The Americans

Uncle Job, who had been married to Miss Betty while I was away seeing the world, now lived in great comfort and peace of mind in the new house I had helped build and furnish before my departure. At first neither he nor Aunt Betty would listen to my going to the Haywards, but after a few days, and much to my surprise, they consented. What led them to change their minds I never knew, unless it might have been something Mr. Seymour may have said. For I had told Constance that I thought Mrs. Hayward the best teacher I could have, and that if I did not go there I would not go anywhere. However that may be, I was permitted to do as I liked, and I bless the day that it was so, and the happy chance that thus brought my wayward mind within the influence of Mrs. Hayward’s sweet will and gentle presence.
14The Haywards, with whom I now went to live, belonged to that fine-tempered class that have made our country what it is. Peasants in position and fortune, they possessed the instincts of rulers and the fortitude that only the noble in body and mind have. Poor, they endured its privations with fortitude, awaiting better fortune with sobriety and patience. If, in the end, their efforts should be crowned with success, they would still retain the generous impulses of their former station, or if this was not to be, their children, less burdened, would achieve the greatness they had failed to grasp. It is among this class, in our free land, that the virtues of the state lie dormant, awaiting warmth and the favoring shower, as all who are acquainted with our people know. Struggling on, vainly more often than otherwise, their children, coming to manhood, rule our country and direct its commerce. Achieving a just ambition in this way, none can excel them the world over in greatness or the gentle arts of husbandry. Nor this alone if we would be truthful. For not all are great, but shoulder to shoulder and crowding, demagogues abound, the like of which has not been seen since the days of Athens. This has been foretold, I know; but who can greatly object if amid so much golden grain some tares appear? Even these depraved creatures have their pride in the Great Republic, sweetened with the belief that they, too, will become honest men like their neighbors, once they have garnered all the loosely guarded resources of the state. Importunate, they abuse our trust, I know, but impartially. For if they rob and delude you to-day, they will deal unfairly with others to-morrow for your benefit, if thereby they can gain further lease of life. So it goes; and shall we complain too bitterly if, good-naturedly permitting every one to thrust his hands into the kneading-trough, many are unclean and much of the bread in consequence shall be sour and unfit for use?
Of Mrs. Hayward I can never say enough, for she was to me in all things a tender mother and loving friend. Of her virtues there was no end, and of these not the least were her gentle womanly ways. In the rude hut where she lived she was yet a queen, and this by right of her grace and the sweet serenity of her nature. Beautiful, the meed of admiration was hers, albeit her only mirror was the placid waters of the great river. Educated, who could deny her admiration, though her only book was her Bible? For such deprivations are ever the distress of poverty and life in a new country. Full of the buoyancy and joy of living, the fragrance of her presence was a benediction, lifting all about her into a world of virtue and peace. Of loving and pure mind, the scandal and distraught of life passed her by, leaving no taint of evil or cloud in her trustful heart. Exalted above men by right of her inability to do wrong, she yet believed in their goodness as she did in the goodness of God. Such was the dear lady with whom I now came to live, and who gave each day some portion of her time to the betterment of my head and heart. Thus instructed, I spent several years of my life, and to my great advantage then and now.
Of Mr. Hayward, what shall I say that you may see him as I do, looking back, and not too clearly, through the fast-gathering years of a long life? A man of talent and ambition, and every way kindly, he yet lost something each day in comparison with her. This not strange, for the pliant reed, bending before the sweeping torrent, recovers its poise unhurt, while the stouter plant, struggling against the swift-running stream, is uprooted or broken in the effort. Amid the rude surroundings in which he sought preferment, and where none might wholly succeed, every encounter left some dent or disfiguring scar. The struggle and its hopelessness seamed his face and clouded his brow, despite his courage, so that all too soon he lost the glow and ambient fire of his youthful days. Diversion would have prevented this, and preserved till death impulses that lost in warmth for lack of nourishment; but this, unhappily, is ever the misfortune of obscure or lonely life. For of vices he had not one, save a too great ambition to get on in the narrow world in which he lived. Amid great surroundings he would have been great. As it was, striving to accomplish much with little, not one of his ventures enriched him, while many failed altogether. Unconquerable, however, he struggled on undismayed, as such men will, to the very end. This, sorrow over it as we may, is, unhappily, ever the beginnings of men as it is of the affairs with which they deal.
Of these friends of my youth I can never think except with bowed head and throbbing heart. One sought to teach me the beauty and sweetness of life, mixing with her instruction the gentle thoughts that animate women and make them, as has been said, the inspiration of men and the Mother of God. The other taught me more simple and practical things, but not the less necessary, on that account, to our welfare and happiness here and hereafter.