Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS
VOL. V, MAY, 1860, NO. XXXI
"Instinct is a great matter," quoth Falstaff, when called upon to find
out a device, a "starting-hole," to hide himself from the open and
apparent shame of having run away from the fight and hacked his sword
like a handsaw with his own dagger. Like a valiant lion, he would not
turn upon the true prince, but ran away upon instinct. Although the
peculiar circumstances of the occasion upon which the subject was
presented to Falstaff's mind were not very favorable to a calm
consideration of it, he was undoubtedly correct in saying that instinct
is a great matter. "If, then, the tree may be known by the fruit," says
Falstaff, "as the fruit by the tree, then, peremptorily I speak it,
there is virtue in that Falstaff"; and it is proper that his authority
should be quoted, even upon a question of metaphysical science.
That psychological endowment of animals which we denominate instinct
has in every age been a matter full of wonder; and men of thought have
found few more interesting subjects of inquiry. But it is confessed
that little has been satisfactorily made out concerning the nature and
limitations of instinct. In former times the habits and mental
characteristics of those orders of animated being which are inferior to
man were observed with but a careless eye; and it was late before the
phenomena of animal life received a careful and reverent examination.
It is vain to inquire what instinct is, before there has been an
accurate observation of its manifestations. It is only from its outward
manifestations that we can know anything of that marvellous inward
nature which is given to animals. We cannot know anything of the
essential constitution of mind, but can know only its properties. This
is all we know even of matter. "If material existence," says Sir
William Hamilton, "could exhibit ten thousand phenomena, and if we
possessed ten thousand senses to apprehend these ten thousand phenomena
of material existence, of existence absolutely and in itself we should
be then as ignorant as we are at present." But this limitation of human
knowledge has not always been kept in view. Men have been solicitous to
penetrate into the higher mysteries of absolute and essential
existence. But in thus reaching out after the unattainable, we have
often passed by the only knowledge which it was possible for us to
gain. Much vague speculation concerning instinct has arisen from the
attempt to resolve the problem of its ultimate nature; and perhaps much
more might have been made out with certainty about it, if no greater
task had been attempted than to classify the phenomena which it
exhibits and determine the nature of its manifestations. In regard to
instinct, as well as everything else, we must be content with finding
out what it seems to us to be, rather than what it is. Even with this
limitation, the inquiry will prove sufficiently difficult. The
properties of instinct are a little more inscrutable than those of the
human mind, inasmuch as we have our own consciousness to assist us in
this case, while we are left to infer the peculiarities of instinct
from its outward manifestations only. And moreover, the inquiry
involves an understanding of the workings of the human mind; for it is
only when viewed in contrast with the rational endowments of man that
the character of instinct is best known. All other questions connected
with the subject are subordinate to this one of the apparent difference
between instinct and reason.
Many definitions have been given of instinctive actions. These differ
widely in their extent, and are for the most part quite inadequate.
Some writers have ranged under this term all those customary habits and
actions which are common to all the individuals of a species. According
to this definition, almost every action of animated life is
instinctive. But the general idea of an instinctive action is much more
restricted; it is one that is performed without instruction and prior
to experience,--and not for the immediate gratification of the agent,
but only as the means for the attainment of some ulterior end. To apply
the term instinct to the regular and involuntary movements of the
bodily organs, such as the beating of the heart and the action of the
organs of respiration, is manifestly an extension of the ordinary
acceptation of the term. Organic actions of a similar character are
also performed by plants, and are purely mechanical. "In the lowest and
simplest class of excited movements," says Mueller, "the nervous system
would not appear to be concerned. They result from stimuli directly
applied to the muscles, which immediately excite their contractility;
and they are evidently of the same character with the motions of
plants." Thus, the heart is excited to pulsation by the direct contact
of the blood with the muscle. The hand of a sleeping child closes upon
any object which gently touches the palm. And it is in this way,
doubtless, that the Sea Anemone entraps its prey, or anything else that
may come in contact with its tentacles. But so far are these movements
from indicating of themselves the action of any instinctive principle,
that they are no proof of animality; for a precisely analogous power is
possessed by the sensitive plant known as the Fly-Trap of Venus
(_Dionoea muscipula_): "any insect touching the sensitive hairs on the
surface of its leaf instantly causes the leaf to shut up and enclose
the insect, as in a trap; nor is this all; a mucilaginous secretion
acts like a gastric juice on the captive, digests it, and renders it
assimilable by the plant, which thus feeds on the victim, as the
Actinea feeds on the Annelid or Crustacean it may entrap." In the
animal organization a large class of reflex actions are excited, not by
a direct influence, but indirectly by the agency of the nerves and
spinal cord. Such actions are essentially independent of the brain; for
they occur in animals which have no brain, and in those whose brain has
been removed. However marvellous these functions of organic life may
be, there is nothing in them at all resembling that agency properly
called instinct, which may be said to take the place in the inferior
tribes of reason in man. To refer these operations to the same source
as the wonderful instinct that guides the bird in its long migratory
flight, or in the construction of its nest, would be to make the bird a
curiously constructed machine which is operated by impressions from
without upon its sentient nerves.
Those actions have sometimes been called instinctive which arise from
the appetites and passions; and they have been referred to instinct,
doubtless, because they have one characteristic of instinct,--that they
are not acquired by experience or instruction. "But they differ," says
Professor Bowen, "at least in one important respect from those
instincts of the lower animals which are usually contrasted with human
reason. The objects towards which they are directed are prized for
their own sake; they are sought as _ends_; while instinct teaches
brutes to do many things which are needed only as means for the
attainment of some ulterior purpose." When the butterfly extracts the
nectar from the flowers which she loves most, she meets a want of her
physical nature which demands satisfaction at the moment; but when, in
opposition to her appetite, she proceeds to the flowerless shrub to
deposit her eggs upon the leaves best suited to support her
unthought-of progeny, she is not influenced by any desire for the
immediate gratification of her senses, but is led to the act by some
dim impulse, in order that an ultimate object may be provided for to
which she has no reference at the time. We are surprised to find it
declared, in the very interesting "Psychological Inquiries" of Sir B.C.
Brodie, that the desire for food is the simplest form of an instinct,
and that such an instinct goes far towards explaining others which are
more complicated. It is true that the appetites and passions of animals
have an ultimate object, but they are impelled to action by a desire
for immediate gratification only; but when we speak of an instinct, we
mean something more than a mere want or desire,--we have chiefly in
view the end beyond the blind instrumentality by which it is reached.
When we watch the movements of a young bee, as it first goes forth from
its waxen cradle, we are forced to recognize an influence at work which
is unlike reason, and which is neither appetite nor any mechanical
principle of organic life. Rising upon the comb, and holding steadily
with its tiny feet, with admirable adroitness the young bee smooths its
wings for its first flight, and rubs its body with its fore legs and
antennae; then walking along the comb to the mouth of the hive, it
mounts into the air, flies forth into the fields, alights upon the
proper flowers, extracts their juices, collects their pollen, and,
kneading it into little balls, deposits them in the sacks upon its
feet; and then returning to its hive, it delivers up the honey and the
wax and the bread which it has gathered and elaborated. In the hive it
works the wax with its paws and feelers into an hexagonal cell with a
rhomboidal bottom, the three plates of which form such angles with each
other as require the least wax and space in the construction of the
cell. All these complex operations the bee performs as adroitly, on the
first morning of its life, as the most experienced workman in the hive.
The tyro gatherer sought the flowery fields upon untried wings, and
returned to its home from this first expedition with unerring flight by
the most direct course through the trackless air.
This is one instance of that great class of actions which are allowed
on all hands to be strictly instinctive. In the fact, that the occult
faculties which urge the bee to make honey and construct geometrical
cells are in complete development when it first emerges from its cell,
we recognize one of the most striking characteristics of instinct,--its
existence prior to all experience or instruction. The insect tribes
furnish us with many instances in which the young being never sees its
parents, and therefore all possibility of its profiting from their
instructions or of its imitating their actions is cut off. The solitary
wasp, for example, is accustomed to construct a tunnelled nest in which
she deposits her eggs and then brings a number of living caterpillars
and places them in a hole which she has made above each egg; being very
careful to furnish just caterpillars enough to maintain the young worm
from the time of its exclusion from the egg till it can provide for
itself, and to place them so as to be readily accessible the moment
food is required. But what is most curious of all is the fact that the
wasp does not deposit the caterpillars unhurt, for thus they would
disturb or perhaps destroy the young; nor does she sting them to death,
for thus they would soon be in no state of proper preservation; but, as
if understanding these contingencies, she inflicts a disabling wound.
Yet the wasp does not feed upon caterpillars herself, nor has she ever
seen a wasp provide them for her future offspring. She has never seen a
worm such as will spring from her egg, nor can she know that her egg
will produce a worm; and besides, she herself will be dead long before
the unknown worm can be in existence. Therefore she works blindly;
without knowing that her work is to subserve any useful purpose, she
works to a purpose both definite and important; and her acts are
uniform with those of all solitary wasps that have lived before her or
that will live after her; so that we are compelled to refer these
untaught actions to some constant impulse connected with the special
organization of the wasp,--an innate tact, uniform throughout the
species, of which we, not possessing anything of the kind, can form
only a poor conception, but which we call instinct.
There have been some philosophers, however, who have exercised their
ingenuity in tracing so-called instinctive actions to the operation of
experience. The celebrated Doctor Erasmus Darwin gave, as an
illustration of this view, his opinion that the young of animals know
how to swallow from their experience of swallowing _in utero_. Without
going into any refutation of this position, we would only remark, in
passing, that the act of swallowing is not an instinctive action at
all, but a purely mechanical one. Would not Doctor Darwin have rejoiced
greatly, if he could have brought to the support of his theory the
observation of our own great naturalist, Agassiz, who, knowing the
savage snap of one of the large, full-grown Testudinata, is said to
have asserted, that, under the microscope, he has seen the juvenile
turtle snapping precociously _in embryo_?
But not only is instinct prior to all experience, it is even superior
to it, and often leads animals to disregard it,--the spontaneous
impulse which Nature has given them being their best guide. The
carrier-pigeon or the bird of passage, taken a long distance from home
by a circuitous route, trusting to this "pilot-sense," flies back in a
straight course; and the hound takes the shortest way home through
fields where he has never previously set foot.
The existence of instinct prior to all experience or instruction, and
its perfection in the beginning, render cultivation and improvement not
only unnecessary, but impossible. As it is with the individual, so it
is with the race. One generation of the irrational tribes does not
improve upon the preceding or educate its successor. The web which you
watched the spider weaving in your open window last summer, carefully
measuring off each radius of her wheel and each circular mesh by one of
her legs, was just such a web as the spider wove of old when she was
pronounced to be "little upon the earth, yet exceeding wise."
This incapacity for education is what so widely separates instinct from
the rational powers of man. Man gathers knowledge and transmits it from
generation to generation. He is not born with a ready skill, but with a
capacity for it. His mind is formed destitute of all connate knowledge,
that it may acquire the knowledge of all things. "Man's imperfection at
his nativity is his perfection; while the perfection of brutes at their
nativity is their imperfection." No rational being has ever arrived at
such perfection that he cannot still improve; he can travel on from one
attainment to another in a perpetual progress of improvement. He is,
moreover, free to choose his own path of action; while the being of
instinct is governed by a power which is not subject to his will, and
which confines him to a narrow path which he cannot leave. But
instinct, within its narrow limits, in many cases quite transcends
reason in its achievements.
"Man's attainments in his own concerns,
Matched with the expertness of the brutes in theirs,
Are ofttimes vanquished and thrown far behind."
Perhaps man has never made a structure as perfect in all its
adaptations as the honeycomb. Yet when Virgil spoke of the belief that
bees have a portion of the mind divine, nothing was known of the
wonderful mathematical properties of this beautiful fabric; and the
demonstration of them which has been made within the present century is
beyond the comprehension of far the larger part of mankind. If the bee
comprehended the problem which it has been working out for these many
ages before man was able to solve it, would its intellectual powers be
inferior to his in degree, if they were the same in kind? The
water-spider weaves for herself a cocoon, makes it impervious to water,
and fastens it by loose threads to the leaves of plants growing at the
bottom of a still pool. She carries down air in a bag made for this
purpose, till the water is expelled from the cell through the opening
below. The spider lived quite dry in her little air-chamber beneath the
water ages before the diving-bell was invented; but that she understood
anything of the doctrines of space and gravity, no one would venture to
It has been the belief of some philosophers, and poets as well, that
man has taken the hint for some of the arts he now practises from the
brute creation. Democritus represents him as having derived the arts of
weaving and sewing from the spider, and the art of building of tempered
clay from the swallow; and we also read in Pliny's "Natural History,"
that the nest of the swallow suggested to Toxius, the son of Coelus,
the invention of mortar. According to Lucretius, men learned music from
the song of birds, and Pope describes them as learning from the mole to
plough, from the nautilus to sail, and from bees and ants to form a
political community. Perhaps we were behind the beaver in felling
timber, in leading dams across rivers, and in building cabin
villages,--behind the wasp in making paper, and behind the squirrel and
spider in crossing streams upon rafts. So, if man had needed any
example of war and violence and wrong, he had only to go to the
ant-hill and see the red ants invade the camps of the black and bear
off their little negro prisoners into slavery.
Whatever truth there may be in these ideas, it is at least conceivable
that man may have profited from the example of these animals. He has
copied from patterns set by Nature in tree and leaf and flower and
plant; he has formed the Gothic arch and column from the trunks and
interlacing boughs of the lofty avenue, the Corinthian capital from the
acanthus foliage embracing a basket, and classic urns and vases from
flowers. But no one could describe one species of the brute world as
having derived a similar lesson from another, and much less from trees
and plants. No species of animals has learnt anything new even from
man, except within the narrow sphere of domestication.
It is only in particulars that instinct appears superior to reason in
the works it achieves. When an animal is taken, ever so little, out of
the ordinary circumstances in which its instincts act, it is apt to
behave very foolishly. If a woodpecker's egg is hatched by a bird which
builds an open nest upon the branches of a tree, when the young bird is
grown large enough to shuffle about in the nest, induced by its
instinct to suppose that its nest is in a hole walled round on all
sides by the tree, with a long, narrow entrance down from above, it
does not see that it has been inducted into the open nest of another
bird, and is sure to tumble out. The bee and the ant, in a few
particulars, show wonderful sagacity; but remove them from the narrow
compass of their instincts, and all their wisdom is at an end. That
animals are so wise in a few things and so wanting in wisdom in all
others shows that they are endowed with a mental principle essentially
of a different nature from that of the human race. "They do many things
even better than ourselves," says Descartes; "but this does not prove
them to be endowed with reason, for this would prove them to have more
reason than we have, and that they should excel us in all other things
also"; for reason can act not only in one direction, but in all.
But it will be said that instinct is not invariable,--that it often
displays a capacity of accommodating itself, like reason, to
circumstances, and is therefore a principle the same in kind with
it,--or else that the animal has something of the rational faculty
superadded to the instinctive. But does the animal make these
variations in its conduct from a true perception of their meaning and
It is very natural for us to ascribe to reason those actions of other
animals which would be ascribable to reason, if performed by man. "If,"
says Keller, (an old German writer,) "the fly be enabled to choose the
place which suits her best for the deposition of her eggs, (as, for
instance, in my sugar-basin, in which I placed a quantity of decaying
wheat,) she takes a correct survey of every part and selects that in
which she believes her ova will be the best preserved and her young
ones well cared for." The fly, in this instance, apparently exercises
an intelligent choice; but does any one doubt that the selection she
makes is determined wholly by a blind, uncalculating instinct? The
beaver selects a site for his dam at a place where the depth, width,
and rapidity of the stream are most fit. There is a tree upon the bank,
and food and materials for his work in the vicinity. If a man should
attempt to build a beaver's dam, he would abstractly consider all these
elements of fitness. The outward manifestations of the quality of
abstraction are equally observable in either case. But we must not
hastily conclude, because the beaver in one instance acts in a manner
apparently reasonable, that he has any reason of his own; for, when we
come to study the habits of this animal, we find that he displays all
the characteristics of the instinctive principle. If animals are
endowed with instincts which apparently act so much like reason in the
ordinary course of their operations, we should not at once conclude
that there is any need of endowing them with a modicum of reason to
account for their deviations from this course, which do not outwardly
resemble the acts of reason any more strongly. And besides, it is said,
that, if we refer the variations to an intelligent principle, we must
refer the ordinary conduct to the same principle. To use an old
illustration,--if a bird is reasonable and intelligent, when, on
perceiving the swollen waters of the stream approach her half-finished
nest, she builds higher up the bank, she was intelligent while making
her first nest, and was always intelligent; for how otherwise, it is
asked, could she know when to lay down instinct and take up reason?
Instinct aims at certain definite ends; but these ends cannot always be
reached by the same means, especially when places and circumstances are
not the same. Accommodation is necessary, or it could not always
produce the effects for which it is intended. Would the instinct of the
spider be complete, if, after it has guided her to spin a web so neat
and trim and regular, it did not also lead her to repair her broken
snare, when the cords have been sundered by the struggles of some
powerful captive? But this pliancy of the spider's instinct is no more
remarkable than the contingent operation of the instincts of many
species of animals. "It is remarkable," says Kirby, "that many of the
insects which are occasionally observed to emigrate are not usually
social animals, but seem to congregate, like swallows, merely for the
purpose of emigration." When certain rare emergencies occur, which
render it necessary for the insects to migrate, a contingent instinct
develops itself, and renders an unsocial species gregarious.
It is probable that most of our domesticated species, exhibiting as
they do in that condition attainments foreign to their natural habits
and faculties in a wild state, were endowed with provisional instincts
with a view to their association with man. But generally the docility
of animals does not extend to attainments which are radically different
from their habits and faculties in a wild state. Casual acquirements,
which have no relation to their exigencies in their natural condition,
never become hereditary, and are not, therefore, instinctive. A young
pointer-dog, which has never been in the fields before, will not only
point at a covey of partridges, but will remain motionless, like a
well-trained dog. The fact that the sagacity of the pointer is
hereditary shows that it is the development of an instinctive
propensity; for simple knowledge is not transmitted by blood from one
generation to another. We have heard of a pig that pointed game, and of
another that was learned in letters; but we ascertain in every such
instance that their foreign acquirements do not reappear in their
progeny, but end with the pupils of the time being. The pig's
peculiarity of pointing did not arise from the development of a
provisional instinct, because it does not become hereditary; but the
same act in the pointer-dog is instinctive,--for, when once brought out
by associating with man, it has remained with the breed, being a part
of the animal's nature, which existed in embryo till it was developed
by a companionship with man, for whose use this faculty was alone
Although the animals which especially display these exceptional or
contingent instincts are those which are fitted for the use and comfort
of man and may be domesticated, it is doubtless true that many other
species are in some degree provided with them, and that they thus have
a plasticity in their nature which enables them to exercise, under
particular circumstances, unlooked-for attention, foresight, and
caution. And besides, it is only in analogy with the laws of the
physical world that instinct should admit of a slightly diversified
It is to be noticed in this connection that many animals are gifted
with a wonderful sensibility of the senses,--the action of which is
sometimes mistaken not only for the action of instinct, but for that of
reason also. The acuteness of the sense of smell in the dog, which
enables him to trace the steps of his master for miles through crowded
streets by the infinitesimal odor which his footsteps left upon the
pavement, is quite beyond our conception. Equally incomprehensible to
us are the keenness of sight and wide range of vision of the eagle,
which enable him to discover the rabbit nipping the clover amid the
thick grass at a distance at which a like object would be to us
altogether imperceptible. The chameleon is enabled to seize the little
insects upon which it feeds by darting forth its wonderfully
constructed tongue with such rapidity and with such delicacy of
perception that "wonder-loving sages" have told us that it feeds upon
It has been the belief of some observers that some animals have senses
by which they are enabled to take cognizance of things which are not
revealed directly to our senses. It is easy enough to conceive of
beings endowed with a more perfect perception of the external world,
both in its condition and the number of objects it presents, than we
have, by means of other organs of outward perception. Voltaire, in one
of his philosophical romances, represents an inhabitant of one of the
planets of the Dog-Star as inquiring of the Secretary of the Academy of
Sciences in the planet of Saturn, at which he had recently arrived in a
journey through the heavens, how many senses the men of his globe had;
and when the Academician answered, that they had seventy-two, and were
every day complaining of the smallness of the number, he of the
Dog-Star replied, that in his globe they had very near one thousand
senses, and yet with all these they felt continually a sort of listless
inquietude and vague desire which told them how very imperfect they
were. But we shall not travel so far as this for our illustrations. We
have all seen in the fields and about our houses birds and insects
which seem to take cognizance of the electric state of the atmosphere;
and we have learnt to feel quite sure, when, early in the morning of a
summer's day, we see fresh piles of sand around the holes of the ants,
that a storm is approaching, although the sky may as yet be cloudless
and the air perfectly serene. In like manner birds perceive the
approach of rain, and are all busy oiling and smoothing their feathers
in preparation for it; and then, before the clouds break away, they
come out from their retreats and joyfully hail the return of fair
weather. So, by some analogous sense, the birds of passage are informed
of the approach of winter and the return of spring.
It is doubtless true that in some animals the senses are immediately
connected with instincts which assist and extend their operation.
Metaphysicians and physiologists are agreed that the perception of
distance is an acquired knowledge. The sense of sight by itself
principally makes us conversant with extension only. The painting upon
the retina of the eye presents all external things with flat surfaces
and at the same distance. Before we can have any correct ideas of
distance, we must be able to compare the result of the sense of sight
with the result of the sense of feeling. By experience we in time come
to judge something of distance by the size of the image which an object
makes upon the retina, but more by our acquired knowledge of the form
and color of external things. It is true that the eyes of many animals
are constructed like those of man; but they do not learn to judge of
distance by the same slow process. It is known from experiment that
some animals have a perfect conception of distance at the moment of
their birth; and the young of the greater part of animals possess some
instinctive perception of this kind. "A flycatcher, for example, just
come out of its shell, has been seen to peck at an insect with an aim
as perfect as if it had been all its life engaged in learning the art."
And so when the hen takes her chickens out into the field for the first
time to feed, they seem to perceive very distinctly the relative
distance of all objects about them, and will run by the straightest
course when she calls them to pick up the little grains which she
points out to them. Without this instinctive power of determining the
relative distance and figure of objects, the young of most animals
would perish before their sense of sight could be perfected, as ours
is, by experience.
We have now noticed the chief characteristics of instinct: its
existence prior to all experience or instruction; its incapacity of
improvement, except within the narrow sphere of domestication; its
limitation to a few objects, and the certainty of its action within
these limits; the distinctness and permanence of its character for each
species; and its constant hereditary nature. In regard to the
uniformity of instinct throughout each species, it may be further
remarked, that this seems to be very constantly preserved in the lowest
divisions of the animal kingdom. Among the Articulates, also, instinct
appears almost unvarying; and it is in this department among the insect
tribes that the most striking manifestations of instinct are to be met
with. When we arrive among the higher orders of the Vertebrates, we
find in some species that each individual is capable of some
modification of its actions, according to the particular circumstances
in which it finds itself placed. But throughout the long series of
animals, from the polype to man, there is instinctive action more or
less in amount in every species, with, perhaps, the exception of man
alone. The variety of that endowment, which is adapted to definite
objects, means, and results, in each particular one of the five hundred
thousand species estimated to be now living, may well call forth our
admiration and astonishment at the magnitude and extent of the
prospective contrivance of the Creator. How various the relations of
all these animals to each other and to the inanimate world about them!
and yet how admirable the adjustments of that immaterial principle
which regulates their lives, so as to secure the well-being of each and
the symmetry of the general plan!
There has been much diversity of opinion as to the existence of
instincts in the human species,--some making the whole mind of man
nothing but a bundle of instincts, and others wholly denying him any
endowment of this nature, while others still have given him a complex
mental nature, and have, moreover, declared that intellect and instinct
in him are so interwoven that it is impossible to tell where the one
begins and the other ends. But we believe, with the author of "Ancient
Metaphysics," that in Nature, however intimately things are blended
together and run into each other like different shades of the same
color, the species of things are absolutely distinct, and that there
are certain fixed boundaries which separate them, however difficult it
may be for us to find them out. In regard to intelligence and instinct,
the two principles seem to us to be not more distinctly and widely
separated in their nature than in the provinces of their operation.
Sir Henry Holland, who believes that intelligence and instinct are
blended in man, admits that instincts, properly so called, form the
_minimum_ in relation to reason, and are difficult of definition from
their connection with his higher mental functions, but that, wherever
we can truly distinguish them, they are the same in principle and
manner of operation as those of other animals. He makes one
distinction, however, between the instincts of man and those of lower
animals,--that in the former they have more of individual character,
are far less numerous and definite in relation to the physical
conditions of life, and more various and extensive in regard to his
moral nature. But, on the other hand, Sir B.C. Brodie seems to be of
opinion that the majority of instincts belonging to man resemble those
of the inferior animals, inasmuch as they relate to the preservation of
the individual and the continuation of the species; and that when man
first began to exist, and for some generations afterwards, the range of
his instincts was much more extensive than it is at the present time.
When authorities so eminent as these differ so widely upon the
question, to what human instincts relate, we see at least that it is
very difficult to define and distinguish these instincts, and we may be
led to doubt their existence at all. Of that marvellous endowment which
guides the bee to fabricate its cells according to laws of the most
rigid mathematical exactness, and guides the swallow in its long flight
to its winter home, we agree with Professor Bowen, that there is no
trace whatever in human nature. The actions of man which have been
loosely described as instinctive belong for the most part to those
classes of actions which we have already shown to be in no proper sense
of the word instinctive, that is, those concerned in the appetites and
in the functions of organic life. There are also numerous automatic and
habitual actions which are liable to be mistaken for instincts. Some
have included in the category of instincts those intuitive perceptions
and primary beliefs which are a part of our constitution, and are the
foundation of all our knowledge. But these propensities of thought and
feeling are of a higher nature than mere instincts; they are immutable
laws of the human mind, which time and physical changes cannot reach:
they do not seem to depend upon the physical organization, but to be
inherent in the soul itself. If these are instincts, then, why are not
all the ways in which the mind exerts itself instincts also, and reason
itself an instinct?
There is hardly any human action, feeling, or belief, which has not
been ranged under the term instinct. Hunger and thirst have been called
instincts; so have the faculty of speech, the use of the right hand in
preference to the left, the love of society, the desire to possess
property, the desire to avoid danger and prolong life, and the belief
in supernatural agencies, upon which is engrafted the religious
sentiment. We cannot, in this paper, attempt to analyze these and many
other similar examples which have been given as illustrations of
instinct in treatises of high repute, and show that they do not at all
come within that class of actions which we contrast with reason. In
regard to those actions of early infancy which have often been adduced
as illustrations of instinct, the physiologists of the present day are
agreed that they are as mechanical as the act of breathing. To place
these upon the same level with the complex and wonderful operations of
the bee, the ant, and the beaver, is to admit that the instincts of the
latter are merely reflex actions following impressions on the nerves of
On the other hand, whether the animals inferior to man ever exercise
any conscious process of reasoning is a question which has often been
discussed, and upon which there is no general agreement. Instances of
the remarkable sagacity of some domesticated animals are often adduced
as proofs of reasoning on their part. Some of these wonderful feats may
be traced to the unconscious faculty of imitation, which even in man
often appears as a blind propensity, although he exercises an active
and rational imitation as well. Sometimes the mere association of
ideas, or the perception by animals that one thing is accompanied by
another or that one event follows another, is mistaken for that higher
principle which in man judges, reflects, and understands causes and
effects. When the dog sees his master take down his gun, his
blandishments show that he anticipates a renewal of the pleasures of
the chase. He does not reflect upon past pleasures; but, seeing the gun
in his master's hand, a confused idea of the feelings that were
associated with the gun in times past is called up. So the ox and the
horse learn to associate certain movements with the voice and gesture
of man. And so a fish, about the most stupid of all animals, comes to a
certain spot at a certain signal to be fed. These combinations are
quite elementary. This is quite another thing from that reciprocal
action of ideas on each other by which man perceives the relations of
things, understands the laws of cause and effect, and not only forms
judgments of the past, but draws conclusions which are laws for the
future. We find in the brute no power of attending to and arranging its
thoughts,--no power of calling up the past at will and reflecting upon
it. The animal has the faculty of memory, and, when this is awakened,
the object remembered may be accompanied by a train or attendance of
accessory notions which have been connected with the object in the
animal's past experience. But it never seems to be able to exercise the
purely voluntary act of recollection. It is not capable of comparing
one thing with another, so far as we can judge. If the animal could
exercise any true act of comparison, there would be no limit to the
exercise of it, and the animal would be an intelligent being; for the
result of a simple act of comparison is judgment, and reasoning is only
a double act of comparison. We have the authority of Sir William
Hamilton for saying that the highest function of mind is nothing higher
than comparison. Hence comes thought,--hence, the power of discovering
truth,--and hence, the mind's highest dignity, in being able to ascend
unassisted to the knowledge of a God. Those who hold that the minds of
the inferior animals are essentially of the same nature with that of
the human race, and differ only in degree, should reflect that the
distinguishing attribute of the human mind does not admit of degrees.
The faculty of comparison, in all its various applications, must be
either wholly denied or else wholly attributed. Hence, Pope is not
philosophical, when he applies the epithet "half-reasoning" to the
elephant. "As reasoning," says Coleridge, "consists wholly in a man's
power of seeing whether any two ideas which happen to be in his mind
are or are not in contradiction with each other, it follows of
necessity, not only that all men have reason, but that every individual
has it in the same degree." We gather also from the same acute writer
that in the simple determination, "black is not white," all the powers
are implied that distinguish man from other animals. If, then, the
brute reasoned at all, he would be a rational being, and would improve
and gain knowledge by experience; and, moreover, he would be a moral
agent, accountable for his conduct. "Would not the brute," asks an able
writer in the "Zooelogical Journal," "take a survey of his lower powers,
and would he not, as man does, either rightly use or pervert them, at
It has been suggested by some one, that, by the law of merciful
adaptation, which extends throughout the universe, thought would not be
imprisoned and pent up forever in an intelligence wanting the power of
expression. But it is also to be noticed that the want of an articulate
language or a system of general signs puts it out of the power of
animals to perform a single act of reasoning. The use of language to
communicate wants and feelings is not peculiar to "word-dividing men,"
though enjoyed by them in a much higher degree than by other animals.
Doubtless every species of social animals has some kind of language,
however imperfect it may be. "We never watch the busy workers of the
ant-hill," says Acheta Domestics, (the author of "Episodes of
Insect-Life,") "stopping as they encounter and laying their heads
together, without being pretty certain that they are saying to each
other something quite as significant as 'Fine day.'" And when the
morning wakes the choral song of the birds, they seem to be telling
each other of their happiness. But though animals have a language
appropriate to the expression of their sensations and emotions, they
have no words, "those shadows of the soul, those living sounds." Words
are symbols of thoughts, and may be considered as a revelation of the
human mind. It is this use of language as an instrument of thought, as
a system of general signs, which, according to Bishop Whately,
distinguishes the language of man from that of the brute; and the same
eminent authority declares that without such a system of general signs
the reasoning process could not be conducted.
It is true, that we often see in the inferior animals manifestations of
deductions of intellect similar to those of the human mind,--only that
they are not made by the animals themselves, but for them and above
their conscious perception. "When a bee," says Dr. Reid, "makes its
combs so geometrically, the geometry is not in the bee, but in that
great Geometrician who made the bee, and made all things in number,
weight, and measure." Since the animal is not conscious of the
intelligence and design which are manifested in its instincts, which it
obeys and works out, the conscious life of the individual must be
wholly a life within the senses. The senses alone can give the animal
only an empirical knowledge of the world of its observation. The senses
may register and report facts, but they can never arrive at an
understanding of necessary truths; the source of this kind of knowledge
is the rational mind, which has an active disposition to draw out these
infallible laws and eternal truths from its own bosom. The main
tendency of the rational mind is not towards mere phenomena, but their
scientific explanation. It seeks to trace effects, as presented to us
by the senses, back to the causes which produced them; or contemplating
things wholly metaphysical, it seeks to follow out the laws which it
has itself discovered, till they have gone through a thousand probable
contingencies and lost themselves in numberless results. It is on
account of this capacity and tendency of the human mind to look through
fact to law, through individuals to classes, through effects to causes,
through phenomena to general principles, that the late Dr. Burnap was
led to declare, in a very interesting course of lectures which he
delivered before the Lowell Institute a few years since, that he
considered the first characteristic difference between the highest
species of animals and the lowest race of man to be a capacity of
science. But is not the whole edifice of human science built upon the
simple faculty of comparison?
This is the ultimate analysis of all the highest manifestations of the
human mind, whether of judgment, or reason, or intellect, or common
sense, or the power of generalization, or the capacity of science. We
have already quoted Hamilton to this effect, and we, moreover, have his
authority for saying that the faculty of discovering truth, by a
comparison of the notions we have obtained by observation and
experience, is the attribute by which man is distinguished as a
creature higher than the animals. We might also cite Leibnitz to the
effect that men differ from animals in being capable of the formation
of necessary judgments, and hence capable of demonstrative sciences.
But notwithstanding it seems so apparent that what is customarily
called reason is the distinguishing endowment which makes man the
"paragon of animals," we very often meet with attempts to set up some
other distinction. We cannot here go into an examination of these
various theories, or even allude to them specially. We will, however,
briefly refer to a view which was recently advanced in one of our
leading periodicals, inasmuch as it makes prominent a distinction which
we wish to notice, although it seems to us to be only subordinate to
the distinguishing attribute of the human mind which we have already
pointed out. It is said that self-consciousness is what makes the great
difference between man and other animals; that the latter do not
separate themselves consciously from the world in which they exist; and
that, though they have emotions, impulses, pains, and pleasures, every
change of feeling in them takes at once the form of an outward change
either in place or position. It is not intended, however, to be said
that they have no conscious perception of external things. We cannot
possibly conceive of an animal without this condition of consciousness.
A consciousness of an outward world is an essential quality of the
animal soul; this distinguishes the very lowest form of animal life
from the vegetable world; and hence it cannot possibly be, as has been
suggested by some, that there are any animate beings which have no
endowments superior to those which belong to plants. The plant is not
conscious of an outward world, when it sends out its roots to obtain
the nourishment which is fitting for itself; but the polype, which is
fixed with hundreds of its kind on the same coral-stock, and is able
only to move its mouth and tentacles, is aware of the presence of the
little craw-fish upon which it feeds, and throws out its lasso-cells
and catches it. The world of which the polype has any perception is not
a very large one. The outer world of a bird is vastly greater; and man
knows a world without, which is immeasurably large beyond that of which
any other animal is conscious, because both his physical organs and his
mental faculties bring him into far the most diversified and intimate
relations with all created things. He sees in every flower of the
garden and every beast of the field, in the air and in the sea, in the
earth beneath his feet and in the starry heavens above him, countless
meanings which are hidden to all the living world besides. To him there
is a world which has existed and a world that will exist. "Man," says
Protagoras, "is the measure of the universe." But he has a greater
dignity in being able to apprehend the world of thought within. "Whilst
I study to find how I am a microcosm or little world," says Sir Thomas
Browne, "I find myself something more than the great." Man can make
himself an object to himself and gain the deepest insight into the
workings of his own mind. This internal perception seems never to be
developed in other animals. We have already observed that they have no
thought of their own. The intelligence and design which they often
manifest in their actions are not the workings of their own minds. The
intelligence and design belong to Him who impressed the thought upon
the animal's mind and unceasingly sustains it in action. They
themselves are not conscious of any thought, but only of "certain dim
imperious influences" which urge them on. They are conscious of
feelings and desires and impulses. We could not conceive of the
existence of these affections in animals without their having an
immediate knowledge of them. Even "the function of voluntary motion,"
says Hamilton, "which is a function of the animal soul in the
Peripatetic doctrine, ought not, as is generally done, to be excluded
from the phenomena of consciousness and mind." The conscious life of
the irrational tribes seems, then, to be a life almost wholly within
the senses. They have nothing of that higher conscious personality
which belongs to man and is an attribute of a free intellect.
A general statement of the points made out in the foregoing inquiry
will more clearly show our conception of the nature and limitations of
instinct. First, we limited the word instinct so as to exclude all
those automatic and mechanical actions concerned in the simple
functions of organic life,--as also to exclude the operations of the
passions and appetites, since these seek no other end than their own
gratification. Then it was shown that instinct exists prior to all
experience or memory; that it comes to an instant or speedy perfection,
and is not capable of any improvement or cultivation; that its objects
are precise and limited; that within its proper sphere it often appears
as the highest wisdom, but beyond this is only foolishness; that it
uses complex and laborious means to provide for the future, without any
prescience of it; that it performs important and rational operations
which the animal neither intends nor knows anything about; that it is
permanent for each species, and is transmitted as an hereditary gift of
Nature; and that the few variations in its action result from the
development of provisional faculties, or from blind imitation. We were
led to conclude that instinct is not a free and conscious possession of
the animal itself. We found some points of resemblance between
intelligence in man and instinct in other animals,--but at the same
time points of dissimilarity, such as to make the two principles appear
This brief summary presents nearly all that we can satisfactorily make
out respecting instinct; and at the same time it shows how much is
still wanting to a complete solution of all the questions which it
involves. And then there are higher mysteries connected with the
subject, which we do not attempt to penetrate,--mysteries in regard to
the creation and the maintenance of instinctive action: whether it be
the result of particular external conditions acting on the organization
of animals, or whether, as Sir Isaac Newton thought, the Deity himself
is virtually the active and present moving principle in them;--and
mysteries, too, about the future of the brute world: whether, as
"There is another world
For all that live and move,--a better world."
If we ever find a path which seems about to lead us up to these
mysteries, it speedily closes against us, and leaves us without any
rational hope of attaining their solution.
MY OWN STORY.
"Oh, tell her, brief is life, but love is long."
"What have I got that you would like to have? Your letters are tied up
and directed to you. Mother will give them to you, when she finds them
in my desk. I could execute my last will myself, if it were not for
giving her additional pain. I will leave everything for her to do
except this: take these letters, and when I am dead, give them to
Frank. There is not a reproach in them, and they are full of wit; but
he won't laugh, when he reads them again. Choose now, what will you
have of mine?"
"Well," I said, "give me the gold pen-holder that Redmond sent you
after he went away."
Laura rose up in her bed, and seized me by my shoulder, and shook me,
crying between her teeth, "You love him! you love him!" Then she fell
back on her pillow. "Oh, if he were here now! He went, I say, to marry
the woman he was engaged to before he saw you. He was nearly mad,
though, when he went. The night mother gave them their last party, when
you wore your black lace dress, and had pink roses in your hair,
somehow I hardly knew you that night. I was in the little parlor,
looking at the flowers on the mantelpiece, when Redmond came into the
room, and, rushing up to me, bent down and whispered, 'Did you see her
go? I shall see her no more; she is walking on the beach with Maurice.'
He sighed so loud that I felt embarrassed; for I was afraid that Harry
Lothrop, who was laughing and talking in a corner with two or three
men, would hear him; but he was not aware that they were there. I did
not know what to do, unless I ridiculed him. 'Follow them,' I said.
'Step on her flounces, and Maurice will have a chance to humiliate you
with some of his cutting, exquisite politeness.' He never answered a
word, and I would not look at him, but presently I understood that
there were tears falling. Oh, you need not look towards me with such
longing; he does not cry for you now. They seemed to bring him to his
senses. He stamped his foot; but the carpet was thick; it only made a
thud. Then he buttoned his coat, giving himself a violent twist as he
did it, and looked at me with such a haughty composure, that, if I had
been you, I should have trembled in my shoes. He walked across the room
toward the group of men.--'Ah, Harry,' he said, 'where is Maurice?'
'Don't you know?' they all cried out; 'he has gone as Miss Denham's
escort?' 'By Jove!' said Harry Lothrop,--'Miss Denham was as handsome
as Cleopatra, to-night. Little Maurice is now singing to her. Did he
take his guitar under his arm? It was here; for I saw a green bag near
his hat, when we came in to-night.' Just then we heard the twang of a
guitar under the window, and Redmond, in spite of himself, could not
help a grimace.--Is it not a droll world?" said Laura, after a pause;
"things come about so contrariwise."
She laughed such a shrill laugh, that I shuddered to hear it, and I
fell a-crying. "But," she continued, "I am going, I trust, where a key
will be given me for this cipher."
Tears came into her eyes, and an expression of gentleness filled her
"It is strange," she said, "when I know that I must die, that I should
be so moved by earthly passions and so interested in earthly
speculations. My heart supplicates God for peace and patience, and at
the same moment my thoughts float away in dreams of the past. I shall
soon be wiser; I am convinced of that. The doctrine of compensation
extends beyond this world; if it be not so, why should I die at twenty,
with all this mysterious suffering of soul? You must not wonder over
me, when I am gone, and ask yourself, 'Why did she live?' Believe that
I shall know why I lived, and let it suffice you and encourage you to
go on bravely. Live and make your powers felt. Your nature is affluent,
and you may yet learn how to be happy."
She sighed softly, and turned her face to the wall, and moved her
fingers as sick people do. She waited for me to cease weeping: my tears
rained over my face so that I could neither see nor speak.
After I had become calmer, she moved toward me again and took my hand:
her own trembled.
"It is for the last time, Margaret. My good, skilful father gives me no
medicine now. My sisters have come home; they sit about the house like
mourners, with idle hands, and do not speak with each other. It is
terrible, but it will soon be over."
She pulled at my hand for me to rise. I staggered up, and met her eyes.
Mine were dry now.
"Do not come here again. It will be enough for my family to look at my
coffin. I feel better to think you will be spared the pain."
A sob broke in her throat.
"Margaret,"--she spoke like a little child,--"I am going to heaven."
I kissed her, but I was blind and dumb. I lifted her half out of the
bed. She clasped her frail arms round me, and hid her face in my bosom.
"Oh, I love you!" she said.
Her heart gave such a violent plunge, that I felt it, and laid her back
quickly. She waved her hand to me with a determined smile. I reached
the door, still looking at her, crossed the dark threshold, and passed
out of the house. The bold sunshine smote my face, and the insolent
wind played about me. The whole earth was as brilliant and joyous as if
it had never been furrowed by graves.
Laura lived some days after my interview with her. She sent me no
message, and I did not go to see her. From the garret-windows of our
house, which was half a mile distant from Laura's, I could see the
windows of the room where she was lying. Three tall poplar-trees
intervened in the landscape. I thought they stood motionless so that
they might not intercept my view while I watched the house of death.
One morning I saw that the blinds had been thrown back and the windows
opened. I knew then that Laura was dead.
The day after the funeral I gave Frank his letters, his miniature, and
the locket which held a ring of his hair.
"Is there a fire?" he asked, when I gave them to him; "I want to burn
I went to another room with him.
"I'll leave everything here to-day; and may I never see this cursed
place again! Did she die, do you know, because I held her promise that
she would be my wife?"
He threw the papers into the grate, and crowded them down with his
boot, and watched them till the last blackened flake disappeared. He
then took from his neck a hair chain, and threw that into the fire
"It is all done now," he said.
He shook my hand with a firm grasp and left me.
A month later Laura's mother sent me a package containing two bundles
of letters. It startled me to see that the direction was dated before
she was taken ill:--"To be given to Margaret in case of my death.
June 5th, 1848." They were my letters, and those which she had
received from Harry Lothrop. On this envelop was written, "Put these
into the black box he gave you." The gold pen-holder came into my hands
also. _Departure_ was engraved on the handle, and Laura's initials were
cut in an emerald in its top. The black box was an ebony, gold-plated
toy, which Harry Lothrop had given me at the same time Redmond gave
Laura the pen-holder. It was when they went away, after a whole
summer's visit in our little town, the year before. I locked the
letters in the black box, and,
"Whether from reason or from impulse only,"
I know not, but I was prompted to write a line to Harry Lothrop. "Do
not," I said, "write Laura any more letters. Those you have already
written to her are in my keeping, for she is dead. Was it not a
pleasant summer we passed together? The second autumn is already at
hand: time flies the same, whether we are dull or gay. For all this
period what remains except the poor harvest of a few letters?"
I received in answer an incoherent and agitated letter. What was the
matter with Laura? he asked. He had not heard from her for months. Had
any rupture occurred between her and her friend Frank? Did I suppose
she was ever unhappy? He was shocked at the news, and said he must come
and learn the particulars of the event. He thanked me for my note, and
begged me to believe how sincere was his friendship for my poor friend.
"Redmond," he continued, "is, for the present, attached to the engineer
corps to which I belong, and he has offered to take charge of my
business while I am a day or two absent. He is in my room at this
moment, holding your note in his hand, and appears painfully
It was now a little past the time of year when Redmond and Harry
Lothrop had left us,--early autumn. After their departure, Laura and I
had been sentimental enough to talk over the events of their visit.
Recalling these associations, we created an illusion of pleasure which
of course could not last. Harry Lothrop wrote to Laura, but the
correspondence declined and died. As time passed on, we talked less and
less of our visitors, and finally ceased to speak of them. Neither of
us knew or suspected the other of any deep or lasting feeling toward
the two friends. Laura knew Redmond better than I did; at least, she
saw him oftener; in fact, she knew both in a different way. They had
visited her alone; while I had met them almost entirely in society. I
never found so much time to spare as she seemed to have; for everybody
liked her, and everybody sought her. As often as we had talked over our
acquaintance, she was wary of speaking of Redmond. Her last
conversation with me revealed her thoughts, and awakened feelings which
I thought I had buffeted down. The tone of Harry Lothrop's note
perplexed me, and I found myself drifting back into an old state of
mind I had reason to dread.
As I said, the autumn had come round. Its quiet days, its sombre
nights, filled my soul with melancholy. The lonesome moan of the sea
and the waiting stillness of the woods were just the same a year ago;
but Laura was dead, and Nature grieved me. Yet none of us are in one
mood long, and at this very time there were intervals when I found
something delicious in life, either in myself or the atmosphere.
"Moreover, something is or seems
That touches me with mystic gleams."
A golden morning, a starry night, the azure round of the sky, the
undulating horizon of sea, the blue haze which rose and fell over the
distant hills, the freshness of youth, the power of beauty,--all gave
me deep voluptuous dreams.
I can afford to confess that I possessed beauty; for half my faults and
miseries arose from the fact of my being beautiful. I was not vain, but
as conscious of my beauty as I was of that of a flower, and sometimes
it intoxicated me. For, in spite of the comforting novels of the Jane
Eyre school, it is hardly possible to set an undue value upon beauty;
it defies ennui.
As I expected, Harry Lothrop came to see me. The sad remembrance of
Laura's death prevented any ceremony between us; we met as old
acquaintances, of course, although we had never conversed together half
an hour without interruption. I began with the theme of Laura's illness
and death, and the relation which she had held toward me. All at once I
discovered, without evidence, that he was indifferent to what I was
saying; but I talked on mechanically, and like a phantasm the truth
came to my mind. The real man was there,--not the one I had carelessly
looked at and known through Laura.
I became silent.
He twisted his fingers in the fringe of my scarf, which had fallen off,
and I watched them.
"Why," I abruptly asked, "have I not known you before?"
He let go the fringe, and folded his hands, and in a dreamy voice
"Redmond admires you."
"What a pity!" I said. "And you,--you admire me, or yourself, just now;
He flushed slightly, but continued with a bland voice, which irritated
and interested me.
"All that time I was so near you, and you scarcely saw me; what a
chance I had to study you! Your friend was intelligent and sympathetic,
so we struck a league of friendship: I could dare so much with her,
because I knew that she was engaged to marry Mr. Ballard. I own that I
have been troubled about her since I went away. How odd it is that I am
here alone with you in this room! how many times I have wished it! I
liked you best here; and while absent, the remembrance of it has been
inseparable from the remembrance of you,--a picture within a picture. I
know all that the room contains,--the white vases, and the wire
baskets, with pots of Egyptian lilies and damask roses, the books bound
in green and gold, the engravings of nymphs and fauns, the crimson bars
in the carpet, the flowers on the cushions, and, best of all, the
arched window and its low seat. But I had promised myself never to see
you: it was all I could do for Laura. She is dead, and I am here."
I rose and walked to the window, and looked out on the misty sea, and
"Another lover," I thought,--"and Redmond's friend, and Laura's. But it
all belongs to the comedy we play."
He came to where I stood.
"I know you so well," he said,--"your pride, your self-control, even
your foibles: but they attract one, too. You did not escape heart-whole
from Redmond's influence. He is not married yet, but he will be; he is
a chivalrous fellow. It was a desperate matter between you two,--a
hand-to-hand struggle. It is over with you both, I believe: you are
something alike. Now may I offer you my friendship? If I love you, let
me say so. Do not resist me. I appeal to the spirit of coquetry which
tempted you before you saw me to-night. You are dressed to please me."
I was thinking what I should say, when he skilfully turned the
conversation into an ordinary channel. He shook off his dreamy manner,
and talked with his old vivacity. I was charmed a little; an
association added to the charm, I fancy. It was late at night when he
took his leave. He had arranged it all; for a man brought his carriage
to the door and drove him to the next town, where he had procured it to
come over from the railway.
When I was shut in my room for the night, rage took possession of me. I
tore off my dress, twisted my hair with vehemence, and hurried to bed
and tried to go to sleep, but could not, of course. As when we press
our eyelids together for meditation or sleep, violet rings and changing
rays of light flash and fade before the darkened eyeballs, so in the
dark unrest of my mind the past flashed up, and this is what I saw:--
The county ball, where Laura and I first met Redmond, Harry Lothrop,
and Maurice. We were struggling through the crowd of girls at the
dressing-room door, to rejoin Frank, who was waiting for us. As we
passed out, satisfied with the mutual inspection of our dresses of
white silk, which were trimmed with bunches of rose-geranium, we saw a
group of strangers close by us, buttoning their gloves, looking at
their boots, and comparing looks. Laura pushed her fan against my arm;
we looked at each other, and made signs behind Frank, and were caught
in the act, not only by him, but by a tall gentleman in the group which
she had signalled me to notice.
The shadow of a smile was travelling over his face as I caught his eye,
but he turned away so suddenly that I had no opportunity for
embarrassment. An usher gave us a place near the band, at the head of
"Do not be reckless, Laura," I said,--"at least till the music gives
you an excuse."
"You are obliged to me, you know," she answered, "for directing your
attention to such attractive prey. Being in bonds myself, I can only
use my eyes for you: don't be ungrateful."
The band struck up a crashing polka, and she and Frank whirled away,
with a hundred others. I found a seat and amused myself by contrasting
the imperturbable countenances of the musicians with those of the
dancers. The perfumes the women wore floated by me. These odors, the
rhythmic motion of the dancers, and the hard, energetic music
exhilarated me. The music ended, and the crowd began to buzz. The loud,
inarticulate speech of a brilliant crowd is like good wine. As my
acquaintances gathered about me, I began to feel its electricity, and
grew blithe and vivacious. Presently I saw one of the ushers speaking
to Frank, who went down the hall with him.
"Oh, my prophetic soul!" said Laura, "they are coming."
Frank came back with the three, and introduced them. Redmond asked me
for the first quadrille, and Harry Lothrop engaged Laura. Frank said to
me behind his handkerchief,--"It's _en regle_; I know where they came
from; their fathers are brave, and their mothers are virtuous."
The quadrille had not commenced, so I talked with several persons near;
but I felt a constraint, for I knew I was closely observed by the
stranger, who was entirely quiet. Curiosity made me impatient for the
dance to begin; and when we took our places, I was cool enough to
examine him. Tall, slender, and swarthy, with a delicate moustache over
a pair of thin scarlet lips, penetrating eyes, and a tranquil air. My
antipodes in looks, for I was short and fair; my hair was straight and
black like his, but my eyes were blue, and my mouth wide and full.
"What an unnaturally pleasant thing a ball-room is!" he said,--"before
the dust rises and the lights flare, I mean. But nobody ever leaves
early; as the freshness vanishes, the extravagance deepens. Did you
ever notice how much faster the musicians play as it grows late? When
we open the windows, the fresh breath of the night increases the
delirium within. I have seen the quietest women toss their faded
bouquets out of the windows without a thought of making a comparison
between the flowers and themselves."
"My poor geraniums!" I said,--"what eloquence!"
He laughed, and answered,--
"My friend Maurice yonder would have said it twice as well."
We were in the promenade then, and stopped where the said Maurice was
fanning himself against the wall.
"May I venture to ask you for a waltz, Miss Denham? it is the next
dance on the card," said Maurice;--"but of course you are engaged."
I gave him my card, and he began to mark it, when Redmond took it, and
placed his own initials against the dance after supper, and the last
one on the list. He left me then, and I saw him a moment after talking
We passed a gay night. When Laura and I equipped for our ten miles'
ride, it was four in the morning. Redmond helped Frank to pack us in
the carriage, and we rewarded him with a knot of faded leaves.
"This late event," said Laura, with a ministerial air, after we had
started, "was a providential one. You, my dear Frank, were at liberty
to pursue your favorite pastime of whist, in some remote apartment,
without being conscience-torn respecting me. I have danced very well
without you, thanks to the strangers. And you, Margaret, have had an
unusual opportunity of displaying your latent forces. Three such
different men! But let us drive fast. I am in want of the cup of tea
which mother will have waiting for me."
We arrived first at my door. As I was going up the steps, Laura broke
the silence; for neither of us had spoken since her remarks.
"By the way, they are coming here to stay awhile. They are anxious for
some deep-sea fishing. They'll have it, I think."
I heard Frank's laugh of delight at Laura's wit, as the carriage drove
It was our last ball that season.
It was late in the spring; and when Redmond came with his two friends
and settled at the hotel in our town, it was early summer. When I saw
them again, they came with Laura and Frank to pay me a visit. Laura was
already acquainted with them, and asked me if I did not perceive her
superiority in the fact.
"Let us arrange," said Harry Lothrop, "some systematic plan of
amusement by sea and land. I have a pair of horses, Maurice owns a
guitar, and Redmond's boat will be here in a few days. Jones, our
landlord, has two horses that are tolerable under the saddle. Let us
ride, sail, and be serenaded. The Lake House, Jones again, is eight
miles distant. This is Monday; shall we go there on horse-back
Laura looked mournfully at Frank, who replied to her look,--
"You must go; I cannot; I shall go back to business to-morrow."
I glanced at Redmond; he was contemplating a portrait of myself at the
age of fourteen.
"Shall we go?" Laura asked him.
"Nothing, thank you," he answered.
We all laughed, and Harry Lothrop said,--
"Redmond, my boy, how fond you are of pictures!"
Redmond, with an unmoved face, said,--
"Don't be absurd about my absent-mindedness. What were you saying?"
And he turned to me.
"Do you like our plan," I asked, "of going to the Lake House? There is
a deep pond, a fine wood, a bridge,--perch, pickerel,--a one-story inn
with a veranda,--ham and eggs, stewed quince, elderberry wine,--and a
romantic road to ride over."
"I like it."
Frank opened a discussion on fishing; Laura and I withdrew, and went to
"I am light-hearted," I said.
"It is my duty to be melancholy," she replied; "but I shall not mope
after Frank has gone."
"'After them the deluge,'" said I. "How long will they stay?"
"Till they are bored, I fancy."
"Oh, they are going; we must leave our recess."
Frank and she remained; the others bid us good-night.
"I shall not come again till Christmas," he said. "These college-chaps
will amuse you and make the time pass; they are young,--quite suitable
companions for you girls. _Vive la bagatelle!_"
He sighed, and, drawing Laura's arm in his, rose to go. She groaned
loudly, and he nipped her ears.
"Good-bye, Margaret; let Laura take care of you. There is a deal of
wisdom in her."
We shook hands, Laura moaning all the while, and they went home.
Frank and Laura had been engaged three years. He was about thirty, and
was still too poor to marry.
Wednesday proved pleasant. We had an early dinner, and our cavalcade
started from Laura's. I rode my small bay horse Folly, a gift from my
absentee brother. His coat was sleeker than satin; his ears moved
perpetually, and his wide nostrils were always in a quiver. He was not
entirely safe, for now and then he jumped unexpectedly; but I had
ridden him a year without accident, and felt enough acquainted with him
not to be afraid.
Redmond eyed him.
"You are a bold rider," he said.
"No," I answered,--"a careful one. Look at the bit, and my whip, too. I
cut his hind legs when he jumps. Observe that I do not wear a long
skirt. I can slip off the saddle, if need be, without danger."
"That's all very well; but his eyes are vicious; he will serve you a
trick some day."
"When he does, I'll sell him for a cart-horse."
Laura and Redmond rode Jones's horses. Harry Lothrop was mounted on his
horse Black, a superb, thick-maned creature, with a cluster of white
stars on one of his shoulders. Maurice rode a wall-eyed pony. Our
friends Dickenson and Jack Parker drove two young ladies in a
carriage,--all the saddle-horses our town could boast of being in use.
We were in high spirits, and rode fast. I was occupied in watching
Folly, who had not been out for several days. At last, tired of tugging
at his mouth, I gave him rein, and he flew along. I tucked the edge of
my skirt under the saddle-flap, slanted forward, and held the bridle
with both hands close to his head. A long sandy reach of road lay
before me. I enjoyed Folly's fierce trotting; but, as I expected, the
good horse Black was on my track, while the rest of the party were far
behind. He soon overtook me. Folly snorted when he heard Black's step.
We pulled up, and the two horses began to sidle and prance, and throw
up their heads so that we could not indulge in a bit of conversation.
"Brute!" said Harry Lothrop,--"if I were sure of getting on again, I
would dismount and thrash you awfully."
"Remember Pickwick," I said; "don't do it."
I had hardly spoken, when the strap of his cap broke, and it fell from
his head to the ground. I laughed, and so did he.
"I can hold your horse while you dismount for it."
I stopped Folly, and he forced Black near enough for me to seize the
rein and twist it round my hand; when I had done so, Folly turned his
head, and was tempted to take Black's mane in his teeth; Black felt it,
reared, and came down with his nose in my lap. I could not loose my
hands, which confused me, but I saw Harry Lothrop making a great leap.
Both horses were running now, and he was lying across the saddle,
trying to free my hand. It was over in an instant. He got his seat, and
the horses were checked.
"Good God!" he said, "your fingers are crushed."
He pulled off my glove, and turned pale when he saw my purple hand.
"It is nothing," I said.
But I was miserably fatigued, and prayed that the Lake House might come
in sight. We were near the wood, which extended to it, and I was
wondering if we should ever reach it, when he said,--
"You must dismount, and rest under the first tree. We will wait there
for the rest of the party to come up."
I did so. Numerous were the inquiries, when they reached us. Laura,
when she heard the story, declared she now believed in Ellen Pickering.
Redmond gave me a searching look, and asked me if the one-story inn had
"I can take a nap, if necessary," I answered, "in one of Mrs. Sampson's
rush-bottomed chairs on the veranda. The croak of the frogs in the pond
and the buzz of the bluebottles shall be my lullaby."
"No matter how, if you will rest," he said, and assisted me to remount.
We rode quietly together the rest of the way. After arriving, we girls
went by ourselves into one of Mrs. Sampson's sloping chambers, where
there was a low bedstead, and a thick feather-bed covered with a
patchwork-quilt of the "Job's Trouble" pattern, a small, dim
looking-glass surmounted by a bunch of "sparrow-grass," and an
unpainted floor ornamented with home-made rugs which were embroidered
with pink flower-pots containing worsted rose-bushes, the stalks,
leaves, and flowers all in bright yellow. We hung up our riding-skirts
on ancient wooden pegs, for we had worn others underneath them suitable
for walking, and then tilted the wooden chairs at a comfortable angle
against the wall, put our feet on the rounds, and felt at peace with
"Alas!" I said, "it is too early for currant-pies."
"I saw," said one of the girls, "Mrs. Sampson poking the oven, and a
smell of pies was in the air."
"Let us go into the kitchen," exclaimed Laura.
The proposal was agreeable; so we went, and found Mrs. Sampson making
"The pies are green-gooseberry-pies," whispered Laura,--"very good,
"Miss Denham," shrieked Mrs. Sampson, "you haven't done growing
yet.--How's your mother and your grandmother?--Have you had a revival
in your church?--I heard of the young men down to Jones's,--our
minister's wife knows their fathers,--first-rate men, she says.--I
thought you would be here with them.--'Sampson,' I said this morning, as
soon as I dressed, 'do pick some gooseberries. I'll have before sundown
twenty pies in this house.' There they are,--six gooseberry, six
custard, and, though it's late for them, six mince, and two awful great
pigeon pies. It's poor trash, I expect; I'm afraid you can't eat it;
but it is as good as anybody's, I suppose."
We told her we should devour it all, but must first catch some fish;
and we joined the gentlemen on the veranda. A boat was ready for us.
Laura, however, refused to go in it. It was too small; it was wet; she
wanted to walk on the bridge; she could watch us from that; she wanted
some flowers, too. Like many who are not afraid of the ocean, she held
ponds and lakes in abhorrence, and fear kept her from going with us.
Harry Lothrop offered to stay with her, and take lines to fish from the
bridge. She assented, and, after we pushed off, they strolled away.
The lake was as smooth and white as silver beneath the afternoon sun
and a windless sky; it was bordered with a mound of green bushes,
beyond which stretched deep pine woods. There was no shade, and we soon
grew weary. Jack Parker caught all the fish, which flopped about our
feet. A little way down, where the lake narrowed, we saw Laura and
Harry Lothrop hanging over the bridge.
"They must be interested in conversation," I thought; "he has not
lifted his line out of the water once."
Redmond, too, looked over that way often, and at last said,--
"We will row up to the bridge, and walk back to the house, if you,
Maurice, will take the boat to the little pier again."
"Oh, yes," said Maurice.
We came to the bridge, and Laura reached out her hand to me.
"Why, dear!" she exclaimed, "you have burnt your face. Why did you,"
turning to Redmond, "paddle about so long in the hot sun?"
Her words were light enough, but the tone of her voice was savage.
Redmond looked surprised; he waved his hand deprecatingly, but said
nothing. We went up toward the house, but Laura lingered behind, and
did not come in till we were ready to go to supper.
It was past sundown when we rose from the ruins of Mrs. Sampson's pies.
We voted not to start for home till the evening was advanced, so that
we might enjoy the gloom of the pine wood. We sat on the veranda and
heard the sounds of approaching night. The atmosphere was like powdered
gold. Swallows fluttered in the air, delaying to drop into their nests,
and chirped their evening song. We heard the plunge of the little
turtles in the lake, and the noisy crows as they flew home over the
distant tree-tops. They grew dark, and the sky deepened slowly into a
soft gray. A gentle wind arose, and wafted us the sighs of the pines
and their resinous odors. I was happy, but Laura was unaccountably
"What is it, Laura?" I asked, in a whisper.
"Nothing, Margaret,--only it seems to me that we mortals are always
riding or fishing, eating or drinking, and that we never get to living.
To tell you the truth, the pies were too sour. Come, we must go," she
Redmond himself brought Folly from the stable.
"We will ride home together," he said. "My calm nag will suit yours
better than Black. Why does your hand tremble?"
He saw my shaking hands, as I took the rein; the fact was, my wrists
were nearly broken.
"Nothing shall happen to-night, I assure you," he continued, while he
tightened Folly's girth.
He contrived to be busy till all the party had disappeared down a turn
of the road. As he was mounting his horse, Mrs. Sampson, who was on the
steps, whispered to me,--
"He's a beautiful young man, now!"
He heard her; he had the ear of a wild animal; he took off his hat to
Mrs. Sampson, and we rode slowly away.
As soon as we were in the wood, Redmond tied the bridles of the horses
together with his handkerchief. It was so dark that my sight could not
separate him from his horse. They moved beside me, a vague, black
shape. The horses' feet fell without noise in the cool, moist sand. If
our companions were near us, we could not see them, and we did not hear
them. Horses generally keep an even pace, when travelling at
night,--subdued by the darkness, perhaps,--and Folly went along without
swaying an inch. I dropped the rein on his neck, and took hold of the
pommel. My hand fell on Redmond's. Before I could take it away, he had
clasped it, and touched it with his lips. The movement was so sudden
that I half lost my balance, but the horses stepped evenly together. He
threw his arm round me, and recoiled from me as if he had received a
"Take up your rein," he said, with a strange voice,--"quick!--we must
ride fast out of this."
I made no reply, for I was trying to untie the handkerchief. The knot
was too firm.
"No, no," he said, when he perceived what I was doing, "let it be so."
"Untie it, Sir!"
"I will not."
I put my face down between the horses' necks and bit it apart, and
thrust it into my bosom.
"Now," I said, "shall we ride fast?"
He shook his rein, and we rode fiercely,--past our party, who shouted
at us,--through the wood,--over the brow of the great hill, from whose
top we saw the dark, motionless sea,--through the long street,--and
through my father's gateway into the stable-yard, where I leaped from
my horse, and, bridle in hand, said, "Good night!" in a loud voice.
Redmond swung his hat and galloped off.
Early next morning, Laura sent me a note:--
"DEAR MARGARET,--I have an ague, and mean to have it till Sunday night.
The pines did it. Did you bring home any needles? On Monday, mother
will give one of her whist-parties. I shall add a dozen or two of our
set; you will come.
"P.S. What do you think of Mr. Harry Lothrop? Good young man, eh?"
I was glad that Laura had shut herself up for a few days; I dreaded to
see her just now. I suffered from an inexplicable feeling of pride and
disappointment, and did not care to have her discover it. Laura, like
myself, sometimes chose to protect herself against neighborly
invasions. We never kept our doors locked in the country; the sending
in of a card was an unknown process there. Our acquaintances walked in
upon us whenever the whim took them, and it now and then happened to be
an inconvenience to us who loved an occasional fit of solitude. I
determined to keep in-doors for a few days also. Whenever I was in an
unquiet mood, I took to industry; so that day I set about arranging my
drawers, making over my ribbons, and turning my room upside down. I
rehung all my pictures, and moved my bottles and boxes. Then I mended
my stockings, and marked my clothes, which was not a necessary piece of
work, as I never left home. I next attacked the parlor,--washed all the
vases, changed the places of the furniture, and distressed my mother
very much. When evening came, I brushed my hair a good deal, and looked
at my hands, and went to bed early. I could not read then, though I
often took books from the shelves, and I would not think.
Sunday came round. The church-bells made me lonesome. I looked out of
the window many times that day, and, fixing on the sash one of my
father's ship-glasses, swept the sea, and peered at the islands on the
other side of the bay, gazing through their openings, beyond which I
could see the great dim ocean. Mother came home from church, and said
young Maurice was there, and inquired about me. He hoped I did not take
cold; his friend Redmond had been hoarse ever since our ride, and had
passed most of the time in his own room, drumming on the window-pane
and whistling dirges. Mother dropped her acute eyes on me, while she
was telling me this; but I yawned all expression from my face.
As Monday night drew near, my numbness of feeling began to pass off;
thought came into my brain by plunges. Now I desired; now I hoped. I
dressed myself in black silk, and wore a cape of black Chantilly lace.
I made my hair as glossy as possible, drew it down on my face, and put
round my head a band composed of minute sticks of coral. When all was
done, I took the candle and held it above my head and surveyed myself
in the glass. I was very pale. The pupils of my eyes were dilated, as
if I had received some impression that would not pass away. My lips had
the redness of youth; their color was deepened by my paleness.
"How handsome I am!" I thought, as I set down the candle.
When I entered Laura's parlor, she came toward me and said,--
"Artful creature! you knew well, this warm night, that every girl of us
would wear a light dress; so you wore a black one. How well you
understand such matters! You are very clever; your real sensibility
adds effect to your cleverness. I see how it is. Come into this corner.
Have you got a fan? Good gracious! black, with gold spangles;--where
_do_ you buy your things? I can tell you now," she continued, "my
conversation on the bridge the other day."
She hesitated, and asked me if I liked her new muslin. She did look
well in it; it was a white fabric, with red rose-buds scattered over
it. Her delicate face was shadowed by light brown curls. She was
attractive, and I told her so, and she began again:--
"Harry Lothrop said, as he was impaling the half of a worm,--
"'Redmond is a handsome fellow, is he not?'
"'He is too awfully thin,' I answered, 'but his eyes are good.'
"He gave me a crafty side-look, like that of a parrot, when he means to
bite your finger.
"'Your friend, too,' he added, 'is really one of the most beautiful
girls I ever saw,--a coquette with a heart.'
"'Let down your line into the water,' I said.
"He laughed a little laugh. By-the-by, there is an insidious tenacity
about Mr. Harry Lothrop which irritates me; but I like him, for I think
he understands women. I feel at ease with him, when he is not throwing
out his tenacious feelers. Then he said,--
"'Redmond is engaged to his cousin. The girl's mother had the charge of
him through his boyhood. He is ardently attached to her,--the mother, I
mean. She is most anxious to call Redmond her son.'
"'Didn't you have a bite?' I said.
"'Well, I think the bait is off the hook,' he answered; and then we
were silent and pondered the water.
"There are some people I must speak to,"--and Laura moved away without
looking at me.
I opened my fan, but felt chilly. A bustle near me caused me to raise
my eyes; Redmond was speaking to a lady. He was in black, too, and very
pale. He turned toward me and our eyes met. His expression agitated me
so that I unconsciously rose to my feet and warned him off with my fan;
but he seemed rooted to the spot. Laura took care of us both; she came
and stood between us. I saw her look at him so sweetly and so
mournfully, that he understood her in a moment. He shook his head and
walked abruptly into another room. Laura went again from me without
giving me a look. Maurice came up and I made room for him beside me. We
talked of the riding-party, and then of our first meeting at the ball.
He told me that Redmond's boat had arrived, and what a famous boat it
was, and "what jolly sprees we fellows had, cruising about with her." I
asked him about his guitar, and when we might hear him play. He grew
more chatty and began to tell me about his sister, when Redmond and
Harry Lothrop came over to us, which ended his chat.
The party was like all parties,--dull at first, and brighter as it grew
late. The old ladies played whist in one room, and the younger part of
the company were in another. Champagne was not a prevalent drink in our
village, but it happened that we had some that night.
"It may be a sinful beverage," said an old lady near me, "but it is
Redmond opened a bottle for me, we clinked glasses, and drank to an
indefinite, silent wish.
"One more," he asked, "and let us change glasses."
Presently a cloud of delicate warmth spread over my brain, and gave me
courage to seek and meet his glance. There must have been an expression
of irresolution in my face, for he looked at me inquiringly, and then
his own face grew very sad. I felt awkward from my intuition of his
opinion of my mood, when he relieved me by saying something about
Shelley,--a copy of whose poems lay on a table near. From Shelley he
went to his boat, and said he hoped to have some pleasant excursions
with Laura and myself. He "would go at once and talk with Laura's
mother about them." I watched him through the door, while he spoke to
her. She was in a low chair, and he leaned his face on one hand close
to hers. I saw that his natural expression was one of tranquillity and
courage. He was not more than twenty-two, but the firmness of the lines
about his mouth belied his youth.
"He has a wonderful face," I thought, "and just as wonderful a will."
I felt my own will rise as I looked at him,--a will that should make me
mistress of myself, powerful enough to contend with, and resist, or
turn to advantage any controlling fate which might come near me.
"Do you feel like singing?" Harry Lothrop inquired. "Do you know
Byron's song, 'One struggle more and I am free'?"
"Oh, yes!" I replied,--"it is set to music which suits my voice. I will
Laura had been playing polkas with great spirit. Since the Champagne,
the old ladies had closed their games of whist for talking, and, as it
was nearly time to go, the company was gay. There was laughing and
talking when I began, but silence soon after, for the wine made my
voice husky and effective. I sang as if deeply moved.
"Lord!" I heard Maurice say to Laura, as I rose from the piano, "what a
girl! she's really tragic."
I caught Harry Lothrop's eye, as I passed through the door to go
up-stairs; it was burning; I felt as if a hot coal had dropped on me.
Maurice ran into the hall and sprang upon the stair-railing to ask me
if he might be my escort home. That night he serenaded me. He was a
good-hearted, cheerful creature; conceited, as small men are apt to
be,--conceit answering for size with them,--but pleasantly so, and I
learned to like him as much as Redmond did.
The summer days were passing. We had all sorts of parties,--parties in
houses and out-of-doors; we rode and sailed and walked. Laura walked
and talked much with Harry Lothrop. We did not often see each other
alone, but, when we met, were more serious and affectionate with each
other. We did not speak, except in a general way, of Redmond and Harry
Lothrop. I did not avoid Redmond, nor did I seek him. We had many a
serious conversation in public, as well as many a gay one; but I had
never met him alone since the night we rode through the pines.
He went away for a fortnight. On the day of his return he came to see
me. He looked so glad, when I entered the room, that I could not help
feeling a wild thrill. I went up to him, but said nothing. He held out
both his hands. I retreated. An angry feeling rushed into my heart.
"No," I said, "Whose hand did you hold last?"
He turned deadly pale.
"That of the woman I am going to marry."
I smiled to hide the trembling of my lips, and offered my hand to him;
_but he waved it away_, and fell back on his chair, hurriedly drawing
his handkerchief across his face. I saw that he was very faint, and
stood against the door, waiting for him to recover.
"More than I have played the woman and the fool before you."
"I thought so. You seem experienced."
"Forgive me," he said, gently; "being only a man, I think you can. Good
God!" he exclaimed, "what an infernal self-possession you show!"
"Redmond, is it not time to end this? The summer has been a long
one,--has it not?--long enough for me to have learned what it is to
live. Our positions are reversed since we have become acquainted. I am
for the first time forgetting self, and you for the first time remember
self. Redmond, you are a noble man. You have a steadfast soul. Do not
be shaken. I am not like you; I am not simple or single-hearted. But I
imitate you. Now come, I beg you will go."
"Certainly, I will. I have little to say."
August had nearly gone when Maurice told me they were about to leave.
Laura said we must prepare for retrospection and the fall sewing.
"Well," I said, "the future looks gloomy, and I must have some new
Maurice came to see me one morning in a state of excitement to say we
were all going to Bird Island to spend the day, dine at the
light-house, and sail home by moonlight. Fifteen of the party were
going down by the sloop Sapphire, and Redmond had begged him to ask if
Laura and I would go in his boat.
"Do go," said Maurice; "it will be our last excursion together; next
week we are off. I am broken-hearted about it. I shall never be so
happy again. I have actually whimpered once or twice. You should hear
Redmond whistle nowadays. Harry pulls his moustache and laughs his oily
laughs, but he is sorry to go, and kicks his clothes about awfully. By
the way, he is going down in the sloop because Miss Fairfax is
going,--he says,--that tall young lady with crinkled hair;--he hates
her, and hopes to see her sick. May I come for you in the morning, by
ten o'clock? Redmond will be waiting on the wharf."
"Tell Redmond," I answered, "that I will go; and will you ask Harry
Lothrop not to engage himself for all the reels to Miss Fairfax?"
He promised to fulfil my message, and went off in high spirits. I
wondered, as I saw him going down the walk, why it was that I felt so
much more natural and friendly with him than with either of his
friends. I often talked confidentially to him; he knew how I loved my
mother, and how I admired my father, and I told him all about my
brother's business. He also knew what I liked best to eat and to wear.
In return, he confided his family secrets to me. I knew his tastes and
wishes. There was no common ground where I met Redmond and Harry
Lothrop. There were too many topics between Redmond and myself to be
avoided, for us to venture upon private or familiar conversation. Harry
Lothrop was an accomplished, fastidious man of the world, I dreaded
boring him, and so I said little. He was several years older than
Redmond, and possessed more knowledge of men, women, and books. Redmond
had no acquirements, he knew enough by nature, and I never saw a person
with more fascination of manner and voice.
The evening before the sailing-party, I had a melancholy fit. I was
restless, and after dark I put a shawl over my head and went out to
walk. I went up a lonesome road, beyond our house. On one side I heard
the water washing against the shore with regularity, as if it were
breathing. On the other side were meadows, where there were cows
crunching the grass. A mile farther was a low wood of oaks, through
which ran a path. I determined to walk through that. The darkness and a
sharp breeze which blew against me from limitless space made me feel as
if I were the only human creature the elements could find to contend
with, I turned down the little path into the deeper darkness of the
wood, sat down on a heap of dead leaves, and began to cry.
"Mine is a miserable pride," was my thought,--"that of arming myself
with beauty and talent and going through the world conquering! Girls
are ignorant, till they are disappointed. The only knowledge men
proffer us is the knowledge of the heart; it becomes us to profit by
it. Redmond will marry that girl. He must, and shall. I will empty the
dust and ashes of my heart as soon as the fire goes down: that is, I
think so; but I know that I do not know myself. I have two
natures,--one that acts, and one that is acted upon,--and I cannot
always separate the one from the other."
Something darkened the opening into the path. Two persons passed in
slowly. I perceived the odor of violets, and felt that one of them must
be Laura. Waiting till they passed beyond me, I rose and went home.
The next morning was cloudy, and the sea was rough with a high wind;
but we were old sailors, and decided to go on our excursion. The sloop
and Redmond's boat left the wharf at the same time. We expected to be
several hours beating down to Bird Island, for the wind was ahead.
Laura and I, muffled in cloaks, were placed on the thwarts and
neglected; for Redmond and Maurice were busy with the boat. Laura was
silent, and looked ill. Redmond sat at the helm, and kept the boat up
to the wind, which drove the hissing spray over us. The sloop hugged
the shore, and did not feel the blast as we did. I slid along my seat
to be near Redmond. He saw me coming, and put out his hand and drew me
towards him, looking so kindly at me that I was melted. Trying to get
at my handkerchief, which was in my dress-pocket, my cloak flew open,
the wind caught it, and, as I rose to draw it closer, I nearly fell
overboard. Redmond gave a spring to catch me, and the boat lost her
headway. The sail flapped with a loud bang. Maurice swore, and we
chopped about in the short sea.
"It is your destiny to have a scene, wherever you are," said Laura. "If
I did not feel desperate, I should be frightened. But these green,
crawling waves are so opaque, if we fall in, we shall not see ourselves
"Courage! the boat is under way," Maurice cried out; "we are nearly
And rounding a little point, we saw the light-house at last. The sloop
anchored a quarter of a mile from the shore, the water being shoal, and
Redmond took off her party by instalments.
"What the deuse was the matter with you at one time?" asked Jack
Parker. "We saw you were having a sort of convulsion. Our cap'n said
you were bold chaps to be trifling with such a top-heavy boat."
"Miss Denham," said Redmond, "thought she could steer the boat as well
as I could, and so the boat lost headway."
Harry Lothrop gave Redmond one of his soft smiles, and a vexed look
passed over Redmond's face when he saw it.
We had to scramble over a low range of rocks to get to the shore.
Redmond anchored his boat by one of them. Bird Island was a famous
place for parties. It was a mile in extent. Not a creature was on it
except the light-house keeper, his wife, and daughter. The gulls made
their nests in its rocky borders; their shrill cries, the incessant
dashing of the waves on the ledges, and the creaking of the lantern in
the stone tower were all the sounds the family heard, except when they
were invaded by some noisy party like ours. They were glad to see us.
The light-house keeper went into the world only when it was necessary
to buy stores, or when his wife and daughter wanted to pay a visit to
The house was of stone, one story high, with thick walls. The small,
deep-set windows and the low ceilings gave the rooms the air of a
prison; but there was also an air of security about them: for, in
looking from the narrow windows, one felt that the house was a
steadfast ship in the circle of the turbulent sea, whose waves from
every point seemed advancing towards it. A pale, coarse grass grew in
the sand of the island. It was too feeble to resist the acrid breath of
the ocean, so it shuddered perpetually, and bent landward, as if
invoking the protection of its stepmother, the solid earth.
"It is perfect," said Redmond to me; "I have been looking for this spot
all my life; I am ready to swear that I will never leave it."
We were sitting in a window, facing each other. He looked out toward
the west, and presently was lost in thought. He folded his arms tightly
across his breast, and his eyes were a hundred miles away. The sound of
a fiddle in the long alley which led from the house to the tower broke
"We shall be uproarious before we leave," I said; "we always are, when
we come here."
The fun had already set in. Some of the girls had pinned up their
dresses, and borrowed aprons from the light-house keeper's wife, and
with scorched faces were helping her to make chowder and fry
fish. Others were arranging the table, assisted by the young men, who
put the dishes in the wrong places. Others were singing in the best
room. One or two had brought novels along, and were reading them in
corners. It was all merry and pleasant, but I felt quiet. Redmond
entered into the spirit of the scene. I had never seen him so gay. He
chatted with all the girls, interfering or helping, as the case might
be. Maurice brought his guitar, and had a group about him at the foot
of the tower-stairs. He sung loud, but his voice seemed to
fluctuate;--now it rang through the tower, now it was half overpowered
by the roar of the sea. His poetical temperament led him to choose
songs in harmony with the place, not to suit the company,--melancholy
words set to wild, fitful chords, which rose and died away according to
the skill of the player. I had gone near him, for his singing had
"You are inspired," I said.
"You never sung so before."
"I feel old to-day," he answered, and he swept his hands across all the
strings; "my ditties are done."
After dinner Laura asked me to go out with her. We slipped away unseen,
and went to the beach, and seated ourselves on a great rock whose outer
side was lapped by the water. The sun had broken through the clouds,
but shone luridly, giving the sea a leaden tint. The wind was going
down. We had not been there long, when Redmond joined us. He asked us
to go round the island in his boat. Laura declined, and said she would
sit on the rock while we went, if I chose to go. I did choose to go,
and he brought the boat to the rock. He hoisted the sail half up the
mast, and we sailed close to the shore. It rose gradually along the
east side of the island, and terminated in a bold ledge which curved
into the sea. We ran inside the curve, where the water was nearly
smooth. Redmond lowered the sail and the boat drifted toward the ledge
slowly. A tongue of land, covered with pale sedge, was on the left
side. Above the ledge, at the right, we could see the tower of the
light-house. Redmond tied down the helm, and, throwing himself beside
me, leaned his head on his hand, and looked at me a long time without
speaking. I listened to the water, which plashed faintly against the
bows. He covered his face with his hands. I looked out seaward over the
tongue of land; my heart quaked, like the grass which grew upon it. At
last he rose, and I saw that he was crying,--the tears rained fast.
"My soul is dying," he said, in a stifled voice; "I am not more than
mortal,--I cannot endure it."
I pointed toward the open sea, which loomed so vague in the distance.
"The future is like that,--is it not? Courage! we must drift through
it; we shall find something."
He stamped his foot on the deck.
"Women always talk so; but men are different. If there is a veil before
us, we must tear it away,--not sit muffled in its folds, and speculate
on what is behind it. Rise."
I obeyed him. He held me firmly. We were face to face.
"Look at me."
I did. His eyes were blazing.
"Do you love me?"
He placed me on the bench, hoisted the sail, untied the helm, and we
were soon ploughing round to the spot where we had left Laura; but she
was gone. On the rock where she was, perched a solitary gull, which
flew away with a scream as we approached.
That day was the last that I saw Redmond alone. He was at the party at
Laura's house which took place the night before they left. We did not
bid each other adieu.
After the three friends had gone, they sent us gifts of remembrance.
Redmond's keepsake was a white fan with forget-me-nots painted on it.
To Laura he sent the pen-holder, which was now mine.
We missed them, and should have felt their loss, had no deep feeling
been involved; for they gave an impetus to our dull country life, and
the whole summer had been one of excitement and pleasure. We settled by
degrees into our old habits. At Christmas, Frank came. He looked
worried and older. He had heard something of Laura's intimacy with
Harry Lothrop, and was troubled about it, I know: but I believe Laura
was silent on the matter. She was quiet and affectionate toward him
during his visit, and he went back consoled.
The winter passed. Spring came and went, and we were deep into the
summer when Laura was taken ill. She had had a little cough, which no
one except her mother noticed. Her spirits fell, and she failed fast.
When I saw her last, she had been ill some weeks, and had never felt
strong enough to talk as much as she did in that interview. She nerved
herself to make the effort, and as she bade me farewell, bade farewell
to life also. And now it was all over with her!
* * * * *
I fell asleep at length, and woke late. It seemed as if a year had
dropped out of the procession of Time. My heart was still beating with
the emotion which stirred it when Redmond and I were together last.
Recollection had stung me to the quick. A terrible longing urged me to
go and find him. The feeling I had when we were in the boat, face to
face, thrilled my fibres again. I saw his gleaming eyes; I could have
rushed through the air to meet him. But, alas! exaltation of feeling
lasts only a moment; it drops us where it finds us. If it were not so,
how easy to be a hero! The dull reaction of the present, like a slow
avalanche, crushed and ground me into nothingness.
"Something must happen at last," I thought, "to amuse me, and make time
What can a woman do, when she knows that an epoch of feeling is rounded
off, finished, dead? Go back to her story-books, her dress-making, her
worsted-work? Shall she attempt to rise to mediocrity on the piano or
in drawing, distribute tracts, become secretary of a Dorcas society? or
shall she turn her mind to the matter of cultivating another lover at
once? Few of us women have courage enough to shoulder out the corpses
of what men leave in our hearts. We keep them there, and conceal the
ruins in which they lie. We grow cunning and artful in our tricks, the
longer we practise them. But how we palpitate and shrink and shudder,
when we are alone in the dark!
After Redmond departed, I had locked up my feelings and thrown the key
away. The death of Laura, and the awakening of my recollections, caused
by the appearance of Harry Lothrop, wrenched the door open. Hitherto I
had acted with the bravery of a girl; I must now behave with the
resolution of a woman. I looked into my heart closely. No skeleton was
there, but the image of a living man,--_Redmond_.
"I love him," I confessed. "To be his wife and the mother of his
children is the only lot I ever care to choose. He is noble, handsome,
and loyal. But I cannot belong to him, nor can he ever be mine.