant to be, even to the point of requiring nothing from others I was not willing to give myself. But our best friends do not know us; we do not know ourselves. When the hour of trial came, and a sudden call was made upon my faith and honor, I failed to sustain myself, failed ignominiously, showing myself to be no stronger than the weakest of my flock — ay, than the child that flies before a shadow because it is black, and he does not or will not see that it is his father’s form that casts it.
Such lapses on the part of men professing to lead others demand heavy penalties. I feared to lose my life, therefore my life must go. Nothing short of this would reinstate me in my own eyes, or give to my repentance that stern and absolute quality which the nature of my sin imperatively demands.
That I must involve you in my sorrow and destruction is the bitterest drop in my cup. But dainty and flower-like as you are, you have a great nature, and would not hold me back from an act necessary to the welfare and honor of my eternal soul. I see you rather urging me on, giving me your last kiss, and smiling upon me with your own inspiring smile. So sure am I of this, that I can bear not to see you again; bear to walk for the last time by your house, leaving only my blessing in the air. For it is a part of my doom that I may not see you; since, were I to find myself in your presence, I could scarcely forbear telling you whither I was going, and that no man must know till all has been accomplished.
I go, then, without other farewell than these poor words can give you. Be strong, and bear my loss as many a noble woman before you has borne the wreck of all her hopes. When I am found — as some day I shall be — tell my people I died in the Christian faith, and for the simple reason that my honor as a man and a minister demanded it. If they love me they will take my word for it; but if questions should arise, and a fuller knowledge of my fate and the reasons which led me to such an act should in your judgment seem to be required, then go to my desk, and, in a secret drawer let into the back, you will find a detailed confession which will answer every inquiry and set straight any false or unworthy suspicions that may arise.
But heed these words and mark them well: Till such a need should arise, the manuscript is to be kept inviolate even from you; and no matter what the seeming need, or by what love or anxiety you may be driven, touch not that desk nor drawer till ten days have elapsed, or I shall think you love my body more than me, and the enjoyment of temporal comfort to the eternal weight of glory which is laid up for those who hold out steadfast to the end.
And now, my dear, my dear, with all the affection of my poor, weak, erring heart, I hold out arms of love towards you. Farewell for a short space. When we meet again may it be on equal terms once more, the heavy sin blotted out, the grievous wrong expiated.
Till then, God bless you.
Do not wonder at my revealing nothing of this in our late interviews. You were so happy, I dared not drop a shadow one day sooner than was necessary into your young life. Besides, my struggle was dark and secret, and could brook no eye upon it save that of the eternal God.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50