Part 1 out of 6
by "Gail Hamilton" (Abigail Dodge)
A CALL TO MY COUNTRYWOMEN
A SPASM OF SENSE
SIDE-GLANCES AT HARVARD CLASS-DAY
SUCCESS IN LIFE
Once there was a great noise in our house,--a thumping and
battering and grating. It was my own self dragging my big
trunk down from the garret. I did it myself because I wanted
it done. If I had said, "Halicarnassus, will you fetch my
trunk down?" he would have asked me what trunk? and what did
I want of it? and would not the other one be better? and
couldn't I wait till after dinner?--and so the trunk would
probably have had a three-days journey from garret to basement.
Now I am strong in the wrists and weak in the temper; therefore
I used the one and spared the other, and got the trunk
downstairs myself. Halicarnassus heard the uproar. He must
have been deaf not to hear it; for the old ark banged and
bounced, and scraped the paint off the stairs, and pitched
head-foremost into the wall, and gouged out the plastering,
and dented the mop-board, and was the most stupid, awkward,
uncompromising, unmanageable thing I ever got hold of in my life.
By the time I had zigzagged it into the back chamber,
Halicarnassus loomed up the back stairs. I stood hot and
panting, with the inside of my fingers tortured into burning
leather, the skin rubbed off three knuckles, and a bruise on
the back of my right hand, where the trunk had crushed it
against a sharp edge of the doorway.
"Now, then?" said Halicarnassus interrogatively.
"To be sure," I replied affirmatively.
He said no more, but went and looked up the garret-stairs.
They bore traces of a severe encounter, that must be confessed.
"Do you wish me to give you a bit of advice?" he asked.
"No!" I answered promptly.
"Well, then, here it is. The next time you design to bring a
trunk down-stairs, you would better cut away the underpinning,
and knock out the beams, and let the garret down into the
cellar. It will make less uproar, and not take so much to
He intended to be severe. His words passed by me as the idle
wind. I perched on my trunk, took a pasteboard box-cover and
fanned myself. I was very warm. Halicarnassus sat down on the
lowest stair and remained silent several minutes, expecting a
meek explanation, but not getting it, swallowed a bountiful
piece of what is called in homely talk, "humble-pie," and
"I should like to know what's in the wind now."
I make it a principle always to resent an insult and to welcome
repentance with equal alacrity. If people thrust out their
horns at me wantonly, they very soon run against a stone-wall;
but the moment they show signs of contrition, I soften. It is
the best way. Don't insist that people shall grovel at your
feet before you accept their apology. That is not magnanimous.
Let mercy temper justice. It is a hard thing at best for human
nature to go down into the Valley of Humiliation; and although,
when circumstances arise which make it the only fit place for
a person, I insist upon his going, still no sooner does he
actually begin the descent than my sense of justice is appeased,
my natural sweetness of disposition resumes sway, and I trip
along by his side chatting as gaily as if I did not perceive
it was the Valley of Humiliation at all, but fancied it the
Delectable Mountains. So, upon the first symptoms of placability,
I answered cordially,--
"Halicarnassus, it has been the ambition of my life to write
a book of travels. But to write a book of travels, one must
first have travelled."
"Not at all," he responded. "With an atlas and an encyclopaedia
one can travel around the world in his arm-chair."
"But one cannot have personal adventures," I said. "You can,
indeed, sit in your arm-chair and describe the crater of
Vesuvius; but you cannot tumble into the crater of Vesuvius
from your arm-chair."
"I have never heard that it was necessary to tumble in, in
order to have a good view of the mountain."
"But it s necessary to do it, if one would make a readable book."
"Then I should let the book slide,--rather than slide myself."
"If you would do me the honor to listen," I said, scornful of
his paltry attempt at wit, "you would see that the book is the
object of my travelling. I travel to write. I do not write
because I have travelled. I am not going to subordinate my
book to my adventures. My adventures are going to be arranged
beforehand with a view to my book."
"A most original way of getting up a book!"
"Not in the least. It is the most common thing in the world.
Look at our dear British cousins."
"And see them make guys of themselves. They visit a magnificent
country that is trying the experiment of the world, and write
about their shaving-soap and their babies' nurses."
"Just where they are right. Just why I like the race, from
Trollope down. They give you something to take hold of. I
tell you, Halicarnassus, it is the personality of the writer,
and not the nature of the scenery or of the institutions, that
makes the interest. It stands to reason. If it were not so,
one book would be all that ever need be written, and that book
would be a census report. For a republic is a republic, and
Niagara is Niagara forever; but tell how you stood on the
chain-bridge at Niagara--if there is one there--and bought a
cake of shaving-soap from a tribe of Indians at a fabulous
price, or how your baby jumped from the arms of the careless
nurse into the Falls, and immediately your own individuality
is thrown around the scenery, and it acquires a human interest.
It is always five miles from one place to another, but that is
mere almanac and statistics. Let a poet walk the five miles,
and narrate his experience with birds and bees and flowers and
grasses and water and sky, and it becomes literature. And let
me tell you further, sir, a book of travels is just as
interesting as the person who writes it is interesting. It is
not the countries, but the persons, that are 'shown up.' You
go to France and write a dull book. I go to France and write
a lively book. But France is the same. The difference is in
Halicarnassus glowered at me. I think I am not using strained
or extravagant language when I say that he glowered at me.
Then he growled out,--
"So your book of travels is just to put yourself into pickle."
"Say, rather," I answered, with sweet humility,--"say, rather,
it is to shrine myself in amber. As the insignificant fly,
encompassed with molten glory, passes into a crystallized
immortality, his own littleness uplifted into loveliness by the
beauty in which he is imprisoned, so I, wrapped around by the
glory of my land, may find myself niched into a fame which my
unattended and naked merit could never have claimed."
Halicarnassus was a little stunned, but presently recovering
himself, suggested that I had travelled enough already to make
out a quite sizable book.
"Travelled!" I said, looking him steadily in the face,--
"travelled! I went once up to Tudiz huckleberrying; and once,
when there was a freshet, you took a superannuated broom and
paddled me around the orchard in a leaky pig's-trough!"
He could not deny it; so he laughed, and said,--
"Ah, well!--ah, well! Suit yourself. Take your trunk and
pitch into Vesuvius, if you like. I won't stand in your way."
His acquiescence was ungraciously, and I believe I may say
ambiguously, expressed; but it mattered little, for I gathered
up my goods and chattels, strapped them into my trunk, and
waited for the summer to send us on our way rejoicing,--the
gentle and gracious young summer, that had come by the
calendar, but had lost her way on the thermometer. O these
delaying Springs, that mock the merry-making of ancestral
England! Is the world grown so old and stricken in years,
that, like King David, it gets no heat? Why loiters, where
lingers, the beautiful, calm-breathing June? Rosebuds are
bound in her trailing hair, and the sweet of her garments
always used to waft a scented gale over the happy hills.
"Here she was wont to go! and here! and here!
Just where the daisies, pinks, and violets grow;
Her treading would not bend a blade of grass,
Or shake the downy blow-ball from his stalk!
But like the soft west-wind she shot along;
And where she went the flowers took thickest root,
As she had sowed them with her odorous foot."
So sang a rough-handed, silver-voiced, sturdy old fellow,
harping unconsciously the notes of my lament, and the tones of
his sorrow wail through the green boughs today, though he has
been lying now these two hundred years in England's Sleeping
Palace, among silent kings and queens. Fair and fresh and
always young is my lost maiden, and "beautiful exceedingly."
Her habit was to wreathe her garland with the May, and
everywhere she found most hearty welcome; but May has come and
gone, and June is still missing. I look longingly afar, but
there is no flutter of her gossamer robes over the distant
hills. No white cloud floats down the blue heavens, a chariot
of state, bringing her royally from the court of the King. The
earth is mourning her absence. A blight has fallen upon the
roses, and the leaves are gone gray and mottled. The buds
started up to meet and greet their queen, but her golden sceptre
was not held forth, and they are faint and stunned with terror.
The censer which they would have swung on the breezes, to
gladden her heart, is hidden away out of sight, and their own
hearts are smothered with the incense. The beans and the peas
and the tasselled corn are struck with surprise, as if an
eclipse had staggered them, and are waiting to see what will
turn up, determined it shall not be themselves, unless
something happens pretty soon. The tomatoes are thinking, with
homesick regret, of the smiling Italian gardens, where the sun
ripened them to mellow beauty, with many a bold caress, and
they hug their ruddy fruit to their own bosoms, and Frost, the
cormorant, will grab it all, since June disdains the proffered
gift, and will not touch them with her tender lips. The
money-plants are growing pale, and biting off their finger-tips
with impatience. The marigold whispers his suspicion over to
the balsam-buds, and neither ventures to make a move, quite
sure there is something wrong. The scarlet tassel-flower
utterly refuses to unfold his brave plumes. The Zinnias look
up a moment, shuddering with cold chills, conclude there is no
good in hurrying, and then just pull their brown blankets
around them, turn over in their beds, and go to sleep again.
The morning-glories rub their eyes, and are but half awake,
for all their royal name. The Canterbury-bells may be chiming
velvet peals down in their dark cathedrals, but no clash nor
clangor nor faintest echo ripples up into my Garden World. Not
a bee drones his drowsy song among the flowers, for there are
no flowers there. One venturesome little phlox dared the cold
winds, and popped up his audacious head, but his pale, puny
face shows how near he is to being frozen to death. The poor
birds are shivering in their nests. They sing a little, just
to keep up their spirits, and hop about to preserve their
circulation, and capture a bewildered bug or two, but I don't
believe there is an egg anywhere round. Not only the owl, but
the red-breast, and the oriole, and the blue-jay, for all his
feathers, is a-cold. Nothing flourishes but witch-grass and
canker-worms. Where is June?--the bright and beautiful, the
warm and clear and balm-breathing June, with her matchless,
deep, intense sky, and her sunshine, that cleaves into your
heart, and breaks up all the winter there? What are these
sleety fogs about? Go back into the January thaw, where you
belong! What have the chill rains, and the raw winds, and the
dismal, leaden clouds, and all these flannels and furs to do
with June, the perfect June of hope and beauty and utter joy?
Where is the June? Has she lost her way among the narrow,
interminable defiles of your crooked old city streets? Go out
and find her! You do not want her there. No blade nor blossom
will spring from your dingy brick, nor your dull, dead stone,
though you prison her there for a thousand years of wandering.
Take her by the hand tenderly, and bid her forth into the
waiting country, which will give her a queenly reception, and
laurels worth the wearing. Have you fallen in love with her--
on the Potomac, O soldiers? Are you wooing her with honeyed
words on the bloody soil of Virginia? Is she tranced by your
glittering sword-shine in ransomed Tennessee? Is she floating
on a lotus-leaf in Florida lagoons? Has she drunk Nepenthe in
the orange-groves? Is she chasing golden apples under the
magnolias? Are you toying with the tangles of her hair in the
bright sea-foam? O, rouse her from her trance, loose the
fetters from her lovely limbs, and speed her to our Northern
skies, that moan her long delay.
Or is she frightened by the thunders of the cannonade sounding
from shore to shore, and wakening the wild echoes? Does she
fear to breast our bristling bayonets? Is she stifled by the
smoke of powder? Is she crouching down Caribbean shores,
terror-stricken and pallid? Sweet June, fear not! The flash
of loyal steel will only light you along your Northern road.
Beauty and innocence have nothing to dread from the sword a
patriot wields. The storm that rends the heavens will make
earth doubly fair. Your pathway shall lie over Delectable
Mountains, and through vinelands of Beulah. Come quickly,
tread softly, and from your bountiful bosom scatter seeds as
you come, that daisies and violets may softly shine, and
sweetly twine with the amaranth and immortelle that spring
already from heroes' hearts buried in soldiers' graves.
"But there is no use in placarding her," said Halicarnassus.
"We shall have no warm weather till the eclipse is over."
"So ho!" I said. "Having exhausted every other pretext for
delay, you bring out an eclipse! and pray when is this famous
affair to come off?"
"Tomorrow if the weather prove favorable, if not, on the first
Then indeed I set my house in order. Here was something
definite and trustworthy. First an eclipse, then a book,
and yet I pitied the moon as I walked home that night. She
came up the heavens so round and radiant, so glorious in her
majesty, so confident in her strength, so sure of triumphal
march across the shining sky; not knowing that a great black
shadow loomed right athwart her path to swallow her up. She
never dreamed that all her royal beauty should pass behind a
pall, that all her glory should be demeaned by pitiless
eclipse, and her dome of delight become the valley of
humiliation! Is there no help? I said. Can no hand lead her
gently another way? Can no voice warn her of the black shadow
that lies in ambuscade? None. Just as the young girl leaves
her tender home, and goes fearless to her future,--to the
future which brings sadness for her smiling, and patience for
her hope, and pain for her bloom, and the cold requital of
kindness, or the unrequital of coldness for her warmth of love,
so goes the moon, unconscious and serene, to meet her fate.
But at least I will watch with her. Trundle up to the window
here, old lounge! you are almost as good as a grandmother.
Steady there! broken-legged table. You have gone limping
ever since I knew you; don't fail me tonight. Shine softly,
Kerosena, next of kin to the sun, true monarch of mundane
lights! calmly superior to the flickering of all the fluids,
and the ghastliness of all the gases, though it must be
confessed you don't hold out half as long as you used when
first your yellow banner was unfurled. Shine softly tonight,
and light my happy feet through the Walden woods, along the
Walden shores, where a philosopher sits in solitary state. He
shall keep me awake by the Walden shore till the moon and the
shadow meet. How tranquil sits the philosopher, how grandly
rings the man! Here, in his homespun house, the squirrels
click under his feet, the woodchucks devour his beans, and the
loon laughs on the lake. Here rich men come, and cannot hide
their lankness and their poverty. Here poor men come, and
their gold shines through their rags. Hither comes the poet,
and the house is too narrow for their thoughts, and the rough
walls ring with lusty laughter. O happy Walden wood and
woodland lake, did you thrill through all your luminous aisles
and all your listening shores for the man that wandered there?
Is it begun? Not yet. The kitchen clock has but just struck
eleven, and my watch lacks ten minutes of that. What if the
astronomers made a mistake in their calculations, and the
almanacs are wrong, and the eclipse shall not come off? Would
it be strange? Would it not be stranger if it were not so?
How can a being, standing on one little ball, spinning forever
around and around among millions of other balls larger and
smaller, breathlessly the same endless waltz,--how can he trace
out their paths, and foretell their conjunctions? How can a
puny creature fastened down to one world, able to lift himself
but a few paltry feet above, to dig but a few paltry feet below
its surface, utterly unable to divine what shall happen to
himself in the next moment,--how can he thrust out his hand
into inconceivable space, and anticipate the silent future?
How can his feeble eye detect the quiver of a world? How can
his slender strength weigh the mountains in scales, and the
bills in a balance? And yet it is. Wonderful is the Power
that framed all these spheres, and sent them on their great
errands; but more wonderful still the Power that gave to finite
mind its power, to stand on one little point, and sweep the
whole circle of the skies. Almost as marvelous is it that man,
being man, can divine the universe, as that God, being God,
could devise it. Cycles of years go by. Suns and moons and
stars tread their mysterious rounds, but steady eyes are
following them into the awful distances, steady hands are
marking their eternal courses. Their multiplied motions shall
yet be resolved into harmony, and so the music of the spheres
shall chime with the angels' song, "Glory to God in the
Is it begun? Not yet.
No wonder that eclipses were a terror to men before Science
came queening it through the universe, compelling all these
fearful sights and great signs into her triumphal train, and
commanding us to be no longer afraid of our own shadow. The
sure and steadfast Moon, shuddering from the fullness of her
splendor into wild and ghostly darkness, might well wake
strange apprehensions. She is reeling in convulsive agony.
She is sickening and swooning in the death-struggle. The
principalities and powers of darkness, the eternal foes of
men, are working their baleful spell with success to cast the
sweet Moon from her path, and force her to work woe and disaster
upon the earth. Some fell monster, roaming through the heavens,
seeking whom he may devour,--some dragon, "monstrous, horrible,
and waste," whom no Redcrosse Knight shall pierce with his
trenchand blade, is swallowing with giant gulps the writhing
victim. Blow shrill and loud your bugle blasts! Beat with
fierce clangor your brazen cymbals! Push up wild shrieks and
groans, and horrid cries,
"That all the woods may answer, and your echoes ring,"
and the foul fiend perchance be scared away by deafening din.
O, sad for those who lived before the ghouls were disinherited;
for whom the woods and waters, and the deep places, were
peopled with mighty, mysterious foes; who saw evil spirits in
the earth forces, and turned her gold into consuming fire. For
us, later born, Science has dived into the caverns, and scaled
the heights, and fathomed the depths, forcing from coy yet
willing Nature the solution of her own problems, and showing
us everywhere, GOD. We are not children of fate, trembling at
the frown of fairies and witches and gnomes, but the children
of our Father. If we ascend up into heaven, he is there. If
we take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost
parts of the sea, even there shall his hand lead, and his right
Is it begun? Not--well, I don't know, though. Something seems
to be happening up in the northwest corner. Certainly, a bit
of that round disk has been shaved off. I will wait five
minutes. Yes, the battle is begun. The shadow advances. The
moon yields. But there are watchers in the heaven as well as
in the earth. There is sympathy in the skies. Up floats an
argosy of compassionate clouds, and fling their fleecy veil
around the pallid moon, and bear her softly on their snowy
bosoms. But she moves on, impelled. She sweeps beyond the
sad clouds. Deeper and deeper into the darkness. Closer and
closer the Shadow clutches her in his inexorable arms. Wan and
weird becomes her face, wrathful and wild the astonished winds;
and for all her science and her faith, the Earth trembles in
the night, and a hush of awe quivers through the angry,
agitated air. On, still on, till the fair and smiling moon is
but a dull and tawny orb, with no beauty to be desired; on,
still on, till even that cold, coppery light wanes into sullen
darkness. Whether it is a cloud kindly hiding the humbled
queen, or whether the queen is indeed merged in the abyss of
the Shadow, I cannot tell, and it is dismal waiting to see.
The wildness is gone with the moon, and there is nothing left
but a dark night. I wonder how long before she will reappear?
Are the people in the moon staring through an eclipse of the
Sun? I should like to see her come out again, and clothe
herself in splendor. I think I will go back to Walden. Ah!
even my philosopher, aping Homer, nods. It shimmers a little,
on the lake, among the mountains--of the moon.
I declare! I believe I have been asleep. What of it? It is
just as well. I have no doubt the moon will come out again all
right,--which is more than I shall do if I go on in this way.
I feel already as if the top of my head was coming off. Once
I was very unhappy, and I sat up all night to make the most of
it. It was many hundred years ago, when I was younger than I
am now, and did not know that misery was not a thing to be
caressed and cosseted and coddled, but a thing to be taken,
neck and heels, and turned out doors. So I sat up to revel in
the ecstasy of woe. I went along swimmingly into the little
hours, but by two o'clock there was a great sameness about it,
and I grew desperately sleepy. I was not going to give it up,
however, so I shocked myself into a torpid animation with a
cold bath, it being mid-winter, and betwixt bath and bathos,
managed to keep agoing till daylight. Once since then I was
very happy, and could not keep my eyes shut. Those are the
only two times I ever sat up all night, and, on the whole, I
think I will go to bed; wherefore, O people on the earth,
marking eagerly the moon's eclipse, and O people on the moon,
crowding your craggy hills to see an eclipse of the sun, Good
Then the lost June came back. Frost melted out of the air,
summer melted in, and my book beckoned me onward with a
commanding gesture. Consequently I took my trunk, Halicarnassus
his cane, and we started on our travels. But the shadow of the
eclipse hung over us still. An evil omen came in the beginning.
Just as I was stepping into the car, I observed a violent smoke
issuing from under it. I started back in alarm.
"They are only getting up steam," said Halicarnassus. "Always
do, when they start."
"I know better!" I answered briskly, for there was no time to
be circumlocutional. "They don't get up steam under the cars."
"Why not? Bet a sixpence you couldn't get Uncle Cain's Dobbin
out of his jog-trot without building a fire under him."
"I know that wheel is on fire," I said, not to be turned from
the direct and certain line of assertion into the winding ways
"No matter," replied Halicarnassus, conceding everything, "we
Upon the strength of which consolatory information I went in.
By and by a man entered and took a seat in front of us. "The
box is all afire," chuckled he to his neighbor, as if it were
a fine joke. By and by several people who had been looking out
of the windows drew in their heads, went into the next car.
"What do you suppose they did that for?" I asked Halicarnassus.
"More aristocratical. Belong to old families. This is a new
car, don't you see? We are parvenus."
"Nothing of the sort," I rejoined. "This car is on fire, and
they have gone into the next one so as not to be burned up."
"They are not going to write books, and can afford to run away
"But suppose I am burned up in my adventure?"
"Obviously, then, your book will end in smoke."
I ceased to talk, for I was provoked at his indifference. I
leave every impartial mind to judge for itself whether the
circumstances were such as to warrant composure. To be sure,
somebody said the car was to be left at Jeru; but Jeru was
eight miles away, and any quantity of mischief might be done
before we reached it,--if indeed we were not prevented from
reaching it altogether. It was a mere question of dynamics.
Would dry wood be able to hold its own against a raging fire
for half an hour? Of course the conductor thought it would;
but even conductors are not infallible; and you may imagine how
comfortable it was to sit and know that a fire was in full
blast beneath you, and to look down every few minutes expecting
to see the flames forking up under your feet. I confess I was
not without something like a hope that one tongue of the
devouring element would flare up far enough to give Halicarnassus
a start; but it did not. No casualty occurred. We reached Jeru
in safety; but that does not prove that there was no danger, or
that indifference was anything but the most foolish hardihood.
If our burning car had been in mid-ocean, serenity would have been
sublimity, but to stay in the midst of peril when two steps would
take one out of it is idiocy. And that there was peril is
conclusively shown by the fact that the very next day the Eastern
Railroad Depot took fire and was burned to the ground. I have in
my own mind no doubt that it was a continuation of the same fire,
and if we had stayed in the car much longer, we should have shared
the same fate.
We found Jeru to be a pleasant city, with only one fault: the
inhabitants will crowd into a car before passengers can get
out; consequently the heads of the two columns collide near the
car-door, and there is a general choke. Otherwise Jeru is a
delightful city. It is famous for its beautiful women. Its
railroad-station is a magnificent piece of architecture. Its
men are retired East-India merchants. Everybody in Jeru is
rich and has real estate. The houses in Jeru are three stories
high and face on the Common. People in Jeru are well-dressed
and well-bred, and they all came over in the Mayflower.
We stopped in Jeru five minutes.
When we were ready to continue our travels, Halicarnassus
seceded into the smoking-car, and the engine was shrieking
off its inertia, a small boy, laboring under great agitation,
hurried in, darted up to me, and, thrusting a pinchbeck ring
with a pink glass in it into my face, exclaimed, in a hoarse
"A beautiful ring, ma'am! I've just picked it up. Can't stop
to find the owner. Worth a dollar, ma'am; but if you'll give
me fifty cents--"
I rose fiercely, convulsively, in my seat, drew one long
breath, but whether he thought I was going to kill him,--I
dare say I looked it,--or whether he saw a sheriff behind,
or a phantom gallows before, I know not; but without waiting
for the thunderbolt to strike, he rushed from the car as
precipitately as he had rushed in. I WAS angry,--not because
I was to have been cheated, for I been repeatedly and
atrociously cheated and only smiled, but because the rascal
dared attempt on me such a threadbare, ragged, shoddy trick
as that. Do I LOOK like a rough-hewn, unseasoned backwoodsman?
Have I the air of never having read a newspaper? Is there a
patent innocence of eye-teeth in my demeanor? O Jeru! Jeru!
Somewhere in your virtuous bosom you are nourishing a viper,
for I have felt his fangs. Woe unto you, if you do not
strangle him before he develops into mature anacondaism!
In point of natural history I am not sure that vipers do
grow up anacondas, but for the purposes of moral philosophy
the development theory answers perfectly well.
In Boston we had three hours to spare; so we sent our
luggage--that is, my trunk--to the Worcester Depot, and
walked leisurely ourselves. I had a little shopping to do,
to complete my outfit for the journey,--a very little
shopping,--only a nightcap or two. Ordinarily such a thing
is a matter of small moment, but in my case the subject bad
swollen into unnatural dimensions. Nightcaps are not
generally considered healthy,--at least not by physicians.
Nature has given to the head its sufficient and appropriate
covering, the hair. Anything more than this injures the head,
by confining the heat, preventing the soothing, cooling contact
of air, and so deranging the circulation of the blood.
Therefore I have always heeded the dictates of Nature, which
I have supposed to be to brush out the hair thoroughly at night
and let it fly. But there are serious disadvantages connected
with this course. For Nature will be sure to whisk the hair
away from your ears where you want it, and into your eyes
where you don't want it, besides crowning you with magnificent
disorder in the morning. But as I have always believed that
no evil exists without its remedy, I had long been exercising
my inventive genius in attempts to produce a head-gear which
should at once protect the ears, confine the hair, and let the
skull alone. I regret to say that my experiments were an utter
failure, notwithstanding the amount of science and skill brought
to bear upon them. One idea lay at the basis of all my endeavors.
Every combination, however elaborate or intricate, resolved
into its simplest elements, consisted of a pair of rosettes
laterally to keep the ears warm, a bag posteriorly to put the
hair into, and some kind of a string somewhere to hold the
machine together. Every possible shape into which lace or
muslin or sheeting could be cut or plaited or sewed or twisted,
into which crewel or cord could be crocheted or netted or
tatted, I make bold to declare was essayed, until things came
to such a pass that every odd bit of dry good lying round the
house was, in the absence of any positive testimony on the
subject, assumed to be one of my nightcaps; an utterly baseless
assumption, because my achievements never went so far as
concrete capuality, but stopped short in the later stages of
abstract idealism. However, prejudice is stronger than truth;
and, as I said, every fragment of every fabric that could not
give an account of itself was charged with being a nightcap
till it was proved to be a dish-cloth or a cart-rope. I at
length surrendered at discretion, and remembered that somewhere
in my reading I had met with exquisite lace caps, and I did not
that from the combined fineness and strength of their material
they might answer the purpose, even if in form they should not
be everything that was desirable,--and I determined to
ascertain, if possible, whether such things existed anywhere
out of poetry.
As you perceive, therefore, my Boston shopping was not
everyday trading. It was to mark the abandonment of an old
and the inauguration of a new line of policy. Thus it was
with no ordinary interest that I looked carefully at all the
shops, and when I found one that seemed to hold out a
possibility of nightcaps, I went in. Halicarnassus obeyed
the hint which I pricked into him with the point of my
parasol, and stopped outside. The one place in the world
where a man has no business to be is the inside of a dry-goods
shop. He never looks and never is so big and bungling as
there. A woman skips from silk to muslin, from muslin to
ribbons, from ribbons to table-cloths, with the grace and
agility of a bird. She glides in and out among crowds of
her sex, steers sweepingly clear of all obstacles, and emerges
triumphant. A man enters, and immediately becomes all boots
and elbows. He needs as much room to turn round in as the
English iron-clad Warrior, and it takes him about as long.
He treads on all the flounces, runs against all the clerks,
knocks over all the children, and is generally underfoot.
If he gets an idea into his head, a Nims's battery cannot
dislodge it. You thought of buying a shawl; but a thousand
considerations, in the shape of raglans, cloaks, talmas, and
pea-jackets, induce you to modify your views. He stands by
you. He hears all your inquiries and all the clerk's
suggestions. The whole process of your reasoning is visible
to his naked eye. He sees the sack or visite or cape put
upon your shoulders and you walking off in it, and when you
are half-way home, he will mutter, in stupid amazement, "I
thought you were going to buy a shawl!" It is enough to
drive one wild.
No! Halicarnassus is absurd and mulish in many things, but he
knows I will not be hampered with him when I am shopping, and
he obeys the smallest hint, and stops outside.
To be sure he puts my temper on the rack by standing with his
hands in his pockets, or by looking meek, or likely as not
peering into the shop-door after me with great staring eyes
and parted lips; and this is the most provoking of all. If
there is anything vulgar, slipshod, and shiftless, it is a
man lounging about with his hands in his pockets. If you have
paws, stow them away; but if you are endowed with hands, learn
to carry them properly, or else cut them off. Nor can I abide
a man's looking as if he were under control. I wish him to BE
submissive, but I don't wish him to LOOK so. He shall do just
as he is bidden, but he shall carry himself like the man and
monarch he was made to be. Let him stay where he is put, yet
not as if he were put there, but as if he had taken his
position deliberately. But, of all things, to have a man act
as if he were a clod just emerged for the first time from his
own barnyard! Upon this occasion, however, I was too much
absorbed in my errand to note anybody's demeanor, and I
threaded straightway the crowd of customers, went up to the
counter, and inquired in a clear voice,--
"Have you lace nightcaps?"
The clerk looked at me with a troubled, bewildered glance,
and made no reply. I supposed he had not understood me,
and repeated the question. Then he answered, dubiously,--
"We have breakfast-caps."
It was my turn to look bewildered. What had I to do with
breakfast-caps? What connection was there between my question
and his answer? What field was there for any further inquiry?
"Have you ox-bows?" imagine a farmer to ask. "We have
rainbows," says the shopman. "Have you cameo-pins?" inquires
the elegant Mrs. Jenkins. "We have linchpins." "Have you
young apple trees?" asks the nursery-man. "We have
whiffletrees." If I had wanted breakfast-caps, shouldn't I
have asked for breakfast-caps? Or do the Boston people take
their breakfast at one o'clock in the morning? I concluded
that the man was demented, and marched out of the shop.
When I laid the matter before Halicarnassus, the following
interesting colloquy took place.
I. "What do you suppose it meant?"
H. "He took you for a North American Indian."
I. "What do you mean?"
H. "He did not understand your patois."
I. "What patois?"
H. "Your squaw dialect. You should have asked for a bonnet
H. "People never talk about nightcaps in good society."
I was very warm, and Halicarnassus said he was tired; so he
went into a restaurant and ordered strawberries,--that luscious
fruit, quivering on the border-land of ambrosia and nectar.
"Doubtless," says honest, quaint, delightful Isaac,--and he
never spoke a truer word,--"doubtless God might have made a
better berry than a strawberry, but doubtless God never did."
The bill of fare rated their excellence at fifteen cents.
"Not unreasonable," I pantomimed.
"Not if I pay for them," replied Halicarnassus.
Then we sat and amused ourselves after the usual brilliant
fashion of people who are waiting in hotel parlors,
railroad-stations, and restaurants. We surveyed the gilding
and the carpet and the mirrors and the curtains. We hazarded
profound conjectures touching the people assembled. We studied
the bill of fare as if it contained the secret of our army's
delay upon the Potomac, and had just concluded that the first
crop of strawberries was exhausted, and they were waiting for
the second crop to grow, when Hebe hove in sight with her
nectared ambrosia in a pair of cracked, browny-white saucers,
with browny-green silver spoons. I poured out what professed
to be cream, but proved very low-spirited milk, in which a few
disheartened strawberries appeared rari nantes. I looked at
them in dismay. Then curiosity smote me, and I counted them.
"Cent a piece," said Halicarnassus.
I was not thinking of the cent, but I had promised myself a
feast; and what is a feast, susceptible of enumeration?
Cleopatra was right. "That love"--and the same is true of
strawberries--"is beggarly which can be reckoned." Infinity
alone is glory.
"Perhaps the quality will atone for the quantity," said
Halicarnassus, scooping up at least half of his at one
"How do they taste?" I asked.
"Rather coppery," he answered.
"It is the spoons!" I exclaimed, in a fright. "They are German
silver! You will be poisoned!" and knocked his out of his hand
with such instinctive, sudden violence that it flew to the
other side of the room, where an old gentleman sat over his
newspaper and dinner.
He started, dropped his newspaper, and looked around in a maze.
Halicarnassus behaved beautifully,--I will give him the credit
of it. He went on with my spoon and his strawberries as
unconcernedly as if nothing had happened. I was conscious that
I blushed, but my face was in the shade, and nobody else knew
it; and to this day I've no doubt the old gentleman would have
marvelled what sent that mysterious spoon rattling against his
table and whizzing between his boots, had not Halicarnassus,
when the uproar was over, conceived it his duty to go and pick
up the spoon and apologize for the accident, lest the gentleman
should fancy an intentional rudeness. Partly to reward him for
his good behavior, partly because I never did think it worth
while to make two bites of a cherry, and partly because I did
not fancy being poisoned, I gave my fifteen berries to him.
He devoured them with evident relish.
"Does my spoon taste as badly as yours?" I asked.
"My spoon?" inquired he, innocently.
"Yes. You said before that they tasted coppery."
"I don't think," replied this unprincipled man,--"I don't think
it was the flavor of the spoon so much as of the coin which
each berry represented."
If we could only have been at home!
I never made a more unsatisfactory investment in my life than
the one I made in that restaurant. I felt as if I had been
swindled, and I said so to Halicarnassus. He remarked that
there was plenty of cream and sugar. I answered curtly, that
the cream was chiefly water, and the sugar chiefly flour; but
if they had been Simon Pure himself, was it anything but an
aggravation of the offence to have them with nothing to eat
"You might do as they do in France,--carry away what you don't
eat, seeing you pay for it."
"A pocketful of milk and water would be both delightful and
serviceable; but I might take the sugar," I added, with a
sudden thought, upsetting the sugar-bowl into a "Boston
Journal" which we had bought in the train. "I can never use
it, but it will be a consolation to reflect on."
Halicarnassus, who, though fertile in evil conceptions, lacks
nerve to put them into execution, was somewhat startled at this
sudden change of base. He had no idea that I should really act
upon his suggestion, but I did. I bundled the sugar into my
pocket with a grim satisfaction; and Halicarnassus paid his
thirty cents, looking--and feeling, as he afterwards told
me--as if a policeman's grip were on his shoulders. If any
restaurant in Boston recollects having been astonished at any
time during the summer of 1862 by an unaccountably empty
sugar-bowl, I take this occasion to explain the phenomenon.
I gave the sugar afterwards to a little beggar-girl, with a
dime for a brace of lemons, and shook off the dust of my feet
against Boston at the "B. & W. R. R. D."
Boston is a beautiful city, situated on a peninsula at the
head of Massachusetts Bay. It has three streets: Cornhill,
Washington, and Beacon Streets. It has a Common and a
Frog-pond, and many sprightly squirrels. Its streets are
straight, and cross each other like lines on a chess-board.
It has a state-house, which is the finest edifice in the world
or out of it. It has one church, the Old South, which was
built, as its name indicates, before the Proclamation of
Emancipation was issued. It has one bookstore, a lofty and
imposing pile, of the Egyptian style (and date) of
architecture, on the corner of Washington and School Streets.
It has one magazine, the "Atlantic Monthly," one daily
newspaper, the "Boston Journal," one religious weekly, the
"Congregationalist," and one orator, whose name is Train, a
model of chaste, compact, and classic elegance. In politics,
it was a Webster Whig, till Whig and Webster both went down,
when it fell apart waited for something to turn up,--which
proved to be drafting. Boston is called the Athens of America.
Its men are solid. Its women wear their bonnets to bed, their
nightcaps to breakfast, and talk Greek at dinner. I spent two
hours and half in Boston, and I know.
We had a royal progress from Boston to Fontdale. Summer lay
on the shining hills, and scattered benedictions. Plenty
smiled up from a thousand fertile fields. Patient oxen, with
their soft, deep eyes, trod heavily over mines of greater than
Indian wealth. Kindly cows stood in the grateful shade of
cathedral elms, and gave thanks to God in their dumb, fumbling
way. Motherly, sleepy, stupid sheep lay on the plains, little
lambs rollicked out their short-lived youth around them, and
no premonition floated over from the adjoining pea-patch, nor
any misgiving of approaching mutton marred their happy heyday.
Straight through the piny forests, straight past the vocal
orchards, right in among the robins and the jays and the
startled thrushes, we dashed inexorable, and made harsh
dissonance in the wild-wood orchestra; but not for that was
the music hushed, nor did one color fade. Brooks leaped in
headlong chase down the furrowed sides of gray old rocks, and
glided whispering beneath the sorrowful willows. Old trees
renewed their youth in the slight, tenacious grasp of many a
tremulous tendril, and, leaping lightly above their topmost
heights, vine laughed to vine, swaying dreamily in the summer
air; and not a vine nor brook nor hill nor forest but sent up
a sweet-smelling incense to its Maker. Not an ox or cow or
lamb or bird living its own dim life but lent its charm of
unconscious grace to the great picture that unfolded itself
mile after mile, in ever fresher loveliness to ever unsated
eyes. Well might the morning stars sing together, and all the
sons of God shout for joy, when first this grand and perfect
world swung free from its moorings, flung out its spotless
banner, and sailed majestic down the thronging skies. Yet,
though but once God spoke the world to life, the miracle of
creation is still incomplete. New every spring-time, fresh
every summer, the earth comes forth as a bride adorned for her
husband. Not only in the dawn of our history, but now in the
full brightness of its noonday, may we hear the voice of the
Lord walking in the garden. I look out upon the gray degraded
fields left naked of the snow, and inwardly ask, Can these dry
bones live again? And while the question is yet trembling on
my lips, lo! a Spirit breathes upon the earth, and beauty
thrills into bloom. Who shall lack faith in man's redemption,
when every year the earth is redeemed by unseen hands, and
death is lost in resurrection?
To Fontdale sitting among her beautiful meadows we are borne
swiftly on. There we must tarry for the night, for I will not
travel in the dark when I can help it. I love it. There is
no solitude in the world, or at least I have never felt any,
like standing alone in the doorway of the rear car on a dark
night, and rushing on through the darkness,--darkness, darkness
everywhere, and if one could be sure of rushing on till
daylight doth appear! But with the frightful and not remote
possibility of bringing up in a crash and being buried under
a general huddle, one prefers daylight. You may not be able
to get out of the huddle even by daylight; but you will at
least know where you are, if there is anything of you left.
So at Fontdale, Halicarnassus branches off temporarily on a
business errand, and I stop for the night a-cousining.
You object to this? Some people do. For my part, I like it.
You say you will not turn your own house or your friend's house
into a hotel. If people wish to see you, let them come and
make a visit; if you wish to see them, you will go and make
them one; but this touch and go,--what is it worth? O foolish
Galatians! much every way. For don't you see, supposing the
people are people you don't like, how much better it is to have
them come and sleep or dine and be gone than to have them
before your face and eyes for a week? An ill that is temporary
is tolerable. You could entertain the Evil One himself, if you
were sure he would go away after dinner. The trouble about him
is not so much that he comes as that he won't go. He hangs
around. If you once open your door to him, there is no getting
rid of him; and some of his followers, it must be confessed,
are just like him. You must resist them both, or they will
never flee. But if they do flee after a day's tarry, do not
complain. You protest against turning your house into a hotel.
Why, the hotelry is the least irksome part of the whole
business, when your guests are uninteresting. It is not the
supper or the bed that costs, but keeping people going after
supper is over and before bedtime is come. Never complain, if
you have nothing worse to do than to feed or house your guests
for a day or an hour.
On the other hand, if they are people you like, how much better
to have them come so than not to at all! People cannot often
make long visits,--people that are worth anything,--people who
use life; and they are the only ones that are worth anything.
And if you cannot get your good things in the lump, are you
going to refuse them altogether? By no means. You are going
to take them by driblets, and if you will only be sensible and
not pout, but keep your tin pan right side up, you will find
that golden showers will drizzle through all your life. So,
with never a nugget in your chest, you shall die rich. If you
can stop over-night with your friend, you have no sand-grain,
but a very respectable boulder. For a night is infinite.
Daytime is well enough for business, but it is little worth for
happiness. You sit down to a book, to a picture, to a friend,
and the first you know it is time to get dinner, or time to eat
it, or time for the train, or you must put out your dried
apples, or set the bread to rising, or something breaks in
impertinently and chokes you at flood-tide. But the night has
no end. Everything is done but that which you would be forever
doing. The curtains are drawn, the lamp is lighted and veiled
into exquisite soft shadowiness. All the world is far off.
All its din and dole strike into the bank of darkness that
envelops you and are lost to your tranced sense. In all the
world are only your friend and you, and then you strike out
your oars, silver-sounding, into the shoreless night.
But the night comes to an end, you say. No, it does not. It
is you that come to an end. You grow sleepy, clod that you
are. But as you don't think, when you begin, that you ever
shall grow sleepy, it is just the same as if you never did.
For you have no foreshadow of an inevitable termination to your
rapture, and so practically your night has no limit. It is
fastened at one end to the sunset, but the other end floats off
into eternity. And there really is no abrupt termination. You
roll down the inclined plane of your social happiness into the
bosom of another happiness,--sleep. Sleep for the sleepy is
bliss just as truly as society to the lonely. What in the
distance would have seemed Purgatory, once reached, is
Paradise, and your happiness is continuous. Just as it is in
mending. Short-sighted, superficial, unreflecting people have
a way--which in time fossilizes into a principle--of mending
everything as soon as it comes up from the wash,--a very
unthrifty, uneconomical habit, if you use the words thrift and
economy in the only way in which they ought to be used, namely,
as applied to what is worth economizing. Time, happiness,
life, these are the only things to be thrifty about. But I see
people working and worrying over quince-marmalade and tucked
petticoats and embroidered chair-covers, things that perish
with the using and leave the user worse than they found him.
This I call waste and wicked prodigality. Life is too short
to permit us to fret about matters of no importance. Where
these things can minister to the mind and heart, they are a
part of the soul's furniture; but where they only pamper the
appetite or the vanity, or any foolish and hurtful lust, they
are foolish and hurtful. Be thrifty of comfort. Never allow
an opportunity for cheer, for pleasure, for intelligence, for
benevolence, for kind of good, to go unimproved. Consider
seriously whether the syrup of your preserves or juices of your
own soul will do the most to serve your race. It may be that
they are compatible,--that the concoction of the one shall
provide the ascending sap of the other; but if it is not so,
if one must be sacrificed, do not hesitate a moment as to which
it shall be. If a peach does not become sweetmeat, it will
become something, it will not stay a withered, unsightly peach;
but for souls there is no transmigration out of fables. Once
a soul, forever a soul,--mean or mighty, shrivelled or full,
it is for you to say. Money, land, luxury, so far as they are
money, land, and luxury, are worthless. It is only as fast and
as far as they are turned into life that they acquire value.
So you are thriftless when you eagerly seize the first
opportunity to fritter away your time over old clothes. You
precipitate yourself unnecessarily against a disagreeable
thing. For you are not going to put your stockings on.
Perhaps you will not need your buttons for a week, and in a
week you may have passed beyond the jurisdiction of buttons.
But even if you should not, let the buttons and the holes alone
all the same. For, first, the pleasant and profitable thing
which you will do instead is a funded capital, which will roll
you up a perpetual interest; and secondly, the disagreeable
duty is forever abolished. I say forever, because, when you
have gone without the button awhile, the inconvenience it
occasions will reconcile you to the necessity of sewing it
on,--will even go further, and make it a positive relief
amounting to positive pleasure. Besides, every time you use
it, for a long while after, you will have a delicious sense
of satisfaction, such as accompanies the sudden complete
cessation of a dull, continuous pain. Thus what was at best
characterless routine, and most likely an exasperation, is
turned into actual delight, and adds to the sum of life. This
is thrift. This is economy. But, alas! few people understand
the art of living. They strive after system, wholeness,
buttons, and neglect the weightier matters of the higher law.
--I wonder how I got here, or how I am to get back again. I
started for Fontdale, and I find myself in a mending-basket.
As I know no good in tracing the same road back, we may as well
strike a bee-line and begin new at Fontdale.
We stopped at Fontdale a-cousining. I have a veil, a
beautiful--HAVE, did I say? Alas! Troy WAS. But I must not
anticipate--a beautiful veil of brown tissue, none of your
woolleny, gruff fabrics, fit only for penance, but a silken,
gossamery cloud, soft as a baby's cheek. Yet everybody fleers
at it. Everybody has a joke about it. Everybody looks at it,
and holds it out at arms' length, and shakes it, and makes
great eyes at it, and says, "What in the world--" and ends with
a huge, bouncing laugh. Why? One is ashamed of human nature
at being forced to confess. Because, to use a Gulliverism,
it is longer by the breadth of my nail than any of its
contemporaries. In fact, it is two yards long. That is all.
Halicarnassus fired the first gun at it by saying that its
length was to enable one end of it to remain at home while the
other end went with me, so that neither of us should get lost.
This is an allusion to a habit which I and my property have of
finding ourselves individually and collectively left in the
lurch. After this initial shot, everybody considered himself
at liberty to let off his rusty old blunderbuss, and there was
a constant peppering. But my veil never lowered its colors nor
curtailed its resources. Alas! what ridicule and contumely
failed to effect, destiny accomplished. Softness and plenitude
are no shields against the shafts of fate.
I went into the station waiting-room to write a note. I laid
my bonnet, my veil, my packages upon the table. I wrote my
note. I went away. The next morning, when I would have
arrayed myself to resume my journey, there was no veil. I
remembered that I had taken it into the station the night
before, and that I had not taken it out. At the station we
inquired of the waiting-woman concerning it. It is as much as
your life is worth to ask these people about lost articles.
They take it for granted at the first blush that you mean to
accuse them of stealing. "Have you seen a brown veil lying
about anywhere?" asked Crene, her sweet bird-voice warbling
out from her sweet rose-lips. "No, I 'a'n't seen nothin' of
it," says Gnome, with magnificent indifference.
"It was lost here last night," continues Crene, in a
soliloquizing undertone, pushing investigating glances
beneath the sofas.
"I do' know nothin' about it. _I_ 'a'n't took it"; and the
Gnome tosses her head back defiantly. "I seen the lady when
she was a-writin' of her letter, and when she went out ther'
wa'n't nothin' left on the table but a hangkerchuf, and that
wa'n't hern. I do' know nothin' about it, nor I 'a'n't seen
nothin' of it."
O no, my Gnome, you knew nothing of it; you did not take it.
But since no one accused or even suspected you, why could you
not have been less aggressive and more sympathetic in your
assertions? But we will plough no longer in that field. The
ploughshare has struck against a rock and grits, denting its
edge in vain. My veil is gone,--my ample, historic, heroic
veil. There is a woman in Fontdale who breathes air filtered
through--I will not say STOLEN tissue, but certainly through
tissue which was obtained without rendering its owner any fair
equivalent. Does not every breeze that softly stirs its
fluttering folds say to her, "O friend, this veil is not yours,
not yours," and still sighingly, "not yours! Up among the
northern hills, yonder towards the sunset, sits the owner,
sorrowful, weeping, wailing"? I believe I am wading out into
the Sally Waters of Mother Goosery; but, prose or poetry,
somewhere a woman,--and because nobody of taste could
surreptitiously possess herself of my veil, I have no doubt
that she cut it incontinently into two equal parts, and gave
one to her sister, and there are two women,--nay, since
niggardly souls have no sense of grandeur, and will shave down
to microscopic dimensions, it is every way probable that she
divided it into three unequal parts, and took three quarters
of a yard for herself, three quarters for her sister, and gave
the remaining half-yard to her daughter, and that at very
moment there are two women and a little girl taking their walks
abroad under the silken shadows of my veil! And yet there are
people who profess to disbelieve in total depravity.
Nor did the veil walk away alone. My trunk became imbued with
the spirit of adventure, and branched off on its own account
up somewhere into Vermont. I suppose it would have kept on and
reached perhaps the North Pole by this time, had not Crene's
dark eyes,--so pretty to look at that one instinctively feels
they ought not to be good for anything, if a just impartiality
is to be maintained, but they are,--had not Crene's dark eyes
seen it tilting into a baggage-crate, and trundling off towards
the Green Mountains, but too late. Of course there was a
formidable hitch in the programme. A court of justice was
improvised on the car-steps. I was the plaintiff, Crene chief
evidence, baggage-master both defendant and examining-counsel.
The case did not admit of a doubt. There was the little
insurmountable check, whose brazen lips could speak no lie.
"Keep hold of that," whispered Crene, and a yoke of oxen could
not have drawn it from me.
"You are sure you had it marked for Fontdale," says Mr.
I hold the impracticable check before his eyes in silence.
"Yes, well, it must have gone on to Albany."
"But it went away on that track," says Crene.
"Couldn't have gone on that track. Of course they wouldn't
have carried it away over there just to make it go wrong."
For me, I am easily persuaded and dissuaded. If he had told
me that it must have gone in such a direction, that it was a
moral and mental impossibility should have gone in any other,
and have it times enough, with a certain confidence and
contempt of any other contingency, I should gradually have
lost faith in my own eyes, and said, "Well, I suppose it did."
But Crene is not to be asserted into yielding one inch, and
insists that the trunk went to Vermont and not to New York,
and is thoroughly unmanageable. The baggage-master, in anguish
of soul, trots out his subordinates, one after another,--
"Is this the man that wheeled the trunk away? Is this?
The brawny-armed fellows hang back, and scowl, and muffle words
in a very suspicious manner, and protest they won't be got into
a scrape. But Crene has no scrape for them. She cannot swear
to their identity. She had eyes only for the trunk.
"Well," says Baggage-man, at his wits' end, "you let me take
your check, and I'll send the trunk on by express, when it comes.
I pity him, and relax my clutch.
"No," whispers Crene; "as long as you have your check, you as
good as have your trunk; but when you give that up, you have
nothing. Keep that till you see your trunk."
My clutch re-tightens.
"At any rate, you can wait till the next train, and see if
it doesn't come back. You'll get to your journey's end just
"Shall I? Well, I will," compliant as usual.
"No," interposes my good genius again. "Men are always saying
that a woman never goes when she engages to go. She is always
a train later or a train earlier, and you can't meet her."
Pliant to the last touch, I say aloud,--
"No, I must go in this train"; and so I go, trunkless and
crestfallen, to meet Halicarnassus.
It is a dismal day, and Crene, to comfort me, puts into my
hands two books as companions by the way. They are Coventry
Patmore's "Angel in the House," "The Espousals and the
Betrothal." I do not approve of reading in the cars; but
without is a dense, white, unvarying fog, and within my heart
it is not clear sunshine. So I turn to my books.
Did any one ever read them before? Somebody wrote a vile
review of them once, and gave the idea of a very puerile,
ridiculous, apron-stringy attempt at poetry. Whoever wrote
that notice ought to be shot, for the books are charming,--
pure and homely and householdy, yet not effeminate. Critics
may sneer as much as they choose: it is such love as Vaughan's
that Honorias value. Because a woman's nature is not proof
against deterioration, because a large and long-continued
infusion of gross blood, and perhaps even the monotonous
pressure of rough, pitiless, degrading circumstances, may
displace, eat out, rub off the delicacy of a soul, may change
its texture to unnatural coarseness and scatter ashes for
beauty, women do exist, victims rather than culprits, coarse
against their nature, hard, material, grasping, the saddest
sight humanity can see. Such a woman can accept coarse men.
They may come courting on all fours, and she will not be
shocked. But women in the natural state wish men to stand
godlike erect, to tread majestically, and live delicately.
Women do not often make an ado about this. They talk it over
among themselves, and take men as they are. They quietly
soften them down, and smooth them out, and polish them up, and
make the best of them, and simply and sedulously shut their
eyes and make believe there isn't any worst, or reason it
away,--a great deal more than I should think they would. But
if you see the qualities that a woman spontaneously loves, the
expression, the tone, the bearing that thoroughly satisfies her
self-respect, that not only secures her acquiescence, but
arouses her enthusiasm and commands her abdication, crucify the
flesh, and read Coventry Patmore. Not that he is the world's
great poet, nor Arthur Vaughan the ideal man; but this I do
mean: that the delicacy, the spirituality of his love, the
scrupulous respectfulness of his demeanor, his unfeigned inward
humility, as far removed from servility on the one side as from
assumption on the other, and less the opponent than the
offspring of self-respect, his thorough gentleness, guilelessness,
deference, his manly, unselfish homage, are such qualities, and
such alone, as lead womanhood captive. Listen to me, you
rattling, roaring, rollicking Ralph Roister Doisters, you calm,
inevitable Gradgrinds, as smooth, as sharp, as bright as steel,
and as soulless, and you men, whoever, whatever, and wherever
you are, with fibres of rope and nerves of wire, there is many
and many a woman who tolerates you because she finds you, but
there is nothing in her that ever goes out to seek you. Be not
deceived by her placability. "Here he is," she says to herself,
"and something must be done about it. Buried under Ossa and
Pelion somewhere he must be supposed to have a soul, and the
sooner he is dug into the sooner it will be exhumed." So she
digs. She would never have made you, nor of her own free-will
elected you; but being made, such as you are, and on her hands
in one way or another, she carves and chisels, and strives to
evoke from the block a breathing statue. She may succeed so
far as that you shall become her Frankenstein, a great, sad,
monstrous, incessant, inevitable caricature of her ideal, the
monument at once of her success and her failure, the object of
her compassion, the intimate sorrow of her soul, a vast and
dreadful form into which her creative power can breathe the
breath of life, but not of sympathy. Perhaps she loves you
with a remorseful, pitying, protesting love, and carries you on
her shuddering shoulders to the grave. Probably, as she is good
and wise, you will never find it out. A limpid brook ripples in
beauty and bloom by the side of muddy, stagnant self-complacence,
and you discern no essential difference. "Water's water," you
say, with your broad, stupid generalization, and go oozing along
contentedly through peat-bogs and meadow-ditches, mounting,
perhaps, in moments of inspiration, to the moderate sublimity
of a cranberry-meadow, but subsiding with entire satisfaction
into a muck-puddle: and all the while the little brook that
you patronize when you are full-fed, and snub when you are
hungry, and look upon always,--the little brook is singing its
own melody through grove and orchard and sweet wild-wood,--
singing with the birds and the blooms songs that you cannot
hear; but they are heard by the silent stars, singing on and on
into a broader and deeper destiny, till it pours, one day, its
last earthly note, and becomes forevermore the unutterable sea.
And you are nothing but a ditch.
No, my friend, Lucy will drive with you, and to talk to you,
and sing your songs; she will take care of you, and pray for
you, and cry when you go to the war; if she is not your
daughter or your sister, she will, perhaps, in a moment of
weakness or insanity, marry you; she will be a faithful wife,
and float you to the end; but if you wish to be her love, her
hero, her ideal, her delight, her spontaneity, her utter rest
and ultimatum, you must attune your soul to fine issues,--you
must bring out the angel in you, and keep the brute under.
It is not that you shall stop making shoes, and begin to write
poetry. That is just as much discrimination as you have. Tell
you to be gentle, and you think we will have you dissolve into
milk-and-water; tell you to be polite, and you infer hypocrisy;
to be neat, and you leap over into dandyism, fancying all the
while that bluster is manliness. No, sir. You may make shoes,
you may run engines, you may carry coals; you may blow the
huntsman's horn, hurl the base-ball, follow the plough, smite
the anvil; your face may be brown, your veins knotted, your
hands grimed; and yet you may be a hero. And, on the other
hand, you may write verses and be a clown. It is not necessary
to feed on ambrosia in order to become divine; nor shall one
be accursed, though he drink of the ninefold Styx. The
Israelites ate angels' food in the wilderness, and remained
stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. The white
water-lily feeds on slime, and unfolds a heavenly glory. Come
as the June morning comes. It has not picked its way daintily,
passing only among the roses. It has breathed up the whole
earth. It has blown through the fields and barnyards and all
the common places of the land. It has shrunk from nothing.
Its purity has breasted and overborne all things, and so
mingled and harmonized all that it sweeps around your forehead
and sinks into your heart as soft and sweet and pure as the
fragrancy of Paradise. So come you, rough from the world's
rough work, all out-door airs blowing around you, and all your
earth-smells clinging to you, but with a fine inward grace, so
strong, so sweet, so salubrious that it meets and masters all
things, blending every faintest or foulest odor of earthliness
into the grateful incense of a pure and lofty life.
Thus I read and mused in the soft summer fog, and the first I
knew the cars had stopped, I was standing on the platform, and
Coventry and his knight were--where? Wandering up and down
somewhere among the Berkshire hills. At some junction of roads,
I suppose, I left them on the cushion, for I have never beheld
them since. Tell me, O ye daughters of Berkshire! have you seen
them,--a princely pair, sore weary in your mountain-land, but
regal still, through all their travel-stain? I pray you,
entreat them hospitably, for their mission is "not of an age,
but for all time."
The descent from Patmore and poetry to New York is somewhat
abrupt, not to say precipitous, but we made it in safety; and
so shall you, if you will be agile.
New York is a pleasant little Dutch city, on a dot of island
a few miles southwest of Massachusetts. For a city entirely
unobtrusive and unpretending, it has really great attractions
and solid merit; but the superior importance of other places
will not permit me to tarry long within its hospitable walls.
In fact, we only arrived late at night, and departed early the
next morning; but even a six-hours sojourn gave me a solemn and
"realizing sense" of its marked worth,--for, when, tired and
listless, I asked for a servant to assist me, the waiter said
he would send the housekeeper. Accordingly, when, a few
moments after, it knocked at the door with light, light finger,
(see De la Motte Fouque,) I drawled, "Come in," and the Queen
of Sheba stood before me, clad in purple and fine linen, with
rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. I stared in
dismay, and perceived myself rapidly transmigrating into a
ridiculus mus. My gray and dingy travelling-dress grew abject,
and burned into my soul like tunic of Nessus. I should as soon
have thought of asking Queen Victoria to brush out my hair as
that fine lady in brocade silk and Mechlin lace. But she was
good and gracious, and did not annihilate me on the spot, as
she easily have done, for which I shall thank her as long as
"You sent for me?" she inquired, with the blandest accents
imaginable. I can't tell a lie, pa,--you know I can't tell a
lie; besides, I had not time to make up one, and I said, "Yes,"
and then, of all stupid devices that could filter into my
brain, I must needs stammer out that I should like a few
matches! A pretty thing to bring a dowager duchess up nine
pairs of stairs for!
"I will ring the bell," she said, with a tender, reproachful
sweetness and dignity, which conveyed without unkindness the
severest rebuke tempered by womanly pity, and proceeded to
instruct me in the nature and uses of the bell-rope, as she
would any little dairy-maid who had heard only the chime of
cow-bells all the days of her life. Then she sailed out of
the room, serene and majestic, like a seventy-four man-of-war,
while I, a squalid, salt-hay gunlow, (Venetian blind-ed into
gondola,) first sank down in confusion, and then rose up in
fury and brushed all the hair out of my head.
"I declare," I said to Halicarnassus, when we were fairly
beyond ear-shot of the city next morning, "I don't approve of
sumptuary laws, and I like America to be the El Dorado of the
poor man, and I go for the largest liberty of the individual;
but I do think there ought to be a clause in the Constitution
providing that servants shall not be dressed and educated and
accomplished up to the point of making people uncomfortable."
"No," said Halicarnassus, sleepily; "perhaps it wasn't a
"Well," I said, having looked at it in that light silently for
half an hour, and coming to the surface in another place, "if
I could dress and carry myself like that, I would not keep
"Oh! eh?" yawning; "who does?"
"Mrs. Astor. Of course nobody less rich than Mrs. Astor could
go up-stairs and down-stairs and in my lady's chamber in Shiraz
silk and gold of Ophir. Why, Cleopatra was nothing to her.
I make no doubt she uses gold-dust for sugar in her coffee
every morning; and as for the three miserable little wherries
that Isabella furnished Columbus, and historians have towed
through their tomes ever since, if you know of anybody that
has a continent he wishes to discover, send him to this
housekeeper, and she can fit out a fleet of transports and
Monitors for convoy with one of her bracelets."
"I don't," said Halicarnassus, rubbing his eyes.
"I only wish," I added, "that she would turn Rebel so that
government might confiscate her. Paper currency would go up
at once from the sudden influx of gold, and the credit of the
country receive a new lease of life. She must be a lineal
descendant of Sir Roger de Coverley, for sure her finger
sparkles with a hundred of his richest acres."
Before bidding a final farewell to New York, I venture to make
a single remark. I regret to be forced to confess that I
greatly fear even this virtuous little city has not escaped
quite free, the general deterioration of morals and manners.
The New York hackmen, for instance, are very obliging and
attentive; but if it would not seem ungrateful, I would hazard
the statement that their attentions are unremitting to the
degree being almost embarrassing, and proffered to the verge
of obtrusiveness. I think, in short, that they are hardly
quite delicate in their politeness. They press their
hospitality on you till you sigh for a little marked neglect.
They are not content with simple statement. They offer you
their hack, for instance. You decline with thanks. They say
that they will carry you to any part of the city. Where is
the pertinence of that, if you do not wish to go? But they
not only say it, they repeat it, they dwell upon it as if it
were a cardinal virtue. Now you have never expressed or
entertained the remotest suspicion that they would not carry
you to any part of the city. You have not the slightest
intention or desire to discredit their assertion. The only
trouble is, as I said before, you do not wish to go to any
part of the city. Very few people have time to drive about
in that general way; and surely, when you have once distinctly
informed them that you do not design to inspect New York, they
ought to see plainly that you cannot change your whole plan of
operations out of gratitude to them, and that the part of true
politeness is to withdraw. But they even go beyond a censurable
urgency; for an old gentleman and lady, evidently unaccustomed
to travelling, had given themselves in charge of a driver, who
placed them in his coach, leaving the door open while he went
back seeking whom he might devour. Presently a rival coachman
came up and said to the aged and respectable couple,--
"Here's a carriage all ready to start."
"But," replied the lady, "we have already told the gentleman
who drives this coach that we would go with him."
"Catch me to go in that coach, if I was you!" responded the
wicked coachman. "Why, that coach has had the small-pox in it."
The lady started up in horror. At that moment the first driver
appeared again; and Satan entered into me, and I felt in my
heart that I should like to see a fight; and then conscience
stepped up and drove him away, but consoled me by the assurance
that I should see the fight all the same, for such duplicity
deserved the severest punishment, and it was my duty to make
an expose and vindicate helpless innocence imposed upon in the
persons of that worthy pair. Accordingly I said to the driver,
as he passed me,--
"Driver, that man in the gray coat is trying to frighten the
old lady and gentleman away from your coach, by telling them
it has had the small-pox."
Oh! but did not the fire flash into his honest eyes, and leap
into his swarthy cheek, and nerve his brawny arm, and clinch
his horny fist, as he marched straightway up to the doomed
offender, fiercely denounced his dishonesty, and violently
demanded redress? Ah! then and there was hurrying to and
fro, and eagerness and delight on every countenance, and a
ring formed, and the prospect of a lovely "row,"--and I did
it; but a police-officer sprang up, full-armed, from somewhere
underground, and undid it all, and enforced a reluctant peace.
And so we are at Saratoga. Now, of all places to stay at in
the summer-time, Saratoga is the very last one to choose. It
may have attractions in winter; but, if one wishes to rest and
change and root down and shoot up and branch out, he might as
well take lodgings in the water-wheel of a saw-mill. The
uniformity and variety will be much the same. It is all a
noiseless kind of din, narrow and intense. There is nothing
in Saratoga nor of Saratoga to see or to hear or to feel.
They tell you of a lake. You jam into an omnibus and ride
four miles. Then you step into a cockle-shell and circumnavigate
a pond, so small that it almost makes you dizzy to sail around
it. This is the lake,--a very nice thing as far as it goes;
but when it has to be constantly on duty as the natural scenery
of the whole surrounding country, it is putting altogether too
fine a point on it. The picturesque people will inform you of
an Indian encampment. You go to see it, thinking of the forest
primeval, and expecting to be transported back to tomahawks,
scalps, and forefathers but you return without them, and that
is all. I never heard of anybody's going anywhere. In fact
there did not seem to be anywhere to go. Any suggestion of
mine to strike out into the champaign was frowned down in the
severest manner. As far as I could see, nobody ever did
anything. There never was any plan on foot. Nothing was ever
stirring. People sat on the piazza and sewed. They went to
the springs, and the springs are dreadful. They bubble up
salts and senna. I never knew anything that pretended to be
water that was half as bad. It has no one redeeming quality.
It is bitter. It is greasy. Every spring is worse than the
last, whichever end you begin at. They told apocryphal stories
of people's drinking sixteen glasses before breakfast; and yet
it may have been true; for, if one could bring himself to the
point of drinking one glass of it, I should suppose it would
have taken such a force to enable him to do it that he might
go on drinking indefinitely, from the mere action of the
original impulse. I should think one dose of it would render
a person permanently indifferent to savors, and make him, like
Mithridates, poison-proof. Nevertheless, people go to the
springs and drink. Then they go to the bowling-alleys and
bowl. In the evening, if you are hilariously inclined, you
can make the tour of the hotels. In one you see a large and
brilliantly lighted parlor, along the four sides of which are
women sitting, solemn and stately, in rows three deep, a man
dropped in here and there, about as thick as periods on a page,
very young or very old or in white cravats. A piano or a band
or something that can make a noise makes it at intervals at one
end of the room. They all look as if they waiting for something,
but nothing in particular happens. Sometimes, after the mountain
has labored awhile, some little mouse of a boy and girl will get
up, execute an antic or two and sit down again, when everything
relapses into its original solemnity. At very long intervals
somebody walks across the floor. There is a moderate fluttering
of fans and an occasional whisper. Expectation interspersed with
gimcracks seems to be the programme. The greater part of the
dancing that I saw was done by boys and girls. It was pretty and
painful. Nobody dances so well as children; no grace is equal to
their grace; but to go into a hotel at ten o'clock at night, and
see little things, eight, ten, twelve years old, who ought to be
in bed and asleep, tricked out in flounces and ribbons and all
the paraphernalia of ballet-girls, and dancing in the centre of
a hollow square of strangers,--I call it murder in the first
degree. What can mothers be thinking of to abuse their children
so? Children are naturally healthy and simple; why should they
be spoiled? They will have to plunge into the world full soon
enough; why should the world be plunged into them? Physically,
mentally, and morally, the innocents are massacred. Night after
night I saw the same children led out to the slaughter, and as
I looked I saw their round, red cheeks grow thin and white, their
delicate nerves lose tone and tension, their brains become feeble
and flabby, their minds flutter out weakly in muslin and ribbons,
their vanity kindled by injudicious admiration, the sweet
child-unconsciousness withering away in the glare of indiscriminate
gazing, the innocence and simplicity and naturalness and childlikeness
swallowed up in a seething whirlpool of artificialness, all the
fine, golden butterfly-dust of modesty and delicacy and
retiring girlhood ruthlessly rubbed off forever before girlhood
had even reddened from the dim dawn of infancy. Oh! it is
cruel to sacrifice children so. What can atone for a lost
childhood? What can be given in recompense for the ethereal,
spontaneous, sharply defined, new, delicious sensations of a
sheltered, untainted, opening life?
Thoroughly worked into a white heat of indignation, we leave
the babes in the wood to be despatched by their ruffian
relatives, and go to other hotel. A larger parlor, larger
rows, but still three deep and solemn. A tall man, with a face
in which melancholy seems to be giving way to despair, a man
most proper for an undertaker, but palpably out of place in a
drawing-room, walks up and down incessantly, but noiselessly,
in a persistent endeavor to bring out a dance. Now he fastens
upon a newly arrived man. Now he plants himself before a bench
of misses. You can hear the low rumble of his exhortation and
the tittering replies. After a persevering course of entreaty
and persuasion, a set is drafted, the music galvanizes, and the
I like to see people do with their might whatsoever their hands
or their tongues or their feet find to do. A half-and-half
performance of the right is just about as mischievous as the
perpetration of the wrong. It is vacillation, hesitation, lack
of will, feebleness of purpose, imperfect execution, that works
ill in all life. Be monarch of all you survey. If a woman
decides to do her own housework, let her go in royally among
her pots and kettles, and set everything a-stewing and baking
and broiling and boiling, as a queen might. If she decides not
to do housework, but to superintend its doing, let her say to
her servant, "Go," and he goeth, to another, "Come," and he
cometh, to a third, "Do this," and he doeth it, and not potter
about. So, when girls get themselves up and go to Saratoga for
a regular campaign, let their bearing be soldierly. Let them
be gay with abandonment. Let them take hold of it as if they
liked it. I do not affect the word flirtation, but the thing
itself is not half so criminal as one would think from the
animadversions visited upon it. Of course, a deliberate
setting yourself to work to make some one fall in love with
you, for the mere purpose of showing your power, is
abominable,--or would be, if anybody ever did it; but I do not
suppose it ever was done, except in fifth-rate novels. What
I mean is, that it is entertaining, harmless, and beneficial
for young people to amuse themselves with each other to the top
of their bent, if their bent is a natural and right one. A few
hearts may suffer accidental, transient injury; but hearts are
like limbs, all the stronger for being broken. Besides, where
one man or woman is injured by loving too much, nine hundred
and ninety-nine die the death from not loving enough. But
these Saratoga girls did neither one thing nor another. They
dressed themselves in their best, making a point of it, and
failed. They assembled themselves together of set purpose to
be lively, and they were infectiously dismal. They did not
dress well: one looked rustic; another was dowdyish; a third
was over-fine; a fourth was insignificant. Their bearing was
not good, in the main. They danced, and whispered, and
laughed, and looked like milkmaids. They had no style, no
figure. Their shoulders were high, and their chests were flat,
and they were one-sided, and they stooped,--all of which would
have been no account, if they had only been unconsciously
enjoying themselves: but they consciously were not. It is
possible that they thought they were happy, but I knew better.
You are never happy, unless you are master of the situation;
and they were not. They endeavored to appear at ease,--a thing
which people who are at ease never do. They looked as if they
had all their lives been meaning to go to Saratoga, and now they
had got there and were determined not to betray any unwontedness.
It was not the timid, eager, delighted, fascinating, graceful
awkwardness of a new young girl; it was not the careless, hearty,
whole-souled enjoyment of an experienced girl; it was not the
natural, indifferent, imperial queening it of an acknowledged
monarch: but something that caught hold of the hem of the
garment of them all. It was they with the sheen damped off.
So it was not imposing. I could pick you up a dozen girls
straight along, right out of the pantries and the butteries,
right up from the washing-tubs and the sewing-machines, who
should be abundantly able to "hoe their row" with them anywhere.
In short, I was extremely disappointed. I expected to see the
high fashion, the very birth and breeding, the cream cheese of
the country, and it was skim-milk. If that is birth, one can
do quite as well without being born at all. Occasionally you
would see a girl with gentle blood in her veins, whether it were
butcher-blood or banker-blood, but she only made the prevailing
plebsiness more striking. Now I maintain that a woman ought to
be very handsome or very clever, or else she ought to go to work
and do something. Beauty is of itself a divine gift and adequate.
"Beauty is its own excuse for being" anywhere. It ought not
to be fenced in or monopolized, any more than a statue or a
mountain. It ought to be free and common, a benediction to all
weary wayfarers. It can never be profaned; for it veils itself
from the unappreciative eye, and shines only upon its worshippers.
So a clever woman, whether she be a painter or a teacher or a
dress-maker,--if she really has an object in life, a career, she
is safe. She is a power. She commands a realm. She owns a
world. She is bringing things to bear. Let her alone. But it
is a very dangerous and a very melancholy thing common women to
be "lying on their oars" long at a time. Some of these were, I
suppose, what Winthrop calls "business-women, fighting their way
out of vulgarity into style." The process is rather uninteresting,
but the result may be glorious. Yet a good many of them were good
honest, kind, common girls, only demoralized by long lying around
in a waiting posture. It had taken the fire and sparkle out of
them. They were not in a healthy state. They were degraded,
contracted, flaccid. They did not hold themselves high. They
knew that in a market-point of view there was a frightful glut
of women. The usually small ratio of men was unusually
diminished by the absence of those who gone to the war, and of
those who, as was currently reported, were ashamed that they
had not gone. A few available men had it all their own way;
the women were on the lookout for them, instead of being
themselves looked out for. They talked about "gentlemen," and
being "companionable to GEN-tlemen," and who was "fascinating
to GEN-tlemen," till the "grand old name became a nuisance.
There was an under-current of unsated coquetry. I don't
suppose they were any sillier than the rest of us; but when our
silliness is mixed in with housekeeping and sewing and teaching
and returning visits, it passes off harmless. When it is
stripped of all these modifiers, however, and goes off exposed
to Saratoga, and melts in with a hundred other sillinesses, it
makes a great show.
No, I don't like Saratoga. I don't think it is wholesome. No
place can be healthy that keeps up such an unmitigated dressing.
"Where do you walk?" I asked an artless little lady.
"O, almost always on the long piazza. It is so clean there,
and we don't like to soil our dresses."
Now I ask if girls could ever get into that state in the
natural course of things! It is the result of bad habits.
They cease to care for things which they ought to like to do,
and they devote themselves to what ought to be only an
incident. People dress in their best without break. They go
to the springs before breakfast in shining raiment, and they
go into the parlor after supper in shining raiment, and it is
shine, shine, shine, all the way between, and a different shine
each time. You may well suppose that I was like an owl among
birds of Paradise, for what little finery I had was in my
(eminently) travelling-trunk: yet, though it was but a dory,
compared with the Noah's arks that drove up every day, I felt
that, if I could only once get inside of it, I could make
things fly to some purpose. Like poor Rabette, I would show
the city that the country too could wear clothes! I never
walked down Broadway without seeing a dozen white trunks,
and every white trunk that I saw I was fully convinced was
mine, if I could only get at it. By and by mine came, and I
blossomed. I arrayed myself for morning, noon, and night, and
everything else that came up, and was, as the poet says,--
"Prodigious in change,
And endless in range,"--
for I would have scorned not to be as good as the best. The
result was, that in three days I touched bottom. But then we
went away, and my reputation was saved. I don't believe
anybody ever did a larger business on a smaller capital; but
I put a bold face on it. I cherish the hope that nobody
suspected I could not go on in that ruinous way all summer,--
I, who in three days had mustered into service every dress and
sash and ribbon and that I had had in three years or expected
to have in three more. But I never will, if I can help it,
hold my head down where other people are holding their heads up.
I would not be understood as decrying or depreciating dress.
It is a duty as well as a delight. Mrs. Madison is reported
to have said that she would never forgive a young lady who did
not dress to please, or one who seemed pleased with her dress.
And not only young ladies, but old ladies and old gentlemen,
and everybody, ought to make their dress a concord and not a
discord. But Saratoga is pitched on a perpetual falsetto, and
stuns you. One becomes sated with an interminable piece de
resistance of full dress. At the seaside you bathe; at the
mountains you put on stout boots and coarse frocks and go
a-fishing; but Saratoga never "lets up,"--if I may be pardoned
the phrase. Consequently, you see much of crinoline and little
of character. You have to get at the human nature just as
Thoreau used to get at bird-nature and fish-nature and
turtle-nature, by sitting perfectly still in one place and
waiting patiently till it comes out. You see more of the
reality of people in a single day's tramp than in twenty days
of guarded monotone. Now I cannot conceive of any reason why
people should go to Saratoga, except to see people. True, as
a general thing, they are the last objects you desire to see,
when you are summering. But if one has been cooped up in the
house or blocked up in the country during the nine months of
our Northern winter, he may have a mighty hunger and thirst,
when he is thawed out, to see human faces and hear human
voices; but even then Saratoga is not the place to go to, on
account of this very artificialness. By artificial I do not
mean deceitful. I saw nobody but nice people there, smooth,
kind, and polite. By artificial I mean wrought up. You don't
get at the heart of things. Artificialness spreads and spans
all with a crystal barrier,--invisible, but palpable. Nothing
was left to grow and go at its own sweet will. The very
springs were paved and pavilioned. For green fields and
welling fountains and a possibility of brooks, which one
expects from the name, you found a Greek temple, and a
pleasure-ground, graded and grassed and pathed like a cemetery,
wherein nymphs trod daintily in elaborate morning-costume.
Everything took pattern and was elaborate. Nothing was left
to the imagination, the taste, the curiosity. A bland, smooth,
smiling surface baffled and blinded you, and threatened
profanity. Now profanity is wicked and vulgar; but if you
listen to the reeds next summer, I am not sure that you will
not hear them whispering, under, "Thunder!"
For the restorative qualities of Saratoga I have nothing to
say. I was well when I went there; nor did my experience ever
furnish me with any disease that I should consider worse than
an intermittent attack of her spring waters. But whatever it
may do for the body, I do not believe it is for the soul. I
do not believe that such places, such scenes, such a fashion
of life ever nourishes a vigorous womanhood or manhood. Taken
homeopathically, it may be harmless; but become a habit, a
necessity, it must vitiate, enervate, destroy. Men can stand
it, for the sea-breezes and the mountain-breezes may have full
sweep through their life; but women cannot, for they just go
home and live air-tight.
If the railroad-men at Saratoga tell you that you can go
straight from there to the foot of Lake George, don't you
believe a word of it. Perhaps you can, and perhaps you cannot;
but you are not any more likely to "can" for their saying so.
We left Saratoga for Fort-William-Henry Hotel in full faith of
an afternoon ride and a sunset arrival, based on repeated and
unhesitating assurances to that effect. Instead of which, we
went a few miles, and were then dumped into a blackberry-patch,
where we were informed that we must wait seven hours. So much
for the afternoon ride through summer fields and "Sunset on
Lake George," from the top of a coach. But I made no unmanly
laments, for we were out of Saratoga, and that was happiness.
We were among cows and barns and homely rail-fences, and that
was comfort; so we strolled contentedly through the pasture,
found a river,--I believe it was the Hudson; at any rate,
Halicarnassus said so, though I don't imagine he knew; but he
would take oath it was Acheron rather than own up to ignorance
on any point whatever,--watched the canal-boats and boatmen go
down, marvelled at the arbor-vitae trees growing wild along
the river-banks, green, hale, stately, and symmetrical, against
the dismal mental background of two little consumptive shoots
bolstered up in our front yard at home, and dying daily,
notwithstanding persistent and affectionate nursing with
"flannels and rum," and then we went back to the blackberry-
station and inquired whether there was nothing celebrated in
the vicinity to which visitors of received Orthodox creed
should dutifully pay their respects, and were gratified to
learn that we were but a few miles from Jane McCrea and her
Indian murderers. Was a carriage procurable? Well, yes, if
the ladies would be willing to go in that. It wasn't very
smart, but it would take 'em safe,--as if "the ladies" would
have raised any objections to going in a wheelbarrow, had it
been necessary, and so we bundled in. The hills were steep,
and our horse, the property of an adventitious by-stander,
was of the Rosinante breed; we were in no hurry, seeing that
the only thing awaiting us this side the sunset was a
blackberry-patch without any blackberries, and we walked up
hill and scraped down, till we got into a lane which somebody
told us led to the Fort, from which the village, Fort Edward,
takes its name. But, instead of a fort, the lane ran full
tilt against a pair of bars.
"Now we are lost," I said, sententiously.
"A gem of countless price," pursued Halicarnassus, who never
quotes poetry except to destroy my equilibrium.
"How long will it be profitable to remain here?" asked Grande,
when we had sat immovable and speechless for the space of five
"There seems to he nowhere else to go. We have got to the
end," said Halicarnassus, roaming as to his eyes over into
the wheat-field beyond.
"We might turn," suggested the Anakim, looking bright.
"How can you turn a horse in this knitting-needle of a lane?"
"I don't know," replied Halicarnassus, dubiously, "unless I
take him up in my arms, and set him down with his head the
other way,"--and immediately turned him deftly in a corner
about half as large as the wagon.
The next lane we came to was the right one, and being narrow,
rocky, and rough, we left our carriage and walked.
A whole volume of the peaceful and prosperous history of our
beloved country could be read in the fact that the once
belligerent, life-saving, death-dealing fort was represented
by a hen-coop; yet I was disappointed. I was hungry for a
ruin,--some visible hint of the past. Such is human nature,--
ever prone to be more impressed by a disappointment of its own
momentary gratification than by the most obvious well-being of
a nation but, glad or sorry, of Fort Edward was not left one
stone upon another. Several single stones lay about,
promiscuous rather than belligerent. Flag-staff and palisades
lived only in a few straggling bean-poles. For the heavy
booming of cannon rose the "quauk!" of ducks and the cackling
of hens. We went to the spot which tradition points out as the
place where Jane McCrea met her death. River flowed, and
raftsmen sang below; women stood at their washing-tubs, and
white-headed children stared at us from above; nor from the
unheeding river or the forgetful weeds came or cry or faintest
wail of pain.
When we were little, and geography and history were but printed
words on white paper, not places and events, Jane McCrea was
to us no suffering woman, but a picture of a low-necked, long-
skirted, scanty dress, long hair grasped by a naked Indian,
and two unnatural-looking hands raised in entreaty. It was
interesting as a picture, but it excited no pity, no horror,
because it was only a picture. We never saw women dressed in
that style. We knew that women did not take journeys through
woods without bonnet or shawl, and we spread a veil of
ignorant, indifferent incredulity over the whole. But as we
grow up, printed words take on new life. The latent fire in
them lights up and glows. The mystic words throb with vital
heat, and burn down into our souls to an answering fire. As
we stand, on this soft summer day, by the old tree which
tradition declares to have witnessed that fateful scene, we
go back into a summer long ago, but fair, and just like this.
Jane McCrea is no longer a myth, but a young girl, blooming and
beautiful with the roses of her seventeen years. Farther back
still, we see an old man's darling, little Jenny of the Manse,
a light-hearted child, with sturdy Scotch blood leaping in her
young veins,--then a tender orphan, sheltered by a brother's
care,--then a gentle maiden, light-hearted no longer,
heavy-freighted, rather, but with a priceless burden,--a happy
girl, to whom love calls with stronger voice than brother's
blood, stronger even than life. Yonder in the woods lurk wily
and wary foes. Death with unspeakable horrors lies in ambush
there; but yonder also stands the soldier lover, and possible
greeting, after long, weary absence, is there. What fear can
master that overpowering hope? Estrangement of families,
political disagreement, a separated loyalty, all melt away,
are fused together in the warmth of girlish love. Taxes,
representation, what things are these to come between two
hearts? No Tory, no traitor is her lover, but her own brave
hero and true knight. Woe! woe! the eager dream is broken by
mad war-whoops! alas! to those fierce wild men, what is love,
or loveliness? Pride, and passion, and the old accursed hunger
for gold flame up in their savage breasts. Wrathful, loathsome
fingers clutch the long, fair hair that even the fingers of
love have caressed but with reverent half-touch,--and love and
hope and life go out in one dread moment of horror and despair.
Now, through the reverberations of more than fourscore years,
through all the tempest-rage of a war more awful than that, and
fraught, we hope, with a grander joy, a clear, young voice,
made sharp with agony, rings through the shuddering woods,
cleaves up through the summer sky, and wakens in every heart
a thrill of speechless pain. Along these peaceful banks I see
a bowed form walking, youth in his years, but deeper furrows
in his face than can plough, stricken down from the heights of
ambition and desire, all the vigor and fire of manhood crushed
and quenched beneath the horror of one fearful memory.
Sweet summer sky, bending above us soft and saintly, beyond
your blue depths is there not Heaven?
"We may as well give Dobbin his oats here," said Halicarnassus.
We had brought a few in a bag for luncheon, thinking it might
help him over the hills. So the wagon was rummaged, the bag
brought to light, and I was sent to one of the nearest houses
to get something for him to eat out of. I did not think to ask
what particular vessel to inquire for; but after I had knocked,
I decided upon a meat-platter or a pudding-dish, and with the
good woman's permission finally took both, that Halicarnassus
might have his choice.
"Which is the best?" I asked, holding them up.
He surveyed them carefully, and then said,--
"Now run right back and get a tumbler for him to drink out of,
and a teaspoon to feed him with."
I started in good faith, from a mere habit of unquestioning
obedience, but with the fourth step my reason returned to me,
and I returned to Halicarnassus and--kicked him. That sounds
very dreadful and horrible, and it is, if you are thinking of
a great, brutal, brogan kick, such as a stupid farmer gives to
his patient oxen; but not, if you mean only a delicate,
compact, penetrative nudge with the toe of a tight-fitting
gaiter,--addressed rather to the conscience than the sole, to
the sensibilities rather than the senses. The kick masculine
is coarse, boorish, unmitigated, predicable only of Calibans.
The kick feminine is expressive, suggestive, terse, electric,--
an indispensable instrument in domestic discipline, as women
will bear me witness, and not at all incompatible with beauty,
grace, and amiability. But, right or wrong, after all this
interval of rest and reflection, in full view of all the
circumstances, my only regret is that I did not kick him harder.
"Now go and fetch your own tools!" I cried, shaking off the
yoke of servitude. "I won't be your stable-boy any longer!"
Then, perforce, he gathered up the crockery, marched off
in disgrace, and came back with a molasses-hogshead, or a
wash-tub, or some such overgrown mastodon, to turn his
sixpenny-worth of oats into.
Having fed our mettlesome steed, the next thing was to water
him. The Anakim remembered to have seen a pump with a trough
somewhere, and they proposed to reconnoitre while we should
"wait BY the wagon" their return. No, I said we would drive
on to the pump, while they walked.
"You drive!" ejaculated Halicarnassus, contemptuously.
Now I do not, as a general thing, have an overweening respect
for female teamsters. There is but one woman in the world to
whose hands I confide the reins and my bones with entire
equanimity; and she says, that, when she is driving, she dreads
of all things to meet a driving woman. If a man said this, it
might be set down to prejudice. I don't make any account of
Halicarnassus's assertion, that, if two women walking in the
road on a muddy day meet a carriage, they never keep together,
but invariably one runs to the right and one to the left, so
that the driver cannot favor them at all, but has to crowd
between them, and drive both into the mud. That is palpably
interested false witness. He thinks it is fine fun to push
women into the mud, and frames such flimsy excuses. But as a
woman's thoughts about women, this woman's utterances are
deserving of attention; and she says that women are not to be
depended upon. She is never sure that they will not turn out
on the wrong side. They are nervous; they are timid; they are
unreasoning; they are reckless. They will give a horse a
disconnected, an utterly inconsequent "cut," making him spring,
to the jeopardy of their own and others' safety. They are not
concentrative, and they are not infallibly courteous, as men
are. I remember I was driving with her once between
Newburyport and Boston. It was getting late, and we were
very desirous to reach our destination before nightfall.
Ahead of us a woman and a girl were jogging along in a country
wagon. As we wished to go much faster than they, we turned
aside to pass them; but just as we were well abreast, the woman
started up her horse, and he skimmed over the ground like a bird.