From the Snow Image by Nathaniel Hawthorne
THE SNOW-IMAGE: A CHILDISH MIRACLE
One afternoon of a cold winter's day, when the sun shone forth
with chilly brightness, after a long storm, two children asked
leave of their mother to run out and play in the new-fallen snow.
The elder child was a little girl, whom, because she was of a
tender and modest disposition, and was thought to be very
beautiful, her parents, and other people who were familiar with
her, used to call Violet. But her brother was known by the style
and title of Peony, on account of the ruddiness of his broad and
round little phiz, which made everybody think of sunshine and
great scarlet flowers. The father of these two children, a
certain Mr. Lindsey, it is important to say, was an excellent but
exceedingly matter-of-fact sort of man, a dealer in hardware, and
was sturdily accustomed to take what is called the common-sense
view of all matters that came under his consideration. With a
heart about as tender as other people's, he had a head as hard
and impenetrable, and therefore, perhaps, as empty, as one of the
iron pots which it was a part of his business to sell. The
mother's character, on the other hand, had a strain of poetry in
it, a trait of unworldly beauty,--a delicate and dewy flower, as
it were, that had survived out of her imaginative youth, and
still kept itself alive amid the dusty realities of matrimony and
So, Violet and Peony, as I began with saying, besought their
mother to let them run out and play in the new snow; for, though
it had looked so dreary and dismal, drifting downward out of the
gray sky, it had a very cheerful aspect, now that the sun was
shining on it. The children dwelt in a city, and had no wider
play-place than a little garden before the house, divided by a
white fence from the street, and with a pear-tree and two or
three plum-trees overshadowing it, and some rose-bushes just in
front of the parlor-windows. The trees and shrubs, however, were
now leafless, and their twigs were enveloped in the light snow,
which thus made a kind of wintry foliage, with here and there a
pendent icicle for the fruit.
"Yes, Violet,--yes, my little Peony," said their kind mother,
"you may go out and play in the new snow."
Accordingly, the good lady bundled up her darlings in woollen
jackets and wadded sacks, and put comforters round their necks,
and a pair of striped gaiters on each little pair of legs, and
worsted mittens on their hands, and gave them a kiss apiece, by
way of a spell to keep away Jack Frost. Forth sallied the two
children, with a hop-skip-and-jump, that carried them at once
into the very heart of a huge snow-drift, whence Violet emerged
like a snow-bunting, while little Peony floundered out with his
round face in full bloom. Then what a merry time had they! To
look at them, frolicking in the wintry garden, you would have
thought that the dark and pitiless storm had been sent for no
other purpose but to provide a new plaything for Violet and
Peony; and that they themselves had beer created, as the
snow-birds were, to take delight only in the tempest, and in the
white mantle which it spread over the earth.
At last, when they had frosted one another all over with handfuls
of snow, Violet, after laughing heartily at little Peony's
figure, was struck with a new idea.
"You look exactly like a snow-image, Peony," said she, "if your
cheeks were not so red. And that puts me in mind! Let us make an
image out of snow,--an image of a little girl,--and it shall be
our sister, and shall run about and play with us all winter long.
Won't it be nice?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony, as plainly as he could speak, for he was
but a little boy. "That will be nice! And mamma shall see it!"
"Yes," answered Violet; "mamma shall see the new little girl. But
she must not make her come into the warm parlor; for, you know,
our little snow-sister will not love the warmth."
And forthwith the children began this great business of making a
snow-image that should run about; while their mother, who was
sitting at the window and overheard some of their talk, could not
help smiling at the gravity with which they set about it. They
really seemed to imagine that there would be no difficulty
whatever in creating a live little girl out of the snow. And, to
say the truth, if miracles are ever to be wrought, it will be by
putting our hands to the work in precisely such a simple and
undoubting frame of mind as that in which Violet and Peony now
undertook to perform one, without so much as knowing that it was
a miracle. So thought the mother; and thought, likewise, that the
new snow, just fallen from heaven, would be excellent material to
make new beings of, if it were not so very cold. She gazed at the
children a moment longer, delighting to watch their little
figures,--the girl, tall for her age, graceful and agile, and so
delicately colored that she looked like a cheerful thought more
than a physical reality; while Peony expanded in breadth rather
than height, and rolled along on his short and sturdy legs as
substantial as an elephant, though not quite so big. Then the
mother resumed her work. What it was I forget; but she was either
trimming a silken bonnet for Violet, or darning a pair of
stockings for little Peony's short legs. Again, however, and
again, and yet other agains, she could not help turning her head
to the window to see how the children got on with their
Indeed, it was an exceedingly pleasant sight, those bright little
souls at their task! Moreover, it was really wonderful to observe
how knowingly and skilfully they managed the matter. Violet
assumed the chief direction, and told Peony what to do, while,
with her own delicate fingers, she shaped out all the nicer parts
of the snow-figure. It seemed, in fact, not so much to be made by
the children, as to grow up under their hands, while they were
playing and prattling about it. Their mother was quite surprised
at this; and the longer she looked, the more and more surprised
"What remarkable children mine are!" thought she, smiling with a
mother's pride; and, smiling at herself, too, for being so proud
of them. "What other children could have made anything so like a
little girl's figure out of snow at the first trial? Well; but
now I must finish Peony's new frock, for his grandfather is
coming to-morrow, and I want the little fellow to look handsome."
So she took up the frock, and was soon as busily at work again
with her needle as the two children with their snow-image. But
still, as the needle travelled hither and thither through the
seams of the dress, the mother made her toil light and happy by
listening to the airy voices of Violet and Peony. They kept
talking to one another all the time, their tongues being quite as
active as their feet and hands. Except at intervals, she could
not distinctly hear what was said, but had merely a sweet
impression that they were in a most loving mood, and were
enjoying themselves highly, and that the business of making the
snow-image went prosperously on. Now and then, however, when
Violet and Peony happened to raise their voices, the words were
as audible as if they had been spoken in the very parlor where
the mother sat. Oh how delightfully those words echoed in her
heart, even though they meant nothing so very wise or wonderful,
But you must know a mother listens with her heart much more than
with her ears; and thus she is often delighted with the trills of
celestial music, when other people can hear nothing of the kind.
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet to her brother, who had gone to
another part of the garden, "bring me some of that fresh snow,
Peony, from the very farthest corner, where we have not been
trampling. I want it to shape our little snow-sister's bosom
with. You know that part must be quite pure, just as it came out
of the sky!"
"Here it is, Violet!" answered Peony, in his bluff tone,--but a
very sweet tone, too,--as he came floundering through the
half-trodden drifts. "Here is the snow for her little bosom. O
Violet, how beau-ti-ful she begins to look!"
"Yes," said Violet, thoughtfully and quietly; "our snow-sister
does look very lovely. I did not quite know, Peony, that we could
make such a sweet little girl as this."
The mother, as she listened, thought how fit and delightful an
incident it would be, if fairies, or still better, if
angel-children were to come from paradise, and play invisibly
with her own darlings, and help them to make their snow-image,
giving it the features of celestial babyhood! Violet and Peony
would not be aware of their immortal playmates,--only they would
see that the image grew very beautiful while they worked at it,
and would think that they themselves had done it all.
"My little girl and boy deserve such playmates, if mortal
children ever did!" said the mother to herself; and then she
smiled again at her own motherly pride.
Nevertheless, the idea seized upon her imagination; and, ever and
anon, she took a glimpse out of the window, half dreaming that
she might see the golden-haired children of paradise sporting
with her own golden-haired Violet and bright-cheeked Peony.
Now, for a few moments, there was a busy and earnest, but
indistinct hum of the two children's voices, as Violet and Peony
wrought together with one happy consent. Violet still seemed to
be the guiding spirit, while Peony acted rather as a laborer, and
brought her the snow from far and near. And yet the little urchin
evidently had a proper understanding of the matter, too!
"Peony, Peony!" cried Violet; for her brother was again at the
other side of the garden. "Bring me those light wreaths of snow
that have rested on the lower branches of the pear-tree. You can
clamber on the snowdrift, Peony, and reach them easily. I must
have them to make some ringlets for our snow-sister's head!"
"Here they are, Violet!" answered the little boy. "Take care you
do not break them. Well done! Well done! How pretty!"
"Does she not look sweetly?" said Violet, with a very satisfied
tone; "and now we must have some little shining bits of ice, to
make the brightness of her eyes. She is not finished yet. Mamma
will see how very beautiful she is; but papa will say, 'Tush!
nonsense!--come in out of the cold!' "
"Let us call mamma to look out," said Peony; and then he shouted
lustily, "Mamma! mamma!! mamma!!! Look out, and see what a nice
'ittle girl we are making!"
The mother put down her work for an instant, and looked out of
the window. But it so happened that the sun--for this was one of
the shortest days of the whole year--had sunken so nearly to the
edge of the world that his setting shine came obliquely into the
lady's eyes. So she was dazzled, you must understand, and could
not very distinctly observe what was in the garden. Still,
however, through all that bright, blinding dazzle of the sun and
the new snow, she beheld a small white figure in the garden, that
seemed to have a wonderful deal of human likeness about it. And
she saw Violet and Peony,--indeed, she looked more at them than
at the image,--she saw the two children still at work; Peony
bringing fresh snow, and Violet applying it to the figure as
scientifically as a sculptor adds clay to his model. Indistinctly
as she discerned the snow-child, the mother thought to herself
that never before was there a snow-figure so cunningly made, nor
ever such a dear little girl and boy to make it.
"They do everything better than other children," said she, very
complacently. "No wonder they make better snow-images!"
She sat down again to her work, and made as much haste with it as
possible; because twilight would soon come, and Peony's frock was
not yet finished, and grandfather was expected, by railroad,
pretty early in the morning. Faster and faster, therefore, went
her flying fingers. The children, likewise, kept busily at work
in the garden, and still the mother listened, whenever she could
catch a word. She was amused to observe how their little
imaginations had got mixed up with what they were doing, and
carried away by it. They seemed positively to think that the
snow-child would run about and play with them.
"What a nice playmate she will be for us, all winter long!" said
Violet. "I hope papa will not be afraid of her giving us a cold!
Sha'n't you love her dearly, Peony?"
"Oh yes!" cried Peony. "And I will hug her, and she shall sit
down close by me and drink some of my warm milk!"
"Oh no, Peony!" answered Violet, with grave wisdom. "That will
not do at all. Warm milk will not be wholesome for our little
snow-sister. Little snow people, like her, eat nothing but
icicles. No, no, Peony; we must not give her anything warm to
There was a minute or two of silence; for Peony, whose short legs
were never weary, had gone on a pilgrimage again to the other
side of the garden. All of a sudden, Violet cried out, loudly and
joyfully,--"Look here, Peony! Come quickly! A light has been
shining on her cheek out of that rose-colored cloud! and the
color does not go away! Is not that beautiful!"
"Yes; it is beau-ti-ful," answered Peony, pronouncing the three
syllables with deliberate accuracy. "O Violet, only look at her
hair! It is all like gold!"
"Oh certainly," said Violet, with tranquillity, as if it were
very much a matter of course. "That color, you know, comes from
the golden clouds, that we see up there in the sky. She is almost
finished now. But her lips must be made very red,--redder than
her cheeks. Perhaps, Peony, it will make them red if we both kiss
Accordingly, the mother heard two smart little smacks, as if both
her children were kissing the snow-image on its frozen mouth.
But, as this did not seem to make the lips quite red enough,
Violet next proposed that the snow-child should be invited to
kiss Peony's scarlet cheek.
"Come, 'ittle snow-sister, kiss me!" cried Peony.
"There! she has kissed you," added Violet, "and now her lips are
very red. And she blushed a little, too!"
"Oh, what a cold kiss!" cried Peony.
Just then, there came a breeze of the pure west-wind, sweeping
through the garden and rattling the parlor-windows. It sounded so
wintry cold, that the mother was about to tap on the window-pane
with her thimbled finger, to summon the two children in, when
they both cried out to her with one voice. The tone was not a
tone of surprise, although they were evidently a good deal
excited; it appeared rather as if they were very much rejoiced at
some event that had now happened, but which they had been looking
for, and had reckoned upon all along.
"Mamma! mamma! We have finished our little snow-sister, and she
is running about the garden with us!"
"What imaginative little beings my children are!" thought the
mother, putting the last few stitches into Peony's frock. "And it
is strange, too that they make me almost as much a child as they
themselves are! I can hardly help believing, now, that the
snow-image has really come to life!"
"Dear mamma!" cried Violet, "pray look out and see what a sweet
playmate we have!"
The mother, being thus entreated, could no longer delay to look
forth from the window. The sun was now gone out of the sky,
leaving, however, a rich inheritance of his brightness among
those purple and golden clouds which make the sunsets of winter
so magnificent. But there was not the slightest gleam or dazzle,
either on the window or on the snow; so that the good lady could
look all over the garden, and see everything and everybody in it.
And what do you think she saw there? Violet and Peony, of course,
her own two darling children. Ah, but whom or what did she see
besides? Why, if you will believe me, there was a small figure of
a girl, dressed all in white, with rose-tinged cheeks and
ringlets of golden hue, playing about the garden with the two
children! A stranger though she was, the child seemed to be on as
familiar terms with Violet and Peony, and they with her, as if
all the three had been playmates during the whole of their little
lives. The mother thought to herself that it must certainly be
the daughter of one of the neighbors, and that, seeing Violet and
Peony in the garden, the child had run across the street to play
with them. So this kind lady went to the door, intending to
invite the little runaway into her comfortable parlor; for, now
that the sunshine was withdrawn, the atmosphere, out of doors,
was already growing very cold.
But, after opening the house-door, she stood an instant on the
threshold, hesitating whether she ought to ask the child to come
in, or whether she should even speak to her. Indeed, she almost
doubted whether it were a real child after all, or only a light
wreath of the new-fallen snow, blown hither and thither about the
garden by the intensely cold west-wind. There was certainly
something very singular in the aspect of the little stranger.
Among all the children of the neighborhood, the lady could
remember no such face, with its pure white, and delicate
rose-color, and the golden ringlets tossing about the forehead
and cheeks. And as for her dress, which was entirely of white,
and fluttering in the breeze, it was such as no reasonable woman
would put upon a little girl, when sending her out to play, in
the depth of winter. It made this kind and careful mother shiver
only to look at those small feet, with nothing in the world on
them, except a very thin pair of white slippers. Nevertheless,
airily as she was clad, the child seemed to feel not the
slightest inconvenience from the cold, but danced so lightly over
the snow that the tips of her toes left hardly a print in its
surface; while Violet could but just keep pace with her, and
Peony's short legs compelled him to lag behind.
Once, in the course of their play, the strange child placed
herself between Violet and Peony, and taking a hand of each,
skipped merrily forward, and they along with her. Almost
immediately, however, Peony pulled away his little fist, and
began to rub it as if the fingers were tingling with cold; while
Violet also released herself, though with less abruptness,
gravely remarking that it was better not to take hold of hands.
The white-robed damsel said not a word, but danced about, just as
merrily as before. If Violet and Peony did not choose to play
with her, she could make just as good a playmate of the brisk and
cold west-wind, which kept blowing her all about the garden, and
took such liberties with her, that they seemed to have been
friends for a long time. All this while, the mother stood on the
threshold, wondering how a little girl could look so much like a
flying snow-drift, or how a snow-drift could look so very like a
She called Violet, and whispered to her.
"Violet my darling, what is this child's name?" asked she. "Does
she live near us?"
"Why, dearest mamma," answered Violet, laughing to think that her
mother did not comprehend so very plain an affair, "this is our
little snow-sister whom we have just been making!"
"Yes, dear mamma," cried Peony, running to his mother, and
looking up simply into her face. "This is our snow-image! Is it
not a nice 'ittle child?"
At this instant a flock of snow-birds came flitting through the
air. As was very natural, they avoided Violet and Peony. But--and
this looked strange--they flew at once to the white-robed child,
fluttered eagerly about her head, alighted on her shoulders, and
seemed to claim her as an old acquaintance. She, on her part, was
evidently as glad to see these little birds, old Winter's
grandchildren, as they were to see her, and welcomed them by
holding out both her hands. Hereupon, they each and all tried to
alight on her two palms and ten small fingers and thumbs,
crowding one another off, with an immense fluttering of their
tiny wings. One dear little bird nestled tenderly in her bosom;
another put its bill to her lips. They were as joyous, all the
while, and seemed as much in their element, as you may have seen
them when sporting with a snow-storm.
Violet and Peony stood laughing at this pretty sight; for they
enjoyed the merry time which their new playmate was having with
these small-winged visitants, almost as much as if they
themselves took part in it.
"Violet," said her mother, greatly perplexed, "tell me the truth,
without any jest. Who is this little girl?"
"My darling mamma," answered Violet, looking seriously into her
mother's face, and apparently surprised that she should need any
further explanation, "I have told you truly who she is. It is our
little snow-image, which Peony and I have been making. Peony will
tell you so, as well as I."
"Yes, mamma," asseverated Peony, with much gravity in his crimson
little phiz; "this is 'ittle snow-child. Is not she a nice one?
But, mamma, her hand is, oh, so very cold!"
While mamma still hesitated what to think and what to do, the
street-gate was thrown open, and the father of Violet and Peony
appeared, wrapped in a pilot-cloth sack, with a fur cap drawn
down over his ears, and the thickest of gloves upon his hands.
Mr. Lindsey was a middle-aged man, with a weary and yet a happy
look in his wind-flushed and frost-pinched face, as if he had
been busy all the day long, and was glad to get back to his quiet
home. His eyes brightened at the sight of his wife and children,
although he could not help uttering a word or two of surprise, at
finding the whole family in the open air, on so bleak a day, and
after sunset too. He soon perceived the little white stranger
sporting to and fro in the garden, like a dancing snow-wreath,
and the flock of snow-birds fluttering about her head.
"Pray, what little girl may that be?" inquired this very sensible
man. "Surely her mother must be crazy to let her go out in such
bitter weather as it has been to-day, with only that flimsy white
gown and those thin slippers!"
"My dear husband," said his wife, "I know no more about the
little thing than you do. Some neighbor's child, I suppose. Our
Violet and Peony," she added, laughing at herself for repeating
so absurd a story, "insist that she is nothing but a snow-image,
which they have been busy about in the garden, almost all the
As she said this, the mother glanced her eyes toward the spot
where the children's snow-image had been made. What was her
surprise, on perceiving that there was not the slightest trace of
so much labor!--no image at all!--no piled up heap of
snow!--nothing whatever, save the prints of little footsteps
around a vacant space!
"This is very strange!" said she.
"What is strange, dear mother?" asked Violet. "Dear father, do
not you see how it is? This is our snow-image, which Peony and I
have made, because we wanted another playmate. Did not we,
"Yes, papa," said crimson Peony. "This be our 'ittle snow-sister.
Is she not beau-ti-ful? But she gave me such a cold kiss!"
"Poh, nonsense, children!" cried their good, honest father, who,
as we have already intimated, had an exceedingly common-sensible
way of looking at matters. "Do not tell me of making live figures
out of snow. Come, wife; this little stranger must not stay out
in the bleak air a moment longer. We will bring her into the
parlor; and you shall give her a supper of warm bread and milk,
and make her as comfortable as you can. Meanwhile, I will inquire
among the neighbors; or, if necessary, send the city-crier about
the streets, to give notice of a lost child."
So saying, this honest and very kind-hearted man was going toward
the little white damsel, with the best intentions in the world.
But Violet and Peony, each seizing their father by the hand,
earnestly besought him not to make her come in.
"Dear father," cried Violet, putting herself before him, "it is
true what I have been telling you! This is our little snow-girl,
and she cannot live any longer than while she breathes the cold
west-wind. Do not make her come into the hot room!"
"Yes, father," shouted Peony, stamping his little foot, so
mightily was he in earnest, "this be nothing but our 'ittle
snow-child! She will not love the hot fire!"
"Nonsense, children, nonsense, nonsense!" cried the father, half
vexed, half laughing at what he considered their foolish
obstinacy. "Run into the house, this moment! It is too late to
play any longer, now. I must take care of this little girl
immediately, or she will catch her death-a-cold!"
"Husband! dear husband!" said his wife, in a low voice,--for she
had been looking narrowly at the snow-child, and was more
perplexed than ever,--"there is something very singular in all
this. You will think me foolish,--but--but--may it not be that
some invisible angel has been attracted by the simplicity and
good faith with which our children set about their undertaking?
May he not have spent an hour of his immorttality in playing with
those dear little souls? and so the result is what we call a
miracle. No, no! Do not laugh at me; I see what a foolish thought
"My dear wife," replied the husband, laughing heartily, "you are
as much a child as Violet and Peony."
And in one sense so she was, for all through life she had kept
her heart full of childlike simplicity and faith, which was as
pure and clear as crystal; and, looking at all matters through
this transparent medium, she sometimes saw truths so profound
that other people laughed at them as nonsense and absurdity.
But now kind Mr. Lindsey had entered the garden, breaking away
from his two children, who still sent their shrill voices after
him, beseeching him to let the snow-child stay and enjoy herself
in the cold west-wind. As he approached, the snow-birds took to
flight. The little white damsel, also, fled backward, shaking her
head, as if to say, "Pray, do not touch me!" and roguishly, as it
appeared, leading him through the deepest of the snow. Once, the
good man stumbled, and floundered down upon his face, so that,
gathering himself up again, with the snow sticking to his rough
pilot-cloth sack, he looked as white and wintry as a snow-image
of the largest size. Some of the neighbors, meanwhile, seeing him
from their windows, wondered what could possess poor Mr. Lindsey
to be running about his garden in pursuit of a snow-drift, which
the west-wind was driving hither and thither! At length, after a
vast deal of trouble, he chased the little stranger into a
corner, where she could not possibly escape him. His wife had
been looking on, and, it being nearly twilight, was wonder-struck
to observe how the snow-child gleamed and sparkled, and how she
seemed to shed a glow all round about her; and when driven into
the corner, she positively glistened like a star! It was a frosty
kind of brightness, too, like that of an icicle in the moonlight.
The wife thought it strange that good Mr. Lindsey should see
nothing remarkable in the snow-child's appearance.
"Come, you odd little thing!" cried the honest man, seizing her
by the hand, "I have caught you at last, and will make you
comfortable in spite of yourself. We will put a nice warm pair of
worsted stockings on your frozen little feet, and you shall have
a good thick shawl to wrap yourself in. Your poor white nose, I
am afraid, is actually frost-bitten. But we will make it all
right. Come along in."
And so, with a most benevolent smile on his sagacious visage, all
purple as it was with the cold, this very well-meaning gentleman
took the snow-child by the hand and led her towards the house.
She followed him, droopingly and reluctant; for all the glow and
sparkle was gone out of her figure; and whereas just before she
had resembled a bright, frosty, star-gemmed evening, with a
crimson gleam on the cold horizon, she now looked as dull and
languid as a thaw. As kind Mr. Lindsey led her up the steps of
the door, Violet and Peony looked into his face,--their eyes full
of tears, which froze before they could run down their
cheeks,--and again entreated him not to bring their snow-image
into the house.
"Not bring her in!" exclaimed the kind-hearted man. "Why, you are
crazy, my little Violet!--quite crazy, my small Peony! She is so
cold, already, that her hand has almost frozen mine, in spite of
my thick gloves. Would you have her freeze to death?"
His wife, as he came up the steps, had been taking another long,
earnest, almost awe-stricken gaze at the little white stranger.
She hardly knew whether it was a dream or no; but she could not
help fancying that she saw the delicate print of Violet's fingers
on the child's neck. It looked just as if, while Violet was
shaping out the image, she had given it a gentle pat with her
hand, and had neglected to smooth the impression quite away.
"After all, husband," said the mother, recurring to her idea that
the angels would be as much delighted to play with Violet and
Peony as she herself was,--"after all, she does look strangely
like a snow-image! I do believe she is made of snow!"
A puff of the west-wind blew against the snow-child, and again
she sparkled like a star.
"Snow!" repeated good Mr. Lindsey, drawing the reluctant guest
over his hospitable threshold. "No wonder she looks like snow.
She is half frozen, poor little thing! But a good fire will put
everything to rights!"
Without further talk, and always with the same best intentions,
this highly benevolent and common-sensible individual led the
little white damsel--drooping, drooping, drooping, more and more
out of the frosty air, and into his comfortable parlor. A
Heidenberg stove, filled to the brim with intensely burning
anthracite, was sending a bright gleam through the isinglass of
its iron door, and causing the vase of water on its top to fume
and bubble with excitement. A warm, sultry smell was diffused
throughout the room. A thermometer on the wall farthest from the
stove stood at eighty degrees. The parlor was hung with red
curtains, and covered with a red carpet, and looked just as warm
as it felt. The difference betwixt the atmosphere here and the
cold, wintry twilight out of doors, was like stepping at once
from Nova Zembla to the hottest part of India, or from the North
Pole into an oven. Oh, this was a fine place for the little white
The common-sensible man placed the snow-child on the hearth-rug,
right in front of the hissing and fuming stove.
"Now she will be comfortable!" cried Mr. Lindsey, rubbing his
hands and looking about him, with the pleasantest smile you ever
saw. "Make yourself at home, my child."
Sad, sad and drooping, looked the little white maiden, as she
stood on the hearth-rug, with the hot blast of the stove striking
through her like a pestilence. Once, she threw a glance wistfully
toward the windows, and caught a glimpse, through its red
curtains, of the snow-covered roofs, and the stars glimmering
frostily, and all the delicious intensity of the cold night. The
bleak wind rattled the window-panes, as if it were summoning her
to come forth. But there stood the snow-child, drooping, before
the hot stove!
But the common-sensible man saw nothing amiss.
"Come wife," said he, "let her have a pair of thick stockings and
a woollen shawl or blanket directly; and tell Dora to give her
some warm supper as soon as the milk boils. You, Violet and
Peony, amuse your little friend. She is out of spirits, you see,
at finding herself in a strange place. For my part, I will go
around among the neighbors, and find out where she belongs."
The mother, meanwhile, had gone in search of the shawl and
stockings; for her own view of the matter, however subtle and
delicate, had given way, as it always did, to the stubborn
materialism of her husband. Without heeding the remonstrances of
his two children, who still kept murmuring that their little
snow-sister did not love the warmth, good Mr. Lindsey took his
departure, shutting the parlor-door carefully behind him. Turning
up the collar of his sack over his ears, he emerged from the
house, and had barely reached the street-gate, when he was
recalled by the screams of Violet and Peony, and the rapping of a
thimbled finger against the parlor window.
"Husband! husband!" cried his wife, showing her horror-stricken
face through the window-panes. "There is no need of going for the
"We told you so, father!" screamed Violet and Peony, as he
re-entered the parlor. "You would bring her in; and now our
poor--dear-beau-ti-ful little snow-sister is thawed!"
And their own sweet little faces were already dissolved in tears;
so that their father, seeing what strange things occasionally
happen in this every-day world, felt not a little anxious lest
his children might be going to thaw too! In the utmost
perplexity, he demanded an explanation of his wife. She could
only reply, that, being summoned to the parlor by the cries of
Violet and Peony, she found no trace of the little white maiden,
unless it were the remains of a heap of snow, which, while she
was gazing at it, melted quite away upon the hearth-rug.
"And there you see all that is left of it!" added she, pointing
to a pool of water in front of the stove.
"Yes, father," said Violet looking reproachfully at him, through
her tears, "there is all that is left of our dear little
"Naughty father!" cried Peony, stamping his foot, and--I shudder
to say--shaking his little fist at the common-sensible man. "We
told you how it would be! What for did you bring her in?"
And the Heidenberg stove, through the isinglass of its door,
seemed to glare at good Mr. Lindsey, like a red-eyed demon,
triumphing in the mischief which it had done!
This, you will observe, was one of those rare cases, which yet
will occasionally happen, where common-sense finds itself at
fault. The remarkable story of the snow-image, though to that
sagacious class of people to whom good Mr. Lindsey belongs it may
seem but a childish affair, is, nevertheless, capable of being
moralized in various methods, greatly for their edification. One
of its lessons, for instance, might be, that it behooves men, and
especially men of benevolence, to consider well what they are
about, and, before acting on their philanthropic purposes, to be
quite sure that they comprehend the nature and all the relations
of the business in hand. What has been established as an element
of good to one being may prove absolute mischief to another; even
as the warmth of the parlor was proper enough for children of
flesh and blood, like Violet and Peony,--though by no means very
wholesome, even for them,--but involved nothing short of
annihilation to the unfortunate snow-image.
But, after all, there is no teaching anything to wise men of good
Mr. Lindsey's stamp. They know everything,--oh, to be
sure!--everything that has been, and everything that is, and
everything that, by any future possibility, can be. And, should
some phenomenon of nature or providence transcend their system,
they will not recognize it, even if it come to pass under their
"Wife," said Mr. Lindsey, after a fit of silence, "see what a
quantity of snow the children have brought in on their feet! It
has made quite a puddle here before the stove. Pray tell Dora to
bring some towels and mop it up!"
THE GREAT STONE FACE
One afternoon, when the sun was going down, a mother and her
little boy sat at the door of their cottage, talking about the
Great Stone Face. They had but to lift their eyes, and there it
was plainly to be seen, though miles away, with the sunshine
brightening all its features.
And what was the Great Stone Face?
Embosomed amongst a family of lofty mountains, there was a valley
so spacious that it contained many thousand inhabitants. Some of
these good people dwelt in log-huts, with the black forest all
around them, on the steep and difficult hill-sides. Others had
their homes in comfortable farm-houses, and cultivated the rich
soil on the gentle slopes or level surfaces of the valley.
Others, again, were congregated into populous villages, where
some wild, highland rivulet, tumbling down from its birthplace in
the upper mountain region, had been caught and tamed by human
cunning, and compelled to turn the machinery of cotton-factories.
The inhabitants of this valley, in short, were numerous, and of
many modes of life. But all of them, grown people and children,
had a kind of familiarity with the Great Stone Face, although
some possessed the gift of distinguishing this grand natural
phenomenon more perfectly than many of their neighbors.
The Great Stone Face, then, was a work of Nature in her mood of
majestic playfulness, formed on the perpendicular side of a
mountain by some immense rocks, which had been thrown together in
such a position as, when viewed at a proper distance, precisely
to resemble the features of the human countenance. It seemed as
if an enormous giant, or a Titan, had sculptured his own likeness
on the precipice. There was the broad arch of the forehead, a
hundred feet in height; the nose, with its long bridge; and the
vast lips, which, if they could have spoken, would have rolled
their thunder accents from one end of the valley to the other.
True it is, that if the spectator approached too near, he lost
the outline of the gigantic visage, and could discern only a heap
of ponderous and gigantic rocks, piled in chaotic ruin one upon
another. Retracing his steps, however, the wondrous features
would again be seen; and the farther he withdrew from them, the
more like a human face, with all its original divinity intact,
did they appear; until, as it grew dim in the distance, with the
clouds and glorified vapor of the mountains clustering about it,
the Great Stone Face seemed positively to be alive.
It was a happy lot for children to grow up to manhood or
womanhood with the Great Stone Face before their eyes, for all
the features were noble, and the expression was at once grand and
sweet, as if it were the glow of a vast, warm heart, that
embraced all mankind in its affections, and had room for more. It
was an education only to look at it. According to the belief of
many people, the valley owed much of its fertility to this benign
aspect that was continually beaming over it, illuminating the
clouds, and infusing its tenderness into the sunshine.
As we began with saying, a mother and her little boy sat at their
cottage-door, gazing at the Great Stone Face, and talking about
it. The child's name was Ernest.
"Mother," said he, while the Titanic visage smiled on him, "I
wish that it could speak, for it looks so very kindly that its
voice must needs be pleasant. If I were to see a man with such a
face, I should love him dearly."
"If an old prophecy should come to pass," answered his mother,
"we may see a man, some time or other, with exactly such a face
"What prophecy do you mean, dear mother?" eagerly inquired
Ernest. "Pray tell me about it!"
So his mother told him a story that her own mother had told to
her, when she herself was younger than little Ernest; a story,
not of things that were past, but of what was yet to come; a
story, nevertheless, so very old, that even the Indians, who
formerly inhabited this valley, had heard it from their
forefathers, to whom, as they affirmed, it had been murmured by
the mountain streams, and whispered by the wind among the
tree-tops. The purport was, that, at some future day, a child
should be born hereabouts, who was destined to become the
greatest and noblest personage of his time, and whose
countenance, in manhood, should bear an exact resemblance to the
Great Stone Face. Not a few old-fashioned people, and young ones
likewise, in the ardor of their hopes, still cherished an
enduring faith in this old prophecy. But others, who had seen
more of the world, had watched and waited till they were weary,
and had beheld no man with such a face, nor any man that proved
to be much greater or nobler than his neighbors, concluded it to
be nothing but an idle tale. At all events, the great man of the
prophecy had not yet appeared.
"O mother, dear mother!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands above
his head, "I do hope that I shall live to see him!"
His mother was an affectionate and thoughtful woman, and felt
that it was wisest not to discourage the generous hopes of her
little boy. So she only said to him, "Perhaps you may."
And Ernest never forgot the story that his mother told him. It
was always in his mind, whenever he looked upon the Great Stone
Face. He spent his childhood in the log-cottage where he was
born, and was dutiful to his mother, and helpful to her in many
things, assisting her much with his little hands, and more with
his loving heart. In this manner, from a happy yet often pensive
child, he grew up to be a mild, quiet, unobtrusive boy, and
sun-browned with labor in the fields, but with more intelligence
brightening his aspect than is seen in many lads who have been
taught at famous schools. Yet Ernest had had no teacher, save
only that the Great Stone Face became one to him. When the toil
of the day was over, he would gaze at it for hours, until he
began to imagine that those vast features recognized him, and
gave him a smile of kindness and encouragement, responsive to his
own look of veneration. We must not take upon us to affirm that
this was a mistake, although the Face may have looked no more
kindly at Ernest than at all the world besides. But the secret
was that the boy's tender and confiding simplicity discerned what
other people could not see; and thus the love, which was meant
for all, became his peculiar portion.
About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that
the great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a
resemblance to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last. It
seems that, many years before, a young man had migrated from the
valley and settled at a distant seaport, where, after getting
together a little money, he had set up as a shopkeeper. His
name--but I could never learn whether it was his real one, or a
nickname that had grown out of his habits and success in
life--was Gathergold. Being shrewd and active, and endowed by
Providence with that inscrutable faculty which develops itself in
what the world calls luck, he became an exceedingly rich
merchant, and owner of a whole fleet of bulky-bottomed ships. All
the countries of the globe appeared to join hands for the mere
purpose of adding heap after heap to the mountainous accumulation
of this one man's wealth. The cold regions of the north, almost
within the gloom and shadow of the Arctic Circle, sent him their
tribute in the shape of furs; hot Africa sifted for him the
golden sands of her rivers, and gathered up the ivory tusks of
her great elephants out of the forests; the East came bringing
him the rich shawls, and spices, and teas, and the effulgence of
diamonds, and the gleaming purity of large pearls. The ocean, not
to be behindhand with the earth, yielded up her mighty whales,
that Mr. Gathergold might sell their oil, and make a profit of
it. Be the original commodity what it might, it was gold within
his grasp. It might be said of him, as of Midas in the fable,
that whatever he touched with his finger immediately glistened,
and grew yellow, and was changed at once into sterling metal, or,
which suited him still better, into piles of coin. And, when Mr.
Gathergold had become so very rich that it would have taken him a
hundred years only to count his wealth, he bethought himself of
his native valley, and resolved to go back thither, and end his
days where he was born. With this purpose in view, he sent a
skilful architect to build him such a palace as should be fit for
a man of his vast wealth to live in.
As I have said above, it had already been rumored in the valley
that Mr. Gathergold had turned out to be the prophetic personage
so long and vainly looked for, and that his visage was the
perfect and undeniable similitude of the Great Stone Face. People
were the more ready to believe that this must needs be the fact,
when they beheld the splendid edifice that rose, as if by
enchantment, on the site of his father's old weatherbeaten
farm-house. The exterior was of marble, so dazzlingly white that
it seemed as though the whole structure might melt away in the
sunshine, like those humbler ones which Mr. Gathergold, in his
young play-days, before his fingers were gifted with the touch of
transmutation, had been accustomed to build of snow. It had a
richly ornamented portico, supported by tall pillars, beneath
which was a lofty door, studded with silver knobs, and made of a
kind of variegated wood that had been brought from beyond the
sea. The windows, from the floor to the ceiling of each stately
apartment, were composed, respectively, of but one enormous pane
of glass, so transparently pure that it was said to be a finer
medium than even the vacant atmosphere. Hardly anybody had been
permitted to see the interior of this palace; but it was
reported, and with good semblance of truth, to be far more
gorgeous than the outside, insomuch that whatever was iron or
brass in other houses was silver or gold in this; and Mr.
Gathergold's bedchamber, especially, made such a glittering
appearance that no ordinary man would have been able to close his
eyes there. But, on the other hand, Mr. Gathergold was now so
inured to wealth, that perhaps he could not have closed his eyes
unless where the gleam of it was certain to find its way beneath
In due time, the mansion was finished; next came the
upholsterers, with magnificent furniture; then, a whole troop of
black and white servants, the harbingers of Mr. Gathergold, who,
in his own majestic person, was expected to arrive at sunset. Our
friend Ernest, meanwhile, had been deeply stirred by the idea
that the great man, the noble man, the man of prophecy, after so
many ages of delay, was at length to be made manifest to his
native valley. He knew, boy as he was, that there were a thousand
ways in which Mr. Gathergold, with his vast wealth, might
transform himself into an angel of beneficence, and assume a
control over human affairs as wide and benignant as the smile of
the Great Stone Face. Full of faith and hope, Ernest doubted not
that what the people said was true, and that now he was to behold
the living likeness of those wondrous features on the
mountain-side. While the boy was still gazing up the valley, and
fancying, as he always did, that the Great Stone Face returned
his gaze and looked kindly at him, the rumbling of wheels was
heard, approaching swiftly along the winding road.
"Here he comes!" cried a group of people who were assembled to
witness the arrival. "Here comes the great Mr. Gathergold!"
A carriage, drawn by four horses, dashed round the turn of the
road. Within it, thrust partly out of the window, appeared the
physiognomy of the old man, with a skin as yellow as if his own
Midas-hand had transmuted it. He had a low forehead, small, sharp
eyes, puckered about with innumerable wrinkles, and very thin
lips, which he made still thinner by pressing them forcibly
"The very image of the Great Stone Face!" shouted the people.
"Sure enough, the old prophecy is true; and here we have the
great man come, at last!"
And, what greatly perplexed Ernest, they seemed actually to
believe that here was the likeness which they spoke of. By the
roadside there chanced to be an old beggar-woman and two little
beggar-children, stragglers from some far-off region, who, as the
carriage rolled onward, held out their hands and lifted up their
doleful voices, most piteously beseeching charity. A yellow
claw--the very same that had clawed together so much
wealth--poked itself out of the coach-window, and dropt some
copper coins upon the ground; so that, though the great man's
name seems to have been Gathergold, he might just as suitably
have been nicknamed Scattercopper. Still, nevertheless, with an
earnest shout, and evidently with as much good faith as ever, the
people bellowed, "He is the very image of the Great Stone Face!"
But Ernest turned sadly from the wrinkled shrewdness of that
sordid visage, and gazed up the valley, where, amid a gathering
mist, gilded by the last sunbeams, he could still distinguish
those glorious features which had impressed themselves into his
soul. Their aspect cheered him. What did the benign lips seem to
"He will come! Fear not, Ernest; the man will come!"
The years went on, and Ernest ceased to be a boy. He had grown to
be a young man now. He attracted little notice from the other
inhabitants of the valley; for they saw nothing remarkable in his
way of life save that, when the labor of the day was over, he
still loved to go apart and gaze and meditate upon the Great
Stone Face. According to their idea of the matter, it was a
folly, indeed, but pardonable, inasmuch as Ernest was
industrious, kind, and neighborly, and neglected no duty for the
sake of indulging this idle habit. They knew not that the Great
Stone Face had become a teacher to him, and that the sentiment
which was expressed in it would enlarge the young man's heart,
and fill it with wider and deeper sympathies than other hearts.
They knew not that thence would come a better wisdom than could
be learned from books, and a better life than could be moulded on
the defaced example of other human lives. Neither did Ernest know
that the thoughts and affections which came to him so naturally,
in the fields and at the fireside, and wherever he communed with
himself, were of a higher tone than those which all men shared
with him. A simple soul,--simple as when his mother first taught
him the old prophecy,--he beheld the marvellous features beaming
adown the valley, and still wondered that their human counterpart
was so long in making his appearance.
By this time poor Mr. Gathergold was dead and buried; and the
oddest part of the matter was, that his wealth, which was the
body and spirit of his existence, had disappeared before his
death, leaving nothing of him but a living skeleton, covered over
with a wrinkled yellow skin. Since the melting away of his gold,
it had been very generally conceded that there was no such
striking resemblance, after all, betwixt the ignoble features of
the ruined merchant and that majestic face upon the
mountain-side. So the people ceased to honor him during his
lifetime, and quietly consigned him to forgetfulness after his
decease. Once in a while, it is true, his memory was brought up
in connection with the magnificent palace which he had built, and
which had long ago been turned into a hotel for the accommodation
of strangers, multitudes of whom came, every summer, to visit
that famous natural curiosity, the Great Stone Face. Thus, Mr.
Gathergold being discredited and thrown into the shade, the man
of prophecy was yet to come.
It so happened that a native-born son of the valley, many years
before, had enlisted as a soldier, and, after a great deal of
hard fighting, had now become an illustrious commander. Whatever
he may be called in history, he was known in camps and on the
battle-field under the nickname of Old Blood-and-Thunder. This
war-worn veteran being now infirm with age and wounds, and weary
of the turmoil of a military life, and of the roll of the drum
and the clangor of the trumpet, that had so long been ringing in
his ears, had lately signified a purpose of returning to his
native valley, hoping to find repose where he remembered to have
left it. The inhabitants, his old neighbors and their grown-up
children, were resolved to welcome the renowned warrior with a
salute of cannon and a public dinner; and all the more
enthusiastically, it being affirmed that now, at last, the
likeness of the Great Stone Face had actually appeared. An
aid-de-camp of Old Blood-and-Thunder, travelling through the
valley, was said to have been struck with the resemblance.
Moreover the schoolmates and early acquaintances of the general
were ready to testify, on oath, that, to the best of their
recollection, the aforesaid general had been exceedingly like the
majestic image, even when a boy, only the idea had never occurred
to them at that period. Great, therefore, was the excitement
throughout the valley; and many people, who had never once
thought of glancing at the Great Stone Face for years before, now
spent their time in gazing at it, for the sake of knowing exactly
how General Blood-and-Thunder looked.
On the day of the great festival, Ernest, with all the other
people of the valley, left their work, and proceeded to the spot
where the sylvan banquet was prepared. As he approached, the loud
voice of the Rev. Dr. Battleblast was heard, beseeching a
blessing on the good things set before them, and on the
distinguished friend of peace in whose honor they were assembled.
The tables were arranged in a cleared space of the woods, shut in
by the surrounding trees, except where a vista opened eastward,
and afforded a distant view of the Great Stone Face. Over the
general's chair, which was a relic from the home of Washington,
there was an arch of verdant boughs, with the laurel profusely
intermixed, and surmounted by his country's banner, beneath which
he had won his victories. Our friend Ernest raised himself on his
tiptoes, in hopes to get a glimpse of the celebrated guest; but
there was a mighty crowd about the tables anxious to hear the
toasts and speeches, and to catch any word that might fall from
the general in reply; and a volunteer company, doing duty as a
guard, pricked ruthlessly with their bayonets at any particularly
quiet person among the throng. So Ernest, being of an unobtrusive
character, was thrust quite into the background, where he could
see no more of Old Blood-and-Thunder's physiognomy than if it had
been still blazing on the battle-field. To console himself, he
turned towards the Great Stone Face, which, like a faithful and
long remembered friend, looked back and smiled upon him through
the vista of the forest. Meantime, however, he could overhear the
remarks of various individuals, who were comparing the features
of the hero with the face on the distant mountain-side.
" 'Tis the same face, to a hair!" cried one man, cutting a caper
"Wonderfully like, that's a fact!" responded another.
"Like! why, I call it Old Blood-and-Thunder himself, in a
monstrous looking-glass!" cried a third. "And why not? He's the
greatest man of this or any other age, beyond a doubt."
And then all three of the speakers gave a great shout, which
communicated electricity to the crowd, and called forth a roar
from a thousand voices, that went reverberating for miles among
the mountains, until you might have supposed that the Great Stone
Face had poured its thunderbreath into the cry. All these
comments, and this vast enthusiasm, served the more to interest
our friend; nor did he think of questioning that now, at length,
the mountain-visage had found its human counterpart. It is true,
Ernest had imagined that this long-looked-for personage would
appear in the character of a man of peace, uttering wisdom, and
doing good, and making people happy. But, taking an habitual
breadth of view, with all his simplicity, he contended that
Providence should choose its own method of blessing mankind, and
could conceive that this great end might be effected even by a
warrior and a bloody sword, should inscrutable wisdom see fit to
order matters so.
"The general! the general!" was now the cry. "Hush! silence! Old
Blood-and-Thunder's going to make a speech."
Even so; for, the cloth being removed, the general's health had
been drunk, amid shouts of applause, and he now stood upon his
feet to thank the company. Ernest saw him. There he was, over the
shoulders of the crowd, from the two glittering epaulets and
embroidered collar upward, beneath the arch of green boughs with
intertwined laurel, and the banner drooping as if to shade his
brow! And there, too, visible in the same glance, through the
vista of the forest, appeared the Great Stone Face! And was
there, indeed, such a resemblance as the crowd had testified?
Alas, Ernest could not recognize it! He beheld a war-worn and
weatherbeaten countenance, full of energy, and expressive of an
iron will; but the gentle wisdom, the deep, broad, tender
sympathies, were altogether wanting in Old Blood-and-Thunder's
visage; and even if the Great Stone Face had assumed his look of
stern command, the milder traits would still have tempered it.
"This is not the man of prophecy," sighed Ernest to himself, as
he made his way out of the throng. "And must the world wait
The mists had congregated about the distant mountain-side, and
there were seen the grand and awful features of the Great Stone
Face, awful but benignant, as if a mighty angel were sitting
among the hills, and enrobing himself in a cloud-vesture of gold
and purple. As he looked, Ernest could hardly believe but that a
smile beamed over the whole visage, with a radiance still
brightening, although without motion of the lips. It was probably
the effect of the western sunshine, melting through the thinly
diffused vapors that had swept between him and the object that he
gazed at. But--as it always did--the aspect of his marvellous
friend made Ernest as hopeful as if he had never hoped in vain.
"Fear not, Ernest," said his heart, even as if the Great Face
were whispering him,--fear not, Ernest; he will come."
More years sped swiftly and tranquilly away. Ernest still dwelt
in his native valley, and was now a man of middle age. By
imperceptible degrees, he had become known among the people. Now,
as heretofore, he labored for his bread, and was the same
simple-hearted man that he had always been. But he had thought
and felt so much, he had given so many of the best hours of his
life to unworldly hopes for some great good to mankind, that it
seemed as though he had been talking with the angels, and had
imbibed a portion of their wisdom unawares. It was visible in the
calm and well-considered beneficence of his daily life, the quiet
stream of which had made a wide green margin all along its
course. Not a day passed by, that the world was not the better
because this man, humble as he was, had lived. He never stepped
aside from his own path, yet would always reach a blessing to his
neighbor. Almost involuntarily too, he had become a preacher. The
pure and high simplicity of his thought, which, as one of its
manifestations, took shape in the good deeds that dropped
silently from his hand, flowed also forth in speech. He uttered
truths that wrought upon and moulded the lives of those who heard
him. His auditors, it may be, never suspected that Ernest, their
own neighbor and familiar friend, was more than an ordinary man;
least of all did Ernest himself suspect it; but, inevitably as
the murmur of a rivulet, came thoughts out of his mouth that no
other human lips had spoken.
When the people's minds had had a little time to cool, they were
ready enough to acknowledge their mistake in imagining a
similarity between General Blood-and-Thunder's truculent
physiognomy and the benign visage on the mountain-side. But now,
again, there were reports and many paragraphs in the newspapers,
affirming that the likeness of the Great Stone Face had appeared
upon the broad shoulders of a certain eminent statesman. He, like
Mr. Gathergold and Old Blood-and-Thunder, was a native of the
valley, but had left it in his early days, and taken up the
trades of law and politics. Instead of the rich man's wealth and
the warrior's sword, he had but a tongue, and it was mightier
than both together. So wonderfully eloquent was he, that whatever
he might choose to say, his auditors had no choice but to believe
him; wrong looked like right, and right like wrong; for when it
pleased him, he could make a kind of illuminated fog with his
mere breath, and obscure the natural daylight with it. His
tongue, indeed, was a magic instrument: sometimes it rumbled like
the thunder; sometimes it warbled like the sweetest music. It was
the blast of war, the song of peace; and it seemed to have a
heart in it, when there was no such matter. In good truth, he was
a wondrous man; and when his tongue had acquired him all other
imaginable success,--when it had been heard in halls of state,
and in the courts of princes and potentates,--after it had made
him known all over the world, even as a voice crying from shore
to shore,--it finally persuaded his countrymen to select him for
the Presidency. Before this time,--indeed, as soon as he began to
grow celebrated,--his admirers had found out the resemblance
between him and the Great Stone Face; and so much were they
struck by it, that throughout the country this distinguished
gentleman was known by the name of Old Stony Phiz. The phrase was
considered as giving a highly favorable aspect to his political
prospects; for, as is likewise the case with the Popedom, nobody
ever becomes President without taking a name other than his own.
While his friends were doing their best to make him President,
Old Stony Phiz, as he was called, set out on a visit to the
valley where he was born. Of course, he had no other object than
to shake hands with his fellow-citizens and neither thought nor
cared about any effect which his progress through the country
might have upon the election. Magnificent preparations were made
to receive the illustrious statesman; a cavalcade of horsemen set
forth to meet him at the boundary line of the State, and all the
people left their business and gathered along the wayside to see
him pass. Among these was Ernest. Though more than once
disappointed, as we have seen, he had such a hopeful and
confiding nature, that he was always ready to believe in whatever
seemed beautiful and good. He kept his heart continually open,
and thus was sure to catch the blessing from on high when it
should come. So now again, as buoyantly as ever, he went forth to
behold the likeness of the Great Stone Face.
The cavalcade came prancing along the road, with a great
clattering of hoofs and a mighty cloud of dust, which rose up so
dense and high that the visage of the mountain-side was
completely hidden from Ernest's eyes. All the great men of the
neighborhood were there on horseback; militia officers, in
uniform; the member of Congress; the sheriff of the county; the
editors of newspapers; and many a farmer, too, had mounted his
patient steed, with his Sunday coat upon his back. It really was
a very brilliant spectacle, especially as there were numerous
banners flaunting over the cavalcade, on some of which were
gorgeous portraits of the illustrious statesman and the Great
Stone Face, smiling familiarly at one another, like two brothers.
If the pictures were to be trusted, the mutual resemblance, it
must be confessed, was marvellous. We must not forget to mention
that there was a band of music, which made the echoes of the
mountains ring and reverberate with the loud triumph of its
strains; so that airy and soul-thrilling melodies broke out among
all the heights and hollows, as if every nook of his native
valley had found a voice, to welcome the distinguished guest. But
the grandest effect was when the far-off mountain precipice flung
back the music; for then the Great Stone Face itself seemed to be
swelling the triumphant chorus, in acknowledgment that, at
length, the man of prophecy was come.
All this while the people were throwing up their hats and
shouting with enthusiasm so contagious that the heart of Ernest
kindled up, and he likewise threw up his hat, and shouted, as
loudly as the loudest, "Huzza for the great man! Huzza for Old
Stony Phiz!" But as yet he had not seen him.
"Here he is, now!" cried those who stood near Ernest. "There!
There! Look at Old Stony Phiz and then at the Old Man of the
Mountain, and see if they are not as like as two twin-brothers!"
In the midst of all this gallant array came an open barouche,
drawn by four white horses; and in the barouche, with his massive
head uncovered, sat the illustrious statesman, Old Stony Phiz
"Confess it," said one of Ernest's neighbors to him, "the Great
Stone Face has met its match at last!"
Now, it must be owned that, at his first glimpse of the
countenance which was bowing and smiling from the barouche,
Ernest did fancy that there was a resemblance between it and the
old familiar face upon the mountain-side. The brow, with its
massive depth and loftiness, and all the other features, indeed,
were boldly and strongly hewn, as if in emulation of a more than
heroic, of a Titanic model. But the sublimity and stateliness,
the grand expression of a divine sympathy, that illuminated the
mountain visage and etherealized its ponderous granite substance
into spirit, might here be sought in vain. Something had been
originally left out, or had departed. And therefore the
marvellously gifted statesman had always a weary gloom in the
deep caverns of his eyes, as of a child that has outgrown its
playthings or a man of mighty faculties and little aims, whose
life, with all its high performances, was vague and empty,
because no high purpose had endowed it with reality.
Still, Ernest's neighbor was thrusting his elbow into his side,
and pressing him for an answer.
"Confess! confess! Is not he the very picture of your Old Man of
"No!" said Ernest bluntly, "I see little or no likeness."
"Then so much the worse for the Great Stone Face!" answered his
neighbor; and again he set up a shout for Old Stony Phiz.
But Ernest turned away, melancholy, and almost despondent: for
this was the saddest of his disappointments, to behold a man who
might have fulfilled the prophecy, and had not willed to do so.
Meantime, the cavalcade, the banners, the music, and the
barouches swept past him, with the vociferous crowd in the rear,
leaving the dust to settle down, and the Great Stone Face to be
revealed again, with the grandeur that it had worn for untold
"Lo, here I am, Ernest!" the benign lips seemed to say. "I have
waited longer than thou, and am not yet weary. Fear not; the man
The years hurried onward, treading in their haste on one
another's heels. And now they began to bring white hairs, and
scatter them over the head of Ernest; they made reverend wrinkles
across his forehead, and furrows in his cheeks. He was an aged
man. But not in vain had he grown old: more than the white hairs
on his head were the sage thoughts in his mind; his wrinkles and
furrows were inscriptions that Time had graved, and in which he
had written legends of wisdom that had been tested by the tenor
of a life. And Ernest had ceased to be obscure. Unsought for,
undesired, had come the fame which so many seek, and made him
known in the great world, beyond the limits of the valley in
which he had dwelt so quietly. College professors, and even the
active men of cities, came from far to see and converse with
Ernest; for the report had gone abroad that this simple
husbandman had ideas unlike those of other men, not gained from
books, but of a higher tone,--a tranquil and familiar majesty, as
if he had been talking with the angels as his daily friends.
Whether it were sage, statesman, or philanthropist, Ernest
received these visitors with the gentle sincerity that had
characterized him from boyhood, and spoke freely with them of
whatever came uppermost, or lay deepest in his heart or their
own. While they talked together, his face would kindle, unawares,
and shine upon them, as with a mild evening light. Pensive with
the fulness of such discourse, his guests took leave and went
their way; and passing up the valley, paused to look at the Great
Stone Face, imagining that they had seen its likeness in a human
countenance, but could not remember where.
While Ernest had been growing up and growing old, a bountiful
Providence had granted a new poet to this earth. He likewise, was
a native of the valley, but had spent the greater part of his
life at a distance from that romantic region, pouring out his
sweet music amid the bustle and din of cities. Often, however,
did the mountains which had been familiar to him in his childhood
lift their snowy peaks into the clear atmosphere of his poetry.
Neither was the Great Stone Face forgotten, for the poet had
celebrated it in an ode, which was grand enough to have been
uttered by its own majestic lips. This man of genius, we may say,
had come down from heaven with wonderful endowments. If he sang
of a mountain, the eyes of all mankind beheld a mightier grandeur
reposing on its breast, or soaring to its summit, than had before
been seen there. If his theme were a lovely lake, a celestial
smile had now been thrown over it, to gleam forever on its
surface. If it were the vast old sea, even the deep immensity of
its dread bosom seemed to swell the higher, as if moved by the
emotions of the song. Thus the world assumed another and a better
aspect from the hour that the poet blessed it with his happy
eyes. The Creator had bestowed him, as the last best touch to his
own handiwork. Creation was not finished till the poet came to
interpret, and so complete it.
The effect was no less high and beautiful, when his human
brethren were the subject of his verse. The man or woman, sordid
with the common dust of life, who crossed his daily path, and the
little child who played in it, were glorified if he beheld them
in his mood of poetic faith. He showed the golden links of the
great chain that intertwined them with an angelic kindred; he
brought out the hidden traits of a celestial birth that made them
worthy of such kin. Some, indeed, there were, who thought to show
the soundness of their judgment by affirming that all the beauty
and dignity of the natural world existed only in the poet's
fancy. Let such men speak for themselves, who undoubtedly appear
to have been spawned forth by Nature with a contemptuous
bitterness; she having plastered them up out of her refuse stuff,
after all the swine were made. As respects all things else, the
poet's ideal was the truest truth.
The songs of this poet found their way to Ernest. He read them
after his customary toil, seated on the bench before his
cottage-door, where for such a length of time he had filled his
repose with thought, by gazing at the Great Stone Face. And now
as he read stanzas that caused the soul to thrill within him, he
lifted his eyes to the vast countenance beaming on him so
"O majestic friend," he murmured, addressing the Great Stone
Face, "is not this man worthy to resemble thee?"
The Face seemed to smile, but answered not a word.
Now it happened that the poet, though he dwelt so far away, had
not only heard of Ernest, but had meditated much upon his
character, until he deemed nothing so desirable as to meet this
man, whose untaught wisdom walked hand in hand with the noble
simplicity of his life. One summer morning, therefore, he took
passage by the railroad, and, in the decline of the afternoon,
alighted from the cars at no great distance from Ernest's
cottage. The great hotel, which had formerly been the palace of
Mr. Gathergold, was close at hand, but the poet, with his
carpet-bag on his arm, inquired at once where Ernest dwelt, and
was resolved to be accepted as his guest.
Approaching the door, he there found the good old man, holding a
volume in his hand, which alternately he read, and then, with a
finger between the leaves, looked lovingly at the Great Stone
"Good evening," said the poet. "Can you give a traveller a
"Willingly," answered Ernest; and then he added, smiling,
"Methinks I never saw the Great Stone Face look so hospitably at
The poet sat down on the bench beside him, and he and Ernest
talked together. Often had the poet held intercourse with the
wittiest and the wisest, but never before with a man like Ernest,
whose thoughts and feelings gushed up with such a natural
freedom, and who made great truths so familiar by his simple
utterance of them. Angels, as had been so often said, seemed to
have wrought with him at his labor in the fields; angels seemed
to have sat with him by the fireside; and, dwelling with angels
as friend with friends, he had imbibed the sublimity of their
ideas, and imbued it with the sweet and lowly charm of household
words. So thought the poet. And Ernest, on the other hand, was
moved and agitated by the living images which the poet flung out
of his mind, and which peopled all the air about the cottage-door
with shapes of beauty, both gay and pensive. The sympathies of
these two men instructed them with a profounder sense than either
could have attained alone. Their minds accorded into one strain,
and made delightful music which neither of them could have
claimed as all his own, nor distinguished his own share from the
other's. They led one another, as it were, into a high pavilion
of their thoughts, so remote, and hitherto so dim, that they had
never entered it before, and so beautiful that they desired to be
As Ernest listened to the poet, he imagined that the Great Stone
Face was bending forward to listen too. He gazed earnestly into
the poet's glowing eyes.
"Who are you, my strangely gifted guest?" he said.
The poet laid his finger on the volume that Ernest had been
"You have read these poems," said he. "You know me, then,--for I
Again, and still more earnestly than before, Ernest examined the
poet's features; then turned towards the Great Stone Face; then
back, with an uncertain aspect, to his guest. But his countenance
fell; he shook his head, and sighed.
"Wherefore are you sad?" inquired the poet.
"Because," replied Ernest, "all through life I have awaited the
fulfilment of a prophecy; and, when I read these poems, I hoped
that it might be fulfilled in you."
"You hoped," answered the poet, faintly smiling, "to find in me
the likeness of the Great Stone Face. And you are disappointed,
as formerly with Mr. Gathergold, and Old Blood-and-Thunder, and
Old Stony Phiz. Yes, Ernest, it is my doom. You must add my name
to the illustrious three, and record another failure of your
hopes. For--in shame and sadness do I speak it, Ernest--I am not
worthy to be typified by yonder benign and majestic image."
"And why?" asked Ernest. He pointed to the volume. "Are not those
"They have a strain of the Divinity," replied the poet. "You can
hear in them the far-off echo of a heavenly song. But my life,
dear Ernest, has not corresponded with my thought. I have had
grand dreams, but they have been only dreams, because I have
lived--and that, too, by my own choice--among poor and mean
realities. Sometimes even--shall I dare to say it?--I lack faith
in the grandeur, the beauty, and the goodness, which my own words
are said to have made more evident in nature and in human life.
Why, then, pure seeker of the good and true, shouldst thou hope
to find me, in yonder image of the divine?"
The poet spoke sadly, and his eyes were dim with tears. So,
likewise, were those of Ernest.
At the hour of sunset, as had long been his frequent custom,
Ernest was to discourse to an assemblage of the neighboring
inhabitants in the open air. He and the poet, arm in arm, still
talking together as they went along, proceeded to the spot. It
was a small nook among the hills, with a gray precipice behind,
the stern front of which was relieved by the pleasant foliage of
many creeping plants that made a tapestry for the naked rock, by
hanging their festoons from all its rugged angles. At a small
elevation above the ground, set in a rich framework of verdure,
there appeared a niche, spacious enough to admit a human figure,
with freedom for such gestures as spontaneously accompany earnest
thought and genuine emotion. Into this natural pulpit Ernest
ascended, and threw a look of familiar kindness around upon his
audience. They stood, or sat, or reclined upon the grass, as
seemed good to each, with the departing sunshine falling
obliquely over them, and mingling its subdued cheerfulness with
the solemnity of a grove of ancient trees, beneath and amid the
boughs of which the golden rays were constrained to pass. In
another direction was seen the Great Stone Face, with the same
cheer, combined with the same solemnity, in its benignant aspect.
Ernest began to speak, giving to the people of what was in his
heart and mind. His words had power, because they accorded with
his thoughts; and his thoughts had reality and depth, because
they harmonized with the life which he had always lived. It was
not mere breath that this preacher uttered; they were the words
of life, because a life of good deeds and holy love was melted
into them. Pearls, pure and rich, had been dissolved into this
precious draught. The poet, as he listened, felt that the being
and character of Ernest were a nobler strain of poetry than he
had ever written. His eyes glistening with tears, he gazed
reverentially at the venerable man, and said within himself that
never was there an aspect so worthy of a prophet and a sage as
that mild, sweet, thoughtful countenance, with the glory of white
hair diffused about it. At a distance, but distinctly to be seen,
high up in the golden light of the setting sun, appeared the
Great Stone Face, with hoary mists around it, like the white
hairs around the brow of Ernest. Its look of grand beneficence
seemed to embrace the world.
At that moment, in sympathy with a thought which he was about to
utter, the face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so
imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible
impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted,"Behold! Behold! Ernest
is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!"
Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted
poet said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled. But Ernest,
having finished what he had to say, took the poet's arm, and
walked slowly homeward, still hoping that some wiser and better
man than himself would by and by appear, bearing a resemblance to
the GREAT STONE FACE.
A CHAPTER FROM AN ABORTIVE ROMANCE
Bartram the lime-burner, a rough, heavy-looking man, begrimed
with charcoal, sat watching his kiln at nightfall, while his
little son played at building houses with the scattered fragments
of marble, when, on the hill-side below them, they heard a roar
of laughter, not mirthful, but slow, and even solemn, like a wind
shaking the boughs of the forest.
"Father, what is that?" asked the little boy, leaving his play,
and pressing betwixt his father's knees.
"Oh, some drunken man, I suppose," answered the lime-burner;
"some merry fellow from the bar-room in the village, who dared
not laugh loud enough within doors lest he should blow the roof
of the house off. So here he is, shaking his jolly sides at the
foot of Graylock."
"But, father," said the child, more sensitive than the obtuse,
middle-aged clown, "he does not laugh like a man that is glad. So
the noise frightens me!"
"Don't be a fool, child!" cried his father, gruffly. "You will
never make a man, I do believe; there is too much of your mother
in you. I have known the rustling of a leaf startle you. Hark!
Here comes the merry fellow now. You shall see that there is no
harm in him."
Bartram and his little son, while they were talking thus, sat
watching the same lime-kiln that had been the scene of Ethan
Brand's solitary and meditative life, before he began his search
for the Unpardonable Sin. Many years, as we have seen, had now
elapsed, since that portentous night when the IDEA was first
developed. The kiln, however, on the mountain-side, stood
unimpaired, and was in nothing changed since he had thrown his
dark thoughts into the intense glow of its furnace, and melted
them, as it were, into the one thought that took possession of
his life. It was a rude, round, tower-like structure about twenty
feet high, heavily built of rough stones, and with a hillock of
earth heaped about the larger part of its circumference; so that
the blocks and fragments of marble might be drawn by cart-loads,
and thrown in at the top. There was an opening at the bottom of
the tower, like an over-mouth, but large enough to admit a man in
a stooping posture, and provided with a massive iron door. With
the smoke and jets of flame issuing from the chinks and crevices
of this door, which seemed to give admittance into the hill-side,
it resembled nothing so much as the private entrance to the
infernal regions, which the shepherds of the Delectable Mountains
were accustomed to show to pilgrims.
There are many such lime-kilns in that tract of country, for the
purpose of burning the white marble which composes a large part
of the substance of the hills. Some of them, built years ago, and
long deserted, with weeds growing in the vacant round of the
interior, which is open to the sky, and grass and wild-flowers
rooting themselves into the chinks of the stones, look already
like relics of antiquity, and may yet be overspread with the
lichens of centuries to come. Others, where the limeburner still
feeds his daily and night-long fire, afford points of interest to
the wanderer among the hills, who seats himself on a log of wood
or a fragment of marble, to hold a chat with the solitary man. It
is a lonesome, and, when the character is inclined to thought,
may be an intensely thoughtful occupation; as it proved in the
case of Ethan Brand, who had mused to such strange purpose, in
days gone by, while the fire in this very kiln was burning.
The man who now watched the fire was of a different order, and
troubled himself with no thoughts save the very few that were
requisite to his business. At frequent intervals, he flung back
the clashing weight of the iron door, and, turning his face from
the insufferable glare, thrust in huge logs of oak, or stirred
the immense brands with a long pole. Within the furnace were seen
the curling and riotous flames, and the burning marble, almost
molten with the intensity of heat; while without, the reflection
of the fire quivered on the dark intricacy of the surrounding
forest, and showed in the foreground a bright and ruddy little
picture of the hut, the spring beside its door, the athletic and
coal-begrimed figure of the lime-burner, and the half-frightened
child, shrinking into the protection of his father's shadow. And
when, again, the iron door was closed, then reappeared the tender
light of the half-full moon, which vainly strove to trace out the
indistinct shapes of the neighboring mountains; and, in the upper
sky, there was a flitting congregation of clouds, still faintly
tinged with the rosy sunset, though thus far down into the valley
the sunshine had vanished long and long ago
The little boy now crept still closer to his father, as footsteps
were heard ascending the hill-side, and a human form thrust aside
the bushes that clustered beneath the trees.
"Halloo! who is it?" cried the lime-burner, vexed at his son's
timidity, yet half infected by it. "Come forward, and show
yourself, like a man, or I'll fling this chunk of marble at your
"You offer me a rough welcome," said a gloomy voice, as the
unknown man drew nigh. "Yet I neither claim nor desire a kinder
one, even at my own fireside."
To obtain a distincter view, Bartram threw open the iron door of
the kiln, whence immediately issued a gush of fierce light, that
smote full upon the stranger's face and figure. To a careless eye
there appeared nothing very remarkable in his aspect, which was
that of a man in a coarse brown, country-made suit of clothes,
tall and thin, with the staff and heavy shoes of a wayfarer. As
he advanced, he fixed his eyes--which were very bright--intently
upon the brightness of the furnace, as if he beheld, or expected
to behold, some object worthy of note within it.
"Good evening, stranger," said the lime-burner; "whence come you,
so late in the day?"
"I come from my search," answered the wayfarer; "for, at last, it
"Drunk!--or crazy!" muttered Bartram to himself. "I shall have
trouble with the fellow. The sooner I drive him away, the
The little boy, all in a tremble, whispered to his father, and
begged him to shut the door of the kiln, so that there might not
be so much light; for that there was something in the man's face
which he was afraid to look at, yet could not look away from.
And, indeed, even the lime-burner's dull and torpid sense began
to be impressed by an indescribable something in that thin,
rugged, thoughtful visage, with the grizzled hair hanging wildly
about it, and those deeply sunken eyes, which gleamed like fires
within the entrance of a mysterious cavern. But, as he closed the
door, the stranger turned towards him, and spoke in a quiet,
familiar way, that made Bartram feel as if he were a sane and
sensible man, after all.
"Your task draws to an end, I see," said he. "This marble has
already been burning three days. A few hours more will convert
the stone to lime."
"Why, who are you?" exclaimed the lime-burner. "You seem as well
acquainted with my business as I am myself."
"And well I may be," said the stranger; "for I followed the same
craft many a long year, and here, too, on this very spot. But you
are a newcomer in these parts. Did you never hear of Ethan
"The man that went in search of the Unpardonable Sin?" asked
Bartram, with a laugh.
"The same," answered the stranger. "He has found what he sought,
and therefore he comes back again."
"What! then you are Ethan Brand himself?" cried the lime-burner,
in amazement. "I am a new-comer here, as you say, and they call
it eighteen years since you left the foot of Graylock. But, I can
tell you, the good folks still talk about Ethan Brand, in the
village yonder, and what a strange errand took him away from his
lime-kiln. Well, and so you have found the Unpardonable Sin?"
"Even so!" said the stranger, calmly.
"If the question is a fair one," proceeded Bartram, "where might
Ethan Brand laid his finger on his own heart.
"Here!" replied he.
And then, without mirth in his countenance, but as if moved by an
involuntary recognition of the infinite absurdity of seeking
throughout the world for what was the closest of all things to
himself, and looking into every heart, save his own, for what was
hidden in no other breast, he broke into a laugh of scorn. It was
the same slow, heavy laugh, that had almost appalled the
lime-burner when it heralded the wayfarer's approach.
The solitary mountain-side was made dismal by it. Laughter, when
out of place, mistimed, or bursting forth from a disordered state
of feeling, may be the most terrible modulation of the human
voice. The laughter of one asleep, even if it be a little
child,--the madman's laugh,--the wild, screaming laugh of a born
idiot,--are sounds that we sometimes tremble to hear, and would
always willingly forget. Poets have imagined no utterance of
fiends or hobgoblins so fearfully appropriate as a laugh. And
even the obtuse lime-burner felt his nerves shaken, as this
strange man looked inward at his own heart, and burst into
laughter that rolled away into the night, and was indistinctly
reverberated among the hills.
"Joe," said he to his little son, "scamper down to the tavern in
the village, and tell the jolly fellows there that Ethan Brand
has come back, and that he has found the Unpardonable Sin!"
The boy darted away on his errand, to which Ethan Brand made no
objection, nor seemed hardly to notice it. He sat on a log of
wood, looking steadfastly at the iron door of the kiln. When the
child was out of sight, and his swift and light footsteps ceased
to be heard treading first on the fallen leaves and then on the
rocky mountain-path, the lime-burner began to regret his
departure. He felt that the little fellow's presence had been a
barrier between his guest and himself, and that he must now deal,
heart to heart, with a man who, on his own confession, had
committed the one only crime for which Heaven could afford no
mercy. That crime, in its indistinct blackness, seemed to
overshadow him, and made his memory riotous with a throng of evil
shapes that asserted their kindred with the Master Sin, whatever
it might be, which it was within the scope of man's corrupted
nature to conceive and cherish. They were all of one family; they
went to and fro between his breast and Ethan Brand's, and carried
dark greetings from one to the other.
Then Bartram remembered the stories which had grown traditionary
in reference to this strange man, who had come upon him like a
shadow of the night, and was making himself at home in his old
place, after so long absence, that the dead people, dead and
buried for years, would have had more right to be at home, in any
familiar spot, than he. Ethan Brand, it was said, had conversed
with Satan himself in the lurid blaze of this very kiln. The
legend had been matter of mirth heretofore, but looked grisly
now. According to this tale, before Ethan Brand departed on his
search, he had been accustomed to evoke a fiend from the hot
furnace of the lime-kiln, night after night, in order to confer
with him about the Unpardonable Sin; the man and the fiend each
laboring to frame the image of some mode of guilt which could
neither be atoned for nor forgiven. And, with the first gleam of
light upon the mountain-top, the fiend crept in at the iron door,
there to abide the intensest element of fire until again summoned
forth to share in the dreadful task of extending man's possible
guilt beyond the scope of Heaven's else infinite mercy.
While the lime-burner was struggling with the horror of these
thoughts, Ethan Brand rose from the log, and flung open the door
of the kiln. The action was in such accordance with the idea in
Bartram's mind, that he almost expected to see the Evil One issue
forth, red-hot, from the raging furnace.
"Hold! hold!" cried he, with a tremulous attempt to laugh; for he
was ashamed of his fears, although they overmastered him. "Don't,
for mercy's sake, bring out your Devil now!"
"Man!" sternly replied Ethan Brand, "what need have I of the
Devil? I have left him behind me, on my track. It is with such
half-way sinners as you that he busies himself. Fear not, because
I open the door. I do but act by old custom, and am going to trim
your fire, like a lime-burner, as I was once."
He stirred the vast coals, thrust in more wood, and bent forward
to gaze into the hollow prison-house of the fire, regardless of
the fierce glow that reddened upon his face. The lime-burner sat
watching him, and half suspected this strange guest of a purpose,
if not to evoke a fiend, at least to plunge into the flames, and
thus vanish from the sight of man. Ethan Brand, however, drew
quietly back, and closed the door of the kiln.
"I have looked," said he, "into many a human heart that was seven
times hotter with sinful passions than yonder furnace is with
fire. But I found not there what I sought. No, not the
"What is the Unpardonable Sin?" asked the lime-burner; and then
he shrank farther from his companion, trembling lest his question
should be answered.
"It is a sin that grew within my own breast," replied Ethan
Brand, standing erect with a pride that distinguishes all
enthusiasts of his stamp. "A sin that grew nowhere else! The sin
of an intellect that triumphed over the sense of brotherhood with
man and reverence for God, and sacrificed everything to its own
mighty claims! The only sin that deserves a recompense of
immortal agony! Freely, were it to do again, would I incur the
guilt. Unshrinkingly I accept the retribution!"
"The man's head is turned," muttered the lime-burner to himself.
"He may be a sinner like the rest of us,--nothing more
likely,--but, I'll be sworn, he is a madman too."
Nevertheless, he felt uncomfortable at his situation, alone with
Ethan Brand on the wild mountain-side, and was right glad to hear
the rough murmur of tongues, and the footsteps of what seemed a
pretty numerous party, stumbling over the stones and rustling
through the underbrush. Soon appeared the whole lazy regiment
that was wont to infest the village tavern, comprehending three
or four individuals who had drunk flip beside the bar-room fire
through all the winters, and smoked their pipes beneath the stoop
through all the summers, since Ethan Brand's departure. Laughing
boisterously, and mingling all their voices together in
unceremonious talk, they now burst into the moonshine and narrow
streaks of firelight that illuminated the open space before the
lime-kiln. Bartram set the door ajar again, flooding the spot
with light, that the whole company might get a fair view of Ethan
Brand, and he of them.
There, among other old acquaintances, was a once ubiquitous man,
now almost extinct, but whom we were formerly sure to encounter
at the hotel of every thriving village throughout the country. It
was the stage-agent. The present specimen of the genus was a
wilted and smoke-dried man, wrinkled and red-nosed, in a smartly
cut, brown, bobtailed coat, with brass buttons, who, for a length
of time unknown, had kept his desk and corner in the bar-room,
and was still puffing what seemed to be the same cigar that he
had lighted twenty years before. He had great fame as a dry
joker, though, perhaps, less on account of any intrinsic humor
than from a certain flavor of brandy-toddy and tobacco-smoke,
which impregnated all his ideas and expressions, as well as his
person. Another well-remembered, though strangely altered, face
was that of Lawyer Giles, as people still called him in courtesy;
an elderly ragamuffin, in his soiled shirtsleeves and tow-cloth
trousers. This poor fellow had been an attorney, in what he
called his better days, a sharp practitioner, and in great vogue
among the village litigants; but flip, and sling, and toddy, and
cocktails, imbibed at all hours, morning, noon, and night, had
caused him to slide from intellectual to various kinds and
degrees of bodily labor, till at last, to adopt his own phrase,
he slid into a soap-vat. In other words, Giles was now a
soap-boiler, in a small way. He had come to be but the fragment
of a human being, a part of one foot having been chopped off by
an axe, and an entire hand torn away by the devilish grip of a
steam-engine. Yet, though the corporeal hand was gone, a
spiritual member remained; for, stretching forth the stump, Giles
steadfastly averred that he felt an invisible thumb and fingers
with as vivid a sensation as before the real ones were amputated.
A maimed and miserable wretch he was; but one, nevertheless, whom
the world could not trample on, and had no right to scorn, either
in this or any previous stage of his misfortunes, since he had
still kept up the courage and spirit of a man, asked nothing in
charity, and with his one hand--and that the left one--fought a
stern battle against want and hostile circumstances.
Among the throng, too, came another personage, who, with certain
points of similarity to Lawyer Giles, had many more of
difference. It was the village doctor; a man of some fifty years,
whom, at an earlier period of his life, we introduced as paying a
professional visit to Ethan Brand during the latter's supposed
insanity. He was now a purple-visaged, rude, and brutal, yet
half-gentlemanly figure, with something wild, ruined, and
desperate in his talk, and in all the details of his gesture and
manners. Brandy possessed this man like an evil spirit, and made
him as surly and savage as a wild beast, and as miserable as a
lost soul; but there was supposed to be in him such wonderful
skill, such native gifts of healing, beyond any which medical
science could impart, that society caught hold of him, and would
not let him sink out of its reach. So, swaying to and fro upon
his horse, and grumbling thick accents at the bedside, he visited
all the sick-chambers for miles about among the mountain towns,
and sometimes raised a dying man, as it were, by miracle, or
quite as often, no doubt, sent his patient to a grave that was
dug many a year too soon. The doctor had an everlasting pipe in
his mouth, and, as somebody said, in allusion to his habit of
swearing, it was always alight with hell-fire.
These three worthies pressed forward, and greeted Ethan Brand
each after his own fashion, earnestly inviting him to partake of
the contents of a certain black bottle, in which, as they
averred, he would find something far better worth seeking than
the Unpardonable Sin. No mind, which has wrought itself by
intense and solitary meditation into a high state of enthusiasm,
can endure the kind of contact with low and vulgar modes of
thought and feeling to which Ethan Brand was now subjected. It
made him doubt--and, strange to say, it was a painful
doubt--whether he had indeed found the Unpardonable Sin, and
found it within himself. The whole question on which he had
exhausted life, and more than life, looked like a delusion.
"Leave me," he said bitterly, "ye brute beasts, that have made
yourselves so, shrivelling up your souls with fiery liquors! I
have done with you. Years and years ago, I groped into your
hearts and found nothing there for my purpose. Get ye gone!"
"Why, you uncivil scoundrel," cried the fierce doctor, "is that
the way you respond to the kindness of your best friends? Then
let me tell you the truth. You have no more found the
Unpardonable Sin than yonder boy Joe has. You are but a crazy
fellow,--I told you so twenty years ago,-neither better nor worse
than a crazy fellow, and the fit companion of old Humphrey,
He pointed to an old man, shabbily dressed, with long white hair,
thin visage, and unsteady eyes. For some years past this aged
person had been wandering about among the hills, inquiring of all
travellers whom he met for his daughter. The girl, it seemed, had
gone off with a company of circus-performers, and occasionally
tidings of her came to the village, and fine stories were told of
her glittering appearance as she rode on horseback in the ring,
or performed marvellous feats on the tight-rope.
The white-haired father now approached Ethan Brand, and gazed
unsteadily into his face.
"They tell me you have been all over the earth," said he,
wringing his hands with earnestness. "You must have seen my
daughter, for she makes a grand figure in the world, and
everybody goes to see her. Did she send any word to her old
father, or say when she was coming back?"
Ethan Brand's eye quailed beneath the old man's. That daughter,
from whom he so earnestly desired a word of greeting, was the
Esther of our tale, the very girl whom, with such cold and
remorseless purpose, Ethan Brand had made the subject of a
psychological experiment, and wasted, absorbed, and perhaps
annihilated her soul, in the process.
"Yes," he murmured, turning away from the hoary wanderer, "it is
no delusion. There is an Unpardonable Sin!"
While these things were passing, a merry scene was going forward
in the area of cheerful light, beside the spring and before the
door of the hut. A number of the youth of the village, young men
and girls, had hurried up the hill-side, impelled by curiosity to
see Ethan Brand, the hero of so many a legend familiar to their
childhood. Finding nothing, however, very remarkable in his
aspect,--nothing but a sunburnt wayfarer, in plain garb and dusty
shoes, who sat looking into the fire as if he fancied pictures
among the coals,--these young people speedily grew tired of
observing him. As it happened, there was other amusement at hand.
An old German Jew travelling with a diorama on his back, was
passing down the mountain-road towards the village just as the
party turned aside from it, and, in hopes of eking out the
profits of the day, the showman had kept them company to the
"Come, old Dutchman," cried one of the young men, "let us see
your pictures, if you can swear they are worth looking at!"
"Oh yes, Captain," answered the Jew,--whether as a matter of
courtesy or craft, he styled everybody Captain,--"I shall show
you, indeed, some very superb pictures!"
So, placing his box in a proper position, he invited the young
men and girls to look through the glass orifices of the machine,
and proceeded to exhibit a series of the most outrageous
scratchings and daubings, as specimens of the fine arts, that
ever an itinerant showman had the face to impose upon his circle
of spectators. The pictures were worn out, moreover, tattered,
full of cracks and wrinkles, dingy with tobacco-smoke, and
otherwise in a most pitiable condition. Some purported to be
cities, public edifices, and ruined castles in Europe; others
represented Napoleon's battles and Nelson's sea-fights; and in
the midst of these would be seen a gigantic, brown, hairy
hand,--which might have been mistaken for the Hand of Destiny,
though, in truth, it was only the showman's,--pointing its
forefinger to various scenes of the conflict, while its owner
gave historical illustrations. When, with much merriment at its
abominable deficiency of merit, the exhibition was concluded, the
German bade little Joe put his head into the box. Viewed through
the magnifying-glasses, the boy's round, rosy visage assumed the
strangest imaginable aspect of an immense Titanic child, the
mouth grinning broadly, and the eyes and every other feature
overflowing with fun at the joke. Suddenly, however, that merry
face turned pale, and its expression changed to horror, for this
easily impressed and excitable child had become sensible that the
eye of Ethan Brand was fixed upon him through the glass.
"You make the little man to be afraid, Captain," said the German
Jew, turning up the dark and strong outline of his visage from
his stooping posture. "But look again, and, by chance, I shall
cause you to see somewhat that is very fine, upon my word!"
Ethan Brand gazed into the box for an instant, and then starting
back, looked fixedly at the German. What had he seen? Nothing,
apparently; for a curious youth, who had peeped in almost at the
same moment, beheld only a vacant space of canvas.
"I remember you now," muttered Ethan Brand to the showman.
"Ah, Captain," whispered the Jew of Nuremberg, with a dark smile,
"I find it to be a heavy matter in my show-box,--this
Unpardonable Sin! By my faith, Captain, it has wearied my
shoulders, this long day, to carry it over the mountain."
"Peace," answered Ethan Brand, sternly, "or get thee into the
The Jew's exhibition had scarcely concluded, when a great,
elderly dog --who seemed to be his own master, as no person in
the company laid claim to him--saw fit to render himself the
object of public notice. Hitherto, he had shown himself a very
quiet, well-disposed old dog, going round from one to another,
and, by way of being sociable, offering his rough head to be
patted by any kindly hand that would take so much trouble. But
now, all of a sudden, this grave and venerable quadruped, of his
own mere motion, and without the slightest suggestion from
anybody else, began to run round after his tail, which, to
heighten the absurdity of the proceeding, was a great deal
shorter than it should have been. Never was seen such headlong
eagerness in pursuit of an object that could not possibly be
attained; never was heard such a tremendous outbreak of growling,
snarling, barking, and snapping,--as if one end of the ridiculous
brute's body were at deadly and most unforgivable enmity with the
other. Faster and faster, round about went the cur; and faster
and still faster fled the unapproachable brevity of his tail; and
louder and fiercer grew his yells of rage and animosity; until,
utterly exhausted, and as far from the goal as ever, the foolish
old dog ceased his performance as suddenly as he had begun it.
The next moment he was as mild, quiet, sensible, and respectable
in his deportment, as when he first scraped acquaintance with the
As may be supposed, the exhibition was greeted with universal
laughter, clapping of hands, and shouts of encore, to which the
canine performer responded by wagging all that there was to wag
of his tail, but appeared totally unable to repeat his very
successful effort to amuse the spectators.
Meanwhile, Ethan Brand had resumed his seat upon the log, and
moved, as it might be, by a perception of some remote analogy
between his own case and that of this self-pursuing cur, he broke
into the awful laugh, which, more than any other token, expressed
the condition of his inward being. From that moment, the
merriment of the party was at an end; they stood aghast, dreading
lest the inauspicious sound should be reverberated around the
horizon, and that mountain would thunder it to mountain, and so
the horror be prolonged upon their ears. Then, whispering one to
another that it was late,--that the moon was almost down,-that
the August night was growing chill,--they hurried homewards,
leaving the lime-burner and little Joe to deal as they might with
their unwelcome guest. Save for these three human beings, the
open space on the hill-side was a solitude, set in a vast gloom
of forest. Beyond that darksome verge, the firelight glimmered on
the stately trunks and almost black foliage of pines, intermixed
with the lighter verdure of sapling oaks, maples, and poplars,
while here and there lay the gigantic corpses of dead trees,
decaying on the leaf-strewn soil. And it seemed to little Joe --a
timorous and imaginative child--that the silent forest was
holding its breath until some fearful thing should happen.
Ethan Brand thrust more wood into the fire, and closed the door
of the kiln; then looking over his shoulder at the lime-burner
and his son, he bade, rather than advised, them to retire to
"For myself, I cannot sleep," said he. "I have matters that it
concerns me to meditate upon. I will watch the fire, as I used to
do in the old time."
"And call the Devil out of the furnace to keep you company, I
suppose," muttered Bartram, who had been making intimate
acquaintance with the black bottle above mentioned. "But watch,
if you like, and call as many devils as you like! For my part, I
shall be all the better for a snooze. Come, Joe!"
As the boy followed his father into the hut, he looked back at
the wayfarer, and the tears came into his eyes, for his tender
spirit had an intuition of the bleak and terrible loneliness in
which this man had enveloped himself.
When they had gone, Ethan Brand sat listening to the crackling of
the kindled wood, and looking at the little spirts of fire that
issued through the chinks of the door. These trifles, however,
once so familiar, had but the slightest hold of his attention,
while deep within his mind he was reviewing the gradual but
marvellous change that had been wrought upon him by the search to
which he had devoted himself. He remembered how the night dew had
fallen upon him,--how the dark forest had whispered to him,--how
the stars had gleamed upon him,--a simple and loving man,
watching his fire in the years gone by, and ever musing as it
burned. He remembered with what tenderness, with what love and
sympathy for mankind and what pity for human guilt and woe, he
had first begun to contemplate those ideas which afterwards
became the inspiration of his life; with what reverence he had
then looked into the heart of man, viewing it as a temple
originally divine, and, however desecrated, still to be held
sacred by a brother; with what awful fear he had deprecated the
success of his pursuit, and prayed that the Unpardonable Sin
might never be revealed to him. Then ensued that vast
intellectual development, which, in its progress, disturbed the
counterpoise between his mind and heart. The Idea that possessed
his life had operated as a means of education; it had gone on
cultivating his powers to the highest point of which they were
susceptible; it had raised him from the level of an unlettered
laborer to stand on a star-lit eminence, whither the philosophers
of the earth, laden with the lore of universities, might vainly
strive to clamber after him. So much for the intellect! But where
was the heart? That, indeed, had withered,--had contracted,--had
hardened,--had perished! It had ceased to partake of the
universal throb. He had lost his hold of the magnetic chain of
humanity. He was no longer a brother-man, opening the chambers or
the dungeons of our common nature by the key of holy sympathy,
which gave him a right to share in all its secrets; he was now a
cold observer, looking on mankind as the subject of his
experiment, and, at length, converting man and woman to be his
puppets, and pulling the wires that moved them to such degrees of
crime as were demanded for his study.
Thus Ethan Brand became a fiend. He began to be so from the
moment that his moral nature had ceased to keep the pace of
improvement with his intellect. And now, as his highest effort
and inevitable development,--as the bright and gorgeous flower,
and rich, delicious fruit of his life's labor,--he had produced
the Unpardonable Sin!
"What more have I to seek? what more to achieve?" said Ethan
Brand to himself. "My task is done, and well done!"
Starting from the log with a certain alacrity in his gait and
ascending the hillock of earth that was raised against the stone
circumference of the lime-kiln, he thus reached the top of the
structure. It was a space of perhaps ten feet across, from edge
to edge, presenting a view of the upper surface of the immense
mass of broken marble with which the kiln was heaped. All these
innumerable blocks and fragments of marble were redhot and
vividly on fire, sending up great spouts of blue flame, which
quivered aloft and danced madly, as within a magic circle, and
sank and rose again, with continual and multitudinous activity.
As the lonely man bent forward over this terrible body of fire,
the blasting heat smote up against his person with a breath that,
it might be supposed, would have scorched and shrivelled him up
in a moment.
Ethan Brand stood erect, and raised his arms on high. The blue
flames played upon his face, and imparted the wild and ghastly
light which alone could have suited its expression; it was that
of a fiend on the verge of plunging into his gulf of intensest
"O Mother Earth," cried he, "who art no more my Mother, and into
whose bosom this frame shall never be resolved! O mankind, whose
brotherhood I have cast off, and trampled thy great heart beneath
my feet! O stars of heaven, that shone on me of old, as if to
light me onward and upward!--farewell all, and forever. Come,
deadly element of Fire,-henceforth my familiar friend! Embrace
me, as I do thee! "
That night the sound of a fearful peal of laughter rolled heavily
through the sleep of the lime-burner and his little son; dim
shapes of horror and anguish haunted their dreams, and seemed
still present in the rude hovel, when they opened their eyes to
"Up, boy, up!" cried the lime-burner, staring about him. "Thank
Heaven, the night is gone, at last; and rather than pass such
another, I would watch my lime-kiln, wide awake, for a
twelvemonth. This Ethan Brand, with his humbug of an Unpardonable
Sin, has done me no such mighty favor, in taking my place!"
He issued from the hut, followed by little Joe, who kept fast
hold of his father's hand. The early sunshine was already pouring
its gold upon the mountain-tops, and though the valleys were
still in shadow, they smiled cheerfully in the promise of the
bright day that was hastening onward. The village, completely
shut in by hills, which swelled away gently about it, looked as
if it had rested peacefully in the hollow of the great hand of
Providence. Every dwelling was distinctly visible; the little
spires of the two churches pointed upwards, and caught a
fore-glimmering of brightness from the sun-gilt skies upon their
gilded weather-cocks. The tavern was astir, and the figure of the
old, smoke-dried stage-agent, cigar in mouth, was seen beneath
the stoop. Old Graylock was glorified with a golden cloud upon
his head. Scattered likewise over the breasts of the surrounding
mountains, there were heaps of hoary mist, in fantastic shapes,
some of them far down into the valley, others high up towards the
summits, and still others, of the same family of mist or cloud,
hovering in the gold radiance of the upper atmosphere. Stepping
from one to another of the clouds that rested on the hills, and
thence to the loftier brotherhood that sailed in air, it seemed
almost as if a mortal man might thus ascend into the heavenly
regions. Earth was so mingled with sky that it was a day-dream to
look at it.
To supply that charm of the familiar and homely, which Nature so
readily adopts into a scene like this, the stage-coach was
rattling down the mountain-road, and the driver sounded his horn,
while Echo caught up the notes, and intertwined them into a rich
and varied and elaborate harmony, of which the original performer
could lay claim to little share. The great hills played a concert
among themselves, each contributing a strain of airy sweetness.
Little Joe's face brightened at once.
"Dear father," cried he, skipping cheerily to and fro, "that
strange man is gone, and the sky and the mountains all seem glad
"Yes," growled the lime-burner, with an oath, "but he has let the
fire go down, and no thanks to him if five hundred bushels of
lime are not spoiled. If I catch the fellow hereabouts again, I
shall feel like tossing him into the furnace!"
With his long pole in his hand, he ascended to the top of the
kiln. After a moment's pause, he called to his son.
"Come up here, Joe!" said he.
So little Joe ran up the hillock, and stood by his father's side.
The marble was all burnt into perfect, snow-white lime. But on
its surface, in the midst of the circle,--snow-white too, and
thoroughly converted into lime,--lay a human skeleton, in the
attitude of a person who, after long toil, lies down to long
repose. Within the ribs--strange to say--was the shape of a human
"Was the fellow's heart made of marble?" cried Bartram, in some
perplexity at this phenomenon. "At any rate, it is burnt into
what looks like special good lime; and, taking all the bones
together, my kiln is half a bushel the richer for him."
So saying, the rude lime-burner lifted his pole, and, letting it
fall upon the skeleton, the relics of Ethan Brand were crumbled
THE CANTERBURY PILGRIMS
The summer moon, which shines in so many a tale, was beaming over
a broad extent of uneven country. Some of its brightest rays were
flung into a spring of water, where no traveller, toiling, as the
writer has, up the hilly road beside which it gushes, ever failed
to quench his thirst. The work of neat hands and considerate art
was visible about this blessed fountain. An open cistern, hewn
and hollowed out of solid stone, was placed above the waters,
which filled it to the brim, but by some invisible outlet were
conveyed away without dripping down its sides. Though the basin
had not room for another drop, and the continual gush of water
made a tremor on the surface, there was a secret charm that
forbade it to overflow. I remember, that when I had slaked my
summer thirst, and sat panting by the cistern, it was my fanciful
theory that Nature could not afford to lavish so pure a liquid,
as she does the waters of all meaner fountains.
While the moon was hanging almost perpendicularly over this spot,
two figures appeared on the summit of the hill, and came with
noiseless footsteps down towards the spring. They were then in
the first freshness of youth; nor is there a wrinkle now on
either of their brows, and yet they wore a strange, old-fashioned
garb. One, a young man with ruddy cheeks, walked beneath the
canopy of a broad-brimmed gray hat; he seemed to have inherited
his great-grandsire's square-skirted coat, and a waistcoat that
extended its immense flaps to his knees; his brown locks, also,
hung down behind, in a mode unknown to our times. By his side was
a sweet young damsel, her fair features sheltered by a prim
little bonnet, within which appeared the vestal muslin of a cap;
her close, long-waisted gown, and indeed her whole attire, might
have been worn by some rustic beauty who had faded half a century
before. But that there was something too warm and life-like in
them, I would here have compared this couple to the ghosts of two
young lovers who had died long since in the glow of passion, and
now were straying out of their graves, to renew the old vows, and
shadow forth the unforgotten kiss of their earthly lips, beside
the moonlit spring.
"Thee and I will rest here a moment, Miriam," said the young man,
as they drew near the stone cistern, "for there is no fear that
the elders know what we have done; and this may be the last time
we shall ever taste this water."
Thus speaking, with a little sadness in his face, which was also
visible in that of his companion, he made her sit down on a
stone, and was about to place himself very close to her side;
she, however, repelled him, though not unkindly.
"Nay, Josiah," said she, giving him a timid push with her maiden
hand, "thee must sit farther off, on that other stone, with the
spring between us. What would the sisters say, if thee were to
sit so close to me?"
"But we are of the world's people now, Miriam," answered Josiah.
The girl persisted in her prudery, nor did the youth, in fact,
seem altogether free from a similar sort of shyness; so they sat
apart from each other, gazing up the hill, where the moonlight
discovered the tops of a group of buildings. While their
attention was thus occupied, a party of travellers, who had come
wearily up the long ascent, made a halt to refresh themselves at
the spring. There were three men, a woman, and a little girl and
boy. Their attire was mean, covered with the dust of the summer's
day, and damp with the night-dew; they all looked woebegone, as
if the cares and sorrows of the world had made their steps
heavier as they climbed the hill; even the two little children
appeared older in evil days than the young man and maiden who had
first approached the spring.
"Good evening to you, young folks," was the salutation of the
travellers; and "Good evening, friends," replied the youth and
"Is that white building the Shaker meeting-house?" asked one of
the strangers. "And are those the red roofs of the Shaker
"Friend, it is the Shaker village," answered Josiah, after some
The travellers, who, from the first, had looked suspiciously at
the garb of these young people, now taxed them with an intention
which all the circumstances, indeed, rendered too obvious to be
"It is true, friends," replied the young man, summoning up his
courage. "Miriam and I have a gift to love each other, and we are
going among the world's people, to live after their fashion. And
ye know that we do not transgress the law of the land; and
neither ye, nor the elders themselves, have a right to hinder
"Yet you think it expedient to depart without leave-taking,"
remarked one of the travellers.
"Yea, ye-a," said Josiah, reluctantly, "because father Job is a
very awful man to speak with; and being aged himself, he has but
little charity for what he calls the iniquities of the flesh."
"Well," said the stranger, "we will neither use force to bring
you back to the village, nor will we betray you to the elders.
But sit you here awhile, and when you have heard what we shall
tell you of the world which we have left, and into which you are
going, perhaps you will turn back with us of your own accord.
What say you?" added he, turning to his companions. "We have
travelled thus far without becoming known to each other. Shall we
tell our stories, here by this pleasant spring, for our own
pastime, and the benefit of these misguided young lovers?"
In accordance with this proposal, the whole party stationed
themselves round the stone cistern; the two children, being very
weary, fell asleep upon the damp earth, and the pretty Shaker
girl, whose feelings were those of a nun or a Turkish lady, crept
as close as possible to the female traveller, and as far as she
well could from the unknown men. The same person who had hitherto
been the chief spokesman now stood up, waving his hat in his
hand, and suffered the moonlight to fall full upon his front.
"In me," said he, with a certain majesty of utterance,--"in me,
you behold a poet."
Though a lithographic print of this gentleman is extant, it may
be well to notice that he was now nearly forty, a thin and
stooping figure, in a black coat, out at elbows; notwithstanding
the ill condition of his attire, there were about him several
tokens of a peculiar sort of foppery, unworthy of a mature man,
particularly in the arrangement of his hair which was so disposed
as to give all possible loftiness and breadth to his forehead.
However, he had an intelligent eye, and, on the whole, a marked
"A poet!" repeated the young Shaker, a little puzzled how to
understand such a designation, seldom heard in the utilitarian
community where he had spent his life. "Oh, ay, Miriam, he means
a varse-maker, thee must know."
This remark jarred upon the susceptible nerves of the poet; nor
could he help wondering what strange fatality had put into this
young man's mouth an epithet, which ill-natured people had
affirmed to be more proper to his merit than the one assumed by
"True, I am a verse-maker," he resumed, "but my verse is no more
than the material body into which I breathe the celestial soul of
thought. Alas! how many a pang has it cost me, this same
insensibility to the ethereal essence of poetry, with which you
have here tortured me again, at the moment when I am to
relinquish my profession forever! O Fate! why hast thou warred
with Nature, turning all her higher and more perfect gifts to the
ruin of me, their possessor? What is the voice of song, when the
world lacks the ear of taste? How can I rejoice in my strength
and delicacy of feeling, when they have but made great sorrows
out of little ones? Have I dreaded scorn like death, and yearned
for fame as others pant for vital air, only to find myself in a
middle state between obscurity and infamy? But I have my revenge!
I could have given existence to a thousand bright creations. I
crush them into my heart, and there let them putrefy! I shake off
the dust of my feet against my countrymen! But posterity, tracing
my footsteps up this weary hill, will cry shame upon the unworthy
age that drove one of the fathers of American song to end his
days in a Shaker village! "
During this harangue, the speaker gesticulated with great energy,
and, as poetry is the natural language of passion, there appeared
reason to apprehend his final explosion into an ode extempore.
The reader must understand that, for all these bitter words, he
was a kind, gentle, harmless, poor fellow enough, whom Nature,
tossing her ingredients together without looking at her recipe,
had sent into the world with too much of one sort of brain, and
hardly any of another.
"Friend," said the young Shaker, in some perplexity, "thee
seemest to have met with great troubles; and, doubtless, I should
pity them, if--if I could but understand what they were."
"Happy in your ignorance!" replied the poet, with an air of
sublime superiority. "To your coarser mind, perhaps, I may seem
to speak of more important griefs when I add, what I had wellnigh
forgotten, that I am out at elbows, and almost starved to
death. At any rate, you have the advice and example of one
individual to warn you back; for I am come hither, a disappointed
man, flinging aside the fragments of my hopes, and seeking
shelter in the calm retreat which you are so anxious to leave."
"I thank thee, friend," rejoined the youth, "but I do not mean to
be a poet, nor, Heaven be praised! do I think Miriam ever made a
varse in her life. So we need not fear thy disappointments. But,
Miriam," he added, with real concern, "thee knowest that the
elders admit nobody that has not a gift to be useful. Now, what
under the sun can they do with this poor varse-maker?"
"Nay, Josiah, do not thee discourage the poor man," said the
girl, in all simplicity and kindness. "Our hymns are very rough,
and perhaps they may trust him to smooth them."
Without noticing this hint of professional employment, the poet
turned away, and gave himself up to a sort of vague reverie,
which he called thought. Sometimes he watched the moon, pouring a
silvery liquid on the clouds, through which it slowly melted till
they became all bright; then he saw the same sweet radiance
dancing on the leafy trees which rustled as if to shake it off,
or sleeping on the high tops of hills, or hovering down in
distant valleys, like the material of unshaped dreams; lastly, he
looked into the spring, and there the light was mingling with the
water. In its crystal bosom, too, beholding all heaven reflected
there, he found an emblem of a pure and tranquil breast. He
listened to that most ethereal of all sounds, the song of
crickets, coming in full choir upon the wind, and fancied that,
if moonlight could be heard, it would sound just like that.
Finally, he took a draught at the Shaker spring, and, as if it
were the true Castalia, was forthwith moved to compose a lyric, a
Farewell to his Harp, which he swore should be its closing
strain, the last verse that an ungrateful world should have from
him. This effusion, with two or three other little pieces,
subsequently written, he took the first opportunity to send, by
one of the Shaker brethren, to Concord, where they were published
in the New Hampshire Patriot.
Meantime, another of the Canterbury pilgrims, one so different
from the poet that the delicate fancy of the latter could hardly
have conceived of him, began to relate his sad experience. He was
a small man, of quick and unquiet gestures, about fifty years
old, with a narrow forehead, all wrinkled and drawn together. He
held in his hand a pencil, and a card of some commission-merchant
in foreign parts, on the back of which, for there was light
enough to read or write by, he seemed ready to figure out a
"Young man," said he, abruptly, "what quantity of land do the
Shakers own here, in Canterbury?"
"That is more than I can tell thee, friend," answered Josiah,
"but it is a very rich establishment, and for a long way by the
roadside thee may guess the land to be ours, by the neatness of
"And what may be the value of the whole," continued the stranger,
"with all the buildings and improvements, pretty nearly, in round
"Oh, a monstrous sum,--more than I can reckon," replied the young
"Well, sir," said the pilgrim, "there was a day, and not very
long ago, neither, when I stood at my counting-room window, and
watched the signal flags of three of my own ships entering the
harbor, from the East Indies, from Liverpool, and from up the
Straits, and I would not have given the invoice of the least of
them for the title-deeds of this whole Shaker settlement. You
stare. Perhaps, now, you won't believe that I could have put more
value on a little piece of paper, no bigger than the palm of your
hand, than all these solid acres of grain, grass, and
pasture-land would sell for?"
"I won't dispute it, friend," answered Josiah, "but I know I had
rather have fifty acres of this good land than a whole sheet of
"You may say so now," said the ruined merchant, bitterly, "for my
name would not be worth the paper I should write it on. Of
course, you must have heard of my failure?"
And the stranger mentioned his name, which, however mighty it
might have been in the commercial world, the young Shaker had
never heard of among the Canterbury hills.
"Not heard of my failure!" exclaimed the merchant, considerably
piqued. "Why, it was spoken of on 'Change in London, and from
Boston to New Orleans men trembled in their shoes. At all events,
I did fail, and you see me here on my road to the Shaker village,
where, doubtless (for the Shakers are a shrewd sect), they will
have a due respect for my experience, and give me the management
of the trading part of the concern, in which case I think I can
pledge myself to double their capital in four or five years. Turn
back with me, young man; for though you will never meet with my
good luck, you can hardly escape my bad."
"I will not turn back for this," replied Josiah. calmly, "any
more than for the advice of the varse-maker, between whom and
thee, friend, I see a sort of likeness, though I can't justly say
where it lies. But Miriam and I can earn our daily bread among
the world's people as well as in the Shaker village. And do we
want anything more, Miriam?"
"Nothing more, Josiah," said the girl, quietly.
"Yea, Miriam, and daily bread for some other little mouths, if
God send them," observed the simple Shaker lad.
Miriam did not reply, but looked down into the spring, where she
encountered the image of her own pretty face, blushing within the
prim little bonnet. The third pilgrim now took up the
conversation. He was a sunburnt countryman, of tall frame and
bony strength, on whose rude and manly face there appeared a
darker, more sullen and obstinate despondency, than on those of
either the poet or the merchant.
"Well, now, youngster," he began, "these folks have had their
say, so I'll take my turn. My story will cut but a poor figure by
the side of theirs; for I never supposed that I could have a
right to meat and drink, and great praise besides, only for
tagging rhymes together, as it seems this man does; nor ever
tried to get the substance of hundreds into my own hands, like
the trader there. When I was about of your years, I married me a
wife,--just such a neat and pretty young woman as Miriam, if
that's her name,--and all I asked of Providence was an ordinary
blessing on the sweat of my brow, so that we might be decent and
comfortable, and have daily bread for ourselves, and for some
other little mouths that we soon had to feed. We had no very
great prospects before us; but I never wanted to be idle; and I
thought it a matter of course that the Lord would help me,
because I was willing to help myself."
"And didn't He help thee, friend?" demanded Josiah, with some
"No," said the yeoman, sullenly; "for then you would not have
seen me here. I have labored hard for years; and my means have
been growing narrower, and my living poorer, and my heart colder
and heavier, all the time; till at last I could bear it no
longer. I set myself down to calculate whether I had best go on
the Oregon expedition, or come here to the Shaker village; but I
had not hope enough left in me to begin the world over again;
and, to make my story short, here I am. And now, youngster, take
my advice, and turn back; or else, some few years hence, you'll
have to climb this hill, with as heavy a heart as mine."
This simple story had a strong effect on the young fugitives. The
misfortunes of the poet and merchant had won little sympathy from
their plain good sense and unworldly feelings, qualities which
made them such unprejudiced and inflexible judges, that few men
would have chosen to take the opinion of this youth and maiden as
to the wisdom or folly of their pursuits. But here was one whose
simple wishes had resembled their own, and who, after efforts
which almost gave him a right to claim success from fate, had
failed in accomplishing them.
"But thy wife, friend?" exclaimed the younger man. "What became
of the pretty girl, like Miriam? Oh, I am afraid she is dead!"
"Yea, poor man, she must be dead,--she and the children, too,"
The female pilgrim had been leaning over the spring, wherein
latterly a tear or two might have been seen to fall, and form its
little circle on the surface of the water. She now looked up,
disclosing features still comely, but which had acquired an
expression of fretfulness, in the same long course of evil
fortune that had thrown a sullen gloom over the temper of the
"I am his wife," said she, a shade of irritability just
perceptible in the sadness of her tone. "These poor little
things, asleep on the ground, are two of our children. We had two
more, but God has provided better for them than we could, by
taking them to Himself."
"And what would thee advise Josiah and me to do?" asked Miriam,
this being the first question which she had put to either of the
" 'Tis a thing almost against nature for a woman to try to part
true lovers," answered the yeoman's wife, after a pause; "but
I'll speak as truly to you as if these were my dying words.
Though my husband told you some of our troubles, he didn't
mention the greatest, and that which makes all the rest so hard
to bear. If you and your sweetheart marry, you'll be kind and
pleasant to each other for a year or two, and while that's the
case, you never will repent; but, by and by, he'll grow gloomy,
rough, and hard to please, and you'll be peevish, and full of
little angry fits, and apt to be complaining by the fireside,
when he comes to rest himself from his troubles out of doors; so
your love will wear away by little and little, and leave you
miserable at last. It has been so with us; and yet my husband and
I were true lovers once, if ever two young folks were ."
As she ceased, the yeoman and his wife exchanged a glance, in
which there was more and warmer affection than they had supposed
to have escaped the frost of a wintry fate, in either of their
breasts. At that moment, when they stood on the utmost verge of
married life, one word fitly spoken, or perhaps one peculiar
look, had they had mutual confidence enough to reciprocate it,
might have renewed all their old feelings, and sent them back,
resolved to sustain each other amid the struggles of the world.
But the crisis passed and never came again. Just then, also, the
children, roused by their mother's voice, looked up, and added
their wailing accents to the testimony borne by all the
Canterbury pilgrims against the world from which they fled.
"We are tired and hungry!" cried they. "Is it far to the Shaker
The Shaker youth and maiden looked mournfully into each other's
eyes. They had but stepped across the threshold of their homes,
when lo! the dark array of cares and sorrows that rose up to warn
them back. The varied narratives of the strangers had arranged
themselves into a parable; they seemed not merely instances of
woful fate that had befallen others, but shadowy omens of
disappointed hope and unavailing toil, domestic grief and
estranged affection, that would cloud the onward path of these
poor fugitives. But after one instant's hesitation, they opened
their arms, and sealed their resolve with as pure and fond an
embrace as ever youthful love had hallowed.
"We will not go back," said they. "The world never can be dark to
us, for we will always love one another."
Then the Canterbury pilgrims went up the hill, while the poet
chanted a drear and desperate stanza of the Farewell to his Harp,
fitting music for that melancholy band. They sought a home where
all former ties of nature or society would be sundered, and all
old distinctions levelled, and a cold and passionless security be
substituted for mortal hope and fear, as in that other refuge of
the world's weary outcasts, the grave. The lovers drank at the
Shaker spring, and then, with chastened hopes, but more confiding
affections, went on to mingle in an untried life.
THE DEVIL IN MANUSCRIPT
On a bitter evening of December, I arrived by mail in a large
town, which was then the residence of an intimate friend, one of
those gifted youths who cultivate poetry and the belles-lettres,
and call themselves students at law. My first business, after
supper, was to visit him at the office of his distinguished
instructor. As I have said, it was a bitter night, clear
starlight, but cold as Nova Zembla,--the shop-windows along the
street being frosted, so as almost to hide the lights, while the
wheels of coaches thundered equally loud over frozen earth and
pavements of stone. There was no snow, either on the ground or
the roofs of the houses. The wind blew so violently, that I had
but to spread my cloak like a main-sail, and scud along the
street at the rate of ten knots, greatly envied by other
navigators, who were beating slowly up, with the gale right in
their teeth. One of these I capsized, but was gone on the wings
of the wind before he could even vociferate an oath.
After this picture of an inclement night, behold us seated by a
great blazing fire, which looked so comfortable and delicious
that I felt inclined to lie down and roll among the hot coals.
The usual furniture of a lawyer's office was around us,--rows of
volumes in sheepskin, and a multitude of writs, summonses, and
other legal papers, scattered over the desks and tables. But
there were certain objects which seemed to intimate that we had
little dread of the intrusion of clients, or of the learned
counsellor himself, who, indeed, was attending court in a distant
town. A tall, decanter-shaped bottle stood on the table, between
two tumblers, and beside a pile of blotted manuscripts,
altogether dissimilar to any law documents recognized in our
courts. My friend, whom I shall call Oberon,--it was a name of
fancy and friendship between him and me,--my friend Oberon looked
at these papers with a peculiar expression of disquietude.
"I do believe," said he, soberly, "or, at least, I could believe,
if I chose, that there is a devil in this pile of blotted papers.
You have read them, and know what I mean,--that conception in
which I endeavored to embody the character of a fiend, as
represented in our traditions and the written records of
witchcraft. Oh, I have a horror of what was created in my own
brain, and shudder at the manuscripts in which I gave that dark
idea a sort of material existence! Would they were out of my
"And of mine, too," thought I.
"You remember," continued Oberon, "how the hellish thing used to
suck away the happiness of those who, by a simple concession that
seemed almost innocent, subjected themselves to his power. Just
so my peace is gone, and all by these accursed manuscripts. Have
you felt nothing of the same influence?"
"Nothing," replied I, "unless the spell be hid in a desire to
turn novelist, after reading your delightful tales."
"Novelist!" exclaimed Oberon, half seriously. "Then, indeed, my
devil has his claw on you! You are gone! You cannot even pray for
deliverance! But we will be the last and only victims; for this
night I mean to burn the manuscripts, and commit the fiend to his
retribution in the flames."
"Burn your tales!" repeated I, startled at the desperation of the
"Even so," said the author, despondingly. "You cannot conceive
what an effect the composition of these tales has had on me. I
have become ambitious of a bubble, and careless of solid
reputation. I am surrounding myself with shadows, which bewilder
me, by aping the realities of life. They have drawn me aside from
the beaten path of the world, and led me into a strange sort of
solitude,--a solitude in the midst of men,-where nobody wishes
for what I do, nor thinks nor feels as I do. The tales have done
all this. When they are ashes, perhaps I shall be as I was before
they had existence. Moreover, the sacrifice is less than you may
suppose, since nobody will publish them."
"That does make a difference, indeed," said I.
"They have been offered, by letter," continued Oberon, reddening
with vexation, "to some seventeen booksellers. It would make you
stare to read their answers; and read them you should, only that
I burnt them as fast as they arrived. One man publishes nothing
but school-books; another has five novels already under
"What a voluminous mass the unpublished literature of America
must be!" cried I.
"Oh, the Alexandrian manuscripts were nothing to it!" said my
friend. "Well, another gentleman is just giving up business, on
purpose, I verily believe, to escape publishing my book. Several,
however, would not absolutely decline the agency, on my advancing
half the cost of an edition, and giving bonds for the remainder,
besides a high percentage to themselves, whether the book sells
or not. Another advises a subscription."
"The villain!" exclaimed I.
"A fact!" said Oberon. "In short, of all the seventeen
booksellers, only one has vouchsafed even to read my tales; and
he--a literary dabbler himself, I should judge--has the
impertinence to criticise them, proposing what he calls vast
improvements, and concluding, after a general sentence of
condemnation, with the definitive assurance that he will not be
concerned on any terms."
"It might not be amiss to pull that fellow's nose," remarked I.
"If the whole 'trade' had one common nose, there would be some
satisfaction in pulling it," answered the author. "But, there
does seem to be one honest man among these seventeen unrighteous
ones; and he tells me fairly, that no American publisher will
meddle with an American work,--seldom if by a known writer, and
never if by a new one,--unless at the writer's risk."
"The paltry rogues!" cried I. "Will they live by literature, and
yet risk nothing for its sake? But, after all, you might publish
on your own account."
"And so I might," replied Oberon. "But the devil of the business
is this. These people have put me so out of conceit with the
tales, that I loathe the very thought of them, and actually
experience a physical sickness of the stomach, whenever I glance
at them on the table. I tell you there is a demon in them! I
anticipate a wild enjoyment in seeing them in the blaze; such as
I should feel in taking vengeance on an enemy, or destroying
I did not very strenuously oppose this determination, being
privately of opinion, in spite of my partiality for the author,
that his tales would make a more brilliant appearance in the fire
than anywhere else. Before proceeding to execution, we broached
the bottle of champagne, which Oberon had provided for keeping up
his spirits in this doleful business. We swallowed each a
tumblerful, in sparkling commotion; it went bubbling down our
throats, and brightened my eyes at once, but left my friend sad
and heavy as before. He drew the tales towards him, with a
mixture of natural affection and natural disgust, like a father
taking a deformed infant into his arms.
"Pooh! Pish! Pshaw!" exclaimed he, holding them at arm's-length.
"It was Gray's idea of heaven, to lounge on a sofa and read new
novels. Now, what more appropriate torture would Dante himself
have contrived, for the sinner who perpetrates a bad book, than
to be continually turning over the manuscript?"
"It would fail of effect," said I, "because a bad author is
always his own great admirer."
"I lack that one characteristic of my tribe,--the only desirable
one," observed Oberon. "But how many recollections throng upon
me, as I turn over these leaves! This scene came into my fancy as
I walked along a hilly road, on a starlight October evening; in
the pure and bracing air, I became all soul, and felt as if I
could climb the sky, and run a race along the Milky Way. Here is
another tale, in which I wrapt myself during a dark and dreary
night-ride in the month of March, till the rattling of the wheels
and the voices of my companions seemed like faint sounds of a
dream, and my visions a bright reality. That scribbled page
describes shadows which I summoned to my bedside at midnight:
they would not depart when I bade them; the gray dawn came, and
found me wide awake and feverish, the victim of my own
"There must have been a sort of happiness in all this," said I,
smitten with a strange longing to make proof of it.
"There may be happiness in a fever fit," replied the author. "And
then the various moods in which I wrote! Sometimes my ideas were
like precious stones under the earth, requiring toil to dig them
up, and care to polish and brighten them; but often a delicious
stream of thought would gush out upon the page at once, like
water sparkling up suddenly in the desert; and when it had
passed, I gnawed my pen hopelessly, or blundered on with cold and
miserable toil, as if there were a wall of ice between me and my
"Do you now perceive a corresponding difference," inquired I,
"between the passages which you wrote so coldly, and those fervid
flashes of the mind?"
"No," said Oberon, tossing the manuscripts on the table. "I find
no traces of the golden pen with which I wrote in characters of
fire. My treasure of fairy coin is changed to worthless dross. My
picture, painted in what seemed the loveliest hues, presents
nothing but a faded and indistinguishable surface. I have been
eloquent and poetical and humorous in a dream,--and behold! it is
all nonsense, now that I am awake."
My friend now threw sticks of wood and dry chips upon the fire,
and seeing it blaze like Nebuchadnezzar's furnace, seized the
champagne bottle, and drank two or three brimming bumpers,
successively. The heady liquor combined with his agitation to
throw him into a species of rage. He laid violent hands on the
tales. In one instant more, their faults and beauties would alike
have vanished in a glowing purgatory. But, all at once, I
remembered passages of high imagination, deep pathos, original
thoughts, and points of such varied excellence, that the vastness
of the sacrifice struck me most forcibly. I caught his arm.
"Surely, you do not mean to burn them!" I exclaimed.
"Let me alone!" cried Oberon, his eyes flashing fire. "I will
burn them! Not a scorched syllable shall escape! Would you have
me a damned author?--To undergo sneers, taunts, abuse, and cold
neglect, and faint praise, bestowed, for pity's sake, against the
giver's conscience! A hissing and a laughing-stock to my own
traitorous thoughts! An outlaw from the protection of the
grave,--one whose ashes every careless foot might spurn,
unhonored in life, and remembered scornfully in death! Am I to
bear all this, when yonder fire will insure me from the whole?
No! There go the tales! May my hand wither when it would write
The deed was done. He had thrown the manuscripts into the hottest
of the fire, which at first seemed to shrink away, but soon
curled around them, and made them a part of its own fervent
brightness. Oberon stood gazing at the conflagration, and shortly
began to soliloquize, in the wildest strain, as if Fancy resisted
and became riotous, at the moment when he would have compelled
her to ascend that funeral pile. His words described objects
which he appeared to discern in the fire, fed by his own precious
thoughts; perhaps the thousand visions which the writer's magic
had incorporated with these pages became visible to him in the
dissolving heat, brightening forth ere they vanished forever;
while the smoke, the vivid sheets of flame, the ruddy and
whitening coals, caught the aspect of a varied scenery.
"They blaze," said he, "as if I had steeped them in the intensest
spirit of genius. There I see my lovers clasped in each other's
arms. How pure the flame that bursts from their glowing hearts!
And yonder the features of a villain writhing in the fire that
shall torment him to eternity. My holy men, my pious and angelic
women, stand like martyrs amid the flames, their mild eyes lifted
heavenward. Ring out the bells! A city is on fire.
See!--destruction roars through my dark forests, while the lakes
boil up in steaming billows, and the mountains are volcanoes, and
the sky kindles with a lurid brightness! All elements are but one
pervading flame! Ha! The fiend!"
I was somewhat startled by this latter exclamation. The tales
were almost consumed, but just then threw forth a broad sheet of
fire, which flickered as with laughter, making the whole room
dance in its brightness, and then roared portentously up the
"You saw him? You must have seen him!" cried Oberon. "How he
glared at me and laughed, in that last sheet of flame, with just
the features that I imagined for him! Well! The tales are gone."
The papers were indeed reduced to a heap of black cinders, with a
multitude of sparks hurrying confusedly among them, the traces of
the pen being now represented by white lines, and the whole mass
fluttering to and fro in the draughts of air. The destroyer knelt
down to look at them.
"What is more potent than fire!" said he, in his gloomiest tone.
"Even thought, invisible and incorporeal as it is, cannot escape
it. In this little time, it has annihilated the creations of long
nights and days, which I could no more reproduce, in their first
glow and freshness, than cause ashes and whitened bones to rise
up and live. There, too, I sacrificed the unborn children of my
mind. All that I had accomplished--all that I planned for future
years--has perished by one common ruin, and left only this heap
of embers! The deed has been my fate. And what remains? A weary
and aimless life,--a long repentance of this hour,--and at last
an obscure grave, where they will bury and forget me!"
As the author concluded his dolorous moan, the extinguished
embers arose and settled down and arose again, and finally flew
up the chimney, like a demon with sable wings. Just as they
disappeared, there was a loud and solitary cry in the street
below us. "Fire!" Fire! Other voices caught up that terrible
word, and it speedily became the shout of a multitude. Oberon
started to his feet, in fresh excitement.
"A fire on such a night!" cried he. "The wind blows a gale, and
wherever it whirls the flames, the roofs will flash up like
gunpowder. Every pump is frozen up, and boiling water would turn
to ice the moment it was flung from the engine. In an hour, this
wooden town will be one great bonfire! What a glorious scene for
The street was now all alive with footsteps, and the air full of
voices. We heard one engine thundering round a corner, and
another rattling from a distance over the pavements. The bells of
three steeples clanged out at once, spreading the alarm to many a
neighboring town, and expressing hurry, confusion, and terror, so
inimitably that I could almost distinguish in their peal the
burden of the universal cry,--"Fire! Fire! Fire!"
"What is so eloquent as their iron tongues!" exclaimed Oberon.
"My heart leaps and trembles, but not with fear. And that other
sound, too, -deep and awful as a mighty organ,--the roar and
thunder of the multitude on the pavement below! Come! We are
losing time. I will cry out in the loudest of the uproar, and
mingle my spirit with the wildest of the confusion, and be a
bubble on the top of the ferment!"
From the first outcry, my forebodings had warned me of the true
object and centre of alarm. There was nothing now but uproar,
above, beneath, and around us; footsteps stumbling pell-mell up
the public staircase, eager shouts and heavy thumps at the door,
the whiz and dash of water from the engines, and the crash of
furniture thrown upon the pavement. At once, the truth flashed
upon my friend. His frenzy took the hue of joy, and, with a wild
gesture of exultation, he leaped almost to the ceiling of the
"My tales!" cried Oberon. "The chimney! The roof! The Fiend has
gone forth by night, and startled thousands in fear and wonder
from their beds! Here I stand,--a triumphant author! Huzza!
Huzza! My brain has set the town on fire! Huzza!"
MY KINSMAN, MAJOR MOLINEUX
After the kings of Great Britain had assumed the right of
appointing the colonial governors, the measures of the latter
seldom met with the ready and generous approbation which had been
paid to those of their predecessors, under the original charters.
The people looked with most jealous scrutiny to the exercise of
power which did not emanate from themselves, and they usually
rewarded their rulers with slender gratitude for the compliances
by which, in softening their instructions from beyond the sea,
they had incurred the reprehension of those who gave them. The
annals of Massachusetts Bay will inform us, that of six governors
in the space of about forty years from the surrender of the old
charter, under James II, two were imprisoned by a popular
insurrection; a third, as Hutchinson inclines to believe, was
driven from the province by the whizzing of a musket-ball; a
fourth, in the opinion of the same historian, was hastened to his
grave by continual bickerings with the House of Representatives;
and the remaining two, as well as their successors, till the
Revolution, were favored with few and brief intervals of peaceful
sway. The inferior members of the court party, in times of high
political excitement, led scarcely a more desirable life. These
remarks may serve as a preface to the following adventures, which
chanced upon a summer night, not far from a hundred years ago.
The reader, in order to avoid a long and dry detail of colonial
affairs, is requested to dispense with an account of the train of
circumstances that had caused much temporary inflammation of the
It was near nine o'clock of a moonlight evening, when a boat
crossed the ferry with a single passenger, who had obtained his
conveyance at that unusual hour by the promise of an extra fare.
While he stood on the landing-place, searching in either pocket
for the means of fulfilling his agreement, the ferryman lifted a
lantern, by the aid of which, and the newly risen moon, he took a
very accurate survey of the stranger's figure. He was a youth of
barely eighteen years, evidently country-bred, and now, as it
should seem, upon his first visit to town. He was clad in a
coarse gray coat, well worn, but in excellent repair; his under
garments were durably constructed of leather, and fitted tight to
a pair of serviceable and well-shaped limbs; his stockings of
blue yarn were the incontrovertible work of a mother or a sister;
and on his head was a three-cornered hat, which in its better
days had perhaps sheltered the graver brow of the lad's father.
Under his left arm was a heavy cudgel formed of an oak sapling,
and retaining a part of the hardened root; and his equipment was
completed by a wallet, not so abundantly stocked as to incommode
the vigorous shoulders on which it hung. Brown, curly hair,
well-shaped features, and bright, cheerful eyes were nature's
gifts, and worth all that art could have done for his adornment.
The youth, one of whose names was Robin, finally drew from his
pocket the half of a little province bill of five shillings,
which, in the depreciation in that sort of currency, did but
satisfy the ferryman's demand, with the surplus of a sexangular
piece of parchment, valued at three pence. He then walked forward
into the town, with as light a step as if his day's journey had
not already exceeded thirty miles, and with as eager an eye as if
he were entering London city, instead of the little metropolis of
a New England colony. Before Robin had proceeded far, however, it
occurred to him that he knew not whither to direct his steps; so
he paused, and looked up and down the narrow street, scrutinizing
the small and mean wooden buildings that were scattered on either
"This low hovel cannot be my kinsman's dwelling," thought he,
"nor yonder old house, where the moonlight enters at the broken
casement; and truly I see none hereabouts that might be worthy of
him. It would have been wise to inquire my way of the ferryman,
and doubtless he would have gone with me, and earned a shilling
from the Major for his pains. But the next man I meet will do as
He resumed his walk, and was glad to perceive that the street now
became wider, and the houses more respectable in their
appearance. He soon discerned a figure moving on moderately in
advance, and hastened his steps to overtake it. As Robin drew
nigh, he saw that the passenger was a man in years, with a full
periwig of gray hair, a wide-skirted coat of dark cloth, and silk
stockings rolled above his knees. He carried a long and polished
cane, which he struck down perpendicularly before him at every
step; and at regular intervals he uttered two successive hems, of
a peculiarly solemn and sepulchral intonation. Having made these
observations, Robin laid hold of the skirt of the old man's coat
just when the light from the open door and windows of a barber's
shop fell upon both their figures.
"Good evening to you, honored sir," said he, making a low bow,
and still retaining his hold of the skirt. "I pray you tell me
whereabouts is the dwelling of my kinsman, Major Molineux."
The youth's question was uttered very loudly; and one of the
barbers, whose razor was descending on a well-soaped chin, and
another who was dressing a Ramillies wig, left their occupations,
and came to the door. The citizen, in the mean time, turned a
long-favored countenance upon Robin, and answered him in a tone
of excessive anger and annoyance. His two sepulchral hems,
however, broke into the very centre of his rebuke, with most
singular effect, like a thought of the cold grave obtruding among
"Let go my garment, fellow! I tell you, I know not the man you
speak of. What! I have authority, I have--hem, hem--authority;
and if this be the respect you show for your betters, your feet
shall be brought acquainted with the stocks by daylight, tomorrow
Robin released the old man's skirt, and hastened away, pursued by
an ill-mannered roar of laughter from the barber's shop. He was
at first considerably surprised by the result of his question,
but, being a shrewd youth, soon thought himself able to account
for the mystery.
"This is some country representative," was his conclusion, "who
has never seen the inside of my kinsman's door, and lacks the
breeding to answer a stranger civilly. The man is old, or
verily--I might be tempted to turn back and smite him on the
nose. Ah, Robin, Robin! even the barber's boys laugh at you for
choosing such a guide! You will be wiser in time, friend Robin."
He now became entangled in a succession of crooked and narrow
streets, which crossed each other, and meandered at no great
distance from the water-side. The smell of tar was obvious to his
nostrils, the masts of vessels pierced the moonlight above the
tops of the buildings, and the numerous signs, which Robin paused
to read, informed him that he was near the centre of business.
But the streets were empty, the shops were closed, and lights
were visible only in the second stories of a few dwelling-houses.
At length, on the corner of a narrow lane, through which he was
passing, he beheld the broad countenance of a British hero
swinging before the door of an inn, whence proceeded the voices
of many guests. The casement of one of the lower windows was
thrown back, and a very thin curtain permitted Robin to
distinguish a party at supper, round a well-furnished table. The
fragrance of the good cheer steamed forth into the outer air, and
the youth could not fail to recollect that the last remnant of
his travelling stock of provision had yielded to his morning
appetite, and that noon had found and left him dinnerless.
"Oh, that a parchment three-penny might give me a right to sit
down at yonder table!" said Robin, with a sigh. "But the Major
will make me welcome to the best of his victuals; so I will even
step boldly in, and inquire my way to his dwelling."
He entered the tavern, and was guided by the murmur of voices and
the fumes of tobacco to the public-room. It was a long and low
apartment, with oaken walls, grown dark in the continual smoke,
and a floor which was thickly sanded, but of no immaculate
purity. A number of persons--the larger part of whom appeared to
be mariners, or in some way connected with the sea--occupied the
wooden benches, or leatherbottomed chairs, conversing on various
matters, and occasionally lending their attention to some topic
of general interest. Three or four little groups were draining as
many bowls of punch, which the West India trade had long since
made a familiar drink in the colony. Others, who had the
appearance of men who lived by regular and laborious handicraft,
preferred the insulated bliss of an unshared potation, and became
more taciturn under its influence. Nearly all, in short, evinced
a predilection for the Good Creature in some of its various
shapes, for this is a vice to which, as Fast Day sermons of a
hundred years ago will testify, we have a long hereditary claim.
The only guests to whom Robin's sympathies inclined him were two
or three sheepish countrymen, who were using the inn somewhat
after the fashion of a Turkish caravansary; they had gotten
themselves into the darkest corner of the room, and heedless of
the Nicotian atmosphere, were supping on the bread of their own
ovens, and the bacon cured in their own chimney-smoke. But though
Robin felt a sort of brotherhood with these strangers, his eyes
were attracted from them to a person who stood near the door,
holding whispered conversation with a group of ill-dressed
associates. His features were separately striking almost to
grotesqueness, and the whole face left a deep impression on the
memory. The forehead bulged out into a double prominence, with a
vale between; the nose came boldly forth in an irregular curve,
and its bridge was of more than a finger's breadth; the eyebrows
were deep and shaggy, and the eyes glowed beneath them like fire
in a cave.
While Robin deliberated of whom to inquire respecting his
kinsman's dwelling, he was accosted by the innkeeper, a little
man in a stained white apron, who had come to pay his
professional welcome to the stranger. Being in the second
generation from a French Protestant, he seemed to have inherited
the courtesy of his parent nation; but no variety of
circumstances was ever known to change his voice from the one
shrill note in which he now addressed Robin.
"From the country, I presume, sir?" said he, with a profound bow.
"Beg leave to congratulate you on your arrival, and trust you
intend a long stay with us. Fine town here, sir, beautiful
buildings, and much that may interest a stranger. May I hope for
the honor of your commands in respect to supper?"
"The man sees a family likeness! the rogue has guessed that I am
related to the Major!" thought Robin, who had hitherto
experienced little superfluous civility.
All eyes were now turned on the country lad, standing at the
door, in his worn three-cornered hat, gray coat, leather
breeches, and blue yarn stockings, leaning on an oaken cudgel,
and bearing a wallet on his back.
Robin replied to the courteous innkeeper, with such an assumption
of confidence as befitted the Major's relative. "My honest
friend," he said, "I shall make it a point to patronize your
house on some occasion, when"--here he could not help lowering
his voice--"when I may have more than a parchment three-pence in
my pocket. My present business," continued he, speaking with
lofty confidence, "is merely to inquire my way to the dwelling of
my kinsman, Major Molineux."
There was a sudden and general movement in the room, which Robin
interpreted as expressing the eagerness of each individual to
become his guide. But the innkeeper turned his eyes to a written
paper on the wall, which he read, or seemed to read, with
occasional recurrences to the young man's figure.
"What have we here?" said he, breaking his speech into little dry
fragments. " 'Left the house of the subscriber, bounden servant,
Hezekiah Mudge,--had on, when he went away, gray coat, leather
breeches, master's third-best hat. One pound currency reward to
whosoever shall lodge him in any jail of the providence.' Better
trudge, boy; better trudge!"
Robin had begun to draw his hand towards the lighter end of the
oak cudgel, but a strange hostility in every countenance induced
him to relinquish his purpose of breaking the courteous
innkeeper's head. As he turned to leave the room, he encountered
a sneering glance from the bold-featured personage whom he had
before noticed; and no sooner was he beyond the door, than he
heard a general laugh, in which the innkeeper's voice might be
distinguished, like the dropping of small stones into a kettle.
"Now, is it not strange," thought Robin, with his usual
shrewdness, "is it not strange that the confession of an empty
pocket should outweigh the name of my kinsman, Major Molineux?
Oh, if I had one of those grinning rascals in the woods, where I
and my oak sapling grew up together, I would teach him that my
arm is heavy though my purse be light!"
On turning the corner of the narrow lane, Robin found himself in
a spacious street, with an unbroken line of lofty houses on each
side, and a steepled building at the upper end, whence the
ringing of a bell announced the hour of nine. The light of the
moon, and the lamps from the numerous shop-windows, discovered
people promenading on the pavement, and amongst them Robin had
hoped to recognize his hitherto inscrutable relative. The result
of his former inquiries made him unwilling to hazard another, in
a scene of such publicity, and he determined to walk slowly and
silently up the street, thrusting his face close to that of every
elderly gentleman, in search of the Major's lineaments. In his
progress, Robin encountered many gay and gallant figures.
Embroidered garments of showy colors, enormous periwigs,
gold-laced hats, and silver-hilted swords glided past him and
dazzled his optics. Travelled youths, imitators of the European
fine gentlemen of the period, trod jauntily along, half dancing
to the fashionable tunes which they hummed, and making poor Robin
ashamed of his quiet and natural gait. At length, after many
pauses to examine the gorgeous display of goods in the
shop-windows, and after suffering some rebukes for the
impertinence of his scrutiny into people's faces, the Major's
kinsman found himself near the steepled building, still
unsuccessful in his search. As yet, however, he had seen only one
side of the thronged street; so Robin crossed, and continued the
same sort of inquisition down the opposite pavement, with
stronger hopes than the philosopher seeking an honest man, but
with no better fortune. He had arrived about midway towards the
lower end, from which his course began, when he overheard the
approach of some one who struck down a cane on the flag-stones at
every step, uttering at regular intervals, two sepulchral hems.
"Mercy on us!" quoth Robin, recognizing the sound.
Turning a corner, which chanced to be close at his right hand, he
hastened to pursue his researches in some other part of the town.
His patience now was wearing low, and he seemed to feel more
fatigue from his rambles since he crossed the ferry, than from
his journey of several days on the other side. Hunger also
pleaded loudly within him, and Robin began to balance the
propriety of demanding, violently, and with lifted cudgel, the
necessary guidance from the first solitary passenger whom he
should meet. While a resolution to this effect was gaining
strength, he entered a street of mean appearance, on either side
of which a row of ill-built houses was straggling towards the
harbor. The moonlight fell upon no passenger along the whole
extent, but in the third domicile which Robin passed there was a
half-opened door, and his keen glance detected a woman's garment
"My luck may be better here," said he to himself.
Accordingly, he approached the doors and beheld it shut closer as
he did so; yet an open space remained, sufficing for the fair
occupant to observe the stranger, without a corresponding display
on her part. All that Robin could discern was a strip of scarlet
petticoat, and the occasional sparkle of an eye, as if the
moonbeams were trembling on some bright thing.
"Pretty mistress," for I may call her so with a good conscience
thought the shrewd youth, since I know nothing to the
contrary,--"my sweet pretty mistress, will you be kind enough to
tell me whereabouts I must seek the dwelling of my kinsman, Major
Robin's voice was plaintive and winning, and the female, seeing
nothing to be shunned in the handsome country youth, thrust open
the door, and came forth into the moonlight. She was a dainty
little figure with a white neck, round arms, and a slender waist,
at the extremity of which her scarlet petticoat jutted out over a
hoop, as if she were standing in a balloon. Moreover, her face
was oval and pretty, her hair dark beneath the little cap, and
her bright eyes possessed a sly freedom, which triumphed over
those of Robin.
"Major Molineux dwells here," said this fair woman.
Now, her voice was the sweetest Robin had heard that night, yet
he could not help doubting whether that sweet voice spoke Gospel
truth. He looked up and down the mean street, and then surveyed
the house before which they stood. It was a small, dark edifice
of two stories, the second of which projected over the lower
floor, and the front apartment had the aspect of a shop for petty
"Now, truly, I am in luck," replied Robin, cunningly, "and so
indeed is my kinsman, the Major, in having so pretty a
housekeeper. But I prithee trouble him to step to the door; I
will deliver him a message from his friends in the country, and
then go back to my lodgings at the inn."
"Nay, the Major has been abed this hour or more," said the lady
of the scarlet petticoat; "and it would be to little purpose to
disturb him to-night, seeing his evening draught was of the
strongest. But he is a kind-hearted man, and it would be as much
as my life's worth to let a kinsman of his turn away from the
door. You are the good old gentleman's very picture, and I could
swear that was his rainy-weather hat. Also he has garments very
much resembling those leather small-clothes. But come in, I pray,
for I bid you hearty welcome in his name."
So saying, the fair and hospitable dame took our hero by the
hand; and the touch was light, and the force was gentleness, and
though Robin read in her eyes what he did not hear in her words,
yet the slender-waisted woman in the scarlet petticoat proved
stronger than the athletic country youth. She had drawn his
half-willing footsteps nearly to the threshold, when the opening
of a door in the neighborhood startled the Major's housekeeper,
and, leaving the Major's kinsman, she vanished speedily into her
own domicile. A heavy yawn preceded the appearance of a man, who,
like the Moonshine of Pyramus and Thisbe, carried a lantern,
needlessly aiding his sister luminary in the heavens. As he
walked sleepily up the street, he turned his broad, dull face on
Robin, and displayed a long staff, spiked at the end.
"Home, vagabond, home!" said the watchman, in accents that seemed
to fall asleep as soon as they were uttered. "Home, or we'll set
you in the stocks by peep of day!"
"This is the second hint of the kind," thought Robin. "I wish
they would end my difficulties, by setting me there to-night."
Nevertheless, the youth felt an instinctive antipathy towards the
guardian of midnight order, which at first prevented him from
asking his usual question. But just when the man was about to
vanish behind the corner, Robin resolved not to lose the
opportunity, and shouted lustily after him, "I say, friend! will
you guide me to the house of my kinsman, Major Molineux?"
The watchman made no reply, but turned the corner and was gone;
yet Robin seemed to hear the sound of drowsy laughter stealing
along the solitary street. At that moment, also, a pleasant
titter saluted him from the open window above his head; he looked
up, and caught the sparkle of a saucy eye; a round arm beckoned
to him, and next he heard light footsteps descending the
staircase within. But Robin, being of the household of a New
England clergyman, was a good youth, as well as a shrewd one; so
he resisted temptation, and fled away.
He now roamed desperately, and at random, through the town,
almost ready to believe that a spell was on him, like that by
which a wizard of his country had once kept three pursuers
wandering, a whole winter night, within twenty paces of the
cottage which they sought. The streets lay before him, strange
and desolate, and the lights were extinguished in almost every
house. Twice, however, little parties of men, among whom Robin
distinguished individuals in outlandish attire, came hurrying
along; but, though on both occasions, they paused to address him
such intercourse did not at all enlighten his perplexity. They
did but utter a few words in some language of which Robin knew
nothing, and perceiving his inability to answer, bestowed a curse
upon him in plain English and hastened away. Finally, the lad
determined to knock at the door of every mansion that might
appear worthy to be occupied by his kinsman, trusting that
perseverance would overcome the fatality that had hitherto
thwarted him. Firm in this resolve, he was passing beneath the
walls of a church, which formed the corner of two streets, when,
as he turned into the shade of its steeple, he encountered a
bulky stranger muffled in a cloak. The man was proceeding with
the speed of earnest business, but Robin planted himself full
before him, holding the oak cudgel with both hands across his
body as a bar to further passage
"Halt, honest man, and answer me a question," said he, very
resolutely. "Tell me, this instant, whereabouts is the dwelling
of my kinsman, Major Molineux!"
"Keep your tongue between your teeth, fool, and let me pass!"
said a deep, gruff voice, which Robin partly remembered. "Let me
pass, or I'll strike you to the earth!"
"No, no, neighbor!" cried Robin, flourishing his cudgel, and then
thrusting its larger end close to the man's muffled face. "No,
no, I'm not the fool you take me for, nor do you pass till I have
an answer to my question. Whereabouts is the dwelling of my
kinsman, Major Molineux?" The stranger, instead of attempting to
force his passage, stepped back into the moonlight, unmuffled his
face, and stared full into that of Robin.
"Watch here an hour, and Major Molineux will pass by," said he.
Robin gazed with dismay and astonishment on the unprecedented
physiognomy of the speaker. The forehead with its double
prominence the broad hooked nose, the shaggy eyebrows, and fiery
eyes were those which he had noticed at the inn, but the man's
complexion had undergone a singular, or, more properly, a twofold
change. One side of the face blazed an intense red, while the
other was black as midnight, the division line being in the broad
bridge of the nose; and a mouth which seemed to extend from ear
to ear was black or red, in contrast to the color of the cheek.
The effect was as if two individual devils, a fiend of fire and a
fiend of darkness, had united themselves to form this infernal
visage. The stranger grinned in Robin's face, muffled his
party-colored features, and was out of sight in a moment.
"Strange things we travellers see!" ejaculated Robin.
He seated himself, however, upon the steps of the church-door,
resolving to wait the appointed time for his kinsman. A few
moments were consumed in philosophical speculations upon the
species of man who had just left him; but having settled this
point shrewdly, rationally, and satisfactorily, he was compelled
to look elsewhere for his amusement. And first he threw his eyes
along the street. It was of more respectable appearance than most
of those into which he had wandered, and the moon, creating, like
the imaginative power, a beautiful strangeness in familiar
objects, gave something of romance to a scene that might not have
possessed it in the light of day. The irregular and often quaint
architecture of the houses, some of whose roofs were broken into
numerous little peaks, while others ascended, steep and narrow,
into a single point, and others again were square; the pure
snow-white of some of their complexions, the aged darkness of
others, and the thousand sparklings, reflected from bright
substances in the walls of many; these matters engaged Robin's
attention for a while, and then began to grow wearisome. Next he
endeavored to define the forms of distant objects, starting away,
with almost ghostly indistinctness, just as his eye appeared to
grasp them, and finally he took a minute survey of an edifice
which stood on the opposite side of the street, directly in front
of the church-door, where he was stationed. It was a large,
square mansion, distinguished from its neighbors by a balcony,
which rested on tall pillars, and by an elaborate Gothic window,
"Perhaps this is the very house I have been seeking," thought
Then he strove to speed away the time, by listening to a murmur
which swept continually along the street, yet was scarcely
audible, except to an unaccustomed ear like his; it was a low,
dull, dreamy sound, compounded of many noises, each of which was
at too great a distance to be separately heard. Robin marvelled
at this snore of a sleeping town, and marvelled more whenever its
continuity was broken by now and then a distant shout, apparently
loud where it originated. But altogether it was a sleep-inspiring
sound, and, to shake off its drowsy influence, Robin arose, and
climbed a window-frame, that he might view the interior of the
church. There the moonbeams came trembling in, and fell down upon
the deserted pews, and extended along the quiet aisles. A fainter
yet more awful radiance was hovering around the pulpit, and one
solitary ray had dared to rest upon the open page of the great
Bible. Had nature, in that deep hour, become a worshipper in the
house which man had builded? Or was that heavenly light the
visible sanctity of the place,--visible because no earthly and
impure feet were within the walls? The scene made Robin's heart
shiver with a sensation of loneliness stronger than he had ever
felt in the remotest depths of his native woods; so he turned
away and sat down again before the door. There were graves around
the church, and now an uneasy thought obtruded into Robin's
breast. What if the object of his search, which had been so often
and so strangely thwarted, were all the time mouldering in his
shroud? What if his kinsman should glide through yonder gate, and
nod and smile to him in dimly passing by?
"Oh that any breathing thing were here with me!" said Robin.
Recalling his thoughts from this uncomfortable track, he sent
them over forest, hill, and stream, and attempted to imagine how
that evening of ambiguity and weariness had been spent by his
father's household. He pictured them assembled at the door,
beneath the tree, the great old tree, which had been spared for
its huge twisted trunk and venerable shade, when a thousand leafy
brethren fell. There, at the going down of the summer sun, it was
his father's custom to perform domestic worship that the
neighbors might come and join with him like brothers of the
family, and that the wayfaring man might pause to drink at that
fountain, and keep his heart pure by freshening the memory of
home. Robin distinguished the seat of every individual of the
little audience; he saw the good man in the midst, holding the
Scriptures in the golden light that fell from the western clouds;
he beheld him close the book and all rise up to pray. He heard
the old thanksgivings for daily mercies, the old supplications
for their continuance to which he had so often listened in
weariness, but which were now among his dear remembrances. He
perceived the slight inequality of his father's voice when he
came to speak of the absent one; he noted how his mother turned
her face to the broad and knotted trunk; how his elder brother
scorned, because the beard was rough upon his upper lip, to
permit his features to be moved; how the younger sister drew down
a low hanging branch before her eyes; and how the little one of
all, whose sports had hitherto broken the decorum of the scene,
understood the prayer for her playmate, and burst into clamorous
grief. Then he saw them go in at the door; and when Robin would
have entered also, the latch tinkled into its place, and he was
excluded from his home.
"Am I here, or there?" cried Robin, starting; for all at once,
when his thoughts had become visible and audible in a dream, the
long, wide, solitary street shone out before him.
He aroused himself, and endeavored to fix his attention steadily
upon the large edifice which he had surveyed before. But still
his mind kept vibrating between fancy and reality; by turns, the
pillars of the balcony lengthened into the tall, bare stems of
pines, dwindled down to human figures, settled again into their
true shape and size, and then commenced a new succession of
changes. For a single moment, when he deemed himself awake, he
could have sworn that a visage--one which he seemed to remember,
yet could not absolutely name as his kinsman's--was looking
towards him from the Gothic window. A deeper sleep wrestled with
and nearly overcame him, but fled at the sound of footsteps along
the opposite pavement. Robin rubbed his eyes, discerned a man
passing at the foot of the balcony, and addressed him in a loud,
peevish, and lamentable cry.
"Hallo, friend! must I wait here all night for my kinsman, Major
The sleeping echoes awoke, and answered the voice; and the
passenger, barely able to discern a figure sitting in the oblique
shade of the steeple, traversed the street to obtain a nearer
view. He was himself a gentleman in his prime, of open,
intelligent, cheerful, and altogether prepossessing countenance.
Perceiving a country youth, apparently homeless and without
friends, he accosted him in a tone of real kindness, which had
become strange to Robin's ears.
"Well, my good lad, why are you sitting here?" inquired he. "Can
I be of service to you in any way?"
"I am afraid not, sir," replied Robin, despondingly; "yet I shall
take it kindly, if you'll answer me a single question. I've been
searching, half the night, for one Major Molineux, now, sir, is
there really such a person in these parts, or am I dreaming?"
"Major Molineux! The name is not altogether strange to me," said
the gentleman, smiling. "Have you any objection to telling me the
nature of your business with him?"
Then Robin briefly related that his father was a clergyman,
settled on a small salary, at a long distance back in the
country, and that he and Major Molineux were brothers' children.
The Major, having inherited riches, and acquired civil and
military rank, had visited his cousin, in great pomp, a year or
two before; had manifested much interest in Robin and an elder
brother, and, being childless himself, had thrown out hints
respecting the future establishment of one of them in life. The
elder brother was destined to succeed to the farm which his
father cultivated in the interval of sacred duties; it was
therefore determined that Robin should profit by his kinsman's
generous intentions, especially as he seemed to be rather the
favorite, and was thought to possess other necessary endowments.
"For I have the name of being a shrewd youth," observed Robin, in
this part of his story.
"I doubt not you deserve it," replied his new friend,
good-naturedly; "but pray proceed."
"Well, sir, being nearly eighteen years old, and well grown, as
you see," continued Robin, drawing himself up to his full height,
"I thought it high time to begin in the world. So my mother and
sister put me in handsome trim, and my father gave me half the
remnant of his last year's salary, and five days ago I started
for this place, to pay the Major a visit. But, would you believe
it, sir! I crossed the ferry a little after dark, and have yet
found nobody that would show me the way to his dwelling; only, an
hour or two since, I was told to wait here, and Major Molineux
would pass by."
"Can you describe the man who told you this?" inquired the
"Oh, he was a very ill-favored fellow, sir," replied Robin, "with
two great bumps on his forehead, a hook nose, fiery eyes; and,
what struck me as the strangest, his face was of two different
colors. Do you happen to know such a man, sir?"
"Not intimately," answered the stranger, "but I chanced to meet
him a little time previous to your stopping me. I believe you may
trust his word, and that the Major will very shortly pass through
this street. In the mean time, as I have a singular curiosity to
witness your meeting, I will sit down here upon the steps and
bear you company."
He seated himself accordingly, and soon engaged his companion in
animated discourse. It was but of brief continuance, however, for
a noise of shouting, which had long been remotely audible, drew
so much nearer that Robin inquired its cause.
"What may be the meaning of this uproar?" asked he. "Truly, if
your town be always as noisy, I shall find little sleep while I
am an inhabitant."
"Why, indeed, friend Robin, there do appear to be three or four
riotous fellows abroad to-night," replied the gentleman. "You
must not expect all the stillness of your native woods here in
our streets. But the watch will shortly be at the heels of these
"Ay, and set them in the stocks by peep of day," interrupted
Robin recollecting his own encounter with the drowsy
lantern-bearer. "But, dear sir, if I may trust my ears, an army
of watchmen would never make head against such a multitude of
rioters. There were at least a thousand voices went up to make
that one shout."
"May not a man have several voices, Robin, as well as two
complexions?" said his friend.
"Perhaps a man may; but Heaven forbid that a woman should!"
responded the shrewd youth, thinking of the seductive tones of
the Major's housekeeper.
The sounds of a trumpet in some neighboring street now became so
evident and continual, that Robin's curiosity was strongly
excited. In addition to the shouts, he heard frequent bursts from
many instruments of discord, and a wild and confused laughter
filled up the intervals. Robin rose from the steps, and looked
wistfully towards a point whither people seemed to be hastening.
"Surely some prodigious merry-making is going on," exclaimed he
"I have laughed very little since I left home, sir, and should be
sorry to lose an opportunity. Shall we step round the corner by
that darkish house and take our share of the fun?"
"Sit down again, sit down, good Robin," replied the gentleman,
laying his hand on the skirt of the gray coat. "You forget that
we must wait here for your kinsman; and there is reason to
believe that he will pass by, in the course of a very few
The near approach of the uproar had now disturbed the
neighborhood; windows flew open on all sides; and many heads, in
the attire of the pillow, and confused by sleep suddenly broken,
were protruded to the gaze of whoever had leisure to observe
them. Eager voices hailed each other from house to house, all
demanding the explanation, which not a soul could give.
Half-dressed men hurried towards the unknown commotion stumbling
as they went over the stone steps that thrust themselves into the
narrow foot-walk. The shouts, the laughter, and the tuneless bray
the antipodes of music, came onwards with increasing din, till
scattered individuals, and then denser bodies, began to appear
round a corner at the distance of a hundred yards
"Will you recognize your kinsman, if he passes in this crowd?"
inquired the gentleman
"Indeed, I can't warrant it, sir; but I'll take my stand here,
and keep a bright lookout," answered Robin, descending to the
outer edge of the pavement.
A mighty stream of people now emptied into the street, and came
rolling slowly towards the church. A single horseman wheeled the
corner in the midst of them, and close behind him came a band of
fearful wind instruments, sending forth a fresher discord now
no intervening buildings kept it from the ear. Then a redder
light disturbed the moonbeams, and a dense multitude of torches
shone along the street, concealing, by their glare, whatever
object they illuminated. The single horseman, clad in a military
dress, and bearing a drawn sword, rode onward as the leader, and,
by his fierce and variegated countenance, appeared like war
personified; the red of one cheek was an emblem of fire and
sword; the blackness of the other betokened the mourning that
attends them. In his train were wild figures in the Indian dress,
and many fantastic shapes without a model, giving the whole march
a visionary air, as if a dream had broken forth from some
feverish brain, and were sweeping visibly through the midnight
streets. A mass of people, inactive, except as applauding
spectators, hemmed the procession in; and several women ran along
the sidewalk, piercing the confusion of heavier sounds with their
shrill voices of mirth or terror.
"The double-faced fellow has his eye upon me," muttered Robin,
with an indefinite but an uncomfortable idea that he was himself
to bear a part in the pageantry.
The leader turned himself in the saddle, and fixed his glance
full upon the country youth, as the steed went slowly by. When
Robin had freed his eyes from those fiery ones, the musicians
were passing before him, and the torches were close at hand; but
the unsteady brightness of the latter formed a veil which he
could not penetrate. The rattling of wheels over the stones
sometimes found its way to his ear, and confused traces of a
human form appeared at intervals, and then melted into the vivid
light. A moment more, and the leader thundered a command to halt:
the trumpets vomited a horrid breath, and then held their peace;
the shouts and laughter of the people died away, and there
remained only a universal hum, allied to silence. Right before
Robin's eyes was an uncovered cart. There the torches blazed the
brightest, there the moon shone out like day, and there, in
tar-and-feathery dignity, sat his kinsman, Major Molineux!
He was an elderly man, of large and majestic person, and strong,
square features, betokening a steady soul; but steady as it was,
his enemies had found means to shake it. His face was pale as
death, and far more ghastly; the broad forehead was contracted in
his agony, so that his eyebrows formed one grizzled line; his
eyes were red and wild, and the foam hung white upon his
quivering lip. His whole frame was agitated by a quick and
continual tremor, which his pride strove to quell, even in those
circumstances of overwhelming humiliation. But perhaps the
bitterest pang of all was when his eyes met those of Robin; for
he evidently knew him on the instant, as the youth stood
witnessing the foul disgrace of a head grown gray in honor. They
stared at each other in silence, and Robin's knees shook, and his
hair bristled, with a mixture of pity and terror. Soon, however,
a bewildering excitement began to seize upon his mind; the
preceding adventures of the night, the unexpected appearance of
the crowd, the torches, the confused din and the hush that
followed, the spectre of his kinsman reviled by that great
multitude,--all this, and, more than all, a perception of
tremendous ridicule in the whole scene, affected him with a sort
of mental inebriety. At that moment a voice of sluggish merriment
saluted Robin's ears; he turned instinctively, and just behind
the corner of the church stood the lantern-bearer, rubbing his
eyes, and drowsily enjoying the lad's amazement. Then he heard a
peal of laughter like the ringing of silvery bells; a woman
twitched his arm, a saucy eye met his, and he saw the lady of the
scarlet petticoat. A sharp, dry cachinnation appealed to his
memory, and, standing on tiptoe in the crowd, with his white
apron over his head, he beheld the courteous little innkeeper.
And lastly, there sailed over the heads of the multitude a great,
broad laugh, broken in the midst by two sepulchral hems; thus,
"Haw, haw, haw,--hem, hem,--haw, haw, haw, haw!"
The sound proceeded from the balcony of the opposite edifice, and
thither Robin turned his eyes. In front of the Gothic window
stood the old citizen, wrapped in a wide gown, his gray periwig
exchanged for a nightcap, which was thrust back from his
forehead, and his silk stockings hanging about his legs. He
supported himself on his polished cane in a fit of convulsive
merriment, which manifested itself on his solemn old features
like a funny inscription on a tombstone. Then Robin seemed to
hear the voices of the barbers, of the guests of the inn, and of
all who had made sport of him that night. The contagion was
spreading among the multitude, when all at once, it seized upon
Robin, and he sent forth a shout of laughter that echoed through
the street,--every man shook his sides, every man emptied his
lungs, but Robin's shout was the loudest there. The cloud-spirits
peeped from their silvery islands, as the congregated mirth went
roaring up the sky! The Man in the Moon heard the far bellow.
"Oho," quoth he, "the old earth is frolicsome to-night!"
When there was a momentary calm in that tempestuous sea of sound,
the leader gave the sign, the procession resumed its march. On
they went, like fiends that throng in mockery around some dead
potentate, mighty no more, but majestic still in his agony. On
they went, in counterfeited pomp, in senseless uproar, in
frenzied merriment, trampling all on an old man's heart. On swept
the tumult, and left a silent street behind.
. . . . . . . . . . .
"Well, Robin, are you dreaming?" inquired the gentleman, laying
his hand on the youth's shoulder.
Robin started, and withdrew his arm from the stone post to which
he had instinctively clung, as the living stream rolled by him.
His cheek was somewhat pale, and his eye not quite as lively as
in the earlier part of the evening.
"Will you be kind enough to show me the way to the ferry?" said
he, after a moment's pause.
"You have, then, adopted a new subject of inquiry?" observed his
companion, with a smile.
"Why, yes, sir," replied Robin, rather dryly. "Thanks to you, and
to my other friends, I have at last met my kinsman, and he will
scarce desire to see my face again. I begin to grow weary of a
town life, sir. Will you show me the way to the ferry?"
"No, my good friend Robin,--not to-night, at least," said the
gentleman. "Some few days hence, if you wish it, I will speed you
on your journey. Or, if you prefer to remain with us, perhaps, as
you are a shrewd youth, you may rise in the world without the
help of your kinsman, Major Molineux."