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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. IX.--MARCH, 1862.--NO. LIII.
THE FRUITS OF FREE LABOR IN THE SMALLER ISLANDS OF THE BRITISH WEST
The emancipation of an enslaved race seems, at first thought, a most
uncertain and perilous undertaking. To do away with inherited and
constantly strengthening tendencies toward irresponsibility and
idleness,--to substitute the pleasure of activity or the distant good
from industry for the very palpable influence of compulsion,--to implant
forethought and alertness and ingenuity, where, before, labor was stolid
and sulky and unthinking,--to confer the habit of self-dependence and
the courage for unknown tasks on a people timid, childish, and
dependent,--to teach self-control in place of the custom of control by
masters, or by caprice and passion,--in a word, to make a free man out
of a born slave,--appears at first sight the most difficult task which
any legislator or reformer could ever attempt.
Leaving out of view all possible moral changes which might be induced by
time and patient labor on such a being, we should say beforehand that at
least economically--that is, regarding the production for the wants of
the world by the freed man--the experiment of emancipation would prove,
in all probability, a failure. We put it to the reader. Suppose that
you, an Anglo-American, not born a slave, had by some misfortune been
captured fifteen years since by an Algerine pirate, and during those
years, under the fear of lash and bayonet, had been vigorously adding to
the commodities of the world in the production of cotton. At length, in
some moment of Algerine sentiment for human rights, you are set free by
the government, and are enabled to possess a little farm of your own in
the African mountains. What would probably be your views as to the
economic duty of adding to that great benefaction to the human race, the
production of cotton? What would be your personal sentiments toward
cotton and all species of labor connected therewith? How, especially,
would you be apt to view the estate where you had spent so many
agreeable years, and the master for whom you had produced so
much without reward? Fancy an effort on his part to _hire_
you,--possibly even at lower wages than other laborers receive, in view
of your many obligations to him!
It is barely possible that you might prefer even the small farm,--where
you were producing nothing but "pumpkin" for the world, to increasing
the exports of Algeria on the old property, under the same master and at
half-wages. For some years at least, the world's production would not
probably be greatly assisted by you. A certain degree of idleness would
have a charm for a time, even to an Anglo-American, after such an
What shall we say, then, of an inferior race, slave-born, ignorant, and
undisciplined by moral influences, placed suddenly in such new and
strange circumstances? Could we reasonably expect that they would at
once labor under freedom as they did under slavery? Could we demand that
the properties which had been sprinkled with the sweat of their
unrequited toil for so many years, which possibly had witnessed their
sufferings under nameless wrongs, where the tone even of the now
labor-paying landlord must have something of the old ring of the
slave-master,--that these should be cultivated as eagerly as their own
little farms by freed men? Especially could we ask it, if the masters
undertook to exercise their old sway over political economy, and paid
less wages than the market-rate, and even these with irregularity?
Should we be rightfully shocked, if the products of these large estates
even entirely failed through want of labor? What else could we expect?
Suppose, still further, as years went by, the former masters, all the
wealthy and powerful classes of society, united in discouraging the
improvement and opposing the general education of this, the lowest and
poorest class. What would be the almost certain result?
If we should hear that such an emancipation was an economic failure, we
should not be in the least surprised. If we were told that the freed men
would not work on the old estates,--that the products were falling
off,--that the emancipated slaves were not willing to work at all,--that
they were idle, and were growing constantly more ignorant and corrupt in
morals, and useless to the world,--we should sigh, but say,--"It is the
natural retribution for injustice. These are the harvests of slavery."
But if--contrary to our expectation--the results of this emancipation
were entirely different: if the freed man produced more than the
slave,--if he was more industrious, more active, more laborious and
self-dependent,--if he even labored for his former master for hire,--if
the latter confessed that the hire of the free man was cheaper than the
ownership of the slave,--if tables of export and import showed that he
added far more to the wealth of the world than ever before,--if the
increasing price of land proved the efficiency of his industry,--if
independent freeholds were created in large numbers since
emancipation,--if additional churches and schools made evident the
improvement of character and the desire of advancement: we should be
obliged to say that there was but one explanation of this most happy and
unexpected improvement, namely,--that the human soul, by virtue of its
very nature and capacities, is somehow adapted to freedom, so that the
most imbruted and degraded is better and more useful, when he cares and
labors for himself, than when another utterly controls him.
_That the negro will not work, unless he is forced to_, is the
strong and almost invincible objection in the minds of multitudes of
persons to emancipation.
What, then, are the facts bearing on this important point? We propose,
under the guidance of candid observers and travellers, such as
Schomburg, Breen, Cochin, Burnley, and, best of all, Sewell, briefly to
examine a field where the experiment has been fairly tried, namely, the
smaller islands of the British West Indies. A full examination of the
larger island, Jamaica,--would of itself demand an entire article, or
even a volume.
The remark is often repeated by West Indian travellers, that no sweeping
conclusions on economical points can ever be true of the West Indies as
a whole,--that each island is distinct from the others, and to be judged
on principles which apply to itself alone. This important fact must be
borne in mind by the reader, in examining the question of the results of
emancipation in the West Indies.
In BARBADOES the governing peculiarities are the dense population to the
area, and the great numbers of the laboring class. The number to the
square mile is greater than in China, averaging eight hundred. This fact
alone placed a much greater power in the masters' hands after
emancipation, as the competition of labor must be so much more severe
than with a more sparse population.
With something of the perversity induced by slavery, the planters
maintained a species of land-tenure among their freed slaves which could
not but have a disastrous effect.
In the first years succeeding the act of emancipation, the tenant worked
for twenty per cent. below the market-rate of wages, and his service was
considered equivalent to the rent. Now he possesses a house and a
land-allotment on an estate for which he pays a stipulated rent; but,
_as a condition of renting_, he must give a certain number of days'
work at certain wages, generally from one-sixth to one-third lower than
the market-rate. The usual wages are twenty-four cents a day; by this
system of tenancy-at-will, the freed negro in Barbadoes must labor for
What would be the natural results of such a system? Can we wonder at
such facts as Mr. Sewell quotes from a Tobago paper, in which the writer
"deplores the perverse selfishness of the laborers," (i.e. in buying
farms of their own,) and complains that "the laborers have large patches
of land under cultivation, and hire help at higher wages than the
estates can afford to pay," and otherwise oppress their former
benefactors? The remedy which the aggrieved correspondent suggests is
the immediate importation of Coolies.
The truth is, however, that, owing to the crowded population of
Barbadoes, the planters have had everything in their own hands, much
more than in other islands. In Trinidad or British Guiana the negroes
were not obliged by competition to submit to the obnoxious tenure; and
they soon found, where land was so cheap, that a path to independence
lay open before them in working their own little properties. The
planters became more stubborn and more rigid, and the result was in many
cases the absolute abandonment of large estates for want of labor.
The industry of the Barbadoes population is shown in the fact, that, out
of the 106,000 acres of the island, 100,000 are under cultivation,[A]
while the average price of land rises to the unprecedented height of
five hundred dollars an acre.
[Footnote A: Schomburg.]
Notwithstanding the high price of land and the low rate of wages, the
freed slaves have increased the number of small proprietors with less
than five acres from 1100 to 3537[B] during the last fifteen years,--an
increase which alone testifies to the remarkable thrift of the
emancipated negro in Barbadoes.
[Footnote B: Governor Hincks.]
Mr. Sewell has talked with all classes and conditions, and "none are
more ready to admit than the planters that the free laborer is a better,
more cheerful, and industrious workman than was ever the slave."
"The colored mechanics and artisans of Barbadoes," says the same author,
"are equal in general intelligence to the artisans and mechanics of any
part of the world equally remote from the great centres of civilization.
The peasantry will soon equal them, when education is more generally
The surest evidences, however, on this question are those of figures.
Land has doubled in value on the island since emancipation.[C] Of the
increased value of estates, we quote, as an example, the case mentioned
in a published letter of Governor Hincks, January, 1858:--
"As to the relative cost of slave and free labor in this colony,
I can supply facts upon which the most implicit reliance can be
placed. They have been furnished to me by the proprietor of an
estate containing three hundred acres of land, and situated at a
distance of about twelve miles from the shipping port. The
estate referred to produced during slavery an annual average of
140 hogsheads of sugar of the present weight, and required 230
slaves. It is now worked by 90 free laborers: 60 adults, and 30
under 16 years of age. Its average product during the last seven
years has been 194 hogsheads. The total cost of labor has been
L770 16s., or L3 19s. 2d. per hogshead of
1,700 pounds. The average of pounds of sugar to each laborer
during slavery was 1,043 pounds, and during freedom 3,660
pounds. To estimate the cost of slave-labor, the value of 230
slaves must be ascertained; and I place them at what would have
been a low average,--L50 sterling each,--which would make the
entire stock amount to L11,500. This, at six per cent. interest,
which on such property is much too low an estimate, would give
L690; cost of clothing, food, and medical attendance I estimate
at L3 10s., making L805. Total cost, L1,495, or L10
12s. per hogshead, while the cost of free labor on the
same estate is under L4."
[Footnote C: B.T. Young's Letter of January 12th, 1858, and
other letters from planters, published in the _National
Era_, August, 1858.]
In 1853, the French committee charged by the Governor of Martinique to
visit the island reported, that "in an agricultural and manufacturing
point of view the aspect of Barbadoes is dazzling."
Sugar is the most important export. The following were the amounts
exported before emancipation, according to Schomburg and Sewell:--
Average export, 1720-1800, 23,000 hhds.
" " 1800-1830, 20,000 "
Particular export, 1830, 22,769 "
Particular export in
year of emancipation, 1834, 27,318 "
(The weight of a hogshead of sugar, it should be noted, was only 12 cwt.
between 1826 and 1830; from 1830 to 1850, 14 cwt.; and now it is from 15
to 17 cwt.)
Yield in 1852, 48,610 hhds.
" 1853, 38,316 "
" 1854, 44,492 "
" 1855, 39,692 "
" 1856, 43,552 "
" 1857, 38,858 "
" 1858, 50,778 "
Average export, 1835-50, 26,000 "
" " 1851-58, 43,000 "
That is, an average more than double the export for ten years preceding
Besides sugar, other articles are exported now to the value of $100,000.
In addition, there is a large production for home-consumption, of such
articles as sweet potatoes, eddoes, yams, cassava-root, etc.
If imports are the true expression of a nation's economic
well-being,--as all sound political economists affirm,--then can
Barbadoes show most conclusively how much more profitable to a people is
freedom than chatteldom.
Average imports, 1822-32, L600,000
Imports, 1845, 682,358
" 1856, 840,000
The imports from America are increasing in rapid measure. Thus they were
1854, 36,416 bbls. flour.
" 1,500 " beef.
" 9,438 " pork.
" 49,106 " meal.
1858, 79,766 " flour.
" 2,646 " beef.
" 12,196 " pork.
" 67,053 " meal.
Under slavery, the value of American imports was not more than L60,000
per annum. Under freedom, it is from L300,000 to L400,000.
The shipping before emancipation (in 1832) numbered 689 vessels of
79,000 tons. In 1856, 966 vessels of 114,800 tons.
The population of Barbadoes is supposed to be now about 140,000, of whom
124,000 are blacks. Of these, only 22,000 are believed to be field
laborers, against 81,000, just before emancipation, of men, women, and
children, who labored in the field,--a fact which shows the aversion
slavery had implanted to laboring on the soil, as well as the indiscreet
policy of the planters. Yet, despite this decrease of the most
profitable kind of labor, so great is the advantage of freedom over
slavery, that the island has been enabled to make this prodigious
increase in production and wealth since emancipation,--more than
doubling its export of sugar, increasing its imports by $1,200,000,
quintupling its imports from America, and doubling the value of land.
The progress in education and morality has not been at all so rapid as
in wealth. The freed slave could not at once escape from the debasing
influences of years of bondage, and the planters have deliberately set
themselves against any system of popular education. Crimes against
property, Sewell says, are rife, especially thieving; petty acts of
anger and cruelty are also common, as well as offences against chastity;
while, on the other hand, crimes of violence are almost unknown. From
the last census it appears that more than half of the children born in
the island are illegitimate. This sad condition of morals Mr. Sewell
attributes principally to the imperfect education of the lowest
classes,--the schools being mostly church-schools, and somewhat
expensive. These schools, however, have increased from 27 in 1834, with
1,574 children, to 70 with 6,180 in 1857, and an infant school with
1,140; the children in Sunday-schools have increased in the same time
from 1,679 to 2,071.[D]
[Footnote D: _Letter from the Bishop of Barbadoes_,
February 23, 1858. It appears in the same letter that the
church-attendants have increased from 5,000 in 1825 to 28,000 in
ST. VINCENT is generally considered by the passing traveller as another
example of the axiom that "the freed negro will not work," and of "the
melancholy fruits of emancipation."
The decline of the wealthier classes began before emancipation, and
continued after it. The planters were deeply in debt, and their estates
heavily mortgaged. Slavery there, as everywhere, wasted the means of the
masters, and exhausted the soil. When the day of freedom came, these
gentlemen, instead of prudently endeavoring to retain the laborers on
their estates, offered them lower wages than were paid on the
neighboring islands. The consequence was, that the negroes preferred to
buy their own little properties or to hire farms in the interior, and
let the great estates find labor as they could. Mr. Sewell states that
he inquired much in regard to the abandoned sugar-estates, and never
found one which was deserted because labor could not be procured at fair
cost; the more general reason of their abandonment was want of capital,
or debt incurred previously to emancipation. That the condition of the
island is not caused by the idleness of the negro is shown by the facts,
that since emancipation houses have been built by freed slaves for
themselves and their families, containing 8,209 persons; that from
10,000 to 12,000 acres have been brought under cultivation by the
proprietors of small properties of from one to five acres; that the
export of arrowroot (which is one of the small articles raised by the
negroes on their own grounds) has risen from 60,000 pounds before
emancipation to 1,352,250 pounds in 1857, valued at $750,000, and the
cocoa-nut export has also increased largely.
The export of sugar has declined as follows:--Under slavery, (1831-34,)
it was 204,095 cwt.; under apprenticeship, (1835-38,) 194,228; under
free labor, (1839-45,) 127,364 cwt.; in 1846, 129,870 cwt.; in 1847,
[Footnote E: Cochin's _L'Abolition de l'Esclavage_.]
The moral condition of the island seems most favorable. In a population
of 30,000, there are _no paupers_, and 8,000 is the average
church-attendance, while the average school-attendance is 2,000. The
criminal records show a remarkable obedience to law; there being only
seven convictions in 1857 for assault, six for felony, and 162 for minor
offences. The proportion under slavery was far greater.
GRENADA presented clear evidences of decline long before emancipation.
The slave-population decreased as follows:--
1779, 35,000 slaves.
1827, 24,442 "
1837, 23,641 "
this last number being that for which compensation was made. The total
value of all the exports in 1776 was about $3,000,000; in 1823, less
than $2,000,000; in 1831, a little over $1,000,000.
The sugar export declined from 24,000,000 pounds in 1776 to 19,000,000
pounds in 1831: or more exactly, under slavery, (1831-34,) it was
193,156 cwt.; during apprenticeship, 161,308 cwt.; under free labor,
(1839-45,) 87,161 cwt.; in 1846, 76,931 cwt.; in 1847, 104,952 cwt.:
showing in the last year a considerable increase.
The policy of the Grenadian planters in offering low wages--the rate
being from 5s. to 5s. 6d. a week--has driven the negroes to their own
little properties, and has caused a diminution in the production of
sugar on the large organized estates. Yet the production of other
smaller articles has greatly increased, and the general well-being of
the people is much advanced.
Before 1830 there were no small freeholders; now there are over 2,000.
Nearly 7,000 persons live in villages, built since emancipation, and
4,573 pay direct taxes.
Last year there were only 60 paupers on the island, and those were aged
and sick persons; only 18 were convicted of felony, 6 of theft, and 2 of
other offences. There is an average church-attendance of 8,000, and a
school-attendance of 1,600. In 1857, out of 80,000 acres, 43,800 were in
a state of cultivation, and 3,800 acres were added to the cultivation of
the previous year.
The sugar export of 1857 was only half that of 1831, while the aggregate
value of all the exports had risen from L153,175 to L218,352. The
imports had risen in the same time from L77,000 to L109,000.[F]
[Footnote F: Sewell's _Ordeal of Free Labor_, etc.]
TOBAGO also showed a gradual decline before emancipation; and since that
event, the production of sugar has fallen off as follows: In 1831-34 it
was 99,579 cwt.; 1835-38, 89,332 cwt.; 1839-1845, 52,962 cwt.; 1846,
38,882 cwt.; 1847, 69,240 cwt. One great cause of this decline is the
drawing off of capital from the old, worn-out lands to the fresh, rich,
and profitable culture of Trinidad, where land is very cheap. Moreover,
the climate of Tobago is not entirely favorable to sugar.
Yet a great improvement is manifest among the people. Small proprietors
have much increased; even the field-hands now possess houses and lands
of their own. There are 2,500 freeholders, and 2,800 tax-payers. The
average church-attendance is 41 per cent, of the whole population; the
average school-attendance, 1,600. Commerce is rapidly advancing. The
imports have risen from L50,307 in 1854 to L59,994 in 1856; and the
exports from L49,754 to L79,789 in the same time.
In ST. LUCIA the planters have followed a more wise and liberal policy
towards the emancipated slaves. Better wages have been offered; liberal
inducements have been held out to the negroes to cultivate the estates;
efforts have been put forth to improve the social and moral condition of
the laboring class. Tenancy-at-will is unknown, and the _melairie_
system (laboring on shares) has been introduced. In other words, the
rich and educated have manifested some kind of humane interest for the
laborers, and in return the latter have worked well and cheerfully.
Yet, in St. Lucia, as in so many other West India colonies, the
financial condition of the planters, at the time of emancipation, was
exceedingly embarrassed: their registered debts amounting in 1829,
according to Breen, to L1,189,965.
The export of sugar is stated in Cochin's carefully prepared tables as
follows: In the period of slavery, (1831-34,) 57,549 cwt.; during the
apprenticeship, (1835-38,) 51,427 cwt.; under free labor, (1839-45,)
57,070 cwt; in 1846, 63,566 cwt.; in 1847, 88,370 cwt.
The imports have not risen till recently, and indicate a greater
consumption of articles grown on the island. In 1833,[G] they were in
value, L108,076; in 1840, L114,537; in 1843, L70,340; in 1851,[H]
L68,881; in 1857, L90,064.
[Footnote G: Breen.]
[Footnote H: Sewell.]
Of the total value of exports Breen gives tables only to 1843. In that
year, they were L96,290 against L71,580 in 1833.
Since emancipation, 2,045 of the negroes have become freeholders, and
4,603 pay direct taxes.
In TRINIDAD, the question of the effects of emancipation has some
peculiar elements. The island is a very large, fertile country, with a
sparse population, where of course land is cheap and labor dear. Out of
its 1,287,000 acres,[I] only some 30,000 are cultivated. Its whole
population is but about 80,000, of whom the colored number near 50,000.
Emancipation would work upon such a country somewhat as it might on
Texas, for instance. There were 11,000 field-hands on the estates when
slavery was abolished. The planters undertook to maintain or introduce
the tenancy-at-will system, and to reduce the wages below the
market-rate. Whenever the negroes retired from the estate-work, they
were summarily ejected from their houses and lands, and their little
gardens were destroyed. The natural effect of such an injudicious policy
was, that the negro preferred squatting on the government lands about
him, or buying a small, cheap plot, or hiring a farm, to remaining under
the planters, and soon some 7,000 laborers had left the estates.
[Footnote I: Burnley's _Trinidad_.]
Many associated the idea of servitude with labor in the fields, and,
abandoning agriculture, took to trade in the towns and villages, which
they still pursue. Some 4,000 remained on the estates, and have never
progressed, like their more independent brethren. The criminal records
show a greater proportion of crime among them than among any other
class. Of the others, five-sixths became proprietors of farms from one
to five acres each, and 4,500 hire themselves occasionally to the
estates every year.
One effect of the unfortunate contentions between capital and labor in
the island has been, that no general system of public instruction was
introduced till recently; education was entirely neglected: though now,
under the new system, the people will receive much more general
instruction, for which purpose $20,000 were appropriated in 1859.
The public morality under such circumstances is of course of a low
order. Out of 136 children born in Port-of-Spain, 100 were illegitimate.
The convictions in the island for felony were 63; for misdemeanor, 865;
for debt, 230.
The records of material progress show a much better result. The sugar
cultivation in the last twenty years has nearly doubled, and the land in
cane has risen from 15,000 to 29,000 acres. The production of cocoa has
increased, though in a less proportion; while the production and
consumption of home necessaries and luxuries have immensely advanced.
Great practical improvements are being made everywhere, such as the
substitution of steam-power for cattle and water-power. The export of
sugar,[J] especially since the introduction of Coolie labor, has
advanced rapidly. Before emancipation the highest export was 30,000
hhds., equal to 24,000 hhds. at present weight. Late export,--
1854, 27,987 hhds. 1857, 35,523 hhds.
1855, 31,693 " 1858, 37,000 "
1856, 34,411 " 1859, 40,000 "
[Footnote J: Cochin's tables give the sugar export of Trinidad
as follows: Under slavery, (1831-34,) 316,338 cwt.; during
apprenticeship, (1835-38,) 295,787 cwt.; under free labor,
(1839-45,) 292,023 cwt.; in 1846, 353,293 cwt.; in 1847, 393,537
The molasses trade shows a similar increase. Cocoa, which is entirely a
product of negro labor, has advanced from 3,200,000 lbs. before
emancipation to 5,200,000 lbs. in 1859.
_Leeward Islands._ ANTIGUA was almost the first of the British West
Indies to emancipate her slaves, and this she had the wisdom to do
summarily and at once, without probation or apprenticeship. The
consequences have been most happy. She has escaped the vexations and
heart-burnings of the other colonies, and has established a better
relation between employers and employed. With a small area, a soil not
very rich, and a climate not especially adapted to sugar-growing, she
has notwithstanding taken a prominent position among the West India
islands. The prosperity of the island under free labor has been most
encouraging. Of the 70,000 acres, 38,000 are owned by large proprietors,
whose estates average 320 acres each. Its only export, with the
exception of a little arrow-root, is sugar; of this, the largest crop on
record (20,000 hogsheads) has been obtained since the slaves were
emancipated. Ten years before emancipation, the average annual export,
as given by Sewell, was 12,500 hogsheads, obtained by a field-force of
18,320 hands, of whom one-third were non-effective. From 1840 to 1850,
the average was 13,000; from 1850 to 1860, 13,500, of superior weight,
with a field-force of 6,000.
The export of sugar, according to Cochin, has been as follows: 1831-34,
180,802 cwt.; 1835-38, 143,878 cwt.; 1839-45, 189,406 cwt.; 1846,
102,644 cwt.; 1847, 200,201 cwt.
Besides this crop, the small proprietors raise arrow-root and
The imports show the advancing prosperity of the island. From 1822 to
1832, they amounted to L130,000, of which L40,000 were from the United
States; in 1856, under free labor, they reached L266,369, of which
L106,586 were from the United States,--the American imports being mostly
articles of food. This remarkable increase of importations, it should be
observed, is not due to an increase of population, as the population of
Antigua is less now than it was twenty years since.
In commerce, it appears that ten years before emancipation, 340 vessels
of 30,000 tons entered the ports of the island every year; in 1858,
there were 688 of 42,534 tons.
Labor costs less in Antigua than in the other islands, wages being 20
cts. a day; while in Barbadoes they are 24 cts., and in Trinidad 30 cts.
The production of sugar is more profitable, as respects the labor, than
in the slave-islands,--costing but 1-1/5 cts. per lb.
Though the average price of land is fifty dollars an acre, the freed
negroes seldom squat on the public lands, but buy little farms of their
own. In 1858, the emancipated slaves had built, since 1834, 5187 houses,
in which 15,644 people resided. There were that year only 299 paupers in
the whole island. Education and morality had advanced. Owing to the wise
liberality of the planters, nearly _one-third_ of the whole revenue
of the island (L10,000) was appropriated to educational, charitable, and
religious purposes. The great proportion of the youth attend school. At
the time of emancipation, the whole number of scholars in all the
schools was 1886; in 1858, there were 52 schools with 4467 scholars, and
37 Sunday-schools with 6418. The number of illegitimate births was only
53 per cent., which is a much more favorable proportion than exists in
the other islands.
The planters all agree that emancipation has been an entire success. The
only drawback is a somewhat singular one, and illustrates the dependent
habits which slavery generates. Under their masters, the slaves were
always provided with sufficient medical attendance; but when free, they
had not the means or were not prudent enough to secure this, and the
consequence has been a great mortality of children, so that the births
now scarcely exceed the deaths.
An intelligent English traveller, writing on "Antigua and the Antiguans"
in 1844, says in regard to the question, whether the freed negro will
work, that he has often observed, when a piece of land was to be
_holed_ for sugar-cane by task-work, the negroes rising by one or
two o'clock in the morning during moonlight, going to the field and
accomplishing a usual day's work (300 cane-holes) by five or six o'clock
in the forenoon; then, after resting a short time, they were prepared
for another task, which they completed; and still had some hours left
for their own provision-grounds. When the heat is considered, and the
labor of digging one cane-hole, (a trench three or four feet square and
one foot deep,) we may imagine what the work of opening 600 in a day
must be. The same author states that plantations which could not find a
purchaser before emancipation are now worth L10,000. Another writer,
quoted by Cochin, says in 1845, with reference to the efficiency of
labor of the Antiguan negroes, and their employment of machinery, "The
colony has made this year, with a field-force of less than 10,000, a
harvest almost equal to that which has employed 30,000 laborers in
Of the other Leeward Islands, Sewell says, (p. 164,) "The condition of
the free peasant rises infinitely above that of the slave. In all, the
people are more happy and contented; in all, they are more civilized; in
all, there are more provisions grown for home-consumption than ever were
raised in the most flourishing days of slavery; in all, the imports have
largely increased; in all, a very important trade has sprung up with the
United States; from all, there is an exportation of minor articles which
were not cultivated twenty years ago, and which, in estimating the
industry of a people under a free system, are often most unjustly
overlooked. These are considerations from which the planter turns with
contemptuous indifference. Sugar, and sugar alone, is his dream, his
argument, his faith." Yet the following table of exports of sugar shows
that even in that free labor has been successful.
_Comparative Table of Sugar Exportations in Pounds from the
Islands. Annual average from Exports in
1820 to 1832. 1858.
Antigua, 20,580,000 lbs. 26,174,000 lbs.
Dominica, 6,000,000 6,263,000
Nevis, 5,000,000 4,400,000
Montserrat, 1,840,000 1,308,000
St. Kitt's, 12,000,000 10,000,000
Total, 45,420,000 lbs. 48,145,000 lbs.
_Table of Imports in Value._
Islands. Annual average value Value of imports
from 1820 to 1832. in 1858.
Antigua, L130,000 L266,364
Dominica, 62,000 84,906
Nevis, 28,000 36,721
Montserrat, 18,000 17,844
St. Kitt's, 60,000 109,000
Total, L298,000 L514,835
Excess of sugar exportations under free labor, 2,725,000 lbs.
Excess of imports with free labor, L216,835
[Footnote K: Sewell's _Ordeal of Free Labor_, etc.]
Of GUIANA, a resident writes,--"The portion of the native population
which in other countries constitutes the working class is estimated here
at 70,000 souls. They present the singular spectacle, which we can
contemplate in no other part of the world, of a people hardly escaped
from slavery, enjoying already properties in land and houses for which
they have paid nearly L100,000."
In a single county, (Berbice,) says Cochin, there had been built in
1843, since emancipation, 1184 houses, and 7,000 additional acres had
been put under cultivation. In the whole colony there were 15,906 landed
proprietors among the negroes who had become such since 1834. The
imports, according to Lord Stanley, during the last six years of
slavery, were about $13,915,000; during apprenticeship, about
$17,890,000; in the first year of liberty, over $20,000,000; in the
second year, about $17,463,670.
* * * * *
We have given, perhaps, a rather dry account of the effects of
emancipation on a portion of the British West Indies. But it should be
remembered that this question, as it now stands before the world, is
mainly a question of figures. The great and damning argument against
emancipation is the supposed experience of the West Indies, _that the
negro will not work except under slavery_. The evidences of labor are
in part given by figures: the number of freeholds, the price of land,
the amount of the productions, the quantity consumed, and the quantity
exported. The amount of imports, too, shows the desire and the means of
the people to procure foreign commodities. By these plain and
irrefutable evidences, we have proved that free labor in the Windward
Islands, Trinidad, the Leeward Islands, and Guiana has "paid" much
better than slave labor.
As Mr. Sewell has summed it up with reference to four colonies,--British
Guiana, Barbadoes, Trinidad, and Antigua,--the total annual export of
sugar before emancipation was 187,300,000 pounds, while now it is
265,000,000 pounds; showing an advantage under free labor of
_seventy-seven million, seven hundred thousand pounds_! The total
imports of the same colonies amounted before emancipation to $8,840,000;
they are now $14,600,000; showing an excess of imports under free labor,
as compared with slave labor, of the value of _five million, seven
hundred and sixty thousand dollars_!
It is a remarkable experience of the West Indies, to be seriously
considered in the settlement of our American problem, that the islands
which abolished slavery the most summarily and entirely succeeded the
best after emancipation. Half-freedom, both there, and in Russia during
the last year, has proved a source of jealousy to the freedman and of
annoyance to the master, and ultimately, in the West Indies, interfered
with production, and the permanent welfare of the islands.
It is true, that the moral curse of slavery upon the habits of the
people is not so easily removed, and that we do not behold as favorable
a moral and educational condition of the West India Islands as could be
desired. But it should be remembered how large a share of the blame for
this falls now upon the wealthier classes, who are opposed or
indifferent to the education of the lower. Even these evils are being
gradually removed, and emancipation is establishing itself, not merely
as a grand act of justice, wisely done, but as a successful moral and
economical reform, whose fruits are to be seen in the good morals,
industry, and increasing wealth of many happy communities.
* * * * *
A STORY OF TO-DAY.
It was later than Holmes thought: a gray, cold evening. The streets in
that suburb were lonely: he went down them, the new-fallen snow dulling
his step. It had covered the peaked roofs of the houses too, and they
stood in listening rows, white and still. Here and there a pale flicker
from the gas-lamps struggled with the ashy twilight. He met no one:
people had gone home early on Christmas eve. He had no home to go to:
pah! there were plenty of hotels, he remembered, smiling grimly. It was
bitter cold: he buttoned up his coat tightly, as he walked slowly along
as if waiting for some one,--wondering dully if the gray air were any
colder or stiller than the heart hardly beating under the coat. Well,
men had conquered Fate, conquered life and love, before now. It grew
darker: he was pacing now slowly in the shadow of a long low wall
surrounding the grounds of some building. When he came near the gate, he
would stop and listen: he could have heard a sparrow on the snow, it was
so still. After a while he did hear footsteps, crunching the snow
heavily; the gate clicked as they came out: it was Knowles, and the
clergyman whom Dr. Cox did not like; Vandyke was his name.
"Don't bolt the gate," said Knowles; "Miss Howth will be out presently."
They sat down on a pile of lumber near by, waiting, apparently. Holmes
went up and joined them, standing in the shadow of the lumber, talking
to Vandyke. He did not meet him, perhaps, once in six months; but he
believed in the man, thoroughly.
"I've just helped Knowles build a Christmas-tree in yonder,--the House
of Refuge, you know. He could not tell an oak from an arbor-vitae, I
Knowles was in no mood for quizzing.
"There are other things I don't know," he said, gloomily, recurring to
some subject Holmes had interrupted. "The House is going to the Devil,
"There's no use in saying no," said the other; "you'll call me a lying
Knowles did not listen.
"Seems as if I was to go groping and stumbling through the world like
some forsaken Cyclops with his eye out, dragging down whatever I
touched. If there was anything to hold by, anything certain!"
Vandyke looked at him gravely, but did not answer; rose, and walked
indolently up and down to keep himself warm. A lithe, slow figure, a
clear face with delicate lips, and careless eyes that saw everything:
the face of a man quick to learn and slow to teach.
"There she comes!" said Knowles, as the lock of the gate rasped.
Holmes had heard the slow step in the snow long before. A small woman
came out and went down the silent street into the road beyond. Holmes
kept his back turned to her, lighting his cigar; the other men watched
"What do you think, Vandyke?" demanded Knowles. "How will she do?"
"Do for what?"--resuming his lazy walk. "You talk as if she were a
machine. It is the way with modern reformers. Men are so many ploughs
and harrows to work on 'the classes.' Do for what?"
Knowles flushed hotly.
"The work the Lord has left for her to do. Do you mean to say there is
none to do,--you, pledged to missionary labor?"
The young man's face colored.
"I know this street needs paving terribly, Knowles; but I don't see a
boulder in your hands. Yet the great Taskmaster does not despise the
pavers. He did not give you the spirit and understanding for paving, eh,
is that it? How do you know He gave this Margaret Howth the spirit and
understanding of a reformer? There may be higher work for her to do."
"Higher!" The old man stood aghast. "I know your creed, then,--that the
true work for a man or a woman is that which develops their highest
"You have a creed-mania, Knowles. You have a confession of faith
ready-made for everybody, but yourself. I only meant for you to take
care what you do. That woman looks as the Prodigal Son might have done
when he began to be in want, and would fain have fed himself with the
husks that the swine did eat."
Knowles got up moodily.
"Whose work is it, then?" he muttered, following the men down the
street; for they walked on. "The world has waited six thousand years for
help. It comes slowly,--slowly, Vandyke; even through your religion."
The young man did not answer: looked up, with quiet, rapt eyes, through
the silent city, and the clear gray beyond. They passed a little church
lighted up for evening service: as if to give a meaning to the old man's
words, they were chanting the one anthem of the world, the _Gloria in
Excelsis_. Hearing the deep organ-roll, the men stopped outside to
listen: it heaved and sobbed through the night, as if bearing up to God
the pain and wrong of countless aching hearts, then was silent, and a
single voice swept over the moors in a long, lamentable cry:--"Thou that
takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us!"
The men stood silent, until the hush was broken by a low murmur:--"For
Thou only art holy." Holmes had taken off his hat, unconscious that he
did it; he put it on slowly, and walked on. What was it that Knowles
had said to him once about mean and selfish taints on his divine soul?
"For Thou only art holy": if there were truth in that!
"How quiet it is!" he said, as they stopped to leave him. It was,--a
breathless quiet; the great streets of the town behind them were
shrouded in snow; the hills, the moors, the prairie swept off into the
skyless dark, a gray and motionless sea lit by a low watery moon. "The
very earth listens," he said.
"Listens for what?" said the literal old Doctor.
"I think it listens always," said Vandyke, his eye on fire. "For its
King--that shall be. Not as He came before. It has not long to wait now:
the New Year is not far off."
"I've no faith in folding your hands, waiting for it; nor have you
either, Charley," growled Knowles. "There's an infernal lot of work to
be done before it comes, I fancy. Here, let me light my cigar."
Holmes bade them good-night, laughing, and struck into the by-road
through the hills. He shook hands with Vandyke before he went,--a thing
he scarce ever did with anybody. Knowles noticed it, and, after he was
out of hearing, mumbled out some sarcasm at "a minister of the gospel
consorting with a cold, silent scoundrel like that!" Vandyke listened to
his scolding in his usual lazy way, and they went back into town.
The road Holmes took was rutted deep with wagon-wheels, not easily
travelled; he walked slowly therefore, being weak, stopping now and then
to gather strength. He had not counted the hours until this day, to be
balked now by a little loss of blood. The moon was nearly down before he
reached the Cloughton hills: he turned there into a narrow path which he
remembered well. Now and then he saw the mark of a little shoe in the
snow,--looking down at it with a hot panting in his veins and a strange
flash in his eye, as he walked on steadily.
There was a turn in the path at the top of the hill, a sunken wall, with
a broad stone from which the wind had blown the snow. This was the
place. He sat down on the stone, resting. Just there she had stood,
clutching her little fingers behind her, when he came up and threw back
her hood to look in her face: how pale and worn it was, even then! He
had not looked at her to-night: he would not, if he had been dying, with
those men standing there. He stood alone in the world with this little
Margaret. How those men had carped, and criticized her, chattered of the
duties of her soul! Why, it was his, it was his own, softer and fresher.
There was not a glance with which they followed the weak little body in
its poor dress that he had not seen, and savagely resented. They
measured her strength? counted how long the bones and blood would last
in their House of Refuge? There was not a morsel of her flesh that was
not pure and holy in his eyes. His Margaret? He chafed with an
intolerable fever to make her his, but for one instant, as she had been
once. Now, when it was too late. For he went back over every word he had
spoken that night, forcing himself to go through with it,--every cold,
poisoned word. It was a fitting penance. "There is no such thing as love
in real life": he had told her that! How he had stood, with all the
power of his "divine soul" in his will, and told her,--he,--a man,--that
he put away her love from him then, forever! He spared himself
nothing,--slurred over nothing; spurned himself, as it were, for the
meanness, the niggardly selfishness in which he had wallowed that night.
How firm he had been! how kind! how masterful!--pluming himself on his
man's strength, while he held her in his power as one might hold an
insect, played with her shrinking woman's nature, and trampled it under
his feet, coldly and quietly! She was in his way, and he had put her
aside. How the fine subtile spirit had risen up out of its agony of
shame, and scorned him! How it had flashed from the puny frame standing
there in the muddy road despised and jeered at, and calmly judged him!
He might go from her as he would, toss her off like a worn-out
plaything, but he could not blind her: let him put on what face he would
to the world, whether they called him a master among men, or a miser,
or, as Knowles did to-night after he turned away, a scoundrel, this girl
laid her little hand on his soul with an utter recognition: she alone.
"She knew him for a better man than he knew himself that night": he
remembered the words.
The night was growing murky and bitingly cold: there was no prospect on
the snow-covered hills, or the rough road at his feet with its pools of
ice-water, to bring content into his face, or the dewy light into his
eyes; but they came there, slowly, while he sat thinking. Some old
thought was stealing into his brain, perhaps, fresh and warm, like a
soft spring air,--some hope of the future, in which this child-woman
came close to him and near. It was an idle dream, only would taunt him
when it was over, but he opened his arms to it: it was an old friend; it
had made him once a purer and better man than he could ever be again. A
warm, happy dream, whatever it may have been: the rugged, sinister face
grew calm and sad, as the faces of the dead change when loving tears
fall on them.
He sighed wearily: the homely little hope was fanning into life stagnant
depths of desire and purpose, stirring his resolute ambition. Too late?
Was it too late? Living or dead she was his, though he should never see
her face, by some subtile power that had made them one, he knew not when
nor how. He did not reason now,--abandoned himself, as morbid men only
do, to this delirious hope, simple and bonny, of a home, and cheerful
warmth, and this woman's love fresh and eternal: a pleasant dream at
first, to be put away at pleasure. But it grew bolder, touched
under-deeps in his nature of longing and intense passion; all that he
knew or felt of power or will, of craving effort, of success in the
world, drifted into this dream and became one with it. He stood up, his
vigorous frame starting into a nobler manhood, with the consciousness of
right,--with a willed assurance, that, the first victory gained, the
others should follow.
It was late; he must go on; he had not meant to sit idling by the
road-side. He went through the fields, his heavy step crushing the snow,
a dry heat in his blood, his eye intent, still, until he came within
sight of the farm-house; then he went on, cool and grave, in his
The house was quite dark; only a light in one of the lower windows,--the
library, he thought. The broad field he was crossing sloped down to the
house, so that, as he came nearer, he saw the little room quite plainly
in the red glow of the fire within, the curtains being undrawn. He had a
keen eye; did not fail to see the marks of poverty about the place, the
gateless fences, even the bare room with its worn and patched carpet:
noted it all with a triumphant gleam of satisfaction. There was a black
shadow passing and repassing the windows: he waited a moment looking at
it, then came more slowly towards them, intenser heats smouldering in
his face. He would not surprise her; she should be as ready as he was
for the meeting. If she ever put her pure hand in his again, it should
be freely done, and of her own good-will.
She saw him as he came up on the porch, and stopped, looking out, as if
bewildered,--then resumed her walk, mechanically. What it cost her to
see him again he could not tell: her face did not alter. It was lifeless
and schooled, the eyes looking straight forward always, indifferently.
Was this his work? If he had killed her outright, it would have been
better than this.
The windows were low: it had been his old habit to go in through them,
and he now went up to one unconsciously. As he opened it, he saw her
turn away for an instant; then she waited for him, entirely tranquil,
the clear fire shedding a still glow over the room, no cry or shiver of
pain to show how his coming broke open the old wound. She smiled even,
when he leaned against the window looking, with a careless welcome.
Holmes stopped, confounded. It did not suit him,--this. If you know a
man's nature, you comprehend why. The bitterest reproach or a proud
contempt would have been less galling than this gentle indifference. His
hold had slipped from off the woman, he believed. A moment before he had
remembered how he had held her in his arms, touched her cold lips, and
then flung her off,--he had remembered it, his every nerve shrinking
with remorse and unutterable tenderness: now--! The utter quiet of her
face told more than words could do. She did not love him; he was nothing
to her. Then love was a lie. A moment before he could have humbled
himself in her eyes as low as he lay in his own, and accepted her pardon
as a necessity of her enduring, faithful nature: now the whole strength
of the man sprang into rage and mad desire of conquest.
He came gravely across the room, holding out his hand with his old quiet
control. She might be cold and grave as he, but underneath he knew there
was a thwarted hungry spirit,--a strong fine spirit as dainty Ariel. He
would sting it to life, and tame it: it was his.
"I thought you would come, Stephen," she said, simply, motioning him to
Could this automaton be Margaret? He leaned on the mantel-shelf, looking
down with a cynical sneer.
"Is that the welcome? Why, there are a thousand greetings for this time
of love and good words you might have chosen. Besides, I have come back
ill and poor,--a beggar perhaps. How do women receive such,--generous
women? Is there no formula? no hand-shaking? nothing more? remembering
that I was once--not indifferent to you."
He laughed. She stood still and grave as before.
"Why, Margaret, I have been down near death since that night."
He thought her lips grew gray, but she looked up clear and steady.
"I am glad you did not die. Yes, I can say that. As for hand-shaking, my
ideas may be peculiar as your own."
"She measures her words," he said, as to himself; "her very eye-light is
ruled by decorum; she is a machine, for work. She has swept her child's
heart clean of anger and revenge, even scorn for the wretch that sold
himself for money. There was nothing else to sweep out, was
there?"--bitterly,--"no friendships, such as weak women nurse and coddle
into being,--or love, that they live in, and die for sometimes, in a
"No, not unmanly. Margaret, let us be serious and calm. It is no time to
trifle or wear masks. That has passed between us which leaves no room
for sham courtesies."
"There needs none,"--meeting his eye unflinchingly. "I am ready to meet
you and hear your farewell. Dr. Knowles told me your marriage was near
at hand. I knew you would come, Stephen. You did before."
He winced,--the more that her voice was so clear of pain.
"Why should I come? To show you what sort of a heart I have sold for
money? Why, you know, little Margaret. You can reckon up its deformity,
its worthlessness, on your cool fingers. You could tell the serene and
gracious lady who is chaffering for it what a bargain she has
made,--that there is not in it one spark of manly honor or true love.
Don't venture too near it in your coldness and prudence. It has tiger
passions I will not answer for. Give me your hand, and feel how it pants
like a hungry fiend. It will have food, Margaret."
She drew away the hand he grasped, and stood back in the shadow.
"What is it to me?"--in the same measured voice.
Holmes wiped the cold drops from his forehead, a sort of shudder in his
powerful frame. He stood a moment looking into the fire, his head
dropped on his arm.
"Let it be so," he said at last, quietly. "The worn old heart can gnaw
on itself a little longer. I have no mind to whimper over pain."
Something that she saw on the dark sardonic face, as the red gleams
lighted it, made her start convulsively, as if she would go to him; then
controlling herself, she stood silent. He had not seen the
movement,--or, if he saw, did not heed it. He did not care to tame her
now. The firelight flashed and darkened, the crackling wood breaking the
dead silence of the room.
"It does not matter," he said, raising his head, laying his arm over his
strong chest unconsciously, as if to shut in all complaint. "I had an
idle fancy that it would be good on this Christmas night to bare the
secrets of crime and selfishness hidden in here to you,--to suffer your
pure eyes to probe the sorest depths: I thought perhaps they would have
a blessing power. It was an idle fancy. What is my want or crime to
The answer came slowly, but it did come.
"Nothing to me."
She tried to meet the gaunt face looking down on her with a proud
sadness,--did meet it at last with her meek eyes.
"No, nothing to you. There is no need that I should stay longer, is
there? You made ready to meet me, and have gone through your part well."
"It is no part. I speak God's truth to you as I can."
"I know. There is nothing more for us to say to each other In this
world, then, except good-night. Words--polite words--are bitterer than
death, sometimes. If ever we happen to meet, that courteous smile on
your face will be enough to speak--God's truth for you. Shall we say
"If you will."
She drew farther into the shadow, leaning on a chair.
He stopped, some sudden thought striking him.
"I have a whim," he said, dreamily, "that I would like to satisfy. It
would be a trifle to you: will you grant it?--for the sake of some old
happy day, long ago?"
She put her hand up to her throat; then it fell again.
"Anything you wish, Stephen," she said, gravely.
"Yes. Come nearer, then, and let me see what I have lost. A heart so
cold and strong as yours need not fear inspection. I have a fancy to
look into it, for the last time."
She stood motionless and silent.
"Come,"--softly,--"there is no hurt in your heart that fears detection?"
She came out into the full light, and stood before him, pushing back the
hair from her forehead, that he might see every wrinkle, and the faded,
lifeless eyes. It was a true woman's motion, remembering even then to
scorn deception. The light glowed brightly in her face, as the slow
minutes ebbed without a sound: she only saw his face in shadow, with the
fitful gleam of intolerable meaning in his eyes. Her own quailed and
"Does it hurt you that I should even look at you?" he said, drawing
back. "Why, even the sainted dead suffer us to come near them after they
have died to us,--to touch their hands, to kiss their lips, to find what
look they left in their faces for us. Be patient, for the sake of the
old time. My whim is not satisfied yet."
"I am patient."
"Tell me something of yourself, to take with me when I go, for the last
time. Shall I think of you as happy in these days?"
"I am contented,"--the words oozing from her white lips in the
bitterness of truth. "I asked God, that night, to show me my work; and I
think He has shown it to me. I do not complain. It is a great work."
"Is that all?" he demanded, fiercely.
"No, not all. It pleases me to feel I have a warm home, and to help keep
it cheerful. When my father kisses me at night, or my mother says, 'God
bless you, child,' I know that is enough, that I ought to be happy."
The old clock in the corner hummed and ticked through the deep silence
like the humble voice of the home she toiled to keep warm, thanking her,
"Once more," as the light grew stronger on her face,--"will you look
down into your heart that you have given to this great work, and tell me
what you see there? Dare you do it, Margaret?"
"I dare do it,"--but her whisper was husky.
He watched her more as a judge would a criminal, as she sat before him:
she struggled weakly under the power of his eye, not meeting it. He
waited relentless, seeing her face slowly whiten, her limbs shiver, her
"Let me speak for you," he said at last. "I know who once filled your
heart to the exclusion of all others: it is no time for mock shame. I
know it was my hand that held the very secret of your being. Whatever I
may have been, you loved me, Margaret. Will you say that now?"
"I loved you,--once."
Whether it were truth that nerved her, or self-delusion, she was strong
now to utter it all.
"You love me no longer, then?"
"I love you no longer."
She did not look at him; she was conscious only of the hot fire wearing
her eyes, and the vexing click of the clock. After a while he bent over
her silently,--a manly, tender presence.
"When love goes once," he said, "it never returns. Did you say it was
One effort more, and Duty would be satisfied.
"It is gone."
In the slow darkness that came to her she covered her face, knowing and
hearing nothing. When she looked up, Holmes was standing by the window,
with his face toward the gray fields. It was a long time before he
turned and came to her.
"You have spoken honestly: it is an old fashion of yours. You believed
what you said. Let me also tell you what you call God's truth, for a
moment, Margaret. It will not do you harm."--He spoke gravely,
solemnly.--"When you loved me long ago, selfish, erring as I was, you
fulfilled the law of your nature; when you put that love out of your
heart, you make your duty a tawdry sham, and your life a lie. Listen to
me. I am calm."
Was he calm? It was calmness that made her tremble as she had not done
"You have deceived yourself: when you try to fill your heart with this
work, you serve neither your God nor your fellow-man. You tell me,"
stooping close to her, "that I am nothing to you: you believe it, poor
child! There is not a line on your face that does not prove it false. I
have keen eyes, Margaret !"--He laughed,--a savage, despairing
laugh.--"You have wrung this love out of your heart? If it was easy to
do, did it need to wring with it every sparkle of pleasure and grace out
of your life? Your very hair is gathered out of your sight: you feared
to remember how my hand had touched it? Your dress is stingy and hard;
your step, your eyes, your mouth under rule. So hard it was to force
yourself into an old worn-out woman! Oh, Margaret! Margaret!"
She moaned under her breath.
"I notice trifles, child! Yonder, in that corner, used to stand the desk
where I helped you with your Latin. How you hated it! Do you remember?"
"It always stood there: it is gone now. Outside of the gate there was
that elm I planted, and you promised to water while I was gone. It is
cut down now by the roots."
"I had it done, Stephen."
"I know. Do you know why? Because you love me: because you do not dare
to think of me, you dare not trust yourself to look at the tree that I
She started up with a cry, and stood there in the old way, her fingers
catching at each other.
"It is cruel,--let me go!"
"It is not cruel."--He came up closer to her.--"You think you do not
love me, and see what I have made you! Look at the torpor of this
face,--the dead, frozen eyes! It is a 'nightmare, death in life,' Good
God, to think that I have done this! To think of the countless days of
agony, the nights, the years of solitude that have brought her to
He paced the floor, slowly. She sat down on a low stool, leaning her
head on her hands. The little figure, the bent head, the quivering chin
brought up her childhood to him. She used to sit so when he had
tormented her, waiting to be coaxed back to love and smiles again. The
hard man's eyes filled with tears, as he thought of it. He watched the
deep, tearless sobs that shook her breast: he had wounded her to
death,--his bonny Margaret! She was like a dead thing now: what need to
torture her longer? Let him be manly and go out to his solitary life,
taking the remembrance of what he had done with him for company. He rose
uncertainly,--then came to her: was that the way to leave her?
"I am going, Margaret," he whispered, "but let me tell you a story
before I go,--a Christmas story, say. It will not touch you,--it is too
late to hope for that,--but it is right that you should hear it."
She looked up wearily.
"As you will, Stephen."
Whatever impulse drove the man to speak words that he knew were useless
made him stand back from her, as though she were something he was unfit
to touch: the words dragged from him slowly.
"I had a curious dream to-night, Margaret,--a waking dream: only a
clear vision of what had been once. Do you remember--the old time?"
What disconnected rambling was this? Yet the girl understood it, looked
into the low fire with sad, listening eyes.
"Long ago. That was a free, strong life that opened before us then,
little one,--before you and me? Do you remember the Christmas before I
went away? I had a strong arm and a hungry brain to go out into the
world with, then. Something better, too, I had. A purer self than was
born with me came late in life, and nestled in my heart. Margaret, there
was no fresh loving thought in my brain for God or man that did not grow
from my love of you; there was nothing noble or kindly in my nature that
did not flow into that love and deepen there. I was your master, too. I
held my own soul by no diviner right than I held your love and owed you
mine. I understand it, now, when it is too late."--He wiped the cold
drops from his face.--"Now do you know whether it is remorse I feel,
when I think how I put this purer self away,--how I went out triumphant
in my inhuman, greedy soul,--how I resolved to know, to be, to trample
under foot all weak love or homely pleasures? I have been punished. Let
those years go. I think, sometimes, I came near to the nature of the
damned who dare not love: I would not. It was then I hurt you,
Margaret,--to the death: your true life lay in me, as mine in you."
He had gone on drearily, as though holding colloquy with himself, as
though great years of meaning surged up and filled the broken words. It
may have been thus with the girl, for her face deepened as she listened.
For the first time for many long days tears welled up into her eyes, and
rolled between her fingers unheeded.
"I came through the streets to-night baffled in life,--a mean man that
might have been noble,--all the years wasted that had gone
before,--disappointed,--with nothing to hope for but time to work
humbly and atone for the wrongs I had done. When I lay yonder, my soul
on the coast of eternity, I resolved to atone for every selfish deed. I
had no thought of happiness; God knows I had no hope of it. I had
wronged you most: I could not die with that wrong unforgiven."
"Unforgiven, Stephen?" she sobbed; "I forgave it long ago."
He looked at her a moment, then by some master effort choked down the
word he would have spoken, and went on with his bitter confession.
"I came through the crowded town, a homeless, solitary man, on the
Christmas eve when love comes to every man. If ever I had grown sick for
a word or touch from the one soul to whom alone mine was open, I
thirsted for it then. The better part of my nature was crushed out, and
flung away with you, Margaret. I cried for it,--I wanted help to be a
better, purer man. I need it now. And so," he said, with a smile that
hurt her more than tears, "I came to my good angel, to tell her I had
sinned and repented, that I had made humble plans for the future, and
ask her--God knows what I would have asked her then! She had forgotten
me,--she had another work to do!"
She wrung her hands with a helpless cry. Holmes went to the window: the
dull waste of snow looked to him as hopeless and vague as his own life.
"I have deserved it," he muttered to himself. "It is too late to amend."
Some light touch thrilled his arm.
"Is it too late, Stephen?" whispered a childish voice.
The strong man trembled, looking at the little dark figure standing near
"We were both wrong; let us be friends again."
She went back unconsciously to the old words of their quarrels long ago.
He drew back.
"Do not mock me," he gasped. "I suffer, Margaret. Do not mock me with
"I do not; let us be friends again."
She was crying like a penitent child; her face was turned away; love,
pure and deep, was in her eyes.
The red fire-light grew stronger; the clock hushed its noisy ticking to
hear the story. Holmes's pale lip worked: what was this coming to him?
He dared not hope, yet his breast heaved, a dry heat panted in his
veins, his deep eyes flashed fire.
"If my little friend comes to me," he said, in a smothered voice, "there
is but one place for her,--her soul with my soul, her heart on my
heart."--He opened his arms.--"She must rest her head here. My little
friend must be--my wife."
She looked into the strong, haggard face,--a smile crept out on her own,
arch and debonair like that of old time.
"I am tired, Stephen," she whispered, and softly laid her head down on
The red fire-light flashed into a glory of crimson through the room,
about the two figures standing motionless there,--shimmered down into
awe-struck shadow: who heeded it? The old clock ticked away furiously,
as if rejoicing that weary days were over for the pet and darling of the
house: nothing else broke the silence. Without, the deep night paused,
gray, impenetrable. Did it hope that far angel-voices would break its
breathless hush, as once on the fields of Judea, to usher in Christmas
morn? A hush, in air, and earth, and sky, of waiting hope, of a promised
joy. Down there in the farm-window two human hearts had given the joy a
name; the hope throbbed into being; the hearts touching each other beat
in a slow, full chord of love as pure in God's eyes as the song the
angels sang, and as sure a promise of the Christ that is to come.
Forever and ever,--not even death would part them; he knew that, holding
her closer, looking down into her face.
What a pale little face it was! Through the intensest heat of his
passion the sting touched him: it was but one mark of his murderous
selfishness. Some instinct made her glance up at him, as he thought
this, with a keen insight, and she lifted her head from his breast, and
when he stooped to touch her lips, shook herself free, laughing
carelessly. Their whole life was before them to taste happiness, and she
had a mind they should taste it drop by drop. Alas, Stephen Holmes! you
will have little time for morbid questionings in those years to come:
your very pauses of silent content and love will be rare and
well-earned. No more tranced raptures for to-night,--let tomorrow bring
what it would.
"You do not seem to find your purer self altogether perfect?" she
demanded. "I think the pale skin hurts your artistic eye, or the frozen
eyes,--which is it?"
"They have thawed into brilliant fire,--something looks at me
half-yielding and half-defiant,--you know that, you vain child! But,
Margaret, nothing can atone"--
"That is right, Stephen. Remorse grows maudlin when it goes into words,"
laughing again at his astounded look.
He took her hand,--a dewy, healthy hand,--the very touch of it meant
action and life.
"What if I say, then," he said, earnestly, "that I do not find my angel
perfect, be the fault mine or hers? The child Margaret, with her sudden
tears and laughter and angry heats, is gone,--I killed her, I
think,--gone long ago. I will not take in place of her this worn, pale
ghost, who wears clothes as chilly as if she came from the dead, and
stands alone, as ghosts do."
She stood a little way off, her great brown eyes flashing with tears. It
was so strange a joy to find herself cared for, when she had believed
she was old and hard: the very idle jesting made her youth and happiness
real to her. Holmes saw that with his quick tact. He flung playfully a
crimson shawl that lay there about her white neck.
"My wife must suffer her life to flush out in gleams of color and light:
her cheeks must hint at a glow within, as yours do now. I will have no
hard angles, no pallor, no uncertain memory of pain in her life: it
shall be perpetual summer."
He loosened her hair, and it rolled down about the bright, tearful face,
shining in the red fire-light like a mist of tawny gold.
"I need warmth and freshness and light: my wife shall bring them to me.
She shall be no strong-willed reformer, standing alone: a sovereign lady
with kind words for the world, who gives her hand only to that man whom
she trusts, and keeps her heart and its secrets for me alone."
She paid no heed to him other than by a deepening color; the clock,
however, grew tired of the long soliloquy, and broke in with an
asthmatic warning as to the time of night.
"There is midnight," she said. "You shall go, now, Stephen
Holmes,--quick! before your sovereign lady fades, like Cinderella, into
grayness and frozen eyes!"
When he was gone, she knelt down by her window, remembering that night
long ago,--free to sob and weep out her joy,--very sure that her Master
had not forgotten to hear even a woman's prayer, and to give her her
true work,--very sure,--never to doubt again. There was a dark, sturdy
figure pacing up and down the road, that she did not see. It was there
when the night was over and morning began to dawn. Christmas morning! he
remembered,--it was something to him now! Never again a homeless,
solitary man! You would think the man weak, if I were to tell you how
this word "home" had taken possession of him,--how he had planned out
work through the long night: success to come, but with his wife nearest
his heart, and the homely farm-house and the old schoolmaster in the
centre of the picture. Such an humble castle in the air! Christmas
morning was surely something to him. Yet, as the night passed, he went
back to the years that had been wasted, with an unavailing bitterness.
He would not turn from the truth, that, with his strength of body and
brain to command happiness and growth, his life had been a failure. I
think it was first on that night that the story of the despised Nazarene
came to him with a new meaning,--One who came to gather up these broken
fragments of lives and save them with His own. But vaguely, though:
Christmas-day as yet was to him the day when love came into the world.
He knew the meaning of that. So he watched with an eagerness new to him
the day breaking. He could see Margaret's window, and a dim light in it:
she would be awake, praying for him, no doubt. He pondered on that.
Would you think Holmes weak, if he forsook the faith of Fichte,
sometime, led by a woman's hand? Think of the apostle of the positive
philosophers, and say no more. He could see a flickering light at dawn
crossing the hall: he remembered the old schoolmaster's habit
well,--calling "Happy Christmas" at every door: he meant to go down
there for breakfast, as he used to do, imagining how the old man would
wring his hands, with a "Holla! you're welcome home, Stephen, boy!" and
Mrs. Howth would bring out the jars of pine-apple preserve which her
sister sent her every year from the West Indies. And then----Never mind
what then. Stephen Holmes was very much in love, and this Christmas-day
had much to bring him. Yet it was with a solemn shadow on his face that
he watched the dawn, showing that he grasped the awful meaning of this
day that "brought love into the world." Through the clear, frosty night
he could hear a low chime of distant bells shiver the air, hurrying
faint and far to tell the glad tidings. He fancied that the dawn flushed
warm to hear the story,--that the very earth should rejoice in its
frozen depths, if it were true. If it were true!--if this passion in his
heart were but a part of an all-embracing power, in whose clear depths
the world struggled vainly!--if it were true that this Christ did come
to make that love clear to us! There would be some meaning then in the
old schoolmaster's joy, in the bells wakening the city yonder, in even
poor Lois's thorough content in this day,--for it would be, he knew, a
thrice-happy day to her. A strange story that of the Child coming into
the world,--simple! He thought of it, watching, through his cold, gray
eyes, how all the fresh morning told it,--it was in the very air;
thinking how its echo stole through the whole world,--how innumerable
children's voices told it in eager laughter,--how even the lowest slave
half-smiled, on waking, to think it was Christmas-day, the day that
Christ was born. He could hear from the church on the hill that they
were singing again the old song of the angels. Did this matter to him?
Did he care, with the new throb in his heart, who was born this day?
There is no smile on his face as he listens to the words, "Glory to God
in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men"; it bends
lower,--lower only. But in the selfish eyes there are warm tears, and on
his worn face a sad and solemn joy.
* * * * *
I am going to end my story now, There are phases more vivid in the
commonplace lives of these men and women, I do not doubt: love as
poignant as pain in its joy; crime, weak and foul and foolish, like all
crime; silent self-sacrifices: but I leave them for you to paint; you
will find colors enough in your own house and heart.
As for Christmas-day, neither you nor I need try to do justice to that
theme: how the old schoolmaster went about, bustling, his thin face
quite hot with enthusiasm, and muttering, "God bless my soul!"--hardly
recovered from the sudden delight of finding his old pupil waiting for
him when he went down in the morning; how he insisted on being led by
him, and nobody else, all day, and before half an hour had confided,
under solemn pledges of secrecy, the great project of the book about
Bertrand de Born; how even easy Mrs. Howth found her hospitable
Virginian blood in a glow at the unexpected breakfast-guest,--settling
into more confident pleasure as dinner came on, for which success was
surer; how cold it was, outside; how Joel piled on great fires, and went
off on some mysterious errand, having "other chores to do than idling
and duddering"; how the day rose into a climax of perfection at
dinner-time, to Mrs. Howth's mind,--the turkey being done to a delicious
brown, the plum-pudding quivering like luscious jelly (a Christian
dinner to-day, if we starve the rest of the year!). Even Dr. Knowles,
who brought a great bouquet out for the schoolmaster, was in an unwonted
good-humor; and Mr. Holmes, of whom she stood a little in dread, enjoyed
it all with such zest, and was so attentive to them all, but Margaret.
They hardly spoke to each other all day; it quite fretted the old lady;
indeed, she gave the girl a good scolding about it out in the pantry,
until she was ready to cry. She had looked that way all day, however.
Knowles was hurt deep enough when he saw Holmes, and suspected the
worst, under all his good-humor. It was a bitter disappointment to give
up the girl; for, beside the great work, he loved her in an uncouth
fashion, and hated Holmes. He met her alone in the morning; but when he
saw how pale she grew, expecting his outbreak, and how she glanced
timidly in at the room where Stephen was, he relented. Something in the
wet brown eye perhaps recalled a forgotten dream of his boyhood; for he
sighed sharply, and did not swear as he meant to. All he said was, that
"women will be women, and that she had a worse job on her hands than the
House of Refuge,"--which she put down to the account of his ill-temper,
and only laughed, and made him shake hands.
Lois and her father came out in the old cart in high state across the
bleak, snowy hills, quite aglow with all they had seen at the
farm-houses on the road. Margaret had arranged a settle for the sick
girl by the kitchen-fire, but they all came out to speak to her.
As for the dinner, it was the essence of all Christmas dinners: Dickens
himself, the priest of the genial day, would have been contented. The
old schoolmaster and his wife had hearts big and warm enough to do the
perpetual honors of a baronial castle; so you may know how the little
room and the faces about the homely table glowed and brightened. Even
Knowles began to think that Holmes might not be so bad, after all,
recalling the chicken in the mill, and,--
"Well, it was better to think well of all men, poor devils!"
I am sorry to say there was a short thunder-storm in the very midst of
the dinner. Knowles and Mr. Howth, in their anxiety to keep off from
ancient subjects of dispute, came, for a wonder, on modern politics, and
of course there was a terrible collision, which made Mrs. Howth quite
breathless: it was over in a minute, however, and it was hard to tell
which was the most repentant. Knowles, as you know, was a disciple of
Garrison, and the old schoolmaster was (will the "Atlantic"
bear it?) a States'-rights man, as you might expect from his
antecedents,--suspected, indeed, of being a contributor to "De Bow's
Review." I may as well come out with the whole truth, and acknowledge
that at the present writing the old gentleman is the very hottest
Secessionist I know. If it hurts the type, write it down a vice of
blood, O printers of New England!--or else, like Uncle Toby's recording
angel, drop a tear upon the word, and blot it out forever.
The dinner, perhaps, was fresher and heartier after that. Then Knowles
went back to town; and in the middle of the afternoon, as it grew dusk,
Lois started, knowing how many would come into her little shanty in the
evening to wish her Happy Christmas, although it was over. They piled up
comforts and blankets in the cart, and she lay on them quite snugly, her
scarred child's-face looking out from a great woollen hood Mrs. Howth
gave her. Old Yare held Barney, with his hat in his hand, looking as if
he deserved hanging, but very proud of the kindness they all showed his
girl. Holmes gave him some money for a Christmas gift, and he took it,
eagerly enough. For some unexpressed reason, they stood a long time in
the snow bidding Lois good-bye; and for the same reason, it may be, she
was loath to go, looking at each one earnestly as she laughed and grew
red and pale answering them, kissing Mrs. Howth's hand when she gave it
to her. When the cart did drive away, she watched them standing there
until she was out of sight, and waved her scrap of a handkerchief; and
when the road turned down the hill, lay down and softly cried to
Now that they were alone they gathered close about the fire, while the
day without grew gray and colder,--Margaret in her old place by her
father's knee. Some dim instinct had troubled the old man all day; it
did now: whenever Margaret spoke, he listened eagerly, and forgot to
answer sometimes, he was so lost in thought. At last he put his hand on
her head, and whispered, "What ails my little girl?" And then his little
girl sobbed and cried, as she had been ready to do all day, and kissed
his trembling hand, and went and hid on her mother's neck, and left
Stephen to say everything for her. And I think you and I had better come
away. Are not these things written on the fairest page of Stephen
It was quite dark before they had done talking,--quite dark; the
wood-fire had charred down into a great bed of crimson; the tea stood
till it grew cold, and no one drank it. The old man got up at last, and
Holmes led him to the library, where he smoked every evening. He held
Maggie, as he called her, in his arms a long time, and wrung Holmes's
hand. "God bless you, Stephen!" he said,--"this is a very happy
Christmas-day to me." And yet, sitting alone, the tears ran over his
wrinkled face as he smoked; and when his pipe went out, he did not know
it, but sat motionless. Mrs. Howth, fairly confounded by the shock, went
upstairs, and stayed there a long time. When she came down, the old
lady's blue eyes were tenderer, if that were possible, and her face very
pale. She went into the library and asked her husband if she didn't
prophesy this two years ago, and he said she did, and after a while
asked her if she remembered the barbecue-night at Judge Clapp's thirty
years ago. She blushed at that, and then went up and kissed him. She had
heard Joel's horse clattering up to the kitchen-door, so concluded she
would go out and scold him. Under the circumstances it would be a
If Mrs. Howth's nerves had been weak, she might have supposed that
free-born serving-man seized with sudden insanity, from the sight that
met her, going into the kitchen. His dinner, set on the dresser, was
flung contemptuously on the ashes; a horrible cloud of burning grease
rushed from a dirty pint-pot on the table, and before this Joel was
capering and snorting like some red-headed Hottentot before his fetich,
occasionally sticking his fingers into the nauseous stuff, and snuffing
it up as if it were roses. He was a church-member: he could _not_
be drunk? At the sight of her, he tried to regain the austere dignity
usual to him when women were concerned, but lapsed into an occasional
giggle, which spoiled the effect.
"Where have you been," she inquired, severely, "scouring the country
like a heathen on this blessed day? And what is that you have burning?
You're disgracing the house, and strangers in it."
Joel's good-humor was proof against even this.
"I've scoured to some purpose, then. Dun't tell the mester: it'll muddle
his brains t'-night. Wait till mornin'. Squire More'll be down hisself
He rubbed the greasy fingers into his hair, while Mrs. Howth's eyes were
fixed in dumb perplexity.
"Ye see,"--slowly, determined to make it clear to her now and
forever,--"it's water: no, t' a'n't water: it's troubled me an' Mester
Howth some time in Poke Run, atop o''t. I hed my suspicions,--so'd he;
lay low, though, frum all women-folks. So's I tuk a bottle down,
unbeknown, to Squire More, an' it's oil!"--jumping like a wild
Indian,--"thank the Lord fur His marcies, it's oil!"
"Well, Joel," she said, calmly, "very disagreeably smelling oil it is, I
"Good save the woman!" he broke out, _sotto voce_, "she's a born
natural! Did ye never hear of a shaft? or millions o' gallons a day?
It's better nor a California ranch, I tell ye. Mebbe," charitably, "ye
didn't know Poke Run's the mester's?"
"I certainly do. But I do not see what this green ditch-water is to me.
And I think, Joel,"--
"It's more to ye nor all yer States'-rights as I'm sick o' hearin' of.
It's carpets, an' bunnets, an' slithers of railroad-stock, an' some
color on Margot's cheeks,--ye'd best think o' that! That's what it is to
ye! I'm goin' to take stock myself. I'm glad that gell'll git rest frum
her mills an' her Houses o' Deviltry,--she's got gumption fur a dozen
He went on muttering, as he gathered up his pint-pot and bottle,--
"I'm goin' to send my Tim to college soon's the thing's in runnin'
order. Lord! what a lawyer that boy'll make!"
Mrs. Howth's brain was still muddled.
"You are better pleased than you were at the election," she observed,
"Politics be darned!" he broke out, forgetting the teachings of Mr.
Clinche. "Now, Mem, dun't ye muddle the mester's brain t'-night wi' 't,
I say. I'm goin' t' 'xperiment myself a bit."
Which he did, accordingly,--shutting himself up in the smoke-house, and
burning the compound in divers sconces and Wide-Awake torches, giving up
the entire night to his diabolical orgies.
Mrs. Howth did not tell the master, for one reason: it took a long time
for so stupendous an idea to penetrate the good lady's brain; and for
another: her motherly heart was touched by another story than this
Aladdin's lamp of Joel's wherein burned petroleum. She watched from her
window until she saw Holmes crossing the icy road: there was a little
bitterness, I confess, in the thought that he had taken her child from
her; but the prayer that rose for them both took her whole woman's heart
with it, and surely will be answered.
The road was rough over the hills; the wind that struck Holmes's face
bitingly keen: perhaps the life coming for him would be as cold a
struggle, having not only poverty to conquer, but himself. But he is a
strong man,--no stronger puts his foot down with cool, resolute tread;
and to-night there is a thrill on his lips that never rested there
before,--a kiss, dewy and warm. Something, too, stirs in his heart, like
a subtile atom of pure fire, that he hugs closely,--his for all time. No
poverty or death shall ever drive it away. Perhaps he entertains an
After that night Lois never left her little shanty. The days that
followed were like one long Christmas; for her poor neighbors, black and
white, had some plot among themselves, and worked zealously to make them
seem so to her. It was easy to make these last days happy for the simple
little soul who had always gathered up every fragment of pleasure in her
featureless life, and made much of it, and rejoiced over it. She grew
bewildered, sometimes, lying on her wooden settle by the fire; people
had always been friendly, taken care of her, but now they were eager in
their kindness, as though the time were short. She did not understand
the reason, at first; she did not want to die: yet if it hurt her, when
it grew clear at last, no one knew it; it was not her way to speak of
pain. Only, as she grew weaker, day by day, she began to set her house
in order, as one might say, in a quaint, almost comical fashion, giving
away everything she owned, down to her treasures of colored bottles and
needlework's, mending her father's clothes, and laying them out in her
drawers; lastly, she had Barney brought in from the country, and every
day would creep to the window to see him fed and chirrup to him, whereat
the poor old beast would look up with his dim eye, and try to neigh a
feeble answer. Kitts used to come every day to see her, though he never
said much when he was there: he lugged his great copy of the Venus del
Pardo along with him one day, and left it, thinking she would like to
look at it; Knowles called it trash, when he came. The Doctor came
always in the morning; he told her he would read to her one day, and did
it always afterwards, putting on his horn spectacles, and holding her
old Bible close up to his rugged, anxious face. He used to read most
from the Gospel of St. John. She liked better to hear him than any of
the others, even than Margaret, whose voice was so low and tender:
something in the man's half-savage nature was akin to the child's.
As the day drew near when she was to go, every pleasant trifle seemed to
gather a deeper, solemn meaning. Jenny Balls came in one night, and old
"We thought you'd like to see her weddin'-dress, Lois," said the old
woman, taking off Jenny's cloak, "seein' as the weddin' was to hev been
to-morrow, and was put off on 'count of you."
Lois did like to see it; sat up, her face quite flushed to see how
nicely it fitted, and stroked back Jenny's soft hair under the veil. And
Jenny, being a warm-hearted little thing, broke into a sobbing fit,
saying that it spoiled it all to have Lois gone.
"Don't muss your veil, child," said Mrs. Polston.
But Jenny cried on, hiding her face in Lois's skinny hand, until Sam
Polston came in, when she grew quiet and shy. The poor deformed girl lay
watching them, as they talked. Very pretty Jenny looked, with her blue
eyes and damp pink cheeks; and it was a manly, grave love in Sam's face,
when it turned to her. A different love from any she had known: better,
she thought. It could not be helped; but it was better.
After they were gone, she lay a long time quiet, with her hand over her
eyes. Forgive her! she, too, was a woman. Ah, it may be there are more
wrongs that shall be righted yonder in the To-Morrow than are set down
in your theology!
And so it was, that, as she drew nearer to this To-Morrow, the brain of
the girl grew clearer,--struggling, one would think, to shake off
whatever weight had been put on it by blood or vice or poverty, and
become itself again. Perhaps, even in her cheerful, patient life, there
had been hours when she had known the wrongs that had been done her,
known how cruelly the world had thwarted her; her very keen insight into
whatever was beautiful or helpful may have made her see her own
mischance, the blank she had drawn in life, more bitterly. She did not
see it bitterly now. Death is honest; all things grew clear to her,
going down into the valley of the shadow; so, wakening to the
consciousness of stifled powers and ungiven happiness, she saw that the
fault was not hers, nor His who had appointed her lot; He had helped her
to bear it,--bearing worse himself. She did not say once, "I might have
been," but day by day, more surely, "I shall be." There was not a tear
in the homely faces turning from her bed, not a tint of color in the
flowers they brought her, not a shiver of light in the ashy sky, that
did not make her more sure of that which was to come. More loving she
grew, as she went away from them, the touch of her hand more pitiful,
her voice more tender, if such a thing could be,--with a look in her
eyes never seen there before. Old Yare pointed it out to Mrs. Polston
"My girl's far off frum us," he said, sobbing in the kitchen,--"my
girl's far off now."
It was the last night of the year that she died. She was so much better
that they all were quite cheerful. Kitts went away as it grew dark, and
she bade him wrap up his throat with such a motherly dogmatism that they
all laughed at her; she, too, with the rest.
"I'll make you a New-Year's call," he said, going out; and she called
out that she should be sure to expect him.
She seemed so strong that Holmes and Mrs. Polston and Margaret, who were
there, were going home; besides, old Yare said, "I'd like to take care
o' my girl alone to-night, ef yoh'd let me,"--for they had not trusted
him before. But Lois asked them not to go until the Old Year was over;
so they waited downstairs.
The old man fell asleep, and it was near midnight when he wakened with a
cold touch on his hand.
"It's come, father!"
He started up with a cry, looking at the new smile in her eyes, grown
"Call them all, quick, father!"
Whatever was the mystery of death that met her now, her heart clung to
the old love that had been true to her so long.
He did not move.
"Let me hev yoh to myself, Lo, 't th' last; yoh're all I hev; let me hev
yoh 't th' last."
It was a bitter disappointment, but she roused herself even then to
smile, and tell him yes, cheerfully. You call it a trifle, nothing? It
may be; yet I think the angels looking down had tears in their eyes,
when they saw the last trial of the unselfish, solitary heart, and kept
for her a different crown from his who conquers a city.
The fire-light grew warmer and redder; her eyes followed it, as if all
that had been bright and kindly in her life were coming back in it. She
put her hand on her father, trying vainly to smooth his gray hair. The
old man's heart smote him for something, for his sobs grew louder, and
he left her a moment; then she saw them all, faces very dear to her even
then. She laughed and nodded to them all in the old childish way; then
her lips moved. "It's come right!" she tried to say; but the weak voice
would never speak again on earth.
"It's the turn o' the night," said Mrs. Polston, solemnly; "lift her
head; the Old Year's goin' out."
Margaret lifted her head, and held it on her breast. She could hear
cries and sobs; the faces, white now, and wet, pressed nearer, yet
fading slowly: it was the Old Year going out, the worn-out year of her
life. Holmes opened the window: the cold night-wind rushed in, bearing
with it snatches of broken harmony: some idle musician down in the city,
playing fragments of some old, sweet air, heavy with love and regret. It
may have been chance: yet let us think it was not chance; let us believe
that He who had made the world warm and happy for her chose that this
best voice of all should bid her goodbye at the last.
So the Old Year went out. The dull eyes, loving to the end, wandered
vaguely as the sounds died away, as if losing something,--losing all,
suddenly. She sighed as the clock struck, and then a strange calm,
unknown before, stole over her face; her eyes flashed open with a living
joy. Margaret stooped to close them, kissing the cold lids; and Tiger,
who had climbed upon the bed, whined and crept down.
"It is the New Year," said Holmes, bending his head.
The cripple was dead; but _Lois_, free, loving, and beloved,
trembled from her prison to her Master's side in the To-Morrow.
I can show you her grave out there in the hills,--a short, stunted
grave, like a child's. No one goes there, although there are many
firesides where they speak of "Lois" softly, as of something holy and
dear: but they think of her always as gone home; even old Yare looks up,
when he talks of "my girl." Yet, knowing that nothing in God's just
universe is lost, or fails to meet the late fulfilment of its hope, I
like to think of her poor body lying there: I like to believe that the
great mother was glad to receive the form that want and crime of men had
thwarted,--took her uncouth child home again, that had been so cruelly
wronged,--folded it in her warm bosom with tender, palpitating love.
It pleased me in the winter months to think that the worn-out limbs, the
old scarred face of Lois rested, slept: crumbled into fresh atoms, woke
at last with a strange sentience, and, when God smiled permission
through the summer sun, flashed forth in a wild ecstasy of the true
beauty that she loved so well. In no questioning, sad pallor of sombre
leaves or gray lichens: throbbed out rather in answering crimsons, in
lilies, white, exultant in a chordant life!
Yet, more than this: I strive to grope, with dull, earthy sense, at her
freed life in that earnest land where souls forget to hunger or to hope,
and learn to be. And so thinking, the certainty of her aim and work and
love yonder comes with a new, vital reality, beside which the story of
the yet living men and women of whom I have told you grows vague and
incomplete, like an unguessed riddle. I have no key to solve it
with,--no right to solve it. Let me lay the pen abruptly down.
* * * * *
My story is coarse, unended, a mere groping hint? It has no conduit of
God's justice running through it, awarding good and ill? It lacks
determined concord, and a certain yea and nay? I know: it is a story of
To-Day. The Old Year is on us yet. Poor faithful old Knowles will tell
you that it is a dark day: that now, as eighteen hundred years ago, the
Helper stands unwelcome in the world: that the air is filled with the
cry of the slave, and of nations going down into darkness, their message
untold, their work undone: that your own heart, as well as the great
humanity, asks, even now, an unrendered justice. Does he utter all the
problem of To-Day? I think, not all: yet let it be. Other hands are
strong to show you how, in the very instant peril of this hour, is
lifted clearer into view the eternal, hopeful prophecy; may tell you
that the slumbering heaven and the unquiet earth are instinct with it;
that the unanswered prayer of your own life should teach it to you; that
in that Book wherein God has not scorned to write the history of America
we find the quiet surety that the To-Morrow of the world is near at
For me, I have no prophetic insight, as I said before: the homely things
of every day wear their old faces. This moment, the evening air thrills
with a purple of which no painter has caught the tint, no poet the
meaning; not a face passes me in the street on which some human voice
has not the charm to call out love or power: the Helper yet waits
amongst us; surely, this Old Year you despise holds beauty, work,
content yet unmastered. Child-souls, you tell me, like that of Lois, may
find it enough to hold no past and no future, to accept the work of each
moment, and think it no wrong to drink every drop of its beauty and joy:
we who are wiser laugh at them. It may be: yet I say unto you, their
angels only do always behold the face of my Father in the New Year.
* * * * *
FRANCONIA FROM THE PEMIGEWASSET.
Once more, O Mountains of the North, unveil
Your brows, and lay your cloudy mantles by!
And once more, ere the eyes that seek ye fail,
Uplift against the blue walls of the sky
Your mighty shapes, and let the sunshine weave
Its golden net-work in your belting woods,
Smile down in rainbows from your falling floods,
And on your kingly brows at morn and eve
Set crowns of fire! So shall my soul receive
Haply the secret of your calm and strength,
Your unforgotten beauty interfuse
My common life, your glorious shapes and hues
And sun-dropped splendors at my bidding come,
Loom vast through dreams, and stretch in billowy length
From the sea-level of my lowland home!
They rise before me! Last night's thunder-gust
Roared not in vain: for, where its lightnings thrust
Their tongues of fire, the great peaks seem so near,
Burned clean of mist, so starkly bold and clear,
I almost pause the wind in the pines to hear,
The loose rock's fall, the steps of browsing deer.
The clouds that shattered on yon slide-worn walls
And splintered on the rocks their spears of rain
Have set in play a thousand waterfalls,
Making the dusk and silence of the woods
Glad with the laughter of the chasing floods
And luminous with blown spray and silver gleams,
While, in the vales below, the dry-lipped streams
Sing to the freshened meadow-lands again.
So, let me hope, the battle-storm that beats
The land with hail and fire may pass away
With its spent thunders at the break of day,
Like last night's clouds, and leave, as it retreats,
A greener earth and fairer sky behind,
Blown crystal-clear by Freedom's Northern wind!
* * * * *
THE USE OF THE RIFLE.
In no branch of manufacture has human ingenuity been taxed more
vigorously, for the attainment of the highest possible point of
perfection, than in that of rifled guns for the use of the troops, on
whose capacity for the destruction of their opponents the throne of the
tyrant or the liberty of the people may be dependent. Nations,
companies, and individuals have expended years of time and millions of
money in testing every conceivable contrivance which offered a hope of
improvement in precision, force, facility of loading or firing, or any
of the minute details which contribute to render the weapon more
And yet, at this day, not only are the troops of different nations armed
with rifles differing in size, weight, calibre, and degree of twist,
requiring different instruction in their use, and shooting projectiles
of widely different pattern, but scarcely any two gun-makers will be
found to agree in all the details requisite to the construction of the
most serviceable weapon. The reason for this diversity lies in the fact,
that perfection in any one of its requirements can be attained only by
the sacrifice of some portion at least of its other elements, and the
point at which the balance should be fixed is a sliding scale covering
as wide a range as that of the mental and physical differences of the
men on whom the decision rests.
The objects to be attained are, precision and force at long ranges,
facility of loading and firing, and such simplicity and strength in the
general construction as to allow the least possible chance of
derangement or mistake in the management, at the moment when such error
might cost the owner his life. And in addition to these points it is
required that the weight shall not exceed the amount which a man of the
average strength needed for a soldier can manipulate and carry on the
march without over-fatigue.
It will be seen that we have awarded the first place on the list of
requisites to precision and force at long ranges; and we presume it is
unnecessary to enter into any explanation of the obvious primary
necessity for the attainment of those qualities. We find, however, that
our progress towards perfection in this direction cannot proceed beyond
a certain point, except at the cost of other qualities, which cannot be
sacrificed with impunity.
Regarding it as a settled point that any recoil of the gun is just so
much taken from the initial velocity of the ball, (and if any one doubts
it, let him try the experiment of throwing a stone, and stepping
backwards at the moment of propulsion,) it is obvious, that, for the
attainment of the longest range, such a preponderance of weight in the
gun over that of the projectile is necessary as to secure the least
possible recoil, and this point seems to have been fixed by our best
gun-makers at the ratio of five hundred to one, which would require a
gun weighing nearly sixteen pounds to carry a half-ounce ball or shot.