Part 2 out of 5
"Debbil de step! I'll take yer 'cross fields ter Gentry's, an' ride on
"You could not find him. No one could find him but me."
Something possessed the girl, other than her common self. She pushed his
hand gently from the reins, and left him. Bone wrung his hands.
"'N' de guerrillas,--'n' de rest o' de incarnate debbils!"
She knew that. Dode was no heroine,--a miserable coward. There was not a
black stump of a tree by the road-side, nor the rustle of a squirrel in
the trees, that did not make her heart jump and throb against her
bodice. Her horse climbed the rocky path slowly. I told you the girl
thought her Helper was alive, and very near. She did to-night. She
thought He was beside her in this lonesome road, and knew she would be
safe. She felt as if she could take hold of His very hand. It grew
darker: the mountains of snow glowered wan like the dead kings in Hades;
the sweeps of dark forests whispered some broken mysterious word, as she
passed; sometimes, in a sudden opening, she could see on a far hill-side
the red fires of a camp. She could not help the sick feeling in her
throat, nor make her hand steady; but the more alone she was, the nearer
He came,--the pale face of the Nazarene, who loved His mother and Mary,
who took the little children in His arms before He blessed them. Nearer
than ever before; so she was not afraid to tell Him, as she went, how
she had suffered that day, and that she loved this man who lay dying
under the snow: to ask that she might find him. A great gulf lay between
them. Would _He_ go with her, if she crossed it? She knew He would.
A strange peace came to the girl. She untied her hood and pushed it
back, that her whole head might feel the still air. How pure it was! God
was in it,--in all. The mountains, the sky, the armies yonder, her own
heart, and his under the snow, rested in Him, like motes in the
The moon, rising behind a bank of cloud, threw patches of light now and
then across the path: the girl's head, as she rode through them, came
into quick relief. No saint's face,--a very woman's, its pale, reserved
beauty unstrung with pain, her bosom full of earthly love, but in her
eyes that look which Mary must have given, when, after she thought her
Lord was dead, He called her, "Mary!" and she, looking up, said,
She had reached the highway at last. She could see where, some distance
yet beyond, the gully struck black across the snow-covered fields. The
road ran above it, zigzag along the hill-side. She thought, as her horse
galloped up the path, she could see the very spot where Douglas was
lying. Not dead,--she knew he was not dead! She came to it now. How
deathly still it was! As she tied the horse to the fence, and climbed
down the precipice through the snow, she was dimly conscious that the
air was warmer, that the pure moonlight was about her, genial, hopeful.
A startled snow-bird chirped to her, as she passed. Why, it was a happy
promise! Why should it not be happy? He was not dead, and she had leave
to come to him.
Yet, before she gained the level field, the pulse in her body was weak
and sick, and her eyes were growing blind. She did not see him. Half
covered by snow, she found his gray horse, dead, killed by the fall.
Palmer was gone. The gully was covered with muddy ice; there was a split
in it, and underneath, the black water curdled and frothed. Had he
fallen there? Was that thing that rose and fell in the roots of the old
willow his dead hand? There was a floating gleam of yellow in the
water,--it looked like hair. Dode put her hand to her hot breast, shut
her dry lips. He was not dead! God could not lie to her!
Stooping, she went over the ground again, an unbroken waste of white:
until, close to the water's edge, she found the ginseng-weeds torn and
trampled down. She never afterwards smelt their unclean, pungent odor,
without a sudden pang of the smothered pain of this night coming back to
her. She knelt, and found foot-marks,--one booted and spurred. She knew
it: what was there he had touched that she did not know? He was alive:
she did not cry out at this, or laugh, as her soul went up to God,--only
thrust her hand deep into the snow where his foot had been, with a
quick, fierce tenderness, blushing as she drew it back, as if she had
forgotten herself, and from her heart caressed him. She heard a sound at
the other side of a bend in the hill, a low drone, like somebody
mumbling a hymn.
She pushed her way through the thicket: the moon did not shine there;
there was a dark crevice in the hill, where some farmer's boy had built
a shed. There was a fire in it, now, smouldering, as though whoever made
it feared its red light would be seen by the distant pickets. Coming up
to it, she stood in the door-way. Douglas Palmer lay on a heap of
blankets on the ground: she could not see his face, for a lank, slothful
figure was stooping over him, chafing his head. It was Gaunt. Dode went
in, and knelt down beside the wounded man,--quietly: it seemed to her
natural and right she should be there. Palmer's eyes were shut, his
breathing heavy, uncertain; but his clothes were dried, and his side was
"It was only a flesh-wound," said Gaunt, in his vague way,--"deep,
though. I knew how to bind it. He'll live, Douglas will."
He did not seem surprised to see the girl. Nothing could be so bizarre
in the world, that his cloudy, crotchety brain did not accept it, and
make a commonplace matter out of it. It never occurred to him to wonder
how she came there. He stood with folded arms, his bony shoulders
bolstering up the board wall, watching her as she knelt, her hands on
Palmer's pillow, but not touching him. Gaunt's lean face had a pitiful
look, sometimes,--the look of the child he was in his heart,--hungry,
wistful, as though he sought for something, which you might have,
perhaps. He looked at Dode,--the child of the man that he had killed.
She did not know that. When she came in, he thought of shaking hands
with her, as he used to do. That could never be again,--never. _The man
that he had killed?_ Whatever that meant to him, his artist eye took
keen note of Dode, as she knelt there, in spite of remorse or pain
below: how her noble, delicate head rose from the coarse blue drapery,
the dark rings of her curling hair, the pale, clear-cut face, the
burning lips, the eyes whose earthly soul was for the man who lay there.
He knew that, yet he never loved her so fiercely as now,--now, when her
father's blood lay between them.
"Did you find him?" she asked, without looking up. "I ought to have done
it. I wish I had done that. I wish I had given him his life. It was my
One would think she was talking in her sleep.
"Why was it your right?" he asked, quietly.
"Because I loved him."
Gaunt raised his hand to his head suddenly.
"Did you, Dode? I had a better right than that. Because I hated him."
"He never harmed you, David Gaunt,"--with as proud composure as that
with which a Roman wife would defend her lord.
"I saved his life. Dode, I'm trying to do right: God knows I am. But I
hated him; he took from me the only thing that would have loved me."
She looked up timidly, her face growing crimson.
"I never would have loved you, David."
"No? I'm sorry you told me that, Dode."
That was all he said. He helped her gently, as she arranged the carpets
and old blanket under the wounded man; then he went out into the fresh
air, saying he did not feel well. She was glad that he was gone; Palmer
moved uneasily; she wanted his first look all to herself. She pushed
back his fair hair: what a broad, melancholy forehead lay under it! The
man wanted something to believe in,--a God in life: you could see that
in his face. She was to bring it to him: she could not keep the tears
back to think that this was so. The next minute she laughed in her
childish fashion, as she put the brandy to his lips, and the color came
to his face. He had been physician before; now it was her turn to master
and rule. He looked up at last, into her eyes, bewildered,--his face
struggling to gather sense, distinctness. When he spoke, though, it was
in his quiet old voice.
"I have been asleep. Where is Gaunt? He dressed my side."
"He is out, sitting on the hill-side."
"And you are here, Theodora?"
He was silent. He was weak from loss of blood, but his thoughts were
sharp, clear as never before. The years that were gone of his life
seemed clogged into one bulk; how hungry they had been, hard, cruel! He
never had felt it as now, while he lay helpless, his sultry look reading
the woman's eyes bent on his. They were pure and restful; love and home
waited in them; something beyond,--a peace he could not yet comprehend.
But this life was not for him,--he remembered that; the girl was nothing
to him now: he was not fool enough to taunt himself with false hopes.
She came there out of pity: any woman would do as much for a wounded
man. He would never fool himself to be so balked again. The loss cut too
deep. So he forced his face to be cool and critical, while poor Dode
waited, innocently wondering that he did not welcome her, pity her now
that her father was dead, forgetting that he knew nothing of that. For
him, he looked at the fire, wondering if the Rebel scouts could see
it,--thinking it would not be many days before Lander would dislodge
Jackson,--trying to think of anything rather than himself, and the
beautiful woman kneeling there.
Her eyes filled with tears at last, when he did not speak, and she
turned away. The blood rushed to Palmer's face: surely that was more
than pity! But he would not tempt her,--he would never vex her soul as
he had done before: if she had come to him, as a sister might, because
she thought he was dying, he would not taunt her with the old love she
had for him.
"I think I can stand up," he said, cheerfully; "lend me your arm,
Dode's arm was strong-nerved as well as fair; she helped him rise, and
stood beside him as he went to the door, for he walked unsteadily. He
took his hand from her shoulder instantly,--did not look at her:
followed with his eye the black line of the fretted hills, the glimmer
of the distant watch-fires. The path to the West lay through the Rebel
"It is a long trail out of danger," he said, smiling.
"You are going? I thought you needed rest."
Calm, icy enough now: he was indifferent to her. She knew how to keep
the pain down until he was gone.
"Rest? Yes. Where did you mean I should find it?"--facing her, sudden
and keen. "Where am I to be sheltered? In your home, Theodora?"
"I thought that. I see now that it was a foolish hope, Douglas."
"How did you hope it? What brought you here?"--his voice thick,
tremulous with passion. "Were you going to take me in as a Sister of
Charity might some wounded dog? Are pity and gratitude all that is left
between you and me?"
She did not answer,--her face pale, unmoving in the moonlight, quietly
turned to his. These mad heats did not touch her.
"You may be cold enough to palter with fire that has burned you,
Theodora. I am not."
She did not speak.
"Sooner than have gone to you for sisterly help and comfort, such as you
gave just now, I would have frozen in the snow, and been less cold.
Unless you break down the bar you put between us, I never want to see
your face again,--never, living or dead! I want no sham farce of
friendship between us, benefits given or received: your hand touching
mine as it might touch Bone's or David Gaunt's; your voice cooing in my
ear as it did just now, cool and friendly. It maddened me. Rest can
scarcely come from you to me, now."
"I understand you. I am to go back, then? It was a long road,--and cold,
He stopped abruptly, looked at her steadily.
"Do not taunt me, child! I am a blunt man: what words say, they mean, to
me. Do you love me, Theodora?"
She did not speak, drawn back from him in the opposite shadow of the
door-way. He leaned forward, his breath coming hurried, low.
"Are you cold? See how shaggy this great cloak is,--is it wide enough
for you and me? Will you come to me, Theodora?"
"I did come to you. Look! you put me back: 'There shall be no benefits
given or received between us.'"
"How did you come?"--gravely, as a man should speak to a woman, childish
trifling thrust aside. "How did you mean to take me home? As a pure,
God-fearing woman should the man she loved? Into your heart, into your
holiest thought? to gather strength from my strength, to make my power
your power, your God my God? to be one with me? Was it so you came?"
He waited a minute. How cold and lonely the night was! How near rest and
home came to him in this woman standing there! Would he lose them? One
moment more would tell. When he spoke again, his voice was lower,
"There is a great gulf between you and me, Theodora. I know that. Will
you cross it? Will you come to me?"
She came to him. He gathered her into his arms as he might a little
child, never to be cold again; he felt her full heart throb passionately
against his own; he took from her burning lips the first pure, womanly
kiss: she was all his. But when she turned her head, there was a quick
upward glance of her eyes, he knew not whether of appeal or thanks.
There was a Something in the world more near and real to her than he; he
loved her the better for it: yet until he found that Unknown God, they
were not one.
It was an uncertain step broke the silence, cracking the crusted snow.
"Why, Gaunt!" said Palmer, "what are you doing in the cold? Come to the
He could afford to speak cordially, heartily, out of the great warmth in
big own breast. Theodora was heaping shavings on the ashes. Gaunt took
them from her.
"Let me do it," he muttered. "I'd like to make your whole life warm,
Dode,--your life, and--any one's you love."
Dode's face flushed with a happy smile. Even David never would think of
her as alone again. Poor David! She never before had thought how
guileless he was,--how pitiful and solitary his life.
"Come home with us," she said, eagerly, holding out her hand.
He drew back, wiping the sweat from his face.
"You cannot see what is on my hand. I can't touch you, Dode. Never
again. Let me alone."
"She is right, Gaunt," said Palmer. "You stay here at the risk of your
life. Come to the house. Theodora can hide us; and if they discover us,
we can protect her together."
Gaunt smiled faintly.
"I must make my way to Springfield to-morrow. My work is there,--my new
Palmer looked troubled.
"I wish you had not taken it up. This war may be needed to conquer a way
for the day of peace and good-will among men; but you, who profess to be
a seer and actor in that day, have only one work: to make it real to us
now on earth, as your Master did, in the old time."
Gaunt did not speak,--fumbled among the chips at the fire. He raised
himself at last.
"I'm trying to do what's right," he said, in a subdued voice. "I haven't
had a pleasant life,--but it will come right at last, maybe."
"It will come right, David!" said the girl.
His face lighted: her cheery voice sounded like a welcome ringing
through his future years. It was a good omen, coming from her whom he
"Are you going now, Gaunt?" asked Palmer, seeing him button his thin
coat. "Take my blanket,--nay, you shall. As soon as I am strong enough,
I'll find you at Springfield."
He wished he could hearten the poor unnerved soul, somehow.
Gaunt stopped outside, looking at them,--some uncertain thought coming
and going in his face.
"I'll speak it out, whatever you may think. Dode, I've done you a
deadly hurt. Don't ask me what it is,--God knows. I'd like, before I go,
to show you I love you in a pure, honorable way, you and your
The words choked in his throat; he stopped abruptly.
"Whatever you do, it will be honorable, David," said Palmer, gently.
"I think--God might take it as expiation,"--holding his hand to his
He did not speak again for a little while, then he said,----
"I will never see these old Virginian hills again. I am going West; they
will let me nurse in one of the hospitals;--that will be better than
this that is on my hand."
Whatever intolerable pain lay in these words, he smothered it down, kept
his voice steady.
"Do you understand, Douglas Palmer? I will never see you again. Nor
Dode. You love this woman; so did I,--as well as you. Let me make her
your wife before I go,--here, under this sky, with God looking down on
us. Will you? I shall be happier to know that I have done it."
He waited while Douglas spoke eagerly to the girl, and then said,----
"Theodora, for God's sake don't refuse! I have hurt you,--the marks of
it you and I will carry to the grave. Let me think you forgive me before
I go. Grant me this one request."
Did she guess the hurt he had done her? Through all her fright and
blushes, the woman in her spoke out nobly.
"I do not wish to know how you have wronged me. Whatever it be, it was
innocently done. God will forgive you, and I do. There shall be peace
between us, David."
But she did not offer to touch his hand again: stood there, white and
"It shall be as you say," said Palmer.
So they were married, Douglas and Dode, in the wide winter night. A few
short words, that struck the very depths of their being, to make them
one: simple words, wrung out of the man's thin lips with what suffering
only he knew.
"Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder." Thus he
shut himself out from her forever. But the prayer for a blessing on them
came from as pure a heart as any child's that lives. He bade them
good-bye, cheerfully, when he had finished, and turned away, but came
back presently, and said good-night again, looking in their faces
steadily, then took his solitary way across the hills. They never saw
Bone, who had secured two horses by love or money or--confiscation, had
stood mutely in the background, gulping down his opinion of this
extraordinary scene. He did not offer it now, only suggested it was
"high time to be movin'," and when he was left alone, trudging through
the snow, contented himself with smoothing his felt hat, and a
breathless, "Ef dis nigger on'y knew what Mist' Perrine _would_ say!"
A June day. These old Virginia hills have sucked in the winter's ice and
snow, and throbbed it out again for the blue heaven to see in a whole
summer's wealth of trees quivering with the luxury of being, in wreathed
mosses, and bedded fern: the very blood that fell on them speaks in
fair, grateful flowers to Him who doeth all things well. Some healthy
hearts, like the hills, you know, accept pain, and utter it again in
fresher-blooded peace and life and love. The evening sunshine lingers on
Dode's little house to-day; the brown walls have the same cheery whim in
life as the soul of their mistress, and catch the last ray of
light,--will not let it go. Bone, smoking his pipe at the garden-gate,
looks at the house with drowsy complacency. He calls it all "Mist'
Dode's snuggery," now: he does not know that the rich, full-toned vigor
of her happiness is the germ of all this life and beauty. But he does
know that the sun never seemed so warm, the air so pure, as this
summer,--that about the quiet farm and homestead there is a genial
atmosphere of peace: the wounded soldiers who come there often to be
cured grow strong and calm in it; the war seems far-off to them; they
have come somehow a step nearer the inner heaven. Bone rejoices in
showing off the wonders of the place to them, in matching Coly's shiny
sides against the "Government beastesses," in talking of the giant red
beets, or crumpled green cauliflower, breaking the rich garden-mould.
"Yer've no sich cherries nor taters nor raspberries as dem in de Norf,
I'll bet!" Even the crimson trumpet-flower on the wall is "a _Virginny_
creeper, Sah!" But Bone learns something from them in exchange. He does
not boast so often now of being "ole Mars' Joe's man,"--sits and thinks
profoundly, till he goes to sleep. "Not of leavin' yer, Mist' Dode, I
know what free darkies is, up dar; but dar's somefin' in a fellah's
'longin' ter hisself, af'er all!" Dode only smiles at his deep
cogitations, as he weeds the garden-beds, or fodders the stock. She is a
half-Abolitionist herself, and then she knows her State will soon be
So Dode, with deeper-lit eyes, and fresher rose in her cheek, stands in
the door this summer evening waiting for her husband. She cannot see him
often; he has yet the work to do which he calls just and holy. But he is
coming now. It is very quiet; she can hear her own heart beat slow and
full; the warm air holds moveless the delicate scent of the clover; the
bees hum her a drowsy good-night, as they pass; the locusts in the
lindens have just begun to sing themselves to sleep; but the glowless
crimson in the West holds her thought the longest. She loves,
understands color: it speaks to her of the Day waiting just behind this.
Her eyes fill with tears, she knows not why: her life seems rounded,
complete, wrapt in a great peace; the grave at Manassas, and that
planted with moss on the hill yonder, are in it; they only make her joy
in living more tender and holy.
He has come now; stops to look at his wife's face, as though its
fairness and meaning were new to him always. There is no look in her
eyes he loves so well to see as that which tells her Master is near her.
Sometimes she thinks he too----But she knows that "according to her
faith it shall be unto her." They are alone to-night; even Bone is
asleep. But in the midst of a crowd, they who love each other are alone
together: as the first man and woman stood face to face in the great
silent world, with God looking down, and only their love between them.
The same June evening lights the windows of a Western hospital. There is
not a fresh meadow-scented breath it gives that does not bring to some
sick brain a thought of home, in a New-England village, or a Georgia
rice-field. The windows are open; the pure light creeping into poisoned
rooms carries with it a Sabbath peace, they think. One man stops in his
hurried work, and looking out, grows cool in its tranquil calm. So the
sun used to set in old Virginia, he thinks. A tall, slab-sided man, in
the dress of a hospital-nurse: a worn face, but quick, sensitive; the
patients like it better than any other: it looks as if the man had
buried great pain in his life, and come now into its Indian-summer days.
The eyes are childish, eager, ready to laugh as cry,--the voice warm,
chordant,--the touch of the hand unutterably tender.
A busy life, not one moment idle; but the man grows strong in it,--a
healthy servant, doing a healthy work. The patients are glad when he
comes to their ward in turn. How the windows open, and the fresh air
comes in! how the lazy nurses find a masterful will over them! how full
of innermost life he is! how real his God seems to him!
He looks from the window now, his thought having time to close upon
himself. He holds up his busy, solitary life to God, with a happy smile.
He goes back to that bitter past, shrinking; but he knows its meaning
now. As the warm evening wanes into coolness and gray, the one unspoken
pain of his life comes back, and whitens his cheerful face. There is
blood on his hands. He sees the old man's gray hairs blown again by the
wind, sees him stagger and fall. Gaunt covers his bony face with his
hands, but he cannot shut it out. Yet he is learning to look back on
even that with healthy, hopeful eyes. He reads over again each day the
misspelled words in the Bible,--thinking that the old man's haggard face
looks down on him with the old kindly, forgiving smile. What if his
blood be on his hands? He looks up now through the gathering night, into
the land where spirits wait for us, as one who meets a friend's face,
"Let it be true what you have writ,--'The _Lord_ be between me and
"I will not longer
Loosen your hold on
Hand and on ringlet.
Girdle and garment;
Leave them: they're mine!"
"Bethink thee, bethink thee
To whom thou belongest!
Say, wouldst thou wound us,
Threefold the beauty,--
Mine, his, and thine?"
Nay, fold your arms, beloved Friends,
Above the hearts that vainly beat!
Or catch the rainbow where it bends,
And find your darling at its feet;
Or fix the fountain's varying shape,
The sunset-cloud's elusive dye,
The speech of winds that round the cape
Make music to the sea and sky:
So may you summon from the air
The loveliness that vanished hence,
And Twilight give his beauteous hair,
And Morning give his countenance,
And Life about his being clasp
Her rosy girdle once again:--
But no! let go your stubborn grasp
On some wild hope, and take your pain!
For, through the crystal of your tears,
His love and beauty fairer shine;
The shadows of advancing years
Draw back, and leave him all divine.
And Death, that took him, cannot claim
The smallest vesture of his birth,--
The little life, a dancing flame
That hovered o'er the hills of earth,--
The finer soul, that unto ours
A subtle perfume seemed to be,
Like incense blown from April flowers
Beside the scarred and stormy tree,--
The wondering eyes, that ever saw
Some fleeting mystery in the air,
And felt the stars of evening draw
His heart to silence, childhood's prayer!
Our suns were all too fierce for him;
Our rude winds pierced him through and through;
But Heaven has valleys cool and dim,
And boscage sweet with starry dew.
There knowledge breathes in balmy air,
Not wrung, as here, with panting breast:
The wisdom born of toil you share;
But he, the wisdom born of rest.
For every picture here that slept,
A living canvas is unrolled;
The silent harp he might have swept
Leans to his touch its strings of gold.
Believe, dear Friends, they murmur still
Some sweet accord to those you play,
That happier winds of Eden thrill
With echoes of the earthly lay;
That he, for every triumph won,
Whereto your poet-souls aspire,
Sees opening, in that perfect sun,
Another blossom's bud of fire!
Each song, of Love and Sorrow born,
Another flower to crown your boy,--
Each shadow here his ray of morn,
Till Grief shall clasp the hand of Joy!
Because our architecture is bad, and because the architecture of our
forefathers in the Middle Ages was good, Mr. Ruskin and others seem to
think there is no salvation for us until we build in the same spirit as
they did. But that we should do so no more follows than that we should
envy those geological ages when the club-mosses were of the size of
forest-trees, and the frogs as big as oxen. There are many advantages to
be had in the forests of the Amazon and the interior of
Borneo,--inexhaustible fertility, endless water-power,--but no one
thinks of going there to live.
No age is without its attractions. There would be much to envy in the
Greek or the Roman life, if we could have them clear of drawbacks. Many
persons would be glad always to find Emerson in State Street, or
sauntering in the Mall, ready to talk with all comers,--or to hear the
latest words of Bancroft or Lowell from their own lips at the
cattle-show or the militia-muster. The Roman villas had some excellent
features,--the peristyle of statues, the cryptoporticus with its
midnight coolness and shade of a July noon, the mosaic floor, and the
glimmering frescoes of the ceiling. But we are content to get our poets
and historians in their books, and to take the pine-grove for our
noonday walk, or to wait till night has transformed the street into a
cryptoporticus nobler than Titus's. It is as history that these things
charm us; but the charm vanishes, when, even in fancy, we bring them
into contact with our actual lives. So it is with the medieval
architecture. It is true, in studying these wonderful fossils, a regret
for our present poverty, and a desire to appropriate something from the
ancient riches, will at times come over us. But this feeling, if it be
more than slight and transient, if it seriously influence our conduct,
is somewhat factitious or somewhat morbid. Let us be a little
disinterested in our admiration, and not, like children, cry for all we
see. We have our share: let us leave the dead theirs.
The fallacy lies in the supposition, that, besides all their advantages,
they had all ours too. It is with our mental as with our bodily
vision,--we see only what is remote; and the image to the mind depends,
not only upon seeing, but upon _not seeing_. In the distant star, all
foulness and gloom are lost, and only the pure splendor reaches us.
Inspired by Mr. Ruskin's eloquence, the neophyte sets forth with
contrition to put his precepts into practice. But the counterstatement
which he had overlooked does not, therefore, cease to exist. At the
outset, he finds unexpected sacrifices are demanded. And, as money is
the common measure of the forces disposable, the hindrances take the
form of increase of cost. Before the first step can be taken towards
doing anything as Mr. Ruskin would have it done, he discovers that at
least it will cost enormously more to do it in that way. The lamps of
truth and sacrifice demand such expensive nourishment, that he is forced
to ask himself whether they are of themselves really sufficient to live
It is not that we are poorer or more penurious than our ancestors, but
that we have more wants than they, and that the new wants overshadow the
old. What is spent in one direction must be spared in another. The
matter-of-course necessaries of our life were luxuries or were unknown
to them. First of all, the luxury of freedom,--political, social, and
domestic,--with the habits it creates, is the source of great and
ever-increasing expense. We are still much behindhand in this matter,
and shall by-and-by spend more largely upon it. But, compared with our
ancestors, individual culture, to which freedom is the means, absorbs a
large share of our expenditure. The noble architecture of the thirteenth
century was the work of corporations, of a society that knew only
corporations, and where individual culture was a crime. Dante had made
the discovery that it is the man that creates his own position, not the
accident of birth. But his life shows how this belief isolated him. Nor
was the coincidence between the artistic spirit of the age and its
limitations accidental. Just in proportion as the spirit of
individualism penetrated society, and began to show itself as the
Renaissance, architecture declined. The Egyptian pyramids are marvels to
us, because we are accustomed to look upon the laborer as a man. But
once allow that he is only so much brute force,--cheap, readily
available, and to be had in endless supply, but as a moral entity less
to be respected than a cat or a heron, and the marvel ceases. Should not
the building be great to which man himself is sacrificed? Later, the
builders are no longer slaves; but man is still subordinate to his own
work, adores the work of his hands. This stands for him, undertakes to
represent him, though, from its partial nature, it can only typify
certain aspects or functions of him. A Gothic cathedral is an attempt at
a universal expression of humanity, a stone image of society, in which
each particle, insignificant by itself, has its meaning in the
connection. It was the fresh interest in the attempt that gave birth to
that wonderful architecture. This is the interest it still has, but now
only historical, since the discovery was made that the particle is
greater than the mass,--that it is for the sake of the individual that
society and its institutions exist. Ever since, a process of
disintegration has been going on, resulting in a progressive reversal of
the previous relation. Not the private virtues of the structure, but its
uses, are now uppermost, and ever more and more developed. Even in our
own short annals something of this process may be traced. Old gentlemen
complain of the cost of our houses. The houses of their boyhood, they
say, were handsomer and better built, yet cost less. There is some truth
in this, for the race of architect-builders hardly reaches into this
century. But if the comparison be pushed into details, we soon come to
the conviction that the owners of these houses were persons whose habits
were, in many respects, uncouth and barbarous. It is easy to provide in
the lump; but with decency, privacy, independence,--in short, with a
high degree of respect on the part of the members of the household for
each other's individuality,--expense begins. Letarouilly says it is
difficult to discover in the Roman palaces of the Renaissance any
reference to special uses of the different apartments. It was to the
outside, the vestibule, courtyard, and staircase, that care and study
were given: the inside was intended only as a measure of the riches and
importance of the owner, not as his habitation. The part really
inhabited by him was the _mezzanino_,--a low, intermediate story, where
he and his family were kennelled out of the way. Has any admiring
traveller ever asked himself how he could establish himself, with wife
and children, in the Foscari or the Vendramin palace? To live in them,
it would be necessary to build a house inside.
Nor is there any ground for saying that the fault is in the
builders,--that the old builders met the demands of their time, and
would equally satisfy the demands of our time, without sacrifice of
their art. The first demand in the days of good architecture was, that
the building should have an independent artistic value beyond its use.
This is what architecture requires; for architecture is building,
_pure_,--building for its own sake, not as means. What Mr. Garbett says
is, no doubt, quite true,--that nothing was ever made, for taste's sake,
less efficient than it might have been. But many things were made _more_
efficient than they might have been; or, rather, this is always the
character of good architecture. It is in this surplus of perfection,
above bare necessity, that its claim to rank among the fine arts
consists. This character the builders of the good times, accordingly,
never left out of sight; so that, if their means were limited, they
lavished all upon one point,--made that overflow with riches, and left
the rest plain and bare; never did they spread their pittance thin to
cover the whole, as we do. It is for this reason that so few of the
great cathedrals were finished, and that in buildings of all kinds we so
often find the decoration in patches, sharply marked off from the rest
of the structure. This noble profuseness is not, indeed, necessarily
decoration; the essence of it is an independent value and interest in
the building, aside from the temporary and accidental employment. The
spires and the flying-buttresses of the Northern cathedrals cannot be
defended on the ground of thrifty construction. The Italian churches
accomplished that as well without either. How remote the reference to
use in the mighty portals of Rheims, or the soaring vaultings of Amiens
and Beauvais! Does anybody suppose that Michel Angelo, when he undertook
to raise the dome of the Pantheon into the air, was thinking of the most
economical way of roofing a given space? These fine works have their
whole value as expression; it is with their visible contempt of thrift
that our admiration begins. They pared away the stone to the minimum
that safety demanded, and beyond it,--yet not from thrift, but to make
the design more preeminent and necessary, and to owe as little as
possible to the inert strength of the material.
But though we admire the result, we have grown out of sympathy with the
cause, the state of mind that produced it, and so the root wherefrom the
like should be produced is cut off. There is no reason to suppose that
the old builders were men of a different kind from ours, more earnest,
more poetical. The stories about the science of the medieval masons are
rubbish. All men are in earnest about something; our men are as good as
they, and would have built as well, had they been born at the right time
for it. But now they are thinking of other things. The Dilettanti
Society sent Mr. Penrose to Athens to study in the ancient remains there
the optical corrections which it was alleged the Greeks made in the
horizontal lines of their buildings. Mr. Penrose made careful
measurements, establishing the fact, and a folio volume of plates was
published to illustrate the discovery, and evince the unequalled nicety
of the Greek eye. But the main point, namely, that a horizontal line
above the level of the eye, in order to appear horizontal, must bend
slightly upwards, was pointed out to me years ago by a common plasterer.
It is not that our builders are degenerate, but that their art is a
trade, occupies only their hands, not their minds, and this by no fault
in them or in anybody, but by the natural progress of the world. In each
age by turn some one mental organ is in a state of hypertrophy;
immediately that becomes the medium of expression,--not that it is the
only possible or even the best, but that its time has come,--then it
gives place to another. Architecture is dead and gone to dust long ago.
We are not called upon to sing threnodies over it, still less to attempt
to galvanize a semblance of life into it. If we must blame somebody, let
it not be the builder, but his employers, who, caring less even than he
for the reality of good architecture, (for the material itself teaches
him something,) force him into these puerilities in order to gratify
their dissolute fancies.
If these views seem to any one low and prosaic, let me remind him that
poetry does not differ from prose in being false. We must respect the
facts. If there were in this country any considerable number of persons
to whom the buildings they daily enter had any positive permanent value
besides convenience,--who looked upon the church, the bank, or the
house, as upon a poem or a statue,--the birth of a national architecture
would be assured. But as the fact stands, while utility, and that of a
temporary and makeshift sort, is really the first consideration, we are
not yet ready to acknowledge this to others or to ourselves, and so fail
to get from it what negative advantage we might, but blunder on under
some fancied necessity, spending what we can ill spare, to the
defrauding of legitimate demands, as a sort of sin-offering for our
aesthetic deficiency, or as a blind to conceal it. The falsehood, like
all falsehood, defeats itself; the pains we take only serve to make the
failure more complete.
This is displayed most fully in the doings of "Building Committees."
Here we see what each member (perhaps it would be more just to say the
least judicious among them) would do in his own case, were he free from
the rude admonitions of necessity. He has at least to live in his own
house, and so cannot escape some attention to the substantial
requirements of it; though some houses, too, seem emancipated from such
considerations, and to have been built for any end rather than to live
in. But in catering for the public, it is the _outsiders_ alone that
seem to be consulted, the careless passer-by, who for once will pause a
moment to commend or to sneer at the facade,--not the persons whose
lives for years, perhaps, are to be affected by the internal
arrangement. It is doubtless from a suspicion, more or less obscure, of
the incoherency of their purpose, that such committees usually fall into
the hands of a "practical man,"--that is, a man impassive to principles,
of hardihood or bluntness of perception enough to carry into effect
their vague fancies, and spare them from coming face to face with their
inconsistencies. Thus fairly adrift and kept adrift from the main
purpose, there is no vagary impossible to them,--churches in which there
is no hearing, hospitals contrived to develop disease, museums of
tinder, libraries impossible to light or warm. And what gain comes to
beauty from these sacrifices, let our streets answer. Good architecture
requires before all things a definite aim, long persisted in. It never
was an invention, anywhere, but always a gradual growth. What chance of
The only chance clearly is to cut away till we come to the solid ground
of real, not fancied, requirement. As long as it is our whims, and not
our necessities, that build, it matters little how much pains we take,
how learned and assiduous we are. I have no hope of any considerable
advantage from the abundant exhortation to frankness and genuineness in
the use of materials, unless it lead first of all to a more frank and
genuine consideration of the occasion for using the materials at all. If
it lead only to open timber roofs and stone walls in place of the
Renaissance stucco, I think the gain very questionable. The stucco is
more comfortable, and at least we had got used to it. These are matters
of detail: suppose your details _are_ more genuine, if the whole design
is a sham, if the aim be only to excite the admiration of bystanders,
the thing is not altered, whether the bystanders are learned in such
matters or ignorant. The more excellent the work is in its kind, the
more insidious and virulent the falsity, if the whole occasion of it be
a pretence. If it must be false, let it by all means be gross and
glaring,--we shall be the sooner rid of it.
It may be asked whether, then, I surrender the whole matter of
appearance,--whether the building may as well be ugly as beautiful. By
no means; what I have said is in the interest of beauty, as far as it is
possible to us. Positive beauty it may be often necessary to forego, but
bad taste is never necessary. Ugliness is not mere absence of beauty,
but absence of it where it ought to be present. It comes always from a
disappointed expectation,--as where the lineaments that do not disgust
in the potato meet us in the human face, or even in the hippopotamus,
whom accordingly Nature kindly puts out of sight. It is bad taste that
we suffer from,--not plainness, not indifference to appearance, but
features misplaced, shallow mimicry of "effects" where their causes do
not exist, transparent pretences of all kinds, forcing attention to the
absence of the reality, otherwise perhaps unnoticed. The first step
toward seemly building is to rectify the relation between the appearance
and the uses of the building,--to give to each the weight that it really
has with us, not what we fancy or are told it ought to have. Mr. Ruskin
too often seems to imply that fine architecture is like virtue or the
kingdom of Heaven: that, if it be sought first, all other things will be
added. A sounder basis for design, beyond what is necessary to use,
seems to me that proposed by Mr. Garbett, (to whom we are indebted for
the most useful hints upon architecture,) namely, politeness, a decent
regard for the eyes of other people (and for one's own, for politeness
regards one's self as well). Politeness, however, as Mr. Garbett admits,
is chiefly a negative art, and consists in abstaining and not meddling.
The main character of the building being settled by the most
unhesitating consideration of its uses, we are to see that it disfigures
the world as little as possible.
Let me, at the risk of tediousness, proceed to bring these generalities
to a point by a few instances,--not intending to exhaust the topic, but
only to exemplify the method of approaching it.
The commonest case for counsel, and more common here than anywhere else,
is where a man is to build for himself a house, especially in the
country,--for town-houses are more governed by extraneous
considerations. The first point is the _aspect_,--that the living-rooms
be well open to the sun. Let no fancied advantages of view or of
symmetrical position interfere with this. For they operate seldom and
strike most at first, but the aspect tells on body and mind every day.
It is astonishing how reckless people are of this vital point, suffering
it to be determined for them by the direction of a road, or even of a
division-fence,--as if they had never looked at their houses with their
own eyes, but only with the casual view of a stranger. It does not
follow, however, that the entrance must be on the sunny side, though
this is generally best, as the loss of space in the rooms is more than
made up by the cheeriness of the approach. For the same reason, unless
you are sailing very close to the wind, let your entrance-hall be roomy.
It is in no sense an unproductive outlay, for it avails above in
chambers, and below in the refuge it affords to the children from the
severer rules of the parlor.
As to number and distribution of rooms, the field is somewhat wide. Here
the differences of income, of pursuits, and the idiosyncrasies of taste
come in; and more than all, not only are the circumstances originally
different, but constantly varying. I speak not of the fluctuations of
fortune, but of normal and expected changes. The young couple, or the
old, are easily lodged. But in middle life,--since we are not content,
like our forefathers, with bestowing our children out of sight,--it
takes a great deal of room to provide for them on both floors, without
either neglect or oppression, and to keep up the due oversight without
sacrificing ourselves or them. For children are rather exclusive, and
spoil for other use more room than they occupy. Here I counsel every man
who must have a corner to himself to fix his study in the attic, for the
only way to avoid noise without wasteful complication is to be above it.
The smallest house must provide some escape from the dining-room. If
dining-room and sitting-room are on the sunny side, and the entrance be
also on that side, they will be separated, as indeed they always may be,
without loss. The notion that the rooms must immediately connect is one
of those whims to which houses are sacrificed. The only advantage is the
facility for receiving company. But if the occasions when the guests
will be too many for one room are likely to be frequent, rather than
permanently spoil the living-room, it is better to set apart rooms for
reception. Our position in this matter is in truth rather embarrassing.
Formerly (and the view is not yet wholly obsolete) the whole house was a
reception-hall, the domestic life of the inmates being a secondary
matter, swept into some corner, such as the cells of the mediaeval
castles or the _mezzanino_ of the Italian palaces. But the austere
aspect of the shut-up "best parlor" of our grandfathers, with its closed
blinds and chilly chintz covers, showed that the tables were beginning
to turn, and the household to assert its rights and civilly to pay off
the guest for his usurpations. Henceforth he is welcome, but he is
secondary; it was not for him that the house was built; and if it comes
to choosing, he can be dispensed with. It would be very agreeable to
unite with all the new advantages all the old,--the easy hospitality,
the disengaged suavity of the ancient manners. Now the brow of the host
is clouded, he has too much on his mind to play his part perfectly. It
is not that good-will is wanting, but that life is more complicated. The
burdens are more evenly distributed, and no class is free and at
leisure. But to fret over our disadvantages, and to extol the past, is
only to ignore the price that was paid for those advantages we covet.
There was always somebody to sweat for that leisure. Would a society
divided into castes be better? Or again, who would like to have his
children sleep three in a bed, and live in the kitchen, in order that
the best rooms should always be swept and garnished for company?
In every case, unless a man is rich enough to have two houses in one, it
comes to choice between domestic comfort and these occasional
facilities. Direct connection of rooms usually involves the sacrifice of
the chimney-corner, on one or both sides; for it is not pleasant to sit
in a passage-way, even if it be rarely used. For use in cold weather the
available portion of a room may be reckoned as limited by the door
nearest the fireplace.
It will be noticed that this supposes the use of open fireplaces. The
open fireplace is not a necessary of life, but it is one of the first
luxuries, and one that no man who can afford to eat meat every day can
afford to dispense with. No furnace can supply the place of it; for,
though the furnace is an indispensable auxiliary in severe cold, and
though, well managed, it need not vitiate the air, yet, like all
contrivances for supplying heated air instead of heat, it has the
insurmountable defect of not warming the body directly, nor until all
the surrounding air be warmed first, and thus stops the natural reaction
and the brace and stimulus derived from it. Used exclusively, it amounts
to voluntarily incurring the disadvantage of a tropical climate.
Let the walls of the second story be upright. The recent fashion of a
mansard or "French roof" is only making part of the wall of the house
look like roof, at equal expense, at the sacrifice of space inside, and
above all, of tightness. For, though shingles and even slates will
generally keep out the rain, the innumerable cracks between the sides of
them can never be made air-tight, and therefore admit heat and cold much
more freely than any proper wall-covering. A covering of metal would be
too good a conductor of external temperature,--while clapboarding would
endanger the resemblance to a roof, which is the only gain proposed.
As to the size of the house, it is important to observe that its cost
does not depend so much upon the size of the rooms (within reasonable
limits) as upon the number of them, the complication of plan, and the
number of doors and windows. For every door or window you can omit you
may add three or four feet to your house. The height of the stories will
be governed by the area of the largest rooms;--what will please each
person depends very much upon what he is used to. In the old New-England
houses the stories were very low, often less than eight feet in the best
rooms. In favor of low rooms it is to be remembered that they are more
easily lighted and warmed, and involve less climbing of stairs. Rooms
are often made lofty under the impression that better ventilation is
thereby secured; but there is a confusion here. A high room is less
intolerable without ventilation, the vitiated air being more diluted;
but a low room is usually more easily ventilated, because the windows
are nearer the ceiling.
Mr. Garbett advises that the windows be many and small. This costs more;
and if it be understood to involve placing the windows on different
sides, the effect, I think, will be generally less agreeable than where
the room is lighted wholly from one side. A capital exception, however,
is the dining-room, which should always, if possible, abound in
cross-lights; else one half the table will be oppressed by a glare of
light, and the other visible only in _silhouette_.
As to material, stone is the handsomest, and the only one that
constantly grows handsomer, and does not require that your creepers
should be periodically disturbed for painting or repairs. But this is
perhaps all that can be said in its favor. To make a stone house as good
as a wooden one we must build a wooden one inside of it. Wood is our
common material, and there is none better, if we take the pains to make
it tight. There is a prevalent notion that it is the thinness of our
cheap wooden houses that makes them pervious to heat and cold. But no
wooden house, unless built of solid and well-fitted logs, could resist
the external temperature by virtue of thickness. It is tightness that
tells here. Wherever air passes, heat and cold pass with it. What is
important, therefore, is, by good contrivance and careful execution, to
stop all cracks as far as possible. For this, an outside covering of
sheathing-felt, or some equivalent material, may be recommended, and
especially a double plastering inside,--not the common "back-plastering,"
but two separate compact surfaces of lime and sand, inside the frame.
The position, the internal arrangement, and the material being
determined upon, the next point is that the structure shall be as little
of an eyesore as we can make it. Do what we will, every house, as long
as it is new, is a standing defiance to the landscape. In color,
texture, and form, it disconnects itself and resists assimilation to its
surroundings. The "gentle incorporation into the scenery of Nature,"
that Wordsworth demands, is the most difficult point to effect, as well
as the most needful. This makes the importance of a background of trees,
of shrubs, and creepers, and the uniting lines of sheds, piazzas, etc.,
mediating and easing off the shock which the upstart mass inflicts upon
the eye. Hence Sir Joshua Reynolds's rule for the color of a house, to
imitate the tint of the soil where it is to stand. Hence the advantage
of a well-assured base and generally of a pyramidal outline, because
this is the figure of braced and balanced equilibrium, assured to all
natural objects by the slow operation of natural laws, which we must
take care not to violate in our haste, unless for due cause shown.
We hear much of the importance of proportions, but the main point
generally is that the house be not too high. This is the most universal
difficulty, particularly in small houses, the area being diminished, but
not the height of stories. In this respect the old farm-houses had a
great advantage, and this is a main element in their good effect,--aided
as it is by the height of the roof; for a high roof will often make a
building seem lower than it would with a low roof or none at all. The
dreary effect of the flat-roofed houses in the neighborhood of New York
is due partly to the unrelieved height, and partly to the unfinished or
truncated appearance of a thing without a top. The New York fashion
gives, no doubt, the most for the money; but the effect is so offensive
that I think it justifies us for once in violating Mr. Garbett's canon
and sacrificing efficiency to taste.
The most pleasing shape of roof, other things being equal, is the
pyramidal or hipped, inclining from all sides towards the centre. The
drawback is, that, if it must be pierced by windows, their lines will
stick off from the roof, so that, as seen from below, they will be
violently detached from the general mass. The good taste of the old
builders made them avoid putting dormer-windows (at least in front) in
roofs of one pitch; the windows were in the gables, carried out for this
purpose; or if dormers were necessary, they made a mansard or
double-pitched roof, in which the windows are less detached. Another
excellent feature in the old New-England farm-houses is the long slope
of the roof behind, and, in general, the habit of roofing porches,
dormers, sheds, and other projections by continuing the main roof over
them, with great gain to breadth and solidity of effect.
In fact, were it possible, we could not do better for the outside than
to take these old houses for our model. But here, as everywhere, we find
the outside depends on the inside, and that what we most admire in them
will conflict with the new requirements. For instance, the massive
central chimney and the expanse on the ground point to the kitchen as
the common living-room of the family; they are irreconcilable with our
need of more chambers and of the possibility of more separation above
and below. The later and more ambitious houses, such as were built in
the neighborhood of Boston at the beginning of the century, come nearer
to our wants; but they sacrifice too much to a cut-and-dried symmetry to
be of much use to us. After that the way is downward through one set of
absurdities after another, until of late some signs of more common-sense
treatment begin to be visible.
The way out of this quagmire is first of all to avoid confusion of aim.
What is this that we are building? If it is a monument, let us seek only
to make it beautiful. But if it is a house, let us always keep in mind
that the appearance of it, being really secondary, must be seen to have
been held so throughout. Else we shall not, in the long run, escape bad
taste. Bad taste is not mere failure, but failure to do something which
ought not to have been attempted. For instance, among the most frequent
occasions for deformity in modern houses are the dormers, the windows
that rise above the roof. In the Gothic buildings these are among the
most attractive features. The reason is that the tendency of the outline
to detach itself from the mass of the building furnishes to the Gothic a
culminating point for the distinct legitimate aim at beauty of
expression that pervades the whole; but to the modern builder, whose
aim, as regards expression, should be wholly negative, it is at best an
embarrassment, and often a snare.
The chief obstacle to a rational view of the present position of
architecture comes from the number of clever men who devote their lives
to putting a good face on our absurdities, and by all sorts of tricks
and sophistries in wood and stone prevent us from seeing our conduct in
its proper deformity. They dazzle and bewilder us with beauties plucked
at haphazard from all times and ages,--as much forgeries as any that men
are hanged for,--and then, when the cheat begins to peep through, they
fool us again with pretences of thoroughness, consistency of style,
genuineness in the use of materials, etc., as if the danger were in the
execution, and not in the main intention. So they fool us for a while
longer, and we praise their fine doings, and even persuade ourselves
there is something liberal and ennobling in their influence. But we tire
at last of these exotics. A million of them is not worth one of those
sober flowers of homely growth where use has by chance, as it were,
blossomed into beauty. This is the only success in that kind that can be
hoped for in our day. But it must come of itself; it cannot be had for
the seeking, nor if sought for its own sake. The active competition that
goes on in our streets is not the way to it, unless negatively, by way
of disgust and exhaustion. For some help, meantime, I commend the
opinion of an architect of my acquaintance, who said the highest
compliment he ever received was from a drover, who could not account for
it that "he had passed that way so often and never seen that _old
house_." Nobody expects his house will be beautiful, do what he will;
why pay for the certainty of failure? Not to be conspicuous, and, to
that end, to respect the plain fundamental rules of statics, of good
construction, of harmonious color, and to resist sacrificing any solid
advantage to show, these are our safest rules at present.
The twilight was almost gone on the Saturday night when I went back to
the grave, solemn house. There was no one dead in it now. It was the
first time that I had approached it without the abyss of shadow under
its roof. A little elasticity came back to me. Kino came out to give his
welcome: we had become friendly. Katie let me in.
"Perhaps you'd choose to wait down-stairs a bit," she said; "Mr.
Abraham's getting his tea up in Miss Lettie's room."
She lighted the lamp, and left me. After my two explorations in unknown
realms,--the one voluntary, looking at the painting on the wall, the
other involuntary, looking at a human soul in sorrow,--I resolved to
shut my eyes to all that they ought not to see; and therefore I
stationed myself in the green glade of a chair, and very properly
decided that the only thing I would look at should be the fire. What I
might see there surely could offend no one, unless it were the deity of
Coal,--and Redleaf was not near any carboniferous group.
Peculiar were the forms the fire took an elfish pleasure in assuming.
Little blue flames came up into atmospheric life, through the rending
fissures where so many years of ages they had been pent into the very
blackness of darkness; and as they gained their freedom, they gave tiny,
crackling shouts of liberty. "We're free! we're free!" they smally
cried; and I wondered if a race, buried as deeply in the strata of races
as these bits of burning coal had been in the geologic periods of earth,
could utter such cries.
The fire grew, the liberty paeans ceased. Deep opaline content burned
lambescent amid the coals. Ashy cinders fell from the grate slowly,
slumberously, as the one dead, that very afternoon buried, had gone to
rest, in the night-time, when the household was asleep, without any one
to hold her hand whilst she took the first step in the surging sea of
river. Yes, she died alone,--"in the heart of the night," Dr. Eaton said
it must have been "that the bridegroom came." Had she oil in her lamp?
What was she like? Like her son Abraham, or her daughter Lettie? I tried
to paint her face as it must have been. It is darker still in that grave
where she lies than was the night wherein she died. Miss Lettie was
right: they have a fathom of earth over her,--there's not one glimmer of
light down there. When I am buried, won't _some one_ shut in one little
sun-ray with me, that I may see to feel the gloom?
I looked down upon the gravelly earth lying above her, as I had looked
across at it when I left the parsonage at night fall, and passed by the
church-yard. All the while, my eyes were in the depths of the fire. I
went down through stone and soil to the coffin there. All was
unutterable blackness. I put out my hand to feel. It was a cold,
marbleized face that my warm, living fingers wandered over. I touched
the forehead: it was very stony, granite-like,--not a woman's forehead.
The eyes were large,--I felt them under the half-closed lids. The
mouth--Yes, Miss Lettie was right. Love for Abraham had covered up this
mother-love for her. And confession unto her dead was, it must have
been, better than unto her living. The answer would have been much the
Shudderingly, I picked up my hand, the one that had been lying upon the
arm of the chair, whilst its life and spirit had gone out on their
mission of discovery. It was very cold. I warmed it before the fire, and
began to think that Aaron was right,--this House of Axtell was stealing
away my proper self, or, at least, this hand of mine had been unlawfully
employed, through occasion of them. As the warmth of burning coals
revivified my hand, I saw something in the fire,--a face,--the very one
these live fingers had just been tracing in yonder church-yard. Its eyes
were open now,--large, luminous, earnest, with a wave of solid pride
sweeping on through the irides and almost overwhelming the pupils. The
mouth,--oh, those lips! _ever uttered they a prayer_? They look,
trembling the while, so unutterably unforgiving! When they come to stand
before the I AM, will they _ever_ plead? It is hard to think the Deity
maketh such souls. Doth He? I looked a little farther on in the fiery
group. Other forms of coal took the human face. I saw two. Whose were
they? One was like unto my mother. How little I remember of her! and yet
this was like my memory,--sweetly gentle, loving past expression's
power, no taint of earth therein. Another came up. I did not know it.
Something whispered, "It is of you." I almost heard the words with my
outward ears. I looked around the room. No one was with me. Stillness
reigned in the house.
"It takes Mr. Axtell a very long time to take his tea," I thought; "he
must know more of hunger's power than I.--I will look at the fire no
more," I said, slowly, to myself, and closed my eyelids, somewhat
willing to drop after all that they had endured that day.
A soft, silver, "swimming sound" floated through the room. It was the
clock upon the mantel sending out tones of time-hours. I looked up. It
was eleven of the clock. "I must have fallen asleep," I thought, and
threw off the folds of a shawl which I surely left on the sofa over
there when I seated myself in this chair. My head was upon a pillow,
downy and white, instead of the green vale of chair in which I had laid
it down. I sprang up. There was little of lamp-light in the room. I saw
something that looked marvellously like somebody, near the sofa. It was
Katie, my good little friend Katie. She was sitting on a footstool with
her head upon her hands, and, poor, tired child! fast asleep. I awoke
"Who covered me up, Katie?" I asked.
"Mr. Abraham," said Katie; and her waking senses came back.
"And how did the pillow get under my head?"
"Mr. Abraham said 'he was sorry that you had come.' You looked very
white in your sleep, and he said 'you wouldn't wake up'; so I lifted
your head just a mite, and he fixed the pillow under it. He told me to
stay here until you awoke."
"Which I have most decidedly done, Katie," I said; and I fully
determined to take no more naps in this house.
How could it have happened? I accounted for the fact in the most
reasonable way I knew,--I, who rejoice in being reasonable,--by thinking
it occurred in consequence of my long watchfulness, and sombreness of
thought and soul.
"I am sorry that you didn't wake me," I said to Katie, as she moved the
chairs in the room to their respective places.
With the most childlike implicitness in the world, the little maid stood
still and looked at me.
"I _couldn't_, you know, Miss Percival, when Mr. Abraham told me not
to," were the positive words she used in giving her reason.
I forgave Katie, and wondered what the secret of this man's commanding
power could be, as on this Saturday night.
I left the world, and went up to take my last watch with the
convalescing lady. Her brother was with her. He looked a little
surprised, when I went in; but the cloud of anger had gone away: folded
it up he had, I fancied, all ready to shake out again upon the slightest
provocation; and I did not care to see its folds waving around me, so I
did not speak to him. Miss Axtell seemed pleased to see me; said "she
trusted that this would be the last occasion on which she should require
Her beauty was lovely now. A roseate hue was over her complexion: a
little of the old fever rising, I suppose it must have been.
"I've been talking with Abraham," she said, when I spoke of it.
Why should a conversation with her brother occasion return of fever?
Perhaps it was not that, but the mention of the fact, which increased
the glow wonderfully.
Mr. Axtell bade his sister good-night.
"You will do it to-morrow, Abraham?" she asked, as he was going from the
"I will think about it to-night, and give you my decision in the
Mr. Axtell must have been very absent-minded, for he turned back, hoped
I had not taken cold in the library, and ended the wish with a civil
"Good night, Miss Percival."
"Good night, Mr. Axtell," I said; and he was gone.
There was no need of persuasion to quietude to-night, it seemed, for
Miss Axtell gave me no field for the practice of oratory: she was quite
ready and willing to sleep.
"Can you not sleep, too?" she asked, as she closed her eyes; "if I need
you, I can speak."
No, I could not sleep. The night grew cold: a little edge of winter had
come back. I felt chilled,--either because of my sleep down-stairs, or
because the mercury was cold before me. My shawl I had not brought up
with me. Might I not find one? The closet-door was just ajar: it was a
place for shawls. I crossed the room, and, opening it a little more,
went in. I saw something very like one hanging there, but it was close
beside that grave brown plaid dress, and I had resolved to intrude no
farther into the affair of the tower. Results had not pleased me.
I grew colder than ever, standing hesitatingly in the closet, whence a
draught blew from the dressing-room beyond. I must have the shawl. I
reached forth my hand to take it down. The dress, I found, was hung over
it. It must needs come off, before the shawl. I lifted it, catching, as
I did so, my fingers in a rent,--was it? Yes, a piece was gone. I looked
at the size and form of it, which agreed perfectly with the fragment I
had found. This dress, then, had been in the tower, beyond all question.
I thought myself very fairy-like in my movements, but the fire was not.
Some one--it must have been Mr. Axtell or Katie--had put upon the hearth
a stick of chestnut-wood, which, suddenly igniting, snapped vigorously.
This began ere I was safely outside of the closet. Miss Lettie was
awakened. She arose a little wildly, sitting up in the bed. I do not
know that it was the fire that aroused her.
"I've had a terrific dream, Miss Percival; don't let me fall asleep
again"; and her heart beat fast and heavily. She pressed her hands upon
it, and asked for some quieting medicine, which I gave. She was getting
worse again, I knew; her hands wandered up to her head, in the same way
that they had done when she was first ill.
"I want some one to help me," she said, as if talking to herself; "the
waters are very rough. I thought they would be all smooth after the
"Perhaps it is only the healthful rising of the tide," I ventured to
She looked at me, took her hands down from her head, her beautiful,
classic head, with its wide, heavenly arch of forehead, and sat still
thus, looking at me in that fixed way, that wellnigh sent me to call
Katie again, for full ten minutes. I moved about the room, arranged the
fire on a more quiet basis, and then, finding nothing else to do, stood
before it, hoping that Miss Axtell would lie down again. In taking
something from my pocket I must have drawn out the trophy of my
tower-victory, for Miss Axtell suddenly said,--
"You've dropped something, Miss Percival."
Turning, I picked it up hastily, lest she should recognize it.
She must have seen it quite well, for it had been lying in the full
light of the blazing wood.
"Have you a dress like that?" she asked, when I had restored the
"I have not," I replied. "I am sorry I awakened you."
"It was a dream that awakened me," she said. "Will you have the kindness
to give me that bit of cloth you picked up? I have a fancy for it."
I gave it to her.
She hastily put away the gift I had given, and said,--
"You like the old tower in the church-yard, Miss Percival, I believe?"
"Oh, yes: it is a great attraction for me. Redleaf would be Redleaf no
longer, if it were away."
"Have you visited it since you've been here this time?"
"Were there any changes?" she asked.
"A few," I said. "There is another entrance to the tower than by the
door, Miss Axtell."
Slowly the lady dropped back to the pillows whence she had arisen from
the disturbing dream. She did not move again for many minutes; then it
was a few low-spoken words that summoned me to her side.
"I know there is another entrance to the tower," she said; "but I did
not think that any one else knew of it. Who told you?"
"Excuse me from answering, if you please," I said, unwilling to excite
her more, for I knew that the fever was rising rapidly.
"Who knows of this besides you? You don't mind telling me that much?"
"No one knows it, I think; no person told me, and I have told no one.
You seem to have more fever; can you not sleep?"
"Not with all this equinoctial storm raging, and the tide you told me of
coming up with the wind."
She looked decidedly worse. Mr. Axtell let her have her own way. I
thought it wise to follow his leading, and I asked,--
"What tide do you mean? You cannot hear the sea, and it isn't time for
the equinoctial gale."
This question seemed to have quieted Miss Axtell beyond thought of
reply. She did not speak again until the Sabbath-day had begun. Then, at
the very point where she had ceased, she recommenced.
"It is a pity to let the sea in on the fertile fields of your young
life," she said; "but this tide,--it is not that that is now flowing in
on the far-away beach of Redcliff. It is the tide of emotion, that _some
one day_ in life begins to rise in the human heart,--and, oh, what a
strange, wondrous thing it is! There are Bay-of-Fundy tides, and the
uniform tides, and the tideless waters that rest around Pacific Isles;
and no mortal knoweth the cause of their rise or fall. So in human
hearts: some must endure the great throbbing surges that are so hard
coming against one poor heart with nothing but the earth to rest upon,
and yet _must stand fast_; then there are the many, the blessed
congregation of hearts, that are only stirred by moderate, even-flowing
emotions, that never rise over a tide-line, behind which the
congregation are quite secure, and stand and censure the souls striving
and toiling in waves that they only look upon, but never--no,
never--feel. Is this right, Miss Percival?"
"It seems not," I said; "but the tideless hearts, what of them?"
"Oh, they are the hardest of all. Think! Imagine one of those serene,
iridescent rings of land, moored close beside the cliff, at which the
waves never rest from beating. Could the one forever at peace, with
leave from wind and wave to grow its verdure and twine its tendrils just
where it would,--_could_ it feel for the life-points against which the
Gulf-Stream only now and then sent up a cheering bit of warmth, whilst
the soul of the cliff saw its own land of greenness, only far, far away
over the waters, but could not attain unto it, not whilst north-land
winds blow or the earth-time endures?"
Miss Axtell ceased, and the same fixed, absorbed expression came to her.
She looked as she had done on the night, four days since, when I came in
at that door for the first time. I thought of the question her brother
had asked me concerning the turning of the key; and crossing the room, I
"Why did you lock the door?" she asked.
"I am constitutionally timid," was my apology.
"You have never evinced it before; why now?"
"Because I have not thought of it sooner."
"Will you unlock it, please?" she asked; and her eyes were very bright
with the fever-fire that I knew was burning up, until I feared the flame
would touch her mind. "I don't like being locked in; I wish to be free,"
This lady has something of Mr. Axtell's command of manner. I could not
think it right to refuse to comply, and I unlocked the door.
She seemed restless. "Bring me the key, will you?" she asked, after a
few moments of silence, in which her wandering eyes sought the door
I gave it to her. I might have locked the door before giving her the
key, but I could not do it even in her approach to wildness. I hate
deception as devoutly as she disguises. She thanked me for my
compliance, and said, with a scintillation of coaxingness in her
"You need not be afraid; there's nothing to harm one in Redleaf."
"Why did you come, to be kind to me, sick and in sorrow?" she suddenly
asked, whilst I, unseen by her, was preparing one of the soothing
powders that still were left from the night wherein I forgot my duty.
I knew not how to reply. The very bit of material which she had hidden
underneath a pillow was the cause; and so I answered,--
"Town-life is so different; one becomes so accustomed to a ring of
changes in the all-around of life, that, when in the country, one looks
for something to remind one of the life that has been left."
"Then you did not come from genuine kindness?"
"No, I am afraid not."
"Do not be afraid to be truthful, ever," she said, and added,--"Once
more, will you tell me where you found the fragment you have given me?"
"I cannot, Miss Axtell."
She did not speak again, but lay looking at the ceiling until long after
the moon had risen,--the waning moon, that comes up so weirdly, late in
the night, like a spectre of light appointed to haunt the solemn old
earth, and punish it with the remembrance of a brighter, better light
gone, and a renewed consciousness of its own once unformed, chaotic
existence. I saw rays from it coming in through the parted curtains, and
distinctly traced tree-branches wavering to and fro out in the
night-wind, set astir as the moon came up. At last she said,--
"I wish you would go to sleep. Won't you wake Katie up, and then lie
down? She has had a rest."
"Poor, tired child," I said; "she had work to do yesterday; I had not."
"Abraham, then, if not Katie."
"He has been up three nights, Miss Axtell,--I only one."
"I did not know it," she said. "I forgot that I had been so long ill."
"Will you try and sleep?" once more I asked; "it is near morning."
She wished to know the hour, made me give her watch into her own
keeping, and then said "she would not talk, no, she would be very quiet,
if I would only gratify her by making myself comfortable on the lounge."
It did not seem very unreasonable, and I consented.
"But you are looking at me," she said. "I hate to be watched; do shut
I looked away from her. Time went on. I heard the clock strike four
times, in the March night. Miss Axtell was very quiet,--better, I was
convinced. I arose once to rebuild the fire. Wood-fires burn down so
soon. Then I took up my watch, thinking over the strange events, all
unconsummated, that had been and still were in being under this roof.
Five hours came booming up from the village-clock. The wind must have
changed, or I could not have heard the strokes, so roundly full.
"How short the hour has been!" was my first thought. Kino began a
furious, untimely barking. "What for?" I wondered; and I lifted up my
head and listened. No sound; the room was very still. Miss Axtell had
dropped the curtains of the bed. It annoyed her, I supposed, to feel
herself watched. "Her breathing is very soft," I thought; "I do not even
hear it. Her sleep must be pleasant, after the fever."
I laid my head down to its resting-place, listening still. Kino kept up
a low, ominous growl, quite different from his first barking. Nothing
more came. "I'm glad he doesn't waken Miss Axtell," I thought; and
gradually Kino dropped his growls into low, plaintive moans, which in
time died away. As they did so, another sound, not outside, but in the
house, set my poor, weak heart into violent throbbings. Footsteps were
in the upper hall, I felt sure. Miss Axtell might not hear them, if she
had not heard Kino's louder noise. Slowly they came,--not heavy, with a
stout, manly tread, but muffled. They came close to the door. If the key
were only in it! But I could not move. I heard a hand going over it,
just as I had heard that hand three days before in the dark tower. A
moment's awful pour of feeling, and then came the gentlest, softest of
knocks. Why did I not get up and see who it was? Simply because Nature
made me cowardly, and meant me, therefore, to bear cowardice bravely. I
never moved. A second time came the knock, but no more nerve of sound in
it than at the first. A hand touched the knob after that, and turning it
gently, the door was carefully pushed open, and a figure, looking very
much like Mr. Axtell, only the long, dark hair fell over his face, came
noiselessly in. I could not tell at the moment who it was. I watched him
cautiously. He stood still, looking first at the bed, whose curtains
were down, then around the room. For one moment I thought him looking at
me, and involuntarily my eyelids closed, lest he might know himself
watched. He put up his hand, and pushed back the heavy hair from his
forehead. It was only Mr. Axtell. The relief was so great that I
spoke,--softly, it is true.
"What is it?" I asked. "Is anything wrong, Mr. Axtell?"
"It seems not," he said. "Kino's barking aroused me,--it is so unusual.
How has she slept?"
"Very well. For the last hour she has not spoken."
Kino began again his low, dismal howling.
"Did not the dog disturb her when he barked?"
Mr. Axtell had walked to the lounge from which I had risen, still
speaking in the voice that has much of tone without much sound.
"No,--she did not seem to hear it."
"She must be sleeping very deeply," the brother said; and as he spoke,
he cautiously uplifted a fold of the hangings.
What was it that came over his face, made visible even in the gloom of
the room? Something terrible.
"What is it?" I asked, springing up; "what has happened?" and I put out
my hand to take the look at the sleeper in there that he had done.
He stayed my hand, waved it back, folded his arms, as if nothing unusual
had occurred, and questioned me.
"What has she talked about to-night?"
"She has said very little."
"Tell me something that she has said, immediately"; and he looked
"What has happened?" I asked; and again I caught at the hangings which
concealed the fearful thing that he had seen.
"Answer me!" Two words only, but tremendously uttered.
"She asked me if I liked the tower in the church-yard," I said.
"You told her what?"
"That I did like it."
"Has she seemed worried about anything?" and Mr. Axtell threw up a
window-sash, letting the cold March wind into this room of sickness. As
he did so, I lifted the folds that the wind rudely swayed. _Miss Axtell
was not there_.
He turned around. I stood speechless.
"How long have you been asleep?" he asked, coolly, as if nothing had
"Not at all," I answered. Then I thought, "I must have slept, else she
could not have gone out without my knowing it."--"I heard the stroke of
four and of five," I said.
He looked up and down the street, only a little lighted by the feeble,
old, fading moon.
"Have you any idea where she would go?" he asked.
"She may be in the house," I said; "why not look?"
"No; I found the front-door unfastened. I thought Katie might have
forgotten it, when I went to see. She has gone out, I know."
He looked for the wrappings she might have put on, searching, as he did
so, for the small lamp that always was placed beside the larger one upon
the table. It was gone. It had been there at four o'clock, when I put
wood on the fire.
"Where would she carry a lamp?" Mr. Axtell asked, as he went on,
searching, in known places, for articles of apparel that were not in
their wonted homes. Having found them, he went out hurriedly, went to
his own room, came out thence a moment after, with boots on his feet in
place of the slippers he had frightened me with, and an overcoat across
his arm. He did not seem to see me, as I stood waiting in the hall.
"Where are you going?" I asked of him, but he did not answer. He went
straight on by me, and down, out of the house, closing the great
hall-door after him with a force that shook the walls.
I went into the deserted room, put down the window-sash that he had left
open, laid more wood upon the dying embers, caught up Miss Axtell's
shawl, and, throwing it over my head, started down the stairs. It was
pitch-dark, not even moonlight, there. I went back for a lamp: the only
one was the heavy bronze, in the lone room. Mr. Axtell's door was open.
He had left a light. I went in and took it up, with a box of matches
lying near, and once more started down the stairs. How full of trembling
I was! yet not afraid: there was a life, perhaps, to save. I opened the
heavy oaken door. The wind put out my light. I did not need it longer.
The shred of moon, hanging prophetic of doom, let out its ghastly
whiteness to ghost the village.
Kino did not bark. The wind came down the street from churchward, whence
I had heard the stroke of the village-clock. Ten minutes past five: it
would be morning soon. I listened. The wind brought me footsteps, going
farther and farther on: or was it the fluttering of my own garments that
I heard? "I will know," I thought; and I ran a little way, then listened
again. They seemed less far than before, but still going on. I ran
again, farther than at first. I saw a figure before me, but, oh, _so_
far! It seemed that I should never catch it. I tried, and called. I
might as well have shouted to my father, miles away; for the wind
carried my voice nearer to him than to Mr. Axtell, hurrying on. Where
would he go? I tried to keep him in sight. He turned a corner, and the
wind tormented me; it was almost a gale that blew, and I had the shawl
to hold over my head. I came to the corner that he had turned: it was
near the parsonage,--only two or three houses away. There was less of
wind. I went on, half-breathless with the intensity of the effort I made
to breathe. The stars looked cold. I was near the church-yard. First the
church,--then the place of graves,--after that, the long, sloping
garden, and the parsonage higher up. I passed by the last house. I drew
near to the church. How fearful! I stopped. It was only a momentary
weakness: a life was concerned; it was no place for idle fears. I crept
on, shivering with the cold, and the night, and the loneliness, and the
awful thought that the Deity was punishing me for having gone, in
imagination, down to the cradle of His dead, by sending me out this
night among graves. I heard the church-windows rattling coarse, woody
tunes; but I tried not to hear, and went past. A low paling ran along
the interval between the church and the parsonage-garden. I had crossed
the street when I came up to the church; now I moved along opposite this
fearful spot. The paling was white. I listened. No sound. A shadow from
a tall pine-tree fell across a part of the paling. Therein I thought I
saw what might be Mr. Axtell, leaning on the fence. I went a little of
the distance across the street. Whatever it was, it stirred. I ran back,
and started on, thinking to gain the parsonage. The figure--it was Mr.
Axtell--came after me. As soon as I knew, for he called, "Lettie," I
stopped and turned toward him.
"It isn't your sister," I said.
"You, Miss Percival? Why are you out?" and he seemed anxious. He said,
"You are suffering too much from the 'strange people.'"
How could he mention my hasty words at such a time? and I remembered the
unforgiving face that I had touched a fathom deep under the hard ground.
"I'm glad I've found you," I said. "Have you the church-key?"
He told me that he had. I said,--
"Come and open it."
"What for?" and he still peered over among the tombstones, as if
expecting to find Miss Lettie there.
"It is not there that she would go, I think; come quickly with me," I
We walked to the church-entrance, hastily. He searched for the key. He
hadn't it. I put my hand out, and touched it in the door.
"See here! I'm right!" and as I spoke, I drew a match across the stone
step. The wind put out the flame. I guarded the second one with my
shawl, and lighted the lamp.
"Open quickly, before I lose it," I said.
He did, and we went in,--in through the vestibule, where I first had
seen this man, tolling the bell for his mother's death,--up the aisle,
where I had gone the day I saw the thirsty, hungry, little mouse. I felt
afraid, even with this strong man, for I did not know where I was going.
We drew near the pulpit,--the pulpit in which Aaron preached.
"She is not here," Mr. Axtell said; and he looked about the empty pews,
feebly lighted from my small flame.
He started forward as he spoke.
"Don't leave me," I said; and I put my hand within his arm.
What we saw was a change in the pulpit, an opening, as if some one had
destroyed the panelled front of it.
"Come," I said; and I drew near, and put the lamp through the opening,
showing a few stone steps; perhaps there were a dozen of them; at least,
they went down into undefined darkness.
"What is this, Miss Percival?"
"I don't know,--I have never seen it before; but I think it leads to the
tower. You will find her there. Come!" and I went down the first step,
with a feeling far stronger than the prisoner's doomed to step off into
interminable depths, in that Old-World castle famous for wrongs to
mankind,--for I knew my danger: he does not, as he comes to the last
step, from off which he goes down to a deep, watery death.
Mr. Axtell was aroused. He took the lamp from my unsteady hand, and,
bidding me come back, went down before me. At the foot we found
ourselves in a stone passage-way. It seemed below the reach of rains,
and not very damp. Once I hit my foot against a stone, and fell. As Mr.
Axtell turned back to see if I was hurt, he let the light fall
distinctly on the ground. I saw a letter. He went on. I groped for it,
one moment, then found it, and put it, with the torn piece of envelope
to which it might belong, within my pocket. We came, at last,--a long
distance it seemed for only a hundred feet,--to steps again. There were
only three of them. Mr. Axtell held the lamp up; there was an opening. I
shaded the light immediately, and whispered,--
"She's up there, I'm sure. Don't alarm her."
"How can I help it?" he asked.
I had as little of wisdom on the point as he; but I heard a noise. I saw
a glimmer of light, as I looked up; then it was gone. I put my head
through the opening, then reached down for the lamp. I held it up, and
"We shall have to go up," her brother said.
I entered the tower, the place I had so loved before,--and now seemed
destined to atone for my love by suffering.
"Don't let the light go out, Mr. Axtell," were all the words spoken; and
we went up the long, winding stairway.
At the top stood Miss Axtell, fixed and statue-like, with fever-excited
eyes. She looked not at us, but far away, through the rough wood inside,
through the stone of the tower: her gaze seemed limitless.
"Come, Lettie! come, sister! come home with me," her brother said.
She heeded not; the only seeming effect was a convulsion of the muscles
used in holding the lamp. I ventured to take it from her.
"Where did you find it?" she asked, in determined tones; "will you tell
"Whom is she speaking to?" asked Mr. Axtell.
"Yes, Miss Axtell, it was in here."
"Where is the rest?" and her beautiful eyes were coruscant.
I handed to her the last of the trophies of my first visit. She seized
"Don't do that," said Mr. Axtell, as she lighted it from the lamp he
held. But she was not to be stayed; she held it aloft until the fire
came down and touched her fingers; then she dropped it, burning still,
down to the stone floor, far below.
She seemed helpless then; she looked as she did when a few hours before
she had said, "I want some one to help me."
"Oh!--I've--lost--something!" and she tolled the words out, as slowly as
the notes of the passing bell.
"What is it, Lettie? Come home; the day is breaking"; and Mr. Axtell put
his arm about her.
I thought of the letter that I had picked up in the passage-way.
"What have you lost, Miss Axtell? Is it anything that I could find for
you?" and I laid my hand upon hers, as the only method of drawing away
her eyes from their terrible immutation of expression.
"You? No, I should think not; how could you? you only found a piece of
"What is this?" I asked; and I held up the letter: the superscription
was visible only to herself.
What a change came over her! Soft, dewy tears melted in those burning
eyes, and sent a mist of sweet effluence over her face. Mr. Axtell was
still supporting her; she did not touch the letter I held; she reached
out both of her hands, bent a little toward me,--for she was much taller
than I am,--took my cold, shivering face in those two burning hands, and
touched my forehead with her lips.
"God has made you well," she said; "thank Him."
She did not ask for the letter. I put it whence I had taken it. She
evidently trusted me with it.
"Abraham, I'm sick," she said; and she laid her head upon his shoulder,
passively as an infant might have done.
Her strength was gone; she could no longer support herself, and the day
was breaking. Mr. Axtell, strong, vigorous, full-souled man as I knew
him to be, looked at me, and his look said, "What am I to do with her?"
I answered it by throwing off the shawl and putting it upon the floor
where we were standing, and saying,--
"Let her rest here, until I come."
I took the still burning lamp and went down,--down through the entrance
into the deep, walled passage-way, on, step after step, through this
black tunnel, built, when, I knew not, or by whom; but I was brave now.
_I had won the trust of a soul_: it was light unto my feet. I reached
the twelve stone steps leading into the church. I ran lightly up them,
and, stooping, crept into this still house of God. Silence held the
place. The next reign would be that of worship. Is it thus in the
church-yard, after the silence of Death,--the long waiting, listening
for the slowly gathering voice of praise, that, one fair day in time,
time, shall transfuse the reverent souls, until the voice of the dew God
sends down shall be heard dropping on the grassy sod, and welcomed as
the prelude to the archangel's grand semibreve that will usher in the
sublime Psalm of Everlasting Life?
Wait on, souls! it is good to wait the voice of the Lord God Almighty,
who holdeth the earth in the hollow of His hand,--His hand, that we may
feel for, when the way is dark, whose living fibres thrill both heart
and soul. Yes, God's hand is never away from earth. I reached out anew
for it in that dismal pathway through which I had come, and it guided me
into this quiet, peaceful place, full of morning rays.
I did not stop to think all this; I felt it; for feeling is swifter than
thought. Thought is the tree; feeling, the blossom thereof. I closed the
panelling behind me, leaving the church as it had been on the day when,
I saw the little hungry mouse treading sacred places. I went down the
aisle; and as I passed by the hempen rope in the vestibule that so often
had set the bell a-ringing, a longing came to do it now, to tell the
village-people, by voice of sacred bell, that there was a new-born
worship come down from Heaven. But I did not. I hurried on, and went
out, locking the door after me. The March morning was cold. I missed the
shawl I had left. My hair was as much astir as Aaron's had been one
morning, not long before, and I truly believe there was as much of
theology in it. No one was abroad. People sleep late on Sunday mornings.
The east was blossoming into a magnificent sunflower.
Looking at myself, as I began my walk, I laughed aloud. I was still
carrying a lighted lamp,--for the wind, like the village-people, slept
at sunrise. I comforted myself by thinking of a predecessor somewhat
famous for a like deed, and bent upon a like errand. The man that I
searched for I should surely find, and honest, too; for it was Aaron.
The parsonage was cruelly inhospitable. No door was left unfastened. I
knocked at a window opening on the veranda. I gave the signal-knock that
Sophie and I had listened and opened to, unhesitatingly, for many years.
It needed nothing more. Instantly I heard Sophie say,--"That's Anna's
knock"; and immediately thereafter the curtain was put aside, and
Sophie's precious face and azure eyes peeped out. She looked in
amazement to see me thus, and in one moment more had let me in.
"Wake Aaron," I said, without giving her time to question me.
"He is awake. What has happened? Is Miss Axtell dying?" she questioned.
"No," I said; "but I want to speak to Aaron, directly. I'm going to my
room one moment."
I went up. The tower-key was hanging where I had left it. I took it
down, and made myself respectable by covering up my breezy hair with a
hood, with the further precaution of a cloak. I had not long to wait for
Aaron's coming; but it was long enough to remind me to carry some
restorative with me. Aaron came.
"Miss Axtell is very ill," I said; "she is quite wild, and left the
house in the night. She's up in the church-yard tower. Will you help her
brother take her home, as soon as you possibly can?"
"How strange!" were his only words; and as I went the garden way, Aaron
started to arouse his horse from morning sleep.
"No one need to know the church entrance," I thought; and as I went in,
I tried to close down the heavy stone, which fitted in so well, that it
seemed, like all the others, built to stay.
I could not stir it. Perhaps Aaron would not look, when he came in; but
doubting his special blindness, I asked Mr. Axtell to put it back. He
seemed to comprehend my meaning. I took his place beside Miss Axtell.
She was no longer wilful or determined. Her strength was gone. Her head
drooped upon my shoulder, and when I held a spoon, filled with the
restorative that I had brought, to her lips, they opened, and she took
that which I gave, mechanically. Her eyelids were down. I looked at the
fair, beautiful face that lay so near to my eyes. It was full of the
softest pencillings; little golden sinuosities of light were woven all
over it; and the blue lines along which emotion flies were wonderfully
arrowy and sky-like in their wanderings, for they left no trace to tell
whence they came or whither led. I heard the heavy, ponderous weight let
fall. It was the same sound as that which I heard on that memorable
night. Miss Axtell shivered a little; or was it but the effect of the
The brother came up; he looked down, kindly at me, lovingly at his
"Shall I relieve you?" he asked.
I folded my arm only a little more tightly for answer, and said,--
"Mr. Wilton will be here soon; he is getting the carriage, to take your
"I will go and help him, if you don't mind being left"; and he looked
"There's no danger. I shall not fall asleep," I said.
"She's harmless now, poor child! If we can only get her back safely!"
And with these words he left me again.
Sophie came up soon, quite fearless now. She brought a variety of
comforting things, among them a pillow. Miss Axtell was too much
exhausted to open her eyes, or speak. I thought two or three times that
she had ceased to breathe. What if she should die here? They came. She
was lifted up, and borne down to the carriage, that waited outside the
graveyard. Helpless ones are carried in often: never before (it might
be) had one been taken thence. And still the village-people seemed to be
buried in rest.
Sophie and I walked on, whilst slowly the carriage proceeded to the
gable-roofed, high-chimneyed house, that arose, well defined and clear,
in the early sunlight. Smoke was rising from the kitchen-fire. Sophie
and I went in, just as the carriage stopped. She waited to receive the
invalid, whilst I went up to see if the absence had been discovered. It
was but little more than an hour since Mr. Axtell and I had gone out.
Evidently there had been no visitors. The wood that had been put on the
fire before I left had gone down into glowing coals that looked warm and
inviting. I kneeled and stirred them to a brighter glow, and put on more
wood, my fingers very stiff the while. I drew back the curtains from the
bed, smoothed the pillows, and the disorder occasioned by our hasty
exodus, and went down. Aaron and Mr. Axtell had carried the poor invalid
to the library, and laid her upon the sofa there, but it was very cold.
The fire was not yet built.
There was a sound of some one coming from the kitchen-way. Mr. Axtell
looked at me. "You know how to keep a secret," he said, and motioned me
in the direction whence came the sound, I hurried out, closing the door,
and met Katie running up to know "what had happened?"
I sent her back on some slight pretext, and followed whither she went. I
heard the cook mumblingly scolding about "noises in the night, dogs
barking and doors shutting, she knew; such a house as it was, with
people dying, getting sick, and putting every sort of a bothersome dream
into a quiet body's head, that wanted to rest, just as she worked, like
a Christian." And all the while she went on making preparations for a
"What was 't now that ye heard? Kate, you're easy enough at hearing o'
noises in the broad daylight: I wish 't ye would be as harksome at
"Hush, Cooky!" said Katie; "Miss Percival is here."
I went up to Cooky and soothed her, told her that I had heard the dog
barking too, and that I thought that I _did_ hear something like the
shutting of a door in the night. Cooky rewarded my efforts at sympathy
by expressing gladness "that there was one sensible person in the house
that had ears fit for Christian purposes."
"Don't mind her, Miss Percival," Katie said; "she's cross because I
wakened her too early; she'll get over it when she has had her
I gave Katie something to do, telling her to make coffee for Miss Axtell
as soon as possible; and with a few more words, meant to be conciliating
to Cooky, I took up the glass Katie brought me, and went back.
They had carried Miss Axtell up-stairs. Sophie was taking her wrappings
off. How carefully she had guarded herself, even in her illness, for the
walk! and now, all the nerve of fever gone, she lay as white and
strengthless as she had done in the tower. I went for Doctor Eaton, on
my own responsibility.
"He would come in a few minutes," was the message to me.
Sophie said "that she would stay, for I must go home."
As she said so, a little wavering cloud of doubt went across her
forehead, eclipsing, for a moment, its light; then all was bright again.
"What is it?" I asked. "Something for Aaron, I know."
Sophie looked the least bit like a rather old child asking for
sugar-candy; but she said,--
"Just you tie his cravat for him, there's a good sister; don't forget;
that's all. After that you may go to sleep, and sleep all day. You look
as if you needed it."
She came to say one more forgotten thing,--
"Just see that Aaron gets a white handkerchief: he's fond of gay colors,
you know. Two Sundays ago, when I wasn't looking, he carried off to
church one of Chloe's turbans, and deliberately shook out the
three-cornered article, and never knew the difference till his face told