Part 3 out of 5
But I am rambling on too far and too fast for to-day. Here is one more
book, however, that I must say a word about, as it lies open on my knee,
the gift of PUIR ROBBIE BURNS to a female friend,--his own poems,--the
edition which gave him "so much real happiness to see in print." Laid in
this copy of his works is a sad letter, in the poet's handwriting, which
perhaps has never been printed. Addressed to Captain Hamilton, Dumfries,
it is in itself a touching record of dear Robin's poverty, and _a'
"It is needless to attempt an apology for my remissness to you in money
matters; my conduct is beyond all excuse.--Literally, Sir, I had it
not. The Distressful state of commerce at this town has this year taken
from my otherwise scanty income no less than L20.--That part of my
salary depends upon the Imposts, and they are no more for one year. I
inclose you three guineas; and shall soon settle all with you. I shall
not mention your goodness to me; it is beyond my power to describe
either the feelings of my wounded soul at not being able to pay you as I
ought; or the grateful respect with which I have the honor to be
"Sir, Your deeply obliged humble servant,
"Dumfries, Jany. 29, 1795."
And so I walk out of my friend's leafy paradise this July afternoon,
thinking of the bard who in all his songs and sorrows made
"rustic life and poverty
Grow beautiful beneath his touch,"
and whose mission it was
"To weigh the inborn worth of _man_."
THE NAME IN THE BARK.
The self of so long ago,
And the self I struggle to know,
I sometimes think we are two,--or are we shadows of one?
To-day the shadow I am
Comes back in the sweet summer calm
To trace where the earlier shadow flitted awhile in the sun.
Once more in the dewy morn
I trod through the whispering corn,
Cool to my fevered cheek soft breezy kisses were blown;
The ribboned and tasselled grass
Leaned over the flattering glass,
And the sunny waters trilled the same low musical tone.
To the gray old birch I came,
Where I whittled my school-boy name:
The nimble squirrel once more ran skippingly over the rail,
The blackbirds down among
The alders noisily sung,
And under the blackberry-brier whistled the serious quail.
I came, remembering well
How my little shadow fell,
As I painfully reached and wrote to leave to the future a sign:
There, stooping a little, I found
A half-healed, curious wound,
An ancient scar in the bark, but no initial of mine!
Then the wise old boughs overhead
Took counsel together, and said,--
And the buzz of their leafy lips like a murmur of prophecy passed,--
"He is busily carving a name
In the tough old wrinkles of fame;
But, cut he as deep as he may, the lines will close over at last!"
Sadly I pondered awhile,
Then I lifted my soul with a smile,
And I said,--"Not cheerful men, but anxious children are we,
Still hurting ourselves with the knife,
As we toil at the letters of life,
Just marring a little the rind, never piercing the heart of the tree."
And now by the rivulet's brink
I leisurely saunter, and think
How idle this strife will appear when circling ages have run,
If then the real I am
Descend from the heavenly calm,
To trace where the shadow I seem once flitted awhile in the sun.
AGNES OF SORRENTO.
Agnes returned from the confessional with more sadness than her simple
life had ever known before. The agitation of her confessor, the
tremulous eagerness of his words, the alternations of severity and
tenderness in his manner to her, all struck her only as indications of
the very grave danger in which she was placed, and the awfulness of the
sin and condemnation which oppressed the soul of one for whom she was
conscious of a deep and strange interest.
She had the undoubting, uninquiring reverence which a Christianly
educated child of those times might entertain for the visible head of
the Christian Church, all whose doings were to be regarded with an awful
veneration which never even raised a question.
That the Papal throne was now filled by a man who had bought his
election with the wages of iniquity, and dispensed its powers and
offices with sole reference to the aggrandizement of a family proverbial
for brutality and obscenity, was a fact well known to the reasoning and
enlightened orders of society at this time; but it did not penetrate
into those lowly valleys where the sheep of the Lord humbly pastured,
innocently unconscious of the frauds and violence by which their dearest
interests were bought and sold.
The Christian faith we now hold, who boast our enlightened
Protestantism, has been transmitted to us through the hearts and hands
of such,--who, while princes wrangled with Pope, and Pope with princes,
knew nothing of it all, but, in lowly ways of prayer and patient labor,
were one with us of modern times in the great central belief of the
Christian heart, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."
As Agnes came slowly up the path towards the little garden, she was
conscious of a burden and weariness of spirit she had never known
before. She passed the little moist grotto, which in former times she
never failed to visit to see if there were any new-blown cyclamen,
without giving it even a thought. A crimson spray of gladiolus leaned
from the rock and seemed softly to kiss her cheek, yet she regarded
it not; and once stopping and gazing abstractedly upward on the
flower-tapestried walls of the gorge, as they rose in wreath and garland
and festoon above her, she felt as if the brilliant yellow of the broom
and the crimson of the gillyflowers, and all the fluttering, nodding
armies of brightness that were dancing in the sunlight, were too gay for
such a world as this, where mortal sins and sorrows made such havoc with
all that seemed brightest and best, and she longed to fly away and be at
Just then she heard the cheerful voice of her uncle in the little garden
above, as he was singing at his painting. The words were those of that
old Latin hymn of Saint Bernard, which, in its English dress, has
thrilled many a Methodist class-meeting and many a Puritan conference,
telling, in the welcome they meet in each Christian soul, that there is
a unity in Christ's Church which is not outward,--a secret, invisible
bond, by which, under warring names and badges of opposition, His true
followers have yet been one in Him, even though they discerned it not.
"Jesu dulcis memoria,
Dans vera cordi gaudia:
Sed super mel et omnia
Ejus dulcis praesentia.
"Nil canitur suavius,
Nil auditur jocundius,
Nil cogitatur dulcius,
Quam Jesus Dei Filius.
"Jesu, spes poenitentibus,
Quam pius es petentibus,
Quam bonus te quaerentibus,
Sed quis invenientibus!
Nec lingua valet dicere,
Nec littera exprimere:
Expertus potest credere
Quid sit Jesum diligere."[A]
Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest!
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name,
O Saviour of mankind!
O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall how kind thou art,
How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find! Ah, this
Nor tongue nor pen can show!
The love of Jesus, what it is
None but his loved ones know.]
The old monk sang with all his heart; and his voice, which had been
a fine one in its day, had still that power which comes from the
expression of deep feeling. One often hears this peculiarity in the
voices of persons of genius and sensibility, even when destitute of any
real critical merit. They seem to be so interfused with the emotions of
the soul, that they strike upon the heart almost like the living touch
of a spirit.
Agnes was soothed in listening to him. The Latin words, the sentiment of
which had been traditional in the Church from time immemorial, had to
her a sacred fragrance and odor; they were words apart from all common
usage, a sacramental language, never heard but in moments of devotion
and aspiration,--and they stilled the child's heart in its tossings and
tempest, as when of old the Jesus they spake of walked forth on the
"Yes, He gave His life for us!" she said; "He is ever reigning for us!
"'Jesu dulcissime, e throno gloriae
Ovem deperditam venisti quaerere!
Jesu suavissime, pastor fidissime,
Ad te O trahe me, ut semper sequar te!'"[B]
Jesus most beautiful, from thrones in glory,
Seeking thy lost sheep, thou didst descend!
Jesus most tender, shepherd most faithful,
To thee, oh, draw thou me, that I may follow thee,
Follow thee faithfully world without end!]
"What, my little one!" said the monk, looking over the wall; "I thought
I heard angels singing. Is it not a beautiful morning?"
"Dear uncle, it is," said Agnes. "And I have been so glad to hear your
beautiful hymn!--it comforted me."
"Comforted you, little heart? What a word is that! When you get as far
along on your journey as your old uncle, then you may talk of _comfort_.
But who thinks of comforting birds or butterflies or young lambs?"
"Ah, dear uncle, I am not so very happy," said Agnes, the tears starting
into her eyes.
"Not happy?" said the monk, looking up from his drawing. "Pray, what's
the matter now? Has a bee stung your finger? or have you lost your
nosegay over a rock? or what dreadful affliction has come upon
you?--hey, my little heart?"
Agnes sat down on the corner of the marble fountain, and, covering her
face with her apron, sobbed as if her heart would break.
"What has that old priest been saying to her in the confession?" said
Father Antonio to himself. "I dare say he cannot understand her. She is
as pure as a dew-drop on a cobweb, and as delicate; and these priests,
half of them don't know how to handle the Lord's lambs.--Come now,
little Agnes," he said, with a coaxing tone, "what is its trouble?--tell
its old uncle,--there's a dear!"
"Ah, uncle, I can't!" said Agnes, between her sobs.
"Can't tell its uncle!--there's a pretty go! Perhaps you will tell
"Oh, no, no, no! not for the world!" said Agnes, sobbing still more
"Why, really, little heart of mine, this is getting serious," said the
monk; "let your old uncle try to help you."
"It isn't for myself," said Agnes, endeavoring to check her
feelings,--"it is not for myself,--it is for another,--for a soul lost.
Ah, my Jesus, have mercy!"
"A soul lost? Our Mother forbid!" said the monk, crossing himself.
"Lost in this Christian land, so overflowing with the beauty of the
Lord?--lost out of this fair sheepfold of Paradise?"
"Yes, lost," said Agnes, despairingly,--"and if somebody do not save
him, lost forever; and it is a brave and noble soul, too,--like one of
the angels that fell."
"Who is it, dear?--tell me about it," said the monk. "I am one of the
shepherds whose place it is to go after that which is lost, even till I
"Dear uncle, you remember the youth who suddenly appeared to us in the
moonlight here a few evenings ago?"
"Ah, indeed!" said the monk,--"what of him?"
"Father Francesco has told me dreadful things of him this morning."
"Uncle, he is excommunicated by our Holy Father the Pope."
Father Antonio, as a member of one of the most enlightened and
cultivated religious orders of the times, and as an intimate companion
and disciple of Savonarola, had a full understanding of the character of
the reigning Pope, and therefore had his own private opinion of how much
his excommunication was likely to be worth in the invisible world. He
knew that the same doom had been threatened towards his saintly master,
for opposing and exposing the scandalous vices which disgraced the high
places of the Church; so that, on the whole, when he heard that this
young man was excommunicated, so far from being impressed with horror
towards him, he conceived the idea that he might be a particularly
honest fellow and good Christian. But then he did not hold it wise to
disturb the faith of the simple-hearted by revealing to them the truth
about the head of the Church on earth.
While the disorders in those elevated regions filled the minds of the
intelligent classes with apprehension and alarm, they held it unwise
to disturb the trustful simplicity of the lower orders, whose faith in
Christianity itself they supposed might thus be shaken. In fact, they
were themselves somewhat puzzled how to reconcile the patent and
manifest fact, that the actual incumbent of the Holy See was not under
the guidance of any spirit, unless it were a diabolical one, with the
theory which supposed an infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit to
attend as a matter of course on that position. Some of the boldest of
them did not hesitate to declare that the Holy City had suffered a foul
invasion, and that a false usurper reigned in her sacred palaces in
place of the Father of Christendom. The greater part did as people now
do with the mysteries and discrepancies of a faith which on the whole
they revere: they turned their attention from the vexed question, and
sighed and longed for better days.
Father Antonio did not, therefore, tell Agnes that the announcement
which had filled her with such distress was far less conclusive with
himself of the ill desert of the individual to whom it related.
"My little heart," he answered, gravely, "did you learn the sin for
which this young man was excommunicated?"
"Ah, me! my dear uncle, I fear he is an infidel,--an unbeliever. Indeed,
now I remember it, he confessed as much to me the other day."
"Where did he tell you this?"
"You remember, my uncle, when you were sent for to the dying man? When
you were gone, I kneeled down to pray for his soul; and when I rose from
prayer, this young cavalier was sitting right here, on this end of the
fountain. He was looking fixedly at me, with such sad eyes, so full
of longing and pain, that it was quite piteous; and he spoke to me so
sadly, I could not but pity him."
"What did he say to you, child?"
"Ah, father, he said that he was all alone in the world, without
friends, and utterly desolate, with no one to love him; but worse than
that, he said he had lost his faith, that he could not believe."
"What did you say to him?"
"Uncle, I tried, as a poor girl might, to do him some good. I prayed him
to confess and take the sacrament; but he looked almost fierce when I
said so. And yet I cannot but think, after all, that he has not lost all
grace, because he begged me so earnestly to pray for him; he said his
prayers could do no good, and wanted mine. And then I began to tell him
about you, dear uncle, and how you came from that blessed convent in
Florence, and about your master Savonarola; and that seemed to interest
him, for he looked quite excited, and spoke the name over, as if it were
one he had heard before. I wanted to urge him to come and open his case
to you; and I think perhaps I might have succeeded, but that just then
you and grandmamma came up the path; and when I heard you coming, I
begged him to go, because you know grandmamma would be very angry, if
she knew that I had given speech to a man, even for a few moments; she
thinks men are so dreadful."
"I must seek this youth," said the monk, in a musing tone; "perhaps I
may find out what inward temptation hath driven him away from the fold."
"Oh, do, dear uncle! do!" said Agnes, earnestly. "I am sure that he has
been grievously tempted and misled, for he seems to have a noble and
gentle nature; and he spoke so feelingly of his mother, who is a saint
in heaven; and he seemed so earnestly to long to return to the bosom of
"The Church is a tender mother to all her erring children," said the
"And don't you think that our dear Holy Father the Pope will forgive
him?" said Agnes. "Surely, he will have all the meekness and gentleness
of Christ, who would rejoice in one sheep found more than in all the
ninety-and-nine who went not astray."
The monk could scarcely repress a smile at imagining Alexander the
Sixth in this character of a good shepherd, as Agnes's enthusiastic
imagination painted the head of the Church; and then he gave an inward
sigh, and said, softly, "Lord, how long?"
"I think," said Agnes, "that this young man is of noble birth, for his
words and his bearing and his tones of voice are not those of common
men; even though he speaks so humbly and gently, there is yet something
princely that looks out of his eyes, as if he were born to command; and
he wears strange jewels, the like of which I never saw, on his hands and
at the hilt of his dagger,--yet he seems to make nothing of them. But
yet, I know not why, he spoke of himself as one utterly desolate and
forlorn. Father Francesco told me that he was captain of a band of
robbers who live in the mountains. One cannot think it is so."
"Little heart," said the monk, tenderly, "you can scarcely know what
things befall men in these distracted times, when faction wages war with
faction, and men pillage and burn and imprison, first on this side,
then on that. Many a son of a noble house may find himself homeless
and landless, and, chased by the enemy, may have no refuge but the
fastnesses of the mountains. Thank God, our lovely Italy hath a noble
backbone of these same mountains, which afford shelter to her children
in their straits."
"Then you think it possible, dear uncle, that this may not be a bad man,
"Let us hope so, child. I will myself seek him out; and if his mind have
been chafed by violence or injustice, I will strive to bring him back
into the good ways of the Lord. Take heart, my little one,--all will yet
be well. Come now, little darling, wipe your bright eyes, and look at
these plans I have been making for the shrine we were talking of, in the
gorge. See here, I have drawn a goodly arch with a pinnacle. Under the
arch, you see, shall be the picture of our Lady with the blessed
Babe. The arch shall be cunningly sculptured with vines of ivy and
passion-flower; and on one side of it shall stand Saint Agnes with her
lamb,--and on the other, Saint Cecilia, crowned with roses; and on
this pinnacle, above all, Saint Michael, all in armor, shall stand
leaning,--one hand on his sword, and holding a shield with the cross
"Ah, that will be beautiful!" said Agnes.
"You can scarcely tell," pursued the monk, "from this faint drawing,
what the picture of our Lady is to be; but I shall paint her to the
highest of my art, and with many prayers that I may work worthily. You
see, she shall be standing on a cloud with a background all of burnished
gold, like the streets of the New Jerusalem; and she shall be clothed in
a mantle of purest blue from head to foot, to represent the unclouded
sky of summer; and on her forehead she shall wear the evening star,
which ever shineth when we say the Ave Maria; and all the borders of her
blue vesture shall be cunningly wrought with fringes of stars; and the
dear Babe shall lean his little cheek to hers so peacefully, and there
shall be a clear shining of love through her face, and a heavenly
restfulness, that it shall do one's heart good to look at her. Many a
blessed hour shall I have over this picture,--many a hymn shall I sing
as my work goes on. I must go about to prepare the panels forthwith; and
it were well, if there be that young man who works in stone, to have him
summoned to our conference."
"I think," said Agnes, "that you will find him in the town; he dwells
next to the cathedral."
"I trust he is a youth of pious life and conversation," said the monk.
"I must call on him this afternoon; for he ought to be stirring himself
up by hymns and prayers, and by meditations on the beauty of saints and
angels, for so goodly a work. What higher honor or grace can befall a
creature than to be called upon to make visible to men that beauty of
invisible things which is divine and eternal? How many holy men have
given themselves to this work in Italy, till, from being overrun with
heathen temples, it is now full of most curious and wonderful churches,
shrines, and cathedrals, every stone of which is a miracle of beauty! I
would, dear daughter, you could see our great Duomo in Florence, which
is a mountain of precious marbles and many-colored mosaics; and the
Campanile that riseth thereby is like a lily of Paradise,--so tall, so
stately, with such an infinite grace, and adorned all the way up with
holy emblems and images of saints and angels; nor is there any part of
it, within or without, that is not finished sacredly with care, as an
offering to the most perfect God. Truly, our fair Florence, though she
be little, is worthy, by her sacred adornments, to be worn as the lily
of our Lady's girdle, even as she hath been dedicated to her."
Agnes seemed pleased with the enthusiastic discourse of her uncle. The
tears gradually dried from her eyes as she listened to him, and the hope
so natural to the young and untried heart began to reassert itself. God
was merciful, the world beautiful; there was a tender Mother, a reigning
Saviour, protecting angels and guardian saints: surely, then, there
was no need to despair of the recall of any wanderer; and the softest
supplication of the most ignorant and unworthy would be taken up by so
many sympathetic voices in the invisible world, and borne on in so many
waves of brightness to the heavenly throne, that the most timid must
have hope in prayer.
In the afternoon, the monk went to the town to seek the young artist,
and also to inquire for the stranger for whom his pastoral offices were
in requisition, and Agnes remained alone in the little solitary garden.
It was one of those rich slumberous afternoons of spring that seem to
bathe earth and heaven with an Elysian softness; and from her little
lonely nook shrouded in dusky shadows by its orange-trees, Agnes looked
down the sombre gorge to where the open sea lay panting and palpitating
in blue and violet waves, while the little white sails of fishing-boats
drifted hither and thither, now silvered in the sunshine, now fading
away like a dream into the violet vapor bands that mantled the horizon.
The weather would have been oppressively sultry but for the gentle
breeze which constantly drifted landward with coolness in its wings. The
hum of the old town came to her ear softened by distance and mingled
with the patter of the fountain and the music of birds singing in the
trees overhead. Agnes tried to busy herself with her spinning; but her
mind constantly wandered away, and stirred and undulated with a thousand
dim and unshaped thoughts and emotions, of which she vaguely questioned
in her own mind. Why did Father Francesco warn her so solemnly against
an earthly love? Did he not know her vocation? But still he was wisest
and must know best; there must be danger, if he said so. But then,
this knight had spoken so modestly, so humbly,--so differently from
Giulietta's lovers!--for Giulietta had sometimes found a chance to
recount to Agnes some of her triumphs. How could it be that a knight so
brave and gentle, and so piously brought up, should become an infidel?
Ah, uncle Antonio was right,--he must have had some foul wrong, some
dreadful injury! When Agnes was a child, in travelling with her
grandmother through one of the highest passes of the Apennines, she had
chanced to discover a wounded eagle, whom an arrow had pierced, sitting
all alone by himself on a rock, with his feathers ruffled, and a film
coming over his great, clear, bright eye,--and, ever full of compassion,
she had taken him to nurse, and had travelled for a day with him in her
arms; and the mournful look of his regal eyes now came into her memory.
"Yes," she said to herself, "he is like my poor eagle! The archers have
wounded him, so that he is glad to find shelter even with a poor maid
like me; but it was easy to see my eagle had been king among birds, even
as this knight is among men. Certainly, God must love him,--he is so
beautiful and noble! I hope dear uncle will find him this afternoon; he
knows how to teach him;--as for me, I can only pray."
Such were the thoughts that Agnes twisted into the shining white flax,
while her eyes wandered dreamily over the soft hazy landscape. At last,
lulled by the shivering sound of leaves, and the bird-songs, and wearied
with the agitations of the morning, her head lay back against the end of
the sculptured fountain, the spindle slowly dropped from her hand, and
her eyes were closed in sleep, the murmur of the fountain still sounding
in her dreams. In her dreams she seemed to be wandering far away among
the purple passes of the Apennines, where she had come years ago when
she was a little girl; with her grandmother she pushed through old
olive-groves, weird and twisted with many a quaint gnarl, and rustling
their pale silvery leaves in noonday twilight. Sometimes she seemed to
carry in her bosom a wounded eagle, and often she sat down to stroke it
and to try to give it food from her hand, and as often it looked upon
her with a proud, patient eye, and then her grandmother seemed to shake
her roughly by the arm and bid her throw the silly bird away;--but then
again the dream changed, and she saw a knight lie bleeding and dying in
a lonely hollow,--his garments torn, his sword broken, and his face pale
and faintly streaked with blood; and she kneeled by him, trying in vain
to stanch a deadly wound in his side, while he said reproachfully,
"Agnes, dear Agnes, why would you not save me?" and then she thought
he kissed her hand with his cold dying lips; and she shivered and
awoke,--to find that her hand was indeed held in that of the cavalier,
whose eyes met her own when first she unclosed them, and the same voice
that spoke in her dreams said, "Agnes, dear Agnes!"
For a moment she seemed stupefied and confounded, and sat passively
regarding the knight, who kneeled at her feet and repeatedly kissed her
hand, calling her his saint, his star, his life, and whatever other
fair name poetry lends to love. All at once, however, her face flushed
crimson red, she drew her hand quickly away, and, rising up, made a
motion to retreat, saying, in a voice of alarm,--
"Oh, my Lord, this must not be! I am committing deadly sin to hear you.
Please, please go! please leave a poor girl!"
"Agnes, what does this mean?" said the cavalier. "Only two days since,
in this place, you promised to love me; and that promise has brought me
from utter despair to love of life. Nay, since you told me that, I have
been able to pray once more; the whole world seems changed for me: and
now will you take it all away,--you, who are all I have on earth?"
"My Lord, I did not know then that I was sinning. Our dear Mother knows
I said only what I thought was true and right, but I find it was a sin."
"A sin _to love_, Agnes? Heaven must be full of sin, then; for there
they do nothing else."
"Oh, my Lord, I must not argue with you; I am forbidden to listen even
for a moment. Please go. I will never forget you, Sir,--never forget to
pray for you, and to love you as they love in heaven; but I am forbidden
to speak with you. I fear I have sinned in hearing and saying even this
"Who forbids you, Agnes? Who has the right to forbid your good, kind
heart to love, where love is so deeply needed and so gratefully
"My holy father, whom I am bound to obey as my soul's director," said
Agnes; "he has forbidden me so much as to listen to a word, and yet I
have listened to many. How could I help it?"
"Ever these priests!" said the cavalier, his brow darkening with an
impatient frown; "wolves in sheep's clothing!"
"Alas!" said Agnes, sorrowfully, "why will you"--
"Why will I what?" he said, facing suddenly toward her, and looking down
with a fierce, scornful determination.
"Why will you be at war with the Holy Church? Why will you peril your
"Is there a Holy Church? Where is it? Would there were one! I am blind
and cannot see it. Little Agnes, you promised to lead me; but you drop
my hand in the darkness. Who will guide me, if _you_ will not?"
"My Lord, I am most unfit to be your guide. I am a poor girl, without
any learning; but there is my uncle I spoke to you of. Oh, my Lord, if
you only would go to him, he is wise and gentle both. I must go in now,
my Lord,--indeed, I must. I must not sin further. I must do a heavy
penance for having listened and spoken to you, after the holy father had
"No, Agnes, you shall _not_ go in," said the cavalier, suddenly stepping
before her and placing himself across the doorway; "you _shall_ see me,
and hear me too. I take the sin on myself; you cannot help it. How will
you avoid me? Will you fly now down the path of the gorge? I will follow
you,--I am desperate. I had but one comfort on earth, but one hope of
heaven, and that through you; and you, cruel, are so ready to give me up
at the first word of your priest!"
"God knows if I do it willingly," said Agnes; "but I know it is best;
for I feel I should love you too well, if I saw more of you. My Lord,
you are strong and can compel me, but I beg you to leave me."
"Dear Agnes, could you really feel it possible that you might love me
too well?" said the cavalier, his whole manner changing. "Ah! could I
carry you far away to my home in the mountains, far up in the beautiful
blue mountains, where the air is so clear, and the weary, wrangling
world lies so far below that one forgets it entirely, you should be my
wife, my queen, my empress. You should lead me where you would; your
word should be my law. I will go with you wherever you will,--to
confession, to sacrament, to prayers, never so often; never will I rebel
against your word; if you decree, I will bend my neck to king or priest;
I will reconcile me with anybody or anything only for your sweet sake;
you shall lead me all my life; and when we die, I ask only that you may
lead me to our Mother's throne in heaven, and pray her to tolerate me
for your sake. Come, now, dear, is not even one unworthy soul worth
"My Lord, you have taught me how wise my holy father was in forbidding
me to listen to you. He knew better than I how weak was my heart, and
how I might be drawn on from step to step till----My Lord, I must be no
man's wife. I follow the blessed Saint Agnes. May God give me grace to
keep my vows without wavering!--for then I shall gain power to intercede
for you and bring down blessings on your soul. Oh, never, never speak to
me so again, my Lord!--you will make me very, _very_ unhappy. If there
is any truth in your words, my Lord, if you really love me, you will go,
and you will never try to speak to me again."
"Never, Agnes? never? Think what you are saying!"
"Oh, I do think! I know it must be best," said Agnes, much agitated;
"for, if I should see you often and hear your voice, I should lose all
my strength. I could never resist, and I should lose heaven for you and
me too. Leave me, and I will never, never forget to pray for you; and
go quickly too, for it is time for my grandmother to come home, and she
would be so angry,--she would never believe I had not been doing wrong,
and perhaps she would make me marry somebody that I do not wish to. She
has threatened that many times; but I beg her to leave me free to go to
my sweet home in the convent and my dear Mother Theresa."
"They shall never marry you against your will, little Agnes, I pledge
you my knightly word. I will protect you from that. Promise me, dear,
that, if ever you be man's wife, you will be mine. Only promise me that,
and I will go."
"Will you?" said Agnes, in an ecstasy of fear and apprehension, in which
there mingled some strange troubled gleams of happiness. "Well, then, I
will. Ah! I hope it is no sin."
"Believe me, dearest, it is not," said the knight. "Say it again,--say,
that I may hear it,--say, 'If ever I am man's wife, I will be
thine,'--say it, and I will go."
"Well, then, my Lord, if ever I am man's wife, I will be thine," said
Agnes. "But I will be no man's wife. My heart and hand are promised
elsewhere. Come, now, my Lord, your word must be kept."
"Let me put this ring on your finger, lest you forget," said the
cavalier. "It was my mother's ring, and never during her lifetime heard
anything but prayers and hymns. It is saintly, and worthy of thee."
"No, my Lord, I may not. Grandmother would inquire about it. I cannot
keep it; but fear not my forgetting: I shall never forget you."
"Will you ever want to see me, Agnes?"
"I hope not, since it is not best. But you do not go."
"Well, then, farewell, my little wife! farewell, till I claim thee!"
said the cavalier, as he kissed her hand, and vaulted over the wall.
"How strange that I _cannot_ make him understand!" said Agnes, when he
was gone. "I must have sinned, I must have done wrong; but I have been
trying all the while to do right. Why would he stay so and look at me so
with those deep eyes? I was very hard with him,--very! I trembled for
him, I was so severe; and yet it has not discouraged him enough. How
strange that he would call me so, after all, when I explained to him
I never could marry!--Must I tell all this to Father Francesco? How
dreadful! How he looked at me before! How he trembled and turned away
from me! What will he think now? Ah, me! why must I tell _him_? If I
could only confess to my mother Theresa, that would be easier. We have a
mother in heaven to hear us; why should we not have a mother on earth?
Father Francesco frightens me so! His eyes burn me! They seem to burn
into my soul, and he seems angry with me sometimes, and sometimes looks
at me so strangely! Dear, blessed Mother," she said, kneeling at the
shrine, "help thy little child! I do not want to do wrong: I want to do
right. Oh that I could come and live with thee!"
Poor Agnes! a new experience had opened in her heretofore tranquil life,
and her day was one of conflict. Do what she would, the words that
had been spoken to her in the morning would return to her mind, and
sometimes she awoke with a shock of guilty surprise at finding she had
been dreaming over what the cavalier said to her of living with him
alone, in some clear, high, purple solitude of those beautiful mountains
which she remembered as an enchanted dream of her childhood. Would he
really always love her, then, always go with her to prayers and mass and
sacrament, and be reconciled to the Church, and should she indeed have
the joy of feeling that this noble soul was led back to heavenly peace
through her? Was not this better than a barren life of hymns and prayers
in a cold convent? Then the very voice that said these words, that voice
of veiled strength and manly daring, that spoke with such a gentle
pleading, and yet such an undertone of authority, as if he had a right
to claim her for himself,--she seemed to feel the tones of that voice in
every nerve;--and then the strange thrilling pleasure of thinking
that he loved her so. Why should he, this strange, beautiful knight?
Doubtless he had seen splendid high-born ladies,--he had seen even
queens and princesses,--and what could he find to like in her, a poor
little peasant? Nobody ever thought so much of her before, and he was so
unhappy without her;--it was strange he should be; but he said so, and
it must be true. After all, Father Francesco might be mistaken about his
being wicked. On the whole, she felt sure he was mistaken, at least in
part. Uncle Antonio did not seem to be so much shocked at what she told
him; he knew the temptations of men better, perhaps, because he did not
stay shut up in one convent, but travelled all about, preaching and
teaching. If only he could see him, and talk with him, and make him a
good Christian,--why, then, there would be no further need of her;--and
Agnes was surprised to find what a dreadful, dreary blank appeared
before her when she thought of this. Why should she wish him to remember
her, since she never could be his?--and yet nothing seemed so dreadful
as that he should forget her. So the poor little innocent fly beat and
fluttered in the mazes of that enchanted web, where thousands of her
frail sex have beat and fluttered before her.
THE MONK AND THE CAVALIER.
Father Antonio had been down through the streets of the old town of
Sorrento, searching for the young stonecutter, and, finding him, had
spent some time in enlightening him as to the details of the work he
wished him to execute.
He found him not so easily kindled into devotional fervors as he had
fondly imagined, nor could all his most devout exhortations produce
one-quarter of the effect upon him that resulted from the discovery that
it was the fair Agnes who originated the design and was interested in
its execution. Then did the large black eyes of the youth kindle into
something of sympathetic fervor, and he willingly promised to do his
very best at the carving.
"I used to know the fair Agnes well, years ago," he said, "but of late
she will not even look at me; yet I worship her none the less. Who can
help it that sees her? I don't think she is so hard-hearted as she
seems; but her grandmother and the priests won't so much as allow her to
lift up her eyes when one of us young fellows goes by. Twice these five
years past have I seen her eyes, and then it was when I contrived to get
near the holy water when there was a press round it of a saint's day,
and I reached some to her on my finger, and then she smiled upon me and
thanked me. Those two smiles are all I have had to live on for all
this time. Perhaps, if I work very well, she will give me another, and
perhaps she will say, 'Thank you, my good Pietro!' as she used to, when
I brought her birds' eggs or helped her across the ravine, years ago."
"Well, my brave boy, do your best," said the monk, "and let the shrine
be of the fairest white marble. I will be answerable for the expense; I
will beg it of those who have substance."
"So please you, holy father," said Pietro, "I know of a spot, a little
below here on the coast, where was a heathen temple in the old days; and
one can dig therefrom long pieces of fair white marble, all covered with
heathen images. I know not whether your Reverence would think them fit
for Christian purposes."
"So much the better, boy! so much the better!" said the monk, heartily.
"Only let the marble be fine and white, and it is as good as converting
a heathen any time to baptize it to Christian uses. A few strokes of the
chisel will soon demolish their naked nymphs and other such rubbish, and
we can carve holy virgins, robed from head to foot in all modesty, as
"I will get my boat and go down this very afternoon," said Pietro; "and,
Sir, I hope I am not making too bold in asking you, when you see the
fair Agnes, to present unto her this lily, in memorial of her old
"That I will, my boy! And now I think of it, she spoke kindly of you as
one that had been a companion in her childhood, but said her grandmother
would not allow her to speak to you now."
"Ah, that is it!" said Pietro. "Old Elsie is a fierce old kite, with
strong beak and long claws, and will not let the poor girl have any good
of her youth. Some say she means to marry her to some rich old man, and
some say she will shut her up in a convent, which I should say was a
sore hurt and loss to the world. There are a plenty of women, whom
nobody wants to look at, for that sort of work; and a beautiful face is
a kind of psalm which makes one want to be good."
"Well, well, my boy, work well and faithfully for the saints on this
shrine, and I dare promise you many a smile from this fair maiden; for
her heart is set upon the glory of God and his saints, and she will
smile on any one who helps on the good work. I shall look in on you
daily for a time, till I see the work well started."
So saying, the old monk took his leave. Just as he was passing out of
the house, some one brushed rapidly by him, going down the street. As he
passed, the quick eye of the monk recognized the cavalier whom he had
seen in the garden but a few evenings before. It was not a face and form
easily forgotten, and the monk followed him at a little distance behind,
resolving, if he saw him turn in anywhere, to follow and crave an
audience of him.
Accordingly, as he saw the cavalier entering under the low arch that
led to his hotel, he stepped up and addressed him with a gesture of
"God bless you, my son!"
"What would you with me, father?" said the cavalier, with a hasty and
somewhat suspicious glance.
"I would that you would give me an audience of a few moments on some
matters of importance," said the monk, mildly.
The tones of his voice seemed to have excited some vague remembrance in
the mind of the cavalier; for he eyed him narrowly, and seemed trying
to recollect where he had seen him before. Suddenly a light appeared to
flash upon his mind; for his whole manner became at once more cordial.
"My good father," he said, "my poor lodging and leisure are at your
service for any communication you may see fit to make."
So saying, he led the way up the damp, ill-smelling stone staircase, and
opened the door of the deserted room where we have seen him once before.
Closing the door, and seating himself at the one rickety table which the
room afforded, he motioned to the monk to be seated also; then taking
off his plumed hat, he threw it negligently on the table beside him, and
passing his white, finely formed hand through the black curls of his
hair, he tossed them carelessly from his forehead, and, leaning his chin
in the hollow of his hand, fixed his glittering eyes on the monk in a
manner that seemed to demand his errand.
"My Lord," said the monk, in those gentle, conciliating tones which
were natural to him, "I would ask a little help of you in regard of a
Christian undertaking which I have here in hand. The dear Lord hath put
it into the heart of a pious young maid of this vicinity to erect a
shrine to the honor of our Lady and her dear Son in this gorge of
Sorrento, hard by. It is a gloomy place in the night, and hath been said
to be haunted by evil spirits; and my fair niece, who is full of all
holy thoughts, desired me to draw the plan for this shrine, and, so far
as my poor skill may go, I have done so. See here, my Lord, are the
The monk laid them down on the table, his pale cheek flushing with a
faint glow of artistic enthusiasm and pride, as he explained to the
young man the plan and drawings.
The cavalier listened courteously, but without much apparent interest,
till the monk drew from his portfolio a paper and said,--
"This, my Lord, is my poor and feeble conception of the most sacred form
of our Lady, which I am to paint for the centre of the shrine."
He laid down the paper, and the cavalier, with a sudden exclamation,
snatched it up, looking at it eagerly.
"It is she!" he said; "it is her very self!--the divine Agnes,--the lily
flower,--the sweet star,--the only one among women!"
"I see you have recognized the likeness," said the monk, blushing.
"I know it hath been thought a practice of doubtful edification to
represent holy things under the image of aught earthly; but when any
mortal seems especially gifted with a heavenly spirit outshining in the
face, it may be that our Lady chooses that person to reveal herself in."
The cavalier was gazing so intently on the picture that he scarcely
heard the apology of the monk; he held it up, and seemed to study it
with a long admiring gaze.
"You have great skill with your pencil, my father," he said; "one would
not look for such things from under a monk's hood."
"I belong to the San Marco in Florence, of which you may have heard,"
said Father Antonio, "and am an unworthy disciple of the traditions of
the blessed Angelico, whose visions of heavenly things are ever before
us; and no less am I a disciple of the renowned Savonarola, of whose
fame all Italy hath heard before now."
"Savonarola?" said the other, with eagerness,--"he that makes these vile
miscreants that call themselves Pope and Cardinals tremble? All Italy,
all Christendom, is groaning and stretching out the hand to him to free
them from these abominations. My father, tell me of Savonarola: how goes
he, and what success hath he?"
"My son, it is now many months since I left Florence; since which time
I have been sojourning in by-places, repairing shrines and teaching the
poor of the Lord's flock, who are scattered and neglected by the idle
shepherds, who think only to eat the flesh and warm themselves with the
fleece of the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd gave his life. My duties
have been humble and quiet; for it is not given to me to wield the sword
of rebuke and controversy, like my great master."
"And you have not heard, then," said the cavalier, eagerly, "that they
have excommunicated him?"
"I knew that was threatened," said the monk, "but I did not think it
possible that it could befall a man of such shining holiness of life,
so signally and openly owned of God that the very gifts of the first
Apostles seem revived in him."
"Does not Satan always hate the Lord," said the cavalier. "Alexander
and his councils are possessed of the Devil, if ever men were,--and are
sealed as his children by every abominable wickedness. The Devil sits in
Christ's seat, and hath stolen his signet-ring, to seal decrees against
the Lord's own followers. What are Christian men to do in such case?"
The monk sighed and looked troubled.
"It is hard to say," he answered. "So much I know,--that before I left
Florence our master wrote to the King of France touching the dreadful
state of things at Rome, and tried to stir him up to call a general
council of the Church. I much fear me this letter may have fallen into
the hands of the Pope."
"I tell you, father," said the young man, starting up and laying his
hand on his sword, "_we must fight_! It is the sword that must decide
this matter! Was not the Holy Sepulchre saved from the Infidels by the
sword?--and once more the sword must save the Holy City from worse
infidels than the Turks. If such doings as these are allowed in the Holy
City, another generation there will be no Christians left on earth.
Alexander and Caesar Borgia and the Lady Lucrezia are enough to drive
religion from the world. They make us long to go back to the traditions
of our Roman fathers,--who were men of cleanly and honorable lives and
of heroic deeds, scorning bribery and deceit. They honored God by noble
lives, little as they knew of Him. But these men are a shame to the
mothers that bore them."
"You speak too truly, my son," said the monk. "Alas! the creation
groaneth and travaileth in pain with these things. Many a time and oft
have I seen our master groaning and wrestling with God on this account.
For it is to small purpose that we have gone through Italy preaching and
stirring up the people to more holy lives, when from the very hill of
Zion, the height of the sanctuary, come down these streams of pollution.
It seems as if the time had come that the world could bear it no
"Well, if it come to the trial of the sword, as come it must," said the
cavalier, "say to your master that Agostino Sarelli has a band of one
hundred tried men and an impregnable fastness in the mountains, where he
may take refuge, and where they will gladly hear the Word of God from
pure lips. They call us robbers,--us who have gone out from the assembly
of robbers, that we might lead honest and cleanly lives. There is not
one among us that hath not lost houses, lands, brothers, parents,
children, or friends, through their treacherous cruelty. There be those
whose wives and sisters have been forced into the Borgia harem; there be
those whose children have been tortured before their eyes,--those who
have seen the fairest and dearest slaughtered by these hell-hounds, who
yet sit in the seat of the Lord and give decrees in the name of Christ.
Is there a God? If there be, why is He silent?"
"Yea, my son, there is a God," said the monk; "but His ways are not as
ours. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday, as a watch in
the night. He shall come, and shall not keep silence."
"Perhaps you do not know, father," said the young man, "that I, too,
am excommunicated. I am excommunicated, because, Caesar Borgia having
killed my oldest brother, and dishonored and slain my sister, and seized
on all our possessions, and the Pope having protected and confirmed him
therein, I declare the Pope to be not of God, but of the Devil. I will
not submit to him, nor be ruled by him; and I and my fellows will make
good our mountains against him and his crew with such right arms as the
good Lord hath given us."
"The Lord be with you, my son!" said the monk; "and the Lord bring His
Church out of these deep waters! Surely, it is a lovely and beautiful
Church, made dear and precious by innumerable saints and martyrs who
have given their sweet lives up willingly for it; and it is full of
records of righteousness, of prayers and alms and works of mercy that
have made even the very dust of our Italy precious and holy. Why hast
Thou abandoned this vine of Thy planting, O Lord? The boar out of the
wood doth waste it; the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return,
we beseech Thee, and visit this vine of Thy planting!"
The monk clasped his hands and looked upward pleadingly, the tears
running down his wasted cheeks. Ah, many such strivings and prayers
in those days went up from silent hearts in obscure solitudes, that
wrestled and groaned under that mighty burden which Luther at last
received strength to heave from the heart of the Church.
"Then, father, you do admit that one may be banned by the Pope, and may
utterly refuse and disown him, and yet be a Christian?"
"How can I otherwise?" said the monk. "Do I not see the greatest saint
this age or any age has ever seen under the excommunication of the
greatest sinner? Only, my son, let me warn you. Become not irreverent to
the true Church, because of a false usurper. Reverence the sacraments,
the hymns, the prayers all the more for this sad condition in which you
stand. What teacher is more faithful in these respects than my master?
Who hath more zeal for our blessed Lord Jesus, and a more living faith
in Him? Who hath a more filial love and tenderness towards our blessed
Mother? Who hath more reverent communion with all the saints than he?
Truly, he sometimes seems to me to walk encompassed by all the armies of
heaven,--such a power goes forth in his words, and such a holiness in
"Ah," said Agostino, "would I had such a confessor! The sacraments might
once more have power for me, and I might cleanse my soul from unbelief."
"Dear son," said the monk, "accept a most unworthy, but sincere follower
of this holy prophet, who yearns for thy salvation. Let me have the
happiness of granting to thee the sacraments of the Church, which,
doubtless, are thine by right as one of the flock of the Lord Jesus.
Come to me some day this week in confession, and thereafter thou shalt
receive the Lord within thee, and be once more united to Him."
"My good father," said the young man, grasping his hand, and much
affected, "I will come. Your words have done me good; but I must think
more of them. I will come soon; but these things cannot be done without
pondering; it will take some time to bring my heart into charity with
The monk rose up to depart, and began to gather up his drawings.
"For this matter, father," said the cavalier, throwing several gold
pieces upon the table, "take these, and as many more as you need ask for
your good work. I would willingly pay any sum," he added, while a faint
blush rose to his cheek, "if you would give me a copy of this. Gold
would be nothing in comparison with it."
"My son," said the monk, smiling, "would it be to thee an image of an
earthly or a heavenly love?"
"Of both, father," said the young man. "For that dear face has been more
to me than prayer or hymn; it has been even as a sacrament to me, and
through it I know not what of holy and heavenly influences have come to
"Said I not well," said the monk, exulting, "that there were those on
whom our Mother shed such grace that their very beauty led heavenward?
Such are they whom the artist looks for, when he would adorn a shrine
where the faithful shall worship. Well, my son, I must use my poor art
for you; and as for gold, we of our convent take it not except for the
adorning of holy things, such as this shrine."
"How soon shall it be done?" said the young man, eagerly.
"Patience, patience, my Lord! Rome was not built in a day, and our art
must work by slow touches; but I will do my best. But wherefore, my
Lord, cherish this image?"
"Father, are you of near kin to this maid?"
"I am her mother's only brother."
"Then I say to you, as the nearest of her male kin, that I seek this
maid in pure and honorable marriage; and she hath given me her promise,
that, if ever she be wife of mortal man, she will be mine."
"But she looks not to be wife of any man," said the monk; "so, at least,
I have heard her say; though her grandmother would fain marry her to a
husband of her choosing. 'Tis a wilful woman, is my sister Elsie, and a
worldly,--not easy to persuade, and impossible to drive."
"And she hath chosen for this fair angel some base peasant churl who
will have no sense of her exceeding loveliness? By the saints, if it
come to this, I will carry her away with the strong arm!"
"That is not to be apprehended just at present. Sister Elsie is dotingly
fond of the girl, which hath slept in her bosom since infancy."
"And why should I not demand her in marriage of your sister?" said the
"My Lord, you are an excommunicated man, and she would have horror of
you. It is impossible; it would not be to edification to make the common
people judges in such matters. It is safest to let their faith rest
undisturbed, and that they be not taught to despise ecclesiastical
censures. This could not be explained to Elsie; she would drive you from
her doors with her distaff, and you would scarce wish to put your sword
against it. Besides, my Lord, if you were not excommunicated, you are of
noble blood, and this alone would be a fatal objection with my sister,
who hath sworn on the holy cross that Agnes shall never love one of your
"What is the cause of this hatred?"
"Some foul wrong which a noble did her mother," said the monk; "for
Agnes is of gentle blood on her father's side."
"I might have known it," said the cavalier to himself; "her words and
ways are unlike anything in her class.--Father," he added, touching his
sword, "we soldiers are fond of cutting all Gordian knots, whether of
love or religion, with this. The sword, father, is the best theologian,
the best casuist. The sword rights wrongs and punishes evil-doers, and
some day the sword may cut the way out of this embarrass also."
"Gently, my son! gently!" said the monk; "nothing is lost by patience.
See how long it takes the good Lord to make a fair flower out of a
little seed; and He does all quietly, without bluster. Wait on Him a
little in peacefulness and prayer, and see what He will do for thee."
"Perhaps you are right, my father," said the cavalier, cordially. "Your
counsels have done me good, and I shall seek them further. But do
not let them terrify my poor Agnes with dreadful stories of the
excommunication that hath befallen me. The dear saint is breaking
her good little heart for my sins, and her confessor evidently hath
forbidden her to speak to me or look at me. If her heart were left to
itself, it would fly to me like a little tame bird, and I would
cherish it forever; but now she sees sin in every innocent, womanly
thought,--poor little dear child-angel that she is!"
"Her confessor is a Franciscan," said the monk, who, good as he was,
could not escape entirely from the ruling prejudice of his order,--"and,
from what I know of him, I should think might be unskilful in what
pertaineth to the nursing of so delicate a lamb. It is not every one to
whom is given the gift of rightly directing souls."
"I'd like to carry her off from him!" said the cavalier, between his
teeth. "I will, too, if he is not careful!" Then he added aloud,
"Father, Agnes is mine,--mine by the right of the truest worship and
devotion that man could ever pay to woman,--mine because she loves me.
For I know she loves me; I know it far better than she knows it herself,
the dear innocent child! and I will not have her torn from me to waste
her life in a lonely, barren convent, or to be the wife of a stolid
peasant. I am a man of my word, and I will vindicate my right to her in
the face of God and man."
"Well, well, my son, as I said before, patience,--one thing at a time.
Let us say our prayers and sleep to-night, to begin with, and to-morrow
will bring us fresh counsel."
"Well, my father, you will be for me in this matter?" said the young
"My son, I wish you all happiness; and if this be for your best good and
that of my dear niece, I wish it. But, as I said, there must be time and
patience. The way must be made clear. I will see how the case stands;
and you may be sure, when I can in good conscience, I will befriend
"Thank you, my father, thank you!" said the young man, bending his knee
to receive the monk's parting benediction.
"It seems to me not best," said the monk, turning once more, as he was
leaving the threshold, "that you should come to me at present where I
am,--it would only raise a storm that I could not allay; and so great
would be the power of the forces they might bring to bear on the child,
that her little heart might break and the saints claim her too soon."
"Well, then, father, come hither to me to-morrow at this same hour, if I
be not too unworthy of your pastoral care."
"I shall be too happy, my son," said the monk. "So be it."
And he turned from the door just as the bell of the cathedral struck the
Ave Maria, and all in the street bowed in the evening act of worship.
* * * * *
A NIGHT IN A WHERRY.
As the summer vacation drew near, and the closed shutters and
comparative quiet of the west end made one for a moment believe in the
phrase, "Nobody in town," I had, after some thought, determined to
resist the many temptations of a walking tour, and, instead of trusting
to shoe-leather, try what virtue lay in a stout pair of oars, and make a
trip by water instead of land.
But first, in what direction? The careful search of a huge chart and
some knowledge of the Northern and Eastern seaboard led me to mark out a
course along the shore of Massachusetts and among the beautiful islands
which stud the coast of Maine.
The cruise was at that time a novel one, and many were the doubts
expressed as to the seaworthiness of my boat. She was twenty-two feet
long, nine inches high, and thirty-two wide,--canvas-covered, except
about four feet of the middle section, with sufficient space to stow
two days' food and water, and to carry all the baggage necessary for a
week's voyage. The oars were made especially strong for the occasion,
of spruce, ten feet three inches in length, and nicely balanced. In
addition to provision and clothes, a gun, a couple of hundred feet of
stout line, and a boat-hook were stowed in the bottom.
The day fixed for departure rose clear. An east wind tempered the heat
of the sun; but the tide, which by starting earlier would have been in
my favor, was dead low, and would turn before I could round the northern
point of the city. After all my traps had been put on board, seating
myself carefully, the oars were handed in, and a few strokes sent me
ahead of the raft. The tide was low, dead low, in the fullest meaning of
the word; the sea-weed slowly circled and eddied round, floating neither
up nor down; while the unrippled surface of the Back Bay reflected the
city and bridges so perfectly that it was hard to tell where reality
ended and seeming began. Passing beneath the Cambridge draw, I turned
the boat's head for the next one, and kept close to the northern point
of the city. Seven bridges must be passed ere the bay opened before me.
The boat had just cleared the last, when, remembering that no matches
had been provided, and not knowing where a landing might be made, I
decided to lay in a stock before putting to sea. With a narrow shave
past the Chelsea ferry-boat, I backed water, and came alongside a raft
of ship-timber seasoning near one of the docks, tenanted by a score
or more of semi-amphibious urchins, who were running races over the
half-sunken logs, and taking all sizes of duckings, from the slight
spatter to the complete souse. Engaging the services of one of these
water-rats, by a judicious promise of a larger sum as payment than the
one intrusted to him for the purchase, I had soon a sufficient supply,
and, resting the boat-hook on one of the logs, pushed off. East Boston
ferry was quickly passed, my boat lifting and falling gracefully in the
swell of the steamer, and I began to feel the flow of the rising tide
setting steadily against her. Governor's Island showed rather hazy three
miles off; Apple Island, tufted with trees, looked in the shimmering
light like one of the palm-crowned Atolls of the Pacific; and, just
discernible through the foggy air, Deer Island and the Hospital loomed
up. A straight course would have saved at least two miles and avoided
the strength of the tide; but, though my boat drew only three inches,
and there was water enough and to spare on the flats, the sea-weed,
growing thick as grain in the harvest-field, and half floating where the
depth was three or four feet, collecting round the sharp bow as a long
tress of hay gathers round a tooth of a rake, and burying the oar-blade,
impeded all progress, and obliged me to pull almost double the distance
against the rapid tide-set of the circuitous channels. I worked through
the bends and reaches, till the deep, strong current of Shirley Gut was
to be stemmed, where the tide runs with great force,--nearly fifty feet
in depth of pure green water, eddying and whirling round, all sorts of
ripples and small whirlpools dimpling its surface,--with the rushing
sound which deep and swift water makes against its banks. A few moments'
tough pulling brought me through, and, once outside Deer Island, nothing
lay between me and Nahant. The well-known beach and the sandy headland
called "Grover" stood out at the edge of Lynn Bay, and the rise and
fall of the white surf, too distant to be heard, marked the long reef
stretching seaward. After dining, and allowing the boat to drift while
rearranging my provisions, I took my place, and, getting the proper
bearings astern, bent on the oars.
To those who have rowed only clumsy country-boats, with their awkward
row-locks and wretched oars, slimy, dirty, and leaking, trailing behind
tags and streamers of pond-weed, or who have only experimented with that
most uncivilized style of digging up the water called paddling, the real
pleasure of rowing is unknown.
Grover's Head went astern; Nahant grew more and more distinct. There was
but little wind, and the boat went rocking over the long roll of the
huge waves, cutting smoothly through their wrinkled surface. In sight
to the south and the east were the Brewsters, the outer light, and the
sails of vessels of all sizes and shapes which were slowly making their
way into the harbor. The afternoon was cloudy; but now and then a
brilliant ray of sunshine would fall on islands and vessels, lighting
them up for an instant, and then closing over again. My route took me
about three miles outside Nahant and in full view of the end of the
promontory. There was now a clear course, except that occasionally a
huge patch of floating seaweed would suddenly deaden and then stop the
boat's headway, compelling me to back water and clear the bow of the
long strands. It was at first very startling to be thus checked when
running at full speed; the sensation being that some one has grasped
the boat and is pushing her back. With the resistance come the rush and
ripple, as the sharp stem plunges through the floating mass of weed. The
wind, which had been light and baffling all the forenoon, after I had
passed Nahant, and was abreast of Egg Rock with its little whitewashed
light-house, freshened, and, veering to the southeast, blew across my
track. The vessels began to lean to its force, and the waves to rise. I
was then outside Swampscott Bay, about eight miles from land. The shore
was plainly visible, with the buildings dotted along like specks of
white, and the outlying reefs showing by the sparkle of the foam upon
them. Phillips's Beach, and the island called by the romantic name of
Ram, were now opposite. Half-Way Rock, so named from being half way from
Boston to Gloucester, was the point towards which I had been pulling for
two hours, and it could now for the first time be seen. It came in sight
as the boat was rising on a huge wave which broke under her and went
rushing shoreward, roaring savagely, with long streaks of foam down its
green back. The elevation of the eyes above the water was so small,
that, when my boat sank away in the trough of the sea, nothing could be
seen above the top of the advancing wave. I had, therefore, to watch my
chance, and when she rose, get my bearings.
Half-Way Rock is a water-washed mass of porphyritic stone, the top about
twenty feet above high tide, shaped much like a pyramid, and a few years
since was capped with a conical granite beacon, strongly built and
riveted down, but which had been two-thirds washed away by the
tremendous surf of the easterly storms. The rock stands at the outer
edge of a long sand-shoal, and is east of Salem. To the northward, a dim
blue line on the horizon, lay Cape Ann, by my reckoning, about eighteen
miles distant. I kept on pulling over the swell, which was growing
larger, not quite in the trough of the sea,--but when a particularly
large wave came easing up a little, so as to take the boat more on the
bow, the motion was not a pleasant one. It was a sort of half rolling,
half pitching,--very unlike the even, smooth slide of the early part of
the afternoon. The rock soon became plainer, and at last I rested on my
oars to watch the waves as they broke on its furrowed face. The great
rollers, which became higher as the water shoaled toward its foot,
fell upon it bursting into foam, and jetting the spray high above the
half-broken beacon. It was a beautiful sight as the spray broke under
the shadow of the seaward face and was thrown up into the sunlight.
Not heeding whither I was drifting, a nasal hail suddenly roused me to
the fact that there were other navigators in those seas. "Bo-oat ahoy!
Whar' ye bo-ound?" Giving a stroke with the larboard oar, I saw, hove
to, a fishing-schooner,--her whole crew of skipper, three men, and a boy
standing at the gangway and looking with all their ten eyes to make out,
if possible, what strange kind of sea-monster had turned up. My boat
could not have seemed very seaworthy, only seven inches above water,
disappearing in the trough of every sea that passed, then lifting its
long and slender bow of brilliant crimson above the white foam, and the
occupant apparently on a level with the water. The hail was repeated.
The answer, "Cape Ann," did not satisfy them; and the question, "Wa-ant
any he-elp?" was next bawled out. My only reply was by a shake of the
head; and settling back into my place, I gave way on the oars, and left
my fishing friends still looking and evidently very uncertain whether it
were not better to make an attempt at a rescue.
I now kept on about a mile farther toward the Cape, but found that
the time before sundown was too short to reach it. About seven miles
distant, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, was the hospitable
mansion of Mr. T., where I was sure of a welcome and a good berth for my
boat, and which snug harbor could just be reached by nightfall. The way
lay straight across Gooseberry Shoal, on the outside of which stands
Half-Way Rock. The sea for my small boat was very heavy; but, having
full confidence in her buoyancy, I drove straight on. Upon the shoal
the color of the water changed from deep to light green; the sea was
shorter, much higher, and broke quicker; the waves washed over the stern
of the boat, burying it two feet or more, and coming almost into the
seat-room. Then she would lift herself free, and ride high and clear on
the backs of the great rollers, which would break and crush down under
her, sending her well ahead. The sunlight, falling from behind, shone
through the body of each wave, making it of the most transparent
brilliant emerald, and tinting the foam with every hue of the rainbow.
Pulling with the sea is very easy work, if the boat be long enough to
keep from broaching to,--that is, swinging sideways and rolling over, a
performance which dories are apt to indulge in. There are on the shoal
several reefs, whose black ridges are just awash at high tide; past
these the inner edge of the water deepens and the sea becomes smoother.
About an hour brought me inside what is called by the dwellers
thereabout the "outer island,"--its gray-red rocks tufted here and there
with patches of coarse grass, and weather-worn and seamed by surf and
storm, with the usual accompaniment of mackerel-gulls screaming and
soaring aloft at the approach of a stranger. When within about a quarter
of a mile of the shore, I backed round to come upon the beach stern
foremost through the surf. If the surf be high, coming ashore is a
delicate operation; for, should the boat be turned broadside on, she
would be thrown over upon the oarsman, and both washed up the beach in a
flood of sandy salt-water; so it requires some little steadiness to sit
back to the coming wave, hear the increasing roar, and feel the sudden
lift and toss shoreward which each roller gives you as it plunges down
upon the sand. Just before coming to the outer edge of the surf, I was
seen by my friends, who hastened down the cliff-road to receive me.
Resting on my oars, I waited, till, hearing a large roller coming, whose
voice gained in strength and depth as it drew nearer to the shore, I
looked behind. The crest was already beginning to curl, as it dashed
under the boat and swept me in-shore, breaking, as the stern passed, the
top of the sea, and carrying me in, full speed, with the flood of foam
and spray. After three or four quick strokes I jerked the oars out of
the row-locks, jumped into the water knee-deep, and wading dragged the
boat backwards as far as she would float, when the receding surf let
her gently down upon the sand, and before the next wave the servant
had taken the bow and I the stern and lifted her high and dry upon
the beach. And so my afternoon's pull of thirty miles was safely
and successfully finished, my boat having proved herself thoroughly
seaworthy, though my friends could hardly believe that such a craft
could be safely trusted. After removing the stores and arranging other
matters, we took her up, placed her quietly upon the grass, and left her
for the night.
The next morning was rather hazy. About nine o'clock I took my way to
the beach, and began to prepare for departure. Mr. T.'s house lies
several miles to the south and west of Cape Ann. Eastern Point, on
the Cape, was therefore the place to be steered for in a straight
line,--perhaps six miles distant. Two miles on, the white light-house on
the Point can be plainly seen. The tide was rising, and the two lines of
ripple met across the sand-bar which connects a little island with the
beach. My boat was now carried down from her night's resting-place and
set at the edge of the water. The oars being placed in readiness, two
of us waded out with her till she would just float, when, quickly and
cautiously stepping in, I met the advancing wave in time to ride over
it. The line of surf is hard to cross, unless one can catch the roller
before it begins to crest. Once outside the line, I turned and pulled
swiftly across the bar, over which the tide had risen a few inches, and,
bidding good-morning to my hospitable entertainers, set off for Eastern
Point. There was considerable swell, though not much wind. The shore
being familiar to me, I was rowing along leisurely, recognizing one
well-known cliff after another, as they came in sight, and was between
Kettle Island and the main, when a slight dampness in the air caused
me to turn my face to the eastward, and I saw coming in from the sea,
preceded by an advance guard of feathery mist, a dense bank of fog. It
swept in, blotting out sea, shore, everything but the view a few feet
around the boat. Fortunately knowing the place, and guided by the sound
of the surf, I soon neared the wet, brown rocks at the inner edge of
Kettle Island. Backing up into a little cove between two huge sea-weedy
boulders I waited, hoping that a turn in the wind might drive the mist
seaward and allow me to keep on. There I sat a full hour, watching the
star-fish, and the crabs scrambling about among the loose strands of the
olive-green and deep purple rock-weed, which looked almost black in
the shadow, while here and there, as it waved to and fro with the sea,
disclosing patches of yellow sand. Very beautiful was this natural
aquarium; but time was flying, and "The Shoals" were more than thirty
miles distant. The mist began to drive in long rifts, and a gleam of
sunshine came out, but only for a moment. I took advantage of it at
once, and pushed out from port.
The opposite shore of the cove, in the mouth of which the island lies,
was dimly discernible, and the dense foliage of the willows surrounding
the fishermen's houses loomed up in the distance, while at the extreme
end of the Point the sea broke heavily on the long protruding reef which
slanted eastward. I made rapidly for the Point, and reached the outside
line of rollers just in time; for the fog, which had been drifting
backwards and forwards and torn in long rents, now closed over again,
shutting down darker than ever. It was with the utmost difficulty that
I could make out the faint gray line of cliff and surf. On the whole,
however, it appeared best to keep on and feel my way along the coast,
navigating rather by sound than by sight. The shore grows higher as you
go northward towards Gloucester harbor, and is, if possible, more rugged
and broken than to the south. The chief danger was from sunken rocks,
which every wave submerged three or four feet, and which in the hollow
of the sea were wholly above water. I came upon one very suddenly, as
the wave was swelling above it, and the rock-weed afloat on its sunken
head looked, for the instant, like the hair of a drowning person. My
boat went directly over it, and the next moment its black crest rose in
the trough of the wave. One such chance of wreck was enough, and so I
kept farther out, losing sight almost entirely of the cliffs. The sun,
meanwhile, was pouring down an intense heat, making the fog luminous,
but not rendering the coast any more visible. I knew that before me,
somewhere, lay the reef of Norman's Woe. The huge rock on the inside of
the reef, separated from the shore by a narrow strait, I judged must be
right ahead, but not knowing how near, I kept on, cautiously looking
behind, every few strokes, and began to think I must have passed it in
the fog, when suddenly, as if it had stepped in the way, it rose before
me, its top lost in the mist, and with the sullen drip and splash of the
sea on its almost perpendicular sides. I had to back water with some
force, and, skirting the reef, stood on till fairly outside,--when,
turning shoreward again, I went on to the edge of the surf.
Resuming my former style of navigation, almost twisting my head off to
keep a sharp look-out for rocks and reefs, I came to what seemed to be
the mouth of Gloucester harbor, and there stopped for a moment. There
was no use in pulling up one side of the harbor and down the other, four
miles, while in a straight line to the Point it was only one and a half.
I had almost decided on rowing the longer distance, however, when I
heard a bell ringing somewhere in the direction of Eastern Point. It
was striking in measured time, and the sound came across the water with
great distinctness. It puzzled me a little, till I remembered there
was a fog-bell as well as a light-house on the Point. Hoping that the
tolling would continue, I aimed for the bell as straight as possible.
With a couple of strokes the shore vanished, and nothing could be seen
but fog. Rowing where there is plenty of light and yet nothing visible
is embarrassing business. One must rely wholly upon the sense of
hearing, as eyes are of no use in such a case. Fearing that the bell
might cease before I got across, I bent with a will upon the oars and
went racing through the fog. The sound grew more and more distinct with
each peal, when, suddenly as the apparition of Norman's Woe, right
before me sprang up the black dripping hull of a fishing-schooner,
becalmed, and rocking with the roll of the sea; one turn and I shot
beneath her bows, passed her, and was lost in the fog before the fat
darkey who was lazily fishing by the bowsprit could shift from one side
of the deck to the other to keep me in sight. The creaking of blocks
and the heavy flap of wet sails warned me of the neighborhood of other
vessels. In a short time I could hear the rusty grating of the pivot as
the bell turned; then my boat glided close under the rock on which the
light-house stands. At that moment the fog opened half across the bay,
showing clearly my track with more than a dozen vessels lying close by
it. The lifting was but for a moment; back rolled the cloud and all was
invisible again. I rounded the Point, however, and went ahead, pulling
along the eastern coast of the Cape in the fog.
It was hard work, this groping through the mist, and made me wish for
the Janus power of gazing out of the back of my head to save the trouble
of continually turning. The look-out was now necessarily more vigilant
than when on the lower shore, as I was entirely ignorant of the coast
and could not see twenty feet before me. The sea was calm, save the
ever-swinging ground-swell, which does not show its power till it meets
with some resistance; and though without crest, the surf on the rocks
was very high. There was nothing to deaden the force of the sea, and
it came on in huge green masses, sliding bodily up on the rocks with
a sound like distant thunder, making one feel that a boat would be
shivered to splinters, should she fall into its power. Once the breakers
nearly caught me broadside on, as I had begun to pull along the shore,
compelling me to keep outside the line of surf and thus follow it till
the rocky headland loomed up on the other side of the bay, then past the
reefs again till another bay curved inward,--nothing to be seen but fog,
dim white surf, and dimmer rocks. Once, when passing an outlying point,
I saw, for a moment, a couple of men fishing; they shouted something
which the surf rendered inaudible; then rock and fishers melted away
into the mist. After rowing in this manner for about an hour, the water
shoaled, the fog lightened, and an island appeared to the east, with the
sea rippling over the sand-bar which joined it to the shore. I pulled
on and found the depth but a few inches, just enough to cross without
touching. The island was very picturesque, and the end towards the
west was broken into ledges, on which were perched eight or ten small
weather-beaten houses. Half floating by the beach under the cliff,
or drawn up on it, were a number of dories, while a troop of little
children were wading, splashing, and shouting in the shallow water on
the bar. They stopped when they saw me, clustered together watching as
I passed, and when I was fairly over set up a shout and resumed their
play. I rowed on until two in the afternoon, when the fog became
thinner, and finding myself between two rocky headlands, in "Milk Island
Strait," as I conjectured, and it being dinner-time, I went ashore in a
little inlet, took out my provisions, and dined.
The mist, meanwhile, had disappeared, leaving the sky perfectly clear.
It was nearly three when dinner was finished. The Isles of Shoals were
full twenty-one miles distant, and if they were to be reached before
night, there was no time to be lost. So I backed out of the inlet, and,
getting the bearings, aimed for a point on the horizon where I supposed
the islands to be, and pulled without stopping for three hours. The wind
was fresh from the southeast, the sea high, and there was not the least
trace of the fog. The hills of Cape Ann, as I went on, changed from
green to blue, and the color grew fainter in the distance. The land,
which was ten miles inside to the westward, had now come nearer, and the
dark line of the woods was just visible.
It was time to see the Shoals. I turned, but the heavy sea tossed the
boat about so that it was not at all certain whether they were or were
not in sight. The only objects in view were a few small white clouds
about the horizon and the distant sails of a schooner; so again bringing
the Cape astern, I rowed on till sunset. The hills had then almost sunk
below the water, and it was full time to see White Island and the light
which would be kindled in a few moments. The boat swung into the trough
of the sea, and when on the top of a wave I looked up to the northward.
The sight was not a pleasant one for an evening pull: the sky was
covered with the dark clouds of a gathering storm rapidly rolling up,
and my old friend the fog was again working in, as the wind had shifted
to the east and north. In the distance nothing could be seen but black
sky and blacker water, while nearer crept on the line of mist, shutting
out all prospect. The Shoals were doubtless somewhere in the darkness,
but just where I could not determine. Something must be done at once
before the fog reached me. Calling a council of war, I debated. There
was no certainty of hitting the Shoals, and if I did come on them in any
other than the exact spot, my boat would be beaten into chips in five
minutes on some of the reefs which abound in that region. It would be
entirely dark when I reached the islands, and the wind and sea were
rising; it looked very much like the beginning of an easterly gale. So
the council concluded to let the Shoals go for that night, and stay out
at sea till morning. Should the gale come on, the boat could be beached
on the coast to the westward; and if the wind lulled, as it probably
would for a few hours on the next day, there was time enough to get
ashore. I was from eight to ten miles at sea, and six miles east and
south of the Shoals, as nearly as I could reckon. It was necessary to
get more to the westward to clear the islands in the night, when the
tide set in. Rowing for half an hour brought me far enough in to stop.
The fog was again all around me, and the thick clouds made it so dark
that it was impossible to see twice my boat's length. Resting on my
oars for a moment, I began to stow a few things more closely in the
seat-room, when a huge sea broke just ahead, and, striking the bow a
little on one side, whirled the boat round and rolled her half over,
pitching the crest into the seat-room and filling it with water. I
caught her with the oars barely in time to save her, and turned her
again head to the sea, keeping a watchful eye to windward. Then baling
out the seat-room, I took some crackers and a draught of water, and
turned the boat stern foremost to the sea.
It was, by guess, about nine o'clock; and there was no light except the
phosphorescence of the water. When a wave came rushing through the
fog, its black body invisible in the darkness, the crest glanced like
quicksilver and broke into ten thousand coruscations as the boat
balanced on the top,--pouring a flood of glittering water past the stern
and over the canvas cover, and dripping from the sides in sparkling
drops. Wherever a foam-bubble burst or oar dipped, it was like opening a
silver-lined casket. The boat left a luminous track, which rose with
the waves as they swelled behind her, and disappeared in the night. It
required a strong hand to keep her in her course; had she broached to, I
should have been rolled out and obliged to swim for it. A quick eye was
necessary to watch, lest, in spite of the oars, she might swing round
and turn over. The utter darkness and the storm so threatening at
sundown had come in full force. It was raining and blowing heavily, and
the strong wind driving the rain and mist in sheets across the water
deepened the hoarse roar of the sea. I was very wet, and not so fresh,
after my forty miles or more of hard, steady pulling, as in the morning;
I was also very sleepy, so that it was not easy to keep even one eye
open to look out for passing coasters,--the chief danger. My craft was
so slender they could have gone over her in the darkness and storm and
never have known it. The tide was still setting out, the sea was very
high, and there was not a ray of light from White Island. My best course
seemed to be to continue pulling slowly and keep the boat stern to the
sea till after midnight, when the tide would change and the wind would
lull for a short time,--unless it should prove to be the beginning of
the gale, and not its forerunner, as I had thought. The hours passed
slowly. There was much to do in heading straight and in easing up when
the great waves loomed through the fog. Midnight would decide whether at
day-dawn I must pull for it, and run, if possible, the line of breakers
on Rye Beach, with rather less than an even chance of coming out
right-end uppermost, or whether the wind and sea would go down so that I
could slip quietly ashore before the gale returned.
Midnight came at last; the rain ceased and the wind began to shift to
the south, and I knew that now the probability of going ashore decently
was good. The tide having turned, the wind moderated, and the sea,
though still high, was longer and did not break so quickly. Still
farther to the south veered the wind, and a little after three, as well
as I could tell by my watch, the fog thinned, so that, looking up, I
caught the faint glimmer of a star; then another peeped through the
cloud. The mist broke in several places, then drifted over, then broke
again; and, chancing to look seaward, a light flared into full blaze
for a moment, swung smaller, then vanished. There was no mistaking
it,--White Island light at last!
Backing with one oar, pulling with the other, I rose on the top of a
great sea, and caught the light again just as it began to come into
sight. Off I went, at a splendid pace, driving along in the trough and
over the crest of the waves, steering by a star behind me, for about ten
minutes; then light and stars sank back into the mist, and all was
black again. I waited a few moments, and again the light shone out; but
meantime the boat's bow had veered several points. Turning toward it,
I was off full speed this time for about five minutes, before the fog
swept in again. Then another rest on my oars. The fog drifted out and
drifted in backwards and forwards, now thinning here, then thinning
there; but no other glimpse of the light did I get that night. For a
moment, a shadowy-looking schooner glided slowly along a few hundred
feet ahead of me, and directly across my track,--then melted out into
the darkness. After waiting some time longer, finding no chance of
another glimpse of the light, I secured my oars, and, as the wind and
sea had decreased, got ready to turn in. The seat-room was only four
feet long,--two feet short of my length; and the washboard, which was
three inches in height, surrounded the seat-room and obliged me to use
the boat-sponge as a pillow. But trusting to chance that my craft would
come across nothing either fixed or floating, I retreated at once to the
land of Nod. What the weather was during the rest of that night, or what
might have been seen, I cannot say; for I did not wake till my watch
told seven in the morning. Then my eyes opened to, or rather in, as
choice a specimen of mist as had yet been met with.
It was perfectly calm; the sea was undulating slightly, and not a breath
of wind stirring. I sat up and looked around. Nothing visible but misty
atmosphere and leaden-colored water; the phosphorescent sparkle had
quite gone out of it. I listened, and with the low dull roar of the surf
on Rye Beach on one side came the break of the waves on the Shoals,
but so faint that it was doubtful whether it were really audible, when
another most unmistakable sound assured me Landlord Laighton was blowing
his breakfast-horn on Appledore Island. The familiar notes of that
very peculiar performance came clearly through the fog. Had he kept on
blowing twenty minutes longer, he would have had another guest; but he
stopped before ten strokes could be taken. So, reluctantly turning my
boat for the other shore, I pulled for the sound of the surf, which
increased as I approached it. The beach was still several miles distant,
when the short, quick rap of oars came to my ears. I knew at once the
fisherman's stroke, and, supposing that he had put out from the shore
and did not mean to stay out long, I gave chase at once, and pulled till
he stopped rowing and was apparently near. Then I hailed, and after
a twenty minutes' hunt caught a glimpse of his dory and immediately
introduced myself. He was fishing with two lines, one on each side of
the boat, and was about returning when I came up. He had never before
beheld such a craft as mine, and did not know what to make of her as she
came through the fog. He soon, however, drew in his lines, and, acting
as pilot, set out for the beach, from which we were then three miles
distant. After various twistings and circlings through the mist, the row
of sandy hillocks which backs Rye Beach appeared, and in a few moments
we pulled through the surf and landed, thus ending one part of my
* * * * *
A STORY OF TO-DAY.
Let me tell you a story of To-Day,--very homely and narrow in its scope
and aim. Not of the To-Day whose significance in the history of humanity
only those shall read who will live when you and I are dead. Let us bear
the pain in silence, if our hearts are strong enough, while the nations
of the earth stand far off pitying. I have no word of this To-Day to
speak. I write from the border of the battle-field, and I find in it no
theme for shallow argument or flimsy rhymes. The shadow of death has
fallen on us; it chills the very heaven. No child laughs in my face as
I pass down the street. Men have forgotten to hope, forgotten to pray;
only in the bitterness of endurance they say "in the morning, 'Would God
it were even!' and in the evening, 'Would God it were morning!'" Neither
I nor you have the prophet's vision to see the age as its meaning stands
written before God. Those who shall live when we are dead may tell their
children, perhaps, how, out of anguish and darkness such as the world
seldom has borne, the enduring morning evolved of the true world and the
true man. It is not clear to us. Hands wet with a brother's blood for
the Right, a slavery of intolerance, the hackneyed cant of men or
the bloodthirstiness of women, utter no prophecy to us of the great
To-Morrow of content and right that holds the world. Yet the To-Morrow
is there; if God lives, it is there. The voice of the meek Nazarene,
which we have deafened down as ill-timed, unfit to teach the watchword
of the hour, renews the quiet promise of its coming in simple, humble
things. Let us go down and look for it. There is no need that we should
feebly vaunt and madden ourselves over our self-seen lights, whatever
they may be, forgetting what broken shadows they are of eternal truths
in that calm where He sits and with His quiet hand controls us.
Patriotism and Chivalry are powers in the tranquil, unlimited lives to
come, as well as here, I know; but there are less partial truths, higher
hierarchies who serve the God-man, that do not speak to us in bayonets
and victories,--Humility, Mercy, and Love. Let us not quite neglect
them, however humble the voices they use may be. Why, the very low glow
of the fire upon the hearth tells me something of recompense coming in
the hereafter,--Christmas-days, and heartsome warmth; in these bare
hills trampled down by armed men, the yellow clay is quick with pulsing
fibres, hints of the great heart of life and love throbbing within;
God's slanted sunlight would show me, in these sullen smoke-clouds from
the camp, walls of amethyst and jasper, outer ramparts of the Promised
Land. Do not call us traitors, then, who choose to be cool and silent
through the fever of the hour,--who choose to search in common things
for auguries of the hopeful, helpful calm to come, finding even in these
poor sweet-peas, thrusting their tendrils through the brown mould, a
deeper, more healthful lesson for the eye and soul than warring evils or
truths. Do not call me a traitor, if I dare weakly to hint that there
are yet other characters besides that of Patriot in which a man may
appear creditably in the great masquerade, and not blush when it is
over; or if I tell you a story of To-Day, in which there shall be none
of the red glare of war,--only those homelier, subtler lights which we
have overlooked. If it prove to you that the sun of old times still
shines, and the God of old times still lives, is not that enough?
My story is very crude and homely, as I said,--only a rough sketch of
one or two of those people whom you see every day, and call "dregs"
sometimes,--a dull, plain bit of prose, such as you might pick for
yourself out of any of these warehouses or back-streets. I expect you to
call it stale and plebeian, for I know the glimpses of life it
pleases you best to find here: New England idyls delicately tinted;
passion-veined hearts, cut bare for curious eyes; prophetic utterances,
concrete and clear; or some word of pathos or fun from the old friends
who have indenizened themselves in everybody's home. You want something,
in fact, to lift you out of this crowded, tobacco-stained commonplace,
to kindle and chafe and glow in you. I want you to dig into this
commonplace, this vulgar American life, and see what is in it. Sometimes
I think it has a new and awful significance that we do not see.
Your ears are openest to the war-trumpet now. Ha! that is
spirit-stirring!--that wakes up the old Revolutionary blood! Your
manlier nature had been smothered under drudgery, the poor daily
necessity for bread and butter. I want you to go down into this common,
every-day drudgery, and consider if there might not be in it also a
great warfare. Not a serfish war; not altogether ignoble, though even
its only end may appear to be your daily food. A great warfare, I think,
with a history as old as the world, and not without its pathos. It has
its slain. Men and women, lean-jawed, crippled in the slow, silent
battle, are in your alleys, sit beside you at your table; its martyrs
sleep under every green hill-side.
You must fight in it; money will buy you no discharge from that war.
There is room in it, believe me, whether your post be on a judge's
bench, or over a wash-tub, for heroism, for knightly honor, for purer
triumph than his who falls foremost in the breach. Your enemy, Self,
goes with you from the cradle to the coffin; it is a hand-to-hand
struggle all the sad, slow way, fought in solitude,--a battle that began
with the first heart-beat, and whose victory will come only when the
drops ooze out, and sudden halt in the veins,--a victory, if you can
gain it, that will drift you not a little way upon the coasts of the
wider, stronger range of being, beyond death.
Let me roughly outline for you one or two lives that I have known, and
how they conquered or were worsted in the fight. Very common lives, I
know,--such as are swarming in yonder market-place; yet I dare to call
them voices of God,--all!
My reason for choosing this story to tell you is simple enough.
An old book, which I happened to find to-day, recalled it. It was a
ledger, iron-bound, with the name of the firm on the outside,--Knowles
& Co. You may have heard of the firm: they were large woollen
manufacturers: supplied the home market in Indiana for several years.
This ledger, you see by the writing, has been kept by a woman. That is
not unusual in Western trading towns, especially in factories where the
operatives are chiefly women. In such establishments, women can fill
every post successfully, but that of overseer: they are too hard with
the hands for that.
The writing here is curious: concise, square, not flowing,--very
legible, however, exactly suited to its purpose. People who profess
to read character in chirography would decipher but little from these
cramped, quiet lines. Only this, probably: that the woman, whoever she
was, had not the usual fancy of her sex for dramatizing her soul in her
writing, her dress, her face,--kept it locked up instead, intact; that
her words and looks, like her writing, were most likely simple, mere
absorbents by which she drew what she needed of the outer world to her,
not flaunting helps to fling herself, or the tragedy or comedy that lay
within, before careless passers-by. The first page has the date, in red
letters, _October 2, 1860_, largely and clearly written. I am sure the
woman's hand trembled a little when she took up the pen; but there is no
sign of it here; for it was a new, desperate adventure to her, and she
was young, with no faith in herself. She did not look desperate, at
all,--a quiet, dark girl, coarsely dressed in brown.
There was not much light in the office where she sat; for the factory
was in one of the close by-streets of the town, and the office they gave
her was only a small square closet in the seventh story. It had but one
window, which overlooked a back-yard full of dyeing vats. The sunlight
that did contrive to struggle in obliquely through the dusty panes and
cobwebs of the window had a sleepy odor of copperas latent in it. You
smelt it when you stirred. The manager, Pike, who brought her up, had
laid the day-books and this ledger open on the desk for her. As soon
as he was gone, she shut the door, listening until his heavy boots had
thumped creaking down the rickety ladder leading to the frame-rooms.
Then she climbed up on the high office-stool (climbed, I said, for she
was a little, little thing) and went to work, opening the books, and
copying from one to the other as steadily, monotonously, as if she had
been used to it all her life. Here are the first pages: see how sharp
the angles are of the blue and black lines, how even the long columns:
one would not think, that, as the steel pen traced them out, it seemed
to be lining out her life, narrow and black. If any such morbid fancy
were in the girl's head, there was no tear to betray it. The sordid,
hard figures seemed to her the types of the years coming, but she wrote
them down unflinchingly: perhaps life had nothing better for her, so
she did not care. She finished soon: they had given her only an hour or
two's work for the first day. She closed the books, wiped the pens in a
quaint, mechanical fashion, then got down and examined her new home.
It was soon understood. There were the walls with their broken plaster,
showing the laths underneath, with here and there, over them, sketches
with burnt coal, showing that her predecessor had been an artist in his
way,--his name, P. Teagarden, emblazoned on the ceiling with the smoke
of a candle; heaps of hanks of yarn in the dusty corners; a half-used
broom; other heaps of yarn on the old toppling desk covered with dust; a
raisin-box, with P. Teagarden done on the lid in bas-relief, half full
of ends of cigars, a pack of cards, and a rotten apple. That was all,
except an impalpable sense of dust and worn-outness pervading the whole.
One thing more, odd enough there: a wire cage, hung on the wall, and in
it a miserable pecking chicken, peering dolefully with suspicious eyes
out at her, and then down at the mouldy bit of bread on the floor of his
cage,--left there, I suppose, by the departed Teagarden. That was all
inside. She looked out of the window. In it, as if set in a square
black frame, was the dead brick wall, and the opposite roof, with a cat
sitting on the scuttle. Going closer, two or three feet of sky appeared.
It looked as if it smelt of copperas, and she drew suddenly back.
She sat down, waiting until it was time to go; quietly taking the dull
picture into her slow, unrevealing eyes; a sluggish, hackneyed weariness
creeping into her brain; a curious feeling, that all her life before had
been a silly dream, and this dust, these desks and ledgers, were real,
--all that was real. It was her birthday; she was twenty. As she
happened to remember that, another fancy floated up before her, oddly
life-like: of the old seat she made for herself under the currant-bushes
at home when she was a child, and the plans she laid for herself when
she should be a woman, sitting there,--how she would dig down into the
middle of the world, and find the kingdom of the griffins, or would go
after Mercy and Christiana in their pilgrimage. It was only a little
while ago since these things were more alive to her than anything else
in the world. The seat was under the currant-bushes still. Very little
time ago; but she was a woman now,--and, look here! A chance ray of
sunlight slanted in, falling barely on the dust, the hot heaps of wool,
waking a stronger smell of copperas; the chicken saw it, and began to
chirp a weak, dismal joy, more sorrowful than tears. She went to the
cage, and put her finger in for it to peck at. Standing there, if the
life coming rose up before her in that hard, vacant blare of sunlight,
she looked at it with the same still, waiting eyes, that told nothing.
The door opened at last, and a man came in,--Dr. Knowles, the principal
owner of the factory. He nodded shortly to her, and, going to the desk,
turned over the books, peering suspiciously at her work. An old man,
overgrown, looking like a huge misshapen mass of flesh, as he stood
erect, facing her.
"You can go now," he said, gruffly. "To-morrow you must wait for the
bell to ring, and go--with the rest of the hands."
A curious smile flickered over her face like a shadow; but she said
nothing. He waited a moment.
"So!" he growled, "the Howth blood does not blush to go down into the
slime of the gutter? is sufficient to itself?"
A cool, attentive motion,--that was all. Then she stooped to tie her
sandals. The old man watched her, irritated. She had been used to the
keen scrutiny of his eyes since she was a baby, so was cool under it
always. The face watching her was one that repelled most men: dominant,
restless, flushing into red gusts of passion, a small, intolerant eye,
half hidden in folds of yellow fat,--the eye of a man who would give to
his master (whether God or Satan) the last drop of his own blood, and
exact the same of other men.
She had tied her bonnet and fastened her shawl, and stood ready to go.
"Is that all you want?" he demanded. "Are you waiting to hear that your
work is well done? Women go through life as babies learn to walk,--a
mouthful of pap every step, only they take it in praise or love. Pap is
better. Which do you want? Praise, I fancy."
"Neither," she said, quietly brushing her shawl. "The work is well done,
The old man's eye glittered for an instant, satisfied; then he turned
to the books. He thought she had gone, but, hearing a slight clicking
sound, turned round. She was taking the chicken out of the cage.
"Let it alone!" he broke out, sharply. "Where are you going with it?"
"Home," she said, with a queer, quizzical face. "Let it smell the green
fields, Doctor. Ledgers and copperas are not good food for a chicken's
soul, or body either."
"Let it alone!" he growled. "You take it for a type of yourself, eh? It
has another work to do than to grow fat and sleep about the barnyard."
She opened the cage.
"I think I will take it."
"No," he said, quietly. "It has a master here. Not P. Teagarden. Why,
Margaret," pushing his stubby finger between the tin bars, "do you think
the God you believe in would have sent it here without a work to do?"
She looked up; there was a curious tremor in his flabby face, a shadow
in his rough voice.
"If it dies here, its life won't have been lost. Nothing is lost. Let it
"Not lost?" she said, slowly, refastening the cage. "Only I think"----
She glanced furtively at him.
"It's a hard, scraping world where such a thing as that has work to do!"
He vouchsafed no answer. She waited to see his lip curl bitterly, and
then, amused, went down the stairs. She had paid him for his sneer.
The steps were but a long ladder set in the wall, not the great
staircase used by the hands: that was on the other side of the factory.
It was a huge, unwieldy building, such as crowd the suburbs of trading
towns. This one went round the four sides of a square, with the yard for
the vats in the middle. The ladders and passages she passed down were
on the inside, narrow and dimly lighted: she had to grope her way
sometimes. The floors shook constantly with the incessant thud of the
great looms that filled each story, like heavy, monotonous thunder. It
deafened her, made her dizzy, as she went down slowly. It was no short
walk to reach the lower hall, but she was down at last. Doors opened
from it into the ground-floor ware-rooms; glancing in, she saw vast,
dingy recesses of boxes piled up to the dark ceilings. There was a crowd
of porters and draymen cracking their whips, and lounging on the trucks
by the door, waiting for loads, talking politics, and smoking. The smell
of tobacco, copperas, and burning logwood was heavy to clamminess here.
She stopped, uncertain. One of the porters, a short, sickly man, who
stood aloof from the rest, pushed open a door for her with his staff.
Margaret had a quick memory for faces; she thought she had seen this one
before, as she passed,--a dark face, sullen, heavy-lipped, the hair cut
convict-fashion, close to the head. She thought, too, one of the men
muttered "jail-bird," jeering him for his forwardness. "Load for
Clinton! Western Railroad!" sung out a sharp voice behind her, and, as
she went into the street, a train of cars rushed into the hall to be
loaded, and men swarmed out of every corner,--red-faced and pale,
whiskey-bloated and heavy-brained, Irish, Dutch, black, with souls half
asleep somewhere, and the destiny of a nation in their grasp,--hands,
like herself, going through the slow, heavy work, for, as Pike the
manager would have told you, "three dollars a week,--good wages these
tight times." For nothing more? Some other meaning may have fallen
from their faces into this girl's quiet intuition in the instant's
glance,--cheerfuller, remoter aims, hidden in the most sensual
face,--homeliest home-scenes, low climbing ambitions, some delirium of
pleasure to come,--whiskey, if nothing better: aims in life like yours,
differing in degree, needing only to make them the same----did you say
She had reached the street now,--a back-street, a crooked sort of lane
rather, running between endless piles of ware-houses. She hurried down
it to gain the suburbs, for she lived out in the country. It was a
long, tiresome walk through the outskirts of the town, where the
dwelling-houses were,--long rows of two-story bricks drabbled with
soot-stains. It was two years since she had been in the town.
Remembering this, and the reason why she had shunned it, she quickened
her pace, her face growing stiller than before. One might have fancied
her a slave putting on a mask, fearing to meet her master. The town,
being unfamiliar to her, struck her newly. She saw the expression on its
face better. It was a large trading city, compactly built, shut in by
hills. It had an anxious, harassed look, like a speculator concluding a
keen bargain; the very dwelling-houses smelt of trade, having shops in
the lower stories; in the outskirts, where there are cottages in other
cities, there were mills here; the trees, which some deluded dreamer had
planted on the flat pavements, had all grown up into abrupt Lombardy
poplars, knowing their best policy was to keep out of the way; the boys,
playing marbles under them, played sharply "for keeps"; the bony old
dray-horses, plodding through the dusty crowds, had speculative eyes,
that measured their oats at night with a "you-don't-cheat-me" look. Even
the churches had not the grave repose of the old brown house yonder in
the hills, where the few field-people--Arians, Calvinists, Churchmen--
gathered every Sunday, and air and sunshine and God's charity made the
day holy. These churches lifted their hard stone faces insolently,
registering their yearly alms in the morning journals. To be sure, the
back-seats were free for the poor; but the emblazoned crimson of the
windows, the carving of the arches, the very purity of the preacher's
style, said plainly that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye
of a needle than for a man in a red _warm-us_ to enter the kingdom of
heaven through that gate.
Nature itself had turned her back on the town: the river turned aside,
and but half a river crept reluctant by; the hills were but bare banks
of yellow clay. There was a cinder-road leading through these. Margaret
climbed it slowly. The low town-hills, as I said, were bare, covered at
their bases with dingy stubble-fields. In the sides bordering the road
gaped the black mouths of the coal-pits that burrowed under the hills,
under the town. Trade everywhere,--on the earth and under it. No wonder
the girl called it a hard, scraping world. But when the road had crept
through these hills, it suddenly shook off the cinders, and turned into
the brown mould of the meadows,--turned its back on trade and the smoky
town, and speedily left it out of sight contemptuously, never looking
back once. This was the country now in earnest.
Margaret slackened her step, drawing long breaths of the fresh cold air.
Far behind her, panting and puffing along, came a black, burly figure,
Dr. Knowles. She had seen him behind her all the way, but they did not
speak. Between the two there lay that repellant resemblance which made
them like close relations,--closer when they were silent. You know such
people? When you speak to them, the little sharp points clash. Yet they
are the people whom you surely know you will meet in the life beyond
death, "saved" or not. The Doctor came slowly along the quiet
country-road, watching the woman's figure going as slowly before him. He
had a curious interest in the girl,--a secret reason for the interest,