"Well, ladies," said St. Clare, as they were comfortably seated at the dinner-table, "and what was the bill of fare at church today?"
"O, Dr. G —— preached a splendid sermon," said Marie. "It was just such a sermon as you ought to hear; it expressed all my views exactly."
"It must have been very improving," said St. Clare. "The subject must have been an extensive one."
"Well, I mean all my views about society, and such things," said Marie. "The text was, 'He hath made everything beautiful in its season;' and he showed how all the orders and distinctions in society came from God; and that it was so appropriate, you know, and beautiful, that some should be high and some low, and that some were born to rule and some to serve, and all that, you know; and he applied it so well to all this ridiculous fuss that is made about slavery, and he proved distinctly that the Bible was on our side, and supported all our institutions so convincingly. I only wish you'd heard him."
"O, I didn't need it," said St. Clare. "I can learn what does me as much good as that from the Picayune, any time, and smoke a cigar besides; which I can't do, you know, in a church."
"Why," said Miss Ophelia, "don't you believe in these views?"
"Who, — I? You know I'm such a graceless dog that these religious aspects of such subjects don't edify me much. If I was to say anything on this slavery matter, I would say out, fair and square, 'We're in for it; we've got 'em, and mean to keep 'em, — it's for our convenience and our interest;' for that's the long and short of it, — that's just the whole of what all this sanctified stuff amounts to, after all; and I think that it will be intelligible to everybody, everywhere."
"I do think, Augustine, you are so irreverent!" said Marie. "I think it's shocking to hear you talk."
"Shocking! it's the truth. This religious talk on such matters, — why don't they carry it a little further, and show the beauty, in its season, of a fellow's taking a glass too much, and sitting a little too late over his cards, and various providential arrangements of that sort, which are pretty frequent among us young men; — we'd like to hear that those are right and godly, too."
"Well," said Miss Ophelia, "do you think slavery right or wrong?"
"I'm not going to have any of your horrid New England directness, cousin," said St. Clare, gayly. "If I answer that question, I know you'll be at me with half a dozen others, each one harder than the last; and I'm not a going to define my position. I am one of the sort that lives by throwing stones at other people's glass houses, but I never mean to put up one for them to stone."
"That's just the way he's always talking," said Marie; "you can't get any satisfaction out of him. I believe it's just because he don't like religion, that he's always running out in this way he's been doing."
"Religion!" said St. Clare, in a tone that made both ladies look at him. "Religion! Is what you hear at church, religion? Is that which can bend and turn, and descend and ascend, to fit every crooked phase of selfish, worldly society, religion? Is that religion which is less scrupulous, less generous, less just, less considerate for man, than even my own ungodly, worldly, blinded nature? No! When I look for a religion, I must look for something above me, and not something beneath."
"Then you don't believe that the Bible justifies slavery," said Miss Ophelia.
"The Bible was my mother's book," said St. Clare. "By it she lived and died, and I would be very sorry to think it did. I'd as soon desire to have it proved that my mother could drink brandy, chew tobacco, and swear, by way of satisfying me that I did right in doing the same. It wouldn't make me at all more satisfied with these things in myself, and it would take from me the comfort of respecting her; and it really is a comfort, in this world, to have anything one can respect. In short, you see," said he, suddenly resuming his gay tone, "all I want is that different things be kept in different boxes. The whole frame-work of society, both in Europe and America, is made up of various things which will not stand the scrutiny of any very ideal standard of morality. It's pretty generally understood that men don't aspire after the absolute right, but only to do about as well as the rest of the world. Now, when any one speaks up, like a man, and says slavery is necessary to us, we can't get along without it, we should be beggared if we give it up, and, of course, we mean to hold on to it, — this is strong, clear, well-defined language; it has the respectability of truth to it; and, if we may judge by their practice, the majority of the world will bear us out in it. But when he begins to put on a long face, and snuffle, and quote Scripture, I incline to think he isn't much better than he should be."
"You are very uncharitable," said Marie.
"Well," said St. Clare, "suppose that something should bring down the price of cotton once and forever, and make the whole slave property a drug in the market, don't you think we should soon have another version of the Scripture doctrine? What a flood of light would pour into the church, all at once, and how immediately it would be discovered that everything in the Bible and reason went the other way!"
"Well, at any rate," said Marie, as she reclined herself on a lounge, "I'm thankful I'm born where slavery exists; and I believe it's right, — indeed, I feel it must be; and, at any rate, I'm sure I couldn't get along without it."
"I say, what do you think, Pussy?" said her father to Eva, who came in at this moment, with a flower in her hand.
"What about, papa?"
"Why, which do you like the best, — to live as they do at your uncle's, up in Vermont, or to have a house-full of servants, as we do?"
"O, of course, our way is the pleasantest," said Eva.
"Why so?" said St. Clare, stroking her head.
"Why, it makes so many more round you to love, you know," said Eva, looking up earnestly.
"Now, that's just like Eva," said Marie; "just one of her odd speeches."
"Is it an odd speech, papa?" said Eva, whisperingly, as she got upon his knee.
"Rather, as this world goes, Pussy," said St. Clare. "But where has my little Eva been, all dinner-time?"
"O, I've been up in Tom's room, hearing him sing, and Aunt Dinah gave me my dinner."
"Hearing Tom sing, hey?"
"O, yes! he sings such beautiful things about the New Jerusalem, and bright angels, and the land of Canaan."
"I dare say; it's better than the opera, isn't it?"
"Yes, and he's going to teach them to me."
"Singing lessons, hey? — you are coming on."
"Yes, he sings for me, and I read to him in my Bible; and he explains what it means, you know."
"On my word," said Marie, laughing, "that is the latest joke of the season."
"Tom isn't a bad hand, now, at explaining Scripture, I'll dare swear," said St. Clare. "Tom has a natural genius for religion. I wanted the horses out early, this morning, and I stole up to Tom's cubiculum there, over the stables, and there I heard him holding a meeting by himself; and, in fact, I haven't heard anything quite so savory as Tom's prayer, this some time. He put in for me, with a zeal that was quite apostolic."
"Perhaps he guessed you were listening. I've heard of that trick before."
"If he did, he wasn't very polite; for he gave the Lord his opinion of me, pretty freely. Tom seemed to think there was decidedly room for improvement in me, and seemed very earnest that I should be converted."
"I hope you'll lay it to heart," said Miss Ophelia.
"I suppose you are much of the same opinion," said St. Clare. "Well, we shall see, — shan't we, Eva?"