Proxy, A Romance
of Genealogy -
Ye who listen with impatience to the Reports of Historical Societies and
have hitherto neglected to subscribe to an Antiquarian Journal, ye who
imagine that there can be no intelligent and practical reply to the
cui bono? shake of the head which declines to supply the funds for a
genealogical investigation, attend to the history of my adventure in
There!—I like to begin with the Moral; for no sensible man will leave
the point and purpose of his testimony to the languid curiosity of a
spent reader. Dr. Johnson never did so; and who am I to question his
literary infallibility? So if you do not take kindly to the solemn
rumble of the Johnsonese mail-coach of a sentence in which we set out,
receive the purport of it thus: It is of advantage to be on good terms
with one's ancestors: Also; men absorbed in this practical present may
be all the better for a little counter irritation with the driest twigs
of the family-tree.
And now, Why did I marry Miss Hurribattle? I am sure I had no
intention of doing so. In the first place, when about eighteen years of
age, I had firmly determined never to marry anybody. Then there were so
many nice tea-ing families in the Atlantic city whose principal street
was decorated by my modest counsellor's sign, that I really must excuse
the rather unpleasant wonder of several friends at my out-of-the-way
selection. That a somewhat experienced advocate, who had resisted for
three years the fascinations of city belle-ship, should spend the legal
vacation in a visit to an old gentleman he never saw before, and return
affianced to a lady nobody had ever heard of,—I own there was something
temptingly discussible in the circumstance; and knowing that fine relish
for personal topics which distinguishes the American conversazione,
how could I hope to escape? At first, it was a little awkward, when I
went to a party, to see people who were talking together glance at me
and murmur on with increased interest. Sometimes, when the wave of talk
retreated a little, I would catch the prattle of some retiring rill to
this effect: "But who are these Hurribattles? What an odd name! I wonder
if that had anything to do with it."
The querist, whoever he or she might be, had unconsciously struck upon
the explanation of the whole matter. Yes, it was the name: it had a
great deal to do with it. And if you will allow me to step back a little
into the past, and thence begin over again in good storyteller fashion,
I will endeavor to make you understand how it all came about.
If I were obliged to designate in one word the profession and calling
of Colonel Prowley of Foxden, I should say he was a Correspondent. Of
course I do not mean a regular newspaper-correspondent, paid to concoct
letters from Paris in the office of the "Foxden Regulator"; nor yet the
amateur ditto, who is never tired of making family-tours to the White
Mountains. But rather was he a gentleman, with an immense epistolary
acquaintance all over the country, whose main business in life consisted
in writing letters to all sorts of persons in a great variety of places.
And this he did as his particular contribution towards the solution
of this question: What in the world—or rather, what in the United
States—is a man to do who accumulates sufficient property to relieve
him from the necessities of active business? The answers offered to this
inquiry of the Democratic Sphinx are, as we all know, various enough.
Some men, of ready assurance and fluent speech, go into politics; some
doze in libraries; some get up trotting-matches and yacht-races; while
others dodge the difficulty altogether by going to disport themselves
among the arts and letters of a foreign land. Colonel Prowley,
with considerable originality, was moved to find employment in
letter-writing, pursuing it with the same daily relish which many
people find for gossip or small-talk. And this is the way in which I
came to be favored with the good gentleman's communications. About three
years ago a friend in England procured for me a book that I had long
coveted,—Morton's "New English Canaan," printed at Amsterdam in the
year 1637. This little volume, after the novelty of a fresh perusal was
past, I happened to lend to a young gentleman of our boarding-house, who
prepared short notices of books for one of the evening papers. He, it
would appear, thought that some account of my acquisition might supply
the matter for his diurnal paragraph. At all events, I received, some
days after, a letter dated from Foxden, and bearing the signature of
Elijah Prowley. It was couched in the old-fashioned style of compliment
and excuses for the liberty taken,—which liberty consisted in
requesting to have a fac-simile made of a certain page of a work that he
had traced through a newspaper-article to my possession. The object, he
said, was to supply the deficiency in a copy of the "Canaan" that had a
place in his own library. Of course the request was complied with, and
the correspondence begun.
The Colonel, to do him justice, wrote very entertaining letters, despite
the somewhat antiquated phraseology in which his sentiments were
clothed. Indeed, I soon found in his epistles all the variety of the
grab-bag at a country-fair, in which the purchaser of the right of
grab fumbles with pleasing uncertainty as to whether he is to draw
forth a hymn-book or a shaving-brush, a packet of note-paper or a box
of patent polish for stoves. At one time he would communicate the
particulars of some antiquarian discovery at Foxden; at another he would
copy for me the weekly bill of the town mortality, or journalize the
parish quarrels about the repairs of the stove-funnel in Mr. Clifton's
I was well pleased to find that the little notes of acknowledgment
which I despatched after the receipt of these leviathans seemed to
be considered a sufficient representation of capital to justify the
enormous rate of epistolary interest which the Colonel bestowed. I liked
the style of my correspondent. It did me good to meet with the strong
old expressions of our ancestors that were turning up in unexpected
places. If the dear old phrases were sometimes better or worse than the
fact they expressed, they must have improved what was good, and gibbeted
more effectually what to the times seemed evil. Who would now think of
designating a parcel of serious savages "the praying Indians of Natick"?
And yet there is a sound and a power about the words that would go far
to convert the skeptical aborigines in their own despite. Why, there
was something rich and nervous in the talk of the very lawmakers. "The
accursed sect of the Quakers,"—what a fine spirit such an accusative
case gives to the dry formula of a legal enactment! the beat of the drum
by which the edict was proclaimed in the streets of Boston seems only an
appropriate accompaniment to so stirring a denunciation. Then to invite
a brother to "exercise prophecy,"—as Winthrop used to call the business
of preaching,—there is really something soul-invigorating in the very
sound. No wonder the people could stand a good two-hours' discourse
under so satisfactory a title!
I suppose, then, that much of my original relish for the communications
of my Foxden correspondent came from his mastery over the antique
glossary, and perhaps the rather ancient style of thought that fitted
well the method of conveyance. Indeed, a good course of Bishop
Copleston's "magic-lanthorn school" made me peculiarly susceptible to
the refreshment of changing the gorgeous haze of modern philosophers for
the sharpness and vitality with which old-fashioned people clothe such
ideas as are vouchsafed to them.
I soon found that my friend had that passion for what may be called
petty antiquarian research which is so puzzling to those who escape its
contagion. Also that a pride of family, that lingers persistently in
some parts of New England, seemed to concentrate itself and envelop him
as in a cloud. He had attained the age of sixty a bachelor,—perhaps
from finding no person in Foxden of sufficiently clear lineage to be
united with the Squire's family,—or perhaps because he had a sister,
five years older than himself, who fulfilled the duties of companion and
How strange a sensation it is to feel a real friendship and familiarity
with one we have never seen! Yet if people are drawn together by those
mysterious affinities which, like the daughters of the horse-leech, are
ever crying, "Give, give," a few bits of paper bridge over space well
enough, and enable us to recognize abroad the scattered fragments that
The Colonel studied up my ancestors, who, it appears, were once people
of sufficient consideration in the land, and finally transferred the
interest to myself. At one time he took the trouble to go down to
Branton, about forty miles from Foxden, for the purpose of verifying
inquiries about progenitors of mine who had originally settled in that
place. He advised me, as a son, in my reading and business; and although
I often dismissed his suggestions as the whims of an old-fashioned
recluse, I was always touched by the simplicity and sincere interest
that prompted them. He would mysteriously hint that something might one
day occur to give tangible proof of the regard in which he held me; but
as I paid little heed to such warnings, I was totally unprepared for the
plan developed in the letter of which an extract is here presented:—
"Concerning the propriety of your marrying, my dear young friend, my
sister and myself have long known but one opinion; the only difficulty
that has exercised us being, whom, among my divers correspondents, we
could most heartily commend to your selection. Now it is known to you
that I have striven for some time past to trace the descendants of the
old family of Hurribattel, who seem to have disappeared from Branton
about the year ten in the present century. The interest I have taken in
the research comes from the fact that your great-great-uncle appears
at one time to have been affianced to a lady of that family. For what
reason an alliance which had everything to recommend it was broken off
I have sorely puzzled myself to conjecture, but linger always in the
labyrinths of doubt. Some months ago I received a catalogue from the
Soggimarsh College in the Far West, to whose funds I had contributed a
modest subscription. I was thrown into an ecstasy of astonishment, when,
in glancing over the names of the honorable Faculty, my attention was
arrested by words to this effect: Miss Hurribattle, Professor of
Calisthenics and Female Deportment. Of course, I wrote to her
immediately, and received right cordial replies to all inquiries. She
seemed much interested in the union of the families that was formerly
contemplated, and much desires to see you as the representative of your
great-great-uncle. I need only add, that, so far as may be judged by the
happy vein of her correspondence, she has at present no ensnarement
of the heart, and has agreed to pay me a visit at Foxden the first of
August next, when, by reason of the vacation, she will be at liberty for
five weeks. Your own visit to me, so often postponed, is, as I believe,
definitively fixed for the same time. So I expect you both, and need not
enlarge on the strange delight it would give me, if a family-engagement
of seventy years' standing should be closed by a marriage beneath my
There was something so preposterous in this desperate match-making
between people whom they had never seen, that Colonel Prowley and
his sister had taken into their hands, that it really made a greater
impression upon me than if the parties had been less unlikely to
come together. A Professor of Calisthenics! Could anything be more
unpromising? Yet, when my friend copied for me some extracts from the
lady's letters that were sensible and feminine, I thought how odd it
would be, if something should come of it, after all. I often found
myself skipping Colonel Prowley's accounts of old Doctor Dastick, Mrs.
Hunesley, and other great people of his town, and pondering upon the
notices of his Western correspondent. I began to have a mysterious
presentiment—which, in view of the calisthenics, I could not
explain—that we might be not unadapted to each other. In any case,
the lady's fine family-name was a recommendation that I knew how to
appreciate. They have very young professors out West, I thought, and
this is merely a temporary position; besides, I had a friend who married
a female physician, and the match has turned out a very happy one. So
I played with the idea, half in jest and half seriously, and looked
forward with much interest to my visit to Foxden.
It was near noon, on an August day, when the train left me at the Foxden
station. Upon casting my eyes about to see what was to be done next,
I observed a very shabby and rickety carryall, with the legend
"Railway-Omnibus" freshly painted upon its side.
"It is better than a mile and a half up to Colonel Prowley's; but I
calculate I can take you there, after I've left this lady," responded
the proprietor of this turnout, in reply to a question of mine.
"But I want to go to Colonel Prowley's, too," said a feminine voice at
"Well, now that's _com_plete," acquiesced the driver. "I'll just go get
the baggage, and put you both through right away."
Of course I turned to view my companion. She was a middle-aged
lady, something disordered in dress and hair, with a sharply marked
countenance, and that diffusive sort of eye that seems to take one in as
a speck which breaks the view of more interesting objects lying on the
verge of the horizon. Yet her face was dimpled by those indescribable
changing lines which indicate that a cessation of impulse has not marked
the wearer's retreat from youth, and make us feel anew how blessed a
thing it is for the character to keep our impulses strong within us, and
to be strong ourselves in their restraint.
I was doubting whether to begin those little shivers and sidelings with
which people who feel that they ought to be acquainted, but have nobody
to introduce them, endeavor to supply the deficiency, when the lady
abruptly pronounced my name, and inquired if I responded thereto.
"I thought it must be you," she said, on being satisfied regarding my
identity, "for the Colonel wrote me that he expected you about this
time. I feel we shall become friends. I am Miss Hurribattle."
Although I had a strong suspicion who it must be, yet a cold surprise
seemed to run through me, when the dire certainty so suddenly declared
itself. I dropped my carpet-bag, as if all my daintily built castles
were in it, and it was best to crush them to pieces at once and have it
over. I pondered, and helped tie a bandbox on behind the vehicle, and
after some time found myself in the carryall staring at the felt hat
of the driver an inch or two before my nose, and Miss Hurribattle
established by my side. It occurred to me that it was my place to resume
the conversation, and, in a sudden spasm of originality, I changed a
remark respecting the beauty of the day into an observation on the
steepness of the hill we began to ascend.
"It is very steep," assented the lady, "and I have a particular
objection to riding up-hill: it always appears to me I am helping the
horses draw. However, it may sometimes be pleasant; for I remember
paying a visit of a fortnight to Boston, when I was a girl, and there I
really thought that hills could not have been placed more conveniently."
"How so?" inquired I.
"Why, I stayed with some friends who lived in Charles Street, just on
the bay; consequently we always drove up-hill when we went to a party,
and downhill when we came home."
"And you were always so much more content to return than to go, that the
accelerated speed of a down-hill passage was agreeable," suggested I,
after having cast about vaguely for an explanation.
"Oh, dear! no! It was all on account of my back-hair: for in going
up-hill one naturally leans forward,—so, of course, it couldn't get
tumbled; but when we were coming home, it was no matter."
I glanced slightly at Miss Hurribattle, and thought it strange that a
lady of her present disorderly and straggly appearance could have ever
felt so much interest in fashionable proprieties. She seemed to be
conscious of what was passing in my mind, and suddenly said,—
"Did you ever see a lady throw a stone?"
"I probably have," I replied; "though I do not at present recall any
"Very well, then,—you will remember that it always seems as if she was
going to throw herself after it. Now I recognize in this a portion of
the mystic instruction that natural phenomena may give us, if we look at
them earnestly; for is it not intended that woman should pursue with her
whole being whatever she undertakes? The man throws his stone with a
little jerk of the hand: he may be a legislator, a philanthropist, a
father, and a merchant, each with distinct portions of himself, and be
each with all the better effect to the others; but when a woman throws
her stone, it is better for her to project herself along with it."
"But, surely, you cannot believe that she is entitled only to a single
fling at the mark?"
"On the contrary, let her change her mark as often as she finds it too
easy or too hard to hit. All I insist upon is a temporary concentration
upon one pursuit. You wondered just now that I could ever have cared for
display, or have thought much of my appearance; but at that time I knew
no better, and followed the world with a devotion for which I have now,
I trust, a better object."
I began to be quite interested in the sincerity and confidence with
which my companion talked to me, and, after a few remarks expressing
concurrence, I framed a question that would draw out the motives of her
connection with the college, should she care to communicate them.
"It has been fortunate for me," answered Miss Hurribattle, "to have been
born with an activity of temperament that has kept me from that maladie
des désabusés which, when the freshness of youth has passed, frequently
attacks ladies of some intellectual culture who do not marry. A strong
principle of self-assertion, that has long been characteristic of my
family, has left us unbound by that common propriety of sacrificing
our best happiness for the sake of appearing happy to the world. This
induced my father to quit Branton in pretty much the same spirit of
opposition with which Chatterton quitted Bristol. Disgusted with its
local celebrities, and chafing under the petty exactions and petty
gossip to which a sudden loss of fortune had exposed him, he left the
town without communicating to the neighbors his future destination. But
I will not poach upon our friend the Colonel's speciality, and give you
a family-history. It is sufficient to say that a year or two ago I
was led to interest myself in the Soggimarsh College as a ground
unincumbered by the old incredulities of man's best inspirations
which grow so thickly in what are called the highest
civilizations,—incredulities, indeed, which, in the fine figure of
Coleridge, are nothing but credulities after all, only seen from behind,
as they bow and nod assent to the habitual and the fashionable. But I
see you are wondering at the particular position in the Academy which
our catalogue assigns me, and you shall have the explanation. I have for
a long time been painfully impressed with the total neglect of physical
education by the women of America. It seems to me that no very important
moral advance can be achieved while the exquisite organism through which
our impressions come, and through which they should go forth again in
acts, is so perverted. I was very anxious that the Soggimarsh College
should distinctly recognize a correct physical training as being at
least as important as any branch of mental discipline. Accordingly, when
the titles of the professorships were under discussion, it seemed right
not to take my designation from the classes I instruct in history and
philosophy, but from the general gymnastic development of the female
members of the college, which it is likewise my duty to oversee. I know,
of course, that the prejudices of the public would hold me in greater
esteem as a teacher of some ancient lore than in the capacity I assume
before them; but you see I throw my stone in the womanish fashion, and
do not leave enough of myself behind to be troubled about the matter."
I believe I have good Sir Thomas Browne's fancy of rejoicing to find
people individual in something beside their proper names; and by this,
as well as much more conversation not set down, I had the satisfaction
to discover that Miss Hurribattle had something more than her bold
patronymic to distinguish her from the Misses Smith and Robinson of my
city-acquaintance. I could hardly believe that we had advanced so far to
the footing of old friends, before we reached our destination. As
our carryall turned into Colonel Prowley's avenue, however, a sudden
recollection of the little romance the proprietor had arranged for his
arriving guests came over me like a terrible dream. What a pity it is, I
thought, that a friendly intercourse which I should highly prize must be
disturbed by the awkward consciousness that this old letter-writer
and his sister are watching and misinterpreting with all the zeal of
match-makers who have baited their trap, and are ready to mistake
anything for a nibble!
We drew up before a formal-looking, old-fashioned house, with piazzas
to the two stories, each bordered with a good extent of unquestionably
modern gutter. The staple growth of the place, in which the house was
set, like the centre of an antique breastpin, seemed to lie in the shrub
called box. This ornamental vegetable stretched down each side of the
gravel walk, hedged in all sorts of ugly geometrical figures that
contained flower-beds, and stood sentinel to the lower line of the
piazza; farther on, you would see it allowed to grow to the height
of three or four feet, to be curiously cut into cubes, pyramids, and
Colonel Prowley, who was soon at the door to receive us, was a much less
imposing sort of man than I had imagined him. He appeared short and
modest, and showed a kind face set about half-way up the chin in one of
the old section-of-stove-pipe stocks that buckle up from behind; there
was a little embarrassment in his manner, as if he found it hard to
receive with proper cordiality two dear friends whose faces he had
never before seen. We were taken to the parlor, stiffly neat in all its
appurtenances, introduced to Miss Prowley, and soon after summoned to
There was much satisfaction in sitting down to such a repast as the
Colonel knew how to give, only it made one shudder a little when he told
us the names of great people long passed away who had ranged themselves
about the same piece of mahogany during the days of his father and
grandfather, for fourscore years into the past. However, if such
reminiscences make us reflect upon the mutable character of human
affairs, and send grave speculations of the "fleeting show" and "man's
illusion" concerning which the poet has told us, I find that the best
way is to remember that it is well to make our humble department in the
show as entertaining as we can, and our little fragment of the illusion
as illusive as possible.
At the head of the table sat the sister of our host, arrayed in the lank
bombazine skirt, tight sleeves, and muslin cravat, which constituted the
old-lady uniform of the past generation, and which in rare instances yet
survives in the country. Upon her right hand was placed the clergyman,
Mr. Clifton, who came to dine every Monday,—it being a convenient
arrangement on account of the washing; and on her left was one Deacon
Reyner, who kept the parish records, and was the local antiquary of the
One of the pleasantest diversions with which I am acquainted is a dinner
among elderly people of character and originality, who are content to
toss about the ball of conversation among themselves, and allow me to
watch the game. And in this way was I entertained on my arrival at
Foxden; for Miss Hurribattle was directly at her ease, and had plenty
to say; while the brother and sister were content to offer the best
of everything, and did not attempt to draw me out of my silence. I
perceived they were thinking what a pity it was that Miss Hurribattle
and myself had not the equality of age and temper that they had fancied
for us; for I observed how they would follow the streaks of gray that
straggled through the lady's locks, and then glance at the neatly turned
moustache upon which in those days I prided myself, and realize that
their agreeable plans might be destined to disappointment.
I remember the conversation first fell upon a certain general history
of the Prowley family that its present masculine representative had in
"By the way," said Deacon Reyner, addressing the future historian on
this head, "I have secured a correct copy of poor Prosody's epitaph, as
you asked me the other day."
Miss Hurribattle, who looked as if she had some doubt whether poor
Prosody was a man or an animal, returned a non-committal, "Indeed! I am
very glad of it," but soon after added, "Was he a favorite dog?"
"A dog!" exclaimed the Colonel, whose family-history, dates and all,
seemed to course his veins instead of blood, "he was my many times great
uncle! I have surely told you how Noah Prowllie, who came to New England
in 1642, and is supposed to have settled at Foxden some years later,
married Desire, daughter of the Reverend Jabez Pluck. Being a rigid
grammarian,—a character sufficiently rare at that period,—he named
his three sons Orthography, Syntax, and Prosody,—a proceeding that
is understood to have offended the Reverend Jabez, who was naturally
partial to the Scriptural nomenclature then in vogue. His scruples,
I regret to say, were more than justified in the conduct of his
grandchildren. Poor Orthography Prowllie was an idle fellow, who never
got beyond making his mark upon paper, and consequently made none in the
world; Syntax could never agree with anybody; while as for Prosody, poor
"It is enough to say that neither his verses nor his life would bear
scanning!" said the Deacon, desiring to keep the conversation off
"But you certainly had a poet in your family?" said Miss Hurribattle,
determined to repair her blunder by suggesting a potent cause of
"Indeed we had, Madam!" said the Colonel, with creditable emotion;
"though unfortunately none of his productions have come down to us. But
we have the highest contemporary testimony to his excellence in a copy
of verses prefixed to his posthumous discourse entitled 'The New Snare
of a Maypole, or Satan's own Trap for a Slippery Church.' The lines
were written by his colleague, the Reverend Exaltation Brymm, and are
certainly much to the purpose: I generally keep a copy of them in my
"Oh, do read them, brother!" said Miss Prowley, with strong interest.
Thus adjured, the Colonel produced a piece of paper, put on his
spectacles, and read to this effect:—
"New Englande! weep: Thy tuncfull Prowllie's gone,
Who skillfully his Armour buckled on
Agaynst Phyllystine Scorn and Revelrie:
His Sword well-furbished was a Sight to see!
This littel Booke of his shall still be greene
While Sathan's Fangles lorden stand betweene:
Now Pet of Sinne boil up thy dolefull Skum!
Ye juggelling Quakers laugh: his Inkhorn's dumb.
He put XIII Pslames in verse for our Quire,
And with XXVII Pastorals witcht Apollo's Lyre."
"Do you recollect John Norton's funeral elegy on Ann Bradstreet, the Eve
of our female minstrelsy?" interrogated Miss Hurribattle; "there are two
lines in it which are still in my memory:—
'Could Maro's muse but hear her lively strain,
He would condemn his works to fire again.'
What a launch upon the sea of fame! and how sad it is that an actual
freight of verses should be preserved in the ship's hold!"
"Well, well, my kinsman was perhaps wise in trusting none of his psalms
or pastorals to the press, especially as that greatest of poets,
Pope, has since been in the world. But I truly regret that he left no
portrait, nor even so much as an outline in black from which something
might be made up by an imaginative artist. I have judges, majors, and
attorneys, all properly labelled, in the other room, who would be much
improved by a slight dash of the aesthetic element; however, I suppose
it can't be helped now!"
"Not unless you substitute Saint Josselyn for an ancestor, as Mrs.
Hunesley did the other day," said Miss Prowley.
"Ha, ha! it might not be a bad plan to follow out the lady's suggestion:
but do tell the story of her strange mistake."
"Why, you must know that the other day old Doctor Dastick brought his
New-York niece to call upon us. She began to talk to my brother, and
when at last topics of conversation failed, turned to look at the
picture of Saint Josselyn, which could be seen through the open
"The gentleman whose sole garment consists of some sort of skin thrown
over his shoulders: you must all have observed it as we came in to
dinner," said our host, in parenthesis.
"Well, immediately below the Saint hangs a small painting of Uncle
Joshua, in white stockings, cocked hat, and coat of maroon velvet, the
poor gentleman's favorite dress.
"'Ah!' said Mrs. Hunesley, with her eyes fixed upon the Saint, 'quite a
"'Why, yes,' said my brother, naturally supposing she meant the small
picture below, 'a very fine portrait, and a capital likeness of my Uncle
"'Indeed!' said the lady, with a well-bred effort to conceal her
surprise; 'he was taken in a—a—fancy dress, I suppose.'
"'On the contrary, it was his ordinary costume,' insisted the Colonel.
'I can remember him walking up the broad-aisle at church, dressed just
as you see him there.'
"'I should not have thought it would have been allowed! Did not the
deacons turn him out?' exclaimed Mrs. Hunesley, in great astonishment.
"'Turn him out! Why, Madam, he was a deacon himself, and the most
popular man in the parish.'
"'Well, I had no idea that such things had ever been permitted in this
country! I should have supposed that the fear of such an example on the
young would have induced people to keep him in confinement.'
"'Good heavens, Madam!' remonstrated the Colonel, roused to a desperate
vindication of the family-honor, 'let me tell you that his excellent
influence on the young was the crowning virtue of his character. He used
to go about town with his pockets filled with nuts and gingerbread to
reward them when they were good.'
"'It is enough,' replied the lady; 'our views of propriety are so
totally different that we will not pursue the subject. I will only say
that—really—in that dress, I don't see where he could have had any
Deacon Reyner laughed heartily at these strictures upon the proprieties
of his predecessor, and said,—
"Of course, the last remark must have brought about an explanation."
"Why, yes," said Colonel Prowley; "but when we see how slight an
accident resolved the mystery, we should receive with doubt much of the
personal scandal which is tossing about the world."
The clergyman assented very cordially to this proposition, and added,
that it was a reflection that those of his flock then present would do
well to bear in mind that very evening at Doctor Dastick's bone-party.
I confess to being a little startled at the spectral name of this
entertainment, and began to puzzle myself whether the Doctor gave
a levee to rapping spirits, or moralized over the skulls in his
collection, like Hamlet in the church-yard. Miss Hurribattle seemed
wandering in the mazes of a similar perplexity, and finally said,—
"What is a bone-party? Is it given out of compliment to the dead or the
"Nay," said the Deacon, "I don't see how it could be much of a
compliment to the dead."
"Except upon the principle, De mortuis nil, nisi bone 'em!" suggested
Miss Hurribattle, with such perfect gravity that neither Miss Prowley
nor the clergyman suspected the jocular atrocity that was hidden in her
"The bone-parties of old Doctor Dastick," explained the Colonel, "are
entertainments peculiar to Foxden; and as there is to be one this
evening to which we are all invited, any anticipation of the diversion
seems likely to diminish whatever of satisfaction may be in prospect. I
will, however, remark, that some of the Doctor's guests are grievously
oppressed by somnolence during his scholastic expositions; as a
protection against which infirmity of the flesh, I do commend an
after-dinner nap. It has been the fashion of the house since the days
of my grandfather; and as he lived to a ripe old age, I do not think it
could have been deleterious."
Soon after this, Colonel Prowley pushed back his chair from the table
as a signal for the dispersal of the party. And I betook myself to
my chamber, a sober apartment, with very uneven floor and very small
windows, through one of which I peered out upon the box before the
house, and thought over the people whose acquaintance I had just made.
Once only were these musings interrupted by snatches of a conversation
between my host and hostess as they passed across the piazza.
"When this comes about, sister, as I still believe it must, you shall
adorn a page of my diary with one of your illustrative drawings. A pair
of doves would be appropriate, or perhaps a vine clinging round an oak."
"And which of our guests is to be represented by the oak?" asked Miss
Prowley, in a tone which betrayed a woman's perception of matrimonial
"Nay, sister, our young friend has a steadiness of character which would
be ill-mated with some giddy girl from the nursery. So make your vine a
little woody, and the union will be all the firmer."
As there was no chance of taking a nap after this, I presently descended
to walk in the garden. And there I encountered Miss Hurribattle, who did
not seem to be one of the convenient visitors who can be put to sleep
after dinner. The conversation which I had the honor of renewing with
the lady, though it did not at all advance the whimsical project of
Colonel Prowley, increased my respect for the high instincts of Nature
which prompted her concern in the elevation of woman. She showed me how
a reform, presenting on its surface much that was meagre and partial,
was sustained by those accomplished in the study of the question, no
less from the rigorous necessities of logic than from the demonstrations
of history and experiment.
And here, perchance, the reader observes that we make but slight
progress towards a solution of the inquiry proposed some pages back.
Yet let it be remembered that in real experience the novelist's art of
foreshadowing the end from the beginning and aiming every petty incident
at the final result is very seldom perceptible. "Il ne faut pas voyager
pour voir, mais pour ne pas voir," says the proverb; and the journey of
life is included in its application. We do our rarest deeds, we take our
most important steps, by what seems accident. Instead of forming plans
with remote designs, we find it our best policy to seize circumstances
as they run past us,—knowing, that, if we have strength and quickness
enough, we may take from them all that is required.
Doctor Dastick's bone-party was certainly an entertainment of unique
description. A kind old gentleman was its originator, who thought to
turn the enthusiasm for lectures, which the Lyceum had developed in
Foxden, into a private and pleasant channel. Possessed with this
praiseworthy design, the Doctor, who had given up practice by reason of
years and competence, remembered a certain cabinet containing fossils,
crystals, fragments of Indian implements, small pieces of the skeletons
of their proprietors, vertebrae of extinct animals, besides a great
amount of miscellaneous rubbish that refused to come to terms and be
classified. Thus it seemed good to the proprietor of this medical
rag-bag to invite the citizens of Foxden to a series of explanatory
lectures upon its varied contents. This would have done well enough,
if the Doctor could only have persuaded himself to select his most
interesting specimens, and read up upon them, so as to retail a little
fluent information after the manner of the lyceum-philosophers. But,
unfortunately, the professional pride of the lecturer induced him to
speak without preparation or discrimination upon any osteological
article which happened to come to hand: which fact, perhaps, accounted
for the prevalent somnolence of the auditory, concerning which I had
It is barely possible that these midsummer-night diversions of Doctor
Dastick were suggested by the fame of evenings which, during the
previous winter, several city physicians (men of eminent scientific
attainments) had devoted to the instruction of their friends. And rumor
could scarcely have overestimated the privilege of listening to the
discursive fireside talk of such accurate observers. Having vividly
realized all that was to be known of their subjects of special
investigation, these distinguished gentlemen would steam steadily
athwart the light winds of conversation and bring their company to
a pleasant haven. The Foxden ex-practitioner, however, lacking the
metropolitan attrition which keeps the intellectual engine in
effective polish, drifted vaguely in a sea of fragmentary information;
—occasionally, to be sure, bumping against some encyclopedic argosy,
but, for the most part, making very leisurely progress, with much
apparent waste in the machinery. A brief extract from my note-book may
furnish an idea of these scientific discourses.
"Now, my friends," pursues the Doctor, "let us examine another
curiosity,"—here he would take down something that looked like a
mottled paving-stone in a very crumbling condition,—"let us examine it
carefully through the glass,"—here a pause, during which he performed
the operation in question. "What is it? Is it a fossil turtle? No,"
—with great deliberation,—"I should say it was not a fossil turtle.
Is it a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon? No, on the
whole, it can't be a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon.
Is it a specimen of the top of Mount Sinai? No, it is not a specimen
of the top of Mount Sinai. What is it, then? I—don't—know—
Having arrived at this satisfactory conclusion, the Doctor would pass
on to the next specimen, which, having provoked a similar series of
interrogations and negations, would be dismissed with no very different
There is sometimes an advantage in not being a notable person; at all
events, I thought so, when I saw the Prowleys and their guests of chief
consideration, to wit, the clergyman, deacon, and Miss Hurribattle,
accommodated on the first row of chairs, with their faces under grand
illumination by two camphene-lamps upon the Doctor's table. There
they sat, together with Mrs. Hunesley from New York, two or three
distinguished visitors from the hotel, and the elders of Foxden, looking
wistfully at the bones, as if in envy of their fleshless condition that
sultry August evening.
It was with real satisfaction that I perceived I was considered worthy
of no more worshipful company than that of the standing stragglers at
the dark end of the parlor. And as the evening breeze came freshly
through the window at the back of the room, I rejoiced heartily in my
lack of title to the consideration of being snugly penned in a more
honorable position. As I found it might be done without attracting
attention, I obeyed a strong impulse that seized me to pass through the
open window to the piazza. Thence I presently descended, and strolled
about the precise gravel-walks, puzzling myself to conjecture how much
of the rich light was owing to the red glow which lingered in the west,
and how much to the full moon just breaking through the trees. My
investigations were suddenly interrupted by the advent of a carryall,
which drove-with great rapidity to the Doctor's gate. It was the very
railway-omnibus that a few hours before had brought Miss Hurribattle and
myself from the station.
"Hello, Cap'n," called out the driver, complimenting me with that
military title, "can you give a hand to this trunk? I've got to go right
slap back after two more fares."
I was near the gate, and of course cheerfully acceded to this request. A
heavy trunk was lifted out, and placed just behind the lilac-bushes at
the edge of the lawn. The driver jumped into his omnibus and hurried
away with all speed, lest his two fares should pay themselves to a rival
conveyance. Behind him, however, he had left the proprietress of the
trunk,—a lady of about five-and-twenty, in whose countenance I detected
that strange sort of familiarity that entire strangers sometimes carry
"This is Doctor Dastick's, is it not? Do you know whether Mrs. Hunesley
expected me?" she asked, with a grace of manner that was quite
I informed her that I was a stranger in the place, and was only at the
Doctor's for a single evening; but that I could not think that Mrs.
Hunesley expected anybody, as I had just seen that lady firmly fixed in
the front row of chairs before the Doctor's table,—whence, owing to the
crowd of sitters behind, she would have some difficulty in extricating
"Oh, I would not have her called for the world!" gayly exclaimed my
companion. "She has told me all about the dear old Doctor's lectures;
and I would not disturb his learned explanations on any account."
"I do not think that the company in general would regret an interlude of
modern life and interest," said I.
"Perhaps not; but nothing seems to me so rude and disagreeable as to
interrupt people, or disturb their attention, when assembled for a
We walked up the gravel-path, and softly entered the hall, where
a shawl and bonnet were deposited. The Doctor's discourse was very
audible, and the unexpected visitor seemed disposed to establish herself
upon one of the hall-chairs, and wait till it was over. There was a
graceful confidence in her movement, which is to me more captivating
than a pretty face; and when I had opportunity to observe more closely,
I was greatly attracted by the sensibility and refinement expressed
through a countenance which otherwise would have been plain. As I seemed
to be whimsically cast in the part of host, and as I perceived the lady
was too well-bred to make my position at all awkward, I proposed the
piazza as a pleasanter place of waiting than that she had chosen.
And here let me make one of those weighty observations, derived from a
profound experience, which I trust will have a redeeming savor to
the judicious, should this tale of mine fail to command that general
popularity to which I have begun to suspect its title. I have found
that all the fine passages that lighten and enlighten this life of ours
seldom run into the traps we set for them, but seem to take a perverse
satisfaction in descending upon us when we are least prepared for
their reception. I have never been asked out to dine with a gentleman,
devoted, we will say, to the same speciality in which I have a humble
interest, without being sadly disappointed in the talk that my host had
kindly promised me. And when I am going to another country, and a dear
friend gives me a letter to some one whom he tells me I shall be glad to
meet, and from whom I shall gain great instruction, I accept the letter,
knowing very well that the man I shall really be glad to meet, and from
whom I shall truly gain instruction, will present himself on the top
of a diligence, or take a seat at my table at some cheap café or
chop-house. Thus it is, that, when there is every reason why people
should break through the commonplace rubbish on the surface, and
disclose a pure vein of thought and feeling, they rarely contrive to do
it, but reserve their best things for the chances that touch them, when
self-consciousness is asleep, and the unconstrained humanity within
expands to absorb its like. Is it not in every one's experience that
there are persons with whom chance has thrown us for a few hours, whom
we know better, and who know us better, than the friends with whom we
have babbled of green fields, thermometers, and dirty pavements for a
score of years? As I confidently expect an affirmative reply to this
question, I fear no censure in saying that the evening passed on
Doctor Dastick's piazza made me feel there was a possibility of social
intercourse resembling the extravagant spirituality of the mystics, when
the soul bounds to the height of joyful knowledge, and without process
or medium knows complete satisfaction.
How we came to talk of many things, I cannot remember; but we somehow
found ourselves speaking of matters of near and deep experience without
consciousness of singularity. We admitted those puzzling life-questions
that present themselves, on a still summer evening, when we long to
escape from the conditions of finite being, and yet contemplate
the necessity of working at our tasks shackled by a thousand iron
"My plan of life, so far as I have any, seems to point to education,"
said my companion. "I am thrown in great measure upon my own activity
for support, and have an aunt who is very zealous in the work, and who
has often asked me to become her fellow-laborer. Until now I could never
well leave home; but she has written to me again since"—she stopped, as
if distressed, and with a woman's tact glanced at her mourning-dress to
tell me the story;—"she has written to me earnestly of late upon the
subject. I feel how noble an object it is to live for, and I want an
object, Heaven knows; but there are reasons—perhaps I should say
feelings, not reasons—why I hesitate. I am asked to bind myself for ten
years to the work in a Western college. There are many advantages in a
permanent position, both for the teacher and the institution, but"—
Her voice faltered; and I felt that Nature had at times made other
suggestions to that fresh young spirit, other possibilities had dawned
through the future; perhaps they were certainties,—and the thought
passed me with a shudder.
"Teaching is a terrible drudgery," I said; "the labor and devotion of
the true teacher are yet unrecognized by the world."
"I am not afraid of the vexations," she replied: "I am very fond of
being with young people; yet I have been taught to think it was happier,
if our affections could be somewhat more concentrated than—In short,
I had better finish an awkward sentence, by saying that I do not feel
quite ready to pledge myself to give up all possibilities connected with
my New-England home."
It was spoken with such sweet ingenuousness that I was only charmed. The
simple sincerity of the confession seemed to me much better than the
flippant jest and pert talk with which I had heard such subjects treated
while making my observations upon what my city-acquaintances had assured
me was good society. Is it not Sterling who exclaims that a luxurious
and polished life without a true sense of the beautiful and the great is
more barren and sad to see than that of the ignorant and the brutalized?
And if this be true, how shall we imagine a greater satisfaction than to
find the fresh truth of Nature set in a polished and graceful form? For
since it is through form that we take cognizance of all we love and all
we believe, it is well that the sign and idea should merge, and come
complete and whole to govern us aright.
I should have no objection to meditating after this manner for a page or
two, as well as further hinting what important nothings sparkled upon
Doctor Dastick's piazza that pleasant summer night. But as I must
curtail this biographical fragment in some part or other, it seems best
to do it about that portion where I may trust that the experience of
every reader will supply the deficiency.
How harshly sounded the creaking of the furniture, and how strangely
commercial and matter-of-fact the voices of the people that announced
the conclusion of the lecture! Mrs. Hunesley managed to get out among
the first, and was heartily glad to see my newly acquired friend,
calling her, "My dear Kate,"—which I thought was a very pretty
name,—and saying that she had not expected her quite so soon.
I looked into the parlor and saw the Prowley party tumbling over chairs,
and scaling settees, in their haste to meet the cooling breezes of the
piazza. But when they finally accomplished their purpose, and I was
advancing with inquiries and congratulations, I started at seeing the
surprise depicted in the countenance of Miss Hurribattle, as she gazed
in the direction where I stood.
"Why, Aunt Patience!" exclaimed a voice at my side.
"Why, Kate Hurribattle!" was the response.
"How in the name of wonder did you get to Foxden?"
"How under the sun did you get to Foxden?"
"Why I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Colonel
"And I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Mrs.
Now if I had dramatized the little event I have been trying to relate, I
should have reached the precise point where the auditor would button up
his coat, put on his hat, let his patent spring-seat go up with a click,
and begin to leave the theatre with all expedition. What would it matter
to him that I had prepared a circumstantial account of how all petty
objections were got over, or that I had elaborated a peculiarly
felicitous tag which Colonel Prowley would speak at a few backs as
they disappeared into the lobby? The auditor referred to has got an
inkling of how things are to end, and can guess out the particulars as
he hurries off to his business. And here will be observed our decided
advantage in having made sure of the Moral by a vigorous assertion of
the same at the commencement of this narrative; for, thus relieved of
the necessity of a final flutter into the empyrean of ethics, we may
part company in a few easy sentences.
Although the circumstances I have set down, from being awkwardly packed
in a small compass, may not appear to fit into each other with all the
exactness of a dissecting-map, I am sure, that, as they really occurred
spread over a necessary time, they seemed natural and simple enough.
Mrs. Hunesley, Doctor Dastick's favorite niece, was the schoolmate of
Miss Kate Hurribattle, and what more likely than that she should invite
her friend to pass a few weeks with her at her summer-home in the
country? And could there be a greater necessity than that, meeting daily
as we did through those lovely August weeks, she should become—in
short, that I should marry Miss Hurribattle?
And when this foolish little romance, which had taken nebulous outline
in the fancy of Colonel Prowley, suddenly fell at his feet a serious
indubitability, the dear, delighted old gentleman was the first to
declare, that, as our engagement had existed for the last seventy years,
it certainly did not seem worth while to wait much longer. At all
events, we did not wait longer than the following Thanksgiving; since
which period my experience leads me to declare, that, if the Miss
Hurribattle of my great-great-uncle's day was at all comparable to the
member of her family I met at Foxden, my respected relative made a great
mistake in living a bachelor.