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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
_A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics._
VOL. XVII.--JUNE, 1866.--NO. CIV.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1866, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
Transcriber's Note: Minor typos have been corrected and footnotes moved to the end of the article. Contractions have been retained as they appear in each story.
"This is the seventy-fifth pair! Pretty well for us in so short a time!" said the Colonel's wife.
"Yes, but we must give Aunt Marian the credit of a very large proportion; at least ten pairs have come from her."
"I have nothing to do but to knit; none to knit for at home but my cat," I replied, rather shortly, to the soft voice that had given me credit for such extraordinary industry. Afterwards I looked up at Percy Lunt, and tried to think of some pleasant thing to say to her; but in vain,--the words wouldn't come. I did not like her, and that is the truth.
Thirty of us were assembled as usual, at our weekly "Soldiers' Aid Circle." We always met at the house of her father, Colonel Lunt, because its parlors were the largest in Barton, and because Mrs. Lunt invited us to come every week at three o'clock in the afternoon, and stay till nine, meanwhile giving us all tea. The two parlors, which opened into each other as no others in Barton did, were handsomely furnished with articles brought from France; though, for that matter, they did not look very different from Barton furniture generally, except, perhaps, in being plainer. Just now the chairs, lounges, and card-table were covered with blue yarn, blue woollen cloth, unbleached cotton, and other things requisite for the soldiers. They, the soldiers, had worn out the miserable socks provided by government in two days' marching, and sent up the cry, to the mothers and sisters in New England, "Give us such stockings as you are used to knitting for us!"
That home-cry found its answer in every heart. Not a hand but responded. Every spare moment was given to the needs of the soldiers. For these were not the materials of a common army. These were all our own brothers, lovers, husbands, fathers. And shame to the wife, daughter, or sister who would know them to be sufferers while a finger remained on their hands to be moved! So, day by day, at soldiers' meetings, but much more at home, the army of waiters and watchers wrought cheerfully and hopefully for the loved ones who were "marching along." In Barton we knitted while we talked, and at the Lyceum lectures. Nay, we threatened even to take our knitting to meeting,--for it seemed, as we said, a great waste of time to be sitting so long idle.
This had gone on for more than months. We had begun to count the war by years. Did we bate one jot of heart or hope for that? No more than at the beginning. We continued to place the end of the struggle at sixty or ninety days, as the news came more or less favorable to the loyal cause. But despair of the Republic? Never. Not the smallest child in Barton. Not a woman, of course. And through these life-currents flowing between each soldier and his home, the good heart and courage of the army was kept up through all those dismal reverses and bloody struggles that marked the early part of the years of sixty-two and three.
We kept writing to our Barton boys, and took care of them, both in tent and field. And in every box sent on to the Potomac went letters from all the soldiers' families, and photographs to show how fast the children were growing, and how proud the sisters were of the brave brothers who were upholding the flag at the price of their lives.
We were very busy to-day at Mrs. Lunt's. She and I cut out shirts for the rest,--and I took an opportunity to carry one to Percy Lunt, with some directions, in as kind a voice as I could command, about the sleeves. She smiled and looked up wistfully in my face, but I turned away in a hurry to my work. Somehow, I could not forgive her for troubling my poor Robert. I couldn't before he went, much less now.
I must describe Percy if I can. She was of middling height, and very delicately formed, with a face as destitute of color as if it had been carved out of marble. Her dark hair was cut short in her neck, and parted over her forehead and her even brows. Her eyes were dark and soft, but almost constantly bent on the floor. She dressed in black, and wore over her small head a little tarlatan cap as close as a Shaker's. You might call her interesting-looking, but for a certain listlessness and want of sympathy with others. She had been married, was not more than twenty years old at the time I am describing her, and had been in Barton only about a year, since her husband's death.
As I had neither chick nor child to offer to my country, I was glad to hear my nephew, Robert Elliott, say that the Barton boys had chosen him for Captain, and that they were all to start for Boston the next morning, and go on at once to Fortress Monroe.
This boy's black eyes were very near to my heart,--almost as near as they were to his own mother's. And when he came in to bid me good by, I could not look on his pale, resolute face without a sinking, trembling feeling, do what I would to keep up a brave outside? This was in the very beginning of the war, when word first came that blood had been shed in Baltimore; and our Barton boys were in Boston reporting to Governor Andrew in less than a week after. Now we didn't, one of us, believe in the bravery of the South. We believed them braggarts and bullies, and that was all. We believed that, once let them see that the North was not going to give way to them, they would go back where they came from.
"You will be back in a month, Robert, all of you. Mind, I don't say you will send these hounds back to their kennels,--rather, send these gentry back to their ladies' chambers. But I won't say either. Only let them see that you are ready for a fair stand-up fight, and I'll be bound they'll be too much astonished to stop running for a week."
So we all said and thought at the North,--all but a few who had been at the South, and who knew too well how much in earnest it was in its treason, and how slight was the struggle it anticipated. These few shuddered at the possibility that stood red and gloomy in the path of the future,--these few, who knew both sides. Meanwhile both sides most heartily underrated each other, and had the sincerest reciprocal disrespect.
"I don't quite think like you, Auntie, but that is, perhaps, because I was at Charleston. A year at the South, and you understand them a little differently. But no matter,--they must go back all the same. This is my pincushion, is it?"
"Yes, and here are thread and needles. But, Rob, nonsense! I say you will be back in a month. They will begin talking and arguing, and once they begin that, there will be no fighting. It is like the Chinese, each side trying to frighten the other."
"Perhaps so," said Robert, in an abstracted way. "Let us hope so, at all events. I am sure I don't want to shoot anybody. But now I am going to Colonel Lunt's a little while; shall I find you up when I come back?"
"Come in, any way, and tell me if you have good news."
I knew what he was going to Colonel Lunt's for. He had talked to me about Percy, and I knew he loved her. If he had not been going away, perhaps he would have waited longer; for Mr. Lunt (he was Percy's cousin) had not been dead quite two years. But he said he could not go away without telling her; and when I remembered all the readings together, and the walkings and talkings between the two, I thought it most likely she had already consoled herself. As I said before, I had no very great love for her.
Not an hour, not fifteen minutes, when Robert returned. He looked paler than before, and spoke no word, only stared into the fire. At length, with a pitiful attempt at a smile, he said, "I'm a fool to be vexed about it,--let her please herself!"
"It is bad news, Robert!" said I softly, laying my hand on his arm. His hands were clenched hard together.
"Yes, there's no mistake about it. But, Auntie, tell me, am I a fool and a jackass? didn't you think she liked me?"
"To be sure I did!" I answered decidedly.
"Well, she says she never thought of me,--never!--and she never thought of marrying again."
The wound wouldn't bear touching,--it was too sore. So I sat silently with him, holding his hand in mine, and looking into the fire, and in almost as great a rage as he was. He knew I felt with him, and by and by he turned to kiss my cheek, but still without a word.
How I wished he could have gone to the conflict with the thought of his true love warm at his heart? Who deserved it so much? who was so brave, so heroic, so handsome?--one in ten thousand! And here was this dead-and-alive Percy Lunt, saying she never thought! "Pah!--just as if girls don't always think! If there's anything I do detest, it's a coquette!" The last sentence I unconsciously uttered aloud.
"Don't call her that, Auntie! I really think she didn't know. I wasn't just to her. I was too angry. When I spoke to her she looked really distressed and astonished. I am sure that I ought----"
"Nonsense, Robert! she must have seen your feelings. And haven't you been sending her flowers and books and pictures, and reading to her, and talking to her the whole time, this three months! Where were her eyes? I have no patience with her, I say!"
The boy had recovered his sense of justice so much sooner than I! He smiled sadly, and took both my little old hands in his. "Best of aunties! what a good hater you are! Now, if you love me, you will be kind to her, and try to love and comfort her. Somehow she looks very unhappy."
I could not answer.
"She looked--O so sorry! Auntie, when I spoke, and as if she was too much astonished to answer me. I do think it was the very last thing in the world she expected. And after she told me, which she did at once, that I was mistaken, and she was mistaken, and that we never could be any more than friends to each other, and I had got up to go away,--for I was very angry as well as agitated,--she stood looking so pale and so earnestly at me, as if she must make me believe her. Then she held out her hands to me, and I thought she was going to speak; but she shook her head, and seemed so thoroughly distressed, that I tried to smile, and shake hands cordially, though, I confess, I didn't feel much like it. But I do now, Auntie,--and you must forgive her for not thinking quite so much of your Rob as you do."
He took a photograph from his breast-pocket, and kissed it.
"She gave me this; and she wrote on the back the date of to-day, April 16th, 1861. She said she did not want me to remember her as she is now, but as she was in her happy days. And that they could never come again."
It was a very lovely vignette, taken when she was joyous and round-faced, and with the curls falling about her cheeks and neck, instead of the prim little widow's cap she wore now. And instead of the still, self-contained, suffering look, there was great sweetness and serenity.
"I don't see why she gave it to you, Rob," said I peevishly; "the best thing you can do is to forget her, and the kindest thing she could do to you would be to cut off all hope."
"She did that," he replied; "but she said she could not bear to have me go where I was going without feeling that I had left a most affectionate friend, who would watch eagerly for my success, and sympathize with all my trials. Auntie! who knows?"
I saw by the lighting up of his dark eyes what hope lay at the very bottom of his soul. And, to be sure, who knew what might be in the future? At all events, it made him more comfortable now to have this little, unexpressed, crouching hope, where he could silently caress it when he was far away from us all. He had all our photographs,--mother, sister, and aunt.
"And now I must go to Mr. Ford's to-night, and bid them good by. Don't let any enterprising young lawyer come here and get away all my business before the month is out. I came within an ace of making a writ only last week!"
So with smiles he parted from me, and strength was given me to smile too, the next morning, when he marched by my window, and bowed to me, at the head of his hundred men. I saw his steady, heroic face, no longer pale, but full of stern purpose and strength. And so they all looked,--strong, able, determined. The call took all our young men from Barton. Not one would remain behind.
And that is why I could not love Percy Lunt. How hard she worked at our soldiers' club! how gentle and respectful she always was to me! If I had not been always preoccupied and prejudiced, I might have pitied the poor, overcharged heart, that showed itself so plainly in the deathly pallor of the young cheek, and the eyes so weighed down with weeping. Colonel Lunt and his wife watched her with loving eyes, but they could do little to soothe her. Every heart must taste its own bitterness. And, besides, she wasn't their own child.
Every village has its great man and woman, and Colonel Lunt and his wife were Barton's. Theirs was the only family whose table appointments were of sufficient elegance to board the preceptor of the academy. All the Lyceum lecturers stopped at Colonel Lunt's; and Mrs. Lunt was the person who answered the requirements of Lady Manager for the Mount Vernon Association, namely, "social position, executive ability, tact, and persistency."
They were the only family in Barton who had been abroad. The rest of us stayed at home and admired them. They had not always lived in Barton; perhaps, if they had, we should not have succumbed so entirely as we all did, ten years ago, when Colonel Lunt came and bought the Schuyler place, (so called because General Schuyler stopped there over night on his way to fight Burgoyne,) and brought his orphan niece and adopted daughter with him, and also a French governess for the child. These things were not in Barton style at all; all our children being educated at the town school, and finished, as means allowed, by three months' polish at some seminary or other. Of course, in a country town like Barton, which numbers nearly fifteen hundred inhabitants, there is enough to interest and occupy every one. What would be gossip and scandal in a different social condition is pure, kindly interest in Barton. We know everybody, and his father and mother. Of course each person has his standing as inevitable and decided as an English nobleman's. Our social organization is perfect. Our circles are within and within each other, until we come to the _crème de la crème_ of the Lunts and six other families. The outer circle is quite extensive, embracing all the personable young men "who are not embarrassed with antecedents," as one of our number said. The inner one takes in some graduates of college,--persons who read all the new books, and give a tone to Barton. Among the best people are the Elliotts and Robertses. The lawyers and shopkeepers come in of course, but not quite of course--anywhere but in Barton--is included the barber. But Mr. Roberts was an extreme case. He had been destined to literary pursuits, became consumptive, and was obliged, by unforeseen contingencies, to take up some light employment, which proved in the end to be shaving. If it had been holding notes instead of noses, the employment would have been vastly genteel, I dare say. As it was, we thought about the French _émigrés_ and _marquises_ who made cakes and dressed hair for a living, and concluded to admit Mr. Roberts, especially as he married a far-away Elliott, and was really a sensible and cultivated man. But as we must stop somewhere, we drew a strict line before the tinman, blacksmith, and Democrats of all sorts. We are pure-blooded Federalists in Barton, and were brought up on the Hartford Convention. I think we all fully believed that a Democrat was unfit to associate with decent people.
As in most New England towns, the young fly from the parent nest as soon as they are fledged. Out of Barton have gone, in my time, Boston millionnaires, state secretaries, statesmen, and missionaries,--of the last, not a few. Once the town was full of odd people, whose peculiarities and idiosyncrasies ran to seed, and made strange, eventful histories.
But we have ceased to take such microscopic views of each other since the railway came within ten miles of us, and are now able to converse on much more general topics than formerly. Not that there isn't still opportunity to lament over the flighty nature of kitchen incumbents, and to look after the domestic interests of all Barton; but I think going to Boston several times a year tends to enlarge the mind, and gives us more subjects of conversation. We are quite up in the sculpture at Mount Auburn, and have our preferences for Bierstadt and Weber. Nobody in Barton, so far, is known to see anything but horrors in pre-Raphaelitism. Some wandering Lyceum-man tried to imbue us with the new doctrine, and showed us engravings of Raphael's first manner, and Perugino. But we all voted Perugino was detestable, and would none of him. Besides, none of the Lunts liked him.
In patriotism, Barton would have "knocked under to no man," if the question had been put to it ten years ago on the Fourth of July. When a proof of it was required from the pocket, on the occasion before alluded to, of the Mount Vernon Association, I regret to say the response did no credit to Barton.
Mrs. Lunt made a great many Lady Assistant Managers in the town, and sent us forth to gather in the harvest, which we could not doubt would be plentiful. She herself worded a most touching "appeal to the women of Barton," and described "the majestic desolation of the spot where the remains of Washington lie in cold neglect," and asked each one for a heart-offering to purchase, beautify, and perpetuate a fitting home where pilgrims from all parts of the Union should come to fill their urns with the tears of grateful remembrance.
It really seemed unnecessary to urge such a claim on a community like ours. Yet we found ourselves obliged to exhaust all the persistency and tact we had. For every conceivable reason Barton refused to respond to our appeals. The minister, Mr. Ford, declared to me that the sentiment of loyalty did not exist in America. Sometimes, he said, he wished he lived under a monarchy. He envied the heartfelt cheers with which Victoria's name was met, everywhere on British ground. "But you can't get people to give to Mount Vernon. They are afraid of slavery there. They are afraid of this, that, and the other; but give they will not." He handed me a dollar, in a hopeless way, which was a four-hundredth of his income. The blacksmith's wife would not admit me at all, saying, "There has been one beggar here already this morning!" The butcher's wife gave five cents; but I had my doubts about accepting it, for while I was indignantly relating the desolate condition of the home and tomb of the Father of his Country, and something about its being a spot only fit for a wild pelican to live in, the butcher himself passed through the house, nodding his head at me, and saying loudly, "Not a cent, wife!" The plasterer, Mr. Rice, a respectable Vermonter, asked me who Washington was; and Mrs. Goodwin, the cabinet-maker's wife, said cordially to me, "There 's ten cents towards a tomb. I don't never expect to go down South myself, but maybe my son'll like to be buried there." Her son was buried down South, with many more of our brave Barton boys, little as we thought of it then!
Now, the butcher and baker, the plasterer, and all, have gone to the war. They have learned what it is to have a country to live for. They have learned to hold up the old flag through thunderings and blood, and to die for it joyfully. What a baptism and regeneration it has been! what a new creation! Behold, old things have passed away, and all has become new!
Soon after the battle of Cedar Mountain, and Banks's retreat, we had long, full letters from Robert. He wrote a separate note to me, in which he said, "Be kind to Percy." It was the very thing I had not been,--had not felt it possible to be. But, conscience-stricken, I went up to call at Colonel Lunt's, and read our letters to them. Percy walked home with me, and we talked over the prospects and reverses of the war. Of course we would not allow there were any real reverses.
We went on to my little cottage, and I asked her to come in and rest. I remember it was a very still evening, except for a sad south-wind. The breeze sighed through the pines in front of the house, like the sound of distant water. The long lingering of the sun slanted over Percy's brow, as she sat leaning her head on her hand, and looking away off, as if over thousands of miles. Her pretty pale fingers were purple with working on hospital shirts and drawers, and bloody with pricking through the slipper soles for the wounded men. She was the most untiring and energetic of all the young people; but they all worked well.
We sat there some time without speaking. I was full of thought and anxiety, and I supposed she too might feel deeply about Robert.
"Aunt Marian,--may I call you so?" said she softly, at length looking up.
"Why not, Percy? you always do."
"Only, lately, it has seemed to me you were different."
She crossed the room and sat down on a _tabouret_ so low that she was at my feet, and took my hand with a humble sweetness that would have touched any heart less hard than mine.
"I used to love to hear _him_ call you so!" she went on, caressing my hand, which I did not withdraw, though I should have liked well to do so, for I did not at all like this attitude we had assumed of penitent and confessor. "I can't expect you to be just to me, dear Auntie, because you don't know. But oh! do believe! I never guessed Robert's feelings for me. How could I think of it,--and I a married woman!"
"Married! Percy!" said I, astonished at her agitation and the tears that flowed down her pale face like rain.
"Yes," she answered in a voice so low that I could scarcely hear it.
"Not a widow, Percy Lunt! What do you mean?"
"I think--I believe--my husband is living. He was so a few months ago. But I cannot tell you any more without papa's permission. O, I have suffered so much! You would pity me if you knew all. But I felt as if I must tell you this: and then--you would understand how I might have been, as I was, so wholly preoccupied with my own feelings and interests as never to guess that Robert's was anything but the regard of a friend. And, indeed," she added with a sorrowful smile, "I feel so much older than Robert.--I have gone through so much, that I feel ten years older than he is. You will believe me, Aunt Marian, and forgive me?"
"It is easy to forgive, poor child!" I said, mingling my tears with hers. "I have been cruel and hard-hearted to you. But I felt only for poor Robert, and how could I guess?"
"You couldn't,--and that is why I felt that I must tell you."
"I cannot ask you anything further,--it is very strange."
While Percy kept strong rein on her feelings, her impassive manner had deceived me. Now that my sympathy with her made me more keenly alive to her distress, I saw the deep pain in her pale face, and the unnatural look of grief in one so young. She tied on her hat in her old, hopeless way, and the ivory smoothness of her face spoke of self-centred and silent suffering.
"If papa is willing, I shall come to-morrow, and tell you part, at least, of my sad story; and even if he is not willing, I think I must tell you a part of it. I owe it to you, Aunt Marian!"
"I shall be at home all day, my dear," I said, kissing the poor, pale lips with such tender pity as I had never thought to feel for Percy Lunt.
It was early in September, 1862, and on Sunday morning, the day after I had received the promise of at least a partial confidence from Percy. We were to come home together from meeting, and she was to spend the rest of the day quietly with me. Many a query passed through my mind as I walked along. I wondered at a thousand things,--at the mysteries that are directly under our feet,--at the true stories that belong to every family, and are never known but to the trusted few,--at the many that are known but to the one heart, whereon they are cut in sharp letters.
As I approached the meeting-house, I saw Mr. Ford talking earnestly with Colonel Lunt and Mr. Wilder on the porch-step, while the pews were already full, and the clock pointed to ten minutes past the usual time. I had myself been detained until late, and had walked rapidly and quite alone.
The heart of the community was on the _qui vive_ so constantly, that any unusual sign startled and alarmed every one. A minute more, and Mr. Ford passed rapidly up the broad aisle, his face pale with excitement. Instead of the opening prayer, he said to us: "Brethren and sisters! there has been a great battle,--a terrible battle at Antietam! They have sent on to the North for aid for the wounded, who are being brought on as fast as possible to Washington. But they are brought in by thousands, and everything is needed that any of us can spare."
All of us had risen to our feet.
"I have thought we should best serve and praise our God by ministering to the sufferings of our brave boys! God knows what afflictions are in store for us; but all who can aid in this extremity I am sure will do so, and the blessing of those ready to perish will fall on them."
Mr. Ford ceased speaking. He had two boys with McClellan; and then Colonel Lunt, in a few words, stated the arrangements which had already been made by himself and Mr. Wilder, who was a deacon of the church, to convey any articles that might be contributed to the railroad station ten miles away. Whatever was gathered together should be brought to the Common at once, where it would be boxed and put into the wagons.
"Ah, then and there was hurrying to and fro!"
But one hour later saw Barton Common, an enclosed acre of ground, covered with every sort of garment that could by any possibility be useful in a hospital. Besides the incredible numbers of sheets and pillow-cases, wrappers and stockings, which every housekeeper drew forth from her stores, notwithstanding her previous belief and assertion that she "really had nothing more fit to give to the soldiers," there were countless boxes of jellies, preserves, and dried fruit. Everything palatable and transportable was brought, with streaming eyes and throbbing hearts, to the general contribution. From house to house the electric current of sympathy flowed, and by twelve o'clock Barton Common was a sight to behold. Seventeen boxes full of all imaginable comforts and alleviatives set off in four wagons for the railroad station, and Colonel Lunt himself went on with them to Washington to see that they were properly and safely delivered. That was a Sunday service for us!
I had been sitting in my little keeping-room, knitting at soldiers' stockings, (what would Deacon Hall's wife and my mother have thought of my doing this on a Sunday!) and with the tea ready for drawing, when Percy came to make her promised visit. She too brought her basket of gray yarn and knitting-needles. We were not afraid of becoming atheists, if we did work on a Sunday. Our sheep had all fallen into ditches on the Sabbath-day, and we should have been worse than Jews not to have laid hold to get them out. So Percy kept on knitting until after our tea was ready, and then helped me with the teacups. When we were seated at the west window on the wide seat together, she put her arm round my neck and kissed me.
"You will forgive me all, Aunt?"
"O, you know that beforehand!"
"But I shall not tell you very much, and what I do tell is so unpleasant and mortifying to reveal, that it was only when I told papa my great reason he was willing I should tell you."
"Tell me just as much, and just as little, as you like, my dear; I am willing to believe in you without a word," I said. And so it was; and philosophers may tell, if they can, why it was.
"You remember my governess, Madame Guyot?"
"O, yes, of course, perfectly. Her dreadfully pale face and great black eyes."
"She was so good to me! I loved her dearly. But after she died, you remember, they sent me to Paris to a school which she recommended, and which was really a very good one, and where I was very happy; and it was after that _we_ travelled so much, and I met--"
"Never mind, my poor dear!" I said, seeing that she was choked with her sorrowful remembrances, "I can guess,--you saw there the person,--the young man--"
"I was only seventeen, Aunt Marian! and he was the first man I ever saw that really interested me at all,--though papa had several proposals for me from others. But this young man was so different. He really loved me, I am sure,--or rather I was sure at the time. He was not in good health, and I think his tall, fragile, spiritual person interested all the romance of my nature. Look at his picture, and tell me if that is the face of a bad or a treacherous man!"
Percy opened a red morocco case and handed it to me. I gazed on the face with deep interest. The light, curling hair and smooth face gave an impression of extreme youth, and the soft blue eyes had the careless, serene expression which is often seen in foreigners' eyes, but scarcely ever in those of Americans. There was none of the keen, business look apparent in almost every New England face, but rather an abstracted, gentle expression, as of one interested in poetry or scientific pursuits,--objects that do not bring him in conflict with his race.
I expressed something of this to Percy, and she said I was right about the poetry, and especially the gentleness. But he had, in fact, only been a student, and as yet but little of a traveller. They were to have travelled together after their marriage.
"It was only six weeks after that, when Charles was obliged to go to the West Indies on business for his father. It was the sickly season, and he would not let me go with him. He was to be back in England in five or six weeks at farthest."
"And--he wasn't lost?"
"Lost to me. Papa heard at one time that he was living at the West Indies, and after a time he went there to search for him--in vain. Then, months after, we heard that he had been seen in Fayal. Sometimes I think--I almost hope he is dead. For that he should be willing to go away and live without me is so dreadful!"
"You are dressed like a widow?"
"Yes,--I desired it myself, after two years had passed, and not a word came from Charles. But papa says he has most likely met with a violent death, and that these rumors of his having been seen in Fayal and in the West Indies, as we heard once, are only got up to mislead suspicion. You know papa's great dislike--nay, I may call it weakness--is being talked about and discussed. And he thought the best way was to say nothing about the peculiarity or mystery attending my marriage, but merely say I was a widow. Somebody in Barton said Charles died of a fever, and as nobody contradicted it, so it has gone; but, Aunt Marian, it is often my hope, and even belief, that I shall see him again!"
She stopped talking, and hid her face, sobbing heavily, like a grieved child. Poor thing! I pitied her from my heart. But what could I say? People are not lost, now-a-days. The difficulty is to be able to hide, try they ever so much. It looked very dark for this Charles Lunt; and, by her own account, they had not known much about him. He was a New York merchant, and I had not much opinion of New York morals myself. From their own newspapers, I should say there was more wickedness than could possibly be crammed into their dailies going on as a habit. However, I said nothing of this sort to poor Percy, whose grief and mortification had already given her such a look of suffering as belongs only to the gloomiest experience of life. I soothed and comforted her as well as I might, and it doesn't always take a similar experience to give consolation. She said it was a real comfort to tell me about her trouble, and I dare say it was.
When Colonel Lunt got back from Washington, he had a great deal to tell us all, which he did, at our next soldiers' meeting, of the good which the Barton boxes had done. But he said it was a really wonderful sight to see the amount of relief contributed on that Lord's day, from all parts of the North, for the wounded. Every train brought in hundreds and thousands of packages and boxes, filled with comforts and delicacies. If the boys had been at home, they could not have been cared for more tenderly and abundantly. And the nurses in the hospitals! Colonel Lunt couldn't say enough about them. It was a treat to be watched over and consoled by such ministering angels as these women were! We could believe that, if they were at all like Anna Ford, who went, she said, "to help the soldiers bear the pain!" And I know she did that in a hundred cases,--cases where the men said they should have given up entirely, if she hadn't held their hands, or their heads, while their wounds were being dressed. "It made it seem so like their own mother or sister!"
That fall, I think, Barton put up eighty boxes of blackberry jam. This wasn't done without such a corresponding amount of sympathy in every good word and work as makes a community take long leaps in Christian progress. Barton could not help improving morally and mentally while her sons were doing the country's work of regeneration; and her daughters forgot their round tires like the moon, their braidings of hair, and their tinkling ornaments, while they devoted themselves to all that was highest and noblest both in thought and action. I was proud of Barton girls, when I saw them on the hills, in their sun-bonnets, gathering the fruit that was to be for the healing of the nations.
Soon after Colonel Lunt's return, he told me one day, in one of his cautious whispers, that he and Mrs. Lunt proposed to take me over to Swampy Hollow, if it would be agreeable to me. Of course it was; but I was surprised, when we were fairly shut up in the carriage, to find no Percy with us.
"We left her at home purposely," said Colonel Lunt, in a mysterious way, which he was fond of, and which always enraged me.
I don't like mysteries or whisperings, and yet, from an unfortunate "receptivity" in my nature, I am the unwilling depositary of half the secrets of Barton. I knew now that I was to hear poor Percy's story over again, with the Colonel's emendations and illustrations. I was in the carriage, and there was no getting out of it. Mrs. Lunt was used to him, and, I do believe, would like nothing better than to hear his old stories over and over, from January to December. But I wasn't of a patient make.
Colonel Lunt was a gentleman of the old school, which means, according to my experience, a person who likes to spend a long time getting at a joke or telling a story. He was a long time telling this, with the aid of Mrs. Lunt, who put in her corrections now and then, in a gentle, wifely way all her own, and which helped, instead of hindering him.
"And now, may I ask, my dear Colonel," said I, when he had finished, "why don't you, or rather why didn't you tell Percy the whole story?"
The Colonel pulled the check-string. "Thomas! drive slowly home now, and go round by the Devil's Dishful."
This is one of the loveliest drives about Barton. I knew that the Colonel's mind was easy.
"What need is there, or was there, to cloud Percy's life with such knowledge? Why, my dear Miss Elliott, if we all knew what other people know about us, we should be wretched! No! the mysteries of life are as merciful as the revelations; let us be thankful for all that we do _not_ know."
"And I am sure we couldn't love Percy any more than we do, let her birth or circumstances be what they would," said Mrs. Lunt.
"I don't believe in natural affection, myself," said the Colonel; "but if I did, it would be enough to hear Percy congratulating herself on being of 'our very own blood,--a real Lunt!' Poor child! why should we trouble her? And I have often heard her say, she thought any blot on one's lineage the greatest of misfortunes."
"The reason the Colonel wanted to tell you about Percy was this. Now that her husband may be dead, who knew all about her, it is just possible that circumstances may arise that would need the interference of friends. If we were to die, the secret might die with us. We are sure it will be safe with you, Aunt Marian, and we think that, as you know about her husband, you had better know the whole."
Now this whole I propose to tell, myself, in one tenth part of the time it took the Colonel to tell me, prefacing it with a few facts about himself, which I guess he does not think that I know, and which relate to his early beginnings. Of course, all Barton is fully acquainted with the fact that he was born in the north of Vermont, at "the jumping-off place." He came to Boston, mostly on foot, and began his career in a small shop in Cornhill, where he sold bandannas, and the like. This imports nothing,--only he came by and by to associate with lords and dukes. And that shows what comes of being an American. He fell among Perkinses and Sturgises, and after working hard for them in China, and getting a great deal to do in the "carrying-trade," whatever that may be, retired on his half-million to Maryland, where he lived awhile, until he went to Europe. After he returned he bought the Schuyler place, which had been for sale years and years. But in Barton we like new things, and we saw no beauty in the old house, with its long walk of nearly a quarter of a mile to the front door, bordered with box. The Colonel, whose taste has been differently cultivated, has made a beautiful place of it, applying some of the old French notions of gardening, where the trees would admit of being cut into grotesque shapes, and leaving the shade-trees, stately and handsome, as they always were. Now to his story in my own words.
I can't think of a more desolate place than they had in Maryland, by their own account;--a great, dismal house, without chick or child in it for years and years;--full of rooms and furniture and black people, and nowhere the shout and cry of a baby. There was nobody to be anxious about,--nobody gone away or coming home, or to be wept for, or to be joyful for;--only their two stupid selves. Madam pottering about the great house, dusting with a feather duster all the knick-knacks that she had brought home from Europe, and that she might have just as well bought in New York after she got home; and he putting up books and taking them down, riding out on his white horse, and having somebody to dine once in a while,--_could_ any life be drearier and more tiresome?
Why people who have great empty houses and hearts don't rush into the street and pick up the first dozen little vagabonds they see, I can't think. With soap-suds, love, and the tenderest care, why don't they baptize them, body and soul, and keep them to make music in their silent halls, and, when their time comes, have something worth to render up to the child-loving Christ? Especially, why didn't two such affectionate, tender-hearted persons as Colonel Lunt and his wife? But they did not. They only waxed duller and duller, sitting there by their Christmas fires, that warmed no hearts but their own, rapidly growing cold.
They sat alone by their Christmas fire one night, at last, to some purpose. All the servants had gone off pleasuring somewhere, where it is to be hoped there were children enough. The Colonel went himself to the door and brought in a market-basket that stood in the porch. He opened it by the light of a blazing fire, and Mrs. Lunt guessed, at every wrapper he turned down, something, and then something else; but she never guessed a baby. Yet there it lay, with eyes wide open,--a perfect baby, nobly planned;--a year old or more; and no more afraid of the Colonel than if it had been in society ten years. The little girl sprang forward towards him, laughing, and by doing so won his heart at once. Mrs. Lunt found credentials in the basket, in the shape of a note written in good English and spelled correctly. The wardrobe of the baby accompanied her also,--fine and delicately embroidered. The note said that circumstances of the most painful nature made it imperative to the mother of this child to keep herself unknown for a time; but meanwhile begged the charitable care of Colonel Lunt.
The child, of course, took straight hold of their heart-strings. She made the house ring with her shouts and her healthy glee. She toddled over everything without restraint; tumbled over Chinese tea-poys and Japan idols; upset the alabaster Graces in the best parlor, and pulled every knick-knack out of its proper place.
The worthy couple wondered at the happiness this naughty little thing brought; and a tyranny, but one very sweet and fair, triumphed in the decorous parlor and over the decorous old hearts. The baby was in a fair way of becoming a spoiled pest, when her own mother, in the character of French _bonne_, and afterwards of governess, came to the rescue. She told her story, which was rather a strange one, to the Colonel, and they made an arrangement with her to come and take care of the child. It was planned between them that Percy (her name is Amy Percival) should personate the only child of a deceased brother of the Colonel, and be adopted by him as his own daughter. Thenceforward the poor pale Madame Guyot took up her abode with them, like Amram's wife at the Egyptian court. I remember how sad and silent she always was, and how much her French speech separated her from us all in Barton. No wonder to me now that she faded day by day, till her life went out. No wonder that she was glad to exchange those memories of hers, and Percy's duty-kisses, for the green grave.
When the child was fourteen, the Colonel took her abroad, but before that time the governess died. In some respects the Colonel's theory of education was peculiar. Squeers thought it best for people to learn how to spell windows by washing them,--"And then, you know, they don't forget. Winders, there 't is." And the Colonel approved of learning geography by going to the places themselves, and especially of learning the languages on the spot. This, he contended, was the only correct way, and enough better than by hammering forever at school-books and masters. It was in pursuance of this somewhat desultory, but healthful mode of education, that the family found itself, in 1857, at Baden-Baden.
As usual, there were, in the crowds there assembled for health and pleasure, a great many English; among them several persons of high rank. Here were German princes and counts, so plenty that Percy got tired of wondering they were not more refined and agreeable. She was herself a great attraction there, and, the Colonel said, had many admirers. Among the guests was an English family that took great notice of her, and made many advances towards intimacy. The two young ladies and their father seemed equally pleased and interested in the Lunts, and when they left Baden-Baden asked them to make them a visit in the autumn at their house in Derbyshire.
Thinking of this, I am not much surprised. For the Colonel's manners are unexceptionably good, with a simplicity and a self-reliance that mark a true gentleman; while Mrs. Lunt is the loveliest and best-bred woman in Barton, and consequently fit society for any nobleman.
When the Lunts went to England, in October, they visited these people. And there they found Charles Lunt, a second-cousin of the Colonel's, a New-Yorker, and a graduate of Oxford. His father had sent him to England to be finished off, after Yale had done its best for him here. He and Percy fell in love immediately, and matters came to a climax.
Colonel Lunt did not desire the connection at all. Charles's mother was related to the family where they were visiting, and, as he himself would feel it incumbent on him to state the facts relative to Percy's birth, he foresaw distinctly only a mortifying relinquishment of the alliance. Charles was, in fact, on his mother's side, second-cousin to an English Earl. The name of the Earl I don't give, for the good reason that the Colonel kept it a secret, and, even if I knew, I should not wish to reveal it.
Before Colonel Lunt could act on his impressions and decisions, Charles cut the knot by asking his relative, the Earl, to make proposals for him. He was of age, with an independent fortune, and could please himself, and it pleased him to marry Percy.
Then the Colonel asked to see Charles, and he was called in. He began by declining the connection; but finding this mortifying and mysterious to both the gentlemen, he ended by a plain statement of such of the facts as he had been made acquainted with by Madame Guyot.
"I don't know the name of Percy's father," said the Colonel, "the poor woman would give me no clew to him,--but he may be living,--he may some time trace and claim her!"
"Does this make any difference to you, Charles?" said the Earl, when Colonel Lunt had finished.
"Not a jot!" said Charles, warmly. "It isn't likely her father will ever either trace or claim her; and, if he should even, and all should come out, why, I care nothing for it,--nothing, I mean, in comparison with Percy."
Of course then the Colonel had no objections.
"Now, is it best, all things considered," said the Earl, who took the interest of a father in Charles, "is it best to say anything to Percy of her real history?"
Charles thought not by any means, and it was so agreed among the three. The young man left the room to go to his confident wooing, for there was not much reason to doubt of his fate, and left Colonel Lunt with the Earl.
"Nothing can be more honorable than your whole proceeding, Colonel, in this matter. You might have kept the thing quiet, if you had so chosen."
"I always meant to tell any man who really desired to marry Percy," said the Colonel; "we never can tell what may happen, and I wouldn't be such a swindler as to keep these facts from him, on which his whole decision might rest."
The Colonel looked at the Earl,--"looked him straight in the eye," he said,--for he felt it an imputation on his honor that he could have been supposed for a moment to do otherwise than he had done. To his surprise the Earl turned very red, and then very pale, and said, holding out his hand, "You have kept my secret well, Colonel Lunt! and I thank you for it!"
"You are Percy's father!" said the Colonel, at once.
The Earl wrung his hand hard. It isn't the English nature to express much, but it was plain that the past was full of mournful and distressful remembrances.
"I never thought of it till this instant," said Colonel Lunt, "and I don't know how I knew it; but it was written in your face. She never told me who it was!"
"But she wrote to me about you, and about the child. I have watched your comings and goings these many years. I knew I should meet you where I did. You may guess my feelings at seeing my beautiful child,--at seeing how lovely in mind and person she is, and at being unable to call her my own! I was well punished the first hour after I met you. But my next hope and desire was to interest you all enough in my own family to induce you to come here. In fact, I did think you were the depositary of my secret. But I see I was wrong there."
"Yes," the Colonel said, "Madame Guyot simply informed me the child's father would never claim her, and that the name was an assumed one. I saw how it probably was, but I respected her too much to ask anything which she did not herself choose to reveal. I think she was one of the loveliest and most superior women I ever saw, though, at the time I first met her, she showed that her health was fatally undermined. It was much on her account that I left Maryland for the more equable climate of Barton."
"You were everything to her that the most tender and noble friends could be!" said the Earl, warmly. "She wrote me of all your kindness. Now let me tell you a little about her. She was my sister's governess, and I saw her in my college vacations. I need not tell you how lovely she was in her youth. She was no French girl, but a country curate's daughter in Hampshire. Now, Colonel Lunt, it would have been as impossible for me to marry that girl--no matter how beautiful, refined, and good--as if she had been a Hottentot. How often I have wished to throw birth, connections, name, title, everything, to the winds, that I might take Amy Percival to my heart and hold her there legally! How I have envied the Americans, who care nothing for antecedents, to whom birth and social position are literally nothing,--often not even fortunate accidents! How many times I have read your papers, and imagined myself thrown on my own resources only, like so many of your successful men, and making my own way among you, taking my Amy with me and giving her a respectable and happy home! But these social cobwebs by which we poor flies are caught and held,--it is very hard to break them! I was always going to do right, and always did wrong. After my great wrong to Amy, which was a pretended marriage, she left me,--she had found out my villany,--and went to America. She did not write to me until she knew she must die, and then she related every particular,--all your great kindness to both her and the child, and the motherly tenderness with which Mrs. Lunt had endeavored to soften her sufferings. In twenty years I have changed very much every way, but I have never ceased to feel self-contempt for my conduct to Amy Percival."
Now a new question arose.
Was it best to reveal this last secret to Charles? He had been content to take Percy, nameless and illegitimate. The Earl was extremely unwilling to extend his confidence further than Colonel Lunt. It seemed to him unnecessary. He said he desired to give Percy the same share of his property that his other two daughters would receive on their marriage, but that he could not openly do this without exciting remarks and provoking unpleasant feelings. Colonel Lunt considered that the secret was not his to keep or reveal. So nothing was said, and the marriage took place at the house of the Earl; Colonel Lunt receiving from Percy's father ten thousand pounds, as some atonement by a wounded conscience.
"Now," said the Colonel, as he finished his long story, and we drove up to his house, "I say it was a mean cowardice that kept that man from doing his daughter justice. But then he was a scoundrel all through. And now for my reason for telling you. I have my doubts, after all, about the first marriage. There are the certificate and all the papers safe in my desk. Earls may die, and worms may eat them,--and so with their sons and daughters. It isn't among the impossibilities that my little Percy may be a countess yet! Any way, if an advertisement should appear calling for heirs to the Earl of Blank, somebody besides me and my little woman would know all about it."
Mrs. Lunt insisted on my stopping to tea with them, and I had a strange curiosity to look at Percy Lunt again, surrounded with this new halo, thrice circled, of mystery. If she only knew or guessed what she really was!
She sat by the fire, for the evening was a little cool, and, as we came in, roused herself from her sad posture to give me welcome. How white her face was! It was grievous to see such a young spirit so blanched,--so utterly unelastic. If she could receive tidings of his death, she would reconcile herself to the inevitable; but this wearing, gnawing pain, this grief at his desertion, this dread of meeting him again after he had been willing to leave her so long,--death itself would be less bitter! But there were no words to console her with.
"You have had letters from Robert?" she inquired.
"Only a telegram came saying that the Barton boys were safe. It must have been a dreadful battle! They say twelve thousand were killed on each side."
"But you will hear very soon?"
"O, yes," I said, "but Robert must have his hands very full. He will write as soon as he has a minute of leisure."
Robert was colonel now, and we were very proud of him. He had not yet received a scratch, and he had been in eleven battles. We felt as if he bore a charmed life.
After tea, we four sat round the sparkling wood-fire, knitting and talking, (people in war-time have enough to talk about,) when a loud, sudden knock at the door startled us. The old knocker thumped again and again. The servant hurried to the door, and a moment after a man rushed by him, with swift and heavy steps into the parlor, caught up Percy as if she had been a feather, and held her tight to his heart and mouth.
He had not taken off his army cap, nor his blue great coat. We all sprang up at his entrance, of course, but I hadn't a thought who it could be, until Colonel Lunt called out "_Charles!_"
There he was, to be sure, as alive as he could be, with his great red beard, and his face tanned and burnt like a brick! He took no notice of us whatever, only kept kissing Percy over and over, till her face, which was white as death, was covered with living crimson, and her heavy-lidded eyes turned to stars for brightness!
After her fashion, Percy still continued undemonstrative, so far as words went; but she clung most eloquently to his neck with both her hands, the joyful light from her eyes streaming silently into his. O, it was fair to see,--this might of human love,--this mystery that needed no solving! His face shedding fidelity and joyfulness, and her heart accepting it with a trust that had not one question!
In a few but most eloquent words he told us his adventures. But that would make a story by itself. A shipwreck,--and capture by Japanese pirates,--prison,--escape,--landing at Mobile,--pressed into the Rebel service,--battle,--prisoner to the Union forces,--glad taking of the oath of allegiance,--interview with General Banks, and service at last for the North. It was a wild, strange story of suffering, hardships, and wonderful escapes. Colonel Lunt said he never should have known the man, nor guessed at him, but for his eyes, he was so altered in every way,--so rough and strong-looking, with his complexion tanned and weather-beaten; and he had always been such a delicate, curled darling of indulgent parents! However, he looked twice the man he was before, Mrs. Lunt whispered me; and Percy could not take her eyes off him, he looked so strong and noble, and his face so full of high thoughts.
He had been in several battles, and had been wounded twice. After his first wound he had been some time in a Southern hospital. "And now I think of it, Percy," he said, turning suddenly to her, and taking her on his knee as if she had been a baby, "it was in a hospital that I found out where you were. You must know that I hadn't the least clew to your whereabout, and thought of you as most likely still in London. You know our plan was to travel together for some months, and I could not guess where you might be, if indeed you were alive. After the battle the other day, I went into one of the improvised hospitals to look after some brave fellows of mine, when one of the nurses asked me for directions as to the burial of some men who had just been brought in. They had officers' uniforms on, and it was ascertained that they were really dead. As I turned to give the necessary directions, a man at my side, who was smoothing down the limbs of one who had just ceased to breathe, handed me a photograph from the man's breast, all rumpled and bloody. I recognized it in a moment as yours, Percy,--though how it should have been in that man's breast, I couldn't see."
Percy and I looked at each other. But we dared not think. He went on.
"I could not recognize him. But he was one of so many who were brought in on that terrible day after the battle, and except my own company I scarcely knew any of the officers. But I saw by the photograph where you were, at least the name on the back was a guide. It was Barton, Mass., and the date of April, 1861. So, as I had worked pretty well at Antietam, Little Mac gave me a week's furlough, and I thought I would try it!"
"Do you remember at all how he looked?" Mrs. Lunt asked, for I could not speak.
"The young officer? Yes, Madam, I looked keenly at him, you may be sure. He was tall and fine-looking, with dark, curling hair, and his regular features were smiling and peaceful. They mostly look so who are shot dead at once. And this one had not suffered. He had died at the moment of triumph."
I went home to fear and to weep. It seemed too certain. And time brought us the truth. Robert had fallen as he would have chosen to fall, leading on his men. He was so tall, and he was such a shining mark for death! But I knew that no din of cannon or roar of battle was loud enough to overcome the still, small voices of home, and that his last thought was, as he wrote me it would be, "of you all."
O beautiful, valiant youth! O fearful ploughshare, tearing thy way through so many bleeding hearts! O terrible throes, out of which a new nation must be born!
IN THE HEMLOCKS.
Most people receive with incredulity a statement of the number of birds that annually visit our climate. Very few even are aware of half the number that spend the summer in their own immediate vicinity. We little suspect, when we walk in the woods, whose privacy we are intruding upon,--what rare and elegant visitants from Mexico, from Central and South America, and from the islands of the sea, are holding their reunions in the branches over our heads, or pursuing their pleasure on the ground before us.
I recall the altogether admirable and shining family which Thoreau dreamed he saw in the upper chambers of Spaulding's woods, which Spaulding did not know lived there, and which were not put out when Spaulding, whistling, drove his team through their lower halls. They did not go into society in the village; they were quite well; they had sons and daughters; they neither wove nor spun; there was a sound as of suppressed hilarity.
I take it for granted that the forester was only saying a pretty thing of the birds, though I have observed that it does sometimes annoy them when Spaulding's cart rumbles through their house. Generally, however, they are as unconscious of Spaulding as Spaulding is of them.
Walking the other day in an old hemlock wood, I counted over forty varieties of these summer visitants, many of them common to other woods in the vicinity, but quite a number peculiar to these ancient solitudes, and not a few that are rare in any locality. It is quite unusual to find so large a number abiding in one forest,--and that not a large one,--most of them nesting and spending the summer there. Many of those I observed commonly pass this season much farther north. But the geographical distribution of birds is rather a climatical one. The same temperature, though under different parallels, usually attracts the same birds; difference in altitude being equivalent to the difference in latitude. A given height above the sea level under the parallel of 30° may have the same climate as places under that of 35°, and similar Flora and Fauna. At the head-waters of the Delaware, where I write, the latitude is that of Boston, but the region has a much greater elevation, and hence a climate that compares better with the northern part of the State and of New England. Half a day's drive to the southeast brings me down into quite a different temperature, with an older geological formation, different forest timber, and different birds,--even with different mammals. Neither the little Gray Rabbit nor the little Gray Fox is found in my locality, but the great Northern Hare and the Red Fox are seen here. In the last century a colony of beavers dwelt here, though the oldest inhabitant cannot now point to even the traditional site of their dams. The ancient hemlocks, whither I propose to take the reader, are rich in many things beside birds. Indeed, their wealth in this respect is owing mainly, no doubt, to their rank vegetable growths, their fruitful swamps, and their dark, sheltered retreats.
Their history is of an heroic cast. Ravished and torn by the tanner in his thirst for bark, preyed upon by the lumberman, assaulted and beaten back by the settler, still their spirit has never been broken, their energies never paralyzed. Not many years ago a public highway passed through them, but it was at no time a tolerable road; trees fell across it, mud and limbs choked it up, till finally travellers took the hint and went around; and now, walking along its deserted course, I see only the footprints of coons, foxes, and squirrels.
Nature loves such woods, and places her own seal upon them. Here she shows me what can be done with ferns and mosses and lichens. The soil is marrowy and full of innumerable forests. Standing in these fragrant aisles, I feel the strength of the vegetable kingdom and am awed by the deep and inscrutable processes of life going on so silently about me.
No hostile forms with axe or spud now visit these solitudes. The cows have half-hidden ways through them, and know where the best browsing is to be had. In spring the farmer repairs to their bordering of maples to make sugar; in July and August women and boys from all the country about penetrate the old Barkpeeling for raspberries and blackberries; and I know a youth who wonderingly follows their languid stream casting for trout.
In like spirit, alert and buoyant, on this bright June morning go I also to reap my harvest,--pursuing a sweet more delectable than sugar, fruit more savory than berries, and game for another palate than that tickled by trout.
June, of all the months, the student of ornithology can least afford to lose. Most birds are nesting then, and in full song and plumage. And what is a bird without its song? Do we not wait for the stranger to speak? It seems to me that I do not know a bird till I have heard its voice; then I come nearer it at once, and it possesses a human interest to me. I have met the Gray-cheeked Thrush (_Turdus aliciæ_) in the woods, and held him in my hand; still I do not know him. The silence of the Cedar-Bird throws a mystery about him which neither his good looks nor his petty larcenies in cherry time can dispel. A bird's song contains a clew to its life, and establishes a sympathy, an understanding, between itself and the admiring listener.
I descend a steep hill, and approach the hemlocks through a large sugar-bush. When twenty rods distant, I hear all along the line of the forest the incessant warble of the Red-eyed Flycatcher (_Vireosylvia olivacea_), cheerful and happy as the merry whistle of a schoolboy. He is one of our most common and widely distributed birds. Approach any forest at any hour of the day, in any kind of weather, from May to August, in any of the Middle or Eastern districts, and the chances are that the first note you hear will be his. Rain or shine, before noon or after, in the deep forest or in the village grove,--when it is too hot for the thrushes or too cold and windy for the warblers,--it is never out of time or place for this little minstrel to indulge his cheerful strain. In the deep wilds of the Adirondac, where few birds are seen and fewer heard, his note was almost constantly in my ear. Always busy, making it a point never to suspend for one moment his occupation to indulge his musical taste, his lay is that of industry and contentment. There is nothing plaintive or especially musical in his performance, but the sentiment expressed is eminently that of cheerfulness. Indeed the songs of most birds have some human significance, which, I think, is the source of the delight we take in them. The song of the Bobolink, to me, expresses hilarity; the Song-Sparrow's, faith; the Bluebird's, love; the Cat-Bird's, pride; the White-eyed Fly-catcher's, self-consciousness; that of the Hermit-Thrush, spiritual serenity; while there is something military in the call of the Robin, and unalloyed contentment in the warble of the Red-eyed Vireo.
This bird is classed among the flycatchers, but is much more of a worm-eater, and has few of the traits or habits of the _Muscicapa_ or the true _Sylvia_. He resembles somewhat the Warbling Vireo (_Vireo gilvus_), and the two birds are often confounded by careless observers. Both warble in the same cheerful strain, but the latter more continuously and rapidly. The Red-Eye is a larger, slimmer bird, with a faint bluish crown, and a light line over the eye. His movements are peculiar. You may see him hopping among the limbs, exploring the under side of the leaves, peering to the right and left,--now flitting a few feet, now hopping as many,--and warbling incessantly, occasionally in a subdued tone, which sounds from a very indefinite distance. When he has found a worm to his liking, he turns lengthwise of the limb, and bruises its head with his beak before devouring it.
As I enter the woods the Slate-colored Snowbird (_Fringilla Hudsonia_) starts up before me and chirps sharply. His protest when thus disturbed is almost metallic in its sharpness. He breeds here, and is not esteemed a snowbird at all, as he disappears at the near approach of winter, and returns again in spring, like the Song-Sparrow, and is not in any way associated with the cold and the snow. So different are the habits of birds in different localities. Even the Crow does not winter here, and is seldom seen after December or before March.
The Snow-Bird, or "Black Chipping-Bird," as it is known among the farmers, is the finest architect of any of the ground-builders known to me. The site of its nest is usually some low bank by the roadside near a wood. In a slight excavation, with a partially concealed entrance, the exquisite structure is placed. Horse-hair and cow-hair are plentifully used, imparting to the interior of the nest great symmetry and firmness as well as softness.
Passing down through the maple arches, barely pausing to observe the antics of a trio of squirrels,--two gray ones and a black one,--I cross an ancient brush fence and am fairly within the old hemlocks, and in one of the most primitive, undisturbed nooks. In the deep moss I tread as with muffled feet, and the pupils of my eyes dilate in the dim, almost religious light. The irreverent red squirrels, however, run and snicker at my approach, or mock the solitude with their ridiculous chattering and frisking.
This nook is the chosen haunt of the Winter Wren. This is the only place and these the only woods in which I find him in this vicinity. His voice fills these dim aisles, as if aided by some marvellous sounding-board. Indeed, his song is very strong for so small a bird, and unites in a remarkable degree brilliancy and plaintiveness. I think of a tremulous vibrating tongue of silver. You may know it is the song of a wren, from its gushing lyrical character; but you must needs look sharp to see the little minstrel, especially while in the act of singing. He is nearly the color of the ground and the leaves; he never ascends the tall trees, but keeps low, flitting from stump to stump and from root to root, dodging in and out of his hiding-places, and watching all intruders with a suspicious eye. He has a very perk, almost comical look. His tail stands more than perpendicular: it points straight toward his head. He is the least ostentatious singer I know of. He does not strike an attitude, and lift up his head in preparation, and, as it were, clear his throat; but sits there on the log and pours out his music, looking straight before him, or even down at the ground. As a songster, he has but few superiors. I do not hear him after the first week in July.
While sitting on this soft-cushioned log, tasting the pungent acidulous wood-sorrel (_Oxalis acetorella_), the blossoms of which, large and pink-veined, rise everywhere above the moss, a rufous-colored bird flies quickly past, and, alighting on a low limb a few rods off, salutes me with "Whew! Whew!" or "Whoit! Whoit!" almost as you would whistle for your dog. I see by his impulsive, graceful movements, and his dimly speckled breast, that it is a Thrush. Presently he utters a few soft, mellow, flute-like notes, one of the most simple expressions of melody to be heard, and scuds away, and I see it is the Veery or Wilson's Thrush. He is the least of the Thrushes in size, being about that of the common Bluebird, and he may be distinguished from his relatives by the dimness of the spots upon his breast. The Wood-Thrush has very clear, distinct oval spots on a white ground; in the Hermit, the spots run more into lines, on a ground of a faint bluish-white; in the Veery, the marks are almost obsolete, and a few rods off his breast presents only a dull yellowish appearance. To get a good view of him you have only to sit down in his haunts, as in such cases he seems equally anxious to get a good view of you.
From those tall hemlocks proceeds a very fine insect-like warble, and occasionally I see a spray _teeter_, or catch the flit of a wing. I watch and watch till my head grows dizzy and my neck is in danger of permanent displacement, and still do not get a good view. Presently the bird darts, or, as it seems, falls down a few feet in pursuit of a fly or moth, and I see the whole of it, but in the dim light am undecided. It is for such emergencies that I have brought this gun. A bird in the hand is worth half a dozen in the bush, even for ornithological purposes; and no sure and rapid progress can be made in the study without taking life, without procuring specimens. This bird is a Warbler, plainly enough, from his habits and manner; but what kind of Warbler? Look on him and name him: a deep orange or flame-colored throat and breast; the same color showing also in a line over the eye and in his crown; back variegated black and white. The female is less marked and brilliant. The Orange-throated Warbler would seem to be his right name, his characteristic cognomen; but no, he is doomed to wear the name of some discoverer, perhaps the first who robbed his nest or rifled him of his mate,--Blackburn; hence, Blackburnian Warbler. The _burn_ seems appropriate enough, for in these dark evergreens his throat and breast show like flame. He has a very fine warble, suggesting that of the Redstart, but not especially musical. I find him in no other woods in this vicinity.
I am attracted by another warble in the same locality, and experience a like difficulty in getting a good view of the author of it. It is quite a noticeable strain, sharp and sibilant, and sounds well amid the old trees. In the upland woods of beech and maple it is a more familiar sound than in these solitudes. On taking the bird in your hand, even if you are not a young lady, you will probably exclaim, "How beautiful!" So tiny and elegant, the smallest of the Warblers; a delicate blue back, with a slight bronze-colored triangular spot between the shoulders; upper mandible black; lower mandible yellow as gold; throat yellow, becoming a dark bronze on the breast. Blue Yellow-Back he is called, though the yellow is much nearer a bronze. He is remarkably delicate and beautiful,--the handsomest, as he is the smallest, of the Warblers known to me. It is never without surprise that I find amid these rugged, savage aspects of Nature creatures so fairy and delicate. But such is the law. Go to the sea or climb the mountain, and with the ruggedest and the savagest you will find likewise the fairest and the most delicate. The greatness and the minuteness of Nature pass all understanding.
Ever since I entered the woods, even while listening to the lesser songsters, or contemplating the silent forms about me, a strain has reached my ear from out the depths of the forest that to me is the finest sound in nature,--the song of the Hermit-Thrush. I often hear him thus a long way off, sometimes over a quarter of a mile away, when only the stronger and more perfect parts of his music reach me; and through the general chorus of Wrens and Warblers I detect this sound rising pure and serene, as if a spirit from some remote height were slowly chanting a divine accompaniment. This song appeals to the sentiment of the beautiful in me, and suggests a serene religious beatitude as no other sound in nature does. It is perhaps more of an evening than a morning hymn, though I hear it at all hours of the day. It is very simple, and I can hardly tell the secret of its charm. "O spheral, spheral!" he seems to say; "O holy, holy! O clear away, clear away! O clear up, clear up!" interspersed with the finest trills and the most delicate preludes. It is not a proud, gorgeous strain, like the Tanager's or the Grosbeak's; suggests no passion or emotion,--nothing personal,--but seems to be the voice of that calm, sweet solemnity one attains to in his best moments. It realizes a peace and a deep, solemn joy that only the finest souls may know. A few nights ago I ascended a mountain to see the world by moonlight; and when near the summit the Hermit commenced his evening hymn a few rods from me. Listening to this strain on the lone mountain, with the full moon just rounded from the horizon, the pomp of your cities and the pride of your civilization seemed trivial and cheap.
Whether it is because of their rareness, or an accident of my observation, or a characteristic trait, I cannot tell, yet I have never known two of these birds to be singing at the same time in the same locality, rivalling each other, like the Wood-Thrush or the Veery. Shooting one from a tree, I have observed another take up the strain from almost the identical perch in less than ten minutes afterward. Later in the day, when I had penetrated the heart of the old Barkpeeling, I came suddenly upon one singing from a low stump, and for a wonder he did not seem alarmed, but lifted up his divine voice as if his privacy was undisturbed. I open his beak and find the inside yellow as gold. I was prepared to find it inlaid with pearls and diamonds, or to see an angel issue from it.
He is not much in the books. Indeed, I am acquainted with scarcely any writer on ornithology whose head is not muddled on the subject of our three prevailing song-thrushes, confounding either their figures or their songs. A writer in the Atlantic[A] gravely tells us the Wood-Thrush is sometimes called the Hermit, and then, after describing the song of the Hermit with great beauty and correctness, coolly ascribes it to the Veery! The new Cyclopædia, fresh from the study of Audubon, says the Hermit's song consists of a single plaintive note, and that the Veery's resembles that of the Wood-Thrush! These observations deserve to be preserved with that of the author of "Out-door Papers," who tells us the trill of the Hair-Bird (_Fringilla socialis_) is produced by the bird fluttering its wings upon its sides! The Hermit-Thrush may be easily identified by his color; his back being a clear olive-brown, becoming rufous on his rump and tail. A quill from his wing placed beside one from his tail, on a dark ground, presents quite a marked contrast.
I walk along the old road, and note the tracks in the thin layer of mud. When do these creatures travel here? I have never yet chanced to meet one. Here a partridge has set its foot; there, a woodcock; here, a squirrel or mink; there, a skunk; there, a fox. What a clear, nervous track Reynard makes! how easy to distinguish it from that of a little dog,--it is so sharply cut and defined! A dog's track is coarse and clumsy beside it. There is as much wildness in the track of an animal as in its voice. Is a deer's track like a sheep's or a goat's? What winged-footed fleetness and agility may be inferred from the sharp, braided track of the gray squirrel upon the new snow! Ah! in nature is the best discipline. I think the sculptor might carve finer and more expressive lines if he grew up in the woods, and the painter discriminate finer hues. How wood-life sharpens the senses, giving a new power to the eye, the ear, the nose! And are not the rarest and most exquisite songsters wood-birds?
Everywhere in these solitudes I am greeted with the pensive, almost pathetic note of the Wood-Pewee. Do you know the Pewees? They are the true Flycatchers, and are easily identified. They are very characteristic birds, have very strong family traits, and very pugnacious dispositions. Without any exception or qualification they are the homeliest or the least elegant birds of our fields or forest. Sharp-shouldered, big-headed, short-legged, of no particular color, of little elegance in flight or movement, with a disagreeable flirt of the tail, always quarrelling with their neighbors and with one another, no birds are so little calculated to excite pleasurable emotions in the beholder, or to become objects of human interest and affection. The King-Bird is the best-dressed member of the family, but he is a braggart; and, though always snubbing his neighbors, is an arrant coward, and shows the white feather at the slightest display of pluck in his antagonist. I have seen him turn tail to a Swallow, and have known the little Pewee in question to whip him beautifully. From the Great Crested to the Little Green Flycatcher, their ways and general habits are the same. Slow in flying from point to point, they yet have a wonderful quickness, and snap up the fleetest insects with little apparent effort. There is a constant play of quick, nervous movements underneath their outer show of calmness and stolidity. They do not scour the limbs and trees like the Warblers, but, perched upon the middle branches, wait like true hunters for the game to come along. There is often a very audible snap of the beak as they arrest their prey.
The Wood-Pewee, the prevailing species in this locality, arrests your attention by his sweet, pathetic cry. There is room for it also in the deep woods, as well as for the more prolonged and elevated strains. His mate builds an exquisite nest of moss on the side of some shelving cliff or overhanging rock. The other day, passing by a ledge near the top of a mountain in a singularly desolate locality, my eye rested upon one of these structures, looking precisely as if it grew there, so in keeping was it with the mossy character of the rock; and I have had a growing affection for the bird ever since. The rock seemed to love the nest and to claim it as its own. I said, What a lesson in architecture is here! Here is a house that was built, but built with such loving care and such beautiful adaptation of the means to the end, that it looks like a product of nature. The same wise economy is noticeable in the nests of all birds. No bird would paint its house white or red, or add aught for show.
Coming to a drier and less mossy place in the woods, I am amused with the Golden-crowned Thrush,--which, however, is no thrush at all, but a Warbler, the _Sciurus aurocapillus_. He walks on the ground ahead of me with such an easy gliding motion, and with such an unconscious, preoccupied air, jerking his head like a hen or a partridge, now hurrying, now slackening his pace, that I pause to observe him. If I sit down, he pauses to observe me, and extends his pretty ramblings on all sides, apparently very much engrossed with his own affairs, but never losing sight of me. But few of the birds are walkers, most being hoppers, like the Robin. I recall only five species of the former among our ordinary birds,--the one in question, the Meadow-Lark, the Tit-Lark, the Cow-Bunting, and the Water-Wagtail (a relative of the Golden-Crown).
Satisfied that I have no hostile intentions, the pretty pedestrian mounts a limb a few feet from the ground, and gives me the benefit of one of his musical performances, a sort of accelerating chant. Commencing in a very low key, which makes him seem at a very uncertain distance, he grows louder and louder, till his body quakes and his chant runs into a shriek, ringing in my ears with a peculiar sharpness. This lay may be represented thus: "Teacher teacher, teacher, teacher teacher!"--the accent on the first syllable and each word uttered with increased force and shrillness. No writer with whom I am acquainted gives him credit for more musical ability than is displayed in this strain. Yet in this the half is not told. He has a far rarer song, which he reserves for some nymph whom he meets in the air. Mounting by easy flights to the top of the tallest tree, he launches into the air with a sort of suspended, hovering flight, like certain of the Finches, and bursts into a perfect ecstasy of song,--clear, ringing, copious, rivalling the Goldfinch's in vivacity, and the Linnet's in melody. This strain is one of the rarest bits of bird-melody to be heard. Over the woods, hid from view, the ecstatic singer warbles his finest strain. In this song you instantly detect his relationship to the Water-Wagtail (_Sciurus Noveboracensis_),--erroneously called Water-Thrush,--whose song is likewise a sudden burst, full and ringing, and with a tone of youthful joyousness in it, as if the bird had just had some unexpected good-fortune. For nearly two years this strain of the pretty walker was little more than a disembodied voice to me, and I was puzzled by it as Thoreau by his mysterious Night-Warbler, which, by the way, I suspect was no new bird at all, but one he was otherwise familiar with. The little bird himself seems disposed to keep the matter a secret, and improves every opportunity to repeat before you his shrill, accelerating lay, as if this were quite enough and all he laid claim to. Still, I trust I am betraying no confidence in making the matter public here. I think this is pre-eminently his love-song, as I hear it oftenest about the mating season. I have caught half-suppressed bursts of it from two birds chasing each other with fearful speed through the forest.
Turning to the left from the old road, I wander, over soft logs and gray yielding _débris_, across the little trout brook, until I emerge in the Barkpeeling,--pausing now and then on the way to admire a small, solitary white flower which rises above the moss, with radical, heart-shaped leaves, and a blossom precisely like the liverwort except in color, but which is not put down in my botany,--or to observe the ferns, of which I count six varieties, some gigantic ones nearly shoulder-high.
At the foot of a rough, scraggy yellow birch, on a bank of club-moss, so richly inlaid with partridge-berry and curious shining leaves,--with here and there in the bordering a spire of the false wintergreen (_Pyrola rotundifolia_) strung with faint pink flowers and exhaling the breath of a May orchard,--that it looks too costly a couch for such an idler, I recline to note what transpires. The sun is just past the meridian, and the afternoon chorus is not yet in full tune. Most birds sing with the greatest spirit and vivacity in the forenoon, though there are occasional bursts later in the day, in which nearly all voices join; while it is not till the twilight that the full power and solemnity of the thrush's hymn is felt.
My attention is soon arrested by a pair of Humming-Birds, the Ruby-Throated, disporting themselves in a low bush a few yards from me. The female takes shelter amid the branches, and squeaks exultingly as the male, circling above, dives down as if to dislodge her. Seeing me, he drops like a feather on a slender twig, and in a moment both are gone. Then, as if by a preconcerted signal, the throats are all atune. I lie on my back with eyes half closed, and analyze the chorus of Warblers, Thrushes, Finches, and Flycatchers; while, soaring above all, a little withdrawn and alone, rises the divine soprano of the Hermit. That richly modulated warble proceeding from the top of yonder birch, and which unpractised ears would mistake for the voice of the Scarlet Tanager, comes from that rare visitant, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. It is a strong, vivacious strain, a bright noonday song, full of health and assurance, indicating fine talents in the performer, but not genius. As I come up under the tree he casts his eye down at me, but continues his song. This bird is said to be quite common in the Northwest, but he is rare in the Eastern districts. His beak is disproportionately large and heavy, like a huge nose, which slightly mars his good looks; but Nature has made it up to him in a blush rose upon his breast, and the most delicate of pink linings to the under side of his wings. His back is variegated black and white, and when flying low the white shows conspicuously. If he passed over your head, you would note the delicate flush under his wings.
That bit of bright scarlet on yonder dead hemlock, glowing like a live coal against the dark background, seeming almost too brilliant for the severe Northern climate, is his relative, the Scarlet Tanager. I occasionally meet him in the deep hemlocks, and know no stronger contrast in nature. I almost fear he will kindle the dry limb on which he alights. He is quite a solitary bird, and in this section seems to prefer the high, remote woods, even going quite to the mountain's top. Indeed, the event of my last visit to the mountain was meeting one of these brilliant creatures near the summit, in full song. The breeze carried the notes far and wide. He seemed to enjoy the elevation, and I imagined his song had more scope and freedom than usual. When he had flown far down the mountain-side, the breeze still brought me his finest notes. In plumage he is the most brilliant bird we have. The Bluebird is not entirely blue; nor will the Indigo-bird bear a close inspection, nor the Goldfinch, nor the Summer Redbird. But the Tanager loses nothing by a near view; the deep scarlet of his body and the black of his wings and tail are quite perfect. This is his holiday suit; in the fall he becomes a dull green,--the color of the female the whole season.
One of the leading songsters in this choir of the old Barkpeeling is the Purple Finch or Linnet. He sits somewhat apart, usually on a dead hemlock, and warbles most exquisitely. He is one of our finest songsters, and stands at the head of the Finches, as the Hermit at the head of the Thrushes. His song approaches an ecstasy, and, with the exception of the Winter Wren's, is the most rapid and copious strain to be heard in these woods. It is quite destitute of the trills and the liquid, silvery, bubbling notes that characterize the Wren's; but there runs through it a round, richly modulated whistle, very sweet and very pleasing. The call of the Robin is brought in at a certain point with marked effect, and, throughout, the variety is so great and the strain so rapid that the impression is as of two or three birds singing at the same time. He is not common here, and I only find him in these or similar woods. His color is peculiar, and looks as if it might have been imparted by dipping a brown bird in diluted pokeberry juice. Two or three more dippings would have made the purple complete. The female is the color of the Song-Sparrow, a little larger, with heavier beak, and tail much more forked.
In a little opening quite free from brush and trees I step down to bathe my hands in the brook, when a small, light slate-colored bird flutters out of the bank, not three feet from my head, as I stoop down, and, as if severely lamed or injured, flutters through the grass and into the nearest bush. As I do not follow, but remain near the nest, she _chips_ sharply, which brings the male, and I see it is the Speckled Canada Warbler. I find no authority in the books for this bird to build upon the ground, yet here is the nest, made chiefly of dry grass, set in a slight excavation in the bank, not two feet from the water, and looking a little perilous to anything but ducklings or sandpipers. There are two young birds and one little specked egg, just pipped. But how is this? what mystery is here? One nestling is much larger than the other, monopolizes most of the nest, and lifts its open mouth far above that of its companion, though obviously both are of the same age, not more than a day old. Ah! I see;--the old trick of the Cow-Bunting, with a stinging human significance. Taking the interloper by the nape of the neck, I deliberately drop it into the water, but not without a pang, as I see its naked form, convulsed with chills, float down stream. Cruel! So is Nature cruel. I take one life to save two. In less than two days this pot-bellied intruder would have caused the death of the two rightful occupants of the nest; so I step in and divert things into their proper channel again.
It is a singular freak of Nature, this instinct which prompts one bird to lay its eggs in the nests of others, and thus shirk the responsibility of rearing its own young. The Cow-Buntings always resort to this cunning trick; and when one reflects upon their numbers it is evident that these little tragedies are quite frequent. In Europe the parallel case is that of the Cuckoo, and occasionally our own Cuckoo imposes upon a Robin or a Thrush in the same manner. The Cow-Bunting seems to have no conscience about the matter, and, so far as I have observed, invariably selects the nest of a bird smaller than itself. Its egg is usually the first to hatch; its young overreaches all the rest when food is brought; it grows with great rapidity, spreads and fills the nest, and the starved and crowded occupants soon perish, when the parent bird removes their dead bodies, giving its whole energy and care to the foster-child.
The Warblers and smaller Flycatchers are generally the sufferers, though I sometimes see the Slate-colored Snowbird unconsciously duped in like manner; and the other day, in a tall tree in the woods, I discovered the Black-throated Green-backed Warbler devoting itself to this dusky, overgrown foundling. An old farmer to whom I pointed out the fact was much surprised that such things should happen in his woods without his knowledge.
From long observation it is my opinion that the male Bunting selects the nest into which the egg is to be deposited, and exercises a sort of guardianship over it afterward, lingering in the vicinity and uttering his peculiar, liquid, glassy note from the tops of the tall trees.
The Speckled Canada is a very superior Warbler, having a lively, animated strain, reminding you of certain parts of the Canary's, though quite broken and incomplete; the bird the while hopping amid the branches with increased liveliness, and indulging in fine sibilant chirps, too happy to keep silent.
His manners are very marked. He has a habit of curtsying when he discovers you, which is very pretty. In form he is a very elegant bird, somewhat slender, his back of a bluish lead-color becoming nearly black on his crown; the under part of his body, from his throat down, is of a light, delicate yellow, with a belt of black dots across his breast. He has a very fine eye, surrounded by a light yellow ring.
The parent birds are much disturbed by my presence, and keep up a loud, emphatic chirping, which attracts the attention of their sympathetic neighbors, and one after another they come to see what has happened. The Chestnut-Sided and the Blackburnian come in company. The Black-and-Yellow Warbler pauses a moment and hastens away; the Maryland Yellow-Throat peeps shyly from the lower bushes and utters his "Fip! fip!" in sympathy; the Wood-Pewee comes straight to the tree overhead, and the Red-eyed Vireo lingers and lingers, eying me with a curious, innocent look, evidently much puzzled. But all disappear again, one after another, apparently without a word of condolence or encouragement to the distressed pair. I have often noticed among birds this show of sympathy,--if indeed it be sympathy, and not merely curiosity, or a feeling of doubt concerning their own safety.
An hour afterward I approach the place, find all still, and the mother bird upon the nest. As I draw near she seems to sit closer, her eyes growing large with an inexpressibly wild, beautiful look. She keeps her place till I am within two paces of her, when she flutters away as at first. In the brief interval the remaining egg has hatched, and the two little nestlings lift their heads without being jostled or overreached by any strange bedfellow. A week afterward and they are flown away,--so brief is the infancy of birds. And the wonder is that they escape, even for this short time, the skunks and minks and muskrats that abound here, and that have a decided partiality for such tidbits.
I pass on through the old Barkpeeling, now threading an old cow-path or an overgrown wood-road; now clambering over soft and decayed logs, or forcing my way through a network of briers and hazel; now entering a perfect bower of wild-cherry, beech, and soft-maple; now emerging into a little grassy lane, golden with buttercups or white with daisies, or wading waist-deep in the red raspberry-bushes.
Whir! whir! whir! and a brood of half-grown Partridges start up like an explosion, a few paces from me, and, scattering, disappear in the bushes on all sides. Let me sit down here behind this screen of ferns and briers, and hear this wild-hen of the woods call together her brood. Have you observed at what an early age the Partridge flies? Nature seems to concentrate her energies on the wing, making the safety of the bird a point to be looked after first; and while the body is covered with down, and no signs of feathers are visible, the wing-quills sprout and unfold, and in an incredibly short time the young make fair headway in flying.
The same rapid development of wing may be observed in chickens and turkeys, but not in water-fowls, nor in birds that are safely housed in the nest till full-fledged. The other day, by a brook, I came suddenly upon a young Sandpiper, a most beautiful creature, enveloped in a soft gray down, swift and nimble, and apparently a week or two old, but with no signs of plumage either of body or wing. And it needed none, for it escaped me by taking to the water as readily as if it had flown with wings.
Hark! There arises over there in the brush a soft, persuasive cooing, a sound so subtile and wild and unobtrusive that it requires the most alert and watchful ear to hear it. How gentle and solicitous and full of yearning love! It is the voice of the mother hen. Presently a faint, timid "Yeap!" which almost eludes the ear, is heard in various directions,--the young responding. As no danger seems near, the cooing of the parent bird is soon a very audible clucking call, and the young move cautiously in the direction. Let me step never so carefully from my hiding-place, and all sounds instantly cease, and I search in vain for either parent or young.
The Partridge (_Bonasa umbellus_) is one of our most native and characteristic birds. The woods seem good to be in where I find him. He gives a habitable air to the forest, and one feels as if the rightful occupant was really at home. The woods where I do not find him seem to want something, as if suffering from some neglect of Nature. And then he is such a splendid success, so hardy and vigorous. I think he enjoys the cold and the snow. His wings seem to rustle with more fervency in midwinter. If the snow falls very fast, and promises a heavy storm, he will complacently sit down and allow himself to be snowed under. Approaching him at such times, he suddenly bursts out of the snow at your feet, scattering the flakes in all directions, and goes humming away through the woods like a bomb-shell,--a picture of native spirit and success.
His drum is one of the most welcome and beautiful sounds of spring. Scarcely have the trees showed their buds, when, in the still April mornings, or toward nightfall, you hear the hum of his devoted wings. He selects not, as you would predict, a dry and resinous log, but a decayed and crumbling one, seeming to give the preference to old oak-logs that are partially blended with the soil. If a log to his taste cannot be found, he sets up his altar on a rock, which becomes resonant beneath his fervent blows. Have you seen the Partridge drum? It is the next thing to catching a weasel asleep, though by much caution and tact it may be done. He does not hug the log, but stands very erect, expands his ruff, gives two introductory blows, pauses half a second, and then resumes, striking faster and faster till the sound becomes a continuous, unbroken whir, the whole lasting less than half a minute. The tips of his wings barely brush the log, so that the sound is produced rather by the force of the blows upon the air and upon his own body as in flying. One log will be used for many years, though not by the same drummer. It seems to be a sort of temple, and held in great respect. The bird always approaches it on foot, and leaves it in the same quiet manner, unless rudely disturbed. He is very cunning, though his wit is not profound. It is very difficult to approach him by stealth; you will try many times before succeeding; but seem to pass by him in a great hurry, making all the noise possible, and with plumage furled he stands as immovable as a knot, allowing you a good view and a good shot, if you are a sportsman.
Passing along one of the old barkpeelers' roads which wander aimlessly about, I am attracted by a singularly brilliant and emphatic warble, proceeding from the low bushes, and quickly suggesting the voice of the Maryland Yellow-Throat. Presently the singer hops up on a dry twig, and gives me a good view. Lead-colored head and neck, becoming nearly black on the breast; clear olive-green back, and yellow belly. From his habit of keeping near the ground, even hopping upon it occasionally, I know him to be a Ground-Warbler; from his dark breast the ornithologist has added the expletive Mourning, hence the Mourning Ground-Warbler.
Of this bird both Wilson and Audubon confessed their comparative ignorance, neither ever having seen its nest or become acquainted with its haunts and general habits. Its song is quite striking and novel, though its voice at once suggests the class of Warblers, to which it belongs. It is very shy and wary, flying but a few feet at a time, and studiously concealing itself from your view. I discover but one pair here. The female has food in her beak, but carefully avoids betraying the locality of her nest. The Ground-Warblers all have one notable feature,--very beautiful legs, as white and delicate as if they had always worn silk stockings and satin slippers. High tree Warblers have dark brown or black legs and more brilliant plumage, but less musical ability.
The Chestnut-Sided belongs to the latter class. He is quite common in these woods, as in all the woods about. He is one of the rarest and handsomest of the Warblers; his white breast and throat, chestnut sides, and yellow crown show conspicuously. Audubon did not know his haunts, and had never seen his nest or known any naturalist who had. Last year I found the nest of one in an uplying beech-wood, in a low bush near the roadside, where cows passed and browsed daily. Things went on smoothly till the Cow-Bunting stole her egg into it, when other mishaps followed, and the nest was soon empty. A characteristic attitude of the male during this season is a slight drooping of the wings, and tail a little elevated, which gives him a very smart, bantam-like appearance. His song is fine and hurried, and not much of itself, but has its place in the general chorus.
A far sweeter strain, falling on the ear with the true sylvan cadence, is that of the Black-throated Green-backed Warbler, whom I meet at various points. He has no superiors among the true _Sylvia_. His song is very plain and simple, but remarkably pure and tender, and might be indicated by straight lines, thus, ---- ----\/----; the first two marks representing two sweet, silvery notes, in the same pitch of voice, and quite unaccented; the latter marks, the concluding notes, wherein the tone and inflection are changed. The throat and breast of the male are a rich black, like velvet, his face yellow, and his back a yellowish green.
Beyond the Barkpeeling, where the woods are mingled hemlock, beech, and birch, the languid midsummer note of the Black-throated Blue-Back falls on my ear. "Twea, twea, twea-e-e!" in the upward slide, and with the peculiar _z-ing_ of certain insects, but not destitute of a certain plaintive cadence. It is one of the most languid, unhurried sounds in all the woods. I feel like reclining upon the dry leaves at once. Audubon says he has never heard his love-song; but this is all the love-song he has, and he is evidently a very plain hero with his little brown mistress. He is not the bird you would send to the princess to "cheep and twitter twenty million loves"; she would go to sleep while he was piping. He assumes few attitudes, and is not a bold and striking gymnast, like many of his kindred. He has a preference for dense woods of beech and maple, moves slowly amid the lower branches and smaller growths, keeping from eight to ten feet from the ground, and repeating now and then his listless, indolent strain. His back and crown are dark blue; his throat and breast, black; his belly, pure white; and he has a white spot on each wing.
Here and there I meet the Black and White Creeping-Warbler, whose fine strain reminds me of hair-wire. It is unquestionably the finest bird-song to be heard. Few insect strains will compare with it in this respect; while it has none of the harsh, brassy character of the latter, being very delicate and tender.
That sharp, interrupted, but still continued warble, which, before one has learned to discriminate closely, he is apt to confound with the Red-eyed Vireo's, is that of the Solitary Warbling Vireo,--a bird slightly larger, much rarer, and with a louder, less cheerful and happy strain. I see him hopping along lengthwise of the limbs, and note the orange tinge of his breast and sides and the white circle around his eye.
But the declining sun and the deepening shadows admonish me that this ramble must be brought to a close, even though only the leading characters in this chorus of forty songsters have been described, and only a small portion of the venerable old woods explored. In a secluded swampy corner of the old Barkpeeling, where I find the great purple orchis in bloom, and where the foot of man or beast seems never to have trod, I linger long, contemplating the wonderful display of lichens and mosses that overrun both the smaller and the larger growths. Every bush and branch and sprig is dressed up in the most rich and fantastic of liveries; and, crowning all, the long bearded moss festoons the branches or sways gracefully from the limbs. Every twig looks a century old, though green leaves tip the end of it. A young yellow birch has a venerable, patriarchal look, and seems ill at ease under such premature honors. A decayed hemlock is draped as if by hands for some solemn festival.
Mounting toward the upland again, I pause reverently as the hush and stillness of twilight come upon the woods. It is the sweetest, ripest hour of the day. And as the Hermit's evening hymn goes up from the deep solitude below me, I experience that serene exaltation of sentiment of which music, literature, and religion are but the faint types and symbols.
[A] For December, 1858.
LAST DAYS OF WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR.
Landor has frequently been ridiculed for insisting upon an orthography peculiar at present to himself, and this ridicule has been bestowed most mercilessly, because of the supposition that he was bent upon revolutionizing the English language merely for the sake of singularity. But Landor has logic on his side, and it would be wise to heed authoritative protests against senseless innovations that bid fair to destroy the symmetry of words, and which, fifty years hence, will render the tracing of their derivation an Herculean task, unless Trenches multiply in proportion to the necessities of the times. If I ever wished the old lion to put forth all the majesty of his indignation, I had only to whisper the cabalistic words, "Phonetic spelling!" Yet Landor was not very exacting. In the "Last Fruit off an Old Tree," he says, through his medium, Pericles, who is giving advice to Alcibiades: "Every time we pronounce a word different from another, we show our disapprobation of his manner, and accuse him of rusticity. In all common things we must do as others do. It is more barbarous to undermine the stability of a language than of an edifice that hath stood as long. This is done by the introduction of changes. Write as others do, but only as the best of others; and, if one eloquent man forty or fifty years ago spoke and wrote differently from the generality of the present, follow him, though alone, rather than the many. But in pronunciation we are not indulged in this latitude of choice; we must pronounce as those do who favor us with their audience." Landor only claimed to write as the best of others do, and in his own name protests to Southey against misconstruction. "One would represent me as attempting to undermine our native tongue; another, as modernizing; a third, as antiquating it. _Wheras_" (Landor's spelling) "I am trying to underprop, not to undermine; I am trying to stop the man-milliner at his ungainly work of trimming and flouncing; I am trying to show how graceful is our English, not in its stiff decrepitude, not in its riotous luxuriance, but in its hale mid-life. I would make bad writers follow good ones, and good ones accord with themselves. If all cannot be reduced into order, is that any reason why nothing should be done toward it? If languages and men too are imperfect, must we never make an effort to bring them a few steps nearer to what is preferable?"
It is my great good fortune to possess a copy of Landor's works made curious and peculiarly valuable by the author's own revisions and corrections, and it is most interesting to wander through these volumes, wherein almost every page is a battle-field between the writer and his arch-enemy, the printer. The final _l_ in _still_ and _till_ is ignominiously blotted out; _exclaim_ is written _exclame_; a _d_ is put over the obliterated _a_ in _steady_; _t_ is substituted _t_ is substituted for the second _s_ in _confessed_ and kindred words; _straightway_ is shorn of _gh_; _pontiff_ is allowed but one _f_. Landor spells _honor_ in what we call the modern way, without the _u_; and the _r_ and _e_ in _sceptre_ change places. A dash of the pen cancels the _s_ in _isle_ and the final _e_ in _wherefore_, _therefore_, &c. _Simile_ is terminated with a _y_; the imperfect of the verbs _to milk_, _to ask_, etc., is spelled with a _t_; _whereat_ loses its second _e_, and _although_ is deprived of its last three letters. To his poem of "Guidone and Lucia" has been added this final verse:--
"The sire had earned with gold his son's release And led him home; at home he died in peace. His soul was with Lucia, and he praid To meet again soon, soon, that happier maid. This wish was granted, for the Powers above Abound in mercy and delight in love."
And to this verse is appended the following note: "If the pret. and partic. of _lay_ is _laid_, of _say_, _said_, that of _pray_ must be _praid_. We want a lexiconomist."
In his lines entitled "New Style," which are a burlesque on Wordsworth, Landor introduces a new verse:--
"Some one (I might have asked her who) Has given her a locket; I, more considerate, brought her two Potatoes in each pocket."
Landor has been accused of an unwarrantable dislike to the manufacture of words; but so far from true is this, that I have known him to indulge with great felicity in words of his own coining, when conversation chanced to take a humorous turn. He makes Sam. Johnson say that "all words are good which come when they are wanted; all which come when they are not wanted should be dismissed." Tooke, in the same conversation, cites Cicero as one who, not contented with new spellings, created new words; but Tooke further declares, that "only one valuable word has been received into our language since my birth, or perhaps since yours. I have lately heard _appreciate_ for _estimate_." To which Johnson replies: "Words taken from the French should be amenable, in their spelling, to English laws and regulations. _Appreciate_ is a good and useful one; it signifies more than _estimate_ or _value_; it implies 'to value justly.'"
Taking up one day Dean Trench's excellent little book on "The Study of Words," which lay on my table, Landor expressed a desire to read it. He brought it back not long afterward, enriched with notes, and declared himself to have been much pleased with the manner in which the Dean had treated a subject so deeply interesting to himself. I have singled out a few of these notes, that student of etymology may read the criticisms of so able a man. Dean Trench is taken to task for a misuse of _every where_ in making two words of it. Landor puts the question, "Is the Dean ignorant that _everywhere_ is one word, and _where_ is no substantive?" Trench asserts that _caprice_ is from _capra_, "a goat," whereupon his critic says, "No,--then it would be capr_a_cious. It is from _caper_--_capere_." _To retract_, writes Trench, means properly, as its derivation declares, no more than to handle over again, to reconsider; Landor declares that "it means more. _Retrahere_ is _to draw back_." But he very vehemently approves of the Dean's remarks on the use of the word _talents_. We should say "a man of talents," not "of talent," for that is nonsense, though "of a talent" would be allowable.
"[Greek: Kosmos] is both 'world' and 'ornament,' hence 'cosmetic,'" writes Landor in answer to a doubt expressed by Trench whether the well-known quotation from St. James, "The tongue is a world of iniquity," could not also be translated, as some maintain, "the ornament of iniquity." Making use of the expression "redolent of scorn" in connection with words that formerly expressed sacred functions and offices, Landor adds: "Gray is highly poetical in his 'redolent of joy and youth.' The word is now vilely misused daily." "By and bye," writes the Dean. "Why write _bye_?" asks his commentator. Once or twice Landor credits Horne Tooke with what the Dean gives as his own, and occasionally scores an observation as old. "Why won't people say _messager_?" he demands. "By what right is _messenger_ made out of _message_?"
* * * * *
"Have you nothing else for the old man to read? have you nothing American?" Landor inquired upon returning Trench. Desiring to obtain the verdict of one so high in authority, I gave him Drake's "Culprit Fay," and some fugitive verses by M. C. Field, whose poems have never been collected in book form. Of the latter's "Indian Hunting the Buffaloes," "Night on the Prairie," "Les Très Marias," and others, known to but few readers now, Landor spoke in high commendation, and this praise will be welcome to those friends of "Phazma" still living, and still loving the memory of him who died early, and found, as he wished, an ocean grave. With "The Culprit Fay" came a scrap of paper on which was written: "The Culprit Fay is rich in imagination,--few poems more so. Drake is among the noblest of names, and this poem throws a fresh lustre on it." Observing in this poem a misuse of the exclamation "Oh!" Landor remarked, "'Oh!' properly is an expression of grief or pain. 'O!' without the aspirate may express pleasure or hope." Current literature rarely makes any distinction between the two, and even good writers stumble through carelessness.
* * * * *
Style in writing was one of Landor's favorite topics, and his ire was rarely more quickly excited than by placing before him a specimen of high-flown sentimentality. He would put on his spectacles, exclaim, "What is this?" and, having read a few lines, would throw the book down, saying, "I have not the patience to read such stuff. It may be very fine, but I cannot understand it. It is beyond me." He had little mercy to bestow upon transcendentalists, though he praised Emerson one day,--a marvellous proof of high regard when it is considered how he detested the school to which Emerson belongs. "Emerson called on me when he was in Florence many years ago, and a very agreeable visit I had from him. He is a very clever man, and might be cleverer if he were less sublimated. But then you Americans, practical as you are, are fond of soaring in high latitudes." Carlyle in his last manner had the same effect upon Landor's nerves as a discord in music produces upon a sensitive ear. "Ah," said he with a quizzical smile, "'Frederick the Great' convinces me that I write two dead languages,--Latin and English!"
* * * * *
English hexameter was still another pet detestation which Landor nursed with great volubility. In 1860 all Anglo-Saxon Florence was reading with no little interest a poem in this metre, which had recently appeared, and which of course passed under the critical eye of the old Grecian. "Well, Mr. Landor, what do you think of the new poem?" I asked during its nine days' reign. "Think of it? I don't think of it. I don't want to be bothered with it. The book has driven all the breath out of my body. I am lame with galloping. I've been on a gallop from the beginning to the end. Never did I have so hard and long a ride. But what else to expect when mounted on a _nightmare_! It may be very fine. I dare say it is, but Giallo and I prefer our ease to being battered. I am too old to hop, skip, and jump, and he is too sensible. It may be very bad taste, but we prefer verse that stands on two feet to verse that limps about on none. Now-a-days it is better to stumble than to walk erect. Giallo and I, however, have registered an oath not to encourage so base a fashion. We have consulted old Homer, and he quite approves our indignation."
* * * * *
Speaking of certain Americanisms and of our ridiculous squeamishness in the use of certain honest words, Landor remarked: "You Americans are very proper people; you have difficulties, but not diseases. Legs are unknown,--you have limbs; and under no consideration do you go to bed,--you retire." Much of this I could not gainsay, for only a few days previously I had been severely frowned upon for making inquiries about a broken leg. "My dear," said Landor to a young American girl who had been speaking of the city of New Or_leens_,--such being the ordinary Southern pronunciation,--"that pretty mouth of yours should not be distorted by vulgar dialect. You should say Or'leans." But he was never pedantic in his language. He used the simplest and most emphatic words.
* * * * *
There are those who accuse Landor of having sacrificed all things to style: it were as wise to assert that Beethoven sacrificed harmony to time. If his accusers would but read Landor before criticising, a proper regard for their own reputations would prevent them from hazarding such an opinion. "Style," writes Landor, "I consider as nothing, if what it covers be unsound: wisdom in union with harmony is oracular. On this idea, the wiser of ancient days venerated in the same person the deity of oracles and of music; and it must have been the most malicious and the most ingenious of satirists who transferred the gift of eloquence to the god of thieves." Those who by the actual sweat of their brows have got at the deep, hidden meaning of the most recent geniuses, will honor and thank Landor for having practically enforced his own refreshing theory. There are certain modern books of positive value which the reader closes with a sense of utter exhaustion. The meaning is discovered, but at too great an outlay of vitality. To render simple things complex, is to fly in the face of Nature; and after such mental "gymnastics," we turn with relief to Landor. "The greater part of those who are most ambitious of style are unaware of all its value. Thought does not separate man from the brutes; for the brutes think: but man alone thinks beyond the moment and beyond himself. Speech does not separate them; for speech is common to all, perhaps more or less articulate, and conveyed and received through different organs in the lower and more inert. Man's thought, which seems imperishable, loses its form, and runs along from proprietor to impropriator, like any other transitory thing, unless it is invested so becomingly and nobly that no successor can improve upon it by any new fashion or combination. For want of dignity or beauty, many good things are passed and forgotten; and much ancient wisdom is overrun and hidden by a rampant verdure, succulent, but unsubstantial.... Let those who look upon style as unworthy of much attention ask themselves how many, in proportion to men of genius, have excelled in it. In all languages, ancient and modern, are there ten prose-writers at once harmonious, correct, and energetic?"
* * * * *
Popular as is the belief that Landor's gifts were the offspring of profound study, he himself says: "Only four years of my life were given up much to study; and I regret that I spent so many so ill. Even these debarred me from no pleasure; for I seldom read or wrote within doors, excepting a few hours at night. The learning of those who are called the learned is learning at second hand; the primary and most important must be acquired by reading in our own bosoms; the rest by a deep insight into other men's. What is written is mostly an imperfect and unfaithful copy." This confession emanates from one who is claimed as a university rather than a universal man. Landor remained but two years at Oxford, and, though deeply interested in the classics, never contended for a Latin prize. Speaking of this one day, he said: "I once wrote some Latin verses for a fellow of my college who, being in great trouble, came to me for aid. What was hard work to him was pastime to me, and it ended in my composing the entire poem. At the time the fellow was very grateful, but it happened that these verses excited attention and were much eulogized. The supposed author accepted the praise as due to himself. This of course I expected, as he knew full well I would never betray him; but the amusing part of the matter was that the fellow never afterwards spoke to me, never came near me,--in fact, treated me as though I had done him a grievous wrong. It was of no consequence to me that he strutted about in my feathers. If they became him, he was welcome to them,--but of such is the kingdom of cowards."
* * * * *
"Poetry," writes Landor, "was always my amusement, prose my study and business." In his thirtieth year he lived in the woods, "did not exchange twelve sentences with men," and wrote "Gebir," his most elaborate and ambitious poem, which Southey took as a model in blank verse, and which a Boston critic wonders whether anyone ever read through. "Pericles and Aspasia," and the finest of his "Imaginary Conversations," were the flowering of half a century of thought. There are few readers who do not prefer Landor's prose to his verse, for in the former he does not aim at the dramatic: the passion peculiar to verse is not congenial to his genius. He sympathizes most fully with men and women in repose, when intellect, not the heart, rules. His prose has all the purity of outline and harmony of Greek plastic art. He could not wield the painter's brush, but the great sculptor had yet power to depict the grief of a "Niobe," the agony of the "Laocoön," or the majesty of a "Moses." Like a sculptor, he rarely groups more than two figures.
It is satisfactory then to know that in the zenith of physical strength Landor was at his noblest and best, for his example is a forcible protest against the feverish enthusiasm of young American authors, who wear out their lives in the struggle to be famous at the age of Keats, never remembering that "there must be a good deal of movement and shuffling before there is any rising from the ground; and those who have the longest wings have the most difficulty in the first mounting. In literature, as at football, strength and agility are insufficient of themselves; you must have your _side_, or you may run till you are out of breath, and kick till you are out of shoes, and never win the game. There must be some to keep others off you, and some to prolong for you the ball's rebound.... Do not, however, be ambitious of an early fame: such is apt to shrivel and to drop under the tree." The poetical dictum, "Whom the gods love, die young," has worked untold mischief, having created a morbid dislike to a fine physique, on the theory that great minds are antagonistic to noble bodies. There never was error so fatal: the larger the brain, the larger should be the reservoir from which to draw vitality. Were Seneca alive now, he would write no such letter as he once wrote to Lucilius, protesting against the ridiculous devotion of his countrymen to physical gymnastics. "To be wise is to be well," was the gospel he went about preaching. "To be well is to be wise," would answer much better as the modern article of faith. The utmost that a persistent brain-worker of this century can do is to keep himself bodily up to mental requirements. Landor, however, was an extraordinary exception. He could boast of never having worn an overcoat since boyhood, and of not having been ill more than three times in his life. Even at eighty-six his hand had none of the wavering of age; and it was with no little satisfaction that, grasping an imaginary pistol, he showed me how steady an aim he could still take, and told of how famous a shot he used to be. "But my sister was more skilful than I," he added.
One day conversation chanced upon Aubrey De Vere, the beautiful Catholic poet of Ireland, whose name is scarcely known on this side of the Atlantic. This is our loss, though De Vere can never be a popular poet, for his muse lives in the past and breathes ether rather than air. "De Vere is charming both as man and as poet," said Landor enthusiastically, rising as he spoke and leaving the room to return immediately with a small volume of De Vere's poems published at Oxford in 1843. "Here are his poems given to me by himself. Such a modest, unassuming man as he is! Now listen to this from the 'Ode on the Ascent of the Alps.' Is it not magnificent?
'I spake.--Behold her o'er the broad lake flying, Like a great Angel missioned to bestow Some boon on men beneath in sadness lying: The waves are murmuring silver murmurs low: Over the waves are borne Those feeble lights which, ere the eyes of Morn Are lifted, through her lids and lashes flow. Beneath the curdling wind Green through the shades the waters rush and roll, (Or whitened only by the unfrequent shoal,) Till two dark hills, with darker yet behind, Confront them,--purple mountains almost black, Each behind each self-folded and withdrawn, Beneath the umbrage of yon cloudy rack.-- That orange-gleam! 't is dawn! Onward! the swan's flight with the eagle's blending, On, wingèd Muse! still forward and ascending!'
"This sonnet on 'Sunrise,'" continued Landor, "is the noblest that ever was written:--
'I saw the Master of the Sun. He stood High in his fiery car, himself more bright, An archer of immeasurable might. On his left shoulder hung his quivered load; Spurred by his steeds, the eastern mountain glowed; Forward his eager eye and brow of light He bent; and while both hands that arch embowed, Shaft after shaft pursued the flying Night, No wings profaned that godlike form: around His polished neck an ever-moving crowd Of locks hung glistening; while each perfect sound Fell from his bow-string, _that th' ethereal dome Thrilled as a dew-drop_; while each passing cloud Expanded, whitening like the ocean foam.'
"Is not this line grand?--
'Peals the strong, voluminous thunder!'
And how incomparable is the termination of this song!--
'Bright was her soul as Dian's crest Showering on Vesta's fane its sheen: Cold looked she as the waveless breast Of some stone Dian at thirteen. Men loved: but hope they deemed to be A sweet Impossibility!'
Here are two beautiful lines from the Grecian Ode:--
'Those sinuous streams that blushing wander Through labyrinthine oleander.'
This is like Shakespeare:--
'Yea, and the Queen of Love, as fame reports, Was caught,--no doubt in Bacchic wreaths,--for Bacchus Such puissance hath, that he old oaks will twine Into true-lovers' knots, and laughing stand Until the sun goes down.'
And an admirable passage is this, too, from the same poem,--'The Search after Proserpine':--
'Yea, and the motions of her trees and harvests Resemble those of slaves, reluctant, cumbered, By outward force compelled; _not like our billows, Springing elastic in impetuous joy, Or indolently swayed_.'
"There!" exclaimed Landor, closing the book, "I want you to have this. It will be none the less valuable because I have scribbled in it," he added with a smile.
"But, Mr. Landor--"
"Now don't say a word. I am an old man, and if both my legs are not in the grave, they ought to be. I cannot lay up such treasures in heaven, you know,--saving of course in my memory,--and De Vere had rather you should have it than the rats. There's a compliment for you! so put the book in your pocket."
This little volume is marked throughout by Landor with notes of admiration, and if I here transcribe a few of his favorite poems, it will be with the hope of benefiting many readers to whom De Vere is a sealed book.
"Greece never produced anything so exquisite," wrote Landor beneath the following song:--
"Give me back my heart, fair child; To you as yet 't is worth but little. Half beguiler, half beguiled, Be you warned: your own is brittle. I know it by your redd'ning cheeks,-- I know it by those two black streaks Arching up your pearly brows In a momentary laughter, Stretched in long and dark repose With a sigh the moment after.
"'Hid it! dropt it on the moors! Lost it, and you cannot find it,'-- My own heart I want, not yours: You have bound and must unbind it. Set it free then from your net, We will love, sweet,--but not yet! Fling it from you:--we are strong; Love is trouble, love is folly: Love, that makes an old heart young, Makes a young heart melancholy."
And for this Landor claimed that it was "finer than the best in Horace":--
"Slanting both hands against her forehead, On me she levelled her bright eyes. My whole heart brightened as the sea When midnight clouds part suddenly:-- Through all my spirit went the lustre, Like starlight poured through purple skies.
"And then she sang a loud, sweet music; Yet louder as aloft it clomb: Soft when her curving lips it left; Then rising till the heavens were cleft, As though each strain, on high expanding, Were echoed in a silver dome.
"But hark! she sings 'she does not love me': She loves to say she ne'er can love. To me her beauty she denies,-- Bending the while on me those eyes, Whose beams might charm the mountain leopard, Or lure Jove's herald from above!"
Below the following exquisite bit of melody is written, "Never was any sonnet so beautiful."
"She whom this heart must ever hold most dear (This heart in happy bondage held so long) Began to sing. At first a gentle fear Rosied her countenance, for she is young, And he who loves her most of all was near: But when at last her voice grew full and strong, O, from their ambush sweet, how rich and clear Bubbled the notes abroad,--a rapturous throng! Her little hands were sometimes flung apart, And sometimes palm to palm together prest; While wave-like blushes rising from her breast Kept time with that aerial melody, As music to the sight!--I standing nigh Received the falling fountain in my heart."
"What sonnet of Petrarca equals this?" he says of the following:--
"Happy are they who kiss thee, morn and even, Parting the hair upon thy forehead white; For them the sky is bluer and more bright, And purer their thanksgivings rise to Heaven. Happy are they to whom thy songs are given; Happy are they on whom thy hands alight; And happiest they for whom thy prayers at night In tender piety so oft have striven. Away with vain regrets and selfish sighs! Even I, dear friend, am lonely, not unblest: Permitted sometimes on that form to gaze, Or feel the light of those consoling eyes,-- If but a moment on my cheek it stays, I know that gentle beam from all the rest!"
"Like Shakespeare's, but better, is this allegory:--
"You say that you have given your love to me. Ah, give it not, but lend it me; and say That you will ofttimes ask me to repay, But never to restore it: so shall we, Retaining, still bestow perpetually: So shall I ask thee for it every day, Securely as for daily bread we pray; So all of favor, naught of right shall be. The joy which now is mine shall leave me never. Indeed, I have deserved it not; and yet No painful blush is mine,--so soon my face Blushing is hid in that beloved embrace. Myself I would condemn not, but forget; Remembering thee alone, and thee forever!"
"Worthy of Raleigh and like him," is Landor's preface to the following sonnet:--
"Flowers I would bring, if flowers could make thee fairer, And music, if the Muse were dear to thee; (For loving these would make thee love the bearer.) But sweetest songs forget their melody, And loveliest flowers would but conceal the wearer:-- A rose I marked, and might have plucked; but she Blushed as she bent, imploring me to spare her, Nor spoil her beauty by such rivalry. Alas! and with what gifts shall I pursue thee, What offerings bring, what treasures lay before thee, When earth with all her floral train doth woo thee, And all old poets and old songs adore thee. And love to thee is naught, from passionate mood Secured by joy's complacent plenitude!"
Occasionally Landor indulges in a little humorous indignation, particularly in his remarks on the poem of which Coleridge is the hero. De Vere's lines end thus:--
"Soft be the sound ordained thy sleep to break! When thou art waking, wake me, for thy Master's sake!"
"And let me nap on," wrote the august critic, who had no desire to meet Coleridge, even as a celestial being.
Now and then there is a dash of the pencil across some final verse, with the remark, "Better without these." Twice or thrice Landor finds fault with a word. He objects to the expression, "eyes so fair," saying _fair_ is a bad word for eyes.
* * * * *
The subject of Latin being one day mentioned, Landor very eagerly proposed that I should study this language with him.
The thought was awful, and I expostulated. "But, Mr. Landor, you who are so noble a Latinist can never have the patience to instruct such a stumbling scholar."
"I insist upon it. You shall be my first pupil," he said, laughing at the idea of beginning to teach in his extreme old age. "It will give the old man something to do."
"But you will get very tired of me, Mr. Landor."
"Well, well, I'll tell you when I am tired. You say you have a grammar; then I'll bring along with me to-morrow something to read."
True to his promise, the "old pedagogue," for so he was wont to call himself, made his appearance with a time-worn Virgil under his arm,--a Virgil that in 1809 was the property, according to much pen and ink scribbling, of one "John Prince, ætat. 12. College School, Hereford."
"Now, then, for our lesson," Landor exclaimed, in a cheery voice. "Giallo knows all about it, and quite approves of the arrangement. Don't you, Giallo?" And the wise dog wagged his sympathetic tail, jumped up on his master's knees, and put his fore paws around Landor's neck. "There, you see, he gives consent; for this is the way Giallo expresses approbation."
The kindness and amiability of my teacher made me forget his greatness, and I soon found myself reciting with as much ease as if there had been nothing strange in the affair. He was very patient, and never found fault with me, but his criticisms on my Latin grammar were frequent and severe. "It is strange," he would mutter, "that men cannot do things properly. There is no necessity for this rule; it only confuses the pupil. That note is absurd; this, unintelligible. Grammars should be made more comprehensible."
Expressing a preference for the Italian method of pronunciation, I dared to say that it seemed to be the most correct, inasmuch as the Italian language was but bastard Latin. The master, however, would not listen to such heresy, and declared that, with the exception of the French, the Italian was the worst possible pronunciation to adopt; that the German method was the most correct, and after that came the English.
It was only a few hours after the termination of our first lesson that Landor's little maid entered the room laden with old folios, which she deposited with the following pleasant note:--"As my young friend is willing to become a grammarian, an old fellow sends her for her gracious acceptance these books tending to that purpose." I was made rich, indeed, by this generous donation, for there were a ponderous Latin Dictionary in Landor's handwriting, a curious old Italian and French Dictionary of 1692,--published at Paris, "per uso del Serenissimo Delfino,"--a Greek Grammar, and a delightfully rare and musty old Latin Grammar by Emmanuel Alvarus, the Jesuit, carefully annotated by Landor. Then, too, there was a valuable edition, in two volumes, of Annibal Caro's Italian translation of the Æneid, published at Paris in 1760, by permission of "Louis, par le grace de Dieu Roi de France et de Navarre," and very copiously illustrated by Zocchi. Two noble coats-of-arms adorn its fly-leaves, those of the Right Honorable Lady Mary Louther and of George, Earl of Macartney, Knight of the Order of the White Eagle and of the Bath.
The lessons, as pleasant as they were profitable, were given several times a week for many weeks, and would have been continued still longer had not a change of residence on our part rendered frequent meetings impossible. On each appointed day Landor entered the room with a bouquet of camellias or roses,--the products of his little garden, in which he took great pride,--and, after presenting it with a graceful speech, turned to the Latin books with infinite gusto, as though they reflected upon him the light of other days. No voice could be better adapted to the reading of Latin than that of Landor, who uttered the words with a certain majestic flow, and sounding, cataract-like falls and plunges of music. Occasionally he would touch upon the subject of Greek. "I wonder whether I've forgotten all my Greek," he said one day. "It is so long since I have written a word of it that I doubt if I can remember the alphabet. Let me see." He took up pen and paper, and from Alpha to Omega traced every letter with far more distinctness than he would have written the English alphabet. "Why, Landor," he exclaimed, looking with no little satisfaction on the work before him, "you have not grown as foolish as I thought. You know your letters,--which proves that you are in your second childhood, does it not?" he asked, smiling, and turning to me.
After my recitation he would lean back in the arm-chair and relate anecdotes of great men and women to a small, but deeply interested audience of three, including Giallo. A few well-timed questions were quite sufficient to open his inexhaustible reservoir of reminiscences. Nor had Landor reason to complain of his memory in so far as the dim past was concerned; for, one morning, reference having been made to Monk Lewis's poem of "Alonzo the Brave and the Fair Imogene," he recited it in cadences from beginning to end, without the slightest hesitation or the tripping of a word. "Well, this is indeed astonishing," he said at its conclusion; "I have not _thought_ of that poem for thirty years!"
* * * * *
Landor was often very brilliant. At Sienna, during the summer of 1860, an American lady having expressed a desire to meet him the following season, he replied, "Ah, by that time I shall have gone farther and fared worse!" Sometimes, when we were all in a particularly merry mood, Landor would indulge in impromptu _doggerel_ "to please _Giallo_"! Absurd couplets would come thick and fast,--so fast that it was impossible to remember them.
Advising me with regard to certain rules in my Latin Grammar he exclaimed,
"What you'd fain know, you will find: What you want not, leave behind."
Whereupon Giallo walked up to his master and caressed his hand. "Why, Giallo," added Landor, "your nose is hot, but
He is foolish who supposes Dogs are ill that have hot noses!"
Attention being directed to several letters received by Landor from well-meaning but intensely orthodox friends, who were extremely anxious that he should join the Church in order to be saved from perdition, he said: "They are very kind, but I cannot be redeemed in that way.
When I throw off this mortal coil, I will not call on you, friend Hoil; And I think that I shall do, My good Tompkins, without you. But I pray you, charming Kate, You will come, but not too late."
"How wicked you are, Mr. Landor!" I replied, laughingly. "It is well that _I_ am not orthodox."
"For if you were orthodox I should be in the wrong box!"
was the ready response.
Landor held orthodoxy in great horror, having no faith in creeds which set up the highly comfortable doctrine, "I am holier than thou, for I am in the Church." "Ah! I have given dear, good friends great pain because of my obstinacy. They would have me believe as they do, which is utterly impossible." By Church, Landor did not mean religion, nor did he pass judgment on those who in sincerity embraced any particular faith, but claimed for himself perfect freedom of opinion, and gave as much to others. In his paper on "Popery, British and Foreign," Landor freely expresses himself. "The people, by their own efforts, will sweep away the gross inequalities now obstructing the church-path,--will sweep away from amidst the habitations of the industrious the moral cemeteries, the noisome markets around the house of God, whatever be the selfish interests that stubbornly resist the operation.... It would grieve me to foresee a day when our cathedrals and our churches shall be demolished or desecrated; when the tones of the organ, when the symphonies of Handel, no longer swell and reverberate along the groined roof and dim windows. But let old superstitions crumble into dust; let Faith, Hope, and Charity be simple in their attire; let few and solemn words be spoken before Him 'to whom all hearts are open, all desires known.' Principalities and powers belong not to the service of the Crucified; and religion can never be pure, never 'of good report,' among those who usurp or covet them."
Landor was no exception to the generality of Protestants in Italy, who become imbued with a profound aversion to Romanism, while retaining great respect and regard for individual members of its clergy. He never passed one of the _preti_ that he did not open his batteries, pouring grape and canister of sarcasm and indignation on the retreating enemy,--"rascally beetles," "human vampires," "Satan's imps." "Italy never can be free as long as these locusts, worse than those of Egypt, infest the land. They are as plentiful as fleas, and as great a curse," he exclaimed one day. "They are fleas demoralized!" he added, with a laugh.
"It is reported that Pio Nono is not long for this world," I said, on another occasion. "Erysipelas is supposed to have settled in his legs."
"Ah, yes," Landor replied, "he has been on his _last legs_ for some time, but depend upon it they are legs that will _last_. The Devil is always good to his own, you know!"
In Italy the advanced party will not allow virtue in the Pope even as a man. A story is told, that when, as the Cardinal Mastai Ferretti, he was made Pontiff, his sister threw up her hands and exclaimed, "Guai a Roma!" (Woe to Rome!) "Se non è vero è ben trovato." And this is told in spite of Mrs. Kemble's story of the conversation which took place between the Cardinals Micara and Lambruschini prior to this election, in which the former remarked: "If the powers of darkness preside over the election, you'll be Pope; if the people had a voice, I'm the man; but if Heaven has a finger in the business, 't will be Ferretti!" Apropos of Popes, Landor writes: "If the Popes are the servants of God, it must be confessed that God has been very unlucky in the choice of his household. So many and so atrocious thieves, liars, and murderers are not to be found in any other trade; much less would you look for them at the head of it." And because of faithless servants Landor has wisely made Boccaccio say of Rome: "She, I think will be the last city to rise from the dead."
"How surprised St. Peter would be," continued Landor,--resuming our conversation, which I have thus parenthetically interrupted,--"how surprised he would be to return to earth and find his apostolic successors living in such a grand house as the Vatican. Ah, they are jolly fishermen!--Landor, Landor! how can you be so wicked?" he said, checking himself with mock seriousness; "Giallo does not approve of such levity. He tells me he is a good Catholic, for he always refuses meat on Friday, even when I offer him a tempting bit. He is a pious dog, and will intercede for his naughty old _Padrone_ when he goes to heaven."
* * * * *
A young friend of mine, Charles C. Coleman, an art-student in Italy, having visited Landor, was struck by the nobility of his head, and expressed a wish to make a study of it. To fulfil such a desire, however, was difficult, inasmuch as Landor had an inherent objection to having his likeness taken either by man or the sun. Not long before the artist's visit, Mr. Browning had persuaded him to sit for his photograph, but no less a person could have induced the old man to mount the numberless steps which seem to be a necessary condition of photography. This sitting was most satisfactory; and to Mr. Browning's zealous friendship is due the likeness by which the octogenarian Landor will probably be known to the world. Finding him in unusually good spirits one day, I dubiously and gradually approached the subject.
"Mr. Landor, do you remember the young artist who called on you one day?"
"Yes, and a nice fellow he seemed to be."
"He was greatly taken with your head."
(Humorously.) "You are quite sure he was not smitten with my face?"
"No, I am not sure, for he expressed himself enthusiastically about your beard. He says you are a fine subject for a study."
"Would you allow him to make a sketch of you, Mr. Landor? He is exceedingly anxious to do so."
"No; I do not wish my face to be public property. I detest this publicity that men now-a-days seem to be so fond of. There is a painting of me in England. D'Orsay, too, made a drawing of me" (I think he said drawing) "once when I was visiting Gore House,--a very good thing it was too,--and there is a bust executed by Gibson when I was in Rome. These are quite sufficient. I have often been urged to allow my portrait to be inserted in my books, but never would I give my consent." (Notwithstanding this assertion, it may be found in the "Last Fruit.") "It is a custom that I detest."
"But, Mr. Landor, you had your photograph taken lately."
"That was to oblige my good friend Browning, who has been so exceedingly kind and attentive to me. I could not refuse him."
"But, Mr. Landor, this is entirely between ourselves. It does not concern the public in the least. My friend wants to make a study of your head, and I want the study."
"O, the painting is for you, is it?"
"Yes. I want to have something of you in oil colors."
"Ah, to be sure! the old creature's complexion is so fresh and fair. Well, I'll tell you what I will do. Your friend may come, provided you come with him,--and act as chaperon!" This was said laughingly.
"That I will do with pleasure."
"But stop!" added Landor after a pause. "I must be taken without my beard!"
"O no! Mr. Landor. That cannot be. Why, you will spoil the picture. You won't look like a patriarch without a beard."
"I ordered my barber to come and shear me to-morrow. The weather is getting to be very warm, and a heavy beard is exceedingly uncomfortable. I _must_ be shaved to-morrow."
"Pray countermand the order, dear Mr. Landor. Do retain your beard until the picture is completed. You will not be obliged to wait long. We shall all be so disappointed if you don't."
"Well, well, I suppose I must submit."
And thus the matter was amicably arranged, to our infinite satisfaction.
Those sittings were very pleasant to the artist and his chaperon, and were not disagreeable, I think, to the model. Seated in his arm-chair, with his back to the window that the light might fall on the top of his head and form a sort of glory, Landor looked every inch a seer, and would entertain us with interesting though unseerlike recollections, while the artist was busy with his brush.
Putting out his foot one day, he said, "Who could suppose that that ugly old foot had ever been good-looking? Yet they say it was once. When I was in Rome, an artist came to me, and asked to take a cast of my foot and leg."
"Ah, Mr. Landor, you don't know how good-looking you might be now, if you would get a new suit of clothes and a nice pair of boots."
"No, no. I never intend to buy anything more for myself. My old clothes are quite good enough. They are all-sufficient for this world, and in the next I sha'n't need any; that is, if we are to believe what we are told."
"But, indeed, Mr. Landor, you really ought to get a new cap."
"No, the one I wear is quite grand enough. I may have it made over. Napier gave it to me," (I think he said Napier,) "and for that reason I value it."
"Mr. Landor, you do look like a lion," I said at another time.
He smiled and replied, "You are not the only person who has said so. One day, when Napier was dining with me, he threw himself back in his chair, exclaiming, with a hearty laugh, 'Zounds! Landor, I've just discovered a resemblance. You look like an old lion.'"
"That was a compliment, Mr. Landor. The lion is the king of beasts."
"Yes, but he's only a beast after all," was the quick retort.
Landor always spoke with enthusiasm of General Sir William Napier, and in fact lavished praise upon all the family. It was to General Napier that he dedicated his "Hellenics," published in 1859, wherein he pays the following chivalric tribute: "An illustrious man ordered it to be inscribed on his monument, that he was _the friend of Sir Philip Sidney_; an obscurer one can but leave this brief memorial, that he was the friend of Sir William Napier." Not long after the conversation last referred to, Landor said, very sadly, as he welcomed us, "I have just heard of the death of my dear old friend Napier. Why could not I have been taken, and he left? I have lived too long."
The portrait was soon painted, for Landor, with great patience and good-nature, would pose for an hour and a half at a time. Then, rising, he would say by way of conclusion to the day's work, "Now it is time for a little refreshment." After talking awhile longer, and partaking of cake and wine, we would leave to meet a few days later. This was the last time Landor sat for his picture.
* * * * *
Landor could never have greatly admired Italian music, although he spoke in high praise of the singing of Catalani, a _prima donna_ whom he knew and liked personally. He was always ready to point out the absurdity of many operatic situations and conventionalities, and often confessed that he had been rarely to the theatre. But that he was exceedingly fond of old English, Scotch, and German ballads, I had the best possible evidence. Frequently he entered our rooms, saying playfully, "I wish to make a bargain with you. I will give you these flowers if you will give me a song!" I was only too happy to comply, thinking the flowers very cheaply purchased. While I sang Italian cavatinas, Landor remained away from the piano, pleased, but not satisfied. At their conclusion he used to exclaim, "Now for an English ballad!" and would seat himself beside the piano, saying, "I must get nearer to hear the words. These old deaf ears treat me shabbily!" "Kathleen Mavourneen," Schubert's "Ave Maria," and "Within a Mile of Edinboro' Town," were great favorites with him; but "Auld Robin Gray" came first in his affections and was the ballad he always asked for. Upon first hearing it, the tears streamed down his face, and with a sigh he said: "I have not heard that for many, many years. It takes me back to very happy days, when ---- used to sing to me. Ah, you did not know what thoughts you were recalling to the troublesome old man." As I turned over the leaves he added, "Ah, Landor! when you were younger, you knew how to turn over the leaves: you've forgotten all your accomplishments!"
Apropos of old songs, Landor has laid his offering upon their neglected altar. I shall not forget that evening at Casa Guidi--I can forget no evening passed there--when, just as the tea was being placed upon the table. Robert Browning turned to Landor, who was that night's honored guest, gracefully thanked him for his defence of old songs, and, opening the "Last Fruit," read in his clear, manly voice the following passages from the Idyls of Theocritus: "We often hear that such or such a thing 'is not worth an old song.' Alas! how very few things are! What precious recollections do some of them awaken! what pleasurable tears do they excite! They purify the stream of life; they can delay it on its shelves and rapids; they can turn it back again to the soft moss amidst which its sources issue."
"Ah, you are kind," replied the gratified author. "You always find out the best bits in my books."
I have never seen anything of its kind so chivalric as the deference paid by Robert Browning to Walter Savage Landor. It was loyal homage rendered by a poet in all the glow of power and impulsive magnetism to an "old master."
* * * * *
Landor often berated the custom of dinner-parties. "I dislike large dinners exceedingly. This herding together of men and women for the purpose of eating, this clatter of knives and forks, is barbarous. What can be more horrible than to see and hear a person talking with his mouth full? But Landor has strange notions, has he not, Giallo? In fact _Padrone_ is a fool if we may believe what folks say. Once, while walking near my villa at Fiesole, I overheard quite a flattering remark about myself, made by one _contadino_ to another. My beloved countrymen had evidently been the subject of conversation, and, as the two fellows approached my grounds, one of them pointed towards the villa and exclaimed: 'Tutti gli Inglesi sono pazzi, ma questo poi!' (All the English are mad,--but _this one_!) Words were too feeble to express the extent of my lunacy, and so both men shrugged their shoulders as only Italians can. Yes, Giallo, those _contadini_ pitied your old master, and I dare say they were quite right."
* * * * *
While talking one day about Franklin, Landor said: "Ah, Franklin was a great man; and I can tell you an anecdote of him that has never been in print, and which I had directly from a personal friend of Franklin's, who was acting as private secretary to Lord Auckland, the English ambassador at Paris during Franklin's visit to the French Court. On one occasion, when Franklin presented himself before Louis, he was most cavalierly treated by the king, whereupon Lord Auckland took it upon himself to make impertinent speeches, and, notwithstanding Franklin's habitually courteous manners, sneered at his appearing in court dress. Upon Franklin's return home, he was met by ----, who, being much attached to him,--a bit of a republican, too,--was anxious to learn the issue of the visit. 'I was received badly enough,' said Franklin. 'Your master, Lord Auckland, was very insolent. I am not quite sure that, among other things, he did not call me a rebel.' Then, taking off his court coat, which, after carefully folding and laying upon the sofa, he stroked, he muttered, 'Lie there now; you'll see better days yet.'"
Being asked if he had ever seen Daniel Webster, Landor replied, "I once met Mr. Webster at a dinner-party. We sat next each other, and had a most agreeable conversation. Finally Mr. Webster asked me if I would have taken him for an American; and I answered, 'Yes, for the best of Americans!'"
Landor had met Talma, "who spoke English most perfectly,"--had been in the society of Mrs. Siddons, "who was not at all clever in private,"--had conversed with Mrs. Jordan, "and a most handsome and agreeable woman she was; but that scoundrel, William IV., treated her shamefully. He even went so far as to appropriate the money she received on her benefit nights." Malibran, too, Landor described as being most fascinating off the stage.
"I never studied German," he remarked at another time. "I was once in Germany four months, but conversed with the professors in Latin. Their Latin was grammatical, but very like dog-Latin for all that. What an offence to dogs, if they only knew it!" Then, lowering his voice, he laughingly added, "I hope Giallo did not hear me. I would not offend him for the world. A German Baroness attempted to induce me to learn her language, and read aloud German poetry for my benefit; but the noise was intolerable to me. It sounded like a great wagon banging over a pavement of boulders. It was very ungrateful in me not to learn, for my fair teacher paid me many pretty compliments. Yes, Giallo, _Padrone_ has had pleasant things said to him in his day. But the greatest compliment I ever received was from Lord Dudley. Being confined to his bed by illness at Bologna, a friend read aloud to him my imaginary conversation between the two Ciceros. Upon its conclusion, the reader exclaimed, 'Is not that exactly what Cicero would have said?' 'Yes, if he could!' was Lord Dudley's answer. Now was not that a compliment worth having?"
One day when I was sitting with Landor, and he, as usual, was discoursing of "lang syne," he rose, saying, "Stop a bit; I've something to show you,"--and, leaving the room for a moment, returned with a small writing-desk, looking as old as himself. "Now I want you to look at something I have here," he continued, seating himself and opening the desk. "There, what do you think of that?" he asked, handing me a miniature of a very lovely woman.
"I think the original must have been exceedingly handsome."
"Ah, yes, she was," he replied, with a sigh, leaning back in his chair. "That is the 'Ianthe' of my poems."
"I can well understand why she inspired your muse, Mr. Landor."
"Ah, she was far more beautiful than her picture, but much she cared for my poetry! It couldn't be said that she liked me for my books. She, too, has gone,--gone before me."
It is to "Ianthe" that the first seventy-five of his verses marked "Miscellaneous" are addressed, and it is of her he has written,--
"It often comes into my head That we may dream when we are dead, But I am far from sure we do. O that it were so! then my rest Would be indeed among the blest; I should forever dream of you."
In the "Heroic Idyls," also, there are lines
"ON THE DEATH OF IANTHE.
"I dare not trust my pen, it trembles so; It seems to feel a portion of my woe, And makes me credulous that trees and stones At mournful fates have uttered mournful tones. While I look back again on days long past, How gladly would I yours might be my last! Sad our first severance was, but sadder this, When death forbids one hour of mutual bliss."
"Ianthe's portrait is not the only treasure this old desk contains," Landor said, as he replaced it and took up a small package, very carefully tied, which he undid with great precaution, as though the treasure had wings and might escape, if not well guarded. "There!" he said, holding up a pen-wiper made of red and gold stuff in the shape of a bell with an ivory handle,--"that pen-wiper was given to me by ----, Rose's sister, forty years ago. Would you believe it? Have I not kept it well?" The pen-wiper looked as though it had been made the day before, so fresh was it. "Now," continued Landor, "I intend to give that to you."
"But, Mr. Landor--"
"Tut! tut! there are to be no buts about it. My passage for another world is already engaged, and I know you'll take good care of my keepsake. There, now, put it in your pocket, and only use it on grand occasions."
Into my pocket the pen-wiper went, and, wrapped in the same old paper, it lies in another desk, as free from ink as it was four years ago.
Who Rose was no reader of Landor need be told,--she to whom "Andrea of Hungary" was dedicated, and of whom Lady Blessington, in one of her letters to Landor, wrote: "The tuneful bird, inspired of old by the Persian rose, warbled not more harmoniously its praise than you do that of the English Rose, whom posterity will know through your beautiful verses." Many and many a time the gray-bearded poet related incidents of which this English Rose was the heroine, and for the moment seemed to live over again an interesting episode of his mature years.
* * * * *
"Dear! dear! what is the old creature to do for reading-matter?" Landor exclaimed after having exhausted his own small stock and my still smaller one. "Shakespeare and Milton are my daily food, but at times, you know, we require side-dishes."
"Why not subscribe to Vieusseux's Library, Mr. Landor?"
"That would be the best thing to do, would it not? Very well, you shall secure me a six months' subscription to-morrow. And now what shall I read? When Mr. Anthony Trollope was here, he called on me with his brother, and a clever man he appeared to be. I have never read anything of his. Suppose I begin with his novels?"
And so it happened that Landor read all of Anthony Trollope's works with zest, admiring them for their unaffected honesty of purpose and truth to nature. He next read Hood's works, and when this writer's poems were returned to me there came with them a scrap of paper on which were named the poems that had most pleased their reader.
"Song of a Shirt.
"To my Daughter.
"A Child embracing.
"My Heart is sick.
"False Poets and True.
"The last stanza of Inez is beautiful."
Of the poem which heads the list, he wrote:--
"'Song of the Shirt' Strange! very strange, This shirt will never want a change, Nor ever will wear out so long As Britain has a heart or tongue."
Hood commanded great love and respect from Landor. Soon the reign of G. P. R. James set in, and when I left Florence he was still in power. I cannot but think that a strong personal friendship had much to do with Landor's enthusiasm for this novelist.
* * * * *
We took many drives with Landor during the spring and summer of 1861, and made very delightful jaunts into the country. Not forgetful in the least of things, the old man, in spite of his age, would always insist upon taking the front seat, and was more active than many a younger man in assisting us in and out of the carriage. "You are the most genuinely polite man I know," once wrote Lady Blessington to him. The verdict of 1840 could not have been overruled twenty-one years later. Once we drove up to "aerial Fiesole," and never can I forget Landor's manner while in the neighborhood of his former home. It had been proposed that we should turn back when only half-way up the hill. "Ah, go a little farther," Landor said nervously; "I should like to see my villa." Of course his wish was our pleasure, and so the drive was continued. Landor sat immovable, with head turned in the direction of the Villa Gherardesca. At first sight of it he gave a sudden start, and genuine tears filled his eyes and coursed down his cheeks. "There's where I lived," he said, breaking a long silence and pointing to his old estate. Still we mounted the hill, and when at a turn in the road the villa stood out before us clearly and distinctly, Landor said, "Let us give the horses a rest here!" We stopped, and for several minutes Landor's gaze was fixed upon the villa. "There now, we can return to Florence, if you like," he murmured, finally, with a deep sigh. "I have seen it probably for the last time." Hardly a word was spoken during the drive home. Landor seemed to be absent-minded. A sadder, more pathetic picture than he made during this memorable drive is rarely seen. "With me life has been a failure," was the expression of that wretched, worn face. Those who believe Landor to have been devoid of heart should have seen him then.
* * * * *
During another drive he stopped the horses at the corner of a dirty little old street, and, getting out of the carriage, hurriedly disappeared round a corner, leaving us without explanation and consequently in amazement. We had not long to wait, however, as he soon appeared carrying a large roll of canvas. "There!" he exclaimed, as he again seated himself, "I've made a capital bargain. I've long wanted these paintings, but the man asked more than I could give. To-day he relented. They are very clever, and I shall have them framed." Alas! they were not clever, and Landor in his last days had queer notions concerning art. That he was excessively fond of pictures is undoubtedly true; he surrounded himself with them, but there was far more quantity than quality about them. He frequently attributed very bad paintings to very good masters; and it by no means followed because he called a battle-piece a "Salvator Rosa," that it was painted by Salvator. But the old man was tenacious of his art opinions, and it was unwise to argue the point.
* * * * *
The notes which I possess in Landor's handwriting are numerous, but they are of too personal a character to interest the public. Sometimes he signs himself "The Old Creature," at another, "The Restless Old Man," and once, "Your Beardless Old Friend." This was after the painting of his portrait, when he had himself shorn of half his patriarchal grandeur. The day previous to the fatal deed, he entered our room saying, "I've just made an arrangement with my barber to shear me to-morrow. I must have a clean face during the summer."
"I wish you had somewhat of the Oriental reverence for beards, Mr. Landor, for then there would be no shaving. Why, think of it! if you've no beard, how can you swear?"
"Ah, _Padrone_ can swear tolerably well without it, can he not, Giallo? he will have no difficulty on that score. Now I'll wager, were I a young man, you would ask me for a lock of my hair. See what it is to be old and gray."
"Why, Mr. Landor, I've long wanted just that same, but have not dared to ask for it. May I cut off a few stray hairs?" I asked, going toward him with a pair of scissors.
"Ah no," he replied, quizzically, "there can be but one 'Rape of the Lock!' Let me be my own barber." Taking the scissors, he cut off the longest curl of his snow-white beard, enclosed it in an envelope with a Greek superscription, and, presenting it, said, "One of these days, when I have gone to my long sleep, this bit of an old pagan may interest some very good Christians."
* * * * *
The following note is worthy to be transcribed, showing, as it does, the generosity of his nature at a time when he had nothing to give away but ideas.
"MY DEAR FRIEND,--Will you think it worth your while to transcribe the enclosed? These pages I have corrected and enlarged. Some of them you have never seen. They have occupied more of my time and trouble, and are now more complete, than anything you have favored me by reading. I hope you will be pleased. I care less about others.... I hope you will get something for these articles, and keep it. I am richer by several crowns than you suspect, and I must scramble to the kingdom of Heaven, to which a full pocket, we learn, is an impediment.
"Ever truly yours,
W. S. L."
The manuscripts contained the two conversations between Homer and Laertes which two years ago were published in the "Heroic Idyls." I did not put them to the use desired by their author. Though my copies differ somewhat from the printed ones, it is natural to conclude that Landor most approved of what was last submitted to his inspection, and would not desire to be seen in any other guise. The publicity of a note prefixed to one of these conversations, however, is warranted.
"It will be thought audacious, and most so by those who know the least of Homer, to represent him as talking so familiarly. He must often have done it, as Milton and Shakespeare did. There is homely talk in the 'Odyssey.'
"Fashion turns round like Fortune. Twenty years hence, perhaps, this conversation of Homer and Laertes, in which for the first time Greek domestic manners have been represented by any modern poet, may be recognized and approved.
"Our sculptors and painters frequently take their subjects from antiquity; are our poets never to pass beyond the mediæval? At our own doors we listen to the affecting 'Song of the Shirt'; but some few of us, at the end of it, turn back to catch the 'Song of the Sirens.'
"Poetry is not tied to chronology. The Roman poet brings Dido and Æneas together,--the historian parts them far asunder. Homer may or may not have been the contemporary of Laertes. Nothing is idler or more dangerous than to enter a labyrinth without a clew."
* * * * *
At last the time came when there were to be no more conversations, no more drives, with Walter Savage Landor. Summoned suddenly to America, we called upon him three or four days before our departure to say good by.
"What? going to America?" Landor exclaimed in a sorrowful voice. "Is it really true? Must the old creature lose his young friends as well as his old? Ah me! ah me! what will become of Giallo and me? And America in the condition that it is too! But this is not the last time that I am to see you. Tut! tut! now no excuses. We must have one more drive, one more cup of tea together before you leave."
Pressed as we were for time, it was still arranged that we should drive with Landor the evening previous to our departure. On the morning of this day came the following note:--
"I am so stupid that everything puzzles me. Is not this the day I was to expect your visit? At all events you will have the carriage at your door at _six_ this evening.
To drive or not to drive, That is the question.
You shall not be detained one half-hour,--but tea will be ready on your arrival.
"I fell asleep after the jolting, and felt no bad effect. See what it is to be so young.
"Ever yours affectionately,
"W. S. L."
There was little to cheer any of us in that last drive, and few words were spoken. Stopping at his house on our way home, we sipped a final cup of tea in almost complete silence. I tried to say merry things and look forward a few years to another meeting, but the old man shook his head sadly, saying: "I shall never see you again. I cannot live through another winter, nor do I desire to. Life to me is but a counterpart of Dead Sea fruit; and now that you are going away, there is one less link to the chain that binds me."
Landor, in the flood-tide of intellect and fortune, could command attention; Landor, tottering with an empty purse towards his ninth decade, could count his Florentine friends in one breath; thus it happened that the loss of the least of these made the old man sad.
At last the hour of leave-taking arrived. Culling a flower from the little garden, taking a final turn through those three little rooms, patting Giallo on the head, who, sober through sympathy, looked as though he wondered what it all meant, we turned to Landor, who entered the front room dragging an immense album after him. It was the same that he had bought years before of Barker, the English artist, for fifty guineas, and about which previous mention has been made. "You are not to get rid of me yet," said Landor, bearing the album toward the stairs. "I shall see you home, and bid you good by at your own door."
"But, dear Mr. Landor, what are you doing with that big book? You will surely injure yourself by attempting to carry it."
"This album is intended for you, and you must take it with you to-night."
Astonished at this munificent present, I hardly knew how to refuse it without offending the generous giver. Stopping him at the door, I endeavored to dissuade him from giving away so valuable an album; and, finding him resolute in his determination, begged him to compromise by leaving it to me in his will.
"No, my dear," he replied, "I at least have lived long enough to know that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." Whereupon he carried the book down stairs and deposited it in the carriage, deaf to our entreaties, and obstinately refusing assistance. "Now I am sure that you will have the album," he continued, after we were all seated in the carriage. "A will is an uncanny thing, and I'd rather remember my friends out of one than in one. I shall never see you again, and I want you to think of the foolish old creature occasionally."
The carriage stopped at our door, and "the good by" came. "May God bless you!" murmured the lonely old man, and in a moment Walter Savage Landor was out of sight.
He was right. We were never to meet again. Distance did not entirely sever the friendly link, however, for soon there came to me, across the sea, the following letters:--
August 28, 1861.
"By this time, my dear friend, you will be far on your way over the Atlantic, and before you receive the scribble now before you, half your friends will have offered you their congratulations on your return home.
"People, I hear, are flocking fast into Florence for the exhibition. This evening I received another kind note from the Countess, who tells me that she shall return to Florence on Saturday, and invites me to accompany her there. But I abhor all crowds, and am not fascinated by the eye of kings. I never saw him of Italy when he was here before, and shall not now.
"I am about to remove my terrace, and to place it under the window of the small bedroom, substituting a glass door for the present window. On this terrace I shall spend all my October days, and--and--all my money! The landlord will not allow one shilling toward the expense, which will make his lower rooms lighter and healthier. To him the advantage will be permanent,--to me (God knows) it must be very temporary. In another summer I shall not sit so high, nor, indeed, _sit_ anywhere, but take instead the easiest and laziest of all positions.
"I am continuing to read the noble romances of my friend James. I find in them thoughts as profound as any in Charron, or Montaigne, or Bacon,--I had almost added, or Shakespeare himself,--the wisest of men, as the greatest of poets. On the morning after your departure I finished the 'Philip Augustus.' In the thirty-eighth chapter is this sentence: 'O Isidore! 't is not the present, I believe, that ever makes our misery; 't is its contrast with the past; 't is the loss of some hope, or the crushing of some joy; the disappointment of expectation, or the regrets of memory. The present is nothing, nothing, nothing, but in its relation to the future or the past.' James is inferior to Scott in wit and humor, but more than his equal in many other respects; but then Scott wrote excellent poetry, in which James, when he attempted it, failed.
"Let me hear how affairs are going on in America. I believe we have truer accounts from England than your papers are disposed to publish. Louis Napoleon is increasing his naval force to a degree it never reached before. We must have war with him before a twelvemonth is over. He will also make disturbances in Louisiana, claiming it on the dolorous cry of France for her lost children. They will _invite_ him, as the poor Savoyards were _invited_ by him to do. So long as this perfidious scoundrel exists there will be no peace of quiet in any quarter of the globe. The Pope is heartily sick of intervention; but nothing can goad his fat sides into a move.
"Are you not tired? My wrist is. So adieu.
"W. S. L."
With this letter came a slip of paper, on which were these lines:--
"Faithfullest of a faithful race, Plainly I read it in thy face, Thou wishest me to mount the stairs, And leave behind me all my cares. No: I shall never see again, Her who now sails across the main, Nor wilt thou ever as before Rear two white feet against her door."
"Written opposite Palazzo Pitti, September, 1861."
"February 15, 1862.
".... The affairs of your country interest me painfully. The Northern States had acknowledged the right of the Southern to hold slaves, and had even been so iniquitous as to surrender a fugitive from his thraldom. I would propose an accommodation:--
"1. That every slave should be free after ten years' labor.
"2. That none should be imported, or sold, or separated from wife and children.
"3. That an adequate portion of land should be granted in perpetuity to the liberated.
"The proprietor would be fully indemnified for his purchase by ten years' labor. France and England will not permit their commerce with the Southern States to be interrupted much longer. It has caused great discontent in Manchester and Leeds, where the artificers suffer grievously from want of employment.
".... May you continue to improve in health as the warmer weather advances. Mine will not allow me to hope for many more months of life, but I shall always remember you, and desire that you also will remember
"W. S. LANDOR."
".... Your account of your improved health is very satisfactory and delightful to me. Hardly can I expect to receive many such. This month I enter on my eighty-ninth year, and am growing blind and deaf.... I hope you may live long enough to see the end of your disastrous civil war. Remember, the Southrons are fighting for their acknowledged rights, as established by the laws of the United States. Horrible is the idea that one man should be lord and master of another. But Washington had slaves, so had the President his successor. If your government had been contented to decree that no slave henceforth should be imported, none sold, none disunited from his family, your Northern cause would be more popular in England and throughout Europe than it is. You are about to see detached from the Union a third of the white population. Is it not better that the blacks should be contented slaves than exasperated murderers or drunken vagabonds? Your blacks were generally more happy than they were in Africa, or than they are likely to be in America. Your taxes will soon excite a general insurrection. In a war of five years they will be vastly heavier than their amount in all the continent of Europe. And what enormous armies must be kept stationary to keep down not only those who are now refractory, but also those whom (by courtesy and fiction) we call free.
"I hope and trust that I shall leave the world before the end of this winter. My darling dog, Giallo, will find a fond protectress in ----.... Present my respectful compliments to Mrs. F., and believe me to continue
"Your faithful old friend,
"W. S. LANDOR."
"September 11, 1863.
".... You must be grieved at the civil war. It might have been avoided. The North had no right to violate the Constitution. Slavery was lawful, execrable as it is.... Congress might have liberated them [the slaves] gradually at no expense to the nation at large.
"1. Every slave after fifteen years should be affranchised.
"2. None to be imported or sold.
"3. No husband and wife separated.
"4. No slave under twelve compelled to labor.
"5. Schools in every township; and children of both sexes sent to them at six to ten.
"A few days before I left England, five years ago, I had an opportunity of conversing with a gentleman who had visited the United States. He was an intelligent and zealous Abolitionist. Wishing to learn the real state of things, he went on board a vessel bound to New York. He was amazed at the opulence and splendor of that city, and at the inadequate civilization of the inhabitants. He dined at a public table, at a principal inn. The dinner was plenteous and sumptuous. On each side of him sat two gentlemen who spat like Frenchmen the moment a plate was removed. This prodigy deprived him of appetite. Dare I mention it, that the lady opposite cleared her throat in like manner?
"The Englishman wished to see your capital, and hastened to Washington. There he met a member of Congress to whom he had been introduced in London by Webster. Most willingly he accepted his invitation to join him at Baltimore, his residence. He found it difficult to express the difference between the people of New York and those of Baltimore, whom he represented as higher-bred. He met there a slaveholder of New Orleans, with whom at first he was disinclined to converse, but whom presently he found liberal and humane, and who assured him that his slaves were contented, happy, and joyous. 'There are some cruel masters,' he said, 'among us; but come yourself, sir, and see whether we consider them fit for our society or our notice.' He accepted the invitation, and remained at New Orleans until a vessel was about to sail for Bermuda, where he spent the winter.
"Your people, I am afraid, will resolve on war with England. Always aggressive, they already devour Canada. I hope Canada will soon be independent both of America and England. Your people should be satisfied with a civil war of ten or twelve years: they will soon have one of much longer duration about Mexico. God grant that you, my dear friend, may see the end of it. Believe me ever,
"Your affectionate old friend,
"W. S. LANDOR."
It was sad to receive such letters from the old man, for they showed how a mind once great was tottering ere it fell. Blind, deaf, shut up within the narrow limits of his own four walls, dependent upon English newspapers for all tidings of America,--is it strange that during those last days Landor failed to appreciate the grandeur of our conflict, and stumbled as he attempted to follow the logic of events? Well do I remember that in conversations he had reasoned far differently, his sympathy going out most unreservedly to the North. Living in the dark, he saw no more clearly than the majority of Europeans, and a not small minority of our own people. Interesting as is everything that so celebrated an author as Landor writes, these extracts, so unfavorable to our cause and to his intellect, would never have been published had not English reviewers thoroughly ventilated his opinions on the American war. Their insertion, consequently, in no way exposes Landor to severer comment than that to which the rashly unthinking have already subjected him, but, on the contrary, increases our regard for him, denoting, as they do, that, however erroneous his conclusions, the subject was one to which he devoted all the thought left him by old age. The record of a long life cannot be obliterated by the unsound theories of the octogenarian. It was only ten years before that he appealed to America in behalf of freedom in lines beginning thus:--
"Friend Jonathan!--for friend thou art,-- Do, prithee, take now in good part Lines the first steamer shall waft o'er. Sorry am I to hear the blacks Still bear your ensign on their backs; The stripes they suffer make me sore. Beware of wrong. The brave are true; The tree of Freedom never grew Where Fraud and Falsehood sowed their salt."
In his poem, also, addressed to Andrew Jackson, the "Atlantic Ruler" is apostrophized on the supposition of a prophecy that remained unfulfilled.
"Up, every son of Afric soil, Ye worn and weary, hoist the sail, For your own glebes and garners toil With easy plough and lightsome flail. A father's home ye never knew, A father's home your sons shall have from you. Enjoy your palmy groves, your cloudless day, Your world that demons tore away. Look up! look up! the flaming sword Hath vanished! and behold your Paradise restored."
This is Landor in the full possession of his intellect.
* * * * *
For Landor's own sake, I did not wish to drink the lees of that rich wine which Lady Blessington had prophesied would "flow on pure, bright, and sparkling to the last." It is the strength, not the weakness, of our friends that we would remember, and therefore Landor's letter of September, 1863, remained unanswered. It was better so. A year later he died of old age, and during this year he was but the wreck of himself. He became gradually more and more averse to going out, and to receiving visitors,--more indifferent, in fact, to all outward things. He used to sit and read, or, at all events, hold a book in his hand, and would sometimes write and sometimes give way to passion. "It was the swell of the sea after the storm, before the final calm," wrote a friend in Florence. Landor did not become physically deafer, but the mind grew more and more insensible to external impressions, and at last his housekeeper was forced to write down every question she was called upon to ask him. Few crossed the threshold of his door saving his sons, who went to see him regularly. At last he had a difficulty in swallowing, which produced a kind of cough. Had he been strong enough to expectorate or be sick, he might have lived a little longer; but the frame-work was worn out, and in a fit of coughing the great old man drew his last breath. He was confined to his bed but two or three days. I am told he looked very grand when dead,--like a majestic marble statue. The funeral was hurried, and none but his two sons followed his remains to the grave!
One touching anecdote remains to be told of him, as related by his housekeeper. On the night before the 1st of May, 1864, Landor became very restless, as sometimes happened during the last year. About two o'clock, A. M., he rang for Wilson, and insisted upon having the room lighted and the windows thrown open. He then asked for pen, ink, and paper, and the date of the day. Being told that it was the dawn of the 1st of May, he wrote a few lines of poetry upon it; then, leaning back, said, "I shall never write again. Put out the lights and draw the curtains." Very precious would those lines be now, had they been found. Wilson fancies that Landor must have destroyed them the next morning on rising.
* * * * *
The old man had his wish. Years before, when bidding, as he supposed, an eternal farewell to Italy, he wrote sadly of hopes which then seemed beyond the pale of possibility.
"I did believe, (what have I not believed?) Weary with age, but unopprest by pain, To close in thy soft clime my quiet day, And rest my bones in the Mimosa's shade. Hope! hope! few ever cherisht thee so little; Few are the heads thou hast so rarely raised; But thou didst promise this, and all was well. For we are fond of thinking where to lie When every pulse hath ceast, when the lone heart Can lift no aspiration, ... reasoning As if the sight were unimpaired by death, Were unobstructed by the coffin-lid, And the sun cheered corruption! Over all The smiles of Nature shed a potent charm, And light us to our chamber at the grave."
Italy recalled her aged yet impassioned lover, and there, beneath the cypresses of the English burying-ground at Florence, almost within sound of the murmur of his "own Affrico," rest the weary bones of Walter Savage Landor. It is glorified dust with which his mingles. Near by, the birds sing their sweetest over the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Not far off, an American pine watches vigilantly while Theodore Parker sleeps his long sleep; and but a little distance beyond, Frances Trollope, the mother, and Theodosia Trollope, her more than devoted daughter, are united in death as they had been in life.
"Nobly, O Theo! has your verse called forth The Roman valor and Subalpine worth,"
sang Landor years ago of his _protégée_, who outlived her friend and critic but a few months. With the great and good about him, Landor sleeps well. His genius needs no eulogy: good wine needs no bush. Time, that hides the many in oblivion, can but add to the warmth and mellowness of his fame; and in the days to come no modern writer will be more faithfully studied or more largely quoted than Walter Savage Landor.
"We upon earth Have not our places and our distances Assigned, for many years; at last a tube, Raised and adjusted by Intelligence, Stands elevated to a cloudless sky, And place and magnitude are ascertained."
Landor "will dine late; but the dining-room will be well lighted, the guests few and select." He will reign among crowned heads.
THE DEAD SHIP OF HARPSWELL.
What flecks the outer gray beyond The sundown's golden trail? The white flash of a sea-bird's wing, Or gleam of slanting sail? Let young eyes watch from Neck and Point, And sea-worn elders pray,-- The ghost of what was once a ship Is sailing up the bay!
From gray sea-fog, from icy drift, From peril and from pain, The home-bound fisher greets thy lights, O hundred-harbored Maine! But many a keel shall seaward turn, And many a sail outstand, When, tall and white, the Dead Ship looms Against the dusk of land.
She rounds the headland's bristling pines. She threads the isle-set bay; No spur of breeze can speed her on, Nor ebb of tide delay. Old men still walk the Isle of Orr Who tell her date and name, Old shipwrights sit in Freeport yards Who hewed her oaken frame.
What weary doom of baffled quest, Thou sad sea-ghost, is thine? What makes thee in the haunts of home A wonder and a sign? No foot is on thy silent deck, Upon thy helm no hand; No ripple hath the soundless wind That smites thee from the land!
For never comes the ship to port Howe'er the breeze may be; Just when she nears the waiting shore She drifts again to sea. No tack of sail, nor turn of helm, Nor sheer of veering side. Stern-fore she drives to sea and night Against the wind and tide.
In vain o'er Harpswell Neck the star Of evening guides her in; In vain for her the lamps are lit Within thy tower, Seguin! In vain the harbor-boat shall hail, In vain the pilot call; No hand shall reef her spectral sail, Or let her anchor fall.
Shake, brown old wives, with dreary joy, Your gray-head hints of ill; And, over sick-beds whispering low, Your prophecies fulfil. Some home amid yon birchen trees Shall drape its door with woe; And slowly where the Dead Ship sails, The burial boat shall row!
From Wolf Neck and from Flying Point, From island and from main, From sheltered cove and tided creek, Shall glide the funeral train. The dead-boat with the bearers four, The mourners at her stern,-- And one shall go the silent way Who shall no more return!
And men shall sigh, and women weep, Whose dear ones pale and pine, And sadly over sunset seas Await the ghostly sign. They know not that its sails are filled By pity's tender breath, Nor see the Angel at the helm Who steers the Ship of Death!
Reuben had heard latterly very little of domestic affairs at Ashfield. He knew scarce more of the family relations of Adèle than was covered by that confidential announcement of the parson's which had so set on fire his generous zeal. The spinster, indeed, in one of her later letters had hinted, in a roundabout manner, that Adèle's family misfortunes were not looking so badly as they once did,--that the poor girl (she believed) felt tenderly still toward her old playmate,--and that Mr. Maverick was, beyond all question, a gentleman of very easy fortune. But Reuben was not in a mood to be caught by any chaff administered by his most respectable aunt. If, indeed, he had known all,--if that hearty burst of Adèle's gratitude had come to him,--if he could once have met her with the old freedom of manner,--ah! then--then--
But no; he thinks of her now as one under social blight, which he would have lifted or borne with her had not her religious squeamishness forbidden. He tries to forget what was most charming in her, and has succeeded passably well.
"I suppose she is still modelling her heroes on the Catechism," he thought, "and Phil will very likely pass muster."
The name of Madam Maverick as attaching to their fellow-passenger--which came to his ear for the first time on the second day out from port--considerably startled him. Madam Maverick is, he learns, on her way to join her husband and child in America. But he is by no means disposed to entertain a very exalted respect for any claimant of such name and title. He finds, indeed, the prejudices of his education (so he calls them) asserting themselves with a fiery heat; and most of all he is astounded by the artfully arranged religious drapery with which this poor woman--as it appears to him--seeks to cover her short-comings. He had brought away from the atmosphere of the old cathedrals a certain quickened religious sentiment, by the aid of which he had grown into a respect, not only for the Romish faith, but for Christian faith of whatever degree. And now he encountered what seemed to him its gross prostitution. The old Doctor then was right: this Popish form of heathenism was but a device of Satan,--a scarlet covering of iniquity. Yet, in losing respect for one form of faith, he found himself losing respect for all. It was easy for him to match the present hypocrisy with hypocrisies that he had seen of old.
Meantime, the good ship Meteor was skirting the shores of Spain, and had made a good hundred leagues of her voyage before Reuben had ventured to make himself known as the old schoolmate and friend of the child whom Madam Maverick was on her way to greet after so many years of separation. The truth was, that Reuben, his first disgust being overcome, could not shake off the influence of something attractive and winning in the manner of Madam Maverick. In her step and in her lithe figure he saw the step and figure of Adèle. All her orisons and aves, which she failed not to murmur each morning and evening, were reminders of the earnest faith of her poor child. It is impossible to treat her with disrespect. Nay, it is impossible,--as Reuben begins to associate more intimately the figure and the voice of this quiet lady with his memories of another and a younger one,--quite impossible, that he should not feel his whole chivalrous nature stirred in him, and become prodigal of attentions. If there were hypocrisy, it somehow cheated him into reverence.
The lady is, of course, astounded at Reuben's disclosure to her. "_Mon Dieu!_ you, then, are the son of that good priest of whom I have heard so much! And you are Puritan? I would not have thought that. They love the vanities of the world then,"--and her eye flashed over the well-appointed dress of Reuben, who felt half an inclination to hide, if it had been possible, the cluster of gairish charms which hung at his watch-chain. "You have shown great kindness to my child, Monsieur. I thank you with my whole heart."
"She is very charming, Madam," said Reuben, in an easy, _dégagé_ manner, which, to tell truth, he put on to cover a little embarrassing revival of his old sentiment.
Madam Maverick looked at him keenly. "Describe her to me, if you will be so good, Monsieur."
Whereupon Reuben ran on,--jauntily, at first, as if it had been a ballet-girl of San Carlo whose picture he was making out; but his old hearty warmth declared itself by degrees; and his admiration and his tenderness gave such warm color to his language as it might have shown if her little gloved hand had been shivering even then in his own passionate clasp. And as he closed, with a great glow upon his face, Madam Maverick burst forth,--
"_Mon Dieu_, how I love her! Yet is it not a thing astonishing that I should ask you, a stranger, Monsieur, how my own child is looking? _Culpa mea! culpa mea!_" and she clutched at her rosary, and mumbled an ave, with her eyes lifted and streaming tears.
Reuben looked upon her in wonder, amazed at the depth of her emotion. Could this be all hypocrisy?
"_Tenez!_" said she, recovering herself, and reading, as it were, his doubts. "You count these" (lifting her rosary) "bawbles yonder, and our prayers pagan prayers; my husband has told me, and that she, Adèle, is taught thus, and that the _Bon Dieu_ has forsaken our Holy Church,--that He comes near now only to your--what shall I call them?--meeting-houses? Tell me, Monsieur, does Adèle think this?"
"I think," said Reuben, "that your daughter would have charity for any religious faith which was earnest."
"Charity! _Mon Dieu!_ Charity for sins, charity for failings,--yes, I ask it; but for my faith! No, Monsieur, no--no--a thousand times, no!"
"This is real," thought Reuben.
"Tell me, Monsieur," continued she, with a heat of language that excited his admiration, "what is it you believe there? What is the horror against which your New England teachers would warn my poor Adèle? May the Blessed Virgin be near her!"
Whereupon, Reuben undertook to lay down the grounds of distrust in which he had been educated; not, surely, with the fervor or the logical sequence which the old Doctor would have given to the same, but yet inveighing in good set terms against the vain ceremonials, the idolatries, the mummeries, the confessional, the empty absolution; and summing up all with the formula (may be he had heard the Doctor use the same language) that the piety of the Romanist was not so much a deep religious conviction of the truth, as a sentiment.
"Sentiment!" exclaims Madam Maverick. "What else? What but love of the good God?"
But not so much by her talk as by the every-day sight of her serene, unfaltering devotion is Reuben won into a deep respect for her faith.
Those are rare days and rare nights for him, as the good ship Meteor slips down past the shores of Spain to the Straits,--days all sunny, nights moon-lit. To the right,--not discernible, but he knows they are there,--the swelling hills of Catalonia and of Andalusia, the marvellous Moorish ruins, the murmurs of the Guadalquivir; to the left, a broad sweep of burnished sea, on which, late into the night, the moon pours a stream of molten silver, that comes rocking and widening toward him, and vanishes in the shadow of the ship. The cruise has been a splendid venture for him,--twenty-five thousand at the least. And as he paces the decks,--in the view only of the silent man at the wheel and of the silent stars,--he forecasts the palaces he will build. The feeble Doctor shall have ease and every luxury; he will be gracious in his charities; he will astonish the old people by his affluence; he will live--
Just here, he spies a female figure stealing from the companion-way, and gliding beyond the shelter of the wheelhouse. Half concealed as he chances to be in the shadow of the rigging, he sees her fall upon her knees, and, with head uplifted, cross her hands upon her bosom. 'T is a short prayer, and the instant after she glides below.
"Good God! what trust!"--it is an ejaculatory prayer of Reuben's, rather than an oath. And with it, swift as the wind, comes a dreary sense of unrest. The palaces he had built vanish. The stars blink upon him kindly, and from their wondrous depths challenge his thought. The sea swashes idly against the floating ship. He too afloat,--afloat. Whither bound? Yearning still for a belief on which he may repose. And he bethinks himself,--does it lie somewhere under the harsh and dogmatic utterances of the Ashfield pulpit? At the thought, he recalls the weary iteration of cumbersome formulas, that passed through his brain like leaden plummets, and the swift lashings of rebuke, if he but reached over for a single worldly floweret, blooming beside the narrow path; and yet,--and yet, from the leaden atmosphere of that past, saintly faces beam upon him,--a mother's, Adèle's,--nay, the kindly fixed gray eyes of the old Doctor glow upon him with a fire that must have been kindled with truth.
Does it lie in the melodious aves, and under the robes of Rome? The sordid friars, with their shaven pates, grin at him; some Rabelais head of a priest in the confessional-stall leers at him with mockery: and yet the golden letters of the great dome gleam again with the blazing legend, _Ædificabo meam Ecclesiam!_--and the figure of the Magdalen yonder has just now murmured, in tones that must surely have reached a gracious ear,--
"Tibi Christe, redemptori, Nostro vero salvatori!"
Is the truth between? Is it in both? Is it real? And if real, why may not the same lips declare it under the cathedral or the meeting-house roof? Why not--in God's name--charity?
The Meteor is a snug ship, well found, well manned, and, as the times go, well officered. The captain, indeed, is not over-alert or fitted for high emergencies; but what emergencies can belong to so placid a voyage? For a week after the headlands of Tarifa and Spartel have sunk under the eastern horizon, the vessel is kept every day upon her course,--her top-gallant and studding sails all distent with the wind blowing freely from over Biscay. After this come light, baffling, westerly breezes, with sometimes a clear sky, and then all is overclouded by the drifting trade-mists. Zigzagging on, quietly as ever, save the bustle and whiz and flapping canvas of the ship "in stays," the good Meteor pushes gradually westward.
Meantime a singular and almost tender intimacy grew up between Reuben and the lady voyager. It is always agreeable to a young man to find a listening ear in a lady whose age puts her out of the range of any flurry of sentiment, and whose sympathy gives kindly welcome to his confidence. All that early life of his he detailed to her with a particularity and a warmth (himself unconscious of the warmth) which brought the childish associations of her daughter fresh to the mind of poor Madam Maverick. No wonder that she gave a willing ear! no wonder that the glow of his language kindled her sympathy! Nor with such a listener does he stop with the boyish life of Ashfield. He unfolds his city career, and the bright promises that are before him,--promises of business success, which (he would make it appear) are all that fill his heart now. In the pride of his twenty-five years he loves to represent himself as _blasé_ in sentiment.
Madam Maverick has been taught, in these latter years, a large amount of self-control; so she can listen with a grave, nay, even a kindly face, to Reuben's sweeping declarations. And if, at a hint from her,--which he shrewdly counts Jesuitical,--his thought is turned in the direction of his religious experiences, he has his axioms, his common-sense formulas, his irreproachable coolness, and, at times, a noisy show of distrust, under which it is easy to see an eager groping after the ends of that great tangled skein of thought within, which is a weariness.
"If you could only have a talk with Father Ambrose!" says Madam Maverick with half a sigh.
"I should like that of all things," says Reuben, with a touch of merriment. "I suppose he 's a jolly old fellow, with rosy cheeks and full of humor. By Jove! there go the beads again!" (He says this latter to himself, however, as he sees the nervous fingers of the poor lady plying her rosary, and her lips murmuring some catch of a prayer.)
Yet he cannot but respect her devotion profoundly, wondering how it can have grown up under the heathenisms of her life; wondering perhaps, too, how his own heathenism could have grown up under the roof of a parsonage. It will be an odd encounter, he thinks, for this woman, with the people of Ashfield, with the Doctor, with Adèle.
There are gales, but the good ship rides them out jauntily, with but a single reef in her topsails. Within five weeks from the date of her leaving Marseilles she is within a few days' sail of New York. A few days' sail! It may mean overmuch; for there are mists, and hazy weather, which forbid any observation. The last was taken a hundred miles to the eastward of George's Shoal. Under an easy offshore wind the ship is beating westward. But the clouds hang low, and there is no opportunity for determining position. At last, one evening, there is a little lift, and, for a moment only, a bright light blazes over the starboard bow. The captain counts it a light upon one of the headlands of the Jersey shore; and he orders the helmsman (she is sailing in the eye of an easy westerly breeze) to give her a couple of points more "northing"; and the yards and sheets are trimmed accordingly. The ship pushes on more steadily as she opens to the wind, and the mists and coming night conceal all around them.
"What do you make of the light, Mr. Yardley?" says the captain, addressing the mate.
"Can't say, sir, with such a bit of a look. If it should be Fire Island, we 're in a bad course, sir."
"That's true enough," said the captain thoughtfully. "Put a man in the chains, Mr. Yardley, and give us the water."
"I hope we shall be in the bay by morning, Captain," said Reuben, who stood smoking leisurely near the wheel. But the captain was preoccupied, and answered nothing.
A little after, a voice from the chains came chanting full and loud, "By the mark--nine!"
"This 'll never do, Mr. Yardley," said the captain, "Jersey shore or any other. Let all hands keep by to put the ship about."
A voice forward was heard to say something of a roar that sounded like the beat of surf; at which the mate stepped to the side of the ship and listened anxiously.
"It 's true, sir," said he coming aft. "Captain, there 's something very like the beat of surf, here away to the no'th'ard."
A flutter in the canvas caught the captain's attention. "It 's the wind slacking; there's a bare capful," said the mate, "and I 'm afeard there's mischief brewing yonder." He pointed as he spoke a little to the south of east, where the darkness seemed to be giving way to a luminous gray cloud of mist.
"And a half--six!" shouts again the man in the chains.
The captain meets it with a swelling oath, which betrays clearly enough his anxiety. "There 's not a moment to lose, Yardley; see all ready there! Keep her a good full, my boy!" (to the man at the wheel).
The darkness was profound. Reuben, not a little startled by the new aspect of affairs, still kept his place upon the quarter-deck. He saw objects flitting across the waist of the ship, and heard distinctly the coils flung down with a clang upon the wet decks. There was something weird and ghostly in those half-seen figures, in the indistinct maze of cordage and canvas above, and the phosphorescent streaks of spray streaming away from either bow.
"Are you ready there?" says the captain.
"Ay, ay, sir," responds the mate.
"Put your helm a-lee, my man!--Hard down!"
"Hard down it is, sir!"
The ship veers up into the wind; and, as the captain shouts his order, "Mainsail haul!" the canvas shakes; the long, cumbrous yard groans upon its bearings; there is a great whizzing of the cordage through the blocks; but, in the midst of it all,--coming keenly to the captain's ear,--a voice from the fore-hatch exclaims, "By G--, she touches!"
The next moment proved it true. The good ship minded her helm no more. The fore-yards are brought round by the run and the mizzen, but the light wind--growing lighter--hardly clears the flapping canvas from the spars.
In the sunshine, with so moderate a sea, 't would seem little; in so little depth of water they might warp her off; but the darkness magnifies the danger; besides which, an ominous sighing and murmur are coming from that luminous misty mass to the southward. Through all this, Reuben has continued smoking upon the quarter-deck; a landsman under a light wind, and with a light sea, hardly estimates at their true worth such intimations as had been given of the near breaking of the surf, and of the shoaling water. Even the touch upon bottom, of which the grating evidence had come home to his own perceptions, brought up more the fate of his business venture than any sense of personal peril. We can surely warp her off in the morning, he thought; or, if the worst came, insurance was full, and it would be easy boating to the shore.
"It's lucky there's no wind," said he to Yardley.
"Will you obleege me, Mr. Johns? Take a good strong puff of your cigar,--here, upon the larboard rail, sir," and he took the lantern from the companion-way that he might see the drift of the smoke. For a moment it lifted steadily; then, with a toss it vanished away--shoreward. The first angry puffs of the southeaster were coming.
The captain had seen all, and with an excited voice said, "Mr. Yardley, clew up, fore and aft,--clew up everything; put all snug, and make ready the best bower."
"Mr. Johns," said he, approaching Reuben, "we are on a lee shore; it should be Long Island beach by the soundings; with calm weather, and a kedge, we might work her off with the lift of the tide. But the Devil and all is in that puff from the sou'east."
"O, well, we can anchor," says Reuben.
"Yes, we can anchor, Mr. Johns; but if that sou'easter turns out the gale it promises, the best anchor aboard won't be so good as a gridiron."
"Do you advise taking to the boats, then?" asked Reuben, a little nervously.
"I advise nothing, Mr. Johns. Do you hear the murmur of the surf yonder? It's bad landing under such a pounding of the surf, with daylight; in the dark, where one can't catch the drift of the waves, it might be--death!"
The word startled Reuben. His philosophy had always contemplated it at a distance, toward which easy and gradual approaches might be made: but here it was, now, at a cable's length!
And yet it was very strange; the sea was not high; no gale as yet; only an occasional grating thump of the keel was a reminder that the good Meteor was not still afloat. But the darkness! Yes, the darkness was complete, (hardly a sight even of the topmen who were aloft--as in the sunniest of weather--stowing the canvas,) and to the northward that groan and echo of the resounding surf; to the southward, the whirling white of waves that are lifting now, topped with phosphorescent foam.
The anchor is let go, but even this does not bring the ship's head to the wind. Those griping sands hold her keel fast. The force of the rising gale strikes her full abeam, giving her a great list to shore. It is in vain the masts are cut away, and the rigging drifts free; the hulk lifts only to settle anew in the grasping sands. Every old seaman upon her deck knows that she is a doomed ship.
From time to time, as the crashing spars or the leaden thump upon the sands have startled those below, Madam Maverick and her maid have made their appearance, in a wild flutter of anxiety, asking eager questions; (Reuben alone can understand them or answer them;) but as the southeaster grows, as it does, into a fury of wind, and the poor hulk reels vainly, and is overlaid with a torrent of biting salt spray, Madam Maverick becomes calm. Instinctively, she sees the worst.
"Could I only clasp Adèle once more in these arms, I would say, cheerfully, '_Nunc dimittis_.'"
Reuben regarded her calm faith with a hungry eagerness. Not, indeed, that calmness was lacking in himself. Great danger, in many instances, sublimates the faculties of keenly strung minds. But underneath his calmness there was an unrest, hungering for repose,--the repose of a fixed belief. If even then the breaking waves had whelmed him in their mad career, he would have made no wailing outcry, but would have clutched--how eagerly!--at the merest shred of that faith which, in other days and times, he had seen illuminate the calm face of the father. Something to believe,--on which to float upon such a sea!
But the waves and winds make sport of beliefs. Prayers count nothing against that angry surge. Two boats are already swept from the davits, and are gone upon the whirling waters. A third, with infinite pains, is dropped into the yeast. It is hard to tell who gives the orders. But, once afloat, there is a rush upon it, and away it goes,--overcrowded, and within eyeshot lifts, turns, and a crowd of swimmers float for a moment,--one with an oar, another with a thwart that the waves have torn out,--and in the yeast of waters they vanish.
One boat only remains, and it is launched with more careful handling; three cling by the wreck; the rest--save only Madam Maverick and Reuben--are within her, as she tosses still in the lee of the vessel.
"There 's room!" cries some one; "jump quick! for God's sake!"
And Reuben, with some strange, generous impulse, seizes upon Madam Maverick, and, before she can rebel or resist, has dropped her over the rail. The men grapple her and drag her in; but in the next moment the little cockle of a boat is drifted yards away.
The few who are left--the boatswain among them--are toiling on the wet deck to give a last signal from the little brass howitzer on the forecastle. As the sharp crack breaks on the air,--a miniature sound in that howl of the storm,--the red flash of the gun gives Reuben, as the boat lurches toward the wreck again, a last glance of Madam Maverick,--her hands clasped, her eyes lifted, and calm as ever. More than ever too her face was like the face of Adèle,--such as the face of Adèle must surely become, when years have sobered her and her buoyant faith has ripened into calm. And from that momentary glance of the serene countenance, and that flashing associated memory of Adèle, a subtile, mystic influence is born in him, by which he seems suddenly transfused with the same trustful serenity which just now he gazed upon with wonder. If indeed the poor lady is already lost,--he thinks it for a moment,--her spirit has fanned and cheered him as it passed. Once more, as if some mysterious hand had brought them to his reach, he grapples with those lost lines of hope and trust which in that youthful year of his exuberant emotional experience he had held and lost,--once more, now, in hand,--once more he is elated with that wonderful sense of a religious poise, that, it would seem, no doubts or terrors could overbalance. Unconsciously kneeling on the wet deck, he is rapt into a kind of ecstatic indifference to winds, to waves, to danger, to death.
The boom of a gun is heard to the northward. It must be from shore. There are helpers at work, then. Some hope yet for this narrow tide of life, which just seemed losing itself in some infinite flow beyond. Life is, after all, so sweet! The boatswain forward labors desperately to return an answering signal; but the spray, the slanted deck, the overleaping waves, are too much for him. Darkness and storm and despair rule again.
The wind, indeed, has fallen; the force of the gale is broken; but the waves are making deeper and more desperate surges. The wreck, which had remained fixed in the fury of the wind, lifts again under the great swell of the sea, and is dashed anew and anew upon the shoal. With every lift her timbers writhe and creak, and all the remaining upper works crack and burst open with the strain.
Reuben chances to espy an old-fashioned round life-buoy lashed to the taffrail, and, cutting it loose, makes himself fast to it. He overhears the boatswain say, yonder by the forecastle, "These thumpings will break her in two in an hour. Cling to a spar, Jack."
The gray light of dawn at last breaks, and shows a dim line of shore, on which parties are moving, dragging some machine, with which they hope to cast a line over the wreck. But the swell is heavier than ever, the timbers nearer to parting. At last a flash of lurid light from the dim shore-line,--a great boom of sound, and a line goes spinning out like a spider's web up into the gray, bleak sky. Too far! too short! and the line tumbles, plashing into the water. A new and fearful lift of the sea shatters the wreck, the fore part of the ship still holding fast to the sands; but all abaft the mainmast lifts, surges, reels, topples over; with the wreck, and in the angry swirl and torment of waters, Reuben goes down.
That morning,--it was the 22d of September, in the year 1842,--Mr. Brindlock came into his counting-room some two hours before noon, and says to his porter and factotum, as he enters the door, "Well, Roger, I suppose you 'll be counting this puff of a southeaster the equinoctial, eh?"
"Indeed, sir, and it 's an awful one. The Meteor 's gone ashore on Long Beach; and there 's talk of young Mr. Johns being lost."
"Good Heavens!" said Brindlock, "you don't tell me so!"
By half past three he was upon the spot; a little remaining fragment only of the Meteor hanging to the sands, and a great _débris_ of bales, spars, shattered timbers, bodies, drifted along the shore,--Reuben's among them.
But he is not dead; at least so say the wreckers, who throng upon the beach; the life-buoy is still fast to him, though he is fearfully shattered and bruised. He is borne away under the orders of Brindlock to some near house, and presently revives enough to ask that he may be carried--"home."
As, in the opening of this story, his old grandfather, the Major, was borne away from the scene of his first battle by easy stages homeward, so now the grandson, far feebler and after more terrible encounter with death, is carried by "easy stages" to his home in Ashfield. Again the city, the boat, the river,--with its banks yellowing with harvests, and brightened with the glowing tints of autumn; again the sluggish brigs drifting down with the tide, and sailors in tasselled caps leaning over the bulwarks; again the flocks feeding leisurely on the rock-strewn hills; again the ferryman, in his broad, cumbrous scow, oaring across; again the stoppage at the wharf of the little town, from which the coach still plies over the hills to Ashfield.
On the way thither, a carriage passes them, in which are Adèle and her father. The news of disaster flies fast; they have learned of the wreck, and the names of passengers. They go to learn what they can of the mother, whom the daughter has scarce known. The passing is too hasty for recognition. Brindlock arrives at last with his helpless charge at the door of the parsonage. The Doctor is overwhelmed at once with grief and with joy. The news had come to him, and he had anticipated the worst. But "Thank God! 'Joseph, my son, is yet alive!' Still a probationer; there is yet hope that he may be brought into the fold."
He insists that he shall be placed below, upon his own bed, just out of his study. For himself, he shall need none until the crisis is past. But the crisis does not pass; it is hard to say when it will. The wounds are not so much; but a low fever has set in, (the physician says,) owing to exposure and excitement, and he can predict nothing as to the result. Even Aunt Eliza is warmed into unwonted attention as she sees that poor battered hulk of humanity lying there; she spares herself no fatigue, God knows, but she sheds tears in her own chamber over this great disaster. There are good points even in the spinster; when shall we learn that the best of us are not wholly good, nor the worst wholly bad?
Days and days pass. Reuben hovering between life and death; and the old Doctor, catching chance rest upon the little cot they have placed for him in the study, looks yearningly by the dim light of the sick-lamp upon that dove which his lost Rachel had hung upon his wall above the sword of his father. He fancies that the face of Reuben, pinched with suffering, resembles more than ever the mother. Of sickness, or of the little offices of friends which cheat it of pains, the old gentleman knows nothing: sick souls only have been his care. And it is pitiful to see his blundering, eager efforts to do something, as he totters round the sick-chamber where Reuben, with very much of youthful vigor left in him, makes fight against the arch-enemy who one day conquers us all. For many days after his arrival there is no consciousness,--only wild words (at times words that sound to the ears of the good Doctor strangely wicked, and that make him groan in spirit),--tender words, too, of dalliance, and eager, loving glances,--murmurs of boyish things, of sunny, school-day noonings,--hearing which, the Doctor thinks that, if this light must go out, it had better have gone out in those days of comparative innocence.
Over and over the father appeals to the village physician to know what the chances may be,--to which that old gentleman, fumbling his watch-key, and looking grave, makes very doubtful response. He hints at a possible undermining of the constitution in these later years of city life.
God only knows what habits the young man may have formed in these last years; surely the Doctor does not; and he tells the physician as much, with a groan of anguish.
* * * * *
Meantime, Maverick and Adèle have gone upon their melancholy search; and, as they course over the island to the southern beach, the sands, the plains, the houses, the pines, drift by the eye of Adèle as in a dream. At last she sees a great reach of water,--piling up, as it rolls lazily in from seaward, into high walls of waves, that are no sooner lifted than they break and send sparkling floods of foam over the sands. Bits of wreck, dark clots of weed, are strewed here and there,--stragglers scanning every noticeable heap, every floating thing that comes in.
Is she dead? is she living? They have heard only on the way that many bodies are lying in the near houses,--many bruised and suffering ones; while some have come safe to land, and gone to their homes. They make their way from that dismal surf-beaten shore to the nearest house. There are loiterers about the door; and within,--within, Adèle finds her mother at last, clasps her to her heart, kisses the poor dumb lips that will never more open,--never say to her rapt ears, "My child! my darling!"
Maverick is touched as he has never been touched before; the age of early sentiment comes drifting back to his world-haunted mind; nay, tears come to those eyes that have not known them for years. The grief, the passionate, vain tenderness of Adèle, somehow seems to sanctify the memory of the dead one who lies before him, her great wealth of hair streaming dank and fetterless over the floor.
Not more tenderly, scarce more tearfully, could he have ministered to one who had been his life-long companion. Where shall the poor lady be buried? Adèle answers that, with eyes flashing through her tears,--nowhere but in Ashfield, nowhere except beside the sister, Marie.
It is a dismal journey for the father and the daughter; it is almost a silent journey. Does she love him less? No, a thousand times, no. Does he love her less? No, a thousand times, no. In such presence love is awed into silence. As the mournful _cortége_ enters the town of Ashfield, it passes the home of that fatherless boy, Arthur, for whom Adèle had shown such sympathy. The youngster is there swinging upon the gate, his cap gayly set off with feathers, and he looking wonderingly upon the bier. He sees, too, the sad face of Adèle, and, by some strange rush of memory, recalls, as he looks on her, the letter which she had given him long ago, and which till then had been forgotten. He runs to his mother: it is in his pocket,--it is in that of some summer jacket. At last it is found; and the poor woman herself, that very morning, with numberless apologies, delivers it at the door of the parsonage.
Phil is the first to meet this exceptional funeral company, and is the first to tell Adèle how Reuben lies stricken almost to death at the parsonage. She thanks him: she thanks him again for the tender care which he shows in all relating to the approaching burial. When an enemy even comes forward to help us bury the child we loved or the parent we mourn, our hearts warm toward him as they never warmed before; but when a friend assumes these offices of tenderness, and takes away the harshest edge of grief by assuming the harshest duties of grief, our hearts shower upon him their tenderest sympathies. We never forget it.
Of course, the arrival of this strange freight in Ashfield gives rise to a world of gossip. We cannot follow it; we cannot rehearse it. The poor woman is buried, as Adèle had wished, beside her sister. No _De Profundis_ except the murmur of the winds through the crimson and the scarlet leaves of later September.
The Tourtelots have been eager with their gossip. The dame has queried if there should not be some town demonstration against the burial of the Papist. But the little Deacon has been milder; and we give our last glimpse of him--altogether characteristic--in a suggestion which he makes in a friendly way to Squire Elderkin, who is the host of the French strangers.
"Square, have they ordered a moniment yit for Miss Maverick?"
"Not that I 'm aware of, Deacon."
"Waal, my nevvy's got a good slab of Varmont marble, which he ordered for his fust wife; but the old folks did n't like it, and it's in his barn on the heater-piece. 'T ain't engraved, nor nothin'. If it should _suit_ the Mavericks, I dare say they could git it tol'able low."
Reuben is still floating between death and life. There is doubt whether the master of the long course or of the short course will win. However that may be, his consciousness has returned; and it has been with a great glow of gratitude that the poor Doctor has welcomed that look of recognition in his eye,--the eye of Rachel!
He is calm,--he knows all. That calmness which had flashed into his soul when last he saw the serene face of his fellow-voyager upon that mad sea is _his_ still.
The poor father had been moved unwontedly by that unconsciousness which was blind to all his efforts at spiritual consolation; but he is not less moved when he sees reason stirring again,--a light of eager inquiry in those eyes fearfully sunken, but from their cavernous depths seeing farther and more keenly than ever.
"Adèle's mother,--was she lost?" He whispers it to the Doctor; and Miss Eliza, who is sewing yonder, is quickened into eager listening.
"Lost! my son, lost! Lost, I apprehend, in the other world as well as this, I fear the true light never dawned upon her."
A faint smile--as of one who sees things others do not see--broke over the face of Reuben. "'T is a broad light, father; it reaches beyond our blind reckoning."
There was a trustfulness in his manner that delighted the Doctor. "And you see it, my son?--Repentance, Justification by Faith, Adoption, Sanctification, Election?"
"Those words are a weariness to me, father; they suggest methods, dogmas, perplexities. Christian hope, pure and simple, I love better."
The Doctor is disturbed; he cannot rightly understand how one who seems inspired by so calm a trust--the son of his own loins too--should find the authoritative declarations of the divines a weariness. Is it not some subtle disguise of Satan, by which his poor boy is being cheated into repose?
Of course the letter of Adèle, which had been so long upon its way, Miss Eliza had handed to Reuben after such time as her caution suggested, and she had explained to him its long delay.
Reading is no easy matter for him; but he races through those delicately penned lines with quite a new strength. The spinster sees the color come and go upon his wan cheek, and with what a trembling eagerness he folds the letter at the end, and, making a painful effort, tries to thrust it under his pillow. The good woman has to aid him in this. He thanks her, but says nothing more. His fingers are toying nervously at a bit of torn fringe upon the coverlet. It seems a relief to him to make the rent wider and wider. A little glimpse of the world has come back to him, which disturbs the repose with which but now he would have quitted it forever.
Adèle has been into the sick-chamber from time to time,--once led away weeping by the good Doctor, when the son had fallen upon his wild talk of school-days; once, too, since consciousness has come to him again, but before her letter had been read. He had met her with scarce more than a touch of those fevered fingers, and a hard, uncertain quiver of a smile, which had both shocked and disappointed the poor girl. She thought he would have spoken some friendly consoling word of her mother; but his heart, more than his strength, failed him. Her mournful, pitying eyes were a reproach to him; they had haunted him through the wakeful hours of two succeeding nights, and now, under the light of that laggard letter, they blaze with a new and an appealing tenderness. His fingers still puzzle wearily with that tangle of the fringe. The noon passes. The aunt advises a little broth. But no, his strength is feeding itself on other aliment. The Doctor comes in with a curiously awkward attempt at gentleness and noiselessness of tread, and, seeing his excited condition, repeats to him some texts which he believes must be consoling. Reuben utters no open dissent; but through and back of all he sees the tender eyes of Adèle, which, for the moment, outshine the promises, or at the least illuminate them with a new meaning.
"I must see Adèle," he says to the Doctor; and the message is carried,--she herself presently bringing answer, with a rich glow upon her cheek.
"Reuben has sent for me,"--she murmurs it to herself with pride and joy.
She is in full black now; but never had she looked more radiantly beautiful than when she stepped to the side of the sick-bed, and took the hand of Reuben with an eager clasp--that was met, and met again. The Doctor is in his study, (the open door between,) and the spinster is fortunately just now busy at some of her household duties.
Reuben fumbles under his pillow nervously for that cherished bit of paper, (Adèle knows already its history,) and when he has found it and shown it (his thin fingers crumpling it nervously) he says, "Thank you for this, Adèle!"
She answers only by clasping his hand with a sudden mad pressure of content, while the blood mounted into either cheek with a rosy exuberance that magnified her beauty tenfold.
He saw it,--he felt it all; and through her beaming eyes, so full of tenderness and love, saw the world to which he had bidden adieu shining before him more beguilingly than ever. Yesterday it was a dim and weary world that he could leave without a pang; to-day it is a brilliant world, where hopes, promises, joys pile in splendid proportions.
He tells her this. "Yesterday I would have died with scarce a regret; to-day, Adèle, I would live."
"You will, you will, Reuben!" and she grappled more and more passionately those shrunken fingers. "'T is not hopeless!" (sobbing).
"No, no, Adèle, darling, not hopeless. The cloud is lifted,--not hopeless!"
"Thank God, thank God!" said she, dropping upon her knees beside him, and with a smile of ecstasy he gathered that fair head to his bosom.
The Doctor, hearing her sobs, came softly in. The son's smile, as he met his father's inquiring look, was more than ever like the smile of Rachel. He has been telling the poor girl of her mother's death, thinks the old gentleman; yet the Doctor wonders that he could have kept so radiant a face with such a story.
Of these things, however, Reuben goes on presently to speak: of his first sight of the mother of Adèle, and of her devotional attitude as they floated down past the little chapel of Nôtre Dame to enter upon the fateful voyage; he recounts their talks upon the tranquil moon-lit nights of ocean; he tells of the mother's eager listening to his description of her child.
"I did not tell her the half, Adèle; yet she loved me for what I told her."
And Adèle smiles through her tears.
At last he comes to those dismal scenes of the wreck, relating all with a strange vividness; living over again, as it were, that fearful episode, till his brain whirled, his self-possession was lost, and he broke out into a torrent of delirious raving.
He sleeps brokenly that night, and the next day is feebler than ever. The physician warns against any causes of excitement. He is calm only at intervals. The old school-days seem present to him again; he talks of his fight with Phil Elderkin as if it happened yesterday.
"Yet I like Phil," he says (to himself), "and Rose is like Amanda, the divine Amanda. No--not she. I've forgotten: it's the French girl. She's a ---- Pah! who cares? She's as pure as heaven; she's an angel. Adèle! Adèle! Not good enough! I'm not good enough. Very well, very well, now I'll be bad enough! Clouds, wrangles, doubts! Is it my fault? _Ædificabo meam Ecclesiam._ How they kneel! Puppets! mummers! No, not mummers, they see a Christ. What if they see it in a picture? You see him in words. Both in earnest. Belief--belief! That is best. Adèle, Adèle, I believe!"
The Doctor is a pained listener of this incoherent talk of his son. "I am afraid,--I am afraid," he murmurs to himself, "that he has no clear views of the great scheme of the Atonement."
The next day Reuben is himself once more, but feeble, to a degree that startles the household. It is a charming morning of later September; the window is wide open, and the sick one looks out over a stretch of orchard (he knew its every tree), and upon wooded hills beyond (he knew every coppice and thicket), and upon a background of sky over which a few dappled white clouds floated at rest.
"It is most beautiful!" said Reuben.
"All things that He has made are beautiful," said the Doctor; and thereupon he seeks to explore his way into the secrets of Reuben's religious experience,--employing, as he was wont to do, all the Westminster formulas by which his own belief stood fast.
"Father, father, the words are stumbling-blocks to me," says the son.
"I would to God, Reuben, that I could make my language always clear."
"No, father, no man can, in measuring the Divine mysteries. We must carry this draggled earth-dress with us always,--always in some sort fashionists, even in our soberest opinions. The robes of light are worn only Beyond. Thought, at the best, is hampered by this clog of language, that tempts, obscures, misleads."
"And do you see any light, my son?"
"I hope and tremble. A great light is before me; it shines back upon outlines of doctrines and creeds where I have floundered for many a year."
"But some are clear,--some are clear, Reuben!"
"Before, all seems clear; but behind--"
"And yet, Reuben," (the Doctor cannot forbear the discussion,) "there is the cross,--Election, Adoption, Sanctification--"
"Stop, father; the cross, indeed, with a blaze of glory, I see; but the teachers of this or that special form of doctrine I see only catching radiations of the light. The men who teach, and argue, and declaim, and exorcise, are using human weapons; the great light only strikes here and there upon some sword-point which is nearest to the cross."
"He wanders," says the Doctor to Adèle, who has slipped in and stands beside the sick-bed.
"No wandering, father; on the brink where I stand, I cannot."
"And what do you see, Reuben, my boy?" (tenderly).
Is it the presence of Adèle that gives a new fervor, a kind of crazy inspiration to his talk? "I see the light-hearted clashing cymbals; and those who love art, kneeling under blazing temples and shrines; but the great light touches the gold no more effulgently than the steeple of your meeting-house, father, but no less. I see eyes of chanting girls streaming with joy in the light; and haggard men with ponderous foreheads working out contrivances to bridge the gap between the finite and the infinite. Father, they are no nearer to a passage than the radiant girls who chant and tell their beads. Angels in all shapes of beauty flit over and amid the throngs I see,--in shape of fleecy clouds that fan them,--in shape of brooks that murmur praise,--in shape of leafy shadows that tremble and flicker,--in shape of birds that make a concert of song." The birds even then were singing, the clouds floating in his eye, the leafy shadows trailing on the chamber floor, and, from the valley, the murmur of the brook came to his sensitive ear.
"He wanders,--he wanders!" said the poor Doctor.
Reuben turns to Adèle. "Adèle, kiss me!" A rosy tint ran over her face as she stooped and kissed him with a freedom a mother might have shown,--leaving one hand toying caressingly with his hair. "The cloud is passing, Adèle,--passing! God is Justice; Christ is Mercy. In him I trust."
"Reuben, darling," says Adèle, "come back to us!"
"Darling,--darling!" he repeated with a strange, eager, satisfied smile,--so sweet a sound it was.
The chamber was filled with the delightful perfume of a violet bed beneath the window. Suddenly there came from the Doctor, whose old eyes caught sooner than any the change, a passionate outcry. "Great God! Thy will be done!"
With that one loud, clear utterance, his firmness gave way,--for the first time in sixty years broke utterly; and big tears streamed down his face as he gazed yearningly upon the dead body of his first-born.
In the autumn of 1845, three years after the incidents related in our last chapter, Mr. Philip Elderkin, being at that time president of a railroad company, which was establishing an important connection of travel that was to pass within a few miles of the quiet town of Ashfield, was a passenger on the steamer Caledonia, for Europe. He sailed, partly in the interest of the company,--to place certain bonds,--and partly in his own interest, as an intelligent man, eager to add to his knowledge of the world.
At Paris, where he passed some time, it chanced that he was one evening invited to the house of a resident American, where, he was gayly assured, he would meet with a very attractive American heiress, the only daughter of a merchant of large fortune.
Philip Elderkin--brave, straightforward fellow that he was--had never forgotten his early sentiment. He had cared for those French graves in Ashfield with an almost religious attention. In all the churchyard there was not such scrupulously shorn turf, or such orderly array of bloom. He counted--in a fever of doubt--upon a visit to Marseilles before his sail for home.
But at the _soirée_ we have mentioned he was amazed and delighted to meet, in the person of the heiress, Adèle Maverick,--not changed essentially since the time he had known her. That life at Marseilles--even in the well-appointed home of her father--has none of that domesticity which she had learned to love; and this first winter in Paris for her does not supply the lack. That she has a great company of admirers it is easy to understand; but yet she gives a most cordial greeting to Phil Elderkin,--a greeting that by its manner makes the pretenders doubtful. Philip finds it possible to reconcile the demands of his business with a week's visit to Marseilles. To the general traveller it is not a charming region. The dust abounds; the winds are terrible; the sun is scalding. But Mr. Philip Elderkin found it delightful. And, indeed, the country-house of Mr. Maverick had attractions of its own; attractions so great that his week runs over into two,--into three. There are excursions to the Pont du Gard, to the Arène of Arles. And, before he leaves, he has an engagement there (which he has enforced by very peremptory proposals) for the next spring.
On his return to Ashfield, he reports a very successful trip. To his sister Rose (now Mrs. Catesby, with a blooming little infant, called Grace Catesby) he is specially communicative. And she thinks it was a glorious trip, and longs for the time when he will make the next. He, furthermore, to the astonishment of Dame Tourtelot (whose husband sleeps now under the sod), has commenced the establishment of a fine home, upon a charming site, overlooking all Ashfield. The Squire, still stalwart, cannot resist giving a hint of what is expected to the old Doctor, who still wearily goes his rounds, and prays for the welfare of his flock.
He is delighted at the thought of meeting again with Adèle, though he thinks with a sigh of his lost boy. Yet he says in his old manner, "'T is the hand of Providence; she first bloomed into grace under the roof of our church; she comes back to adorn it with her faith and her works."
* * * * *
At a date three years later we take one more glimpse at that quiet village of Ashfield, where we began our story. The near railway has brought it into more intimate connection with the shore towns and the great cities. But there is no noisy clatter of the cars to break the quietude. On still days, indeed, the shriek of the steam-whistle or the roar of a distant train is heard bursting over the hills, and dying in strange echoes up and down the valley. The stage-driver's horn is heard no longer; no longer the coach whirls into the village and delivers its leathern pouch of letters. The Tew partners we once met are now partners in the grave. Deacon Tourtelot (as we have already hinted) has gone to his long home; and the dame has planted over him the slab of "Varmont" marble, which she has bought at a bargain from his "nevvy."
The Boody tavern-keeper has long since disappeared; no teams wheel up with the old dash at the doors of the Eagle Tavern. The creaking sign-board even is gone from the overhanging sycamore.
Miss Almira is still among the living. She sings treble, however, no longer; she wears spectacles; she writes no more over mystical asterisks for the Hartford Courant. Age has brought to her at least this much of wisdom.
The mill groans, as of old, in the valley. A new race of boys pelt the hanging nests of the orioles; a new race of school-girls hang swinging on the village gates at the noonings.
As for Miss Johns, she lives still,--scarce older to appearance than twenty years before,--prim, wiry, active,--proof against all ailments, it would seem. It is hard to conceive of her as yielding to the great conqueror. If the tongue and an inflexibility of temper were the weapons, she would whip Death from her chamber at the last. It seems like amiability almost to hear such a one as she talk of her approaching, inevitable dissolution,--so kindly in her to yield that point!
And she does; she declares it over and over, there are far feebler ones who do not declare it half so often. If she is to be conquered and the Johns banner go down, she will accept the defeat so courageously and so long in advance that the defeat shall become a victorious confirmation of the Johns prophecy.
She is still earnest in all her duties; she gives cast-away clothing to the poor, and good advice with it. She is rigorous in the observance of every propriety; no storm keeps her from church. If the children of a new generation climb unduly upon the pew-backs, or shake their curly heads too wantonly, she lifts a prim forefinger at them, which has lost none of its authoritative meaning. She is the impersonation of all good severities. A strange character! Let us hope that, as it sloughs off its earthly cerements, it may in the Divine presence scintillate charities and draw toward it the love of others. A good, kind, bad gentlewoman,--unwearied in performance of duties. We wonder as we think of her! So steadfast, we cannot sneer at her,--so true to her line of faith, we cannot condemn her,--so utterly forbidding, we cannot love her! May God give rest to her good, stubborn soul!
* * * * *
Upon Sundays of August and September there may be occasionally seen in the pew of Elderkin Junior a gray-haired old gentleman, dressed with scrupulous care, and still carrying an erect figure, though somewhat gouty in his step. This should be Mr. Maverick, a retired merchant, who is on a visit to his daughter. He makes wonderful gifts to a certain little boy who bears a Puritan name, and gives occasional ponderous sums to the parish. In winter, his head-quarters are at the Union Club.
And Doctor Johns? Yes, he is living still,--making his way wearily each morning along the street with his cane. Going oftenest, perhaps, to the home of Adèle, who is now a matron,--a tender, and most womanly and joyful matron,--and with her little boy--Reuben Elderkin by name--he wanders often to the graves where sleep his best beloved,--Rachel, so early lost,--the son, in respect to whom he feels at last a "reasonable assurance" that the youth has entered upon a glorious inheritance in those courts where one day he will join him, and the sainted Rachel too, and clasp again in his arms (if it be God's will) the babe that was his but for an hour on earth.
TIED TO A ROPE.
You don't know what a Hircus Oepagrus is, Tommy? Well, it is a big name for him, isn't it? And if you should ask that somewhat slatternly female, who appears to employ tubs for the advantage of others rather than herself, what the animal is, she would tell you it is a goat. See what a hardy, sturdy little creature he is; and how he lifts up his startled head, as the cars come thundering along, and bounds away as if he were on the rugged hills that his ancestors climbed, ages ago, in wild freedom. O that cruel rope! how it stops him in his career with a sudden jerk that pulls him to the ground! See where it has worn away the hair round his neck, in his constant struggles to escape. See how he has browsed the scanty grass of that dry pasture, in the little circle to which he is confined, and is now trying to reach an uncropped tuft, just beyond his tether. And the sun is beating down upon him, and there is not the shade of a leaf for him to creep into, this July day. Poor little fellow!
Not waste my sympathy on a common goat? My dear Madam, I can assure you that ropes are not knotted around the neck of Hirci Oepagri alone. And when I was bemoaning the captivity of yonder little browser we have left behind, I was bewailing the fortune of another great order of the Mammalian class,--an order that Mr. Huxley and Mr. Darwin and other great thinkers of the day are proving to be close connections of their humbler brethren that bleat and bark and bray. The bimanal species of this order are similarly appendaged, though they are not apt to be staked beside railways or confined to a rood of ground.
Do you see Vanitas at the other end of the car? Does he look as though he carried about with him a "lengthening chain"? No one would certainly suppose it. Yet he is bound as securely as the poor little goat. We may go to the fresh air of his country-seat this July day, or to the sea-breezes of his Newport cottage next month, or he may sit here, "the incarnation of fat dividends," while you and I envy him his wealth and comforts; but he can never break his bonds. They are riveted to the counters of the money-changers, knotted around the tall masts of his goodly ships, bolted to the ore of his distant mines. He bears them to his luxurious home, and his fond wife, his caressing children, his troops of friends, can never strike them off. Ever and anon, as the car of fortune sweeps by to start him from his comfortable ease, they gall him with their remorseless restraint. You may cut the poor goat's rope and set him free, to roam where he will; but Vanitas has forged his own fetters, and there comes to him no blessed day of emancipation.
My dear Madam, the bright blue ether around us is traversed by a wonderful network of these invisible bonds that hold poor human beings to their fate. Over the green hills and over the blue waters, far, far away they reach,--a warp and woof of multiform, expansive strands, over which the sense of bondage moves with all the wondrous celerity of that strange force which, on the instant, speaks the thought of the Antipodes. You don't know that you carry about any such? Ah! it is well that they weigh so lightly. Utter your grateful thanks, to-night, when you seek your pillow, that the chains you wear are not galling ones. But you are most irrevocably bound. Frank holds you fast. One of these days, when you are most peaceful and content in your bondage, scarcely recognized, there may come a stately tread, a fiery eye, a glowing heart, to startle you from your quiet ease; and when you bound, trembling and breathless in their mighty sway, you may feel the chain--before so light--wearing its way deep into your throbbing heart. May you never wake on the morn of that day, Madam! You don't carry any such? Round a little white tablet, half hidden in the sighing grass, is linked a chain which holds you, at this moment, by your inmost soul. You are not listening to me now; for I have but touched it, and your breast is swelling 'neath its pressure, and the tears start to your eyes at its momentary tightness. You don't carry any such? We all carry them; and were human ears sensitive to other than the grosser sounds of nature, they would hear a strange music sweeping from these mystic chords, as they tremble at the touch of time and fate.
Master Tommy seems to be tolerably free from any sort of restraint, I acknowledge. In fact, it is he who keeps myself and Mrs. A. in the most abject servitude. He holds our nasal appendages close to the grindstone of his imperious will. And yet--please take him into the next car, Madam, while I speak of him. You cannot? What is this? Let me see, I pray you. As I live, it is his mother's apron-string. Ah! I fear, Madam, that all your efforts cannot break that tie. In the years to come, it will doubtless be frayed and worn; and, some day or other, he will bound loose from his childhood's captivity; but long ere that he will have other bonds thrown around him, some of which he can never break. He will weave with his own hands the silken cord of love, coil it about him, knot it with Gordian intricacy, net it with Vulcan strength, and then, with blind simplicity, place it in Beauty's hand to lead him captive to her capricious will. My dear Madam, did not Tommy's father do the same foolish thing? And is he not grateful to the lovely Mrs. Asmodeus for the gentleness with which she holds him in her power? Some of our bonds are light to bear. We glory in them, and hold up our gyves to show them to the world. Tommy may be a little shamefaced when his playmates jeer at the maternal tie; but he will walk forth, glowing with pride and joy, to parade his self-woven fetters ostentatiously in the sight of men. When you had done some such foolish thing yourself, did not your young mates gather round to view, with wondering and eager eyes, the result of your own handiwork at the cordage of love? Were there not many loquacious conclaves held to sit in secret judgment thereon? Were there not many soft cheeks flushing, and bright eyes sparkling, and fresh hearts beating, as you brought forth, with a pride you did not pretend to hide, the rose-colored fabric you had woven? And did they not all envy you, and wonder when their distaffs were to whirl to the tread of their own ready feet?
But we are not always eager or proud to exhibit our bonds. Indeed, we sedulously conceal them from every eye; we cover up the marks upon our scarred hearts with such jealous care, that none, not even our bosom friends, can ever see them. They hold us where the sweet herbage of life has become dry and sere, where no shelter offers us a grateful retreat. Vanitas can bear away with him his "lengthening chain" to his leafy groves; but Scripsit is confined to the torrid regions of his scanty garret. In vain he gazes afar, beyond the smoky haze of his stony prison, upon the green slopes and shady hills. In vain he toils and strains to burst the links that bind him. His soul is yearning for the cooling freshness, the sweet fragrance, the beauty, the glory, of the outer world. It is just beyond his reach; and, wearied with futile exertions, he sinks, fainting and despairing, in his efforts to rend the chain of penury. And there are many other bonds which hold us to areas of life from which we have gathered all the fresh bloom and the rich fruit. We may tread their barren soil with jewelled sandals, wrap around us ermined robes in winter's cold, and raise our silken tents in summer's glare, while our souls are hungering and thirsting for the ambrosia and the nectar beyond our tethered reach. We are held fast by honor, virtue, fidelity, pity,--ties which we dare not break if we could. We must not even bear their golden links to their extremest length; we must not show that they are chains which bind us; we must not show that we are hungering and thirsting in the confines to which they restrain us. We must seem to be feasting as from the flesh-pots of Egypt,--fattening on the husks which we have emptied,--while our souls are starving and fainting and dying within us. 'T is a sad music that swells from these chords. How fortunate that our ears are not attuned to their notes. And we are not always solitary in our bondage; nor do we tread round the cropped circuit, held to senseless pillars. We are chained to each other; and unhappy are they who, straining at the bond, seek food for their hearts in opposite directions. We are chained to each other; and light or heavy are the bonds, as Fortune shall couple us. Now you and Frank, I know, are leashed with down; and when Mrs. Asmodeus went to the blacksmith, the Vulcan of our days, to order my fetters, she bespoke gossamers, to which a spider's web were cable. But we are among the favored of Fortune's children. There are many poor unfortunates whose daily round is but the measured clank of hateful chains; who eat, drink, sleep, live together, in a bondage worse than that of Chillon,--round whom the bright sun shines, the sweet flowers bloom, the soft breezes play,--and yet who stifle in the gloom of a domestic dungeon.
And there are others fettered as firmly,--but how differently! The clasping links are soft, caressing arms; the tones their sounding chains give out are cheerful voices, joyous accents, words of love, that echo far beyond the little circle that they keep, and spread their harmony through many hearts. That little circle is a happy home; love spun the bonds that hold them close therein, and many are the strands that bind them there. They come from beauteous eyes that beam with light; from lisping tongues more sweet than seraph choirs; from swelling hearts that beat in every pulse with fond affection, which is richer far than all the nectar of the ancient gods. Bind me with these, O Fortune! and I hug my chains o'erjoyed. Be these the cords which hold me to the rock around which break the surging waves of time, and let the beak of Fate tear as it will, I hold the bondage sweet and laugh at liberty.
My dear Madam, there are chains which hold us as the cable holds the ship; and, in their sure restraint, we safely ride through all the howling blasts of adverse fate. The globe we tread whirls on through endless space, kept ever in the circuit that it makes by that restraining force which holds it to the pillar of the sun. Loose but the bond an instant, and it flies in wild, tangential flight, to shatter other worlds. The very bondage that we curse, and seek, in fretful mood, to break and burst, may keep us to the orbit that is traced, by overruling wisdom, for our good. We gravitate towards duty, though we sweep with errant course along the outer marge of the bare area of its tightened cord. Let but the wise restraint be rudely broke, and through life's peopled space we heedless rush, trampling o'er hearts, and whirling to our fate, leaving destruction on our reckless way.
Did you ever chance to see, Madam, a picture of those venturous hunters, who are lowered by a rope to the nests of sea-birds, built on some inaccessible cliff? Hanging between heaven and earth they sway;--above, the craggy rock, o'er which the single cord is strained that holds them fast; below, a yawning chasm, whose jagged depth would be a fearful grave to him who should fall. You and I would never dream of bird-nesting under such circumstances. I can see you shudder, even now, at the bare idea. Yet do we not sometimes hang ourselves over cliffs from which a fall were worse than death? Do we not trust ourselves, in venturous mood, to the frail tenure of a single strand which sways 'twixt heaven and earth? Not after birds' eggs, I grant you. We are not all of us so fond of omelettes. But over the wild crags of human passion many drop, pursuing game that shuns the beaten way, and sway above the depths of dark despair. Intent upon their prey, they further go, secure in the firm hold they think they have, nor heed the fraying line that, grating on the edge of the bare precipice, at last is worn and weak; while, one by one, the little threads give way, and they who watch above in terror call to warn them of the danger. But in vain! no friendly voice can stay their flushed success; till, at its height, the cord is suddenly snapped, and crushed upon the rocks beneath they lie. You and I will never go bird-nesting after this fashion, my dear Madam. Let us hover then around the crags of life, and watch the twisting strands that others, more adventurous than we, have risked themselves upon. Be ours the part to note the breaking threads, and, with our words of kindly warning, seek to save our fellows from a fall so dread.
And, if the ties of earth keep us from falling, so also do they keep us from rising above the level of grosser things. They hold us down to the dull, tedious monotony of worldly cares, aims, purposes. Like birds withheld from flight into the pure regions of the upper air by cruel, frightening cords, we fluttering go, stifled amid the vapors men have spread, and panting for the freedom that we seek.
Madam, our bright-eyed little goat has, by this time, settled himself calmly on the grass; and I see, near at hand, the shady groves where King Tommy is wont to lead Mrs. A. and myself in his summer wanderings. Let me hope that all our bonds may be those which hold us fast to peace, content, and virtue; and that, when the silver cord which holds us here to earth shall be loosed, we then on sweeping pinions may arise, pure and untrammelled, into cloudless skies.
How many lives, made beautiful and sweet By self-devotion and by self-restraint,-- Whose pleasure is to run without complaint On unknown errands of the Paraclete,-- Wanting the reverence of unshodden feet, Fail of the nimbus which the artists paint Around the shining forehead of the saint, And are in their completeness incomplete. In the old Tuscan town stands Giotto's tower, The lily of Florence blossoming in stone,-- A vision, a delight, and a desire,-- The builder's perfect and centennial flower, That in the night of ages bloomed alone, But wanting still the glory of the spire.
PASSAGES FROM HAWTHORNE'S NOTE-BOOKS.
Brook Farm, _Oct. 9, 1841._--A walk this afternoon to Cow Island. The clouds had broken away towards noon, and let forth a few sunbeams, and more and more blue sky ventured to appear, till at last it was really warm and sunny,--indeed, rather too warm in the sheltered hollows, though it is delightful to be too warm now, after so much stormy chillness. O the beauty of grassy slopes, and the hollow ways of paths winding between hills, and the intervals between the road and wood-lots, where summer lingers and sits down, strewing dandelions of gold, and blue asters, as her parting gifts and memorials! I went to a grape-vine, which I have already visited several times, and found some clusters of grapes still remaining, and now perfectly ripe. Coming within view of the river, I saw several wild ducks under the shadow of the opposite shore, which was high, and covered with a grove of pines. I should not have discovered the ducks had they not risen and skimmed the surface of the glassy stream, breaking its dark water with a bright streak, and, sweeping round, gradually rose high enough to fly away. I likewise started a partridge just within the verge of the woods, and in another place a large squirrel ran across the wood-path from one shelter of trees to the other. Small birds, in flocks, were flitting about the fields, seeking and finding I know not what sort of food. There were little fish, also, darting in shoals through the pools and depths of the brooks, which are now replenished to their brims, and rush towards the river with a swift, amber-colored current.
Cow Island is not an island,--at least, at this season,--though, I believe, in the time of freshets, the marshy Charles floods the meadows all round about it, and extends across its communication with the mainland. The path to it is a very secluded one, threading a wood of pines, and just wide enough to admit the loads of meadow hay which are drawn from the splashy shore of the river. The island has a growth of stately pines, with tall and ponderous stems, standing at distance enough to admit the eye to travel far among them; and, as there is no underbrush, the effect is somewhat like looking among the pillars of a church.
I returned home by the high-road. On my right, separated from the road by a level field, perhaps fifty yards across, was a range of young forest-trees, dressed in their garb of autumnal glory. The sun shone directly upon them; and sunlight is like the breath of life to the pomp of autumn. In its absence, one doubts whether there be any truth in what poets have told about the splendor of an American autumn; but when this charm is added, one feels that the effect is beyond description. As I beheld it to-day, there was nothing dazzling; it was gentle and mild, though brilliant and diversified, and had a most quiet and pensive influence. And yet there were some trees that seemed really made of sunshine, and others were of a sunny red, and the whole picture was painted with but little relief of darksome hues,--only a few evergreens. But there was nothing inharmonious; and, on closer examination, it appeared that all the tints had a relationship among themselves. And this, I suppose, is the reason that, while Nature seems to scatter them so carelessly, they still never shock the beholder by their contrasts, nor disturb, but only soothe. The brilliant scarlet and the brilliant yellow are different hues of the maple-leaves, and the first changes into the last. I saw one maple-tree, its centre yellow as gold, set in a framework of red. The native poplars have different shades of green, verging towards yellow, and are very cheerful in the sunshine. Most of the oak-leaves have still the deep verdure of summer; but where a change has taken place, it is into a russet-red, warm, but sober. These colors, infinitely varied by the progress which different trees have made in their decay, constitute almost the whole glory of autumnal woods; but it is impossible to conceive how much is done with such scanty materials. In my whole walk I saw only one man, and he was at a distance, in the obscurity of the trees. He had a horse and a wagon, and was getting a load of dry brush-wood.
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_Sunday, October 10._--I visited my grape-vine this afternoon, and ate the last of its clusters. This vine climbs around a young maple-tree, which has now assumed the yellow leaf. The leaves of the vine are more decayed than those of the maple. Thence to Cow Island, a solemn and thoughtful walk. Returned by another path, of the width of a wagon, passing through a grove of hard wood, the lightsome hues of which make the walk more cheerful than among the pines. The roots of oaks emerged from the soil, and contorted themselves across the path. The sunlight, also, broke across in spots, and otherwheres the shadow was deep; but still there was intermingling enough of bright hues to keep off the gloom from the whole path.
Brooks and pools have a peculiar aspect at this season. One knows that the water must be cold, and one shivers a little at the sight of it; and yet the grass about the pool may be of the deepest green, and the sun may be shining into it. The withered leaves which overhanging trees shed upon its surface contribute much to the effect.
Insects have mostly vanished in the fields and woods. I hear locusts yet, singing in the sunny hours, and crickets have not yet finished their song. Once in a while I see a caterpillar,--this afternoon, for instance, a red, hairy one, with black head and tail. They do not appear to be active, and it makes one rather melancholy to look at them.
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_Tuesday, October 12._--The cawing of the crow resounds among the woods. A sentinel is aware of your approach a great way off, and gives the alarm to his comrades loudly and eagerly,--Caw, caw, caw! Immediately the whole conclave replies, and you behold them rising above the trees, flapping darkly, and winging their way to deeper solitudes. Sometimes, however, they remain till you come near enough to discern their sable gravity of aspect, each occupying a separate bough, or perhaps the blasted tip-top of a pine. As you approach, one after another, with loud cawing, flaps his wings and throws himself upon the air.
There is hardly a more striking feature in the landscape now-a-days than the red patches of blueberry and whortleberry bushes, as seen on a sloping hillside, like islands among the grass, with trees growing in them; or crowning the summit of a bare, brown hill with their somewhat russet liveliness; or circling round the base of an earth-embedded rock. At a distance, this hue, clothing spots and patches of the earth, looks more like a picture than anything else,--yet such a picture as I never saw painted.
The oaks are now beginning to look sere, and their leaves have withered borders. It is pleasant to notice the wide circle of greener grass beneath the circumference of an overshadowing oak. Passing an orchard, one hears an uneasy rustling in the trees, and not as if they were struggling with the wind. Scattered about are barrels to contain the gathered apples; and perhaps a great heap of golden or scarlet apples is collected in one place.
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_Wednesday, October 13._--A good view, from an upland swell of our pasture, across the valley of the river Charles. There is the meadow, as level as a floor, and carpeted with green, perhaps two miles from the rising ground on this side of the river to that on the opposite side. The stream winds through the midst of the flat space, without any banks at all; for it fills its bed almost to the brim, and bathes the meadow grass on either side. A tuft of shrubbery, at broken intervals, is scattered along its border; and thus it meanders sluggishly along, without other life than what it gains from gleaming in the sun. Now, into the broad, smooth meadow, as into a lake, capes and headlands put themselves forth, and shores of firm woodland border it, covered with variegated foliage, making the contrast so much the stronger of their height and rough, outline with the even spread of the plain. And beyond, and far away, rises a long, gradual swell of country, covered with an apparently dense growth of foliage for miles, till the horizon terminates it; and here and there is a house, or perhaps two, among the contiguity of trees. Everywhere the trees wear their autumnal dress, so that the whole landscape is red, russet, orange, and yellow, blending in the distance into a rich tint of brown-orange, or nearly that,--except the green expanse so definitely hemmed in by the higher ground.
I took a long walk this morning, going first nearly to Newton, thence nearly to Brighton, thence to Jamaica Plain, and thence home. It was a fine morning, with a northwest wind; cool when facing the wind, but warm and most genially pleasant in sheltered spots; and warm enough everywhere while I was in motion. I traversed most of the by-ways which offered themselves to me; and, passing through one in which there was a double line of grass between the wheel-tracks and that of the horses' feet, I came to where had once stood a farm-house, which appeared to have been recently torn down. Most of the old timber and boards had been carted away; a pile of it, however, remained. The cellar of the house was uncovered, and beside it stood the base and middle height of the chimney. The oven, in which household bread had been baked for daily food, and puddings and cake and jolly pumpkin-pies for festivals, opened its mouth, being deprived of its iron door. The fireplace was close at hand. All round the site of the house was a pleasant, sunny, green space, with old fruit-trees in pretty fair condition, though aged. There was a barn, also aged, but in decent repair; and a ruinous shed, on the corner of which was nailed a boy's windmill, where it had probably been turning and clattering for years together, till now it was black with time and weather-stain. It was broken, but still it went round whenever the wind stirred. The spot was entirely secluded, there being no other house within a mile or two.
No language can give an idea of the beauty and glory of the trees, just at this moment. It would be easy, by a process of word-daubing, to set down a confused group of gorgeous colors, like a bunch of tangled skeins of bright silk; but there is nothing of the reality in the glare which would thus be produced. And yet the splendor both of individual clusters and of whole scenes is unsurpassable. The oaks are now far advanced in their change of hue; and, in certain positions relatively to the sun, they light up and gleam with a most magnificent deep gold, varying according as portions of the foliage are in shadow or sunlight. On the sides which receive the direct rays, the effect is altogether rich; and in other points of view it is equally beautiful, if less brilliant. This color of the oak is more superb than the lighter yellow of the maples and walnuts. The whole landscape is now covered with this indescribable pomp; it is discerned on the uplands afar off; and Blue Hill in Milton, at the distance of several miles, actually glistens with rich, dark light,--no, not glistens, nor gleams,--but perhaps to say glows subduedly will be a truer expression for it.
Met few people this morning;--a grown girl, in company with a little boy, gathering barberries in a secluded lane; a portly, autumnal gentleman, wrapped in a great-coat, who asked the way to Mr. Joseph Goddard's; and a fish-cart from the city, the driver of which sounded his horn along the lonesome way.
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_Monday, October 18._--There has been a succession of days which were cold and bright in the forenoon, and gray, sullen, and chill towards night. The woods have now taken a soberer tint than they wore at my last date. Many of the shrubs which looked brightest a little while ago are now wholly bare of leaves. The oaks have generally a russet-brown shade, although some of them are still green, as are likewise other scattered trees in the forests. The bright yellow and the rich scarlet are no more to be seen. Scarcely any of them will now bear a close examination; for this shows them to be rugged, wilted, and of faded, frost-bitten hue; but at a distance, and in the mass, and enlivened by the sun, they have still somewhat of the varied splendor which distinguished them a week ago. It is wonderful what a difference the sunshine makes; it is like varnish, bringing out the hidden veins in a piece of rich wood. In the cold, gray atmosphere, such as that of most of our afternoons now, the landscape lies dark,--brown, and in a much deeper shadow than if it were clothed in green. But, perchance, a gleam of sun falls on a certain spot of distant shrubbery or woodland, and we see it brighten with many hues, standing forth prominently from the dimness around it. The sunlight gradually spreads, and the whole sombre scene is changed to a motley picture,--the sun bringing out many shades of color, and converting its gloom to an almost laughing cheerfulness. At such times I almost doubt whether the foliage has lost any of its brilliancy. But the clouds intercept the sun again, and lo! old Autumn appears, clad in his cloak of russet-brown.
Beautiful now, while the general landscape lies in shadow, looks the summit of a distant hill (say a mile off), with the sunshine brightening the trees that cover it. It is noticeable that the outlines of hills, and the whole bulk of them at the distance of several miles, become stronger, denser, and more substantial in this autumn atmosphere and in these autumnal tints than in summer. Then they looked blue, misty, and dim. Now they show their great humpbacks more plainly, as if they had drawn nearer to us.
A waste of shrubbery and small trees, such as overruns the borders of the meadows for miles together, looks much more rugged, wild, and savage in its present brown color than when clad in green.
I passed through a very pleasant wood-path yesterday, quite shut in and sheltered by trees that had not thrown off their yellow robes. The sun shone strongly in among them, and quite kindled them; so that the path was brighter for their shade than if it had been quite exposed to the sun.
In the village graveyard, which lies contiguous to the street, I saw a man digging a grave, and one inhabitant after another turned aside from his way to look into the grave and talk with the digger. I heard him laugh, with the hereditary mirthfulness of men of that occupation.
In the hollow of the woods, yesterday afternoon, I lay a long while watching a squirrel, who was capering about among the trees over my head (oaks and white-pines, so close together that their branches intermingled). The squirrel seemed not to approve of my presence, for he frequently uttered a sharp, quick, angry noise, like that of a scissors-grinder's wheel. Sometimes I could see him sitting on an impending bough, with his tail over his back, looking down pryingly upon me. It seems to be a natural posture with him, to sit on his hind legs, holding up his forepaws. Anon, with a peculiarly quick start, he would scramble along the branch, and be lost to sight in another part of the tree, whence his shrill chatter would again be heard. Then I would see him rapidly descending the trunk, and running along the ground; and a moment afterwards, casting my eye upward, I beheld him flitting like a bird among the high limbs at the summit, directly above me. Afterwards, he apparently became accustomed to my society, and set about some business of his. He came down to the ground, took up a piece of a decayed bough, (a heavy burden for such a small personage,) and, with this in his mouth, again climbed up, and passed from the branches of one tree to those of another, and thus onward and onward till he went out of sight. Shortly afterwards he returned for another burden, and this he repeated several times. I suppose he was building a nest,--at least, I know not what else could have been his object. Never was there such an active, cheerful, choleric, continually-in-motion fellow as this little red squirrel, talking to himself, chattering at me, and as sociable in his own person as if he had half a dozen companions, instead of being alone in the lonesome wood. Indeed, he flitted about so quickly, and showed himself in different places so suddenly, that I was in some doubt whether there were not two or three of them.
I must mention again the very beautiful effect produced by the masses of berry-bushes, lying like scarlet islands in the midst of withered pasture-ground, or crowning the tops of barren hills. Their hue, at a distance, is lustrous scarlet, although it does not look nearly as bright and gorgeous when examined close at hand. But at a proper distance it is a beautiful fringe on Autumn's petticoat.
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_Friday, October 22._--A continued succession of unpleasant, Novembery days, and Autumn has made rapid progress in the work of decay. It is now somewhat of a rare good fortune to find a verdant, grassy spot, on some slope, or in a dell; and even such seldom-seen oases are bestrewn with dried brown leaves,--which, however, methinks, make the short, fresh grass look greener around them. Dry leaves are now plentiful everywhere, save where there are none but pine-trees. They rustle beneath the tread, and there is nothing more autumnal than that sound. Nevertheless, in a walk this afternoon I have seen two oaks which retained almost the greenness of summer. They grew close to the huge Pulpit Rock, so that portions of their trunks appeared to grasp the rough surface; and they were rooted beneath it, and, ascending high into the air, overshadowed the gray crag with verdure. Other oaks, here and there, have a few green leaves or boughs among their rustling and rugged shade.
Yet, dreary as the woods are in a bleak, sullen day, there is a very peculiar sense of warmth and a sort of richness of effect in the slope of a bank and in sheltered spots, where bright sunshine falls, and the brown oaken foliage is gladdened by it. There is then a feeling of comfort, and consequently of heart-warmth, which cannot be experienced in summer.
I walked this afternoon along a pleasant wood-path, gently winding, so that but little of it could be seen at a time, and going up and down small mounds, now plunging into a denser shadow and now emerging from it. Part of the way it was strewn with the dusky yellow leaves of white-pines,--the cast-off garments of last year; part of the way with green grass, close-cropped and very fresh for the season. Sometimes the trees met across it; sometimes it was bordered on one side by an old rail-fence of moss-grown cedar, with bushes sprouting beneath it, and thrusting their branches through it; sometimes by a stone wall of unknown antiquity, older than the wood it closed in. A stone wall, when shrubbery has grown around it, and thrust its roots beneath it, becomes a very pleasant and meditative object. It does not belong too evidently to man, having been built so long ago. It seems a part of nature.
Yesterday I found two mushrooms in the woods, probably of the preceding night's growth. Also I saw a mosquito, frost-pinched, and so wretched that I felt avenged for all the injuries which his tribe inflicted upon me last summer, and so did not molest this lone survivor.
Walnuts in their green rinds are falling from the trees, and so are chestnut-burrs.
I found a maple-leaf to-day, yellow all over, except its extremest point, which was bright scarlet. It looked as if a drop of blood were hanging from it. The first change of the maple-leaf is to scarlet; the next, to yellow. Then it withers, wilts, and drops off, as most of them have already done.
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_October 27._--Fringed gentians,--I found the last, probably, that will be seen this year, growing on the margin of the brook.
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1842.--Some man of powerful character to command a person, morally subjected to him, to perform some act. The commanding person suddenly to die; and, for all the rest of his life, the subjected one continues to perform that act.
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"Solomon dies during the building of the temple, but his body remains leaning on a staff, and overlooking the workmen, as if it were alive."
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A tri-weekly paper, to be called the Tertian Ague.
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Subject for a picture,--Satan's reappearance in Pandemonium, shining out from a mist, with "shape star-bright."
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Five points of Theology,--Five Points at New York.
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It seems a greater pity that an accomplished worker with the hand should perish prematurely, than a person of great intellect; because intellectual arts may be cultivated in the next world, but not physical ones.
* * * * *
To trace out the influence of a frightful and disgraceful crime in debasing and destroying a character naturally high and noble, the guilty person being alone conscious of the crime.
* * * * *
A man, virtuous in his general conduct, but committing habitually some monstrous crime,--as murder,--and doing this without the sense of guilt, but with a peaceful conscience,--habit, probably, reconciling him to it; but something (for instance, discovery) occurs to make him sensible of his enormity. His horror then.
* * * * *
The strangeness, if they could be foreseen and forethought, of events which do not seem so strange after they have happened. As, for instance, to muse over a child's cradle, and foresee all the persons in different parts of the world with whom he would have relations.
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A man to swallow a small snake,--and it to be a symbol of a cherished sin.
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Questions as to unsettled points of history, and mysteries of nature, to be asked of a mesmerized person.
* * * * *
Gordier, a young man of the Island of Jersey, was paying his addresses to a young lady of Guernsey. He visited the latter island, intending to be married. He disappeared on his way from the beach to his mistress's residence, and was afterwards found dead in a cavity of the rocks. After a time, Galliard, a merchant of Guernsey, paid his addresses to the young lady; but she always felt a strong, unaccountable antipathy to him. He presented her with a beautiful trinket. The mother of Gordier, chancing to see this trinket, recognized it as having been bought by her dead son as a present for his mistress. She expired on learning this; and Galliard, being suspected of the murder, committed suicide.
* * * * *
The _curé_ of Montreux in Switzerland, ninety-six years old, still vigorous in mind and body, and able to preach. He had a twin-brother, also a preacher, and the exact likeness of himself. Sometimes strangers have beheld a white-haired, venerable clerical personage, nearly a century old; and, upon riding a few miles farther, have been astonished to meet again this white-haired, venerable, century-old personage.
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When the body of Lord Mohun (killed in a duel) was carried home, bleeding, to his house, Lady Mohun was very angry because it was "flung upon the best bed."
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A prophecy, somewhat in the style of Swift's about Partridge, but embracing various events and personages.
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An incident that befell Dr. Harris, while a Junior at college. Being in great want of money to buy shirts or other necessaries, and not knowing how to obtain it, he set out on a walk from Cambridge to Boston. On the way, he cut a stick, and after walking a short distance perceived that something had become attached to the end of it. It proved to be a gold ring, with the motto, "God speed thee, friend."
* * * * *
Brobdignag lay on the northwest coast of the American continent.
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A gush of violets along a wood-path.
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People with false hair and other artifices may be supposed to deceive Death himself, so that he does not know when their hour is come.
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Bees are sometimes drowned (or suffocated) in the honey which they collect. So some writers are lost in their collected learning.
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Advice of Lady Pepperell's father on her marriage,--never to work one moment after Saturday sunset,--never to lay down her knitting except in the middle of the needle,--always to rise with the sun,--to pass an hour daily with the housekeeper,--to visit every room daily from garret to cellar,--to attend herself to the brewing of beer and the baking of bread,--and to instruct every member of the family in their religious duties.
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Service of plate, presented by the city of London to Sir William Pepperell, together with a table of solid silver. The table very narrow, but long; the articles of plate numerous, but of small dimensions,--the tureen not holding more than three pints. At the close of the Revolution, when the Pepperell and Sparhawk property was confiscated, this plate was sent to the grandson of Sir William, in London. It was so valuable, that Sheriff Moulton of old York, with six well-armed men, accompanied it to Boston. Pepperell's only daughter married Colonel Sparhawk, a fine gentleman of the day. Andrew Pepperell, the son, was rejected by a young lady (afterwards the mother of Mrs. General Knox), to whom he was on the point of marriage, as being addicted to low company and low pleasures. The lover, two days afterwards, in the streets of Portsmouth, was sun-struck, and fell down dead. Sir William had built an elegant house for his son and his intended wife; but after the death of the former he never entered it. He lost his cheerfulness and social qualities, and gave up intercourse with people, except on business. Very anxious to secure his property to his descendants by the provisions of his will, which was drawn up by Judge Sewall, then a young lawyer. Yet the Judge lived to see two of Sir William's grandchildren so reduced that they were to have been numbered among the town's poor, and were only rescued from this fate by private charity.
The arms of the Pepperell family were displayed over the door of every room in Sir William's house, and his crest on every door. In Colonel Sparhawk's house there were forty portraits, most of them in full length. The house built for Sir William's son was occupied as barracks during the Revolution, and much injured. A few years after the peace, it was blown down by a violent tempest, and finally no vestige of it was left, but there remained only a summer-house and the family tomb.
At Sir William's death, his mansion was hung with black, while the body lay in state for a week. All the Sparhawk portraits were covered with black crape, and the family pew was draped with black. Two oxen were roasted, and liquid hospitality dispensed in proportion.
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Old lady's dress seventy or eighty years ago. Brown brocade gown, with a nice lawn handkerchief and apron,--short sleeves, with a little ruffle, just below the elbow,--black mittens,--a lawn cap, with rich lace border,--a black velvet hood on the back of the head, tied with black ribbon under the chin. She sat in an old-fashioned easy-chair, in a small, low parlor,--the wainscot painted entirely black, and the walls hung with a dark velvet paper.
A table, stationary ever since the house was built, extending the whole length of a room. One end was raised two steps higher than the rest. The Lady Ursula, an early Colonial heroine, was wont to dine at the upper end, while her servants sat below. This was in the kitchen. An old garden and summer-house, and roses, currant-bushes, and tulips, which Lady Ursula had brought from Grondale Abbey in Old England. Although a hundred and fifty years before, and though their roots were propagated all over the country, they were still flourishing in the original garden. This Lady Ursula was the daughter of Lord Thomas Cutts of Grondale Abbey in England. She had been in love with an officer named Fowler, who was supposed to have been slain in battle. After the death of her father and mother, Lady Ursula came to Kittery, bringing twenty men-servants and several women. After a time, a letter arrived from her lover, who was not killed, but merely a prisoner to the French. He announced his purpose to come to America, where he would arrive in October. A few days after the letter came, she went out in a low carriage to visit her work-people, and was blessing the food for their luncheon, when she fell dead, struck by an Indian tomahawk, as did all the rest save one. They were buried, where the massacre took place, and a stone was erected, which (possibly) still remains. The lady's family had a grant from Sir Ferdinando Gorges of the territory thereabout, and her brother had likewise come over and settled in the vicinity. I believe very little of this story. Long afterwards, at about the commencement of the Revolution, a descendant of Fowler came from England, and applied to the Judge of Probate to search the records for a will, supposed to have been made by Lady Ursula in favor of her lover as soon as she heard of his existence. In the mean time the estate had been sold to Colonel Whipple. No will could be found. (Lady Ursula was old Mrs. Cutts, widow of President Cutts.)
The mode of living of Lady Ursula's brother in Kittery. A drawbridge to the house, which was raised every evening, and lowered in the morning, for the laborers and the family to pass out. They kept thirty cows, a hundred sheep, and several horses. The house spacious,--one room large enough to contain forty or fifty guests. Two silver branches for candles,--the walls ornamented with paintings and needlework. The floors were daily rubbed with wax, and shone like a mahogany-table. A domestic chaplain, who said prayers every morning and evening in a small apartment called the chapel. Also a steward and butler. The family attended the Episcopal Church at Christmas, Easter, and Good Friday, and gave a grand entertainment once a year.
Madam Cutts, at the last of these entertainments, wore a black damask gown, and cuffs with double lace ruffles, velvet shoes, blue silk stockings, white and silver stomacher. The daughter and granddaughters in rich brocades and yellow satin. Old Major Cutts in brown velvet, laced with gold, and a large wig. The parson in his silk cassock, and his helpmate in brown damask. Old General Atkinson in scarlet velvet, and his wife and daughters in white damask. The Governor in black velvet, and his lady in crimson tabby trimmed with silver. The ladies wore bell-hoops, high-heeled shoes, paste buckles, silk stockings, and enormously high head-dresses, with lappets of Brussels lace hanging thence to the waist.
Among the eatables, a silver tub of the capacity of four gallons, holding a pyramid of pancakes powdered with white sugar.
The date assigned to all this about 1690.
* * * * *
What is the price of a day's labor in Lapland, where the sun never sets for six months?
* * * * *
Miss Asphyxia Davis!
* * * * *
A life, generally of a grave hue, may be said to be _embroidered_ with occasional sports and fantasies.
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A father confessor,--his reflections on character, and the contrast of the inward man with the outward, as he looks around on his congregation, all whose secret sins are known to him.
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A person with an ice-cold hand,--his right hand, which people ever afterwards remember when once they have grasped it.
* * * * *
A stove possessed by a Devil.
* * * * *
_June 1, 1842._--One of my chief amusements is to see the boys sail their miniature vessels on the Frog Pond. There is a great variety of shipping owned among the young people, and they appear to have a considerable knowledge of the art of managing vessels. There is a full-rigged man-of-war, with, I believe, every spar, rope, and sail, that sometimes makes its appearance; and, when on a voyage across the pond, it so identically resembles a great ship, except in size, that it has the effect of a picture. All its motions,--its tossing up and down on the small waves, and its sinking and rising in a calm swell, its heeling to the breeze,--the whole effect, in short, is that of a real ship at sea; while, moreover, there is something that kindles the imagination more than the reality would do. If we see a real, great ship, the mind grasps and possesses, within its real clutch, all that there is of it; while here the mimic ship is the representation of an ideal one, and so gives us a more imaginative pleasure. There are many schooners that ply to and fro on the pond, and pilot-boats, all perfectly rigged. I saw a race, the other day, between the ship above mentioned and a pilot-boat, in which the latter came off conqueror. The boys appear to be well acquainted with all the ropes and sails, and can call them by their nautical names. One of the owners of the vessels remains on one side of the pond, and the other on the opposite side, and so they send the little bark to and fro, like merchants of different countries, consigning their vessels to one another.
Generally, when any vessel is on the pond, there are full-grown spectators, who look on with as much interest as the boys themselves. Towards sunset, this is especially the case: for then are seen young girls and their lovers; mothers, with their little boys in hand; school-girls, beating hoops round about, and occasionally running to the side of the pond; rough tars, or perhaps masters or young mates of vessels, who make remarks about the miniature shipping, and occasionally give professional advice to the navigators; visitors from the country; gloved and caned young gentlemen;--in short, everybody stops to take a look. In the mean time, dogs are continually plunging into the pond, and swimming about, with noses pointed upward, and snatching at floating ships; then, emerging, they shake themselves, scattering a horizontal shower on the clean gowns of ladies and trousers of gentlemen; then scamper to and fro on the grass, with joyous barks.
Some boys cast off lines of twine with pin-hooks, and perhaps pull out a horned-pout, that being, I think, the only kind of fish that inhabits the Frog Pond.
The ship-of-war above mentioned is about three feet from stem to stern, or possibly a few inches more. This, if I mistake not, was the size of a ship of the line in the navy of Liliput.
* * * * *
Fancy pictures of familiar places which one has never been in, as the green-room of a theatre, &c.
* * * * *
The famous characters of history,--to imagine their spirits now extant on earth, in the guise of various public or private personages.
* * * * *
The case quoted in Combe's Physiology of a young man of great talents and profound knowledge of chemistry, who had in view some new discovery of importance. In order to put his mind into the highest possible activity, he shut himself up for several successive days, and used various methods of excitement. He had a singing-girl, he drank spirits, smelled penetrating odors, sprinkled Cologne-water round the room, &c., &c. Eight days thus passed, when he was seized with a fit of frenzy which terminated in mania.
* * * * *
Flesh and Blood,--a firm of butchers.
* * * * *
Miss Polly Syllable, a schoolmistress.
* * * * *
Mankind are earthen jugs with spirits in them.
* * * * *
A spendthrift,--in one sense he has his money's worth by the purchase of large lots of repentance and other dolorous commodities.
Two thousand feet in air it stands Betwixt the bright and shaded lands, Above the regions it divides And borders with its furrowed sides. The seaward valley laughs with light Till the round sun o'erhangs this height; But then the shadow of the crest No more the plains that lengthen west Enshrouds, yet slowly, surely creeps Eastward, until the coolness steeps A darkling league of tilth and wold, And chills the flocks that seek their fold.
Not like those ancient summits lone, Mont Blanc, on his eternal throne,-- The city-gemmed Peruvian peak,-- The sunset portals landsmen seek, Whose train, to reach the Golden Land, Crawls slow and pathless through the sand,-- Or that, whose ice-lit beacon guides The mariner on tropic tides, And flames across the Gulf afar, A torch by day, by night a star,-- Not thus, to cleave the outer skies, Does my serener mountain rise, Nor aye forget its gentle birth Upon the dewy, pastoral earth.
But ever, in the noonday light, Are scenes whereof I love the sight,-- Broad pictures of the lower world Beneath my gladdened eyes unfurled. Irradiate distances reveal Fair nature wed to human weal; The rolling valley made a plain; Its checkered squares of grass and grain; The silvery rye, the golden wheat, The flowery elders where they meet,-- Ay, even the springing corn I see, And garden haunts of bird and bee; And where, in daisied meadows, shines The wandering river through its vines, Move specks at random, which I know Are herds a-grazing to and fro.
Yet still a goodly height it seems From which the mountain pours his streams, Or hinders, with caressing hands, The sunlight seeking other lands. Like some great giant, strong and proud, He fronts the lowering thunder-cloud, And wrests its treasures, to bestow A guerdon on the realm below; Or, by the deluge roused from sleep Within his bristling forest-keep, Shakes all his pines, and far and wide Sends down a rich, imperious tide. At night the whistling tempests meet In tryst upon his topmost seat, And all the phantoms of the sky Frolic and gibber, storming by. By day I see the ocean-mists Float with the current where it lists, And from my summit I can hail Cloud-vessels passing on the gale,-- The stately argosies of air,-- And parley with the helmsmen there; Can probe their dim, mysterious source, Ask of their cargo and their course,-- _Whence come? where bound?_--and wait reply, As, all sails spread, they hasten by.
If foiled in what I fain would know, Again I turn my eyes below And eastward, past the hither mead Where all day long the cattle feed, A crescent gleam my sight allures And clings about the hazy moors,-- The great, encircling, radiant sea, Alone in its immensity.
Even there, a queen upon its shore, I know the city evermore Her palaces and temples rears, And wooes the nations to her piers; Yet the proud city seems a mole To this horizon-bounded whole; And, from my station on the mount, The whole is little worth account Beneath the overhanging sky, That seems so far and yet so nigh. Here breathe I inspiration rare, Unburdened by the grosser air That hugs the lower land, and feel Through all my finer senses steal The life of what that life may be, Freed from this dull earth's density, When we, with many a soul-felt thrill, Shall thrid the ether at our will, Through widening corridors of morn And starry archways swiftly borne.
Here, in the process of the night, The stars themselves a purer light Give out, than reaches those who gaze Enshrouded with the valley's haze. October, entering Heaven's fane, Assumes her lucent, annual reign: Then what a dark and dismal clod, Forsaken by the Sons of God, Seems this sad world, to those which march Across the high, illumined arch, And with their brightness draw me forth To scan the splendors of the North! I see the Dragon, as he toils With Ursa in his shining coils, And mark the Huntsman lift his shield, Confronting on the ancient field The Bull, while in a mystic row The jewels of his girdle glow Or, haply, I may ponder long On that remoter, sparkling throng, The orient sisterhood, around Whose chief our Galaxy is wound; Thus, half enwrapt in classic dreams, And brooding over Learning's gleams, I leave to gloom the under-land, And from my watch-tower, close at hand, Like him who led the favored race, I look on glory face to face!
So, on the mountain-top, alone, I dwell, as one who holds a throne; Or prince, or peasant, him I count My peer, who stands upon a mount, Sees farther than the tribes below, And knows the joys they cannot know; And, though beyond the sound of speech They reign, my soul goes out to reach, Far on their noble heights elsewhere, My brother-monarchs of the air.
THE CHIMNEY-CORNER FOR 1866.
"I am going to build a cathedral one of these days," said I to my wife, as I sat looking at the slant line of light made by the afternoon sun on our picture of the Cathedral of Milan.
"That picture is one of the most poetic things you have among your house ornaments," said Rudolph. "Its original is the world's chief beauty,--a tribute to religion such as Art never gave before and never can again,--as much before the Pantheon, as the Alps, with their virgin snows and glittering pinnacles, are above all temples made with hands. Say what you will, those Middle Ages that you call Dark had a glory of faith that never will be seen in our days of cotton-mills and Manchester prints. Where will you marshal such an army of saints as stands in yonder white-marble forest, visibly transfigured and glorified in that celestial Italian air? Saintship belonged to the mediæval Church; the heroism of religion has died with it."
"That's just like one of your assertions, Rudolph," said I. "You might as well say that Nature has never made any flowers since Linnæus shut up his herbarium. We have no statues and pictures of modern saints, but saints themselves, thank God, have never been wanting. 'As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be--'"
"But what about your cathedral?" said my wife.
"O yes!--my cathedral, yes. When my stocks in cloud-land rise, I'll build a cathedral larger than Milan's; and the men, but more particularly the _women_, thereon shall be those who have done even more than St. Paul tells of in the saints of old, who 'subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.' I am not now thinking of Florence Nightingale, nor of the host of women who have been walking worthily in her footsteps, but of nameless saints of more retired and private state,--domestic saints, who have tended children not their own through whooping-cough and measles, and borne the unruly whims of fretful invalids,--stocking-darning, shirt-making saints,--saints who wore no visible garment of hair-cloth, bound themselves with no belts of spikes and nails, yet in their inmost souls were marked and seared with the red cross of a life-long self-sacrifice,--saints for whom the mystical terms _self-annihilation_ and _self-crucifixion_ had a real and tangible meaning, all the stronger because their daily death was marked by no outward sign. No mystical rites consecrated them; no organ-music burst forth in solemn rapture to welcome them; no habit of their order proclaimed to themselves and the world that they were the elect of Christ, the brides of another life: but small eating cares, daily prosaic duties, the petty friction of all the littleness and all the inglorious annoyances of every day, were as dust that hid the beauty and grandeur of their calling even from themselves; they walked unknown even to their households, unknown even to their own souls; but when the Lord comes to build his New Jerusalem, we shall find many a white stone with a new name thereon, and the record of deeds and words which only He that seeth in secret knows. Many a humble soul will be amazed to find that the seed it sowed in such weakness, in the dust of daily life, has blossomed into immortal flowers under the eye of the Lord.
"When I build my cathedral, _that_ woman," I said, pointing to a small painting by the fire, "shall be among the first of my saints. You see her there, in an every-day dress-cap with a mortal thread-lace border, and with a very ordinary worked collar, fastened by a visible and terrestrial breastpin. There is no nimbus around her head, no sign of the cross upon her breast; her hands are clasped on no crucifix or rosary. Her clear, keen, hazel eye looks as if it could sparkle with mirthfulness, as in fact it could; there are in it both the subtile flash of wit and the subdued light of humor; and though the whole face smiles, it has yet a certain decisive firmness that speaks the soul immutable in good. That woman shall be the first saint in my cathedral, and her name shall be recorded as Saint Esther. What makes saintliness in my view, as distinguished from ordinary goodness, is a certain quality of magnanimity and greatness of soul that brings life within the circle of the heroic. To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of every-day life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization,--and this virtue was hers. New England Puritanism must be credited with the making of many such women. Severe as was her discipline, and harsh as seems now her rule, we have yet to see whether women will be born of modern systems of tolerance and indulgence equal to those grand ones of the olden times whose places now know them no more. The inconceivable austerity and solemnity with which Puritanism invested this mortal life, the awful grandeur of the themes which it made household words, the sublimity of the issues which it hung upon the commonest acts of our earthly existence, created characters of more than Roman strength and greatness; and the good men and women of Puritan training excelled the saints of the Middle Ages, as a soul fully developed intellectually, educated to closest thought, and exercised in reasoning, is superior to a soul great merely through impulse and sentiment.
"My earliest recollections of Aunt Esther, for so our saint was known, were of a bright-faced, cheerful, witty, quick-moving little middle-aged person, who came into our house like a good fairy whenever there was a call of sickness or trouble. If an accident happened in the great roistering family of eight or ten children, (and when was not something happening to some of us?) and we were shut up in a sick-room, then duly as daylight came the quick step and cheerful face of Aunt Esther,--not solemn and lugubrious like so many sick-room nurses, but with a never-failing flow of wit and story that could beguile even the most doleful into laughing at their own afflictions. I remember how a fit of the quinsy--most tedious of all sicknesses to an active child--was gilded and glorified into quite a _fête_ by my having Aunt Esther all to myself for two whole days, with nothing to do but amuse me. She charmed me into smiling at the very pangs which had made me weep before, and of which she described her own experiences in a manner to make me think that, after all, the quinsy was something with an amusing side to it. Her knowledge of all sorts of medicines, gargles, and alleviatives, her perfect familiarity with every canon and law of good nursing and tending, was something that could only have come from long experience in those good old New England days when there were no nurses recognized as a class in the land, but when watching and the care of the sick were among those offices of Christian life which the families of a neighborhood reciprocally rendered each other. Even from early youth she had obeyed a special vocation as sister of charity in many a sick-room, and, with the usual keen intelligence of New England, had widened her powers of doing good by the reading of medical and physiological works. Her legends of nursing in those days of long typhus-fever and other formidable and protracted forms of disease were to our ears quite wonderful, and we regarded her as a sort of patron saint of the sick-room. She seemed always so cheerful, so bright, and so devoted, that it never occurred to us youngsters to doubt that she enjoyed, above all things, being with us, waiting on us all day, watching over us by night, telling us stories, and answering, in her lively and always amusing and instructive way, that incessant fire of questions with which a child persecutes a grown person.
"Sometimes, as a reward of goodness, we were allowed to visit her in her own room, a neat little parlor in the neighborhood, whose windows looked down a hillside on one hand, under the boughs of an apple orchard, where daisies and clover and bobolinks always abounded in summer time, and, on the other, faced the street, with a green yard flanked by one or two shady elms between them and the street. No nun's cell was ever neater, no bee's cell ever more compactly and carefully arranged; and to us, familiar with the confusion of a great family of little ones, there was something always inviting about its stillness, its perfect order, and the air of thoughtful repose that breathed over it. She lived there in perfect independence, doing, as it was her delight to do, every office of life for herself. She was her own cook, her own parlor and chamber maid, her own laundress; and very faultless the cooking, washing, ironing, and care of her premises were. A slice of Aunt Esther's gingerbread, one of Aunt Esther's cookies, had, we all believed, certain magical properties such as belonged to no other mortal mixture. Even a handful of walnuts that were brought from the depths of her mysterious closet had virtues in our eyes such as no other walnuts could approach. The little shelf of books that hung suspended by cords against her wall was sacred in our regard; the volumes were like no other books; and we supposed that she derived from them those stores of knowledge on all subjects which she unconsciously dispensed among us,--for she was always telling us something of metals, or minerals, or gems, or plants, or animals, which awakened our curiosity, stimulated our inquiries, and, above all, led us to wonder where she had learned it all. Even the slight restrictions which her neat habits imposed on our breezy and turbulent natures seemed all quite graceful and becoming. It was right, in our eyes, to cleanse our shoes on scraper and mat with extra diligence, and then to place a couple of chips under the heels of our boots when we essayed to dry our feet at her spotless hearth. We marvelled to see our own faces reflected in a thousand smiles and winks from her bright brass andirons,--such andirons we thought were seen on earth in no other place,--and a pair of radiant brass candlesticks, that illustrated the mantle-piece, were viewed with no less respect.
"Aunt Esther's cat was a model for all cats,--so sleek, so intelligent, so decorous and well-trained, always occupying exactly her own cushion by the fire, and never transgressing in one iota the proprieties belonging to a cat of good breeding. She shared our affections with her mistress, and we were allowed as a great favor and privilege, now and then, to hold the favorite on our knees, and stroke her satin coat to a smoother gloss.
"But it was not for cats alone that she had attractions. She was in sympathy and fellowship with everything that moved and lived; knew every bird and beast with a friendly acquaintanceship. The squirrels that inhabited the trees in the front-yard were won in time by her blandishments to come and perch on her window-sills, and thence, by trains of nuts adroitly laid, to disport themselves on the shining cherry tea-table that stood between the windows; and we youngsters used to sit entranced with delight as they gambolled and waved their feathery tails in frolicsome security, eating rations of gingerbread and bits of seed-cake with as good a relish as any child among us.
"The habits, the rights, the wrongs, the wants, and the sufferings of the animal creation formed the subject of many an interesting conversation with her; and we boys, with the natural male instinct of hunting, trapping, and pursuing, were often made to pause in our career, remembering her pleas for the dumb things which could not speak for themselves.
"Her little hermitage was the favorite resort of numerous friends. Many of the young girls who attended the village academy made her acquaintance, and nothing delighted her more than that they should come there and read to her the books they were studying, when her superior and wide information enabled her to light up and explain much that was not clear to the immature students.
"In her shady retirement, too, she was a sort of Egeria to certain men of genius, who came to read to her their writings, to consult her in their arguments, and to discuss with her the literature and politics of the day,--through all which her mind moved with an equal step, yet with a sprightliness and vivacity peculiarly feminine.
"Her memory was remarkably retentive, not only of the contents of books, but of all that great outlying fund of anecdote and story which the quaint and earnest New England life always supplied. There were pictures of peculiar characters, legends of true events stranger than romance, all stored in the cabinets of her mind; and these came from her lips with the greater force because the precision of her memory enabled her to authenticate them with name, date, and circumstances of vivid reality. From that shadowy line of incidents which marks the twilight boundary between the spiritual world and the present life she drew legends of peculiar clearness, but invested with the mysterious charm which always dwells in that uncertain region; and the shrewd flash of her eye, and the keen, bright smile with which she answered the wondering question, 'What _do_ you suppose it was?' or, 'What could it have been?' showed how evenly rationalism in her mind kept pace with romance.
"The retired room in which she thus read, studied, thought, and surveyed from afar the whole world of science and literature, and in which she received friends and entertained children, was perhaps the dearest and freshest spot to her in the world. There came a time, however, when the neat little independent establishment was given up, and she went to associate herself with two of her nieces in keeping house for a boarding-school of young girls. Here her lively manners and her gracious interest in the young made her a universal favorite, though the cares she assumed broke in upon those habits of solitude and study which formed her delight. From the day that she surrendered this independency of hers, she had never, for more than a score of years, a home of her own, but filled the trying position of an accessory in the home of others. Leaving the boarding-school, she became the helper of an invalid wife and mother in the early nursing and rearing of a family of young children,--an office which leaves no privacy and no leisure. Her bed was always shared with some little one; her territories were exposed to the constant inroads of little pattering feet; and all the various sicknesses and ailments of delicate childhood made absorbing drafts upon her time.
"After a while she left New England with the brother to whose family she devoted herself. The failing health of the wife and mother left more and more the charge of all things in her hands; servants were poor, and all the appliances of living had the rawness and inconvenience which in those days attended Western life. It became her fate to supply all other people's defects and deficiencies. Wherever a hand failed, there must her hand be. Whenever a foot faltered, she must step into the ranks. She was the one who thought for and cared for and toiled for all, yet made never a claim that any one should care for her.
"It was not till late in my life that I became acquainted with the deep interior sacrifice, the constant self-abnegation, which all her life involved. She was born with a strong, vehement, impulsive nature,--a nature both proud and sensitive,--a nature whose tastes were passions, whose likings and whose aversions were of the most intense and positive character. Devoted as she always seemed to the mere practical and material, she had naturally a deep romance and enthusiasm of temperament which exceeded all that can be written in novels. It was chiefly owing to this that a home and a central affection of her own were never hers. In her early days of attractiveness, none who would have sought her could meet the high requirements of her ideality; she never saw her hero,--and so never married. Family cares, the tending of young children, she often confessed, were peculiarly irksome to her. She had the head of a student, a passionate love for the world of books. A Protestant convent, where she might devote herself without interruption to study, was her ideal of happiness. She had, too, the keenest appreciation of poetry, of music, of painting, and of natural scenery. Her enjoyment in any of these things was intensely vivid whenever, by chance, a stray sunbeam of the kind darted across the dusty path of her life; yet in all these her life was a constant repression. The eagerness with which she would listen to any account from those more fortunate ones who had known these things, showed how ardent a passion was constantly held in check. A short time before her death, talking with a friend who had visited Switzerland, she said, with great feeling: 'All my life my desire to visit the beautiful places of this earth has been so intense, that I cannot but hope that after my death I shall be permitted to go and look at them.'
"The completeness of her self-discipline may be gathered from the fact, that no child could ever be brought to believe she had not a natural fondness for children, or that she found the care of them burdensome. It was easy to see that she had naturally all those particular habits, those minute pertinacities in respect to her daily movements and the arrangement of all her belongings, which would make the meddling, intrusive demands of infancy and childhood peculiarly hard for her to meet. Yet never was there a pair of toddling feet that did not make free with Aunt Esther's room, never a curly head that did not look up, in confiding assurance of a welcome smile, to her bright eyes. The inconsiderate and never-ceasing requirements of children and invalids never drew from her other than a cheerful response; and to my mind there is more saintship in this than in the private wearing of any number of hair-cloth shirts or belts lined with spikes.
"In a large family of careless, noisy children there will be constant losing of thimbles and needles and scissors; but Aunt Esther was always ready, without reproach, to help the careless and the luckless. Her things, so well kept and so treasured, she was willing to lend, with many a caution and injunction it is true, but also with a relish of right good-will. And, to do us justice, we generally felt the sacredness of the trust, and were more careful of her things than of our own. If a shade of sewing-silk were wanting, or a choice button, or a bit of braid or tape, Aunt Esther cheerfully volunteered something from her well-kept stores, not regarding the trouble she made herself in seeking the key, unlocking the drawer, and searching out in bag or parcel just the treasure demanded. Never was more perfect precision, or more perfect readiness to accommodate others.
"Her little income, scarcely reaching a hundred dollars yearly, was disposed of with a generosity worthy a fortune. One tenth was sacredly devoted to charity, and a still further sum laid by every year for presents to friends. No Christmas or New Year ever came round that Aunt Esther, out of this very tiny fund, did not find something for children and servants. Her gifts were trifling in value, but well timed,--a ball of thread-wax, a paper of pins, a pincushion,--something generally so well chosen as to show that she had been running over our needs, and noting what to give. She was no less gracious as receiver than as giver. The little articles that we made for her, or the small presents that we could buy out of our childish resources, she always declared were exactly what she needed; and she delighted us by the care she took of them and the value she set upon them.
"Her income was a source of the greatest pleasure to her, as maintaining an independence without which she could not have been happy. Though she constantly gave, to every family in which she lived, services which no money could repay, it would have been the greatest trial to her not to be able to provide for herself. Her dress, always that of a true gentlewoman,--refined, quiet, and neat,--was bought from this restricted sum, and her small travelling expenses were paid out of it. She abhorred anything false or flashy: her caps were trimmed with _real_ thread-lace, and her silk dresses were of the best quality, perfectly well made and kept; and, after all, a little sum always remained over in her hands for unforeseen exigencies.
"This love of independence was one of the strongest features of her life, and we often playfully told her that her only form of selfishness was the monopoly of saintship,--that she who gave so much was not willing to allow others to give to her,--that she who made herself servant of all was not willing to allow others to serve her.
"Among the trials of her life must be reckoned much ill-health; borne, however, with such heroic patience that it was not easy to say when the hand of pain was laid upon her. She inherited, too, a tendency to depression of spirits, which at times increased to a morbid and distressing gloom. Few knew or suspected these sufferings, so completely had she learned to suppress every outward manifestation that might interfere with the happiness of others. In her hours of depression she resolutely forbore to sadden the lives of those around her with her own melancholy, and often her darkest moods were so lighted up and adorned with an outside show of wit and humor, that those who had known her intimately were astonished to hear that she had ever been subject to depression.
"Her truthfulness of nature amounted almost to superstition. From her promise once given she felt no change of purpose could absolve her; and therefore rarely would she give it absolutely, for she _could not_ alter the thing that had gone forth from her lips. Our belief in the certainty of her fulfilling her word was like our belief in the immutability of the laws of nature. Whoever asked her got of her the absolute truth on every subject, and, when she had no good thing to say, her silence was often truly awful. When anything mean or ungenerous was brought to her knowledge, she would close her lips resolutely; but the flash in her eyes showed what she would speak were speech permitted. In her last days she spoke to a friend of what she had suffered from the strength of her personal antipathies. 'I thank God,' she said, 'that I believe at last I have overcome all that too, and that there has not been, for some years, any human being toward whom I have felt a movement of dislike.'
"The last year of her life was a constant discipline of unceasing pain, borne with that fortitude which could make her an entertaining and interesting companion even while the sweat of mortal agony was starting from her brow. Her own room she kept as a last asylum, to which she would silently retreat when the torture became too intense for the repression of society, and there alone, with closed doors, she wrestled with her agony. The stubborn independence of her nature took refuge in this final fastness; and she prayed only that she might go down to death with the full ability to steady herself all the way, needing the help of no other hand.
"The ultimate struggle of earthly feeling came when this proud self-reliance was forced to give way, and she was obliged to leave herself helpless in the hands of others. 'God requires that I should give up my last form of self-will,' she said; 'now I have resigned _this_, perhaps he will let me go home.'
"In a good old age, Death, the friend, came and opened the door of this mortal state, and a great soul, that had served a long apprenticeship to little things, went forth into the joy of its Lord; a life of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation passed into a life of endless rest."
"But," said Rudolph, "I rebel at this life of self-abnegation and self-sacrifice. I do not think it the duty of noble women, who have beautiful natures and enlarged and cultivated tastes, to make themselves the slaves of the sick-room and nursery."
"Such was not the teaching of our New England faith," said I. "Absolute unselfishness,--the death of self,--such were its teachings, and such as Esther's the characters it made. 'Do the duty nearest thee,' was the only message it gave to 'women with a mission'; and from duty to duty, from one self-denial to another, they rose to a majesty of moral strength impossible to any form of mere self-indulgence. It is of souls thus sculptured and chiselled by self-denial and self-discipline that the living temple of the perfect hereafter is to be built. The pain of the discipline is short, but the glory of the fruition is eternal."
A PIONEER EDITOR.
The historian who, without qualification of his statement, should date the commencement of our late civil war from the attack on Fort Sumter, instead of the first attempt by the slaveholders to render a single property interest paramount in the relations of the country, would prove himself unfit for his task. The battles fought in the press, pulpit, and forum, in ante-war days, were as much agencies in the great conflict as the deadlier ones fought since, on land and sea. Men strove in the former, as in the latter case, for the extension of the slave system on one side, and for its total suppression on the other; and it is the proud distinction of the early partisans of freedom to be recognized now as the pioneers--the advance-guard--of the armed hosts who at last won the victory for humanity.
This view of the actual beginning of the war makes the facts in the lives of those antislavery men who took the lead in the good fight, and especially of such as died with their armor on, of the utmost value to the historian. We therefore propose to offer a contribution to the record, by tracing the career of one who acted a distinguished part in the struggle, as an antislavery journalist.
Gamaliel Bailey was born in New Jersey,--a State where antislavery men, or, indeed, men of progress in any direction, are so far from being a staple growth, that they can barely be said to be indigenous to her soil. His birthday was December 3, 1807. He was the son of a Methodist preacher noted for his earnestness and devotion to the duties of his calling. His mother was a woman of active brain and sympathetic heart. It was from her, as is not unusual with men of marked traits, that the son derived his distinguishing mental characteristics. His education was such as was obtainable in the private schools of Philadelphia, which, whatever their advantages to others, were not particularly well calculated to prepare young Bailey for the study of the learned profession he subsequently chose; and he had to seek, without their aid, the classical knowledge necessary to a mastery of the technicalities of medical science. Nevertheless he graduated with credit in the Jefferson Medical College, and at so early an age--for he was then only twenty--that the restriction in its charter deprived him of the usual diploma for a year. The statutes of New Jersey, however, while forbidding him to prescribe for the physical ailments of her citizens, did not pronounce him too young to undertake the mental training of her children, and he eagerly availed himself of the pedagogue's privilege of bending the twigs of mind amid the pine forests of his native State. By the time he was entitled to his diploma, he was satisfied that the overdraught upon his vitality had been so great, during his college years, as utterly to unfit him for the field of action on which, but a twelvemonth before, he had been so desirous to enter. A sea voyage was chosen as the best means of resting his brain while strengthening his body and preparing it for the heavy demands which his profession would naturally make.
Having, with the scanty income from his year's teaching, equipped himself for his voyage, he obeyed at once the dictates of necessity and of judgment, and shipped on a vessel bound for China. Instead of a successful physician winning golden opinions from all, Dr. Bailey was now a common sailor before the mast, receiving from his superiors oaths or orders as the case might be. The ship's destination was Canton, and its arrival in port was attended by such an unusual amount of sickness among the crew, that it became necessary to assign young Bailey the office of surgeon. This he filled with promptness and skill, and when the vessel set sail for Philadelphia, the sailor was again found at his post, performing his duties as acceptably as could have been expected from a greenhorn on his first cruise. Once more on his native shore, and in some degree reinvigorated by travel, he opened his office for the practice of medicine. At the end of three months he found himself out of patients, and in a situation far from enjoyable to one of his active temperament.
But, luckily for Dr. Bailey, whatever it may have been for the church of his fathers, just at this time the so-called "Radicals" had begun their reform movement against Methodist Episcopacy, which resulted in the secession of a number of the clergy and laity, principally in the Middle States, and the organization of the Methodist Protestants. These "Radicals" had their head-quarters at Baltimore. There they started an organ under the title of "The Methodist Protestant," and to the editorship of this journal Dr. Bailey was called. His youthful inexperience as a writer was not the only remarkable feature of this engagement; for he had not even the qualification of being at that time a professor of religion. His connection with "The Methodist Protestant" was a brief one; but it was terminated by lack of sufficient funds to sustain a regular editor, and not by lack of ability in the editor.
Dr. Bailey was again adrift, and we next find him concerned in "Kelley's Expedition to Oregon." This had been projected at St. Louis, which was to be its starting-point; and thither hastened our adventurous young physician--to learn that the expedition, having had little more to rest upon than that baseless fabric so often supplied by printers' ink, was an utter failure. Finding himself without funds to pay for the costly means of conveyance then used in the West, he made his way back as far as Cincinnati on foot. Soon after his arrival there the cholera broke out. This presented an aspect of affairs rather inviting to a courageous spirit. He gladly embraced the opening for practice; and, happening to be known to some of the faculty of the place, he was recommended for the appointment of Physician to the Cholera Hospital. Thus he was soon introduced to the general confidence of the profession and the public, and seemed to be on the highway to fame. Dr. Eberlie, a standard medical authority at that day, as he still is among many practitioners of the old school in the West, was then preparing his work on the Diseases of Children, and he availed himself of Dr. Bailey's aid. This opened an unexpected field to the latter for the exercise of his ability as a writer; and the work in question contains abundant evidence that he would have succeeded in the line of medical authorship. But circumstances proved unfavorable to his connection with Dr. Eberlie, and he again devoted himself to the practice of his profession, in which he continued for a time with great success.
At this date, however, an event of great interest occurred in connection with the agitation of the slavery question,--an event exercising a most decided influence on the career of Dr. Bailey,--in fact, changing entirely the current of his eventful life. We allude to the discussions of slavery at Lane Seminary, and the memorable expulsion of a number of the students for their persistence in promulging antislavery doctrines. Dr. Bailey was then engaged at the Seminary in the delivery of a course of lectures on Physiology. He became interested in the pending discussion, and espoused the proslavery side. For this his mind had probably been unconsciously prepared by the current of thought in Cincinnati, then under the mercantile control of her proslavery customers from Kentucky and other Southern States. But erelong he appeared as a convert to the antislavery side of the discussion. This he himself was wont to attribute, in great part, to the light which an honest comparison of views threw upon the subject; but it is evident that his conversion was somewhat accelerated by the expulsion of his antislavery antagonists in debate. Following the lead of these new sympathies, he became (in 1835) editorially associated with that great pioneer advocate of freedom, James G. Birney, whose venerated name has been so honorably connected with the recent triumph of the Union arms, through the courage of three of his sons. The paper was "The Cincinnati Philanthropist," so well remembered by the earlier espousers of antislavery truth. The association continued about a year. Dr. Bailey then became sole editor of the Philanthropist, and soon after sole proprietor. It was from the pages of this journal that a series of antislavery tracts were reprinted, which had not a little to do in giving fresh impulse to the discussions of that day. They were entitled "Facts for the People."
The relation of Dr. Bailey to a journal which was regarded by the slave-owners as the organ of their worst enemies made him a marked man, and called him to endure severe and unexpected ordeals. In 1836, his opponents incited against him the memorable mob, whose first act was the secret destruction of his press at midnight. Soon after the riot raged openly, and not only destroyed the remaining contents of his printing-office, but the building itself. Mr. Birney, being the older and more conspicuous of the offenders, was of course more emphatically the object of the mob's wrath than the junior associate. But the latter shared with him the personal perils of the day, while bearing the brunt of the pecuniary losses. As is usual in such outbreaks, after three days of fury, the lawless spirit of the people subsided. There was a repetition of violence in 1840, however, and during another three days' reign of terror two more presses were destroyed. But such was the indomitable energy of the man in whose person and property the constitutional liberty of the press was thus assailed, that in three weeks the Philanthropist was again before the public, sturdily defending the truth it was established to proclaim; and this, be it remembered, when the press-work of even weekly journals was not let out, in Cincinnati, as jobs for "lightning presses," but was done in the proprietors' own offices, on presses to be obtained only from distant manufactories.
It was in this year that the Liberty party, of which Dr. Bailey was a prominent leader, entered for the first time into the Presidential contest, with James G. Birney as its candidate.
Not yet satiated, the spirit of mob violence manifested itself a third time in 1843; but it was suppressed by the interference of the military power, and its demonstration was followed by a growth of liberal sentiment altogether unlooked for. Availing himself of this favorable change, Dr. Bailey started a daily paper to which the name of "The Herald" was given.
The unprecedented ordeal through which Dr. Bailey had passed, involving not only his family, but Mr. Birney, Mr. Clawson, and other friends of his enterprise, was, after all, but needful training for the subsequent work allotted to the reformer. He continued the publication of the Daily Herald, and the Philanthropist also, but under the name of "The Weekly Herald and Philanthropist," until 1847. With a growing family and a meagre income, the intervening years marked a season of self-denial to himself and his excellent wife such as few, even among reformers, have been called to pass through. And yet through all his poverty his cheerfulness was unfaltering, and inspired all who came in contact with him. There was a better day before him,--better in a pecuniary as well as a political sense. He had now fairly won a reputation throughout the country for courage and ability as an antislavery journalist. A project for establishing an antislavery organ at the seat of the national government had been successfully carried out by the Executive Committee of the American and Foreign Antislavery Society, under the lead of that now venerable and esteemed pioneer of freedom, Lewis Tappan. The editorial charge of it was tendered, with great propriety, to Dr. Bailey, and was accepted. He entered upon his duties as editor in chief of "The National Era" in January, 1847, with the Reverend Amos A. Phelps, now deceased, and John G. Whittier, as corresponding editors, and L. P. Noble as publishing agent. "The Daily Herald" and "The Weekly Herald and Philanthropist" were transferred to Messrs. Sperry and Matthews, with Stanley Matthews as editor; but the political ambition of the latter prevented his continuing the paper in the steadfast antislavery tone of his predecessor, and it soon ceased to appear.[B]
The establishment of the National Era, while it furnished a most appropriate field for Dr. Bailey's talents, also marked an era in the antislavery history of the country. At the centres of all governments there is found a fulcrum whose value politicians have long since demonstrated by its use,--too frequently for the most unworthy purposes. There had always been organs for conservatism at Washington, but none for progress. There were numbers of bold thinkers throughout the country, who had found, here and there, a representative of their ideas in the government. But they had no newspaper to keep watch and ward over him, or to correctly report his acts to his constituents,--no vehicle through which they could bring their thoughts to bear upon him or others. This was furnished by the National Era. But this was not the only direction in which it proved useful. It enabled the friends of emancipation everywhere to communicate freely with those against whose gigantic system of wrong they felt it their duty to wage war, where such were found willing to read their antagonists' arguments, instead of taking them as perverted by proslavery journals.
The first effect of the Era upon the local antislavery journals which it found in existence was, unquestionably, to excite not a little apprehension and jealousy among their conductors. Naturally they felt that the national reputation of Dr. Bailey and his assistants, aided by a central position, was calculated to detract from their own importance in the estimation of their patrons. But, besides this, there was the actual fact of the Era's large supply of original and high-toned literary matter, added to the direct and reliable Congressional news it was expected to furnish, which stared them threateningly in the face. And we well remember now what pain these petty jealousies gave to the sensitive nature of our departed friend. But these gradually subsided, until there was hardly an antislavery editor of average discernment who did not come to see that a national organ like the Era, by legitimating discussion and keeping up the heat and blaze of a vigorous agitation, at the nation's very centre, against that nation's own giant crime, would prove a benefit, in the end, to all colaborers worthy of the name. And the increase of antislavery journals, as well as of vigor in conducting them, in the period subsequent to 1847, proved that this was the correct view.
Although now so favorably placed for contest with his great foe, Dr. Bailey was here subjected to a renewal of the assaults which had become painfully familiar in the West. His paper had not been in existence more than fifteen months when an event occurred which, although he had in it no agency whatever, brought down upon his devoted head a fourth discharge of the vials of popular wrath. Some seventy or eighty slaves attempted to escape from Washington in the steamer Pearl, and instantly the charge of complicity was laid at his door. His office and dwelling were surrounded by a furious crowd, including a large proportion of office-holding F.F.V.'s, and some "gentlemen of property and standing." These gentlemen threatened the entire destruction of the press and type of the Era, while the editor's personal safety, with that of his family, was again put in peril for the space of three terrific days. The Federal metropolis had never known such days since the torch applied by a foreign foe had wrapped the first Capitol in flames. The calm self-possession of Dr. Bailey, when he made his appearance unarmed before the swaying mob, and addressed them from the steps of his dwelling,--as described by the late Dr. Houston in a letter to the New York Tribune, from notes taken while he was concealed in the house,--was such that, while disarming the leaders with the simple majesty of the truth, it did not fail to produce a reaction even in the most exasperated members of the mob.
It would indeed be an interesting task to trace the public influence of this last demonstration, for it offered phases of interest to both parties. It is sufficient to say, that the Era's unmolested existence ever after was simply due to the instincts of self-preservation in the community. The issue was practically presented to the owners of real estate in the District, whether freedom of debate on all topics of public concern should be tolerated there, or the capital be removed to some Western centre. The bare possibility of this event was more than the slaveholding land-owners could face, and produced the desired effect. The continuance of the paper once acquiesced in, the tact of its editor, aided by that remarkable suavity of manners which made him a favorite in the private circles of Washington, was sufficient to forever forbid the probability of a second mob. And thenceforward the Era increased in influence as well as circulation. The latter, indeed, soon reached a figure which entitled it to a share of government patronage, while the former commanded the respect even of the enemies of the cause it defended.
But this is not all that is to be said of the Era. To that paper belongs the honor of introducing to the world the story of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Although reference has frequently been made to the origin of this wonderful fiction, the facts of its inception and growth have never been given to the public. These are so curious, that we are happy to be able to present what politicians would call the "secret history" of this book. The account was furnished to a friend by Dr. Bailey himself, when about to embark for Europe, on his first voyage for health, in 1853; the manuscript, now used for the first time, was hurriedly penned, without expectation of its appearance in print, and therefore has all the dashing freedom which might be looked for in a communication from one friend to another. We give it _verbatim_, that it may serve for a _souvenir_, as well as a contribution to the literary history of the time.
"NEW YORK, May 27, 1853.
"In the beginning of the year 1851, as my custom has been, I sent remittances to various writers whom I wished to furnish contributions to the Era, during that volume. Among these was Mrs. Stowe. I sent her one hundred dollars, saying to her that for that sum she might write as _much_ as she pleased, _what_ she pleased, and _when_ she pleased. I did not dream that she would attempt a novel, for she had never written one. Some time in the summer she wrote me that she was going to write me a story about 'How a Man became a Thing.' It would occupy a few numbers of the Era, in chapters. She did not suppose or dream that it would expand to a novel, nor did I. She changed the title to 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' and commenced it in August. I read two or three of the first chapters, to see that everything was going on right, and read no more then. She proceeded,--the story grew,--it seemed to have no end,--everybody talked of it. I thought the mails were never so irregular, for none of my subscribers was willing to lose a single number of the Era while the story was going on. Mrs. Bailey attracted my attention by her special devotion to it, and Mr. Chase always read it before anything else. Of the hundreds of letters received weekly, renewing subscriptions or sending new ones, there was scarcely one that did not contain some cordial reference to Uncle Tom. I wrote to Mrs. Stowe, and told her that, although such a story had not been contracted for, and I had, in my programme, limited my remittance to her to one hundred dollars, yet, as the thing had grown beyond all our calculations, I felt bound to make her another remittance. So I sent her two hundred dollars more. The story was closed early in the spring of 1852. I had not yet read it; but I wrote to Mrs. Stowe that, as I had not contemplated so large an outlay in my plans for the volume, as the paper had not received so much pecuniary benefit from its publication as it would have done could my readers have foreseen what it was to be, and as my large circulation had served as a tremendous advertisement for the work, which was now about to be published separately, and of which she held the copyright alone, I supposed that I ought not to pay for it so much as if these circumstances had not existed. But I simply stated the case to her,--submitted everything to her judgment,--and would pay her additional just exactly what she should determine was right. She named one hundred dollars more; this I immediately remitted. And thus terminated my relations with 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' but not with its author, who is still engaged as a regular contributor to the Era. Dr. Snodgrass is hereby commended to Mr. Clephane [Dr. Bailey's clerk], who is authorized to hand him any letters between Mrs. Stowe and myself that may aid him in his undertaking."
It may be proper to say that the "undertaking" referred to contemplated a biographical sketch, not of Dr. Bailey, but of his distinguished contributor,--a project the execution of which circumstances did not favor, and which was therefore abandoned.
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," and the remarkable introduction of its author to fame and pecuniary fortune, were not the only results of a similar character referable to the Era. Mrs. Southworth also made her literary _début_ in the same journal. Previous to her connection with the Era, she had only published some short sketches in the Baltimore Saturday Visiter, over her initial "E," or "Emma" at most; and even these signatures gave her much trouble, as her letters to the editor plainly indicated, so fearful was she of the recognition and unfavorable criticism of her friends. She had a painful lack of confidence in her own ability. Just before the transfer of the subscription list of the Visiter to the Era, she had sent in a story. To this, against her earnest protest, the editor had affixed her entire name, and the story, prepared for the Visiter, was transferred with its list to the Era, and was there published, in spite of the deprecations of Mrs. Southworth. It served the purpose intended. The attention of Dr. Bailey was called to one until then unknown to him, although residing in the same city, and he at once gave her a paying engagement in his journal. This brought her under new influences, which resulted in her conversion to the principles of the antislavery reform,--a conversion whose fruits have since been shown in her deeds as well as her writings. And thus commenced the literary career of another successful author, who, but for the existence of the Era, would probably have been left to struggle on in the adversity from which her pen has so creditably set her free.
Unduly encouraged by the success of his weekly journal, Dr. Bailey started a daily edition of the Era. Having committed himself to continue it for a year without regard to pecuniary results, he did so, and here the publication ceased. The experiment cost him heavily. This, however, he anticipated, though he of course also anticipated ultimate profit, notwithstanding the warning which he had received from the equally unlucky experiment of the Cincinnati Daily Herald. In a letter to the writer of this, dated December 18, 1853, he said: "I start the Daily with the full expectation of sinking five thousand dollars on it. Of course I can afford no extra expenses, but must do nearly all the work on it myself,"--a statement which shows at once the hopefulness and the energy of our friend's disposition.
Dr. Bailey died at sea, while on his way to Europe, on the fifth day of June, 1859. It was the second voyage thither which he had undertaken within a few years, for the benefit of his broken health. His body was brought home and interred at Washington. With its editor died the National Era; for it was discontinued soon after his decease.
Mr. Raymond of the New York Daily Times, who was a fellow-passenger with Dr. Bailey, wrote an account of his last hours for his paper, which has by no means lost its melancholy interest. "I gathered from his conversation," says Mr. Raymond, "that he did not consider himself to be very ill, at least, that his lungs were not affected, but that a long-continued dyspepsia, and the nervous excitement which his labors had induced, had combined to bring about the weakness under which he suffered. For the first two or three days he was upon deck for the greater part of the time. The weather was fresh, though not unpleasantly cold, and the sea not rough enough to occasion any considerable discomfort. The motion, however, affected him disagreeably. He slept badly, had no appetite, and could relish nothing but a little fruit now and then. His eldest son was with him, and attended upon him with all a fond son's solicitude. Except myself, I do not think he had another acquaintance on board. He was cheerful and social, and talked with interest of everything connected with public affairs at home and abroad. He suffered some inconvenience from the fact that his room was below, and that he could only reach it by descending two flights of stairs. We occasionally made a couch of cushions for him upon deck, when he became fatigued; but this made him too conspicuous for his taste, and he seemed uneasily fearful of attracting attention to himself as an invalid. After Tuesday the sea became remarkably smooth, and so continued to the end of the voyage. But it brought him no relief; his strength failed with failing appetite; and on Thursday, from staying too long on deck, he took cold, which confined him to his room next day. Otherwise he seemed about as usual through that day and Saturday, and on Sunday morning seemed even better, saying that he had slept unusually well, and felt strengthened and refreshed. He took some slight nourishment, and attempted to get up from his berth without assistance; the effort was too much for him, however, and his son, who had left his room at his request, but stood at the door, saw him fall as he attempted to stand. He at once went in, raised him, and laid him upon the couch. Seeing that he was greatly distressed in breathing, he went immediately for Dr. Smith, the surgeon of the ship. I met him on deck, and, hearing of his father's condition, went at once to his room. I found him wholly unconscious, breathing with difficulty, but perfectly quiet, and seemingly asleep. Drs. Beale and Dubois were present, and endeavored to give him a stimulant, but he was unable to swallow, and it was evident that he was dying. He continued in this state for about half an hour; his breathing became slower and slower, until finally it ceased altogether, and that was all! Not a movement of a muscle, not a spasm or a tremor of any kind, betrayed the moment when his spirit took its departure. An infant, wearied with play on a summer's eve, could not have fallen asleep more gently."
As mourners over him who thus passed away in the very prime of manhood, there were left a wife, whose maiden name was Maria L. Shands, and who was the daughter of a Methodist preacher and planter of Sussex County, Virginia, and six children, three sons and three daughters. In Mrs. Bailey her husband had found a woman of rare intelligence as well as courage, whose companionship proved most sustaining and consoling amid the trials of his eventful life. She and five of their children still live to revere his memory. Two of the survivors are sons; and it is pleasant to add that one of these has done honor to his parentage, as well as to himself, by continuing what is virtually the same good fight, as a commander of colored troops, under General William Birney, the son of the very James G. Birney who was Dr. Bailey's editorial associate in Cincinnati.
Subjected as Dr. Bailey was so frequently to the fury of mobs, and the pressure of social opposition and pecuniary want, he led the hosts of Antislavery Reform into the very stronghold of the enemy's country; and to say that he maintained his position with integrity and success is but to pronounce the common praise of his contemporaries and colaborers. As a writer he was clear and logical to an uncommon degree, carrying certain conviction to the mind, wherever it was at all open to the truth; and with the rare habit of stating fairly the position of his opponent, he never failed of winning his respect and his confidence. The death of such a man was well calculated to fill the friends of progress throughout the world with unfeigned regret. Especially must they lament that he departed too soon to witness the triumph of liberty, for which it had so long been his pleasure "to labor and to wait."
We learn with much satisfaction, that a "Life of Dr. Bailey" is in course of preparation, with the sanction of Mrs. Bailey, which, while affording much valuable information concerning the antislavery events of the past, will also offer space, wanting here, to do full justice to the memory of this estimable man.
[B] These facts are given because of an erroneous statement which crept into the brief though kind biographical notice of Dr. Bailey in "The New American Cyclopædia," to the effect that the subscription list of the Philanthropist was transferred with its editor to the National Era. It was the list of "The Saturday Visiter," published for many years, as an antislavery journal, at Baltimore, which was transferred to the Era, together with the services of its editor and proprietor (J. E. Snodgrass) as special correspondent and publishing agent at that important point. This arrangement admirably served to secure to the Era a circulation in Southern communities where the Visiter had already found its way, and where it would otherwise have been difficult to introduce a paper which was notoriously the central organ of Abolitionism.
GRIFFITH GAUNT; OR, JEALOUSY.
He was gone for good, this time.
At the fair the wrestling was ended, and the tongues going over it all again, and throwing the victors; the greasy pole, with leg of mutton attached by ribbons, was being hoisted, and the swings flying, and the lads and lasses footing it to the fife and tabor, and the people chattering in groups; when the clatter of a horse's feet was heard, and a horseman burst in and rode recklessly through the market-place; indeed, if his noble horse had been as rash as he was, some would have been trampled under foot. The rider's face was ghastly: such as were not exactly in his path had time to see it, and wonder how this terrible countenance came into that merry place. Thus, as he passed, shouts of dismay arose, and a space opened before him, and then closed behind him with a great murmur that followed at his heels.
Tom Leicester was listening, spell-bound, on the outskirts of the throng, to the songs and humorous tirades of a pedler selling his wares; and was saying to himself, "I too will be a pedler." Hearing the row, he turned round, and saw his master just coming down with that stricken face.
Tom could not read his own name in print or manuscript; and these are the fellows that beat us all at reading countenances: he saw in a moment that some great calamity had fallen on Griffith's head; and nature stirred in him. He darted to his master's side, and seized the bridle. "What is up?" he cried.
But Griffith did not answer nor notice. His ears were almost deaf, and his eyes, great and staring, were fixed right ahead; and, to all appearance, he did not see the people. He seemed to be making for the horizon.
"Master! for the love of God, speak to me," cried Leicester. "What have they done to you? Whither be you going, with the face of a ghost?"
"Away, from the hangman," shrieked Griffith, still staring at the horizon. "Stay me not; my hands itch for their throats; my heart thirsts for their blood; but I'll not hang for a priest and a wanton." Then he suddenly turned on Leicester, "Let thou go, or--" and he lifted his heavy riding-whip.
Then Leicester let go the rein, and the whip descended on the horse's flank. He went clattering furiously over the stones, and drove the thinner groups apart like chaff, and his galloping feet were soon heard fainter and fainter till they died away in the distance. Leicester stood gaping.
* * * * *
Griffith's horse, a black hunter of singular power and beauty, carried his wretched master well that day. He went on till sunset, trotting, cantering, and walking, without intermission; the whip ceased to touch him, the rein never checked him. He found he was the master, and he went his own way. He took his broken rider back into the county where he had been foaled. But a few miles from his native place they came to the "Packhorse," a pretty little roadside inn, with farm-yard and buildings at the back. He had often baited here in his infancy; and now, stiff and stumbling with fatigue, the good horse could not pass the familiar place; he walked gravely into the stable-yard, and there fairly came to an end; craned out his drooping head, crooked his limbs, and seemed of wood. And no wonder. He was ninety-three miles from his last corn.
Paul Carrick, a young farrier, who frequented the "Packhorse," happened just then to be lounging at the kitchen door, and saw him come in. He turned directly, and shouted into the house, "Ho! Master Vint, come hither. Here's Black Dick come home, and brought you a worshipful customer."
The landlord bustled out of the kitchen, crying, "They are welcome both." Then he came lowly louting to Griffith, cap in hand, and held the horse, poor immovable brute; and his wife courtesied perseveringly at the door.
Griffith dismounted, and stood there looking like one in a dream.
"Please you come in, sir," said the landlady, smiling professionally.
He followed her mechanically.
"Would your worship be private? We keep a parlor for gentles."
"Ay, let me be alone," he groaned.
Mercy Vint, the daughter, happened to be on the stairs and heard him: the voice startled her, and she turned round directly to look at the speaker; but she only saw his back going into the room, and then he flung himself like a sack into the arm-chair.
The landlady invited him to order supper: he declined. She pressed him. He flung a piece of money on the table, and told her savagely to score his supper, and leave him in peace.
She flounced out with a red face, and complained to her husband in the kitchen.
Harry Vint rung the crown-piece on the table before he committed himself to a reply. It rang like a bell. "Churl or not, his coin is good," said Harry Vint, philosophically. "I'll eat his supper, dame, for that matter."
"Father," whispered Mercy, "I do think the gentleman is in trouble."
"And that is no business of mine, neither," said Harry Vint.
Presently the guest they were discussing called loudly for a quart of burnt wine.
When it was ready, Mercy offered to take it in to him. She was curious. The landlord looked up rather surprised; for his daughter attended to the farm, but fought shy of the inn and its business.
"Take it, lass, and welcome for me," said Mrs. Vint, pettishly.
Mercy took the wine in, and found Griffith with his head buried in his hands.
She stood awhile with the tray, not knowing what to do.
Then, as he did not move, she said softly, "The wine, sir, an if it please you."
Griffith lifted his head, and turned two eyes clouded with suffering upon her. He saw a buxom, blooming young woman, with remarkably dove-like eyes that dwelt with timid, kindly curiosity upon him. He looked at her in a half-distracted way, and then put his hand to the mug. "Here's perdition to all false women!" said he, and tossed half the wine down at a single draught.
"'T is not to me you drink, sir," said Mercy, with gentle dignity. Then she courtesied modestly and retired, discouraged, not offended.
The wretched Griffith took no notice,--did not even see he had repulsed a friendly visitor. The wine, taken on an empty stomach, soon stupefied him, and he staggered to bed.
He awoke at daybreak: and O the agony of that waking!
He lay sighing awhile, with his hot skin quivering on his bones, and his heart like lead; then got up and flung his clothes on hastily, and asked how far to the nearest seaport.
He called for his horse. The poor brute was dead lame.
He cursed that good servant for going lame. He walked round and round like a wild beast, chafing and fuming awhile; then sank into a torpor of dejection, and sat with his head bowed on the table all day.
He ate scarcely any food; but drank wine freely, remarking, however, that it was false-hearted stuff, did him no good, and had no taste as wine used to have. "But nothing is what it was," said he. "Even I was happy once. But that seems years ago."
"Alas! poor gentleman; God comfort you," said Mercy Vint, and came, with the tears in her dove-like eyes, and said to her father, "To be sure his worship hath been crossed in love; and what could she be thinking of? Such a handsome, well-made gentleman!"
"Now that is a wench's first thought," said Harry Vint; "more likely lost his money, gambling, or racing. But, indeed, I think 't is his head is disordered, not his heart. I wish the 'Packhorse' was quit of him, maugre his laced coat. We want no kill-joys here."
That night he was heard groaning, and talking, and did not come down at all.
So at noon Mrs. Vint knocked at his door. A weak voice bade her enter. She found him shivering, and he asked her for a fire.
She grumbled, out of hearing, but lighted a fire.
Presently his voice was heard hallooing. He wanted all the windows open, he was so burning hot.
The landlady looked at him, and saw his face was flushed and swollen; and he complained of pain in all his bones. She opened the windows, and asked him would he have a doctor sent for. He shook his head contemptuously.
However, towards evening, he became delirious, and raved and tossed, and rolled his head as if it was an intolerable weight he wanted to get rid of.
The females of the family were for sending at once for a doctor; but the prudent Harry demurred.
"Tell me, first, who is to pay the fee," said he. "I've seen a fine coat with the pockets empty, before to-day."
The women set up their throats at him with one accord, each after her kind.
"Out, fie!" said Mercy; "are we to do naught for charity?"
"Why, there's his horse, ye foolish man," said Mrs. Vint.
"Ay, ye are both wiser than me," said Harry Vint, ironically. And soon after that he went out softly.
The next minute he was in the sick man's room, examining his pockets. To his infinite surprise he found twenty gold pieces, a quantity of silver, and some trinkets.
He spread them all out on the table, and gloated on them with greedy eyes. They looked so inviting, that he said to himself they would be safer in his custody than in that of a delirious person, who was even now raving incoherently before him, and could not see what he was doing. He therefore proceeded to transfer them to his own care.
On the way to his pocket, his shaking hand was arrested by another hand, soft, but firm as iron.
He shuddered, and looked round in abject terror; and there was his daughter's face, pale as his own, but full of resolution. "Nay, father," said she; "_I_ must take charge of these: and well do you know why."
These simple words cowed Harry Vint, so that he instantly resigned the money and jewels, and retired, muttering that "things were come to a pretty pass,"--"a man was no longer master in his own house," etc., etc., etc.
While he inveighed against the degeneracy of the age, the women paid him no more attention than the age did, but just sent for the doctor. He came, and bled the patient. This gave him a momentary relief; but when, in the natural progress of the disease, sweating and weakness came on, the loss of the precious vital fluid was fatal, and the patient's pulse became scarce perceptible. There he lay, with wet hair, and gleaming eyes, and haggard face, at death's door.
An experienced old crone was got to nurse him, and she told Mrs. Vint he would live may be three days.
* * * * *
Paul Carrick used to come to the "Packhorse" after Mercy Vint, and, finding her sad, asked her what was the matter.
"What should it be," said she, "but the poor gentleman a-dying overhead; away from all his friends."
"Let me see him," said Paul.
Mercy took him softly into the room.
"Ay, he is booked," said the farrier, "Doctor has taken too much blood out of the man's body. They kill a many that way."
"Alack, Paul! must he die? Can naught be done?" said Mercy, clasping her hands.
"I don't say that, neither," said the farrier. "He is a well-made man: he is young, _I_ might save him, perhaps, if I had not so many beasts to look to. I'll tell you what you do. Make him soup as strong as strong; have him watched night and day, and let 'em put a spoonful of warm wine into him every hour, and then of soup; egg flip is a good thing, too; change his bed-linen, and keep the doctors from him: that is his only chance; he is fairly dying of weakness. But I must be off. Farmer Blake's cow is down for calving; I must give her an ounce of salts before 't is too late."
Mercy Vint scanned the patient closely, and saw that Paul Carrick was right. She followed his instructions to the letter, with one exception. Instead of trusting to the old woman, of whom she had no very good opinion, she had the great arm-chair brought into the sick-room, and watched the patient herself by night and day; a gentle hand cooled his temples; a gentle hand brought concentrated nourishment to his lips; and a mellow voice coaxed him to be good and swallow it. There are voices it is not natural to resist; and Griffith learned by degrees to obey this one, even when he was half unconscious.
At the end of three days this zealous young nurse thought she discerned a slight improvement, and told her mother so. Then the old lady came and examined the patient, and shook her head gravely. Her judgment, like her daughter's, was influenced by her wishes.
The fact is, both landlord and landlady were now calculating upon Griffith's decease. Harry had told her about the money and jewels, and the pair had put their heads together, and settled that Griffith was a gentleman highwayman, and his spoil would never be reclaimed after his decease, but fall to those good Samaritans, who were now nursing him, and intended to bury him respectably. The future being thus settled, this worthy couple became a little impatient; for Griffith, like Charles the Second, was "an unconscionable time dying."
We order dinner to hasten a lingering guest; and, with equal force of logic, mine host of the "Packhorse" spoke to White, the village carpenter, about a full-sized coffin; and his wife set the old crone to make a linen shroud, unobtrusively, in the bake-house.
On the third afternoon of her nursing, Mercy left her patient, and called up the crone to tend him. She herself, worn out with fatigue, threw herself on a bed in her mother's room, hard by, and soon fell asleep.
She had slept about two hours when she was wakened by a strange noise in the sick-chamber. A man and a woman quarrelling.
She bounded off the bed, and was in the room directly.
Lo and behold, there were the nurse and the dying man abusing one another like pickpockets.
The cause of this little misunderstanding was not far to seek. The old crone had brought up her work: _videlicet_, a winding-sheet all but finished, and certain strips of glazed muslin about three inches deep. She soon completed the winding-sheet, and hung it over two chairs in the patient's sight; she then proceeded to double the slips in six, and nick them; then she unrolled them, and they were frills, and well adapted to make the coming corpse absurd, and divest it of any little dignity the King of Terrors might bestow on it.
She was so intent upon her congenial task that she did not observe the sick man had awakened, and was viewing her and her work with an intelligent but sinister eye.
"What is that you are making?" said he, grimly.
The voice was rather clear, and strong, and seemed so loud and strange in that still chamber, that it startled the woman mightily. She uttered a little shriek, and then was wroth. "Plague take the man!" said she; "how you scared me. Keep quiet, do; and mind your own business." [The business of going off the hooks.]
"I ask you what is that you are making," said Griffith, louder, and raising himself on his arm.
"Baby's frills," replied the woman, coolly, recovering that contempt for the understandings of the dying which marks the veritable crone.
"Ye lie," said Griffith. "And there is a shroud. Who is that for?"
"Who should it be for, thou simple body? Keep quiet, do, till the change comes. 'T won't be long now; art too well to last till sundown."
"So 't is for me, is it?" screamed Griffith. "I'll disappoint ye yet. Give me my clothes. I'll not lie here to be measured for my grave, ye old witch."
"Here's manners!" cackled the indignant crone. "Ye foul-mouthed knave! is this how you thank a decent woman for making a comfortable corpse of ye, you that has no right to die in your shoes, let a be such dainties as muslin neck-ruff, and shroud of good Dutch flax."
At this Griffith discharged a volley in which "vulture," "hag," "blood-sucker," etc., blended with as many oaths: during which Mercy came in.
She glided to him, with her dove's eyes full of concern, and laid her hand gently on his shoulder. "You'll work yourself a mischief," said she; "leave me to scold her. Why, my good Nelly, how could ye be so hare-brained? Prithee take all that trumpery away this minute: none here needeth it, nor shall not this many a year, please God."
"They want me dead," said Griffith to her, piteously, finding he had got one friend, and sunk back on his pillow exhausted.
"So it seems," said Mercy, cunningly. "But I'd balk them finely. I'd up and order a beef-steak this minute."
"And shall," said Griffith, with feeble spite. "Leastways, do you order it, and I'll eat it: ---- d--n her!"
Sick men are like children; and women soon find that out, and manage them accordingly. In ten minutes Mercy brought a good rump-steak to the bedside, and said, "Now for 't. Marry come up, with her winding-sheets!"
Thus played upon, and encouraged, the great baby ate more than half the steak; and soon after perspired gently, and fell asleep.
Paul Carrick found him breathing gently, with a slight tint of red in his cheek, and told Mercy there was a change for the better. "We have brought him to a true intermission," said he; "so throw in the bark at once."
"What, drench his honor's worship!" said Mercy, innocently. "Nay, send thou the medicine, and I'll find womanly ways to get it down him."
Next day came the doctor, and whispered softly to Mrs. Vint, "How are we all up stairs?"
"Why couldn't you come afore?" replied Mrs. Vint, crossly. "Here's Farrier Carrick stepped in, and curing him out of hand,--the meddlesome body."
"A farrier rob me of my patient!" cried the doctor, in high dudgeon.
"Nay, good sir, 't is no fault of mine. This Paul is a sort of a kind of a follower of our Mercy's: and she is mistress here, I trow."
"And what hath his farriership prescribed? Friar's balsam, belike."
"Nay, I know not; but you may soon learn, for he is above, physicking the gentleman (a pretty gentleman!) and suiting to our Mercy--after a manner."
The doctor declined to make one in so mixed a consultation.
"Give me my fee, dame," said he; "and as for this impertinent farrier, the patient's blood be on his head; and I'd have him beware the law."
Mrs. Vint went to the stair-foot, and screamed, "Mercy, the good doctor wants his fee. Who is to pay it, I wonder?"
"I'll bring it him anon," said a gentle voice; and Mercy soon came down and paid it with a willing air that half disarmed professional fury.
"'T is a good lass, dame," said the doctor, when she was gone; "and, by the same token, I wish her better mated than to a scrub of a farrier."
* * * * *
Griffith, still weak, but freed of fever, woke one glorious afternoon, and heard a bird-like voice humming a quaint old ditty, and saw a field of golden wheat through an open window, and seated at that window the mellow songstress, Mercy Vint, plying her needle, with lowered lashes but beaming face, a picture of health and quiet womanly happiness. Things were going to her mind in that sick-room.
He looked at her, and at the golden corn and summer haze beyond, and the tide of life seemed to rush back upon him.
"My good lass," said he, "tell me, where am I? for I know not."
Mercy started, and left off singing, then rose and came slowly towards him, with her work in her hand.
Innocent joy at this new symptom of convalescence flushed her comely features, but she spoke low.
"Good sir, at the 'Packhorse,'" said she, smiling.
"The 'Packhorse'? and where is that?"
"Hard by Allerton village."
"And where is that? not in Cumberland?"
"Nay, in Lancashire, your worship. Why, whence come you that know not the 'Packhorse,' nor yet Allerton township? Come you from Cumberland?"
"No matter whence I come. I'm going on board ship,--like my father before me."
"Alas, sir, you are not fit; you have been very ill, and partly distraught."
She stopped; for Griffith turned his face to the wall, with a deep groan. It had all rushed over him in a moment.
Mercy stood still, and worked on, but the water gathered in her eyes at that eloquent groan.
By and by Griffith turned round again, with a face of anguish, and filmy eyes, and saw her in the same place, standing, working, and pitying.
"What, are _you_ there still?" said he, roughly.
"Ay, sir; but I'll go, sooner than be troublesome. Can I fetch you anything?"
"No. Ay, wine; bring me wine to drown it all."
She brought him a pint of wine.
"Pledge me," said he, with a miserable attempt at a smile.
She put the cup to her lips, and sipped a drop or two; but her dove's eyes were looking up at him over the liquor all the time. Griffith soon disposed of the rest, and asked for more.
"Nay," said she, "but I dare not: the doctor hath forbidden excess in drinking."
"The doctor! What doctor?"
"Doctor Paul," said she, demurely. "He hath saved your life, sir, I do think."
"Plague take him for that!"
"So say not I."
Here, she left him with an excuse. "'T is milking time, sir; and you shall know that I am our dairymaid. I seldom trouble the inn."
Next day she was on the window-seat, working and beaming. The patient called to her in peevish accents to put his head higher. She laid down her work with a smile, and came and raised his head.
"There, now, that is too high," said he; "how awkward you are."
"I lack experience, sir, but not good will. There, now, is that a little better?"
"Ay, a little. I'm sick of lying here. I want to get up. Dost hear what I say? I--want--to get up."
"And so you shall. As soon as ever you are fit. To-morrow, perhaps. To-day you must e'en be patient. Patience is a rare medicine."
* * * * *
Tic, tic, tic! "What a noise they are making down stairs. Go, lass, and bid them hold their peace."
Mercy shook her head. "Good lack-a-day! we might as well bid the river give over running; but, to be sure, this comes of keeping a hostelry, sir. When we had only the farm, we were quiet, and did no ill to no one."
"Well, sing me, to drown their eternal buzzing: it worries me dead."
"Me sing! alack, sir, I'm no songster."
"That is false. You sing like a throstle. I dote on music; and, when I was delirious, I heard one singing about my bed; I thought it was an angel at that time, but 't was only you, my young mistress: and now I ask you, you say me nay. That is the way with you all. Plague take the girl, and all her d----d, unreasonable, hypocritical sex. I warrant me you'd sing, if I wanted to sleep, and dance the Devil to a standstill."
Mercy, instead of flouncing out of the room, stood looking on him with maternal eyes, and chuckling like a bird. "That is right, sir: tax us all to your heart's content. O, but I'm a joyful woman to hear you; for 't is a sure sign of mending when the sick take to rating of their nurses."
"In sooth, I am too cross-grained," said Griffith, relenting.
"Not a whit, sir, for my taste. I've been in care for you: and now you are a little cross, that maketh me easy."
"Thou art a good soul. Wilt sing me a stave after all?"
"La, you now; how you come back to that. Ay, and with a good heart: for, to be sure, 't is a sin to gainsay a sick man. But indeed I am the homeliest singer. Methinks 't is time I went down and bade them cook your worship's supper."
"Nay, I'll not eat nor sup till I hear thee sing."
"Your will is my law, sir," said Mercy, dryly, and retired to the window-seat; that was the first obvious preliminary. Then she fiddled with her apron, and hemmed, and waited in hopes a reprieve might come; but a peevish, relentless voice demanded the song at intervals.
So then she turned her head carefully away from her hearer, lowered her eyes, and, looking the picture of guilt and shame all the time, sang an ancient ditty. The poltroon's voice was rich, mellow, clear, and sweet as honey; and she sang the notes for the sake of the words, not the words for the sake of the notes, as all but Nature's singers do.
The air was grave as well as sweet; for Mercy was of an old Puritan stock, and even her songs were not giddy-paced, but solid, quaint, and tender: all the more did they reach the soul.
In vain was the blushing cheek averted, and the honeyed lips. The ravishing tones set the birds chirping outside, yet filled the room within, and the glasses rang in harmony upon the shelf as the sweet singer poured out from her heart (so it seemed) the speaking-song:--
"In vain you tell your parting lover You wish fair winds may waft him over. Alas! what winds can happy prove That bear me far from her I love? Alas! what dangers on the main Can equal those that I sustain From stinted love and cold disdain?" etc.
Griffith beat time with his hand awhile, and his face softened and beautified as the melody curled about his heart. But soon it was too much for him. He knew the song,--had sung it to Kate Peyton in their days of courtship. A thousand memories gushed in upon his soul and overpowered him. He burst out sobbing violently, and wept as if his heart must break.
"Alas! what have I done?" said Mercy; and the tears ran from her eyes at the sight. Then, with native delicacy, she hurried from the room.
What Griffith Gaunt went through that night, in silence, was never known but to himself. But the next morning he was a changed man. He was all dogged resolution,--put on his clothes unaided, though he could hardly stand to do it, and borrowed the landlord's staff, and crawled out a smart distance into the sun. "It was kill or cure," said he. "I am to live, it seems. Well, then, the past is dead. My life begins again to-day."
Hen-like, Mercy soon learned this sally of her refractory duckling, and was uneasy. So, for an excuse to watch him, she brought him out his money and jewels, and told him she had thought it safest to take charge of them.
He thanked her cavalierly, and offered her a diamond ring.
She blushed scarlet, and declined it; and even turned a meekly reproachful glance on him with her dove's eyes.
* * * * *
He had a suit of russet made, and put away his fine coat, and forbade any one to call him "Your worship." "I am a farmer, like yourselves," said he; "and my name is--Thomas Leicester."
* * * * *
A brain fever either kills the unhappy lover, or else benumbs the very anguish that caused it.
And so it was with Griffith. His love got benumbed, and the sense of his wrongs vivid. He nursed a bitter hatred of his wife; only, as he could not punish her without going near her, and no punishment short of death seemed enough for her, he set to work to obliterate her from his very memory, if possible. He tried employment: he pottered about the little farm, advising and helping,--and that so zealously that the landlord retired altogether from that department, and Griffith, instead of he, became Mercy's ally, agricultural and bucolical. She was a shepherdess to the core, and hated the poor "Packhorse."
For all that, it was her fate to add to its attractions: for Griffith bought a _viol da gambo_, and taught her sweet songs, which he accompanied with such skill, sometimes, with his voice, that good company often looked in on the chance of a good song sweetly sung and played.
The sick, in body or mind, are egotistical. Griffith was no exception: bent on curing his own deep wound, he never troubled his head about the wound he might inflict.
He was grateful to his sweet nurse, and told her so. And his gratitude charmed her all the more that it had been rather long in coming.
He found this dove-like creature a wonderful soother: he applied her more and more to his sore heart.
As for Mercy, she had been too good and kind to her patient not to take a tender interest in his convalescence. Our hearts warm more to those we have been kind to, than to those who have been kind to us: and the female reader can easily imagine what delicious feelings stole into that womanly heart when she saw her pale nursling pick up health and strength under her wing, and become the finest, handsomest man in the parish.
Pity and admiration,--where these meet, love is not far behind.
And then this man, who had been cross and rough while he was weak, became gentler, kinder, and more deferential to her, the stronger he got.
Mrs. Vint saw they were both fond of each other's company, and disapproved it. She told Paul Carrick if he had any thought of Mercy he had better give over shilly-shallying, for there was another man after her.
Paul made light of it, at first. "She has known me too long to take up her head with a new-comer," said he. "To be sure I never asked her to name the day; but she knows my mind well enough, and I know hers."
"Then you know more than I do," said the mother, ironically.
He thought over this conversation, and very wisely determined not to run unnecessary risks. He came up one afternoon, and hunted about for Mercy, till he found her milking a cow in the adjoining paddock.
"Well, lass," said he, "I've good news for thee. My old dad says we may have his house to live in. So now you and I can yoke next month if ye will."
"Me turn the honest man out of his house!" said Mercy, mighty innocently.
"Who asks you? He nobbut bargains for the chimney-corner: and you are not the girl to begrudge the old man that."
"O no, Paul. But what would father do if I were to leave _his_ house? Methinks the farm would go to rack and ruin; he is so wrapped up in his nasty public."
"Why, he has got a helper, by all accounts: and if you talk like that, you will never wed at all."
"Never is a big word. But I'm too young to marry yet. Jenny, thou jade, stand still."
The attack and defence proceeded upon these terms for some time; and the defendant had one base advantage; and used it. Her forehead was wedged tight against Jenny's ribs, and Paul could not see her face. This, and the feminine evasiveness of her replies, irritated him at last.
"Take thy head out o' the coow," said he, roughly, "and answer straight. Is all our wooing to go for naught?"
"Wooing? You never said so much to me in all these years as you have to-day."
"O, ye knew my mind well enough. There's a many ways of showing the heart."
"Speaking out is the best, I trow."
"Why, what do I come here for twice a week, this two years past, if not for thee?"
"Ay, for me, and father's ale."
"And thou canst look at me, and tell me that? Ye false, hard-hearted hussy. But nay, thou wast never so: 't is this Thomas Leicester hath bewitched thee, and set thee against thy true lover."
"Mr. Leicester pays no suit to me," said Mercy, blushing. "He is a right civil-spoken gentleman, and you know you saved his life."
"The more fool I. I wish I had known he was going to rob me of my lass's heart, I'd have seen him die a hundred times ere I'd have interfered. But they say if you save a man's life he'll make you rue it. Mercy, my lass, you are well respected in the parish. Take a thought, now: better be a farrier's wife than a gentleman's mistress."
Mercy did take her head "out of the cow" at this, and, for once, her cheek burned with anger; but the unwonted sentiment died before it could find words, and she said, quietly, "I need not be either, against my will."
* * * * *
Young Carrick made many such appeals to Mercy Vint; but he could never bring her to confess to him that he and she had ever been more than friends, or were now anything less than friends. Still he forced her to own to herself, that, if she had never seen Thomas Leicester, her quiet affection and respect for Carrick would probably have carried her to the altar with him.
His remonstrances, sometimes angry, sometimes tearful, awoke her pity, which was the grand sentiment of her heart, and disturbed her peace.
Moreover, she studied the two men in her quiet, thoughtful way, and saw that Carrick loved her with all his honest, though hitherto tepid heart; but Griffith had depths, and could love with more passion than ever he had shown for her. "He is not the man to have a fever by reason of me," said the poor girl to herself. But I am afraid even this attracted her to Griffith. It nettled a woman's soft ambition; which is, to be as well loved as ever woman was.
And so things went on, and, as generally happens, the man who was losing ground went the very way to lose more. He spoke ill of Griffith behind his back: called him a highwayman, a gentleman, an ungrateful, undermining traitor. But Griffith never mentioned Carrick; and so, when he and Mercy were together, her old follower was pleasingly obliterated, and affectionate good-humor reigned. Thus Griffith, _alias_ Thomas, became her sunbeam, and Paul her cloud.
But he who had disturbed the peace of others, his own turn came.
One day he found Mercy crying. He sat down beside her, and said, kindly, "Why, sweetheart, what is amiss?"
"No great matter," said she; and turned her head away, but did not check her tears, for it was new and pleasant to be consoled by Thomas Leicester.
"Nay, but tell me, child."
"Well, then, Jessie Carrick has been at me; that is all."
"The vixen! what did she say?"
"Nay, I'm not pleased enow with it to repeat it. She did cast something in my teeth."
Griffith pressed her to be more explicit: she declined, with so many blushes, that his curiosity was awakened, and he told Mrs. Vint, with some heat, that Jess Carrick had been making Mercy cry.
"Like enow," said Mrs. Vint, coolly. "She'll eat her victuals all one for that, please God."
"Else I'll wring the cock-nosed jade's neck, next time she comes here," replied Griffith; "but, Dame, I want to know what she can have to say to Mercy to make her cry."
Mrs. Vint looked him steadily in the face for some time, and then and there decided to come to an explanation. "Ten to one 't is about her brother," said she; "you know this Paul is our Mercy's sweetheart."
At these simple words Griffith winced, and his countenance changed remarkably. Mrs. Vint observed it, and was all the more resolved to have it out with him.
"Her sweetheart!" said Griffith. "Why, I have seen them together a dozen of times, and not a word of courtship."
"O, the young men don't make many speeches in these parts. They show their hearts by act."
"By act? why, I met them coming home from milking t' other evening. Mercy was carrying the pail, brimful; and that oaf sauntered by her side, with his hands in his pockets. Was that the act of a lover?"
"I heard of it, sir," said Mrs. Vint, quietly; "and as how you took the pail from her, willy nilly, and carried it home. Mercy was vexed about it. She told me you panted at the door, and she was a deal fitter to carry the pail than you, that is just off a sick-bed, like. But lawk, sir, ye can't go by the likes of that. The bachelors here they'd see their sweethearts carry the roof into next parish on their backs, like a snail, and never put out a hand; 't is not the custom hereaway. But, as I was saying, Paul and our Mercy kept company, after a manner: he never had the wit to flatter her as should he, nor the stomach to bid her name the day and he'd buy the ring; but he talked to her about his sick beasts more than he did to any other girl in the parish, and she'd have ended by going to Church with him; only you came and put a coolness atween 'em."
"Well, sir, our Mercy is a kind-hearted lass, though I say it, and you were sick, and she did nurse you; and that was a beginning. And, to be sure, you are a fine personable man, and capital company; and you are always about the girl; and, bethink you, sir, she is flesh and blood like her neighbors; and they say, once a body has tasted venison-steak, it spoils their stomach for oat-porridge. Now that is Mercy's case, I'm thinking; not that she ever said as much to me,--she is too reserved. But, bless your heart, I'm forced to go about with eyes in my head, and watch 'em all a bit,--me that keeps an inn."
Griffith groaned. "I'm a villain!" said he.
"Nay, nay," said Mrs. Vint. "Gentlefolks must be amused, cost what it may; but, hoping no offence, sir, the girl was a good friend to you in time of sickness; and so was this Paul, for that matter."
"She was," cried Griffith; "God bless her. How can I ever repay her?"
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Vint, "if that comes from your heart, you might take our Mercy apart, and tell her you like her very well, but not enough to marry a farmer's daughter,--don't say an innkeeper's daughter, or you'll be sure to offend her. She is bitter against the 'Packhorse.' Says you, 'This Paul is an honest lad, turn your heart back to him.' And, with that, mount your black horse and ride away, and God speed you, sir; we shall often talk of you at the 'Packhorse,' and naught but good."
Griffith gave the woman his hand, and his breast labored visibly.
Jealousy was ingrained in the man. Mrs. Vint had pricked his conscience, but she had wounded his foible. He was not in love with Mercy, but he esteemed her, and liked her, and saw her value, and, above all, could not bear another man should have her.
Now this gave the matter a new turn. Mrs. Vint had overcome her dislike to him long ago: still he was not her favorite. But his giving her his hand with a gentle pressure, and his manifest agitation, rather won her; and, as uneducated women are your true weathercocks, she went about directly. "To be sure," said she, "our Mercy is too good for the likes of him. She is not like Harry and me. She has been well brought up by her Aunt Prudence, as was governess in a nobleman's house. She can read and write, and cast accounts; good at her sampler, and can churn and make cheeses, and play of the viol, and lead the psalm in church, and dance a minuet, she can, with any lady in the land. As to her nursing in time of sickness, that I leave to you, sir."
"She is an angel," cried Griffith, "and my benefactress: no man living is good enough for her." And he went away, visibly discomposed.
Mrs. Vint repeated this conversation to Mercy, and told her Thomas Leicester was certainly in love with her. "Shouldst have seen his face, girl, when I told him Paul and you were sweethearts. 'T was as if I had run a knife in his heart."
Mercy murmured a few words of doubt; but she kissed her mother eloquently, and went about, rosy and beaming, all that afternoon.
As for Griffith, his gratitude and his jealousy were now at war, and caused him a severe mental struggle.
Carrick, too, was spurred by jealousy, and came every day to the house, and besieged Mercy; and Griffith, who saw them together, and did not hear Mercy's replies, was excited, irritated, alarmed.
Mrs. Vint saw his agitation, and determined to bring matters to a climax. She was always giving him a side thrust; and, at last, she told him plainly that he was not behaving like a man. "If the girl is not good enough for you, why make a fool of her, and set her against a good husband?" And when he replied she was good enough for any man in England, "Then," said she, "why not show your respect for her as Paul Carrick does? He likes her well enough to go to church with her."
With the horns of this dilemma she so gored Kate Peyton's husband that, at last, she and Paul Carrick, between them, drove him out of his conscience.
So he watched his opportunity and got Mercy alone. He took her hand and told her he loved her, and that she was his only comfort in the world, and he found he could not live without her.
At this she blushed and trembled a little, and leaned her brow upon his shoulder, and was a happy creature for a few moments.
So far, fluently enough; but then he began to falter and stammer, and say that for certain reasons he could not marry at all. But if she could be content with anything short of that, he would retire with her into a distant country, and there, where nobody could contradict him, would call her his wife, and treat her as his wife, and pay his debt of gratitude to her by a life of devotion.
As he spoke, her brow retired an inch or two from his shoulder; but she heard him quietly out, and then drew back and confronted him, pale, and, to all appearance, calm.
"Call things by their right names," said she. "What you offer me this day, in my father's house, is, to be your mistress. Then--God forgive you, Thomas Leicester."
With this oblique and feminine reply, and one look of unfathomable reproach from her soft eyes, she turned her back on him; but, remembering her manners, courtesied at the door; and so retired; and unpretending Virtue lent her such true dignity that he was struck dumb, and made no attempt to detain her.
I think her dignified composure did not last long when she was alone; at least, the next time he saw her, her eyes were red; his heart smote him, and he began to make excuses and beg her forgiveness. But she interrupted him. "Don't speak to me no more, if you please, sir," said she, civilly, but coldly.
Mercy, though so quiet and inoffensive, had depth and strength of character. She never told her mother what Thomas Leicester had proposed to her. Her honest pride kept her silent, for one thing. She would not have it known she had been insulted. And, besides that, she loved Thomas Leicester still, and could not expose or hurt him. Once there was an Israelite without guile, though you and I never saw him; and once there was a Saxon without bile, and her name was Mercy Vint. In this heart of gold the affections were stronger than the passions. She was deeply wounded, and showed it in a patient way to him who had wounded her, but to none other. Her conduct to him in public and private was truly singular, and would alone have stamped her a remarkable character. She declined all communication with him in private, and avoided him steadily and adroitly; but in public she spoke to him, sang with him when she was asked, and treated him much the same as before. He could see a subtle difference, but nobody else could.
This generosity, coupled with all she had done for him before, penetrated his heart and filled him with admiration and remorse. He yielded to Mrs. Vint's suggestions, and told her she was right; he would tear himself away, and never see the dear "Packhorse" again. "But oh! Dame," said he, "'t is a sorrowful thing to be alone in the world again, and naught to do. If I had but a farm, and a sweet little inn like this to go to, perchance my heart would not be quite so heavy as 't is this day at thoughts of parting from thee and thine."
"Well, sir," said Mrs. Vint, "if that is all, there is the 'Vine' to let at this moment. 'T is a better place of business than this; and some meadows go with it, and land to be had in the parish."
"I'll ride and see it," said Griffith, eagerly: then, dejectedly, "but, alas! I have no heart to keep an inn without somebody to help me, and say a kind word now and then. Ah! Mercy Vint, thou hast spoiled me for living alone."
This vacillation exhausted Mrs. Vint's patience. "What are ye sighing about, ye foolish man?" said she, contemptuously; "you have got it all your own way. If 't is a wife ye want, ask Mercy, and don't take a nay. If ye would have a housekeeper, you need not want one long. I'll be bound there's plenty of young women where you came from as would be glad to keep the 'Vine' under you. And, if you come to that, our Mercy is a treasure on the farm, but she is no help in the inn, no more than a wax figure. She never brought us a shilling, till you came and made her sing to your bass-viol. Nay, what you want is a smart, handsome girl, with a quick eye and a ready tongue, and one as can look a man in the face, and not given to love nor liquor. Don't you know never such a one?"
"Not I. Humph, to be sure there is Caroline Ryder. She is handsome, and hath a good wit. She is a lady's maid."
"That's your woman, if she'll come. And to be sure she will; for to be mistress of an inn, that's a lady's maid's Paradise."
"She would have come a few months ago, and gladly. I'll write to her."
"Better talk to her, and persuade her."
"I'll do that, too; but I must write to her first."
"So do then; but whatever you do, don't shilly-shally no longer. If wrestling was shilly-shallying, methinks you'd bear the bell, you or else Paul Carrick. Why, all his trouble comes on 't. He might have wed our Mercy a year agone for the asking. Shilly-shally belongs to us that be women. 'T is despicable in a man."
Thus driven on all sides, Griffith rode and inspected the "Vine" (it was only seven miles off); and, after the usual chaffering, came to terms with the proprietor.
He fixed the day for his departure, and told Mrs. Vint he must ride into Cumberland first to get some money, and also to see about a housekeeper.
He made no secret of all this; and, indeed, was not without hopes Mercy would relent, or perhaps be jealous of this housekeeper. But the only visible effect was to make her look pale and sad. She avoided him in private as before.
Harry Vint was loud in his regrets, and Carrick openly exultant. Griffith wrote to Caroline Ryder, and addressed the letter in a feigned hand, and took it himself to the nearest post-town.
The letter came to hand, and will appear in that sequence of events on which I am now about to enter.
If Griffith Gaunt suffered anguish, he inflicted agony. Mrs. Gaunt was a high-spirited, proud, and sensitive woman; and he crushed her with foul words. Leonard was a delicate, vain, and sensitive man, accustomed to veneration. Imagine such a man hurled to the ground, and trampled upon.
Griffith should not have fled; he should have stayed and enjoyed his vengeance on these two persons. It might have cooled him a little had he stopped and seen the immediate consequences of his savage act.
The priest rose from the ground, pale as ashes, and trembling with fear and hate.
The lady was leaning, white as a sheet, against a tree, and holding it with her very nails for a little support.
They looked round at one another,--a piteous glance of anguish and horror. Then Mrs. Gaunt turned and flung her arm round so that the palm of her hand, high raised, confronted Leonard. I am thus particular because it was a gesture grand and terrible as the occasion that called it forth,--a gesture that _spoke_, and said, "Put the whole earth and sea between us forever after this."
The next moment she bent her head and rushed away, cowering and wringing her hands. She made for her house as naturally as a scared animal for its lair; but, ere she could reach it, she tottered under the shame, the distress, and the mere terror, and fell fainting, with her fair forehead on the grass.
Caroline Ryder was crouched in the doorway, and did not see her come out of the grove, but only heard a rustle; and then saw her proud mistress totter forward and lie, white, senseless, helpless, at her very feet.
Ryder uttered a scream, but did not lose her presence of mind. She instantly kneeled over Mrs. Gaunt, and loosened her stays with quick and dexterous hand.
It was very like the hawk perched over and clawing the ringdove she has struck down.
But people with brains are never quite inhuman: a drop of lukewarm pity entered even Ryder's heart as she assisted her victim. She called no one to help her; for she saw something very serious had happened, and she felt sure Mrs. Gaunt would say something imprudent in that dangerous period when the patient recovers consciousness but has not all her wits about her. Now Ryder was equally determined to know her mistress's secrets, and not to share the knowledge with any other person.
It was a long swoon; and, when Mrs. Gaunt came to, the first thing she saw was Ryder leaning over her, with a face of much curiosity, and some concern.
In that moment of weakness the poor lady, who had been so roughly handled, saw a woman close to her, and being a little kind to her; so what did she do but throw her arms round Ryder's neck and burst out sobbing as if her heart would break.
Then that unprincipled woman shed a tear or two with her, half crocodile, half impulse.
Mrs. Gaunt not only cried on her servant's neck; she justified Ryder's forecast by speaking unguardedly: "I've been insulted--insulted--insulted!"
But, even while uttering these words, she was recovering her pride: so the first "insulted" seemed to come from a broken-hearted child, the second from an indignant lady, the third from a wounded queen.
No more words than this; but she rose, with Ryder's assistance, and went, leaning on that faithful creature's shoulder, to her own bedroom. There she sank into a chair and said, in a voice to melt a stone, "My child! Bring me my little Rose."
Ryder ran and fetched the little girl; and Mrs. Gaunt held out both arms to her, angelically, and clasped her so passionately and piteously to her bosom, that Rose cried for fear, and never forgot the scene all her days; and Mrs. Ryder, who was secretly a mother, felt a genuine twinge of pity and remorse. Curiosity, however, was the dominant sentiment. She was impatient to get all these convulsions over, and learn what had actually passed between Mr. and Mrs. Gaunt.
She waited till her mistress appeared calmer; and then, in soft, caressing tones, asked her what had happened.
"Never ask me that question again," cried Mrs. Gaunt, wildly. Then, with inexpressible dignity, "My good girl, you have done all you could for me; now you must leave me alone with my daughter, and my God, who knows the truth."
Ryder courtesied and retired, burning with baffled curiosity.
Towards dusk Thomas Leicester came into the kitchen, and brought her news with a vengeance. He told her and the other maids that the Squire had gone raving mad, and fled the country. "O lasses," said he, "if you had seen the poor soul's face, a-riding headlong through the fair, all one as if it was a ploughed field; 't was white as your smocks; and his eyes glowering on 't other world. We shall ne'er see that face alive again."
And this was her doing.
It surprised and overpowered Ryder. She threw her apron over her head, and went off in hysterics, and betrayed her lawless attachment to every woman in the kitchen,--she who was so clever at probing others.
* * * * *
This day of violent emotions was followed by a sullen and sorrowful gloom.
Mrs. Gaunt kept her bedroom, and admitted nobody; till, at last, the servants consulted together, and sent little Rose to knock at her door, with a basin of chocolate, while they watched on the stairs.
"It's only me, mamma," said Rose.
"Come in, my precious," said a trembling voice; and so Rose got in with her chocolate.
The next day she was sent for early; and at noon Mrs. Gaunt and Rose came down stairs; but their appearance startled the whole household.
The mother was dressed all in black, and so was her daughter, whom she led by the hand. Mrs. Gaunt's face was pale, and sad, and stern,--a monument of deep suffering and high-strung resolution.
* * * * *
It soon transpired that Griffith had left his home for good; and friends called on Mrs. Gaunt to slake their curiosity under the mask of sympathy.
Not one of them was admitted. No false excuses were made. "My mistress sees no one for the present," was the reply.
Curiosity, thus baffled, took up the pen; but was met with a short, unvarying formula: "There is an unhappy misunderstanding between my husband and me. But I shall neither accuse him behind his back, nor justify myself."
Thus the proud lady carried herself before the world; but secretly she writhed. A wife abandoned is a woman insulted, and the wives--that are not abandoned--cluck.
Ryder was dejected for a time, and, though not honestly penitent, suffered some remorse at the miserable issue of her intrigues. But her elastic nature soon shook it off, and she felt a certain satisfaction at having reduced Mrs. Gaunt to her own level. This disarmed her hostility. She watched her as keenly as ever, but out of pure curiosity.
One thing puzzled her strangely. Leonard did not visit the house; nor could she even detect any communication between the parties.
At last, one day, her mistress told her to put on her hat, and go to Father Leonard.
Ryder's eyes sparkled; and she was soon equipped. Mrs. Gaunt put a parcel and a letter into her hands. Ryder no sooner got out of her sight than she proceeded to tamper with the letter. But to her just indignation she found it so ingeniously folded and sealed that she could not read a word.
The parcel, however, she easily undid, and it contained forty pounds in gold and small notes. "Oho! my lady," said Ryder.
She was received by Leonard with a tender emotion he in vain tried to conceal.
On reading the letter his features contracted sharply, and he seemed to suffer agony. He would not even open the parcel. "You will take that back," said he, bitterly.
"What, without a word?"
"Without a word. But I will write, when I am able."
"Don't be long, sir," suggested Ryder. "I am sure my mistress is wearying for you. Consider, sir, she is all alone now."
"Not so much alone as I am," said the priest, "nor half so unfortunate."
And with this he leaned his head despairingly on his hand, and motioned to Ryder to leave him.
"Here's a couple of fools," said she to herself, as she went home.
That very evening Thomas Leicester caught her alone, and asked her to marry him.
She stared at first, and then treated it as a jest. "You come at the wrong time, young man," said she. "Marriage is put out of countenance. No, no, I will never marry after what I have seen in this house."
Leicester would not take this for an answer, and pressed her hard.
"Thomas," said this plausible jade, "I like you very well; but I couldn't leave my mistress in her trouble. Time to talk of marrying when master comes here alive and well."
"Nay," said Leicester, "my only chance is while he is away. You care more for his little finger than for my whole body; that they all say."
"Jane, and all the lasses."
"You simple man, they want you for themselves; that is why they belie me."
"Nay, nay; I saw how you carried on, when I brought word he was gone. You let your heart out for once. Don't take me for a fool. I see how 't is, but I'll face it, for I worship the ground you walk on. Take a thought, my lass. What good can come of your setting your heart on _him_? I'm young, I'm healthy, and not ugly enough to set the dogs a-barking. I've got a good place; I love you dear; I'll cure you of that fancy, and make you as happy as the day is long. I'll try and make you as happy as you will make me, my beauty."
He was so earnest, and so much in love, that Mrs. Ryder pitied him, and wished her husband was in heaven.
"I am very sorry, Tom," said she, softly; "dear me, I did not think you cared so much for me as this. I must just tell you the truth. I have got one in my own country, and I've promised him. I don't care to break my word; and, if I did, he is such a man, I am sure he would kill me for it. Indeed he has told me as much, more than once or twice."
"Killing is a game that two can play at."
"Ah! but 't is an ugly game; and I'll have no hand in it. And--don't you be angry with me, Tom--I've known him longest, and--I love him best."
By pertinacity and vanity in lying, she hit the mark at last. Tom swallowed this figment whole.
"That is but reason," said he. "I take my answer, and I wish ye both many happy days together, and well spent." With this he retired, and blubbered a good hour in an outhouse.
Tom avoided the castle, and fell into low spirits. He told his mother all, and she advised him to change the air. "You have been too long in one place," said she; "I hate being too long in one place myself."
This fired Tom's gypsy blood, and he said he would travel to-morrow, if he could but scrape together money enough to fill a pedler's pack.
He applied for a loan in several quarters, but was denied in all.
At last the poor fellow summoned courage to lay his case before Mrs. Gaunt.
Ryder's influence procured him an interview. She took him into the drawing-room, and bade him wait there. By and by a pale lady, all in black, glided into the room.
He pulled his front hair, and began to stammer something or other.
She interrupted him. "Ryder has told me," said she, softly. "I am sorry for you; and I will do what you require. And, to be sure, we need no gamekeeper here now."
She then gave him some money, and said she would look him up a few trifles besides, to put in his pack.
Tom's mother helped him to lay out this money to advantage; and, one day, he called at Hernshaw, pack and all, to bid farewell.
The servants all laid out something with him for luck; and Mrs. Gaunt sent for him, and gave him a gold thimble, and a pound of tea, and several yards of gold lace, slightly tarnished, and a Queen Anne's guinea.
He thanked her heartily. "Ay, Dame," said he, "you had always an open hand, married or single. My heart is heavy at leaving you. But I miss the Squire's kindly face too. Hernshaw is not what it used to be."
Mrs. Gaunt turned her head aside, and the man could see his words had made her cry. "My good Thomas," said she, at last, "you are going to travel the country: you might fall in with him."
"I might," said Leicester, incredulously.
"God grant you may; and, if ever you should, think of your poor mistress and give him--this." She put her finger in her bosom and drew out a bullet wrapped in silver paper. "You will never lose this," said she. "I value it more than gold or silver. O, if ever you _should_ see him, think of me and my daughter, and just put it in his hand without a word."
As he went out of the room Ryder intercepted him, and said, "Mayhap you will fall in with our master. If ever you do, tell him he is under a mistake, and the sooner he comes home the better."
Tom Leicester departed; and, for days and weeks, nothing occurred to break the sorrowful monotony of the place.
But the mourner had written to her old friend and confessor, Francis; and, after some delay, involuntary on his part, he came to see her.
They were often closeted together, and spoke so low that Ryder could not catch a word.
Francis also paid several visits to Leonard; and the final result of these visits was that the latter left England.
Francis remained at Hernshaw as long as he could; and it was Mrs. Gaunt's hourly prayer that Griffith might return while Francis was with her.
He did, at her earnest request, stay much longer than he had intended; but, at length, he was obliged to fix next Monday to return to his own place.
It was on Thursday he made this arrangement; but the very next day the postman brought a letter to the Castle, thus addressed:--
"To Mistress Caroline Ryder, Living Servant with Griffith Gaunt, Esq., at his house, called Hernshaw Castle, near Wigeonmoor, in the county of Cumberland. These with speed."
The address was in a feigned hand. Ryder opened it in the kitchen, and uttered a scream.
Instantly three female throats opened upon her with questions.
She looked them contemptuously in their faces, put the letter into her pocket, and, soon after, slipped away to her own room, and locked herself in while she read it. It ran thus:--
"GOOD MISTRESS RYDER,--I am alive yet, by the blessing; though somewhat battered; being now risen from a fever, wherein I lost my wits for a time. And, on coming to myself, I found them making of my shroud; whereby you shall learn how near I was to death. And all this I owe to that false, perjured woman that was my wife, and is your mistress.
"Know that I have donned russet, and doffed gentility; for I find a heavy heart's best cure is occupation. I have taken a wayside inn, and think of renting a small farm, which two things go well together. Now you are, of all those I know, most fitted to manage the inn, and I the farm. You were always my good friend; and, if you be so still, then I charge you most solemnly that you utter no word to any living soul about this letter; but meet me privately where we can talk fully of these matters; for I will not set foot in Hernshaw Castle. Moreover, she told me once 't was hers; and so be it. On Friday I shall lie at Stapleton, and the next day, by an easy journey, to the place where I once was so happy.
"So then at seven of the clock on Saturday evening, be the same wet or dry, prithee come to the gate of the grove unbeknown, and speak to
"Your faithful friend and most unhappy master,
"Be secret as the grave. Would I were in it."
This letter set Caroline Ryder in a tumult. Griffith alive and well, and set against his wife, and coming to her for assistance!
After the first agitation, she read it again, and weighed every syllable. There was one book she had studied more than most of us,--the Heart. And she soon read Griffith's in this letter. It was no love-letter; he really intended business; but, weak in health and broken in spirit, and alone in the world, he naturally turned to one who had confessed an affection for him, and would therefore be true to his interests, and study his happiness.
The proposal was every way satisfactory to Mrs. Ryder. To be mistress of an inn, and have servants under her instead of being one herself. And then, if Griffith and she began as allies in business, she felt very sure she could make herself, first necessary to him, and then dear to him.
She was so elated she could hardly contain herself; and all her fellow-servants remarked that Mrs. Ryder had heard good news.
Saturday came, and never did hours seem to creep so slowly.
But at last the sun set, and the stars come out. There was no moon. Ryder opened the window and looked out; it was an admirable night for an assignation.
She washed her face again, put on her gray silk gown, and purple petticoat,--_Mrs. Gaunt_ had given them to her,--and, at the last moment, went and made up her mistress's fire, and put out everything she thought could be wanted, and, five minutes after seven o'clock, tied a scarlet handkerchief over her head, and stepped out at the back door.
What with her coal-black hair, so streaked with red, her black eyes, flashing in the starlight, and her glowing cheeks, she looked bewitching.
And, thus armed for conquest, wily, yet impassioned, she stole out, with noiseless foot and beating heart, to her appointment with her imprudent master.
Mons. Alphonse Karr writes as follows in his _Les Femmes_:--"When I wish to become invisible, I have a certain rusty and napless old hat, which I put on as Prince Lutin in the fairy tale puts on his chaplet of roses; I join to this a certain coat very much out at elbows: _eh bien_! I become invisible! Nobody on the street sees me, nobody recognizes me, nobody speaks to me."
And yet I do not doubt that the majority of M. Karr's friends and acquaintances, as is the case with the friends and acquaintances of nearly every one else, are well-disposed, good-hearted, average persons, who would be heartily ashamed, if it could be brought home to them, of having given him the go-by under such circumstances. What, then, was the difficulty? In what consisted this change in the man's appearance, so signal that he trusted to it as a disguise? What was there in hat and coat thus to eclipse the whole personality of the man? There is a certain mystery in the philosophy of clothes too deep for me to fathom. The matter has been descanted upon before; the "Hávámal, or High Song of Odin," the Essays of Montaigne, the "Sartor" of Thomas Carlyle, all dwell with acuteness upon this topic; but they merely give instances, they do not interpret. I am continually meeting with things in my intercourse with the world which I cannot reconcile with any theories society professes to be governed by. How shall I explain them? How, for example, shall I interpret the following cases, occurring within my own experience and under my own observation?
I live in the country, and am a farmer. If I lived in the city and occupied myself with the vending of merchandise, I should, in busy times at least, now and then help my clerks to sell my own goods,--if I could,--make up the packages, mark them, and attend to having them delivered. Solomon Gunnybags himself has done as much, upon occasion, and society has praised Solomon Gunnybags for such a display of devotion to his business. But I am a farmer, not a merchant; and, though not able to handle the plough, I am not above my business. One day during the past summer, while my peach-orchard was in full bearing, my foreman, who attends market for me, fell sick. The peaches would not tarry in their ripening, the pears were soft and blushing as sweet sixteen as they lay upon their shelves, the cantelopes grew mellow upon their vines, the tomato-beds called loudly to be relieved, and the very beans were beginning to rattle in their pods for ripeness. I am not a good salesman, and I was very sorry my foreman could not help me out; but something must be done, so I made up a load of fruit and vegetables, took them to the city to market, and sold them. While I was busily occupied measuring peaches by the half and quarter peck, stolidly deaf to the objurgations of my neighbor huckster on my right, to whom some one had given bad money, and equally impervious to the blandishments of an Irish customer in front of me, who could not be persuaded I meant to require the price I had set upon my goods, my friend Mrs. Entresol came along, trailing her parasol with one gloved hand, with the other daintily lifting her skirts out of the dust and dirt. Bridget, following her, toiled under the burden of a basket of good things. Mrs. Entresol is an old acquaintance of mine, and I esteem her highly. Entresol has just obtained a partnership in the retail dry-goods house for which he has been a clerk during so many years; the firm is prosperous, and, if he continues to be as industrious and prudent as he has been, I do not doubt but my friend will in the course of time be able to retire from business with money enough to buy a farm. My pears seemed to please Mrs. Entresol; she approached my stall, looked at them, took one up. "What is the price of your--" she began to inquire, when, looking up, she recognized the vender of the coveted fruit. What in the world came over the woman? I give you my word that, instead of speaking to me in her usual way, and telling me how glad she was to see me, she started as if something had stung her; she stammered, she blushed, and stood there with the pear in her fingers, staring at me in the blankest way imaginable. I must confess a little of her confusion imparted itself to me. For a moment the thought entered my mind that I had, in selling my own pears and peaches, been guilty of some really criminal action, such as sheep-stealing, lying, or slandering, and it was not pleasant to be caught in the act. But only for a moment; then I replied, "Good morning, Mrs. Entresol"; and, stating the price, proceeded to wait upon another customer.
My highly business-like tone and manner rather added to my charming friend's confusion, but she rallied surprisingly, put out her little gloved hand to me, and exclaimed in the gayest voice: "Ah, you eccentric man! What will you do next? To think of you selling in the market, _just like a huckster_! You! I must tell Mrs. Belle Étoile of it. It is really one of the best jokes I know of! And how well you act your part, too,--just as if it came naturally to you," etc., etc.
Thus she ran on, laughing, and interfering with my sales, protesting all the while that I was the greatest original in all her circle of acquaintance. Of course it would have been idle for me to controvert her view of the matter, so I quietly left her to the enjoyment of such an excellent joke, and was rather glad when at last she went away. I could not help wondering, however, after she was gone, why it was she should think I joked in retailing the products of my farm, any more than Mr. Entresol in retailing the goods piled upon his shelves and counters. And why should one be "original" because he handles a peck-measure, while another is _comme il faut_ in wielding a yardstick? Why did M. Karr's thread-bare coat and shocking bad hat fling such a cloud of dust in the eyes of passing friends, that they could not see him,
"Ne wot who that he ben?"
Now for another case. There is Tom Pinch's wife. Tom is an excellent person, in every respect, and so is his wife. I don't know any woman with a light purse and four children who manages better, or is possessed of more sterling qualities, than Mrs. Tom Pinch. She is industrious, amiable, intelligent; pious as father Æneas; in fact, the most devoted creature to preachers and sermons that ever worked for a fair. She would be very angry with you if you were to charge her with entertaining the doctrine of "justification by works," but I seriously incline to believe she imagines that seat of hers in that cushioned pew one of the mainstays to her hope of heaven. And yet, at this crisis, Mrs. Tom Pinch can't go to church! There is an insurmountable obstacle which keeps the poor little thing at home every Sunday, and renders her (comparatively) miserable the rest of the week. She takes a course of Jay's Sermons, to be sure, but she takes it disconsolately, and has serious fears of becoming a backslider. What is it closes the church door to her? Not her health, for that is excellent. It is not the baby, for her nurse, small as she is, is quite trustworthy. It is not any trouble about dinner, for nobody has a better cook than Mrs. Tom Pinch,--a paragon cook, in fact, who seems to have strayed down into her kitchen from that remote antiquity when servants were servants. No, none of these things keeps the pious wife at home. None of these things restrains her from taking that quiet walk up the aisle and occupying that seat in the corner of the pew, there to dismiss all thought of worldly care, and fit her good little soul for the pleasures of real worship, and that prayerful meditation and sweet communion with holy things that only such good little women know the blessings of;--none of these things at all. It is Mrs. Tom Pinch's _bonnet_ that keeps her at home,--her last season's bonnet! Strike, but hear me, ladies, for the thing is simply so. Tom's practice is not larger than he can manage; Tom's family need quite all he can make to keep them; and he has not yet been able this season to let Mrs. Tom have the money required to provide a new fall bonnet. She will get it before long, of course, for Tom is a good provider, and he knows his wife to be economical. Still he cannot see--poor innocent that he is!--why his dear little woman cannot just as well go to church in her last fall's bonnet, which, to his purblind vision, is quite as good as new. What, Tom! don't you know the dear little woman has too much love for you, too much pride in you, to make a fright of herself, upon any consideration? Don't you know that, were your wife to venture to church in that hideous condition of which a last year's bonnet is the efficient and unmistakable symbol, Mrs. A., Mrs. B., Mrs. C., all the ladies of the church, in fact, would remark it at once,--would sit in judgment upon it like a quilt committee at an industrial fair, and would unanimously decide, either that you were a close-fisted brute to deny such a sweet little helpmeet the very necessaries of life, or that your legal practice was falling off so materially you could no longer support your family? O no, Tom, your wife must not venture out to church in her last season's bonnet! She is not without a certain sort of courage, to be sure; she has stood by death-beds without trembling; she has endured poverty and its privations, illness, the pains and perils of childbirth, and many another hardship, with a brave cheerfulness such as you can wonder at, and never dream of imitating; but there is a limit even to the boldest woman's daring; and, when it comes to the exposure and ridicule consequent upon defying the world in a last season's bonnet, that limit is reached.
I have one other case to recount, and, in my opinion, the most lamentable one of all. Were I to tell you the real name of my friend, Mrs. Belle Étoile, you would recognize one of the most favored daughters of America, as the newspapers phrase it. Rich, intelligent, highly cultivated, at the tip-top of the social ladder, esteemed by a wide circle of such friends as it is an honor to know, loving and beloved by her noble husband,--every one knows Mrs. Étoile by reputation at least. Happy in her pretty, well-behaved children, she is the polished reflection of all that is best and most refined in American society. She is, indeed, a noble woman, as pure and unsullied in the instincts of her heart, as she is bright and glowing in the display of her intellect. Her wit is brilliant; her _mots_ are things to be remembered; her opinions upon art and life have at once a wide currency and a substantial value; and, more than all, her modest charities, of which none knows save herself, are as deep and as beneficent as those subterranean fountains which well up in a thousand places to refresh and gladden the earth. Nevertheless, and in spite of her genuine practical wisdom, her lofty idealism of thought, her profound contempt for all the weak shams and petty frivolities of life, Mrs. Belle Étoile is a slave! "They who submit to drink as another pleases, make themselves his slaves," says that Great Mogul of sentences, Dr. Johnson; and in this sense Mrs. Belle Étoile is a slave indeed. The fetters gall her, but she has not courage to shake them off. Her mistress is her next-door neighbor, Mrs. Colisle, a coarse, vulgar, half-bred woman, whose husband acquired a sudden wealth from contracts and petroleum speculations, and who has in consequence set herself up for a leader of _ton_. A certain downright persistence and energy of character, acquired, it may be, in bullying the kitchen-maids at the country tavern where she began life, a certain lavish expenditure of her husband's profits, the vulgar display and profusion at her numerous balls, and her free-handed patronage of _modistes_ and shop-keepers, have secured to Mrs. Colisle a sort of Drummond-light position among the stars of fashion. She imports patterns, and they become the mode; her caterer invents dishes, and they are copied throughout the obeisant world. There are confections _à la_ Colisle; the confectioners utter new editions of them. There is a Colisle head-dress, a Colisle pomade, a Colisle hat,--the world wears and uses them. Thus, Mrs. Colisle has set herself up as Mrs. Belle Étoile's rival; and that unfortunate lady, compelled by those _noblesse-oblige_ principles which control the chivalry of fashion, takes up the unequal gage, and enters the lists against her. The result is, that Mrs. Belle Étoile has become the veriest slave in Christendom. Whatever the other woman's whims and extravagances, Mrs. Belle Étoile is their victim. Her taste revolts, but her pride of place compels obedience. She cannot yield, she will not follow; and so Mrs. Colisle, with diabolical ingenuity, constrains her to run a course that gives her no honor and pays her no compensation. She scorns Mrs. Colisle's ways, she loathes her fashions and her company, and--outbids her for them! It is a very unequal contest, of course. Defeat only inspires Mrs. Colisle with a more stubborn persistence. Victory cannot lessen the sad regrets of Mrs. Belle Étoile's soul for outraged instincts and insulted taste. It is an ill match,--a strife between greyhound and mastiff, a contest at heavy draught between a thoroughbred and a Flanders mare. Mrs. Étoile knows this as well as you and I can possibly know it. She is perfectly aware of her serfdom. She is poignantly conscious of the degrading character of her servitude, and that it is not possible to gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles; and yet she will continue to wage the unequal strife, to wear the unhandsome fetters, simply because she has not the courage to extricate herself from the false position into which the strategic arts of Fashion have inveigled her.
Now I do not intend to moralize. I have no purpose to frighten the reader prematurely off to the next page by unmasking a formidable battery of reflections and admonitions. I have merely instanced the above cases, three or four among a thousand of such as must have presented themselves to the attention of each one of us; and I adduce them simply as examples of what I call "bad symptoms" in any diagnosis of the state of the social frame. They indicate, in fact, a total absence of _social courage_ in persons otherwise endowed with and illustrious for all the useful and ornamental virtues, and consequently they make it plain and palpable that society is in a condition of dangerous disease. Whether a remedy is practicable or not I will not venture to decide; but I can confidently assure our reformers, both men and women, that, if they can accomplish anything toward restoring its normal and healthy courage to society, they will benefit the human race much more signally than they could by making Arcadias out of a dozen or two Borrioboola-Ghas.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
1. _Croquet._ By CAPTAIN MAYNE REID. Boston: James Redpath.
2. _Handbook of Croquet._ By EDMUND ROUTLEDGE. London: George Routledge and Sons.
3. _The Game of Croquet; its Appointments and Laws._ By R. FELLOW. New York: Hurd and Houghton.
4. _Croquet, as played by the Newport Croquet Club._ By one of the Members. New York: Sheldon & Co.
The original tower of Babel having been for some time discontinued, and most of our local legislatures having adjourned, the nearest approach to a confusion of tongues is perhaps now to be found in an ordinary game of croquet. Out of eight youths and maidens caught for that performance at a picnic, four have usually learned the rules from four different manuals, and can agree on nothing; while the rest have never learned any rules at all, and cannot even distinctly agree to disagree. With tolerably firm wills and moderately shrill voices, it is possible for such a party to exhibit a very pretty war of words before even a single blow is struck. For supposing that there is an hour of daylight for the game, they can easily spend fifteen minutes in debating whether the starting-point should be taken a mallet's length from the stake, according to Reid, or only twelve inches, according to Routledge.
More than twenty manuals of croquet have been published in England, it is said, and some five or six in America. Of the four authorities named above, each has some representative value for American players. Mayne Reid was the pioneer, Routledge is the most compact and seductive, Fellow the most popular and the poorest, and "Newport" the newest and by far the best. And among them all it is possible to find authority for and against almost every possible procedure.
The first point of grave divergence is one that occurs at the very outset of the game. "Do you play with or without the roquet-croquet?" has now come to be the first point of mutual solicitude in a mixed party. It may not seem a momentous affair whether the privilege of striking one's own ball and the adversary's without holding the former beneath the foot, should be extended to all players or limited to the "rover"; but it makes an immense difference in both the duration and the difficulty of the game. By skilfully using this right, every player may change the position of every ball, during each tour of play. It is a formidable privilege, and accordingly Reid and "Newport" both forbid it to all but the "rover," and Routledge denies it even to him; while Fellow alone pleads for universal indulgence. It seems a pity to side with one poor authority against three good ones, but there is no doubt that the present tendency of the best players is to cultivate the roquet-croquet more and more; and after employing it, one is as unwilling to give it up, as a good billiard-player would be to revert from the cue to the mace. The very fact, however, that this privilege multiplies so enormously the advantages of skill is perhaps a good reason for avoiding it in a mixed party of novices and experts, where the object is rather to equalize abilities. It should also be avoided where the croquet-ground is small, as is apt to be the case in our community,--because in such narrow quarters a good player can often hit every other ball during each tour of play, even without this added advantage. If we played habitually on large, smooth lawns like those of England, the reasons for the general use of the roquet-croquet would be far stronger.
Another inconvenient discrepancy of the books relates to the different penalties imposed on "flinching," or allowing one's ball to slip from under one's foot, during the process of croquet. Here Routledge gives no general rule; Reid and "Newport" decree that, if a ball "flinches," its tour terminates, but its effects remain; while, according to Fellow, the ball which has suffered croquet is restored, but the tour continues,--the penalties being thus reversed. Here the sober judgment must side with the majority of authorities; for this reason, if for no other, that the first-named punishment is more readily enforced, and avoids the confusion and altercation which are often produced by taking up and replacing a ball.
Again, if a ball be accidentally stopped in its motion by a careless player or spectator, what shall be done? Fellow permits the striker either to leave the ball where the interruption left it, or to place it where he thinks it would have stopped, if unmolested. This again is a rule far less simple, and liable to produce far more wrangling, than the principle of the other authorities, which is that the ball should either be left where it lies, or be carried to the end of the arena.
These points are all among the commonest that can be raised, and it is very unfortunate that there should be no uniformity of rule, to meet contingencies so inevitable. When more difficult points come up for adjudication, the difficulty has thus far been less in the conflict of authorities than in their absence. Until the new American commentator appeared, there was no really scientific treatise on croquet to be had in our bookstores.
The so-called manual of the "Newport Croquet Club" is understood to proceed from a young gentleman whose mathematical attainments have won him honor both at Cambridge and at New Haven, and who now beguiles his banishment as Assistant Professor in the Naval Academy by writing on croquet in the spirit of Peirce. What President Hill has done for elementary geometry, "Newport" aims to do for croquet, making it severely simple, and, perhaps we might add, simply severe. And yet, admirable to relate, this is the smallest of all the manuals, and the cheapest, and the only one in which there is not so much as an allusion to ladies' ankles. All the others have a few pages of rules and a very immoderate quantity of slang; they are all liable to the charge of being silly; whereas the only possible charge to be brought against "Newport" is that he is too sensible. But for those who hold, with ourselves, that whatever is worth doing is worth doing sensibly, there is really no other manual. That is, this is the only one which really grapples with a difficult case, and deals with it as if heaven and earth depended on the adjudication.
It is possible that this scientific method sometimes makes its author too bold a lawgiver. The error of most of the books is in attempting too little and in doing that little ill. They are all written for beginners only. The error of "Newport" lies in too absolute an adherence to principles. His "theory of double points" is excellent, but his theory of "the right of declining" is an innovation all the more daring because it is so methodically put. The principle has long been familiar, though never perhaps quite settled, that where two distinct points were made by any stroke,--as, for instance, a bridge and a roquet,--the one or the other could be waived. The croquet, too, could always be waived. But to assert boldly that "a player may decline any point made by himself, and play precisely as if the point had not been made," is a thought radical enough to send a shudder along Pennsylvania Avenue. Under this ruling, a single player in a game of eight might spend a half-hour in running and rerunning a single bridge, with dog-in-the-mangerish pertinacity, waiting his opportunity to claim the most mischievous run as the valid one. It would produce endless misunderstandings and errors of memory. The only vexed case which it would help to decide is that in which a ball, in running the very last bridge, strikes another ball, and is yet forbidden to croquet, because it must continue its play from the starting-point. But even this would be better settled in almost any other way; and indeed this whole rule as to a return to the "spot" seems a rather arbitrary and meaningless thing.
The same adherence to theory takes the author quite beyond our depth, if not beyond his own, in another place. He says that a ball may hit another ball twice or more, during the same tour, between two steps on the round, and move it each time by concussion,--"but only one (not necessarily the first) contact is a valid roquet." (p. 34.) But how can a player obtain the right to make a second contact, under such circumstances, unless indeed the first was part of a _ricochet_, and was waived as such? And if the case intended was merely that of ricochet, it should have been more distinctly stated, for the right to waive ricochet was long since recognized by Reid (p. 40), though Routledge prohibits, and Fellow limits it.
Thus even the errors of "Newport" are of grave and weighty nature, such as statesmen and mathematicians may, without loss of dignity, commit. Is it that it is possible to go too deep into all sciences, even croquet? But how delightful to have at last a treatise which errs on that side, when its predecessors, like popular commentators on the Bible, have carefully avoided all the hard points, and only cleared up the easy ones!
_Poetry, Lyrical, Narrative, and Satirical, of the Civil War._ Selected and Edited by RICHARD GRANT WHITE. New York: The American News Company.
We confess that our heart had at times misgiven us concerning the written and printed poetry of our recent war; but until Mr. White gave us the present volume, we did not know how strong a case could be made against it. The effect is perhaps not altogether intended, but it shows how bad his material was, and how little inspiration of any sort attended him in his work, when a literary gentleman of habits of research and of generally supposed critical taste makes a book so careless and slovenly as this.
We can well afford the space which the editor devotes to Mr. Lowell's noble poem, but we must admit that we can regard "The Present Crisis" as part of the poetry of the war only in the large sense in which we should also accept the Prophecies of Ezekiel and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. Many pious men beheld the war (after it came) foreshadowed in the poetry of the awful and exalted prophecies, and we wonder that Mr. White did not give us a few passages from those books. It is scarcely possible that he did not know "The Present Crisis" to have been written nearly a score of years ago; though he seems to have been altogether ignorant of "The Washers of the Shroud," a poem by the same author actually written after the war began, and uttering all that dread, suspense, and deep determination which the threatened Republic felt after the defeats in the autumn of 1861. As Mr. White advances with his poetical chronology of the war, he is likewise unconscious of "The Commemoration Ode," which indeed is so far above all other elegiac poems of the war, as perhaps to be out of his somewhat earth-bound range. Yet we cannot help blaming him a little for not looking higher: his book must for some time represent the feeling of the nation in war time, and we would fain have had his readers know how deep and exalted this sentiment really was, and how it could reach, if only once and in only one, an expression which we may challenge any literature to surpass. Of "The Biglow Papers," in which there is so much of the national hard-headed shrewdness, humor, and earnestness, we have but one, and that not the best.
As some compensation, however, Mr. White presents us with two humorous lyrics of his own, and makes us feel like men who, in the first moments of our financial disorder, parted with a good dollar, and received change in car-tickets and envelopes covering an ideal value in postage-stamps. It seems hard to complain of an editor who puts only two of his poems in a collection when he was master to put in twenty if he chose, and when in both cases he does his best to explain and relieve their intolerable brilliancy by foot-notes; yet, seeing that one of these productions is in literature what the "Yankee Notions" and the "Nick-Nax" caricatures of John Bull are in art, and seeing that the other is not in the least a parody of the Emersonian poetry it is supposed to burlesque, and is otherwise nothing at all, we cannot help crying out against them.
The foot-notes to Mr. White's verses _are_ comical, however, we must acknowledge; and so are all the foot-notes in the book. If the Model of Deportment had taken to letters with a humorous aim, we could conceive of his writing them. "If burlesque," says Mr. White of his "Union" verses, "were all their purpose, they would not be here preserved"; adding, with a noble tenderness for his victim, "Mr. Emerson could well afford to forgive them, even if they did not come from one of his warmest admirers,"--in which we agree with Mr. White, whose consideration for the great transcendentalist is equalled only by his consideration for the reader's ignorance in regard to most things not connected with the poetry of the war. "Bully," he tells us, was used as "an expression of encouragement and approval" by the Elizabethan dramatists, as well as by our own cherished rowdies; which may be readily proven from the plays of Shakespeare. But what the author of the poem in which this word occurs means by "hefty" Mr. White does not know, and frankly makes a note for the purpose of saying so. Concerning the expression "hurried up his cakes," he is, however, perfectly _au fait_, and surprises us with the promptness of his learning. "As long as the importance of hurrying buckwheat pancakes from the griddle to the table," says he, with a fine air of annotation, "is impressed upon the American mind, this vile slang will need no explanation. But the fame,"--mark this dry light of philosophy, and the delicacy of the humor through which it plays,--"but the fame of the Rebel march into Pennsylvania, and of the victory of Gettysburg, will probably outlive even the taste for these alluring compounds." This is Mr. White's good humor; his bad humor is displayed in his note to a poem by Fitz James O'Brien on the "Seventh Regiment," which he says was "written by a young Irishman, one of its members." The young Irishman's name is probably as familiar to most readers of the magazines as Mr. White's, and we cannot help wondering how he knew a writer of singularly brilliant powers and wide repute only as "a young Irishman."
But there are many things which Mr. White seems not to know, and he has but a poor memory for names, and in his despair he writes _anonymous_ against the title of every third poem. We might have expected a gentleman interested in the poetry of the war to attend the lectures of Dr. Holmes, who has been reading in New York and elsewhere "The Old Sergeant," as the production of Mr. Forcythe Willson of Kentucky. By turning to the index of that volume of the Atlantic from which the verses were taken, Mr. White could have learned that "Spring at the Capital" was written by Mrs. Akers; and with quite as little trouble could have informed himself of the authorship of a half-score of other poems we might name. We have already noted the defectiveness of the collection, in which we are told "no conspicuous poem elicited by the war is omitted"; and we note it again in Mr. White's failure to print Mr. Bryant's pathetic and beautiful poem, "My Autumn Walk," and in his choosing from Mr. Aldrich not one of the fine sonnets he has written on the war, but a _jeu d'esprit_ which in no wise represents him. Indeed, Mr. White's book seems to have been compiled after the editor had collected a certain number of clippings from the magazines and newspapers: if by the blessing of Heaven these had the names of their authors attached, and happened to be the best things the poets had done, it was a fortunate circumstance; but if the reverse was the fact, Mr. White seems to have felt no responsibility in the matter. We are disposed to hold him to stricter account, and to blame him for temporarily blocking, with a book and a reputation, the way to a work of real industry, taste, and accuracy on the poetry of the war. It was our right that a man whose scholarly fame would carry his volume beyond our own shores should do his best for our heroic Muse, robing her in all possible splendor; and it is our wrong that he has chosen instead to present the poor soul in attire so very indifferently selected from her limited wardrobe.
_The Story of Kennett._ By BAYARD TAYLOR. New York: G. P. Putnam; Hurd and Houghton.
In this novel Mr. Taylor has so far surpassed his former efforts in extended fiction, as to approach the excellence attained in his briefer stories. He has of course some obvious advantages in recounting "The Story of Kennett" which were denied him in "Hannah Thurston" and "John Godfrey's Fortunes." He here deals with the persons, scenes, and actions of a hundred years ago, and thus gains that distance so valuable to the novelist; and he neither burdens himself with an element utterly and hopelessly unpicturesque, like modern reformerism, nor assumes the difficult office of interesting us in the scarcely more attractive details of literary adventure. But we think, after all, that we owe the superiority of "The Story of Kennett" less to the felicity of his subject than to Mr. Taylor's maturing powers as a novelist, of which his choice of a happy theme is but one of the evidences. He seems to have told his story because he liked it; and without the least consciousness (which we fear haunted him in former efforts) that he was doing something to supply the great want of an American novel. Indeed, but for the prologue dedicating the work in a somewhat patronizing strain to his old friends and neighbors of Kennett, the author forgets himself entirely in the book, and leaves us to remember him, therefore, with all the greater pleasure.
The hero of the tale is Gilbert Potter, a young farmer of Kennett, on whose birth there is, in the belief of his neighbors, the stain of illegitimacy, though his mother, with whom he lives somewhat solitarily and apart from the others, denies the guilt imputed to her, while some mystery forbids her to reveal her husband's name. Gilbert is in love with Martha, the daughter of Dr. Deane, a rich, smooth, proud old Quaker, who is naturally no friend to the young man's suit, but is rather bent upon his daughter's marriage with Alfred Barton, a bachelor of advanced years, and apparent heir of one of the hardest, wealthiest, and most obstinately long-lived old gentlemen in the neighborhood. Obediently to the laws of fiction, Martha rejects Alfred Barton, who, indeed, is but a cool and timid wooer, and a weak, selfish, spiritless man, of few good impulses, with a dull fear and dislike of his own father, and a covert tenderness for Gilbert. The last, being openly accepted by Martha, and forbidden, with much contumely, to see her, by her father, applies himself with all diligence to paying off the mortgage on his farm, in order that he may wed the Doctor's daughter, in spite of his science, his pride, and his riches; but when he has earned the requisite sum, he is met on his way to Philadelphia and robbed of the money by Sandy Flash, a highwayman who infested that region, and who, Mr. Taylor tells us, is an historical personage. He appears first in the first chapter of "The Story of Kennett," when, having spent the day in a fox-hunt with Alfred Barton, and the evening at the tavern in the same company, he beguiles his comrade into a lonely place, reveals himself, and, with the usual ceremonies, robs Barton of his money and watch. Thereafter, he is seen again, when he rides through the midst of the volunteers of Kennett, drinks at the bar of the village tavern, and retires unharmed by the men assembled to hunt him down and take him. After all, however, he is a real brigand, and no hero; and Mr. Taylor manages his character so well as to leave us no pity for the fate of a man, who, with some noble traits, is in the main fierce and cruel. He is at last given up to justice by the poor, half-wild creature with whom he lives, and whom, in a furious moment, he strikes because she implores him to return Gilbert his money.
As for Gilbert, through all the joy of winning Martha, and the sickening disappointment of losing his money, the shame and anguish of the mystery that hangs over his origin oppress him; and, having once experienced the horror of suspecting that Martha's father might also be his, he suffers hardly less torture when the highwayman, on the day of his conviction, sends to ask an interview with him. But Sandy Flash merely wishes to ease his conscience by revealing the burial-place of Gilbert's money; and when the young man, urged to the demand by an irresistible anxiety, implores, "You are not my father?" the good highwayman, in great and honest amazement, declares that he certainly is not. The mystery remains, and it is not until the death of the old man Barton that it is solved. Then it is dissipated, when Gilbert's mother, in presence of kindred and neighbors, assembled at the funeral, claims Alfred Barton as her husband; and after this nothing remains but the distribution of justice, and the explanation that, long ago, before Gilbert's birth, his parents had been secretly married. Alfred Barton, however, had sworn his wife not to reveal the marriage before his father's death, at that time daily expected, and had cruelly held her to her vow after the birth of their son, and through all the succeeding years of agony and contumely,--loving her and her boy in his weak, selfish, cowardly way, but dreading too deeply his father's anger ever to do them justice. The reader entirely sympathizes with Gilbert's shame in such a father, and his half-regret that it had not been a brave, bad man like Sandy Flash instead. Barton's punishment is finely worked out. The fact of the marriage had been brought to the old man's knowledge before his death, and he had so changed his will as to leave the money intended for his son to his son's deeply wronged wife; and, after the public assertion of their rights at the funeral, Gilbert and his mother coldly withdraw from the wretched man, and leave him, humiliated before the world he dreaded, to seek the late reconciliation which is not accomplished in this book. It is impossible to feel pity for his sufferings; but one cannot repress the hope that Mary and her son will complete the beauty of their own characters by forgiving him at last.
It seems to us that this scene of Mary Potter's triumph at the funeral is the most effective in the whole book. Considering her character and history, it is natural that she should seek to make her justification as signal and public as possible. The long and pitiless years of shame following the error of her youthful love and ambition, during which the sin of attempting to found her happiness on a deceit was so heavily punished, have disciplined her to the perfect acting of her part, and all her past is elevated and dignified by the calm power with which she rights herself. She is the chief person of the drama, which is so pure and simple as not to approach melodrama; and the other characters are merely passive agents; while the reader, to whom the facts are known, cannot help sharing their sense of mystery and surprise. We confess to a deeper respect for Mr. Taylor's power than we have felt before, when we observe with what masterly skill he contrives by a single incident to give sudden and important development to a character, which, however insignificant it had previously seemed, we must finally allow to have been perfectly prepared for such an effect.
The hero of the book, we find a good deal like other heroes,--a little more natural than most, perhaps, but still portentously noble and perfect. He does not interest us much; but we greatly admire the heroine, Martha Deane, whom he loves and marries. In the study of her character and that of her father, Mr. Taylor is perfectly at home, and extremely felicitous. There is no one else who treats Quaker life so well as the author of the beautiful story of "Friend Eli's Daughter"; and in the opposite characters of Doctor Deane and Martha we have the best portraiture of the contrasts which Quakerism produces in human nature. In the sweet and unselfish spirit of Martha, the theories of individual action under special inspiration have created self-reliance, and calm, fearless humility, sustaining her in her struggle against the will of her father, and even against the sect to whose teachings she owes them. Dr. Deane had made a marriage of which the Society disapproved, but after his wife's death he had professed contrition for his youthful error, and had been again taken into the quiet brotherhood. Martha, however, had always refused to unite with the Society, and had thereby been "a great cross" to her father,--a man by no means broken under his affliction, but a hard-headed, self-satisfied, smooth, narrow egotist. Mr. Taylor contrives to present his person as clearly as his character, and we smell hypocrisy in the sweet scent of marjoram that hangs about him, see selfishness in his heavy face and craft in the quiet gloss of his drab broadcloth, and hear obstinacy in his studied step. He is the most odious character in the book, what is bad in him being separated by such fine differences from what is very good in others. We have even more regard for Alfred Barton, who, though a coward, has heart enough to be truly ashamed at last, while Dr. Deane retains a mean self-respect after the folly and the wickedness of his purposes are shown to him.
His daughter, for all her firmness in resisting her father's commands to marry Barton, and to dismiss Gilbert, is true woman, and submissive to her lover. The wooing of these, and of the other lovers, Mark Deane and Sally Fairthorn, is described with pleasant touches of contrast, and a strict fidelity to place and character. Indeed, nothing can be better than the faithful spirit in which Mr. Taylor seems to have adhered to all the facts of the life he portrays. There is such shyness among American novelists (if we may so classify the writers of our meagre fiction) in regard to dates, names, and localities, that we are glad to have a book in which there is great courage in this respect. Honesty of this kind is vastly more acceptable to us than the aerial romance which cannot alight in any place known to the gazetteer; though we must confess that we attach infinitely less importance than the author does to the fact that Miss Betsy Lavender, Deb. Smith, Sandy Flash, and the two Fairthorn boys are drawn from the characters of persons who once actually lived. Indeed, we could dispense very well with the low comedy of Sally's brothers, and, in spite of Miss Betsy Lavender's foundation in fact, we could consent to lose her much sooner than any other leading character of the book: she seems to us made-up and mechanical. On the contrary, we find Sally Fairthorn, with her rustic beauty and fresh-heartedness, her impulses and blunders, altogether delightful. She is a part of the thoroughly _country_ flavor of the book,--the rides through the woods, the huskings, the raising of the barn,--(how admirably and poetically all that scene of the barn-raising is depicted!)--just as Martha somehow belongs to the loveliness and goodness of nature,--the blossom and the harvest which appear and reappear in the story.
We must applaud the delicacy and propriety of the descriptive parts of Mr. Taylor's work: they are rare and brief, and they are inseparable from the human interest of the narrative with which they are interwoven. The style of the whole fiction is clear and simple, and, in the more dramatic scenes,--like that of old Barton's funeral,--rises effortlessly into very great strength. The plot, too, is well managed; the incidents naturally succeed each other; and, while some portion of the end may be foreseen, it must be allowed that the author skilfully conceals the secret of Gilbert's parentage, while preparing at the right moment to break it effectively to the reader.
_The South since the War: as shown by Fourteen Weeks of Travel and Observation in Georgia and the Carolinas._ By SIDNEY ANDREWS. Boston: Ticknor and Fields.
The simple and clear exhibition of things heard and seen in the South seems to have been the object of Mr. Andrews's interesting tour, and he holds the mirror up to Reconstruction with a noble and self-denying fidelity. It would have been much easier to give us studied theories and speculations instead of the facts we needed, and we are by no means inclined to let the crudity of parts of the present book abate from our admiration of its honesty and straightforwardness.
A great share of the volume is devoted to sketches of scenes and debates in the Conventions held last autumn in North and South Carolina and Georgia, for the reconstruction of the State governments; and Mr. Andrews's readers are made acquainted, as pleasantly as may be, with the opinions and appearance of the leaders in these bodies. But the value of this part of his book is necessarily transitory; and we have been much more interested in the chapters which recount the author's experiences of travel and sojourn, and describe the popular character and civilization of the South as affected by the event of the war. It must be confessed, however, that the picture is not one from which we can take great courage for the present. The leading men in the region through which Mr. Andrews passed seem to have an adequate conception of the fact that the South can only rise again through tranquillity, education, and justice; and some few of these men have the daring to declare that regeneration must come through her abandonment of all the social theories and prejudices that distinguished her as a section before the war. But in a great degree the beaten bully is a bully still. There is the old lounging, the old tipsiness, the old swagger, the old violence. Mr. Andrews has to fly from a mob, as in the merry days of 1859, because he persuades an old negro to go home and not stay and be stabbed by a gentleman of one of the first families. Drunken life-long idlers hiccup an eloquent despair over the freedmen's worthlessness; bitter young ladies and high-toned gentlemen insult Northerners when opportunity offers; and, while there is a general disposition to accept the fortune of war, there is a belief, equally general, among our unconstructed brethren, that better people were never worse off. The conditions outside of the great towns are not such as to attract Northern immigration, in which the chief hope of the South lies; and there is but slight wish on the part of the dominant classes to improve the industry of the country by doing justice to the liberated slaves. The military, under the Freedmen's Bureau, does something to enforce contracts and punish outrage; but it is often lamentably inadequate, and is sometimes controlled by men who have the baseness to side against the weak.
Of the three States through which Mr. Andrews travelled, South Carolina seems to be in the most hopeful mood for regeneration; but it is probable that the natural advantages of Georgia will attract a larger share of foreign capital and industry, and place it first in the line of redemption, though the temper of its people is less intelligent and frank than that of the South-Carolinians. In North Carolina the difficulty seems to be with the prevailing ignorance and poverty of the lower classes, and the lukewarm virtue of people who were also lukewarm in wickedness, and whose present loyalty is dull and cold, like their late treason.
_Social Life of the Chinese: with some Account of their Religious, Governmental, Educational, and Business Customs and Opinions, etc._ By REV. JUSTUS DOOLITTLE, Fourteen Years Member of the Fuhchan Mission of the American Board. With over One Hundred and Fifty Illustrations. In Two Volumes. New York: Harper and Brothers.
Mr. Doolittle speaks of a class of degraded individuals in China, "who are willing to make amusement for others." The severest critic can hardly assign him to any such class, for there is no reason to suppose that he would have made his book amusing, if he could possibly have helped it. But the Chinese are a race of such amazing and inexhaustible oddities, that the driest description of them, if it be only truthful, must be entertaining.
What power of prose can withdraw all interest from a people whose theology declares that whoever throws printed paper on the ground in anger "has five demerits, and will lose his intelligence," and that he who tosses it into water "has twenty demerits, and will have sore eyes"? A people among whom unmarried women who have forsworn meat are called "vegetable virgins," and married women similarly pledged are known as "vegetable dames,"--among whom a present of sugar-cane signifies the approach of an elder sister, and oysters in an earthen vessel are the charming signal that a younger brother draws near,--a people among whom the most exciting confectionery is made of rice and molasses,--how can the Reverend Justus Doolittle deprive such a people of the most piquant interest?
And when we come to weightier matters, one finds this to be after all one of those "dry books" for which Margaret Fuller declared her preference,--a book where the author supplies only a multiplicity of the most unvarnished facts, and leaves all the imagination to the reader. To say that he for one instant makes the individuality of a Chinese conceivable, or his human existence credible, or that he can represent the whole nation to the fancy as anything but a race of idiotic dolls, would be saying far too much. No traveller has ever accomplished so much as that, save that wonderful Roman Catholic, Huc. But setting all this apart, there has scarcely appeared in English, until now, so exhaustive and so honest a picture of the external phenomena of Chinese life.
It is painful to have to single out honesty as a special merit in a missionary work; but the temptation to filch away the good name of a Pagan community is very formidable, and few even among lay travellers have done as faithful justice to the Chinese character as Mr. Doolittle. He fully recognizes the extended charities of the Chinese and their filial piety; stoutly declares that tight shoeing is not so injurious as tight lacing, and that Chinese slavery is not so bad as the late lamented "institution" in America; shows that the religions of that land, taken at their worst, have none of the deified sensuality of other ancient mythologies, and that the greatest practical evils, such as infanticide, are steadily combated by the Chinese themselves. Even on the most delicate point, the actual condition of missionary enterprises, the good man tells the precise truth with the most admirable frankness. To make a single convert cost seven years' labor at Canton, and nine at Fuhchan, and it was twenty-eight years ere a church was organized. Out of four hundred million souls, there are as yet less than three thousand converts, as the result of the labor of two hundred missionaries, after sixty years of work. Yet Mr. Doolittle, who has spent more than a third of his life in China, still finds his courage fresh and his zeal unabated; and every one must look with respect upon a self-devotion so generous and so sincere.
_Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates, a Story of Life in Holland._ By M. E. DODGE. New York: James O'Kane.
Hans Brinker is a charming domestic story of some three hundred and fifty pages, which is addressed, indeed, to young people, but which may be read with pleasure and profit by their elders. The scene is laid in Holland, a land deserving to be better known than it is; and the writer evinces a knowledge of the country, and an acquaintance with the spirit and habits of its stout, independent, estimable people, which must have been gathered not from books alone, but from living sources.
Graphically, too, is the quaint picture sketched, and with a pleasant touch of humor. We all know the main features of Dutch scenery; but they are seldom brought to our notice with livelier effect. Speaking of the guardian dikes, Mrs. Dodge says:--
"They are high and wide, and the tops of some of them are covered with buildings and trees. They have even fine public roads upon them, from which horses may look down on wayside cottages. Often the keels of floating ships are higher than the roofs of the dwellings. The stork chattering to her young on the house-peak may feel that her nest is lifted out of danger, but the croaking frog in neighboring bulrushes is nearer the stars than she. Water-bugs dart backward and forward above the heads of the chimney-swallows, and willow-trees seem drooping with shame, because they cannot reach as high as the reeds near by.... Farm-houses, with roofs like great slouched hats over their eyes, stand on wooden legs with a tucked-up sort of air, as if to say, 'We intend to keep dry if we can.' Even the horses wear a wide stool on each hoof to lift them out of the mire.... Men, women, and children go clattering about in wooden shoes with loose heels; peasant-girls, who cannot get beaux for love, hire them for money to escort them to the _Kermis_; and husbands and wives lovingly harness themselves, side by side, on the bank of the canal, and drag their _pakschuyts_ to market....
"'One thing is clear," cries Master Brightside, 'the inhabitants need never be thirsty.' But no, Odd-land is true to itself still. Notwithstanding the sea pushing to get in, and the lakes pushing to get out, and all the canals and rivers and ditches, there is, in many districts, no water fit to swallow; our poor Hollanders must go dry, or drink wine and beer, or send inland to Utrecht and other favored localities for that precious fluid, older than Adam, yet young as the morning dew.
The book is fresh and flavorous in tone, and speaks to the fancy of children. Here is a scene on the canal:--
"It was recess-hour. At the first stroke of the school-house bell, the canal seemed to give a tremendous shout, and grow suddenly alive with boys and girls. The sly thing, shining so quietly under the noonday sun, was a kaleidoscope at heart, and only needed a shake from that great clapper to startle it into dazzling changes.
"Dozens of gayly clad children were skating in and out among each other, and all their pent-up merriment of the morning was relieving itself in song and shout and laughter. There was nothing to check the flow of frolic. Not a thought of school-books came out with them into the sunshine. Latin, arithmetic, grammar, all were locked up for an hour in the dingy school-room. The teacher might be a noun if he wished, and a proper one at that, but _they_ meant to enjoy themselves. As long as the skating was as perfect as this, it made no difference whether Holland was on the North Pole or the Equator; and as for philosophy, how could they bother themselves about inertia and gravitation and such things, when it was as much as they could do to keep from getting knocked over in the commotion?"
There is no formal moral, obtruding itself in set phrase. The lessons inculcated, elevated in tone, are in the action of the story and the feelings and aspirations of the actors. A young lady, for example, has been on a visit to aid and console a poor peasant-girl, whom, having been in deep affliction, she found unexpectedly relieved. Engrossed by her warm sympathy with her humble friend, she forgets the lapse of time.
"Helda was reprimanded severely that day for returning late to school after recess, and for imperfect recitation.
"She had remained near the cottage until she heard Dame Brinker laugh, and heard Hans say, 'Here I am, father!' and then she had gone back to her lessons. What wonder that she missed them! How could she get a long string of Latin verbs by heart, when her heart did not care a fig for them, but would keep saying to itself, 'O, I am so glad! I am so glad!'"
The book contains two things,--a series of lifelike pictures of an interesting country and of the odd ways and peculiarities and homely virtues of its inhabitants; and then, interwoven with these, a simple tale, now pathetic, now amusing, and carrying with it wholesome influences on the young heart and mind.