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23 December, 2013

The Christmas Party - Timothy Shay Arthur, 1854 - Part 2

..."Thanks for mere carnal pleasure!"
"All things are good that are filled with good affections," said Grace. "We are in a natural world, where all pleasure and pain affect us in the natural degree most sensibly. We must come down, that we may go up. We must let our natural joy and gladness have free course, innocently, that they may be changed into a joy that is higher and spiritual. Is it not so, uncle?"

Now, the old man had not expected to find such an intelligent head on so young a body; nor did he expect to be called upon to answer a question, which came in a form that he was not prepared either to negative or affirm. He had put all natural pleasures under the ban, as flowing from the carnal mind; and, therefore, evil. As to filling natural pleasures with spiritual life, that was a new position in theology. He had preached against natural pleasures as evil, and, therefore, to be abandoned by all who would lead a heavenly life. Before he could collect his thoughts for an answer satisfactory to himself, two or three ladies gathered around them, and he discreetly forebore to make any further remarks on the subject. But he felt, as may be supposed, very uncomfortable.

After the first set was danced, one of the young ladies who had been on the floor, and who had previously been introduced to the old gentleman by Grace, came, with color heightened by excitement, and her beautiful face in a glow of pleasure, and sat down by his side. Mr. Archer would have received her with becoming gravity, had it been in his power to, do so; but the smile on her face was so innocent, and she bent towards him so kindly and affectionately, that he could not find it in his heart to meet her with even a silent reproof. This young lady was really charming his ear, when a gentleman came up to her, and said —
"Anna, I want you to dance with me."

"With pleasure," replied the girl. "You will excuse me for a while, Mr. Archer," said she, and she was about rising as she spoke, but the old man placed his hand upon her arm, and gently detained her.

"You're not going to leave me?"

"No, not if my company will give you any pleasure," replied the young girl, with a gentle smile. "Please excuse me." This she addressed to the person who had asked her to dance. He bowed, and turned away.

"I am glad to keep you by my side," said Mr. Archer, with some seriousness in his manner.
"And I am glad to stay here," was promptly answered, "if my company will give you any pleasure. It does me good to contribute to others' happiness."

The old man was touched by this reply, for he felt that it was from the heart. It sounded strangely to his ears from the lips of one who had just been whirling in the mazy dance.
"There is no real pleasure in anything selfish," he remarked. "Yes, you say truly, it does us good to contribute to the happiness of others."

"For this reason," said Anna, "I like dancing as a social recreation. It is a mutual pleasure. We give and receive enjoyment."

The old minister's face grew serious.
"I have been to three or four parties," continued the young girl, "where dancing was excluded, under some strange idea that it was wrong — and I must say that so much evil-speaking and censoriousness, it has never been my lot to encounter in any company. The time, instead of being improved as a season of mental and bodily recreation — was worse than wasted. I know that I was worse instead of better, on returning from each of these companies, for I insensibly fell into the prevailing spirit."

"That was very bad, certainly," remarked Mr. Archer, before whose mind arose some pictures of social gatherings, in which had prevailed the very spirit condemned by his young companion. "But I don't see how you are going to make dancing a sovereign remedy for the evil."
"It is not a sovereign remedy," was answered, "but it is a concert of feeling and action, in which the mind is exhilarated, and in which a mutual good-will is produced. You cannot dance without being pleased, to a greater or less extent, with your partners on the floor. Very often have I had a prejudice against people wear off as we moved together in the dances, and I have afterwards discovered in them good qualities to which I was before blinded."

"Uncle," said Grace to the old man, just at this moment, bending to his ear as she spoke, and taking his hand in hers — "come! I want to show you something."

Grace drew him into the adjoining parlor, where another set was on the floor. Two children, her younger brother and sister, were in it.
"Now, just look at Ada and Willy," whispered Grace in his ear, as she brought him in view of the young dancers. Ada was a lovely child, and the old uncle's heart had already taken her in. She was a graceful little dancer, and moved in the figures with the lightness of a fairy. It was a beautiful sight, and in the face of all the prejudices which half a century had worn into him, he felt that it was beautiful. As he looked upon it, he could keep the dimness from his eyes only by a strong effort.
"Is there evil in that, uncle?" asked Grace, drawing her arm within that of the old man's.
"Is it good?" he replied.

"Yes; it is good," said Grace, emphatically, as she lifted her eyes to his.
Mr. Archer did not dispute her words. He at least felt that it was not evil, though he could not admit that it was good.

In spite of the dancing, which soon ceased to offend the good old man, he passed a pleasant evening. Perhaps, he enjoyed the Christmas party as much as any one there.

Nothing was said, on the next day, by anyone, on the subject of dancing; though Mr. Archer, especially, thought a great deal about the matter. Some ideas had come into his mind that were new there, and he was pondering them attentively. On the third day of his arrival, he had a severe attack of rheumatism, from which he suffered great pain, besides a confinement to his room for a couple of weeks. During that time, the untiring devotion and tender solicitude of Grace touched the old man's heart deeply. When the pain had sufficiently abated to let his mind attain composure, she sought to interest him in various ways. Sometimes she would read to him by the hour; sometimes she would entertain him with cheerful conversation; and sometimes she would bring in one or two of her young friends whom he had met at the Christmas party.

With these, he had more than one discussion, in his sick room, on the subject of dancing, and the old minister found these mirthful young girls rather more than a match for him. During a discussion of this kind, Grace left the room. In her absence, one of her companions said to him —
"Grace is a good girl."
A quick light went over the old man's countenance; and he replied, with evident feeling —
"Good? Yes; I look at her, sometimes, and think her almost an angel."
"She dances."
The old man sighed.
"She is a Christian."
"I wish there were more such in the world," said he, unhesitatingly.
"And yet she dances."
"My dear child," said Mr. Archer, turning with an affectionate smile towards his young conversational partner, "don't take such an advantage of me in the argument."
"Then is it settled, a maiden may dance and yet be a Christian?"
"God bless you, and keep you from all the evil of the world," said the old man, fervently, as he took the young girl's hand and pressed it between his own. "It may be all right! it may be all right!"

Grace came back at the moment, and he ceased speaking.
From that time the venerable minister said no more on the subject, and it is but fair to believe that when he returned home, he had very serious doubts in regard to the sin of dancing, which had once been as fairly held as if it had been an article in the Confession of Faith.