As the months went on, Mercy began to make friends. One person after another observed her bright face, asked who she was, and came to seek her out. “Who is that girl with fair hair and blue eyes, who, whenever you meet her in the street, always looks as if she had just heard some good news?” was asked one day. It was a noteworthy thing that this description was so instantly recognized by the person inquired of, that he had no hesitancy in replying,—
“Oh, that is a young widow from Cape Cod, a Mrs. Philbrick. She came last winter with her mother, who is an invalid. They live in the old Jacobs house with the Whites.”
Among the friends whom Mercy thus met was a man who was destined to exercise almost as powerful an influence as Stephen White over her life. This was Parson Dorrance.
Parson Dorrance had in his youth been settled as a Congregationalist minister. But his love of literature and of science was even stronger than his love of preaching the gospel; and, after a very few years, he accepted a position as professor in a small college, in a town only four miles distant from the village in which Mercy had come to live. This was twenty-five years ago. Parson Dorrance was now fifty-five years old. For a quarter of a century, his name had been the pride, and his hand had been the stay, of the college. It had had presidents of renown and professors of brilliant attainments; but Parson Dorrance held a position more enviable than all. Few lives of such simple and steadfast heroism have ever been lived. Few lives have ever so stamped the mark of their influence on a community. In the second year of his ministry, Mr. Dorrance had married a very beautiful and brilliant woman. Probably no two young people ever began married life with a fairer future before them than these. Mrs. Dorrance was as exceptionally clever and cultured a person as her husband; and she added to these rare endowments a personal beauty which is said by all who knew her in her girlhood to have been marvellous. But, as is so often the case among New England women of culture, the body had paid the cost of the mind’s estate; and, after the birth of her first child, she sank at once into a hopeless invalidism,—an invalidism all the more difficult to bear, and to be borne with, that it took the shape of distressing nervous maladies which no medical skill could alleviate. The brilliant mind became almost a wreck, and yet retained a preternatural restlessness and activity. Many regarded her condition as insanity, and believed that Mr. Dorrance erred in not giving her up to the care of those making mental disorders a specialty. But his love and patience were untiring. When her mental depression and suffering reached such a stage that she could not safely see a human face but his, he shut himself up with her in her darkened room till the crisis had passed. There were times