Part 1 out of 3
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The Elixir Of Life.
By Nathanial Hawthorne
The existence of this story, posthumously published, was not known to any
one but Hawthorne himself, until some time after his death, when the
manuscript was found among his papers. The preparation and copying of his
Note-Books for the press occupied the most of Mrs. Hawthorne's available
time during the interval from 1864 to 1870; but in the latter year, having
decided to publish the unfinished romance, she began the task of putting
together its loose sheets and deciphering the handwriting, which, towards
the close of Hawthorne's life, had grown somewhat obscure and uncertain.
Her death occurred while she was thus engaged, and the transcription was
completed by her daughters. The book was then issued simultaneously in
America and England, in 1871.
Although "Septimius Felton" appeared so much later than "The Marble Faun,"
it was conceived and, in another form, begun before the Italian romance
had presented itself to the author's mind. The legend of a bloody foot
leaving its imprint where it passed, which figures so prominently in the
following fiction, was brought to Hawthorne's notice on a visit to
Smithell's Hall, Lancashire, England. [Footnote: See _English
Note-Books,_ April 7, and August 25, 1855.] Only five days after
hearing of it, he made a note in his journal, referring to "my Romance,"
which had to do with a plot involving the affairs of a family established
both in England and New England; and it seems likely that he had already
begun to associate the bloody footstep with this project. What is
extraordinary, and must be regarded as an unaccountable coincidence--one
of the strange premonitions of genius--is that in 1850, before he had ever
been to England and before he knew of the existence of Smithell's Hall, he
had jotted down in his Note-Book, written in America, this suggestion:
"The print in blood of a naked foot to be traced through the street of a
town." The idea of treating in fiction the attempt to renew youth or to
attain an earthly immortality had engaged his fancy quite early in his
career, as we discover from "Doctor Heidegger's Experiment," in the
"Twice-Told Tales." In 1840, also, we find in the journal: "If a man were
sure of living forever, he would not care about his offspring." The
"Mosses from an Old Manse" supply another link in this train of
reflection; for "The Virtuoso's Collection" includes some of the elixir
vitae "in an antique sepulchral urn." The narrator there represents
himself as refusing to quaff it. "'No; I desire not an earthly
immortality,' said I. 'Were man to live longer on earth, the spiritual
would die out of him.... There is a celestial something within us that
requires, after a certain time, the atmosphere of heaven to preserve it
from ruin.'" On the other hand, just before hearing, for the first time,
the legend of Smithell's Hall, he wrote in his English journal:--
"God himself cannot compensate us for being born for any period short of
eternity. All the misery endured here constitutes a claim for another
life, and still more _all the happiness;_ because all true happiness
involves something more than the earth owns, and needs something more than
a mortal capacity for the enjoyment of it." It is sufficiently clear that
he had meditated on the main theme of "Septimius Felton," at intervals,
for many years.
When, in August, 1855, Hawthorne went by invitation to Smithell's Hall, the
lady of the manor, on his taking leave, asked him "to write a ghost-story
for her house;" and he observes in his notes, "the legend is a good one."
Three years afterwards, in 1858, on the eve of departure for France and
Italy, he began to sketch the outline of a romance laid in England, and
having for its hero an American who goes thither to assert his inherited
rights in an old manor-house possessing the peculiarity of a supposed
bloody foot-print on the threshold-stone. This sketch, which appears in
the present edition as "The Ancestral Footstep," was in journal form, the
story continuing from day to day, with the dates attached. There remains
also the manuscript without elate, recently edited under the title "Dr.
Grimshawe's Secret," which bears a resemblance to some particulars in
Nothing further seems to have been done in this direction by the author
until he had been to Italy, had written "The Marble Faun," and again
returned to The Wayside, his home at Concord. It was then, in 1861, that
he took up once more the "Romance of Immortality," as the sub-title of the
English edition calls it. "I have not found it possible," he wrote to Mr.
Bridge, who remained his confidant, "to occupy my mind with its usual
trash and nonsense during these anxious times; but as the autumn advances,
I myself sitting down at my desk and blotting successive sheets of paper
as of yore." Concerning this place, The Wayside, he had said in a letter
to George William Curtis, in 1852: "I know nothing of the history of the
house, except Thoreau's telling me that it was inhabited a generation or
two ago by a man who believed he should never die." It was this legendary
personage whom he now proceeded to revive and embody as Septimius; and the
scene of the story was placed at The Wayside itself and the neighboring
house, belonging to Mr. Bronson Alcott, both of which stand at the base of
a low ridge running beside the Lexington road, in the village of Concord.
Rose Garfield is mentioned as living "in a small house, the site of which
is still indicated by the cavity of a cellar, in which I this very summer
planted some sunflowers." The cellar-site remains at this day distinctly
visible near the boundary of the land formerly owned by Hawthorne.
Attention may here perhaps appropriately be called to the fact that some of
the ancestors of President Garfield settled at Weston, not many miles from
Concord, and that the name is still borne by dwellers in the vicinity. One
of the last letters written by the President was an acceptance of an
invitation to visit Concord; and it was his intention to journey thither
by carriage, incognito, from Boston, passing through the scenes where
those ancestors had lived, and entering the village by the old Lexington
road, on which The Wayside faces. It is an interesting coincidence that
Hawthorne should have chosen for his first heroine's name, either
intentionally or through unconscious association, this one which belonged
to the region.
The house upon which the story was thus centred, and where it was written,
had been a farm-house, bought and for a time occupied by Hawthorne
previous to his departure for Europe. On coming back to it, he made some
additions to the old wooden structure, and caused to be built a low tower,
which rose above the irregular roofs of the older and newer portions, thus
supplying him with a study lifted out of reach of noise or interruption,
and in a slight degree recalling the tower in which he had taken so much
pleasure at the Villa Montauto. The study was extremely simple in its
appointments, being finished chiefly in stained wood, with a vaulted
plaster ceiling, and containing, besides a few pictures and some plain
furniture, a writing-table, and a shelf at which Hawthorne sometimes wrote
standing. A story has gone abroad and is widely believed, that, on
mounting the steep stairs leading to this study, he passed through a
trap-door and afterwards placed upon it the chair in which he sat, so that
intrusion or interruption became physically impossible. It is wholly
unfounded. There never was any trap-door, and no precaution of the kind
described was ever taken. Immediately behind the house the hill rises in
artificial terraces, which, during the romancer's residence, were grassy
and planted with fruit-trees. He afterwards had evergreens set out there,
and directed the planting of other trees, which still attest his
preference for thick verdure. The twelve acres running back over the hill
were closely covered with light woods, and across the road lay a level
tract of eight acres more, which included a garden and orchard. From his
study Hawthorne could overlook a good part of his modest domain; the view
embraced a stretch of road lined with trees, wide meadows, and the hills
across the shallow valley. The branches of trees rose on all sides as if
to embower the house, and birds and bees flew about his casement, through
which came the fresh perfumes of the woods, in summer.
In this spot "Septimius Felton" was written; but the manuscript, thrown
aside, was mentioned in the Dedicatory Preface to "Our Old Home" as an
"abortive project." As will be found explained in the Introductory Notes
to "The Dolliver Romance" and "The Ancestral Footstep," that phase of the
same general design which was developed in the "Dolliver" was intended to
take the place of this unfinished sketch, since resuscitated.
The following story is the last written by my father. It is printed as it
was found among his manuscripts. I believe it is a striking specimen of
the peculiarities and charm of his style, and that it will have an added
interest for brother artists, and for those who care to study the method
of his composition, from the mere fact of its not having received his
final revision. In any case, I feel sure that the retention of the
passages within brackets (_e. g._ p. 253), which show how my father
intended to amplify some of the descriptions and develop more fully one or
two of the character studies, will not be regretted by appreciative
readers. My earnest thanks are due to Mr. Robert Browning for his kind
assistance and advice in interpreting the manuscript, otherwise so
difficult to me.
OR, THE ELIXIR OF LIFE.
It was a day in early spring; and as that sweet, genial time of year and
atmosphere calls out tender greenness from the ground,--beautiful flowers,
or leaves that look beautiful because so long unseen under the snow and
decay,--so the pleasant air and warmth had called out three young people,
who sat on a sunny hill-side enjoying the warm day and one another. For
they were all friends: two of them young men, and playmates from boyhood;
the third, a girl, who, two or three years younger than themselves, had
been the object of their boy-love, their little rustic, childish
gallantries, their budding affections; until, growing all towards manhood
and womanhood, they had ceased to talk about such matters, perhaps
thinking about them the more.
These three young people were neighbors' children, dwelling in houses that
stood by the side of the great Lexington road, along a ridgy hill that
rose abruptly behind them, its brow covered with a wood, and which
stretched, with one or two breaks and interruptions, into the heart of the
village of Concord, the county town. It was in the side of this hill that,
according to tradition, the first settlers of the village had burrowed in
caverns which they had dug out for their shelter, like swallows and
woodchucks. As its slope was towards the south, and its ridge and crowning
woods defended them from the northern blasts and snow-drifts, it was an
admirable situation for the fierce New England winter; and the temperature
was milder, by several degrees, along this hill-side than on the
unprotected plains, or by the river, or in any other part of Concord. So
that here, during the hundred years that had elapsed since the first
settlement of the place, dwellings had successively risen close to the
hill's foot, and the meadow that lay on the other side of the road--a
fertile tract--had been cultivated; and these three young people were the
children's children's children of persons of respectability who had dwelt
there,--Rose Garfield, in a small house, the site of which is still
indicated by the cavity of a cellar, in which I this very past summer
planted some sunflowers to thrust their great disks out from the hollow
and allure the bee and the humming-bird; Robert Hagburn, in a house of
somewhat more pretension, a hundred yards or so nearer to the village,
standing back from the road in the broader space which the retreating
hill, cloven by a gap in that place, afforded; where some elms intervened
between it and the road, offering a site which some person of a natural
taste for the gently picturesque had seized upon. Those same elms, or
their successors, still flung a noble shade over the same old house, which
the magic hand of Alcott has improved by the touch that throws grace,
amiableness, and natural beauty over scenes that have little pretension in
Now, the other young man, Septimius Felton, dwelt in a small wooden house,
then, I suppose, of some score of years' standing,--a two-story house,
gabled before, but with only two rooms on a floor, crowded upon by the
hill behind,--a house of thick walls, as if the projector had that sturdy
feeling of permanence in life which incites people to make strong their
earthly habitations, as if deluding themselves with the idea that they
could still inhabit them; in short, an ordinary dwelling of a well-to-do
New England farmer, such as his race had been for two or three generations
past, although there were traditions of ancestors who had led lives of
thought and study, and possessed all the erudition that the universities
of England could bestow. Whether any natural turn for study had descended
to Septimius from these worthies, or how his tendencies came to be
different from those of his family,--who, within the memory of the
neighborhood, had been content to sow and reap the rich field in front of
their homestead,--so it was, that Septimius had early manifested a taste
for study. By the kind aid of the good minister of the town he had been
fitted for college; had passed through Cambridge by means of what little
money his father had left him and by his own exertions in school-keeping;
and was now a recently decorated baccalaureate, with, as was understood, a
purpose to devote himself to the ministry, under the auspices of that
reverend and good friend whose support and instruction had already stood
him in such stead.
Now here were these young people, on that beautiful spring morning, sitting
on the hill-side, a pleasant spectacle of fresh life,--pleasant, as if
they had sprouted like green things under the influence of the warm sun.
The girl was very pretty, a little freckled, a little tanned, but with a
face that glimmered and gleamed with quick and cheerful expressions; a
slender form, not very large, with a quick grace in its movements; sunny
hair that had a tendency to curl, which she probably favored at such
moments as her household occupation left her; a sociable and pleasant
child, as both of the young men evidently thought. Robert Hagburn, one
might suppose, would have been the most to her taste; a ruddy, burly young
fellow, handsome, and free of manner, six feet high, famous through the
neighborhood for strength and athletic skill, the early promise of what
was to be a man fit for all offices of active rural life, and to be, in
mature age, the selectman, the deacon, the representative, the colonel. As
for Septimius, let him alone a moment or two, and then they would see him,
with his head bent down, brooding, brooding, his eyes fixed on some chip,
some stone, some common plant, any commonest thing, as if it were the clew
and index to some mystery; and when, by chance startled out of these
meditations, he lifted his eyes, there would be a kind of perplexity, a
dissatisfied, foiled look in them, as if of his speculations he found no
end. Such was now the case, while Robert and the girl were running on with
a gay talk about a serious subject, so that, gay as it was, it was
interspersed with little thrills of fear on the girl's part, of excitement
on Robert's. Their talk was of public trouble.
"My grandfather says," said Rose Garfield, "that we shall never be able to
stand against old England, because the men are a weaker race than he
remembers in his day,--weaker than his father, who came from England,--and
the women slighter still; so that we are dwindling away, grandfather
thinks; only a little sprightlier, he says sometimes, looking at me."
"Lighter, to be sure," said Robert Hagburn; "there is the lightness of the
Englishwomen compressed into little space. I have seen them and know. And
as to the men, Rose, if they have lost one spark of courage and strength
that their English forefathers brought from the old land,--lost any one
good quality without having made it up by as good or better,--then, for my
part, I don't want the breed to exist any longer. And this war, that they
say is coming on, will be a good opportunity to test the matter.
Septimius! Don't you think so?"
"Think what?" asked Septimius, gravely, lifting up his head.
"Think! why, that your countrymen are worthy to live," said Robert Hagburn,
impatiently. "For there is a question on that point."
"It is hardly worth answering or considering," said Septimius, looking at
him thoughtfully. "We live so little while, that (always setting aside the
effect on a future existence) it is little matter whether we live or no."
"Little matter!" said Rose, at first bewildered, then laughing,--"little
matter! when it is such a comfort to live, so pleasant, so sweet!"
"Yes, and so many things to do," said Robert; "to make fields yield
produce; to be busy among men, and happy among the women-folk; to play,
work, fight, and be active in many ways."
"Yes; but so soon stilled, before your activity has come to any definite
end," responded Septimius, gloomily. "I doubt, if it had been left to my
choice, whether I should have taken existence on such terms; so much
trouble of preparation to live, and then no life at all; a ponderous
beginning, and nothing more."
"Do you find fault with Providence, Septimius?" asked Rose, a feeling of
solemnity coming over her cheerful and buoyant nature. Then she burst out
a-laughing. "How grave he looks, Robert; as if he had lived two or three
lives already, and knew all about the value of it. But I think it was
worth while to be born, if only for the sake of one such pleasant spring
morning as this; and God gives us many and better things when these are
"We hope so," said Septimius, who was again looking on the ground. "But who
"I thought you knew," said Robert Hagburn. "You have been to college, and
have learned, no doubt, a great many things. You are a student of
theology, too, and have looked into these matters. Who should know, if not
"Rose and you have just as good means of ascertaining these points as I,"
said Septimius; "all the certainty that can be had lies on the surface, as
it should, and equally accessible to every man or woman. If we try to
grope deeper, we labor for naught, and get less wise while we try to be
more so. If life were long enough to enable us thoroughly to sift these
matters, then, indeed!--but it is so short!"
"Always this same complaint," said Robert. "Septimius, how long do you wish
"Forever!" said Septimius. "It is none too long for all I wish to know."
"Forever?" exclaimed Rose, shivering doubtfully. "Ah, there would come
many, many thoughts, and after a while we should want a little rest."
"Forever?" said Robert Hagburn. "And what would the people do who wish to
fill our places? You are unfair, Septimius. Live and let live! Turn about!
Give me my seventy years, and let me go,--my seventy years of what this
life has,--toil, enjoyment, suffering, struggle, fight, rest,--only let me
have my share of what's going, and I shall be content."
"Content with leaving everything at odd ends; content with being nothing,
as you were before!"
"No, Septimius, content with heaven at last," said Rose, who had come out
of her laughing mood into a sweet seriousness. "Oh dear! think what a worn
and ugly thing one of these fresh little blades of grass would seem if it
were not to fade and wither in its time, after being green in its time."
"Well, well, my pretty Rose," said Septimius apart, "an immortal weed is
not very lovely to think of, that is true; but I should be content with
one thing, and that is yourself, if you were immortal, just as you are at
seventeen, so fresh, so dewy, so red-lipped, so golden-haired, so gay, so
frolicsome, so gentle."
"But I am to grow old, and to be brown and wrinkled, gray-haired and ugly,"
said Rose, rather sadly, as she thus enumerated the items of her decay,
"and then you would think me all lost and gone. But still there might be
youth underneath, for one that really loved me to see. Ah, Septimius
Felton! such love as would see with ever-new eyes is the true love." And
she ran away and left him suddenly, and Robert Hagburn departing at the
same time, this little knot of three was dissolved, and Septimius went
along the wayside wall, thoughtfully, as was his wont, to his own
dwelling. He had stopped for some moments on the threshold, vaguely
enjoying, it is probable, the light and warmth of the new spring day and
the sweet air, which was somewhat unwonted to the young man, because he
was accustomed to spend much of his day in thought and study within doors,
and, indeed, like most studious young men, was overfond of the fireside,
and of making life as artificial as he could, by fireside heat and
lamplight, in order to suit it to the artificial, intellectual, and moral
atmosphere which he derived from books, instead of living healthfully in
the open air, and among his fellow-beings. Still he felt the pleasure of
being warmed through by this natural heat, and, though blinking a little
from its superfluity, could not but confess an enjoyment and cheerfulness
in this flood of morning light that came aslant the hill-side. While he
thus stood, he felt a friendly hand laid upon his shoulder, and, looking
up, there was the minister of the village, the old friend of Septimius, to
whose advice and aid it was owing that Septimius had followed his
instincts by going to college, instead of spending a thwarted and
dissatisfied life in the field that fronted the house. He was a man of
middle age, or little beyond, of a sagacious, kindly aspect; the
experience, the lifelong, intimate acquaintance with many concerns of his
people being more apparent in him than the scholarship for which he had
been early distinguished. A tanned man, like one who labored in his own
grounds occasionally; a man of homely, plain address, which, when occasion
called for it, he could readily exchange for the polished manner of one
who had seen a more refined world than this about him.
"Well, Septimius," said the minister, kindly, "have you yet come to any
conclusion about the subject of which we have been talking?"
"Only so far, sir," replied Septimius, "that I find myself every day less
inclined to take up the profession which I have had in view so many years.
I do not think myself fit for the sacred desk."
"Surely not; no one is," replied the clergyman; "but if I may trust my own
judgment, you have at least many of the intellectual qualifications that
should adapt you to it. There is something of the Puritan character in
you, Septimius, derived from holy men among your ancestors; as, for
instance, a deep, brooding turn, such as befits that heavy brow; a
disposition to meditate on things hidden; a turn for meditative
inquiry,--all these things, with grace to boot, mark you as the germ of a
man who might do God service. Your reputation as a scholar stands high at
college. You have not a turn for worldly business."
"Ah, but, sir," said Septimius, casting down his heavy brows, "I lack
"Faith, perhaps," replied the minister; "at least, you think so."
"Cannot I know it?" asked Septimius.
"Scarcely, just now," said his friend. "Study for the ministry; bind your
thoughts to it; pray; ask a belief, and you will soon find you have it.
Doubts may occasionally press in; and it is so with every clergyman. But
your prevailing mood will be faith."
"It has seemed to me," observed Septimius, "that it is not the prevailing
mood, the most common one, that is to be trusted. This is habit,
formality, the shallow covering which we close over what is real, and
seldom suffer to be blown aside. But it is the snake-like doubt that
thrusts out its head, which gives us a glimpse of reality. Surely such
moments are a hundred times as real as the dull, quiet moments of faith or
what you call such."
"I am sorry for you," said the minister; "yet to a youth of your frame of
character, of your ability I will say, and your requisition for something
profound in the grounds of your belief, it is not unusual to meet this
trouble. Men like you have to fight for their faith. They fight in the
first place to win it, and ever afterwards to hold it. The Devil tilts
with them daily and often seems to win."
"Yes; but," replied Septimius, "he takes deadly weapons now. If he meet me
with the cold pure steel of a spiritual argument, I might win or lose, and
still not feel that all was lost; but he takes, as it were, a great clod
of earth, massive rocks and mud, soil and dirt, and flings it at me
overwhelmingly; so that I am buried under it."
"How is that?" said the minister. "Tell me more plainly."
"May it not be possible," asked Septimius, "to have too profound a sense of
the marvellous contrivance and adaptation of this material world to
require or believe in anything spiritual? How wonderful it is to see it
all alive on this spring day, all growing, budding! Do we exhaust it in
our little life? Not so; not in a hundred or a thousand lives. The whole
race of man, living from the beginning of time, have not, in all their
number and multiplicity and in all their duration, come in the least to
know the world they live in! And how is this rich world thrown away upon
us, because we live in it such a moment! What mortal work has ever been
done since the world began! Because we have no time. No lesson is taught.
We are snatched away from our study before we have learned the alphabet.
As the world now exists, I confess it to you frankly, my dear pastor and
instructor, it seems to me all a failure, because we do not live long
"But the lesson is carried on in another state of being!"
"Not the lesson that we begin here," said Septimius. "We might as well
train a child in a primeval forest, to teach him how to live in a European
court. No, the fall of man, which Scripture tells us of, seems to me to
have its operation in this grievous shortening of earthly existence, so
that our life here at all is grown ridiculous."
"Well, Septimius," replied the minister, sadly, yet not as one shocked by
what he had never heard before, "I must leave you to struggle through this
form of unbelief as best you may, knowing that it is by your own efforts
that you must come to the other side of this slough. We will talk further
another time. You are getting worn out, my young friend, with much study
and anxiety. It were well for you to live more, for the present, in this
earthly life that you prize so highly. Cannot you interest yourself in the
state of this country, in this coming strife, the voice of which now
sounds so hoarsely and so near us? Come out of your thoughts and breathe
"I will try," said Septimius.
"Do," said the minister, extending his hand to him, "and in a little time
you will find the change."
He shook the young man's hand kindly, and took his leave, while Septimius
entered his house, and turning to the right sat down in his study, where,
before the fireplace, stood the table with books and papers. On the
shelves around the low-studded walls were more books, few in number but of
an erudite appearance, many of them having descended to him from learned
ancestors, and having been brought to light by himself after long lying in
dusty closets; works of good and learned divines, whose wisdom he had
happened, by help of the Devil, to turn to mischief, reading them by the
light of hell-fire. For, indeed, Septimius had but given the clergyman the
merest partial glimpse of his state of mind. He was not a new beginner in
doubt; but, on the contrary, it seemed to him as if he had never been
other than a doubter and questioner, even in his boyhood; believing
nothing, although a thin veil of reverence had kept him from questioning
some things. And now the new, strange thought of the sufficiency of the
world for man, if man were only sufficient for that, kept recurring to
him; and with it came a certain sense, which he had been conscious of
before, that he, at least, might never die. The feeling was not peculiar
to Septimius. It is an instinct, the meaning of which is mistaken. We have
strongly within us the sense of an undying principle, and we transfer that
true sense to this life and to the body, instead of interpreting it justly
as the promise of spiritual immortality.
So Septimius looked up out of his thoughts, and said proudly: "Why should I
die? I cannot die, if worthy to live. What if I should say this moment
that I will not die, not till ages hence, not till the world is exhausted?
Let other men die, if they choose, or yield; let him that is strong enough
After this flush of heroic mood, however, the glow subsided, and poor
Septimius spent the rest of the day, as was his wont, poring over his
books, in which all the meanings seemed dead and mouldy, and like pressed
leaves (some of which dropped out of the books as he opened them), brown,
brittle, sapless; so even the thoughts, which when the writers had
gathered them seemed to them so brightly colored and full of life. Then he
began to see that there must have been some principle of life left out of
the book, so that these gathered thoughts lacked something that had given
them their only value. Then he suspected that the way truly to live and
answer the purposes of life was not to gather up thoughts into books,
where they grew so dry, but to live and still be going about, full of
green wisdom, ripening ever, not in maxims cut and dry, but a wisdom ready
for daily occasions, like a living fountain; and that to be this, it was
necessary to exist long on earth, drink in all its lessons, and not to die
on the attainment of some smattering of truth; but to live all the more
for that; and apply it to mankind and increase it thereby.
Everything drifted towards the strong, strange eddy into which his mind had
been drawn: all his thoughts set hitherward.
So he sat brooding in his study until the shrill-voiced old woman--an aunt,
who was his housekeeper and domestic ruler--called him to dinner,--a
frugal dinner,--and chided him for seeming inattentive to a dish of early
dandelions which she had gathered for him; but yet tempered her severity
with respect for the future clerical rank of her nephew, and for his
already being a bachelor of arts. The old woman's voice spoke outside of
Septimius, rambling away, and he paying little heed, till at last dinner
was over, and Septimius drew back his chair, about to leave the table.
"Nephew Septimius," said the old woman, "you began this meal to-day without
asking a blessing, you get up from it without giving thanks, and you soon
to be a minister of the Word."
"God bless the meat," replied Septimius (by way of blessing), "and make it
strengthen us for the life he means us to bear. Thank God for our food,"
he added (by way of grace), "and may it become a portion in us of an
"That sounds good, Septimius," said the old lady. "Ah! you'll be a mighty
man in the pulpit, and worthy to keep up the name of your
great-grandfather, who, they say, made the leaves wither on a tree with
the fierceness of his blast against a sin. Some say, to be sure, it was an
early frost that helped him."
"I never heard that before, Aunt Keziah," said Septimius.
"I warrant you no," replied his aunt. "A man dies, and his greatness
perishes as if it had never been, and people remember nothing of him only
when they see his gravestone over his old dry bones, and say he was a good
man in his day."
"What truth there is in Aunt Keziah's words!" exclaimed Septimius. "And how
I hate the thought and anticipation of that contemptuous appreciation of a
man after his death! Every living man triumphs over every dead one, as he
lies, poor and helpless, under the mould, a pinch of dust, a heap of
bones, an evil odor! I hate the thought! It shall not be so!"
It was strange how every little incident thus brought him back to that one
subject which was taking so strong hold of his mind; every avenue led
thitherward; and he took it for an indication that nature had intended, by
innumerable ways, to point out to us the great truth that death was an
alien misfortune, a prodigy, a monstrosity, into which man had only fallen
by defect; and that even now, if a man had a reasonable portion of his
original strength in him, he might live forever and spurn death.
Our story is an internal one, dealing as little as possible with outward
events, and taking hold of these only where it cannot be helped, in order
by means of them to delineate the history of a mind bewildered in certain
errors. We would not willingly, if we could, give a lively and picturesque
surrounding to this delineation, but it is necessary that we should advert
to the circumstances of the time in which this inward history was passing.
We will say, therefore, that that night there was a cry of alarm passing
all through the succession of country towns and rural communities that lay
around Boston, and dying away towards the coast and the wilder forest
borders. Horsemen galloped past the line of farm-houses shouting alarm!
alarm! There were stories of marching troops coming like dreams through
the midnight. Around the little rude meeting-houses there was here and
there the beat of a drum, and the assemblage of farmers with their
weapons. So all that night there was marching, there was mustering, there
was trouble; and, on the road from Boston, a steady march of soldiers'
feet onward, onward into the land whose last warlike disturbance had been
when the red Indians trod it.
Septimius heard it, and knew, like the rest, that it was the sound of
coming war. "Fools that men are!" said he, as he rose from bed and looked
out at the misty stars; "they do not live long enough to know the value
and purport of life, else they would combine together to live long,
instead of throwing away the lives of thousands as they do. And what
matters a little tyranny in so short a life? What matters a form of
government for such ephemeral creatures?"
As morning brightened, these sounds, this clamor,--or something that was in
the air and caused the clamor,--grew so loud that Septimius seemed to feel
it even in his solitude. It was in the atmosphere,--storm, wild
excitement, a coming deed. Men hurried along the usually lonely road in
groups, with weapons in their hands,--the old fowling-piece of seven-foot
barrel, with which the Puritans had shot ducks on the river and Walden
Pond; the heavy harquebus, which perhaps had levelled one of King Philip's
Indians; the old King gun, that blazed away at the French of Louisburg or
Quebec,--hunter, husbandman, all were hurrying each other. It was a good
time, everybody felt, to be alive, a nearer kindred, a closer sympathy
between man and man; a sense of the goodness of the world, of the
sacredness of country, of the excellence of life; and yet its slight
account compared with any truth, any principle; the weighing of the
material and ethereal, and the finding the former not worth considering,
when, nevertheless, it had so much to do with the settlement of the
crisis. The ennobling of brute force; the feeling that it had its godlike
side; the drawing of heroic breath amid the scenes of ordinary life, so
that it seemed as if they had all been transfigured since yesterday. Oh,
high, heroic, tremulous juncture, when man felt himself almost an angel;
on the verge of doing deeds that outwardly look so fiendish! Oh, strange
rapture of the coming battle! We know something of that time now; we that
have seen the muster of the village soldiery on the meeting-house green,
and at railway stations; and heard the drum and fife, and seen the
farewells; seen the familiar faces that we hardly knew, now that we felt
them to be heroes; breathed higher breath for their sakes; felt our eyes
moistened; thanked them in our souls for teaching us that nature is yet
capable of heroic moments; felt how a great impulse lifts up a people, and
every cold, passionless, indifferent spectator,--lifts him up into
religion, and makes him join in what becomes an act of devotion, a prayer,
when perhaps he but half approves.
Septimius could not study on a morning like this. He tried to say to
himself that he had nothing to do with this excitement; that his studious
life kept him away from it; that his intended profession was that of
peace; but say what he might to himself, there was a tremor, a bubbling
impulse, a tingling in his ears,--the page that he opened glimmered and
dazzled before him.
"Septimius! Septimius!" cried Aunt Keziah, looking into the room, "in
Heaven's name, are you going to sit here to-day, and the redcoats coming
to burn the house over our heads? Must I sweep you out with the
broomstick? For shame, boy! for shame!"
"Are they coming, then, Aunt Keziah?" asked her nephew. "Well, I am not a
"Certain they are. They have sacked Lexington, and slain the people, and
burnt the meeting-house. That concerns even the parsons; and you reckon
yourself among them. Go out, go out, I say, and learn the news!"
Whether moved by these exhortations, or by his own stifled curiosity,
Septimius did at length issue from his door, though with that reluctance
which hampers and impedes men whose current of thought and interest runs
apart from that of the world in general; but forth he came, feeling
strangely, and yet with a strong impulse to fling himself headlong into
the emotion of the moment. It was a beautiful morning, spring-like and
summer-like at once. If there had been nothing else to do or think of,
such a morning was enough for life only to breathe its air and be
conscious of its inspiring influence.
Septimius turned along the road towards the village, meaning to mingle with
the crowd on the green, and there learn all he could of the rumors that
vaguely filled the air, and doubtless were shaping themselves into various
forms of fiction.
As he passed the small dwelling of Rose Garfield, she stood on the
doorstep, and bounded forth a little way to meet him, looking frightened,
excited, and yet half pleased, but strangely pretty; prettier than ever
before, owing to some hasty adornment or other, that she would never have
succeeded so well in giving to herself if she had had more time to do it
"Septimius--Mr. Felton," cried she, asking information of him who, of all
men in the neighborhood, knew nothing of the intelligence afloat; but it
showed a certain importance that Septimius had with her. "Do you really
think the redcoats are coming? Ah, what shall we do? What shall we do? But
you are not going to the village, too, and leave us all alone?"
"I know not whether they are coming or no, Rose," said Septimius, stopping
to admire the young girl's fresh beauty, which made a double stroke upon
him by her excitement, and, moreover, made her twice as free with him as
ever she had been before; for there is nothing truer than that any
breaking up of the ordinary state of things is apt to shake women out of
their proprieties, break down barriers, and bring them into perilous
proximity with the world. "Are you alone here? Had you not better take
shelter in the village?"
"And leave my poor, bedridden grandmother!" cried Rose, angrily. "You know
I can't, Septimius. But I suppose I am in no danger. Go to the village, if
"Where is Robert Hagburn?" asked Septimius.
"Gone to the village this hour past, with his grandfather's old firelock on
his shoulder," said Rose; "he was running bullets before daylight."
"Rose, I will stay with you," said Septimius.
"Oh gracious, here they come, I'm sure!" cried Rose. "Look yonder at the
dust. Mercy! a man at a gallop!"
In fact, along the road, a considerable stretch of which was visible, they
heard the clatter of hoofs and saw a little cloud of dust approaching at
the rate of a gallop, and disclosing, as it drew near, a hatless
countryman in his shirt-sleeves, who, bending over his horse's neck,
applied a cart-whip lustily to the animal's flanks, so as to incite him to
most unwonted speed. At the same time, glaring upon Rose and Septimius, he
lifted up his voice and shouted in a strange, high tone, that communicated
the tremor and excitement of the shouter to each auditor: "Alarum! alarum!
alarum! The redcoats! The redcoats! To arms! alarum!"
And trailing this sound far wavering behind him like a pennon, the eager
horseman dashed onward to the village.
"Oh dear, what shall we do?" cried Rose, her eyes full of tears, yet
dancing with excitement. "They are coming! they are coming! I hear the
drum and fife."
"I really believe they are," said Septimius, his cheek flushing and growing
pale, not with fear, but the inevitable tremor, half painful, half
pleasurable, of the moment. "Hark! there was the shrill note of a fife.
Yes, they are coming!"
He tried to persuade Rose to hide herself in the house; but that young
person would not be persuaded to do so, clinging to Septimius in a way
that flattered while it perplexed him. Besides, with all the girl's
fright, she had still a good deal of courage, and much curiosity too, to
see what these redcoats were of whom she heard such terrible stories.
"Well, well, Rose," said Septimius; "I doubt not we may stay here without
danger,--you, a woman, and I, whose profession is to be that of peace and
good-will to all men. They cannot, whatever is said of them, be on an
errand of massacre. We will stand here quietly; and, seeing that we do not
fear them, they will understand that we mean them no harm."
They stood, accordingly, a little in front of the door by the well-curb,
and soon they saw a heavy cloud of dust, from amidst which shone bayonets;
and anon, a military band, which had hitherto been silent, struck up, with
drum and fife, to which the tramp of a thousand feet fell in regular
order; then came the column, moving massively, and the redcoats who seemed
somewhat wearied by a long night-march, dusty, with bedraggled gaiters,
covered with sweat which had rundown from their powdered locks.
Nevertheless, these ruddy, lusty Englishmen marched stoutly, as men that
needed only a half-hour's rest, a good breakfast, and a pot of beer
apiece, to make them ready to face the world. Nor did their faces look
anywise rancorous; but at most, only heavy, cloddish, good-natured, and
"O heavens, Mr. Felton!" whispered Rose, "why should we shoot these men, or
they us? they look kind, if homely. Each of them has a mother and sisters,
I suppose, just like our men."
"It is the strangest thing in the world that we can think of killing them,"
said Septimius. "Human life is so precious."
Just as they were passing the cottage, a halt was called by the commanding
officer, in order that some little rest might get the troops into a better
condition and give them breath before entering the village, where it was
important to make as imposing a show as possible. During this brief stop,
some of the soldiers approached the well-curb, near which Rose and
Septimius were standing, and let down the bucket to satisfy their thirst.
A young officer, a petulant boy, extremely handsome, and of gay and
buoyant deportment, also came up.
"Get me a cup, pretty one," said he, patting Rose's cheek with great
freedom, though it was somewhat and indefinitely short of rudeness; "a
mug, or something to drink out of, and you shall have a kiss for your
"Stand off, sir!" said Septimius, fiercely; "it is a coward's part to
insult a woman."
"I intend no insult in this," replied the handsome young officer, suddenly
snatching a kiss from Rose, before she could draw back. "And if you think
it so, my good friend, you had better take your weapon and get as much
satisfaction as you can, shooting at me from behind a hedge."
Before Septimius could reply or act,--and, in truth, the easy presumption
of the young Englishman made it difficult for him, an inexperienced
recluse as he was, to know what to do or say,--the drum beat a little tap,
recalling the soldiers to their rank and to order. The young officer
hastened back, with a laughing glance at Rose, and a light, contemptuous
look of defiance at Septimius, the drums rattling out in full beat, and
the troops marched on.
"What impertinence!" said Rose, whose indignant color made her look pretty
enough almost to excuse the offence.
It is not easy to see how Septimius could have shielded her from the
insult; and yet he felt inconceivably outraged and humiliated at the
thought that this offence had occurred while Rose was under his
protection, and he responsible for her. Besides, somehow or other, he was
angry with her for having undergone the wrong, though certainly most
unreasonably; for the whole thing was quicker done than said.
"You had better go into the house now, Rose," said he, "and see to your
"And what will you do, Septimius?" asked she.
"Perhaps I will house myself, also," he replied. "Perhaps take yonder proud
redcoat's counsel, and shoot him behind a hedge."
"But not kill him outright; I suppose he has a mother and a sweetheart, the
handsome young officer," murmured Rose pityingly to herself.
Septimius went into his house, and sat in his study for some hours, in that
unpleasant state of feeling which a man of brooding thought is apt to
experience when the world around him is in a state of intense action,
which he finds it impossible to sympathize with. There seemed to be a
stream rushing past him, by which, even if he plunged into the midst of
it, he could not be wet. He felt himself strangely ajar with the human
race, and would have given much either to be in full accord with it, or to
be separated from it forever.
"I am dissevered from it. It is my doom to be only a spectator of life; to
look on as one apart from it. Is it not well, therefore, that, sharing
none of its pleasures and happiness, I should be free of its fatalities
its brevity? How cold I am now, while this whirlpool of public feeling is
eddying around me! It is as if I had not been born of woman!"
Thus it was that, drawing wild inferences from phenomena of the mind and
heart common to people who, by some morbid action within themselves, are
set ajar with the world, Septimius continued still to come round to that
strange idea of undyingness which had recently taken possession of him.
And yet he was wrong in thinking himself cold, and that he felt no
sympathy in the fever of patriotism that was throbbing through his
countrymen. He was restless as a flame; he could not fix his thoughts upon
his book; he could not sit in his chair, but kept pacing to and fro, while
through the open window came noises to which his imagination gave diverse
interpretation. Now it was a distant drum; now shouts; by and by there
came the rattle of musketry, that seemed to proceed from some point more
distant than the village; a regular roll, then a ragged volley, then
scattering shots. Unable any longer to preserve this unnatural
indifference, Septimius snatched his gun, and, rushing out of the house,
climbed the abrupt hill-side behind, whence he could see a long way
towards the village, till a slight bend hid the uneven road. It was quite
vacant, not a passenger upon it. But there seemed to be confusion in that
direction; an unseen and inscrutable trouble, blowing thence towards him,
intimated by vague sounds,--by no sounds. Listening eagerly, however, he
at last fancied a mustering sound of the drum; then it seemed as if it
were coming towards him; while in advance rode another horseman, the same
kind of headlong messenger, in appearance, who had passed the house with
his ghastly cry of alarum; then appeared scattered countrymen, with guns
in their hands, straggling across fields. Then he caught sight of the
regular array of British soldiers, filling the road with their front, and
marching along as firmly as ever, though at a quick pace, while he fancied
that the officers looked watchfully around. As he looked, a shot rang
sharp from the hill-side towards the village; the smoke curled up, and
Septimius saw a man stagger and fall in the midst of the troops. Septimius
shuddered; it was so like murder that he really could not tell the
difference; his knees trembled beneath him; his breath grew short, not
with terror, but with some new sensation of awe.
Another shot or two came almost simultaneously from the wooded height, but
without any effect that Septimius could perceive. Almost at the same
moment a company of the British soldiers wheeled from the main body, and,
dashing out of the road, climbed the hill, and disappeared into the wood
and shrubbery that veiled it. There were a few straggling shots, by whom
fired, or with what effect, was invisible, and meanwhile the main body of
the enemy proceeded along the road. They had now advanced so nigh that
Septimius was strangely assailed by the idea that he might, with the gun
in his hand, fire right into the midst of them, and select any man of that
now hostile band to be a victim. How strange, how strange it is, this
deep, wild passion that nature has implanted in us to be the death of our
fellow-creatures, and which coexists at the same time with horror!
Septimius levelled his weapon, and drew it up again; he marked a mounted
officer, who seemed to be in chief command, whom he knew that he could
kill. But no! he had really no such purpose. Only it was such a
temptation. And in a moment the horse would leap, the officer would fall
and lie there in the dust of the road, bleeding, gasping, breathing in
spasms, breathing no more.
While the young man, in these unusual circumstances, stood watching the
marching of the troops, he heard the noise of rustling boughs, and the
voices of men, and soon understood that the party, which he had seen
separate itself from the main body and ascend the hill, was now marching
along on the hill-top, the long ridge which, with a gap or two, extended
as much as a mile from the village. One of these gaps occurred a little
way from where Septimius stood. They were acting as flank guard, to
prevent the up-roused people from coming so close to the main body as to
fire upon it. He looked and saw that the detachment of British was
plunging down one side of this gap, with intent to ascend the other, so
that they would pass directly over the spot where he stood; a slight
removal to one side, among the small bushes, would conceal him. He stepped
aside accordingly, and from his concealment, not without drawing quicker
breaths, beheld the party draw near. They were more intent upon the space
between them and the main body than upon the dense thicket of birch-trees,
pitch-pines, sumach, and dwarf oaks, which, scarcely yet beginning to bud
into leaf, lay on the other side, and in which Septimius lurked.
[_Describe how their faces affected him, passing so near; how strange
They had all passed, except an officer who brought up the rear, and who had
perhaps been attracted by some slight motion that Septimius made,--some
rustle in the thicket; for he stopped, fixed his eyes piercingly towards
the spot where he stood, and levelled a light fusil which he carried.
"Stand out, or I shoot," said he.
Not to avoid the shot, but because his manhood felt a call upon it not to
skulk in obscurity from an open enemy, Septimius at once stood forth, and
confronted the same handsome young officer with whom those fierce words
had passed on account of his rudeness to Rose Garfield. Septimius's fierce
Indian blood stirred in him, and gave a murderous excitement.
"Ah, it is you!" said the young officer, with a haughty smile. "You meant,
then, to take up with my hint of shooting at me from behind a hedge? This
is better. Come, we have in the first place the great quarrel between me a
king's soldier, and you a rebel; next our private affair, on account of
yonder pretty girl. Come, let us take a shot on either score!"
The young officer was so handsome, so beautiful, in budding youth; there
was such a free, gay petulance in his manner; there seemed so little of
real evil in him; he put himself on equal ground with the rustic Septimius
so generously, that the latter, often so morbid and sullen, never felt a
greater kindness for fellow-man than at this moment for this youth.
"I have no enmity towards you," said he; "go in peace."
"No enmity!" replied the officer. "Then why were you here with your gun
amongst the shrubbery? But I have a mind to do my first deed of arms on
you; so give up your weapon, and come with me as prisoner."
"A prisoner!" cried Septimius, that Indian fierceness that was in him
arousing itself, and thrusting up its malign head like a snake. "Never! If
you would have me, you must take my dead body."
"Ah well, you have pluck in you, I see, only it needs a considerable
stirring. Come, this is a good quarrel of ours. Let us fight it out. Stand
where you are, and I will give the word of command. Now; ready, aim,
As the young officer spoke the three last words, in rapid succession, he
and his antagonist brought their firelocks to the shoulder, aimed and
fired. Septimius felt, as it were, the sting of a gadfly passing across
his temple, as the Englishman's bullet grazed it; but, to his surprise and
horror (for the whole thing scarcely seemed real to him), he saw the
officer give a great start, drop his fusil, and stagger against a tree,
with his hand to his breast. He endeavored to support himself erect, but,
failing in the effort, beckoned to Septimius.
"Come, my good friend," said he, with that playful, petulant smile flitting
over his face again. "It is my first and last fight. Let me down as softly
as you can on mother earth, the mother of both you and me; so we are
brothers; and this may be a brotherly act, though it does not look so, nor
feel so. Ah! that was a twinge indeed!"
"Good God!" exclaimed Septimius. "I had no thought of this, no malice
towards you in the least!"
"Nor I towards you," said the young man. "It was boy's play, and the end of
it is that I die a boy, instead of living forever, as perhaps I otherwise
"Living forever!" repeated Septimius, his attention arrested, even at that
breathless moment, by words that rang so strangely on what had been his
"Yes; but I have lost my chance," said the young officer. Then, as
Septimius helped him to lie against the little hillock of a decayed and
buried stump, "Thank you; thank you. If you could only call back one of my
comrades to hear my dying words. But I forgot. You have killed me, and
they would take your life."
In truth, Septimius was so moved and so astonished, that he probably would
have called back the young man's comrades, had it been possible; but,
marching at the swift rate of men in peril, they had already gone far
onward, in their passage through the shrubbery that had ceased to rustle
"Yes; I must die here!" said the young man, with a forlorn expression, as
of a school-boy far away from home, "and nobody to see me now but you, who
have killed me. Could you fetch me a drop of water? I have a great
Septimius, in a dream of horror and pity, rushed down the hill-side; the
house was empty, for Aunt Keziah had gone for shelter and sympathy to some
of the neighbors. He filled a jug with cold water, and hurried back to the
hill-top, finding the young officer looking paler and more deathlike
within those few moments.
"I thank you, my enemy that was, my friend that is," murmured he, faintly
smiling. "Methinks, next to the father and mother that gave us birth, the
next most intimate relation must be with the man that slays us, who
introduces us to the mysterious world to which this is but the portal. You
and I are singularly connected, doubt it not, in the scenes of the unknown
"Oh, believe me," cried Septimius, "I grieve for you like a brother!"
"I see it, my dear friend," said the young officer; "and though my blood is
on your hands, I forgive you freely, if there is anything to forgive. But
I am dying, and have a few words to say, which you must hear. You have
slain me in fair fight, and my spoils, according to the rules and customs
of warfare, belong to the victor. Hang up my sword and fusil over your
chimney-place, and tell your children, twenty years hence, how they were
won. My purse, keep it or give it to the poor. There is something, here
next my heart, which I would fain have sent to the address which I will
Septimius, obeying his directions, took from his breast a miniature that
hung round it; but, on examination, it proved that the bullet had passed
directly through it, shattering the ivory, so that the woman's face it
represented was quite destroyed.
"Ah! that is a pity," said the young man; and yet Septimius thought that
there was something light and contemptuous mingled with the pathos in his
tones. "Well, but send it; cause it to be transmitted, according to the
He gave Septimius, and made him take down on a tablet which he had about
him, the name of a hall in one of the midland counties of England.
"Ah, that old place," said he, "with its oaks, and its lawn, and its park,
and its Elizabethan gables! I little thought I should die here, so far
away, in this barren Yankee land. Where will you bury me?"
As Septimius hesitated to answer, the young man continued: "I would like to
have lain in the little old church at Whitnash, which comes up before me
now, with its low, gray tower, and the old yew-tree in front, hollow with
age, and the village clustering about it, with its thatched houses. I
would be loath to lie in one of your Yankee graveyards, for I have a
distaste for them,--though I love you, my slayer. Bury me here, on this
very spot. A soldier lies best where he falls."
"Here, in secret?" exclaimed Septimius.
"Yes; there is no consecration in your Puritan burial-grounds," said the
dying youth, some of that queer narrowness of English Churchism coming
into his mind. "So bury me here, in my soldier's dress. Ah! and my watch!
I have done with time, and you, perhaps, have a long lease of it; so take
it, not as spoil, but as my parting gift. And that reminds me of one other
thing. Open that pocket-book which you have in your hand."
Septimius did so, and by the officer's direction took from one of its
compartments a folded paper, closely written in a crabbed hand; it was
considerably worn in the outer folds, but not within. There was also a
small silver key in the pocket-book.
"I leave it with you," said the officer; "it was given me by an uncle, a
learned man of science, who intended me great good by what he there wrote.
Reap the profit, if you can. Sooth to say, I never read beyond the first
lines of the paper."
Septimius was surprised, or deeply impressed, to see that through this
paper, as well as through the miniature, had gone his fatal
bullet,--straight through the midst; and some of the young man's blood,
saturating his dress, had wet the paper all over. He hardly thought
himself likely to derive any good from what it had cost a human life,
taken (however uncriminally) by his own hands, to obtain.
"Is there anything more that I can do for you?" asked he, with genuine
sympathy and sorrow, as he knelt by his fallen foe's side.
"Nothing, nothing, I believe," said he. "There was one thing I might have
confessed; if there were a holy man here, I might have confessed, and
asked his prayers; for though I have lived few years, it has been long
enough to do a great wrong! But I will try to pray in my secret soul. Turn
my face towards the trunk of the tree, for I have taken my last look at
the world. There, let me be now."
Septimius did as the young man requested, and then stood leaning against
one of the neighboring pines, watching his victim with a tender concern
that made him feel as if the convulsive throes that passed through his
frame were felt equally in his own. There was a murmuring from the youth's
lips which seemed to Septimius swift, soft, and melancholy, like the voice
of a child when it has some naughtiness to confess to its mother at
bedtime; contrite, pleading, yet trusting. So it continued for a few
minutes; then there was a sudden start and struggle, as if he were
striving to rise; his eyes met those of Septimius with a wild, troubled
gaze, but as the latter caught him in his arms, he was dead. Septimius
laid the body softly down on the leaf-strewn earth, and tried, as he had
heard was the custom with the dead, to compose the features distorted by
the dying agony. He then flung himself on the ground at a little distance,
and gave himself up to the reflections suggested by the strange
occurrences of the last hour.
He had taken a human life; and, however the circumstances might excuse
him,--might make the thing even something praiseworthy, and that would be
called patriotic,--still, it was not at once that a fresh country youth
could see anything but horror in the blood with which his hand was
stained. It seemed so dreadful to have reduced this gay, animated,
beautiful being to a lump of dead flesh for the flies to settle upon, and
which in a few hours would begin to decay; which must be put forthwith
into the earth, lest it should be a horror to men's eyes; that delicious
beauty for woman to love; that strength and courage to make him famous
among men,--all come to nothing; all probabilities of life in one so
gifted; the renown, the position, the pleasures, the profits, the keen
ecstatic joy,--this never could be made up,--all ended quite; for the dark
doubt descended upon Septimius, that, because of the very fitness that was
in this youth to enjoy this world, so much the less chance was thereof his
being fit for any other world. What could it do for him there,--this
beautiful grace and elegance of feature,--where there was no form, nothing
tangible nor visible? what good that readiness and aptness for associating
with all created things, doing his part, acting, enjoying, when, under the
changed conditions of another state of being, all this adaptedness would
fail? Had he been gifted with permanence on earth, there could not have
been a more admirable creature than this young man; but as his fate had
turned out, he was a mere grub, an illusion, something that nature had
held out in mockery, and then withdrawn. A weed might grow from his dust
now; that little spot on the barren hill-top, where he had desired to be
buried, would be greener for some years to come, and that was all the
difference. Septimius could not get beyond the earthiness; his feeling was
as if, by an act of violence, he had forever cut off a happy human
existence. And such was his own love of life and clinging to it, peculiar
to dark, sombre natures, and which lighter and gayer ones can never know,
that he shuddered at his deed, and at himself, and could with difficulty
bear to be alone with the corpse of his victim,--trembled at the thought
of turning his face towards him.
Yet he did so, because he could not endure the imagination that the dead
youth was turning his eyes towards him as he lay; so he came and stood
beside him, looking down into his white, upturned face. But it was
wonderful! What a change had come over it since, only a few moments ago,
he looked at that death-contorted countenance! Now there was a high and
sweet expression upon it, of great joy and surprise, and yet a quietude
diffused throughout, as if the peace being so very great was what had
surprised him. The expression was like a light gleaming and glowing within
him. Septimius had often, at a certain space of time after sunset, looking
westward, seen a living radiance in the sky,--the last light of the dead
day that seemed just the counterpart of this death-light in the young
man's face. It was as if the youth were just at the gate of heaven, which,
swinging softly open, let the inconceivable glory of the blessed city
shine upon his face, and kindle it up with gentle, undisturbing
astonishment and purest joy. It was an expression contrived by God's
providence to comfort; to overcome all the dark auguries that the physical
ugliness of death inevitably creates, and to prove by the divine glory on
the face, that the ugliness is a delusion. It was as if the dead man
himself showed his face out of the sky, with heaven's blessing on it, and
bade the afflicted be of good cheer, and believe in immortality.
Septimius remembered the young man's injunctions to bury him there, on the
hill, without uncovering the body; and though it seemed a sin and shame to
cover up that beautiful body with earth of the grave, and give it to the
worm, yet he resolved to obey.
Be it confessed that, beautiful as the dead form looked, and guiltless as
Septimius must be held in causing his death, still he felt as if he should
be eased when it was under the ground. He hastened down to the house, and
brought up a shovel and a pickaxe, and began his unwonted task of
grave-digging, delving earnestly a deep pit, sometimes pausing in his
toil, while the sweat-drops poured from him, to look at the beautiful clay
that was to occupy it. Sometimes he paused, too, to listen to the shots
that pealed in the far distance, towards the east, whither the battle had
long since rolled out of reach and almost out of hearing. It seemed to
have gathered about itself the whole life of the land, attending it along
its bloody course in a struggling throng of shouting, shooting men, so
still and solitary was everything left behind it. It seemed the very
midland solitude of the world where Septimius was delving at the grave. He
and his dead were alone together, and he was going to put the body under
the sod, and be quite alone.
The grave was now deep, and Septimius was stooping down into its depths
among dirt and pebbles, levelling off the bottom, which he considered to
be profound enough to hide the young man's mystery forever, when a voice
spoke above him; a solemn, quiet voice, which he knew well.
"Septimius! what are you doing here?"
He looked up and saw the minister.
"I have slain a man in fair fight," answered he, "and am about to bury him
as he requested. I am glad you are come. You, reverend sir, can fitly say
a prayer at his obsequies. I am glad for my own sake; for it is very
lonely and terrible to be here."
He climbed out of the grave, and, in reply to the minister's inquiries,
communicated to him the events of the morning, and the youth's strange
wish to be buried here, without having his remains subjected to the hands
of those who would prepare it for the grave. The minister hesitated.
"At an ordinary time," said he, "such a singular request would of course
have to be refused. Your own safety, the good and wise rules that make it
necessary that all things relating to death and burial should be done
publicly and in order, would forbid it."
"Yes," replied Septimius; "but, it may be, scores of men will fall to-day,
and be flung into hasty graves without funeral rites; without its ever
being known, perhaps, what mother has lost her son. I cannot but think
that I ought to perform the dying request of the youth whom I have slain.
He trusted in me not to uncover his body myself, nor to betray it to the
hands of others."
"A singular request," said the good minister, gazing with deep interest at
the beautiful dead face, and graceful, slender, manly figure. "What could
have been its motive? But no matter. I think, Septimius, that you are
bound to obey his request; indeed, having promised him, nothing short of
an impossibility should prevent your keeping your faith. Let us lose no
With few but deeply solemn rites the young stranger was laid by the
minister and the youth who slew him in his grave. A prayer was made, and
then Septimius, gathering some branches and twigs, spread them over the
face that was turned upward from the bottom of the pit, into which the sun
gleamed downward, throwing its rays so as almost to touch it. The twigs
partially hid it, but still its white shone through. Then the minister
threw a handful of earth upon it, and, accustomed as he was to burials,
tears fell from his eyes along with the mould.
"It is sad," said he, "this poor young man, coming from opulence, no doubt,
a dear English home, to die here for no end, one of the first-fruits of a
bloody war,--so much privately sacrificed. But let him rest, Septimius. I
am sorry that he fell by your hand, though it involves no shadow of a
crime. But death is a thing too serious not to melt into the nature of a
man like you."
"It does not weigh upon my conscience, I think," said Septimius; "though I
cannot but feel sorrow, and wish my hand were as clean as yesterday. It
is, indeed, a dreadful thing to take human life."
"It is a most serious thing," replied the minister; "but perhaps we are apt
to over-estimate the importance of death at any particular moment. If the
question were whether to die or to live forever, then, indeed, scarcely
anything should justify the putting a fellow-creature to death. But since
it only shortens his earthly life, and brings a little forward a change
which, since God permits it, is, we may conclude, as fit to take place
then as at any other time, it alters the case. I often think that there
are many things that occur to us in our daily life, many unknown crises,
that are more important to us than this mysterious circumstance of death,
which we deem the most important of all. All we understand of it is, that
it takes the dead person away from our knowledge of him, which, while we
live with him, is so very scanty."
"You estimate at nothing, it seems, his earthly life, which might have been
"At next to nothing," said the minister; "since, as I have observed, it
must, at any rate, have closed so soon."
Septimius thought of what the young man, in his last moments, had said of
his prospect or opportunity of living a life of interminable length, and
which prospect he had bequeathed to himself. But of this he did not speak
to the minister, being, indeed, ashamed to have it supposed that he would
put any serious weight on such a bequest, although it might be that the
dark enterprise of his nature had secretly seized upon this idea, and,
though yet sane enough to be influenced by a fear of ridicule, was busy
incorporating it with his thoughts.
So Septimius smoothed down the young stranger's earthy bed, and returned to
his home, where he hung up the sword over the mantel-piece in his study,
and hung the gold watch, too, on a nail,--the first time he had ever had
possession of such a thing. Nor did he now feel altogether at ease in his
mind about keeping it,--the time-measurer of one whose mortal life he had
cut off. A splendid watch it was, round as a turnip. There seems to be a
natural right in one who has slain a man to step into his vacant place in
all respects; and from the beginning of man's dealings with man this right
has been practically recognized, whether among warriors or robbers, as
paramount to every other. Yet Septimius could not feel easy in availing
himself of this right. He therefore resolved to keep the watch, and even
the sword and fusil,--which were less questionable spoils of war,--only
till he should be able to restore them to some representative of the young
officer. The contents of the purse, in accordance with the request of the
dying youth, he would expend in relieving the necessities of those whom
the war (now broken out, and of which no one could see the limit) might
put in need of it. The miniature, with its broken and shattered face, that
had so vainly interposed itself between its wearer and death, had been
sent to its address.
But as to the mysterious document, the written paper, that he had laid
aside without unfolding it, but with a care that betokened more interest
in it than in either gold or weapon, or even in the golden representative
of that earthly time on which he set so high a value. There was something
tremulous in his touch of it; it seemed as if he were afraid of it by the
mode in which he hid it away, and secured himself from it, as it were.
This done, the air of the room, the low-ceilinged eastern room where he
studied and thought, became too close for him, and he hastened out; for he
was full of the unshaped sense of all that had befallen, and the
perception of the great public event of a broken-out war was intermixed
with that of what he had done personally in the great struggle that was
beginning. He longed, too, to know what was the news of the battle that
had gone rolling onward along the hitherto peaceful country road,
converting everywhere (this demon of war, we mean), with one blast of its
red sulphurous breath, the peaceful husbandman to a soldier thirsting for
blood. He turned his steps, therefore, towards the village, thinking it
probable that news must have arrived either of defeat or victory, from
messengers or fliers, to cheer or sadden the old men, the women, and the
children, who alone perhaps remained there.
But Septimius did not get to the village. As he passed along by the cottage
that has been already described, Rose Garfield was standing at the door,
peering anxiously forth to know what was the issue of the conflict,--as it
has been woman's fate to do from the beginning of the world, and is so
still. Seeing Septimius, she forgot the restraint that she had hitherto
kept herself under, and, flying at him like a bird, she cried out,
"Septimius, dear Septimius, where have you been? What news do you bring?
You look as if you had seen some strange and dreadful thing."
"Ah, is it so? Does my face tell such stories?" exclaimed the young man. "I
did not mean it should. Yes, Rose, I have seen and done such things as
change a man in a moment."
"Then you have been in this terrible fight," said Rose.
"Yes, Rose, I have had my part in it," answered Septimius.
He was on the point of relieving his overburdened mind by telling her what
had happened no farther off than on the hill above them; but, seeing her
excitement, and recollecting her own momentary interview with the young
officer, and the forced intimacy and link that had been established
between them by the kiss, he feared to agitate her further by telling her
that that gay and beautiful young man had since been slain, and deposited
in a bloody grave by his hands. And yet the recollection of that kiss
caused a thrill of vengeful joy at the thought that the perpetrator had
since expiated his offence with his life, and that it was himself that did
it, so deeply was Septimius's Indian nature of revenge and blood
incorporated with that of more peaceful forefathers, although Septimius
had grace enough to chide down that bloody spirit, feeling that it made
him, not a patriot, but a murderer.
"Ah," said Rose, shuddering, "it is awful when we must kill one another!
And who knows where it will end?"
"With me it will end here, Rose," said Septimius. "It may be lawful for any
man, even if he have devoted himself to God, or however peaceful his
pursuits, to fight to the death when the enemy's step is on the soil of
his home; but only for that perilous juncture, which passed, he should
return to his own way of peace. I have done a terrible thing for once,
dear Rose, one that might well trace a dark line through all my future
life; but henceforth I cannot think it my duty to pursue any further a
work for which my studies and my nature unfit me."
"Oh no! Oh no!" said Rose; "never! and you a minister, or soon to be one.
There must be some peacemakers left in the world, or everything will turn
to blood and confusion; for even women grow dreadfully fierce in these
times. My old grandmother laments her bedriddenness, because, she says,
she cannot go to cheer on the people against the enemy. But she remembers
the old times of the Indian wars, when the women were as much in danger of
death as the men, and so were almost as fierce as they, and killed men
sometimes with their own hands. But women, nowadays, ought to be gentler;
let the men be fierce, if they must, except you, and such as you,
"Ah, dear Rose," said Septimius, "I have not the kind and sweet impulses
that you speak of. I need something to soften and warm my cold, hard life;
something to make me feel how dreadful this time of warfare is. I need
you, dear Rose, who are all kindness of heart and mercy."
And here Septimius, hurried away by I know not what excitement of the
time,--the disturbed state of the country, his own ebullition of passion,
the deed he had done, the desire to press one human being close to his
life, because he had shed the blood of another, his half-formed purposes,
his shapeless impulses; in short, being affected by the whole stir of his
nature,--spoke to Rose of love, and with an energy that, indeed, there was
no resisting when once it broke bounds. And Rose, whose maiden thoughts,
to say the truth, had long dwelt upon this young man,--admiring him for a
certain dark beauty, knowing him familiarly from childhood, and yet having
the sense, that is so bewitching, of remoteness, intermixed with intimacy,
because he was so unlike herself; having a woman's respect for
scholarship, her imagination the more impressed by all in him that she
could not comprehend,--Rose yielded to his impetuous suit, and gave him
the troth that he requested. And yet it was with a sort of reluctance and
drawing back; her whole nature, her secretest heart, her deepest
womanhood, perhaps, did not consent. There was something in Septimius, in
his wild, mixed nature, the monstrousness that had grown out of his hybrid
race, the black infusions, too, which melancholic men had left there, the
devilishness that had been symbolized in the popular regard about his
family, that made her shiver, even while she came the closer to him for
that very dread. And when he gave her the kiss of betrothment her lips
grew white. If it had not been in the day of turmoil, if he had asked her
in any quiet time, when Rose's heart was in its natural mood, it may well
be that, with tears and pity for him, and half-pity for herself, Rose
would have told Septimius that she did not think she could love him well
enough to be his wife.
And how was it with Septimius? Well; there was a singular correspondence in
his feelings to those of Rose Garfield. At first, carried away by a
passion that seized him all unawares, and seemed to develop itself all in
a moment, he felt, and so spoke to Rose, so pleaded his suit, as if his
whole earthly happiness depended on her consent to be his bride. It seemed
to him that her love would be the sunshine in the gloomy dungeon of his
life. But when her bashful, downcast, tremulous consent was given, then
immediately came a strange misgiving into his mind. He felt as if he had
taken to himself something good and beautiful doubtless in itself, but
which might be the exchange for one more suited to him, that he must now
give up. The intellect, which was the prominent point in Septimius,
stirred and heaved, crying out vaguely that its own claims, perhaps, were
ignored in this contract. Septimius had perhaps no right to love at all;
if he did, it should have been a woman of another make, who could be his
intellectual companion and helper. And then, perchance,--perchance,--there
was destined for him some high, lonely path, in which, to make any
progress, to come to any end, he must walk unburdened by the affections.
Such thoughts as these depressed and chilled (as many men have found them,
or similar ones, to do) the moment of success that should have been the
most exulting in the world. And so, in the kiss which these two lovers had
exchanged there was, after all, something that repelled; and when they
parted they wondered at their strange states of mind, but would not
acknowledge that they had done a thing that ought not to have been done.
Nothing is surer, however, than that, if we suffer ourselves to be drawn
into too close proximity with people, if we over-estimate the degree of
our proper tendency towards them, or theirs towards us, a reaction is sure
* * * * *
Septimius quitted Rose, and resumed his walk towards the village. But now
it was near sunset, and there began to be straggling passengers along the
road, some of whom came slowly, as if they had received hurts; all seemed
wearied. Among them one form appeared which Rose soon found that she
recognized. It was Robert Hagburn, with a shattered firelock in his hand,
broken at the butt, and his left arm bound with a fragment of his shirt,
and suspended in a handkerchief; and he walked weariedly, but brightened
up at sight of Rose, as if ashamed to let her see how exhausted and
dispirited he was. Perhaps he expected a smile, at least a more earnest
reception than he met; for Rose, with the restraint of what had recently
passed drawing her back, merely went gravely a few steps to meet him, and
said, "Robert, how tired and pale you look! Are you hurt?"
"It is of no consequence," replied Robert Hagburn; "a scratch on my left
arm from an officer's sword, with whose head my gunstock made instant
acquaintance. It is no matter, Rose; you do not care for it, nor do I
"How can you say so, Robert?" she replied. But without more greeting he
passed her, and went into his own house, where, flinging himself into a
chair, he remained in that despondency that men generally feel after a
fight, even if a successful one.
Septimius, the next day, lost no time in writing a letter to the direction
given him by the young officer, conveying a brief account of the latter's
death and burial, and a signification that he held in readiness to give up
certain articles of property, at any future time, to his representatives,
mentioning also the amount of money contained in the purse, and his
intention, in compliance with the verbal will of the deceased, to expend
it in alleviating the wants of prisoners. Having so done, he went up on
the hill to look at the grave, and satisfy himself that the scene there
had not been a dream; a point which he was inclined to question, in spite
of the tangible evidence of the sword and watch, which still hung over the
mantel-piece. There was the little mound, however, looking so
incontrovertibly a grave, that it seemed to him as if all the world must
see it, and wonder at the fact of its being there, and spend their wits in
conjecturing who slept within; and, indeed, it seemed to give the affair a
questionable character, this secret burial, and he wondered and wondered
why the young man had been so earnest about it. Well; there was the grave;
and, moreover, on the leafy earth, where the dying youth had lain, there
were traces of blood, which no rain had yet washed away. Septimius
wondered at the easiness with which he acquiesced in this deed; in fact,
he felt in a slight degree the effects of that taste of blood, which makes
the slaying of men, like any other abuse, sometimes become a passion.
Perhaps it was his Indian trait stirring in him again; at any rate, it is
not delightful to observe how readily man becomes a blood-shedding
Looking down from the hill-top, he saw the little dwelling of Rose
Garfield, and caught a glimpse of the girl herself, passing the windows or
the door, about her household duties, and listened to hear the singing
which usually broke out of her. But Rose, for some reason or other, did
not warble as usual this morning. She trod about silently, and somehow or
other she was translated out of the ideality in which Septimius usually
enveloped her, and looked little more than a New England girl, very pretty
indeed, but not enough so perhaps to engross a man's life and higher
purposes into her own narrow circle; so, at least, Septimius thought.
Looking a little farther,--down into the green recess where stood Robert
Hagburn's house,--he saw that young man, looking very pale, with his arm
in a sling sitting listlessly on a half-chopped log of wood which was not
likely soon to be severed by Robert's axe. Like other lovers, Septimius
had not failed to be aware that Robert Hagburn was sensible to Rose
Garfield's attractions; and now, as he looked down on them both from his
elevated position, he wondered if it would not have been better for Rose's
happiness if her thoughts and virgin fancies had settled on that frank,
cheerful, able, wholesome young man, instead of on himself, who met her on
so few points; and, in relation to whom, there was perhaps a plant that
had its root in the grave, that would entwine itself around his whole
life, overshadowing it with dark, rich foliage and fruit that he alone
could feast upon.
For the sombre imagination of Septimius, though he kept it as much as
possible away from the subject, still kept hinting and whispering, still
coming back to the point, still secretly suggesting that the event of
yesterday was to have momentous consequences upon his fate.
He had not yet looked at the paper which the young man bequeathed to him;
he had laid it away unopened; not that he felt little interest in it, but,
on the contrary, because he looked for some blaze of light which had been
reserved for him alone. The young officer had been only the bearer of it
to him, and he had come hither to die by his hand, because that was the
readiest way by which he could deliver his message. How else, in the
infinite chances of human affairs, could the document have found its way
to its destined possessor? Thus mused Septimius, pacing to and fro on the
level edge of his hill-top, apart from the world, looking down
occasionally into it, and seeing its love and interest away from him;
while Rose, it might be looking upward, saw occasionally his passing
figure, and trembled at the nearness and remoteness that existed between
them; and Robert Hagburn looked too, and wondered what manner of man it
was who, having won Rose Garfield (for his instinct told him this was so),
could keep that distance between her and him, thinking remote thoughts.
Yes; there was Septimius treading a path of his own on the hill-top; his
feet began only that morning to wear it in his walking to and fro,
sheltered from the lower world, except in occasional glimpses, by the
birches and locusts that threw up their foliage from the hill-side. But
many a year thereafter he continued to tread that path, till it was worn
deep with his footsteps and trodden down hard; and it was believed by some
of his superstitious neighbors that the grass and little shrubs shrank
away from his path, and made it wider on that account; because there was
something in the broodings that urged him to and fro along the path alien
to nature and its productions. There was another opinion, too, that an
invisible fiend, one of his relatives by blood, walked side by side with
him, and so made the pathway wider than his single footsteps could have
made it. But all this was idle, and was, indeed, only the foolish babble
that hovers like a mist about men who withdraw themselves from the throng,
and involve themselves in unintelligible pursuits and interests of their
own. For the present, the small world, which alone knew of him, considered
Septimius as a studious young man, who was fitting for the ministry, and
was likely enough to do credit to the ministerial blood that he drew from
his ancestors, in spite of the wild stream that the Indian priest had
contributed; and perhaps none the worse, as a clergyman, for having an
instinctive sense of the nature of the Devil from his traditionary claims
to partake of his blood. But what strange interest there is in tracing out
the first steps by which we enter on a career that influences our life;
and this deep-worn pathway on the hill-top, passing and repassing by a
grave, seemed to symbolize it in Septimius's case.
I suppose the morbidness of Septimius's disposition was excited by the
circumstances which had put the paper into his possession. Had he received
it by post, it might not have impressed him; he might possibly have looked
over it with ridicule, and tossed it aside. But he had taken it from a
dying man, and he felt that his fate was in it; and truly it turned out to
be so. He waited for a fit opportunity to open it and read it; he put it
off as if he cared nothing about it; perhaps it was because he cared so
much. Whenever he had a happy time with Rose (and, moody as Septimius was,
such happy moments came), he felt that then was not the time to look into
the paper,--it was not to be read in a happy mood.
Once he asked Rose to walk with him on the hilltop.
"Why, what a path you have worn here, Septimius!" said the girl. "You walk
miles and miles on this one spot, and get no farther on than when you
started. That is strange walking!"
"I don't know, Rose; I sometimes think I get a little onward. But it is
sweeter--yes, much sweeter, I find--to have you walking on this path here
than to be treading it alone."
"I am glad of that," said Rose; "for sometimes, when I look up here, and
see you through the branches, with your head bent down, and your hands
clasped behind you, treading, treading, treading, always in one way, I
wonder whether I am at all in your mind. I don't think, Septimius," added
she, looking up in his face and smiling, "that ever a girl had just such a
young man for a lover."
"No young man ever had such a girl, I am sure," said Septimius; "so sweet,
so good for him, so prolific of good influences!"
"Ah, it makes me think well of myself to bring such a smile into your face!
But, Septimius, what is this little hillock here so close to our path?
Have you heaped it up here for a seat? Shall we sit down upon it for an
instant?--for it makes me more tired to walk backward and forward on one
path than to go straight forward a much longer distance."
"Well; but we will not sit down on this hillock," said Septimius, drawing
her away from it. "Farther out this way, if you please, Rose, where we
shall have a better view over the wide plain, the valley, and the long,
tame ridge of hills on the other side, shutting it in like human life. It
is a landscape that never tires, though it has nothing striking about it;
and I am glad that there are no great hills to be thrusting themselves
into my thoughts, and crowding out better things. It might be desirable,
in some states of mind, to have a glimpse of water,--to have the lake that
once must have covered this green valley,--because water reflects the sky,
and so is like religion in life, the spiritual element."
"There is the brook running through it, though we do not see it," replied
Rose; "a torpid little brook, to be sure; but, as you say, it has heaven
in its bosom, like Walden Pond, or any wider one."
As they sat together on the hill-top, they could look down into Robert
Hagburn's enclosure, and they saw him, with his arm now relieved from the
sling, walking about, in a very erect manner, with a middle-aged man by
his side, to whom he seemed to be talking and explaining some matter. Even
at that distance Septimius could see that the rustic stoop and uncouthness
had somehow fallen away from Robert, and that he seemed developed.
"What has come to Robert Hagburn?" said he. "He looks like another man than
the lout I knew a few weeks ago."
"Nothing," said Rose Garfield, "except what comes to a good many young men
nowadays. He has enlisted, and is going to the war. It is a pity for his
"A great pity," said Septimius. "Mothers are greatly to be pitied all over
the country just now, and there are some even more to be pitied than the
mothers, though many of them do not know or suspect anything about their
cause of grief at present."
"Of whom do you speak?" asked Rose.
"I mean those many good and sweet young girls," said Septimius, "who would
have been happy wives to the thousands of young men who now, like Robert
Hagburn, are going to the war. Those young men--many of them at
least--will sicken and die in camp, or be shot down, or struck through
with bayonets on battle-fields, and turn to dust and bones; while the
girls that would have loved them, and made happy firesides for them, will
pine and wither, and tread along many sour and discontented years, and at
last go out of life without knowing what life is. So you see, Rose, every
shot that takes effect kills two at least, or kills one and worse than
kills the other."
"No woman will live single on account of poor Robert Hagburn being shot,"
said Rose, with a change of tone; "for he would never be married were he
to stay at home and plough the field."
"How can you tell that, Rose?" asked Septimius.
Rose did not tell how she came to know so much about Robert Hagburn's
matrimonial purposes; but after this little talk it appeared as if
something had risen up between them,--a sort of mist, a medium, in which
their intimacy was not increased; for the flow and interchange of
sentiment was balked, and they took only one or two turns in silence along
Septimius's trodden path. I don't know exactly what it was; but there are
cases in which it is inscrutably revealed to persons that they have made a
mistake in what is of the highest concern to them; and this truth often
comes in the shape of a vague depression of the spirit, like a vapor
settling down on a landscape; a misgiving, coming and going perhaps, a
lack of perfect certainty. Whatever it was, Rose and Septimius had no more
tender and playful words that day; and Rose soon went to look after her
grandmother, and Septimius went and shut himself up in his study, after
making an arrangement to meet Rose the next day.
Septimius shut himself up, and drew forth the document which the young
officer, with that singular smile on his dying face, had bequeathed to him
as the reward of his death. It was in a covering of folded parchment,
right through which, as aforesaid, was a bullet-hole and some stains of
blood. Septimius unrolled the parchment cover, and found inside a
manuscript, closely written in a crabbed hand; so crabbed, indeed, that
Septimius could not at first read a word of it, nor even satisfy himself
in what language it was written. There seemed to be Latin words, and some
interspersed ones in Greek characters, and here and there he could
doubtfully read an English sentence; but, on the whole, it was an
unintelligible mass, conveying somehow an idea that it was the fruit of
vast labor and erudition, emanating from a mind very full of books, and
grinding and pressing down the great accumulation of grapes that it had
gathered from so many vineyards, and squeezing out rich viscid
juices,--potent wine,--with which the reader might get drunk. Some of it,
moreover, seemed, for the further mystification of the officer, to be
written in cipher; a needless precaution, it might seem, when the writer's
natural chirography was so full of puzzle and bewilderment.
Septimius looked at this strange manuscript, and it shook in his hands as
he held it before his eyes, so great was his excitement. Probably,
doubtless, it was in a great measure owing to the way in which it came to
him, with such circumstances of tragedy and mystery; as if--so secret and
so important was it--it could not be within the knowledge of two persons
at once, and therefore it was necessary that one should die in the act of
transmitting it to the hand of another, the destined possessor, inheritor,
profiter by it. By the bloody hand, as all the great possessions in this
world have been gained and inherited, he had succeeded to the legacy, the
richest that mortal man ever could receive. He pored over the inscrutable
sentences, and wondered, when he should succeed in reading one, if it
might summon up a subject-fiend, appearing with thunder and devilish
demonstrations. And by what other strange chance had the document come
into the hand of him who alone was fit to receive it? It seemed to
Septimius, in his enthusiastic egotism, as if the whole chain of events
had been arranged purposely for this end; a difference had come between
two kindred peoples; a war had broken out; a young officer, with the
traditions of an old family represented in his line, had marched, and had
met with a peaceful student, who had been incited from high and noble
motives to take his life; then came a strange, brief intimacy, in which
his victim made the slayer his heir. All these chances, as they seemed,
all these interferences of Providence, as they doubtless were, had been
necessary in order to put this manuscript into the hands of Septimius, who
now pored over it, and could not with certainty read one word!
But this did not trouble him, except for the momentary delay. Because he
felt well assured that the strong, concentrated study that he would bring
to it would remove all difficulties, as the rays of a lens melt stones; as
the telescope pierces through densest light of stars, and resolves them
into their individual brilliancies. He could afford to spend years upon it
if it were necessary; but earnestness and application should do quickly
the work of years.
Amid these musings he was interrupted by his Aunt Keziah; though generally
observant enough of her nephew's studies, and feeling a sanctity in them,
both because of his intending to be a minister and because she had a great
reverence for learning, even if heathenish, this good old lady summoned
Septimius somewhat peremptorily to chop wood for her domestic purposes.
How strange it is,--the way in which we are summoned from all high
purposes by these little homely necessities; all symbolizing the great
fact that the earthly part of us, with its demands, takes up the greater
portion of all our available force. So Septimius, grumbling and groaning,
went to the woodshed and exercised himself for an hour as the old lady
requested; and it was only by instinct that he worked, hardly conscious
what he was doing. The whole of passing life seemed impertinent; or if,
for an instant, it seemed otherwise, then his lonely speculations and
plans seemed to become impalpable, and to have only the consistency of
vapor, which his utmost concentration succeeded no further than to make
into the likeness of absurd faces, mopping, mowing, and laughing at him.
But that sentence of mystic meaning shone out before him like a
transparency, illuminated in the darkness of his mind; he determined to
take it for his motto until he should be victorious in his quest. When he
took his candle, to retire apparently to bed, he again drew forth the
manuscript, and, sitting down by the dim light, tried vainly to read it;
but he could not as yet settle himself to concentrated and regular effort;
he kept turning the leaves of the manuscript, in the hope that some other
illuminated sentence might gleam out upon him, as the first had done, and
shed a light on the context around it; and that then another would be
discovered, with similar effect, until the whole document would thus be
illuminated with separate stars of light, converging and concentrating in
one radiance that should make the whole visible. But such was his bad
fortune, not another word of the manuscript was he able to read that whole
evening; and, moreover, while he had still an inch of candle left, Aunt
Keziah, in her nightcap,--as witch-like a figure as ever went to a wizard
meeting in the forest with Septimius's ancestor,--appeared at the door of
the room, aroused from her bed, and shaking her finger at him.
"Septimius," said she, "you keep me awake, and you will ruin your eyes, and
turn your head, if you study till midnight in this manner. You'll never
live to be a minister, if this is the way you go on."
"Well, well, Aunt Keziah," said Septimius, covering his manuscript with a
book, "I am just going to bed now."
"Good night, then," said the old woman; "and God bless your labors."
Strangely enough, a glance at the manuscript, as he hid it from the old
woman, had seemed to Septimius to reveal another sentence, of which he had
imperfectly caught the purport; and when she had gone, he in vain sought
the place, and vainly, too, endeavored to recall the meaning of what he
had read. Doubtless his fancy exaggerated the importance of the sentence,
and he felt as if it might have vanished from the book forever. In fact,
the unfortunate young man, excited and tossed to and fro by a variety of
unusual impulses, was got into a bad way, and was likely enough to go mad,
unless the balancing portion of his mind proved to be of greater volume
and effect than as yet appeared to be the case.
* * * * *
The next morning he was up, bright and early, poring over the manuscript
with the sharpened wits of the new day, peering into its night, into its
old, blurred, forgotten dream; and, indeed, he had been dreaming about it,
and was fully possessed with the idea that, in his dream, he had taken up
the inscrutable document, and read it off as glibly as he would the page
of a modern drama, in a continual rapture with the deep truth that it made
clear to his comprehension, and the lucid way in which it evolved the mode
in which man might be restored to his originally undying state. So strong
was the impression, that when he unfolded the manuscript, it was with
almost the belief that the crabbed old handwriting would be plain to him.
Such did not prove to be the case, however; so far from it, that poor
Septimius in vain turned over the yellow pages in quest of the one
sentence which he had been able, or fancied he had been able, to read
yesterday. The illumination that had brought it out was now faded, and all
was a blur, an inscrutableness, a scrawl of unintelligible characters
alike. So much did this affect him, that he had almost a mind to tear it
into a thousand fragments, and scatter it out of the window to the
west-wind, that was then blowing past the house; and if, in that summer
season, there had been a fire on the hearth, it is possible that easy
realization of a destructive impulse might have incited him to fling the
accursed scrawl into the hottest of the flames, and thus returned it to
the Devil, who, he suspected, was the original author of it. Had he done
so, what strange and gloomy passages would I have been spared the pain of
relating! How different would have been the life of Septimius,--a
thoughtful preacher of God's word, taking severe but conscientious views
of man's state and relations, a heavy-browed walker and worker on earth,
and, finally, a slumberer in an honored grave, with an epitaph bearing
testimony to his great usefulness in his generation.
But, in the mean time, here was the troublesome day passing over him, and
pestering, bewildering, and tripping him up with its mere sublunary
troubles, as the days will all of us the moment we try to do anything that
we flatter ourselves is of a little more importance than others are doing.
Aunt Keziah tormented him a great while about the rich field, just across
the road, in front of the house, which Septimius had neglected the
cultivation of, unwilling to spare the time to plough, to plant, to hoe it
himself, but hired a lazy lout of the village, when he might just as well
have employed and paid wages to the scarecrow which Aunt Keziah dressed
out in ancient habiliments, and set up in the midst of the corn. Then came
an old codger from the village, talking to Septimius about the war,--a
theme of which he was weary: telling the rumor of skirmishes that the next
day would prove to be false, of battles that were immediately to take
place, of encounters with the enemy in which our side showed the valor of
twenty-fold heroes, but had to retreat; babbling about shells and mortars,
battalions, manoeuvres, angles, fascines, and other items of military art;
for war had filled the whole brain of the people, and enveloped the whole
thought of man in a mist of gunpowder.
In this way, sitting on his doorstep, or in the very study, haunted by such
speculations, this wretched old man would waste the better part of a
summer afternoon while Septimius listened, returning abstracted
monosyllables, answering amiss, and wishing his persecutor jammed into one
of the cannons he talked about, and fired off, to end his interminable
babble in one roar; [talking] of great officers coming from France and
other countries; of overwhelming forces from England, to put an end to the
war at once; of the unlikelihood that it ever should be ended; of its
hopelessness; of its certainty of a good and speedy end.
Then came limping along the lane a disabled soldier, begging his way home
from the field, which, a little while ago, he had sought in the full vigor
of rustic health he was never to know again; with whom Septimius had to
talk, and relieve his wants as far as he could (though not from the poor
young officer's deposit of English gold), and send him on his way.
Then came the minister to talk with his former pupil, about whom he had
latterly had much meditation, not understanding what mood had taken
possession of him; for the minister was a man of insight, and from
conversations with Septimius, as searching as he knew how to make them, he
had begun to doubt whether he were sufficiently sound in faith to adopt
the clerical persuasion. Not that he supposed him to be anything like a
confirmed unbeliever: but he thought it probable that these doubts, these
strange, dark, disheartening suggestions of the Devil, that so surely
infect certain temperaments and measures of intellect, were tormenting
poor Septimius, and pulling him back from the path in which he was capable
of doing so much good. So he came this afternoon to talk seriously with
him, and to advise him, if the case were as he supposed, to get for a time
out of the track of the thought in which he had so long been engaged; to
enter into active life; and by and by, when the morbid influences should
have been overcome by a change of mental and moral religion, he might
return, fresh and healthy, to his original design.
"What can I do," asked Septimius, gloomily, "what business take up, when
the whole land lies waste and idle, except for this war?"
"There is the very business, then," said the minister. "Do you think God's
work is not to be done in the field as well as in the pulpit? You are
strong, Septimius, of a bold character, and have a mien and bearing that
gives you a natural command among men. Go to the wars, and do a valiant
part for your country, and come back to your peaceful mission when the
enemy has vanished. Or you might go as chaplain to a regiment, and use
either hand in battle,--pray for success before a battle, help win it with
sword or gun, and give thanks to God, kneeling on the bloody field, at its
close. You have already stretched one foe on your native soil."
Septimius could not but smile within himself at this warlike and bloody
counsel; and, joining it with some similar exhortations from Aunt Keziah,
he was inclined to think that women and clergymen are, in matters of war,
the most uncompromising and bloodthirsty of the community. However, he
replied, coolly, that his moral impulses and his feelings of duty did not
exactly impel him in this direction, and that he was of opinion that war
was a business in which a man could not engage with safety to his
conscience, unless his conscience actually drove him into it; and that
this made all the difference between heroic battle and murderous strife.
The good minister had nothing very effectual to answer to this, and took
his leave, with a still stronger opinion than before that there was
something amiss in his pupil's mind.
By this time, this thwarting day had gone on through its course of little
and great impediments to his pursuit,--the discouragements of trifling and
earthly business, of purely impertinent interruption, of severe and
disheartening opposition from the powerful counteraction of different
kinds of mind,--until the hour had come at which he had arranged to meet
Rose Garfield. I am afraid the poor thwarted youth did not go to his
love-tryst in any very amiable mood; but rather, perhaps, reflecting how
all things earthly and immortal, and love among the rest, whichever
category, of earth or heaven, it may belong to, set themselves against
man's progress in any pursuit that he seeks to devote himself to. It is
one struggle, the moment he undertakes such a thing, of everything else in
the world to impede him.
However, as it turned out, it was a pleasant and happy interview that he
had with Rose that afternoon. The girl herself was in a happy, tuneful
mood, and met him with such simplicity, threw such a light of sweetness
over his soul, that Septimius almost forgot all the wild cares of the day,
and walked by her side with a quiet fulness of pleasure that was new to
him. She reconciled him, in some secret way, to life as it was, to
imperfection, to decay; without any help from her intellect, but through
the influence of her character, she seemed, not to solve, but to smooth
away, problems that troubled him; merely by being, by womanhood, by
simplicity, she interpreted God's ways to him; she softened the stoniness
that was gathering about his heart. And so they had a delightful time of
talking, and laughing, and smelling to flowers; and when they were
parting, Septimius said to her,--
"Rose, you have convinced me that this is a most happy world, and that Life
has its two children, Birth and Death, and is bound to prize them equally;
and that God is very kind to his earthly children; and that all will go
"And have I convinced you of all this?" replied Rose, with a pretty
laughter. "It is all true, no doubt, but I should not have known how to
argue for it. But you are very sweet, and have not frightened me to-day."
"Do I ever frighten you then, Rose?" asked Septimius, bending his black
brow upon her with a look of surprise and displeasure.
"Yes, sometimes," said Rose, facing him with courage, and smiling upon the
cloud so as to drive it away; "when you frown upon me like that, I am a
little afraid you will beat me, all in good time."
"Now," said Septimius, laughing again, "you shall have your choice, to be
beaten on the spot, or suffer another kind of punishment,--which?"
So saying, he snatched her to him, and strove to kiss her, while Rose,
laughing and struggling, cried out, "The beating! the beating!" But
Septimius relented not, though it was only Rose's cheek that he succeeded
in touching. In truth, except for that first one, at the moment of their
plighted troths, I doubt whether Septimius ever touched those soft, sweet
lips, where the smiles dwelt and the little pouts. He now returned to his
study, and questioned with himself whether he should touch that weary,
ugly, yellow, blurred, unintelligible, bewitched, mysterious,
bullet-penetrated, blood-stained manuscript again. There was an
undefinable reluctance to do so, and at the same time an enticement
(irresistible, as it proved) drawing him towards it. He yielded, and
taking it from his desk, in which the precious, fatal treasure was locked
up, he plunged into it again, and this time with a certain degree of
success. He found the line which had before gleamed out, and vanished
again, and which now started out in strong relief; even as when sometimes
we see a certain arrangement of stars in the heavens, and again lose it,
by not seeing its individual stars in the same relation as before; even
so, looking at the manuscript in a different way, Septimius saw this
fragment of a sentence, and saw, moreover, what was necessary to give it a
certain meaning. "Set the root in a grave, and wait for what shall
blossom. It will be very rich, and full of juice." This was the purport,
he now felt sure, of the sentence he had lighted upon; and he took it to
refer to the mode of producing something that was essential to the thing
to be concocted. It might have only a moral being; or, as is generally the
case, the moral and physical truth went hand in hand.
While Septimius was busying himself in this way, the summer advanced, and
with it there appeared a new character, making her way into our pages.
This was a slender and pale girl, whom Septimius was once startled to
find, when he ascended his hill-top, to take his walk to and fro upon the
accustomed path, which he had now worn deep.
What was stranger, she sat down close beside the grave, which none but he
and the minister knew to be a grave; that little hillock, which he had
levelled a little, and had planted with various flowers and shrubs; which
the summer had fostered into richness, the poor young man below having
contributed what he could, and tried to render them as beautiful as he
might, in remembrance of his own beauty. Septimius wished to conceal the
fact of its being a grave: not that he was tormented with any sense that
he had done wrong in shooting the young man, which had been done in fair
battle; but still it was not the pleasantest of thoughts, that he had laid
a beautiful human creature, so fit for the enjoyment of life, there, when
his own dark brow, his own troubled breast, might better, he could not but
acknowledge, have been covered up there. [_Perhaps there might sometimes
be something fantastically gay in the language and behavior of the
Well; but then, on this flower and shrub-disguised grave, sat this unknown
form of a girl, with a slender, pallid, melancholy grace about her, simply
dressed in a dark attire, which she drew loosely about her. At first
glimpse, Septimius fancied that it might be Rose; but it needed only a
glance to undeceive him; her figure was of another character from the
vigorous, though slight and elastic beauty of Rose; this was a drooping
grace, and when he came near enough to see her face, he saw that those
large, dark, melancholy eyes, with which she had looked at him, had never
met his gaze before.
"Good-morrow, fair maiden," said Septimius, with such courtesy as he knew
how to use (which, to say truth, was of a rustic order, his way of life
having brought him little into female society). "There is a nice air here
on the hill-top, this sultry morning below the hill!"
As he spoke, he continued to look wonderingly at the strange maiden, half
fancying that she might be something that had grown up out of the grave;
so unexpected she was, so simply unlike anything that had before come
The girl did not speak to him, but as she sat by the grave she kept weeding
out the little white blades of faded autumn grass and yellow pine-spikes,
peering into the soil as if to see what it was all made of, and everything
that was growing there; and in truth, whether by Septimius's care or no,
there seemed to be several kinds of flowers,--those little asters that
abound everywhere, and golden flowers, such as autumn supplies with
abundance. She seemed to be in quest of something, and several times
plucked a leaf and examined it carefully; then threw it down again, and
shook her head. At last she lifted up her pale face, and, fixing her eyes
quietly on Septimius, spoke: "It is not here!"
A very sweet voice it was,--plaintive, low,--and she spoke to Septimius as
if she were familiar with him, and had something to do with him. He was
greatly interested, not being able to imagine who the strange girl was, or
whence she came, or what, of all things, could be her reason for coming
and sitting down by this grave, and apparently botanizing upon it, in
quest of some particular plant.
"Are you in search of flowers?" asked Septimius. "This is but a barren spot
for them, and this is not a good season. In the meadows, and along the
margin of the watercourses, you might find the fringed gentian at this
time. In the woods there are several pretty flowers,--the side-saddle
flower, the anemone; violets are plentiful in spring, and make the whole
hill-side blue. But this hill-top, with its soil strewn over a heap of
pebble-stones, is no place for flowers."
"The soil is fit," said the maiden, "but the flower has not sprung up."
"What flower do you speak of?" asked Septimius.
"One that is not here," said the pale girl. "No matter. I will look for it
again next spring."
"Do you, then, dwell hereabout?" inquired Septimius.