Part 2 out of 5
"was a man of more pretence than real cultivation, as I afterwards
discovered. He was in good circumstances, and always glad to receive us
at his house, as this made him, virtually, the chief of our tribe,
and the outlay for refreshments involved only the apples from his
own orchard and water from his well. There was an entire absence of
conventionality at our meetings, and this, compared with the somewhat
stiff society of the village, was really an attraction. There was a
mystic bond of union in our ideas: we discussed life, love, religion,
and the future state, not only with the utmost candor, but with a warmth
of feeling which, in many of us, was genuine. Even I (and you know how
painfully shy and bashful I was) felt myself more at home there than in
my father's house; and if I didn't talk much, I had a pleasant feeling
of being in harmony with those who did.
"Well, 'twas in the early part of '45,--I think in April,--when we were
all gathered together, discussing, as usual, the possibility of leading
a life in accordance with Nature. Abel Mallory was there, and Hollins,
and Miss Ringtop, and Faith Levis, with her knitting,--and also Eunice
Hazleton, a lady whom you have never seen, but you may take my wife as
"Stick to the programme, Enos," interrupted Mrs. Billings.
"Eunice Hazleton, then. I wish I could recollect some of the speeches
made on that occasion. Abel had but one pimple on his temple, (there was
a purple spot where the other had been,) and was estimating that in two
or three months more he would be a true, unspoiled man. His complexion,
nevertheless, was more clammy and whey-like than ever.
"'Yes,' said he, 'I also am an Arcadian! This false dual existence which
I have been leading will soon be merged in the unity of Nature. Our
lives must conform to her sacred law. Why can't we strip off these
hollow Shams,' (he made great use of that word,) 'and be our true
selves, pure, perfect, and divine?'
"Miss Ringtop heaved a sigh, and repeated a stanza from her favorite
"'Ah, when wrecked are my desires
On the everlasting Never,
And my heart with all its fires
In the cradle of Creation
Finds the soul resuscitation!'
"Shelldrake, however, turning to his wife, said,--
"'Elviry, how many up-stairs rooms is there in that house down on the
"'Four,--besides three small ones under the roof. Why, what made you
think of that, Jesse?' said she.
"'I've got an idea, while Abel's been talking,' he answered. 'We've
taken a house for the summer, down the other side of Bridgeport, right
on the water, where there's good fishing and a fine view of the Sound.
Now, there's room enough for all of us,--at least, all that can make it
suit to go. Abel, you and Enos, and Pauline and Eunice might fix matters
so that we could all take the place in partnership, and pass the summer
together, living a true and beautiful life in the bosom of Nature. There
we shall be perfectly free and untrammelled by the chains which still
hang around us in Norridgeport. You know how often we have wanted to be
set on some island in the Pacific Ocean, where we could build up a
true society, right from the start. Now, here's a chance to try the
experiment for a few months, anyhow.'
"Eunice clapped her hands (yes, you did!) and cried out,--
"'Splendid! Arcadian! I'll give up my school for the summer.'
"Miss Ringtop gave her opinion in another quotation:--
"'The rainbow hues of the Ideal
Condense to gems, and form the Real!'
"Abel Mallory, of course, did not need to have the proposal repeated. He
was ready for anything which promised indolence, and the indulgence of
his sentimental tastes. I will do the fellow the justice to say that
he was not a hypocrite. He firmly believed both in himself and his
ideas,--especially the former. He pushed both hands through the long
wisps of his drab-colored hair, and threw his head back until his wide
nostrils resembled a double door to his brain.
"'O Nature!' he said, 'you have found your lost children! We shall obey
your neglected laws! we shall hearken to your divine whispers! we shall
bring you back from your ignominious exile, and place you on your
"'Let us do it!' was the general cry.
"A sudden enthusiasm fired us, and we grasped each other's hands in the
hearty impulse of the moment. My own private intention to make a summer
trip to the White Mountains had been relinquished the moment I heard
Eunice give in her adhesion. I may as well confess, at once, that I was
desperately in love, and afraid to speak to her.
"By the time Mrs. Shelldrake brought in the apples and water we were
discussing the plan as a settled thing. Hollins had an engagement to
deliver Temperance lectures in Ohio during the summer, but decided to
postpone his departure until August, so that he might, at least, spend
two months with us. Faith Levis couldn't go,--at which, I think, we were
all secretly glad. Some three or four others were in the same case, and
the company was finally arranged to consist of the Shelldrakes, Hollins,
Mallory, Eunice, Miss Ringtop, and myself. We did not give much thought,
either to the preparations in advance, or to our mode of life when
settled there. We were to live near to Nature: that was the main thing.
"'What shall we call the place?' asked Eunice.
"'Arcadia!' said Abel Mallory, rolling up his large green eyes.
"'Then,' said Hollins, 'let us constitute ourselves the Arcadian Club!'"
----"Aha!" interrupted Mr. Johnson, "I see! The A.C.!"
"Yes, you see the A.C. now," said Mrs. Billings; "but to understand it
fully, you should have had a share in those Arcadian experiences."
"I am all the more interested in hearing them described. Go on, Enos."
"The proposition was adopted. We called ourselves The Arcadian Club; but
in order to avoid gossip, and the usual ridicule, to which we were all
more or less sensitive, in case our plan should become generally known,
it was agreed that the initials only should be used. Besides, there was
an agreeable air of mystery about it: we thought of Delphi, and Eleusis,
and Samothrace: we should discover that Truth which the dim eyes of
worldly men and women were unable to see, and the day of disclosure
would be the day of Triumph. In one sense we were truly Arcadians: no
suspicion of impropriety, I verily believe, entered any of our minds. In
our aspirations after what we called a truer life there was no material
taint. We were fools, if you choose, but as far as possible from being
sinners. Besides, the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Shelldrake, who
naturally became the heads of our proposed community, were sufficient
to preserve us from slander or suspicion, if even our designs had been
"I won't bore you with an account of our preparations. In fact, there
was very little to be done. Mr. Shelldrake succeeded in hiring the
house, with most of its furniture, so that but a few articles had to be
supplied. My trunk contained more books than boots, more blank paper
"'Two shirts will be enough,' said Abel: 'you can wash one of them any
day, and dry it in the sun.'
"The supplies consisted mostly of flour, potatoes, and sugar. There was
a vegetable-garden in good condition, Mr. Shelldrake said, which would
be our principal dependence.
"'Besides, the clams!' I exclaimed, unthinkingly.
"'Oh, yes!' said Eunice, 'we can have chowder-parties: that will be
"'Clams! chowder! oh, worse than flesh!' groaned Abel. 'Will you
reverence Nature by outraging her first laws?'
"I had made a great mistake, and felt very foolish. Eunice and I looked
at each other, for the first time."
"Speak for yourself only, Enos," gently interpolated his wife.
"It was a lovely afternoon in the beginning of June when we first
approached Arcadia. We had taken two double teams at Bridgeport, and
drove slowly forward to our destination, followed by a cart containing
our trunks and a few household articles. It was a sweet, bright, balmy
day: the wheat-fields were rich and green, the clover showed faint
streaks of ruby mist along slopes leaning southward, and the meadows
were yellow with buttercups. Now and then we caught glimpses of the
Sound, and, far beyond it, the dim Long-Island shore. Every old
white farm-house, with its gray-walled garden, its clumps of lilacs,
viburnums, and early roses, offered us a picture of pastoral simplicity
and repose. We passed them, one by one, in the happiest mood, enjoying
the earth around us, the sky above, and ourselves most of all.
"The scenery, however, gradually became more rough and broken. Knobs
of gray gneiss, crowned by mournful cedars, intrenched upon the arable
land, and the dark-blue gleam of water appeared through the trees. Our
road, which had been approaching the Sound, now skirted the head of a
deep, irregular inlet, beyond which extended a beautiful promontory,
thickly studded with cedars, and with scattering groups of elm, oak, and
maple trees. Towards the end of the promontory stood a house, with white
walls shining against the blue line of the Sound.
"'There is Arcadia, at last!' exclaimed Mr. Shelldrake.
"A general outcry of delight greeted the announcement. And, indeed, the
loveliness of the picture surpassed our most poetic anticipations. The
low sun was throwing exquisite lights across the point, painting the
slopes of grass a golden green, and giving a pearly softness to the gray
rocks. In the background was drawn the far-off water-line, over which a
few specks of sail glimmered against the sky. Miss Ringtop, who, with
Eunice, Mallory, and myself, occupied one carriage, expressed her
'gushing' feelings in the usual manner:--
"'Where the turf is softest, greenest,
Doth an angel thrust me on,--
Where the landscape lies serenest,
In the journey of the sun!'
"'Don't, Pauline!' said Eunice; 'I never like to hear poetry flourished
in the face of Nature. This landscape surpasses any poem in the world.
Let us enjoy the best thing we have, rather than the next best.'
"'Ah, yes!' sighed Miss Ringtop, 'tis true!
"They sing to the ear; this sings to the eye."'
"Thenceforward, to the house, all was childish joy and jubilee. All
minor personal repugnances were smoothed over in the general exultation.
Even Abel Mallory became agreeable; and Hollins, sitting beside Mrs.
Shelldrake on the back seat of the foremost carriage, shouted to us, in
boyish lightness of heart.
"Passing the head of the inlet, we left the country-road, and entered,
through a gate in the tottering stone wall, on our summer domain. A
track, open to the field on one side, led us past a clump of deciduous
trees, between pastures broken by cedared knolls of rock, down
the centre of the peninsula, to the house. It was quite an old
frame-building, two stories high, with a gambrel roof and tall chimneys.
Two slim Lombardy poplars and a broad-leaved catalpa shaded the southern
side, and a kitchen-garden, divided in the centre by a double row of
untrimmed currant-bushes, flanked it on the east. For flowers, there
were masses of blue flags and coarse tawny-red lilies, besides a huge
trumpet-vine which swung its pendent arms from one of the gables. In
front of the house a natural lawn of mingled turf and rock sloped
steeply down to the water, which was not more than two hundred yards
distant. To the west was another and broader inlet of the Sound, out of
which our Arcadian promontory rose bluff and bold, crowned with a thick
fringe of pines. It was really a lovely spot which Shelldrake had
chosen,--so secluded, while almost surrounded, by the winged and moving
life of the Sound, so simple, so pastoral and home-like. No one doubted
the success of our experiment, for that evening, at least.
"Perkins Brown, Shelldrake's boy-of-all-work, awaited us at the door.
He had been sent on two or three days in advance, to take charge of the
house, and seemed to have had enough of hermit-life, for he hailed
us with a wild whoop, throwing his straw hat half-way up one of the
poplars. Perkins was a boy of fifteen, the child of poor parents,
who were satisfied to get him off their hands, regardless as to what
humanitarian theories might be tested upon him. As the Arcadian Club
recognized no such thing as caste, he was always admitted to our
meetings, and understood just enough of our conversation to excite a
silly ambition in his slow mind. His animal nature was predominant, and
this led him to be deceitful. At that time, however, we all looked upon
him as a proper young Arcadian, and hoped that he would develop into a
second Abel Mallory.
"After our effects had been deposited on the stoop, and the carriages
had driven away, we proceeded to apportion the rooms, and take
possession. On the first floor there were three rooms, two of which
would serve us as dining-and drawing-rooms, leaving the third for the
Shelldrakes. As neither Eunice and Miss Ringtop, nor Hollins and Abel
showed any disposition to room together, I quietly gave up to them the
four rooms in the second story, and installed myself in one of the attic
chambers. Here I could hear the music of the rain close above my head,
and through the little gable window, as I lay in bed, watch the colors
of the morning gradually steal over the distant shores. The end was, we
were all satisfied.
"'Now for our first meal in Arcadia!' was the next cry. Mrs. Shelldrake,
like a prudent housekeeper, marched off to the kitchen, where Perkins
had already kindled a fire. We looked in at the door, but thought it
best to allow her undisputed sway in such a narrow realm. Eunice was
unpacking some loaves of bread and paper bags of crackers; and Miss
Ringtop, smiling through her ropy curls, as much as to say, 'You see,
_I_ also can perform the coarser tasks of life!' occupied herself with
plates and cups. We men, therefore, walked out to the garden, which we
found in a promising condition. The usual vegetables had been planted
and were growing finely, for the season was yet scarcely warm enough
for the weeds to make much headway. Radishes, young onions, and lettuce
formed our contribution to the table. The Shelldrakes, I should explain,
had not yet advanced to the antediluvian point, in diet: nor, indeed,
had either Eunice or myself. We acknowledged the fascination of tea, we
saw a very mitigated evil in milk and butter, and we were conscious of
stifled longings after the abomination of meat. Only Mallory, Rollins,
and Miss Ringtop had reached that loftiest round on the ladder of
progress where the material nature loosens the last fetter of the
spiritual. They looked down upon us, and we meekly admitted their right
to do so.
"Our board, that evening, was really tempting. The absence of meat was
compensated to us by the crisp and racy onions, and I craved only a
little salt, which had been interdicted, as a most pernicious substance.
I sat at one corner of the table, beside Perkins Brown, who took an
opportunity, while the others were engaged in conversation, to jog my
elbow gently. As I turned towards him, he said nothing, but dropped his
eyes significantly. The little rascal had the lid of a blacking-box,
filled with salt, upon his knee, and was privately seasoning his onions
and radishes. I blushed at the thought of my hypocrisy, but the onions
were so much better that I couldn't help dipping into the lid with him.
"'Oh,' said Eunice, 'we must send for some oil and vinegar! This lettuce
is very nice."
"'Oil and vinegar?' exclaimed Abel.
"'Why, yes,' said she, innocently: 'they are both vegetable substances.'
"Abel at first looked rather foolish, but quickly recovering himself,
"'All vegetable substances are not proper for food: you would not taste
the poison-oak, or sit under the upas-tree of Java.'
"'Well, Abel,' Eunice rejoined, 'how are we to distinguish what is best
for us? How are we to know _what_ vegetables to choose, or what animal
and mineral substances to avoid?'
"'I will tell you,' he answered, with a lofty air. 'See here!' pointing
to his temple, where the second pimple--either from the change of air,
or because, in the excitement of the last few days, he had forgotten
it--was actually healed. 'My blood is at last pure. The struggle between
the natural and the unnatural is over, and I am beyond the depraved,
influences of my former taste. My instincts are now, therefore, entirely
pure also. What is good for man to eat, that I shall have a natural
desire to eat: what is bad will be naturally repelled. How does the cow
distinguish between the wholesome and the poisonous herbs of the meadow?
And is man less than a cow, that he cannot cultivate his instincts to
an equal point? Let me walk through, the woods and I can tell you every
berry and root which God designed for food, though I know not its name,
and have never seen it before. I shall make use of my time, during our
sojourn here, to test, by my purified instinct, every substance, animal,
mineral, and vegetable, upon which the human race subsists, and to
create a catalogue of the True Food of Man!'
"Abel was eloquent on this theme, and he silenced not only Eunice, but
the rest of us. Indeed, as we were all half-infected with the same
delusions, it was not easy to answer his sophistries.
"After supper was over, the prospect of cleaning the dishes and putting
things in order was not so agreeable; but Mrs. Shelldrake and Perkins
undertook the work, and we did not think it necessary to interfere with
them. Half an hour afterwards, when the full moon had risen, we took
our chairs upon the stoop, to enjoy the calm, silver night, the soft
sea-air, and our summer's residence in anticipatory talk.
"'My friends,' said Hollins, (and _his_ hobby, as you may remember, Ned,
was the organization of Society, rather than those reforms which apply
directly to the Individual,)--'my friends, I think we are sufficiently
advanced in progressive ideas to establish our little Arcadian community
upon what I consider the true basis: not Law, nor Custom, but the
uncorrupted impulses of our nature. What Abel said in regard to dietetic
reform is true; but that alone will not regenerate the race. We must
rise superior to those conventional ideas of Duty whereby Life is warped
and crippled. Life must not be a prison, where each one must come and
go, work, eat, and sleep, as the jailer commands. Labor must not be
a necessity, but a spontaneous joy. 'T is true, but little labor is
required of us here: let us, therefore, have no set tasks, no fixed
rules, but each one work, rest, eat, sleep, talk or be silent, as his
own nature prompts.'
"Perkins, sitting on the steps, gave a suppressed chuckle, which I think
no one heard but myself. I was vexed with his levity, but, nevertheless,
gave him a warning nudge with my toe, in payment for the surreptitious
"'That's just the notion I had, when I first talked of our coming here,'
said Shelldrake. 'Here we're alone and unhindered; and if the plan
shouldn't happen to work well, (I don't see why it shouldn't, though,)
no harm will be done. I've had a deal of hard work in my life, and I've
been badgered and bullied so much by your strait-laced professors,
that I'm glad to get away from the world for a spell, and talk and do
rationally, without being laughed at.'
"'Yes,' answered Hollins, 'and if we succeed, as I feel we shall, for I
think I know the hearts of all of us here, this may be the commencement
of a new _ee_poch for the world. We may become the turning-point between
two dispensations: behind us everything false and unnatural,--before us
everything true, beautiful, and good.'
"'Ah,' sighed Miss Ringtop, 'it reminds me of Gamaliel J. Gawthrop's
"Unrobed man is lying hoary
In the distance, gray and dead;
There no wreaths of godless glory
To his mist-like tresses wed,
And the foot-fall of the Ages
Reigns supreme, with noiseless tread."'
"'I am willing to try the experiment,' said I, on being appealed to by
Hollins; 'but don't you think we had better observe some kind of order,
even in yielding everything to impulse? Shouldn't there be, at least, a
platform, as the politicians call it,--an agreement by which we shall
all be bound, and which we can afterwards exhibit as the basis of our
"He meditated a few moments, and then answered,--
"'I think not. It resembles too much the thing we are trying to
overthrow. Can you bind a man's belief by making him sign certain
articles of Faith? No: his thought will be free, in spite of it; and I
would have Action--Life--as free as Thought. Our platform--to adopt your
image--has but one plank: Truth. Let each only be true to himself: _be_
himself, _act_ himself, or herself, with the uttermost candor. We can
all agree upon that.'
"The agreement was accordingly made. And certainly no happier or more
hopeful human beings went to bed in all New England that night.
"I arose with the sun, went into the garden, and commenced weeding,
intending to do my quota of work before breakfast, and then devote the
day to reading and conversation. I was presently joined by Shelldrake
and Mallory, and between us we finished the onions and radishes, stuck
the peas, and cleaned the alleys. Perkins, after milking the cow and
turning her out to pasture, assisted Mrs. Shelldrake in the kitchen. At
breakfast we were joined by Hollins, who made no excuse for his easy
morning habits; nor was one expected. I may as well tell you now,
though, that his natural instincts never led him to work. After a week,
when a second crop of weeds was coming on, Mallory fell off also, and
thenceforth Shelldrake and myself had the entire charge of the garden.
Perkins did the rougher work, and was always on hand when he was wanted.
Very soon, however, I noticed that he was in the habit of disappearing
for two or three hours in the afternoon.
"Our meals preserved the same Spartan simplicity. Eunice, however,
carried her point in regard to the salad; for Abel, after tasting and
finding it very palatable, decided that oil and vinegar might be classed
in the catalogue of True Food. Indeed, his long abstinence from piquant
flavors gave him such an appetite for it, that our supply of lettuce was
soon exhausted. An embarrassing accident also favored us with the use of
salt. Perkins happening to move his knee at the moment I was dipping an
onion into the blacking-box lid, our supply was knocked upon the floor.
He picked it up, and we both hoped the accident might pass unnoticed.
But Abel, stretching his long neck across the corner of the table,
caught a glimpse of what was going on.
"'What's that?' he asked.
"'Oh, it's--it's only,' said I, seeking for a synonyme, 'only _chloride
"'Chloride of sodium! what do you do with it?'
"'Eat it with onions,' said I, boldly: 'it's a chemical substance, but I
believe it is found in some plants.'
"Eunice, who knew something of chemistry, (she taught a class, though
you wouldn't think it,) grew red with suppressed fun, but the others
were as ignorant as Abel Mallory himself.
"'Let me taste it,' said he, stretching out an onion.
"I handed him the box-lid, which still contained a portion of its
contents. He dipped the onion, bit off a piece, and chewed it gravely.
"'Why,' said he, turning to me, 'it's very much like salt.'
"Perkins burst into a spluttering yell, which discharged an onion-top he
had just put between his teeth across the table; Eunice and I gave way
at the same moment; and the others, catching the joke, joined us. But
while we were laughing, Abel was finishing his onion, and the result was
that Salt was added to the True Food, and thereafter appeared regularly
on the table.
"The forenoons we usually spent in reading and writing, each in his or
her chamber. (Oh, the journals, Ned!--but you shall not see mine.)
After a mid-day meal,--I cannot call it dinner,--we sat upon the stoop,
listening while one of us read aloud, or strolled down the shores on
either side, or, when the sun was not too warm, got into a boat, and
rowed or floated lazily around the promontory.
"One afternoon, as I was sauntering off, past the garden, towards the
eastern inlet, I noticed Perkins slipping along behind the cedar knobs,
towards the little woodland at the end of our domain. Curious to find
out the cause of his mysterious disappearances, I followed cautiously.
From the edge of the wood I saw him enter a little gap between the
rocks, which led down to the water. Presently a thread of blue smoke
stole up. Quietly creeping along, I got upon the nearer bluff and looked
down. There was a sort of hearth built up at the base of the rock, with
a brisk little lire burning upon it, but Perkins had disappeared. I
stretched myself out upon the moss, in the shade, and waited. In about
half an hour up came Perkins, with a large fish in one hand and a
lump of clay in the other. I now understood the mystery. He carefully
imbedded the fish in a thin layer of clay, placed it on the coals, and
then went down to the shore to wash his hands. On his return he found me
watching the fire.
"'Ho, ho, Mr. Enos!' said he, 'you've found me out! But _you_ won't say
nothin'. Gosh! _you_ like it as well I do. Look 'ee there!'--breaking
open the clay, from which arose 'a steam of rich-distilled
perfumes,'--'and, I say, I've got the box-lid with that 'ere stuff in
it,--ho! ho!' and the scamp roared again.
"Out of a hole in the rock he brought salt and the end of a loaf, and
between us we finished the fish. Before long, I got into a habit of
disappearing in the afternoon.
"Now and then, we took walks, alone or collectively, to the nearest
village, or even to Bridgeport, for the papers or a late book. The few
purchases we required were made at such times, and sent down in a cart,
or, if not too heavy, carried by Perkins in a basket. I noticed that
Abel, whenever we had occasion to visit a grocery, would go sniffing
around, alternately attracted or repelled by the various articles: now
turning away with a shudder from a ham,--now inhaling, with a fearful
delight and uncertainty, the odor of smoked herrings. 'I think herrings
must feed on sea-weed,' said he, 'there is such a vegetable attraction
about them.' After his violent vegetarian harangues, however, he
hesitated about adding them to his catalogue.
"But, one day, as we were passing through the village, he was reminded
by the sign of 'WARTER CRACKERS' in the window of an obscure grocery,
that he required a supply of those articles, and we therefore entered.
There was a splendid Rhode-Island cheese on the counter, from which the
shop-mistress was just cutting a slice for a customer. Abel leaned over
it, inhaling the rich, pungent fragrance.
"'Enos,' said he to me, between his sniffs, 'this impresses me like
flowers,--like marigolds. It must be,--really,--yes, the vegetable
element is predominant. My instinct towards it is so strong that I
cannot be mistaken. May I taste it, Ma'am?'
"The woman sliced off a thin corner, and presented it to him on the
"'Delicious!' he exclaimed; 'I am right,--this is the True Food. Give me
two pounds,--and the crackers, Ma'am.'
"I turned away, quite as much disgusted as amused with
this charlatanism. And yet I verily believe the fellow was
sincere,--self-deluded only. I had by this time lost my faith in him,
though not in the great Arcadian principles. On reaching home, after
an hour's walk, I found our household in unusual commotion. Abel was
writhing in intense pain: he had eaten the whole two pounds of cheese,
on his way home! His stomach, so weakened by years of unhealthy
abstinence from true nourishment, was now terribly tortured by this
sudden stimulus. Mrs. Shelldrake, fortunately, had some mustard among
her stores, and could therefore administer a timely emetic. His life was
saved, but he was very ill for two or three days. Hollins did not fail
to take advantage of this circumstance to overthrow the authority which
Abel had gradually acquired on the subject of food. He was so arrogant
in his nature that he could not tolerate the same quality in another,
even where their views coincided.
"By this time several weeks had passed away. It was the beginning of
July, and the long summer heats had come. I was driven out of my attic
during the middle hours of the day, and the others found it pleasanter
on the doubly shaded stoop than in their chambers. We were thus thrown
more together than usual,--a circumstance which made our life more
monotonous to the others, as I could see; but to myself, who could at
last talk to Eunice, and who was happy at the very sight of her, this
'heated term' seemed borrowed from Elysium. I read aloud, and the sound
of my own voice gave me confidence; many passages suggested discussions,
in which I took a part; and you may judge, Ned, how fast I got on, from
the fact that I ventured to tell Eunice of my fish-bakes with Perkins,
and invite her to join them. After that, she, also, often disappeared
from sight for an hour or two in the afternoon."
----"Oh, Mr. Johnson," interrupted Mrs. Billings, "it wasn't for the
"Of course not," said her husband; "it was for my sake."
"No, you need not think it was for you. Enos," she added, perceiving the
feminine dilemma into which she had been led, "all this is not necessary
to the story."
"Stop!" he answered. "The A.C. has been revived for this night only.
Do you remember our platform, or rather no-platform? I must follow my
impulses, and say whatever comes uppermost."
"Right, Enos," said Mr. Johnson; "I, as temporary Arcadian, take the
same ground. My instinct tells me that you, Mrs. Billings, must permit
She submitted with a good grace, and her husband continued.
"I said that our lazy life during the hot weather had become a little
monotonous. The Arcadian plan had worked tolerably well, on the whole,
for there was very little for any one to do,--Mrs. Shelldrake and
Perkins Brown excepted. Our conversation, however, lacked spirit and
variety. We were, perhaps unconsciously, a little tired of hearing and
assenting to the same sentiments. But, one evening, about this time,
Hollins struck upon a variation, the consequences of which he little
foresaw. We had been reading one of Bulwer's works, (the weather was too
hot for Psychology,) and came upon this paragraph, or something like
"'Ah, Behind the Veil! We see the summer smile of the Earth,--enamelled
meadow and limpid stream,--but what hides she in her sunless heart?
Caverns of serpents, or grottoes of priceless gems? Youth, whose soul
sits on thy countenance, thyself wearing no mask, strive not to lift the
masks of others! Be content with what thou seest; and wait until Time
and Experience shall teach thee to find jealousy behind the sweet smile,
and hatred under the honeyed word!'
"This seemed to us a dark and bitter reflection; but one or another of
us recalled some illustration of human hypocrisy, and the evidences,
by the simple fact of repetition, gradually led to a division of
opinion,--Hollins, Shelldrake, and Miss Ringtop on the dark side, and
the rest of us on the bright. The last, however, contented herself with
quoting from her favorite poet, Gamaliel J. Gawthrop:--
"'I look beyond thy brow's concealment!
I see thy spirit's dark revealment!
Thy inner self betrayed I see:
Thy coward, craven, shivering ME!'
"'We think we know one another,' exclaimed Hollins; 'but do we? We see
the faults of others, their weaknesses, their disagreeable qualities,
and we keep silent. How much we should gain, were candor as universal
as concealment! Then each one, seeing himself as others see him, would
truly know himself. How much misunderstanding might be avoided, how
much hidden shame be removed, hopeless because unspoken love made
glad, honest admiration cheer its object, uttered sympathy mitigate
misfortune,--in short, how much brighter and happier the world would
become, if each one expressed, everywhere and at all times, his true and
entire feeling! Why, even Evil would lose half its power!'
"There seemed to be so much practical wisdom in these views that we were
all dazzled and half-convinced at the start. So, when Hollins, turning
towards me, as he continued, exclaimed,--'Come, why should not this
candor be adopted in our Arcadia? Will any one--will you, Enos--commence
at once by telling me now--to my face--my principal faults?' I answered,
after a moment's reflection,--'You have a great deal of intellectual
arrogance, and you are, physically, very indolent.'
"He did not flinch from the self-invited test, though he looked a little
"'Well put,' said he, 'though I do not say that you are entirely
correct. Now, what are my merits?'
"'You are clear-sighted,' I answered, 'an earnest seeker after truth,
and courageous in the avowal of your thoughts.'
"This restored the balance, and we soon began to confess our own private
faults and weaknesses. Though the confessions did not go very deep,--no
one betraying anything we did not all know already,--yet they were
sufficient to strengthen Hollins in his new idea, and it was unanimously
resolved that Candor should thenceforth be the main charm of our
Arcadian life. It was the very thing _I_ wanted, in order to make a
certain communication to Eunice; but I should probably never have
reached the point, had not the same candor been exercised towards me,
from a quarter where I least expected it.
"The next day, Abel, who had resumed his researches after the True Food,
came home to supper with a healthier color than I had before seen on his
"'Do you know,' said he, looking shyly at Hollins, 'that I begin to
think Beer must be a natural beverage? There was an auction in the
village to-day, as I passed through, and I stopped at a cake-stand to
get a glass of water, as it was very hot. There was no water,--only
beer: so I thought I would try a glass, simply as an experiment. Really,
the flavor was very agreeable. And it occurred to me, on the way
home, that all the elements contained in beer are vegetable. Besides,
fermentation is a natural process. I think the question has never been
properly tested before.'
"'But the alcohol!' exclaimed Hollins.
"'I could not distinguish any, either by taste or smell. I know that
chemical analysis is said to show it; but may not the alcohol be
created, somehow, during the analysis?'
"'Abel,' said Hollins, in a fresh burst of candor, 'you will never be
a Reformer, until you possess some of the commonest elements of
"The rest of us were much diverted: it was a pleasant relief to our
"Abel, however, had a stubborn streak in his character. The next day he
sent Perkins Brown to Bridgeport for a dozen bottles of 'Beer.' Perkins,
either intentionally or by mistake, (I always suspected the former,)
brought pint-bottles of Scotch ale, which he placed in the coolest part
of the cellar. The evening happened to be exceedingly hot and sultry,
and, as we were all fanning ourselves and talking languidly, Abel
bethought him of his beer. In his thirst, he drank the contents of the
first bottle, almost at a single draught.
"'The effect of beer,' said he, 'depends, I think, on the commixture of
the nourishing principle of the grain with the cooling properties of the
water. Perhaps, hereafter, a liquid food of the same character may be
invented, which shall save us from mastication and all the diseases of
"Hollins and Shelldrake, at his invitation, divided a bottle between
them, and he took a second. The potent beverage was not long in acting
on a brain so unaccustomed to its influence. He grew unusually talkative
and sentimental, in a few minutes.
"'Oh, sing, somebody!' he sighed in hoarse rapture: 'the night was made
"Miss Ringtop, nothing loath, immediately commenced, 'When stars are in
the quiet skies'; but scarcely had she finished the first verse before
Abel interrupted her.
"'Candor's the order of the day, isn't it?' he asked.
"'Yes!' 'Yes!' two or three answered.
"'Well, then,' said he, 'candidly, Pauline, you've got the darn'dest
"Miss Ringtop gave a faint little scream of horror.
"'Oh, never mind!' he continued. 'We act according to impulse, don't we?
And I've the impulse to swear; and it's right. Let Nature have her
way. Listen! Damn, damn, damn, damn! I never knew it was so easy. Why,
there's a pleasure in it! Try it, Pauline! try it on me!'
"'Oh-ooh!' was all Miss Ringtop could utter.
"'Abel! Abel!' exclaimed Hollins, 'the beer has got into your head.'
"'No, it isn't Beer,--it's Candor!' said Abel. 'It's your own proposal,
Hollins. Suppose it's evil to swear: isn't it better I should express
it, and be done with it, than keep it bottled up, to ferment in my mind?
Oh, you're a precious, consistent old humbug, _you_ are!'
"And therewith he jumped off the stoop, and went dancing awkwardly down
towards the water, singing in a most unmelodious voice, ''T is home
where'er the heart is.'
"'Oh, he may fall into the water!' exclaimed Eunice, in alarm.
"'He's not fool enough to do that,' said Shelldrake. 'His head is a
little light, that's all. The air will cool him down presently.'
"But she arose and followed him, not satisfied with this assurance. Miss
Ringtop sat rigidly still. She would have received with composure the
news of his drowning.
"As Eunice's white dress disappeared among the cedars crowning the
shore, I sprang up and ran after her. I knew that Abel was not
intoxicated, but simply excited, and I had no fear on his account: I
obeyed an involuntary impulse. On approaching the water, I heard their
voices,--hers in friendly persuasion, his in sentimental entreaty,--then
the sound of oars in the rowlocks. Looking out from the last clump of
cedars, I saw them seated in the boat, Eunice at the stern, while Abel,
facing her, just dipped an oar now and then to keep from drifting with
the tide. She had found him already in the boat, which was loosely
chained to a stone. Stepping on one of the forward thwarts, in her
eagerness to persuade him to return, he sprang past her, jerked away the
chain, and pushed off before she could escape. She would have fallen,
but he caught her and placed her in, the stern, and then seated himself
at the oars. She must have been somewhat alarmed, but there was only
indignation in her voice. All this had transpired before my arrival, and
the first words I heard bound me to the spot and kept me silent.
"'Abel, what does this mean?' she asked.
"'It means Fate,--Destiny!' he exclaimed, rather wildly. 'Ah, Eunice,
ask the night, and the moon,--ask the impulse which told you to follow
me! Let us be candid, like the old Arcadians we imitate. Eunice, we know
that we love each other: why should we conceal it any longer? The Angel
of Love comes down from the stars on his azure wings, and whispers to
our hearts. Let us confess to each other! The female heart should not be
timid, in this pure and beautiful atmosphere of Love which we breathe.
Come, Eunice! we are alone: let your heart speak to me!'
"Ned, if you've ever been in love, (we'll talk of that, after a while,)
you will easily understand what tortures I endured, in thus hearing him
speak. That _he_ should love Eunice! It was a profanation to her, an
outrage to me. Yet the assurance with which he spoke! _Could_ she love
this conceited, ridiculous, repulsive fellow, after all? I almost gasped
for breath, as I clinched the prickly boughs of the cedars in my hands,
and set my teeth, waiting to hear her answer.
"'I will not hear such language! Take me back to the shore!' she said,
in very short, decided tones.
"'Oh, Eunice,' he groaned, (and now, I think, he was perfectly sober,)
'don't you love me, indeed? _I_ love _you_,--from my heart I do: yes, I
love you. Tell me how you feel towards me.'
"'Abel,' said she, earnestly, 'I feel towards you only as a friend; and
if you wish me to retain a friendly interest in you, you must never
again talk in this manner. I do not love you, and I never shall. Let me
go back to the house.
"His head dropped upon his breast, but he rowed back to the shore, drew
the bow upon the rocks, and assisted her to land. Then, sitting down, he
"'Oh, Eunice, you have broken my heart!' and putting his big hands to
his face, began to cry.
"She turned, placed one hand on his shoulder, and said, in a calm, but
"'I am very sorry, Abel, but I cannot help it.'
"I slipped aside, that she might not see me, and we returned by separate
"I slept very little that night. The conviction, which I had chased away
from my mind as often as it returned, that our Arcadian experiment was
taking a ridiculous and at the same time impracticable development,
became clearer and stronger. I felt sure that our little community could
not hold together much longer without an explosion. I had a presentiment
that Eunice shared my impressions. My feelings towards her had reached
that crisis where a declaration was imperative: but how to make it? It
was a terrible struggle between my shyness and my affection. There was
another circumstance, in connection with this subject, which troubled me
not a little. Miss Ringtop evidently sought my company, and made me, as
much as possible, the recipient of her sentimental outpourings. I was
not bold enough to repel her,--indeed, I had none of that tact which
is so useful in such emergencies,--and she seemed to misinterpret my
submission. Not only was her conversation pointedly directed to me, but
she looked at me, when singing, (especially, 'Thou, thou, reign'st in
this bosom!') in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable. What if
Eunice should suspect an attachment towards her, on my part? What
if--oh, horror!--I had unconsciously said or done something to impress
Miss Ringtop herself with the same conviction? I shuddered as the
thought crossed my mind. One thing was very certain: this suspense was
not to be endured much longer.
"We had an unusually silent breakfast the next morning. Abel scarcely
spoke, which the others attributed to a natural feeling of shame, after
his display of the previous evening. Hollins and Shelldrake discussed
Temperance, with a special view to his edification, and Miss Ringtop
favored us with several quotations about 'the maddening bowl,'--but he
paid no attention to them. Eunice was pale and thoughtful. I had no
doubt, in my mind, that she was already contemplating a removal from
Arcadia. Perkins, whose perceptive faculties were by no means dull,
whispered to me, 'Sha'n't I bring up some porgies for supper?' but I
shook my head. I was busy with other thoughts, and did not join him in
the wood, that day.
"The forenoon was overcast, with frequent showers. Each one occupied his
or her room until dinner-time, when we met again with something of the
old geniality. There was an evident effort to restore our former flow of
good feeling. Abel's experience with the beer was freely discussed. He
insisted strongly that he had not been laboring under its effects, and
proposed a mutual test. He, Shelldrake, and Hollins were to drink it
in equal measures, and compare observations as to their physical
sensations. The others agreed,--quite willingly, I thought,--but I
refused. I had determined to make a desperate attempt at candor, and
Abel's fate was fresh before my eyes.
"My nervous agitation increased during the day, and, after sunset,
fearing lest I should betray my excitement in some way, I walked down
to the end of the promontory, and took a seat on the rocks. The sky
had cleared, and the air was deliciously cool and sweet. The Sound was
spread out before me like a sea, for the Long-Island shore was veiled in
a silvery mist. My mind was soothed and calmed by the influences of the
scene, until the moon arose. Moonlight, you know, disturbs,--at least,
when one is in love. (Ah, Ned, I see you understand it!) I felt
blissfully miserable, ready to cry with joy at the knowledge that I
loved, and with fear and vexation at my cowardice, at the same time.
"Suddenly I heard a rustling beside me. Every nerve in my body tingled,
and I turned my head, with a beating and expectant heart. Pshaw! It was
Miss Ringtop, who spread her blue dress on the rock beside me, and shook
back her long curls, and sighed, as she gazed at the silver path of the
moon on the water.
"'Oh, how delicious!' she cried. 'How it seems to set the spirit free,
and we wander off on the wings of Fancy to other spheres!'
"'Yes,' said I, 'it is very beautiful, but sad, when one is alone.'
"I was thinking of Eunice.
"'How inadequate,' she continued, 'is language to express the emotions
which Such a scene calls up in the bosom! Poetry alone is the voice of
the spiritual world, and we, who are not poets, must borrow the language
of the gifted sons of Song. Oh, Enos, I _wish_ you were a poet! But you
_feel_ poetry, I know you do. I have seen it in your eyes, when I quoted
the burning lines of Adeliza Kelley, or the soul-breathings of Gamaliel
J. Gawthrop. In _him_, particularly, I find the voice of my own nature.
Do you know his "Night-Whispers"? How it embodies the feelings of such a
scene as this!
"Star-drooping bowers bending down the
And moonlit glories sweep star-footed on;
And pale, sweet rivers, in their shining
Are ever gliding through the moonlit places,
With silver ripples on their tranced faces,
And forests clasp their dusky hands, with low
and sullen moan!"
"'Ah!' she continued, as I made no reply, 'this is an hour for the soul
to unveil its most secret chambers! Do you not think, Enos, that love
rises superior to all conventionalities? that those whose souls are in
unison should be allowed to reveal themselves to each other, regardless
of the world's opinions?'
"'Yes!' said I, earnestly.
"'Enos, do you understand me?' she asked, in a tender voice,--almost a
"'Yes,' said I, with a blushing confidence of my own passion.
"'Then,' she whispered, 'our hearts are wholly in unison. I know you are
true, Enos. I know your noble nature, and I will never doubt you. This
is indeed happiness!'
"And therewith she laid her head on my shoulder, and sighed,--
"'Life remits his tortures cruel,
Love illumes his fairest fuel,
When the hearts that once were dual
Meet as one, in sweet renewal!'
"'Miss Ringtop!' I cried, starting away from her, in alarm, 'you don't
"I could not finish the sentence.
"'Yes, Enos, _dear_ Enos! henceforth we belong to each other.'
"The painful embarrassment I felt, as her true meaning shot through my
mind, surpassed anything I had imagined, or experienced in anticipation,
when planning how I should declare myself to Eunice. Miss Ringtop was at
least ten years older than I, far from handsome, (but you remember her
face,) and so affectedly sentimental, that I, sentimental as I was then,
was sick of hearing her talk. Her hallucination was so monstrous, and
gave me such a shock of desperate alarm, that I spoke, on the impulse of
the moment, with great energy, without regarding how her feelings might
"'You mistake!' I exclaimed. 'I didn't mean that,--I didn't understand
you. Don't talk to me that way,--don't look at me in that way, Miss
Ringtop! We were never meant for each other,--I wasn't----You're so
much older,--I mean different. It can't be,--no, it can never be! Let
us go back to the house: the night is cold.'
"I rose hastily to my feet. She murmured something,--what, I did not
stay to hear,--but, plunging through the cedars, was hurrying with all
speed to the house, when, half-way up the lawn, beside one of the rocky
knobs, I met Eunice, who was apparently on her way to join us. In
my excited mood, after the ordeal through which I had just passed,
everything seemed easy. My usual timidity was blown to the four winds. I
went directly to her, took her hand, and said,--
"'Eunice, the others are driving me mad with their candor; will you let
me be candid, too?'
"'I think you are always candid, Enos,' she answered.
"Even then, if I had hesitated, I should have been lost. But I went on,
"'Eunice, I love you,--I have loved you since we first met. I came here
that I might be near you; but I must leave you forever, and to-night,
unless you can trust your life in my keeping. God help me, since we have
been together I have lost my faith in almost everything but you. Pardon
me, if I am impetuous,--different from what I have seemed. I have
struggled so hard to speak! I have been a coward, Eunice, because of my
love. But now I have spoken, from my heart of hearts. Look at me: I can
bear it now. Read the truth in my eyes, before you answer.'
"I felt her hand tremble while I spoke. As she turned towards me her
face, which had been averted, the moon shone full upon it, and I saw
that tears were upon her cheeks. What was said--whether anything was
said--I cannot tell. I felt the blessed fact, and that was enough. That
was the dawning of the true Arcadia."
----Mrs. Billings, who had been silent during this recital, took her
husband's hand and smiled. Mr. Johnson felt a dull pang about the region
of his heart. If he had a secret, however, I do not feel justified in
"It was late," Mr. Billings continued, "before we returned to the house.
I had a special dread of again encountering Miss Ringtop, but she was
wandering up and down the bluff, under the pines, singing, 'The dream
is past.' There was a sound of loud voices, as we approached the stoop.
Hollins, Shelldrake and his wife, and Abel Mallory were sitting together
near the door. Perkins Brown, as usual, was crouched on the lowest step,
with one leg over the other, and rubbing the top of his boot with a
vigor which betrayed to me some secret mirth. He looked up at me from
under his straw hat with the grin of a malicious Puck, glanced towards
the group, and made a curious gesture with his thumb. There were several
empty pint-bottles on the stoop.
"'Now, are you sure you can bear the test?' we heard Hollins ask, as we
"'Bear it? Why, to be sure!' replied Shelldrake; 'if I couldn't bear it,
or if _you_ couldn't, your theory's done for. Try! I can stand it as
long as you can.'
"'Well, then,' said Hollins, 'I think you are a very ordinary man. I
derive no intellectual benefit from my intercourse with you, but
your house is convenient to me. I'm under no obligations for your
hospitality, however, because my company is an advantage to you. Indeed,
if I were treated according to my deserts, you couldn't do enough for
"Mrs. Shelldrake was up in arms.
"'Indeed,' she exclaimed, 'I think you get as good as you deserve, and
"'Elvira,' said he, with a benevolent condescension, 'I have no doubt
you think so, for your mind belongs to the lowest and most material
sphere. You have your place in Nature, and you fill it; but it is not
for you to judge of intelligences which move only on the upper planes.'
"'Hollins,' said Shelldrake, 'Elviry's a good wife and a sensible woman,
and I won't allow you to turn up your nose at her.'
"'I am not surprised,' he answered, 'that you should fail to stand the
test. I didn't expect it.'
"'Let me try it on _you_!' cried Shelldrake. 'You, now, have some
intellect,--I don't deny that,--but not so much, by a long shot, as you
think you have. Besides that, you're awfully selfish, in your opinions.
You won't admit that anybody can be right who differs from you. You've
sponged on me for a long time; but I suppose I've learned something from
you, so we'll call it even. I think, however, that what you call acting
according to impulse is simply an excuse to cover your own laziness.'
"'Gosh! that's it!' interrupted Perkins, jumping up; then, recollecting
himself, he sank down on the steps again, and shook with a suppressed
'Ho! ho! ho!'
"Hollins, however, drew himself up with an exasperated air.
"'Shelldrake,' said he, 'I pity you. I always knew your ignorance, but
I thought you honest in your human character. I never suspected you
of envy and malice. However, the true Reformer must expect to be
misunderstood and misrepresented by meaner minds. That love which I bear
to all creatures teaches me to forgive you. Without such love, all plans
of progress must fail. Is it not so, Abel?'
"Shelldrake could only ejaculate the words, 'Pity!' 'Forgive!' in his
most contemptuous tone; while Mrs. Shelldrake, rocking violently in her
chair, gave utterance to that peculiar clucking '_ts, ts, ts, ts_,'
whereby certain women express emotions too deep for words.
"Abel, roused by Hollins's question, answered, with a sudden energy,--
"'Love! there is no love in the world. Where will you find it? Tell me,
and I'll go there. Love! I'd like to see it! If all human hearts were
like mine, we might have an Arcadia; but most men have no hearts. The
world is a miserable, hollow, deceitful shell of vanity and hypocrisy.
No: let us give up. We were born before our time: this age is not worthy
"Hollins stared at the speaker in utter amazement. Shelldrake gave a
long whistle, and finally gasped out,--
"'Well, what next?'
"None of us were prepared for such a sudden and complete wreck of our
Arcadian scheme. The foundations had been sapped before, it is true; but
we had not perceived it; and now, in two short days, the whole edifice
tumbled about our ears. Though it was inevitable, we felt a shock of
sorrow, and a silence fell upon us. Only that scamp of a Perkins Brown,
chuckling and rubbing his boot, really rejoiced. I could have kicked
"We all went to bed, feeling that the charm of our Arcadian life was
over. I was so full of the new happiness of love that I was scarcely
conscious of regret. I seemed to have leaped at once into responsible
manhood, and a glad rush of courage filled me at the knowledge that my
own heart was a better oracle than those--now so shamefully overthrown--
on whom I had so long implicitly relied. In the first revulsion of
feeling, I was perhaps unjust to my associates. I see now, more clearly,
the causes of those vagaries, which originated in a genuine aspiration,
and failed from an ignorance of the true nature of Man, quite as much
as from the egotism of the individuals. Other attempts at reorganizing
Society were made about the same time by men of culture and experience,
but in the A.C. we had neither. Our leaders had caught a few
half-truths, which, in their minds, were speedily warped into errors.
I can laugh over the absurdities I helped to perpetrate, but I must
confess that the experiences of those few weeks went far towards making
a man of me."
"Did the A.C. break up at once?" asked Mr. Johnson.
"Not precisely; though Eunice and I left the house within two days, as
we had agreed. We were not married immediately, however. Three long
years--years of hope and mutual encouragement--passed away before that
happy consummation. Before our departure, Hollins had fallen into his
old manner, convinced, apparently, that Candor must be postponed to a
better age of the world. But the quarrel rankled in Shelldrake's mind,
and especially in that of his wife. I could see by her looks and little
fidgety ways that his further stay would be very uncomfortable. Abel
Mallory, finding himself gaining in weight and improving in color, had
no thought of returning. The day previous, as I afterwards learned, he
had discovered Perkins Brown's secret kitchen in the woods.
"'Golly!' said that youth, in describing the circumstance to me, 'I had
to ketch _two_ porgies that day.'
"Miss Ringtop, who must have suspected the new relation between Eunice
and myself, was for the most part rigidly silent. If she quoted, it was
from the darkest and dreariest utterances of her favorite Gamaliel.
"What happened after our departure I learned from Perkins, on the return
of the Shelldrakes to Norridgeport, in September. Mrs. Shelldrake
stoutly persisted in refusing to make Hollins's bed, or to wash his
shirts. Her brain was dull, to be sure; but she was therefore all the
more stubborn in her resentment. He bore this state of things for about
a week, when his engagements to lecture in Ohio suddenly called him
away. Abel and Miss Ringtop were left to wander about the promontory in
company, and to exchange lamentations on the hollowness of human hopes
or the pleasures of despair. Whether it was owing to that attraction of
sex which would make any man and any woman, thrown together on a desert
island, finally become mates, or whether she skilfully ministered to
Abel's sentimental vanity, I will not undertake to decide: but the fact
is, they were actually betrothed, on leaving Arcadia. I think he would
willingly have retreated, after his return to the world; but that was
not so easy. Miss Ringtop held him with an inexorable clutch. They were
not married, however, until just before his departure for California,
whither she afterwards followed him. She died in less than a year, and
left him free."
"And what became of the other Arcadians?" asked Mr. Johnson.
"The Shelldrakes are still living in Norridgeport. They have become
Spiritualists, I understand, and cultivate Mediums. Hollins, when I
last heard of him, was a Deputy Surveyor in the New York Custom-House.
Perkins Brown is our butcher, here in Waterbury, and he often asks
me,--'Do you take chloride of soda on your beefsteaks? 'He is as fat as
a prize ox, and the father of five children."
"Enos!" exclaimed Mrs. Billings, looking at the clock, "it's nearly
midnight! Mr. Johnson must be very tired, after such a long story. The
Chapter of the A.C. is hereby closed!"
* * * * *
All through the long hours of yesterday the low clouds hung close above
our heads, to pour with more unswerving aim their constant storm of
sleet and snow,--sometimes working in soft silence, sometimes with
impatient gusty breaths, but always busily at work. Darkness brought no
rest to these laborious warriors of the air, but only fiercer strife:
the wild winds rose; noisy recruits, they howled beneath the eaves,
or swept around the walls, like hungry wolves, now here, now there,
howling; at opposite doors. Thus, through the anxious and wakeful night,
the storm went on. The household lay vexed by broken dreams, with
changing fancies of lost children on solitary moors, of sleighs
hopelessly overturned in drifted and pathless gorges, or of icy cordage
upon disabled vessels in Arctic seas; until a softer warmth, as of
sheltering snow-wreaths, lulled all into deeper rest till morning.
And what a morning! The sun, a young conqueror, sends in his glorious
rays, like heralds, to rouse us for the inspection of his trophies. The
baffled foe, retiring, has left far and near the high-heaped spoils
behind. The glittering plains own the new victor. Over all these level
and wide-swept meadows, over all these drifted, spotless slopes, he is
proclaimed undisputed monarch. On the wooded hill-sides the startled
shadows are in motion; they flee like young fawns, bounding upward and
downward over rock and dell, as through the long gleaming arches the
king comes marching to his throne. But shade yet lingers undisturbed in
the valleys, mingled with timid smoke from household chimneys; blue as
the smoke, a gauzy haze is twined around the brow of every distant hill;
and the same soft azure confuses the outlines of the nearer trees, to
whose branches snowy wreaths are clinging, far up among the boughs, like
strange new flowers. Everywhere the unstained surface glistens in the
sunbeams. In the curves and wreaths and turrets of the drifts a blue
tinge nestles. The fresh pure sky answers to it; every cloud has
vanished, save one or two which linger near the horizon, pardoned
offenders, seeming far too innocent for mischief, although their dark
and sullen brothers, banished ignominiously below the horizon's verge,
may be plotting nameless treachery there. The brook still flows visibly
through the valley, and the myriad rocks that check its course are all
rounded with fleecy surfaces, till they seem like flocks of tranquil
sheep that drink the shallow flood.
The day is one of moderate cold, but clear and bracing; the air sparkles
like the snow; everything seems dry and resonant, like the wood of a
violin. All sounds are musical,--the voices of children, the cooing
of doves, the crowing of cocks, the chopping of wood, the creaking of
country sleds, the sweet jangle of sleighbells. The snow has fallen
under a cold temperature, and the flakes are perfectly crystallized;
every shrub we pass bears wreaths which glitter as gorgeously as the
nebula in the constellation Perseus; but in another hour of sunshine
every one of those fragile outlines will disappear, and the white
surface glitter no longer with stars, but with star-dust. On such a
day, the universe seems to held but three pure tints,--blue, white,
and green. The loveliness of the universe seems simplified to its last
extreme of refined delicacy. That sensation we poor mortals often
have, of being just on the edge of infinite beauty, yet with always a
lingering film between, never presses down more closely than on days
like this. Everything seems perfectly prepared to satiate the soul with
inexpressible felicity if we could only, by one infinitesimal step
farther, reach the mood to dwell in it.
Leaving behind us the sleighs and snow-shovels of the street, we turn
noiselessly toward the radiant margin of the sunlit woods. The yellow
willows on the causeway burn like flame against the darker background,
and will burn on until they burst into April. Yonder pines and hemlocks
stand motionless and dark against the sky. The statelier trees have
already shaken all the snow from their summits, but it still clothes the
lower ones with a white covering that looks solid as marble. Yet see how
lightly it escapes!--a slight gust shakes a single tree, there is a
_Staub-bach_ for a moment, and the branches stand free as in summer, a
pyramid of green amid the whiteness of the yet imprisoned forest. Each
branch raises itself when emancipated, thus changing the whole outline
of the growth; and the snow beneath is punctured with a thousand little
depressions, where the petty avalanches have just buried themselves and
In crossing this white level, we have been tracking our way across an
invisible pond, which was alive last week with five hundred skaters.
Now there is a foot of snow upon it, through which there is a boyish
excitement in making the first path. Looking back upon our track, it
proves to be like all other human paths, straight in intention, but
slightly devious in deed. We have gay companions on our way; for a
breeze overtakes us, and a hundred little simooms of drift whirl along
beside us, and whelm in miniature burial whole caravans of dry leaves.
Here, too, our track intersects with that of some previous passer; he
has but just gone on, judging by the freshness of the trail, and we can
study his character and purposes. The large boots betoken a wood-man or
ice-man: yet such a one would hardly have stepped so irresolutely where
a little film of water has spread between the ice and snow and given a
look of insecurity; and here again he has stopped to observe the wreaths
on this pendent bough, and this snow-filled bird's-nest. And there the
footsteps of the lover of beauty turn abruptly to the road again, and he
vanishes from us forever.
As we wander on through the wood, all the labyrinths of summer are
buried beneath one white inviting pathway, and the pledge of perfect
loneliness is given by the unbroken surface of the all-revealing snow.
There appears nothing living except a downy woodpecker, whirling round
and round upon a young beech-stem, and a few sparrows, plump with
grass-seed and hurrying with jerking flight down the sunny glade. But
the trees furnish society enough. What a congress of ermined kings is
this circle of hemlocks, which stand, white in their soft raiment,
around the dais of this woodland pond! Are they held here, like the
sovereigns in the palace of the Sleeping Beauty, till some mortal breaks
their spell? What sage counsels must be theirs, as they nod their weary
heads and whisper ghostly memories and old men's tales to each other,
while the red leaves dance on the snowy sward below, or a fox or
squirrel steals hurriedly through the wild and wintry night! Here and
there is some discrowned Lear, who has thrown off his regal mantle, and
stands in faded russet, misplaced among the monarchs.
What a simple and stately hospitality is that of Nature in winter! The
season which the residents of cities think an obstruction is in the
country an extension of intercourse: it opens every forest from here
to Labrador, free of entrance; the most tangled thicket, the most
treacherous marsh becomes passable; and the lumberer or moose-hunter,
mounted on his snow-shoes, has the world before him. He says "good
snow-shoeing," as we say "good sleighing"; and it gives a sensation like
a first visit to the sea-side and the shipping, when one first sees
exhibited, in the streets of Bangor or Montreal, these delicate Indian
conveyances. It seems as if a new element were suddenly opened for
travel, and all due facilities provided. One expects to go a little
farther, and see in the shop-windows, "Wings for sale,--gentlemen's and
ladies' sizes." The snow-shoe and the birch-canoe,--what other dying
race ever left behind it two memorials so perfect and so graceful?
The shadows thrown by the trees upon the snow are blue and soft, sharply
defined, and so contrasted with the gleaming white as to appear narrower
than the boughs which cast them. There is something subtle and fantastic
about these shadows. Here is a leafless larch-sapling, eight feet high.
The image of the lower boughs is traced upon the snow, distinct and firm
as cordage, while the higher ones grow dimmer by fine gradations, until
the slender topmost twig is blurred and almost effaced. But the denser
upper spire of the young spruce by its side throws almost as distinct a
shadow as its base, and the whole figure looks of a more solid texture,
as if you could feel it with your hand. More beautiful than either is
the fine image of this baby hemlock: each delicate leaf droops above as
delicate a copy, and here and there the shadow and the substance kiss
and frolic with each other in the downy snow.
The larger larches have a different plaything: on the bare branches,
thickly studded with buds, cling airily the small, light cones of last
year's growth, each crowned, with a little ball of soft snow, four times
taller than itself,--save where some have drooped sideways, so that
each carries, poor weary Atlas, a sphere upon its back. Thus the coy
creatures play cup and ball, and one has lost its plaything yonder, as
the branch slightly stirs, and the whole vanishes in a whirl of snow.
Meanwhile a fragment of low arbor-vitae hedge, poor outpost of a
neighboring plantation, is so covered and packed with solid drift,
inside and out, that it seems as if no power of sunshine could ever
steal in among its twigs and disentangle it.
In winter each separate object interests us; in summer, the mass.
Natural beauty in winter is a poor man's luxury, infinitely enhanced in
quality by the diminution in quantity. Winter, with fewer and simpler
methods, yet seems to give all her works a finish even more delicate
than that of summer, working, as Emerson says of English agriculture,
with a pencil, instead of a plough. Or rather, the ploughshare is but
concealed; since a pithy old English preacher has said that, "the frost
is God's plough, which He drives through every inch of ground in the
world, opening each clod, and pulverizing the whole."
Coming out upon a high hill-side, more exposed to the direct fury of the
sleet, we find Nature wearing a wilder look. Every white-birch clump
around us is bent divergingly to the ground, each white form prostrated
in mute despair upon the whiter bank. The bare, writhing branches of
yonder sombre oak-grove are steeped in snow, and in the misty air they
look so remote and foreign that there is not a wild creature of the
Norse mythology who might not stalk from beneath their haunted branches.
Buried races, Teutons and Cimbri, might tramp solemnly forth from those
weird arcades. The soft pines on this nearer knoll seem separated from
them by ages and generations. On the farther hills spread woods of
smaller growth, like forests of spun glass, jewelry by the acre provided
for this coronation of winter.
We descend a steep bank, little pellets of snow rolling hastily beside
us, and leaving enamelled furrows behind. Entering the sheltered and
sunny glade, we are assailed by a sudden warmth whose languor is almost
oppressive. Wherever the sun strikes upon the pines and hemlocks,
there is a household gleam which gives a more vivid sensation than
the diffused brilliancy of summer. The sunbeams maintain a thousand
secondary fires in the reflection of light from every tree and stalk,
for the preservation of animal life and the ultimate melting of these
accumulated drifts. Around each trunk or stone the snow has melted and
fallen back. It is a singular fact, established beyond doubt by science,
that the snow is absolutely less influenced by the direct rays of the
sun than by these reflections. "If a blackened card is placed upon the
snow or ice in the sunshine, the frozen mass underneath it will be
gradually thawed, while that by which it is surrounded, though exposed
to the full power of solar heat, is but little disturbed. If, however,
we reflect the sun's rays from a metal surface, an exactly contrary
result takes place: the uncovered parts are the first to melt, and the
blackened card stands high above the surrounding portion." Look round
upon this buried meadow, and you will see emerging through the white
surface a thousand stalks of grass, sedge, osmunda, golden-rod, mullein,
Saint-John's-wort, plaintain, and eupatorium,--an allied army of the
sun, keeping up a perpetual volley of innumerable rays upon the yielding
It is their last dying service. We misplace our tenderness in winter,
and look with pity upon the leafless trees. But there is no tragedy
in the trees: each is not dead, but sleepeth; and each bears a future
summer of buds safe nestled on its bosom, as a mother reposes with her
baby at her breast. The same security of life pervades every woody
shrub: the alder and the birch have their catkins all ready for the
first day of spring, and the sweet-fern has even now filled with
fragrance its folded blossom. Winter is no such solid bar between season
and season as we fancy, but only a slight check and interruption: one
may at any time produce these March blossoms by bringing the buds into
the warm house; and the petals of the May-flower sometimes show their
pink and white edges in autumn. But every grass-blade and flower-stalk
is a mausoleum of vanished summer, itself crumbling to dust, never to
rise again. Each child of June, scarce distinguishable in November
against the background of moss and rocks and bushes, is brought into
final prominence in December by the white snow which imbeds it. The
delicate flakes collapse and fall back around it, but they retain their
inexorable hold. Thus delicate is the action of Nature,--a finger of
air, and a grasp of iron.
We pass the old red foundry, banked in with snow and its low eaves
draped with icicles, and come to the brook which turns its resounding
wheel. The musical motion of the water seems almost unnatural amidst
the general stillness: brooks, like men, must keep themselves warm by
exercise. The overhanging rushes and alder-sprays, weary of winter's
sameness, have made for themselves playthings,--each dangling a crystal
knob of ice, which sways gently in the water and gleams ruddy in the
sunlight. As we approach the foaming cascade, the toys become larger and
more glittering, movable stalactites, which the water tosses merrily
upon their flexible stems. The torrent pours down beneath an enamelled
mask of ice, wreathed and convoluted like a brain, and sparkling
with gorgeous glow. Tremulous motions and glimmerings go through the
translucent veil, as if it throbbed with the throbbing wave beneath.
It holds in its mazes stray bits of color,--scarlet berries, evergreen
sprigs, blue raspberry-stems, and sprays of yellow willow; glittering
necklaces and wreaths and tiaras of brilliant ice-work cling and trail
around its edges, and no regal palace shines with such carcanets of
jewels as this winter ball-room of the dancing drops.
Above, the brook becomes a smooth black canal between two steep white
banks; and the glassy water seems momentarily stiffening into the
solider blackness of ice. Here and there thin films are already formed
over it, and are being constantly broken apart by the treacherous
current; a flake a foot square is jerked away and goes sliding beneath
the slight transparent surface till it reappears below. The same thing,
on a larger scale, helps to form the mighty ice-pack of the Northern
seas. Nothing except ice is capable of combining, on the largest scale,
bulk with mobility, and this imparts a dignity to its motions even on
the smallest scale. I do not believe that anything in Behring's Straits
could impress me with a grander sense of desolation or of power than
when in boyhood I watched the ice break up in the winding channel of
Amidst so much that seems like death, let us turn and study the life.
There is much more to be seen in winter than most of us have ever
noticed. Far in the North the "moose-yards" are crowded and trampled, at
this season, and the wolf and the deer run noiselessly a deadly race,
as I have heard the hunters describe, upon the white surface of the
gleaming lake. But the pond beneath our feet keeps its stores of life
chiefly below its level platform, as the bright fishes in the basket of
yon heavy-booted fisherman can tell. Yet the scattered tracks of mink
and musk-rat beside the banks, of meadow-mice around the hay-stacks, of
squirrels under the trees, of rabbits and partridges in the wood, show
the warm life that is beating unseen, beneath fur or feathers, close
beside us. The chicadees are chattering merrily in the upland grove, the
blue-jays scream in the hemlock glade, the snow-bird mates the snow with
its whiteness, and the robin contrasts with it his still ruddy breast.
The weird and impenetrable crows, most talkative of birds and most
uncommunicative, their very food at this season a mystery, are almost as
numerous now as in summer. They always seem like some race of banished
goblins, doing penance for some primeval and inscrutable transgression,
and if any bird have a history, it is they. In the Spanish version of
the tradition of King Arthur it is said that he fled from the weeping
queens and the island valley of Avilion in the form of a crow; and hence
it is said in "Don Quixote" that no Englishman will ever kill one.
The traces of the insects in the winter are prophetic,--from the
delicate cocoon of some infinitesimal feathery thing which hangs upon
the dry, starry calyx of the aster, to the large brown-paper parcel
which hides in peasant garb the costly beauty of some gorgeous moth. But
the hints of birds are retrospective. In each tree of this pasture, the
very pasture where last spring we looked for nests and found them not
among the deceitful foliage, the fragile domiciles now stand revealed.
But where are the birds that filled them? Could the airy creatures
nurtured in those nests have left permanently traced upon the air behind
them their own bright summer flight, the whole atmosphere would be
filled with interlacing lines and curves of gorgeous coloring, the
centre of all being this forsaken bird's-nest filled with snow.
Among the many birds which winter here, and the many insects which are
called forth by a few days of thaw, not a few must die of cold or of
fatigue amid the storms. Yet how few traces one sees of this mortality!
Provision is made for it. Yonder a dead wasp has fallen on the snow, and
the warmth of its body, or its power of reflecting a few small rays
of light, is melting its little grave beneath it. With what a cleanly
purity does Nature strive to withdraw all unsightly objects into her
cemetery! Their own weight and lingering warmth take them through air
or water, snow or ice, to the level of the earth, and there with spring
comes an army of burying-insects, _Necrophagi_, in a livery of red and
black, to dig a grave beneath every one, and not a sparrow falleth to
the ground without knowledge. The tiny remains thus disappear from the
surface, and the dry leaves are soon spread above these Children in the
Thus varied and benignant are the aspects of winter on these sunny days.
But it is impossible to claim this weather as the only type of our
winter climate. There occasionally come days which, though perfectly
still and serene, suggest more terror than any tempest,--terrible,
clear, glaring days of pitiless cold,--when the sun seems powerless
or only a brighter moon, when the windows remain ground-glass at high
noontide, and when, on going out of doors, one is dazzled by the
brightness and fancies for a moment that it cannot be so cold as has
been reported, but presently discovers that the severity is only more
deadly for being so still. Exercise on such days seems to produce no
warmth; one's limbs appear ready to break on any sudden motion, like
icy boughs. Stage-drivers and dray-men are transformed to mere human
buffaloes by their fur coats; the patient oxen are frost-covered; the
horse that goes racing by waves a wreath of steam from his tossing head.
On such days life becomes a battle to all householders, the ordinary
apparatus for defence is insufficient, and the price of caloric is
continual vigilance. In innumerable armies the frost besieges the
portal, creeps in beneath it and above it, and on every latch and
key-handle lodges an advanced guard of white rime. Leave the door ajar
never so slightly and a chill creeps in cat-like; we are conscious by
the warmest fireside of the near vicinity of cold, its fingers are
feeling after us, and even if they do not clutch us, we know that they
are there. The sensations of such days almost make us associate their
clearness and whiteness with something malignant and evil. Charles Lamb
asserts of snow, "It glares too much for an innocent color, methinks."
Why does popular mythology associate the infernal regions with a high
temperature instead of a low one? El Aishi, the Arab writer, says of the
bleak wind of the Desert, (so writes Richardson, the African traveller,)
"The north wind blows with an intensity equalling _the cold of hell_;
language fails me to describe its rigorous temperature." Some have
thought that there is a similar allusion in the phrase, "weeping and
gnashing of teeth,"--the teeth chattering from frost. Milton also
enumerates cold as one of the torments of the lost:--
"O'er many a frozen, many a fiery Alp";
and one may sup full of horrors on the exceedingly cold collation
provided for the next world by the Norse Edda.
But, after all, there are few such terrific periods in our Massachusetts
winters, and the appointed exit from their frigidity is usually through
a snow-storm. After a day of this severe sunshine there comes commonly
a darker day of cloud, still hard and forbidding, though milder in
promise, with a sky of lead, deepening near the horizon into darker
films of iron. Then, while all the nerves of the universe seem rigid and
tense, the first reluctant flake steals slowly down, like a tear. In a
few hours the whole atmosphere begins to relax once more, and in
our astonishing climate very possibly the snow changes to rain in
twenty-four hours, and a thaw sets in. It is not strange, therefore,
that snow, which to Southern races is typical of cold and terror, brings
associations of warmth and shelter to the children of the North.
Snow, indeed, actually nourishes animal life. It holds in its bosom
numerous animalcules: you may have a glass of water, perfectly free from
_infusoria_, which yet, after your dissolving in it a handful of snow,
will show itself full of microscopic creatures, shrimp-like and swift;
and the famous red snow of the Arctic regions is only an exhibition of
the same property. It has sometimes been fancied that persons buried
under the snow have received sustenance through the pores of the skin,
like reptiles imbedded in rock. Elizabeth Woodcock lived eight days
beneath a snow-drift, in 1799, without eating a morsel; and a Swiss
family were buried beneath an avalanche, in a manger, for five months,
in 1755, with no food but a trifling store of chestnuts and a small
daily supply of milk from a goat which was buried with them. In neither
case was there extreme suffering from cold, and it is unquestionable
that the interior of a drift is far warmer than the surface. On the 23d
of December, 1860, at 9 P.M., I was surprised to observe drops falling
from the under side of a heavy bank of snow at the eaves, at a distance
from any chimney, while the mercury on the same side was only fifteen
degrees above zero, not having indeed risen above the point of freezing
during the whole day.
Dr. Kane pays ample tribute to these kindly properties. "Few of us at
home can recognize the protecting value of this warm coverlet of snow.
No eider-down in the cradle of an infant is tucked in more kindly than
the sleeping-dress of winter about this feeble flower-life. The first
warm snows of August and September, falling on a thickly pleached carpet
of grasses, heaths, and willows, enshrine the flowery growths which
nestle round them in a non-conducting air-chamber; and as each
successive snow increases the thickness of the cover, we have, before
the intense cold of winter sets in, a light cellular bed covered by
drift, six, eight, or ten feet deep, in which the plant retains its
vitality. ... I have found in midwinter, in this high latitude of 78 deg.
50', the surface so nearly moist as to be friable to the touch; and upon
the ice-floes, commencing with a surface-temperature of-30 deg., I found
at two feet deep a temperature of-8 deg., at four feet + 2 deg., and at eight
feet + 26 deg.. ... The glacier which we became so familiar with afterwards
at Etah yields an uninterrupted stream throughout the year." And he
afterwards shows that even the varying texture and quality of the snow
deposited during the earlier and later portions of the Arctic winter
have their special adaptations to the welfare of the vegetation they
The process of crystallization seems a microcosm of the universe.
Radiata, mollusca, feathers, flowers, ferns, mosses, palms, pines,
grain-fields, leaves of cedar, chestnut, elm, acanthus: these and
multitudes of other objects are figured on your frosty window; on
sixteen different panes I have counted sixteen patterns strikingly
distinct, and it appeared like a show-case for the globe. What can seem
remoter relatives than the star, the starfish, the star-flower, and the
starry snow-flake which clings this moment to your sleeve?--yet some
philosophers hold that one day their law of existence will be found
precisely the same. The connection with the primeval star, especially,
seems far and fanciful enough, but there are yet unexplored affinities
between light and crystallization: some crystals have a tendency to grow
toward the light, and others develop electricity and give out flashes of
light during their formation. Slight foundations for scientific fancies,
indeed, but slight is all our knowledge.
More than a hundred different figures of snow-flakes, all regular and
kaleidoscopic, have been drawn by Scoresby, Lowe, and Glaisher, and may
be found pictured in the encyclopaedias and elsewhere, ranging from the
simplest stellar shapes to the most complicated ramifications. Professor
Tyndall, in his delightful book on "The Glaciers of the Alps," gives
drawings of a few of these snow-blossoms, which he watched falling for
hours, the whole air being filled with them, and drifts of several
inches being accumulated while he watched. "Let us imagine the eye
gifted with microscopic power sufficient to enable it to see the
molecules which composed these starry crystals; to observe the solid
nucleus formed and floating in the air; to see it drawing towards it its
allied atoms, and these arranging themselves as if they moved to music,
and ended with rendering that music concrete." Thus do the Alpine winds,
like Orpheus, build their walls by harmony.
In some of these frost-flowers the rare and delicate blossom of our wild
_Mitella diphylla_ is beautifully figured. Snow-flakes have been also
found in the form of regular hexagons and other plane figures, as well
as in cylinders and spheres. As a general rule, the intenser the cold
the more perfect the formation, and the most perfect specimens are
Arctic or Alpine in their locality. In this climate the snow seldom
falls when the mercury is much below zero; but the slightest atmospheric
changes may alter the whole condition of the deposit, and decide whether
it shall sparkle like Italian marble, or be dead-white like the statuary
marble of Vermont,--whether it shall be a fine powder which can sift
through wherever dust can, or descend in large woolly masses, tossed
like mouthfuls to the hungry South.
The most remarkable display of crystallization which I have ever seen
was on the 13th of January, 1859. There had been three days of unusual
cold, but during the night the weather had moderated, and the mercury in
the morning stood at + 14 deg.. About two inches of snow had fallen, and the
trees appeared densely coated with it. It proved, on examination, that
every twig had on the leeward side a dense row of miniature fronds or
fern-leaves executed in snow, with a sharply defined central nerve, or
midrib, and perfect ramification, tapering to a point, and varying in
length from half an inch to three inches. On every post, every rail, and
the corners of every building, the same spectacle was seen; and where
the snow had accumulated in deep drifts, it was still made up of the
ruins of these fairy structures. The white, enamelled landscape was
beautiful, but a close view of the details was far more so. The
crystallizations were somewhat uniform in structure, yet suggested a
variety of natural objects, as feather-mosses, birds' feathers, and the
most delicate lace-corals, but the predominant analogy was with ferns.
Yet they seemed to assume a sort of fantastic kindred with the objects
to which they adhered: thus, on the leaves of spruce-trees and on
delicate lichens they seemed like reduplications of the original growth,
and they made the broad, fiat leaves of the arbor-vitae fully twice as
wide as before. But this fringe was always on one side only, except
when gathered upon dangling fragments of spider's web, or bits of stray
thread: these they entirely encircled, probably because these objects
had twirled in the light wind while the crystals were forming. Singular
disguises were produced: a bit of ragged rope appeared a piece of
twisted lace-work; a knot-hole in a board was adorned with a deep
antechamber of snowy wreaths; and the frozen body of a hairy caterpillar
became its own well-plumed hearse. The most peculiar circumstance was
the fact that single flakes never showed any regular crystallization:
the magic was in the combination; the under sides of rails and boards
exhibited it as unequivocally as the upper sides, indicating that the
phenomenon was created in the lower atmosphere, and was more akin to
frost than snow; and yet the largest snow-banks were composed of nothing
else, and seemed like heaps of blanched iron-filings.
Interesting observations have been made on the relations between ice and
snow. The difference seems to lie only in the more or less compacted
arrangement of the frozen particles. Water and air, each being
transparent when separate, become opaque when intimately mingled; the
reason being that the inequalities of refraction break up and scatter
every ray of light. Thus, clouds cast a shadow; so does steam; so does
foam: and the same elements take a still denser texture when combined
as snow. Every snow-flake is permeated with minute airy chambers, among
which the light is bewildered and lost; while from perfectly hard and
transparent ice every trace of air disappears, and the transmission
of light is unbroken. Yet that same ice becomes white and opaque when
pulverized, its fragments being then intermingled with air again,--just
as colorless glass may be crushed into white powder. On the other
hand, Professor Tyndall has converted slabs of snow to ice by regular
pressure, and has shown that every Alpine glacier begins as a snow-drift
at its summit, and ends in a transparent ice-cavern below. "The blue
blocks which span the sources of the Arveiron were once powdery snow
upon the slopes of the Col du Geant."
The varied and wonderful shapes assumed by snow and ice have been best
portrayed, perhaps, by Dr. Kane in his two works; but their resources of
color have been so explored by no one as by this same favored Professor
Tyndall, among his Alps. It appears that the tints which in temperate
regions are seen feebly and occasionally, in hollows or angles of fresh
drifts, become brilliant and constant above the line of perpetual snow,
and the higher the altitude the more lustrous the display. When a staff
was struck into the new-fallen drift, the hollow seemed instantly to
fill with a soft blue liquid, while the snow adhering to the staff took
a complementary color of pinkish yellow, and on moving it up and down
it was hard to resist the impression that a pink flame was rising and
sinking in the hole. The little natural furrows in the drifts appeared
faintly blue, the ridges were gray, while the parts most exposed to
view seemed least illuminated, and as if a light brown dust had been
sprinkled over them. The fresher the snow, the more marked the colors,
and it made no difference whether the sky were cloudless or foggy. Thus
was every white peak decked upon its brow with this tiara of ineffable
The impression is very general that the average quantity of snow has
greatly diminished in America; but it must be remembered that very
severe storms occur only at considerable intervals, and the Puritans did
not always, as boys fancy, step out of the upper windows upon the snow.
In 1717, the ground was covered from ten to twenty feet, indeed; but
during January, 1861, the snow was six feet on a level in many parts of
Maine and New Hampshire, and was probably drifted three times that depth
in particular spots. The greatest storm recorded in England, I believe,
is that of 1814, in which for forty-eight hours the snow fell so
furiously that drifts of sixteen, twenty, and even twenty-four feet were
recorded in various places. An inch an hour is thought to be the average
rate of deposit, though four inches are said to have fallen during the
severe storm of January 3d, 1859. When thus intensified, the "beautiful
meteor of the snow" begins to give a sensation of something formidable;
and when the mercury suddenly falls meanwhile, and the wind rises, there
are sometimes suggestions of such terror in a snowstorm as no summer
thunders can rival. The brief and singular tempest of February 7th,
1861, was a thing to be forever remembered by those who saw it, as I
did, over a wide plain. The sky suddenly appeared to open and let down
whole solid snow-banks at once, which were caught and torn to pieces by
the ravenous winds, and the traveller was instantaneously enveloped in
a whirling mass far denser than any fog; it was a tornado with snow
stirred into it. Standing in the middle of the road, with houses close
on every side, one could see absolutely nothing in any direction, one
could hear no sound but the storm. Every landmark vanished, and it was
no more possible to guess the points of the compass than in mid-ocean.
It was easy to conceive of being bewildered and overwhelmed within a rod
of one's own door. The tempest lasted only an hour; but if it had lasted
a week, we should have had such a storm as occurred on the steppes of
Kirgheez in Siberia, in 1827, destroying two hundred and eighty thousand
five hundred horses, thirty thousand four hundred cattle, a million
sheep, and ten thousand camels,--or as "the thirteen drifty days,"
in 1620, which killed nine-tenths of all the sheep in the South of
Scotland. On Eskdale Moor, out of twenty thousand only forty-five were
left alive, and the shepherds everywhere built up huge semicircular
walls of the dead creatures, to afford shelter to the living, till the
gale should end. But the most remarkable narrative of a snowstorm which
I have ever seen was that written by James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd,
in record of one which took place January 24th, 1790.
James Hogg at this time belonged to a sort of literary society of young
shepherds, and had set out, the day previous, to walk twenty miles over
the hills to the place of meeting; but so formidable was the look of the
sky that he felt anxious for his sheep, and finally turned back again.
There was at that time only a slight fall of snow, in thin flakes which
seemed uncertain whether to go up or down; the hills were covered with
deep folds of frost-fog, and in the valleys the same fog seemed dark,
dense, and as it were crushed together. An old shepherd, predicting a
storm, bade him watch for a sudden opening through this fog, and expect
a wind from that quarter; yet when he saw such an opening suddenly form
at midnight, (having then reached his own home,) he thought it all a
delusion, as the weather had grown milder and a thaw seemed setting in.
He therefore went to bed, and felt no more anxiety for his sheep; yet
he lay awake in spite of himself, and at two o'clock he heard the
storm begin. It smote the house suddenly, like a great peal of
thunder,--something utterly unlike any storm he had ever before heard.
On his rising and thrusting his bare arm through a hole in the roof, it
seemed precisely as if he had thrust it into a snow-bank, so densely was
the air filled with falling and driving particles. He lay still for an
hour, while the house rocked with the tempest, hoping it might prove
only a hurricane; but as there was no abatement, he wakened his
companion-shepherd, telling him "it was come on such a night or morning
as never blew from the heavens." The other at once arose, and, opening
the door of the shed where they slept, found a drift as high as the
farm-house already heaped between them and its walls, a distance of only
fourteen yards. He floundered through, Hogg soon following, and, finding
all the family up, they agreed that they must reach the sheep as soon as
possible, especially eight hundred ewes that were in one lot together,
at the farthest end of the farm. So, after family-prayers and breakfast,
four of them stuffed their pockets with bread and cheese, sewed their
plaids about them, tied down their hats, and, taking each his staff, set
out on their tremendous undertaking, two hours before day.
Day dawned before they got three hundred yards from the house.
They could not see each other, and kept together with the greatest
difficulty. They had to make paths with their staves, rolled themselves
over drifts otherwise impassable, and every three or four minutes had to
hold their heads down between their knees to recover breath. They went
in single file, taking the lead by turns. The master soon gave out and
was speechless and semi-conscious for more than an hour, though he
afterwards recovered and held out with the rest. Two of them lost their
head-gear, and Hogg himself fell over a high precipice, but they reached
the flock at half-past ten. They found the ewes huddled together in a
dense body, under ten feet of snow,--packed so closely, that, to the
amazement of the shepherds, when they had extricated the first, the
whole flock walked out one after another, in a body, through the hole.
How they got them home it is almost impossible, to tell. It was now
noon, and they sometimes could see through the storm for twenty yards,
but they had only one momentary glimpse of the hills through all that
terrible day. Yet Hogg persisted in going by himself afterwards to
rescue some flocks of his own, barely escaping with life from the
expedition; his eyes were sealed up with the storm, and he crossed a
formidable torrent, without knowing it, on a wreath of snow. Two of the
others lost themselves in a deep valley, and would have perished but
for being accidentally heard by a neighboring shepherd, who guided them
home, where the female portion of the family had abandoned all hope of
ever seeing them again.
The next day was clear, with a cold wind, and they set forth again at
daybreak to seek the remainder of the flock. The face of the country
was perfectly transformed: not a hill was the same, not a brook or lake
could be recognized. Deep glens were filled in with snow, covering the
very tops of the trees; and over a hundred acres of ground, under an
average depth of six or eight feet, they were to look for four or five
hundred sheep. The attempt would have been hopeless but for a dog that
accompanied them: seeing their perplexity, he began snuffing about, and
presently scratching in the snow at a certain point, and then looking
round at his master: digging at this spot, they found a sheep beneath.
And so the dog led them all day, bounding eagerly from one place to
another, much faster than they could dig the creatures out, so that he
sometimes had twenty or thirty holes marked beforehand. In this way,
within a week, they got out every sheep on the farm except four, these
last being buried under a mountain of snow fifty feet deep, on the top
of which the dog had marked their places again and again. In every case
the sheep proved to be alive and warm, though half-suffocated; on being
taken out, they usually bounded away swiftly, and then fell helplessly
in a few moments, overcome by the change of atmosphere; some then died
almost instantly, and others were carried home and with difficulty
preserved, only about sixty being lost in all. Marvellous to tell, the
country-people unanimously agreed afterwards to refer the whole terrific
storm to some secret incantations of poor Hogg's literary society
aforesaid; it was generally maintained that a club of young dare-devils
had raised the Fiend himself among them in the likeness of a black dog,
the night preceding the storm, and the young students actually did not
dare to show themselves at fairs or at markets for a year afterwards.
Snow-scenes less exciting, but more wild and dreary, may be found in
Alexander Henry's Travels with the Indians, in the last century. In the
winter of 1776, for instance, they wandered for many hundred miles over
the farthest northwestern prairies, where scarcely a white man had
before trodden. The snow lay from four to six feet deep. They went on
snow-shoes, drawing their stores on sleds. The mercury was sometimes
-32 deg.; no fire could keep them warm at night, and often they had no fire,
being scarcely able to find wood enough to melt the snow for drink. They
lay beneath buffalo-skins and the stripped bark of trees: a foot of snow
sometimes fell on them before morning. The sun rose at half past nine
and set at half past two. "The country was one uninterrupted plain, in
many parts of which no wood nor even the smallest shrub was to be seen:
a frozen, sea, of which the little coppices were the islands. That
behind which we had encamped the night before soon sank in the horizon,
and the eye had nothing left save only the sky and snow." Fancy them
encamped by night, seeking shelter in a scanty grove from a wild tempest
of snow; then suddenly charged upon by a herd of buffaloes, thronging in
from all sides of the wood to take shelter likewise,--the dogs barking,
the Indians firing, and still the bewildered beasts rushing madly
in, blinded by the storm, fearing the guns within less than the fury
without, crashing through the trees, trampling over the tents, and
falling about in the deep and dreary snow! No other writer has ever
given us the full desolation of Indian winter-life. Whole families,
Henry said, frequently perished together in such storms. No wonder that
the Aboriginal legends are full of "mighty Peboan, the Winter," and of
Kabibonokka a his lodge of snow-drifts.
The interest inspired by these simple narratives suggests the
reflection, that literature, which has thus far portrayed so few aspects
of external Nature, has described almost nothing of winter beauty.
In English books, especially, this season is simply forlorn and
disagreeable, dark and dismal.
"And foul and fierce
All winter drives along the darkened air."
"When dark December shrouds the transient
And stormy winds are howling in their
Why com'st not thou?. ... Oh, haste to pay
The cordial visit sullen hours require!"
"Winter will oft at eve resume the breeze,
Chill the pale morn, and bid his driving
Deform the day delightless."
"Now that the fields are dank and ways are
With whom you might converse, and by the
Help waste the sullen day."
But our prevalent association with winter, in the Northern United
States, is with something white and dazzling and brilliant; and it is
time to paint our own pictures, and cease to borrow these gloomy alien
tints. One must turn eagerly every season to the few glimpses of
American winter aspects: to Emerson's "Snow-Storm," every word a
sculpture,--to the admirable storm in "Margaret,"--to Thoreau's "Winter
Walk," in the "Dial,"--and to Lowell's "First Snow-Flake." These are
fresh and real pictures, which carry us back to the Greek Anthology,
where the herds come wandering down from the wooded mountains, covered
with snow, and to Homer's aged Ulysses, his wise words falling like the
snows of winter.
Let me add to this scanty gallery of snow-pictures the quaint lore
contained in one of the multitudinous sermons of Increase Mather,
printed in 1704, entitled "A Brief Discourse concerning the Prayse
due to God for His Mercy in giving Snow like Wool." One can fancy
the delight of the oppressed Puritan boys, in the days of the
nineteenthlies, driven to the place of worship by the tithing-men,
and cooped up on the pulpit-and gallery-stairs under charge of
the constables, at hearing for once a discourse which they could
understand,--snow-balling spiritualized. This was not one of Emerson's
terrible examples,--"the storm real, and the preacher only phenomenal";
but this setting of snow-drifts, which in our winters lends such grace
to every stern rock and rugged tree, throws a charm even around the grim
theology of the Mathers. Three main propositions, seven subdivisions,
four applications, and four uses, but the wreaths and the gracefulness
are cast about them all,--while the wonderful commonplace-books of those
days, which held everything, had accumulated scraps of winter learning
which cannot be spared from these less abstruse pages.
Beginning first at the foundation, the preacher must prove, "Prop. I.
_That the Snow is fitly resembled to Wool_. Snow like Wool, sayes the
Psalmist. And not only the Sacred Writers, but others make use of this
Comparison. The Grecians of old were wont to call the Snow, ERIODES
HUDOR _Wooly Water_, or wet Wool. The Latin word _Floccus_ signifies
both a Lock of Wool and a Flake of Snow, in that they resemble one
another. The aptness of the similitude appears in three things." "1. In
respect of the Whiteness thereof." "2. In respect of Softness." "3. In
respect of that Warming Vertue that does attend the Snow." [Here the
reasoning must not be omitted.] "Wool is warm. We say, _As warm as
Wool_. Woolen-cloth has a greater warmth than other Cloathing has. The
wool on Sheep keeps them warm in the Winter season. So when the back of
the Ground is covered with Snow, it keeps it warm. Some mention it as
one of the wonders of the Snow, that tho' it is itself cold, yet it
makes the Earth warm. But Naturalists observe that there is a saline
spirit in it, which is hot, by means whereof Plants under the Snow are
kept from freezing. Ice under the Snow is sooner melted and broken than
other Ice. In some Northern Climates, the wild barbarous People use to
cover themselves over with it to keep them warm. When the sharp Air has
begun to freeze a man's Limbs, Snow will bring heat into them again. If
persons Eat much Snow, or drink immoderately of Snow-water, it will burn
their Bowels and make them black. So that it has a warming vertue in it,
and is therefore fitly compared to Wool."
Snow has many merits. "In _Lapland_, where there is little or no light
of the sun in the depth of Winter, there are great Snows continually on
the ground, and by the Light of that they are able to Travel from one
place to another... At this day in some hot Countreys, they have their
Snow-cellars, where it is kept in Summer, and if moderately used, is
known to be both refreshing and healthful. There are also Medicinal
Vertues in the snow. A late Learned Physician has found that a Salt
extracted out of snow is a sovereign Remedy against both putrid and
pestilential Feavors. Therefore Men should Praise God, who giveth Snow
like Wool." But there is an account against the snow, also. "Not only
the disease called _Bulimia_, but others more fatal have come out of the
Snow. _Geographers_ give us to understand that in some Countries Vapours
from the Snow have killed multitudes in less than a Quarter of an Hour.
Sometimes both Men and Beasts have been destroyed thereby. Writers speak
of no less than Forty Thousand men killed by a great Snow in one Day."
It gives a touching sense of human sympathy, to find that we may look at
Orion and the Pleiades through the grave eyes of a Puritan divine. "The
_Seven Stars_ are the Summer Constellation: they bring on the spring
and summer; and _Orion_ is a Winter Constellation, which is attended
with snow and cold, as at this Day.... Moreover, Late _Philosophers_ by
the help of the _Microscope_ have observed the wonderful Wisdom of God
in the Figure of the Snow; each flake is usually of a _Stellate_ Form,
and of six Angles of exact equal length from the Center. It is _like a
little Star_. A great man speaks of it with admiration, that in a Body
so familiar as the Snow is, no Philosopher should for many Ages take
notice of a thing so obvious as the Figure of it. The learned _Kepler_,
who lived in this last Age, is acknowledged to be the first that
acquainted the world with the Sexangular Figure of the Snow."
Then come the devout applications. "There is not a Flake of Snow that
falls on the Ground without the hand of God, Mat. 10. 29. 30. Not a
Sparrow falls to the Ground, without the Will of your Heavenly Father,
all the Hairs of your head are numbred. So the Great God has numbred all
the Flakes of Snow that covers the Earth. Altho' no man can number them,
that God that tells the number of the Stars has numbred them all.... We
often see it, when the Ground is bare, if God speaks the word, the Earth
is covered with snow in a few Minutes' time. Here is the power of the
Great God. If all the Princes and Great Ones of the Earth should send
their Commands to the Clouds, not a Flake of snow would come from
Then follow the "uses," at last,--the little boys in the congregation
having grown uneasy long since, at hearing so much theorizing about
snow-drifts, with so little opportunity of personal practice. "Use I. If
we should Praise God for His giving Snow, surely then we ought to Praise
Him for Spiritual Blessings much more." "Use II. We should Humble our
selves under the Hand of God, when Snow in the season of it is
witheld from us." "Use III. Hence all Atheists will be left Eternally
Inexcusable." "Use IV. We should hence Learn to make a Spiritual
Improvement of the Snow." And then with a closing volley of every text
winch figures under the head of "Snow" in the Concordance, the discourse
comes to an end; and every liberated urchin goes home with his head full
of devout fancies of building a snow-fort, after sunset, from which to
propel consecrated missiles against imaginary or traditional Pequots.
And the patient reader, too long snow-bound, must be liberated also.
After the winters of deepest drifts the spring often comes most
suddenly; there is little frost in the ground, and the liberated waters,
free without the expected freshet, are filtered into the earth, or climb
on ladders of sunbeams to the sky. The beautiful crystals all melt away,
and the places where they lay are silently made ready to be submerged
in new drifts of summer verdure. These also will be transmuted in their
turn, and so the eternal cycle of the seasons glides along.
Near my house there is a garden, beneath whose stately sycamores a
fountain plays. Three sculptured girls lift forever upward a chalice
which distils unceasingly a fine and plashing rain; in summer the spray
holds the maidens in a glittering veil, but winter takes the radiant
drops and slowly builds them up into a shroud of ice which creeps
gradually about the three slight figures: the feet vanish, the waist is
encircled, the head is covered, the piteous uplifted arms disappear, as
if each were a Vestal Virgin entombed alive for her transgression. They
vanishing entirely, the fountain yet plays on unseen; all winter the
pile of ice grows larger, glittering organ-pipes of congelation add
themselves outside, and by February a great glacier is formed, at whose
buried centre stand immovably the patient girls. Spring comes at
last, the fated prince, to free with glittering spear these enchanted
beauties; the waning glacier, slowly receding, lies conquered before
their liberated feet; and still the fountain plays. Who can despair
before the iciest human life, when its unconscious symbols are so
A STORY OF TO-DAY.
There was a dull smell of camphor; a further sense of coolness and
prickling wet on Holmes's hot, cracking face and hands; then silence and
sleep again. Sometime--when, he never knew--a gray light stinging his
eyes like pain, and again a slow sinking into warm, unsounded darkness
and unconsciousness. It might be years, it might be ages. Even in
after-life, looking back, he never broke that time into weeks or days:
people might so divide it for him, but he was uncertain, always: it was
a vague vacuum in his memory: he had drifted out of coarse, measured
life into some out-coast of eternity, and slept in its calm. When, by
long degrees, the shock of outer life jarred and woke him, it was feebly
done: he came back reluctant, weak: the quiet clinging to him, as if he
had been drowned in Lethe, and had brought its calming mist with him,
out of the shades.
The low chatter of voices, the occasional lifting of his head on the
pillow, the very soothing draught, came to him, unreal at first: parts
only of the dull, lifeless pleasure. There was a sharper memory pierced
it sometimes, making him moan and try to sleep,--a remembrance of great,
cleaving pain, of falling giddily, of owing life to some one, and being
angry that he owed it, in the pain. Was it he that had borne it? He did
not know,--nor care: it made him tired to think. Even when he heard the
name Stephen Holmes, it had but a far-off meaning: he never woke enough
to know if it were his or not. He learned, long after, to watch the red
light curling among the shavings in the grate when they made a fire in
the evenings, to listen to the voices of the women by the bed, to know
that the pleasantest belonged to the one with the low, shapeless figure,
and to call her Lois when he wanted a drink, long before he knew
They were very long, pleasant days in early December. The sunshine
was pale, but it suited his hurt eyes better: it crept slowly in the
mornings over the snuff-colored carpet on the floor, up the brown
foot-board of the bed, and, when the wind shook the window-curtains,
made little crimson pools of mottled light over the ceiling,--curdling
pools, that he liked to watch: going off, from the clean gray walls and
rustling curtain and transparent crimson, into sleeps that lasted all