Part 2 out of 5
threshold of his house, having just opened the door with a key taken
from his girdle. He is going in, when he sees the lights borne by the
other party. Observe how Othello's honest frankness is shown by the
"OTH. But look: what lights come yonder?
IAGO. These are the raised father and his friends.
[_Othello shuts the door quickly and takes the key._
You were best go in.
OTH. [_coming forward_], Not I: I must be found!"
Again, at the end of this scene, see how thoroughly the editor has
studied the legitimate dramatic effect of the situations, preserving to
each person his due place and characteristic manner:--
"BRAB. [_To his followers_]. Bring him away!
[_They advance to take Othello, who puts them back with a look._
Mine's not an idle cause:
[_Passes before Othello, who bows to him with respect._
The Duke himself," etc.
[_Exit, preceded by the servants of the Senate. His followers are about
to pass; Othello stays them, beckons to Cassio, and exit with him.
The rest follow, humbly._
The scene wherein Iago first begins to poison the Moor's mind is
admirable in the situations and movements of the actors. A great variety
is given to the dialogue by the minute directions set down for the
guidance of the players. It would be tedious to give them in detail; but
I must point out the truth of one action, near the end. The poison is
working; but as yet Othello cannot believe he is so wronged,--he is only
"perplexed in the extreme,"--not yet transformed quite out of his noble
"OTH. [dismissing Iago with a gesture]. Farewell! farewell!
[Stopping him, as he goes to the door on the right.
If more thou dost perceive, let me know more:
Set on thy wife to observe----
[He stops, suffused with shame, and crosses before Iago, without looking
Leave me, Iago.
IAGO. My lord, I take my leave."
This is an idea worthy of a great actor; and of M. Fechter's acting here
an English critic says,--"Delicate in its conception and marvellous in
its close adherence to Nature is the expression that accompanies the
words. The actor's face is literally suffused with a burning blush; and,
as he buries his face in his hands, we almost fancy we see the scalding
tears force their way through the trembling fingers and adorn the
shame-reddened cheeks." The same writer goes on to praise "the ingenuity
and novelty of the glance at the reflection of his dark face in the
mirror, which suggests the words, 'Haply for I am black.'" I cannot
agree. Othello had been too often reproached with his swarthy skin and
likened to the Devil by Desdemona's father to need any such commonplace
reminder of his defects, in his agony of doubt. It is, however, a fair
ground for difference of opinion. But when the same artifice is resorted
to in the last act to explain the words, "It is the cause, it is the
cause, my soul!!"--and Othello is made to take up a toilet-glass which
has fallen from Desdemona's hand,--it becomes a vile conceit, unworthy
of the situation or of an actor like Fechter. A man does not look in the
glass, and talk about his complexion, when he is going to kill what he
loves best in life; and if the words are broken and unintelligible, they
are all the truer to Nature. The whole of the last act, as arranged by
Fechter, is bad. There is no propriety in directing Desdemona to leave
her bed and walk about,--to say nothing of the scramble that must ensue
when Othello "in mad fury throws her onto the bed" again. But what shall
we say of this?
"OTH. What noise is this?
[_He turns to the side whence the noise comes, and raises the pillow,
but, as Desdemona stirs, replaces it abruptly._
Not dead! Not yet quite dead!
I, that am cruel, am yet merciful;
I would not have thee linger in thy pain.
[_Passing his poignard under the pillow, and turning away his eyes,_
What, but that it is utterly vile and melodramatic, contrary to
Othello's expressed resolve, and quite unnecessary?--for a better effect
would be produced, if the actor averted his head and with both hands
pressed hard upon the pillow, trembling in every limb at the horrible
deed he is forced, in mercy, to bring to a quick end. This idea of
stabbing Desdemona at last is not original with Fechter,--who here, and
in several other places, has consented to follow our stage-traditions,
and has been led astray.
* * * * *
Shakespeare on the stage is a sad falling off from Shakespeare in the
closet. (I do not mean on the American stage only: the theatre in
England is, if possible, lower than with us.) To a great extent this is
unavoidable. Our imaginations are not kept in check by the pitiless
limits that make themselves felt in the theatre. An army, when we read
of it, seems something far grander than all that can be effected by the
best-appointed company of actors. The forest of Ardennes has for us life
and motion beyond the reach of the scene-painter's skill. But these
necessary shortcomings are no excuse for making no attempt to imitate
Nature. Yet hardly any serious effort is made to reach this purpose of
playing. The ordinary arrangement of our stage is as bad as bad can be,
for it fails to look like the places where the action is supposed to
lie. Two rows of narrow screens stretching down from the ends of a broad
screen at the back never can be made to look like a room, still less
like a grove. Such an arrangement may be convenient for the carpenters
or scene-shifters, and is very likely cheaper than a properly designed
interior. But it does not look like what it pretends to be, and has been
superseded on every stage but ours and the English by properly
constructed scenery. Who ever went into a French theatre for the first
time without being charmed by the _reality_ of the scene? They take the
trouble to build a room, when a room is wanted, with side-walls and
doors, and often a ceiling. The consequence is, you can fancy yourself
present at a scene taken from real life. The theatre goes no farther
than the proscenium. Beyond that, you have a parlor, with one wall
removed for your better view. It is Asmodeus's show improved. I went to
a Paris theatre with a friend. The play began with half a dozen
milliners chattering and sewing round a table. After a few moments, my
friend gave a prodigious yawn, and declared he was going home, "for you
might as well sit down and see a parcel of real milliners at work as
this play." Tastes differ; and I did not find this an objection. But
what a compliment that was to the whole corps,--actors, actresses, and
scene-painter!--and how impossible it would be to make the same
complaint of an English play!
"But," I have been told by theatrical people, "such an arrangement is
all very well in French vaudevilles, where one scene lasts through an
act; but it will not do for English plays, with their constant
scene-shifting." I grant it is less convenient to the stage-manager than
the present wretched assembly of screens; but it is not impracticable in
any play. Witness the melodramas which are the delight of the patrons of
the minor Paris theatres,--_pieces a spectacle en 4 actes et 24
tableaux_, that is, twenty-four changes of scene. I remember sitting
through one which was so deadly stupid that nothing but the ingenuity of
the stage-arrangements made it endurable. Side-scenes dropped down into
their places,--"flats" fell through the stage or were drawn up out of
sight,--trees and rocks rose out of the earth,--in a word, scenery that
looked like reality, and not like canvas, was disposed and cleared away
with such marvellous rapidity that I forgot to yawn over the play.
Attention to these matters is almost unknown with us: perhaps, in strict
justice, I ought to say was unknown until very lately. Within a few
years, one or two of our theatres have profited by the example set by
stage-managers abroad. At Wallack's, in New York, _rooms_ have to a
great extent taken the place of the old _screens_; and only the other
night at the Boston Museum I saw an arrangement of scenery which really
helped the illusion.
Let us hope there may be a speedy reform in the matter of the costume of
the players,--at least in plays where the dresses are of our own time.
You may count on your fingers the actresses in America who dress on the
stage as _ladies_ dress in polite society. And as for the actors, I am
afraid one hand has too many fingers for the tally. Because people go to
the President's Ball in frock-coats is no reason why actors who
undertake to look like fashionable gentlemen should outrage all
conventional rules. I once saw a play in which a gentleman came to make
an informal morning-visit to a lady in the country, in that dress which
has received the bitterly ironical name of "full American uniform," that
is to say, black dress-coat and trousers and black satin waistcoat; and
the costume was made even more complete by a black satin _tie_, of many
plaits, with a huge dull diamond pin in it, and a long steel watch-chain
dangling upon the wretched man's stomach. He might have played his part
to perfection,--which he did not, but murdered it in cold blood,--but he
_might_ have done so in vain; nothing would or could absolve him from
such a crime against the god of fashion or propriety. "Little things,
these," the critic may say: and so our actors seem to think. But life is
made up of little things; and if you would paint life, you must attend
to them. Ask any one who has spent (wasted?) evening after evening at
the Paris theatres about them; and, ten to one, he begins by praising
the details, which, in their sum, conveyed the impression of perfection
he brought away with him.
Unless you are a little cracked on the subject of the stage, (as I
confess I am,) and have talked with a French actor about it, you have no
idea how systematically they train their young actors. I will tell you a
few of the odd facts I picked up in long talks with my friend Monsieur
D----. of the Theatre Francais.
The Conservatoire, their great school for actors, is, like almost
everything else in Paris, more or less under Government control,--the
Minister of State being charged with its superintendence. He appoints
the professors, who are actors of the Francais, and receive a salary of
two thousand francs. The first order a pupil receives, on presenting
himself for instruction, is this: "Say _rose_." Now your Parisian rather
prides himself on a peculiar pronunciation of the letter _r_. He neither
rolls it like an Italian, nor does he make anything like the noise
standing for _r_ in our conversational English,--something like
_uhr-ose_,--a sound said to be peculiar to our language. A Parisian
rolls his r, by making his _uvula_ vibrate, keeping the tongue quite
still: producing a peculiar gurgling sound. This is an abomination in
the ears of the Conservatoire. "Ne _grasseyez_ donc pas, Monsieur," or
"Mademoiselle," says the professor, fiercely,--this peculiar way of
saying _r_ being called _grasseyement_. The pupil tries again, using the
tip of his tongue this time. "Ah! I thought so. Your _r_ is pasty
(_empate_). Say _tuddah!_" (I spell this sound _a l'Anglaise_.)
"_Tuddah_" repeats the wondering candidate. "_Thuddah?_" the professor
repeats, with great disgust: "I did not ask you to say _thuddah_, but
_tuddah_." The victim tries again and again, and thinks he succeeds; but
the master does not agree with him. His delicate ear detects a certain
thickness of enunciation,--which our _th_ very imperfectly
represents,--a want of crispness, as it were. The tip of the tongue does
not strike the front teeth with a single _tick_, as sharp as a
needle-point; and until he can do this, the pupil can do nothing. He is
dismissed with the advice to say "_tuddah, tuddah, tuddah_," as many
hours a day as he can without losing his mind. D---- told me he often
met young men walking about the streets in all the agonies of this first
step in the art of learning to act, and astonishing the passers-by with
this mysterious jargon. A pupil of average quickness and nicety of ear
learns to say tuddah in about a month. Then he is told to say _rose_
once more. The training his tongue has received enables him to use only
its very tip. A great point is gained: he can pronounce the _r_. Any
other defects in pronunciation which he has are next attacked and
corrected. Then he is drilled in moving, standing, and carriage. And
finally, "a quantity of practice truly prodigious" is given to the
_ancien repertoire,_--the classic models of French dramatic literature,
Corneille, Racine, Moliere, Beaumarchais, etc. The first scholar of each
year has the right to appear at once at the Theatre Francais,--a right
rarely claimed, as most young actors prefer to go through a novitiate
elsewhere to braving the most critical audience in the world before they
have acquired the confidence that comes only with habit and success.
After he has gained a foothold at this classic theatre, an actor still
sees prizes held out to stimulate his ambition. If he keeps the promise
of his youth, he may hope to be chosen a stockholder (_societaire_), and
thus obtain a share both in the direction of affairs and in the profits,
besides a retiring pension, depending in, amount upon his term of
_Panem, et circenses_ is the demand of modern Paris, as it was of old
Rome,--and the people expect the Government to see that neither supply
fails. While the Opera receives large sums to pay for gorgeous scenery
and dresses, the Francais is paid for devoting three nights in the week
to the classical school: a real loss to the theatre at times when the
fickle public would gladly crowd the house to applaud the success of the
hour. The Minister of State interferes as seldom as possible with the
management; but when he speaks, his word is law. This was queerly shown
in a dispute about Rachel's _conges_. At first she played during nine
months of the year three times a week; later her duties were reduced to
six months in the year, playing only twice a week, at a salary of forty
thousand francs, with five hundred francs for every extra performance.
Spoiled by indulgence, she demanded leave of absence just when the Queen
of England was coming to Paris. The manager indignantly refused. The
next day the Minister of State politely requested that Mlle. Rachel
might have a short _conge_. "It is not reasonable," said the poor
manager. "We have cut down her duties and raised her salary; now the
Queen is coming, Paris will be full of English, and they are always
crazy after Mlle. Rachel. It is really out of the question, _Monsieur le
Ministre_." The Minister was very sorry, but hoped there would be no
real difficulty. The manager was equally sorry, but really he could not
think of it. "_Monsieur,_" said the Minister, rising and dismissing the
manager, "_il le faut," "Oh, il le faut?_ Then it _must_;--only you
might as well have begun with that." And so Rachel got her leave of
(I must insert here from my note-book a criticism on Rachel,--valuable
as coming from a man of talent in her own profession who had worked with
her for years, and deserving additional weight, as it was, no doubt,
rather the collective judgment of her fellow-actors than the opinion of
the speaker alone.)
"Rachel," said M. D----, "was a great genius,--but a genius that ever
needed the hand of a master to guide its efforts. Without this, she
could do nothing: and Samson was forever behind her, directing her
steps. Mme. Allan, who weighed almost three hundred pounds and had an
abominable voice, was infinitely her superior in the power of creating a
part. But Rachel had the voice of an angel. In the expression of disdain
or terror she was unapproachable. In the softer passions she was feeble.
We all looked upon her _Lady Tartuffe_ as a failure."
* * * * *
Such a school of acting as the Conservatoire and the Francais form could
of course never be seen in America. The idea of our popular practical
Government undertaking to direct the amusements of the people is quite
ludicrous. In France, the Government does all it can for the people.
With us, the people are left to do everything for themselves, with the
least possible amount of Government interference. Our play-writers and
play-actors could do a great deal to raise the standard of
stage-literature and of acting, if they would but try. But they do not
try. I went the other evening to see that relic of the Dark Ages, a
sterling English comedy. If any one thinks I go too far in saying that
there is no attempt on our stage to imitate Nature, and that the writing
and acting of English plays are like the landscape-painting of the
Chinese,--a wonderfully good copy of the absurdities handed down through
generations of artists,--let him go and look at one of these plays. He
will see the choleric East-India uncle, with a red face, and a Malacca
cane held by the middle, stumping about, and bullying his nephew,--"a
young rascal,"--or his niece,--"you baggage, you." When this young
person wishes to have a good talk with a friend, they stand up behind
the footlights to do it; and the audience is let into secrets essential
to the plot by means of long "asides" delivered by one, while the other
does nothing and pretends not to hear what is spoken within three feet
of him. The waiting-maid behaves in a way that would get her turned out
of any respectable house, and is chased off the stage by the old
gentleman in a manner that no gentleman ever chases his servants.
Something is the matter with the men's legs: they all move by two steps
and a hitch. They all speak with an intonation as unlike the English of
real life as if they talked Greek. The young people make fools of the
old people in a way they would never dream of in life,--and the old
people are preternaturally stupid in submitting to be made fools of.
After seeing one of these classics, let the spectator sit down and
honestly ask himself if this is an attempt to hold the mirror up to
Nature, or an effort to reflect the traditional manners and customs of
If he thinks he has ever seen anything of the sort in real life, we will
agree to differ.
[Footnote 1: Are we as grateful as we should be to Mrs. Cowden Clarke?
Did you ever try to find anything by the help of Ayscough, when that was
the best guide to be had? If you have, you remember your teasing search
for the principal word in the passage,--how _day_ seemed a less likely
key than _jocund_, and yet, as this was only an adjective, perhaps
_tiptoe_ were better; or, if you pitched upon _mountain-tops_, it was a
problem with which half of the compound to begin the search. Consider
that Mrs. Clarke is no dry word-critic, to revel in pulling the
soliloquy to pieces, and half inclined to carry the work farther and
give you the separate letters and the number of each, but a woman who
loves Shakespeare and what he wrote. Think of her sitting down for
sixteen years to pick up senseless words one by one, and stow each one
away in its own niche, with a ticket hanging to it to guide the search
of any one who can bring the smallest sample of the cloth of gold he
wants. Think of this, whenever you open her miracle of patient labor,
and be grateful.]
Rock, little boat, beneath the quiet sky!
Only the stars behold us, where we lie,--
Only the stars, and yonder brightening moon.
On the wide sea to-night alone are we:
The sweet, bright, summer day dies silently;
Its glowing sunset will have faded soon.
Rock softly, little boat, the while I mark
The far-off gliding sails, distinct and dark,
Across the west pass steadily and slow.
But on the eastern waters sad they change
And vanish, dream-like, gray and cold and strange,
And no one knoweth whither they may go.
We care not, we, drifting with wind and tide,
With glad waves darkening upon every side,
Save where the moon sends silver sparkles down,
And yonder slender stream of changing light,
Now white, now crimson, tremulously bright,
Where dark the light-house stands, with fiery crown.
Thick falls the dew, soundless, on sea and shore;
It shines on little boat and idle oar,
Wherever moonbeams touch with tranquil glow.
The waves are full of whispers wild and sweet;
They call to me; incessantly they beat
Along the boat from stem to curved prow.
Comes the careering wind, blows back my hair
All damp with dew, to kiss me unaware,--
Murmuring, "Thee I love,"--and passes on.
Sweet sounds on rocky shores the distant rote.
Oh, could we float forever, little boat,
Under the blissful sky drifting alone!
LIFE IN THE OPEN AIR.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "CECIL DREEME" AND "JOHN BRENT."
KATAHDIN AND THE PENOBSCOT.
Rain ends, as even Noah and the Arkites discovered. The new sensation of
tickling frogs could entertain us for one day; bounteous Nature provided
other novelties for the next. We were at the Umbagog chain of lakes, and
while it rained the damster had purveyed us a boat and crew. At sunrise
he despatched us on our voyage. We launched upon the Androscoggin, in a
_bateau_ of the old Canadian type. Such light, clincher-built,
high-nosed, flat-bottomed boats are in use wherever the fur-traders are
or have been. Just such boats navigate the Saskatchawan of the North, or
Frazer's River of the Northwest; and in a larger counterpart of our
Androscoggin bark I had three years before floated down the magnificent
Columbia to Vancouver, bedded on bales of beaver-skins.
As soon as sunrise wrote itself in shadows over the sparkling water, as
soon as through the river-side belt of gnarled arbor-vitae sunbeams
flickered, we pushed off, rowed up-stream by a pair of stout lumbermen.
The river was a beautiful way, admitting us into the _penetralia_ of
virgin forests. It was not a rude wilderness: all that Northern woods
have of foliage, verdurous, slender, delicate, tremulous, overhung our
shadowy path, dense as the vines that drape a tropic stream. Every giant
tree, every one of the Pinus oligarchy, had been lumbered away: refined
sylvan beauty remained. The dam checked the river's turbulence, making
it slow and mirror-like. It merited a more melodious name than harsh
Five miles of such enchanting voyage brought us to Lake Umbagog. Whiff's
of mist had met us in the outlet. Presently we opened chaos, and chaos
shut in upon us. There was no Umbagog to be seen,--nothing but a few
yards of gray water and a world of gray vapor. Therefore I cannot
criticize, nor insult, nor compliment Umbagog. Let us deem it beautiful.
The sun tried at the fog, to lift it with leverage of his early level
beams. Failing in this attempt to stir and heave away the mass, he
climbed, and began to use his beams as wedges, driving them down more
perpendicularly. Whenever this industrious craftsman made a successful
split, the fog gaped, and we could see for a moment, indefinitely, an
expanse of water, hedged with gloomy forest, and owning for its dominant
height a wild mountain, Aziscohos, or, briefer, Esquihos.
But the fog was still too dense to be riven by slanting sunbeams. It
closed again in solider phalanx. Our gray cell shut close about us.
Esquihos and the distance became nowhere. In fact, ourselves would have
been nowhere, except that a sluggish damp wind puffed sometimes, and
steering into this we could guide our way within a few points of our
Any traveller knows that it is no very crushing disappointment not to
see what he came to see. Outside sights give something, but inside joys
are independent. We enjoyed our dim damp voyage heartily, on that wide
loneliness. Nor were our shouts and laughter the only sounds. Loons
would sometimes wail to us, as they dived, black dots in the mist. Then
we would wait for their bulbous reappearance, and let fly the futile
shot with its muffled report,--missing, of course.
No being has ever shot a loon, though several have legends of some one
who has. Sound has no power to express a profounder emotion of utter
loneliness than the loon's cry. Standing in piny darkness on the lake's
bank, or floating in dimness of mist or glimmer of twilight on its
surface, you hear this wailing note, and all possibility of human
tenancy by the shore or human voyaging is annihilated. You can fancy no
response to this signal of solitude disturbed, and again it comes sadly
over the water, the despairing plaint of some companionless and
incomplete existence, exiled from happiness it has never known, and
conscious only of blank and utter want. Loon-skins have a commercial
value; so it is reported. The Barabinzians of Siberia, a nation "up
beyond the River Ob," tan them into water-proof _paletots_ or
_aquascutums_. How they catch their loon, before they skin their loon,
is one of the mysteries of that unknown realm.
Og, Gog, Magog, Memphremagog, all agog, Umbagog,--certainly the American
Indians were the Lost Tribes, and conserved the old familiar syllables
in their new home.
Rowing into the damp breeze, we by-and-by traversed the lake. We had
gained nothing but a fact of distance. But here was to be an interlude
of interest. The "thoro'fare" linking Umbagog to its next neighbor is no
thoro'fare for a _bateau_, since a _bateau_ cannot climb through
breakers over boulders. We must make a "carry," an actual portage, such
as in all chronicles of pioneer voyages strike like the excitement of
rapids into the monotonous course of easy descent. Another boat was
ready on the next lake, but our chattels must go three miles through the
woods. Yes, we now were to achieve a portage. Consider it, _blase_
friend,--was not this sensation alone worth the trip?
The worthy lumbermen, and our supernumerary, the damster's son,
staggered along slowly with our traps. Iglesias and I, having nothing to
carry, enjoyed the carry. We lounged along through the glades, now sunny
for the moment, and dallied with raspberries and blueberries, finer than
any ever seen. The latter henceforth began to impurple our blood. Maine
is lusciously carpeted with them.
As we oozed along the overgrown trail, dripping still with last night's
rain, drops would alight upon our necks and trickle down our backs. A
wet spine excites hunger,--if a pedestrian on a portage, after voyaging
from sunrise, needs any appetizer when his shadow marks noon. We halted,
fired up, and lunched vigorously on toasted pork and trimmings. As pork
must be the Omega in forest-fare, it is well to make it the Alpha. Fate
thus becomes choice. Citizens uneducated to forest-life with much pains
transport into the woods sealed cans of what they deem will dainties be,
and scoff at woodsmen frizzling slices of pork on a pointed stick. But
Experience does not disdain a Cockney. She broods over him, and will
by-and-by hatch him into a full-fledged forester. After such incubation,
he will recognize his natural food, and compactest fuel for the lamp of
life. He will take to his pork like mother's milk.
Our dessert of raspberries grew all along the path, and lured us on to a
log-station by the water, where we found another _bateau_ ready to
transport us over Lakes Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog, and
Mollychunkamug. Doubters may smile and smile at these names, but they
We do not commit ourselves to further judgment upon the first than that
it is doubtless worthy of its name. My own opinion is, that the scenery
felt that it was dullish, and was ashamed to "exhibit" to Iglesias; if
he pronounced a condemnation, Umbagog and its sisters feared that they
would be degraded to fish-ponds merely. Therefore they veiled
themselves. Mists hung low over the leaden waters, and blacker clouds
crushed the pine-dark hills.
A fair curve of sandy beach separates Weelocksebacook from its neighbor.
There is buried one Melattach, an Indian chief. Of course there has been
found in Maine some one irreverent enough to trot a lame Pegasus over
this grave, and accuse the frowzy old red-skin of Christian virtues and
There were no portages this afternoon. We took the three lakes at easy
speed, persuading ourselves that scenes fog would not let us see were
unscenic. It is well that a man should think what he cannot get unworthy
of his getting. As evening came, the sun made another effort, with the
aid of west winds, at the mist. The sun cleft, the breeze drove.
Suddenly the battle was done, victory easily gained. We were cheered by
a gush of level sunlight. Even the dull, gray vapor became a
transfigured and beautiful essence. Dull and uniform it had hung over
the land; now the plastic winds quarried it, and shaped the whole mass
into individuals, each with its character. To the cloud-forms modelled
out of formlessness the winds gave life of motion, sunshine gave life of
light, and they hastened through the lower atmosphere, or sailed
lingering across the blue breadths of mid-heaven, or dwelt peacefully
aloft in the region of the _cirri_; and whether trailing gauzy robes in
flight, or moving stately, or dwelling on high where scope of vision
makes travel needless, they were still the brightest, the gracefullest,
the purest beings that Earth creates for man's most delicate pleasure.
When it cleared,--when it purveyed us a broadening zone of blue sky and
a heavenful of brilliant cloud-creatures, we were sailing over Lake
Mollychunkamug. Fair Mollychunkamug had not smiled for us until
now;--now a sunny grin spread over her smooth cheeks. She was all
smiling, and presently, as the breeze dimpled her, all a "snicker" up
into the roots of her hair, up among her forest-tresses. Mollychunkamug!
Who could be aught but gay, gay even to the farcical, when on such a
name? Is it Indian? Bewildered Indian we deem it,--transmogrified
somewhat from aboriginal sound by the fond imagination of some
lumberman, finding in it a sweet memorial of his Mary far away in the
kitchens of the Kennebec, his Mary so rotund of blooming cheek, his
Molly of the chunky mug. To him who truly loves, all Nature is filled
with Amaryllidian echoes. Every sight and every sound recalls her who
need not be recalled, to a heart that has never dislodged her.
We lingered over our interview with Mollychunkamug. She may not be
numbered among the great beauties of the world; nevertheless, she is an
attractive squaw,--a very honest bit of flat-faced prettiness in the
Above Mollychunkamug is Moosetocmaguntic Lake. Another innavigable
thoro'fare unites them. A dam of Titanic crib-work, fifteen hundred feet
long, confines the upper waters. Near this we disembarked. We balanced
ourselves along the timbers of the dam, and reached a huge log-cabin at
its farther end.
Mr. Killgrove, the damster, came forth and offered us the freedom of his
settlement in a tobacco-box. Tobacco is hospitality in the compactest
form. Civilization has determined that tobacco, especially in the shape
of smoke, is essential as food, water, or air. The pipe is everywhere
the pipe of peace. Peace, then, and anodyne-repose, after a day of
travel, were offered us by the friendly damster.
A squad of lumbermen were our new fellow-citizens. These soldiers of the
outermost outpost were in the regulation-uniform,--red-flannel shirts,
impurpled by wetting, big boots, and old felt-hats. Blood-red is the
true soldierly color. All the residents of Damville dwelt in a great
log-barrack, the Hotel-de-Ville. Its architecture was of the early
American style, and possessed the high art of simplicity. It was solid,
not gingerbreadesque. Primeval American art has a rude dignity, far
better than the sham splendors of our mediaeval and transition period.
Our new friends, luxurious fellows, had been favored by Fate with a
French-Canadian cook, himself a Three of Freres Provinciaux. Such was
his reputation. We saw by the eye of him, and by his nose, formed for
comprehending fragrances, and by the lines of refined taste converging
from his whole face toward his mouth, that he was one to detect and
sniff gastronomic possibilities in the humblest materials. Joseph
Bourgogne looked the cook. His phiz gave us faith in him; eyes small and
discriminating; nose upturned, nostrils expanded and receptive; mouth
saucy in the literal sense. His voice, moreover, was a cook's,--thick in
articulation, dulcet in tone. He spoke as if he deemed that a throat was
created for better uses than laboriously manufacturing words,--as if the
object of a mouth were to receive tribute, not to give commands,--as if
that pink stalactite, his palate, were more used by delicacies entering
than by rough words or sorry sighs going out of the inner caverns.
When we find the right man in the right place, our minds are at ease.
The future becomes satisfactory as the past. Anticipation is glad
certainty, not anxious doubt. Trusting our gastronomic welfare fully to
this great artist, we tried for fish below the dam. Only petty
fishlings, weighing ounces, took the bit between their teeth. We
therefore doffed the fisherman and donned the artist and poet, and
chased our own fancies down the dark whirlpooling river, along its dell
of evergreens, now lurid with the last glows of twilight. Iglesias and I
continued dreamily gazing down the thoro'fare toward Mollychunkamug only
a certain length of time. Man keeps up to his highest elations hardly
longer than a _danseuse_ can poise in a _pose_. To be conscious of the
highest beauty demands an involuntary intentness of observation so
fanatically eager that presently we are prostrated and need stimulants.
And just as we sensitively felt this exhaustion and this need, we heard
a suggestive voice calling us from the front-door of the mansion-house
of Damville, and "Supper" was the cry.
A call to the table may quell and may awaken romance. When, in some
abode of poetized luxury, the "silver knell" sounds musically six, and a
door opens toward a glitter that is not pewter and Wedgewood, and, with
a being fair and changeful as a sunset cloud upon my arm, I move under
the archway of blue curtains toward the asphodel and the nectar, then, O
Reader! Friend! romance crowds into my heart, as color and fragrance
crowd into a rose-bud. Joseph Bourgogne, cook at Damville on
Moosetocmaguntic, could not offer us such substitute for aesthetic
emotions. But his voice of an artist created a winning picture half
veiled with mists, evanescent and affectionate, such as linger fondly
Fancied joy soon to become fact. We entered the barrack. Beneath its
smoky roof-tree was a pervading aroma; near the centre of that aroma, a
table dim with wefts of incense; at the innermost centre of that aroma
and that incense, and whence those visible and viewless fountains
streamed, was their source,--a Dish of Pork-and-Beans.
Topmostly this. There were lesser viands, buttresses to this towering
triumph. Minor smokes from minor censers. A circle of little craterlings
about the great crater,--of little fiery cones about that great volcanic
dome in the midst, unopened, but bursting with bounty. We sat down, and
one of the red-shirted boldly crushed the smoking dome. The brave fellow
plunged in with a spoon and heaped our plates.
_A priori_ we had deduced Joseph Bourgogne's results from inspection of
Joseph. Now we could reason back from one _experimentum crucis_ cooked
by him. Effect and cause were worthy of each other.
The average world must be revenged upon Genius. Greatness must be
punished by itself or another. Joseph Bourgogne was no exception to the
laws of the misery of Genius. He had a distressing trait, whose
exhibition tickled the _dura ilia_ of the reapers of the forest. Joseph,
poet-cook, was sensitive to new ideas. This sensitiveness to the
peremptory thought made him the slave of the wags of Damville. Whenever
he had anything in his hands, at a stern, quick command he would drop it
nervously. Did he approach the table with a second dish of
pork-and-beans, a yellow dish of beans, browned delicately as a Sevres
vase, then would some full-fed rogue, waiting until Joseph was bending
over some devoted head, say sharply, "Drop that, Joseph!"--whereupon
down went dish and contents, emporridging the poll and person of the
luckless wight beneath. Always, were his burden pitcher of water, armful
of wood, axe dangerous to toes, mirror, or pudding, still followed the
same result. And when the poet-cook had done the mischief, he would
stand shuddering at his work of ruin, and sigh, and curse his too
In honor of us, the damster kept order. Joseph disturbed the banquet
only by entering with new triumphs of Art. Last came a climax-pie,
--contents unknown. And when that dish, fit to set before a
king, was opened, the poem of our supper was complete. J. B. sailed to
the Parnassus where Ude and Vattel feast, forever cooking immortal
banquets in star-lighted spheres.
Then we sat in the picturesque dimness of the lofty cabin, under the
void where the roof shut off the stars, and talked of the pine-woods, of
logging, measuring, and spring-drives, and of moose-hunting on
snow-shoes, until our mouths had a wild flavor more spicy than if we had
chewed spruce-gum by the hour. Spruce-gum is the aboriginal quid of
these regions. Foresters chew this tenacious morsel as tars nibble at a
bit of oakum, grooms at a straw, Southerns at tobacco, or school-girls
at a slate-pencil.
The barrack was fitted up with bunks. Iglesias rolled into one of these.
I mummied myself in my blankets and did penance upon a bench. Pine-knots
in my pallet sought out my tenderest spots. The softer wood was worn
away about these projections. Hillocky was the surface, so that I beat
about uneasily and awoke often, ready to envy Iglesias. But from him,
also, I heard sounds of struggling.
UP THE LAKES.
Mr. Killgrove, slayer of forests, became the pilot of our voyage up Lake
Moosetocmaguntic. We shoved off in a _bateau_, while Joseph Bourgogne,
sad at losing us, stood among the stumps, waving adieux with a
dish-clout. We had solaced his soul with meed of praise. And now, alas!
we left him to the rude jokes and half-sympathies of the lumbermen. The
artist-cook saw his appreciators vanish away, and his proud dish-clout
drooped like a defeated banner.
"A fine lake," remarked Iglesias, instituting the matutinal conversation
in a safe and general way.
"Yes," returned Mr. Killgrove, "when you come to get seven or eight feet
more of water atop of this in spring, it is considerable of a puddle."
Our weather seemed to be now bettering with more resolution. Many days
had passed since Aurora had shown herself,--many days since the rising
sun and the world had seen each other. But yesterday this sulky
estrangement ended, and, after the beautiful reconciliation at sunset,
the faint mists of doubt in their brief parting for a night had now no
power against the ardors of anticipated meeting. As we shot out upon the
steaming water, the sun was just looking over the lower ridges of a
mountain opposite. Air, blue and quivering, hung under shelter of the
mountain-front, as if a film from the dim purple of night were hiding
there to see what beauty day had, better than its own. The gray fog, so
dreary for three mornings, was utterly vanquished; all was vanished,
save where "swimming vapors sloped athwart the glen," and "crept from
pine to pine." These had dallied, like spies of a flying army, to watch
for chances of its return; but they, too, carried away by the
enthusiasms of a world liberated and illumined, changed their
allegiance, joined the party of hope and progress, and added the grace
of their presence to the fair pageant of a better day.
Lake Moosetocmaguntic is good,--above the average. If its name had but
two syllables, and the thing named were near Somewhere, poetry and
rhetoric would celebrate it, and the world would be prouder of itself
for another "gem." Now nobody sees it, and those who do have had their
anticipations lengthened leagues by every syllable of its sesquipedalian
title. One expects, perhaps, something more than what he finds. He finds
a good average sheet of water, set in a circlet of dark forest,--forests
sloping up to wooded hills, and these to wooded mountains. Very good and
satisfactory elements, and worth notice,--especially when the artistic
eye is also a fisherman's eye, and he detects fishy spots. As to
wilderness, there can be none more complete. At the upper end of the
lake is a trace of humanity in a deserted cabin on a small clearing.
There a hermit pair once lived,--man and wife, utterly alone for fifteen
years,--once or twice a year, perhaps, visited by lumbermen. Fifteen
years alone with a wife! a trial, certainly,--not necessarily in the
desponding sense of the word; not as Yankees have it, making trial a
misfortune, but a test.
Mr. Killgrove entertained us with resinous-flavored talk. The voyage was
unexcitingly pleasant. We passed an archipelago of scrubby islands, and,
turning away from a blue vista of hills northward, entered a lovely
curve of river richly overhung with arbor-vitae, a shadowy quiet reach
of clear water, crowded below its beautiful surface with reflected
forest and reflected sky.
"Iglesias," said I, "we divined how Mollychunkamug had its name; now, as
to Moosetocmaguntic,--hence that elongated appellative?"
"It was named," replied Iglesias, "from the adventure of a certain
hunter in these regions. He was moose-hunting here in days gone by. His
tale runs thus:--'I had been four days without game, and naturally
without anything to eat except pine-cones and green chestnuts. There was
no game in the forest. The trout would not bite, for I had no tackle and
no hook. I was starving. I sat me down, and rested my trusty, but futile
rifle against a fallen tree. Suddenly I heard a tread, turned my head,
saw a Moose,--took--my--gun,--tick! he was dead. I was saved. I feasted,
and in gratitude named the lake Moosetookmyguntick.' Geography has
modified it, but the name cannot be misunderstood."
We glided up the fair river, and presently came to the hut of Mr. Smith,
fisherman and misogynist. And there is little more to be said about Mr.
Smith. He appears in this chronicle because he owned a boat which became
our vehicle on Lake Oquossok, Aquessok, Lakewocket, or Rangeley. Mr.
Smith guided us across the carry to the next of the chain of lakes, and
embarked us in a crazy skiff. It was blowing fresh, and, not to be
wrecked, we coasted close to the gnarled arbor-vitae thickets. Smith
sogered along, drawling dull legends of trout-fishing.
"Drefful notional critturs traout be," he said,--"olluz bitin' atwhodger
haaent got. Orful contrairy critturs,--jess like fimmls. Yer can cotch a
fimml with a feather, ef she's ter be cotched; ef she haaent ter be
cotched, yer may scoop ther hul world dry an' yer haaent got her. Jess so
The misogynist bored us with his dull philosophy. The buffetings of
inland waves were not only insulting, but dangerous, to our leaky punt.
At any moment, Iglesias and I might find ourselves floundering together
in thin fresh water. Joyfully, therefore, at last, did we discern
clearings, culture, and habitations at the lake-head. There was no
tavernous village of Rangeley; that would have been too great a
contrast, after the forest and the lakes, where loons are the only
disturbers of silence,--incongruity enough to overpower utterly the
ringing of woodland music in our hearts. Rangeley was a townless
township, as the outermost township should be. We had, however, learnt
from Killgrove, feller of forests, that there was a certain farmer on
the lake, one of the chieftains of that realm, who would hospitably
entertain us. Smith, wheedler of trout, landed us in quite an ambitious
foamy surf at the foot of a declivity below our future host's farm.
We had now traversed Lakes Umbagog, Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog,
Mollychunkamug, Moosetocmaguntic, and Oquossok.
We had been compelled to pronounce these names constantly. Of course our
vocal organs were distorted. Of course our vocal nervous systems were
shattered, and we had a chronic lameness of the jaws. We therefore
recognized a peculiar appropriateness in the name of our host.
Toothaker was his name. He dwelt upon the lawn-like bank, a hundred feet
above the lake. Mr. Toothaker himself was absent, but his wife received
us hospitably, disposed us in her guest-chamber, and gratified us with a
This was Rangeley Township, the outer settlement on the west side of
Maine. A "squire" from England gave it his name. He bought the tract,
named it, inhabited several years, a popular squire-arch, and then
returned from the wild to the tame, from pine woods and stumpy fields to
the elm-planted hedge-rows and shaven lawns of placid England. The local
gossip did not reveal any cause for Mr. Rangeley's fondness for
contrasts and exile.
Mr. Toothaker has been a careful dentist to the stumps of his farm. It
is beautifully stumpless, and slopes verdantly, or varied with yellow
harvest, down to the lake and up to the forest primeval. He has
preserved a pretty grove of birch and maple as shelter, ornament,
partridge-cover, and perpendicular wood-pile. Below his house and barns
is the lovely oval of the lake, seen across the fair fields, bright with
wheat, or green with pasture. A road, hedged with briskly-aspiring young
spruces, runs for a mile northward, making a faint show at attacking the
wilderness. A mile's loneliness is enough for this unsupported pioneer;
he runs up a tree, sees nothing but dark woods, thinks of Labrador and
the North Pole, and stops.
Next morning, Mr. Toothaker returned from a political meeting below
among the towns. It was the Presidential campaign,--stirring days from
pines to prairies, stirring days from codfish to cocoanuts. Tonguey men
were talking from every stump all over the land. Blatant patriots were
heard, wherever a flock of compatriots could be persuaded to listen. The
man with one speech containing two stories was making the tour of all
the villages. The man with two speeches, each with three stories, one of
them very broad indeed, was in request for the towns. The oratorical
Stentorian man, with inexhaustible rivers of speech and rafts of
stories, was in full torrent at mass-meetings. There was no neighborhood
that might not see and hear an M. C. But Rangeley had been the _minus_
town, and by all the speech-makers really neglected; there was danger
that its voters must deposit their ballots according to their own
judgment, without any advice from strangers. This, of course, would
never do. Mr. Toothaker found that we fraternized in politics. He called
upon us, as patriots, to become the orators of the day. Why not? Except
that these seldom houses do not promise an exhilarating crowd. We
promised, however, that, if he would supply hearers, we between us would
find a speaker.
Mr. Toothaker called a nephew, and charged him to boot and saddle, and
flame it through the country-side that two "Men from New York" were
there, and would give a "Lecture on Politics," at the Red School-House,
at five, that evening.
And to the Red School-House, at five, crowded the men, ay, and the women
and children, of Rangeley and thereabout. They came as the winds and
waves come when forests and navies are rended and stranded. Horse, foot,
and charioteers, they thronged toward the rubicund fountain of
education. From houses that lurked invisible in clearings suddenly burst
forth a population, an audience ardent with patriotism, eager for
politics even from a Cockney interpreter, and numerous enough to stir
electricity in a speaker's mind. Some of the matrons brought bundles of
swaddled infants, to be early instructed in good citizenship; but too
often these young patriots were found to have but crude notions on the
subject of applause, and they were ignominiously removed, fighting
violently for their privilege of free speech, doubling their unterrified
fists, and getting as red in the face as the school-house.
Mr. Toothaker, in a neat speech, introduced the orator, who took his
stand in the schoolmaster's pulpit, and surveyed his stalwart and gentle
hearers, filling the sloping benches and overflowing out-of-doors.
Gaffer and gammer, man and maiden, were distributed, the ladies to the
right of the aisle, the gentlemen to the left. They must not be in
contact,--perhaps because gaffer will gossip with gammer, and youth and
maid will toy. Dignity demanded that they should be distinct as the
conservative Right and radical Left of a French Assembly, Convenient,
this, for the orator; since thus his things of beauty, joys forever, he
could waft, in dulcet tones, over to the ladies' side, and his things of
logic, tough morsels for life-long digestion, he could jerk, like bolts
from an arbalist, over at the open mouths of gray gaffer and robust man.
I am not about to report the orator's speech. Stealing another's thunder
is an offence punishable condignly ever since the days of Salmoneus.
Perhaps, too, he may wish to use the same eloquent bits in the present
Olympiad; for American life is measured by Olympiads, signalized by
nobler contests than the petty States of Greece ever knew.
The people of Rangeley disappeared as mysteriously as they had emerged
from the woods, having had their share of the good or bad talk of that
year of freedom. If political harangues educate, the educated class was
largely recruited that that summer.
Next day, again, was stormy. We stayed quietly under shelter, preparing
for our real journey after so much prelude. The Isaac Newton's
steam-whistle had sent up the curtain; the overture had followed with
strains Der-Frei-schutzy in the Adirondacks, pastoral in the valleys of
Vermont and New Hampshire, funebral and andante in the fogs of
Mollychunkamug; now it was to end in an allegretto gallopade, and the
drama would open.
At last the sun shone bright upon the silky ripples of the lake. Mr.
Toothaker provided two buggies,--one for himself and our traps, one for
Iglesias and me. We rattled away across county and county. And so at
full speed we drove all day, and, with a few hours' halt, all
night,--all a fresh, starry night,--until gay sunrise brought us to
Skowhegan, on the road to Moosehead Lake.
As we had travelled all night, breakfast must be our substitute for
slumber. Repletion, instead of repose, must restore us. Two files of
red-shirted lumbermen, brandishing knives at each other across a long
table, only excited us to livelier gymnastics; and when we had thus
hastily crammed what they call in Maine beefsteak, and what they infuse
down East for coffee, we climbed to the top of a coach of the
bounding-billow motion, and went pitching northward.
Two facts we learned from our coachman: one, that we were passing that
day through a "pretty sassy country"; also, that the same region was
"only meant to hold the world together." Personal "sassiness" is a trait
of which every Yankee is proud; Iglesias and I both venture to hope that
we appreciate the value of that quality, and have properly cultivated
it. Topographical "sassiness," unmodified by culture and control, is a
rude, rugged, and unattractive trait; and New England is, on the whole,
"sassier" than I could wish. Let the dullish day's drive, then, be
passed over dumbly. In the evening, we dismounted at Greenville, at the
foot of Moosehead Lake.
The rivers of Maine, as a native observed to me, "olluz spread 'mselves
inter bulges." Mollychunkamug and her fellows are the bulges of the
Androscoggin; Moosehead, of the Kennebec. Sluggish streams do not need
such pauses. Peace is thrown away upon stolidity. The torrents of Maine
are hasty young heroes, galloping so hard when they gallop, and charging
with such rash enthusiasm when they charge, hurrying with such Achillean
ardor toward their eternity of ocean, that they would never know the
influence, in their heart of hearts, of blue cloudlessness, or the glory
of noonday, or the pageantries of sunset,--they would only tear and rive
and shatter carelessly. Nature, therefore, provides valleys for the
streams to bulge in, and entertain celestial reflections.
Nature, arranging lake-spots as educational episodes for the Maine
rivers, disposes them also with a view to utility. Mr. Killgrove and his
fellow-lumbermen treat lakes as log-puddles and raft-depots. Moosehead
is the most important of these, and keeps a steamboat for tugging rafts
and transporting raftsmen.
Moosehead also provides vessels far dearer to the heart of the
adventurous than anything driven by steam. Here, mayhap, will an
untravelled traveller make his first acquaintance with the birch-bark
canoe, and learn to call it by the affectionate diminutive, "Birch."
Earlier in life there was no love lost between him and whatever bore
that name. Even now, if the untravelled one's first acquaintance be not
distinguished by an unlovely ducking, so much the worse. The ducking
must come. Caution must be learnt by catastrophe. No one can ever know
how unstable a thing is a birch canoe, unless he has felt it slide away
from under his misplaced feet. Novices should take nude practice in
empty birches, lest they spill themselves and the load of full ones,--a
wondrous easy thing to do.
A birch canoe is the right thing in the right place. Maine's rivers are
violently impulsive and spasmodic in their running. Sometimes you have a
foamy rapid, sometimes a broad shoal, sometimes a barricade of boulders
with gleams of white water springing through or leaping over its rocks.
Your boat for voyaging here must be stout enough to buffet the rapid,
light enough to skim the shallow, agile enough to vault over, or lithe
enough to slip through, the barricade. Besides, sometimes the barricade
becomes a compact wall,--a baffler, unless boat and boatmen can
circumvent it,--unless the nautical carriage can itself be carried about
the obstacle,--can be picked up, shouldered, and made off with.
A birch meets all these demands. It lies, light as a leaf, on
whirlpooling surfaces. A tip of the paddle can turn it into the eddy
beside the breaker. A check of the setting-pole can hold it steadfast on
the brink of wreck. Where there is water enough to varnish the pebbles,
there it will glide. A birch thirty feet long, big enough for a trio and
their traps, weighs only seventy-five pounds. When the rapid passes into
a cataract, when the wall of rock across the stream is impregnable in
front, it can be taken in the flank by an amphibious birch. The
navigator lifts his canoe out of water, and bonnets himself with it. He
wears it on head and shoulders, around the impassable spot. Below the
rough water, he gets into his elongated chapeau and floats away. Without
such vessel, agile, elastic, imponderable, and transmutable,
Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot would be no thoro'fares for human
beings. Musquash might dabble, chips might drift, logs might turn
somersets along their lonely currents; but never voyager, gentle or
bold, could speed through brilliant perils, gladdening the wilderness
with shout and song.
Maine's rivers must have birch canoes; Maine's woods, of course,
therefore, provide birches. The white-birch, paper-birch, canoe-birch,
grows large in moist spots near the stream where it is needed. Seen by
the flicker of a campfire at night, they surround the intrusive
traveller like ghosts of giant sentinels. Once, Indian tribes with names
that "nobody can speak and nobody can spell" roamed these forests. A
stouter second growth of humanity has ousted them, save a few seedy ones
who gad about the land, and centre at Oldtown, their village near
Bangor. These aborigines are the birch-builders. They detect by the
river-side the tree barked with material for canoes. They strip it, and
fashion an artistic vessel, which civilization cannot better. Launched
in the fairy lightness of this, and speeding over foamy waters between
forest-solitudes, one discovers, as if he were the first to know it, the
truest poetry of pioneer-life.
Such poetry Iglesias had sung to me, until my life seemed incomplete
while I did not know the sentiment by touch, description, even from the
most impassioned witness, addressed to the most imaginative hearer, is
feeble. We both wanted to be in a birch: Iglesias, because he knew the
fresh, inspiring vivacity of such a voyage; I, because I divined it. We
both needed to be somewhere near the heart of New England's wildest
wilderness. We needed to see Katahdin,--the distinctest mountain to be
found on this side of the continent. Katahdin was known to Iglesias. He
had scuffled up its eastern land-slides with a squad of lumbermen. He
had birched it down to Lake Chesuncook in by-gone summers, to see
Katahdin distant. Now, in a birch we would slide down the Penobscot,
along its line of lakes, camp at Katahdin, climb it, and speed down the
river to tide-water.
That was the great object of all our voyage with its educating
preludes,--Katahdin and a breathless dash down the Penobscot. And while
we flashed along the gleam of the river, Iglesias fancied he might see
the visible, and hear the musical, and be stirred by the beautiful.
These, truly, are not far from the daily life of any seer, listener, and
perceiver; but there, perhaps, up in the strong wilderness, we might be
recreated to a more sensitive vitality. The Antaean treatment is needful
for terrestrials, unless they would dwindle. The diviner the power in
any artist-soul, the more distinctly is he commanded to get near the
divine without him. Fancies pale, that are not fed on facts. It is very
easy for any man to be a plagiarist from himself, and present his own
reminiscences half disguised, instead of new discoveries. Now, up by
Katahdin, there were new discoveries to be made; and that mountain would
sternly eye us, to know whether Iglesias were a copyist, or I a Cockney.
Katahdin was always in its place up in the woods. The Penobscot was
always buzzing along toward the calm reaches, where it takes the shadow
of the mountain. All we needed was the birch.
The birch thrust itself under our noses as we drove into Greenville. It
was mounted upon a coach that preceded us, and wabbled oddly along, like
a vast hat upon a dwarf. We talked with its owner, as he dismounted it.
He proved our very man. He and his amphibious canoe had just made the
trip we proposed, with a flotilla. Certain Bostonians had essayed
it,--vague Northmen, preceding our Columbus voyage.
Enter now upon the scene a new and important character, Cancut the
canoe-man. Mr. Cancut, owner and steerer of a birch, who now became our
"guide, philosopher, and friend," is as American as a birch, as the
Penobscot, or as Katahdin's self. Cancut was a jolly fatling,--almost
too fat, if he will pardon me, for sitting in the stern of the
imponderable canoe. Cancut, though for this summer boatman or bircher,
had other strings to his bow. He was taking variety now, after
employment more monotonous. Last summer, his services had been in
request throughout inhabited Maine, to "peddle gravestones and collect
bills." The Gravestone-Peddler is an institution of New England. His
wares are wanted, or will be wanted, by every one. Without
discriminating the bereaved households, he presents himself at any door,
with attractive drawings of his wares, and seduces people into paying
the late tribute to their great-grandfather, or laying up a monument for
themselves against the inevitable day of demand. His customers select
from his samples a tasteful "set of stones"; and next summer he drives
up and unloads the marble, with the names well spelt, and the cherub's
head artistically chiselled by the best workmen of Boston. Cancut told
us, as an instance of judicious economy, how, when he called once upon a
recent widow to ask what he could do in his line for her deceased
husband's tomb, she chose from his patterns neat head- and foot-stones
for the dear defunct, and then bargained with him to throw in a small
pair for her boy Johnny,--a poor, sick crittur, that would be wanting
his monument long before next summer.
This lugubrious business had failed to infect Mr. Cancut with
corresponding deportment. Undertakers are always sombre in dreary
mockery of woe. Sextons are solemncholy, if not solemn. I fear Cancut
was too cheerful for his trade, and therefore had abandoned it.
Such was our guide, the captain, steersman, and ballaster of our vessel.
We struck our bargain with him at once, and at once proceeded to make
preparations. Chiefly we prepared by stripping ourselves bare of
everything except "must-haves." A birch, besides three men, will carry
only the simplest baggage of a trio. Passengers who are constantly to
make portages will not encumber themselves with what-nots. Man must have
clothes for day and night, and must have provisions to keep his clothes
properly filled out. These two articles we took in compact form,
regretting even the necessity of guarding against a ducking by a change
of clothes. Our provision, that unrefined pork and hard tack, presently
to be converted into artist and friend, was packed with a few delicacies
in a firkin,--a commodious case, as we found.
A little steamer plies upon the lake, doing lumber-jobs, and not
disdaining the traveller's dollars. Upon this, one August morning, we
embarked ourselves and our frail birch, for our voyage to the upper end
of Moosehead. Iglesias, in a red shirt, became a bit of color in the
scene. I, in a red shirt, repeated the flame. Cancut, outweighing us
both together, in a broader red shirt, outglared us both. When we three
met, and our scarlet reflections commingled, there was one spot in the
world gorgeous as a conclave of cardinals, as a squad of British
grenadiers, as a Vermont maple-wood in autumn.
A sense of the importance of rifle-practice is becoming very generally
prevalent. Rifle-clubs are organizing in our country-towns, and
target-practice by individuals is increasing to a degree which proves
incontestably the interest which is felt in the subject. The chief
obstacle to the immediate and extensive practical operation of this
interest lies in the difficulty of procuring serviceable guns, except at
such a cost as places them beyond the reach of the majority of those who
would be glad to make themselves familiar with their use. Except in
occasional instances, it is impossible to procure a trustworthy rifle
for a less price than forty or fifty dollars. We believe, however, that
the competition which has already become very active between rival
manufacturers will erelong effect a material reduction of price; and we
trust also that our legislators will perceive the necessity of adopting
a strict military organization of all the able-bodied men in the State,
and providing them with weapons, with whose use they should be
encouraged to make themselves familiar--apart from military drill and
instruction--by the institution of public shooting-matches for prizes.
The absolute necessity of stringent laws, in order to secure the
attainment of anything worthy the name of military education and
discipline, has been clearly proved by the experience of the drill-clubs
which sprang into existence in such numbers last year. To say, that, as
a general rule, the moral strength of the community is not sufficient to
enable a volunteer association to sustain for any great length of time
the severe and irksome details which are inseparable from the attainment
of thorough military discipline, is no more a reflection upon the class
to which the remark is applied than would be the equally true assertion
that their physical strength is not equal to the performance of the work
of an ordinary day-laborer. Under the pressure of necessity, both moral
and physical strength might be forced and kept up to the required
standard; but the mere conviction of expediency is not enough to secure
its development, unless enforced by such laws as will insure universal
and systematic action. A voluntary association for military instruction
may be commenced with a zeal which will carry its members for a time
through the daily routine of drilling; but it will not be long before
the ranks will begin to diminish, and the observance of discipline
become less strict; and if the officers attempt to enforce the laws by
which all have agreed to abide, those laws will speedily be rescinded by
the majority who find them galling, and the tie by which they are bound
together will prove a rope of sand.
With the return of the troops who are now acquiring military knowledge
in the best of all possible schools, we shall possess the necessary
material for executing whatever system may be decided upon as best for
the military education of the people; but meantime we may lay the
foundation for it, and take the most efficient means of securing
legislative action, by the immediate organization of rifle-clubs for
target-practice throughout the State. These clubs may be commenced very
informally by a simple agreement among those who are interested and are
provided, or will provide themselves, with weapons, to meet together at
stated intervals for target-practice, which should be conducted
according to the rules which have been found most effectual for securing
good marksmanship. The mere interest of competition will be sufficient
to insure private practice in the intervals; and if properly and
respectably conducted, the interest will increase till it becomes
general, and the target-ground will become a central object of
We earnestly invite the attention not only of all who are impressed with
the necessity of inculcating a thorough practical knowledge of the use
of weapons, as a measure of national interest, but of all who are
interested in the subject of physical, and we may add, moral education,
to the field which is here opened, and which, if not improved, as it may
be, for noble and useful ends, will certainly be perverted for low and
The interest which is beginning to be awakened in rifle-practice is the
germ of a great movement, which it is the duty of all who have the
national welfare at heart to use their influence in guiding and
directing, as may easily be done, so that only good may result from it.
Let it be countenanced and encouraged by the men, in every community,
whose words and example give tone to public opinion, and it will become,
as it ought, a means of health-giving and generous rivalry, while it
infuses a sense of national power, which we, of all people on earth,
ought to derive from the consciousness that it is based upon the
physical ability of the people to maintain their own rights. If,
however, it is frowned upon and sneered at, as unworthy the attention of
a morally and intellectually cultivated people, we shall draw upon
ourselves the curse of creating a sin,--of poisoning at its source a
fountain whose elements in themselves are not only innocent, but
abounding in the best ingredients for the development of manly physical
and intellectual character.
We trust, however, that such a caution is unnecessary. If there are any
among us who, after the past year's experience, can look with doubt or
coldness upon such a movement as we have indicated, we should hardly
care to waste words in arguing the point. That such a feeling should
have heretofore existed is not, perhaps, surprising. The possibility of
such an emergency as has come upon us has seemed so improbable, not to
say impossible, that it has appeared like a waste of time and labor to
prepare for it; and the result has been, that we had come to look upon
military education with much the same feeling as that with which we
regard the pugilistic art, as of questionable, if not decidedly
disreputable character, and such as a nation of our respectability could
by no possibility have occasion for.
From this dream of security we have been unexpectedly and very
disagreeably awakened, by finding ourselves engaged in a war whose
magnitude we were at first slow to appreciate; and it was not till we
found ourselves ominously threatened by a foreign power, while still
engaged in a fearful struggle at home, that we seemed to be fully
aroused to the necessity of being at all times prepared for defence.
Then there came over us a universal consciousness of undeveloped
strength,--the feeling of a powerful man, who knows nothing of "the
noble art of self-defence," at finding himself suddenly confronted by a
professional boxer, who demands, with an ominous squaring of the
shoulders, what he meant by treading on his toes,--to which he, poor
man, instead of replying that it was so obviously unintentional that no
gentleman would think of demanding an apology, is fain, in order to
escape the impending blow, to answer by assuring the bully in the most
soothing terms that no insult was intended, that he never will do so
again, and hopes that the occasion may serve as a precedent for Mr.
Bully himself to avoid the corns of his neighbors for the future.
It is comparatively but few years since the success of Colonel Colt in
the application of the repeating principle to fire-arms was regarded as
a feat in which every American felt a national pride. It was such a vast
improvement upon anything which had previously existed, and the
importance of it was so obvious, that it became as much a matter of
necessity to the whole civilized world as iron-clad steamers have become
since the demonstration of their power which was given by the
performances of the Merrimack and the Monitor. And, indeed, the best
evidence of the universal acknowledgment of this fact is afforded by the
innumerable imitations and attempts at improvement which have since made
their appearance at home and abroad.
We have used Colt's 51-inch rifle, and also his rifled carbine, very
freely, and tested them thoroughly for range, precision, penetration,
and capacity for continued service, and for our own use in hunting are
entirely satisfied with the performance of this rifle, and should be at
a loss to imagine any possible demand of a hunter's weapon which it
would fail to meet.
An able and interesting article on "Rifled Guns" in the "Atlantic
Monthly" for October, 1859, has the following passage: "No
breech-loading gun is so trustworthy in its execution as a
muzzle-loader; for, in spite of all precautions, the bullets will go out
irregularly. We have cut out too many balls of Sharpe's rifle from the
target, which had entered sidewise, not to be certain on this point; and
we know of no other breech-loader so little likely to err in this
We cannot speak of Sharpe's rifle from our own experience, but from one
of the best riflemen of our acquaintance we have heard the same
report,--that the cones will occasionally turn and strike sidewise. We
do not believe, however, that this fault is a necessary consequence of
the peculiar method of loading; but, whatever may be the cause, with
Colt's rifle the evil does not exist. For the past year we have
practised with it at ranges of from fifty to six hundred yards, and have
fired something like two thousand rounds; and only three balls have
struck the target sidewise, two of which were ricochets, and the third
struck a limb of a bush a few feet in front of the target. In no other
instance has the shot failed to cut a perfectly true round hole, and
these exceptions would of course be equally applicable to any gun. With
the latest pattern of Colt's rifle we have never known an instance of a
premature discharge of either of the chambers; though, from the repeated
inquiries which have been made, it is obvious that such is the general
apprehension. In reply to the common assertion, that much of the
explosive force must be lost by escape of gas between the chamber and
the barrel, we simply state the fact that we have repeatedly shot
through nine inches of solid white cedar timber at forty yards. Finally,
at two hundred yards, we find no difficulty in making an average of five
inches from the centre, in ten successive shots, of which eight inches
is the extreme variation. This is good enough for any ordinary purposes
of hunting or military service,--for anything, in short, but gambling or
fancy work; and for our own use, against either man or beast, we should
ask no better weapon. But we should be very far from advocating its
general adoption in military service; and, indeed, our own experience
with it has brought the conviction that the repeating principle in any
form is decidedly objectionable in guns for the use of ordinary troops
of the line. We do not extend the objection to pistols in their proper
place, but speak now solely of rifles in the hands of infantry.
In action, the time of each soldier must of necessity be divided between
the processes of loading and firing; and it is better that these should
come in regular alternate succession than that a series of rapid shots
should be succeeded by the longer interval required for inserting a
number of charges. It would be hard to assign definitely the most
important reasons for this conviction, which are based upon, elements
that prevail so generally in the moral and physical characters of men,
and which we have so often seen developed in the excitement of hunting
large game, that we can readily appreciate the motives which have made
sagacious military men very shy of trusting miscellaneous bodies of
soldiers with a weapon whose possible advantages are more than
counterbalanced by the probable mischief that must ensue from the want
of such instinctive power of manipulation as could result only from
constant and long-continued familiarity, and which even then might be
paralyzed in very many instances by nervous excitement.
We would not, however, be understood as condemning breech-loading guns
for military service. On the contrary, we are firm in the conviction
that they are destined to supersede entirely every species of
muzzle-loaders, which will thenceforward be regarded only as curious
evidences of the difficulty of making an advance of a single step,
which, when taken, seems so simple that it appears incredible that it
was not thought of before. The ingenuity of thousands of our most
skilful men is now turned in this direction, and stimulated by a demand
which will obviously insure a fortune to the successful competitor. The
advantages of a breech-loading gun consist in the greater rapidity with
which it can be loaded and fired, and the avoidance of the exposure
incident to the motions of drawing the ramrod and ramming the cartridge.
We are well aware that rapid firing is in itself an evil, and that a
common complaint with officers is that the men will not take time enough
in aiming to insure efficiency; but granting this, it by no means
follows that the evil will be increased by the ability to load rapidly.
Its remedy lies in thorough discipline and practical knowledge of the
use of the gun; and the soldier will be more likely to take time for
aiming, if he knows he can be ready to repeat his shot almost instantly.
The contingencies of actual service demand the use of different kinds of
guns to suit the different circumstances which may arise. In rifle-pits,
against batteries, or for picking off artillerymen through the
embrasures of a fort, the telescope-rifle has established its reputation
beyond all question during the war in which we are now engaged. In
repeated instances the enemy's batteries have been effectually kept
silent by the aid of this weapon, till counter-works could be
established, which could by no possibility have been constructed but for
such assistance. During the siege of Yorktown, especially, the fact is
historical that the Confederates acquired such a dread of these weapons
that they forced their negroes to the work of serving the guns, which
they did not dare attempt themselves, and our men were reluctantly
compelled, in self-defence, to pick off the poor fellows who were
unwillingly opposed to them. In more than one instance after an
engagement, members of the "Andrew Sharp-shooters" have indicated
precisely the spot where their victims would be found, and the exact
position of the bullet-holes which had caused their death; for with the
telescope-rifle the question is not, whether an enemy shall be hit, but
what particular feature of his face, or which button of his coat shall
be the target. That this is no exaggeration may be easily proved by the
indisputable evidence of hundreds of targets, every shot in which may be
covered by the palm of the hand, though fired from a distance at which
no unassisted eye could possibly discern the object aimed at.
But the telescope-rifle is utterly useless, except for special service.
The great body of infantry comprised in an army must be provided with
guns whose general appearance and character admit of no essential
variation from the standard which experience has proved to be the best
for the wants of the service.
We have given our objections to the whole class of repeating guns in
what we have said of Colt's rifles; and we proceed to note the defects
of other breech-loading guns, some of which would constitute no ground
of objection to the sportsman, but are inadmissible in the soldier's
gun. It is, of course, essential that any breech-loading gun which is
offered for introduction in the army should be at least equal in range,
penetration, and precision, to the best muzzle-loader now in use. It
must be so simple in its construction and mode of operation that its
manipulation may readily become an instinctive action, requiring no
exercise of thought or judgment to guard against errors which might
effect a derangement,--for a large portion of any miscellaneous body of
men would be found incapable of exercising such judgment in the
excitement of action. The limbs and joints comprised in the arrangement
for introducing the charge at the breech must not only be so simple as
to avoid the danger of making mistakes in their use, but of such
strength as will bear the rough usage incident to field-service. They
must, of course, make a perfectly tight joint, and there must be no
possibility of their becoming clogged by fouling, so as to affect the
facility with which they are worked. And finally, it is vitally
important that no special ammunition be required, a failure in the
supply of which may render the weapon useless.
As this last objection would rule out the whole class of guns requiring
metallic cartridges, and as there are undeniable advantages connected
with their use, we deem it necessary to give our reasons for this
decision somewhat at length. The cartridges are made of copper and
filled with powder, and the ball being inserted in the end, they are
compressed about its base so as to render them perfectly water-tight.
The fulminating powder, being in the base of the cartridge, is exploded
by the blow of the hammer, which falls directly upon it. The advantages
are, that there is no escape of gas, and no liability of injury from
water; and experience has abundantly proved the excellence of the system
in the essential qualities of precision and force. The most obvious
objection to them is the one above alluded to. The cartridges must, of
necessity, be made by special machinery, and can be supplied only from
the manufactory. To this it is replied, that the same objection may be
urged against the use of percussion-caps. We grant it; and if it were
possible to dispense with them, it would be an obvious gain. But because
we must have caps, in spite of their disadvantages, it does not follow
that we should increase unnecessarily the equipments against which the
same objection exists in a much greater degree, owing to the more
intricate process of manufacture and the very much greater difficulty of
transportation. The additional weight for the soldier to carry, also, is
no trifle, and will not be overlooked by those who appreciate the
importance of every ounce that is saved. But apart from minor
objections, a fatal one lies in the fact that every cartridge-box filled
with this ammunition may be considered as a shell liable to explode by
concussion and spread destruction around it. The powder and fulminating
composition being always in contact in every cartridge, it is obvious
that a chance shot may explode the whole boxful; and we have proved by
experiment that this is not an imaginary danger.
Since the appearance of our previous article on "The Use of the Rifle,"
our attention has been called to several new inventions for
breech-loading, some of them exceedingly ingenious and curious, but only
one of which has at once commended itself as being so obviously and
distinctly an improvement as to induce a further test of its powers, and
has proved on trial so entirely efficient, and free from the faults
which seemed to be inseparable from the system, as to lead to the
belief, which we confidently express, that its general adoption as a
military weapon must be a necessary consequence of its becoming known.
As a full description and report of the trial of this gun has been
officially prepared by a commission appointed for the purpose, and will
probably be published, we shall only say of it here that its performance
is equal in all respects to that of the best muzzle-loader, and, while
possessing all the advantages, it is entirely free from any of the
objections which pertain in one form or another to every breech-loading
gun we have heretofore had an opportunity to inspect. In appearance it
is so nearly like the ordinary soldier's musket that the difference can
be perceived only on examination; and, indeed, it may be used as a
muzzle-loader either with a cartridge or with loose powder and ball. It
is so simple in its mode of operation that there is less danger of error
than with a muzzle-loader; yet the anatomical construction of the limbs
and joints secures a degree of strength equal to that of a solid mass of
iron. The force of the explosion causes so perfect a closing of the
joint as to prevent any possible escape of gas, yet the breech may be
removed by as simple a process as that of cocking the gun; and we have
in the course of experiment fired the gun three hundred times, and have
since seen it fired five hundred times, without once wiping or cleaning,
and the working of the joints was as easy and the shooting as good at
the last as at first.
It is a singular fact in the history of arms, that the successive
improvements in their construction have occurred at long intervals, and
have made but slow progress towards general adoption even when their
advantages were apparent. It was more than a century after muskets were
first used in war before they were introduced in the English army to the
exclusion of bows and arrows; more than fifty years passed after the
invention of flint-locks before they were substituted for match-locks;
and many years elapsed after the invention of the percussion-lock before
it came into general use.
It is probable that the introduction of breech-loading guns will be
proportionally slow. A distinguished English military writer says: "With
respect to the choice between muzzle-loaders and breech-loaders, I am
quite satisfied that the latter will eventually carry the day. The best
principles of construction may not yet have been discovered; but I have
no more doubt of their advantage over the muzzle-loaders than I have of
the superiority of the percussion--over flint-lock guns."
We coincide entirely in this opinion, and we have a very strong feeling
of confidence that the gun we have alluded to is destined to achieve the
consummation here predicted.
For clubs which propose to combine a military drill with
target-practice, it is of course essential that the guns should be of
uniform pattern. But in our country-towns, until some definite system of
military organization is established by law, it is not likely that
volunteer associations will be formed for anything more than the object
of perfecting themselves in marksmanship. Great numbers of able-bodied
men may be found in every community, who will be very ready to join
associations to meet at stated intervals for simple target-practice, but
who could not afford the time which would necessarily be required for
the attainment of anything like efficient discipline as soldiers. For
such associations it is not only unimportant that the arms should be of
uniform pattern, but a diversity is even desirable, as affording the
means of testing their comparative merits, and thus giving the members
the opportunity of learning from actual observation the governing
principles of the science of projectiles.
It is essential, however, to the attainment of any proper degree of
skill in the use of the rifle that it should be acquired systematically.
Experience has proved to the instructors at the Hythe School, that, "the
less practice the pupil has previously had with the rifle, the better
shot he is likely in a limited period to become; for, in shooting, bad
habits of any kind are difficult to eradicate, and such is the Hythe
system that it does not admit of being grafted upon any other. Those who
have been zealously engaged in maturing it have left nothing to chance;
they have ascertained by innumerable trials the best way in which every
minute portion of the task to be executed should be performed, and no
deviation, however slight, should be attempted from the directions laid
down. By rigid adherence to them, far more than average proficiency in
shooting is attainable without the expenditure of a single
ball-cartridge. Paradoxical as this may seem, it is nevertheless
strictly true. It is only, however, to be accomplished by a course of
aiming and position drill."
We have seen too many instances of poor shooting by men who passed for
good riflemen, owing to ignorance of principles whose observance would
alone enable them to adapt their practice to varying circumstances, to
have any doubt of the important truth contained in the above extract;
and we would urge its careful consideration and a compliance with its
suggestions upon every association of riflemen.
With all the instruction which can be got from books and teachers,
however, it is only by constant practice that one can attain the degree
of skill which inspires entire confidence in his capacity to develop the
best powers of the rifle. It seems a very simple thing to bring the line
of sight upon the target, and to pull the trigger at the right moment;
but, in reality, it is what no man can do without continued practice,
and he who has attained the power will confirm the assertion that the
art of doing it is indescribable, and must be acquired by every man for
For the sake of first becoming familiar with the powers of the weapon,
we advise beginners to practise for a time with a rest. This should be a
bag of sand, or some equally inelastic substance, on which the gun can
repose firmly and steadily; and a little practice with such aid will
enable the shooter to realize the relation of the line of sight to the
trajectory under varying circumstances of wind and light, and thus to
proceed knowingly in his subsequent training. But we are unwilling to
give this advice without accompanying it with the caution not to
continue the practice till it becomes habitual. It is very difficult for
one who is accustomed to use a rest to feel the confidence which is
essential to success, when shooting from the shoulder; and no one is
deserving the name of a rifleman who requires such aid.
It is difficult for an inexperienced person to conceive of the effect of
even a light wind upon so small an object as a rifle-ball, when shot
from the gun. The difficulty arises from the impossibility of taking in
the idea of such rapid flight, or of the resistance produced by it, by
comparison with anything within the limits of our experience. We may
attain a conception of it, however, by trying to move a stick through
the water. Moving it slowly, the resistance is imperceptible; but as we
increase the velocity, we find the difficulty to increase very rapidly,
and if we try to strike a quick blow through the water, we find the
resistance so enormous that the effort is almost paralyzed.
Mathematically, the resistance increases in the ratio of the square of
the velocity; and although the air is of course more easily displaced
than water, the same rule applies to it, and the flight of a ball is so
inconceivably rapid that the resistance becomes enormous. The average
initial velocity of a cannon- or rifle-ball is sixteen hundred feet in a
second, and a twelve-pound round shot, moving at this rate, encounters
an atmospheric resistance of nearly two hundred pounds, or more than
sixteen times its own weight. Perhaps a clearer idea may be attained by
the statement of the fact, that, were it possible to remove this
resistance, or, in other words, to fire a ball in a vacuum, it would fly
ten miles in a second,--the same time it now requires to move sixteen
hundred feet. Bearing in mind this enormous resistance, it will be more
readily apparent that even a slight motion of the element through which
the ball is struggling must influence its course. For this reason it is
that the best time to shoot, as a general rule, is in the morning or
evening, when the air is most apt to be perfectly calm. It will often be
found, after making very satisfactory shots at sunrise, that by ten
o'clock, even on what would be called a calm day, it is impossible to
attain to anything like the accuracy with which the day's work was
begun; and, owing to the irregular motion of the air, the difficulty
cannot be overcome, except to a limited degree, by making allowance for
It is well, however, to practise in all possible conditions of weather,
and not to be discouraged at finding unaccountable variations at
different times in the flight of balls. A few weeks' experience will at
least enable the learner to judge of the veracity of a class of stories
one often hears, of the feats of backwoodsmen. It is not long since we
were gravely assured by a quondam travelling acquaintance, who no doubt
believed it himself, that there were plenty of men in the South who
could shave off either ear of a squirrel with a rifle-ball at one
hundred yards, without doing him further injury. A short experience of
target-shooting will suffice to demonstrate the absurdity of all the
wonderful stories of this class which are told and often insisted on
with all the bigotry of ignorance. A somewhat extended acquaintance with
backwoodsmen has served only to convince us, that, while a practical
familiarity with the rifle is more general with them than with us, a
scientific knowledge of its principles is rare; and the best
target-shooting we have ever seen was in New England.
[Footnote 2: _Hand-Book for Hythe._ By Lieut. Hans Busk.]
Last summer, when athwart the sky
Shone the immeasurable days,
We wandered slowly, you and I,
Adown these leafy forest-ways,
With laugh and song and sportive speech,
And mirthful tales of earlier years,
Though deep within the soul of each
Lay thoughts too sorrowful for tears,
Because--I marked it many a time--
Your feet grew slower day by day,
And where I did not fear to climb
You paused to find an easier way.
And all the while a boding fear
Pressed hard and heavy on my heart;
Yet still with words of hope and cheer
I bade the gathering grief depart,
Saying,--"When next these purple bells
And these red columbines return,--
When woods are full of piny smells,
And this faint fragrance of the fern,--
"When the wild white-weed's bright surprise
Looks up from all the strawberried plain,
Like thousands of astonished eyes,--
Dear child, you will be well again!"
Again the marvellous days are here;
Warm on my cheek the sunshine burns,
And fledged birds chirp, and far and near
Floats the strange sweetness of the ferns.
But down these ways I walk alone,
Tearless, companionless, and dumb,--
Or rest upon this way-side stone,
To wait for one who does not come.
Yet all is even as I foretold:
The summer shines on wave and wild,
The fern is fragrant as of old,
And you are well again, dear child!
Katie (the doctor's name for her) said consolingly, as we went
"I am going to sleep in Miss Lettie's little dressing-room; the door is
close beside her bed. If you want me, you can speak,--I shall be sure to
hear"; and she lighted my footsteps to the door.
I went in hastily, for Katie was gone. The statuesque lady became
informed with life; she started violently, and said,--
"Who is it?"
"I beg pardon for the noise," I said; "how are you?"
"Thank you, a pain up here, Kate"; and she put her hand, so long giving
support to her chin, upon the top of her head.
"It isn't Kate"; and I came into full view.
She looked up at me.
"Why, you are--yes, I know--Miss Percival," she said.
"Have you been here long?"
"Only since yesterday."
Why did she seem relieved at my reply?
"Do they think me ill enough to have a stranger come to me?"
"Almost as polite as the grum brother," I thought; but I said, "You
mustn't let me be a stranger to you. I came,--I wasn't sent for."
She made an effort to rise from her seat, but, unable, turned her eyes
toward the windows.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I thought I'd like to know what the weather looks like."
"Then let me lift the curtains"; and I drew aside the folds, but there
was nothing to be seen. The moon was not yet up; and even had it been,
there was slight chance for seeing it, as the sun had stayed behind
clouds all the day.
"Put them down, please; there's no light out there."
"The doctor left some medicine for you; will you take it?"
"No, I thank you. I hate medicines."
"So do I."
"Then pray tell me what you wish me to take it for."
"You mistake; it was the doctor's order, not mine."
"The very idea of asking that image of calm decision there to do
anything!--but then I must, I am nurse"; so I ventured, "Had you not
better go to bed?"
"After a little. Would you bathe my head? this pain distresses me, and I
don't want to dream, I'd rather stay awake."
As I stood beside her, gently applying the cooling remedy, trying to
stroke away the pain, she asked,--
"Did they tell you that my mother is dead?"
"She was my mother. Oh, why didn't I tell her? Why? why?" and great
spasms of torturesome pain drew her beautiful face. I didn't tell you
how beautiful she is. Well, it doesn't matter; you couldn't understand,
if I should try.
She turned suddenly, caught my dress in her hands, and asked,--
"Have you a mother, Miss Percival?" and before I could answer my sad
"No," she said, "Forgive me. I forgot for one moment"
My mother had been twenty years dead. What did she know about it? I,
three years old when she died, but just remembered her.
Katie came in, bringing "thoughts of me" condensed into aromatic
draughts of coffee, which she put upon the hearth, "to keep warm," she
I asked her to bring some "sweet" to mix the powder in.
"I hate disguises," said Miss Axtell; "I'd rather have true bitters than
cover them just a little with sugars. Give it me, if I must take it."
"But you can't,--not _this_ powder."
"A glass of water, Kate, please"; and she actually took the bitter dose
of Dover in all its undisguised severity.
"There! isn't that a thousand times better than covering it all up in a
sweetness that one knows isn't true?"
She looked a little as if expecting an answer. I would have preferred
not saying my thought, and was waiting, when she asked,--
"Don't you think on the subject?"
"Yes; I think that I like the bitter better when it is concealed."
"You wouldn't, if you knew, if you had tried it, child."
"Oh, I have taken a Dover's-powder often, and I always bury it in
She looked a little startled, odd look at me.
"Do you think I'm talking about that simple powder that I've been
"Come here, innocent little thing!" she said, and motioned me to a
footstool at her feet.
Her adjectives were both very unsuitable, when applied to me; but I was
nurse, and must yield to the whim of my patient.
"Kate, look after Mr. Axtell."
Poor Kate went out, more from the habit of obedience than apparently to
obey any such behest; but she went, nevertheless.
"I know who you are; I knew your mother," she said. "Never attempt to
cover up bitterness; it has its use in the world."
"Will you go to bed now? It's very late," I ventured.
She went on as though I had not spoken at all,--
"There's somebody dead down-stairs, there,--now,--this minute;--but
dead,--dead,--gone beyond my reach.--Child! child! do you know, do you
feel what I mean?"
"How can I? I haven't seen her; I never saw her."
"She's dead,--she's dead,--and I meant to--oh! I meant to do it before
she died. Why didn't something tell me? Things do come and speak to me
sometimes,--why not last night?"
I got anxious. Was this what the doctor meant by incoherent talking?
Away up the village-street I heard the bell striking for midnight.
"It is time you were asleep; please try and sleep."
My words did not stay her; she went on,--
"If it only had,--then,--at the last,--she might have
forgiven;--yes,--think, it might have been,--and it _is_ not,--no, it
_is not_!--and she lies dead, down-stairs, in the very room!--But are
you sure? Perhaps she isn't dead. Such things have been."
Oh! what should I do? I thought of Katie. "The next door," she said;
there were but two in the room; it must be this one, then. I opened it.
"No, this is a closet,--dresses are hanging there," I thought; "but
there is a door leading out from it." I looked back to the chair, where
Miss Axtell still sat; she was talking to herself, as if I had not left
the room. I could not venture to open this unknown door without a light
to flow into its darkness. I went back into the room and took up a lamp.
"What are you doing?" Miss Axtell stopped to ask; then, forgetting me,
she resumed her self-questioning.
I lighted the lamp and went into the closet. I said that there were
dresses hanging there. Among them my eyes singled out one; it was not
bright,--no, it was a grave, brown, plaid dress. I tried to call Kate.
My voice would not obey me. My tongue was still. I grasped the knob and
turned it; the door opened. Poor Katie! she was asleep. She started up,
bringing the larger half of a dream with her, I'm sure. "It's not so
dreadful. You have me left, father," she said, with her young face rosy,
and very sleepy. I went close to her, put my hand upon the cover, and
"You must call Mr. Axtell, Katie."
"For what? Is Miss Axtell worse?"
"I think so; she will not lie down."
"Do you think I might try to coax her?"--and Katie rubbed her heavy
eyelids, open too soon.
"If you think you can."
Miss Axtell had ceased to talk; she had fallen back into the old
absorbed state. Katie kneeled down beside her chair, and spoke.
"Miss Lettie!" she said.
Miss Lettie did not answer. Katie put out one finger only. I saw it
shake a bit, as she laid it upon Miss Lettie's hand. As when the doctor
touched her forehead, she came back to her proper self, and said,--
"What is it, Kate? Isn't it time you were asleep?"
"Don't you know that my mother is dead?" said poor motherless Katie.
"And so is mine," said Miss Axtell.
"And mine," added I.
"And is it for that that you don't sleep, Kate?"
"No, Ma'am; but it is because you won't try to sleep; and you told us
all, when my mother died, that"--and Katie stopped there.
"Why don't you go on?" I asked, in a low voice.
"I can't,--I don't remember the words; but you said, Miss Lettie, that
too much sorrow was wicked."
"And so it is; and mine is, if it keeps you awake. I will lie down."
The little maid so kindly, gently arranged the pillows, and made the
lady comfortable, that there was little left for me to do.
When she went back to bury the dream that I so suddenly drew out of the
balmy land, I had only to shade the light, stir the fire a little, and
then wait. From afar up the street came the stroke of one. Miss Axtell's
face was turned away from me. I could only fancy that her eyes were
closed. Once she put an arm over the pillow. I touched it. It burned
with fever-heat. Then all was still. I sat upon a lounge,
comfort-giving, related to the chair in style of covering. I fancied,
after a long quiet, that my patient was asleep. I kept myself awake by
examining this room that I was in. It was, like most of the other rooms,
a hexagon, with two windows looking eastward. An air of homeness was
over, and in, its every appointment. It seemed a room to sing in; _were_
songs ever heard there? I laid my head upon my hand, and listened to one
that Fancy tried to sing,--I, who never sing, in whose soul music rolls
and swells in great ocean-waves, that never in this world will break
against the shore of sound; and so I builded one, very wild and porous
and wavering, a style of iceberg shore, far out in the limitless,
waters, and listened to the echoes that came,--and, listening, must have
fallen into sleep.
I awoke with a chill feeling, as if the fire had gone down. A draught
seemed blowing upon me. I got up with a full sense of my position as
keeper of that fire, and went to it. The door into the hall was open. I
glanced at the bed; Miss Axtell was not there. The hall was dark. I
caught up the lamp and hurried out. I leaned over the balustrade and
looked down the stairway. Slowly going down I saw Miss Axtell. Was she a
somnambulist? Perhaps so. I must be cautious. I hastened after her,
moving as noiselessly as she. I took the precaution to leave the lamp in
the upper hall. She was leaning against the wall-side of the staircase.
Just as she reached the lower step, I put my arm around her. There was
no need; she was fully awake.
"Will you go back to sleep?" she asked of me, before I could find time
to make the same request of her.
"No,--I came here for you. Where are you going?"
"In there"; and she pointed to the room where I had seen the doctor and
Katie go,--where she who was dead lay.
"Oh, come back! please do! that is no place for you"; and I endeavored
to turn her steps.
"It is well that you say it. She's in there; perhaps she isn't dead.
Such things have been. It was sudden, you know. Let me go."
I held her with all the strength I had.
"Leave me to myself. I'm going to tell her,--to tell her _now_. She'll
hear me better than to-morrow; they'll have a fathom of earth over her
heart then: that will be deeper than all that love of Abraham which
covered up her heart from me."
What could I do? Despite my holding arms, she was gaining toward that
fatal door, and the light was very dim. I called Katie three times, Miss
Axtell still getting near to that I dreaded.
I heard a door open. I looked back, and saw Mr. Axtell coming from the
library. He came quickly along the hall, arrested his sister's progress,
and said gently, as twice he had spoken before,--
"Lettie, where are you going?"
"In there, Abraham."
"No, Lettie, you are sick; you must go back up-stairs."
"I will, when I have told her what I wish."
What could Mr. Axtell have meant? He asked me to bring down the lamp; he
took it in his own hand, and, supporting his sister, moved on. Was he
going to take her in there. He did. I fled back to the library;
trembling in affright, I sank into the first chair, and, covering my
face with my hands, thought,--
"What terrible people these are! Why did I come here, where I was not
I started up at the words. Mr. Axtell left the door open.
"You think it strange that I let my sister follow out such a sick fancy,
"I think it is dreadful,--terrible."
"Oh, no, it is not. Why do you think so?"
"Talking to dead people!"
"They don't hear you."
"You _know_ they _can't_."
"No, I do not."
"Then go and learn it. Will you go and listen in there?"
"I will not."
"Lettie wished to be alone."
"You're very strange people."
He got up quickly, confusedly, crossed the room, and turned a picture
that was upon the sofa. I had not noticed it before. I glanced up at the
wall. The face was gone. The picture that be turned must have been that.
He came back and stood before me.
"Were you frightened when Lettie came down?" he asked.
"Yes; how could I help it?"
"Why didn't you turn the lock?"
"I was asleep when she went out."
"What awakened you?"
"The cold air from the hall."
"A careful nurse, you are!"
"I am not careful."
He teased me, this man. I hate to be teased. And all this time, whilst
he stood questioning me, Miss Axtell was in that lone, silent room,
confessing to the dead. It was worse than the tower-confessional; and
besides, what had she done that was so bad? Nothing, I felt convinced.
Why would she do such a thing?
I think I must have spoken the last thought; for Mr. Axtell answered it
in his next words.
"Lettie is only working out a necessity of her own spirit. She is not
harming any living soul. I cannot see why you should look so white and
terrified about it. Have you tasted the coffee?"
I had not thought of it: I told him so.
"Did you give my sister what the doctor left for her?"
Honestly, I had forgotten that the powders were to be given every
half-hour, and I had offered only one.
"I don't think you have chosen your vocation wisely," he said, when I
had told him of my forgetfulness.
"It seems not."
He went out. Very gently he entered the place of the soulless one. I
heard a low, murmurous sound, with a deal of contentment in it. After a
few moments they came out. He asked me again to carry the lamp. I went
up before them. I couldn't go after; I was afraid of words, or I knew
not what, coming from that room.
Mr. Axtell gave the second powder, evidently afraid to trust me. Miss
Lettie seemed quite tranquil,--a change had come over her. Her brother
poured a cup of coffee and _told_ me to drink it. What right had he to
tell me to do anything? What right had I to notice it amid the scenes of