Feathertop, A Moralized Legend
by Nathaniel Hawthorne
"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!"