Gala Days - The
Once there was a great noise in our house,—a thumping and battering and
grating. It was my own self dragging my big trunk down from the garret.
I did it myself because I wanted it done. If I had said, "Halicarnassus,
will you fetch my trunk down?" he would have asked me what trunk? and
what did I want of it? and would not the other one be better? and
couldn't I wait till after dinner?—and so the trunk would probably have
had a three-days' journey from garret to basement. Now I am strong in
the wrists and weak in the temper; therefore I used the one and spared
the other, and got the trunk down-stairs myself. Halicarnassus heard the
uproar. He must have been deaf not to hear it; for the old ark banged
and bounced, and scraped the paint off the stairs, and pitched
head-foremost into the wall, and gouged out the plastering, and dinted
the mop-board, and was the most stupid, awkward, uncompromising,
unmanageable thing I ever got hold of in my life.
By the time I had zigzagged it into the back chamber, Halicarnassus
loomed up the back stairs. I stood hot and panting, with the inside of
my fingers tortured into burning leather, the skin rasped off three
knuckles, and a bruise on the back of my right hand, where the trunk had
crushed it against a sharp edge of the door-way.
"Now, then?" said Halicarnassus interrogatively.
"To be sure," I replied affirmatively.
He said no more, but went and looked up the garret-stairs. They bore
traces of a severe encounter, that must be confessed.
"Do you want me to give you a bit of advice?" he asked.
"No!" I answered promptly.
"Well, then, here it is. The next time you design to bring a trunk
downstairs, you would better cut away the underpinning, and knock out
the beams, and let the garret down into the cellar. It will make less
uproar, and not take so much to repair damages."
He intended to be severe. His words passed by me as the idle wind. I
perched on my trunk, took a pasteboard box-cover and fanned myself. I
was very warm. Halicarnassus sat down on the lowest stair and remained
silent several minutes, expecting a meek explanation, but, not getting
it, swallowed a bountiful piece of what is called in homely talk
"humble-pie," and said,—
"I should like to know what's in the wind now."
I make it a principle always to resent an insult and to welcome
repentance with equal alacrity. If people thrust out their horns at me
wantonly, they very soon run against a stone wall; but the moment they
show signs of contrition, I soften. It is the best way. Don't insist
that people shall grovel at your feet before you accept their apology.
That is not magnanimous. Let mercy temper justice. It is a hard thing
at best for human nature to go down into the Valley of Humiliation; and
although, when circumstances arise which make it the only fit place for
a person, I insist upon his going, still, no sooner does he actually
begin the descent than my sense of justice is appeased, my natural
sweetness of disposition resumes sway, and I trip along by his side
chatting as gayly as if I did not perceive it was the Valley of
Humiliation at all, but fancied it the Delectable Mountains. So, upon
the first symptoms of placability, I answered cordially,—
"Halicarnassus, it has been the ambition of my life to write a book of
travels. But to write a book of travels, one must first have travelled."
"Not at all," he responded. "With an atlas and an encyclopedia one can
travel around the world in his arm-chair."
"But one cannot have personal adventures," I said. "You can, indeed, sit
in your arm-chair and describe the crater of Vesuvius; but you cannot
tumble into the crater of Vesuvius from your arm-chair."
"I have never heard that it was necessary to tumble in, in order to have
a good view of the mountain."
"But it is necessary to do it, if one would make a readable book."
"Then I should let the book slide,—rather than slide myself."
"If you would do me the honor to listen," I said, scornful of his
paltry attempt at wit, "you would see that the book is the object of my
travelling. I travel to write. I do not write because I have travelled.
I am not going to subordinate my book to my adventures. My adventures
are going to be arranged beforehand with a view to my book."
"A most original way of getting up a book!"
"Not in the least. It is the most common thing in the world. Look at our
dear British cousins."
"And see them make guys of themselves. They visit a magnificent country
that is trying the experiment of the world, and write about their
shaving-soap and their babies' nurses."
"Just where they are right. Just why I like the race, from Trollope
down. They give you something to take hold of. I tell you,
Halicarnassus, it is the personality of the writer, and not the nature
of the scenery or of the institutions, that makes the interest. It
stands to reason. If it were not so, one book would be all that ever
need be written, and that book would be a census report. For a republic
is a republic, and Niagara is Niagara forever; but tell how you stood on
the chain-bridge at Niagara—if there is one there—and bought a cake of
shaving-soap from a tribe of Indians at a fabulous price, or how your
baby jumped from the arms of the careless nurse into the Falls, and
immediately your own individuality is thrown around the scenery, and it
acquires a human interest. It is always five miles from one place to
another, but that is mere almanac and statistics. Let a poet walk the
five miles, and narrate his experience with birds and bees and flowers
and grasses and water and sky, and it becomes literature. And let me
tell you further, Sir, a book of travels is just as interesting as the
person who writes it is interesting. It is not the countries, but the
persons, that are 'shown up.' You go to France and write a dull book.
I go to France and write a lively book. But France is the same. The
difference is in ourselves."
Halicarnassus glowered at me. I think I am not using strained or
extravagant language when I say that he glowered at me. Then he growled
"So your book of travels is just to put yourself into pickle."
"Say rather," I answered, with sweet humility,—"say rather it is to
shrine myself in amber. As the insignificant fly, encompassed with
molten glory, passes into a crystallized immortality, his own littleness
uplifted into loveliness by the beauty in which he is imprisoned, so I,
wrapped around by the glory of my land, may find myself niched into a
fame which my unattended and naked merit could never have claimed."
Halicarnassus was a little stunned, but, presently recovering himself,
suggested that I had travelled enough already to make out quite a
"Travelled!" I said, looking him steadily in the face,—"travelled!
I have been up to Tudiz huckleberrying; and once, when there was a
freshet, you took a superannuated broom and paddled me, around the
orchard in a leaky pig's trough!"
He could not deny it; so he laughed and said,—
"Ah, well!—ah, well! Suit yourself. Take your trunk and pitch into
Vesuvius, if you like. I won't stand in your way."
His acquiescence was ungraciously, and I believe I may say ambiguously,
expressed; but it mattered little, for in three days from that time I
took my trunk, Halicarnassus his cane, and we started on our travels. An
evil omen met us at the beginning. Just as I was stepping into the car,
I observed a violent smoke issuing from under it. I started back in
"They are only getting up steam," said Halicarnassus. "Always do, when
"I know better!" I answered briskly, for there was no time to be
circumlocutional. "They don't get up steam under the cars."
"Why not? Bet a sixpence you couldn't get Uncle Cain's dobbin out of his
jog-trot without building a fire under him."
"I know that wheel is on fire," I said, not to be turned from the direct
and certain line of assertion into the winding ways of argument.
"No matter," replied Halicarnassus, conceding everything, "we are
Upon the strength of which consolatory information I went in. By-and-by
a man entered and took a seat in front of us. "The box is all afire,"
chuckled he to his neighbor, as if it were a fine joke. By-and-by
several people who had been looking out of the windows drew in their
heads, rose, and went into the next car.
"What do you suppose they did that for?" I asked Halicarnassus.
"More aristocratical. Belong to old families. This is a new car, don't
you see? We are parvenus."
"Nothing of the sort," I rejoined. "This car is on fire, and they have
gone into the next one so as not to be burned up."
"They are not going to write books, and can afford to run away from
"But suppose I am burned up in my adventure?"
"Obviously, then, your book will end in smoke."
I ceased to talk, for I was provoked at his indifference. I leave every
impartial mind to judge for itself whether the circumstances were such
as to warrant composure. To be sure, somebody said the car was to
be left at Jeru; but Jeru was eight miles away, and any quantity of
mischief might be done before we reached it,—if, indeed, we were
not prevented from reaching it altogether. It was a mere question of
dynamics. Would dry wood be able to hold its own against a raging fire
for half an hour? Of course the conductor thought it would; but even
conductors are not infallible; and you may imagine how comfortable it
was to sit and know that a fire was in full blast beneath you, and to
look down every few minutes expecting to see the flames forking up under
your feet. I confess I was not without something like a hope that one
tongue of the devouring element would flare up far enough to give
Halicarnassus a start; but it did not. No casualty occurred. We reached
Jeru in safety; but that does not prove that there was no danger, or
that indifference was anything but the most foolish hardihood. If our
burning car had been in mid-ocean, serenity would have been sublimity,
but to stay in the midst of peril when two steps would take one out of
it is idiocy. And that there was peril is conclusively shown by the fact
that the very next day the Eastern Railroad Depot took fire and was
burned to the ground. I have in my own mind no doubt that it was a
continuation of the same fire, and if we had stayed in the car much
longer, we should have shared the same fate.
We found Jeru to be a pleasant city, with only one fault: the
inhabitants will crowd into a car before passengers can get out;
consequently the heads of the two columns collide near the car-door, and
there is a general choke. Otherwise Jeru is a delightful city. It is
famous for its beautiful women. Its railroad-station is a magnificent
piece of architecture. Its men are retired East-India merchants.
Everybody in Jeru is rich and has real estate. The houses in Jeru
are three stories high and face on the Common. People in Jeru are
well-dressed and well-bred, and they all came over in the Mayflower.
We stopped in Jeru five minutes.
When we were ready to continue our travels Halicarnassus seceded into
the smoking-car, and while the engine was shrieking off its inertia, a
small boy, laboring under great agitation, hurried in, darted up to me,
and, thrusting a pinchbeck ring with a pink glass in it into my face,
exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper,—
"A beautiful ring, Ma'am! I've just picked it up. Can't stop to find the
owner. Worth a dollar, Ma'am; but if you'll give me fifty cents"—
I rose fiercely, convulsively, in my seat, drew one long breath, but
whether he thought I was going to kill him,—I dare say I looked it,—or
whether he saw a sheriff behind, or a phantom gallows before, I know
not; but without waiting for the thunderbolt to strike, he rushed from
the car as precipitately as he had rushed in. I was angry,—not
because I was to have been cheated, for I have been repeatedly and
atrociously cheated and only smiled, but because the rascal dared
attempt on me such a threadbare, ragged, shoddy trick as that. Do I
look like a rough-hewn, unseasoned backwoodsman? Have I the air of
never having read a newspaper? Is there a patent innocence of eye-teeth
in my demeanor? Oh, Jeru! Jeru! Somewhere in your virtuous bosom you are
nourishing a viper, for I have felt his fangs. Woe unto you, if you do
not strangle him before he develops into mature anacondaism! In point of
natural history I am not sure that vipers do grow up anacondas, but
for the purposes of moral philosophy the development theory answers
In Boston a dreadful thing happened to me,—a thing too horrible to
relate. I have no reason to suppose that the outrage was intentional;
but if I were absolute monarch of all I survey, there is one house in
one street in Boston which I would have razed to the ground; and tobacco
I would banish forever from the haunts of civilization.
In Boston we had three hours to spare; so we sent our luggage,—that is,
my trunk—to the Worcester Depot, and walked leisurely ourselves. I had
a little shopping to do, to complete my outfit for the journey,—a very
little shopping,—only a nightcap or two. Ordinarily such a thing is
a matter of small moment, but in my case the subject had swollen
into unnatural dimensions. Nightcaps are not generally considered
healthy,—at least not by physicians. Nature has given to the head its
sufficient and appropriate covering, the hair. Anything more than this
injures the head, by confining the heat, preventing the soothing,
cooling contact of air, and so deranging the circulation of the blood.
Therefore I have always heeded the dictates of Nature, which I have
supposed to be to brush out the hair thoroughly at night and let it fly.
But there are serious disadvantages connected with this course. For
Nature will be sure to whisk the hair away from your ears where you want
it, and into your eyes where you don't want it, besides crowning you
with magnificent disorder in the morning. But as I have always believed
that no evil exists without its remedy, I had long been exercising my
inventive genius in attempts to produce a head-gear which should at once
protect the ears, confine the hair, and let the skull alone. I regret
to say that my experiments were an utter failure, notwithstanding the
amount of science and skill brought to bear upon them. One idea lay at
the basis of all my endeavors. Every combination, however elaborate or
intricate, resolved into its simplest elements, consisted of a pair of
rosettes laterally to keep the ears warm, a bag posteriorly to put the
hair into, and some kind of a string somewhere to hold the machine
together. Every possible shape into which lace or muslin or sheeting
could be cut or plaited or sewed or twisted, into which crewel or cord
could be crocheted or netted or tatted, I make bold to declare was
essayed, until things came to such a pass that every odd bit of dry
goods lying around the house was, in the absence of any positive
testimony on the subject, assumed to be one of my nightcaps,—an utterly
baseless assumption, because my achievements never went so far as
concrete capuality, but stopped short in the later stages of abstract
idealism. However, prejudice is stronger than truth; and, as I said,
every fragment of every fabric that could not give an account of itself
was charged with being a nightcap till it was proved to be a dishcloth
or a cart-rope. I at length surrendered at discretion, and remembered
that somewhere in my reading I had met with exquisite lace caps, and I
did not know but that from the combined fineness and strength of their
material they might answer the purpose, even if in form they should not
be everything that was desirable,—and I determined to ascertain, if
possible, whether such things existed anywhere out of poetry.
As you perceive, therefore, my Boston shopping was not every-day
trading. It was to mark the abandonment of an old and the inauguration
of a new line of policy. Thus it was with no ordinary interest that I
looked carefully at all the shops, and when I found one that seemed to
hold out a possibility of nightcaps, I went in. Halicarnassus obeyed the
hint which I pricked into him with the point of my parasol, and stopped
outside. The one place in the world where a man has no business to be is
the inside of a dry-goods shop. He never looks and never is so big and
bungling as there. A woman skips from silk to muslin, from muslin to
ribbons, from ribbons to table-cloths with the grace and agility of a
bird. She glides in and out among crowds of her sex, steers sweepingly
clear of all obstacles, and emerges triumphant. A man enters and
immediately becomes all boots and elbows. He needs as much room to turn
round in as the English iron-clad Warrior, and it takes him about as
long. He treads on all the flounces, runs against all the clerks, knocks
over all the children, and is generally under-foot. If he gets an idea
into his head, a Nims's battery cannot dislodge it. You thought of
buying a shawl; but a thousand considerations in the shape of raglans,
cloaks, talmas, pea-jackets, induce you to modify your views. He stands
by you. He hears all your inquiries and all the clerk's suggestions. The
whole process of your reasoning is visible to his naked eye. He sees the
sack, or visite, or cape put upon your shoulders and you walking off
in it, and when you are half-way home, he will mutter, in idiotic
amazement, "I thought you were going to buy a shawl!" It is enough to
drive one wild.
No! Halicarnassus is absurd and mulish in many things, but he knows
I will not be hampered with him when I am shopping, and he obeys the
smallest hint and stops outside.
To be sure, he puts my temper on the rack by standing with his hands in
his pockets, or by looking meek, or, likely as not, peering into the
shop-door after me with great staring eyes and parted lips; and this is
the most provoking of all. If there is anything vulgar, slipshod, and
shiftless, it is a man lounging about with his hands in his pockets. If
you have paws, stow them away; but if you are endowed with hands, learn
to carry them properly, or else cut them off. Nor can I abide a man's
looking as if he were under control. I want him to be submissive, but
I don't want him to look so. I want him to do just as he is bidden, but
I want him to carry himself like the man and monarch he was made to be.
I want him to stay where he is put, yet not as if he were put there, but
as if he had taken his position deliberately. But, of all things, to
have a man act as if he were a clod just emerged for the first time from
his own barnyard! Upon this occasion, however, I was too much absorbed
in my errand to note anybody's demeanor, and I threaded straightway the
crowd of customers, went up to the counter, and inquired in a clear
"Have you lace nightcaps?"
The clerk looked at me with a troubled, bewildered glance, and made no
reply. I supposed he had not understood me, and repeated the question.
Then he answered, dubiously,—
"We have breakfast-caps."
It was my turn to look bewildered. What had I to do with breakfast-caps?
What connection was there between my question and his answer? What field
was there for any further inquiry? "Have you ox-bows?" imagine a farmer
to ask. "We have rainbows," says the shopman. "Have you cameo-pins?"
inquires the elegant Mrs. Jenkins. "We have linchpins." "Have you young
apple-trees?" asks the nursery-man. "We have whiffle-trees." If I had
wanted breakfast-caps, shouldn't I have asked for breakfast-caps? Or do
the Boston people take their breakfast at one o'clock in the morning? I
concluded that the man was demented, and marched out of the shop. When I
laid the matter before Halicarnassus, the following interesting colloquy
I. "What do you suppose it meant?"
H. "He took you for a North American Indian."
I. "What do you mean?"
H. "He did not understand your patois."
I. "What patois?"
H. "Your squaw dialect. You should have asked for a bonnet de nuit."
H. "People never talk about nightcaps in good society."
I was very warm, and Halicarnassus said he was tired; so we went into a
restaurant and ordered strawberries,—that luscious fruit, quivering on
the border-land of ambrosia and nectar.
"Doubtless," says honest, quaint, delightful Isaac,—and he never spoke
a truer word,—"doubtless, God might have made a better berry than a
strawberry, but, doubtless, God never did."
The bill of fare rated their excellence at fifteen cents.
"Not unreasonable," I pantomimed.
"Not if I pay for them," replied Halicarnassus.
Then we sat and amused ourselves after the usual brilliant fashion
of people who are waiting in hotel parlors, railroad-stations, and
restaurants. We surveyed the gilding and the carpet and the mirrors
and the curtains. We hazarded profound conjectures touching the people
assembled. We studied the bill of fare as if it contained the secret of
our army's delay upon the Potomac, and had just concluded that the first
crop of strawberries was exhausted and they were waiting for the second
crop to grow, when Hebe hove in sight with her nectared ambrosia in a
pair of cracked, browny-white saucers, with browny-green silver spoons.
I poured out what professed to be cream, but proved very low-spirited
milk, in which a few disheartened strawberries appeared rari nantes. I
looked at them in dismay. Then curiosity smote me, and I counted them.
"Cent apiece," said Halicarnassus.
I was not thinking of the cent, but I had promised myself a feast; and
what is a feast, susceptible of enumeration? Cleopatra was right. "That
love"—and the same is true of strawberries—"is beggarly which can be
reckoned." Infinity alone is glory.
"Perhaps the quality will atone for the quantity," said Halicarnassus,
scooping up at least half of his at one "arm-sweep."
"How do they taste?" I asked.
"Rather coppery," he answered.
"It is the spoons!" I exclaimed, in a fright. "They are German silver!
You will be poisoned!"—and knocked his out of his hand with such
instinctive, sudden violence that it flew to the other side of the room,
where an old gentleman sat over his newspaper and dinner.
He started, dropped his newspaper, and looked around in a maze.
Halicarnassus behaved beautifully,—I will give him the credit of it.
He went on with my spoon and his strawberries as unconcernedly as if
nothing had happened. I was conscious that I blushed, but my face was in
the shade, and nobody else knew it; and to this day I have no doubt
the old gentleman would have marvelled what sent that mysterious spoon
rattling against his table and whizzing between his boots, had not
Halicarnassus, when the uproar was over, conceived it his duty to go and
pick up the spoon and apologize for the accident, lest the gentleman
should fancy it an intentional rudeness. Partly to reward him for his
good behavior, partly because I never did think it worth while to
make two bites of a cherry, and partly because I did not fancy being
poisoned, I gave my fifteen berries to him. He devoured them with
"Does my spoon taste as badly as yours?" I asked.
"My spoon?" inquired he, innocently.
"Yes. You said before that they tasted coppery."
"I don't think," replied this unprincipled man,—"I don't think it
was the flavor of the spoon so much as of the coin which each berry
I could have boxed his ears.
I never made a more unsatisfactory investment in my life than the one I
made in that restaurant. I felt as if I had been swindled, and I said so
to Halicarnassus. He remarked that there was plenty of cream and sugar.
I answered curtly, that the cream was chiefly water, and the sugar
chiefly flour; but if they had been Simon Pure himself, was it anything
but an aggravation of the offence to have them with nothing to eat them
"You might do as they do in France,—carry away what you don't eat,
seeing you pay for it."
"A pocketful of milk and water would be both delightful and serviceable;
but I might take the sugar," I added, with a sudden thought, upsetting
the sugar-bowl into a "Boston Journal" which we had bought in the train.
"I can never use it, but it will be a consolation to reflect on."
Halicarnassus, who, though fertile in evil conceptions, lacks nerve to
put them into execution, was somewhat startled at this sudden change of
base. He had no idea that I should really act upon his suggestion, but
I did. I bundled the sugar into my pocket with a grim satisfaction;
and Halicarnassus paid his thirty cents, looking—and feeling, as he
afterwards told me—as if a policeman's gripe were on his shoulders. If
any restaurant in Boston recollects having been astonished at any time
during the summer of 1862 by an unaccountably empty sugar-bowl, I take
this occasion to explain the phenomenon. I gave the sugar afterwards to
a little beggar-girl, with a dime for a brace of lemons, and shook off
the dust of my feet against Boston at the "B. & W.R.R.D."
Boston is a beautiful city, situated on a peninsula at the head of
Massachusetts Bay. It has three streets: Cornhill, Washington, and
Beacon Streets. It has a Common and a Frog-Pond, and many sprightly
squirrels. Its streets are straight and cross each other like lines on
a chess-board. It has a State-House which is the finest edifice in the
world or out of it. It has one church, the Old South, which was built,
as its name indicates, before the Proclamation of Emancipation was
issued. It has one bookstore, a lofty and imposing pile, of the Egyptian
style (and date) of architecture, on the corner of Washington and
School Streets. It has one magazine, the "Atlantic Monthly," one
daily newspaper, the "Boston Journal," one religious weekly, the
"Congregationalist," and one orator, whose name is Train, a model of
chaste, compact, and classic elegance. In politics, it was a Webster
Whig, till Whig and Webster both went down, when it fell apart and
waited for something to turn up,—which proved to be drafting. Boston is
called the Athens of America. Its men are solid. Its women wear their
bonnets to bed, their nightcaps to breakfast, and talk Greek at dinner.
I spent two hours and a half in Boston, and I know.
We had a royal progress from Boston to Fontdale. Summer lay on the
shining hills and scattered benedictions. Plenty smiled up from a
thousand fertile fields. Patient oxen, with their soft, deep eyes, trod
heavily over mines of greater than Indian wealth. Kindly cows stood in
the grateful shade of cathedral elms, and gave thanks to God in their
dumb, fumbling way. Motherly, sleepy, stupid sheep lay on the plains,
little lambs rollicked out their short-lived youth around them, and no
premonition floated over from the adjoining pea-patch, nor any misgiving
of approaching mutton marred their happy heyday. Straight through the
piny forests, straight past the vocal orchards, right in among the
robins and the jays and the startled thrushes, we dashed inexorable, and
made harsh dissonance in the wild-wood orchestra; but not for that was
the music hushed, nor did one color fade. Brooks leaped in headlong
chase down the furrowed sides of gray old rocks, and glided whispering
beneath the sorrowful willows. Old trees renewed their youth in the
slight tenacious grasp of many a tremulous tendril, and, leaping lightly
above their topmost heights, vine laughed to vine, swaying dreamily in
the summer air; and not a vine nor brook nor hill nor forest but sent up
a sweet-smelling incense to its Maker. Not an ox or cow or lamb or bird
living its own dim life but lent its charm of unconscious grace to the
great picture that unfolded itself, mile after mile, in ever fresher
loveliness to ever unsated eyes. Well might the morning stars sing
together, and all the sons of God shout for joy, when first this grand
and perfect world swung free from its moorings, flung out its spotless
banner, and sailed majestic down the thronging skies. Yet, though but
once God spoke the world to life, the miracle of creation is still
incomplete. New every springtime, fresh every summer, the earth comes
forth as a bride adorned for her husband. Not only in the gray dawn of
our history, but now in the full brightness of its noon-day, may we hear
the voice of the Lord walking in the garden. I look out upon the gray
degraded fields left naked of the kindly snow, and inwardly ask: Can
these dry bones live again? And while the question is yet trembling on
my lips, lo! a Spirit breathes upon the earth, and beauty thrills into
bloom. Who shall lack faith in man's redemption, when every year the
earth is redeemed by unseen hands, and death is lost in resurrection?
To Fontdale sitting among her beautiful meadows we are borne swiftly on.
There we must tarry for the night, for I will not travel in the dark
when I can help it. I love it. There is no solitude in the world, or at
least I have never felt any, like standing alone in the door-way of
the rear car on a dark night, and rushing on through the
darkness,—darkness, darkness everywhere, and if one could only be sure
of rushing on till daylight doth appear! But with the frightful and not
remote possibility of bringing up in a crash and being buried under a
general huddle, one prefers daylight. You may not be able to get out of
the huddle even by daylight; but you will at least know where you are,
if there is anything of you left. So at Fontdale Halicarnassus branches
off temporarily on a business errand, and I stop for the night
You object to this? Some people do. For my part, I like it. You say you
don't want to turn your own house or your friend's house into a hotel.
If people want to see you, let them come and make a visit; if you want
to see them, you will go and make them one; but this touch and go,—what
is it worth? O foolish Galatians! much every way. For don't you see,
supposing the people are people you don't like, how much better it is to
have them come and sleep or dine and be gone than to have them before
your face and eyes for a week? An ill that is temporary is tolerable.
You could entertain the Evil One himself, if you were sure he would go
away after dinner. The trouble about him is not so much that he comes as
that he won't go. He hangs around. If you once open your door to him,
there is no getting rid of him; and some of his followers, it must be
confessed, are just like him. You must resist them both, or they will
never flee. But if they do flee after a day's tarry, do not complain.
You protest against turning your house into a hotel. Why, the hotelry
is the least irksome part of the whole business, when your guests are
uninteresting. It is not the supper or the bed that costs, but keeping
people going after supper is over and before bed-time is come. Never
complain, if you have nothing worse to do than to feed or house your
guests for a day or an hour.
On the other hand, if they are people you like, how much better to have
them come so than not to come at all! People cannot often make long
visits,—people that are worth anything,—people who use life; and they
are the only ones that are worth anything. And if you cannot get your
good things in the lump, are you going to refuse them altogether? By no
means. You are going to take them by driblets, and if you will only be
sensible and not pout, but keep your tin pan right side up, you will
find that golden showers will drizzle through all your life. So, with
never a nugget in your chest, you shall die rich. If you can stop
over-night with your friend, you have no sand-grain, but a very
respectable boulder. For a night is infinite. Daytime is well enough for
business, but it is little worth for happiness. You sit down to a book,
to a picture, to a friend, and the first you know it is time to get
dinner, or time to eat it, or time for the train, or you must put out
your dried apples, or set the bread to rising, or something breaks in
impertinently and chokes you off at flood-tide. But the night has no
end. Everything is done but that which you would be forever doing. The
curtains are drawn, the lamp is lighted and veiled into exquisite soft
shadowiness. All the world is far off. All its din and dole strike into
the bank of darkness that envelops you and are lost to your tranced
sense. In all the world are only your friend and you, and then you
strike out your oars, silver-sounding, into the shoreless night.
But the night comes to an end, you say. No, it does not. It is you that
come to an end. You grow sleepy, clod that you are. But as you don't
think, when you begin, that you ever shall grow sleepy, it is just the
same as if you never did. For you have no foreshadow of an inevitable
termination to your rapture, and so practically your night has no limit.
It is fastened at one end to the sunset, but the other end floats off
into eternity. And there really is no abrupt termination. You roll down
the inclined plane of your social happiness into the bosom of another
happiness,—sleep. Sleep for the sleepy is bliss just as truly as
society to the lonely. What in the distance would have seemed Purgatory,
once reached, is Paradise, and your happiness is continuous. Just as it
is in mending. Short-sighted, superficial, unreflecting people have a
way—which in time fossilizes into a principle—of mending everything as
soon as it comes up from the wash, a very unthrifty, uneconomical habit,
if you use the words thrift and economy in the only way in which they
ought to be used, namely, as applied to what is worth economizing. Time,
happiness, life, these are the only things to be thrifty about. But
I see people working and worrying over quince-marmalade and tucked
petticoats and embroidered chair-covers, things that perish with the
using and leave the user worse than they found him. This I call waste
and wicked prodigality. Life is too short to permit us to fret about
matters of no importance. Where these things can minister to the mind
and heart, they are a part of the soul's furniture; but where they only
pamper the appetite or the vanity or any foolish and hurtful lust,
they are foolish and hurtful. Be thrifty of comfort. Never allow an
opportunity for cheer, for pleasure, for intelligence, for benevolence,
for any kind of good, to go unimproved. Consider seriously whether the
sirup of your preserves or the juices of your own soul will do the
most to serve your race. It may be that they are compatible,—that the
concoction of the one shall provide the ascending sap of the other; but
if it is not so, if one must be sacrificed, do not hesitate a moment
as to which it shall be. If a peach does not become sweetmeat, it will
become something, it will not stay a withered, unsightly peach; but for
souls there is no transmigration out of fables. Once a soul, forever a
soul,—mean or mighty, shrivelled or full, it is for you to say. Money,
land, luxury, so far as they are money, land, and luxury, are worthless.
It is only as fast and as far as they are turned into life that they
So you are thriftless when you eagerly seize the first opportunity
to fritter away your time over old clothes. You precipitate yourself
unnecessarily against a disagreeable thing. For you are not going to put
your stockings on. Perhaps you will not need your buttons for a week,
and in a week you may have passed beyond the jurisdiction of buttons.
But even if you should not, let the buttons and the holes alone all the
same. For, first, the pleasant and profitable thing which you will do
instead is a funded capital which will roll you up a perpetual interest;
and secondly, the disagreeable duty is forever abolished. I say forever,
because, when you have gone without the button awhile, the inconvenience
it occasions will reconcile you to the necessity of sewing it on,—will
even go farther, and make it a positive relief amounting to positive
pleasure. Besides, every time you use it, for a long while after you
will have a delicious sense of satisfaction, such as accompanies the
sudden complete cessation of a dull, continuous pain. Thus what was at
best characterless routine, and most likely an exasperation, is turned
into actual delight, and adds to the sum of life. This is thrift. This
is economy. But, alas! few people understand the art of living. They
strive after system, wholeness, buttons, and neglect the weightier
matters of the higher law.
—I wonder how I got here, or how I am to get back again. I started for
Fontdale, and I find myself in a mending-basket. As I know no good in
tracing the same road back, we may as well strike a bee-line and begin
new at Fontdale.
We stopped at Fontdale a-cousining. I have a veil, a beautiful—have,
did I say? Alas! Troy was. But I must not anticipate—a beautiful veil
of brown tissue, none of your woolleny, gruff fabrics, fit only for
penance, but a silken gossamery cloud, soft as a baby's check. Yet
everybody fleers at it. Everybody has a joke about it. Everybody looks
at it, and holds it out at arms' length, and shakes it, and makes great
eyes at it, and says, "What in the world"—, and ends with a huge,
bouncing laugh. Why? One is ashamed of human nature at being forced to
confess. Because, to use a Gulliverism, it is longer by the breadth of
my nail than any of its contemporaries. In fact, it is two yards long.
That is all. Halicarnassus fired the first gun at it by saying that its
length was to enable one end of it to remain at home while the other end
went with me, so that neither of us should get lost. This is an
allusion to a habit which I and my property have of finding ourselves
individually and collectively left in the lurch. After this initial
shot, everybody considered himself at liberty to let off his rusty old
blunderbuss, and there was a constant peppering. But my veil never
lowered its colors nor curtailed its resources. Alas! what ridicule and
contumely failed to effect, destiny accomplished. Softness and plenitude
are no shields against the shafts of fate.
I went into the station waiting-room to write a note. I laid my bonnet,
my veil, my packages upon the table. I wrote my note. I went away. The
next morning, when I would have arrayed myself to resume my journey,
there was no veil. I remembered that I had taken it into the station
the night before, and that I had not taken it out. At the station we
inquired of the waiting-woman concerning it. It is as much as your life
is worth to ask these people about lost articles. They take it for
granted at the first blush that you mean to accuse them of stealing.
"Have you seen a brown veil lying about anywhere?" asked Crene, her
sweet bird-voice warbling out from her sweet rose-lips. "No, I 'a'n't
seen nothin' of it," says Gnome, with magnificent indifference.
"It was lost here last night," continues Crene, in a soliloquizing
undertone, pushing investigating glances beneath the sofas.
"I do' know nothin' about it. I 'a'n't took it"; and the Gnome tosses
her head back defiantly. "I seen the lady when she was a-writin' of her
letter, and when she went out ther' wa'n't nothin' left on the table but
a hangkerchuf, and that wa'n't hern. I do' know nothin' about it, nor I
'a'n't seen nothin' of it."
Oh, no, my Gnome, you knew nothing of it; you did not take it. But since
no one accused you or even suspected you, why could you not have been
less aggressive and more sympathetic in your assertions? But we will
plough no longer in that field. The ploughshare has struck against a
rock and grits, denting its edge in vain. My veil is gone,—my ample,
historic, heroic veil. There is a woman in Fontdale who breathes air
filtered through—I will not say stolen tissue, but certainly
through tissue which was obtained without rendering its owner any fair
equivalent. Does not every breeze that softly stirs its fluttering folds
say to her, "O friend, this veil is not yours, not yours," and still
sighingly, "not yours! Up among the northern hills, yonder towards the
sunset, sits the owner, sorrowful, weeping, wailing"? I believe I am
wading out into the Sally Waters of Mother Goosery; but, prose
or poetry, somewhere a woman,—and because nobody of taste could
surreptitiously possess herself of my veil, I have no doubt that she cut
it incontinently into two equal parts, and gave one to her sister, and
that there are two women,—nay, since niggardly souls have no sense of
grandeur and will shave down to microscopic dimensions, it is every way
probable that she divided it into three unequal parts, and took three
quarters of a yard for herself, three quarters for her sister, and gave
the remaining half-yard to her daughter, and that at this very moment
there are two women and a little girl taking their walks abroad under
the silken shadows of my veil! And yet there are people who profess to
disbelieve in total depravity.
Nor did the veil walk away alone. My trunk became imbued with the spirit
of adventure, and branched off on its own account up somewhere into
Vermont. I suppose it would have kept on and reached perhaps the North
Pole by this time, had not Crene's dark eyes—so pretty to look at that
one instinctively feels they ought not to be good for anything, if a
just impartiality is to be maintained, but they are—Crene's dark eyes
seen it tilting up into a baggage-crate and trundling off towards the
Green Mountains, but too late. Of course there was a formidable hitch in
the programme. A court of justice was improvised on the car-steps. I was
the plaintiff, Crene chief evidence, baggage-master both defendant and
examining-counsel. The case did not admit of a doubt. There was the
little insurmountable check whose brazen lips could speak no lie.
"Keep hold of that," whispered Crene, and a yoke of oxen could not have
drawn it from me.
"You are sure you had it marked for Fontdale," says Mr. Baggage-master.
I hold the impracticable check before his eyes in silence.
"Yes, well, it must have gone on to Albany."
"But it went away on that track," says Crene.
"Couldn't have gone on that track. Of course they wouldn't have carried
it away over there just to make it go wrong."
For me, I am easily persuaded and dissuaded. If he had told me that
it must have gone in such a direction, that it was a moral and mental
impossibility it should have gone in any other, and have said it times
enough, with a certain confidence and contempt of any other contingency,
I should gradually have lost faith in my own eyes, and said, "Well, I
suppose it did." But Crene is not to be asserted into yielding one inch,
and insists that the trunk went to Vermont and not to New York, and is
thoroughly unmanageable. Then the baggage-master, in anguish of soul,
trots out his subordinates, one after another,—
"Is this the man that wheeled the trunk away? Is this? Is this?"
The brawny-armed fellows hang back, and scowl, and muffle words in a
very suspicious manner, and protest they won't be got into a scrape. But
Crene has no scrape for them. She cannot swear to their identity. She
had eyes only for the trunk.
"Well," says Baggager, at his wits' end, "you let me take your check,
and I'll send the trunk on by express, when it comes."
I pity him, and relax my clutch.
"No," whispers Crene; "as long as you have your check, you as good as
have your trunk; but when you give that up, you have nothing. Keep that
till you see your trunk."
My clutch re-tightens.
"At any rate, you can wait till the next train, and see if it doesn't
come back. You'll get to your journey's end just as soon."
"Shall I? Well, I will," compliant as usual.
"No," interposes my good genius again. "Men are always saying that a
woman never goes when she engages to go. She is always a train later or
a train earlier, and you can't meet her."
Pliant to the last touch I say aloud,—
"No, I must go in this train"; and so I go trunkless and crest-fallen to
It is a dismal day, and Crene, to comfort me, puts into my hands two
books as companions by the way. They are Coventry Patmore's "Angel in
the House," "The Espousals and the Betrothal." I do not approve of
reading in the cars; but without is a dense, white, unvarying fog, and
within my heart it is not clear sunshine. So I turn to my books.
Did any one ever read them before? Somebody wrote a vile review of them
once, and gave the idea of a very puerile, ridiculous, apron-stringy
attempt at poetry. Whoever wrote that notice ought to be shot, for the
books are charming pure and homely and householdy, yet not effeminate.
Critics may sneer as much as they choose: it is such love as Vaughan's
that Honorias value. Because a woman's nature is not proof against
deterioration, because a large and long-continued infusion of gross
blood, and perhaps even the monotonous pressure of rough, pitiless,
degrading circumstances, may displace, eat out, rub off the delicacy of
a soul, may change its texture to unnatural coarseness and scatter ashes
for beauty, women do exist, victims rather than culprits, coarse against
their nature, hard, material, grasping, the saddest sight humanity can
see. Such a woman can accept coarse men. They may come courting on all
fours, and she will not be shocked. But women in the natural state want
men to stand god-like erect, to tread majestically, and live delicately,
Women do not often make an ado about this. They talk it over among
themselves, and take men as they are. They quietly soften them down,
and smooth them out, and polish them up, and make the best of them, and
simply and sedulously shut their eyes and make believe there isn't any
worst, or reason it away,—a great deal more than I should think they
would. But if you want to see the qualities that a woman, spontaneously
loves, the expression, the tone, the bearing that thoroughly satisfies
her self-respect, that not only secures her acquiescence, but arouses
her enthusiasm and commands her abdication, crucify the flesh, and read
Coventry Patmore. Not that he is the world's great poet, nor Arthur
Vaughan the ideal man; but this I do mean: that the delicacy, the
spirituality of his love, the scrupulous respectfulness of his demeanor,
his unfeigned inward humility, as far removed from servility on the one
side as from assumption on the other, and less the opponent than the
offspring of self-respect, his thorough gentleness, guilelessness,
deference, his manly, unselfish homage, are such qualities, and such
alone, as lead womanhood captive. Listen to me, you rattling, roaring,
rollicking Ralph Roister Doisters, you calm, inevitable Gradgrinds, as
smooth, as sharp, as bright as steel, and as soulless, and you men,
whoever, whatever, and wherever you are, with fibres of rope and nerves
of wire, there is many and many a woman who tolerates you because she
finds you, but there is nothing in her that ever goes out to seek you.
Be not deceived by her placability. "Here he is," she says to herself,
"and something must be done about it. Buried under Ossa and Pelion
somewhere he must be supposed to have a soul, and the sooner he is dug
into, the sooner it will be exhumed." So she digs. She would never have
made you, nor of her own free-will elected you; but being made, such as
you are, and on her hands in one way or another, she carves and chisels,
and strives to evoke from the block a breathing statue. She may succeed
so far as that you shall become her Frankenstein, a great, sad,
monstrous, incessant, inevitable caricature of her ideal, the monument
at once of her success and her failure, the object of her compassion,
the intimate sorrow of her soul, a vast and dreadful form into which
her creative power can breathe the breath of life, but not of sympathy.
Perhaps she loves you with a remorseful, pitying, protesting love, and
carries you on her shuddering shoulders to the grave. Probably, as she
is good and wise, you will never find it out. A limpid brook ripples in
beauty and bloom by the side of your muddy, stagnant self-complacence,
and you discern no essential difference. "Water's water," you say, with
your broad, stupid generalization, and go oozing along contentedly
through peat-bogs and meadow-ditches, mounting, perhaps, in moments
of inspiration, to the moderate sublimity of a cranberry-meadow, but
subsiding with entire satisfaction into a muck-puddle; and all the while
the little brook that you patronize when you are full-fed, and snub when
you are hungry, and look down upon always,—the little brook is singing
its own melody through grove and orchard and sweet wild-wood,—singing
with the birds and the blooms songs that you cannot hear; but they are
heard by the silent stars, singing on and on into a broader and deeper
destiny, till it pours, one day, its last earthly note, and becomes
forevermore the unutterable sea.
And you are nothing but a ditch.
No, my friend, Lucy will drive with you, and talk to you, and sing your
songs; she will take care of you, and pray for you, and cry when you
go to the war; if she is not your daughter or your sister, she will,
perhaps, in a moment of weakness or insanity, marry you; she will be a
faithful wife, and float you to the end; but if you wish to be her love,
her hero, her ideal, her delight, her spontaneity, her utter rest and
ultimatum, you must attune your soul to fine issues,—you must bring out
the angel in you, and keep the brute under. It is not that you shall
stop making shoes, and begin to write poetry. That is just as much
discrimination as you have. Tell you to be gentle, and you think we want
you to dissolve into milk-and-water; tell you to be polite, and you
infer hypocrisy; to be neat, and you leap over into dandyism, fancying
all the while that bluster is manliness. No, Sir. You may make shoes,
you may run engines, you may carry coals; you may blow the huntsman's
horn, hurl the base-ball, follow the plough, smite the anvil; your face
may be brown, your veins knotted, your hands grimed; and yet you may be
a hero. And, on the other hand, you may write verses and be a clown.
It is not necessary to feed on ambrosia in order to become divine;
nor shall one be accursed, though he drink of the ninefold Styx. The
Israelites ate angels' food in the wilderness, and remained stiff-necked
and uncircumcised in heart and ears. The white water-lily feeds on
slime, and unfolds a heavenly glory. Come as the June morning comes. It
has not picked its way daintily, passing only among the roses. It has
breathed up the whole earth. It has blown through the fields and the
barn-yards and all the common places of the land. It has shrunk from
nothing. Its purity has breasted and overborne all things, and so
mingled and harmonized all that it sweeps around your forehead and sinks
into your heart as soft and sweet and pure as the fragrancy of Paradise.
So come you, rough from the world's rough work, with all out-door airs
blowing around you, and all your earth-smells clinging to you, but with
a fine inward grace, so strong, so sweet, so salubrious that it meets
and masters all things, blending every faintest or foulest odor of
earthliness into the grateful incense of a pure and lofty life.
Thus I read and mused in the soft summer fog, and the first I knew the
cars had stopped, I was standing on the platform, and Coventry and his
knight were—where? Wandering up and down somewhere among the Berkshire
hills. At some junction of roads, I suppose, I left them on the
cushion, for I have never beheld them since. Tell me, O ye daughters of
Berkshire, have you seen them,—a princely pair, sore weary in your
mountain-land, but regal still, through all their travel-stain? I pray
you, entreat them hospitably, for their mission is "not of an age, but
for all time."