Part 2 out of 5
"'Of love that never found his earthly close
"What did he do with the remembrance of me? He scattered it, perhaps,
with the ashes of the first cigar he smoked after he went from
me,--made a mound of it, maybe, in honor of Duty. I am as ignorant of
him as if he no longer existed; so this image must be torn away. I will
not burn the lamp of life before it, but will build up the niche where
it stands into a solid wall."
The ideal happiness of love is so sweet and powerful, that, for a
while, adverse influences only exalt the imagination. When Laura told
me of Redmond's engagement, it did but change my dream of what might be
into what might have been. It was a mirage which continued while he was
present and faded with his departure. Then my heart was locked in the
depths of will, till circumstance brought it a power of revenge. I
think now, if we had spoken freely and truly to each other, I should
have suffered less when I saw his friend. We feel better when the
funeral of our dearest friend is over and we have returned to the
house. There is to be no more preparation, no waiting; the windows may
be opened, and the doors set wide; the very dreariness and desolation
force our attention towards the living.
"Something will come," I thought; and I determined not to have any more
reveries. "Mr. Harry Lothrop is a pleasant riddle; I shall see him
soon, or he will write."
It occurred to me then that I had some letters of his already in my
possession,--those he had written to Laura. I found the ebony box, and,
taking from it the sealed package, unfolded the letters one by one,
reading them according to their dates. There was a note among them for
me, from Laura.
"When you read these letters, Margaret," it said, "you will see that I
must have studied the writer of them in vain. You know now that he made
me unhappy; not that I was in love with him much, but he stirred depths
of feeling which I had no knowledge of, and which between Frank, my
betrothed husband, and myself had no existence. But '_le roi s'amuse._'
Perhaps a strong passion will master this man; but I shall never know.
I laid the letters back in their place, and felt no very strong desire
to learn anything more of the writer. I did not know then how little
trouble it would be,--my share of making the acquaintance.
It was not many weeks before Mr. Lothrop came again, and rather
ostentatiously, so that everybody knew of his visit to me. But he saw
none of the friends he had made during his stay the year before. I
happened to see him coming, and went to the door to meet him. Almost
his first words were,--
"Maurice is dead. He went to Florida,--took the fever,--which killed
him, of course. He died only a week after--after Laura. Poor fellow!
did he interest you much? I believe he was in love with you, too; but
musical people are never desperate, except when they play a false
"Yes," I answered; "I was fond of him. His conceit did not trouble me,
and he never fatigued me; he had nothing to conceal. He was a
commonplace man; one liked him, when with him,--and when away, one had
no thought about him."
"I alone am left you," said my visitor, putting his hat on a chair, and
slowly pulling off his gloves, finger by finger.
He had slender, white hands, like a woman's, and they were always in
motion. After he had thrown his gloves into his hat, he put his finger
against his cheek, leaned his elbow on the arm of his chair, crossed
his legs, and looked at me with a cunning self-possession. I glanced at
his feet; they were small and well-booted. I looked into his face; it
was not a handsome one; but he had magnetic eyes, of a lightish blue,
and a clever, loose mouth. It is impossible to describe him,--just as
impossible as it is for a man who was born a boor to attain the bearing
of a gentleman; any attempt at it would prove a bungling matter, when
compared with the original. He felt my scrutiny, and knew, too, that I
had never looked at him till then.
"Do you sing nowadays?" he asked, tapping with his fingers the keys of
the piano behind him.
"They suit you admirably; but I perceive you attend to your dress
still. How effective those velvet bands are! You look older than you
did two years ago."
"Two years are enough to age a woman."
"Yes, if she is miserable. Can you be unhappy?" he asked, rising, and
taking a seat beside me.
There was a tone of sympathy in his voice which made me shudder, I knew
not why. It was neither aversion nor liking; but I dreaded to be thrown
into any tumult of feeling. I realized afterward more fully that it is
next to impossible for a passionate woman to receive the sincere
addresses of a manly man without feeling some fluctuation of soul.
Ignorant spectators call her a coquette for this. Happily, there are
teachers among our own sex, women of cold temperaments, able to
vindicate themselves from the imputation. They spare themselves great
waste of heart and some generous emotion,--also remorse and
self-accusations regarding the want of propriety, and the other
ingredients which go to make up a white-muslin heroine.
Harry Lothrop saw that my cheek was burning, and made a movement toward
me. I tossed my head back, and moved down the sofa; he did not follow
me, but smiled and mused in his old way.
And so it went on,--not once, but many times. He wrote me quiet,
persuasive, eloquent letters. By degrees I learned his own history and
that of his family, his prospects and his intentions. He was rich. I
knew well what position I should have, if I were his wife. My beauty
would be splendidly set. I was well enough off, but not rich enough to
harmonize all things according to my taste. I was proud, and he was
refined; if we were married, what better promise of delicacy could be
given than that of pride in a woman, refinement in a man? He brought me
flowers or books, when he came. The flowers were not delicate and
inodorous, but magnificent and deep-scented; and the material of the
books was stalwart and vigorous. I read his favorite authors with him.
He was the first person who ever made any appeal to my intellect. In
short, he was educating me for a purpose.
Once he offered me a diamond cross. I refused it, and he never asked me
to accept any gift again. His visits were not frequent, and they were
short. However great the distance he accomplished to reach me, he staid
only an evening, and then returned. He came and went at night. In time
I grew to look upon our connection as an established thing. He made me
understand that he loved me, and that he only waited for me to return
it; but he did not say so.
I lived an idle life, inhaling the perfume of the flowers he gave me,
devouring old literature, the taste for which he had created, and
reading and answering his letters. To be sure, other duties were
fulfilled, I was an affectionate child to my parents, and a proper
acquaintance for my friends. I never lost any sleep now, nor was I
troubled with dreams. I lived in the outward; all my restless activity,
that constant questioning of the heavens and the earth, had ceased
entirely. Five years had passed since I first saw Redmond. I was now
twenty-four. The Fates grew tired of the monotony of my life, I
suppose, for about this time it changed.
My oldest brother, a bachelor, lived in New York. He asked me to spend
the winter with him; he lived in a quiet hotel, had a suite of rooms,
and could make me comfortable, he said. He had just asked somebody to
marry him, and that somebody wished to make my acquaintance. I was glad
to go. My heart gave a bound at the prospect of change; I was still
young enough to dream of the impossible, when any chance offered itself
to my imagination; so I accepted my brother's invitation with some
I had been in New York a month. One day I was out with my future
sister, on a shopping raid; with our hands full of little paper
parcels, we stopped to look into Goupil's window. There was always a
rim of crowd there, so I paid no attention to the jostles we received.
We were looking at an engraving of Ary Scheffer's Francoise de Rimini.
"Not the worst hell," muttered a voice behind me, which I knew. I
started, and pulled Leonora's arm; she turned round, and the fringe of
her cloak-sleeve caught a button on the overcoat of one of the
gentlemen standing together. It was Redmond; the other was his
"ancient," Harry Lothrop. Leonora was arrested; I stood still, of
course. Redmond had not seen my face, for I turned it from him; and his
head was bent down to the task of disengaging his button.
"'Each only as God wills
Can work; God's puppets, best and worst,
Are we; there is no last nor first,'"
I thought, and turned my head. He instinctively took off his hat, and
then planted it back on his head firmly, and looked over to Harry
Lothrop, to whom I gave my hand. He knew me before I saw him, I am
convinced; but his dramatic sense kept him silent,--perhaps a deeper
feeling. There was an expression of pain in his face, which impelled me
to take his arm.
"Let us move on, Leonora," I said; "these are some summer friends of
mine," and I introduced them to her.
My chief feeling was embarrassment, which was shared by all the party;
for Leonora felt that there was something unusual in the meeting. The
door of the hotel seemed to come round at last, and as we were going
in, Harry Lothrop asked me if he might see me the next morning.
"Do come," I answered aloud.
We all bowed, and they disappeared.
"What an elegant Indian your tall friend is!" said Leonora.
"Yes,--of the Camanche tribe."
"But he would look better hanging from his horse's mane than he does in
a long coat."
"He is spoiled by civilization and white parents. But, Leonora, stay
and dine with me, in my own room. John will not come home till it is
time for the opera. You know we are going. You must make me splendid;
you can torture me into style, I know."
She consented, provided I would send a note to her mother, explaining
that it was my invitation, and not her old John's, as she irreverently
called him. I did so, and she was delighted to stay.
"This is fast," she said; "can't we have Champagne and black coffee?"
She fell to rummaging John's closets, and brought out a dusty,
Chinese-looking affair, which she put on for a dressing-gown. She found
some Chinese straw shoes, and tucked her little feet into them, and
then braided her hair in a long tail, and declared she was ready for
dinner. Her gayety was refreshing, and I did not wonder at John's
admiration. My spirits rose, too, and I astonished Leonora at the table
with my chat; she had never seen me except when quiet. I fell into one
of those unselfish, unasking moods which are the glory of youth: I felt
that the pure heaven of love was in the depths of my being; my soul
shone like a star in its atmosphere; my heart throbbed, and I cried
softly to it,--"Live! live! he is here!" I still chatted with Leonora
and made her laugh, and the child for the first time thoroughly liked
me. We were finishing our dessert, when we heard John's knock. We
allowed him to come in for a moment, and gave him some almonds, which,
he leisurely cracked and ate.
"Somehow, Margaret," he said, "you remind me of those women who enjoy
the Indian festival of the funeral pile. I have seen the thing done;
you have something of the sort in your mind; be sure to immolate
yourself handsomely. Women are the deuse."
"Finish your almonds, John," I said, "and go away; we must dress."
He put his hand on my arm, and whispered,--
"Smother that light in your eyes, my girl; it is dangerous. And you
have lived under your mother's eye all your life! You see what I have
done,"--indicating Leonora with his eyebrows,--"taken a baby on my
"John, John!" I inwardly ejaculated, "you are an idiot."
"She shall never suffer what you suffer; she shall have the benefit of
the experience which other women have given me."
"Very likely," I answered; "I know we often serve you as pioneers
He gave a sad nod, and I closed the door upon him.
"Put these pins into my hair, Leonora, and tell me, how do you like my
"Paris!" she cried.
It was a dove-colored silk with a black velvet stripe through it. I
showed her a shawl which John had given me,--a pale-yellow gauzy fabric
with a gold-thread border,--and told her to make me up. She produced
quite a marvellous effect; for this baby understood the art of dress to
perfection. She made my hair into a loose mass, rolling it away from my
face; yet it was firmly fastened. Then she shook out the shawl, and
wrapped me in it, so that my head seemed to be emerging from a
pale-tinted cloud. John said I looked outlandish, but Leonora thought
otherwise. She begged him for some Indian perfume, and he found an
aromatic powder, which she sprinkled inside my gloves and over my shawl.
We found the opera-house crowded. Our seats were near the stage. John
sat behind us, so that he might slip out into the lobby occasionally;
for the opera was a bore to him. The second act was over; John had left
his seat; I was opening and shutting my fan mechanically, half lost in
thought, when Leonora, who had been looking at the house with her
lorgnette, turned and said,--
"Is not that your friend of this morning, on the other side, in the
second row, leaning against the third pillar? There is a
queenish-looking old lady with him. He hasn't spoken to her for a long
time, and she continually looks up at him."
I took her glass, and discovered Redmond. He looked back at me through
another; I made a slight motion with my handkerchief; he dropped his
glass into the lap of the lady next him and darted out, and in a moment
he was behind me in John's seat.
"Who is with you?" he asked.
"Brother," I answered.
"You intoxicate me with some strange perfume; don't fan it this way."
I quietly passed the fan to Leonora, who now looked back and spoke to
him. He talked with her a moment, and then she discreetly resumed her
"What happened for two years after I left B.? The last year I know
"Breakfast, dinner, and tea; the ebb and flow of the tide; and the days
of the week."
"Nothing more?" And his voice came nearer.
"A few trifles."
"They are under lock and key, I suppose?"
"We do not carry relics about with us."
"There is the conductor; I must go. Turn your face toward me more."
I obeyed him, and our eyes met. His searching gaze made me shiver.
"I have been married," he said, and his eyes were unflinching, "and my
wife is dead."
All the lights went down, I thought; I struck out my arm to find
Leonora, who caught it and pressed it down.
"I must get out," I said; and I walked up the alley to the door without
I knew that I was fainting or dying; as I had never fainted, I did not
know which. Redmond carried me through the cloak-room and put me on a
"I never can speak to him again," I thought, and then I lost sight of
A terribly sharp pain through my heart roused me, and I was in a
violent chill. They had thrown water over my face; my hair was matted,
and the water was dripping from it on my naked shoulders. The gloves
had been ripped from my hands, and Leonora was wringing my
"The heat made you faint, dear," she said.
John was walking up and down the room with a phlegmatic countenance,
but he was fuming.
"My new dress is ruined, John," I said.
"Hang the dress! How do you feel now?"
"It is drowned; and I feel better; shall we go home?"
He went out to order the carriage, and Leonora whispered to me that she
had forgotten Redmond's name.
"No matter," I answered. I could not have spoken it then.
When John came, Leonora beckoned to Redmond to introduce himself. John
shook hands with him, gave him an intent look, and told us the carriage
was ready. Redmond followed us, and took leave of us at the
Leonora begged me to stay at her house; I refused, for I wished to be
alone. John deposited her with her mother, and we drove home. He gave
me one of his infallible medicines, and told me not to get up in the
morning. But when morning came, I remembered Harry Lothrop was coming,
and made myself ready for him. As human nature is not quite perfect, I
felt unhappy about him, and rather fond of him, and thought he
possessed some admirable qualities. I never could read the old poets
any more without a pang, unless he were with me, directing my eye along
their pages with his long white finger! I never should smell tuberoses
again without feeling faint, unless they were his gift!
By the time he came I was in a state of romantic regret, and in that
state many a woman has answered, "Yes!" He asked me abruptly if I
thought it would be folly in him to ask me to marry him. The question
turned the tide.
"No," I answered,--"not folly; for I have thought many times in the
last two years, that I should marry you, if you said I must. But now I
believe that it is not best. You have pursued me patiently; your
self-love made the conquest of me a necessary pleasure. That was well
enough for me; for you made me feel all the while, that, if I loved
you, you were worth possessing. And you are. I like you. But my feeling
for you did not prevent my fainting away at the opera-house last night,
when Redmond told me that his wife was dead."
"So," he said, "the long-smothered fire has broken out again! Chance
does not befriend me. He saw you last night, and yielded. He said
yesterday he should not tell you. He asked me about you after we left
you, and wished to know if I had seen you much for the last year. I
offered him your last letter to read,--am I not generous?--but he
"'When I see her,' he asked, 'am I at liberty to say what I choose?'
"On that I could have said, 'No.' Redmond and I have not seen each
other since the period of my first visit to you. He has been nursing
his wife in the mean time, taking journeys with her, and trying all
sorts of cures; and now he seems tied to his aunt and mother-in-law. He
was merely passing through the city with her, and this morning they
have gone again.--Well," after a pause, "there is no need of words
between us. I have in my possession a part of you. Beautiful women are
like flowers which open their leaves wide enough for their perfume to
attract wandering bees; the perfume is wasted, though the honey may be
"Alas, what a lesson this man is giving me!" I thought.
"Farewell, then," he said. He bit his lips, and his clenched hands
trembled; but he mastered his emotion. "You must think of me."
"And see you, too," I answered. "Everything comes round again, if we
live long enough. Dramatic unities are never preserved in life; if they
were, how poetical would all these things be! But Time whirls us round,
showing us our many-sided feelings as carelessly as a child rattles the
bits of glass in his kaleidoscope."
"So be it!" he replied. "Adieu!"
That afternoon I staid at home, and put John's room in order, and
cleaned the dust from his Indian idols, and was extremely busy till he
came in. Then I kissed his whiskers, and told him all my sins, and
cried once or twice during my confession. He petted me a good deal, and
made me eat twice as much dinner as I wanted; he said it was good for
me, and I obeyed him, for I felt uncommonly meek that day.
Soon after, Redmond sent me a long letter. He said he had been, from a
boy, under an obligation to his aunt, the mother of his wife. It was a
common story, and he would not trouble me with it. He was married soon
after Harry Lothrop's first visit to me, at the time they had received
the news of Laura's death. How much he had thought of Laura afterward,
while he was watching the fading away of his pale blossom! His aunt had
been ill since the death of her daughter, restless, and discontented
with every change. He hoped she was now settled among some old friends
with whom she might find consolation. In conclusion, he wrote,--"My
aunt noticed our hasty exit from the opera-house that night, when I was
brute enough to nearly kill you. I told her that I loved you. She now
feels, after a struggle, that she must let me go. 'Old women have no
rights,' she said to me yesterday. Margaret, may I come, and never leave
My answer may be guessed, for one day he arrived. It was the dusk of a
cheery winter day, the time when home wears so bright a look to those
who seek it. It was an hour before dinner, and I was waiting for John
to come in. The amber evening sky gleamed before the windows, and the
fire made a red core of light in the room. John's sandal-wood boxes
gave out strange odors in the heat, and the pattern of the Persian rug
was just visible. A servant came to the door with a card. I held it to
the grate, and the fire lit up his name.
"Show him up-stairs," I said.
I stood in the doorway, and heard his step on every stair. When he
came, I took him by the hand, and drew him into the room. He was
"Oh, Redmond, I love you! How long you were away!"
He kneeled by me, and put my arms round his neck, and we kissed each
other with the first, best kiss of passion.
John came in, and I reached out my hand to him and said, "This is my
"That's comfortable," he answered. "Won't you stay to dinner?"
"Oh, yes," replied Redmond; "this is my hotel."
"I see," said John.
But after dinner they had a long talk together. John sent me to my
room, and I was glad to go. I walked up and down, crying, I must say,
most of the time, asking forgiveness of myself for my faults, and
remembering Laura and Maurice,--and then thinking Redmond was mine,
with a contraction of the heart which threatened to stifle me.
John took us up to Leonora's that evening; he said he wanted to see if
Puss would be tantalized with the sight of such a beautiful romantic
couple just from fairy-land, who were now prepared "to live in peace."
We were married the next day in a church in a by-street. John was the
only witness, and flourished a large silk handkerchief, so that it had
the effect of a triumphal banner. Redmond put the ring on the wrong
finger,--a mistake which the minister kindly rectified. All I had new
for the occasion was a pair of gloves.
One morning after my marriage, when Redmond and John were smoking
together, I was turning over some boxes, for I was packing to go home
on a visit to our mother. I called Redmond to leave his pipe and come
"You have not seen any of my property. Look, here it is:--
"One bitten handkerchief.
"A fan never used.
"A gold pen-holder.
"A draggled shawl."
"Margaret," he said, taking my chin in his hand and bringing his eyes
close to mine, "I am wild with happiness."
"Your pipe has gone out," we heard John say.
* * * * *
The pines were dark on Ramoth hill,
Their song was soft and low;
The blossoms in the sweet May wind
Were falling like the snow.
The blossoms drifted at our feet,
The orchard birds sang clear;
The sweetest and the saddest day
It seemed of all the year.
For, more to me than birds or flowers,
My playmate left her home,
And took with her the laughing spring,
The music and the bloom.
She kissed the lips of kith and kin,
She laid her hand in mine:
What more could ask the bashful boy
Who fed her father's kine?
She left us in the bloom of May:
The constant years told o'er
Their seasons with as sweet May morns.
But she came back no more.
I walk, with noiseless feet, the round
Of uneventful years;
Still o'er and o'er I sow the spring
And reap the autumn ears.
She lives where all the golden year
Her summer roses blow;
The dusky children of the sun
Before her come and go.
There haply with her jewelled hands
She smooths her silken gown,--
No more the homespun lap wherein
I shook the walnuts down.
The wild grapes wait us by the brook,
The brown nuts on the hill,
And still the May-day flowers make sweet
The woods of Follymill.
The lilies blossom in the pond,
The bird builds in the tree,
The dark pines sing on Ramoth hill
The slow song of the sea.
I wonder if she thinks of them,
And how the old time seems,--
If ever the pines of Ramoth wood
Are sounding in her dreams.
I see her face, I hear her voice:
Does she remember mine?
And what to her is now the boy
Who fed her father's kine?
What cares she that the orioles build
For other eyes than ours,--
That other hands with nuts are filled,
And other laps with flowers?
O playmate in the golden time!
Our mossy seat is green,
Its fringing violets blossom yet,
The old trees o'er it lean.
The winds so sweet with birch and fern
A sweeter memory blow;
And there in spring the veeries sing
The song of long ago.
And still the pines of Ramoth wood
Are moaning like the sea,--
The moaning of the sea of change
Between myself and thee!
THE MAROONS OF SURINAM.
When that eccentric individual, Captain John Gabriel Stedman, resigned
his commission in the English navy, took the oath of abjuration, and
was appointed ensign in the Scots brigade employed for two centuries by
Holland, he little knew that "their High Mightinesses the States of the
United Provinces" would send him out, within a year, to the forests of
Guiana, to subdue rebel negroes. He never imagined that the year 1773
would behold him beneath the rainy season in a tropical country, wading
through marshes and splashing through lakes, exploring with his feet
for submerged paths, commanding impracticable troops and commanded by
an insufferable colonel, feeding on gree-gree worms and fed upon by
mosquitoes, howled at by jaguars, hissed at by serpents, and shot at by
those exceedingly unattainable gentlemen, "still longed for, never seen,"
the Maroons of Surinam.
Yet, as our young ensign sailed up the Surinam river, the world of
tropic beauty came upon him with enchantment. Dark, moist verdure was
close around him, rippling waters below; the tall trees of the jungle
and the low mangroves beneath were all hung with long vines and lianas,
a maze of cordage, like a fleet at anchor; odd monkeys travelled
ceaselessly up and down these airy paths, in armies, bearing their
young, like knapsacks, on their backs; macaws and humming-birds, winged
jewels, flew from tree to tree. As they neared Paramaribo, the river
became a smooth canal among luxuriant plantations, the air was perfumed
music, redolent of orange-blossoms and echoing with the songs of birds
and the sweet plash of oars; gay barges came forth to meet them; "while
groups of naked boys and girls were promiscuously playing and
flouncing, like so many tritons and mermaids, in the water." And when
the troops disembarked,--five hundred fine young men, the oldest not
thirty, all arrayed in new uniforms and bearing orange-flowers in their
caps, a bridal wreath for beautiful Guiana,--it is no wonder that the
Creole ladies were in ecstasy, and the boyish recruits little foresaw
the day, when, reduced to a few dozens, barefooted and ragged as
filibusters, their last survivors would gladly reembark from a country
beside which even Holland looked dry and even Scotland comfortable.
For over all that earthly paradise there brooded not alone its terrible
malaria, its days of fever and its nights of deadly chill, but the
worse shadows of oppression and of sin, which neither day nor night
could banish. The first object which met Stedman's eye, as he stepped
on shore, was the figure of a young girl stripped to receive two
hundred lashes, and chained to a hundred-pound-weight. And the few
first days gave a glimpse into a state of society worthy of this
exhibition,--men without mercy, women without modesty, the black man a
slave to the white man's passions, and the white man a slave to his
own. The present West Indian society in its worst forms is probably a
mere dilution of the utter profligacy of those days. Greek or Roman
decline produced nothing more debilitating or destructive than the
ordinary life of a Surinam planter, and his one virtue of hospitality
only led to more unbridled excesses and completed the work of vice. No
wonder that Stedman himself, who, with all his peculiarities, was
essentially simple and manly, soon became disgusted, and made haste to
get into the woods and cultivate the society of the Maroons.
The rebels against whom this expedition was sent were not the original
Maroons of Surinam, but a later generation. The originals had long
since established their independence, and their leaders were
flourishing their honorary silver-mounted canes in the streets of
Paramaribo. Fugitive negroes had begun to establish themselves in the
woods from the time when the colony was finally ceded by the English to
the Dutch, in 1674. The first open outbreak occurred in 1726, when the
plantations on the Seramica river revolted; it was found impossible to
subdue them, and the government very imprudently resolved to make an
example of eleven captives, and thus terrify the rest of the rebels.
They were tortured to death, eight of the eleven being women; this
drove the others to madness, and plantation after plantation was
visited with fire and sword. After a long conflict, their chief, Adoe,
was induced to make a treaty, in 1749. The rebels promised to keep the
peace, and in turn were promised freedom, money, tools, clothes, and,
finally, arms and ammunition.
But no permanent peace was ever made upon a barrel of gunpowder as a
basis, and of course an explosion followed this one. The colonists
naturally evaded the last item of the bargain, and the rebels,
receiving the gifts and remarking the omission of the part of Hamlet,
asked contemptuously if the Europeans expected negroes to subsist on
combs and looking-glasses? New hostilities at once began; a new body of
slaves on the Ouca river revolted; the colonial government was changed
in consequence, and fresh troops shipped from Holland; and after four
different embassies had been sent into the woods, the rebels began to
listen to reason. The black generals, Captain Araby and Captain Boston,
agreed upon a truce for a year, during which the colonial government
might decide for peace or war, the Maroons declaring themselves
indifferent. Finally the government chose peace, delivered ammunition,
and made a treaty, in 1761; the white and black plenipotentiaries
exchanged English oaths and then negro oaths, each tasting a drop of
the other's blood during the latter ceremony, amid a volley of
remarkable incantations from the black _gadoman_ or priest. After some
final skirmishes, in which the rebels almost always triumphed, the
treaty was at length accepted by all the various villages of Maroons.
Had they known that at this very time five thousand slaves in Berbice
were just rising against their masters and were looking to them for
assistance, the result might have been different; but this fact had not
reached them, nor had the rumors of insurrection in Brazil, among negro
and Indian slaves. They consented, therefore, to the peace. "They write
from Surinam," says the "Annual Register" for January 23, 1761, "that
the Dutch governor, finding himself unable to subdue the rebel negroes
of that country by force, hath wisely followed the example of Governor
Trelawney at Jamaica, and concluded an amicable treaty with them; in
consequence of which, all the negroes of the woods are acknowledged to
be free, and all that is past is buried in oblivion." So ended a war of
thirty-six years, and in Stedman's day the original three thousand Ouca
and Seramica Maroons had multiplied (almost incredibly) to fifteen
But for the slaves not sharing in this revolt it was not so
easy to "bury the whole past in oblivion." The Maroons had told
some very plain truths to the white ambassadors, and had frankly
advised them, if they wished for peace, to mend their own
manners and treat their slaves humanely. But the planters learned
nothing by experience,--and indeed, the terrible narrations of Stedman
were confirmed by those of Alexander, so lately as 1831. Of course,
therefore, in a colony comprising eighty thousand blacks to four
thousand whites, other revolts were stimulated by the success of this
one. They reached their highest point in 1772, when an insurrection on
the Cottica river, led by a negro named Baron, almost gave the
finishing blow to the colony; the only adequate protection being found
in a body of slaves liberated expressly for that purpose,--a dangerous
and humiliating precedent. "We have been obliged to set three or four
hundred of our stoutest negroes free to defend us," says an honest
letter from Surinam in the "Annual Register" for September 5, 1772.
Fortunately for the safety of the planters, Baron presumed too much
upon his numbers, and injudiciously built a camp too near the
sea-coast, in a marshy fastness, from which he was finally ejected by
twelve hundred Dutch troops, though the chief work was done, Stedman
thinks, by the "black rangers" or liberated slaves. Checked by this
defeat, he again drew back into the forests, resuming his guerrilla
warfare against the plantations. Nothing could dislodge him;
bloodhounds were proposed, but the moisture of the country made them
useless; and thus matters stood when Stedman came sailing, amid
orange-blossoms and music, up the winding Surinam.
Our young officer went into the woods in the condition of Falstaff,
"heinously unprovided." Coming from the unbounded luxury of the
plantations, he found himself entering "the most horrid and
impenetrable forests, where no kind of refreshment was to be had,"--he
being provisioned only with salt pork and peas. After a wail of sorrow
for this inhuman neglect, he bursts into a gush of gratitude for the
private generosity which relieved his wants at the last moment by the
following list of supplies:--"24 bottles best claret, 12 ditto Madeira,
12 ditto porter, 12 ditto cider, 12 ditto rum, 2 large loaves white
sugar, 2 gallons brandy, 6 bottles muscadel, 2 gallons lemon-juice, 2
gallons ground coffee, 2 large Westphalia hams, 2 salted bullocks'
tongues, 1 bottle Durham mustard, 6 dozen spermaceti candles." The hams
and tongues seem, indeed, rather a poor halfpennyworth to this
intolerable deal of sack; but this instance of Surinam privation in
those days may open some glimpse at the colonial standards of comfort.
"From this specimen," moralizes our hero, "the reader will easily
perceive, that, if some of the inhabitants of Surinam show themselves
the disgrace of the creation by their cruelties and brutality, others,
by their social feelings, approve themselves an ornament to the human
species. With this instance of virtue and generosity I therefore
conclude this chapter."
But the troops soon had to undergo worse troubles than those of the
_commisariat_. The rainy season had just set in. "As for the negroes,"
said Mr. Klynhaus, the last planter with whom they parted, "you may
depend on never seeing a soul of them, unless they attack you off
guard; but the climate, the climate, will murder you all." Bringing
with them constitutions already impaired by the fevers and dissipation
of Paramaribo, the poor boys began to perish long before they began to
fight. Wading in water all day, hanging their hammocks over water at
night, it seemed a moist existence, even compared with the climate of
England and the soil of Holland. It was "Invent a shovel and be a
magistrate," even more than Andrew Marvell found it in the United
Provinces. In fact, Raynal evidently thinks that nothing but Dutch
experience in hydraulics could ever have cultivated Surinam.
The two gun-boats which held one division of the expedition were merely
old sugar-barges, roofed over with boards, and looking like coffins.
They were pleasantly named the "Charon" and the "Cerberus," but Stedman
thought that the "Sudden Death" and the "Wilful Murder" would have been
titles more appropriate. The chief duty of the troops consisted in
lying at anchor at the intersections of wooded streams, waiting for
rebels who never came. It was dismal work, and the raw recruits were
full of the same imaginary terrors which have haunted other heroes less
severely tested: the monkeys never rattled the cocoa-nuts against the
trees, but they all heard the axes of Maroon wood-choppers; and when a
sentinel declared, one night, that he had seen a negro go down the
river in a canoe, with his pipe lighted, the whole force was called to
arms--against a firefly. In fact, the insect race brought by far the
most substantial dangers. The rebels eluded the military, but the
chigres, locusts, scorpions, and bush-spiders were ever ready to come
half-way to meet them; likewise serpents and alligators proffered them
the freedom of the forests and exhibited a hospitality almost
excessive. Snakes twenty feet long hung their seductive length from the
trees; jaguars volunteered their society through almost impenetrable
marshes; vampire bats perched by night with lulling endearments upon
their toes. When Stedman describes himself as killing thirty-eight
mosquitoes at one stroke, we must perhaps pardon something to the
spirit of martyrdom. But when we add to these the other woes of his
catalogue,--prickly-heat, ring-worm, putrid-fever, "the growling of
Colonel Fougeaud, dry, sandy savannas, unfordable marshes, burning hot
days, cold and damp nights, heavy rains, and short allowance,"--we can
hardly wonder that three captains died in a month, and that in two
months his detachment of forty-two was reduced to a miserable seven.
Yet, through all this, Stedman himself kept his health. His theory of
the matter almost recalls the time-honored prescription of "A light
heart and a thin pair of breeches," for he attributes his good
condition to his keeping up his spirits and kicking off his shoes.
Daily bathing in the river had also something to do with it,--and,
indeed, hydropathy (this may not be generally known) was first learned
of the West India Maroons, who did their "packing" in wet clay,--and it
was carried by Dr. Wright to England. But his extraordinary personal
qualities must have contributed most to his preservation. Never did a
"meagre, starved, black, burnt, and ragged tatterdemalion," as he calls
himself, carry about him such a fund of sentiment, philosophy, poetry,
and art. He had a great faculty for sketching, as the engravings in his
volumes, with all their odd peculiarities, show; his deepest woes he
coined always into couplets, and fortified himself against hopeless
despair with Ovid and Valerius Flaccus, Pope's "Homer" and Thomson's
"Seasons." Above all reigned his passion for natural history, a ready
balm for every ill. Here he was never wanting to the occasion, and, to
do justice to Dutch Guiana, the occasion never was wanting to him. Were
his men sickening, the peccaries were always healthy without, and the
cockroaches within the camp; just escaping from a she-jaguar, he
satisfies himself, ere he flees, that the print of her claws on the
sand is precisely the size of a pewter dinner-plate; bitten by a
scorpion, he makes sure of his scientific description in case he should
expire of the bite; is the water undrinkable, there is at least some
rational interest in the number of legs possessed by the centipedes
which preoccupy it. This is the highest triumph of man over his
accidents, when he thus turns his pains to gains, and becomes an
entomologist in the tropics.
Meanwhile the rebels kept their own course in the forests, and
occasionally descended upon plantations beside the very river on whose
upper waters the useless troops were sickening and dying. Stedman
himself made several campaigns, with long intervals of illness, before
he came any nearer to the enemy than to burn a deserted village or
destroy a rice-field. Sometimes they left the Charon and the Cerberus
moored by grape-vines to the pine-trees, and made expeditions into the
woods single file. Our ensign, true to himself, gives the minutest
schedule of the order of march, and the oddest little diagram of
manikins with cocked hats, and blacker manikins bearing burdens. First,
negroes with bill-hooks to clear the way; then the van-guard; then the
main body, interspersed with negroes bearing boxes of ball-cartridges;
then the rear-guard, with many more negroes, bearing camp-equipage,
provisions, and new rum, surnamed "kill-devil," and appropriately
followed by a sort of palanquin for the disabled. Thus arrayed, they
marched valorously forth into the woods, to some given point; then they
turned, marched back to the boats, then rowed back to camp, and
straightaway went into the hospital. Immediately upon this, the coast
being clear. Baron and his rebels marched out again and proceeded to
In the course of years, these Maroons had acquired their own peculiar
tactics. They built stockaded fortresses on marshy islands, accessible
by fords which they alone could traverse. These they defended further
by sharp wooden pins, or crows'-feet, concealed beneath the surface of
the miry ground,--and, latterly, by the more substantial protection of
cannon, which they dragged into the woods, and learned to use. Their
bush-fighting was unique. Having always more men than weapons, they
arranged their warriors in threes,--one to use the musket, another to
take his place, if wounded or slain, and a third to drag away the body.
They had Indian stealthiness and swiftness, with more than Indian
discipline; discharged their fire with some approach to regularity, in
three successive lines, the signals being given by the captain's horn.
They were full of ingenuity: marked their movements for each other by
scattered leaves and blazed trees; ran zigzag, to dodge bullets; gave
wooden guns to their unarmed men, to frighten the plantation negroes on
their guerrilla expeditions; and borrowed the red caps of the black
rangers whom they slew, to bewilder the aim of the others. One of
them, finding himself close to the muzzle of a ranger's gun, threw up
his hand hastily. "What!" he exclaimed, "will you fire on one of your
own party?" "God forbid!" cried the ranger, dropping his piece, and was
instantly shot through the body by the Maroon, who the next instant had
disappeared in the woods.
These rebels were no saints: their worship was obi-worship; the women
had not far outgrown the plantation standard of chastity, and the men
drank "kill-devil" like their betters. Stedman was struck with the
difference between the meaning of the word "good" in rebellious circles
and in reputable. "It must, however, be observed that what we Europeans
call a good character was by the Africans looked upon as detestable,
especially by those born in the woods, whose only crime consisted in
avenging the wrongs done to their forefathers." But if martial virtues
be virtues, such were theirs. Not a rebel ever turned traitor or
informer, ever flinched in battle or under torture, ever violated a
treaty or even a private promise. But it was their power of endurance
which was especially astounding; Stedman is never weary of paying
tribute to this, or of illustrating it in sickening detail; indeed, the
records of the world show nothing to surpass it; "the lifted axe, the
agonizing wheel" proved powerless to subdue it; with every limb lopped,
every bone broken, the victims yet defied their tormentors, laughed,
sang, and died triumphant.
Of course, they repaid these atrocities in kind. If they had not, it
would have demonstrated the absurd paradox, that slavery educates
higher virtues than freedom. It bewilders all the relations of human
responsibility, if we expect the insurrectionary slave to commit no
outrages; if slavery have not depraved him, it has done him little
harm. If it be the normal tendency of bondage to produce saints like
Uncle Tom, let us all offer ourselves at auction immediately. It is
Cassy and Dred who are the normal protest of human nature against
systems which degrade it. Accordingly, these poor, ignorant Maroons,
who had seen their brothers and sisters flogged, burned, mutilated,
hanged on iron hooks, broken on the wheel, and had been all the while
solemnly assured that this was paternal government, could only repay
the paternalism in the same fashion, when they had the power. Stedman
saw a negro chained to a red-hot distillery-furnace; he saw disobedient
slaves, in repeated instances, punished by the amputation of a leg, and
sent to boat-service for the rest of their lives; and of course the
rebels borrowed these suggestions. They could bear to watch their
captives expire under the lash, for they had previously watched their
parents. If the government rangers received twenty-five florins for
every rebel right-hand which they brought in, of course they risked
their own right-hands in the pursuit. The difference was, that the one
brutality was that of a mighty state, and the other was only the
retaliation of the victims. And after all, Stedman never ventures to
assert that the imitation equalled the original, or that the Maroons
had inflicted nearly so much as they had suffered.
The leaders of the rebels, especially, were men who had each his own
story of wrongs to tell. Baron, the most formidable, had been the slave
of a Swedish gentleman, who had taught him to read and write, taken him
to Europe, promised to manumit him on his return,--and then, breaking
his word, sold him to a Jew. Baron refused to work for his new master,
was publicly flogged under the gallows, fled to the woods next day, and
became the terror of the colony. Joli Coeur, his first captain, was
avenging the cruel wrongs of his mother. Bonny, another leader, was
born in the woods, his mother having taken refuge there just
previously, to escape from his father, who was also his master. Cojo,
another, had defended his master against the insurgents until he was
obliged by ill usage to take refuge among them; and he still bore upon
his wrist, when Stedman saw him, a silver band, with the inscription,--
"True to the Europeans." In dealing with wrongs like these, Mr. Carlyle
would have found the despised negroes quite as ready as himself to take
the total-abstinence pledge against rose-water.
In his first two months' campaign, Stedman never saw the trace of a
Maroon; in the second, he once came upon their trail; in the third, one
captive was brought in, two surrendered themselves voluntarily, and a
large party was found to have crossed a river within a mile of the
camp, ferrying themselves on palm-trunks, according to their fashion.
Deep swamps and scorching sands,--toiling through briers all day, and
sleeping at night in hammocks suspended over stagnant water, with
weapons supported on sticks crossed beneath,--all this was endured for
two years and a half, before Stedman personally came in sight of the
On August 20th, 1775, the troops found themselves at last in the midst
of the rebel settlements. These villages and forts bore a variety of
expressive names, such as "Hide me, O thou surrounding verdure," "I
shall be taken," "The woods lament for me," "Disturb me, if you dare,"
"Take a tasting, if you like it," "Come, try me, if you be men," "God
knows me and none else," "I shall moulder before I shall be taken."
Some were only plantation-grounds with a few huts, and were easily laid
waste; but all were protected more or less by their mere situations.
Quagmires surrounded them, covered by a thin crust of verdure,
sometimes broken through by one man's weight, when the victim sank
hopelessly into the black and bottomless depths below. In other
directions there was a solid bottom, but inconveniently covered by
three or four feet of water, through which the troops waded
breast-deep, holding their muskets high in the air, unable to reload
them when once discharged, and liable to be picked off by rebel scouts,
who ingeniously posted themselves in the tops of palm-trees.
Through this delectable region Colonel Fougeaud and his followers
slowly advanced, drawing near the fatal shore where Captain Meyland's
detachment had just been defeated, and where their mangled remains
still polluted the beach. Passing this point of danger without attack,
they suddenly met a small party of rebels, each bearing on his back a
beautifully-woven hamper of snow-white rice: these loads they threw
down, and disappeared. Next appeared an armed body from the same
direction, who fired upon them once and swiftly retreated; and in a few
moments the soldiers came upon a large field of standing rice, beyond
which lay, like an amphitheatre, the rebel village. But between the
village and the field had been piled successive defences of logs and
branches, behind which simple redoubts the Maroons lay concealed. A
fight ensued, lasting forty minutes, during which nearly every soldier
and ranger was wounded, but, to their great amazement, not one was
killed. This was an enigma to them until after the skirmish, when the
surgeon found that most of them had been struck, not by bullets, but by
various substitutes, such as pebbles, coat-buttons, and bits of silver
coin, which had penetrated only skin-deep. "We also observed that
several of the poor rebel negroes, who had been shot, had only the
shards of Spa-water cans, instead of flints, which could seldom do
execution; and it was certainly owing to these circumstances that we
came off so well."
The rebels at length retreated, first setting fire to their village; a
hundred or more lightly built houses, some of them two stories high,
were soon in flames; and as this conflagration occupied the only neck
of land between two impassable morasses, the troops were unable to
follow, and the Maroons had left nothing but rice-fields to be
pillaged. That night the military force was encamped in the woods;
their ammunition was almost gone; so they were ordered to lie flat on
the ground, even in case of attack; they could not so much as build a
fire. Before midnight an attack was made on them, partly with bullets
and partly with words; the Maroons were all around them in the forest,
but their object was a puzzle: they spent most of the night in bandying
compliments with the black rangers, whom they alternately denounced,
ridiculed, and challenged to single combat. At last Fougeaud and
Stedman joined in the conversation, and endeavored to make this
midnight volley of talk the occasion for a treaty. This was received
with inextinguishable laughter, which echoed through the woods like a
concert of screech-owls, ending in a _charivari_ of horns and
hallooing. The Colonel, persisting, offered them "life, liberty,
victuals, drink, and all they wanted"; in return, they ridiculed him
unmercifully: he was a half-starved Frenchman, who had run away from
his own country, and would soon run away from theirs; they profoundly
pitied him and his soldiers; they would scorn to spend powder on such
scarecrows; they would rather feed and clothe them, as being poor white
slaves, hired to be shot at and starved for four-pence a day. But as
for the planters, overseers, and rangers, they should die, every one of
them, and Bonny should be governor of the colony. "After this, they
tinkled their bill-hooks, fired a volley, and gave three cheers; which
being answered by the rangers, the clamor ended, and the rebels
dispersed with the rising sun."
Very aimless nonsense it certainly appeared. But the next day put a new
aspect on it; for it was found, that, under cover of all this noise,
the Maroons had been busily occupied all night, men, women, and
children, in preparing and filling great hampers of the finest rice,
yams, and cassava, from the adjacent provision-grounds, to be used for
subsistence during their escape, leaving only chaff and refuse for the
hungry soldiers. "This was certainly such a masterly trait of
generalship in a savage people, whom we affected to despise, as would
have done honor to any European commander."
From this time the Maroons fulfilled their threats. Shooting down
without mercy every black ranger who came within their reach,--one of
these rangers being, in Stedman's estimate, worth six white
soldiers,--they left Colonel Fougeaud and his regulars to die of
starvation and fatigue. The enraged Colonel, "finding himself thus
foiled by a naked negro, swore he would pursue Bonny to the world's
end." But he never got any nearer than to Bonny's kitchen-gardens. He
put the troops on half-allowance, sent back for provisions and
ammunition,--and within ten days changed his mind, and retreated to the
settlements in despair. Soon after, this very body of rebels, under
Bonny's leadership, plundered two plantations in the vicinity, and
nearly captured a powder-magazine, which was, however, successfully
defended by some armed slaves.
For a year longer these expeditions continued. The troops never gained
a victory, and they lost twenty men for every rebel killed; but they
gradually checked the plunder of plantations, destroyed villages and
planting-grounds, and drove the rebels, for the time at least, into the
deeper recesses of the woods or into the adjacent province of Cayenne.
They had the slight satisfaction of burning Bonny's own house, a
two-story wooden hut, built in the fashion of our frontier
guard-houses. They often took single prisoners,--some child, born and
bred in the woods, and frightened equally by the first sight of a white
man and of a cow,--or some warrior, who, on being threatened with
torture, stretched forth both hands in disdain, and said, with Indian
eloquence,--"These hands have made tigers tremble." As for Stedman, he
still went bare-footed, still quarrelled with his colonel, still
sketched the scenery and described the reptiles, still reared gree-gree
worms for his private kitchen, still quoted good poetry and wrote
execrable, still pitied all the sufferers around him, black, white, and
red, until finally he and his comrades were ordered back to Holland in
Among all that wasted regiment of weary and broken-down men, there was
probably no one but Stedman who looked backward with longing as they
sailed down the lovely Surinam. True, he bore all his precious
collections with him,--parrots and butterflies, drawings on the backs
of old letters, and journals kept on bones and cartridges. But he had
left behind him a dearer treasure; for there runs through all his
eccentric narrative a single thread of pure romance, in his love for
his beautiful quadroon wife and his only son.
Within a month after his arrival in the colony, our susceptible ensign
first saw Joanna, a slave-girl of fifteen, at the house of an intimate
friend. Her extreme beauty and modesty first fascinated him, and then
her piteous narrative,--for she was the daughter of a planter, who had
just gone mad and died in despair from the discovery that he could not
legally emancipate his own children from slavery. Soon after, Stedman
was dangerously ill, was neglected and alone; fruits and cordials were
anonymously sent to him, which proved at last to have come from Joanna,
and she came herself, ere long, and nursed him, grateful for the
visible sympathy he had shown to her. This completed the conquest; the
passionate young Englishman, once recovered, loaded her with presents,
which she refused,--talked of purchasing her and educating her in
Europe, which she also declined, as burdening him too greatly,--and
finally, amid the ridicule of all good society in Paramaribo,
surmounted all legal obstacles and was united to the beautiful girl in
honorable marriage. He provided a cottage for her, where he spent his
furloughs, in perfect happiness, for four years.
The simple idyl of their loves was unbroken by any stain or
disappointment, and yet always shadowed with the deepest anxiety for
the future. Though treated with the utmost indulgence, she was legally
a slave, and so was the boy of whom she became the mother. Cojo, her
uncle, was a captain among the rebels against whom her husband fought.
And up to the time when Stedman was ordered back to Holland, he was
unable to purchase her freedom, nor could he, until the very last
moment, procure the emancipation of his boy. His perfect delight at
this last triumph, when obtained, elicited some satire from his white
friends. "While the well-thinking few highly applauded my sensibility,
many not only blamed, but publicly derided me for my paternal
affection, which was called a weakness, a whim." "Nearly forty
beautiful boys and girls were left to perpetual slavery by their
parents of my acquaintance, and many of them without being so much as
once inquired after at all."
But Stedman was a true-hearted fellow, if his sentiment did sometimes
run to rodomontade; he left his Joanna only in the hope that a year or
two in Europe would repair his ruined fortunes, and he could return to
treat himself to the purchase of his own wedded wife. He describes,
with unaffected pathos, their parting scene,--though, indeed, there
were several successive partings,--and closes the description in a
manner worthy of that remarkable combination of enthusiasms which
characterized him. "My melancholy having surpassed all description, I
at last determined to weather one or two painful years in her absence;
and in the afternoon went to dissipate my mind at a Mr. Roux' cabinet
of Indian curiosities; where as my eye chanced to fall on a
rattlesnake, I will, before I leave the colony, describe this dangerous
It was impossible to write the history of the Maroons of Surinam except
through the biography of our Ensign, (at last promoted Captain,)
because nearly all we know of them is through his quaint and
picturesque narrative, with its profuse illustrations by his own hand.
It is not fair, therefore, to end without chronicling his safe arrival
in Holland, on June 3d, 1777. It is a remarkable fact, that, after his
life in the woods, even the Dutch looked slovenly to his eyes. "The
inhabitants, who crowded about us, appeared but a disgusting assemblage
of ill-formed and ill-dressed rabble,--so much had my prejudices been
changed by living among Indians and blacks: their eyes seemed to
resemble those of a pig; their complexions were like the color of foul
linen; they seemed to have no teeth, and to be covered over with rags
and dirt. This prejudice, however, was not against these people only,
but against all Europeans in general, when compared to the sparkling
eyes, ivory teeth, shining skin, and remarkable cleanliness of those I
had left behind me." Yet, in spite of these superior attractions, he
never recrossed the Atlantic; for his Joanna died soon after, and his
promising son, being sent to the father, was educated in England,
became a midshipman in the navy, and was lost at sea. With his elegy,
in which the last depths of bathos are sadly sounded by a mourning
parent,--who is induced to print them only by "the effect they had on
the sympathetic and ingenious Mrs. Cowley,"--the "Narrative of a Five
Years' Expedition" closes.
The war, which had cost the government forty thousand pounds a year,
was ended, and left both parties essentially as when it began. The
Maroons gradually returned to their old abodes, and, being unmolested
themselves, left others unmolested thenceforward. Originally three
thousand,--in Stedman's time, fifteen thousand,--they were estimated at
seventy thousand by Captain Alexander, who saw Guiana in 1831,--and a
recent American scientific expedition, having visited them in their
homes, reported them as still enjoying their wild freedom, and
multiplying, while the Indians on the same soil decay. The beautiful
forests of Surinam still make the morning gorgeous with their beauty,
and the night deadly with their chill; the stately palm still rears, a
hundred feet in air, its straight gray shaft and its head of verdure;
the mora builds its solid, buttressed trunk, a pedestal for the eagle;
the pine of the tropics holds out its myriad hands with water-cups for
the rain and dews, where all the birds and the monkeys may drink their
fill; the trees are garlanded with epiphytes and convolvuli, and
anchored to the earth by a thousand vines. High among their branches,
the red and yellow mockingbirds still build their hanging nests,
uncouth storks and tree-porcupines cling above, and the spotted deer
and the tapir drink from the sluggish stream below. The night is still
made noisy with a thousand cries of bird and beast; and the stillness
of the sultry noon is broken by the slow tolling of the _campanero_, or
bell-bird, far in the deep, dark woods, like the chime of some lost
convent. And as Nature is unchanged there, so apparently is man; the
Maroons still retain their savage freedom, still shoot their wild game
and trap their fish, still raise their rice and cassava, yams and
plantains,--still make cups from the gourd-tree and hammocks from the
silk-grass plant, wine from the palm-tree's sap, brooms from its
leaves, fishing-lines from its fibres, and salt from its ashes. Their
life does not yield, indeed, the very highest results of spiritual
culture; its mental and moral results may not come up to the level of
civilization, but they rise far above the level of slavery. In the
changes of time, the Maroons may yet elevate themselves into the one,
but they will never relapse into the other.
She had remained, during all that day, with a sick neighbor,--those
eastern wilds of Maine in that epoch frequently making neighbors and
miles synonymous,--and so busy had she been with care and sympathy that
she did not at first observe the approaching night. But finally the
level rays, reddening the snow, threw their gleam upon the wall, and,
hastily donning cloak and hood, she bade her friends farewell and
sallied forth on her return. Home lay some three miles distant, across
a copse, a meadow, and a piece of woods,--the woods being a fringe on
the skirts of the great forests that stretch far away into the North.
That home was one of a dozen log-houses lying a few furlongs apart from
each other, with their half-cleared demesnes separating them at the
rear from a wilderness untrodden save by stealthy native or deadly
She was in a nowise exalted frame of spirit,--on the contrary, rather
depressed by the pain she had witnessed and the fatigue she had
endured; but in certain temperaments such a condition throws open the
mental pores, so to speak, and renders one receptive of every
influence. Through the little copse she walked slowly, with her cloak
folded about her, lingering to imbibe the sense of shelter, the sunset
filtered in purple through the mist of woven spray and twig, the
companionship of growth not sufficiently dense to band against her the
sweet home-feeling of a young and tender wintry wood. It was therefore
just on the edge of the evening that she emerged from the place and
began to cross the meadow-land. At one hand lay the forest to which her
path wound; at the other the evening star hung over a tide of failing
orange that slowly slipped down the earth's broad side to sadden other
hemispheres with sweet regret. Walking rapidly now, and with her eyes
wide-open, she distinctly saw in the air before her what was not there
a moment ago, a winding-sheet,--cold, white, and ghastly, waved by the
likeness of four wan hands,--that rose with a long inflation and fell
in rigid folds, while a voice, shaping itself from the hollowness
above, spectral and melancholy, sighed,--"The Lord have mercy on the
people! The Lord have mercy on the people!" Three times the sheet with
its corpse-covering outline waved beneath the pale hands, and the
voice, awful in its solemn and mysterious depth, sighed, "The Lord have
mercy on the people!" Then all was gone, the place was clear again, the
gray sky was obstructed by no deathly blot; she looked about her, shook
her shoulders decidedly, and, pulling on her hood, went forward once
She might have been a little frightened by such an apparition, if she
had led a life of less reality than frontier settlers are apt to lead;
but dealing with hard fact does not engender a flimsy habit of mind,
and this woman was too sincere and earnest in her character, and too
happy in her situation, to be thrown by antagonism merely upon
superstitious fancies and chimeras of the second-sight. She did not
even believe herself subject to an hallucination, but smiled simply, a
little vexed that her thought could have framed such a glamour from the
day's occurrences, and not sorry to lift the bough of the warder of the
woods and enter and disappear in their sombre path. If she had been
imaginative, she would have hesitated at her first step into a region
whose dangers were not visionary; but I suppose that the thought of a
little child at home would conquer that propensity in the most
habituated. So, biting a bit of spicy birch, she went along. Now and
then she came to a gap where the trees had been partially felled, and
here she found that the lingering twilight was explained by that
peculiar and perhaps electric film which sometimes sheathes the sky in
diffused light for very many hours before a brilliant aurora. Suddenly,
a swift shadow, like the fabulous flying-dragon, writhed through the
air before her, and she felt herself instantly seized and borne aloft.
It was that wild beast--the most savage and serpentine and subtle and
fearless of our latitudes--known by hunters as the Indian Devil, and he
held her in his clutches on the broad floor of a swinging fir-bough.
His long sharp claws were caught in her clothing, he worried them
sagaciously a little, then, finding that ineffectual to free them, he
commenced licking her bare white arm with his rasping tongue and
pouring over her the wide streams of his hot, fetid breath. So quick
had this flashing action been that the woman had had no time for alarm;
moreover, she was not of the screaming kind; but now, as she felt him
endeavoring to disentangle his claws, and the horrid sense of her fate
smote her, and she saw instinctively the fierce plunge of those
weapons, the long strips of living flesh torn from her bones, the
agony, the quivering disgust, itself a worse agony,--while by her side,
and holding her in his great lithe embrace, the monster crouched, his
white tusks whetting and gnashing, his eyes glaring through all the
darkness like balls of red fire,--a shriek, that rang in every forest
hollow, that startled every winter-housed thing, that stirred and woke
the least needle of the tasselled pines, tore through her lips. A
moment afterward, the beast left the arm, once white, now crimson, and
looked up alertly.
She did not think at this instant to call upon God. She called upon her
husband. It seemed to her that she had but one friend in the world;
that was he; and again the cry, loud, clear, prolonged, echoed through
the woods. It was not the shriek that disturbed the creature at his
relish; he was not born in the woods to be scared of an owl, you know;
what then? It mast have been the echo, most musical, most resonant,
repeated and yet repeated, dying with long sighs of sweet sound,
vibrated from rock to river and back again from depth to depth of cave
and cliff. Her thought flew after it; she knew, that, even if her
husband heard it, he yet could not reach her in time; she saw that
while the beast listened he would not gnaw,--and this she _felt_
directly, when the rough, sharp, and multiplied stings of his tongue
retouched her arm. Again her lips opened by instinct, but the sound
that issued thence came by reason. She had heard that music charmed
wild beasts,--just this point between life and death intensified every
faculty,--and when she opened her lips the third time, it was not for
shrieking, but for singing.
A little thread of melody stole out, a rill of tremulous motion; it was
the cradle-song with which she rocked her baby;--how could she sing
that? And then she remembered the baby sleeping rosily on the long
settee before the fire,--the father cleaning his gun, with one foot on
the green wooden rundle,--the merry light from the chimney dancing out
and through the room, on the rafters of the ceiling with their tassels
of onions and herbs, on the log walls painted with lichens and
festooned with apples, on the king's-arm slung across the shelf with
the old pirate's-cutlass, on the snow-pile of the bed, and on the great
brass clock,--dancing, too, and lingering on the baby, with his fringed
gentian eyes, his chubby fists clenched on the pillow, and his fine
breezy hair fanning with the motion of his father's foot. All this
struck her in one, and made a sob of her breath, and she ceased.
Immediately the long red tongue was thrust forth again. Before it
touched, a song sprang to her lips, a wild sea-song, such as some
sailor might be singing far out on trackless blue water that night, the
shrouds whistling with frost and the sheets glued in ice,--a song with
the wind in its burden and the spray in its chorus. The monster raised
his head and flared the fiery eyeballs upon her, then fretted the
imprisoned claws a moment and was quiet; only the breath like the vapor
from some hell-pit still swathed her. Her voice, at first faint and
fearful, gradually lost its quaver, grew under her control and subject
to her modulation; it rose on long swells, it fell in subtile cadences,
now and then its tones pealed out like bells from distant belfries on
fresh sonorous mornings. She sung the song through, and, wondering lest
his name of Indian Devil were not his true name, and if he would not
detect her, she repeated it. Once or twice now, indeed, the beast
stirred uneasily, turned, and made the bough sway at his movement. As
she ended, he snapped his jaws together, and tore away the fettered
member, curling it under him with a snarl,--when she burst into the
gayest reel that ever answered a fiddle-bow. How many a time she had
heard her husband play it on the homely fiddle made by himself from
birch and cherry-wood! how many a time she had seen it danced on the
floor of their one room, to the patter of wooden clogs and the rustle
of homespun petticoat! how many a time she had danced it herself!--and
did she not remember once, as they joined clasps for right-hands-round,
how it had lent its gay, bright measure to her life? And here she was
singing it alone, in the forest, at midnight, to a wild beast! As she
sent her voice trilling up and down its quick oscillations between joy
and pain, the creature who grasped her uncurled his paw and scratched
the bark from the bough; she must vary the spell; and her voice spun
leaping along the projecting points of tune of a hornpipe. Still
singing, she felt herself twisted about with a low growl and a lifting
of the red lip from the glittering teeth; she broke the hornpipe's
thread, and commenced unravelling a lighter, livelier thing, an Irish
jig. Up and down and round about her voice flew, the beast threw back
his head so that the diabolical face fronted hers, and the torrent of
his breath prepared her for his feast as the anaconda slimes his prey.
Franticly she darted from tune to tune; his restless movements followed
her. She tired herself with dancing and vivid national airs, growing
feverish and singing spasmodically as she felt her horrid tomb yawning
wider. Touching in this manner all the slogan and keen clan cries, the
beast moved again, but only to lay the disengaged paw across her with
heavy satisfaction. She did not dare to pause; through the clear cold
air, the frosty starlight, she sang. If there were yet any tremor in
the tone, it was not fear,--she had learned the secret of sound at
last; nor could it be chill,--far too high a fervor throbbed her
pulses; it was nothing but the thought of the log-house and of what
might be passing within it. She fancied the baby stirring in his sleep
and moving his pretty lips,--her husband rising and opening the door,
looking out after her, and wondering at her absence. She fancied the
light pouring through the chink and then shut in again with all the
safety and comfort and joy, her husband taking down the fiddle and
playing lightly with his head inclined, playing while she sang, while
she sang for her life to an Indian Devil. Then she knew he was fumbling
for and finding some shining fragment and scoring it down the yellowing
hair, and unconsciously her voice forsook the wild war-tunes and
drifted into the half-gay, half-melancholy Rosin the Bow.
Suddenly she woke pierced with a pang, and the daggered tooth
penetrating her flesh;--dreaming of safety, she had ceased singing and
lost it. The beast had regained the use of all his limbs, and now,
standing and raising his back, bristling and foaming, with sounds that
would have been like hisses but for their deep and fearful sonority, he
withdrew step by step toward the trunk of the tree, still with his
flaming balls upon her. She was all at once free, on one end of the
bough, twenty feet from the ground. She did not measure the distance,
but rose to drop herself down, careless of any death, so that it were
not this. Instantly, as if he scanned her thoughts, the creature
bounded forward with a yell and caught her again in his dreadful hold.
It might be that he was not greatly famished; for, as she suddenly
flung up her voice again, he settled himself composedly on the bough,
still clasping her with invincible pressure to his rough, ravenous
breast, and listening in a fascination to the sad, strange U-la-lu that
now moaned forth in loud, hollow tones above him. He half closed his
eyes, and sleepily reopened and shut them again.
What rending pains were close at hand! Death! and what a death! worse
than any other that is to be named! Water, be it cold or warm, that
which buoys up blue ice-fields, or which bathes tropical coasts with
currents of balmy bliss, is yet a gentle conqueror, kisses as it kills,
and draws you down gently through darkening fathoms to its heart. Death
at the sword is the festival of trumpet and bugle and banner, with
glory ringing out around you and distant hearts thrilling through
yours. No gnawing disease can bring such hideous end as this; for that
is a fiend bred of your own flesh, and this--is it a fiend, this living
lump of appetites? What dread comes with the thought of perishing in
flames! but fire, let it leap and hiss never so hotly, is something too
remote, too alien, to inspire us with such loathly horror as a wild
beast; if it have a life, that life is too utterly beyond our
comprehension. Fire is not half ourselves; as it devours, arouses
neither hatred nor disgust; is not to be known by the strength of our
lower natures let loose; does not drip our blood into our faces from
foaming chaps, nor mouth nor snarl above us with vitality. Let us be
ended by fire, and we are ashes, for the winds to bear, the leaves to
cover; let us be ended by wild beasts, and the base, cursed thing howls
with us forever through the forest. All this she felt as she charmed
him, and what force it lent to her song God knows. If her voice should
fail! If the damp and cold should give her any fatal hoarseness! If all
the silent powers of the forest did not conspire to help her! The dark,
hollow night rose indifferently over her; the wide, cold air breathed
rudely past her, lifted her wet hair and blew it down again; the great
boughs swung with a ponderous strength, now and then clashed their iron
lengths together and shook off a sparkle of icy spears or some
long-lain weight of snow from their heavy shadows. The green depths
were utterly cold and silent and stern. These beautiful haunts that all
the summer were hers and rejoiced to share with her their bounty, these
heavens that had yielded their largess, these stems that had thrust
their blossoms into her hands, all these friends of three moons ago
forgot her now and knew her no longer.
Feeling her desolation, wild, melancholy, forsaken songs rose thereon
from that frightful aerie,--weeping, wailing tunes, that sob among the
people from age to age, and overflow with otherwise unexpressed
sadness,--all rude, mournful ballads,--old tearful strains, that
Shakspeare heard the vagrants sing, and that rise and fall like the
wind and tide,--sailor-songs, to be heard only in lone mid-watches
beneath the moon and stars,--ghastly rhyming romances, such as that
famous one of the "Lady Margaret," when
"She slipped on her gown of green
A piece below the knee,--
And 'twas all a long, cold winter's night
A dead corse followed she."
Still the beast lay with closed eyes, yet never relaxing his grasp.
Once a half-whine of enjoyment escaped him,--he fawned his fearful head
upon her; once he scored her cheek with his tongue: savage caresses
that hurt like wounds. How weary she was! and yet how terribly awake!
How fuller and fuller of dismay grew the knowledge that she was only
prolonging her anguish and playing with death! How appalling the
thought that with her voice ceased her existence! Yet she could not
sing forever; her throat was dry and hard; her very breath was a pain;
her mouth was hotter than any desert-worn pilgrim's;--if she could but
drop upon her burning tongue one atom of the ice that glittered about
her!--but both of her arms were pinioned in the giant's vice. She
remembered the winding-sheet, and for the first time in her life
shivered with spiritual fear. Was it hers? She asked herself, as she
sang, what sins she had committed, what life she had led, to find her
punishment so soon and in these pangs,--and then she sought eagerly for
some reason why her husband was not up and abroad to find her. He
failed her,--her one sole hope in life; and without being aware of it,
her voice forsook the songs of suffering and sorrow for old Covenanting
hymns,--hymns with which her mother had lulled her, which the
class-leader pitched in the chimney-corners,--grand and sweet Methodist
hymns, brimming with melody and with all fantastic involutions of tune
to suit that ecstatic worship,--hymns full of the beauty of holiness,
steadfast, relying, sanctified by the salvation they had lent to those
in worse extremity than hers,--for they had found themselves in the
grasp of hell, while she was but in the jaws of death. Out of this
strange music, peculiar to one character of faith, and than which there
is none more beautiful in its degree nor owning a more potent sway of
sound, her voice soared into the glorified chants of churches. What to
her was death by cold or famine or wild beasts? "Though He slay me, yet
will I trust in Him," she sang. High and clear through the frore fair
night, the level moonbeams splintering in the wood, the scarce glints
of stars in the shadowy roof of branches, these sacred anthems
rose,--rose as a hope from despair, as some snowy spray of flower-bells
from blackest mould. Was she not in God's hands? Did not the world
swing at His will? If this were in His great plan of providence, was it
not best, and should she not accept it?
"He is the Lord our God; His judgments are in all the earth."
Oh, sublime faith of our fathers, where utter self-sacrifice alone was
true love, the fragrance of whose unrequired subjection was pleasant as
that of golden censers swung in purple-vapored chancels!
Never ceasing in the rhythm of her thoughts, articulated in music as
they thronged, the memory of her first communion flashed over her.
Again she was in that distant place on that sweet spring morning. Again
the congregation rustled out, and the few remained, and she trembled to
find herself among them.
How well she remembered the devout, quiet faces; too accustomed to the
sacred feast to glow with their inner joy! how well the snowy linen at
the altar, the silver vessels slowly and silently shifting! and as the
cup approached and passed, how the sense of delicious perfume stole in
and heightened the transport of her prayer, and she had seemed, looking
up through the windows where the sky soared blue in constant freshness,
to feel all heaven's balms dripping from the portals, and to scent the
lilies of eternal peace! Perhaps another would not have felt so much
ecstasy as satisfaction on that occasion; but it is a true, if a later
disciple, who has said, "The Lord bestoweth his blessings there, where
he findeth the vessels empty."--"And does it need the walls of a church
to renew my communion?" she asked. "Does not every moment stand a
temple four-square to God? And in that morning, with its buoyant
sunlight, was I any dearer to the Heart of the World than now?" "My
beloved is mine, and I am his," she sang over and over again, with all
varied inflection and profuse tune. How gently all the winter-wrapt
things bent toward her then! into what relation with her had they
grown! how this common dependence was the spell of their intimacy! how
at one with Nature had she become! how all the night and the silence
and the forest seemed to hold its breath, and to send its soul up to
God in her singing! It was no longer despondency, that singing. It was
neither prayer nor petition. She had left imploring, "How long wilt
thou forget me, O Lord?" "Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of
death!" "For in death there is no remembrance of thee";--with countless
other such fragments of supplication. She cried rather, "Yea, though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me";--and
lingered, and repeated, and sang again, "I shall be satisfied, when I
awake, with thy likeness."
Then she thought of the Great Deliverance, when he drew her up out of
many waters, and the flashing old psalm pealed forth triumphantly:--
"The Lord descended from above,
and bow'd the heavens hie;
And underneath his feet he cast
the darknesse of the skie.
On cherubs and on cherubins
full royally he road:
And on the wings of all the winds
came flying all abroad."
She forgot how recently, and with what a strange pity for her own
shapeless form that was to be, she had quaintly sung,--
"Oh, lovely appearance of death!
What sight upon earth is so fair?
Not all the gay pageants that breathe
Can with a dead body compare!"
She remembered instead,--"In thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy
right hand there are pleasures forevermore"; and, "God will redeem my
soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me"; "He will
swallow up death in victory." Not once now did she say, "Lord, how long
wilt thou look on? rescue my soul from their destructions, my darling
from the lions"--for she knew that "the young lions roar after their
prey and seek their meat from God." "O Lord, thou preservest man and
beast!" she said.
She had no comfort or consolation in this season, such as sustained the
Christian martyrs in the amphitheatre. She was not dying for her faith;
there were no palms in heaven for her to wave; but how many a time had
she declared,--"I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God,
than to dwell in the tents of wickedness!" And as the broad rays here
and there broke through the dense covert of shade and lay in rivers of
lustre on crystal sheathing and frozen fretting of trunk and limb and
on the great spaces of refraction, they builded up visibly that house,
the shining city on the hill, and singing, "Beautiful for situation,
the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the North,
the city of the Great King," her vision climbed to that higher picture
where the angel shows the dazzling thing, the holy Jerusalem descending
out of heaven from God, with its splendid battlements and gates of
pearls, and its foundations, the eleventh a jacinth, the twelfth an
amethyst,--with its great white throne, and the rainbow round about it,
in sight like unto an emerald:--"And there shall be no night
there,--for the Lord God giveth them light," she sang.
What whisper of dawn now rustled through the wilderness? How the night
was passing! And still the beast crouched upon the bough, changing only
the posture of his head, that again he might command her with those
charmed eyes;--half their fire was gone; she could almost have released
herself from his custody; yet, had she stirred, no one knows what
malevolent instinct might have dominated anew. But of that she did not
dream; long ago stripped of any expectation, she was experiencing in
her divine rapture how mystically true it is that "he that dwelleth in
the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the
Slow clarion cries now wound from the distance as the cocks caught the
intelligence of day and reechoed it faintly from farm to farm,--sleepy
sentinels of night, sounding the foe's invasion, and translating that
dim intuition to ringing notes of warning. Still she chanted on. A
remote crash of brushwood told of some other beast on his depredations,
or some night-belated traveller groping his way through the narrow
path. Still she chanted on. The far, faint echoes of the chanticleers
died into distance,--the crashing of the branches grew nearer. No wild
beast that, but a man's step,--a man's form in the moonlight, stalwart
and strong,--on one arm slept a little child, in the other hand he held
his gun. Still she chanted on.
Perhaps, when her husband last looked forth, he was half ashamed to
find what a fear he felt for her. He knew she would never leave the
child so long but for some direst need,--and yet he may have laughed at
himself, as he lifted and wrapped it with awkward care, and, loading
his gun and strapping on his horn, opened the door again and closed it
behind him, going out and plunging into the darkness and dangers of the
forest. He was more singularly alarmed than he would have been willing
to acknowledge; as he had sat with his bow hovering over the strings,
he had half believed to hear her voice mingling gayly with the
instrument, till he paused and listened if she were not about to lift
the latch and enter. As he drew nearer the heart of the forest, that
intimation of melody seemed to grow more actual, to take body and
breath, to come and go on long swells and ebbs of the night-breeze, to
increase with tune and words, till a strange, shrill singing grew ever
clearer, and, as he stepped into an open space of moonbeams, far up in
the branches, rocked by the wind, and singing, "How beautiful upon the
mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that
publisheth peace," he saw his wife,--his wife,--but, great God in
heaven! how? Some mad exclamation escaped him, but without diverting
her. The child knew the singing voice, though never heard before in
that unearthly key, and turned toward it through the veiling dreams.
With a celerity almost instantaneous, it lay, in the twinkling of an
eye, on the ground at the father's feet, while his gun was raised to
his shoulder and levelled at the monster covering his wife with shaggy
form and flaming gaze,--his wife so ghastly white, so rigid, so stained
with blood, her eyes so fixedly bent above, and her lips, that had
indurated into the chiselled pallor of marble, parted only with that
flood of solemn song.
I do not know if it were the mother-instinct that for a moment lowered
her eyes,--those eyes, so lately riveted on heaven, now suddenly seeing
all life-long bliss possible. A thrill of joy pierced and shivered
through her like a weapon, her voice trembled in its course, her glance
lost its steady strength, fever-flushes chased each other over her
face, yet she never once ceased chanting. She was quite aware, that, if
her husband shot now, the ball must pierce her body before reaching any
vital part of the beast,--and yet better that death, by his hand, than
the other. But this her husband also knew, and he remained motionless,
just covering the creature with the sight. He dared not fire, lest some
wound not mortal should break the spell exercised by her voice, and the
beast, enraged with pain, should rend her in atoms; moreover, the light
was too uncertain for his aim. So he waited. Now and then he examined
his gun to see if the damp were injuring its charge, now and then he
wiped the great drops from his forehead. Again the cocks crowed with
the passing hour,--the last time they were heard on that night.
Cheerful home sound then, how full of safety and all comfort and rest
it seemed! what sweet morning incidents of sparkling fire and sunshine,
of gay household bustle, shining dresser, and cooing baby, of steaming
cattle in the yard, and brimming milk-pails at the door! what pleasant
voices! what laughter! what security! and here----
Now, as she sang on in the slow, endless, infinite moments, the fervent
vision of God's peace was gone. Just as the grave had lost its sting,
she was snatched back again into the arms of earthly hope. In vain she
tried to sing, "There remaineth a rest for the people of God,"--her
eyes trembled on her husband's, and she could think only of him, and of
the child, and of happiness that yet might be, but with what a dreadful
gulf of doubt between! She shuddered now in the suspense; all calm
forsook her; she was tortured with dissolving heats or frozen with icy
blasts; her face contracted, growing small and pinched; her voice was
hoarse and sharp,--every tone cut like a knife,--the notes became heavy
to lift,--withheld by some hostile pressure,--impossible. One gasp, a
convulsive effort, and there was silence,--she had lost her voice.
The beast made a sluggish movement,--stretched and fawned like one
awaking,--then, as if he would have yet more of the enchantment,
stirred her slightly with his muzzle. As he did so, a sidelong hint of
the man standing below with the raised gun smote him; he sprung round
furiously, and, seizing his prey, was about to leap into some unknown
airy den of the topmost branches now waving to the slow dawn. The late
moon had rounded through the sky so that her gleam at last fell full
upon the bough with fairy frosting; the wintry morning light did not
yet penetrate the gloom. The woman, suspended in mid-air an instant,
cast only one agonized glance beneath,--but across and through it, ere
the lids could fall, shot a withering sheet of flame,--a rifle-crack,
half heard, was lost in the terrible yell of desperation that bounded
after it and filled her ears with savage echoes, and in the wide arc of
some eternal descent she was falling;--but the beast fell under her. I
think that the moment following must have been too sacred for us, and
perhaps the three have no special interest again till they issue from
the shadows of the wilderness upon the white hills that skirt their
home. The father carries the child hushed again into slumber; the
mother follows with no such feeble step as might be anticipated,--and
as they slowly climb the steep under the clear gray sky and the paling
morning star, she stops to gather a spray of the red-rose berries or a
feathery tuft of dead grasses for the chimney-piece of the log-house,
or a handful of brown ones for the child's play,--and of these quiet,
happy folk you would scarcely dream how lately they had stolen from
under the banner and encampment of the great King Death. The husband
proceeds a step or two in advance; the wife lingers over a singular
foot-print in the snow, stoops and examines it, then looks up with a
hurried word. Her husband stands alone on the hill, his arms folded
across the babe, his gun fallen,--stands defined against the pallid sky
like a bronze. What is there in their home, lying below and yellowing
in the light, to fix him with such a stare? She springs to his side.
There is no home there. The log-house, the barns, the neighboring
farms, the fences, are all blotted out and mingled in one smoking ruin.
Desolation and death were indeed there, and beneficence and life in the
forest. Tomahawk and scalping-knife, descending during that night, had
left behind them only this work of their accomplished hatred and one
subtle foot-print in the snow.
For the rest,--the world was all before them, where to choose.
* * * * *
Hast thou forgotten whose thou art?
To what high service consecrate?
I gave thee not a noble heart
To wed with such ignoble fate.
I found thee where the laurels grow
Around the lonely Delphian shrine;
There, where the sacred fountains flow,
I found thee, and I made thee mine.
I gave thy soul to agony,
And strange unsatisfied desire,
That thou mightst dearer be to me,
And worthier of thy burning lyre.
O child, thy fate had made thee God,
To thee such powers divine were given;
The paths of fire thou mightst have trod
Had led thee to the stars of heaven.
And those who in the early dawn
Of beauty sat and sang of day,
Deep in their twilight shades withdrawn,
Had heard thy coming far away,--
With haunting music sweet and strange,
And airs ambrosial blown before,
Vague breathings of the floral change
That glorifies the hills of yore:
Had felt the joy those only find
Who in their secret souls have known
The mystery of the poet mind
That through all beauty feels its own:
Had felt the God within them rise
To meet thy radiant soul divine;
Had searched with their prophetic eyes
The midnight luminous of thine.
So fondly did Urania deem!
So proudly did she prophesy!
Oh, ruin of a noble dream
She thought too glorious to die!
Nor knew thy passionate songs of yore
Were as a promise unfulfilled,--
A stately portal set before
The palace thou shall never build!
For is it come to this, at last?
And thou forever must remain
A godlike statue, formed and cast
In marble attitude of pain,--
Proud lips that in their scorn are mute,
And haunting eyes of anguished love,
One hand that grasps a silent lute,
And one convulsed hand above
That will not strike? Ah, scorn and shame!
Shame for the apostate unforgiven,
Beholding an unconquered fame
In undiscovered fields of heaven!
For Beauty not by one alone
In her completeness is revealed:
The smiles and tears her face hath shown
To thee from others are concealed.
Men see not in the midnight sky
All miracles she worketh there:
It is the blindness of the eye
That paints its darkness on the air.
Two friends who wander by the shore
Look not upon the selfsame seas,
Hearing two voices in the roar,
Because of different memories.
For him whose love the sea hath drowned,
It moans the music of his wrong;
For him whose life with love is crowned,
It breaks upon the beach in song.
So dreaming not another's dream,
But still interpreting thine own,
By woodland wild and quiet stream
Thou wanderest in the world alone.
Then what thou slayest none can save:
Silent and dark oblivion rolls
Over the glory in the grave
Of fierce and suicidal souls.
From that dark wave no pleading ghost
With pointing hand shall ever rise,
To say,--The world hath treasure lost,
And here the buried treasure lies!
Beware, and yet beware! my fear
Unfolds a vision in the gloom
Of Beauty borne upon her bier,
And Darkness crouching in the tomb.
Beware, and yet beware! her end
Is thine; or else, her shadowy hearse
Beside, thy spirit shall descend
The vast sepulchral universe,
And, with the passion that remains
In desolated hearts, implore
The spectre sitting bound in chains
To yield what he shall not restore:--
The mystery whose soul divine
Breathed love, and only love, on thee;
Which better far had not been thine,
Than, having been, to cease to be.
There have been in every age a few women of genius who have become the
successful rivals of man in the paths which they have severally chosen.
Three instances are of our time. Mrs. Browning is called a poet even by
poets; the artists admit that Rosa Bonheur is a painter; and the
mathematicians accord to Mary Somerville a high rank among themselves.
"In pure mathematics," said Humboldt, "Mrs. Somerville is strong." Of
no other woman of the age could the remark have been made; and this
would probably be true, were the walks of science as marked by the
feminine footprint as are those of literature. To read mathematical
works is an easy task; the formula can be learned and their meaning
apprehended: to read the most profound of them, with such appreciation
that one stands side by side with the great minds who originated them,
requires a higher order of intellect; and far-reaching indeed is that
which, pondering in the study on a few phenomena known by observation,
develops the theory of worlds, traces back for ages their history, and
sketches the outline of their future destiny.
Caroline Herschel, the sister of Sir William, was doubtless gifted with
much of the Herschel talent, and, under other circumstances, her mind
might have turned to original research; but she belonged rather to the
last century, and Hanover was not a region favorable to intellectual
efforts in her sex. She lived the life of a simple-hearted,
truth-loving woman; most worthy of the name she bore, she made notes
for her brother, she swept the heavens and found comets for him, she
computed and tabulated his observations; it seems never to have
occurred to her to be other than the patient, helping sister of a truly
Mrs. Somerville's life has been more individual. She is the daughter of
Admiral Fairfax, and was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, December 26,
1780, in the house of her uncle, the father of her present husband.
The home training and the school education of the daughters of Great
Britain are very unlike those of their American sisters. The manners
and customs of the Old World change so slowly, that one can scarcely
assent to a remark made by Sir John Herschel:--"The Englishman sticks
to his old ways, but is not cemented to them." The Englishwoman submits
to authority from her infancy; belonging to the middle class, she does
not expect the higher education of the nobility; a woman, she is not
supposed to desire to enter into the studies of her brothers. A
governess, generally the daughter of a curate, who prefers this
position to that of "companion" to a fine lady, is provided for her in
her early years. If the choice be fortunate and the parents watchful,
the young girl is thoroughly taught in a few branches of what are
commonly considered feminine studies. She learns to read and to speak
French; tutors are employed for music and drawing: every young lady
above the rank of the tradesman's daughter plays well upon the piano;
every one has her portfolio of drawings, in which sketches from Nature
can always be found, and frequently the family portraits. The history
of the country is considered a study suitable for girls; the Englishman
expects that his daughter shall know something of the past, of which he
is so justly proud.
But the more solid book-learning given to the girls of New England,
even in the public schools, is known only to the daughters of the
higher classes, and among them an instance like that of Lady Jane Grey
could scarcely now be found. As the girls and boys are never taught in
the same schools, no taste is aroused by the example of manly studies.
An English girl is astonished to hear that an American girl passes a
public examination, like her brothers, and with them competes for
prizes; she doubts the truthfulness of some of the representations of
life found in American novels; and so little is the freedom of manners
understood, that the American traveller is frequently asked,--"Can it
really be as Mrs. Stowe represents in America? Does a young lady really
give a party herself?"
The difference that one would expect is found between the women of
England or Scotland and the women of New England. The young
Englishwoman is tasteful and elegant, mindful of all the proprieties
and graces of social life; she speaks slowly and cautiously, and gives
her opinions with great modesty. These are not at present the
characteristics of the American girl.
Mary Fairfax passed through the usual routine. At fourteen she had read
the books to be found in her father's house, including the few works
on Navigation which were necessary to him in his profession. She had
thus obtained an idea of the world of science, and it was dull to
return to worsted-work for amusement. The needle, which has been the
fetter of so many women, became, however, in her hand, magnetic, and
pointed her to her destiny. She was in the habit of taking her work
into her brother's study, and listening to his recitations; the
revelations of Geometry were thus opened to her; she listened and
worked for a time, until the desire to know more of this region of form
and law, of harmony and of relations, became too strong to be resisted;
the worsted was thrown aside, and she ventured to ask the tutor to
instruct her. The honest man told her that he was no mathematician: he
could lend her Euclid, but he could do no more.
The first great step was now taken; Euclid was quickly read; other
books were borrowed from other friends; Bonnycastle's and Euler's
Algebra were obtained, and she exulted in the use of those mystic
symbols, _x, y_, and _z_. Her parents looked on with indifference; so
that the music were not neglected and the governess reported well of
her studies, they felt there was no harm in her amusing herself as she
chose. When the days of the governess were over, the young lady "came
out" in Edinburgh, and mingled much with the best society. This most
picturesque city had long been the resort of the most gifted minds; men
of literature and men of science made the charm of its winter life.
Never was it more the gathering-place of intellect than in the early
part of this century; but there was no room for a woman of genius, and
the young girl's friends advised her to conceal her pursuits. Move as
quietly, however, and as unobtrusively as she might in the brilliant
circle, her genius was not without recognition. There was a word of
encouragement from Professor Playfair. "Persevere in your study," said
he; "it will be a source of happiness to you when all else fails; for
it is the study of truth." She had a champion, too, in the dreaded
critic, Jeffrey. "I am told," said a friend, writing to him, "that the
ladies of Edinburgh are literary, and that one of them sets up as a
blue-stocking and an astronomer." "The lady of whom you speak," replied
Jeffrey, "may wear blue stockings, but her petticoats are so long that
I have never seen them."
Mrs. Somerville has been twice married. Her first husband, a gentleman
of the name of Greig, regarded her pursuits as her parents had, simply
with indifference. Dr. Somerville, her present husband, has taken the
utmost pains to secure her time for her studies, and has himself
relieved her from many household cares.
The simplicity of character which belonged to her in early life was not
lost when her reputation became established. The Royal Society, whose
doors do not open at every knock, admitted her to membership, and, by
their order, her bust was sculptured by Chantrey, and now adorns the
hall of the Society in Somerset House. During the sittings for this
purpose, a lady, a friend of the sculptor, him to introduce her to Mrs.
Somerville. Chantrey consented, and made a dinner-party for the
purpose. The two ladies were placed side by side at table, and the
benevolent artist rejoiced to perceive, from the flow of talk, that
they were mutually pleased. The next day, to his astonishment, his
friend called on him in a state of great indignation, believing herself
the victim of a practical joke. "How could you do so?" said she. "You
knew that I did not want to know _that_ Mrs. Somerville; I wanted to
know the astronomer: that lady talked of the theatre, the opera, and
The anecdote so often told of Laplace's compliment is literally true.
Mrs. Somerville dined with this great geometer in Paris. "I write
books," said Laplace, "that no one can read. Only two women have ever
read the 'Mecanique Celeste'; both are Scotch women: Mrs. Greig and
Upon the "Mecanique Celeste" Mrs. Somerville's greatest work is
founded. "I simply translated Laplace's work," said she, "from algebra
into common language." That is, she did what very few men and no other
woman could do. It is of this work of Laplace that Bonaparte said, "I
will give to it my first _six months_ of leisure." The student who
reads it by the aid of Dr. Bowditch's notes has little idea of the
difficulties to be met in the original work. Even Dr. Bowditch himself
said, "I never come across one of Laplace's 'Thus it plainly appears,'
without feeling sure that I have got hours of hard study before me, to
fill up the chasm and show _how_ it plainly appears."
This "translation into common language" was undertaken at the request
of Lord Brougham, who desired a mathematical work suited to the
"Library of Useful Knowledge." The manuscript was submitted to Sir John
Herschel, who expressed himself "delighted with it,--that it was a book
for posterity, but quite above the class for which Lord Brougham's
course was intended." It was published at once, and became the
text-book for the students of Cambridge.
"The Connection of the Physical Sciences" and the "Physical Geography"
are the later works of Mrs. Somerville. These volumes have probably
been more read in our country than in Europe; for it is a common remark
of the scientific writers of Great Britain, that their "readers are
found in the United States." They contain vast collections of facts in
all branches of Physical Science, connected together by the delicate
web of Mrs. Somerville's own thought, showing an amount and variety of
learning to be compared only to that of Humboldt.
Provided with an "open sesame" to her heart, in the shape of a letter
from her old friend, Lady Herschel, we sought the acquaintance of Mrs.
Somerville in the spring of 1858. She was at that time residing in
Florence, and, sending the letter and a card to her by the servant, we
awaited the reply in the large Florentine parlor, in the fireplace of
which a wood-fire blazed, suggestive of English comfort,--a suggestion
which in Italy rarely becomes a reality.
There was the usual delay; then a footstep came slowly through the
outer room, and a very old man, exceedingly tall, with a red silk
handkerchief around his head, entered, and introduced himself as Doctor
Somerville. He is proud of his wife; a pardonable weakness in any man,
especially so in the husband of Mary Somerville. He began at once to
talk of her. "Mrs. Somerville," he said, "was much interested in the
Americans, for she claimed a connection with the family of Washington.
Washington's half-brother, Lawrence, married Anne Fairfax, who was of
the Scotch family of that name. When Mrs. Somerville's father, as
Lieutenant Fairfax, was ordered to America, General Washington wrote to
him as a family relative, and invited him to his house. Lieutenant
Fairfax applied to his commanding officer for leave to accept the
invitation, and it was refused; they never met. Much to the regret of
the Somervilles, the letter of Washington has been lost. The Fairfaxes
of Virginia are of the same family, and occasionally some member of the
American branch visits his Scotch cousins."
While Doctor Somerville was talking of these things, Mrs. Somerville
came tripping into the room, speaking with the vivacity of a young
person. She was seventy-seven years old, but appeared twenty years
younger. Her face is pleasing, the forehead low and broad, the eyes
blue,--the features so regular, that, as sculptured by Chantrey, in the
bust at Somerset House, they convey the idea of a very handsome woman.
Neither this bust nor the picture of her, however, gives a correct
impression, except in the outline of the head and shoulders. She spoke
with a strong Scotch accent, and was slightly affected by deafness.
At this time, Mrs. Somerville was re-writing her "Physical Geography."
She said that she worked as well as when she was younger, but was more
quickly fatigued; yet, in order to gain time, she had given up her
afternoon nap, without apparent injury to her health. Her working hours
were in the morning, and she never refused a visitor after noon. For
her first work she said she computed a good deal; and here she stepped
quickly into an adjoining room, and brought out a mass of manuscript
computations made for that work, the mere sight of which would give a
headache to most women. The conversation was rather of the familiar and
chatty order, and marked by great simplicity. She touched upon the
recent discoveries in chemical science,--upon California, its gold and
its consequences, some good from which she thought would be found in
the improvement of seamanship,--on the nebulae, more and more of which
she thought would be resolved, while yet there might exist irresolvable
nebulous matter, such as composed the tails of comets, or the
satellites of the planets, which she thought had other uses than as
their subordinates. Of Doctor Whewell's attempt to prove that our