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Sheafe lane, in Boston, is an almost unmentionable and plebeian
thoroughfare, between two very mentionable and patrician
streets. It is mainly used by bakers, butchers, urchins going to
school, and clerks carrying home parcels—in short, by those who
care less for the beauty of the road than for economy of time and
shoe-leather. If you please, it is a shabby hole. Children are
born there, however, and people die and marry there, and are
happy and sad there, and the great events of life, more important
than our liking or disliking of Sheafe lane, take place in it continually.
It used not to be a very savory place. Yet it has an
indirect share of such glory as attaches to the birth-places of men
above the common. The (present) great light of the Unitarian
church was born at one end of Sheafe lane, and one of the most
accomplished merchant-gentlemen in the gay world of New York
was born at the other. And in the old Hay-market (a kind of
cul-de-sac buried in the side of Sheafe lane), stood the dusty lists
of chivalric old Roulstone, a gallant horseman, who in other days
would have been a knight of noble devoir, though in the degeneracy
of a Yankee lustrum, he devoted his soldierly abilities to the
teaching of young ladies how to ride.

Are you in Sheafe lane? (as the magnetizers inquire.) Please


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to step back twenty-odd years, and take the hand of a lad
with a rosy face (ourself—for we lived in Sheafe lane twenty-odd
years ago), and come to a small house, dingy yellow, with a
white gate. The yard is below the level of the street. Mind
the step.

The family are at breakfast in the small parlor fronting on the
street. But come up this dark staircase to the bedroom over the
parlor—a very neat room, plainly furnished; and the windows
are cartained, and there is one large easy chair, and a stand with
a Bible open upon it. In the bed lies an old man of seventy, deaf,
nearly blind, and bed-ridden.

We have now shown you what comes out of the shadows to us,
when we remember the circumstances we are about to body forth
in a sketch, for it can scarcely be called a story.

It wanted an hour to noon. The Boylston clock struck eleven,
and close on the heel of the last stroke followed the tap of the
barber's knuckle on the door of the yellow house in Sheafe lane.
Before answering to the rap, the maid-of-all-work filled a tin can
from the simmering kettle, and surveyed herself in a three-correred
bit of looking-glass, fastened on a pane of the kitchen window;
then, with a very soft and sweet “good morning,” to Rosier,
the barber, she led the way to the old man's room.

“He looks worse to-day,” said the barber, as the skinny hand
of the old man crept up tremblingly to his face, conscious of the
daily office about to be performed for him.

“They think so below stairs,” said Harriet, “and one of the
church is coming to pray with him to-night. Shall I raise him
up now?”

The barber nodded, and the girl seated herself near the pillow,
and lifting the old man, drew him upon her breast, and as the


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operation went rather lingeringly on, the two chatted together
very earnestly.

Rosier was a youth of about twenty-one, talkative and caressing,
as all barbers are; and what with his curly hair and ready
smile, and the smell of soap that seemed to be one of his natural
properties, he was a man to be thought of over a kitchen fire.
Besides, he was thriving in his trade, and not a bad match. All
of which was duly considered by the family with which Harriet
lived, for they loved the poor girl.

Poor girl, I say. But she was not poor, at least if it be true
that as a woman thinketh so is she. Most people would have described
her as a romantic girl. And so she was, but without
deserving a breath of the ridicule commonly attached to the word.
She was uneducated, too, if any child in New England can be
called uneducated. Beyond school-books and the Bible, she had
read nothing but the Scottish Chiefs, and this novel was to her
what the works of God are to others. It could never become
familiar. It must be the gate of dream-land; what the moon is
to a poet, what a grove is to a man of revery, what sunshine is
to all the world. And she mentioned it as seldom as people
praise sunshine, and lived in it as unconsciously.

Harriet had never before been out to service. She was a
farmer's daughter, new from the country. If she was not ignorant
of the degradation of her condition in life, she forgot it habitually.
A cheerful and thoughtful smile was perpetually on her
lips, and the hardships of her daily routine were encountered as
things of course, as clouds in the sky, as pebbles in the inevitable
path. Her attention seemed to belong to her body, but her
consciousness only to her imagination. In her voice and eyes
there was no touch or taint of her laborious servitude, and if she


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had suddenly been “made a lady,” there would have been nothing
but her hard hands to redeem from her low condition.
Then, hard-working creature as she was, she was touchingly beautiful.
A coarse eye would have passed her without notice, perhaps,
but a painter would not. She was of a fragile shape, and had
a slight stoop, but her head was small and exquisitely moulded,
and her slender neck, round, graceful, and polished, was set upon
her shoulders with the fluent grace of a bird's. Her hair was
profuse, and of a tinge almost yellow in the sun, but her eyes
were of a blue, deep almost to blackness, and her heavy eyelashes
darkened them still more deeply. She had the least possible
color in her cheeks. Her features were soft and unmarked,
and expressed delicacy and repose, though her nostrils were capable
of dilating with an energy of expression that seemed wholly
foreign to her character.

Rosier had first seen Harriet when called in to the old man, six
months before, and they were now supposed by the family to be
engaged lovers, waiting only for a little more sunshine on the barber's
fortune. Meantime, they saw each other at least half an
hour every morning, and commonly passed their evenings together,
and the girl seemed very tranquilly happy in her prospect
of marriage.

At four o'clock on the afternoon of the day before mentioned,
Mr. Flint was to make a spiritual visit to the old man. Let us
first introduce him to the reader.

Mr. Asa Flint was a bachelor of about forty-five, and an “active
member” of a church famed for its zeal. He was a tall man,
with a little bend in his back, and commonly walked with his
eyes upon the ground, like one intent on meditation. His complexion
was sallow, and his eyes dark and deeply set; but by


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dint of good teeth, and a little “wintry redness in his cheek,” he
was good-looking enough for all his ends. He dressed in black,
as all religious men must (in Boston), and wore shoes with black
stockings the year round. In his worldly condition, Mr. Flint
had always been prospered. He spent five hundred dollars a year
in his personal expenses, and made five thousand in his business, and
subscribed, say two hundred dollars a year to such societies as
printed the name of the donors. Mr. Flint had no worldly acquaintances.
He lived in a pious boarding-house, and sold all
his goods to the members of the country churches in communion
with his own. He “loved the brethren,” for he wished to converse
with no one who did not see heaven and the church at his
back—himself in the foreground, and the other two accessories in
the perspective. Piety apart, he had found out at twenty-five,
that, as a sinner, he would pass through the world simply Asa
Flint—as a saint, he would be Asa Flint plus eternity, and the
respect of a large congregation. He was a shrewd man, and
chose the better part. Also, he remembered, sin is more expensive
than sanctity.

At four o'clock Mr. Flint knocked at the door. At the same
hour there was a maternal prayer-meeting at the vestry, and of
course it was to be numbered among his petty trials that he must
find the mistress of the house absent from home. He walked up
stairs, and after a look into the room of the sick man, dispatched
the lad who had opened the door for him, to request the “help”
of the family to be present at the devotions.

Harriet had a rather pleasing recollection of Mr. Flint. He
had offered her his arm, a week before, in coming out from a conference
meeting, and had “presumed that she was a young lady


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on a visit” to the mistress! She arranged her 'kerchief and took
the kettle off the fire.

Mr. Flint was standing by the bedside with folded hands. The
old man lay looking at him with a kind of uneasy terror in his
face, which changed, as Harriet entered, to a smile of relief. She
retired modestly to the foot of the bed, and, hidden by the curtain,
open only at the side, she waited the commencement of
the prayer.

“Kneel there, little boy!” said Mr. Flint, pointing to a chair
on the other side of the light-stand, “and you, my dear, kneel
here by me! Let us pray!”

Harriet had dropped upon her knees near the corner of the
bed, and Mr. Flint dropped upon his, on the other side of the
post, so that after raising his hands in the first adjuration, they
descended gradually, and quite naturally, upon the folded hands
of the neighbor—and there they remained. She dared not withdraw
them, but as his body rocked to and fro in his devout exercise,
she drew back her head to avoid coming into further contact,
and escaped with only his breath upon her temples.

It was a very eloquent prayer. Mr. Flint's voice, in a worldly
man, would have been called insinuating, but its kind of covert
sweetness, low and soft, seemed, in a prayer, only the subdued
monotony of reverence and devotion. But it won upon the ear
all the same. He began, with a repetition of all the most sublime
ascriptions of the psalmist, filling the room, it appeared to
Harriet, with a superhuman presence. She trembled to be so
near him with his words of awe. Gradually he took up the more
affecting and tender passages of scripture, and drew the tears into
her eyes with the pathos of his tone and the touching images he
wove together. His hand grew moist upon hers, and he leaned


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closer to her. He began, after a short pause, to pray for her
especially—that her remarkable beauty might not be a snare to
her—that her dove-like eyes might beam only on the saddened
faces of the saints—that she might be enabled to shun the company
of the worldly, and consort only with God's people—and
that the tones of prayer now in her ears might sink deep into her
heart as the voice of one who would never cease to feel an interest
in her temporal and eternal welfare. His hand tightened its
grasp upon hers, and his face turned more toward her; and as
Harriet, blushing, spite of the awe weighing on her heart, stole a
look at the devout man, she met the full gaze of his coal-black
eyes fixed unwinkingly upon her. She was entranced. She
dared not stir, and she dared not take her eyes from his. And
when he came to his amen, she sank back upon the ground, and
covered her face with her hands. And presently she remembered,
with some wonder, that the old man, for whom Mr. Flint had
come to pray, had not been even mentioned in the prayer.

The lad left the room after the amen, and Mr. Flint raised
Harriet from the floor and seated her upon a chair out of the old
man's sight, and pulled a hymn-book from his pocket, and sat
down beside her. She was a very enthusiastic singer, to say the
least, and he commonly led the singing at the conferences, and
so, holding her hand that she might beat the time with him, he
passed an hour in what he would call very sweet communion.
And by this time the mistress of the family came home, and Mr.
Flint took his leave.

From that evening, Mr. Flint fairly undertook the “eternal
welfare” of the beautiful girl. From her kind mistress he easily
procured for her the indulgence due to an awakened sinner, and
she had permission to frequent the nightly conference, Mr. Flint


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always charging himself with the duty of seeing her safely home.
He called sometimes in the afternoon, and had a private interview
to ascertain the “state of her mind,” and under a strong
“conviction” of something or other, the excited girl lived now
in a constant revery, and required as much looking after as a
child. She was spoiled as a servant, but Mr. Flint had only done
his duty by her.

This seemed all wrong to Rosier, the barber, however. The
bright sweet face of the girl he thought to marry, had grown sad,
and her work went all amiss—he could see that. She had no
smile, and almost no word, for him. He liked little her going
out at dusk when he could not accompany her, and coming home
late with the same man always, though a very good man, no
doubt. Then, once lately, when he had spoken of the future, she
had murmured something which Mr. Flint had said about “marrying
with unbelievers,” and it stuck in Rosier's mind and troubled
him. Harriet grew thin and haggard besides, though she
paid more attention to her dress, and dressed more ambitiously
than she used to do.

We are reaching back over a score or more of years for the
scenes we are describing, and memory drops here and there a
circumstance by the way. The reader can perhaps restore the
lost fragments, if we give what we remember of the outline.

The old man died, and Rosier performed the last of his offices
to fit him for the grave, and that, if we remember rightly, was
the last of his visits, but one, to the white house in Sheafe lane.
The bed was scarce vacated by the dead, ere it was required
again for another object of pity. Harriet was put into it with a
brain fever. She was ill for many weeks, and called constantly
on Mr. Flint's name in her delirium; and when the fever left


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her, she seemed to have but one desire on earth—that he should
come and see her. Message after message was secretly carried
to him by the lad, whom she had attached to her with her uniform
kindness and sweet temper, but he never came. She relapsed
after a while into a state of stupor, like idiocy, and when
day after day passed without amendment, it was thought necessary
to send for her father to take her home.

A venerable looking old farmer, with white hairs, drove his
rough wagon into Sheafe lane one evening, we well remember.
Slowly, with the aid of his long staff, he crept up the narrow
staircase to his daughter's room, and stood a long time, looking
at her in silence. She did not speak to him.

He slept upon a bed made up at the side of hers, upon the
floor, and the next morning he went out early for his horse, and
she was taken up and dressed for the journey. She spoke to no
one, and when the old man had breakfasted, she quietly submitted
to be carried toward the door. The sight of the street first
seemed to awaken some recollection, and suddenly in a whisper
she called to Mr. Flint.

“Who is Mr. Flint?” asked the old man.

Rosier was at the gate, standing there with his hat off to bid
her farewell. She stopped upon the side-walk, and looked around

“He is not here—I'll wait for him!” cried Harriet, in a troubled
voice, and she let go her father's arm and stepped back.

They took hold of her and drew her toward the wagon, but
she struggled to get free, and moaned like a child in grief. Rosier
took her by the hand and tried to speak to her, but he
choked, and the tears came to his eyes. Apparently she did not
know him.


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A few passers-by gathered around now, and it was necessary
to lift her into the wagon by force, for the distressed father was
confused and embarrassed with her struggles, and the novel scene
around him. At the suggestion of the mistress of the family,
Rosier lifted her in his arms and seated her in the chair intended
for her, but her screams began to draw a crowd around, and her
struggles to free herself were so violent, that it was evident the
old man could never take her home alone. Rosier kindly offered
to accompany him, and as he held her in her seat and tried to
soothe her, the unhappy father got in beside her and drove away.

She reached home, Rosier informed us, in a state of dreadful
exhaustion, still calling on the name that haunted her; and we
heard soon after that she relapsed into a brain fever, and death
soon came to her with a timely deliverance from her trouble.