Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. VII.--FEBRUARY, 1861.--NO. XL.
OUR ARTISTS IN ITALY.
Among artists, William Page is a painter.
This proposition may seem, to the great public which has so long and so
well known him and his works, somewhat unnecessary. There are few
who are not familiar with his paintings. Whether these seem great or
otherwise, whether the Venus be pure or gross, we may not here discuss;
the public has, and will have, many estimates; yet on one point there
is no difference of opinion, apparently. The world willingly calls him
whose hand wrought these pictures a painter. It has done so as a matter
of course; and we accept the title.
But perhaps the title comes to us from this man's studio, charged with a
significance elevating it above the simply self-evident, and rendering
it worthy of the place we have given it as a germ proposition.
Not every one who uses pigments can say, "I also am a painter." To him
who would make visible the ideal, there are presented the marble, the
pencil, and the colors; and should he employ either of these, just in
proportion to his obedience to the laws of each will he be a sculptor,
a designer, or a painter; and the revelations in stone, in light and
shade, or on canvas, shall be his witnesses forevermore,--witnesses of
him not only as an artist, in view of his relation to the ideal world,
but as possessing a right to the especial title conferred by the means
which he has chosen to be his interpreter.
The world has too much neglected these means of interpretation. It has
condemned the science which would perfect the art, as if the false could
ever become the medium of the true. The art of painting has suffered
especially from the influence of mistaken views.
Nor could it be otherwise. Color-manifestation, of all art-utterance,
is the least simple. It requires the fulfilment of a greater number
of conditions than are involved in any other art. He who has selected
colors as his medium cannot with impunity neglect form; light and
shade must be to him as important as they are to the designer in
_chiaro-scuro;_ while above all are the mystery and power of color.
There is perplexity in this. The science of form seems to be vast enough
for any man's genius. No more than he accomplishes is demanded of the
genuine sculptor. His life has been grand with noble fulfilments. We,
and all generations, hold his name in the sacred simplicity which has
ever been the sign of the consummate. Men say, Phidias, Praxiteles, and
know that they did greatly and sufficiently.
Yet with the science which these men had we combine elements equally
great, and still truth demands the consummate. Hence success in painting
has been the rarest success which the world has known. If we search
its history page by page, the great canvas-leaves written over with
innumerable names yield us less than a score of those who have overcome
the difficulties of its science, through that, achieving art, and
Yes, many men have painted, many great artists have painted, without
earning the title which excellence gives. Overbeck, the apostle artist,
whose rooms are sacred with the presence of the divine, never earned
that name. Nor did thousands who before him wrought patiently and
We think that we have among us a man who _has_ earned it.
What does this involve? Somewhat more than the ability critically to
distinguish colors and to use them skilfully.
Although practice may discipline and develop this power, there must
exist an underlying physiological fitness, or all study and experience
will be unavailing. In many persons, the organization of the eye is such
that there can be no correct perception of the value, relation, and
harmony of hues. There exists often an utter inability to perceive
differences between even the primary colors.
The late sculptor Bartholomew declared himself unable to decide which
of two pieces of drapery, the one crimson and the other green, was the
crimson. Nor was this the result of inexperience. He had been for years
familiar not only with Nature's coloring, but with the works of the best
schools of art, and had been in continual contact with the first living
The instances of this peculiar blindness are exceptional, yet not
more so than is the perfection of vision which enables the eye to
discriminate accurately the innumerable tints derived from the three
Nothing can be finer than the sense of identity and harmony resulting
from this exquisite organization. We have been told that there is a
workman at the Gobelin manufactory who can select twenty-two thousand
tints of the material employed in the construction of its famous
tapestries. This capability is, of course, almost wholly dependent upon
rare physical qualifications; yet it is the basis, the very foundation
of a painter's power.
Still, it is _but_ the foundation. An "eye for color" never yet made any
man a colorist.
Perhaps there can be no severer test of this faculty of perception than
the copying of excellent pictures. And among the few successful copies
which have been produced, Page's stand unsurpassed.
The ability to perceive Nature, when translated into art, is, however, a
possession which this painter shares with many. Nor is he alone in the
skill which enables him to realize upon his own canvas the effects which
some master has rendered.
It is in the presence of Nature itself that a power is demanded with
which mechanical superiority and physical qualifications have little to
do. Here the man stands alone,--the only medium between the ideal and
the outward world, wherefrom he must choose the signs which alone are
permitted to become the language of his expression. None can help him,
as before he was helped by the man whose success was the parent of his
own. Here is no longer copying.
In the first place, is to be found the limit of the palette. Confining
ourselves to the external, what, of all the infinitude of phenomena to
which the vision is related, so corresponds to the power of the palette
that it may become adequately representative thereof?
Passing over many minor points in which there seems to be an imperfect
relation between Nature's effects and those of pigments, we will briefly
refer to the great discrepancy occasioned by the luminosity of light. In
all the lower effects of light, in the illumination of Nature and the
revelation of colored surfaces, in the exquisite play and power of
reflected light and color, and in the depth and richness of these when
transmitted, we find a noble and complete response on the palette. But
somewhere in the ascending scale a departure from this happy relation
begins to be apparent. The _color_-properties of light are no longer
the first. Another element--an element the essential nature of which
is absorbed in the production of the phenomena of color--now asserts
itself. Hitherto the painter has dealt with light indirectly, through
the mediatorship of substances. The rays have been given to him, broken
tenderly for his needs;--ocean and sky, mountain and valley, draperies
and human faces, all things, from stars to violets, have diligently
prepared for him, as his demands have arisen, the precious light. And
while he has restrained himself to the representation of Nature subdued
to the limit of his materials, he has been victorious.
Turner, in whose career can be found almost all that the student needs
for example and for warning, is perhaps the best illustration of wise
temperance in the choice of Nature to be rendered into art. Nothing can
be finer than some of those early works wrought out in quiet pearly
grays,--the tone of Nature in her soberest and tenderest moods. In
these, too, may be observed those touches of brilliant color,--bits of
gleaming drapery, perhaps,--prophetic flecks along the gray dawn. Such
pictures are like pearls; but art demands amber, also.
When necessity has borne the artist out of this zone, the peaceful
domain of the imitator, he finds himself impelled to produce effects
which are no longer the simple phases of color, but such as the means at
his disposal fail to accomplish. In the simpler stages of coloring, when
he desired to represent an object as blue or red, it was but necessary
to use blue or red material. Now he has advanced to a point where this
principle is no longer applicable. The illuminative power of light
compels new methods of manipulation.
As examples of a thorough comprehension of the need of such a change in
the employment of means, of the character of that change, of the skill
necessary to embody its principles, and of utter success in the result,
we have but to suggest the name and works of Titian.
But the laws which Titian discovered have been unheeded for centuries;
and they might have remained so, had not the mind of William Page
felt the necessity of their revival and use. To him there could be no
chance-work. Art must have laws as definite and immutable as those of
science; indeed, the body in which the spirit of art is developed, and
through which it acts, must be science itself. He saw, that, if exact
imitation of Nature be taken as the law in painting, there must
inevitably occur the difficulty to which we have before referred,--that,
above a certain point, paint no longer undergoes transfiguration,
thereby losing its character as mere coloring material,--that, if the
ordinary tone of Nature be held as the legitimate key-note, the scope of
the palette would be exhausted before success could be achieved.
Any one of Turner's latest pictures may serve to illustrate the nature
of this difficulty. Although in his early practice he was remarkable for
his judicious restraint, it is evident that the splendors of the higher
phenomena of light had for him unlimited fascination; and he may be
traced advancing cautiously through that period of his career which was
marked by the influence of Claude, toward what he hoped would prove, and
perhaps believed to be, a realization of such splendors.
It must have been observed by those who have studied his later pictures,
that, while the low passages of the composition are wonderfully fine
and representative, all the higher parts, those supposed or intended to
stand for the radiance of dazzling light, fail utterly in representative
capacity. There is an abundance of the most brilliant pigment, but it is
still paint,--unmitigated ochre and white lead. The spectator is obliged
to recede from the picture until distance enables the eye to transmute
the offending material and reconcile the conflicting passages.
To accomplish the result of rendering the quality and effect of high
light was one of the problems to which Mr. Page years ago turned his
attention; and he found its solution in the transposition of the scale.
The pitch of Nature could not be adopted as the immutable in art. That
were impossible, unless art presumed to cope with Nature.
More than he, no man could respect the properties and qualities of the
visible world. His ideas of the truthful rendering of that which became
the subject of his pencil might seem preposterous to those who knew not
the wonderful significancy which he attached to individual forms and
tints. Yet, in imitation, where is the limit? What is possible? Must
there be any sacrifice?
Evidently there must be; and of course it follows that the less
important must be sacrificed. Nature herself has taught the artist that
the most variable of all her phenomena is that of _tone_. Other truths
of Nature have a character of permanency which the artist cannot modify
without violating the first principles of art. He is required to render
the essential; and to render the essential of that which art cannot
sacrifice, if it would, and continue art, he foregoes the non-essential
Not only is this permitted,--it is demanded. It is a law through which
alone success is attainable. In obedience to it, Mr. Page adopts a key
somewhat lower than that of Nature as a point of departure, using his
degrees of color frugally, especially in the ascending scale. With this
economy, when he approaches the luminous effects of Nature, he finds,
just where any other palette would be exhausted, upon his own a reserve
of high color. With this, seeking only a corresponding effect of light
in that lower tone which assumes no rivalry with the infinite glory of
Nature, he attains to a representation fully successful.
We would not have it understood that a mere transposition of the scale
is all that is required to accomplish such a result; only this,--that in
no other way can such a result be secured. To color well, to color so
that forms upon the canvas give back tints like those of the objects
which have served as models, is only half the work. Quality, as well as
color, must be attained. Local, reflected, and transmitted color can be
imitated; but as in the attempt to represent light its luminousness is
the element which defeats the artist, so, throughout Nature, quality,
texture, are the elements which most severely test his power.
Could any indispensable truth be considered secondary, it might be
assumed that rendering truthfully the qualities of Nature is the first
and highest of art. The forms and colors of objects vary infinitely.
It might be said that the law of all existence is, in these two
particulars, that of change. From the time a human being is born until
it disappears in the grave, from the day when the first leaves break the
mould to that which sees the old tree fall, the form of each has been
But that which differentiates objects more completely than any other
property is quality. The sky over us, and the waters of the earth, are
subject to infinite variations. Yet, whether in the tiny drop that
trembles at the point of a leaf or in the vast ocean-globe of our
planet, in the torpor of forest-ponds or in the wrath of cataracts,
water never loses its quality of wetness,--the open sky never that of
dryness. These two characteristics are of course entirely the reverse
of each other,--as unlike as are the properties of transparency and
opacity,--which they involve.
So, throughout Nature, one truth, that of texture, is the
distinguishing; and this distinctive element is that which cannot be
sacrificed; for through it are Nature's finest laws manifested. And the
painter finds in his obedience to her demands his highest power over
the material which serves him in his efforts to embody the true and the
It is, then, this which compels us to estimate Mr. Page a painter,--a
man especially organized for his profession,--chosen by its
demands,--set apart, by his wonderful adaptation to its requirements,
from all the world. In virtue of this specialty, the necessity arose
early in his life to seek excellence in his department of art,--to
search the depths of its philosophy and discover its vital
principles,--to analyze its methods and expose its errors. It led him to
investigate the relation between the phenomena of Nature and the
effects of painting; it guided him to a clear perception of the laws
of art-translation; above all, it compelled him to practise what he
believed to be the true.
Thus much of the painter;--now what of the artist?
It does not necessarily follow, that, because a man is a great painter,
he is also a great artist. Yet we may safely infer, that, if he has been
true in one department of the several which constitute art, he cannot
have been false in others. Should there be a shortcoming, it must be
that of a man whose mission does not include that wherein he fails.
Fidelity to himself is all we should demand. We say this for those who
are disposed to depreciate what an artist actually accomplishes, because
in some one point Turner or Overbeck surpasses him. Nor do we say it
apologetically. The man, who, basing his action upon the evident purpose
of the organization which God has given him, fulfils his destiny,
requires no apology.
We have seen something of the faithfulness which has marked Mr. Page's
pursuit of excellence in the external of his art. He has wrought that
which proves his claim to a broader title than that of painter. Were
it not for the vagueness which involves the appellation of historical
painter, it might be that. Even were we obliged to confine our interest
and study to the portraiture which he has executed, we might, in view of
its remarkable character, designate it as historical.
Than a really great portrait, no work of art can be more truly
historical. We feel the subjectiveness of compositions intended to
transmit facts to posterity,--and unless we know the artist, we are at a
loss as to the degree of trust which we may place in his impressions.
A true portrait is objective. The individuality of the one whom it
represents was the ruling force in the hour of its production; and to
the spirit of a household, a community, a kingdom, or an age, that
individuality is the key. There is, too, in a genuine portrait an
internal evidence of its authenticity. No artist ever was great enough
to invent the combination of lines, curves, and planes which composes
the face of a man. There is the accumulated significance of a
lifetime,--subtile traces of failures or of victories wrought years ago.
How these will manifest themselves, no experience can point out, no
intuition can foresee or imagine. The modifications are infinite, and
each is completely removed from the region of the accidental.
But, although details and their combinations in the human face and form
cannot be wrought from the imagination, the truthfulness or falsity of
their representation is instantly evident. It is because of this, that
the unity of a portrait carries conviction of its truth and of the
unimpeachability of its evidence, that this phase of art becomes
so valuable as history. Compared with the worth of Titian's Philip
II.,--the Madrid picture, of which Mr. Wild has an admirable
study,--what value can be attached to any historical composition of its
It has not been the lot of Mr. Page to paint a mighty man, so inlocked
with the rugged forces of his age. His sitters have come from more
peaceful, nobler walks of life,--and their portraits are beloved even
more than they are admired. Not yet are they the pride of pompous
galleries, but the glory and saintliness of homes.
Could we enter these homes, and discuss freely the character of their
treasures, we would gladly linger in the presence of the more precious.
But so inseparably associated are they with their originals, so much
more nearly related to them than to the artist, that no fitting analysis
can be made of the representation without involving that of the
Three portraits have, however, such wonderful excellence, and through
this excellence have become so well known, that we may be forgiven for
alluding to them. In a former paper, the writer spoke of the portrait of
a man in his divinest development. The first of these three works is the
representation of a woman, and is truly "somewhat miraculous." It is a
face rendered impressive by the grandest repose,--a repose that pervades
the room and the soul,--a repose not to be mistaken for serenity, but
which is power in equilibrium. No brilliancy of color, no elaboration of
accessories, no intricacy of composition attracts the attention of
the observer. There is no need of these. But he who is worthy of the
privilege stands suddenly conscious of a presence such as the world has
rarely known. He feels that the embodiment before him is the record of
a great Past, as well as the reflection of a proud Present,--a Past
in which the soul has ever borne on through and above all obstacles of
discouragement and temptation to a success which was its inheritance.
He sees, too, the possibilities of the near Future; how from that fine
equipoise the soul might pass out into rare manifestations, appearing
in the sweetness and simplicity of a little child, in the fearful
tumultuousness of a Lady Macbeth, in the passionate tenderness of a
Romeo, or in the Gothic grandeur of a Scotch sorceress,--in the love of
kindred, in the fervor of friendship, and in the nobleness of the truest
Another portrait--can it have been painted in this century?--presents a
widely different character. We have seen the rendering of a nature made
too solemn by the possession of genius to admit of splendor of coloring.
This picture is that of ripe womanhood, manifesting itself in the
fulness of summer's goldenest light. Color, in all its richness as
color, in all its strength as a representative agent, in all its glory
as the minister of light, in all its significance as the sign and
expression of plenitude of life,--life at one with Nature;--thus we
remember it, as it hung upon the wall of that noble room in the Roman
home of Crawford.
A later portrait, and one artistically the finest of Mr. Page's
productions, although executed in Rome, has found a home in Cambridge.
Here no grave subdual of color was called for, nor was there any need of
its fullest power,--but, instead thereof, we have color in the purity
of its pearl expression. A mild lustre, inexpressibly clear, seems to
pervade the picture, and beam forth the revelation of a white soul.
Shadows there are none,--only still softer light, to carry back the
receding forms. But interest in technicalities is lost in the nobler
sense of sweet influences. We are at peace in the presence of a peace
which passeth all understanding. We are holy in the ineffable light
of immortal holiness. We are blessed in the consciousness of complete
Surely, none but a great painter could have achieved such success;
surely, no mere painter could thus have appealed to us.
These works we have chosen to represent the artist's power in the
direction of portraiture,--not only because of their wonderful merit as
embodiments of individualism, but to illustrate a law which has not yet
had its due influence in art, but which must be the very life of its
next revival, when painting shall be borne up until it marks the
We refer to the expressional power of color,--not the conventional
significance whereby certain colors have been associated arbitrarily
with mental conditions. This last has often violated all the principles
of natural relation; yet no fact is more generally accepted than
this,--that colors, from the intensity of the primitives to the last
faint tints derived therefrom, bear fixed and demonstrable relations to
the infinite moods and phases of human life. As among themselves the
hues of the palette exist in immutable conditions of positive affinity
or repulsion, so are they all related to the soul as definitely in
harmony or in discord. There has been imperfect recognition of this at
various times in the history of painting since the age of Giotto,--the
most notable examples having occurred in the Venetian school.
But even in that golden age of art, this property of color was but
rarely perceived and called into use under the guidance of principles.
Still, the sense of the value and the harmonies of colors was so keen
among the Venetian artists, that, intuitively, subjects were chosen
which required an expression admitting of the most lavish use and
magnificent display of color.
Paul Veronese, the splendor of whose conceptions seemed ever to select
the pomp and wealth of banquets and ceremonies,--Giorgione, for whom the
world revolved in an atmosphere of golden glory,--each had a fixed ideal
of noble coloring; and it is questionable whether either ever modified
that ideal for the sake of any expressional purpose.
Titian, from whom no property or capability of color was concealed,
could not forego the power which he secured through obedience to the law
of its relation to the human soul. Were we asked which among pictures is
most completely illustrative of this obedience, we should answer, "The
Entombment," in the Louvre. Each breadth of color mourns,--sky and earth
and all the conscious air are laden with sorrow.
In portraiture, however, the great master was inclined to give the full
perfection of the highest type of coloring. That rich glow which is
bestowed by the Venetian sun did, indeed, seem typical of the life
beneath it; and Titian may have been justified in bringing thither
those who were the recipients of his favors. One only did he not
invite,--Philip II.; him he placed, dark and ominous, against a sky
barred with blood.
Is it in virtue of conformity to law, and under the government of the
principles of correspondence, that Mr. Page has wrought with mind and
Otherwise it cannot be; for, in the three portraits to which allusion
has been made, such subtile distinctions of character find expression in
equally subtile differences of tint, that no touch could have been given
from vague apprehensions of truth. No ambiguity perplexes the spectator;
he beholds the inevitable.
Other works than those of portraiture have won for Mr. Page the
attention of the world. This attention has elicited from individuals
praise and dispraise, dealt out promptly, and with little qualification.
But we have looked in vain for some truly appreciative notice of the
so-called historical pictures executed by this artist. We do not object
to the prompt out-speaking of the public. So much is disposed of, when
the mass has given or withheld its approval. We know whether or not the
work appeals to the hearts of human beings. Often, too, it is the most
nearly just of any which may be rendered. Usually, the conclusions
of the great world are correct, while its reasonings are absurd. Its
decisions are immediate and clear; its arguments, subsequent and vague.
This measure, however, cannot be meted to all artists. A painter may
appeal to some wide, yet superficial sympathy, and attain to no other
That Mr. Page might have found success in this direction will not be
denied by any one who has seen the engraving of a girl and lamb, from
one of his early works. It is as sweet and tenderly simple as a face by
Francia. But not only did he refuse to confine himself to this style
of art, as, when that engraving is before us, we wish he had done,--he
passed out of and away from it. And those phases which followed
have been such as are the least fitted to stand the trial of public
exhibition. His pictures do not command the eye by extraordinary
combinations of assertive colors,--nor do they, through great pathos,
deep tenderness, or any overcharged emotional quality, fascinate and
absorb the spectator.
Much of the middle portion of this artist's professional life is marked
by changes. It was a period of growth,--of continual development and of
obvious transition. Not infrequently, the transition seemed to be from
the excellent to the crude. Nevertheless, we doubt not, that, through
all vicissitudes, there has been a steady and genuine growth of Mr.
Page's best artistic power, and that he has been true to his specialty.
We should like to believe that the Venetian visit of 1853 was the
closing of one period of transition, and the beginning of a new era in
Mr. Page's artistic career. It is pleasant to think of the painter's
pilgrimage to that studio of Titian, Venice,--for it was all his,--not
in nebulous prophetic youth,--not before his demands had been revealed
to his consciousness,--not before those twenty long years of solitary,
hard, earnest work,--but in the full ripeness of manhood, when prophecy
had dawned into confident fulfilment, when the principles of his
science had been found, and when of this science his art had become the
demonstration. It was fine to come then, and be for a while the guest of
There is evidence that he began after this visit to do what for years he
had been learning to do,--yet, of course, as is ever the case with the
earnest man, doing as a student, as one who feels all truth to be of the
The result has been a series of remarkable pictures. There are among
these the specimens of portraiture, a few landscapes, and a number of
ideal, or, as they have been called, historical works. Of these last
named there is somewhat to be said; and those to which we shall refer
are selected for the purpose of illustrating principles, rather than for
that of description. These are all associated with history. There are
three representations of Venus, and several renderings of Scriptural
If these pictures are valuable, they are so in virtue of elements which
can be appreciated. To present these elements to the world, to appeal to
those who can recognize them, is, it is fair to assume, the object of
exposition. Not merely praise, but the more wholesome meed of justice,
is the desire of a true artist; and as we deal with such a one, we do
not hesitate to speak of his works as they impress us.
First of all, in view of the artist's skill as a painter, it is well
to regard the external of his work. Here, in both Scriptural and
mythological subjects, there is little to condemn. The motives have been
bravely and successfully wrought out; the work is nobly, frankly done.
The superiority of methods which render the texture and quality of
objects becomes apparent. There is no attempt at illusion; yet the
representation of substances and spaces is faultless,--as, for instance,
the sky of the "Venus leading forth the Trojans." Nor have we seen that
chaste, pearly lustre of the most beautiful human skin so well rendered
as in the bosom of the figure which gleams against the blue.
But there is a pretension to more than technical excellence in the
mythological works; there is a declaration of physical beauty in the
very idea; in both these and the Scriptural there is an assumption of
While we believe that the problem of physical beauty can be solved and
demonstrated, and the representations of Venus can be proved to possess
or to lack the beautiful, we choose to leave now, as we should be
compelled to do after discussion, the decision of the question to
those who raise it. It is of little avail to prove a work of art
beautiful,--of less, to prove it ugly. Spectators and generations cannot
be taken one by one and convinced. But where the operation of judgment
is from the reasoning rather than from the intuitive nature, facts,
opinions, and impressions may exert healthful influences.
The Venus of Page we cannot accept,--not because it may be unbeautiful,
for that might be but a shortcoming,--not because of any technical
failure, for, with the exception of weakness in the character of waves,
nothing can be finer,--not because it lacks elevated sentiment, for this
Venus was not the celestial,--but because it has nothing to do with
the present, neither is it of the past, nor related in any wise to any
The present has no ideal of which the Venus of the ancients is a
manifestation. Other creations of that marvellous Greek mind might be
fitly used to symbolize phases of the present. Hercules might labor now;
there are other stables than the Augean; and not yet are all Hydras
slain. Armor is needed; and a Vulcan spirit is making the anvil ring
beneath the earth-crust of humanity. But Venus, the voluptuous, the
wanton,--no sensuousness pervading any religion of this era finds in her
its fitting type and sign. She, her companions, and her paramours, with
the magnificent religion which evolved them, were entombed centuries
ago; and no angel has rolled the stone from the door of their sepulchre.
They are dead; the necessity which called the Deistic ideal into
existence is dead; the ideal itself is dead, since Paul preached in
Athens its funeral sermon.
As history of past conditions, no value can be attached to
representations produced in subsequent ages. In this respect all these
pictures must be false. The best can only approximate truth. Yet his
two pictures of Scriptural subjects--one from the remoteness of Hebrew
antiquity, the other from the early days of Christianity--are most
valuable even as history: not the history of the flight from Egypt, nor
that of the flight into Egypt, but the history of what these mighty
events have become after the lapse of many centuries.
Herein lies the difference between Mythology and Christianity: the one
arose, culminated, and perished, soul and body, when the shadow of the
Cross fell athwart Olympus; the other is immortal,--immortal as is
Christ, immortal as are human souls, of which it is the life. No century
has been when it has not found, and no century can be when it will not
find, audible and visible utterance. The music of the "Messiah" reveals
the relation of its age to the great central idea of Christianity. Fra
Angelico, Leonardo, Bach, Milton, Overbeck, were the revelators of human
elevation, as sustained by the philosophy of which Christ was the great
Therefore, to record that elevation, to be the historian of the present
in its deepest significance, the noblest occupation. Dwelling, as an
artist must dwell, in the deep life of his theme, his work must go forth
utterly new, alive, and startling.
Thus did we find the "Flight into Egypt" a picture full of the spirit of
that marvellous age, hallowed by the sweet mystery which all these years
have given. Who of those who were so fortunate as to see this work of
Mr. Page will ever forget the solemn, yet radiant tone pervading the
landscape of sad Egypt, along which went the fugitives? Nothing ever
swallowed by the insatiable sea, save its human victims, is more worthy
of lament than this lost treasure.
Thus, too, is the grandest work of Mr. Page's life, the Moses with hands
upheld above the battle. Were we on the first page instead of the last,
we could not refrain from describing it. Yet in its presence the impulse
is toward silence. We feel, that, viewed even in its mere external, it
is as simple and majestic as the Hebrew language. The far sky, with its
pallid moon,--the deep, shadowy valley, with its ghostly warriors,--the
group on the near mountain, with its superb youth, its venerable age,
and its manhood too strong and vital for the destructive years;--in the
presence of such a creation there is time for a great silence.
"He's took 'ith all the sym't'ms,--thet 's one thing sure! Dretful pain
in hez back an' l'ins, legs feel 's ef they hed telegraph-wires inside
'em workin' fur dear life, head aches, face fevered, pulse at 2.40,
awful stetch in the side, an' pressed fur breath. You guess it's
neuralogy, Lurindy? I do'no' nothin' abeout yer high-flyin' names fur
rheumatiz. _I_ don't guess so!"
"But, Aunt Mimy, what _do_ you guess?" asked mother.
"I don' guess nothin' at all,--I nigh abeout know!"
"Well,--you don't think it's"----
"I on'y wish it mebbe the veryaloud,--I on'y wish it mebbe. But that's
tew good luck ter happen ter one o' the name. No, Miss Ruggles,
I--think--it's--the raal article at first hand."
"Goodness, Aunt Mimy! what"----
"Yes, I du; an' you'll all hev it stret through the femily, every one;
you needn't expect ter go scot-free, Emerline, 'ith all your rosy
cheeks; an' you'll all hev ter stay in canteen a month ter the least;
an' ef you're none o' yer pertected by vaticination, I reckon I"----
"Well, Aunt Mimy, if that's your opinion, I'll harness the filly and
drive over for Dr. Sprague."
"Lor'! yer no need ter du _thet_, Miss Ruggles,--I kin kerry yer all
through jest uz well uz Dr. Sprague, an' a sight better, ef the truth
wuz knowed. I tuk Miss Deacon Smiler an' her hull femily through the
measles an' hoopin'-cough, like a parcel o' pigs, this fall. They _du_
say Jane's in a poor way an' Nathan'l's kind o' declinin'; but, uz I
know they say it jest ter spite me, I don' so much mind. You _a'n't_
gwine now, be ye?"
"There's safety in a multitude of counsellors, you know, Aunt Mimy, and
I think on the whole I had best."
"Wal! ef that's yer delib'rate ch'ice betwixt Dr. Sprague an' me, ye
kin du ez ye like. I never force my advice on no one, 'xcept this,--I'd
advise Emerline there ter throw them socks inter the fire; there'll
never none o' them be fit ter sell, 'nless she wants ter spread the
disease. Wal, I'm sorry yer 've concluded ter hev thet old quack
Sprague; never hed no more diplomy 'n I; don' b'lieve he knows cow-pox
from kine, when he sees it. The poor young man's hed his last well day,
I'm afeard. Good-day ter ye; say good-bye fur me ter Stephen. I'll call
ag'in, ef ye happen ter want any one ter lay him eout."
And, staying to light her little black pipe, she jerked together the
strings of her great scarlet hood, wrapped her cloak round her like a
sentinel at muster, and went puffing down the hill like a steamboat.
Aunt Mimy Ruggles wasn't any relation to us, I wouldn't have you think,
though our name was Ruggles, too. Aunt Mimy used to sell herbs, and she
rose from that to taking care of the sick, and so on, till once Dr.
Sprague having proved that death came through her ignorance, she had to
abandon some branches of her art; and she was generally roaming round
the neighborhood, seeking whom she could devour in the others. And so
she came into our house just at dinner-time, and mother asked her to sit
by, and then mentioned Cousin Stephen, and she went up to see him, and
so it was.
Now it can't be pleasant for any family to have such a thing turn up,
especially if there's a pretty girl in it; and I suppose I was as pretty
as the general run, at that time,--perhaps Cousin Stephen thought a
trifle prettier; pink cheeks, blue eyes, and hair the color and shine of
a chestnut when it bursts the burr, can't be had without one 's rather
pleasant-looking; and then I'm very good-natured and quick-tempered, and
I've got a voice for singing, and I sing in the choir, and a'n't afraid
to open my mouth. I don't look much like Lurindy, to be sure; but
then Lurindy's an old maid,--as much as twenty-five,--and don't go to
singing-school.--At least, these thoughts ran through my head as I
watched Aunt Mimy down the hill.--Lurindy a'n't so very pretty,
I continued to think,--but she's so very good, it makes up. At
sewing-circle and quilting and frolics, I'm as good as any; but somehow
I'm never any 'count at home; that's because Lurindy is by, at home.
Well, Lurindy has a little box in her drawer, and there's a letter in
it, and an old geranium-leaf, and a piece of black silk ribbon that
looks too broad for anything but a sailor's necktie, and a shell. I
don't know what she wants to keep such old stuff for, I'm sure.
We're none so rich,--I suppose I may as well tell the truth, that we're
nearly as poor as poor can be. We've got the farm, but it's such a small
one that mother and I can carry it on ourselves, with now and then a
day's help or a bee,--but a bee's about as broad as it is long,--and
we raise just enough to help the year out, but don't sell. We've got
a cow and the filly and some sheep; and mother shears and cards, and
Lurindy spins,--I can't spin, it makes my head swim,--and I knit,
knit socks and sell them. Sometimes I have needles almost as big as a
pipe-stem, and choose the coarse, uneven yarn of the thrums, and
then the work goes off like machinery. Why, I can knit two pair, and
sometimes three, a day, and get just as much for them as I do for the
nice ones,--they're warm. But when I want to knit well, as I did the day
Aunt Mimy was in, I take my best blue needles and my fine white yarn
from the long wool, and it takes me from daybreak till sundown to knit
one pair. I don't know why Aunt Jemimy should have said what she did
about my socks; I'm sure Stephen hadn't been any nearer them than he had
to the cabbage-bag Lurindy was netting, and there wasn't such a nice
knitter in town as I, everybody will tell you. She always did seem to
take particular pleasure in hectoring and badgering me to death.
Well, I wasn't going to be put down by Aunt Mimy, so I made the needles
fly while mother was gone for the doctor. By-and-by I heard a knock up
in Stephen's room,--I suppose he wanted something,--but Lurindy didn't
hear it, and I didn't so much want to go, so I sat still and began to
count out loud the stitches to my narrowings. By-and-by he knocked
"Lurindy," says I, "a'n't that Steve a-knocking?"
"Yes," says she,--"why don't you go?"--for I had been tending him a good
deal that day.
"Well," says I, "there's a number of reasons; one is, I'm just binding
off my heel."
Lurindy looked at me a minute, then all at once she smiled.
"Well, Emmy," says she, "if you like a smooth skin more than a smooth
conscience, you're welcome,"--and went up-stairs herself.
I suppose I had ought to 'a' gone, and I suppose I'd ought to wanted to
have gone, but somehow it wasn't so much fear as that I didn't want to
see Stephen himself now. So Lurindy stayed up chamber, and was there
when mother and the doctor come. And the doctor said he feared Aunt Mimy
was right, and nobody but mother and Lurindy must go near Stephen, (you
see, he found Lurindy there,) and they must have as little communication
with me as possible. And his boots creaked down the back-stairs, and
then he went.
Mother came down a little while after, for some water to put on
Stephen's head, which was a good deal worse, she said; and about the
middle of the evening I heard her crying for me to come and help them
hold him,--he was raving. I didn't go very quick; I said, "Yes,--just
as soon as I've narrowed off my toe"; and when at last I pushed back my
chair to go, mother called in a disapproving voice and said that they'd
got along without me and I'd better go to bed.
Well, after I was in bed I began to remember all that had happened
lately. Somehow my thoughts went back to the first time Cousin Stephen
came to our place, when I was a real little girl, and mother'd sent me
to the well and I had dropped the bucket in, and he ran straight down
the green slippery stones and brought it up, laughing. Then I remembered
how we'd birds-nested together, and nutted, and come home on the
hay-carts, and how we'd been in every kind of fun and danger together;
and how, when my new Portsmouth lawn took fire, at Martha Smith's
apple-paring, he caught me right in his arms and squeezed out the fire
with his own hands; and how, when he saw once I had a notion of going
with Elder Hooper's son James, he stepped aside till I saw what a nincom
Jim Hooper was, and then he appeared as if nothing had happened, and
was just as good as ever; and how, when the ice broke on Deacon Smith's
pond, and I fell in, and the other boys were all afraid, Steve came and
saved my life again at risk of his own; and how he always seemed to
think the earth wasn't good enough for me to walk on; and how I'd
wished, time and again, I might have some way to pay him back; and here
it was, and I'd failed him. Then I remembered how I'd been to his place
in Berkshire,--a rich old farm, with an orchard that smelled like the
Spice Islands in the geography, with apples and pears and quinces
and peaches and cherries and plums,--and how Stephen's mother, Aunt
Emeline, had been as kind to me as one's own mother could be. But now
Aunt Emeline and Uncle 'Siah were dead, and Stephen came a good deal
oftener over the border than he'd any right to. Today, he brought some
of those new red-streaks, and wanted mother to try them; next time,
they'd made a lot more maple-sugar on his place than he wanted; and next
time, he thought mother's corn might need hoeing, or it was fine weather
to get the grass in: I don't know what we should have done without him.
Then I thought how Stephen looked, the day he was pall-bearer to Charles
Payson, who was killed sudden by a fall,--so solemn and pale, nowise
craven, but just up to the occasion, so that, when the other girls burst
out crying at sight of the coffin and at thought of Charlie, I cried,
too,--but it was only because Stephen looked so beautiful. Then I
remembered how he looked the other day when he came, his cheeks were
so red with the wind, and his hair, those bright curls, was all blown
about, and he laughed with the great hazel eyes he has, and showed his
white teeth;--and now his beauty would be spoiled, and he'd never care
for me again, seeing I hadn't cared for him. And the wind began to
come up; and it was so lonesome and desolate in that little bed-room
down-stairs, I felt as if we were all buried alive; and I couldn't get
to sleep; and when the sleet and snow began to rattle on the pane, I
thought there wasn't any one to see me and I'd better cry to keep it
company; and so I sobbed off to dreaming at last, and woke at sunrise
and found it still snowing.
Next morning, I heard mother stepping across the kitchen, and when I
came out, she said Lurindy'd just gone to sleep; they'd had a shocking
night. So I went out and watered the creatures and milked Brindle, and
got mother a nice little breakfast, and made Stephen some gruel. And
then I was going to ask mother if I'd done so very wrong in letting
Lurindy nurse Stephen, instead of me; and then I saw she wasn't thinking
about that; and besides, there didn't really seem to be any reason why
she shouldn't;--she was a great deal older than I, and so it was more
proper; and then Stephen hadn't ever _said_ anything to me that should
give me a peculiar right to nurse him more than other folks. So I just
cleared away the things, made everything shine like a pin, and took
my knitting. I'd no sooner got the seam set than I was called to send
something up on a contrivance mother'd rigged in the back-entry over a
pulley. And then I had to make a red flag, and find a stick, and hang it
out of the window by which there were the most passers. Well, I did it;
but I didn't hurry,--I didn't get the flag out till afternoon; somehow I
hated to, it always seemed such a low-lived disease, and I was mortified
to acknowledge it, and I knew nobody'd come near us for so long,--though
goodness knows I didn't want to see anybody. Well, when that was done,
Lurindy came down, and I had to get her something to eat, and then she
went up-stairs, and mother took _her_ turn for some sleep; and there
were the creatures to feed again, and what with putting on, and taking
off, and tending fires, and doing errands, and the night's milking, and
clearing the paths, I didn't knit another stitch that day, and was glad
enough, when night came, to go to bed myself.
Well, so we went on for two or three days. I'd got my second sock pretty
well along in that time,--just think! half a week knitting half a
sock!--and was setting the heel, when in came Aunt Mimy.
"I a'n't afeard on it," says she; "don't you be skeert. I jest stepped
in ter see ef the young man wuz approachin' his eend."
"No," said I, "he isn't, any more than you are, Aunt Mimy."
"Any more 'n I be?" she answered. "Don't you lose yer temper, Emerline.
We're all approachin' it, but some gits a leetle ahead; it a'n't no
disgrace, ez I knows on. What yer doin' of? Knittin' sale-socks yet?
and, my gracious! still ter work on the same pair! You'll make yer
I didn't say anything, I was so provoked.
"I don' b'lieve you know heow ter take the turns w'en yer mother a'n't
by to help," she continued. "Can't ye take up the heel? Widden ev'ry
fourth. Here, let me! You won't? Wal, I alluz knowed you wuz mighty
techy, Emerline Ruggles, but ye no need ter fling away in thet style.
Neow I'll advise ye ter let socks alone; they're tew intricate fur
sech ez you. Mitt'ns is jest abeout 'ithin the compass uv your
mind,--mitt'ns, men's single mitt'ns, put up on needles larger 'n them
o' yourn be, an' by this rule. Seventeen reounds in the wrist,--tew an'
one's the best seam"----
"Now, Miss Jemimy, just as if I didn't know how to knit mittens!"
"Wal, it seems you don't," said she, "though I don' deny but you may
know heow ter give 'em; an' ez I alluz like ter du w'at good I kin, I'm
gwine ter show ye."
"Show away," says I; "but I'll be bound, I've knit and sold and eaten up
more mittens than ever you put your hands in!"
"Du tell! I'm glad to ha' heern you've got sech a good digestion," says
she, hunting up a piece of paper to light her pipe. "Wal, ez I
wuz sayin'," says she, "tew an' one's the best seam, handiest an'
'lastickest; twenty stetches to a needle, cast up so loose thet the fust
one's ter one eend uv the needle an' the last ter t'other eend,--thet
gives a good pull."
"I guess your smoke will hurt Stephen's head," said I, thinking to
change her ideas.
"Oh, don't you bother abeout Stephen's head; ef it can't stan' thet,'t
a'n't good fur much. Wal, an' then you set yer thumb an' knit plain,
'xcept a seam-stetch each side uv yer thumb; an' you widden tew
stetches, one each side,--s'pose ye know heow ter widden? an'
narry?--ev'ry third reound, tell yer 've got nineteen stetches acrost
yer thumb; then ye knit, 'ithout widdenin', a matter uv seven or eight
reounds more,----you listenin', Emerline?"
"Lor', Miss Jemimy, don't you know better than to ask questions when I'm
counting? Now I've got to go and begin all over again."
"Highty-tighty, Miss! You're a weak sister, ef ye can't ceount an' chat,
tew. Wal, ter make a long matter short, then ye drop yer thumb onter
some thread an' cast up seven stetches an' knit reound fur yer hand, an'
every other time you narry them seven stetches away ter one, fur the
"Dear me, Aunt Mimy! do be quiet a minute! I believe mother's
"I'll see," said Aunt Mimy,--and she stepped to the door and listened.
"No," says she, coming back on tiptoe,--"an' you didn't think you heern
any one neither. It's ruther small work fur ter be foolin' an old woman.
Hows'ever, I don' cherish grudges; so, ez I wuz gwine ter say, ye knit
thirty-six reounds above wheer ye dropped yer thumb, an' then ye toe off
in ev'ry fifth stetch, an' du it reg'Iar, Emerline; an' then take up yer
thumb on tew needles, an' on t'other you pick up the stetches I told yer
ter cast up, an' knit twelve reounds, an' thumb off 'ith narryin' ev'ry
"Well, Miss Jemimy, I guess I shall know how to knit mittens, now!"
"Ef ye don't, 't a'n't my fault. When you've fastened off the eends, you
roll 'em up in a damp towel, an' press 'em 'ith a middlin' warm iron on
the wrong side. There!"
After this, Miss Mimy smoked awhile in silence, satisfied and gratified.
At last she knocked the ashes out of her pipe.
"Wal," says she, "I must be onter my feet. I'd liked ter seen yer ma,
but I won't disturb her, an' you can du ez well. Yer ma promised me a
mess o' tea, an' I guess I may ez well take it neow ez any day."
"Why, Miss Mimy," said I, "there a'n't above four or five messes left,
and we can't get any more till I sell my socks."
"Wal, never mind, then, you can le' me take one, an' mebbe I kin make up
the rest at Miss Smilers's."
So I went into the pantry to get it, and Aunt Mimy followed me, of
"Them's nice-lookin' apples," said she. "Come from Stephen's place? Poor
young man, he won't never want 'em! S'pose he won't hev no objection
ter my tryin' a dozen,"--and she dropped that number into her great
"Nice-lookin' butter, tew," said she. "Own churnin'? Wal, you _kin_
du sunthin', Emerline. W'en I wuz a heousekeeper, I used ter keep the
femily in butter an' sell enough to Miss Smith--she thet wuz Mary
Breown--ter buy our shoes, all off uv one ceow. S'pose I take this pat?"
I was kind of dumfoundered at first; I forgot Aunt Mimy was the biggest
beggar in Rockingham County.
"No," says I, as soon as I got my breath, "I sha'n't suppose any such
thing. You're as well able to make your butter as I am to make it for
"Wal, Emerline Ruggles! I alluz knowed you wuz close ez the bark uv a
tree; it's jest yer father's narrer-contracted sperrit; you don' favor
yer ma a speck. She's ez free ez water."
"If mother's a mind to give away her eye-teeth, it don't follow that I
should," said I; "and I won't give you another atom; and you just clear
"Wal, you kin keep yer butter, sence you're so sot on it, an' I'll take
a leetle dust o' pork instead."
"Let's see you take it!" said I.
"I guess I'll speak 'ith yer ma. I shall git a consider'ble bigger
piece, though I don't like ter add t' 'er steps."
"Now look here, Miss Mimy," says I,--"if you'll promise not to ask for
another thing, and to go right away, I'll get you a piece of pork."
So I went down cellar, and fished round in the pork-barrel and found
quite a respectable piece. Coming up, just as my head got level with the
floor, what should I see but Miss Jemimy pour all the sugar into her
bag and whip the bowl back on the shelf, and turn round and face me as
innocent as Moses in the bulrushes. After she had taken the pork, she
looked round a minute and said,--
"Wal, arter all, I nigh upon forgot my arrant. Here's a letter they giv'
me fur Lurindy, at the post-office; ev'rybody else's afeard ter come up
here";--and by-and-by she brought it up from under all she'd stowed away
there. "Thet jest leaves room," says she.
"For what?" says I.
"Fur tew or three uv them eggs."
I put them into her bag and said,
"Now you remember your promise, Aunt Mimy!"
"Lor' sakes!" says she, "you're in a mighty berry ter git me off. Neow
you've got all you kin out uv me, the letter, 'n' the mitt'ns, I may go,
may I? I niver see a young gal so furrard 'ith her elders in all my born
days! I think Stephen Lee's well quit uv ye, fur my part, ef he hed to
die ter du it. I don't 'xpect ye ter thank me fur w'at instruction I
gi'n ye;--there's some folks I niver du 'xpect nothin' from; you can't
make a silk pus out uv a sow's ear. W'at ye got thet red flag out
the keepin'-room winder fur? 'Cause Lurindy's nussin' Stephen? Wal,
And so Aunt Mimy disappeared, and the pat of butter with her.
I called Lurindy and gave her the letter, and after a little while I
heard my name, and Lurindy was sitting on the top of the stairs with her
head on her knees, and mother was leaning over the banisters. Pretty
soon Lurindy lifted up her head, and I saw she had been crying, and
between the two I made out that Lurindy'd been engaged a good while to
John Talbot, who sailed out of Salem on long voyages to India and China;
and that now he'd come home, sick with a fever, and was lying at the
house of his aunt, who wasn't well herself; and as he'd given all his
money to help a shipmate in trouble, she couldn't hire him a nurse, and
there he was; and, finally, she'd consider it a great favor, if Lurindy
would come down and help her.
Now Lurindy'd have gone at once, only she'd been about Stephen, so that
she'd certainly carry the contagion, and might be taken sick herself, as
soon as she arrived; and mother couldn't go and take care of John, for
the same reason; and there was nobody but me. Lurindy had a half-eagle
that John had given her once to keep; and I got a little bundle together
and took all the precautions Dr. Sprague advised; and he drove me off
in his sleigh, and said, as he was going about sixteen miles to see
a patient, he'd put me on the cars at the nearest station. Well, he
stopped a minute at the post-office, and when he came out he had another
letter for Lurindy. I took it, and, after a moment, concluded I'd better
"What are you about?" says the Doctor; "your name isn't Lurindy, is it?"
"I wish it was," says I, "and then I shouldn't be here."
"Oh! you're sorry to leave Stephen?" says he. "Well, you can comfort
yourself with reflecting that Lurindy's a great deal the best nurse."
As if that was any comfort! If Lurindy was the best nurse, she'd ought
to have had the privilege of taking care of her own lover, and not of
other folks's. Besides, for all I knew, Stephen would be dead before
ever I came back, and here I was going away and leaving him! Well, I
didn't feel so very bright; so I read the letter. The Doctor asked me
what ailed John Talbot. I thought, if I told him that Miss Jane Talbot
wrote now so that Lurindy shouldn't come, and that he was sick just as
Stephen was, he wouldn't let me go. So I said I supposed he'd burnt his
mouth, like the man in the South, eating cold pudding and porridge; men
always cried out at a scratch. And he said, "Oh, do they?" and laughed.
After about two hours' driving, there came a scream as if all the
panthers in Coos County were let loose to yell, and directly we stopped
at a little place where a red flag was hung out. I asked the Doctor if
they'd got the small-pox here, too; but before he could answer, the
thunder running along the ground deafened me, and in a minute he had put
me inside the cars and was off.
I was determined I wouldn't appear green before so many folks, though
I'd never seen the cars before; so I took my seat, and paid my fare to
Old Salem, and looked about me. Pretty soon a woman came bustling in
from somewhere, and took the seat beside me. There she fidgeted round so
that I thought I should have flown.
"Miss," says she, at length, "will you close your window? I never travel
with a window open; my health's delicate."
I tried to shut it, but it wouldn't go up or down, till a gentleman put
out his cane and touched it, and down it slid, like Signor Blitz. It did
seem as if everything about the cars went by miracle. I thanked him, but
I found afterward it would have been more polite not to have spoken.
After that woman had done everything she could think of to plague and
annoy the whole neighborhood, she got out at Ipswich, and somebody
met her that looked just like our sheriff; and I shouldn't be a bit
surprised to hear that she'd gone to jail. When she got out, somebody
else got in, and took the same seat.
"Miss," says she, "will you have the goodness to open your window? this
air is stifling."
And she did everything that the other woman didn't do. When she found
I wouldn't talk, she turned to the young gentleman and lady that sat
opposite, and that looked as if there was a great deal too much company
in the cars, and found they wouldn't talk either, and at last she caught
the conductor and made him talk.
AH this while we were swooping over the country in the most terrific
manner. I thought how frightened mother and Lurindy'd be, if they should
see me. It was no use trying to count the cattle or watch the fences,
and the birch-trees danced rigadoons enough to make one dizzy, and
we dashed through everybody's back-yard, and ran so close up to the
kitchens that we could have seen what they had for dinner, if we had
stayed long enough; and finally I made up my mind that the engine had
run away with the driver, and John Talbot would never have me to tend
him; and I began to wonder, as I saw the sparks and cinders and great
clouds of steam and smoke, if those tornadoes that smash round so out
West in the newspapers weren't just passenger-trains, like us, off the
track,--when all at once it grew as dark as midnight.
"Now," says I to myself, "it's certain. They've run the thing into the
ground. However, we can't go long now."
And just as I was thinking about Korah and his troop, I remembered what
the Doctor had told me about Salem Tunnel, and it began to grow lighter,
and we began to go slower, and I picked up my wits and looked about
me again. I had only time to notice that the young gentleman and lady
looked very much relieved, and to shake my shawl from the clutch of the
woman beside me, when we stopped at Salem, safe and sound.
I had a good deal of trouble to find Miss Talbot's house, but find it I
did; and the first thing she gave me was a scolding for coming, thinking
I was Lurindy, and her tongue wasn't much cooler when she found I
wasn't; and then finally she said, as long as I was there, I might stay;
and I went right up to see John, and a sight he was!
It was about three months I stayed and took the greater part of the care
of him. Sometimes in the midnight, when he was quite beside himself, and
dreaming out loud, it was about as good as a story-book to hear him. He
told me of some great Indian cities where there were men in white, with
skins swarthier than old red Guinea gold, and with great shawls all
wrought in palm-leaves of gold and crimson bound on their heads, who
could sink a ship with their lacs of rupees; and of islands where the
shores came down to the water's edge and unrolled like a green ribbon,
and brooks came sparkling down behind them, and great trees hung above
like banners, and beautiful women came off on rafts and skiffs loaded
with fruit,--the islands set like jewels on the back of the sea, and the
sky covered them with light and hung above them bluer than the hangings
of the Tabernacle, and they sent long rivers of spice out on the air to
entice the sailor back,--islands where night never came. Sometimes, when
he talked on so, I remembered that I'd felt rather touched up when I
found that Lurindy'd had a sweetheart all this time, and mother knew it,
and they'd never told me, and I wondered how it happened. Now it came
across me, that, quite a number of years before, Lurindy had gone to
Salem and worked in the mills. She didn't stay long, because it didn't
agree with her,--the neighbors said, because she was lazy. Lurindy lazy,
indeed! There a'n't one of us knows how to spell the first syllable
of that word. But that's where she must have got acquainted with
John Talbot. He'd been up at our place, too; but I was over to Aunt
Emeline's, it seems. But one night, about this time, I thought he was
dying, he'd got so very low; and I thought how dreadful it was for
Lurindy never to see him again, and how it was all my selfish fault, and
how maybe he wouldn't 'a' died, if he'd had her to have taken care of
him; and I suppose no convicted felon ever endured more remorse than I
did, sitting and watching that dying man all that long and lonely night.
But with the morning he was better,--they always are a great deal worse
when they are getting well from it; he laughed when the doctor came, and
said he guessed he'd weathered that gale; and by-and-by he got well.
He meant to have gone up and seen Lurindy, after all, but his ship was
ready for sea just as he was; and I thought it was about as well, for
he wasn't looking his prettiest. And so he declared I was the neatest
little trimmer that ever trod water, and he believed he should know a
Ruggles by the cut of her jib, (I wonder if he'd have known Aunt Mimy,)
and if ever he went master, he'd name his ship for me, and call it the
Sister of Charity. And he kissed me on both cheeks, and looked serious
enough when he sent his love to Lurindy, and went away; and no sooner
was he gone than Miss Talbot said I'd better have the doctor myself; and
I didn't sit up again for about three weeks.
All this time I hadn't heard a word from home, and, for all I knew,
Stephen might be dead and buried. I didn't feel so very light-hearted,
you may be sure, when one day Miss Talbot brought me a letter. It was
from mother, and it seemed Stephen'd only had a bad fever, and had been
up and gone home for more than a week. So I wrote back, as soon as I
could, all about John, and how he'd gone to sea again, and how Miss
Talbot, who set sights by John, was rather lonely, and I thought I'd
keep her company a little longer, and try a spell in the mills, seeing
that our neighbors didn't think a girl had been properly accomplished
till she'd had a term or two in the factory. The fact was, I didn't want
to go home just then; I thought, maybe, if I waited a bit, my face would
get back to looking as it used to. So I worked in the piece-room, light
work and good pay, sent mother and Lurindy part of my wages, and paid my
board to Miss Talbot. She'd become quite attached to me, and I to her,
for all she was such an old-maidish thing; but I'd got to thinking an
old maid wasn't such a very bad thing, after all. Fourth of July came at
last, and the mills were closed, and I went with some of the other girls
on an excursion down the harbor; and when I got home, Miss Talbot told
me my Cousin Stephen had been down to see me, and had been obliged to go
home in the last train. I wondered why Stephen didn't stay, and then it
flashed upon me that she'd told him all about it, and he didn't want to
see me afterwards. I knew mother and Lurindy suspected why I didn't come
home, and now, thinks I, they _know_; but I asked no questions.
When September came, I saw it wasn't any use delaying, and I might as
well go back to knitting sale-socks then as any time. However, I didn't
go till October. You needn't think I'd stayed away from the farm all
that time, while the tender things were opening, the tiny top-heavy
beans pushing up, the garden-sarse greening, the little grass-blades
two and two,--while all the young creatures were coming forward, the
chickens breaking the shell, and the gosling-storm brewing and dealing
destruction,--while the strawberries were growing ripe and red up in the
high field, and the hay and clover were getting in,--you needn't think
I'd stayed away from all that had been pleasant in my life, without many
a good heart-ache; and when at last I saw the dear old gray house again,
all weather-beaten and homely, standing there with its well-sweep among
the elms, I fairly cried. Mother and Lurindy ran out to meet me, when
they saw the stage stop, and after we got into the house it seemed if
they would never get done kissing me. And mother stirred round and made
hot cream-biscuits for tea, and got the best china, and we sat up till
nigh midnight, talking, and I had to tell everything John did and said
and thought and looked, over and over again.
By-and-by I unpacked my trunk, and there was a little parcel in the
bottom of it, and I pulled it up.
"There, Lurindy," says I, "John told me to tell you to have your
wedding-dress ready against he came home,--he's gone mate,--and here it
is." And I unrolled the neatest brown silk you ever saw, just fit for
Lurindy, she's so pale and genteel, and threw it into her lap. I'd
stayed the other month to get enough to buy it.
The first thing Lurindy did, by way of thanks, was to burst into tears
and declare she never could take it, that she never should marry now;
and the more I urged her, the more she cried. But at last she said she'd
accept it conditionally,--and the condition was, I should be married
when she was.
"Well," says I, "agreed, if you'll provide the necessary article;
because I can't very well marry my shadow, and I don't know any one else
that would be fool enough to have such a little fright."
At that Lurindy felt all the worse, and it took all the spirits I had to
build up hers and mother's. I suppose I was sorry to see they felt
so bad, (and they hadn't meant that I should,) because it gave the
finishing stroke to my conviction; and after I was in bed, I grew
sorrier still; and if I cried, 't wasn't on account of myself, but I saw
how Lurindy 'd always feel self-accused, though she hadn't ought to,
whenever she looked at me, and how all her life she'd feel my scarred
face like a weight on her happiness, and think I owed it to John, and
how intolerable such an obligation, though it was only a fancied one,
would be; and I saw, too, that it all came from my not going up-stairs
that first time when Stephen knocked,--because if I had gone, I should
have been there when the doctor came, and Lurindy 'd have gone to have
taken care of John herself, and it would have been her face that was
ruined instead of mine; and though it was a great deal better that
it should be mine, still she'd have been easier in her mind;--and so
thinking and worrying, I fell asleep.
Next day was baking-day, and Stephen was coming in the afternoon, and it
was almost five o'clock when we got cleared up, and I went up-stairs to
change my dress. I thought 't wasn't any use to trim myself out in bows
and ruffles now, so I just put on my brown gingham and a white linen
collar; but Lurindy came and tied a pink ribbon at my throat, and fixed
my hair herself, and looked down and said,--
"Well, I don't see but you're about as pretty as ever you was."
That almost finished me; but I contrived to laugh, and got down-stairs.
Mother 'd run over to the village to get some yarn to knit up, for she
'd used all our own wool. It was getting dark, and I had just brought in
another log, and hung the kettle on the crane. The log hadn't taken fire
yet, and there was only a light glimmer, from the coals, on the ceiling.
I heard the back-door-latch click, and thought it was mother, and
commenced humming in the middle of a tune, as if I'd been humming the
rest and had just reached that part; but the figure standing there was a
sight too tall for mother.
"Oh, Stephen," says I,--and my heart jumped in my throat, but I just
swallowed it down, and thanked Heaven that the evening was so dark,--"is
"Yes," says he, stepping forward, and putting out his hands, and making
as if he would kiss me. Just for a minute I hung back, then I went and
gave him my hand in a careless way.
"Yes," says he; "and I can't say that you seem so very glad to see me."
"Oh, yes," I answered, "I am glad. Did you drive over?"
"Well," says he, "maybe you are; but I should call it a mighty cool
reception, after almost a year's absence. However, I suppose it's the
best manners not to show any cordiality; you've had a chance to learn
more politeness down at Salem than we have up here in the country."
I was a little struck up by Stephen's running on so,--he was generally
so quiet, and said so little, and then in such short sentences. But in a
minute I reckoned he thought I was nervous, and was trying to put me at
my ease,--and he knew of old that the best way to do that was to rouse
"I ha'n't seen anybody at Salem better-mannered 'n mother and Lurindy,"
"Come home for Thanksgiving?" asked Stephen, hanging up his coat.
I kept still a minute, for I couldn't for the life of me see what I had
to give thanks for. Then it came over me what a cheery, comfortable home
this was, and how Stephen would always be my kind, warm-hearted friend,
and how thankful I ought to be that my life had been spared, and that I
was useful, that I'd made such good friends as I had down to Salem, and
that I wasn't soured against all mankind on account of my misfortune.
"Yes, Stephen," says I, "I've come home for Thanksgiving; and I have a
great deal to give thanks for."
"So have I," said he.
"Stephen," says I, "I don't exactly know, but I shouldn't wonder if I'd
had a change of heart."
"Don't know of anybody that needed it less," says Stephen, warming his
hands. "However, if it makes you any more comfortable, I sha'n't object;
except the part of it that belongs to me,--I sha'n't have that changed."
The fire'd begun to brighten now, and the room was red and
pleasant-looking; still I knew he couldn't see me plainly, and I waited
a minute, and lingered round, pretending I was doing something, which
I wasn't; I hated to break the old way of things; and then I took the
tongs and blew a coal and lighted the dip and held it up, as if I was
looking for something. Pretty soon I found it; it was a skein of linen
thread I was going to wind for Lurindy. Then I got the swifts and came
and sat down in front of the candle.
"There," says I, "the swifts is broken. What shall I do?"
"I'll hold the thread, if that's your trouble," says Stephen, and came
and sat opposite to me while I wound.
I wondered whether he was looking at me, but I didn't durst look
up,--and then I couldn't, if my life had depended upon it. At last we
came to the end; then I managed to get a glance edgeways. He hadn't been
looking at all, I don't believe, till that very moment, when he raised
"Are folks always so sober, when they've had a change of heart?" he
asked, with his pleasant smile.
"They are, when they've had a change of face," I was going to say; but
just then mother came in with her bundle of yarn, and Lurindy came down,
and there was such a deal of welcoming and talking, that I slipped round
and laid the table and had the tea made before they thought of it. I'd
about made up my mind now that Stephen would act as if nothing had
happened, and pretend to like me just the same, because he was so
tender-hearted and couldn't bear to hurt my feelings nor anybody's; and
I'd made up my mind, too, that, as soon as he gave me a chance, I'd tell
him I was set against marriage: leastwise, I wouldn't have him, because
I wouldn't have any man marry me out of pity; and the more I cared for
him, the more I couldn't hamper an ugly face on him forever. So, you
see, I had quite resolved, that, cost me what it would, I'd say 'No,' if
Stephen asked me. Well, it's a very good thing to make resolutions; but
it's a great deal better to break them, sometimes.
Having come to my conclusions, I grew as merry as any of them; and when
mother put two spoons into Stephen's cup, I told him he was going to
have a present. And he said he guessed he knew what it was; and I said
it must be a mitten, I'd heard that Martha Smith had taken to knitting
lately; and he confounded Martha Smith. Mother and Lurindy were very
busy talking about the yarn, and how Mr. Fisher wanted the next socks
knit; and Stephen asked me what that dish was beside me. I said, it was
lemon-pie, and the top-crust was made of kisses, and would he have
some? And he said, he didn't care for anybody's kisses but mine, and he
believed he wouldn't. And I told him the receipt of this came from the
Queen's own kitchen. And he said, he didn't know that the Queen of
England was any better than the Queen of Hearts. Then I said, I supposed
he remembered how the latter lady was served by the Knave of Hearts
in 'Mother Goose'? And he replied, that he wasn't going to be
Jack-at-a-pinch for anybody. And so on, till mother finished tea.
After tea, I sat up to the table and ended some barley-trimming that I'd
just learned how to make; and as the little kernels came tumbling out
from under my fingers, Stephen sat beside and watched them as if it
was a field of barley, growing, reaped, and threshed under his eyes.
By-and-by I finished it; and then, rummaging round in the table-drawer,
I found the sock that I was knitting, waiting at the very stitch where I
left it, 'most a year ago.
"Well, if that isn't lucky!" said I. And I sat down on a stool by the
fireside, determined to finish that sock that night; and no sooner had
I set the needles to dancing, like those in the fairy-story, than open
came the kitchen-door again, and in, out of the dark, stepped Aunt Mimy.
"Good-evenin', Miss Ruggles!" says she. "Heow d' ye du, Emerline? hope
yer gwine ter stay ter hum a spell. Why, Stephen, 's this you? Quite a
femily-party, I declare fur't! Wai, Miss Ruggles, I got kind o' tired
settin' in the dark, an', ez I looked out an' see the dips blazin' in
yer winder, thinks I, I'll jest run up an' see w'at's ter pay."
"Why, there's only one dip," says Lurindy.
"Wal, thet's better 'n none," answered Miss Mimy.
I had enough of the old Adam left in me to be riled at her way of
begging as much as ever I was; but I saw that Stephen was amused; he
hadn't ever happened to be round, when Aunt Mimy was at her tricks.
"No, Miss Ruggles," continued she, "I thank the Lord I ha'n't got a
complainin' sperrit, an' hed jest ez lieves see by my neighbor's dip ez
my own, an', mebbe ye 'll say, a sight lieveser."
And then Miss Mimy pulled out a stocking without beginning or end, and
began to knit as fast as she could rattle, after she 'd fixed one needle
in a chicken-bone, and pinned the chicken-bone to her side.
"Wal, Emerline," says she, "I s'pose ye've got so grand down ter the
mills, thet, w'at 'ith yer looms an' machines an' tic-doloreux, ye won't
hev nothin' ter say ter the old way uv knittin' socks."
"Does this look like it, Aunt Mimy?" says I, shaking my needles by way
of answer. "I'm going to finish this pair to-night."
"Oh," says she, "you be, be you? Wal, ef I don't e'en a'most vum it's
the same one! ef ye ha'n't been nigh abeout a hull year a-knittin' one
pair uv socks!"
"How do you know they're the same pair?" asked I.
"By a mark I see you sot in 'em ter the top, ef ye want ter know, afore
I thought it would be hangin' by the eyelids the rest uv yer days. Wal,
I never 'xpected ye'd be much help ter yer mother; ye're tew fond uv
hikin' reound the village."
"Indeed, Miss Mimy," said Lurindy, kind of indignant, "she's always been
the greatest help to mother."
"I don't know how I should have made both ends meet this year, if it
hadn't been for her wages," said mother.
Stephen was whittling Miss Mimy's portrait on the end of a stick, and
laughing. I was provoked with mother and Lurindy for answering the
thing, and was just going to speak up, when I caught Stephen's eye, and
thought better of it. Pretty soon Aunt Mimy produced a bundle of herbs
from her pocket, and laid them on the table.
"Oh, thank you, Aunt Jemimy," says mother. "Pennyroyal and catnip's
"Yes," said Aunt Mimy. "An' I'll take my pay in some uv yer dried
apples. Heow much does Fisher give fur socks, Miss Ruggles?" she asked,
"Fifty cents and I find,--fifteen and he finds."
"An' ye take yer pay out uv the store? Varry reasonable. I wuz thinkin'
uv tryin' my han' myself;--business's ruther dull, folks onkimmon well
this fall. Heow many strings yer gwine ter give me fur the yarbs?"
Then mother went up garret to get the apples and spread the herbs to
dry, and Lurindy wanted some different needles, and went after her.
Stephen'd just heaped the fire, and the great blaze was tumbling up
the chimney, and Miss Mimy lowered her head and looked over her great
horn-bowed spectacles at me.
"Wal, Emerline Ruggles," says she, after a while, going back to her
work, "you've lost all _your_ pink cheeks!"
I suppose it took me rather sudden, for all at once a tear sprung and
fell right down my work. I saw it glistening on the bright needles a
minute, and then my eyes filmed so that I felt there was more coming,
and I bent down to the fire and made believe count my narrowings. After
all, Aunt Mimy was kind of privileged by everybody to say what she
pleased. But Stephen didn't do as every one did, always.
"Emmie's beauty wasn't all in her pink cheeks, Miss Mimy," I heard him
say, as I went into the back-entry to ask mother to bring down the mate
of my sock.
"Wal, wherever it was, there's precious little of it left!" said she,
angry at being took up, which maybe she never was before in her life.
"You don't agree with her friends," said he, cutting in the stick the
great mole on the side of her nose; "_they_ all think she's got more
than ever she had."
Mother tossed me down the mate, and I went back.
"Young folks," said Aunt Mimy, after two or three minutes' silence, "did
ye ever hear tell o' 'Miah Kemp?"
"Any connection of old Parson Kemp in the other parish?" asked Stephen.
"Yes," said Aunt Mimy,--"his brother. Wal, w'en I wuz a young gal,
livin' ter hum,--my father wuz ez wealthy ez any farmer thereabeouts, ye
know,--I used ter keep company 'ith 'Miah Kemp. 'Miah wuz a stun-mason,
the best there wuz in the deestrik, an' the harnsomest boy there
tew,--though I say it thet shouldn't say it,--he hed close-curlin' black
hair, an' an arm it done ye good ter lean on. Wal, one spring-night,--I
mind it well,--we wuz walkin' deown the lane together, an' the wind
wuz blowin', the laylocks wuz in bloom, an' all overhead the lane wuz
rustlin' 'ith the great purple plumes in the moonlight, an' the air wuz
sweeter 'ith their breath than any air I've ever taken sence, an' ez we
wuz walkin', 'Miah wuz askin' me fur ter fix eour weddin'-day. Wal, w'en
he left me at the bars, I agreed we'd be merried the fifteenth day uv
July comin', an' I walked hum; an' I mind heow I wondered ef Eve wuz
so happy in Paradise, or ef Paradise wuz half so beautiful ez thet
scented lane. The nex' mornin', ez I wuz milkin', the ceow tuk fright
an' begun ter cut up, an' she cut up so thet I run an' she arter me,--an'
the long an' the short uv it wuz thet she tossed me, an' w'en they got
me up they foun' I hedn't but one eye. Wal, uv course, my looks wuz
sp'iled,--fur I'd been ez pretty'z Emerline wuz,--you wuz pretty once,
Emerline,--an' I sent 'Miah Kemp word I'd hev no more ter du 'ith him
nor any one else neow. 'Miah, he come ter see me; but I wuz detarmined,
an' I stuck ter my word. He did an' said everything thet mortal man
could,--thet he loved me better'n ever, an' thet 't would be the death
uv him, an' tuk on drefful. But w'en he'd got through, I giv' him the
same answer, though betwixt ourselves it a'most broke my heart ter say
it. I kep' a stiff upper-lip, an' he grew desp'rate, an' tuk all sorts
uv dangerous jobs, blastin' rocks an' haulin' stuns. One night,--'t wuz
jest a year from the night I'd walked 'ith him in thet lane,--I wuz
stan'in' by the door, an' all ter once I heerd a noise an' crash ez ef
all the thunderbolts in the Almighty's hand hed fallen together, an' I
run deown the lane an' met the men bringin' up sunthin' on an old door.
They hed been blastin' Elder Payson's rock, half-way deown the new well,
an' the mine hedn't worked, an' 'Miah'd gone deown ter see w'at wuz in
it; an' jest ez he got up ag'in, off it went, an' here he wuz 'ith a
great splinter in his chist,--ef the rest uv it wuz him. They couldn't
kerry him no furder, an' sot him deown; an' there wuz all the trees
a-wavin' overhead ag'in, an' all the sweet scents a-beatin' abeout the
air, jest uz it wuz a year ago w'en he parted from me so strong an'
whole an' harnsome; all the fleowers wuz a-blossomin', all the winds wuz
blowin' an' this lump uv torn flesh an' broken bones wuz 'Miah. I laid
deown on the grass beside him, an' put my lips close to hisn, an' I
could feel the breath jest stirrin' between; an' the doctor came an'
said 't warn't no use; an' they threw a blanket over us, an' there I
laid tell the sun rose an' sparkled in the dew an' the green leaves an'
the purple bunches, an' the air came frolickin' fresh an' sweet abeout
us; an' though I'd knowed it long, layin' there in the dark, neow I see
fur sartain thet there warn't no breath on them stiff lips, an' the
forehead was cold uz the stuns beneath us, an' the eyes wuz fixed an'
glazed in thet las' look uv love an' tortur' an' reproach thet he giv'
me. They say I went distracted; an' I _du_ b'lieve I've be'n cracked
Here Aunt Mimy, who had told her whole story without moving a muscle,
commenced rocking violently back and forth.
"I don't often remember all this," says she, after a little, "but las'
spring it all flushed over me; an' w'en I heerd heow Emerline'd
be'n sick,--I hear a gre't many things ye do' no' nothin' abeout,
children,--I thought I'd tell her, fust time I see her."
"What made you think of it last spring?" asked Stephen.
"The laylocks wuz in bloom," said Miss Mirny,--"the laylocks wuz in
Just then mother came down with the apples, and some dip-candles, and
a basket of broken victuals; and Miss Mimy tied her cloak and said she
believed she must be going. And Stephen went and got his hat and coat,
"Miss Mimy, wouldn't you like a little company to help you carry your
bundles? Come, Emmie, get your shawl."
So I ran and put on my things, and Stephen and I went home with Aunt
"Emmie," says Stephen, as we were coming back, and he'd got hold of my
hand in his, where I'd taken his arm, "what do you think of Aunt Mimy
"Oh," says I, "I'm sorry I've ever been sharp with her."
"I don't know," said Stephen. "'Ta'n't in human nature not to pity her;
but then she brought her own trouble on herself, you see."
"Yes," said I.
"I don't know how to blast rocks," says Stephen, when we'd walked a
little while without saying anything,--"but I suppose there is something
as desperate that I can do."
"Oh, you needn't go to threatening me!" thinks I; and, true enough, he
hadn't any need to.
"Emmie," says he, "if you say 'No,' when I ask you to have me, I sha'n't
ask you again."
"Well?" says I, after a step or two, seeing he didn't speak.
"Well?" says he.
"I can't say 'Yes' or 'No' either, till you ask me," said I.
He stopped under the starlight and looked in my eyes.
"Emmie," says he, "did you ever doubt that I loved you?"
"Once I thought you did," said I; "but it's different now."
"I _do_ love you," said he, "and you know it."
"Me, Stephen?" said I,--"with my face like a speckled sparrow's egg?"
"Yes, you," said he; and he bent down and kissed me, and then we walked
By-and-by Stephen said, When would I come and be the life of his house
and the light of his eyes? That was rather a speech for Stephen; and
I said, I would go whenever he wanted me. And then we went home very
comfortably, and Stephen told mother it was all right, and mother and
Lurindy did what they'd got very much into the habit of doing,--cried;
and I said, I should think I was going to be buried, instead of married;
and Stephen took my knitting-work away, and said, as I had knit all our
trouble and all our joy into that thing, he meant to keep it just as it
was; and that was the end of my knitting sale-socks.
I suppose, now I've told you so far, you'd maybe like to know the rest.
Well, Lurindy and John were married Thanksgiving morning; and just as
they moved aside, Stephen and I stepped up and took John and Aunt Mimy
rather by surprise by being married too.
"Wal," says Aunt Mimy, "ef ever you hang eout another red flag, 't won't
be because Lurindy's nussin' Stephen!"
I don't suppose there's a happier little woman in the State than me. I
should like to see her, if there is. I go over home pretty often; and
Aunt Mimy makes just as much of my baby--I've named him John--as mother
does; and that's enough to ruin any child that wasn't a cherub born. And
Miss Mimy always has a bottle of some new nostrum of her own stilling
every time she sees any of us; we've got enough to swim a ship, on the
top shelf of the pantry to-day, if it was all put together. As for
Stephen, there he comes now through the huckleberry-pasture, with the
baby on his arm; he seems to think there never was a baby before; and
sometimes--Stephen's such a homebody--I'm tempted to think that maybe
I've married my own shadow, after all. However, I wouldn't have it other
than it is. Lurindy, she lives at home the most of the time; and once in
a while, when Stephen and mother and I and she are all together, and as
gay as larks, and the baby is creeping round, swallowing pins and hooks
and eyes as if they were blueberries, and the fire is burning, and the
kettle singing, and the hearth swept clean, it seems as if heaven had
actually come down, or we'd all gone up without waiting for our robes;
it seems as if it was altogether too much happiness for one family. And
I've made Stephen take a paper on purpose to watch the ship-news; for
John sails captain of a fruiter to the Mediterranean, and, sure enough,
its little gilt figure-head that goes dipping in the foam is nothing
else than the Sister of Charity.
The crowd was decidedly a heterogeneous one on the edge of which I stood
at eight o'clock, A.M., one scorching July morning, under an awning at
the end of a rickety pier, waiting for the excursion-steamer which was
to convey us to the distant sand-banks over which the clear waters lap,
away down below the green-sloped highlands of Neversink,--sea-shoal
banks, from which silvery fishes were warning us off with their waving
Now the crowd, being a heterogeneous one, as I have said, had the vulgar
element pervading it to a dominant extent. It consisted mainly of such
"common people," indeed, that no person of exquisite refinement would
have thought of feeling his way through it, unless his hands were
protected by what Aminadab Sleek calls "little goat-gloves." And
yet there is another style of mitten, a large, unshapely, bloated
knuckle-fender, stuffed with curled hair, that might be far more
appropriate to the operation of shouldering in among such "muscular
Christians" as the majority around, on the occasion to which I refer.
In the resorts to which habitual tipplers have recourse for consolation
of the spirituous kind, a cheap variety is usually on hand to meet
exigencies,--the exigency of a commercial crisis, for instance, when the
last lonely dime of the drinker is painfully extracted from the pocket,
to be replaced by seven inconsiderable cents. This abomination is termed
"all sorts" by the publican and his indispensable sinner. It is the
accumulation of the drainage of innumerable gone drinks,--fancy and
otherwise. The exquisite in the "little goat-gloves" would not hob-nob
with me in that execrable beverage; no more would I with him; and yet
one of its components may be the aristocratic Champagne. In the social
elements of a water-excursion-party may be found the "all sorts" of a
particular kind of city-life,--the good of it and the bad of it, with
a dash of something that is very low. But I am going to talk about the
thing as I found it,--the rough side of the social mill-stone; and,
seeing that I have suffered nothing by contact with it, I suppose no
harm will come to such as listen to the little I have got to say on the
A benevolent desire to launch far and wide the already well-spread
reputation of the New York rowdy impels the present writer to declare
his conviction, that, should Physiology offer a premium for the
production of a perfect and unmitigated specimen of _polisson_,
Experience would seek for it among the choice representatives of the
class in question,--ay, and find it, too. Nor would the ardor of search
be chilled by the suggestion of scarcity conveyed in the practical
sarcasm of the sly old cynic, when he scorched human nature with a horn
lantern by instituting a search with it on the sun-bright highways for
an unauthenticated type of man. And yet the rowdy, like many another
ugly and repulsive thing, may have his use. In the East Indies, it is
customary to keep a live turtle in the wayside water-tanks which are so
precious in that thirsty land, the movements of the animal, as well as
the industry with which it devours all noxious particles which chance
may have conveyed into the waters, serving to keep them in a condition
of purity and health. The rowdy is the turtle in the tank,--so far,
at least, as being an ugly beast to look at and a great promoter of
commotion,--by which latter service he keeps the community alive to
the presence of impure particles in the social element, if he does not
assist in getting rid of them. An alligator in an aquarium might furnish
a better comparison for him in other respects.
Of this class there are many branches; but the one with which I have to
deal at present is to be studied to most advantage by visiting some pier
of the great river-frontage of New York, to which excursion-boats rush
emulously at appointed hours, crossing and jostling each other with
proper respect for their individual rights as free commoners of
the well-tilled waters. Here, as, with audacious disregard of the
chance-medley of smashed guards and obliterated paddle-boxes, the great
water-wagons graze wheels upon the ripple-paved turnpike of the river,
the steamboat-runner, squalidly red from the effects of last night's
carouse, and reeking sensibly of the alcoholic "morning call," may be
recognized by the native manner in which he makes the pier peculiarly
his own,--by the inflammatory character--which unremitting dissipation
has imparted to the inhaling apparatus of his unclassical features,--by
the filthy splendor of his linen, which a low-buttoning waistcoat,
gorgeous and dirty likewise, unbosoms disadvantageously to the gaze of
the beholder,--by the invariable "diamond" pin, of gift-book style, with
which the juncture of the first-mentioned integument is effected, if
not adorned,--and, above all, by the massive guards and guy-chains with
which his watch is hitched on to the belaying arrangements of Chatham
Street garments, the original texture and tint of which have long been
superseded by predominant grease. Hand and elbow with the professional
city-rowdy the steamboat-runner is ever to be found: at the cribs, where
the second-rate men of the "fancy" hold their secret meetings; clinging
about the doors of the Court of Sessions, where, as eavesdroppers,--for
they are known to the door-keeper, and rejected from the friendship of
that stern officer,--they strive, with ear at keyhole, to catch a word
or two which may give them a clue to the probable fate of "Jim," who
is in the dock there, on his trial for homicide or some such light
peccadillo; loitering round the dog-pit institutions, where
the quadrupeds look so amazingly like men and the men like
quadrupeds,--especially in that one where the eye of taste may be
gratified by the supernatural symmetry of the stuffed bull-terriers in
glass cases, the enormity of which specimens is accounted for by the
gentlemanly proprietor, who tells us that "the man as stuffed 'em never
stuffed anythink else afore, only howls."
I suppose it must have been the tacit acknowledgment of some superiority
by me inappreciable, that accorded to one individual of the small
assemblage of roughs under notice a decidedly influential position among
the congenial spirits hovering around. The superior blanchness of this
person's linen would seem to indicate that his association with mere
runners was but occasional and for commercial ends. Also might that
conclusion have been deduced from the immaculacy of his cream-white
Panama hat. That was a jaunty article, with upturned brim, the pride
of which was discernible in the very simplicity with which it sat,
unadulterated by band or trimmings, upon the closely cropped,
mole-colored head of the wearer. Thirty dollars, at least, must have
been its marketable value. Instead of being fitted with chain-tackle,
the watch of this superior person maintained its connection with the
open air by means of a broad watered ribbon plummeted straight down his
leg with a seal hardly inferior in size to a deep-sea lead. This daring
recurrence to first principles is much to be observed, of late, among
the choice spirits of the so-called "sporting" fraternity of New York.
This man, as I supposed, and as I subsequently heard from my friend
Locus, of the police, who came upon the pier, was not a runner now, but
had risen from that respectable rank by large exercise of the virtues so
intimately associated with it. In attributing an exalted position to him
I was right. He was the keeper of a house of entertainment for emigrants
in one of the down-town tributaries to Broadway, where tickets could
also be had for California and most other parts of the world, at an
advance of not more than one-third on the rates charged at the regular
steamboat-offices. Considering the respectability of this person's
occupation, I was surprised when Locus referred to him, familiarly, as
"Flashy Joe," adding that he was widely known, if not respected, and
that he would, probably, be entitled some day to have his portrait
placed in a gallery of which he, Locus, knew, but into which my
aesthetic researches have not hitherto led me.
There was another noticeable character in the rough part of the
heterogeneous crowd. This man, while on a footing of the greatest
intimacy with the runners, was far inferior to them in the matter
of dress. Locus, in reply to my queries, informed me that he was a
professional oyster-opener; but, judging from his appearance in general,
I should have guessed that he was a professional oyster-catcher also,--a
human dredge, employed chiefly at the bottom of the sea. A perfect
Hercules in build, "Lobster Bob," as Locus called him, made his
appearance on the wharf with two enormous creels of oysters, one
balanced on each hip, with the careless ease of unconscious strength,
His costume consisted solely of a ragged blue cotton shirt and trousers,
immense knobby cowskin boots white with age, and a mouldy drab felt hat.
The button-less blue shirt flapped widely open from his brawny chest;
and his shirt-sleeves, rolled up to the shoulder, gave full display to a
pair of arms of a mould not usually to be found outside the prize-ring,
and but seldom within the sanctuary of that magic circle. As if in
compensation for the merely nominal allowance of costume tolerated by
this crustacean professor, his chest and arms were entirely covered with
a wild arabesque of tattoo-work, in blue and red. Many and original
artists must have been employed in the embellishment of Robert's tawny
hide. The one to whose sense of the fitness of things was intrusted
the illustration of his right arm had seized boldly upon the oval
protuberance of the biceps, a few skilfully disposed dots and dashes
upon which had converted it into a face which was no bad reproduction of
Bob's own. On the broad flexors of his sun-bronzed fore-arm there blazed
a grand device which might have puzzled a whole college of heralds to
interpret,--a combination of eagles and banners and shields, coruscating
with stars and radiant with stripes. But more suggestive than any of
these shams was the stern reality of a purple scar which ran round the
back of his neck, from ear to ear. More than one man must have been
hurt, when that scar was made.
Notwithstanding the bull-dog projection of this formidable giant's lower
jaw, there sometimes beamed on his face that good-natured expression
often observable in men whose unusual muscular development places them
on a footing of physical superiority to those with whom they shoulder
along the road of life. When the runners "chaffed" him, nevertheless,
it was in a mild way, and with manifest respect for his muscle,--a
sentiment in no way diminished when he suddenly clutched one of the
least cautious among them by the nape of the neck, and held him out at
arm's-length, for some seconds, over the drowny water that kept lazily
licking at the green moss on the old stakes of the rickety pier.
Even unto the Prince of Darkness, saith proverbial philosophy, let us
concede his due. If, then, a single ray of good illuminates at some
happy moment the dark spirit of these roughs, let it be recorded with
that bare, unfledged truth which is so much better a bird than uncandor
with the finest of feathers upon him.
Feeling his way into the circle with a stick, there came a poor blind
man, of diminutive stature, squeezing beneath his left arm a suffocating
accordion, which, every now and then, as he stumbled against the uneven
planks of the wharf, gave a querulous squeak, doleful in its cadence as
the feeble quavers evoked by Mr. William Davidge, comedian, from
the asthmatic clarionet of Jem Bags, in the farce of the "Wandering
"Come, b'hoys!" cried Lobster Bob, "let's have a squeeze of music from
Billy, afore the boat comes up"; and, plumping down one of his creels in
the middle of the crowd, he lifted up the musician, and seated him upon
the rough, cold oysters,--a throne fitter, certainly, for a follower of
Neptune than a votary of Apollo. One of the roughs danced an ungraceful
measure to the music of the accordion, mimicking, as he did so, the
queer contortions into which the musician twisted his features in
perfect harmony with his woful strains. All of them were gentle to the
blind man, though, as if his darkness had brought to them a ray of
light; and presently one of them takes off the musician's cap, drops
into it a silver dime, and goes the rounds of the throng with many
jocose appeals in favor of the owner, to whom he presently returns it
in a condition of silver lining analogous to, but more substantial than
that of the poet's cloud.
But now the poor music of the accordion was quite extinguished by the
bellowing of the brazen horns of the "cotillon band" on the deck of our
expected steamer, as she rounded to from the upper piers at which she
had been taking in excursionists. This caused a stir in the crowd under
the awning, many of whom were fathers of families taking their wives and
children out for a rare holiday. The smallest babies had not been left
at home, but were there in all their primary scarletude, set off by the
whitest of lace-frilled caps trimmed with the bluest of ribbons. And now
came the time for these small choristers to take up the "wondrous tale";
for the big horns had ceased to wrangle, and the crushing and rushing of
the crowd woke up infancy to a sense of its wrongs and a consciousness
of the necessity for action.
There were some nice-looking girls around, neatly dressed, too, though
by no means in their Sunday-best; for _la petite New-Yorkaise_ is aware
of the mishaps to be encountered by those who venture far out to sea in
ships. They had sweethearts with them, for the most part, or brothers,
or cousins, mayhap: but they were sadly neglected by these protectors,
as we stood under the awning on the pier; for the male mind was full of
fishing, and the male hands were employed in making up tackle with a
most unscientific kind of skill.
And now the final rush came, as the steamer made fast alongside the
outermost of the boats already lying at the pier, across the decks of
which our heterogeneous crowd began to make its way with as little
scrambling as possible, on account of the petticoat-hoops, which
are capital monitors in a turmoil. Women swayed their babies like
balancing-poles, as they tottered along the gangway-plank. Men tried to
secure themselves from being brushed into eternity by the powerful sweep
of skirts. My own personal reminiscence of this transit from the wharf
to the gallant bark of our choice is melancholy and vague, being marked
chiefly to memory by the complicated curse bestowed upon me by a hideous
old Irish-woman, whose oranges I accidentally upset in the crowd, and by
whom I was subsequently derided with buffo song and scurrilous dance as
long as the steamer remained within hearing and sight.
Away we are steaming down the bay, at last, a motley party of men,
women, and children of all sizes and sorts: husbands, wives, milliners
and their lovers; young men who have brought no young women with them,
because they have come for fishing and fishing only; and advanced
fathers, who, making a virtue of having brought out wife and child for
a holiday, now leave them a good deal to take care of themselves, and
devote all their energies to being pleasant as remotely from them as
circumstances will allow. Roughs, to the number of a dozen or so, mostly
steamboat-runners and their congeners, are of the party, headed by
Flashy Joe. Lobster Bob has set up his oyster-plank in a central
situation. Venders of unfresh-looking refreshments have established
themselves on board; and the bar-keeper, near the forecastle, is
preparing himself for the worst.
By-and-by I noticed a good-looking specimen of Young New York on board,
and was introduced to him by a cigar. He was a handsome boy, with dark,
oval face, and Arabian eyes. The silky black line that just marked the
curve of his upper lip gave promise of a splendid moustache; his closely
crisped black hair was but just visible below the rim of his jaunty
straw hat, the band of which was a tasselled cord of crimson silk; while
his lithe figure was suggested rather than displayed by the waving lines
of his loose brown jacket with tapering _gigot_ sleeves. His low-cut
shirt-collar and narrow silken neck-tie were in the style called
"English," as quite decidedly, also, were his cross-barred trousers of
balloony build; nor, although thus flinging himself for diversion into
the vortex of the lower crowd, had he foregone the luxury of tan-colored
kid gloves and patent-leather shoes. He was a bright boy, and precocious
as a lady-killer; for, already, before we had left far behind us the
pleasant slopes of Bay Ridge, with its peeping villa-parapets of
brown and white, and its umbrageous masses of chromatic green, he
had evidently engaged the affections of an _espiegle_ little
straw-bonnet-maker, who did her hair something like his own, in a
close-curled crop, and had her pretty little person safely shut up in a
That young lady had a suitor with her, who was clearly not a sweetheart,
however, by a good deal, but merely a follower tolerated for the day,
and on the score of convenience only. He was a tall, gaunt, pale young
man, with long hands and feet, slouching shoulders and narrow chest,
and a strange, indescribable nullity of expression dwelling upon his
features. He did not appear to be encouraged much by little Straw-Goods,
whose mind was probably occupied with prospective possibilities of being
led out to the festive dance by Young New York. Altogether, he was an
unsatisfactory-looking young man, his unfinished look reminding one of
raw material, though it would have been hard to say for what.
But the band had now ceased mellowing out the favorite medley which
begins with "Casta Diva" and runs over into the lovely cadences of
"Gentle Annie"; and the abrupt transition from that mournful strain to a
light cotillon air warned four hundred holiday-people that the festive
dance was about to begin on the wide floor between the engine-room and
the saloon. Cotillons are a leading pastime among the people; and as the
water was pretty smooth down the bay, and a splendid breeze rushed aft
between-decks, many laughing girls and well-dressed matronly women now
made their appearance on the floor. Dancing without noise is a luxury as
yet uncalled for. Dancers must have music, we know,--and what is
music, but wild noise caught and trained? But these cotillons were
unnecessarily boisterous, on account of the roughs, who, looked upon as
outsiders by the better-behaved portion of the throng, got up a wild
war-step of their own on the skirts of the legitimate dance, dishonestly
appropriating to their coarse movements the music intended for it
alone, as they stamped and shouted, and wheeled round with a ludicrous
affectation of grace, in the space between the dancers and the bulkheads
of the deck. One of these roughs, a drunken, young fellow of wiry build,
whose hair, face, eyes, nose, ears, and hands were all of the color of
tomato-catchup, might have made an excellent low comedian, had destiny
led him upon the "boards." He had just been complaining to his
companions that his hand had been refused for the dance by a girl at
whom he pointed the red finger of wrath,--a pale, but very interesting
seamstress, who was whirling about with a much decenter young man than
the red one is ever likely to be. And then he nobly took his revenge
by the clever, but unprincipled way in which he caricatured the rather
remarkable dancing of the young man who was the object of his hate, and
whose style of movement it would not be consistent with this writer's
duty to deny was amenable to severity, and must, in any society, have
subjected him who indulged in it to the scorn of the flouter and the
contempt of all high-minded men.
All through the dance, it was a thing to be remembered, how superior in
deportment the women were to the men. Probably it was from a natural
instinct for grace, and abhorrence of the ludicrous, that they merely
skimmed through the figures, without any of the demonstrations displayed
by their beaux. It was pleasant to look at the nice little straw-goods
damsel with the boyish hair, and to mark the contrast between her kitten
glidings and the premeditated atrocities of Raw Material, as he wove and
unwove his ungainly legs before her, in a manner appalling to witness.
She had only a common palm-leaf fan, I remarked,--worth, probably, about
two cents. But Young New York, as he waited patiently for the deadly
ocean-malady to fall upon Raw Material, who was unquestionably a subject
for it, and was drinking, besides, drew tightly up his tan-colored
gloves, and, twirling with finger and thumb the air just about where
it must some day be displaced by the future tendrils of the coming
moustache, affirmed upon oath his intention of presenting her with a fan
more worthy of her well-kept little hand, ere kind Fortune could have
time to drop another excursion-ticket into her work-basket.
Should the solemn question arise as to how I knew that one of these
young women was in the straw-bonnet line, another a milliner, a third
a dress-maker, and so forth, I will answer it by stating that the left
forefinger of the seamstress, long since vulcanized into a little
file, furnishes the infallible sign which indicates the class. To the
practised eye, the varieties are known by many a token: by the smart
little close-grained cereal bonnet which little Straw-Goods put away
before she came into the dance; by the spicy creation of silk and
ribbons which roosts demurely, like a cedar-bird, on the back hair of
the pale girl, who is a milliner; by the superior manner in which the
hoops are disguised in the structure surrounding that blonde young wife
with the pink baby, who is a dressmaker. Let the lofty read studiously
the signs that in the heavens are portentous of storm or of shine; I,
who am of commoner clay, must content myself with deciphering those that
are of earth.
But a "sea-change" was upon us. Last night there was a tornado of
rain and thunder and wind, and the effects of the latter were now
perceptible, as we began to rock through the ground-swell off Sandy
Hook, and down past the twin light-houses on the high, sunny ridges
of Neversink. The music ceased, the dancers deserted the 'tween-decks
floor, and, as the rocking of the boat increased, there arose in the
direction of the ladies' cabin audible suggestions of woe.
And now the twin beacon-towers of Neversink were far, far behind, having
taken a position with regard to us which may be described, in military
phrase, as an _echelon_ movement upon our flank, and we went surging
through a fleet of little green fishing-boats, manned each by a single
fisherman in a red shirt, whose two horny hands appeared to be a couple
too few for the hauling in of the violet and silver _porgies_, with
which the well of his little green craft was alive and flapping. In the
middle of this fleet we rounded to, the anchor was let go, and we were
hard and fast upon the Fishing-Banks.
The first thing done, on these excursions, by those who come to
fish,--which includes nearly all the men,--is to establish a claim
somewhere along the railing of the steamer, by attaching to it a strong
whip-cord fishing-line, with a leaden sinker and hook of moderate
size,--the latter lashed on, in most instances, with a disregard for art
which must be intensely disgusting to any man whose piscatorial memories
are associated with the wily salmon and the epicurean trout. Triangular
tin boxes are brought along by the fishermen to hold their bait, which
consists of soft clams, liberally sprinkled with salt to keep them in a
wholesome condition for the afternoon take. Attaching a line to any
part of the rail or combings, or to any projecting point of the boat,
establishes the _droit de peche_ at that particular spot,--a right
respected with such rigorous etiquette, that the owner may then go his