Part 2 out of 3
well have come from the stranded "Golden Rule" on Roncador
Reef,--that picturesque shipwreck where (as a rescued woman told
me) the eyes of the people in their despair seemed full of
sublime resignation, so that there was no confusion or outcry,
and even gamblers and harlots looked death in the face as nobly,
for all that could be seen, as the saintly and the pure. Or who
knows but it floated round Cape Horn, from that other wreck, on
the Pacific shore, of the "Central America," where the rough
miners found that there was room in the boats only for their
wives and their gold; and where, pushing the women off, with a
few men to row them, the doomed husbands gave a cheer of courage
as the ship went down.
Here again is a piece of pine wood, cut in notches as for a
tally, and with every seventh notch the longest; these notches
having been cut deeply at the beginning, and feebly afterwards,
stopping abruptly before the end was reached. Who could have
carved it? Not a school-boy awaiting vacation, or a soldier
expecting his discharge; for then each tally would have been cut
off, instead of added. Nor could it be the squad of two soldiers
who garrison Rose Island; for their tour of duty lasts but a
week. There are small barnacles and sea-weed too, which give the
mysterious stick a sort of brevet antiquity. It has been long
adrift, and these little barnacles, opening and closing daily
their minute valves, have kept meanwhile their own register, and
with their busy fringed fingers have gathered from the whole
Atlantic that small share of its edible treasures which sufficed
for them. Plainly this waif has had its experiences. It was
Robinson Crusoe's, Annie, depend upon it. We will save it from
the flames, and when we establish our marine museum, nothing save
a veritable piece of the North Pole shall be held so valuable as
this undoubted relic from Juan Fernandez.
But the night deepens, and its reveries must end. With the winter
will pass away the winter-storms, and summer will bring its own
more insidious perils. Then the drowsy old seaport will blaze
into splendor, through saloon and avenue, amidst which many a
bright career will end suddenly and leave no sign. The ocean
tries feebly to emulate the profounder tragedies of the shore. In
the crowded halls of gay hotels, I see wrecks drifting
hopelessly, dismasted and rudderless, to be stranded on hearts
harder and more cruel than Brenton's Reef, yet hid in smiles
falser than its fleecy foam. What is a mere forsaken ship,
compared with stately houses from which those whom I first knew
in their youth and beauty have since fled into midnight and
But one last gleam upon our hearth lights up your innocent eyes,
little Annie, and dispels the gathering shade. The flame dies
down again, and you draw closer to my side. The pure moon looks
in at the southern window, replacing the ruddier glow; while the
fading embers lisp and prattle to one another, like drowsy
children, more and more faintly, till they fall asleep.
AN ARTIST'S CREATION.
When I reached Kenmure's house, one August evening, it was rather
a disappointment to find that he and his charming Laura had
absented themselves for twenty-four hours. I had not seen them
together since their marriage; my admiration for his varied
genius and her unvarying grace was at its height, and I was
really annoyed at the delay. My fair cousin, with her usual exact
housekeeping, had prepared everything for her guest, and then
bequeathed me, as she wrote, to Janet and baby Marian. It was a
pleasant arrangement, for between baby Marian and me there
existed a species of passion, I might almost say of betrothal,
ever since that little three-year-old sunbeam had blessed my
mother's house by lingering awhile in it, six months before.
Still I went to bed disappointed, though the delightful windows
of the chamber looked out upon the glimmering bay, and the
swinging lanterns at the yard-arms of the frigates shone like
some softer constellation beneath the brilliant sky. The house
was so close upon the water that the cool waves seemed to plash
deliciously against its very basement; and it was a comfort to
think that, if there were no adequate human greetings that night,
there would be plenty in the morning, since Marian would
inevitably be pulling my eyelids apart before sunrise.
It was scarcely dawn when I was roused by a little arm round my
neck, and waked to think I had one of Raphael's cherubs by my
side. Fingers of waxen softness were ruthlessly at work upon my
eyes, and the little form that met my touch felt lithe and
elastic, like a kitten's limbs. There was just light enough to
see the child, perched on the edge of the bed, her soft blue
dressing-gown trailing over the white night-dress, while her
black and long-fringed eyes shone through the dimness of morning.
She yielded gladly to my grasp, and I could fondle again the
silken hair, the velvety brunette cheek, the plump, childish
shoulders. Yet sleep still half held me, and when my cherub
appeared to hold it a cherubic practice to begin the day with a
demand for lively anecdote, I was fain drowsily to suggest that
she might first tell some stories to her doll. With the sunny
readiness that was a part of her nature, she straightway turned
to that young lady,--plain Susan Halliday, with both cheeks
patched, and eyes of different colors,--and soon discoursed both
her and me into repose.
When I waked again, it was to find the child conversing with the
morning star, which still shone through the window, scarcely so
lucent as her eyes, and bidding it go home to its mother, the
sun. Another lapse into dreams, and then a more vivid awakening,
and she had my ear at last, and won story after story, requiting
them with legends of her own youth, "almost a year ago,"--how she
was perilously lost, for instance, in the small front yard, with
a little playmate, early in the afternoon, and how they came and
peeped into the window, and thought all the world had forgotten
them. Then the sweet voice, distinct in its articulation as
Laura's, went straying off into wilder fancies,--a chaos of
autobiography and conjecture, like the letters of a war
correspondent. You would have thought her little life had yielded
more pangs and fears than might have sufficed for the discovery
of the North Pole; but breakfast-time drew near at last, and
Janet's honest voice was heard outside the door. I rather envied
the good Scotchwoman the pleasant task of polishing the smooth
cheeks and combing the dishevelled silk; but when, a little
later, the small maiden was riding down stairs in my arms, I
envied no one.
At sight of the bread and milk, my cherub was transformed into a
hungry human child, chiefly anxious to reach the bottom of her
porringer. I was with her a great deal that day. She gave no
manner of trouble: it was like having the charge of a floating
butterfly, endowed with warm arms to clasp, and a silvery voice
to prattle. I sent Janet out to sail, with the other servants, by
way of frolic, and Marian's perfect temperament was shown in the
way she watched the departing.
"There they go," she said, as she stood and danced at the window.
"Now they are out of sight."
"What!" I said, "are you pleased to have your friends go?"
"Yes," she answered; "but I shall be pleased-er to see them come
Life to her was no alternation between joy and grief, but only
between joy and delight.
Twilight brought us to an improvised concert. Climbing the
piano-stool, she went over the notes with her little taper
fingers, touching the keys in a light, knowing way, that proved
her a musician's child. Then I must play for her, and let the
dance begin. This was a wondrous performance on her part, and
consisted at first in hopping up and down on one spot, with no
change of motion, but in her hands. She resembled a minute and
irrepressible Shaker, or a live and beautiful marionnette. Then
she placed Janet in the middle of the floor, And performed the
dance round her, after the manner of Vivien and Merlin. Then came
her supper, which, like its predecessors, was a solid and
absorbing meal; then one more fairy story, to magnetize her off,
and she danced and sang herself up stairs. And if she first came
to me in the morning with a halo round her head, she seemed still
to retain it when I at last watched her kneeling in the little
bed--perfectly motionless, with her hands placed together, and
her long lashes sweeping her cheeks--to repeat two verses of a
hymn which Janet had taught her. My nerves quivered a little when
I saw that Susan Halliday had also been duly prepared for the
night, and had been put in the same attitude, so far as her
jointless anatomy permitted. This being ended, the doll and her
mistress reposed together, and only an occasional toss of the
vigorous limbs, or a stifled baby murmur, would thenceforth
prove, through the darkened hours, that the one figure had in it
more of life than the other.
On the next morning Kenmure and Laura came back to us, and I
walked down to receive them at the boat. I had forgotten how
striking was their appearance, as they stood together. His broad,
strong, Saxon look, his manly bearing and clear blue eyes,
enhanced the fascination of her darker beauty.
America is full of the short-lived bloom and freshness of
girlhood; but it is a rare thing in one's life to see a beauty
that really controls with a permanent charm. One must remember
such personal loveliness, as one recalls some particular
moonlight or sunset, with a special and concentrated joy, which
the multiplicity of fainter impressions cannot disturb. When in
those days we used to read, in Petrarch's one hundred and
twenty-third sonnet, that he had once beheld on earth angelic
manners and celestial charms, whose very remembrance was a
delight and an affliction, since it made all else appear but
dream and shadow, we could easily fancy that nature had certain
permanent attributes which accompanied the name of Laura.
Our Laura had that rich brunette beauty before which the mere
snow and roses of the blonde must always seem wan and
unimpassioned. In the superb suffusions of her cheek there seemed
to flow a tide of passions and powers that might have been
tumultuous in a meaner woman, but over which, in her, the clear
and brilliant eyes and the sweet, proud mouth presided in
unbroken calm. These superb tints implied resources only, not a
struggle. With this torrent from the tropics in her veins, she
was the most equable person I ever saw, and had a supreme and
delicate good-sense, which, if not supplying the place of genius,
at least comprehended its work. Not intellectually gifted
herself, perhaps, she seemed the cause of gifts in others, and
furnished the atmosphere in which all showed their best. With the
steady and thoughtful enthusiasm of her Puritan ancestors, she
combined that charm which is so rare among their descendants,--a
grace which fascinated the humblest,while it would have been just
the same in the society of kings. Her person had the equipoise
and symmetry of her mind. While it had its separate points of
beauty, each a source of distinct and peculiar pleasure,--as, the
outline of her temples, the white line that parted her nightblack
hair, the bend of her wrists, the moulding of her
finger-tips,--yet these details were lost in the overwhelming
sweetness of her presence, and the serene atmosphere that she
diffused over all human life.
A few days passed rapidly by us. We walked and rode and boated
and read. Little Marian came and went, a living sunbeam, a
self-sufficing thing. It was soon obvious that she was far less
demonstrative toward her parents than toward me; while her
mother, gracious to her as to all, yet rarely caressed her, and
Kenmure, though habitually kind, was inclined to ignore her
existence, and could scarcely tolerate that she should for one
instant preoccupy his wife. For Laura he lived, and she must live
for him. He had a studio, which I rarely entered and Marian
never, though Laura was almost constantly there; and after the
first cordiality was past, I observed that their daily
expeditions were always arranged for only two. The weather was
beautiful, and they led the wildest outdoor life, cruising all
day or all night among the islands, regardless of hours, and
almost of health. No matter: Kenmure liked it, and what he liked
she loved. When at home, they were chiefly in the studio, he
painting, modelling, poetizing perhaps, and she inseparably
united with him in all. It was very beautiful, this unworldly and
passionate love, and I could have borne to be omitted in their
daily plans,--since little Marian was left to me,--save that it
seemed so strange to omit her also. Besides, there grew to be
something a little oppressive in this peculiar atmosphere; it was
like living in a greenhouse.
Yet they always spoke in the simplest way of this absorbing
passion, as of something about which no reticence was needed; it
was too sacred not to be mentioned; it would be wrong not to
utter freely to all the world what was doubtless the best thing
the world possessed. Thus Kenmure made Laura his model in all his
art; not to coin her into wealth or fame,--he would have scorned
it; he would have valued fame and wealth only as instruments for
proclaiming her. Looking simply at these two lovers, then, it was
plain that no human union could be more noble or stainless. Yet
so far as others were concerned, it sometimes seemed to me a kind
of duplex selfishness, so profound and so undisguised as to make
one shudder. "Is it," I asked myself at such moments, "a great
consecration, or a great crime?" But something must be allowed,
perhaps, for my own private dis-satisfactions in Marian's behalf.
I had easily persuaded Janet to let me have a peep every night at
my darling, as she slept; and once I was surprised to find Laura
sitting by the small white bed. Graceful and beautiful as she
always was, she never before had seemed to me so lovely, for she
never had seemed quite like a mother. But I could not demand a
sweeter look of tenderness than that with which she now gazed
upon her child.
Little Marian lay with one brown, plump hand visible from its
full white sleeve, while the other nestled half hid beneath the
sheet, grasping a pair of blue morocco shoes, the last
acquisition of her favorite doll. Drooping from beneath the
pillow hung a handful of scarlet poppies, which the child had
wished to place under her head, in the very superfluous project
of putting herself to sleep thereby. Her soft brown hair was
scattered on the sheet, her black lashes lay motionless upon the
olive cheeks. Laura wished to move her, that I might see her the
"You will wake her," exclaimed I, in alarm.
"Wake this little dormouse?" Laura lightly answered.
And, twining her arms about her, the young mother lifted the
child from the bed, three or four times in succession, while the
healthy little creature remained utterly undisturbed, breathing
the same quiet breath. I watched Laura with amazement; she seemed
She gayly returned my eager look, and then, seeming suddenly to
penetrate its meaning, cast down her eyes, while the color
mounted into her cheeks. "You thought," she said, almost sternly,
"that I did not love my child."
"No," I said half untruthfully.
"I can hardly wonder," she continued, more sadly, "for it is only
what I have said to myself a thousand times. Sometimes I think
that I have lived in a dream, and one that few share with me. I
have questioned others, and never yet found a woman who did not
admit that her child was more to her, in her secret soul, than
her husband. What can they mean? Such a thought is foreign to my
"Why separate the two?" I asked.
"I must separate them in thought," she answered, with the air of
one driven to bay by her own self-reproaching. "I had, like other
young girls, my dream of love and marriage. Unlike all the rest,
I believe, I found my visions fulfilled. The reality was more
than the imagination; and I thought it would be so with my love
for my child. The first cry of that baby told the difference to
my ear. I knew it all from that moment; the bliss which had been
mine as a wife would never be mine as a mother. If I had not
known what it was to adore my husband, I might have been content
with my love for Marian. But look at that exquisite creature as
she lies there asleep, and then think that I, her mother, should
desert her if she were dying, for aught I know, at one word from
"Your feeling does not seem natural," I said, hardly knowing what
"What good does it serve to know that?" she said, defiantly. "I
say it to myself every day. Once when she was ill, and was given
back to me in all the precious helplessness of babyhood, there
was such a strange sweetness in it, I thought the charm might
remain; but it vanished when she could run about once more. And
she is such a healthy, self-reliant little thing," added Laura,
glancing toward the bed with a momentary look of motherly pride
that seemed strangely out of place amid these self-denunciations.
"I wish her to be so," she added. "The best service I can do for
her is to teach her to stand alone. And at some day," continued
the beautiful woman, her whole face lighting up with happiness,
"she may love as I have loved."
"And your husband," I said, after a pause,--"does your feeling
"My husband," she said, "lives for his genius, as he should. You
that know him, why do you ask?"
"And his heart?" I said, half frightened at my own temerity.
"Heart?" she answered. "He loves me."
Her color mounted higher yet; she had a look of pride, almost of
haughtiness. All else seemed forgotten; she had turned away from
the child's little bed, as if it had no existence. It flashed
upon me that something of the poison of her artificial atmosphere
was reaching her already.
Kenmure's step was heard in the hall, and, with fire in her eyes,
she hastened to meet him. I found myself actually breathing more
freely after the departure of that enchanting woman, in danger of
perishing inwardly, I said to myself, in an air too lavishly
perfumed. Bending over Marian, I wondered if it were indeed
possible that a perfectly healthy life had sprung from that union
too intense and too absorbed. Yet I had often noticed that the
child seemed to wear the temperaments of both her parents as a
kind of playful disguise, and to peep at you, now out of the one,
now from the other, showing that she had her own individual life
As if by some infantine instinct, the darling turned in her
sleep, and came unconsciously nearer me. With a half-feeling of
self-reproach, I drew around my neck, inch by inch, the little
arms that tightened with a delicious thrill; and so I half
reclined there till I myself dozed, and the watchful Janet,
looking in, warned me away. Crossing the entry to my own chamber,
I heard Kenmure and Laura down stairs, but I knew that I should
be superfluous, and felt that I was sleepy.
I had now, indeed, become always superfluous when they were
together, though never when they were apart. Even they must be
separated sometimes, and then each sought me, in order to
discourse about the other. Kenmure showed me every sketch he had
ever made of Laura. There she was, through all the range of her
beauty,--there she was in clay, in cameo, in pencil, in
water-color, in oils. He showed me also his poems, and, at last,
a longer one, for which pencil and graver had alike been laid
aside. All these he kept in a great cabinet she had brought with
her to their housekeeping; and it seemed to me that he also
treasured every flower she had dropped, every slender glove she
had worn, every ribbon from her hair. I could not wonder, seeing
his passion as it was. Who would not thrill at the touch of some
such slight memorial of Mary of Scotland, or of Heloise? and what
was all the regal beauty of the past to him? He found every room
adorned when she was in it, empty when she had gone,--save that
the trace of her was still left on everything, and all appeared
but as a garment she had worn. It seemed that even her great
mirror must retain, film over film, each reflection of her least
movement, the turning of her head, the ungloving of her hand.
Strange! that, with all this intoxicating presence, she yet led a
life so free from self, so simple, so absorbed, that all trace of
consciousness was excluded, and she was as free from vanity as
her own child.
As we were once thus employed in the studio, I asked Kenmure,
abruptly, if he never shrank from the publicity he was thus
giving Laura. "Madame Recamier was not quite pleased," I said,
"that Canova had modelled her bust, even from imagination. Do you
never shrink from permitting irreverent eyes to look on Laura's
beauty? Think of men as you know them. Would you give each of
them her miniature, perhaps to go with them into scenes of riot
"Would to Heaven I could!" said he, passionately. "What else
could save them, if that did not? God lets his sun shine on the
evil and on the good, but the evil need it most."
There was a pause; and then I ventured to ask him a question that
had been many times upon my lips unspoken.
"Does it never occur to you," I said, "that Laura cannot live on
"You cannot disturb me about that," he answered, not sadly, but
with a set, stern look, as if fencing for the hundredth time
against an antagonist who was foredoomed to be his master in the
end. "Laura will outlive me; she must outlive me. I am so sure of
it that, every time I come near her, I pray that I may not be
paralyzed, and die outside her arms. Yet, in any event, what can
I do but what I am doing,--devote my whole soul to the
perpetuation of her beauty? It is my only dream,--to re-create
her through art. What else is worth doing? It is for this I have
tried-through sculpture, through painting, through verse--to
depict her as she is. Thus far I have failed. Why have I failed?
Is it because I have not lived a life sufficiently absorbed in
her? or is it that there is no permitted way by which, after God
has reclaimed her, the tradition of her perfect loveliness may be
retained on earth?"
The blinds of the piazza doorway opened, the sweet sea-air came
in, the low and level rays of yellow sunset entered as softly as
if the breeze were their chariot; and softer and stiller and
sweeter than light or air, little Marian stood on the threshold.
She had been in the fields with Janet, who had woven for her
breeze-blown hair a wreath of the wild gerardia blossoms, whose
purple beauty had reminded the good Scotchwoman of her own native
heather. In her arms the child bore, like a little gleaner, a
great sheaf of graceful golden-rod, as large as her grasp could
bear. In all the artist's visions he had seen nothing so aerial,
so lovely; in all his passionate portraitures of his idol, he had
delineated nothing so like to her. Marian's cheeks mantled with
rich and wine-like tints, her hair took a halo from the sunbeams,
her lips parted over the little, milk-white teeth; she looked at
us with her mother's eyes. I turned to Kenmure to see if he could
resist the influence.
He scarcely gave her a glance. "Go, Marian," he said, not
impatiently,--for he was too thoroughly courteous ever to be
ungracious, even to a child,--but with a steady indifference that
cut me with more pain than if he had struck her.
The sun dropped behind the horizon, the halo faded from the
shining hair and every ray of light from the childish face. There
came in its place that deep, wondering sadness which is more
touching than any maturer sorrow,--just as a child's illness
melts our hearts more than that of man or woman, it seems so
premature and so plaintive. She turned away; it was the very
first time I had ever seen the little face drawn down, or the
tears gathering in the eyes. By some kind providence, the mother,
coming in flushed and beautiful with walking, met Marian on the
piazza, and caught the little thing in her arms with unwonted
tenderness. It was enough for the elastic child. After one moment
of such bliss she could go to Janet, go anywhere; and when the
same graceful presence came in to us in the studio, we also could
ask no more.
We had music and moonlight, and were happy. The atmosphere seemed
more human, less unreal. Going up stairs at last, I looked in at
the nursery, and found my pet rather flushed, and I fancied that
she stirred uneasily. It passed, whatever it was; for next
morning she came in to wake me, looking, as usual, as if a new
heaven and earth had been coined purposely for her since she went
to sleep. We had our usual long and important discourse,--this
time tending to protracted narrative, of the Mother-Goose
description,--until, if it had been possible for any human being
to be late for breakfast in that house, we should have been the
offenders. But she ultimately went downstairs on my shoulder,
and, as Kenmure and Laura were already out rowing, the baby put
me in her own place, sat in her mother's chair, and ruled me with
a rod of iron. How wonderful was the instinct by which this
little creature, who so seldom heard one word of parental
severity or parental fondness, knew so thoroughly the language of
both! Had I been the most depraved of children, or the most
angelic, I could not have been more sternly excluded from the
sugar-bowl, or more overwhelmed with compensating kisses.
Later on that day, while little Marian was taking the very
profoundest nap that ever a baby was blessed with, (she had a
pretty way of dropping asleep in unexpected corners of the house,
like a kitten,) I somehow strayed into a confidential talk with
Janet about her mistress. I was rather troubled to find that all
her loyalty was for Laura, with nothing left for Kenmure, whom,
indeed, she seemed to regard as a sort of objectionable altar, on
which her darlings were being sacrificed. When she came to
particulars, certain stray fears of my own were confirmed. It
seemed that Laura's constitution was not fit, Janet averred, to
bear these irregular hours, early and late; and she plaintively
dwelt on the untasted oatmeal in the morning, the insufficient
luncheon, the precarious dinner, the excessive walking and
boating, the evening damps. There was coming to be a look about
Laura such as her mother had, who died at thirty. As for
Marian,--but here the complaint suddenly stopped; it would have
required far stronger provocation to extract from the faithful
soul one word that might seem to reflect on Marian's mother.
Another year, and her forebodings had come true. It is needless
to dwell on the interval. Since then I have sometimes felt a
regret almost insatiable in the thought that I should have been
absent while all that gracious loveliness was fading and
dissolving like a cloud; and yet at other times it has appeared a
relief to think that Laura would ever remain to me in the fulness
of her beauty, not a tint faded, not a lineament changed. With
all my efforts, I arrived only in time to accompany Kenmure home
at night, after the funeral service. We paused at the door of the
empty house,--how empty! I hesitated, but Kenmure motioned to me
to follow him in.
We passed through the hall and went up stairs. Janet met us at
the head of the stairway, and asked me if I would go in to look
at little Marian, who was sleeping. I begged Kenmure to go also
but he refused, almost savagely, and went on with heavy step into
Laura's deserted room.
Almost the moment I entered the child's chamber, she waked up
suddenly, looked at me, and said, "I know you, you are my
friend." She never would call me her cousin, I was always her
friend. Then she sat up in bed, with her eyes wide open, and
said, as if stating a problem which had been put by for my
solution, "I should like to see my mother."
How our hearts are rent by the unquestioning faith of children,
when they come to test the love that has so often worked what
seemed to them miracles,--and ask of it miracles indeed! I tried
to explain to her the continued existence of her mother, and she
listened to it as if her eyes drank in all that I could say, and
more. But the apparent distance between earth and heaven baffled
her baby mind, as it so often and so sadly baffles the thoughts
of us elders. I wondered what precise change seemed to her to
have taken place. This all-fascinating Laura, whom she adored,
and who had yet never been to her what other women are to their
darlings,--did heaven seem to put her farther off, or bring her
more near? I could never know. The healthy child had no morbid
questionings; and as she had come into the world to be a sunbeam,
she must not fail of that mission. She was kicking about the bed,
by this time, in her nightgown, and holding her pink little toes
in all sorts of difficult attitudes, when she suddenly said,
looking me full in the face: "If my mother was so high up that
she had her feet upon a star, do you think that I could see her?"
This astronomical apotheosis startled me for a moment, but I said
unhesitatingly, "Yes," feeling sure that the lustrous eyes that
looked in mine could certainly see as far as Dante's, when
Beatrice was transferred from his side to the highest realm of
Paradise. I put my head beside hers upon the pillow, and stayed
till I thought she was asleep.
I then followed Kenmure into Laura's chamber. It was dusk, but
the after-sunset glow still bathed the room with imperfect light,
and he lay upon the bed, his hands clenched over his eyes.
There was a deep bow-window where Laura used to sit and watch us,
sometimes, when we put off in the boat. Her æolian harp was
in the casement, breaking its heart in music. A delicate
handkerchief was lodged between the cushions of the
window-seat,--the very handkerchief she used to wave, in summer
days long gone. The white boats went sailing beneath the evening
light, children shouted and splashed in the water, a song came
from a yacht, a steam-whistle shrilled from the receding steamer;
but she for whom alone those little signs of life had been dear
and precious would henceforth be as invisible to our eyes as if
time and space had never held her; and the young moon and the
evening star seemed but empty things unless they could pilot us
to some world where the splendor of her loveliness could match
Twilight faded, evening darkened, and still Kenmure lay
motionless, until his strong form grew in my moody fancy to be
like some carving of Michel Angelo's, more than like a living
man. And when he at last startled me by speaking, it was with a
voice so far off and so strange, it might almost have come
wandering down from the century when Michel Angelo lived.
"You are right," he said. "I have been living in a fruitless
dream. It has all vanished. The absurdity of speaking of creative
art! With all my life-long devotion, I have created nothing. I
have kept no memorial of her presence, nothing to perpetuate the
most beautiful of lives."
Before I could answer, the door came softly open, and there stood
in the doorway a small white figure, holding aloft a lighted
taper of pure alabaster. It was Marian in her little night-dress,
with the loose blue wrapper trailing behind her, let go in the
effort to hold carefully the doll, Susan Halliday, robed also for
"May I come in?" said the child.
Kenmure was motionless at first: then, looking over his shoulder,
said merely, "What?"
"Janet said," continued Marian, in her clear and methodical way,
"that my mother was up in heaven, and would help God hear my
prayers at any rate; but if I pleased, I could come and say them
A shudder passed over Kenmure; then he turned away, and put his
hands over his eyes. She waited for no answer, but, putting down
the candlestick, in her wonted careful manner, upon a chair, she
began to climb upon the bed, lifting laboriously one little rosy
foot, then another, still dragging after her, with great effort,
the doll. Nestling at her father's breast, I saw her kneel.
"Once my mother put her arm round me, when I said my prayers."
She made this remark, under her breath, less as a suggestion, it
seemed, than as the simple statement of a fact.
Instantly I saw Kenmure's arm move, and grasp her with that
strong and gentle touch of his which I had so often noticed in
the studio,--a touch that seemed quiet as the approach of fate,
and equally resistless. I knew him well enough to understand that
He drew her toward him, her soft hair was on his breast, she
looked fearlessly into his eyes, and I could hear the little
prayer proceeding, yet in so low a whisper that I could not catch
one word. She was infinitely solemn at such times, the darling;
and there was always something in her low, clear tone, through
all her prayings and philosophizings, which was strangely like
her mother's voice. Sometimes she paused, as if to ask a
question, and at every answer I could see her father's arm
The moments passed, the voices grew lower yet, the candle
flickered and went out, the doll slid to the ground. Marian had
drifted away upon. a vaster ocean than that whose music lulled
her from without,--upon that sea whose waves are dreams. The
night was wearing on, the lights gleamed from the anchored
vessels, the water rippled serenely against the low sea-wall, the
breeze blew gently in. Marian's baby breathing grew deeper and
more tranquil; and as all the sorrows of the weary earth might be
imagined to exhale themselves in spring through the breath of
violets, so I prayed that it might be with Kenmure's burdened
heart, through hers. By degrees the strong man's deeper
respirations mingled with those of the child, and their two
separate beings seemed merged and solved into identity, as they
slumbered, breast to breast, beneath the golden and quiet stars.
I passed by without awaking them, and I knew that the artist had
attained his dream.
IN A WHERRY.
We have a phrase in Oldport, "What New-Yorkers call poverty: to
be reduced to a pony phaeton." In consequence of a November gale,
I am reduced To a similar state of destitution, from a sail-boat
to a wherry; and, like others of the deserving poor, I have found
many compensations in my humbler condition. Which is the more
enjoyable, rowing or sailing? If you sail before the wind, there
is the glorious vigor of the breeze that fills your sails; you
get all of it you have room for, and a ship of the line could do
no more; indeed, your very nearness to the water increases the
excitement, since the water swirls and boils up, as it unites in
your wake, and seems to clutch at the low stern of your
sail-boat, and to menace the hand that guides the helm. Or if you
beat to windward, it is as if your boat climbed a liquid hill,
but did it with bounding and dancing, like a child; there is the
plash of the lighter ripples against the bow, and the thud of the
heavier waves, while the same blue water is now transformed to a
cool jet of white foam over your face, and now to a dark
whirlpool in your lee. Sailing gives a sense of prompt command,
since by a single movement of the tiller you effect so great a
change of direction or transform motion into rest; there is,
therefore, a certain magic in it: but, on the other hand, there
is in rowing a more direct appeal to your physical powers; you do
not evade or cajole the elements by a cunning device of keel and
canvas, you meet them man-fashion and subdue them. The motion of
the oars is like the strong motion of a bird's wings; to sail a
boat is to ride upon an eagle, but to row is to be an eagle. I
prefer rowing,--at least till I can afford another sail-boat.
What is a good day for rowing? Almost any day that is good for
living. Living is not quite agreeable in the midst of a tornado
or an equinoctial storm, neither is rowing. There are days when
rowing is as toilsome and exhausting a process as is Bunyan's
idea of virtue; while there are other days, like the present,
when it seems a mere Oriental passiveness and the forsaking of
works,--just an excuse to Nature for being out among her busy
things. For even at this stillest of hours there is far less
repose in Nature than we imagine. What created thing can seem
more patient than yonder kingfisher on the sea-wall? Yet, as we
glide near him, we shall see that no creature can be more full of
concentrated life; all his nervous system seems on edge, every
instant he is rising or lowering on his feet, the tail vibrates,
the neck protrudes or shrinks again, the feathers ruffle, the
crest dilates; he talks to himself with an impatient chirr, then
presently hovers and dives for a fish, then flies back
disappointed. We say "free as birds," but their lives are given
over to arduous labors. And so, when our condition seems most
dreamy, our observing faculties are sometimes desperately on the
alert, and we find afterwards, to our surprise, that we have
missed nothing. The best observer in the end is not he who works
at the microscope or telescope most unceasingly, but he whose
whole nature becomes sensitive and receptive, drinking in
everything, like a sponge that saturates itself with all floating
vapors and odors, though it seems inert and unsuspicious until
you press it and it tells the tale.
Most men do their work out of doors and their dreaming at home;
and those whose work is done at home need something like a wherry
in which to dream out of doors. On a squally day, with the wind
northwest, it is a dream of action, and to round yonder point
against an ebbing tide makes you feel as if you were Grant before
Richmond; when you put about, you gallop like Sheridan, and the
winds and waves become a cavalry escort. On other days all
elements are hushed into a dream of peace, and you look out upon
those once stormy distances as Landseer's sheep look into the
mouth of the empty cannon on a dismantled fort. These are the
days for revery, and your thoughts fly forth, gliding without
friction over this smooth expanse; or, rather, they are like
yonder pair of white butterflies that will flutter for an hour
just above the glassy surface, traversing miles of distance
before they alight again.
By a happy trait of our midsummer, these various phases of wind
and water may often be included in a single day. On three
mornings out of four the wind blows northwest down our bay, then
dies to a calm before noon. After an hour or two of perfect
stillness, you see the line of blue ripple coming up from the
ocean till it conquers all the paler water, and the southwest
breeze sets in. This middle zone of calm is like the noonday of
the Romans, when they feared to speak, lest the great god Pan
should be awakened. While it lasts, a thin, aerial veil drops
over the distant hills of Conanicut, then draws nearer and nearer
till it seems to touch your boat, the very nearest section of
space being filled with a faint disembodied blueness, like that
which fills on winter days, in colder regions, the hollows of the
snow. Sky and sea show but gradations of the same color, and
afford but modifications of the same element. In this quietness,
yonder schooner seems not so much to lie at anchor in the water
as to anchor the water, so that both cease to move; and though
faint ripples may come and go elsewhere on the surface, the
vessel rests in this liquid island of absolute calm. For there
certainly is elsewhere a sort of motionless movement, as Keats
speaks of "a little noiseless noise among the leaves," or as the
summer clouds form and disappear without apparent wind and
without prejudice to the stillness. A man may lie in the
profoundest trance and still be breathing, and the very
pulsations of the life of nature, in these calm hours, are to be
read in these changing tints and shadows and ripples, and in the
mirage-bewildered outlines of the islands in the bay. It is this
incessant shifting of relations, this perpetual substitution of
fantastic for real values, this inability to trust your own eye
or ear unless the mind makes its own corrections,--that gives
such an inexhaustible attraction to life beside the ocean. The
sea-change comes to you without your waiting to be drowned. You
must recognize the working of your own imagination and allow for
it. When, for instance, the sea-fog settles down around us at
nightfall, it sometimes grows denser and denser till it
apparently becomes more solid than the pavements of the town, or
than the great globe itself; and when the fog-whistles go wailing
on through all the darkened hours, they seem to be signalling not
so much for a lost ship as for a lost island.
How unlike are those weird and gloomy nights to this sunny noon,
when I rest my oars in this sheltered bay, where a small lagoon
makes in behind Coaster's Harbor Island, and the very last breath
and murmur of the ocean are left outside! The coming tide steals
to the shore in waves so light they are a mere shade upon the
surface till they break, and then die speechless for one that has
a voice. And even those rare voices are the very most
confidential and silvery whispers in which Nature ever spoke to
man; the faintest summer insect seems resolute and assured beside
them; and yet it needs but an indefinite multiplication of these
sounds to make up the thunder of the surf. It is so still that I
can let the wherry drift idly along the shore, and can watch the
life beneath the water. The small fry cluster and evade between
me and the brink; the half-translucent shrimp glides gracefully
undisturbed, or glances away like a flash if you but touch the
surface; the crabs waddle or burrow, the smaller species
mimicking unconsciously the hue of the soft green sea-weed, and
the larger looking like motionless stones, covered with barnacles
and decked with fringing weeds. I am acquainted with no better
Darwinian than the crab; and however clumsy he may be when taken
from his own element, he has a free and floating motion which is
almost graceful in his own yielding and buoyant home. It is so
with all wild creatures, but especially with those of water and
air. A gull is not reckoned an especially graceful bird, but
yonder I see one, snowy white, that has come to fish in this safe
lagoon, and it dips and rises on its errands as lightly as a
butterfly or a swallow. Beneath that neighboring causeway the
water-rats run over the stones, lithe and eager and alert, the
body carried low, the head raised now and then like a hound's,
the tail curving gracefully and aiding the poise; now they are
running to the water as if to drink, now racing for dear life
along the edge, now fairly swimming, then devoting an interval to
reflection, like squirrels, then again searching over a pile of
sea-weed and selecting some especial tuft, which is carried, with
long, sinuous leaps, to the unseen nest. Indeed, man himself is
graceful in his unconscious and direct employments: the poise of
a fisherman, for instance, the play of his arm, the cast of his
line or net,--these take the eye as do the stealthy movements of
the hunter, the fine attitudes of the wood-chopper, the grasp of
the sailor on the helm. A haystack and a boat are always
picturesque objects, and so are the men who are at work to build
or use them. So is yonder stake-net, glistening in the noonday
light,--the innumerable meshes drooping in soft arches from the
high stakes, and the line of floats stretching shoreward, like
tiny stepping-stones; two or three row-boats are gathered round
it, with fishermen in red or blue shirts, while one white
sail-boat hovers near. And I have looked down on our beach in
spring, at sunset, and watched them drawing nets for the young
herring, when the rough men looked as graceful as the nets they
drew, and the horseman who directed might have been Redgauntlet
on the Solway Sands.
I suppose it is from this look of natural fitness that a windmill
is always such an appropriate object by the sea-shore. It is
simply a four-masted schooner, stranded on a hill-top, and
adapting itself to a new sphere of duty. It can have needed but a
slight stretch of invention in some seaman to combine these lofty
vans, and throw over them a few remodelled sails. The principle
of their motion is that by which a vessel beats to windward; the
miller spreads or reefs his sails, like a sailor,--reducing them
in a high wind to a mere "pigeon-wing" as it is called, two or
three feet in length, or in some cases even scudding under bare
poles. The whole structure vibrates and creaks under rapid
motion, like a mast; and the angry vans, disappointed of
progress, are ready to grind to powder all that comes within
their grasp, as they revolve hopelessly in this sea of air.
When the sun grows hot, I like to take refuge in a sheltered nook
beside Goat Island Lighthouse, where the wharf shades me, and the
resonant plash of waters multiplies itself among the dark piles,
increasing the delicious sense of coolness. While the noonday
bells ring twelve, I take my rest. Round the corner of the pier
the fishing-boats come gliding in, generally with a boy asleep
forward, and a weary man at the helm; one can almost fancy that
the boat itself looks weary, having been out since the early
summer sunrise. In contrast to this expression of labor ended,
the white pleasure-boats seem but to be taking a careless stroll
by water; while a skiff full of girls drifts idly along the
shore, amid laughter and screaming and much aimless splash. More
resolute and business-like, the boys row their boat far up the
bay; then I see a sudden gleam of white bodies, and then the boat
is empty, and the surrounding water is sprinkled with black and
bobbing heads. The steamboats look busier yet, as they go puffing
by at short intervals, and send long waves up to my retreat; and
then some schooner sails in, full of life, with a white ripple
round her bows, till she suddenly rounds to drops anchor, and is
still. Opposite me, on the landward side of the bay, the green
banks slope to the water; on yonder cool piazza there is a young
mother who swings her baby in the hammock, or a white-robed
figure pacing beneath the trailing vines. Peace and lotus-eating
on shore; on the water, even in the stillest noon, there are life
and sparkle and continual change.
One of those fishermen whose boats have just glided to their
moorings is to me a far more interesting person than any of his
mates, though he is perhaps the only one among them with whom I
have never yet exchanged a word. There is good reason for it; he
has been deaf and dumb since boyhood. He is reported to be the
boldest sailor among all these daring men; he is the last to
retreat before the coming storm; the first after the storm to
venture through the white and whirling channels, between
dangerous ledges, to which others give a wider berth. I do not
wonder at this, for think how much of the awe and terror of the
tempest must vanish if the ears be closed! The ominous undertone
of the waves on the beach and the muttering thunder pass harmless
by him. How infinitely strange it must be to have the sight of
danger, but not the sound! Fancy such a deprivation in war, for
instance, where it is the sounds, after all, that haunt the
memory the longest; the rifle's crack, the irregular shots of
skirmishers, the long roll of alarm, the roar of great guns. This
man would have missed them all. Were a broadside from an enemy's
gunboat to be discharged above his head, he would not hear it; he
would only recognize, by some jarring of his other senses, the
fierce concussion of the air.
How much deeper seems his solitude than that of any other "lone
fisher on the lonely sea"! Yet all such things are comparative;
and while the others contrast that wave-tossed isolation with the
cheeriness of home, his home is silent too. He has a wife and
children; they all speak, but he hears not their prattle or their
complaints. He summons them with his fingers, as he summons the
fishes, and they are equally dumb to him. Has he a special
sympathy with those submerged and voiceless things? Dunfish, in
the old newspapers, were often called "dumb'd fish"; and they
perchance come to him as to one of their kindred. They may have
learned, like other innocent things, to accept this defect of
utterance, and even imitate it. I knew a deaf-and-dumb woman
whose children spoke and heard; but while yet too young for
words, they had learned that their mother was not to be reached
in that way; they never cried or complained before her, and when
most excited would only whisper. Her baby ten months old, if
disturbed in the night, would creep to her and touch her lips, to
awaken her, but would make no noise.
One might fancy that all men who have an agonizing sorrow or a
fearful secret would be drawn by irresistible attraction into the
society of the deaf and dumb. What awful passions might not be
whispered, what terror safely spoken, in the charmed circle round
yonder silent boat,--a circle whose centre is a human life which
has not all the susceptibilities of life, a confessional where
even the priest cannot hear! Would it not relieve sorrow to
express itself, even if unheeded? What more could one ask than a
dumb confidant? and if deaf also, so much the safer. To be sure,
he would give you neither absolution nor guidance; he could
render nothing in return, save a look or a clasp of the hand; nor
can the most gifted or eloquent friendship do much more. Ah! but
suddenly the thought occurs, suppose that the defect of hearing,
as of tongue, were liable to be loosed by an overmastering
emotion, and that by startling him with your hoarded confidence
you were to break the spell! The hint is too perilous; let us row
A few strokes take us to the half-submerged wreck of a
lime-schooner that was cut to the water's edge, by a collision in
a gale, twelve months ago. The water kindled the lime, the cable
was cut, the vessel drifted ashore and sunk, still blazing, at
this little beach. When I saw her, at sunset, the masts had been
cut away, and the flames held possession on board. Fire was
working away in the cabin, like a live thing, and sometimes
glared out of the hatchway; anon it clambered along the gunwale,
like a school-boy playing, and the waves chased it as in play;
just a flicker of flame, then a wave would reach up to overtake
it; then the flames would be, or seem to be, where the water had
been; and finally, as the vessel lay careened, the waves took
undisturbed possession of the lower gunwale, and the flames of
the upper. So it burned that day and night; part red with fire,
part black with soaking; and now twelve months have made all its
visible parts look dry and white, till it is hard to believe that
either fire or water has ever touched it. It lies over on its
bare knees, and a single knee, torn from the others, rests
imploringly on the shore, as if that had worked its way to land,
and perished in act of thanksgiving. At low tide, one half the
frame is lifted high in air, like a dead tree in the forest.
Perhaps all other elements are tenderer in their dealings with
what is intrusted to them than is the air. Fire, at least,
destroys what it has ruined; earth is warm and loving, and it
moreover conceals; water is at least caressing,--it laps the
greater part of this wreck with protecting waves, covers with
sea-weeds all that it can reach, and protects with incrusting
shells. Even beyond its grasp it tosses soft pendants of moss
that twine like vine-tendrils, or sway in the wind. It mellows
harsh colors into beauty, and Ruskin grows eloquent over the
wave-washed tint of some tarry, weather-beaten boat. But air is
pitiless: it dries and stiffens all outline, and bleaches all
color away, so that you can hardly tell whether these ribs
belonged to a ship or an elephant; and yet there is a certain
cold purity in the shapes it leaves, and the birds it sends to
perch upon these timbers are a more graceful company than
lobsters or fishes. After all, there is something sublime in that
sepulture of the Parsees, who erect near every village a dokhma,
or Tower of Silence, upon whose summit they may bury their dead
Thus widely may one's thoughts wander from a summer boat. But the
season for rowing is a long one, and far outlasts in Oldport the
stay of our annual guests. Sometimes in autumnal mornings I glide
forth over water so still, it seems as if saturated by the
Indian-summer with its own indefinable calm. The distant islands
lift themselves on white pedestals of mirage; the cloud-shadows
rest softly on Conanicut; and what seems a similar shadow on the
nearer slopes of Fort Adams is in truth but a mounted battery,
drilling, which soon moves and slides across the hazy hill like a
I hear across nearly a mile of water the faint, Sharp orders and
the sonorous blare of the trumpet That follows each command; the
horsemen gallop and wheel; suddenly the band within the fort
strikes up for guard-mounting, and I have but to shut my eyes to
be carried back to warlike days that passed by,--was it centuries
ago? Meantime, I float gradually towards Brenton's Cove; the
lawns that reach to the water's edge were never so gorgeously
green in any summer, and the departure of the transient guests
gives to these lovely places an air of cool seclusion; when
fashion quits them, the imagination is ready to move in. An
agreeable sense of universal ownership comes over the
winter-staying mind in Oldport. I like to keep up this little
semblance of habitation on the part of our human birds of
passage; it is very pleasant to me, and perhaps even pleasanter
to them, that they should call these emerald slopes their own for
a month or two; but when they lock the doors in autumn, the ideal
key reverts into my hands, and it is evident that they have only
been "tenants by the courtesy," in the fine legal phrase.
Provided they stay here long enough to attend to their lawns and
pay their taxes, I am better satisfied than if these estates were
left to me the whole year round.
The tide takes the boat nearer to the fort; the horsemen ride
more conspicuously, with swords and trappings that glisten in the
sunlight, while the white fetlocks of the horses twinkle in
unison as they move. One troop-horse without a rider wheels and
gallops with the rest, and seems to revel in the free motion.
Here also the tide reaches or seems to reach the very edge of the
turf; and when the light battery gallops this way, it is as if it
were charging on my floating fortress. Upon the other side is a
scene of peace; and a fisherman sings in his boat as he examines
the floats of his stake-net, hand over hand. A white gull hovers
close above him, and a dark one above the horsemen, fit emblems
of peace and war. The slightest sounds, the rattle of an oar, the
striking of a hoof against a stone, are borne over the water to
an amazing distance, as if the calm bay amid its seeming quiet,
were watchful of the slightest noise. But look! in a moment the
surface is rippled, the sky is clouded, a swift change comes over
the fitful mood of the season; the water looks colder and deeper,
the greensward assumes a chilly darkness, the troopers gallop
away to their stables, and the fisherman rows home. That
indefinable expression which separates autumn from summer creeps
almost in an instant over all. Soon, even upon this Isle of
Peace, it will be winter.
Each season, as winter returns, I try in vain to comprehend this
wonderful shifting of expression that touches even a thing so
essentially unchanging as the sea. How delicious to all the
senses is the summer foam above yonder rock; in winter the foam
is the same, the sparkle as radiant, the hue of the water
scarcely altered; and yet the effect is, by comparison, cold,
heavy, and leaden. It is like that mysterious variation which
chiefly makes the difference between one human face and another;
we call it by vague names, and cannot tell in what it lies; we
only know that when expression changes, all is gone. No warmth of
color, no perfection of outline can supersede those subtile
influences which make one face so winning that all human
affection gravitates to its spell, and another so cold or
repellent that it dwells forever in loneliness, and no passionate
heart draws near. I can fancy the ocean beating in vague despair
against its shores in winter, and moaning, "I am as beautiful, as
restless, as untamable as ever: why are my cliffs left desolate?
why am I not loved as I was loved in summer?"
MADAM DELIA'S EXPECTATIONS.
Madam Delia sat at the door of her show-tent, which, as she
discovered too late, had been pitched on the wrong side of the
Parade. It was"Election day" in Oldport, and there must have been
a thousand people in the public square; there were really more
than the four policemen on duty could properly attend to, so that
half of them had leisure to step into Madam Delia's tent, and see
little Gerty and the rattlesnakes. It was past the appointed
hour; but the exhibition had never yet been known to open for
less than ten spectators, and even the addition of the policemen
only made eight. So the mistress of the show sat in resolute
expectation, a little defiant of the human race. It was her
thirteenth annual tour, and she knew mankind.
Surely there were people enough; surely they had money enough;
surely they were easily pleased. They gathered in crowds to hear
crazy Mrs. Green denouncing the city government for sending her
to the poorhouse in a wagon instead of a carriage. They thronged
to inspect the load of hay that was drawn by the two horses whose
harness had been cut to pieces, and then repaired by Denison's
Eureka Cement. They all bought whips with that unfailing
readiness which marks a rural crowd; they bought packages of
lead-pencils with a dollar so skilfully distributed through every
six parcels that the oldest purchaser had never found more than
ten cents in his. They let the man who cured neuralgia rub his
magic curative on their foreheads, and allowed the man who
cleaned watch-chains to dip theirs in the purifying powder. They
twirled the magic arrow, which never by any chance rested at the
corner compartments where the gold watches and the heavy
bracelets were piled, but perpetually recurred to the side
stations, and indicated only a beggarly prize of india-rubber
sleeve-buttons. They bought ten cents' worth of jewelry,
obtaining a mingled treasure of two breast-pins, a plain gold
ring, an enamelled ring, and "a piece of California gold." But
still no added prizes in the human lottery fell to the show-tent
of Madam Delia.
As time went on and the day grew warmer, the crowd grew visibly
less enterprising, and business flagged. The man with the
lifting-machine pulled at the handles himself, a gratuitous
exhibition before a circle of boys now penniless. The man with
the metallic polish dipped and redipped his own watch-chain. The
men at the booths sat down to lunch upon the least presentable of
their own pies. The proprietor of the magic arrow, who had
already two large breastpins on his dirty shirt, selected from
his own board another to grace his coat-collar, as if thereby to
summon back the waning fortunes of the day. But Madam Delia still
sat at her post, undaunted. She kept her eye on two sauntering
militia-men in uniform, but they only read her sign and seated
themselves on the curbstone, to smoke. Then a stout black soldier
came in sight; but he turned and sat down at a table to eat
oysters, served by a vast and smiling matron of his own race. But
even this, though perhaps the most wholly cheerful exhibition
that the day yielded, had no charms for Madam Delia. Her own
dinner was ordered at the tavern after the morning show; and
where is the human being who does not resent the spectacle of
another human being who dines earlier than himself?
It grew warmer, so warm that the canvas walls of the tent seemed
to grasp a certain armful of heat and keep it inexorably in; so
warm that the out-of-door man was dozing as he leaned against the
tent-stake, and only recovered himself at the sound of Madam
Delia's penetrating voice, and again began to summon people in,
though there was nobody within hearing. It was so warm that Mr.
De Marsan, born Bangs, the wedded husband of Madam Delia, dozed
as he walked up and down the sidewalk, and had hardly voice
enough to testify, as an unconcerned spectator, to the value of
the show. Only the unwearied zeal of the showwoman defied alike
thermometer and neglect, She kept her eye on everything,--on Old
Bill as he fed the monkeys within, on Monsieur Comstock as he
hung the trapeze for the performance, on the little girls as they
tried to peddle their songs, on the sleepy out-of-door man, and
on the people who did not draw near. If she could, she would have
played all the parts in her own small company, and would have put
the inexhaustible nervous energies of her own New England nature
(she was born at Meddibemps, State of Maine) into all. Apart from
this potent stimulus, not a soul in the establishment, save
little Gerty, possessed any energy whatever. Old Bill had
unfortunately never learned total abstinence from the wild
animals among which he had passed his life; Monsieur Comstock's
brains had chiefly run into his arms and legs; and Mr. De Marsan,
the nominal head of the establishment, was a peaceful
Pennsylvanian, who was wont to move as slowly as if he were one
of those processions that take a certain number of hours to pass
a given point. This Madam Delia understood and expected; he was
an innocent who was to be fed, clothed, and directed; but his
languor was no excuse for the manifest feebleness of the
out-of-door man. "That man don't know how to talk no more 'n
nothin' at all," said Madam Delia reproachfully, to the large
policeman who stood by her. "He never speaks up bold to nobody.
Why don't he tell 'em what's inside the tent? I don't want him to
say no more 'n the truth, but he might tell that. Tell 'em about
Gerty, you nincum! Tell 'em about the snakes. Tell 'em what
Comstock is. 'T ain't the real original Comstock" (this to the
policeman), "it's only another that used to perform with him in
Comstock Brothers. This one can't swaller, so we leave out the
"Where's t' other?" said the sententious policeman, whose ears
were always open for suspicious disappearances.
"Didn't you hear?" cried the incredulous lady. "Scattered! Gone!
Went off one day with a box of snakes and two monkeys. Come, now,
you must have heard. We had a sight of trouble pay-in'
"What for a looking fellow was he?" said the policeman.
"Dark complected," was the reply. "Black mustache. He understood
his business, I tell you now. Swallered five or six knives to
onst, and give good satisfaction to any audience. It was him that
brought us Gerty and Anne,--that's the other little girl. I
didn't know as they was his children, and didn't know as they
was, but one day he said he got 'em from an old woman in New
York, and that was all he knew."
"They're smart," said the man, whom Gerty had just coaxed into
paying three cents instead of two for Number Six of the "Singer's
Journal,"--a dingy little sheet, containing a song about a fat
policeman, which she had brought to his notice.
"You'd better believe it,"said Madam Delia, proudly. "At least
Gerty is; Anne ain't. I tell 'em, Gerty knows enough for both.
Anne don't know nothin', and what she does know she don't know
sartin. All she can do is just to hang on: she's the strongest
and she does the heavy business on the trapeze and parallel
"Is Gerty good on that?" said the public guardian.
"I tell you," said the head of the establishment.--"Go and dress,
children! Five minutes!"
All this time Madam Delia had been taking occasional fees from
the tardy audience, had been making change, detecting counterfeit
currency, and discerning at a glance the impostures of one
deceitful boy who claimed to have gone out on a check and lost
it. At last Stephen Blake and his little sister entered, and the
house was regarded as full. These two revellers had drained deep
the cup of "Election-day" excitement. They had twirled all the
arrows, bought all the jewelry, inspected all the colored eggs,
blown at all the spirometers, and tasted all the egg-pop which
the festal day required. These delights exhausted, they looked
round for other worlds to conquer, saw Madam Delia at her
tent-door, and were conquered by her.
She did, indeed, look energetic and comely as she sat at the
receipt of custom, her smooth black hair relieved by gold
ear-rings, her cotton velvet sack by a white collar, and her dark
gingham dress by a cheap breastpin and by linen cuffs not very
much soiled. The black leather bag at her side had a well-to-do
look; but all else in the establishment looked a little
poverty-stricken. The tent was made of very worn and soiled
canvas, and was but some twenty-five feet square. There were no
seats, and the spectators sat on the grass. There was a very
small stage raised some six feet; this was covered with some
strips of old carpet, and surrounded by a few old and tattered
curtains. Through their holes you could easily see the lithe
brown shoulders of the little girls as they put on their
professional suits; and, on the other side, Monsieur Comstock,
scarcely hidden by the drapery, leaned against a cross-bar, and
rested his chin upon his tattooed arms as he counted the
spectators. Among these, Mr. De Marsan, pacing slowly,distributed
copies of this programme:--
THIRTEENTH ANNUAL TOUR.
MADAM DELIA'S MUSEUM AND VARIETY COMBINATION-WILL
---- PROCLAMATION TO THE PUBLIC.--The Proprietors would say that
they have abandoned the old and played-out practice of decorating
the outer walls of all principal streets with flaming Posters and
Handbills, and have adopted the congenial, and they trust
successful, plan of advertising with Programmes, giving a full
and accurate description as now organized, which will be
distributed in Hotels, Saloons, Factories, Workshops, and all
private dwellings,by their Special Agents, three days before the
exhibition takes place.
MADAM DELIA WITH HER
THE CHILD WONDER,
DANSEUSE AND CONTORTIONIST,
will appear in her wonderful feats at each performance.
THE CHAMPION SWORD-SWALLOWER,
will also exhibit his wonderful power of swallowing Five Swords,
measuring from 14 to 22 inches in length.
It is not so much the beauty of this feat
that makes it so remarkable, as its seeming
THE BANJO SOLOIST AND BURLESQUE.
BY MISS GERTY AND MONS. COMSTOCK.
THE WONDERFUL AND ORIGINAL SNAKE-TAMER, with her Pets, measuring
12 feet in length and weighing 50 lbs.
A pet Rattlesnake, 15 years of age, captured
on the Prairies of Illinois,--
oldest on exhibition.
In connection with this Exhibition there are
ANT-EATERS, AFRICAN MONKEYS, &C.
Cosmoramic Stereoscopic Scenes in the United States and
other Countries, including a view of
the Funeral Procession of President Taylor,
which is alone worth the price
Exhibition every half-hour, during day and evening.
Secure your seats early!
ADMISSION 20 CENTS. Particular care will be taken and
nothing shall occur to offend the most fastidious.
Stephen and his little sister strolled about the tent meanwhile.
The final preparations went slowly on. The few spectators teased
the ant-eater in one corner, or the first violin in another. One
or two young farmers' boys were a little uproarious with egg-pop,
and danced awkward breakdowns at the end of the tent. Then a
cracked bell sounded and the curtain rose, showing hardly more of
the stage than was plainly visible before.
Little Gerty, aged ten, came in first, all rumpled gauze and
tarnished spangles, to sing. In a poor little voice, feebler and
shriller than the chattering of the monkeys, she sang a song
about the "Grecian Bend," and enacted the same, walking round and
round the stage whirling her tawdry finery. Then Anne, aged
twelve, came in as a boy and joined her. Both the girls had
rather pretty features, blue eyes, and tightly curling hair; both
had pleasing faces; but Anne was solid and phlegmatic, while
Gerty was keen and flexible as a weasel, and almost as thin.
Presently Anne went out and reappeared as "Master Bobby" of the
hills, making love to Gerty in that capacity, through song and
dance. Then Gerty was transformed by the addition of a single
scarf into a "Highland Maid," and danced a fling; this quite
gracefully, to the music of two violins. Exeunt the children and
enter "Madam Delia and her pets."
The show-woman had laid aside her velvet sack and appeared with
bare neck and arms. Over her shoulders hung a rattlesnake fifteen
feet long, while a smaller specimen curled from each hand. The
reptiles put their cold, triangular faces against hers, they
touched her lips, they squirmed around her; she tied their tails
together in elastic knots that soon undid; they reared their
heads above her black locks till she looked like a stage Medusa,
then laid themselves lovingly on her shoulder, and hissed at the
audience. Then she lay down on the stage and pillowed her head on
the writhing mass. She opened her black bag and took out a tiny
brown snake which she placidly transferred to her bosom; then
turned to a barrel into which she plunged her arm and drew out a
black, hissing coil of mingled heads and tails. Her keen,
goodnatured face looked cheerfully at the audience through it
all, and took away the feeling of disgust, and something of the
excitement of fear.
The lady and the pets retiring, Gerty's hour of glory came. She
hated singing and only half enjoyed character dancing, but in
posturing she was in her glory. Dressed in soiled tights that
showed every movement of her little body, she threw herself upon
the stage with a hand-spring, then kissed her hand to the
audience, and followed this by a back-somerset. Then she touched
her head by anslow effort to her heels; then turned away, put her
palms to the ground, raised her heels gradually in the air, and
in this inverted position kissed first one hand, then the other,
to the spectators. Then she crossed the stage in a series of
somersets, then rolled back like a wheel; then held a hoop in her
two hands and put her whole slender body through it, limb after
limb. Then appeared Monsieur Comstock. He threw a hand-spring and
gave her his feet to stand upon; she grasped them with her hands
and inverted herself, her feet pointing skyward. Then he resumed
the ordinary attitude of rational beings and she lay on her back
across his uplifted palms, which supported her neck and feet;
then she curled herself backward around his waist, almost
touching head and heels. Indeed, whatever the snakes had done to
Madam Delia, Gerty seemed possessed with a wish to do to Monsieur
Comstock, all but the kissing. Then that eminent foreigner
vanished, and the odors of his pipe came faintly through the
tattered curtain, while Anne entered to help Gerty in the higher
A double trapeze--just two horizontal bars suspended at different
heights by ropes and straps--had been swung from the tent-roof.
Gerty ascended to the upper bar, hung from it by her hand, then
by her knees, then by her feet, then sat upon it, leaned slowly
backward, suddenly dropped, and as some children in the audience
shrieked in terror, she caught by her feet in the side-ropes and
came up smiling. It was a part of the play. Then another trapeze
was hung, and was set swinging toward the first, and Gerty flung
herself in triumph, with varied somersets, from one to the other,
while Anne rattled the banjo below and sang,
"I fly through the air with the greatest of ease,
A daring young man on the flying trapeeze."
Then the child stopped to rest, while all hands were clapped and
only the unreverberating turf kept the feet from echoing also.
People flocked in from outside, and Madam Delia was kept busy at
the door. Then Gerty came down to the lower bar, while Anne
ascended the upper, and hung to it solidly by her knees. Thus
suspended, she put out her hands to Gerty, who put her feet into
them, and hung head-downward. There was a shuddering pause, while
the two children clung thus dizzily, but the audience had seen
enough of peril to lose all fear.
"Those straps are safe?" asked Stephen of Mr. De Marsan.
"Law bless you, yes," replied that pleasant functionary.
"Comstock's been on 'em,"
Precisely as he spoke one of the straps gave downward a little,
and then rested firm; it was not a half-inch, but it jarred the
"Gerty, I'm slipping," cried Anne. "We shall fall!"
"No, we sha'n't, silly," said the other, quickly. "Hold on.
Comstock, swing me the rope."
Stephen Blake sprang to the stage and swung her the rope by which
they had climbed to the upper bar. It fell short and Gerty missed
it. Anne screamed, and slipped visibly.
"You can't hold," said Gerty. "Let go my feet. Let me drop."
"You'll be killed," called Anne, slipping still more.
"Drop me, I say!" shouted the resolute Gerty, while the whole
audience rose in excitement. Instantly the hands of the elder
girl opened and down fell Gerty, headforemost, full twelve feet,
striking heavily on her shoulder, while Anne, relieved of the
weight, recovered easily her position and slipped down into
Stephen's arms. She threw herself down beside the little comrade
whose presence of mind had saved at least one of them.
"O Gerty, are you killed?" she said.
"I want Delia," gasped the child.
Madam Delia was at her side already, having rushed from the door,
where a surging host of boys had already swept in gratis. Gerty
writhed in pain. Stephen felt her collar-bone and found it bent
like a horseshoe; and she fainted before she could be taken from
When restored, she was quite exhausted, and lay for days
perfectly subdued and gentle, sleeping most of the time. During
these days she had many visitors, and Mr. De Marsan had ample
opportunity for the simple enjoyments of his life, tobacco and
conversation. Stephen Blake and his sister came often, and while
she brought her small treasures to amuse Gerty, he freely pumped
the proprietor. Madam Delia had been in the snake business, it
appeared, since early youth, thirteen years ago. She had been in
De Marsan's employ for eight years before her marriage, and his
equal and lawful partner for five years since. At first they had
travelled as side-show to a circus, but that was not so good.
"The way is, you see," said Mr. De Marsan, "to take a place like
Providence, that's a good showtown, right along, and pitch your
tent and live there. Keep-still pays, they say. You'd have to
hire a piece of ground anywhere, for five or six dollars a day,
and it don't cost much more by the week. You can board for four
or five dollars a week, but if you board by the day it's a dollar
and a half." To which words of practical wisdom Stephen listened
with pleased interest. It was not so very many years since he had
been young enough to wish to run away with a circus; and by
encouraging these simple confidences, he brought round the
conversation to the children.
But here he was met by a sheer absence of all information as to
their antecedents. The original and deceitful Comstock had
brought them and left them two years before. Madam Delia had
received flattering offers to take her snakes and Gerty into
circuses and large museums, but she had refused for the child's
own sake. Did Gerty like it? Yes, she would like to be posturing
all day; she could do anything she saw done; she "never needed to
be taught nothin'," as Mr. De Marsan asserted with vigorous
accumulation of negatives. He thought her father or mother must
have been in the business, she took to it so easily; but she was
just as smart at school in the winter, and at everything else.
Was the life good for her? Yes, why not? Rough company and bad
language? They could hear worse talk every day in the street.
"Sometimes a feller would come in with too much liquor aboard,"
the showman admitted, "and would begin to talk his nonsense; but
Comstock wouldn't ask nothin' better than to pitch such a feller
out, especially if he should sarce the little gals. They were
good little gals, and Delia set store by 'em."
When Stephen and his sister went back that night to their kind
hostesses, Miss Martha and Miss Amy, the soft hearts of those
dear old ladies were melted in an instant by the story of Gerty's
courage and self-sacrifice. They had lived peacefully all their
lives in that motherly old house by the bay-side, where
successive generations had lived before them. The painted tiles
around the open fire looked as if their fops and fine ladies had
stepped out of the Spectator and the Tatler; the great mahogany
chairs looked as hospitable as when the French officers were
quartered in the house during the Revolution, and its Quaker
owner, Miss Martha's grand-uncle, had carried out a seat that the
weary sentinel might sit down. Descended from one of those
families of Quaker beauties whom De Lauzun celebrated, they bore
the memory of those romantic lives, as something very sacred, in
hearts which perhaps held as genuine romances of their own. Miss
Martha's sweet face was softened by advancing deafness and by
that gentle, appealing look which comes when mind and memory grow
a little dimmer, though the loving nature knows no change.
"Sister Amy says," she meekly confessed, "that I am losing my
memory. But I do not care very much. There are so few things
They kept house together in sweet accord, and were indeed trained
in the neat Quaker ways so thoroughly, that they always worked by
the same methods. In opinion and emotion they were almost
duplicates. Yet the world holds no absolute and perfect
correspondence, and it is useless to affect to conceal--what was
apparent to any intimate guest--that there was one domestic
question on which perfect sympathy was wanting. During their
whole lives they had never been able to take precisely the same
view of the best method of grinding Indian meal. Miss Martha
preferred to have it from a wind-mill; while Miss Amy was too
conscientious to deny that she thought it better when prepared by
a water-mill. She said firmly, though gently, that it seemed to
her "less gritty."
Living their whole lives in this scarcely broken harmony by the
margin of the bay, they had long built together one castle in the
air. They had talked of it for many an hour by their evening
fire, and they had looked from their chamber windows toward the
Red Light upon Rose Island to see if it were coming true. This
vision was, that they were to awake some morning after an
autumnal storm, and to find an unknown vessel ashore behind the
house, without name or crew or passengers; only there was to be
one sleeping child, with aristocratic features and a few yards of
exquisite embroidery. Years had passed, and their lives were
waning, without a glimpse of that precious waif of gentle blood.
Once in an October night Miss Martha had been awakened by a
crash, and looking out had seen that their pier had been carried
away, and that a dark vessel lay stranded with her bowsprit in
the kitchen window. But daylight revealed the schooner Polly
Lawton, with a cargo of coal, and the dream remained unfulfilled.
They had never revealed it, except to each other.
Moved by a natural sympathy, Miss Martha went with Stephen to see
the injured child. Gerty lay asleep on a rather dingy little
mattress, with Mr. Comstock's overcoat rolled beneath her head. A
day's illness will commonly make even the coarsest child look
refined and interesting; and Gerty's physical organization was
anything but coarse. Her pretty hair curled softly round her
head; her delicate profile was relieved against the rough, dark
pillow; and the tips of her little pink ears could not have been
improved by art, though they might have been by soap and water.
Warm tears came into Miss Martha's eyes, which were quickly
followed from corresponding fountains in Madam Delia's.
"Thy own child?" said or rather signalled Miss Martha, forming
the letters softly with her lips. Stephen had his own reasons for
leaving her to ask this question in all ignorance.
"No, ma'am," said the show-woman. "Not much. Adopted."
"Does thee know her parents?" This was similarly signalled.
"No," said Madam Delia, rather coldly.
"Does thee suppose that they were--"
And here Miss Martha stopped, and the color came as suddenly and
warmly to her cheeks as if Monsieur Comstock had offered to marry
her, and to settle upon her the snakes as exclusive property.
Madam Delia divined the question; she had so often found herself
trying to guess the social position of Gerty's parents.
"I don't know as I know," said she, slowly, "whether you ought to
know anythin' about it. But I'll tell you what I know. That
child's folks," she added, mysteriously, "lived on Quality Hill."
"Lived where?" said Miss Martha, breathless.
"Upper crust," said the other, defining her symbol still further.
"No middlins to 'em. Genteel as anybody. Just look here!"
Madam Delia unclasped her leather bag, brought forth from it a
mass of checks and tickets, some bird-seed, a small whip, a
dog-collar, and a dingy morocco box. This held a piece of an
old-fashioned enamelled ring, and a fragment of embroidered
muslin marked "A."
"She'd lived with me six months before she brought 'em," said the
The bit of handkerchief was enough. Was it a dream? thought the
dear old lady. What the ocean had refused, was this sprite who
had lived between earth and air to fulfil? Miss Martha bent
softly over the bedside, resting her clean glove on the only
dirty mattress it had ever touched, and quietly kissed the child.
Then she looked up with a radiant face of perfect resolution.
"Mrs. De Marsan," said she, with dignity that was almost
solemnity, "I wish to adopt this child. No one can doubt thy
kindness of heart, but thee must see that thee is in no condition
to give her suitable care and Christian nurture."
"That's a fact," interposed Madam Delia with a pang
"Then thee will give her to me?" asked Miss Martha, firmly.
Madam Delia threw her apron over her face, and choked and sobbed
beneath it for several minutes. Then reappearing, "It's what I've
always expected," said she. Then, with a tinge of suspicion,
"Would you have taken her without the ring and handkerchief?"
"Perhaps I should," said the other, gently. "But that seems to
make it a clearer call."
"Fair enough," said Madam Delia, submitting. "I ain't denyin' of
it." Then she reflected and recommenced. "There never was such a
smart performin' child as that since the world began. She can do
just anythin', and just as easy! Time and again I might have
hired her out to a circus, and she glad of the chance, mind you;
but no, I would keep her safe to home. Then when she showed me
the ring and the other things, all my expectations altered very
sudden; I knowed we couldn't keep her, and I began to mistrust
that she would somehow find her folks. I guess my rathers was
that she should, considerin'; but I did wish it had been Anne,
for she ain't got nothin' better in her than just to live
"But Anne seems a nice child, too," said Miss Martha,
"Well, that's just what she is," replied Madam Delia, with some
contempt. "But what is she for a contortionist? Ask Comstock what
she's got in her! And how to run the show without Gerty, that's
what beats me. Why, folks begin to complain already that we
advertise swallerin', and yet don't swaller. But never you mind,
ma'am, you shall have Gerty. You shall have her," she added, with
a gulp, "if I have to sell out! Go ahead!" And again the apron
went over her face.
At this point, Gerty waked up with a little murmur, looked up at
Miss Martha's kind face, and smiled a sweet, childish smile. Half
asleep still, she put out one thin, muscular little hand, and
went to sleep as the old lady took it in hers. A kiss awaked her.
"What has thee been dreaming about, my little girl?" said Miss
"Angels and things, I guess," said the child, somewhat roused.
"Will thee go home with me and live?" said the lady.
"Yes'm," replied Gerty, and went to sleep again.
Two days later she was well enough to ride to Miss Martha's in a
carriage, escorted by Madam Delia and by Anne, "that dull,
uninteresting child," as Miss Amy had reluctantly described her,
"so different from this graceful Adelaide." This romantic name
was a rapid assumption of the soft-hearted Miss Amy's, but, once
suggested, it was as thoroughly-fixed as if a dozen baptismal
fonts had written it in water.
Madam Delia was sustained, up to the time of Gerty's going, by a
sense of self-sacrifice. But this emotion, like other strong
stimulants, has its reactions. That remorse for a crime committed
in vain, which Dr. Johnson thought the acutest of human emotions,
is hardly more depressing than to discover that we have got
beyond our depth in virtue, and are in water where we really
cannot quite swim,--and this was the good woman's position.
During her whole wandering though blameless life,--in her girlish
days, when she charmed snakes at Meddibemps, or through her brief
time of service as plain Car'line Prouty at the Biddeford mills,
or when she ran away from her step-mother and took refuge among
the Indians at Orono, or later, since she had joined her fate
with that of De Marsan,--she had never been so severely tried.
"That child was so smart," she said, beneath the evening canvas,
to her sympathetic spouse. "I always expected when we got old
we'd kinder retire on a farm or suthin', and let her and her
husband--say Comstock, if he was young enough--run the business.
And even after she showed us the ring and things, I thought
likely she'd just come into her property somewheres and take care
of us. I don't know as I ever thought she'd leave us, either way,
and there she's gone."
"She won't forget us," said the peaceful proprietor.
"No," said the wife, "but it's lonesome. If it had only been
Anne! I shall miss Gerty the worst kind. And it'll kill the
And to tell the truth, the show languished. Nothing but the happy
acquisition of a Chinese giant nearly eight feet high, with
slanting eyes and a long pigtail,--a man who did penance in his
height for the undue brevity of his undersized nation,--would
have saved the "museum."
Meantime the neat proprieties of orderly life found but a poor
disciple in Gerty. Her warm heart opened to the dear old ladies;
but she found nothing familiar in this phantom of herself, this
well-dressed little girl who, after a rapid convalescence, was
introduced at school and "meeting" under the name of Adelaide.
The school studies did not dismay her, but she played the
jew's-harp at recess, and danced the clog-dance in india-rubbers,
to the dismay of the little Misses Grundy, her companions. In the
calisthenic exercises she threw beanbags with an untamed vigor
that soon ripped the stitches of the bags, and sowed those
vegetables in every crack of the school-room floor. There was a
ladder in the garden, and it was some comfort to ascend it hand
over hand upon the under side, or to hang by her toes from the
upper rung, to the terror of her schoolmates.
But she became ashamed of the hardness of her palms, and she grew
in general weary of her life. Her clothes pinched her, so did her
new boots; Madam Delia had gone to Providence with the show, and
Gerty had not so much as seen the new Chinese giant.
Of all days Sunday was the most objectionable, when she had to
sit still in Friends' Meeting and think how pleasant it would be
to hang by the knees, head downward, from the parapet of the
gallery. She liked better the Seamen's Bethel, near by, where
there was an aroma of tar and tarpaulin that suggested the odors
of the show-tent, and where, when the Methodist exhorter gave out
the hymn, "Howl, howl, ye winds of night," the choir rendered it
with such vigor that it was like being at sea in a northeaster.
But each week made her new life harder, until, having cried
herself asleep one Saturday evening, she rose early the next
morning for her orisons, which, I regret to say, were as
"I must get out of this," quoth Gerty, "I must cut and run. I'll
make it all right for the old ladies, for I'll send 'em Anne.
She'll like it here first rate."
She hunted up such remnants of her original wardrobe as had been
thought worth washing and preserving, and having put them on,
together with a hat whose trimmings had been vehemently burned by
Miss Martha, she set out to seek her fortune. Of all her new
possessions, she took only a pair of boots, and those she carried
in her hand as she crept softly down stairs.
"Save us!" exclaimed Biddy, who had been to a Mission Mass of
incredible length, and was already sweeping the doorsteps.
"Christmas!" she added, as a still more pious ejaculation, when
the child said, "Good by, Biddy, I'm off now."
"Where to, thin?" exclaimed Biddy.
"To Providence," said Gerty. "But don't you tell."
"But ye can't go the morn's mornin'," said Biddy. "It's Sunday
and there's no cars."
"There's legs," replied the child, briefly, as she closed the
"It's much as iver," said the stumpy Hibernian, to herself, as
she watched the twinkling retreat of those slim, but vigorous
They had been Gerty's support too long, in body and estate, for
her to shrink from trusting them in a walk of a dozen or a score
of miles. But the locomotion of Stephen's horse was quicker, and
she did not get seriously tired before being overtaken, and--not
without difficulty and some hot tears--coaxed back. Fortunately,
Madam Delia came down from Providence that evening, on a very
unexpected visit, and at the confidential hour of bedtime the
child's heart was opened and made a revelation.
"Won't you be mad, if I tell you something?" she said to Madam
"No," said the show-woman, with surprise.
"Won't you let Comstock box my ears?"
"I'll box his if he does," was the indignant answer. The gravest
contest that had ever arisen in the museum was when Monsieur
Comstock, teased beyond endurance, had thus taken the law into
his own hands.
"Well," said Gerty, after a pause, "I ain't a great lady, no more
'n nothin'. Them things I brought to you was Anne's."
"Anne's things?" gasped Madam Delia,--"the ring and the piece of
"Yes, 'm," said Gerty, "and I've got the rest." And exploring her
little trunk, she produced from a slit in the lining the other
half of the ring, with the name "Anne Deering."
"You naughty, naughty girl!" said Madam Delia. "How did you get
'em away from Anne?"
"Coaxed her," said the child.
"Well, how did you make her hush up about it?"
"Told her I'd kill her if she said a single word," said Gerty,
undauntedly. "I showed her Pa De Marsan's old dirk-knife and told
her I'd stick it into her if she didn't hush. She was just such a
'fraid-cat she believed me. She might have known I didn't mean
nothin'. Now she can have 'em and be a lady. She was always
tallkin' about bein' a lady, and that put it into my head."
"What did she want to be a lady for?" asked Madam Delia,
"Said she wanted to have a parlor and dress tight. I don't want
to be one of her old ladies. I want to stay with you, Delia, and
learn the clog-dance." And she threw her arms round the
show-woman's neck and cried herself to sleep.
Never did the energetic proprietress of a Museum and Variety
Combination feel a greater exultation than did Madam Delia that
night. The child's offence was all forgotten in the delight of
the discovery to which it led. If there had been expectations of
social glories to accrue to the house of De Marsan through
Gerty's social promotion, they melted away; and the more
substantial delight of still having someone to love and to be
proud of,--some object of tenderness warmer than snakes and
within nearer reach than a Chinese giant,--this came in its
stead. The show, too, was in a manner on its feet again. De
Marsan said that he would rather have Gerty than a hundred-dollar
bill. Madam Delia looked forward and saw herself sinking into the
vale of years without a sigh,--reaching a period when a serpent
fifteen feet long would cease to charm, or she to charm it,--and
still having a source of pride and prosperity in this triumphant
The tent was in its glory on the day of Gerty's return; to be
sure, nothing in particular had been washed except the face of
Old Bill, but that alone was a marvel compared with which all
"Election Day" was feeble, and when you add a paper collar, words
can say no more. Monsieur Comstock also had that "ten times
barbered" look which Shakespeare ascribes to Mark Antony, and
which has belonged to that hero's successors in the histrionic
profession ever since. His chin was unnaturally smooth, his
mustache obtrusively perfumed, and nothing but the unchanged
dirtiness of his hands still linked him, like Antaeus, with the
earth. De Marsan had intended some personal preparation, but had
been, as usual, in no hurry, and the appointed moment found him,
as usual, in his shirt-sleeves. Madam Delia, however, wore a new
breastpin and gave Gerty another. And the great new attraction,
the Chinese giant, had put on a black broadcloth coat across his
bony shoulders, in her honor, and made a vigorous effort to sit
up straight, and appear at his ease when off duty. He habitually
stooped a good deal in private life, as if there were no object
in being eight feet high, except before spectators.
Anne, the placid and imperturbable, was promoted to take the
place that Gerty had rejected, in the gentle home of the good
sisters. The secret of her birth, whatever it was, never came to
light but, she took kindly, as Madam Delia had predicted,to
"living genteel," and grew up into a well-behaved mediocrity,
unregretful of the show-tent. Yet probably no one reared within
the smell of sawdust ever quite outgrew all taste for "the
profession," and Anne, even when promoted to good society, never
missed seeing a performance when her wandering friends came by.
If I told you under what name Gerty became a star in the
low-comedy line, after her marriage, you would all recognize it;
and if you had seen her in "Queen Pippin" or the "Shooting-Star"
pantomime, you would wish to see her again. Her first child was
named after Madam Delia, and proved to be a placid little thing,
demure enough to have been born in a Quaker family, and
exhibiting no contortions or gymnastics but those common to its
years. And you may be sure that the retired show-woman found in
the duties of brevet-grand-mother a glory that quite surpassed
SUNSHINE AND PETRARCH.
Near my summer home there is a little cove or landing by the bay,
where nothing larger than a boat can ever anchor. I sit above it
now, upon the steep bank, knee-deep in buttercups, and amid grass
so lush and green that it seems to ripple and flow instead of
waving. Below lies a tiny beach, strewn with a few bits of
drift-wood and some purple shells, and so sheltered by projecting
walls that its wavelets plash but lightly. A little farther out
the sea breaks more roughly over submerged rocks, and the waves
lift themselves, before breaking, in an indescribable way, as if
each gave a glimpse through a translucent window, beyond which
all ocean's depths might be clearly seen, could one but hit the
proper angle of vision. On the right side of my retreat a high
wall limits the view, while close upon the left the crumbling
parapet of Fort Greene stands out into the foreground, its
verdant scarp so relieved against the blue water that each
inward-bound schooner seems to sail into a cave of grass. In the
middle distance is a white lighthouse, and beyond lie the round
tower of old Fort Louis and the soft low hills of Conanicut.
Behind me an oriole chirrups in triumph amid the birch-trees
which wave around the house of the haunted window; before me a
kingfisher pauses and waits, and a darting blackbird shows the
scarlet on his wings. Sloops and schooners constantly come and
go, careening in the wind, their white sails taking, if remote
enough, a vague blue mantle from the delicate air. Sail-boats
glide in the distance,--each a mere white wing of canvas,--or
coming nearer, and glancing suddenly into the cove, are put as
suddenly on the other tack, and almost in an instant seem far
away. There is to-day such a live sparkle on the water, such a
luminous freshness on the grass, that it seems, as is so often
the case in early June, as if all history were a dream, and the
whole earth were but the creation of a summer's day.
If Petrarch still knows and feels the consummate beauty of these
earthly things, it may seem to him some repayment for the sorrows
of a life-time that one reader, after all this lapse of years,
should choose his sonnets to match this grass, these blossoms,
and the soft lapse of these blue waves. Yet any longer or more
continuous poem would be out of place to-day. I fancy that this
narrow cove prescribes the proper limits of a sonnet; and when I
count the lines of ripple within yonder projecting wall, there
proves to be room for just fourteen. Nature meets our whims with
such little fitnesses. The words which build these delicate
structures of Petrarch's are as soft and fine and close-textured
as the sands upon this tiny beach, and their monotone, if such it
be, is the monotone of the neighboring ocean. Is it not possible,
by bringing such a book into the open air, to separate it from
the grimness of commentators, and bring it back to life and light
The beautiful earth is the same as when this poetry and passion
were new; there is the same sunlight, the same blue water and
green grass; yonder pleasure-boat might bear, for aught we know,
the friends and lovers of five centuries ago; Petrarch and Laura
might be there, with Boccaccio and Fiammetta as comrades, and
with Chaucer as their stranger guest. It bears, at any rate, if I
know its voyagers, eyes as lustrous, voices as sweet. With the
world thus young, beauty eternal, fancy free, why should these
delicious Italian pages exist but to be tortured into grammatical
examples? Is there no reward to be imagined for a delightful book
that can match Browning's fantastic burial of a tedious one? When
it has sufficiently basked in sunshine, and been cooled in pure
salt air, when it has bathed in heaped clover, and been scented,
page by page, with melilot, cannot its beauty once more blossom,
and its buried loves revive?
Emboldened by such influences, at least let me translate a
sonnet, and see if anything is left after the sweet Italian
syllables are gone. Before this continent was discovered, before
English literature existed, when Chaucer was a child, these words
were written. Yet they are to-day as fresh and perfect as these
laburnum-blossoms that droop above my head. And as the variable
and uncertain air comes freighted with clover-scent from yonder
field, so floats through these long centuries a breath of
fragrance, the memory of Laura.
"Lieti fiori e felici."
O joyous, blossoming, ever-blessed flowers!
'Mid which my queen her gracious footstep sets;
O plain, that keep'st her words for amulets
And hold'st her memory in thy leafy bowers!
O trees, with earliest green of spring-time hours,
And spring-time's pale and tender violets!
O grove, so dark the proud sun only lets
His blithe rays gild the outskirts of your towers!
O pleasant country-side! O purest stream,
That mirrorest her sweet face, her eyes so clear,
And of their living light can catch the beam!
I envy you her haunts so close and dear.
There is no rock so senseless but I deem
It burns with passion that to mine is near.
Goethe compared translators to carriers, who convey good wine to
market, though it gets unaccountably watered by the way. The more
one praises a poem, the more absurd becomes one's position,
perhaps, in trying to translate it. If it is so admirable--is the
natural inquiry,--why not let it alone? It is a doubtful blessing
to the human race, that the instinct of translation still
prevails, stronger than reason; and after one has once yielded to
it, then each untranslated favorite is like the trees round a
backwoodsman's clearing, each of which stands, a silent defiance,
until he has cut it down. Let us try the axe again. This is to
"Quando Amor i begli occhi a terra inchina."
When Love doth those sweet eyes to earth incline,
And weaves those wandering notes into a sigh
Soft as his touch, and leads a minstrelsy
Clear-voiced and pure, angelic and divine,
He makes sweet havoc in this heart of mine,
And to my thoughts brings transformation high,
So that I say, "My time has come to die,
If fate so blest a death for me design."
But to my soul thus steeped in joy the sound
Brings such a wish to keep that present heaven,
It holds my spirit back to earth as well.
And thus I live: and thus is loosed and wound
The thread of life which unto me was given
By this sole Siren who with us doth dwell.
As I look across the bay, there is seen resting over all the
hills, and even upon every distant sail, an enchanted veil of
palest blue, that seems woven out of the very souls of happy
days,--a bridal veil, with which the sunshine weds this soft
landscape in summer. Such and so indescribable is the atmospheric
film that hangs over these poems of Petrarch's; there is a
delicate haze about the words, that vanishes when you touch them,
and reappears as you recede. How it clings, for instance, around
"Aura che quelle chiome."
Sweet air, that circlest round those radiant tresses,
And floatest, mingled with them, fold on fold,
Deliciously, and scatterest that fine gold,
Then twinest it again, my heart's dear jesses,
Thou lingerest on those eyes, whose beauty presses
Stings in my heart that all its life exhaust,
Till I go wandering round my treasure lost,
Like some scared creature whom the night distresses.
I seem to find her now, and now perceive
How far away she is; now rise, now fall;
Now what I wish, now what is true, believe.
O happy air! since joys enrich thee all,
Rest thee; and thou, O stream too bright to grieve!
Why can I not float with thee at thy call?
The airiest and most fugitive among Petrarch's love-poems, so far
as I know,--showing least of that air of earnestness which he has
contrived to impart to almost all,--is this little ode or
madrigal. It is interesting to see, from this, that he could be
almost conventional and courtly in moments when he held Laura
farthest aloof; and when it is compared with the depths of solemn
emotion in his later sonnets, it seems like the soft glistening
of young birch-leaves against a background of pines.
"Nova angeletta sovra l' ale accorta."
A new-born angel, with her wings extended,
Came floating from the skies to this fair shore,
Where, fate-controlled, I wandered with my sorrows.
She saw me there, alone and unbefriended,
She wove a silken net, and threw it o'er
The turf, whose greenness all the pathway borrows,
Then was I captured; nor could fears arise,
Such sweet seduction glimmered from her eyes.
Turn from these light compliments to the pure and reverential
tenderness of a sonnet like this:-
"Qual donna attende a gloriosa fama."
Doth any maiden seek the glorious fame
Of chastity, of strength, of courtesy? Gaze in the eyes of that
Whom all the world doth as my lady name!
How honor grows, and pure devotion's flame,
How truth is joined with graceful dignity,
There thou mayst learn, and what the path may be
To that high heaven which doth her spirit claim;
There learn soft speech, beyond all poet's skill,
And softer silence, and those holy ways
Unutterable, untold by human heart.
But the infinite beauty that all eyes doth fill,
This none can copy! since its lovely rays
Are given by God's pure grace, and not by art.
The following, on the other hand, seems to me one of the
Shakespearian sonnets; the successive phrases set sail, one by
one, like a yacht squadron; each spreads its graceful wings and
glides away. It is hard to handle this white canvas without
soiling. Macgregor, in the only version of this sonnet which I
have seen, abandons all attempt at rhyme; but to follow the
strict order of the original in this respect is a part of the