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From THE SNOW IMAGE
The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle
The Great Stone Face
The Canterbury Pilgrims
The Devil in Manuscript
My Kinsman, Major Molineux
A CHILDISH MIRACLE
One afternoon of a cold winter's day, when the sun shone forth
with chilly brightness, after a long storm, two children asked
leave of their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow.
The elder child was a little girl, whom, because she was of a
tender and modest disposition, and was thought to be very
beautiful, her parents, and other people who were familiar with
her, used to call Violet. But her brother was known by the style
and title of Peony, on account of the ruddiness of his broad and
round little phiz, which made everybody think of sunshine and
great scarlet flowers. The father of these two children, a
certain Mr. Lindsey, it is important to say, was an excellent but
exceedingly matter-of-fact sort of man, a dealer in hardware, and
was sturdily accustomed to take what is called the common-sense
view of all matters that came under his consideration. With a
heart about as tender as other people's, he had a head as hard
and impenetrable, and therefore, perhaps, as empty, as one of the
iron pots which it was a part of his business to sell. The
mother's character, on the other hand, had a strain of poetry in
it, a trait of unworldly beauty,--a delicate and dewy flower, as
it were, that had survived out of her imaginative youth, and
still kept itself alive amid the dusty realities of matrimony and
So, Violet and Peony, as I began with saying, besought their
mother to let them run out and play in the new snow; for, though
it had looked so dreary and dismal, drifting downward out of the
gray sky, it had a very cheerful aspect, now that the sun was
shining on it. The children dwelt in a city, and had no wider
play-place than a little garden before the house, divided by a
white fence from the street, and with a pear-tree and two or
three plum-trees overshadowing it, and some rose-bushes just in
front of the parlor-windows. The trees and shrubs, however, were
now leafless, and their twigs were enveloped in the light snow,
which thus made a kind of wintry foliage, with here and there a
pendent icicle for the fruit.
"Yes, Violet,--yes, my little Peony," said their kind mother,
"you may go out and play in the new snow."
Accordingly, the good lady bundled up her darlings in woollen
jackets and wadded sacks, and put comforters round their necks,
and a pair of striped gaiters on each little pair of legs, and
worsted mittens on their hands, and gave them a kiss apiece, by
way of a spell to keep away Jack Frost. Forth sallied the two
children, with a hop-skip-and-jump, that carried them at once
into the very heart of a huge snow-drift, whence Violet emerged
like a snow-bunting, while little Peony floundered out with his
round face in full bloom. Then what a merry time had they! To
look at them, frolicking in the wintry garden, you would have
thought that the dark and pitiless storm had been sent for no
other purpose but to provide a new plaything for Violet and
Peony; and that they themselves had beer created, as the
snow-birds were, to take delight only in the tempest, and in the
white mantle which it spread over the earth.
At last, when they had frosted one another all over with handfuls
of snow, Violet, after laughing heartily at little Peony's
figure, was struck with a new idea.
"You look exactly like a snow-image, Peony," said she, "if your
cheeks were not so red. And that puts me in mind! Let us make an
image out of snow,--an image of a little girl,--and it shall be
our sister, and shall run about and play with us all winter long.
Won't it be nice?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony, as plainly as he could speak, for he was
but a little boy. "That will be nice! And mamma shall see it!"
"Yes," answered Violet; "mamma shall see the new little girl. But
she must not make her come into the warm parlor; for, you know,
our little snow-sister will not love the warmth."
And forthwith the children began this great business of making a
snow-image that should run about; while their mother, who was
sitting at the window and overheard some of their talk, could not
help smiling at the gravity with which they set about it. They
really seemed to imagine that there would be no difficulty
whatever in creating a live little girl out of the snow. And, to
say the truth, if miracles are ever to be wrought, it will be by
putting our hands to the work in precisely such a simple and
undoubting frame of mind as that in which Violet and Peony now
undertook to perform one, without so much as knowing that it was
a miracle. So thought the mother; and thought, likewise, that the
new snow, just fallen from heaven, would be excellent material to
make new beings of, if it were not so very cold. She gazed at the
children a moment longer, delighting to watch their little
figures,--the girl, tall for her age, graceful and agile, and so
delicately colored that she looked like a cheerful thought more
than a physical reality; while Peony expanded in breadth rather
than height, and rolled along on his short and sturdy legs as
substantial as an elephant, though not quite so big. Then the
mother resumed her work. What it was I forget; but she was either
trimming a silken bonnet for Violet, or darning a pair of
stockings for little Peony's short legs. Again, however, and
again, and yet other agains, she could not help turning her head
to the window to see how the children got on with their
Indeed, it was an exceedingly pleasant sight, those bright little
souls at their task! Moreover, it was really wonderful to observe
how knowingly and skilfully they managed the matter. Violet
assumed the chief direction, and told Peony what to do, while,
with her own delicate fingers, she shaped out all the nicer parts
of the snow-figure. It seemed, in fact, not so much to be made by
the children, as to grow up under their hands, while they were
playing and prattling about it. Their mother was quite surprised
at this; and the longer she looked, the more and more surprised
"What remarkable children mine are!" thought she, smiling with a
mother's pride; and, smiling at herself, too, for being so proud
of them. "What other children could have made anything so like a
little girl's figure out of snow at the first trial? Well; but
now I must finish Peony's new frock, for his grandfather is
coming to-morrow, and I want the little fellow to look handsome."
So she took up the frock, and was soon as busily at work again
with her needle as the two children with their snow-image. But
still, as the needle travelled hither and thither through the
seams of the dress, the mother made her toil light and happy by
listening to the airy voices of Violet and Peony. They kept
talking to one another all the time, their tongues being quite as
active as their feet and hands. Except at intervals, she could
not distinctly hear what was said, but had merely a sweet
impression that they were in a most loving mood, and were
enjoying themselves highly, and that the business of making the
snow-image went prosperously on. Now and then, however, when
Violet and Peony happened to raise their voices, the words were
as audible as if they had been spoken in the very parlor where
the mother sat. Oh how delightfully those words echoed in her
heart, even though they meant nothing so very wise or wonderful,
But you must know a mother listens with her heart much more than
with her ears; and thus she is often delighted with the trills of
celestial music, when other people can hear nothing of the kind.
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet to her brother, who had gone to
another part of the garden, "bring me some of that fresh snow,
Peony, from the very farthest corner, where we have not been
trampling. I want it to shape our little snow-sister's bosom
with. You know that part must be quite pure, just as it came out
of the sky!"
"Here it is, Violet!" answered Peony, in his bluff tone,--but a
very sweet tone, too,--as he came floundering through the
half-trodden drifts. "Here is the snow for her little bosom. O
Violet, how beau-ti-ful she begins to look!"
"Yes," said Violet, thoughtfully and quietly; "our snow-sister
does look very lovely. I did not quite know, Peony, that we could
make such a sweet little girl as this."
The mother, as she listened, thought how fit and delightful an
incident it would be, if fairies, or still better, if
angel-children were to come from paradise, and play invisibly
with her own darlings, and help them to make their snow-image,
giving it the features of celestial babyhood! Violet and Peony
would not be aware of their immortal playmates,--only they would
see that the image grew very beautiful while they worked at it,
and would think that they themselves had done it all.
"My little girl and boy deserve such playmates, if mortal
children ever did!" said the mother to herself; and then she
smiled again at her own motherly pride.
Nevertheless, the idea seized upon her imagination; and, ever and
anon, she took a glimpse out of the window, half dreaming that
she might see the golden-haired children of paradise sporting
with her own golden-haired Violet and bright-cheeked Peony.
Now, for a few moments, there was a busy and earnest, but
indistinct hum of the two children's voices, as Violet and Peony
wrought together with one happy consent. Violet still seemed to
be the guiding spirit, while Peony acted rather as a laborer, and
brought her the snow from far and near. And yet the little urchin
evidently had a proper understanding of the matter, too!
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet; for her brother was again at the
other side of the garden. "Bring me those light wreaths of snow
that have rested on the lower branches of the pear-tree. You can
clamber on the snowdrift, Peony, and reach them easily. I must
have them to make some ringlets for our snow-sister's head!"
"Here they are, Violet!" answered the little boy. "Take care you
do not break them. Well done! Well done! How pretty!"
"Does she not look sweetly?" said Violet, with a very satisfied
tone; "and now we must have some little shining bits of ice, to
make the brightness of her eyes. She is not finished yet. Mamma
will see how very beautiful she is; but papa will say, 'Tush!
nonsense!--come in out of the cold!' "
"Let us call mamma to look out," said Peony; and then he shouted
lustily, "Mamma! mamma!! mamma!!! Look out, and see what a nice
'ittle girl we are making!"
The mother put down her work for an instant, and looked out of
the window. But it so happened that the sun--for this was one of
the shortest days of the whole year--had sunken so nearly to the
edge of the world that his setting shine came obliquely into the
lady's eyes. So she was dazzled, you must understand, and could
not very distinctly observe what was in the garden. Still,
however, through all that bright, blinding dazzle of the sun and
the new snow, she beheld a small white figure in the garden, that
seemed to have a wonderful deal of human likeness about it. And
she saw Violet and Peony,--indeed, she looked more at them than
at the image,--she saw the two children still at work; Peony
bringing fresh snow, and Violet applying it to the figure as
scientifically as a sculptor adds clay to his model. Indistinctly
as she discerned the snow-child, the mother thought to herself
that never before was there a snow-figure so cunningly made, nor
ever such a dear little girl and boy to make it.
"They do everything better than other children," said she, very
complacently. "No wonder they make better snow-images!"
She sat down again to her work, and made as much haste with it as
possible; because twilight would soon come, and Peony's frock was
not yet finished, and grandfather was expected, by railroad,
pretty early in the morning. Faster and faster, therefore, went
her flying fingers. The children, likewise, kept busily at work
in the garden, and still the mother listened, whenever she could
catch a word. She was amused to observe how their little
imaginations had got mixed up with what they were doing, and
carried away by it. They seemed positively to think that the
snow-child would run about and play with them.
"What a nice playmate she will be for us, all winter long!" said
Violet. "I hope papa will not be afraid of her giving us a cold!
Sha'n't you love her dearly, Peony?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony. "And I will hug her, and she shall sit
down close by me and drink some of my warm milk!"
"Oh no, Peony!" answered Violet, with grave wisdom. "That will
not do at all. Warm milk will not be wholesome for our little
snow-sister. Little snow people, like her, eat nothing but
icicles. No, no, Peony; we must not give her anything warm to
There was a minute or two of silence; for Peony, whose short legs
were never weary, had gone on a pilgrimage again to the other
side of the garden. All of a sudden, Violet cried out, loudly and
joyfully,--"Look here, Peony! Come quickly! A light has been
shining on her cheek out of that rose-colored cloud! and the
color does not go away! Is not that beautiful!"
"Yes; it is beau-ti-ful," answered Peony, pronouncing the three
syllables with deliberate accuracy. "O Violet, only look at her
hair! It is all like gold!"
"Oh certainly," said Violet, with tranquillity, as if it were
very much a matter of course. "That color, you know, comes from
the golden clouds, that we see up there in the sky. She is almost
finished now. But her lips must be made very red,--redder than
her cheeks. Perhaps, Peony, it will make them red if we both kiss
Accordingly, the mother heard two smart little smacks, as if both
her children were kissing the snow-image on its frozen mouth.
But, as this did not seem to make the lips quite red enough,
Violet next proposed that the snow-child should be invited to
kiss Peony's scarlet cheek.
"Come, 'ittle snow-sister, kiss me!" cried Peony.
"There! she has kissed you," added Violet, "and now her lips are
very red. And she blushed a little, too!"
"Oh, what a cold kiss!" cried Peony.
Just then, there came a breeze of the pure west-wind, sweeping
through the garden and rattling the parlor-windows. It sounded so
wintry cold, that the mother was about to tap on the window-pane
with her thimbled finger, to summon the two children in, when
they both cried out to her with one voice. The tone was not a
tone of surprise, although they were evidently a good deal
excited; it appeared rather as if they were very much rejoiced at
some event that had now happened, but which they had been looking
for, and had reckoned upon all along.
"Mamma! mamma! We have finished our little snow-sister, and she
is running about the garden with us!"
"What imaginative little beings my children are!" thought the
mother, putting the last few stitches into Peony's frock. "And it
is strange, too that they make me almost as much a child as they
themselves are! I can hardly help believing, now, that the
snow-image has really come to life!"
"Dear mamma!" cried Violet, "pray look out and see what a sweet
playmate we have!"
The mother, being thus entreated, could no longer delay to look
forth from the window. The sun was now gone out of the sky,
leaving, however, a rich inheritance of his brightness among
those purple and golden clouds which make the sunsets of winter
so magnificent. But there was not the slightest gleam or dazzle,
either on the window or on the snow; so that the good lady could
look all over the garden, and see everything and everybody in it.
And what do you think she saw there? Violet and Peony, of course,
her own two darling children. Ah, but whom or what did she see
besides? Why, if you will believe me, there was a small figure of
a girl, dressed all in white, with rose-tinged cheeks and
ringlets of golden hue, playing about the garden with the two
children! A stranger though she was, the child seemed to be on as
familiar terms with Violet and Peony, and they with her, as if
all the three had been playmates during the whole of their little
lives. The mother thought to herself that it must certainly be
the daughter of one of the neighbors, and that, seeing Violet and
Peony in the garden, the child had run across the street to play
with them. So this kind lady went to the door, intending to
invite the little runaway into her comfortable parlor; for, now
that the sunshine was withdrawn, the atmosphere, out of doors,
was already growing very cold.
But, after opening the house-door, she stood an instant on the
threshold, hesitating whether she ought to ask the child to come
in, or whether she should even speak to her. Indeed, she almost
doubted whether it were a real child after all, or only a light
wreath of the new-fallen snow, blown hither and thither about the
garden by the intensely cold west-wind. There was certainly
something very singular in the aspect of the little stranger.
Among all the children of the neighborhood, the lady could
remember no such face, with its pure white, and delicate
rose-color, and the golden ringlets tossing about the forehead
and cheeks. And as for her dress, which was entirely of white,
and fluttering in the breeze, it was such as no reasonable woman
would put upon a little girl, when sending her out to play, in
the depth of winter. It made this kind and careful mother shiver
only to look at those small feet, with nothing in the world on
them, except a very thin pair of white slippers. Nevertheless,
airily as she was clad, the child seemed to feel not the
slightest inconvenience from the cold, but danced so lightly over
the snow that the tips of her toes left hardly a print in its
surface; while Violet could but just keep pace with her, and
Peony's short legs compelled him to lag behind.
Once, in the course of their play, the strange child placed
herself between Violet and Peony, and taking a hand of each,
skipped merrily forward, and they along with her. Almost
immediately, however, Peony pulled away his little fist, and
began to rub it as if the fingers were tingling with cold; while
Violet also released herself, though with less abruptness,
gravely remarking that it was better not to take hold of hands.
The white-robed damsel said not a word, but danced about, just as
merrily as before. If Violet and Peony did not choose to play
with her, she could make just as good a playmate of the brisk and
cold west-wind, which kept blowing her all about the garden, and
took such liberties with her, that they seemed to have been
friends for a long time. All this while, the mother stood on the
threshold, wondering how a little girl could look so much like a
flying snow-drift, or how a snow-drift could look so very like a
She called Violet, and whispered to her.
"Violet my darling, what is this child's name?" asked she. "Does
she live near us?"
"Why, dearest mamma," answered Violet, laughing to think that her
mother did not comprehend so very plain an affair, "this is our
little snow-sister whom we have just been making!"
"Yes, dear mamma," cried Peony, running to his mother, and
looking up simply into her face. "This is our snow-image! Is it
not a nice 'ittle child?"
At this instant a flock of snow-birds came flitting through the
air. As was very natural, they avoided Violet and Peony. But--and
this looked strange--they flew at once to the white-robed child,
fluttered eagerly about her head, alighted on her shoulders, and
seemed to claim her as an old acquaintance. She, on her part, was
evidently as glad to see these little birds, old Winter's
grandchildren, as they were to see her, and welcomed them by
holding out both her hands. Hereupon, they each and all tried to
alight on her two palms and ten small fingers and thumbs,
crowding one another off, with an immense fluttering of their
tiny wings. One dear little bird nestled tenderly in her bosom;
another put its bill to her lips. They were as joyous, all the
while, and seemed as much in their element, as you may have seen
them when sporting with a snow-storm.
Violet and Peony stood laughing at this pretty sight; for they
enjoyed the merry time which their new playmate was having with
these small-winged visitants, almost as much as if they
themselves took part in it.
"Violet," said her mother, greatly perplexed, "tell me the truth,
without any jest. Who is this little girl?"
"My darling mamma," answered Violet, looking seriously into her
mother's face, and apparently surprised that she should need any
further explanation, "I have told you truly who she is. It is our
little snow-image, which Peony and I have been making. Peony will
tell you so, as well as I."
"Yes, mamma," asseverated Peony, with much gravity in his crimson
little phiz; "this is 'ittle snow-child. Is not she a nice one?
But, mamma, her hand is, oh, so very cold!"
While mamma still hesitated what to think and what to do, the
street-gate was thrown open, and the father of Violet and Peony
appeared, wrapped in a pilot-cloth sack, with a fur cap drawn
down over his ears, and the thickest of gloves upon his hands.
Mr. Lindsey was a middle-aged man, with a weary and yet a happy
look in his wind-flushed and frost-pinched face, as if he had
been busy all the day long, and was glad to get back to his quiet
home. His eyes brightened at the sight of his wife and children,
although he could not help uttering a word or two of surprise, at
finding the whole family in the open air, on so bleak a day, and
after sunset too. He soon perceived the little white stranger
sporting to and fro in the garden, like a dancing snow-wreath,
and the flock of snow-birds fluttering about her head.
"Pray, what little girl may that be?" inquired this very sensible
man. "Surely her mother must be crazy to let her go out in such
bitter weather as it has been to-day, with only that flimsy white
gown and those thin slippers!"
"My dear husband," said his wife, "I know no more about the
little thing than you do. Some neighbor's child, I suppose. Our
Violet and Peony," she added, laughing at herself for repeating
so absurd a story, "insist that she is nothing but a snow-image,
which they have been busy about in the garden, almost all the
As she said this, the mother glanced her eyes toward the spot
where the children's snow-image had been made. What was her
surprise, on perceiving that there was not the slightest trace of
so much labor!--no image at all!--no piled up heap of
snow!--nothing whatever, save the prints of little footsteps
around a vacant space!
"This is very strange!" said she.
"What is strange, dear mother?" asked Violet. "Dear father, do
not you see how it is? This is our snow-image, which Peony and I
have made, because we wanted another playmate. Did not we,
"Yes, papa," said crimson Peony. "This be our 'ittle snow-sister.
Is she not beau-ti-ful? But she gave me such a cold kiss!"
"Poh, nonsense, children!" cried their good, honest father, who,
as we have already intimated, had an exceedingly common-sensible
way of looking at matters. "Do not tell me of making live figures
out of snow. Come, wife; this little stranger must not stay out
in the bleak air a moment longer. We will bring her into the
parlor; and you shall give her a supper of warm bread and milk,
and make her as comfortable as you can. Meanwhile, I will inquire
among the neighbors; or, if necessary, send the city-crier about
the streets, to give notice of a lost child."
So saying, this honest and very kind-hearted man was going toward
the little white damsel, with the best intentions in the world.
But Violet and Peony, each seizing their father by the hand,
earnestly besought him not to make her come in.
"Dear father," cried Violet, putting herself before him, "it is
true what I have been telling you! This is our little snow-girl,
and she cannot live any longer than while she breathes the cold
west-wind. Do not make her come into the hot room!"
"Yes, father," shouted Peony, stamping his little foot, so
mightily was he in earnest, "this be nothing but our 'ittle
snow-child! She will not love the hot fire!"
"Nonsense, children, nonsense, nonsense!" cried the father, half
vexed, half laughing at what he considered their foolish
obstinacy. "Run into the house, this moment! It is too late to
play any longer, now. I must take care of this little girl
immediately, or she will catch her death-a-cold!"
"Husband! dear husband!" said his wife, in a low voice,--for she
had been looking narrowly at the snow-child, and was more
perplexed than ever,--"there is something very singular in all
this. You will think me foolish,--but--but--may it not be that
some invisible angel has been attracted by the simplicity and
good faith with which our children set about their undertaking?
May he not have spent an hour of his immorttality in playing with
those dear little souls? and so the result is what we call a
miracle. No, no! Do not laugh at me; I see what a foolish thought
"My dear wife," replied the husband, laughing heartily, "you are
as much a child as Violet and Peony."
And in one sense so she was, for all through life she had kept
her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as
pure and clear as crystal; and, looking at all matters through
this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound
that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.
But now kind Mr. Lindsey had entered the garden, breaking away
from his two children, who still sent their shrill voices after
him, beseeching him to let the snow-child stay and enjoy herself
in the cold west-wind. As he approached, the snow-birds took to
flight. The little white damsel, also, fled backward, shaking her
head, as if to say, "Pray, do not touch me!" and roguishly, as it
appeared, leading him through the deepest of the snow. Once, the
good man stumbled, and floundered down upon his face, so that,
gathering himself up again, with the snow sticking to his rough
pilot-cloth sack, he looked as white and wintry as a snow-image
of the largest size. Some of the neighbors, meanwhile, seeing him
from their windows, wondered what could possess poor Mr. Lindsey
to be running about his garden in pursuit of a snow-drift, which
the west-wind was driving hither and thither! At length, after a
vast deal of trouble, he chased the little stranger into a
corner, where she could not possibly escape him. His wife had
been looking on, and, it being nearly twilight, was wonder-struck
to observe how the snow-child gleamed and sparkled, and how she
seemed to shed a glow all round about her; and when driven into
the corner, she positively glistened like a star! It was a frosty
kind of brightness, too, like that of an icicle in the moonlight.
The wife thought it strange that good Mr. Lindsey should see
nothing remarkable in the snow-child's appearance.
"Come, you odd little thing!" cried the honest man, seizing her
by the hand, "I have caught you at last, and will make you
comfortable in spite of yourself. We will put a nice warm pair of
worsted stockings on your frozen little feet, and you shall have
a good thick shawl to wrap yourself in. Your poor white nose, I
am afraid, is actually frost-bitten. But we will make it all
right. Come along in."
And so, with a most benevolent smile on his sagacious visage, all
purple as it was with the cold, this very well-meaning gentleman
took the snow-child by the hand and led her towards the house.
She followed him, droopingly and reluctant; for all the glow and
sparkle was gone out of her figure; and whereas just before she
had resembled a bright, frosty, star-gemmed evening, with a
crimson gleam on the cold horizon, she now looked as dull and
languid as a thaw. As kind Mr. Lindsey led her up the steps of
the door, Violet and Peony looked into his face,--their eyes full
of tears, which froze before they could run down their
cheeks,--and again entreated him not to bring their snow-image
into the house.
"Not bring her in!" exclaimed the kind-hearted man. "Why, you are
crazy, my little Violet!--quite crazy, my small Peony! She is so
cold, already, that her hand has almost frozen mine, in spite of
my thick gloves. Would you have her freeze to death?"
His wife, as he came up the steps, had been taking another long,
earnest, almost awe-stricken gaze at the little white stranger.
She hardly knew whether it was a dream or no; but she could not
help fancying that she saw the delicate print of Violet's fingers
on the child's neck. It looked just as if, while Violet was
shaping out the image, she had given it a gentle pat with her
hand, and had neglected to smooth the impression quite away.
"After all, husband," said the mother, recurring to her idea that
the angels would be as much delighted to play with Violet and
Peony as she herself was,--"after all, she does look strangely
like a snow-image! I do believe she is made of snow!"
A puff of the west-wind blew against the snow-child, and again
she sparkled like a star.
"Snow!" repeated good Mr. Lindsey, drawing the reluctant guest
over his hospitable threshold. "No wonder she looks like snow.
She is half frozen, poor little thing! But a good fire will put
everything to rights!"
Without further talk, and always with the same best intentions,
this highly benevolent and common-sensible individual led the
little white damsel--drooping, drooping, drooping, more and more
out of the frosty air, and into his comfortable parlor. A
Heidenberg stove, filled to the brim with intensely burning
anthracite, was sending a bright gleam through the isinglass of
its iron door, and causing the vase of water on its top to fume
and bubble with excitement. A warm, sultry smell was diffused
throughout the room. A thermometer on the wall farthest from the
stove stood at eighty degrees. The parlor was hung with red
curtains, and covered with a red carpet, and looked just as warm
as it felt. The difference betwixt the atmosphere here and the
cold, wintry twilight out of doors, was like stepping at once
from Nova Zembla to the hottest part of India, or from the North
Pole into an oven. Oh, this was a fine place for the little white
The common-sensible man placed the snow-child on the hearth-rug,
right in front of the hissing and fuming stove.
"Now she will be comfortable!" cried Mr. Lindsey, rubbing his
hands and looking about him, with the pleasantest smile you ever
saw. "Make yourself at home, my child."
Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden, as she
stood on the hearth-rug, with the hot blast of the stove striking
through her like a pestilence. Once, she threw a glance wistfully
toward the windows, and caught a glimpse, through its red
curtains, of the snow-covered roofs, and the stars glimmering
frostily, and all the delicious intensity of the cold night. The
bleak wind rattled the window-panes, as if it were summoning her
to come forth. But there stood the snow-child, drooping, before
the hot stove!
But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.
"Come wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick stockings and
a woollen shawl or blanket directly; and tell Dora to give her
some warm supper as soon as the milk boils. You, Violet and
Peony, amuse your little friend. She is out of spirits, you see,
at finding herself in a strange place. For my part, I will go
around among the neighbors, and find out where she belongs."
The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl and
stockings; for her own view of the matter, however subtle and
delicate, had given way, as it always did, to the stubborn
materialism of her husband. Without heeding the remonstrances of
his two children, who still kept murmuring that their little
snow-sister did not love the warmth, good Mr. Lindsey took his
departure, shutting the parlor-door carefully behind him. Turning
up the collar of his sack over his ears, he emerged from the
house, and had barely reached the street-gate, when he was
recalled by the screams of Violet and Peony, and the rapping of a
thimbled finger against the parlor window.
"Husband! husband!" cried his wife, showing her horror-stricken
face through the window-panes. "There is no need of going for the
"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peony, as he
re-entered the parlor. "You would bring her in; and now our
poor--dear-beau-ti-ful little snow-sister is thawed!"
And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved in tears;
so that their father, seeing what strange things occasionally
happen in this every-day world, felt not a little anxious lest
his children might be going to thaw too! In the utmost
perplexity, he demanded an explanation of his wife. She could
only reply, that, being summoned to the parlor by the cries of
Violet and Peony, she found no trace of the little white maiden,
unless it were the remains of a heap of snow, which, while she
was gazing at it, melted quite away upon the hearth-rug.
"And there you see all that is left of it!" added she, pointing
to a pool of water in front of the stove.
"Yes, father," said Violet looking reproachfully at him, through
her tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little
"Naughty father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and--I shudder
to say--shaking his little fist at the common-sensible man. "We
told you how it would be! What for did you bring her in?"
And the Heidenberg stove, through the isinglass of its door,
seemed to glare at good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed demon,
triumphing in the mischief which it had done!
This, you will observe, was one of those rare cases, which yet
will occasionally happen, where common-sense finds itself at
fault. The remarkable story of the snow-image, though to that
sagacious class of people to whom good Mr. Lindsey belongs it may
seem but a childish affair, is, nevertheless, capable of being
moralized in various methods, greatly for their edification. One
of its lessons, for instance, might be, that it behooves men, and
especially men of benevolence, to consider well what they are
about, and, before acting on their philanthropic purposes, to be
quite sure that they comprehend the nature and all the relations
of the business in hand. What has been established as an element
of good to one being may prove absolute mischief to another; even
as the warmth of the parlor was proper enough for children of
flesh and blood, like Violet and Peony,--though by no means very
wholesome, even for them,--but involved nothing short of
annihilation to the unfortunate snow-image.
But, after all, there is no teaching anything to wise men of good
Mr. Lindsey's stamp. They know everything,--oh, to be
sure!--everything that has been, and everything that is, and
everything that, by any future possibility, can be. And, should
some phenomenon of nature or providence transcend their system,
they will not recognize it, even if it come to pass under their
"Wife," said Mr. Lindsey, after a fit of silence, "see what a
quantity of snow the children have brought in on their feet! It
has made quite a puddle here before the stove. Pray tell Dora to
bring some towels and mop it up!"
THE GREAT STONE FACE
One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her
little boy sat at the door of their cottage, talking about the
Great Stone Face. They had but to lift their eyes, and there it
was plainly to be seen, though miles away, with the sunshine
brightening all its features.
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Embosomed amongst a family of lofty mountains, there was a valley
so spacious that it contained many thousand inhabitants. Some of
these good people dwelt in log-huts, with the black forest all
around them, on the steep and difficult hill-sides. Others had
their homes in comfortable farm-houses, and cultivated the rich
soil on the gentle slopes or level surfaces of the valley.
Others, again, were congregated into populous villages, where
some wild, highland rivulet, tumbling down from its birthplace in
the upper mountain region, had been caught and tamed by human
cunning, and compelled to turn the machinery of cotton-factories.
The inhabitants of this valley, in short, were numerous, and of
many modes of life. But all of them, grown people and children,
had a kind of familiarity with the Great Stone Face, although
some possessed the gift of distinguishing this grand natural
phenomenon more perfectly than many of their neighbors.
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of
majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a
mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in
such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely
to resemble the features of the human countenance. It seemed as
if an enormous giant, or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness
on the precipice. There was the broad arch of the forehead, a
hundred feet in height; the nose, with its long bridge; and the
vast lips, which, if they could have spoken, would have rolled
their thunder accents from one end of the valley to the other.
True it is, that if the spectator approached too near, he lost
the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap
of ponderous and gigantic rocks, piled in chaotic ruin one upon
another. Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features
would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the
more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact,
did they appear; until, as it grew dim in the distance, with the
clouds and glorified vapor of the mountains clustering about it,
the Great Stone Face seemed positively to be alive.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or
womanhood with the Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all
the features were noble, and the expression was at once grand and
sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart, that
embraced all mankind in its affections, and had room for more. It
was an education only to look at it. According to the belief of
many people, the valley owed much of its fertility to this benign
aspect that was continually beaming over it, illuminating the
clouds, and infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.
As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at their
cottage-door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about
it. The child's name was Ernest.
"Mother," said he, while the Titanic visage smiled on him, "I
wish that it could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its
voice must needs be pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a
face, I should love him dearly."
"If an old prophecy should come to pass," answered his mother,
"we may see a man, some time or other, with exactly such a face
"What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?" eagerly inquired
Ernest. "Pray tell me about it!"
So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to
her, when she herself was younger than little Ernest; a story,
not of things that were past, but of what was yet to come; a
story, nevertheless, so very old, that even the Indians, who
formerly inhabited this valley, had heard it from their
forefathers, to whom, as they affirmed, it had been murmured by
the mountain streams, and whispered by the wind among the
tree-tops. The purport was, that, at some future day, a child
should be born hereabouts, who was destined to become the
greatest and noblest personage of his time, and whose
countenance, in manhood, should bear an exact resemblance to the
Great Stone Face. Not a few old-fashioned people, and young ones
likewise, in the ardor of their hopes, still cherished an
enduring faith in this old prophecy. But others, who had seen
more of the world, had watched and waited till they were weary,
and had beheld no man with such a face, nor any man that proved
to be much greater or nobler than his neighbors, concluded it to
be nothing but an idle tale. At all events, the great man of the
prophecy had not yet appeared.
"O mother, dear mother!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands above
his head, "I do hope that I shall live to see him!"
His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt
that it was wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her
little boy. So she only said to him, "Perhaps you may."
And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It
was always in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone
Face. He spent his childhood in the log-cottage where he was
born, and was dutiful to his mother, and helpful to her in many
things, assisting her much with his little hands, and more with
his loving heart. In this manner, from a happy yet often pensive
child, he grew up to be a mild, quiet, unobtrusive boy, and
sun-browned with labor in the fields, but with more intelligence
brightening his aspect than is seen in many lads who have been
taught at famous schools. Yet Ernest had had no teacher, save
only that the Great Stone Face became one to him. When the toil
of the day was over, he would gaze at it for hours, until he
began to imagine that those vast features recognized him, and
gave him a smile of kindness and encouragement, responsive to his
own look of veneration. We must not take upon us to affirm that
this was a mistake, although the Face may have looked no more
kindly at Ernest than at all the world besides. But the secret
was that the boy's tender and confiding simplicity discerned what
other people could not see; and thus the love, which was meant
for all, became his peculiar portion.
About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that
the great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a
resemblance to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It
seems that, many years before, a young man had migrated from the
valley and settled at a distant seaport, where, after getting
together a little money, he had set up as a shopkeeper. His
name--but I could never learn whether it was his real one, or a
nickname that had grown out of his habits and success in
life--was Gathergold. Being shrewd and active, and endowed by
Providence with that inscrutable faculty which develops itself in
what the world calls luck, he became an exceedingly rich
merchant, and owner of a whole fleet of bulky-bottomed ships. All
the countries of the globe appeared to join hands for the mere
purpose of adding heap after heap to the mountainous accumulation
of this one man's wealth. The cold regions of the north, almost
within the gloom and shadow of the Arctic Circle, sent him their
tribute in the shape of furs; hot Africa sifted for him the
golden sands of her rivers, and gathered up the ivory tusks of
her great elephants out of the forests; the East came bringing
him the rich shawls, and spices, and teas, and the effulgence of
diamonds, and the gleaming purity of large pearls. The ocean, not
to be behindhand with the earth, yielded up her mighty whales,
that Mr. Gathergold might sell their oil, and make a profit of
it. Be the original commodity what it might, it was gold within
his grasp. It might be said of him, as of Midas in the fable,
that whatever he touched with his finger immediately glistened,
and grew yellow, and was changed at once into sterling metal, or,
which suited him still better, into piles of coin. And, when Mr.
Gathergold had become so very rich that it would have taken him a
hundred years only to count his wealth, he bethought himself of
his native valley, and resolved to go back thither, and end his
days where he was born. With this purpose in view, he sent a
skilful architect to build him such a palace as should be fit for
a man of his vast wealth to live in.
As I have said above, it had already been rumored in the valley
that Mr. Gathergold had turned out to be the prophetic personage
so long and vainly looked for, and that his visage was the
perfect and undeniable similitude of the Great Stone Face. People
were the more ready to believe that this must needs be the fact,
when they beheld the splendid edifice that rose, as if by
enchantment, on the site of his father's old weatherbeaten
farm-house. The exterior was of marble, so dazzlingly white that
it seemed as though the whole structure might melt away in the
sunshine, like those humbler ones which Mr. Gathergold, in his
young play-days, before his fingers were gifted with the touch of
transmutation, had been accustomed to build of snow. It had a
richly ornamented portico, supported by tall pillars, beneath
which was a lofty door, studded with silver knobs, and made of a
kind of variegated wood that had been brought from beyond the
sea. The windows, from the floor to the ceiling of each stately
apartment, were composed, respectively, of but one enormous pane
of glass, so transparently pure that it was said to be a finer
medium than even the vacant atmosphere. Hardly anybody had been
permitted to see the interior of this palace; but it was
reported, and with good semblance of truth, to be far more
gorgeous than the outside, insomuch that whatever was iron or
brass in other houses was silver or gold in this; and Mr.
Gathergold's bedchamber, especially, made such a glittering
appearance that no ordinary man would have been able to close his
eyes there. But, on the other hand, Mr. Gathergold was now so
inured to wealth, that perhaps he could not have closed his eyes
unless where the gleam of it was certain to find its way beneath
In due time, the mansion was finished; next came the
upholsterers, with magnificent furniture; then, a whole troop of
black and white servants, the harbingers of Mr. Gathergold, who,
in his own majestic person, was expected to arrive at sunset. Our
friend Ernest, meanwhile, had been deeply stirred by the idea
that the great man, the noble man, the man of prophecy, after so
many ages of delay, was at length to be made manifest to his
native valley. He knew, boy as he was, that there were a thousand
ways in which Mr. Gathergold, with his vast wealth, might
transform himself into an angel of beneficence, and assume a
control over human affairs as wide and benignant as the smile of
the Great Stone Face. Full of faith and hope, Ernest doubted not
that what the people said was true, and that now he was to behold
the living likeness of those wondrous features on the
mountain-side. While the boy was still gazing up the valley, and
fancying, as he always did, that the Great Stone Face returned
his gaze and looked kindly at him, the rumbling of wheels was
heard, approaching swiftly along the winding road.
"Here he comes!" cried a group of people who were assembled to
witness the arrival. "Here comes the great Mr. Gathergold!"
A carriage, drawn by four horses, dashed round the turn of the
road. Within it, thrust partly out of the window, appeared the
physiognomy of the old man, with a skin as yellow as if his own
Midas-hand had transmuted it. He had a low forehead, small, sharp
eyes, puckered about with innumerable wrinkles, and very thin
lips, which he made still thinner by pressing them forcibly
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people.
"Sure enough, the old prophecy is true; and here we have the
great man come, at last!"
And, what greatly perplexed Ernest, they seemed actually to
believe that here was the likeness which they spoke of. By the
roadside there chanced to be an old beggar-woman and two little
beggar-children, stragglers from some far-off region, who, as the
carriage rolled onward, held out their hands and lifted up their
doleful voices, most piteously beseeching charity. A yellow
claw--the very same that had clawed together so much
wealth--poked itself out of the coach-window, and dropt some
copper coins upon the ground; so that, though the great man's
name seems to have been Gathergold, he might just as suitably
have been nicknamed Scattercopper. Still, nevertheless, with an
earnest shout, and evidently with as much good faith as ever, the
people bellowed, "He is the very image of the Great Stone Face!"
But Ernest turned sadly from the wrinkled shrewdness of that
sordid visage, and gazed up the valley, where, amid a gathering
mist, gilded by the last sunbeams, he could still distinguish
those glorious features which had impressed themselves into his
soul. Their aspect cheered him. What did the benign lips seem to
"He will come! Fear not, Ernest; the man will come!"
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown to
be a young man now. He attracted little notice from the other
inhabitants of the valley; for they saw nothing remarkable in his
way of life save that, when the labor of the day was over, he
still loved to go apart and gaze and meditate upon the Great
Stone Face. According to their idea of the matter, it was a
folly, indeed, but pardonable, inasmuch as Ernest was
industrious, kind, and neighborly, and neglected no duty for the
sake of indulging this idle habit. They knew not that the Great
Stone Face had become a teacher to him, and that the sentiment
which was expressed in it would enlarge the young man's heart,
and fill it with wider and deeper sympathies than other hearts.
They knew not that thence would come a better wisdom than could
be learned from books, and a better life than could be moulded on
the defaced example of other human lives. Neither did Ernest know
that the thoughts and affections which came to him so naturally,
in the fields and at the fireside, and wherever he communed with
himself, were of a higher tone than those which all men shared
with him. A simple soul,--simple as when his mother first taught
him the old prophecy,--he beheld the marvellous features beaming
adown the valley, and still wondered that their human counterpart
was so long in making his appearance.
By this time poor Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried; and the
oddest part of the matter was, that his wealth, which was the
body and spirit of his existence, had disappeared before his
death, leaving nothing of him but a living skeleton, covered over
with a wrinkled yellow skin. Since the melting away of his gold,
it had been very generally conceded that there was no such
striking resemblance, after all, betwixt the ignoble features of
the ruined merchant and that majestic face upon the
mountain-side. So the people ceased to honor him during his
lifetime, and quietly consigned him to forgetfulness after his
decease. Once in a while, it is true, his memory was brought up
in connection with the magnificent palace which he had built, and
which had long ago been turned into a hotel for the accommodation
of strangers, multitudes of whom came, every summer, to visit
that famous natural curiosity, the Great Stone Face. Thus, Mr.
Gathergold being discredited and thrown into the shade, the man
of prophecy was yet to come.
It so happened that a native-born son of the valley, many years
before, had enlisted as a soldier, and, after a great deal of
hard fighting, had now become an illustrious commander. Whatever
he may be called in history, he was known in camps and on the
battle-field under the nickname of Old Blood-and-Thunder. This
war-worn veteran being now infirm with age and wounds, and weary
of the turmoil of a military life, and of the roll of the drum
and the clangor of the trumpet, that had so long been ringing in
his ears, had lately signified a purpose of returning to his
native valley, hoping to find repose where he remembered to have
left it. The inhabitants, his old neighbors and their grown-up
children, were resolved to welcome the renowned warrior with a
salute of cannon and a public dinner; and all the more
enthusiastically, it being affirmed that now, at last, the
likeness of the Great Stone Face had actually appeared. An
aid-de-camp of Old Blood-and-Thunder, travelling through the
valley, was said to have been struck with the resemblance.
Moreover the schoolmates and early acquaintances of the general
were ready to testify, on oath, that, to the best of their
recollection, the aforesaid general had been exceedingly like the
majestic image, even when a boy, only the idea had never occurred
to them at that period. Great, therefore, was the excitement
throughout the valley; and many people, who had never once
thought of glancing at the Great Stone Face for years before, now
spent their time in gazing at it, for the sake of knowing exactly
how General Blood-and-Thunder looked.
On the day of the great festival, Ernest, with all the other
people of the valley, left their work, and proceeded to the spot
where the sylvan banquet was prepared. As he approached, the loud
voice of the Rev. Dr. Battleblast was heard, beseeching a
blessing on the good things set before them, and on the
distinguished friend of peace in whose honor they were assembled.
The tables were arranged in a cleared space of the woods, shut in
by the surrounding trees, except where a vista opened eastward,
and afforded a distant view of the Great Stone Face. Over the
general's chair, which was a relic from the home of Washington,
there was an arch of verdant boughs, with the laurel profusely
intermixed, and surmounted by his country's banner, beneath which
he had won his victories. Our friend Ernest raised himself on his
tiptoes, in hopes to get a glimpse of the celebrated guest; but
there was a mighty crowd about the tables anxious to hear the
toasts and speeches, and to catch any word that might fall from
the general in reply; and a volunteer company, doing duty as a
guard, pricked ruthlessly with their bayonets at any particularly
quiet person among the throng. So Ernest, being of an unobtrusive
character, was thrust quite into the background, where he could
see no more of Old Blood-and-Thunder's physiognomy than if it had
been still blazing on the battle-field. To console himself, he
turned towards the Great Stone Face, which, like a faithful and
long remembered friend, looked back and smiled upon him through
the vista of the forest. Meantime, however, he could overhear the
remarks of various individuals, who were comparing the features
of the hero with the face on the distant mountain-side.
" 'Tis the same face, to a hair!" cried one man, cutting a caper
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact!" responded another.
"Like! why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a
monstrous looking-glass!" cried a third. "And why not? He's the
greatest man of this or any other age, beyond a doubt."
And then all three of the speakers gave a great shout, which
communicated electricity to the crowd, and called forth a roar
from a thousand voices, that went reverberating for miles among
the mountains, until you might have supposed that the Great Stone
Face had poured its thunderbreath into the cry. All these
comments, and this vast enthusiasm, served the more to interest
our friend; nor did he think of questioning that now, at length,
the mountain-visage had found its human counterpart. It is true,
Ernest had imagined that this long-looked-for personage would
appear in the character of a man of peace, uttering wisdom, and
doing good, and making people happy. But, taking an habitual
breadth of view, with all his simplicity, he contended that
Providence should choose its own method of blessing mankind, and
could conceive that this great end might be effected even by a
warrior and a bloody sword, should inscrutable wisdom see fit to
order matters so.
"The general! the general!" was now the cry. "Hush! silence! Old
Blood-and-Thunder's going to make a speech."
Even so; for, the cloth being removed, the general's health had
been drunk, amid shouts of applause, and he now stood upon his
feet to thank the company. Ernest saw him. There he was, over the
shoulders of the crowd, from the two glittering epaulets and
embroidered collar upward, beneath the arch of green boughs with
intertwined laurel, and the banner drooping as if to shade his
brow! And there, too, visible in the same glance, through the
vista of the forest, appeared the Great Stone Face! And was
there, indeed, such a resemblance as the crowd had testified?
Alas, Ernest could not recognize it! He beheld a war-worn and
weatherbeaten countenance, full of energy, and expressive of an
iron will; but the gentle wisdom, the deep, broad, tender
sympathies, were altogether wanting in Old Blood-and-Thunder's
visage; and even if the Great Stone Face had assumed his look of
stern command, the milder traits would still have tempered it.
"This is not the man of prophecy," sighed Ernest to himself, as
he made his way out of the throng. "And must the world wait
The mists had congregated about the distant mountain-side, and
there were seen the grand and awful features of the Great Stone
Face, awful but benignant, as if a mighty angel were sitting
among the hills, and enrobing himself in a cloud-vesture of gold
and purple. As he looked, Ernest could hardly believe but that a
smile beamed over the whole visage, with a radiance still
brightening, although without motion of the lips. It was probably
the effect of the western sunshine, melting through the thinly
diffused vapors that had swept between him and the object that he
gazed at. But--as it always did--the aspect of his marvellous
friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he had never hoped in vain.
"Fear not, Ernest," said his heart, even as if the Great Face
were whispering him,--fear not, Ernest; he will come."
More years sped swiftly and tranquilly away. Ernest still dwelt
in his native valley, and was now a man of middle age. By
imperceptible degrees, he had become known among the people. Now,
as heretofore, he labored for his bread, and was the same
simple-hearted man that he had always been. But he had thought
and felt so much, he had given so many of the best hours of his
life to unworldly hopes for some great good to mankind, that it
seemed as though he had been talking with the angels, and had
imbibed a portion of their wisdom unawares. It was visible in the
calm and well-considered beneficence of his daily life, the quiet
stream of which had made a wide green margin all along its
course. Not a day passed by, that the world was not the better
because this man, humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped
aside from his own path, yet would always reach a blessing to his
neighbor. Almost involuntarily too, he had become a preacher. The
pure and high simplicity of his thought, which, as one of its
manifestations, took shape in the good deeds that dropped
silently from his hand, flowed also forth in speech. He uttered
truths that wrought upon and moulded the lives of those who heard
him. His auditors, it may be, never suspected that Ernest, their
own neighbor and familiar friend, was more than an ordinary man;
least of all did Ernest himself suspect it; but, inevitably as
the murmur of a rivulet, came thoughts out of his mouth that no
other human lips had spoken.
When the people's minds had had a little time to cool, they were
ready enough to acknowledge their mistake in imagining a
similarity between General Blood-and-Thunder's truculent
physiognomy and the benign visage on the mountain-side. But now,
again, there were reports and many paragraphs in the newspapers,
affirming that the likeness of the Great Stone Face had appeared
upon the broad shoulders of a certain eminent statesman. He, like
Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder, was a native of the
valley, but had left it in his early days, and taken up the
trades of law and politics. Instead of the rich man's wealth and
the warrior's sword, he had but a tongue, and it was mightier
than both together. So wonderfully eloquent was he, that whatever
he might choose to say, his auditors had no choice but to believe
him; wrong looked like right, and right like wrong; for when it
pleased him, he could make a kind of illuminated fog with his
mere breath, and obscure the natural daylight with it. His
tongue, indeed, was a magic instrument: sometimes it rumbled like
the thunder; sometimes it warbled like the sweetest music. It was
the blast of war, the song of peace; and it seemed to have a
heart in it, when there was no such matter. In good truth, he was
a wondrous man; and when his tongue had acquired him all other
imaginable success,--when it had been heard in halls of state,
and in the courts of princes and potentates,--after it had made
him known all over the world, even as a voice crying from shore
to shore,--it finally persuaded his countrymen to select him for
the Presidency. Before this time,--indeed, as soon as he began to
grow celebrated,--his admirers had found out the resemblance
between him and the Great Stone Face; and so much were they
struck by it, that throughout the country this distinguished
gentleman was known by the name of Old Stony Phiz. The phrase was
considered as giving a highly favorable aspect to his political
prospects; for, as is likewise the case with the Popedom, nobody
ever becomes President without taking a name other than his own.
While his friends were doing their best to make him President,
Old Stony Phiz, as he was called, set out on a visit to the
valley where he was born. Of course, he had no other object than
to shake hands with his fellow-citizens and neither thought nor
cared about any effect which his progress through the country
might have upon the election. Magnificent preparations were made
to receive the illustrious statesman; a cavalcade of horsemen set
forth to meet him at the boundary line of the State, and all the
people left their business and gathered along the wayside to see
him pass. Among these was Ernest. Though more than once
disappointed, as we have seen, he had such a hopeful and
confiding nature, that he was always ready to believe in whatever
seemed beautiful and good. He kept his heart continually open,
and thus was sure to catch the blessing from on high when it
should come. So now again, as buoyantly as ever, he went forth to
behold the likeness of the Great Stone Face.
The cavalcade came prancing along the road, with a great
clattering of hoofs and a mighty cloud of dust, which rose up so
dense and high that the visage of the mountain-side was
completely hidden from Ernest's eyes. All the great men of the
neighborhood were there on horseback; militia officers, in
uniform; the member of Congress; the sheriff of the county; the
editors of newspapers; and many a farmer, too, had mounted his
patient steed, with his Sunday coat upon his back. It really was
a very brilliant spectacle, especially as there were numerous
banners flaunting over the cavalcade, on some of which were
gorgeous portraits of the illustrious statesman and the Great
Stone Face, smiling familiarly at one another, like two brothers.
If the pictures were to be trusted, the mutual resemblance, it
must be confessed, was marvellous. We must not forget to mention
that there was a band of music, which made the echoes of the
mountains ring and reverberate with the loud triumph of its
strains; so that airy and soul-thrilling melodies broke out among
all the heights and hollows, as if every nook of his native
valley had found a voice, to welcome the distinguished guest. But
the grandest effect was when the far-off mountain precipice flung
back the music; for then the Great Stone Face itself seemed to be
swelling the triumphant chorus, in acknowledgment that, at
length, the man of prophecy was come.
All this while the people were throwing up their hats and
shouting with enthusiasm so contagious that the heart of Ernest
kindled up, and he likewise threw up his hat, and shouted, as
loudly as the loudest, "Huzza for the great man! Huzza for Old
Stony Phiz!" But as yet he had not seen him.
"Here he is, now!" cried those who stood near Ernest. "There!
There! Look at Old Stony Phiz and then at the Old Man of the
Mountain, and see if they are not as like as two twin-brothers!"
In the midst of all this gallant array came an open barouche,
drawn by four white horses; and in the barouche, with his massive
head uncovered, sat the illustrious statesman, Old Stony Phiz
"Confess it," said one of Ernest's neighbors to him, "the Great
Stone Face has met its match at last!"
Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the
countenance which was bowing and smiling from the barouche,
Ernest did fancy that there was a resemblance between it and the
old familiar face upon the mountain-side. The brow, with its
massive depth and loftiness, and all the other features, indeed,
were boldly and strongly hewn, as if in emulation of a more than
heroic, of a Titanic model. But the sublimity and stateliness,
the grand expression of a divine sympathy, that illuminated the
mountain visage and etherealized its ponderous granite substance
into spirit, might here be sought in vain. Something had been
originally left out, or had departed. And therefore the
marvellously gifted statesman had always a weary gloom in the
deep caverns of his eyes, as of a child that has outgrown its
playthings or a man of mighty faculties and little aims, whose
life, with all its high performances, was vague and empty,
because no high purpose had endowed it with reality.
Still, Ernest's neighbor was thrusting his elbow into his side,
and pressing him for an answer.
"Confess! confess! Is not he the very picture of your Old Man of
"No!" said Ernest bluntly, "I see little or no likeness."
"Then so much the worse for the Great Stone Face!" answered his
neighbor; and again he set up a shout for Old Stony Phiz.
But Ernest turned away, melancholy, and almost despondent: for
this was the saddest of his disappointments, to behold a man who
might have fulfilled the prophecy, and had not willed to do so.
Meantime, the cavalcade, the banners, the music, and the
barouches swept past him, with the vociferous crowd in the rear,
leaving the dust to settle down, and the Great Stone Face to be
revealed again, with the grandeur that it had worn for untold
"Lo, here I am, Ernest!" the benign lips seemed to say. "I have
waited longer than thou, and am not yet weary. Fear not; the man
The years hurried onward, treading in their haste on one
another's heels. And now they began to bring white hairs, and
scatter them over the head of Ernest; they made reverend wrinkles
across his forehead, and furrows in his cheeks. He was an aged
man. But not in vain had he grown old: more than the white hairs
on his head were the sage thoughts in his mind; his wrinkles and
furrows were inscriptions that Time had graved, and in which he
had written legends of wisdom that had been tested by the tenor
of a life. And Ernest had ceased to be obscure. Unsought for,
undesired, had come the fame which so many seek, and made him
known in the great world, beyond the limits of the valley in
which he had dwelt so quietly. College professors, and even the
active men of cities, came from far to see and converse with
Ernest; for the report had gone abroad that this simple
husbandman had ideas unlike those of other men, not gained from
books, but of a higher tone,--a tranquil and familiar majesty, as
if he had been talking with the angels as his daily friends.
Whether it were sage, statesman, or philanthropist, Ernest
received these visitors with the gentle sincerity that had
characterized him from boyhood, and spoke freely with them of
whatever came uppermost, or lay deepest in his heart or their
own. While they talked together, his face would kindle, unawares,
and shine upon them, as with a mild evening light. Pensive with
the fulness of such discourse, his guests took leave and went
their way; and passing up the valley, paused to look at the Great
Stone Face, imagining that they had seen its likeness in a human
countenance, but could not remember where.
While Ernest had been growing up and growing old, a bountiful
Providence had granted a new poet to this earth. He likewise, was
a native of the valley, but had spent the greater part of his
life at a distance from that romantic region, pouring out his
sweet music amid the bustle and din of cities. Often, however,
did the mountains which had been familiar to him in his childhood
lift their snowy peaks into the clear atmosphere of his poetry.
Neither was the Great Stone Face forgotten, for the poet had
celebrated it in an ode, which was grand enough to have been
uttered by its own majestic lips. This man of genius, we may say,
had come down from heaven with wonderful endowments. If he sang
of a mountain, the eyes of all mankind beheld a mightier grandeur
reposing on its breast, or soaring to its summit, than had before
been seen there. If his theme were a lovely lake, a celestial
smile had now been thrown over it, to gleam forever on its
surface. If it were the vast old sea, even the deep immensity of
its dread bosom seemed to swell the higher, as if moved by the
emotions of the song. Thus the world assumed another and a better
aspect from the hour that the poet blessed it with his happy
eyes. The Creator had bestowed him, as the last best touch to his
own handiwork. Creation was not finished till the poet came to
interpret, and so complete it.
The effect was no less high and beautiful, when his human
brethren were the subject of his verse. The man or woman, sordid
with the common dust of life, who crossed his daily path, and the
little child who played in it, were glorified if he beheld them
in his mood of poetic faith. He showed the golden links of the
great chain that intertwined them with an angelic kindred; he
brought out the hidden traits of a celestial birth that made them
worthy of such kin. Some, indeed, there were, who thought to show
the soundness of their judgment by affirming that all the beauty
and dignity of the natural world existed only in the poet's
fancy. Let such men speak for themselves, who undoubtedly appear
to have been spawned forth by Nature with a contemptuous
bitterness; she having plastered them up out of her refuse stuff,
after all the swine were made. As respects all things else, the
poet's ideal was the truest truth.
The songs of this poet found their way to Ernest. He read them
after his customary toil, seated on the bench before his
cottage-door, where for such a length of time he had filled his
repose with thought, by gazing at the Great Stone Face. And now
as he read stanzas that caused the soul to thrill within him, he
lifted his eyes to the vast countenance beaming on him so
"O majestic friend," he murmured, addressing the Great Stone
Face, "is not this man worthy to resemble thee?"
The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.
Now it happened that the poet, though he dwelt so far away, had
not only heard of Ernest, but had meditated much upon his
character, until he deemed nothing so desirable as to meet this
man, whose untaught wisdom walked hand in hand with the noble
simplicity of his life. One summer morning, therefore, he took
passage by the railroad, and, in the decline of the afternoon,
alighted from the cars at no great distance from Ernest's
cottage. The great hotel, which had formerly been the palace of
Mr. Gathergold, was close at hand, but the poet, with his
carpet-bag on his arm, inquired at once where Ernest dwelt, and
was resolved to be accepted as his guest.
Approaching the door, he there found the good old man, holding a
volume in his hand, which alternately he read, and then, with a
finger between the leaves, looked lovingly at the Great Stone
"Good evening," said the poet. "Can you give a traveller a
"Willingly," answered Ernest; and then he added, smiling,
"Methinks I never saw the Great Stone Face look so hospitably at
The poet sat down on the bench beside him, and he and Ernest
talked together. Often had the poet held intercourse with the
wittiest and the wisest, but never before with a man like Ernest,
whose thoughts and feelings gushed up with such a natural
freedom, and who made great truths so familiar by his simple
utterance of them. Angels, as had been so often said, seemed to
have wrought with him at his labor in the fields; angels seemed
to have sat with him by the fireside; and, dwelling with angels
as friend with friends, he had imbibed the sublimity of their
ideas, and imbued it with the sweet and lowly charm of household
words. So thought the poet. And Ernest, on the other hand, was
moved and agitated by the living images which the poet flung out
of his mind, and which peopled all the air about the cottage-door
with shapes of beauty, both gay and pensive. The sympathies of
these two men instructed them with a profounder sense than either
could have attained alone. Their minds accorded into one strain,
and made delightful music which neither of them could have
claimed as all his own, nor distinguished his own share from the
other's. They led one another, as it were, into a high pavilion
of their thoughts, so remote, and hitherto so dim, that they had
never entered it before, and so beautiful that they desired to be
As Ernest listened to the poet, he imagined that the Great Stone
Face was bending forward to listen too. He gazed earnestly into
the poet's glowing eyes.
"Who are you, my strangely gifted guest?" he said.
The poet laid his finger on the volume that Ernest had been
"You have read these poems," said he. "You know me, then,--for I
Again, and still more earnestly than before, Ernest examined the
poet's features; then turned towards the Great Stone Face; then
back, with an uncertain aspect, to his guest. But his countenance
fell; he shook his head, and sighed.
"Wherefore are you sad?" inquired the poet.
"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the
fulfilment of a prophecy; and, when I read these poems, I hoped
that it might be fulfilled in you."
"You hoped," answered the poet, faintly smiling, "to find in me
the likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed,
as formerly with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, and
Old Stony Phiz. Yes, Ernest, it is my doom. You must add my name
to the illustrious three, and record another failure of your
hopes. For--in shame and sadness do I speak it, Ernest--I am not
worthy to be typified by yonder benign and majestic image."
"And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. "Are not those
"They have a strain of the Divinity," replied the poet. "You can
hear in them the far-off echo of a heavenly song. But my life,
dear Ernest, has not corresponded with my thought. I have had
grand dreams, but they have been only dreams, because I have
lived--and that, too, by my own choice--among poor and mean
realities. Sometimes even--shall I dare to say it?--I lack faith
in the grandeur, the beauty, and the goodness, which my own words
are said to have made more evident in nature and in human life.
Why, then, pure seeker of the good and true, shouldst thou hope
to find me, in yonder image of the divine?"
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So,
likewise, were those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom,
Ernest was to discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring
inhabitants in the open air. He and the poet, arm in arm, still
talking together as they went along, proceeded to the spot. It
was a small nook among the hills, with a gray precipice behind,
the stern front of which was relieved by the pleasant foliage of
many creeping plants that made a tapestry for the naked rock, by
hanging their festoons from all its rugged angles. At a small
elevation above the ground, set in a rich framework of verdure,
there appeared a niche, spacious enough to admit a human figure,
with freedom for such gestures as spontaneously accompany earnest
thought and genuine emotion. Into this natural pulpit Ernest
ascended, and threw a look of familiar kindness around upon his
audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined upon the grass, as
seemed good to each, with the departing sunshine falling
obliquely over them, and mingling its subdued cheerfulness with
the solemnity of a grove of ancient trees, beneath and amid the
boughs of which the golden rays were constrained to pass. In
another direction was seen the Great Stone Face, with the same
cheer, combined with the same solemnity, in its benignant aspect.
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his
heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with
his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because
they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was
not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words
of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted
into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this
precious draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being
and character of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he
had ever written. His eyes glistening with tears, he gazed
reverentially at the venerable man, and said within himself that
never was there an aspect so worthy of a prophet and a sage as
that mild, sweet, thoughtful countenance, with the glory of white
hair diffused about it. At a distance, but distinctly to be seen,
high up in the golden light of the setting sun, appeared the
Great Stone Face, with hoary mists around it, like the white
hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence
seemed to embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to
utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so
imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible
impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,"Behold! Behold! Ernest
is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!"
Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted
poet said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest,
having finished what he had to say, took the poet's arm, and
walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better
man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance to
the GREAT STONE FACE.
A CHAPTER FROM AN ABORTIVE ROMANCE
Bartram the lime-burner, a rough, heavy-looking man, begrimed
with charcoal, sat watching his kiln at nightfall, while his
little son played at building houses with the scattered fragments
of marble, when, on the hill-side below them, they heard a roar
of laughter, not mirthful, but slow, and even solemn, like a wind
shaking the boughs of the forest.
"Father, what is that?" asked the little boy, leaving his play,
and pressing betwixt his father's knees.
"Oh, some drunken man, I suppose," answered the lime-burner;
"some merry fellow from the bar-room in the village, who dared
not laugh loud enough within doors lest he should blow the roof
of the house off. So here he is, shaking his jolly sides at the
foot of Graylock."
"But, father," said the child, more sensitive than the obtuse,
middle-aged clown, "he does not laugh like a man that is glad. So
the noise frightens me!"
"Don't be a fool, child!" cried his father, gruffly. "You will
never make a man, I do believe; there is too much of your mother
in you. I have known the rustling of a leaf startle you. Hark!
Here comes the merry fellow now. You shall see that there is no
harm in him."
Bartram and his little son, while they were talking thus, sat
watching the same lime-kiln that had been the scene of Ethan
Brand's solitary and meditative life, before he began his search
for the Unpardonable Sin. Many years, as we have seen, had now
elapsed, since that portentous night when the IDEA was first
developed. The kiln, however, on the mountain-side, stood
unimpaired, and was in nothing changed since he had thrown his
dark thoughts into the intense glow of its furnace, and melted
them, as it were, into the one thought that took possession of
his life. It was a rude, round, tower-like structure about twenty
feet high, heavily built of rough stones, and with a hillock of
earth heaped about the larger part of its circumference; so that
the blocks and fragments of marble might be drawn by cart-loads,
and thrown in at the top. There was an opening at the bottom of
the tower, like an over-mouth, but large enough to admit a man in
a stooping posture, and provided with a massive iron door. With
the smoke and jets of flame issuing from the chinks and crevices
of this door, which seemed to give admittance into the hill-side,
it resembled nothing so much as the private entrance to the
infernal regions, which the shepherds of the Delectable Mountains
were accustomed to show to pilgrims.
There are many such lime-kilns in that tract of country, for the
purpose of burning the white marble which composes a large part
of the substance of the hills. Some of them, built years ago, and
long deserted, with weeds growing in the vacant round of the
interior, which is open to the sky, and grass and wild-flowers
rooting themselves into the chinks of the stones, look already
like relics of antiquity, and may yet be overspread with the
lichens of centuries to come. Others, where the limeburner still
feeds his daily and night-long fire, afford points of interest to
the wanderer among the hills, who seats himself on a log of wood
or a fragment of marble, to hold a chat with the solitary man. It
is a lonesome, and, when the character is inclined to thought,
may be an intensely thoughtful occupation; as it proved in the
case of Ethan Brand, who had mused to such strange purpose, in
days gone by, while the fire in this very kiln was burning.
The man who now watched the fire was of a different order, and
troubled himself with no thoughts save the very few that were
requisite to his business. At frequent intervals, he flung back
the clashing weight of the iron door, and, turning his face from
the insufferable glare, thrust in huge logs of oak, or stirred
the immense brands with a long pole. Within the furnace were seen
the curling and riotous flames, and the burning marble, almost
molten with the intensity of heat; while without, the reflection
of the fire quivered on the dark intricacy of the surrounding
forest, and showed in the foreground a bright and ruddy little
picture of the hut, the spring beside its door, the athletic and
coal-begrimed figure of the lime-burner, and the half-frightened
child, shrinking into the protection of his father's shadow. And
when, again, the iron door was closed, then reappeared the tender
light of the half-full moon, which vainly strove to trace out the
indistinct shapes of the neighboring mountains; and, in the upper
sky, there was a flitting congregation of clouds, still faintly
tinged with the rosy sunset, though thus far down into the valley
the sunshine had vanished long and long ago
The little boy now crept still closer to his father, as footsteps
were heard ascending the hill-side, and a human form thrust aside
the bushes that clustered beneath the trees.
"Halloo! who is it?" cried the lime-burner, vexed at his son's
timidity, yet half infected by it. "Come forward, and show
yourself, like a man, or I'll fling this chunk of marble at your
"You offer me a rough welcome," said a gloomy voice, as the
unknown man drew nigh. "Yet I neither claim nor desire a kinder
one, even at my own fireside."
To obtain a distincter view, Bartram threw open the iron door of
the kiln, whence immediately issued a gush of fierce light, that
smote full upon the stranger's face and figure. To a careless eye
there appeared nothing very remarkable in his aspect, which was
that of a man in a coarse brown, country-made suit of clothes,
tall and thin, with the staff and heavy shoes of a wayfarer. As
he advanced, he fixed his eyes--which were very bright--intently
upon the brightness of the furnace, as if he beheld, or expected
to behold, some object worthy of note within it.
"Good evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you,
so late in the day?"
"I come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it
"Drunk!--or crazy!" muttered Bartram to himself. "I shall have
trouble with the fellow. The sooner I drive him away, the
The little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and
begged him to shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not
be so much light; for that there was something in the man's face
which he was afraid to look at, yet could not look away from.
And, indeed, even the lime-burner's dull and torpid sense began
to be impressed by an indescribable something in that thin,
rugged, thoughtful visage, with the grizzled hair hanging wildly
about it, and those deeply sunken eyes, which gleamed like fires
within the entrance of a mysterious cavern. But, as he closed the
door, the stranger turned towards him, and spoke in a quiet,
familiar way, that made Bartram feel as if he were a sane and
sensible man, after all.
"Your task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has
already been burning three days. A few hours more will convert
the stone to lime."
"Why, who are you?" exclaimed the lime-burner. "You seem as well
acquainted with my business as I am myself."
"And well I may be," said the stranger; "for I followed the same
craft many a long year, and here, too, on this very spot. But you
are a newcomer in these parts. Did you never hear of Ethan
"The man that went in search of the Unpardonable Sin?" asked
Bartram, with a laugh.
"The same," answered the stranger. "He has found what he sought,
and therefore he comes back again."
"What! then you are Ethan Brand himself?" cried the lime-burner,
in amazement. "I am a new-comer here, as you say, and they call
it eighteen years since you left the foot of Graylock. But, I can
tell you, the good folks still talk about Ethan Brand, in the
village yonder, and what a strange errand took him away from his
lime-kiln. Well, and so you have found the Unpardonable Sin?"
"Even so!" said the stranger, calmly.
"If the question is a fair one," proceeded Bartram, "where might
Ethan Brand laid his finger on his own heart.
"Here!" replied he.
And then, without mirth in his countenance, but as if moved by an
involuntary recognition of the infinite absurdity of seeking
throughout the world for what was the closest of all things to
himself, and looking into every heart, save his own, for what was
hidden in no other breast, he broke into a laugh of scorn. It was
the same slow, heavy laugh, that had almost appalled the
lime-burner when it heralded the wayfarer's approach.
The solitary mountain-side was made dismal by it. Laughter, when
out of place, mistimed, or bursting forth from a disordered state
of feeling, may be the most terrible modulation of the human
voice. The laughter of one asleep, even if it be a little
child,--the madman's laugh,--the wild, screaming laugh of a born
idiot,--are sounds that we sometimes tremble to hear, and would
always willingly forget. Poets have imagined no utterance of
fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully appropriate as a laugh. And
even the obtuse lime-burner felt his nerves shaken, as this
strange man looked inward at his own heart, and burst into
laughter that rolled away into the night, and was indistinctly
reverberated among the hills.
"Joe," said he to his little son, "scamper down to the tavern in
the village, and tell the jolly fellows there that Ethan Brand
has come back, and that he has found the Unpardonable Sin!"
The boy darted away on his errand, to which Ethan Brand made no
objection, nor seemed hardly to notice it. He sat on a log of
wood, looking steadfastly at the iron door of the kiln. When the
child was out of sight, and his swift and light footsteps ceased
to be heard treading first on the fallen leaves and then on the
rocky mountain-path, the lime-burner began to regret his
departure. He felt that the little fellow's presence had been a
barrier between his guest and himself, and that he must now deal,
heart to heart, with a man who, on his own confession, had
committed the one only crime for which Heaven could afford no
mercy. That crime, in its indistinct blackness, seemed to
overshadow him, and made his memory riotous with a throng of evil
shapes that asserted their kindred with the Master Sin, whatever
it might be, which it was within the scope of man's corrupted
nature to conceive and cherish. They were all of one family; they
went to and fro between his breast and Ethan Brand's, and carried
dark greetings from one to the other.
Then Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary
in reference to this strange man, who had come upon him like a
shadow of the night, and was making himself at home in his old
place, after so long absence, that the dead people, dead and
buried for years, would have had more right to be at home, in any
familiar spot, than he. Ethan Brand, it was said, had conversed
with Satan himself in the lurid blaze of this very kiln. The
legend had been matter of mirth heretofore, but looked grisly
now. According to this tale, before Ethan Brand departed on his
search, he had been accustomed to evoke a fiend from the hot
furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in order to confer
with him about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the fiend each
laboring to frame the image of some mode of guilt which could
neither be atoned for nor forgiven. And, with the first gleam of
light upon the mountain-top, the fiend crept in at the iron door,
there to abide the intensest element of fire until again summoned
forth to share in the dreadful task of extending man's possible
guilt beyond the scope of Heaven's else infinite mercy.
While the lime-burner was struggling with the horror of these
thoughts, Ethan Brand rose from the log, and flung open the door
of the kiln. The action was in such accordance with the idea in
Bartram's mind, that he almost expected to see the Evil One issue
forth, red-hot, from the raging furnace.
"Hold! hold!" cried he, with a tremulous attempt to laugh; for he
was ashamed of his fears, although they overmastered him. "Don't,
for mercy's sake, bring out your Devil now!"
"Man!" sternly replied Ethan Brand, "what need have I of the
Devil? I have left him behind me, on my track. It is with such
half-way sinners as you that he busies himself. Fear not, because
I open the door. I do but act by old custom, and am going to trim
your fire, like a lime-burner, as I was once."
He stirred the vast coals, thrust in more wood, and bent forward
to gaze into the hollow prison-house of the fire, regardless of
the fierce glow that reddened upon his face. The lime-burner sat
watching him, and half suspected this strange guest of a purpose,
if not to evoke a fiend, at least to plunge into the flames, and
thus vanish from the sight of man. Ethan Brand, however, drew
quietly back, and closed the door of the kiln.
"I have looked," said he, "into many a human heart that was seven
times hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace is with
fire. But I found not there what I sought. No, not the
"What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then
he shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question
should be answered.
"It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan
Brand, standing erect with a pride that distinguishes all
enthusiasts of his stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin
of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with
man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own
mighty claims! The only sin that deserves a recompense of
immortal agony! Freely, were it to do again, would I incur the
guilt. Unshrinkingly I accept the retribution!"
"The man's head is turned," muttered the lime-burner to himself.
"He may be a sinner like the rest of us,--nothing more
likely,--but, I'll be sworn, he is a madman too."
Nevertheless, he felt uncomfortable at his situation, alone with
Ethan Brand on the wild mountain-side, and was right glad to hear
the rough murmur of tongues, and the footsteps of what seemed a
pretty numerous party, stumbling over the stones and rustling
through the underbrush. Soon appeared the whole lazy regiment
that was wont to infest the village tavern, comprehending three
or four individuals who had drunk flip beside the bar-room fire
through all the winters, and smoked their pipes beneath the stoop
through all the summers, since Ethan Brand's departure. Laughing
boisterously, and mingling all their voices together in
unceremonious talk, they now burst into the moonshine and narrow
streaks of firelight that illuminated the open space before the
lime-kiln. Bartram set the door ajar again, flooding the spot
with light, that the whole company might get a fair view of Ethan
Brand, and he of them.
There, among other old acquaintances, was a once ubiquitous man,
now almost extinct, but whom we were formerly sure to encounter
at the hotel of every thriving village throughout the country. It
was the stage-agent. The present specimen of the genus was a
wilted and smoke-dried man, wrinkled and red-nosed, in a smartly
cut, brown, bobtailed coat, with brass buttons, who, for a length
of time unknown, had kept his desk and corner in the bar-room,
and was still puffing what seemed to be the same cigar that he
had lighted twenty years before. He had great fame as a dry
joker, though, perhaps, less on account of any intrinsic humor
than from a certain flavor of brandy-toddy and tobacco-smoke,
which impregnated all his ideas and expressions, as well as his
person. Another well-remembered, though strangely altered, face
was that of Lawyer Giles, as people still called him in courtesy;
an elderly ragamuffin, in his soiled shirtsleeves and tow-cloth
trousers. This poor fellow had been an attorney, in what he
called his better days, a sharp practitioner, and in great vogue
among the village litigants; but flip, and sling, and toddy, and
cocktails, imbibed at all hours, morning, noon, and night, had
caused him to slide from intellectual to various kinds and
degrees of bodily labor, till at last, to adopt his own phrase,
he slid into a soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a
soap-boiler, in a small way. He had come to be but the fragment
of a human being, a part of one foot having been chopped off by
an axe, and an entire hand torn away by the devilish grip of a
steam-engine. Yet, though the corporeal hand was gone, a
spiritual member remained; for, stretching forth the stump, Giles
steadfastly averred that he felt an invisible thumb and fingers
with as vivid a sensation as before the real ones were amputated.
A maimed and miserable wretch he was; but one, nevertheless, whom
the world could not trample on, and had no right to scorn, either
in this or any previous stage of his misfortunes, since he had
still kept up the courage and spirit of a man, asked nothing in
charity, and with his one hand--and that the left one--fought a
stern battle against want and hostile circumstances.
Among the throng, too, came another personage, who, with certain
points of similarity to Lawyer Giles, had many more of
difference. It was the village doctor; a man of some fifty years,
whom, at an earlier period of his life, we introduced as paying a
professional visit to Ethan Brand during the latter's supposed
insanity. He was now a purple-visaged, rude, and brutal, yet
half-gentlemanly figure, with something wild, ruined, and
desperate in his talk, and in all the details of his gesture and
manners. Brandy possessed this man like an evil spirit, and made
him as surly and savage as a wild beast, and as miserable as a
lost soul; but there was supposed to be in him such wonderful
skill, such native gifts of healing, beyond any which medical
science could impart, that society caught hold of him, and would
not let him sink out of its reach. So, swaying to and fro upon
his horse, and grumbling thick accents at the bedside, he visited
all the sick-chambers for miles about among the mountain towns,
and sometimes raised a dying man, as it were, by miracle, or
quite as often, no doubt, sent his patient to a grave that was
dug many a year too soon. The doctor had an everlasting pipe in
his mouth, and, as somebody said, in allusion to his habit of
swearing, it was always alight with hell-fire.
These three worthies pressed forward, and greeted Ethan Brand
each after his own fashion, earnestly inviting him to partake of
the contents of a certain black bottle, in which, as they
averred, he would find something far better worth seeking than
the Unpardonable Sin. No mind, which has wrought itself by
intense and solitary meditation into a high state of enthusiasm,
can endure the kind of contact with low and vulgar modes of
thought and feeling to which Ethan Brand was now subjected. It
made him doubt--and, strange to say, it was a painful
doubt--whether he had indeed found the Unpardonable Sin, and
found it within himself. The whole question on which he had
exhausted life, and more than life, looked like a delusion.
"Leave me," he said bitterly, "ye brute beasts, that have made
yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery liquors! I
have done with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your
hearts and found nothing there for my purpose. Get ye gone!"
"Why, you uncivil scoundrel," cried the fierce doctor, "is that
the way you respond to the kindness of your best friends? Then
let me tell you the truth. You have no more found the
Unpardonable Sin than yonder boy Joe has. You are but a crazy
fellow,--I told you so twenty years ago,-neither better nor worse
than a crazy fellow, and the fit companion of old Humphrey,
He pointed to an old man, shabbily dressed, with long white hair,
thin visage, and unsteady eyes. For some years past this aged
person had been wandering about among the hills, inquiring of all
travellers whom he met for his daughter. The girl, it seemed, had
gone off with a company of circus-performers, and occasionally
tidings of her came to the village, and fine stories were told of
her glittering appearance as she rode on horseback in the ring,
or performed marvellous feats on the tight-rope.
The white-haired father now approached Ethan Brand, and gazed
unsteadily into his face.
"They tell me you have been all over the earth," said he,
wringing his hands with earnestness. "You must have seen my
daughter, for she makes a grand figure in the world, and
everybody goes to see her. Did she send any word to her old
father, or say when she was coming back?"
Ethan Brand's eye quailed beneath the old man's. That daughter,
from whom he so earnestly desired a word of greeting, was the
Esther of our tale, the very girl whom, with such cold and
remorseless purpose, Ethan Brand had made the subject of a
psychological experiment, and wasted, absorbed, and perhaps
annihilated her soul, in the process.
"Yes," he murmured, turning away from the hoary wanderer, "it is
no delusion. There is an Unpardonable Sin!"
While these things were passing, a merry scene was going forward
in the area of cheerful light, beside the spring and before the
door of the hut. A number of the youth of the village, young men
and girls, had hurried up the hill-side, impelled by curiosity to
see Ethan Brand, the hero of so many a legend familiar to their
childhood. Finding nothing, however, very remarkable in his
aspect,--nothing but a sunburnt wayfarer, in plain garb and dusty
shoes, who sat looking into the fire as if he fancied pictures
among the coals,--these young people speedily grew tired of
observing him. As it happened, there was other amusement at hand.
An old German Jew travelling with a diorama on his back, was
passing down the mountain-road towards the village just as the
party turned aside from it, and, in hopes of eking out the
profits of the day, the showman had kept them company to the
"Come, old Dutchman," cried one of the young men, "let us see
your pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!"
"Oh yes, Captain," answered the Jew,--whether as a matter of
courtesy or craft, he styled everybody Captain,--"I shall show
you, indeed, some very superb pictures!"
So, placing his box in a proper position, he invited the young
men and girls to look through the glass orifices of the machine,
and proceeded to exhibit a series of the most outrageous
scratchings and daubings, as specimens of the fine arts, that
ever an itinerant showman had the face to impose upon his circle
of spectators. The pictures were worn out, moreover, tattered,
full of cracks and wrinkles, dingy with tobacco-smoke, and
otherwise in a most pitiable condition. Some purported to be
cities, public edifices, and ruined castles in Europe; others
represented Napoleon's battles and Nelson's sea-fights; and in
the midst of these would be seen a gigantic, brown, hairy
hand,--which might have been mistaken for the Hand of Destiny,
though, in truth, it was only the showman's,--pointing its
forefinger to various scenes of the conflict, while its owner
gave historical illustrations. When, with much merriment at its
abominable deficiency of merit, the exhibition was concluded, the
German bade little Joe put his head into the box. Viewed through
the magnifying-glasses, the boy's round, rosy visage assumed the
strangest imaginable aspect of an immense Titanic child, the
mouth grinning broadly, and the eyes and every other feature
overflowing with fun at the joke. Suddenly, however, that merry
face turned pale, and its expression changed to horror, for this
easily impressed and excitable child had become sensible that the
eye of Ethan Brand was fixed upon him through the glass.
"You make the little man to be afraid, Captain," said the German
Jew, turning up the dark and strong outline of his visage from
his stooping posture. "But look again, and, by chance, I shall
cause you to see somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Ethan Brand gazed into the box for an instant, and then starting
back, looked fixedly at the German. What had he seen? Nothing,
apparently; for a curious youth, who had peeped in almost at the
same moment, beheld only a vacant space of canvas.
"I remember you now," muttered Ethan Brand to the showman.
"Ah, Captain," whispered the Jew of Nuremberg, with a dark smile,
"I find it to be a heavy matter in my show-box,--this
Unpardonable Sin! By my faith, Captain, it has wearied my
shoulders, this long day, to carry it over the mountain."
"Peace," answered Ethan Brand, sternly, "or get thee into the
The Jew's exhibition had scarcely concluded, when a great,
elderly dog --who seemed to be his own master, as no person in
the company laid claim to him--saw fit to render himself the
object of public notice. Hitherto, he had shown himself a very
quiet, well-disposed old dog, going round from one to another,
and, by way of being sociable, offering his rough head to be
patted by any kindly hand that would take so much trouble. But
now, all of a sudden, this grave and venerable quadruped, of his
own mere motion, and without the slightest suggestion from
anybody else, began to run round after his tail, which, to
heighten the absurdity of the proceeding, was a great deal
shorter than it should have been. Never was seen such headlong
eagerness in pursuit of an object that could not possibly be
attained; never was heard such a tremendous outbreak of growling,
snarling, barking, and snapping,--as if one end of the ridiculous
brute's body were at deadly and most unforgivable enmity with the
other. Faster and faster, round about went the cur; and faster