The Project Gutenberg eBook of Mosses from an Old Manse and Other Stories, byNathaniel Hawthorne
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Title: Mosses from an Old Manse and Other Stories
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Release Date: September 13, 2008 [EBook #512]
Release Date: April, 1996
[Most recently updated: March 9, 2022]
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Produced by: Charles Keller. HTML version by Al Haines.
*** START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE ***
Young Goodman Brown
The Celestial Railroad
The Procession of Life
Feathertop: A Moralized Legend
Egotism; or, The Bosom Serpent
Drowne's Wooden Image
Roger Malvin's Burial
The Artist of the Beautiful
FROM MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE
In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of science, aneminent proficient in every branch of natural philosophy, who not longbefore our story opens had made experience of a spiritual affinity moreattractive than any chemical one. He had left his laboratory to thecare of an assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnacesmoke, washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded abeautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when thecomparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindredmysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of miracle, itwas not unusual for the love of science to rival the love of woman inits depth and absorbing energy. The higher intellect, the imagination,the spirit, and even the heart might all find their congenial alimentin pursuits which, as some of their ardent votaries believed, wouldascend from one step of powerful intelligence to another, until thephilosopher should lay his hand on the secret of creative force andperhaps make new worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmerpossessed this degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature.He had devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studiesever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for hisyoung wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could only be byintertwining itself with his love of science, and uniting the strengthof the latter to his own.
Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with trulyremarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day, verysoon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife with a troublein his countenance that grew stronger until he spoke.
"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the mark uponyour cheek might be removed?"
"No, indeed," said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness of hismanner, she blushed deeply. "To tell you the truth it has been so oftencalled a charm that I was simple enough to imagine it might be so."
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband; "butnever on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly perfect fromthe hand of Nature that this slightest possible defect, which wehesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty, shocks me, as being thevisible mark of earthly imperfection."
"Shocks you, my husband!" cried Georgiana, deeply hurt; at firstreddening with momentary anger, but then bursting into tears. "Then whydid you take me from my mother's side? You cannot love what shocks you!"
To explain this conversation it must be mentioned that in the centre ofGeorgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark, deeply interwoven, asit were, with the texture and substance of her face. In the usual stateof her complexion—a healthy though delicate bloom—the mark wore atint of deeper crimson, which imperfectly defined its shape amid thesurrounding rosiness. When she blushed it gradually became moreindistinct, and finally vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood thatbathed the whole cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shiftingmotion caused her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimsonstain upon the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearfuldistinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human hand,though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana's lovers were wont to saythat some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon theinfant's cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magicendowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts. Many adesperate swain would have risked life for the privilege of pressinghis lips to the mysterious hand. It must not be concealed, however,that the impression wrought by this fairy sign manual variedexceedingly, according to the difference of temperament in thebeholders. Some fastidious persons—but they were exclusively of herown sex—affirmed that the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quitedestroyed the effect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered hercountenance even hideous. But it would be as reasonable to say that oneof those small blue stains which sometimes occur in the purest statuarymarble would convert the Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculineobservers, if the birthmark did not heighten their admiration,contented themselves with wishing it away, that the world might possessone living specimen of ideal loveliness without the semblance of aflaw. After his marriage,—for he thought little or nothing of thematter before,—Aylmer discovered that this was the case with himself.
Had she been less beautiful,—if Envy's self could have found aughtelse to sneer at,—he might have felt his affection heightened by theprettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely portrayed, now lost, nowstealing forth again and glimmering to and fro with every pulse ofemotion that throbbed within her heart; but seeing her otherwise soperfect, he found this one defect grow more and more intolerable withevery moment of their united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanitywhich Nature, in one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all herproductions, either to imply that they are temporary and finite, orthat their perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimsonhand expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches thehighest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred withthe lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their visibleframes return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as the symbol ofhis wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and death, Aylmer's sombreimagination was not long in rendering the birthmark a frightful object,causing him more trouble and horror than ever Georgiana's beauty,whether of soul or sense, had given him delight.
At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he invariablyand without intending it, nay, in spite of a purpose to the contrary,reverted to this one disastrous topic. Trifling as it at firstappeared, it so connected itself with innumerable trains of thought andmodes of feeling that it became the central point of all. With themorning twilight Aylmer opened his eyes upon his wife's face andrecognized the symbol of imperfection; and when they sat together atthe evening hearth his eyes wandered stealthily to her cheek, andbeheld, flickering with the blaze of the wood fire, the spectral handthat wrote mortality where he would fain have worshipped. Georgianasoon learned to shudder at his gaze. It needed but a glance with thepeculiar expression that his face often wore to change the roses of hercheek into a deathlike paleness, amid which the crimson hand wasbrought strongly out, like a bass-relief of ruby on the whitest marble.
Late one night when the lights were growing dim, so as hardly to betraythe stain on the poor wife's cheek, she herself, for the first time,voluntarily took up the subject.
"Do you remember, my dear Aylmer," said she, with a feeble attempt at asmile, "have you any recollection of a dream last night about thisodious hand?"
"None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then he added, ina dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealing the real depth ofhis emotion, "I might well dream of it; for before I fell asleep it hadtaken a pretty firm hold of my fancy."
"And you did dream of it?" continued Georgiana, hastily; for shedreaded lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had to say. "Aterrible dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is it possible toforget this one expression?—'It is in her heart now; we must have itout!' Reflect, my husband; for by all means I would have you recallthat dream."
The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannotconfine her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but suffersthem to break forth, affrighting this actual life with secrets thatperchance belong to a deeper one. Aylmer now remembered his dream. Hehad fancied himself with his servant Aminadab, attempting an operationfor the removal of the birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, thedeeper sank the hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to havecaught hold of Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband wasinexorably resolved to cut or wrench it away.
When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer sat inhis wife's presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often finds its way tothe mind close muffled in robes of sleep, and then speaks withuncompromising directness of matters in regard to which we practise anunconscious self-deception during our waking moments. Until now he hadnot been aware of the tyrannizing influence acquired by one idea overhis mind, and of the lengths which he might find in his heart to go forthe sake of giving himself peace.
"Aylmer," resumed Georgiana, solemnly, "I know not what may be the costto both of us to rid me of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps its removalmay cause cureless deformity; or it may be the stain goes as deep aslife itself. Again: do we know that there is a possibility, on anyterms, of unclasping the firm gripe of this little hand which was laidupon me before I came into the world?"
"Dearest Georgiana, I have spent much thought upon the subject,"hastily interrupted Aylmer. "I am convinced of the perfectpracticability of its removal."
"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued Georgiana, "letthe attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is nothing to me; forlife, while this hateful mark makes me the object of your horror anddisgust,—life is a burden which I would fling down with joy. Eitherremove this dreadful hand, or take my wretched life! You have deepscience. All the world bears witness of it. You have achieved greatwonders. Cannot you remove this little, little mark, which I cover withthe tips of two small fingers? Is this beyond your power, for the sakeof your own peace, and to save your poor wife from madness?"
"Noblest, dearest, tenderest wife," cried Aylmer, rapturously, "doubtnot my power. I have already given this matter the deepestthought—thought which might almost have enlightened me to create abeing less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me deeperthan ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully competent torender this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow; and then, mostbeloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have corrected whatNature left imperfect in her fairest work! Even Pygmalion, when hissculptured woman assumed life, felt not greater ecstasy than mine willbe."
"It is resolved, then," said Georgiana, faintly smiling. "And, Aylmer,spare me not, though you should find the birthmark take refuge in myheart at last."
Her husband tenderly kissed her cheek—her right cheek—not that whichbore the impress of the crimson hand.
The next day Aylmer apprised his wife of a plan that he had formedwhereby he might have opportunity for the intense thought and constantwatchfulness which the proposed operation would require; whileGeorgiana, likewise, would enjoy the perfect repose essential to itssuccess. They were to seclude themselves in the extensive apartmentsoccupied by Aylmer as a laboratory, and where, during his toilsomeyouth, he had made discoveries in the elemental powers of Nature thathad roused the admiration of all the learned societies in Europe.Seated calmly in this laboratory, the pale philosopher had investigatedthe secrets of the highest cloud region and of the profoundest mines;he had satisfied himself of the causes that kindled and kept alive thefires of the volcano; and had explained the mystery of fountains, andhow it is that they gush forth, some so bright and pure, and otherswith such rich medicinal virtues, from the dark bosom of the earth.Here, too, at an earlier period, he had studied the wonders of thehuman frame, and attempted to fathom the very process by which Natureassimilates all her precious influences from earth and air, and fromthe spiritual world, to create and foster man, her masterpiece. Thelatter pursuit, however, Aylmer had long laid aside in unwillingrecognition of the truth—against which all seekers sooner or laterstumble—that our great creative Mother, while she amuses us withapparently working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful tokeep her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows usnothing but results. She permits us, indeed, to mar, but seldom tomend, and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to make. Now,however, Aylmer resumed these half-forgotten investigations; not, ofcourse, with such hopes or wishes as first suggested them; but becausethey involved much physiological truth and lay in the path of hisproposed scheme for the treatment of Georgiana.
As he led her over the threshold of the laboratory, Georgiana was coldand tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into her face, with intent toreassure her, but was so startled with the intense glow of thebirthmark upon the whiteness of her cheek that he could not restrain astrong convulsive shudder. His wife fainted.
"Aminadab! Aminadab!" shouted Aylmer, stamping violently on the floor.
Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low stature,but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which wasgrimed with the vapors of the furnace. This personage had been Aylmer'sunderworker during his whole scientific career, and was admirablyfitted for that office by his great mechanical readiness, and the skillwith which, while incapable of comprehending a single principle, heexecuted all the details of his master's experiments. With his vaststrength, his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribableearthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man's physicalnature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale, intellectual face,were no less apt a type of the spiritual element.
"Throw open the door of the boudoir, Aminadab," said Aylmer, "and burna pastil."
"Yes, master," answered Aminadab, looking intently at the lifeless formof Georgiana; and then he muttered to himself, "If she were my wife,I'd never part with that birthmark."
When Georgiana recovered consciousness she found herself breathing anatmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle potency of which hadrecalled her from her deathlike faintness. The scene around her lookedlike enchantment. Aylmer had converted those smoky, dingy, sombrerooms, where he had spent his brightest years in recondite pursuits,into a series of beautiful apartments not unfit to be the secludedabode of a lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains,which imparted the combination of grandeur and grace that no otherspecies of adornment can achieve; and as they fell from the ceiling tothe floor, their rich and ponderous folds, concealing all angles andstraight lines, appeared to shut in the scene from infinite space. Foraught Georgiana knew, it might be a pavilion among the clouds. AndAylmer, excluding the sunshine, which would have interfered with hischemical processes, had supplied its place with perfumed lamps,emitting flames of various hue, but all uniting in a soft, impurpledradiance. He now knelt by his wife's side, watching her earnestly, butwithout alarm; for he was confident in his science, and felt that hecould draw a magic circle round her within which no evil might intrude.
"Where am I? Ah, I remember," said Georgiana, faintly; and she placedher hand over her cheek to hide the terrible mark from her husband'seyes.
"Fear not, dearest!" exclaimed he. "Do not shrink from me! Believe me,Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single imperfection, since it will besuch a rapture to remove it."
"Oh, spare me!" sadly replied his wife. "Pray do not look at it again.I never can forget that convulsive shudder."
In order to soothe Georgiana, and, as it were, to release her mind fromthe burden of actual things, Aylmer now put in practice some of thelight and playful secrets which science had taught him among itsprofounder lore. Airy figures, absolutely bodiless ideas, and forms ofunsubstantial beauty came and danced before her, imprinting theirmomentary footsteps on beams of light. Though she had some indistinctidea of the method of these optical phenomena, still the illusion wasalmost perfect enough to warrant the belief that her husband possessedsway over the spiritual world. Then again, when she felt a wish to lookforth from her seclusion, immediately, as if her thoughts wereanswered, the procession of external existence flitted across a screen.The scenery and the figures of actual life were perfectly represented,but with that bewitching, yet indescribable difference which alwaysmakes a picture, an image, or a shadow so much more attractive than theoriginal. When wearied of this, Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon avessel containing a quantity of earth. She did so, with little interestat first; but was soon startled to perceive the germ of a plantshooting upward from the soil. Then came the slender stalk; the leavesgradually unfolded themselves; and amid them was a perfect and lovelyflower.
"It is magical!" cried Georgiana. "I dare not touch it."
"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer,—"pluck it, and inhale its briefperfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few moments andleave nothing save its brown seed vessels; but thence may beperpetuated a race as ephemeral as itself."
But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole plantsuffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by the agency offire.
"There was too powerful a stimulus," said Aylmer, thoughtfully.
To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take herportrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to beeffected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of metal.Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was affrighted tofind the features of the portrait blurred and indefinable; while theminute figure of a hand appeared where the cheek should have been.Aylmer snatched the metallic plate and threw it into a jar of corrosiveacid.
Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the intervals ofstudy and chemical experiment he came to her flushed and exhausted, butseemed invigorated by her presence, and spoke in glowing language ofthe resources of his art. He gave a history of the long dynasty of thealchemists, who spent so many ages in quest of the universal solvent bywhich the golden principle might be elicited from all things vile andbase. Aylmer appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientificlogic, it was altogether within the limits of possibility to discoverthis long-sought medium; "but," he added, "a philosopher who should godeep enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom tostoop to the exercise of it." Not less singular were his opinions inregard to the elixir vitae. He more than intimated that it was at hisoption to concoct a liquid that should prolong life for years, perhapsinterminably; but that it would produce a discord in Nature which allthe world, and chiefly the quaffer of the immortal nostrum, would findcause to curse.
"Aylmer, are you in earnest?" asked Georgiana, looking at him withamazement and fear. "It is terrible to possess such power, or even todream of possessing it."
"Oh, do not tremble, my love," said her husband. "I would not wrongeither you or myself by working such inharmonious effects upon ourlives; but I would have you consider how trifling, in comparison, isthe skill requisite to remove this little hand."
At the mention of the birthmark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank as if aredhot iron had touched her cheek.
Again Aylmer applied himself to his labors. She could hear his voice inthe distant furnace room giving directions to Aminadab, whose harsh,uncouth, misshapen tones were audible in response, more like the gruntor growl of a brute than human speech. After hours of absence, Aylmerreappeared and proposed that she should now examine his cabinet ofchemical products and natural treasures of the earth. Among the formerhe showed her a small vial, in which, he remarked, was contained agentle yet most powerful fragrance, capable of impregnating all thebreezes that blow across a kingdom. They were of inestimable value, thecontents of that little vial; and, as he said so, he threw some of theperfume into the air and filled the room with piercing and invigoratingdelight.
"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal globecontaining a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to the eye that Icould imagine it the elixir of life."
"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer; "or, rather, the elixir ofimmortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was concocted inthis world. By its aid I could apportion the lifetime of any mortal atwhom you might point your finger. The strength of the dose woulddetermine whether he were to linger out years, or drop dead in themidst of a breath. No king on his guarded throne could keep his life ifI, in my private station, should deem that the welfare of millionsjustified me in depriving him of it."
"Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" inquired Georgiana in horror.
"Do not mistrust me, dearest," said her husband, smiling; "its virtuouspotency is yet greater than its harmful one. But see! here is apowerful cosmetic. With a few drops of this in a vase of water,freckles may be washed away as easily as the hands are cleansed. Astronger infusion would take the blood out of the cheek, and leave therosiest beauty a pale ghost."
"Is it with this lotion that you intend to bathe my cheek?" askedGeorgiana, anxiously.
"Oh, no," hastily replied her husband; "this is merely superficial.Your case demands a remedy that shall go deeper."
In his interviews with Georgiana, Aylmer generally made minuteinquiries as to her sensations and whether the confinement of the roomsand the temperature of the atmosphere agreed with her. These questionshad such a particular drift that Georgiana began to conjecture that shewas already subjected to certain physical influences, either breathedin with the fragrant air or taken with her food. She fancied likewise,but it might be altogether fancy, that there was a stirring up of hersystem—a strange, indefinite sensation creeping through her veins, andtingling, half painfully, half pleasurably, at her heart. Still,whenever she dared to look into the mirror, there she beheld herselfpale as a white rose and with the crimson birthmark stamped upon hercheek. Not even Aylmer now hated it so much as she.
To dispel the tedium of the hours which her husband found it necessaryto devote to the processes of combination and analysis, Georgianaturned over the volumes of his scientific library. In many dark oldtomes she met with chapters full of romance and poetry. They were theworks of philosophers of the middle ages, such as Albertus Magnus,Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and the famous friar who created theprophetic Brazen Head. All these antique naturalists stood in advanceof their centuries, yet were imbued with some of their credulity, andtherefore were believed, and perhaps imagined themselves to haveacquired from the investigation of Nature a power above Nature, andfrom physics a sway over the spiritual world. Hardly less curious andimaginative were the early volumes of the Transactions of the RoyalSociety, in which the members, knowing little of the limits of naturalpossibility, were continually recording wonders or proposing methodswhereby wonders might be wrought.
But to Georgiana the most engrossing volume was a large folio from herhusband's own hand, in which he had recorded every experiment of hisscientific career, its original aim, the methods adopted for itsdevelopment, and its final success or failure, with the circumstancesto which either event was attributable. The book, in truth, was boththe history and emblem of his ardent, ambitious, imaginative, yetpractical and laborious life. He handled physical details as if therewere nothing beyond them; yet spiritualized them all, and redeemedhimself from materialism by his strong and eager aspiration towards theinfinite. In his grasp the veriest clod of earth assumed a soul.Georgiana, as she read, reverenced Aylmer and loved him more profoundlythan ever, but with a less entire dependence on his judgment thanheretofore. Much as he had accomplished, she could not but observe thathis most splendid successes were almost invariably failures, ifcompared with the ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds werethe merest pebbles, and felt to be so by himself, in comparison withthe inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach. The volume,rich with achievements that had won renown for its author, was yet asmelancholy a record as ever mortal hand had penned. It was the sadconfession and continual exemplification of the shortcomings of thecomposite man, the spirit burdened with clay and working in matter, andof the despair that assails the higher nature at finding itself somiserably thwarted by the earthly part. Perhaps every man of genius inwhatever sphere might recognize the image of his own experience inAylmer's journal.
So deeply did these reflections affect Georgiana that she laid her faceupon the open volume and burst into tears. In this situation she wasfound by her husband.
"It is dangerous to read in a sorcerer's books," said he with a smile,though his countenance was uneasy and displeased. "Georgiana, there arepages in that volume which I can scarcely glance over and keep mysenses. Take heed lest it prove as detrimental to you."
"It has made me worship you more than ever," said she.
"Ah, wait for this one success," rejoined he, "then worship me if youwill. I shall deem myself hardly unworthy of it. But come, I havesought you for the luxury of your voice. Sing to me, dearest."
So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the thirst ofhis spirit. He then took his leave with a boyish exuberance of gayety,assuring her that her seclusion would endure but a little longer, andthat the result was already certain. Scarcely had he departed whenGeorgiana felt irresistibly impelled to follow him. She had forgottento inform Aylmer of a symptom which for two or three hours past hadbegun to excite her attention. It was a sensation in the fatalbirthmark, not painful, but which induced a restlessness throughout hersystem. Hastening after her husband, she intruded for the first timeinto the laboratory.
The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot andfeverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by thequantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning forages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation. Around theroom were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and other apparatus ofchemical research. An electrical machine stood ready for immediate use.The atmosphere felt oppressively close, and was tainted with gaseousodors which had been tormented forth by the processes of science. Thesevere and homely simplicity of the apartment, with its naked walls andbrick pavement, looked strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become tothe fantastic elegance of her boudoir. But what chiefly, indeed almostsolely, drew her attention, was the aspect of Aylmer himself.
He was pale as death, anxious and absorbed, and hung over the furnaceas if it depended upon his utmost watchfulness whether the liquid whichit was distilling should be the draught of immortal happiness ormisery. How different from the sanguine and joyous mien that he hadassumed for Georgiana's encouragement!
"Carefully now, Aminadab; carefully, thou human machine; carefully,thou man of clay!" muttered Aylmer, more to himself than his assistant."Now, if there be a thought too much or too little, it is all over."
"Ho! ho!" mumbled Aminadab. "Look, master! look!"
Aylmer raised his eyes hastily, and at first reddened, then grew palerthan ever, on beholding Georgiana. He rushed towards her and seized herarm with a gripe that left the print of his fingers upon it.
"Why do you come hither? Have you no trust in your husband?" cried he,impetuously. "Would you throw the blight of that fatal birthmark overmy labors? It is not well done. Go, prying woman, go!"
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she possessedno stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right to complain. Youmistrust your wife; you have concealed the anxiety with which you watchthe development of this experiment. Think not so unworthily of me, myhusband. Tell me all the risk we run, and fear not that I shall shrink;for my share in it is far less than your own."
"No, no, Georgiana!" said Aylmer, impatiently; "it must not be."
"I submit," replied she calmly. "And, Aylmer, I shall quaff whateverdraught you bring me; but it will be on the same principle that wouldinduce me to take a dose of poison if offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the height anddepth of your nature until now. Nothing shall be concealed. Know, then,that this crimson hand, superficial as it seems, has clutched its graspinto your being with a strength of which I had no previous conception.I have already administered agents powerful enough to do aught exceptto change your entire physical system. Only one thing remains to betried. If that fail us we are ruined."
"Why did you hesitate to tell me this?" asked she.
"Because, Georgiana," said Aylmer, in a low voice, "there is danger."
"Danger? There is but one danger—that this horrible stigma shall beleft upon my cheek!" cried Georgiana. "Remove it, remove it, whateverbe the cost, or we shall both go mad!"
"Heaven knows your words are too true," said Aylmer, sadly. "And now,dearest, return to your boudoir. In a little while all will be tested."
He conducted her back and took leave of her with a solemn tendernesswhich spoke far more than his words how much was now at stake. Afterhis departure Georgiana became rapt in musings. She considered thecharacter of Aylmer, and did it completer justice than at any previousmoment. Her heart exulted, while it trembled, at his honorable love—sopure and lofty that it would accept nothing less than perfection normiserably make itself contented with an earthlier nature than he haddreamed of. She felt how much more precious was such a sentiment thanthat meaner kind which would have borne with the imperfection for hersake, and have been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading itsperfect idea to the level of the actual; and with her whole spirit sheprayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy his highest anddeepest conception. Longer than one moment she well knew it could notbe; for his spirit was ever on the march, ever ascending, and eachinstant required something that was beyond the scope of the instantbefore.
The sound of her husband's footsteps aroused her. He bore a crystalgoblet containing a liquor colorless as water, but bright enough to bethe draught of immortality. Aylmer was pale; but it seemed rather theconsequence of a highly-wrought state of mind and tension of spiritthan of fear or doubt.
"The concoction of the draught has been perfect," said he, in answer toGeorgiana's look. "Unless all my science have deceived me, it cannotfail."
"Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer," observed his wife, "I mightwish to put off this birthmark of mortality by relinquishing mortalityitself in preference to any other mode. Life is but a sad possession tothose who have attained precisely the degree of moral advancement atwhich I stand. Were I weaker and blinder it might be happiness. Were Istronger, it might be endured hopefully. But, being what I find myself,methinks I am of all mortals the most fit to die."
"You are fit for heaven without tasting death!" replied her husband"But why do we speak of dying? The draught cannot fail. Behold itseffect upon this plant."
On the window seat there stood a geranium diseased with yellowblotches, which had overspread all its leaves. Aylmer poured a smallquantity of the liquid upon the soil in which it grew. In a littletime, when the roots of the plant had taken up the moisture, theunsightly blotches began to be extinguished in a living verdure.
"There needed no proof," said Georgiana, quietly. "Give me the goblet Ijoyfully stake all upon your word."
"Drink, then, thou lofty creature!" exclaimed Aylmer, with fervidadmiration. "There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit. Thysensible frame, too, shall soon be all perfect."
She quaffed the liquid and returned the goblet to his hand.
"It is grateful," said she with a placid smile. "Methinks it is likewater from a heavenly fountain; for it contains I know not what ofunobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness. It allays a feverish thirstthat had parched me for many days. Now, dearest, let me sleep. Myearthly senses are closing over my spirit like the leaves around theheart of a rose at sunset."
She spoke the last words with a gentle reluctance, as if it requiredalmost more energy than she could command to pronounce the faint andlingering syllables. Scarcely had they loitered through her lips ereshe was lost in slumber. Aylmer sat by her side, watching her aspectwith the emotions proper to a man the whole value of whose existencewas involved in the process now to be tested. Mingled with this mood,however, was the philosophic investigation characteristic of the man ofscience. Not the minutest symptom escaped him. A heightened flush ofthe cheek, a slight irregularity of breath, a quiver of the eyelid, ahardly perceptible tremor through the frame,—such were the detailswhich, as the moments passed, he wrote down in his folio volume.Intense thought had set its stamp upon every previous page of thatvolume, but the thoughts of years were all concentrated upon the last.
While thus employed, he failed not to gaze often at the fatal hand, andnot without a shudder. Yet once, by a strange and unaccountable impulsehe pressed it with his lips. His spirit recoiled, however, in the veryact, and Georgiana, out of the midst of her deep sleep, moved uneasilyand murmured as if in remonstrance. Again Aylmer resumed his watch. Norwas it without avail. The crimson hand, which at first had beenstrongly visible upon the marble paleness of Georgiana's cheek, nowgrew more faintly outlined. She remained not less pale than ever; butthe birthmark with every breath that came and went, lost somewhat ofits former distinctness. Its presence had been awful; its departure wasmore awful still. Watch the stain of the rainbow fading out the sky,and you will know how that mysterious symbol passed away.
"By Heaven! it is well-nigh gone!" said Aylmer to himself, in almostirrepressible ecstasy. "I can scarcely trace it now. Success! success!And now it is like the faintest rose color. The lightest flush of bloodacross her cheek would overcome it. But she is so pale!"
He drew aside the window curtain and suffered the light of natural dayto fall into the room and rest upon her cheek. At the same time heheard a gross, hoarse chuckle, which he had long known as his servantAminadab's expression of delight.
"Ah, clod! ah, earthly mass!" cried Aylmer, laughing in a sort offrenzy, "you have served me well! Matter and spirit—earth andheaven—have both done their part in this! Laugh, thing of the senses!You have earned the right to laugh."
These exclamations broke Georgiana's sleep. She slowly unclosed hereyes and gazed into the mirror which her husband had arranged for thatpurpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips when she recognized howbarely perceptible was now that crimson hand which had once blazedforth with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare away all theirhappiness. But then her eyes sought Aylmer's face with a trouble andanxiety that he could by no means account for.
"My poor Aylmer!" murmured she.
"Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!" exclaimed he. "Mypeerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!"
"My poor Aylmer," she repeated, with a more than human tenderness, "youhave aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not repent that with sohigh and pure a feeling, you have rejected the best the earth couldoffer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am dying!"
Alas! it was too true! The fatal hand had grappled with the mystery oflife, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept itself in unionwith a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of the birthmark—thatsole token of human imperfection—faded from her cheek, the partingbreath of the now perfect woman passed into the atmosphere, and hersoul, lingering a moment near her husband, took its heavenward flight.Then a hoarse, chuckling laugh was heard again! Thus ever does thegross fatality of earth exult in its invariable triumph over theimmortal essence which, in this dim sphere of half development, demandsthe completeness of a higher state. Yet, had Alymer reached aprofounder wisdom, he need not thus have flung away the happiness whichwould have woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with thecelestial. The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failedto look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all ineternity, to find the perfect future in the present.
Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salemvillage; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, toexchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the wife wasaptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street, letting thewind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she called to GoodmanBrown.
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her lipswere close to his ear, "prithee put off your journey until sunrise andsleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is troubled with suchdreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of herself sometimes. Praytarry with me this night, dear husband, of all nights in the year."
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all nights inthe year, this one night must I tarry away from thee. My journey, asthou callest it, forth and back again, must needs be done 'twixt nowand sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost thou doubt me already,and we but three months married?"
"Then God bless you!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons; "and may youfind all well when you come back."
"Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go tobed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee."
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being about toturn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and saw the headof Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy air, in spite of herpink ribbons.
"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What awretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too.Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream hadwarned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; 't would killher to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on earth; and after thisone night I'll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven."
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himselfjustified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He hadtaken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest,which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, andclosed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and thereis this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows notwho may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughsoverhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing throughan unseen multitude.
"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman Brownto himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he added, "What ifthe devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and, lookingforward again, beheld the figure of a man, in grave and decent attire,seated at the foot of an old tree. He arose at Goodman Brown's approachand walked onward side by side with him.
"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old South wasstriking as I came through Boston, and that is full fifteen minutesagone."
"Faith kept me back a while," replied the young man, with a tremor inhis voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his companion, though notwholly unexpected.
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of itwhere these two were journeying. As nearly as could be discerned, thesecond traveller was about fifty years old, apparently in the same rankof life as Goodman Brown, and bearing a considerable resemblance tohim, though perhaps more in expression than features. Still they mighthave been taken for father and son. And yet, though the elder personwas as simply clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he hadan indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not havefelt abashed at the governor's dinner table or in King William's court,were it possible that his affairs should call him thither. But the onlything about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff,which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wroughtthat it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a livingserpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assistedby the uncertain light.
"Come, Goodman Brown," cried his fellow-traveller, "this is a dull pacefor the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you are so soonweary."
"Friend," said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full stop,"having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my purpose now toreturn whence I came. I have scruples touching the matter thou wot'stof."
"Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. "Let uswalk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee notthou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet."
"Too far! too far!" exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming hiswalk. "My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor hisfather before him. We have been a race of honest men and goodChristians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first ofthe name of Brown that ever took this path and kept—"
"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person,interpreting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as wellacquainted with your family as with ever a one among the Puritans; andthat's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather, the constable, whenhe lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through the streets of Salem; andit was I that brought your father a pitch-pine knot, kindled at my ownhearth, to set fire to an Indian village, in King Philip's war. Theywere my good friends, both; and many a pleasant walk have we had alongthis path, and returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friendswith you for their sake."
"If it be as thou sayest," replied Goodman Brown, "I marvel they neverspoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing that the leastrumor of the sort would have driven them from New England. We are apeople of prayer, and good works to boot, and abide no such wickedness."
"Wickedness or not," said the traveller with the twisted staff, "I havea very general acquaintance here in New England. The deacons of many achurch have drunk the communion wine with me; the selectmen of diverstowns make me their chairman; and a majority of the Great and GeneralCourt are firm supporters of my interest. The governor and I, too—Butthese are state secrets."
"Can this be so?" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement at hisundisturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with the governorand council; they have their own ways, and are no rule for a simplehusbandman like me. But, were I to go on with thee, how should I meetthe eye of that good old man, our minister, at Salem village? Oh, hisvoice would make me tremble both Sabbath day and lecture day."
Thus far the elder traveller had listened with due gravity; but nowburst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so violentlythat his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in sympathy.
"Ha! ha! ha!" shouted he again and again; then composing himself,"Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, prithee, don't kill me withlaughing."
"Well, then, to end the matter at once," said Goodman Brown,considerably nettled, "there is my wife, Faith. It would break her dearlittle heart; and I'd rather break my own."
"Nay, if that be the case," answered the other, "e'en go thy ways,Goodman Brown. I would not for twenty old women like the one hobblingbefore us that Faith should come to any harm."
As he spoke he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path, inwhom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame, who hadtaught him his catechism in youth, and was still his moral andspiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon Gookin.
"A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the wildernessat nightfall," said he. "But with your leave, friend, I shall take acut through the woods until we have left this Christian woman behind.Being a stranger to you, she might ask whom I was consorting with andwhither I was going."
"Be it so," said his fellow-traveller. "Betake you to the woods, andlet me keep the path."
Accordingly the young man turned aside, but took care to watch hiscompanion, who advanced softly along the road until he had come withina staff's length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was making the bestof her way, with singular speed for so aged a woman, and mumbling someindistinct words—a prayer, doubtless—as she went. The traveller putforth his staff and touched her withered neck with what seemed theserpent's tail.
"The devil!" screamed the pious old lady.
"Then Goody Cloyse knows her old friend?" observed the traveller,confronting her and leaning on his writhing stick.
"Ah, forsooth, and is it your worship indeed?" cried the good dame."Yea, truly is it, and in the very image of my old gossip, GoodmanBrown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is. But—would yourworship believe it?—my broomstick hath strangely disappeared, stolen,as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody Cory, and that, too, when Iwas all anointed with the juice of smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf'sbane."
"Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe," said theshape of old Goodman Brown.
"Ah, your worship knows the recipe," cried the old lady, cacklingaloud. "So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and nohorse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell me thereis a nice young man to be taken into communion to-night. But now yourgood worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be there in atwinkling."
"That can hardly be," answered her friend. "I may not spare you my arm,Goody Cloyse; but here is my staff, if you will."
So saying, he threw it down at her feet, where, perhaps, it assumedlife, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly lent to theEgyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown could not takecognizance. He had cast up his eyes in astonishment, and, looking downagain, beheld neither Goody Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but hisfellow-traveller alone, who waited for him as calmly as if nothing hadhappened.
"That old woman taught me my catechism," said the young man; and therewas a world of meaning in this simple comment.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted hiscompanion to make good speed and persevere in the path, discoursing soaptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring up in the bosom of hisauditor than to be suggested by himself. As they went, he plucked abranch of maple to serve for a walking stick, and began to strip it ofthe twigs and little boughs, which were wet with evening dew. Themoment his fingers touched them they became strangely withered anddried up as with a week's sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a goodfree pace, until suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, GoodmanBrown sat himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go anyfarther.
"Friend," said he, stubbornly, "my mind is made up. Not another stepwill I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do choose togo to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven: is that anyreason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after her?"
"You will think better of this by and by," said his acquaintance,composedly. "Sit here and rest yourself a while; and when you feel likemoving again, there is my staff to help you along."
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and was asspeedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the deepening gloom.The young man sat a few moments by the roadside, applauding himselfgreatly, and thinking with how clear a conscience he should meet theminister in his morning walk, nor shrink from the eye of good oldDeacon Gookin. And what calm sleep would be his that very night, whichwas to have been spent so wickedly, but so purely and sweetly now, inthe arms of Faith! Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations,Goodman Brown heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed itadvisable to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, consciousof the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now sohappily turned from it.
On came the hoof tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave oldvoices, conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled soundsappeared to pass along the road, within a few yards of the young man'shiding-place; but, owing doubtless to the depth of the gloom at thatparticular spot, neither the travellers nor their steeds were visible.Though their figures brushed the small boughs by the wayside, it couldnot be seen that they intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleamfrom the strip of bright sky athwart which they must have passed.Goodman Brown alternately crouched and stood on tiptoe, pulling asidethe branches and thrusting forth his head as far as he durst withoutdiscerning so much as a shadow. It vexed him the more, because he couldhave sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized the voicesof the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along quietly, as they werewont to do, when bound to some ordination or ecclesiastical council.While yet within hearing, one of the riders stopped to pluck a switch.
"Of the two, reverend sir," said the voice like the deacon's, "I hadrather miss an ordination dinner than to-night's meeting. They tell methat some of our community are to be here from Falmouth and beyond, andothers from Connecticut and Rhode Island, besides several of the Indianpowwows, who, after their fashion, know almost as much deviltry as thebest of us. Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken intocommunion."
"Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of theminister. "Spur up, or we shall be late. Nothing can be done, you know,until I get on the ground."
The hoofs clattered again; and the voices, talking so strangely in theempty air, passed on through the forest, where no church had ever beengathered or solitary Christian prayed. Whither, then, could these holymen be journeying so deep into the heathen wilderness? Young GoodmanBrown caught hold of a tree for support, being ready to sink down onthe ground, faint and overburdened with the heavy sickness of hisheart. He looked up to the sky, doubting whether there really was aheaven above him. Yet there was the blue arch, and the starsbrightening in it.
"With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against thedevil!" cried Goodman Brown.
While he still gazed upward into the deep arch of the firmament and hadlifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was stirring, hurriedacross the zenith and hid the brightening stars. The blue sky was stillvisible, except directly overhead, where this black mass of cloud wassweeping swiftly northward. Aloft in the air, as if from the depths ofthe cloud, came a confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once thelistener fancied that he could distinguish the accents of towns-peopleof his own, men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he hadmet at the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern.The next moment, so indistinct were the sounds, he doubted whether hehad heard aught but the murmur of the old forest, whispering without awind. Then came a stronger swell of those familiar tones, heard dailyin the sunshine at Salem village, but never until now from a cloud ofnight There was one voice of a young woman, uttering lamentations, yetwith an uncertain sorrow, and entreating for some favor, which,perhaps, it would grieve her to obtain; and all the unseen multitude,both saints and sinners, seemed to encourage her onward.
"Faith!" shouted Goodman Brown, in a voice of agony and desperation;and the echoes of the forest mocked him, crying, "Faith! Faith!" as ifbewildered wretches were seeking her all through the wilderness.
The cry of grief, rage, and terror was yet piercing the night, when theunhappy husband held his breath for a response. There was a scream,drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices, fading into far-offlaughter, as the dark cloud swept away, leaving the clear and silentsky above Goodman Brown. But something fluttered lightly down throughthe air and caught on the branch of a tree. The young man seized it,and beheld a pink ribbon.
"My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There is nogood on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to thee is thisworld given."
And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, didGoodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate thathe seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk or run. Theroad grew wilder and drearier and more faintly traced, and vanished atlength, leaving him in the heart of the dark wilderness, still rushingonward with the instinct that guides mortal man to evil. The wholeforest was peopled with frightful sounds—the creaking of the trees,the howling of wild beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimesthe wind tolled like a distant church bell, and sometimes gave a broadroar around the traveller, as if all Nature were laughing him to scorn.But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not fromits other horrors.
"Ha! ha! ha!" roared Goodman Brown when the wind laughed at him.
"Let us hear which will laugh loudest. Think not to frighten me withyour deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow, come devilhimself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well fear him as hefear you."
In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing morefrightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the blackpines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent toan inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth suchlaughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demonsaround him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when herages in the breast of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course,until, quivering among the trees, he saw a red light before him, aswhen the felled trunks and branches of a clearing have been set onfire, and throw up their lurid blaze against the sky, at the hour ofmidnight. He paused, in a lull of the tempest that had driven himonward, and heard the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnlyfrom a distance with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; itwas a familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The versedied heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human voices,but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness pealing in awfulharmony together. Goodman Brown cried out, and his cry was lost to hisown ear by its unison with the cry of the desert.
In the interval of silence he stole forward until the light glared fullupon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space, hemmed in by the darkwall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing some rude, naturalresemblance either to an altar or a pulpit, and surrounded by fourblazing pines, their tops aflame, their stems untouched, like candlesat an evening meeting. The mass of foliage that had overgrown thesummit of the rock was all on fire, blazing high into the night andfitfully illuminating the whole field. Each pendent twig and leafyfestoon was in a blaze. As the red light arose and fell, a numerouscongregation alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, andagain grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of thesolitary woods at once.
"A grave and dark-clad company," quoth Goodman Brown.
In truth they were such. Among them, quivering to and fro between gloomand splendor, appeared faces that would be seen next day at the councilboard of the province, and others which, Sabbath after Sabbath, lookeddevoutly heavenward, and benignantly over the crowded pews, from theholiest pulpits in the land. Some affirm that the lady of the governorwas there. At least there were high dames well known to her, and wivesof honored husbands, and widows, a great multitude, and ancientmaidens, all of excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembledlest their mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of lightflashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or herecognized a score of the church members of Salem village famous fortheir especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived, and waitedat the skirts of that venerable saint, his revered pastor. But,irreverently consorting with these grave, reputable, and pious people,these elders of the church, these chaste dames and dewy virgins, therewere men of dissolute lives and women of spotted fame, wretches givenover to all mean and filthy vice, and suspected even of horrid crimes.It was strange to see that the good shrank not from the wicked, norwere the sinners abashed by the saints. Scattered also among theirpale-faced enemies were the Indian priests, or powwows, who had oftenscared their native forest with more hideous incantations than anyknown to English witchcraft.
"But where is Faith?" thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came into hisheart, he trembled.
Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such asthe pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that our naturecan conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more. Unfathomable tomere mortals is the lore of fiends. Verse after verse was sung; andstill the chorus of the desert swelled between like the deepest tone ofa mighty organ; and with the final peal of that dreadful anthem therecame a sound, as if the roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howlingbeasts, and every other voice of the unconcerted wilderness weremingling and according with the voice of guilty man in homage to theprince of all. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, andobscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror on the smoke wreathsabove the impious assembly. At the same moment the fire on the rockshot redly forth and formed a glowing arch above its base, where nowappeared a figure. With reverence be it spoken, the figure bore noslight similitude, both in garb and manner, to some grave divine of theNew England churches.
"Bring forth the converts!" cried a voice that echoed through the fieldand rolled into the forest.
At the word, Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the treesand approached the congregation, with whom he felt a loathfulbrotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in his heart. Hecould have well-nigh sworn that the shape of his own dead fatherbeckoned him to advance, looking downward from a smoke wreath, while awoman, with dim features of despair, threw out her hand to warn himback. Was it his mother? But he had no power to retreat one step, norto resist, even in thought, when the minister and good old DeaconGookin seized his arms and led him to the blazing rock. Thither camealso the slender form of a veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse,that pious teacher of the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who hadreceived the devil's promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag wasshe. And there stood the proselytes beneath the canopy of fire.
"Welcome, my children," said the dark figure, "to the communion of yourrace. Ye have found thus young your nature and your destiny. Mychildren, look behind you!"
They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame, thefiend worshippers were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed darkly onevery visage.
"There," resumed the sable form, "are all whom ye have reverenced fromyouth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank from your ownsin, contrasting it with their lives of righteousness and prayerfulaspirations heavenward. Yet here are they all in my worshippingassembly. This night it shall be granted you to know their secretdeeds: how hoary-bearded elders of the church have whispered wantonwords to the young maids of their households; how many a woman, eagerfor widows' weeds, has given her husband a drink at bedtime and let himsleep his last sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made hasteto inherit their fathers' wealth; and how fair damsels—blush not,sweet ones—have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me, thesole guest to an infant's funeral. By the sympathy of your human heartsfor sin ye shall scent out all the places—whether in church,bedchamber, street, field, or forest—where crime has been committed,and shall exult to behold the whole earth one stain of guilt, onemighty blood spot. Far more than this. It shall be yours to penetrate,in every bosom, the deep mystery of sin, the fountain of all wickedarts, and which inexhaustibly supplies more evil impulses than humanpower—than my power at its utmost—can make manifest in deeds. Andnow, my children, look upon each other."
They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, thewretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband, tremblingbefore that unhallowed altar.
"Lo, there ye stand, my children," said the figure, in a deep andsolemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his onceangelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race. "Depending uponone another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all adream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil mustbe your only happiness. Welcome again, my children, to the communion ofyour race."
"Welcome," repeated the fiend worshippers, in one cry of despair andtriumph.
And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yethesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world. A basin washollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water, reddened by thelurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a liquid flame? Herein didthe shape of evil dip his hand and prepare to lay the mark of baptismupon their foreheads, that they might be partakers of the mystery ofsin, more conscious of the secret guilt of others, both in deed andthought, than they could now be of their own. The husband cast one lookat his pale wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would thenext glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what theydisclosed and what they saw!
"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband, "look up to heaven, and resist thewicked one."
Whether Faith obeyed he knew not. Hardly had he spoken when he foundhimself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar of the windwhich died heavily away through the forest. He staggered against therock, and felt it chill and damp; while a hanging twig, that had beenall on fire, besprinkled his cheek with the coldest dew.
The next morning young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street ofSalem village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The good oldminister was taking a walk along the graveyard to get an appetite forbreakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a blessing, as hepassed, on Goodman Brown. He shrank from the venerable saint as if toavoid an anathema. Old Deacon Gookin was at domestic worship, and theholy words of his prayer were heard through the open window. "What Goddoth the wizard pray to?" quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, thatexcellent old Christian, stood in the early sunshine at her ownlattice, catechizing a little girl who had brought her a pint ofmorning's milk. Goodman Brown snatched away the child as from the graspof the fiend himself. Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spiedthe head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, andbursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along thestreet and almost kissed her husband before the whole village. ButGoodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and passed onwithout a greeting.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a wilddream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for youngGoodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a distrustful, ifnot a desperate man did he become from the night of that fearful dream.On the Sabbath day, when the congregation were singing a holy psalm, hecould not listen because an anthem of sin rushed loudly upon his earand drowned all the blessed strain. When the minister spoke from thepulpit with power and fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the openBible, of the sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like livesand triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable, thendid Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should thunder downupon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. Often, waking suddenly atmidnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith; and at morning oreventide, when the family knelt down at prayer, he scowled and mutteredto himself, and gazed sternly at his wife, and turned away. And when hehad lived long, and was borne to his grave a hoary corpse, followed byFaith, an aged woman, and children and grandchildren, a goodlyprocession, besides neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verseupon his tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.
We do not remember to have seen any translated specimens of theproductions of M. de l'Aubepine—a fact the less to be wondered at, ashis very name is unknown to many of his own countrymen as well as tothe student of foreign literature. As a writer, he seems to occupy anunfortunate position between the Transcendentalists (who, under onename or another, have their share in all the current literature of theworld) and the great body of pen-and-ink men who address the intellectand sympathies of the multitude. If not too refined, at all events tooremote, too shadowy, and unsubstantial in his modes of development tosuit the taste of the latter class, and yet too popular to satisfy thespiritual or metaphysical requisitions of the former, he mustnecessarily find himself without an audience, except here and there anindividual or possibly an isolated clique. His writings, to do themjustice, are not altogether destitute of fancy and originality; theymight have won him greater reputation but for an inveterate love ofallegory, which is apt to invest his plots and characters with theaspect of scenery and people in the clouds, and to steal away the humanwarmth out of his conceptions. His fictions are sometimes historical,sometimes of the present day, and sometimes, so far as can bediscovered, have little or no reference either to time or space. In anycase, he generally contents himself with a very slight embroidery ofoutward manners,—the faintest possible counterfeit of real life,—andendeavors to create an interest by some less obvious peculiarity of thesubject. Occasionally a breath of Nature, a raindrop of pathos andtenderness, or a gleam of humor, will find its way into the midst ofhis fantastic imagery, and make us feel as if, after all, we were yetwithin the limits of our native earth. We will only add to this verycursory notice that M. de l'Aubepine's productions, if the readerchance to take them in precisely the proper point of view, may amuse aleisure hour as well as those of a brighter man; if otherwise, they canhardly fail to look excessively like nonsense.
Our author is voluminous; he continues to write and publish with asmuch praiseworthy and indefatigable prolixity as if his efforts werecrowned with the brilliant success that so justly attends those ofEugene Sue. His first appearance was by a collection of stories in along series of volumes entitled "Contes deux fois racontees." Thetitles of some of his more recent works (we quote from memory) are asfollows: "Le Voyage Celeste a Chemin de Fer," 3 tom., 1838; "Le nouveauPere Adam et la nouvelle Mere Eve," 2 tom., 1839; "Roderic; ou leSerpent a l'estomac," 2 tom., 1840; "Le Culte du Feu," a folio volumeof ponderous research into the religion and ritual of the old PersianGhebers, published in 1841; "La Soiree du Chateau en Espagne," 1 tom.,8vo, 1842; and "L'Artiste du Beau; ou le Papillon Mecanique," 5 tom.,4to, 1843. Our somewhat wearisome perusal of this startling catalogueof volumes has left behind it a certain personal affection andsympathy, though by no means admiration, for M. de l'Aubepine; and wewould fain do the little in our power towards introducing him favorablyto the American public. The ensuing tale is a translation of his"Beatrice; ou la Belle Empoisonneuse," recently published in "La RevueAnti-Aristocratique." This journal, edited by the Comte de Bearhaven,has for some years past led the defence of liberal principles andpopular rights with a faithfulness and ability worthy of all praise.
A young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from themore southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the Universityof Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of gold ducats in hispocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy chamber of an old edificewhich looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan noble,and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearingsof a family long since extinct. The young stranger, who was notunstudied in the great poem of his country, recollected that one of theancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion,had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of hisInferno. These reminiscences and associations, together with thetendency to heartbreak natural to a young man for the first time out ofhis native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily as he looked aroundthe desolate and ill-furnished apartment.
"Holy Virgin, signor!" cried old Dame Lisabetta, who, won by theyouth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to give thechamber a habitable air, "what a sigh was that to come out of a youngman's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy? For the love ofHeaven, then, put your head out of the window, and you will see asbright sunshine as you have left in Naples."
Guasconti mechanically did as the old woman advised, but could notquite agree with her that the Paduan sunshine was as cheerful as thatof southern Italy. Such as it was, however, it fell upon a gardenbeneath the window and expended its fostering influences on a varietyof plants, which seemed to have been cultivated with exceeding care.
"Does this garden belong to the house?" asked Giovanni.
"Heaven forbid, signor, unless it were fruitful of better pot herbsthan any that grow there now," answered old Lisabetta. "No; that gardenis cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo Rappaccini, the famousdoctor, who, I warrant him, has been heard of as far as Naples. It issaid that he distils these plants into medicines that are as potent asa charm. Oftentimes you may see the signor doctor at work, andperchance the signora, his daughter, too, gathering the strange flowersthat grow in the garden."
The old woman had now done what she could for the aspect of thechamber; and, commending the young man to the protection of the saints,took her departure.
Giovanni still found no better occupation than to look down into thegarden beneath his window. From its appearance, he judged it to be oneof those botanic gardens which were of earlier date in Padua thanelsewhere in Italy or in the world. Or, not improbably, it might oncehave been the pleasure-place of an opulent family; for there was theruin of a marble fountain in the centre, sculptured with rare art, butso wofully shattered that it was impossible to trace the originaldesign from the chaos of remaining fragments. The water, however,continued to gush and sparkle into the sunbeams as cheerfully as ever.A little gurgling sound ascended to the young man's window, and madehim feel as if the fountain were an immortal spirit that sung its songunceasingly and without heeding the vicissitudes around it, while onecentury imbodied it in marble and another scattered the perishablegarniture on the soil. All about the pool into which the water subsidedgrew various plants, that seemed to require a plentiful supply ofmoisture for the nourishment of gigantic leaves, and in some instances,flowers gorgeously magnificent. There was one shrub in particular, setin a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion ofpurple blossoms, each of which had the lustre and richness of a gem;and the whole together made a show so resplendent that it seemed enoughto illuminate the garden, even had there been no sunshine. Everyportion of the soil was peopled with plants and herbs, which, if lessbeautiful, still bore tokens of assiduous care, as if all had theirindividual virtues, known to the scientific mind that fostered them.Some were placed in urns, rich with old carving, and others in commongarden pots; some crept serpent-like along the ground or climbed onhigh, using whatever means of ascent was offered them. One plant hadwreathed itself round a statue of Vertumnus, which was thus quiteveiled and shrouded in a drapery of hanging foliage, so happilyarranged that it might have served a sculptor for a study.
While Giovanni stood at the window he heard a rustling behind a screenof leaves, and became aware that a person was at work in the garden.His figure soon emerged into view, and showed itself to be that of nocommon laborer, but a tall, emaciated, sallow, and sickly-looking man,dressed in a scholar's garb of black. He was beyond the middle term oflife, with gray hair, a thin, gray beard, and a face singularly markedwith intellect and cultivation, but which could never, even in his moreyouthful days, have expressed much warmth of heart.
Nothing could exceed the intentness with which this scientific gardenerexamined every shrub which grew in his path: it seemed as if he waslooking into their inmost nature, making observations in regard totheir creative essence, and discovering why one leaf grew in this shapeand another in that, and wherefore such and such flowers differed amongthemselves in hue and perfume. Nevertheless, in spite of this deepintelligence on his part, there was no approach to intimacy betweenhimself and these vegetable existences. On the contrary, he avoidedtheir actual touch or the direct inhaling of their odors with a cautionthat impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man's demeanor wasthat of one walking among malignant influences, such as savage beasts,or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should he allow them onemoment of license, would wreak upon him some terrible fatality. It wasstrangely frightful to the young man's imagination to see this air ofinsecurity in a person cultivating a garden, that most simple andinnocent of human toils, and which had been alike the joy and labor ofthe unfallen parents of the race. Was this garden, then, the Eden ofthe present world? And this man, with such a perception of harm in whathis own hands caused to grow,—was he the Adam?
The distrustful gardener, while plucking away the dead leaves orpruning the too luxuriant growth of the shrubs, defended his hands witha pair of thick gloves. Nor were these his only armor. When, in hiswalk through the garden, he came to the magnificent plant that hung itspurple gems beside the marble fountain, he placed a kind of mask overhis mouth and nostrils, as if all this beauty did but conceal adeadlier malice; but, finding his task still too dangerous, he drewback, removed the mask, and called loudly, but in the infirm voice of aperson affected with inward disease, "Beatrice! Beatrice!"
"Here am I, my father. What would you?" cried a rich and youthful voicefrom the window of the opposite house—a voice as rich as a tropicalsunset, and which made Giovanni, though he knew not why, think of deephues of purple or crimson and of perfumes heavily delectable. "Are youin the garden?"
"Yes, Beatrice," answered the gardener, "and I need your help."
Soon there emerged from under a sculptured portal the figure of a younggirl, arrayed with as much richness of taste as the most splendid ofthe flowers, beautiful as the day, and with a bloom so deep and vividthat one shade more would have been too much. She looked redundant withlife, health, and energy; all of which attributes were bound down andcompressed, as it were and girdled tensely, in their luxuriance, by hervirgin zone. Yet Giovanni's fancy must have grown morbid while helooked down into the garden; for the impression which the fair strangermade upon him was as if here were another flower, the human sister ofthose vegetable ones, as beautiful as they, more beautiful than therichest of them, but still to be touched only with a glove, nor to beapproached without a mask. As Beatrice came down the garden path, itwas observable that she handled and inhaled the odor of several of theplants which her father had most sedulously avoided.
"Here, Beatrice," said the latter, "see how many needful officesrequire to be done to our chief treasure. Yet, shattered as I am, mylife might pay the penalty of approaching it so closely ascircumstances demand. Henceforth, I fear, this plant must be consignedto your sole charge."
"And gladly will I undertake it," cried again the rich tones of theyoung lady, as she bent towards the magnificent plant and opened herarms as if to embrace it. "Yes, my sister, my splendour, it shall beBeatrice's task to nurse and serve thee; and thou shalt reward her withthy kisses and perfumed breath, which to her is as the breath of life."
Then, with all the tenderness in her manner that was so strikinglyexpressed in her words, she busied herself with such attentions as theplant seemed to require; and Giovanni, at his lofty window, rubbed hiseyes and almost doubted whether it were a girl tending her favoriteflower, or one sister performing the duties of affection to another.The scene soon terminated. Whether Dr. Rappaccini had finished hislabors in the garden, or that his watchful eye had caught thestranger's face, he now took his daughter's arm and retired. Night wasalready closing in; oppressive exhalations seemed to proceed from theplants and steal upward past the open window; and Giovanni, closing thelattice, went to his couch and dreamed of a rich flower and beautifulgirl. Flower and maiden were different, and yet the same, and fraughtwith some strange peril in either shape.
But there is an influence in the light of morning that tends to rectifywhatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may have incurredduring the sun's decline, or among the shadows of the night, or in theless wholesome glow of moonshine. Giovanni's first movement, onstarting from sleep, was to throw open the window and gaze down intothe garden which his dreams had made so fertile of mysteries. He wassurprised and a little ashamed to find how real and matter-of-fact anaffair it proved to be, in the first rays of the sun which gilded thedew-drops that hung upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighterbeauty to each rare flower, brought everything within the limits ofordinary experience. The young man rejoiced that, in the heart of thebarren city, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of lovelyand luxuriant vegetation. It would serve, he said to himself, as asymbolic language to keep him in communion with Nature. Neither thesickly and thoughtworn Dr. Giacomo Rappaccini, it is true, nor hisbrilliant daughter, were now visible; so that Giovanni could notdetermine how much of the singularity which he attributed to both wasdue to their own qualities and how much to his wonder-working fancy;but he was inclined to take a most rational view of the whole matter.
In the course of the day he paid his respects to Signor PietroBaglioni, professor of medicine in the university, a physician ofeminent repute to whom Giovanni had brought a letter of introduction.The professor was an elderly personage, apparently of genial nature,and habits that might almost be called jovial. He kept the young man todinner, and made himself very agreeable by the freedom and livelinessof his conversation, especially when warmed by a flask or two of Tuscanwine. Giovanni, conceiving that men of science, inhabitants of the samecity, must needs be on familiar terms with one another, took anopportunity to mention the name of Dr. Rappaccini. But the professordid not respond with so much cordiality as he had anticipated.
"Ill would it become a teacher of the divine art of medicine," saidProfessor Pietro Baglioni, in answer to a question of Giovanni, "towithhold due and well-considered praise of a physician so eminentlyskilled as Rappaccini; but, on the other hand, I should answer it butscantily to my conscience were I to permit a worthy youth likeyourself, Signor Giovanni, the son of an ancient friend, to imbibeerroneous ideas respecting a man who might hereafter chance to holdyour life and death in his hands. The truth is, our worshipful Dr.Rappaccini has as much science as any member of the faculty—withperhaps one single exception—in Padua, or all Italy; but there arecertain grave objections to his professional character."
"And what are they?" asked the young man.
"Has my friend Giovanni any disease of body or heart, that he is soinquisitive about physicians?" said the professor, with a smile. "Butas for Rappaccini, it is said of him—and I, who know the man well, cananswer for its truth—that he cares infinitely more for science thanfor mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects forsome new experiment. He would sacrifice human life, his own among therest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding somuch as a grain of mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulatedknowledge."
"Methinks he is an awful man indeed," remarked Guasconti, mentallyrecalling the cold and purely intellectual aspect of Rappaccini. "Andyet, worshipful professor, is it not a noble spirit? Are there many mencapable of so spiritual a love of science?"
"God forbid," answered the professor, somewhat testily; "at least,unless they take sounder views of the healing art than those adopted byRappaccini. It is his theory that all medicinal virtues are comprisedwithin those substances which we term vegetable poisons. These hecultivates with his own hands, and is said even to have produced newvarieties of poison, more horribly deleterious than Nature, without theassistance of this learned person, would ever have plagued the worldwithal. That the signor doctor does less mischief than might beexpected with such dangerous substances is undeniable. Now and then, itmust be owned, he has effected, or seemed to effect, a marvellous cure;but, to tell you my private mind, Signor Giovanni, he should receivelittle credit for such instances of success,—they being probably thework of chance,—but should be held strictly accountable for hisfailures, which may justly be considered his own work."
The youth might have taken Baglioni's opinions with many grains ofallowance had he known that there was a professional warfare of longcontinuance between him and Dr. Rappaccini, in which the latter wasgenerally thought to have gained the advantage. If the reader beinclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain black-lettertracts on both sides, preserved in the medical department of theUniversity of Padua.
"I know not, most learned professor," returned Giovanni, after musingon what had been said of Rappaccini's exclusive zeal for science,—"Iknow not how dearly this physician may love his art; but surely thereis one object more dear to him. He has a daughter."
"Aha!" cried the professor, with a laugh. "So now our friend Giovanni'ssecret is out. You have heard of this daughter, whom all the young menin Padua are wild about, though not half a dozen have ever had the goodhap to see her face. I know little of the Signora Beatrice save thatRappaccini is said to have instructed her deeply in his science, andthat, young and beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualifiedto fill a professor's chair. Perchance her father destines her formine! Other absurd rumors there be, not worth talking about orlistening to. So now, Signor Giovanni, drink off your glass oflachryma."
Guasconti returned to his lodgings somewhat heated with the wine he hadquaffed, and which caused his brain to swim with strange fantasies inreference to Dr. Rappaccini and the beautiful Beatrice. On his way,happening to pass by a florist's, he bought a fresh bouquet of flowers.
Ascending to his chamber, he seated himself near the window, but withinthe shadow thrown by the depth of the wall, so that he could look downinto the garden with little risk of being discovered. All beneath hiseye was a solitude. The strange plants were basking in the sunshine,and now and then nodding gently to one another, as if in acknowledgmentof sympathy and kindred. In the midst, by the shattered fountain, grewthe magnificent shrub, with its purple gems clustering all over it;they glowed in the air, and gleamed back again out of the depths of thepool, which thus seemed to overflow with colored radiance from the richreflection that was steeped in it. At first, as we have said, thegarden was a solitude. Soon, however,—as Giovanni had half hoped, halffeared, would be the case,—a figure appeared beneath the antiquesculptured portal, and came down between the rows of plants, inhalingtheir various perfumes as if she were one of those beings of oldclassic fable that lived upon sweet odors. On again beholding Beatrice,the young man was even startled to perceive how much her beautyexceeded his recollection of it; so brilliant, so vivid, was itscharacter, that she glowed amid the sunlight, and, as Giovanniwhispered to himself, positively illuminated the more shadowy intervalsof the garden path. Her face being now more revealed than on the formeroccasion, he was struck by its expression of simplicity andsweetness,—qualities that had not entered into his idea of hercharacter, and which made him ask anew what manner of mortal she mightbe. Nor did he fail again to observe, or imagine, an analogy betweenthe beautiful girl and the gorgeous shrub that hung its gemlike flowersover the fountain,—a resemblance which Beatrice seemed to haveindulged a fantastic humor in heightening, both by the arrangement ofher dress and the selection of its hues.
Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a passionateardor, and drew its branches into an intimate embrace—so intimate thather features were hidden in its leafy bosom and her glistening ringletsall intermingled with the flowers.
"Give me thy breath, my sister," exclaimed Beatrice; "for I am faintwith common air. And give me this flower of thine, which I separatewith gentlest fingers from the stem and place it close beside my heart."
With these words the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini plucked one ofthe richest blossoms of the shrub, and was about to fasten it in herbosom. But now, unless Giovanni's draughts of wine had bewildered hissenses, a singular incident occurred. A small orange-colored reptile,of the lizard or chameleon species, chanced to be creeping along thepath, just at the feet of Beatrice. It appeared to Giovanni,—but, atthe distance from which he gazed, he could scarcely have seen anythingso minute,—it appeared to him, however, that a drop or two of moisturefrom the broken stem of the flower descended upon the lizard's head.For an instant the reptile contorted itself violently, and then laymotionless in the sunshine. Beatrice observed this remarkablephenomenon and crossed herself, sadly, but without surprise; nor didshe therefore hesitate to arrange the fatal flower in her bosom. Thereit blushed, and almost glimmered with the dazzling effect of a preciousstone, adding to her dress and aspect the one appropriate charm whichnothing else in the world could have supplied. But Giovanni, out of theshadow of his window, bent forward and shrank back, and murmured andtrembled.
"Am I awake? Have I my senses?" said he to himself. "What is thisbeing? Beautiful shall I call her, or inexpressibly terrible?"
Beatrice now strayed carelessly through the garden, approaching closerbeneath Giovanni's window, so that he was compelled to thrust his headquite out of its concealment in order to gratify the intense andpainful curiosity which she excited. At this moment there came abeautiful insect over the garden wall; it had, perhaps, wanderedthrough the city, and found no flowers or verdure among those antiquehaunts of men until the heavy perfumes of Dr. Rappaccini's shrubs hadlured it from afar. Without alighting on the flowers, this wingedbrightness seemed to be attracted by Beatrice, and lingered in the airand fluttered about her head. Now, here it could not be but thatGiovanni Guasconti's eyes deceived him. Be that as it might, he fanciedthat, while Beatrice was gazing at the insect with childish delight, itgrew faint and fell at her feet; its bright wings shivered; it wasdead—from no cause that he could discern, unless it were theatmosphere of her breath. Again Beatrice crossed herself and sighedheavily as she bent over the dead insect.
An impulsive movement of Giovanni drew her eyes to the window. Thereshe beheld the beautiful head of the young man—rather a Grecian thanan Italian head, with fair, regular features, and a glistening of goldamong his ringlets—gazing down upon her like a being that hovered inmid air. Scarcely knowing what he did, Giovanni threw down the bouquetwhich he had hitherto held in his hand.
"Signora," said he, "there are pure and healthful flowers. Wear themfor the sake of Giovanni Guasconti."
"Thanks, signor," replied Beatrice, with her rich voice, that cameforth as it were like a gush of music, and with a mirthful expressionhalf childish and half woman-like. "I accept your gift, and would fainrecompense it with this precious purple flower; but if I toss it intothe air it will not reach you. So Signor Guasconti must even contenthimself with my thanks."
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then, as if inwardlyashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to respond toa stranger's greeting, passed swiftly homeward through the garden. Butfew as the moments were, it seemed to Giovanni, when she was on thepoint of vanishing beneath the sculptured portal, that his beautifulbouquet was already beginning to wither in her grasp. It was an idlethought; there could be no possibility of distinguishing a faded flowerfrom a fresh one at so great a distance.
For many days after this incident the young man avoided the window thatlooked into Dr. Rappaccini's garden, as if something ugly and monstrouswould have blasted his eyesight had he been betrayed into a glance. Hefelt conscious of having put himself, to a certain extent, within theinfluence of an unintelligible power by the communication which he hadopened with Beatrice. The wisest course would have been, if his heartwere in any real danger, to quit his lodgings and Padua itself at once;the next wiser, to have accustomed himself, as far as possible, to thefamiliar and daylight view of Beatrice—thus bringing her rigidly andsystematically within the limits of ordinary experience. Least of all,while avoiding her sight, ought Giovanni to have remained so near thisextraordinary being that the proximity and possibility even ofintercourse should give a kind of substance and reality to the wildvagaries which his imagination ran riot continually in producing.Guasconti had not a deep heart—or, at all events, its depths were notsounded now; but he had a quick fancy, and an ardent southerntemperament, which rose every instant to a higher fever pitch. Whetheror no Beatrice possessed those terrible attributes, that fatal breath,the affinity with those so beautiful and deadly flowers which wereindicated by what Giovanni had witnessed, she had at least instilled afierce and subtle poison into his system. It was not love, although herrich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he fancied herspirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence that seemed topervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring of both love andhorror that had each parent in it, and burned like one and shiveredlike the other. Giovanni knew not what to dread; still less did he knowwhat to hope; yet hope and dread kept a continual warfare in hisbreast, alternately vanquishing one another and starting up afresh torenew the contest. Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark orbright! It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces theilluminating blaze of the infernal regions.
Sometimes he endeavored to assuage the fever of his spirit by a rapidwalk through the streets of Padua or beyond its gates: his footstepskept time with the throbbings of his brain, so that the walk was apt toaccelerate itself to a race. One day he found himself arrested; his armwas seized by a portly personage, who had turned back on recognizingthe young man and expended much breath in overtaking him.
"Signor Giovanni! Stay, my young friend!" cried he. "Have you forgottenme? That might well be the case if I were as much altered as yourself."
It was Baglioni, whom Giovanni had avoided ever since their firstmeeting, from a doubt that the professor's sagacity would look toodeeply into his secrets. Endeavoring to recover himself, he staredforth wildly from his inner world into the outer one and spoke like aman in a dream.
"Yes; I am Giovanni Guasconti. You are Professor Pietro Baglioni. Nowlet me pass!"
"Not yet, not yet, Signor Giovanni Guasconti," said the professor,smiling, but at the same time scrutinizing the youth with an earnestglance. "What! did I grow up side by side with your father? and shallhis son pass me like a stranger in these old streets of Padua? Standstill, Signor Giovanni; for we must have a word or two before we part."
"Speedily, then, most worshipful professor, speedily," said Giovanni,with feverish impatience. "Does not your worship see that I am inhaste?"
Now, while he was speaking there came a man in black along the street,stooping and moving feebly like a person in inferior health. His facewas all overspread with a most sickly and sallow hue, but yet sopervaded with an expression of piercing and active intellect that anobserver might easily have overlooked the merely physical attributesand have seen only this wonderful energy. As he passed, this personexchanged a cold and distant salutation with Baglioni, but fixed hiseyes upon Giovanni with an intentness that seemed to bring out whateverwas within him worthy of notice. Nevertheless, there was a peculiarquietness in the look, as if taking merely a speculative, not a humaninterest, in the young man.
"It is Dr. Rappaccini!" whispered the professor when the stranger hadpassed. "Has he ever seen your face before?"
"Not that I know," answered Giovanni, starting at the name.
"He HAS seen you! he must have seen you!" said Baglioni, hastily. "Forsome purpose or other, this man of science is making a study of you. Iknow that look of his! It is the same that coldly illuminates his faceas he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a butterfly, which, in pursuanceof some experiment, he has killed by the perfume of a flower; a look asdeep as Nature itself, but without Nature's warmth of love. SignorGiovanni, I will stake my life upon it, you are the subject of one ofRappaccini's experiments!"
"Will you make a fool of me?" cried Giovanni, passionately. "THAT,signor professor, were an untoward experiment."
"Patience! patience!" replied the imperturbable professor. "I tellthee, my poor Giovanni, that Rappaccini has a scientific interest inthee. Thou hast fallen into fearful hands! And the SignoraBeatrice,—what part does she act in this mystery?"
But Guasconti, finding Baglioni's pertinacity intolerable, here brokeaway, and was gone before the professor could again seize his arm. Helooked after the young man intently and shook his head.
"This must not be," said Baglioni to himself. "The youth is the son ofmy old friend, and shall not come to any harm from which the arcana ofmedical science can preserve him. Besides, it is too insufferable animpertinence in Rappaccini, thus to snatch the lad out of my own hands,as I may say, and make use of him for his infernal experiments. Thisdaughter of his! It shall be looked to. Perchance, most learnedRappaccini, I may foil you where you little dream of it!"
Meanwhile Giovanni had pursued a circuitous route, and at length foundhimself at the door of his lodgings. As he crossed the threshold he wasmet by old Lisabetta, who smirked and smiled, and was evidentlydesirous to attract his attention; vainly, however, as the ebullitionof his feelings had momentarily subsided into a cold and dull vacuity.He turned his eyes full upon the withered face that was puckeringitself into a smile, but seemed to behold it not. The old dame,therefore, laid her grasp upon his cloak.
"Signor! signor!" whispered she, still with a smile over the wholebreadth of her visage, so that it looked not unlike a grotesque carvingin wood, darkened by centuries. "Listen, signor! There is a privateentrance into the garden!"
"What do you say?" exclaimed Giovanni, turning quickly about, as if aninanimate thing should start into feverish life. "A private entranceinto Dr. Rappaccini's garden?"
"Hush! hush! not so loud!" whispered Lisabetta, putting her hand overhis mouth. "Yes; into the worshipful doctor's garden, where you may seeall his fine shrubbery. Many a young man in Padua would give gold to beadmitted among those flowers."
Giovanni put a piece of gold into her hand.
"Show me the way," said he.
A surmise, probably excited by his conversation with Baglioni, crossedhis mind, that this interposition of old Lisabetta might perchance beconnected with the intrigue, whatever were its nature, in which theprofessor seemed to suppose that Dr. Rappaccini was involving him. Butsuch a suspicion, though it disturbed Giovanni, was inadequate torestrain him. The instant that he was aware of the possibility ofapproaching Beatrice, it seemed an absolute necessity of his existenceto do so. It mattered not whether she were angel or demon; he wasirrevocably within her sphere, and must obey the law that whirled himonward, in ever-lessening circles, towards a result which he did notattempt to foreshadow; and yet, strange to say, there came across him asudden doubt whether this intense interest on his part were notdelusory; whether it were really of so deep and positive a nature as tojustify him in now thrusting himself into an incalculable position;whether it were not merely the fantasy of a young man's brain, onlyslightly or not at all connected with his heart.
He paused, hesitated, turned half about, but again went on. Hiswithered guide led him along several obscure passages, and finallyundid a door, through which, as it was opened, there came the sight andsound of rustling leaves, with the broken sunshine glimmering amongthem. Giovanni stepped forth, and, forcing himself through theentanglement of a shrub that wreathed its tendrils over the hiddenentrance, stood beneath his own window in the open area of Dr.Rappaccini's garden.
How often is it the case that, when impossibilities have come to passand dreams have condensed their misty substance into tangiblerealities, we find ourselves calm, and even coldly self-possessed, amidcircumstances which it would have been a delirium of joy or agony toanticipate! Fate delights to thwart us thus. Passion will choose hisown time to rush upon the scene, and lingers sluggishly behind when anappropriate adjustment of events would seem to summon his appearance.So was it now with Giovanni. Day after day his pulses had throbbed withfeverish blood at the improbable idea of an interview with Beatrice,and of standing with her, face to face, in this very garden, basking inthe Oriental sunshine of her beauty, and snatching from her full gazethe mystery which he deemed the riddle of his own existence. But nowthere was a singular and untimely equanimity within his breast. Hethrew a glance around the garden to discover if Beatrice or her fatherwere present, and, perceiving that he was alone, began a criticalobservation of the plants.
The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their gorgeousnessseemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was hardly anindividual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself through aforest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as if anunearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several also wouldhave shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of artificialnessindicating that there had been such commixture, and, as it were,adultery, of various vegetable species, that the production was nolonger of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's depravedfancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probablythe result of experiment, which in one or two cases had succeeded inmingling plants individually lovely into a compound possessing thequestionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole growthof the garden. In fine, Giovanni recognized but two or three plants inthe collection, and those of a kind that he well knew to be poisonous.While busy with these contemplations he heard the rustling of a silkengarment, and, turning, beheld Beatrice emerging from beneath thesculptured portal.
Giovanni had not considered with himself what should be his deportment;whether he should apologize for his intrusion into the garden, orassume that he was there with the privity at least, if not by thedesire, of Dr. Rappaccini or his daughter; but Beatrice's manner placedhim at his ease, though leaving him still in doubt by what agency hehad gained admittance. She came lightly along the path and met him nearthe broken fountain. There was surprise in her face, but brightened bya simple and kind expression of pleasure.
"You are a connoisseur in flowers, signor," said Beatrice, with asmile, alluding to the bouquet which he had flung her from the window."It is no marvel, therefore, if the sight of my father's rarecollection has tempted you to take a nearer view. If he were here, hecould tell you many strange and interesting facts as to the nature andhabits of these shrubs; for he has spent a lifetime in such studies,and this garden is his world."
"And yourself, lady," observed Giovanni, "if fame says true,—youlikewise are deeply skilled in the virtues indicated by these richblossoms and these spicy perfumes. Would you deign to be myinstructress, I should prove an apter scholar than if taught by SignorRappaccini himself."
"Are there such idle rumors?" asked Beatrice, with the music of apleasant laugh. "Do people say that I am skilled in my father's scienceof plants? What a jest is there! No; though I have grown up among theseflowers, I know no more of them than their hues and perfume; andsometimes methinks I would fain rid myself of even that smallknowledge. There are many flowers here, and those not the leastbrilliant, that shock and offend me when they meet my eye. But pray,signor, do not believe these stories about my science. Believe nothingof me save what you see with your own eyes."
"And must I believe all that I have seen with my own eyes?" askedGiovanni, pointedly, while the recollection of former scenes made himshrink. "No, signora; you demand too little of me. Bid me believenothing save what comes from your own lips."
It would appear that Beatrice understood him. There came a deep flushto her cheek; but she looked full into Giovanni's eyes, and respondedto his gaze of uneasy suspicion with a queenlike haughtiness.
"I do so bid you, signor," she replied. "Forget whatever you may havefancied in regard to me. If true to the outward senses, still it may befalse in its essence; but the words of Beatrice Rappaccini's lips aretrue from the depths of the heart outward. Those you may believe."
A fervor glowed in her whole aspect and beamed upon Giovanni'sconsciousness like the light of truth itself; but while she spoke therewas a fragrance in the atmosphere around her, rich and delightful,though evanescent, yet which the young man, from an indefinablereluctance, scarcely dared to draw into his lungs. It might be the odorof the flowers. Could it be Beatrice's breath which thus embalmed herwords with a strange richness, as if by steeping them in her heart? Afaintness passed like a shadow over Giovanni and flitted away; heseemed to gaze through the beautiful girl's eyes into her transparentsoul, and felt no more doubt or fear.
The tinge of passion that had colored Beatrice's manner vanished; shebecame gay, and appeared to derive a pure delight from her communionwith the youth not unlike what the maiden of a lonely island might havefelt conversing with a voyager from the civilized world. Evidently herexperience of life had been confined within the limits of that garden.She talked now about matters as simple as the daylight or summerclouds, and now asked questions in reference to the city, or Giovanni'sdistant home, his friends, his mother, and his sisters—questionsindicating such seclusion, and such lack of familiarity with modes andforms, that Giovanni responded as if to an infant. Her spirit gushedout before him like a fresh rill that was just catching its firstglimpse of the sunlight and wondering at the reflections of earth andsky which were flung into its bosom. There came thoughts, too, from adeep source, and fantasies of a gemlike brilliancy, as if diamonds andrubies sparkled upward among the bubbles of the fountain. Ever and anonthere gleamed across the young man's mind a sense of wonder that heshould be walking side by side with the being who had so wrought uponhis imagination, whom he had idealized in such hues of terror, in whomhe had positively witnessed such manifestations of dreadfulattributes,—that he should be conversing with Beatrice like a brother,and should find her so human and so maidenlike. But such reflectionswere only momentary; the effect of her character was too real not tomake itself familiar at once.
In this free intercourse they had strayed through the garden, and now,after many turns among its avenues, were come to the shatteredfountain, beside which grew the magnificent shrub, with its treasury ofglowing blossoms. A fragrance was diffused from it which Giovannirecognized as identical with that which he had attributed to Beatrice'sbreath, but incomparably more powerful. As her eyes fell upon it,Giovanni beheld her press her hand to her bosom as if her heart werethrobbing suddenly and painfully.
"For the first time in my life," murmured she, addressing the shrub, "Ihad forgotten thee."
"I remember, signora," said Giovanni, "that you once promised to rewardme with one of these living gems for the bouquet which I had the happyboldness to fling to your feet. Permit me now to pluck it as a memorialof this interview."
He made a step towards the shrub with extended hand; but Beatricedarted forward, uttering a shriek that went through his heart like adagger. She caught his hand and drew it back with the whole force ofher slender figure. Giovanni felt her touch thrilling through hisfibres.
"Touch it not!" exclaimed she, in a voice of agony. "Not for thy life!It is fatal!"
Then, hiding her face, she fled from him and vanished beneath thesculptured portal. As Giovanni followed her with his eyes, he beheldthe emaciated figure and pale intelligence of Dr. Rappaccini, who hadbeen watching the scene, he knew not how long, within the shadow of theentrance.
No sooner was Guasconti alone in his chamber than the image of Beatricecame back to his passionate musings, invested with all the witcherythat had been gathering around it ever since his first glimpse of her,and now likewise imbued with a tender warmth of girlish womanhood. Shewas human; her nature was endowed with all gentle and femininequalities; she was worthiest to be worshipped; she was capable, surely,on her part, of the height and heroism of love. Those tokens which hehad hitherto considered as proofs of a frightful peculiarity in herphysical and moral system were now either forgotten, or, by the subtlesophistry of passion transmitted into a golden crown of enchantment,rendering Beatrice the more admirable by so much as she was the moreunique. Whatever had looked ugly was now beautiful; or, if incapable ofsuch a change, it stole away and hid itself among those shapeless halfideas which throng the dim region beyond the daylight of our perfectconsciousness. Thus did he spend the night, nor fell asleep until thedawn had begun to awake the slumbering flowers in Dr. Rappaccini'sgarden, whither Giovanni's dreams doubtless led him. Up rose the sun inhis due season, and, flinging his beams upon the young man's eyelids,awoke him to a sense of pain. When thoroughly aroused, he becamesensible of a burning and tingling agony in his hand—in his righthand—the very hand which Beatrice had grasped in her own when he wason the point of plucking one of the gemlike flowers. On the back ofthat hand there was now a purple print like that of four small fingers,and the likeness of a slender thumb upon his wrist.
Oh, how stubbornly does love,—or even that cunning semblance of lovewhich flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of root intothe heart,—how stubbornly does it hold its faith until the momentcomes when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist! Giovanni wrapped ahandkerchief about his hand and wondered what evil thing had stung him,and soon forgot his pain in a reverie of Beatrice.
After the first interview, a second was in the inevitable course ofwhat we call fate. A third; a fourth; and a meeting with Beatrice inthe garden was no longer an incident in Giovanni's daily life, but thewhole space in which he might be said to live; for the anticipation andmemory of that ecstatic hour made up the remainder. Nor was itotherwise with the daughter of Rappaccini. She watched for the youth'sappearance, and flew to his side with confidence as unreserved as ifthey had been playmates from early infancy—as if they were suchplaymates still. If, by any unwonted chance, he failed to come at theappointed moment, she stood beneath the window and sent up the richsweetness of her tones to float around him in his chamber and echo andreverberate throughout his heart: "Giovanni! Giovanni! Why tarriestthou? Come down!" And down he hastened into that Eden of poisonousflowers.
But, with all this intimate familiarity, there was still a reserve inBeatrice's demeanor, so rigidly and invariably sustained that the ideaof infringing it scarcely occurred to his imagination. By allappreciable signs, they loved; they had looked love with eyes thatconveyed the holy secret from the depths of one soul into the depths ofthe other, as if it were too sacred to be whispered by the way; theyhad even spoken love in those gushes of passion when their spiritsdarted forth in articulated breath like tongues of long-hidden flame;and yet there had been no seal of lips, no clasp of hands, nor anyslightest caress such as love claims and hallows. He had never touchedone of the gleaming ringlets of her hair; her garment—so marked wasthe physical barrier between them—had never been waved against him bya breeze. On the few occasions when Giovanni had seemed tempted tooverstep the limit, Beatrice grew so sad, so stern, and withal woresuch a look of desolate separation, shuddering at itself, that not aspoken word was requisite to repel him. At such times he was startledat the horrible suspicions that rose, monster-like, out of the cavernsof his heart and stared him in the face; his love grew thin and faintas the morning mist, his doubts alone had substance. But, whenBeatrice's face brightened again after the momentary shadow, she wastransformed at once from the mysterious, questionable being whom he hadwatched with so much awe and horror; she was now the beautiful andunsophisticated girl whom he felt that his spirit knew with a certaintybeyond all other knowledge.
A considerable time had now passed since Giovanni's last meeting withBaglioni. One morning, however, he was disagreeably surprised by avisit from the professor, whom he had scarcely thought of for wholeweeks, and would willingly have forgotten still longer. Given up as hehad long been to a pervading excitement, he could tolerate nocompanions except upon condition of their perfect sympathy with hispresent state of feeling. Such sympathy was not to be expected fromProfessor Baglioni.
The visitor chatted carelessly for a few moments about the gossip ofthe city and the university, and then took up another topic.
"I have been reading an old classic author lately," said he, "and metwith a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may rememberit. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful woman as a presentto Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as the dawn and gorgeous asthe sunset; but what especially distinguished her was a certain richperfume in her breath—richer than a garden of Persian roses.Alexander, as was natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love atfirst sight with this magnificent stranger; but a certain sagephysician, happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret inregard to her."
"And what was that?" asked Giovanni, turning his eyes downward to avoidthose of the professor.
"That this lovely woman," continued Baglioni, with emphasis, "had beennourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her whole naturewas so imbued with them that she herself had become the deadliestpoison in existence. Poison was her element of life. With that richperfume of her breath she blasted the very air. Her love would havebeen poison—her embrace death. Is not this a marvellous tale?"
"A childish fable," answered Giovanni, nervously starting from hischair. "I marvel how your worship finds time to read such nonsenseamong your graver studies."
"By the by," said the professor, looking uneasily about him, "whatsingular fragrance is this in your apartment? Is it the perfume of yourgloves? It is faint, but delicious; and yet, after all, by no meansagreeable. Were I to breathe it long, methinks it would make me ill. Itis like the breath of a flower; but I see no flowers in the chamber."
"Nor are there any," replied Giovanni, who had turned pale as theprofessor spoke; "nor, I think, is there any fragrance except in yourworship's imagination. Odors, being a sort of element combined of thesensual and the spiritual, are apt to deceive us in this manner. Therecollection of a perfume, the bare idea of it, may easily be mistakenfor a present reality."
"Ay; but my sober imagination does not often play such tricks," saidBaglioni; "and, were I to fancy any kind of odor, it would be that ofsome vile apothecary drug, wherewith my fingers are likely enough to beimbued. Our worshipful friend Rappaccini, as I have heard, tinctureshis medicaments with odors richer than those of Araby. Doubtless,likewise, the fair and learned Signora Beatrice would minister to herpatients with draughts as sweet as a maiden's breath; but woe to himthat sips them!"
Giovanni's face evinced many contending emotions. The tone in which theprofessor alluded to the pure and lovely daughter of Rappaccini was atorture to his soul; and yet the intimation of a view of her characteropposite to his own, gave instantaneous distinctness to a thousand dimsuspicions, which now grinned at him like so many demons. But he strovehard to quell them and to respond to Baglioni with a true lover'sperfect faith.
"Signor professor," said he, "you were my father's friend; perchance,too, it is your purpose to act a friendly part towards his son. I wouldfain feel nothing towards you save respect and deference; but I prayyou to observe, signor, that there is one subject on which we must notspeak. You know not the Signora Beatrice. You cannot, therefore,estimate the wrong—the blasphemy, I may even say—that is offered toher character by a light or injurious word."
"Giovanni! my poor Giovanni!" answered the professor, with a calmexpression of pity, "I know this wretched girl far better thanyourself. You shall hear the truth in respect to the poisonerRappaccini and his poisonous daughter; yes, poisonous as she isbeautiful. Listen; for, even should you do violence to my gray hairs,it shall not silence me. That old fable of the Indian woman has becomea truth by the deep and deadly science of Rappaccini and in the personof the lovely Beatrice."
Giovanni groaned and hid his face
"Her father," continued Baglioni, "was not restrained by naturalaffection from offering up his child in this horrible manner as thevictim of his insane zeal for science; for, let us do him justice, heis as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in analembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a doubt you are selectedas the material of some new experiment. Perhaps the result is to bedeath; perhaps a fate more awful still. Rappaccini, with what he callsthe interest of science before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing."
"It is a dream," muttered Giovanni to himself; "surely it is a dream."
"But," resumed the professor, "be of good cheer, son of my friend. Itis not yet too late for the rescue. Possibly we may even succeed inbringing back this miserable child within the limits of ordinarynature, from which her father's madness has estranged her. Behold thislittle silver vase! It was wrought by the hands of the renownedBenvenuto Cellini, and is well worthy to be a love gift to the fairestdame in Italy. But its contents are invaluable. One little sip of thisantidote would have rendered the most virulent poisons of the Borgiasinnocuous. Doubt not that it will be as efficacious against those ofRappaccini. Bestow the vase, and the precious liquid within it, on yourBeatrice, and hopefully await the result."
Baglioni laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver vial on the table andwithdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its effect upon the youngman's mind.
"We will thwart Rappaccini yet," thought he, chuckling to himself, ashe descended the stairs; "but, let us confess the truth of him, he is awonderful man—a wonderful man indeed; a vile empiric, however, in hispractice, and therefore not to be tolerated by those who respect thegood old rules of the medical profession."
Throughout Giovanni's whole acquaintance with Beatrice, he hadoccasionally, as we have said, been haunted by dark surmises as to hercharacter; yet so thoroughly had she made herself felt by him as asimple, natural, most affectionate, and guileless creature, that theimage now held up by Professor Baglioni looked as strange andincredible as if it were not in accordance with his own originalconception. True, there were ugly recollections connected with hisfirst glimpses of the beautiful girl; he could not quite forget thebouquet that withered in her grasp, and the insect that perished amidthe sunny air, by no ostensible agency save the fragrance of herbreath. These incidents, however, dissolving in the pure light of hercharacter, had no longer the efficacy of facts, but were acknowledgedas mistaken fantasies, by whatever testimony of the senses they mightappear to be substantiated. There is something truer and more real thanwhat we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger. On such betterevidence had Giovanni founded his confidence in Beatrice, though ratherby the necessary force of her high attributes than by any deep andgenerous faith on his part. But now his spirit was incapable ofsustaining itself at the height to which the early enthusiasm ofpassion had exalted it; he fell down, grovelling among earthly doubts,and defiled therewith the pure whiteness of Beatrice's image. Not thathe gave her up; he did but distrust. He resolved to institute somedecisive test that should satisfy him, once for all, whether there werethose dreadful peculiarities in her physical nature which could not besupposed to exist without some corresponding monstrosity of soul. Hiseyes, gazing down afar, might have deceived him as to the lizard, theinsect, and the flowers; but if he could witness, at the distance of afew paces, the sudden blight of one fresh and healthful flower inBeatrice's hand, there would be room for no further question. With thisidea he hastened to the florist's and purchased a bouquet that wasstill gemmed with the morning dew-drops.
It was now the customary hour of his daily interview with Beatrice.Before descending into the garden, Giovanni failed not to look at hisfigure in the mirror,—a vanity to be expected in a beautiful youngman, yet, as displaying itself at that troubled and feverish moment,the token of a certain shallowness of feeling and insincerity ofcharacter. He did gaze, however, and said to himself that his featureshad never before possessed so rich a grace, nor his eyes such vivacity,nor his cheeks so warm a hue of superabundant life.
"At least," thought he, "her poison has not yet insinuated itself intomy system. I am no flower to perish in her grasp."
With that thought he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which he had neveronce laid aside from his hand. A thrill of indefinable horror shotthrough his frame on perceiving that those dewy flowers were alreadybeginning to droop; they wore the aspect of things that had been freshand lovely yesterday. Giovanni grew white as marble, and stoodmotionless before the mirror, staring at his own reflection there as atthe likeness of something frightful. He remembered Baglioni's remarkabout the fragrance that seemed to pervade the chamber. It must havebeen the poison in his breath! Then he shuddered—shuddered at himself.Recovering from his stupor, he began to watch with curious eye a spiderthat was busily at work hanging its web from the antique cornice of theapartment, crossing and recrossing the artful system of interwovenlines—as vigorous and active a spider as ever dangled from an oldceiling. Giovanni bent towards the insect, and emitted a deep, longbreath. The spider suddenly ceased its toil; the web vibrated with atremor originating in the body of the small artisan. Again Giovannisent forth a breath, deeper, longer, and imbued with a venomous feelingout of his heart: he knew not whether he were wicked, or onlydesperate. The spider made a convulsive gripe with his limbs and hungdead across the window.
"Accursed! accursed!" muttered Giovanni, addressing himself. "Hast thougrown so poisonous that this deadly insect perishes by thy breath?"
At that moment a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the garden.
"Giovanni! Giovanni! It is past the hour! Why tarriest thou? Come down!"
"Yes," muttered Giovanni again. "She is the only being whom my breathmay not slay! Would that it might!"
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the bright andloving eyes of Beatrice. A moment ago his wrath and despair had been sofierce that he could have desired nothing so much as to wither her by aglance; but with her actual presence there came influences which hadtoo real an existence to be at once shaken off: recollections of thedelicate and benign power of her feminine nature, which had so oftenenveloped him in a religious calm; recollections of many a holy andpassionate outgush of her heart, when the pure fountain had beenunsealed from its depths and made visible in its transparency to hismental eye; recollections which, had Giovanni known how to estimatethem, would have assured him that all this ugly mystery was but anearthly illusion, and that, whatever mist of evil might seem to havegathered over her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel. Incapable ashe was of such high faith, still her presence had not utterly lost itsmagic. Giovanni's rage was quelled into an aspect of sulleninsensibility. Beatrice, with a quick spiritual sense, immediately feltthat there was a gulf of blackness between them which neither he norshe could pass. They walked on together, sad and silent, and came thusto the marble fountain and to its pool of water on the ground, in themidst of which grew the shrub that bore gem-like blossoms. Giovanni wasaffrighted at the eager enjoyment—the appetite, as it were—with whichhe found himself inhaling the fragrance of the flowers.
"Beatrice," asked he, abruptly, "whence came this shrub?"
"My father created it," answered she, with simplicity.
"Created it! created it!" repeated Giovanni. "What mean you, Beatrice?"
"He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of Nature," repliedBeatrice; "and, at the hour when I first drew breath, this plant sprangfrom the soil, the offspring of his science, of his intellect, while Iwas but his earthly child. Approach it not!" continued she, observingwith terror that Giovanni was drawing nearer to the shrub. "It hasqualities that you little dream of. But I, dearest Giovanni,—I grew upand blossomed with the plant and was nourished with its breath. It wasmy sister, and I loved it with a human affection; for, alas!—hast thounot suspected it?—there was an awful doom."
Here Giovanni frowned so darkly upon her that Beatrice paused andtrembled. But her faith in his tenderness reassured her, and made herblush that she had doubted for an instant.
"There was an awful doom," she continued, "the effect of my father'sfatal love of science, which estranged me from all society of my kind.Until Heaven sent thee, dearest Giovanni, oh, how lonely was thy poorBeatrice!"
"Was it a hard doom?" asked Giovanni, fixing his eyes upon her.
"Only of late have I known how hard it was," answered she, tenderly."Oh, yes; but my heart was torpid, and therefore quiet."
Giovanni's rage broke forth from his sullen gloom like a lightningflash out of a dark cloud.
"Accursed one!" cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. "And, findingthy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me likewise from all thewarmth of life and enticed me into thy region of unspeakable horror!"
"Giovanni!" exclaimed Beatrice, turning her large bright eyes upon hisface. The force of his words had not found its way into her mind; shewas merely thunderstruck.
"Yes, poisonous thing!" repeated Giovanni, beside himself with passion."Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! Thou hast filled my veinswith poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as ugly, as loathsome anddeadly a creature as thyself—a world's wonder of hideous monstrosity!Now, if our breath be happily as fatal to ourselves as to all others,let us join our lips in one kiss of unutterable hatred, and so die!"
"What has befallen me?" murmured Beatrice, with a low moan out of herheart. "Holy Virgin, pity me, a poor heart-broken child!"
"Thou,—dost thou pray?" cried Giovanni, still with the same fiendishscorn. "Thy very prayers, as they come from thy lips, taint theatmosphere with death. Yes, yes; let us pray! Let us to church and dipour fingers in the holy water at the portal! They that come after uswill perish as by a pestilence! Let us sign crosses in the air! It willbe scattering curses abroad in the likeness of holy symbols!"
"Giovanni," said Beatrice, calmly, for her grief was beyond passion,"why dost thou join thyself with me thus in those terrible words? I, itis true, am the horrible thing thou namest me. But thou,—what hastthou to do, save with one other shudder at my hideous misery to goforth out of the garden and mingle with thy race, and forget there evercrawled on earth such a monster as poor Beatrice?"
"Dost thou pretend ignorance?" asked Giovanni, scowling upon her."Behold! this power have I gained from the pure daughter of Rappaccini."
There was a swarm of summer insects flitting through the air in searchof the food promised by the flower odors of the fatal garden. Theycircled round Giovanni's head, and were evidently attracted towards himby the same influence which had drawn them for an instant within thesphere of several of the shrubs. He sent forth a breath among them, andsmiled bitterly at Beatrice as at least a score of the insects felldead upon the ground.
"I see it! I see it!" shrieked Beatrice. "It is my father's fatalscience! No, no, Giovanni; it was not I! Never! never! I dreamed onlyto love thee and be with thee a little time, and so to let thee passaway, leaving but thine image in mine heart; for, Giovanni, believe it,though my body be nourished with poison, my spirit is God's creature,and craves love as its daily food. But my father,—he has united us inthis fearful sympathy. Yes; spurn me, tread upon me, kill me! Oh, whatis death after such words as thine? But it was not I. Not for a worldof bliss would I have done it."
Giovanni's passion had exhausted itself in its outburst from his lips.There now came across him a sense, mournful, and not withouttenderness, of the intimate and peculiar relationship between Beatriceand himself. They stood, as it were, in an utter solitude, which wouldbe made none the less solitary by the densest throng of human life.Ought not, then, the desert of humanity around them to press thisinsulated pair closer together? If they should be cruel to one another,who was there to be kind to them? Besides, thought Giovanni, mightthere not still be a hope of his returning within the limits ofordinary nature, and leading Beatrice, the redeemed Beatrice, by thehand? O, weak, and selfish, and unworthy spirit, that could dream of anearthly union and earthly happiness as possible, after such deep lovehad been so bitterly wronged as was Beatrice's love by Giovanni'sblighting words! No, no; there could be no such hope. She must passheavily, with that broken heart, across the borders of Time—she mustbathe her hurts in some fount of paradise, and forget her grief in thelight of immortality, and THERE be well.
But Giovanni did not know it.
"Dear Beatrice," said he, approaching her, while she shrank away asalways at his approach, but now with a different impulse, "dearestBeatrice, our fate is not yet so desperate. Behold! there is amedicine, potent, as a wise physician has assured me, and almost divinein its efficacy. It is composed of ingredients the most opposite tothose by which thy awful father has brought this calamity upon thee andme. It is distilled of blessed herbs. Shall we not quaff it together,and thus be purified from evil?"
"Give it me!" said Beatrice, extending her hand to receive the littlesilver vial which Giovanni took from his bosom. She added, with apeculiar emphasis, "I will drink; but do thou await the result."
She put Baglioni's antidote to her lips; and, at the same moment, thefigure of Rappaccini emerged from the portal and came slowly towardsthe marble fountain. As he drew near, the pale man of science seemed togaze with a triumphant expression at the beautiful youth and maiden, asmight an artist who should spend his life in achieving a picture or agroup of statuary and finally be satisfied with his success. He paused;his bent form grew erect with conscious power; he spread out his handsover them in the attitude of a father imploring a blessing upon hischildren; but those were the same hands that had thrown poison into thestream of their lives. Giovanni trembled. Beatrice shuddered nervously,and pressed her hand upon her heart.
"My daughter," said Rappaccini, "thou art no longer lonely in theworld. Pluck one of those precious gems from thy sister shrub and bidthy bridegroom wear it in his bosom. It will not harm him now. Myscience and the sympathy between thee and him have so wrought withinhis system that he now stands apart from common men, as thou dost,daughter of my pride and triumph, from ordinary women. Pass on, then,through the world, most dear to one another and dreadful to allbesides!"
"My father," said Beatrice, feebly,—and still as she spoke she kepther hand upon her heart,—"wherefore didst thou inflict this miserabledoom upon thy child?"
"Miserable!" exclaimed Rappaccini. "What mean you, foolish girl? Dostthou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts against whichno power nor strength could avail an enemy—misery, to be able to quellthe mightiest with a breath—misery, to be as terrible as thou artbeautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weakwoman, exposed to all evil and capable of none?"
"I would fain have been loved, not feared," murmured Beatrice, sinkingdown upon the ground. "But now it matters not. I am going, father,where the evil which thou hast striven to mingle with my being willpass away like a dream-like the fragrance of these poisonous flowers,which will no longer taint my breath among the flowers of Eden.Farewell, Giovanni! Thy words of hatred are like lead within my heart;but they, too, will fall away as I ascend. Oh, was there not, from thefirst, more poison in thy nature than in mine?"
To Beatrice,—so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon byRappaccini's skill,—as poison had been life, so the powerful antidotewas death; and thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity and of thwartednature, and of the fatality that attends all such efforts of pervertedwisdom, perished there, at the feet of her father and Giovanni. Just atthat moment Professor Pietro Baglioni looked forth from the window, andcalled loudly, in a tone of triumph mixed with horror, to thethunderstricken man of science, "Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is THISthe upshot of your experiment!"
It makes me melancholy to see how like fools some very sensible peopleact in the matter of choosing wives. They perplex their judgments by amost undue attention to little niceties of personal appearance, habits,disposition, and other trifles which concern nobody but the ladyherself. An unhappy gentleman, resolving to wed nothing short ofperfection, keeps his heart and hand till both get so old and witheredthat no tolerable woman will accept them. Now this is the very heightof absurdity. A kind Providence has so skilfully adapted sex to sex andthe mass of individuals to each other, that, with certain obviousexceptions, any male and female may be moderately happy in the marriedstate. The true rule is to ascertain that the match is fundamentally agood one, and then to take it for granted that all minor objections,should there be such, will vanish, if you let them alone. Only putyourself beyond hazard as to the real basis of matrimonial bliss, andit is scarcely to be imagined what miracles, in the way of recognizingsmaller incongruities, connubial love will effect.
For my own part I freely confess that, in my bachelorship, I wasprecisely such an over-curious simpleton as I now advise the reader notto be. My early habits had gifted me with a feminine sensibility andtoo exquisite refinement. I was the accomplished graduate of a drygoods store, where, by dint of ministering to the whims of fine ladies,and suiting silken hose to delicate limbs, and handling satins,ribbons, chintzes calicoes, tapes, gauze, and cambric needles, I grewup a very ladylike sort of a gentleman. It is not assuming too much toaffirm that the ladies themselves were hardly so ladylike as ThomasBullfrog. So painfully acute was my sense of female imperfection, andsuch varied excellence did I require in the woman whom I could love,that there was an awful risk of my getting no wife at all, or of beingdriven to perpetrate matrimony with my own image in the looking-glass.Besides the fundamental principle already hinted at, I demanded thefresh bloom of youth, pearly teeth, glossy ringlets, and the whole listof lovely items, with the utmost delicacy of habits and sentiments, asilken texture of mind, and, above all, a virgin heart. In a word, if ayoung angel just from paradise, yet dressed in earthly fashion, hadcome and offered me her hand, it is by no means certain that I shouldhave taken it. There was every chance of my becoming a most miserableold bachelor, when, by the best luck in the world, I made a journeyinto another state, and was smitten by, and smote again, and wooed,won, and married, the present Mrs. Bullfrog, all in the space of afortnight. Owing to these extempore measures, I not only gave my bridecredit for certain perfections which have not as yet come to light, butalso overlooked a few trifling defects, which, however, glimmered on myperception long before the close of the honeymoon. Yet, as there was nomistake about the fundamental principle aforesaid, I soon learned, aswill be seen, to estimate Mrs. Bullfrog's deficiencies andsuperfluities at exactly their proper value.
The same morning that Mrs. Bullfrog and I came together as a unit, wetook two seats in the stage-coach and began our journey towards myplace of business. There being no other passengers, we were as muchalone and as free to give vent to our raptures as if I had hired a hackfor the matrimonial jaunt. My bride looked charmingly in a green silkcalash and riding habit of pelisse cloth; and whenever her red lipsparted with a smile, each tooth appeared like an inestimable pearl.Such was my passionate warmth that—we had rattled out of the village,gentle reader, and were lonely as Adam and Eve in paradise—I pleadguilty to no less freedom than a kiss. The gentle eye of Mrs. Bullfrogscarcely rebuked me for the profanation. Emboldened by her indulgence,I threw back the calash from her polished brow, and suffered myfingers, white and delicate as her own, to stray among those dark andglossy curls which realized my daydreams of rich hair.
"My love," said Mrs. Bullfrog tenderly, "you will disarrange my curls."
"Oh, no, my sweet Laura!" replied I, still playing with the glossyringlet. "Even your fair hand could not manage a curl more delicatelythan mine. I propose myself the pleasure of doing up your hair inpapers every evening at the same time with my own."
"Mr. Bullfrog," repeated she, "you must not disarrange my curls."
This was spoken in a more decided tone than I had happened to hear,until then, from my gentlest of all gentle brides. At the same time sheput up her hand and took mine prisoner; but merely drew it away fromthe forbidden ringlet, and then immediately released it. Now, I am afidgety little man, and always love to have something in my fingers; sothat, being debarred from my wife's curls, I looked about me for anyother plaything. On the front seat of the coach there was one of thosesmall baskets in which travelling ladies who are too delicate to appearat a public table generally carry a supply of gingerbread, biscuits andcheese, cold ham, and other light refreshments, merely to sustainnature to the journey's end. Such airy diet will sometimes keep them inpretty good flesh for a week together. Laying hold of this same littlebasket, I thrust my hand under the newspaper with which it wascarefully covered.
"What's this, my dear?" cried I; for the black neck of a bottle hadpopped out of the basket.
"A bottle of Kalydor, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, coolly taking thebasket from my hands and replacing it on the front seat.
There was no possibility of doubting my wife's word; but I never knewgenuine Kalydor, such as I use for my own complexion, to smell so muchlike cherry brandy. I was about to express my fears that the lotionwould injure her skin, when an accident occurred which threatened morethan a skin-deep injury. Our Jehu had carelessly driven over a heap ofgravel and fairly capsized the coach, with the wheels in the air andour heels where our heads should have been. What became of my wits Icannot imagine; they have always had a perverse trick of deserting mejust when they were most needed; but so it chanced, that in theconfusion of our overthrow I quite forgot that there was a Mrs.Bullfrog in the world. Like many men's wives, the good lady served herhusband as a steppingstone. I had scrambled out of the coach and wasinstinctively settling my cravat, when somebody brushed roughly by me,and I heard a smart thwack upon the coachman's ear.
"Take that, you villain!" cried a strange, hoarse voice. "You haveruined me, you blackguard! I shall never be the woman I have been!"
And then came a second thwack, aimed at the driver's other ear; butwhich missed it, and hit him on the nose, causing a terrible effusionof blood. Now, who or what fearful apparition was inflicting thispunishment on the poor fellow remained an impenetrable mystery to me.The blows were given by a person of grisly aspect, with a head almostbald, and sunken cheeks, apparently of the feminine gender, thoughhardly to be classed in the gentler sex. There being no teeth tomodulate the voice, it had a mumbled fierceness, not passionate, butstern, which absolutely made me quiver like calf's-foot jelly. Whocould the phantom be? The most awful circumstance of the affair is yetto be told: for this ogre, or whatever it was, had a riding habit likeMrs. Bullfrog's, and also a green silk calash dangling down her back bythe strings. In my terror and turmoil of mind I could imagine nothingless than that the Old Nick, at the moment of our overturn, hadannihilated my wife and jumped into her petticoats. This idea seemedthe most probable, since I could nowhere perceive Mrs. Bullfrog alive,nor, though I looked very sharply about the coach, could I detect anytraces of that beloved woman's dead body. There would have been acomfort in giving her Christian burial.
"Come, sir, bestir yourself! Help this rascal to set up the coach,"said the hobgoblin to me; then, with a terrific screech at threecountrymen at a distance, "Here, you fellows, ain't you ashamed tostand off when a poor woman is in distress?"
The countrymen, instead of fleeing for their lives, came running atfull speed, and laid hold of the topsy-turvy coach. I, also, though asmall-sized man, went to work like a son of Anak. The coachman, too,with the blood still streaming from his nose, tugged and toiled mostmanfully, dreading, doubtless, that the next blow might break his head.And yet, bemauled as the poor fellow had been, he seemed to glance atme with an eye of pity, as if my case were more deplorable than his.But I cherished a hope that all would turn out a dream, and seized theopportunity, as we raised the coach, to jam two of my fingers under thewheel, trusting that the pain would awaken me.
"Why, here we are, all to rights again!" exclaimed a sweet voicebehind. "Thank you for your assistance, gentlemen. My dear Mr.Bullfrog, how you perspire! Do let me wipe your face. Don't take thislittle accident too much to heart, good driver. We ought to be thankfulthat none of our necks are broken."
"We might have spared one neck out of the three," muttered the driver,rubbing his ear and pulling his nose, to ascertain whether he had beencuffed or not. "Why, the woman's a witch!"
I fear that the reader will not believe, yet it is positively a fact,that there stood Mrs. Bullfrog, with her glossy ringlets curling on herbrow, and two rows of orient pearls gleaming between her parted lips,which wore a most angelic smile. She had regained her riding habit andcalash from the grisly phantom, and was, in all respects, the lovelywoman who had been sitting by my side at the instant of our overturn.How she had happened to disappear, and who had supplied her place, andwhence she did now return, were problems too knotty for me to solve.There stood my wife. That was the one thing certain among a heap ofmysteries. Nothing remained but to help her into the coach, and plodon, through the journey of the day and the journey of life, ascomfortably as we could. As the driver closed the door upon us, I heardhim whisper to the three countrymen, "How do you suppose a fellow feelsshut up in the cage with a she tiger?"
Of course this query could have no reference to my situation. Yet,unreasonable as it may appear, I confess that my feelings were notaltogether so ecstatic as when I first called Mrs. Bullfrog mine. True,she was a sweet woman and an angel of a wife; but what if a Gorgonshould return, amid the transports of our connubial bliss, and take theangel's place. I recollected the tale of a fairy, who half the time wasa beautiful woman and half the time a hideous monster. Had I taken thatvery fairy to be the wife of my bosom? While such whims and chimeraswere flitting across my fancy I began to look askance at Mrs. Bullfrog,almost expecting that the transformation would be wrought before myeyes.
To divert my mind, I took up the newspaper which had covered the littlebasket of refreshments, and which now lay at the bottom of the coach,blushing with a deep-red stain and emitting a potent spirituous fumefrom the contents of the broken bottle of Kalydor. The paper was two orthree years old, but contained an article of several columns, in whichI soon grew wonderfully interested. It was the report of a trial forbreach of promise of marriage, giving the testimony in full, withfervid extracts from both the gentleman's and lady's amatorycorrespondence. The deserted damsel had personally appeared in court,and had borne energetic evidence to her lover's perfidy and thestrength of her blighted affections. On the defendant's part there hadbeen an attempt, though insufficiently sustained, to blast theplaintiff's character, and a plea, in mitigation of damages, on accountof her unamiable temper. A horrible idea was suggested by the lady'sname.
"Madam," said I, holding the newspaper before Mrs. Bullfrog'seyes,—and, though a small, delicate, and thin-visaged man, I feelassured that I looked very terrific,—"madam," repeated I, through myshut teeth, "were you the plaintiff in this cause?"
"Oh, my dear Mr. Bullfrog," replied my wife, sweetly, "I thought allthe world knew that!"
"Horror! horror!" exclaimed I, sinking back on the seat.
Covering my face with both hands, I emitted a deep and deathlike groan,as if my tormented soul were rending me asunder—I, the mostexquisitely fastidious of men, and whose wife was to have been the mostdelicate and refined of women, with all the fresh dew-drops glitteringon her virgin rosebud of a heart!
I thought of the glossy ringlets and pearly teeth; I thought of theKalydor; I thought of the coachman's bruised ear and bloody nose; Ithought of the tender love secrets which she had whispered to the judgeand jury and a thousand tittering auditors,—and gave another groan!
"Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife.
As I made no reply, she gently took my hands within her own, removedthem from my face, and fixed her eyes steadfastly on mine.
"Mr. Bullfrog," said she, not unkindly, yet with all the decision ofher strong character, "let me advise you to overcome this foolishweakness, and prove yourself, to the best of your ability, as good ahusband as I will be a wife. You have discovered, perhaps, some littleimperfections in your bride. Well, what did you expect? Women are notangels. If they were, they would go to heaven for husbands; or, atleast, be more difficult in their choice on earth."
"But why conceal those imperfections?" interposed I, tremulously.
"Now, my love, are not you a most unreasonable little man?" said Mrs.Bullfrog, patting me on the cheek. "Ought a woman to disclose herfrailties earlier than the wedding day? Few husbands, I assure you,make the discovery in such good season, and still fewer complain thatthese trifles are concealed too long. Well, what a strange man you are!Poh! you are joking."
"But the suit for breach of promise!" groaned I.
"Ah, and is that the rub?" exclaimed my wife. "Is it possible that youview that affair in an objectionable light? Mr. Bullfrog, I never couldhave dreamed it! Is it an objection that I have triumphantly defendedmyself against slander and vindicated my purity in a court of justice?Or do you complain because your wife has shown the proper spirit of awoman, and punished the villain who trifled with her affections?"
"But," persisted I, shrinking into a corner of the coach, however,—forI did not know precisely how much contradiction the proper spirit of awoman would endure,—"but, my love, would it not have been moredignified to treat the villain with the silent contempt he merited?"
"That is all very well, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, slyly; "but, inthat case, where would have been the five thousand dollars which are tostock your dry goods store?"
"Mrs. Bullfrog, upon your honor," demanded I, as if my life hung uponher words, "is there no mistake about those five thousand dollars?"
"Upon my word and honor there is none," replied she. "The jury gave meevery cent the rascal had; and I have kept it all for my dear Bullfrog."
"Then, thou dear woman," cried I, with an overwhelming gush oftenderness, "let me fold thee to my heart. The basis of matrimonialbliss is secure, and all thy little defects and frailties are forgiven.Nay, since the result has been so fortunate, I rejoice at the wrongswhich drove thee to this blessed lawsuit. Happy Bullfrog that I am!"
Not a great while ago, passing through the gate of dreams, I visitedthat region of the earth in which lies the famous City of Destruction.It interested me much to learn that by the public spirit of some of theinhabitants a railroad has recently been established between thispopulous and flourishing town and the Celestial City. Having a littletime upon my hands, I resolved to gratify a liberal curiosity by makinga trip thither. Accordingly, one fine morning after paying my bill atthe hotel, and directing the porter to stow my luggage behind a coach,I took my seat in the vehicle and set out for the station-house. It wasmy good fortune to enjoy the company of a gentleman—one Mr.Smooth-it-away—who, though he had never actually visited the CelestialCity, yet seemed as well acquainted with its laws, customs, policy, andstatistics, as with those of the City of Destruction, of which he was anative townsman. Being, moreover, a director of the railroadcorporation and one of its largest stockholders, he had it in his powerto give me all desirable information respecting that praiseworthyenterprise.
Our coach rattled out of the city, and at a short distance from itsoutskirts passed over a bridge of elegant construction, but somewhattoo slight, as I imagined, to sustain any considerable weight. On bothsides lay an extensive quagmire, which could not have been moredisagreeable either to sight or smell, had all the kennels of the earthemptied their pollution there.
"This," remarked Mr. Smooth-it-away, "is the famous Slough ofDespond—a disgrace to all the neighborhood; and the greater that itmight so easily be converted into firm ground."
"I have understood," said I, "that efforts have been made for thatpurpose from time immemorial. Bunyan mentions that above twentythousand cartloads of wholesome instructions had been thrown in herewithout effect."
"Very probably! And what effect could be anticipated from suchunsubstantial stuff?" cried Mr. Smooth-it-away. "You observe thisconvenient bridge. We obtained a sufficient foundation for it bythrowing into the slough some editions of books of morality, volumes ofFrench philosophy and German rationalism; tracts, sermons, and essaysof modern clergymen; extracts from Plato, Confucius, and various Hindoosages together with a few ingenious commentaries upon texts ofScripture,—all of which by some scientific process, have beenconverted into a mass like granite. The whole bog might be filled upwith similar matter."
It really seemed to me, however, that the bridge vibrated and heaved upand down in a very formidable manner; and, in spite of Mr.Smooth-it-away's testimony to the solidity of its foundation, I shouldbe loath to cross it in a crowded omnibus, especially if each passengerwere encumbered with as heavy luggage as that gentleman and myself.Nevertheless we got over without accident, and soon found ourselves atthe stationhouse. This very neat and spacious edifice is erected on thesite of the little wicket gate, which formerly, as all old pilgrimswill recollect, stood directly across the highway, and, by itsinconvenient narrowness, was a great obstruction to the traveller ofliberal mind and expansive stomach. The reader of John Bunyan will beglad to know that Christian's old friend Evangelist, who was accustomedto supply each pilgrim with a mystic roll, now presides at the ticketoffice. Some malicious persons it is true deny the identity of thisreputable character with the Evangelist of old times, and even pretendto bring competent evidence of an imposture. Without involving myselfin a dispute I shall merely observe that, so far as my experience goes,the square pieces of pasteboard now delivered to passengers are muchmore convenient and useful along the road than the antique roll ofparchment. Whether they will be as readily received at the gate of theCelestial City I decline giving an opinion.
A large number of passengers were already at the station-house awaitingthe departure of the cars. By the aspect and demeanor of these personsit was easy to judge that the feelings of the community had undergone avery favorable change in reference to the celestial pilgrimage. Itwould have done Bunyan's heart good to see it. Instead of a lonely andragged man with a huge burden on his back, plodding along sorrowfullyon foot while the whole city hooted after him, here were parties of thefirst gentry and most respectable people in the neighborhood settingforth towards the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimagewere merely a summer tour. Among the gentlemen were characters ofdeserved eminence—magistrates, politicians, and men of wealth, bywhose example religion could not but be greatly recommended to theirmeaner brethren. In the ladies' apartment, too, I rejoiced todistinguish some of those flowers of fashionable society who are sowell fitted to adorn the most elevated circles of the Celestial City.There was much pleasant conversation about the news of the day, topicsof business and politics, or the lighter matters of amusement; whilereligion, though indubitably the main thing at heart, was throwntastefully into the background. Even an infidel would have heard littleor nothing to shock his sensibility.
One great convenience of the new method of going on pilgrimage I mustnot forget to mention. Our enormous burdens, instead of being carriedon our shoulders as had been the custom of old, were all snuglydeposited in the baggage car, and, as I was assured, would be deliveredto their respective owners at the journey's end. Another thing,likewise, the benevolent reader will be delighted to understand. It maybe remembered that there was an ancient feud between Prince Beelzebuband the keeper of the wicket gate, and that the adherents of the formerdistinguished personage were accustomed to shoot deadly arrows athonest pilgrims while knocking at the door. This dispute, much to thecredit as well of the illustrious potentate above mentioned as of theworthy and enlightened directors of the railroad, has been pacificallyarranged on the principle of mutual compromise. The prince's subjectsare now pretty numerously employed about the station-house, some intaking care of the baggage, others in collecting fuel, feeding theengines, and such congenial occupations; and I can conscientiouslyaffirm that persons more attentive to their business, more willing toaccommodate, or more generally agreeable to the passengers, are not tobe found on any railroad. Every good heart must surely exult at sosatisfactory an arrangement of an immemorial difficulty.
"Where is Mr. Greatheart?" inquired I. "Beyond a doubt the directorshave engaged that famous old champion to be chief conductor on therailroad?"
"Why, no," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a dry cough. "He was offeredthe situation of brakeman; but, to tell you the truth, our friendGreatheart has grown preposterously stiff and narrow in his old age. Hehas so often guided pilgrims over the road on foot that he considers ita sin to travel in any other fashion. Besides, the old fellow hadentered so heartily into the ancient feud with Prince Beelzebub that hewould have been perpetually at blows or ill language with some of theprince's subjects, and thus have embroiled us anew. So, on the whole,we were not sorry when honest Greatheart went off to the Celestial Cityin a huff and left us at liberty to choose a more suitable andaccommodating man. Yonder comes the engineer of the train. You willprobably recognize him at once."
The engine at this moment took its station in advance of the cars,looking, I must confess, much more like a sort of mechanical demon thatwould hurry us to the infernal regions than a laudable contrivance forsmoothing our way to the Celestial City. On its top sat a personagealmost enveloped in smoke and flame, which, not to startle the reader,appeared to gush from his own mouth and stomach as well as from theengine's brazen abdomen.
"Do my eyes deceive me?" cried I. "What on earth is this! A livingcreature? If so, he is own brother to the engine he rides upon!"
"Poh, poh, you are obtuse!" said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a heartylaugh. "Don't you know Apollyon, Christian's old enemy, with whom hefought so fierce a battle in the Valley of Humiliation? He was the veryfellow to manage the engine; and so we have reconciled him to thecustom of going on pilgrimage, and engaged him as chief engineer."
"Bravo, bravo!" exclaimed I, with irrepressible enthusiasm; "this showsthe liberality of the age; this proves, if anything can, that all mustyprejudices are in a fair way to be obliterated. And how will Christianrejoice to hear of this happy transformation of his old antagonist! Ipromise myself great pleasure in informing him of it when we reach theCelestial City."
The passengers being all comfortably seated, we now rattled awaymerrily, accomplishing a greater distance in ten minutes than Christianprobably trudged over in a day. It was laughable, while we glancedalong, as it were, at the tail of a thunderbolt, to observe two dustyfoot travellers in the old pilgrim guise, with cockle shell and staff,their mystic rolls of parchment in their hands and their intolerableburdens on their backs. The preposterous obstinacy of these honestpeople in persisting to groan and stumble along the difficult pathwayrather than take advantage of modern improvements, excited great mirthamong our wiser brotherhood. We greeted the two pilgrims with manypleasant gibes and a roar of laughter; whereupon they gazed at us withsuch woful and absurdly compassionate visages that our merriment grewtenfold more obstreperous. Apollyon also entered heartily into the fun,and contrived to flirt the smoke and flame of the engine, or of his ownbreath, into their faces, and envelop them in an atmosphere of scaldingsteam. These little practical jokes amused us mightily, and doubtlessafforded the pilgrims the gratification of considering themselvesmartyrs.
At some distance from the railroad Mr. Smooth-it-away pointed to alarge, antique edifice, which, he observed, was a tavern of longstanding, and had formerly been a noted stopping-place for pilgrims. InBunyan's road-book it is mentioned as the Interpreter's House.
"I have long had a curiosity to visit that old mansion," remarked I.
"It is not one of our stations, as you perceive," said my companion"The keeper was violently opposed to the railroad; and well he mightbe, as the track left his house of entertainment on one side, and thuswas pretty certain to deprive him of all his reputable customers. Butthe footpath still passes his door, and the old gentleman now and thenreceives a call from some simple traveller, and entertains him withfare as old-fashioned as himself."
Before our talk on this subject came to a conclusion we were rushing bythe place where Christian's burden fell from his shoulders at the sightof the Cross. This served as a theme for Mr. Smooth-it-away, Mr.Livefor-the-world, Mr. Hide-sin-in-the-heart, Mr. Scaly-conscience, anda knot of gentlemen from the town of Shun-repentance, to descant uponthe inestimable advantages resulting from the safety of our baggage.Myself, and all the passengers indeed, joined with great unanimity inthis view of the matter; for our burdens were rich in many thingsesteemed precious throughout the world; and, especially, we each of uspossessed a great variety of favorite Habits, which we trusted wouldnot be out of fashion even in the polite circles of the Celestial City.It would have been a sad spectacle to see such an assortment ofvaluable articles tumbling into the sepulchre. Thus pleasantlyconversing on the favorable circumstances of our position as comparedwith those of past pilgrims and of narrow-minded ones at the presentday, we soon found ourselves at the foot of the Hill Difficulty.Through the very heart of this rocky mountain a tunnel has beenconstructed of most admirable architecture, with a lofty arch and aspacious double track; so that, unless the earth and rocks shouldchance to crumble down, it will remain an eternal monument of thebuilder's skill and enterprise. It is a great though incidentaladvantage that the materials from the heart of the Hill Difficulty havebeen employed in filling up the Valley of Humiliation, thus obviatingthe necessity of descending into that disagreeable and unwholesomehollow.
"This is a wonderful improvement, indeed," said I. "Yet I should havebeen glad of an opportunity to visit the Palace Beautiful and beintroduced to the charming young ladies—Miss Prudence, Miss Piety,Miss Charity, and the rest—who have the kindness to entertain pilgrimsthere."
"Young ladies!" cried Mr. Smooth-it-away, as soon as he could speak forlaughing. "And charming young ladies! Why, my dear fellow, they are oldmaids, every soul of them—prim, starched, dry, and angular; and notone of them, I will venture to say, has altered so much as the fashionof her gown since the days of Christian's pilgrimage."
"Ah, well," said I, much comforted, "then I can very readily dispensewith their acquaintance."
The respectable Apollyon was now putting on the steam at a prodigiousrate, anxious, perhaps, to get rid of the unpleasant reminiscencesconnected with the spot where he had so disastrously encounteredChristian. Consulting Mr. Bunyan's road-book, I perceived that we mustnow be within a few miles of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, intowhich doleful region, at our present speed, we should plunge muchsooner than seemed at all desirable. In truth, I expected nothingbetter than to find myself in the ditch on one side or the Quag on theother; but on communicating my apprehensions to Mr. Smooth-it-away, heassured me that the difficulties of this passage, even in its worstcondition, had been vastly exaggerated, and that, in its present stateof improvement, I might consider myself as safe as on any railroad inChristendom.
Even while we were speaking the train shot into the entrance of thisdreaded Valley. Though I plead guilty to some foolish palpitations ofthe heart during our headlong rush over the causeway here constructed,yet it were unjust to withhold the highest encomiums on the boldness ofits original conception and the ingenuity of those who executed it. Itwas gratifying, likewise, to observe how much care had been taken todispel the everlasting gloom and supply the defect of cheerfulsunshine, not a ray of which has ever penetrated among these awfulshadows. For this purpose, the inflammable gas which exudes plentifullyfrom the soil is collected by means of pipes, and thence communicatedto a quadruple row of lamps along the whole extent of the passage. Thusa radiance has been created even out of the fiery and sulphurous cursethat rests forever upon the valley—a radiance hurtful, however, to theeyes, and somewhat bewildering, as I discovered by the changes which itwrought in the visages of my companions. In this respect, as comparedwith natural daylight, there is the same difference as between truthand falsehood, but if the reader have ever travelled through the darkValley, he will have learned to be thankful for any light that he couldget—if not from the sky above, then from the blasted soil beneath.Such was the red brilliancy of these lamps that they appeared to buildwalls of fire on both sides of the track, between which we held ourcourse at lightning speed, while a reverberating thunder filled theValley with its echoes. Had the engine run off the track,—acatastrophe, it is whispered, by no means unprecedented,—thebottomless pit, if there be any such place, would undoubtedly havereceived us. Just as some dismal fooleries of this nature had made myheart quake there came a tremendous shriek, careering along the valleyas if a thousand devils had burst their lungs to utter it, but whichproved to be merely the whistle of the engine on arriving at astopping-place.
The spot where we had now paused is the same that our friend Bunyan—atruthful man, but infected with many fantastic notions—has designated,in terms plainer than I like to repeat, as the mouth of the infernalregion. This, however, must be a mistake, inasmuch as Mr.Smooth-it-away, while we remained in the smoky and lurid cavern, tookoccasion to prove that Tophet has not even a metaphorical existence.The place, he assured us, is no other than the crater of a half-extinctvolcano, in which the directors had caused forges to be set up for themanufacture of railroad iron. Hence, also, is obtained a plentifulsupply of fuel for the use of the engines. Whoever had gazed into thedismal obscurity of the broad cavern mouth, whence ever and anon dartedhuge tongues of dusky flame, and had seen the strange, half-shapedmonsters, and visions of faces horribly grotesque, into which the smokeseemed to wreathe itself, and had heard the awful murmurs, and shrieks,and deep, shuddering whispers of the blast, sometimes formingthemselves into words almost articulate, would have seized upon Mr.Smooth-it-away's comfortable explanation as greedily as we did. Theinhabitants of the cavern, moreover, were unlovely personages, dark,smoke-begrimed, generally deformed, with misshapen feet, and a glow ofdusky redness in their eyes as if their hearts had caught fire and wereblazing out of the upper windows. It struck me as a peculiarity thatthe laborers at the forge and those who brought fuel to the engine,when they began to draw short breath, positively emitted smoke fromtheir mouth and nostrils.
Among the idlers about the train, most of whom were puffing cigarswhich they had lighted at the flame of the crater, I was perplexed tonotice several who, to my certain knowledge, had heretofore set forthby railroad for the Celestial City. They looked dark, wild, and smoky,with a singular resemblance, indeed, to the native inhabitants, likewhom, also, they had a disagreeable propensity to ill-natured gibes andsneers, the habit of which had wrought a settled contortion of theirvisages. Having been on speaking terms with one of these persons,—anindolent, good-for-nothing fellow, who went by the name ofTake-it-easy,—I called him, and inquired what was his business there.
"Did you not start," said I, "for the Celestial City?"
"That's a fact," said Mr. Take-it-easy, carelessly puffing some smokeinto my eyes. "But I heard such bad accounts that I never took pains toclimb the hill on which the city stands. No business doing, no fungoing on, nothing to drink, and no smoking allowed, and a thrumming ofchurch music from morning till night. I would not stay in such a placeif they offered me house room and living free."
"But, my good Mr. Take-it-easy," cried I, "why take up your residencehere, of all places in the world?"
"Oh," said the loafer, with a grin, "it is very warm hereabouts, and Imeet with plenty of old acquaintances, and altogether the place suitsme. I hope to see you back again some day soon. A pleasant journey toyou."
While he was speaking the bell of the engine rang, and we dashed awayafter dropping a few passengers, but receiving no new ones. Rattlingonward through the Valley, we were dazzled with the fiercely gleaminggas lamps, as before. But sometimes, in the dark of intense brightness,grim faces, that bore the aspect and expression of individual sins, orevil passions, seemed to thrust themselves through the veil of light,glaring upon us, and stretching forth a great, dusky hand, as if toimpede our progress. I almost thought that they were my own sins thatappalled me there. These were freaks of imagination—nothing more,certainly-mere delusions, which I ought to be heartily ashamed of; butall through the Dark Valley I was tormented, and pestered, anddolefully bewildered with the same kind of waking dreams. The mephiticgases of that region intoxicate the brain. As the light of natural day,however, began to struggle with the glow of the lanterns, these vainimaginations lost their vividness, and finally vanished from the firstray of sunshine that greeted our escape from the Valley of the Shadowof Death. Ere we had gone a mile beyond it I could well-nigh have takenmy oath that this whole gloomy passage was a dream.
At the end of the valley, as John Bunyan mentions, is a cavern, where,in his days, dwelt two cruel giants, Pope and Pagan, who had strown theground about their residence with the bones of slaughtered pilgrims.These vile old troglodytes are no longer there; but into their desertedcave another terrible giant has thrust himself, and makes it hisbusiness to seize upon honest travellers and fatten them for his tablewith plentiful meals of smoke, mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, andsawdust. He is a German by birth, and is called GiantTranscendentalist; but as to his form, his features, his substance, andhis nature generally, it is the chief peculiarity of this hugemiscreant that neither he for himself, nor anybody for him, has everbeen able to describe them. As we rushed by the cavern's mouth wecaught a hasty glimpse of him, looking somewhat like anill-proportioned figure, but considerably more like a heap of fog andduskiness. He shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that weknew not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.
It was late in the day when the train thundered into the ancient cityof Vanity, where Vanity Fair is still at the height of prosperity, andexhibits an epitome of whatever is brilliant, gay, and fascinatingbeneath the sun. As I purposed to make a considerable stay here, itgratified me to learn that there is no longer the want of harmonybetween the town's-people and pilgrims, which impelled the former tosuch lamentably mistaken measures as the persecution of Christian andthe fiery martyrdom of Faithful. On the contrary, as the new railroadbrings with it great trade and a constant influx of strangers, the lordof Vanity Fair is its chief patron, and the capitalists of the city areamong the largest stockholders. Many passengers stop to take theirpleasure or make their profit in the Fair, instead of going onward tothe Celestial City. Indeed, such are the charms of the place thatpeople often affirm it to be the true and only heaven; stoutlycontending that there is no other, that those who seek further are meredreamers, and that, if the fabled brightness of the Celestial City laybut a bare mile beyond the gates of Vanity, they would not be foolsenough to go thither. Without subscribing to these perhaps exaggeratedencomiums, I can truly say that my abode in the city was mainlyagreeable, and my intercourse with the inhabitants productive of muchamusement and instruction.
Being naturally of a serious turn, my attention was directed to thesolid advantages derivable from a residence here, rather than to theeffervescent pleasures which are the grand object with too manyvisitants. The Christian reader, if he have had no accounts of the citylater than Bunyan's time, will be surprised to hear that almost everystreet has its church, and that the reverend clergy are nowhere held inhigher respect than at Vanity Fair. And well do they deserve suchhonorable estimation; for the maxims of wisdom and virtue which fallfrom their lips come from as deep a spiritual source, and tend to aslofty a religious aim, as those of the sagest philosophers of old. Injustification of this high praise I need only mention the names of theRev. Mr. Shallow-deep, the Rev. Mr. Stumble-at-truth, that fine oldclerical character the Rev. Mr. This-today, who expects shortly toresign his pulpit to the Rev. Mr. That-tomorrow; together with the Rev.Mr. Bewilderment, the Rev. Mr. Clog-the-spirit, and, last and greatest,the Rev. Dr. Wind-of-doctrine. The labors of these eminent divines areaided by those of innumerable lecturers, who diffuse such a variousprofundity, in all subjects of human or celestial science, that any manmay acquire an omnigenous erudition without the trouble of evenlearning to read. Thus literature is etherealized by assuming for itsmedium the human voice; and knowledge, depositing all its heavierparticles, except, doubtless, its gold becomes exhaled into a sound,which forthwith steals into the ever-open ear of the community. Theseingenious methods constitute a sort of machinery, by which thought andstudy are done to every person's hand without his putting himself tothe slightest inconvenience in the matter. There is another species ofmachine for the wholesale manufacture of individual morality. Thisexcellent result is effected by societies for all manner of virtuouspurposes, with which a man has merely to connect himself, throwing, asit were, his quota of virtue into the common stock, and the presidentand directors will take care that the aggregate amount be well applied.All these, and other wonderful improvements in ethics, religion, andliterature, being made plain to my comprehension by the ingenious Mr.Smooth-it-away, inspired me with a vast admiration of Vanity Fair.
It would fill a volume, in an age of pamphlets, were I to record all myobservations in this great capital of human business and pleasure.There was an unlimited range of society—the powerful, the wise, thewitty, and the famous in every walk of life; princes, presidents,poets, generals, artists, actors, and philanthropists,—all makingtheir own market at the fair, and deeming no price too exorbitant forsuch commodities as hit their fancy. It was well worth one's while,even if he had no idea of buying or selling, to loiter through thebazaars and observe the various sorts of traffic that were goingforward.
Some of the purchasers, I thought, made very foolish bargains. Forinstance, a young man having inherited a splendid fortune, laid out aconsiderable portion of it in the purchase of diseases, and finallyspent all the rest for a heavy lot of repentance and a suit of rags. Avery pretty girl bartered a heart as clear as crystal, and which seemedher most valuable possession, for another jewel of the same kind, butso worn and defaced as to be utterly worthless. In one shop there werea great many crowns of laurel and myrtle, which soldiers, authors,statesmen, and various other people pressed eagerly to buy; somepurchased these paltry wreaths with their lives, others by a toilsomeservitude of years, and many sacrificed whatever was most valuable, yetfinally slunk away without the crown. There was a sort of stock orscrip, called Conscience, which seemed to be in great demand, and wouldpurchase almost anything. Indeed, few rich commodities were to beobtained without paying a heavy sum in this particular stock, and aman's business was seldom very lucrative unless he knew precisely whenand how to throw his hoard of conscience into the market. Yet as thisstock was the only thing of permanent value, whoever parted with it wassure to find himself a loser in the long run. Several of thespeculations were of a questionable character. Occasionally a member ofCongress recruited his pocket by the sale of his constituents; and Iwas assured that public officers have often sold their country at verymoderate prices. Thousands sold their happiness for a whim. Gildedchains were in great demand, and purchased with almost any sacrifice.In truth, those who desired, according to the old adage, to sellanything valuable for a song, might find customers all over the Fair;and there were innumerable messes of pottage, piping hot, for such aschose to buy them with their birthrights. A few articles, however,could not be found genuine at Vanity Fair. If a customer wished torenew his stock of youth the dealers offered him a set of false teethand an auburn wig; if he demanded peace of mind, they recommended opiumor a brandy bottle.
Tracts of land and golden mansions, situate in the Celestial City, wereoften exchanged, at very disadvantageous rates, for a few years' leaseof small, dismal, inconvenient tenements in Vanity Fair. PrinceBeelzebub himself took great interest in this sort of traffic, andsometimes condescended to meddle with smaller matters. I once had thepleasure to see him bargaining with a miser for his soul, which, aftermuch ingenious skirmishing on both sides, his highness succeeded inobtaining at about the value of sixpence. The prince remarked with asmile, that he was a loser by the transaction.
Day after day, as I walked the streets of Vanity, my manners anddeportment became more and more like those of the inhabitants. Theplace began to seem like home; the idea of pursuing my travels to theCelestial City was almost obliterated from my mind. I was reminded ofit, however, by the sight of the same pair of simple pilgrims at whomwe had laughed so heartily when Apollyon puffed smoke and steam intotheir faces at the commencement of our journey. There they stood amidstthe densest bustle of Vanity; the dealers offering them their purpleand fine linen and jewels, the men of wit and humor gibing at them, apair of buxom ladies ogling them askance, while the benevolent Mr.Smooth-it-away whispered some of his wisdom at their elbows, andpointed to a newly-erected temple; but there were these worthysimpletons, making the scene look wild and monstrous, merely by theirsturdy repudiation of all part in its business or pleasures.
One of them—his name was Stick-to-the-right—perceived in my face, Isuppose, a species of sympathy and almost admiration, which, to my owngreat surprise, I could not help feeling for this pragmatic couple. Itprompted him to address me.
"Sir," inquired he, with a sad, yet mild and kindly voice, "do you callyourself a pilgrim?"
"Yes," I replied, "my right to that appellation is indubitable. I ammerely a sojourner here in Vanity Fair, being bound to the CelestialCity by the new railroad."
"Alas, friend," rejoined Mr. Stick-to-the-truth, "I do assure you, andbeseech you to receive the truth of my words, that that whole concernis a bubble. You may travel on it all your lifetime, were you to livethousands of years, and yet never get beyond the limits of Vanity Fair.Yea, though you should deem yourself entering the gates of the blessedcity, it will be nothing but a miserable delusion."
"The Lord of the Celestial City," began the other pilgrim, whose namewas Mr. Foot-it-to-heaven, "has refused, and will ever refuse, to grantan act of incorporation for this railroad; and unless that be obtained,no passenger can ever hope to enter his dominions. Wherefore every manwho buys a ticket must lay his account with losing the purchase money,which is the value of his own soul."
"Poh, nonsense!" said Mr. Smooth-it-away, taking my arm and leading meoff, "these fellows ought to be indicted for a libel. If the law stoodas it once did in Vanity Fair we should see them grinning through theiron bars of the prison window."
This incident made a considerable impression on my mind, andcontributed with other circumstances to indispose me to a permanentresidence in the city of Vanity; although, of course, I was not simpleenough to give up my original plan of gliding along easily andcommodiously by railroad. Still, I grew anxious to be gone. There wasone strange thing that troubled me. Amid the occupations or amusementsof the Fair, nothing was more common than for a person—whether atfeast, theatre, or church, or trafficking for wealth and honors, orwhatever he might be doing, to vanish like a soap bubble, and be nevermore seen of his fellows; and so accustomed were the latter to suchlittle accidents that they went on with their business as quietly as ifnothing had happened. But it was otherwise with me.
Finally, after a pretty long residence at the Fair, I resumed myjourney towards the Celestial City, still with Mr. Smooth-it-away at myside. At a short distance beyond the suburbs of Vanity we passed theancient silver mine, of which Demas was the first discoverer, and whichis now wrought to great advantage, supplying nearly all the coinedcurrency of the world. A little further onward was the spot where Lot'swife had stood forever under the semblance of a pillar of salt. Curioustravellers have long since carried it away piecemeal. Had all regretsbeen punished as rigorously as this poor dame's were, my yearning forthe relinquished delights of Vanity Fair might have produced a similarchange in my own corporeal substance, and left me a warning to futurepilgrims.
The next remarkable object was a large edifice, constructed ofmoss-grown stone, but in a modern and airy style of architecture. Theengine came to a pause in its vicinity, with the usual tremendousshriek.
"This was formerly the castle of the redoubted giant Despair," observedMr. Smooth-it-away; "but since his death Mr. Flimsy-faith has repairedit, and keeps an excellent house of entertainment here. It is one ofour stopping-places."
"It seems but slightly put together," remarked I, looking at the frailyet ponderous walls. "I do not envy Mr. Flimsy-faith his habitation.Some day it will thunder down upon the heads of the occupants."
"We shall escape at all events," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, "for Apollyonis putting on the steam again."
The road now plunged into a gorge of the Delectable Mountains, andtraversed the field where in former ages the blind men wandered andstumbled among the tombs. One of these ancient tombstones had beenthrust across the track by some malicious person, and gave the train ofcars a terrible jolt. Far up the rugged side of a mountain I perceiveda rusty iron door, half overgrown with bushes and creeping plants, butwith smoke issuing from its crevices.
"Is that," inquired I, "the very door in the hill-side which theshepherds assured Christian was a by-way to hell?"
"That was a joke on the part of the shepherds," said Mr. Smooth-itaway,with a smile. "It is neither more nor less than the door of a cavernwhich they use as a smoke-house for the preparation of mutton hams."
My recollections of the journey are now, for a little space, dim andconfused, inasmuch as a singular drowsiness here overcame me, owing tothe fact that we were passing over the enchanted ground, the air ofwhich encourages a disposition to sleep. I awoke, however, as soon aswe crossed the borders of the pleasant land of Beulah. All thepassengers were rubbing their eyes, comparing watches, andcongratulating one another on the prospect of arriving so seasonably atthe journey's end. The sweet breezes of this happy clime camerefreshingly to our nostrils; we beheld the glimmering gush of silverfountains, overhung by trees of beautiful foliage and delicious fruit,which were propagated by grafts from the celestial gardens. Once, as wedashed onward like a hurricane, there was a flutter of wings and thebright appearance of an angel in the air, speeding forth on someheavenly mission. The engine now announced the close vicinity of thefinal station-house by one last and horrible scream, in which thereseemed to be distinguishable every kind of wailing and woe, and bitterfierceness of wrath, all mixed up with the wild laughter of a devil ora madman. Throughout our journey, at every stopping-place, Apollyon hadexercised his ingenuity in screwing the most abominable sounds out ofthe whistle of the steam-engine; but in this closing effort he outdidhimself and created an infernal uproar, which, besides disturbing thepeaceful inhabitants of Beulah, must have sent its discord even throughthe celestial gates.
While the horrid clamor was still ringing in our ears we heard anexulting strain, as if a thousand instruments of music, with height anddepth and sweetness in their tones, at once tender and triumphant, werestruck in unison, to greet the approach of some illustrious hero, whohad fought the good fight and won a glorious victory, and was come tolay aside his battered arms forever. Looking to ascertain what might bethe occasion of this glad harmony, I perceived, on alighting from thecars, that a multitude of shining ones had assembled on the other sideof the river, to welcome two poor pilgrims, who were just emerging fromits depths. They were the same whom Apollyon and ourselves hadpersecuted with taunts, and gibes, and scalding steam, at thecommencement of our journey—the same whose unworldly aspect andimpressive words had stirred my conscience amid the wild revellers ofVanity Fair.
"How amazingly well those men have got on," cried I to Mr.Smoothit—away. "I wish we were secure of as good a reception."
"Never fear, never fear!" answered my friend. "Come, make haste; theferry boat will be off directly, and in three minutes you will be onthe other side of the river. No doubt you will find coaches to carryyou up to the city gates."
A steam ferry boat, the last improvement on this important route, layat the river side, puffing, snorting, and emitting all those otherdisagreeable utterances which betoken the departure to be immediate. Ihurried on board with the rest of the passengers, most of whom were ingreat perturbation: some bawling out for their baggage; some tearingtheir hair and exclaiming that the boat would explode or sink; somealready pale with the heaving of the stream; some gazing affrighted atthe ugly aspect of the steersman; and some still dizzy with theslumberous influences of the Enchanted Ground. Looking back to theshore, I was amazed to discern Mr. Smooth-it-away waving his hand intoken of farewell.
"Don't you go over to the Celestial City?" exclaimed I.
"Oh, no!" answered he with a queer smile, and that same disagreeablecontortion of visage which I had remarked in the inhabitants of theDark Valley. "Oh, no! I have come thus far only for the sake of yourpleasant company. Good-by! We shall meet again."
And then did my excellent friend Mr. Smooth-it-away laugh outright, inthe midst of which cachinnation a smoke-wreath issued from his mouthand nostrils, while a twinkle of lurid flame darted out of either eye,proving indubitably that his heart was all of a red blaze. The impudentfiend! To deny the existence of Tophet, when he felt its fiery torturesraging within his breast. I rushed to the side of the boat, intendingto fling myself on shore; but the wheels, as they began theirrevolutions, threw a dash of spray over me so cold—so deadly cold,with the chill that will never leave those waters until Death bedrowned in his own river—that with a shiver and a heartquake I awoke.Thank Heaven it was a Dream!
Life figures itself to me as a festal or funereal procession. All of ushave our places, and are to move onward under the direction of theChief Marshal. The grand difficulty results from the invariablymistaken principles on which the deputy marshals seek to arrange thisimmense concourse of people, so much more numerous than those thattrain their interminable length through streets and highways in timesof political excitement. Their scheme is ancient, far beyond the memoryof man or even the record of history, and has hitherto been very littlemodified by the innate sense of something wrong, and the dim perceptionof better methods, that have disquieted all the ages through which theprocession has taken its march. Its members are classified by themerest external circumstances, and thus are more certain to be thrownout of their true positions than if no principle of arrangement wereattempted. In one part of the procession we see men of landed estate ormoneyed capital gravely keeping each other company, for thepreposterous reason that they chance to have a similar standing in thetax-gatherer's book. Trades and professions march together withscarcely a more real bond of union. In this manner, it cannot bedenied, people are disentangled from the mass and separated intovarious classes according to certain apparent relations; all have someartificial badge which the world, and themselves among the first, learnto consider as a genuine characteristic. Fixing our attention on suchoutside shows of similarity or difference, we lose sight of thoserealities by which nature, fortune, fate, or Providence has constitutedfor every man a brotherhood, wherein it is one great office of humanwisdom to classify him. When the mind has once accustomed itself to aproper arrangement of the Procession of Life, or a true classificationof society, even though merely speculative, there is thenceforth asatisfaction which pretty well suffices for itself without the aid ofany actual reformation in the order of march.
For instance, assuming to myself the power of marshalling the aforesaidprocession, I direct a trumpeter to send forth a blast loud enough tobe heard from hence to China; and a herald, with world-pervading voice,to make proclamation for a certain class of mortals to take theirplaces. What shall be their principle of union? After all, an externalone, in comparison with many that might be found, yet far more realthan those which the world has selected for a similar purpose. Let allwho are afflicted with like physical diseases form themselves intoranks.
Our first attempt at classification is not very successful. It maygratify the pride of aristocracy to reflect that disease, more than anyother circumstance of human life, pays due observance to thedistinctions which rank and wealth, and poverty and lowliness, haveestablished among mankind. Some maladies are rich and precious, andonly to be acquired by the right of inheritance or purchased with gold.Of this kind is the gout, which serves as a bond of brotherhood to thepurple-visaged gentry, who obey the herald's voice, and painfullyhobble from all civilized regions of the globe to take their post inthe grand procession. In mercy to their toes, let us hope that themarch may not be long. The Dyspeptics, too, are people of good standingin the world. For them the earliest salmon is caught in our easternrivers, and the shy woodcock stains the dry leaves with his blood inhis remotest haunts, and the turtle comes from the far Pacific Islandsto be gobbled up in soup. They can afford to flavor all their disheswith indolence, which, in spite of the general opinion, is a sauce moreexquisitely piquant than appetite won by exercise. Apoplexy is anotherhighly respectable disease. We will rank together all who have thesymptom of dizziness in the brain, and as fast as any drop by the waysupply their places with new members of the board of aldermen.
On the other hand, here come whole tribes of people whose physicallives are but a deteriorated variety of life, and themselves a meanerspecies of mankind; so sad an effect has been wrought by the taintedbreath of cities, scanty and unwholesome food, destructive modes oflabor, and the lack of those moral supports that might partially havecounteracted such bad influences. Behold here a train of housepainters, all afflicted with a peculiar sort of colic. Next in place wewill marshal those workmen in cutlery, who have breathed a fataldisorder into their lungs with the impalpable dust of steel. Tailorsand shoemakers, being sedentary men, will chiefly congregate into onepart of the procession and march under similar banners of disease; butamong them we may observe here and there a sickly student, who has lefthis health between the leaves of classic volumes; and clerks, likewise,who have caught their deaths on high official stools; and men of geniustoo, who have written sheet after sheet with pens dipped in theirheart's blood. These are a wretched quaking, short-breathed set. Butwhat is this cloud of pale-cheeked, slender girls, who disturb the earwith the multiplicity of their short, dry coughs? They areseamstresses, who have plied the daily and nightly needle in theservice of master tailors and close-fisted contractors, until now it isalmost time for each to hem the borders of her own shroud. Consumptionpoints their place in the procession. With their sad sisterhood areintermingled many youthful maidens who have sickened in aristocraticmansions, and for whose aid science has unavailingly searched itsvolumes, and whom breathless love has watched. In our ranks the richmaiden and the poor seamstress may walk arm in arm. We might findinnumerable other instances, where the bond of mutual disease—not tospeak of nation-sweeping pestilence—embraces high and low, and makesthe king a brother of the clown. But it is not hard to own that diseaseis the natural aristocrat. Let him keep his state, and have hisestablished orders of rank, and wear his royal mantle of the color of afever flush and let the noble and wealthy boast their own physicalinfirmities, and display their symptoms as the badges of high station.All things considered, these are as proper subjects of human pride asany relations of human rank that men can fix upon.
Sound again, thou deep-breathed trumpeter! and herald, with thy voiceof might, shout forth another summons that shall reach the old baronialcastles of Europe, and the rudest cabin of our western wilderness! Whatclass is next to take its place in the procession of mortal life? Letit be those whom the gifts of intellect have united in a noblebrotherhood.
Ay, this is a reality, before which the conventional distinctions ofsociety melt away like a vapor when we would grasp it with the hand.Were Byron now alive, and Burns, the first would come from hisancestral abbey, flinging aside, although unwillingly, the inheritedhonors of a thousand years, to take the arm of the mighty peasant whogrew immortal while he stooped behind his plough. These are gone; butthe hall, the farmer's fireside, the hut, perhaps the palace, thecounting-room, the workshop, the village, the city, life's high placesand low ones, may all produce their poets, whom a common temperamentpervades like an electric sympathy. Peer or ploughman, we will musterthem pair by pair and shoulder to shoulder. Even society, in its mostartificial state, consents to this arrangement. These factory girlsfrom Lowell shall mate themselves with the pride of drawing-rooms andliterary circles, the bluebells in fashion's nosegay, the Sapphos, andMontagues, and Nortons of the age. Other modes of intellect bringtogether as strange companies. Silk-gowned professor of languages, giveyour arm to this sturdy blacksmith, and deem yourself honored by theconjunction, though you behold him grimy from the anvil. All varietiesof human speech are like his mother tongue to this rare man.Indiscriminately let those take their places, of whatever rank theycome, who possess the kingly gifts to lead armies or to sway apeople—Nature's generals, her lawgivers, her kings, and with them alsothe deep philosophers who think the thought in one generation that isto revolutionize society in the next. With the hereditary legislator inwhom eloquence is a far-descended attainment—a rich echo repeated bypowerful voices from Cicero downward—we will match some wondrousbackwoodsman, who has caught a wild power of language from the breezeamong his native forest boughs. But we may safely leave these brethrenand sisterhood to settle their own congenialities. Our ordinarydistinctions become so trifling, so impalpable, so ridiculouslyvisionary, in comparison with a classification founded on truth, thatall talk about the matter is immediately a common place.
Yet the longer I reflect the less am I satisfied with the idea offorming a separate class of mankind on the basis of high intellectualpower. At best it is but a higher development of innate gifts common toall. Perhaps, moreover, he whose genius appears deepest and truestexcels his fellows in nothing save the knack of expression; he throwsout occasionally a lucky hint at truths of which every human soul isprofoundly, though unutterably, conscious. Therefore, though we sufferthe brotherhood of intellect to march onward together, it may bedoubted whether their peculiar relation will not begin to vanish assoon as the procession shall have passed beyond the circle of thispresent world. But we do not classify for eternity.
And next, let the trumpet pour forth a funereal wail, and the herald'svoice give breath in one vast cry to all the groans and grievousutterances that are audible throughout the earth. We appeal now to thesacred bond of sorrow, and summon the great multitude who labor undersimilar afflictions to take their places in the march.
How many a heart that would have been insensible to any other call hasresponded to the doleful accents of that voice! It has gone far andwide, and high and low, and left scarcely a mortal roof unvisited.Indeed, the principle is only too universal for our purpose, and,unless we limit it, will quite break up our classification of mankind,and convert the whole procession into a funeral train. We willtherefore be at some pains to discriminate. Here comes a lonely richman: he has built a noble fabric for his dwelling-house, with a frontof stately architecture and marble floors and doors of precious woods;the whole structure is as beautiful as a dream and as substantial asthe native rock. But the visionary shapes of a long posterity, forwhose home this mansion was intended, have faded into nothingness sincethe death of the founder's only son. The rich man gives a glance at hissable garb in one of the splendid mirrors of his drawing-room, anddescending a flight of lofty steps instinctively offers his arm toyonder poverty stricken widow in the rusty black bonnet, and with acheck apron over her patched gown. The sailor boy, who was her soleearthly stay, was washed overboard in a late tempest. This couple fromthe palace and the almshouse are but the types of thousands more whorepresent the dark tragedy of life and seldom quarrel for the upperparts. Grief is such a leveller, with its own dignity and its ownhumility, that the noble and the peasant, the beggar and the monarch,will waive their pretensions to external rank without the officiousnessof interference on our part. If pride—the influence of the world'sfalse distinctions—remain in the heart, then sorrow lacks theearnestness which makes it holy and reverend. It loses its reality andbecomes a miserable shadow. On this ground we have an opportunity toassign over multitudes who would willingly claim places here to otherparts of the procession. If the mourner have anything dearer than hisgrief he must seek his true position elsewhere. There are so manyunsubstantial sorrows which the necessity of our mortal state begets onidleness, that an observer, casting aside sentiment, is sometimes ledto question whether there be any real woe, except absolute physicalsuffering and the loss of closest friends. A crowd who exhibit whatthey deem to be broken hearts—and among them many lovelorn maids andbachelors, and men of disappointed ambition in arts or politics, andthe poor who were once rich, or who have sought to be rich in vain—thegreat majority of these may ask admittance into some other fraternity.There is no room here. Perhaps we may institute a separate class wheresuch unfortunates will naturally fall into the procession. Meanwhilelet them stand aside and patiently await their time.
If our trumpeter can borrow a note from the doomsday trumpet blast, lethim sound it now. The dread alarum should make the earth quake to itscentre, for the herald is about to address mankind with a summons towhich even the purest mortal may be sensible of some faint respondingecho in his breast. In many bosoms it will awaken a still small voicemore terrible than its own reverberating uproar.
The hideous appeal has swept around the globe. Come, all ye guiltyones, and rank yourselves in accordance with the brotherhood of crime.This, indeed, is an awful summons. I almost tremble to look at thestrange partnerships that begin to be formed, reluctantly, but by theinvincible necessity of like to like in this part of the procession. Aforger from the state prison seizes the arm of a distinguishedfinancier. How indignantly does the latter plead his fair reputationupon 'Change, and insist that his operations, by their magnificence ofscope, were removed into quite another sphere of morality than those ofhis pitiful companion! But let him cut the connection if he can. Herecomes a murderer with his clanking chains, and pairs himself—horribleto tell—with as pure and upright a man, in all observable respects, asever partook of the consecrated bread and wine. He is one of those,perchance the most hopeless of all sinners, who practise such anexemplary system of outward duties, that even a deadly crime may behidden from their own sight and remembrance, under this unrealfrostwork. Yet he now finds his place. Why do that pair of flauntinggirls, with the pert, affected laugh and the sly leer at theby-standers, intrude themselves into the same rank with yonder decorousmatron, and that somewhat prudish maiden? Surely these poor creatures,born to vice as their sole and natural inheritance, can be no fitassociates for women who have been guarded round about by all theproprieties of domestic life, and who could not err unless they firstcreated the opportunity. Oh no; it must be merely the impertinence ofthose unblushing hussies; and we can only wonder how such respectableladies should have responded to a summons that was not meant for them.
We shall make short work of this miserable class, each member of whichis entitled to grasp any other member's hand, by that vile degradationwherein guilty error has buried all alike. The foul fiend to whom itproperly belongs must relieve us of our loathsome task. Let the bondservants of sin pass on. But neither man nor woman, in whom goodpredominates, will smile or sneer, nor bid the Rogues' March be played,in derision of their array. Feeling within their breasts a shudderingsympathy, which at least gives token of the sin that might have been,they will thank God for any place in the grand procession of humanexistence, save among those most wretched ones. Many, however, will beastonished at the fatal impulse that drags them thitherward. Nothing ismore remarkable than the various deceptions by which guilt concealsitself from the perpetrator's conscience, and oftenest, perhaps, by thesplendor of its garments. Statesmen, rulers, generals, and all men whoact over an extensive sphere, are most liable to be deluded in thisway; they commit wrong, devastation, and murder, on so grand a scale,that it impresses them as speculative rather than actual; but in ourprocession we find them linked in detestable conjunction with themeanest criminals whose deeds have the vulgarity of petty details. Herethe effect of circumstance and accident is done away, and a man findshis rank according to the spirit of his crime, in whatever shape it mayhave been developed.
We have called the Evil; now let us call the Good. The trumpet's brazenthroat should pour heavenly music over the earth, and the herald'svoice go forth with the sweetness of an angel's accents, as if tosummon each upright man to his reward. But how is this? Does noneanswer to the call? Not one: for the just, the pure, the true, and allwho might most worthily obey it, shrink sadly back, as most consciousof error and imperfection. Then let the summons be to those whosepervading principle is Love. This classification will embrace all thetruly good, and none in whose souls there exists not something that mayexpand itself into a heaven, both of well-doing and felicity.
The first that presents himself is a man of wealth, who has bequeathedthe bulk of his property to a hospital; his ghost, methinks, would havea better right here than his living body. But here they come, thegenuine benefactors of their race. Some have wandered about the earthwith pictures of bliss in their imagination, and with hearts thatshrank sensitively from the idea of pain and woe, yet have studied allvarieties of misery that human nature can endure. The prison, theinsane asylum, the squalid chamber of the almshouse, the manufactorywhere the demon of machinery annihilates the human soul, and the cottonfield where God's image becomes a beast of burden; to these and everyother scene where man wrongs or neglects his brother, the apostles ofhumanity have penetrated. This missionary, black with India's burningsunshine, shall give his arm to a pale-faced brother who has madehimself familiar with the infected alleys and loathsome haunts of vicein one of our own cities. The generous founder of a college shall bethe partner of a maiden lady of narrow substance, one of whose gooddeeds it has been to gather a little school of orphan children. If themighty merchant whose benefactions are reckoned by thousands of dollarsdeem himself worthy, let him join the procession with her whose lovehas proved itself by watchings at the sick-bed, and all those lowlyoffices which bring her into actual contact with disease andwretchedness. And with those whose impulses have guided them tobenevolent actions, we will rank others to whom Providence has assigneda different tendency and different powers. Men who have spent theirlives in generous and holy contemplation for the human race; those who,by a certain heavenliness of spirit, have purified the atmospherearound them, and thus supplied a medium in which good and high thingsmay be projected and performed—give to these a lofty place among thebenefactors of mankind, although no deed, such as the world callsdeeds, may be recorded of them. There are some individuals of whom wecannot conceive it proper that they should apply their hands to anyearthly instrument, or work out any definite act; and others, perhapsnot less high, to whom it is an essential attribute to labor in body aswell as spirit for the welfare of their brethren. Thus, if we find aspiritual sage whose unseen, inestimable influence has exalted themoral standard of mankind, we will choose for his companion some poorlaborer who has wrought for love in the potato field of a neighborpoorer than himself.
We have summoned this various multitude—and, to the credit of ournature, it is a large one—on the principle of Love. It is singular,nevertheless, to remark the shyness that exists among many members ofthe present class, all of whom we might expect to recognize one anotherby the freemasonry of mutual goodness, and to embrace like brethren,giving God thanks for such various specimens of human excellence. Butit is far otherwise. Each sect surrounds its own righteousness with ahedge of thorns. It is difficult for the good Christian to acknowledgethe good Pagan; almost impossible for the good Orthodox to grasp thehand of the good Unitarian, leaving to their Creator to settle thematters in dispute, and giving their mutual efforts strongly andtrustingly to whatever right thing is too evident to be mistaken. Thenagain, though the heart be large, yet the mind is often of suchmoderate dimensions as to be exclusively filled up with one idea. Whena good man has long devoted himself to a particular kind ofbeneficence—to one species of reform—he is apt to become narrowedinto the limits of the path wherein he treads, and to fancy that thereis no other good to be done on earth but that self-same good to whichhe has put his hand, and in the very mode that best suits his ownconceptions. All else is worthless. His scheme must be wrought out bythe united strength of the whole world's stock of love, or the world isno longer worthy of a position in the universe. Moreover, powerfulTruth, being the rich grape juice expressed from the vineyard of theages, has an intoxicating quality, when imbibed by any save a powerfulintellect, and often, as it were, impels the quaffer to quarrel in hiscups. For such reasons, strange to say, it is harder to contrive afriendly arrangement of these brethren of love and righteousness, inthe procession of life, than to unite even the wicked, who, indeed, arechained together by their crimes. The fact is too preposterous fortears, too lugubrious for laughter.
But, let good men push and elbow one another as they may during theirearthly march, all will be peace among them when the honorable array oftheir procession shall tread on heavenly ground. There they willdoubtless find that they have been working each for the other's cause,and that every well-delivered stroke, which, with an honest purpose anymortal struck, even for a narrow object, was indeed stricken for theuniversal cause of good. Their own view may be bounded by country,creed, profession, the diversities of individual character—but abovethem all is the breadth of Providence. How many who have deemedthemselves antagonists will smile hereafter, when they look back uponthe world's wide harvest field, and perceive that, in unconsciousbrotherhood, they were helping to bind the selfsame sheaf!
But, come! The sun is hastening westward, while the march of humanlife, that never paused before, is delayed by our attempt to rearrangeits order. It is desirable to find some comprehensive principle, thatshall render our task easier by bringing thousands into the ranks wherehitherto we have brought one. Therefore let the trumpet, if possible,split its brazen throat with a louder note than ever, and the heraldsummon all mortals, who, from whatever cause, have lost, or neverfound, their proper places in the wold.
Obedient to this call, a great multitude come together, most of themwith a listless gait, betokening weariness of soul, yet with a gleam ofsatisfaction in their faces, at a prospect of at length reaching thosepositions which, hitherto, they have vainly sought. But here will beanother disappointment; for we can attempt no more than merely toassociate in one fraternity all who are afflicted with the same vaguetrouble. Some great mistake in life is the chief condition ofadmittance into this class. Here are members of the learnedprofessions, whom Providence endowed with special gifts for the plough,the forge, and the wheelbarrow, or for the routine of unintellectualbusiness. We will assign to them, as partners in the march, those lowlylaborers and handicraftsmen, who have pined, as with a dying thirst,after the unattainable fountains of knowledge. The latter have lostless than their companions; yet more, because they deem it infinite.Perchance the two species of unfortunates may comfort one another. Hereare Quakers with the instinct of battle in them; and men of war whoshould have worn the broad brim. Authors shall be ranked here whom somefreak of Nature, making game of her poor children, had imbued with theconfidence of genius and strong desire of fame, but has favored with nocorresponding power; and others, whose lofty gifts were unaccompaniedwith the faculty of expression, or any of that earthly machinery bywhich ethereal endowments must be manifested to mankind. All these,therefore, are melancholy laughing-stocks. Next, here are honest andwell intentioned persons, who by a want of tact—by inaccurateperceptions—by a distorting imagination—have been kept continually atcross purposes with the world and bewildered upon the path of life. Letus see if they can confine themselves within the line of ourprocession. In this class, likewise, we must assign places to those whohave encountered that worst of ill success, a higher fortune than theirabilities could vindicate; writers, actors, painters, the pets of aday, but whose laurels wither unrenewed amid their hoary hair;politicians, whom some malicious contingency of affairs has thrust intoconspicuous station, where, while the world stands gazing at them, thedreary consciousness of imbecility makes them curse their birth hour.To such men, we give for a companion him whose rare talents, whichperhaps require a Revolution for their exercise, are buried in the tombof sluggish circumstances.
Not far from these, we must find room for one whose success has been ofthe wrong kind; the man who should have lingered in the cloisters of auniversity, digging new treasures out of the Herculaneum of antiquelore, diffusing depth and accuracy of literature throughout hiscountry, and thus making for himself a great and quiet fame. But theoutward tendencies around him have proved too powerful for his inwardnature, and have drawn him into the arena of political tumult, there tocontend at disadvantage, whether front to front, or side by side, withthe brawny giants of actual life. He becomes, it may be, a name forbrawling parties to bandy to and fro, a legislator of the Union; agovernor of his native state; an ambassador to the courts of kings orqueens; and the world may deem him a man of happy stars. But not so thewise; and not so himself, when he looks through his experience, andsighs to miss that fitness, the one invaluable touch which makes allthings true and real. So much achieved, yet how abortive is his life!Whom shall we choose for his companion? Some weak framed blacksmith,perhaps, whose delicacy of muscle might have suited a tailor'sshopboard better than the anvil.
Shall we bid the trumpet sound again? It is hardly worth the while.There remain a few idle men of fortune, tavern and grog-shop loungers,lazzaroni, old bachelors, decaying maidens, and people of crookedintellect or temper, all of whom may find their like, or some tolerableapproach to it, in the plentiful diversity of our latter class. Theretoo, as his ultimate destiny, must we rank the dreamer, who, all hislife long, has cherished the idea that he was peculiarly apt forsomething, but never could determine what it was; and there the mostunfortunate of men, whose purpose it has been to enjoy life'spleasures, but to avoid a manful struggle with its toil and sorrow. Theremainder, if any, may connect themselves with whatever rank of theprocession they shall find best adapted to their tastes andconsciences. The worst possible fate would be to remain behind,shivering in the solitude of time, while all the world is on the movetowards eternity. Our attempt to classify society is now complete. Theresult may be anything but perfect; yet better—to give it the verylowest praise—than the antique rule of the herald's office, or themodern one of the tax-gatherer, whereby the accidents and superficialattributes with which the real nature of individuals has least to do,are acted upon as the deepest characteristics of mankind. Our task isdone! Now let the grand procession move!
Yet pause a while! We had forgotten the Chief Marshal.
Hark! That world-wide swell of solemn music, with the clang of a mightybell breaking forth through its regulated uproar, announces hisapproach. He comes; a severe, sedate, immovable, dark rider, waving histruncheon of universal sway, as he passes along the lengthened line, onthe pale horse of the Revelation. It is Death! Who else could assumethe guidance of a procession that comprehends all humanity? And ifsome, among these many millions, should deem themselves classed amiss,yet let them take to their hearts the comfortable truth that Deathlevels us all into one great brotherhood, and that another state ofbeing will surely rectify the wrong of this. Then breathe thy wail uponthe earth's wailing wind, thou band of melancholy music, made up ofevery sigh that the human heart, unsatisfied, has uttered! There is yettriumph in thy tones. And now we move! Beggars in their rags, and Kingstrailing the regal purple in the dust; the Warrior's gleaming helmet;the Priest in his sable robe; the hoary Grandsire, who has run life'scircle and come back to childhood; the ruddy School-boy with his goldencurls, frisking along the march; the Artisan's stuff jacket; theNoble's star-decorated coat;—the whole presenting a motley spectacle,yet with a dusky grandeur brooding over it. Onward, onward, into thatdimness where the lights of Time which have blazed along theprocession, are flickering in their sockets! And whither! We know not;and Death, hitherto our leader, deserts us by the wayside, as the trampof our innumerable footsteps echoes beyond his sphere. He knows not,more than we, our destined goal. But God, who made us, knows, and willnot leave us on our toilsome and doubtful march, either to wander ininfinite uncertainty, or perish by the way!
"Dickon," cried Mother Rigby, "a coal for my pipe!"
The pipe was in the old dame's mouth when she said these words. She hadthrust it there after filling it with tobacco, but without stooping tolight it at the hearth, where indeed there was no appearance of a firehaving been kindled that morning. Forthwith, however, as soon as theorder was given, there was an intense red glow out of the bowl of thepipe, and a whiff of smoke came from Mother Rigby's lips. Whence thecoal came, and how brought thither by an invisible hand, I have neverbeen able to discover.
"Good!" quoth Mother Rigby, with a nod of her head. "Thank ye, Dickon!And now for making this scarecrow. Be within call, Dickon, in case Ineed you again."
The good woman had risen thus early (for as yet it was scarcelysunrise) in order to set about making a scarecrow, which she intendedto put in the middle of her corn-patch. It was now the latter week ofMay, and the crows and blackbirds had already discovered the little,green, rolledup leaf of the Indian corn just peeping out of the soil.She was determined, therefore, to contrive as lifelike a scarecrow asever was seen, and to finish it immediately, from top to toe, so thatit should begin its sentinel's duty that very morning. Now Mother Rigby(as everybody must have heard) was one of the most cunning and potentwitches in New England, and might, with very little trouble, have madea scarecrow ugly enough to frighten the minister himself. But on thisoccasion, as she had awakened in an uncommonly pleasant humor, and wasfurther dulcified by her pipe tobacco, she resolved to producesomething fine, beautiful, and splendid, rather than hideous andhorrible.
"I don't want to set up a hobgoblin in my own corn-patch, and almost atmy own doorstep," said Mother Rigby to herself, puffing out a whiff ofsmoke; "I could do it if I pleased, but I'm tired of doing marvellousthings, and so I'll keep within the bounds of every-day business justfor variety's sake. Besides, there is no use in scaring the littlechildren for a mile roundabout, though 't is true I'm a witch."
It was settled, therefore, in her own mind, that the scarecrow shouldrepresent a fine gentleman of the period, so far as the materials athand would allow. Perhaps it may be as well to enumerate the chief ofthe articles that went to the composition of this figure.
The most important item of all, probably, although it made so littleshow, was a certain broomstick, on which Mother Rigby had taken many anairy gallop at midnight, and which now served the scarecrow by way of aspinal column, or, as the unlearned phrase it, a backbone. One of itsarms was a disabled flail which used to be wielded by Goodman Rigby,before his spouse worried him out of this troublesome world; the other,if I mistake not, was composed of the pudding stick and a broken rungof a chair, tied loosely together at the elbow. As for its legs, theright was a hoe handle, and the left an undistinguished andmiscellaneous stick from the woodpile. Its lungs, stomach, and otheraffairs of that kind were nothing better than a meal bag stuffed withstraw. Thus we have made out the skeleton and entire corporosity of thescarecrow, with the exception of its head; and this was admirablysupplied by a somewhat withered and shrivelled pumpkin, in which MotherRigby cut two holes for the eyes and a slit for the mouth, leaving abluish-colored knob in the middle to pass for a nose. It was reallyquite a respectable face.
"I've seen worse ones on human shoulders, at any rate," said MotherRigby. "And many a fine gentleman has a pumpkin head, as well as myscarecrow."
But the clothes, in this case, were to be the making of the man. So thegood old woman took down from a peg an ancient plum-colored coat ofLondon make, and with relics of embroidery on its seams, cuffs,pocket-flaps, and button-holes, but lamentably worn and faded, patchedat the elbows, tattered at the skirts, and threadbare all over. On theleft breast was a round hole, whence either a star of nobility had beenrent away, or else the hot heart of some former wearer had scorched itthrough and through. The neighbors said that this rich garment belongedto the Black Man's wardrobe, and that he kept it at Mother Rigby'scottage for the convenience of slipping it on whenever he wished tomake a grand appearance at the governor's table. To match the coatthere was a velvet waistcoat of very ample size, and formerlyembroidered with foliage that had been as brightly golden as the mapleleaves in October, but which had now quite vanished out of thesubstance of the velvet. Next came a pair of scarlet breeches, onceworn by the French governor of Louisbourg, and the knees of which hadtouched the lower step of the throne of Louis le Grand. The Frenchmanhad given these small-clothes to an Indian powwow, who parted with themto the old witch for a gill of strong waters, at one of their dances inthe forest. Furthermore, Mother Rigby produced a pair of silk stockingsand put them on the figure's legs, where they showed as unsubstantialas a dream, with the wooden reality of the two sticks making itselfmiserably apparent through the holes. Lastly, she put her deadhusband's wig on the bare scalp of the pumpkin, and surmounted thewhole with a dusty three-cornered hat, in which was stuck the longesttail feather of a rooster.
Then the old dame stood the figure up in a corner of her cottage andchuckled to behold its yellow semblance of a visage, with its nobbylittle nose thrust into the air. It had a strangely self-satisfiedaspect, and seemed to say, "Come look at me!"
"And you are well worth looking at, that's a fact!" quoth Mother Rigby,in admiration at her own handiwork. "I've made many a puppet since I'vebeen a witch, but methinks this is the finest of them all. 'Tis almosttoo good for a scarecrow. And, by the by, I'll just fill a fresh pipeof tobacco and then take him out to the corn-patch."
While filling her pipe the old woman continued to gaze with almostmotherly affection at the figure in the corner. To say the truth,whether it were chance, or skill, or downright witchcraft, there wassomething wonderfully human in this ridiculous shape, bedizened withits tattered finery; and as for the countenance, it appeared to shrivelits yellow surface into a grin—a funny kind of expression betwixtscorn and merriment, as if it understood itself to be a jest atmankind. The more Mother Rigby looked the better she was pleased.
"Dickon," cried she sharply, "another coal for my pipe!"
Hardly had she spoken, than, just as before, there was a red-glowingcoal on the top of the tobacco. She drew in a long whiff and puffed itforth again into the bar of morning sunshine which struggled throughthe one dusty pane of her cottage window. Mother Rigby always liked toflavor her pipe with a coal of fire from the particular chimney cornerwhence this had been brought. But where that chimney corner might be,or who brought the coal from it,—further than that the invisiblemessenger seemed to respond to the name of Dickon,—I cannot tell.
"That puppet yonder," thought Mother Rigby, still with her eyes fixedon the scarecrow, "is too good a piece of work to stand all summer in acorn-patch, frightening away the crows and blackbirds. He's capable ofbetter things. Why, I've danced with a worse one, when partnershappened to be scarce, at our witch meetings in the forest! What if Ishould let him take his chance among the other men of straw and emptyfellows who go bustling about the world?"
The old witch took three or four more whiffs of her pipe and smiled.
"He'll meet plenty of his brethren at every street corner!" continuedshe. "Well; I didn't mean to dabble in witchcraft to-day, further thanthe lighting of my pipe, but a witch I am, and a witch I'm likely tobe, and there's no use trying to shirk it. I'll make a man of myscarecrow, were it only for the joke's sake!"
While muttering these words, Mother Rigby took the pipe from her ownmouth and thrust it into the crevice which represented the same featurein the pumpkin visage of the scarecrow.
"Puff, darling, puff!" said she. "Puff away, my fine fellow! your lifedepends on it!"
This was a strange exhortation, undoubtedly, to be addressed to a merething of sticks, straw, and old clothes, with nothing better than ashrivelled pumpkin for a head,—as we know to have been the scarecrow'scase. Nevertheless, as we must carefully hold in remembrance, MotherRigby was a witch of singular power and dexterity; and, keeping thisfact duly before our minds, we shall see nothing beyond credibility inthe remarkable incidents of our story. Indeed, the great difficultywill be at once got over, if we can only bring ourselves to believethat, as soon as the old dame bade him puff, there came a whiff ofsmoke from the scarecrow's mouth. It was the very feeblest of whiffs,to be sure; but it was followed by another and another, each moredecided than the preceding one.
"Puff away, my pet! puff away, my pretty one!" Mother Rigby keptrepeating, with her pleasantest smile. "It is the breath of life to ye;and that you may take my word for."
Beyond all question the pipe was bewitched. There must have been aspell either in the tobacco or in the fiercely-glowing coal that somysteriously burned on top of it, or in the pungently-aromatic smokewhich exhaled from the kindled weed. The figure, after a few doubtfulattempts at length blew forth a volley of smoke extending all the wayfrom the obscure corner into the bar of sunshine. There it eddied andmelted away among the motes of dust. It seemed a convulsive effort; forthe two or three next whiffs were fainter, although the coal stillglowed and threw a gleam over the scarecrow's visage. The old witchclapped her skinny hands together, and smiled encouragingly upon herhandiwork. She saw that the charm worked well. The shrivelled, yellowface, which heretofore had been no face at all, had already a thin,fantastic haze, as it were of human likeness, shifting to and froacross it; sometimes vanishing entirely, but growing more perceptiblethan ever with the next whiff from the pipe. The whole figure, in likemanner, assumed a show of life, such as we impart to ill-defined shapesamong the clouds, and half deceive ourselves with the pastime of ourown fancy.
If we must needs pry closely into the matter, it may be doubted whetherthere was any real change, after all, in the sordid, wornout worthless,and ill-jointed substance of the scarecrow; but merely a spectralillusion, and a cunning effect of light and shade so colored andcontrived as to delude the eyes of most men. The miracles of witchcraftseem always to have had a very shallow subtlety; and, at least, if theabove explanation do not hit the truth of the process, I can suggest nobetter.
"Well puffed, my pretty lad!" still cried old Mother Rigby. "Come,another good stout whiff, and let it be with might and main. Puff forthy life, I tell thee! Puff out of the very bottom of thy heart, if anyheart thou hast, or any bottom to it! Well done, again! Thou didst suckin that mouthful as if for the pure love of it."
And then the witch beckoned to the scarecrow, throwing so much magneticpotency into her gesture that it seemed as if it must inevitably beobeyed, like the mystic call of the loadstone when it summons the iron.
"Why lurkest thou in the corner, lazy one?" said she. "Step forth! Thouhast the world before thee!"
Upon my word, if the legend were not one which I heard on mygrandmother's knee, and which had established its place among thingscredible before my childish judgment could analyze its probability, Iquestion whether I should have the face to tell it now.
In obedience to Mother Rigby's word, and extending its arm as if toreach her outstretched hand, the figure made a step forward—a kind ofhitch and jerk, however, rather than a step—then tottered and almostlost its balance. What could the witch expect? It was nothing, afterall, but a scarecrow stuck upon two sticks. But the strong-willed oldbeldam scowled, and beckoned, and flung the energy of her purpose soforcibly at this poor combination of rotten wood, and musty straw, andragged garments, that it was compelled to show itself a man, in spiteof the reality of things. So it stepped into the bar of sunshine. Thereit stood, poor devil of a contrivance that it was!—with only thethinnest vesture of human similitude about it, through which wasevident the stiff, rickety, incongruous, faded, tattered,good-for-nothing patchwork of its substance, ready to sink in a heapupon the floor, as conscious of its own unworthiness to be erect. ShallI confess the truth? At its present point of vivification, thescarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm and abortive characters,composed of heterogeneous materials, used for the thousandth time, andnever worth using, with which romance writers (and myself, no doubt,among the rest) have so overpeopled the world of fiction.
But the fierce old hag began to get angry and show a glimpse of herdiabolic nature (like a snake's head, peeping with a hiss out of herbosom), at this pusillanimous behavior of the thing which she had takenthe trouble to put together.
"Puff away, wretch!" cried she, wrathfully. "Puff, puff, puff, thouthing of straw and emptiness! thou rag or two! thou meal bag! thoupumpkin head! thou nothing! Where shall I find a name vile enough tocall thee by? Puff, I say, and suck in thy fantastic life with thesmoke! else I snatch the pipe from thy mouth and hurl thee where thatred coal came from."
Thus threatened, the unhappy scarecrow had nothing for it but to puffaway for dear life. As need was, therefore, it applied itself lustilyto the pipe, and sent forth such abundant volleys of tobacco smoke thatthe small cottage kitchen became all vaporous. The one sunbeamstruggled mistily through, and could but imperfectly define the imageof the cracked and dusty window pane on the opposite wall. MotherRigby, meanwhile, with one brown arm akimbo and the other stretchedtowards the figure, loomed grimly amid the obscurity with such port andexpression as when she was wont to heave a ponderous nightmare on hervictims and stand at the bedside to enjoy their agony. In fear andtrembling did this poor scarecrow puff. But its efforts, it must beacknowledged, served an excellent purpose; for, with each successivewhiff, the figure lost more and more of its dizzy and perplexingtenuity and seemed to take denser substance. Its very garments,moreover, partook of the magical change, and shone with the gloss ofnovelty and glistened with the skilfully embroidered gold that had longago been rent away. And, half revealed among the smoke, a yellow visagebent its lustreless eyes on Mother Rigby.
At last the old witch clinched her fist and shook it at the figure. Notthat she was positively angry, but merely acting on theprinciple—perhaps untrue, or not the only truth, though as high a oneas Mother Rigby could be expected to attain—that feeble and torpidnatures, being incapable of better inspiration, must be stirred up byfear. But here was the crisis. Should she fail in what she now soughtto effect, it was her ruthless purpose to scatter the miserablesimulacre into its original elements.
"Thou hast a man's aspect," said she, sternly. "Have also the echo andmockery of a voice! I bid thee speak!"
The scarecrow gasped, struggled, and at length emitted a murmur, whichwas so incorporated with its smoky breath that you could scarcely tellwhether it were indeed a voice or only a whiff of tobacco. Somenarrators of this legend hold the opinion that Mother Rigby'sconjurations and the fierceness of her will had compelled a familiarspirit into the figure, and that the voice was his.
"Mother," mumbled the poor stifled voice, "be not so awful with me! Iwould fain speak; but being without wits, what can I say?"
"Thou canst speak, darling, canst thou?" cried Mother Rigby, relaxingher grim countenance into a smile. "And what shalt thou say, quoth-a!Say, indeed! Art thou of the brotherhood of the empty skull, anddemandest of me what thou shalt say? Thou shalt say a thousand things,and saying them a thousand times over, thou shalt still have saidnothing! Be not afraid, I tell thee! When thou comest into the world(whither I purpose sending thee forthwith) thou shalt not lack thewherewithal to talk. Talk! Why, thou shall babble like a mill-stream,if thou wilt. Thou hast brains enough for that, I trow!"
"At your service, mother," responded the figure.
"And that was well said, my pretty one," answered Mother Rigby. "Thenthou speakest like thyself, and meant nothing. Thou shalt have ahundred such set phrases, and five hundred to the boot of them. Andnow, darling, I have taken so much pains with thee and thou art sobeautiful, that, by my troth, I love thee better than any witch'spuppet in the world; and I've made them of all sorts—clay, wax, straw,sticks, night fog, morning mist, sea foam, and chimney smoke. But thouart the very best. So give heed to what I say."
"Yes, kind mother," said the figure, "with all my heart!"
"With all thy heart!" cried the old witch, setting her hands to hersides and laughing loudly. "Thou hast such a pretty way of speaking.With all thy heart! And thou didst put thy hand to the left side of thywaistcoat as if thou really hadst one!"
So now, in high good humor with this fantastic contrivance of hers,Mother Rigby told the scarecrow that it must go and play its part inthe great world, where not one man in a hundred, she affirmed, wasgifted with more real substance than itself. And, that he might hold uphis head with the best of them, she endowed him, on the spot, with anunreckonable amount of wealth. It consisted partly of a gold mine inEldorado, and of ten thousand shares in a broken bubble, and of half amillion acres of vineyard at the North Pole, and of a castle in theair, and a chateau in Spain, together with all the rents and incometherefrom accruing. She further made over to him the cargo of a certainship, laden with salt of Cadiz, which she herself, by her necromanticarts, had caused to founder, ten years before, in the deepest part ofmid-ocean. If the salt were not dissolved, and could be brought tomarket, it would fetch a pretty penny among the fishermen. That hemight not lack ready money, she gave him a copper farthing ofBirmingham manufacture, being all the coin she had about her, andlikewise a great deal of brass, which she applied to his forehead, thusmaking it yellower than ever.
"With that brass alone," quoth Mother Rigby, "thou canst pay thy wayall over the earth. Kiss me, pretty darling! I have done my best forthee."
Furthermore, that the adventurer might lack no possible advantagetowards a fair start in life, this excellent old dame gave him a tokenby which he was to introduce himself to a certain magistrate, member ofthe council, merchant, and elder of the church (the four capacitiesconstituting but one man), who stood at the head of society in theneighboring metropolis. The token was neither more nor less than asingle word, which Mother Rigby whispered to the scarecrow, and whichthe scarecrow was to whisper to the merchant.
"Gouty as the old fellow is, he'll run thy errands for thee, when oncethou hast given him that word in his ear," said the old witch. "MotherRigby knows the worshipful Justice Gookin, and the worshipful Justiceknows Mother Rigby!"
Here the witch thrust her wrinkled face close to the puppet's,chuckling irrepressibly, and fidgeting all through her system, withdelight at the idea which she meant to communicate.
"The worshipful Master Gookin," whispered she, "hath a comely maiden tohis daughter. And hark ye, my pet! Thou hast a fair outside, and apretty wit enough of thine own. Yea, a pretty wit enough! Thou wiltthink better of it when thou hast seen more of other people's wits.Now, with thy outside and thy inside, thou art the very man to win ayoung girl's heart. Never doubt it! I tell thee it shall be so. Put buta bold face on the matter, sigh, smile, flourish thy hat, thrust forththy leg like a dancing-master, put thy right hand to the left side ofthy waistcoat, and pretty Polly Gookin is thine own!"
All this while the new creature had been sucking in and exhaling thevapory fragrance of his pipe, and seemed now to continue thisoccupation as much for the enjoyment it afforded as because it was anessential condition of his existence. It was wonderful to see howexceedingly like a human being it behaved. Its eyes (for it appeared topossess a pair) were bent on Mother Rigby, and at suitable junctures itnodded or shook its head. Neither did it lack words proper for theoccasion: "Really! Indeed! Pray tell me! Is it possible! Upon my word!By no means! Oh! Ah! Hem!" and other such weighty utterances as implyattention, inquiry, acquiescence, or dissent on the part of theauditor. Even had you stood by and seen the scarecrow made, you couldscarcely have resisted the conviction that it perfectly understood thecunning counsels which the old witch poured into its counterfeit of anear. The more earnestly it applied its lips to the pipe, the moredistinctly was its human likeness stamped among visible realities, themore sagacious grew its expression, the more lifelike its gestures andmovements, and the more intelligibly audible its voice. Its garments,too, glistened so much the brighter with an illusory magnificence. Thevery pipe, in which burned the spell of all this wonderwork, ceased toappear as a smoke-blackened earthen stump, and became a meerschaum,with painted bowl and amber mouthpiece.
It might be apprehended, however, that as the life of the illusionseemed identical with the vapor of the pipe, it would terminatesimultaneously with the reduction of the tobacco to ashes. But thebeldam foresaw the difficulty.
"Hold thou the pipe, my precious one," said she, "while I fill it forthee again."
It was sorrowful to behold how the fine gentleman began to fade backinto a scarecrow while Mother Rigby shook the ashes out of the pipe andproceeded to replenish it from her tobacco-box.
"Dickon," cried she, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for thispipe!"
No sooner said than the intensely red speck of fire was glowing withinthe pipe-bowl; and the scarecrow, without waiting for the witch'sbidding, applied the tube to his lips and drew in a few short,convulsive whiffs, which soon, however, became regular and equable.
"Now, mine own heart's darling," quoth Mother Rigby, "whatever mayhappen to thee, thou must stick to thy pipe. Thy life is in it; andthat, at least, thou knowest well, if thou knowest nought besides.Stick to thy pipe, I say! Smoke, puff, blow thy cloud; and tell thepeople, if any question be made, that it is for thy health, and that sothe physician orders thee to do. And, sweet one, when thou shalt findthy pipe getting low, go apart into some corner, and (first fillingthyself with smoke) cry sharply, 'Dickon, a fresh pipe of tobacco!'and, 'Dickon, another coal for my pipe!' and have it into thy prettymouth as speedily as may be. Else, instead of a gallant gentleman in agold-laced coat, thou wilt be but a jumble of sticks and tatteredclothes, and a bag of straw, and a withered pumpkin! Now depart, mytreasure, and good luck go with thee!"
"Never fear, mother!" said the figure, in a stout voice, and sendingforth a courageous whiff of smoke, "I will thrive, if an honest man anda gentleman may!"
"Oh, thou wilt be the death of me!" cried the old witch, convulsed withlaughter. "That was well said. If an honest man and a gentleman may!Thou playest thy part to perfection. Get along with thee for a smartfellow; and I will wager on thy head, as a man of pith and substance,with a brain and what they call a heart, and all else that a man shouldhave, against any other thing on two legs. I hold myself a better witchthan yesterday, for thy sake. Did not I make thee? And I defy any witchin New England to make such another! Here; take my staff along withthee!"
The staff, though it was but a plain oaken stick, immediately took theaspect of a gold-headed cane.
"That gold head has as much sense in it as thine own," said MotherRigby, "and it will guide thee straight to worshipful Master Gookin'sdoor. Get thee gone, my pretty pet, my darling, my precious one, mytreasure; and if any ask thy name, it is Feathertop. For thou hast afeather in thy hat, and I have thrust a handful of feathers into thehollow of thy head, and thy wig, too, is of the fashion they callFeathertop,—so be Feathertop thy name!"
And, issuing from the cottage, Feathertop strode manfully towards town.Mother Rigby stood at the threshold, well pleased to see how thesunbeams glistened on him, as if all his magnificence were real, andhow diligently and lovingly he smoked his pipe, and how handsomely hewalked, in spite of a little stiffness of his legs. She watched himuntil out of sight, and threw a witch benediction after her darling,when a turn of the road snatched him from her view.
Betimes in the forenoon, when the principal street of the neighboringtown was just at its acme of life and bustle, a stranger of verydistinguished figure was seen on the sidewalk. His port as well as hisgarments betokened nothing short of nobility. He wore arichly-embroidered plum-colored coat, a waistcoat of costly velvet,magnificently adorned with golden foliage, a pair of splendid scarletbreeches, and the finest and glossiest of white silk stockings. Hishead was covered with a peruke, so daintily powdered and adjusted thatit would have been sacrilege to disorder it with a hat; which,therefore (and it was a gold-laced hat, set off with a snowy feather),he carried beneath his arm. On the breast of his coat glistened a star.He managed his gold-headed cane with an airy grace, peculiar to thefine gentlemen of the period; and, to give the highest possible finishto his equipment, he had lace ruffles at his wrist, of a most etherealdelicacy, sufficiently avouching how idle and aristocratic must be thehands which they half concealed.
It was a remarkable point in the accoutrement of this brilliantpersonage that he held in his left hand a fantastic kind of a pipe,with an exquisitely painted bowl and an amber mouthpiece. This heapplied to his lips as often as every five or six paces, and inhaled adeep whiff of smoke, which, after being retained a moment in his lungs,might be seen to eddy gracefully from his mouth and nostrils.
As may well be supposed, the street was all astir to find out thestranger's name.
"It is some great nobleman, beyond question," said one of thetownspeople. "Do you see the star at his breast?"
"Nay; it is too bright to be seen," said another. "Yes; he must needsbe a nobleman, as you say. But by what conveyance, think you, can hislordship have voyaged or travelled hither? There has been no vesselfrom the old country for a month past; and if he have arrived overlandfrom the southward, pray where are his attendants and equipage?"
"He needs no equipage to set off his rank," remarked a third. "If hecame among us in rags, nobility would shine through a hole in hiselbow. I never saw such dignity of aspect. He has the old Norman bloodin his veins, I warrant him."
"I rather take him to be a Dutchman, or one of your high Germans," saidanother citizen. "The men of those countries have always the pipe attheir mouths."
"And so has a Turk," answered his companion. "But, in my judgment, thisstranger hath been bred at the French court, and hath there learnedpoliteness and grace of manner, which none understand so well as thenobility of France. That gait, now! A vulgar spectator might deem itstiff—he might call it a hitch and jerk—but, to my eye, it hath anunspeakable majesty, and must have been acquired by constantobservation of the deportment of the Grand Monarque. The stranger'scharacter and office are evident enough. He is a French ambassador,come to treat with our rulers about the cession of Canada."
"More probably a Spaniard," said another, "and hence his yellowcomplexion; or, most likely, he is from the Havana, or from some porton the Spanish main, and comes to make investigation about the piracieswhich our government is thought to connive at. Those settlers in Peruand Mexico have skins as yellow as the gold which they dig out of theirmines."
"Yellow or not," cried a lady, "he is a beautiful man!—so tall, soslender! such a fine, noble face, with so well-shaped a nose, and allthat delicacy of expression about the mouth! And, bless me, how brighthis star is! It positively shoots out flames!"
"So do your eyes, fair lady," said the stranger, with a bow and aflourish of his pipe; for he was just passing at the instant. "Upon myhonor, they have quite dazzled me."
"Was ever so original and exquisite a compliment?" murmured the lady,in an ecstasy of delight.
Amid the general admiration excited by the stranger's appearance, therewere only two dissenting voices. One was that of an impertinent cur,which, after snuffing at the heels of the glistening figure, put itstail between its legs and skulked into its master's back yard,vociferating an execrable howl. The other dissentient was a youngchild, who squalled at the fullest stretch of his lungs, and babbledsome unintelligible nonsense about a pumpkin.
Feathertop meanwhile pursued his way along the street. Except for thefew complimentary words to the lady, and now and then a slightinclination of the head in requital of the profound reverences of thebystanders, he seemed wholly absorbed in his pipe. There needed noother proof of his rank and consequence than the perfect equanimitywith which he comported himself, while the curiosity and admiration ofthe town swelled almost into clamor around him. With a crowd gatheringbehind his footsteps, he finally reached the mansion-house of theworshipful Justice Gookin, entered the gate, ascended the steps of thefront door, and knocked. In the interim, before his summons wasanswered, the stranger was observed to shake the ashes out of his pipe.
"What did he say in that sharp voice?" inquired one of the spectators.
"Nay, I know not," answered his friend. "But the sun dazzles my eyesstrangely. How dim and faded his lordship looks all of a sudden! Blessmy wits, what is the matter with me?"
"The wonder is," said the other, "that his pipe, which was out only aninstant ago, should be all alight again, and with the reddest coal Iever saw. There is something mysterious about this stranger. What awhiff of smoke was that! Dim and faded did you call him? Why, as heturns about the star on his breast is all ablaze."
"It is, indeed," said his companion; "and it will go near to dazzlepretty Polly Gookin, whom I see peeping at it out of the chamberwindow."
The door being now opened, Feathertop turned to the crowd, made astately bend of his body like a great man acknowledging the reverenceof the meaner sort, and vanished into the house. There was a mysteriouskind of a smile, if it might not better be called a grin or grimace,upon his visage; but, of all the throng that beheld him, not anindividual appears to have possessed insight enough to detect theillusive character of the stranger except a little child and a cur dog.
Our legend here loses somewhat of its continuity, and, passing over thepreliminary explanation between Feathertop and the merchant, goes inquest of the pretty Polly Gookin. She was a damsel of a soft, roundfigure, with light hair and blue eyes, and a fair, rosy face, whichseemed neither very shrewd nor very simple. This young lady had caughta glimpse of the glistening stranger while standing on the threshold,and had forthwith put on a laced cap, a string of beads, her finestkerchief, and her stiffest damask petticoat in preparation for theinterview. Hurrying from her chamber to the parlor, she had ever sincebeen viewing herself in the large looking-glass and practising prettyairs-now a smile, now a ceremonious dignity of aspect, and now a softersmile than the former, kissing her hand likewise, tossing her head, andmanaging her fan; while within the mirror an unsubstantial little maidrepeated every gesture and did all the foolish things that Polly did,but without making her ashamed of them. In short, it was the fault ofpretty Polly's ability rather than her will if she failed to be ascomplete an artifice as the illustrious Feathertop himself; and, whenshe thus tampered with her own simplicity, the witch's phantom mightwell hope to win her.
No sooner did Polly hear her father's gouty footsteps approaching theparlor door, accompanied with the stiff clatter of Feathertop'shigh-heeled shoes, than she seated herself bolt upright and innocentlybegan warbling a song.
"Polly! daughter Polly!" cried the old merchant. "Come hither, child."
Master Gookin's aspect, as he opened the door, was doubtful andtroubled.
"This gentleman," continued he, presenting the stranger, "is theChevalier Feathertop,—nay, I beg his pardon, my Lord Feathertop,—whohath brought me a token of remembrance from an ancient friend of mine.Pay your duty to his lordship, child, and honor him as his qualitydeserves."
After these few words of introduction, the worshipful magistrateimmediately quitted the room. But, even in that brief moment, had thefair Polly glanced aside at her father instead of devoting herselfwholly to the brilliant guest, she might have taken warning of somemischief nigh at hand. The old man was nervous, fidgety, and very pale.Purposing a smile of courtesy, he had deformed his face with a sort ofgalvanic grin, which, when Feathertop's back was turned, he exchangedfor a scowl, at the same time shaking his fist and stamping his goutyfoot—an incivility which brought its retribution along with it. Thetruth appears to have been that Mother Rigby's word of introduction,whatever it might be, had operated far more on the rich merchant'sfears than on his good will. Moreover, being a man of wonderfully acuteobservation, he had noticed that these painted figures on the bowl ofFeathertop's pipe were in motion. Looking more closely he becameconvinced that these figures were a party of little demons, each dulyprovided with horns and a tail, and dancing hand in hand, with gesturesof diabolical merriment, round the circumference of the pipe bowl. Asif to confirm his suspicions, while Master Gookin ushered his guestalong a dusky passage from his private room to the parlor, the star onFeathertop's breast had scintillated actual flames, and threw aflickering gleam upon the wall, the ceiling, and the floor.
With such sinister prognostics manifesting themselves on all hands, itis not to be marvelled at that the merchant should have felt that hewas committing his daughter to a very questionable acquaintance. Hecursed, in his secret soul, the insinuating elegance of Feathertop'smanners, as this brilliant personage bowed, smiled, put his hand on hisheart, inhaled a long whiff from his pipe, and enriched the atmospherewith the smoky vapor of a fragrant and visible sigh. Gladly would poorMaster Gookin have thrust his dangerous guest into the street; butthere was a constraint and terror within him. This respectable oldgentleman, we fear, at an earlier period of life, had given some pledgeor other to the evil principle, and perhaps was now to redeem it by thesacrifice of his daughter.
It so happened that the parlor door was partly of glass, shaded by asilken curtain, the folds of which hung a little awry. So strong wasthe merchant's interest in witnessing what was to ensue between thefair Polly and the gallant Feathertop that, after quitting the room, hecould by no means refrain from peeping through the crevice of thecurtain.
But there was nothing very miraculous to be seen; nothing—except thetrifles previously noticed—to confirm the idea of a supernatural perilenvironing the pretty Polly. The stranger it is true was evidently athorough and practised man of the world, systematic and self-possessed,and therefore the sort of a person to whom a parent ought not toconfide a simple, young girl without due watchfulness for the result.The worthy magistrate who had been conversant with all degrees andqualities of mankind, could not but perceive every motion and gestureof the distinguished Feathertop came in its proper place; nothing hadbeen left rude or native in him; a well-digested conventionalism hadincorporated itself thoroughly with his substance and transformed himinto a work of art. Perhaps it was this peculiarity that invested himwith a species of ghastliness and awe. It is the effect of anythingcompletely and consummately artificial, in human shape, that the personimpresses us as an unreality and as having hardly pith enough to cast ashadow upon the floor. As regarded Feathertop, all this resulted in awild, extravagant, and fantastical impression, as if his life and beingwere akin to the smoke that curled upward from his pipe.
But pretty Polly Gookin felt not thus. The pair were now promenadingthe room: Feathertop with his dainty stride and no less dainty grimace,the girl with a native maidenly grace, just touched, not spoiled, by aslightly affected manner, which seemed caught from the perfect artificeof her companion. The longer the interview continued, the more charmedwas pretty Polly, until, within the first quarter of an hour (as theold magistrate noted by his watch), she was evidently beginning to bein love. Nor need it have been witchcraft that subdued her in such ahurry; the poor child's heart, it may be, was so very fervent that itmelted her with its own warmth as reflected from the hollow semblanceof a lover. No matter what Feathertop said, his words found depth andreverberation in her ear; no matter what he did, his action was heroicto her eye. And by this time it is to be supposed there was a blush onPolly's cheek, a tender smile about her mouth and a liquid softness inher glance; while the star kept coruscating on Feathertop's breast, andthe little demons careered with more frantic merriment than ever aboutthe circumference of his pipe bowl. O pretty Polly Gookin, why shouldthese imps rejoice so madly that a silly maiden's heart was about to begiven to a shadow! Is it so unusual a misfortune, so rare a triumph?
By and by Feathertop paused, and throwing himself into an imposingattitude, seemed to summon the fair girl to survey his figure andresist him longer if she could. His star, his embroidery, his bucklesglowed at that instant with unutterable splendor; the picturesque huesof his attire took a richer depth of coloring; there was a gleam andpolish over his whole presence betokening the perfect witchery ofwell-ordered manners. The maiden raised her eyes and suffered them tolinger upon her companion with a bashful and admiring gaze. Then, as ifdesirous of judging what value her own simple comeliness might haveside by side with so much brilliancy, she cast a glance towards thefull-length looking-glass in front of which they happened to bestanding. It was one of the truest plates in the world and incapable offlattery. No sooner did the images therein reflected meet Polly's eyethan she shrieked, shrank from the stranger's side, gazed at him for amoment in the wildest dismay, and sank insensible upon the floor.Feathertop likewise had looked towards the mirror, and there beheld,not the glittering mockery of his outside show, but a picture of thesordid patchwork of his real composition stripped of all witchcraft.
The wretched simulacrum! We almost pity him. He threw up his arms withan expression of despair that went further than any of his previousmanifestations towards vindicating his claims to be reckoned human, forperchance the only time since this so often empty and deceptive life ofmortals began its course, an illusion had seen and fully recognizeditself.
Mother Rigby was seated by her kitchen hearth in the twilight of thiseventful day, and had just shaken the ashes out of a new pipe, when sheheard a hurried tramp along the road. Yet it did not seem so much thetramp of human footsteps as the clatter of sticks or the rattling ofdry bones.
"Ha!" thought the old witch, "what step is that? Whose skeleton is outof its grave now, I wonder?"
A figure burst headlong into the cottage door. It was Feathertop! Hispipe was still alight; the star still flamed upon his breast; theembroidery still glowed upon his garments; nor had he lost, in anydegree or manner that could be estimated, the aspect that assimilatedhim with our mortal brotherhood. But yet, in some indescribable way (asis the case with all that has deluded us when once found out), the poorreality was felt beneath the cunning artifice.
"What has gone wrong?" demanded the witch. "Did yonder snifflinghypocrite thrust my darling from his door? The villain! I'll set twentyfiends to torment him till he offer thee his daughter on his bendedknees!"
"No, mother," said Feathertop despondingly; "it was not that."
"Did the girl scorn my precious one?" asked Mother Rigby, her fierceeyes glowing like two coals of Tophet. "I'll cover her face withpimples! Her nose shall be as red as the coal in thy pipe! Her frontteeth shall drop out! In a week hence she shall not be worth thyhaving!"
"Let her alone, mother," answered poor Feathertop; "the girl was halfwon; and methinks a kiss from her sweet lips might have made mealtogether human. But," he added, after a brief pause and then a howlof self-contempt, "I've seen myself, mother! I've seen myself for thewretched, ragged, empty thing I am! I'll exist no longer!"
Snatching the pipe from his mouth, he flung it with all his mightagainst the chimney, and at the same instant sank upon the floor, amedley of straw and tattered garments, with some sticks protruding fromthe heap, and a shrivelled pumpkin in the midst. The eyeholes were nowlustreless; but the rudely-carved gap, that just before had been amouth still seemed to twist itself into a despairing grin, and was sofar human.
"Poor fellow!" quoth Mother Rigby, with a rueful glance at the relicsof her ill-fated contrivance. "My poor, dear, pretty Feathertop! Thereare thousands upon thousands of coxcombs and charlatans in the world,made up of just such a jumble of wornout, forgotten, andgood-for-nothing trash as he was! Yet they live in fair repute, andnever see themselves for what they are. And why should my poor puppetbe the only one to know himself and perish for it?"
While thus muttering, the witch had filled a fresh pipe of tobacco, andheld the stem between her fingers, as doubtful whether to thrust itinto her own mouth or Feathertop's.
"Poor Feathertop!" she continued. "I could easily give him anotherchance and send him forth again tomorrow. But no; his feelings are tootender, his sensibilities too deep. He seems to have too much heart tobustle for his own advantage in such an empty and heartless world.Well! well! I'll make a scarecrow of him after all. 'Tis an innocentand useful vocation, and will suit my darling well; and, if each of hishuman brethren had as fit a one, 't would be the better for mankind;and as for this pipe of tobacco, I need it more than he."
So saying Mother Rigby put the stem between her lips. "Dickon!" criedshe, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for my pipe!"
[From the Unpublished "Allegories of the Heart."]
 The physical fact, to which it is here attempted to give a moralsignification, has been known to occur in more than one instance.
"Here he comes!" shouted the boys along the street. "Here comes the manwith a snake in his bosom!"
This outcry, saluting Herkimer's ears as he was about to enter the irongate of the Elliston mansion, made him pause. It was not without ashudder that he found himself on the point of meeting his formeracquaintance, whom he had known in the glory of youth, and whom nowafter an interval of five years, he was to find the victim either of adiseased fancy or a horrible physical misfortune.
"A snake in his bosom!" repeated the young sculptor to himself. "Itmust be he. No second man on earth has such a bosom friend. And now, mypoor Rosina, Heaven grant me wisdom to discharge my errand aright!Woman's faith must be strong indeed since thine has not yet failed."
Thus musing, he took his stand at the entrance of the gate and waiteduntil the personage so singularly announced should make his appearance.After an instant or two he beheld the figure of a lean man, ofunwholesome look, with glittering eyes and long black hair, who seemedto imitate the motion of a snake; for, instead of walking straightforward with open front, he undulated along the pavement in a curvedline. It may be too fanciful to say that something, either in his moralor material aspect, suggested the idea that a miracle had been wroughtby transforming a serpent into a man, but so imperfectly that the snakynature was yet hidden, and scarcely hidden, under the mere outwardguise of humanity. Herkimer remarked that his complexion had a greenishtinge over its sickly white, reminding him of a species of marble outof which he had once wrought a head of Envy, with her snaky locks.
The wretched being approached the gate, but, instead of entering,stopped short and fixed the glitter of his eye full upon thecompassionate yet steady countenance of the sculptor.
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" he exclaimed.
And then there was an audible hiss, but whether it came from theapparent lunatic's own lips, or was the real hiss of a serpent, mightadmit of a discussion. At all events, it made Herkimer shudder to hisheart's core.
"Do you know me, George Herkimer?" asked the snake-possessed.
Herkimer did know him; but it demanded all the intimate and practicalacquaintance with the human face, acquired by modelling actuallikenesses in clay, to recognize the features of Roderick Elliston inthe visage that now met the sculptor's gaze. Yet it was he. It addednothing to the wonder to reflect that the once brilliant young man hadundergone this odious and fearful change during the no more than fivebrief years of Herkimer's abode at Florence. The possibility of such atransformation being granted, it was as easy to conceive it effected ina moment as in an age. Inexpressibly shocked and startled, it was stillthe keenest pang when Herkimer remembered that the fate of his cousinRosina, the ideal of gentle womanhood, was indissolubly interwoven withthat of a being whom Providence seemed to have unhumanized.
"Elliston! Roderick!" cried he, "I had heard of this; but my conceptioncame far short of the truth. What has befallen you? Why do I find youthus?"
"Oh, 'tis a mere nothing! A snake! A snake! The commonest thing in theworld. A snake in the bosom—that's all," answered Roderick Elliston."But how is your own breast?" continued he, looking the sculptor in theeye with the most acute and penetrating glance that it had ever beenhis fortune to encounter. "All pure and wholesome? No reptile there? Bymy faith and conscience, and by the devil within me, here is a wonder!A man without a serpent in his bosom!"
"Be calm, Elliston," whispered George Herkimer, laying his hand uponthe shoulder of the snake-possessed. "I have crossed the ocean to meetyou. Listen! Let us be private. I bring a message from Rosina—fromyour wife!"
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" muttered Roderick.
With this exclamation, the most frequent in his mouth, the unfortunateman clutched both hands upon his breast as if an intolerable sting ortorture impelled him to rend it open and let out the living mischief,even should it be intertwined with his own life. He then freed himselffrom Herkimer's grasp by a subtle motion, and, gliding through thegate, took refuge in his antiquated family residence. The sculptor didnot pursue him. He saw that no available intercourse could be expectedat such a moment, and was desirous, before another meeting, to inquireclosely into the nature of Roderick's disease and the circumstancesthat had reduced him to so lamentable a condition. He succeeded inobtaining the necessary information from an eminent medical gentleman.
Shortly after Elliston's separation from his wife—now nearly fouryears ago—his associates had observed a singular gloom spreading overhis daily life, like those chill, gray mists that sometimes steal awaythe sunshine from a summer's morning. The symptoms caused them endlessperplexity. They knew not whether ill health were robbing his spiritsof elasticity, or whether a canker of the mind was gradually eating, assuch cankers do, from his moral system into the physical frame, whichis but the shadow of the former. They looked for the root of thistrouble in his shattered schemes of domestic bliss,—wilfully shatteredby himself,—but could not be satisfied of its existence there. Somethought that their once brilliant friend was in an incipient stage ofinsanity, of which his passionate impulses had perhaps been theforerunners; others prognosticated a general blight and gradualdecline. From Roderick's own lips they could learn nothing. More thanonce, it is true, he had been heard to say, clutching his handsconvulsively upon his breast,—"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"—but, bydifferent auditors, a great diversity of explanation was assigned tothis ominous expression. What could it be that gnawed the breast ofRoderick Elliston? Was it sorrow? Was it merely the tooth of physicaldisease? Or, in his reckless course, often verging upon profligacy, ifnot plunging into its depths, had he been guilty of some deed whichmade his bosom a prey to the deadlier fangs of remorse? There wasplausible ground for each of these conjectures; but it must not beconcealed that more than one elderly gentleman, the victim of goodcheer and slothful habits, magisterially pronounced the secret of thewhole matter to be Dyspepsia!
Meanwhile, Roderick seemed aware how generally he had become thesubject of curiosity and conjecture, and, with a morbid repugnance tosuch notice, or to any notice whatsoever, estranged himself from allcompanionship. Not merely the eye of man was a horror to him; notmerely the light of a friend's countenance; but even the blessedsunshine, likewise, which in its universal beneficence typifies theradiance of the Creator's face, expressing his love for all thecreatures of his hand. The dusky twilight was now too transparent forRoderick Elliston; the blackest midnight was his chosen hour to stealabroad; and if ever he were seen, it was when the watchman's lanterngleamed upon his figure, gliding along the street, with his handsclutched upon his bosom, still muttering, "It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"What could it be that gnawed him?
After a time, it became known that Elliston was in the habit ofresorting to all the noted quacks that infested the city, or whom moneywould tempt to journey thither from a distance. By one of thesepersons, in the exultation of a supposed cure, it was proclaimed farand wide, by dint of handbills and little pamphlets on dingy paper,that a distinguished gentleman, Roderick Elliston, Esq., had beenrelieved of a SNAKE in his stomach! So here was the monstrous secret,ejected from its lurking place into public view, in all its horribledeformity. The mystery was out; but not so the bosom serpent. He, if itwere anything but a delusion, still lay coiled in his living den. Theempiric's cure had been a sham, the effect, it was supposed, of somestupefying drug which more nearly caused the death of the patient thanof the odious reptile that possessed him. When Roderick Ellistonregained entire sensibility, it was to find his misfortune the towntalk—the more than nine days' wonder and horror—while, at his bosom,he felt the sickening motion of a thing alive, and the gnawing of thatrestless fang which seemed to gratify at once a physical appetite and afiendish spite.
He summoned the old black servant, who had been bred up in his father'shouse, and was a middle-aged man while Roderick lay in his cradle.
"Scipio!" he began; and then paused, with his arms folded over hisheart. "What do people say of me, Scipio."
"Sir! my poor master! that you had a serpent in your bosom," answeredthe servant with hesitation.
"And what else?" asked Roderick, with a ghastly look at the man.
"Nothing else, dear master," replied Scipio, "only that the doctor gaveyou a powder, and that the snake leaped out upon the floor."
"No, no!" muttered Roderick to himself, as he shook his head, andpressed his hands with a more convulsive force upon his breast, "I feelhim still. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
From this time the miserable sufferer ceased to shun the world, butrather solicited and forced himself upon the notice of acquaintancesand strangers. It was partly the result of desperation on finding thatthe cavern of his own bosom had not proved deep and dark enough to hidethe secret, even while it was so secure a fortress for the loathsomefiend that had crept into it. But still more, this craving fornotoriety was a symptom of the intense morbidness which now pervadedhis nature. All persons chronically diseased are egotists, whether thedisease be of the mind or body; whether it be sin, sorrow, or merelythe more tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among thecords of mortal life. Such individuals are made acutely conscious of aself, by the torture in which it dwells. Self, therefore, grows to beso prominent an object with them that they cannot but present it to theface of every casual passer-by. There is a pleasure—perhaps thegreatest of which the sufferer is susceptible—in displaying the wastedor ulcerated limb, or the cancer in the breast; and the fouler thecrime, with so much the more difficulty does the perpetrator prevent itfrom thrusting up its snake-like head to frighten the world; for it isthat cancer, or that crime, which constitutes their respectiveindividuality. Roderick Elliston, who, a little while before, had heldhimself so scornfully above the common lot of men, now paid fullallegiance to this humiliating law. The snake in his bosom seemed thesymbol of a monstrous egotism to which everything was referred, andwhich he pampered, night and day, with a continual and exclusivesacrifice of devil worship.
He soon exhibited what most people considered indubitable tokens ofinsanity. In some of his moods, strange to say, he prided and gloriedhimself on being marked out from the ordinary experience of mankind, bythe possession of a double nature, and a life within a life. Heappeared to imagine that the snake was a divinity,—not celestial, itis true, but darkly infernal,—and that he thence derived an eminenceand a sanctity, horrid, indeed, yet more desirable than whateverambition aims at. Thus he drew his misery around him like a regalmantle, and looked down triumphantly upon those whose vitals nourishedno deadly monster. Oftener, however, his human nature asserted itsempire over him in the shape of a yearning for fellowship. It grew tobe his custom to spend the whole day in wandering about the streets,aimlessly, unless it might be called an aim to establish a species ofbrotherhood between himself and the world. With cankered ingenuity, hesought out his own disease in every breast. Whether insane or not, heshowed so keen a perception of frailty, error, and vice, that manypersons gave him credit for being possessed not merely with a serpent,but with an actual fiend, who imparted this evil faculty of recognizingwhatever was ugliest in man's heart.
For instance, he met an individual, who, for thirty years, hadcherished a hatred against his own brother. Roderick, amidst the throngof the street, laid his hand on this man's chest, and looking full intohis forbidding face, "How is the snake to-day?" he inquired, with amock expression of sympathy.
"The snake!" exclaimed the brother hater—"what do you mean?"
"The snake! The snake! Does it gnaw you?" persisted Roderick. "Did youtake counsel with him this morning when you should have been sayingyour prayers? Did he sting, when you thought of your brother's health,wealth, and good repute? Did he caper for joy, when you remembered theprofligacy of his only son? And whether he stung, or whether hefrolicked, did you feel his poison throughout your body and soul,converting everything to sourness and bitterness? That is the way ofsuch serpents. I have learned the whole nature of them from my own!"
"Where is the police?" roared the object of Roderick's persecution, atthe same time giving an instinctive clutch to his breast. "Why is thislunatic allowed to go at large?"
"Ha, ha!" chuckled Roderick, releasing his grasp of the man.— "Hisbosom serpent has stung him then!"
Often it pleased the unfortunate young man to vex people with a lightersatire, yet still characterized by somewhat of snake-like virulence.One day he encountered an ambitious statesman, and gravely inquiredafter the welfare of his boa constrictor; for of that species, Roderickaffirmed, this gentleman's serpent must needs be, since its appetitewas enormous enough to devour the whole country and constitution. Atanother time, he stopped a close-fisted old fellow, of great wealth,but who skulked about the city in the guise of a scarecrow, with apatched blue surtout, brown hat, and mouldy boots, scraping pencetogether, and picking up rusty nails. Pretending to look earnestly atthis respectable person's stomach, Roderick assured him that his snakewas a copper-head and had been generated by the immense quantities ofthat base metal with which he daily defiled his fingers. Again, heassaulted a man of rubicund visage, and told him that few bosomserpents had more of the devil in them than those that breed in thevats of a distillery. The next whom Roderick honored with his attentionwas a distinguished clergyman, who happened just then to be engaged ina theological controversy, where human wrath was more perceptible thandivine inspiration.
"You have swallowed a snake in a cup of sacramental wine," quoth he.
"Profane wretch!" exclaimed the divine; but, nevertheless, his handstole to his breast.
He met a person of sickly sensibility, who, on some earlydisappointment, had retired from the world, and thereafter held nointercourse with his fellow-men, but brooded sullenly or passionatelyover the irrevocable past. This man's very heart, if Roderick might bebelieved, had been changed into a serpent, which would finally tormentboth him and itself to death. Observing a married couple, whosedomestic troubles were matter of notoriety, he condoled with both onhaving mutually taken a house adder to their bosoms. To an enviousauthor, who depreciated works which he could never equal, he said thathis snake was the slimiest and filthiest of all the reptile tribe, butwas fortunately without a sting. A man of impure life, and a brazenface, asking Roderick if there were any serpent in his breast, he toldhim that there was, and of the same species that once tortured DonRodrigo, the Goth. He took a fair young girl by the hand, and gazingsadly into her eyes, warned her that she cherished a serpent of thedeadliest kind within her gentle breast; and the world found the truthof those ominous words, when, a few months afterwards, the poor girldied of love and shame. Two ladies, rivals in fashionable life whotormented one another with a thousand little stings of womanish spite,were given to understand that each of their hearts was a nest ofdiminutive snakes, which did quite as much mischief as one great one.
But nothing seemed to please Roderick better than to lay hold of aperson infected with jealousy, which he represented as an enormousgreen reptile, with an ice-cold length of body, and the sharpest stingof any snake save one.
"And what one is that?" asked a by-stander, overhearing him.
It was a dark-browed man who put the question; he had an evasive eye,which in the course of a dozen years had looked no mortal directly inthe face. There was an ambiguity about this person's character,—astain upon his reputation,—yet none could tell precisely of whatnature, although the city gossips, male and female, whispered the mostatrocious surmises. Until a recent period he had followed the sea, andwas, in fact, the very shipmaster whom George Herkimer had encountered,under such singular circumstances, in the Grecian Archipelago.
"What bosom serpent has the sharpest sting?" repeated this man; but heput the question as if by a reluctant necessity, and grew pale while hewas uttering it.
"Why need you ask?" replied Roderick, with a look of dark intelligence."Look into your own breast. Hark! my serpent bestirs himself! Heacknowledges the presence of a master fiend!"
And then, as the by-standers afterwards affirmed, a hissing sound washeard, apparently in Roderick Elliston's breast. It was said, too, thatan answering hiss came from the vitals of the shipmaster, as if a snakewere actually lurking there and had been aroused by the call of itsbrother reptile. If there were in fact any such sound, it might havebeen caused by a malicious exercise of ventriloquism on the part ofRoderick.
Thus making his own actual serpent—if a serpent there actually was inhis bosom—the type of each man's fatal error, or hoarded sin, orunquiet conscience, and striking his sting so unremorsefully into thesorest spot, we may well imagine that Roderick became the pest of thecity. Nobody could elude him—none could withstand him. He grappledwith the ugliest truth that he could lay his hand on, and compelled hisadversary to do the same. Strange spectacle in human life where it isthe instinctive effort of one and all to hide those sad realities, andleave them undisturbed beneath a heap of superficial topics whichconstitute the materials of intercourse between man and man! It was notto be tolerated that Roderick Elliston should break through the tacitcompact by which the world has done its best to secure repose withoutrelinquishing evil. The victims of his malicious remarks, it is true,had brothers enough to keep them in countenance; for, by Roderick'stheory, every mortal bosom harbored either a brood of small serpents orone overgrown monster that had devoured all the rest. Still the citycould not bear this new apostle. It was demanded by nearly all, andparticularly by the most respectable inhabitants, that Roderick shouldno longer be permitted to violate the received rules of decorum byobtruding his own bosom serpent to the public gaze, and dragging thoseof decent people from their lurking places.
Accordingly, his relatives interfered and placed him in a privateasylum for the insane. When the news was noised abroad, it was observedthat many persons walked the streets with freer countenances andcovered their breasts less carefully with their hands.
His confinement, however, although it contributed not a little to thepeace of the town, operated unfavorably upon Roderick himself. Insolitude his melancholy grew more black and sullen. He spent wholedays—indeed, it was his sole occupation—in communing with theserpent. A conversation was sustained, in which, as it seemed, thehidden monster bore a part, though unintelligibly to the listeners, andinaudible except in a hiss. Singular as it may appear, the sufferer hadnow contracted a sort of affection for his tormentor, mingled, however,with the intensest loathing and horror. Nor were such discordantemotions incompatible. Each, on the contrary, imparted strength andpoignancy to its opposite. Horrible love—horrible antipathy—embracingone another in his bosom, and both concentrating themselves upon abeing that had crept into his vitals or been engendered there, andwhich was nourished with his food, and lived upon his life, and was asintimate with him as his own heart, and yet was the foulest of allcreated things! But not the less was it the true type of a morbidnature.
Sometimes, in his moments of rage and bitter hatred against the snakeand himself, Roderick determined to be the death of him, even at theexpense of his own life. Once he attempted it by starvation; but, whilethe wretched man was on the point of famishing, the monster seemed tofeed upon his heart, and to thrive and wax gamesome, as if it were hissweetest and most congenial diet. Then he privily took a dose of activepoison, imagining that it would not fail to kill either himself or thedevil that possessed him, or both together. Another mistake; for ifRoderick had not yet been destroyed by his own poisoned heart nor thesnake by gnawing it, they had little to fear from arsenic or corrosivesublimate. Indeed, the venomous pest appeared to operate as an antidoteagainst all other poisons. The physicians tried to suffocate the fiendwith tobacco smoke. He breathed it as freely as if it were his nativeatmosphere. Again, they drugged their patient with opium and drenchedhim with intoxicating liquors, hoping that the snake might thus bereduced to stupor and perhaps be ejected from the stomach. Theysucceeded in rendering Roderick insensible; but, placing their handsupon his breast, they were inexpressibly horror stricken to feel themonster wriggling, twining, and darting to and fro within his narrowlimits, evidently enlivened by the opium or alcohol, and incited tounusual feats of activity. Thenceforth they gave up all attempts atcure or palliation. The doomed sufferer submitted to his fate, resumedhis former loathsome affection for the bosom fiend, and spent wholemiserable days before a looking-glass, with his mouth wide open,watching, in hope and horror, to catch a glimpse of the snake's headfar down within his throat. It is supposed that he succeeded; for theattendants once heard a frenzied shout, and, rushing into the room,found Roderick lifeless upon the floor.
He was kept but little longer under restraint. After minuteinvestigation, the medical directors of the asylum decided that hismental disease did not amount to insanity, nor would warrant hisconfinement, especially as its influence upon his spirits wasunfavorable, and might produce the evil which it was meant to remedy.His eccentricities were doubtless great; he had habitually violatedmany of the customs and prejudices of society; but the world was not,without surer ground, entitled to treat him as a madman. On thisdecision of such competent authority Roderick was released, and hadreturned to his native city the very day before his encounter withGeorge Herkimer.
As soon as possible after learning these particulars the sculptor,together with a sad and tremulous companion, sought Elliston at his ownhouse. It was a large, sombre edifice of wood, with pilasters and abalcony, and was divided from one of the principal streets by a terraceof three elevations, which was ascended by successive flights of stonesteps. Some immense old elms almost concealed the front of the mansion.This spacious and once magnificent family residence was built by agrandee of the race early in the past century, at which epoch, landbeing of small comparative value, the garden and other grounds hadformed quite an extensive domain. Although a portion of the ancestralheritage had been alienated, there was still a shadowy enclosure in therear of the mansion where a student, or a dreamer, or a man of strickenheart might lie all day upon the grass, amid the solitude of murmuringboughs, and forget that a city had grown up around him.
Into this retirement the sculptor and his companion were ushered byScipio, the old black servant, whose wrinkled visage grew almost sunnywith intelligence and joy as he paid his humble greetings to one of thetwo visitors.
"Remain in the arbor," whispered the sculptor to the figure that leanedupon his arm. "You will know whether, and when, to make yourappearance."
"God will teach me," was the reply. "May He support me too!"
Roderick was reclining on the margin of a fountain which gushed intothe fleckered sunshine with the same clear sparkle and the same voiceof airy quietude as when trees of primeval growth flung their shadowscross its bosom. How strange is the life of a fountain!—born at everymoment, yet of an age coeval with the rocks, and far surpassing thevenerable antiquity of a forest.
"You are come! I have expected you," said Elliston, when he becameaware of the sculptor's presence.
His manner was very different from that of the preceding day—quiet,courteous, and, as Herkimer thought, watchful both over his guest andhimself. This unnatural restraint was almost the only trait thatbetokened anything amiss. He had just thrown a book upon the grass,where it lay half opened, thus disclosing itself to be a naturalhistory of the serpent tribe, illustrated by lifelike plates. Near itlay that bulky volume, the Ductor Dubitantium of Jeremy Taylor, full ofcases of conscience, and in which most men, possessed of a conscience,may find something applicable to their purpose.
"You see," observed Elliston, pointing to the book of serpents, while asmile gleamed upon his lips, "I am making an effort to become betteracquainted with my bosom friend; but I find nothing satisfactory inthis volume. If I mistake not, he will prove to be sui generis, andakin to no other reptile in creation."
"Whence came this strange calamity?" inquired the sculptor.
"My sable friend Scipio has a story," replied Roderick, "of a snakethat had lurked in this fountain—pure and innocent as it looks—eversince it was known to the first settlers. This insinuating personageonce crept into the vitals of my great grandfather and dwelt there manyyears, tormenting the old gentleman beyond mortal endurance. In shortit is a family peculiarity. But, to tell you the truth, I have no faithin this idea of the snake's being an heirloom. He is my own snake, andno man's else."
"But what was his origin?" demanded Herkimer.
"Oh, there is poisonous stuff in any man's heart sufficient to generatea brood of serpents," said Elliston with a hollow laugh. "You shouldhave heard my homilies to the good town's-people. Positively, I deemmyself fortunate in having bred but a single serpent. You, however,have none in your bosom, and therefore cannot sympathize with the restof the world. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
With this exclamation Roderick lost his self-control and threw himselfupon the grass, testifying his agony by intricate writhings, in whichHerkimer could not but fancy a resemblance to the motions of a snake.Then, likewise, was heard that frightful hiss, which often ran throughthe sufferer's speech, and crept between the words and syllableswithout interrupting their succession.
"This is awful indeed!" exclaimed the sculptor—"an awful infliction,whether it be actual or imaginary. Tell me, Roderick Elliston, is thereany remedy for this loathsome evil?"
"Yes, but an impossible one," muttered Roderick, as he lay wallowingwith his face in the grass. "Could I for one moment forget myself, theserpent might not abide within me. It is my diseased self-contemplationthat has engendered and nourished him."
"Then forget yourself, my husband," said a gentle voice above him;"forget yourself in the idea of another!"
Rosina had emerged from the arbor, and was bending over him with theshadow of his anguish reflected in her countenance, yet so mingled withhope and unselfish love that all anguish seemed but an earthly shadowand a dream. She touched Roderick with her hand. A tremor shiveredthrough his frame. At that moment, if report be trustworthy, thesculptor beheld a waving motion through the grass, and heard a tinklingsound, as if something had plunged into the fountain. Be the truth asit might, it is certain that Roderick Elliston sat up like a manrenewed, restored to his right mind, and rescued from the fiend whichhad so miserably overcome him in the battle-field of his own breast.
"Rosina!" cried he, in broken and passionate tones, but with nothing ofthe wild wail that had haunted his voice so long, "forgive! forgive!"
Her happy tears bedewed his face.
"The punishment has been severe," observed the sculptor. "Even Justicemight now forgive; how much more a woman's tenderness! RoderickElliston, whether the serpent was a physical reptile, or whether themorbidness of your nature suggested that symbol to your fancy, themoral of the story is not the less true and strong. A tremendousEgotism, manifesting itself in your case in the form of jealousy, is asfearful a fiend as ever stole into the human heart. Can a breast, whereit has dwelt so long, be purified?"
"Oh yes," said Rosina with a heavenly smile. "The serpent was but adark fantasy, and what it typified was as shadowy as itself. The past,dismal as it seems, shall fling no gloom upon the future. To give itits due importance we must think of it but as an anecdote in ourEternity."
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of Boston, ayoung carver in wood, well known by the name of Drowne, stoodcontemplating a large oaken log, which it was his purpose to convertinto the figure-head of a vessel. And while he discussed within his ownmind what sort of shape or similitude it were well to bestow upon thisexcellent piece of timber, there came into Drowne's workshop a certainCaptain Hunnewell, owner and commander of the good brig called theCynosure, which had just returned from her first voyage to Fayal.
"Ah! that will do, Drowne, that will do!" cried the jolly captain,tapping the log with his rattan. "I bespeak this very piece of oak forthe figure-head of the Cynosure. She has shown herself the sweetestcraft that ever floated, and I mean to decorate her prow with thehandsomest image that the skill of man can cut out of timber. And,Drowne, you are the fellow to execute it."
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said thecarver, modestly, yet as one conscious of eminence in his art. "But,for the sake of the good brig, I stand ready to do my best. And whichof these designs do you prefer? Here,"—pointing to a staring,half-length figure, in a white wig and scarlet coat,—"here is anexcellent model, the likeness of our gracious king. Here is the valiantAdmiral Vernon. Or, if you prefer a female figure, what say you toBritannia with the trident?"
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner. "But asnothing like the brig ever swam the ocean, so I am determined she shallhave such a figure-head as old Neptune never saw in his life. And whatis more, as there is a secret in the matter, you must pledge yourcredit not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible mysterythere could be in reference to an affair so open, of necessity, to theinspection of all the world as the figure-head of a vessel. "You maydepend, captain, on my being as secret as the nature of the case willpermit."
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and communicated hiswishes in so low a tone that it would be unmannerly to repeat what wasevidently intended for the carver's private ear. We shall, therefore,take the opportunity to give the reader a few desirable particularsabout Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted—in a veryhumble line, it is true—that art in which we can now reckon so manynames already distinguished, or rising to distinction. From hisearliest boyhood he had exhibited a knack—for it would be too proud aword to call it genius—a knack, therefore, for the imitation of thehuman figure in whatever material came most readily to hand. The snowsof a New England winter had often supplied him with a species of marbleas dazzingly white, at least, as the Parian or the Carrara, and if lessdurable, yet sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to permanentexistence possessed by the boy's frozen statues. Yet they wonadmiration from maturer judges than his school-fellows, and wereindeed, remarkably clever, though destitute of the native warmth thatmight have made the snow melt beneath his hand. As he advanced in life,the young man adopted pine and oak as eligible materials for thedisplay of his skill, which now began to bring him a return of solidsilver as well as the empty praise that had been an apt reward enoughfor his productions of evanescent snow. He became noted for carvingornamental pump heads, and wooden urns for gate posts, and decorations,more grotesque than fanciful, for mantelpieces. No apothecary wouldhave deemed himself in the way of obtaining custom without setting up agilded mortar, if not a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the skilfulhand of Drowne.
But the great scope of his business lay in the manufacture offigure-heads for vessels. Whether it were the monarch himself, or somefamous British admiral or general, or the governor of the province, orperchance the favorite daughter of the ship-owner, there the imagestood above the prow, decked out in gorgeous colors, magnificentlygilded, and staring the whole world out of countenance, as if from aninnate consciousness of its own superiority. These specimens of nativesculpture had crossed the sea in all directions, and been not ignoblynoticed among the crowded shipping of the Thames and wherever else thehardy mariners of New England had pushed their adventures. It must beconfessed that a family likeness pervaded these respectable progeny ofDrowne's skill; that the benign countenance of the king resembled thoseof his subjects, and that Miss Peggy Hobart, the merchant's daughter,bore a remarkable similitude to Britannia, Victory, and other ladies ofthe allegoric sisterhood; and, finally, that they all had a kind ofwooden aspect which proved an intimate relationship with the unshapedblocks of timber in the carver's workshop. But at least there was noinconsiderable skill of hand, nor a deficiency of any attribute torender them really works of art, except that deep quality, be it ofsoul or intellect, which bestows life upon the lifeless and warmth uponthe cold, and which, had it been present, would have made Drowne'swooden image instinct with spirit.
The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
"And Drowne," said he, impressively, "you must lay aside all otherbusiness and set about this forthwith. And as to the price, only do thejob in first-rate style, and you shall settle that point yourself."
"Very well, captain," answered the carver, who looked grave andsomewhat perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage; "dependupon it, I'll do my utmost to satisfy you."
From that moment the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town Dockwho were wont to show their love for the arts by frequent visits toDrowne's workshop, and admiration of his wooden images, began to besensible of a mystery in the carver's conduct. Often he was absent inthe daytime. Sometimes, as might be judged by gleams of light from theshop windows, he was at work until a late hour of the evening; althoughneither knock nor voice, on such occasions, could gain admittance for avisitor, or elicit any word of response. Nothing remarkable, however,was observed in the shop at those late hours when it was thrown open. Afine piece of timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to have reservedfor some work of especial dignity, was seen to be gradually assumingshape. What shape it was destined ultimately to take was a problem tohis friends and a point on which the carver himself preserved a rigidsilence. But day after day, though Drowne was seldom noticed in the actof working upon it, this rude form began to be developed until itbecame evident to all observers that a female figure was growing intomimic life. At each new visit they beheld a larger pile of wooden chipsand a nearer approximation to something beautiful. It seemed as if thehamadryad of the oak had sheltered herself from the unimaginative worldwithin the heart of her native tree, and that it was only necessary toremove the strange shapelessness that had incrusted her, and reveal thegrace and loveliness of a divinity. Imperfect as the design, theattitude, the costume, and especially the face of the image stillremained, there was already an effect that drew the eye from the woodencleverness of Drowne's earlier productions and fixed it upon thetantalizing mystery of this new project.
Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man and a resident ofBoston, came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so much ofmoderate ability in the carver as to induce him, in the dearth ofprofessional sympathy, to cultivate his acquaintance. On entering theshop, the artist glanced at the inflexible image of king, commander,dame, and allegory, that stood around, on the best of which might havebeen bestowed the questionable praise that it looked as if a living manhad here been changed to wood, and that not only the physical, but theintellectual and spiritual part, partook of the stolid transformation.But in not a single instance did it seem as if the wood were imbibingthe ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction is here! andhow far the slightest portion of the latter merit have outvalued theutmost degree of the former!
"My friend Drowne;" said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding tothe mechanical and wooden cleverness that so invariably distinguishedthe images, "you are really a remarkable person! I have seldom met witha man in your line of business that could do so much; for one othertouch might make this figure of General Wolfe, for instance, abreathing and intelligent human creature."
"You would have me think that you are praising me highly, Mr. Copley,"answered Drowne, turning his back upon Wolfe's image in apparentdisgust. "But there has come a light into my mind. I know what you knowas well, that the one touch which you speak of as deficient is the onlyone that would be truly valuable, and that without it these works ofmine are no better than worthless abortions. There is the samedifference between them and the works of an inspired artist as betweena sign-post daub and one of your best pictures."
"This is strange," cried Copley, looking him in the face, which now, asthe painter fancied, had a singular depth of intelligence, thoughhitherto it had not given him greatly the advantage over his own familyof wooden images. "What has come over you? How is it that, possessingthe idea which you have now uttered, you should produce only such worksas these?"
The carver smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to theimages, conceiving that the sense of deficiency which Drowne had justexpressed, and which is so rare in a merely mechanical character, mustsurely imply a genius, the tokens of which had heretofore beenoverlooked. But no; there was not a trace of it. He was about towithdraw when his eyes chanced to fall upon a half-developed figurewhich lay in a corner of the workshop, surrounded by scattered chips ofoak. It arrested him at once.
"What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after contemplating itin speechless astonishment for an instant. "Here is the divine, thelifegiving touch. What inspired hand is beckoning this wood to ariseand live? Whose work is this?"
"No man's work," replied Drowne. "The figure lies within that block ofoak, and it is my business to find it."
"Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by thehand, "you are a man of genius!"
As Copley departed, happening to glance backward from the threshold, hebeheld Drowne bending over the half-created shape, and stretching forthhis arms as if he would have embraced and drawn it to his heart; while,had such a miracle been possible, his countenance expressed passionenough to communicate warmth and sensibility to the lifeless oak.
"Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have lookedfor a modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee mechanic!"
As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so that, asin the cloud shapes around the western sun, the observer rather felt,or was led to imagine, than really saw what was intended by it. Day byday, however, the work assumed greater precision, and settled itsirregular and misty outline into distincter grace and beauty. Thegeneral design was now obvious to the common eye. It was a femalefigure, in what appeared to be a foreign dress; the gown being lacedover the bosom, and opening in front so as to disclose a skirt orpetticoat, the folds and inequalities of which were admirablyrepresented in the oaken substance. She wore a hat of singulargracefulness, and abundantly laden with flowers, such as never grew inthe rude soil of New England, but which, with all their fancifulluxuriance, had a natural truth that it seemed impossible for the mostfertile imagination to have attained without copying from realprototypes. There were several little appendages to this dress, such asa fan, a pair of earrings, a chain about the neck, a watch in thebosom, and a ring upon the finger, all of which would have been deemedbeneath the dignity of sculpture. They were put on, however, with asmuch taste as a lovely woman might have shown in her attire, and couldtherefore have shocked none but a judgment spoiled by artistic rules.
The face was still imperfect; but gradually, by a magic touch,intelligence and sensibility brightened through the features, with allthe effect of light gleaming forth from within the solid oak. The facebecame alive. It was a beautiful, though not precisely regular andsomewhat haughty aspect, but with a certain piquancy about the eyes andmouth, which, of all expressions, would have seemed the most impossibleto throw over a wooden countenance. And now, so far as carving went,this wonderful production was complete.
"Drowne," said Copley, who had hardly missed a single day in his visitsto the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble it would makeyou famous at once; nay, I would almost affirm that it would make anera in the art. It is as ideal as an antique statue, and yet as real asany lovely woman whom one meets at a fireside or in the street. But Itrust you do not mean to desecrate this exquisite creature with paint,like those staring kings and admirals yonder?"
"Not paint her!" exclaimed Captain Hunnewell, who stood by; "not paintthe figure-head of the Cynosure! And what sort of a figure should I cutin a foreign port with such an unpainted oaken stick as this over myprow! She must, and she shall, be painted to the life, from the topmostflower in her hat down to the silver spangles on her slippers."
"Mr. Copley," said Drowne, quietly, "I know nothing of marble statuary,and nothing of the sculptor's rules of art; but of this wooden image,this work of my hands, this creature of my heart,"—and here his voicefaltered and choked in a very singular manner,—"of this—of her—I maysay that I know something. A well-spring of inward wisdom gushed withinme as I wrought upon the oak with my whole strength, and soul, andfaith. Let others do what they may with marble, and adopt what rulesthey choose. If I can produce my desired effect by painted wood, thoserules are not for me, and I have a right to disregard them."
"The very spirit of genius," muttered Copley to himself. "How otherwiseshould this carver feel himself entitled to transcend all rules, andmake me ashamed of quoting them?"
He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of humanlove which, in a spiritual sense, as the artist could not helpimagining, was the secret of the life that had been breathed into thisblock of wood.
The carver, still in the same secrecy that marked all his operationsupon this mysterious image, proceeded to paint the habiliments in theirproper colors, and the countenance with Nature's red and white. Whenall was finished he threw open his workshop, and admitted the townspeople to behold what he had done. Most persons, at their firstentrance, felt impelled to remove their hats, and pay such reverence aswas due to the richly-dressed and beautiful young lady who seemed tostand in a corner of the room, with oaken chips and shavings scatteredat her feet. Then came a sensation of fear; as if, not being actuallyhuman, yet so like humanity, she must therefore be somethingpreternatural. There was, in truth, an indefinable air and expressionthat might reasonably induce the query, Who and from what sphere thisdaughter of the oak should be? The strange, rich flowers of Eden on herhead; the complexion, so much deeper and more brilliant than those ofour native beauties; the foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yetnot too fantastic to be worn decorously in the street; thedelicately-wrought embroidery of the skirt; the broad gold chain abouther neck; the curious ring upon her finger; the fan, so exquisitelysculptured in open work, and painted to resemble pearl andebony;—where could Drowne, in his sober walk of life, have beheld thevision here so matchlessly embodied! And then her face! In the darkeyes, and around the voluptuous mouth, there played a look made up ofpride, coquetry, and a gleam of mirthfulness, which impressed Copleywith the idea that the image was secretly enjoying the perplexingadmiration of himself and other beholders.
"And will you," said he to the carver, "permit this masterpiece tobecome the figure-head of a vessel? Give the honest captain yonderfigure of Britannia—it will answer his purpose far better—and sendthis fairy queen to England, where, for aught I know, it may bring youa thousand pounds."
"I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
"What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and throwaway the chance of making his fortune! He has gone mad; and thence hascome this gleam of genius."
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were due tothe rumor that he had been seen kneeling at the feet of the oaken lady,and gazing with a lover's passionate ardor into the face that his ownhands had created. The bigots of the day hinted that it would be nomatter of surprise if an evil spirit were allowed to enter thisbeautiful form, and seduce the carver to destruction.
The fame of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants visited itso universally, that after a few days of exhibition there was hardly anold man or a child who had not become minutely familiar with itsaspect. Even had the story of Drowne's wooden image ended here, itscelebrity might have been prolonged for many years by the reminiscencesof those who looked upon it in their childhood, and saw nothing else sobeautiful in after life. But the town was now astounded by an event,the narrative of which has formed itself into one of the most singularlegends that are yet to be met with in the traditionary chimney cornersof the New England metropolis, where old men and women sit dreaming ofthe past, and wag their heads at the dreamers of the present and thefuture.
One fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on hersecond voyage to Fayal, the commander of that gallant vessel was seento issue from his residence in Hanover Street. He was stylishly dressedin a blue broadcloth coat, with gold lace at the seams andbutton-holes, an embroidered scarlet waistcoat, a triangular hat, witha loop and broad binding of gold, and wore a silver-hilted hanger athis side. But the good captain might have been arrayed in the robes ofa prince or the rags of a beggar, without in either case attractingnotice, while obscured by such a companion as now leaned on his arm.The people in the street started, rubbed their eyes, and either leapedaside from their path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble inastonishment.
"Do you see it?—do you see it?" cried one, with tremulous eagerness."It is the very same!"
"The same?" answered another, who had arrived in town only the nightbefore. "Who do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his shoregoingclothes, and a young lady in a foreign habit, with a bunch of beautifulflowers in her hat. On my word, she is as fair and bright a damsel asmy eyes have looked on this many a day!"
"Yes; the same!—the very same!" repeated the other. "Drowne's woodenimage has come to life!"
Here was a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, ordarkened by the alternate shade of the houses, and with its garmentsfluttering lightly in the morning breeze, there passed the image alongthe street. It was exactly and minutely the shape, the garb, and theface which the towns-people had so recently thronged to see and admire.Not a rich flower upon her head, not a single leaf, but had had itsprototype in Drowne's wooden workmanship, although now their fragilegrace had become flexible, and was shaken by every footstep that thewearer made. The broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with theone represented on the image, and glistened with the motion imparted bythe rise and fall of the bosom which it decorated. A real diamondsparkled on her finger. In her right hand she bore a pearl and ebonyfan, which she flourished with a fantastic and bewitching coquetry,that was likewise expressed in all her movements as well as in thestyle of her beauty and the attire that so well harmonized with it. Theface with its brilliant depth of complexion had the same piquancy ofmirthful mischief that was fixed upon the countenance of the image, butwhich was here varied and continually shifting, yet always essentiallythe same, like the sunny gleam upon a bubbling fountain. On the whole,there was something so airy and yet so real in the figure, and withalso perfectly did it represent Drowne's image, that people knew notwhether to suppose the magic wood etherealized into a spirit or warmedand softened into an actual woman.
"One thing is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp, "Drownehas sold himself to the devil; and doubtless this gay Captain Hunnewellis a party to the bargain."
"And I," said a young man who overheard him, "would almost consent tobe the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those lovely lips."
"And so would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege oftaking her picture."
The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still escorted bythe bold captain, proceeded from Hanover Street through some of thecross lanes that make this portion of the town so intricate, to AnnStreet, thence into Dock Square, and so downward to Drowne's shop,which stood just on the water's edge. The crowd still followed,gathering volume as it rolled along. Never had a modern miracleoccurred in such broad daylight, nor in the presence of such amultitude of witnesses. The airy image, as if conscious that she wasthe object of the murmurs and disturbance that swelled behind her,appeared slightly vexed and flustered, yet still in a manner consistentwith the light vivacity and sportive mischief that were written in hercountenance. She was observed to flutter her fan with such vehementrapidity that the elaborate delicacy of its workmanship gave way, andit remained broken in her hand.
Arriving at Drowne's door, while the captain threw it open, themarvellous apparition paused an instant on the threshold, assuming thevery attitude of the image, and casting over the crowd that glance ofsunny coquetry which all remembered on the face of the oaken lady. Sheand her cavalier then disappeared.
"Ah!" murmured the crowd, drawing a deep breath, as with one vast pairof lungs.
"The world looks darker now that she has vanished," said some of theyoung men.
But the aged, whose recollections dated as far back as witch times,shook their heads, and hinted that our forefathers would have thoughtit a pious deed to burn the daughter of the oak with fire.
"If she be other than a bubble of the elements," exclaimed Copley, "Imust look upon her face again."
He accordingly entered the shop; and there, in her usual corner, stoodthe image, gazing at him, as it might seem, with the very sameexpression of mirthful mischief that had been the farewell look of theapparition when, but a moment before, she turned her face towards thecrowd. The carver stood beside his creation mending the beautiful fan,which by some accident was broken in her hand. But there was no longerany motion in the lifelike image, nor any real woman in the workshop,nor even the witchcraft of a sunny shadow, that might have deludedpeople's eyes as it flitted along the street. Captain Hunnewell, too,had vanished. His hoarse sea-breezy tones, however, were audible on theother side of a door that opened upon the water.
"Sit down in the stern sheets, my lady," said the gallant captain."Come, bear a hand, you lubbers, and set us on board in the turning ofa minute-glass."
And then was heard the stroke of oars.
"Drowne," said Copley with a smile of intelligence, "you have been atruly fortunate man. What painter or statuary ever had such a subject!No wonder that she inspired a genius into you, and first created theartist who afterwards created her image."
Drowne looked at him with a visage that bore the traces of tears, butfrom which the light of imagination and sensibility, so recentlyilluminating it, had departed. He was again the mechanical carver thathe had been known to be all his lifetime.
"I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Copley," said he, putting hishand to his brow. "This image! Can it have been my work? Well, I havewrought it in a kind of dream; and now that I am broad awake I must setabout finishing yonder figure of Admiral Vernon."
And forthwith he employed himself on the stolid countenance of one ofhis wooden progeny, and completed it in his own mechanical style, fromwhich he was never known afterwards to deviate. He followed hisbusiness industriously for many years, acquired a competence, and inthe latter part of his life attained to a dignified station in thechurch, being remembered in records and traditions as Deacon Drowne,the carver. One of his productions, an Indian chief, gilded all over,stood during the better part of a century on the cupola of the ProvinceHouse, bedazzling the eyes of those who looked upward, like an angel ofthe sun. Another work of the good deacon's hand—a reduced likeness ofhis friend Captain Hunnewell, holding a telescope and quadrant—may beseen to this day, at the corner of Broad and State streets, serving inthe useful capacity of sign to the shop of a nautical instrument maker.We know not how to account for the inferiority of this quaint oldfigure, as compared with the recorded excellence of the Oaken Lady,unless on the supposition that in every human spirit there isimagination, sensibility, creative power, genius, which, according tocircumstances, may either be developed in this world, or shrouded in amask of dulness until another state of being. To our friend Drownethere came a brief season of excitement, kindled by love. It renderedhim a genius for that one occasion, but, quenched in disappointment,left him again the mechanical carver in wood, without the power even ofappreciating the work that his own hands had wrought. Yet who can doubtthat the very highest state to which a human spirit can attain, in itsloftiest aspirations, is its truest and most natural state, and thatDrowne was more consistent with himself when he wrought the admirablefigure of the mysterious lady, than when he perpetrated a whole progenyof blockheads?
There was a rumor in Boston, about this period, that a young Portugueselady of rank, on some occasion of political or domestic disquietude,had fled from her home in Fayal and put herself under the protection ofCaptain Hunnewell, on board of whose vessel, and at whose residence,she was sheltered until a change of affairs. This fair stranger musthave been the original of Drowne's Wooden Image.
One of the few incidents of Indian warfare naturally susceptible of themoonlight of romance was that expedition undertaken for the defence ofthe frontiers in the year 1725, which resulted in the well-remembered"Lovell's Fight." Imagination, by casting certain circumstancesjudicially into the shade, may see much to admire in the heroism of alittle band who gave battle to twice their number in the heart of theenemy's country. The open bravery displayed by both parties was inaccordance with civilized ideas of valor; and chivalry itself might notblush to record the deeds of one or two individuals. The battle, thoughso fatal to those who fought, was not unfortunate in its consequencesto the country; for it broke the strength of a tribe and conduced tothe peace which subsisted during several ensuing years. History andtradition are unusually minute in their memorials of their affair; andthe captain of a scouting party of frontier men has acquired as actuala military renown as many a victorious leader of thousands. Some of theincidents contained in the following pages will be recognized,notwithstanding the substitution of fictitious names, by such as haveheard, from old men's lips, the fate of the few combatants who were ina condition to retreat after "Lovell's Fight."
The early sunbeams hovered cheerfully upon the tree-tops, beneath whichtwo weary and wounded men had stretched their limbs the night before.Their bed of withered oak leaves was strewn upon the small level space,at the foot of a rock, situated near the summit of one of the gentleswells by which the face of the country is there diversified. The massof granite, rearing its smooth, flat surface fifteen or twenty feetabove their heads, was not unlike a gigantic gravestone, upon which theveins seemed to form an inscription in forgotten characters. On a tractof several acres around this rock, oaks and other hard-wood trees hadsupplied the place of the pines, which were the usual growth of theland; and a young and vigorous sapling stood close beside thetravellers.
The severe wound of the elder man had probably deprived him of sleep;for, so soon as the first ray of sunshine rested on the top of thehighest tree, he reared himself painfully from his recumbent postureand sat erect. The deep lines of his countenance and the scattered grayof his hair marked him as past the middle age; but his muscular framewould, but for the effect of his wound, have been as capable ofsustaining fatigue as in the early vigor of life. Languor andexhaustion now sat upon his haggard features; and the despairing glancewhich he sent forward through the depths of the forest proved his ownconviction that his pilgrimage was at an end. He next turned his eyesto the companion who reclined by his side. The youth—for he hadscarcely attained the years of manhood—lay, with his head upon hisarm, in the embrace of an unquiet sleep, which a thrill of pain fromhis wounds seemed each moment on the point of breaking. His right handgrasped a musket; and, to judge from the violent action of hisfeatures, his slumbers were bringing back a vision of the conflict ofwhich he was one of the few survivors. A shout deep and loud in hisdreaming fancy—found its way in an imperfect murmur to his lips; and,starting even at the slight sound of his own voice, he suddenly awoke.The first act of reviving recollection was to make anxious inquiriesrespecting the condition of his wounded fellow-traveller. The lattershook his head.
"Reuben, my boy," said he, "this rock beneath which we sit will servefor an old hunter's gravestone. There is many and many a long mile ofhowling wilderness before us yet; nor would it avail me anything if thesmoke of my own chimney were but on the other side of that swell ofland. The Indian bullet was deadlier than I thought."
"You are weary with our three days' travel," replied the youth, "and alittle longer rest will recruit you. Sit you here while I search thewoods for the herbs and roots that must be our sustenance; and, havingeaten, you shall lean on me, and we will turn our faces homeward. Idoubt not that, with my help, you can attain to some one of thefrontier garrisons."
"There is not two days' life in me, Reuben," said the other, calmly,"and I will no longer burden you with my useless body, when you canscarcely support your own. Your wounds are deep and your strength isfailing fast; yet, if you hasten onward alone, you may be preserved.For me there is no hope, and I will await death here."
"If it must be so, I will remain and watch by you," said Reuben,resolutely.
"No, my son, no," rejoined his companion. "Let the wish of a dying manhave weight with you; give me one grasp of your hand, and get youhence. Think you that my last moments will be eased by the thought thatI leave you to die a more lingering death? I have loved you like afather, Reuben; and at a time like this I should have something of afather's authority. I charge you to be gone that I may die in peace."
"And because you have been a father to me, should I therefore leave youto perish and to lie unburied in the wilderness?" exclaimed the youth."No; if your end be in truth approaching, I will watch by you andreceive your parting words. I will dig a grave here by the rock, inwhich, if my weakness overcome me, we will rest together; or, if Heavengives me strength, I will seek my way home."
"In the cities and wherever men dwell," replied the other, "they burytheir dead in the earth; they hide them from the sight of the living;but here, where no step may pass perhaps for a hundred years, whereforeshould I not rest beneath the open sky, covered only by the oak leaveswhen the autumn winds shall strew them? And for a monument, here isthis gray rock, on which my dying hand shall carve the name of RogerMalvin, and the traveller in days to come will know that here sleeps ahunter and a warrior. Tarry not, then, for a folly like this, buthasten away, if not for your own sake, for hers who will else bedesolate."
Malvin spoke the last few words in a faltering voice, and their effectupon his companion was strongly visible. They reminded him that therewere other and less questionable duties than that of sharing the fateof a man whom his death could not benefit. Nor can it be affirmed thatno selfish feeling strove to enter Reuben's heart, though theconsciousness made him more earnestly resist his companion's entreaties.
"How terrible to wait the slow approach of death in this solitude!"exclaimed he. "A brave man does not shrink in the battle; and, whenfriends stand round the bed, even women may die composedly; but here—"
"I shall not shrink even here, Reuben Bourne," interrupted Malvin. "Iam a man of no weak heart, and, if I were, there is a surer supportthan that of earthly friends. You are young, and life is dear to you.Your last moments will need comfort far more than mine; and when youhave laid me in the earth, and are alone, and night is settling on theforest, you will feel all the bitterness of the death that may now beescaped. But I will urge no selfish motive to your generous nature.Leave me for my sake, that, having said a prayer for your safety, I mayhave space to settle my account undisturbed by worldly sorrows."
"And your daughter,—how shall I dare to meet her eye?" exclaimedReuben. "She will ask the fate of her father, whose life I vowed todefend with my own. Must I tell her that he travelled three days' marchwith me from the field of battle and that then I left him to perish inthe wilderness? Were it not better to lie down and die by your sidethan to return safe and say this to Dorcas?"
"Tell my daughter," said Roger Malvin, "that, though yourself sorewounded, and weak, and weary, you led my tottering footsteps many amile, and left me only at my earnest entreaty, because I would not haveyour blood upon my soul. Tell her that through pain and danger you werefaithful, and that, if your lifeblood could have saved me, it wouldhave flowed to its last drop; and tell her that you will be somethingdearer than a father, and that my blessing is with you both, and thatmy dying eyes can see a long and pleasant path in which you willjourney together."
As Malvin spoke he almost raised himself from the ground, and theenergy of his concluding words seemed to fill the wild and lonelyforest with a vision of happiness; but, when he sank exhausted upon hisbed of oak leaves, the light which had kindled in Reuben's eye wasquenched. He felt as if it were both sin and folly to think ofhappiness at such a moment. His companion watched his changingcountenance, and sought with generous art to wile him to his own good.
"Perhaps I deceive myself in regard to the time I have to live," heresumed. "It may be that, with speedy assistance, I might recover of mywound. The foremost fugitives must, ere this, have carried tidings ofour fatal battle to the frontiers, and parties will be out to succorthose in like condition with ourselves. Should you meet one of theseand guide them hither, who can tell but that I may sit by my ownfireside again?"
A mournful smile strayed across the features of the dying man as heinsinuated that unfounded hope,—which, however, was not without itseffect on Reuben. No merely selfish motive, nor even the desolatecondition of Dorcas, could have induced him to desert his companion atsuch a moment—but his wishes seized on the thought that Malvin's lifemight be preserved, and his sanguine nature heightened almost tocertainty the remote possibility of procuring human aid.
"Surely there is reason, weighty reason, to hope that friends are notfar distant," he said, half aloud. "There fled one coward, unwounded,in the beginning of the fight, and most probably he made good speed.Every true man on the frontier would shoulder his musket at the news;and, though no party may range so far into the woods as this, I shallperhaps encounter them in one day's march. Counsel me faithfully," headded, turning to Malvin, in distrust of his own motives. "Were yoursituation mine, would you desert me while life remained?"
"It is now twenty years," replied Roger Malvin,—sighing, however, ashe secretly acknowledged the wide dissimilarity between the twocases,-"it is now twenty years since I escaped with one dear friendfrom Indian captivity near Montreal. We journeyed many days through thewoods, till at length overcome with hunger and weariness, my friend laydown and besought me to leave him; for he knew that, if I remained, weboth must perish; and, with but little hope of obtaining succor, Iheaped a pillow of dry leaves beneath his head and hastened on."
"And did you return in time to save him?" asked Reuben, hanging onMalvin's words as if they were to be prophetic of his own success.
"I did," answered the other. "I came upon the camp of a hunting partybefore sunset of the same day. I guided them to the spot where mycomrade was expecting death; and he is now a hale and hearty man uponhis own farm, far within the frontiers, while I lie wounded here in thedepths of the wilderness."
This example, powerful in affecting Reuben's decision, was aided,unconsciously to himself, by the hidden strength of many anothermotive. Roger Malvin perceived that the victory was nearly won.
"Now, go, my son, and Heaven prosper you!" he said. "Turn not back withyour friends when you meet them, lest your wounds and wearinessovercome you; but send hitherward two or three, that may be spared, tosearch for me; and believe me, Reuben, my heart will be lighter withevery step you take towards home." Yet there was, perhaps, a changeboth in his countenance and voice as he spoke thus; for, after all, itwas a ghastly fate to be left expiring in the wilderness.
Reuben Bourne, but half convinced that he was acting rightly, at lengthraised himself from the ground and prepared himself for his departure.And first, though contrary to Malvin's wishes, he collected a stock ofroots and herbs, which had been their only food during the last twodays. This useless supply he placed within reach of the dying man, forwhom, also, he swept together a bed of dry oak leaves. Then climbing tothe summit of the rock, which on one side was rough and broken, he bentthe oak sapling downward, and bound his handkerchief to the topmostbranch. This precaution was not unnecessary to direct any who mightcome in search of Malvin; for every part of the rock, except its broad,smooth front, was concealed at a little distance by the denseundergrowth of the forest. The handkerchief had been the bandage of awound upon Reuben's arm; and, as he bound it to the tree, he vowed bythe blood that stained it that he would return, either to save hiscompanion's life or to lay his body in the grave. He then descended,and stood, with downcast eyes, to receive Roger Malvin's parting words.
The experience of the latter suggested much and minute advicerespecting the youth's journey through the trackless forest. Upon thissubject he spoke with calm earnestness, as if he were sending Reuben tothe battle or the chase while he himself remained secure at home, andnot as if the human countenance that was about to leave him were thelast he would ever behold. But his firmness was shaken before heconcluded.
"Carry my blessing to Dorcas, and say that my last prayer shall be forher and you. Bid her to have no hard thoughts because you left mehere,"—Reuben's heart smote him,—"for that your life would not haveweighed with you if its sacrifice could have done me good. She willmarry you after she has mourned a little while for her father; andHeaven grant you long and happy days, and may your children's childrenstand round your death bed! And, Reuben," added he, as the weakness ofmortality made its way at last, "return, when your wounds are healedand your weariness refreshed,—return to this wild rock, and lay mybones in the grave, and say a prayer over them."
An almost superstitious regard, arising perhaps from the customs of theIndians, whose war was with the dead as well as the living, was paid bythe frontier inhabitants to the rites of sepulture; and there are manyinstances of the sacrifice of life in the attempt to bury those who hadfallen by the "sword of the wilderness." Reuben, therefore, felt thefull importance of the promise which he most solemnly made to returnand perform Roger Malvin's obsequies. It was remarkable that thelatter, speaking his whole heart in his parting words, no longerendeavored to persuade the youth that even the speediest succor mightavail to the preservation of his life. Reuben was internally convincedthat he should see Malvin's living face no more. His generous naturewould fain have delayed him, at whatever risk, till the dying scenewere past; but the desire of existence and the hope of happiness hadstrengthened in his heart, and he was unable to resist them.
"It is enough," said Roger Malvin, having listened to Reuben's promise."Go, and God speed you!"
The youth pressed his hand in silence, turned, and was departing. Hisslow and faltering steps, however, had borne him but a little waybefore Malvin's voice recalled him.
"Reuben, Reuben," said he, faintly; and Reuben returned and knelt downby the dying man.
"Raise me, and let me lean against the rock," was his last request. "Myface will be turned towards home, and I shall see you a moment longeras you pass among the trees."
Reuben, having made the desired alteration in his companion's posture,again began his solitary pilgrimage. He walked more hastily at firstthan was consistent with his strength; for a sort of guilty feeling,which sometimes torments men in their most justifiable acts, caused himto seek concealment from Malvin's eyes; but after he had trodden farupon the rustling forest leaves he crept back, impelled by a wild andpainful curiosity, and, sheltered by the earthy roots of an uptorntree, gazed earnestly at the desolate man. The morning sun wasunclouded, and the trees and shrubs imbibed the sweet air of the monthof May; yet there seemed a gloom on Nature's face, as if shesympathized with mortal pain and sorrow. Roger Malvin's hands wereuplifted in a fervent prayer, some of the words of which stole throughthe stillness of the woods and entered Reuben's heart, torturing itwith an unutterable pang. They were the broken accents of a petitionfor his own happiness and that of Dorcas; and, as the youth listened,conscience, or something in its similitude, pleaded strongly with himto return and lie down again by the rock. He felt how hard was the doomof the kind and generous being whom he had deserted in his extremity.Death would come like the slow approach of a corpse, stealing graduallytowards him through the forest, and showing its ghastly and motionlessfeatures from behind a nearer and yet a nearer tree. But such must havebeen Reuben's own fate had he tarried another sunset; and who shallimpute blame to him if he shrink from so useless a sacrifice? As hegave a parting look, a breeze waved the little banner upon the saplingoak and reminded Reuben of his vow.
Many circumstances combined to retard the wounded traveller in his wayto the frontiers. On the second day the clouds, gathering densely overthe sky, precluded the possibility of regulating his course by theposition of the sun; and he knew not but that every effort of hisalmost exhausted strength was removing him farther from the home hesought. His scanty sustenance was supplied by the berries and otherspontaneous products of the forest. Herds of deer, it is true,sometimes bounded past him, and partridges frequently whirred up beforehis footsteps; but his ammunition had been expended in the fight, andhe had no means of slaying them. His wounds, irritated by the constantexertion in which lay the only hope of life, wore away his strength andat intervals confused his reason. But, even in the wanderings ofintellect, Reuben's young heart clung strongly to existence; and it wasonly through absolute incapacity of motion that he at last sank downbeneath a tree, compelled there to await death.
In this situation he was discovered by a party who, upon the firstintelligence of the fight, had been despatched to the relief of thesurvivors. They conveyed him to the nearest settlement, which chancedto be that of his own residence.
Dorcas, in the simplicity of the olden time, watched by the bedside ofher wounded lover, and administered all those comforts that are in thesole gift of woman's heart and hand. During several days Reuben'srecollection strayed drowsily among the perils and hardships throughwhich he had passed, and he was incapable of returning definite answersto the inquiries with which many were eager to harass him. No authenticparticulars of the battle had yet been circulated; nor could mothers,wives, and children tell whether their loved ones were detained bycaptivity or by the stronger chain of death. Dorcas nourished herapprehensions in silence till one afternoon when Reuben awoke from anunquiet sleep, and seemed to recognize her more perfectly than at anyprevious time. She saw that his intellect had become composed, and shecould no longer restrain her filial anxiety.
"My father, Reuben?" she began; but the change in her lover'scountenance made her pause.
The youth shrank as if with a bitter pain, and the blood gushed vividlyinto his wan and hollow cheeks. His first impulse was to cover hisface; but, apparently with a desperate effort, he half raised himselfand spoke vehemently, defending himself against an imaginary accusation.
"Your father was sore wounded in the battle, Dorcas; and he bade me notburden myself with him, but only to lead him to the lakeside, that hemight quench his thirst and die. But I would not desert the old man inhis extremity, and, though bleeding myself, I supported him; I gave himhalf my strength, and led him away with me. For three days we journeyedon together, and your father was sustained beyond my hopes, but,awaking at sunrise on the fourth day, I found him faint and exhausted;he was unable to proceed; his life had ebbed away fast; and—"
"He died!" exclaimed Dorcas, faintly.
Reuben felt it impossible to acknowledge that his selfish love of lifehad hurried him away before her father's fate was decided. He spokenot; he only bowed his head; and, between shame and exhaustion, sankback and hid his face in the pillow. Dorcas wept when her fears werethus confirmed; but the shock, as it had been long anticipated, was onthat account the less violent.
"You dug a grave for my poor father in the wilderness, Reuben?" was thequestion by which her filial piety manifested itself.
"My hands were weak; but I did what I could," replied the youth in asmothered tone. "There stands a noble tombstone above his head; and Iwould to Heaven I slept as soundly as he!"
Dorcas, perceiving the wildness of his latter words, inquired nofurther at the time; but her heart found ease in the thought that RogerMalvin had not lacked such funeral rites as it was possible to bestow.The tale of Reuben's courage and fidelity lost nothing when shecommunicated it to her friends; and the poor youth, tottering from hissick chamber to breathe the sunny air, experienced from every tonguethe miserable and humiliating torture of unmerited praise. Allacknowledged that he might worthily demand the hand of the fair maidento whose father he had been "faithful unto death;" and, as my tale isnot of love, it shall suffice to say that in the space of a few monthsReuben became the husband of Dorcas Malvin. During the marriageceremony the bride was covered with blushes, but the bridegroom's facewas pale.
There was now in the breast of Reuben Bourne an incommunicablethought—something which he was to conceal most heedfully from her whomhe most loved and trusted. He regretted, deeply and bitterly, the moralcowardice that had restrained his words when he was about to disclosethe truth to Dorcas; but pride, the fear of losing her affection, thedread of universal scorn, forbade him to rectify this falsehood. Hefelt that for leaving Roger Malvin he deserved no censure. Hispresence, the gratuitous sacrifice of his own life, would have addedonly another and a needless agony to the last moments of the dying man;but concealment had imparted to a justifiable act much of the secreteffect of guilt; and Reuben, while reason told him that he had doneright, experienced in no small degree the mental horrors which punishthe perpetrator of undiscovered crime. By a certain association ofideas, he at times almost imagined himself a murderer. For years, also,a thought would occasionally recur, which, though he perceived all itsfolly and extravagance, he had not power to banish from his mind. Itwas a haunting and torturing fancy that his father-in-law was yetsitting at the foot of the rock, on the withered forest leaves, alive,and awaiting his pledged assistance. These mental deceptions, however,came and went, nor did he ever mistake them for realities: but in thecalmest and clearest moods of his mind he was conscious that he had adeep vow unredeemed, and that an unburied corpse was calling to him outof the wilderness. Yet such was the consequence of his prevaricationthat he could not obey the call. It was now too late to require theassistance of Roger Malvin's friends in performing his long-deferredsepulture; and superstitious fears, of which none were more susceptiblethan the people of the outward settlements, forbade Reuben to go alone.Neither did he know where in the pathless and illimitable forest toseek that smooth and lettered rock at the base of which the body lay:his remembrance of every portion of his travel thence was indistinct,and the latter part had left no impression upon his mind. There was,however, a continual impulse, a voice audible only to himself,commanding him to go forth and redeem his vow; and he had a strangeimpression that, were he to make the trial, he would be led straight toMalvin's bones. But year after year that summons, unheard but felt, wasdisobeyed. His one secret thought became like a chain binding down hisspirit and like a serpent gnawing into his heart; and he wastransformed into a sad and downcast yet irritable man.
In the course of a few years after their marriage changes began to bevisible in the external prosperity of Reuben and Dorcas. The onlyriches of the former had been his stout heart and strong arm; but thelatter, her father's sole heiress, had made her husband master of afarm, under older cultivation, larger, and better stocked than most ofthe frontier establishments. Reuben Bourne, however, was a neglectfulhusbandman; and, while the lands of the other settlers became annuallymore fruitful, his deteriorated in the same proportion. Thediscouragements to agriculture were greatly lessened by the cessationof Indian war, during which men held the plough in one hand and themusket in the other, and were fortunate if the products of theirdangerous labor were not destroyed, either in the field or in the barn,by the savage enemy. But Reuben did not profit by the altered conditionof the country; nor can it be denied that his intervals of industriousattention to his affairs were but scantily rewarded with success. Theirritability by which he had recently become distinguished was anothercause of his declining prosperity, as it occasioned frequent quarrelsin his unavoidable intercourse with the neighboring settlers. Theresults of these were innumerable lawsuits; for the people of NewEngland, in the earliest stages and wildest circumstances of thecountry, adopted, whenever attainable, the legal mode of deciding theirdifferences. To be brief, the world did not go well with Reuben Bourne;and, though not till many years after his marriage, he was finally aruined man, with but one remaining expedient against the evil fate thathad pursued him. He was to throw sunlight into some deep recess of theforest, and seek subsistence from the virgin bosom of the wilderness.
The only child of Reuben and Dorcas was a son, now arrived at the ageof fifteen years, beautiful in youth, and giving promise of a gloriousmanhood. He was peculiarly qualified for, and already began to excelin, the wild accomplishments of frontier life. His foot was fleet, hisaim true, his apprehension quick, his heart glad and high; and all whoanticipated the return of Indian war spoke of Cyrus Bourne as a futureleader in the land. The boy was loved by his father with a deep andsilent strength, as if whatever was good and happy in his own naturehad been transferred to his child, carrying his affections with it.Even Dorcas, though loving and beloved, was far less dear to him; forReuben's secret thoughts and insulated emotions had gradually made hima selfish man, and he could no longer love deeply except where he sawor imagined some reflection or likeness of his own mind. In Cyrus herecognized what he had himself been in other days; and at intervals heseemed to partake of the boy's spirit, and to be revived with a freshand happy life. Reuben was accompanied by his son in the expedition,for the purpose of selecting a tract of land and felling and burningthe timber, which necessarily preceded the removal of the householdgods. Two months of autumn were thus occupied, after which ReubenBourne and his young hunter returned to spend their last winter in thesettlements.
It was early in the month of May that the little family snapped asunderwhatever tendrils of affections had clung to inanimate objects, andbade farewell to the few who, in the blight of fortune, calledthemselves their friends. The sadness of the parting moment had, toeach of the pilgrims, its peculiar alleviations. Reuben, a moody man,and misanthropic because unhappy, strode onward with his usual sternbrow and downcast eye, feeling few regrets and disdaining toacknowledge any. Dorcas, while she wept abundantly over the broken tiesby which her simple and affectionate nature had bound itself toeverything, felt that the inhabitants of her inmost heart moved on withher, and that all else would be supplied wherever she might go. And theboy dashed one tear-drop from his eye, and thought of the adventurouspleasures of the untrodden forest.
Oh, who, in the enthusiasm of a daydream, has not wished that he were awanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair and gentlebeing hanging lightly on his arm? In youth his free and exulting stepwould know no barrier but the rolling ocean or the snow-toppedmountains; calmer manhood would choose a home where Nature had strewn adouble wealth in the vale of some transparent stream; and when hoaryage, after long, long years of that pure life, stole on and found himthere, it would find him the father of a race, the patriarch of apeople, the founder of a mighty nation yet to be. When death, like thesweet sleep which we welcome after a day of happiness, came over him,his far descendants would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped bytradition in mysterious attributes, the men of future generations wouldcall him godlike; and remote posterity would see him standing, dimlyglorious, far up the valley of a hundred centuries.
The tangled and gloomy forest through which the personages of my talewere wandering differed widely from the dreamer's land of fantasy; yetthere was something in their way of life that Nature asserted as herown, and the gnawing cares which went with them from the world were allthat now obstructed their happiness. One stout and shaggy steed, thebearer of all their wealth, did not shrink from the added weight ofDorcas; although her hardy breeding sustained her, during the latterpart of each day's journey, by her husband's side. Reuben and his son,their muskets on their shoulders and their axes slung behind them, keptan unwearied pace, each watching with a hunter's eye for the game thatsupplied their food. When hunger bade, they halted and prepared theirmeal on the bank of some unpolluted forest brook, which, as they kneltdown with thirsty lips to drink, murmured a sweet unwillingness, like amaiden at love's first kiss. They slept beneath a hut of branches, andawoke at peep of light refreshed for the toils of another day. Dorcasand the boy went on joyously, and even Reuben's spirit shone atintervals with an outward gladness; but inwardly there was a cold coldsorrow, which he compared to the snowdrifts lying deep in the glens andhollows of the rivulets while the leaves were brightly green above.
Cyrus Bourne was sufficiently skilled in the travel of the woods toobserve that his father did not adhere to the course they had pursuedin their expedition of the preceding autumn. They were now keepingfarther to the north, striking out more directly from the settlements,and into a region of which savage beasts and savage men were as yet thesole possessors. The boy sometimes hinted his opinions upon thesubject, and Reuben listened attentively, and once or twice altered thedirection of their march in accordance with his son's counsel; but,having so done, he seemed ill at ease. His quick and wandering glanceswere sent forward apparently in search of enemies lurking behind thetree trunks, and, seeing nothing there, he would cast his eyesbackwards as if in fear of some pursuer. Cyrus, perceiving that hisfather gradually resumed the old direction, forbore to interfere; nor,though something began to weigh upon his heart, did his adventurousnature permit him to regret the increased length and the mystery oftheir way.
On the afternoon of the fifth day they halted, and made their simpleencampment nearly an hour before sunset. The face of the country, forthe last few miles, had been diversified by swells of land resemblinghuge waves of a petrified sea; and in one of the corresponding hollows,a wild and romantic spot, had the family reared their hut and kindledtheir fire. There is something chilling, and yet heart-warming, in thethought of these three, united by strong bands of love and insulatedfrom all that breathe beside. The dark and gloomy pines looked downupon them, and, as the wind swept through their tops, a pitying soundwas heard in the forest; or did those old trees groan in fear that menwere come to lay the axe to their roots at last? Reuben and his son,while Dorcas made ready their meal, proposed to wander out in search ofgame, of which that day's march had afforded no supply. The boy,promising not to quit the vicinity of the encampment, bounded off witha step as light and elastic as that of the deer he hoped to slay; whilehis father, feeling a transient happiness as he gazed after him, wasabout to pursue an opposite direction. Dorcas in the meanwhile, hadseated herself near their fire of fallen branches upon the mossgrownand mouldering trunk of a tree uprooted years before. Her employment,diversified by an occasional glance at the pot, now beginning to simmerover the blaze, was the perusal of the current year's MassachusettsAlmanac, which, with the exception of an old black-letter Bible,comprised all the literary wealth of the family. None pay a greaterregard to arbitrary divisions of time than those who are excluded fromsociety; and Dorcas mentioned, as if the information were ofimportance, that it was now the twelfth of May. Her husband started.
"The twelfth of May! I should remember it well," muttered he, whilemany thoughts occasioned a momentary confusion in his mind. "Where amI? Whither am I wandering? Where did I leave him?"
Dorcas, too well accustomed to her husband's wayward moods to note anypeculiarity of demeanor, now laid aside the almanac and addressed himin that mournful tone which the tender hearted appropriate to griefslong cold and dead.
"It was near this time of the month, eighteen years ago, that my poorfather left this world for a better. He had a kind arm to hold his headand a kind voice to cheer him, Reuben, in his last moments; and thethought of the faithful care you took of him has comforted me many atime since. Oh, death would have been awful to a solitary man in a wildplace like this!"
"Pray Heaven, Dorcas," said Reuben, in a broken voice,—"pray Heaventhat neither of us three dies solitary and lies unburied in thishowling wilderness!" And he hastened away, leaving her to watch thefire beneath the gloomy pines.
Reuben Bourne's rapid pace gradually slackened as the pang,unintentionally inflicted by the words of Dorcas, became less acute.Many strange reflections, however, thronged upon him; and, strayingonward rather like a sleep walker than a hunter, it was attributable tono care of his own that his devious course kept him in the vicinity ofthe encampment. His steps were imperceptibly led almost in a circle;nor did he observe that he was on the verge of a tract of land heavilytimbered, but not with pine-trees. The place of the latter was heresupplied by oaks and other of the harder woods; and around their rootsclustered a dense and bushy under-growth, leaving, however, barrenspaces between the trees, thick strewn with withered leaves. Wheneverthe rustling of the branches or the creaking of the trunks made asound, as if the forest were waking from slumber, Reuben instinctivelyraised the musket that rested on his arm, and cast a quick, sharpglance on every side; but, convinced by a partial observation that noanimal was near, he would again give himself up to his thoughts. He wasmusing on the strange influence that had led him away from hispremeditated course, and so far into the depths of the wilderness.Unable to penetrate to the secret place of his soul where his motiveslay hidden, he believed that a supernatural voice had called himonward, and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat. Hetrusted that it was Heaven's intent to afford him an opportunity ofexpiating his sin; he hoped that he might find the bones so longunburied; and that, having laid the earth over them, peace would throwits sunlight into the sepulchre of his heart. From these thoughts hewas aroused by a rustling in the forest at some distance from the spotto which he had wandered. Perceiving the motion of some object behind athick veil of undergrowth, he fired, with the instinct of a hunter andthe aim of a practised marksman. A low moan, which told his success,and by which even animals cars express their dying agony, was unheededby Reuben Bourne. What were the recollections now breaking upon him?
The thicket into which Reuben had fired was near the summit of a swellof land, and was clustered around the base of a rock, which, in theshape and smoothness of one of its surfaces, was not unlike a giganticgravestone. As if reflected in a mirror, its likeness was in Reuben'smemory. He even recognized the veins which seemed to form aninscription in forgotten characters: everything remained the same,except that a thick covert of bushes shrouded the lowerpart of therock, and would have hidden Roger Malvin had he still been sittingthere. Yet in the next moment Reuben's eye was caught by another changethat time had effected since he last stood where he was now standingagain behind the earthy roots of the uptorn tree. The sapling to whichhe had bound the bloodstained symbol of his vow had increased andstrengthened into an oak, far indeed from its maturity, but with nomean spread of shadowy branches. There was one singularity observablein this tree which made Reuben tremble. The middle and lower brancheswere in luxuriant life, and an excess of vegetation had fringed thetrunk almost to the ground; but a blight had apparently stricken theupper part of the oak, and the very topmost bough was withered,sapless, and utterly dead. Reuben remembered how the little banner hadfluttered on that topmost bough, when it was green and lovely, eighteenyears before. Whose guilt had blasted it?
Dorcas, after the departure of the two hunters, continued herpreparations for their evening repast. Her sylvan table was themoss-covered trunk of a large fallen tree, on the broadest part ofwhich she had spread a snow-white cloth and arranged what were left ofthe bright pewter vessels that had been her pride in the settlements.It had a strange aspect that one little spot of homely comfort in thedesolate heart of Nature. The sunshine yet lingered upon the higherbranches of the trees that grew on rising ground; but the shadows ofevening had deepened into the hollow where the encampment was made, andthe firelight began to redden as it gleamed up the tall trunks of thepines or hovered on the dense and obscure mass of foliage that circledround the spot. The heart of Dorcas was not sad; for she felt that itwas better to journey in the wilderness with two whom she loved than tobe a lonely woman in a crowd that cared not for her. As she busiedherself in arranging seats of mouldering wood, covered with leaves, forReuben and her son, her voice danced through the gloomy forest in themeasure of a song that she had learned in youth. The rude melody, theproduction of a bard who won no name, was descriptive of a winterevening in a frontier cottage, when, secured from savage inroad by thehigh-piled snow-drifts, the family rejoiced by their own fireside. Thewhole song possessed the nameless charm peculiar to unborrowed thought,but four continually-recurring lines shone out from the rest like theblaze of the hearth whose joys they celebrated. Into them, workingmagic with a few simple words, the poet had instilled the very essenceof domestic love and household happiness, and they were poetry andpicture joined in one. As Dorcas sang, the walls of her forsaken homeseemed to encircle her; she no longer saw the gloomy pines, nor heardthe wind which still, as she began each verse, sent a heavy breaththrough the branches, and died away in a hollow moan from the burden ofthe song. She was aroused by the report of a gun in the vicinity of theencampment; and either the sudden sound, or her loneliness by theglowing fire, caused her to tremble violently. The next moment shelaughed in the pride of a mother's heart.
"My beautiful young hunter! My boy has slain a deer!" she exclaimed,recollecting that in the direction whence the shot proceeded Cyrus hadgone to the chase.
She waited a reasonable time to hear her son's light step bounding overthe rustling leaves to tell of his success. But he did not immediatelyappear; and she sent her cheerful voice among the trees in search ofhim.
His coming was still delayed; and she determined, as the report hadapparently been very near, to seek for him in person. Her assistance,also, might be necessary in bringing home the venison which sheflattered herself he had obtained. She therefore set forward, directingher steps by the long-past sound, and singing as she went, in orderthat the boy might be aware of her approach and run to meet her. Frombehind the trunk of every tree, and from every hiding-place in thethick foliage of the undergrowth, she hoped to discover the countenanceof her son, laughing with the sportive mischief that is born ofaffection. The sun was now beneath the horizon, and the light that camedown among the leaves was sufficiently dim to create many illusions inher expecting fancy. Several times she seemed indistinctly to see hisface gazing out from among the leaves; and once she imagined that hestood beckoning to her at the base of a craggy rock. Keeping her eyeson this object, however, it proved to be no more than the trunk of anoak fringed to the very ground with little branches, one of which,thrust out farther than the rest, was shaken by the breeze. Making herway round the foot of the rock, she suddenly found herself close to herhusband, who had approached in another direction. Leaning upon the buttof his gun, the muzzle of which rested upon the withered leaves, he wasapparently absorbed in the contemplation of some object at his feet.
"How is this, Reuben? Have you slain the deer and fallen asleep overhim?" exclaimed Dorcas, laughing cheerfully, on her first slightobservation of his posture and appearance.
He stirred not, neither did he turn his eyes towards her; and a cold,shuddering fear, indefinite in its source and object, began to creepinto her blood. She now perceived that her husband's face was ghastlypale, and his features were rigid, as if incapable of assuming anyother expression than the strong despair which had hardened upon them.He gave not the slightest evidence that he was aware of her approach.
"For the love of Heaven, Reuben, speak to me!" cried Dorcas; and thestrange sound of her own voice affrighted her even more than the deadsilence.
Her husband started, stared into her face, drew her to the front of therock, and pointed with his finger.
Oh, there lay the boy, asleep, but dreamless, upon the fallen forestleaves! His cheek rested upon his arm—his curled locks were thrownback from his brow—his limbs were slightly relaxed. Had a suddenweariness overcome the youthful hunter? Would his mother's voice arousehim? She knew that it was death.
"This broad rock is the gravestone of your near kindred, Dorcas," saidher husband. "Your tears will fall at once over your father and yourson."
She heard him not. With one wild shriek, that seemed to force its wayfrom the sufferer's inmost soul, she sank insensible by the side of herdead boy. At that moment the withered topmost bough of the oak looseneditself in the stilly air, and fell in soft, light fragments upon therock, upon the leaves, upon Reuben, upon his wife and child, and uponRoger Malvin's bones. Then Reuben's heart was stricken, and the tearsgushed out like water from a rock. The vow that the wounded youth hadmade the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated,—thecurse was gone from him; and in the hour when he had shed blood dearerto him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heavenfrom the lips of Reuben Bourne.
An elderly man, with his pretty daughter on his arm, was passing alongthe street, and emerged from the gloom of the cloudy evening into thelight that fell across the pavement from the window of a small shop. Itwas a projecting window; and on the inside were suspended a variety ofwatches, pinchbeck, silver, and one or two of gold, all with theirfaces turned from the streets, as if churlishly disinclined to informthe wayfarers what o'clock it was. Seated within the shop, sidelong tothe window with his pale face bent earnestly over some delicate pieceof mechanism on which was thrown the concentrated lustre of a shadelamp, appeared a young man.
"What can Owen Warland be about?" muttered old Peter Hovenden, himselfa retired watchmaker, and the former master of this same young manwhose occupation he was now wondering at. "What can the fellow beabout? These six months past I have never come by his shop withoutseeing him just as steadily at work as now. It would be a flight beyondhis usual foolery to seek for the perpetual motion; and yet I knowenough of my old business to be certain that what he is now so busywith is no part of the machinery of a watch."
"Perhaps, father," said Annie, without showing much interest in thequestion, "Owen is inventing a new kind of timekeeper. I am sure he hasingenuity enough."
"Poh, child! He has not the sort of ingenuity to invent anything betterthan a Dutch toy," answered her father, who had formerly been put tomuch vexation by Owen Warland's irregular genius. "A plague on suchingenuity! All the effect that ever I knew of it was to spoil theaccuracy of some of the best watches in my shop. He would turn the sunout of its orbit and derange the whole course of time, if, as I saidbefore, his ingenuity could grasp anything bigger than a child's toy!"
"Hush, father! He hears you!" whispered Annie, pressing the old man'sarm. "His ears are as delicate as his feelings; and you know how easilydisturbed they are. Do let us move on."
So Peter Hovenden and his daughter Annie plodded on without furtherconversation, until in a by-street of the town they found themselvespassing the open door of a blacksmith's shop. Within was seen theforge, now blazing up and illuminating the high and dusky roof, and nowconfining its lustre to a narrow precinct of the coal-strewn floor,according as the breath of the bellows was puffed forth or againinhaled into its vast leathern lungs. In the intervals of brightness itwas easy to distinguish objects in remote corners of the shop and thehorseshoes that hung upon the wall; in the momentary gloom the fireseemed to be glimmering amidst the vagueness of unenclosed space.Moving about in this red glare and alternate dusk was the figure of theblacksmith, well worthy to be viewed in so picturesque an aspect oflight and shade, where the bright blaze struggled with the black night,as if each would have snatched his comely strength from the other. Anonhe drew a white-hot bar of iron from the coals, laid it on the anvil,uplifted his arm of might, and was soon enveloped in the myriads ofsparks which the strokes of his hammer scattered into the surroundinggloom.
"Now, that is a pleasant sight," said the old watchmaker. "I know whatit is to work in gold; but give me the worker in iron after all is saidand done. He spends his labor upon a reality. What say you, daughterAnnie?"
"Pray don't speak so loud, father," whispered Annie, "Robert Danforthwill hear you."
"And what if he should hear me?" said Peter Hovenden. "I say again, itis a good and a wholesome thing to depend upon main strength andreality, and to earn one's bread with the bare and brawny arm of ablacksmith. A watchmaker gets his brain puzzled by his wheels within awheel, or loses his health or the nicety of his eyesight, as was mycase, and finds himself at middle age, or a little after, past labor athis own trade and fit for nothing else, yet too poor to live at hisease. So I say once again, give me main strength for my money. Andthen, how it takes the nonsense out of a man! Did you ever hear of ablacksmith being such a fool as Owen Warland yonder?"
"Well said, uncle Hovenden!" shouted Robert Danforth from the forge, ina full, deep, merry voice, that made the roof re-echo. "And what saysMiss Annie to that doctrine? She, I suppose, will think it a genteelerbusiness to tinker up a lady's watch than to forge a horseshoe or makea gridiron."
Annie drew her father onward without giving him time for reply.
But we must return to Owen Warland's shop, and spend more meditationupon his history and character than either Peter Hovenden, or probablyhis daughter Annie, or Owen's old school-fellow, Robert Danforth, wouldhave thought due to so slight a subject. From the time that his littlefingers could grasp a penknife, Owen had been remarkable for a delicateingenuity, which sometimes produced pretty shapes in wood, principallyfigures of flowers and birds, and sometimes seemed to aim at the hiddenmysteries of mechanism. But it was always for purposes of grace, andnever with any mockery of the useful. He did not, like the crowd ofschool-boy artisans, construct little windmills on the angle of a barnor watermills across the neighboring brook. Those who discovered suchpeculiarity in the boy as to think it worth their while to observe himclosely, sometimes saw reason to suppose that he was attempting toimitate the beautiful movements of Nature as exemplified in the flightof birds or the activity of little animals. It seemed, in fact, a newdevelopment of the love of the beautiful, such as might have made him apoet, a painter, or a sculptor, and which was as completely refinedfrom all utilitarian coarseness as it could have been in either of thefine arts. He looked with singular distaste at the stiff and regularprocesses of ordinary machinery. Being once carried to see asteam-engine, in the expectation that his intuitive comprehension ofmechanical principles would be gratified, he turned pale and grew sick,as if something monstrous and unnatural had been presented to him. Thishorror was partly owing to the size and terrible energy of the ironlaborer; for the character of Owen's mind was microscopic, and tendednaturally to the minute, in accordance with his diminutive frame andthe marvellous smallness and delicate power of his fingers. Not thathis sense of beauty was thereby diminished into a sense of prettiness.The beautiful idea has no relation to size, and may be as perfectlydeveloped in a space too minute for any but microscopic investigationas within the ample verge that is measured by the arc of the rainbow.But, at all events, this characteristic minuteness in his objects andaccomplishments made the world even more incapable than it mightotherwise have been of appreciating Owen Warland's genius. The boy'srelatives saw nothing better to be done—as perhaps there was not—thanto bind him apprentice to a watchmaker, hoping that his strangeingenuity might thus be regulated and put to utilitarian purposes.
Peter Hovenden's opinion of his apprentice has already been expressed.He could make nothing of the lad. Owen's apprehension of theprofessional mysteries, it is true, was inconceivably quick; but healtogether forgot or despised the grand object of a watchmaker'sbusiness, and cared no more for the measurement of time than if it hadbeen merged into eternity. So long, however, as he remained under hisold master's care, Owen's lack of sturdiness made it possible, bystrict injunctions and sharp oversight, to restrain his creativeeccentricity within bounds; but when his apprenticeship was served out,and he had taken the little shop which Peter Hovenden's failingeyesight compelled him to relinquish, then did people recognize howunfit a person was Owen Warland to lead old blind Father Time along hisdaily course. One of his most rational projects was to connect amusical operation with the machinery of his watches, so that all theharsh dissonances of life might be rendered tuneful, and each flittingmoment fall into the abyss of the past in golden drops of harmony. If afamily clock was intrusted to him for repair,—one of those tall,ancient clocks that have grown nearly allied to human nature bymeasuring out the lifetime of many generations,—he would take uponhimself to arrange a dance or funeral procession of figures across itsvenerable face, representing twelve mirthful or melancholy hours.Several freaks of this kind quite destroyed the young watchmaker'scredit with that steady and matter-of-fact class of people who hold theopinion that time is not to be trifled with, whether considered as themedium of advancement and prosperity in this world or preparation forthe next. His custom rapidly diminished—a misfortune, however, thatwas probably reckoned among his better accidents by Owen Warland, whowas becoming more and more absorbed in a secret occupation which drewall his science and manual dexterity into itself, and likewise gavefull employment to the characteristic tendencies of his genius. Thispursuit had already consumed many months.
After the old watchmaker and his pretty daughter had gazed at him outof the obscurity of the street, Owen Warland was seized with afluttering of the nerves, which made his hand tremble too violently toproceed with such delicate labor as he was now engaged upon.
"It was Annie herself!" murmured he. "I should have known it, by thisthrobbing of my heart, before I heard her father's voice. Ah, how itthrobs! I shall scarcely be able to work again on this exquisitemechanism to-night. Annie! dearest Annie! thou shouldst give firmnessto my heart and hand, and not shake them thus; for if I strive to putthe very spirit of beauty into form and give it motion, it is for thysake alone. O throbbing heart, be quiet! If my labor be thus thwarted,there will come vague and unsatisfied dreams which will leave mespiritless to-morrow."
As he was endeavoring to settle himself again to his task, the shopdoor opened and gave admittance to no other than the stalwart figurewhich Peter Hovenden had paused to admire, as seen amid the light andshadow of the blacksmith's shop. Robert Danforth had brought a littleanvil of his own manufacture, and peculiarly constructed, which theyoung artist had recently bespoken. Owen examined the article andpronounced it fashioned according to his wish.
"Why, yes," said Robert Danforth, his strong voice filling the shop aswith the sound of a bass viol, "I consider myself equal to anything inthe way of my own trade; though I should have made but a poor figure atyours with such a fist as this," added he, laughing, as he laid hisvast hand beside the delicate one of Owen. "But what then? I put moremain strength into one blow of my sledge hammer than all that you haveexpended since you were a 'prentice. Is not that the truth?"
"Very probably," answered the low and slender voice of Owen. "Strengthis an earthly monster. I make no pretensions to it. My force, whateverthere may be of it, is altogether spiritual."
"Well, but, Owen, what are you about?" asked his old school-fellow,still in such a hearty volume of tone that it made the artist shrink,especially as the question related to a subject so sacred as theabsorbing dream of his imagination. "Folks do say that you are tryingto discover the perpetual motion."
"The perpetual motion? Nonsense!" replied Owen Warland, with a movementof disgust; for he was full of little petulances. "It can never bediscovered. It is a dream that may delude men whose brains aremystified with matter, but not me. Besides, if such a discovery werepossible, it would not be worth my while to make it only to have thesecret turned to such purposes as are now effected by steam and waterpower. I am not ambitious to be honored with the paternity of a newkind of cotton machine."
"That would be droll enough!" cried the blacksmith, breaking out intosuch an uproar of laughter that Owen himself and the bell glasses onhis work-board quivered in unison. "No, no, Owen! No child of yourswill have iron joints and sinews. Well, I won't hinder you any more.Good night, Owen, and success, and if you need any assistance, so faras a downright blow of hammer upon anvil will answer the purpose, I'myour man."
And with another laugh the man of main strength left the shop.
"How strange it is," whispered Owen Warland to himself, leaning hishead upon his hand, "that all my musings, my purposes, my passion forthe beautiful, my consciousness of power to create it,—a finer, moreethereal power, of which this earthly giant can have noconception,—all, all, look so vain and idle whenever my path iscrossed by Robert Danforth! He would drive me mad were I to meet himoften. His hard, brute force darkens and confuses the spiritual elementwithin me; but I, too, will be strong in my own way. I will not yieldto him."
He took from beneath a glass a piece of minute machinery, which he setin the condensed light of his lamp, and, looking intently at it througha magnifying glass, proceeded to operate with a delicate instrument ofsteel. In an instant, however, he fell back in his chair and claspedhis hands, with a look of horror on his face that made its smallfeatures as impressive as those of a giant would have been.
"Heaven! What have I done?" exclaimed he. "The vapor, the influence ofthat brute force,—it has bewildered me and obscured my perception. Ihave made the very stroke—the fatal stroke—that I have dreaded fromthe first. It is all over—the toil of months, the object of my life. Iam ruined!"
And there he sat, in strange despair, until his lamp flickered in thesocket and left the Artist of the Beautiful in darkness.
Thus it is that ideas, which grow up within the imagination and appearso lovely to it and of a value beyond whatever men call valuable, areexposed to be shattered and annihilated by contact with the practical.It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of characterthat seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep his faithin himself while the incredulous world assails him with its utterdisbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own soledisciple, both as respects his genius and the objects to which it isdirected.
For a time Owen Warland succumbed to this severe but inevitable test.He spent a few sluggish weeks with his head so continually resting inhis hands that the towns-people had scarcely an opportunity to see hiscountenance. When at last it was again uplifted to the light of day, acold, dull, nameless change was perceptible upon it. In the opinion ofPeter Hovenden, however, and that order of sagacious understandings whothink that life should be regulated, like clockwork, with leadenweights, the alteration was entirely for the better. Owen now, indeed,applied himself to business with dogged industry. It was marvellous towitness the obtuse gravity with which he would inspect the wheels of agreat old silver watch thereby delighting the owner, in whose fob ithad been worn till he deemed it a portion of his own life, and wasaccordingly jealous of its treatment. In consequence of the good reportthus acquired, Owen Warland was invited by the proper authorities toregulate the clock in the church steeple. He succeeded so admirably inthis matter of public interest that the merchants gruffly acknowledgedhis merits on 'Change; the nurse whispered his praises as she gave thepotion in the sick-chamber; the lover blessed him at the hour ofappointed interview; and the town in general thanked Owen for thepunctuality of dinner time. In a word, the heavy weight upon hisspirits kept everything in order, not merely within his own system, butwheresoever the iron accents of the church clock were audible. It was acircumstance, though minute, yet characteristic of his present state,that, when employed to engrave names or initials on silver spoons, henow wrote the requisite letters in the plainest possible style,omitting a variety of fanciful flourishes that had heretoforedistinguished his work in this kind.
One day, during the era of this happy transformation, old PeterHovenden came to visit his former apprentice.
"Well, Owen," said he, "I am glad to hear such good accounts of youfrom all quarters, and especially from the town clock yonder, whichspeaks in your commendation every hour of the twenty-four. Only get ridaltogether of your nonsensical trash about the beautiful, which I nornobody else, nor yourself to boot, could ever understand,—only freeyourself of that, and your success in life is as sure as daylight. Why,if you go on in this way, I should even venture to let you doctor thisprecious old watch of mine; though, except my daughter Annie, I havenothing else so valuable in the world."
"I should hardly dare touch it, sir," replied Owen, in a depressedtone; for he was weighed down by his old master's presence.
"In time," said the latter,—"In time, you will be capable of it."
The old watchmaker, with the freedom naturally consequent on his formerauthority, went on inspecting the work which Owen had in hand at themoment, together with other matters that were in progress. The artist,meanwhile, could scarcely lift his head. There was nothing so antipodalto his nature as this man's cold, unimaginative sagacity, by contactwith which everything was converted into a dream except the densestmatter of the physical world. Owen groaned in spirit and prayedfervently to be delivered from him.
"But what is this?" cried Peter Hovenden abruptly, taking up a dustybell glass, beneath which appeared a mechanical something, as delicateand minute as the system of a butterfly's anatomy. "What have we here?Owen! Owen! there is witchcraft in these little chains, and wheels, andpaddles. See! with one pinch of my finger and thumb I am going todeliver you from all future peril."
"For Heaven's sake," screamed Owen Warland, springing up with wonderfulenergy, "as you would not drive me mad, do not touch it! The slightestpressure of your finger would ruin me forever."
"Aha, young man! And is it so?" said the old watchmaker, looking at himwith just enough penetration to torture Owen's soul with the bitternessof worldly criticism. "Well, take your own course; but I warn you againthat in this small piece of mechanism lives your evil spirit. Shall Iexorcise him?"
"You are my evil spirit," answered Owen, much excited,—"you and thehard, coarse world! The leaden thoughts and the despondency that youfling upon me are my clogs, else I should long ago have achieved thetask that I was created for."
Peter Hovenden shook his head, with the mixture of contempt andindignation which mankind, of whom he was partly a representative, deemthemselves entitled to feel towards all simpletons who seek otherprizes than the dusty one along the highway. He then took his leave,with an uplifted finger and a sneer upon his face that haunted theartist's dreams for many a night afterwards. At the time of his oldmaster's visit, Owen was probably on the point of taking up therelinquished task; but, by this sinister event, he was thrown back intothe state whence he had been slowly emerging.
But the innate tendency of his soul had only been accumulating freshvigor during its apparent sluggishness. As the summer advanced healmost totally relinquished his business, and permitted Father Time, sofar as the old gentleman was represented by the clocks and watchesunder his control, to stray at random through human life, makinginfinite confusion among the train of bewildered hours. He wasted thesunshine, as people said, in wandering through the woods and fields andalong the banks of streams. There, like a child, he found amusement inchasing butterflies or watching the motions of water insects. There wassomething truly mysterious in the intentness with which he contemplatedthese living playthings as they sported on the breeze or examined thestructure of an imperial insect whom he had imprisoned. The chase ofbutterflies was an apt emblem of the ideal pursuit in which he hadspent so many golden hours; but would the beautiful idea ever beyielded to his hand like the butterfly that symbolized it? Sweet,doubtless, were these days, and congenial to the artist's soul. Theywere full of bright conceptions, which gleamed through his intellectualworld as the butterflies gleamed through the outward atmosphere, andwere real to him, for the instant, without the toil, and perplexity,and many disappointments of attempting to make them visible to thesensual eye. Alas that the artist, whether in poetry, or whatever othermaterial, may not content himself with the inward enjoyment of thebeautiful, but must chase the flitting mystery beyond the verge of hisethereal domain, and crush its frail being in seizing it with amaterial grasp. Owen Warland felt the impulse to give external realityto his ideas as irresistibly as any of the poets or painters who havearrayed the world in a dimmer and fainter beauty, imperfectly copiedfrom the richness of their visions.
The night was now his time for the slow progress of re-creating the oneidea to which all his intellectual activity referred itself. Always atthe approach of dusk he stole into the town, locked himself within hisshop, and wrought with patient delicacy of touch for many hours.Sometimes he was startled by the rap of the watchman, who, when all theworld should be asleep, had caught the gleam of lamplight through thecrevices of Owen Warland's shutters. Daylight, to the morbidsensibility of his mind, seemed to have an intrusiveness thatinterfered with his pursuits. On cloudy and inclement days, therefore,he sat with his head upon his hands, muffling, as it were, hissensitive brain in a mist of indefinite musings, for it was a relief toescape from the sharp distinctness with which he was compelled to shapeout his thoughts during his nightly toil.
From one of these fits of torpor he was aroused by the entrance ofAnnie Hovenden, who came into the shop with the freedom of a customer,and also with something of the familiarity of a childish friend. Shehad worn a hole through her silver thimble, and wanted Owen to repairit.
"But I don't know whether you will condescend to such a task," saidshe, laughing, "now that you are so taken up with the notion of puttingspirit into machinery."
"Where did you get that idea, Annie?" said Owen, starting in surprise.
"Oh, out of my own head," answered she, "and from something that Iheard you say, long ago, when you were but a boy and I a little child.But come, will you mend this poor thimble of mine?"
"Anything for your sake, Annie," said Owen Warland,—"anything, evenwere it to work at Robert Danforth's forge."
"And that would be a pretty sight!" retorted Annie, glancing withimperceptible slightness at the artist's small and slender frame."Well; here is the thimble."
"But that is a strange idea of yours," said Owen, "about thespiritualization of matter."
And then the thought stole into his mind that this young girl possessedthe gift to comprehend him better than all the world besides. And whata help and strength would it be to him in his lonely toil if he couldgain the sympathy of the only being whom he loved! To persons whosepursuits are insulated from the common business of life—who are eitherin advance of mankind or apart from it—there often comes a sensationof moral cold that makes the spirit shiver as if it had reached thefrozen solitudes around the pole. What the prophet, the poet, thereformer, the criminal, or any other man with human yearnings, butseparated from the multitude by a peculiar lot, might feel, poor Owenfelt.
"Annie," cried he, growing pale as death at the thought, "how gladlywould I tell you the secret of my pursuit! You, methinks, wouldestimate it rightly. You, I know, would hear it with a reverence that Imust not expect from the harsh, material world."
"Would I not? to be sure I would!" replied Annie Hovenden, lightlylaughing. "Come; explain to me quickly what is the meaning of thislittle whirligig, so delicately wrought that it might be a playthingfor Queen Mab. See! I will put it in motion."
"Hold!" exclaimed Owen, "hold!"
Annie had but given the slightest possible touch, with the point of aneedle, to the same minute portion of complicated machinery which hasbeen more than once mentioned, when the artist seized her by the wristwith a force that made her scream aloud. She was affrighted at theconvulsion of intense rage and anguish that writhed across hisfeatures. The next instant he let his head sink upon his hands.
"Go, Annie," murmured he; "I have deceived myself, and must suffer forit. I yearned for sympathy, and thought, and fancied, and dreamed thatyou might give it me; but you lack the talisman, Annie, that shouldadmit you into my secrets. That touch has undone the toil of months andthe thought of a lifetime! It was not your fault, Annie; but you haveruined me!"
Poor Owen Warland! He had indeed erred, yet pardonably; for if anyhuman spirit could have sufficiently reverenced the processes so sacredin his eyes, it must have been a woman's. Even Annie Hovenden, possiblymight not have disappointed him had she been enlightened by the deepintelligence of love.
The artist spent the ensuing winter in a way that satisfied any personswho had hitherto retained a hopeful opinion of him that he was, intruth, irrevocably doomed to unutility as regarded the world, and to anevil destiny on his own part. The decease of a relative had put him inpossession of a small inheritance. Thus freed from the necessity oftoil, and having lost the steadfast influence of a greatpurpose,—great, at least, to him,—he abandoned himself to habits fromwhich it might have been supposed the mere delicacy of his organizationwould have availed to secure him. But when the ethereal portion of aman of genius is obscured the earthly part assumes an influence themore uncontrollable, because the character is now thrown off thebalance to which Providence had so nicely adjusted it, and which, incoarser natures, is adjusted by some other method. Owen Warland madeproof of whatever show of bliss may be found in riot. He looked at theworld through the golden medium of wine, and contemplated the visionsthat bubble up so gayly around the brim of the glass, and that peoplethe air with shapes of pleasant madness, which so soon grow ghostly andforlorn. Even when this dismal and inevitable change had taken place,the young man might still have continued to quaff the cup ofenchantments, though its vapor did but shroud life in gloom and fillthe gloom with spectres that mocked at him. There was a certainirksomeness of spirit, which, being real, and the deepest sensation ofwhich the artist was now conscious, was more intolerable than anyfantastic miseries and horrors that the abuse of wine could summon up.In the latter case he could remember, even out of the midst of histrouble, that all was but a delusion; in the former, the heavy anguishwas his actual life.
From this perilous state he was redeemed by an incident which more thanone person witnessed, but of which the shrewdest could not explain orconjecture the operation on Owen Warland's mind. It was very simple. Ona warm afternoon of spring, as the artist sat among his riotouscompanions with a glass of wine before him, a splendid butterfly flewin at the open window and fluttered about his head.
"Ah," exclaimed Owen, who had drank freely, "are you alive again, childof the sun and playmate of the summer breeze, after your dismalwinter's nap? Then it is time for me to be at work!"
And, leaving his unemptied glass upon the table, he departed and wasnever known to sip another drop of wine.
And now, again, he resumed his wanderings in the woods and fields. Itmight be fancied that the bright butterfly, which had come sospirit-like into the window as Owen sat with the rude revellers, wasindeed a spirit commissioned to recall him to the pure, ideal life thathad so etheralized him among men. It might be fancied that he wentforth to seek this spirit in its sunny haunts; for still, as in thesummer time gone by, he was seen to steal gently up wherever abutterfly had alighted, and lose himself in contemplation of it. Whenit took flight his eyes followed the winged vision, as if its airytrack would show the path to heaven. But what could be the purpose ofthe unseasonable toil, which was again resumed, as the watchman knew bythe lines of lamplight through the crevices of Owen Warland's shutters?The towns-people had one comprehensive explanation of all thesesingularities. Owen Warland had gone mad! How universallyefficacious—how satisfactory, too, and soothing to the injuredsensibility of narrowness and dulness—is this easy method ofaccounting for whatever lies beyond the world's most ordinary scope!From St. Paul's days down to our poor little Artist of the Beautiful,the same talisman had been applied to the elucidation of all mysteriesin the words or deeds of men who spoke or acted too wisely or too well.In Owen Warland's case the judgment of his towns-people may have beencorrect. Perhaps he was mad. The lack of sympathy—that contrastbetween himself and his neighbors which took away the restraint ofexample—was enough to make him so. Or possibly he had caught just somuch of ethereal radiance as served to bewilder him, in an earthlysense, by its intermixture with the common daylight.
One evening, when the artist had returned from a customary ramble andhad just thrown the lustre of his lamp on the delicate piece of work sooften interrupted, but still taken up again, as if his fate wereembodied in its mechanism, he was surprised by the entrance of oldPeter Hovenden. Owen never met this man without a shrinking of theheart. Of all the world he was most terrible, by reason of a keenunderstanding which saw so distinctly what it did see, and disbelievedso uncompromisingly in what it could not see. On this occasion the oldwatchmaker had merely a gracious word or two to say.
"Owen, my lad," said he, "we must see you at my house to-morrow night."
The artist began to mutter some excuse.
"Oh, but it must be so," quoth Peter Hovenden, "for the sake of thedays when you were one of the household. What, my boy! don't you knowthat my daughter Annie is engaged to Robert Danforth? We are making anentertainment, in our humble way, to celebrate the event."
That little monosyllable was all he uttered; its tone seemed cold andunconcerned to an ear like Peter Hovenden's; and yet there was in itthe stifled outcry of the poor artist's heart, which he compressedwithin him like a man holding down an evil spirit. One slight outbreak,however, imperceptible to the old watchmaker, he allowed himself.Raising the instrument with which he was about to begin his work, helet it fall upon the little system of machinery that had, anew, costhim months of thought and toil. It was shattered by the stroke!
Owen Warland's story would have been no tolerable representation of thetroubled life of those who strive to create the beautiful, if, amid allother thwarting influences, love had not interposed to steal thecunning from his hand. Outwardly he had been no ardent or enterprisinglover; the career of his passion had confined its tumults andvicissitudes so entirely within the artist's imagination that Annieherself had scarcely more than a woman's intuitive perception of it;but, in Owen's view, it covered the whole field of his life. Forgetfulof the time when she had shown herself incapable of any deep response,he had persisted in connecting all his dreams of artistical successwith Annie's image; she was the visible shape in which the spiritualpower that he worshipped, and on whose altar he hoped to lay a notunworthy offering, was made manifest to him. Of course he had deceivedhimself; there were no such attributes in Annie Hovenden as hisimagination had endowed her with. She, in the aspect which she wore tohis inward vision, was as much a creature of his own as the mysteriouspiece of mechanism would be were it ever realized. Had he becomeconvinced of his mistake through the medium of successful love,—had hewon Annie to his bosom, and there beheld her fade from angel intoordinary woman,—the disappointment might have driven him back, withconcentrated energy, upon his sole remaining object. On the other hand,had he found Annie what he fancied, his lot would have been so rich inbeauty that out of its mere redundancy he might have wrought thebeautiful into many a worthier type than he had toiled for; but theguise in which his sorrow came to him, the sense that the angel of hislife had been snatched away and given to a rude man of earth and iron,who could neither need nor appreciate her ministrations,—this was thevery perversity of fate that makes human existence appear too absurdand contradictory to be the scene of one other hope or one other fear.There was nothing left for Owen Warland but to sit down like a man thathad been stunned.
He went through a fit of illness. After his recovery his small andslender frame assumed an obtuser garniture of flesh than it had everbefore worn. His thin cheeks became round; his delicate little hand, sospiritually fashioned to achieve fairy task-work, grew plumper than thehand of a thriving infant. His aspect had a childishness such as mighthave induced a stranger to pat him on the head—pausing, however, inthe act, to wonder what manner of child was here. It was as if thespirit had gone out of him, leaving the body to flourish in a sort ofvegetable existence. Not that Owen Warland was idiotic. He could talk,and not irrationally. Somewhat of a babbler, indeed, did people beginto think him; for he was apt to discourse at wearisome length ofmarvels of mechanism that he had read about in books, but which he hadlearned to consider as absolutely fabulous. Among them he enumeratedthe Man of Brass, constructed by Albertus Magnus, and the Brazen Headof Friar Bacon; and, coming down to later times, the automata of alittle coach and horses, which it was pretended had been manufacturedfor the Dauphin of France; together with an insect that buzzed aboutthe ear like a living fly, and yet was but a contrivance of minutesteel springs. There was a story, too, of a duck that waddled, andquacked, and ate; though, had any honest citizen purchased it fordinner, he would have found himself cheated with the mere mechanicalapparition of a duck.
"But all these accounts," said Owen Warland, "I am now satisfied aremere impositions."
Then, in a mysterious way, he would confess that he once thoughtdifferently. In his idle and dreamy days he had considered it possible,in a certain sense, to spiritualize machinery, and to combine with thenew species of life and motion thus produced a beauty that shouldattain to the ideal which Nature has proposed to herself in all hercreatures, but has never taken pains to realize. He seemed, however, toretain no very distinct perception either of the process of achievingthis object or of the design itself.
"I have thrown it all aside now," he would say. "It was a dream such asyoung men are always mystifying themselves with. Now that I haveacquired a little common sense, it makes me laugh to think of it."
Poor, poor and fallen Owen Warland! These were the symptoms that he hadceased to be an inhabitant of the better sphere that lies unseen aroundus. He had lost his faith in the invisible, and now prided himself, assuch unfortunates invariably do, in the wisdom which rejected much thateven his eye could see, and trusted confidently in nothing but what hishand could touch. This is the calamity of men whose spiritual part diesout of them and leaves the grosser understanding to assimilate themmore and more to the things of which alone it can take cognizance; butin Owen Warland the spirit was not dead nor passed away; it only slept.
How it awoke again is not recorded. Perhaps the torpid slumber wasbroken by a convulsive pain. Perhaps, as in a former instance, thebutterfly came and hovered about his head and reinspired him,—asindeed this creature of the sunshine had always a mysterious missionfor the artist,—reinspired him with the former purpose of his life.Whether it were pain or happiness that thrilled through his veins, hisfirst impulse was to thank Heaven for rendering him again the being ofthought, imagination, and keenest sensibility that he had long ceasedto be.
"Now for my task," said he. "Never did I feel such strength for it asnow."
Yet, strong as he felt himself, he was incited to toil the morediligently by an anxiety lest death should surprise him in the midst ofhis labors. This anxiety, perhaps, is common to all men who set theirhearts upon anything so high, in their own view of it, that lifebecomes of importance only as conditional to its accomplishment. Solong as we love life for itself, we seldom dread the losing it. When wedesire life for the attainment of an object, we recognize the frailtyof its texture. But, side by side with this sense of insecurity, thereis a vital faith in our invulnerability to the shaft of death whileengaged in any task that seems assigned by Providence as our properthing to do, and which the world would have cause to mourn for shouldwe leave it unaccomplished. Can the philosopher, big with theinspiration of an idea that is to reform mankind, believe that he is tobe beckoned from this sensible existence at the very instant when he ismustering his breath to speak the word of light? Should he perish so,the weary ages may pass away—the world's, whose life sand may fall,drop by drop—before another intellect is prepared to develop the truththat might have been uttered then. But history affords many an examplewhere the most precious spirit, at any particular epoch manifested inhuman shape, has gone hence untimely, without space allowed him, so faras mortal judgment could discern, to perform his mission on the earth.The prophet dies, and the man of torpid heart and sluggish brain liveson. The poet leaves his song half sung, or finishes it, beyond thescope of mortal ears, in a celestial choir. The painter—as Allstondid—leaves half his conception on the canvas to sadden us with itsimperfect beauty, and goes to picture forth the whole, if it be noirreverence to say so, in the hues of heaven. But rather suchincomplete designs of this life will be perfected nowhere. This sofrequent abortion of man's dearest projects must be taken as a proofthat the deeds of earth, however etherealized by piety or genius, arewithout value, except as exercises and manifestations of the spirit. Inheaven, all ordinary thought is higher and more melodious than Milton'ssong. Then, would he add another verse to any strain that he had leftunfinished here?
But to return to Owen Warland. It was his fortune, good or ill, toachieve the purpose of his life. Pass we over a long space of intensethought, yearning effort, minute toil, and wasting anxiety, succeededby an instant of solitary triumph: let all this be imagined; and thenbehold the artist, on a winter evening, seeking admittance to RobertDanforth's fireside circle. There he found the man of iron, with hismassive substance thoroughly warmed and attempered by domesticinfluences. And there was Annie, too, now transformed into a matron,with much of her husband's plain and sturdy nature, but imbued, as OwenWarland still believed, with a finer grace, that might enable her to bethe interpreter between strength and beauty. It happened, likewise,that old Peter Hovenden was a guest this evening at his daughter'sfireside, and it was his well-remembered expression of keen, coldcriticism that first encountered the artist's glance.
"My old friend Owen!" cried Robert Danforth, starting up, andcompressing the artist's delicate fingers within a hand that wasaccustomed to gripe bars of iron. "This is kind and neighborly to cometo us at last. I was afraid your perpetual motion had bewitched you outof the remembrance of old times."
"We are glad to see you," said Annie, while a blush reddened hermatronly cheek. "It was not like a friend to stay from us so long."
"Well, Owen," inquired the old watchmaker, as his first greeting, "howcomes on the beautiful? Have you created it at last?"
The artist did not immediately reply, being startled by the apparitionof a young child of strength that was tumbling about on the carpet,—alittle personage who had come mysteriously out of the infinite, butwith something so sturdy and real in his composition that he seemedmoulded out of the densest substance which earth could supply. Thishopeful infant crawled towards the new-comer, and setting himself onend, as Robert Danforth expressed the posture, stared at Owen with alook of such sagacious observation that the mother could not helpexchanging a proud glance with her husband. But the artist wasdisturbed by the child's look, as imagining a resemblance between itand Peter Hovenden's habitual expression. He could have fancied thatthe old watchmaker was compressed into this baby shape, and looking outof those baby eyes, and repeating, as he now did, the maliciousquestion: "The beautiful, Owen! How comes on the beautiful? Have yousucceeded in creating the beautiful?"
"I have succeeded," replied the artist, with a momentary light oftriumph in his eyes and a smile of sunshine, yet steeped in such depthof thought that it was almost sadness. "Yes, my friends, it is thetruth. I have succeeded."
"Indeed!" cried Annie, a look of maiden mirthfulness peeping out of herface again. "And is it lawful, now, to inquire what the secret is?"
"Surely; it is to disclose it that I have come," answered Owen Warland."You shall know, and see, and touch, and possess the secret! For,Annie,—if by that name I may still address the friend of my boyishyears,—Annie, it is for your bridal gift that I have wrought thisspiritualized mechanism, this harmony of motion, this mystery ofbeauty. It comes late, indeed; but it is as we go onward in life, whenobjects begin to lose their freshness of hue and our souls theirdelicacy of perception, that the spirit of beauty is most needed.If,—forgive me, Annie,—if you know how—to value this gift, it cannever come too late."
He produced, as he spoke, what seemed a jewel box. It was carved richlyout of ebony by his own hand, and inlaid with a fanciful tracery ofpearl, representing a boy in pursuit of a butterfly, which, elsewhere,had become a winged spirit, and was flying heavenward; while the boy,or youth, had found such efficacy in his strong desire that he ascendedfrom earth to cloud, and from cloud to celestial atmosphere, to win thebeautiful. This case of ebony the artist opened, and bade Annie placeher fingers on its edge. She did so, but almost screamed as a butterflyfluttered forth, and, alighting on her finger's tip, sat waving theample magnificence of its purple and gold-speckled wings, as if inprelude to a flight. It is impossible to express by words the glory,the splendor, the delicate gorgeousness which were softened into thebeauty of this object. Nature's ideal butterfly was here realized inall its perfection; not in the pattern of such faded insects as flitamong earthly flowers, but of those which hover across the meads ofparadise for child-angels and the spirits of departed infants todisport themselves with. The rich down was visible upon its wings; thelustre of its eyes seemed instinct with spirit. The firelight glimmeredaround this wonder—the candles gleamed upon it; but it glistenedapparently by its own radiance, and illuminated the finger andoutstretched hand on which it rested with a white gleam like that ofprecious stones. In its perfect beauty, the consideration of size wasentirely lost. Had its wings overreached the firmament, the mind couldnot have been more filled or satisfied.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" exclaimed Annie. "Is it alive? Is it alive?"
"Alive? To be sure it is," answered her husband. "Do you suppose anymortal has skill enough to make a butterfly, or would put himself tothe trouble of making one, when any child may catch a score of them ina summer's afternoon? Alive? Certainly! But this pretty box isundoubtedly of our friend Owen's manufacture; and really it does himcredit."
At this moment the butterfly waved its wings anew, with a motion soabsolutely lifelike that Annie was startled, and even awestricken; for,in spite of her husband's opinion, she could not satisfy herselfwhether it was indeed a living creature or a piece of wondrousmechanism.
"Is it alive?" she repeated, more earnestly than before.
"Judge for yourself," said Owen Warland, who stood gazing in her facewith fixed attention.
The butterfly now flung itself upon the air, fluttered round Annie'shead, and soared into a distant region of the parlor, still makingitself perceptible to sight by the starry gleam in which the motion ofits wings enveloped it. The infant on the floor followed its coursewith his sagacious little eyes. After flying about the room, itreturned in a spiral curve and settled again on Annie's finger.
"But is it alive?" exclaimed she again; and the finger on which thegorgeous mystery had alighted was so tremulous that the butterfly wasforced to balance himself with his wings. "Tell me if it be alive, orwhether you created it."
"Wherefore ask who created it, so it be beautiful?" replied OwenWarland. "Alive? Yes, Annie; it may well be said to possess life, forit has absorbed my own being into itself; and in the secret of thatbutterfly, and in its beauty,—which is not merely outward, but deep asits whole system,—is represented the intellect, the imagination, thesensibility, the soul of an Artist of the Beautiful! Yes; I created it.But"—and here his countenance somewhat changed—"this butterfly is notnow to me what it was when I beheld it afar off in the daydreams of myyouth."
"Be it what it may, it is a pretty plaything," said the blacksmith,grinning with childlike delight. "I wonder whether it would condescendto alight on such a great clumsy finger as mine? Hold it hither, Annie."
By the artist's direction, Annie touched her finger's tip to that ofher husband; and, after a momentary delay, the butterfly fluttered fromone to the other. It preluded a second flight by a similar, yet notprecisely the same, waving of wings as in the first experiment; then,ascending from the blacksmith's stalwart finger, it rose in a graduallyenlarging curve to the ceiling, made one wide sweep around the room,and returned with an undulating movement to the point whence it hadstarted.
"Well, that does beat all nature!" cried Robert Danforth, bestowing theheartiest praise that he could find expression for; and, indeed, had hepaused there, a man of finer words and nicer perception could noteasily have said more. "That goes beyond me, I confess. But what then?There is more real use in one downright blow of my sledge hammer thanin the whole five years' labor that our friend Owen has wasted on thisbutterfly."
Here the child clapped his hands and made a great babble of indistinctutterance, apparently demanding that the butterfly should be given himfor a plaything.
Owen Warland, meanwhile, glanced sidelong at Annie, to discover whethershe sympathized in her husband's estimate of the comparative value ofthe beautiful and the practical. There was, amid all her kindnesstowards himself, amid all the wonder and admiration with which shecontemplated the marvellous work of his hands and incarnation of hisidea, a secret scorn—too secret, perhaps, for her own consciousness,and perceptible only to such intuitive discernment as that of theartist. But Owen, in the latter stages of his pursuit, had risen out ofthe region in which such a discovery might have been torture. He knewthat the world, and Annie as the representative of the world, whateverpraise might be bestowed, could never say the fitting word nor feel thefitting sentiment which should be the perfect recompense of an artistwho, symbolizing a lofty moral by a material trifle,—converting whatwas earthly to spiritual gold,—had won the beautiful into hishandiwork. Not at this latest moment was he to learn that the reward ofall high performance must be sought within itself, or sought in vain.There was, however, a view of the matter which Annie and her husband,and even Peter Hovenden, might fully have understood, and which wouldhave satisfied them that the toil of years had here been worthilybestowed. Owen Warland might have told them that this butterfly, thisplaything, this bridal gift of a poor watchmaker to a blacksmith'swife, was, in truth, a gem of art that a monarch would have purchasedwith honors and abundant wealth, and have treasured it among the jewelsof his kingdom as the most unique and wondrous of them all. But theartist smiled and kept the secret to himself.
"Father," said Annie, thinking that a word of praise from the oldwatchmaker might gratify his former apprentice, "do come and admirethis pretty butterfly."
"Let us see," said Peter Hovenden, rising from his chair, with a sneerupon his face that always made people doubt, as he himself did, ineverything but a material existence. "Here is my finger for it toalight upon. I shall understand it better when once I have touched it."
But, to the increased astonishment of Annie, when the tip of herfather's finger was pressed against that of her husband, on which thebutterfly still rested, the insect drooped its wings and seemed on thepoint of falling to the floor. Even the bright spots of gold upon itswings and body, unless her eyes deceived her, grew dim, and the glowingpurple took a dusky hue, and the starry lustre that gleamed around theblacksmith's hand became faint and vanished.
"It is dying! it is dying!" cried Annie, in alarm.
"It has been delicately wrought," said the artist, calmly. "As I toldyou, it has imbibed a spiritual essence—call it magnetism, or what youwill. In an atmosphere of doubt and mockery its exquisitesusceptibility suffers torture, as does the soul of him who instilledhis own life into it. It has already lost its beauty; in a few momentsmore its mechanism would be irreparably injured."
"Take away your hand, father!" entreated Annie, turning pale. "Here ismy child; let it rest on his innocent hand. There, perhaps, its lifewill revive and its colors grow brighter than ever."
Her father, with an acrid smile, withdrew his finger. The butterflythen appeared to recover the power of voluntary motion, while its huesassumed much of their original lustre, and the gleam of starlight,which was its most ethereal attribute, again formed a halo round aboutit. At first, when transferred from Robert Danforth's hand to the smallfinger of the child, this radiance grew so powerful that it positivelythrew the little fellow's shadow back against the wall. He, meanwhile,extended his plump hand as he had seen his father and mother do, andwatched the waving of the insect's wings with infantine delight.Nevertheless, there was a certain odd expression of sagacity that madeOwen Warland feel as if here were old Pete Hovenden, partially, and butpartially, redeemed from his hard scepticism into childish faith.
"How wise the little monkey looks!" whispered Robert Danforth to hiswife.
"I never saw such a look on a child's face," answered Annie, admiringher own infant, and with good reason, far more than the artisticbutterfly. "The darling knows more of the mystery than we do."
As if the butterfly, like the artist, were conscious of something notentirely congenial in the child's nature, it alternately sparkled andgrew dim. At length it arose from the small hand of the infant with anairy motion that seemed to bear it upward without an effort, as if theethereal instincts with which its master's spirit had endowed itimpelled this fair vision involuntarily to a higher sphere. Had therebeen no obstruction, it might have soared into the sky and grownimmortal. But its lustre gleamed upon the ceiling; the exquisitetexture of its wings brushed against that earthly medium; and a sparkleor two, as of stardust, floated downward and lay glimmering on thecarpet. Then the butterfly came fluttering down, and, instead ofreturning to the infant, was apparently attracted towards the artist'shand.
"Not so! not so!" murmured Owen Warland, as if his handiwork could haveunderstood him. "Thou has gone forth out of thy master's heart. Thereis no return for thee."
With a wavering movement, and emitting a tremulous radiance, thebutterfly struggled, as it were, towards the infant, and was about toalight upon his finger; but while it still hovered in the air, thelittle child of strength, with his grandsire's sharp and shrewdexpression in his face, made a snatch at the marvellous insect andcompressed it in his hand. Annie screamed. Old Peter Hovenden burstinto a cold and scornful laugh. The blacksmith, by main force, unclosedthe infant's hand, and found within the palm a small heap of glitteringfragments, whence the mystery of beauty had fled forever. And as forOwen Warland, he looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life'slabor, and which was yet no ruin. He had caught a far other butterflythan this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful,the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became oflittle value in his eyes while his spirit possessed itself in theenjoyment of the reality.
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