Part 3 out of 5
And Simon said,--"You are wiser than I, Sally, and braver, and every
way better. I will obey you in this, and wait,--the more cheerfully
because I shall be always at hand, and, if your heart should fail you,
I know you will not refuse my aid, nor prefer another's to mine."
And so they passed for mere acquaintances; and there were some who
said--Philip Withers among them--that "that plausible Golden Farmer,
young Blount, had treated the forlorn thing shabbily."
About that time hoops came in, and the Splurge girls flourished the
first that appeared in Hendrik.
One day, as Miss Wimple sat in a low Yankee rocking-chair, sewing among
her books, she was favored with the extraordinary apparition of Miss
Madeline Splurge,--her first visitor that day, whether on business or
"I wish to procure a small morocco pocket-book, Miss Wimple, if you
keep such things."
Miss Wimple, with a slight bow of assent, took from a glass
counter-case a paper box in which was a miscellaneous assortment of
such articles; there were five or six of the pocket-books. Madeline
selected one,--a small, flexible affair, of some dark-colored morocco
lined with pink silk. She paid the trifle the shy, demure little
librarian demanded, and was taking her leave in silence, without even a
"Good-day," when, as she was passing the door, Miss Wimple espied on
the counter, near where her customer had stood, a visiting-card; her
eye fell on the engraved name,--"Mr. Philip Withers"; of course Miss
Splurge had dropped it unawares. She hastened with it to the
door,--Madeline had just stept into the street,--
"This card is yours, I presume, Miss Splurge?"
Madeline turned upon her with a surprised air, inquiringly,--looked in
her own hands, and shook her handkerchief with the quick, nervous,
alarmed movement of one who suddenly discovers a very particular
loss,--became, in an instant, pale as death, stared for a moment at
Miss Wimple with fixed eyes, and slightly shivered. Then, quickly and
fiercely, she snatched the card from Miss Wimple's hand,--
"Where--where did you find this? Did--did I leave--drop--?"
"You left it on my counter," Miss Wimple quietly replied, with a
considerate self-possession that admirably counterfeited
unconsciousness of Madeline's consternation.
"Come hither, into the shop,--a word with you,"--and Madeline entered
quickly, and closed the door behind her. For a moment she leaned with
her elbow on the counter, and pressed her eyes with her fingers.
"Are you ill, Miss Splurge?" Miss Wimple gently inquired.
"No. Did you read what is on this card?"
"You--you--you read"----Madeline's hands were clenched, her face red
and distorted; she gnashed her teeth, and seemed choking.
"Why, Miss Splurge, what is the matter with you? Yes, I read the
name,--Mr. Philip Withers. The card lay on the counter,--I could not
know it was yours,--I read the name, and immediately brought it to you.
What excites you so? Sit down, and calm yourself; surely you are ill."
Madeline did not accept the stool Miss Wimple offered her, but,
availing herself of the pause to assume a forced calmness which left
her paler than at first, she fixed her flashing eyes steadily on the
deep, still eyes of her companion, and asked,--
"You did not turn this card, then?--you did not look on the other
"On my honor, I did not."
"On your honor! You are not lying, girl?"--Miss Splurge thrust the card
into the newly-purchased pocket-book, and hid that in her bosom.
"Miss Splurge," said Miss Wimple, very simply, and with no excitement
of tone or expression, "when you feel sufficiently recovered to appear
on the street, without exposing yourself there as you have done in
here, go out!"
And Miss Wimple turned from Madeline and would have resumed her sewing;
but Madeline cried,--
"Stay, stay, Miss Wimple, I beseech you! I knew not what I said;
forgive me, ah, forgive me!--for you are merciful, as you are pure and
true. If you were aware of all, you would know that I could not insult
you, if I would. Trouble, distraction, have made me coarse,--false,
too, to myself as unjust and injurious to you; for I know your virtues,
and believe in them as I believe in little else in this world or the
next. If in my hour of agony and shame I could implore the help of any
human being, I would come to you--dear, honest, brave girl!--before all
others, to fling myself at your feet, and kiss your hands, and beseech
you to pity me and save me from myself, to hold my hot head on your
gentle bosom, and your soothing hand on my fierce heart. Good-by!
Good-by! I need not ask your pardon again,--you have no anger for such
as I. But if your blessed loneliness is ever disturbed by vulgar,
chattering visitors, you will not name me to them, or confess that you
have seen me." And ere Miss Wimple could utter the gentle words that
were already on her lips, Madeline was gone.
For a while Miss Wimple remained standing on the spot, gazing
anxiously, but vacantly, toward the door by which the half-mad lady had
departed,--her soft, deep eyes full of painful apprehension. Then she
resumed her little rocking-chair, and, as she gathered up her work from
the floor where she had dropped it, tears trickled down her cheeks; she
sighed and shook her head, in utter sorrow.
"They were always strange women," she thought, "those Splurges,--not a
sound heart nor a healthy mind among them. Could their false, barren
life have maddened this proud Madeline? Else what did she mean by her
'hot head' and her 'fierce heart'? And what had that Philip Withers to
do with her trouble and her distraction? She recollected now that Simon
had once said, in his odd, significant way, that Mr. Withers was a
charming person to contemplate from a safe distance,--Simon, who never
lent himself to idle detraction. She remembered, too, that she had
often reproached herself for her irrational prejudice against the
man,--that she was forever finding something false and sinister in the
face that every one else said was eminently handsome, and ugly
dissonance in the voice that all Hendrik praised for its music. Was he
on both sides of that card?--Ah, well! it might be just nothing, after
all; the poor lady might be ill, or vexed past endurance at home; or
some unhappy love affair might have come to fret her proud, impatient,
defiant temper. But not Withers,--oh, of course not Withers!--for was
it not well known that Adelaide was his choice, that his assiduous and
graceful attentions to her silenced even his loudest enemies, who could
no longer accuse him of duplicity and disloyalty to women? But she
would feel less disturbed, and sleep better, perhaps, if she knew that
Madeline was safe at home, and tranquil again."
Thinking of sleep reminded Miss Wimple that she had a pious task to
perform before she could betake her to her sweet little cot. A
superannuated and bedridden woman, who had nursed her mother in her
last illness, lived on the northern outskirts of the town; and she must
cross the long covered bridge that spanned the Hendrik River to take a
basket full of comforting trifles to old Hetty that night.
About nine o'clock Miss Wimple had done her charitable errand, and was
on her way home again, with a light step and a happy heart, an empty
basket and old Hetty's abundant blessings. She was alone, but feared
nothing,--the streets of Hendrik at night were familiar to her and she
to them; and although her shy and quiet traits were not sufficiently
understood to make her universally beloved, not a loafing ruffian in
town but knew her modest face, her odd attire, and her straightforward
walk; and the rudest respected her.
As she approached the covered bridge, the moon was shining brightly at
the entrance, making the gloom within profounder. It was a long, wooden
structure, of a kind common enough on the turnpikes of the Atlantic
States, where they cross the broader streams. Stout posts and
cross-beams, and an arch that stretched from end to end, divided the
bridge into two longitudinal compartments, for travellers going and
coming respectively; there were small windows on each side, and at
either end, on a conspicuous signboard, were the Company's
"Rules,"--"Walk your Horses over this Bridge, or be subject to a Fine
of not less than Five nor exceeding Twenty Dollars"--"Keep to the
Right, as the Law directs."
As Miss Wimple entered the shadow of the bridge on the right hand, she
was startled by hearing excited voices, which seemed to come from the
other side of the central arch, and about the middle of the bridge,
where the darkness was deepest:--
"Speak low, I say, or be silent! Some one will be coming presently;--I
heard steps approaching even now"--Miss Wimple instinctively stopped,
and stood motionless, almost holding her breath, at the end of the arch
where the moonlight did not reach. She was no eavesdropper, mark
you,--the meannesses she scorned included that character in a special
clause. But she had recognised the voice, and with her own true
delicacy would spare the speaker the shame of discovery and the dread
of exposure.--"Speak low, or I will leave you. If you are indifferent
for yourself, you shall not toss me to the geese of Hendrik."
"You are right";--it was a woman's voice; but, whatever her tone had
been before, she spoke so low now, and with a voice so hoarse with
suppressed emotion, so altered by a sort of choking whisper, that Miss
Wimple, if she had ever heard it before, could not recognize it;--"You
are right; the time for that has not come;--I could not stay to enjoy
it;--I am going now, but we will meet again."
"What would you have? I have said I would marry you,--and leave
you,--so soon as I can shake myself clear of that other stupid
"Now, Philip Withers, what a weak, pusillanimous wretch you must be,
having known me so long, and tried my temper so well, to hope to find
me such a fool, after all,--that kind of fool, I mean! My deepest
shame, in this unutterably shameful hour, is that I chose such a
cowardly ass to besot myself with.--There, the subject sickens me, and
I am going. Dare to follow me, and the geese of Hendrik shall have you.
I go scot-free, fearing nothing, having nothing to lose; but I hold
you, my exquisite Joseph Surface--oh, the wit of my sister! oh, the
wisdom of fools!--by your fine sentiments; and when I want you I shall
find you. I can take care of me and _mine_; but beware how you dare to
claim lot or portion in what I choose to call my own, even though your
brand be on it,--Joseph!"
She hissed the name, and, with hurried steps, and a low, scornful
laugh, departed. As Miss Wimple, all aghast, leaned forward with quick
breath and tumultuous heart, and peered through the gloom toward where
the silver moonlight lay across the further end of the bridge, she saw
a white dress flash across a bright space and disappear. Then Philip
Withers stepped forth into the moonlight, stood there for a minute or
two, and gazed in the direction of a branch road which made off from
the turnpike close to the bridge, and led, at right angles to it, to
the railroad station on the right; then slowly, and without once
looking back, he followed the turnpike to the town.
All astonished, bewildered, full of strange, vague fears, Miss Wimple
remained in the now awful gloom and stillness of the bridge till he had
quite disappeared. Then gathering up her wits with an effort, she
resumed her homeward way. As she emerged from the shadows into the same
bright place which Withers and his mysterious companion had just
passed, she spied something dark lying on the ground. She stooped and
picked it up; it was a small morocco pocket-book lined with pink silk.
Good Heaven! She remembered,--the one she had sold to Miss Madeline
Splurge that afternoon,--the very same! So, then, that was her voice,
her dress; she had, indeed, dimly thought of Madeline more than once,
while that woman was speaking so bitterly,--but had not recognized her
tones, nor once fancied it might be she. Now she easily recalled her
words, and understood some of her allusions. And her wild, distracted,
incoherent speech in the shop, too,--ah! it was all too plain; that was
surely she; but what might be the nature or degree of her trouble Miss
Wimple dared not try to guess. This Philip Withers,--was he a villain,
after all? "Had he--this poor lady--Oh, God forbid! No, no, no!"
She opened the pocket-book;-a visiting-card was all it contained. She
drew it forth,--"Mr. Philip Withers,"--yes, she knew it by that broken
corner, as though it had been marked so for a purpose. She held it up
before her eyes where the moon was brightest, and--turned the other
"Ah, me!" exclaimed that Chevalier Bayard in shabby, skimped delaine,
"what was I going to do?"
Blushing, she returned the card to its place, and hiding the
pocket-book in her honorable bosom, hurried homeward. But her soul was
troubled as she went; sometimes she sobbed aloud, and more than once
she stood still and wrung her hands.
"Ah! if Simon Blount would but come now to advise me what is safest and
best to do!"
Should she go to Mrs. Splurge and tell her all? No,--what right had
she? That would but precipitate an exposure which might not be
necessary. The case was not clear enough to justify so officious a
step. Madeline was in no immediate danger. Perhaps she had only taken a
different road to avoid the odious companionship of Withers. No doubt
she was half-way home already. She would wait till morning, for clearer
judgment and information. Till then she would hope for the best.
When Miss Wimple reached her humble little nest, she knelt beside her
bed and prayed, tearfully, to the God who averts danger and forgives
sin; but she did not sleep all night.
In the morning a gossiping neighbor came with the news;--"that little
cooped-up Wimple never hears anything," she thought.
Miss Madeline Splurge had disappeared. Mr. Philip Withers was searching
for her high and low. She had not been seen since yesterday
afternoon,--had not returned home last night. It was feared she had
drowned herself in the river for spite. She, the knowing neighbor, "had
always said so,--had always said that Madeline Splurge was a quare
girl,--sich high and mighty airs, and _sich_ a temper. Now here it was,
and what would people say,--specially them as had always turned up
their nose at her opinion?"
Miss Wimple said nothing; but she treated Pity to two poor little
lies;--one she told, and the other she looked:--She was not well, she
said, which was the reason why she was so pale; and then she looked
surprised at the news of Madeline's flitting.
Later in the day another report:--A letter left by Madeline had been
found at home. She had taken offence at some sharp thing that sarcastic
Mr. Withers, who always did hate her, had said; and had gone off in a
miff, without even good-by or a carpet-bag, and taken the night train
to New York, where she had an uncle on the mother's side.--And a good
riddance! Now Miss Addy and Mr. Withers would have some peace of their
time. Such a sweet couple, too!
Madeline _had_ left a note:--"I was sick of you all, and I have escaped
from you. You will be foolish to take any trouble about it."
[To be continued.]
The cup I sing is a cup of gold,
Many and many a century old,
Sculptured fair, and over-filled
With wine of a generous vintage, spilled
In crystal currents and foaming tides
All round its luminous, pictured sides.
Old Time enamelled and embossed
This ancient cup at an infinite cost.
Its frame he wrought of metal that run.
Red from the furnace of the sun.
Ages on ages slowly rolled
Before the glowing mass was cold,
And still he toiled at the antique mould,
Turning it fast in his fashioning hand,
Tracing circle, layer, and band,
Carving figures quaint and strange,
Pursuing, through many a wondrous change,
The symmetry of a plan divine.
At last he poured the lustrous wine,
Crowned high the radiant wave with light,
And held aloft the goblet bright,
Half in shadow, and wreathed in mist
Of purple, amber, and amethyst.
This is the goblet from whose brink
All creatures that have life must drink:
Foemen and lovers, haughty lord
And sallow beggar with lips abhorred.
The new-born infant, ere it gain
The mother's breast, this wine must drain.
The oak with its subtile juice is fed,
The rose drinks till her cheeks are red,
And the dimpled, dainty violet sips
The limpid stream with loving lips.
It holds the blood of sun and star,
And all pure essences that are:
No fruit so high on the heavenly vine,
Whose golden hanging clusters shine
On the far-off shadowy midnight hills,
But some sweet influence it distils
That slideth down the silvery rills.
Here Wisdom drowned her dangerous thought,
The early gods their secrets brought;
Beauty, in quivering lines of light,
Ripples before the ravished sight;
And the unseen mystic spheres combine
To charm the cup and drug the wine.
All day I drink of the wine and deep
In its stainless waves my senses steep;
All night my peaceful soul lies drowned
In hollows of the cup profound;
Again each morn I clamber up
The emerald crater of the cup,
On massive knobs of jasper stand
And view the azure ring expand:
I watch the foam-wreaths toss and swim
In the wine that o'erruns the jewelled rim,
Edges of chrysolite emerge,
Dawn-tinted, from the misty surge;
My thrilled, uncovered front I lave,
My eager senses kiss the wave,
And drain, with its viewless draught, the lore
That warmeth the bosom's secret core,
And the fire that maddens the poet's brain
With wild sweet ardor and heavenly pain.
THE LANGUAGE OF THE SEA.
Every calling has something of a special dialect. Even where there is,
one would think, no necessity for it, as in the conversation of
Sophomores, sporting men, and reporters for the press, a dialect is
forthwith partly invented, partly suffered to grow, and the sturdy stem
of original English exhibits a new crop of parasitic weeds which often
partake of the nature of fungi and betoken the decay of the trunk
whence they spring.
Is this the case with the language of the sea? Has the sea any
language? or has each national tongue grafted into it the technology of
the maritime calling?
The sea has its own laws,--the common and unwritten law of the
forecastle, of which Admiralty Courts take infrequent cognizance, and
the law of the quarter-deck, which is to be read in acts of Parliament
and statutes of Congress. The sea has its own customs, superstitions,
traditions, architecture, and government; wherefore not its own
language? We maintain that it has, and that this tongue, which is not
enumerated by Adelung, which possesses no grammar and barely a lexicon
of its own, and which is not numbered among the polyglot achievements
of Mezzofanti or Burritt, has yet a right to its place among the
Like everything else which is used at sea,--except salt-water,--its
materials came from shore. As the ship is originally wrought from the
live-oak forests of Florida and the pine mountains of Norway, the iron
mines of England, the hemp and flax fields of Russia, so the language
current upon her deck is the composite gift of all sea-loving peoples.
But as all these physical elements of construction suffer a sea-change
on passing into the service of Poseidon, so again the landward phrases
are metamorphosed by their contact with the main. But no one set of
them is allowed exclusive predominance. For the ocean is the only true,
grand, federative commonwealth which has never owned a single master.
The cloud-compelling Zeus might do as he pleased on land; but far
beyond the range of outlook from the white watch-tower of Olympus
rolled the immeasurable waves of the wine-purple deep, acknowledging
only the Enosigaios Poseidon. Consequently, while Zeus allotted to this
and that hero and demigod Argos and Mycene and the woody Zacynthus,
each to each, the ocean remained unbounded and unmeted. Nation after
nation, race after race, has tried its temporary lordship, but only at
the pleasure of the sea itself. Sometimes the ensign of sovereignty has
been an eagle, sometimes a winged lion,--now a black raven, then a
broom,--to-day St. Andrew's Cross, to-morrow St George's, perhaps the
next a starry cluster. There is no permanent architecture of the main
by which to certify the triumphs of these past invaders. Their ruined
castles are lying "fifty fathom deep,"--Carthaginian galley and Roman
trireme, the argosy of Spain, the "White Ship" of Fitz Stephen, the
"Ville de Paris," down to the latest "non-arrival" whispered at
Lloyd's,--all are gone out of sight into the forgotten silences of the
green underworld. Upon the land we can trace Roman and Celt, Saxon and
Norman, by names and places, by minster, keep, and palace. This one
gave the battlement, that the pinnacle, the other the arch. But the
fluent surface of the sea takes no such permanent impression. Gone are
the quaint stern-galleries, gone the high top-gallant fore-castles,
gone the mighty banks of oars of the olden time. It is only in the
language that we are able to trace the successive nations in their
march along the mountain waves; for to that each has from time to time
given its contribution, and of each it has worn the seeming stamp, till
some Actium or Lepanto or Cape Trafalgar has compelled its reluctant
transfer to another's hands.
Or rather, we may say, the language of the sea comes and makes a part,
as it were, of the speech of many different nations, as the sailor
abides for a season in Naples, Smyrna, Valparaiso, Canton, and New
York,--and from each it borrows, as the sailor does, from this a silk
handkerchief, from that a cap, here a brooch, and there a scrap of
tattooing, but still remains inhabitant of all and citizen of
none,--the language of the seas.
What do we mean by this? It is that curious nomenclature which from
truck to keelson clothes the ship with strange but fitting
phrases,--which has its proverbs, idioms, and forms of expression that
are of the sea, salt, and never of the land, earthy. Wherever tidewater
flows, goes also some portion of this speech. It is "understanded of
the people" among all truly nautical races. It dominates over their own
languages, so that the Fin and Mowree, (Maori,) the Lascar and the
Armorican, meeting on the same deck, find a common tongue whereby to
carry on the ship's work,--the language in which to "hand, reef, and
Whence did it come? From all nautical peoples. Not from the Hebrew
race. To them the possession of the soil was a fixed idea. The sea
itself had nothing wherewith to tempt them; they were not adventurers
or colonizers; they had none of that accommodating temper as to creed,
customs, and diet, which is the necessary characteristic of the sailor.
But the nations they expelled from Canaan, the worshippers of the
fish-tailed Dagon, who fled westward to build Tartessus (Tarshish) on
the Gaditanian peninsula, or who clung with precarious footing to the
sea-shore of Philistia and the rocky steeps of Tyre and Sidon,--these
were seafarers. From them their Greek off-shoots, the Ionian islanders,
inherited something of the maritime faculty. There are traces in the
"Odyssey" of a nautical language, of a technology exclusively belonging
to the world "off soundings," and an exceeding delight in the rush and
spray-flinging of a vessel's motion,--
"The purple wave hissed from the bow of the
bark in its going."
Hence the Greek is somewhat of a sailor to this day, and in many a
Mediterranean port lie sharp and smartly-rigged brigantines with
classic names of old Heathendom gilt in pure Greek type upon their
But the Greek and Carthaginian elements of the ocean language must now
lie buried very deep in it, and it is hard to recognize their original
image and superscription in those smooth-worn current coins which form
the basis of the sea-speech. It is not within the limits of a cursory
paper like this to enter into too deep an investigation, or to trace
perhaps a fanciful lineage for such principal words as "mast," and
"sail," and "rope." In one word, "anchor," the Greek plainly
survives,--and doubtless many others might be made out by a skilful
The Roman, to whom the empire of the sea, or, more properly speaking,
the petty principality of the Mediterranean, was transferred, had
little liking for that sceptre. He was driven to the water by sheer
necessity, but he never took to it kindly. He was at best a
sea-soldier, a marine, not brought up from the start in the
merchant-service and then polished into the complete blue-jacket and
able seaman of the navy. Nobody can think of those ponderous old
Romans, whose comedies were all borrowed from Attica, whose poems were
feeble echoes of the Greek, and whose architecture, art, and domestic
culture were at best the work of foreign artists,--nobody can think of
them at sea without a quiet chuckle at the inevitable consequences of
the first "reef-topsail breeze." Fancy those solemn, stately
Patricians, whose very puns are ponderous enough to set their galleys a
streak deeper in the water, fancy them in a brisk sea with a nor'wester
brewing to windward, watching off the port of Carthage for Admiral
Hasdrubal and his fleet to come out. They were good hand-to-hand
fighters,--none better; and so they won their victories, no doubt; but,
having won them, they dropped sea-going, and made the conquered nations
transport their corn and troops, while they went back to their
congenial camps and solemn Senate-debates.
But Italy was not settled by the Roman alone. A black-haired,
fire-eyed, daring, flexible race had colonized the Sicilian Islands,
and settled thickly around the Tarentine Gulf, and built their cities
up the fringes of the Apennines as far as the lovely Bay of Parthenope.
Greek they were,--by tradition the descendants of those who took
Troy-town,--Greek they are to this day, as any one may see who will
linger on the Mole or by the Santa Lucia Stairs at Naples. At Salerno,
at Amalfi, were cradled those fishing-hamlets which were to nurse
seamen, and not soldiers. Far up the Adriatic, the storm of Northern
invasion had forced a fair-haired and violet-eyed folk into the
fastnesses of the lagoons, to drive their piles and lay their keels
upon the reedy islets of San Giorgio and San Marco; while on the
western side an ancient Celtic colony was rising into prominence, and
rearing at the foot of the Ligurian Alps the palaces of Genoa the
Thus upon the Italian stock was begun the language of the seas. Upon
the Italian main the words "tack" and "sheet," "prow" and "poop," were
first heard; and those most important terms by which the law of the
marine highway is given,--"starboard" and "larboard." For if, after the
Italian popular method, we contract the words _questo bordo_ (this
side) and _quello bordo_ (that side) into _sto bordo_ and _lo bordo_,
we have the roots of our modern phrases. And so the term "port," which
in naval usage supersedes "larboard," is the abbreviated _porta lo
timone_, (carry the helm,) which, like the same term in military usage,
"port arms," seems traditionally to suggest the left hand.
But while the Italian races were beginning their brief but brilliant
career, there was in training a nobler and hardier race of seamen, from
whose hands the helm would not so soon be wrested. The pirates of the
Baltic were wrestling with the storms of the wild Cattegat and braving
the sleety squalls of the Skager Rack, stretching far out from the land
to colonize Iceland and the Faroes, to plant a mysteriously lost nation
in Eastern Greenland, and to leave strange traces of themselves by the
vine-clad shores of Narraganset Bay. For, first of all nations and
races to steer boldly into the deep, to abandon the timid fashion of
the Past, which groped from headland to headland, as boys paddle skiffs
from wharf to wharf, the Viking met the blast and the wave, and was no
more the slave, but the lord of the sea. He it was, who, abandoning the
traditionary rule which loosened canvas only to a wind dead aft or well
on the quarter, learned to brace up sharp on a wind and to baffle the
adverse airs. Yet he, too, was overmuch a fighter to make a true
seaman, and his children no sooner set foot on the shore than they drew
their swords and went to carving the conquered land into Norman
lordships. But where they piloted the way others followed, and city
after city along the German Ocean and upon the British coasts became
also maritime. For King Alfred had come, and the English oaks were
felled, and their gnarled boughs found exceedingly convenient for the
curved knees of ships. Upon the Italian stock became engrafted the
Norman, and French, and Danish, the North German and Saxon elements.
And so, after a century of crusading had thoroughly broken up the
stay-at-home notions of Europe, the maritime spirit blazed up. Spain
and Portugal now took the lead and were running races against each
other, the one in the Western, the other in the Eastern seas, and
flaunting their crowned flags in monopoly of the Indian archipelagos
and the American tropics. Just across the North Sea, over the low
sand-dykes of Holland, scarce higher than a ship's bulwarks, looked a
race whom the spleeny wits of other nations declared to be born
web-footed. Yet their sails were found in every sea, and, like resolute
merchants, as they were, they left to others the glory while they did
the world's carrying. Their impress upon the sea-language was neither
faint nor slight. They were true marines, and from Manhattan Island to
utmost Japan, the brown, bright sides, full bows, and bulwarks tumbling
home of the Dutchman were familiar as the sea-gulls. Underneath their
clumsy-looking upper-works, the lines were true and sharp; and but the
other day, when the world's clippers were stooping their lithe
racehorse-like forms to the seas in the great ocean sweepstakes, the
fleetest of all was--a Dutchman.
But to combine and fuse all these elements was the work of England. To
that nation, with its noble inheritance of a composite language,
incomparably rich in all the nomenclature of natural objects and
sounds, was given especially the coast department, so to speak, of
language. Every variety of shore, from shingly beaches to craggy
headlands, was theirs. While the grand outlines and larger features are
Italian, such as Cape, Island, Gulf, the minuter belong to the Northern
races, who are closer observers of Nature's nice differences, and who
take more delight in a frank, fearless acquaintance and fellowship with
out-door objects. Beach, sand, headland, foreland, shelf, reef,
breaker, bar, bank, ledge, shoal, spit, sound, race, reach, are words
of Northern origin. So, too, the host of local names by which every
peculiar feature of shore-scenery is individualized,--as, for instance,
the Needles, the Eddystone, the Three Chimneys, the Hen and Chickens,
the Bishop and Clerks. The strange atmospheric phenomena, especially of
the tropics, have been christened by the Spaniard and Portuguese, the
Corposant, the Pampero, the Tornado, the Hurricane. Then follows a host
of words of which the derivation is doubtful,--such as sea, mist, foam,
scud, rack. Their monosyllabic character may only be the result of that
clipping and trimming which words get on shipboard. Your seaman's
tongue is a true bed of Procrustes for the unhappy words that roll over
it. They are docked without mercy, or, now and then, when not properly
mouth-filling, they are "spliced" with a couple of vowels. It is
impossible to tell the whys and wherefores of sea-prejudices.
We have now indicated the main sources of the ocean-language. As new
nations are received into the nautical brotherhood, and as new
improvements are made, new terms come in. The whole whaling diction is
the contribution of America, or rather of Nantucket, New Bedford, and
New London, aided by the islands of the Pacific and the mongrel Spanish
ports of the South Seas. Here and there an adventurous genius coins a
phrase for the benefit of posterity,--as we once heard a mate order a
couple of men to "go forrard and trim the ship's whiskers," to the
utter bewilderment of his captain, who, in thirty years' following of
the sea, had never heard the martingale chains and stays so designated.
But the source of the great body of the sea-language might be marked
out on the map by a current flowing out of the Straits of Gibraltar and
meeting a similar tide from the Baltic, the two encountering and
blending in the North Sea and circling Great Britain, while not
forgetting to wash the dykes of Holland as they go. How to distinguish
the work of each, in founding the common tongue, is not here our
It would be difficult to classify the words in nautical
use,--impossible here to do more than hint at such a possibility. A
specimen or two will show the situation of the present tongue, and the
blending process already gone through with. We need not dip for this so
far into the tar-bucket as to bother (_nautice_, "galley") the
landsman. We will take terms familiar to all. The three masts of a ship
are known as "fore," "main," and "mizzen." Of these, the first is
English, the second Norman-French, the third Italian (_mezzano_). To go
from masts to sails, we have "duck" from the Swedish _duk_, and
"canvas" from the Mediterranean languages,--from the root _canna_, a
cane or reed,--thence a cloth of reeds or rushes, a mat-sail,--hence
any sail. Of the ends of a ship, "stern" is from the Saxon _stearn_,
steering-place; "stem," from the German _stamm_. The whole family of
ropes--of which, by the way, it is a common saying, that there are but
three to a ship, namely, _bolt_-rope, _bucket_-rope, and _man_-rope,
all the rest of the cordage being called by its special name, as
_tack_, _sheet_, _clew-line_, _bow-line_, _brace_, _shroud_, or
_stay_--the whole family of ropes are akin only by marriage. "Cable" is
from the Semitic root _kebel_, to cord, and is the same in all nautical
uses. "Hawser"--once written _halser_--is from the Baltic stock,--the
rope used for halsing or hauling along; while "painter," the small rope
by which a boat is temporarily fastened, is Irish,--from _painter_, a
snare. "Sheet" is Italian,--from _scotta_; "brace" French, and "stay"
English. "Clew" is Saxon; "garnet" (from _granato_, a fruit) is
Italian,--that is, the garnet- or pomegranate-shaped block fastened to
the clew or corner of the courses, and hence the rope running through
the block. Then we find in the materials used in stopping leaks the
same diversity. "Pitch" one easily gets from _pix_ (Latin); "tar" as
easily from the Saxon _tare_, _tyr_. "Junk," old rope, is from the
Latin _juncus_, a bulrush,--the material used along the Mediterranean
shore for calking; "oakum," from the Saxon _oecumbe_, or hemp. The verb
"calk" may come from the Danish _kalk_, chalk,--to rub over,--or from
the Italian _calafatare_. The now disused verb "to pay" is from the
Italian _pagare_;--it survives only in the nautical aphorism, "Here's
the Devil to _pay_,"--that is, to pitch the ship,--"and no pitch hot."
In handing the sails, "to loose" is good English,--"to furl" is
Armorican, and belongs to the Mediterranean class of words. "To rake,"
which is applied to spars, is from the Saxon _racian_, to incline;--"to
steeve," which is applied to the bowsprit, and often pronounced
"stave," is from the Italian _stivare_. When we get below-decks, we
find "cargo" to be Spanish,--while "ballast" (from _bat_, a boat, and
_last_, a load) is Saxon. A ship in ballast comes from the Baltic,--a
vessel and cargo from the Bay of Biscay. Sailors must eat; but there is
a significant distinction between merchant-seamen and man-o'-war's-men.
The former is provided for at the "caboose," or "camboose," (Dutch,
_kombuis_); the latter goes to the "galley," (Italian, _galera_, in
helmet, primitively). This distinction is fast dying out,--the naval
term superseding the mercantile,--just as in America the title
"captain" has usurped the place of the more precise and orthodox term,
"master," which is now used only in law-papers. The "bowsprit" is a
compound of English and Dutch. The word "yard" is English; the word
"boom," Dutch. The word "reef" is Welsh, from _rhevu_, to thicken or
fold; "tack" and "sheet" are both Italian; "deck" is German. Other
words are the result of contractions. Few would trace in "dipsey," a
sounding-lead, the words "deep sea"; or in "futtocks" the combination
"foot-hooks,"--the name of the connecting-pieces of the floor-timbers
of a ship. "Breast-hook" has escaped contraction. Sailors have, indeed,
a passion for metamorphosing words,--especially proper names. Those lie
a little out of our track; but two instances are too good to be
omitted:--The "Bellerophon," of the British navy, was always known as
the "Bully-ruffian," and the "Ville de Milan," a French prize, as the
"Wheel-'em-along." Here you have a random bestowal of names which seems
to defy all analysis of the rule of their bestowal.
If the reader inclines to follow up the scent here indicated, we can
add a hint or two which may be of service. We have shown the sources,
which should, for purposes of classification, be designated, not as
English, Italian, Danish, etc., but nautically, as Mediterranean,
Baltic, or Atlantic. These three heads will serve for general
classification, to which must be added a fourth or "off-soundings"
department, into which should go all words suggested by whim or
accidental resemblances,--such terms as "monkey-rail," "Turk's head,"
"dead-eye," etc.,--or which get the name of an inventor, as a
"Matthew-Walker knot." More than that cannot well be given without
going into the whole detail of naval history, tactics, and science,--a
thing, of course, impossible here.
This brings us to another view of the subject, which may serve for
conclusion. A great many people take upon themselves to act for and
about the sailor, to preach to him, make laws for him, act as his
counsel, write tracts for him, and generally to look after his moral
and physical well-being. Now eleven out of every dozen of these are
continually making themselves ridiculous by an utter ignorance of all
nautical matters. They pick up a few worn-out phrases of sea-life,
which have long since left the forecastle, and which have been bandied
about from one set of landsmen to another, have been dropped by
sham-sailors begging on fictitious wooden-legs, then by small
sea-novelists, handed to smaller dramatists for the Wapping class of
theatres, to be by them abandoned to the smallest writers of pirate and
privateer tales for the Sunday press. And stringing these together,
with a hazy apprehension of their meaning, they think they are "talking
sailor" in great perfection. Now the sailor will talk with pleasure to
any straightforward and perfectly "green" landsman, and the two will
converse in an entirely intelligible manner. But confusion worse
confounded is the result of this ambitious ignorance,--confusion of
brain to the sailor, and confusion of face to the landsman.
For the sea has a language, beyond a peradventure,--an exceedingly
arbitrary, technical, and perplexing one, unless it be studied with the
illustrated grammar of the full-rigged ship before one, with the added
commentaries of the sea and the sky and the coast chart. To learn to
speak it requires about as long as to learn to converse passably in
French, Italian, or Spanish; and unless it be spoken well, it is
exceedingly absurd to any appreciative listener.
If you desire to study it philologically, after the living manner of
Dean Trench, it will well repay you. If you desire to use it as a
familiar vehicle of discourse, wherewith to impress the understanding
and heart of the sailor, you undertake a very difficult thing. For
though men are moved best by apt illustrations from the things familiar
to them, _un_apt illustrations most surely disgust them.
But if you earnestly desire it, we know of but one certain course,
which is best explained in a brief anecdote. An English gentleman, who
was in all the agonies of a rough and tedious passage from Folkestone
to Boulogne, was especially irritated by the aggravating nonchalance of
a fellow-passenger, who perpetrated all manner of bilious feats, in
eating, drinking, and smoking, unharmed. English reserve and the agony
of sea-sickness long contended in Sir John's breast. At last the latter
conquered, and, leaning from the window of his travelling-carriage,
which was securely lashed to the forward deck of the steamer, he
exclaimed,--"I say, d'ye know, I'd give a guinea to know your secret
for keeping well in this infernal Channel." The traveller solemnly
extended one hand for the money, and, as it dropped into his palm, with
the other shaded his mouth, that no portion of the oracle might fall on
unpaid-for ears, and whispered,--"Hark ye, brother, GO TO SEA TWENTY
YEARS, AS I HAVE."
THE WHIRLIGIG OF TIME.
"And thus the whirligig of time brings in his revenges."--TWELFTH
My friend Jameson, the lawyer, has frequently whiled away an evening in
relating incidents which occurred in his practice during his residence
in a Western State. On one occasion he gave a sketch of a criminal
trial in which he was employed as counsel; the story, as developed in
court and completed by one of the parties subsequently, made so
indelible an impression on my mind that I am constrained to write down
its leading features. At the same time, I must say, that, if I had
heard it without a voucher for its authenticity, I should have regarded
it as the most improbable of fictions. But the observing reader will
remember that remarkable coincidences, and the signal triumph of the
right, called poetical justice, are sometimes seen in actual life as
well as in novels.
The tale must begin in Saxony. Carl Proch was an honest farmer, who
tilled a small tract of crown land and thereby supported his aged
mother. Faithful to his duties, he had never a thought of discontent,
but was willing to plod on in the way his father had gone before him.
Filial affection, however, did not so far engross him as to prevent his
casting admiring glances on the lovely Katrine, daughter of old
Rauchen, the miller; and no wonder, for she was as fascinating a damsel
as ever dazzled and perplexed a bashful lover. She had admiration
enough, for to see her was to love her; many of the village youngsters
had looked unutterable things as they met her at May-feasts and
holidays, but up to this time she had received no poetical epistles nor
direct proposals, and was as cheerful and heart-free as the birds that
sang around her windows. Her father was the traditional guardian of
beauty, surly as the mastiff that watched his sacks of flour and his
hoard of thalers; and though he doted on his darling Katrine, his heart
to all the world beside seemed to be only a chip from one of his old
mill-stones. When Carl thought of the severe gray eyes that shot such
glances at all lingering youths, the difficulty of winning the pretty
heiress seemed to be quite enough, even with a field clear of rivals.
But two other suitors now made advances, more or less openly, and poor
Carl thought himself entirety overshadowed. One was Schoenfeld, the most
considerable farmer in the neighborhood, a widower, with hair beginning
to show threads of silver, and a fierce man withal, who was supposed to
have once slain a rival, wearing thereafter a seam in his check as a
souvenir of the encounter. The other was Hans Stolzen, a carpenter,
past thirty, a shrewd, well-to-do fellow, with nearly a thousand
thalers saved from his earnings. Carl had never fought a duel,--and he
had not saved so much as a thousand groschen, to say nothing of
thalers; he had only a manly figure, a cheery, open face, the freshness
of one-and-twenty, and a heart incapable of guile. Katrine was not long
in discovering these excellences, and, if his boldness had equalled his
passion, she would have shown him how little she esteemed the
pretensions of the proud landholder or the miserly carpenter. But he
took it for granted that he was a fool to contend against such odds,
and, buttoning his jacket tightly over his throbbing heart, toiled away
in his little fields, thinking that the whole world had never contained
so miserable a man.
Hans Stolzen was the first to propose. He began by paying court to the
jealous Rauchen himself, set forth his property and prospects, and
asked to become his son-in-law. The miller heard him, puffed long
whiffs, and answered civilly, but without committing himself. He was in
no hurry to part with the only joy he had, and, as Katrine was barely
eighteen, he naturally thought there would be time enough to consider
of her marriage hereafter. Hans hardly expected anything more decisive,
and, as he had not been flatly refused, came frequently to the house
and chatted with her father, while his eyes followed the vivacious
Katrine as she tripped about her household duties. But Hans was
perpetually kept at a distance; the humming-bird would never alight
upon the outstretched hand. He had not the wit to see that their
natures had nothing in common, although he did know that Katrine was
utterly indifferent towards him, and after some months of hopeless
pursuit he began to grow sullenly angry. He was not long without an
object on which to vent his rage.
One evening, as Katrine was returning homeward, she chanced to pass
Carl's cottage. Carl was loitering under a tree hard by, listening to
the quick footsteps to which his heart kept time. It was the coming of
Fate to him, for he had made up his mind to tell her of the love that
was consuming him. Two days before, with tears on his bashful face, he
had confided all to his mother; and, at her suggestion, he had now
provided a little present by way of introduction. Katrine smiled
sweetly as she approached, for, with a woman's quick eye, she had read
his glances long before. His lips at first rebelled, but he struggled
out a salutation, and, the ice once broken, he found himself strangely
unembarrassed. He breathed freely. It seemed to him that their
relations must have been fixed in some previous state of existence, so
natural was it to be in familiar and almost affectionate communication
with the woman whom before he had loved afar off, as a page might sigh
for a queen.
"Stay, Katrine," he said,--"I had nearly forgotten." He ran hastily
into the cottage, and soon returned with a covered basket. "See,
Katrine, these white rabbits!--are they not pretty?"
"Oh, the little pets!" exclaimed Katrine. "Are they yours?"
"No, Katrinchen,--that is, they were mine; now they are yours."
"Thank you, Carl. I shall love them dearly."
"For my sake?"
"For their own, Carl, certainly; for yours also,--a little."
"Good-bye, Bunny," said he, patting the head of one of the rabbits.
"Love your mistress; and, mind, little whitey, don't keep those long
ears of yours for nothing; tell me if you ever hear anything about me."
"Perhaps Carl had better come and hear for himself,--don't you think
so, Bunny?" said Katrine, taking the basket.
The tone and manner said more than the words. Carl's pulses bounded; he
seized her unresisting hand and covered it with kisses. "So! this is
the bashful young man!" thought Katrine. "I shall not need to encourage
him any more, surely."
The night was coming on; Katrine remembered her father, and started
towards the mill, whose broad arms could scarcely be seen through the
twilight. Carl accompanied her to the gate, and, after a furtive glance
upward to the house-windows, bade her farewell, with a kiss, and turned
homeward, feeling himself a man for the first time in his life.
Frau Proch had seen the pantomime through the flowers that stood on the
window-sill, not ill-pleased, and was waiting her son's return. An hour
passed, and he did not come. Another hour, and she began to grow
anxious. When it was near midnight, she roused her nearest neighbor and
asked him to go towards the mill and look for Carl. An hour of terrible
suspense ensued. It was worse than she had even feared. Carl lay by the
roadside, not far from the mill, insensible, covered with blood,
moaning feebly at first, and afterwards silent, if not breathless.
Ghastly wounds covered his head, and his arms and shoulders were livid
with bruises. The neighboring peasants surrounded the apparently
lifeless body, and listened with awe to the frenzied imprecations of
Frau Proch upon the murderer of her son. "May he die in a foreign
land," said she, lifting her withered hands to Heaven, "without wife to
nurse him or priest to speak peace to his soul! May his body lie
unburied, a prey for wolves and vultures! May his inheritance pass into
the hands of strangers, and his name perish from the earth!" They
muttered their prayers, as they encountered her bloodshot, but tearless
eyes, and left her with her son.
For a whole day and night he did not speak; then a violent brain-fever
set in, and he raved continually. He fancied himself pursued by Hans
Stolzen, and recoiled as from the blows of his staff. When this was
reported, suspicion was directed at once to Stolzen as the criminal;
but before an arrest could be made, it was found that he had fled. His
disappearance confirmed the belief of his guilt. In truth, it was the
rejected suitor, who, in a fit of jealous rage, had waylaid his rival
in the dark, beat him, and left him for dead.
Katrine, who had always disliked Stolzen, especially after he had
pursued her with his coarse and awkward gallantry, now naturally felt a
warmer affection for the victim of his brutality. She threw off all
disguise, and went frequently to Frau Proch's cottage, to aid in
nursing the invalid during his slow and painful recovery. She had, one
day, the unspeakable pleasure of catching the first gleam of returning
sanity in her hapless lover, as she bent over him and with gentle
fingers smoothed his knotted forehead and temples. An indissoluble tie
now bound them together; their mutual love was consecrated by suffering
and sacrifice; and they vowed to be faithful in life and in death.
When Carl at length became strong and commenced labor, he hoped
speedily to claim his betrothed, and was waiting a favorable
opportunity to obtain her father's consent to their marriage. The scars
were the only evidence of the suffering he had endured. No bones had
been broken, and he was as erect and as vigorous as before the assault.
But Carl, most unfortunate of men, was not destined so soon to enjoy
the happiness for which he hoped,--the love that had called him back to
life. As the robber eagle sits on his cliff, waiting till the hawk has
seized the ring-dove, then darts down and beats off the captor, that he
may secure for himself the prize,--so Schoenfeld, not uninformed of what
was going on, stood ready to pounce upon the suitor who should gain
Katrine's favor, and sweep the last rival out of the way. An officer in
the king's service appeared in the village to draw the conscripts for
the army, and the young men trembled like penned-up sheep at the
entrance of the blood-stained butcher, not knowing who would be seized
for the shambles. The officer had apparently been a friend and
companion of Schoenfeld's in former days, and passed some time at his
house. It was perhaps only a coincidence, but it struck the neighbors
as very odd at least, that Carl Proch was the first man drawn for the
army. He had no money to hire a substitute, and there was no
alternative; he must serve his three years. This last blow was too much
for his poor mother. Worn down by her constant assiduity in nursing
him, and overcome by the sense of utter desolation, she sunk into her
grave, and was buried on the very day that Carl, with the other
recruits, was marched off.
What new torture the betrothed Katrine felt is not to be told. Three
years were to her an eternity; and her imagination called up such
visions of danger from wounds, privations, and disease, that she parted
from her lover as though it were forever. The miller found that the
light and the melody of his house were gone. Katrine was silent and
sorrowful; her frame wasted and her step grew feeble. To all his offers
of condolence she made no reply, except to remind him how with tears
she had besought his interference in Carl's behalf. She would not be
comforted. The father little knew the feeling she possessed; he had
thought that her attachment to her rustic lover was only a girlish
fancy, and that she would speedily forget him; but now her despairing
look frightened him. To the neighbors, who looked inquisitively as he
sat by the mill-door, smoking, he complained of the quality of his
tobacco, vowing that it made his eyes so tender that they watered upon
the slightest whiff.
For six months Schoenfeld wisely kept away; that period, he thought,
would be long enough to efface any recollection of the absent soldier.
Then he presented himself, and, in his usual imperious way, offered his
hand to Katrine. The miller was inclined to favor his suit. In wealth
and position Schoenfeld was first in the village; he would be a powerful
ally, and a very disagreeable enemy. In fact, Rauchen really feared to
refuse the demand; and he plied his daughter with such argument as he
could command, hoping to move her to accept the offer. Katrine,
however, was convinced of the truth of her former suspicion, that Carl
was a victim of Schoenfeld's craft; and her rejection of his proposal
was pointed with an indignation which she took no pains to conceal. The
old scar showed strangely white in his purple face, as he left the
mill, vowing vengeance for the affront.
Rauchen and his daughter were now more solitary than ever. The father
had forgotten the roaring stories he used to tell to the neighboring
peasants, over foaming flagons of ale, at the little inn; he sat at his
mill-door and smoked incessantly. Katrine shunned the festivities in
which she was once queen, and her manner, though kindly, was silent and
reserved; she went to church, it is true, but she wore a look of
settled sorrow that awed curiosity and even repelled sympathy. But
scandal is a plant that needs no root in the earth; like the houseleek,
it can thrive upon air; and those who separate themselves the most
entirely from the world are apt, for that very reason, to receive the
larger share of its attention. The village girls looked first with
pity, then with wonder, and at length with aversion, upon the gentle
and unfortunate Katrine. Careless as she was with regard to public
opinion, she saw not without pain the altered looks of her old
associates, and before long she came to know the cause. A cruel
suspicion had been whispered about, touching her in a most tender
point. It was not without reason, so the gossip ran, that she had
refused so eligible an offer of marriage Schoenfeld's. The story reached
the ears of Rauchen, at last. With a fierce energy, such as he had
never exhibited before, he tracked it from cottage to cottage, until he
came to Schoenfeld's housekeeper, who refused to give her authority. The
next market-day Rauchen encountered the former suitor and publicly
charged him with the slander, in such terms as his baseness deserved.
Schoenfeld, thrown off his guard by the sudden attack, struck his
adversary a heavy blow; but the miller rushed upon him, and left him to
be carried home, a bundle of aches and bruises. After this the tongues
of the gossips were quiet; no one was willing to answer for guesses or
rumors at the end of Rauchen's staff; and the father and daughter
resumed their monotonous mode of life.
The three years at length passed, and Carl Proch returned home,--a
trifle more sedate, perhaps, but the same noble, manly fellow. How
warmly he was received by the constant Katrine it is not necessary to
relate. Rauchen was not disposed to thwart his long-suffering daughter
any further; and with his consent the young couple were speedily
married, and lived in his house. The gayety of former years came back;
cheerful songs and merry laughter were heard in the lately silent
rooms. Rauchen himself grew younger, especially after the birth of a
grandson, and often resumed his old place at the inn, telling the old
stories with the old _gusto_ over the ever-welcome ale. But one
morning, not long after, he was found dead in his bed; a smile was on
his face, and his limbs were stretched out as in peaceful repose.
There was no longer any tie to bind Carl to his native village. All his
kin, as well as Katrine's, were in the grave. He was not bred a miller,
and did not feel competent to manage the mill. Besides, his mind had
received new ideas while he was in the army. He had heard of countries
where men were equal before the laws, where the peasant owed no
allegiance but to society. The germ of liberty had been planted in his
breast, and he could no longer live contented with the rank in which he
had been born. At least he wished that his children might grow up free
from the chilling influences that had fallen upon him. At his earnest
persuasion, Katrine consented that the mill should be sold, and soon
after, with his wife and child, he went to Bremen and embarked for
* * * * *
We must now follow the absconding Stolzen, who, with his bag of
thalers, had made good his escape into England. He lived in London,
where he found society among his countrymen. His habitual shrewdness
never deserted him, and from small beginnings he gradually amassed a
moderate fortune. His first experiment in proposing for a wife
satisfied him, but in a great city his sensual nature was fully
developed. His brutal passions were unchecked; conscience seemed to
have left him utterly. At length he began to think about quitting
London. He was afraid to return to Germany, for, as he had left Carl to
all appearance dead, he thought the officers of the law would seize
him. He determined to go to Australia, and secured a berth in a clipper
ship bound for Melbourne, but some accident prevented his reaching the
pier in season; the vessel sailed without him, and was never heard of
afterwards. Then he proposed to buy an estate in Canada; but the owner
failed to make his appearance at the time appointed for the
negotiation, and the bargain was not completed. At last he took passage
for New York, whither a Hebrew acquaintance of his had gone, a year or
two before, and was established as a broker. Upon arriving in that
city, Stolzen purchased of an agent a tract of land in a Western State,
situated on the shore of Lake Michigan; and after reserving a sum of
money for immediate purposes, he deposited his funds with his friend,
the broker, and started westward. He travelled the usual route by rail,
then a short distance in a mail-coach, which carried him within six
miles of his farm. Leaving his luggage to be sent for, he started to
walk the remaining distance. It was a sultry day, and the prairie road
was anything but pleasant to a pedestrian unaccustomed to heat and
dust. After walking less than an hour, he determined to stop at a small
house near the road, for rest, and some water to quench his thirst; but
as he approached, the baying hounds, no less than the squalid children
about the door, repelled him, and he went on to the next house. He now
turned down a green lane, between rows of thrifty trees, to a neat
log-cabin, whose nicely-plastered walls and the regular fence inclosing
it testified to the thrift and good taste of the owner. He knocked; all
was still. Again, and thirsty as he was, he was on the point of
leaving, when he heard a step within. He waited; the door opened, and
before him stood----Katrine!
She did not know him; but he had not forgotten that voluptuous figure
nor those melting blue eyes. He preferred his requests, looking through
the doorway at the same time to make sure that she had no protector.
Katrine brought the stranger a gourd of water, and offered him a chair.
She did not see the baleful eyes he threw after her as she went about
her household duties. Stolzen had dropped from her firmament like a
fallen and forgotten star. Secure in her unsuspecting innocence, she
chirruped to her baby and resumed her sewing.
That evening, when Carl Proch returned from his field, after his usual
hard day's labor, he found his wife on the floor, sobbing, speechless,
and the child, unnoticed, crying in his cradle. His dog sat by the
hearth with a look of almost intelligent sympathy, and whined as his
master entered the room. He raised Katrine and held her in his arms
like a child, covered her face with kisses, and implored her to speak.
She seemed to be in a fearful dream, and shrunk from some imagined
danger in the extremest terror. Gradually her sobs became less
frequent, her tremors ceased, and she smiled upon the manly face that
met hers, as though she had only suffered from an imaginary fright. But
when she felt her hair floating upon her shoulders, saw the almost
speaking face of the dog, Bruno, and became conscious of the cries of
the neglected child, the wave of agony swept over her again, and she
could utter only broken ejaculations. As word after word came from her
lips, the unhappy husband's flesh tingled; his hair stiffened with
horror; every nerve seemed to be strung with a new and maddening
tension. There was for him no such thing as fatigue, no distance, no
danger,--no law, no hereafter, no God. All thought and feeling were
drowned in one wild desire for vengeance,--vengeance swift, terrible,
He first caressed the dog as though he had been a brother; he put his
arms about the shaggy neck, and shook each faithful paw; he made his
wife caress him also. "God be praised, dear Katrine, for your
protector, the dog!" said he. "Come, now, Bruno!"
Katrine saw him depart with his dog and gun; but if she guessed his
errand, she did not dare remonstrate. He walked off rapidly,--the dog
in advance, now and then baying as though he were on a trail.
In the night he returned, and he smiled grimly as he set down the rifle
in its accustomed corner. His wife was waiting for him with intense
anxiety. It was marvellous to her that he was so cheerful. He trotted
her upon his knee, pressed her a hundred times to his bosom, kissed her
forehead, lips, and cheeks, called her his pretty Kate, his dear wife,
and every endearing name he knew. So they sat, like lovers in their
teens, till the purpling east told of a new day.
The luggage of one Stolzen, a stagecoach passenger, remained at the
tavern uncalled-for, for nearly a year. No one knew the man, and his
disappearance, though a profound mystery, was not an uncommon thing in
a new country. The Hebrew broker in New York received no answers to his
letters, though he had carefully preserved the post-office address
which Stolzen had given him. He began to fear lest he should be obliged
to fulfil the duty of heirship to the property deposited with him. To
quiet his natural apprehensions in view of this event, he determined to
follow Stolzen's track, as much of it as lay in _this_ world, at least,
and find out what had become of him. Upon arriving in the neighborhood,
the Jew had a thorough search made. The country was scoured, and on the
third day there was a discovery. A man walking on the sandy margin of a
river, about two or three miles from Carl's house, saw a skull before
him. As the steep bluff nearly overhung the spot where he stood, he
conjectured that the body to which the skull belonged was to be found
above on its verge. He climbed up, and there saw a headless skeleton.
It was the body of Stolzen, as his memorandum-book and other articles
showed. His pistol was in his pocket, and still loaded; that fact
precluded the idea of suicide. Moreover, upon examining more closely, a
bullet-hole was found in his breast-bone, around which the parts were
broken _outwardly_, showing that the ball must have entered from
behind. It was clear that Stolzen had been murdered.
The curse of Frau Proch had been most terribly fulfilled.
Circumstances soon pointed to Carl Proch as the perpetrator. A
stranger, corresponding to the deceased in size and dress, had been
seen, about the time of his disappearance, by the neighboring family,
walking towards Proch's house; and on the evening of the same day an
Irishman met Carl going at a rapid rate, with a gun on his shoulder, as
though in furious pursuit of some one. A warrant for his arrest was
issued, and he was lodged in jail to await his trial. If now the Hebrew
had followed the _lex talionis_, after the manner of his race in
ancient times, it might have fared badly with poor Carl. But as soon as
the broker was satisfied beyond a peradventure that the depositor was
actually dead, he hastened back to New York, joyful as a crow over a
newly-found carcass, to administer upon the estate, leaving the law to
take its own course with regard to the murderer.
Beyond the two facts just mentioned as implicating Carl, nothing was
proved at the trial. Jameson, the lawyer, whom I mentioned at the
beginning of this story, was engaged for the defence. He found Carl
singularly uncommunicative; and though the government failed to make
out a shadow of a case against his client, he was yet puzzled in his
own mind by Carl's silence, and his real or assumed indifference.
Katrine was in court with her child in her arms, watching the
proceedings with the closest attention; though she, as well as Carl,
was unable to understand any but the most familiar and colloquial
English. The case was speedily decided; the few facts presented to the
jury appeared to have no necessary connection, and there was no known
motive for the deed. The jury unanimously acquitted Carl, and with his
wife and boy he left the court-room. The verdict was approved by the
spectators, for no man in the neighborhood was more universally loved
and respected than Carl Proch.
Having paid Jameson his fee for his services, Carl was about to depart,
when the lawyer's curiosity could be restrained no longer, and he
called his client back to the private room of his office.
"Carl," said he, "you look like a good fellow, above anything mean or
wicked; but yet I don't know what to make of you. Now you are entirely
through with this scrape; you are acquitted; and I want to know what is
the meaning of it all. I will keep it secret from all your neighbors.
Did you kill Stolzen, or not?"
"Well, if I did," he answered, "can they do anything with me?"
"No," said Jameson.
"Not, if I acknowledge?"
"No, you have been acquitted by a jury; and by our law a man can never
be tried twice for the same offence. You are safe, even if you should
go into court and confess the deed."
"Well, then, I did kill him,--and I would again!"
For the moment, a fierce light gleamed upon the calm and kindly face.
Then, feeling that his answer would give a false view of the case,
without the previous history of the parties, Carl sat down and in his
broken English told to his lawyer the story I have here attempted to
record. It was impossible to doubt a word of it; for the simplicity and
pathos of the narrative were above all art. Here was a simple case,
which the boldest inventor of schemes to punish villany would have been
afraid to use. Its truth is the thing that most startles the mind
accustomed to deal with fictions.
We leave Carl to return to his farm with his wife, for whom he had
suffered so much, and with the hope that no further temptation may come
to him in such a guise as almost to make murder a virtue.
Thou lonely Bay of Trinity,
Ye bosky shores untrod,
Lean, breathless, to the white-lipped sea
And hear the voice of God!
From world to world His couriers fly,
Thought-winged and shod with fire;
The angel of His stormy sky
Rides down the sunken wire.
What saith the herald of the Lord?--
"The world's long strife is done!
Close wedded by that mystic cord,
Her continents are one.
"And one in heart, as one in blood,
Shall all her peoples be;
The hands of human brotherhood
Shall clasp beneath the sea.
"Through Orient seas, o'er Afric's plain,
And Asian mountains borne,
The vigor of the Northern brain
Shall nerve the world outworn.
"From clime to clime, from shore to shore,
Shall thrill the magic thread;
The new Prometheus steals once more
The fire that wakes the dead!
"Earth gray with age shall hear the strain
Which o'er her childhood rolled;
For her the morning stars again
Shall sing their song of old.
"For, lo! the fall of Ocean's wall,
Space mocked, and Time outrun!--
And round the world, the thought of all
Is as the thought of one!"
Oh, reverently and thankfully
The mighty wonder own!
The deaf can hear, the blind may see,
The work is God's alone.
Throb on, strong pulse of thunder! beat
From answering beach to beach!
Fuse nations in thy kindly heat,
And melt the chains of each!
Wild terror of the sky above,
Glide tamed and dumb below!
Bear gently, Ocean's carrier-dove,
Thy errands to and fro!
Weave on, swift shuttle of the Lord,
Beneath the deep so far,
The bridal robe of Earth's accord,
The funeral shroud of war!
The poles unite, the zones agree,
The tongues of striving cease;
As on the Sea of Galilee,
The Christ is whispering, "Peace!"
THE BIRDS OF THE GARDEN AND ORCHARD.
The singing-birds whose notes are familiar to us, in towns and villages
and the suburbs of the city, are found in the breeding-season only in
these places, and are strangers to the deep woods and solitary
pastures. Most of our singing-birds follow in the wake of the pioneer
of the wilderness, and increase in numbers with the clearing and
settlement of the country,--not, probably, from any dependence on the
protection of mankind, but on account of the increased abundance of the
insect food upon which they subsist, consequent upon the tilling of the
ground. It is well known that the labors of the husbandman cause an
excessive multiplication of all those species of insects whose larvae
are cherished in the soil, and of all that infest the orchard and
garden. The farm is capable of supporting insects just in proportion to
its capacity for producing corn and fruit. Insects will multiply with
their means of subsistence in and upon the earth; and birds, if not
destroyed by artificial methods, will increase in proportion to the
multiplication of those insects which constitute their principal food.
These considerations will sufficiently account for the fact, which
often excites a little astonishment, that more singing-birds are found
in the suburbs of the city, and among the parks and gardens of the
city, than in the deep forest, where, even in the singing-season, the
silence is sometimes melancholy. It is still to be remarked, that the
species which are thus familiar in their habits do not include all the
singing-birds, but they include all that are well known to the majority
of our people. These are the birds of the garden and orchard. There are
many other species, wild and solitary in their habits, which are
delightful songsters in uncultivated regions remote from the town. But
even these are rare in the depths of the forest. They live on the edge
of the wood and in the half-wooded pasture.
The birds of the garden and orchard have been frequently described, and
their habits are very generally known; but in the usual descriptions
little has been said of their powers and peculiarities of song. In the
present sketches, I have given particular attention to the vocal powers
of the different birds, and have endeavored to designate the parts
which each one performs in the grand hymn of Nature. I shall first
introduce the Song-Sparrow, (_Fringilla melodia_,) a little bird that
is universally known and admired. The Song-Sparrow is the earliest
visitant and the latest resident of the vocal tenants of the field. He
is plain in his vesture, undistinguished from the female by any
superiority of plumage, and comes forth in the spring and takes his
departure in the autumn in the same suit of russet and gray by which he
is always recognized.
In March, before the violet has ventured to peep out from the southern
knoll of the pasture or the sunny brow of the hill, while the northern
skies are liable to pour down at any hour a storm of sleet and snow,
the Song-Sparrow, beguiled by southern winds, has already made his
appearance, and, on still mornings, may be heard warbling his few merry
notes, as if to make the earliest announcement of his arrival. He is,
therefore, the true harbinger of spring, and, though not the sweetest
songster of the woods, has the merit of bearing to man the earliest
tidings of the opening year, and of declaring the first vernal promises
of Nature. As the notes of those birds that sing only in the night come
with a double charm to our ears, because they are harmonized by silence
and hallowed by the hour that is sacred to repose--in like manner does
the Song-Sparrow delight us in tenfold measure, because he sings the
sweet prelude to the universal hymn of Nature.
His haunts are the pastures which have been half reduced to tillage,
and are still partially filled with wild shrubbery; for he is not so
familiar in his habits as the Hair-bird, that comes close up to our
door-step, to find the crumbs that are swept from our tables. Though
his voice is constantly heard in the garden and orchard, he selects a
more retired spot for his nest, preferring not to trust his progeny to
the doubtful mercy of the lords of creation. In some secure retreat,
under a tussock of herbage or a tuft of shrubbery, the female sits upon
her nest of soft dry grass, containing four or five eggs, of a greenish
white ground, almost entirely covered with brownish specks. Commencing
in April, she rears three broods of young during the season, and her
mate prolongs his notes until the last brood has flown from the nest.
The notes of the Song-Sparrow would not entitle him to be ranked among
our principal singing-birds, were it not for the remarkable variations
of his song, in which respect he is equalled, I think, by no other
bird. Of these variations there are seven or eight which may be
distinctly recognized, and differing enough to be considered separate
tunes. The bird does not warble these in regular succession; he is in
the habit of repeating one several times, and then leaves it, and
repeats another in a similar manner. Mr. Paine took note, on one
occasion, of the number of times a Song-Sparrow sang each of the tunes,
and the order of singing them. Of the tunes, as he had numbered them,
the bird "sang No. 1, 27 times; No. 2, 36 times; No. 3, 23 times; No.
4, 19 times; No. 5, 21 times; No. 6, 32 times; No. 7, 18 times. Perhaps
next he would sing No. 2, then perhaps No. 4, or 5, and so on." Mr.
Paine adds, "Some males will sing each tune about fifty times, though
seldom; some will only sing them from five to ten times. But as far as
I have observed, each male has his seven songs. I have applied the rule
to as many as a dozen different birds, and the result has been the
An individual will sometimes, for half a day, confine himself almost
entirely to a few of these variations; but he will commonly sing each
one more or less in the course of the day. I have observed also, that,
when one principal singer takes up a particular tune, other birds in
the vicinity will unite in the same. The several variations are mostly
in triple time, a few in common time, and there is an occasional
blending of both in the same tune, which consists usually of four bars
or strains, sometimes five, though the song is frequently broken off at
the end of the third strain. This habit of varying his notes through so
many permutations, and the singularly fine intonations of many of them,
entitle the Song-Sparrow to a very high rank as a singing-bird.
There is a manifest difference in the expression of these several
tunes. The one which I have marked as No. 3 is particularly plaintive,
and is usually in common time. No. 2 is the one which I think is most
frequently sung. No. 5 is querulous and entirely unmusical. There is a
remarkable precision in the song of this bird, and the finest singers
are those which, in the language of musicians, have the least
execution. There are some individuals that blend their notes together
so promiscuously, and use so many flourishes, that it is difficult to
identify their song, or to perceive its expression. Whether these tunes
of the Song-Sparrow express to his mate, or to others of his species,
different sentiments, and convey different messages, or whether the
bird adopts them for his own amusement, I have not been able to
determine. Neither have I learned whether a certain hour of the day or
a certain state of the weather predisposes him to sing a particular
tune. This point may, perhaps, be determined by some future observer;
and it may be ascertained that the birds of this species have their
matins and their vespers, their songs of rejoicing and of complaining,
of courtship when in presence of their mate, and of encouragement and
solace when she is sitting upon her nest. As Nature has a benevolent
and a definite object in every instinct which she has established among
her creatures, it is not probable that this habit of the Song-Sparrow
is the mere result of accident. All the variations of his song are
given, with the specimens, at the end of this article, and, though
individuals differ in their singing, the notes will afford the reader a
good general idea of the several tunes.
Soon after the arrival of the Song-Sparrow, when the spring-flowers
have begun to be conspicuous in the meadow, we are greeted by the more
fervent and lengthened notes of the Vesper-bird, (_Fringilla
graminea_,) poured out with a peculiarly pensive modulation. This
species closely resembles the former, but may be distinguished from it,
when on the wing, by two white lateral feathers in the tail. The chirp
of the Song-Sparrow is also louder, and pitched on a lower key, than
that of the present species. By careless observers, these two Finches,
on account of the similarity in their general appearance and habits,
are considered identical. The Vesper-bird, however, is the least
familiar of the two, and, when both are singing at the same time, will
be found to occupy a position more remote from the house than the
other. In several localities, these two species are distinguished by
the names of Bush-Sparrow and Ground-Sparrow, from their supposed
different habits of placing their nests, one in a bush and the other on
the ground. But they do not in fact differ in this respect, as each
species occasionally builds in both ways.
The Vesper-bird attracts more general attention to his notes than the
Sparrow, because he sings a longer, though a more monotonous song, and
warbles with more fervency. His notes bear considerable resemblance to
those of the Canary-bird, but they are more subdued and plaintive, and
have a peculiar reedy sound, which is never perceived in the notes of
the Canary. This bird is periodical in his habits of song, confining
his lays to particular hours of the day and conditions of the weather.
The Song-Sparrow, on the contrary, sings about equally from morning to
night, and but little more at one hour than another; and the different
performers of this species do not seem to join in concert. This habit
renders the latter more companionable, at the same time it causes his
notes to be less regarded than those of the Vesper-bird, who pours them
forth more sparingly, and at regular periods.
The Vesper-bird begins with all his kindred in a general concert at
early dawn, after which they are comparatively silent until sunset,
when they repeat their concert, with still greater zeal than they
chanted in the morning. It is from this circumstance that it has
obtained the name it bears--from its evening hymn, or vespers. I have
heard this name applied to it only in one locality; but it is so
precisely applicable to its habits, that I have thought it worthy of
being retained as its distinguishing cognomen. There are particular
states of the weather that frequently call out the birds of this
species into a general concert at other periods of the day--as when
rain is suddenly followed by sunshine, or when a clear sky is suddenly
darkened by clouds, presenting to them a sort of occasional morn and
occasional even. It may be remarked, that you seldom hear one of these
birds singing alone; but when one begins, all others in the vicinity
immediately join him.
The usual resorts of the Vesper-bird are the pastures and the
hay-fields; hence the name of Grass-Finch, by which he is usually
distinguished. His voice is heard frequently by the rustic roadsides,
where he picks up a considerable portion of his subsistence. This is
the little bird that so generally serenades us during our evening
walks, at a little distance from the town, and not so far into the
woods as the haunts of the Thrushes. When we go out into the country,
on pleasant days in June or July, at nightfall, we hear multitudes of
them singing sweetly from a hundred different points in the fields and
Among the birds which are endowed by Nature with the gift of song in
connection with gaudy plumage is the American Goldfinch, or Hemp-bird,
(_Fringilla tristis_,) one of the most interesting and delicate of the
feathered tribe. Of all our birds this bears the closest resemblance to
the Canary, both in his plumage and in the notes of his song. He cannot
be ranked with the finest of our songsters, being deficient in compass
and variety. But he has great sweetness of tone, and is equalled by few
birds in the rapidity of his execution. His note of complaint is
exactly like that of the Canary, and is heard at almost all times of
the year. He utters also, when flying, a very animated series of notes,
during the repeated undulations of his night, and they seem to be
uttered with each effort he makes to rise.
It is remarkable that this bird, though he often rears two broods in a
season, does not begin to build his nest until July, after the first
broods of the Robin and the Song-Sparrow have flown from their nests.
Mr. Augustus Fowler is of opinion, from his observation of their
habits of feeding their young, that the cause of this procrastination
is, "that they would be unable to find, in the spring and early summer,
those new and milky seeds which are the necessary food of their young,"
and takes occasion to allude to that beneficent law of Nature which
provides that these birds "should not bring forth their young until the
very time when those seeds used by them for food have passed into the
milk, in which state they are easily dissolved by the stomach, and when
an abundant supply may always be found."
The Hemp-birds are remarkable for associating at a certain season, and
singing, as it were, in choirs. "During spring and summer," says Mr.
Fowler, "they rove about in small flocks, and in July will assemble
together in considerable numbers on a particular tree, seemingly for no
other purpose than to sing. These concerts are held by them on the
forenoon of each day, for a week or ten days, after which they soon
commence building their nests. I am inclined to believe that this is
their time of courtship, and that they have a purpose in these meetings
beside that of singing. If perchance one is heard in the air, the males
utter their call-note with great emphasis, particularly if the
new-comer be a female; and while in her undulating flight she describes
a circle, preparatory to alighting, they will stand almost erect, move
their heads to the right and left, and burst simultaneously into song."
While engaged in these concerts, it would seem as if they were governed
by some rule, that enabled them to time their voices, and to swell or
diminish the volume of sound. Some of this effect is undoubtedly
produced by the gradual manner in which the different voices join in
harmony, beginning with one or two, and increasing in numbers in a sort
of geometrical progression, until all are singing at once, and then in
the same gradual manner becoming silent. This produces the effect of a
perfect _crescendo_ and _diminuendo_. Beginning, as it seems, at a
distance, one voice leads on another, and the numbers multiply until
they make a loud shout, which dies away gradually until one single
voice winds up the chorus. These concerts are repeated at intervals,
sometimes for an hour in duration.
Another peculiar habit of the Hemp-bird is that of building a nest, and
then tearing it to pieces before any eggs have been deposited in it,
and using the materials to make a new nest in another locality. In
former years I have repeatedly watched this singular operation, in the
Lombardy poplars that stood before my study-windows. I have thought
that the male bird only was addicted to this practice, and that this
might be his method of amusement while unprovided with a partner. The
nest of the Hemp-bird is made of cotton, the down of the fern, and
other soft materials, woven together with threads and the fibres of
bark, and lined with thistle-down, if it be late enough to obtain it,
and sometimes with cow's hair. It is commonly placed in the fork of the
slender branches of a maple, linden, or poplar, and is fastened to them
with singular ingenuity.
Among the earliest songsters of spring, occasionally tuning his voice
before the arrival of the multitudinous choir, is the Crimson Finch or
American Linnet (_Fringilla purpurea_). I have frequently heard his
notes on warm days in March, and once, in a very mild season, I heard
one warbling cheerily on the 18th of February. But the Linnet does not
persevere like the Song-Sparrow, after he has once commenced. His voice
is only occasionally heard, until the middle of April, after which he
is a very constant singer.
The notes of this bird are very simple and melodious, and some
individuals greatly excel others in their powers of song. It is
generally believed that the young males are the best singers, and that
age diminishes their vocal capacity. The greater number utter only a
few strains, resembling the notes of the Warbling Fly-catcher, (_Vireo
gilvus_,) and these are constantly repeated during the greater part of
the day. His song consists of four or five bars or strains; but there
are individuals that extend them _ad libitum_, varying their notes
after the manner of the Canary. The latter, however, sings with more
precision, and is louder and shriller in his tones. I have not observed
that this bird is more prone to sing in the morning and evening than at
noonday and at all hours.
I have alluded to the fact that the finest singing-birds build their
nests and seek their food either on the ground or among the shrubbery
and the lower branches of trees, and that, when singing, they are
commonly perched rather low. The Linnet is an exception to this general
habit of the singing-birds, and, in company with the Warbling
Fly-catchers, he is commonly high up in an elm or some other tall tree,
and almost entirely out of sight, when exercising himself in song. It
is this preference for the higher branches of trees that enables these
birds, as well as the Golden Robin, to be denizens of the city. Hence
they may be heard singing as freely and melodiously from the trees on
Boston Common as in the wild-wood or orchard in the country.
I have seen the Linnet frequently in confinement; but he does not sing
so well in a cage as in a state of freedom. His finest and most
prolonged strains are delivered while on the wing. On such occasions
only does he sing with fervor. While perched on a tree, his song is
short and not greatly varied. If you closely watch his movements when
he is singing, he may be seen on a sudden to take flight, and, while
poising himself in the air, though still advancing, he pours out a
continued strain of melody, not surpassed by the notes of any other
bird. On account of the infrequency of these occasions, it is seldom we
have an opportunity to witness a full exhibition of the musical powers
of the Linnet.
The male American Linnet is crimson on the head, neck, and throat,
dusky on the upper part of its body, and beneath somewhat
straw-colored. It is remarkable that a great many individuals are
destitute of this color, being plainly clad, like the female. These are
supposed to be old birds, and the loss of color is attributed to age.
The same change takes place when the bird is confined.
The little bird whose notes serve more than those of any other species
to enliven the summer noondays in our villages is the House-Wren
(_Troglodytes fulvus_). It is said to reside and rear its young chiefly
in the Middle States; but it is far from being uncommon in
Massachusetts, and, as it extends its summer migrations to Labrador, it
is probable that it breeds there also. It is evident, however, that its
breeding-places are not confined to northern latitudes. It is a
migratory bird, is never seen here in winter, but commonly arrives in
May and returns south early in October. It builds in a hollow tree,
like the Blue-bird, or in a box or other vessel provided for it, and by
furnishing such accommodations we may easily entice one to make its
home in our inclosures.
The Wren is a very active bird, and one of the most restless of the
feathered tribe. He is continually in motion, and even when singing he
is always flitting about and changing his position. We see him in
almost all places, as it were, at the same moment of time,--now
warbling in ecstasy from the roof of a shed, then, with his wings
spread and feathers ruffled, scolding furiously at a Blue-bird or a
Swallow that has alighted on his box, or driving a Robin from a
cherry-tree that stands near his habitation. The next instant we
observe him running along on a stone wall, and diving down and in and
out, from one side to the other, through the openings between the
stories, with all the nimbleness of a squirrel. He is on the ridge of
the barn-roof, he is peeping into the dove-cote, he is in the garden
under the currant-bushes, or chasing a spider or a moth under a
cabbage-leaf; again he is on the roof of the shed, warbling
vociferously; and all these manoeuvres and peregrinations have occupied
hardly a minute, so rapid and incessant is he in his motions.
The notes of the Wren are very lively and garrulous, and, if not
uttered more frequently during the heat of the day, are certainly more
noticeable at this hour. There is a concert at noonday, as well as in
the morning and evening, among the birds, and in the former the Wren is
one of the principal musicians. After the full rays of the sun have
silenced the early performers, the Song-Sparrow and the Red Thrush
continue to sing, at intervals, the greater part of the day. The Wren
is likewise heard at all hours; but when the languishing heat of noon
has arrived, and most of the birds are silent, the few that continue to
sing become more than usually vocal, and seem to form a select company.
They appear, indeed, to prefer the noonday, because the general silence
that prevails at this hour renders their voices more distinguishable
than at other times. The birds which are thus, as it were, associated
with the Wren, in this noonday concert, are the Bobolink, the Cat-bird,
and the two Warbling Fly-catchers, occasionally joined by the few and
simple notes of the Summer Yellow-bird. If we are in the vicinity of
the deep woods, we may also hear, at this hour, the loud and shrill
voice of the Golden-Crowned Thrush, a bird that is partial to the heat
Of all these, however, the Wren is the most remarkable, having a note
that is singularly varied and animated. He exhibits great compass and
power of execution, but wants variety in his tones. He begins very
sharp and shrill, like a grasshopper, then suddenly falls to a series
of low guttural notes, and ascends, like the rolling of a drum, to
another series of high notes, rapidly trilled. Almost without a pause,
he recommences with his querulous insect-chirp, and proceeds through
the same trilling and demi-semiquavering as before. He is not
particular about the part of the song which he makes his closing note,
but will leave off right in the middle of a strain, when he appears to
be in the height of ecstasy, to pick up a spider or a fly.
As the Wren raises two broods of young in a season, his notes are
prolonged to a late period of the summer, being frequently heard in the
second or third week in August. He leaves for a southern clime about
the first of October. In his migratory habits he differs from the
European Wren, which is a constant resident in his native regions.
Our American birds, like the American flowers, have not been celebrated
in classic song. They are scarcely known, except to our own people, and
they have not in general been exalted by praise above their real
merits. We read, both in prose and verse, the praises of the European
Lark, Linnet, and Nightingale, and the English Robin Redbreast has been
immortalized in song. But the American Robin, (_Turdus migratorius_,)
though surnamed Redbreast, is a bird of different species and different
habits. Little has been written about him, and he enjoys but little
celebrity; he has never been puffed and overpraised, and, though
universally admired, the many who admire him are diffident all the
while, lest they are mistaken in their judgment and are wasting their
admiration upon an object that is unworthy of it, and whose true merits
fall short of their own estimate.
I shall not ask pardon of those critics who are always canting about
genius--and who would probably deny this gift to the Robin, because he
cannot cry like a chicken or squall like a cat, and because with his
charming strains he does not mingle all sorts of discords and
incongruous sounds--for assigning to the Robin the highest rank as a
singing-bird. Let them say of him, in the cant of modern criticism,
that his performances cannot be great, because they are faultless; it
is enough for me, that his mellow notes, heard at the earliest flush of
morning, in the more busy hour of noon, or the quiet lull of evening,
come upon the ear in a stream of unqualified melody, as if he had
learned to sing under the direct instruction of that beautiful Dryad
who taught the Lark and the Nightingale. The Robin is surpassed by
certain birds in some particular qualities. The Mocking-bird has more
power, the Red Thrush more variety, the Vesper-bird more execution, and
the Bobolink more animation; but each of these birds has more faults
than the Robin, and would be less esteemed as a constant companion, a
vocalist for all hours, whose strains never tire and never offend.
There are thousands who admire the Mocking-bird, because, after pouring
forth a continued stream of ridiculous and disagreeable sounds, or a
series of two or three notes repeated more than a hundred times in
uninterrupted and monotonous succession, he condescends to utter a
single delightfully modulated strain. He often brings his tiresome
_extravaganzas_ to a magnificent climax of melody, and just as often
concludes an inimitable chant with a most contemptible bathos. But the
notes of the Robin are all melodious, all delightful,--loud without
vociferation, mellow without monotony, fervent without ecstasy, and
combining more of mellowness of tone, plaintiveness, cheerfulness, and
propriety of execution, than those of any other bird.
The Robin is the Philomel of our spring and summer mornings in New
England, and in all the country north and west of these States. Without
his sweet notes, the mornings would be like a vernal landscape without
flowers, or a summer-evening sky without tints. He is the chief
performer in the delightful anthem that welcomes the rising day. Of the
others, the best are but accompaniments of more or less importance.
Remove the Robin from this woodland orchestra, and it would be left
without a _soprano_. Over all the northern parts of this continent,
wherever there are any human settlements, these birds are numerous and
familiar. There is probably not an orchard in all New England that is
not supplied with several of these musicians. When we consider the
millions thus distributed over this broad country, we can imagine the
sublimity of that chorus which, from the middle of April until the last
of July, must daily ascend to heaven from the voices of these birds,
not one male of which is silent, on any pleasant morning, from the
earliest flush of dawn until sunrise.
In my boyhood, an early morning-walk was one of my favorite
recreations, and never can I forget those delightful matins that
awaited me at every turn. Even then I wondered that so little
admiration was expressed for the song of the Robin, who seemed to me to
be worthy of the highest regard. The Robin, when reared in confinement,
is one of the most affectionate and interesting of birds. His powers of
song are likewise susceptible of great improvement. Though not prone to
imitation, he may be taught to sing tunes, and to imitate the notes of
other birds. I have heard one whistle "Over the water to Charlie" as
well as it could be played with a fife. Indeed, this bird is so
tractable, that I believe any well-directed efforts would never fail of
teaching him to sing any simple melody.
But what do we care about his power of learning artificial music? Even
if he could be taught to perform like a _maestro_, this would not
enhance his value as a minstrel of the woods. We are concerned with the
birds only as they are in a state of nature. It is the simplicity of
the songs of birds, as I have before remarked, that constitutes their
principal charm; and were the Robins so changed in their nature as to
relinquish their native notes, and sing only tunes hereafter, we should
listen to them with as much indifference as to the whistling of boys in
In the elms on Boston Common, and in all the lofty trees in the suburbs
as well as in the country villages, are two little birds whose songs
are heard daily and hourly, from the middle of May until the latter
part of summer. These are the Warbling Fly-catchers (_Vireo gilvus and
V. olivaceus_). The first is commonly designated as the Warbling Vireo,
the second as the Red-eyed Vireo. The former arrives about a week or
ten days earlier than the other, and becomes silent likewise at a
somewhat earlier period. Both species are very similar in their habits,
frequenting the villages in preference to the woods, singing at all
hours of the day, particularly at noon, taking all their insect prey
from the leaves and branches of trees, or seizing it as it flits by
their perch, and amusing themselves, while thus employed, with
oft-repeated fragments of song. Each builds a pensile nest, or places
it in the fork of the slender branches of a tree. I have seen a nest of
the Warbling Vireo placed less than fifteen feet from the ground, on a
pear-tree, directly opposite the window of a chamber that was
constantly occupied; but the nests of both species are usually
suspended at a considerable height from the ground.
The notes of the Warbling Vireo have been described by the words,
"Brigadier, Brigadier, Bridget." They are few, simple, and melodious,
and being often repeated, they form a very important part of the sylvan
music of cultivated and thickly-settled places. It is difficult to
obtain sight of this little warbler while he is singing, on account of
his small size, the olive color of his plumage, and his habit of
perching among the dense foliage of the trees.
The Red-eyed Vireo is more generally known by his note, because he is
particularly vocal during the heat of the long summer-days, when other
birds are comparatively silent The modulation of his notes is similar
to that of the common Robin, but his tones are sharper, and he sings in
a very desultory manner, leaving off very frequently in the middle of a
strain to seize a moth or a beetle. Singing, while he is engaged in
song, never seems to be his sole employment. This is the little bird
that warbles for us late in the summer, after almost all other birds
have become silent, uttering his moderate notes, as if for his own
amusement, during all the heat of the day, from the trees by the
roadsides and in our inclosures. We might then suppose him to be
repeating very moderately the words, "Do you hear me? Do you see me?"
with the rising inflection of the voice, and with a pause after each
sentence, as if he waited for an answer.
As soon as the cherry-tree is in blossom, and when the oak and the
maple are beginning to unfold their plaited leaves, the loud and mellow
notes of the Golden Robin (_Icterus Baltimore_) are heard for the first
time in the year. I have never known the birds of this species to
arrive before this date, and they seem to be governed by the supply of
their insect food, which probably becomes abundant simultaneously with
the flowering of the orchards. These birds may from that time be
observed diligently hunting among the branches and foliage of the
trees, and they appear to make a particular examination of the
blossoms, from which they obtain a great variety of flies and beetles
that are lodged in them. While thus employed, the bird frequently
utters his brief, but loud and melodious notes; but he sings, like the
Vireo, only while attending to the wants of life. Almost all remarkable
singing-birds, when warbling, give themselves up entirely to song, and
pay no regard to other demands upon their time until they have
concluded. But the Golden Robin never relaxes from his industry, nor
remains stationed upon the branch of a tree for the sole purpose of
singing. He sings, like an industrious maid-of-all-work, only while
employed in the ordinary concerns of life.
The Golden Robin is said to inhabit North America from Canada to
Mexico; but there is reason to believe that the species is most
abundant in the north-eastern parts of the continent, and that a
greater number breed in the New England States than either south or
west of this section. They are also more numerous in the suburbs of
cities and towns than in the ruder and more primitive parts of the
country. Their peculiar manner of protecting their pensile nests, by
hanging them from the extremities of the lofty branches of an elm or
other tall tree, enables the bird to rear its young with great
security, even in the heart of the city. The only animals that are able
to reach their nests are the smaller squirrels, which sometimes descend
the long, slender branches upon which they are suspended, and devour
This depredation I have never witnessed; but I have seen the Red
Squirrel descend in this manner to devour the crysalis of a certain
insect, which was rolled up in a leaf.
The ways and manners of the Golden Robin are very interesting. He is
remarkable for his vivacity, and his bright plumage renders all his
movements conspicuous. His plumage needs no description, since every
one is familiar with its colors, as they are seen like flashes of fire
among the trees. The bird derives its specific name (Baltimore) from
the resemblance of its colors to the livery of Lord Baltimore of
Maryland. The name of a bird ought to have either a sylvan or a poetic
origin. This has neither. I prefer, therefore, the common and
expressive name of Golden Robin.
This bird is supposed to possess considerable power of musical
imitation. Still it may be observed that in all cases he gives the
notes of those birds only whose voice resembles his own. Thus, he often
repeats the song of the Red-bird, but in doing this he varies his own
notes no more than he might do without meaning any imitation. Though he
repeats but few notes, he utters them with great variety of modulation.
Sometimes for several days he confines himself to a single strain, and
afterwards for about an equal space of time he will adopt another
strain. Sometimes he lengthens his brief notes into an extended melody,
and sings in a sort of ecstasy, like the birds of the Finch tribe. Such
musical paroxysms are exceedingly rare in his case, and seem to be
occasioned by some momentary exultation.
The Golden Robin rears but one brood of young in this part of the
country, and his cheerful notes are discontinued soon after the young
have left their nest. The song of the old bird seems after this period
hardly necessary to the offspring, who keep up an incessant chirping
from the moment of leaving their nest until they are able to accompany
the old ones to the woods, whither they retire in the latter part of
the season. It is remarkable, that, after a perfect silence of two or
three weeks after this time, the Golden Robins suddenly make their
appearance again for a few days, uttering the same merry notes with
which they hailed the arrival of summer. They soon disappear again, and
before autumn arrives they make their annual journey to the South,
where they pass the winter.
There is no singing-bird in New England that enjoys the notoriety of
the Bobolink (_Icterus agripennis_). He is like a rare wit in our
social or political circles. Everybody is talking about him and quoting
his remarks, and all are delighted with his company. He is not without
great merits as a songster; but he is well known and admired, because
he is showy, noisy, and flippant, and sings only in the open field, and
frequently while poised on the wing, so that everybody who hears him
can see him, and know who is the author of the strains that afford him
so much delight. He sings also at broad noonday, when everybody is out,
and is seldom heard before sunrise, while other birds are pouring forth
their souls in a united concert of praise. He waits until the sun is
up, and when most of the early performers have become silent, as if
determined to secure a good audience before exhibiting his powers.
The Bobolink, or Conquedle, has unquestionably great talents as a
musician. In the grand concert of Nature it is he who performs the
_recitative_ parts, which he delivers with the utmost fluency and
rapidity; and one must be a careful listener, not to lose many of his
words. He is plainly the merriest of all the feathered creation, almost
continually in motion, and singing upon the wing, apparently in the
greatest ecstasy of joy.
There is not a plaintive strain in his whole performance. Every sound
is as merry as the laugh of a young child; and one cannot listen to him
without fancying that he is indulging in some jocose raillery of his
companions. If we suppose him to be making love, we cannot look upon
him as very deeply enamored, but rather as highly delighted with his
spouse, and overflowing with rapturous admiration. The object of his
love is a neatly formed bird, with a mild expression of countenance, a
modest and amiable deportment, and arrayed in the plainest apparel. It
is evident that she does not pride herself upon the splendor of her
costume, but rather on its neatness, and on her own feminine graces.
She must be entirely without vanity, unless we suppose that it is
gratified by observing the pomp and display which are made by her
partner, and by listening to his delightful eloquence of song: for if
we regard him as an orator, it must be allowed that he is unsurpassed
in fluency and rapidity of utterance; and if we regard him only as a
musician, he is unrivalled in brilliancy of execution.
Vain are all attempts, on the part of other birds, to imitate his truly
original style. The Mocking-bird gives up the attempt in despair, and
refuses to sing at all when confined near one in a cage. I cannot look
upon him as ever in a very serious humor. He seems to be a lively,
jocular little fellow, who is always jesting and bantering, and when
half a dozen different individuals are sporting about in the same
orchard, I often imagine that they might represent the persons
dramatized in some comic opera. These birds never remain stationary
upon the bough of a tree, singing apparently for their own solitary
amusement; but they are ever in company, and passing to and fro, often
commencing their song upon the extreme end of the bough of an
apple-tree, then suddenly taking flight, and singing the principal part
while balancing themselves on the wing. The merriest part of the day
with these birds is the later afternoon, during the hour preceding
dewfall, and before the Robins and Thrushes commence their evening
hymn. Then, assembled in company, it would seem as if they were
practising a cotillon upon the wing, each one singing to his own
movements, as he sallies forth and returns,--and nothing can exceed
their apparent merriment.
The Bobolink usually commences his warbling just after sunrise, when
the Robin, having sung from the earliest dawn, brings his performance
to a close. Nature seems to have provided that the serious parts of her
musical entertainment in the morning shall first be heard, and that the
lively and comic strains shall follow them. In the evening this order
is reversed; and after the comedy is concluded, Nature lulls us to
meditation and repose by the mellow notes of the little Vesper-bird,
and the pensive and still more melodious strains of the solitary
In pleasant, sunshiny weather, the Bobolink seldom flies without
singing, often hovering on the wing over the place where his mate is
sitting upon her ground-built nest, and pouring forth his notes with
great loudness and fluency. The Bobolink is one of our social birds,
one of those species that follow in the footsteps of man, and multiply
with the progress of agriculture. He is not a frequenter of the woods;
he seems to have no taste for solitude. He loves the orchard and the
mowing-field, and many are the nests which are exposed by the scythe of
the haymaker, if the mowing be done early in the season. Previously to
the settlement of America, these birds must have been comparatively
rare in the New England States, and were probably confined to the open
prairies and savannas in the northwestern territory.
THE O'LINCON FAMILY.
A flock of merry singing-birds were sporting in the grove;
Some were warbling cheerily, and some were making love:
There were Bobolincon, Wadolincon, Winterseeble, Conquedle,--
A livelier set was never led by tabor, pipe, or fiddle,--
Crying, "Phew, shew, Wadolincon, see, see, Bobolincon,
Down among the tickletops, hiding in the buttercups!
I know the saucy chap, I see his shining cap
Bobbing in the clover there,--see, see, see!"
Up flies Bobolincon, perching on an apple-tree,
Startled by his rival's song, quickened by his raillery.
Soon he spies the rogue afloat, curvetting in the air,
And merrily he turns about, and warns him to beware!
"'Tis you that would a-wooing go, down among the rushes O!
But wait a week, till flowers are cheery,--wait a week, and, ere you
Be sure of a house wherein to tarry!
Wadolink, Whiskodink, Tom Denny, wait, wait, wait!"
Every one's a funny fellow; every one's a little mellow;
Follow, follow, follow, follow, o'er the hill and in the hollow!
Merrily, merrily, there they hie; now they rise and now they fly;
They cross and turn, and in and out, and down in the middle, and
With a "Phew, shew, Wadolincon! listen to me Bobolincon!--
Happy's the wooing that's speedily doing, that's speedily doing,
That's merry and over with the bloom of the clover!
Bobolincon, Wadolincon, Winterseeble, follow, follow me!"
Oh, what a happy life they lead, over the hill and in the mead!
How they sing, and how they play! See, they fly away, away!
Now they gambol o'er the clearing,--off again, and then appearing;
Poised aloft on quivering wing, now they soar, and now they sing:--
"We must all be merry and moving; we must all be happy and loving;
For when the midsummer has come, and the grain has ripened its ear,
The haymakers scatter our young, and we mourn for the rest of the
Then Bobolincon, Wadolincon, Winterseeble, haste, haste, away!"
[Illustration: SONG OF THE SONG-SPARROW, AND ITS VARIATIONS. Three
lines of music. Line one is labelled THEME. Line 2 is labelled Var. 1
and line 3 is Var. 2.]
[Illustration: (musical notation) NOTE.--The notes marked _guttural_
seem to me to be performed by a rapid trilling of these notes with
their octave. It should be added, that no bird sings constantly in so
regular time as is represented above, and the intervals between the
high and low notes are very irregular. Both the time and the tune are
in great measure _ad libitum_]
[Illustration: SONG OF THE LINNET. (_Fringilla purpurea_.) (musical
[Illustration: SONG OF THE WREN. (_Trogledytes fulvus_.) (musical
[Illustration: SONG OF THE ROBIN. (_Turdus migratorius_.) (musical
Another--Flexibly modulated, as if pronouncing the words below.
[Illustration: Musical staff] Tu lu lu, tu lu lu, tu lu lu, too loo.
NOTE.--The Robin is continually varying his notes; so that the two
specimens, as given above, may be considered but the theme upon which
he constructs his melody.
SONG OF THE WARBLING VIREO. (_V. Gilvus._)
[Illustration: Musical staff] Brigadier Brigadier Brigadier Briget.
SONG OF THE RED-EYED VIREO. (_V. olivaceus._)
[Illustration: Musical staff] pauses to Take a fly.