Part 3 out of 5
this night? but I did, and the coffee remained untasted.
"I cannot trust you alone," he said; and leaving me sitting there in
Miss Lettie's chair before the fire, he lay down upon the lounge and
went to sleep.
The half-hour went by; this time I would remember my duty. Miss Axtell
was awake still, but very quiet. Her face was scorched with fever, when
I gave her the third powder. I began to feel excessively sleepy; but to
fail the second time,--it would never answer. The coffee was the
alternative; I drank of it.
Again Miss Axtell asked that I would bathe her head. That, with the
half-hour powders, which quite forgot their sleep-bestowing
characteristic, was the only change until the day began to dawn.
Katie crept in with it, all in the little shivers March mornings bring.
She didn't see Mr. Axtell. She asked,--
"How has Miss Lettie been?"
"I haven't been asleep, I believe," answered Miss Axtell.
She called Katie to her, and gave some house-orders, in which I thought
I heard an allusion to breakfast, in connection with my name. I knew
nothing about the arrangements of this house, but ventured to follow
Katie out, and ask if there was any one to take my place, should I go
home. Finding that my longer stay was unneedful, I went. How lovely the
earth seemed on that morning, not long ago, and yet so long! Why could
not people live with quiet thoughts, and peaceful quietness of life, in
this little country-village, where there seemed nothing to wake up
* * * * *
Sophie stood beside me, with a tempting little cup in her hand; upon the
table lay a breakfast,--for somebody destined, I was sure.
"I thought I'd waken you, so that you might not lose your night's
sleep," she said.
"Thank you. What time is it?"
"Look at what the sun says."
She put up the shade, and the sun came in from the west.
"So long? Have I slept?"
"So long, my dear"; and Sophie gave me a kiss.
Sophie was not demonstrative. I answered it with--
"What queer people you sent me to stay with!"
"You make a mistake, Anna; think a moment; you're dreaming; I did not
send you there at all."
"Well, what queer people I went to stay with!"
"How was Miss Axtell, when you came away?"
"Really, I don't know; better, I should think. But, Sophie, pray tell me
how it is that I should never have heard of them before."
"Partly because they have been away during the three years that you have
been in the habit of visiting us,--and partly because Mr. Axtell, and
his sister, too, I think, have a very decided way of avoiding us. What
induces Mr. Axtell to perform the office of sexton is more than any one
in the congregation can divine."
"I intend to find out, Sophie."
"In some way,--how, I cannot tell."
"In the interim, take some breakfast, or you'll lose your curiosity in
Aaron sent for Sophie just here, and, as usual, I was deserted for him.
I began to scheme a little. "If Miss Axtell had only been the sexton, I
could have found a thread; there must be one. Where shall I look for
"How did you manage with our surly Abraham last night? would he let you
stay?" asked Aaron, when I joined the family of two.
"He was not very surly; I managed him considerably better than I did his
beautiful sister," I said.
He proceeded to question me of the night-events. I told only of the
visit to the dead, leaving out the conversations preceding the event.
"An unwarrantable proceeding of Abraham's," said Aaron.
"And that room, so cold, as they always keep such rooms. I expect to
hear that Miss Axtell is much worse to-day," was Sophie's comment, when
I had told all that I thought it right to tell.
Aaron went away early in the afternoon, to visit some parishioners who
lived among the highlands, where the snows of winter had made it
difficult to go.
Sophie said, she would read to me. My piece of "knitting-work" was still
unfinished, and I, sitting near a window looking churchward, knitted,
whilst Sophie pushed back from her low, cool brow those bands of softly
purplish hair, and read to me something that strangely soothed my
militant spirit, lifted me out of my present self, carried me whither
breezes of charity stirred the foliage of the world, and opened sweet
flower-blooms on dark, unpromising trees. I had been wafted up to a
height where I thought I should forever keep in memory the view I saw,
and feel charity toward all erring mortals as long as life endured, when
a noise came to my ears. I knew it instantly, before I could catch my
dropping stitch and look out. It was the first stroke on hard Mother
Earth, the first knocking sound, that said, "We've come to ask one more
grave of you."
Sophie did not seem to have heard: she went on with her reading. I
looked out. Two men were in the church-yard: one held a measuring-line
in his hand, the other a spade. The one with the spade went on to mark
the hard winter-beaten turf,--the knotted grass he cut through. I saw
him describe the outline of a grave,--the other standing there, silently
looking on. When the grave was marked, the one wielding the spade looked
up at the silent looker-on, who bowed his head, as if to say, "It is
right." Then he began to strike deeper, to hit the stones under the sod.
"What is it?" asked Sophie, looking up, for now she heard.
"I think it's Mrs. Axtell's grave that is to be made," I said.
Sophie came to the window.
"It's a wonder he don't make it himself."
"Who make it?"
"Why, Abraham Axtell. Look now,--see him look at it. It would be very
like him. He's fond of such doleful things. He has a way of haunting the
Church-yard. Aaron sees him there sometimes on moonlight nights."
Even while she spoke, Mr. Axtell did take the spade from the man; and
striking down deeper, stronger than he, he rolled out stones, and the
yellow, hard earth, crusty with the frost not yet out of it.
"There! I thought he would. Just watch now, and see of how much use that
man is; he might as well be away," exclaimed Sophie.
We two watched the other two in yonder church-yard, until the pile of
earth grew so high that it half-concealed them. Two or three times the
man seemed to offer to take the spade from Mr. Axtell, but he kept it
and worked away. At last the excavation grew so deep that one must needs
go down into it to make it deeper. Would Mr. Axtell go? We watched to
see. Sophie said "Yes" to the question; I thought "No." There grew a
pause. Mr. Axtell stopped in his work, looked at the man, and must have
spoken; for he picked up his coat and walked away.
"I wonder what is coming now," said Sophie.
"Nothing," answered I; "for Mr. Axtell evidently is going."
"Time enough to finish to-morrow," she said.--"Where are you going,
"To ask after his sister," I answered, and hastened out, for I had seen
Mr. Axtell pick up the spade as if to go.
But he did not go; he stood leaning upon the spade, looking into the
open grave, forgetful of everything above the earth. I thought to
approach him unheard and unseen; but it was willed otherwise, for I
stepped upon some of the crispy earth thrown out, and set the stones to
rattling in a very rude sort of way. He turned quickly upon me.
"You have chosen a very sad place to meditate over," I said.
"Does it trouble you, if I have?" he asked, not changing his position.
"No, not in the least, Sir. I came to ask after Miss Axtell."
"Lettie is much worse, very ill indeed, to-day."
"I am very sorry to hear it. I ought not to have thought myself wise
enough to take care of her last night."
"Yes, you ought; you pleased her; she has asked for you several times
to-day,--only she calls you another name. I wish you wouldn't mind it,
or seem to notice it either."
"What is the name?"
"Never mind it now; perhaps you will not see her until she is sane, and
then she will give you only your own."
"I wish you would tell me."
The spade upon which Mr. Axtell leaned seemed suddenly to have failed to
do its duty, for it slid along the distance to the very edge of the
grave. Mr. Axtell regained his position and his strength, that had
failed only for the moment.
"No, you do not wish it," he said.
What had become of all my sweet charity-blossoms, that unfolded such a
little time ago, when Sophie was reading to me? Surely the time of
withering had not come so soon? An untimely frost must have withered
them all, for I answered,--
"You are dogmatical."
"No, I am not. I only see farther on than you."
"A pleasant way to say, 'You're blind.'"
"And if it is true?"
"To say it to one's self, I suppose, is the better way; for others
certainly will of you."
"A sensible conclusion. Who taught you it?"
"Did I? Then my life has been of some little use."
"I saw you very usefully employed not long ago."
"Doing that?" and he pointed to the open place.
"Yes, the strangest occupation I ever saw a man engaged in."
"The man did it awkwardly."
"Better, as you can see."
"I'm no judge."
"Yes, you are."
I saw Aaron coming, driving slowly on. I knew that I must go in.
"Shall I come and stay with Miss Axtell to-night?" I asked.
"You do not look able."
"I am. I've not been long awake. I am quite restored."
He looked up at me. It was the very first time that I had seen him do
"Do you wish to come?" he asked.
What a question! I couldn't answer. I thought of my tower-secret, which
I felt convinced was wrapped up in that large, sombre mansion, where his
dead mother (whom I had never seen) lay, and his beautiful sister was. I
had not answered him. He spoke again,--
"As if it could please you to come where death and suffering are! I will
find some one; if not, I can stay up."
"I will come, if you can trust me, after last night's errors."
"You look like one to be trusted."
"I am glad you think so. Are my services accepted?"
"Gratefully, if you'll promise one thing."
"Sleep until I send for you."
"I can't promise."
"Perhaps"; and I went back to the parsonage.
Sophie had deserted the reading and the window to do something that she
imagined would please Aaron when he came home. It was nearly evening.
The sun was gone. I resumed my seat and work.
"You look gloomy, Anna,--what is it?" asked Aaron's evergreen voice, as
Aaron's self came into the room, somewhat the worse for mud and mountain
wear. "Was last night's watching too much for you?"
"Oh, no; I'm going again to-night."
"Going where?" Sophie was the questioner.
"To stay with Miss Axtell."
"I wouldn't, Anna; one night has made you pale," she said.
"You're a frightened little thing," I said. "You've Aaron's headachy
eyes of yesterday."
"Have you promised to go?" Aaron asked.
"I have. Mr. Axtell is to send for me in time."
No more was said on the subject. Aaron had learned many things in his
visit to the people's homes. I fancy that he gathered much material for
Sunday-sermons that afternoon. I could not help wishing that he knew all
of last night's teaching to me. An idle wish; how could he? What is
knowledge to one is but dry dust to another soul. The soils of the human
heart are as various as those of our planet, and therein as many and as
strange plants are grown. Why had I always thought mine to be adapted to
The evening was dull. I asked Aaron to lend me a sermon. He inquired,--
"To go to sleep over," I said.
"And are they so soporific?" he laughingly asked.
"It's a great while since I've read one. What have you been doing lately
in your profession? anything remarkable?"
He brought me one. It aroused me. The evening passed on. I finished the
sermon. Bedtime came in the parsonage, and no messenger from Mr. Axtell
Aaron offered to go. I said, "No, they were such strange people, I would
rather not." Chloe came in from the kitchen to say that "Kate, Miss
Axtell's girl, had come, and said, 'Miss Lettie was too ill for Miss
Percival to take care of her. Mr. Abraham couldn't leave her.'"
The funeral was to be on the morrow.
* * * * *
The morrow came. Early after breakfast I went to the house whereto I had
gone with the neighbor's boy two nights before. I met Mr. Axtell just
leaving. I inquired after his sister.
"A bad night," he said; "the doctor is here; are you come to stay?"
"If I can be of use."
He walked back with me, went to the sick-room, and left me there with
the doctor and Miss Axtell.
She didn't refuse medicines, it seemed; for Doctor Eaton was
administering something when I went in.
The same eager look flashed out of his eyes when she spoke to me. She
did not remember me,--she called me Mary. Common name it is, but the
change seemed to please this quaint M.D.
"Have you found out about the face?" he asked, when he had answered my
inquiries after his patient.
"I have not."
"It isn't there any longer. Somebody's taken it away."
"Don't you care to know about it?"
"Yes, it was a pleasant face,--a prettiness of youth about it."
"Ask him,--do you hear, young lady?--ask him"; and giving me directions
for the morning, he left.
Curious old doctor,--what care should he have concerning it?
The opiate, if opiate it was, that Doctor Eaton gave Miss Axtell,
quickly worked its spell; for after he had gone, she scarcely noticed
me; she only moaned a little, and turned her head upon the pillow, as if
to ease the pain that made her face so flushed. The room was darkened;
the fire upon the hearth was almost out. It didn't seem the same room as
that in which I had heard my song so recently. I had nothing to do but
to sit and watch,--a sad, nerve-aching woman-work, at the best. In my
pocket I had put the bit of woman's wear that I had taken from the iron
bar in my tower. I longed to open the closet-door, and compare it with
the dress that I had seen hanging there. No opportunity came. Miss
Axtell was very drowsy, if not asleep. For full three hours not a
varying occurred. Where had every one gone? Was I forgotten, buried in
with this sick lady out of the world? Not quite; for I heard the
vitalizing charm of a footstep, followed, by the gentlest of knocks,
which I rejoicingly answered. It was the brother, come to look at his
sister. He walked quietly in, stood several moments looking at her face,
as she lay with half the repose of sleep over it, then came to me and
"She looks better."
"I am glad you think so," I replied; "she seems very ill to me. She
called me Mary, when I first came in; since then she hasn't noticed me."
"She called you Mary?" he said. "Are you Mary?"
"My name is Anna," I answered.
"Then you are not Mary?"
"Of course not; I am not two."
After a little while of silence, he said,--
"My mother's funeral will be this afternoon."
"Is there anything that I can do for you before the time?"
"Yes, if you will."
"I am ready."
"Wait here a little," he said, and went down.
Katie came up, her young rosy face delightful to behold in the half-way
gloom that filled the place.
"Mr. Abraham is waiting to see you in the library," she said. "I'll stay
till you come up."
In my short journey down, I marvelled much concerning what he might
want. As I entered the room, I saw no visible thing for hands to do.
Now, if it were but a hat to fold the winding badge of sorrow about, or
a pair of gloves to mend; but no,--he, this strange man, a sort of
barbaric gentleman, looked down at me as I went in. "The doctor was
right; somebody has taken the face down," I thought, as my glance went
up the wall.
"What is there for me to do?" I asked; for Mr. Axtell seemed to have
forgotten that he had intimated the possibility of such an event.
"Simply to look upon the face of my mother ere it goes forever away."
"Do you wish it?"
"I would rather not."
"As you will"; and he turned away proudly, with that high style of
curling pride that has a touch of soul in it.
"No, Mr. Axtell, it is not as I will; it is very much as I will not. I
can go in there, and look at the face you wish; but it will unfit me for
the duties of life for days to come. The face that I see there will
tenant this house forever, and not this only,--it will be seen wherever
"Can you not overcome it?"
"Why not, then?"
"It takes such sweet revenge that my overcoming is the sorriest kind of
"It _is_ strange," he said.
"I beg your pardon; I was thinking in words," he replied.
"I am sorry that I cannot do as you wish," I said, and resumed my
profession in the room above.
The day went on, never pausing one moment for the sorrow and the
suffering that another day had brought to this house in Redleaf.
Just before the funeral-bell began to toll, Mr. Axtell came again to the
sickroom door. There was no change. I told him so. Why did the man look
as if he had been crying? Was it because he had, I wonder?
He did not come in. Poor man! He was the only relative, the only one to
stand at the last beside the grave he opened yesterday. I could not help
it, I held out my hand to him as he stood there in the hall, I had no
words wherewith to convey sympathy. He looked at it very much as he
might have done at one of the waxen hands that belong to waxen figures
in a shop-window, without one ray of the meaning it was intended to
convey entering into his mind. I felt confused, uncomfortable. It seemed
to me, then, irreverent to his sorrow, that I, a stranger, should have
attempted the proffer of sympathy; but I must make him comprehend me.
"I wanted to say that I am sorry with you," I said.
"Will you say it the same way again?"
"How?" for this time it was I who did not comprehend.
He held out his hand. I fulfilled my original intention.
"I thank you," he said, and went down alone to his mother's funeral.
How do people ever live through funerals? The solemn tolling of the bell
went on. The village-people came, one by one. Aaron's voice it was that
was heard in the burial-service that came sounding in to me, sitting
close beside the bed whereon the sick one lay. There seemed a comfort in
getting near to her. At last--what a cycle of thought! time it was at
last--I heard the moving sound of many feet, and then I knew that they
were carrying her out, out of the house where she had lived, out of the
house wherein she had died, carrying her forth for burial,--forth to the
grave her only son had made for her; and I, little, shivering, cowardly
soul, hid my face in my hands, and let my tears fall,--not because I
knew this proud lady dead,--not because a fibre from my warm heart was
being drawn out to be knitted into that fathom-deep grave, for it never
would be one of _my_ graves,--but because this death and sorrow _were in
the world_, and I must live my life out in a world _with them_. The
funeral-bell stirred me. I looked out from the window, and saw the long
procession moving slowly on.
Katie startled me, coming in.
"The minister's wife is down-stairs; she wants to know if she may come
up," she said.
"She is my sister, Katie; yes, I think she may come."
I was so relieved to see Sophie; it was getting back to self again, out
of which I had gone in this house. I could not help expressing my
"There's no one down there to close the house and put away the sad
reminders," Sophie said, after asking about my patient. "Some one ought
to make it more cheerful down there before Mr. Axtell comes."
"Won't you, Sophie, since there's no one else?"
I could not yet go into the one room. Death had been too recently there.
"I cannot put away the feeling that I am not wanted; but it has no place
here, now at least, and I will go," she said.
So, with Katie to help, she went to throw an air of light into the rooms
below, to waft away the sombre shadows that clouded them, to let in a
little of the coming life that must still be lived. And I waited on,
up-stairs, and listened, counting each long, low peal of the bell, as it
shook out its solemn meaning into the March air, and lost itself in
quivering distances. They, the kindly hearts, who had come to perform
the last rite, must have moved very slowly on; for I counted out the
years that the one gone had lived, ere the bell stopped.
Then was silence. In that stillness they were gently lifting down the
once more little one,--for are not our dead all little ones, to be
watchfully thought of, to be tenderly cared for?--yes, lifting her
gently down into the cradle that God hath prepared, and set the sun to
rock, until His smile shall awaken, and His arms lift us out of it.
The opiate's power was past. Miss Axtell turned upon the pillow, and
asked Kate for a glass of water.
I carried it to her, lifted her head, and she drank of it without
opening her eyes. She asked for Abraham.
"He will be here soon," I replied.
"I thought it was Kate," she said, calling me my own name. "Have you
been here long?"
"Is it afternoon?"
"Yes, three o'clock."
"Why doesn't Abraham come?"
"He was here not very long ago," I said, and asked her to take some
food, not wishing her to question me.
"Food!" she said, "what an odd word! Yes, so that you give it to me in
"What is pleasant to you to-day?"
"Something soft and cool."
What could I give her? It was very convenient having Sophie so near.
This must be Miss Axtell's self who had spoken. Delighted with the
change, I ran quickly down to beg of sister Sophie a little skill in
preparing some dish suitable to the illness up-stairs.
"I'll go and make something," she said.
And straightway taking off her hat and cloak, and tossing them just
where mine had gone two nights before, she followed willing Katie to
regions where I had not been, and I went back to find my patient
perfectly herself,--only oblivious of time. She asked me if the various
preludes to the sad event had been properly done. I answered that it was
"And I was not to know it?"
I had heard that tone of voice, surely, somewhere else in life. Where
could it have been? I thought of my tower, and of that dress in there.
Was never to come chance of seeing it? It seemed quite probable, for the
lady asked to have the doors opened through.
"Through where?" I asked.
"All of them," she said.
I opened the two into the dressing-room; there was still another out of
that. Uncertain if she might mean it as well, I went back to ask.
"Yes," she said; and I opened it.
The first object that met my sight was the painting--the young girl's
face--that had been in the library. The hair was covered, as if one had
been trying effects of light and shade. I saw this instantly, and turned
"I would like you to raise the shades in there," Miss Axtell said. "I
like the light that comes in through the distance, the afternoon light;
how much it sees upon the earth!"
Going in again, I drew up one, put the drapery of the curtains back, and
laid my hand upon the second, when the door from the hall opened,
admitting the owner of the place.
Mr. Axtell did not look window-ward. He did not see me. A stillness of
thought and being crept over me. I stood, with fingers clasped about the
curtain-cord, enduring conscious paralysis. And he? He laid his overcoat
across one chair; next to it was the one on which the portrait of the
young girl had been placed. In front of it Mr. Axtell kneeled down,
buried his face in his hands, and remained motionless. A second tower I
was imprisoned in, higher up than the first,--a well, deep with veins of
liquid soul, such as man nor patriarch hath ever builded, and I, a bit
of rock-moss, unable to reach out to the light. I heard Miss Axtell's
voice, and yet I could not move. She called, "Miss Percival!"--Mr.
Axtell did not lift his head; she called, "Abraham!"--then I moved. With
a slow swiftness of silence I passed by the kneeling figure, and should
have gained the door, had not Mr. Axtell risen up. His eyes were, for
the second time, upon me. A dark, thunderous look of anger clouded his
face. I stood still and looked at him. If he had evinced emotion at my
presence in any other mode, I could not have met his look.
"Your sister wished me to raise the shades in here," I said; "she likes
"Why not do it, then?"--the anger rolling sombrous as at the first,--he
I looked back. Noticing that only one of the shades was lifted,--
"I will leave it for you to do," I said; and with one involuntary glance
at the young, life-young face, painted there, I went.
"I thought I heard Abraham's footsteps in the hall," said Miss Axtell,
when I entered the room.
"You did," I replied. "He is come in."
The second time the sister called, "Abraham!"
"Yes, Lettie," he answered; but he did not come.
"What is the matter, Abraham?" she asked. "Why do you not come?"
"I'm coming, Lettie."
I thought of the "something soft and cool" that Sophie was making for
the invalid; and the thought took me up and carried me away before he
It was not destined that I should be long gone; for I met Katie bringing
up something, whose odor was not even a temperate one.
"How is this?" I asked of her; "did Mrs. Wilton send it?"
"Yes, Miss Percival."
"Where is she, Katie?"
"Gone home, she told me to tell you."
Why must Sophie run away? She fancies Aaron might not see the stars come
out, if she were not near to point their coming. I would not be so
simple, I think; but, whatever I thought, I took from rosy-faced Katie
the bowl of warm and fragrant gruel, and carried it in to Miss Axtell.
She took it, looked up smilingly at me, and said, "Something soft and
Mr. Axtell held it for her, whilst slowly she took the gruel.
Doctor Eaton came in.
"How is this?" he asked; "we shall take great skill and credit to our
individual self for this recovery. Now tell me, Miss Lettie, am I not
the very best physician in all Redleaf?"
"There being none other in the village, I'll permit you to quaff the
vain draught, so that you will season it with a little of my gruel; I
cannot fancy, even, where it came from," she said, playfully extending
to the doctor her spoon, half filled.
Doctor Eaton bent forward, and put his lips to the spoon she had not
meant him to touch.
Miss Axtell seemed surprised.
"Why did you do it?" she asked, with a little bit of childish petulance.
"Because I think that you have taken all of it that is good for you at
present. I made use of the speediest remedy; vital cases demand sure
means, you know, Miss Lettie."
Mr. Axtell held the bowl of gruel no longer. Doctor Eaton turned to me.
"Have you been here all day?" he asked.
"Will you put your hat on and walk in the air? There's just time enough
for you to walk to the parsonage and come back, before dark."
Did Doctor Eaton know how to prescribe for cases which were not vital?
It so seemed; for he had given me my need this once. I put my hat on, as
he had recommended, and went out. The day was saying its soft, genial
farewells, that mingle so charmfully with the promise to come again,
that is repeated throughout the great city of Nature. Doctor Eaton
evidently intended to watch the effect of his dictation, for he joined
me, giving me voice-intimation of his presence.
"Have you asked him yet?" he said, coming to my side, and speaking in
his peculiar way, very much as if I were a little child, and he its
"Please tell me what I am expected to do," I replied.
"To ask Abraham Axtell about that picture, Miss Percival. It will do him
"I am afraid your prescriptions are not always the most agreeable," I
"Maybe not; it seems quite possible; but bitters are good,--try them."
"I would rather not, Doctor Eaton."
"No? Then offer them to others. Abraham Axtell is one needing them."
"You are his physician."
"You think so?"
"No, I take the seeming."
"Unsafe road, young lady! don't take it,--take mine. Just ask Abraham
whose face that is, then come and tell me what he tells you."
"Breach of confidence, Doctor Eaton. I couldn't do it possibly."
"You'll tell me, though, depend upon it," he said, and was carried off
in great haste to repair a broken bone, and I saw him no more,
I found the reason why Sophie must go home without one word for me.
Aaron had said that he would like some peculiar admixture of flour,
etc.; and she had feared that he might meet disappointment, unless she
prevented it by hurrying home and adding the ingredient of her hands for
his delectable comfort, which bit of spicery he undoubtedly appreciated
to the complete value of the sacrifice. Sophie is wise in her day and
generation. I look with affectionate, reverent admiration upon her life.
It seems that she is in just the position that Creating Wisdom fitted
her for. I saw Aaron looking at her across the table. She was preparing
for him his cup of tea; and of course he had nought to do save to wait,
and in waiting he watched her. What was it that I saw? I cannot tell.
Why, how is this? the world has two sides, two phases; how many more I
cannot know. That which I saw in Aaron's face was a something
transitory, a nebulous luminousness of an existence that I had not
known, had not imagined, having never before received intimation of it.
Why will light evanish so soon?--the fragment that shone in on this
_Terra Incognita_ went out, was submerged in the Cup of _Thea Sinensis_
that Aaron received from Sophie's hand. I cannot divine why all this new
world of being should fancy to unroll itself, an endless panorama of
pansophical mysteries, before my eyes. I do not appreciate it in the
least. Philip Bailey's "Mystic" is more comprehensible to me. This is a
practical, matter-of-fact world; I know it is. Sophie Percival, my
sister, is the wife of Aaron Wilton, country-clergyman in
Redleaf,--nothing more; and I thought of my untasted cup of tea, in
which lay condensed all the fragrance of Wooeshan hill-sides.
"Why not take your tea, Anna?" Sophie asked, just as I had decided not
to think of the things that misted around me.
My answer was a taste of it. I really thought I was doing my duty, when
Sophie's words came upon me, a little distractingly,--
"Will you have more sugar in your tea, Anna?"
"No, I thank you."
"The house of Axtell seems to have stolen away your proper self, Anna.
I've been watching you, and I don't really think you've any idea of what
you are subsisting on. Tell me now, what _is_ upon the table?" and Aaron
held a newspaper, lying conveniently near, before my eyes.
"Confession and absolution are synonymous with you, aren't they, Aaron?"
I asked. "Please give me some bread"; and I put the disagreeable paper
There was no bread upon the table.
"My wisdom is confirmed," said Aaron; and he gave me the delectable
substitute, Sophie's handiwork.
METHODS OF STUDY IN NATURAL HISTORY.
If I succeeded in explaining my subject clearly in the last article, my
readers will have seen that the five Orders of the Echinoderms are but
five expressions of the same idea; and I will now endeavor to show that
the same identity of structural conception prevails also throughout the
two other Classes of Radiates, and further, that not only the Orders
within each Class, but the three Classes themselves, Echinoderms,
Acalephs, and Polyps, bear the strictest comparison, founded upon close
structural analysis, and are based upon one organic formula.
We will first compare the three Orders of Acalephs,--Hydroids being the
lowest, Discophorae; next, and the Ctenophorae highest. The fact that
these animals have no popular names shows how little they are known. It
is true that we hear some of them spoken of as Jelly-Fishes; but this
name is usually applied to the larger Discophore, when it is thrown upon
the beach and lies a shapeless mass of gelatinous substance on the sand,
or is seen floating on the surface of the water. The name gives no idea
of the animal as it exists in full life and activity. When we speak of a
Bird or an Insect, the mere name calls up at once a characteristic image
of the thing; but the name of Jelly-Fish, or Sun-Fish, or Sea-Blubber,
as the larger Acalephs are also called, suggests to most persons a vague
idea of a fish with a gelatinous body,--or, if they have lived near the
sea-shore, they associate it only with the unsightly masses of
jelly-like substance sometimes strewn in thousands along the beaches
after a storm. To very few does this term recall either the large
Discophore, with its purple disk and its long streamers floating perhaps
twenty or thirty feet behind it as it swims,--or the Ctenophore, with
its more delicate, transparent structure, and almost invisible fringes
in parallel rows upon the body, which decompose the rays of light as the
creature moves through the water, so that hues of ruby-red and
emerald-green, blue, purple, yellow, all the colors of the rainbow,
ripple constantly over its surface when it is in motion,--or the
Hydroid, with its little shrub-like communities living in tide-pools,
establishing themselves on rocks, shells, or sea-weeds, and giving birth
not only to animals attached to submarine bodies, like themselves, but
also to free Medusae or Jelly-Fishes that in their turn give birth again
to eggs which return to the parent-form, and thus, by alternate
generations, maintain two distinct patterns of animal life within one
cycle of growth.
Perhaps, of all the three Classes of Radiates, Acalephs are the least
known. The general interest in Corals has called attention to the
Polyps, and the accessible haunts of the Sea-Urchins and Star-Fishes
have made the Echinoderms almost as familiar to the ordinary observer as
the common sea-shells, while the Acalephs are usually to be found at a
greater distance from the shore, and are not easily kept in confinement.
It is true that the Hydroids live along the shore, and may be reared in
tanks without difficulty; but they are small, and would be often taken
for sea-weeds by those ignorant of their true structure.
Thus this group of animals, with all their beauty of form, color, and
movement, and peculiarly interesting from their singular modes of
growth, remains comparatively unknown except to the professional
naturalist. It may, therefore, be not uninteresting or useless to my
readers, if I give some account of the appearance and habits of these
animals, keeping in view, at the same time, my ultimate object, namely,
to show that they are all founded on the same structural elements and
have the same ideal significance. I will begin with some account of the
Hydroids, including the story of the alternate generations, by which
they give birth to Medusae, while the Medusae, in their turn, reproduce
the Hydroids, from which they spring. But first, a few words upon the
growth of Radiates in general.
There is no more interesting series of transformations than that of the
development of Radiates. They are all born as little transparent
globular bodies, covered with vibratile cilia, swimming about in this
condition for a longer or shorter time; then, tapering somewhat at one
end and broadening at the other, they become attached by the narrower
extremity, while at the opposite one a depression takes place, deepening
in the centre till it becomes an aperture, and extending its margin to
form the tentacles. All Radiates pass through this Polyp-like condition
at some period of their lives, either before or after they are hatched
from the eggs. In some it forms a marked period of their existence,
while in others it passes very rapidly and is undergone within the egg;
but, at whatever time and under whatever conditions it occurs, it forms
a necessary part of their development, and shows that all these animals
have one and the same pattern of growth. This difference in the relative
importance and duration of certain phases of growth is by no means
peculiar to the Radiates, but occurs in all divisions of the Animal
Kingdom. There are many Insects that pass through their metamorphoses
within the egg, appearing as complete Insects at the moment of their
birth; but the series of changes is nevertheless analogous to that of
the Butterfly, whose existence as Worm, Chrysalis, and Winged Insect is
so well known to all. Take the Grasshopper, for instance: with the
exception of the wings, it is born in its mature form; but it has had
its Worm-like stage within the egg as much as the Butterfly that we knew
a few months ago as a Caterpillar. In the same way certain of the higher
Radiates undergo all their transformations, from the Polyp phase of
growth to that of Acaleph or Echinoderm, after birth; while others pass
rapidly through the lower phases of their existence within the egg, and
are born in their final condition, when all their intermediate changes
have been completed. We have appropriate names for all the aspects of
life in the Insect: we call it Larva in its first or Worm-like period,
Chrysalis in its second or Crustacean-like phase of life, and Imago in
its third and last condition as Winged Insect. But the metamorphoses of
the Radiates are too little known to be characterized by popular names;
and when they were first traced, the relation between their different
phases of existence was not understood, so that the same animal in
different stages of growth has frequently been described as two or more
distinct animals. This has led to a confusion in our nomenclature much
to be regretted; for, however inappropriate it may be, a name once
accepted and passed into general use is not easily changed.
That early stage of growth, common to all Radiates, in which they
resemble the Polyps, has been called the Hydra state, in consequence of
their resemblance to the fresh-water Hydra to be found in quantities on
the under side of Duck-Weed and Lily-pads. For any one that cares to
examine these animals, it may be well to mention that they are easily
found and thrive well in confinement. Dip a pitcher into any pool of
fresh water where Duck-Weed or Lilies are growing in the summer, and you
are sure to bring up hundreds of these fresh-water Hydrae, swarming in
myriads in all our ponds. In a glass bowl their motions are easily
watched; and a great deal may be learned of their habits and mode of
life, with little trouble. Such an animal soon completes its growth: for
the stage which I have spoken of as transient for the higher Radiates is
permanent for these; and when the little sphere moving about by means of
its vibratile cilia has elongated a little, attached itself by the lower
end to some surface, while the inversion of the upper end has formed the
mouth and digestive cavity, and the expansion of its margin has made the
tentacles, the very simple story of the fresh-water Hydra is told. But
the last page in the development of these lower Radiates is but the
opening chapter in that of the higher ones, and I will give some account
of their transformations as they have been observed in the Acalephs.
[Illustration: Coryne mirabilis, natural size]
On shells and stones, on sea-weeds or on floating logs, there may often
be observed a growth of exquisitely delicate branches, looking at first
sight more like a small bunch of moss than anything else. But gather
such a mossy tuft and place it in a glass bowl filled with sea-water,
and you will presently find that it is full of life and activity. Every
branch of this miniature shrub terminates in a little club-shaped head,
upon which are scattered a number of tentacles. They are in constant
motion, extending and contracting their tentacles, some of the heads
stretched upwards, others bent downwards, all seeming very busy and
active. Each tentacle has a globular tip filled with a multitude of
cells, the so-called lasso-cells, each one of which conceals a coiled-up
thread. These organs serve to seize the prey, shooting out their long
threads, thus entangling the victim in a net more delicate than the
finest spider's web, and then carrying it to the mouth by the aid of the
lower part of the tentacle. The complication of structure in these
animals, a whole community of which, numbering from twenty to thirty
individuals, is not more than an inch in height, is truly wonderful. In
such a community the different animals are hardly larger than a
good-sized pin's head; and yet every individual has a digestive cavity
and a complete system of circulation. Its body consists of a cavity
inclosed in a double wall, continuing along the whole length of each
branch till it joins the common stem forming the base of the stock. In
this cavity the food becomes softened and liquefied by the water that
enters with it through the mouth, and is thus transformed into a
circulating fluid which flows from each head to the very base of the
community and back again. The inner surface of the digestive cavity is
lined with brownish-red granules, which probably aid in the process of
digestion; they frequently become loosened, fall into the circulating
fluid, and may be seen borne along the stream as it passes up and down.
The rosy tint of the little community is due to these reddish granules.
[Illustration: Single head or branch of Coryne mirabilis magnified, with
a Medusa bud: a, stem; c, club-shaped body; o, mouth; tt, tentacles; d,
This crowd of beings united in a common life began as one such little
Hydra-like animal as I have described above,--floating free at first,
then becoming attached, and growing into a populous stock by putting out
buds at different heights along the length of the stem. The formation of
such a bud is very simple, produced by the folding outwardly of the
double wall of the body, appearing first as a slight projection of the
stem sideways, which elongates gradually, putting out tentacles as it
grows longer, while at the upper end an aperture is formed to make the
mouth. This is one of the lower group of Radiates, known as Hydroids,
and long believed to be Polyps, from their mode of living in communities
and reproducing their kind by budding, after the fashion of Corals. But
if such a little tuft of Hydroids has been gathered in spring, a close
observer may have an opportunity of watching the growth of another kind
of individual from it, which would seem to show its alliance with the
Acalephs rather than the Polyps. At any time late in February or early
in March, bulb-like projections, more globular than the somewhat
elongated buds of the true Hydroid heads, may be seen growing either
among the tentacles of one of these little animals, or just below the
head where it merges in the stem, Very delicate and transparent in
substance, it is hardly perceptible at first; and the gradual formation
of its internal structure is the less easily discerned, because a horny
sheath, forming the outer covering of the Hydroid stock, extends to
inclose and shield the new-comer, whom we shall see to be so different
from the animal that gives it birth that one would suppose the Hydroid
parent must be as much surprised at the sight of its offspring as the
Hen that has accidentally hatched a Duck's egg. At the right moment this
film is torn open by the convulsive contractions of the animal, which,
thus freed from its envelope, begins at once to expand. By this time
this little bud has assumed the form of a Medusoid or Jelly-Fish disk,
with its four tubes radiating from the central cavity. The proboscis, so
characteristic of all Jelly-Fishes, hangs from the central opening; and
the tentacles, coiled within the internal cavity up to this time, now
make their appearance, and we have a complete little Medusa growing upon
the Hydroid head. Gradually the point by which it is attached to the
parent-stock narrows and becomes more and more contracted, till the
animal drops off and swims away, a free Jelly-Fish.
[Illustration: Little Jelly-Fish, commonly called Sarsia, the free
Medusa, of Coryne mirabilis.]
The substance of these animals seems to have hardly more density or
solidity than their native element. I remember showing one to a friend
who had never seen such an animal before, and after watching its
graceful motions for a moment in the glass bowl where it was swimming,
he asked, "Is it anything more than organized water?" The question was
very descriptive; for so little did it seem to differ in substance from
the water in which it floated that one might well fancy that some drops
had taken upon themselves organic structure, and had begun to live and
move. It swims by means of rapid contractions and expansions of its
disk, thus impelling itself through the water, its tentacles floating
behind it and measuring many times the length of the body. The disk is
very convex, as will be seen by the wood-cut; four tubes radiate from
the central cavity to the periphery, where they unite in a circular tube
around the margin and connect also with the four tentacles; from the
centre of the lower surface hangs the proboscis, terminating in a mouth.
Notwithstanding the delicate structure of this little being, it is
exceedingly voracious. It places itself upon the surface of the animal
on which it feeds, and, if it have any hard parts, it simply sucks the
juices, dropping the dead carcass immediately after; but it swallows
whole the little Acalephs of other Species and other soft animals that
come in its way. Early in summer these Jelly-Fishes drop their eggs,
little transparent pear-shaped bodies, covered with vibratile cilia.
They swim about for a time, until they have found a resting-place, where
they attach themselves, each one founding a Hydroid stock of its own,
which will in time produce a new brood of Medusae.
This series of facts, presented here in their connection, had been
observed separately before their true relation was understood.
Investigations had been made on the Hydroid stock, described as
_Coryne_, and upon its Medusoid offspring, described as _Sarsia_, named
after the naturalist Sars, whose beautiful papers upon this class of
animals have associated his name with it; but the investigations by
which all these facts have been associated in one connected series are
very recent. These transformations do not correspond to our common idea
of metamorphoses, as observed in the Insect, for instance. In the
Butterfly's life we have always one and the same individual,--the
Caterpillar passing into the Chrysalis state, and the Chrysalis passing
into the condition of the Winged Insect. But in the case I have been
describing, while the Hydroid gives birth to the Medusa, it still
preserves its own distinct existence; and the different forms developed
on one stock seem to be two parallel lives, and not the various phases
of one and the same life. This group of Hydroids retains the name of
Coryne; and the Medusa born from it, Sarsia, has received, as I have
said, the name of the distinguished investigator to whose labors we owe
much of our present knowledge of these animals.--Let us look now at
another group of Hydroids, whose mode of development is equally curious
The little transparent embryos from which they arise, oval in form, with
a slight, scarcely perceptible depression at one end, resemble the
embryos of Coryne already described. They may be seen in great numbers
in the spring, floating about in the water, or rather swimming,--for the
motion of all Radiates in their earliest stage of existence is rapid and
constant, in consequence of the vibratile cilia that cover the surface.
At this stage of its existence such an embryo is perfectly free, but
presently its wandering life comes to an end; it shows a disposition to
become fixed, and proceeds to choose a suitable resting-place. I use the
word "choose" advisedly; for though at this time the little embryo seems
to have no developed organs, it yet exercises a certain discrimination
in its selection of a home. Slightly pear-shaped in form, it settles
down upon its narrower end; it wavers and sways to and fro, as if trying
to get a firm foothold and force itself down upon the surface to which
it adheres; but presently, as if dissatisfied with the spot it has
chosen, it suddenly breaks loose and swims away to another locality,
where the same examination is repeated, not more to its own satisfaction
apparently, for the creature will renew the experiment half a dozen
times, perhaps, before making a final selection and becoming permanently
attached to the soil. In the course of this process the lower end
becomes flattened, and moulds itself to the shape of the body on which
it rests. Once settled, this animal, thus far hardly more than a
transparent oblong body without any distinct organs, begins to develop
rapidly. It elongates, forming a kind of cup-like base or stem, the
upper end spreads somewhat, the depression at its centre deepens, a
mouth is formed that gapes widely and opens into the digestive cavity,
and the upper margin spreads out to form a number of tentacles, few at
first, but growing more and more numerous till a wreath is completed all
around it. In this condition the young Jelly-Fish has been described
under the name of _Scyphostoma_. As soon as this wreath of tentacles is
formed, a constriction takes place below it, thus separating the upper
portion of the animal from the lower by a marked dividing-line.
Presently a second constriction takes place below the first, then a
third, till the entire length of the animal is divided across by a
number of such transverse constrictions, the whole body growing,
meanwhile, in height. But now an extraordinary change takes place in the
portions thus divided off. Each one assumes a distinct organic
structure, as if it had an individual life of its own. The margin
becomes lobed in eight deep scallops, and a tube or canal runs through
the centre of each such lobe to the centre of the body, where a
digestive cavity is already formed. At this time the constrictions have
deepened, so that the margins of all the successive divisions of the
little Hydroid are very prominent, and the whole animal looks like a
pile of saucers, or of disks with scalloped edges and the convex side
turned downward. Its general aspect may be compared to a string of
Lilac-blossoms, such as the children make for necklaces in the spring,
in which the base of one blossom is inserted into the upper side of the
one below it. In this condition our Jelly-Fish has been called
[Illustration: Scyphostoma of Aurelia flavidula, our common white
Jelly-Fish with a rosy cross.]
[Illustration: Strobila of Aurelia flavidula.]
While these organic changes take place in the lower disks, the topmost
one, forming the summit of the pile and bearing the tentacles, undergoes
no such modification, but presently the first constriction dividing it
from the rest deepens to such a degree that it remains united to them by
a mere thread only, and it soon breaks off and dies. This is the signal
for the breaking up of the whole pile in the same way by the deepening
of the constrictions; but, instead of dying, as they part, they begin a
new existence as free Medusae. Only the lowest portion of the body
remains, and around the margin of this tentacles have developed
corresponding to those which crowned the first little embryo; this
repeats the whole history again, growing up during the following season
to divide itself into disks like its predecessor.
[Illustration: Strobila of Aurelia flavidula: a, Scyphostoma reproduced
at the base of a Strobila, bb, all the disks of which have dropped off
but the last.]
As each individual separates from the community of which it has made a
part, it reverses its position, and, instead of turning the margin of
the disk upward, it turns it downward, thus bringing the mouth below and
the curve of the disk above. These free individuals have been described
under the name of _Ephyra_. This is the third phase of the existence of
our Jelly-Fish. It swims freely about, a transparent, umbrella-like
disk, with a proboscis hanging from the lower side, which, to complete
the comparison, we may call the handle of the umbrella. The margin of
the disk is even more deeply lobed than in the Hydroid condition, and in
the middle of each lobe is a second depression, quite deep and narrow,
at the base of which is an eye. How far such organs are gifted with the
power of vision we cannot decide; but the cells of which they are
composed certainly serve the purpose of facets, of lenses and prisms,
and must convey to the animal a more or less distinct perception of
light and color. The lobes are eight in number, as before, with a tube
diverging from the centre of the body into each lobe. Shorter tubes
between the lobes alternate with these, making thus sixteen radiating
tubes, all ramifying more or less.
[Illustration: Ephyra of Aurelia flavidula.]
[Illustration: Aurelia flavidula, the common white Jelly-Fish of our
sea-shores, seen from above: c, mouth; eeeeee, eyes; mmmm, lobes or
curtain of the mouth in outlines; ooo, ovaries; ttt, tentacles; ww
From this stage to its adult condition, the animal undergoes a
succession of changes in the gradual course of its growth,
uninterrupted, however, by any such abrupt transition as that by which
it began its life as a free animal. The lobes are gradually obliterated,
so that the margin becomes almost an unbroken circle. The eight eyes
were, as I have said, at the bottom of depressions in the centre of the
several lobes; but, by the equalizing of the marginal line, the gradual
levelling, as it were, of all the inequalities of the edge, the eyes are
pushed out, and occupy eight spots on the margin, where a faint
indentation only marks what was before a deep cut in the lobe. The eight
tubes of the lobes have extended in like manner to the edge, and join it
just at the point where the eyes are placed, so that the extremity of
each tube unites with the base of each eye. Those parts of the margin
filling the spaces between the eyes correspond to the depressions
dividing the lobes or scallops in the earlier stage, and to those
radiate the eight other tubes alternating with the eye-tubes, now
divided into numerous branches. Along each of these spaces is developed
a fine, delicate fringe of tentacles, hanging down like a veil when the
animal is at rest, or swept back when it is in motion. In the previous
stage, the tubes ramified toward the margin; but now they branch at or
near their point of starting from the central cavity, so extensively
that every part of the body is traversed by these collateral tubes, and
when one looks down at it from above through the gelatinous transparent
disk, the numerous ramifications resemble the fine fibrous structure of
a leaf with its net-work of nervules.
On the lower side, or what I have called in a previous article the oral
region of the animal, a wonderfully complicated apparatus is developed.
The mouth projects in four angles, and at each such angle a curtain
arises, stretching outwardly, and sometimes extending as far as the
margin. These curtains are fringed and folded on the lower edge, so that
they look like four ruffled flounces hanging from the lower side of the
animal. On the upper side of the body, but alternating in position with
these curtains, are the four ovaries, crescent-like in shape, and so
placed as to form the figure of a cross, when seen from above through
the transparency of the disk. I should add, that, though I speak of some
organs as being on the upper and others on the lower side of the body,
all are under the convex, arched surface of the disk, which is
gelatinous throughout, and simply forms a transparent vaulted roof, as
it were, above the rest of the body.
[Illustration: Aurelia flavidula, seen in profile]
When these animals first make their appearance in the spring, they may
be seen, when the sky is clear and the sea smooth, floating in immense
numbers near the surface of the water, though they do not seek the glare
of the sun, but are more often found about sheltered places, in the
neighborhood of wharves or overhanging rocks. As they grow larger, they
lose something of their gregarious disposition,--they scatter more; and
at this time they prefer the sunniest exposures, and like to bask in the
light and warmth. They assume every variety of attitude, but move always
by the regular contraction and expansion of the disk, which rises and
falls with rhythmical alternations, the average number of these
movements being from twelve to fifteen in a minute. There can be no
doubt that they perceive what is going on about them, and are very
sensitive to changes in the state of the atmosphere; for, as soon as the
surface of the water is ruffled, or the sky becomes overcast, they sink
into deeper water, and vanish out of sight. When approached with a
dip-net, it is evident, from the acceleration of their movements, that
they are attempting to escape.
At the spawning season, toward the end of July or the beginning of
August, they gather again in close clusters. At this period I have seen
them at Nahant in large shoals, covering a space of fifty feet or more,
and packed so closely in one unbroken mass that an oar could not be
thrust between them without injuring many. So deep was the phalanx that
I could not ascertain how far it extended below the surface of the
water, and those in the uppermost layer were partially forced out of the
water by the pressure of those below.
It is not strange that the relation between the various phases of this
extraordinary series of metamorphoses, so different from each other in
their external aspects, should not have been recognized at once, and
that this singular Acaleph should have been called Scyphostoma in its
simple Hydroid condition, Strobila after the transverse division of the
body had taken place, Ephyra in the first stages of its free existence,
and Aurelia in its adult state,--being thus described as four distinct
animals. These various forms are now rightly considered as the
successive stages of a development intimately connected in all its
parts,--beginning with the simple Hydroid attached to the ground, and
closing in the shape of our common Aurelia, with its white transparent
disk, its silky fringe of tentacles around the margin, its ruffled
curtains hanging from the mouth, and its four crescent-shaped ovaries
grouped to form a cross on the summit. From these ovaries a new brood of
little embryos is shed in due time.
There are other Hydroids giving rise to Medusae buds, from which,
however, the Medusae do not separate to begin a new life, but wither on
the Hydroid stock, after having come to maturity and dropped their eggs.
Such is the _Hydractinia polyclina_. This curious community begins, like
the preceding ones, with a single little individual, settling upon some
shell or stone, or on the rocks in a tide-pool, where it will sometimes
cover a space of several square feet. Rosy in color, very soft and
delicate in texture, such a growth of Hydractinia spreads a velvet-like
carpet over the rocks on which it occurs. They may be kept in aquariums
with perfect success, and for that purpose it is better to gather them
on single shells or stones, so that the whole community may be removed
unbroken. These colonies of Hydractinia have one very singular
character: they exist in distinct communities, some of which give birth
only to male, others to female individuals. The functions, also, are
divided,--certain members of the community being appointed to special
offices, in which the others do not share. Some bear the Medusae buds,
which in due time become laden with eggs, but, as I have said, wither
and die after the eggs are hatched. Others put forth Hydroid buds only,
while others again are wholly sterile. About the outskirts of the
community are more simple individuals, whose whole body seems to be
hardly more than a double-walled tube, terminating in a knob of
lasso-cells. They are like long tentacles placed where they can most
easily seize the prey that happens to approach the little colony. The
entire community is connected at its base by a horny net-work, uniting
all the Hydroid stems in its meshes, and spreading over the whole
surface on which the colony has established itself.
[Illustration: Hydractinia polyclina: _a_, sterile individual; _b_,
fertile individual, producing female Medusae; _d_, _e_, female Medusae,
containing advanced eggs; _f_, _g_, _h_, _i_, Cluster of female Medusas,
with less advanced eggs; _o_, peduncle of month, with short globular
tentacles; _c_, individual with globular tentacles, upon which no
Medusae have appeared, or from which they have dropped.]
There is a very curious and beautiful animal, or rather community of
animals, closely allied to the _Hydractinia polyclina_, which next
deserves to be noticed. The Portuguese Man-of-War--so called from its
bright-colored crest, which makes it so conspicuous as it sails upon the
water, and the long and various streamers that hang from its lower
side--is such a community of animals as I have just described, reversed
in position, however, with the individuals hanging down, and the base
swollen and expanded to make the air-bladder which forms its brilliant
crested float. In this curious Acalephian Hydroid, or _Physalia_, the
individuality of function is even more marked than in the Hydractinia.
As in the latter, some of the individuals are Medusae-bearing, and
others simple Hydrae; but, beside these, there are certain members of
the community who act as swimmers, to carry it along through the
water,--others that are its purveyors, catching the prey, by which,
however, they profit only indirectly, for others are appointed to eat
it, and these feeders may be seen sometimes actually gorged with the
food they have devoured, and which is then distributed throughout the
community by the process of digestion and circulation.
[Illustration: Physalia, or Portuguese Man-of-War.]
It would be hopeless, even were it desirable, to attempt within the
limits of such an article as this to give the faintest idea of the
number and variety of these Hydroids; and I will therefore say nothing
of the endless host of Tubularians, Campanularians, Sertularians, etc.
They are very abundant along our coast, and will well reward any who
care to study their habits and their singular modes of growth. For their
beauty, simply, it is worth while to examine them. Some are deep red,
others rosy, others purple, others white with a glitter upon them, as if
frosted with silver. Their homes are very various. Some like the fresh,
deep sea-water, while they avoid the dash and tumult of the waves; and
they establish themselves in the depressions on some low ledge of rocks
running far out from the shore, and yet left bare for an hour or two,
when the tide is out. In such a depression, forming a stony cup filled
with purest sea-water, overhung by a roof of rock, which may be fringed
by a heavy curtain of brown sea-weed, the rosy-headed, branching
Eudendrium, one of the prettiest of the Tubularians, may be found.
Others like the tide-pools, higher up on the rocks, that are freshened
by the waves only when the tide is full: such are the small, creeping
Campanularians. Others, again, like the tiny Dynamena, prefer the
rougher action of the sea; and they settle upon the sides of rents and
fissures in the cliffs along the shore, where even in calm weather the
waves rush in and out with a certain degree of violence, broken into
eddies by the abrupt character of the rocks. Others seek the broad
fronds of the larger sea-weeds, and are lashed up and down upon their
spreading branches, as they rock to and fro with the motion of the sea.
Many live in sheltered harbors, attaching themselves to floating logs,
or to the keels of vessels; and some are even so indifferent to the
freshness of the water that they may be found in numbers along the
Beside the Jelly-Fishes arising from Hydroids, there are many others
resembling these in all the essential features of their structure, but
differing in their mode of development; for, although more or less
Polyp-like when first born from the egg, they never become attached, nor
do they ever bud or divide, but reach their mature condition without any
such striking metamorphoses as those that characterize the development
of the Hydroid Acalephs. All the Medusas, whether they arise from buds
on the Hydroid stock, like the Sarsia, or from transverse division of
the Hydroid form, like the Aurelia, or grow directly from the egg to
maturity, without pausing in the Hydroid phase, like the Campanella,
agree in the general division and relation of parts. All have a central
cavity, from which arise radiating tubes extending to the margin of the
umbrella-like disk, where they unite either in a net-work of meshes or
in a single circular tube. But there is a great difference in the oral
apparatus; the elaborate ruffled curtains, that hang from the corners of
the mouth, occur only in the Species arising from the transverse
division of the Polyp-like young. For this reason they are divided into
two Orders,--the Hydroids and the Discophorae.
The third Order, the Ctenophorae, are among the most beautiful of the
Acalephs. I have spoken of the various hues they assume when in motion,
and I will add one word of the peculiarity in their structure which
causes this effect. The Ctenophorae differ from the Jelly-Fishes
described above in sending off from the main cavity only two main tubes,
instead of four like the others; but each of these tubes divides and
subdivides in four branches as it approaches the periphery. From the
eight branches produced in this way there arise vertical tubes extending
in opposite directions up and down the sides of the body. Along these
vertical tubes run the rows of little locomotive oars, or combs, as they
have been called, from which these animals derive their name of
Ctenophorae. The rapid motion of these flappers causes the decomposition
of the rays of light along the surface of the body, producing the most
striking prismatic effect; and it is no exaggeration to say that no
jewel is brighter than these Ctenophorae as they move through the water.
[Illustration: Idyia roseola; one of our Ctenophorae: a, anal aperture;
b, radiating tube; c, circular tube; d, e, f, g, h, rows of locomotive
* * * * *
I trust I have succeeded in showing that the three Orders of the
Acalephs are, like the five Orders of the Echinoderms, different degrees
of complication of the same structure. In the Hydroids, the organization
does not rise above the simple digestive cavity inclosed by the double
body-wall; and we might not suspect their relation to the Acalephs, did
we not see the Jelly-Fish born from the Hydroid stock. In the
Hydroid-Medusae and Discophorae, instead of a simple digestive sac, as
in the Hydroids, we have a cavity sending off tubes toward the
periphery, which ramify more or less in their course. Now whether there
are four tubes or eight, whether they ramify extensively or not, whether
there are more or less complicated appendages around the margin or the
mouth, makes no difference in the essential structure of these bodies.
They are all disk-like in outline, they all have tentacles hanging from
the margin, and a central cavity from which tubes diverge that divide
the body into a certain number of portions, bearing in all the same
relation to each other and to the central cavity. In the Ctenophorae,
another complication of structure is introduced in the combination of
vertical with horizontal tubes and the external appendages accompanying
But, whatever their differences may be, a very slight effort of the
imagination only is needed to transform any one of these forms into any
other. Reverse the position of any simple Hydra, so that the tentacles
hang down from the margin, and let four tubes radiate from the central
cavity to the periphery, and we have the lowest form of Jelly-Fish.
Expand the cup of the Hydra to form a gelatinous disk, increase the
number of tubes, complicate their ramifications, let eyes be developed
along the margin, add some external appendages, and we have the
Discophore. Elongate the disk in order to give the body an oval form,
diminish the number of main tubes, and let them give off vertical as
well as horizontal branches, and we have the Ctenophore.
In the Class of Polyps there are but two Orders,--the Actinoids and the
Halcyonoids; and I have already said so much of the structure of Polyps
that I think I need not repeat my remarks here in order to show the
relation between these groups. The body of all Polyps consists of a sac
divided into chambers by vertical partitions, and having a wreath of
hollow tentacles around the summit, each one of which opens into one of
the chambers. The greater complication of these parts and their
limitation in definite numbers constitute the characters upon which
their superiority or inferiority of structure is based. Here the
comparison is easily made; it is simply the complication and number of
identical parts that make the difference between the Orders. The
Actinoids stand lowest from the simple character and indefinite increase
of these parts; while the Halcyonoids, with their eight lobed tentacles,
corresponding to the same number of internal divisions, are placed above
We have the key-note to the common structure of the three Classes whose
Orders we have been comparing in the name of the division to which they
all belong: they are _Radiates._ The idea of radiation lies at the
foundation of all these animals, whatever be their form or substance.
Whether stony, like the Corals, or soft, like the Sea-Anemone, or
gelatinous and transparent, like the Jelly-Fish, or hard and brittle,
like the Sea-Urchins,--whether round or oblong or cylindrical or
stellate, in all, the internal structure obeys this law of radiation.
Not only is this true in a general way, but the comparison may be traced
in all the details. One may ask how the narrow radiating tubes of the
Acalephs, traversing the gelatinous mass of the body, can be compared to
the wide radiating chambers of the Polyp; and yet nothing is more simple
than to thicken the partitions in the Polyps so much as to narrow the
chambers between them, till they form narrow alleys instead of wide
spaces, and then we have the tubes of the Jelly-Fish. In the Jelly-Fish
there is a circular tube around the margin into which all the radiating
tubes open. What have we to compare with this in the Polyps? The outer
edge of each partition in the Polyp is pierced by a hole near the
margin. Of course when the partition is thickened, this hole, remaining
open, becomes a tube; for what is a tube but an elongated hole? The
comparison of the Acalephs with the Echinoderms is still easier, for
they both have tubes; but in the latter the tubes are inclosed in walls
of their own, instead of traversing the mass of the body, as in
* * * * *
In preparing these articles on the homologies of Radiates, I have felt
the difficulty of divesting my subject of the technicalities which cling
to all scientific results, until they are woven into the tissue of our
every-day knowledge and assume the familiar garb of our common
intellectual property. When the forms of animals are as familiar to
children as their A, B, C, and the intelligent study of Natural History,
from the objects themselves, and not from text-books alone, is
introduced into all our schools, we shall have popular names for things
that can now only be approached with a certain professional stateliness
on account of their technical nomenclature. The best result of such
familiarity with Nature will be the recognition of an intellectual unity
holding together all the various forms of life as parts of one Creative
[Footnote 3: See lower wood-cut, p. 294, _d_.]
[Footnote 4: Those who care to know more of the habits and structure of
these animals will find more detailed descriptions of all the various
species, illustrated by numerous plates, in the fourth volume of my
_Contributions to the Natural History of the United States,_ just
In exploring among dusty files of newspapers for the true records of
Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner, I have caught occasional glimpses of a
plot perhaps more wide in its outlines than that of either, which has
lain obscure in the darkness of half a century, traceable only in the
political events which dated from it, and the utter incorrectness of the
scanty traditions which assumed to preserve it. And though researches in
public libraries have only proved to me how rapidly the materials for
American history are vanishing,--since not one of our great institutions
possesses, for instance, a file of any Southern newspaper of the year
1800,--yet the little which I have gained may have an interest which
makes it worth preserving. I have never been able to see why American
historians should be driven to foreign lands for subjects, when our own
nation has furnished tyrannies more terrible than that of Philip of
Spain, and heroes more silent than William of Orange,--or why our
novelists must seek themes in Italy, on the theory avowed by one of the
most gifted of their number, that this country is given over to a "broad
commonplace prosperity," and harbors "no picturesque or gloomy wrong."
But since, as the Spanish proverb says, no man can at the same time ring
the bells and walk in the procession, so it has perhaps happened that
those most qualified to record the romance of slave-institutions have
been thus far too busy in dealing with the reality.
Three times, at intervals of thirty years, has a wave of unutterable
terror swept across the Old Dominion, bringing thoughts of agony to
every Virginian master, and of vague hope to every Virginian slave. Each
time has one man's name become a spell of dismay and a symbol of
deliverance. Each time has that name eclipsed its predecessor, while
recalling it for a moment to fresher memory: John Brown revived the
story of Nat Turner, as in his day Nat Turner recalled the vaster
schemes of Gabriel.
On September 8th, 1800, a Virginia correspondent wrote thus to the
Philadelphia "United States Gazette":--
"For the week past, we have been under momentary expectation of a
rising among the negroes, who have assembled to the number of nine
hundred or a thousand, and threatened to massacre all the whites.
They are armed with desperate weapons, and secrete themselves in the
woods. God only knows our fate; we have strong guards every night
It was no wonder, if there were foundation for such rumors. Liberty was
the creed or the cant of the day. France was being rocked by revolution,
and England by Clarkson. In America, slavery was habitually recognized
as a misfortune and an error, only to be palliated by the nearness of
its expected end. How freely anti-slavery pamphlets had been circulated
in Virginia we know from the priceless volumes collected and annotated
by Washington, and now preserved in the Boston Athenaeum. Jefferson's
"Notes on Virginia," itself an anti-slavery tract, had passed through
seven editions. Judge St. George Tucker, law-professor in William and
Mary College, had recently published his noble work, "A Dissertation on
Slavery, with a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of it in the State of
Virginia." From all this agitation a slave insurrection was a mere
corollary. With so much electricity in the air, a single flash of
lightning foreboded all the terrors of the tempest. Let but a single
armed negro be seen or suspected, and at once on many a lonely
plantation there were trembling hands at work to bar doors and windows
that seldom had been even closed before, and there was shuddering when a
gray squirrel scrambled over the roof, or a shower of walnuts came down
clattering from the overhanging boughs.
Early in September, 1800, as a certain Mr. Moseley Sheppard, of Henrico
County in Virginia, was one day sitting in his counting-room, two
negroes knocked at the door and were let in. They shut the door
themselves, and began to unfold an insurrectionary plot, which was
subsequently repeated by one of them, named Ben Woodfolk or Woolfolk, in
presence of the court, on the fifteenth of the same month.
He stated that about the first of the preceding June he had been asked
by a negro named Colonel George whether he would like to be made a
Mason. He refused; but George ultimately prevailed on him to have an
interview with a certain leading man among the blacks, named Gabriel.
Arrived at the place of meeting, he found many persons assembled, to
whom a preliminary oath was administered, that they would keep secret
all which they might hear. The leaders then began, to the dismay of this
witness, to allude to a plan of insurrection, which, as they stated, was
already far advanced toward maturity. Presently a man named Martin,
Gabriel's brother, proposed religious services, caused the company to be
duly seated, and began an impassioned exposition of Scripture, bearing
upon the perilous theme. The Israelites were glowingly portrayed as a
type of successful resistance to tyranny; and it was argued, that now,
as then, God would stretch forth His arm to save, and would strengthen a
hundred to overthrow a thousand. Thus passed, the witness stated, this
preparatory meeting. At a subsequent gathering the affair was brought to
a point, and the only difficult question was, whether to rise in
rebellion upon a certain Saturday, or upon the Sunday following. Gabriel
said that Saturday was the day already fixed, and that it must not be
altered; but George was for changing it to Sunday, as being more
convenient for the country negroes, who could travel on that day without
suspicion. Gabriel, however, said decisively that they had enough to
carry Richmond without them, and Saturday was therefore retained as the
This was the confession, so far as it is now accessible; and on the
strength of it Ben Woolfolk was promptly pardoned by the court for all
his sins, past, present, or to come, and they proceeded with their
investigation. Of Gabriel little appeared to be known, except that he
had been the property of Thomas Prosser, a young man who had recently
inherited a plantation a few miles from Richmond, and who had the
reputation among his neighbors of "behaving with great barbarity to his
slaves." Gabriel was, however, reported to be "a fellow of courage and
intellect above his rank in life,"--to be about twenty-five years of
age,--and to be guiltless of the alphabet.
Further inquiry made it appear that the preparations of the insurgents
were hardly adequate to any grand revolutionary design,--at least, if
they proposed to begin with open warfare. The commissariat may have been
well organized, for black Virginians are apt to have a prudent eye to
the larder; but the ordnance department and the treasury were as low as
if Secretary Floyd had been in charge of them. A slave called "Prosser's
Ben" testified that he went with Gabriel to see Ben Woolfolk, who was
going to Caroline County to enlist men, and that "Gabriel gave him three
shillings for himself and three other negroes, to be expended in
recruiting men." Their arms and ammunition, so far as reported,
consisted of a peck of bullets, ten pounds of powder, and twelve
scythe-swords, made by Gabriel's brother Solomon, and fitted with
handles by Gabriel himself. "These cutlasses," said subsequently a white
eyewitness, "are made of scythes cut in two and fixed into well-turned
handles. I have never seen arms so murderous. Those who still doubt the
importance of the conspiracy which has been so fortunately frustrated
would shudder with horror at the sight of these instruments of death."
And as it presently appeared that a conspirator named Scott had
astonished his master by accidentally pulling ten dollars from a ragged
pocket which seemed inadequate to the custody of ten cents, it was
agreed that the plot might still be dangerous, even though the resources
And indeed, as was soon discovered, the effective weapon of the
insurgents lay in the very audacity of their plan. The scheme, as it
existed in the mind of Gabriel, was as elaborate as that of Denmark
Vesey, and as thorough as that of Nat Turner. If the current statements
of all the Virginia letter-writers were true, "nothing could have been
better contrived." It was to have taken effect on the first day of
September. The rendezvous for the blacks was to be a brook six miles
from Richmond. Eleven hundred men were to assemble there, and were to be
divided into three columns, their officers having been designated in
advance. All were to march on Richmond,--then a town of eight thousand
inhabitants,--under cover of night. The right wing was instantly to
seize upon the penitentiary building, just converted into an arsenal;
while the left wing was to take possession of the powder-house. These
two columns were to be armed chiefly with clubs, as their undertaking
depended for success upon surprise, and was expected to prevail without
hard fighting. But it was the central force, armed with muskets,
cutlasses, knives, and pikes, upon which the chief responsibility
rested; these men were to enter the town at both ends simultaneously,
and begin a general carnage, none being excepted save the French
inhabitants, who were supposed for some reason to be friendly to the
negroes. In a very few hours, it was thought, they would have entire
control of the metropolis. And that this hope was not in the least
unreasonable was shown by the subsequent confessions of weakness from
the whites. "They could scarcely have failed of success," wrote the
Richmond Correspondent of the Boston "Chronicle," "for, after all, we
could only muster four or five hundred men, of whom not more than thirty
For the insurgents, if successful, the penitentiary held several
thousand stand of arms; the powder-house was well stocked; the capitol
contained the State treasury; the mills would give them bread; the
control of the bridge across James River would keep off enemies from
beyond. Thus secured and provided, they planned to issue proclamations
summoning to their standard "their fellow-negroes and the friends of
humanity throughout the continent." In a week, it was estimated, they
would have fifty thousand men on their side, with which force they could
easily possess themselves of other towns; and, indeed, a slave named
John Scott--possibly the dangerous possessor of the ten dollars--was
already appointed to head the attack on Petersburg. But in case of final
failure, the project included a retreat to the mountains, with their
new-found property. John Brown was therefore anticipated by Gabriel,
sixty years before, in believing the Virginia mountains to have been
"created, from the foundation of the world, as a place of refuge for
These are the statements of the contemporary witnesses; they are
repeated in many newspapers of the year 1800, and are in themselves
clear and consistent. Whether they are on the whole exaggerated or
understated, it is now impossible to say. It is certain that a Richmond
paper of September 12th (quoted in the "New York Gazette" of September
18th) declares that "the plot has been entirely exploded, which was
shallow; and had the attempt been made to carry it into execution, but
little resistance would have been required to render the scheme entirely
abortive." But it is necessary to remember that this is no more than the
Charleston newspapers said at the very crisis of Denmark Vesey's
formidable plot. "Last evening," wrote a lady from Charleston in 1822,
"twenty-five hundred of our citizens were under arms to guard our
property and lives. But it is a subject _not to be mentioned_ [so
underscored]; and unless you hear of it elsewhere, say nothing about
it." Thus it is always hard to know whether to assume the facts of an
insurrection as above or below the estimates. This Virginian excitement
also happened at a period of intense political agitation, and was seized
upon as a boon by the Federalists. The very article above quoted is
ironically headed, "Holy Insurrection," and takes its motto from
Jefferson, with profuse capital letters,--"The Spirit of the Master is
abating, that of the Slave rising from the dust, his condition
In view of the political aspect thus given to the plot, and of its
ingenuity and thoroughness likewise, the Virginians were naturally
disposed to attribute to white men some share in it; and speculation
presently began to run wild. The newspapers were soon full of theories,
no two being alike, and no one credible. The plot originated, some said,
in certain handbills written by Jefferson's friend Callender, then in
prison at Richmond on a charge of sedition; these were circulated by two
French negroes, aided by a "United Irishman," calling himself a
Methodist preacher,--and it was in consideration of these services that
no Frenchman was to be injured by the slaves. When Gabriel was arrested,
the editor of the "United States Gazette" affected much diplomatic
surprise that no letters were _yet_ found upon his person "from Fries,
Gallatin, or Duane, nor was he at the time of his capture accompanied by
any United Irishman." "He, however, acknowledges that there are others
concerned, and that he is not the principal instigator." All Federalists
agreed that the Southern Democratic talk was constructive
insurrection,--which it certainly was,--and they painted graphic
pictures of noisy "Jacobins" over their wine, and eager, dusky listeners
behind their chairs. "It is evident that the French principles of
liberty and equality have been effused into the minds of the negroes,
and that the incautious and intemperate use of the words by some whites
among us have inspired them with hopes of success." "While the fiery
Hotspurs of the State vociferate their _French babble_ of the natural
equality of man, the insulted negro will be constantly stimulated to
cast away his cords and to sharpen his pike." "It is, moreover,
believed, though not positively known, that a great many of our
profligate and abandoned whites (who are distinguished by the burlesque
appellation of _Democrats_) are implicated with the blacks, and would
have joined them, if they had commenced their operations.... The Jacobin
printers and their friends are panic-struck. Never was terror more
strongly depicted in the countenances of men." These extracts from three
different Federalist newspapers show the amiable emotions of that side
of the house; while Democratic Duane, in the "Aurora," could find no
better repartee than to attribute the whole trouble to the policy of the
Administration in renewing commercial intercourse with San Domingo.
I have discovered in the Norfolk "Epitome of the Times," for October 9,
1800, a remarkable epistle written from Richmond jail by the unfortunate
Callender himself. He indignantly denies the charges against the
Democrats, of complicity in dangerous plots, boldly retorting them upon
the Federalists. "An insurrection at this critical moment by the negroes
of the Southern States would have thrown everything into confusion, and
consequently it was to have prevented the choice of electors in the
whole or the greater part of the States to the south of the Potomac.
Such a disaster must have tended directly to injure the interests of Mr.
Jefferson, and to promote the slender possibility of a second election
of Mr. Adams." And, to be sure, the "United States Gazette" followed up
the thing with a good, single-minded party malice which cannot be
surpassed in these present days, ending in such altitudes of sublime
coolness as the following:--"The insurrection of the negroes in the
Southern States, which appears to be organized on the true French plan,
must be decisive with every reflecting man in those States of the
election of Mr. Adams and General Pinckney. The military skill and
approved bravery of the General must be peculiarly valuable to his
countrymen at these trying moments." Let us have a military
Vice-President, by all means, to meet this formidable exigency of
Gabriel's peck of bullets, and this unexplained three shillings in the
pocket of "Prosser's Ben"!
But Gabriel's campaign failed, like that of the Federalists, and the
appointed day brought disasters more fatal than even the sword of
General Pinckney. The affrighted negroes declared that "the stars in
their courses fought against Sisera." The most furious tempest ever
known in Virginia burst upon the land that day, instead of an
insurrection. Roads and plantations were submerged. Bridges were carried
away. The fords, which then, as now, were the ordinary substitutes for
bridges in that region, were rendered wholly impassable. The Brook
Swamp, one of the most important strategic points of the insurgents, was
entirely inundated, hopelessly dividing Prosser's farm from Richmond;
the country negroes could not get in, nor those from the city get out.
The thousand men dwindled to a few hundred,--and these half paralyzed by
superstition; there was nothing to do but to dismiss them, and before
they could reassemble they were betrayed.
That the greatest alarm was instantly created throughout the community,
there is no question. All the city of Richmond was in arms, and in all
large towns of the State the night-patrol was doubled. It is a little
amusing to find it formally announced, that "the Governor, impressed
with the magnitude of the danger, has appointed for himself three
Aides-de-camp." A troop of United States cavalry was ordered to
Richmond. Numerous arrests were made. Men were convicted on one day and
hanged on the next,--five, six, ten, fifteen at a time, almost without
evidence. Three hundred dollars were offered by Governor Monroe for the
arrest of Gabriel; as much more for another chief named Jack Bowler,
_alias_ Ditcher; whereupon Bowler, _alias_ Ditcher, surrendered himself,
but it took some weeks to get upon the track of Gabriel. He was finally
captured at Norfolk, on board a schooner just arrived from Richmond, in
whose hold he had concealed himself for eleven days, having thrown
overboard a bayonet and bludgeon, which were his only arms. Crowds of
people collected to see him, including many of his own color. He was
arrested on September 24th, convicted on October 3d, and executed on
October 7th; and it is known of him further only, that, like almost all
leaders of slave insurrections, he showed a courage which his enemies
could not gainsay. "When he was apprehended, he manifested the greatest
marks of firmness and confidence, showing not the least disposition to
equivocate or screen himself from justice,"--but making no confession
that could implicate any one else. "The behavior of Gabriel under his
misfortunes," said the Norfolk "Epitome" of September 25th, "was such as
might be expected from a mind capable of forming the daring project
which he had conceived." The "United States Gazette" for October 9th
states, more sarcastically, that "the General is said to have manifested
the utmost composure, and with the true spirit of heroism seems ready to
resign his high office, and even his life, rather than gratify the
officious inquiries of the Governor."
Some of these newspapers suggest that the authorities found it good
policy to omit the statement made by Gabriel, whatever it was. At any
rate, he assured them that he was by no means the sole instigator of the
affair; he could name numbers, even in Norfolk, who were more deeply
concerned. To his brother Solomon he is said to have stated that the
real head of the plot was Jack Bowler. Still another leader was "General
John Scott," already mentioned, the slave of Mr. Greenhow, hired by Mr.
McCrea. He was captured by his employer in Norfolk, just as he was
boldly entering a public conveyance to escape; and the Baltimore
"Telegraphe" declared that he had a written paper directing him to apply
to Alexander Biddenhurst or Weddenhurst in Philadelphia, "corner of
Coats Alley and Budd Street, who would supply his needs." What became of
this military individual, or of his Philadelphia sympathizers, does not
appear. But it was noticed, as usually happens in such cases, that all
the insurgents had previously passed for saints. "It consists within my
knowledge," says one letter-writer, "that many of these wretches who
were or would have been partakers in the plot have been treated with the
utmost tenderness by their masters, and were more like children than
These appear to be all the details now accessible of this once famous
plot. They were not very freely published even at the time. "The
minutiae of the conspiracy have not been detailed to the public," said
the "Salem Gazette" of October 7th, "and, perhaps, through a mistaken
notion of prudence and policy, will not be detailed, in the Richmond
papers." The New York "Commercial Advertiser" of October 13th was still
more explicit. "The trials of the negroes concerned in the late
insurrection are suspended until the opinions of the Legislature can be
had on the subject. This measure is said to be owing to the immense
numbers who are interested in the plot, whose death, should they all be
found guilty and be executed, will nearly produce the annihilation of
the blacks in this part of the country." And in the next issue of the
same journal a Richmond correspondent makes a similar statement, with
the following addition:--
"A conditional amnesty is perhaps expected. At the next session of
the Legislature [of Virginia] they took into consideration the
subject referred to them, in secret session, with closed doors. The
whole result of their deliberations has never yet been made public,
as the injunction of secrecy has never been removed. To satisfy the
court, the public, and themselves, they had a task so difficult to
perform, that it is not surprising that their deliberations were in
It is a matter of historical interest to know that in these mysterious
sessions lay the germs of the American Colonization Society. A
correspondence was at once secretly commenced between the Governor of
Virginia and the President of the United States, with a view to securing
a grant of land whither troublesome slaves might be banished. Nothing
came of it then; but in 1801, 1802, and 1804, these attempts were
renewed. And finally, on January 22d, 1805, the following vote was
passed, still in secret session:--"_Resolved_, that the Senators of this
State in the Congress of the United States be instructed, and the
Representatives be requested, to use their best efforts for the
obtaining from the General Government a competent portion of territory
in the State of Louisiana, to be appropriated to the residence of such
people of color as have been or shall be emancipated, or hereafter may
become dangerous to the public safety," etc. But of all these efforts
nothing was known till their record was accidentally discovered by
Charles Fenton Mercer in 1816. He at once brought the matter to light,
and moved a similar resolution in the Virginia Legislature; it was
almost unanimously adopted, and the first formal meeting of the
Colonization Society, in 1817, was called "in aid" of this Virginia
movement. But the whole correspondence was never made public until the
Nat-Turner insurrection of 1831 recalled the previous excitement, and
these papers were demanded by Mr. Summers, a member of the Legislature,
who described them as "having originated in a convulsion similar to that
which had recently, but more terribly, occurred."
But neither these subsequent papers, nor any documents which now appear
accessible, can supply any authentic or trustworthy evidence as to the
real extent of the earlier plot. It certainly was not confined to the
mere environs of Richmond. The Norfolk "Epitome" of October 6th states
that on the sixth and seventh of the previous month one hundred and
fifty blacks, including twenty from Norfolk, were assembled near
Whitlock's Mills in Suffolk County, and remained in the neighborhood
till the failure of the Richmond plan became known. Petersburg
newspapers also had letters containing similar tales. Then the alarm
spread more widely. Near Edenton, N.C., there was undoubtedly a real
insurrection, though promptly suppressed; and many families ultimately
removed from that vicinity in consequence. In Charleston, S.C., there
was still greater excitement, if the contemporary press may be trusted;
it was reported that the freeholders had been summoned to appear in
arms, on penalty of a fine of fifteen pounds, which many preferred to
pay rather than risk taking the fever which then prevailed. These
reports were, however, zealously contradicted in letters from
Charleston, dated October 8th, and the Charleston newspapers up to
September 17th had certainly contained no reference to any especial
excitement. This alone might not settle the fact, for reasons already
given. But the omission of any such affair from the valuable pamphlet
containing reminiscences of insurrections in South Carolina, published
in 1822 by Edwin C. Holland, is presumptive evidence that no very
extended agitation occurred.
But wherever there was a black population, slave or emancipated, men's
startled consciences made cowards of them all, and recognized the negro
as a dangerous man, because an injured one. In Philadelphia it was
seriously proposed to prohibit the use of sky-rockets for a time,
because they had been employed as signals in San Domingo. "Even in
Boston," said the New York "Daily Advertiser" of September 20th, "fears
are expressed, and measures of prevention adopted." This probably refers
to a singular advertisement which appeared in some of the Boston
newspapers on September 16th, and runs as follows:--
"NOTICE TO BLACKS.
"The officers of the police having made returns to the subscriber of
the names of the following persons who are Africans or negroes, not
subjects of the Emperor of Morocco nor citizens of any of the United
States, the same are hereby warned and directed to depart out of this
Commonwealth before the tenth day of October next, as they would
avoid the pains and penalties of the law in that case provided, which
was passed by the Legislature March 26, 1788.
"By order and direction of the Selectmen."
The names annexed are about three hundred, with the places of their
supposed origin, and they occupy a column of the paper. So at least
asserts the "United States Gazette" of September 23d. "It seems
probable," adds the editor, "from the nature of the notice, that some
suspicion of the design of the negroes is entertained, and we regret to
say there is too much cause." The law of 1788 above mentioned was "an
act for suppressing rogues, vagabonds, and the like," which forbade all
persons of African descent, unless citizens of some one of the United
States or subjects of the Emperor of Morocco, from remaining more than
two months within the Commonwealth, on penalty of imprisonment and hard
labor. This singular statute remained unrepealed until 1834.
Amid the general harmony in the contemporary narratives of Gabriel's
insurrection, it would be improper to pass by one exceptional legend,
which by some singular fatality has obtained more circulation than all
the true accounts put together. I can trace it no farther back than Nat
Turner's time, when it was published in the Albany "Evening Journal";
thence transferred to the "Liberator" of September 17th, 1831, and many
other newspapers; then refuted in detail by the "Richmond Enquirer" of
October 21st; then resuscitated in the John-Brown epoch by the
Philadelphia "Press," and extensively copied. It is fresh, spirited, and
full of graphic and interesting details, nearly every one of which is
Gabriel in this narrative becomes a rather mythical being, of vast
abilities and life-long preparations. He bought his freedom, it is
stated, at the age of twenty-one, and then travelled all over the
Southern States, enlisting confederates and forming stores of arms. At
length his plot was discovered, in consequence of three negroes' having
been seen riding out of a stable-yard together; and the Governor offered
a reward of ten thousand dollars for further information, to which a
Richmond gentleman added as much more. Gabriel concealed himself on
board the Sally Ann, a vessel just sailing for San Domingo, and was
revealed by his little nephew, whom he had sent for a jug of rum.
Finally the narrative puts an eloquent dying speech into Gabriel's
mouth, and, to give a properly tragic consummation, causes him to be
torn to death by four wild horses. The last item is, however, omitted in
the more recent reprints of the story.
Every one of these statements appears to be absolutely erroneous.
Gabriel lived and died a slave, and was probably never out of Virginia.
His plot was voluntarily revealed by accomplices. The rewards offered
for his arrest amounted to three hundred dollars only. He concealed
himself on board the schooner Mary, bound to Norfolk, and was discovered
by the police. He died on the gallows, with ten associates, having made
no address to the court or the people. All the errors of the statement
were contradicted when it was first made public, but they have proved
very hard to kill.
It is stated at the close of this newspaper romance,--and it may
nevertheless be true,--that these events were embodied in a song bearing
the same title with this essay, "Gabriel's Defeat," and set to a tune of
the same name, both being composed by a colored man. The reporter claims
to have heard it in Virginia, as a favorite air at the dances of the
white people, as well as in the huts of the slaves. It would certainly
be one of history's strange parallelisms, if this fatal enterprise, like
that of John Brown afterwards, should thus triumphantly have embalmed
itself in music. But I have found no other trace of such a piece of
border-minstrelsy, and it is probable that even this plaintive memorial
has at length disappeared.
Yet, twenty-two years after these events their impression still remained
vivid enough for Benjamin Lundy, in Tennessee, to write,--"So well had
they matured their plot, and so completely had they organized their
system of operations, that nothing but a seemingly miraculous
intervention of the arm of Providence was supposed to have been capable
of saving the city from pillage and flames, and the inhabitants thereof
from butchery. So dreadful was the alarm and so great the consternation
produced on this occasion, that a member of Congress from that State was
some time after heard to express himself in his place as follows: 'The
night-bell is never heard to toll in the city of Richmond but the
anxious mother presses her infant more closely to her bosom.'" The
Congressman was John Randolph of Roanoke, and it was Gabriel who had
taught him the lesson.
And longer than the melancholy life of that wayward statesman,--down
even to the beginning of the present civil war, and perhaps to this very
moment,--there lingered in Richmond a memorial of those days, most
peculiar and most instructive. Before the days of Secession, when the
Northern traveller in Virginia, after traversing for weary leagues its
miry ways, its desolate fields, and its flowery forests, rode at last
into its metropolis,--now slowly expanded into a city of twenty-eight
thousand inhabitants,--he was sure to be guided erelong to visit its
stately Capitol, modelled by Jefferson, when French minister, from the
Maison Carree. Standing before it, he might admire undisturbed the
Grecian outline of its exterior, or criticize at will the unsightly
cheapness of its stucco imitations; but he found himself forbidden to
enter, save by passing an armed and uniformed sentinel at the door-way.
No other State of the Union has thus found it necessary in time of
profoundest quiet to protect its State-House by a permanent cordon of
bayonets; indeed, the Constitution expressly prohibits to any State a
standing army, however small. Yet there for sixty years has stood
sentinel the "Public Guard" of Virginia, wearing the suicidal motto of