From Mosses from An Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne
In the latter part of the last century there lived a man of
science, an eminent proficient in every branch of natural
philosophy, who not long before our story opens had made
experience of a spiritual affinity more attractive than any
chemical one. He had left his laboratory to the care of an
assistant, cleared his fine countenance from the furnace smoke,
washed the stain of acids from his fingers, and persuaded a
beautiful woman to become his wife. In those days when the
comparatively recent discovery of electricity and other kindred
mysteries of Nature seemed to open paths into the region of
miracle, it was not unusual for the love of science to rival the
love of woman in its depth and absorbing energy. The higher
intellect, the imagination, the spirit, and even the heart might
all find their congenial aliment in pursuits which, as some of
their ardent votaries believed, would ascend from one step of
powerful intelligence to another, until the philosopher should
lay his hand on the secret of creative force and perhaps make new
worlds for himself. We know not whether Aylmer possessed this
degree of faith in man's ultimate control over Nature. He had
devoted himself, however, too unreservedly to scientific studies
ever to be weaned from them by any second passion. His love for
his young wife might prove the stronger of the two; but it could
only be by intertwining itself with his love of science, and
uniting the strength of the latter to his own.
Such a union accordingly took place, and was attended with truly
remarkable consequences and a deeply impressive moral. One day,
very soon after their marriage, Aylmer sat gazing at his wife
with a trouble in his countenance that grew stronger until he
"Georgiana," said he, "has it never occurred to you that the mark
upon your cheek might be removed?"
"No, indeed," said she, smiling; but perceiving the seriousness
of his manner, she blushed deeply. "To tell you the truth it has
been so often called a charm that I was simple enough to imagine
it might be so."
"Ah, upon another face perhaps it might," replied her husband;
"but never on yours. No, dearest Georgiana, you came so nearly
perfect from the hand of Nature that this slightest possible
defect, which we hesitate whether to term a defect or a beauty,
shocks me, as being the visible mark of earthly imperfection."
"Shocks you, my husband!" cried Georgiana, deeply hurt; at first
reddening with momentary anger, but then bursting into tears.
"Then why did 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 of Georgiana's left cheek there was a singular mark,
deeply interwoven, as it were, with the texture and substance of
her face. In the usual state of her complexion--a healthy though
delicate bloom--the mark wore a tint of deeper crimson, which
imperfectly defined its shape amid the surrounding rosiness. When
she blushed it gradually became more indistinct, and finally
vanished amid the triumphant rush of blood that bathed the whole
cheek with its brilliant glow. But if any shifting motion caused
her to turn pale there was the mark again, a crimson stain upon
the snow, in what Aylmer sometimes deemed an almost fearful
distinctness. Its shape bore not a little similarity to the human
hand, though of the smallest pygmy size. Georgiana's lovers were
wont to say that some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny
hand upon the infant's cheek, and left this impress there in
token of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway
over all hearts. Many a desperate swain would have risked life
for the privilege of pressing his lips to the mysterious hand. It
must not be concealed, however, that the impression wrought by
this fairy sign manual varied exceedingly, according to the
difference of temperament in the beholders. Some fastidious
persons--but they were exclusively of her own sex--affirmed that
the bloody hand, as they chose to call it, quite destroyed the
effect of Georgiana's beauty, and rendered her countenance even
hideous. But it would be as reasonable to say that one of those
small blue stains which sometimes occur in the purest statuary
marble would convert the Eve of Powers to a monster. Masculine
observers, if the birthmark did not heighten their admiration,
contented themselves with wishing it away, that the world might
possess one living specimen of ideal loveliness without the
semblance of a flaw. After his marriage,--for he thought little
or nothing of the matter before,--Aylmer discovered that this was
the case with himself.
Had she been less beautiful,--if Envy's self could have found
aught else to sneer at,--he might have felt his affection
heightened by the prettiness of this mimic hand, now vaguely
portrayed, now lost, now stealing forth again and glimmering to
and fro with every pulse of emotion that throbbed within her
heart; but seeing her otherwise so perfect, he found this one
defect grow more and more intolerable with every moment of their
united lives. It was the fatal flaw of humanity which Nature, in
one shape or another, stamps ineffaceably on all her productions,
either to imply that they are temporary and finite, or that their
perfection must be wrought by toil and pain. The crimson hand
expressed the ineludible gripe in which mortality clutches the
highest and purest of earthly mould, degrading them into kindred
with the lowest, and even with the very brutes, like whom their
visible frames return to dust. In this manner, selecting it as
the symbol of his wife's liability to sin, sorrow, decay, and
death, Aylmer's sombre imagination 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
At all the seasons which should have been their happiest, he
invariably and without intending it, nay, in spite of a purpose
to the contrary, reverted to this one disastrous topic. Trifling
as it at first appeared, it so connected itself with innumerable
trains of thought and modes of feeling that it became the central
point of all. With the morning twilight Aylmer opened his eyes
upon his wife's face and recognized the symbol of imperfection;
and when they sat together at the evening hearth his eyes
wandered stealthily to her cheek, and beheld, flickering with the
blaze of the wood fire, the spectral hand that wrote mortality
where he would fain have worshipped. Georgiana soon learned to
shudder at his gaze. It needed but a glance with the peculiar
expression that his face often wore to change the roses of her
cheek into a deathlike paleness, amid which the crimson hand was
brought strongly out, like a bass-relief of ruby on the whitest
Late one night when the lights were growing dim, so as hardly to
betray the 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 a smile, "have you any recollection of a dream last
night about this odious hand?"
"None! none whatever!" replied Aylmer, starting; but then he
added, in a dry, cold tone, affected for the sake of concealing
the real depth of his emotion, "I might well dream of it; for
before I fell asleep it had taken a pretty firm hold of my
"And you did dream of it?" continued Georgiana, hastily; for she
dreaded lest a gush of tears should interrupt what she had to
say. "A terrible dream! I wonder that you can forget it. Is it
possible to forget this one expression?--'It is in her heart now;
we must have it out!' Reflect, my husband; for by all means I
would have you recall that dream."
The mind is in a sad state when Sleep, the all-involving, cannot
confine her spectres within the dim region of her sway, but
suffers them to break forth, affrighting this actual life with
secrets that perchance belong to a deeper one. Aylmer now
remembered his dream. He had fancied himself with his servant
Aminadab, attempting an operation for the removal of the
birthmark; but the deeper went the knife, the deeper sank the
hand, until at length its tiny grasp appeared to have caught hold
of Georgiana's heart; whence, however, her husband was inexorably
resolved to cut or wrench it away.
When the dream had shaped itself perfectly in his memory, Aylmer
sat in his wife's presence with a guilty feeling. Truth often
finds its way to the mind close muffled in robes of sleep, and
then speaks with uncompromising directness of matters in regard
to which we practise an unconscious self-deception during our
waking moments. Until now he had not been aware of the
tyrannizing influence acquired by one idea over his mind, and of
the lengths which he might find in his heart to go for the sake
of giving himself peace.
"Aylmer," resumed Georgiana, solemnly, "I know not what may be
the cost to both of us to rid me of this fatal birthmark. Perhaps
its removal may cause cureless deformity; or it may be the stain
goes as deep as life itself. Again: do we know that there is a
possibility, on any terms, of unclasping the firm gripe of this
little hand which was laid upon 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 perfect
practicability of its removal."
"If there be the remotest possibility of it," continued
Georgiana, "let the attempt be made at whatever risk. Danger is
nothing to me; for life, while this hateful mark makes me the
object of your horror and disgust,--life is a burden which I
would fling down with joy. Either remove this dreadful hand, or
take my wretched life! You have deep science. All the world bears
witness of it. You have achieved great wonders. Cannot you remove
this little, little mark, which I cover with the tips of two
small fingers? Is this beyond your power, for the sake of your
own peace, and to save your poor wife from madness?"
"Noblest, dearest, tenderest wife," cried Aylmer, rapturously,
"doubt not my power. I have already given this matter the deepest
thought--thought which might almost have enlightened me to create
a being less perfect than yourself. Georgiana, you have led me
deeper than ever into the heart of science. I feel myself fully
competent to render this dear cheek as faultless as its fellow;
and then, most beloved, what will be my triumph when I shall have
corrected what Nature left imperfect in her fairest work! Even
Pygmalion, when his sculptured woman assumed life, felt not
greater ecstasy than mine will be."
"It is resolved, then," said Georgiana, faintly smiling. "And,
Aylmer, spare me not, though you should find the birthmark take
refuge in my heart at last."
Her husband tenderly kissed her cheek--her right cheek--not that
which bore the impress of the crimson hand.
The next day Aylmer apprised his wife of a plan that he had
formed whereby he might have opportunity for the intense thought
and constant watchfulness which the proposed operation would
require; while Georgiana, likewise, would enjoy the perfect
repose essential to its success. They were to seclude themselves
in the extensive apartments occupied by Aylmer as a laboratory,
and where, during his toilsome youth, he had made discoveries in
the elemental powers of Nature that had roused the admiration of
all the learned societies in Europe. Seated calmly in this
laboratory, the pale philosopher had investigated the secrets of
the highest cloud region and of the profoundest mines; he had
satisfied himself of the causes that kindled and kept alive the
fires of the volcano; and had explained the mystery of fountains,
and how it is that they gush forth, some so bright and pure, and
others with such rich medicinal virtues, from the dark bosom of
the earth. Here, too, at an earlier period, he had studied the
wonders of the human frame, and attempted to fathom the very
process by which Nature assimilates all her precious influences
from earth and air, and from the spiritual world, to create and
foster man, her masterpiece. The latter pursuit, however, Aylmer
had long laid aside in unwilling recognition of the
truth--against which all seekers sooner or later stumble--that
our great creative Mother, while she amuses us with apparently
working in the broadest sunshine, is yet severely careful to keep
her own secrets, and, in spite of her pretended openness, shows
us nothing but results. She permits us, indeed, to mar, but
seldom to mend, and, like a jealous patentee, on no account to
make. Now, however, Aylmer resumed these half-forgotten
investigations; not, of course, with such hopes or wishes as
first suggested them; but because they involved much
physiological truth and lay in the path of his proposed scheme
for the treatment of Georgiana.
As he led her over the threshold of the laboratory, Georgiana was
cold and tremulous. Aylmer looked cheerfully into her face, with
intent to reassure her, but was so startled with the intense glow
of the birthmark upon the whiteness of her cheek that he could
not restrain a strong convulsive shudder. His wife fainted.
"Aminadab! Aminadab!" shouted Aylmer, stamping violently on the
Forthwith there issued from an inner apartment a man of low
stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his
visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace. This
personage had been Aylmer's underworker during his whole
scientific career, and was admirably fitted for that office by
his great mechanical readiness, and the skill with which, while
incapable of comprehending a single principle, he executed all
the details of his master's experiments. With his vast strength,
his shaggy hair, his smoky aspect, and the indescribable
earthiness that incrusted him, he seemed to represent man's
physical nature; while Aylmer's slender figure, and pale,
intellectual face, were no less apt a type of the spiritual
"Throw open the door of the boudoir, Aminadab," said Aylmer, "and
burn a pastil."
"Yes, master," answered Aminadab, looking intently at the
lifeless form of 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 an atmosphere of penetrating fragrance, the gentle
potency of which had recalled her from her deathlike faintness.
The scene around her looked like enchantment. Aylmer had
converted those smoky, dingy, sombre rooms, where he had spent
his brightest years in recondite pursuits, into a series of
beautiful apartments not unfit to be the secluded abode of a
lovely woman. The walls were hung with gorgeous curtains, which
imparted the combination of grandeur and grace that no other
species of adornment can achieve; and as they fell from the
ceiling to the floor, their rich and ponderous folds, concealing
all angles and straight lines, appeared to shut in the scene from
infinite space. For aught Georgiana knew, it might be a pavilion
among the clouds. And Aylmer, excluding the sunshine, which would
have interfered with his chemical processes, had supplied its
place with perfumed lamps, emitting flames of various hue, but
all uniting in a soft, impurpled radiance. He now knelt by his
wife's side, watching her earnestly, but without alarm; for he
was confident in his science, and felt that he could draw a magic
circle round her within which no evil might intrude.
"Where am I? Ah, I remember," said Georgiana, faintly; and she
placed her hand over her cheek to hide the terrible mark from her
"Fear not, dearest!" exclaimed he. "Do not shrink from me!
Believe me, Georgiana, I even rejoice in this single
imperfection, since it will be such 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 from the burden of actual things, Aylmer now put in practice
some of the light and playful secrets which science had taught
him among its profounder lore. Airy figures, absolutely bodiless
ideas, and forms of unsubstantial beauty came and danced before
her, imprinting their momentary footsteps on beams of light.
Though she had some indistinct idea of the method of these
optical phenomena, still the illusion was almost perfect enough
to warrant the belief that her husband possessed sway over the
spiritual world. Then again, when she felt a wish to look forth
from her seclusion, immediately, as if her thoughts were
answered, 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 always makes a picture, an image, or a shadow so
much more attractive than the original. When wearied of this,
Aylmer bade her cast her eyes upon a vessel containing a quantity
of earth. She did so, with little interest at first; but was soon
startled to perceive the germ of a plant shooting upward from the
soil. Then came the slender stalk; the leaves gradually unfolded
themselves; and amid them was a perfect and lovely flower.
"It is magical!" cried Georgiana. "I dare not touch it."
"Nay, pluck it," answered Aylmer,--"pluck it, and inhale its
brief perfume while you may. The flower will wither in a few
moments and leave nothing save its brown seed vessels; but thence
may be perpetuated a race as ephemeral as itself."
But Georgiana had no sooner touched the flower than the whole
plant suffered a blight, its leaves turning coal-black as if by
the agency of fire.
"There was too powerful a stimulus," said Aylmer, thoughtfully.
To make up for this abortive experiment, he proposed to take her
portrait by a scientific process of his own invention. It was to
be effected by rays of light striking upon a polished plate of
metal. Georgiana assented; but, on looking at the result, was
affrighted to find the features of the portrait blurred and
indefinable; while the minute figure of a hand appeared where the
cheek should have been. Aylmer snatched the metallic plate and
threw it into a jar of corrosive acid.
Soon, however, he forgot these mortifying failures. In the
intervals of study and chemical experiment he came to her flushed
and exhausted, but seemed invigorated by her presence, and spoke
in glowing language of the resources of his art. He gave a
history of the long dynasty of the alchemists, who spent so many
ages in quest of the universal solvent by which the golden
principle might be elicited from all things vile and base. Aylmer
appeared to believe that, by the plainest scientific logic, it
was altogether within the limits of possibility to discover this
long-sought medium; "but," he added, "a philosopher who should go
deep enough to acquire the power would attain too lofty a wisdom
to stoop to the exercise of it." Not less singular were his
opinions in regard to the elixir vitae. He more than intimated
that it was at his option to concoct a liquid that should prolong
life for years, perhaps interminably; but that it would produce a
discord in Nature which all the world, and chiefly the quaffer of
the immortal nostrum, would find cause to curse.
"Aylmer, are you in earnest?" asked Georgiana, looking at him
with amazement and fear. "It is terrible to possess such power,
or even to dream of possessing it."
"Oh, do not tremble, my love," said her husband. "I would not
wrong either you or myself by working such inharmonious effects
upon our lives; but I would have you consider how trifling, in
comparison, is the skill requisite to remove this little hand."
At the mention of the birthmark, Georgiana, as usual, shrank as
if a redhot iron had touched her cheek.
Again Aylmer applied himself to his labors. She could hear his
voice in the distant furnace room giving directions to Aminadab,
whose harsh, uncouth, misshapen tones were audible in response,
more like the grunt or growl of a brute than human speech. After
hours of absence, Aylmer reappeared and proposed that she should
now examine his cabinet of chemical products and natural
treasures of the earth. Among the former he showed her a small
vial, in which, he remarked, was contained a gentle yet most
powerful fragrance, capable of impregnating all the breezes that
blow across a kingdom. They were of inestimable value, the
contents of that little vial; and, as he said so, he threw some
of the perfume into the air and filled the room with piercing and
"And what is this?" asked Georgiana, pointing to a small crystal
globe containing a gold-colored liquid. "It is so beautiful to
the eye that I could imagine it the elixir of life."
"In one sense it is," replied Aylmer; "or, rather, the elixir of
immortality. It is the most precious poison that ever was
concocted in this world. By its aid I could apportion the
lifetime of any mortal at whom you might point your finger. The
strength of the dose would determine whether he were to linger
out years, or drop dead in the midst of a breath. No king on his
guarded throne could keep his life if I, in my private station,
should deem that the welfare of millions justified me in
depriving him of it."
"Why do you keep such a terrific drug?" inquired Georgiana in
"Do not mistrust me, dearest," said her husband, smiling; "its
virtuous potency is yet greater than its harmful one. But see!
here is a powerful cosmetic. With a few drops of this in a vase
of water, freckles may be washed away as easily as the hands are
cleansed. A stronger infusion would take the blood out of the
cheek, and leave the rosiest beauty a pale ghost."
"Is it with this lotion that you intend to bathe my cheek?" asked
"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 minute
inquiries as to her sensations and whether the confinement of the
rooms and the temperature of the atmosphere agreed with her.
These questions had such a particular drift that Georgiana began
to conjecture that she was already subjected to certain physical
influences, either breathed in 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 her system--a strange,
indefinite sensation creeping through her veins, and tingling,
half painfully, half pleasurably, at her heart. Still, whenever
she dared to look into the mirror, there she beheld herself pale
as a white rose and with the crimson birthmark stamped upon her
cheek. Not even Aylmer now hated it so much as she.
To dispel the tedium of the hours which her husband found it
necessary to devote to the processes of combination and analysis,
Georgiana turned over the volumes of his scientific library. In
many dark old tomes she met with chapters full of romance and
poetry. They were the works of philosophers of the middle ages,
such as Albertus Magnus, Cornelius Agrippa, Paracelsus, and the
famous friar who created the prophetic Brazen Head. All these
antique naturalists stood in advance of their centuries, yet were
imbued with some of their credulity, and therefore were believed,
and perhaps imagined themselves to have acquired from the
investigation of Nature a power above Nature, and from physics a
sway over the spiritual world. Hardly less curious and
imaginative were the early volumes of the Transactions of the
Royal Society, in which the members, knowing little of the limits
of natural possibility, were continually recording wonders or
proposing methods whereby wonders might be wrought.
But to Georgiana the most engrossing volume was a large folio
from her husband's own hand, in which he had recorded every
experiment of his scientific career, its original aim, the
methods adopted for its development, and its final success or
failure, with the circumstances to which either event was
attributable. The book, in truth, was both the history and emblem
of his ardent, ambitious, imaginative, yet practical and
laborious life. He handled physical details as if there were
nothing beyond them; yet spiritualized them all, and redeemed
himself from materialism by his strong and eager aspiration
towards the infinite. In his grasp the veriest clod of earth
assumed a soul. Georgiana, as she read, reverenced Aylmer and
loved him more profoundly than ever, but with a less entire
dependence on his judgment than heretofore. Much as he had
accomplished, she could not but observe that his most splendid
successes were almost invariably failures, if compared with the
ideal at which he aimed. His brightest diamonds were the merest
pebbles, and felt to be so by himself, in comparison with the
inestimable gems which lay hidden beyond his reach. The volume,
rich with achievements that had won renown for its author, was
yet as melancholy a record as ever mortal hand had penned. It was
the sad confession and continual exemplification of the
shortcomings of the composite man, the spirit burdened with clay
and working in matter, and of the despair that assails the higher
nature at finding itself so miserably thwarted by the earthly
part. Perhaps every man of genius in whatever sphere might
recognize the image of his own experience in Aylmer's journal.
So deeply did these reflections affect Georgiana that she laid
her face upon the open volume and burst into tears. In this
situation she was found 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 are pages in that volume which I can scarcely
glance over and keep my senses. 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
you will. I shall deem myself hardly unworthy of it. But come, I
have sought you for the luxury of your voice. Sing to me,
So she poured out the liquid music of her voice to quench the
thirst of his spirit. He then took his leave with a boyish
exuberance of gayety, assuring her that her seclusion would
endure but a little longer, and that the result was already
certain. Scarcely had he departed when Georgiana felt
irresistibly impelled to follow him. She had forgotten to inform
Aylmer of a symptom which for two or three hours past had begun
to excite her attention. It was a sensation in the fatal
birthmark, not painful, but which induced a restlessness
throughout her system. Hastening after her husband, she intruded
for the first time into the laboratory.
The first thing that struck her eye was the furnace, that hot and
feverish worker, with the intense glow of its fire, which by the
quantities of soot clustered above it seemed to have been burning
for ages. There was a distilling apparatus in full operation.
Around the room were retorts, tubes, cylinders, crucibles, and
other apparatus of chemical research. An electrical machine stood
ready for immediate use. The atmosphere felt oppressively close,
and was tainted with gaseous odors which had been tormented forth
by the processes of science. The severe and homely simplicity of
the apartment, with its naked walls and brick pavement, looked
strange, accustomed as Georgiana had become to the fantastic
elegance of her boudoir. But what chiefly, indeed almost solely,
drew her attention, was the aspect of Aylmer himself.
He was pale as death, anxious and absorbed, and hung over the
furnace as if it depended upon his utmost watchfulness whether
the liquid which it was distilling should be the draught of
immortal happiness or misery. How different from the sanguine and
joyous mien that he had assumed 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
paler than ever, on beholding Georgiana. He rushed towards her
and seized her arm 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 over my labors? It is not well done. Go, prying woman,
"Nay, Aylmer," said Georgiana with the firmness of which she
possessed no stinted endowment, "it is not you that have a right
to complain. You mistrust your wife; you have concealed the
anxiety with which you watch the development of this experiment.
Think not so unworthily of me, my husband. 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
whatever draught you bring me; but it will be on the same
principle that would induce me to take a dose of poison if
offered by your hand."
"My noble wife," said Aylmer, deeply moved, "I knew not the
height and depth of your nature until now. Nothing shall be
concealed. Know, then, that this crimson hand, superficial as it
seems, has clutched its grasp into your being with a strength of
which I had no previous conception. I have already administered
agents powerful enough to do aught except to change your entire
physical system. Only one thing remains to be tried. 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? There is but one danger--that this horrible stigma shall
be left upon my cheek!" cried Georgiana. "Remove it, remove it,
whatever be 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
He conducted her back and took leave of her with a solemn
tenderness which spoke far more than his words how much was now
at stake. After his departure Georgiana became rapt in musings.
She considered the character of Aylmer, and did it completer
justice than at any previous moment. Her heart exulted, while it
trembled, at his honorable love--so pure and lofty that it would
accept nothing less than perfection nor miserably make itself
contented with an earthlier nature than he had dreamed of. She
felt how much more precious was such a sentiment than that meaner
kind which would have borne with the imperfection for her sake,
and have been guilty of treason to holy love by degrading its
perfect idea to the level of the actual; and with her whole
spirit she prayed that, for a single moment, she might satisfy
his highest and deepest conception. Longer than one moment she
well knew it could not be; for his spirit was ever on the march,
ever ascending, and each instant required something that was
beyond the scope of the instant before.
The sound of her husband's footsteps aroused her. He bore a
crystal goblet containing a liquor colorless as water, but bright
enough to be the draught of immortality. Aylmer was pale; but it
seemed rather the consequence of a highly-wrought state of mind
and tension of spirit than of fear or doubt.
"The concoction of the draught has been perfect," said he, in
answer to Georgiana's look. "Unless all my science have deceived
me, it cannot fail."
"Save on your account, my dearest Aylmer," observed his wife, "I
might wish to put off this birthmark of mortality by
relinquishing mortality itself in preference to any other mode.
Life is but a sad possession to those who have attained precisely
the degree of moral advancement at which I stand. Were I weaker
and blinder it might be happiness. Were I stronger, 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 its effect upon this plant."
On the window seat there stood a geranium diseased with yellow
blotches, which had overspread all its leaves. Aylmer poured a
small quantity of the liquid upon the soil in which it grew. In a
little time, when the roots of the plant had taken up the
moisture, the unsightly blotches began to be extinguished in a
"There needed no proof," said Georgiana, quietly. "Give me the
goblet I joyfully stake all upon your word."
"Drink, then, thou lofty creature!" exclaimed Aylmer, with fervid
admiration. "There is no taint of imperfection on thy spirit. Thy
sensible 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
like water from a heavenly fountain; for it contains I know not
what of unobtrusive fragrance and deliciousness. It allays a
feverish thirst that had parched me for many days. Now, dearest,
let me sleep. My earthly senses are closing over my spirit like
the leaves around the heart of a rose at sunset."
She spoke the last words with a gentle reluctance, as if it
required almost more energy than she could command to pronounce
the faint and lingering syllables. Scarcely had they loitered
through her lips ere she was lost in slumber. Aylmer sat by her
side, watching her aspect with the emotions proper to a man the
whole value of whose existence was involved in the process now to
be tested. Mingled with this mood, however, was the philosophic
investigation characteristic of the man of science. Not the
minutest symptom escaped him. A heightened flush of the cheek, a
slight irregularity of breath, a quiver of the eyelid, a hardly
perceptible tremor through the frame,--such were the details
which, as the moments passed, he wrote down in his folio volume.
Intense thought had set its stamp upon every previous page of
that volume, but the thoughts of years were all concentrated upon
While thus employed, he failed not to gaze often at the fatal
hand, and not without a shudder. Yet once, by a strange and
unaccountable impulse he pressed it with his lips. His spirit
recoiled, however, in the very act, and Georgiana, out of the
midst of her deep sleep, moved uneasily and murmured as if in
remonstrance. Again Aylmer resumed his watch. Nor was it without
avail. The crimson hand, which at first had been strongly visible
upon the marble paleness of Georgiana's cheek, now grew more
faintly outlined. She remained not less pale than ever; but the
birthmark with every breath that came and went, lost somewhat of
its former distinctness. Its presence had been awful; its
departure was more awful still. Watch the stain of the rainbow
fading out the sky, and you will know how that mysterious symbol
"By Heaven! it is well-nigh gone!" said Aylmer to himself, in
almost irrepressible ecstasy. "I can scarcely trace it now.
Success! success! And now it is like the faintest rose color. The
lightest flush of blood across her cheek would overcome it. But
she is so pale!"
He drew aside the window curtain and suffered the light of
natural day to fall into the room and rest upon her cheek. At the
same time he heard a gross, hoarse chuckle, which he had long
known as his servant Aminadab's expression of delight.
"Ah, clod! ah, earthly mass!" cried Aylmer, laughing in a sort of
frenzy, "you have served me well! Matter and spirit--earth and
heaven --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
her eyes and gazed into the mirror which her husband had arranged
for that purpose. A faint smile flitted over her lips when she
recognized how barely perceptible was now that crimson hand which
had once blazed forth with such disastrous brilliancy as to scare
away all their happiness. But then her eyes sought Aylmer's face
with a trouble and anxiety that he could by no means account for.
"My poor Aylmer!" murmured she.
"Poor? Nay, richest, happiest, most favored!" exclaimed he. "My
peerless bride, it is successful! You are perfect!"
"My poor Aylmer," she repeated, with a more than human
tenderness, "you have aimed loftily; you have done nobly. Do not
repent that with so high and pure a feeling, you have rejected
the best the earth could offer. Aylmer, dearest Aylmer, I am
Alas! it was too true! The fatal hand had grappled with the
mystery of life, and was the bond by which an angelic spirit kept
itself in union with a mortal frame. As the last crimson tint of
the birthmark--that sole token of human imperfection--faded from
her cheek, the parting breath of the now perfect woman passed
into the atmosphere, and her soul, lingering a moment near her
husband, took its heavenward flight. Then a hoarse, chuckling
laugh was heard again! Thus ever does the gross fatality of earth
exult in its invariable triumph over the immortal essence which,
in this dim sphere of half development, demands the completeness
of a higher state. Yet, had Alymer reached a profounder wisdom,
he need not thus have flung away the happiness which would have
woven his mortal life of the selfsame texture with the celestial.
The momentary circumstance was too strong for him; he failed to
look beyond the shadowy scope of time, and, living once for all
in eternity, to find the perfect future in the present.
YOUNG GOODMAN BROWN
Young Goodman Brown came forth at sunset into the street at Salem
village; but put his head back, after crossing the threshold, to
exchange a parting kiss with his young wife. And Faith, as the
wife was aptly named, thrust her own pretty head into the street,
letting the wind play with the pink ribbons of her cap while she
called to Goodman Brown.
"Dearest heart," whispered she, softly and rather sadly, when her
lips were close to his ear, "prithee put off your journey until
sunrise and sleep in your own bed to-night. A lone woman is
troubled with such dreams and such thoughts that she's afeard of
herself sometimes. Pray tarry with me this night, dear husband,
of all nights in the year."
"My love and my Faith," replied young Goodman Brown, "of all
nights in the year, this one night must I tarry away from thee.
My journey, as thou callest it, forth and back again, must needs
be done 'twixt now and sunrise. What, my sweet, pretty wife, dost
thou doubt me already, and we but three months married?"
"Then God bless youe!" said Faith, with the pink ribbons; "and
you find all well whn you come back."
"Amen!" cried Goodman Brown. "Say thy prayers, dear Faith, and go
to bed at dusk, and no harm will come to thee."
So they parted; and the young man pursued his way until, being
about to turn the corner by the meeting-house, he looked back and
saw the head of Faith still peeping after him with a melancholy
air, in spite of her pink ribbons.
"Poor little Faith!" thought he, for his heart smote him. "What a
wretch 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 had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no,
no; 't would kill her to think it. Well, she's a blessed angel on
earth; and after this one night I'll cling to her skirts and
follow her to heaven."
With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt
himself justified in making more haste on his present evil
purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the
gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let
the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It
was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in
such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be
concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs
overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing
through an unseen multitude.
"There may be a devilish Indian behind every tree," said Goodman
Brown to himself; and he glanced fearfully behind him as he
added, "What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!"
His head being turned back, he passed a crook of the road, and,
looking forward 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 approach and walked onward side by side with him.
"You are late, Goodman Brown," said he. "The clock of the Old
South was striking as I came through Boston, and that is full
fifteen minutes agone."
"Faith kept me back a while," replied the young man, with a
tremor in his voice, caused by the sudden appearance of his
companion, though not wholly unexpected.
It was now deep dusk in the forest, and deepest in that part of
it where these two were journeying. As nearly as could be
discerned, the second traveller was about fifty years old,
apparently in the same rank of life as Goodman Brown, and bearing
a considerable resemblance to him, though perhaps more in
expression than features. Still they might have been taken for
father and son. And yet, though the elder person was as simply
clad as the younger, and as simple in manner too, he had an
indescribable air of one who knew the world, and who would not
have felt 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 only thing about him that could be fixed
upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a
great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be
seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of
course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the
"Come, Goodman Brown," cried his fellow-traveller, "this is a
dull pace for the beginning of a journey. Take my staff, if you
are so soon weary."
"Friend," said the other, exchanging his slow pace for a full
stop, "having kept covenant by meeting thee here, it is my
purpose now to return whence I came. I have scruples touching the
matter thou wot'st of."
"Sayest thou so?" replied he of the serpent, smiling apart. "Let
us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince
thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the
"Too far! too far!" exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming
his walk. "My father never went into the woods on such an errand,
nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and
good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the
first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and
"Such company, thou wouldst say," observed the elder person,
interpreting his pause. "Well said, Goodman Brown! I have been as
well acquainted with your family as with ever a one among the
Puritans; and that's no trifle to say. I helped your grandfather,
the constable, when he lashed the Quaker woman so smartly through
the streets of Salem; and it was I that brought your father a
pitch-pine knot, kindled at my own hearth, to set fire to an
Indian village, in King Philip's war. They were my good friends,
both; and many a pleasant walk have we had along this path, and
returned merrily after midnight. I would fain be friends with you
for their sake."
"If it be as thou sayest," replied Goodman Brown, "I marvel they
never spoke of these matters; or, verily, I marvel not, seeing
that the least rumor of the sort would have driven them from New
England. We are a people of prayer, and good works to boot, and
abide no such wickedness."
"Wickedness or not," said the traveller with the twisted staff,
"I have a very general acquaintance here in New England. The
deacons of many a church have drunk the communion wine with me;
the selectmen of divers towns make me their chairman; and a
majority of the Great and General Court are firm supporters of my
interest. The governor and I, too--But these are state secrets."
"Can this be so?" cried Goodman Brown, with a stare of amazement
at his undisturbed companion. "Howbeit, I have nothing to do with
the governor and council; they have their own ways, and are no
rule for a simple husbandman like me. But, were I to go on with
thee, how should I meet the eye of that good old man, our
minister, at Salem village? Oh, his voice would make me tremble
both Sabbath day and lecture day."
Thus far the elder traveller had listened with due gravity; but
now burst into a fit of irrepressible mirth, shaking himself so
violently that his snake-like staff actually seemed to wriggle in
"Ha! ha! ha!" shouted he again and again; then composing himself,
"Well, go on, Goodman Brown, go on; but, prithee, don't kill me
"Well, then, to end the matter at once," said Goodman Brown,
considerably nettled, "there is my wife, Faith. It would break
her dear little 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 hobbling before us that Faith should come to any harm."
As he spoke he pointed his staff at a female figure on the path,
in whom Goodman Brown recognized a very pious and exemplary dame,
who had taught him his catechism in youth, and was still his
moral and spiritual adviser, jointly with the minister and Deacon
"A marvel, truly, that Goody Cloyse should be so far in the
wilderness at nightfall," said he. "But with your leave, friend,
I shall take a cut through the woods until we have left this
Christian woman behind. Being a stranger to you, she might ask
whom I was consorting with and whither I was going."
"Be it so," said his fellow-traveller. "Betake you to the woods,
and let me keep the path."
Accordingly the young man turned aside, but took care to watch
his companion, who advanced softly along the road until he had
come within a staff's length of the old dame. She, meanwhile, was
making the best of her way, with singular speed for so aged a
woman, and mumbling some indistinct words--a prayer,
doubtless--as she went. The traveller put forth his staff and
touched her withered neck with what seemed the serpent'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,
Goodman Brown, the grandfather of the silly fellow that now is.
But--would your worship believe it?--my broomstick hath strangely
disappeared, stolen, as I suspect, by that unhanged witch, Goody
Cory, and that, too, when I was all anointed with the juice of
smallage, and cinquefoil, and wolf's bane"
"Mingled with fine wheat and the fat of a new-born babe," said
the shape of old Goodman Brown.
"Ah, your worship knows the recipe," cried the old lady, cackling
aloud. "So, as I was saying, being all ready for the meeting, and
no horse to ride on, I made up my mind to foot it; for they tell
me there is a nice young man to be taken into communion to-night.
But now your good worship will lend me your arm, and we shall be
there in a twinkling."
"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
assumed life, being one of the rods which its owner had formerly
lent to the Egyptian magi. Of this fact, however, Goodman Brown
could not take cognizance. He had cast up his eyes in
astonishment, and, looking down again, beheld neither Goody
Cloyse nor the serpentine staff, but his fellow-traveller alone,
who waited for him as calmly as if nothing had happened.
"That old woman taught me my catechism," said the young man; and
there was a world of meaning in this simple comment.
They continued to walk onward, while the elder traveller exhorted
his companion to make good speed and persevere in the path,
discoursing so aptly that his arguments seemed rather to spring
up in the bosom of his auditor than to be suggested by himself.
As they went, he plucked a branch of maple to serve for a walking
stick, and began to strip it of the twigs and little boughs,
which were wet with evening dew. The moment his fingers touched
them they became strangely withered and dried up as with a week's
sunshine. Thus the pair proceeded, at a good free pace, until
suddenly, in a gloomy hollow of the road, Goodman Brown sat
himself down on the stump of a tree and refused to go any
"Friend," said he, stubbornly, "my mind is made up. Not another
step will I budge on this errand. What if a wretched old woman do
choose to go to the devil when I thought she was going to heaven:
is that any reason why I should quit my dear Faith and go after
"You will think better of this by and by," said his acquaintance,
composedly. "Sit here and rest yourself a while; and when you
feel like moving again, there is my staff to help you along."
Without more words, he threw his companion the maple stick, and
was as speedily out of sight as if he had vanished into the
deepening gloom. The young man sat a few moments by the roadside,
applauding himself greatly, and thinking with how clear a
conscience he should meet the minister in his morning walk, nor
shrink from the eye of good old Deacon Gookin. And what calm
sleep would be his that very night, which was to have been spent
so wickedly, but so purely and sweetly now, in the arms of Faith!
Amidst these pleasant and praiseworthy meditations, Goodman Brown
heard the tramp of horses along the road, and deemed it advisable
to conceal himself within the verge of the forest, conscious of
the guilty purpose that had brought him thither, though now so
happily turned from it.
On came the hoof tramps and the voices of the riders, two grave
old voices, conversing soberly as they drew near. These mingled
sounds appeared to pass along the road, within a few yards of the
young man's hiding-place; but, owing doubtless to the depth of
the gloom at that particular spot, neither the travellers nor
their steeds were visible. Though their figures brushed the small
boughs by the wayside, it could not be seen that they
intercepted, even for a moment, the faint gleam from the strip of
bright sky athwart which they must have passed. Goodman Brown
alternately crouched and stood on tiptoe, pulling aside the
branches and thrusting forth his head as far as he durst without
discerning so much as a shadow. It vexed him the more, because he
could have sworn, were such a thing possible, that he recognized
the voices of the minister and Deacon Gookin, jogging along
quietly, as they were wont 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
had rather miss an ordination dinner than to-night's meeting.
They tell me that some of our community are to be here from
Falmouth and beyond, and others from Connecticut and Rhode
Island, besides several of the Indian powwows, who, after their
fashion, know almost as much deviltry as the best of us.
Moreover, there is a goodly young woman to be taken into
"Mighty well, Deacon Gookin!" replied the solemn old tones of the
minister. "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 the empty air, passed on through the forest, where no church
had ever been gathered or solitary Christian prayed. Whither,
then, could these holy men be journeying so deep into the heathen
wilderness? Young Goodman Brown caught hold of a tree for
support, being ready to sink down on the ground, faint and
overburdened with the heavy sickness of his heart. He looked up
to the sky, doubting whether there really was a heaven above him.
Yet there was the blue arch, and the stars brightening in it.
"With heaven above and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against
the devil!" cried Goodman Brown.
While he still gazed upward into the deep arch of the firmament
and had lifted his hands to pray, a cloud, though no wind was
stirring, hurried across the zenith and hid the brightening
stars. The blue sky was still visible, except directly overhead,
where this black mass of cloud was sweeping swiftly northward.
Aloft in the air, as if from the depths of the cloud, came a
confused and doubtful sound of voices. Once the listener fancied
that he could distinguish the accents of towns-people of his own,
men and women, both pious and ungodly, many of whom he had met at
the communion table, and had seen others rioting at the tavern.
The next moment, so indistinct were the sounds, he doubted
whether he had heard aught but the murmur of the old forest,
whispering without a wind. Then came a stronger swell of those
familiar tones, heard daily in the sunshine at Salem village, but
never until now from a cloud of night There was one voice of a
young woman, uttering lamentations, yet with 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 if bewildered wretches were seeking her all
through the wilderness.
The cry of grief, rage, and terror was yet piercing the night,
when the unhappy husband held his breath for a response. There
was a scream, drowned immediately in a louder murmur of voices,
fading into far-off laughter, as the dark cloud swept away,
leaving the clear and silent sky above Goodman Brown. But
something fluttered lightly down through the air and caught on
the branch of a tree. The young man seized it, and beheld a pink
"My Faith is gone!" cried he, after one stupefied moment. "There
is no good on earth; and sin is but a name. Come, devil; for to
thee is this world given."
And, maddened with despair, so that he laughed loud and long, did
Goodman Brown grasp his staff and set forth again, at such a rate
that he seemed to fly along the forest path rather than to walk
or run. The road grew wilder and drearier and more faintly
traced, and vanished at length, leaving him in the heart of the
dark wilderness, still rushing onward with the instinct that
guides mortal man to evil. The whole forest was peopled with
frightful sounds--the creaking of the trees, the howling of wild
beasts, and the yell of Indians; while sometimes the wind tolled
like a distant church bell, and sometimes gave a broad roar
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 from its 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
with your deviltry. Come witch, come wizard, come Indian powwow,
come devil himself, and here comes Goodman Brown. You may as well
fear him as he fear you."
In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing
more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among
the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures,
now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now
shouting forth such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest
laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is
less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus sped
the demoniac on his course, until, quivering among the trees, he
saw a red light before him, as when the felled trunks and
branches of a clearing have been set on fire, and throw up their
lurid blaze against the sky, at the hour of midnight. He paused,
in a lull of the tempest that had driven him onward, and heard
the swell of what seemed a hymn, rolling solemnly from a distance
with the weight of many voices. He knew the tune; it was a
familiar one in the choir of the village meeting-house. The verse
died heavily away, and was lengthened by a chorus, not of human
voices, but of all the sounds of the benighted wilderness pealing
in awful harmony together. Goodman Brown cried out, and his cry
was lost to his own ear by its unison with the cry of the desert.
In the interval of silence he stole forward until the light
glared full upon his eyes. At one extremity of an open space,
hemmed in by the dark wall of the forest, arose a rock, bearing
some rude, natural resemblance either to an alter or a pulpit,
and surrounded by four blazing pines, their tops aflame, their
stems untouched, like candles at an evening meeting. The mass of
foliage that had overgrown the summit of the rock was all on
fire, blazing high into the night and fitfully illuminating the
whole field. Each pendent twig and leafy festoon was in a blaze.
As the red light arose and fell, a numerous congregation
alternately shone forth, then disappeared in shadow, and again
grew, as it were, out of the darkness, peopling the heart of the
solitary woods at once.
"A grave and dark-clad company," quoth Goodman Brown.
In truth they were such. Among them, quivering to and fro between
gloom and splendor, appeared faces that would be seen next day at
the council board of the province, and others which, Sabbath
after Sabbath, looked devoutly heavenward, and benignantly over
the crowded pews, from the holiest pulpits in the land. Some
affirm that the lady of the governor was there. At least there
were high dames well known to her, and wives of honored husbands,
and widows, a great multitude, and ancient maidens, all of
excellent repute, and fair young girls, who trembled lest their
mothers should espy them. Either the sudden gleams of light
flashing over the obscure field bedazzled Goodman Brown, or he
recognized a score of the church members of Salem village famous
for their especial sanctity. Good old Deacon Gookin had arrived,
and waited at 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, there were men of dissolute lives and women of
spotted fame, wretches given over 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, nor were the sinners abashed
by the saints. Scattered also among their pale-faced enemies were
the Indian priests, or powwows, who had often scared their native
forest with more hideous incantations than any known to English
"But where is Faith?" thought Goodman Brown; and, as hope came
into his heart, he trembled.
Another verse of the hymn arose, a slow and mournful strain, such
as the pious love, but joined to words which expressed all that
our nature can conceive of sin, and darkly hinted at far more.
Unfathomable to mere mortals is the lore of fiends. Verse after
verse was sung; and still the chorus of the desert swelled
between like the deepest tone of a mighty organ; and with the
final peal of that dreadful anthem there came a sound, as if the
roaring wind, the rushing streams, the howling beasts, and every
other voice of the unconcerted wilderness were mingling and
according with the voice of guilty man in homage to the prince of
all. The four blazing pines threw up a loftier flame, and
obscurely discovered shapes and visages of horror on the smoke
wreaths above the impious assembly. At the same moment the fire
on the rock shot redly forth and formed a glowing arch above its
base, where now appeared a figure. With reverence be it spoken,
the figure bore no slight similitude, both in garb and manner, to
some grave divine of the New England churches.
"Bring forth the converts!" cried a voice that echoed through the
field and rolled into the forest.
At the word, Goodman Brown stepped forth from the shadow of the
trees and approached the congregation, with whom he felt a
loathful brotherhood by the sympathy of all that was wicked in
his heart. He could have well-nigh sworn that the shape of his
own dead father beckoned him to advance, looking downward from a
smoke wreath, while a woman, with dim features of despair, threw
out her hand to warn him back. Was it his mother? But he had no
power to retreat one step, nor to resist, even in thought, when
the minister and good old Deacon Gookin seized his arms and led
him to the blazing rock. Thither came also the slender form of a
veiled female, led between Goody Cloyse, that pious teacher of
the catechism, and Martha Carrier, who had received the devil's
promise to be queen of hell. A rampant hag was she. And there
stood the proselytes beneath the canopy of fire.
"Welcome, my children," said the dark figure, "to the communion
of your race. Ye have found thus young your nature and your
destiny. My children, look behind you!"
They turned; and flashing forth, as it were, in a sheet of flame,
the fiend worshippers were seen; the smile of welcome gleamed
darkly on every visage.
"There," resumed the sable form, "are all whom ye have reverenced
from youth. Ye deemed them holier than yourselves, and shrank
from your own sin, contrasting it with their lives of
righteousness and prayerful aspirations heavenward. Yet here are
they all in my worshipping assembly. This night it shall be
granted you to know their secret deeds: how hoary-bearded elders
of the church have whispered wanton words to the young maids of
their households; how many a woman, eager for widows' weeds, has
given her husband a drink at bedtime and let him sleep his last
sleep in her bosom; how beardless youths have made haste to
inherit their fathers' wealth; and how fair damsels--blush not,
sweet ones--have dug little graves in the garden, and bidden me,
the sole guest to an infant's funeral. By the sympathy of your
human hearts for 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, one mighty blood spot. Far more than this. It
shall be yours to penetrate, in every bosom, the deep mystery of
sin, the fountain of all wicked arts, and which inexhaustibly
supplies more evil impulses than human power--than my power at
its utmost--can make manifest in deeds. And now, my children,
look upon each other."
They did so; and, by the blaze of the hell-kindled torches, the
wretched man beheld his Faith, and the wife her husband,
trembling before that unhallowed altar.
"Lo, there ye stand, my children," said the figure, in a deep and
solemn tone, almost sad with its despairing awfulness, as if his
once angelic nature could yet mourn for our miserable race.
"Depending upon one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that
virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived. Evil is the
nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness. Welcome
again, my children, to the communion of your race."
"Welcome," repeated the fiend worshippers, in one cry of despair
And there they stood, the only pair, as it seemed, who were yet
hesitating on the verge of wickedness in this dark world. A basin
was hollowed, naturally, in the rock. Did it contain water,
reddened by the lurid light? or was it blood? or, perchance, a
liquid flame? Herein did the shape of evil dip his hand and
prepare to lay the mark of baptism upon their foreheads, that
they might be partakers of the mystery of sin, more conscious of
the secret guilt of others, both in deed and thought, than they
could now be of their own. The husband cast one look at his pale
wife, and Faith at him. What polluted wretches would the next
glance show them to each other, shuddering alike at what they
disclosed and what they saw!
"Faith! Faith!" cried the husband, "look up to heaven, and resist
the wicked one."
Whether Faith obeyed he knew not. Hardly had he spoken when he
found himself amid calm night and solitude, listening to a roar
of the wind which died heavily away through the forest. He
staggered against the rock, and felt it chill and damp; while a
hanging twig, that had been all on fire, besprinkled his cheek
with the coldest dew.
The next morning young Goodman Brown came slowly into the street
of Salem village, staring around him like a bewildered man. The
good old minister was taking a walk along the graveyard to get an
appetite for breakfast and meditate his sermon, and bestowed a
blessing, as he passed, on Goodman Brown. He shrank from the
venerable saint as if to avoid an anathema. Old Deacon Gookin was
at domestic worship, and the holy words of his prayer were heard
through the open window. "What God doth the wizard pray to?"
quoth Goodman Brown. Goody Cloyse, that excellent old Christian,
stood in the early sunshine at her own lattice, catechizing a
little girl who had brought her a pint of morning's milk. Goodman
Brown snatched away the child as from the grasp of the fiend
himself. Turning the corner by the meeting-house, he spied the
head of Faith, with the pink ribbons, gazing anxiously forth, and
bursting into such joy at sight of him that she skipped along the
street and almost kissed her husband before the whole village.
But Goodman Brown looked sternly and sadly into her face, and
passed on without a greeting.
Had Goodman Brown fallen asleep in the forest and only dreamed a
wild dream of a witch-meeting?
Be it so if you will; but, alas! it was a dream of evil omen for
young Goodman Brown. A stern, a sad, a darkly meditative, a
distrustful, if not 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, he could not listen because an anthem
of sin rushed loudly upon his ear and drowned all the blessed
strain. When the minister spoke from the pulpit with power and
fervid eloquence, and, with his hand on the open Bible, of the
sacred truths of our religion, and of saint-like lives and
triumphant deaths, and of future bliss or misery unutterable,
then did Goodman Brown turn pale, dreading lest the roof should
thunder down upon the gray blasphemer and his hearers. Often,
waking suddenly at midnight, he shrank from the bosom of Faith;
and at morning or eventide, when the family knelt down at prayer,
he scowled and muttered to himself, and gazed sternly at his
wife, and turned away. And when he had lived long, and was borne
to his grave a hoary corpse, followed by Faith, an aged woman,
and children and grandchildren, a goodly procession, besides
neighbors not a few, they carved no hopeful verse upon his
tombstone, for his dying hour was gloom.
[From the Writings of Aubepine.]
We do not remember to have seen any translated specimens of the
productions of M. de l'Aubepine--a fact the less to be wondered
at, as his very name is unknown to many of his own countrymen as
well as to the student of foreign literature. As a writer, he
seems to occupy an unfortunate position between the
Transcendentalists (who, under one name or another, have their
share in all the current literature of the world) and the great
body of pen-and-ink men who address the intellect and sympathies
of the multitude. If not too refined, at all events too remote,
too shadowy, and unsubstantial in his modes of development to
suit the taste of the latter class, and yet too popular to
satisfy the spiritual or metaphysical requisitions of the former,
he must necessarily find himself without an audience, except here
and there an individual or possibly an isolated clique. His
writings, to do them justice, are not altogether destitute of
fancy and originality; they might have won him greater reputation
but for an inveterate love of allegory, which is apt to invest
his plots and characters with the aspect of scenery and people in
the clouds, and to steal away the human warmth out of his
conceptions. His fictions are sometimes historical, sometimes of
the present day, and sometimes, so far as can be discovered, have
little or no reference either to time or space. In any case, he
generally contents himself with a very slight embroidery of
outward manners,--the faintest possible counterfeit of real
life,--and endeavors to create an interest by some less obvious
peculiarity of the subject. Occasionally a breath of Nature, a
raindrop of pathos and tenderness, or a gleam of humor, will find
its way into the midst of his fantastic imagery, and make us feel
as if, after all, we were yet within the limits of our native
earth. We will only add to this very cursory notice that M. de
l'Aubepine's productions, if the reader chance to take them in
precisely the proper point of view, may amuse a leisure hour as
well as those of a brighter man; if otherwise, they can hardly
fail to look excessively like nonsense.
Our author is voluminous; he continues to write and publish with
as much praiseworthy and indefatigable prolixity as if his
efforts were crowned with the brilliant success that so justly
attends those of Eugene Sue. His first appearance was by a
collection of stories in a long series of volumes entitled
"Contes deux fois racontees." The titles of some of his more
recent works (we quote from memory) are as follows: "Le Voyage
Celeste a Chemin de Fer," 3 tom., 1838; "Le nouveau Pere Adam et
la nouvelle Mere Eve," 2 tom., 1839; "Roderic; ou le Serpent a
l'estomac," 2 tom., 1840; "Le Culte du Feu," a folio volume of
ponderous research into the religion and ritual of the old
Persian Ghebers, 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 catalogue of volumes has left behind it
a certain personal affection and sympathy, though by no means
admiration, for M. de l'Aubepine; and we would fain do the little
in our power towards introducing him favorably to the American
public. The ensuing tale is a translation of his "Beatrice; ou la
Belle Empoisonneuse," recently published in "La Revue
Anti-Aristocratique." This journal, edited by the Comte de
Bearhaven, has for some years past led the defence of liberal
principles and popular rights with a faithfulness and ability
worthy of all praise.
A young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from
the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the
University of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scanty supply of
gold ducats in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy
chamber of an old edifice which looked not unworthy to have been
the palace of a Paduan noble, and which, in fact, exhibited over
its entrance the armorial bearings of a family long since
extinct. The young stranger, who was not unstudied in the great
poem of his country, recollected that one of the ancestors of
this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had
been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of
his Inferno. These reminiscences and associations, together with
the tendency to heartbreak natural to a young man for the first
time out of his native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily as
he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.
"Holy Virgin, signor!" cried old Dame Lisabetta, who, won by the
youth's remarkable beauty of person, was kindly endeavoring to
give the chamber a habitable air, "what a sigh was that to come
out of a young man's heart! Do you find this old mansion gloomy?
For the love of Heaven, then, put your head out of the window,
and you will see as bright sunshine as you have left in Naples."
Guasconti mechanically did as the old woman advised, but could
not quite agree with her that the Paduan sunshine was as cheerful
as that of southern Italy. Such as it was, however, it fell upon
a garden beneath the window and expended its fostering influences
on a variety of plants, which seemed to have been cultivated with
"Does this garden belong to the house?" asked Giovanni.
"Heaven forbid, signor, unless it were fruitful of better pot
herbs than any that grow there now," answered old Lisabetta. "No;
that garden is cultivated by the own hands of Signor Giacomo
Rappaccini, the famous doctor, who, I warrant him, has been heard
of as far as Naples. It is said that he distils these plants into
medicines that are as potent as a charm. Oftentimes you may see
the signor doctor at work, and perchance the signora, his
daughter, too, gathering the strange flowers that grow in the
The old woman had now done what she could for the aspect of the
chamber; 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
the garden beneath his window. From its appearance, he judged it
to be one of those botanic gardens which were of earlier date in
Padua than elsewhere in Italy or in the world. Or, not
improbably, it might once have been the pleasure-place of an
opulent family; for there was the ruin of a marble fountain in
the centre, sculptured with rare art, but so wofully shattered
that it was impossible to trace the original design 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
made him feel as if the fountain were an immortal spirit that
sung its song unceasingly and without heeding the vicissitudes
around it, while one century imbodied it in marble and another
scattered the perishable garniture on the soil. All about the
pool into which the water subsided grew various plants, that
seemed to require a plentiful supply of moisture for the
nourishment of gigantic leaves, and in some instances, flowers
gorgeously magnificent. There was one shrub in particular, set in
a marble vase in the midst of the pool, that bore a profusion of
purple blossoms, each of which had the lustre and richness of a
gem; and the whole together made a show so resplendent that it
seemed enough to illuminate the garden, even had there been no
sunshine. Every portion of the soil was peopled with plants and
herbs, which, if less beautiful, still bore tokens of assiduous
care, as if all had their individual virtues, known to the
scientific mind that fostered them. Some were placed in urns,
rich with old carving, and others in common garden pots; some
crept serpent-like along the ground or climbed on high, using
whatever means of ascent was offered them. One plant had wreathed
itself round a statue of Vertumnus, which was thus quite veiled
and shrouded in a drapery of hanging foliage, so happily arranged
that it might have served a sculptor for a study.
While Giovanni stood at the window he heard a rustling behind a
screen of 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 no common laborer, but a tall, emaciated, sallow,
and sickly-looking man, dressed in a scholar's garb of black. He
was beyond the middle term of life, with gray hair, a thin, gray
beard, and a face singularly marked with intellect and
cultivation, but which could never, even in his more youthful
days, have expressed much warmth of heart.
Nothing could exceed the intentness with which this scientific
gardener examined every shrub which grew in his path: it seemed
as if he was looking into their inmost nature, making
observations in regard to their creative essence, and discovering
why one leaf grew in this shape and another in that, and
wherefore such and such flowers differed among themselves in hue
and perfume. Nevertheless, in spite of this deep intelligence on
his part, there was no approach to intimacy between himself and
these vegetable existences. On the contrary, he avoided their
actual touch or the direct inhaling of their odors with a caution
that impressed Giovanni most disagreeably; for the man's demeanor
was that of one walking among malignant influences, such as
savage beasts, or deadly snakes, or evil spirits, which, should
he allow them one moment of license, would wreak upon him some
terrible fatality. It was strangely frightful to the young man's
imagination to see this air of insecurity in a person cultivating
a garden, that most simple and innocent of human toils, and which
had been alike the joy and labor of the unfallen parents of the
race. Was this garden, then, the Eden of the present world? And
this man, with such a perception of harm in what his own hands
caused to grow,--was he the Adam?
The distrustful gardener, while plucking away the dead leaves or
pruning the too luxuriant growth of the shrubs, defended his
hands with a pair of thick gloves. Nor were these his only armor.
When, in his walk through the garden, he came to the magnificent
plant that hung its purple gems beside the marble fountain, he
placed a kind of mask over his mouth and nostrils, as if all this
beauty did but conceal a deadlier malice; but, finding his task
still too dangerous, he drew back, removed the mask, and called
loudly, but in the infirm voice of a person affected with inward
disease, "Beatrice! Beatrice!"
"Here am I, my father. What would you?" cried a rich and youthful
voice from the window of the opposite house--a voice as rich as a
tropical sunset, and which made Giovanni, though he knew not why,
think of deep hues of purple or crimson and of perfumes heavily
delectable. "Are you in the garden?"
"Yes, Beatrice," answered the gardener, "and I need your help."
Soon there emerged from under a sculptured portal the figure of a
young girl, arrayed with as much richness of taste as the most
splendid of the flowers, beautiful as the day, and with a bloom
so deep and vivid that one shade more would have been too much.
She looked redundant with life, health, and energy; all of which
attributes were bound down and compressed, as it were and girdled
tensely, in their luxuriance, by her virgin zone. Yet Giovanni's
fancy must have grown morbid while he looked down into the
garden; for the impression which the fair stranger made upon him
was as if here were another flower, the human sister of those
vegetable ones, as beautiful as they, more beautiful than the
richest of them, but still to be touched only with a glove, nor
to be approached without a mask. As Beatrice came down the garden
path, it was observable that she handled and inhaled the odor of
several of the plants which her father had most sedulously
"Here, Beatrice," said the latter, "see how many needful offices
require to be done to our chief treasure. Yet, shattered as I am,
my life might pay the penalty of approaching it so closely as
circumstances demand. Henceforth, I fear, this plant must be
consigned to your sole charge."
"And gladly will I undertake it," cried again the rich tones of
the young lady, as she bent towards the magnificent plant and
opened her arms as if to embrace it. "Yes, my sister, my
splendour, it shall be Beatrice's task to nurse and serve thee;
and thou shalt reward her with thy kisses and perfumed breath,
which to her is as the breath of life."
Then, with all the tenderness in her manner that was so
strikingly expressed in her words, she busied herself with such
attentions as the plant seemed to require; and Giovanni, at his
lofty window, rubbed his eyes and almost doubted whether it were
a girl tending her favorite flower, or one sister performing the
duties of affection to another. The scene soon terminated.
Whether Dr. Rappaccini had finished his labors in the garden, or
that his watchful eye had caught the stranger's face, he now took
his daughter's arm and retired. Night was already closing in;
oppressive exhalations seemed to proceed from the plants and
steal upward past the open window; and Giovanni, closing the
lattice, went to his couch and dreamed of a rich flower and
beautiful girl. Flower and maiden were different, and yet the
same, and fraught with some strange peril in either shape.
But there is an influence in the light of morning that tends to
rectify whatever errors of fancy, or even of judgment, we may
have incurred during the sun's decline, or among the shadows of
the night, or in the less wholesome glow of moonshine. Giovanni's
first movement, on starting from sleep, was to throw open the
window and gaze down into the garden which his dreams had made so
fertile of mysteries. He was surprised and a little ashamed to
find how real and matter-of-fact an affair it proved to be, in
the first rays of the sun which gilded the dew-drops that hung
upon leaf and blossom, and, while giving a brighter beauty to
each rare flower, brought everything within the limits of
ordinary experience. The young man rejoiced that, in the heart of
the barren city, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of
lovely and luxuriant vegetation. It would serve, he said to
himself, as a symbolic language to keep him in communion with
Nature. Neither the sickly and thoughtworn Dr. Giacomo
Rappaccini, it is true, nor his brilliant daughter, were now
visible; so that Giovanni could not determine how much of the
singularity which he attributed to both was due 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 Pietro
Baglioni, professor of medicine in the university, a physician of
eminent 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 to dinner, and made himself very agreeable
by the freedom and liveliness of his conversation, especially
when warmed by a flask or two of Tuscan wine. Giovanni,
conceiving that men of science, inhabitants of the same city,
must needs be on familiar terms with one another, took an
opportunity to mention the name of Dr. Rappaccini. But the
professor did not respond with so much cordiality as he had
"Ill would it become a teacher of the divine art of medicine,"
said Professor Pietro Baglioni, in answer to a question of
Giovanni, "to withhold due and well-considered praise of a
physician so eminently skilled as Rappaccini; but, on the other
hand, I should answer it but scantily to my conscience were I to
permit a worthy youth like yourself, Signor Giovanni, the son of
an ancient friend, to imbibe erroneous ideas respecting a man who
might hereafter chance to hold your life and death in his hands.
The truth is, our worshipful Dr. Rappaccini has as much science
as any member of the faculty--with perhaps one single
exception--in Padua, or all Italy; but there are certain 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
so inquisitive about physicians?" said the professor, with a
smile. "But as for Rappaccini, it is said of him--and I, who know
the man well, can answer for its truth--that he cares infinitely
more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting
to him only as subjects for some new experiment. He would
sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else
was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of
mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge."
"Methinks he is an awful man indeed," remarked Guasconti,
mentally recalling the cold and purely intellectual aspect of
Rappaccini. "And yet, worshipful professor, is it not a noble
spirit? Are there many men capable of so spiritual a love of
"God forbid," answered the professor, somewhat testily; "at
least, unless they take sounder views of the healing art than
those adopted by Rappaccini. It is his theory that all medicinal
virtues are comprised within those substances which we term
vegetable poisons. These he cultivates with his own hands, and is
said even to have produced new varieties of poison, more horribly
deleterious than Nature, without the assistance of this learned
person, would ever have plagued the world withal. That the signor
doctor does less mischief than might be expected with such
dangerous substances is undeniable. Now and then, it must be
owned, he has effected, or seemed to effect, a marvellous cure;
but, to tell you my private mind, Signor Giovanni, he should
receive little credit for such instances of success,--they being
probably the work of chance, --but should be held strictly
accountable for his failures, which may justly be considered his
The youth might have taken Baglioni's opinions with many grains
of allowance had he known that there was a professional warfare
of long continuance between him and Dr. Rappaccini, in which the
latter was generally thought to have gained the advantage. If the
reader be inclined to judge for himself, we refer him to certain
black-letter tracts on both sides, preserved in the medical
department of the University of Padua.
"I know not, most learned professor," returned Giovanni, after
musing on what had been said of Rappaccini's exclusive zeal for
science,--"I know not how dearly this physician may love his art;
but surely there is one object more dear to him. He has a
"Aha!" cried the professor, with a laugh. "So now our friend
Giovanni's secret is out. You have heard of this daughter, whom
all the young men in Padua are wild about, though not half a
dozen have ever had the good hap to see her face. I know little
of the Signora Beatrice save that Rappaccini is said to have
instructed her deeply in his science, and that, young and
beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualified to fill a
professor's chair. Perchance her father destines her for mine!
Other absurd rumors there be, not worth talking about or
listening to. So now, Signor Giovanni, drink off your glass of
Guasconti returned to his lodgings somewhat heated with the wine
he had quaffed, and which caused his brain to swim with strange
fantasies in reference 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
within the shadow thrown by the depth of the wall, so that he
could look down into the garden with little risk of being
discovered. All beneath his eye was a solitude. The strange
plants were basking in the sunshine, and now and then nodding
gently to one another, as if in acknowledgment of sympathy and
kindred. In the midst, by the shattered fountain, grew the
magnificent shrub, with its purple gems clustering all over it;
they glowed in the air, and gleamed back again out of the depths
of the pool, which thus seemed to overflow with colored radiance
from the rich reflection that was steeped in it. At first, as we
have said, the garden was a solitude. Soon, however,--as Giovanni
had half hoped, half feared, would be the case,--a figure
appeared beneath the antique sculptured portal, and came down
between the rows of plants, inhaling their various perfumes as if
she were one of those beings of old classic fable that lived upon
sweet odors. On again beholding Beatrice, the young man was even
startled to perceive how much her beauty exceeded his
recollection of it; so brilliant, so vivid, was its character,
that she glowed amid the sunlight, and, as Giovanni whispered to
himself, positively illuminated the more shadowy intervals of the
garden path. Her face being now more revealed than on the former
occasion, he was struck by its expression of simplicity and
sweetness,--qualities that had not entered into his idea of her
character, and which made him ask anew what manner of mortal she
might be. Nor did he fail again to observe, or imagine, an
analogy between the beautiful girl and the gorgeous shrub that
hung its gemlike flowers over the fountain,--a resemblance which
Beatrice seemed to have indulged a fantastic humor in
heightening, both by the arrangement of her dress and the
selection of its hues.
Approaching the shrub, she threw open her arms, as with a
passionate ardor, and drew its branches into an intimate
embrace--so intimate that her features were hidden in its leafy
bosom and her glistening ringlets all intermingled with the
"Give me thy breath, my sister," exclaimed Beatrice; "for I am
faint with common air. And give me this flower of thine, which I
separate with gentlest fingers from the stem and place it close
beside my heart."
With these words the beautiful daughter of Rappaccini plucked one
of the richest blossoms of the shrub, and was about to fasten it
in her bosom. But now, unless Giovanni's draughts of wine had
bewildered his senses, a singular incident occurred. A small
orange-colored reptile, of the lizard or chameleon species,
chanced to be creeping along the path, just at the feet of
Beatrice. It appeared to Giovanni,--but, at the distance from
which he gazed, he could scarcely have seen anything so
minute,--it appeared to him, however, that a drop or two of
moisture from the broken stem of the flower descended upon the
lizard's head. For an instant the reptile contorted itself
violently, and then lay motionless in the sunshine. Beatrice
observed this remarkable phenomenon and crossed herself, sadly,
but without surprise; nor did she therefore hesitate to arrange
the fatal flower in her bosom. There it blushed, and almost
glimmered with the dazzling effect of a precious stone, adding to
her dress and aspect the one appropriate charm which nothing else
in the world could have supplied. But Giovanni, out of the shadow
of his window, bent forward and shrank back, and murmured and
"Am I awake? Have I my senses?" said he to himself. "What is this
being? Beautiful shall I call her, or inexpressibly terrible?"
Beatrice now strayed carelessly through the garden, approaching
closer beneath Giovanni's window, so that he was compelled to
thrust his head quite out of its concealment in order to gratify
the intense and painful curiosity which she excited. At this
moment there came a beautiful insect over the garden wall; it
had, perhaps, wandered through the city, and found no flowers or
verdure among those antique haunts of men until the heavy
perfumes of Dr. Rappaccini's shrubs had lured it from afar.
Without alighting on the flowers, this winged brightness seemed
to be attracted by Beatrice, and lingered in the air and
fluttered about her head. Now, here it could not be but that
Giovanni Guasconti's eyes deceived him. Be that as it might, he
fancied that, while Beatrice was gazing at the insect with
childish delight, it grew faint and fell at her feet; its bright
wings shivered; it was dead--from no cause that he could discern,
unless it were the atmosphere of her breath. Again Beatrice
crossed herself and sighed heavily as she bent over the dead
An impulsive movement of Giovanni drew her eyes to the window.
There she beheld the beautiful head of the young man--rather a
Grecian than an Italian head, with fair, regular features, and a
glistening of gold among his ringlets--gazing down upon her like
a being that hovered in mid air. Scarcely knowing what he did,
Giovanni threw down the bouquet which he had hitherto held in his
"Signora," said he, "there are pure and healthful flowers. Wear
them for the sake of Giovanni Guasconti."
"Thanks, signor," replied Beatrice, with her rich voice, that
came forth as it were like a gush of music, and with a mirthful
expression half childish and half woman-like. "I accept your
gift, and would fain recompense it with this precious purple
flower; but if I toss it into the air it will not reach you. So
Signor Guasconti must even content himself with my thanks."
She lifted the bouquet from the ground, and then, as if inwardly
ashamed at having stepped aside from her maidenly reserve to
respond to a stranger's greeting, passed swiftly homeward through
the garden. But few as the moments were, it seemed to Giovanni,
when she was on the point of vanishing beneath the sculptured
portal, that his beautiful bouquet was already beginning to
wither in her grasp. It was an idle thought; there could be no
possibility of distinguishing a faded flower from a fresh one at
so great a distance.
For many days after this incident the young man avoided the
window that looked into Dr. Rappaccini's garden, as if something
ugly and monstrous would have blasted his eyesight had he been
betrayed into a glance. He felt conscious of having put himself,
to a certain extent, within the influence of an unintelligible
power by the communication which he had opened with Beatrice. The
wisest course would have been, if his heart were 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 the
familiar and daylight view of Beatrice--thus bringing her rigidly
and systematically within the limits of ordinary experience.
Least of all, while avoiding her sight, ought Giovanni to have
remained so near this extraordinary being that the proximity and
possibility even of intercourse should give a kind of substance
and reality to the wild vagaries which his imagination ran riot
continually in producing. Guasconti had not a deep heart--or, at
all events, its depths were not sounded now; but he had a quick
fancy, and an ardent southern temperament, which rose every
instant to a higher fever pitch. Whether or no Beatrice possessed
those terrible attributes, that fatal breath, the affinity with
those so beautiful and deadly flowers which were indicated by
what Giovanni had witnessed, she had at least instilled a fierce
and subtle poison into his system. It was not love, although her
rich beauty was a madness to him; nor horror, even while he
fancied her spirit to be imbued with the same baneful essence
that seemed to pervade her physical frame; but a wild offspring
of both love and horror that had each parent in it, and burned
like one and shivered like the other. Giovanni knew not what to
dread; still less did he know what to hope; yet hope and dread
kept a continual warfare in his breast, alternately vanquishing
one another and starting up afresh to renew the contest. Blessed
are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright! It is the lurid
intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of
the infernal regions.
Sometimes he endeavored to assuage the fever of his spirit by a
rapid walk through the streets of Padua or beyond its gates: his
footsteps kept time with the throbbings of his brain, so that the
walk was apt to accelerate itself to a race. One day he found
himself arrested; his arm was seized by a portly personage, who
had turned back on recognizing the young man and expended much
breath in overtaking him.
"Signor Giovanni! Stay, my young friend!" cried he. "Have you
forgotten me? That might well be the case if I were as much
altered as yourself."
It was Baglioni, whom Giovanni had avoided ever since their first
meeting, from a doubt that the professor's sagacity would look
too deeply into his secrets. Endeavoring to recover himself, he
stared forth wildly from his inner world into the outer one and
spoke like a man in a dream.
"Yes; I am Giovanni Guasconti. You are Professor Pietro Baglioni.
Now let me pass!"
"Not yet, not yet, Signor Giovanni Guasconti," said the
professor, smiling, but at the same time scrutinizing the youth
with an earnest glance. "What! did I grow up side by side with
your father? and shall his son pass me like a stranger in these
old streets of Padua? Stand still, 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 in haste?"
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 face was all overspread with a most sickly and sallow
hue, but yet so pervaded with an expression of piercing and
active intellect that an observer might easily have overlooked
the merely physical attributes and have seen only this wonderful
energy. As he passed, this person exchanged a cold and distant
salutation with Baglioni, but fixed his eyes upon Giovanni with
an intentness that seemed to bring out whatever was within him
worthy of notice. Nevertheless, there was a peculiar quietness in
the look, as if taking merely a speculative, not a human
interest, in the young man.
"It is Dr. Rappaccini!" whispered the professor when the stranger
had passed. "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.
"For some purpose or other, this man of science is making a study
of you. I know that look of his! It is the same that coldly
illuminates his face as he bends over a bird, a mouse, or a
butterfly, which, in pursuance of some experiment, he has killed
by the perfume of a flower; a look as deep as Nature itself, but
without Nature's warmth of love. Signor Giovanni, I will stake my
life upon it, you are the subject of one of Rappaccini's
"Will you make a fool of me?" cried Giovanni, passionately.
"THAT, signor professor, were an untoward experiment."
"Patience! patience!" replied the imperturbable professor. "I
tell thee, my poor Giovanni, that Rappaccini has a scientific
interest in thee. Thou hast fallen into fearful hands! And the
Signora Beatrice,--what part does she act in this mystery?"
But Guasconti, finding Baglioni's pertinacity intolerable, here
broke away, and was gone before the professor could again seize
his arm. He looked after the young man intently and shook his
"This must not be," said Baglioni to himself. "The youth is the
son of my old friend, and shall not come to any harm from which
the arcana of medical science can preserve him. Besides, it is
too insufferable an impertinence 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. This daughter of his! It shall be
looked to. Perchance, most learned Rappaccini, I may foil you
where you little dream of it!"
Meanwhile Giovanni had pursued a circuitous route, and at length
found himself at the door of his lodgings. As he crossed the
threshold he was met by old Lisabetta, who smirked and smiled,
and was evidently desirous to attract his attention; vainly,
however, as the ebullition of his feelings had momentarily
subsided into a cold and dull vacuity. He turned his eyes full
upon the withered face that was puckering itself 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
whole breadth of her visage, so that it looked not unlike a
grotesque carving in wood, darkened by centuries. "Listen,
signor! There is a private entrance into the garden!"
"What do you say?" exclaimed Giovanni, turning quickly about, as
if an inanimate thing should start into feverish life. "A private
entrance into Dr. Rappaccini's garden?"
"Hush! hush! not so loud!" whispered Lisabetta, putting her hand
over his mouth. "Yes; into the worshipful doctor's garden, where
you may see all his fine shrubbery. Many a young man in Padua
would give gold to be admitted 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,
crossed his mind, that this interposition of old Lisabetta might
perchance be connected with the intrigue, whatever were its
nature, in which the professor seemed to suppose that Dr.
Rappaccini was involving him. But such a suspicion, though it
disturbed Giovanni, was inadequate to restrain him. The instant
that he was aware of the possibility of approaching Beatrice, it
seemed an absolute necessity of his existence to do so. It
mattered not whether she were angel or demon; he was irrevocably
within her sphere, and must obey the law that whirled him onward,
in ever-lessening circles, towards a result which he did not
attempt to foreshadow; and yet, strange to say, there came across
him a sudden doubt whether this intense interest on his part were
not delusory; whether it were really of so deep and positive a
nature as to justify him in now thrusting himself into an
incalculable position; whether it were not merely the fantasy of
a young man's brain, only slightly or not at all connected with
He paused, hesitated, turned half about, but again went on. His
withered guide led him along several obscure passages, and
finally undid a door, through which, as it was opened, there came
the sight and sound of rustling leaves, with the broken sunshine
glimmering among them. Giovanni stepped forth, and, forcing
himself through the entanglement of a shrub that wreathed its
tendrils over the hidden entrance, 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
pass and dreams have condensed their misty substance into
tangible realities, we find ourselves calm, and even coldly
self-possessed, amid circumstances which it would have been a
delirium of joy or agony to anticipate! Fate delights to thwart
us thus. Passion will choose his own time to rush upon the scene,
and lingers sluggishly behind when an appropriate adjustment of
events would seem to summon his appearance. So was it now with
Giovanni. Day after day his pulses had throbbed with feverish
blood at the improbable idea of an interview with Beatrice, and
of standing with her, face to face, in this very garden, basking
in the Oriental sunshine of her beauty, and snatching from her
full gaze the mystery which he deemed the riddle of his own
existence. But now there was a singular and untimely equanimity
within his breast. He threw a glance around the garden to
discover if Beatrice or her father were present, and, perceiving
that he was alone, began a critical observation of the plants.
The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their
gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There
was hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by
himself through a forest, would not have been startled to find
growing wild, as if an unearthly face had glared at him out of
the thicket. Several also would have shocked a delicate instinct
by an appearance of artificialness indicating that there had been
such commixture, and, as it were, adultery, of various vegetable
species, that the production was no longer of God's making, but
the monstrous offspring of man's depraved fancy, glowing with
only an evil mockery of beauty. They were probably the result of
experiment, which in one or two cases had succeeded in mingling
plants individually lovely into a compound possessing the
questionable and ominous character that distinguished the whole
growth of the garden. In fine, Giovanni recognized but two or
three plants in the collection, and those of a kind that he well
knew to be poisonous. While busy with these contemplations he
heard the rustling of a silken garment, and, turning, beheld
Beatrice emerging from beneath the sculptured portal.
Giovanni had not considered with himself what should be his
deportment; whether he should apologize for his intrusion into
the garden, or assume that he was there with the privity at
least, if not by the desire, of Dr. Rappaccini or his daughter;
but Beatrice's manner placed him at his ease, though leaving him
still in doubt by what agency he had gained admittance. She came
lightly along the path and met him near the broken fountain.
There was surprise in her face, but brightened by a simple and
kind expression of pleasure.
"You are a connoisseur in flowers, signor," said Beatrice, with a
smile, alluding to the bouquet which he had flung her from the
window. "It is no marvel, therefore, if the sight of my father's
rare collection has tempted you to take a nearer view. If he were
here, he could tell you many strange and interesting facts as to
the nature and habits 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,--you
likewise are deeply skilled in the virtues indicated by these
rich blossoms and these spicy perfumes. Would you deign to be my
instructress, I should prove an apter scholar than if taught by
Signor Rappaccini himself."
"Are there such idle rumors?" asked Beatrice, with the music of a
pleasant laugh. "Do people say that I am skilled in my father's
science of plants? What a jest is there! No; though I have grown
up among these flowers, I know no more of them than their hues
and perfume; and sometimes methinks I would fain rid myself of
even that small knowledge. There are many flowers here, and those
not the least brilliant, that shock and offend me when they meet
my eye. But pray, signor, do not believe these stories about my
science. Believe nothing of me save what you see with your own
"And must I believe all that I have seen with my own eyes?" asked
Giovanni, pointedly, while the recollection of former scenes made
him shrink. "No, signora; you demand too little of me. Bid me
believe nothing save what comes from your own lips."
It would appear that Beatrice understood him. There came a deep
flush to her cheek; but she looked full into Giovanni's eyes, and
responded to his gaze of uneasy suspicion with a queenlike
"I do so bid you, signor," she replied. "Forget whatever you may
have fancied in regard to me. If true to the outward senses,
still it may be false in its essence; but the words of Beatrice
Rappaccini's lips are true from the depths of the heart outward.
Those you may believe."
A fervor glowed in her whole aspect and beamed upon Giovanni's
consciousness like the light of truth itself; but while she spoke
there was a fragrance in the atmosphere around her, rich and
delightful, though evanescent, yet which the young man, from an
indefinable reluctance, scarcely dared to draw into his lungs. It
might be the odor of the flowers. Could it be Beatrice's breath
which thus embalmed her words with a strange richness, as if by
steeping them in her heart? A faintness passed like a shadow over
Giovanni and flitted away; he seemed to gaze through the
beautiful girl's eyes into her transparent soul, and felt no more
doubt or fear.
The tinge of passion that had colored Beatrice's manner vanished;
she became gay, and appeared to derive a pure delight from her
communion with the youth not unlike what the maiden of a lonely
island might have felt conversing with a voyager from the
civilized world. Evidently her experience of life had been
confined within the limits of that garden. She talked now about
matters as simple as the daylight or summer clouds, and now asked
questions in reference to the city, or Giovanni's distant home,
his friends, his mother, and his sisters--questions indicating
such seclusion, and such lack of familiarity with modes and
forms, that Giovanni responded as if to an infant. Her spirit
gushed out before him like a fresh rill that was just catching
its first glimpse of the sunlight and wondering at the
reflections of earth and sky which were flung into its bosom.
There came thoughts, too, from a deep source, and fantasies of a
gemlike brilliancy, as if diamonds and rubies sparkled upward
among the bubbles of the fountain. Ever and anon there gleamed
across the young man's mind a sense of wonder that he should be
walking side by side with the being who had so wrought upon his
imagination, whom he had idealized in such hues of terror, in
whom he had positively witnessed such manifestations of dreadful
attributes,--that he should be conversing with Beatrice like a
brother, and should find her so human and so maidenlike. But such
reflections were only momentary; the effect of her character was
too real not to make 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
shattered fountain, beside which grew the magnificent shrub, with
its treasury of glowing blossoms. A fragrance was diffused from
it which Giovanni recognized as identical with that which he had
attributed to Beatrice's breath, but incomparably more powerful.
As her eyes fell upon it, Giovanni beheld her press her hand to
her bosom as if her heart were throbbing suddenly and painfully.
"For the first time in my life," murmured she, addressing the
shrub, "I had forgotten thee."
"I remember, signora," said Giovanni, "that you once promised to
reward me with one of these living gems for the bouquet which I
had the happy boldness to fling to your feet. Permit me now to
pluck it as a memorial of this interview."
He made a step towards the shrub with extended hand; but Beatrice
darted forward, uttering a shriek that went through his heart
like a dagger. She caught his hand and drew it back with the
whole force of her slender figure. Giovanni felt her touch
thrilling through his fibres.
"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 the
sculptured portal. As Giovanni followed her with his eyes, he
beheld the emaciated figure and pale intelligence of Dr.
Rappaccini, who had been watching the scene, he knew not how
long, within the shadow of the entrance.
No sooner was Guasconti alone in his chamber than the image of
Beatrice came back to his passionate musings, invested with all
the witchery that had been gathering around it ever since his
first glimpse of her, and now likewise imbued with a tender
warmth of girlish womanhood. She was human; her nature was
endowed with all gentle and feminine qualities; she was worthiest
to be worshipped; she was capable, surely, on her part, of the
height and heroism of love. Those tokens which he had hitherto
considered as proofs of a frightful peculiarity in her physical
and moral system were now either forgotten, or, by the subtle
sophistry of passion transmitted into a golden crown of
enchantment, rendering Beatrice the more admirable by so much as
she was the more unique. Whatever had looked ugly was now
beautiful; or, if incapable of such a change, it stole away and
hid itself among those shapeless half ideas which throng the dim
region beyond the daylight of our perfect consciousness. Thus did
he spend the night, nor fell asleep until the dawn had begun to
awake the slumbering flowers in Dr. Rappaccini's garden, whither
Giovanni's dreams doubtless led him. Up rose the sun in his due
season, and, flinging his beams upon the young man's eyelids,
awoke him to a sense of pain. When thoroughly aroused, he became
sensible of a burning and tingling agony in his hand--in his
right hand--the very hand which Beatrice had grasped in her own
when he was on the point of plucking one of the gemlike flowers.
On the back of that hand there was now a purple print like that
of four small fingers, and the likeness of a slender thumb upon
Oh, how stubbornly does love,--or even that cunning semblance of
love which flourishes in the imagination, but strikes no depth of
root into the heart,--how stubbornly does it hold its faith until
the moment comes when it is doomed to vanish into thin mist!
Giovanni wrapped a handkerchief about his hand and wondered what
evil thing had stung him, and soon forgot his pain in a reverie
After the first interview, a second was in the inevitable course
of what we call fate. A third; a fourth; and a meeting with
Beatrice in the garden was no longer an incident in Giovanni's
daily life, but the whole space in which he might be said to
live; for the anticipation and memory of that ecstatic hour made
up the remainder. Nor was it otherwise with the daughter of
Rappaccini. She watched for the youth's appearance, and flew to
his side with confidence as unreserved as if they had been
playmates from early infancy--as if they were such playmates
still. If, by any unwonted chance, he failed to come at the
appointed moment, she stood beneath the window and sent up the
rich sweetness of her tones to float around him in his chamber
and echo and reverberate throughout his heart: "Giovanni!
Giovanni! Why tarriest thou? Come down!" And down he hastened
into that Eden of poisonous flowers.
But, with all this intimate familiarity, there was still a
reserve in Beatrice's demeanor, so rigidly and invariably
sustained that the idea of infringing it scarcely occurred to his
imagination. By all appreciable signs, they loved; they had
looked love with eyes that conveyed the holy secret from the
depths of one soul into the depths of the other, as if it were
too sacred to be whispered by the way; they had even spoken love
in those gushes of passion when their spirits darted forth in
articulated breath like tongues of long-hidden flame; and yet
there had been no seal of lips, no clasp of hands, nor any
slightest caress such as love claims and hallows. He had never
touched one of the gleaming ringlets of her hair; her garment--so
marked was the physical barrier between them--had never been
waved against him by a breeze. On the few occasions when Giovanni
had seemed tempted to overstep the limit, Beatrice grew so sad,
so stern, and withal wore such a look of desolate separation,
shuddering at itself, that not a spoken word was requisite to
repel him. At such times he was startled at the horrible
suspicions that rose, monster-like, out of the caverns of his
heart and stared him in the face; his love grew thin and faint as
the morning mist, his doubts alone had substance. But, when
Beatrice's face brightened again after the momentary shadow, she
was transformed at once from the mysterious, questionable being
whom he had watched with so much awe and horror; she was now the
beautiful and unsophisticated girl whom he felt that his spirit
knew with a certainty beyond all other knowledge.
A considerable time had now passed since Giovanni's last meeting
with Baglioni. One morning, however, he was disagreeably
surprised by a visit from the professor, whom he had scarcely
thought of for whole weeks, and would willingly have forgotten
still longer. Given up as he had long been to a pervading
excitement, he could tolerate no companions except upon condition
of their perfect sympathy with his present state of feeling. Such
sympathy was not to be expected from Professor Baglioni.
The visitor chatted carelessly for a few moments about the gossip
of the city and the university, and then took up another topic.
"I have been reading an old classic author lately," said he, "and
met with a story that strangely interested me. Possibly you may
remember it. It is of an Indian prince, who sent a beautiful
woman as a present to Alexander the Great. She was as lovely as
the dawn and gorgeous as the sunset; but what especially
distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her
breath--richer than a garden of Persian roses. Alexander, as was
natural to a youthful conqueror, fell in love at first sight with
this magnificent stranger; but a certain sage physician,
happening to be present, discovered a terrible secret in regard
"And what was that?" asked Giovanni, turning his eyes downward to
avoid those of the professor
"That this lovely woman," continued Baglioni, with emphasis, "had
been nourished with poisons from her birth upward, until her
whole nature was so imbued with them that she herself had become
the deadliest poison in existence. Poison was her element of
life. With that rich perfume of her breath she blasted the very
air. Her love would have been poison--her embrace death. Is not
this a marvellous tale?"
"A childish fable," answered Giovanni, nervously starting from
his chair. "I marvel how your worship finds time to read such
nonsense among your graver studies."
"By the by," said the professor, looking uneasily about him,
"what singular fragrance is this in your apartment? Is it the
perfume of your gloves? It is faint, but delicious; and yet,
after all, by no means agreeable. Were I to breathe it long,
methinks it would make me ill. It is 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 the
professor spoke; "nor, I think, is there any fragrance except in
your worship's imagination. Odors, being a sort of element
combined of the sensual and the spiritual, are apt to deceive us
in this manner. The recollection of a perfume, the bare idea of
it, may easily be mistaken for a present reality."
"Ay; but my sober imagination does not often play such tricks,"
said Baglioni; "and, were I to fancy any kind of odor, it would
be that of some vile apothecary drug, wherewith my fingers are
likely enough to be imbued. Our worshipful friend Rappaccini, as
I have heard, tinctures his medicaments with odors richer than
those of Araby. Doubtless, likewise, the fair and learned Signora
Beatrice would minister to her patients with draughts as sweet as
a maiden's breath; but woe to him that sips them!"
Giovanni's face evinced many contending emotions. The tone in
which the professor alluded to the pure and lovely daughter of
Rappaccini was a torture to his soul; and yet the intimation of a
view of her character opposite to his own, gave instantaneous
distinctness to a thousand dim suspicions, which now grinned at
him like so many demons. But he strove hard to quell them and to
respond to Baglioni with a true lover's perfect 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 would fain feel nothing towards you save respect and
deference; but I pray you to observe, signor, that there is one
subject on which we must not speak. You know not the Signora
Beatrice. You cannot, therefore, estimate the wrong--the
blasphemy, I may even say--that is offered to her character by a
light or injurious word."
"Giovanni! my poor Giovanni!" answered the professor, with a calm
expression of pity, "I know this wretched girl far better than
yourself. You shall hear the truth in respect to the poisoner
Rappaccini and his poisonous daughter; yes, poisonous as she is
beautiful. Listen; for, even should you do violence to my gray
hairs, it shall not silence me. That old fable of the Indian
woman has become a truth by the deep and deadly science of
Rappaccini and in the person of the lovely Beatrice."
Giovanni groaned and hid his face
"Her father," continued Baglioni, "was not restrained by natural
affection from offering up his child in this horrible manner as
the victim of his insane zeal for science; for, let us do him
justice, he is as true a man of science as ever distilled his own
heart in an alembic. What, then, will be your fate? Beyond a
doubt you are selected as the material of some new experiment.
Perhaps the result is to be death; perhaps a fate more awful
still. Rappaccini, with what he calls the interest of science
before his eyes, will hesitate at nothing."
"It is a dream," muttered Giovanni to himself; "surely it is a
"But," resumed the professor, "be of good cheer, son of my
friend. It is not yet too late for the rescue. Possibly we may
even succeed in bringing back this miserable child within the
limits of ordinary nature, from which her father's madness has
estranged her. Behold this little silver vase! It was wrought by
the hands of the renowned Benvenuto Cellini, and is well worthy
to be a love gift to the fairest dame in Italy. But its contents
are invaluable. One little sip of this antidote would have
rendered the most virulent poisons of the Borgias innocuous.
Doubt not that it will be as efficacious against those of
Rappaccini. Bestow the vase, and the precious liquid within it,
on your Beatrice, and hopefully await the result."
Baglioni laid a small, exquisitely wrought silver vial on the
table and withdrew, leaving what he had said to produce its
effect upon the young man's mind.
"We will thwart Rappaccini yet," thought he, chuckling to
himself, as he descended the stairs; "but, let us confess the
truth of him, he is a wonderful man--a wonderful man indeed; a
vile empiric, however, in his practice, and therefore not to be
tolerated by those who respect the good old rules of the medical
Throughout Giovanni's whole acquaintance with Beatrice, he had
occasionally, as we have said, been haunted by dark surmises as
to her character; yet so thoroughly had she made herself felt by
him as a simple, natural, most affectionate, and guileless
creature, that the image now held up by Professor Baglioni looked
as strange and incredible as if it were not in accordance with
his own original conception. True, there were ugly recollections
connected with his first glimpses of the beautiful girl; he could
not quite forget the bouquet that withered in her grasp, and the
insect that perished amid the sunny air, by no ostensible agency
save the fragrance of her breath. These incidents, however,
dissolving in the pure light of her character, had no longer the
efficacy of facts, but were acknowledged as mistaken fantasies,
by whatever testimony of the senses they might appear to be
substantiated. There is something truer and more real than what
we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger. On such
better evidence had Giovanni founded his confidence in Beatrice,
though rather by the necessary force of her high attributes than
by any deep and generous faith on his part. But now his spirit
was incapable of sustaining itself at the height to which the
early enthusiasm of passion had exalted it; he fell down,
grovelling among earthly doubts, and defiled therewith the pure
whiteness of Beatrice's image. Not that he gave her up; he did
but distrust. He resolved to institute some decisive test that
should satisfy him, once for all, whether there were those
dreadful peculiarities in her physical nature which could not be
supposed to exist without some corresponding monstrosity of soul.
His eyes, gazing down afar, might have deceived him as to the
lizard, the insect, and the flowers; but if he could witness, at
the distance of a few paces, the sudden blight of one fresh and
healthful flower in Beatrice's hand, there would be room for no
further question. With this idea he hastened to the florist's and
purchased a bouquet that was still gemmed with the morning
It was now the customary hour of his daily interview with
Beatrice. Before descending into the garden, Giovanni failed not
to look at his figure in the mirror,--a vanity to be expected in
a beautiful young man, yet, as displaying itself at that troubled
and feverish moment, the token of a certain shallowness of
feeling and insincerity of character. He did gaze, however, and
said to himself that his features had 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
into my system. I am no flower to perish in her grasp."
With that thought he turned his eyes on the bouquet, which he had
never once laid aside from his hand. A thrill of indefinable
horror shot through his frame on perceiving that those dewy
flowers were already beginning to droop; they wore the aspect of
things that had been fresh and lovely yesterday. Giovanni grew
white as marble, and stood motionless before the mirror, staring
at his own reflection there as at the likeness of something
frightful. He remembered Baglioni's remark about the fragrance
that seemed to pervade the chamber. It must have been the poison
in his breath! Then he shuddered--shuddered at himself.
Recovering from his stupor, he began to watch with curious eye a
spider that was busily at work hanging its web from the antique
cornice of the apartment, crossing and recrossing the artful
system of interwoven lines--as vigorous and active a spider as
ever dangled from an old ceiling. Giovanni bent towards the
insect, and emitted a deep, long breath. The spider suddenly
ceased its toil; the web vibrated with a tremor originating in
the body of the small artisan. Again Giovanni sent forth a
breath, deeper, longer, and imbued with a venomous feeling out of
his heart: he knew not whether he were wicked, or only desperate.
The spider made a convulsive gripe with his limbs and hung dead
across the window.
"Accursed! accursed!" muttered Giovanni, addressing himself.
"Hast thou grown so poisonous that this deadly insect perishes by
At that moment a rich, sweet voice came floating up from the
"Giovanni! Giovanni! It is past the hour! Why tarriest thou? Come
"Yes," muttered Giovanni again. "She is the only being whom my
breath may not slay! Would that it might!"
He rushed down, and in an instant was standing before the bright
and loving eyes of Beatrice. A moment ago his wrath and despair
had been so fierce that he could have desired nothing so much as
to wither her by a glance; but with her actual presence there
came influences which had too real an existence to be at once
shaken off: recollections of the delicate and benign power of her
feminine nature, which had so often enveloped him in a religious
calm; recollections of many a holy and passionate outgush of her
heart, when the pure fountain had been unsealed from its depths
and made visible in its transparency to his mental eye;
recollections which, had Giovanni known how to estimate them,
would have assured him that all this ugly mystery was but an
earthly illusion, and that, whatever mist of evil might seem to
have gathered over her, the real Beatrice was a heavenly angel.
Incapable as he was of such high faith, still her presence had
not utterly lost its magic. Giovanni's rage was quelled into an
aspect of sullen insensibility. Beatrice, with a quick spiritual
sense, immediately felt that there was a gulf of blackness
between them which neither he nor she could pass. They walked on
together, sad and silent, and came thus to the marble fountain
and to its pool of water on the ground, in the midst of which
grew the shrub that bore gem-like blossoms. Giovanni was
affrighted at the eager enjoyment--the appetite, as it were--with
which he 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,
"He is a man fearfully acquainted with the secrets of Nature,"
replied Beatrice; "and, at the hour when I first drew breath,
this plant sprang from the soil, the offspring of his science, of
his intellect, while I was but his earthly child. Approach it
not!" continued she, observing with terror that Giovanni was
drawing nearer to the shrub. "It has qualities that you little
dream of. But I, dearest Giovanni,--I grew up and blossomed with
the plant and was nourished with its breath. It was my sister,
and I loved it with a human affection; for, alas!--hast thou not
suspected it?--there was an awful doom."
Here Giovanni frowned so darkly upon her that Beatrice paused and
trembled. But her faith in his tenderness reassured her, and made
her blush that she had doubted for an instant.
"There was an awful doom," she continued, "the effect of my
father's fatal love of science, which estranged me from all
society of my kind. Until Heaven sent thee, dearest Giovanni, oh,
how lonely was thy poor Beatrice!"
"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
Giovanni's rage broke forth from his sullen gloom like a
lightning flash out of a dark cloud.
"Accursed one!" cried he, with venomous scorn and anger. "And,
finding thy solitude wearisome, thou hast severed me likewise
from all the warmth of life and enticed me into thy region of
"Giovanni!" exclaimed Beatrice, turning her large bright eyes
upon his face. The force of his words had not found its way into
her mind; she was merely thunderstruck.
"Yes, poisonous thing!" repeated Giovanni, beside himself with
passion. "Thou hast done it! Thou hast blasted me! Thou hast
filled my veins with poison! Thou hast made me as hateful, as
ugly, as loathsome and deadly 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
her heart. "Holy Virgin, pity me, a poor heart-broken child!"
"Thou,--dost thou pray?" cried Giovanni, still with the same
fiendish scorn. "Thy very prayers, as they come from thy lips,
taint the atmosphere with death. Yes, yes; let us pray! Let us to
church and dip our fingers in the holy water at the portal! They
that come after us will perish as by a pestilence! Let us sign
crosses in the air! It will be 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, it is true, am the horrible thing thou namest
me. But thou,--what hast thou to do, save with one other shudder
at my hideous misery to go forth out of the garden and mingle
with thy race, and forget there ever crawled 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
There was a swarm of summer insects flitting through the air in
search of the food promised by the flower odors of the fatal
garden. They circled round Giovanni's head, and were evidently
attracted towards him by the same influence which had drawn them
for an instant within the sphere of several of the shrubs. He
sent forth a breath among them, and smiled bitterly at Beatrice
as at least a score of the insects fell dead upon the ground.
"I see it! I see it!" shrieked Beatrice. "It is my father's fatal
science! No, no, Giovanni; it was not I! Never! never! I dreamed
only to love thee and be with thee a little time, and so to let
thee pass away, 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 in this fearful sympathy. Yes; spurn
me, tread upon me, kill me! Oh, what is death after such words as
thine? But it was not I. Not for a world of bliss would I have
Giovanni's passion had exhausted itself in its outburst from his
lips. There now came across him a sense, mournful, and not
without tenderness, of the intimate and peculiar relationship
between Beatrice and himself. They stood, as it were, in an utter
solitude, which would be made none the less solitary by the
densest throng of human life. Ought not, then, the desert of
humanity around them to press this insulated pair closer
together? If they should be cruel to one another, who was there
to be kind to them? Besides, thought Giovanni, might there not
still be a hope of his returning within the limits of ordinary
nature, and leading Beatrice, the redeemed Beatrice, by the hand?
O, weak, and selfish, and unworthy spirit, that could dream of an
earthly union and earthly happiness as possible, after such deep
love had been so bitterly wronged as was Beatrice's love by
Giovanni's blighting words! No, no; there could be no such hope.
She must pass heavily, with that broken heart, across the borders
of Time--she must bathe her hurts in some fount of paradise, and
forget her grief in the light of immortality, and THERE be well.
But Giovanni did not know it.
"Dear Beatrice," said he, approaching her, while she shrank away
as always at his approach, but now with a different impulse,
"dearest Beatrice, our fate is not yet so desperate. Behold!
there is a medicine, potent, as a wise physician has assured me,
and almost divine in its efficacy. It is composed of ingredients
the most opposite to those by which thy awful father has brought
this calamity upon thee and me. 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
little silver vial which Giovanni took from his bosom. She added,
with a peculiar emphasis, "I will drink; but do thou await the
She put Baglioni's antidote to her lips; and, at the same moment,
the figure of Rappaccini emerged from the portal and came slowly
towards the marble fountain. As he drew near, the pale man of
science seemed to gaze with a triumphant expression at the
beautiful youth and maiden, as might an artist who should spend
his life in achieving a picture or a group of statuary and
finally be satisfied with his success. He paused; his bent form
grew erect with conscious power; he spread out his hands over
them in the attitude of a father imploring a blessing upon his
children; but those were the same hands that had thrown poison
into the stream 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 the
world. Pluck one of those precious gems from thy sister shrub and
bid thy bridegroom wear it in his bosom. It will not harm him
now. My science and the sympathy between thee and him have so
wrought within his 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 all besides!"
"My father," said Beatrice, feebly,--and still as she spoke she
kept her hand upon her heart,--"wherefore didst thou inflict this
miserable doom upon thy child?"
"Miserable!" exclaimed Rappaccini. "What mean you, foolish girl?
Dost thou deem it misery to be endowed with marvellous gifts
against which no power nor strength could avail an enemy--misery,
to be able to quell the mightiest with a breath--misery, to be as
terrible as thou art beautiful? Wouldst thou, then, have
preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil and
capable of none?"
"I would fain have been loved, not feared," murmured Beatrice,
sinking down upon the ground. "But now it matters not. I am
going, father, where the evil which thou hast striven to mingle
with my being will pass 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 the first, more poison
in thy nature than in mine?"
To Beatrice,--so radically had her earthly part been wrought upon
by Rappaccini's skill,--as poison had been life, so the powerful
antidote was death; and thus the poor victim of man's ingenuity
and of thwarted nature, and of the fatality that attends all such
efforts of perverted wisdom, perished there, at the feet of her
father and Giovanni. Just at that moment Professor Pietro
Baglioni looked forth from the window, and called loudly, in a
tone of triumph mixed with horror, to the thunderstricken man of
science,"Rappaccini! Rappaccini! and is THIS the upshot of your
It makes me melancholy to see how like fools some very sensible
people act in the matter of choosing wives. They perplex their
judgments by a most undue attention to little niceties of
personal appearance, habits, disposition, and other trifles which
concern nobody but the lady herself. An unhappy gentleman,
resolving to wed nothing short of perfection, keeps his heart and
hand till both get so old and withered that no tolerable woman
will accept them. Now this is the very height of absurdity. A
kind Providence has so skilfully adapted sex to sex and the mass
of individuals to each other, that, with certain obvious
exceptions, any male and female may be moderately happy in the
married state. The true rule is to ascertain that the match is
fundamentally a good one, and then to take it for granted that
all minor objections, should there be such, will vanish, if you
let them alone. Only put yourself beyond hazard as to the real
basis of matrimonial bliss, and it is scarcely to be imagined
what miracles, in the way of recognizing smaller incongruities,
connubial love will effect.
For my own part I freely confess that, in my bachelorship, I was
precisely such an over-curious simpleton as I now advise the
reader not to be. My early habits had gifted me with a feminine
sensibility and too exquisite refinement. I was the accomplished
graduate of a dry goods 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 grew up a very ladylike sort of a
gentleman. It is not assuming too much to affirm that the ladies
themselves were hardly so ladylike as Thomas Bullfrog. So
painfully acute was my sense of female imperfection, and such
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
being driven to perpetrate matrimony with my own image in the
looking-glass. Besides the fundamental principle already hinted
at, I demanded the fresh bloom of youth, pearly teeth, glossy
ringlets, and the whole list of lovely items, with the utmost
delicacy of habits and sentiments, a silken texture of mind, and,
above all, a virgin heart. In a word, if a young angel just from
paradise, yet dressed in earthly fashion, had come and offered me
her hand, it is by no means certain that I should have taken it.
There was every chance of my becoming a most miserable old
bachelor, when, by the best luck in the world, I made a journey
into another state, and was smitten by, and smote again, and
wooed, won, and married, the present Mrs. Bullfrog, all in the
space of a fortnight. Owing to these extempore measures, I not
only gave my bride credit for certain perfections which have not
as yet come to light, but also overlooked a few trifling defects,
which, however, glimmered on my perception long before the close
of the honeymoon. Yet, as there was no mistake about the
fundamental principle aforesaid, I soon learned, as will be
seen, to estimate Mrs. Bullfrog's deficiencies and superfluities
at exactly their proper value.
The same morning that Mrs. Bullfrog and I came together as a
unit, we took two seats in the stage-coach and began our journey
towards my place of business. There being no other passengers, we
were as much alone and as free to give vent to our raptures as if
I had hired a hack for the matrimonial jaunt. My bride looked
charmingly in a green silk calash and riding habit of pelisse
cloth; and whenever her red lips parted 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 plead guilty to no less
freedom than a kiss. The gentle eye of Mrs. Bullfrog scarcely
rebuked me for the profanation. Emboldened by her indulgence, I
threw back the calash from her polished brow, and suffered my
fingers, white and delicate as her own, to stray among those dark
and glossy curls which realized my daydreams of rich hair.
"My love," said Mrs. Bullfrog tenderly, "you will disarrange my
"Oh, no, my sweet Laura!" replied I, still playing with the
glossy ringlet. "Even your fair hand could not manage a curl more
delicately than mine. I propose myself the pleasure of doing up
your hair in papers 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 she put up her hand and took mine prisoner; but merely
drew it away from the forbidden ringlet, and then immediately
released it. Now, I am a fidgety little man, and always love to
have something in my fingers; so that, being debarred from my
wife's curls, I looked about me for any other plaything. On the
front seat of the coach there was one of those small baskets in
which travelling ladies who are too delicate to appear at a
public table generally carry a supply of gingerbread, biscuits
and cheese, cold ham, and other light refreshments, merely to
sustain nature to the journey's end. Such airy diet will
sometimes keep them in pretty good flesh for a week together.
Laying hold of this same little basket, I thrust my hand under
the newspaper with which it was carefully covered.
"What's this, my dear?" cried I; for the black neck of a bottle
had popped out of the basket.
"A bottle of Kalydor, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, coolly taking
the basket from my hands and replacing it on the front seat.
There was no possibility of doubting my wife's word; but I never
knew genuine Kalydor, such as I use for my own complexion, to
smell so much like cherry brandy. I was about to express my fears
that the lotion would injure her skin, when an accident occurred
which threatened more than a skin-deep injury. Our Jehu had
carelessly driven over a heap of gravel and fairly capsized the
coach, with the wheels in the air and our heels where our heads
should have been. What became of my wits I cannot imagine; they
have always had a perverse trick of deserting me just when they
were most needed; but so it chanced, that in the confusion of our
overthrow I quite forgot that there was a Mrs. Bullfrog in the
world. Like many men's wives, the good lady served her husband as
a steppingstone. I had scrambled out of the coach and was
instinctively 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
have ruined me, you blackguard! I shall never be the woman I have
And then came a second thwack, aimed at the driver's other ear;
but which missed it, and hit him on the nose, causing a terrible
effusion of blood. Now, who or what fearful apparition was
inflicting this punishment on the poor fellow remained an
impenetrable mystery to me. The blows were given by a person of
grisly aspect, with a head almost bald, and sunken cheeks,
apparently of the feminine gender, though hardly to be classed in
the gentler sex. There being no teeth to modulate the voice, it
had a mumbled fierceness, not passionate, but stern, which
absolutely made me quiver like calf's-foot jelly. Who could the
phantom be? The most awful circumstance of the affair is yet to
be told: for this ogre, or whatever it was, had a riding habit
like Mrs. Bullfrog's, and also a green silk calash dangling down
her back by the strings. In my terror and turmoil of mind I could
imagine nothing less than that the Old Nick, at the moment of our
overturn, had annihilated my wife and jumped into her petticoats.
This idea seemed the most probable, since I could nowhere
perceive Mrs. Bullfrog alive, nor, though I looked very sharply
about the coach, could I detect any traces of that beloved
woman's dead body. There would have been a comfort in giving her
"Come, sir, bestir yourself! Help this rascal to set up the
coach," sai the hobgoblin to me; then, with a terrific screech at
three countrymen at a distance, "Here, you fellows, ain't you
ashamed to stand off when a poor woman is in distress?"
The countrymen, instead of fleeing for their lives, came running
at full speed, and laid hold of the topsy-turvy coach. I, also,
though a small-sized man, went to work like a son of Anak. The
coachman, too, with the blood still streaming from his nose,
tugged and toiled most manfully, dreading, doubtless, that the
next blow might break his head. And yet, bemauled as the poor
fellow had been, he seemed to glance at me 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 the opportunity,
as we raised the coach, to jam two of my fingers under the wheel,
trusting that the pain would awaken me.
"Why, here we are, all to rights again!" exclaimed a sweet voice
behind. "Thank you for your assistance, gentlemen. My dear Mr.
Bullfrog, how you perspire! Do let me wipe your face. Don't take
this little accident too much to heart, good driver. We ought to
be thankful that 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 been cuffed 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 her brow, and two rows of orient pearls gleaming
between her parted lips, which wore a most angelic smile. She had
regained her riding habit and calash from the grisly phantom, and
was, in all respects, the lovely woman 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, and whence 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 of mysteries.
Nothing remained but to help her into the coach, and plod on,
through the journey of the day and the journey of life, as
comfortably as we could. As the driver closed the door upon us, I
heard him whisper to the three countrymen,"How do you suppose a
fellow feels shut 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 not altogether 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 Gorgon should return, amid the transports of
our connubial bliss, and take the angel's place. I recollected
the tale of a fairy, who half the time was a beautiful woman and
half the time a hideous monster. Had I taken that very fairy to
be the wife of my bosom? While such whims and chimeras were
flitting across my fancy I began to look askance at Mrs.
Bullfrog, almost expecting that the transformation would be
wrought before my eyes.
To divert my mind, I took up the newspaper which had covered the
little basket of refreshments, and which now lay at the bottom of
the coach, blushing with a deep-red stain and emitting a potent
spirituous fume from the contents of the broken bottle of
Kalydor. The paper was two or three years old, but contained an
article of several columns, in which I soon grew wonderfully
interested. It was the report of a trial for breach of promise of
marriage, giving the testimony in full, with fervid extracts from
both the gentleman's and lady's amatory correspondence. The
deserted damsel had personally appeared in court, and had borne
energetic evidence to her lover's perfidy and the strength of her
blighted affections. On the defendant's part there had been an
attempt, though insufficiently sustained, to blast the
plaintiff's character, and a plea, in mitigation of damages, on
account of her unamiable temper. A horrible idea was suggested by
the lady's name.
"Madam," said I, holding the newspaper before Mrs. Bullfrog's
eyes,--and, though a small, delicate, and thin-visaged man, I
feel assured that I looked very terrific,--"madam," repeated I,
through my shut teeth, "were you the plaintiff in this cause?"
"Oh, my dear Mr. Bullfrog," replied my wife, sweetly, "I thought
all the 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
most exquisitely fastidious of men, and whose wife was to have
been the most delicate and refined of women, with all the fresh
dew-drops glittering on her virgin rosebud of a heart!
I thought of the glossy ringlets and pearly teeth; I thought of
the Kalydor; I thought of the coachman's bruised ear and bloody
nose; I thought of the tender love secrets which she had
whispered to the judge and 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,
removed them from my face, and fixed her eyes steadfastly on
"Mr. Bullfrog," said she, not unkindly, yet with all the decision
of her strong character, "let me advise you to overcome this
foolish weakness, and prove yourself, to the best of your
ability, as good a husband as I will be a wife. You have
discovered, perhaps, some little imperfections in your bride.
Well, what did you expect? Women are not angels. If they were,
they would go to heaven for husbands; or, at least, 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 her frailties earlier than the wedding day? Few
husbands, I assure you, make the discovery in such good season,
and still fewer complain that these 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 you view that affair in an objectionable light? Mr.
Bullfrog, I never could have dreamed it! Is it an objection that
I have triumphantly defended myself against slander and
vindicated my purity in a court of justice? Or do you complain
because your wife has shown the proper spirit of a woman, and
punished the villain who trifled with her affections?"
"But," persisted I, shrinking into a corner of the coach,
however,--for I did not know precisely how much contradiction the
proper spirit of a woman would endure,--"but, my love, would it
not have been more dignified to treat the villain with the silent
contempt he merited?"
"That is all very well, Mr. Bullfrog," said my wife, slyly; "but,
in that case, where would have been the five thousand dollars
which are to stock your dry goods store?"
"Mrs. Bullfrog, upon your honor," demanded I, as if my life hung
upon her words, "is there no mistake about those five thousand
"Upon my word and honor there is none," replied she. "The jury
gave me every cent the rascal had; and I have kept it all for my
"Then, thou dear woman," cried I, with an overwhelming gush of
tenderness, "let me fold thee to my heart. The basis of
matrimonial bliss is secure, and all thy little defects and
frailties are forgiven. Nay, since the result has been so
fortunate, I rejoice at the wrongs which drove thee to this
blessed lawsuit. Happy Bullfrog that I am!"
THE CELESTIAL RAILROAD
Not a great while ago, passing through the gate of dreams, I
visited that 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 the inhabitants a railroad has recently been
established between this populous and flourishing town and the
Celestial City. Having a little time upon my hands, I resolved to
gratify a liberal curiosity by making a trip thither.
Accordingly, one fine morning after paying my bill at the 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
was my good fortune to enjoy the company of a gentleman--one Mr.
Smooth-it-away--who, though he had never actually visited the
Celestial City, yet seemed as well acquainted with its laws,
customs, policy, and statistics, as with those of the City of
Destruction, of which he was a native townsman. Being, moreover,
a director of the railroad corporation and one of its largest
stockholders, he had it in his power to give me all desirable
information respecting that praiseworthy enterprise.
Our coach rattled out of the city, and at a short distance from
its outskirts passed over a bridge of elegant construction, but
somewhat too slight, as I imagined, to sustain any considerable
weight. On both sides lay an extensive quagmire, which could not
have been more disagreeable either to sight or smell, had all the
kennels of the earth emptied their pollution there.
"This," remarked Mr. Smooth-it-away, "is the famous Slough of
Despond--a disgrace to all the neighborhood; and the greater that
it might so easily be converted into firm ground."
"I have understood," said I, "that efforts have been made for
that purpose from time immemorial. Bunyan mentions that above
twenty thousand cartloads of wholesome instructions had been
thrown in here without effect."
"Very probably! And what effect could be anticipated from such
unsubstantial stuff?" cried Mr. Smooth-it-away. "You observe this
convenient bridge. We obtained a sufficient foundation for it by
throwing into the slough some editions of books of morality,
volumes of French philosophy and German rationalism; tracts,
sermons, and essays of modern clergymen; extracts from Plato,
Confucius, and various Hindoo sages together with a few ingenious
commentaries upon texts of Scripture,--all of which by some
scientific process, have been converted into a mass like granite.
The whole bog might be filled up with similar matter."
It really seemed to me, however, that the bridge vibrated and
heaved up and down in a very formidable manner; and, in spite of
Mr. Smooth-it-away's testimony to the solidity of its foundation,
I should be loath to cross it in a crowded omnibus, especially if
each passenger were encumbered with as heavy luggage as that
gentleman and myself. Nevertheless we got over without accident,
and soon found ourselves at the stationhouse. This very neat and
spacious edifice is erected on the site of the little wicket
gate, which formerly, as all old pilgrims will recollect, stood
directly across the highway, and, by its inconvenient narrowness,
was a great obstruction to the traveller of liberal mind and
expansive stomach The reader of John Bunyan will be glad to know
that Christian's old friend Evangelist, who was accustomed to
supply each pilgrim with a mystic roll, now presides at the
ticket office. Some malicious persons it is true deny the
identity of this reputable character with the Evangelist of old
times, and even pretend to bring competent evidence of an
imposture. Without involving myself in a dispute I shall merely
observe that, so far as my experience goes, the square pieces of
pasteboard now delivered to passengers are much more convenient
and useful along the road than the antique roll of parchment.
Whether they will be as readily received at the gate of the
Celestial City I decline giving an opinion.
A large number of passengers were already at the station-house
awaiting the departure of the cars. By the aspect and demeanor of
these persons it was easy to judge that the feelings of the
community had undergone a very favorable change in reference to
the celestial pilgrimage. It would have done Bunyan's heart good
to see it. Instead of a lonely and ragged man with a huge burden
on his back, plodding along sorrowfully on foot while the whole
city hooted after him, here were parties of the first gentry and
most respectable people in the neighborhood setting forth towards
the Celestial City as cheerfully as if the pilgrimage were merely
a summer tour. Among the gentlemen were characters of deserved
eminence--magistrates, politicians, and men of wealth, by whose
example religion could not but be greatly recommended to their
meaner brethren. In the ladies' apartment, too, I rejoiced to
distinguish some of those flowers of fashionable society who are
so well fitted to adorn the most elevated circles of the
Celestial City. There was much pleasant conversation about the
news of the day, topics of business and politics, or the lighter
matters of amusement; while religion, though indubitably the main
thing at heart, was thrown tastefully into the background. Even
an infidel would have heard little or nothing to shock his
One great convenience of the new method of going on pilgrimage I
must not forget to mention. Our enormous burdens, instead of
being carried on our shoulders as had been the custom of old,
were all snugly deposited in the baggage car, and, as I was
assured, would be delivered to their respective owners at the
journey's end. Another thing, likewise, the benevolent reader
will be delighted to understand. It may be remembered that there
was an ancient feud between Prince Beelzebub and the keeper of
the wicket gate, and that the adherents of the former
distinguished personage were accustomed to shoot deadly arrows at
honest pilgrims while knocking at the door. This dispute, much to
the credit as well of the illustrious potentate above mentioned
as of the worthy and enlightened directors of the railroad, has
been pacifically arranged on the principle of mutual compromise.
The prince's subjects are now pretty numerously employed about
the station-house, some in taking care of the baggage, others in
collecting fuel, feeding the engines, and such congenial
occupations; and I can conscientiously affirm that persons more
attentive to their business, more willing to accommodate, or more
generally agreeable to the passengers, are not to be found on any
railroad. Every good heart must surely exult at so satisfactory
an arrangement of an immemorial difficulty.
"Where is Mr. Greatheart?" inquired I. "Beyond a doubt the
directors have engaged that famous old champion to be chief
conductor on the railroad?"
"Why, no," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a dry cough. "He was
offered the situation of brakeman; but, to tell you the truth,
our friend Greatheart has grown preposterously stiff and narrow
in his old age. He has so often guided pilgrims over the road on
foot that he considers it a sin to travel in any other fashion.
Besides, the old fellow had entered so heartily into the ancient
feud with Prince Beelzebub that he would have been perpetually at
blows or ill language with some of the prince's subjects, and
thus have embroiled us anew. So, on the whole, we were not sorry
when honest Greatheart went off to the Celestial City in a huff
and left us at liberty to choose a more suitable and
accommodating man. Yonder comes the engineer of the train. You
will probably 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 that would hurry us to the infernal regions than
a laudable contrivance for smoothing our way to the Celestial
City. On its top sat a personage almost enveloped in smoke and
flame, which, not to startle the reader, appeared to gush from
his own mouth and stomach as well as from the engine's brazen
"Do my eyes deceive me?" cried I. "What on earth is this! A
living creature? If so, he is own brother to the engine he rides
"Poh, poh, you are obtuse!" said Mr. Smooth-it-away, with a
hearty laugh. "Don't you know Apollyon, Christian's old enemy,
with whom he fought so fierce a battle in the Valley of
Humiliation? He was the very fellow to manage the engine; and so
we have reconciled him to the custom of going on pilgrimage, and
engaged him as chief engineer."
"Bravo, bravo!" exclaimed I, with irrepressible enthusiasm; "this
shows the liberality of the age; this proves, if anything can,
that all musty prejudices are in a fair way to be obliterated.
And how will Christian rejoice to hear of this happy
transformation of his old antagonist! I promise myself great
pleasure in informing him of it when we reach the Celestial
The passengers being all comfortably seated, we now rattled away
merrily, accomplishing a greater distance in ten minutes than
Christian probably trudged over in a day. It was laughable, while
we glanced along, as it were, at the tail of a thunderbolt, to
observe two dusty foot travellers in the old pilgrim guise, with
cockle shell and staff, their mystic rolls of parchment in their
hands and their intolerable burdens on their backs. The
preposterous obstinacy of these honest people in persisting to
groan and stumble along the difficult pathway rather than take
advantage of modern improvements, excited great mirth among our
wiser brotherhood. We greeted the two pilgrims with many pleasant
gibes and a roar of laughter; whereupon they gazed at us with
such woful and absurdly compassionate visages that our merriment
grew tenfold more obstreperous. Apollyon also entered heartily
into the fun, and contrived to flirt the smoke and flame of the
engine, or of his own breath, into their faces, and envelop them
in an atmosphere of scalding steam. These little practical jokes
amused us mightily, and doubtless afforded the pilgrims the
gratification of considering themselves martyrs.
At some distance from the railroad Mr. Smooth-it-away pointed to
a large, antique edifice, which, he observed, was a tavern of
long standing, and had formerly been a noted stopping-place for
pilgrims. In Bunyan's road-book it is mentioned as the
"I have long had a curiosity to visit that old mansion," remarked
"It is not one of our stations, as you perceive," said my
companion "The keeper was violently opposed to the railroad; and
well he might be, as the track left his house of entertainment on
one side, and thus was pretty certain to deprive him of all his
reputable customers. But the footpath still passes his door, and
the old gentleman now and then receives a call from some simple
traveller, and entertains him with fare as old-fashioned as
Before our talk on this subject came to a conclusion we were
rushing by the place where Christian's burden fell from his
shoulders at the sight of 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, and a knot of
gentlemen from the town of Shun-repentance, to descant upon the
inestimable advantages resulting from the safety of our baggage.
Myself, and all the passengers indeed, joined with great
unanimity in this view of the matter; for our burdens were rich
in many things esteemed precious throughout the world; and,
especially, we each of us possessed a great variety of favorite
Habits, which we trusted would not 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 of valuable articles tumbling
into the sepulchre. Thus pleasantly conversing on the favorable
circumstances of our position as compared with those of past
pilgrims and of narrow-minded ones at the present day, we soon
found ourselves at the foot of the Hill Difficulty. Through the
very heart of this rocky mountain a tunnel has been constructed
of most admirable architecture, with a lofty arch and a spacious
double track; so that, unless the earth and rocks should chance
to crumble down, it will remain an eternal monument of the
builder's skill and enterprise. It is a great though incidental
advantage that the materials from the heart of the Hill
Difficulty have been employed in filling up the Valley of
Humiliation, thus obviating the necessity of descending into that
disagreeable and unwholesome hollow.
"This is a wonderful improvement, indeed," said I. "Yet I should
have been glad of an opportunity to visit the Palace Beautiful
and be introduced to the charming young ladies--Miss Prudence,
Miss Piety, Miss Charity, and the rest--who have the kindness to
entertain pilgrims there."
"Young ladies!" cried Mr. Smooth-it-away, as soon as he could
speak for laughing. "And charming young ladies! Why, my dear
fellow, they are old maids, every soul of them--prim, starched,
dry, and angular; and not one of them, I will venture to say, has
altered so much as the fashion of her gown since the days of
"Ah, well," said I, much comforted, "then I can very readily
dispense with their acquaintance."
The respectable Apollyon was now putting on the steam at a
prodigious rate, anxious, perhaps, to get rid of the unpleasant
reminiscences connected with the spot where he had so
disastrously encountered Christian. Consulting Mr. Bunyan's
road-book, I perceived that we must now be within a few miles of
the Valley of the Shadow of Death, into which doleful region, at
our present speed, we should plunge much sooner than seemed at
all desirable. In truth, I expected nothing better than to find
myself in the ditch on one side or the Quag on the other; but on
communicating my apprehensions to Mr. Smooth-it-away, he assured
me that the difficulties of this passage, even in its worst
condition, had been vastly exaggerated, and that, in its present
state of improvement, I might consider myself as safe as on any
railroad in Christendom.
Even while we were speaking the train shot into the entrance of
this dreaded Valley. Though I plead guilty to some foolish
palpitations of the heart during our headlong rush over the
causeway here constructed, yet it were unjust to withhold the
highest encomiums on the boldness of its original conception and
the ingenuity of those who executed it. It was gratifying,
likewise, to observe how much care had been taken to dispel the
everlasting gloom and supply the defect of cheerful sunshine, not
a ray of which has ever penetrated among these awful shadows. For
this purpose, the inflammable gas which exudes plentifully from
the soil is collected by means of pipes, and thence communicated
to a quadruple row of lamps along the whole extent of the
passage. Thus a radiance has been created even out of the fiery
and sulphurous curse that rests forever upon the valley--a
radiance hurtful, however, to the eyes, and somewhat bewildering,
as I discovered by the changes which it wrought in the visages of
my companions. In this respect, as compared with natural
daylight, there is the same difference as between truth and
falsehood, but if the reader have ever travelled through the dark
Valley, he will have learned to be thankful for any light that he
could get--if not from the sky above, then from the blasted soil
beneath. Such was the red brilliancy of these lamps that they
appeared to build walls of fire on both sides of the track,
between which we held our course at lightning speed, while a
reverberating thunder filled the Valley with its echoes. Had the
engine run off the track,--a catastrophe, it is whispered, by no
means unprecedented,--the bottomless pit, if there be any such
place, would undoubtedly have received us. Just as some dismal
fooleries of this nature had made my heart quake there came a
tremendous shriek, careering along the valley as if a thousand
devils had burst their lungs to utter it, but which proved to be
merely the whistle of the engine on arriving at a stopping-place.
The spot where we had now paused is the same that our friend
Bunyan--a truthful man, but infected with many fantastic
notions--has designated, in terms plainer than I like to repeat,
as the mouth of the infernal region. This, however, must be a
mistake, inasmuch as Mr. Smooth-it-away, while we remained in the
smoky and lurid cavern, took occasion to prove that Tophet has
not even a metaphorical existence. The place, he assured us, is
no other than the crater of a half-extinct volcano, in which the
directors had caused forges to be set up for the manufacture of
railroad iron. Hence, also, is obtained a plentiful supply of
fuel for the use of the engines. Whoever had gazed into the
dismal obscurity of the broad cavern mouth, whence ever and anon
darted huge tongues of dusky flame, and had seen the strange,
half-shaped monsters, and visions of faces horribly grotesque,
into which the smoke seemed to wreathe itself, and had heard the
awful murmurs, and shrieks, and deep, shuddering whispers of the
blast, sometimes forming themselves into words almost articulate,
would have seized upon Mr. Smooth-it-away's comfortable
explanation as greedily as we did. The inhabitants of the cavern,
moreover, were unlovely personages, dark, smoke-begrimed,
generally deformed, with misshapen feet, and a glow of dusky
redness in their eyes as if their hearts had caught fire and were
blazing out of the upper windows. It struck me as a peculiarity
that the laborers at the forge and those who brought fuel to the
engine, when they began to draw short breath, positively emitted
smoke from their mouth and nostrils.
Among the idlers about the train, most of whom were puffing
cigars which they had lighted at the flame of the crater, I was
perplexed to notice several who, to my certain knowledge, had
heretofore set forth by railroad for the Celestial City. They
looked dark, wild, and smoky, with a singular resemblance,
indeed, to the native inhabitants, like whom, also, they had a
disagreeable propensity to ill-natured gibes and sneers, the
habit of which had wrought a settled contortion of their visages.
Having been on speaking terms with one of these persons,--an
indolent, good-for-nothing fellow, who went by the name of
Take-it-easy,--I called him, and inquired what was his business
"Did you not start," said I, "for the Celestial City?"
"That's a fact," said Mr. Take-it-easy, carelessly puffing some
smoke into my eyes. "But I heard such bad accounts that I never
took pains to climb the hill on which the city stands. No
business doing, no fun going on, nothing to drink, and no smoking
allowed, and a thrumming of church music from morning till night.
I would not stay in such a place if they offered me house room
and living free."
"But, my good Mr. Take-it-easy," cried I, "why take up your
residence here, of all places in the world?"
"Oh," said the loafer, with a grin, "it is very warm hereabouts,
and I meet with plenty of old acquaintances, and altogether the
place suits me. I hope to see you back again some day soon. A
pleasant journey to you."
While he was speaking the bell of the engine rang, and we dashed
away after dropping a few passengers, but receiving no new ones.
Rattling onward through the Valley, we were dazzled with the
fiercely gleaming gas lamps, as before. But sometimes, in the
dark of intense brightness, grim faces, that bore the aspect and
expression of individual sins, or evil passions, seemed to thrust
themselves through the veil of light, glaring upon us, and
stretching forth a great, dusky hand, as if to impede our
progress. I almost thought that they were my own sins that
appalled me there. These were freaks of imagination--nothing
more, certainly-mere delusions, which I ought to be heartily
ashamed of; but all through the Dark Valley I was tormented, and
pestered, and dolefully bewildered with the same kind of waking
dreams. The mephitic gases of that region intoxicate the brain.
As the light of natural day, however, began to struggle with the
glow of the lanterns, these vain imaginations lost their
vividness, and finally vanished from the first ray of sunshine
that greeted our escape from the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Ere we had gone a mile beyond it I could well-nigh have taken my
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 the ground about their residence with the bones of
slaughtered pilgrims. These vile old troglodytes are no longer
there; but into their deserted cave another terrible giant has
thrust himself, and makes it his business to seize upon honest
travellers and fatten them for his table with plentiful meals of
smoke, mist, moonshine, raw potatoes, and sawdust. He is a German
by birth, and is called Giant Transcendentalist; but as to his
form, his features, his substance, and his nature generally, it
is the chief peculiarity of this huge miscreant that neither he
for himself, nor anybody for him, has ever been able to describe
them. As we rushed by the cavern's mouth we caught a hasty
glimpse of him, looking somewhat like an ill-proportioned figure,
but considerably more like a heap of fog and duskiness. He
shouted after us, but in so strange a phraseology that we knew
not what he meant, nor whether to be encouraged or affrighted.
It was late in the day when the train thundered into the ancient
city of Vanity, where Vanity Fair is still at the height of
prosperity, and exhibits an epitome of whatever is brilliant,
gay, and fascinating beneath the sun. As I purposed to make a
considerable stay here, it gratified me to learn that there is no
longer the want of harmony between the town's-people and
pilgrims, which impelled the former to such lamentably mistaken
measures as the persecution of Christian and the fiery martyrdom
of Faithful. On the contrary, as the new railroad brings with it
great trade and a constant influx of strangers, the lord of
Vanity Fair is its chief patron, and the capitalists of the city
are among the largest stockholders. Many passengers stop to take
their pleasure or make their profit in the Fair, instead of going
onward to the Celestial City. Indeed, such are the charms of the
place that people often affirm it to be the true and only heaven;
stoutly contending that there is no other, that those who seek
further are mere dreamers, and that, if the fabled brightness of
the Celestial City lay but a bare mile beyond the gates of
Vanity, they would not be fools enough to go thither. Without
subscribing to these perhaps exaggerated encomiums, I can truly
say that my abode in the city was mainly agreeable, and my
intercourse with the inhabitants productive of much amusement and
Being naturally of a serious turn, my attention was directed to
the solid advantages derivable from a residence here, rather than
to the effervescent pleasures which are the grand object with too
many visitants. The Christian reader, if he have had no accounts
of the city later than Bunyan's time, will be surprised to hear
that almost every street has its church, and that the reverend
clergy are nowhere held in higher respect than at Vanity Fair.
And well do they deserve such honorable estimation; for the
maxims of wisdom and virtue which fall from their lips come from
as deep a spiritual source, and tend to as lofty a religious aim,
as those of the sagest philosophers of old. In justification of
this high praise I need only mention the names of the Rev. Mr.
Shallow-deep, the Rev. Mr. Stumble-at-truth, that fine old
clerical character the Rev. Mr. This-today, who expects shortly
to resign 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 are aided by those of innumerable
lecturers, who diffuse such a various profundity, in all subjects
of human or celestial science, that any man may acquire an
omnigenous erudition without the trouble of even learning to
read. Thus literature is etherealized by assuming for its medium
the human voice; and knowledge, depositing all its heavier
particles, except, doubtless, its gold becomes exhaled into a
sound, which forthwith steals into the ever-open ear of the
community. These ingenious methods constitute a sort of
machinery, by which thought and study are done to every person's
hand without his putting himself to the slightest inconvenience
in the matter. There is another species of machine for the
wholesale manufacture of individual morality. This excellent
result is effected by societies for all manner of virtuous
purposes, with which a man has merely to connect himself,
throwing, as it were, his quota of virtue into the common stock,
and the president and directors will take care that the aggregate
amount be well applied. All these, and other wonderful
improvements in ethics, religion, and literature, 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 my observations in this great capital of human business and
pleasure. There was an unlimited range of society--the powerful,
the wise, the witty, and the famous in every walk of life;
princes, presidents, poets, generals, artists, actors, and
philanthropists,--all making their own market at the fair, and
deeming no price too exorbitant for such 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 the bazaars and observe the
various sorts of traffic that were going forward.
Some of the purchasers, I thought, made very foolish bargains.
For instance, a young man having inherited a splendid fortune,
laid out a considerable portion of it in the purchase of
diseases, and finally spent all the rest for a heavy lot of
repentance and a suit of rags. A very pretty girl bartered a
heart as clear as crystal, and which seemed her most valuable
possession, for another jewel of the same kind, but so worn and
defaced as to be utterly worthless. In one shop there were a
great many crowns of laurel and myrtle, which soldiers, authors,
statesmen, and various other people pressed eagerly to buy; some
purchased these paltry wreaths with their lives, others by a
toilsome servitude of years, and many sacrificed whatever was
most valuable, yet finally slunk away without the crown. There
was a sort of stock or scrip, called Conscience, which seemed to
be in great demand, and would purchase almost anything. Indeed,
few rich commodities were to be obtained without paying a heavy
sum in this particular stock, and a man's business was seldom
very lucrative unless he knew precisely when and how to throw his
hoard of conscience into the market. Yet as this stock was the
only thing of permanent value, whoever parted with it was sure to
find himself a loser in the long run. Several of the speculations
were of a questionable character. Occasionally a member of
Congress recruited his pocket by the sale of his constituents;
and I was assured that public officers have often sold their
country at very moderate prices. Thousands sold their happiness
for a whim. Gilded chains were in great demand, and purchased
with almost any sacrifice. In truth, those who desired, according
to the old adage, to sell anything valuable for a song, might
find customers all over the Fair; and there were innumerable
messes of pottage, piping hot, for such as chose to buy them with
their birthrights. A few articles, however, could not be found
genuine at Vanity Fair. If a customer wished to renew his stock
of youth the dealers offered him a set of false teeth and an
auburn wig; if he demanded peace of mind, they recommended opium
or a brandy bottle.
Tracts of land and golden mansions, situate in the Celestial
City, were often exchanged, at very disadvantageous rates, for a
few years' lease of small, dismal, inconvenient tenements in
Vanity Fair. Prince Beelzebub himself took great interest in this
sort of traffic, and sometimes condescended to meddle with
smaller matters. I once had the pleasure to see him bargaining
with a miser for his soul, which, after much ingenious
skirmishing on both sides, his highness succeeded in obtaining at
about the value of sixpence. The prince remarked with a smile,
that he was a loser by the transaction.
Day after day, as I walked the streets of Vanity, my manners and
deportment became more and more like those of the inhabitants.
The place began to seem like home; the idea of pursuing my
travels to the Celestial City was almost obliterated from my
mind. I was reminded of it, however, by the sight of the same
pair of simple pilgrims at whom we had laughed so heartily when
Apollyon puffed smoke and steam into their faces at the
commencement of our journey. There they stood amidst the densest
bustle of Vanity; the dealers offering them their purple and fine
linen and jewels, the men of wit and humor gibing at them, a pair
of buxom ladies ogling them askance, while the benevolent Mr.
Smooth-it-away whispered some of his wisdom at their elbows, and
pointed to a newly-erected temple; but there were these worthy
simpletons, making the scene look wild and monstrous, merely by
their sturdy repudiation of all part in its business or
One of them--his name was Stick-to-the-right--perceived in my
face, I suppose, a species of sympathy and almost admiration,
which, to my own great surprise, I could not help feeling for
this pragmatic couple. It prompted him to address me.
"Sir," inquired he, with a sad, yet mild and kindly voice. "do
you call yourself a pilgrim?"
"Yes," I replied, "my right to that appellation is indubitable. I
am merely a sojourner here in Vanity Fair, being bound to the
Celestial City by the new railroad."
"Alas, friend," rejoined Mr. Stick-to-the-truth, "I do assure
you, and beseech you to receive the truth of my words, that that
whole concern is a bubble. You may travel on it all your
lifetime, were you to live thousands of years, and yet never get
beyond the limits of Vanity Fair. Yea, though you should deem
yourself entering the gates of the blessed city, it will be
nothing but a miserable delusion."
"The Lord of the Celestial City," began the other pilgrim, whose
name was Mr. Foot-it-to-heaven, "has refused, and will ever
refuse, to grant an act of incorporation for this railroad; and
unless that be obtained, no passenger can ever hope to enter his
dominions. Wherefore every man who buys a ticket must lay his
account with losing the purchase money, which is the value of his
"Poh, nonsense!" said Mr. Smooth-it-away, taking my arm and
leading me off, "these fellows ought to be indicted for a libel.
If the law stood as it once did in Vanity Fair we should see them
grinning through the iron bars of the prison window."
This incident made a considerable impression on my mind, and
contributed with other circumstances to indispose me to a
permanent residence in the city of Vanity; although, of course, I
was not simple enough to give up my original plan of gliding
along easily and commodiously by railroad. Still, I grew anxious
to be gone. There was one strange thing that troubled me. Amid
the occupations or amusements of the Fair, nothing was more
common than for a person--whether at feast, theatre, or church,
or trafficking for wealth and honors, or whatever he might be
doing, to vanish like a soap bubble, and be never more seen of
his fellows; and so accustomed were the latter to such little
accidents that they went on with their business as quietly as if
nothing had happened. But it was otherwise with me.
Finally, after a pretty long residence at the Fair, I resumed my
journey towards the Celestial City, still with Mr. Smooth-it-away
at my side. At a short distance beyond the suburbs of Vanity we
passed the ancient silver mine, of which Demas was the first
discoverer, and which is now wrought to great advantage,
supplying nearly all the coined currency of the world. A little
further onward was the spot where Lot's wife had stood forever
under the semblance of a pillar of salt. Curious travellers have
long since carried it away piecemeal. Had all regrets been
punished as rigorously as this poor dame's were, my yearning for
the relinquished delights of Vanity Fair might have produced a
similar change in my own corporeal substance, and left me a
warning to future pilgrims.
The next remarkable object was a large edifice, constructed of
moss-grown stone, but in a modern and airy style of architecture.
The engine came to a pause in its vicinity, with the usual
"This was formerly the castle of the redoubted giant Despair,"
observed Mr. Smooth-it-away; "but since his death Mr.
Flimsy-faith has repaired it, and keeps an excellent house of
entertainment here. It is one of our stopping-places."
"It seems but slightly put together," remarked I, looking at the
frail yet ponderous walls. "I do not envy Mr. Flimsy-faith his
habitation. Some day it will thunder down upon the heads of the
"We shall escape at all events," said Mr. Smooth-it-away, "for
Apollyon is putting on the steam again."
The road now plunged into a gorge of the Delectable Mountains,
and traversed the field where in former ages the blind men
wandered and stumbled among the tombs. One of these ancient
tombstones had been thrust across the track by some malicious
person, and gave the train of cars a terrible jolt. Far up the
rugged side of a mountain I perceived a rusty iron door, half
overgrown with bushes and creeping plants, but with smoke issuing
from its crevices.
"Is that," inquired I, "the very door in the hill-side which the
shepherds 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 cavern which they use as a smoke-house for the
preparation of mutton hams."
My recollections of the journey are now, for a little space, dim
and confused, inasmuch as a singular drowsiness here overcame me,
owing to the fact that we were passing over the enchanted ground,
the air of which encourages a disposition to sleep. I awoke,
however, as soon as we crossed the borders of the pleasant land
of Beulah. All the passengers were rubbing their eyes, comparing
watches, and congratulating one another on the prospect of
arriving so seasonably at the journey's end. The sweet breezes of
this happy clime came refreshingly to our nostrils; we beheld the
glimmering gush of silver fountains, overhung by trees of
beautiful foliage and delicious fruit, which were propagated by
grafts from the celestial gardens. Once, as we dashed onward like
a hurricane, there was a flutter of wings and the bright
appearance of an angel in the air, speeding forth on some
heavenly mission. The engine now announced the close vicinity of
the final station-house by one last and horrible scream, in which
there seemed to be distinguishable every kind of wailing and woe,
and bitter fierceness of wrath, all mixed up with the wild
laughter of a devil or a madman. Throughout our journey, at every
stopping-place, Apollyon had exercised his ingenuity in screwing
the most abominable sounds out of the whistle of the
steam-engine; but in this closing effort he outdid himself and
created an infernal uproar, which, besides disturbing the
peaceful inhabitants of Beulah, must have sent its discord even
through the celestial gates.
While the horrid clamor was still ringing in our ears we heard an
exulting strain, as if a thousand instruments of music, with
height and depth and sweetness in their tones, at once tender and
triumphant, were struck in unison, to greet the approach of some
illustrious hero, who had fought the good fight and won a
glorious victory, and was come to lay aside his battered arms
forever. Looking to ascertain what might be the occasion of this
glad harmony, I perceived, on alighting from the cars, that a
multitude of shining ones had assembled on the other side of the
river, to welcome two poor pilgrims, who were just emerging from
its depths. They were the same whom Apollyon and ourselves had
persecuted with taunts, and gibes, and scalding steam, at the
commencement of our journey--the same whose unworldly aspect and
impressive words had stirred my conscience amid the wild
revellers of Vanity 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;
the ferry boat will be off directly, and in three minutes you
will be on the other side of the river. No doubt you will find
coaches to carry you up to the city gates."
A steam ferry boat, the last improvement on this important route,
lay at the river side, puffing, snorting, and emitting all those
other disagreeable utterances which betoken the departure to be
immediate. I hurried on board with the rest of the passengers,
most of whom were in great perturbation: some bawling out for
their baggage; some tearing their hair and exclaiming that the
boat would explode or sink; some already pale with the heaving of
the stream; some gazing affrighted at the ugly aspect of the
steersman; and some still dizzy with the slumberous influences of
the Enchanted Ground. Looking back to the shore, I was amazed to
discern Mr. Smooth-it-away waving his hand in token of farewell.
"Don't you go over to the Celestial City?" exclaimed I.
"Oh, no!" answered he with a queer smile, and that same
disagreeable contortion of visage which I had remarked in the
inhabitants of the Dark Valley. "Oh, no! I have come thus far
only for the sake of your pleasant company. Good-by! We shall
And then did my excellent friend Mr. Smooth-it-away laugh
outright, in the midst of which cachinnation a smoke-wreath
issued from his mouth and nostrils, while a twinkle of lurid
flame darted out of either eye, proving indubitably that his
heart was all of a red blaze. The impudent fiend! To deny the
existence of Tophet, when he felt its fiery tortures raging
within his breast. I rushed to the side of the boat, intending to
fling myself on shore; but the wheels, as they began their
revolutions, threw a dash of spray over me so cold--so deadly
cold, with the chill that will never leave those waters until
Death be drowned in his own river--that with a shiver and a
heartquake I awoke. Thank Heaven it was a Dream!
THE PROCESSION OF LIFE
Life figures itself to me as a festal or funereal procession. All
of us have our places, and are to move onward under the direction
of the Chief Marshal. The grand difficulty results from the
invariably mistaken principles on which the deputy marshals seek
to arrange this immense concourse of people, so much more
numerous than those that train their interminable length through
streets and highways in times of political excitement. Their
scheme is ancient, far beyond the memory of man or even the
record of history, and has hitherto been very little modified by
the innate sense of something wrong, and the dim perception of
better methods, that have disquieted all the ages through which
the procession has taken its march. Its members are classified by
the merest external circumstances, and thus are more certain to
be thrown out of their true positions than if no principle of
arrangement were attempted. In one part of the procession we see
men of landed estate or moneyed capital gravely keeping each
other company, for the preposterous reason that they chance to
have a similar standing in the tax-gatherer's book. Trades and
professions march together with scarcely a more real bond of
union. In this manner, it cannot be denied, people are
disentangled from the mass and separated into various classes
according to certain apparent relations; all have some artificial
badge which the world, and themselves among the first, learn to
consider as a genuine characteristic. Fixing our attention on
such outside shows of similarity or difference, we lose sight of
those realities by which nature, fortune, fate, or Providence has
constituted for every man a brotherhood, wherein it is one great
office of human wisdom to classify him. When the mind has once
accustomed itself to a proper arrangement of the Procession of
Life, or a true classification of society, even though merely
speculative, there is thenceforth a satisfaction which pretty
well suffices for itself without the aid of any actual
reformation in the order of march.
For instance, assuming to myself the power of marshalling the
aforesaid procession, I direct a trumpeter to send forth a blast
loud enough to be heard from hence to China; and a herald, with
world-pervading voice, to make proclamation for a certain class
of mortals to take their places. What shall be their principle of
union? After all, an external one, in comparison with many that
might be found, yet far more real than those which the world has
selected for a similar purpose. Let all who are afflicted with
like physical diseases form themselves into ranks.
Our first attempt at classification is not very successful. It
may gratify the pride of aristocracy to reflect that disease,
more than any other circumstance of human life, pays due
observance to the distinctions which rank and wealth, and poverty
and lowliness, have established among mankind. Some maladies are
rich and precious, and only 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 the purple-visaged
gentry, who obey the herald's voice, and painfully hobble from
all civilized regions of the globe to take their post in the
grand procession. In mercy to their toes, let us hope that the
march may not be long. The Dyspeptics, too, are people of good
standing in the world. For them the earliest salmon is caught in
our eastern rivers, and the shy woodcock stains the dry leaves
with his blood in his remotest haunts, and the turtle comes from
the far Pacific Islands to be gobbled up in soup. They can afford
to flavor all their dishes with indolence, which, in spite of the
general opinion, is a sauce more exquisitely piquant than
appetite won by exercise. Apoplexy is another highly respectable
disease. We will rank together all who have the symptom of
dizziness in the brain, and as fast as any drop by the way supply
their places with new members of the board of aldermen.
On the other hand, here come whole tribes of people whose
physical lives are but a deteriorated variety of life, and
themselves a meaner species of mankind; so sad an effect has been
wrought by the tainted breath of cities, scanty and unwholesome
food, destructive modes of labor, and the lack of those moral
supports that might partially have counteracted such bad
influences. Behold here a train of house painters, all afflicted
with a peculiar sort of colic. Next in place we will marshal
those workmen in cutlery, who have breathed a fatal disorder into
their lungs with the impalpable dust of steel. Tailors and
shoemakers, being sedentary men, will chiefly congregate into one
part of the procession and march under similar banners of
disease; but among them we may observe here and there a sickly
student, who has left his health between the leaves of classic
volumes; and clerks, likewise, who have caught their deaths on
high official stools; and men of genius too, who have written
sheet after sheet with pens dipped in their heart's blood. These
are a wretched quaking, short-breathed set. But what is this
cloud of pale-cheeked, slender girls, who disturb the ear with
the multiplicity of their short, dry coughs? They are
seamstresses, who have plied the daily and nightly needle in the
service of master tailors and close-fisted contractors, until now
it is almost time for each to hem the borders of her own shroud.
Consumption points their place in the procession. With their sad
sisterhood are intermingled many youthful maidens who have
sickened in aristocratic mansions, and for whose aid science has
unavailingly searched its volumes, and whom breathless love has
watched. In our ranks the rich maiden and the poor seamstress may
walk arm in arm. We might find innumerable other instances, where
the bond of mutual disease--not to speak of nation-sweeping
pestilence--embraces high and low, and makes the king a brother
of the clown. But it is not hard to own that disease is the
natural aristocrat. Let him keep his state, and have his
established orders of rank, and wear his royal mantle of the
color of a fever flush and let the noble and wealthy boast their
own physical infirmities, and display their symptoms as the
badges of high station. All things considered, these are as
proper subjects of human pride as any relations of human rank
that men can fix upon.
Sound again, thou deep-breathed trumpeter! and herald, with thy
voice of might, shout forth another summons that shall reach the
old baronial castles of Europe, and the rudest cabin of our
western wilderness! What class is next to take its place in the
procession of mortal life? Let it be those whom the gifts of
intellect have united in a noble brotherhood.
Ay, this is a reality, before which the conventional distinctions
of society melt away like a vapor when we would grasp it with the
hand. Were Byron now alive, and Burns, the first would come from
his ancestral abbey, flinging aside, although unwillingly, the
inherited honors of a thousand years, to take the arm of the
mighty peasant who grew immortal while he stooped behind his
plough. These are gone; but the hall, the farmer's fireside, the
hut, perhaps the palace, the counting-room, the workshop, the
village, the city, life's high places and low ones, may all
produce their poets, whom a common temperament pervades like an
electric sympathy. Peer or ploughman, we will muster them pair by
pair and shoulder to shoulder. Even society, in its most
artificial state, consents to this arrangement. These factory
girls from Lowell shall mate themselves with the pride of
drawing-rooms and literary circles, the bluebells in fashion's
nosegay, the Sapphos, and Montagues, and Nortons of the age.
Other modes of intellect bring together as strange companies.
Silk-gowned professor of languages, give your arm to this sturdy
blacksmith, and deem yourself honored by the conjunction, though
you behold him grimy from the anvil. All varieties of human
speech are like his mother tongue to this rare man.
Indiscriminately let those take their places, of whatever rank
they come, who possess the kingly gifts to lead armies or to sway
a people--Nature's generals, her lawgivers, her kings, and with
them also the deep philosophers who think the thought in one
generation that is to revolutionize society in the next. With the
hereditary legislator in whom eloquence is a far-descended
attainment--a rich echo repeated by powerful voices from Cicero
downward--we will match some wondrous backwoodsman, who has
caught a wild power of language from the breeze among his native
forest boughs. But we may safely leave these brethren and
sisterhood to settle their own congenialities. Our ordinary
distinctions become so trifling, so impalpable, so ridiculously
visionary, in comparison with a classification founded on truth,
that all talk about the matter is immediately a common place.
Yet the longer I reflect the less am I satisfied with the idea of
forming a separate class of mankind on the basis of high
intellectual power. At best it is but a higher development of
innate gifts common to all. Perhaps, moreover, he whose genius
appears deepest and truest excels his fellows in nothing save the
knack of expression; he throws out occasionally a lucky hint at
truths of which every human soul is profoundly, though
unutterably, conscious. Therefore, though we suffer the
brotherhood of intellect to march onward together, it may be
doubted whether their peculiar relation will not begin to vanish
as soon as the procession shall have passed beyond the circle of
this present world. But we do not classify for eternity.
And next, let the trumpet pour forth a funereal wail, and the
herald's voice give breath in one vast cry to all the groans and
grievous utterances that are audible throughout the earth. We
appeal now to the sacred bond of sorrow, and summon the great
multitude who labor under similar afflictions to take their
places in the march.
How many a heart that would have been insensible to any other
call has responded to the doleful accents of that voice! It has
gone far and wide, 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 will therefore be at some pains to
discriminate. Here comes a lonely rich man: he has built a noble
fabric for his dwelling-house, with a front of stately
architecture and marble floors and doors of precious woods; the
whole structure is as beautiful as a dream and as substantial as
the native rock. But the visionary shapes of a long posterity,
for whose home this mansion was intended, have faded into
nothingness since the death of the founder's only son. The rich
man gives a glance at his sable garb in one of the splendid
mirrors of his drawing-room, and descending a flight of lofty
steps instinctively offers his arm to yonder poverty stricken
widow in the rusty black bonnet, and with a check apron over her
patched gown. The sailor boy, who was her sole earthly stay, was
washed overboard in a late tempest. This couple from the palace
and the almshouse are but the types of thousands more who
represent the dark tragedy of life and seldom quarrel for the
upper parts. Grief is such a leveller, with its own dignity and
its own humility, that the noble and the peasant, the beggar and
the monarch, will waive their pretensions to external rank
without the officiousness of interference on our part. If
pride--the influence of the world's false distinctions--remain in
the heart, then sorrow lacks the earnestness which makes it holy
and reverend. It loses its reality and becomes a miserable
shadow. On this ground we have an opportunity to assign over
multitudes who would willingly claim places here to other parts
of the procession. If the mourner have anything dearer than his
grief he must seek his true position elsewhere. There are so many
unsubstantial sorrows which the necessity of our mortal state
begets on idleness, that an observer, casting aside sentiment, is
sometimes led to question whether there be any real woe, except
absolute physical suffering and the loss of closest friends. A
crowd who exhibit what they deem to be broken hearts--and among
them many lovelorn maids and bachelors, and men of disappointed
ambition in arts or politics, and the poor who were once rich, or
who have sought to be rich in vain--the great majority of these
may ask admittance into some other fraternity. There is no room
here. Perhaps we may institute a separate class where such
unfortunates will naturally fall into the procession. Meanwhile
let them stand aside and patiently await their time.
If our trumpeter can borrow a note from the doomsday trumpet
blast, let him sound it now. The dread alarum should make the
earth quake to its centre, for the herald is about to address
mankind with a summons to which even the purest mortal may be
sensible of some faint responding echo in his breast. In many
bosoms it will awaken a still small voice more terrible than its
own reverberating uproar.
The hideous appeal has swept around the globe. Come, all ye
guilty ones, and rank yourselves in accordance with the
brotherhood of crime. This, indeed, is an awful summons. I almost
tremble to look at the strange partnerships that begin to be
formed, reluctantly, but by the in vincible necessity of like to
like in this part of the procession. A forger from the state
prison seizes the arm of a distinguished financier. How
indignantly does the latter plead his fair reputation upon
'Change, and insist that his operations, by their magnificence of
scope, were removed into quite another sphere of morality than
those of his pitiful companion! But let him cut the connection if
he can. Here comes a murderer with his clanking chains, and pairs
himself--horrible to tell--with as pure and upright a man, in all
observable respects, as ever partook of the consecrated bread and
wine. He is one of those, perchance the most hopeless of all
sinners, who practise such an exemplary system of outward duties,
that even a deadly crime may be hidden from their own sight and
remembrance, under this unreal frostwork. Yet he now finds his
place. Why do that pair of flaunting girls, with the pert,
affected laugh and the sly leer at the by-standers, intrude
themselves into the same rank with yonder decorous matron, and
that somewhat prudish maiden? Surely these poor creatures, born
to vice as their sole and natural inheritance, can be no fit
associates for women who have been guarded round about by all the
proprieties of domestic life, and who could not err unless they
first created the opportunity. Oh no; it must be merely the
impertinence of those unblushing hussies; and we can only wonder
how such respectable ladies should have responded to a summons
that was not meant for them.
We shall make short work of this miserable class, each member of
which is entitled to grasp any other member's hand, by that vile
degradation wherein guilty error has buried all alike. The foul
fiend to whom it properly belongs must relieve us of our
loathsome task. Let the bond servants of sin pass on. But neither
man nor woman, in whom good predominates, will smile or sneer,
nor bid the Rogues' March be played, in derision of their array.
Feeling within their breasts a shuddering sympathy, which at
least gives token of the sin that might have been, they will
thank God for any place in the grand procession of human
existence, save among those most wretched ones. Many, however,
will be astonished at the fatal impulse that drags them
thitherward. Nothing is more remarkable than the various
deceptions by which guilt conceals itself from the perpetrator's
conscience, and oftenest, perhaps, by the splendor of its
garments. Statesmen, rulers, generals, and all men who act over
an extensive sphere, are most liable to be deluded in this way;
they commit wrong, devastation, and murder, on so grand a scale,
that it impresses them as speculative rather than actual; but in
our procession we find them linked in detestable conjunction with
the meanest criminals whose deeds have the vulgarity of petty
details. Here the effect of circumstance and accident is done
away, and a man finds his rank according to the spirit of his
crime, in whatever shape it may have been developed.
We have called the Evil; now let us call the Good. The trumpet's
brazen throat should pour heavenly music over the earth, and the
herald's voice go forth with the sweetness of an angel's accents,
as if to summon each upright man to his reward. But how is this?
Does none answer to the call? Not one: for the just, the pure,
the true, and an who might most worthily obey it, shrink sadly
back, as most conscious of error and imperfection. Then let the
summons be to those whose pervading principle is Love. This
classification will embrace all the truly good, and none in whose
souls there exists not something that may expand itself into a
heaven, both of well-doing and felicity.
The first that presents himself is a man of wealth, who has
bequeathed the bulk of his property to a hospital; his ghost,
methinks, would have a better right here than his living body.
But here they come, the genuine benefactors of their race. Some
have wandered about the earth with pictures of bliss in their
imagination, and with hearts that shrank sensitively from the
idea of pain and woe, yet have studied all varieties of misery
that human nature can endure. The prison, the insane asylum, the
squalid chamber of the almshouse, the manufactory where the demon
of machinery annihilates the human soul, and the cotton field
where God's image becomes a beast of burden; to these and every
other scene where man wrongs or neglects his brother, the
apostles of humanity have penetrated. This missionary, black with
India's burning sunshine, shall give his arm to a pale-faced
brother who has made himself familiar with the infected alleys
and loathsome haunts of vice in one of our own cities. The
generous founder of a college shall be the partner of a maiden
lady of narrow substance, one of whose good deeds it has been to
gather a little school of orphan children. If the mighty merchant
whose benefactions are reckoned by thousands of dollars deem
himself worthy, let him join the procession with her whose love
has proved itself by watchings at the sick-bed, and all those
lowly offices which bring her into actual contact with disease
and wretchedness. And with those whose impulses have guided them
to benevolent actions, we will rank others to whom Providence has
assigned a different tendency and different powers. Men who have
spent their lives in generous and holy contemplation for the
human race; those who, by a certain heavenliness of spirit, have
purified the atmosphere around them, and thus supplied a medium
in which good and high things may be projected and
performed--give to these a lofty place among the benefactors of
mankind, although no deed, such as the world calls deeds, may be
recorded of them. There are some individuals of whom we cannot
conceive it proper that they should apply their hands to any
earthly instrument, or work out any definite act; and others,
perhaps not less high, to whom it is an essential attribute to
labor in body as well as spirit for the welfare of their
brethren. Thus, if we find a spiritual sage whose unseen,
inestimable influence has exalted the moral standard of mankind,
we will choose for his companion some poor laborer who has
wrought for love in the potato field of a neighbor poorer than
We have summoned this various multitude--and, to the credit of
our nature, it is a large one--on the principle of Love. It is
singular, nevertheless, to remark the shyness that exists among
many members of the present class, all of whom we might expect to
recognize one another by the freemasonry of mutual goodness, and
to embrace like brethren, giving God thanks for such various
specimens of human excellence. But it is far otherwise. Each sect
surrounds its own righteousness with a hedge of thorns. It is
difficult for the good Christian to acknowledge the good Pagan;
almost impossible for the good Orthodox to grasp the hand of the
good Unitarian, leaving to their Creator to settle the matters in
dispute, and giving their mutual efforts strongly and trustingly
to whatever right thing is too evident to be mistaken. Then
again, though the heart be large, yet the mind is often of such
moderate dimensions as to be exclusively filled up with one idea.
When a good man has long devoted himself to a particular kind of
beneficence--to one species of reform--he is apt to become
narrowed into the limits of the path wherein he treads, and to
fancy that there is no other good to be done on earth but that
self-same good to which he has put his hand, and in the very mode
that best suits his own conceptions. All else is worthless. His
scheme must be wrought out by the united strength of the whole
world's stock of love, or the world is no longer worthy of a
position in the universe. Moreover, powerful Truth, being the
rich grape juice expressed from the vineyard of the ages, has an
intoxicating quality, when imbibed by any save a powerful
intellect, and often, as it were, impels the quaffer to quarrel
in his cups. For such reasons, strange to say, it is harder to
contrive a friendly arrangement of these brethren of love and
righteousness, in the procession of life. than to unite even the
wicked, who, indeed, are chained together by their crimes. The
fact is too preposterous for tears, too lugubrious for laughter.
But, let good men push and elbow one another as they may during
their earthly march, all will be peace among them when the
honorable array or their procession shall tread on heavenly
ground. There they will doubtless find that they have been
working each for the other's cause, and that every well-delivered
stroke, which, with an honest purpose any mortal struck, even for
a narrow object, was indeed stricken for the universal cause of
good. Their own view may be bounded by country, creed,
profession, the diversities of individual character--but above
them all is the breadth of Providence. How many who have deemed
themselves antagonists will smile hereafter, when they look back
upon the world's wide harvest field, and perceive that, in
unconscious brotherhood, they were helping to bind the selfsame
But, come! The sun is hastening westward, while the march of
human life, that never paused before, is delayed by our attempt
to rearrange its order. It is desirable to find some
comprehensive principle, that shall render our task easier by
bringing thousands into the ranks where hitherto we have brought
one. Therefore let the trumpet, if possible, split its brazen
throat with a louder note than ever, and the herald summon all
mortals, who, from whatever cause, have lost, or never found,
their proper places in the wold.
Obedient to this call, a great multitude come together, most of
them with a listless gait, betokening weariness of soul, yet with
a gleam of satisfaction in their faces, at a prospect of at
length reaching those positions which, hitherto, they have vainly
sought. But here will be another disappointment; for we can
attempt no more than merely to associate in one fraternity all
who are afflicted with the same vague trouble. Some great mistake
in life is the chief condition of admittance into this class.
Here are members of the learned professions, whom Providence
endowed with special gifts for the plough, the forge, and the
wheelbarrow, or for the routine of unintellectual business. We
will assign to them, as partners in the march, those lowly
laborers and handicraftsmen, who have pined, as with a dying
thirst, after the unattainable fountains of knowledge. The latter
have lost less than their companions; yet more, because they deem
it infinite. Perchance the two species of unfortunates may
comfort one another. Here are Quakers with the instinct of battle
in them; and men of war who should have worn the broad brim.
Authors shall be ranked here whom some freak of Nature, making
game of her poor children, had imbued with the confidence of
genius and strong desire of fame, but has favored with no
corresponding power; and others, whose lofty gifts were
unaccompanied with the faculty of expression, or any of that
earthly machinery by which ethereal endowments must be manifested
to mankind. All these, therefore, are melancholy laughing-stocks.
Next, here are honest and well intentioned persons, who by a want
of tact--by inaccurate perceptions--by a distorting
imagination--have been kept continually at cross purposes with
the world and bewildered upon the path of life. Let us see if
they can confine themselves within the line of our procession. In
this class, likewise, we must assign places to those who have
encountered that worst of ill success, a higher fortune than
their abilities could vindicate; writers, actors, painters, the
pets of a day, but whose laurels wither unrenewed amid their
hoary hair; politicians, whom some malicious contingency of
affairs has thrust into conspicuous station, where, while the
world stands gazing at them, the dreary consciousness of
imbecility makes them curse their birth hour. To such men, we
give for a companion him whose rare talents, which perhaps
require a Revolution for their exercise, are buried in the tomb
of sluggish circumstances.
Not far from these, we must find room for one whose success has
been of the wrong kind; the man who should have lingered in the
cloisters of a university, digging new treasures out of the
Herculaneum of antique lore, diffusing depth and accuracy of
literature throughout his country, and thus making for himself a
great and quiet fame. But the outward tendencies around him have
proved too powerful for his inward nature, and have drawn him
into the arena of political tumult, there to contend at
disadvantage, whether front to front, or side by side, with the
brawny giants of actual life. He becomes, it may be, a name for
brawling parties to bandy to and fro, a legislator of the Union;
a governor of his native state; an ambassador to the courts of
kings or queens; and the world may deem him a man of happy stars.
But not so the wise; and not so himself, when he looks through
his experience, and sighs to miss that fitness, the one
invaluable touch which makes all things 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's shopboard 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 crooked intellect or temper, all of whom may find
their like, or some tolerable approach to it, in the plentiful
diversity of our latter class. There too, as his ultimate
destiny, must we rank the dreamer, who, all his life long, has
cherished the idea that he was peculiarly apt for something, but
never could determine what it was; and there the most unfortunate
of men, whose purpose it has been to enjoy life's pleasures, but
to avoid a manful struggle with its toil and sorrow. The
remainder, if any, may connect themselves with whatever rank of
the procession they shall find best adapted to their tastes and
consciences. The worst possible fate would be to remain behind,
shivering in the solitude of time, while all the world is on the
move towards eternity. Our attempt to classify society is now
complete. The result may be anything but perfect; yet better--to
give it the very lowest praise--than the antique rule of the
herald's office, or the modern one of the tax-gatherer, whereby
the accidents and superficial attributes with which the real
nature of individuals has least to do, are acted upon as the
deepest characteristics of mankind. Our task is done! 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
mighty bell breaking forth through its regulated uproar,
announces his approach. He comes; a severe, sedate, immovable,
dark rider, waving his truncheon of universal sway, as he passes
along the lengthened line, on the pale horse of the Revelation.
It is Death! Who else could assume the guidance of a procession
that comprehends all humanity? And if some, among these many
millions, should deem themselves classed amiss, yet let them take
to their hearts the comfortable truth that Death levels us all
into one great brotherhood, and that another state of being will
surely rectify the wrong of this. Then breathe thy wail upon the
earth's wailing wind, thou band of melancholy music, made up of
every sigh that the human heart, unsatisfied, has uttered! There
is yet triumph in thy tones. And now we move! Beggars in their
rags, and Kings trailing the regal purple in the dust; the
Warrior's gleaming helmet; the Priest in his sable robe; the
hoary Grandsire, who has run life's circle and come back to
childhood; the ruddy School-boy with his golden curls, frisking
along the march; the Artisan's stuff jacket; the Noble's
star-decorated coat;--the whole presenting a motley spectacle,
yet with a dusky grandeur brooding over it. Onward, onward, into
that dimness where the lights of Time which have blazed along the
procession, are flickering in their sockets! And whither! We know
not; and Death, hitherto our leader, deserts us by the wayside,
as the tramp of our innumerable footsteps echoes beyond his
sphere. He knows not, more than we, our destined goal. But God,
who made us, knows, and will not leave us on our toilsome and
doubtful march, either to wander in infinite uncertainty, or
perish by the way!
FEATHERTOP: A MORALIZED LEGEND
"Dickon," cried Mother Rigby, "a coal for my pipe!"
The pipe was in the old dame's mouth when she said these words.
She had thrust it there after filling it with tobacco, but
without stooping to light it at the hearth, where indeed there
was no appearance of a fire having been kindled that morning.
Forthwith, however, as soon as the order was given, there was an
intense red glow out of the bowl of the pipe, and a whiff of
smoke came from Mother Rigby's lips. Whence the coal came, and
how brought thither by an invisible hand, I have never been able
"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 I need you again."
The good woman had risen thus early (for as yet it was scarcely
sunrise) in order to set about making a scarecrow, which she
intended to put in the middle of her corn-patch. It was now the
latter week of May, 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 as ever was seen, and to finish
it immediately, from top to toe, so that it should begin its
sentinel's duty that very morning. Now Mother Rigby (as
everybody must have heard) was one of the most cunning and potent
witches in New England, and might, with very little trouble, have
made a scarecrow ugly enough to frighten the minister himself.
But on this occasion, as she had awakened in an uncommonly
pleasant humor, and was further dulcified by her pipe tobacco,
she resolved to produce something fine, beautiful, and splendid,
rather than hideous and horrible.
"I don't want to set up a hobgoblin in my own corn-patch, and
almost at my own doorstep," said Mother Rigby to herself, puffing
out a whiff of smoke; "I could do it if I pleased, but I'm tired
of doing marvellous things, and so I'll keep within the bounds of
every-day business just for variety's sake. Besides, there is no
use in scaring the little children for a mile roundabout, though
't is true I'm a witch."
It was settled, therefore, in her own mind, that the scarecrow
should represent a fine gentleman of the period, so far as the
materials at hand would allow. Perhaps it may be as well to
enumerate the chief of the articles that went to the composition
of this figure.
The most important item of all, probably, although it made so
little show, was a certain broomstick, on which Mother Rigby had
taken many an airy gallop at midnight, and which now served the
scarecrow by way of a spinal column, or, as the unlearned phrase
it, a backbone. One of its arms 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 rung of a chair, tied
loosely together at the elbow. As for its legs, the right was a
hoe handle, and the left an undistinguished and miscellaneous
stick from the woodpile. Its lungs, stomach, and other affairs of
that kind were nothing better than a meal bag stuffed with straw.
Thus we have made out the skeleton and entire corporosity of the
scarecrow, with the exception of its head; and this was admirably
supplied by a somewhat withered and shrivelled pumpkin, in which
Mother Rigby cut two holes for the eyes and a slit for the mouth,
leaving a bluish-colored knob in the middle to pass for a nose.
It was really quite a respectable face.
"I've seen worse ones on human shoulders, at any rate," said
Mother Rigby. "And many a fine gentleman has a pumpkin head, as
well as my scarecrow."
But the clothes, in this case, were to be the making of the man.
So the good old woman took down from a peg an ancient
plum-colored coat of London make, and with relics of embroidery
on its seams, cuffs, pocket-flaps, and button-holes, but
lamentably worn and faded, patched at the elbows, tattered at the
skirts, and threadbare all over. On the left breast was a round
hole, whence either a star of nobility had been rent away, or
else the hot heart of some former wearer had scorched it through
and through. The neighbors said that this rich garment belonged
to the Black Man's wardrobe, and that he kept it at Mother
Rigby's cottage for the convenience of slipping it on whenever he
wished to make a grand appearance at the governor's table. To
match the coat there was a velvet waistcoat of very ample size,
and formerly embroidered with foliage that had been as brightly
golden as the maple leaves in October, but which had now quite
vanished out of the substance of the velvet. Next came a pair of
scarlet breeches, once worn by the French governor of Louisbourg,
and the knees of which had touched the lower step of the throne
of Louis le Grand. The Frenchman had given these
small-clothes to an Indian powwow, who parted with them to
the old witch for a gill of strong waters, at one of their dances
in the forest. Furthermore, Mother Rigby produced a pair of silk
stockings and put them on the figure's legs, where they showed as
unsubstantial as a dream, with the wooden reality of the two
sticks making itself miserably apparent through the holes.
Lastly, she put her dead husband's wig on the bare scalp of the
pumpkin, and surmounted the whole with a dusty three-cornered
hat, in which was stuck the longest tail feather of a rooster.
Then the old dame stood the figure up in a corner of her cottage
and chuckled to behold its yellow semblance of a visage, with its
nobby little nose thrust into the air. It had a strangely
self-satisfied aspect, 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've been a witch, but methinks this is the finest
of them all. 'Tis almost too good for a scarecrow. And, by the
by, I'll just fill a fresh pipe of tobacco and then take him out
to the corn-patch."
While filling her pipe the old woman continued to gaze with
almost motherly affection at the figure in the corner. To say the
truth, whether it were chance, or skill, or downright witchcraft,
there was something wonderfully human in this ridiculous shape,
bedizened with its tattered finery; and as for the countenance,
it appeared to shrivel its yellow surface into a grin--a funny
kind of expression betwixt scorn and merriment, as if it
understood itself to be a jest at mankind. 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-glowing coal on the top of the tobacco. She drew in a long
whiff and puffed it forth again into the bar of morning sunshine
which struggled through the one dusty pane of her cottage window.
Mother Rigby always liked to flavor her pipe with a coal of fire
from the particular chimney corner whence this had been brought.
But where that chimney corner might be, or who brought the coal
from it,--further than that the invisible messenger seemed to
respond to the name of Dickon,--I cannot tell.
"That puppet yonder," thought Mother Rigby, still with her eyes
fixed on the scarecrow, "is too good a piece of work to stand all
summer in a corn-patch, frightening away the crows and
blackbirds. He's capable of better things. Why, I've danced with
a worse one, when partners happened to be scarce, at our witch
meetings in the forest! What if I should let him take his chance
among the other men of straw and empty fellows who go bustling
about the world?"
The old witch took three or four more whiffs of her pipe and
"He'll meet plenty of his brethren at every street corner!"
continued she. "Well; I didn't mean to dabble in witchcraft
to-day, further than the lighting of my pipe, but a witch I am,
and a witch I'm likely to be, and there's no use trying to shirk
it. I'll make a man of my scarecrow, were it only for the joke's
While muttering these words, Mother Rigby took the pipe from her
own mouth and thrust it into the crevice which represented the
same feature in the pumpkin visage of the scarecrow.
"Puff, darling, puff!" said she. "Puff away, my fine fellow! your
life depends on it!"
This was a strange exhortation, undoubtedly, to be addressed to a
mere thing of sticks, straw, and old clothes, with nothing better
than a shrivelled pumpkin for a head,--as we know to have been
the scarecrow's case. Nevertheless, as we must carefully hold in
remembrance, Mother Rigby was a witch of singular power and
dexterity; and, keeping this fact duly before our minds, we shall
see nothing beyond credibility in the remarkable incidents of our
story. Indeed, the great difficulty will be at once got over, if
we can only bring ourselves to believe that, as soon as the old
dame bade him puff, there came a whiff of smoke from the
scarecrow's mouth. It was the very feeblest of whiffs, to be
sure; but it was followed by another and another, each more
decided than the preceding one.
"Puff away, my pet! puff away, my pretty one!" Mother Rigby kept
repeating, 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
a spell either in the tobacco or in the fiercely-glowing coal
that so mysteriously burned on top of it, or in the
pungently-aromatic smoke which exhaled from the kindled weed. The
figure, after a few doubtful attempts at length blew forth a
volley of smoke extending all the way from the obscure corner
into the bar of sunshine. There it eddied and melted away among
the motes of dust. It seemed a convulsive effort; for the two or
three next whiffs were fainter, although the coal still glowed
and threw a gleam over the scarecrow's visage. The old witch
clapped her skinny hands together, and smiled encouragingly upon
her handiwork. She saw that the charm worked well. The
shrivelled, yellow face, which heretofore had been no face at
all, had already a thin, fantastic haze, as it were of human
likeness, shifting to and fro across it; sometimes vanishing
entirely, but growing more perceptible than ever with the next
whiff from the pipe. The whole figure, in like manner, assumed a
show of life, such as we impart to ill-defined shapes among the
clouds, and half deceive ourselves with the pastime of our own
If we must needs pry closely into the matter, it may be doubted
whether there was any real change, after all, in the sordid,
wornout worthless, and ill-jointed substance of the scarecrow;
but merely a spectral illusion, and a cunning effect of light and
shade so colored and contrived as to delude the eyes of most men.
The miracles of witchcraft seem always to have had a very shallow
subtlety; and, at least, if the above explanation do not hit the
truth of the process, I can suggest no better.
"Well puffed, my pretty lad!" still cried old Mother Rigby.
"Come, another good stout whiff, and let it be with might and
main. Puff for thy life, I tell thee! Puff out of the very bottom
of thy heart, if any heart thou hast, or any bottom to it! Well
done, again! Thou didst suck in that mouthful as if for the pure
love of it."
And then the witch beckoned to the scarecrow, throwing so much
magnetic potency into her gesture that it seemed as if it must
inevitably be obeyed, like the mystic call of the loadstone when
it summons the iron.
"Why lurkest thou in the corner, lazy one?" said she. "Step
forth! Thou hast the world before thee!"
Upon my word, if the legend were not one which I heard on my
grandmother's knee, and which had established its place among
things credible before my childish judgment could analyze its
probability, I question whether I should have the face to tell it
In obedience to Mother Rigby's word, and extending its arm as if
to reach her outstretched hand, the figure made a step forward--a
kind of hitch and jerk, however, rather than a step--then
tottered and almost lost its balance. What could the witch
expect? It was nothing, after all, but a scarecrow stuck upon two
sticks. But the strong-willed old beldam scowled, and beckoned,
and flung the energy of her purpose so forcibly at this poor
combination of rotten wood, and musty straw, and ragged garments,
that it was compelled to show itself a man, in spite of the
reality of things. So it stepped into the bar of sunshine. There
it stood, poor devil of a contrivance that it was!--with only the
thinnest vesture of human similitude about it, through which was
evident the stiff, rickety, incongruous, faded, tattered,
good-for-nothing patchwork of its substance, ready to sink in a
heap upon the floor, as conscious of its own unworthiness to be
erect. Shall I confess the truth? At its present point of
vivification, the scarecrow reminds me of some of the lukewarm
and abortive characters, composed of heterogeneous materials,
used for the thousandth time, and never 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
her diabolic nature (like a snake's head, peeping with a hiss out
of her bosom), at this pusillanimous behavior of the thing which
she had taken the trouble to put together.
"Puff away, wretch!" cried she, wrathfully. "Puff, puff, puff,
thou thing of straw and emptiness! thou rag or two! thou meal
bag! thou pumpkin head! thou nothing! Where shall I find a name
vile enough to call thee by? Puff, I say, and suck in thy
fantastic life with the smoke! else I snatch the pipe from thy
mouth and hurl thee where that red coal came from."
Thus threatened, the unhappy scarecrow had nothing for it but to
puff away for dear life. As need was, therefore, it applied
itself lustily to the pipe, and sent forth such abundant volleys
of tobacco smoke that the small cottage kitchen became all
vaporous. The one sunbeam struggled mistily through, and could
but imperfectly define the image of the cracked and dusty window
pane on the opposite wall. Mother Rigby, meanwhile, with one
brown arm akimbo and the other stretched towards the figure,
loomed grimly amid the obscurity with such port and expression as
when she was wont to heave a ponderous nightmare on her victims
and stand at the bedside to enjoy their agony. In fear and
trembling did this poor scarecrow puff. But its efforts, it must
be acknowledged, served an excellent purpose; for, with each
successive whiff, the figure lost more and more of its dizzy and
perplexing tenuity and seemed to take denser substance. Its very
garments, moreover, partook of the magical change, and shone with
the gloss of novelty and glistened with the skilfully embroidered
gold that had long ago been rent away. And, half revealed among
the smoke, a yellow visage bent its lustreless eyes on Mother
At last the old witch clinched her fist and shook it at the
figure. Not that she was positively angry, but merely acting on
the principle--perhaps untrue, or not the only truth, though as
high a one as Mother Rigby could be expected to attain--that
feeble and torpid natures, being incapable of better inspiration,
must be stirred up by fear. But here was the crisis. Should she
fail in what she now sought to effect, it was her ruthless
purpose to scatter the miserable simulacre into its original
"Thou hast a man's aspect," said she, sternly. "Have also the
echo and mockery of a voice! I bid thee speak!"
The scarecrow gasped, struggled, and at length emitted a murmur,
which was so incorporated with its smoky breath that you could
scarcely tell whether it were indeed a voice or only a whiff of
tobacco. Some narrators of this legend hold the opinion that
Mother Rigby's conjurations and the fierceness of her will had
compelled a familiar spirit into the figure, and that the voice
"Mother," mumbled the poor stifled voice, "be not so awful with
me! I would fain speak; but being without wits, what can I say?"
"Thou canst speak, darling, canst thou?" cried Mother Rigby,
relaxing her grim countenance into a smile. "And what shalt thou
say, quoth-a! Say, indeed! Art thou of the brotherhood of the
empty skull, and demandest of me what thou shalt say? Thou shalt
say a thousand things, and saying them a thousand times over,
thou shalt still have said nothing! Be not afraid, I tell thee!
When thou comest into the world (whither I purpose sending thee
forthwith) thou shalt not lack the wherewithal 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.
"Then thou speakest like thyself, and meant nothing. Thou shalt
have a hundred such set phrases, and five hundred to the boot of
them. And now, darling, I have taken so much pains with thee and
thou art so beautiful, that, by my troth, I love thee better than
any witch's puppet 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 thou art 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
her sides 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 thy waistcoat 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 in the great world, where not one man in a hundred, she
affirmed, was gifted with more real substance than itself. And,
that he might hold up his head with the best of them, she endowed
him, on the spot, with an unreckonable amount of wealth. It
consisted partly of a gold mine in Eldorado, and of ten thousand
shares in a broken bubble, and of half a million acres of
vineyard at the North Pole, and of a castle in the air, and a
chateau in Spain, together with all the rents and income
therefrom accruing. She further made over to him the cargo of a
certain ship, laden with salt of Cadiz, which she herself, by her
necromantic arts, had caused to founder, ten years before, in the
deepest part of mid-ocean. If the salt were not dissolved, and
could be brought to market, it would fetch a pretty penny among
the fishermen. That he might not lack ready money, she gave him a
copper farthing of Birmingham manufacture, being all the coin she
had about her, and likewise a great deal of brass, which she
applied to his forehead, thus making it yellower than ever.
"With that brass alone," quoth Mother Rigby, "thou canst pay thy
way all over the earth. Kiss me, pretty darling! I have done my
best for thee."
Furthermore, that the adventurer might lack no possible advantage
towards a fair start in life, this excellent old dame gave him a
token by which he was to introduce himself to a certain
magistrate, member of the council, merchant, and elder of the
church (the four capacities constituting but one man), who stood
at the head of society in the neighboring metropolis. The token
was neither more nor less than a single word, which Mother Rigby
whispered to the scarecrow, and which the scarecrow was to
whisper to the merchant.
"Gouty as the old fellow is, he'll run thy errands for thee, when
once thou hast given him that word in his ear," said the old
witch. "Mother Rigby knows the worshipful Justice Gookin, and the
worshipful Justice knows Mother Rigby!"
Here the witch thrust her wrinkled face close to the puppet's,
chuckling irrepressibly, and fidgeting all through her system,
with delight at the idea which she meant to communicate.
"The worshipful Master Gookin," whispered she, "hath a comely
maiden to his daughter. And hark ye, my pet! Thou hast a fair
outside, and a pretty wit enough of thine own. Yea, a pretty wit
enough! Thou wilt think 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 a young girl's heart. Never doubt it! I
tell thee it shall be so. Put but a bold face on the matter,
sigh, smile, flourish thy hat, thrust forth thy leg like a
dancing-master, put thy right hand to the left side of thy
waistcoat, and pretty Polly Gookin is thine own!"
All this while the new creature had been sucking in and exhaling
the vapory fragrance of his pipe, and seemed now to continue this
occupation as much for the enjoyment it afforded as because it
was an essential condition of his existence. It was wonderful to
see how exceedingly like a human being it behaved. Its eyes (for
it appeared to possess a pair) were bent on Mother Rigby, and at
suitable junctures it nodded or shook its head. Neither did it
lack words proper for the occasion: "Really! Indeed! Pray tell
me! Is it possible! Upon my word! By no means! Oh! Ah! Hem!" and
other such weighty utterances as imply attention, inquiry,
acquiescence, or dissent on the part of the auditor. Even had you
stood by and seen the scarecrow made, you could scarcely have
resisted the conviction that it perfectly understood the cunning
counsels which the old witch poured into its counterfeit of an
ear. The more earnestly it applied its lips to the pipe, the more
distinctly was its human likeness stamped among visible
realities, the more sagacious grew its expression, the more
lifelike its gestures and movements, and the more intelligibly
audible its voice. Its garments, too, glistened so much the
brighter with an illusory magnificence. The very pipe, in which
burned the spell of all this wonderwork, ceased to appear 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
illusion seemed identical with the vapor of the pipe, it would
terminate simultaneously with the reduction of the tobacco to
ashes. But the beldam foresaw the difficulty.
"Hold thou the pipe, my precious one," said she, "while I fill it
for thee again.
It was sorrowful to behold how the fine gentleman began to fade
back into a scarecrow while Mother Rigby shook the ashes out of
the pipe and proceeded to replenish it from her tobacco-box.
"Dickon," cried she, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for
No sooner said than the intensely red speck of fire was glowing
within the pipe-bowl; and the scarecrow, without waiting for the
witch's bidding, applied the tube to his lips and drew in a few
short, convulsive whiffs, which soon, however, became regular and
"Now, mine own heart's darling," quoth Mother Rigby, "whatever
may happen to thee, thou must stick to thy pipe. Thy life is in
it; and that, at least, thou knowest well, if thou knowest nought
besides. Stick to thy pipe, I say! Smoke, puff, blow thy cloud;
and tell the people, if any question be made, that it is for thy
health, and that so the physician orders thee to do. And, sweet
one, when thou shalt find thy pipe getting low, go apart into
some corner, and (first filling thyself with smoke) cry sharply,
'Dickon, a fresh pipe of tobacco!' and, 'Dickon, another coal for
my pipe!' and have it into thy pretty mouth as speedily as may
be. Else, instead of a gallant gentleman in a gold-laced coat,
thou wilt be but a jumble of sticks and tattered clothes, and a
bag of straw, and a withered pumpkin! Now depart, my treasure,
and good luck go with thee!"
"Never fear, mother!" said the figure, in a stout voice, and
sending forth a courageous whiff of smoke, "I will thrive, if an
honest man and a gentleman may!"
"Oh, thou wilt be the death of me!" cried the old witch,
convulsed with laughter. "That was well said. If an honest man
and a gentleman may! Thou playest thy part to perfection. Get
along with thee for a smart fellow; 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 should have, against any other
thing on two legs. I hold myself a better witch than yesterday,
for thy sake. Did not I make thee? And I defy any witch in New
England to make such another! Here; take my staff along with
The staff, though it was but a plain oaken stick, immediately
took the aspect of a gold-headed cane.
"That gold head has as much sense in it as thine own," said
Mother Rigby, "and it will guide thee straight to worshipful
Master Gookin's door. Get thee gone, my pretty pet, my darling,
my precious one, my treasure; and if any ask thy name, it is
Feathertop. For thou hast a feather in thy hat, and I have thrust
a handful of feathers into the hollow of thy head, and thy wig,
too, is of the fashion they call Feathertop,--so be Feathertop
And, issuing from the cottage, Feathertop strode manfully towards
town. Mother Rigby stood at the threshold, well pleased to see
how the sunbeams glistened on him, as if all his magnificence
were real, and how diligently and lovingly he smoked his pipe,
and how handsomely he walked, in spite of a little stiffness of
his legs. She watched him until 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
neighboring town was just at its acme of life and bustle, a
stranger of very distinguished figure was seen on the sidewalk.
His port as well as his garments betokened nothing short of
nobility. He wore a richly-embroidered plum-colored coat, a
waistcoat of costly velvet, magnificently adorned with golden
foliage, a pair of splendid scarlet breeches, and the finest and
glossiest of white silk stockings. His head was covered with a
peruke, so daintily powdered and adjusted that it 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 the
fine gentlemen of the period; and, to give the highest possible
finish to his equipment, he had lace ruffles at his wrist, of a
most ethereal delicacy, sufficiently avouching how idle and
aristocratic must be the hands which they half concealed.
It was a remarkable point in the accoutrement of this brilliant
personage that he held in his left hand a fantastic kind of a
pipe, with an exquisitely painted bowl and an amber mouthpiece.
This he applied to his lips as often as every five or six paces,
and inhaled a deep 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 the
"It is some great nobleman, beyond question," said one of the
townspeople. "Do you see the star at his breast?"
"Nay; it is too bright to be seen," said another. "Yes; he must
needs be a nobleman, as you say. But by what conveyance, think
you, can his lordship have voyaged or travelled hither? There has
been no vessel from the old country for a month past; and if he
have arrived overland from the southward, pray where are his
attendants and equipage?"
"He needs no equipage to set off his rank," remarked a third. "If
he came among us in rags, nobility would shine through a hole in
his elbow. I never saw such dignity of aspect. He has the old
Norman blood in his veins, I warrant him."
"I rather take him to be a Dutchman, or one of your high
Germans," said another citizen. "The men of those countries have
always the pipe at their mouths."
"And so has a Turk," answered his companion. "But, in my
judgment, this stranger hath been bred at the French court, and
hath there learned politeness and grace of manner, which none
understand so well as the nobility of France. That gait, now! A
vulgar spectator might deem it stiff--he might call it a hitch
and jerk--but, to my eye, it hath an unspeakable majesty, and
must have been acquired by constant observation of the deportment
of the Grand Monarque. The stranger's character 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 yellow
complexion; or, most likely, he is from the Havana, or from some
port on the Spanish main, and comes to make investigation about
the piracies which our government is thought to connive at. Those
settlers in Peru and Mexico have skins as yellow as the gold
which they dig out of their mines."
"Yellow or not," cried a lady, "he is a beautiful man!--so tall,
so slender! such a fine, noble face, with so well-shaped a nose,
and all that delicacy of expression about the mouth! And, bless
me, how bright his star is! It positively shoots out flames!"
"So do your eyes, fair lady," said the stranger, with a bow and a
flourish of his pipe; for he was just passing at the instant.
"Upon my honor, 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,
there were only two dissenting voices. One was that of an
impertinent cur, which, after snuffing at the heels of the
glistening figure, put its tail between its legs and skulked into
its master's back yard, vociferating an execrable howl. The other
dissentient was a young child, who squalled at the fullest
stretch of his lungs, and babbled some unintelligible nonsense
about a pumpkin.
Feathertop meanwhile pursued his way along the street. Except for
the few complimentary words to the lady, and now and then a
slight inclination of the head in requital of the profound
reverences of the bystanders, he seemed wholly absorbed in his
pipe. There needed no other proof of his rank and consequence
than the perfect equanimity with which he comported himself,
while the curiosity and admiration of the town swelled almost
into clamor around him. With a crowd gathering behind his
footsteps, he finally reached the mansion-house of the worshipful
Justice Gookin, entered the gate, ascended the steps of the front
door, and knocked. In the interim, before his summons was
answered, the stranger was observed to shake the ashes out of his
"What did he say in that sharp voice?" inquired one of the
"Nay, I know not," answered his friend. "But the sun dazzles my
eyes strangely. How dim and faded his lordship looks all of a
sudden! Bless my wits, what is the matter with me?"
"The wonder is," said the other, "that his pipe, which was out
only an instant ago, should be all alight again, and with the
reddest coal I ever saw. There is something mysterious about this
stranger. What a whiff of smoke was that! Dim and faded did you
call him? Why, as he turns about the star on his breast is all
"It is, indeed," said his companion; "and it will go near to
dazzle pretty Polly Gookin, whom I see peeping at it out of the
The door being now opened, Feathertop turned to the crowd, made a
stately bend of his body like a great man acknowledging the
reverence of the meaner sort, and vanished into the house. There
was a mysterious kind 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 an individual appears to have possessed
insight enough to detect the illusive character of the stranger
except a little child and a cur dog.
Our legend here loses somewhat of its continuity, and, passing
over the preliminary explanation between Feathertop and the
merchant, goes in quest of the pretty Polly Gookin. She was a
damsel of a soft, round figure, with light hair and blue eyes,
and a fair, rosy face, which seemed neither very shrewd nor very
simple. This young lady had caught a glimpse of the glistening
stranger while standing on the threshold, and had forthwith put
on a laced cap, a string of beads, her finest kerchief, and her
stiffest damask petticoat in preparation for the interview.
Hurrying from her chamber to the parlor, she had ever since been
viewing herself in the large looking-glass and practising pretty
airs-now a smile, now a ceremonious dignity of aspect, and now a
softer smile than the former, kissing her hand likewise, tossing
her head, and managing her fan; while within the mirror an
unsubstantial little maid repeated every gesture and did all the
foolish things that Polly did, but without making her ashamed of
them. In short, it was the fault of pretty Polly's ability rather
than her will if she failed to be as complete an artifice as the
illustrious Feathertop himself; and, when she thus tampered with
her own simplicity, the witch's phantom might well hope to win
No sooner did Polly hear her father's gouty footsteps approaching
the parlor door, accompanied with the stiff clatter of
Feathertop's high-heeled shoes, than she seated herself bolt
upright and innocently began warbling a song.
"Polly! daughter Polly!" cried the old merchant. "Come hither,
Master Gookin's aspect, as he opened the door, was doubtful and
"This gentleman," continued he, presenting the stranger, "is the
Chevalier Feathertop,--nay, I beg his pardon, my Lord Feathertop,
--who hath brought me a token of remembrance from an ancient
friend of mine. Pay your duty to his lordship, child, and honor
him as his quality deserves."
After these few words of introduction, the worshipful magistrate
immediately quitted the room. But, even in that brief moment, had
the fair Polly glanced aside at her father instead of devoting
herself wholly to the brilliant guest, she might have taken
warning of some mischief 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 of galvanic grin, which, when
Feathertop's back was turned, he exchanged for a scowl, at the
same time shaking his fist and stamping his gouty foot--an
incivility which brought its retribution along with it. The truth
appears to have been that Mother Rigby's word of introduction,
whatever it might be, had operated far more on the rich
merchant's fears than on his good will. Moreover, being a man of
wonderfully acute observation, he had noticed that these painted
figures on the bowl of Feathertop's pipe were in motion. Looking
more closely he became convinced that these figures were a party
of little demons, each duly provided with horns and a tail, and
dancing hand in hand, with gestures of diabolical merriment,
round the circumference of the pipe bowl. As if to confirm his
suspicions, while Master Gookin ushered his guest along a dusky
passage from his private room to the parlor, the star on
Feathertop's breast had scintillated actual flames, and threw a
flickering gleam upon the wall, the ceiling, and the floor.
With such sinister prognostics manifesting themselves on all
hands, it is not to be marvelled at that the merchant should have
felt that he was committing his daughter to a very questionable
acquaintance. He cursed, in his secret soul, the insinuating
elegance of Feathertop's manners, as this brilliant personage
bowed, smiled, put his hand on his heart, inhaled a long whiff
from his pipe, and enriched the atmosphere with the smoky vapor
of a fragrant and visible sigh. Gladly would poor Master Gookin
have thrust his dangerous guest into the street; but there was a
constraint and terror within him. This respectable old gentleman,
we fear, at an earlier period of life, had given some pledge or
other to the evil principle, and perhaps was now to redeem it by
the sacrifice of his daughter.
It so happened that the parlor door was partly of glass, shaded
by a silken curtain, the folds of which hung a little awry. So
strong was the merchant's interest in witnessing what was to
ensue between the fair Polly and the gallant Feathertop that,
after quitting the room, he could by no means refrain from
peeping through the crevice of the curtain.
But there was nothing very miraculous to be seen; nothing--except
the trifles previously noticed--to confirm the idea of a
supernatural peril environing the pretty Polly. The stranger it
is true was evidently a thorough and practised man of the world,
systematic and self-possessed, and therefore the sort of a person
to whom a parent ought not to confide a simple, young girl
without due watchfulness for the result. The worthy magistrate
who had been conversant with all degrees and qualities of
mankind, could not but perceive every motion and gesture of the
distinguished Feathertop came in its proper place; nothing had
been left rude or native in him; a well-digested conventionalism
had incorporated itself thoroughly with his substance and
transformed him into a work of art. Perhaps it was this
peculiarity that invested him with a species of ghastliness and
awe. It is the effect of anything completely and consummately
artificial, in human shape, that the person impresses us as an
unreality and as having hardly pith enough to cast a shadow upon
the floor. As regarded Feathertop, all this resulted in a wild,
extravagant, and fantastical impression, as if his life and being
were akin to the smoke that curled upward from his pipe.
But pretty Polly Gookin felt not thus. The pair were now
promenading the room: Feathertop with his dainty stride and no
less dainty grimace, the girl with a native maidenly grace, just
touched, not spoiled, by a slightly affected manner, which seemed
caught from the perfect artifice of her companion. The longer the
interview continued, the more charmed was pretty Polly, until,
within the first quarter of an hour (as the old magistrate noted
by his watch), she was evidently beginning to be in love. Nor
need it have been witchcraft that subdued her in such a hurry;
the poor child's heart, it may be, was so very fervent that it
melted her with its own warmth as reflected from the hollow
semblance of a lover. No matter what Feathertop said, his words
found depth and reverberation in her ear; no matter what he did,
his action was heroic to her eye. And by this time it is to be
supposed there was a blush on Polly's cheek, a tender smile about
her mouth and a liquid softness in her glance; while the star
kept coruscating on Feathertop's breast, and the little demons
careered with more frantic merriment than ever about the
circumference of his pipe bowl. O pretty Polly Gookin, why should
these imps rejoice so madly that a silly maiden's heart was about
to be given to a shadow! Is it so unusual a misfortune, so rare a
By and by Feathertop paused, and throwing himself into an
imposing attitude, seemed to summon the fair girl to survey his
figure and resist him longer if she could. His star, his
embroidery, his buckles glowed at that instant with unutterable
splendor; the picturesque hues of his attire took a richer depth
of coloring; there was a gleam and polish over his whole presence
betokening the perfect witchery of well-ordered manners. The
maiden raised her eyes and suffered them to linger upon her
companion with a bashful and admiring gaze. Then, as if desirous
of judging what value her own simple comeliness might have side
by side with so much brilliancy, she cast a glance towards the
full-length looking-glass in front of which they happened to be
standing. It was one of the truest plates in the world and
incapable of flattery. No sooner did the images therein reflected
meet Polly's eye than she shrieked, shrank from the stranger's
side, gazed at him for a moment 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 the sordid patchwork of his real
composition stripped of all witchcraft.
The wretched simulacrum! We almost pity him. He threw up his arms
with an expression of despair that went further than any of his
previous manifestations towards vindicating his claims to be
reckoned human, for perchance the only time since this so often
empty and deceptive life of mortals began its course, an illusion
had seen and fully recognized itself.
Mother Rigby was seated by her kitchen hearth in the twilight of
this eventful day, and had just shaken the ashes out of a new
pipe, when she heard a hurried tramp along the road. Yet it did
not seem so much the tramp of human footsteps as the clatter of
sticks or the rattling of dry bones.
"Ha!" thought the old witch, "what step is that? Whose skeleton
is out of its grave now, I wonder?"
A figure burst headlong into the cottage door. It was Feathertop!
His pipe was still alight; the star still flamed upon his breast;
the embroidery still glowed upon his garments; nor had he lost,
in any degree or manner that could be estimated, the aspect that
assimilated him with our mortal brotherhood. But yet, in some
indescribable way (as is the case with all that has deluded us
when once found out), the poor reality was felt beneath the
"What has gone wrong?" demanded the witch. "Did yonder sniffling
hypocrite thrust my darling from his door? The villain! I'll set
twenty fiends to torment him till he offer thee his daughter on
his bended knees!"
"No, mother," said Feathertop despondingly; "it was not that."
"Did the girl scorn my precious one?" asked Mother Rigby, her
fierce eyes glowing like two coals of Tophet. "I'll cover her
face with pimples! Her nose shall be as red as the coal in thy
pipe! Her front teeth shall drop out! In a week hence she shall
not be worth thy having!"
"Let her alone, mother," answered poor Feathertop; "the girl was
half won; and methinks a kiss from her sweet lips might have made
me altogether human. But," he added, after a brief pause and then
a howl of self-contempt, "I've seen myself, mother! I've seen
myself for the wretched, ragged, empty thing I am! I'll exist no
Snatching the pipe from his mouth, he flung it with all his might
against the chimney, and at the same instant sank upon the floor,
a medley of straw and tattered garments, with some sticks
protruding from the heap, and a shrivelled pumpkin in the midst.
The eyeholes were now lustreless; but the rudely-carved gap, that
just before had been a mouth still seemed to twist itself into a
despairing grin, and was so far human.
"Poor fellow!" quoth Mother Rigby, with a rueful glance at the
relics of her ill-fated contrivance. "My poor, dear, pretty
Feathertop! There are thousands upon thousands of coxcombs and
charlatans in the world, made up of just such a jumble of
wornout, forgotten, and good-for-nothing trash as he was! Yet
they live in fair repute, and never see themselves for what they
are. And why should my poor puppet be the only one to know
himself and perish for it?"
While thus muttering, the witch had filled a fresh pipe of
tobacco, and held the stem between her fingers, as doubtful
whether to thrust it into her own mouth or Feathertop's.
"Poor Feathertop!" she continued. "I could easily give him
another chance and send him forth again tomorrow. But no; his
feelings are too tender, his sensibilities too deep. He seems to
have too much heart to bustle for his own advantage in such an
empty and heartless world. Well! well! I'll make a scarecrow of
him after all. 'Tis an innocent and useful vocation, and will
suit my darling well; and, if each of his human 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!"
cried she, in her high, sharp tone, "another coal for my pipe!"
EGOTISM; OR, THE BOSOM SERPENT
[From the Unpublished "Allegories of the Heart."]
 The physical fact, to which it is here attempted to give a
moral signification, has been known to occur in more than one
"Here he comes!" shouted the boys along the street. "Here comes
the man with a snake in his bosom!"
This outcry, saluting Herkimer's ears as he was about to enter
the iron gate of the Elliston mansion, made him pause. It was not
without a shudder that he found himself on the point of meeting
his former acquaintance, whom he had known in the glory of youth,
and whom now after an interval of five years, he was to find the
victim either of a diseased fancy or a horrible physical
"A snake in his bosom!" repeated the young sculptor to himself.
"It must be he. No second man on earth has such a bosom friend.
And now, my poor 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
waited until the personage so singularly announced should make
his appearance. After an instant or two he beheld the figure of a
lean man, of unwholesome look, with glittering eyes and long
black hair, who seemed to imitate the motion of a snake; for,
instead of walking straight forward with open front, he undulated
along the pavement in a curved line. It may be too fanciful to
say that something, either in his moral or material aspect,
suggested the idea that a miracle had been wrought by
transforming a serpent into a man, but so imperfectly that the
snaky nature was yet hidden, and scarcely hidden, under the mere
outward guise of humanity. Herkimer remarked that his complexion
had a greenish tinge over its sickly white, reminding him of a
species of marble out of 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 the
compassionate 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 the
apparent lunatic's own lips, or was the real hiss of a serpent,
might admit of a discussion. At all events, it made Herkimer
shudder to his heart's core.
"Do you know me, George Herkimer?" asked the snake-possessed.
Herkimer did know him; but it demanded all the intimate and
practical acquaintance with the human face, acquired by modelling
actual likenesses in clay, to recognize the features of Roderick
Elliston in the visage that now met the sculptor's gaze. Yet it
was he. It added nothing to the wonder to reflect that the once
brilliant young man had undergone this odious and fearful change
during the no more than five brief years of Herkimer's abode at
Florence. The possibility of such a transformation being granted,
it was as easy to conceive it effected in a moment as in an age.
Inexpressibly shocked and startled, it was still the keenest pang
when Herkimer remembered that the fate of his cousin Rosina, the
ideal of gentle womanhood, was indissolubly interwoven with that
of a being whom Providence seemed to have unhumanized.
"Elliston! Roderick!" cried he, "I had heard of this; but my
conception came far short of the truth. What has befallen you?
Why do I find you thus?"
"Oh, 'tis a mere nothing! A snake! A snake! The commonest thing
in the world. A snake in the bosom--that's all," answered
Roderick Elliston. "But how is your own breast?" continued he,
looking the sculptor in the eye with the most acute and
penetrating glance that it had ever been his fortune to
encounter. "All pure and wholesome? No reptile there? By my 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
upon the shoulder of the snake-possessed. "I have crossed the
ocean to meet you. Listen! Let us be private. I bring a message
from Rosina--from your wife!"
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" muttered Roderick.
With this exclamation, the most frequent in his mouth, the
unfortunate man clutched both hands upon his breast as if an
intolerable sting or torture impelled him to rend it open and let
out the living mischief, even should it be intertwined with his
own life. He then freed himself from Herkimer's grasp by a subtle
motion, and, gliding through the gate, took refuge in his
antiquated family residence. The sculptor did not pursue him. He
saw that no available intercourse could be expected at such a
moment, and was desirous, before another meeting, to inquire
closely into the nature of Roderick's disease and the
circumstances that had reduced him to so lamentable a condition.
He succeeded in obtaining the necessary information from an
eminent medical gentleman.
Shortly after Elliston's separation from his wife--now nearly
four years ago--his associates had observed a singular gloom
spreading over his daily life, like those chill, gray mists that
sometimes steal away the sunshine from a summer's morning. The
symptoms caused them endless perplexity. They knew not whether
ill health were robbing his spirits of elasticity, or whether a
canker of the mind was gradually eating, as such cankers do, from
his moral system into the physical frame, which is but the shadow
of the former. They looked for the root of this trouble in his
shattered schemes of domestic bliss,--wilfully shattered by
himself,--but could not be satisfied of its existence there. Some
thought that their once brilliant friend was in an incipient
stage of insanity, of which his passionate impulses had perhaps
been the forerunners; others prognosticated a general blight and
gradual decline. From Roderick's own lips they could learn
nothing. More than once, it is true, he had been heard to say,
clutching his hands convulsively upon his breast,--"It gnaws me!
It gnaws me!"--but, by different auditors, a great diversity of
explanation was assigned to this ominous expression. What could
it be that gnawed the breast of Roderick Elliston? Was it sorrow?
Was it merely the tooth of physical disease? Or, in his reckless
course, often verging upon profligacy, if not plunging into its
depths, had he been guilty of some deed which made his bosom a
prey to the deadlier fangs of remorse? There was plausible ground
for each of these conjectures; but it must not be concealed that
more than one elderly gentleman, the victim of good cheer and
slothful habits, magisterially pronounced the secret of the whole
matter to be Dyspepsia!
Meanwhile, Roderick seemed aware how generally he had become the
subject of curiosity and conjecture, and, with a morbid
repugnance to such notice, or to any notice whatsoever, estranged
himself from all companionship. Not merely the eye of man was a
horror to him; not merely the light of a friend's countenance;
but even the blessed sunshine, likewise, which in its universal
beneficence typifies the radiance of the Creator's face,
expressing his love for all the creatures of his hand. The dusky
twilight was now too transparent for Roderick Elliston; the
blackest midnight was his chosen hour to steal abroad; and if
ever he were seen, it was when the watchman's lantern gleamed
upon his figure, gliding along the street, with his hands
clutched 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 of
resorting to all the noted quacks that infested the city, or whom
money would tempt to journey thither from a distance. By one of
these persons, in the exultation of a supposed cure, it was
proclaimed far and wide, by dint of handbills and little
pamphlets on dingy paper, that a distinguished gentleman,
Roderick Elliston, Esq., had been relieved of a SNAKE in his
stomach! So here was the monstrous secret, ejected from its
lurking place into public view, in all its horrible deformity.
The mystery was out; but not so the bosom serpent. He, if it were
anything but a delusion, still lay coiled in his living den. The
empiric's cure had been a sham, the effect, it was supposed, of
some stupefying drug which more nearly caused the death of the
patient than of the odious reptile that possessed him. When
Roderick Elliston regained entire sensibility, it was to find his
misfortune the town talk--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 that restless fang which seemed
to gratify at once a physical appetite and a fiendish spite.
He summoned the old black servant, who had been bred up in his
father's house, and was a middle-aged man while Roderick lay in
"Scipio!" he began; and then paused, with his arms folded over
his heart. "What do people say of me, Scipio."
"Sir! my poor master! that you had a serpent in your bosom,"
answered the 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 gave you a powder, and that the snake leaped out upon the
"No, no!" muttered Roderick to himself, as he shook his head, and
pressed his hands with a more convulsive force upon his breast,
"I feel him still. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
From this time the miserable sufferer ceased to shun the world,
but rather solicited and forced himself upon the notice of
acquaintances and strangers. It was partly the result of
desperation on finding that the cavern of his own bosom had not
proved deep and dark enough to hide the secret, even while it was
so secure a fortress for the loathsome fiend that had crept into
it. But still more, this craving for notoriety was a symptom of
the intense morbidness which now pervaded his nature. All persons
chronically diseased are egotists, whether the disease be of the
mind or body; whether it be sin, sorrow, or merely the more
tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among the
cords of mortal life. Such individuals are made acutely conscious
of a self, by the torture in which it dwells. Self, therefore,
grows to be so prominent an object with them that they cannot but
present it to the face of every casual passer-by. There is a
pleasure--perhaps the greatest of which the sufferer is
susceptible--in displaying the wasted or ulcerated limb, or the
cancer in the breast; and the fouler the crime, with so much the
more difficulty does the perpetrator prevent it from thrusting up
its snake-like head to frighten the world; for it is that cancer,
or that crime, which constitutes their respective individuality.
Roderick Elliston, who, a little while before, had held himself
so scornfully above the common lot of men, now paid full
allegiance to this humiliating law. The snake in his bosom seemed
the symbol of a monstrous egotism to which everything was
referred, and which he pampered, night and day, with a continual
and exclusive sacrifice of devil worship.
He soon exhibited what most people considered indubitable tokens
of insanity. In some of his moods, strange to say, he prided and
gloried himself on being marked out from the ordinary experience
of mankind, by the possession of a double nature, and a life
within a life. He appeared to imagine that the snake was a
divinity,--not celestial, it is true, but darkly infernal,--and
that he thence derived an eminence and a sanctity, horrid,
indeed, yet more desirable than whatever ambition aims at. Thus
he drew his misery around him like a regal mantle, and looked
down triumphantly upon those whose vitals nourished no deadly
monster. Oftener, however, his human nature asserted its empire
over him in the shape of a yearning for fellowship. It grew to be
his custom to spend the whole day in wandering about the streets,
aimlessly, unless it might be called an aim to establish a
species of brotherhood between himself and the world. With
cankered ingenuity, he sought out his own disease in every
breast. Whether insane or not, he showed so keen a perception of
frailty, error, and vice, that many persons gave him credit for
being possessed not merely with a serpent, but with an actual
fiend, who imparted this evil faculty of recognizing whatever was
ugliest in man's heart.
For instance, he met an individual, who, for thirty years, had
cherished a hatred against his own brother. Roderick, amidst the
throng of the street, laid his hand on this man's chest, and
looking full into his forbidding face,"How is the snake to-day?"
he inquired, with a mock expression of sympathy.
"The snake!" exclaimed the brother hater--"what do you mean?"
"The snake! The snake! Does it gnaw you?" persisted Roderick.
"Did you take counsel with him this morning when you should have
been saying your prayers? Did he sting, when you thought of your
brother's health, wealth, and good repute? Did he caper for joy,
when you remembered the profligacy of his only son? And whether
he stung, or whether he frolicked, did you feel his poison
throughout your body and soul, converting everything to sourness
and bitterness? That is the way of such serpents. I have learned
the whole nature of them from my own!"
"Where is the police?" roared the object of Roderick's
persecution, at the same time giving an instinctive clutch to his
breast. "Why is this lunatic allowed to go at large?"
"Ha, ha!" chuckled Roderick, releasing his grasp of the man.--
"His bosom serpent has stung him then!"
Often it pleased the unfortunate young man to vex people with a
lighter satire, yet still characterized by somewhat of snake-like
virulence. One day he encountered an ambitious statesman, and
gravely inquired after the welfare of his boa constrictor; for of
that species, Roderick affirmed, this gentleman's serpent must
needs be, since its appetite was enormous enough to devour the
whole country and constitution. At another time, he stopped a
close-fisted old fellow, of great wealth, but who skulked about
the city in the guise of a scarecrow, with a patched blue
surtout, brown hat, and mouldy boots, scraping pence together,
and picking up rusty nails. Pretending to look earnestly at this
respectable person's stomach, Roderick assured him that his snake
was a copper-head and had been generated by the immense
quantities of that base metal with which he daily defiled his
fingers. Again, he assaulted a man of rubicund visage, and told
him that few bosom serpents had more of the devil in them than
those that breed in the vats of a distillery. The next whom
Roderick honored with his attention was a distinguished
clergyman, who happened just then to be engaged in a theological
controversy, where human wrath was more perceptible than divine
"You have swallowed a snake in a cup of sacramental wine," quoth
"Profane wretch!" exclaimed the divine; but, nevertheless, his
hand stole to his breast.
He met a person of sickly sensibility, who, on some early
disappointment, had retired from the world, and thereafter held
no intercourse with his fellow-men, but brooded sullenly or
passionately over the irrevocable past. This man's very heart, if
Roderick might be believed, had been changed into a serpent,
which would finally torment both him and itself to death.
Observing a married couple, whose domestic troubles were matter
of notoriety, he condoled with both on having mutually taken a
house adder to their bosoms. To an envious author, who
depreciated works which he could never equal, he said that his
snake was the slimiest and filthiest of all the reptile tribe,
but was fortunately without a sting. A man of impure life, and a
brazen face, asking Roderick if there were any serpent in his
breast, he told him that there was, and of the same species that
once tortured Don Rodrigo, the Goth. He took a fair young girl by
the hand, and gazing sadly into her eyes, warned her that she
cherished a serpent of the deadliest kind within her gentle
breast; and the world found the truth of those ominous words,
when, a few months afterwards, the poor girl died of love and
shame. Two ladies, rivals in fashionable life who tormented one
another with a thousand little stings of womanish spite, were
given to understand that each of their hearts was a nest of
diminutive snakes, which did quite as much mischief as one great
But nothing seemed to please Roderick better than to lay hold of
a person infected with jealousy, which he represented as an
enormous green reptile, with an ice-cold length of body, and the
sharpest sting of 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 in the face. There was an ambiguity about this person's
character,--a stain upon his reputation,--yet none could tell
precisely of what nature, although the city gossips, male and
female, whispered the most atrocious surmises. Until a recent
period he had followed the sea, and was, 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 he put the question as if by a reluctant necessity, and grew
pale while he was uttering it.
"Why need you ask?" replied Roderick, with a look of dark
intelligence. "Look into your own breast. Hark! my serpent
bestirs himself! He acknowledges the presence of a master fiend!"
And then, as the by-standers afterwards affirmed, a hissing sound
was heard, apparently in Roderick Elliston's breast. It was said,
too, that an answering hiss came from the vitals of the
shipmaster, as if a snake were actually lurking there and had
been aroused by the call of its brother reptile. If there were in
fact any such sound, it might have been caused by a malicious
exercise of ventriloquism on the part of Roderick.
Thus making his own actual serpent--if a serpent there actually
was in his bosom--the type of each man's fatal error, or hoarded
sin, or unquiet conscience, and striking his sting so
unremorsefully into the sorest spot, we may well imagine that
Roderick became the pest of the city. Nobody could elude
him--none could withstand him. He grappled with the ugliest truth
that he could lay his hand on, and compelled his adversary to do
the same. Strange spectacle in human life where it is the
instinctive effort of one and all to hide those sad realities,
and leave them undisturbed beneath a heap of superficial topics
which constitute the materials of intercourse between man and
man! It was not to be tolerated that Roderick Elliston should
break through the tacit compact by which the world has done its
best to secure repose without relinquishing evil. The victims of
his malicious remarks, it is true, had brothers enough to keep
them in countenance; for, by Roderick's theory, every mortal
bosom harbored either a brood of small serpents or one overgrown
monster that had devoured all the rest. Still the city could not
bear this new apostle. It was demanded by nearly all, and
particularly by the most respectable inhabitants, that Roderick
should no longer be permitted to violate the received rules of
decorum by obtruding his own bosom serpent to the public gaze,
and dragging those of decent people from their lurking places.
Accordingly, his relatives interfered and placed him in a private
asylum for the insane. When the news was noised abroad, it was
observed that many persons walked the streets with freer
countenances and covered their breasts less carefully with their
His confinement, however, although it contributed not a little to
the peace of the town, operated unfavorably upon Roderick
himself. In solitude his melancholy grew more black and sullen.
He spent whole days--indeed, it was his sole occupation--in
communing with the serpent. A conversation was sustained, in
which, as it seemed, the hidden monster bore a part, though
unintelligibly to the listeners, and inaudible except in a hiss.
Singular as it may appear, the sufferer had now contracted a sort
of affection for his tormentor, mingled, however, with the
intensest loathing and horror. Nor were such discordant emotions
incompatible. Each, on the contrary, imparted strength and
poignancy to its opposite. Horrible love--horrible
antipathy--embracing one another in his bosom, and both
concentrating themselves upon a being that had crept into his
vitals or been engendered there, and which was nourished with his
food, and lived upon his life, and was as intimate with him as
his own heart, and yet was the foulest of all created things! But
not the less was it the true type of a morbid nature.
Sometimes, in his moments of rage and bitter hatred against the
snake and himself, Roderick determined to be the death of him,
even at the expense of his own life. Once he attempted it by
starvation; but, while the wretched man was on the point of
famishing, the monster seemed to feed upon his heart, and to
thrive and wax gamesome, as if it were his sweetest and most
congenial diet. Then he privily took a dose of active poison,
imagining that it would not fail to kill either himself or the
devil that possessed him, or both together. Another mistake; for
if Roderick had not yet been destroyed by his own poisoned heart
nor the snake by gnawing it, they had little to fear from arsenic
or corrosive sublimate. Indeed, the venomous pest appeared to
operate as an antidote against all other poisons. The physicians
tried to suffocate the fiend with tobacco smoke. He breathed it
as freely as if it were his native atmosphere. Again, they
drugged their patient with opium and drenched him with
intoxicating liquors, hoping that the snake might thus be reduced
to stupor and perhaps be ejected from the stomach. They succeeded
in rendering Roderick insensible; but, placing their hands upon
his breast, they were inexpressibly horror stricken to feel the
monster wriggling, twining, and darting to and fro within his
narrow limits, evidently enlivened by the opium or alcohol, and
incited to unusual feats of activity. Thenceforth they gave up
all attempts at cure or palliation. The doomed sufferer submitted
to his fate, resumed his former loathsome affection for the bosom
fiend, and spent whole miserable days before a looking-glass,
with his mouth wide open, watching, in hope and horror, to catch
a glimpse of the snake's head far down within his throat. It is
supposed that he succeeded; for the attendants 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 minute
investigation, the medical directors of the asylum decided that
his mental disease did not amount to insanity, nor would warrant
his confinement, especially as its influence upon his spirits was
unfavorable, and might produce the evil which it was meant to
remedy. His eccentricities were doubtless great; he had
habitually violated many of the customs and prejudices of
society; but the world was not, without surer ground, entitled to
treat him as a madman. On this decision of such competent
authority Roderick was released, and had returned to his native
city the very day before his encounter with George Herkimer.
As soon as possible after learning these particulars the
sculptor, together with a sad and tremulous companion, sought
Elliston at his own house. It was a large, sombre edifice of
wood, with pilasters and a balcony, and was divided from one of
the principal streets by a terrace of three elevations, which was
ascended by successive flights of stone steps. Some immense old
elms almost concealed the front of the mansion. This spacious and
once magnificent family residence was built by a grandee of the
race early in the past century, at which epoch, land being of
small comparative value, the garden and other grounds had formed
quite an extensive domain. Although a portion of the ancestral
heritage had been alienated, there was still a shadowy enclosure
in the rear of the mansion where a student, or a dreamer, or a
man of stricken heart might lie all day upon the grass, amid the
solitude of murmuring boughs, and forget that a city had grown up
Into this retirement the sculptor and his companion were ushered
by Scipio, the old black servant, whose wrinkled visage grew
almost sunny with intelligence and joy as he paid his humble
greetings to one of the two visitors.
"Remain in the arbor," whispered the sculptor to the figure that
leaned upon his arm. "You will know whether, and when, to make
"God will teach me," was the reply. "May He support me too!"
Roderick was reclining on the margin of a fountain which gushed
into the fleckered sunshine with the same clear sparkle and the
same voice of airy quietude as when trees of primeval growth
flung their shadows cross its bosom. How strange is the life of a
fountain!--born at every moment, yet of an age coeval with the
rocks, and far surpassing the venerable antiquity of a forest.
"You are come! I have expected you," said Elliston, when he
became aware 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 and himself. This unnatural restraint was almost
the only trait that betokened anything amiss. He had just thrown
a book upon the grass, where it lay half opened, thus disclosing
itself to be a natural history of the serpent tribe, illustrated
by lifelike plates. Near it lay that bulky volume, the Ductor
Dubitantium of Jeremy Taylor, full of cases 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 a smile gleamed upon his lips, "I am making an effort to
become better acquainted with my bosom friend; but I find nothing
satisfactory in this volume. If I mistake not, he will prove to
be sui generis, and akin 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
snake that had lurked in this fountain--pure and innocent as it
looks--ever since it was known to the first settlers. This
insinuating personage once crept into the vitals of my great
grandfather and dwelt there many years, tormenting the old
gentleman beyond mortal endurance. In short it is a family
peculiarity. But, to tell you the truth, I have no faith in this
idea of the snake's being an heirloom. He is my own snake, and no
"But what was his origin?" demanded Herkimer.
"Oh, there is poisonous stuff in any man's heart sufficient to
generate a brood of serpents," said Elliston with a hollow laugh.
"You should have heard my homilies to the good town's-people.
Positively, I deem myself fortunate in having bred but a single
serpent. You, however, have none in your bosom, and therefore
cannot sympathize with the rest of the world. It gnaws me! It
With this exclamation Roderick lost his self-control and threw
himself upon the grass, testifying his agony by intricate
writhings, in which Herkimer could not but fancy a resemblance to
the motions of a snake. Then, likewise, was heard that frightful
hiss, which often ran through the sufferer's speech, and crept
between the words and syllables without interrupting their
"This is awful indeed!" exclaimed the sculptor--"an awful
infliction, whether it be actual or imaginary. Tell me, Roderick
Elliston, is there any remedy for this loathsome evil?"
"Yes, but an impossible one," muttered Roderick, as he lay
wallowing with his face in the grass. "Could I for one moment
forget myself, the serpent might not abide within me. It is my
diseased self-contemplation that has engendered and nourished
"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
the shadow of his anguish reflected in her countenance, yet so
mingled with hope and unselfish love that all anguish seemed but
an earthly shadow and a dream. She touched Roderick with her
hand. A tremor shivered through his frame. At that moment, if
report be trustworthy, the sculptor beheld a waving motion
through the grass, and heard a tinkling sound, as if something
had plunged into the fountain. Be the truth as it might, it is
certain that Roderick Elliston sat up like a man renewed,
restored to his right mind, and rescued from the fiend which had
so miserably overcome him in the battle-field of his own breast.
"Rosina!" cried he, in broken and passionate tones, but with
nothing of the wild wail that had haunted his voice so long,
Her happy tears bedewed his face.
"The punishment has been severe," observed the sculptor. "Even
Justice might now forgive; how much more a woman's tenderness!
Roderick Elliston, whether the serpent was a physical reptile, or
whether the morbidness of your nature suggested that symbol to
your fancy, the moral of the story is not the less true and
strong. A tremendous Egotism, manifesting itself in your case in
the form of jealousy, is as fearful a fiend as ever stole into
the human heart. Can a breast, where it has dwelt so long, be
"Oh yes," said Rosina with a heavenly smile. "The serpent was but
a dark 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 it its due importance we must think of it but as
an anecdote in our Eternity."
DROWNE'S WOODEN IMAGE
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of
Boston, a young carver in wood, well known by the name of Drowne,
stood contemplating a large oaken log, which it was his purpose
to convert into the figure-head of a vessel. And while he
discussed within his own mind what sort of shape or similitude it
were well to bestow upon this excellent piece of timber, there
came into Drowne's workshop a certain Captain Hunnewell, owner
and commander of the good brig called the Cynosure, 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 for the figure-head of the Cynosure. She has shown
herself the sweetest craft that ever floated, and I mean to
decorate her prow with the handsomest image that the skill of man
can cut out of timber. And, Drowne, you are the fellow to execute
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said
the carver, 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 which of these designs do you prefer? Here,"--pointing
to a staring, half-length figure, in a white wig and scarlet
coat,--"here is an excellent model, the likeness of our gracious
king. Here is the valiant Admiral Vernon. Or, if you prefer a
female figure, what say you to Britannia with the trident?"
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner.
"But as nothing like the brig ever swam the ocean, so I am
determined she shall have such a figure-head as old Neptune never
saw in his life. And what is more, as there is a secret in the
matter, you must pledge your credit not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible
mystery there could be in reference to an affair so open, of
necessity, to the inspection of all the world as the figure-head
of a vessel. "You may depend, captain, on my being as secret as
the nature of the case will permit."
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and
communicated his wishes in so low a tone that it would be
unmannerly to repeat what was evidently intended for the carver's
private ear. We shall, therefore, take the opportunity to give
the reader a few desirable particulars about Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted--in a
very humble line, it is true--that art in which we can now reckon
so many names already distinguished, or rising to distinction.
From his earliest boyhood he had exhibited a knack--for it would
be too proud a word to call it genius--a knack, therefore, for
the imitation of the human figure in whatever material came most
readily to hand. The snows of a New England winter had often
supplied him with a species of marble as dazzingly white, at
least, as the Parian or the Carrara, and if less durable, yet
sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to permanent
existence possessed by the boy's frozen statues. Yet they won
admiration from maturer judges than his school-fellows, and were
indeed, remarkably clever, though destitute of the native warmth
that might have made the snow melt beneath his hand. As he
advanced in life, the young man adopted pine and oak as eligible
materials for the display of his skill, which now began to bring
him a return of solid silver as well as the empty praise that had
been an apt reward enough for his productions of evanescent snow.
He became noted for carving ornamental pump heads, and wooden
urns for gate posts, and decorations, more grotesque than
fanciful, for mantelpieces. No apothecary would have deemed
himself in the way of obtaining custom without setting up a
gilded mortar, if not a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the
skilful hand of Drowne.
But the great scope of his business lay in the manufacture of
figure-heads for vessels. Whether it were the monarch himself, or
some famous British admiral or general, or the governor of the
province, or perchance the favorite daughter of the ship-owner,
there the image stood above the prow, decked out in gorgeous
colors, magnificently gilded, and staring the whole world out of
countenance, as if from an innate consciousness of its own
superiority. These specimens of native sculpture had crossed the
sea in all directions, and been not ignobly noticed among the
crowded shipping of the Thames and wherever else the hardy
mariners of New England had pushed their adventures. It must be
confessed that a family likeness pervaded these respectable
progeny of Drowne's skill; that the benign countenance of the
king resembled those of his subjects, and that Miss Peggy Hobart,
the merchant's daughter, bore a remarkable similitude to
Britannia, Victory, and other ladies of the allegoric sisterhood;
and, finally, that they all had a kind of wooden aspect which
proved an intimate relationship with the unshaped blocks of
timber in the carver's workshop. But at least there was no
inconsiderable skill of hand, nor a deficiency of any attribute
to render them really works of art, except that deep quality, be
it of soul or intellect, which bestows life upon the lifeless and
warmth upon the cold, and which, had it been present, would have
made Drowne's wooden image instinct with spirit.
The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
"And Drowne," said he, impressively, "you must lay aside all
other business and set about this forthwith. And as to the price,
only do the job in first-rate style, and you shall settle that
"Very well, captain," answered the carver, who looked grave and
somewhat perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage;
"depend upon it, I'll do my utmost to satisfy you."
From that moment the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town
Dock who were wont to show their love for the arts by frequent
visits to Drowne's workshop, and admiration of his wooden images,
began to be sensible of a mystery in the carver's conduct. Often
he was absent in the daytime. Sometimes, as might be judged by
gleams of light from the shop windows, he was at work until a
late hour of the evening; although neither knock nor voice, on
such occasions, could gain admittance for a visitor, or elicit
any word of response. Nothing remarkable, however, was observed
in the shop at those late hours when it was thrown open. A fine
piece of timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to have reserved
for some work of especial dignity, was seen to be gradually
assuming shape. What shape it was destined ultimately to take was
a problem to his friends and a point on which the carver himself
preserved a rigid silence. But day after day, though Drowne was
seldom noticed in the act of working upon it, this rude form
began to be developed until it became evident to all observers
that a female figure was growing into mimic life. At each new
visit they beheld a larger pile of wooden chips and a nearer
approximation to something beautiful. It seemed as if the
hamadryad of the oak had sheltered herself from the unimaginative
world within the heart of her native tree, and that it was only
necessary to remove the strange shapelessness that had incrusted
her, and reveal the grace and loveliness of a divinity. Imperfect
as the design, the attitude, the costume, and especially the face
of the image still remained, there was already an effect that
drew the eye from the wooden cleverness of Drowne's earlier
productions and fixed it upon the tantalizing mystery of this new
Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man and a resident
of Boston, came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so
much of moderate ability in the carver as to induce him, in the
dearth of professional sympathy, to cultivate his acquaintance.
On entering the shop, the artist glanced at the inflexible image
of king, commander, dame, and allegory, that stood around, on the
best of which might have been bestowed the questionable praise
that it looked as if a living man had here been changed to wood,
and that not only the physical, but the intellectual and
spiritual part, partook of the stolid transformation. But in not
a single instance did it seem as if the wood were imbibing the
ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction is here!
and how far the slightest portion of the latter merit have
outvalued the utmost degree of the former!
"My friend Drowne;" said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding
to the mechanical and wooden cleverness that so invariably
distinguished the images, "you are really a remarkable person! I
have seldom met with a man in your line of business that could do
so much; for one other touch might make this figure of General
Wolfe, for instance, a breathing 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
apparent disgust. "But there has come a light into my mind. I
know what you know as well, that the one touch which you speak of
as deficient is the only one that would be truly valuable, and
that without it these works of mine are no better than worthless
abortions. There is the same difference between them and the
works of an inspired artist as between a sign-post daub and one
of your best pictures."
"This is strange," cried Copley, looking him in the face, which
now, as the painter fancied, had a singular depth of
intelligence, though hitherto it had not given him greatly the
advantage over his own family of wooden images. "What has come
over you? How is it that, possessing the idea which you have now
uttered, you should produce only such works as these?"
The carver smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to the
images, conceiving that the sense of deficiency which Drowne had
just expressed, and which is so rare in a merely mechanical
character, must surely imply a genius, the tokens of which had
heretofore been overlooked. But no; there was not a trace of it.
He was about to withdraw when his eyes chanced to fall upon a
half-developed figure which lay in a corner of the workshop,
surrounded by scattered chips of oak. It arrested him at once.
"What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after
contemplating it in speechless astonishment for an instant. "Here
is the divine, the lifegiving touch. What inspired hand is
beckoning this wood to arise and live? Whose work is this?"
"No man's work," replied Drowne. "The figure lies within that
block of oak, and it is my business to find it."
"Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by
the hand, "you are a man of genius!"
As Copley departed, happening to glance backward from the
threshold, he beheld Drowne bending over the half-created shape,
and stretching forth his arms as if he would have embraced and
drawn it to his heart; while, had such a miracle been possible,
his countenance expressed passion enough to communicate warmth
and sensibility to the lifeless oak.
"Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have
looked for a modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee
As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so
that, as in 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 by day, however, the work assumed greater
precision, and settled its irregular and misty outline into
distincter grace and beauty. The general design was now obvious
to the common eye. It was a female figure, in what appeared to be
a foreign dress; the gown being laced over the bosom, and opening
in front so as to disclose a skirt or petticoat, the folds and
inequalities of which were admirably represented in the oaken
substance. She wore a hat of singular gracefulness, and
abundantly laden with flowers, such as never grew in the rude
soil of New England, but which, with all their fanciful
luxuriance, had a natural truth that it seemed impossible for the
most fertile imagination to have attained without copying from
real prototypes. There were several little appendages to this
dress, such as a fan, a pair of earrings, a chain about the neck,
a watch in the bosom, and a ring upon the finger, all of which
would have been deemed beneath the dignity of sculpture. They
were put on, however, with as much taste as a lovely woman might
have shown in her attire, and could therefore 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 all the effect of light gleaming forth from within the solid
oak. The face became alive. It was a beautiful, though not
precisely regular and somewhat haughty aspect, but with a certain
piquancy about the eyes and mouth, which, of all expressions,
would have seemed the most impossible to 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
visits to the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble it
would make you famous at once; nay, I would almost affirm that it
would make an era in the art. It is as ideal as an antique
statue, and yet as real as any lovely woman whom one meets at a
fireside or in the street. But I trust 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
paint the figure-head of the Cynosure! And what sort of a figure
should I cut in a foreign port with such an unpainted oaken stick
as this over my prow! She must, and she shall, be painted to the
life, from the topmost flower 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 voice faltered and choked in a very
singular manner,--"of this--of her --I may say that I know
something. A well-spring of inward wisdom gushed within me as I
wrought upon the oak with my whole strength, and soul, and faith.
Let others do what they may with marble, and adopt what rules
they choose. If I can produce my desired effect by painted wood,
those rules are not for me, and I have a right to disregard
"The very spirit of genius," muttered Copley to himself. "How
otherwise should this carver feel himself entitled to transcend
all rules, and make me ashamed of quoting them?"
He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of
human love which, in a spiritual sense, as the artist could not
help imagining, was the secret of the life that had been breathed
into this block of wood.
The carver, still in the same secrecy that marked all his
operations upon this mysterious image, proceeded to paint the
habiliments in their proper colors, and the countenance with
Nature's red and white. When all was finished he threw open his
workshop, and admitted the towns people to behold what he had
done. Most persons, at their first entrance, felt impelled to
remove their hats, and pay such reverence as was due to the
richly-dressed and beautiful young lady who seemed to stand in a
corner of the room, with oaken chips and shavings scattered at
her feet. Then came a sensation of fear; as if, not being
actually human, yet so like humanity, she must therefore be
something preternatural. There was, in truth, an indefinable air
and expression that might reasonably induce the query, Who and
from what sphere this daughter of the oak should be? The strange,
rich flowers of Eden on her head; the complexion, so much deeper
and more brilliant than those of our native beauties; the
foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yet not too fantastic
to be worn decorously in the street; the delicately-wrought
embroidery of the skirt; the broad gold chain about her neck; the
curious ring upon her finger; the fan, so exquisitely sculptured
in open work, and painted to resemble pearl and ebony;--where
could Drowne, in his sober walk of life, have beheld the vision
here so matchlessly embodied! And then her face! In the dark
eyes, and around the voluptuous mouth, there played a look made
up of pride, coquetry, and a gleam of mirthfulness, which
impressed Copley with the idea that the image was secretly
enjoying the perplexing admiration of himself and other
"And will you," said he to the carver, "permit this masterpiece
to become the figure-head of a vessel? Give the honest captain
yonder figure of Britannia--it will answer his purpose far
better--and send this fairy queen to England, where, for aught I
know, it may bring you a thousand pounds."
"I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
"What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and
throw away the chance of making his fortune! He has gone mad; and
thence has come this gleam of genius."
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were
due to the 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 own hands had created. The bigots of the day
hinted that it would be no matter of surprise if an evil spirit
were allowed to enter this beautiful form, and seduce the carver
The fame of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants
visited it so universally, that after a few days of exhibition
there was hardly an old man or a child who had not become
minutely familiar with its aspect. Even had the story of Drowne's
wooden image ended here, its celebrity might have been prolonged
for many years by the reminiscences of those who looked upon it
in their childhood, and saw nothing else so beautiful in after
life. But the town was now astounded by an event, the narrative
of which has formed itself into one of the most singular legends
that are yet to be met with in the traditionary chimney corners
of the New England metropolis, where old men and women sit
dreaming of the past, and wag their heads at the dreamers of the
present and the future.
One fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on
her second voyage to Fayal, the commander of that gallant vessel
was seen to issue from his residence in Hanover Street. He was
stylishly dressed in a blue broadcloth coat, with gold lace at
the seams and button-holes, an embroidered scarlet waistcoat, a
triangular hat, with a loop and broad binding of gold, and wore a
silver-hilted hanger at his side. But the good captain might have
been arrayed in the robes of a prince or the rags of a beggar,
without in either case attracting notice, while obscured by such
a companion as now leaned on his arm. The people in the street
started, rubbed their eyes, and either leaped aside from their
path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble in
"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
night before. "Who do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his
shoregoing clothes, and a young lady in a foreign habit, with a
bunch of beautiful flowers in her hat. On my word, she is as fair
and bright a damsel as my eyes have looked on this many a day!"
"Yes; the same!--the very same!" repeated the other. "Drowne's
wooden image has come to life!"
Here was a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, or
darkened by the alternate shade of the houses, and with its
garments fluttering lightly in the morning breeze, there passed
the image along the street. It was exactly and minutely the
shape, the garb, and the face 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 its prototype in Drowne's
wooden workmanship, although now their fragile grace had become
flexible, and was shaken by every footstep that the wearer made.
The broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with the one
represented on the image, and glistened with the motion imparted
by the rise and fall of the bosom which it decorated. A real
diamond sparkled on her finger. In her right hand she bore a
pearl and ebony fan, which she flourished with a fantastic and
bewitching coquetry, that was likewise expressed in all her
movements as well as in the style of her beauty and the attire
that so well harmonized with it. The face with its brilliant
depth of complexion had the same piquancy of mirthful mischief
that was fixed upon the countenance of the image, but which was
here varied and continually shifting, yet always essentially the
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 withal so perfectly did it represent Drowne's image, that
people knew not whether to suppose the magic wood etherealized
into a spirit or warmed and softened into an actual woman.
"One thing is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp,
"Drowne has sold himself to the devil; and doubtless this gay
Captain Hunnewell is a party to the bargain."
"And I," said a young man who overheard him, "would almost
consent to be the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those
"And so would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege of
taking her picture."
The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still
escorted by the bold captain, proceeded from Hanover Street
through some of the cross lanes that make this portion of the
town so intricate, to Ann Street, 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 miracle occurred in such broad daylight, nor
in the presence of such a multitude of witnesses. The airy image,
as if conscious that she was the object of the murmurs and
disturbance that swelled behind her, appeared slightly vexed and
flustered, yet still in a manner consistent with the light
vivacity and sportive mischief that were written in her
countenance. She was observed to flutter her fan with such
vehement rapidity that the elaborate delicacy of its workmanship
gave way, and it remained broken in her hand.
Arriving at Drowne's door, while the captain threw it open, the
marvellous apparition paused an instant on the threshold,
assuming the very attitude of the image, and casting over the
crowd that glance of sunny coquetry which all remembered on the
face of the oaken lady. She and her cavalier then disappeared.
"Ah!" murmured the crowd, drawing a deep breath, as with one vast
pair of lungs.
"The world looks darker now that she has vanished," said some of
the young men.
But the aged, whose recollections dated as far back as witch
times, shook their heads, and hinted that our forefathers would
have thought it a pious deed to burn the daughter of the oak with
"If she be other than a bubble of the elements," exclaimed
Copley, "I must look upon her face again."
He accordingly entered the shop; and there, in her usual corner,
stood the image, gazing at him, as it might seem, with the very
same expression of mirthful mischief that had been the farewell
look of the apparition when, but a moment before, she turned her
face towards the crowd. The carver stood beside his creation
mending the beautiful fan, which by some accident was broken in
her hand. But there was no longer any motion in the lifelike
image, nor any real woman in the workshop, nor even the
witchcraft of a sunny shadow, that might have deluded people's
eyes as it flitted along the street. Captain Hunnewell, too, had
vanished. His hoarse sea-breezy tones, however, were audible on
the other 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 of a minute-glass."
And then was heard the stroke of oars.
"Drowne," said Copley with a smile of intelligence, "you have
been a truly fortunate man. What painter or statuary ever had
such a subject! No wonder that she inspired a genius into you,
and first created the artist who afterwards created her image."
Drowne looked at him with a visage that bore the traces of tears,
but from which the light of imagination and sensibility, so
recently illuminating it, had departed. He was again the
mechanical carver that he had been known to be all his lifetime.
"I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Copley," said he, putting
his hand to his brow. "This image! Can it have been my work?
Well, I have wrought it in a kind of dream; and now that I am
broad awake I must set about finishing yonder figure of Admiral
And forthwith he employed himself on the stolid countenance of
one of his wooden progeny, and completed it in his own mechanical
style, from which he was never known afterwards to deviate. He
followed his business industriously for many years, acquired a
competence, and in the latter part of his life attained to a
dignified station in the church, 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 Province House, bedazzling the
eyes of those who looked upward, like an angel of the sun.
Another work of the good deacon's hand--a reduced likeness of his
friend Captain Hunnewell, holding a telescope and quadrant--may
be seen to this day, at the corner of Broad and State streets,
serving in the useful capacity of sign to the shop of a nautical
instrument maker. We know not how to account for the inferiority
of this quaint old figure, as compared with the recorded
excellence of the Oaken Lady, unless on the supposition that in
every human spirit there is imagination, sensibility, creative
power, genius, which, according to circumstances, may either be
developed in this world, or shrouded in a mask of dulness until
another state of being. To our friend Drowne there came a brief
season of excitement, kindled by love. It rendered him a genius
for that one occasion, but, quenched in disappointment, left him
again the mechanical carver in wood, without the power even of
appreciating the work that his own hands had wrought. Yet who can
doubt that the very highest state to which a human spirit can
attain, in its loftiest aspirations, is its truest and most
natural state, and that Drowne was more consistent with himself
when he wrought the admirable figure of the mysterious lady, than
when he perpetrated a whole progeny of blockheads?
There was a rumor in Boston, about this period, that a young
Portuguese lady of rank, on some occasion of political or
domestic disquietude, had fled from her home in Fayal and put
herself under the protection of Captain Hunnewell, on board of
whose vessel, and at whose residence, she was sheltered until a
change of affairs. This fair stranger must have been the original
of Drowne's Wooden Image.
ROGER MALVIN'S BURIAL
One of the few incidents of Indian warfare naturally susceptible
of the moonlight of romance was that expedition undertaken for
the defence of the frontiers in the year 1725, which resulted in
the well-remembered "Lovell's Fight." Imagination, by casting
certain circumstances judicially into the shade, may see much to
admire in the heroism of a little band who gave battle to twice
their number in the heart of the enemy's country. The open
bravery displayed by both parties was in accordance with
civilized ideas of valor; and chivalry itself might not blush to
record the deeds of one or two individuals. The battle, though so
fatal to those who fought, was not unfortunate in its
consequences to the country; for it broke the strength of a tribe
and conduced to the peace which subsisted during several ensuing
years. History and tradition are unusually minute in their
memorials of their affair; and the captain of a scouting party of
frontier men has acquired as actual a military renown as many a
victorious leader of thousands. Some of the incidents contained
in the following pages will be recognized, notwithstanding the
substitution of fictitious names, by such as have heard, from old
men's lips, the fate of the few combatants who were in a
condition to retreat after "Lovell's Fight."
. . . . . . . . .
The early sunbeams hovered cheerfully upon the tree-tops, beneath
which two 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 gentle swells by which the face of the
country is there diversified. The mass of granite, rearing its
smooth, flat surface fifteen or twenty feet above their heads,
was not unlike a gigantic gravestone, upon which the veins seemed
to form an inscription in forgotten characters. On a tract of
several acres around this rock, oaks and other hard-wood trees
had supplied the place of the pines, which were the usual growth
of the land; and a young and vigorous sapling stood close beside
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 the highest tree, he reared himself painfully from his
recumbent posture and sat erect. The deep lines of his
countenance and the scattered gray of his hair marked him as past
the middle age; but his muscular frame would, but for the effect
of his wound, have been as capable of sustaining fatigue as in
the early vigor of life. Languor and exhaustion now sat upon his
haggard features; and the despairing glance which he sent forward
through the depths of the forest proved his own conviction that
his pilgrimage was at an end. He next turned his eyes to the
companion who reclined by his side. The youth--for he had
scarcely attained the years of manhood--lay, with his head upon
his arm, in the embrace of an unquiet sleep, which a thrill of
pain from his wounds seemed each moment on the point of breaking.
His right hand grasped a musket; and, to judge from the violent
action of his features, his slumbers were bringing back a vision
of the conflict of which he was one of the few survivors. A
shout deep and loud in his dreaming 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 inquiries respecting
the condition of his wounded fellow-traveller. The latter shook
"Reuben, my boy," said he, "this rock beneath which we sit will
serve for an old hunter's gravestone. There is many and many a
long mile of howling wilderness before us yet; nor would it avail
me anything if the smoke of my own chimney were but on the other
side of that swell of land. The Indian bullet was deadlier than I
"You are weary with our three days' travel," replied the youth,
"and a little longer rest will recruit you. Sit you here while I
search the woods for the herbs and roots that must be our
sustenance; and, having eaten, you shall lean on me, and we will
turn our faces homeward. I doubt not that, with my help, you can
attain to some one of the frontier 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 can scarcely support your own. Your wounds are deep and
your strength is failing fast; yet, if you hasten onward alone,
you may be preserved. For me there is no hope, and I will await
"If it must be so, I will remain and watch by you," said Reuben,
"No, my son, no," rejoined his companion. "Let the wish of a
dying man have weight with you; give me one grasp of your hand,
and get you hence. Think you that my last moments will be eased
by the thought that I leave you to die a more lingering death? I
have loved you like a father, Reuben; and at a time like this I
should have something of a father'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 you to perish and to lie unburied in the wilderness?"
exclaimed the youth. "No; if your end be in truth approaching, I
will watch by you and receive your parting words. I will dig a
grave here by the rock, in which, if my weakness overcome me, we
will rest together; or, if Heaven gives me strength, I will seek
my way home."
"In the cities and wherever men dwell," replied the other, "they
bury their 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, wherefore should I not rest beneath the open sky,
covered only by the oak leaves when the autumn winds shall strew
them? And for a monument, here is this gray rock, on which my
dying hand shall carve the name of Roger Malvin, and the
traveller in days to come will know that here sleeps a hunter and
a warrior. Tarry not, then, for a folly like this, but hasten
away, if not for your own sake, for hers who will else be
Malvin spoke the last few words in a faltering voice, and their
effect upon his companion was strongly visible. They reminded him
that there were other and less questionable duties than that of
sharing the fate of a man whom his death could not benefit. Nor
can it be affirmed that no selfish feeling strove to enter
Reuben's heart, though the consciousness 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, when friends stand round the bed, even women may die
composedly; but here--"
"I shall not shrink even here, Reuben Bourne," interrupted
Malvin. "I am a man of no weak heart, and, if I were, there is a
surer support than 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 you have laid me in the earth, and are alone,
and night is settling on the forest, you will feel all the
bitterness of the death that may now be escaped. 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 may have space to
settle my account undisturbed by worldly sorrows."
"And your daughter,--how shall I dare to meet her eye?" exclaimed
Reuben. "She will ask the fate of her father, whose life I vowed
to defend with my own. Must I tell her that he travelled three
days' march with me from the field of battle and that then I left
him to perish in the wilderness? Were it not better to lie down
and die by your side than to return safe and say this to Dorcas?"
"Tell my daughter," said Roger Malvin, "that, though yourself
sore wounded, and weak, and weary, you led my tottering footsteps
many a mile, and left me only at my earnest entreaty, because I
would not have your blood upon my soul. Tell her that through
pain and danger you were faithful, and that, if your lifeblood
could have saved me, it would have flowed to its last drop; and
tell her that you will be something dearer than a father, and
that my blessing is with you both, and that my dying eyes can see
a long and pleasant path in which you will journey together."
As Malvin spoke he almost raised himself from the ground, and the
energy of his concluding words seemed to fill the wild and lonely
forest with a vision of happiness; but, when he sank exhausted
upon his bed of oak leaves, the light which had kindled in
Reuben's eye was quenched. He felt as if it were both sin and
folly to think of happiness at such a moment. His companion
watched his changing countenance, 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,"
he resumed. "It may be that, with speedy assistance, I might
recover of my wound. The foremost fugitives must, ere this, have
carried tidings of our fatal battle to the frontiers, and parties
will be out to succor those in like condition with ourselves.
Should you meet one of these and guide them hither, who can tell
but that I may sit by my own fireside again?"
A mournful smile strayed across the features of the dying man as
he insinuated that unfounded hope,--which, however, was not
without its effect on Reuben. No merely selfish motive, nor even
the desolate condition of Dorcas, could have induced him to
desert his companion at such a moment--but his wishes seized on
the thought that Malvin's life might be preserved, and his
sanguine nature heightened almost to certainty the remote
possibility of procuring human aid.
"Surely there is reason, weighty reason, to hope that friends are
not far 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 shall perhaps encounter them in one
day's march. Counsel me faithfully," he added, turning to Malvin,
in distrust of his own motives. "Were your situation mine, would
you desert me while life remained?"
"It is now twenty years," replied Roger Malvin,--sighing,
however, as he secretly acknowledged the wide dissimilarity
between the two cases,-"it is now twenty years since I escaped
with one dear friend from Indian captivity near Montreal. We
journeyed many days through the woods, till at length overcome
with hunger and weariness, my friend lay down and besought me to
leave him; for he knew that, if I remained, we both must perish;
and, with but little hope of obtaining succor, I heaped a pillow
of dry leaves beneath his head and hastened on."
"And did you return in time to save him?" asked Reuben, hanging
on Malvin's words as if they were to be prophetic of his own
"I did," answered the other. "I came upon the camp of a hunting
party before sunset of the same day. I guided them to the spot
where my comrade was expecting death; and he is now a hale and
hearty man upon his own farm, far within the frontiers, while I
lie wounded here in the depths of the wilderness."
This example, powerful in affecting Reuben's decision, was aided,
unconsciously to himself, by the hidden strength of many another
motive. Roger Malvin perceived that the victory was nearly won.
"Now, go, my son, and Heaven prosper you!" he said. "Turn not
back with your friends when you meet them, lest your wounds and
weariness overcome you; but send hitherward two or three, that
may be spared, to search for me; and believe me, Reuben, my heart
will be lighter with every step you take towards home." Yet there
was, perhaps, a change both in his countenance and voice as he
spoke thus; for, after all, it was a ghastly fate to be left
expiring in the wilderness.
Reuben Bourne, but half convinced that he was acting rightly, at
length raised himself from the ground and prepared himself for
his departure. And first, though contrary to Malvin's wishes, he
collected a stock of roots and herbs, which had been their only
food during the last two days. This useless supply he placed
within reach of the dying man, for whom, also, he swept together
a bed of dry oak leaves. Then climbing to the summit of the rock,
which on one side was rough and broken, he bent the oak sapling
downward, and bound his handkerchief to the topmost branch. This
precaution was not unnecessary to direct any who might come in
search of Malvin; for every part of the rock, except its broad,
smooth front, was concealed at a little distance by the dense
undergrowth of the forest. The handkerchief had been the bandage
of a wound upon Reuben's arm; and, as he bound it to the tree, he
vowed by the blood that stained it that he would return, either
to save his companion'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 advice
respecting the youth's journey through the trackless forest. Upon
this subject he spoke with calm earnestness, as if he were
sending Reuben to the battle or the chase while he himself
remained secure at home, and not as if the human countenance that
was about to leave him were the last he would ever behold. But
his firmness was shaken before he concluded.
"Carry my blessing to Dorcas, and say that my last prayer shall
be for her and you. Bid her to have no hard thoughts because you
left me here," --Reuben's heart smote him,--"for that your life
would not have weighed with you if its sacrifice could have done
me good. She will marry you after she has mourned a little while
for her father; and Heaven grant you long and happy days, and may
your children's children stand round your death bed! And,
Reuben," added he, as the weakness of mortality made its way at
last, "return, when your wounds are healed and your weariness
refreshed,--return to this wild rock, and lay my bones in the
grave, and say a prayer over them."
An almost superstitious regard, arising perhaps from the customs
of the Indians, whose war was with the dead as well as the
living, was paid by the frontier inhabitants to the rites of
sepulture; and there are many instances of the sacrifice of life
in the attempt to bury those who had fallen by the "sword of the
wilderness." Reuben, therefore, felt the full importance of the
promise which he most solemnly made to return and perform Roger
Malvin's obsequies. It was remarkable that the latter, speaking
his whole heart in his parting words, no longer endeavored to
persuade the youth that even the speediest succor might avail to
the preservation of his life. Reuben was internally convinced
that he should see Malvin's living face no more. His generous
nature would fain have delayed him, at whatever risk, till the
dying scene were past; but the desire of existence and the hope
of happiness had strengthened in his heart, and he was unable to
"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.
His slow and faltering steps, however, had borne him but a little
way before Malvin's voice recalled him.
"Reuben, Reuben," said he, faintly; and Reuben returned and knelt
down by the dying man.
"Raise me, and let me lean against the rock," was his last
request. "My face will be turned towards home, and I shall see
you a moment longer as 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 first than was consistent with his strength; for a
sort of guilty feeling, which sometimes torments men in their
most justifiable acts, caused him to seek concealment from
Malvin's eyes; but after he had trodden far upon the rustling
forest leaves he crept back, impelled by a wild and painful
curiosity, and, sheltered by the earthy roots of an uptorn tree,
gazed earnestly at the desolate man. The morning sun was
unclouded, and the trees and shrubs imbibed the sweet air of the
month of May; yet there seemed a gloom on Nature's face, as if
she sympathized with mortal pain and sorrow Roger Malvin's hands
were uplifted in a fervent prayer, some of the words of which
stole through the stillness of the woods and entered Reuben's
heart, torturing it with an unutterable pang. They were the
broken accents of a petition for his own happiness and that of
Dorcas; and, as the youth listened, conscience, or something in
its similitude, pleaded strongly with him to return and lie down
again by the rock. He felt how hard was the doom of the kind and
generous being whom he had deserted in his extremity. Death would
come like the slow approach of a corpse, stealing gradually
towards him through the forest, and showing its ghastly and
motionless features from behind a nearer and yet a nearer tree.
But such must have been Reuben's own fate had he tarried another
sunset; and who shall impute blame to him if he shrink from so
useless a sacrifice? As he gave a parting look, a breeze waved
the little banner upon the sapling oak and reminded Reuben of his
. . . . . . . . . . .
Many circumstances combined to retard the wounded traveller in
his way to the frontiers. On the second day the clouds, gathering
densely over the sky, precluded the possibility of regulating his
course by the position of the sun; and he knew not but that every
effort of his almost exhausted strength was removing him farther
from the home he sought. His scanty sustenance was supplied by
the berries and other spontaneous products of the forest. Herds
of deer, it is true, sometimes bounded past him, and partridges
frequently whirred up before his footsteps; but his ammunition
had been expended in the fight, and he had no means of slaying
them. His wounds, irritated by the constant exertion in which lay
the only hope of life, wore away his strength and at intervals
confused his reason. But, even in the wanderings of intellect,
Reuben's young heart clung strongly to existence; and it was only
through absolute incapacity of motion that he at last sank down
beneath a tree, compelled there to await death.
In this situation he was discovered by a party who, upon the
first intelligence of the fight, had been despatched to the
relief of the survivors. They conveyed him to the nearest
settlement, which chanced to be that of his own residence.
Dorcas, in the simplicity of the olden time, watched by the
bedside of her wounded lover, and administered all those comforts
that are in the sole gift of woman's heart and hand. During
several days Reuben's recollection strayed drowsily among the
perils and hardships through which he had passed, and he was
incapable of returning definite answers to the inquiries with
which many were eager to harass him. No authentic particulars of
the battle had yet been circulated; nor could mothers, wives, and
children tell whether their loved ones were detained by captivity
or by the stronger chain of death. Dorcas nourished her
apprehensions in silence till one afternoon when Reuben awoke
from an unquiet sleep, and seemed to recognize her more perfectly
than at any previous time. She saw that his intellect had become
composed, and she could no longer restrain her filial anxiety.
"My father, Reuben?" she began; but the change in her lover's
countenance made her pause.
The youth shrank as if with a bitter pain, and the blood gushed
vividly into his wan and hollow cheeks. His first impulse was to
cover his face; but, apparently with a desperate effort, he half
raised himself and spoke vehemently, defending himself against an
"Your father was sore wounded in the battle, Dorcas; and he bade
me not burden myself with him, but only to lead him to the
lakeside, that he might quench his thirst and die. But I would
not desert the old man in his extremity, and, though bleeding
myself, I supported him; I gave him half my strength, and led him
away with me. For three days we journeyed on 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
life had hurried him away before her father's fate was decided.
He spoke not; he only bowed his head; and, between shame and
exhaustion, sank back and hid his face in the pillow. Dorcas wept
when her fears were thus confirmed; but the shock, as it had been
long anticipated. was on that account the less violent.
"You dug a grave for my poor father in the wilderness, Reuben?"
was the question by which her filial piety manifested itself.
"My hands were weak; but I did what I could," replied the youth
in a smothered tone. "There stands a noble tombstone above his
head; and I would to Heaven I slept as soundly as he!"
Dorcas, perceiving the wildness of his latter words, inquired no
further at the time; but her heart found ease in the thought that
Roger Malvin had not lacked such funeral rites as it was possible
to bestow. The tale of Reuben's courage and fidelity lost nothing
when she communicated it to her friends; and the poor youth,
tottering from his sick chamber to breathe the sunny air,
experienced from every tongue the miserable and humiliating
torture of unmerited praise. All acknowledged that he might
worthily demand the hand of the fair maiden to whose father he
had been "faithful unto death;" and, as my tale is not of love,
it shall suffice to say that in the space of a few months Reuben
became the husband of Dorcas Malvin. During the marriage ceremony
the bride was covered with blushes, but the bridegroom's face was
There was now in the breast of Reuben Bourne an incommunicable
thought--something which he was to conceal most heedfully from
her whom he most loved and trusted. He regretted, deeply and
bitterly, the moral cowardice that had restrained his words when
he was about to disclose the truth to Dorcas; but pride, the fear
of losing her affection, the dread of universal scorn, forbade
him to rectify this falsehood. He felt that for leaving Roger
Malvin he deserved no censure. His presence, the gratuitous
sacrifice of his own life, would have added only another and a
needless agony to the last moments of the dying man; but
concealment had imparted to a justifiable act much of the secret
effect of guilt; and Reuben, while reason told him that he had
done right, experienced in no small degree the mental horrors
which punish the perpetrator of undiscovered crime. By a certain
association of ideas, he at times almost imagined himself a
murderer. For years, also, a thought would occasionally recur,
which, though he perceived all its folly and extravagance, he had
not power to banish from his mind. It was a haunting and
torturing fancy that his father-in-law was yet sitting 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 the calmest and clearest moods of his mind he
was conscious that he had a deep vow unredeemed, and that an
unburied corpse was calling to him out of the wilderness. Yet
such was the consequence of his prevarication that he could not
obey the call. It was now too late to require the assistance of
Roger Malvin's friends in performing his long-deferred sepulture;
and superstitious fears, of which none were more susceptible than
the people of the outward settlements, forbade Reuben to go
alone. Neither did he know where in the pathless and illimitable
forest to seek 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 strange impression that, were he to make
the trial, he would be led straight to Malvin's bones. But year
after year that summons, unheard but felt, was disobeyed. His one
secret thought became like a chain binding down his spirit and
like a serpent gnawing into his heart; and he was transformed
into a sad and downcast yet irritable man.
In the course of a few years after their marriage changes began
to be visible in the external prosperity of Reuben and Dorcas.
The only riches of the former had been his stout heart and strong
arm; but the latter, her father's sole heiress, had made her
husband master of a farm, under older cultivation, larger, and
better stocked than most of the frontier establishments. Reuben
Bourne, however, was a neglectful husbandman; and, while the
lands of the other settlers became annually more fruitful, his
deteriorated in the same proportion. The discouragements to
agriculture were greatly lessened by the cessation of Indian war,
during which men held the plough in one hand and the musket in
the other, and were fortunate if the products of their dangerous
labor were not destroyed, either in the field or in the barn, by
the savage enemy. But Reuben did not profit by the altered
condition of the country; nor can it be denied that his intervals
of industrious attention to his affairs were but scantily
rewarded with success. The irritability by which he had recently
become distinguished was another cause of his declining
prosperity, as it occasioned frequent quarrels in his unavoidable
intercourse with the neighboring settlers. The results of these
were innumerable lawsuits; for the people of New England, in the
earliest stages and wildest circumstances of the country,
adopted, whenever attainable, the legal mode of deciding their
differences. To be brief, the world did not go well with Reuben
Bourne; and, though not till many years after his marriage, he
was finally a ruined man, with but one remaining expedient
against the evil fate that had pursued him. He was to throw
sunlight into some deep recess of the forest, and seek
subsistence from the virgin bosom of the wilderness.
The only child of Reuben and Dorcas was a son, now arrived at the
age of fifteen years, beautiful in youth, and giving promise of a
glorious manhood. He was peculiarly qualified for, and already
began to excel in, the wild accomplishments of frontier life. His
foot was fleet, his aim true, his apprehension quick, his heart
glad and high; and all who anticipated the return of Indian war
spoke of Cyrus Bourne as a future leader in the land. The boy was
loved by his father with a deep and silent strength, as if
whatever was good and happy in his own nature had been
transferred to his child, carrying his affections with it. Even
Dorcas, though loving and beloved, was far less dear to him; for
Reuben's secret thoughts and insulated emotions had gradually
made him a selfish man, and he could no longer love deeply except
where he saw or imagined some reflection or likeness of his own
mind. In Cyrus he recognized what he had himself been in other
days; and at intervals he seemed to partake of the boy's spirit,
and to be revived with a fresh and happy life. Reuben was
accompanied by his son in the expedition, for the purpose of
selecting a tract of land and felling and burning the timber,
which necessarily preceded the removal of the household gods. Two
months of autumn were thus occupied, after which Reuben Bourne
and his young hunter returned to spend their last winter in the
. . . . . . . . . . .
It was early in the month of May that the little family snapped
asunder whatever tendrils of affections had clung to inanimate
objects, and bade farewell to the few who, in the blight of
fortune, called themselves their friends. The sadness of the
parting moment had, to each of the pilgrims, its peculiar
alleviations. Reuben, a moody man, and misanthropic because
unhappy, strode onward with his usual stern brow and downcast
eye, feeling few regrets and disdaining to acknowledge any.
Dorcas, while she wept abundantly over the broken ties by which
her simple and affectionate nature had bound itself to
everything, felt that the inhabitants of her inmost heart moved
on with her, and that all else would be supplied wherever she
might go. And the boy dashed one tear-drop from his eye, and
thought of the adventurous pleasures of the untrodden forest.
Oh, who, in the enthusiasm of a daydream, has not wished that he
were a wanderer in a world of summer wilderness, with one fair
and gentle being hanging lightly on his arm? In youth his free
and exulting step would know no barrier but the rolling ocean or
the snow-topped mountains; calmer manhood would choose a home
where Nature had strewn a double wealth in the vale of some
transparent stream; and when hoary age, after long, long years of
that pure life, stole on and found him there, it would find him
the father of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a
mighty nation yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which
we welcome after a day of happiness, came over him, his far
descendants would mourn over the venerated dust. Enveloped by
tradition in mysterious attributes, the men of future generations
would call him godlike; and remote posterity would see him
standing, dimly glorious, far up the valley of a hundred
The tangled and gloomy forest through which the personages of my
tale were wandering differed widely from the dreamer's land of
fantasy; yet there was something in their way of life that Nature
asserted as her own, and the gnawing cares which went with them
from the world were all that now obstructed their happiness. One
stout and shaggy steed, the bearer of all their wealth, did not
shrink from the added weight of Dorcas; although her hardy
breeding sustained her, during the latter part 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, kept an
unwearied pace, each watching with a hunter's eye for the game
that supplied their food. When hunger bade, they halted and
prepared their meal on the bank of some unpolluted forest brook,
which, as they knelt down with thirsty lips to drink, murmured a
sweet unwillingness, like a maiden at love's first kiss. They
slept beneath a hut of branches, and awoke at peep of light
refreshed for the toils of another day. Dorcas and the boy went
on joyously, and even Reuben's spirit shone at intervals with an
outward gladness; but inwardly there was a cold cold sorrow,
which he compared to the snowdrifts lying deep in the glens and
hollows of the rivulets while the leaves were brightly green
Cyrus Bourne was sufficiently skilled in the travel of the woods
to observe that his father did not adhere to the course they had
pursued in their expedition of the preceding autumn. They were
now keeping farther to the north, striking out more directly from
the settlements, and into a region of which savage beasts and
savage men were as yet the sole possessors. The boy sometimes
hinted his opinions upon the subject, and Reuben listened
attentively, and once or twice altered the direction of their
march in accordance with his son's counsel; but, having so done,
he seemed ill at ease. His quick and wandering glances were sent
forward apparently in search of enemies lurking behind the tree
trunks, and, seeing nothing there, he would cast his eyes
backwards as if in fear of some pursuer. Cyrus, perceiving that
his father gradually resumed the old direction, forbore to
interfere; nor, though something began to weigh upon his heart,
did his adventurous nature permit him to regret the increased
length and the mystery of their way.
On the afternoon of the fifth day they halted, and made their
simple encampment nearly an hour before sunset. The face of the
country, for the last few miles, had been diversified by swells
of land resembling huge waves of a petrified sea; and in one of
the corresponding hollows, a wild and romantic spot, had the
family reared their hut and kindled their fire. There is
something chilling, and yet heart-warming, in the thought of
these three, united by strong bands of love and insulated from
all that breathe beside. The dark and gloomy pines looked down
upon them, and, as the wind swept through their tops, a pitying
sound was heard in the forest; or did those old trees groan in
fear that men were 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 of game, of which that day's march had
afforded no supply. The boy, promising not to quit the vicinity
of the encampment, bounded off with a step as light and elastic
as that of the deer he hoped to slay; while his father, feeling a
transient happiness as he gazed after him, was about to pursue an
opposite direction. Dorcas in the meanwhile, had seated herself
near their fire of fallen branches upon the mossgrown and
mouldering trunk of a tree uprooted years before. Her employment,
diversified by an occasional glance at the pot, now beginning to
simmer over the blaze, was the perusal of the current year's
Massachusetts Almanac, which, with the exception of an old
black-letter Bible, comprised all the literary wealth of the
family. None pay a greater regard to arbitrary divisions of time
than those who are excluded from society; and Dorcas mentioned,
as if the information were of importance, that it was now the
twelfth of May. Her husband started.
"The twelfth of May! I should remember it well," muttered he,
while many thoughts occasioned a momentary confusion in his mind.
"Where am I? Whither am I wandering? Where did I leave him?"
Dorcas, too well accustomed to her husband's wayward moods to
note any peculiarity of demeanor, now laid aside the almanac and
addressed him in that mournful tone which the tender hearted
appropriate to griefs long cold and dead.
"It was near this time of the month, eighteen years ago, that my
poor father left this world for a better. He had a kind arm to
hold his head and a kind voice to cheer him, Reuben, in his last
moments; and the thought of the faithful care you took of him has
comforted me many a time since. Oh, death would have been awful
to a solitary man in a wild place like this!"
"Pray Heaven, Dorcas," said Reuben, in a broken voice,--"pray
Heaven that neither of us three dies solitary and lies unburied
in this howling wilderness!" And he hastened away, leaving her to
watch the fire 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,
straying onward rather like a sleep walker than a hunter, it was
attributable to no care of his own that his devious course kept
him in the vicinity of the 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 heavily timbered, but not
with pine-trees. The place of the latter was here supplied by
oaks and other of the harder woods; and around their roots
clustered a dense and bushy under-growth, leaving, however,
barren spaces between the trees, thick strewn with withered
leaves. Whenever the rustling of the branches or the creaking of
the trunks made a sound, as if the forest were waking from
slumber, Reuben instinctively raised the musket that rested on
his arm, and cast a quick, sharp glance on every side; but,
convinced by a partial observation that no animal was near, he
would again give himself up to his thoughts. He was musing on the
strange influence that had led him away from his premeditated
course, and so far into the depths of the wilderness. Unable to
penetrate to the secret place of his soul where his motives lay
hidden, he believed that a supernatural voice had called him
onward, and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat.
He trusted that it was Heaven's intent to afford him an
opportunity of expiating his sin; he hoped that he might find the
bones so long unburied; and that, having laid the earth over
them, peace would throw its sunlight into the sepulchre of his
heart. From these thoughts he was aroused by a rustling in the
forest at some distance from the spot to which he had wandered.
Perceiving the motion of some object behind a thick veil of
undergrowth, he fired, with the instinct of a hunter and the aim
of a practised marksman. A low moan, which told his success, and
by which even animals cars express their dying agony, was
unheeded by Reuben Bourne. What were the recollections now
breaking upon him?
The thicket into which Reuben had fired was near the summit of a
swell of land, and was clustered around the base of a rock,
which, in the shape and smoothness of one of its surfaces, was
not unlike a gigantic gravestone. As if reflected in a mirror,
its likeness was in Reuben's memory. He even recognized the veins
which seemed to form an inscription in forgotten characters:
everything remained the same, except that a thick covert of
bushes shrouded the lowerpart of the rock, and would have hidden
Roger Malvin had he still been sitting there. Yet in the next
moment Reuben's eye was caught by another change that time had
effected since he last stood where he was now standing again
behind the earthy roots of the uptorn tree. The sapling to which
he had bound the bloodstained symbol of his vow had increased and
strengthened into an oak, far indeed from its maturity, but with
no mean spread of shadowy branches. There was one singularity
observable in this tree which made Reuben tremble. The middle and
lower branches were in luxuriant life, and an excess of
vegetation had fringed the trunk almost to the ground; but a
blight had apparently stricken the upper part of the oak, and the
very topmost bough was withered, sapless, and utterly dead.
Reuben remembered how the little banner had fluttered on that
topmost bough, when it was green and lovely, eighteen years
before. Whose guilt had blasted it?
. . . . . . . . . . .
Dorcas, after the departure of the two hunters, continued her
preparations for their evening repast. Her sylvan table was the
moss-covered trunk of a large fallen tree, on the broadest part
of which she had spread a snow-white cloth and arranged what were
left of the bright pewter vessels that had been her pride in the
settlements. It had a strange aspect that one little spot of
homely comfort in the desolate heart of Nature. The sunshine yet
lingered upon the higher branches of the trees that grew on
rising ground; but the shadows of evening had deepened into the
hollow where the encampment was made, and the firelight began to
redden as it gleamed up the tall trunks of the pines or hovered
on the dense and obscure mass of foliage that circled round the
spot. The heart of Dorcas was not sad; for she felt that it was
better to journey in the wilderness with two whom she loved than
to be a lonely woman in a crowd that cared not for her. As she
busied herself in arranging seats of mouldering wood, covered
with leaves, for Reuben and her son, her voice danced through the
gloomy forest in the measure of a song that she had learned in
youth. The rude melody, the production of a bard who won no name,
was descriptive of a winter evening in a frontier cottage, when,
secured from savage inroad by the high-piled snow-drifts, the
family rejoiced by their own fireside. The whole song possessed
the nameless charm peculiar to unborrowed thought, but four
continually-recurring lines shone out from the rest like the
blaze of the hearth whose joys they celebrated. Into them,
working magic with a few simple words, the poet had instilled the
very essence of domestic love and household happiness, and they
were poetry and picture joined in one. As Dorcas sang, the walls
of her forsaken home seemed to encircle her; she no longer saw
the gloomy pines, nor heard the wind which still, as she began
each verse, sent a heavy breath through the branches, and died
away in a hollow moan from the burden of the song. She was
aroused by the report of a gun in the vicinity of the encampment;
and either the sudden sound, or her loneliness by the glowing
fire, caused her to tremble violently. The next moment she
laughed 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 had gone to the chase.
She waited a reasonable time to hear her son's light step
bounding over the rustling leaves to tell of his success. But he
did not immediately appear; and she sent her cheerful voice among
the trees in search of him.
His coming was still delayed; and she determined, as the report
had apparently been very near, to seek for him in person. Her
assistance, also, might be necessary in bringing home the venison
which she flattered herself he had obtained. She therefore set
forward, directing her steps by the long-past sound, and singing
as she went, in order that the boy might be aware of her approach
and run to meet her. From behind the trunk of every tree, and
from every hiding-place in the thick foliage of the undergrowth,
she hoped to discover the countenance of her son, laughing with
the sportive mischief that is born of affection. The sun was now
beneath the horizon, and the light that came down among the
leaves was sufficiently dim to create many illusions in her
expecting fancy. Several times she seemed indistinctly to see his
face gazing out from among the leaves; and once she imagined that
he stood beckoning to her at the base of a craggy rock. Keeping
her eyes on this object, however, it proved to be no more than
the trunk of an oak fringed to the very ground with little
branches, one of which, thrust out farther than the rest, was
shaken by the breeze. Making her way round the foot of the rock,
she suddenly found herself close to her husband, who had
approached in another direction. Leaning upon the butt of his
gun, the muzzle of which rested upon the withered leaves, he was
apparently absorbed in the contemplation of some object at his
"How is this, Reuben? Have you slain the deer and fallen asleep
over him?" exclaimed Dorcas, laughing cheerfully, on her first
slight observation 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 creep into her blood. She now perceived that her husband's
face was ghastly pale, and his features were rigid, as if
incapable of assuming any other 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
the strange sound of her own voice affrighted her even more than
the dead silence.
Her husband started, stared into her face, drew her to the front
of the rock, and pointed with his finger.
Oh, there lay the boy, asleep, but dreamless, upon the fallen
forest leaves! His cheek rested upon his arm--his curled locks
were thrown back from his brow--his limbs were slightly relaxed.
Had a sudden weariness overcome the youthful hunter? Would his
mother's voice arouse him? She knew that it was death.
"This broad rock is the gravestone of your near kindred, Dorcas,"
said her husband. "Your tears will fall at once over your father
and your son."
She heard him not. With one wild shriek, that seemed to force its
way from the sufferer's inmost soul, she sank insensible by the
side of her dead boy. At that moment the withered topmost bough
of the oak loosened itself in the stilly air, and fell in soft,
light fragments upon the rock, upon the leaves, upon Reuben, upon
his wife and child, and upon Roger Malvin's bones. Then Reuben's
heart was stricken, and the tears gushed out like water from a
rock. The vow that the wounded youth had made the blighted man
had come to redeem. His sin was expiated,--the curse was gone
from him; and in the hour when he had shed blood dearer to him
than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven
from the lips of Reuben Bourne.
THE ARTIST OF THE BEAUTIFUL
An elderly man, with his pretty daughter on his arm, was passing
along the street, and emerged from the gloom of the cloudy
evening into the light that fell across the pavement from the
window of a small shop. It was a projecting window; and on the
inside were suspended a variety of watches, pinchbeck, silver,
and one or two of gold, all with their faces turned from the
streets, as if churlishly disinclined to inform the wayfarers
what o'clock it was. Seated within the shop, sidelong to the
window with his pale face bent earnestly over some delicate piece
of mechanism on which was thrown the concentrated lustre of a
shade lamp, appeared a young man.
"What can Owen Warland be about?" muttered old Peter Hovenden,
himself a retired watchmaker, and the former master of this same
young man whose occupation he was now wondering at. "What can the
fellow be about? These six months past I have never come by his
shop without seeing him just as steadily at work as now. It would
be a flight beyond his usual foolery to seek for the perpetual
motion; and yet I know enough of my old business to be certain
that what he is now so busy with is no part of the machinery of a
"Perhaps, father," said Annie, without showing much interest in
the question, "Owen is inventing a new kind of timekeeper. I am
sure he has ingenuity enough."
"Poh, child! He has not the sort of ingenuity to invent anything
better than a Dutch toy," answered her father, who had formerly
been put to much vexation by Owen Warland's irregular genius. "A
plague on such ingenuity! All the effect that ever I knew of it
was to spoil the accuracy of some of the best watches in my shop.
He would turn the sun out of its orbit and derange the whole
course of time, if, as I said before, his ingenuity could grasp
anything bigger than a child's toy!"
"Hush, father! He hears you!" whispered Annie, pressing the old
man's arm. "His ears are as delicate as his feelings; and you
know how easily disturbed they are. Do let us move on."
So Peter Hovenden and his daughter Annie plodded on without
further conversation, until in a by-street of the town they found
themselves passing the open door of a blacksmith's shop. Within
was seen the forge, now blazing up and illuminating the high and
dusky roof, and now confining its lustre to a narrow precinct of
the coal-strewn floor, according as the breath of the bellows was
puffed forth or again inhaled into its vast leathern lungs. In
the intervals of brightness it was easy to distinguish objects in
remote corners of the shop and the horseshoes that hung upon the
wall; in the momentary gloom the fire seemed to be glimmering
amidst the vagueness of unenclosed space. Moving about in this
red glare and alternate dusk was the figure of the blacksmith,
well worthy to be viewed in so picturesque an aspect of light and
shade, where the bright blaze struggled with the black night, as
if each would have snatched his comely strength from the other.
Anon he 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 of sparks which the strokes of his hammer scattered
into the surrounding gloom.
"Now, that is a pleasant sight," said the old watchmaker. "I know
what it is to work in gold; but give me the worker in iron after
all is said and done. He spends his labor upon a reality. What
say you, daughter Annie?"
"Pray don't speak so loud, father," whispered Annie, "Robert
Danforth will hear you."
"And what if he should hear me?" said Peter Hovenden. "I say
again, it is a good and a wholesome thing to depend upon main
strength and reality, and to earn one's bread with the bare and
brawny arm of a blacksmith. A watchmaker gets his brain puzzled
by his wheels within a wheel, or loses his health or the nicety
of his eyesight, as was my case, and finds himself at middle age,
or a little after, past labor at his own trade and fit for
nothing else, yet too poor to live at his ease. So I say once
again, give me main strength for my money. And then, how it takes
the nonsense out of a man! Did you ever hear of a blacksmith
being such a fool as Owen Warland yonder?"
"Well said, uncle Hovenden!" shouted Robert Danforth from the
forge, in a full, deep, merry voice, that made the roof re-echo.
"And what says Miss Annie to that doctrine? She, I suppose, will
think it a genteeler business to tinker up a lady's watch than to
forge a horseshoe or make a gridiron."
Annie drew her father onward without giving him time for reply.
But we must return to Owen Warland's shop, and spend more
meditation upon his history and character than either Peter
Hovenden, or probably his daughter Annie, or Owen's old
school-fellow, Robert Danforth, would have thought due to so
slight a subject. From the time that his little fingers could
grasp a penknife, Owen had been remarkable for a delicate
ingenuity, which sometimes produced pretty shapes in wood,
principally figures of flowers and birds, and sometimes seemed to
aim at the hidden mysteries of mechanism. But it was always for
purposes of grace, and never with any mockery of the useful. He
did not, like the crowd of school-boy artisans, construct little
windmills on the angle of a barn or watermills across the
neighboring brook. Those who discovered such peculiarity in the
boy as to think it worth their while to observe him closely,
sometimes saw reason to suppose that he was attempting to imitate
the beautiful movements of Nature as exemplified in the flight of
birds or the activity of little animals. It seemed, in fact, a
new development of the love of the beautiful, such as might have
made him a poet, a painter, or a sculptor, and which was as
completely refined from all utilitarian coarseness as it could
have been in either of the fine arts. He looked with singular
distaste at the stiff and regular processes of ordinary
machinery. Being once carried to see a steam-engine, in the
expectation that his intuitive comprehension of mechanical
principles would be gratified, he turned pale and grew sick, as
if something monstrous and unnatural had been presented to him.
This horror was partly owing to the size and terrible energy of
the iron laborer; for the character of Owen's mind was
microscopic, and tended naturally to the minute, in accordance
with his diminutive frame and the marvellous smallness and
delicate power of his fingers. Not that his sense of beauty was
thereby diminished into a sense of prettiness. The beautiful idea
has no relation to size, and may be as perfectly developed in a
space too minute for any but microscopic investigation as within
the ample verge that is measured by the arc of the rainbow. But,
at all events, this characteristic minuteness in his objects and
accomplishments made the world even more incapable than it might
otherwise have been of appreciating Owen Warland's genius. The
boy's relatives saw nothing better to be done--as perhaps there
was not--than to bind him apprentice to a watchmaker, hoping that
his strange ingenuity might thus be regulated and put to
Peter Hovenden's opinion of his apprentice has already been
expressed. He could make nothing of the lad. Owen's apprehension
of the professional mysteries, it is true, was inconceivably
quick; but he altogether forgot or despised the grand object of a
watchmaker's business, and cared no more for the measurement of
time than if it had been merged into eternity. So long, however,
as he remained under his old master's care, Owen's lack of
sturdiness made it possible, by strict injunctions and sharp
oversight, to restrain his creative eccentricity within bounds;
but when his apprenticeship was served out, and he had taken the
little shop which Peter Hovenden's failing eyesight compelled him
to relinquish, then did people recognize how unfit a person was
Owen Warland to lead old blind Father Time along his daily
course. One of his most rational projects was to connect a
musical operation with the machinery of his watches, so that all
the harsh dissonances of life might be rendered tuneful, and each
flitting moment fall into the abyss of the past in golden drops
of harmony. If a family clock was intrusted to him for
repair,--one of those tall, ancient clocks that have grown nearly
allied to human nature by measuring out the lifetime of many
generations,--he would take upon himself to arrange a dance or
funeral procession of figures across its venerable face,
representing twelve mirthful or melancholy hours. Several freaks
of this kind quite destroyed the young watchmaker's credit with
that steady and matter-of-fact class of people who hold the
opinion that time is not to be trifled with, whether considered
as the medium of advancement and prosperity in this world or
preparation for the next. His custom rapidly diminished--a
misfortune, however, that was probably reckoned among his better
accidents by Owen Warland, who was becoming more and more
absorbed in a secret occupation which drew all his science and
manual dexterity into itself, and likewise gave full employment
to the characteristic tendencies of his genius. This pursuit had
already consumed many months.
After the old watchmaker and his pretty daughter had gazed at him
out of the obscurity of the street, Owen Warland was seized with
a fluttering of the nerves, which made his hand tremble too
violently to proceed with such delicate labor as he was now
"It was Annie herself!" murmured he. "I should have known it, by
this throbbing of my heart, before I heard her father's voice.
Ah, how it throbs! I shall scarcely be able to work again on this
exquisite mechanism to-night. Annie! dearest Annie! thou shouldst
give firmness to my heart and hand, and not shake them thus; for
if I strive to put the very spirit of beauty into form and give
it motion, it is for thy sake alone. O throbbing heart, be quiet!
If my labor be thus thwarted, there will come vague and
unsatisfied dreams which will leave me spiritless to-morrow."
As he was endeavoring to settle himself again to his task, the
shop door opened and gave admittance to no other than the
stalwart figure which Peter Hovenden had paused to admire, as
seen amid the light and shadow of the blacksmith's shop. Robert
Danforth had brought a little anvil of his own manufacture, and
peculiarly constructed, which the young artist had recently
bespoken. Owen examined the article and pronounced it fashioned
according to his wish.
"Why, yes," said Robert Danforth, his strong voice filling the
shop as with the sound of a bass viol, "I consider myself equal
to anything in the way of my own trade; though I should have made
but a poor figure at yours with such a fist as this," added he,
laughing, as he laid his vast hand beside the delicate one of
Owen. "But what then? I put more main strength into one blow of
my sledge hammer than all that you have expended since you were a
'prentice. Is not that the truth?"
"Very probably," answered the low and slender voice of Owen.
"Strength is an earthly monster. I make no pretensions to it. My
force, whatever there 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 the absorbing dream of his imagination.
"Folks do say that you are trying to discover the perpetual
"The perpetual motion? Nonsense!" replied Owen Warland, with a
movement of disgust; for he was full of little petulances. "It
can never be discovered. It is a dream that may delude men whose
brains are mystified with matter, but not me. Besides, if such a
discovery were possible, it would not be worth my while to make
it only to have the secret turned to such purposes as are now
effected by steam and water power. I am not ambitious to be
honored with the paternity of a new kind of cotton machine."
"That would be droll enough!" cried the blacksmith, breaking out
into such an uproar of laughter that Owen himself and the bell
glasses on his work-board quivered in unison. "No, no, Owen! No
child of yours will 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 far as a downright blow of hammer upon
anvil will answer the purpose, I'm your man."
And with another laugh the man of main strength left the shop.
"How strange it is," whispered Owen Warland to himself, leaning
his head upon his hand, "that all my musings, my purposes, my
passion for the beautiful, my consciousness of power to create
it,--a finer, more ethereal power, of which this earthly giant
can have no conception,--all, all, look so vain and idle whenever
my path is crossed by Robert Danforth! He would drive me mad were
I to meet him often. His hard, brute force darkens and confuses
the spiritual element within me; but I, too, will be strong in my
own way. I will not yield to him."
He took from beneath a glass a piece of minute machinery, which
he set in the condensed light of his lamp, and, looking intently
at it through a magnifying glass, proceeded to operate with a
delicate instrument of steel. In an instant, however, he fell
back in his chair and clasped his hands, with a look of horror on
his face that made its small features as impressive as those of a
giant would have been.
"Heaven! What have I done?" exclaimed he. "The vapor, the
influence of that brute force,--it has bewildered me and obscured
my perception. I have made the very stroke--the fatal
stroke--that I have dreaded from the first. It is all over--the
toil of months, the object of my life. I am ruined!"
And there he sat, in strange despair, until his lamp flickered in
the socket and left the Artist of the Beautiful in darkness.
Thus it is that ideas, which grow up within the imagination and
appear so lovely to it and of a value beyond whatever men call
valuable, are exposed to be shattered and annihilated by contact
with the practical. It is requisite for the ideal artist to
possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with
its delicacy; he must keep his faith in himself while the
incredulous world assails him with its utter disbelief; he must
stand up against mankind and be his own sole disciple, both as
respects his genius and the objects to which it is directed.
For a time Owen Warland succumbed to this severe but inevitable
test. He spent a few sluggish weeks with his head so continually
resting in his hands that the towns-people had scarcely an
opportunity to see his countenance. When at last it was again
uplifted to the light of day, a cold, dull, nameless change was
perceptible upon it. In the opinion of Peter Hovenden, however,
and that order of sagacious understandings who think that life
should be regulated, like clockwork, with leaden weights, the
alteration was entirely for the better. Owen now, indeed, applied
himself to business with dogged industry. It was marvellous to
witness the obtuse gravity with which he would inspect the wheels
of a great old silver watch thereby delighting the owner, in
whose fob it had been worn till he deemed it a portion of his own
life, and was accordingly jealous of its treatment. In
consequence of the good report thus acquired, Owen Warland was
invited by the proper authorities to regulate the clock in the
church steeple. He succeeded so admirably in this matter of
public interest that the merchants gruffly acknowledged his
merits on 'Change; the nurse whispered his praises as she gave
the potion in the sick-chamber; the lover blessed him at the hour
of appointed interview; and the town in general thanked Owen for
the punctuality of dinner time. In a word, the heavy weight upon
his spirits kept everything in order, not merely within his own
system, but wheresoever the iron accents of the church clock were
audible. It was a circumstance, though minute, yet characteristic
of his present state, that, when employed to engrave names or
initials on silver spoons, he now wrote the requisite letters in
the plainest possible style, omitting a variety of fanciful
flourishes that had heretofore distinguished his work in this
One day, during the era of this happy transformation, old Peter
Hovenden came to visit his former apprentice.
"Well, Owen," said he, "I am glad to hear such good accounts of
you from all quarters, and especially from the town clock yonder,
which speaks in your commendation every hour of the twenty-four.
Only get rid altogether of your nonsensical trash about the
beautiful, which I nor nobody else, nor yourself to boot, could
ever understand,--only free yourself 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 this precious old watch of
mine; though, except my daughter Annie, I have nothing else so
valuable in the world."
"I should hardly dare touch it, sir," replied Owen, in a
depressed tone; for he was weighed down by his old master's
"In time," said the latter,--"In time, you will be capable of
The old watchmaker, with the freedom naturally consequent on his
former authority, went on inspecting the work which Owen had in
hand at the moment, together with other matters that were in
progress. The artist, meanwhile, could scarcely lift his head.
There was nothing so antipodal to his nature as this man's cold,
unimaginative sagacity, by contact with which everything was
converted into a dream except the densest matter of the physical
world. Owen groaned in spirit and prayed fervently to be
delivered from him.
"But what is this?" cried Peter Hovenden abruptly, taking up a
dusty bell glass, beneath which appeared a mechanical something,
as delicate and minute as the system of a butterfly's anatomy.
"What have we here? Owen! Owen! there is witchcraft in these
little chains, and wheels, and paddles. See! with one pinch of my
finger and thumb I am going to deliver you from all future
"For Heaven's sake," screamed Owen Warland, springing up with
wonderful energy, "as you would not drive me mad, do not touch
it! The slightest pressure of your finger would ruin me forever."
"Aha, young man! And is it so?" said the old watchmaker, looking
at him with just enough penetration to torture Owen's soul with
the bitterness of worldly criticism. "Well, take your own course;
but I warn you again that in this small piece of mechanism lives
your evil spirit. Shall I exorcise him?"
"You are my evil spirit," answered Owen, much excited,--"you and
the hard, coarse world! The leaden thoughts and the despondency
that you fling upon me are my clogs, else I should long ago have
achieved the task that I was created for."
Peter Hovenden shook his head, with the mixture of contempt and
indignation which mankind, of whom he was partly a
representative, deem themselves entitled to feel towards all
simpletons who seek other prizes than the dusty one along the
highway. He then took his leave, with an uplifted finger and a
sneer upon his face that haunted the artist's dreams for many a
night afterwards. At the time of his old master's visit, Owen was
probably on the point of taking up the relinquished task; but, by
this sinister event, he was thrown back into the state whence he
had been slowly emerging.
But the innate tendency of his soul had only been accumulating
fresh vigor during its apparent sluggishness. As the summer
advanced he almost totally relinquished his business, and
permitted Father Time, so far as the old gentleman was
represented by the clocks and watches under his control, to stray
at random through human life, making infinite confusion among the
train of bewildered hours. He wasted the sunshine, as people
said, in wandering through the woods and fields and along the
banks of streams. There, like a child, he found amusement in
chasing butterflies or watching the motions of water insects.
There was something truly mysterious in the intentness with which
he contemplated these living playthings as they sported on the
breeze or examined the structure of an imperial insect whom he
had imprisoned. The chase of butterflies was an apt emblem of the
ideal pursuit in which he had spent so many golden hours; but
would the beautiful idea ever be yielded to his hand like the
butterfly that symbolized it? Sweet, doubtless, were these days,
and congenial to the artist's soul. They were full of bright
conceptions, which gleamed through his intellectual world as the
butterflies gleamed through the outward atmosphere, and were real
to him, for the instant, without the toil, and perplexity, and
many disappointments of attempting to make them visible to the
sensual eye. Alas that the artist, whether in poetry, or whatever
other material, may not content himself with the inward enjoyment
of the beautiful, but must chase the flitting mystery beyond the
verge of his ethereal domain, and crush its frail being in
seizing it with a material grasp. Owen Warland felt the impulse
to give external reality to his ideas as irresistibly as any of
the poets or painters who have arrayed the world in a dimmer and
fainter beauty, imperfectly copied from the richness of their
The night was now his time for the slow progress of re-creating
the one idea to which all his intellectual activity referred
itself. Always at the approach of dusk he stole into the town,
locked himself within his shop, and wrought with patient delicacy
of touch for many hours. Sometimes he was startled by the rap of
the watchman, who, when all the world should be asleep, had
caught the gleam of lamplight through the crevices of Owen
Warland's shutters. Daylight, to the morbid sensibility of his
mind, seemed to have an intrusiveness that interfered with his
pursuits. On cloudy and inclement days, therefore, he sat with
his head upon his hands, muffling, as it were, his sensitive
brain in a mist of indefinite musings, for it was a relief to
escape from the sharp distinctness with which he was compelled to
shape out his thoughts during his nightly toil.
From one of these fits of torpor he was aroused by the entrance
of Annie Hovenden, who came into the shop with the freedom of a
customer, and also with something of the familiarity of a
childish friend. She had worn a hole through her silver thimble,
and wanted Owen to repair it.
"But I don't know whether you will condescend to such a task,"
said she, laughing, "now that you are so taken up with the notion
of putting spirit into machinery."
"Where did you get that idea, Annie?" said Owen, starting in
"Oh, out of my own head," answered she, "and from something that
I heard 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,
even were it to work at Robert Danforth's forge."
"And that would be a pretty sight!" retorted Annie, glancing with
imperceptible 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 the
spiritualization of matter."
And then the thought stole into his mind that this young girl
possessed the gift to comprehend him better than all the world
besides. And what a help and strength would it be to him in his
lonely toil if he could gain the sympathy of the only being whom
he loved! To persons whose pursuits are insulated from the common
business of life--who are either in advance of mankind or apart
from it--there often comes a sensation of moral cold that makes
the spirit shiver as if it had reached the frozen solitudes
around the pole. What the prophet, the poet, the reformer, the
criminal, or any other man with human yearnings, but separated
from the multitude by a peculiar lot, might feel, poor Owen felt.
"Annie," cried he, growing pale as death at the thought, "how
gladly would I tell you the secret of my pursuit! You, methinks,
would estimate it rightly. You, I know, would hear it with a
reverence that I must not expect from the harsh, material world."
"Would I not? to be sure I would!" replied Annie Hovenden,
lightly laughing. "Come; explain to me quickly what is the
meaning of this little whirligig, so delicately wrought that it
might be a plaything for Queen Mab. See! I will put it in
"Hold!" exclaimed Owen, "hold!"
Annie had but given the slightest possible touch, with the point
of a needle, to the same minute portion of complicated machinery
which has been more than once mentioned, when the artist seized
her by the wrist with a force that made her scream aloud. She was
affrighted at the convulsion of intense rage and anguish that
writhed across his features. The next instant he let his head
sink upon his hands.
"Go, Annie," murmured he; "I have deceived myself, and must
suffer for it. I yearned for sympathy, and thought, and fancied,
and dreamed that you might give it me; but you lack the talisman,
Annie, that should admit you into my secrets. That touch has
undone the toil of months and the thought of a lifetime! It was
not your fault, Annie; but you have ruined me!"
Poor Owen Warland! He had indeed erred, yet pardonably; for if
any human spirit could have sufficiently reverenced the processes
so sacred in his eyes, it must have been a woman's. Even Annie
Hovenden, possibly might not have disappointed him had she been
enlightened by the deep intelligence of love.
The artist spent the ensuing winter in a way that satisfied any
persons who had hitherto retained a hopeful opinion of him that
he was, in truth, irrevocably doomed to unutility as regarded the
world, and to an evil destiny on his own part. The decease of a
relative had put him in possession of a small inheritance. Thus
freed from the necessity of toil, and having lost the steadfast
influence of a great purpose,--great, at least, to him,--he
abandoned himself to habits from which it might have been
supposed the mere delicacy of his organization would have availed
to secure him. But when the ethereal portion of a man of genius
is obscured the earthly part assumes an influence the more
uncontrollable, because the character is now thrown off the
balance to which Providence had so nicely adjusted it, and which,
in coarser natures, is adjusted by some other method. Owen
Warland made proof of whatever show of bliss may be found in
riot. He looked at the world through the golden medium of wine,
and contemplated the visions that bubble up so gayly around the
brim of the glass, and that people the air with shapes of
pleasant madness, which so soon grow ghostly and forlorn. Even
when this dismal and inevitable change had taken place, the young
man might still have continued to quaff the cup of enchantments,
though its vapor did but shroud life in gloom and fill the gloom
with spectres that mocked at him. There was a certain irksomeness
of spirit, which, being real, and the deepest sensation of which
the artist was now conscious, was more intolerable than any
fantastic miseries and horrors that the abuse of wine could
summon up. In the latter case he could remember, even out of the
midst of his trouble, that all was but a delusion; in the former,
the heavy anguish was his actual life.
From this perilous state he was redeemed by an incident which
more than one person witnessed, but of which the shrewdest could
not explain or conjecture the operation on Owen Warland's mind.
It was very simple. On a warm afternoon of spring, as the artist
sat among his riotous companions with a glass of wine before him,
a splendid butterfly flew in at the open window and fluttered
about his head.
"Ah," exclaimed Owen, who had drank freely, "are you alive again,
child of the sun and playmate of the summer breeze, after your
dismal winter's nap? Then it is time for me to be at work!"
And, leaving his unemptied glass upon the table, he departed and
was never known to sip another drop of wine.
And now, again, he resumed his wanderings in the woods and
fields. It might be fancied that the bright butterfly, which had
come so spirit-like into the window as Owen sat with the rude
revellers, was indeed a spirit commissioned to recall him to the
pure, ideal life that had so etheralized him among men. It might
be fancied that he went forth to seek this spirit in its sunny
haunts; for still, as in the summer time gone by, he was seen to
steal gently up wherever a butterfly had alighted, and lose
himself in contemplation of it. When it took flight his eyes
followed the winged vision, as if its airy track would show the
path to heaven. But what could be the purpose of the unseasonable
toil, which was again resumed, as the watchman knew by the lines
of lamplight through the crevices of Owen Warland's shutters? The
towns-people had one comprehensive explanation of all these
singularities. Owen Warland had gone mad! How universally
efficacious--how satisfactory, too, and soothing to the injured
sensibility of narrowness and dulness--is this easy method of
accounting 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 mysteries in 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 been correct. Perhaps he was mad. The
lack of sympathy--that contrast between himself and his neighbors
which took away the restraint of example--was enough to make him
so. Or possibly he had caught just so much of ethereal radiance
as served to bewilder him, in an earthly sense, by its
intermixture with the common daylight.
One evening, when the artist had returned from a customary ramble
and had just thrown the lustre of his lamp on the delicate piece
of work so often interrupted, but still taken up again, as if his
fate were embodied in its mechanism, he was surprised by the
entrance of old Peter Hovenden. Owen never met this man without a
shrinking of the heart. Of all the world he was most terrible, by
reason of a keen understanding which saw so distinctly what it
did see, and disbelieved so uncompromisingly in what it could not
see. On this occasion the old watchmaker had merely a gracious
word or two to say.
"Owen, my lad," said he, "we must see you at my house to-morrow
The artist began to mutter some excuse.
"Oh, but it must be so," quoth Peter Hovenden, "for the sake of
the days when you were one of the household. What, my boy! don't
you know that my daughter Annie is engaged to Robert Danforth?
We are making an entertainment, in our humble way, to celebrate
That little monosyllable was all he uttered; its tone seemed cold
and unconcerned to an ear like Peter Hovenden's; and yet there
was in it the stifled outcry of the poor artist's heart, which he
compressed within 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, he let it fall upon the little system of
machinery that had, anew, cost him months of thought and toil. It
was shattered by the stroke!
Owen Warland's story would have been no tolerable representation
of the troubled life of those who strive to create the beautiful,
if, amid all other thwarting influences, love had not interposed
to steal the cunning from his hand. Outwardly he had been no
ardent or enterprising lover; the career of his passion had
confined its tumults and vicissitudes so entirely within the
artist's imagination that Annie herself had scarcely more than a
woman's intuitive perception of it; but, in Owen's view, it
covered the whole field of his life. Forgetful of the time when
she had shown herself incapable of any deep response, he had
persisted in connecting all his dreams of artistical success with
Annie's image; she was the visible shape in which the spiritual
power that he worshipped, and on whose altar he hoped to lay a
not unworthy offering, was made manifest to him. Of course he had
deceived himself; there were no such attributes in Annie Hovenden
as his imagination had endowed her with. She, in the aspect which
she wore to his inward vision, was as much a creature of his own
as the mysterious piece of mechanism would be were it ever
realized. Had he become convinced of his mistake through the
medium of successful love,--had he won Annie to his bosom, and
there beheld her fade from angel into ordinary woman,--the
disappointment might have driven him back, with concentrated
energy, upon his sole remaining object. On the other hand, had he
found Annie what he fancied, his lot would have been so rich in
beauty that out of its mere redundancy he might have wrought the
beautiful into many a worthier type than he had toiled for; but
the guise in which his sorrow came to him, the sense that the
angel of his life had been snatched away and given to a rude man
of earth and iron, who could neither need nor appreciate her
ministrations,--this was the very perversity of fate that makes
human existence appear too absurd and 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 that had been
He went through a fit of illness. After his recovery his small
and slender frame assumed an obtuser garniture of flesh than it
had ever before worn. His thin cheeks became round; his delicate
little hand, so spiritually fashioned to achieve fairy task-work,
grew plumper than the hand of a thriving infant. His aspect had a
childishness such as might have induced a stranger to pat him on
the head--pausing, however, in the act, to wonder what manner of
child was here. It was as if the spirit had gone out of him,
leaving the body to flourish in a sort of vegetable existence.
Not that Owen Warland was idiotic. He could talk, and not
irrationally. Somewhat of a babbler, indeed, did people begin to
think him; for he was apt to discourse at wearisome length of
marvels of mechanism that he had read about in books, but which
he had learned to consider as absolutely fabulous. Among them he
enumerated the Man of Brass, constructed by Albertus Magnus, and
the Brazen Head of Friar Bacon; and, coming down to later times,
the automata of a little coach and horses, which it was pretended
had been manufactured for the Dauphin of France; together with an
insect that buzzed about the ear like a living fly, and yet was
but a contrivance of minute steel springs. There was a story,
too, of a duck that waddled, and quacked, and ate; though, had
any honest citizen purchased it for dinner, he would have found
himself cheated with the mere mechanical apparition of a duck.
"But all these accounts," said Owen Warland, "I am now satisfied
are mere impositions."
Then, in a mysterious way, he would confess that he once thought
differently. In his idle and dreamy days he had considered it
possible, in a certain sense, to spiritualize machinery, and to
combine with the new species of life and motion thus produced a
beauty that should attain to the ideal which Nature has proposed
to herself in all her creatures, but has never taken pains to
realize. He seemed, however, to retain no very distinct
perception either of the process of achieving this object or of
the design itself.
"I have thrown it all aside now," he would say. "It was a dream
such as young men are always mystifying themselves with. Now that
I have acquired a little common sense, it makes me laugh to think
Poor, poor and fallen Owen Warland! These were the symptoms that
he had ceased to be an inhabitant of the better sphere that lies
unseen around us. He had lost his faith in the invisible, and now
prided himself, as such unfortunates invariably do, in the wisdom
which rejected much that even his eye could see, and trusted
confidently in nothing but what his hand could touch. This is the
calamity of men whose spiritual part dies out of them and leaves
the grosser understanding to assimilate them more and more to the
things of which alone it can take cognizance; but in Owen Warland
the spirit was not dead nor passed away; it only slept.
How it awoke again is not recorded. Perhaps the torpid slumber
was broken by a convulsive pain. Perhaps, as in a former
instance, the butterfly came and hovered about his head and
reinspired him,--as indeed this creature of the sunshine had
always a mysterious mission for the artist,--reinspired him with
the former purpose of his life. Whether it were pain or happiness
that thrilled through his veins, his first impulse was to thank
Heaven for rendering him again the being of thought, imagination,
and keenest sensibility that he had long ceased to be.
"Now for my task," said he. "Never did I feel such strength for
it as now."
Yet, strong as he felt himself, he was incited to toil the more
diligently by an anxiety lest death should surprise him in the
midst of his labors. This anxiety, perhaps, is common to all men
who set their hearts upon anything so high, in their own view of
it, that life becomes of importance only as conditional to its
accomplishment. So long as we love life for itself, we seldom
dread the losing it. When we desire life for the attainment of an
object, we recognize the frailty of its texture. But, side by
side with this sense of insecurity, there is a vital faith in our
invulnerability to the shaft of death while engaged in any task
that seems assigned by Providence as our proper thing to do, and
which the world would have cause to mourn for should we leave it
unaccomplished. Can the philosopher, big with the inspiration of
an idea that is to reform mankind, believe that he is to be
beckoned from this sensible existence at the very instant when he
is mustering 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 truth that might have been uttered then. But
history affords many an example where the most precious spirit,
at any particular epoch manifested in human shape, has gone hence
untimely, without space allowed him, so far as mortal judgment
could discern, to perform his mission on the earth. The prophet
dies, and the man of torpid heart and sluggish brain lives on.
The poet leaves his song half sung, or finishes it, beyond the
scope of mortal ears, in a celestial choir. The painter--as
Allston did--leaves half his conception on the canvas to sadden
us with its imperfect beauty, and goes to picture forth the
whole, if it be no irreverence to say so, in the hues of heaven.
But rather such incomplete designs of this life will be perfected
nowhere. This so frequent abortion of man's dearest projects must
be taken as a proof that the deeds of earth, however etherealized
by piety or genius, are without value, except as exercises and
manifestations of the spirit. In heaven, all ordinary thought is
higher and more melodious than Milton's song. Then, would he add
another verse to any strain that he had left unfinished here?
But to return to Owen Warland. It was his fortune, good or ill,
to achieve the purpose of his life. Pass we over a long space of
intense thought, yearning effort, minute toil, and wasting
anxiety, succeeded by an instant of solitary triumph: let all
this be imagined; and then behold the artist, on a winter
evening, seeking admittance to Robert Danforth's fireside circle.
There he found the man of iron, with his massive substance
thoroughly warmed and attempered by domestic influences. And
there was Annie, too, now transformed into a matron, with much of
her husband's plain and sturdy nature, but imbued, as Owen
Warland still believed, with a finer grace, that might enable her
to be the interpreter between strength and beauty. It happened,
likewise, that old Peter Hovenden was a guest this evening at his
daughter's fireside, and it was his well-remembered expression of
keen, cold criticism that first encountered the artist's glance.
"My old friend Owen!" cried Robert Danforth, starting up, and
compressing the artist's delicate fingers within a hand that was
accustomed to gripe bars of iron. "This is kind and neighborly to
come to us at last. I was afraid your perpetual motion had
bewitched you out of the remembrance of old times."
"We are glad to see you," said Annie, while a blush reddened her
matronly cheek. "It was not like a friend to stay from us so
"Well, Owen," inquired the old watchmaker, as his first greeting,
"how comes on the beautiful? Have you created it at last?"
The artist did not immediately reply, being startled by the
apparition of a young child of strength that was tumbling about
on the carpet,--a little personage who had come mysteriously out
of the infinite, but with something so sturdy and real in his
composition that he seemed moulded out of the densest substance
which earth could supply. This hopeful infant crawled towards the
new-comer, and setting himself on end, as Robert Danforth
expressed the posture, stared at Owen with a look of such
sagacious observation that the mother could not help exchanging a
proud glance with her husband. But the artist was disturbed by
the child's look, as imagining a resemblance between it and Peter
Hovenden's habitual expression. He could have fancied that the
old watchmaker was compressed into this baby shape, and looking
out of those baby eyes, and repeating, as he now did, the
malicious question: "The beautiful, Owen! How comes on the
beautiful? Have you succeeded in creating the beautiful?"
"I have succeeded," replied the artist, with a momentary light of
triumph in his eyes and a smile of sunshine, yet steeped in such
depth of thought that it was almost sadness. "Yes, my friends, it
is the truth. I have succeeded."
"Indeed!" cried Annie, a look of maiden mirthfulness peeping out
of her face again. "And is it lawful, now, to inquire what the
"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 boyish years,--Annie, it is for your bridal gift
that I have wrought this spiritualized mechanism, this harmony of
motion, this mystery of beauty. It comes late, indeed; but it is
as we go onward in life, when objects begin to lose their
freshness of hue and our souls their delicacy of perception, that
the spirit of beauty is most needed. If,--forgive me, Annie,--if
you know how--to value this gift, it can never come too late."
He produced, as he spoke, what seemed a jewel box. It was carved
richly out of ebony by his own hand, and inlaid with a fanciful
tracery of pearl, 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 ascended from earth to cloud, and from
cloud to celestial atmosphere, to win the beautiful. This case of
ebony the artist opened, and bade Annie place her fingers on its
edge. She did so, but almost screamed as a butterfly fluttered
forth, and, alighting on her finger's tip, sat waving the ample
magnificence of its purple and gold-speckled wings, as if in
prelude to a flight. It is impossible to express by words the
glory, the splendor, the delicate gorgeousness which were
softened into the beauty of this object. Nature's ideal butterfly
was here realized in all its perfection; not in the pattern of
such faded insects as flit among earthly flowers, but of those
which hover across the meads of paradise for child-angels and the
spirits of departed infants to disport themselves with. The rich
down was visible upon its wings; the lustre of its eyes seemed
instinct with spirit. The firelight glimmered around this
wonder--the candles gleamed upon it; but it glistened apparently
by its own radiance, and illuminated the finger and outstretched
hand on which it rested with a white gleam like that of precious
stones. In its perfect beauty, the consideration of size was
entirely lost. Had its wings overreached the firmament, the mind
could not have been more filled or satisfied.
"Beautiful! beautiful!" exclaimed Annie. "Is it alive? Is it
"Alive? To be sure it is," answered her husband. "Do you suppose
any mortal has skill enough to make a butterfly, or would put
himself to the trouble of making one, when any child may catch a
score of them in a summer's afternoon? Alive? Certainly! But this
pretty box is undoubtedly of our friend Owen's manufacture; and
really it does him credit."
At this moment the butterfly waved its wings anew, with a motion
so absolutely lifelike that Annie was startled, and even
awestricken; for, in spite of her husband's opinion, she could
not satisfy herself whether it was indeed a living creature or a
piece of wondrous mechanism.
"Is it alive?" she repeated, more earnestly than before.
"Judge for yourself," said Owen Warland, who stood gazing in her
face with fixed attention.
The butterfly now flung itself upon the air, fluttered round
Annie's head, and soared into a distant region of the parlor,
still making itself perceptible to sight by the starry gleam in
which the motion of its wings enveloped it. The infant on the
floor followed its course with his sagacious little eyes. After
flying about the room, it returned in a spiral curve and settled
again on Annie's finger.
"But is it alive?" exclaimed she again; and the finger on which
the gorgeous mystery had alighted was so tremulous that the
butterfly was forced to balance himself with his wings. "Tell me
if it be alive, or whether you created it."
"Wherefore ask who created it, so it be beautiful?" replied Owen
Warland. "Alive? Yes, Annie; it may well be said to possess
life, for it has absorbed my own being into itself; and in the
secret of that butterfly, and in its beauty,--which is not merely
outward, but deep as its whole system,--is represented the
intellect, the imagination, the sensibility, the soul of an
Artist of the Beautiful! Yes; I created it. But"--and here his
countenance somewhat changed--"this butterfly is not now to me
what it was when I beheld it afar off in the daydreams of my
"Be it what it may, it is a pretty plaything," said the
blacksmith, grinning with childlike delight. "I wonder whether it
would condescend to 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
of her husband; and, after a momentary delay, the butterfly
fluttered from one to the other. It preluded a second flight by a
similar, yet not precisely the same, waving of wings as in the
first experiment; then, ascending from the blacksmith's stalwart
finger, it rose in a gradually enlarging curve to the ceiling,
made one wide sweep around the room, and returned with an
undulating movement to the point whence it had started.
"Well, that does beat all nature!" cried Robert Danforth,
bestowing the heartiest praise that he could find expression for;
and, indeed, had he paused there, a man of finer words and nicer
perception could not easily 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 than in the whole five years' labor that
our friend Owen has wasted on this butterfly."
Here the child clapped his hands and made a great babble of
indistinct utterance, apparently demanding that the butterfly
should be given him for a plaything.
Owen Warland, meanwhile, glanced sidelong at Annie, to discover
whether she sympathized in her husband's estimate of the
comparative value of the beautiful and the practical. There was,
amid all her kindness towards himself, amid all the wonder and
admiration with which she contemplated the marvellous work of his
hands and incarnation of his idea, a secret scorn--too secret,
perhaps, for her own consciousness, and perceptible only to such
intuitive discernment as that of the artist. But Owen, in the
latter stages of his pursuit, had risen out of the region in
which such a discovery might have been torture. He knew that the
world, and Annie as the representative of the world, whatever
praise might be bestowed, could never say the fitting word nor
feel the fitting sentiment which should be the perfect recompense
of an artist who, symbolizing a lofty moral by a material
trifle,--converting what was earthly to spiritual gold,--had won
the beautiful into his handiwork. Not at this latest moment was
he to learn that the reward of all 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 would have
satisfied them that the toil of years had here been worthily
bestowed. Owen Warland might have told them that this butterfly,
this plaything, this bridal gift of a poor watchmaker to a
blacksmith's wife, was, in truth, a gem of art that a monarch
would have purchased with honors and abundant wealth, and have
treasured it among the jewels of his kingdom as the most unique
and wondrous of them all. But the artist smiled and kept the
secret to himself .
"Father," said Annie, thinking that a word of praise from the old
watchmaker might gratify his former apprentice, "do come and
admire this pretty butterfly."
"Let us see," said Peter Hovenden, rising from his chair, with a
sneer upon his face that always made people doubt, as he himself
did, in everything but a material existence. "Here is my finger
for it to alight upon. I shall understand it better when once I
have touched it."
But, to the increased astonishment of Annie, when the tip of her
father's finger was pressed against that of her husband, on which
the butterfly still rested, the insect drooped its wings and
seemed on the point of falling to the floor. Even the bright
spots of gold upon its wings and body, unless her eyes deceived
her, grew dim, and the glowing purple took a dusky hue, and the
starry lustre that gleamed around the blacksmith'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
told you, it has imbibed a spiritual essence--call it magnetism,
or what you will. In an atmosphere of doubt and mockery its
exquisite susceptibility suffers torture, as does the soul of him
who instilled his own life into it. It has already lost its
beauty; in a few moments more its mechanism would be irreparably
"Take away your hand, father!" entreated Annie, turning pale.
"Here is my child; let it rest on his innocent hand. There,
perhaps, its life will revive and its colors grow brighter than
Her father, with an acrid smile, withdrew his finger. The
butterfly then appeared to recover the power of voluntary motion,
while its hues assumed much of their original lustre, and the
gleam of starlight, which was its most ethereal attribute, again
formed a halo round about it. At first, when transferred from
Robert Danforth's hand to the small finger of the child, this
radiance grew so powerful that it positively threw the little
fellow's shadow back against the wall. He, meanwhile, extended
his plump hand as he had seen his father and mother do, and
watched the waving of the insect's wings with infantine delight.
Nevertheless, there was a certain odd expression of sagacity that
made Owen Warland feel as if here were old Pete Hovenden,
partially, and but partially, redeemed from his hard scepticism
into childish faith.
"How wise the little monkey looks!" whispered Robert Danforth to
"I never saw such a look on a child's face," answered Annie,
admiring her own infant, and with good reason, far more than the
artistic butterfly. "The darling knows more of the mystery than
As if the butterfly, like the artist, were conscious of something
not entirely congenial in the child's nature, it alternately
sparkled and grew dim. At length it arose from the small hand of
the infant with an airy motion that seemed to bear it upward
without an effort, as if the ethereal instincts with which its
master's spirit had endowed it impelled this fair vision
involuntarily to a higher sphere. Had there been no obstruction,
it might have soared into the sky and grown immortal. But its
lustre gleamed upon the ceiling; the exquisite texture of its
wings brushed against that earthly medium; and a sparkle or two,
as of stardust, floated downward and lay glimmering on the
carpet. Then the butterfly came fluttering down, and, instead of
returning to the infant, was apparently attracted towards the
"Not so! not so!" murmured Owen Warland, as if his handiwork
could have understood him. "Thou has gone forth out of thy
master's heart. There is no return for thee."
With a wavering movement, and emitting a tremulous radiance, the
butterfly struggled, as it were, towards the infant, and was
about to alight upon his finger; but while it still hovered in
the air, the little child of strength, with his grandsire's sharp
and shrewd expression in his face, made a snatch at the
marvellous insect and compressed it in his hand. Annie screamed.
Old Peter Hovenden burst into a cold and scornful laugh. The
blacksmith, by main force, unclosed the infant's hand, and found
within the palm a small heap of glittering fragments, whence the
mystery of beauty had fled forever. And as for Owen Warland, he
looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life's labor, and
which was yet no ruin. He had caught a far other butterfly than
this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the beautiful,
the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses
became of little value in his eyes while his spirit possessed
itself in the enjoyment of the reality.