The Village Anthem by
Caroline Lee Hentz
"What is that bell ringing for?" asked Villeneuve of the
waiter, who was leaving the room.
"For church," was the reply.
"For church! Oh! is it Sunday? I had forgotten it. I
did not think there was a church in this little village."
"Yes, indeed," answered the boy, his village pride taking
the alarm, "and a very handsome one, too. Just look out at
that window, sir. Do you see that tall, white steeple, behind
those big trees there? That is the church, and I know there
is not a better preacher in the whole world than Parson Blandford.
He was never pestered for a word yet, and his voice
makes one feel so warm and tender about the heart, it does
one good to hear him."
Villeneuve cast a languid glance through the window, from
the sofa on which he was reclining, thinking that Parson
Blandford was very probably some old hum-drum, puritanical
preacher, whose nasal twang was considered melodious by the
vulgar ears which were accustomed to listen to him. Dull as
his present position was, he was resolved to keep it, rather
than inflict upon himself such an intolerable bore. The boy,
who had mounted his hobby, continued, regardless of the unpropitious
countenance of his auditor.
"Then there is Miss Grace Blandford, his daughter, plays
so beautifully on the organ! You never heard such music in
your life. When she sits behind the red curtains, and you
can't see anything but the edge of her white skirt below, I
can't help thinking there's an angel hid there; and when she
comes down and takes her father's arm, to walk out of church,
she looks like an angel, sure enough."
Villeneuve's countenance brightened. Allowing for all the
hyperbole of ignorance, there were two positive things which
were agreeable in themselves—music and a young maiden. He
rose from the sofa, threw aside his dressing-gown, called for
his coat and hat, and commanded the delighted boy to direct
him to the church, the nearest way. His guide, proud of
ushering in such a handsome and aristocratic-looking stranger,
conducted him to one of the most conspicuous seats in the
broad aisle, in full view of the pulpit and the orchestra, and
Villeneuve's first glance was towards the red curtains, which
were drawn so close, not even a glimpse of white was granted
to the beholder. He smiled at his own curiosity. Very likely
this angel of the village boy was a great red-faced, hard-handed
country girl, who had been taught imperfectly to thrum the
keys of an instrument, and consequently transformed by rustic
simplicity into a being of superior order. No matter, any
kind of excitement was better than the ennui from which he
had been aroused. A low, sweet, trembling prelude stole on
his ear. "Surely," thought he, "no vulgar fingers press
those keys—that is the key-note of true harmony." He listened,
the sound swelled, deepened, rolled through the arch
of the building, and sank again with such a melting cadence,
the tears involuntarily sprang into his eyes. Ashamed of his
emotions, he leaned his head on his hand, and yielded unseen
to an influence, which, coming over him so unexpectedly, had
all the force of enchantment. The notes died away, then
swelled again in solemn accompaniment with the opening
hymn. The hymn closed with the melodious vibrations of
the instrument, and for a few moments there was a most profound
"The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep
silence before him:" uttered a deep, solemn voice.
Villeneuve raised his head and gazed upon the speaker. He
was a man rather past the meridian of life, but wearing unmarred
the noblest attributes of manhood. His brow was
unwrinkled, his piercing eye undimmed, and his tall figure
majestic and unbowed. The sun inclined from the zenith, but
the light, the warmth, the splendour remained in all their
power, and the hearts of the hearers radiated that light and
warmth, till an intense glow pervaded the assembly, and the
opening words of the preacher seemed realized. Villeneuve
was an Infidel; he looked upon the rites of Christianity as
theatrical machinery, necessary, perhaps, towards carrying on
the great drama of life, and when the springs were well adjusted
and oiled, and the pulleys worked without confusion,
and every appearance of art was kept successfully in the background,
he was willing to sit and listen as he would to a fine
actor when reciting the impassioned language of the stage.
"This man is a very fine actor," was his first thought, "he
knows his part well. It is astonishing, however, that he is
willing to remain in such a limited sphere—with such an eye
and voice—such flowing language and graceful elocution, he
might make his fortune in any city. It is incomprehensible
that he is content to linger in obscurity." Thus Villeneuve
speculated, till his whole attention became absorbed in the
sermon, which as a literary production was exactly suited to
his fastidiously refined taste. The language was simple, the
sentiments sublime. The preacher did not bring himself down
to the capacities of his auditors, he lifted them to his, he elevated
them, he spiritualized them. He was deeply read in
the mysteries of the human heart, and he knew that however
ignorant it might be of the truths of science and the laws of
metaphysics, it contained many a divine spark which only
required an eliciting touch to kindle. He looked down into
the eyes upturned to him in breathless interest, and he read in
them the same yearnings after immortality, the same reverence
for the Infinite Majesty of the Universe, which moved and
solemnized his own soul. His manner was in general calm
and affectionate, yet there were moments when he swept the
chords of human passion with a master's hand, and the hectic
flush of his cheek told of the fire burning within.
"He is a scholar, a metaphysician, a philosopher, and a
gentleman," said Villeneuve to himself, at the close of his
discourse. "If he is an actor, he is the best one I ever saw.
He is probably an enthusiast, who, if he had lived in ancient
days, would have worn the blazing crown of martyrdom. I
should like to see his daughter." The low notes of the organ
again rose, as if in response to his heart's desire. This time
there was the accompaniment of a new female voice. The
congregation rose as the words of the anthem began. It was
a kind of doxology, the chorus terminating with the solemn
expression—"for ever and ever." The hand of the organist
no longer trembled. It swept over the keys, as if the enthusiasm
of an exalted spirit were communicated to every pulse
and sinew. The undulating strains rolled and reverberated
till the whole house was filled with the waves of harmony.
But high, and clear, and sweet above those waves of harmony
and the mingling voices of the choir, rose that single female
voice, uttering the burden of the anthem, "for ever and ever."
Villeneuve closed his eyes. He was oppressed by the novelty
of his sensations. Where was he? In a simple village church,
listening to the minstrelsy of a simple village maiden, and he
had frequented the magnificent cathedral of Notre Dame, been
familiar there with the splendid ritual of the national religion,
and heard its sublime chantings from the finest choirs in the
Universe. Why did those few monotonous words so thrill
through every nerve of his being? That eternity which he
believed was the dream of fanaticism, seemed for a moment
an awful reality, as the last notes of the pćan echoed on his
When the benediction was given, and the congregation was
leaving the church, he watched impatiently for the foldings
of the red curtains to part, and his heart palpitated when he
saw a white-robed figure glide through the opening and immediately
disappear. The next minute she was seen at the
entrance of the church, evidently waiting the approach of her
father, who, surrounded by his people, pressing on each other
to catch a kindly greeting, always found it difficult to make
his egress. As she thus stood against a column which supported
the entrance, Villeneuve had a most favourable opportunity
of scanning her figure, which he did with a practised
and scrutinizing glance. He was accustomed to Parisian and
English beauty, and comparing Grace Blandford to the high-born
and high-bred beauties of the old world, she certainly
lost in the comparison. She was very simply dressed, her
eyes were downcast, and her features were in complete repose.
Still there was a quiet grace about her that pleased him—a
blending of perfect simplicity and perfect refinement that was
extraordinary. Mr. Blandford paused as he came down the
aisle. He had noticed the young and interesting looking
stranger, who listened with such devout attention to all the
exercises. He had heard, for in a country village such things
are rapidly communicated, that there was a traveller at the
inn, a foreigner and an invalid—two strong claims to sympathy
and kindness. The pallid complexion of the young man was a
sufficient indication of the latter, and the air of high breeding
which distinguished him was equal to a letter of recommendation
in his behalf. The minister accosted him with great benignity,
and invited him to accompany him home.
"You are a stranger," said he, "and I understand an
invalid. Perhaps you will find the quiet of our household
more congenial this day than the bustle of a public dwelling."
Villeneuve bowed his delighted acceptance of this most
unexpected invitation. He grasped the proffered hand of the
minister with more warmth than he was aware of, and followed
him to the door where Grace yet stood, with downcast eyes.
"My daughter," said Mr. Blandford, drawing her hand
through his arm. This simple introduction well befitted the
place where it was made, and was acknowledged by her with
a gentle bending of the head and a lifting of the eyes, and
they walked in silence from the portals of the church. What
a change had the mere uplifting of those veiled lids made in
her countenance! Two lines of a noble bard flashed across his
"The light of love, the purity of grace,
The mind, the music breathing from her face."
Then another line instantaneously succeeded—
"And oh! that eye is in itself a soul."
There was one thing which disappointed him. He did not
notice a single blush flitting over her fair cheek. He feared
she was deficient in sensibility. It was so natural to blush at
a stranger's greeting. He did not understand the nature of
her feelings. He could not know that one so recently engaged
in sublime worship of the Creator, must be lifted above fear
or confusion in the presence of the creature. Villeneuve had
seen much of the world, and understood the art of adaptedness,
in the best sense of the word. He could conform to the
circumstances in which he might be placed with grace and
ease, and though he was too sincere to express sentiments he
did not feel, he felt justified in concealing those he did feel,
when he knew their avowal would give pain or displeasure.
It was a very singular way for him to pass the Sabbath. The
guest of a village pastor, breathing an atmosphere redolent of
the sweets of piety, spirituality, and holy love. The language
of levity and flattery, so current in society, would be considered
profanation here; and a conviction deeply mortifying to his
vanity forced itself upon him, that all those accomplishments
for which he had been so much admired, would gain him no
favour with the minister and his daughter. He could not
forbear expressing his surprise at the location Mr. Blandford
"I would not insult you by flattery," said Villeneuve,
ingenuously, "but I am astonished you do not seek a wider
sphere of usefulness. It is impossible that the people here
should appreciate your talents, or estimate the sacrifices you
make to enlighten and exalt them."
Mr. Blandford smiled as he answered—"You think my
sphere too small, while I tremble at the weight of responsibility
I have assumed. If I have the talents which you kindly
ascribe to me, I find here an ample field for their exercise.
There are hundreds of minds around me that mingle their
aspirations with mine, and even assist me in the heavenward
journey. In a larger, more brilliant circle, I might perhaps
gain a more sounding name and exercise a wider influence, but
that influence would not be half as deep and heartfelt. I was
born and bred in a city, and know the advantages such a life
can offer; but I would not exchange the tranquillity of this
rural residence, the serenity of my pastoral life, the paternal
influence I wield over this secluded village, and the love
and reverence of its upright and pure-minded inhabitants,
for the splendid sinecure of the Archbishops of our motherland."
Villeneuve was astonished to see a man so nobly endowed,
entirely destitute of the principle of ambition. He wanted to
ask him how he had thus trampled under his feet the honours
and distinctions of the world. "You consider ambition a
vice, then?" said he.
"You are mistaken," replied Mr. Blandford, "if you believe
me destitute of ambition. I am one of the most ambitious
men in the world. But I aspire after honours that can resist
the mutations of time, and partake of the imperishability of
their Great Bestower."
There was a silence of some moments, during which Mr.
Blandford looked upward, and the eyes of Grace followed her
father's with kindling ray.
"But, your daughter," continued Villeneuve, "can she find
contentment in a situation for which nature and education have
so evidently unfitted her?"
"Let Grace answer for herself," said Mr. Blandford, mildly;
"I have consulted her happiness as well as my own, in the
choice I have made."
Villeneuve was delighted to see a bright blush suffuse the
modest cheek of Grace—but it was the blush of feeling, not of
"I love the country rather than the town," said she, "for
I prefer nature to art, meditation to action, and the works of
God to the works of man; and in the constant companionship
of my father I find more than contentment—I find happiness,
Villeneuve sighed—he felt the isolation of his own destiny.
The last of his family, a traveller in a strange land, in pursuit
of health; which had been sacrificed in the too eager pursuit
of the pleasures of this world, without one hope to link him
to another. Affluent and uncontrolled, yet sated and desponding,
he envied the uncorrupted taste of the minister's daughter.
He would have bartered all his wealth for the enthusiasm
that warmed the character of her father. That night he was
awakened by a singular dream. He thought he was alone in
the horror of thick darkness. It seemed that he was in the
midst of infinity, and yet chained to one dark spot, an immovable
speck in the boundless ocean of space. "Must I
remain here for ever?" he cried in agony, such as is only
known in dreams, when the spirit's nerves are all unsheathed.
"For ever and ever," answered a sweet, seraphic voice, high
above his head, and looking up he beheld Grace, reclining on
silver-bosomed clouds, so distant she appeared like a star in
the heavens, yet every lineament perfectly defined. "Am I
then parted from thee for ever?" exclaimed he, endeavouring
to stretch out his arms towards the luminous point. "For
ever and ever," responded the same heavenly accents, mournfully
echoing till they died away, and the vision fled. He was
not superstitious, but he did not like the impression of his
dream. He rose feverish and unrefreshed, and felt himself
unable to continue his journey. Mr. Blandford came to see
him. He was deeply interested in the young stranger, and
experienced the pleasure which every sensitive and intellectual
being feels in meeting with kindred sensibility and intellect.
The intimacy, thus commenced, continued to increase, and
week after week passed away, and Villeneuve still lingered
near the minister and his daughter. His health was invigorated,
his spirits excited by the novel yet powerful influences
that surrounded him. It was impossible, in the course of this
deepening intimacy, that the real sentiments of Villeneuve
should remain concealed, for hypocrisy formed no part of his
character. Mr. Blandford, relying on the reverence and affection
Villeneuve evidently felt for him, believed it would be an
easy task to interest him in the great truths of religion. And it
was an easy task to interest him, particularly when the father's
arguments were backed by the daughter's persuasive eloquence;
but it was a most difficult one to convince. The prejudices
of education, the power of habit, the hardening influence of a
worldly life, presented an apparently impenetrable shield against
the arrows of divine truth.
"I respect, I revere the principles of your religion," Villeneuve
was accustomed to say at the close of their long and
interesting conversations. "I would willingly endure the
pangs of death; yea, the agonies of martyrdom, for the possession
of a faith like yours. But it is a gift denied to me. I
cannot force my belief, nor give a cold assent with my lips to
what my reason and my conscience belie."
Mr. Blandford ceased not his efforts, notwithstanding the
unexpected resistance he encountered, but Grace gradually
retired from the conflict, and Villeneuve found to his sorrow
and mortification that she no longer appeared to rejoice in his
society. There was a reserve in her manners which would
have excited his resentment, had not the sadness of her countenance
touched his heart. Sometimes when he met her eye
it had an earnest, reproachful, pitying expression, that thrilled
to his soul. One evening he came to the Parsonage at a later
hour than usual. He was agitated and pale. "I have received
letters of importance," said he; "I must leave you immediately.
I did not know that all my happiness was centered
in the intercourse I have been holding with your family, till
this summons came." Grace, unable to conceal her emotions,
rose and left the apartment. Villeneuve's eyes followed her
with an expression which made her father tremble. He anticipated
the scene which followed. "Mr. Blandford," continued
Villeneuve, "I love your daughter. I cannot live
without her—I cannot depart without an assurance of her love
and your approbation."
Mr. Blandford was too much agitated to reply—the blood
rushed to his temples, then retreating as suddenly, left his
brow and cheek as colourless as marble. "I should have foreseen
this," at length he said. "It would have spared us all
"Misery!" replied Villeneuve, in a startling tone.
"Yes," replied Mr. Blandford, "I have been greatly to
blame—I have suffered my feelings to triumph over my judgment.
Villeneuve, I have never met a young man who won
upon my affections as you have done. The ingenuousness,
ardour, and generosity of your character impelled me to love
you. I still love you; but I pity you still more. I can never
trust my daughter's happiness in your hands. There is a gulf
between you—a wall of separation—high as the heavens and
deeper than the foundations of the earth." He paused, and
bowed his face upon his hands. The possibility that his
daughter's happiness might be no longer in her own keeping,
completely overpowered him. Villeneuve listened in astonishment
and dismay. He, in all the pride of affluence and rank
(for noble blood ran in lineal streams through his veins), to be
rejected by an obscure village pastor, from mere religious
scruples. It was incredible—one moment his eye flashed
haughtily on the bending figure before him; the next it
wavered, in the apprehension that Grace might yield to her
father's decision, and seal their final separation. "Mr. Blandford,"
cried he, passionately, "I can take my rejection only
from your daughter—I have never sought her love unsanctioned
by your approbation—I have scorned the guise of a hypocrite,
and I have a right to claim this from you. You may destroy
my happiness—it is in your power—but tremble lest you
sacrifice a daughter's peace."
Mr. Blandford recovered his self-command, as the passions
of the young man burst their bounds. He summoned Grace
into his presence. "I yield to your impetuous desire," said
he, "but I would to Heaven you had spared me a scene like
this. Painful as it is, I must remain to be a witness to it."
He took his daughter's hand as she entered, and drew her
towards him. He watched her countenance while the first
vows of love to which she had ever listened were breathed
into her ear with an eloquence and a fervour which seemed
irresistible, and these were aided by the powerful auxiliary of
a most handsome and engaging person, and he trembled as he
gazed. Her cheek kindled, her eye lighted up with rapture,
her heart panted with excessive emotion. She leaned on her
father's arm, unable to speak, but looked up in his face with
an expression that spoke volumes.
"You love him, then, Grace," said he mournfully. "Oh,
my God! forgive me the folly, the blindness, the madness of
which I have been guilty!"
Grace started, as if wakening from a dream. Her father's
words recalled her to herself—one brief moment of ecstasy had
been hers—to be followed, she knew, by hours of darkness
and sorrow. The warm glow faded from her cheek, and throwing
her arms round her father's neck, she wept unrestrainedly.
"She loves me," exclaimed Villeneuve; "you yourself
witness her emotions—you will not separate us—you will not
suffer a cruel fanaticism to destroy us both."
"Grace," said Mr. Blandford, in a firm voice, "look up.
Let not the feelings of a moment, but the principles of a life
decide. Will you hazard, for the enjoyment of a few fleeting
years, the unutterable interests of eternity? Will you forsake
the Master he abjures for the bosom of a stranger? In one
word, my daughter, will you wed an Infidel?"
Grace lifted her head, and clasping her hands together,
looked fervently upward.
"Thou art answered," cried Mr. Blandford, with a repelling
motion towards Villeneuve. "The God she invokes will give
her strength to resist temptation. Go, then, most unhappy
yet beloved young man—you have chosen your destiny, and we
have chosen ours. You live for time. We, for eternity. As
I said before, there is a deep gulf between us. Seek not to
drag her down into the abyss into which you would madly
plunge. My soul hath wrestled with yours, and you have
resisted, though I fought with weapons drawn from Heaven's
own armory. Farewell—our prayers and our tears will follow
He extended his hand to grasp Villeneuve's for the last
time, but Villeneuve, with every passion excited beyond the
power of control, rejected the motion; and, snatching the hand
of Grace, which hung powerless over her father's shoulder,
drew her impetuously towards him. "She loves me," exclaimed
he, "and I will never resign her; I swear it by the inexorable
Power you so blindly worship. Perish the religion that
would crush the dearest and holiest feelings of the human
heart! Perish the faith that exults in the sacrifice of nature
and of love!"
With one powerful arm Mr. Blandford separated his daughter
from the embrace of her lover, and holding him back with
the other, commanded him to depart. He was dreadfully
agitated, the veins of his temples started out like cords, and
his eyes flashed with imprisoned fires. Villeneuve writhed
for a moment in his unrelaxing grasp, then, reeling backward,
sunk upon a sofa. He turned deadly pale, and held his handkerchief
to his face.
"Oh! father! you have killed him!" shrieked Grace, springing
to his side; "he faints! he bleeds, he dies!"
Even while Grace was speaking, the white handkerchief was
crimsoned with blood, the eyes of the young man closed, and
he fell back insensible.
"Just Heaven! spare me this curse!" cried Mr. Blandford.
"Great God! I have killed them both!"
They did indeed look like two murdered victims, for the
blood which oozed from the young man's lips not only dyed
his own handkerchief and neckcloth, but reddened the white
dress of Grace and stiffened on her fair locks, as her head
drooped unconsciously on his breast. All was horror and
confusion in the household. The physician was immediately
summoned, who declared that a blood-vessel was ruptured,
and that the life of the young man was in the most imminent
danger. Grace was borne to her own apartment and consigned
to the care of some kind neighbours, but Mr. Blandford
remained the whole night by Villeneuve's side, holding his
hand in his, with his eyes fixed on his pallid countenance,
trembling lest every fluttering breath should be his last.
About daybreak he opened his eyes, and seeing who was
watching so tenderly over him, pressed his hand and attempted
to speak, but the doctor commanded perfect silence, assuring
him that the slightest exertion would be at the hazard of his
life. For two or three days he hovered on the brink of the
grave, during which time Mr. Blandford scarcely left his side,
and Grace lingered near the threshold of the door, pale and
sleepless, the image of despair. One night, when he seemed
to be in a deep sleep, Mr. Blandford knelt by his couch, and
in a low voice breathed out his soul in prayer. His vigil had
been one long prayer, but he felt that he must find vent in
language for the depth and strength of his emotions. He
prayed in agony for the life of the young man; for his soul's
life. He pleaded, he supplicated; till, language failing, sigh
and tears alone bore witness to the strivings of his spirit.
"Yet, not my will, oh! God!" ejaculated he again, "but
thine be done."
"Amen!" uttered a faint voice. The minister started as
if he had heard a voice from the dead. It was Villeneuve
who spoke, and whose eyes fixed upon him had a most intense
and thrilling expression. "Your prayer is heard," continued
he. "I feel that God is merciful. A ray of divine light
illumines my parting hour. Let me see Grace before I die,
that our souls may mingle once on earth, in earnest of their
The minister led his daughter to the couch of Villeneuve.
He joined her hand in his. "My daughter," cried he, "rejoice.
I asked for him life. God giveth unto him long life; yea, life
Grace bowed her head on the pale hand that clasped her
own, and even in that awful moment, a torrent of joy gushed
into her soul. It was the foretaste of an eternal wedlock, and
death seemed indeed swallowed up in victory. Mr. Blandford
knelt by his kneeling daughter, and many a time during that
night they thought they saw the spirit of Villeneuve about to
take its upward flight; but he sunk at length into a gentle
slumber, and when the doctor again saw him, he perceived a
favourable change in his pulse, and told Mr. Blandford there
was a faint hope of his recovery. "With perfect quiet and
tender nursing," said he, looking meaningly at Grace, "he
may yet possibly be saved."
The predictions of the excellent physician were indeed fulfilled,
for in less than three weeks Villeneuve, though still
weak and languid, was able to take his seat in the family
circle. Mr. Blandford saw with joy that the faith which he
had embraced in what he believed his dying hour, was not
abandoned with returning health. He had always relied on
the rectitude of his principles, and now, when religion strengthened
and sanctified them, he felt it his duty to sanction his
union with his daughter. The business which had summoned
him so unexpectedly to his native country still remained unsettled,
and as the physician prescribed a milder climate, he
resolved to try the genial air of France. It was no light
sacrifice for Mr. Blandford to give up his daughter, the sole
treasury of his affections, and doom himself to a solitary home;
but he did it without murmuring, since he hoped the blessing
of heaven would hallow their nuptials. Villeneuve promised
to return the ensuing year, and restore Grace again to her
The Sunday before their departure, Grace accompanied her
father and husband to the village church. Villeneuve saw
the boy who had guided him there the first time, standing at
the portal. He returned his respectful salutation with a warm
grasp of the hand. "He led me to the gate of heaven," thought
he; "he shall not go unrewarded."
"She will be too proud to play on the organ any more,"
said the boy to himself, "now that she has married a great man
and a foreigner;" but Grace ascended the steps as usual, and
drew the red curtains closely round her. What the feelings
of the musician were, within that sacred sanctuary, as she
pressed the keys, probably for the last time, could only be
judged from a trembling touch; but at the close of the
services, when the same sublime anthem, with the burden "for
ever and ever," was sung by the choir, Villeneuve recognised
the same clear, adoring accents which first fell so thrillingly
on his ear. He remembered his dream. It no longer filled
him with superstitious horror. It was caused by the workings
of his dark and troubled mind. Now every thought flowed in
a new channel; he seemed a new being to himself.
"Are we indeed united?" said he, while his soul hung on
the echoes of that sweet strain, "and shall we be united for
"For ever and ever," returned the voice of the worshipper;
and the whole choir, joining in, in a full burst of harmony,
repeated again and again, "for ever and ever."