Part 3 out of 4
difficult for the good Christian to acknowledge the good Pagan;
almost impossible for the good Orthodox to grasp the hand of the
good Unitarian, leaving to their Creator to settle the matters in
dispute, and giving their mutual efforts strongly and trustingly
to whatever right thing is too evident to be mistaken. Then
again, though the heart be large, yet the mind is often of such
moderate dimensions as to be exclusively filled up with one idea.
When a good man has long devoted himself to a particular kind of
beneficence--to one species of reform--he is apt to become
narrowed into the limits of the path wherein he treads, and to
fancy that there is no other good to be done on earth but that
self-same good to which he has put his hand, and in the very mode
that best suits his own conceptions. All else is worthless. His
scheme must be wrought out by the united strength of the whole
world's stock of love, or the world is no longer worthy of a
position in the universe. Moreover, powerful Truth, being the
rich grape juice expressed from the vineyard of the ages, has an
intoxicating quality, when imbibed by any save a powerful
intellect, and often, as it were, impels the quaffer to quarrel
in his cups. For such reasons, strange to say, it is harder to
contrive a friendly arrangement of these brethren of love and
righteousness, in the procession of life. than to unite even the
wicked, who, indeed, are chained together by their crimes. The
fact is too preposterous for tears, too lugubrious for laughter.
But, let good men push and elbow one another as they may during
their earthly march, all will be peace among them when the
honorable array or their procession shall tread on heavenly
ground. There they will doubtless find that they have been
working each for the other's cause, and that every well-delivered
stroke, which, with an honest purpose any mortal struck, even for
a narrow object, was indeed stricken for the universal cause of
good. Their own view may be bounded by country, creed,
profession, the diversities of individual character--but above
them all is the breadth of Providence. How many who have deemed
themselves antagonists will smile hereafter, when they look back
upon the world's wide harvest field, and perceive that, in
unconscious brotherhood, they were helping to bind the selfsame
But, come! The sun is hastening westward, while the march of
human life, that never paused before, is delayed by our attempt
to rearrange its order. It is desirable to find some
comprehensive principle, that shall render our task easier by
bringing thousands into the ranks where hitherto we have brought
one. Therefore let the trumpet, if possible, split its brazen
throat with a louder note than ever, and the herald summon all
mortals, who, from whatever cause, have lost, or never found,
their proper places in the wold.
Obedient to this call, a great multitude come together, most of
them with a listless gait, betokening weariness of soul, yet with
a gleam of satisfaction in their faces, at a prospect of at
length reaching those positions which, hitherto, they have vainly
sought. But here will be another disappointment; for we can
attempt no more than merely to associate in one fraternity all
who are afflicted with the same vague trouble. Some great mistake
in life is the chief condition of admittance into this class.
Here are members of the learned professions, whom Providence
endowed with special gifts for the plough, the forge, and the
wheelbarrow, or for the routine of unintellectual business. We
will assign to them, as partners in the march, those lowly
laborers and handicraftsmen, who have pined, as with a dying
thirst, after the unattainable fountains of knowledge. The latter
have lost less than their companions; yet more, because they deem
it infinite. Perchance the two species of unfortunates may
comfort one another. Here are Quakers with the instinct of battle
in them; and men of war who should have worn the broad brim.
Authors shall be ranked here whom some freak of Nature, making
game of her poor children, had imbued with the confidence of
genius and strong desire of fame, but has favored with no
corresponding power; and others, whose lofty gifts were
unaccompanied with the faculty of expression, or any of that
earthly machinery by which ethereal endowments must be manifested
to mankind. All these, therefore, are melancholy laughing-stocks.
Next, here are honest and well intentioned persons, who by a want
of tact--by inaccurate perceptions--by a distorting
imagination--have been kept continually at cross purposes with
the world and bewildered upon the path of life. Let us see if
they can confine themselves within the line of our procession. In
this class, likewise, we must assign places to those who have
encountered that worst of ill success, a higher fortune than
their abilities could vindicate; writers, actors, painters, the
pets of a day, but whose laurels wither unrenewed amid their
hoary hair; politicians, whom some malicious contingency of
affairs has thrust into conspicuous station, where, while the
world stands gazing at them, the dreary consciousness of
imbecility makes them curse their birth hour. To such men, we
give for a companion him whose rare talents, which perhaps
require a Revolution for their exercise, are buried in the tomb
of sluggish circumstances.
Not far from these, we must find room for one whose success has
been of the wrong kind; the man who should have lingered in the
cloisters of a university, digging new treasures out of the
Herculaneum of antique lore, diffusing depth and accuracy of
literature throughout his country, and thus making for himself a
great and quiet fame. But the outward tendencies around him have
proved too powerful for his inward nature, and have drawn him
into the arena of political tumult, there to contend at
disadvantage, whether front to front, or side by side, with the
brawny giants of actual life. He becomes, it may be, a name for
brawling parties to bandy to and fro, a legislator of the Union;
a governor of his native state; an ambassador to the courts of
kings or queens; and the world may deem him a man of happy stars.
But not so the wise; and not so himself, when he looks through
his experience, and sighs to miss that fitness, the one
invaluable touch which makes all things true and real. So much
achieved, yet how abortive is his life! Whom shall we choose for
his companion? Some weak framed blacksmith, perhaps, whose
delicacy of muscle might have suited a tailor's shopboard better
than the anvil.
Shall we bid the trumpet sound again? It is hardly worth the
while. There remain a few idle men of fortune, tavern and
grog-shop loungers, lazzaroni, old bachelors, decaying maidens,
and people of crooked intellect or temper, all of whom may find
their like, or some tolerable approach to it, in the plentiful
diversity of our latter class. There too, as his ultimate
destiny, must we rank the dreamer, who, all his life long, has
cherished the idea that he was peculiarly apt for something, but
never could determine what it was; and there the most unfortunate
of men, whose purpose it has been to enjoy life's pleasures, but
to avoid a manful struggle with its toil and sorrow. The
remainder, if any, may connect themselves with whatever rank of
the procession they shall find best adapted to their tastes and
consciences. The worst possible fate would be to remain behind,
shivering in the solitude of time, while all the world is on the
move towards eternity. Our attempt to classify society is now
complete. The result may be anything but perfect; yet better--to
give it the very lowest praise--than the antique rule of the
herald's office, or the modern one of the tax-gatherer, whereby
the accidents and superficial attributes with which the real
nature of individuals has least to do, are acted upon as the
deepest characteristics of mankind. Our task is done! Now let the
grand procession move!
Yet pause a while! We had forgotten the Chief Marshal.
Hark! That world-wide swell of solemn music, with the clang of a
mighty bell breaking forth through its regulated uproar,
announces his approach. He comes; a severe, sedate, immovable,
dark rider, waving his truncheon of universal sway, as he passes
along the lengthened line, on the pale horse of the Revelation.
It is Death! Who else could assume the guidance of a procession
that comprehends all humanity? And if some, among these many
millions, should deem themselves classed amiss, yet let them take
to their hearts the comfortable truth that Death levels us all
into one great brotherhood, and that another state of being will
surely rectify the wrong of this. Then breathe thy wail upon the
earth's wailing wind, thou band of melancholy music, made up of
every sigh that the human heart, unsatisfied, has uttered! There
is yet triumph in thy tones. And now we move! Beggars in their
rags, and Kings trailing the regal purple in the dust; the
Warrior's gleaming helmet; the Priest in his sable robe; the
hoary Grandsire, who has run life's circle and come back to
childhood; the ruddy School-boy with his golden curls, frisking
along the march; the Artisan's stuff jacket; the Noble's
star-decorated coat;--the whole presenting a motley spectacle,
yet with a dusky grandeur brooding over it. Onward, onward, into
that dimness where the lights of Time which have blazed along the
procession, are flickering in their sockets! And whither! We know
not; and Death, hitherto our leader, deserts us by the wayside,
as the tramp of our innumerable footsteps echoes beyond his
sphere. He knows not, more than we, our destined goal. But God,
who made us, knows, and will not leave us on our toilsome and
doubtful march, either to wander in infinite uncertainty, or
perish by the way!
FEATHERTOP: A MORALIZED LEGEND
"Dickon," cried Mother Rigby, "a coal for my pipe!"
The pipe was in the old dame's mouth when she said these words.
She had thrust it there after filling it with tobacco, but
without stooping to light it at the hearth, where indeed there
was no appearance of a fire having been kindled that morning.
Forthwith, however, as soon as the order was given, there was an
intense red glow out of the bowl of the pipe, and a whiff of
smoke came from Mother Rigby's lips. Whence the coal came, and
how brought thither by an invisible hand, I have never been able
"Good!" quoth Mother Rigby, with a nod of her head. "Thank ye,
Dickon! And now for making this scarecrow. Be within call,
Dickon, in case I need you again."
The good woman had risen thus early (for as yet it was scarcely
sunrise) in order to set about making a scarecrow, which she
intended to put in the middle of her corn-patch. It was now the
latter week of May, and the crows and blackbirds had already
discovered the little, green, rolledup leaf of the Indian corn
just peeping out of the soil. She was determined, therefore, to
contrive as lifelike a scarecrow as ever was seen, and to finish
it immediately, from top to toe, so that it should begin its
sentinel's duty that very morning. Now Mother Rigby (as
everybody must have heard) was one of the most cunning and potent
witches in New England, and might, with very little trouble, have
made a scarecrow ugly enough to frighten the minister himself.
But on this occasion, as she had awakened in an uncommonly
pleasant humor, and was further dulcified by her pipe tobacco,
she resolved to produce something fine, beautiful, and splendid,
rather than hideous and horrible.
"I don't want to set up a hobgoblin in my own corn-patch, and
almost at my own doorstep," said Mother Rigby to herself, puffing
out a whiff of smoke; "I could do it if I pleased, but I'm tired
of doing marvellous things, and so I'll keep within the bounds of
every-day business just for variety's sake. Besides, there is no
use in scaring the little children for a mile roundabout, though
't is true I'm a witch."
It was settled, therefore, in her own mind, that the scarecrow
should represent a fine gentleman of the period, so far as the
materials at hand would allow. Perhaps it may be as well to
enumerate the chief of the articles that went to the composition
of this figure.
The most important item of all, probably, although it made so
little show, was a certain broomstick, on which Mother Rigby had
taken many an airy gallop at midnight, and which now served the
scarecrow by way of a spinal column, or, as the unlearned phrase
it, a backbone. One of its arms was a disabled flail which used
to be wielded by Goodman Rigby, before his spouse worried him out
of this troublesome world; the other, if I mistake not, was
composed of the pudding stick and a broken rung of a chair, tied
loosely together at the elbow. As for its legs, the right was a
hoe handle, and the left an undistinguished and miscellaneous
stick from the woodpile. Its lungs, stomach, and other affairs of
that kind were nothing better than a meal bag stuffed with straw.
Thus we have made out the skeleton and entire corporosity of the
scarecrow, with the exception of its head; and this was admirably
supplied by a somewhat withered and shrivelled pumpkin, in which
Mother Rigby cut two holes for the eyes and a slit for the mouth,
leaving a bluish-colored knob in the middle to pass for a nose.
It was really quite a respectable face.
"I've seen worse ones on human shoulders, at any rate," said
Mother Rigby. "And many a fine gentleman has a pumpkin head, as
well as my scarecrow."
But the clothes, in this case, were to be the making of the man.
So the good old woman took down from a peg an ancient
plum-colored coat of London make, and with relics of embroidery
on its seams, cuffs, pocket-flaps, and button-holes, but
lamentably worn and faded, patched at the elbows, tattered at the
skirts, and threadbare all over. On the left breast was a round
hole, whence either a star of nobility had been rent away, or
else the hot heart of some former wearer had scorched it through
and through. The neighbors said that this rich garment belonged
to the Black Man's wardrobe, and that he kept it at Mother
Rigby's cottage for the convenience of slipping it on whenever he
wished to make a grand appearance at the governor's table. To
match the coat there was a velvet waistcoat of very ample size,
and formerly embroidered with foliage that had been as brightly
golden as the maple leaves in October, but which had now quite
vanished out of the substance of the velvet. Next came a pair of
scarlet breeches, once worn by the French governor of Louisbourg,
and the knees of which had touched the lower step of the throne
of Louis le Grand. The Frenchman had given these
small-clothes to an Indian powwow, who parted with them to
the old witch for a gill of strong waters, at one of their dances
in the forest. Furthermore, Mother Rigby produced a pair of silk
stockings and put them on the figure's legs, where they showed as
unsubstantial as a dream, with the wooden reality of the two
sticks making itself miserably apparent through the holes.
Lastly, she put her dead husband's wig on the bare scalp of the
pumpkin, and surmounted the whole with a dusty three-cornered
hat, in which was stuck the longest tail feather of a rooster.
Then the old dame stood the figure up in a corner of her cottage
and chuckled to behold its yellow semblance of a visage, with its
nobby little nose thrust into the air. It had a strangely
self-satisfied aspect, and seemed to say, "Come look at me!"
"And you are well worth looking at, that's a fact!" quoth Mother
Rigby, in admiration at her own handiwork. "I've made many a
puppet since I've been a witch, but methinks this is the finest
of them all. 'Tis almost too good for a scarecrow. And, by the
by, I'll just fill a fresh pipe of tobacco and then take him out
to the corn-patch."
While filling her pipe the old woman continued to gaze with
almost motherly affection at the figure in the corner. To say the
truth, whether it were chance, or skill, or downright witchcraft,
there was something wonderfully human in this ridiculous shape,
bedizened with its tattered finery; and as for the countenance,
it appeared to shrivel its yellow surface into a grin--a funny
kind of expression betwixt scorn and merriment, as if it
understood itself to be a jest at mankind. The more Mother Rigby
looked the better she was pleased.
"Dickon," cried she sharply, "another coal for my pipe!"
Hardly had she spoken, than, just as before, there was a
red-glowing coal on the top of the tobacco. She drew in a long
whiff and puffed it forth again into the bar of morning sunshine
which struggled through the one dusty pane of her cottage window.
Mother Rigby always liked to flavor her pipe with a coal of fire
from the particular chimney corner whence this had been brought.
But where that chimney corner might be, or who brought the coal
from it,--further than that the invisible messenger seemed to
respond to the name of Dickon,--I cannot tell.
"That puppet yonder," thought Mother Rigby, still with her eyes
fixed on the scarecrow, "is too good a piece of work to stand all
summer in a corn-patch, frightening away the crows and
blackbirds. He's capable of better things. Why, I've danced with
a worse one, when partners happened to be scarce, at our witch
meetings in the forest! What if I should let him take his chance
among the other men of straw and empty fellows who go bustling
about the world?"
The old witch took three or four more whiffs of her pipe and
"He'll meet plenty of his brethren at every street corner!"
continued she. "Well; I didn't mean to dabble in witchcraft
to-day, further than the lighting of my pipe, but a witch I am,
and a witch I'm likely to be, and there's no use trying to shirk
it. I'll make a man of my scarecrow, were it only for the joke's
While muttering these words, Mother Rigby took the pipe from her
own mouth and thrust it into the crevice which represented the
same feature in the pumpkin visage of the scarecrow.
"Puff, darling, puff!" said she. "Puff away, my fine fellow! your
life depends on it!"
This was a strange exhortation, undoubtedly, to be addressed to a
mere thing of sticks, straw, and old clothes, with nothing better
than a shrivelled pumpkin for a head,--as we know to have been
the scarecrow's case. Nevertheless, as we must carefully hold in
remembrance, Mother Rigby was a witch of singular power and
dexterity; and, keeping this fact duly before our minds, we shall
see nothing beyond credibility in the remarkable incidents of our
story. Indeed, the great difficulty will be at once got over, if
we can only bring ourselves to believe that, as soon as the old
dame bade him puff, there came a whiff of smoke from the
scarecrow's mouth. It was the very feeblest of whiffs, to be
sure; but it was followed by another and another, each more
decided than the preceding one.
"Puff away, my pet! puff away, my pretty one!" Mother Rigby kept
repeating, with her pleasantest smile. "It is the breath of life
to ye; and that you may take my word for."
Beyond all question the pipe was bewitched. There must have been
a spell either in the tobacco or in the fiercely-glowing coal
that so mysteriously burned on top of it, or in the
pungently-aromatic smoke which exhaled from the kindled weed. The
figure, after a few doubtful attempts at length blew forth a
volley of smoke extending all the way from the obscure corner
into the bar of sunshine. There it eddied and melted away among
the motes of dust. It seemed a convulsive effort; for the two or
three next whiffs were fainter, although the coal still glowed
and threw a gleam over the scarecrow's visage. The old witch
clapped her skinny hands together, and smiled encouragingly upon
her handiwork. She saw that the charm worked well. The
shrivelled, yellow face, which heretofore had been no face at
all, had already a thin, fantastic haze, as it were of human
likeness, shifting to and fro across it; sometimes vanishing
entirely, but growing more perceptible than ever with the next
whiff from the pipe. The whole figure, in like manner, assumed a
show of life, such as we impart to ill-defined shapes among the
clouds, and half deceive ourselves with the pastime of our own
If we must needs pry closely into the matter, it may be doubted
whether there was any real change, after all, in the sordid,
wornout worthless, and ill-jointed substance of the scarecrow;
but merely a spectral illusion, and a cunning effect of light and
shade so colored and contrived as to delude the eyes of most men.
The miracles of witchcraft seem always to have had a very shallow
subtlety; and, at least, if the above explanation do not hit the
truth of the process, I can suggest no better.
"Well puffed, my pretty lad!" still cried old Mother Rigby.
"Come, another good stout whiff, and let it be with might and
main. Puff for thy life, I tell thee! Puff out of the very bottom
of thy heart, if any heart thou hast, or any bottom to it! Well
done, again! Thou didst suck in that mouthful as if for the pure
love of it."
And then the witch beckoned to the scarecrow, throwing so much
magnetic potency into her gesture that it seemed as if it must
inevitably be obeyed, like the mystic call of the loadstone when
it summons the iron.
"Why lurkest thou in the corner, lazy one?" said she. "Step
forth! Thou hast the world before thee!"
Upon my word, if the legend were not one which I heard on my
grandmother's knee, and which had established its place among
things credible before my childish judgment could analyze its
probability, I question whether I should have the face to tell it
In obedience to Mother Rigby's word, and extending its arm as if
to reach her outstretched hand, the figure made a step forward--a
kind of hitch and jerk, however, rather than a step--then
tottered and almost lost its balance. What could the witch
expect? It was nothing, after all, but a scarecrow stuck upon two
sticks. But the strong-willed old beldam scowled, and beckoned,
and flung the energy of her purpose so forcibly at this poor
combination of rotten wood, and musty straw, and ragged garments,
that it was compelled to show itself a man, in spite of the
reality of things. So it stepped into the bar of sunshine. There
it stood, poor devil of a contrivance that it was!--with only the
thinnest vesture of human similitude about it, through which was
evident the stiff, rickety, incongruous, faded, tattered,
good-for-nothing patchwork of its substance, ready to sink in a
heap upon the floor, as conscious of its own unworthiness to be
erect. Shall I confess the truth? At its present point of
vivification, the scarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm
and abortive characters, composed of heterogeneous materials,
used for the thousandth time, and never worth using, with which
romance writers (and myself, no doubt, among the rest) have so
overpeopled the world of fiction.
But the fierce old hag began to get angry and show a glimpse of
her diabolic nature (like a snake's head, peeping with a hiss out
of her bosom), at this pusillanimous behavior of the thing which
she had taken the trouble to put together.
"Puff away, wretch!" cried she, wrathfully. "Puff, puff, puff,
thou thing of straw and emptiness! thou rag or two! thou meal
bag! thou pumpkin head! thou nothing! Where shall I find a name
vile enough to call thee by? Puff, I say, and suck in thy
fantastic life with the smoke! else I snatch the pipe from thy
mouth and hurl thee where that red coal came from."
Thus threatened, the unhappy scarecrow had nothing for it but to
puff away for dear life. As need was, therefore, it applied
itself lustily to the pipe, and sent forth such abundant volleys
of tobacco smoke that the small cottage kitchen became all
vaporous. The one sunbeam struggled mistily through, and could
but imperfectly define the image of the cracked and dusty window
pane on the opposite wall. Mother Rigby, meanwhile, with one
brown arm akimbo and the other stretched towards the figure,
loomed grimly amid the obscurity with such port and expression as
when she was wont to heave a ponderous nightmare on her victims
and stand at the bedside to enjoy their agony. In fear and
trembling did this poor scarecrow puff. But its efforts, it must
be acknowledged, served an excellent purpose; for, with each
successive whiff, the figure lost more and more of its dizzy and
perplexing tenuity and seemed to take denser substance. Its very
garments, moreover, partook of the magical change, and shone with
the gloss of novelty and glistened with the skilfully embroidered
gold that had long ago been rent away. And, half revealed among
the smoke, a yellow visage bent its lustreless eyes on Mother
At last the old witch clinched her fist and shook it at the
figure. Not that she was positively angry, but merely acting on
the principle--perhaps untrue, or not the only truth, though as
high a one as Mother Rigby could be expected to attain--that
feeble and torpid natures, being incapable of better inspiration,
must be stirred up by fear. But here was the crisis. Should she
fail in what she now sought to effect, it was her ruthless
purpose to scatter the miserable simulacre into its original
"Thou hast a man's aspect," said she, sternly. "Have also the
echo and mockery of a voice! I bid thee speak!"
The scarecrow gasped, struggled, and at length emitted a murmur,
which was so incorporated with its smoky breath that you could
scarcely tell whether it were indeed a voice or only a whiff of
tobacco. Some narrators of this legend hold the opinion that
Mother Rigby's conjurations and the fierceness of her will had
compelled a familiar spirit into the figure, and that the voice
"Mother," mumbled the poor stifled voice, "be not so awful with
me! I would fain speak; but being without wits, what can I say?"
"Thou canst speak, darling, canst thou?" cried Mother Rigby,
relaxing her grim countenance into a smile. "And what shalt thou
say, quoth-a! Say, indeed! Art thou of the brotherhood of the
empty skull, and demandest of me what thou shalt say? Thou shalt
say a thousand things, and saying them a thousand times over,
thou shalt still have said nothing! Be not afraid, I tell thee!
When thou comest into the world (whither I purpose sending thee
forthwith) thou shalt not lack the wherewithal to talk. Talk!
Why, thou shall babble like a mill-stream, if thou wilt. Thou
hast brains enough for that, I trow!"
"At your service, mother," responded the figure.
"And that was well said, my pretty one," answered Mother Rigby.
"Then thou speakest like thyself, and meant nothing. Thou shalt
have a hundred such set phrases, and five hundred to the boot of
them. And now, darling, I have taken so much pains with thee and
thou art so beautiful, that, by my troth, I love thee better than
any witch's puppet in the world; and I've made them of all
sorts--clay, wax, straw, sticks, night fog, morning mist, sea
foam, and chimney smoke. But thou art the very best. So give heed
to what I say."
"Yes, kind mother," said the figure, "with all my heart!"
"With all thy heart!" cried the old witch, setting her hands to
her sides and laughing loudly. "Thou hast such a pretty way of
speaking. With all thy heart! And thou didst put thy hand to the
left side of thy waistcoat as if thou really hadst one!"
So now, in high good humor with this fantastic contrivance of
hers, Mother Rigby told the scarecrow that it must go and play
its part in the great world, where not one man in a hundred, she
affirmed, was gifted with more real substance than itself. And,
that he might hold up his head with the best of them, she endowed
him, on the spot, with an unreckonable amount of wealth. It
consisted partly of a gold mine in Eldorado, and of ten thousand
shares in a broken bubble, and of half a million acres of
vineyard at the North Pole, and of a castle in the air, and a
chateau in Spain, together with all the rents and income
therefrom accruing. She further made over to him the cargo of a
certain ship, laden with salt of Cadiz, which she herself, by her
necromantic arts, had caused to founder, ten years before, in the
deepest part of mid-ocean. If the salt were not dissolved, and
could be brought to market, it would fetch a pretty penny among
the fishermen. That he might not lack ready money, she gave him a
copper farthing of Birmingham manufacture, being all the coin she
had about her, and likewise a great deal of brass, which she
applied to his forehead, thus making it yellower than ever.
"With that brass alone," quoth Mother Rigby, "thou canst pay thy
way all over the earth. Kiss me, pretty darling! I have done my
best for thee."
Furthermore, that the adventurer might lack no possible advantage
towards a fair start in life, this excellent old dame gave him a
token by which he was to introduce himself to a certain
magistrate, member of the council, merchant, and elder of the
church (the four capacities constituting but one man), who stood
at the head of society in the neighboring metropolis. The token
was neither more nor less than a single word, which Mother Rigby
whispered to the scarecrow, and which the scarecrow was to
whisper to the merchant.
"Gouty as the old fellow is, he'll run thy errands for thee, when
once thou hast given him that word in his ear," said the old
witch. "Mother Rigby knows the worshipful Justice Gookin, and the
worshipful Justice knows Mother Rigby!"
Here the witch thrust her wrinkled face close to the puppet's,
chuckling irrepressibly, and fidgeting all through her system,
with delight at the idea which she meant to communicate.
"The worshipful Master Gookin," whispered she, "hath a comely
maiden to his daughter. And hark ye, my pet! Thou hast a fair
outside, and a pretty wit enough of thine own. Yea, a pretty wit
enough! Thou wilt think better of it when thou hast seen more of
other people's wits. Now, with thy outside and thy inside, thou
art the very man to win a young girl's heart. Never doubt it! I
tell thee it shall be so. Put but a bold face on the matter,
sigh, smile, flourish thy hat, thrust forth thy leg like a
dancing-master, put thy right hand to the left side of thy
waistcoat, and pretty Polly Gookin is thine own!"
All this while the new creature had been sucking in and exhaling
the vapory fragrance of his pipe, and seemed now to continue this
occupation as much for the enjoyment it afforded as because it
was an essential condition of his existence. It was wonderful to
see how exceedingly like a human being it behaved. Its eyes (for
it appeared to possess a pair) were bent on Mother Rigby, and at
suitable junctures it nodded or shook its head. Neither did it
lack words proper for the occasion: "Really! Indeed! Pray tell
me! Is it possible! Upon my word! By no means! Oh! Ah! Hem!" and
other such weighty utterances as imply attention, inquiry,
acquiescence, or dissent on the part of the auditor. Even had you
stood by and seen the scarecrow made, you could scarcely have
resisted the conviction that it perfectly understood the cunning
counsels which the old witch poured into its counterfeit of an
ear. The more earnestly it applied its lips to the pipe, the more
distinctly was its human likeness stamped among visible
realities, the more sagacious grew its expression, the more
lifelike its gestures and movements, and the more intelligibly
audible its voice. Its garments, too, glistened so much the
brighter with an illusory magnificence. The very pipe, in which
burned the spell of all this wonderwork, ceased to appear as a
smoke-blackened earthen stump, and became a meerschaum, with
painted bowl and amber mouthpiece.
It might be apprehended, however, that as the life of the
illusion seemed identical with the vapor of the pipe, it would
terminate simultaneously with the reduction of the tobacco to
ashes. But the beldam foresaw the difficulty.
"Hold thou the pipe, my precious one," said she, "while I fill it
for thee again.
It was sorrowful to behold how the fine gentleman began to fade
back into a scarecrow while Mother Rigby shook the ashes out of
the pipe and proceeded to replenish it from her tobacco-box.
"Dickon," cried she, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for
No sooner said than the intensely red speck of fire was glowing
within the pipe-bowl; and the scarecrow, without waiting for the
witch's bidding, applied the tube to his lips and drew in a few
short, convulsive whiffs, which soon, however, became regular and
"Now, mine own heart's darling," quoth Mother Rigby, "whatever
may happen to thee, thou must stick to thy pipe. Thy life is in
it; and that, at least, thou knowest well, if thou knowest nought
besides. Stick to thy pipe, I say! Smoke, puff, blow thy cloud;
and tell the people, if any question be made, that it is for thy
health, and that so the physician orders thee to do. And, sweet
one, when thou shalt find thy pipe getting low, go apart into
some corner, and (first filling thyself with smoke) cry sharply,
'Dickon, a fresh pipe of tobacco!' and, 'Dickon, another coal for
my pipe!' and have it into thy pretty mouth as speedily as may
be. Else, instead of a gallant gentleman in a gold-laced coat,
thou wilt be but a jumble of sticks and tattered clothes, and a
bag of straw, and a withered pumpkin! Now depart, my treasure,
and good luck go with thee!"
"Never fear, mother!" said the figure, in a stout voice, and
sending forth a courageous whiff of smoke, "I will thrive, if an
honest man and a gentleman may!"
"Oh, thou wilt be the death of me!" cried the old witch,
convulsed with laughter. "That was well said. If an honest man
and a gentleman may! Thou playest thy part to perfection. Get
along with thee for a smart fellow; and I will wager on thy head,
as a man of pith and substance, with a brain and what they call a
heart, and all else that a man should have, against any other
thing on two legs. I hold myself a better witch than yesterday,
for thy sake. Did not I make thee? And I defy any witch in New
England to make such another! Here; take my staff along with
The staff, though it was but a plain oaken stick, immediately
took the aspect of a gold-headed cane.
"That gold head has as much sense in it as thine own," said
Mother Rigby, "and it will guide thee straight to worshipful
Master Gookin's door. Get thee gone, my pretty pet, my darling,
my precious one, my treasure; and if any ask thy name, it is
Feathertop. For thou hast a feather in thy hat, and I have thrust
a handful of feathers into the hollow of thy head, and thy wig,
too, is of the fashion they call Feathertop,--so be Feathertop
And, issuing from the cottage, Feathertop strode manfully towards
town. Mother Rigby stood at the threshold, well pleased to see
how the sunbeams glistened on him, as if all his magnificence
were real, and how diligently and lovingly he smoked his pipe,
and how handsomely he walked, in spite of a little stiffness of
his legs. She watched him until out of sight, and threw a witch
benediction after her darling, when a turn of the road snatched
him from her view.
Betimes in the forenoon, when the principal street of the
neighboring town was just at its acme of life and bustle, a
stranger of very distinguished figure was seen on the sidewalk.
His port as well as his garments betokened nothing short of
nobility. He wore a richly-embroidered plum-colored coat, a
waistcoat of costly velvet, magnificently adorned with golden
foliage, a pair of splendid scarlet breeches, and the finest and
glossiest of white silk stockings. His head was covered with a
peruke, so daintily powdered and adjusted that it would have been
sacrilege to disorder it with a hat; which, therefore (and it was
a gold-laced hat, set off with a snowy feather), he carried
beneath his arm. On the breast of his coat glistened a star. He
managed his gold-headed cane with an airy grace, peculiar to the
fine gentlemen of the period; and, to give the highest possible
finish to his equipment, he had lace ruffles at his wrist, of a
most ethereal delicacy, sufficiently avouching how idle and
aristocratic must be the hands which they half concealed.
It was a remarkable point in the accoutrement of this brilliant
personage that he held in his left hand a fantastic kind of a
pipe, with an exquisitely painted bowl and an amber mouthpiece.
This he applied to his lips as often as every five or six paces,
and inhaled a deep whiff of smoke, which, after being retained a
moment in his lungs, might be seen to eddy gracefully from his
mouth and nostrils.
As may well be supposed, the street was all astir to find out the
"It is some great nobleman, beyond question," said one of the
townspeople. "Do you see the star at his breast?"
"Nay; it is too bright to be seen," said another. "Yes; he must
needs be a nobleman, as you say. But by what conveyance, think
you, can his lordship have voyaged or travelled hither? There has
been no vessel from the old country for a month past; and if he
have arrived overland from the southward, pray where are his
attendants and equipage?"
"He needs no equipage to set off his rank," remarked a third. "If
he came among us in rags, nobility would shine through a hole in
his elbow. I never saw such dignity of aspect. He has the old
Norman blood in his veins, I warrant him."
"I rather take him to be a Dutchman, or one of your high
Germans," said another citizen. "The men of those countries have
always the pipe at their mouths."
"And so has a Turk," answered his companion. "But, in my
judgment, this stranger hath been bred at the French court, and
hath there learned politeness and grace of manner, which none
understand so well as the nobility of France. That gait, now! A
vulgar spectator might deem it stiff--he might call it a hitch
and jerk--but, to my eye, it hath an unspeakable majesty, and
must have been acquired by constant observation of the deportment
of the Grand Monarque. The stranger's character and office are
evident enough. He is a French ambassador, come to treat with our
rulers about the cession of Canada."
"More probably a Spaniard," said another, "and hence his yellow
complexion; or, most likely, he is from the Havana, or from some
port on the Spanish main, and comes to make investigation about
the piracies which our government is thought to connive at. Those
settlers in Peru and Mexico have skins as yellow as the gold
which they dig out of their mines."
"Yellow or not," cried a lady, "he is a beautiful man!--so tall,
so slender! such a fine, noble face, with so well-shaped a nose,
and all that delicacy of expression about the mouth! And, bless
me, how bright his star is! It positively shoots out flames!"
"So do your eyes, fair lady," said the stranger, with a bow and a
flourish of his pipe; for he was just passing at the instant.
"Upon my honor, they have quite dazzled me."
"Was ever so original and exquisite a compliment?" murmured the
lady, in an ecstasy of delight.
Amid the general admiration excited by the stranger's appearance,
there were only two dissenting voices. One was that of an
impertinent cur, which, after snuffing at the heels of the
glistening figure, put its tail between its legs and skulked into
its master's back yard, vociferating an execrable howl. The other
dissentient was a young child, who squalled at the fullest
stretch of his lungs, and babbled some unintelligible nonsense
about a pumpkin.
Feathertop meanwhile pursued his way along the street. Except for
the few complimentary words to the lady, and now and then a
slight inclination of the head in requital of the profound
reverences of the bystanders, he seemed wholly absorbed in his
pipe. There needed no other proof of his rank and consequence
than the perfect equanimity with which he comported himself,
while the curiosity and admiration of the town swelled almost
into clamor around him. With a crowd gathering behind his
footsteps, he finally reached the mansion-house of the worshipful
Justice Gookin, entered the gate, ascended the steps of the front
door, and knocked. In the interim, before his summons was
answered, the stranger was observed to shake the ashes out of his
"What did he say in that sharp voice?" inquired one of the
"Nay, I know not," answered his friend. "But the sun dazzles my
eyes strangely. How dim and faded his lordship looks all of a
sudden! Bless my wits, what is the matter with me?"
"The wonder is," said the other, "that his pipe, which was out
only an instant ago, should be all alight again, and with the
reddest coal I ever saw. There is something mysterious about this
stranger. What a whiff of smoke was that! Dim and faded did you
call him? Why, as he turns about the star on his breast is all
"It is, indeed," said his companion; "and it will go near to
dazzle pretty Polly Gookin, whom I see peeping at it out of the
The door being now opened, Feathertop turned to the crowd, made a
stately bend of his body like a great man acknowledging the
reverence of the meaner sort, and vanished into the house. There
was a mysterious kind of a smile, if it might not better be
called a grin or grimace, upon his visage; but, of all the throng
that beheld him, not an individual appears to have possessed
insight enough to detect the illusive character of the stranger
except a little child and a cur dog.
Our legend here loses somewhat of its continuity, and, passing
over the preliminary explanation between Feathertop and the
merchant, goes in quest of the pretty Polly Gookin. She was a
damsel of a soft, round figure, with light hair and blue eyes,
and a fair, rosy face, which seemed neither very shrewd nor very
simple. This young lady had caught a glimpse of the glistening
stranger while standing on the threshold, and had forthwith put
on a laced cap, a string of beads, her finest kerchief, and her
stiffest damask petticoat in preparation for the interview.
Hurrying from her chamber to the parlor, she had ever since been
viewing herself in the large looking-glass and practising pretty
airs-now a smile, now a ceremonious dignity of aspect, and now a
softer smile than the former, kissing her hand likewise, tossing
her head, and managing her fan; while within the mirror an
unsubstantial little maid repeated every gesture and did all the
foolish things that Polly did, but without making her ashamed of
them. In short, it was the fault of pretty Polly's ability rather
than her will if she failed to be as complete an artifice as the
illustrious Feathertop himself; and, when she thus tampered with
her own simplicity, the witch's phantom might well hope to win
No sooner did Polly hear her father's gouty footsteps approaching
the parlor door, accompanied with the stiff clatter of
Feathertop's high-heeled shoes, than she seated herself bolt
upright and innocently began warbling a song.
"Polly! daughter Polly!" cried the old merchant. "Come hither,
Master Gookin's aspect, as he opened the door, was doubtful and
"This gentleman," continued he, presenting the stranger, "is the
Chevalier Feathertop,--nay, I beg his pardon, my Lord Feathertop,
--who hath brought me a token of remembrance from an ancient
friend of mine. Pay your duty to his lordship, child, and honor
him as his quality deserves."
After these few words of introduction, the worshipful magistrate
immediately quitted the room. But, even in that brief moment, had
the fair Polly glanced aside at her father instead of devoting
herself wholly to the brilliant guest, she might have taken
warning of some mischief nigh at hand. The old man was nervous,
fidgety, and very pale. Purposing a smile of courtesy, he had
deformed his face with a sort of galvanic grin, which, when
Feathertop's back was turned, he exchanged for a scowl, at the
same time shaking his fist and stamping his gouty foot--an
incivility which brought its retribution along with it. The truth
appears to have been that Mother Rigby's word of introduction,
whatever it might be, had operated far more on the rich
merchant's fears than on his good will. Moreover, being a man of
wonderfully acute observation, he had noticed that these painted
figures on the bowl of Feathertop's pipe were in motion. Looking
more closely he became convinced that these figures were a party
of little demons, each duly provided with horns and a tail, and
dancing hand in hand, with gestures of diabolical merriment,
round the circumference of the pipe bowl. As if to confirm his
suspicions, while Master Gookin ushered his guest along a dusky
passage from his private room to the parlor, the star on
Feathertop's breast had scintillated actual flames, and threw a
flickering gleam upon the wall, the ceiling, and the floor.
With such sinister prognostics manifesting themselves on all
hands, it is not to be marvelled at that the merchant should have
felt that he was committing his daughter to a very questionable
acquaintance. He cursed, in his secret soul, the insinuating
elegance of Feathertop's manners, as this brilliant personage
bowed, smiled, put his hand on his heart, inhaled a long whiff
from his pipe, and enriched the atmosphere with the smoky vapor
of a fragrant and visible sigh. Gladly would poor Master Gookin
have thrust his dangerous guest into the street; but there was a
constraint and terror within him. This respectable old gentleman,
we fear, at an earlier period of life, had given some pledge or
other to the evil principle, and perhaps was now to redeem it by
the sacrifice of his daughter.
It so happened that the parlor door was partly of glass, shaded
by a silken curtain, the folds of which hung a little awry. So
strong was the merchant's interest in witnessing what was to
ensue between the fair Polly and the gallant Feathertop that,
after quitting the room, he could by no means refrain from
peeping through the crevice of the curtain.
But there was nothing very miraculous to be seen; nothing--except
the trifles previously noticed--to confirm the idea of a
supernatural peril environing the pretty Polly. The stranger it
is true was evidently a thorough and practised man of the world,
systematic and self-possessed, and therefore the sort of a person
to whom a parent ought not to confide a simple, young girl
without due watchfulness for the result. The worthy magistrate
who had been conversant with all degrees and qualities of
mankind, could not but perceive every motion and gesture of the
distinguished Feathertop came in its proper place; nothing had
been left rude or native in him; a well-digested conventionalism
had incorporated itself thoroughly with his substance and
transformed him into a work of art. Perhaps it was this
peculiarity that invested him with a species of ghastliness and
awe. It is the effect of anything completely and consummately
artificial, in human shape, that the person impresses us as an
unreality and as having hardly pith enough to cast a shadow upon
the floor. As regarded Feathertop, all this resulted in a wild,
extravagant, and fantastical impression, as if his life and being
were akin to the smoke that curled upward from his pipe.
But pretty Polly Gookin felt not thus. The pair were now
promenading the room: Feathertop with his dainty stride and no
less dainty grimace, the girl with a native maidenly grace, just
touched, not spoiled, by a slightly affected manner, which seemed
caught from the perfect artifice of her companion. The longer the
interview continued, the more charmed was pretty Polly, until,
within the first quarter of an hour (as the old magistrate noted
by his watch), she was evidently beginning to be in love. Nor
need it have been witchcraft that subdued her in such a hurry;
the poor child's heart, it may be, was so very fervent that it
melted her with its own warmth as reflected from the hollow
semblance of a lover. No matter what Feathertop said, his words
found depth and reverberation in her ear; no matter what he did,
his action was heroic to her eye. And by this time it is to be
supposed there was a blush on Polly's cheek, a tender smile about
her mouth and a liquid softness in her glance; while the star
kept coruscating on Feathertop's breast, and the little demons
careered with more frantic merriment than ever about the
circumference of his pipe bowl. O pretty Polly Gookin, why should
these imps rejoice so madly that a silly maiden's heart was about
to be given to a shadow! Is it so unusual a misfortune, so rare a
By and by Feathertop paused, and throwing himself into an
imposing attitude, seemed to summon the fair girl to survey his
figure and resist him longer if she could. His star, his
embroidery, his buckles glowed at that instant with unutterable
splendor; the picturesque hues of his attire took a richer depth
of coloring; there was a gleam and polish over his whole presence
betokening the perfect witchery of well-ordered manners. The
maiden raised her eyes and suffered them to linger upon her
companion with a bashful and admiring gaze. Then, as if desirous
of judging what value her own simple comeliness might have side
by side with so much brilliancy, she cast a glance towards the
full-length looking-glass in front of which they happened to be
standing. It was one of the truest plates in the world and
incapable of flattery. No sooner did the images therein reflected
meet Polly's eye than she shrieked, shrank from the stranger's
side, gazed at him for a moment in the wildest dismay, and sank
insensible upon the floor. Feathertop likewise had looked towards
the mirror, and there beheld, not the glittering mockery of his
outside show, but a picture of the sordid patchwork of his real
composition stripped of all witchcraft.
The wretched simulacrum! We almost pity him. He threw up his arms
with an expression of despair that went further than any of his
previous manifestations towards vindicating his claims to be
reckoned human, for perchance the only time since this so often
empty and deceptive life of mortals began its course, an illusion
had seen and fully recognized itself.
Mother Rigby was seated by her kitchen hearth in the twilight of
this eventful day, and had just shaken the ashes out of a new
pipe, when she heard a hurried tramp along the road. Yet it did
not seem so much the tramp of human footsteps as the clatter of
sticks or the rattling of dry bones.
"Ha!" thought the old witch, "what step is that? Whose skeleton
is out of its grave now, I wonder?"
A figure burst headlong into the cottage door. It was Feathertop!
His pipe was still alight; the star still flamed upon his breast;
the embroidery still glowed upon his garments; nor had he lost,
in any degree or manner that could be estimated, the aspect that
assimilated him with our mortal brotherhood. But yet, in some
indescribable way (as is the case with all that has deluded us
when once found out), the poor reality was felt beneath the
"What has gone wrong?" demanded the witch. "Did yonder sniffling
hypocrite thrust my darling from his door? The villain! I'll set
twenty fiends to torment him till he offer thee his daughter on
his bended knees!"
"No, mother," said Feathertop despondingly; "it was not that."
"Did the girl scorn my precious one?" asked Mother Rigby, her
fierce eyes glowing like two coals of Tophet. "I'll cover her
face with pimples! Her nose shall be as red as the coal in thy
pipe! Her front teeth shall drop out! In a week hence she shall
not be worth thy having!"
"Let her alone, mother," answered poor Feathertop; "the girl was
half won; and methinks a kiss from her sweet lips might have made
me altogether human. But," he added, after a brief pause and then
a howl of self-contempt, "I've seen myself, mother! I've seen
myself for the wretched, ragged, empty thing I am! I'll exist no
Snatching the pipe from his mouth, he flung it with all his might
against the chimney, and at the same instant sank upon the floor,
a medley of straw and tattered garments, with some sticks
protruding from the heap, and a shrivelled pumpkin in the midst.
The eyeholes were now lustreless; but the rudely-carved gap, that
just before had been a mouth still seemed to twist itself into a
despairing grin, and was so far human.
"Poor fellow!" quoth Mother Rigby, with a rueful glance at the
relics of her ill-fated contrivance. "My poor, dear, pretty
Feathertop! There are thousands upon thousands of coxcombs and
charlatans in the world, made up of just such a jumble of
wornout, forgotten, and good-for-nothing trash as he was! Yet
they live in fair repute, and never see themselves for what they
are. And why should my poor puppet be the only one to know
himself and perish for it?"
While thus muttering, the witch had filled a fresh pipe of
tobacco, and held the stem between her fingers, as doubtful
whether to thrust it into her own mouth or Feathertop's.
"Poor Feathertop!" she continued. "I could easily give him
another chance and send him forth again tomorrow. But no; his
feelings are too tender, his sensibilities too deep. He seems to
have too much heart to bustle for his own advantage in such an
empty and heartless world. Well! well! I'll make a scarecrow of
him after all. 'Tis an innocent and useful vocation, and will
suit my darling well; and, if each of his human brethren had as
fit a one, 't would be the better for mankind; and as for this
pipe of tobacco, I need it more than he."
So saying Mother Rigby put the stem between her lips. "Dickon!"
cried she, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for my pipe!"
EGOTISM; OR, THE BOSOM SERPENT
[From the Unpublished "Allegories of the Heart."]
 The physical fact, to which it is here attempted to give a
moral signification, has been known to occur in more than one
"Here he comes!" shouted the boys along the street. "Here comes
the man with a snake in his bosom!"
This outcry, saluting Herkimer's ears as he was about to enter
the iron gate of the Elliston mansion, made him pause. It was not
without a shudder that he found himself on the point of meeting
his former acquaintance, whom he had known in the glory of youth,
and whom now after an interval of five years, he was to find the
victim either of a diseased fancy or a horrible physical
"A snake in his bosom!" repeated the young sculptor to himself.
"It must be he. No second man on earth has such a bosom friend.
And now, my poor Rosina, Heaven grant me wisdom to discharge my
errand aright! Woman's faith must be strong indeed since thine
has not yet failed."
Thus musing, he took his stand at the entrance of the gate and
waited until the personage so singularly announced should make
his appearance. After an instant or two he beheld the figure of a
lean man, of unwholesome look, with glittering eyes and long
black hair, who seemed to imitate the motion of a snake; for,
instead of walking straight forward with open front, he undulated
along the pavement in a curved line. It may be too fanciful to
say that something, either in his moral or material aspect,
suggested the idea that a miracle had been wrought by
transforming a serpent into a man, but so imperfectly that the
snaky nature was yet hidden, and scarcely hidden, under the mere
outward guise of humanity. Herkimer remarked that his complexion
had a greenish tinge over its sickly white, reminding him of a
species of marble out of which he had once wrought a head of
Envy, with her snaky locks.
The wretched being approached the gate, but, instead of entering,
stopped short and fixed the glitter of his eye full upon the
compassionate yet steady countenance of the sculptor.
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" he exclaimed.
And then there was an audible hiss, but whether it came from the
apparent lunatic's own lips, or was the real hiss of a serpent,
might admit of a discussion. At all events, it made Herkimer
shudder to his heart's core.
"Do you know me, George Herkimer?" asked the snake-possessed.
Herkimer did know him; but it demanded all the intimate and
practical acquaintance with the human face, acquired by modelling
actual likenesses in clay, to recognize the features of Roderick
Elliston in the visage that now met the sculptor's gaze. Yet it
was he. It added nothing to the wonder to reflect that the once
brilliant young man had undergone this odious and fearful change
during the no more than five brief years of Herkimer's abode at
Florence. The possibility of such a transformation being granted,
it was as easy to conceive it effected in a moment as in an age.
Inexpressibly shocked and startled, it was still the keenest pang
when Herkimer remembered that the fate of his cousin Rosina, the
ideal of gentle womanhood, was indissolubly interwoven with that
of a being whom Providence seemed to have unhumanized.
"Elliston! Roderick!" cried he, "I had heard of this; but my
conception came far short of the truth. What has befallen you?
Why do I find you thus?"
"Oh, 'tis a mere nothing! A snake! A snake! The commonest thing
in the world. A snake in the bosom--that's all," answered
Roderick Elliston. "But how is your own breast?" continued he,
looking the sculptor in the eye with the most acute and
penetrating glance that it had ever been his fortune to
encounter. "All pure and wholesome? No reptile there? By my faith
and conscience, and by the devil within me, here is a wonder! A
man without a serpent in his bosom!"
"Be calm, Elliston," whispered George Herkimer, laying his hand
upon the shoulder of the snake-possessed. "I have crossed the
ocean to meet you. Listen! Let us be private. I bring a message
from Rosina--from your wife!"
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" muttered Roderick.
With this exclamation, the most frequent in his mouth, the
unfortunate man clutched both hands upon his breast as if an
intolerable sting or torture impelled him to rend it open and let
out the living mischief, even should it be intertwined with his
own life. He then freed himself from Herkimer's grasp by a subtle
motion, and, gliding through the gate, took refuge in his
antiquated family residence. The sculptor did not pursue him. He
saw that no available intercourse could be expected at such a
moment, and was desirous, before another meeting, to inquire
closely into the nature of Roderick's disease and the
circumstances that had reduced him to so lamentable a condition.
He succeeded in obtaining the necessary information from an
eminent medical gentleman.
Shortly after Elliston's separation from his wife--now nearly
four years ago--his associates had observed a singular gloom
spreading over his daily life, like those chill, gray mists that
sometimes steal away the sunshine from a summer's morning. The
symptoms caused them endless perplexity. They knew not whether
ill health were robbing his spirits of elasticity, or whether a
canker of the mind was gradually eating, as such cankers do, from
his moral system into the physical frame, which is but the shadow
of the former. They looked for the root of this trouble in his
shattered schemes of domestic bliss,--wilfully shattered by
himself,--but could not be satisfied of its existence there. Some
thought that their once brilliant friend was in an incipient
stage of insanity, of which his passionate impulses had perhaps
been the forerunners; others prognosticated a general blight and
gradual decline. From Roderick's own lips they could learn
nothing. More than once, it is true, he had been heard to say,
clutching his hands convulsively upon his breast,--"It gnaws me!
It gnaws me!"--but, by different auditors, a great diversity of
explanation was assigned to this ominous expression. What could
it be that gnawed the breast of Roderick Elliston? Was it sorrow?
Was it merely the tooth of physical disease? Or, in his reckless
course, often verging upon profligacy, if not plunging into its
depths, had he been guilty of some deed which made his bosom a
prey to the deadlier fangs of remorse? There was plausible ground
for each of these conjectures; but it must not be concealed that
more than one elderly gentleman, the victim of good cheer and
slothful habits, magisterially pronounced the secret of the whole
matter to be Dyspepsia!
Meanwhile, Roderick seemed aware how generally he had become the
subject of curiosity and conjecture, and, with a morbid
repugnance to such notice, or to any notice whatsoever, estranged
himself from all companionship. Not merely the eye of man was a
horror to him; not merely the light of a friend's countenance;
but even the blessed sunshine, likewise, which in its universal
beneficence typifies the radiance of the Creator's face,
expressing his love for all the creatures of his hand. The dusky
twilight was now too transparent for Roderick Elliston; the
blackest midnight was his chosen hour to steal abroad; and if
ever he were seen, it was when the watchman's lantern gleamed
upon his figure, gliding along the street, with his hands
clutched upon his bosom, still muttering, "It gnaws me! It gnaws
me!" What could it be that gnawed him?
After a time, it became known that Elliston was in the habit of
resorting to all the noted quacks that infested the city, or whom
money would tempt to journey thither from a distance. By one of
these persons, in the exultation of a supposed cure, it was
proclaimed far and wide, by dint of handbills and little
pamphlets on dingy paper, that a distinguished gentleman,
Roderick Elliston, Esq., had been relieved of a SNAKE in his
stomach! So here was the monstrous secret, ejected from its
lurking place into public view, in all its horrible deformity.
The mystery was out; but not so the bosom serpent. He, if it were
anything but a delusion, still lay coiled in his living den. The
empiric's cure had been a sham, the effect, it was supposed, of
some stupefying drug which more nearly caused the death of the
patient than of the odious reptile that possessed him. When
Roderick Elliston regained entire sensibility, it was to find his
misfortune the town talk--the more than nine days' wonder and
horror--while, at his bosom, he felt the sickening motion of a
thing alive, and the gnawing of that restless fang which seemed
to gratify at once a physical appetite and a fiendish spite.
He summoned the old black servant, who had been bred up in his
father's house, and was a middle-aged man while Roderick lay in
"Scipio!" he began; and then paused, with his arms folded over
his heart. "What do people say of me, Scipio."
"Sir! my poor master! that you had a serpent in your bosom,"
answered the servant with hesitation.
"And what else?" asked Roderick, with a ghastly look at the man.
"Nothing else, dear master," replied Scipio, "only that the
doctor gave you a powder, and that the snake leaped out upon the
"No, no!" muttered Roderick to himself, as he shook his head, and
pressed his hands with a more convulsive force upon his breast,
"I feel him still. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
From this time the miserable sufferer ceased to shun the world,
but rather solicited and forced himself upon the notice of
acquaintances and strangers. It was partly the result of
desperation on finding that the cavern of his own bosom had not
proved deep and dark enough to hide the secret, even while it was
so secure a fortress for the loathsome fiend that had crept into
it. But still more, this craving for notoriety was a symptom of
the intense morbidness which now pervaded his nature. All persons
chronically diseased are egotists, whether the disease be of the
mind or body; whether it be sin, sorrow, or merely the more
tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among the
cords of mortal life. Such individuals are made acutely conscious
of a self, by the torture in which it dwells. Self, therefore,
grows to be so prominent an object with them that they cannot but
present it to the face of every casual passer-by. There is a
pleasure--perhaps the greatest of which the sufferer is
susceptible--in displaying the wasted or ulcerated limb, or the
cancer in the breast; and the fouler the crime, with so much the
more difficulty does the perpetrator prevent it from thrusting up
its snake-like head to frighten the world; for it is that cancer,
or that crime, which constitutes their respective individuality.
Roderick Elliston, who, a little while before, had held himself
so scornfully above the common lot of men, now paid full
allegiance to this humiliating law. The snake in his bosom seemed
the symbol of a monstrous egotism to which everything was
referred, and which he pampered, night and day, with a continual
and exclusive sacrifice of devil worship.
He soon exhibited what most people considered indubitable tokens
of insanity. In some of his moods, strange to say, he prided and
gloried himself on being marked out from the ordinary experience
of mankind, by the possession of a double nature, and a life
within a life. He appeared to imagine that the snake was a
divinity,--not celestial, it is true, but darkly infernal,--and
that he thence derived an eminence and a sanctity, horrid,
indeed, yet more desirable than whatever ambition aims at. Thus
he drew his misery around him like a regal mantle, and looked
down triumphantly upon those whose vitals nourished no deadly
monster. Oftener, however, his human nature asserted its empire
over him in the shape of a yearning for fellowship. It grew to be
his custom to spend the whole day in wandering about the streets,
aimlessly, unless it might be called an aim to establish a
species of brotherhood between himself and the world. With
cankered ingenuity, he sought out his own disease in every
breast. Whether insane or not, he showed so keen a perception of
frailty, error, and vice, that many persons gave him credit for
being possessed not merely with a serpent, but with an actual
fiend, who imparted this evil faculty of recognizing whatever was
ugliest in man's heart.
For instance, he met an individual, who, for thirty years, had
cherished a hatred against his own brother. Roderick, amidst the
throng of the street, laid his hand on this man's chest, and
looking full into his forbidding face,"How is the snake to-day?"
he inquired, with a mock expression of sympathy.
"The snake!" exclaimed the brother hater--"what do you mean?"
"The snake! The snake! Does it gnaw you?" persisted Roderick.
"Did you take counsel with him this morning when you should have
been saying your prayers? Did he sting, when you thought of your
brother's health, wealth, and good repute? Did he caper for joy,
when you remembered the profligacy of his only son? And whether
he stung, or whether he frolicked, did you feel his poison
throughout your body and soul, converting everything to sourness
and bitterness? That is the way of such serpents. I have learned
the whole nature of them from my own!"
"Where is the police?" roared the object of Roderick's
persecution, at the same time giving an instinctive clutch to his
breast. "Why is this lunatic allowed to go at large?"
"Ha, ha!" chuckled Roderick, releasing his grasp of the man.--
"His bosom serpent has stung him then!"
Often it pleased the unfortunate young man to vex people with a
lighter satire, yet still characterized by somewhat of snake-like
virulence. One day he encountered an ambitious statesman, and
gravely inquired after the welfare of his boa constrictor; for of
that species, Roderick affirmed, this gentleman's serpent must
needs be, since its appetite was enormous enough to devour the
whole country and constitution. At another time, he stopped a
close-fisted old fellow, of great wealth, but who skulked about
the city in the guise of a scarecrow, with a patched blue
surtout, brown hat, and mouldy boots, scraping pence together,
and picking up rusty nails. Pretending to look earnestly at this
respectable person's stomach, Roderick assured him that his snake
was a copper-head and had been generated by the immense
quantities of that base metal with which he daily defiled his
fingers. Again, he assaulted a man of rubicund visage, and told
him that few bosom serpents had more of the devil in them than
those that breed in the vats of a distillery. The next whom
Roderick honored with his attention was a distinguished
clergyman, who happened just then to be engaged in a theological
controversy, where human wrath was more perceptible than divine
"You have swallowed a snake in a cup of sacramental wine," quoth
"Profane wretch!" exclaimed the divine; but, nevertheless, his
hand stole to his breast.
He met a person of sickly sensibility, who, on some early
disappointment, had retired from the world, and thereafter held
no intercourse with his fellow-men, but brooded sullenly or
passionately over the irrevocable past. This man's very heart, if
Roderick might be believed, had been changed into a serpent,
which would finally torment both him and itself to death.
Observing a married couple, whose domestic troubles were matter
of notoriety, he condoled with both on having mutually taken a
house adder to their bosoms. To an envious author, who
depreciated works which he could never equal, he said that his
snake was the slimiest and filthiest of all the reptile tribe,
but was fortunately without a sting. A man of impure life, and a
brazen face, asking Roderick if there were any serpent in his
breast, he told him that there was, and of the same species that
once tortured Don Rodrigo, the Goth. He took a fair young girl by
the hand, and gazing sadly into her eyes, warned her that she
cherished a serpent of the deadliest kind within her gentle
breast; and the world found the truth of those ominous words,
when, a few months afterwards, the poor girl died of love and
shame. Two ladies, rivals in fashionable life who tormented one
another with a thousand little stings of womanish spite, were
given to understand that each of their hearts was a nest of
diminutive snakes, which did quite as much mischief as one great
But nothing seemed to please Roderick better than to lay hold of
a person infected with jealousy, which he represented as an
enormous green reptile, with an ice-cold length of body, and the
sharpest sting of any snake save one.
"And what one is that?" asked a by-stander, overhearing him.
It was a dark-browed man who put the question; he had an evasive
eye, which in the course of a dozen years had looked no mortal
directly in the face. There was an ambiguity about this person's
character,--a stain upon his reputation,--yet none could tell
precisely of what nature, although the city gossips, male and
female, whispered the most atrocious surmises. Until a recent
period he had followed the sea, and was, in fact, the very
shipmaster whom George Herkimer had encountered, under such
singular circumstances, in the Grecian Archipelago.
"What bosom serpent has the sharpest sting?" repeated this man;
but he put the question as if by a reluctant necessity, and grew
pale while he was uttering it.
"Why need you ask?" replied Roderick, with a look of dark
intelligence. "Look into your own breast. Hark! my serpent
bestirs himself! He acknowledges the presence of a master fiend!"
And then, as the by-standers afterwards affirmed, a hissing sound
was heard, apparently in Roderick Elliston's breast. It was said,
too, that an answering hiss came from the vitals of the
shipmaster, as if a snake were actually lurking there and had
been aroused by the call of its brother reptile. If there were in
fact any such sound, it might have been caused by a malicious
exercise of ventriloquism on the part of Roderick.
Thus making his own actual serpent--if a serpent there actually
was in his bosom--the type of each man's fatal error, or hoarded
sin, or unquiet conscience, and striking his sting so
unremorsefully into the sorest spot, we may well imagine that
Roderick became the pest of the city. Nobody could elude
him--none could withstand him. He grappled with the ugliest truth
that he could lay his hand on, and compelled his adversary to do
the same. Strange spectacle in human life where it is the
instinctive effort of one and all to hide those sad realities,
and leave them undisturbed beneath a heap of superficial topics
which constitute the materials of intercourse between man and
man! It was not to be tolerated that Roderick Elliston should
break through the tacit compact by which the world has done its
best to secure repose without relinquishing evil. The victims of
his malicious remarks, it is true, had brothers enough to keep
them in countenance; for, by Roderick's theory, every mortal
bosom harbored either a brood of small serpents or one overgrown
monster that had devoured all the rest. Still the city could not
bear this new apostle. It was demanded by nearly all, and
particularly by the most respectable inhabitants, that Roderick
should no longer be permitted to violate the received rules of
decorum by obtruding his own bosom serpent to the public gaze,
and dragging those of decent people from their lurking places.
Accordingly, his relatives interfered and placed him in a private
asylum for the insane. When the news was noised abroad, it was
observed that many persons walked the streets with freer
countenances and covered their breasts less carefully with their
His confinement, however, although it contributed not a little to
the peace of the town, operated unfavorably upon Roderick
himself. In solitude his melancholy grew more black and sullen.
He spent whole days--indeed, it was his sole occupation--in
communing with the serpent. A conversation was sustained, in
which, as it seemed, the hidden monster bore a part, though
unintelligibly to the listeners, and inaudible except in a hiss.
Singular as it may appear, the sufferer had now contracted a sort
of affection for his tormentor, mingled, however, with the
intensest loathing and horror. Nor were such discordant emotions
incompatible. Each, on the contrary, imparted strength and
poignancy to its opposite. Horrible love--horrible
antipathy--embracing one another in his bosom, and both
concentrating themselves upon a being that had crept into his
vitals or been engendered there, and which was nourished with his
food, and lived upon his life, and was as intimate with him as
his own heart, and yet was the foulest of all created things! But
not the less was it the true type of a morbid nature.
Sometimes, in his moments of rage and bitter hatred against the
snake and himself, Roderick determined to be the death of him,
even at the expense of his own life. Once he attempted it by
starvation; but, while the wretched man was on the point of
famishing, the monster seemed to feed upon his heart, and to
thrive and wax gamesome, as if it were his sweetest and most
congenial diet. Then he privily took a dose of active poison,
imagining that it would not fail to kill either himself or the
devil that possessed him, or both together. Another mistake; for
if Roderick had not yet been destroyed by his own poisoned heart
nor the snake by gnawing it, they had little to fear from arsenic
or corrosive sublimate. Indeed, the venomous pest appeared to
operate as an antidote against all other poisons. The physicians
tried to suffocate the fiend with tobacco smoke. He breathed it
as freely as if it were his native atmosphere. Again, they
drugged their patient with opium and drenched him with
intoxicating liquors, hoping that the snake might thus be reduced
to stupor and perhaps be ejected from the stomach. They succeeded
in rendering Roderick insensible; but, placing their hands upon
his breast, they were inexpressibly horror stricken to feel the
monster wriggling, twining, and darting to and fro within his
narrow limits, evidently enlivened by the opium or alcohol, and
incited to unusual feats of activity. Thenceforth they gave up
all attempts at cure or palliation. The doomed sufferer submitted
to his fate, resumed his former loathsome affection for the bosom
fiend, and spent whole miserable days before a looking-glass,
with his mouth wide open, watching, in hope and horror, to catch
a glimpse of the snake's head far down within his throat. It is
supposed that he succeeded; for the attendants once heard a
frenzied shout, and, rushing into the room, found Roderick
lifeless upon the floor.
He was kept but little longer under restraint. After minute
investigation, the medical directors of the asylum decided that
his mental disease did not amount to insanity, nor would warrant
his confinement, especially as its influence upon his spirits was
unfavorable, and might produce the evil which it was meant to
remedy. His eccentricities were doubtless great; he had
habitually violated many of the customs and prejudices of
society; but the world was not, without surer ground, entitled to
treat him as a madman. On this decision of such competent
authority Roderick was released, and had returned to his native
city the very day before his encounter with George Herkimer.
As soon as possible after learning these particulars the
sculptor, together with a sad and tremulous companion, sought
Elliston at his own house. It was a large, sombre edifice of
wood, with pilasters and a balcony, and was divided from one of
the principal streets by a terrace of three elevations, which was
ascended by successive flights of stone steps. Some immense old
elms almost concealed the front of the mansion. This spacious and
once magnificent family residence was built by a grandee of the
race early in the past century, at which epoch, land being of
small comparative value, the garden and other grounds had formed
quite an extensive domain. Although a portion of the ancestral
heritage had been alienated, there was still a shadowy enclosure
in the rear of the mansion where a student, or a dreamer, or a
man of stricken heart might lie all day upon the grass, amid the
solitude of murmuring boughs, and forget that a city had grown up
Into this retirement the sculptor and his companion were ushered
by Scipio, the old black servant, whose wrinkled visage grew
almost sunny with intelligence and joy as he paid his humble
greetings to one of the two visitors.
"Remain in the arbor," whispered the sculptor to the figure that
leaned upon his arm. "You will know whether, and when, to make
"God will teach me," was the reply. "May He support me too!"
Roderick was reclining on the margin of a fountain which gushed
into the fleckered sunshine with the same clear sparkle and the
same voice of airy quietude as when trees of primeval growth
flung their shadows cross its bosom. How strange is the life of a
fountain!--born at every moment, yet of an age coeval with the
rocks, and far surpassing the venerable antiquity of a forest.
"You are come! I have expected you," said Elliston, when he
became aware of the sculptor's presence.
His manner was very different from that of the preceding
day--quiet, courteous, and, as Herkimer thought, watchful both
over his guest and himself. This unnatural restraint was almost
the only trait that betokened anything amiss. He had just thrown
a book upon the grass, where it lay half opened, thus disclosing
itself to be a natural history of the serpent tribe, illustrated
by lifelike plates. Near it lay that bulky volume, the Ductor
Dubitantium of Jeremy Taylor, full of cases of conscience, and in
which most men, possessed of a conscience, may find something
applicable to their purpose.
"You see," observed Elliston, pointing to the book of serpents,
while a smile gleamed upon his lips, "I am making an effort to
become better acquainted with my bosom friend; but I find nothing
satisfactory in this volume. If I mistake not, he will prove to
be sui generis, and akin to no other reptile in creation."
"Whence came this strange calamity?" inquired the sculptor.
"My sable friend Scipio has a story," replied Roderick, "of a
snake that had lurked in this fountain--pure and innocent as it
looks--ever since it was known to the first settlers. This
insinuating personage once crept into the vitals of my great
grandfather and dwelt there many years, tormenting the old
gentleman beyond mortal endurance. In short it is a family
peculiarity. But, to tell you the truth, I have no faith in this
idea of the snake's being an heirloom. He is my own snake, and no
"But what was his origin?" demanded Herkimer.
"Oh, there is poisonous stuff in any man's heart sufficient to
generate a brood of serpents," said Elliston with a hollow laugh.
"You should have heard my homilies to the good town's-people.
Positively, I deem myself fortunate in having bred but a single
serpent. You, however, have none in your bosom, and therefore
cannot sympathize with the rest of the world. It gnaws me! It
With this exclamation Roderick lost his self-control and threw
himself upon the grass, testifying his agony by intricate
writhings, in which Herkimer could not but fancy a resemblance to
the motions of a snake. Then, likewise, was heard that frightful
hiss, which often ran through the sufferer's speech, and crept
between the words and syllables without interrupting their
"This is awful indeed!" exclaimed the sculptor--"an awful
infliction, whether it be actual or imaginary. Tell me, Roderick
Elliston, is there any remedy for this loathsome evil?"
"Yes, but an impossible one," muttered Roderick, as he lay
wallowing with his face in the grass. "Could I for one moment
forget myself, the serpent might not abide within me. It is my
diseased self-contemplation that has engendered and nourished
"Then forget yourself, my husband," said a gentle voice above
him; "forget yourself in the idea of another!"
Rosina had emerged from the arbor, and was bending over him with
the shadow of his anguish reflected in her countenance, yet so
mingled with hope and unselfish love that all anguish seemed but
an earthly shadow and a dream. She touched Roderick with her
hand. A tremor shivered through his frame. At that moment, if
report be trustworthy, the sculptor beheld a waving motion
through the grass, and heard a tinkling sound, as if something
had plunged into the fountain. Be the truth as it might, it is
certain that Roderick Elliston sat up like a man renewed,
restored to his right mind, and rescued from the fiend which had
so miserably overcome him in the battle-field of his own breast.
"Rosina!" cried he, in broken and passionate tones, but with
nothing of the wild wail that had haunted his voice so long,
Her happy tears bedewed his face.
"The punishment has been severe," observed the sculptor. "Even
Justice might now forgive; how much more a woman's tenderness!
Roderick Elliston, whether the serpent was a physical reptile, or
whether the morbidness of your nature suggested that symbol to
your fancy, the moral of the story is not the less true and
strong. A tremendous Egotism, manifesting itself in your case in
the form of jealousy, is as fearful a fiend as ever stole into
the human heart. Can a breast, where it has dwelt so long, be
"Oh yes," said Rosina with a heavenly smile. "The serpent was but
a dark fantasy, and what it typified was as shadowy as itself.
The past, dismal as it seems, shall fling no gloom upon the
future. To give it its due importance we must think of it but as
an anecdote in our Eternity."
DROWNE'S WOODEN IMAGE
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of
Boston, a young carver in wood, well known by the name of Drowne,
stood contemplating a large oaken log, which it was his purpose
to convert into the figure-head of a vessel. And while he
discussed within his own mind what sort of shape or similitude it
were well to bestow upon this excellent piece of timber, there
came into Drowne's workshop a certain Captain Hunnewell, owner
and commander of the good brig called the Cynosure, which had
just returned from her first voyage to Fayal.
"Ah! that will do, Drowne, that will do!" cried the jolly
captain, tapping the log with his rattan. "I bespeak this very
piece of oak for the figure-head of the Cynosure. She has shown
herself the sweetest craft that ever floated, and I mean to
decorate her prow with the handsomest image that the skill of man
can cut out of timber. And, Drowne, you are the fellow to execute
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said
the carver, modestly, yet as one conscious of eminence in his
art. "But, for the sake of the good brig, I stand ready to do my
best. And which of these designs do you prefer? Here,"--pointing
to a staring, half-length figure, in a white wig and scarlet
coat,--"here is an excellent model, the likeness of our gracious
king. Here is the valiant Admiral Vernon. Or, if you prefer a
female figure, what say you to Britannia with the trident?"
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner.
"But as nothing like the brig ever swam the ocean, so I am
determined she shall have such a figure-head as old Neptune never
saw in his life. And what is more, as there is a secret in the
matter, you must pledge your credit not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible
mystery there could be in reference to an affair so open, of
necessity, to the inspection of all the world as the figure-head
of a vessel. "You may depend, captain, on my being as secret as
the nature of the case will permit."
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and
communicated his wishes in so low a tone that it would be
unmannerly to repeat what was evidently intended for the carver's
private ear. We shall, therefore, take the opportunity to give
the reader a few desirable particulars about Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted--in a
very humble line, it is true--that art in which we can now reckon
so many names already distinguished, or rising to distinction.
From his earliest boyhood he had exhibited a knack--for it would
be too proud a word to call it genius--a knack, therefore, for
the imitation of the human figure in whatever material came most
readily to hand. The snows of a New England winter had often
supplied him with a species of marble as dazzingly white, at
least, as the Parian or the Carrara, and if less durable, yet
sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to permanent
existence possessed by the boy's frozen statues. Yet they won
admiration from maturer judges than his school-fellows, and were
indeed, remarkably clever, though destitute of the native warmth
that might have made the snow melt beneath his hand. As he
advanced in life, the young man adopted pine and oak as eligible
materials for the display of his skill, which now began to bring
him a return of solid silver as well as the empty praise that had
been an apt reward enough for his productions of evanescent snow.
He became noted for carving ornamental pump heads, and wooden
urns for gate posts, and decorations, more grotesque than
fanciful, for mantelpieces. No apothecary would have deemed
himself in the way of obtaining custom without setting up a
gilded mortar, if not a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the
skilful hand of Drowne.
But the great scope of his business lay in the manufacture of
figure-heads for vessels. Whether it were the monarch himself, or
some famous British admiral or general, or the governor of the
province, or perchance the favorite daughter of the ship-owner,
there the image stood above the prow, decked out in gorgeous
colors, magnificently gilded, and staring the whole world out of
countenance, as if from an innate consciousness of its own
superiority. These specimens of native sculpture had crossed the
sea in all directions, and been not ignobly noticed among the
crowded shipping of the Thames and wherever else the hardy
mariners of New England had pushed their adventures. It must be
confessed that a family likeness pervaded these respectable
progeny of Drowne's skill; that the benign countenance of the
king resembled those of his subjects, and that Miss Peggy Hobart,
the merchant's daughter, bore a remarkable similitude to
Britannia, Victory, and other ladies of the allegoric sisterhood;
and, finally, that they all had a kind of wooden aspect which
proved an intimate relationship with the unshaped blocks of
timber in the carver's workshop. But at least there was no
inconsiderable skill of hand, nor a deficiency of any attribute
to render them really works of art, except that deep quality, be
it of soul or intellect, which bestows life upon the lifeless and
warmth upon the cold, and which, had it been present, would have
made Drowne's wooden image instinct with spirit.
The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
"And Drowne," said he, impressively, "you must lay aside all
other business and set about this forthwith. And as to the price,
only do the job in first-rate style, and you shall settle that
"Very well, captain," answered the carver, who looked grave and
somewhat perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage;
"depend upon it, I'll do my utmost to satisfy you."
From that moment the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town
Dock who were wont to show their love for the arts by frequent
visits to Drowne's workshop, and admiration of his wooden images,
began to be sensible of a mystery in the carver's conduct. Often
he was absent in the daytime. Sometimes, as might be judged by
gleams of light from the shop windows, he was at work until a
late hour of the evening; although neither knock nor voice, on
such occasions, could gain admittance for a visitor, or elicit
any word of response. Nothing remarkable, however, was observed
in the shop at those late hours when it was thrown open. A fine
piece of timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to have reserved
for some work of especial dignity, was seen to be gradually
assuming shape. What shape it was destined ultimately to take was
a problem to his friends and a point on which the carver himself
preserved a rigid silence. But day after day, though Drowne was
seldom noticed in the act of working upon it, this rude form
began to be developed until it became evident to all observers
that a female figure was growing into mimic life. At each new
visit they beheld a larger pile of wooden chips and a nearer
approximation to something beautiful. It seemed as if the
hamadryad of the oak had sheltered herself from the unimaginative
world within the heart of her native tree, and that it was only
necessary to remove the strange shapelessness that had incrusted
her, and reveal the grace and loveliness of a divinity. Imperfect
as the design, the attitude, the costume, and especially the face
of the image still remained, there was already an effect that
drew the eye from the wooden cleverness of Drowne's earlier
productions and fixed it upon the tantalizing mystery of this new
Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man and a resident
of Boston, came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so
much of moderate ability in the carver as to induce him, in the
dearth of professional sympathy, to cultivate his acquaintance.
On entering the shop, the artist glanced at the inflexible image
of king, commander, dame, and allegory, that stood around, on the
best of which might have been bestowed the questionable praise
that it looked as if a living man had here been changed to wood,
and that not only the physical, but the intellectual and
spiritual part, partook of the stolid transformation. But in not
a single instance did it seem as if the wood were imbibing the
ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction is here!
and how far the slightest portion of the latter merit have
outvalued the utmost degree of the former!
"My friend Drowne;" said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding
to the mechanical and wooden cleverness that so invariably
distinguished the images, "you are really a remarkable person! I
have seldom met with a man in your line of business that could do
so much; for one other touch might make this figure of General
Wolfe, for instance, a breathing and intelligent human creature."
"You would have me think that you are praising me highly, Mr.
Copley," answered Drowne, turning his back upon Wolfe's image in
apparent disgust. "But there has come a light into my mind. I
know what you know as well, that the one touch which you speak of
as deficient is the only one that would be truly valuable, and
that without it these works of mine are no better than worthless
abortions. There is the same difference between them and the
works of an inspired artist as between a sign-post daub and one
of your best pictures."
"This is strange," cried Copley, looking him in the face, which
now, as the painter fancied, had a singular depth of
intelligence, though hitherto it had not given him greatly the
advantage over his own family of wooden images. "What has come
over you? How is it that, possessing the idea which you have now
uttered, you should produce only such works as these?"
The carver smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to the
images, conceiving that the sense of deficiency which Drowne had
just expressed, and which is so rare in a merely mechanical
character, must surely imply a genius, the tokens of which had
heretofore been overlooked. But no; there was not a trace of it.
He was about to withdraw when his eyes chanced to fall upon a
half-developed figure which lay in a corner of the workshop,
surrounded by scattered chips of oak. It arrested him at once.
"What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after
contemplating it in speechless astonishment for an instant. "Here
is the divine, the lifegiving touch. What inspired hand is
beckoning this wood to arise and live? Whose work is this?"
"No man's work," replied Drowne. "The figure lies within that
block of oak, and it is my business to find it."
"Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by
the hand, "you are a man of genius!"
As Copley departed, happening to glance backward from the
threshold, he beheld Drowne bending over the half-created shape,
and stretching forth his arms as if he would have embraced and
drawn it to his heart; while, had such a miracle been possible,
his countenance expressed passion enough to communicate warmth
and sensibility to the lifeless oak.
"Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have
looked for a modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee
As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so
that, as in the cloud shapes around the western sun, the observer
rather felt, or was led to imagine, than really saw what was
intended by it. Day by day, however, the work assumed greater
precision, and settled its irregular and misty outline into
distincter grace and beauty. The general design was now obvious
to the common eye. It was a female figure, in what appeared to be
a foreign dress; the gown being laced over the bosom, and opening
in front so as to disclose a skirt or petticoat, the folds and
inequalities of which were admirably represented in the oaken
substance. She wore a hat of singular gracefulness, and
abundantly laden with flowers, such as never grew in the rude
soil of New England, but which, with all their fanciful
luxuriance, had a natural truth that it seemed impossible for the
most fertile imagination to have attained without copying from
real prototypes. There were several little appendages to this
dress, such as a fan, a pair of earrings, a chain about the neck,
a watch in the bosom, and a ring upon the finger, all of which
would have been deemed beneath the dignity of sculpture. They
were put on, however, with as much taste as a lovely woman might
have shown in her attire, and could therefore have shocked none
but a judgment spoiled by artistic rules.
The face was still imperfect; but gradually, by a magic touch,
intelligence and sensibility brightened through the features,
with all the effect of light gleaming forth from within the solid
oak. The face became alive. It was a beautiful, though not
precisely regular and somewhat haughty aspect, but with a certain
piquancy about the eyes and mouth, which, of all expressions,
would have seemed the most impossible to throw over a wooden
countenance. And now, so far as carving went, this wonderful
production was complete.
"Drowne," said Copley, who had hardly missed a single day in his
visits to the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble it
would make you famous at once; nay, I would almost affirm that it
would make an era in the art. It is as ideal as an antique
statue, and yet as real as any lovely woman whom one meets at a
fireside or in the street. But I trust you do not mean to
desecrate this exquisite creature with paint, like those staring
kings and admirals yonder?"
"Not paint her!" exclaimed Captain Hunnewell, who stood by; "not
paint the figure-head of the Cynosure! And what sort of a figure
should I cut in a foreign port with such an unpainted oaken stick
as this over my prow! She must, and she shall, be painted to the
life, from the topmost flower in her hat down to the silver
spangles on her slippers."
"Mr. Copley," said Drowne, quietly, "I know nothing of marble
statuary, and nothing of the sculptor's rules of art; but of this
wooden image, this work of my hands, this creature of my
heart,"--and here his voice faltered and choked in a very
singular manner,--"of this--of her --I may say that I know
something. A well-spring of inward wisdom gushed within me as I
wrought upon the oak with my whole strength, and soul, and faith.
Let others do what they may with marble, and adopt what rules
they choose. If I can produce my desired effect by painted wood,
those rules are not for me, and I have a right to disregard
"The very spirit of genius," muttered Copley to himself. "How
otherwise should this carver feel himself entitled to transcend
all rules, and make me ashamed of quoting them?"
He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of
human love which, in a spiritual sense, as the artist could not
help imagining, was the secret of the life that had been breathed
into this block of wood.
The carver, still in the same secrecy that marked all his
operations upon this mysterious image, proceeded to paint the
habiliments in their proper colors, and the countenance with
Nature's red and white. When all was finished he threw open his
workshop, and admitted the towns people to behold what he had
done. Most persons, at their first entrance, felt impelled to
remove their hats, and pay such reverence as was due to the
richly-dressed and beautiful young lady who seemed to stand in a
corner of the room, with oaken chips and shavings scattered at
her feet. Then came a sensation of fear; as if, not being
actually human, yet so like humanity, she must therefore be
something preternatural. There was, in truth, an indefinable air
and expression that might reasonably induce the query, Who and
from what sphere this daughter of the oak should be? The strange,
rich flowers of Eden on her head; the complexion, so much deeper
and more brilliant than those of our native beauties; the
foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yet not too fantastic
to be worn decorously in the street; the delicately-wrought
embroidery of the skirt; the broad gold chain about her neck; the
curious ring upon her finger; the fan, so exquisitely sculptured
in open work, and painted to resemble pearl and ebony;--where
could Drowne, in his sober walk of life, have beheld the vision
here so matchlessly embodied! And then her face! In the dark
eyes, and around the voluptuous mouth, there played a look made
up of pride, coquetry, and a gleam of mirthfulness, which
impressed Copley with the idea that the image was secretly
enjoying the perplexing admiration of himself and other
"And will you," said he to the carver, "permit this masterpiece
to become the figure-head of a vessel? Give the honest captain
yonder figure of Britannia--it will answer his purpose far
better--and send this fairy queen to England, where, for aught I
know, it may bring you a thousand pounds."
"I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
"What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and
throw away the chance of making his fortune! He has gone mad; and
thence has come this gleam of genius."
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were
due to the rumor that he had been seen kneeling at the feet of
the oaken lady, and gazing with a lover's passionate ardor into
the face that his own hands had created. The bigots of the day
hinted that it would be no matter of surprise if an evil spirit
were allowed to enter this beautiful form, and seduce the carver
The fame of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants
visited it so universally, that after a few days of exhibition
there was hardly an old man or a child who had not become
minutely familiar with its aspect. Even had the story of Drowne's
wooden image ended here, its celebrity might have been prolonged
for many years by the reminiscences of those who looked upon it
in their childhood, and saw nothing else so beautiful in after
life. But the town was now astounded by an event, the narrative
of which has formed itself into one of the most singular legends
that are yet to be met with in the traditionary chimney corners
of the New England metropolis, where old men and women sit
dreaming of the past, and wag their heads at the dreamers of the
present and the future.
One fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on
her second voyage to Fayal, the commander of that gallant vessel
was seen to issue from his residence in Hanover Street. He was
stylishly dressed in a blue broadcloth coat, with gold lace at
the seams and button-holes, an embroidered scarlet waistcoat, a
triangular hat, with a loop and broad binding of gold, and wore a
silver-hilted hanger at his side. But the good captain might have
been arrayed in the robes of a prince or the rags of a beggar,
without in either case attracting notice, while obscured by such
a companion as now leaned on his arm. The people in the street
started, rubbed their eyes, and either leaped aside from their
path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble in
"Do you see it?--do you see it?" cried one, with tremulous
eagerness. "It is the very same!"
"The same?" answered another, who had arrived in town only the
night before. "Who do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his
shoregoing clothes, and a young lady in a foreign habit, with a
bunch of beautiful flowers in her hat. On my word, she is as fair
and bright a damsel as my eyes have looked on this many a day!"
"Yes; the same!--the very same!" repeated the other. "Drowne's
wooden image has come to life!"
Here was a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, or
darkened by the alternate shade of the houses, and with its
garments fluttering lightly in the morning breeze, there passed
the image along the street. It was exactly and minutely the
shape, the garb, and the face which the towns-people had so
recently thronged to see and admire. Not a rich flower upon her
head, not a single leaf, but had had its prototype in Drowne's
wooden workmanship, although now their fragile grace had become
flexible, and was shaken by every footstep that the wearer made.
The broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with the one
represented on the image, and glistened with the motion imparted
by the rise and fall of the bosom which it decorated. A real
diamond sparkled on her finger. In her right hand she bore a
pearl and ebony fan, which she flourished with a fantastic and
bewitching coquetry, that was likewise expressed in all her
movements as well as in the style of her beauty and the attire
that so well harmonized with it. The face with its brilliant
depth of complexion had the same piquancy of mirthful mischief
that was fixed upon the countenance of the image, but which was
here varied and continually shifting, yet always essentially the
same, like the sunny gleam upon a bubbling fountain. On the
whole, there was something so airy and yet so real in the figure,
and withal so perfectly did it represent Drowne's image, that
people knew not whether to suppose the magic wood etherealized
into a spirit or warmed and softened into an actual woman.
"One thing is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp,
"Drowne has sold himself to the devil; and doubtless this gay
Captain Hunnewell is a party to the bargain."
"And I," said a young man who overheard him, "would almost
consent to be the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those
"And so would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege of
taking her picture."
The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still
escorted by the bold captain, proceeded from Hanover Street