Part 2 out of 5
the Emperors was at the fiercest,--in the very year of the burning of
Moscow,--Alexander rose in calm statesmanship, and admitted Bessarabia
into the Empire under a proviso which excluded serfage forever.
Hardly was the great European tragedy ended, when Alexander again turned
sorrowfully toward the wronged millions of his Empire. He found that
progress in civilization had but made the condition of the serfs worse.
The newly ennobled _parvenus_ were worse than the old _boyars_; they
hugged the serf-system more lovingly and the serfs more hatefully.[G]
[Footnote G: For proofs of this see Haxthausen.]
The sight of these wrongs roused him. He seized a cross, and swore upon
it that the serf-system should be abolished.
Straightway a great and good plan was prepared. Its main features were,
a period of transition from serfage to personal liberty, extending
through twelve or fourteen years,--the arrival of the serf at personal
freedom, with ownership of his cabin and the bit of land attached to
it,--the gradual reimbursement of masters by serfs,--and after this
advance to _personal_ liberty, an advance by easy steps to a sort of
Favorable as was this plan to the serf-owners, they attacked it in
various ways; but they could not kill it utterly. Esthonia, Livonia, and
Courland became free.
Having failed to arrest the growth of freedom, the serf-holding caste
made every effort to blast the good fruits of freedom. In Courland they
were thwarted; in Esthonia and Livonia they succeeded during many years;
but the eternal laws were too strong for them, and the fruitage of
liberty has grown richer and better.
After these good efforts, Alexander stopped, discouraged. A few
patriotic nobles stood apart from their caste, and strengthened his
hands, as Lafayette and Liancourt strengthened Louis XVI.; they even
drew up a plan of voluntary emancipation, formed an association for the
purpose, gained many signatures; but the great weight of that besotted
serf-owning caste was thrown against them, and all came to nought.
Alexander was at last walled in from the great object of his ambition.
Pretended theologians built, between him and emancipation, walls of
Scriptural interpretation,[H]--pretended philosophers built walls of
false political economy,--pretended statesmen built walls of sham
[Footnote H: Gurowski says that they used brilliantly "Cursed be
If the Tzar could but have mustered courage to _cut_ the knot! Alas for
Russia and for him, he wasted himself in efforts to _untie_ it. His
heart sickened at it; he welcomed death, which alone could remove him
Alexander's successor, Nicholas I., had been known before his accession
as a mere martinet, a good colonel for parade-days, wonderful in
detecting soiled uniforms, terrible in administering petty punishments.
It seems like the story of stupid Brutus over again. Altered
circumstances made a new man of him; and few things are more strange
than the change wrought in his whole bearing and look by that week of
agony and energy in climbing his brother's throne. The portraits of
Nicholas the Grand Duke and Nicholas the Autocrat seem portraits of two
different persons. The first face is averted, suspicious, harsh, with
little meaning and less grandeur; the second is direct, commanding, not
unkind, every feature telling of will to crush opposition, every line
marking sense of Russian supremacy.
The great article of Nicholas's creed was a complete, downright faith in
Despotism, and in himself as Despotism's apostle.
Hence he hated, above all things, a limited monarchy. He told De Custine
that a pure monarchy or pure republic he could understand; but that
anything between these he could _not_ understand. Of his former rule of
Poland, as constitutional monarch, he spoke with loathing.
Of this hate which Nicholas felt for liberal forms of government there
yet remain monuments in the great museum of the Kremlin.
That museum holds an immense number of interesting things, and masses
of jewels and plate which make all other European collections mean. The
visitor wanders among clumps of diamonds, and sacks of pearls, and a
nauseating wealth of rubies and sapphires and emeralds. There rise row
after row of jewelled scymitars, and vases and salvers of gold, and old
saddles studded with diamonds, and with stirrups of gold,--presents of
frightened Asiatic satraps or fawning European allies.
There, too, are the crowns of Muscovy, of Russia, of Kazan, of
Astrachan, of Siberia, of the Crimea, and, pity to say it, of Poland.
And next this is an index of despotic hate,--for the Polish sceptre is
broken and flung aside.
Near this stands the full-length portrait of the first Alexander; and at
his feet are grouped captured flags of Hungary and Poland,--some with
blood-marks still upon them.
But below all,--far beneath the feet of the Emperor,--in dust
and ignominy and on the floor, is flung the very Constitution of
Poland--parchment for parchment, ink for ink, good promise for good
promise--which Alexander gave with so many smiles, and which Nicholas
took away with so much bloodshed.
And not far from this monument of the deathless hate Nicholas bore that
liberty he had stung to death stands a monument of his admiration for
straightforward tyranny, even in the most dreaded enemy his house ever
knew. Standing there is a statue in the purest of marble,--the only
statue in those vast halls. It has the place of honor. It looks proudly
over all that glory, and keeps ward over all that treasure; and that
statue, in full majesty of imperial robes and bees and diadem and face,
is of the first Napoleon. Admiration of his tyrannic will has at last
made him peaceful sovereign of the Kremlin.
This spirit of absolutism took its most offensive form in Nicholas's
attitude toward Europe. He was the very incarnation of reaction against
revolution, and he became the demigod of that horde of petty despots who
infest Central Europe.
Whenever, then, any tyrant's lie was to be baptized, he stood its
godfather; whenever any God's truth was to be crucified, he led on
those who passed by reviling and wagging their heads. Whenever these
oppressors revived some old feudal wrong, Nicholas backed them in the
name of Religion; whenever their nations struggled to preserve some
great right, Nicholas crushed them in the name of Law and Order. With
these pauper princes his children intermarried, and he fed them with his
crumbs, and clothed them with scraps of his purple. The visitor can
see to-day, in every one of their dwarf palaces, some of his malachite
vases, or porcelain bowls, or porphyry columns.
But the _people_ of Western Europe distrusted him as much as their
rulers worshipped; and some of these same presents to their rulers have
become trifle-monuments of no mean value in showing that popular idea
of Russian policy. Foremost among these stand those two bronze masses
of statuary in front of the Royal Palace at Berlin,--representing fiery
horses restrained by strong men. Pompous inscriptions proclaim these
presents from Nicholas; but the people, knowing the man and his
measures, have fastened forever upon one of these curbed steeds the name
of "Progress Checked," and on the other, "Retrogression Encouraged."
And the people were right. Whether sending presents to gladden his
Prussian pupil, or sending armies to crush Hungary, or sending sneering
messages to plague Louis Philippe, he remained proud in his apostolate
This pride Nicholas never relaxed. A few days before his self-will
brought him to his death-bed, we saw him ride through the St. Petersburg
streets with no pomp and no attendants, yet in as great pride as ever
Despotism gave a man. At his approach, nobles uncovered and looked
docile, soldiers faced about and became statues, long-bearded peasants
bowed to the ground with the air of men on whose vision a miracle
flashes. For there was one who could make or mar all fortunes,--the
absolute owner of street and houses and passers-by,--one who owned the
patent and dispensed the right to tread that soil, to breathe that air,
to be glorified in that sunlight and amid those snow-crystals. And he
looked it all. Though at that moment his army was entrapped by military
stratagem, and he himself was entrapped by diplomatic stratagem, that
face and form were proud as ever and confident as ever.
There was, in this attitude toward Europe,--in this standing forth
as the representative man of Absolutism, and breasting the nineteenth
century,--something of greatness; but in his attitude toward Russia this
greatness was wretchedly diminished.
For, as Alexander I. was a good man enticed out of goodness by the baits
of Napoleon, Nicholas was a great man scared out of greatness by the
ever-recurring phantom of the French Revolution.
In those first days of his reign, when he enforced loyalty with
grape-shot and halter, Nicholas dared much and stood firm; but his
character soon showed another side.
Fearless as he was before bright bayonets, he was an utter coward before
bright ideas. He laughed at the flash of cannon, but he trembled at the
flash of a new living thought. Whenever, then, he attempted a great
thing for his nation, he was sure to be scared back from its completion
by fear of revolution. And so, to-day, he who looks through Russia for
Nicholas's works finds a number of great things he has done, but each is
single, insulated,--not preceded logically, not followed effectively.
Take, as an example of this, his railway-building.
His own pride and Russian interest demanded railways. He scanned the
world with that keen eye of his,--saw that American energy was the best
supplement to Russian capital; his will darted quickly, struck afar, and
Americans came to build his road from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Nothing can be more complete. It is an "air-line" road, and so perfect
that the traveller finds few places where the rails do not meet on
either side of him in the horizon. The track is double,--the rails very
heavy and admirably ballasted,--station-houses and engine-houses are
splendid in build, perfect in arrangement, and surrounded by neat
gardens. The whole work is worthy of the Pyramid-builders. The
traveller is whirled by culverts, abutments, and walls of dressed
granite,--through cuttings where the earth on either side is carefully
paved or turfed to the summit. Ranges of Greek columns are reared as
crossings in the midst of broad marshes,--lions' heads in bronzed iron
stare out upon vast wastes where never rose even the smoke from a serf's
All this seems good; and a ride of four hundred miles through such
glories rarely fails to set the traveller at chanting the praises of the
Emperor who conceived them. But when the traveller notes that complete
isolation of the work from all conditions necessary to its success, his
praises grow fainter. He sees that Nicholas held back from continuing
the road to Odessa, though half the money spent in making the road an
Imperial plaything would have built a good, solid extension to that
most important seaport; he sees that Nicholas dared not untie
police-regulations, and that commerce is wretchedly meagre. Contrary to
what would obtain under a free system, this great public work found the
country wretched and left it wretched. The traveller flies by no ranges
of trim palings and tidy cottages; he sees the same dingy groups of huts
here as elsewhere,--the same cultivation looking for no morrow,--the
same tokens that the laborer is _not_ thought worthy of his hire.
This same tendency to great single works, this same fear of great
connected systems, this same timid isolation of great creations from
principles essential to their growth is seen, too, in Nicholas's
Foremost of all the edifices on which Nicholas lavished the wealth of
the Empire stands the Isak Church in St. Petersburg. It is one of the
largest, and certainly the richest, cathedral in Christendom. All is
polished pink granite and marble and bronze. On all sides are double
rows of Titanic columns,--each a single block of polished granite with
bronze capital. Colossal masses of bronze statuary are grouped over each
front; high above the roof and surrounding the great drums of the domes
are lines of giant columns in granite bearing giant statues in bronze;
and crowning all rises the vast central dome, flanked by its four
smaller domes, all heavily plated with gold.
The church within is one gorgeous mass of precious marbles and mosaics
and silver and gold and jewels. On the tabernacle of the altar, in
gold and malachite, on the screen of the altar, with its pilasters of
_lapis-lazuli_ and its range of malachite columns fifty feet high, were
lavished millions on millions. Bulging from the ceilings are massy
bosses of Siberian porphyry and jasper. To decorate the walls with
unfading pictures, Nicholas founded an establishment for mosaic work,
where sixty pictures were commanded, each demanding, after all artistic
labor, the mechanical labor of two men for four years.
Yet this vast work is not so striking a monument of Nicholas's luxury as
of his timidity.
For this cathedral and some others almost as grand were, in part, at
least, results of the deep wish of Nicholas to wean his people from
their semi-idolatrous love for dark, confined, filthy sanctuaries, like
those of Moscow; but here, again, is a timid purpose and half-result;
Nicholas dared set no adequate enginery working at the popular religious
training or moral training. There had been such an organization,--the
Russian Bible Society,--favored by the first Alexander; but Nicholas
swept it away at one pen-stroke. Evidently, he feared lest Scriptural
denunciations of certain sins in ancient politics might be popularly
interpreted against certain sins in modern politics.
It was this same vague fear at revolutionary remembrance which thwarted
Nicholas in all his battling against official corruption.
The corruption-system in Russia is old, organized, and respectable.
Stories told of Russian bribes and thefts exceed belief only until one
has been on the ground.
Nicholas began well. He made an Imperial progress to Odessa,--was
welcomed in the morning by the Governor in full pomp and robes and
flow of smooth words; and at noon the same Governor was working in the
streets, with ball and chain, as a convict.
But against such a chronic moral evil no government is so weak as your
so-called "_strong_" government. Nicholas set out one day for the
Cronstadt arsenals, to look into the accounts there; but before he
reached them, stores, storehouses, and account-books were in ashes.
So, at last, Nicholas folded his arms and wrestled no more. For, apart
from the trouble, there came ever in his dealings with thieves that
old timid thought of his, that, if he examined too closely their
thief-tenure, they might examine too closely his despot-tenure.
We have shown this vague fear in Nicholas's mind, thus at length and in
different workings, because thereby alone can be grasped the master-key
to his dealings with the serf-system.
Toward his toiling millions Nicholas always showed sympathy. Let news
of a single wrong to a serf get through the hedges about the Russian
majesty, and woe to the guilty master! Many of these wrongs came
to Nicholas's notice; and he came to hate the system, and tried to
Opposition met him, of course,--not so much the ponderous laziness of
Peter's time as an opposition polite and elastic, which never ranted and
never stood up,--for then Nicholas would have throttled it and stamped
upon it. But it did its best to entangle his reason and thwart his
He was told that the serfs were well fed, well housed, well clothed,
well provided with religion,--were contented, and had no wish to leave
Now Nicholas was not strong at spinning sham reason nor subtle at
weaving false conscience; but, to his mind, the very fact that the
system had so degraded a man that he could laugh and dance and sing,
while other men took his wages and wife and homestead, was the crowning
argument _against_ the system.
Then the political economists beset him, proving that without forced
labor Russia must sink into sloth and poverty.[I]
[Footnote I: For choice specimens of these reasonings, see Von Erman,
_Archiv fuer Wissenschaftliche Kunde von Russland_.]
Yet all this could not shut out from Nicholas's sight the great black
_fact_ in the case. He saw, and winced as he saw, that, while other
European nations, even under despots, were comparatively active and
energetic, his own people were sluggish and stagnant,--that, although
great thoughts and great acts were towering in the West, there were in
Russia, after all his galvanizing, no great authors, or scholars, or
builders, or inventors, but only those two main products of Russian
civilization,--dissolute lords and abject serfs.
But what to do? Nicholas tried to help his Empire by setting right any
individual wrongs whose reports broke their way to him.
Nearly twenty years went by in this timid dropping of grains of salt
into a putrid sea.
But at last, in 1842, Nicholas issued his ukase creating the class of
"contracting peasants." Masters and serfs were empowered to enter into
contracts,--the serf receiving freedom, the master receiving payment in
It was a moderate innovation, _very_ moderate,--nothing more than the
first failure of the first Alexander. Yet, even here, that old timidity
of Nicholas nearly spoiled what little good was hidden in the ukase.
Notice after notice was given to the serf-owners that they were not to
be molested, that no emancipation was contemplated, and that the ukase
"contained nothing new."
The result was as feeble as the policy. A few serfs were emancipated,
and Nicholas halted. The revolutions of 1848 increased his fear of
innovation; and, finally, the war in the Crimea took from him the power
The great man died. We saw his cold, dead face, in the midst of crowns
and crosses,--very pale then, very powerless then. One might stare at
him then, as at a serf's corpse; for he who had scared Europe during
thirty years lay before us that day as a poor lump of chilled brain and
And we stood by, when, amid chanting, and flare of torches, and roll of
cannon, his sons wrapped him in his shroud of gold-thread, and lowered
him into the tomb of his fathers.
But there was shown in those days far greater tribute than the prayers
of bishops or the reverence of ambassadors. Massed about the Winter
Palace, and the Fortress of Peter and Paul, stood thousands on thousands
who, in far-distant serf-huts, had put on their best, had toiled wearily
to the capital, to give their last mute thanks to one who for years had
stood between their welfare and their owners' greed. Sad that he had not
done more. Yet they knew that he had _wished_ their freedom,--that he
had loathed their wrongs: for _that_ came up the tribute of millions.
The new Emperor, Alexander II., had never been hoped for as one who
could light the nation from his brain: the only hope was that he might
warm the nation, somewhat, from his heart. He was said to be of a weak,
silken fibre. The strength of the family was said to be concentrated in
his younger brother Constantine.
But soon came a day when the young Tzar revealed to Europe not merely
kindliness, but strength.
While his father's corpse was yet lying within his palace, he received
the diplomatic body. As the Emperor entered the audience-room, he seemed
feeble indeed for such a crisis. That fearful legacy of war seemed to
weigh upon his heart; marks of plenteous tears were upon his face;
Nesselrode, though old and bent and shrunk in stature, seemed stronger
than his young master.
But, as he began his speech, it was seen that a strong man had mounted
With earnestness he declared that he sorrowed over the existing
war,--but that, if the Holy Alliance had been broken, it was not through
the fault of Russia. With bitterness he turned toward the Austrian
Minister, Esterhazy, and hinted at Russian services in 1848 and Austrian
ingratitude. Calmly, then, not as one who spoke a part, but as one who
announced a determination, he declared,--"I am anxious for peace; but if
the terms at the approaching congress are incompatible with the honor of
my nation, I will put myself at the head of my faithful Russia and die
sooner than yield."[J]
[Footnote J: This sketch is given from notes taken at the audience.]
Strong as Alexander showed himself by these words, he showed himself
stronger by acts. A policy properly mingling firmness and conciliation
brought peace to Europe, and showed him equal to his father; a policy
mingling love of liberty with love of order brought the dawn of
prosperity to Russia, and showed him the superior of his father.
The reforms now begun were not stinted, as of old, but free and hearty.
In rapid succession were swept away restrictions on telegraphic
communication,--on printing,--on the use of the Imperial Library,--on
strangers entering the country,--on Russians leaving the country. A
policy in public works was adopted which made Nicholas's greatest
efforts seem petty: a vast net-work of railways was commenced. A policy
in commercial dealings with Western Europe was adopted, in which
Alexander, though not apparently so imposing as Nicholas, was really far
greater: he dared advance toward freedom of trade.
But soon rose again that great problem of old,--that problem ever
rising to meet a new Autocrat, and, at each appearance, more dire than
The serfs in private hands now numbered more than twenty millions; above
them stood more than a hundred thousand owners.
The princely strength of the largest owners was best represented by a
few men possessing over a hundred thousand serfs each, and, above all,
by Count Scheremetieff, who boasted three hundred thousand. The luxury
of the large owners was best represented by about four thousand men
possessing more than a thousand serfs each. The pinching propensities
of the small owners were best represented by nearly fifty thousand men
possessing less than twenty serfs each.[K]
[Footnote K: Gerebtzoff, _Histoire de la Civilisation en
Russie_,--Wolowski, in _Revue des Deux Mondes_,--and Tegoborski,
_Commentaries on the Productive Forces of Russia_, Vol. I. p. 221.]
The serfs might be divided into two great classes. The first comprised
those working under the old, or _corvee_, system,--giving, generally,
three days in the week to the tillage of the owner's domain; the second
comprised those working under the new, or _obrok_, system,--receiving
a payment fixed by the owner and assessed by the community to which the
The character of the serfs has been moulded by the serf-system.
They have a simple shrewdness, which, under a better system, had made
them enterprising; but this quality has degenerated into cunning and
cheatery,--the weapons which the hopelessly oppressed always use.
They have a reverence for things sacred, which, under a better system,
might have given the nation a strengthening religion; but they now stand
among the most religious peoples on earth, and among the least moral. To
the besmutted picture of Our Lady of Kazan they are ever ready to burn
wax and oil; to Truth and Justice they constantly omit the tribute of
mere common honesty. They keep the Church fasts like saints; they keep
the Church feasts like satyrs.
They have a curiosity, which, under a better system, had made them
inventive; but their plough in common use is behind the plough described
They have a love of gain, which, under a better system, had made them
hard-working; but it takes ten serfs to do languidly and poorly what
two free men in America do quickly and well.
They are naturally a kind people; but let one example show how serfage
can transmute kindness.
It is a rule well known in Russia, that, when an accident occurs,
interference is to be left to the police. Hence you shall see a man
lying in a fit, and the bystanders giving no aid, but waiting for the
Some years since, as all the world remembers, a theatre took fire in St.
Petersburg, and crowds of people were burned or stifled. The whole story
is not so well known. That theatre was but a great temporary wooden
shed,--such as is run up every year at the holidays, in the public
squares. When the fire burst forth, crowds of peasants hurried to the
spot; but though they heard the shrieks of the dying,--separated from
them only by a thin planking,--only one man, in all that multitude,
dared cut through and rescue some of the sufferers.
The serfs, when standing for great ideas, will die rather than yield.
The first Napoleon learned this at Eylau,--the third Napoleon learned
it at Sevastopol; yet in daily life they are slavish beyond belief. On
a certain day in the year 1855, the most embarrassed man in all the
Russias was, doubtless, our excellent American Minister. The
serf-coachman employed at wages was called up to receive his discharge for
drunkenness. Coming into the presence of a sound-hearted American
democrat, who had never dreamed of one mortal kneeling to another, Ivan
throws himself on his knees, presses his forehead to the Minister's
feet, fawns like a tamed beast, and refuses to move until the Minister
relieves himself from this nightmare of servility by a full pardon.
The whole working of the system has been fearful.
Time after time, we have entered the serf field and serf hut,--have
seen the simple round of serf toils and sports,--have heard the simple
chronicles of serf joys and sorrows. But whether his livery were filthy
sheepskin or gold-laced caftan,--whether he lay on carpets at the door
of his master, or in filth on the floor of his cabin,--whether he gave
us cold, stupid stories of his wrongs, or flippant details of his
joys,--whether he blessed his master or cursed him,--we have wondered at
the power which a serf-system has to degrade and imbrute the image of
But astonishment was increased a thousand fold at study of the reflex
influence for evil upon the serf-owners themselves,--upon the whole
free community,--upon the very soil of the whole country.
On all those broad plains of Russia, on the daily life of that
serf-owning aristocracy, on the whole class which is neither of serfs
nor serf-owners, the curse of God is written in letters so big and so
black that all mankind may read them.
Farms are untilled, enterprise deadened, invention crippled,
education neglected; life is of little value; labor is the badge of
servility,--laziness the very badge and passport of gentility.
Despite the most specious half-measures,--despite all efforts to
galvanize it, to coax life into it, to sting life into it, the nation
has remained stagnant. Not one traveller who does not know that the
evils brought on that land by the despotism of the Autocrat are as
nothing compared to that dark net-work of curses spread over it by a
Into the conflict with this evil Alexander II. entered manfully.
Having been two years upon the throne, having made a plan, having
stirred some thought through certain authorized journals, he inspires
the nobility in three of the northwestern provinces to memorialize him
in regard to emancipation.
Straightway an answer is sent, conveying the outlines of the Emperor's
plan. The period of transition from serfage to freedom is set at twelve
years; at the end of that time the serf is to be fully free, and
possessor of his cabin, with an adjoining piece of land. The provincial
nobles are convoked to fill out these outlines with details as to the
working out by the serfs of a fair indemnity to their masters.
The whole world is stirred; but that province in which the Tzar hoped
most eagerly for a movement to meet him--the province where beats the
old Muscovite heart, Moscow--is stirred least of all. Every earnest
throb seems stifled there by that strong aristocracy.
Yet Moscow moves at last. Some nobles who have not yet arrived at the
callous period, some Professors in the University who have not yet
arrived at the heavy period, breathe life into the mass, drag on the
timid, fight off the malignant.
The movement has soon a force which the retrograde party at Moscow dare
not openly resist. So they send answers to St. Petersburg apparently
favorable; but wrapped in their phrases are hints of difficulties,
All this studied suggestion of difficulties profits the reactionists
nothing. They are immediately informed that the Imperial mind is made
up,--that the business of the Muscovite nobility is now to arrange that
the serf be freed in twelve years, and put in possession of homestead
The next movement of the retrograde party is to _misunderstand_
everything. The plainest things are found to need a world of
debate,--the simplest things become entangled,--the noble assemblies
play solemnly a ludicrous game at cross-purposes.
Straightway comes a notice from the Emperor, which, stripped of official
verbiage, says that they _must_ understand. This sets all in motion
again. Imperial notices are sent to province after province, explanatory
documents are issued, good men and strong are set to talk and work.
The nobility of Moscow now make another move. To scare back the
advancing forces of emancipation, they elect as provincial leaders three
nobles bearing the greatest names of old Russia, and haters of the new
To defeat these comes a miracle.
There stands forth a successor of Saint Gregory and Saint Bavon,--one
who accepts that deep mediaeval thought, that, when God advances
great ideas, the Church must marshal them, or go under,--Philarete,
Metropolitan of Moscow. The Church, as represented in him, is no longer
scholastic,--it is become apostolic. He upholds emancipation,--condemns
its foes; his earnest eloquence carries all.
The work having progressed unevenly,--nobles in different governments
differing in plan and aim,--an assembly of delegates is brought together
at St Petersburg to combine and perfect a resultant plan under the eye
of the Emperor.
The Grand Council of the Empire, too, is set at the work. It is a most
unpromising body,--yet the Emperor's will stirs it.
The opposition now make the most brilliant stroke of their campaign.
Just as James II. of England prated toleration and planned the
enslavement of all thought, so now the bigoted plotters against
emancipation begin to prate of Constitutional Liberty.
Had they been fighting Nicholas, this would doubtless have accomplished
its purpose. He would have become furious, and in his fury would have
wrecked reform. But Alexander bears right on. It is even hinted that
visions of a constitutional monarchy please him.
But then come tests of Alexander's strength far more trying. Masses of
peasants, hearing vague news of emancipation,--learning, doubtless, from
their masters' own spiteful lips that the Emperor is endeavoring to tear
away property in serfs,--take the masters at their word, and determine
to help the Emperor. They rise in insurrection.
To the bigoted serf-owners this is a godsend. They parade it in all
lights; therewith they throw life into all the old commonplaces on the
French Revolution; timid men of good intentions begin to waver. The Tzar
will surely now be scared back.
Not so. Alexander now hurls his greatest weapon, and stuns reaction in a
moment. He frees all the serfs on the Imperial estates without reserve.
Now it is seen that he is in earnest; the opponents are disheartened;
once more the plan moves and drags them on.
But there came other things to dishearten the Emperor; and not least of
these was the attitude of those who moulded popular thought in England.
Be it said here to the credit of France, that from her came constant
encouragement in the great work. Wolowski, Mazade, and other
true-hearted men sent forth from leading reviews and journals words of
sympathy, words of help, words of cheer.
Not so England. Just as, in the French Revolution of 1789, while yet
that Revolution was noble and good, while yet Lafayette and Bailly held
it, leaders in English thought who had quickened the opinions which
had caused the Revolution sent malignant prophecies and prompted foul
blows,--just as, in this our own struggle, leaders in English thought
who have helped create the opinion which has brought on this struggle
now deal treacherously with us,--so, in this battle of Alexander against
a foul wrong, they seized this time of all times to show all the
wrongs and absurdities of which Russia ever had been or ever might be
guilty,--criticized, carped, sent plentifully haughty advice, depressing
sympathy, malignant prophecy.
Review-articles, based on no real knowledge of Russia, announced desire
for serf-emancipation,--and then, in the modern English way, with
plentiful pyrotechnics of antithesis and paradox, threw a gloomy light
into the skilfully pictured depths of Imperial despotism, official
corruption, and national bankruptcy.
They revived Old-World objections, which, to one acquainted with the
most every-day workings of serfage, were ridiculous.
It was said, that, if the serfs lost the protection of their owners,
they might fall a prey to rapacious officials. As well might it
have been argued that a mother should never loose her son from her
It was said that "serfism excludes pauperism,"--that, if the serf owes
work to his owner in the prime of life, the owner owes support to his
serf in the decline of life. No lie could be more absurd to one who had
seen Russian life. We were first greeted, on entering Russia, by a
beggar who knelt in the mud; at Kovno eighteen beggars besieged the
coach,--and Kovno was hardly worse than scores of other towns; within a
day's ride of St. Petersburg a woman begged piteously for means to keep
soul and body together, and finished the refutation of that sonorous
English theory,--for she had been discharged from her master's service
in the metropolis as too feeble, and had been sent back to his domain,
afar in the country, on foot and without money.
It was said that freed peasants would not work. But, despite volleys
of predictions that they _would_ not work if freed, despite volleys of
assertions that they _could_ not work if freed, the peasants, when set
free, and not crushed by regulations, have sprung to their work with an
earnestness, and continued it with a vigor, at which the philosophers
of the old system stand aghast. The freed peasants of Wologda compare
favorably with any in Europe.
And when the old tirades had grown stale, English writers drew copiously
from a new source,--from "La Verite sur la Russie,"--pleasingly
indifferent to the fact that the author's praise in a previous work had
notoriously been a thing of bargain and sale, and that there was in full
process of development a train of facts which led the Parisian courts to
find him guilty of demanding in one case a "blackmail" of fifty thousand
[Footnote L: _Proces en Diffamation du Prince Simon Worontzoff contre le
Prince Pierre Dolgornokow_. Leipzig, 1862]
All this argument outside the Empire helped the foes of emancipation
inside the Empire.
But the Emperor met the whole body of his opponents with an argument
overwhelming. On the 5th of March, 1861, he issued his manifesto making
the serfs FREE. He had struggled long to make some satisfactory previous
arrangement; his motto now became, Emancipation first, Arrangement
afterward. Thus was the _result_ of the great struggle decided; but,
to this day, the after-arrangement remains undecided. The Tzar offers
gradual indemnity; the nobles seem to prefer fire and blood. Alexander
stands firm; the last declaration brought across the water was that he
would persist in reforms.
But, whatever the after-process, THE SERFS ARE FREE.
The career before Russia is hopeful indeed; emancipation of her serfs
has set her fully in that career. The vast mass of her inhabitants are
of a noble breed, combining the sound mind of the Indo-Germanic races
with the tough muscle of the northern plateaus of Asia. In no other
country on earth is there such unity in language, in degree of
cultivation, and in basis of ideas. Absolutely the same dialect is
spoken by lord and peasant, in capital and in province.
And, to an American thinker, more hopeful still for Russia is the
patriarchal democratic system,--spreading a primary political education
through the whole mass. Leaders of their hamlets and communities
are voted for; bodies of peasants settle the partition of land and
assessments in public meetings; discussions are held; votes are taken;
and though Tzar's right and nobles' right are considered far above
people's right, yet this rude democratic schooling is sure to keep
bright in the people some sparks of manliness and some glow of free
In view, too, of many words and acts of the present Emperor, it is
not too much to hope, that, ere many years, Russia will become a
So shall Russia be made a power before which all other European powers
shall be pigmies.
Before the close of the year in which we now stand, there is to be
celebrated at Nijnii-Novogorod the thousandth anniversary of the
founding of Russia. Then is to rise above the domes and spires of that
famed old capital a monument to the heroes of Russian civilization.
Let the sculptor group about its base Rurik and his followers, who in
rude might hewed out strongholds for the coming nation. Let goodly
place be given to Minime and Pojarski, who drove forth barbarian
invaders,--goodly place also to Platov and Kutusov, who drove forth
civilized invaders. Let there be high-placed niches for Ivan the Great,
who developed order,--for Peter the Great, who developed physical
strength,--for Derjavine and Karamsin, who developed moral and mental
strength. Let Philarete of Moscow stand forth as he stood confronting
with Christ's gospel the traffickers in flesh and blood. In loving care
let there be wrought the face and form of Alexander the First,--the
But, crowning all, let there lord it a noble statue to the greatest of
Russian benefactors in all these thousand years,--to the Warrior who
restored peace,--to the Monarch who had faith in God's will to make
order, and in man's will to keep order,--to the Christian Patriot who
made forty millions of serfs forty millions of _men_,--to Alexander the
Second,--ALEXANDER THE EARNEST.
* * * * *
I said that the afternoon sunlight poured its rain into the church-yard.
It was four of the clock when Aaron left me.
The dream that I had received impression of still dwelt in active
remembrance, and a little fringe from the greater glory mine eyes had
seen went trailing in flows of light along the edge of earth, as if
saying unto it, "Arise and behold what I am!"
One child habiting earth dared to lift eyes into the awful arch of air,
wherein are laid the foundation-stones of the crystalline wall, and,
beholding drops of Infinite Love, garnered one, and, walking forth with
it in her heart, went into the church-yard,--a regret arising that the
graves that held the columns fallen from the family-corridor had found
so little of place within affection's realm. The regret, growing into
resolution, hastened her steps, that went unto the place devoted to
the dead Percivals. It was in a corner,--the corner wherein grew the
pine-tree of the hills.
"A peaceful spot of earth," I thought, as I went into the hedged
inclosure, and shut myself in with the gleaming marble, and the
low-hanging evergreens that waved their green arms to ward ill away from
those they had grown up among. "It is long since the ground has been
broken here," I thought,--"so long!" And I looked upon a monumental
stone to find there recorded the latest date of death. It was eighteen
hundred and forty-four,--my mother's,--and I looked about and sought
her grave. The grass seemed crispy and dry. I sat down by this grave. I
leaned over it, and looked into the tangled net-work of dead fibres held
fast by some link of the past to living roots underneath. I plucked some
of them, and in idlest of fancies looked closely to see if deeds or
thoughts of a summer gone had been left upon them. "No! I've had enough
of fancies for one day; I'll have no more to-night," I thought; and I
wished for something to do. I longed for action whereon to imprint my
new impress of resolution. It came in a guise I had not calculated upon.
"It's very wrong of you to sit upon that damp ground, Miss Percival."
The words evidently were addressed to me, sitting hidden in among the
evergreens. I looked up and answered,--
"It is not damp, Mr. Axtell."
He was leaning upon the iron railing outside of the hedge.
"Will you come away from that cold, damp place?" he went on.
"I'm not ready to leave yet," I said, and never moved. I asked,--
"How is your sister since morning?"
I thought him offended. He made no reply,--only walked away and went
into the church close by.
"One can never know the next mood that one of these Axtells will take,"
I said to myself, in the stillness that followed his going. "He might
have answered me, at least." Then I reproached Anna Percival for
cherishing uncharity towards tried humanity. There's a way appointed
for escape, I know, and I sought it, burying my face in my hands, and
leaning over the stillness of my mother's heart. I heard steps drawing
near. Looking up, I saw Mr. Axtell entering the inclosure. He had
brought one of the church pew-cushions.
"Will you rise?" he asked.
He did not bring the cushion to where I was; he carried it around and
spread it in a vacant spot between two graves, the place left beside
my mother for my precious father's white hairs to be laid in. Having
deposited it there, he looked at me, evidently expecting that I would
avail myself of his kindness. I wanted to refuse. I felt perfectly
comfortable where I was. I should have done so, had not my intention
been intercepted by a shaft of expression that crossed my vein of
humor unexpectedly. It was only a look from out of his eyes. They were
absolutely colorless,--not white, not black, but a strange mingling of
all hues made them everything to my view,--and yet so full of coloring
that no one ray came shining out and said, "I'm blue, or black, or
gray;" but something said, if not the mandate of color, "Obey!"
"Sacrilege!" I said. "It is a place for worship."
"Whose grave is this?" Mr. Axtell asked, as he bent down and laid his
hand upon the sod. It was upon the one next beyond my mother's; between
the two it was that he had placed the cushion.
"The head-stone is just there. You can read, can you not?" I asked, with
a spice of malice, because for the second time this barbaric gentleman
had commanded me to obey.
He lifted himself up, leaned against the towering family-monument, and
"Miss Percival, it is very hard for an Axtell to forgive."
I thought of the face in the Upper Country, and asked,--
"Because the Creator has almost deprived them of forgiving power. Don't
tempt one of them to sin by giving occasion for the exercise of that
wherein they mourn at being deficient."
I pulled dead grassy fibres again, and said nothing.
The second time he bent to the mound of earth, and said,--
"Please tell me now, Miss Anna, whose grave this is;" and there were
tears in his eyes that made them for the moment grandly brown.
"Truly, Mr. Axtell, I do not know. I've been so busy with the living that
I've not thought much of this place. It long since all these died, you
know;" and I looked about upon the little village closed in by the iron
railing. "I do not know that I can tell you one, save my mother's, here.
I remember her; the others I cannot."
I arose to walk around to the headstone and see.
"No," he said. "Will you listen to me a little while?"
"If you'll sing for me."
"Sing for you?"--and there was a world of reproach in his meaning. "Is
this a place for songs? or am I a man to sing?"
"Why not, Mr. Axtell? Aaron told me that you could sing, if you would;
he has heard you."
"I will sing for you," he said, "if, after I am done, you choose to hear
the song I sing."
I thought again of Miss Lettie, and put the question, once unheeded,
"She is better. Your sister is a charming nurse."
A long quiet ensued; in it came the memory of Dr. Eaton's interest in
the young girl's face.
"Is Mr. Axtell an artist?" I asked, after the silence.
"Mr. Axtell is a church-sexton," was the response.
"Cannot he be both sexton and artist?"
"How can he?"
"You have a strange way of telling me that I ought not to question you,"
I said, vexed at his non-committal words and manner.
He changed the subject widely, when next he spoke.
"Have you the letter that you picked up last night?" he asked.
"Yes, Mr. Axtell."
"Give it to me, please."
"Did Miss Lettie commission you to ask?"
"She did not."
"Then I cannot give it to you."
"Cannot give me my sister's letter?"
"It was to _me_ that it was intrusted."
"And you are afraid to trust me with it?"
"I am afraid to break the trust reposed in myself."
Again the black roll of silent thunder gloomed on his brow; as once his
sister's eyes had been, his now were coruscant.
"Do you refuse to give it to me?" he demanded.
"I do," I said, "now, and until Miss Lettie says, 'Give.'"
"You've learned the contents, I presume," he said, with untold sarcasm.
"Woman's curiosity digs deeply, when once aroused."
"You've been taught of woman in a sad school, I fear. I'll forgive the
faults of your education, Mr. Axtell. Have you any more remarks to me?
"Do you know the contents of the letter that made Lettie so anxious?"
"You accused me before questioning formerly, or I should have given you
truth. I have no knowledge of what is in the letter."
He had resumed his former position, leaning against the monument, where
I had mine. He changed it now, drawing nearer for an instant, then went
to the side of the grave that he had asked me concerning, kneeled there,
laid two hands above it, and said,--
"Letty was right, Miss Anna. God has made you well,--made you after the
similitude of her who sleeps underneath this sod. Will you forgive my
And he looked down as I had done, ere he came, into the tangled, matted
fibres, then out into the great all-where of air, as if some mysterious
presence encompassed him.
Very lowly I said,--
"Forgiveness is of God;" and I remembered the vision that came in my
dream. The little voice that steals into hearts crowded with emotions,
and tells tiny nerves of wish which way to fly, went whispering through
the niches of my mind, "Tell the dream."
Mr. Axtell went back to his monumental resting-place. I said,--
"I have had a wonderful dream to-day;" and I began to tell the opening
The first sentence was not told when I stopped, suddenly. I could not go
on. He asked me, "Why?" I only re-uttered what I felt, that I could not
"Oh! I have had a dream," he said,--"one that for eighteen years has
been hung above my days and woven into my nights,--a great, hopeless
woof of doom. I have tried to broider it with gold, I have tried to hang
silver-bells upon the drooping corners thereof. I have tried to fold it
about me and wear it, as other men wear sorrows, for the sun of heaven
and the warmth of society to draw the wrinkled creases out. I have
striven to fold it up, and lay it by in the arbor-vitae chest of memory,
with myrrh and camphor, but it will not be exorcised. No, no! it hangs
firm as granite, stiff as the axis of the sun, unapproachable as the
aurora of the North. Miss Percival, could you wear such a vestment in
the march of life?"
"Your dream is too mystical; will you tell me what it has done for you?
As yet, I only know what you have not done with it."
"What it has done for me?"--and he went slowly on, thinking half aloud,
as if the idea were occurring for the first time.
"It touched me one soft summer day, before the earth became mildewed and
famine-stricken. I was a proud, wilful Axtell boy; all the family traits
were written with a white-hot pen on me. My will, my great high will,
went ringing chimes of what I would do through the house where I was
born, where my mother has just died, and I swung this right arm forth
into the air of existence, and said, 'I will do what I will; men shall
say I am a master in the land.'
"My father sent me away from home for education. I walked with intrepid
mind through the course where others halted, weary, overladen, unfit for
"To gain the valedictory oration was one goal that I had said I would
attain to. I did. That was nineteen years ago. I came home in the soft,
hot, August-time. It was the close of the month. The moon was at its
highest flood of light. I was at the highest tide of will-might. That
night, if any one had told me I could not do that which I had a wish to
accomplish, I would have made my desire triumphant, or death would have
been my only conqueror. Oh! it is dreadful to have such a nature handed
down from the dark past, and thrust into one's life, to be battled with,
to be hewn down at last, unless the lightning of God's wrath cleaves
into the spirit and wakes up the volcano, which forever after emits only
fire and sulphur. There's yet one way more, after the lightning-stroke
comes,--something unutterable, something that canopies the soul with
doom, and forever the spirit tries to raise its wings and fly away, but
every uplifting strikes fire, until, singed, scorched, burnt, wings grow
useless, and droop down, never more to be uplifted."
Mr. Axtell drooped his arms, as if typical of the wings he had
described. Borne away by the excitement of his words, he stood straight
up against the far-away sky, with the verdure of Norway-evergreens
soothingly waving their green around him. There was a magnificence of
mien in the man, that made my spirit say--
"The Deity made that man for great deeds."
He glanced down at the grave once more, and resumed:--
"I came home that August night. The prairie of Time rolled out limitless
before my imagination. I built pyramids of fame; I laid the foundation
of Babel once more, in my heart,--for I said, 'My name shall touch the
stars,--my name! Abraham Axtell!' It is only written in earth, ground to
"An atom of earth's powder may be a star to eyes vast enough to see the
fulness that dwells therein, until to angelic vision our planet stands
out a universe of starry suns, each particle of dust luminous with
eternities of limitless space between," I said, as he, pausing, stooped,
and stirred the crisp grass, to outline his name there.
"All things are possible," he murmured, "but the rending of my mantle of
He looked from the tracing of his name to the west.
"The sun is going down once more," he said, and bowed his head, as one
does, waiting for pastoral benediction. His eyes were fixed now, as I
had seen his sister's held, but his lips poured out words.
"The moonlight sheened the earth, hot and heavy and still, that night.
My father, mother, and Lettie were in the home where you have seen
sorrow come. Up from the sea came the low, hollow boom of surges rising
over the crust of land.
"'To the sea, to the sea, let us go!' I cried; 'it is the very night to
tread the hall of moonbeams that leads to palace of pearls!'
"My mother was weary; she would have stayed at home, but I was her pearl
of price; she forgot herself. You know the stream that comes down from
the mountain and empties into the ocean. It was in that stream that
my boat floated, and a long walk away. Lettie left us. Just after we
started, I missed her, and asked where she had gone.
"'You'll see soon,' replied my mother; and even as I looked back, I
saw Lettie following, with a shadow other than her own falling on the
midsummer grass. She did not hasten; she did not seek to come up with
us. My mother was walking beside me.
"Thus we came to the river, at the place where it wanders out into the
ocean. I saw my boat, my River-Ribbon, floating its cable-length, but
never more, and undulating to the throbs of tide that pulsated along
the blue vein of water, heralding the motion of the heart outside. We
stopped there. The moon was set in the firmament high and fast, as when
it was made to rule the night. The hall of light, lit up along the
twinkling way of waters, looked shining and beckoning in its wavy ways
of grace, a very home for the restless spirit. I wanted to thread its
labyrinth of sparkles; I wanted to cool my wings of desire in its
phosphorescent dew. I said,--
"'I am going out upon the sea.'
"My mother seemed troubled.
"' Abraham, the boat is unsafe; the water comes through. See! it is half
full now'; and she pointed to where it lay in the stream, lined with a
mimic portraiture of the endless corridor of moonlight that went playing
across the bit of water it held.
"'This is childish, this is folly,' I thought, 'to be stayed on such a
_spirit_ mission by a few cups of water in a boat! What shall I ever
accomplish in life, if I yield thus?--and without waiting to more than
half hear, certainly not to obey, my father's stern 'Stay on shore,
Abraham,' I went down the bank, stepped into a bit of a bark, and pushed
it into the stream, where my boat was now rocking on the strengthened
flow of ocean's rise.
"I came to the boat, bailed out the water with a tin cup that lay
floating inside, and calling back to land, 'Go home without me; do
not wait,' I took the oars, and in my River-Ribbon, set free from its
anchorage, I commenced rowing against the tide. I looked back to the
bank I was fast leaving. I saw figures standing there.
"'They'll go home soon,' I said, and I turned my eyes steadfastly toward
the sheeny track, all crimpled and curled with fibrous net-work, and
"It was a glorious night,--a night when one toss of a mermaid's hair,
made visible above the waters, as she flew along the track I was
pursuing, would have been worth a life of rowing against this incoming
"You have never tried to row, Miss Anna. You don't know how hard it is
to push a boat out of a river when the sea sends up full veins to course
the strong arms she reaches up into the land."
For one moment, as he addressed me, his eyes lost their rapt look; they
went back to it, and he to his story.
"I saw the fin of a shark dancing in the waves. Sharks were nothing
for me. I did not look down into my boat. No, men never do; they look
_beyond where they are_. They're a sorry race, Miss Anna.
"The shark went down after some bit of prey more delicious than I. My
will would have been hard for him to manage. I forgot the shark. I
forgot the figures standing, waiting on the shore that I had left, ere
Lettie and the shadow that walked with her, whatever it was, had come to
it. I forgot everything but the phosphorescent dew that would cool my
spirit, athirst for what I knew not, ravenous for refreshment, searching
for manna where it never grew. The plaudits of yesterday were ringing in
my ears, the wavelets danced to their music, my oars kept time to the
vanity measure of my beating mind. Still I was not content. I wanted
something more. A faded flower, an althea-bud, was still pendent from my
coat. I had taken it out from the mass of flowers with which I had been
honored. I noticed it now. The moon dewed it over with its yellowness.
'An offering to the sea-nymphs!' I said, and I cast it forth into the
wide field. It did not go down, as I had fancied it would. No, it went
on, whither the movement of the ceaseless dance of motion carried it. I
leaned upon my oars and watched it until it went out of the illuminated
track. I was now in the bay, outside the river. I looked once more
shoreward. I had threaded the curve of the stream, and could not see
around the point. No living human thing was in sight. I was alone with
Nature in the night, when she looks down glories, and spreads out fields
where we long to walk, and our footsteps are fast in clay. I was not far
from shore; it lay dark behind me; it was only before that I could see.
As I paused in my rowing to watch the althea-bud set afloat, I heard a
tiny splash in the waters.
"'A school of fish flashing up a moment,' I thought, and did not further
The man looked as if he were now out at sea. He turned his head the
least bit: the effect against the sky was fine. He had an attitude of
watching and listening.
"I saw an object before me moving on the waters. I looked down. The
water was rising in my own boat. I could not heed it just now.
"'In a moment,' I thought, 'I would stop to bail it out.'
"It was a boat that I saw. It moved on so swiftly,--the chime of the
oars, tiny oars they were, was so sweetly, softly musical, the very
drippling drops fell so like globules of silver, that I forgot my
mission. I held my oars and waited. At last--how long it seemed!--I saw
the boat come into the bridge of light. I saw fair, golden hair let
loose to the sea-breezes that began to blow. I saw two hands striving
with the oars. I saw the owner of the hair and of the hands, a young
girl, sitting in that boat, coming right across the way where I ought
to be going. "'Does she mean to stay me?' I said, and even then my will
"I bent to the oars; but whilst I had watched her, my boat had been
rapidly filling. I was forced to stay. My feet were already in the
waves. Right across my pathway she came, close up to my filling boat.
"Her eyes were in the shadow, the moon being behind, but her voice rang
out these words:--
"'Mr. Axtell, you're committing a great sin. You're putting your own
life in peril. You're killing your mother. I have come to stay you. Will
you come on shore?'
"I only looked at her. When I found voice, it was to ask,--
"'Who are you?'
"'Who I am doesn't matter now. Drowning men mustn't ask questions'; and,
putting one oar within my boat, now more than half filled, she drew her
own to its side, and said,--"'Come in.'
"'Conquered by a woman,' I thought. 'Never!'--and I began to search for
the cup, that I might give back to the sea its intruding contents.
"I had left it in the other boat.
"'Conquered by thine own sin,' said the young girl, still holding fast
to my boat.
"'Not so easily, fairy, or whoe'er thou art,' I said; for I saw that her
boat was well furnished with both bailing-bowl and sponge, and I reached
out for them, saying, 'I'm going on the track, farther out.'
"She divined my intent, and quick as was my thought were her two hands;
she cast both bowl and sponge into the sea.
"'Mr. Axtell,' she said; 'there's a power in the world greater than your
own. The sooner you yield, the less you'll feel the thorns. Your mother,
on the shore, is suffering agonies for you. Will you come into this
"The boats had floated around a little, and had changed places. I looked
into her eyes; there was nothing there that said, 'I'm trying to conquer
you.' There was something in them that I had never seen made visible on
earth before,--something radiant, with a might of right, that made me
yield. She saw that I was coming. I lifted my feet out of the inches of
water that had nearly filled it, put my oars across her tiny boat, and,
leaving my own River-Ribbon to its fate, I entered that wherein my
preserver had come out. I took the oars from her passive hands; she went
to the front of the boat and left me master of the small ship. I turned
its prow homeward. My preserver sat motionless, her eyes in the moon,
for aught of notice she took of me. I was going toward the river; she
bade me keep to the bay-shore, at the right. I obeyed. No more words
were spoken until we were almost to land. I saw a little bulb afloat.
The boat went near. I put out my oar and drew it in. It was the
althea-bud that I had offered to the sea-nymphs.
"'The mermaids refuse my offering,' I said; 'will you accept it?'--and
I handed it, dripping with salt-water, to the fairy who sat so silently
"She took it, pointed to a little sheltered cove between two outstanding
ledges of rock, and said,--
"'This is boatie's home,--see if you can guide her safely in.'
"The keel grated on the gravelly beach, the boat struck home. The young
girl did not wait for me, she landed first, and, handing me a tiny key,
"'Draw my boat up out of reach of the tide, make it fast, please,'--and
she sped away into the dreamy darkness of the land, whose shadows the
moon did not yet reach, leaving me alone on the shore.
"I obeyed her orders implicitly, and then followed. It was not far from
this sheltered cove that I met those with whom I had come. My mother was
sitting upon one of the sea-shore rocks, passive, but stony. The young
girl had just been speaking to her, she must have been saying that 'I
was come back,' but my mother had not heeded. It was only in sight that
her reason came, but, oh! such a deluge of gladness came to her when she
"'I was dying,' she said; 'you've come back to save me, Abraham.'
"My father did not speak then, he lifted my mother from off the stone,
and together we three walked home. Lettie lingered, the shadow with her.
Was that the young girl? I could not quite discern."
Mr. Axtell stopped in his narration, walked out of the village of Dead
Percivals, and to his mother's new-made grave. He came back soon.
"Miss Percival," he said, "two days ago you said, 'it was the strangest
thing that ever you saw man do, to dig his mother's grave.' It was a
work begun long ago; the first stroke was that August night; it is
nearly nineteen years ago. What do you think of it now?"
"As I thought then, Mr. Axtell."
He stood near me now. He went on.
"That young girl saved my life that night, Miss Percival. Ere we reached
home, a violent, sudden thunder-storm came down, with wind and rain, and
terrible strokes of lightning. We took shelter in another house than
home. Lettie and my preserver followed."
Another long pause came, a gathering together of the forces of his
nature, typical of the still hotness of the August night of which he
spoke, and after the ominous rest he emitted ponderous words. They came
like crackles of rattling electricity. I could taste it.
"Miss Percival, look at me one moment."
"Do I look like a murderer?"
"I don't know."
"Don't turn your eyes away; do you know what certain words in this world
"Signal one, and I will answer."
He looked so leonic that I felt the least bit in the world like running
away, but decided to stay, as he was just within my pathway of escape.
"Do you know what it is, what it means, when a human soul calls out from
its highest heights to another mortal, 'Thou art mine'?"
I do not think he expected an answer, but I answered a round, full,
"Then let it be the theme of thanksgiving," he said. "That fair young
girl is here now. I feel her sacred presence. She does not save me from
my imperious will.
"Do you know, Miss Percival," he suddenly resumed, "do you know that you
are here with Abraham Axtell, a man who has destroyed two lives: one
slowly, surely, through years of suffering; the other, oh! the other--by
a flash from God's wrath, and for eighteen years my soul has cried out
to her, 'Thou art mine,' and yet there is no response on earth, there
can be none? Would you know the name of my preserver that night,
come,"--and, bending down, he offered his hand to assist me in rising.
I had no faith in this man's murderousness, whatever he might have done.
He led me around to the head-stone of the grave which he had asked my
knowledge of. Before I could see, he passed his hand across my eyes: how
cold it was!
"When you see the name recorded here," he said, "you will know who saved
me that August night, whom my terrible will destroyed, drinking her
young life up in one fell cup."
His hand was withdrawn for one moment; my sight was blinded with the
cold pressure on my eyes; then I read,--
JULIUS AND MARY PERCIVAL,
AUGUST 30th, 1843,
"My sister," I said
"Your sister, whom I killed."
"Ere I was old enough to know her."
"Have you one drop of mercy for him who destroyed your sister?" he
asked,--and his haughty will was suffused in pleading.
I thought of the third figure in the celestial picture, as it gazed upon
the outstretched hand, and I said,--
"God hath not made me your judge; why should I refuse mercy?"
A flash of intuition came. The young girl, whose portrait was in the
house of the Axtells, whose face had been next my mother's, who asked me
to do something for her on the earth,--could they all be manifestations
"Who painted the portrait in your house?" I asked.
"My will," he said; "I am no artist."
"Is it like Mary?"
"Then I have this day seen her."
He looked up, great tears falling from his eyes, and asked,--
I took him to the gallery of the clouds, and showed him my vision, and
repeated the words spoken to me up there, the words for him only,--the
others were full of mystery still. He held seemingly no part therein.
"Will a murderer's prayer add one ray of joy to the angel who has come
out on the sea to save me,--me, twice saved, oh! why?"--and Mr. Axtell
laid his hand upon my head in blessing.
"Twice saved," I said, "that the third salvation may be Christ's."
Solemnly came the "Amen" from his lips, tremulous as the bridge of light
he had once passed over.
"Good-bye, Mr. Axtell; I shall fulfil Mary's wish for you, if you will
let me;" and I offered him my hand for this second parting: the first
had been when he went out alone to his mother's burial.
He looked at it, as he then had done, uncomprehending, and said only,--
"Will I let you?"
He gathered up the cushion, and carried it to the church. I closed the
gate that shut in this silent city, and went to the parsonage.
* * * * *
The sun had gone down,--the night was coming on. I found Aaron pacing
the verandah with impatient steps. He asked where I had been. I told
"It is very well that you are going so soon," he said,--"you are getting
decidedly ghostly. Will you take a walk with me?"
I was thankful for the occasion. As might have been expected, Aaron
chose the way that led to the solemn old house. I was amused.
"Where are you going?" I questioned.
"To inquire after our early-morning patient," he said.
"And not to see Mrs. Aaron Wilton?"
Aaron looked the least mite retributive, as he said,--
"Anna, there are mysteries in life."
"As, why Aaron was chosen before Moses," I could not help suggesting.
Sophie had had an opportunity of being Mrs. Moses, instead of Mrs.
"Sophie's wise; you are not, Anna, I fear."
"Your fear may be the beginning of my wisdom, Aaron: I hope so."
With the exception of a return to the subject on which Aaron had
questioned me at breakfast, and on which he elicited no further
information from me, nothing of interest occurred until we were within
the place that held Sophie's pearly self.
She had been a shower of sunshine, letting fall gold and silver drops
through all the house. I saw them, heard their sweet glade-like music
rippling everywhere, the moment that I went in.
Mr. Axtell was pacing the hall in the evening twilight, and the little
of lamp-lustre that was shed into it.
He looked passively calm, heroically enduring, as we went past him. From
his eyes came scintillations of a joy whose root is not in our planet.
He simply said,--
"Mrs. Wilton is with my sister; she will be glad to see you."
We went on. Sophie had made a very nest of repose in the sick-room. Miss
Axtell looked so comfortable, so untired of life, so changed from the
first glimpse I had had of her, when I thought her face might be such as
would be found under Dead-Sea waves. There was no more of the anxious
unrest. She spoke to Mr. Wilton, thanking him for the "good gift," she
named Sophie, that he had lent to her.
Miss Lettie called me to her. She wished to say something to me only. I
bent my head to listen.
"I am ill," she said,--"better just now, but I feel that it will be
weeks before I shall leave this place; it is good for me to be here, but
this troubles me,--I don't like to think that I must take care of it;
will you guard it sacredly for me?--and the letter of last night, add it
to the others."
She gave me a small package, carefully closed, and I saw that it was
From her manner, I fancied it was to be known to me alone, and,
concealing it, I said,--
"I will keep it securely for you."
Sophie came playfully up, and said,--
"Now, Anna, I'm empress here; no secret negotiations to overthrow my
"I'm just going to say good-bye to Miss Axtell," I said, "for I am going
home to-morrow;" and I told her of the letter from father, that I had
Sophie got up a charming storm of regret and wrath, neither at my father
for sending for me, nor at myself for going, but for the mysterious
third personality that created the need for my departure.
Miss Lettie seemed to regret my coming absence still more than Sophie.
"I wanted you so much," she said; "if I had only had you long ago, life
would have been changed," she whispered again, as Sophie turned to
listen to some pretty nonsense that the grave minister poured into her
ears through those windings of softly purplish hair.
"Will you make me one promise, only one?" said Miss Axtell.
I hesitated,--for promises are my religious fear, I do not like to
make promises. They are like mile-stones to a thunder-storm. They note
distances when the spirit is anxious only to cycle time and space.
She looked so earnest, so persuasive, that I yielded, and said that
"consistency should be my only requirement."
"It is not so immensely inconsistent, my Anemone; it is only that I want
you to come back again. Two weeks will satisfy your father. Will you
come to me on the twenty-fifth of March?"
"What for?" with my awkward persistency in questioning, I asked.
"Why, because I want to see you,--I wish you to write a letter for
me,--and more than all, I want an advocate."
I, smiling at the triplet of occasions, promised to come, if consistent.
Sophie was going home. She came up to drop a few last cheery words, to
fall into the coming hours of night.
"You see how you've spoiled me by kindness, Mrs. Wilton," Miss Lettie
said. "I presume still further: I would like to see old Chloe; it is a
long, long time since I've seen her. Would you let her come?" Sophie
said that "it would renew Chloe's youth; she certainly would send her."
Good-byes were spoken, and we went down. Mr. Axtell was still treading
the hall below. He thanked Sophie for her kindness to Miss Lettie, shook
hands genially with Aaron, looked at me, and we were gone.
I carried Miss Lettie's message to Chloe. She lifted up those great
African orbs of hers as she might have done to the Mountains of the Moon
in her native land.
"Now the heavens be praised!" said the honest soul,--"what for can that
icy lady want to see old Chloe?"
I had carried the message under cover of one from my own heart. I knew
that Chloe had lived with my mother until she died. I knew that she must
know something regarding Mary, my sister, to whom, in all my life, I had
scarcely given one thought, who died ere I was wise enough to know her.
And so I began by asking,--
"Am I like my sister who died, Chloe?"
She brought back her eyes from gazing upon the lunar mountains.
"I don't know's you are 'xactly; but somehow you _did_ look like her,
up-stairs to-day, when you had them white things tied on your head."
"Were you here when she died?" I asked.
"Oh, yes!"--old Chloe closed her eyes,--"it is one of the blessed things
Chloe's Lord will let her 'member, up there;" and Chloe wiped her eyes,
"I don't remember her," I said.
"No, how should you? you were wee little then."
"What made her die, Chloe?"
"I reckon 't was because the angels wanted her more 'n me, Miss Anna."
"Was she sick, Chloe?"
"How queer you questions, Miss Anna! Of course she was sick; she drooped
in the August heat; they didn't think she was very sick; the master gave
her some medicine one night, and left her sleeping, quiet as a lamb, and
before morning came she went to heaven."
"Who was the master, Chloe?"
"Why, you _is_ getting stupid-like, child! Honey darling, don't you
know that Master Percival, your father, was my master ever so many
years?"--and she began notating them upon her fingers.
I interrupted the mathematical calculation by telling Chloe that three
people were waiting for their tea.
"Two of 'em is my dear childers," said Chloe,--who never would accept
Aaron, even with all his goodness, into her heart; and she moved about
with accelerated velocity in her daily orbit.
What could Mr. Axtell have meant by saying that he had killed Mary,
who, Chloe had assured me, died peaceably in her father's house? After
disturbing the equilibrium of thought-realm, and nearly giving my mind a
new axis of revolution, I decided to think no more of it. I could
not, would not, believe that Abraham Axtell had gone up any Moriah of
sacrifice, and been permitted to let fall the knife upon his victim. His
life must have been a dream, an illusion; he only wanted awakening to
existence. And the memory of my Sabbath-morning's vision dwelt with me,
and the voice that speaketh, filling the soul "as a sea-shell is with
murmuring," said, "Your finger will awaken him." And I looked down at
my two passive hands, and asked, "Which one of them?" And the murmuring
voice startled me with the answer, "Two are required,--one of
reconciliation, the other of forgiveness." Whereupon I lifted up the ten
that Nature gave, and said, "Take them all, if need be."----
"Tea is ready," said Aaron, peeping in, his face alive with satisfied
muscles, playing too merry a tune of joy, I thought, for a grave
"Sophie's a magician," I thought for the thousandth time, as, for the
millionth, Aaron looked at her sitting so demurely regal at his spread
"What would these two good people say," I asked myself, in thinking,
"if they knew all that I have learned in my visit, not yet a week
long?"--and I ran up and down in the scale of semibreves and minims that
I had heard, with the one long, sweet trill transfusing life on earth
into heavenly existence, and I felt very wingy, very much as if I could
take up the tower, standing high and square out there, and carry it,
"like Loretto's chapel, through the air to the green land," where my
spirit would go singing evermore. I could not tell what my joy was like:
not unto anything that I had seen upon the earth; under the earth I had
not yet been; only once above it, and they were calmly celestial there.
I was turbulently joyous, and so I winged a little while around Sophie
and Aaron, hummed a good-night in Chloe's ears, and found that the canny
soul was luxuriating in the idea that the icy lady was to be thawed into
the acceptance of sundry confections which she was basketing to carry
with her when I went out.
"Call me early," I said; "you know I leave at seven o'clock."
"I shall be up ever so early, Miss Anna; never fear for Chloe's sleeping
late to-morrow in the morning; you get ever so much,--'nuff for Chloe
and you too; good-night, honey!"--and Chloe went on her mission, whilst
Aloes and Honey went up-stairs, past Aaron's study, and into a room
where the mysterious art of packing must be practised for a little.
I thought of the "breadths of silver and skirts of gold" that I had seen
the Day pack away; and, inspired with the thought, fell to folding less
amberous raiment, until, my duty done, I pressed the cover down, and
locked my treasures in, for the journey of the morrow. Then I took out
my sacred gift to guard, and, laying it before me, looked at it. It was
of dimensions scarcely larger than the moon,--that is, extremely variant
and uncertain: to one, a planet, larger than Jupiter, moons and all; to
another, scarcely more than a bridal ring. So my packet was of uncertain
size: _undoubtedly_ the tower was packed away in it, Herbert too,--and I
couldn't help agreeing with my thought, and confessing that this was a
better form for conveyance than that I so lately had planned; so I put
it safely away, with myself, until the day should come. The day-star had
arisen in my heart. Would it ever go down? Not whilst He who holdeth the
earth in the hollow of His hand hath me there too. Reaching out, once
more, for the strong protective fibres that had so blessed me, I
wandered forth with it into the land whose mural heights are onychites
and mocha-stones of mossy mystery.
How long I might have lingered there I know not,--so delicious was the
fragrance and so fair the flowers,--had not Chloe's voice broken the
mocha-stones, scattering the mosses like autumn-leaves.
"Honey, I thought I'd waken ye,--the day is just cracking," said Chloe,
at the door, and she asked me to open it one moment.
When I had done so, there she stood, just as I had seen her when I bade
her good-night,--save that her basket was void of contents.
"Master Abraham didn't know you was going home," Chloe said, "or he'd
have told you good-bye; and I guesses he sent what he didn't tell, for
he asked me to give you this."
When Chloe was gone, I opened the small package. It was a pretty casket,
made of the margarite of the sea. Within it lay a faded, fallen,
fragmentary thing. At first, I knew not what it could be. It was the
althea-bud that grew in the summer-time of eighteen years ago, that
had been Mary's,--and my heart beat fast as I looked upon the silent
voicefulness that spake up to me, and said, "To you, who have restored
him to himself, he offers the same tribute;" and I lifted up the
iridescent, flashing cradle of margarite, and reverently touched
the ashes of althea it held with my lips. Afterwards they were
salt,--whether with the saltness of the sea the bud had been baptized
in, or of the tears that I let fall, I knew not.
I folded up my good-bye from Mr. Axtell in the same precious package
that was his sister's, and, side by side, the two journeyed on with me.
* * * * *
It was seven of the clock on Monday morning when she who said the
naughty words, and the grave minister, came out to say farewell to me.
The day's great round was nearly done ere I met my father's flowery
"My Myrtle-Vine, I knew you'd come," said Dr. Percival; and his long
gray hair floated out to reach me in, and his eyes, wherein all love
burned iridescent, drew me toward his heart.
My father put his arms around me, and said the sweetest words of welcome
that ever are spoken.
"How I've missed you, Anna!" as he drew me toward his large arm-chair,
and folded me, his latest child, to his heart.
As thus we were sitting in the silence of the heart that needs no
language, little Jeffy, my ebony-beauty boy, darted his black head
in, and reposing it for one instant against the scarcely lighter-hued
mahogany of the door, jingled out, in shells of sound,--
"He's mighty fur'ous. It's real fun. I guess you'd better come right up,
Dr. Percival;" and the ebon head darted off, without one word for me.
Why was it that this little omission of Jeffy's, the African boy, should
create a vacancy? Oh! it is because Nature made me so exacting. I wanted
everybody to welcome me.
I lifted my head from my father's shoulder, and asked, in some dismay,--
"What is it, father?"
"I've gotten myself in trouble, Anna. I've let chaos into my house. I
wanted you to help me."
"What is it? what has happened?" I hastened to inquire.
"Only a hospital patient that I was foolish enough to bring away. I
heartily wish that he was back again," said my father; and he put me
from him to go, in obedience to the summons.
I was about to follow him, but he waved me back as I went into the hall,
and he went on. I heard the ring of a low, frenzied laugh, as I began
unwrapping from my journey. My casket of treasures I had committed to
bands for keeping. Now I laid it down, and, folding up my protective
robes, I had just gone to try my father's easy-chair, alone, when
Jeffy's ebon head struck in again.
"I didn't see ye afore, Miss Anna. I'so mighty glad you've come;" and
Jeffy atoned for his former omission by his present joy.
"How is he?" I questioned Jeffy, as if I knew all the antecedents of the
"Oh, he's jolly to-night. I think Master Percival might have let me stay
to see the fun;" and Jeffy's eyes rolled to and fro in their orbits, as
if anxious to strike against some wandering comet.
"Is tea over?" I asked.
"No, miss. Master said he'd wait for you. I'll go and tell that you're
here;" and Jeffy took himself off, eager for action.
He was not long gone.
"It's all ready, waiting a bit for master. He can't come down just this
minute," said Jeffy. "Look a here, Miss Anna,--isn't it vastly funny
master's bringing a crazy man here? They say down in the kitchen, that
as how it wouldn't 'a' been, if you'd been home. It's real good, though.
It's the splendidest thing that's happened. Wait till you see him
perform. Ask him to sing. It's frolicky to hear him."
The boy went on, and I did not stop him. I was as anxious for
information as he to impart it. When he paused for breath, in the width
of detail that he furnished, I asked,--
"When was this stranger brought here?"
"Three days ago, Miss Anna, I hope he'll stay forever and ever;" and
Jeffy darted off at a mellifluous sound that dropped down from above.
"There! he has thrown the poker at the mirror again, I do believe," said
another voice in the hall, and I recognized the housekeeper.
Staid Mrs. Ordilinier came in to greet me, with the uniform greeting of
her lifetime. I verily believe that she has but one way of receiving.
Electricity and bread-and-butter would meet the same recognitory
"Did you hear that noise, Miss Anna?" she said, as another sound came,
that was vastly like the shivering of glass.
"What was it, Mrs. Ordilinier?"
I gave her the question to gain information. I sought it,--but she, not
disposed to gratify me at the moment, slowly ascended to ascertain the
state of mirrors above. She met my father's silver hairs coming down. He
did not say one word to her. He met me in the hall, took me back to the
room, and, reseating me in my olden place, put his hand upon my head,
"This must help me, Anna."
"It will, papa; what is it?"
"I've a crazy man up-stairs. He can't do very much harm, for he is badly
"How?" I asked.
"Railroad accident. Four days ago, locomotive and two passenger-cars off
the track, down forty feet upon the rocks and stones, and all there was
of a river," my father replied, with evident regret that the company had
been so unfortunate, as well as his individual self.
"Who is it?" was my next question.
"Don't know, darling; haven't the least idea. He has the softest brown,
curling hair of his own, with a wig over it. Can't find out his name, or
anything about him. I like him, though, Anna. He's like somebody! used
to know. I brought him here from the hospital, several days ago, but he
hasn't given me much peace since, and the people down below think I'm as
crazy as he; but I cannot help it; I will not turn him out now."
"Of course you wouldn't, father. We'll manage him superbly. I'll chain
him for you."
My father rose up, comforted by my words, and said "it was time for
tea." We went down. I was the Sophie of Aaron's home, at my father's
"Papa," I said, as if introducing the most ordinary topic of
conversation, "what was the occasion of sister Mary's death? She was
only seventeen. How young to die!"
My father sighed, and said,--
"Yes, it was young. She had fever, Anna. One of those long, low fevers
that mislead one. I did not think she would die."
"Was Mary engaged to be married, father?"
Dr. Percival looked up at his daughter Anna with the look that says,
"You're growing old," although she was twenty-three, and never had gone
so far in life as his eldest daughter at seventeen.
"She was, Anna."
"To whom, father?"
"Perhaps you've seen him, Anna. I hear that he is come home. His name is
I told my father of the first words,--where we had found him, tolling
the bell,--and of his mother's death, and his sister's illness.
"Incomprehensible people!" was my father's sole ejaculation, as he went
to look after the deranged patient.
I occupied myself for an hour in picking up the reins of government that
I had thrown down when I went to Redleaf. Looking into "our room,"
and not finding father there, I went on, up to my own room. A warm,
welcoming fire burned within the grate. I thought, "How good father is
to think for me!" and with the thought there entered in another. It came
in the sudden consciousness that the room was prepared for some one else
than me. I glanced about it, and saw the strange, wild man, with eyes
all aglow, looking at me from out the depths of my wonted place of rest.
No one else was in the room. I turned around to leave, but, dropping my
precious box of margarite, I stooped to pick it up.
"It is a good harbor to sail into. I'm content," said the voice from the
corner, before I could escape.
I met father coming in.
"Why, how is this?" he said to me.
"You didn't tell me you had given up my room," I said.
"Didn't I? Well, I forgot. We couldn't take him higher."
"Is he so much hurt?" I asked.
"Three broken bones," my father replied. "It will be weeks, it may be
months, before he will be well;" and he sighed hopelessly at the good
deed, which, being done, pressed so heavily. "Don't look so sadly about
it, Myrtle-Vine," he added; "take my room, if you like."
"That was not my thought," I said. "I do not mind the change of room."
The visit to Redleaf, which I had made to dawn in my horizon, was
eclipsed by three broken bones, that suddenly undermined the arch of
Soothingly came the words that were spoken unto me. My father was
all-willing to relinquish his cherished room,--his for sixteen years,
and opening into that mysterious other room,--to give it up to me, his
Myrtle-Vine; and a momentary pang that any interest in existence should
be, except as circling around him, flew across the future, "the science
whereof is to man but what the shadow of the wind might be,"--and I
looked up into his eyes, and, twining his long white hair around my
fingers, for a moment felt that forever and forever he should be the
supreme object of earthly devotion. In my wish to evince the sentiment
in action, I requested permission to assist in the care of the hospital
"Oh, no, Anna! he is too wild now. When the excitement of the fever is
gone, then will be your time."
Another of those many-toned, circling peals of laughter came from my
room. My father went in. I went past the place that mortal eyes were not
permitted to fathom, and, for the first time in my life, was curious to
know its contents, and why I had never seen the interior thereof, I had
grown up with the mystery, until I had accepted it, unquestioning, as a
thing not for my view, and therefore out of recognition. It was as far
away from me as the open sea of the North, and might contain the mortal
remains of all the navigators of Hope that ever had wandered into the
sea of Time for him who so holily guarded it.
"One far-away Indian-summery day, four years agone," "while yet the day
was young," Dr. Percival, my father, had led an azure-eyed maiden in
through the mysterious entrance, and shown unto her the veiled temple,
its altar and its shrine, and she had come thence with the dew of
feeling in her eyes and a purple haze around her brow, which she has
worn there until it has tangled its pansy-web into an abiding-place,
unto such time as the light is shut out forever, or the waves from the
silver sea curl their mist up thither. I had much marvel then concerning
the hidden mysteries; but Sophie so soon thereafter spake the naughty "I
will," that the silent room forgot to speak to me. I have never heard
sound thence since that morning-time.
"Why does not my father take me in? Am I not his child, even as Sophie?"
I asked these questions of Anna Percival, the while she stood at an
upper window, and looked out over New York's surging lines of life.
The roar of rolling wheels came muffled by distance and the shore of
dwelling-places over which I looked. I counted the church-spires that
threaded the vault of night a little of the upward way. How angels, that
have lived forever in heaven, and souls just free from material things,
must reach down to touch these towering masts, that tell which way the
sails of spirit bend! These city churches, dedicated with solemn service
unto the worship of the great I AM, the Lord God of Adam, the Jehovah
Jireh of Israelites, the Holy Redeemer of Christians,--may the Lord of
heaven and earth bless them _every one_! I looked forth upon them with
tears. There never comes a time, in the busiest hurry of human ways,
that I do not sprinkle a drop of love upon the steps as I pass,--that I
do not wind a tendril of holy feeling up to height of tower or summit of
spire for the great winds to waft onward and upward. God pity the heart
that does not involuntary reverence to God's templed places, made sacred
a thousand fold by every penitential tear, by every throb of devotion,
by every aspiration after the divine existence, from which let down a
little while, we wander, for what we know not! God doth not tell, save
that it is to "love first Him, Sole and Individual," and then the
fragments, the crumbs of Divinity that dwell in Man.
I had not lighted the gas. The street-lamps sent up their rays, making
the room semi-lucent. I took out my tower-key. What matter, if I held
the cold iron thereof to my lips awhile? there was no frost in the March
air then. I sent my restless fingers in and out of the wards, prisoning
them often therein. As thus I stood, with cheek pressed against the
windowpane, looking out upon the city, set into a rim of darkness, from
out of which it flashed its million rays, papa came up.
"I didn't say good-night," he said, coming in, and to the window where
I was. "But how is this, Anna? what has happened to my child? "--and he
pointed to shining drops that glistened on the window-glass.
They must have come from my eyes; I could not deny their authorship, and
so I confessed to tears of gladness at seeing him once more.
He looked fondly down at me through the dim light. I asked him after the
tenant of my premises. He shook his head as one does in great doubt,
said "life was uncertain," and repeated several other axioms, that were
quite apart from his original style, and excessively annoying to me.
"Papa," I said, "why not tell me truly? will this man recover?"
"'Man proposes, God disposes,' my child," he said.
"I don't dispute the general truth," I replied,--"but, particularly, is
this man's life in danger?"
He began to quote somebody's psalm or hymn about "fitful fevers and
My father has a fine, rich, variant power of sound with which to charm
such as have ears to hear, and Anna Percival has been so endowed.
Therefore she listened and waited to the end. When it came, she looked
up into her father's face and said,--
"Papa, I am not a child, to be coaxed into forgetfulness; why will you
not trust me? I am older than Sophie was when you took her in where I
have not been; why will you not make me your friend?"--and some sudden
collision of watery powers among the window-drops, whether from
accretion or otherwise, sent a glistening rivulet down to the barrier of
Papa folded his arms, and looked at me. I could not bear to be thus shut
out. I said so.
"Could you bear to be shut in?" he thought, and asked it.
"I think I could. I could bear anything that you gave me; I could keep
anything that you intrusted to my keeping."
Papa looked at me as one does at a cherished vine the outermost edges of
which are just frost-touched; then he folded me to his heart. I felt the
throbbings thereof, and mine began to regret that I had intruded into
the vestibule of his sacred temple; but a certain something went
whispering within me, "You can feed the sacred fire," and I whispered to
the whispering voice, and to my father's ear,--
"You'll take me in, won't you?"
"Come," was the only spoken word.
The room was not cheery; he felt it, and said,--
"You see what the effect is when my Myrtle-Vine is off my walls;" and he
tossed aside books and papers that had evidently been astray for days,
and lay now in his way.
Papa took a key (he wears it too, it seems: that is even more than I do
with my tower's) from a tiny chain of gold about his neck, and unlocked
the door connecting this silent room with his own. He went in, leaving
me outside. He lighted a candle and left it burning there. He came, took
my hand, and, with the leading whereby we guide a child, conducted me in
thither. Then he went out and left me standing, bewildered, there.
I had anticipated something wonderful. What was here? It was a silent
room. The carpet had a river-pattern meandering over its dark-blue
ground: it must have been years since a broom went over it. Strange
medley of furniture was here. I looked upon the walls. Pictures that
must have come from another race and generation hung there. There were
many of them. One side of the room held one only. It was a portrait. I
remembered the original in life. "My mother," I exclaimed. In the room's
centre, surrounded by various articles, was the very boat that I knew
Mary Percival had guided out to sea to save Abraham Axtell. Two tiny
oars lay across it. The paint was faded; the seams were open; it would
hold water no longer. A sense of worship filled me. I looked up at the
portrait. My mother smiled: or was it my fancy? Fancy undoubtedly; but
fancies give comfort sometimes. I looked again at the boat. On its
stern, in small, golden letters, was the name, "Blessing of the Bay,"
the very name given to the first boat built after the Mayflower's keel
touched America's shore. "The name was a good omen," I thought. An
armchair stood before the portrait. A shawl was spread over it. I lifted
up the fringe to see what the shawl covered. Papa had come in.