Part 4 out of 5
[Illustration: Musical staff] takes another, The same repeated without
SONG OF THE GOLDEN ROBIN. (_Icterus Baltimore._) [Illustration: Musical
[Footnote 1: Mr. Charles S. Paine, of East Randolph, who, I believe,
was the first to observe this habit of the Song-Sparrow.]
[Footnote 2: Mr. Augustus Fowler of Danversport, who has made one of
the finest collections of the eggs of native birds. His drawings of the
same are beautifully executed, accompanied by representations of the
nests and of the foliage that surrounded them. This gentleman and his
brother, Mr. S.P. Fowler, have found leisure, during the intervals of
their occupation in a mechanical art, to acquire a knowledge of certain
branches of natural history which would do honor to a professor.]
THE OLD WELL.
On a bright April morning many years ago, a stout, red-faced old
gentleman, Geoffrey Purcill, followed by several workmen bearing
shovels and pick-axes, took his way to a little knoll on which stood a
wide-spreading chestnut-tree. When they reached the top of the knoll,
the old man paused a moment and then struck his gold-headed cane upon
the ground at some little distance from the trunk of the tree, saying,
The workmen looked at each other and then at their master.
"It would be useless to dig a well here, Sir," said one of the workmen,
very respectfully,--"no water would ever come into it"
"Who asked for your opinion?" inquired Geoffrey, in an angry tone. "Do
as I bid you;--the well shall be digged here, and water _shall_ come
The man ventured no further remonstrance; he took off his jacket, and
struck his pickaxe into the hard, dry soil near the point where the
Geoffrey Purcill was a choleric old gentleman, who, having had his own
way all his life, was by no means inclined to forego that privilege now
that he was advanced in years. As he sat beneath the chestnut-tree, one
warm spring day, he felt very thirsty, and he suddenly thought what a
good thing it would be to have a well there, so that he might refresh
himself with a draught of clear, cool water, without the trouble of
returning to the house. The more thirsty he grew, the pleasanter seemed
the project to him,--a large, deep well, neatly stoned, with a sweep
and buckets,--it would be a pretty object to look at, as well as
comfort to man and beast. The well should be digged forthwith, and what
Geoffrey Purcill once resolved upon he was not slow to execute; and,
despite the remonstrances of those who knew better than he, the work
was commenced at once.
A more unpromising place for a well could not have been selected in all
his extensive grounds; but he was not a man to be patiently baffled
even by Nature herself, and he stood looking with grim satisfaction at
the hole which rapidly widened and deepened under the vigorous efforts
of his sturdy workmen.
Day after day old Geoffrey watched his workmen on the knoll. The well
increased in size till it was large enough to have watered a whole
caravan,--but the desert of Sahara itself was not drier. Geoffrey
fumed, raved, and swore; and when two of the men were killed by the
falling of the earth, and the rest absolutely refused to work any
longer, he bade them go, a pack of ungrateful scoundrels as they were,
and, procuring more laborers, declared "he would dig there till the
Devil came to fetch him."
Geoffrey was as good as his word;--he labored with a pertinacity worthy
of a better object, and dug deeper into the bowels of the earth, and
partly stoned his well,--but no water, save that which fell from
heaven, ever appeared in it.
And when old Geoffrey was gathered to his fathers, he left his house
and grounds to his only daughter, Eleanor Purcill, on the express
condition that the well was not to be filled up, but to remain open
till water did come into it.
* * * * *
One July day, when Geoffrey Purcill had been some twenty years with his
fathers, or with Satan, (which two destinies might have been one and
the same, after all, for he came of a turbulent, wicked race,) two
children, a boy and girl, sat on the brink of the well and looked down
into it. It was half filled with the rubbish of the fallen stones, but
it was still deep, and dark enough to tempt their curious eyes into
trying to discover what lay hidden in its shadowy depths. The great
chestnut-tree, rich with drooping, feathery blossoms, shaded them from
the burning sun,--a few stray beams only finding their way through the
glossy leaves, and resting on the golden curls of the girl.
The boy leaned over the well, and peered into it;--the little girl bent
forward, as if to do the same, but drew back again.
"Take hold of my hand, Mark," said she, "and let me lean over as you
"What do you want to look in for?" asked the boy,--"there is nothing to
see. Oh, yes," continued he, mischievously, "there is a horrid dragon,
just such as St. George fought with, lying all curled up in the bottom
of the well, with fire and smoke coming out of his mouth."
Rosamond Purcill was too true a descendant of old Geoffrey to be
frightened at the thought of a dragon. She caught hold of Mark's arm to
steady herself, and leaned over the well.
"Let me see! let me see!" cried she, eagerly.
Mark made one or two feints of pushing her in, but at last held her
firmly by the waist, while she looked in vain for the fabulous monster
"Where is he, Mark? I don't see anything, and I don't believe you saw
"Oh, yes, I did," said Mark;--"there, don't you see the end of his tail
sticking out from under the largest stone? May-be he has had one little
girl for breakfast this morning, and don't care about another for
luncheon, or else he would spring up after you, and gobble you up in a
"What stories, Mark! Aunt Eleanor says there are no dragons, nor ever
"Pooh!" retorted Mark, contemptuously,--"Aunt Eleanor has not seen
everything that there is to be seen in the world. Look again, Rosy."
Again the little curly head was bent over the well, somewhat puzzled
which to believe, Aunt Eleanor or Mark, but half-inclined to credit
Mark's eyes rather than Aunt Eleanor's words.
"Do you think that can be one of his scales?" asked she, pointing to a
small piece of tin which glittered in a stray sunbeam among the stones.
Mark's eyes followed the direction of her finger, and he was about to
declare that it must be a scale that the dragon had scraped off his
back, wriggling among the stones, when both children were startled by a
loud voice calling out, "What are you doing, children? You will fall
into the well and break your good-for-nothing little necks!"
Mark and Rosamond drew back, and saw a young man, their brother
Bradford, with a basket and a fishing-rod in his hand, coming up the
"Why are you here, Mark?" asked he. "Aunt Eleanor thinks it a dangerous
place, and has forbidden you to play here."
Mark looked up at his brother. "I come," said he, sturdily, "for that
very reason,--because I am told not to. I won't mind Aunt Eleanor, nor
any other woman."
Bradford shook his head and burst out into a laugh. "Ah, Mark, my boy,"
said he, with a serious, comical air, "it will do very well for you to
talk,--you will find out, sooner or later, that all men have to do just
what women wish."
Mark opened his incredulous eyes, and inwardly resolved that this
should never be the case with him; and considering that Bradford was
only eighteen it is somewhat remarkable that he should have gained so
much wisdom, either by observation or experience, at so early an age.
"Mark says," chimed in Rosamond, "that there is a dragon at the bottom
of the well; and I want to see him."
"A dragon?" cried Bradford,--"Mark is a story-teller, and you are a
goose;--but if there is one, I will catch him for you";--and he stood
on the brink of the well, and sportively threw his line into it.
"You are a pretty fellow to talk about catching a dragon, Brad!"
retorted Mark, a little nettled at the tone in which Bradford spoke of
him,--"you can't even catch a shiner!"--and he glanced at Bradford's
Bradford laughed louder than before. "And for that very reason I expect
to catch the dragon. One kind of a line will not catch all kinds of
fish; and this line may be good for nothing but dragons, after
all.--There! I've got a bite. Stand back, Rosy," cried he, "the dragon
will be on the grass in a minute."
Bradford tried to pull up his line, but it was either entangled among
the stones, or had some heavy object attached to it, for the rod bent
beneath the weight as he with a strong pull endeavored to draw up his
prize. Rosamond's eyes opened to their widest extent, and, fully
expecting to see the dragon swinging wide-mouthed in the air over her
head, drew a little closer to Mark, who, on his part, wondered what
Bradford was at, and whether he was not playing some trick upon him.
When the end of the line rose to the top of the well, they saw
suspended by the two hooks, not a winged, scaly monster, but a small
rusty box, in the fastenings of which the hooks had caught.
Rosamond drew a long breath,--"Is that all, Bradford? I am so sorry! I
thought, to be sure, you had the dragon."
"Never mind the dragon, Rosy," cried he; "let us see what I have
"Who knows but the purse of Fortunatus or the slipper of Cinderella may
be in here?--they have been lost for many a day, and nobody knows where
Bradford knelt down on the grass, and, unhooking his line, strove to
undo the rusty hasp; but it resisted all the efforts of his fingers,
and it was only by the aid of a knife and a stone that he opened the
box. In it was a morocco case, much discolored, but still in tolerable
preservation, from which he drew a small manuscript book.
Rosamond's disappointment was greater than before. "It is nothing but a
writing-book, after all," said she. "I wish you had not said anything
about the purse or slipper, and then I should never have thought of
them. You never heard anybody say where they thought the purse and
slipper were hid,--did you?"
"Come, Rosy," cried Mark, "come down to the meadow; there is nothing
more to be got out of the old well. Let us leave Brad alone with his
book and his fish."
The children turned away towards the meadow,--Rosamond meditating upon
the probability of her ever finding the purse and slipper, if she
should ever set out in quest of them, and Mark thinking what a fool
such a big fellow as Bradford must be, to mind any woman that ever was
Bradford took the box and the book to the chestnut-tree, and,
stretching himself at full length in the shade, began to turn over the
leaves. It was a journal, written in a delicate, graceful hand; and
though the paper was somewhat yellow, and the ink faded, the writing
was perfectly legible. Bradford looked at it, carelessly reading here
and there a sentence, till his eye catching some familiar names, he
opened it at the commencement, and read as follows:--
"_December_ 3l.--It is the last night of the old year. A few more
steps, and the old year will have vanished into the great hall of the
Past, where all the ages that ever have been are gathered. I have been
sitting the last hour by myself, and have fancied that time moved not
with its usual swiftness,--that the old year lingered with a sad
regret, as if loath to pass away and let the new come in. Even now the
midnight clock is striking,--eleven,--twelve;--the last flutter of the
old year's robe is out of sight, and the new year glides in with
noiseless feet, like one who enters the chamber of the dead. These are
but melancholy fancies;--because I am sad myself must I put all the
world in mourning? The old year did not linger;--it is only I that am
loath to go. I have been so happy here, that the prospect of spending
the coming year with Cousin Eleanor fills my mind with sad
forebodings;--and yet my childish remembrances of her have in them
nothing unpleasant. I think of her as a grave, quiet woman, who never
strove to attract and win the love of a child. How I shall miss the
life and gayety, the jests and laughter of Madge and Bertha! Madge the
more, because she is so full of whims and oddities. To-night she came
into my room, and brought this little book for me to write a journal of
all that befell me while I was gone, making me promise to write often
in it. Not that she ever wished to see it again. Heaven forbid that she
should ever be so cruelly punished as to be made to read anybody's
journal!--least of all such a stupid one as mine must be, shut up with
Cousin Eleanor!--but she thought that I could never draw the book from
the case (she had chosen one that fitted very tightly, and would give
me much trouble for that very reason) without thinking of her;--and to
be thought of often by her friends she confesses she is weak enough to
wish.--Dear Madge, I could not forget her, if I would. The book just
fits in a little japanned box that belonged to my grandmother, in which
she used to keep rouge and pearl-powder. I will keep it in that, and
remember my promise to Madge.
"_February_ 2l.--The journey is over, and I am at Cousin Eleanor's. How
the evils that we dread shrink into nothing when we fairly meet them!
Cousin Eleanor received me kindly, and looked neither so grave nor so
cold as my memory, assisted by my imagination, had pictured her; and
Ashcroft is a pretty place, even in midwinter. I am never tired of
sitting at the library-window, and looking at the bare branches of the
black ash-trees, as they spread out their network against the winter
sky. I have a little desk near the bay-window, where I have my drawing
and writing materials, and where I pretend to write and draw, while
Eleanor occupies a larger one at the opposite window. Eleanor is a
woman of business,--keeps all her accounts, looks after her farm and
servants, and manages all her own affairs, and, though a strict and
exacting mistress, is neither harsh nor unkind;--she evidently intends
to perform all her own duties punctually and faithfully, and expects
others to do the same. I often look at her with wonder, her nature is
so different from mine,--never impulsive, always cool and steady,--full
of ceaseless activity, yet never hurried, and seemingly never
perplexed. I sometimes think she sees the whole of her life mapped out
before her, and takes up every event in order. With the exception of
the servants, we are the only occupants of the house, Eleanor does not
seek nor desire the society of her neighbors; and so while she works I
dream, read, or answer Madge or Bertha's letters.
"_February_ 28.--It has been snowing ceaselessly for two days. I have
read, drawn, and sewed till I am as weary as Marianna in the moated
grange. I have yawned aloud a dozen times, but Eleanor does not mind
it. She has been extremely busy with accounts, papers, and letters. For
the last four hours I do not think she has spoken a word. I hear
nothing but the scratch of her pen as it moves over the paper, and the
wind in the ash-trees. I have taken Madge's journal in despair. Ah,
Madge! I wish the bonnie girl were here;--how we would talk nonsense by
the hour together, just to keep our tongues in practice, and Madge
would hunt down an idea through all its turnings and windings, as if it
were a hare, and she a dog in chase of it! A ring at the door;--I hope
it may be some human body that will make Cousin Eleanor open her lips
"_March_ 1.--The blots on the opposite page show with what haste I shut
up my journal yesterday. The ring at the door brought more than I
anticipated, and opened my eyes effectually for the rest of the day.
'Mr. Lee,' said the servant, throwing the library-door wide open, and
ushering in a man wrapped in a cloak, with a travelling-cap in his
hand. Cousin Eleanor rose instantly, and advanced to meet him. I
expected to see her extend her hand towards him, and welcome him in her
usual courteous manner. Instead of that, she gave him a hearty kiss,
which could be heard as well as felt, and which was returned, as I
thought, with interest. If the marble Widow Wadman in the library had
kissed the sympathizing face of Uncle Toby, I should not have been so
much surprised, and should have thought it much more likely to happen.
"'I am very glad to see you, Thornton,' said she. 'I did not think you
could come till to-morrow.'
"'I have made the best use of my time,' returned he, 'and had no wish
to spend my precious hours at a country inn. It seemed good to see
winter and snow again, after so many months of summer.'
"Bending forward to catch a better view of him as he spoke, the
rustling of my dress reminded Eleanor of my presence.
"'My cousin Elizabeth Purcill, Thornton Lee,' said she. 'My two good
friends I hope will also be friends to each other.'
"Mr. Lee made me a gentlemanly bow, and said something about the
pleasure of seeing me; but more than suspecting that my presence in the
library was no pleasure to either of them, I shut up my journal,
crowded it into the box, and stole out of the room at the first
convenient opportunity. On the stairs I met Mrs. Bickford, the
"'Is any one in the library with Miss Purcill?' asked she.
"'Yes,--a Mr. Lee.'
"'Mr. Lee?' exclaimed she, in surprise. 'I did not know as he was
expected home now.'
"'Who is Mr. Lee?'
"'He is the gentleman whom Miss Purcill is to marry; but I thought he
was not coming till autumn. I wonder if she knew it.'
"What Eleanor knows she always keeps to herself; none of her household
are any the wiser for it. I was more surprised than Mrs. Bickford.
Eleanor affianced! I never thought or dreamed of such a thing. Eleanor
in love must be a curious spectacle. I did not feel sleepy any longer.
What could a woman, so independent, so self-relying, so sufficient for
herself, want of a lover? She always seemed to be a whole, and did not
need another half to complete herself. I speculated much on the
subject, and, when the bell rang for tea, went down-stairs with
something of the same feeling of eager curiosity with which I open the
pages of a good novel. There is nothing so interesting to idle,
observant people as a pair of lovers, provided they are not silly, in
which stage they are perfectly unbearable, and never should suffer
themselves to be seen even by their intimate friends. Was it my fancy,
or not? I thought Eleanor had grown young since I left the library. A
soft light beamed in her eyes, and a clear crimson--the first trace of
color I had ever seen in her face-burned on her cheek. It was a very
different countenance from that at which I had been casting sidelong
glances half the day, and yet it seemed to me that she was ashamed of
these signs of joy, and thought it but a weakness to feel so glad. I
sat silent nearly all the evening;--words always come more readily to
my pen than to my lips, and, were it not so, there would have been no
occasion for any speech of mine. Their conversation flowed on
uninterruptedly, like a full, free river, whose current is strong and
deep. How much richer both their lives seemed than mine! He had
travelled, thought, seen, and felt so much, and had brought such wealth
home with him, fitly coined into aptly chosen words; and she had
gathered treasures as priceless from the literature of her own and
foreign lands. I had nothing to offer either of them but my ears, and
for those I doubt whether they felt grateful,--and when that doubt
became a certainty, I crept into the great window in the drawing-room,
and looked out upon the lawn. The moon, breaking through the clouds,
shone brightly on the new-fallen snow. I sat down on a low chair,--the
curtains fell about me,--their voices came to me with a low, dreamy
sound,--I leaned my head on my hand, and fell asleep. When I awoke, the
fire had died away, and the chairs were empty.
"_March_ 20.--Mr. Lee comes every day. His father lives only a few
miles from us,--a distance so short as to be no obstacle to a lover
with a good horse; though I suspect, if the horse could speak, he would
wish the distance either less or greater. These midnight rides must be
detrimental to the constitution of any steady horse, and he often wakes
me up at night, pawing impatiently under the window while his master is
making his lingering adieux on the door-step.
"_April_ 1.--I dislike Eleanor more every day. I know not why, unless
because I watch her so closely. When Mr. Lee is not here she works as
industriously as ever. If I were in love, I would give myself up to a
dream or reverie now and then, and build myself an air-castle, if it
were only to see it tumble down, and call myself a fool for my pains;
but she is too matter-of-fact to do that. Well, if there is not much
romance about her love, perhaps there is more reality; yet Thornton Lee
is just the man one could make an ideal of, if one only would. But this
is not what I especially dislike her for; people must love according to
their own nature and temperament, and not after another's pattern. The
thing that frets me most just now is the way that Eleanor has of
divining my thoughts before they are spoken, and even before they are
quite clear to myself. Sometimes, when we are talking together, some
subject comes up on which I do not care to express my opinion. Eleanor
fixes her clear, penetrating eyes upon me, and drags my thought out
into the light, just as a kingfisher pounces upon and pulls a fish out
of the water. Had I anything to conceal, any secret, I should be afraid
of her; and as it is, I do not like this invasion of my personal
kingdom,--though my thoughts often acquire new strength and beauty from
Eleanor's strong and vigorous language. Last evening, Mr. Lee, Eleanor,
and myself were turning over the prints in a large portfolio. We paused
at one, the Departure of Hagar into the Wilderness. The artist had
represented Hagar turning away from the door of the tent with Ishmael
and the bottle of water; Abraham was near her; while Sarah in the
background with a triumphant face exulted at the driving out of the
bondmaid. The picture had not much merit as a work of Art; but in
Hagar's face was such a look of despairing, wistful tenderness, as she
turned towards Abraham for the last time, that it moved me almost to
tears. I drew a long breath as the picture was turned over. Looking up,
I saw Eleanor's eyes fixed upon me.
"'You pity Hagar, then? You think it was a harsh and cruel thing to
drive her out into the wilderness with her child?'
"'Yes,' said I, shortly,--a little provoked that she should have seen
it in my face.
"She went on: 'Sarah was right. Had I been she, I would have driven her
out as remorselessly and as pitilessly. Did she not, presuming upon her
youth, her beauty, and her child, despise her mistress? and why should
her mistress feel compassion for her? The love of a long life might
well thrust aside the passion of a few months, and Sarah, contemned by
her bondmaid, is more worthy of pity than Hagar, in my eyes.'
"I was about to say that Sarah was more to blame for Hagar's conduct
than she was herself, when Mr. Lee observed 'that Abraham was more to
be pitied than either of them, for he was unable or unwilling to
protect either of the women whom he loved,--his wife from the contempt
of her bondmaid, or the bondmaid from the fury of his wife.'
"I fancied Eleanor did not exactly like this remark, for she turned to
the next print hastily and began commenting upon it.
"_May_ 6.--The groves and fields are beautiful with the fresh beauty of
the early spring. We have given up our winter occupations for long
rambles on the hills and in the woods. I sometimes decline being a
third in the lovers' walks; but Eleanor seems so dissatisfied, if I
refuse to accompany them, that I consent, lagging behind often, and
have learned to be both blind and deaf as occasion requires. I think,
too, that Mr. Lee is not sorry to have me with them. He and Eleanor
have been separated for three years, and I sometimes wonder if they
have not grown away from each other in that time. A long absence is a
dangerous experiment even for friends, much more for lovers. Besides,
no life is long enough to allow such great gaps in it.
"_June_ 1.--We were sitting yesterday under the ash-trees on the
lawn,--Eleanor netting, Mr. Lee reading Dante aloud, and I making
myself rings and bracelets out of the shining blades of grass, and
pretending to listen, when a servant brought Eleanor a letter. It was
very short, for she did not turn the leaf. When she had read it she
drew out her watch.
"'I have an hour before the express-train starts. Tell Mrs. Bickford to
pack my trunk for a journey. Harness the black horse to drive to the
"She put the letter into Mr. Lee's hands. 'My brother is very ill, and
I shall go to him at once. Elizabeth, I am sorry to leave you here
alone, but while I am gone I hope Thornton will consider you under his
charge and protection.'
"She rose, as she spoke, and went towards the house, followed by
"In a few minutes she appeared again, dressed in a gray
travelling-dress,--kissed me lightly on the check, and bade me
good-bye. All her preparations for this long journey had been made
without any hurry or confusion, and she did not apparently feel so
agitated or nervous at the thought of travelling this distance alone as
I should to have gone by myself to the nearest town. Why Thornton did
not accompany her, whether he could not or she did not wish it, I do
not know; but he parted from her at the station, and soon returned for
"_July_ 1.--Eleanor has been gone a month; in that time we have
received but one letter from her. Her brother still lies in a very
critical state, and she will not leave him at present. His motherless
children, too, she thinks require her care. It seemed very lonesome at
first without her. I did not think I could have missed an uncongenial
person, one with whom I had so little sympathy, so much. I think I must
belong to the tribe of creeping plants, which cling to whatever is
nearest to them. Ashcroft grows daily more beautiful, and Thornton
comes often to see me. We read together books that I like, (not Dante,)
walk and sketch. We are on excellent terms, and call each other Cousin
in view of our future relationship. I can talk more freely to him, now
that Eleanor is not here,--and feel no disposition to hide my thoughts,
now that I can keep them to myself, if I choose.
"_July_ 24.--A week ago, one fair midsummer afternoon, we strolled to
the knoll, and sat down under the blossoming boughs of the
"'I think,' said I, 'this is the pleasantest place in all the grounds;
but Eleanor never seemed willing to come here.'
"'Eleanor has many unpleasant remembrances connected with the place,'
replied Thornton. 'Her father's obstinate persistence in digging the
well was a great annoyance to the whole household, and, unimaginative
as Eleanor is, I fancy sometimes, from her avoidance of the spot, that
she has some superstitious idea connected with the well,--that she
fears through it some great misfortune may happen to some of the
"'I hardly see how that can be,' said I, rising and going to the brink
of the well; 'it is very deep, but there was never any water in it.'
"Just then I caught sight of a little flower growing out of the cleft
of one of the stones. I knelt down and bent over to reach it. I
slipped, I know not how, and should have fallen, had not Thornton
sprung to my side and caught me.
"'Ah, my foolish cousin!' said he, 'there needs not to be water in the
well to make it a dangerous place. Promise me that you will not attempt
such a thing again.'
"'Not I,' said I, laughing gayly to conceal my fright,--for I did think
I was about to break my neck on the stones below. 'There is no harm
done, and I have got what I was after,'--and I held up the flower.
"It was an ugly little thing, and looked not half so pretty in my hand
as it did in the shadow of the well. I would not have gathered it, had
I seen it growing by the roadside. 'Is it not pretty?'
"'Humph!' said he, 'very!--worth breaking one's neck for!'
"'I was about to offer it to you, but, since you despise it, I will
keep it myself,'--and I stuck it into my hair.
"Some time after, I missed the flower. I did not see it on the grass,
but a leaf strangely similar peeped out of Thornton's waistcoat-pocket.
When we passed by the well, on leaving the knoll, 'Promise me,' said he
again, 'that you will not reach over the well for flowers any more.'
"I was a little irritated at his pertinacity. 'I shall do no such
thing,' returned I; 'you are growing as superstitious as Eleanor. On
the contrary, I think I shall make a garden there and tend it every
day; and whenever I go away from Ashcroft, I will leave something on
the stone for you, to show how idle your fears are.'
"Thornton did not answer. He was provoked, but showed his anger only by
his silence. We sauntered back to the house in a different mood from
that in which we had left it.
"_August_ 4.--Thornton came into the library to-day with a letter from
Eleanor. She cannot leave her brother, and wrote to Thornton about some
papers that she wished sent to her without delay. They were in the
drawer of the desk at which I was sitting. Thornton said he was in
haste, as he wished to prepare the packet for the next mail. I rose at
once. In his hurry he knocked the little japanned box on to the floor.
Begging pardon for his awkwardness, he picked it up, and looked at it a
moment to assure himself that it had suffered no damage.
"'It is a curious little thing,' said he, 'and looks as if it were a
hundred years old.'
"'It belonged once to my grandmother, and held pearl-powder and rouge,'
"'And is used for the same purpose now?' inquired he.
"'Yes,' returned I, my cheek reddening a little. 'I was just putting
some on as you entered.'
"'It must be very uncommon rouge,' remarked he, quietly fixing his eyes
on me; 'it grows red after it is put on, and must require much care in
the use of it.'
"'I thought you were in a great hurry, Thornton, when you came in.'
"'And so I am';--and he began undoing and separating papers, but every
few moments he would steal a glance--a glance that made me feel
uneasy--towards me, as I sat at the other window busying myself with my
"_August_ 25.--I wish Eleanor would come home. I sometimes think I will
go away; but to leave Ashcroft now would imply a doubt of Thornton's
honor, and impute thoughts to him which perhaps have no existence but
in my vanity.
"October 3.--Ah, why was I so foolish? Why did I not go when I saw the
danger so clearly, instead of cheating myself into the belief that
there was none? Would that I had never come to Ashcroft, or had had the
courage to leave it! These last six weeks, I do not know, I cannot
tell, how they have been spent. Thornton was ever by my side, and
I--did not wish him away. We sat this afternoon on the lawn under the
great ash-tree,--the one under which he sat reading Dante to Eleanor
the last day she was with us. The love which had burned in his eyes all
day found utterance at last, and flamed out in fiery, passionate words.
He drew me towards him. His vehemence frightened me, and I muttered
something about Eleanor. It checked him for a moment, but, quickly
recovering, he spoke freely of himself and of her,--of the love which
had existed between them,--a feeling so feeble and so poor, compared to
that which he felt for me, as to be unworthy of the name. He entreated,
he implored my love. I was silent. He bent over me, gazing into my
face. There was a traitor lurking in my heart, which looked out of my
eyes, and spoke without my consent. He understood that language but too
well. I bent my eyes upon the ground,--his arm was around my waist, his
hand clasped mine, his lips approached my cheek. A shadow seemed
suddenly to come between me and the sun. I looked up and saw Eleanor,
clad in mourning, standing before us. I started at once to my feet,
and, like the coward that I am, fled and left them together. I ran down
to the old hawthorn-tree, against which I leaned, panting and
trembling. Yet, in a few moments, ashamed of my weakness, I stole back
to where I could see them unobserved. Eleanor stood upon the same spot,
calm and motionless. Thornton was speaking, but I was too far off to
hear more than the sound of his voice. When he had ended, he approached
her, as if to bid her adieu; but she passed him with a stately bow, and
entered the hall-door. Thornton took his way to the stables, and I soon
heard the clattering of his horse's hoofs on the hard gravelled road.
When the sound died away in the distance, I stole into the house and
crept up to my chamber. How long I was there I could not tell; but when
I heard the bell ring for tea, I washed my face and smoothed my hair.
I would not be so cowardly as to fear to see Eleanor again, and perhaps
it would be better for us both to meet in the presence of a third
"Mrs. Bickford was alone at the table. 'Miss Purcill would not come
down tonight,--she was fatigued with her journey.'
"The good lady strove to entertain me with her conversation, but,
finding that I neither heard, answered, nor ate, our meal was soon
brought to a close. It is long past midnight. I have thought till I am
sick and giddy with thinking. I cannot sleep, and have been writing
here to control the wildness of my imaginings. I have been twice to
Eleanor's chamber. The door is half ground-glass, and I can see her
black shadow as she walks to and fro across the room. She has been
walking so ever since she entered it.
"_October_ 4.--What shall I do? Where shall I go? All night and all day
Eleanor has walked her chamber-floor. I have been to the door. I have
knocked. I have called her by name. I have turned the handle,--the door
is locked. No answer comes to me,--nothing but the black shadow
flitting across the panes. I sat down by the threshold and burst into
"Mrs. Bickford found me there. 'Do not grieve so, Miss Elizabeth,' said
she, kindly. 'It is dreadful, I know; but Miss Purcill walked the floor
all night after her father died, and would admit no one to her room.
She will be better to-morrow.'
"I shook my head. Could I believe that grief for the dead, and not
sorrow for the conduct of the living, moved her thus, I should be
happy. Then I could offer consolation and sympathy; but now, if I saw
her, what could I say? Pity, sorrow for her grief, would be but idle
words, which she would spurn with contempt,--and she would be right.
There is but one thing left for me,--I must go from Ashcroft; then,
perhaps, she and Thornton--But no, it cannot be; so wide asunder, they
cannot come together again. And do I wish it? Is not his love as much
mine now as it ever was hers? Ah, how some words once spoken cannot be
forgotten! Before me now is the little picture of Hagar, which Eleanor
had framed and hung in the library. Did she place it before my eyes as
a warning to me? In Hagar's fate I see my own; for even now I hear
Eleanor asking if the passion of a few hours is to thrust aside the
love of long years. The bondmaid will go ere she is driven out. But
Thornton--I cannot, will not, see him again. He has written to me
to-day, saying that he cannot come here, and asking me to meet him at
the well to-morrow. By that time I shall be far on my way to Madge. He
will wait for me, and I shall not come. How can I leave him thus? He
will believe me heartless and cruel. I grieve even now for his pain and
grief. He will think that I did not love, but only sported with him.
How dearly I love him words cannot tell; and I go that his way may be
smoother, and that in my absence he may find--peace at last. A little
dried flower lies on the page that I turned. It is one of those that
grew in the well, that I wore on my bosom one day, that he might see
and know it, and chide me for having been there again. His chiding was
sweeter to me than others' praise. I will not be so unjust to myself. I
will not go without one word. I jestingly told him once I would leave a
token for him on the stone in the well when I went away from Ashcroft.
I will put my journal there. He will see the box and remember it. He
will learn that I have gone, and will know that I love, but that I
leave and renounce him."
* * * * *
The remaining pages of the book were blank. Elizabeth Purcill's journal
was ended. Bradford was busy with conjectures. Why had not Thornton
found and kept the journal intended for him? Had it fallen at once to
the bottom of the well, and lain there for years, while he waited in
vain for her coming or her token? Her departure had not brought Eleanor
Purcill and Thornton Lee together; for his aunt still remained
unwedded, and he came every Sunday to the village church, with a sweet
matronly-faced woman on his arm, and two children by his side.
Bradford thrust the journal into his pocket, took up his fishing-rod
and basket, and sauntered towards the village. He thought he remembered
the name of Elizabeth Purcill on a head-stone in the church-yard. He
opened the little wicket and went in. The setting sun threw the long
shadows of the head-stones across the thick, rank grass. The sounds of
the village children at play on the green came to his ear softened and
mellowed by the distance.
He turned towards the spot where, year after year, the Purcills had
been gathered,--those who had died in their beds in their native town,
and those who had perished in far-off climes, and whose bones had been
brought to moulder by the old church-wall. He found the stone, and,
bending down, read, "Elizabeth Purcill, died Oct. 5th, 18--, aged 19."
Bradford opened the journal and looked at the last date. She had died,
then, the day after the journal was ended. But how, and where?
He sat down on the flat stone which covered his grandfather, and turned
over the pages again, as if they could tell him more than he already
knew. So absorbed was he, that he did not see a woman who a few minutes
afterwards knelt down before the same stone, and with a sickle began to
cut away the weeds and grass.
Bradford looked up at last, and, as the woman raised her head for an
instant, saw that it was Mrs. Bickford. He approached her and called
her by name. She gave a little start, as she heard his voice.
"Why, Master Bradford, who would have thought of seeing you here at
Bradford smiled. "Whose grave is this that you are taking such pains to
She pointed to the name with her sickle.
"Yes, I know all that that can tell me. But who was Elizabeth
Purcill?--what relation was she to me?--and how came she to die so
young, and to be buried here?"
"Why do you think I should know?" she replied. "People often die young;
and no matter where the Purcills die, they all wish to come here at
last;--that one died in Cuba,--that in France,--that in Greece,--and
that at sea." And she turned her hand towards them, as she spoke.
"But you do not care for their graves; look, how the grass and weeds
nod over that tombstone; and you would not clear this, unless you knew
something about the girl that lies underneath it."
"It is an old story," said she, with a sigh, "and I can tell you but
little of it." She laid her sickle down on the cut grass and sat down
"Elizabeth Purcill was the daughter of your grandfather's brother, and
therefore your father's cousin. Long as I have lived in the family, I
never saw him; for he went to India, while a young man, to seek a
fortune, which was found too late to benefit either himself or his
children. Elizabeth, his eldest daughter, was sent home for her
education, and lived first with one of her kinsfolk, and then another,
as her father's whims or their convenience dictated. You remember,
though so young, when your Aunt Eleanor came to your father's house on
her way to your Uncle Erasmus in his last illness?"
"A little before that time Elizabeth Purcill came to Ashcroft. She was
a pretty, lively girl, and it was pleasant to see in our sober
household one who had time to be idle and could laugh. Your Aunt
Eleanor was always a busy woman,--busier then than she is now,--and had
no time for mirth. Every servant in the house liked Miss Elizabeth for
her sunny smile and her pleasant ways. Shortly afterwards, Thornton Lee
came home. He had been three years in Africa, and he and your aunt were
to be married in the autumn.
"When Miss Purcill went away, Mr. Lee remained, and came often to see
Miss Elizabeth. She had a winsome face, that few men could look upon
and not love; and I sometimes thought, when I saw them together, how
much better she was suited to Mr. Lee than your Aunt Eleanor, and
wondered if he had not found it out himself. Your aunt was away a long
time, and, by some mistake, the letter, saying that she was coming
home, did not reach us till the day after her arrival.
"It was a beautiful October afternoon. I had been gathering the grapes
that grew on the garden wall, and was carrying a basket of them to Miss
Elizabeth, whom I had seen, half an hour before, with Mr. Lee, on the
lawn. As I was crossing the hall, Miss Purcill, dressed in deep
mourning, looking ghastly pale, entered the front door. I started as if
I had seen a ghost, and dropped my basket. Miss Eleanor passed me
quickly and went up-stairs. I spoke to her. She did not answer, but,
entering her chamber, fastened the door behind her.
"I looked out of the window. No one was on the lawn; but presently I
saw Mr. Lee coming out of the stable, leading his horse. He mounted and
was out of sight in an instant. Miss Elizabeth was nowhere to be seen.
What had happened I could not tell. I could only guess.
"Miss Elizabeth was the only one who came to tea, and her eyes were
heavy and dull, and she seemed like one in a dream. That night was a
wretched one to both. When I went to the library to see if the windows
were fastened for the night, Miss Elizabeth sat by the smouldering fire
with her face buried in her hands. I shut the door softly and left her,
and till I slept I heard Miss Eleanor's steps across her chamber-floor.
"The day was no better than the night. Miss Purcill did not leave her
room, and her cousin wandered about the house, as if her thoughts would
not let her rest. Once I found her in tears at your aunt's door, and
tried to console her; but she shook her head impatiently, as if I could
not understand the cause of her grief.
"The next morning, while I was dressing, my niece Sally came to me in
great haste, saying that Roger, the gardener, wished to see me at once.
I hurried on my clothes and went down. I knew by the man's face that
something dreadful had happened; but when he told me that he had been
to the old well, and had found Miss Elizabeth lying dead at the bottom
of it, I felt as if I was stunned.
"I roused myself at last. I ran to Miss Purcill's door. I shook it
violently and called her by name. She came and opened the door in her
night-dress. Somehow, I know not and cared not how, for it seemed to me
that she had something to do with all this, I told her that her Cousin
Elizabeth was lying dead at the bottom of the old well. She staggered
and leaned against the door like one who had received a heavy blow. For
a moment I repented my roughness. But she was soon herself again. She
thrust her feet into her slippers, and, wrapping her dressing-gown
about her, went down-stairs, and gave directions, as calmly and
collectedly as if she were (Heaven help her!) ordering a dinner for the
men--to bring the body home. Ah, me! I never shall forget how the poor
thing looked when the four men who bore the litter set it down on the
library-floor. A bruise on the temple showed where she had struck on
the cruel stones. The hoarfrost, which had turned into drops of dew,
glittered among her soft brown curls."
The tears which had been gathering in Mrs. Bickford's eyes fell in
large drops into her lap as she went on.
"On the day of the funeral, she lay in the library, still and cold in
her coffin. I had gathered a few flowers, with which I was vainly
trying to cheat death into looking more like life, by placing them on
her bosom and in her stiffened fingers. Miss Eleanor sat at the foot of
the coffin, almost as motionless as the form within it. I had finished
my task and turned away, when the door opened and Mr. Lee came in
silently. A slight shudder went through him, as he came to the coffin
and bent over it. What a change had three days made in the man! Ten
years would not have taken so much youth and life from him and made him
look so old and wan. He looked upon her as a man who looks his last
upon what he loved best in the world;--his whole soul was in his eyes.
"I think he did not see Miss Eleanor till he was about to leave the
room. She had not spoken, and he was unconscious of her presence. He
turned towards her and held out his hand; his lips moved, but no words
escaped them. I heard Miss Purcill's low, unfaltering answer to his
unspoken thoughts. She did not take his proffered hand, but said,
'Nothing can unite us again, Thornton,--not even death.'
"His hand dropped by his side;--he quickly left the room, and never
came to Ashcroft again. When I went to take a last look of Miss
Elizabeth, I saw that the white rose which I had placed in her hand was
gone;--he had taken it."
Mrs. Bickford paused. Her story was ended. In a few minutes she took up
her sickle again, and Bradford stood leaning against the head-stone
till the grass was all cut on the grave. He had no more questions to
ask,--for the journal had told him more of the dead below, than Mrs.
Bickford, with all her love and sympathy, could do. She had fallen into
the well, then, while endeavoring to place the box on the stone. When
Mrs. Bickford's task was done, she walked silently back to Ashcroft
Late in the evening he was alone in the library with his Aunt Eleanor.
The picture of Hagar, now so full of interest to him, still hung on the
wall, and the little desk was at the window which looked out upon the
lawn. Should he show the journal to his aunt, or keep it to himself?
Would Elizabeth Purcill wish her Cousin Eleanor to read her written
words as she once read her untold thoughts?
Wrapped up in his own musings, he started suddenly when Miss Purcill
said to him, "Rosamond tells me that you found a book to-day in the old
well; what was it?"--and answered promptly, "It was Elizabeth Purcill's
It was the first time Eleanor had heard the name for years. She showed
no signs of emotion. "I should like to see it," said she; "give it to
Bradford had been brought up in such habits of obedience, that he never
thought of disputing his aunt's command. He drew the journal from his
pocket and handed it to her without speaking.
"You have read it?" said she, fixing her keen eyes upon him.
She drew the lamp towards her and opened the book. The shade on the
lamp kept the light from her face; but had Bradford seen it, it would
have told him no more of the thoughts beneath it than the stone in the
churchyard had told him of Elizabeth Purcill.
He watched her turning over the leaves slowly, and thought that her
hand trembled a little at the close. Those pages must have stirred many
a memory and many a grief, as the wind shakes the bare boughs of the
trees, though blossom, fruit, and leaves have long since fallen.
She closed the book, and spoke at last:--"I think, Bradford, this book
belongs rightfully but to one person,--Mr. Thornton Lee. Shall I send
it to him?"
Eleanor's question was uttered in a tone that seemed to admit of but
one reply. Bradford assented. If he might not keep the journal himself,
he would rather Thornton Lee should have it than his aunt.
The next day, Thornton Lee received a small packet, accompanied by a
note which ran thus:--
"To do justice to the memory of one who, years ago, came between us, I
send you this little book, found in the old well yesterday. From it you
will learn how she came by her death, and--how much she loved you.
As Thornton Lee read the journal, his children climbed his knee and
twined his gray curls around their fingers, and his wife came and
leaned sportively over his shoulder and looked at the yellow leaves.
In some lives, as in some years, there is an after-summer; but in
others, the hoar-frosts are succeeded by the winter snow.
THE DEAD HOUSE.
Here once my step was quickened,
Here beckoned the opening door,
And welcome thrilled from the threshold
To the foot it had felt before,
A glow came forth to meet me
From the flame that laughed in the grate,
And shadows a-dance on the ceiling
Danced blither with mine for a mate.
"I claim you, old friend," yawned the arm-chair,--
"This corner, you know, is your seat."
"Best your slippers on me," beamed the fender,--
"I brighten at touch of your feet"
"We know the practised finger,"
Said the books, "that seems like brain";
And the shy page rustled the secret
It had kept till I came again.
Sang the pillow, "My down once quivered
On nightingales' throats that flew
Through moonlit gardens of Hafiz
To gather quaint dreams for you."
Ah, me, where the Past sowed heart's-ease,
The Present plucks rue for us men!
I come back: that scar unhealing
Was not in the churchyard then.
But, I think, the house is unaltered;
I will go and beg to look
At the rooms that were once familiar
To my life as its bed to a brook.
Unaltered! Alas for the sameness
That makes the change but more!
'Tis a dead man I see in the mirrors,
'Tis his tread that chills the floor!
To learn such a simple lesson
Need I go to Paris and Rome,--
That the many make a household,
But only one the home?
'Twas just a womanly presence,
An influence unexprest,--
But a rose she had worn on my grave-sod
Were more than long life with the rest!
'Twas a smile, 'twas a garment's rustle,
'Twas nothing that I can phrase,--
But the whole dumb dwelling grew conscious,
And put on her looks and ways.
Were it mine, I would close the shutters,
Like lids when the life is fled,
And the funeral fire should wind it,
This corpse of a home that is dead.
For it died that autumn morning
When she, its soul, was borne
To lie all dark on the hillside
That looks over woodland and corn.
* * * * *
THE AUTOCRAT OF THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
EVERY MAN HIS OWN BOSWELL.
[I did not think it probable that I should have a great many more talks
with our company, and therefore I was anxious to get as much as I could
into every conversation. That is the reason why you will find some odd,
miscellaneous facts here, which I wished to tell at least once, as I
should not have a chance to tell them habitually, at oar
breakfast-table.--We're very free and easy, you know; we don't read
what we don't like. Our parish is so large, one can't pretend to preach
to all the pews at once. Besides, one can't be all the time trying to
do the best of one's best; if a company works a steam fire-engine, the
firemen needn't be straining themselves all day to squirt over the top
of the flagstaff. Let them wash some of those lower-story windows a
little. Besides, there is no use in our quarrelling now, as you will
find out when you get through this paper.]
----Travel, according to my experience, does not exactly correspond to
the idea one gets of it out of most books of travels. I am thinking of
travel as it was when I made the Grand Tour, especially in Italy.
Memory is a net; one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the
brook; but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking.
I can prove some facts about travelling by a story or two. There are
certain principles to be assumed,--such as these:--He who is carried by
horses must deal with rogues.--To-day's dinner subtends a larger visual
angle than yesterday's revolution. A mote in my eye is bigger to me
than the biggest of Dr. Gould's private planets.--Every traveller is a
self-taught entomologist.--Old jokes are dynamometers of mental
tension; an old joke tells better among friends travelling than at
home,--which shows that their minds are in a state of diminished,
rather than increased vitality. There was a story about "strahps to
your pahnts," which was vastly funny to us fellows--on the road from
Milan to Venice.--_Coelum, non animum_,--travellers change their
guineas, but not their characters. The bore is the same, eating dates
under the cedars of Lebanon, as over a plate of baked beans in Beacon
Street.--Parties of travellers have a morbid instinct for "establishing
raws" upon each other.--A man shall sit down with his friend at the
foot of the Great Pyramid and they will take up the question they had
been talking about under "the great elm," and forget all about Egypt.
When I was crossing the Po, we were all fighting about the propriety of
one fellow's telling another that his argument was _absurd_; one
maintaining it to be a perfectly admissible logical term, as proved by
the phrase, "reductio ad absurdum"; the rest badgering him as a
conversational bully. Mighty little we troubled ourselves for _Padus_,
the Po, "a river broader and more rapid than the Rhone," and the times
when Hannibal led his grim Africans to its banks, and his elephants
thrust their trunks into the yellow waters over which that pendulum
ferry-boat was swinging back and forward every ten minutes!
----Here are some of those reminiscences, with morals prefixed, or
annexed, or implied.
Lively emotions very commonly do not strike us full in front, but
obliquely from the side; a scene or incident in _undress_ often affects
more than one in full costume.
"Is this the mighty ocean?--is this all?"
says the Princess in Gebir. The rush that should have flooded my soul
in the Coliseum did not come. But walking one day in the fields about
the city, I stumbled over a fragment of broken masonry, and lo! the
World's Mistress in her stone girdle--_alta maenia Romae_--rose before
me and whitened my cheek with her pale shadow as never before or since.
I used very often, when coming home from my morning's work at one of
the public institutions of Paris, to stop in at the dear old church of
St. Etienne du Mont. The tomb of St. Genevieve, surrounded by burning
candles and votive tablets, was there; the mural tablet of Jacobus
Benignus Winslow was there; there was a noble organ with carved
figures; the pulpit was borne on the oaken shoulders of a stooping
Samson; and there was a marvellous staircase like a coil of lace. These
things I mention from memory, but not all of them together impressed me
so much as an inscription on a small slab of marble fixed in one of the
walls. It told how this church of St. Stephen was repaired and
beautified in the year 16**, and how, during the celebration of its
reopening, two girls of the parish (_filles de la paroisse_) fell from
the gallery, carrying a part of the balustrade with them, to the
pavement, but by a miracle escaped uninjured. Two young girls,
nameless, but real presences to my imagination, as much as when they
came fluttering down on the tiles with a cry that outscreamed the
sharpest treble in the Te Deum! (Look at Carlyle's article on Boswell,
and see how he speaks of the poor young woman Johnson talked with in
the streets one evening.) All the crowd gone but these two "filles de
la paroisse,"--gone as utterly as the dresses they wore, as the shoes
that were on their feet, as the bread and meat that were in the market
on that day.
Not the great historical events, but the personal incidents that call
up single sharp pictures of some human being in its pang or struggle,
reach us most nearly. I remember the platform at Berne, over the
parapet of which Theobald Weinzaepfli's restive horse sprung with him
and landed him more than a hundred feet beneath in the lower town, not
dead, but sorely broken, and no longer a wild youth, but God's servant
from that day forward. I have forgotten the famous bears, and all
else.--I remember the Percy lion on the bridge over the little river at
Alnwick,--the leaden lion with his tail stretched out straight like a
pump-handle,--and why? Because of the story of the village boy who must
fain bestride the leaden tail, standing out over the water,--which
breaking, he dropped into the stream far below, and was taken out an
idiot for the rest of his life.
Arrow-heads must be brought to a sharp point, and the guillotine-axe
must have a slanting edge. Something intensely human, narrow, and
definite pierces to the seat of our sensibilities more readily than
huge occurrences and catastrophes. A nail will pick a lock that defies
hatchet and hammer. "The Royal George" went down with all her crew, and
Cowper wrote an exquisitely simple poem about it; but the leaf that
holds it is smooth, while that which bears the lines on his mother's
portrait is blistered with tears.
My telling these recollections sets me thinking of others of the same
kind that strike the imagination, especially when one is still young.
You remember the monument in Devizes market to the woman struck dead
with a lie in her mouth. I never saw that, but it is in the books. Here
is one I never heard mentioned;--if any of the "Note and Query" tribe
can tell the story, I hope they will. Where is this monument? I was
riding on an English stage-coach when we passed a handsome marble
column (as I remember it) of considerable size and pretensions.--What
is that?--I said.--That,--answered the coachman,--is _the hangman's
pillar_. Then he told me how a man went out one night, many years ago,
to steal sheep. He caught one, tied its legs together, passed the rope
over his head, and started for home. In climbing a fence, the rope
slipped, caught him by the neck, and strangled him. Next morning he was
found hanging dead on one side of the fence and the sheep on the other;
in memory whereof the lord of the manor caused this monument to be
erected as a warning to all who love mutton better than virtue. I will
send a copy of this record to him or her who shall first set me right
about this column and its locality.
And telling over these old stories reminds me that I have something
that may interest architects and perhaps some other persons. I once
ascended the spire of Strasburg Cathedral, which is the highest, I
think, in Europe. It is a shaft of stone filigree-work, frightfully
open, so that the guide puts his arms behind you to keep you from
falling. To climb it is a noon-day nightmare, and to think of having
climbed it crisps all the fifty-six joints of one's twenty digits.
While I was on it, "pinnacled dim in the intense inane," a strong wind
was blowing, and I felt sure that the spire was rocking. It swayed back
and forward like a stalk of rye or a cat-o'nine-tails (bulrush) with a
bobolink on it I mentioned it to the guide, and he said that the spire
did really swing back and forward,--I think he said some feet.
Keep any line of knowledge ten years and some other line will intersect
it. Long afterwards I was hunting out a paper of Dumeril's in an old
journal,--the "Magazin Encyclopedique" for _l'an troisieme_, (1795,)
when I stumbled upon a brief article on the vibrations of the spire of
Strasburg Cathedral. A man can shake it so that the movement shall be
shown in a vessel of water nearly seventy feet below the summit, and
higher up the vibration is like that of an earthquake. I have seen one
of those wretched wooden spires with which we very shabbily finish some
of our stone churches (thinking that the lidless blue eye of heaven
cannot tell the counterfeit we try to pass on it) swinging like a reed,
in a wind, but one would hardly think of such a thing's happening in a
stone spire. Does the Bunker-Hill Monument bend in the blast like a
blade of grass? I suppose.
You see, of course, that I am talking in a cheap way;--perhaps we will
have some philosophy by and by;--let me work out this thin mechanical
vein.--I have something more to say about trees, I have brought down
this slice of hemlock to show you. Tree blew down in my woods (that
were) in 1852. Twelve feet and a half round, fair girth;--nine feet,
where I got my section, higher up. This is a wedge, going to the
centre, of the general shape of a slice of apple-pie in a large and not
opulent family. Length, about eighteen inches. I have studied the
growth of this tree by its rings, and it is curious. Three hundred and
forty-two rings. Started, therefore, about 1510. The thickness of the
rings tells the rate at which it grew. For five or six years the rate
was slow,--then rapid for twenty years. A little before the year 1550
it began to grow very slowly, and so continued for about seventy years.
In 1620 it took a new start and grew fast until 1714; then for the most
part slowly until 1786, when it started again and grew pretty well and
uniformly until within the last dozen years, when it seems to have got
Look here. Here are some human lies laid down against the periods of
its growth, to which they corresponded. This is Shakspeare's. The tree
was seven inches in diameter when he was born; ten inches when he died.
A little less than ten inches when Milton was born; seventeen when he
died. Then comes a long interval, and this thread marks out Johnson's
life, during which the tree increased from twenty-two to twenty-nine
inches in diameter. Here is the span of Napoleon's career;--the tree
doesn't seem to have minded it.
I never saw the man yet who was not startled at looking on this
section. I have seen many wooden preachers,--never one like this. How
much more striking would be the calendar counted on the rings of one of
those awful trees which were standing when Christ was on earth, and
where that brief mortal life is chronicled with the stolid apathy of
vegetable being, which remembers all human history as a thing of
yesterday in its own dateless existence!
I have something more to say about elms. A relative tells me there is
one of great glory in Andover, near Bradford. I have some recollections
of the former place, pleasant and other. [I wonder if the old Seminary
clock strikes as slowly as it used to. My room-mate thought, when he
first came, it was the bell tolling deaths, and people's ages, as they
do in the country. He swore--(ministers' sons get so familiar with good
words that they are apt to handle them carelessly)--that the children
were dying by the dozen, of all ages, from one to twelve, and ran off
next day in recess, when it began to strike eleven, but was caught
before the clock got through striking.] At the foot of "the hill," down
in town, is, or was, a tidy old elm, which was said to have been hooped
with iron to protect it from Indian tomahawks, (_Credat Hahnemannus_,)
and to have grown round its hoops and buried them in its wood. Of
course, this is not the tree my relative means.
Also, I have a very pretty letter from Norwich, in Connecticut, telling
me of two noble elms which are to be seen in that town. One hundred and
twenty-seven feet from bough-end to bough-end! What do you say to that?
And gentle ladies beneath it, that love it and celebrate its praises!
And that in a town of such supreme, audacious, Alpine loveliness as
Norwich!--Only the dear people there must learn to call it Norridge,
and not be misled by the mere accident of spelling.
What a sad picture of our civilization!
I did not speak to you of the great tree on what used to be the Colman
farm, in Deerfield, simply because I had not seen it for many years,
and did not like to trust my recollection. But I had it in memory, and
even noted down, as one of the finest trees in symmetry and beauty I
had ever seen. I have received a document, signed by two citizens of a
neighboring town, certified by the postmaster and a selectman, and
these again corroborated, reinforced, and sworn to by a member of that
extraordinary college-class to which it is the good fortune of my
friend the Professor to belong, who, though he has _formerly_ been a
member of Congress, is, I believe, fully worthy of confidence. The tree
"girts" eighteen and a half feet, and spreads over a hundred, and is a
real beauty. I hope to meet my friend under its branches yet; if we
don't have "youth at the prow," we will have "pleasure at the 'elm."
And just now, again, I have got a letter about some grand willows in
Maine, and another about an elm in Wayland, but too late for anything
[And this leads me to say, that I have received a great many
communications, in prose and verse, since I began printing these notes.
The last came this very morning, in the shape of a neat and brief poem,
from New Orleans. I could not make any of them public, though sometimes
requested to do so. Some of them have given me great pleasure, and
encouraged me to believe I had friends whose faces I had never seen. If
you are pleased with anything a writer says, and doubt whether to tell
him of it, do not hesitate; a pleasant word is a cordial to one, who
perhaps thinks he is tiring you, and so becomes tired himself. I purr
very loud over a good, honest letter that says pretty things to me.]
----Sometimes very young persons send communications, which they want
forwarded to editors; and these young persons do not always seem to
have right conceptions of these same editors, and of the public, and of
themselves. Here is a letter I wrote to one of these young folks, but,
on the whole, thought it best not to send. It is not fair to single out
one for such sharp advice, where there are hundreds that are in need of
Dear Sir,--You seem to be somewhat, but not a great deal, wiser than I
was at your age. I don't wish to be understood as saying too much, for
I think, without committing myself to any opinion on my present state,
that I was not a Solomon at that stage of development.
You long to "leap at a single bound into celebrity." Nothing is so
common-place as to wish to be remarkable. Fame usually comes to those
who are thinking about something else,--very rarely to those who say to
themselves, "Go to, now, let us be a celebrated individual!" The
struggle for fame, as such, commonly ends in notoriety;--that ladder is
easy to climb, but it leads to pillory which is crowded with fools who
could not hold their tongues and rogues who could not hide their
If you have the consciousness of genius, do something to show it. The
world is pretty quick, nowadays, to catch the flavor of true
originality; if you write anything remarkable, the magazines and
newspapers will find you out, as the school-boys find out where the
ripe apples and pears are. Produce anything really good, and an
intelligent editor will jump at it. Don't flatter yourself that any
article of yours is rejected because you are unknown to fame. Nothing
pleases an editor more than to get anything worth having from a new
hand. There is always a dearth of really fine articles for a first-rate
journal; for, of a hundred pieces received, ninety are at or below the
sea-level; some have water enough, but no head; some head enough, but
no water; only two or three are from full reservoirs, high up that hill
which is so hard to climb.
You may have genius. The contrary is of course probable, but it is not
demonstrated. If you have, the world wants you more than you want it.
It not only a desire, but a passion, for every spark of genius that
shows itself among us; there is not a bull-calf in our national pasture
that can bleat a rhyme but it is ten to one, among his friends and no
takers, that he is the real, genuine, no-mistake Osiris.
_Qu'est ce qu'il a fait?_ What has he done? That was Napoleon's test.
What have you done? Turn up the faces of your picture-cards, my boy!
You need not make mouths at the public because it has not accepted you
at your own fancy-valuation. Do the prettiest thing you can and wait
For the verses you send me, I will not say they are hopeless, and I
dare not affirm that they show promise. I am not an editor, but I know
the standard of a some editors. You must not expect to "leap with a
single bound" into the society of those whom it is not flattery to call
your betters. When "The Paetolian" has paid you for a copy of
verses,--(I can furnish you a list of alliterative signatures,
beginning with Annie Aureole and ending with Zoe Zenith,)--when "The
Ragbag" has stolen your piece, after carefully scratching your name
out,--when "The Nut-cracker" has thought you worth shelling, and strung
the kernel of your cleverest poem,--then, and not till then, you may
consider the presumption against you, from the fact of your rhyming
tendency, as called in question, and let our friends hear from you, if
you think it worth while. You may possibly think me too candid, and
even accuse me of incivility; but let me assure you that I am not half
so plain-spoken as Nature, nor half so rude as Time. If you prefer the
long jolting of public opinion to the gentle touch of friendship, try
it like a man. Only remember this,--that, if a bushel of potatoes is
shaken in a market-cart without springs to it, the small potatoes
always get to the bottom.
Believe me, etc., etc.
* * * * *
I always think of verse-writers, when I am in this vein; for these are
by far the most exacting, eager, self-weighing, restless, querulous,
unreasonable literary persons one is like to meet with. Is a young man
in the habit of writing verses? Then the presumption is that he is an
inferior person. For, look you, there are at least nine chances in ten
that he writes _poor_ verses. Now the habit of chewing on rhymes
without sense and soul to match them is, like that of using any other
narcotic, at once a proof of feebleness and a debilitating agent. A
young man can get rid of the presumption against him afforded by his
writing verses only by convincing us that they are verses worth
All this sounds hard and rough, but, observe, it is not addressed to
any individual, and of course does not refer to any reader of these
pages. I would always treat any given young person passing through the
meteoric showers which rain down on the brief period of adolescence
with great tenderness. God forgive us, if we ever speak harshly to
young creatures on the strength of these ugly truths, and so, sooner or
later, smite sonic tender-souled poet or poetess on the lips who might
have sung the world into sweet trances, had we not silenced the
matin-song in its first low breathings! Just as my heart yearns over
the unloved, just so it sorrows for the ungifted who are doomed to the
pangs of an undeceived self-estimate. I have always tried to be gentle
with the most hopeless cases. My experience, however, has not been
----X. Y., aet. 18, a cheaply-got-up youth, with narrow jaws, and
broad, bony, cold, red hands, having been laughed at by the girls in
his village, and "got the mitten" (pronounced mittin) two or three
times, falls to souling and controlling, and youthing and training, in
the newspapers. Sends me some strings of verses, candidates for the
Orthopedic Infirmary, all of them, in which I learn for the millionth
time one of the following facts: either that something about a chime is
sublime, or that something about time is sublime, or that something
about a chime is concerned with time, or that something about a rhyme
is sublime or concerned with time or with a chime. Wishes my opinion of
the same, with advice as to his future course.
What shall I do about it? Tell him the whole truth, and send him a
ticket of admission to the Institution for Idiots and Feeble-minded
Youth? One doesn't like to be cruel,--and yet one hates to lie.
Therefore one softens down the ugly central fact of donkeyism,
--recommends study of good models,--that writing verse should
be an incidental occupation only, not interfering with the hoe, the
needle, the lapstone, or the ledger,--and, above all, that there should
be no hurry in printing what is written. Not the least use in all this.
The poetaster who has tasted type is done for. He is like the man who
has once been a candidate for the Presidency. He feeds on the madder of
his delusion all his days, and his very bones grow red with the glow of
his foolish fancy. One of these young brains is like a bunch of India
crackers; once touch fire to it and it is best to keep hands off until
it has done popping,--if it ever stops. I have two letters on file; one
is a pattern of adulation, the other of impertinence. My reply to the
first, containing the best advice I could give, conveyed in courteous
language, had brought out the second. There was some sport in this, but
Dulness is not commonly a game fish, and only sulks after he is struck.
You may set it down as a truth which admits of few exceptions, that
those who ask your _opinion_ really want your _praise_, and will be
contented with nothing less.
There is another kind of application to which editors, or those
supposed to have access to them, are liable, and which often proves
trying and painful. One is appealed to in behalf of some person in
needy circumstances who wishes to make a living by the pen. A
manuscript accompanying the letter is offered for publication. It is
not commonly brilliant, too often lamentably deficient. If Rachel's
saying is true, that "fortune is the measure of intelligence," then
poverty is evidence of limited capacity, which it too frequently proves
to be, notwithstanding a noble exception here and there. Now an editor
is a person under a contract with the public to furnish them with the
best things he can afford for his money. Charity shown by the
publication of an inferior article would be like the generosity of
Claude Duval and the other gentlemen highwaymen, who pitied the poor so
much they robbed the rich to have the means of relieving them.
Though I am not and never was an editor, I know something of the trials
to which they are submitted. They have nothing to do but to develope
enormous calluses at every point of contact with authorship. Their
business is not a matter of sympathy, but of intellect. They must
reject the unfit productions of those whom they long to befriend,
because it would be a profligate charity to accept them. One cannot
burn his house down to warm the hands even of the fatherless and the
THE PROFESSOR UNDER CHLOROFORM.
--You haven't heard about my friend the Professor's first experiment in
the use of anaesthetics, have you?
He was mightily pleased with the reception of that poem of his about
the chaise. He spoke to me once or twice about another poem of similar
character he wanted to read me, which I told him I would listen to and
One day, after dinner, he came in with his face tied up, looking very
red in the cheeks and heavy about the eyes.--Hy'r'ye?--he said, and
made for an arm-chair, in which he placed first his hat and then his
person, going smack through the crown of the former as neatly as they
do the trick at the circus. The Professor jumped at the explosion as if
he had sat down on one of those small _calthrops_ our grandfathers used
to sow round in the grass when there were Indians about,--iron stars,
each ray a rusty thorn an inch and a half long,--stick through
moccasins into feet,--cripple 'em on the spot, and give 'em lockjaw in
a day or two.
The Professor let off one of those big words which lie at the bottom of
the best man's vocabulary, but perhaps never turn up in his life,--just
as every man's hair _may_ stand on end, but in most men it never does.
After he had got calm, he pulled out a sheet or two of manuscript,
together with a smaller scrap, on which, as he said, he had just been
writing an introduction or prelude to the main performance. A certain
suspicion had come into my mind that the Professor was not quite right,
which was confirmed by the way he talked; but I let him begin. This is
the way he read it:--
I'm the fellah that tole one day
The tale of the won'erful one-hoss-shay.
Wan' to hear another? Say.
--Funny, wasn'it? Made _me_ laugh,--
I'm too modest, I am, by half,--
Made me laugh 's _though I sh'd split_,--
Cahn' a fellah like fellah's own wit?
--Fellahs keep sayin',--"Well, now that's nice;
Did it once, but cahn' do it twice."--
Don' you b'lieve the'z no more fat;
Lots in the kitch'n 'z good 'z that.
Fus'-rate throw, 'n' no mistake,--
Han' us the props for another shake;--
Know I'll try, 'n' guess I'll win;
Here sh' goes for hit 'm ag'in!
Here I thought it necessary to interpose.--Professor,--I said,--you are
inebriated. The style of what you call your "Prelude" shows that it was
written under cerebral excitement. Your articulation is confused. You
have told me three times in succession, in exactly the same words, that
I was the only true friend you had in the world that you would unbutton
your heart to. You smell distinctly and decidedly of spirits.--I spoke,
and paused; tender, but firm.
Two large tears orbed themselves beneath the Professor's lids,--in
obedience to the principle of gravitation celebrated in that delicious
bit of bladdery bathos, "The very law that moulds a tear," with which
the "Edinburgh Review" attempted to put down Master George Gordon when
that young man was foolishly trying to make himself conspicuous. One of
these tears peeped over the edge of the lid until it lost its
balance,--slid an inch and waited for reinforcements,--swelled
again,--rolled down a little further,--stopped,--moved on,--and at last
fell on the back of the Professor's hand. He held it up for me to look
at, and lifted his eyes, brimful, till they met mine.
I couldn't stand it,--I always break down when folks cry in my
face,--so I hugged him, and said he was a dear old boy, and asked him
kindly what was the matter with him, and what made him smell so
dreadfully strong of spirits.
Upset his alcohol lamp,--he said,--and spilt the alcohol on his legs.
That was it.--But what had he been doing to get his head into such a
state?--had he really committed an excess? What was the matter?--Then
it came out that he had been taking chloroform to have a tooth out,
which had left him in a very queer state, in which he had written the
"Prelude" given above, and under the influence of which he evidently
I took the manuscript from his hands and read the following
continuation of the lines he had begun to read me, while he made up for
two or three nights' lost sleep as he best might.
PARSON TURELL'S LEGACY:
OR, THE PRESIDENT'S OLD ARM-CHAIR.
Facts respecting an old arm-chair.
At Cambridge. Is kept in the College there.
Seems but little the worse for wear.
That's remarkable when I say
It was old in President Holyoke's day.
(One of his boys, perhaps you know,
Died, _at one hundred_, years ago.)
_He_ took lodging for rain or shine
Under green bed-clothes in '69.
Know old Cambridge? Hope you do.--
Born there? Don't say so! I was, too.
(Born in a house with a gambrel-roof,--
Standing still, if you must have proof.--
"Gambrel?--Gambrel?"--Let me beg
You'll look at a horse's hinder leg,--
First great angle above the hoof,--
That's the gambrel; hence gambrel-roof.)
--Nicest place that ever was seen,--
Colleges red and Common green,
Sidewalks brownish with trees between.
Sweetest spot beneath the skies
When the canker-worms don't rise,--
When the dust, that sometimes flies
Into your mouth and ears and eyes,
In a quiet slumber lies,
_Not_ in the shape of unbaked pies
Such as barefoot children prize.
A kind of harbor it seems to be,
Facing the flow of a boundless sea.
Bows of gray old Tutors stand
Ranged like rocks above the sand;
Rolling beneath them, soft and green,
Breaks the tide of bright sixteen,--
One wave, two waves, three waves, four,
Sliding up the sparkling floor;
Then it ebbs to flow no more,
Wandering off from shore to shore
With its freight of golden ore!
--Pleasant place for boys to play;--
Better keep your girls away;
Hearts get rolled as pebbles do
Which countless fingering waves pursue,
And every classic beach is strown
With heart-shaped pebbles of blood-red stone.
But this is neither here nor there;--
I'm talking about an old arm-chair.
You've heard, no doubt, of PARSON TURELL?
Over at Medford he used to dwell;
Married one of the Mather's folk;
Got with his wife a chair of oak,--
Funny old chair, with seat like wedge,
Sharp behind and broad front edge,--
One of the oddest of human things,
Turned all over with knobs and rings,--
But heavy, and wide, and deep, and grand,--
Fit for the worthies of the land,--
Chief-Justice Sewall a cause to try in,
Or Cotton Mather to sit--and lie--in,
--Parson Turell bequeathed the same
To a certain student,--SMITH by name;
These were the terms, as we are told:
"Saide Smith saide Chaire to have and holde;
When he doth graduate, then to passe
To ye oldest Youth in ye Senior Classe,
On payment of"--(naming a certain sum)--
"By him to whom ye Chaire shall come;
He to ye oldest Senior next,
And soe forever,"--(thus runs the text,)--
"But one Crown lesse then he gave to claime,
That being his Debte for use of same."
_Smith_ transferred it to one of the BROWNS,
And took his money,--five silver crowns.
_Brown_ delivered it up to MOORE,
Who paid, it is plain, not five, but four.
_Moore_ made over the chair to LEE,
Who gave him crowns of silver three.
_Lee_ conveyed it unto DREW,
And now the payment, of course, was two.
_Drew_ gave up the chair to DUNN,--
All he got, as you see, was one.
_Dunn_ released the chair to HALL,
And got by the bargain no crown at all.
--And now it passed to a second BROWN,
Who took it, and likewise _claimed a crown_.
When _Brown_ conveyed it unto WARE,
Having had one crown, to make it fair.
He paid him two crowns to take the chair;
And _Ware_, being honest, (as all Wares be,)
He paid one POTTER, who took it, three.
Four got ROBINSON; five got DIX;
JOHNSON _primus_ demanded six;
And so the sum kept gathering still
Till after the battle of Bunker's Hill.
--When paper money became so cheap,
Folks wouldn't count it, but said "a heap,"
A certain RICHARDS, the books declare,
(A.M. in '90? I've looked with care
Through the Triennial,--_name not there_,)
This person, Richards, was offered then
Eight score pounds, but would have ten;
Nine, I think, was the sum he took,--
Not quite certain,--but see the book.
--By and by the wars were still,
But nothing had altered the Parson's will.
The old arm-chair was solid yet,
But saddled with such a monstrous debt!
Things grew quite too bad to bear,
Paying such sums to get rid of the chair!
But dead men's fingers hold awful tight,
And there was the will in black and white,
Plain enough for a child to spell.
What should be done no man could tell,
For the chair was a kind of nightmare curse,
And every season but made it worse.
As a last resort, to clear the doubt,
They got old GOVERNOR HANCOCK out.
The Governor came with his Light-horse Troop
And his mounted trackmen, all cock-a-hoop;
Halberds glittered and colors flew,
French horns whinnied and trumpets blew,
The yellow fifes whistled between their teeth
And the bumble-bee bass-drums boomed beneath;
So he rode with all his band,
Till the President met him, cap in hand.
--The Governor "hefted" the crowns, and said,--
"A will is a will, and the Parson's dead."
The Governor hefted the crowns. Said he,--
"There is your p'int. And here's my fee.
These are the terms you must fulfil,--
On such conditions I BREAK THE WILL!"
The Governor mentioned what these should be.
(Just wait a minute and then you'll see.)
The President prayed. Then all was still,
And the Governor rose and BROKE THE WILL!
--"About those conditions?" Well, now you go
And do as I tell you, and then you'll know.
Once a year, on Commencement-day,
If you'll only take the pains to stay,
You'll see the President in the CHAIR,
Likewise the Governor sitting there.
The President rises; both old and young
May hear his speech in a foreign tongue,
The meaning whereof, as lawyers swear,
Is this: Can I keep this old arm-chair?
And then his Excellency bows,
As much as to say that he allows.
The Vice-Gub. next is called by name;
He bows like t'other, which means the same.
And all the officers round 'em bow,
As much as to say that _they_ allow.
And a lot of parchments about the chair
Are handed to witnesses then and there,
And then the lawyers hold it clear
That the chair is safe for another year.
God bless you, Gentlemen! Learn to give
Money to colleges while you live.
Don't be silly and think you'll try
To bother the colleges, when you die,
With codicil this, and codicil that,
That Knowledge may starve while Law grows fat;
For there never was pitcher that wouldn't spill,
And there's always a flaw in a donkey's will!
* * * * *
----Hospitality is a good deal a matter of latitude, I suspect. The
shade of a palm-tree serves an African for a hut; his dwelling is all
door and no walls; everybody can come in. To make a morning call on an
Esquimaux acquaintance, one must creep through a long tunnel; his house
is all walls and no door, except such a one as an apple with a
worm-hole has. One might, very probably, trace a regular gradation
between these two extremes. In cities where the evenings are generally
hot, the people have porches at their doors, where they sit, and this
is, of course, a provocative to the interchange of civilities. A good
deal, which in colder regions is ascribed to mean dispositions, belongs
really to mean temperature.
Once in a while, even in our Northern cities, at noon, in a very hot
summer's day, one may realize, by a sudden extension in his sphere of
consciousness, how closely he is shut up for the most part.--Do you not
remember something like this? July, between 1 and 2, P.M. Fahrenheit
96 deg., or thereabout. Windows all gaping, like the mouths of panting
dogs. Long, stinging cry of a locust comes in from a tree, half a mile
off; had forgotten there was such a tree. Baby's screams from a house
several blocks distant;--never knew of any babies in the neighborhood
before. Tinman pounding something that clatters dreadfully,--very
distinct, but don't know of any tinman's shop near by. Horses stamping
on pavement to get off flies. When you hear these four sounds, you may
set it down as a warm day. Then it is that one would like to imitate
the mode of life of the native at Sierra Leone, as somebody has
described it: stroll into the market in natural costume,--buy a
watermelon for a halfpenny,--split it, and scoop out the middle,--sit
down in one half of the empty rind, clap the other on one's head, and
feast upon the pulp.
----I see some of the London journals have been attacking some of
their literary people for lecturing, on the ground of its being a
public exhibition of themselves for money. A popular author can print
his lecture; if he deliver it, it is a case of _quaestum corpore_, or
making profit of his person. None but "snobs" do that. _Ergo_, etc. To
this I reply,--_Negatur minor_. Her Most Gracious Majesty, the Queen,
exhibits herself to the public as a part of the service for which she
is paid. We do not consider it low-bred in her to pronounce her own
speech, and should prefer it so to hearing it from any other person or
reading it. His Grace and his Lordship exhibit themselves very often
for popularity, and their houses every day for money.--No, if a man
shows himself other than he is, if he belittles himself before an
audience for hire, then he acts unworthily. But a true word, fresh from
the lips of a true man, is worth paying for, at the rate of eight
dollars a day, or even of fifty dollars a lecture. The taunt must be an
outbreak of jealousy against the renowned authors who have the audacity
to be also orators. The sub-lieutenants of the press stick a too
popular writer and speaker with an epithet in England, instead of with
a rapier, as in France.--Poh! All England is one great menagerie, and,
all at once, the jackal, who admires the gilded cage of the royal
beast, must protest against the vulgarity of the talking-bird's and the
nightingale's being willing to become a part of the exhibition!
THE LONG PATH.
(_Last of the Parentheses_.)
Yes, that was my last walk with the _schoolmistress_. It happened to be
the end of a term; and before the next began, a very nice young woman,
who had been her assistant, was announced as her successor, and she was
provided for elsewhere. So it was no longer the school-mistress that I
walked with, but--Let us not be in unseemly haste. I shall call her the
schoolmistress still; some of you love her under that name.
----When it became known among the boarders that two of their number
had joined hands to walk down the long path of life side by side, there
was, as you may suppose, no small sensation. I confess I pitied our
landlady. It took her all of a suddin,--she said. Had not known that we
was keepin' company, and never mistrusted anything partic'lar. Ma'am
was right to better herself. Didn't look very rugged to take care of a
family, but could get hired haaelp, she calc'lated.--The great maternal
instinct came crowding up in her soul just then, and her eyes wandered
until they settled on her daughter.
----No, poor, dear woman,--that could not have been. But I am dropping
one of my internal tears for you, with this pleasant smile on my face
all the time.
The great mystery of God's providence is the permitted crushing out of
flowering instincts. Life is maintained by the respiration of oxygen
and of sentiments. In the long catalogue of scientific cruelties there
is hardly anything quite so painful to think of as that experiment of
putting an animal under the bell of an air-pump and exhausting the air
from it. [I never saw the accursed trick performed. _Laus Deo_] There
comes a time when the souls of human beings, women, perhaps, more even
than men, begin to faint for the atmosphere of the affections they were
made to breathe. Then it is that Society places its transparent
bell-glass over the young woman who is to be the subject of one of its
fatal experiments. The element by which only the heart lives is sucked
out of her crystalline prison. Watch her through its transparent
walls;--her bosom is heaving; but it is in a vacuum. Death is no
riddle, compared to this. I remember a poor girl's story in the "Book
of Martyrs." The "dry-pan and the gradual fire" were the images that
frightened her most. How many have withered and wasted under as slow a
torment in the walls of that larger Inquisition which we call
Yes, my surface-thought laughs at you, you foolish, plain, overdressed,
mincing, cheaply-organized, self-saturated young person, whoever you
may be, now reading this,--little thinking you are what I describe, and
in blissful unconsciousness that you are destined to the lingering
asphyxia of soul which is the lot of such multitudes worthier than
yourself. But it is only my surface-thought which laughs. For that
great procession of the UNLOVED, who not only wear the crown of thorns,
but must hide it under the locks of brown or gray,--under the snowy
cap, under the chilling turban,--hide it even from themselves,--perhaps
never know they wear it, though it kills them,--there is no depth of
tenderness in my nature that Pity has not sounded.
Somewhere,--somewhere,--love is in store for them,--the universe must
not be allowed to fool them so cruelly. What infinite pathos in the
small, half-unconscious artifices by which unattractive young persons
seek to recommend themselves to the favor of those towards whom our
dear sisters, the unloved, like the rest, are impelled by their
Read what the singing-women--one to ten thousand of the suffering
women--tell us, and think of the griefs that die unspoken! Nature is in
earnest when she makes a woman; and there are women enough lying in the
next churchyard with very commonplace blue slate stones at their head
and feet, for whom it was just as true that "all sounds of life assumed
one tone of love," as for Letitia Landon, of whom Elizabeth Browning
said it; but she could give words to her grief, and they could
not.--Will you hear a few stanzas of mine?
We count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,--
But o'er their silent sister's breast
The wild flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them;--
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!
Nay, grieve not for the dead alone
Whose song has told their hearts' sad story,--
Weep for the voiceless, who have known
The cross without the crown of glory!
Not where Leucadian breezes sweep
O'er Sappho's memory-haunted billow,
But where the glistening night-dews weep
On nameless sorrow's churchyard pillow.
O hearts that break and give no sign
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till Death pours out his cordial wine
Slow-dropped from Misery's crushing presses,--
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pang were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!
I hope that our landlady's daughter is not so badly off, after all.
That young man from another city, who made the remark which you
remember about Boston State-house and Boston folks, has appeared at our
table repeatedly of late, and has seemed to me rather attentive to this
young lady. Only last evening I saw him leaning over her while she was
playing the accordion,--indeed, I undertook to join them in a song, and
got as far as "Come rest in this boo-oo," when, my voice getting
tremulous, I turned off, as one steps out of a procession, and left the
basso and soprano to finish it. I see no reason why this young woman
should not be a very proper match for a man that laughs about Boston
State-house. He can't be very particular.
The young fellow whom I have so often mentioned was a little free in
his remarks, but very good-natured.--Sorry to have you go,--he
said.--Schoolma'am made a mistake not to wait for me. Haven't taken
anything but mournin' fruit at breakfast since I heard of
it.--_Mourning fruit,_--said I,--what's that?--Huckleberries and
blackberries,--said he;--couldn't eat in colors, raspberries, currants,
and such, after a solemn thing like this happening.--The conceit seemed
to please the young fellow. If you will believe it, when we came down
to breakfast the next morning, he had carried it out as follows. You
know those odious little "saaes-plates" that figure so largely at
boarding-houses, and especially at taverns, into which a strenuous
attendant female trowels little dabs, sombre of tint and heterogeneous
of composition, which it makes you feel homesick to look at, and into
which you poke the elastic coppery teaspoon with the air of a cat
dipping her foot into a wash-tub,--(not that I mean to say anything
against them, for, when they are of tinted porcelain or starry
many-faceted crystal, and hold clean bright berries, or pale virgin
honey, or "lucent syrups tinct with cinnamon," and the teaspoon is of
white silver, with the Tower-stamp, solid, but not brutally heavy,--as
people in the green stage of millionism will have them,--I can dally
with their amber semi-fluids or glossy spherules without a
shiver,)--you know these small, deep dishes, I say. When we came down
the next morning, each of these (two only excepted) was covered with a
broad leaf. On lifting this, each boarder found a small heap of solemn
black huckleberries. But one of those plates held red currants, and was
covered with a red rose; the other held white currants, and was covered
with a white rose. There was a laugh at this at first, and then a short
silence, and I noticed that her lip trembled, and the old gentleman
opposite was in trouble to get at his bandanna handkerchief.
--"What was the use in waiting? We should be too late for Switzerland,
that season, if we waited much longer."--The hand I held trembled in
mine, and the eyes fell meekly, as Esther bowed herself before the feet
of Ahasuerus.--She had been reading that chapter, for she looked
up,--if there was a film of moisture over her eyes, there was also the
faintest shadow of a distant smile skirting her lips, but not enough to
accent the dimples,--and said, in her pretty, still way,--"If it please
the king, and if I have found favor in his sight, and the thing seem
right before the king, and I be pleasing in his eyes"--
I don't remember what King Ahasuerus did or said when Esther got just
to that point of her soft, humble words,--but I know what I did. That
quotation from Scripture was cut short, anyhow. We came to a
compromise on the great question, and the time was settled for the last
day of summer.
In the mean time, I talked on with our boarders, much as usual, as you
may see by what I have reported. I must say, I was pleased with a
certain tenderness they all showed toward us, after the first
excitement of the news was over. It came out in trivial matters,--but
each one, in his or her way, manifested kindness. Our landlady, for
instance, when we had chickens, sent the _liver_ instead of the
_gizzard_, with the wing, for the schoolmistress. This was not an
accident: the two are _never_ mistaken, though some land-ladies
_appear_ as if they did not know the difference. The whole of the
company were even more respectfully attentive to my remarks than usual.
There was no idle punning, and very little winking on the part of that
lively young gentleman who, as the reader may remember, occasionally
interposed some playful question or remark, which could hardly be
considered relevant,--except when the least allusion was made to
matrimony, when he would look at the landlady's daughter, and wink with
both sides of his face, until she would ask what he was pokin' his fun
at her for, and if he wasn't ashamed of himself. In fact, they all
behaved very handsomely, so that I really felt sorry at the thought of
leaving my boarding-house.
I suppose you think, that, because I lived at a plain widow-woman's
plain table, I was of course more or less infirm in point of worldly
fortune. You may not be sorry to learn, that, though not what _great
merchants_ call very rich, I was comfortable,--comfortable,--so that
most of those moderate luxuries I described in my verses on
_Contentment_--_most_ of them, I say--were within our reach, if we
chose to have them. But I found out that the schoolmistress had a vein
of charity about her, which had hitherto been worked on a small silver
and copper basis, which made her think less, perhaps, of luxuries than
even I did,--modestly as I have expressed my wishes.
It is rather a pleasant thing to tell a poor young woman, whom one has
contrived to win without showing his rent-roll, that she has found what
the world values so highly, in following the lead of her affections.
That was a luxury I was now ready for.
I began abruptly:--Do you know that you are a rich young person?
I know that I am very rich,--she said,--Heaven has given me more than I
ever asked; for I had not thought love was ever meant for me.
It was a woman's confession, and her voice fell to a whisper as it
threaded the last words.
I don't mean that,--I said,--you blessed little saint and seraph!--if
there's an angel missing in the New Jerusalem, inquire for her at this
boarding-house!--I don't mean that; I mean that I--that is,
you--am--are--confound it!--I mean that you'll be what most people call
a lady of fortune.--And I looked full in her eyes for the effect of the
There wasn't any. She said she was thankful that I had what would save
me from drudgery, and that some other time I should tell her about
it.--I never made a greater failure in an attempt to produce a
So the last day of summer came. It was our choice to go to the church,
but we had a kind of reception at the boarding-house. The presents were
all arranged, and among them none gave more pleasure than the modest
tributes of our fellow-boarders,--for there was not one, I believe, who
did not send something. The landlady would insist on making an elegant
bride-cake, with her own hands; to which Master Benjamin Franklin
wished to add certain embellishments out of his private funds,--namely,
a Cupid in a mouse-trap, done in white sugar, and two miniature flags
with the stars and stripes, which had a very pleasing effect, I assure
you. The landlady's daughter sent a richly bound copy of Tupper's
Poems. On a blank leaf was the following, written in a very delicate
and careful hand:--
Presented to... by...
On the eve ere her union in holy matrimony.
May sunshine ever beam o'er her!
Even the poor relative thought she must do something, and sent a copy
of "The Whole Duty of Man," bound in very attractive variegated
sheepskin, the edges nicely marbled. From the divinity-student came the
loveliest English edition of "Keble's Christian Tear." I opened it,
when it came, to the _Fourth Sunday in Lent_, and read that angelic
poem, sweeter than anything I can remember since Xavier's "My God, I
love thee."----I am not a Churchman,--I don't believe in planting oaks
in flower-pots,--but such a poem as "The Rose-bud" makes one's heart a
proselyte to the culture it grows from. Talk about it as much as you
like,--one's breeding shows itself nowhere more than in his religion. A
man should be a gentleman in his hymns and prayers; the fondness for
"scenes," among vulgar saints, contrasts so meanly with that--
"God only and good angels look
Behind the blissful scene,"--
and that other,--
"He could not trust his melting soul
But in his Maker's sight,"--
that I hope some of them will see this, and read the poem, and profit
My laughing and winking young friend undertook to procure and arrange
the flowers for the table, and did it with immense zeal. I never saw
him look happier than when he came in, his hat saucily on one side, and
a cheroot in his mouth, with a huge bunch of tea-roses, which he said
were for "Madam."
One of the last things that came was an old square box, smelling of
camphor, tied and sealed. It bore, in faded ink, the marks, "Calcutta,
1805." On opening it, we found a white Cashmere shawl, with a very
brief note from the dear old gentleman opposite, saying that he had
kept this some years, thinking he might want it, and many more, not
knowing what to do with it,--that he had never seen it unfolded since
he was a young super-cargo,--and now, if she would spread it on her
shoulders, it would make him feel young to look at it.
Poor Bridget, or Biddy, our red-armed maid of all work! What must she
do but buy a small copper breast-pin and put it under "Schoolma'am's"
plate that morning, at breakfast? And Schoolma'am would wear
it,--though I made her cover it, as well as I could, with a tea-rose.
It was my last breakfast as a boarder, and I could not leave them in