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Title: Elsie Venner
Author: Holmes, Oliver Wendell
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ELSIE VENNER

By Oliver Wendell Holmes



PREFACE.

This tale was published in successive parts in the “Atlantic Monthly,”
 under the name of “The Professor’s Story,” the first number having
appeared in the third week of December, 1859. The critic who is curious
in coincidences must refer to the Magazine for the date of publication
of the chapter he is examining.

In calling this narrative a “romance,” the Author wishes to make sure of
being indulged in the common privileges of the poetic license. Through
all the disguise of fiction a grave scientific doctrine may be detected
lying beneath some of the delineations of character. He has used this
doctrine as a part of the machinery of his story without pledging his
absolute belief in it to the extent to which it is asserted or implied.
It was adopted as a convenient medium of truth rather than as an
accepted scientific conclusion. The reader must judge for himself what
is the value of various stories cited from old authors. He must decide
how much of what has been told he can accept either as having actually
happened, or as possible and more or less probable. The Author must
be permitted, however, to say here, in his personal character, and as
responsible to the students of the human mind and body, that since
this story has been in progress he has received the most startling
confirmation of the possibility of the existence of a character like
that which he had drawn as a purely imaginary conception in Elsie
Venner.

BOSTON, January, 1861.



A SECOND PREFACE.

This is the story which a dear old lady, my very good friend, spoke of
as “a medicated novel,” and quite properly refused to read. I was always
pleased with her discriminating criticism. It is a medicated novel, and
if she wished to read for mere amusement and helpful recreation there
was no need of troubling herself with a story written with a different
end in view.

This story has called forth so many curious inquiries that it seems
worth while to answer the more important questions which have occurred
to its readers.

In the first place, it is not based on any well-ascertained
physiological fact. There are old fables about patients who have barked
like dogs or crowed like cocks, after being bitten or wounded by those
animals. There is nothing impossible in the idea that Romulus and Remus
may have imbibed wolfish traits of character from the wet nurse the
legend assigned them, but the legend is not sound history, and the
supposition is nothing more than a speculative fancy. Still, there is a
limbo of curious evidence bearing on the subject of pre-natal influences
sufficient to form the starting-point of an imaginative composition.

The real aim, of the story was to test the doctrine of “original sin”
 and human responsibility for the disordered volition coming under that
technical denomination. Was Elsie Venner, poisoned by the venom of a
crotalus before she was born, morally responsible for the “volitional”
 aberrations, which translated into acts become what is known as sin,
and, it may be, what is punished as crime? If, on presentation of the
evidence, she becomes by the verdict of the human conscience a proper
object of divine pity and not of divine wrath, as a subject of moral
poisoning, wherein lies the difference between her position at the bar
of judgment, human or divine, and that of the unfortunate victim who
received a moral poison from a remote ancestor before he drew his first
breath?

It might be supposed that the character of Elsie Veneer was suggested
by some of the fabulous personages of classical or mediaeval story. I
remember that a French critic spoke of her as cette pauvre Melusine. I
ought to have been ashamed, perhaps, but I had, not the slightest idea
who Melusina was until I hunted up the story, and found that she was a
fairy, who for some offence was changed every Saturday to a serpent from
her waist downward. I was of course familiar with Keats’s Lamia, another
imaginary being, the subject of magical transformation into a serpent.
My story was well advanced before Hawthorne’s wonderful “Marble Faun,”
 which might be thought to have furnished me with the hint of a mixed
nature,--human, with an alien element,--was published or known to me. So
that my poor heroine found her origin, not in fable or romance, but in a
physiological conception fertilized by a theological dogma.

I had the dissatisfaction of enjoying from a quiet corner a well-meant
effort to dramatize “Elsie Veneer.” Unfortunately, a physiological
romance, as I knew beforehand, is hardly adapted for the melodramatic
efforts of stage representation. I can therefore say, with perfect
truth, that I was not disappointed. It is to the mind, and not to the
senses, that such a story must appeal, and all attempts to render the
character and events objective on the stage, or to make them real by
artistic illustrations, are almost of necessity failures. The story has
won the attention and enjoyed the favor of a limited class of readers,
and if it still continues to interest others of the same tastes and
habits of thought I can ask nothing more of it.

January 23, 1883.



PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION.

I have nothing of importance to add to the two preceding Prefaces. The
continued call for this story, which was not written for popularity, but
with a very serious purpose, has somewhat surprised and, I need not add,
gratified me. I can only restate the motive idea of the tale in a little
different language. Believing, as I do, that our prevailing theologies
are founded upon an utterly false view of the relation of man to his
Creator, I attempted to illustrate the doctrine of inherited moral
responsibility for other people’s misbehavior. I tried to make out a
case for my poor Elsie, whom the most hardened theologian would find
it hard to blame for her inherited ophidian tastes and tendencies. How,
then, is he to blame mankind for inheriting “sinfulness” from their
first parents? May not the serpent have bitten Eve before the birth
of Cain, her first-born? That would have made an excuse for Cain’s
children, as Elsie’s ante-natal misfortune made an excuse for her. But
what difference does it make in the child’s responsibility whether his
inherited tendencies come from a snake-bite or some other source which
he knew nothing about and could not have prevented from acting? All this
is plain enough, and the only use of the story is to bring the dogma of
inherited guilt and its consequences into a clearer point of view.

But, after all, the tale must have proved readable as a story to account
for the large number of editions which it has reached.

Some readers have been curious about the locality the writer was
thought to have in view. No particular place was intended. Some of the
characters may have been thought to have been drawn from life; but the
personages mentioned are mostly composites, like Mr. Galton’s compound
photographic likenesses, and are not calculated to provoke scandal or
suits for libel.

O. W. H.

BEVERLY FARMS, MASS., August 3, 1891.



ELSIE VENNER.



CHAPTER I. THE BRAHMIN CASTE OF NEW ENGLAND.

There is nothing in New England corresponding at all to the feudal
aristocracies of the Old World. Whether it be owing to the stock from
which we were derived, or to the practical working of our institutions,
or to the abrogation of the technical “law of honor,” which draws a
sharp line between the personally responsible class of “gentlemen” and
the unnamed multitude of those who are not expected to risk their lives
for an abstraction,--whatever be the cause, we have no such aristocracy
here as that which grew up out of the military systems of the Middle
Ages.

What we mean by “aristocracy” is merely the richer part of the
community, that live in the tallest houses, drive real carriages, (not
“kerridges,”) kidglove their hands, and French-bonnet their ladies’
heads, give parties where the persons who call them by the above title
are not invited, and have a provokingly easy way of dressing, walking,
talking, and nodding to people, as if they felt entirely at home, and
would not be embarrassed in the least, if they met the Governor, or even
the President of the United States, face to face. Some of these great
folks are really well-bred, some of them are only purse-proud and
assuming,--but they form a class, and are named as above in the common
speech.

It is in the nature of large fortunes to diminish rapidly, when
subdivided and distributed. A million is the unit of wealth, now and
here in America. It splits into four handsome properties; each of these
into four good inheritances; these, again, into scanty competences for
four ancient maidens,--with whom it is best the family should die out,
unless it can begin again as its great-grandfather did. Now a million
is a kind of golden cheese, which represents in a compendious form the
summer’s growth of a fat meadow of craft or commerce; and as this kind
of meadow rarely bears more than one crop, it is pretty certain that
sons and grandsons will not get another golden cheese out of it,
whether they milk the same cows or turn in new ones. In other words,
the millionocracy, considered in a large way, is not at all an affair
of persons and families, but a perpetual fact of money with a variable
human element, which a philosopher might leave out of consideration
without falling into serious error. Of course, this trivial and,
fugitive fact of personal wealth does not create a permanent
class, unless some special means are taken to arrest the process of
disintegration in the third generation. This is so rarely done, at least
successfully, that one need not live a very long life to see most of
the rich families he knew in childhood more or less reduced, and the
millions shifted into the hands of the country-boys who were sweeping
stores and carrying parcels when the now decayed gentry were driving
their chariots, eating their venison over silver chafing-dishes,
drinking Madeira chilled in embossed coolers, wearing their hair in
powder, and casing their legs in long boots with silken tassels.

There is, however, in New England, an aristocracy, if you choose to call
it so, which has a far greater character of permanence. It has grown
to be a caste,--not in any odious sense;--but, by the repetition of the
same influences, generation after generation, it has acquired a distinct
organization and physiognomy, which not to recognize is mere stupidity,
and not to be willing to describe would show a distrust of the
good-nature and intelligence of our readers, who like to have us see all
we can and tell all we see.

If you will look carefully at any class of students in one of our
colleges, you will have no difficulty in selecting specimens of two
different aspects of youthful manhood. Of course I shall choose extreme
cases to illustrate the contrast between them. In the first, the figure
is perhaps robust, but often otherwise,--inelegant, partly from careless
attitudes, partly from ill-dressing,--the face is uncouth in feature, or
at least common,--the mouth coarse and unformed,--the eye unsympathetic,
even if bright,--the movements of the face are clumsy, like those of
the limbs,--the voice is unmusical,--and the enunciation as if the words
were coarse castings, instead of fine carvings. The youth of the
other aspect is commonly slender, his face is smooth, and apt to be
pallid,--his features are regular and of a certain delicacy,--his eye
is bright and quick,--his lips play over the thought he utters as a
pianist’s fingers dance over their music, and his whole air, though
it may be timid, and even awkward, has nothing clownish. If you are
a teacher, you know what to expect from each of these young men. With
equal willingness, the first will be slow at learning; the second will
take to his books as a pointer or a setter to his field-work.

The first youth is the common country-boy, whose race has been bred to
bodily labor. Nature has adapted the family organization to the kind of
life it has lived. The hands and feet by constant use have got more than
their share of development,--the organs of thought and expression less
than their share. The finer instincts are latent and must be developed.
A youth of this kind is raw material in its first stage of elaboration.
You must not expect too much of any such. Many of them have force of
will and character, and become distinguished in practical life; but
very few of them ever become great scholars. A scholar is, in a large
proportion of cases, the son of scholars or scholarly persons.

That is exactly what the other young man is. He comes of the Brahmin
caste of New England. This is the harmless, inoffensive, untitled
aristocracy referred to, and which many readers will at once
acknowledge. There are races of scholars among us, in which aptitude for
learning, and all these marks of it I have spoken of, are congenital and
hereditary. Their names are always on some college catalogue or other.
They break out every generation or two in some learned labor which calls
them up after they seem to have died out. At last some newer name takes
their place, it maybe,--but you inquire a little and you find it is the
blood of the Edwardses or the Chauncys or the Ellerys or some of the
old historic scholars, disguised under the altered name of a female
descendant.

There probably is not an experienced instructor anywhere in our
Northern States who will not recognize at once the truth of this general
distinction. But the reader who has never been a teacher will very
probably object, that some of our most illustrious public men have come
direct from the homespun-clad class of the people,--and he may, perhaps,
even find a noted scholar or two whose parents were masters of the
English alphabet, but of no other.

It is not fair to pit a few chosen families against the great multitude
of those who are continually working their way up into the intellectual
classes. The results which are habitually reached by hereditary training
are occasionally brought about without it. There are natural filters as
well as artificial ones; and though the great rivers are commonly more
or less turbid, if you will look long enough, you may find a spring that
sparkles as no water does which drips through your apparatus of
sands and sponges. So there are families which refine themselves
into intellectual aptitude without having had much opportunity for
intellectual acquirements. A series of felicitous crosses develops an
improved strain of blood, and reaches its maximum perfection at last in
the large uncombed youth who goes to college and startles the hereditary
class-leaders by striding past them all. That is Nature’s republicanism;
thank God for it, but do not let it make you illogical. The race of the
hereditary scholar has exchanged a certain portion of its animal vigor
for its new instincts, and it is hard to lead men without a good deal
of animal vigor. The scholar who comes by Nature’s special grace from an
unworn stock of broad-chested sires and deep-bosomed mothers must always
overmatch an equal intelligence with a compromised and lowered vitality.
A man’s breathing and digestive apparatus (one is tempted to add
muscular) are just as important to him on the floor of the Senate as his
thinking organs. You broke down in your great speech, did you? Yes, your
grandfather had an attack of dyspepsia in ‘82, after working too hard on
his famous Election Sermon. All this does not touch the main fact: our
scholars come chiefly from a privileged order, just as our best fruits
come from well-known grafts, though now and then a seedling apple, like
the Northern Spy, or a seedling pear, like the Seckel, springs from a
nameless ancestry and grows to be the pride of all the gardens in the
land.

Let me introduce you to a young man who belongs to the Brahmin caste of
New England.



CHAPTER II. THE STUDENT AND HIS CERTIFICATE.

Bernard C. Langdon, a young man attending Medical Lectures at the school
connected with one of our principal colleges, remained after the Lecture
one day and wished to speak with the Professor. He was a student of
mark,--first favorite of his year, as they say of the Derby colts.
There are in every class half a dozen bright faces to which the teacher
naturally, directs his discourse, and by the intermediation of whose
attention he seems to hold that of the mass of listeners. Among these
some one is pretty sure to take the lead, by virtue of a personal
magnetism, or some peculiarity of expression, which places the face in
quick sympathetic relations with the lecturer. This was a young man
with such a face; and I found,--for you have guessed that I was the
“Professor” above-mentioned,--that, when there was anything difficult to
be explained, or when I was bringing out some favorite illustration of a
nice point, (as, for instance; when I compared the cell-growth, by which
Nature builds up a plant or an animal, to the glassblower’s similar mode
of beginning,--always with a hollow sphere, or vesicle, whatever he is
going to make,) I naturally looked in his face and gauged my success by
its expression.

It was a handsome face,--a little too pale, perhaps, and would have
borne something more of fulness without becoming heavy. I put the
organization to which it belongs in Section B of Class 1 of my
Anglo-American Anthropology (unpublished). The jaw in this section is
but slightly narrowed,--just enough to make the width of the forehead
tell more decidedly. The moustache often grows vigorously, but the
whiskers are thin. The skin is like that of Jacob, rather than like
Esau’s. One string of the animal nature has been taken away, but this
gives only a greater predominance to the intellectual chords. To see
just how the vital energy has been toned down, you must contrast one of
this section with a specimen of Section A of the same class,--say, for
instance, one of the old-fashioned, full-whiskered, red-faced, roaring,
big Commodores of the last generation, whom you remember, at least by
their portraits, in ruffled shirts, looking as hearty as butchers and as
plucky as bull-terriers, with their hair combed straight up from their
foreheads, which were not commonly very high or broad. The special form
of physical life I have been describing gives you a right to expect more
delicate perceptions and a more reflective, nature than you commonly
find in shaggy-throated men, clad in heavy suits of muscles.

The student lingered in the lecture-room, looking all the time as if he
wanted to say something in private, and waiting for two or three others,
who were still hanging about, to be gone.

Something is wrong!--I said to myself, when I noticed his
expression.--Well, Mr. Langdon,--I said to him, when we were alone,--can
I do anything for you to-day?

You can, Sir,--he said.--I am going to leave the class, for the present,
and keep school.

Why, that ‘s a pity, and you so near graduating! You’d better stay and
finish this course and take your degree in the spring, rather than break
up your whole plan of study.

I can’t help myself, Sir,--the young man answered.--There ‘s trouble at
home, and they cannot keep me here as they have done. So I must look out
for myself for a while. It’s what I’ve done before, and am ready to
do again. I came to ask you for a certificate of my fitness to teach a
common school, or a high school, if you think I am up to that. Are you
willing to give it to me?

Willing? Yes, to be sure,--but I don’t want you to go. Stay; we’ll make
it easy for you. There’s a fund will do something for you, perhaps. Then
you can take both the annual prizes, if you like,--and claim them in
money, if you want that more than medals.

I have thought it all over,--he answered,--and have pretty much made up
my mind to go.

A perfectly gentlemanly young man, of courteous address and mild
utterance, but means at least as much as he says. There are some people
whose rhetoric consists of a slight habitual under-statement. I often
tell Mrs. Professor that one of her “I think it’s sos” is worth the
Bible-oath of all the rest of the household that they “know it’s so.”
 When you find a person a little better than his word, a little more
liberal than his promise, a little more than borne out in his statement
by his facts, a little larger in deed than in speech, you recognize a
kind of eloquence in that person’s utterance not laid down in Blair or
Campbell.

This was a proud fellow, self-trusting, sensitive, with
family-recollections that made him unwilling to accept the kind of aid
which many students would have thankfully welcomed. I knew him too well
to urge him, after the few words which implied that he was determined
to go. Besides, I have great confidence in young men who believe in
themselves, and are accustomed to rely on their own resources from an
early period. When a resolute young fellow steps up to the great bully,
the World, and takes him boldly by the beard, he is often surprised to
find it come off in his hand, and that it was only tied on to scare away
timid adventurers. I have seen young men more than once, who came to a
great city without a single friend, support themselves and pay for their
education, lay up money in a few years, grow rich enough to travel, and
establish themselves in life, without ever asking a dollar of any person
which they had not earned. But these are exceptional cases. There are
horse-tamers, born so,--as we all know; there are woman-tamers, who
bewitch the sex as the pied piper bedeviled the children of Hamelin; and
there are world-tamers, who can make any community, even a Yankee one,
get down and let them jump on its back as easily as Mr. Rarey saddled
Cruiser.

Whether Langdon was of this sort or not I could not say positively; but
he had spirit, and, as I have said, a family-pride which would not let
him be dependent. The New England Brahmin caste often gets blended with
connections of political influence or commercial distinction. It is a
charming thing for the scholar, when his fortune carries him in this way
into some of the “old families” who have fine old houses, and city-lots
that have risen in the market, and names written in all the stock-books
of all the dividend-paying companies. His narrow study expands into a
stately library, his books are counted by thousands instead of hundreds,
and his favorites are dressed in gilded calf in place of plebeian
sheepskin or its pauper substitutes of cloth and paper.

The Reverend Jedediah Langdon, grandfather of our young gentleman, had
made an advantageous alliance of this kind. Miss Dorothea Wentworth had
read one of his sermons which had been printed “by request,” and became
deeply interested in the young author, whom she had never seen. Out of
this circumstance grew a correspondence, an interview, a declaration, a
matrimonial alliance, and a family of half a dozen children. Wentworth
Langdon, Esquire, was the oldest of these, and lived in the old
family-mansion. Unfortunately, that principle of the diminution of
estates by division, to which I have referred, rendered it somewhat
difficult to maintain the establishment upon the fractional income
which the proprietor received from his share of the property. Wentworth
Langdon, Esq., represented a certain intermediate condition of life
not at all infrequent in our old families. He was the connecting link
between the generation which lived in ease, and even a kind of state,
upon its own resources, and the new brood, which must live mainly by its
wits or industry, and make itself rich, or shabbily subside into that
lower stratum known to social geologists by a deposit of Kidderminster
carpets and the peculiar aspect of the fossils constituting the family
furniture and wardrobe. This slack-water period of a race, which comes
before the rapid ebb of its prosperity, is familiar to all who live in
cities. There are no more quiet, inoffensive people than these children
of rich families, just above the necessity of active employment, yet
not in a condition to place their own children advantageously, if they
happen to have families. Many of them are content to live unmarried.
Some mend their broken fortunes by prudent alliances, and some leave a
numerous progeny to pass into the obscurity from which their ancestors
emerged; so that you may see on handcarts and cobblers’ stalls names
which, a few generations back, were upon parchments with broad seals,
and tombstones with armorial bearings.

In a large city, this class of citizens is familiar to us in the
streets. They are very courteous in their salutations; they have time
enough to bow and take their hats off,--which, of course, no businessman
can afford to do. Their beavers are smoothly brushed, and their
boots well polished; all their appointments are tidy; they look
the respectable walking gentleman to perfection. They are prone to
habits,--they frequent reading-rooms,--insurance-offices,--they walk the
same streets at the same hours,--so that one becomes familiar with their
faces and persons, as a part of the street-furniture.

There is one curious circumstance, that all city-people must have
noticed, which is often illustrated in our experience of the slack-water
gentry. We shall know a certain person by his looks, familiarly, for
years, but never have learned his name. About this person we shall have
accumulated no little circumstantial knowledge;--thus, his face, figure,
gait, his mode of dressing, of saluting, perhaps even of speaking, may
be familiar to us; yet who he is we know not. In another department of
our consciousness, there is a very familiar name, which we have never
found the person to match. We have heard it so often, that it has
idealized itself, and become one of that multitude of permanent shapes
which walk the chambers of the brain in velvet slippers in the company
of Falstaff and Hamlet and General Washington and Mr. Pickwick.
Sometimes the person dies, but the name lives on indefinitely. But now
and then it happens, perhaps after years of this independent existence
of the name and its shadowy image in the brain, on the one part, and the
person and all its real attributes, as we see them daily, on the other,
that some accident reveals their relation, and we find the name we have
carried so long in our memory belongs to the person we have known so
long as a fellow-citizen. Now the slack--water gentry are among the
persons most likely to be the subjects of this curious divorce of title
and reality,--for the reason, that, playing no important part in the
community, there is nothing to tie the floating name to the actual
individual, as is the case with the men who belong in any way to the
public, while yet their names have a certain historical currency, and we
cannot help meeting them, either in their haunts, or going to and from
them.

To this class belonged Wentworth Langdon, Esq. He had been “dead-headed”
 into the world some fifty years ago, and had sat with his hands in
his pockets staring at the show ever since. I shall not tell you, for
reasons before hinted, the whole name of the place in which he lived.
I will only point you in the right direction, by saying that there are
three towns lying in a line with each other, as you go “down East,”
 each of them with a Port in its name, and each of them having a peculiar
interest which gives it individuality, in addition to the Oriental
character they have in common. I need not tell you that these towns are
Newburyport, Portsmouth, and Portland. The Oriental character they have
in common consists in their large, square, palatial mansions, with sunny
gardens round them. The two first have seen better days. They are in
perfect harmony with the condition of weakened, but not impoverished,
gentility. Each of them is a “paradise of demi-fortunes.” Each of them
is of that intermediate size between a village and a city which any
place has outgrown when the presence of a well-dressed stranger walking
up and down the main street ceases to be a matter of public curiosity
and private speculation, as frequently happens, during the busier months
of the year, in considerable commercial centres like Salem. They both
have grand old recollections to fall back upon,--times when they looked
forward to commercial greatness, and when the portly gentlemen in cocked
hats, who built their now decaying wharves and sent out their ships all
over the world, dreamed that their fast-growing port was to be the Tyre
or the Carthage of the rich British Colony. Great houses, like that once
lived in by Lord Timothy Dexter, in Newburyport, remain as evidence of
the fortunes amassed in these places of old. Other mansions--like the
Rockingham House in Portsmouth (look at the white horse’s tail before
you mount the broad staircase)--show that there was not only wealth, but
style and state, in these quiet old towns during the last century. It is
not with any thought of pity or depreciation that we speak of them as in
a certain sense decayed towns; they did not fulfil their early promise
of expansion, but they remain incomparably the most interesting places
of their size in any of the three northernmost New England States. They
have even now prosperity enough to keep them in good condition, and
offer the most attractive residences for quiet families, which, if they
had been English, would have lived in a palazzo at Genoa or Pisa, or
some other Continental Newburyport or Portsmouth.

As for the last of the three Ports, or Portland, it is getting too
prosperous to be as attractive as its less northerly neighbors. Meant
for a fine old town, to ripen like a Cheshire cheese within its walls
of ancient rind, burrowed by crooked alleys and mottled with venerable
mould, it seems likely to sacrifice its mellow future to a vulgar
material prosperity. Still it remains invested with many of its old
charms, as yet, and will forfeit its place among this admirable trio
only when it gets a hotel with unequivocal marks of having been built
and organized in the present century.

--It was one of the old square palaces of the North, in which Bernard
Langdon, the son of Wentworth, was born. If he had had the luck to be
an only child, he might have lived as his father had done, letting his
meagre competence smoulder on almost without consuming, like the fuel
in an air-tight stove. But after Master Bernard came Miss Dorothea
Elizabeth Wentworth Langdon, and then Master William Pepperell Langdon,
and others, equally well named,--a string of them, looking, when they
stood in a row in prayer-time, as if they would fit a set of Pandean
pipes, of from three feet upward in dimensions. The door of the
air-tight stove has to be opened, under such circumstances, you may well
suppose! So it happened that our young man had been obliged, from an
early period, to do something to support himself, and found himself
stopped short in his studies by the inability of the good people at home
to furnish him the present means of support as a student.

You will understand now why the young man wanted me to give him a
certificate of his fitness to teach, and why I did not choose to urge
him to accept the aid which a meek country-boy from a family without
ante-Revolutionary recollections would have thankfully received. Go he
must,--that was plain enough. He would not be content otherwise. He was
not, however, to give up his studies; and as it is customary to allow
half-time to students engaged in school-keeping,--that is, to count a
year, so employed, if the student also keep on with his professional
studies, as equal to six months of the three years he is expected to
be under an instructor before applying for his degree,--he would not
necessarily lose more than a few months of time. He had a small library
of professional books, which he could take with him.

So he left my teaching and that of my estimable colleagues, carrying
with him my certificate, that Mr. Bernard C. Langdon was a young
gentleman of excellent moral character, of high intelligence and good
education, and that his services would be of great value in any school,
academy, or other institution, where young persons of-either sex were to
be instructed.

I confess, that expression, “either sex,” ran a little thick, as I
may say, from my pen. For, although the young man bore a very fair
character, and there was no special cause for doubting his discretion,
I considered him altogether too good-looking, in the first place, to be
let loose in a roomful of young girls. I didn’t want him to fall in love
just then--and if half a dozen girls fell in love with him, as they most
assuredly would, if brought into too near relations with him, why, there
was no telling what gratitude and natural sensibility might bring about.

Certificates are, for the most part, like ostrich-eggs; the giver never
knows what is hatched out of them. But once in a thousand times they
act as curses are said to,--come home to roost. Give them often enough,
until it gets to be a mechanical business, and, some day or other, you
will get caught warranting somebody’s ice not to melt in any climate, or
somebody’s razors to be safe in the hands of the youngest children.

I had an uneasy feeling, after giving this certificate. It might be all
right enough; but if it happened to end badly, I should always reproach
myself. There was a chance, certainly, that it would lead him or others
into danger or wretchedness. Any one who looked at this young man could
not fail to see that he was capable of fascinating and being fascinated.
Those large, dark eyes of his would sink into the white soul of a
young girl as the black cloth sunk into the snow in Franklin’s famous
experiment. Or, on the other hand, if the rays of a passionate nature
should ever be concentrated on them, they would be absorbed into the
very depths of his nature, and then his blood would turn to flame and
burn his life out of him, until his cheeks grew as white as the ashes
that cover a burning coal.

I wish I had not said either sex in my certificate. An academy for young
gentlemen, now; that sounds cool and unimaginative. A boys’ school, that
would be a very good place for him;--some of them are pretty rough, but
there is nerve enough in that old Wentworth strain of blood; he can give
any country fellow, of the common stock, twenty pounds, and hit him out
of time in ten minutes. But to send such a young fellow as that out a
girl’s-nesting! to give this falcon a free pass into all the dove-cotes!
I was a fool,--that’s all.

I brooded over the mischief which might come out of these two words
until it seemed to me that they were charged with destiny. I could
hardly sleep for thinking what a train I might have been laying, which
might take a spark any day, and blow up nobody knows whose peace or
prospects. What I dreaded most was one of those miserable matrimonial
misalliances where a young fellow who does not know himself as yet
flings his magnificent future into the checked apron-lap of some
fresh-faced, half-bred country-girl, no more fit to be mated with him
than her father’s horse to go in double harness with Flora Temple. To
think of the eagle’s wings, being clipped so that he shall never
lift himself over the farm-yard fence! Such things happen, and always
must,--because, as one of us said awhile ago, a man always loves,
a woman, and a woman a man, unless some good reason exists to the
contrary. You think yourself a very fastidious young man, my friend; but
there are probably at least five-thousand young women in these United
States, any one of whom you would certainly marry, if you were thrown
much into her company, and nobody more attractive were near, and she had
no objection. And you, my dear young lady, justly pride yourself on your
discerning delicacy; but if I should say that there are twenty thousand
young men, any one of whom, if he offered his hand and heart under
favorable circumstances, you would

          “First endure, then pity, then embrace,”

I should be much more imprudent than I mean to be, and you would, no
doubt, throw down a story in which I hope to interest you.

I had settled it in my mind that this young fellow had a career marked
out for him. He should begin in the natural way, by taking care of poor
patients in one of the public charities, and work his way up to a better
kind of practice,--better, that is, in the vulgar, worldly sense. The
great and good Boerhaave used to say, as I remember very well, that the
poor were his best patients; for God was their paymaster. But everybody
is not as patient as Boerhaave, nor as deserving; so that the rich,
though not, perhaps, the best patients, are good enough for common
practitioners. I suppose Boerhaave put up with them when he could not
get poor ones, as he left his daughter two millions of florins when he
died.

Now if this young man once got into the wide streets, he would sweep
them clear of his rivals of the same standing; and as I was getting
indifferent to business, and old Dr. Kilham was growing careless, and
had once or twice prescribed morphine when he meant quinine, there would
soon be an opening into the Doctor’s Paradise,--the streets with only
one side to them. Then I would have him strike a bold stroke,--set up a
nice little coach, and be driven round like a first-class London doctor,
instead of coasting about in a shabby one-horse concern and casting
anchor opposite his patients’ doors like a Cape Ann fishing-smack. By
the time he was thirty, he would have knocked the social pawns out of
his way, and be ready to challenge a wife from the row of great pieces
in the background. I would not have a man marry above his level, so as
to become the appendage of a powerful family-connection; but I would not
have him marry until he knew his level,--that is, again, looking at the
matter in a purely worldly point of view, and not taking the sentiments
at all into consideration. But remember, that a young man, using large
endowments wisely and fortunately, may put himself on a level with
the highest in the land in ten brilliant years of spirited, unflagging
labor. And to stand at the very top of your calling in a great city is
something in itself,--that is, if you like money, and influence, and a
seat on the platform at public lectures, and gratuitous tickets to all
sorts of places where you don’t want to go, and, what is a good deal
better than any of these things, a sense of power, limited, it may be,
but absolute in its range, so that all the Caesars and Napoleons would
have to stand aside, if they came between you and the exercise of your
special vocation.

That is what I thought this young fellow might have come to; and now I
have let him go off into the country with my certificate, that he is fit
to teach in a school for either sex! Ten to one he will run like a moth
into a candle, right into one of those girls’-nests, and get tangled up
in some sentimental folly or other, and there will be the end of him.
Oh, yes! country doctor,--half a dollar a visit,--drive, drive, drive
all day,--get up at night and harness your own horse,--drive again
ten miles in a snow-storm, shake powders out of two phials, (pulv.
glycyrrhiz., pulv. gum. acac. as partes equates,)--drive back again,
if you don’t happen to get stuck in a drift, no home, no peace, no
continuous meals, no unbroken sleep, no Sunday, no holiday, no social
intercourse, but one eternal jog, jog, jog, in a sulky, until you feel
like the mummy of an Indian who had been buried in the sitting posture,
and was dug up a hundred years afterwards! Why did n’t I warn him about
love and all that nonsense? Why didn’t I tell him he had nothing to do
with it, yet awhile? Why did n’t I hold up to him those awful examples
I could have cited, where poor young fellows who could just keep
themselves afloat have hung a matrimonial millstone round their necks,
taking it for a life-preserver? All this of two words in a certificate!



CHAPTER III. MR. BERNARD TRIES HIS HAND.

Whether the Student advertised for a school, or whether he fell in with
the advertisement of a school-committee, is not certain. At any rate, it
was not long before he found himself the head of a large district,
or, as it was called by the inhabitants, “deestric” school, in the
flourishing inland village of Pequawkett, or, as it is commonly spelt,
Pigwacket Centre. The natives of this place would be surprised, if they
should hear that any of the readers of a work published in Boston were
unacquainted with so remarkable a locality. As, however, some copies of
it may be read at a distance from this distinguished metropolis, it may
be well to give a few particulars respecting the place, taken from the
Universal Gazetteer.

“PIGWACKET, sometimes spelt Pequawkett. A post-village and township
in ------ Co., State of ------, situated in a fine agricultural
region, 2 thriving villages, Pigwacket Centre and Smithville, 3
churches, several school houses, and many handsome private residences.
Mink River runs through the town, navigable for small boats after heavy
rains. Muddy Pond at N. E. section, well stocked with horn pouts,
eels, and shiners. Products, beef, pork, butter, cheese. Manufactures,
shoe-pegs, clothes-pins, and tin-ware. Pop. 1373.”

The reader may think there is nothing very remarkable implied in this
description. If, however he had read the town-history, by the Rev.
Jabez Grubb, he would have learned, that, like the celebrated Little
Pedlington, it was distinguished by many very remarkable advantages.
Thus:

“The situation of Pigwacket is eminently beautiful, looking down the
lovely valley of Mink River, a tributary of the Musquash. The air is
salubrious, and many of the inhabitants have attained great age, several
having passed the allotted period of ‘three-score years and ten’ before
succumbing to any of the various ‘ills that flesh is heir to.’ Widow
Comfort Leevins died in 1836 AEt. LXXXVII. years. Venus, an African,
died in 1841, supposed to be C. years old. The people are distinguished
for intelligence, as has been frequently remarked by eminent
lyceum-lecturers, who have invariably spoken in the highest terms of
a Pigwacket audience. There is a public library, containing nearly a
hundred volumes, free to all subscribers. The preached word is well
attended, there is a flourishing temperance society, and the schools are
excellent. It is a residence admirably adapted to refined families who
relish the beauties of Nature and the charms of society. The Honorable
John Smith, formerly a member of the State Senate, was a native of this
town.”

That is the way they all talk. After all, it is probably pretty much
like other inland New England towns in point of “salubrity,”--that is,
gives people their choice of dysentery or fever every autumn, with a
season-ticket for consumption, good all the year round. And so of the
other pretences. “Pigwacket audience,” forsooth! Was there ever an
audience anywhere, though there wasn’t a pair of eyes in it brighter
than pickled oysters, that did n’t think it was “distinguished for
intelligence”?--“The preached word”! That means the Rev. Jabez Grubb’s
sermons. “Temperance society”! “Excellent schools”! Ah, that is just
what we were talking about.

The truth was, that District No. 1, Pigwacket Centre, had had a good
deal of trouble of late with its schoolmasters. The committee had done
their best, but there were a number of well-grown and pretty rough young
fellows who had got the upper-hand of the masters, and meant to keep it.
Two dynasties had fallen before the uprising of this fierce democracy.
This was a thing that used to be not very uncommon; but in so
“intelligent” a community as that of Pigwacket Centre, in an era of
public libraries and lyceum-lectures, it was portentous and alarming.

The rebellion began under the ferule of Master Weeks, a slender youth
from a country college, underfed, thin-blooded, sloping-shouldered,
knock-kneed, straight-haired, weak-bearded, pale-eyed, wide-pupilled,
half-colored; a common type enough in in-door races, not rich enough to
pick and choose in their alliances. Nature kills off a good many of this
sort in the first teething-time, a few in later childhood, a good many
again in early adolescence; but every now and then one runs the gauntlet
of her various diseases, or rather forms of one disease, and grows up,
as Master Weeks had done.

It was a very foolish thing for him to try to inflict personal
punishment on such a lusty young fellow as Abner Briggs, Junior, one
of the “hardest customers” in the way of a rough-and-tumble fight that
there were anywhere round. No doubt he had been insolent, but it would
have been better to overlook it. It pains me to report the events
which took place when the master made his rash attempt to maintain his
authority. Abner Briggs, Junior, was a great, hulking fellow, who had
been bred to butchering, but urged by his parents to attend school, in
order to learn the elegant accomplishments of reading and writing,
in which he was sadly deficient. He was in the habit of talking and
laughing pretty loud in school-hours, of throwing wads of paper reduced
to a pulp by a natural and easy process, of occasional insolence and
general negligence. One of the soft, but unpleasant missiles just
alluded to flew by the master’s head one morning, and flattened itself
against the wall, where it adhered in the form of a convex mass in alto
rilievo. The master looked round and saw the young butcher’s arm in an
attitude which pointed to it unequivocally as the source from which the
projectile had taken its flight.

Master Weeks turned pale. He must “lick” Abner Briggs, Junior, or
abdicate. So he determined to lick Abner Briggs, Junior.

“Come here, Sir!” he said; “you have insulted me and outraged the
decency of the schoolroom often enough! Hold out your hand!”

The young fellow grinned and held it out. The master struck at it with
his black ruler, with a will in the blow and a snapping of the eyes,
as much as to say that he meant to make him smart this time. The young
fellow pulled his hand back as the ruler came down, and the master hit
himself a vicious blow with it on the right knee. There are things no
man can stand. The master caught the refractory youth by the collar and
began shaking him, or rather shaking himself against him.

“Le’ go o’ that are coat, naow,” said the fellow, “or I ‘ll make ye!
‘T ‘ll take tew on yet’ handle me, I tell ye, ‘n’ then ye caant dew
it!”--and the young pupil returned the master’s attention by catching
hold of his collar.

When it comes to that, the best man, not exactly in the moral sense, but
rather in the material, and more especially the muscular point of view,
is very apt to have the best of it, irrespectively of the merits of the
case. So it happened now. The unfortunate schoolmaster found himself
taking the measure of the sanded floor, amidst the general uproar of the
school. From that moment his ferule was broken, and the school-committee
very soon had a vacancy to fill.

Master Pigeon, the successor of Master Weeks, was of better stature, but
loosely put together, and slender-limbed. A dreadfully nervous kind of
man he was, walked on tiptoe, started at sudden noises, was distressed
when he heard a whisper, had a quick, suspicious look, and was always
saying, “Hush?” and putting his hands to his ears. The boys were not
long in finding out this nervous weakness, of course. In less than a
week a regular system of torments was inaugurated, full of the most
diabolical malice and ingenuity. The exercises of the conspirators
varied from day to day, but consisted mainly of foot-scraping, solos
on the slate-pencil, (making it screech on the slate,) falling of heavy
books, attacks of coughing, banging of desk-lids, boot-creaking, with
sounds as of drawing a cork from time to time, followed by suppressed
chuckles.

Master Pigeon grew worse and worse under these inflictions. The rascally
boys always had an excuse for any one trick they were caught at. “Could
n’ help coughin’, Sir.” “Slipped out o’ m’ han’, Sir.” “Did n’ go to,
Sir.” “Did n’ dew’t o’ purpose, Sir.” And so on,--always the best of
reasons for the most outrageous of behavior. The master weighed himself
at the grocer’s on a platform balance, some ten days after he began
keeping the school. At the end of a week he weighed himself again. He
had lost two pounds. At the end of another week he had lost five. He
made a little calculation, based on these data, from which he learned
that in a certain number of months, going on at this rate, he should
come to weigh precisely nothing at all; and as this was a sum in
subtraction he did not care to work out in practice, Master Pigeon took
to himself wings and left the school-committee in possession of a letter
of resignation and a vacant place to fill once more.

This was the school to which Mr. Bernard Langdon found himself appointed
as master. He accepted the place conditionally, with the understanding
that he should leave it at the end of a month, if he were tired of it.

The advent of Master Langdon to Pigwacket Centre created a much more
lively sensation than had attended that of either of his predecessors.
Looks go a good way all the world over, and though there were several
good-looking people in the place, and Major Bush was what the natives of
the town called a “hahnsome mahn,” that is, big, fat, and red, yet the
sight of a really elegant young fellow, with the natural air which grows
up with carefully-bred young persons, was a novelty. The Brahmin blood
which came from his grandfather as well as from his mother, a direct
descendant of the old Flynt family, well known by the famous tutor,
Henry Flynt, (see Cat. Harv. Anno 1693,) had been enlivened and enriched
by that of the Wentworths, which had had a good deal of ripe old Madeira
and other generous elements mingled with it, so that it ran to gout
sometimes in the old folks and to high spirit, warm complexion, and
curly hair in some of the younger ones. The soft curling hair Mr.
Bernard had inherited,--something, perhaps, of the high spirit; but that
we shall have a chance of finding out by and by. But the long sermons
and the frugal board of his Brahmin ancestry, with his own habits of
study, had told upon his color, which was subdued to something more of
delicacy than one would care to see in a young fellow with rough work
before him. This, however, made him look more interesting, or, as the
young ladies at Major Bush’s said, “interestin’.”

When Mr. Bernard showed himself at meeting, on the first Sunday after
his arrival, it may be supposed that a good many eyes were turned upon
the young schoolmaster. There was something heroic in his coming forward
so readily to take a place which called for a strong hand, and a prompt,
steady will to guide it. In fact, his position was that of a military
chieftain on the eve of a battle. Everybody knew everything in Pigwacket
Centre; and it was an understood thing that the young rebels meant to
put down the new master, if they could. It was natural that the two
prettiest girls in the village, called in the local dialect, as nearly
as our limited alphabet will represent it, Alminy Cutterr, and Arvilly
Braowne, should feel and express an interest in the good-looking
stranger, and that, when their flattering comments were repeated in the
hearing of their indigenous admirers, among whom were some of the older
“boys” of the school, it should not add to the amiable dispositions of
the turbulent youth.

Monday came, and the new schoolmaster was in his chair at the upper end
of the schoolhouse, on the raised platform. The rustics looked at his
handsome face, thoughtful, peaceful, pleasant, cheerful, but sharply cut
round the lips and proudly lighted about the eyes. The ringleader of
the mischief-makers, the young butcher who has before figured in this
narrative, looked at him stealthily, whenever he got a chance to study
him unobserved; for the truth was, he felt uncomfortable, whenever he
found the large, dark eyes fixed on his own little, sharp, deep-set,
gray ones. But he managed to study him pretty well,--first his face,
then his neck and shoulders, the set of his arms, the narrowing at the
loins, the make of his legs, and the way he moved. In short, he examined
him as he would have examined a steer, to see what he could do and
how he would cut up. If he could only have gone to him and felt of his
muscles, he would have been entirely satisfied. He was not a very wise
youth, but he did know well enough, that, though big arms and legs are
very good things, there is something besides size that goes to make a
man; and he had heard stories of a fighting-man, called “The Spider,”
 from his attenuated proportions, who was yet a terrible hitter in the
ring, and had whipped many a big-limbed fellow, in and out of the roped
arena.

Nothing could be smoother than the way in which everything went on
for the first day or two. The new master was so kind and courteous, he
seemed to take everything in such a natural, easy way, that there was no
chance to pick a quarrel with him. He in the mean time thought it best
to watch the boys and young men for a day or two with as little show
of authority as possible. It was easy enough to see that he would have
occasion for it before long.

The schoolhouse was a grim, old, red, one-story building, perched on a
bare rock at the top of a hill,--partly because this was a conspicuous
site for the temple of learning, and partly because land is cheap where
there is no chance even for rye or buckwheat, and the very sheep find
nothing to nibble. About the little porch were carved initials and
dates, at various heights, from the stature of nine to that of eighteen.
Inside were old unpainted desks,--unpainted, but browned with the umber
of human contact,--and hacked by innumerable jack-knives. It was long
since the walls had been whitewashed, as might be conjectured by the
various traces left upon them, wherever idle hands or sleepy heads could
reach them. A curious appearance was noticeable on various higher parts
of the wall: namely, a wart-like eruption, as one would be tempted to
call it, being in reality a crop of the soft missiles before mentioned,
which, adhering in considerable numbers, and hardening after the usual
fashion of papier-mache, formed at last permanent ornaments of the
edifice.

The young master’s quick eye soon noticed that a particular part of the
wall was most favored with these ornamental appendages. Their position
pointed sufficiently clearly to the part of the room they came from.
In fact, there was a nest of young mutineers just there, which must be
broken up by a coup d’etat. This was easily effected by redistributing
the seats and arranging the scholars according to classes, so that a
mischievous fellow, charged full of the rebellious imponderable, should
find himself between two non-conductors, in the shape of small boys of
studious habits. It was managed quietly enough, in such a plausible sort
of way that its motive was not thought of. But its effects were soon
felt; and then began a system of correspondence by signs, and the
throwing of little scrawls done up in pellets, and announced by
preliminary a’h’ms! to call the attention of the distant youth
addressed. Some of these were incendiary documents, devoting the
schoolmaster to the lower divinities, as “a stuck-up dandy,” as “a
purse-proud aristocrat,” as “a sight too big for his, etc.,” and holding
him up in a variety of equally forcible phrases to the indignation of
the youthful community of School District No. 1, Pigwacket Centre.

Presently the draughtsman of the school set a caricature in circulation,
labelled, to prevent mistakes, with the schoolmaster’s name. An immense
bell-crowned hat, and a long, pointed, swallow-tailed coat showed that
the artist had in his mind the conventional dandy, as shown in prints
of thirty or forty years ago, rather than any actual human aspect of the
time. But it was passed round among the boys and made its laugh,
helping of course to undermine the master’s authority, as “Punch” or the
“Charivari” takes the dignity out of an obnoxious minister. One morning,
on going to the schoolroom, Master Langdon found an enlarged copy of
this sketch, with its label, pinned on the door. He took it down,
smiled a little, put it into his pocket, and entered the schoolroom. An
insidious silence prevailed, which looked as if some plot were brewing.
The boys were ripe for mischief, but afraid. They had really no fault to
find with the master, except that he was dressed like a gentleman,
which a certain class of fellows always consider a personal insult to
themselves. But the older ones were evidently plotting, and more than
once the warning a’h’m! was heard, and a dirty little scrap of paper
rolled into a wad shot from one seat to another. One of these happened
to strike the stove-funnel, and lodged on the master’s desk. He was cool
enough not to seem to notice it. He secured it, however, and found
an opportunity to look at it, without being observed by the boys. It
required no immediate notice.

He who should have enjoyed the privilege of looking upon Mr. Bernard
Langdon the next morning, when his toilet was about half finished, would
have had a very pleasant gratuitous exhibition. First he buckled the
strap of his trousers pretty tightly. Then he took up a pair of heavy
dumb-bells, and swung them for a few minutes; then two great “Indian
clubs,” with which he enacted all sorts of impossible-looking feats. His
limbs were not very large, nor his shoulders remarkably broad; but if
you knew as much of the muscles as all persons who look at statues and
pictures with a critical eye ought to have learned,--if you knew the
trapezius, lying diamond-shaped over the back and shoulders like
a monk’s cowl,--or the deltoid, which caps the shoulder like an
epaulette,--or the triceps, which furnishes the calf of the upper
arm,--or the hard-knotted biceps,--any of the great sculptural
landmarks, in fact,--you would have said there was a pretty show of
them, beneath the white satiny skin of Mr. Bernard Langdon. And if you
had seen him, when he had laid down the Indian clubs, catch hold of a
leather strap that hung from the beam of the old-fashioned ceiling,--and
lift and lower himself over and over again by his left hand alone, you
might have thought it a very simple and easy thing to do, until you
tried to do it yourself. Mr. Bernard looked at himself with the eye
of an expert. “Pretty well!” he said;--“not so much fallen off as I
expected.” Then he set up his bolster in a very knowing sort of way,
and delivered two or three blows straight as rulers and swift as winks.
“That will do,” he said. Then, as if determined to make a certainty of
his condition, he took a dynamometer from one of the drawers in his old
veneered bureau. First he squeezed it with his two hands. Then he placed
it on the floor and lifted, steadily, strongly. The springs creaked
and cracked; the index swept with a great stride far up into the high
figures of the scale; it was a good lift. He was satisfied. He sat down
on the edge of his bed and looked at his cleanly-shaped arms. “If I
strike one of those boobies, I am afraid I shall spoil him,” he said.
Yet this young man, when weighed with his class at the college, could
barely turn one hundred and forty-two pounds in the scale,--not a heavy
weight, surely; but some of the middle weights, as the present English
champion, for instance, seem to be of a far finer quality of muscle than
the bulkier fellows.

The master took his breakfast with a good appetite that morning, but was
perhaps rather more quiet than usual. After breakfast he went up-stairs
and put, on a light loose frock, instead of that which he commonly wore,
which was a close-fitting and rather stylish one. On his way to
school he met Alminy Cutterr, who happened to be walking in the other
direction. “Good-morning, Miss Cutter,” he said; for she and another
young lady had been introduced to him, on a former occasion, in the
usual phrase of polite society in presenting ladies to gentlemen,--“Mr.
Langdon, let me make y’ acquainted with Miss Cutterr;--let me make y’
acquainted with Miss Braowne.” So he said, “Good-morning”; to which she
replied, “Good-mornin’, Mr. Langdon. Haow’s your haalth?” The answer
to this question ought naturally to have been the end of the talk; but
Alminy Cutterr lingered and looked as if she had something more on her
mind.

A young fellow does not require a great experience to read a simple
country-girl’s face as if it were a sign-board. Alminy was a good soul,
with red cheeks and bright eyes, kind-hearted as she could be, and it
was out of the question for her to hide her thoughts or feelings like
a fine lady. Her bright eyes were moist and her red cheeks paler than
their wont, as she said, with her lips quivering, “Oh, Mr. Langdon, them
boys ‘ll be the death of ye, if ye don’t take caar!”

“Why, what’s the matter, my dear?” said Mr. Bernard.--Don’t think there
was anything very odd in that “my dear,” at the second interview with a
village belle;--some of these woman-tamers call a girl “My dear,” after
five minutes’ acquaintance, and it sounds all right as they say it. But
you had better not try it at a venture.

It sounded all right to Alminy, as Mr. Bernard said it.--“I ‘ll tell ye
what’s the mahtterr,” she said, in a frightened voice. “Ahbner ‘s go’n’
to car’ his dog, ‘n’ he’ll set him on ye’z sure ‘z y’ ‘r’ alive. ‘T’s
the same cretur that haaf eat up Eben Squires’s little Jo, a year come
nex’ Faast day.”

Now this last statement was undoubtedly overcolored; as little Jo
Squires was running about the village,--with an ugly scar on his arm, it
is true, where the beast had caught him with his teeth, on the occasion
of the child’s taking liberties with him, as he had been accustomed
to do with a good-tempered Newfoundland dog, who seemed to like being
pulled and hauled round by children. After this the creature was
commonly muzzled, and, as he was fed on raw meat chiefly, was always
ready for a fight, which he was occasionally indulged in, when anything
stout enough to match him could be found in any of the neighboring
villages.

Tiger, or, more briefly, Tige, the property of Abner Briggs, Junior,
belonged to a species not distinctly named in scientific books, but well
known to our country-folks under the name “Yallah dog.” They do not
use this expression as they would say black dog or white dog, but
with almost as definite a meaning as when they speak of a terrier or a
spaniel. A “yallah dog” is a large canine brute, of a dingy old-flannel
color, of no particular breed except his own, who hangs round a tavern
or a butcher’s shop, or trots alongside of a team, looking as if he were
disgusted with the world, and the world with him. Our inland population,
while they tolerate him, speak of him with contempt. Old ______, of
Meredith Bridge, used to twit the sun for not shining on cloudy days,
swearing, that, if he hung up his “yallah dog,” he would make a better
show of daylight. A country fellow, abusing a horse of his neighbor’s,
vowed, that, “if he had such a hoss, he’d swap him for a `yallah
dog,’--and then shoot the dog.”

Tige was an ill-conditioned brute by nature, and art had not improved
him by cropping his ears and tail and investing him with a spiked
collar. He bore on his person, also, various not ornamental scars, marks
of old battles; for Tige had fight in him, as was said before, and
as might be guessed by a certain bluntness about the muzzle, with
a projection of the lower jaw, which looked as if there might be a
bull-dog stripe among the numerous bar-sinisters of his lineage.

It was hardly fair, however, to leave Alminy Cutterr waiting while this
piece of natural history was telling.--As she spoke of little Jo, who
had been “haaf eat up” by Tige, she could not contain her sympathies,
and began to cry.

“Why, my dear little soul,” said Mr. Bernard, “what are you worried
about? I used to play with a bear when I was a boy; and the bear used to
hug me, and I used to kiss him,--so!”

It was too bad of Mr. Bernard, only the second time he had seen Alminy;
but her kind feelings had touched him, and that seemed the most natural
way of expressing his gratitude. Ahniny looked round to see if anybody
was near; she saw nobody, so of course it would do no good to “holler.”
 She saw nobody; but a stout young fellow, leading a yellow dog, muzzled,
saw her through a crack in a picket fence, not a great way off the road.
Many a year he had been “hangin’ ‘raoun’” Alminy, and never did he see
any encouraging look, or hear any “Behave, naow!” or “Come, naow, a’n’t
ye ‘shamed?” or other forbidding phrase of acquiescence, such as village
belles under stand as well as ever did the nymph who fled to the willows
in the eclogue we all remember.

No wonder he was furious, when he saw the school master, who had never
seen the girl until within a week, touching with his lips those rosy
cheeks which he had never dared to approach. But that was all; it was
a sudden impulse; and the master turned away from the young girl,
laughing, and telling her not to fret herself about him,--he would take
care of himself.

So Master Langdon walked on toward his school-house, not displeased,
perhaps, with his little adventure, nor immensely elated by it; for he
was one of the natural class of the sex-subduers, and had had many a
smile without asking, which had been denied to the feeble youth who try
to win favor by pleading their passion in rhyme, and even to the
more formidable approaches of young officers in volunteer companies,
considered by many to be quite irresistible to the fair who have once
beheld them from their windows in the epaulettes and plumes and sashes
of the “Pigwacket Invincibles,” or the “Hackmatack Rangers.”

Master Langdon took his seat and began the exercises of his school. The
smaller boys recited their lessons well enough, but some of the larger
ones were negligent and surly. He noticed one or two of them looking
toward the door, as if expecting somebody or something in that
direction. At half past nine o’clock, Abner Briggs, Junior, who had not
yet shown himself, made his appearance. He was followed by his “yallah
dog,” without his muzzle, who squatted down very grimly near the door,
and gave a wolfish look round the room, as if he were considering which
was the plumpest boy to begin with. The young butcher, meanwhile, went
to his seat, looking somewhat flushed, except round the lips, which were
hardly as red as common, and set pretty sharply.

“Put out that dog, Abner Briggs!”--The master spoke as the captain
speaks to the helmsman, when there are rocks foaming at the lips, right
under his lee.

Abner Briggs answered as the helmsman answers, when he knows he has a
mutinous crew round him that mean to run the ship on the reef, and is
one of the mutineers himself. “Put him aout y’rself, ‘f ye a’n’t afeard
on him!”

The master stepped into the aisle: The great cur showed his teeth,--and
the devilish instincts of his old wolf-ancestry looked out of his eyes,
and flashed from his sharp tusks, and yawned in his wide mouth and deep
red gullet.

The movements of animals are so much quicker than those of human beings
commonly are, that they avoid blows as easily as one of us steps out of
the way of an ox-cart. It must be a very stupid dog that lets himself be
run over by a fast driver in his gig; he can jump out of the wheel’s way
after the tire has already touched him. So, while one is lifting a stick
to strike or drawing back his foot to kick, the beast makes his spring,
and the blow or the kick comes too late.

It was not so this time. The master was a fencer, and something of
a boxer; he had played at singlestick, and was used to watching an
adversary’s eye and coming down on him without any of those premonitory
symptoms by which unpractised persons show long beforehand what mischief
they meditate.

“Out with you!” he said, fiercely,--and explained what he meant by
a sudden flash of his foot that clashed the yellow dog’s white teeth
together like the springing of a bear-trap. The cur knew he had found
his master at the first word and glance, as low animals on four legs, or
a smaller number, always do; and the blow took him so by surprise, that
it curled him up in an instant, and he went bundling out of the open
schoolhouse-door with a most pitiable yelp, and his stump of a tail shut
down as close as his owner ever shut the short, stubbed blade of his
jack-knife.

It was time for the other cur to find who his master.

“Follow your dog, Abner Briggs!” said Master Langdon.

The stout butcher-youth looked round, but the rebels were all cowed and
sat still.

“I’ll go when I’m ready,” he said,--“‘n’ I guess I won’t go afore I’m
ready.”

“You’re ready now,” said Master Langdon, turning up his cuffs so
that the little boys noticed the yellow gleam of a pair of gold
sleeve-buttons, once worn by Colonel Percy Wentworth, famous in the Old
French War.

Abner Briggs, Junior, did not apparently think he was ready, at any
rate; for he rose up in his place, and stood with clenched fists,
defiant, as the master strode towards him. The master knew the fellow
was really frightened, for all his looks, and that he must have no time
to rally. So he caught him suddenly by the collar, and, with one great
pull, had him out over his desk and on the open floor. He gave him a
sharp fling backwards and stood looking at him.

The rough-and-tumble fighters all clinch, as everybody knows; and Abner
Briggs, Junior, was one of that kind. He remembered how he had floored
Master Weeks, and he had just “spunk” enough left in him to try to
repeat his former successful experiment an the new master. He sprang at
him, open-handed, to clutch him. So the master had to strike,--once, but
very hard, and just in the place to tell. No doubt, the authority that
doth hedge a schoolmaster added to the effect of the blow; but the blow
was itself a neat one, and did not require to be repeated.

“Now go home,” said the master, “and don’t let me see you or your dog
here again.” And he turned his cuffs down over the gold sleeve-buttons.

This finished the great Pigwacket Centre School rebellion. What could
be done with a master who was so pleasant as long as the boys behaved
decently, and such a terrible fellow when he got “riled,” as they
called it? In a week’s time everything was reduced to order, and the
school-committee were delighted. The master, however, had received a
proposition so much more agreeable and advantageous, that he informed
the committee he should leave at the end of his month, having in his eye
a sensible and energetic young college-graduate who would be willing and
fully competent to take his place.

So, at the expiration of the appointed time, Bernard Langdon, late
master of the School District No. 1, Pigwacket Centre, took his
departure from that place for another locality, whither we shall follow
him, carrying with him the regrets of the committee, of most of the
scholars, and of several young ladies; also two locks of hair, sent
unbeknown to payrents, one dark and one warmish auburn, inscribed with
the respective initials of Alminy Cutterr and Arvilly Braowne.



CHAPTER IV. THE MOTH FLIES INTO THE CANDLE.

The invitation which Mr. Bernard Langdon had accepted came from the
Board of Trustees of the “Apollinean Female Institute,” a school for the
education of young ladies, situated in the flourishing town of Rockland.
This was an establishment on a considerable scale, in which a hundred
scholars or thereabouts were taught the ordinary English branches,
several of the modern languages, something of Latin, if desired, with a
little natural philosophy, metaphysics, and rhetoric, to finish off with
in the last year, and music at any time when they would pay for it. At
the close of their career in the Institute, they were submitted to a
grand public examination, and received diplomas tied in blue ribbons,
which proclaimed them with a great flourish of capitals to be graduates
of the Apollinean Female Institute.

Rockland was a town of no inconsiderable pretensions. It was ennobled
by lying at the foot of a mountain,--called by the working-folks of
the place “the Maounting,”--which sufficiently showed that it was the
principal high land of the district in which it was situated. It lay to
the south of this, and basked in the sunshine as Italy stretches herself
before the Alps. To pass from the town of Tamarack on the north of
the mountain to Rockland on the south was like crossing from Coire to
Chiavenna.

There is nothing gives glory and grandeur and romance and mystery to
a place like the impending presence of a high mountain. Our beautiful
Northampton with its fair meadows and noble stream is lovely enough, but
owes its surpassing attraction to those twin summits which brood over it
like living presences, looking down into its streets as if they were its
tutelary divinities, dressing and undressing their green shrines,
robing themselves in jubilant sunshine or in sorrowing clouds, and doing
penance in the snowy shroud of winter, as if they had living hearts
under their rocky ribs and changed their mood like the children of the
soil at their feet, who grow up under their almost parental smiles and
frowns. Happy is the child whose first dreams of heaven are blended
with the evening glories of Mount Holyoke, when the sun is firing its
treetops, and gilding the white walls that mark its one human dwelling!
If the other and the wilder of the two summits has a scowl of terror in
its overhanging brows, yet is it a pleasing fear to look upon its savage
solitudes through the barred nursery-windows in the heart of the sweet,
companionable village.--And how the mountains love their children! The
sea is of a facile virtue, and will run to kiss the first comer in any
port he visits; but the chaste mountains sit apart, and show their faces
only in the midst of their own families.

The Mountain which kept watch to the north of Rockland lay waste and
almost inviolate through much of its domain. The catamount still glared
from the branches of its old hemlocks on the lesser beasts that strayed
beneath him. It was not long since a wolf had wandered down, famished in
the winter’s dearth, and left a few bones and some tufts of wool of what
had been a lamb in the morning. Nay, there were broad-footed tracks in
the snow only two years previously, which could not be mistaken;--the
black bear alone could have set that plantigrade seal, and little
children must come home early from school and play, for he is an
indiscriminate feeder when he is hungry, and a little child would not
come amiss when other game was wanting.

But these occasional visitors may have been mere wanderers, which,
straying along in the woods by day, and perhaps stalking through the
streets of still villages by night, had worked their way along down from
the ragged mountain-spurs of higher latitudes. The one feature of The
Mountain that shed the brownest horror on its woods was the existence
of the terrible region known as Rattlesnake Ledge, and still tenanted
by those damnable reptiles, which distil a fiercer venom under our cold
northern sky than the cobra himself in the land of tropical spices and
poisons.

From the earliest settlement of the place, this fact had been, next
to the Indians, the reigning nightmare of the inhabitants. It was easy
enough, after a time, to drive away the savages; for “a screeching
Indian Divell,” as our fathers called him, could not crawl into the
crack of a rock to escape from his pursuers. But the venomous population
of Rattlesnake Ledge had a Gibraltar for their fortress that might have
defied the siege-train dragged to the walls of Sebastopol. In its deep
embrasures and its impregnable easemates they reared their families,
they met in love or wrath, they twined together in family knots, they
hissed defiance in hostile clans, they fed, slept, hibernated, and in
due time died in peace. Many a foray had the towns-people made, and many
a stuffed skin was shown as a trophy,--nay, there were families where
the children’s first toy was made from the warning appendage that once
vibrated to the wrath of one of these “cruel serpents.” Sometimes one of
them, coaxed out by a warm sun, would writhe himself down the hillside
into the roads, up the walks that led to houses,--worse than this, into
the long grass, where the barefooted mowers would soon pass with
their swinging scythes,--more rarely into houses, and on one memorable
occasion, early in the last century, into the meeting-house, where he
took a position on the pulpit-stairs,--as is narrated in the “Account of
Some Remarkable Providences,” etc., where it is suggested that a strong
tendency of the Rev. Didymus Bean, the Minister at that time, towards
the Arminian Heresy may have had something to do with it, and that the
Serpent supposed to have been killed on the Pulpit-Stairs was a false
show of the Daemon’s Contrivance, he having come in to listen to a
Discourse which was a sweet Savour in his Nostrils, and, of course,
not being capable of being killed Himself. Others said, however, that,
though there was good Reason to think it was a Damon, yet he did come
with Intent to bite the Heel of that faithful Servant,--etc.

One Gilson is said to have died of the bite of a rattlesnake in
this town early in the present century. After this there was a
great snake-hunt, in which very many of these venomous beasts were
killed,--one in particular, said to have been as big round as a
stout man’s arm, and to have had no less than forty joints to his
rattle,--indicating, according to some, that he had lived forty years,
but, if we might put any faith in the Indian tradition, that he had
killed forty human beings,--an idle fancy, clearly. This hunt, however,
had no permanent effect in keeping down the serpent population.
Viviparous, creatures are a kind of specie-paying lot, but oviparous
ones only give their notes, as it were, for a future brood,--an egg
being, so to speak, a promise to pay a young one by and by, if nothing
happen. Now the domestic habits of the rattlesnake are not studied very
closely, for obvious reasons; but it is, no doubt, to all intents and
purposes oviparous. Consequently it has large families, and is not easy
to kill out.

In the year 184-, a melancholy proof was afforded to the inhabitants of
Rockland, that the brood which infested The Mountain was not extirpated.
A very interesting young married woman, detained at home at the time by
the state of her health, was bitten in the entry of her own house by a
rattlesnake which had found its way down from The Mountain. Owing to the
almost instant employment of powerful remedies, the bite did not prove
immediately fatal; but she died within a few months of the time when she
was bitten.

All this seemed to throw a lurid kind of shadow over The Mountain. Yet,
as many years passed without any accident, people grew comparatively
careless, and it might rather be said to add a fearful kind of interest
to the romantic hillside, that the banded reptiles, which had been the
terror of the red men for nobody knows how many thousand years, were
there still, with the same poison-bags and spring-teeth at the white
men’s service, if they meddled with them.

The other natural features of Rockland were such as many of our pleasant
country-towns can boast of. A brook came tumbling down the mountain-side
and skirted the most thickly settled portion of the village. In the
parts of its course where it ran through the woods, the water looked
almost as brown as coffee flowing from its urn,--to say like smoky
quartz would perhaps give a better idea,--but in the open plain it
sparkled over the pebbles white as a queen’s diamonds. There were
huckleberry-pastures on the lower flanks of The Mountain, with plenty
of the sweet-scented bayberry mingled with the other bushes. In other
fields grew great store of high-bush blackberries. Along the roadside
were bayberry-bushes, hung all over with bright red coral pendants in
autumn and far into the winter. Then there were swamps set thick with
dingy alders, where the three-leaved arum and the skunk’s-cabbage grew
broad and succulent, shelving down into black boggy pools here and there
at the edge of which the green frog, stupidest of his tribe, sat waiting
to be victimized by boy or snapping-turtle long after the shy and agile
leopard-frog had taken the six-foot spring that plumped him into the
middle of the pool. And on the neighboring banks the maiden-hair spread
its flat disk of embroidered fronds on the wire-like stem that glistened
polished and brown as the darkest tortoise-shell, and pale violets,
cheated by the cold skies of their hues and perfume, sunned themselves
like white-cheeked invalids. Over these rose the old forest-trees,--the
maple, scarred with the wounds which had drained away its sweet
life-blood,--the beech, its smooth gray bark mottled so as to look
like the body of one of those great snakes of old that used to frighten
armies, always the mark of lovers’ knives, as in the days of Musidora
and her swain,--the yellow birch, rough as the breast of Silenus in old
marbles,--the wild cherry, its little bitter fruit lying unheeded at its
foot,--and, soaring over all, the huge, coarse-barked, splintery-limbed,
dark-mantled hemlock, in the depth of whose aerial solitudes the crow
brooded on her nest unscared, and the gray squirrel lived unharmed till
his incisors grew to look like ram’s-horns.

Rockland would have been but half a town without its pond; Guinnepeg
Pond was the name of it, but the young ladies of the Apollinean
Institute were very anxious that it should be called Crystalline Lake.
It was here that the young folks used to sail in summer and skate in
winter; here, too, those queer, old, rum-scented good-for-nothing, lazy,
story-telling, half-vagabonds, who sawed a little wood or dug a few
potatoes now and then under the pretence of working for their living,
used to go and fish through the ice for pickerel every winter. And
here those three young people were drowned, a few summers ago, by the
upsetting of a sail-boat in a sudden flaw of wind. There is not one of
these smiling ponds which has not devoured more youths and maidens than
any of those monsters the ancients used to tell such lies about. But it
was a pretty pond, and never looked more innocent--so the native “bard”
 of Rockland said in his elegy--than on the morning when they found Sarah
Jane and Ellen Maria floating among the lily-pads.

The Apollinean Institute, or Institoot, as it was more commonly called,
was, in the language of its Prospectus, a “first-class Educational
Establishment.” It employed a considerable corps of instructors to rough
out and finish the hundred young lady scholars it sheltered beneath its
roof. First, Mr. and Mrs. Peckham, the Principal and the Matron of the
school. Silas Peckham was a thorough Yankee, born on a windy part of
the coast, and reared chiefly on salt-fish. Everybody knows the type of
Yankee produced by this climate and diet: thin, as if he had been split
and dried; with an ashen kind of complexion, like the tint of the food
he is made of; and about as sharp, tough, juiceless, and biting to deal
with as the other is to the taste. Silas Peckham kept a young ladies’
school exactly as he would have kept a hundred head of cattle,--for the
simple, unadorned purpose of making just as much money in just as few
years as could be safely done. Mr. Peckham gave very little personal
attention to the department of instruction, but was always busy with
contracts for flour and potatoes, beef and pork, and other nutritive
staples, the amount of which required for such an establishment was
enough to frighten a quartermaster. Mrs. Peckham was from the West,
raised on Indian corn and pork, which give a fuller outline and a more
humid temperament, but may perhaps be thought to render people a little
coarse-fibred. Her specialty was to look after the feathering, cackling,
roosting, rising, and general behavior of these hundred chicks. An
honest, ignorant woman, she could not have passed an examination in the
youngest class. So this distinguished institution was under the charge
of a commissary and a housekeeper, and its real business was making
money by taking young girls in as boarders.

Connected with this, however, was the incidental fact, which the public
took for the principal one, namely, the business of instruction.
Mr. Peckham knew well enough that it was just as well to have good
instructors as bad ones, so far as cost was concerned, and a great deal
better for the reputation of his feeding-establishment. He tried to
get the best he could without paying too much, and, having got them, to
screw all the work out of them that could possibly be extracted.

There was a master for the English branches, with a young lady
assistant. There was another young lady who taught French, of the
ahvaung and baundahng style, which does not exactly smack of the
asphalt of the Boulevards. There was also a German teacher of music, who
sometimes helped in French of the ahfaung and bauntaung style,--so that,
between the two, the young ladies could hardly have been mistaken for
Parisians, by a Committee of the French Academy. The German teacher also
taught a Latin class after his fashion,--benna, a ben, gahboot, ahead,
and so forth.

The master for the English branches had lately left the school for
private reasons, which need not be here mentioned,--but he had gone,
at any rate, and it was his place which had been offered to Mr. Bernard
Langdon. The offer came just in season,--as, for various causes, he was
willing to leave the place where he had begun his new experience.

It was on a fine morning that Mr. Bernard, ushered in by Mr. Peckham,
made his appearance in the great schoolroom of the Apollinean Institute.
A general rustle ran all round the seats when the handsome young man
was introduced. The principal carried him to the desk of the young lady
English assistant, Miss Darley by name, and introduced him to her.

There was not a great deal of study done that day. The young lady
assistant had to point out to the new master the whole routine in which
the classes were engaged when their late teacher left, and which had
gone on as well as it could since. Then Master Langdon had a great many
questions to ask, some relating to his new duties, and some,
perhaps, implying a degree of curiosity not very unnatural under the
circumstances. The truth is, the general effect of the schoolroom, with
its scores of young girls, all their eyes naturally centring on him with
fixed or furtive glances, was enough to bewilder and confuse a young man
like Master Langdon, though he was not destitute of self-possession, as
we have already seen.

You cannot get together a hundred girls, taking them as they come, from
the comfortable and affluent classes, probably anywhere, certainly not
in New England, without seeing a good deal of beauty. In fact, we very
commonly mean by beauty the way young girls look when there is
nothing to hinder their looking as Nature meant them to. And the great
schoolroom of the Apollinean Institute did really make so pretty a show
on the morning when Master Langdon entered it, that he might be pardoned
for asking Miss Darley more questions about his scholars than about
their lessons.

There were girls of all ages: little creatures, some pallid and
delicate-looking, the offspring of invalid parents,--much given to
books, not much to mischief, commonly spoken of as particularly good
children, and contrasted with another sort, girls of more vigorous
organization, who were disposed to laughing and play, and required a
strong hand to manage them; then young growing misses of every shade of
Saxon complexion, and here and there one of more Southern hue: blondes,
some of them so translucent-looking that it seemed as if you could see
the souls in their bodies, like bubbles in glass, if souls were objects
of sight; brunettes, some with rose-red colors, and some with that
swarthy hue which often carries with it a heavily-shaded lip, and
which, with pure outlines and outspoken reliefs, gives us some of our
handsomest women,--the women whom ornaments of plain gold adorn more
than any other parures; and again, but only here and there, one with
dark hair and gray or blue eyes, a Celtic type, perhaps, but found in
our native stock occasionally; rarest of all, a light-haired girl with
dark eyes, hazel, brown, or of the color of that mountain-brook spoken
of in this chapter, where it ran through shadowy woodlands. With these
were to be seen at intervals some of maturer years, full-blown flowers
among the opening buds, with that conscious look upon their faces which
so many women wear during the period when they never meet a single man
without having his monosyllable ready for him,--tied as they are, poor
things! on the rock of expectation, each of them an Andromeda waiting
for her Perseus.

“Who is that girl in ringlets,--the fourth in the third row on the
right?” said Master Langdon.

“Charlotte Ann Wood,” said Miss Darley; “writes very pretty poems.”

“Oh!--And the pink one, three seats from her? Looks bright; anything in
her?”

“Emma Dean,--day-scholar,--Squire Dean’s daughter,--nice girl,--second
medal last year.”

The master asked these two questions in a careless kind of way, and did
not seem to pay any too much attention to the answers.

“And who and what is that,” he said,--“sitting a little apart
there,--that strange, wild-looking girl?”

This time he put the real question he wanted answered;--the other two
were asked at random, as masks for the third.

The lady-teacher’s face changed;--one would have said she was frightened
or troubled. She looked at the girl doubtfully, as if she might hear the
master’s question and its answer. But the girl did not look up;--she was
winding a gold chain about her wrist, and then uncoiling it, as if in a
kind of reverie.

Miss Darley drew close to the master and placed her hand so as to hide
her lips. “Don’t look at her as if we were talking about her,” she
whispered softly; “that is Elsie Venner.”



CHAPTER V. AN OLD-FASHIONED DESCRIPTIVE CHAPTER.

It was a comfort to get to a place with something like society, with
residences which had pretensions to elegance, with people of some
breeding, with a newspaper, and “stores” to advertise in it, and with
two or three churches to keep each other alive by wholesome agitation.
Rockland was such a place.

Some of the natural features of the town have been described already.
The Mountain, of course, was what gave it its character, and redeemed
it from wearing the commonplace expression which belongs to ordinary
country-villages. Beautiful, wild, invested with the mystery which
belongs to untrodden spaces, and with enough of terror to give it
dignity, it had yet closer relations with the town over which it brooded
than the passing stranger knew of. Thus, it made a local climate
by cutting off the northern winds and holding the sun’s heat like a
garden-wall. Peachtrees, which, on the northern side of the mountain,
hardly ever came to fruit, ripened abundant crops in Rockland.

But there was still another relation between the mountain and the town
at its foot, which strangers were not likely to hear alluded to, and
which was oftener thought of than spoken of by its inhabitants. Those
high-impending forests,--“hangers,” as White of Selborne would have
called them,--sloping far upward and backward into the distance, had
always an air of menace blended with their wild beauty. It seemed as
if some heaven-scaling Titan had thrown his shaggy robe over the bare,
precipitous flanks of the rocky summit, and it might at any moment slide
like a garment flung carelessly on the nearest chance-support, and, so
sliding, crush the village out of being, as the Rossberg when it tumbled
over on the valley of Goldau.

Persons have been known to remove from the place, after a short
residence in it, because they were haunted day and night by the thought
of this awful green wall, piled up into the air over their heads. They
would lie awake of nights, thinking they heard the muffed snapping of
roots, as if a thousand acres of the mountain-side were tugging to break
away, like the snow from a house-roof, and a hundred thousand trees were
clinging with all their fibres to hold back the soil just ready to peel
away and crash down with all its rocks and forest-growths. And yet, by
one of those strange contradictions we are constantly finding in human
nature, there were natives of the town who would come back thirty or
forty years after leaving it, just to nestle under this same threatening
mountainside, as old men sun themselves against southward-facing walls.
The old dreams and legends of danger added to the attraction. If the
mountain should ever slide, they had a kind of feeling as if they ought
to be there. It was a fascination like that which the rattlesnake is
said to exert.

This comparison naturally suggests the recollection of that other source
of danger which was an element in the every-day life of the Rockland
people. The folks in some of the neighboring towns had a joke against
them, that a Rocklander could n’t hear a beanpod rattle without saying,
“The Lord have mercy on us!” It is very true, that many a nervous old
lady has had a terrible start, caused by some mischievous young rogue’s
giving a sudden shake to one of these noisy vegetable products in her
immediate vicinity. Yet, strangely enough, many persons missed the
excitement of the possibility of a fatal bite in other regions,
where there were nothing but black and green and striped snakes,
mean ophidians, having the spite of the nobler serpent without his
venom,--poor crawling creatures, whom Nature would not trust with a
poison-bag. Many natives of Rockland did unquestionably experience a
certain gratification in this infinitesimal sense of danger. It was
noted that the old people retained their hearing longer than in other
places. Some said it was the softened climate, but others believed it
was owing to the habit of keeping their ears open whenever they were
walking through the grass or in the woods. At any rate, a slight sense
of danger is often an agreeable stimulus. People sip their creme de
noyau with a peculiar tremulous pleasure, because there is a bare
possibility that it may contain prussic acid enough to knock them over;
in which case they will lie as dead as if a thunder-cloud had emptied
itself into the earth through their brain and marrow.

But Rockland had other features which helped to give it a special
character. First of all, there was one grand street which was its chief
glory. Elm Street it was called, naturally enough, for its elms made
a long, pointed-arched gallery of it through most of its extent. No
natural Gothic arch compares, for a moment, with that formed by two
American elms, where their lofty jets of foliage shoot across each
other’s ascending curves, to intermingle their showery flakes of green.
When one looks through a long double row of these, as in that lovely
avenue which the poets of Yale remember so well,

    “Oh, could the vista of my life but now as bright appear
     As when I first through Temple Street looked down thine espalier!”

he beholds a temple not built with hands, fairer than any minster, with
all its clustered stems and flowering capitals, that ever grew in stone.

Nobody knows New England who is not on terms of intimacy with one of
its elms. The elm comes nearer to having a soul than any other vegetable
creature among us. It loves man as man loves it. It is modest and
patient. It has a small flake of a seed which blows in everywhere and
makes arrangements for coming up by and by. So, in spring, one finds a
crop of baby-elms among his carrots and parsnips, very weak and small
compared to those succulent vegetables. The baby-elms die, most of them,
slain, unrecognized or unheeded, by hand or hoe, as meekly as
Herod’s innocents. One of them gets overlooked, perhaps, until it has
established a kind of right to stay. Three generations of carrot and
parsnip consumers have passed away, yourself among them, and now let
your great-grandson look for the baby-elm. Twenty-two feet of clean
girth, three hundred and sixty feet in the line that bounds its leafy
circle, it covers the boy with such a canopy as neither glossy-leafed
oak nor insect-haunted linden ever lifted into the summer skies.

Elm Street was the pride of Rockland, but not only on account of its
Gothic-arched vista. In this street were most of the great houses, or
“mansion-houses,” as it was usual to call them. Along this street,
also, the more nicely kept and neatly painted dwellings were chiefly
congregated. It was the correct thing for a Rockland dignitary to have a
house in Elm Street. A New England “mansion-house” is naturally square,
with dormer windows projecting from the roof, which has a balustrade
with turned posts round it. It shows a good breadth of front-yard
before its door, as its owner shows a respectable expanse of a clean
shirt-front. It has a lateral margin beyond its stables and offices, as
its master wears his white wrist bands showing beyond his coat-cuffs.
It may not have what can properly be called grounds, but it must have
elbow-room, at any rate. Without it, it is like a man who is always
tight-buttoned for want of any linen to show. The mansion-house which
has had to “button itself up tight in fences, for want of green or
gravel margin,” will be advertising for boarders presently. The old
English pattern of the New England mansion-house, only on a somewhat
grander scale, is Sir Thomas Abney’s place, where dear, good Dr. Watts
said prayers for the family, and wrote those blessed hymns of his that
sing us into consciousness in our cradles, and come back to us in sweet,
single verses, between the moments of wandering and of stupor, when we
lie dying, and sound over us when we can no longer hear them, bringing
grateful tears to the hot, aching eyes beneath the thick, black veils,
and carrying the holy calm with them which filled the good man’s
heart, as he prayed and sung under the shelter of the old English
mansion-house. Next to the mansion-houses, came the two-story trim,
white-painted, “genteel” houses, which, being more gossipy and less
nicely bred, crowded close up to the street, instead of standing
back from it with arms akimbo, like the mansion-houses. Their little
front-yards were very commonly full of lilac and syringa and other
bushes, which were allowed to smother the lower story almost to the
exclusion of light and airy so that, what with small windows and
small windowpanes, and the darkness made by these choking growths of
shrubbery, the front parlors of some of these houses were the most
tomb-like, melancholy places that could be found anywhere among
the abodes of the living. Their garnishing was apt to assist this
impression. Large-patterned carpets, which always look discontented
in little rooms, haircloth furniture, black and shiny as beetles’ wing
cases, and centre-tables, with a sullen oil-lamp of the kind called
astral by our imaginative ancestors, in the centre,--these things
were inevitable. In set piles round the lamp was ranged the current
literature of the day, in the form of Temperance Documents, unbound
numbers of one of the Unknown Public’s Magazines with worn-out steel
engravings and high-colored fashion-plates, the Poems of a distinguished
British author whom it is unnecessary to mention, a volume of sermons,
or a novel or two, or both, according to the tastes of the family, and
the Good Book, which is always Itself in the cheapest and commonest
company. The father of the family with his hand in the breast of his
coat, the mother of the same in a wide-bordered cap, sometimes a print
of the Last Supper, by no means Morghen’s, or the Father of his Country,
or the old General, or the Defender of the Constitution, or an unknown
clergyman with an open book before him,--these were the usual ornaments
of the walls, the first two a matter of rigor, the others according to
politics and other tendencies.

This intermediate class of houses, wherever one finds them in New
England towns, are very apt to be cheerless and unsatisfactory. They
have neither the luxury of the mansion-house nor the comfort of the
farm-house. They are rarely kept at an agreeable temperature. The
mansion-house has large fireplaces and generous chimneys, and is open
to the sunshine. The farm-house makes no pretensions, but it has a good
warm kitchen, at any rate, and one can be comfortable there with the
rest of the family, without fear and without reproach. These lesser
country-houses of genteel aspirations are much given to patent
subterfuges of one kind and another to get heat without combustion. The
chilly parlor and the slippery hair-cloth seat take the life out of the
warmest welcome. If one would make these places wholesome, happy, and
cheerful, the first precept would be,--The dearest fuel, plenty of it,
and let half the heat go up the chimney. If you can’t afford this, don’t
try to live in a “genteel” fashion, but stick to the ways of the honest
farm-house.

There were a good many comfortable farm-houses scattered about Rockland.
The best of them were something of the following pattern, which is too
often superseded of late by a more pretentious, but infinitely less
pleasing kind of rustic architecture. A little back from the road,
seated directly on the green sod, rose a plain wooden building, two
stories in front, with a long roof sloping backwards to within a few
feet of the ground. This, like the “mansion-house,” is copied from an
old English pattern. Cottages of this model may be seen in Lancashire,
for instance, always with the same honest, homely look, as if their
roofs acknowledged their relationship to the soil out of which they
sprung. The walls were unpainted, but turned by the slow action of sun
and air and rain to a quiet dove or slate color. An old broken millstone
at the door,--a well-sweep pointing like a finger to the heavens, which
the shining round of water beneath looked up at like a dark unsleeping
eye,--a single large elm a little at one side,--a barn twice as big as
the house,--a cattle-yard, with

     “The white horns tossing above the wall,”--

some fields, in pasture or in crops, with low stone walls round them,--a
row of beehives,--a garden-patch, with roots, and currant-bushes,
and many-hued hollyhocks, and swollen-stemmed, globe-headed, seedling
onions, and marigolds and flower-de-luces, and lady’s-delights, and
peonies, crowding in together, with southernwood in the borders,
and woodbine and hops and morning-glories climbing as they got a
chance,--these were the features by which the Rockland-born children
remembered the farm-house, when they had grown to be men. Such are the
recollections that come over poor sailor-boys crawling out on reeling
yards to reef topsails as their vessels stagger round the stormy Cape;
and such are the flitting images that make the eyes of old country-born
merchants look dim and dreamy, as they sit in their city palaces, warm
with the after-dinner flush of the red wave out of which Memory arises,
as Aphrodite arose from the green waves of the ocean.

Two meeting-houses stood on two eminences, facing each other, and
looking like a couple of fighting-cocks with their necks straight up in
the air,--as if they would flap their roofs, the next thing, and crow
out of their upstretched steeples, and peck at each other’s glass eyes
with their sharp-pointed weathercocks.

The first was a good pattern of the real old-fashioned New England
meeting-house. It was a large barn with windows, fronted by a square
tower crowned with a kind of wooden bell inverted and raised on legs,
out of which rose a slender spire with the sharp-billed weathercock at
its summit. Inside, tall, square pews with flapping seats, and a gallery
running round three sides of the building. On the fourth side the
pulpit, with a huge, dusty sounding-board hanging over it. Here preached
the Reverend Pierrepont Honeywood, D. D., successor, after a number of
generations, to the office and the parsonage of the Reverend Didymus
Bean, before mentioned, but not suspected of any of his alleged
heresies. He held to the old faith of the Puritans, and occasionally
delivered a discourse which was considered by the hard-headed
theologians of his parish to have settled the whole matter fully and
finally, so that now there was a good logical basis laid down for
the Millennium, which might begin at once upon the platform of his
demonstrations. Yet the Reverend Dr. Honeywood was fonder of preaching
plain, practical sermons about the duties of life, and showing his
Christianity in abundant good works among his people. It was noticed by
some few of his flock, not without comment, that the great majority of
his texts came from the Gospels, and this more and more as he became
interested in various benevolent enterprises which brought him into
relations with-ministers and kindhearted laymen of other denominations.
He was in fact a man of a very warm, open, and exceedingly human
disposition, and, although bred by a clerical father, whose motto was
“Sit anima mea cum Puritanis,” he exercised his human faculties in the
harness of his ancient faith with such freedom that the straps of it got
so loose they did not interfere greatly with the circulation of the
warm blood through his system. Once in a while he seemed to think it
necessary to come out with a grand doctrinal sermon, and them he would
lapse away for a while into preaching on men’s duties to each other and
to society, and hit hard, perhaps, at some of the actual vices of the
time and place, and insist with such tenderness and eloquence on the
great depth and breadth of true Christian love and charity, that his
oldest deacon shook his head, and wished he had shown as much interest
when he was preaching, three Sabbaths back, on Predestination, or in
his discourse against the Sabellians. But he was sound in the faith;
no doubt of that. Did he not preside at the council held in the town
of Tamarack, on the other side of the mountain, which expelled its
clergyman for maintaining heretical doctrines? As presiding officer, he
did not vote, of course, but there was no doubt that he was all right;
he had some of the Edwards blood in him, and that couldn’t very well let
him go wrong.

The meeting-house on the other and opposite summit was of a more modern
style, considered by many a great improvement on the old New England
model, so that it is not uncommon for a country parish to pull down its
old meeting-house, which has been preached in for a hundred years or so,
and put up one of these more elegant edifices. The new building was in
what may be called the florid shingle-Gothic manner. Its pinnacles and
crockets and other ornaments were, like the body of the building, all of
pine wood,--an admirable material, as it is very soft and easily worked,
and can be painted of any color desired. Inside, the walls were stuccoed
in imitation of stone,--first a dark brown square, then two light brown
squares, then another dark brown square, and so on, to represent the
accidental differences of shade always noticeable in the real stones of
which walls are built. To be sure, the architect could not help getting
his party-colored squares in almost as regular rhythmical order as those
of a chess-board; but nobody can avoid doing things in a systematic and
serial way; indeed, people who wish to plant trees in natural chimps
know very well that they cannot keep from making regular lines and
symmetrical figures, unless by some trick or other, as that one of
throwing a peck of potatoes up into the air and sticking in a tree
wherever a potato happens to fall. The pews of this meeting-house were
the usual oblong ones, where people sit close together, with a ledge
before them to support their hymn-books, liable only to occasional
contact with the back of the next pew’s heads or bonnets, and a
place running under the seat of that pew where hats could be
deposited,--always at the risk of the owner, in case of injury by boots
or crickets.

In this meeting-house preached the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather, a
divine of the “Liberal” school, as it is commonly called, bred at that
famous college which used to be thought, twenty or thirty years ago, to
have the monopoly of training young men in the milder forms of heresy.
His ministrations were attended with decency, but not followed with
enthusiasm. “The beauty of virtue” got to be an old story at last.
“The moral dignity of human nature” ceased to excite a thrill of
satisfaction, after some hundred repetitions. It grew to be a dull
business, this preaching against stealing and intemperance, while he
knew very well that the thieves were prowling round orchards and
empty houses, instead of being there to hear the sermon, and that the
drunkards, being rarely church-goers, get little good by the statistics
and eloquent appeals of the preacher. Every now and then, however,
the Reverend Mr. Fairweather let off a polemic discourse against his
neighbor opposite, which waked his people up a little; but it was a
languid congregation, at best,--very apt to stay away from meeting
in the afternoon, and not at all given to extra evening services.
The minister, unlike his rival of the other side of the way, was a
down-hearted and timid kind of man. He went on preaching as he had been
taught to preach, but he had misgivings at times. There was a little
Roman Catholic church at the foot of the hill where his own was placed,
which he always had to pass on Sundays. He could never look on
the thronging multitudes that crowded its pews and aisles or knelt
bare-headed on its steps, without a longing to get in among them and
go down on his knees and enjoy that luxury of devotional contact which
makes a worshipping throng as different from the same numbers praying
apart as a bed of coals is from a trail of scattered cinders.

“Oh, if I could but huddle in with those poor laborers and
working-women!” he would say to himself. “If I could but breathe that
atmosphere, stifling though it be, yet made holy by ancient litanies,
and cloudy with the smoke of hallowed incense, for one hour, instead of
droning over these moral precepts to my half-sleeping congregation!” The
intellectual isolation of his sect preyed upon him; for, of all
terrible things to natures like his, the most terrible is to belong to a
minority. No person that looked at his thin and sallow cheek, his sunken
and sad eye, his tremulous lip, his contracted forehead, or who heard
his querulous, though not unmusical voice, could fail to see that his
life was an uneasy one, that he was engaged in some inward conflict. His
dark, melancholic aspect contrasted with his seemingly cheerful creed,
and was all the more striking, as the worthy Dr. Honeywood, professing a
belief which made him a passenger on board a shipwrecked planet, was
yet a most good-humored and companionable gentleman, whose laugh on
week-days did one as much good to listen to as the best sermon he ever
delivered on a Sunday.

A mile or two from the centre of Rockland was a pretty little Episcopal
church, with a roof like a wedge of cheese, a square tower, a stained
window, and a trained rector, who read the service with such ventral
depth of utterance and rrreduplication of the rrresonant letter, that
his own mother would not have known him for her son, if the good woman
had not ironed his surplice and put it on with her own hands.

There were two public-houses in the place: one dignified with the name
of the Mountain House, somewhat frequented by city people in the summer
months, large-fronted, three-storied, balconied, boasting a distinct
ladies’-drawing-room, and spreading a table d’hote of some pretensions;
the other, “Pollard’s Tahvern,” in the common speech,--a two-story
building, with a bar-room, once famous, where there was a great smell of
hay and boots and pipes and all other bucolic-flavored elements,--where
games of checkers were played on the back of the bellows with red and
white kernels of corn, or with beans and coffee, where a man slept in a
box-settle at night, to wake up early passengers,--where teamsters came
in, with wooden-handled whips and coarse frocks, reinforcing the bucolic
flavor of the atmosphere, and middle-aged male gossips, sometimes
including the squire of the neighboring law-office, gathered to exchange
a question or two about the news, and then fall into that solemn state
of suspended animation which the temperance bar-rooms of modern days
produce in human beings, as the Grotta del Cane does in dogs in the
well-known experiments related by travellers. This bar-room used to be
famous for drinking and storytelling, and sometimes fighting, in old
times. That was when there were rows of decanters on the shelf behind
the bar, and a hissing vessel of hot water ready, to make punch, and
three or four loggerheads (long irons clubbed at the end) were always
lying in the fire in the cold season, waiting to be plunged into
sputtering and foaming mugs of flip,--a goodly compound; speaking
according to the flesh, made with beer and sugar, and a certain
suspicion of strong waters, over which a little nutmeg being grated,
and in it the hot iron being then allowed to sizzle, there results a
peculiar singed aroma, which the wise regard as a warning to remove
themselves at once out of the reach of temptation.

But the bar of Pollard’s Tahvern no longer presented its old
attractions, and the loggerheads had long disappeared from the fire. In
place of the decanters, were boxes containing “lozengers,” as they were
commonly called, sticks of candy in jars, cigars in tumblers, a few
lemons, grown hard-skinned and marvellously shrunken by long exposure,
but still feebly suggestive of possible lemonade,--the whole ornamented
by festoons of yellow and blue cut flypaper. On the front shelf of the
bar stood a large German-silver pitcher of water, and scattered about
were ill-conditioned lamps, with wicks that always wanted picking, which
burned red and smoked a good deal, and were apt to go out without any
obvious cause, leaving strong reminiscences of the whale-fishery in the
circumambient air.

The common schoolhouses of Rockland were dwarfed by the grandeur of the
Apollinean Institute. The master passed one of them, in a walk he was
taking, soon after his arrival at Rockland. He looked in at the rows of
desks, and recalled his late experiences. He could not help laughing, as
he thought how neatly he had knocked the young butcher off his pins.

“A little science is a dangerous thing, ‘as well as a little
‘learning,’” he said to himself; “only it’s dangerous to the fellow you’
try it on.” And he cut him a good stick, and began climbing the side of
The Mountain to get a look at that famous Rattlesnake Ledge.



CHAPTER VI. THE SUNBEAM AND THE SHADOW.

The virtue of the world is not mainly in its leaders. In the midst of
the multitude which follows there is often something better than in the
one that goes before. Old generals wanted to take Toulon, but one of
their young colonels showed them how. The junior counsel has been known
not unfrequently to make a better argument than his senior fellow,--if,
indeed, he did not make both their arguments. Good ministers will tell
you they have parishioners who beat them in the practice of the virtues.
A great establishment, got up on commercial principles, like the
Apollinean Institute, might yet be well carried on, if it happened to
get good teachers. And when Master Langdon came to see its management,
he recognized that there must be fidelity and intelligence somewhere
among the instructors. It was only necessary to look for a moment at
the fair, open forehead, the still, tranquil eye of gentle, habitual
authority, the sweet gravity that lay upon the lips, to hear the clear
answers to the pupils’ questions, to notice how every request had the
force without the form of a command, and the young man could not doubt
that the good genius of the school stood before him in the person of
Helen barley.

It was the old story. A poor country-clergyman dies, and leaves a widow
and a daughter. In Old England the daughter would have eaten the bitter
bread of a governess in some rich family. In New England she must keep
a school. So, rising from one sphere to another, she at length finds
herself the prima donna in the department of instruction in Mr. Silas
Peckham’s educational establishment.

What a miserable thing it is to be poor. She was dependent, frail,
sensitive, conscientious. She was in the power of a hard, grasping,
thin-blooded, tough-fibred, trading educator, who neither knew nor cared
for a tender woman’s sensibilities, but who paid her and meant to have
his money’s worth out of her brains, and as much more than his
money’s worth as he could get. She was consequently, in plain English,
overworked, and an overworked woman is always a sad sight,--sadder a
great deal than an overworked man, because she is so much more fertile
in capacities of suffering than a man. She has so many varieties of
headache,--sometimes as if Jael were driving the nail that killed Sisera
into her temples,--sometimes letting her work with half her brain while
the other half throbs as if it would go to pieces,--sometimes tightening
round the brows as if her cap-band were a ring of iron,--and then her
neuralgias, and her backaches, and her fits of depression, in which she
thinks she is nothing and less than nothing, and those paroxysms which
men speak slightingly of as hysterical,--convulsions, that is all, only
not commonly fatal ones,--so many trials which belong to her fine and
mobile structure,--that she is always entitled to pity, when she is
placed in conditions which develop her nervous tendencies.

The poor young lady’s work had, of course, been doubled since the
departure of Master Langdon’s predecessor. Nobody knows what the
weariness of instruction is, as soon as the teacher’s faculties begin to
be overtasked, but those who have tried it. The relays of fresh pupils,
each new set with its exhausting powers in full action, coming one after
another, take out all the reserved forces and faculties of resistance
from the subject of their draining process.

The day’s work was over, and it was late in the evening, when she
sat down, tired and faint, with a great bundle of girls’ themes or
compositions to read over before she could rest her weary head on the
pillow of her narrow trundle-bed, and forget for a while the treadmill
stair of labor she was daily climbing.

How she dreaded this most forlorn of all a teacher’s tasks! She
was conscientious in her duties, and would insist on reading every
sentence,--there was no saying where she might find faults of grammar or
bad spelling. There might have been twenty or thirty of these themes
in the bundle before her. Of course she knew pretty well the leading
sentiments they could contain: that beauty was subject to the accidents
of time; that wealth was inconstant, and existence uncertain; that
virtue was its own reward; that youth exhaled, like the dewdrop from the
flower, ere the sun had reached its meridian; that life was o’ershadowed
with trials; that the lessons of virtue instilled by our beloved
teachers were to be our guides through all our future career. The
imagery employed consisted principally of roses, lilies, birds, clouds,
and brooks, with the celebrated comparison of wayward genius to
meteor. Who does not know the small, slanted, Italian hand of
these girls’-compositions, their stringing together of the good old
traditional copy-book phrases; their occasional gushes of sentiment,
their profound estimates of the world, sounding to the old folks that
read them as the experience of a bantam pullet’s last-hatched young one
with the chips of its shell on its head would sound to a Mother Cary’s
chicken, who knew the great ocean with all its typhoons and tornadoes?
Yet every now and then one is liable to be surprised with strange
clairvoyant flashes, that can hardly be explained, except by the
mysterious inspiration which every now and then seizes a young girl and
exalts her intelligence, just as hysteria in other instances exalts the
sensibility,--a little something of that which made Joan of Arc, and the
Burney girl who prophesied “Evelina,” and the Davidson sisters. In the
midst of these commonplace exercises which Miss Darley read over so
carefully were two or three that had something of individual flavor
about them, and here and there there was an image or an epithet which
showed the footprint of a passionate nature, as a fallen scarlet feather
marks the path the wild flamingo has trodden.

The young lady-teacher read them with a certain indifference of manner,
as one reads proofs--noting defects of detail, but not commonly
arrested by the matters treated of. Even Miss Charlotte Ann Wood’s poem,
beginning--

          “How sweet at evening’s balmy hour,”

did not excite her. She marked the inevitable false rhyme of Cockney and
Yankee beginners, morn and dawn, and tossed the verses on the pile of
papers she had finished. She was looking over some of the last of them
in a rather listless way,--for the poor thing was getting sleepy in
spite of herself,--when she came to one which seemed to rouse her
attention, and lifted her drooping lids. She looked at it a moment
before she would touch it. Then she took hold of it by one corner and
slid it off from the rest. One would have said she was afraid of it,
or had some undefined antipathy which made it hateful to her. Such odd
fancies are common enough in young persons in her nervous state. Many of
these young people will jump up twenty times a day and run to dabble
the tips of their fingers in water, after touching the most inoffensive
objects.

This composition was written in a singular, sharp-pointed, long, slender
hand, on a kind of wavy, ribbed paper. There was something strangely
suggestive about the look of it, but exactly of what, Miss barley either
could not or did not try to think. The subject of the paper was The
Mountain,--the composition being a sort of descriptive rhapsody. It
showed a startling familiarity with some of the savage scenery of the
region. One would have said that the writer must have threaded its
wildest solitudes by the light of the moon and stars as well as by
day. As the teacher read on, her color changed, and a kind of tremulous
agitation came over her. There were hints in this strange paper she did
not know what to make of. There was something in its descriptions and
imagery that recalled,--Miss Darley could not say what,--but it made her
frightfully nervous. Still she could not help reading, till she came
to one passage which so agitated her, that the tired and over-wearied
girl’s self-control left her entirely. She sobbed once or twice, then
laughed convulsively; and flung herself on the bed, where she worked out
a set hysteric spasm as she best might, without anybody to rub her hands
and see that she did not hurt herself.

By and by she got quiet, rose and went to her bookcase, took down a
volume of Coleridge, and read a short time, and so to bed, to sleep and
wake from time to time with a sudden start out of uneasy dreams.

Perhaps it is of no great consequence what it was in the composition
which set her off into this nervous paroxysm. She was in such a state
that almost any slight agitation would have brought on the attack, and
it was the accident of her transient excitability, very probably, which
made a trifling cause the seeming occasion of so much disturbance. The
theme was signed, in the same peculiar, sharp, slender hand, E. Venner,
and was, of course, written by that wild-looking girl who had excited
the master’s curiosity and prompted his question, as before mentioned.
The next morning the lady-teacher looked pale and wearied, naturally
enough, but she was in her place at the usual hour, and Master Langdon
in his own.

The girls had not yet entered the school room.

“You have been ill, I am afraid,” said Mr. Bernard.

“I was not well yesterday,” she, answered. “I had a worry and a kind of
fright. It is so dreadful to have the charge of all these young souls
and bodies. Every young girl ought to walk locked close, arm in arm,
between two guardian angels. Sometimes I faint almost with the thought
of all that I ought to do, and of my own weakness and wants.--Tell me,
are there not natures born so out of parallel with the lines of natural
law that nothing short of a miracle can bring them right?”

Mr. Bernard had speculated somewhat, as all thoughtful persons of his
profession are forced to do, on the innate organic tendencies with which
individuals, families, and races are born. He replied, therefore, with
a smile, as one to whom the question suggested a very familiar class of
facts.

“Why, of course. Each of us is only the footing-up of a double column of
figures that goes back to the first pair. Every unit tells,--and some of
them are plus, and some minus. If the columns don’t add up right, it is
commonly because we can’t make out all the figures. I don’t mean to say
that something may not be added by Nature to make up for losses and keep
the race to its average, but we are mainly nothing but the answer to
a long sum in addition and subtraction. No doubt there are people born
with impulses at every possible angle to the parallels of Nature, as you
call them. If they happen to cut these at right angles, of course they
are beyond the reach of common influences. Slight obliquities are what
we have most to do with in education. Penitentiaries and insane asylums
take care of most of the right-angle cases.--I am afraid I have put it
too much like a professor, and I am only a student, you know. Pray, what
set you to asking me this? Any strange cases among the scholars?”

The meek teacher’s blue eyes met the luminous glance that came with the
question. She, too, was of gentle blood,--not meaning by that that she
was of any noted lineage, but that she came of a cultivated stock, never
rich, but long trained to intellectual callings. A thousand decencies,
amenities, reticences, graces, which no one thinks of until he misses
them, are the traditional right of those who spring from such families.
And when two persons of this exceptional breeding meet in the midst
of the common multitude, they seek each other’s company at once by the
natural law of elective affinity. It is wonderful how men and women know
their peers. If two stranger queens, sole survivors of two shipwrecked
vessels, were cast, half-naked, on a rock together, each would at once
address the other as “Our Royal Sister.”

Helen Darley looked into the dark eyes of Bernard Langdon glittering
with the light which flashed from them with his question. Not as those
foolish, innocent country-girls of the small village did she look into
them, to be fascinated and bewildered, but to sound them with a calm,
steadfast purpose. “A gentleman,” she said to herself, as she read his
expression and his features with a woman’s rapid, but exhausting glance.
“A lady,” he said to himself, as he met her questioning look,--so brief,
so quiet, yet so assured, as of one whom necessity had taught to read
faces quickly without offence, as children read the faces of parents,
as wives read the faces of hard-souled husbands. All this was but a few
seconds’ work, and yet the main point was settled. If there had been any
vulgar curiosity or coarseness of any kind lurking in his expression,
she would have detected it. If she had not lifted her eyes to his face
so softly and kept them there so calmly and withdrawn them so quietly,
he would not have said to himself, “She is a LADY,” for that word
meant a good deal to the descendant of the courtly Wentworths and the
scholarly Langdons.

“There are strange people everywhere, Mr. Langdon,” she said, “and I
don’t think our schoolroom is an exception. I am glad you believe in the
force of transmitted tendencies. It would break my heart, if I did not
think that there are faults beyond the reach of everything but God’s
special grace. I should die, if I thought that my negligence or
incapacity was alone responsible for the errors and sins of those I have
charge of. Yet there are mysteries I do not know how to account for.”
 She looked all round the schoolroom, and then said, in a whisper, “Mr.
Langdon, we had a girl that stole, in the school, not long ago. Worse
than that, we had a girl who tried to set us on fire. Children of good
people, both of them. And we have a girl now that frightens me so”--

The door opened, and three misses came in to take their seats: three
types, as it happened, of certain classes, into which it would not have
been difficult to distribute the greater number of the girls in
the school.--Hannah Martin. Fourteen years and three months old.
Short-necked, thick-waisted, round-cheeked, smooth, vacant forehead,
large, dull eyes. Looks good-natured, with little other expression.
Three buns in her bag, and a large apple. Has a habit of attacking her
provisions in school-hours.--Rosa Milburn. Sixteen. Brunette, with
a rare-ripe flush in her cheeks. Color comes and goes easily. Eyes
wandering, apt to be downcast. Moody at times. Said to be passionate,
if irritated. Finished in high relief. Carries shoulders well back
and walks well, as if proud of her woman’s life, with a slight rocking
movement, being one of the wide-flanged pattern, but seems restless,--a
hard girl to look after. Has a romance in her pocket, which she means
to read in school-time.--Charlotte Ann Wood. Fifteen. The poetess before
mentioned. Long, light ringlets, pallid complexion, blue eyes. Delicate
child, half unfolded. Gentle, but languid and despondent. Does not go
much with the other girls, but reads a good deal, especially poetry,
underscoring favorite passages. Writes a great many verses, very fast,
not very correctly; full of the usual human sentiments, expressed in
the accustomed phrases. Under-vitalized. Sensibilities not covered with
their normal integuments. A negative condition, often confounded with
genius, and sometimes running into it. Young people who fall out of line
through weakness of the active faculties are often confounded with those
who step out of it through strength of the intellectual ones.

The girls kept coming in, one after another, or in pairs or groups,
until the schoolroom was nearly full. Then there was a little pause, and
a light step was heard in the passage. The lady-teacher’s eyes turned to
the door, and the master’s followed them in the same direction.

A girl of about seventeen entered. She was tall and slender, but
rounded, with a peculiar undulation of movement, such as one sometimes
sees in perfectly untutored country-girls, whom Nature, the queen of
graces, has taken in hand, but more commonly in connection with the
very highest breeding of the most thoroughly trained society. She was
a splendid scowling beauty, black-browed, with a flash of white teeth
which was always like a surprise when her lips parted. She wore a
checkered dress, of a curious pattern, and a camel’s-hair scarf twisted
a little fantastically about her. She went to her seat, which she had
moved a short distance apart from the rest, and, sitting down, began
playing listlessly with her gold chain, as was a common habit with her,
coiling it and uncoiling it about her slender wrist, and braiding it
in with her long, delicate fingers. Presently she looked up. Black,
piercing eyes, not large,--a low forehead, as low as that of Clytie in
the Townley bust,--black hair, twisted in heavy braids,--a face that one
could not help looking at for its beauty, yet that one wanted to look
away from for something in its expression, and could not for those
diamond eyes. They were fixed on the lady-teacher now. The latter turned
her own away, and let them wander over the other scholars. But they
could not help coming back again for a single glance at the wild beauty.
The diamond eyes were on her still. She turned the leaves of several of
her books, as if in search of some passage, and, when she thought she
had waited long enough to be safe, once more stole a quick look at the
dark girl. The diamond eyes were still upon her. She put her kerchief
to her forehead, which had grown slightly moist; she sighed once, almost
shivered, for she felt cold; then, following some ill-defined impulse,
which she could not resist, she left her place and went to the young
girl’s desk.

“What do you want of me, Elsie Venner?” It was a strange question to
put, for the girl had not signified that she wished the teacher to come
to her.

“Nothing,” she said. “I thought I could make you come.” The girl
spoke in a low tone, a kind of half-whisper. She did not lisp, yet her
articulation of one or two consonants was not absolutely perfect.

“Where did you get that flower, Elsie?” said Miss Darley. It was a rare
alpine flower, which was found only in one spot among the rocks of The
Mountain.

“Where it grew,” said Elsie Veneer. “Take it.” The teacher could not
refuse her. The girl’s finger tips touched hers as she took it. How cold
they were for a girl of such an organization!

The teacher went back to her seat. She made an excuse for quitting the
schoolroom soon afterwards. The first thing she did was to fling the
flower into her fireplace and rake the ashes over it. The second was to
wash the tips of her fingers, as if she had been another Lady Macbeth. A
poor, over-tasked, nervous creature,--we must not think too much of her
fancies.

After school was done, she finished the talk with the master which had
been so suddenly interrupted. There were things spoken of which may
prove interesting by and by, but there are other matters we must first
attend to.



CHAPTER VII. THE EVENT OF THE SEASON.

“Mr. and Mrs. Colonel Sprowle’s compliments to Mr. Langdon and requests
the pleasure of his company at a social entertainment on Wednesday
evening next.

         “Elm St. Monday.”

On paper of a pinkish color and musky smell, with a large “S” at the
top, and an embossed border. Envelop adherent, not sealed. Addressed

          LANGDON ESQ.
          Present.

Brought by H. Frederic Sprowle, youngest son of the Colonel,--the H. of
course standing for the paternal Hezekiah, put in to please the father,
and reduced to its initial to please the mother, she having a marked
preference for Frederic. Boy directed to wait for an answer.

“Mr. Langdon has the pleasure of accepting Mr. and Mrs. Colonel
Sprowle’s polite invitation for Wednesday evening.”

On plain paper, sealed with an initial.

In walking along the main street, Mr. Bernard had noticed a large house
of some pretensions to architectural display, namely, unnecessarily
projecting eaves, giving it a mushroomy aspect, wooden mouldings at
various available points, and a grandiose arched portico. It looked a
little swaggering by the side of one or two of the mansion-houses that
were not far from it, was painted too bright for Mr. Bernard’s taste,
had rather too fanciful a fence before it, and had some fruit-trees
planted in the front-yard, which to this fastidious young gentleman
implied a defective sense of the fitness of things, not promising
in people who lived in so large a house, with a mushroom roof and a
triumphal arch for its entrance.

This place was known as “Colonel Sprowle’s villa,” (genteel
friends,)--as “the elegant residence of our distinguished
fellow-citizen, Colonel Sprowle,” (Rockland Weekly Universe,)--as “the
neew haouse,” (old settlers,)--as “Spraowle’s Folly,” (disaffected
and possibly envious neighbors,)--and in common discourse, as “the
Colonel’s.”

Hezekiah Sprowle, Esquire, Colonel Sprowle of the Commonwealth’s
Militia, was a retired “merchant.” An India merchant he might, perhaps,
have been properly called; for he used to deal in West India goods, such
as coffee, sugar, and molasses, not to speak of rum,--also in tea, salt
fish, butter and cheese, oil and candles, dried fruit, agricultural
“p’doose” generally, industrial products, such as boots and shoes,
and various kinds of iron and wooden ware, and at one end of the
establishment in calicoes and other stuffs,--to say nothing of
miscellaneous objects of the most varied nature, from sticks of candy,
which tempted in the smaller youth with coppers in their fists, up to
ornamental articles of apparel, pocket-books, breast-pins, gilt-edged
Bibles, stationery, in short, everything which was like to prove
seductive to the rural population. The Colonel had made money in trade,
and also by matrimony. He had married Sarah, daughter and heiress of the
late Tekel Jordan, Esq., an old miser, who gave the town-clock, which
carries his name to posterity in large gilt letters as a generous
benefactor of his native place. In due time the Colonel reaped the
reward of well-placed affections. When his wife’s inheritance fell in,
he thought he had money enough to give up trade, and therefore sold out
his “store,” called in some dialects of the English language shop, and
his business.

Life became pretty hard work to him, of course, as soon as he had
nothing particular to do. Country people with money enough not to have
to work are in much more danger than city people in the same condition.
They get a specific look and character, which are the same in all the
villages where one studies them. They very commonly fall into a routine,
the basis of which is going to some lounging-place or other, a bar-room,
a reading-room, or something of the kind. They grow slovenly in dress,
and wear the same hat forever. They have a feeble curiosity for news
perhaps, which they take daily as a man takes his bitters, and then fall
silent and think they are thinking. But the mind goes out under this
regimen, like a fire without a draught; and it is not very strange,
if the instinct of mental self-preservation drives them to
brandy-and-water, which makes the hoarse whisper of memory musical for
a few brief moments, and puts a weak leer of promise on the features of
the hollow-eyed future. The Colonel was kept pretty well in hand as yet
by his wife, and though it had happened to him once or twice to come
home rather late at night with a curious tendency to say the same
thing twice and even three times over, it had always been in very cold
weather,--and everybody knows that no one is safe to drink a couple of
glasses of wine in a warm room and go suddenly out into the cold air.

Miss Matilda Sprowle, sole daughter of the house, had reached the age at
which young ladies are supposed in technical language to have come out,
and thereafter are considered to be in company.

“There’s one piece o’ goods,” said the Colonel to his wife, “that we
ha’n’t disposed of, nor got a customer for yet. That ‘s Matildy. I
don’t mean to set HER up at vaandoo. I guess she can have her pick of a
dozen.”

“She ‘s never seen anybody yet,” said Mrs. Sprowle, who had had a
certain project for some time, but had kept quiet about it. “Let’s have
a party, and give her a chance to show herself and see some of the young
folks.”

The Colonel was not very clear-headed, and he thought, naturally enough,
that the party was his own suggestion, because his remark led to the
first starting of the idea. He entered into the plan, therefore, with a
feeling of pride as well as pleasure, and the great project was resolved
upon in a family council without a dissentient voice. This was the
party, then, to which Mr. Bernard was going. The town had been full
of it for a week. “Everybody was asked.” So everybody said that was
invited. But how in respect of those who were not asked? If it had been
one of the old mansion-houses that was giving a party, the boundary
between the favored and the slighted families would have been known
pretty well beforehand, and there would have been no great amount of
grumbling. But the Colonel, for all his title, had a forest of poor
relations and a brushwood swamp of shabby friends, for he had scrambled
up to fortune, and now the time was come when he must define his new
social position.

This is always an awkward business in town or country. An exclusive
alliance between two powers is often the same thing as a declaration of
war against a third. Rockland was soon split into a triumphant minority,
invited to Mrs. Sprowle’s party, and a great majority, uninvited,
of which the fraction just on the border line between recognized
“gentility” and the level of the ungloved masses was in an active state
of excitement and indignation.

“Who is she, I should like to know?” said Mrs. Saymore, the tailor’s
wife. “There was plenty of folks in Rockland as good as ever Sally
Jordan was, if she had managed to pick up a merchant. Other folks could
have married merchants, if their families was n’t as wealthy as them
old skinflints that willed her their money,” etc., etc. Mrs. Saymore
expressed the feeling of many beside herself. She had, however, a
special right to be proud of the name she bore. Her husband was own
cousin to the Saymores of Freestone Avenue (who write the name Seymour,
and claim to be of the Duke of Somerset’s family, showing a clear
descent from the Protector to Edward Seymour, (1630,)--then a jump that
would break a herald’s neck to one Seth Saymore,(1783,)--from whom to
the head of the present family the line is clear again). Mrs. Saymore,
the tailor’s wife, was not invited, because her husband mended clothes.
If he had confined himself strictly to making them, it would have put a
different face upon the matter.

The landlord of the Mountain House and his lady were invited to Mrs.
Sprowle’s party. Not so the landlord of Pollard’s Tahvern and his lady.
Whereupon the latter vowed that they would have a party at their house
too, and made arrangements for a dance of twenty or thirty couples, to
be followed by an entertainment. Tickets to this “Social Ball” were soon
circulated, and, being accessible to all at a moderate price, admission
to the “Elegant Supper” included, this second festival promised to be as
merry, if not as select, as the great party.

Wednesday came. Such doings had never been heard of in Rockland as went
on that day at the “villa.” The carpet had been taken up in the long
room, so that the young folks might have a dance. Miss Matilda’s piano
had been moved in, and two fiddlers and a clarionet-player engaged to
make music. All kinds of lamps had been put in requisition, and even
colored wax-candles figured on the mantel-pieces. The costumes of the
family had been tried on the day before: the Colonel’s black suit fitted
exceedingly well; his lady’s velvet dress displayed her contours to
advantage; Miss Matilda’s flowered silk was considered superb; the
eldest son of the family, Mr. T. Jordan Sprowle, called affectionately
and elegantly “Geordie,” voted himself “stunnin’”; and even the small
youth who had borne Mr. Bernard’s invitation was effective in a new
jacket and trousers, buttony in front, and baggy in the reverse
aspect, as is wont to be the case with the home-made garments of inland
youngsters.

Great preparations had been made for the refection which was to be part
of the entertainment. There was much clinking of borrowed spoons, which
were to be carefully counted, and much clicking of borrowed china, which
was to be tenderly handled, for nobody in the country keeps those vast
closets full of such things which one may see in rich city-houses. Not
a great deal could be done in the way of flowers, for there were no
greenhouses, and few plants were out as yet; but there were paper
ornaments for the candlesticks, and colored mats for the lamps, and
all the tassels of the curtains and bells were taken out of those
brown linen bags, in which, for reasons hitherto undiscovered, they are
habitually concealed in some households. In the remoter apartments every
imaginable operation was going on at once,--roasting, boiling, baking,
beating, rolling, pounding in mortars, frying, freezing; for there was
to be ice-cream to-night of domestic manufacture;--and in the midst
of all these labors, Mrs. Sprowle and Miss Matilda were moving about,
directing and helping as they best might, all day long. When the evening
came, it might be feared they would not be in just the state of mind and
body to entertain company.

--One would like to give a party now and then, if one could be a
billionaire.--“Antoine, I am going to have twenty people to dine
to-day.” “Biens, Madame.” Not a word or thought more about it, but get
home in season to dress, and come down to your own table, one of
your own guests.--“Giuseppe, we are to have a party a week from
to-night,--five hundred invitations--there is the list.” The day comes.
“Madam, do you remember you have your party tonight?” “Why, so I have!
Everything right? supper and all?” “All as it should be, Madam.”

“Send up Victorine.” “Victorine, full toilet for this evening,--pink,
diamonds, and emeralds. Coiffeur at seven. Allez.”--Billionism, or
even millionism, must be a blessed kind of state, with health and clear
conscience and youth and good looks,--but most blessed is this, that
it takes off all the mean cares which give people the three wrinkles
between the eyebrows, and leaves them free to have a good time and make
others have a good time, all the way along from the charity that tips
up unexpected loads of wood before widows’ houses, and leaves foundling
turkeys upon poor men’s door-steps, and sets lean clergymen crying at
the sight of anonymous fifty-dollar bills, to the taste which orders a
perfect banquet in such sweet accord with every sense that everybody’s
nature flowers out full--blown in its golden--glowing, fragrant
atmosphere.

--A great party given by the smaller gentry of the interior is a kind
of solemnity, so to speak. It involves so much labor and anxiety,--its
spasmodic splendors are so violently contrasted with the homeliness of
every-day family-life,--it is such a formidable matter to break in the
raw subordinates to the manege of the cloak-room and the table,--there
is such a terrible uncertainty in the results of unfamiliar culinary
operations,--so many feuds are involved in drawing that fatal line
which divides the invited from the uninvited fraction of the local
universe,--that, if the notes requested the pleasure of the guests’
company on “this solemn occasion,” they would pretty nearly express the
true state of things.

The Colonel himself had been pressed into the service. He had pounded
something in the great mortar. He had agitated a quantity of sweetened
and thickened milk in what was called a cream-freezer. At eleven
o’clock, A. M., he retired for a space. On returning, his color was
noted to be somewhat heightened, and he showed a disposition to be
jocular with the female help,--which tendency, displaying itself in
livelier demonstrations than were approved at head-quarters, led to his
being detailed to out-of-door duties, such as raking gravel, arranging
places for horses to be hitched to, and assisting in the construction of
an arch of wintergreen at the porch of the mansion.

A whiff from Mr. Geordie’s cigar refreshed the toiling females from time
to time; for the windows had to be opened occasionally, while all these
operations were going on, and the youth amused himself with inspecting
the interior, encouraging the operatives now and then in the phrases
commonly employed by genteel young men,--for he had perused an odd
volume of “Verdant Green,” and was acquainted with a Sophomore from
one of the fresh-water colleges. “Go it on the feed!” exclaimed this
spirited young man. “Nothin’ like a good spread. Grub enough and good
liquor, that’s the ticket. Guv’nor’ll do the heavy polite, and let me
alone for polishin’ off the young charmers.” And Mr. Geordie looked
expressively at a handmaid who was rolling gingerbread, as if he were
rehearsing for “Don Giovanni.”

Evening came at last, and the ladies were forced to leave the scene of
their labors to array themselves for the coming festivities. The tables
had been set in a back room, the meats were ready, the pickles were
displayed, the cake was baked, the blanc-mange had stiffened, and the
ice-cream had frozen.

At half past seven o’clock, the Colonel, in costume, came into the front
parlor, and proceeded to light the lamps. Some were good-humored enough
and took the hint of a lighted match at once. Others were as vicious as
they could be,--would not light on any terms, any more than if they were
filled with water, or lighted and smoked one side of the chimney, or
spattered a few sparks and sulked themselves out, or kept up a
faint show of burning, so that their ground glasses looked as feebly
phosphorescent as so many invalid fireflies. With much coaxing and
screwing and pricking, a tolerable illumination was at last achieved.
At eight there was a grand rustling of silks, and Mrs. and Miss Sprowle
descended from their respective bowers or boudoirs. Of course they were
pretty well tired by this time, and very glad to sit down,--having the
prospect before them of being obliged to stand for hours. The Colonel
walked about the parlor, inspecting his regiment of lamps. By and by Mr.
Geordie entered.

“Mph! mph!” he sniffed, as he came in. “You smell of lamp-smoke here.”

That always galls people,--to have a new-comer accuse them of smoke or
close air, which they have got used to and do not perceive. The Colonel
raged at the thought of his lamps’ smoking, and tongued a few anathemas
inside of his shut teeth, but turned down two or three wicks that burned
higher than the rest.

Master H. Frederic next made his appearance, with questionable marks
upon his fingers and countenance. Had been tampering with something
brown and sticky. His elder brother grew playful, and caught him by the
baggy reverse of his more essential garment.

“Hush!” said Mrs. Sprowle,--“there ‘s the bell!”

Everybody took position at once, and began to look very smiling and
altogether at ease.--False alarm. Only a parcel of spoons,--“loaned,” as
the inland folks say when they mean lent, by a neighbor.

“Better late than never!” said the Colonel, “let me heft them spoons.”

Mrs. Sprowle came down into her chair again as if all her bones had been
bewitched out of her.

“I’m pretty nigh beat out a’ready,” said she, “before any of the folks
has come.”

They sat silent awhile, waiting for the first arrival. How nervous they
got! and how their senses were sharpened!

“Hark!” said Miss Matilda,--“what ‘s that rumblin’?”

It was a cart going over a bridge more than a mile off, which at any
other time they would not have heard. After this there was a lull, and
poor Mrs. Sprowle’s head nodded once or twice. Presently a crackling and
grinding of gravel;--how much that means, when we are waiting for
those whom we long or dread to see! Then a change in the tone of the
gravel-crackling.

“Yes, they have turned in at our gate. They’re comin’! Mother! mother!”

Everybody in position, smiling and at ease. Bell rings. Enter the first
set of visitors. The Event of the Season has begun.

“Law! it’s nothin’ but the Cranes’ folks! I do believe Mahala ‘s come in
that old green de-laine she wore at the Surprise Party!”

Miss Matilda had peeped through a crack of the door and made this
observation and the remark founded thereon. Continuing her attitude of
attention, she overheard Mrs. Crane and her two daughters conversing in
the attiring-room, up one flight.

“How fine everything is in the great house!” said Mrs. Crane,--“jest
look at the picters!”

“Matildy Sprowle’s drawin’s,” said Ada Azuba, the eldest daughter.

“I should think so,” said Mahala Crane, her younger sister,--a
wide-awake girl, who had n’t been to school for nothing, and performed a
little on the lead pencil herself. “I should like to know whether that’s
a hay-cock or a mountain!”

Miss Matilda winced; for this must refer to her favorite monochrome,
executed by laying on heavy shadows and stumping them down into mellow
harmony,--the style of drawing which is taught in six lessons, and the
kind of specimen which is executed in something less than one hour.
Parents and other very near relatives are sometimes gratified with these
productions, and cause them to be framed and hung up, as in the present
instance.

“I guess we won’t go down jest yet,” said Mrs. Crane, “as folks don’t
seem to have come.”

So she began a systematic inspection of the dressing-room and its
conveniences.

“Mahogany four-poster;--come from the Jordans’, I cal’la,te. Marseilles
quilt. Ruffles all round the piller. Chintz curtings,--jest put up,--o’
purpose for the party, I’ll lay ye a dollar.--What a nice washbowl!”
 (Taps it with a white knuckle belonging to a red finger.) “Stone
chaney.--Here’s a bran’-new brush and comb,--and here’s a scent-bottle.
Come here, girls, and fix yourselves in the glass, and scent your
pocket-handkerchers.”

And Mrs. Crane bedewed her own kerchief with some of the eau de Cologne
of native manufacture,--said on its label to be much superior to the
German article.

It was a relief to Mrs. and the Miss Cranes when the bell rang and the
next guests were admitted. Deacon and Mrs. Soper,--Deacon Soper of
the Rev. Mr. Fairweather’s church, and his lady. Mrs. Deacon Soper was
directed, of course, to the ladies’ dressing-room, and her husband to
the other apartment, where gentlemen were to leave their outside
coats and hats. Then came Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, and then the three Miss
Spinneys, then Silas Peckham, Head of the Apollinean Institute, and Mrs.
Peckham, and more after them, until at last the ladies’ dressing-room
got so full that one might have thought it was a trap none of them could
get out of. In truth, they all felt a little awkwardly. Nobody wanted
to be first to venture down-stairs. At last Mr. Silas Peckham thought it
was time to make a move for the parlor, and for this purpose presented
himself at the door of the ladies’ dressing-room.

“Lorindy, my dear!” he exclaimed to Mrs. Peckham,--“I think there can be
no impropriety in our joining the family down-stairs.”

Mrs. Peckham laid her large, flaccid arm in the sharp angle made by the
black sleeve which held the bony limb her husband offered, and the two
took the stair and struck out for the parlor. The ice was broken, and
the dressing-room began to empty itself into the spacious, lighted
apartments below.

Mr. Silas Peckham slid into the room with Mrs. Peckham alongside, like a
shad convoying a jelly-fish.

“Good-evenin’, Mrs. Sprowle! I hope I see you well this evenin’. How ‘s
your haalth, Colonel Sprowle?”

“Very well, much obleeged to you. Hope you and your good lady are well.
Much pleased to see you. Hope you’ll enjoy yourselves. We’ve laid out to
have everything in good shape,--spared no trouble nor ex”--

“pence,”--said Silas Peckham.

Mrs. Colonel Sprowle, who, you remember, was a Jordan, had nipped the
Colonel’s statement in the middle of the word Mr. Peckham finished,
with a look that jerked him like one of those sharp twitches women keep
giving a horse when they get a chance to drive one.

Mr. and Mrs. Crane, Miss Ada Azuba, and Miss Mahala Crane made their
entrance. There had been a discussion about the necessity and propriety
of inviting this family, the head of which kept a small shop for hats
and boots and shoes. The Colonel’s casting vote had carried it in the
affirmative.--How terribly the poor old green de-laine did cut up in the
blaze of so many lamps and candles.

--Deluded little wretch, male or female, in town or country, going to
your first great party, how little you know the nature of the ceremony
in which you are to bear the part of victim! What! are not these
garlands and gauzy mists and many-colored streamers which adorn you, is
not this music which welcomes you, this radiance that glows about you,
meant solely for your enjoyment, young miss of seventeen or eighteen
summers, now for the first time swimming unto the frothy, chatoyant,
sparkling, undulating sea of laces and silks and satins, and
white-armed, flower-crowned maidens struggling in their waves beneath
the lustres that make the false summer of the drawing-room?

Stop at the threshold! This is a hall of judgment you are entering; the
court is in session; and if you move five steps forward, you will be at
its bar.

There was a tribunal once in France, as you may remember, called the
Chambre Ardente, the Burning Chamber. It was hung all round with lamps,
and hence its name. The burning chamber for the trial of young maidens
is the blazing ball-room. What have they full-dressed you, or rather
half-dressed you for, do you think? To make you look pretty, of course!
Why have they hung a chandelier above you, flickering all over with
flames, so that it searches you like the noonday sun, and your deepest
dimple cannot hold a shadow? To give brilliancy to the gay scene,
no doubt!--No, my clear! Society is inspecting you, and it finds
undisguised surfaces and strong lights a convenience in the process.
The dance answers the purpose of the revolving pedestal upon which the
“White Captive” turns, to show us the soft, kneaded marble, which looks
as if it had never been hard, in all its manifold aspects of living
loveliness. No mercy for you, my love! Justice, strict justice, you
shall certainly have,--neither more nor less. For, look you, there are
dozens, scores, hundreds, with whom you must be weighed in the balance;
and you have got to learn that the “struggle for life” Mr. Charles
Darwin talks about reaches to vertebrates clad in crinoline, as well
as to mollusks in shells, or articulates in jointed scales, or anything
that fights for breathing-room and food and love in any coat of fur or
feather! Happy they who can flash defiance from bright eyes and snowy
shoulders back into the pendants of the insolent lustres!

--Miss Mahala Crane did not have these reflections; and no young girl
ever did, or ever will, thank Heaven! Her keen eyes sparkled under
her plainly parted hair and the green de-laine moulded itself in those
unmistakable lines of natural symmetry in which Nature indulges a small
shopkeeper’s daughter occasionally as well as a wholesale dealer’s young
ladies. She would have liked a new dress as much as any other girl, but
she meant to go and have a good time at any rate.

The guests were now arriving in the drawing-room pretty fast, and the
Colonel’s hand began to burn a good deal with the sharp squeezes which
many of the visitors gave it. Conversation, which had begun like a
summer-shower, in scattering drops, was fast becoming continuous, and
occasionally rising into gusty swells, with now and then a broad-chested
laugh from some Captain or Major or other military personage,--for it
may be noted that all large and loud men in the unpaved districts bear
military titles.

Deacon Soper came up presently, and entered into conversation with
Colonel Sprowle.

“I hope to see our pastor present this evenin’,” said the Deacon.

“I don’t feel quite sure,” the Colonel answered. “His dyspepsy has been
bad on him lately. He wrote to say, that, Providence permittin’,
it would be agreeable to him to take a part in the exercises of the
evenin’; but I mistrusted he did n’t mean to come. To tell the truth,
Deacon Soper, I rather guess he don’t like the idee of dancin’, and some
of the other little arrangements.”

“Well,” said the Deacon, “I know there’s some condemns dancin’. I’ve
heerd a good deal of talk about it among the folks round. Some have it
that it never brings a blessin’ on a house to have dancin’ in it. Judge
Tileston died, you remember, within a month after he had his great ball,
twelve year ago, and some thought it was in the natur’ of a judgment.
I don’t believe in any of them notions. If a man happened to be struck
dead the night after he’d been givin’ a ball,” (the Colonel loosened his
black stock a little, and winked and swallowed two or three times,) “I
should n’t call it a judgment,--I should call it a coincidence. But I ‘m
a little afraid our pastor won’t come. Somethin’ or other’s the matter
with Mr. Fairweather. I should sooner expect to see the old Doctor come
over out of the Orthodox parsonage-house.”

“I’ve asked him,” said the Colonel.

“Well?” said Deacon Soper.

“He said he should like to come, but he did n’t know what his people
would say. For his part, he loved to see young folks havin’ their sports
together, and very often felt as if he should like to be one of ‘em
himself. ‘But,’ says I, ‘Doctor, I don’t say there won’t be a little
dancin’.’ ‘Don’t!’ says he, ‘for I want Letty to go,’ (she’s his
granddaughter that’s been stayin’ with him,) ‘and Letty ‘s mighty fond
of dancin’. You know,’ says the Doctor, ‘it is n’t my business to settle
whether other people’s children should dance or not.’ And the Doctor
looked as if he should like to rigadoon and sashy across as well as the
young one he was talkin’ about. He ‘s got blood in him, the old Doctor
has. I wish our little man and him would swop pulpits.”

Deacon Soper started and looked up into the Colonel’s face, as if to see
whether he was in earnest.

Mr. Silas Peckham and his lady joined the group.

“Is this to be a Temperance Celebration, Mrs. Sprowle?” asked Mr. Silas
Peckham.

Mrs. Sprowle replied, “that there would be lemonade and srub for those
that preferred such drinks, but that the Colonel had given folks to
understand that he did n’t mean to set in judgment on the marriage in
Canaan, and that those that didn’t like srub and such things would find
somethin’ that would suit them better.”

Deacon Soper’s countenance assumed a certain air of restrained
cheerfulness. The conversation rose into one of its gusty paroxysms
just then. Master H. Frederic got behind a door and began performing
the experiment of stopping and unstopping his ears in rapid alternation,
greatly rejoicing in the singular effect of mixed conversation chopped
very small, like the contents of a mince-pie, or meat-pie, as it is more
forcibly called in the deep-rutted villages lying along the unsalted
streams. All at once it grew silent just round the door, where it had
been loudest,--and the silence spread itself like a stain, till
it hushed everything but a few corner-duets. A dark, sad-looking,
middle-aged gentleman entered the parlor, with a young lady on his
arm,--his daughter, as it seemed, for she was not wholly unlike him in
feature, and of the same dark complexion.

“Dudley Venner,” exclaimed a dozen people, in startled, but
half-suppressed tones.

“What can have brought Dudley out to-night?” said Jefferson Buck, a
young fellow, who had been interrupted in one of the corner-duets which
he was executing in concert with Miss Susy Pettingill.

“How do I know, Jeff?” was Miss Susy’s answer. Then, after a
pause,--“Elsie made him come, I guess. Go ask Dr. Kittredge; he knows
all about ‘em both, they say.”

Dr. Kittredge, the leading physician of Rockland, was a shrewd old man,
who looked pretty keenly into his patients through his spectacles,
and pretty widely at men, women, and things in general over them.
Sixty-three years old,--just the year of the grand climacteric. A bald
crown, as every doctor should have. A consulting practitioner’s mouth;
that is, movable round the corners while the case is under examination,
but both corners well drawn down and kept so when the final opinion is
made up. In fact, the Doctor was often sent for to act as “caounsel,”
 all over the county, and beyond it. He kept three or four horses,
sometimes riding in the saddle, commonly driving in a sulky, pretty
fast, and looking straight before him, so that people got out of the way
of bowing to him as he passed on the road. There was some talk about his
not being so long-sighted as other folks, but his old patients laughed
and looked knowing when this was spoken of.

The Doctor knew a good many things besides how to drop tinctures
and shake out powders. Thus, he knew a horse, and, what is harder to
understand, a horse-dealer, and was a match for him. He knew what a
nervous woman is, and how to manage her. He could tell at a glance when
she is in that condition of unstable equilibrium in which a rough word
is like a blow to her, and the touch of unmagnetized fingers reverses
all her nervous currents. It is not everybody that enters into the soul
of Mozart’s or Beethoven’s harmonies; and there are vital symphonies in
B flat, and other low, sad keys, which a doctor may know as little of as
a hurdy-gurdy player of the essence of those divine musical mysteries.
The Doctor knew the difference between what men say and what they mean
as well as most people. When he was listening to common talk, he was in
the habit of looking over his spectacles; if he lifted his head so as
to look through them at the person talking, he was busier with that
person’s thoughts than with his words.

Jefferson Buck was not bold enough to confront the Doctor with Miss
Susy’s question, for he did not look as if he were in the mood to answer
queries put by curious young people. His eyes were fixed steadily on the
dark girl, every movement of whom he seemed to follow.

She was, indeed, an apparition of wild beauty, so unlike the girls about
her that it seemed nothing more than natural, that, when she moved, the
groups should part to let her pass through them, and that she should
carry the centre of all looks and thoughts with her. She was dressed to
please her own fancy, evidently, with small regard to the modes declared
correct by the Rockland milliners and mantua-makers. Her heavy black
hair lay in a braided coil, with a long gold pin shat through it like a
javelin. Round her neck was a golden torque, a round, cord-like chain,
such as the Gaols used to wear; the “Dying Gladiator” has it. Her
dress was a grayish watered silk; her collar was pinned with a flashing
diamond brooch, the stones looking as fresh as morning dew-drops, but
the silver setting of the past generation; her arms were bare, round,
but slender rather than large, in keeping with her lithe round figure.
On her wrists she wore bracelets: one was a circlet of enamelled scales;
the other looked as if it might have been Cleopatra’s asp, with its body
turned to gold and its eyes to emeralds.

Her father--for Dudley Venner was her father--looked like a man of
culture and breeding, but melancholy and with a distracted air, as one
whose life had met some fatal cross or blight. He saluted hardly anybody
except his entertainers and the Doctor. One would have said, to look at
him, that he was not at the party by choice; and it was natural enough
to think, with Susy Pettingill, that it must have been a freak of the
dark girl’s which brought him there, for he had the air of a shy and
sad-hearted recluse.

It was hard to say what could have brought Elsie Venner to the party.
Hardly anybody seemed to know her, and she seemed not at all disposed to
make acquaintances. Here and there was one of the older girls from the
Institute, but she appeared to have nothing in common with them. Even in
the schoolroom, it may be remembered, she sat apart by her own choice,
and now in the midst of the crowd she made a circle of isolation round
herself. Drawing her arm out of her father’s, she stood against the
wall, and looked, with a strange, cold glitter in her eyes, at the crowd
which moved and babbled before her.

The old Doctor came up to her by and by.

“Well, Elsie, I am quite surprised to find you here. Do tell me how you
happened to do such a good-natured thing as to let us see you at such a
great party.”

“It’s been dull at the mansion-house,” she said, “and I wanted to get
out of it. It’s too lonely there,--there’s nobody to hate since Dick’s
gone.”

The Doctor laughed good-naturedly, as if this were an amusing bit of
pleasantry,--but he lifted his head and dropped his eyes a little, so
as to see her through his spectacles. She narrowed her lids slightly, as
one often sees a sleepy cat narrow hers,--somewhat as you may remember
our famous Margaret used to, if you remember her at all,--so that her
eyes looked very small, but bright as the diamonds on her breast. The
old Doctor felt very oddly as she looked at him; he did not like the
feeling, so he dropped his head and lifted his eyes and looked at her
over his spectacles again.

“And how have you all been at the mansion house?” said the Doctor.

“Oh, well enough. But Dick’s gone, and there’s nobody left but Dudley
and I and the people. I’m tired of it. What kills anybody quickest,
Doctor?” Then, in a whisper, “I ran away again the other day, you know.”

“Where did you go?” The Doctor spoke in a low, serious tone.

“Oh, to the old place. Here, I brought this for you.”

The Doctor started as she handed him a flower of the Atragene Americana,
for he knew that there was only one spot where it grew, and that not
one where any rash foot, least of all a thin-shod woman’s foot, should
venture.

“How long were you gone?” said the Doctor.

“Only one night. You should have heard the horns blowing and the guns
firing. Dudley was frightened out of his wits. Old Sophy told him she’d
had a dream, and that I should be found in Dead-Man’s Hollow, with a
great rock lying on me. They hunted all over it, but they did n’t find
me,--I was farther up.”

Doctor Kittredge looked cloudy and worried while she was speaking, but
forced a pleasant professional smile, as he said cheerily, and as if
wishing to change the subject,

“Have a good dance this evening, Elsie. The fiddlers are tuning up.
Where ‘s the young master? has he come yet? or is he going to be late,
with the other great folks?”

The girl turned away without answering, and looked toward the door.

The “great folks,” meaning the mansion-house gentry, were just beginning
to come; Dudley Venner and his daughter had been the first of them.
Judge Thornton, white-headed, fresh-faced, as good at sixty as he was
at forty, with a youngish second wife, and one noble daughter, Arabella,
who, they said, knew as much law as her father, a stately, Portia like
girl, fit for a premier’s wife, not like to find her match even in the
great cities she sometimes visited; the Trecothicks, the family of a
merchant, (in the larger sense,) who, having made himself rich enough by
the time he had reached middle life, threw down his ledger as Sylla did
his dagger, and retired to make a little paradise around him in one
of the stateliest residences of the town, a family inheritance; the
Vaughans, an old Rockland race, descended from its first settlers,
Toryish in tendency in Revolutionary times, and barely escaping
confiscation or worse; the Dunhams, a new family, dating its gentility
only as far back as the Honorable Washington Dunham, M. C., but turning
out a clever boy or two that went to college; and some showy girls with
white necks and fat arms who had picked up professional husbands: these
were the principal mansion-house people. All of them had made it a point
to come; and as each of them entered, it seemed to Colonel and Mrs.
Sprowle that the lamps burned up with a more cheerful light, and that
the fiddles which sounded from the uncarpeted room were all half a tone
higher and half a beat quicker.

Mr. Bernard came in later than any of them; he had been busy with his
new duties. He looked well and that is saying a good deal; for nothing
but a gentleman is endurable in full dress. Hair that masses well,
a head set on with an air, a neckerchief tied cleverly by an easy,
practised hand, close-fitting gloves, feet well shaped and well
covered,--these advantages can make us forgive the odious sable
broadcloth suit, which appears to have been adopted by society on the
same principle that condemned all the Venetian gondolas to perpetual and
uniform blackness. Mr. Bernard, introduced by Mr. Geordie, made his
bow to the Colonel and his lady and to Miss Matilda, from whom he got
a particularly gracious curtsy, and then began looking about him
for acquaintances. He found two or three faces he knew,--many more
strangers. There was Silas Peckham,--there was no mistaking him; there
was the inelastic amplitude of Mrs. Peckham; few of the Apollinean
girls, of course, they not being recognized members of society,--but
there is one with the flame in her cheeks and the fire in her eyes, the
girl of vigorous tints and emphatic outlines, whom we saw entering the
schoolroom the other day. Old Judge Thornton has his eyes on her, and
the Colonel steals a look every now and then at the red brooch
which lifts itself so superbly into the light, as if he thought it a
wonderfully becoming ornament. Mr. Bernard himself was not displeased
with the general effect of the rich-blooded schoolgirl, as she stood
under the bright lamps, fanning herself in the warm, languid air, fixed
in a kind of passionate surprise at the new life which seemed to be
flowering out in her consciousness. Perhaps he looked at her somewhat
steadily, as some others had done; at any rate, she seemed to feel that
she was looked at, as people often do, and, turning her eyes suddenly
on him, caught his own on her face, gave him a half-bashful smile, and
threw in a blush involuntarily which made it more charming.

“What can I do better,” he said to himself, “than have a dance with Rosa
Milburn?” So he carried his handsome pupil into the next room and took
his place with her in a cotillon. Whether the breath of the Goddess of
Love could intoxicate like the cup of Circe,--whether a woman is ever
phosphorescent with the luminous vapor of life that she exhales,--these
and other questions which relate to occult influences exercised by
certain women we will not now discuss. It is enough that Mr. Bernard
was sensible of a strange fascination, not wholly new to him, nor
unprecedented in the history of human experience, but always a
revelation when it comes over us for the first or the hundredth time,
so pale is the most recent memory by the side of the passing moment with
the flush of any new-born passion on its cheek. Remember that Nature
makes every man love all women, and trusts the trivial matter of special
choice to the commonest accident.

If Mr. Bernard had had nothing to distract his attention, he might have
thought too much about his handsome partner, and then gone home and
dreamed about her, which is always dangerous, and waked up thinking of
her still, and then begun to be deeply interested in her studies, and so
on, through the whole syllogism which ends in Nature’s supreme quod erat
demonstrandum. What was there to distract him or disturb him? He did not
know,--but there was something. This sumptuous creature, this Eve just
within the gate of an untried Paradise, untutored in the ways of the
world, but on tiptoe to reach the fruit of the tree of knowledge,--alive
to the moist vitality of that warm atmosphere palpitating with voices
and music, as the flower of some dioecious plant which has grown in a
lone corner and suddenly unfolding its corolla on some hot-breathing
June evening, feels that the air is perfumed with strange odors and
loaded with golden dust wafted from those other blossoms with which its
double life is shared,--this almost over-womanized woman might well have
bewitched him, but that he had a vague sense of a counter-charm. It was,
perhaps, only the same consciousness that some one was looking at him
which he himself had just given occasion to in his partner. Presently,
in one of the turns of the dance, he felt his eyes drawn to a figure he
had not distinctly recognized, though he had dimly felt its presence,
and saw that Elsie Venner was looking at him as if she saw nothing else
but him. He was not a nervous person, like the poor lady-teacher, yet
the glitter of the diamond eyes affected him strangely. It seemed to
disenchant the air, so full a moment before of strange attractions. He
became silent, and dreamy, as it were. The round-limbed beauty at his
side crushed her gauzy draperies against him, as they trod the figure of
the dance together, but it was no more to him than if an old nurse
had laid her hand on his sleeve. The young girl chafed at his seeming
neglect, and her imperious blood mounted into her cheeks; but he
appeared unconscious of it.

“There is one of our young ladies I must speak to,” he said,--and was
just leaving his partner’s side.

“Four hands all round?” shouted the first violin,--and Mr. Bernard found
himself seized and whirled in a circle out of which he could not escape,
and then forced to “cross over,” and then to “dozy do,” as the maestro
had it,--and when, on getting back to his place, he looked for Elsie
Venner, she was gone.

The dancing went on briskly. Some of the old folks looked on, others
conversed in groups and pairs, and so the evening wore along, until a
little after ten o’clock. About this time there was noticed an increased
bustle in the passages, with a considerable opening and shutting of
doors. Presently it began to be whispered about that they were going to
have supper. Many, who had never been to any large party before, held
their breath for a moment at this announcement. It was rather with a
tremulous interest than with open hilarity that the rumor was generally
received.

One point the Colonel had entirely forgotten to settle. It was a point
involving not merely propriety, but perhaps principle also, or at least
the good report of the house,--and he had never thought to arrange it.
He took Judge Thornton aside and whispered the important question to
him,--in his distress of mind, mistaking pockets and taking out his
bandanna instead of his white handkerchief to wipe his forehead.

“Judge,” he said, “do you think, that, before we commence refreshing
ourselves at the tables, it would be the proper thing to--crave a--to
request Deacon Soper or some other elderly person--to ask a blessing?”

The Judge looked as grave as if he were about giving the opinion of the
Court in the great India-rubber case.

“On the whole,” he answered, after a pause, “I should think it might,
perhaps, be dispensed with on this occasion. Young folks are noisy, and
it is awkward to have talking and laughing going on while blessing is
being asked. Unless a clergyman is present and makes a point of it, I
think it will hardly be expected.”

The Colonel was infinitely relieved. “Judge, will you take Mrs. Sprowle
in to supper?” And the Colonel returned the compliment by offering his
arm to Mrs. Judge Thornton.

The door of the supper-room was now open, and the company, following
the lead of the host and hostess, began to stream into it, until it was
pretty well filled.

There was an awful kind of pause. Many were beginning to drop their
heads and shut their eyes, in anticipation of the usual petition before
a meal; some expected the music to strike up,--others, that an oration
would now be delivered by the Colonel.

“Make yourselves at home, ladies and gentlemen,” said the Colonel; “good
things were made to eat, and you’re welcome to all you see before you.”

So saying he attacked a huge turkey which stood at the head of the
table; and his example being followed first by the bold, then by the
doubtful, and lastly by the timid, the clatter soon made the circuit of
the tables. Some were shocked, however, as the Colonel had feared they
would be, at the want of the customary invocation. Widow Leech, a
kind of relation, who had to be invited, and who came with her old,
back-country-looking string of gold beads round her neck, seemed to feel
very serious about it.

“If she’d ha’ known that folks would begrutch cravin’ a blessin’ over
sech a heap o’ provisions, she’d rather ha’ staid t’ home. It was a bad
sign, when folks was n’t grateful for the baounties of Providence.”

The elder Miss Spinney, to whom she made this remark, assented to it,
at the same time ogling a piece of frosted cake, which she presently
appropriated with great refinement of manner,--taking it between her
thumb and forefinger, keeping the others well spread and the little
finger in extreme divergence, with a graceful undulation of the neck,
and a queer little sound in her throat, as of an M that wanted to get
out and perished in the attempt.

The tables now presented an animated spectacle. Young fellows of the
more dashing sort, with high stand-up collars and voluminous bows to
their neckerchiefs, distinguished themselves by cutting up fowls and
offering portions thereof to the buxom girls these knowing ones had
commonly selected.

“A bit of the wing, Roxy, or of the--under limb?”

The first laugh broke out at this, but it was premature, a sporadic
laugh, as Dr. Kittredge would have said, which did not become epidemic.
People were very solemn as yet, many of them being new to such splendid
scenes, and crushed, as it were, in the presence of so much crockery
and so many silver spoons, and such a variety of unusual viands and
beverages. When the laugh rose around Roxy and her saucy beau, several
looked in that direction with an anxious expression, as if something had
happened, a lady fainted, for instance, or a couple of lively fellows
come to high words.

“Young folks will be young folks,” said Deacon Soper. “No harm done.
Least said soonest mended.”

“Have some of these shell-oysters?” said the Colonel to Mrs. Trecothick.

A delicate emphasis on the word shell implied that the Colonel knew what
was what. To the New England inland native, beyond the reach of the
east winds, the oyster unconditioned, the oyster absolute, without a
qualifying adjective, is the pickled oyster. Mrs. Trecothick, who knew
very well that an oyster long out of his shell (as is apt to be the
case with the rural bivalve) gets homesick and loses his sprightliness,
replied, with the pleasantest smile in the world, that the chicken she
had been helped to was too delicate to be given up even for the greater
rarity. But the word “shell-oysters” had been overheard; and there was a
perceptible crowding movement towards their newly discovered habitat, a
large soup-tureen.

Silas Peckham had meantime fallen upon another locality of these recent
mollusks. He said nothing, but helped himself freely, and made a sign to
Mrs. Peckham.

“Lorindy,” he whispered, “shell-oysters”

And ladled them out to her largely, without betraying any emotion, just
as if they had been the natural inland or pickled article.

After the more solid portion of the banquet had been duly honored, the
cakes and sweet preparations of various kinds began to get their share
of attention. There were great cakes and little cakes, cakes with
raisins in them, cakes with currants, and cakes without either; there
were brown cakes and yellow cakes, frosted cakes, glazed cakes, hearts
and rounds, and jumbles, which playful youth slip over the forefinger
before spoiling their annular outline. There were mounds of blo’monje,
of the arrowroot variety,--that being undistinguishable from such as is
made with Russia isinglass. There were jellies, which had been shaking,
all the time the young folks were dancing in the next room, as if
they were balancing to partners. There were built-up fabrics, called
Charlottes, caky externally, pulpy within; there were also marangs, and
likewise custards,--some of the indolent-fluid sort, others firm, in
which every stroke of the teaspoon left a smooth, conchoidal surface
like the fracture of chalcedony, with here and there a little eye like
what one sees in cheeses. Nor was that most wonderful object of domestic
art called trifle wanting, with its charming confusion of cream and cake
and almonds and jam and jelly and wine and cinnamon and froth; nor yet
the marvellous floating-island,--name suggestive of all that is romantic
in the imaginations of youthful palates.

“It must have cost you a sight of work, to say nothin’ of money, to get
all this beautiful confectionery made for the party,” said Mrs. Crane to
Mrs. Sprowle.

“Well, it cost some consid’able labor, no doubt,” said Mrs. Sprowle.
“Matilda and our girls and I made ‘most all the cake with our own hands,
and we all feel some tired; but if folks get what suits ‘em, we don’t
begrudge the time nor the work. But I do feel thirsty,” said the
poor lady, “and I think a glass of srub would do my throat good; it’s
dreadful dry. Mr. Peckham, would you be so polite as to pass me a glass
of srub?”

Silas Peckham bowed with great alacrity, and took from the table a small
glass cup, containing a fluid reddish in hue and subacid in taste.
This was srub, a beverage in local repute, of questionable nature, but
suspected of owing its tint and sharpness to some kind of syrup derived
from the maroon-colored fruit of the sumac. There were similar small
cups on the table filled with lemonade, and here and there a decanter of
Madeira wine, of the Marsala kind, which some prefer to, and many more
cannot distinguish from, that which comes from the Atlantic island.

“Take a glass of wine, Judge,” said, the Colonel; “here is an article
that I rather think ‘ll suit you.”

The Judge knew something of wines, and could tell all the famous old
Madeiras from each other, “Eclipse,” “Juno,” the almost fabulously
scarce and precious “White-top,” and the rest. He struck the nativity of
the Mediterranean Madeira before it had fairly moistened his lip.

“A sound wine, Colonel, and I should think of a genuine vintage. Your
very good health.”

“Deacon Soper,” said the Colonel, “here is some Madary Judge Thornton
recommends. Let me fill you a glass of it.”

The Deacon’s eyes glistened. He was one of those consistent Christians
who stick firmly by the first miracle and Paul’s advice to Timothy.

“A little good wine won’t hurt anybody,” said the Deacon. “Plenty,
--plenty,--plenty. There!” He had not withdrawn his glass, while the
Colonel was pouring, for fear it should spill, and now it was running
over.

--It is very odd how all a man’s philosophy and theology are at the
mercy of a few drops of a fluid which the chemists say consists of
nothing but C4, O2, H6. The Deacon’s theology fell off several points
towards latitudinarianism in the course of the next ten minutes. He had
a deep inward sense that everything was as it should be, human nature
included. The little accidents of humanity, known collectively to
moralists as sin, looked very venial to his growing sense of universal
brotherhood and benevolence.

“It will all come right,” the Deacon said to himself,--“I feel a joyful
conviction that everything is for the best. I am favored with a blessed
peace of mind, and a very precious season of good feelin’ toward my
fellow-creturs.”

A lusty young fellow happened to make a quick step backward just at
that instant, and put his heel, with his weight on top of it, upon the
Deacon’s toes.

“Aigh! What the d’ d’ didos are y’ abaout with them great huffs o’
yourn?” said the Deacon, with an expression upon his features not
exactly that of peace and good-will to men. The lusty young fellow
apologized; but the Deacon’s face did not come right, and his theology
backed round several points in the direction of total depravity.

Some of the dashing young men in stand-up collars and extensive
neckties, encouraged by Mr. Geordie, made quite free with the
“Ma,dary,” and even induced some of the more stylish girls--not of the
mansion-house set, but of the tip-top two-story families--to taste a
little. Most of these young ladies made faces at it, and declared it was
“perfectly horrid,” with that aspect of veracity peculiar to their age
and sex.

About this time a movement was made on the part of some of the
mansion-house people to leave the supper-table. Miss Jane Trecothick
had quietly hinted to her mother that she had had enough of it. Miss
Arabella Thornton had whispered to her father that he had better adjourn
this court to the next room. There were signs of migration,--a loosening
of people in their places,--a looking about for arms to hitch on to.

“Stop!” said the Colonel. “There’s something coming yet.--Ice-cream!”

The great folks saw that the play was not over yet, and that it was
only polite to stay and see it out. The word “ice-cream” was no sooner
whispered than it passed from one to another all down the tables. The
effect was what might have been anticipated. Many of the guests had
never seen this celebrated product of human skill, and to all the
two-story population of Rockland it was the last expression of the art
of pleasing and astonishing the human palate. Its appearance had been
deferred for several reasons: first, because everybody would have
attacked it, if it had come in with the other luxuries; secondly,
because undue apprehensions were entertained (owing to want of
experience) of its tendency to deliquesce and resolve itself with
alarming rapidity into puddles of creamy fluid; and, thirdly, because
the surprise would make a grand climax to finish off the banquet.

There is something so audacious in the conception of ice-cream, that
it is not strange that a population undebauched by the luxury of great
cities looks upon it with a kind of awe and speaks of it with a certain
emotion. This defiance of the seasons, forcing Nature to do her work
of congelation in the face of her sultriest noon, might well inspire a
timid mind with fear lest human art were revolting against the Higher
Powers, and raise the same scruples which resisted the use of ether and
chloroform in certain contingencies. Whatever may be the cause, it is
well known that the announcement at any private rural entertainment that
there is to be ice-cream produces an immediate and profound impression.
It may be remarked, as aiding this impression, that exaggerated ideas
are entertained as to the dangerous effects this congealed food may
produce on persons not in the most robust health.

There was silence as the pyramids of ice were placed on the table,
everybody looking on in admiration. The Colonel took a knife and
assailed the one at the head of the table. When he tried to cut off a
slice, it didn’t seem to understand it, however, and only tipped, as if
it wanted to upset. The Colonel attacked it on the other side, and it
tipped just as badly the other way. It was awkward for the Colonel.
“Permit me,” said the Judge,--and he took the knife and struck a sharp
slanting stroke which sliced off a piece just of the right size, and
offered it to Mrs. Sprowle. This act of dexterity was much admired by
the company.

The tables were all alive again.

“Lorindy, here’s a plate of ice-cream,” said Silas Peckham.

“Come, Mahaly,” said a fresh-looking young-fellow with a saucerful in
each hand, “here’s your ice-cream;--let’s go in the corner and have a
celebration, us two.” And the old green de-lame, with the young curves
under it to make it sit well, moved off as pleased apparently as if it
had been silk velvet with thousand-dollar laces over it.

“Oh, now, Miss Green! do you think it’s safe to put that cold stuff
into your stomick?” said the Widow Leech to a young married lady, who,
finding the air rather warm, thought a little ice would cool her down
very nicely. “It’s jest like eatin’ snowballs. You don’t look very
rugged; and I should be dreadful afeard, if I was you.”

“Carrie,” said old Dr. Kittredge, who had overheard this,--“how well
you’re looking this evening! But you must be tired and heated;--sit down
here, and let me give you a good slice of ice-cream. How you young folks
do grow up, to be sure! I don’t feel quite certain whether it’s you or
your older sister, but I know it ‘s somebody I call Carrie, and that I
‘ve known ever since.”

A sound something between a howl and an oath startled the company
and broke off the Doctor’s sentence. Everybody’s eyes turned in the
direction from which it came. A group instantly gathered round the
person who had uttered it, who was no other than Deacon Soper.

“He’s chokin’! he’s chokin’!” was the first exclamation,--“slap him on
the back!”

Several heavy fists beat such a tattoo on his spine that the Deacon felt
as if at least one of his vertebrae would come up.

“He’s black in the face,” said Widow Leech, “he ‘s swallered somethin’
the wrong way. Where’s the Doctor?--let the Doctor get to him, can’t
ye?”

“If you will move, my good lady, perhaps I can,” said Doctor Kittredge,
in a calm tone of voice. “He’s not choking, my friends,” the Doctor
added immediately, when he got sight of him.

“It ‘s apoplexy,--I told you so,--don’t you see how red he is in the
face?” said old Mrs. Peake, a famous woman for “nussin” sick folks,
--determined to be a little ahead of the Doctor.

“It’s not apoplexy,” said Dr. Kittredge.

“What is it, Doctor? what is it? Will he die? Is he dead?--Here’s his
poor wife, the Widow Soper that is to be, if she a’n’t a’ready.”

“Do be quiet, my good woman,” said Dr. Kittredge.--“Nothing serious, I
think, Mrs. Soper. Deacon!”

The sudden attack of Deacon Soper had begun with the extraordinary sound
mentioned above. His features had immediately assumed an expression of
intense pain, his eyes staring wildly, and, clapping his hands to his
face, he had rocked his head backward and forward in speechless agony.

At the Doctor’s sharp appeal the Deacon lifted his head.

“It’s all right,” said the Doctor, as soon as he saw his face. “The
Deacon had a smart attack of neuralgic pain. That ‘s all. Very severe,
but not at all dangerous.”

The Doctor kept his countenance, but his diaphragm was shaking the
change in iris waistcoat-pockets with subterranean laughter. He had
looked through his spectacles and seen at once what had happened.
The Deacon, not being in the habit of taking his nourishment in the
congealed state, had treated the ice-cream as a pudding of a rare
species, and, to make sure of doing himself justice in its distribution,
had taken a large mouthful of it without the least precaution. The
consequence was a sensation as if a dentist were killing the nerves of
twenty-five teeth at once with hot irons, or cold ones, which would hurt
rather worse.

The Deacon swallowed something with a spasmodic effort, and recovered
pretty soon and received the congratulations of his friends. There were
different versions of the expressions he had used at the onset of his
complaint,--some of the reported exclamations involving a breach of
propriety, to say the least,--but it was agreed that a man in an attack
of neuralgy wasn’t to be judged of by the rules that applied to other
folks.

The company soon after this retired from the supper-room. The
mansion-house gentry took their leave, and the two-story people soon
followed. Mr. Bernard had stayed an hour or two, and left soon after he
found that Elsie Venner and her father had disappeared. As he passed by
the dormitory of the Institute, he saw a light glimmering from one of
its upper rooms, where the lady-teacher was still waking. His heart
ached, when he remembered, that, through all these hours of gayety, or
what was meant for it, the patient girl had been at work in her little
chamber; and he looked up at the silent stars, as if to see that they
were watching over her. The planet Mars was burning like a red coal; the
northern constellation was slanting downward about its central point of
flame; and while he looked, a falling star slid from the zenith and was
lost.

He reached his chamber and was soon dreaming over the Event of the
Season.



CHAPTER VIII. THE MORNING AFTER.

Colonel Sprowle’s family arose late the next morning. The fatigues and
excitements of the evening and the preparation for it were followed by
a natural collapse, of which somnolence was a leading symptom. The sun
shone into the window at a pretty well opened angle when the Colonel
first found himself sufficiently awake to address his yet slumbering
spouse.

“Sally!” said the Colonel, in a voice that was a little husky,--for he
had finished off the evening with an extra glass or two of “Madary,”
 and had a somewhat rusty and headachy sense of renewed existence, on
greeting the rather advanced dawn,--“Sally!”

“Take care o’ them custard-cups! There they go!”

Poor Mrs. Sprowle was fighting the party over in her dream; and as the
visionary custard-cups crashed down through one lobe of her brain into
another, she gave a start as if an inch of lightning from a quart Leyden
jar had jumped into one of her knuckles with its sudden and lively
poonk!

“Sally!” said the Colonel,--“wake up, wake up. What ‘r’ y’ dreamin’
abaout?”

Mrs. Sprowle raised herself, by a sort of spasm, sur son seant, as they
say in France,--up on end, as we have it in New England. She looked
first to the left, then to the right, then straight before her,
apparently without seeing anything, and at last slowly settled down,
with her two eyes, blank of any particular meaning, directed upon the
Colonel.

“What time is ‘t?” she said.

“Ten o’clock. What y’ been dreamin’ abaout? Y’ giv a jump like a
hopper-grass. Wake up, wake UP! Th’ party ‘s over, and y’ been asleep
all the mornin’. The party’s over, I tell ye! Wake up!”

“Over!” said Mrs. Sprowle, who began to define her position at
last,--“over! I should think ‘t was time ‘t was over! It’s lasted a
hundud year. I’ve been workin’ for that party longer ‘n Methuselah’s
lifetime, sence I been asleep. The pies would n’ bake, and the blo’monje
would n’ set, and the ice-cream would n’ freeze, and all the folks
kep’ comin’ ‘n’ comin’ ‘n’ comin’,--everybody I ever knew in all my
life,--some of ‘em ‘s been dead this twenty year ‘n’ more,--‘n’ nothin’
for ‘em to eat nor drink. The fire would n’ burn to cook anything, all
we could do. We blowed with the belluses, ‘n’ we stuffed in paper ‘n’
pitch-pine kindlin’s, but nothin’ could make that fire burn; ‘n’ all the
time the folks kep’ comin’, as if they’d never stop,--‘n’ nothin’ for
‘em but empty dishes, ‘n’ all the borrowed chaney slippin’ round on the
waiters ‘n’ chippin’ ‘n’ crackin’,--I would n’ go through what I been
through t’-night for all th’ money in th’ Bank,--I do believe it’s
harder t’ have a party than t’”--

Mrs. Sprowle stated the case strongly.

The Colonel said he did n’t know how that might be. She was a better
judge than he was. It was bother enough, anyhow, and he was glad that
it was over. After this, the worthy pair commenced preparations for
rejoining the waking world, and in due time proceeded downstairs.

Everybody was late that morning, and nothing had got put to rights. The
house looked as if a small army had been quartered in it over night.
The tables were of course in huge disorder, after the protracted assault
they had undergone. There had been a great battle evidently, and it had
gone against the provisions. Some points had been stormed, and all their
defences annihilated, but here and there were centres of resistance
which had held out against all attacks,--large rounds of beef, and
solid loaves of cake, against which the inexperienced had wasted their
energies in the enthusiasm of youth or uninformed maturity, while the
longer-headed guests were making discoveries of “shell-oysters” and
“patridges” and similar delicacies.

The breakfast was naturally of a somewhat fragmentary character. A
chicken that had lost his legs in the service of the preceding campaign
was once more put on duty. A great ham stuck with cloves, as Saint
Sebastian was with arrows, was again offered for martyrdom. It would
have been a pleasant sight for a medical man of a speculative turn to
have seen the prospect before the Colonel’s family of the next week’s
breakfasts, dinners, and suppers. The trail that one of these
great rural parties leaves after it is one of its most formidable
considerations. Every door-handle in the house is suggestive of
sweetmeats for the next week, at least. The most unnatural articles of
diet displace the frugal but nutritious food of unconvulsed periods
of existence. If there is a walking infant about the house, it
will certainly have a more or less fatal fit from overmuch of some
indigestible delicacy. Before the week is out, everybody will be tired
to death of sugary forms of nourishment and long to see the last of the
remnants of the festival.

The family had not yet arrived at this condition. On the contrary,
the first inspection of the tables suggested the prospect of days of
unstinted luxury; and the younger portion of the household, especially,
were in a state of great excitement as the account of stock was taken
with reference to future internal investments. Some curious facts came
to light during these researches.

“Where’s all the oranges gone to?” said Mrs. Sprowle. “I expected
there’d be ever so many of ‘em left. I did n’t see many of the folks
eatin’ oranges. Where’s the skins of ‘em? There ought to be six dozen
orange-skins round on the plates, and there a’n’t one dozen. And all
the small cakes, too, and all the sugar things that was stuck on the
big cakes. Has anybody counted the spoons? Some of ‘em got swallered,
perhaps. I hope they was plated ones, if they did!”

The failure of the morning’s orange-crop and the deficit in other
expected residual delicacies were not very difficult to account for. In
many of the two-story Rockland families, and in those favored households
of the neighboring villages whose members had been invited to the great
party, there was a very general excitement among the younger people on
the morning after the great event. “Did y’ bring home somethin’ from the
party? What is it? What is it? Is it frut-cake? Is it nuts and oranges
and apples? Give me some! Give me some!” Such a concert of treble
voices uttering accents like these had not been heard since the great
Temperance Festival with the celebrated “colation” in the open air under
the trees of the Parnassian Grove,--as the place was christened by the
young ladies of the Institute. The cry of the children was not in
vain. From the pockets of demure fathers, from the bags of sharp-eyed
spinsters, from the folded handkerchiefs of light-fingered sisters, from
the tall hats of sly-winking brothers, there was a resurrection of
the missing oranges and cakes and sugar-things in many a rejoicing
family-circle, enough to astonish the most hardened “caterer” that ever
contracted to feed a thousand people under canvas.

The tender recollections of those dear little ones whom extreme youth or
other pressing considerations detain from scenes of festivity--a trait
of affection by no means uncommon among our thoughtful people--dignifies
those social meetings where it is manifested, and sheds a ray of
sunshine on our common nature. It is “an oasis in the desert,”--to
use the striking expression of the last year’s “Valedictorian” of the
Apollinean Institute. In the midst of so much that is purely selfish, it
is delightful to meet such disinterested care for others. When a
large family of children are expecting a parent’s return from an
entertainment, it will often require great exertions on his part to
freight himself so as to meet their reasonable expectations. A few rules
are worth remembering by all who attend anniversary dinners in Faneuil
Hall or elsewhere. Thus: Lobsters’ claws are always acceptable to
children of all ages. Oranges and apples are to be taken one at a time,
until the coat-pockets begin to become inconveniently heavy. Cakes are
injured by sitting upon them; it is, therefore, well to carry a stout
tin box of a size to hold as many pieces as there are children in the
domestic circle. A very pleasant amusement, at the close of one of
these banquets, is grabbing for the flowers with which the table is
embellished. These will please the ladies at home very greatly, and, if
the children are at the same time abundantly supplied with fruits, nuts,
cakes, and any little ornamental articles of confectionery which are of
a nature to be unostentatiously removed, the kind-hearted parent will
make a whole household happy, without any additional expense beyond the
outlay for his ticket.

There were fragmentary delicacies enough left, of one kind and another,
at any rate, to make all the Colonel’s family uncomfortable for the next
week. It bid fair to take as long to get rid of the remains of the great
party as it had taken to make ready for it.

In the mean time Mr. Bernard had been dreaming, as young men dream, of
gliding shapes with bright eyes and burning cheeks, strangely blended
with red planets and hissing meteors, and, shining over all, the white,
un-wandering star of the North, girt with its tethered constellations.

After breakfast he walked into the parlor, where he found Miss Darley.
She was alone, and, holding a school-book in her hand, was at work with
one of the morning’s lessons. She hardly noticed him as he entered,
being very busy with her book,--and he paused a moment before speaking,
and looked at her with a kind of reverence. It would not have been
strictly true to call her beautiful. For years,--since her earliest
womanhood,--those slender hands had taken the bread which repaid the
toil of heart and brain from the coarse palms which offered it in the
world’s rude market. It was not for herself alone that she had bartered
away the life of her youth, that she had breathed the hot air of
schoolrooms, that she had forced her intelligence to posture before
her will, as the exigencies of her place required,--waking to mental
labor,--sleeping to dream of problems,--rolling up the stone of
education for an endless twelvemonth’s term, to find it at the bottom
of the hill again when another year called her to its renewed duties,
schooling her temper in unending inward and outward conflicts, until
neither dulness nor obstinacy nor ingratitude nor insolence could
reach her serene self-possession. Not for herself alone. Poorly as her
prodigal labors were repaid in proportion to the waste of life they
cost, her value was too well established to leave her without what,
under other circumstances, would have been a more than sufficient
compensation. But there were others who looked to her in their need,
and so the modest fountain which might have been filled to its brim was
continually drained through silent-flowing, hidden sluices.

Out of such a life, inherited from a race which had lived in conditions
not unlike her own, beauty, in the common sense of the term, could
hardly find leisure to develop and shape itself. For it must be
remembered, that symmetry and elegance of features and figure, like
perfectly formed crystals in the mineral world, are reached only by
insuring a certain necessary repose to individuals and to generations.
Human beauty is an agricultural product in the country, growing up in
men and women as in corn and cattle, where the soil is good. It is a
luxury almost monopolized by the rich in cities, bred under glass like
their forced pine-apples and peaches. Both in city and country, the
evolution of the physical harmonies which make music to our eyes
requires a combination of favorable circumstances, of which alternations
of unburdened tranquillity with intervals of varied excitement of mind
and body are among the most important. Where sufficient excitement is
wanting, as often happens in the country, the features, however rich in
red and white, get heavy, and the movements sluggish; where excitement
is furnished in excess, as is frequently the case in cities, the
contours and colors are impoverished, and the nerves begin to make their
existence known to the consciousness, as the face very soon informs us.

Helen Darley could not, in the nature of things, have possessed the kind
of beauty which pleases the common taste. Her eye was calm, sad-looking,
her features very still, except when her pleasant smile changed them for
a moment, all her outlines were delicate, her voice was very gentle,
but somewhat subdued by years of thoughtful labor, and on her smooth
forehead one little hinted line whispered already that Care was
beginning to mark the trace which Time sooner or later would make a
furrow. She could not be a beauty; if she had been, it would have been
much harder for many persons to be interested in her. For, although in
the abstract we all love beauty, and although, if we were sent naked
souls into some ultramundane warehouse of soulless bodies and told to
select one to our liking, we should each choose a handsome one, and
never think of the consequences,--it is quite certain that beauty
carries an atmosphere of repulsion as well as of attraction with it,
alike in both sexes. We may be well assured that there are many persons
who no more think of specializing their love of the other sex upon one
endowed with signal beauty, than they think of wanting great diamonds or
thousand-dollar horses. No man or woman can appropriate beauty
without paying for it,--in endowments, in fortune, in position, in
self-surrender, or other valuable stock; and there are a great many who
are too poor, too ordinary, too humble, too busy, too proud, to pay any
of these prices for it. So the unbeautiful get many more lovers than
the beauties; only, as there are more of them, their lovers are spread
thinner and do not make so much show.

The young master stood looking at Helen Darley with a kind of tender
admiration. She was such a picture of the martyr by the slow social
combustive process, that it almost seemed to him he could see a pale
lambent nimbus round her head.

“I did not see you at the great party last evening,” he said, presently.

She looked up and answered, “No. I have not much taste for such large
companies. Besides, I do not feel as if my time belonged to me after
it has been paid for. There is always something to do, some lesson or
exercise,--and it so happened, I was very busy last night with the new
problems in geometry. I hope you had a good time.”

“Very. Two or three of our girls were there. Rosa Milburn. What a beauty
she is! I wonder what she feeds on! Wine and musk and chloroform and
coals of fire, I believe; I didn’t think there was such color and flavor
in a woman outside the tropics.”

Miss Darley smiled rather faintly; the imagery was not just to her
taste: femineity often finds it very hard to accept the fact of
muliebrity.

“Was”--?

She stopped short; but her question had asked itself.

“Elsie there? She was, for an hour or so. She looked frightfully
handsome. I meant to have spoken to her, but she slipped away before I
knew it.”

“I thought she meant to go to the party,” said Miss Darley. “Did she
look at you?”

“She did. Why?”

“And you did not speak to her?”

“No. I should have spoken to her, but she was gone when I looked for
her. A strange creature! Is n’t there an odd sort of fascination about
her? You have not explained all the mystery about the girl. What does
she come to this school for? She seems to do pretty much as she likes
about studying.”

Miss Darley answered in very low tones. “It was a fancy of hers to come,
and they let her have her way. I don’t know what there is about her,
except that she seems to take my life out of me when she looks at me. I
don’t like to ask other people about our girls. She says very little to
anybody, and studies, or makes believe to study, almost what she likes.
I don’t know what she is,” (Miss Darley laid her hand, trembling, on the
young master’s sleeve,) “but I can tell when she is in the room without
seeing or hearing her. Oh, Mr. Langdon, I am weak and nervous, and no
doubt foolish,--but--if there were women now, as in the days of our
Saviour, possessed of devils, I should think there was something not
human looking out of Elsie Venner’s eyes!”

The poor girl’s breast rose and fell tumultuously as she spoke, and her
voice labored, as if some obstruction were rising in her throat.

A scene might possibly have come of it, but the door opened. Mr. Silas
Peckham. Miss Darley got away as soon as she well could.

“Why did not Miss Darley go to the party last evening?” said Mr.
Bernard.

“Well, the fact is,” answered Mr. Silas Peckham, “Miss Darley,
she’s pooty much took up with the school. She’s an industris young.
woman,--yis, she is industris,--but perhaps she a’n’t quite so spry a
worker as some. Maybe, considerin’ she’s paid for her time, she is n’t
fur out o’ the way in occoopyin’ herself evenin’s,--that--is, if so
be she a’n’t smart enough to finish up all her work in the daytime.
Edoocation is the great business of the Institoot. Amoosements are
objec’s of a secondary natur’, accordin’ to my v’oo.” [The unspellable
pronunciation of this word is the touchstone of New England Brahminism.]

Mr. Bernard drew a deep breath, his thin nostrils dilating, as if the
air did not rush in fast enough to cool his blood, while Silas Peckham
was speaking. The Head of the Apollinean Institute delivered himself
of these judicious sentiments in that peculiar acid, penetrating tone,
thickened with a nasal twang, which not rarely becomes hereditary after
three or four generations raised upon east winds, salt fish, and large,
white-bellied, pickled cucumbers. He spoke deliberately, as if weighing
his words well, so that, during his few remarks, Mr. Bernard had time
for a mental accompaniment with variations, accented by certain bodily
changes, which escaped Mr. Peckham’s observation. First there was a
feeling of disgust and shame at hearing Helen Darley spoken of like a
dumb working animal. That sent the blood up into his cheeks. Then the
slur upon her probable want of force--her incapacity, who made the
character of the school and left this man to pocket its profits--sent
a thrill of the old Wentworth fire through him, so that his muscles
hardened, his hands closed, and he took the measure of Mr. Silas
Peckham, to see if his head would strike the wall in case he went over
backwards all of a sudden. This would not do, of course, and so the
thrill passed off and the muscles softened again. Then came that state
of tenderness in the heart, overlying wrath in the stomach, in which the
eyes grow moist like a woman’s, and there is also a great boiling-up of
objectionable terms out of the deep-water vocabulary, so that Prudence
and Propriety and all the other pious P’s have to jump upon the lid of
speech to keep them from boiling over into fierce articulation. All
this was internal, chiefly, and of course not recognized by Mr. Silas
Peckham. The idea, that any full-grown, sensible man should have any
other notion than that of getting the most work for the least money out
of his assistants, had never suggested itself to him.

Mr. Bernard had gone through this paroxysm, and cooled down, in the
period while Mr. Peckham was uttering these words in his thin, shallow
whine, twanging up into the frontal sinuses. What was the use of losing
his temper and throwing away his place, and so, among the consequences
which would necessarily follow, leaving the poor lady-teacher without
a friend to stand by her ready to lay his hand on the grand-inquisitor
before the windlass of his rack had taken one turn too many?

“No doubt, Mr. Peckham,” he said, in a grave, calm voice, “there is
a great deal of work to be done in the school; but perhaps we can
distribute the duties a little more evenly after a time. I shall look
over the girls’ themes myself, after this week. Perhaps there will be
some other parts of her labor that I can take on myself. We can arrange
a new programme of studies and recitations.”

“We can do that,” said Mr. Silas Peckham. “But I don’t propose mater’lly
alterin’ Miss Darley’s dooties. I don’t think she works to hurt herself.
Some of the Trustees have proposed interdoosin’ new branches of study,
and I expect you will be pooty much occoopied with the dooties that
belong to your place. On the Sahbath you will be able to attend divine
service three times, which is expected of our teachers. I shall continoo
myself to give Sahbath Scriptur’ readin’s to the young ladies. That is
a solemn dooty I can’t make up my mind to commit to other people. My
teachers enjoy the Lord’s day as a day of rest. In it they do no manner
of work, except in cases of necessity or mercy, such as fillin’ out
diplomas, or when we git crowded jest at the end of a term, or when
there is an extry number of p’oopils, or other Providential call to
dispense with the ordinance.”

Mr. Bernard had a fine glow in his cheeks by this time,--doubtless
kindled by the thought of the kind consideration Mr. Peckham showed for
his subordinates in allowing them the between meeting-time on Sundays
except for some special reason. But the morning was wearing away; so
he went to the schoolroom, taking leave very properly of his respected
principal, who soon took his hat and departed.

Mr. Peckham visited certain “stores” or shops, where he made inquiries
after various articles in the provision-line, and effected a purchase or
two. Two or three barrels of potatoes, which had sprouted in a promising
way, he secured at a bargain. A side of feminine beef was also obtained
at a low figure. He was entirely satisfied with a couple of barrels of
flour, which, being invoiced “slightly damaged,” were to be had at a
reasonable price.

After this, Silas Peckham felt in good spirits. He had done a pretty
stroke of business. It came into his head whether he might not follow
it up with a still more brilliant speculation. So he turned his steps in
the direction of Colonel Sprowle’s.

It was now eleven o’clock, and the battle-field of last evening was as
we left it. Mr. Peckham’s visit was unexpected, perhaps not very well
timed, but the Colonel received him civilly.

“Beautifully lighted,--these rooms last night!” said Mr. Peckham.
“Winter-strained?”

The Colonel nodded.

“How much do you pay for your winter-strained?”

The Colonel told him the price.

“Very hahnsome supper,--very hahnsome. Nothin’ ever seen like it in
Rockland. Must have been a great heap of things leftover.”

The compliment was not ungrateful, and the Colonel acknowledged it by
smiling and saying, “I should think the’ was a trifle? Come and look.”

When Silas Peckham saw how many delicacies had survived the evening’s
conflict, his commercial spirit rose at once to the point of a proposal.

“Colonel Sprowle,” said he, “there’s ‘meat and cakes and pies and
pickles enough on that table to spread a hahnsome colation. If you’d
like to trade reasonable, I think perhaps I should be willin’ to take
‘em off your hands. There’s been a talk about our havin’ a celebration
in the Parnassian Grove, and I think I could work in what your folks
don’t want and make myself whole by chargin’ a small sum for tickets.
Broken meats, of course, a’n’t of the same valoo as fresh provisions; so
I think you might be willin’ to trade reasonable.”

Mr. Peckham paused and rested on his proposal. It would not, perhaps,
have been very extraordinary, if Colonel Sprowle had entertained the
proposition. There is no telling beforehand how such things will strike
people. It didn’t happen to strike the Colonel favorably. He had a
little red-blooded manhood in him.

“Sell you them things to make a colation out of?” the Colonel replied.
“Walk up to that table, Mr. Peckham, and help yourself! Fill your
pockets; Mr. Peckham! Fetch a basket, and our hired folks shall fill
it full for ye! Send a cart, if y’ like, ‘n’ carry off them leavin’s to
make a celebration for your pupils with! Only let me tell ye this:--as
sure ‘s my name’s Hezekiah Spraowle, you ‘ll be known through the taown
‘n’ through the caounty, from that day forrard, as the Principal of the
Broken-Victuals Institoot!”

Even provincial human-nature sometimes has a touch of sublimity about
it. Mr. Silas Peckham had gone a little deeper than he meant, and come
upon the “hard pan,” as the well-diggers call it, of the Colonel’s
character, before he thought of it. A militia-colonel standing on his
sentiments is not to be despised. That was shown pretty well in New
England two or three generations ago. There were a good many plain
officers that talked about their “rigiment” and their “caounty” who knew
very well how to say “Make ready!” “Take aim!” “Fire!”--in the face of a
line of grenadiers with bullets in their guns and bayonets on them. And
though a rustic uniform is not always unexceptionable in its cut and
trimmings, yet there was many an ill-made coat in those old times that
was good enough to be shown to the enemy’s front rank too often to
be left on the field with a round hole in its left lapel that matched
another going right through the brave heart of the plain country captain
or major or colonel who was buried in it under the crimson turf.

Mr. Silas Peckham said little or nothing. His sensibilities were not
acute, but he perceived that he had made a miscalculation. He hoped that
there was no offence,--thought it might have been mutooally agreeable,
conclooded he would give up the idee of a colation, and backed himself
out as if unwilling to expose the less guarded aspect of his person to
the risk of accelerating impulses.

The Colonel shut the door,--cast his eye on the toe of his right boot,
as if it had had a strong temptation,--looked at his watch, then round
the room, and, going to a cupboard, swallowed a glass of deep-red brandy
and water to compose his feelings.



CHAPTER IX. THE DOCTOR ORDERS THE BEST SULKY. (With a Digression on
“Hired Help.”)

“ABEL! Slip Cassia into the new sulky, and fetch her round.”

Abel was Dr. Kittredge’s hired man. He was born in New Hampshire, a
queer sort of State, with fat streaks of soil and population where they
breed giants in mind and body, and lean streaks which export imperfectly
nourished young men with promising but neglected appetites, who may be
found in great numbers in all the large towns, or could be until of
late years, when they have been half driven out of their favorite
basement-stories by foreigners, and half coaxed away from them by
California. New Hampshire is in more than one sense the Switzerland of
New England. The “Granite State” being naturally enough deficient in
pudding-stone, its children are apt to wander southward in search of
that deposit,--in the unpetrified condition.

Abel Stebbins was a good specimen of that extraordinary hybrid or
mule between democracy and chrysocracy, a native-born New-England
serving-man. The Old World has nothing at all like him. He is at once an
emperor and a subordinate. In one hand he holds one five-millionth part
(be the same more or less) of the power that sways the destinies of the
Great Republic. His other hand is in your boot, which he is about to
polish. It is impossible to turn a fellow citizen whose vote may make
his master--say, rather, employer--Governor or President, or who may
be one or both himself, into a flunky. That article must be imported
ready-made from other centres of civilization. When a New Englander has
lost his self-respect as a citizen and as a man, he is demoralized, and
cannot be trusted with the money to pay for a dinner.

It may be supposed, therefore, that this fractional emperor, this
continent-shaper, finds his position awkward when he goes into service,
and that his employer is apt to find it still more embarrassing. It
is always under protest that the hired man does his duty. Every act of
service is subject to the drawback, “I am as good as you are.” This is
so common, at least, as almost to be the rule, and partly accounts for
the rapid disappearance of the indigenous “domestic” from the basements
above mentioned. Paleontologists will by and by be examining the floors
of our kitchens for tracks of the extinct native species of serving-man.
The female of the same race is fast dying out; indeed, the time is not
far distant when all the varieties of young woman will have vanished
from New England, as the dodo has perished in the Mauritius. The young
lady is all that we shall have left, and the mop and duster of the last
Ahnira or Loizy will be stared at by generations of Bridgets and Noras
as that famous head and foot of the lost bird are stared at in the
Ashmolean Museum.

Abel Stebbins, the Doctor’s man, took the true American view of his
difficult position. He sold his time to the Doctor, and, having sold it,
he took care to fulfil his half of the bargain. The Doctor, on his
part, treated him, not like a gentleman, because one does not order a
gentleman to bring up his horse or run his errands, but he treated him
like a man. Every order was given in courteous terms. His reasonable
privileges were respected as much as if they had been guaranteed under
hand and seal. The Doctor lent him books from his own library, and gave
him all friendly counsel, as if he were a son or a younger brother.

Abel had Revolutionary blood in his veins, and though he saw fit to
“hire out,” he could never stand the word “servant,” or consider himself
the inferior one of the two high contracting parties. When he came
to live with the Doctor, he made up his mind he would dismiss the old
gentleman, if he did not behave according to his notions of propriety.
But he soon found that the Doctor was one of the right sort, and so
determined to keep him. The Doctor soon found, on his side, that he had
a trustworthy, intelligent fellow, who would be invaluable to him, if he
only let him have his own way of doing what was to be done.

The Doctor’s hired man had not the manners of a French valet. He was
grave and taciturn for the most part, he never bowed and rarely smiled,
but was always at work in the daytime, and always reading in the
evening. He was hostler, and did all the housework that a man could
properly do, would go to the door or “tend table,” bought the provisions
for the family,--in short, did almost everything for them but get their
clothing. There was no office in a perfectly appointed household, from
that of steward down to that of stable-boy, which he did not cheerfully
assume. His round of work not consuming all his energies, he must needs
cultivate the Doctor’s garden, which he kept in one perpetual bloom,
from the blowing of the first crocus to the fading of the last dahlia.

This garden was Abel’s poem. Its half-dozen beds were so many cantos.
Nature crowded them for him with imagery such as no Laureate could
copy in the cold mosaic of language. The rhythm of alternating dawn and
sunset, the strophe and antistrophe still perceptible through all the
sudden shifts of our dithyrambic seasons and echoed in corresponding
floral harmonies, made melody in the soul of Abel, the plain
serving-man. It softened his whole otherwise rigid aspect. He worshipped
God according to the strict way of his fathers; but a florist’s
Puritanism is always colored by the petals of his flowers,--and Nature
never shows him a black corolla.

He may or may not figure again in this narrative; but as there must
be some who confound the New England hired man, native-born, with
the servant of foreign birth, and as there is the difference of two
continents and two civilizations between them, it did not seem fair to
let Abel bring round the Doctor’s mare and sulky without touching his
features in half-shadow into our background.

The Doctor’s mare, Cassia, was so called by her master from her cinnamon
color, cassia being one of the professional names for that spice or
drug. She was of the shade we call sorrel, or, as an Englishman would
perhaps say, chestnut,--a genuine “Morgan” mare, with a low forehand, as
is common in this breed, but with strong quarters and flat hocks, well
ribbed up, with a good eye and a pair of lively ears,--a first-rate
doctor’s beast, would stand until her harness dropped off her back at
the door of a tedious case, and trot over hill and dale thirty miles in
three hours, if there was a child in the next county with a bean in
its windpipe and the Doctor gave her a hint of the fact. Cassia was
not large, but she had a good deal of action, and was the Doctor’s
show-horse. There were two other animals in his stable: Quassia or
Quashy, the black horse, and Caustic, the old bay, with whom he jogged
round the village.

“A long ride to-day?” said Abel, as he brought up the equipage.

“Just out of the village,--that ‘s all.--There ‘s a kink in her
mane,--pull it out, will you?”

“Goin’ to visit some of the great folks,” Abel said to himself. “Wonder
who it is.”--Then to the Doctor,--“Anybody get sick at Sprowles’s? They
say Deacon Soper had a fit, after eatin’ some o’ their frozen victuals.”

The Doctor smiled. He guessed the Deacon would do well enough. He was
only going to ride over to the Dudley mansion-house.



CHAPTER X. THE DOCTOR CALLS ON ELSIE VENNER.

If that primitive physician, Chiron, M. D., appears as a Centaur, as
we look at him through the lapse of thirty centuries, the modern
country-doctor, if he could be seen about thirty miles off, could not be
distinguished from a wheel-animalcule. He inhabits a wheel-carriage.
He thinks of stationary dwellings as Long Tom Coffin did of land in
general; a house may be well enough for incidental purposes, but for
a “stiddy” residence give him a “kerridge.” If he is classified in the
Linnaean scale, he must be set down thus: Genus Homo; Species Rotifer
infusorius, the wheel-animal of infusions.

The Dudley mansion was not a mile from the Doctor’s; but it never
occurred to him to think of walking to see any of his patients’
families, if he had any professional object in his visit. Whenever the
narrow sulky turned in at a gate, the rustic who was digging potatoes,
or hoeing corn, or swishing through the grass with his scythe, in
wave-like crescents, or stepping short behind a loaded wheelbarrow,
or trudging lazily by the side of the swinging, loose-throated,
short-legged oxen, rocking along the road as if they had just been
landed after a three-months’ voyage, the toiling native, whatever he was
doing, stopped and looked up at the house the Doctor was visiting.

“Somebody sick over there t’ Haynes’s. Guess th’ old man’s ailin’ ag’in.
Winder’s half-way open in the chamber,--should n’ wonder ‘f he was dead
and laid aout. Docterin’ a’n’t no use, when y’ see th’ winders open like
that. Wahl, money a’n’t much to speak of to th’ old man naow! He don’
want but tew cents,--‘n’ old Widah Peake, she knows what he wants them
for!”

Or again,--

“Measles raound pooty thick. Briggs’s folks buried two children with
‘em lass’ week. Th’ of Doctor, he’d h’ ker’d ‘em threugh. Struck in ‘n’
p’dooced mo’t’f’cation,--so they say.”

This is only meant as a sample of the kind of way they used to think or
talk, when the narrow sulky turned in at the gate of some house where
there was a visit to be made.

Oh, that narrow sulky! What hopes, what fears, what comfort, what
anguish, what despair, in the roll of its coming or its parting wheels!
In the spring, when the old people get the coughs which give them a few
shakes and their lives drop in pieces like the ashes of a burned thread
which have kept the threadlike shape until they were stirred,--in the
hot summer noons, when the strong man comes in from the fields, like the
son of the Shunamite, crying, “My head, my head,”--in the dying autumn
days, when youth and maiden lie fever-stricken in many a household,
still-faced, dull-eyed, dark-flushed, dry-lipped, low-muttering in their
daylight dreams, their fingers moving singly like those of slumbering
harpers,--in the dead winter, when the white plague of the North has
caged its wasted victims, shuddering as they think of the frozen soil
which must be quarried like rock to receive them, if their perpetual
convalescence should happen to be interfered with by any untoward
accident,--at every season, the narrow sulky rolled round freighted with
unmeasured burdens of joy and woe.

The Doctor drove along the southern foot of The Mountain. The “Dudley
Mansion” was near the eastern edge of this declivity, where it rose
steepest, with baldest cliffs and densest patches of overhanging wood.
It seemed almost too steep to climb, but a practised eye could see from
a distance the zigzag lines of the sheep-paths which scaled it like
miniature Alpine roads. A few hundred feet up The Mountain’s side was
a dark deep dell, unwooded, save for a few spindling, crazy-looking
hackmatacks or native larches, with pallid green tufts sticking out
fantastically all over them. It shelved so deeply, that, while the
hemlock-tassels were swinging on the trees around its border, all would
be still at its springy bottom, save that perhaps a single fern would
wave slowly backward and forward like a sabre with a twist as of a
feathered oar,--and this when not a breath could be felt, and every
other stem and blade were motionless. There was an old story of one
having perished here in the winter of ‘86, and his body having been
found in the spring,--whence its common name of “Dead-Man’s Hollow.”
 Higher up there were huge cliffs with chasms, and, it was thought,
concealed caves, where in old times they said that Tories lay hid,--some
hinted not without occasional aid and comfort from the Dudleys then
living in the mansion-house. Still higher and farther west lay the
accursed ledge,--shunned by all, unless it were now and then a daring
youth, or a wandering naturalist who ventured to its edge in the hope
of securing some infantile Crotalus durissus, who had not yet cut his
poison teeth.

Long, long ago, in old Colonial times, the Honorable Thomas Dudley,
Esquire, a man of note and name and great resources, allied by descent
to the family of “Tom Dudley,” as the early Governor is sometimes
irreverently called by our most venerable, but still youthful
antiquary,--and to the other public Dudleys, of course,--of all of
whom he made small account, as being himself an English gentleman, with
little taste for the splendors of provincial office, early in the last
century, Thomas Dudley had built this mansion. For several generations
it had been dwelt in by descendants of the same name, but soon after the
Revolution it passed by marriage into the hands of the Venners, by whom
it had ever since been held and tenanted.

As the doctor turned an angle in the road, all at once the stately old
house rose before him. It was a skilfully managed effect, as it well
might be, for it was no vulgar English architect who had planned the
mansion and arranged its position and approach. The old house rose
before the Doctor, crowning a terraced garden, flanked at the left by an
avenue of tall elms. The flower-beds were edged with box, which diffused
around it that dreamy balsamic odor, full of ante-natal reminiscences
of a lost Paradise, dimly fragrant as might be the bdellium of ancient
Havilah, the land compassed by the river Pison that went out of Eden.
The garden was somewhat neglected, but not in disgrace,--and in the time
of tulips and hyacinths, of roses, of “snowballs,” of honeysuckles, of
lilacs, of syringas, it was rich with blossoms.

From the front-windows of the mansion the eye reached a far
blue mountain-summit,--no rounded heap, such as often shuts in a
village-landscape, but a sharp peak, clean-angled as Ascutney from
the Dartmouth green. A wide gap through miles of woods had opened this
distant view, and showed more, perhaps, than all the labors of the
architect and the landscape-gardener the large style of the early
Dudleys.

The great stone-chimney of the mansion-house was the centre from which
all the artificial features of the scene appeared to flow. The roofs,
the gables, the dormer-windows, the porches, the clustered offices in
the rear, all seemed to crowd about the great chimney. To this
central pillar the paths all converged. The single poplar behind the
house,--Nature is jealous of proud chimneys, and always loves to put
a poplar near one, so that it may fling a leaf or two down its black
throat every autumn,--the one tall poplar behind the house seemed to nod
and whisper to the grave square column, the elms to sway their branches
towards it. And when the blue smoke rose from its summit, it seemed to
be wafted away to join the azure haze which hung around the peak in the
far distance, so that both should bathe in a common atmosphere.

Behind the house were clumps of lilacs with a century’s growth upon
them, and looking more like trees than like shrubs. Shaded by a group of
these was the ancient well, of huge circuit, and with a low arch opening
out of its wall about ten feet below the surface,--whether the door of a
crypt for the concealment of treasure, or of a subterranean passage, or
merely of a vault for keeping provisions cool in hot weather, opinions
differed.

On looking at the house, it was plain that it was built with Old-World
notions of strength and durability, and, so far as might be, with
Old-World materials. The hinges of the doors stretched out like arms,
instead of like hands, as we make them. The bolts were massive enough
for a donjon-keep. The small window-panes were actually inclosed in the
wood of the sashes instead of being stuck to them with putty, as in our
modern windows. The broad staircase was of easy ascent, and was guarded
by quaintly turned and twisted balusters. The ceilings of the two rooms
of state were moulded with medallion-portraits and rustic figures,
such as may have been seen by many readers in the famous old Philipse
house,--Washington’s head-quarters,--in the town of Yorkers. The
fire-places, worthy of the wide-throated central chimney, were bordered
by pictured tiles, some of them with Scripture stories, some with
Watteau-like figures,--tall damsels in slim waists and with spread
enough of skirt for a modern ballroom, with bowing, reclining, or
musical swains of what everybody calls the “conventional” sort,--that
is, the swain adapted to genteel society rather than to a literal
sheep-compelling existence.

The house was furnished, soon after it was completed, with many heavy
articles made in London from a rare wood just then come into fashion,
not so rare now, and commonly known as mahogany. Time had turned it very
dark, and the stately bedsteads and tall cabinets and claw-footed
chairs and tables were in keeping with the sober dignity of the ancient
mansion. The old “hangings” were yet preserved in the chambers, faded,
but still showing their rich patterns,--properly entitled to their name,
for they were literally hung upon flat wooden frames like trellis-work,
which again were secured to the naked partitions.

There were portraits of different date on the walls of the various
apartments, old painted coats-of-arms, bevel-edged mirrors, and in one
sleeping-room a glass case of wax-work flowers and spangly symbols,
with a legend signifying that E. M. (supposed to be Elizabeth Mascarene)
wished not to be “forgot”.

         “When I am dead and lay’d in dust
          And all my bones are”--

Poor E. M.! Poor everybody that sighs for earthly remembrance in a
planet with a core of fire and a crust of fossils!

Such was the Dudley mansion-house,--for it kept its ancient name in
spite of the change in the line of descent. Its spacious apartments
looked dreary and desolate; for here Dudley Venner and his daughter
dwelt by themselves, with such servants only as their quiet mode of
life required. He almost lived in his library, the western room on the
ground-floor. Its window looked upon a small plat of green, in the midst
of which was a single grave marked by a plain marble slab. Except this
room, and the chamber where he slept, and the servants’ wing, the rest
of the house was all Elsie’s. She was always a restless, wandering
child from her early years, and would have her little bed moved from one
chamber to another,--flitting round as the fancy took her. Sometimes she
would drag a mat and a pillow into one of the great empty rooms, and,
wrapping herself in a shawl, coil up and go to sleep in a corner.
Nothing frightened her; the “haunted” chamber, with the torn hangings
that flapped like wings when there was air stirring, was one of her
favorite retreats. She had been a very hard creature to manage. Her
father could influence, but not govern her. Old Sophy, born of a slave
mother in the house, could do more with her than anybody, knowing her
by long instinctive study. The other servants were afraid of her. Her
father had sent for governesses, but none of them ever stayed long. She
made them nervous; one of them had a strange fit of sickness; not one of
them ever came back to the house to see her. A young Spanish woman who
taught her dancing succeeded best with her, for she had a passion for
that exercise, and had mastered some of the most difficult dances.
Long before this period, she had manifested some most extraordinary
singularities of taste or instinct. The extreme sensitiveness of her
father on this point prevented any allusion to them; but there
were stories floating round, some of them even getting into the
papers,--without her name, of course,--which were of a kind to excite
intense curiosity, if not more anxious feelings. This thing was certain,
that at the age of twelve she was missed one night, and was found
sleeping in the open air under a tree, like a wild creature. Very often
she would wander off by day, always without a companion, bringing home
with her a nest, a flower, or even a more questionable trophy of her
ramble, such as showed that there was no place where she was afraid to
venture. Once in a while she had stayed out over night, in which
case the alarm was spread, and men went in search of her, but never
successfully,--so--that some said she hid herself in trees, and others
that she had found one of the old Tory caves.

Some, of course, said she was a crazy girl, and ought to be sent to an
Asylum. But old Dr. Kittredge had shaken his head, and told them to bear
with her, and let her have her way as much as they could, but watch her,
as far as possible, without making her suspicious of them. He visited
her now and then, under the pretext of seeing her father on business, or
of only making a friendly call.

The Doctor fastened his horse outside the gate, and walked up the
garden-alley. He stopped suddenly with a start. A strange sound had
jarred upon his ear. It was a sharp prolonged rattle, continuous, but
rising and falling as if in rhythmical cadence. He moved softly towards
the open window from which the sound seemed to proceed.

Elsie was alone in the room, dancing one of those wild Moorish
fandangos, such as a matador hot from the Plaza de Toros of Seville or
Madrid might love to lie and gaze at. She was a figure to look upon
in silence. The dancing frenzy must have seized upon her while she
was dressing; for she was in her bodice, bare-armed, her hair floating
unbound far below the waist of her barred or banded skirt. She had
caught up her castanets, and rattled them as she danced with a kind of
passionate fierceness, her lithe body undulating with flexuous grace,
her diamond eyes glittering, her round arms wreathing and unwinding,
alive and vibrant to the tips of the slender fingers. Some passion
seemed to exhaust itself in this dancing paroxysm; for all at once she
reeled from the middle of the floor, and flung herself, as it were in
a careless coil, upon a great tiger’s-skin which was spread out in one
corner of the apartment.

The old Doctor stood motionless, looking at her as she lay panting on
the tawny, black-lined robe of the dead monster which stretched out
beneath her, its rude flattened outline recalling the Terror of the
Jungle as he crouched for his fatal spring. In a few moments her head
drooped upon her arm, and her glittering eyes closed,--she was sleeping.
He stood looking at her still, steadily, thoughtfully, tenderly.
Presently he lifted his hand to his forehead, as if recalling some
fading remembrance of other years.

“Poor Catalina!”

This was all he said. He shook his head,--implying that his visit would
be in vain to-day,--returned to his sulky, and rode away, as if in a
dream.



CHAPTER XI. COUSIN RICHARD’S VISIT.

The Doctor was roused from his revery by the clatter of approaching
hoofs. He looked forward and saw a young fellow galloping rapidly
towards him.

A common New-England rider with his toes turned out, his elbows jerking
and the daylight showing under him at every step, bestriding a cantering
beast of the plebeian breed, thick at every point where he should be
thin, and thin at every point where he should be thick, is not one of
those noble objects that bewitch the world. The best horsemen outside of
the cities are the unshod countryboys, who ride “bareback,” with only a
halter round the horse’s neck, digging their brown heels into his ribs,
and slanting over backwards, but sticking on like leeches, and taking
the hardest trot as if they loved it.--This was a different sight
on which the Doctor was looking. The streaming mane and tail of the
unshorn, savage-looking, black horse, the dashing grace with which the
young fellow in the shadowy sombrero, and armed with the huge spurs,
sat in his high-peaked saddle, could belong only to the mustang of the
Pampas and his master. This bold rider was a young man whose sudden
apparition in the quiet inland town had reminded some of the good people
of a bright, curly-haired boy they had known some eight or ten years
before as little Dick Venner.

This boy had passed several of his early years at the Dudley mansion,
the playmate of Elsie, being her cousin, two or three years older than
herself, the son of Captain Richard Venner, a South American trader,
who, as he changed his residence often, was glad to leave the boy in his
brother’s charge. The Captain’s wife, this boy’s mother, was a lady of
Buenos Ayres, of Spanish descent, and had died while the child was in
his cradle. These two motherless children were as strange a pair as one
roof could well cover. Both handsome, wild, impetuous, unmanageable,
they played and fought together like two young leopards, beautiful, but
dangerous, their lawless instincts showing through all their graceful
movements.

The boy was little else than a young Gaucho when he first came to
Rockland; for he had learned to ride almost as soon as to walk, and
could jump on his pony and trip up a runaway pig with the bolas or noose
him with his miniature lasso at an age when some city-children would
hardly be trusted out of sight of a nursery-maid. It makes men imperious
to sit a horse; no man governs his fellows so well as from this living
throne. And so, from Marcus Aurelius in Roman bronze, down to the “man
on horseback” in General Cushing’s prophetic speech, the saddle has
always been the true seat of empire. The absolute tyranny of the human
will over a noble and powerful beast develops the instinct of personal
prevalence and dominion; so that horse-subduer and hero were almost
synonymous in simpler times, and are closely related still. An ancestry
of wild riders naturally enough bequeaths also those other tendencies
which we see in the Tartars, the Cossacks, and our own Indian Centaurs,
and as well, perhaps, in the old-fashioned fox-hunting squire as in
any of these. Sharp alternations of violent action and self-indulgent
repose; a hard run, and a long revel after it; this is what over-much
horse tends to animalize a man into. Such antecedents may have helped
to make little Dick Venner a self-willed, capricious boy, and a rough
playmate for Elsie.

Elsie was the wilder of the two. Old Sophy, who used to watch them
with those quick, animal-looking eyes of hers,--she was said to be
the granddaughter of a cannibal chief, and inherited the keen senses
belonging to all creatures which are hunted as game, Old Sophy, who
watched them in their play and their quarrels, always seemed to be more
afraid for the boy than the girl. “Masse Dick! Masse Dick! don’ you be
too rough wi’ dat gal! She scratch you las’ week, ‘n’ some day she
bite you; ‘n’ if she bite you, Masse Dick!” Old Sophy nodded her head
ominously, as if she could say a great deal more; while, in grateful
acknowledgment of her caution, Master Dick put his two little fingers
in the angles of his mouth, and his forefingers on his lower eyelids,
drawing upon these features until his expression reminded her of
something she vaguely recollected in her infancy,--the face of
a favorite deity executed in wood by an African artist for her
grandfather, brought over by her mother, and burned when she became a
Christian.

These two wild children had much in common. They loved to ramble
together, to build huts, to climb trees for nests, to ride the colts,
to dance, to race, and to play at boys’ rude games as if both were boys.
But wherever two natures have a great deal in common, the conditions of
a first-rate quarrel are furnished ready-made. Relations are very apt to
hate each other just because they are too much alike. It is so frightful
to be in an atmosphere of family idiosyncrasies; to see all the
hereditary uncomeliness or infirmity of body, all the defects of speech,
all the failings of temper, intensified by concentration, so that every
fault of our own finds itself multiplied by reflections, like our images
in a saloon lined with mirrors! Nature knows what she is about. The
centrifugal principle which grows out of the antipathy of like to like
is only the repetition in character of the arrangement we see expressed
materially in certain seed-capsules, which burst and throw the seed to
all points of the compass. A house is a large pod with a human germ
or two in each of its cells or chambers; it opens by dehiscence of the
front-door by and by, and projects one of its germs to Kansas, another
to San Francisco, another to Chicago, and so on; and this that Smith may
not be Smithed to death and Brown may not be Browned into a mad-house,
but mix in with the world again and struggle back to average humanity.

Elsie’s father, whose fault was to indulge her in everything, found that
it would never do to let these children grow up together. They would
either love each other as they got older, and pair like wild creatures,
or take some fierce antipathy, which might end nobody could tell where.
It was not safe to try. The boy must be sent away. A sharper quarrel
than common decided this point. Master Dick forgot Old Sophy’s caution,
and vexed the girl into a paroxysm of wrath, in which she sprang at him
and bit his arm. Perhaps they made too much of it; for they sent for the
old Doctor, who came at once when he heard what had happened. He had a
good deal to say about the danger there was from the teeth of animals
or human beings when enraged; and as he emphasized his remarks by the
application of a pencil of lunar caustic to each of the marks left by
the sharp white teeth, they were like to be remembered by at least one
of his hearers.

So Master Dick went off on his travels, which led him into strange
places and stranger company. Elsie was half pleased and half sorry to
have him go; the children had a kind of mingled liking and hate for each
other, just such as is very common among relations. Whether the girl had
most satisfaction in the plays they shared, or in teasing him, or taking
her small revenge upon him for teasing her, it would have been hard to
say. At any rate, she was lonely without him. She had more fondness for
the old black woman than anybody; but Sophy could not follow her far
beyond her own old rocking-chair. As for her father, she had made him
afraid of her, not for his sake, but for her own. Sometimes she would
seem to be fond of him, and the parent’s heart would yearn within him as
she twined her supple arms about him; and then some look she gave him,
some half-articulated expression, would turn his cheek pale and almost
make him shiver, and he would say kindly, “Now go, Elsie, dear,” and
smile upon her as she went, and close and lock the door softly after
her. Then his forehead would knot and furrow itself, and the drops of
anguish stand thick upon it. He would go to the western window of
his study and look at the solitary mound with the marble slab for its
head-stone. After his grief had had its way, he would kneel down and
pray for his child as one who has no hope save in that special grace
which can bring the most rebellious spirit into sweet subjection. All
this might seem like weakness in a parent having the charge of one
sole daughter of his house and heart; but he had tried authority and
tenderness by turns so long without any good effect, that he had become
sore perplexed, and, surrounding her with cautious watchfulness as he
best might, left her in the main to her own guidance and the merciful
influences which Heaven might send down to direct her footsteps.

Meantime the boy grew up to youth and early manhood through a strange
succession of adventures. He had been at school at Buenos Ayres,--had
quarrelled with his mother’s relatives,--had run off to the Pampas, and
lived with the Gauchos;--had made friends with the Indians, and ridden
with them, it was rumored, in some of their savage forays,--had
returned and made up his quarrel,--had got money by inheritance or
otherwise,--had troubled the peace of certain magistrates,--had found
it convenient to leave the City of Wholesome Breezes for a time, and
had galloped off on a fast horse of his, (so it was said,) with some
officers riding after him, who took good care (but this was only the
popular story) not to catch him. A few days after this he was taking
his ice on the Alameda of Mendoza, and a week or two later sailed from
Valparaiso for New York, carrying with him the horse with which he
had scampered over the Plains, a trunk or two with his newly purchased
outfit of, clothing and other conveniences, and a belt heavy with gold
and with a few Brazilian diamonds sewed in it, enough in value to serve
him for a long journey.

Dick Venner had seen life enough to wear out the earlier sensibilities
of adolescence. He was tired of worshipping or tyrannizing over the
bistred or umbered beauties of mingled blood among whom he had been
living. Even that piquant exhibition which the Rio de Mendoza presents
to the amateur of breathing sculpture failed to interest him. He was
thinking of a far-off village on the other side of the equator, and of
the wild girl with whom he used to play and quarrel, a creature of a
different race from these degenerate mongrels.

“A game little devil she was, sure enough!”--And as Dick spoke, he bared
his wrist to look for the marks she had left on it: two small white
scars, where the two small sharp upper teeth had struck when she flashed
at him with her eyes sparkling as bright as those glittering stones
sewed up in the belt he wore. “That’s a filly worth noosing!” said Dick
to himself, as he looked in admiration at the sign of her spirit and
passion. “I wonder if she will bite at eighteen as she did at eight! She
shall have a chance to try, at any rate!”

Such was the self-sacrificing disposition with which Richard Venner,
Esq., a passenger by the Condor from Valparaiso, set foot upon his
native shore, and turned his face in the direction of Rockland, The
Mountain, and the mansion-house. He had heard something, from time
to time, of his New-England relatives, and knew that they were living
together as he left them. And so he heralded himself to “My dear Uncle”
 by a letter signed “Your loving nephew, Richard Venner,” in which letter
he told a very frank story of travel and mercantile adventure, expressed
much gratitude for the excellent counsel and example which had helped to
form his character and preserve him in the midst of temptation, inquired
affectionately after his uncle’s health, was much interested to know
whether his lively cousin who used to be his playmate had grown up as
handsome as she promised to be, and announced his intention of paying
his respects to them both at Rockland. Not long after this came the
trunks marked R. V. which he had sent before him, forerunners of his
advent: he was not going to wait for a reply or an invitation.

What a sound that is,--the banging down of the preliminary trunk,
without its claimant to give it the life which is borrowed by all
personal appendages, so long as the owner’s hand or eye is on them! If
it announce the coming of one loved and longed for, how we delight to
look at it, to sit down on it, to caress it in our fancies, as a lone
exile walking out on a windy pier yearns towards the merchantman lying
alongside, with the colors of his own native land at her peak, and the
name of the port he sailed from long ago upon her stern! But if it tell
the near approach of the undesired, inevitable guest, what sound short
of the muffled noises made by the undertakers as they turn the corners
in the dim-lighted house, with low shuffle of feet and whispered
cautions, carries such a sense of knocking-kneed collapse with it as the
thumping down in the front entry of the heavy portmanteau, rammed with
the changes of uncounted coming weeks?

Whether the R. V. portmanteaus brought one or the other of these
emotions to the tenants of the Dudley mansion, it might not be easy
to settle. Elsie professed to be pleased with the thought of having an
adventurous young stranger, with stories to tell, an inmate of their
quiet, not to say dull, family. Under almost any other circumstances,
her father would have been unwilling to take a young fellow of whom he
knew so little under his roof; but this was his nephew, and anything
that seemed like to amuse or please Elsie was agreeable to him. He had
grown almost desperate, and felt as if any change in the current of her
life and feelings might save her from some strange paroxysm of dangerous
mental exaltation or sullen perversion of disposition, from which some
fearful calamity might come to herself or others.

Dick had been several weeks at the Dudley mansion. A few days before, he
had made a sudden dash for the nearest large city,--and when the Doctor
met him, he was just returning from his visit.

It had been a curious meeting between the two young persons, who had
parted so young and after such strange relations with each other. When
Dick first presented himself at the mansion, not one in the house would
have known him for the boy who had left them all so suddenly years ago.
He was so dark, partly from his descent, partly from long habits of
exposure, that Elsie looked almost fair beside him. He had something of
the family beauty which belonged to his cousin, but his eye had a fierce
passion in it, very unlike the cold glitter of Elsie’s. Like many people
of strong and imperious temper, he was soft-voiced and very gentle in
his address, when he had no special reason for being otherwise. He soon
found reasons enough to be as amiable as he could force himself to be
with his uncle and his cousin. Elsie was to his fancy. She had a strange
attraction for him, quite unlike anything he had ever known in other
women. There was something, too, in early associations: when those who
parted as children meet as man and woman, there is always a renewal
of that early experience which followed the taste of the forbidden
fruit,--a natural blush of consciousness, not without its charm.

Nothing could be more becoming than the behavior of “Richard Venner,
Esquire, the guest of Dudley Venner, Esquire, at his noble mansion,” as
he was announced in the Court column of the “Rockland Weekly Universe.”
 He was pleased to find himself treated with kindness and attention as a
relative. He made himself very agreeable by abundant details concerning
the religious, political, social, commercial, and educational progress
of the South American cities and states. He was himself much interested
in everything that was going on about the Dudley mansion, walked all
over it, noticed its valuable wood-lots with special approbation, was
delighted with the grand old house and its furniture, and would not be
easy until he had seen all the family silver and heard its history. In
return, he had much to tell of his father, now dead,--the only one of
the Venners, beside themselves, in whose fate his uncle was interested.
With Elsie, he was subdued and almost tender in his manner; with the few
visitors whom they saw, shy and silent,--perhaps a little watchful, if
any young man happened to be among them.

Young fellows placed on their good behavior are apt to get restless and
nervous, all ready to fly off into some mischief or other. Dick Venner
had his half-tamed horse with him to work off his suppressed life with.
When the savage passion of his young blood came over him, he would fetch
out the mustang, screaming and kicking as these amiable beasts are wont
to do, strap the Spanish saddle tight to his back, vault into it, and,
after getting away from the village, strike the long spurs into his
sides and whirl away in a wild gallop, until the black horse was flecked
with white foam, and the cruel steel points were red with his blood.
When horse and rider were alike fired, he would fling the bridle on his
neck and saunter homeward, always contriving to get to the stable in a
quiet way, and coming into the house as calm as a bishop after a sober
trot on his steady-going cob.

After a few weeks of this kind of life, he began to want some more
fierce excitement. He had tried making downright love to Elsie, with no
great success as yet, in his own opinion. The girl was capricious in her
treatment of him, sometimes scowling and repellent, sometimes familiar,
very often, as she used to be of old, teasing and malicious. All this,
perhaps, made her more interesting to a young man who was tired of easy
conquests. There was a strange fascination in her eyes, too, which at
times was quite irresistible, so that he would feel himself drawn to
her by a power which seemed to take away his will for the moment. It may
have been nothing but the common charm of bright eyes; but he had never
before experienced the same kind of attraction.

Perhaps she was not so very different from what she had been as a child,
after all. At any rate, so it seemed to Dick Venner, who, as was said
before, had tried making love to her. They were sitting alone in the
study one day; Elsie had round her neck that somewhat peculiar ornament,
the golden torque, which she had worn to the great party. Youth is
adventurous and very curious about necklaces, brooches, chains, and
other such adornments, so long as they are worn by young persons of
the female sex. Dick was seized with a great passion for examining this
curious chain, and, after some preliminary questions, was rash enough
to lean towards her and put out his hand toward the neck that lay in the
golden coil.

She threw her head back, her eyes narrowing and her forehead drawing
down so that Dick thought her head actually flattened itself. He started
involuntarily; for she looked so like the little girl who had struck him
with those sharp flashing teeth, that the whole scene came back, and he
felt the stroke again as if it had just been given, and the two white
scars began to sting as they did after the old Doctor had burned them
with that stick of gray caustic, which looked so like a slate pencil,
and felt so much like the end of a red-hot poker.

It took something more than a gallop to set him right after this. The
next day he mentioned having received a letter from a mercantile agent
with whom he had dealings. What his business was is, perhaps, none of
our business. At any rate, it required him to go at once to the city
where his correspondent resided.

Independently of this “business” which called him, there may have been
other motives, such as have been hinted at. People who have been living
for a long time in dreary country-places, without any emotion beyond
such as are occasioned by a trivial pleasure or annoyance, often get
crazy at last for a vital paroxysm of some kind or other. In this state
they rush to the great cities for a plunge into their turbid life-baths,
with a frantic thirst for every exciting pleasure, which makes them
the willing and easy victims of all those who sell the Devil’s wares on
commission. The less intelligent and instructed class of unfortunates,
who venture with their ignorance and their instincts into what is
sometimes called the “life” of great cities, are put through a rapid
course of instruction which entitles them very commonly to a diploma
from the police court. But they only illustrate the working of the same
tendency in mankind at large which has been occasionally noticed in the
sons of ministers and other eminently worthy people, by many ascribed
to that intense congenital hatred for goodness which distinguishes human
nature from that of the brute, but perhaps as readily accounted for by
considering it as the yawning and stretching of a young soul cramped too
long in one moral posture.

Richard Veneer was a young man of remarkable experience for his years.
He ran less risk, therefore, in exposing himself to the temptations and
dangers of a great city than many older men, who, seeking the livelier
scenes of excitement to be found in large towns as a relaxation after
the monotonous routine of family life, are too often taken advantage of
and made the victims of their sentiments or their generous confidence
in their fellow-creatures. Such was not his destiny. There was something
about him which looked as if he would not take bullying kindly. He had
also the advantage of being acquainted with most of those ingenious
devices by which the proverbial inconstancy of fortune is steadied to
something more nearly approaching fixed laws, and the dangerous risks
which have so often led young men to ruin and suicide are practically
reduced to somewhat less than nothing. So that Mr. Richard Veneer worked
off his nervous energies without any troublesome adventure, and
was ready to return to Rockland in less than a week, without having
lightened the money-belt he wore round his body, or tarnished the long
glittering knife he carried in his boot.

Dick had sent his trunk to the nearest town through which the railroad
leading to the city passed. He rode off on his black horse and left him
at the place where he took the cars. On arriving at the city station, he
took a coach and drove to one of the great hotels. Thither drove also
a sagacious-looking, middle-aged man, who entered his name as “W.
Thompson” in the book at the office immediately after that of “R.
Venner.” Mr. “Thompson” kept a carelessly observant eye upon Mr. Venner
during his stay at the hotel, and followed him to the cars when he left,
looking over his shoulder when he bought his ticket at the station, and
seeing him fairly off without obtruding himself in any offensive way
upon his attention. Mr. Thompson, known in other quarters as Detective
Policeman Terry, got very little by his trouble. Richard Venner did
not turn out to be the wife-poisoner, the defaulting cashier, the
river-pirate, or the great counterfeiter. He paid his hotel-bill as a
gentleman should always do, if he has the money and can spare it. The
detective had probably overrated his own sagacity when he ventured
to suspect Mr. Venner. He reported to his chief that there was a
knowing-looking fellow he had been round after, but he rather guessed he
was nothing more than “one o’ them Southern sportsmen.”

The poor fellows at the stable where Dick had left his horse had had
trouble enough with him. One of the ostlers was limping about with a
lame leg, and another had lost a mouthful of his coat, which came very
near carrying a piece of his shoulder with it. When Mr. Venner came back
for his beast, he was as wild as if he had just been lassoed, screaming,
kicking, rolling over to get rid of his saddle, and when his rider was
at last mounted, jumping about in a way to dislodge any common horseman.
To all this Dick replied by sticking his long spurs deeper and deeper
into his flanks, until the creature found he was mastered, and dashed
off as if all the thistles of the Pampas were pricking him.

“One more gallop, Juan?” This was in the last mile of the road before he
came to the town which brought him in sight of the mansion-house. It was
in this last gallop that the fiery mustang and his rider flashed by the
old Doctor. Cassia pointed her sharp ears and shied to let them pass.
The Doctor turned and looked through the little round glass in the back
of his sulky.

“Dick Turpin, there, will find more than his match!” said the Doctor.



CHAPTER XII. THE APOLLINEAN INSTITUTE. (With Extracts from the “Report
of the committee.”)

The readers of this narrative will hardly expect any elaborate details
of the educational management of the Apollinean Institute. They cannot
be supposed to take the same interest in its affairs as was shown by
the Annual Committees who reported upon its condition and prospects. As
these Committees were, however, an important part of the mechanism of
the establishment, some general account of their organization and a few
extracts from the Report of the one last appointed may not be out of
place.

Whether Mr. Silas Peckham had some contrivance for packing his
Committees, whether they happened always to be made up of optimists by
nature, whether they were cajoled into good-humor by polite attentions,
or whether they were always really delighted with the wonderful
acquirements of the pupils and the admirable order of the school, it is
certain that their Annual Reports were couched in language which might
warm the heart of the most cold-blooded and calculating father that ever
had a family of daughters to educate. In fact, these Annual Reports were
considered by Mr. Peckham as his most effective advertisements.

The first thing, therefore, was to see that the Committee was made up of
persons known to the public.

Some worn-out politician, in that leisurely and amiable transition-state
which comes between official extinction and the paralysis which will
finish him as soon as his brain gets a little softer, made an admirable
Chairman for Mr. Peckham, when he had the luck to pick up such an
article. Old reputations, like old fashions, are more prized in the
grassy than in the stony districts. An effete celebrity, who would never
be heard of again in the great places until the funeral sermon waked up
his memory for one parting spasm, finds himself in full flavor of renown
a little farther back from the changing winds of the sea-coast. If such
a public character was not to be had, so that there was no chance of
heading the Report with the name of the Honorable Mr. Somebody, the next
best thing was to get the Reverend Dr. Somebody to take that conspicuous
position. Then would follow two or three local worthies with Esquire
after their names. If any stray literary personage from one of the great
cities happened to be within reach, he was pounced upon by Mr. Silas
Peckham. It was a hard case for the poor man, who had travelled a
hundred miles or two to the outside suburbs after peace and unwatered
milk, to be pumped for a speech in this unexpected way. It was harder
still, if he had been induced to venture a few tremulous remarks, to be
obliged to write them out for the “Rockland Weekly Universe,” with the
chance of seeing them used as an advertising certificate as long as he
lived, if he lived as long as the late Dr. Waterhouse did after giving
his certificate in favor of Whitwell’s celebrated Cephalic Snuff.

The Report of the last Committee had been signed by the Honorable,
___________late __________ of ___________, as Chairman. (It is with
reluctance that the name and titles are left in blank; but our public
characters are so familiarly known to the whole community that this
reserve becomes necessary.) The other members of the Committee were the
Reverend Mr. Butters, of a neighboring town, who was to make the prayer
before the Exercises of the Exhibition, and two or three notabilities
of Rockland, with geoponic eyes, and glabrous, bumpless foreheads. A few
extracts from the Report are subjoined:

“The Committee have great pleasure in recording their unanimous opinion,
that the Institution was never in so flourishing a condition....

“The health of the pupils is excellent; the admirable quality of food
supplied shows itself in their appearance; their blooming aspect excited
the admiration of the Committee, and bears testimony to the assiduity of
the excellent Matron.

“.... moral and religious condition most encouraging, which they cannot
but attribute to the personal efforts and instruction of the faithful
Principal, who considers religious instruction a solemn duty which he
cannot commit to other people.

“.... great progress in their studies, under the intelligent
superintendence of the accomplished Principal, assisted by Mr. Badger,
[Mr. Langdon’s predecessor,] Miss Darley, the lady who superintends
the English branches, Miss Crabs, her assistant and teacher of Modern
Languages, and Mr. Schneider, teacher of French, German, Latin, and
Music....

“Education is the great business of the Institute. Amusements are
objects of a secondary nature; but these are by no means neglected....

“.... English compositions of great originality and beauty, creditable
alike to the head and heart of their accomplished authors.... several
poems of a very high order of merit, which would do honor to the
literature of any age or country.... life-like drawings, showing great
proficiency.... Many converse fluently in various modern languages....
perform the most difficult airs with the skill of professional
musicians....

“.... advantages unsurpassed, if equalled by those of any Institution
in the country, and reflecting the highest honor on the distinguished
Head of the Establishment, SILAS PECKHAM, Esquire, and his admirable
Lady, the MATRON, with their worthy assistants....”

The perusal of this Report did Mr. Bernard more good than a week’s
vacation would have done: It gave him such a laugh as he had not had for
a month. The way in which Silas Peckham had made his Committee say what
he wanted them to--for he recognized a number of expressions in the
Report as coming directly from the lips of his principal, and could not
help thinking how cleverly he had forced his phrases, as jugglers do the
particular card they wish their dupe to take--struck him as particularly
neat and pleasing.

He had passed through the sympathetic and emotional stages in his new
experience, and had arrived at the philosophical and practical state,
which takes things coolly, and goes to work to set them right. He had
breadth enough of view to see that there was nothing so very exceptional
in this educational trader’s dealings with his subordinates, but he had
also manly feeling enough to attack the particular individual instance
of wrong before him. There are plenty of dealer’s in morals, as in
ordinary traffic, who confine themselves to wholesale business. They
leave the small necessity of their next-door neighbor to the retailers,
who are poorer in statistics and general facts, but richer in the
every-day charities. Mr. Bernard felt, at first, as one does who sees a
gray rat steal out of a drain and begin gnawing at the bark of some tree
loaded with fruit or blossoms, which he will soon girdle, if he is let
alone. The first impulse is to murder him with the nearest ragged stone.
Then one remembers that he is a rodent, acting after the law of his
kind, and cools down and is contented to drive him off and guard the
tree against his teeth for the future. As soon as this is done, one can
watch his attempts at mischief with a certain amusement.

This was the kind of process Mr. Bernard had gone through. First, the
indignant surprise of a generous nature, when it comes unexpectedly into
relations with a mean one. Then the impulse of extermination,--a divine
instinct, intended to keep down vermin of all classes to their
working averages in the economy of Nature. Then a return of cheerful
tolerance,--a feeling, that, if the Deity could bear with rats and
sharpers, he could; with a confident trust, that, in the long run,
terriers and honest men would have the upperhand, and a grateful
consciousness that he had been sent just at the right time to come
between a patient victim and the master who held her in peonage.

Having once made up his mind what to do, Mr. Bernard was as good-natured
and hopeful as ever. He had the great advantage, from his professional
training, of knowing how to recognize and deal with the nervous
disturbances to which overtasked women are so liable. He saw well enough
that Helen Darley would certainly kill herself or lose her wits, if he
could not lighten her labors and lift off a large part of her weight
of cares. The worst of it was, that she was one of those women who
naturally overwork themselves, like those horses who will go at the top
of their pace until they drop. Such women are dreadfully unmanageable.
It is as hard reasoning with them as it would have been reasoning with
Io, when she was flying over land and sea, driven by the sting of the
never-sleeping gadfly.

This was a delicate, interesting game that he played. Under one innocent
pretext or another, he invaded this or that special province she had
made her own. He would collect the themes and have them all read and
marked, answer all the puzzling questions in mathematics, make the other
teachers come to him for directions, and in this way gradually took upon
himself not only all the general superintendence that belonged to his
office, but stole away so many of the special duties which might fairly
have belonged to his assistant, that, before she knew it, she was
looking better and feeling more cheerful than for many and many a month
before.

When the nervous energy is depressed by any bodily cause, or
exhausted by overworking, there follow effects which have often
been misinterpreted by moralists, and especially by theologians. The
conscience itself becomes neuralgic, sometimes actually inflamed, so
that the least touch is agony. Of all liars and false accusers, a
sick conscience is the most inventive and indefatigable. The devoted
daughter, wife, mother, whose life has been given to unselfish labors,
who has filled a place which it seems to others only an angel would
make good, reproaches herself with incompetence and neglect of duty. The
humble Christian, who has been a model to others, calls himself a worm
of the dust on one page of his diary, and arraigns himself on the next
for coming short of the perfection of an archangel.

Conscience itself requires a conscience, or nothing can be more
unscrupulous. It told Saul that he did well in persecuting the
Christians. It has goaded countless multitudes of various creeds to
endless forms of self-torture. The cities of India are full of cripples
it has made. The hill-sides of Syria are riddled with holes, where
miserable hermits, whose lives it had palsied, lived and died like the
vermin they harbored. Our libraries are crammed with books written by
spiritual hypochondriacs, who inspected all their moral secretions
a dozen times a day. They are full of interest, but they should be
transferred from the shelf of the theologian to that of the medical man
who makes a study of insanity.

This was the state into which too much work and too much responsibility
were bringing Helen Darley, when the new master came and lifted so much
of the burden that was crushing her as must be removed before she could
have a chance to recover her natural elasticity and buoyancy. Many
of the noblest women, suffering like her, but less fortunate in being
relieved at the right moment, die worried out of life by the perpetual
teasing of this inflamed, neuralgic conscience. So subtile is the line
which separates the true and almost angelic sensibility of a healthy,
but exalted nature, from the soreness of a soul which is sympathizing
with a morbid state of the body that it is no wonder they are often
confounded. And thus many good women are suffered to perish by that form
of spontaneous combustion in which the victim goes on toiling day and
night with the hidden fire consuming her, until all at once her cheek
whitens, and, as we look upon her, she drops away, a heap of ashes. The
more they overwork themselves, the more exacting becomes the sense of
duty,--as the draught of the locomotive’s furnace blows stronger and
makes the fire burn more fiercely, the faster it spins along the track.

It is not very likely, as was said at the beginning of this chapter,
that we shall trouble ourselves a great deal about the internal affairs
of the Apollinean Institute. These schools are, in the nature of things,
not so very unlike each other as to require a minute description for
each particular one among them. They have all very much the same general
features, pleasing and displeasing. All feeding-establishments have
something odious about them,--from the wretched country-houses where
paupers are farmed out to the lowest bidder, up to the commons-tables
at colleges and even the fashionable boarding-house. A person’s appetite
should be at war with no other purse than his own. Young people,
especially, who have a bone-factory at work in them, and have to feed
the living looms of innumerable growing tissues, should be provided
for, if possible, by those who love them like their own flesh and blood.
Elsewhere their appetites will be sure to make them enemies, or, what
are almost as bad, friends whose interests are at variance with the
claims of their exacting necessities and demands.

Besides, all commercial transactions in regard to the most sacred
interests of life are hateful even to those who profit by them. The
clergyman, the physician, the teacher, must be paid; but each of them,
if his duty be performed in the true spirit, can hardly help a shiver
of disgust when money is counted out to him for administering the
consolations of religion, for saving some precious life, for sowing the
seeds of Christian civilization in young ingenuous souls.

And yet all these schools, with their provincial French and their
mechanical accomplishments, with their cheap parade of diplomas and
commencements and other public honors, have an ever fresh interest to
all who see the task they are performing in our new social order. These
girls are not being educated for governesses, or to be exported, with
other manufactured articles, to colonies where there happens to be a
surplus of males. Most of them will be wives, and every American-born
husband is a possible President of these United States. Any one of these
girls may be a four-years’ queen. There is no sphere of human activity
so exalted that she may not be called upon to fill it.

But there is another consideration of far higher interest. The education
of our community to all that is beautiful is flowing in mainly through
its women, and that to a considerable extent by the aid of these large
establishments, the least perfect of which do something to stimulate the
higher tastes and partially instruct them. Sometimes there is, perhaps,
reason to fear that girls will be too highly educated for their own
happiness, if they are lifted by their culture out of the range of the
practical and every-day working youth by whom they are surrounded. But
this is a risk we must take. Our young men come into active life so
early, that, if our girls were not educated to something beyond mere
practical duties, our material prosperity would outstrip our culture; as
it often does in large places where money is made too rapidly. This is
the meaning, therefore, of that somewhat ambitious programme common to
most of these large institutions, at which we sometimes smile, perhaps
unwisely or uncharitably.

We shall take it for granted that the routine of instruction went on at
the Apollinean Institute much as it does in other schools of the same
class. People, young or old, are wonderfully different, if we contrast
extremes in pairs. They approach much nearer, if we take them in groups
of twenty. Take two separate hundreds as they come, without choosing,
and you get the gamut of human character in both so completely that you
can strike many chords in each which shall be in perfect unison with
corresponding ones in the other. If we go a step farther, and compare
the population of two villages of the same race and region, there is
such a regularly graduated distribution and parallelism of character,
that it seems as if Nature must turn out human beings in sets like
chessmen.

It must be confessed that the position in which Mr. Bernard now found
himself had a pleasing danger about it which might well justify all the
fears entertained on his account by more experienced friends, when they
learned that he was engaged in a Young Ladies’ Seminary. The school
never went on more smoothly than during the first period of his
administration, after he had arranged its duties, and taken his share,
and even more than his share, upon himself. But human nature does not
wait for the diploma of the Apollinean Institute to claim the exercise
of it, instincts and faculties. These young girls saw but little of
the youth of the neighborhood. The mansion-house young men were off at
college or in the cities, or making love to each other’s sisters, or
at any rate unavailable for some reason or other. There were a few
“clerks,”--that is, young men who attended shops, commonly called
“stores,”--who were fond of walking by the Institute, when they were off
duty, for the sake of exchanging a word or a glance with any one of
the young ladies they might happen to know, if any such were stirring
abroad: crude young men, mostly, with a great many “Sirs” and “Ma’ams”
 in their speech, and with that style of address sometimes acquired in
the retail business, as if the salesman were recommending himself to
a customer, “First-rate family article, Ma’am; warranted to wear a
lifetime; just one yard and three quarters in this pattern, Ma’am;
sha’n’t I have the pleasure?” and so forth. If there had been ever so
many of them, and if they had been ever so fascinating, the quarantine
of the Institute was too rigorous to allow any romantic infection to be
introduced from without.

Anybody might see what would happen, with a good-looking, well-dressed,
well-bred young man, who had the authority of a master, it is true, but
the manners of a friend and equal, moving about among these young girls
day after day, his eyes meeting theirs, his breath mingling with theirs,
his voice growing familiar to them, never in any harsh tones, often
soothing, encouraging, always sympathetic, with its male depth and
breadth of sound among the chorus of trebles, as if it were a river in
which a hundred of these little piping streamlets-might lose themselves;
anybody might see what would happen. Young girls wrote home to their
parents that they enjoyed themselves much, this term, at the Institute,
and thought they were making rapid progress in their studies. There was
a great enthusiasm for the young master’s reading-classes in English
poetry. Some of the poor little things began to adorn themselves with an
extra ribbon, or a bit of such jewelry as they had before kept for great
occasions. Dear souls! they only half knew what they were doing it for.
Does the bird know why its feathers grow more brilliant and its voice
becomes musical in the pairing season?

And so, in the midst of this quiet inland town, where a mere accident
had placed Mr. Bernard Langdon, there was a concentration of explosive
materials which might at any time change its Arcadian and academic
repose into a scene of dangerous commotion. What said Helen Darley, when
she saw with her woman’s glance that more than one girl, when she should
be looking at her book, was looking over it toward the master’s desk?
Was her own heart warmed by any livelier feeling than gratitude, as its
life began to flow with fuller pulses, and the morning sky again looked
bright and the flowers recovered their lost fragrance? Was there any
strange, mysterious affinity between the master and the dark girl who
sat by herself? Could she call him at will by looking at him? Could it
be that--? It made her shiver to think of it.--And who was that strange
horseman who passed Mr. Bernard at dusk the other evening, looking
so like Mephistopheles galloping hard to be in season at the witches’
Sabbath-gathering? That must be the cousin of Elsie’s who wants to marry
her, they say. A dangerous-looking fellow for a rival, if one took a
fancy to the dark girl! And who is she, and what?--by what demon is she
haunted, by what taint is she blighted, by what curse is she followed,
by what destiny is she marked, that her strange beauty has such a terror
in it, and that hardly one shall dare to love her, and her eye glitters
always, but warms for none?

Some of these questions are ours. Some were Helen Darley’s. Some of them
mingled with the dreams of Bernard Langdon, as he slept the night after
meeting the strange horseman. In the morning he happened to be a little
late in entering the schoolroom. There was something between the leaves
of the Virgil which lay upon his desk. He opened it and saw a
freshly gathered mountain-flower. He looked at Elsie, instinctively,
involuntarily. She had another such flower on her breast.

A young girl’s graceful compliment,--that is all,--no doubt,--no doubt.
It was odd that the flower should have happened to be laid between the
leaves of the Fourth Book of the “AEneid,” and at this line,

          “Incipit effari, mediaque in voce resistit.”

A remembrance of an ancient superstition flashed through the master’s
mind, and he determined to try the Sortes Virgilianae. He shut the
volume, and opened it again at a venture.--The story of Laocoon!

He read with a strange feeling of unwilling fascination, from “Horresco
referees” to “Bis medium amplexi,” and flung the book from him, as if
its leaves had been steeped in the subtle poisons that princes die of.



CHAPTER XIII. CURIOSITY.

People will talk. ‘Ciascun lo dice’ is a tune that is played oftener
than the national air of this country or any other.

“That ‘s what they say. Means to marry her, if she is his cousin. Got
money himself,--that ‘s the story,--but wants to come and live in the
old place, and get the Dudley property by and by.” “Mother’s folks was
wealthy.”--“Twenty-three to twenty-five year old.”--“He a’n’t more ‘n
twenty, or twenty-one at the outside.”--“Looks as if he knew too much
to be only twenty year old.”--“Guess he’s been through the mill,--don’t
look so green, anyhow, hey? Did y’ ever mind that cut over his left
eyebrow?”

So they gossiped in Rockland. The young fellows could make nothing of
Dick Venner. He was shy and proud with the few who made advances to him.
The young ladies called him handsome and romantic, but he looked at them
like a many-tailed pacha who was in the habit of, ordering his wives by
the dozen.

“What do you think of the young man over there at the Veneers’?” said
Miss Arabella Thornton to her father.

“Handsome,” said the Judge, “but dangerous-looking. His face is
indictable at common law. Do you know, my dear, I think there is a blank
at the Sheriff’s office, with a place for his name in it?”

The Judge paused and looked grave, as if he had just listened to the
verdict of the jury and was going to pronounce sentence.

“Have you heard anything against him?” said the Judge’s daughter.

“Nothing. But I don’t like these mixed bloods and half-told stories.
Besides, I have seen a good many desperate fellows at the bar, and I
have a fancy they all have a look belonging to them. The worst one I
ever sentenced looked a good deal like this fellow. A wicked mouth. All
our other features are made for us; but a man makes his own mouth.”

“Who was the person you sentenced?”

“He was a young fellow that undertook to garrote a man who had won his
money at cards. The same slender shape, the same cunning, fierce
look, smoothed over with a plausible air. Depend upon it, there is an
expression in all the sort of people who live by their wits when
they can, and by worse weapons when their wits fail them, that we old
law-doctors know just as well as the medical counsellors know the marks
of disease in a man’s face. Dr. Kittredge looks at a man and says he is
going to die; I look at another man and say he is going to be hanged, if
nothing happens. I don’t say so of this one, but I don’t like his looks.
I wonder Dudley Veneer takes to him so kindly.”

“It’s all for Elsie’s sake,” said Miss Thornton. “I feel quite sure of
that. He never does anything that is not meant for her in some way. I
suppose it amuses her to have her cousin about the house. She rides a
good deal since he has been here. Have you seen them galloping about
together? He looks like my idea of a Spanish bandit on that wild horse
of his.”

“Possibly he has been one,--or is one,” said the Judge,--smiling as men
smile whose lips have often been freighted with the life and death of
their fellow-creatures. “I met them riding the other day. Perhaps Dudley
is right, if it pleases her to have a companion. What will happen,
though, if he makes love to her? Will Elsie be easily taken with such
a fellow? You young folks are supposed to know more about these matters
than we middle-aged people.”

“Nobody can tell. Elsie is not like anybody else. The girls who have
seen most of her think she hates men, all but ‘Dudley,’ as she calls her
father. Some of them doubt whether she loves him. They doubt whether
she can love anything human, except perhaps the old black woman who
has taken care of her since she was a baby. The village people have the
strangest stories about her; you know what they call her?”

She whispered three words in her father’s ear. The Judge changed color
as she spoke, sighed deeply, and was silent as if lost in thought for a
moment.

“I remember her mother,” he said, “so well! A sweeter creature never
lived. Elsie has something of her in her look, but those are not her
mother’s eyes. They were dark, but soft, as in all I ever saw of her
race. Her father’s are dark too, but mild, and even tender, I should
say. I don’t know what there is about Elsie’s,--but do you know, my
dear, I find myself curiously influenced by them? I have had to face a
good many sharp eyes and hard ones,--murderers’ eyes and pirates’,--men
who had to be watched in the bar, where they stood on trial, for fear
they should spring on the prosecuting officers like tigers,--but I never
saw such eyes as Elsie’s; and yet they have a kind of drawing virtue
or power about them,--I don’t know what else to call it: have you never
observed this?”

His daughter smiled in her turn.

“Never observed it? Why, of course, nobody could be with Elsie Venner
and not observe it. There are a good many other strange things about
her: did you ever notice how she dresses?”

“Why, handsomely enough, I should think,” the Judge answered. “I suppose
she dresses as she likes, and sends to the city for what she wants. What
do you mean in particular? We men notice effects in dress, but not much
in detail.”

“You never noticed the colors and patterns of her dresses? You never
remarked anything curious about her ornaments? Well! I don’t believe you
men know, half the time, whether a lady wears a nine-penny collar or a
thread-lace cape worth a thousand dollars. I don’t believe you know a
silk dress from a bombazine one. I don’t believe you can tell whether
a woman is in black or in colors, unless you happen to know she is a
widow. Elsie Venner has a strange taste in dress, let me tell you. She
sends for the oddest patterns of stuffs, and picks out the most curious
things at the jeweller’s, whenever she goes to town with her father.
They say the old Doctor tells him to let her have her way about such
matters. Afraid of her mind, if she is contradicted, I suppose. You’ve
heard about her going to school at that place,--the ‘Institoot,’ as
those people call it? They say she’s bright enough in her way,--has
studied at home, you know, with her father a good deal, knows some
modern languages and Latin, I believe: at any rate, she would have
it so,--she must go to the ‘Institoot.’ They have a very good female
teacher there, I hear; and the new master, that young Mr. Langdon, looks
and talks like a well-educated young man. I wonder what they ‘ll make of
Elsie, between them!”

So they talked at the Judge’s, in the calm, judicial-looking
mansion-house, in the grave, still library, with the troops of wan-hued
law-books staring blindly out of their titles at them as they talked,
like the ghosts of dead attorneys fixed motionless and speechless, each
with a thin, golden film over his unwinking eyes.

In the mean time, everything went on quietly enough after Cousin
Richard’s return. A man of sense,--that is, a man who knows perfectly
well that a cool head is worth a dozen warm hearts in carrying the
fortress of a woman’s affections, (not yours, “Astarte,” nor yours,
“Viola,”)--who knows that men are rejected by women every day because
they, the men, love them, and are accepted every day because they do
not, and therefore can study the arts of pleasing,--a man of sense,
when he finds he has established his second parallel too soon, retires
quietly to his first, and begins working on his covered ways again.
The whole art of love may be read in any Encyclopaedia under the title
Fortification, where the terms just used are explained. After the little
adventure of the necklace, Dick retreated at once to his first parallel.
Elsie loved riding,--and would go off with him on a gallop now and then.
He was a master of all those strange Indian horseback-feats which shame
the tricks of the circus-riders, and used to astonish and almost amuse
her sometimes by disappearing from his saddle, like a phantom horseman
lying flat against the side of the bounding creature that bore him, as
if he were a hunting leopard with his claws in the horse’s flank and
flattening himself out against his heaving ribs. Elsie knew a little
Spanish too, which she had learned from the young person who had taught
her dancing, and Dick enlarged her vocabulary with a few soft
phrases, and would sing her a song sometimes, touching the air upon an
ancient-looking guitar they had found with the ghostly things in the
garret,--a quaint old instrument, marked E. M. on the back, and supposed
to have belonged to a certain Elizabeth Mascarene, before mentioned in
connection with a work of art,--a fair, dowerless lady, who smiled and
sung and faded away, unwedded, a hundred years ago, as dowerless ladies,
not a few, are smiling and singing and fading now,--God grant each of
them His love,--and one human heart as its interpreter!

As for school, Elsie went or stayed away as she liked. Sometimes, when
they thought she was at her desk in the great schoolroom, she would
be on The Mountain,--alone always. Dick wanted to go with her, but
she would never let him. Once, when she had followed the zigzag path
a little way up, she looked back and caught a glimpse of him following
her. She turned and passed him without a word, but giving him a look
which seemed to make the scars on his wrist tingle, went to her room,
where she locked herself up, and did not come out again till evening,
Old Sophy having brought her food, and set it down, not speaking, but
looking into her eyes inquiringly, like a dumb beast trying to feel
out his master’s will in his face. The evening was clear and the
moon shining. As Dick sat at his chamber-window, looking at the
mountain-side, he saw a gray-dressed figure flit between the trees
and steal along the narrow path which led upward. Elsie’s pillow was
unpressed that night, but she had not been missed by the household,--for
Dick knew enough to keep his own counsel. The next morning she avoided
him and went off early to school. It was the same morning that the young
master found the flower between the leaves of his Virgil.

The girl got over her angry fit, and was pleasant enough with her cousin
for a few days after this; but she shunned rather than sought him.
She had taken a new interest in her books, and especially in certain
poetical readings which the master conducted with the elder scholars.
This gave Master Langdon a good chance to study her ways when her eye
was on her book, to notice the inflections of her voice, to watch for
any expression of her sentiments; for, to tell the truth, he had a
kind of fear that the girl had taken a fancy to him, and, though she
interested him, he did not wish to study her heart from the inside.

The more he saw her, the more the sadness of her beauty wrought upon
him. She looked as if she might hate, but could not love. She hardly
smiled at anything, spoke rarely, but seemed to feel that her natural
power of expression lay all in her bright eyes, the force of which so
many had felt, but none perhaps had tried to explain to themselves. A
person accustomed to watch the faces of those who were ailing in body or
mind, and to search in every line and tint for some underlying source
of disorder, could hardly help analyzing the impression such a face
produced upon him. The light of those beautiful eyes was like the lustre
of ice; in all her features there was nothing of that human warmth which
shows that sympathy has reached the soul beneath the mask of flesh it
wears. The look was that of remoteness, of utter isolation. There was
in its stony apathy, it seemed to him, the pathos which we find in the
blind who show no film or speck over the organs of sight; for Nature
had meant her to be lovely, and left out nothing but love. And yet the
master could not help feeling that some instinct was working in this
girl which was in some way leading her to seek his presence. She did not
lift her glittering eyes upon him as at first. It seemed strange that
she did not, for they were surely her natural weapons of conquest. Her
color did not come and go like that of young girls under excitement. She
had a clear brunette complexion, a little sun-touched, it may be,--for
the master noticed once, when her necklace was slightly displaced, that
a faint ring or band of a little lighter shade than the rest of the
surface encircled her neck. What was the slight peculiarity of her
enunciation, when she read? Not a lisp, certainly, but the least
possible imperfection in articulating some of the lingual sounds,--just
enough to be noticed at first, and quite forgotten after being a few
times heard.

Not a word about the flower on either side. It was not uncommon for
the schoolgirls to leave a rose or pink or wild flower on the teacher’s
desk. Finding it in the Virgil was nothing, after all; it was a little
delicate flower, which looked as if it were made to press, and it was
probably shut in by accident at the particular place where he found it.
He took it into his head to examine it in a botanical point of view. He
found it was not common,--that it grew only in certain localities,--and
that one of these was among the rocks of the eastern spur of The
Mountain.

It happened to come into his head how the Swiss youth climb the sides
of the Alps to find the flower called the Edelweiss for the maidens
whom they wish to please. It is a pretty fancy, that of scaling some
dangerous height before the dawn, so as to gather the flower in its
freshness, that the favored maiden may wear it to church on Sunday
morning, a proof at once of her lover’s devotion and his courage. Mr.
Bernard determined to explore the region where this flower was said to
grow, that he might see where the wild girl sought the blossoms of which
Nature was so jealous.

It was on a warm, fair Saturday afternoon that he undertook his
land-voyage of discovery. He had more curiosity, it may be, than he
would have owned; for he had heard of the girl’s wandering habits, and
the guesses about her sylvan haunts, and was thinking what the chances
were that he should meet her in some strange place, or come upon traces
of her which would tell secrets she would not care to have known.

The woods are all alive to one who walks through them with his mind in
an excited state, and his eyes and ears wide open. The trees are always
talking, not merely whispering with their leaves, (for every tree talks
to itself in that way, even when it stands alone in the middle of
a pasture,) but grating their boughs against each other, as old
horn-handed farmers press their dry, rustling palms together, dropping
a nut or a leaf or a twig, clicking to the tap of a woodpecker, or
rustling as a squirrel flashes along a branch. It was now the season of
singing-birds, and the woods were haunted with mysterious, tender music.
The voices of the birds which love the deeper shades of the forest are
sadder than those of the open fields: these are the nuns who have taken
the veil, the hermits that have hidden themselves away from the
world and tell their griefs to the infinite listening Silences of the
wilderness,--for the one deep inner silence that Nature breaks with her
fitful superficial sounds becomes multiplied as the image of a star in
ruffled waters. Strange! The woods at first convey the impression of
profound repose, and yet, if you watch their ways with open ear, you
find the life which is in them is restless and nervous as that of a
woman: the little twigs are crossing and twining and separating like
slender fingers that cannot be still; the stray leaf is to be flattened
into its place like a truant curl; the limbs sway and twist, impatient
of their constrained attitude; and the rounded masses of foliage swell
upward and subside from time to time with long soft sighs, and, it may
be, the falling of a few rain-drops which had lain hidden among the
deeper shadows. I pray you, notice, in the sweet summer days which will
soon see you among the mountains, this inward tranquillity that belongs
to the heart of the woodland, with this nervousness, for I do not know
what else to call it, of outer movement. One would say, that Nature,
like untrained persons, could not sit still without nestling about or
doing something with her limbs or features, and that high breeding was
only to be looked for in trim gardens, where the soul of the trees
is ill at ease perhaps, but their manners are unexceptionable, and a
rustling branch or leaf falling out of season is an indecorum. The real
forest is hardly still except in the Indian summer; then there is death
in the house, and they are waiting for the sharp shrunken months to come
with white raiment for the summer’s burial.

There were many hemlocks in this neighborhood, the grandest and most
solemn of all the forest-trees in the mountain regions. Up to a certain
period of growth they are eminently beautiful, their boughs disposed in
the most graceful pagoda-like series of close terraces, thick and dark
with green crystalline leaflets. In spring the tender shoots come out of
a paler green, finger-like, as if they were pointing to the violets at
their feet. But when the trees have grown old, and their rough boles
measure a yard and more through their diameter, they are no longer
beautiful, but they have a sad solemnity all their own, too full of
meaning to require the heart’s comment to be framed in words. Below, all
their earthward-looking branches are sapless and shattered, splintered
by the weight of many winters’ snows; above, they are still green and
full of life, but their summits overtop all the deciduous trees around
them, and in their companionship with heaven they are alone. On these
the lightning loves to fall. One such Mr. Bernard saw,--or rather, what
had been one such; for the bolt had torn the tree like an explosion
from within, and the ground was strewed all around the broken stump with
flakes of rough bark and strips and chips of shivered wood, into
which the old tree had been rent by the bursting rocket from the
thunder-cloud.

--The master had struck up The Mountain obliquely from the western side
of the Dudley mansion-house. In this way he ascended until he reached a
point many hundred feet above the level of the plain, and commanding
all the country beneath and around. Almost at his feet he saw the
mansion-house, the chimney standing out of the middle of the roof, or
rather, like a black square hole in it,--the trees almost directly over
their stems, the fences as lines, the whole nearly as an architect
would draw a ground-plan of the house and the inclosures round it. It
frightened him to see how the huge masses of rock and old forest-growths
hung over the home below. As he descended a little and drew near the
ledge of evil name, he was struck with the appearance of a long narrow
fissure that ran parallel with it and above it for many rods, not
seemingly of very old standing,--for there were many fibres of roots
which had evidently been snapped asunder when the rent took place, and
some of which were still succulent in both separated portions.

Mr. Bernard had made up his mind, when he set forth, not to come back
before he had examined the dreaded ledge. He had half persuaded himself
that it was scientific curiosity. He wished to examine the rocks, to
see what flowers grew there, and perhaps to pick up an adventure in
the zoological line; for he had on a pair of high, stout boots, and he
carried a stick in his hand, which was forked at one extremity, so as to
be very convenient to hold down a crotalus with, if he should happen to
encounter one. He knew the aspect of the ledge from a distance; for its
bald and leprous-looking declivities stood out in their nakedness from
the wooded sides of The Mountain, when this was viewed from certain
points of the village. But the nearer aspect of the blasted region had
something frightful in it. The cliffs were water-worn, as if they had
been gnawed for thousands of years by hungry waves. In some places they
overhung their base so as to look like leaning towers which might topple
over at any minute. In other parts they were scooped into niches or
caverns. Here and there they were cracked in deep fissures, some of them
of such width that one might enter them, if he cared to run the risk of
meeting the regular tenants, who might treat him as an intruder.

Parts of the ledge were cloven perpendicularly, with nothing but cracks
or slightly projecting edges in which or on which a foot could find
hold. High up on one of these precipitous walls of rock he saw some
tufts of flowers, and knew them at once for the same that he had found
between the leaves of his Virgil. Not there, surely! No woman would have
clung against that steep, rough parapet to gather an idle blossom. And
yet the master looked round everywhere, and even up the side of that
rock, to see if there were no signs of a woman’s footstep. He peered
about curiously, as if his eye might fall on some of those fragments of
dress which women leave after them, whenever they run against each other
or against anything else,--in crowded ballrooms, in the brushwood after
picnics, on the fences after rambles, scattered round over every place
which has witnessed an act of violence, where rude hands have been laid
upon them. Nothing--Stop, though, one moment. That stone is smooth and
polished, as if it had been somewhat worn by the pressure of human feet.
There is one twig broken among the stems of that clump of shrubs. He put
his foot upon the stone and took hold of the close-clinging shrub. In
this way he turned a sharp angle of the rock and found himself on
a natural platform, which lay in front of one of the wider
fissures,--whether the mouth of a cavern or not he could not yet tell.
A flat stone made an easy seat, upon which he sat down, as he was
very glad to do, and looked mechanically about him. A small fragment
splintered from the rock was at his feet. He took it and threw it down
the declivity a little below where he sat. He looked about for a stem
or a straw of some kind to bite upon,--a country-instinct,--relic, no
doubt, of the old vegetable-feeding habits of Eden. Is that a stem or a
straw? He picked it up. It was a hair-pin.

To say that Mr. Langdon had a strange sort of thrill shoot through him
at the sight of this harmless little implement would be a statement not
at variance with the fact of the case. That smooth stone had been often
trodden, and by what foot he could not doubt. He rose up from his seat
to look round for other signs of a woman’s visits. What if there is a
cavern here, where she has a retreat, fitted up, perhaps, as anchorites
fitted their cells,--nay, it may be, carpeted and mirrored, and with one
of those tiger-skins for a couch, such as they, say the girl loves to
lie on? Let us look, at any rate.

Mr. Bernard walked to the mouth of the cavern or fissure and looked into
it. His look was met by the glitter of two diamond eyes, small, sharp,
cold, shining out of the darkness, but gliding with a smooth, steady
motion towards the light, and himself. He stood fixed, struck dumb,
staring back into them with dilating pupils and sudden numbness of fear
that cannot move, as in the terror of dreams. The two sparks of light
came forward until they grew to circles of flame, and all at once lifted
themselves up as if in angry surprise. Then for the first time thrilled
in Mr. Bernard’s ears the dreadful sound that nothing which breathes, be
it man or brute, can hear unmoved,--the long, loud, stinging whirr,
as the huge, thick bodied reptile shook his many-jointed rattle and
adjusted his loops for the fatal stroke. His eyes were drawn as with
magnets toward the circles of flame. His ears rung as in the overture
to the swooning dream of chloroform. Nature was before man with her
anaesthetics: the cat’s first shake stupefies the mouse; the lion’s
first shake deadens the man’s fear and feeling; and the crotalus
paralyzes before he strikes. He waited as in a trance,--waited as one
that longs to have the blow fall, and all over, as the man who shall be
in two pieces in a second waits for the axe to drop. But while he looked
straight into the flaming eyes, it seemed to him that they were losing
their light and terror, that they were growing tame and dull; the charm
was dissolving, the numbness was passing away, he could move once more.
He heard a light breathing close to his ear, and, half turning, saw the
face of Elsie Venner, looking motionless into the reptile’s eyes, which
had shrunk and faded under the stronger enchantment of her own.



CHAPTER XIV. FAMILY SECRETS.

It was commonly understood in the town of Rockland that Dudley Venner
had had a great deal of trouble with that daughter of his, so handsome,
yet so peculiar, about whom there were so many strange stories. There
was no end to the tales which were told of her extraordinary doings.
Yet her name was never coupled with that of any youth or man, until this
cousin had provoked remark by his visit; and even then it was oftener in
the shape of wondering conjectures whether he would dare to make love to
her, than in any pretended knowledge of their relations to each other,
that the public tongue exercised its village-prerogative of tattle.

The more common version of the trouble at the mansion-house was this:
Elsie was not exactly in her right mind. Her temper was singular, her
tastes were anomalous, her habits were lawless, her antipathies were
many and intense, and she was liable to explosions of ungovernable
anger. Some said that was not the worst of it. At nearly fifteen years
old, when she was growing fast, and in an irritable state of mind and
body, she had had a governess placed over her for whom she had conceived
an aversion. It was whispered among a few who knew more of the family
secrets than others, that, worried and exasperated by the presence and
jealous oversight of this person, Elsie had attempted to get finally rid
of her by unlawful means, such as young girls have been known to
employ in their straits, and to which the sex at all ages has a certain
instinctive tendency, in preference to more palpable instruments for
the righting of its wrongs. At any rate, this governess had been taken
suddenly ill, and the Doctor had been sent for at midnight. Old Sophy
had taken her master into a room apart, and said a few words to him
which turned him as white as a sheet. As soon as he recovered himself,
he sent Sophy out, called in the old Doctor, and gave him some few
hints, on which he acted at once, and had the satisfaction of seeing
his patient out of danger before he left in the morning. It is proper to
say, that, during the following days, the most thorough search was made
in every nook and cranny of those parts of the house which Elsie chiefly
haunted, but nothing was found which might be accused of having been
the intentional cause of the probably accidental sudden illness of the
governess. From this time forward her father was never easy. Should he
keep her apart, or shut her up, for fear of risk to others, and so
lose every chance of restoring her mind to its healthy tone by kindly
influences and intercourse with wholesome natures? There was no proof,
only presumption, as to the agency of Elsie in the matter referred to.
But the doubt was worse, perhaps, than certainty would have been,--for
then he would have known what to do.

He took the old Doctor as his adviser. The shrewd old man listened to
the father’s story, his explanations of possibilities, of probabilities,
of dangers, of hopes. When he had got through, the Doctor looked him in
the face steadily, as if he were saying, Is that all?

The father’s eyes fell. This was not all. There was something at the
bottom of his soul which he could not bear to speak of,--nay, which,
as often as it reared itself through the dark waves of unworded
consciousness into the breathing air of thought, he trod down as the
ruined angels tread down a lost soul, trying to come up out of the
seething sea of torture. Only this one daughter! No! God never would
have ordained such a thing. There was nothing ever heard of like it; it
could not be; she was ill,--she would outgrow all these singularities;
he had had an aunt who was peculiar; he had heard that hysteric girls
showed the strangest forms of moral obliquity for a time, but came right
at last. She would change all at once, when her health got more firmly
settled in the course of her growth. Are there not rough buds that open
into sweet flowers? Are there not fruits, which, while unripe, are
not to be tasted or endured, which mature into the richest taste and
fragrance? In God’s good time she would come to her true nature; her
eyes would lose that frightful, cold glitter; her lips would not feel so
cold when she pressed them against his cheek; and that faint birth-mark,
her mother swooned when she first saw, would fade wholly out,--it was
less marked, surely, now than it used to be!

So Dudley Venner felt, and would have thought, if he had let his
thoughts breathe the air of his soul. But the Doctor read through words
and thoughts and all into the father’s consciousness. There are states
of mind which may be shared by two persons in presence of each other,
which remain not only unworded, but unthoughted, if such a word may
be coined for our special need. Such a mutually interpenetrative
consciousness there was between the father and the old physician. By a
common impulse, both of them rose in a mechanical way and went to the
western window, where each started, as he saw the other’s look directed
towards the white stone which stood in the midst of the small plot of
green turf.

The Doctor had, for a moment, forgotten himself but he looked up at the
clouds, which were angry, and said, as if speaking of the weather, “It
is dark now, but we hope it will clear up by and by. There are a great
many more clouds than rains, and more rains than strokes of lightning,
and more strokes of lightning than there are people killed. We must let
this girl of ours have her way, as far as it is safe. Send away this
woman she hates, quietly. Get her a foreigner for a governess, if you
can,--one that can dance and sing and will teach her. In the house
old Sophy will watch her best. Out of it you must trust her, I am
afraid,--for she will not be followed round, and she is in less danger
than you think. If she wanders at night, find her, if you can; the woods
are not absolutely safe. If she will be friendly with any young people,
have them to see her,--young men especially. She will not love any one
easily, perhaps not at all; yet love would be more like to bring her
right than anything else. If any young person seems in danger of falling
in love with her, send him to me for counsel.”

Dry, hard advice, but given from a kind hewn, with a moist eye, and in
tones which tried to be cheerful and were full of sympathy. This advice
was the key to the more than indulgent treatment which, as we have seen,
the girl had received from her father and all about her. The old Doctor
often came in, in the kindest, most natural sort of way, got into
pleasant relations with Elsie by always treating her in the same easy
manner as at the great party, encouraging all her harmless fancies, and
rarely reminding her that he was a professional adviser, except when
she came out of her own accord, as in the talk they had at the party,
telling him of some wild trick she had been playing.

“Let her go to the girls’ school, by all means,” said the Doctor, when
she had begun to talk about it. “Possibly she may take to some of the
girls or of the teachers. Anything to interest her. Friendship, love,
religion, whatever will set her nature at work. We must have headway on,
or there will be no piloting her. Action first of all, and then we will
see what to do with it.”

So, when Cousin Richard came along, the Doctor, though he did not like
his looks any too well, told her father to encourage his staying for a
time. If she liked him, it was good; if she only tolerated him, it was
better than nothing.

“You know something about that nephew of yours, during these last years,
I suppose?” the Doctor said. “Looks as if he had seen life. Has a scar
that was made by a sword-cut, and a white spot on the side of his neck
that looks like a bullet-mark. I think he has been what folks call a
‘hard customer.’”

Dudley Venner owned that he had heard little or nothing of him of late
years. He had invited himself, and of course it would not be decent not
to receive him as a relative. He thought Elsie rather liked having him
about the house for a while. She was very capricious,--acted as if she
fancied him one day and disliked him the next. He did not know,--but
sometimes thought that this nephew of his might take a serious liking to
Elsie. What should he do about it, if it turned out so?

The Doctor lifted his eyebrows a little. He thought there was no fear.
Elsie was naturally what they call a man-hater, and there was very
little danger of any sudden passion springing up between two such young
persons. Let him stay awhile; it gives her something to think about. So
he stayed awhile, as we have seen.

The more Mr. Richard became acquainted with the family,--that is, with
the two persons of whom it consisted,--the more favorably the idea of
a permanent residence in the mansion-house seemed to impress him. The
estate was large,--hundreds of acres, with woodlands and meadows of
great value. The father and daughter had been living quietly, and there
could not be a doubt that the property which came through the Dudleys
must have largely increased of late years. It was evident enough that
they had an abundant income, from the way in which Elsie’s caprices were
indulged. She had horses and carriages to suit herself; she sent to
the great city for everything she wanted in the way of dress. Even her
diamonds--and the young man knew something about these gems--must be of
considerable value; and yet she wore them carelessly, as it pleased her
fancy. She had precious old laces, too, almost worth their weight in
diamonds; laces which had been snatched from altars in ancient Spanish
cathedrals during the wars, and which it would not be safe to leave
a duchess alone with for ten minutes. The old house was fat with the
deposits of rich generations which had gone before. The famous “golden”
 fire-set was a purchase of one of the family who had been in France
during the Revolution, and must have come from a princely palace, if not
from one of the royal residences. As for silver, the iron closet
which had been made in the dining-room wall was running over with
it: tea-kettles, coffee-pots, heavy-lidded tankards, chafing-dishes,
punch-bowls, all that all the Dudleys had ever used, from the caudle-cup
which used to be handed round the young mother’s chamber, and the
porringer from which children scooped their bread-and-milk with spoons
as solid as ingots, to that ominous vessel, on the upper shelf, far back
in the dark, with a spout like a slender italic S, out of which the sick
and dying, all along the last century, and since, had taken the last
drops that passed their lips. Without being much of a scholar, Dick
could see well enough, too, that the books in the library had been
ordered from the great London houses, whose imprint they bore, by
persons who knew what was best and meant to have it. A man does not
require much learning to feel pretty sure, when he takes one of those
solid, smooth, velvet-leaved quartos, say a Baskerville Addison, for
instance, bound in red morocco, with a margin of gold as rich as the
embroidery of a prince’s collar, as Vandyck drew it,--he need not know
much to feel pretty sure that a score or two of shelves full of such
books mean that it took a long purse, as well as a literary taste, to
bring them together.

To all these attractions the mind of this thoughtful young gentleman
may be said to have been fully open. He did not disguise from himself,
however, that there were a number of drawbacks in the way of his
becoming established as the heir of the Dudley mansion-house and
fortune. In the first place, Cousin Elsie was, unquestionably, very
piquant, very handsome, game as a hawk, and hard to please, which
made her worth trying for. But then there was something about Cousin
Elsie,--(the small, white scars began stinging, as he said this to
himself, and he pushed his sleeve up to look at them)--there was
something about Cousin Elsie he couldn’t make out. What was the matter
with her eyes, that they sucked your life out of you in that strange
way? What did she always wear a necklace for? Had she some such
love-token on her neck as the old Don’s revolver had left on his? How
safe would anybody feel to live with her? Besides, her father would last
forever, if he was left to himself. And he may take it into his head to
marry again. That would be pleasant!

So talked Cousin Richard to himself, in the calm of the night and in the
tranquillity of his own soul. There was much to be said on both sides.
It was a balance to be struck after the two columns were added up. He
struck the balance, and came to the conclusion that he would fall in
love with Elsie Venner.

The intelligent reader will not confound this matured and serious
intention of falling in love with the young lady with that mere impulse
of the moment before mentioned as an instance of making love. On the
contrary, the moment Mr. Richard had made up his mind that he should
fall in love with Elsie, he began to be more reserved with her, and to
try to make friends in other quarters. Sensible men, you know, care very
little what a girl’s present fancy is. The question is: Who manages her,
and how can you get at that person or those persons? Her foolish little
sentiments are all very well in their way; but business is business, and
we can’t stop for such trifles. The old political wire-pullers never go
near the man they want to gain, if they can help it; they find out who
his intimates and managers are, and work through them. Always handle any
positively electrical body, whether it is charged with passion or power,
with some non-conductor between you and it, not with your naked hands.
--The above were some of the young gentleman’s working axioms; and he
proceeded to act in accordance with them.

He began by paying his court more assiduously to his uncle. It was not
very hard to ingratiate himself in that quarter; for his manners
were insinuating, and his precocious experience of life made him
entertaining. The old neglected billiard--room was soon put in order,
and Dick, who was a magnificent player, had a series of games with his
uncle, in which, singularly enough, he was beaten, though his antagonist
had been out of play for years. He evinced a profound interest in the
family history, insisted on having the details of its early alliances,
and professed a great pride in it, which he had inherited from his
father, who, though he had allied himself with the daughter of an alien
race, had yet chosen one with the real azure blood in her veins, as
proud as if she had Castile and Aragon for her dower and the Cid for her
grand-papa. He also asked a great deal of advice, such as inexperienced
young persons are in need of, and listened to it with due reverence.

It is not very strange that uncle Dudley took a kinder view of his
nephew than the Judge, who thought he could read a questionable history
in his face,--or the old Doctor, who knew men’s temperaments and
organizations pretty well, and had his prejudices about races, and could
tell an old sword-cut and a ballet-mark in two seconds from a scar got
by falling against the fender, or a mark left by king’s evil. He could
not be expected to share our own prejudices; for he had heard nothing
of the wild youth’s adventures, or his scamper over the Pampas at short
notice. So, then, “Richard Venner, Esquire, guest of Dudley Venner,
Esquire, at his elegant mansion,” prolonged his visit until his presence
became something like a matter of habit, and the neighbors began to
think that the fine old house would be illuminated before long for a
grand marriage.

He had done pretty well with the father: the next thing was to gain over
the nurse. Old Sophy was as cunning as a red fox or a gray woodchuck.
She had nothing in the world to do but to watch Elsie; she had nothing
to care for but this girl and her father. She had never liked Dick too
well; for he used to make faces at her and tease her when he was a boy,
and now he was a man there was something about him--she could not tell
what--that made her suspicious of him. It was no small matter to get her
over to his side.

The jet-black Africans know that gold never looks so well as on the foil
of their dark skins. Dick found in his trunk a string of gold beads,
such as are manufactured in some of our cities, which he had brought
from the gold region of Chili,--so he said,--for the express purpose of
giving them to old Sophy. These Africans, too, have a perfect passion
for gay-colored clothing; being condemned by Nature, as it were, to
a perpetual mourning-suit, they love to enliven it with all sorts of
variegated stuffs of sprightly patterns, aflame with red and yellow.
The considerate young man had remembered this, too, and brought home
for Sophy some handkerchiefs of rainbow hues, which had been strangely
overlooked till now, at the bottom of one of his trunks. Old Sophy took
his gifts, but kept her black eyes open and watched every movement
of the young people all the more closely. It was through her that
the father had always known most of the actions and tendencies of his
daughter.

In the mean time the strange adventure on The Mountain had brought the
young master into new relations with Elsie. She had led him out of,
danger; perhaps saved him from death by the strange power she exerted.
He was grateful, and yet shuddered at the recollection of the whole
scene. In his dreams he was pursued by the glare of cold glittering
eyes, whether they were in the head of a woman or of a reptile he could
not always tell, the images had so run together. But he could not help
seeing that the eyes of the young girl had been often, very often,
turned upon him when he had been looking away, and fell as his own
glance met them. Helen Darley told him very plainly that this girl was
thinking about him more than about her book. Dick Venner found she
was getting more constant in her attendance at school. He learned, on
inquiry, that there was a new master, a handsome young man. The handsome
young man would not have liked the look that, came over Dick’s face when
he heard this fact mentioned.

In short, everything was getting tangled up together, and there would be
no chance of disentangling the threads in this chapter.



CHAPTER XV. PHYSIOLOGICAL.

If Master Bernard felt a natural gratitude to his young pupil for saving
him from an imminent peril, he was in a state of infinite perplexity
to know why he should have needed such aid. He, an active, muscular,
courageous, adventurous young fellow, with--a stick in his hand, ready
to hold down the Old Serpent himself, if he had come in his way, to
stand still, staring into those two eyes, until they came up close to
him, and the strange, terrible sound seemed to freeze him stiff where he
stood,--what was the meaning of it? Again, what was the influence
this girl had seemingly exerted, under which the venomous creature had
collapsed in such a sudden way? Whether he had been awake or dreaming
he did not feel quite sure. He knew he had gone up The Mountain, at any
rate; he knew he had come down The Mountain with the girl walking just
before him;--there was no forgetting her figure, as she walked on
in silence, her braided locks falling a little, for want of the lost
hairpin, perhaps, and looking like a wreathing coil of--Shame on such
fancies!--to wrong that supreme crowning gift of abounding Nature, a
rush of shining black hair, which, shaken loose, would cloud her all
round, like Godiva, from brow to instep! He was sure he had sat down
before the fissure or cave. He was sure that he was led softly away from
the place, and that it was Elsie who had led him. There was the hair-pin
to show that so far it was not a dream. But between these recollections
came a strange confusion; and the more the master thought, the more he
was perplexed to know whether she had waked him, sleeping, as he sat on
the stone, from some frightful dream, such as may come in a very brief
slumber, or whether she had bewitched him into a trance with those
strange eyes of hers, or whether it was all true, and he must solve its
problem as he best might.

There was another recollection connected with this mountain adventure.
As they approached the mansion-house, they met a young man, whom Mr.
Bernard remembered having seen once at least before, and whom he had
heard of as a cousin of the young girl. As Cousin Richard Venner, the
person in question, passed them, he took the measure, so to speak, of
Mr. Bernard, with a look so piercing, so exhausting, so practised, so
profoundly suspicious, that the young master felt in an instant that he
had an enemy in this handsome youth,--an enemy, too, who was like to be
subtle and dangerous.

Mr. Bernard had made up his mind, that, come what might, enemy or no
enemy, live or die, he would solve the mystery of Elsie Venner, sooner
or later. He was not a man to be frightened out of his resolution by a
scowl, or a stiletto, or any unknown means of mischief, of which a whole
armory was hinted at in that passing look Dick Venner had given him.
Indeed, like most adventurous young persons, he found a kind of charm
in feeling that there might be some dangers in the way of his
investigations. Some rumors which had reached him about the supposed
suitor of Elsie Venner, who was thought to be a desperate kind of
fellow, and whom some believed to be an unscrupulous adventurer, added
a curious, romantic kind of interest to the course of physiological and
psychological inquiries he was about instituting.

The afternoon on The Mountain was still upper-most in his mind. Of
course he knew the common stories--about fascination. He had once been
himself an eyewitness of the charming of a small bird by one of our
common harmless serpents. Whether a human being could be reached by this
subtile agency, he had been skeptical, notwithstanding the mysterious
relation generally felt to exist between man and this creature, “cursed
above all cattle and above every beast of the field,”--a relation which
some interpret as the fruit of the curse, and others hold to be so
instinctive that this animal has been for that reason adopted as the
natural symbol of evil. There was another solution, however, supplied
him by his professional reading. The curious work of Mr. Braid of
Manchester had made him familiar with the phenomena of a state allied to
that produced by animal magnetism, and called by that writer by the name
of hypnotism. He found, by referring to his note-book, the statement
was, that, by fixing the eyes on a bright object so placed as to produce
a strain upon the eyes and eyelids, and to maintain a steady fixed
stare, there comes on in a few seconds a very singular condition,
characterized by muscular rigidity and inability to move, with a
strange exaltation of most of the senses, and generally a closure of the
eyelids,--this condition being followed by torpor.

Now this statement of Mr. Braid’s, well known to the scientific world,
and the truth of which had been confirmed by Mr. Bernard in
certain experiments he had instituted, as it has been by many other
experimenters, went far to explain the strange impressions, of which,
waking or dreaming, he had certainly been the subject. His nervous
system had been in a high state of exaltation at the time. He remembered
how the little noises that made rings of sound in the silence of the
woods, like pebbles dropped in still waters, had reached his inner
consciousness. He remembered that singular sensation in the roots of the
hair, when he came on the traces of the girl’s presence, reminding him
of a line in a certain poem which he had read lately with a new and
peculiar interest. He even recalled a curious evidence of exalted
sensibility and irritability, in the twitching of the minute muscles of
the internal ear at every unexpected sound, producing an odd little snap
in the middle of the head, which proved to him that he was getting very
nervous.

The next thing was to find out whether it were possible that the
venomous creature’s eyes should have served the purpose of Mr. Braid’s
“bright object” held very close to the person experimented on, or
whether they had any special power which could be made the subject of
exact observation.

For this purpose Mr. Bernard considered it necessary to get a live
crotalus or two into his possession, if this were possible. On inquiry,
he found that there was a certain family living far up the mountainside,
not a mile from the ledge, the members of which were said to have taken
these creatures occasionally, and not to be in any danger, or at least
in any fear, of being injured by them. He applied to these people, and
offered a reward sufficient to set them at work to capture some of these
animals, if such a thing were possible.

A few days after this, a dark, gypsy-looking woman presented herself at
his door. She held up her apron as if it contained something precious in
the bag she made with it.

“Y’ wanted some rattlers,” said the woman. “Here they be.”

She opened her apron and showed a coil of rattlesnakes lying very
peaceably in its fold. They lifted their heads up, as if they wanted to
see what was going on, but showed no sign of anger.

“Are you crazy?” said Mr. Bernard. “You’re dead in an hour, if one of
those creatures strikes you!”

He drew back a little, as he spoke; it might be simple disgust; it might
be fear; it might be what we call antipathy, which is different from
either, and which will sometimes show itself in paleness, and even
faintness, produced by objects perfectly harmless and not in themselves
offensive to any sense.

“Lord bless you,” said the woman, “rattlers never touches our folks. I’d
jest ‘z lieves handle them creaturs as so many striped snakes.”

So saying, she put their heads down with her hand, and packed them
together in her apron as if they had been bits of cart-rope.

Mr. Bernard had never heard of the power, or, at least, the belief in
the possession of a power by certain persons, which enables them
to handle these frightful reptiles with perfect impunity. The fact,
however, is well known to others, and more especially to a very
distinguished Professor in one of the leading institutions of the great
city of the land, whose experiences in the neighborhood of Graylock, as
he will doubtless inform the curious, were very much like those of the
young master.

Mr. Bernard had a wired cage ready for his formidable captives, and
studied their habits and expression with a strange sort of interest.
What did the Creator mean to signify, when he made such shapes of
horror, and, as if he had doubly cursed this envenomed wretch, had set
a mark upon him and sent him forth the Cain of the brotherhood of
serpents? It was a very curious fact that the first train of thoughts
Mr. Bernard’s small menagerie suggested to him was the grave, though
somewhat worn, subject of the origin of evil. There is now to be seen in
a tall glass jar, in the Museum of Comparative Anatomy at Cantabridge in
the territory of the Massachusetts, a huge crotalus, of a species which
grows to more frightful dimensions than our own, under the hotter skies
of South America. Look at it, ye who would know what is the tolerance,
the freedom from prejudice, which can suffer such an incarnation of all
that is devilish to lie unharmed in the cradle of Nature! Learn, too,
that there are many things in this world which we are warned to shun,
and are even suffered to slay, if need be, but which we must not hate,
unless we would hate what God loves and cares for.

Whatever fascination the creature might exercise in his native haunts,
Mr. Bernard found himself not in the least nervous or affected in any
way while looking at his caged reptiles. When their cage was shaken,
they would lift their heads and spring their rattles; but the sound was
by no means so formidable to listen to as when it reverberated among
the chasms of the echoing rocks. The expression of the creatures was
watchful, still, grave, passionless, fate-like, suggesting a cold
malignity which seemed to be waiting for its opportunity. Their awful,
deep-cut mouths were sternly closed over the long hollow fangs which
rested their roots against the swollen poison-gland, where the venom had
been hoarding up ever since the last stroke had emptied it. They never
winked, for ophidians have no movable eyelids, but kept up that awful
fixed stare which made the two unwinking gladiators the survivors of
twenty pairs matched by one of the Roman Emperors, as Pliny tells us, in
his “Natural History.” Their eyes did not flash, but shone with a cold
still light. They were of a pale-golden or straw color, horrible to look
into, with their stony calmness, their pitiless indifference, hardly
enlivened by the almost imperceptible vertical slit of the pupil,
through which Death seemed to be looking out like the archer behind the
long narrow loop-hole in a blank turret-wall. On the whole, the caged
reptiles, horrid as they were, hardly matched his recollections of what
he had seen or dreamed he save at the cavern. These looked dangerous
enough, but yet quiet. A treacherous stillness, however,--as the
unfortunate New York physician found, when he put his foot out to wake
up the torpid creature, and instantly the fang flashed through his boot,
carrying the poison into his blood, and death with it.

Mr. Bernard kept these strange creatures, and watched all their habits
with a natural curiosity. In any collection of animals the venomous
beasts are looked at with the greatest interest, just as the greatest
villains are most run after by the unknown public. Nobody troubles
himself for a common striped snake or a petty thief, but a cobra or a
wife-killer is a centre of attraction to all eyes. These captives did
very little to earn their living, but, on the other hand, their living
was not expensive, their diet being nothing but air, au naturel. Months
and months these creatures will live and seem to thrive well enough,
as any showman who has then in his menagerie will testify, though they
never touch anything to eat or drink.

In the mean time Mr. Bernard had become very curious about a class of
subjects not treated of in any detail in those text-books accessible in
most country-towns, to the exclusion of the more special treatises, and
especially of the rare and ancient works found on the shelves of the
larger city-libraries. He was on a visit to old Dr. Kittredge one
day, having been asked by him to call in for a few moments as soon as
convenient. The Doctor smiled good-humoredly when he asked him if he had
an extensive collection of medical works.

“Why, no,” said the old Doctor, “I haven’t got a great many printed
books; and what I have I don’t read quite as often as I might, I’m
afraid. I read and studied in the time of it, when I was in the midst of
the young men who were all at work with their books; but it’s a mighty
hard matter, when you go off alone into the country, to keep up with
all that’s going on in the Societies and the Colleges. I’ll tell you,
though, Mr. Langdon, when a man that’s once started right lives among
sick folks for five-and-thirty years, as I’ve done, if he has n’t got
a library of five-and-thirty volumes bound up in his head at the end of
that time, he’d better stop driving round and sell his horse and sulky.
I know the bigger part of the families within a dozen miles’ ride. I
know the families that have a way of living through everything, and
I know the other set that have the trick of dying without any kind of
reason for it. I know the years when the fevers and dysenteries are in
earnest, and when they’re only making believe. I know the folks that
think they’re dying as soon as they’re sick, and the folks that never
find out they ‘re sick till they’re dead. I don’t want to undervalue
your science, Mr. Langdon. There are things I never learned, because
they came in after my day, and I am very glad to send my patients to
those that do know them, when I am at fault; but I know these people
about here, fathers and mothers, and children and grandchildren, so
as all the science in the world can’t know them, without it takes time
about it, and sees them grow up and grow old, and how the wear and tear
of life comes to them. You can’t tell a horse by driving him once, Mr.
Langdon, nor a patient by talking half an hour with him.”

“Do you know much about the Veneer family?” said Mr. Bernard, in a
natural way enough, the Doctor’s talk having suggested the question.

The Doctor lifted his head with his accustomed movement, so as to
command the young man through his spectacles.

“I know all the families of this place and its neighborhood,” he
answered.

“We have the young lady studying with us at the Institute,” said Mr.
Bernard.

“I know it,” the Doctor answered. “Is she a good scholar?”

All this time the Doctor’s eyes were fixed steadily on Mr. Bernard,
looking through the glasses.

“She is a good scholar enough, but I don’t know what to make of her.
Sometimes I think she is a little out of her head. Her father, I
believe, is sensible enough;--what sort of a woman was her mother,
Doctor?--I suppose, of course, you remember all about her?”

“Yes, I knew her mother. She was a very lovely young woman.”--The Doctor
put his hand to his forehead and drew a long breath.--“What is there you
notice out of the way about Elsie Venner?”

“A good many things,” the master answered. “She shuns all the other
girls. She is getting a strange influence over my fellow-teacher, a
young lady,--you know Miss Helen Darley, perhaps? I am afraid this girl
will kill her. I never saw or heard of anything like it, in prose at
least;--do you remember much of Coleridge’s Poems, Doctor?”

The good old Doctor had to plead a negative.

“Well, no matter. Elsie would have been burned for a witch in old times.
I have seen the girl look at Miss Darley when she had not the least idea
of it, and all at once I would see her grow pale and moist, and sigh,
and move round uneasily, and turn towards Elsie, and perhaps get up
and go to her, or else have slight spasmodic movements that looked like
hysterics;--do you believe in the evil eye, Doctor?”

“Mr. Langdon,” the Doctor said, solemnly, “there are strange things
about Elsie Veneer,--very strange things. This was what I wanted to
speak to you about. Let me advise you all to be very patient with the
girl, but also very careful. Her love is not to be desired, and “--he
spoke in a lower tone--“her hate is to be dreaded. Do you think she has
any special fancy for anybody else in the school besides Miss Darley?”

Mr. Bernard could not stand the old Doctor’s spectacled eyes without
betraying a little of the feeling natural to a young man to whom a home
question involving a possible sentiment is put suddenly.

“I have suspected,” he said,--“I have had a kind of feeling--that
she--Well, come, Doctor,--I don’t know that there ‘s any use in
disguising the matter,--I have thought Elsie Veneer had rather a fancy
for somebody else,--I mean myself.”

There was something so becoming in the blush with which the young man
made this confession, and so manly, too, in the tone with which he
spoke, so remote from any shallow vanity, such as young men who are
incapable of love are apt to feel, when some loose tendril of a woman’s
fancy which a chance wind has blown against them twines about them
for the want of anything better, that the old Doctor looked at him
admiringly, and could not help thinking that it was no wonder any young
girl should be pleased with him.

“You are a man of nerve, Mr. Langdon?” said the Doctor.

“I thought so till very lately,” he replied. “I am not easily
frightened, but I don’t know but I might be bewitched or magnetized, or
whatever it is when one is tied up and cannot move. I think I can find
nerve enough, however, if there is any special use you want to put it
to.”

“Let me ask you one more question, Mr. Langdon. Do you find yourself
disposed to take a special interest in Elsie,--to fall in love with her,
in a word? Pardon me, for I do not ask from curiosity, but a much more
serious motive.”

“Elsie interests me,” said the young man, “interests me strangely. She
has a wild flavor in her character which is wholly different from that
of any human creature I ever saw. She has marks of genius, poetic or
dramatic,--I hardly know which. She read a passage from Keats’s ‘Lamia’
the other day, in the schoolroom, in such a way that I declare to you I
thought some of the girls would faint or go into fits. Miss Darley got
up and left the room, trembling all over. Then, I pity her, she is so
lonely. The girls are afraid of her, and she seems to have either a
dislike or a fear of them. They have all sorts of painful stories about
her. They give her a name which no human creature ought to bear. They
say she hides a mark on her neck by always wearing a necklace. She
is very graceful, you know, and they will have it that she can twist
herself into all sorts of shapes, or tie herself in a knot, if she wants
to. There is not one of them that will look her in the eyes. I pity the
poor girl; but, Doctor, I do not love her. I would risk my life for her,
if it would do her any good, but it would be in cold blood. If her hand
touches mine, it is not a thrill of passion I feel running through me,
but a very different emotion. Oh, Doctor! there must be something in
that creature’s blood which has killed the humanity in her. God only
knows the cause that has blighted such a soul in so beautiful a body!
No, Doctor, I do not love the girl.”

“Mr. Langdon,” said the Doctor, “you are young, and I am old. Let me
talk to you with an old man’s privilege, as an adviser. You have come to
this country-town without suspicion, and you are moving in the midst of
perils. There are things which I must not tell you now; but I may warn
you. Keep your eyes open and your heart shut. If, through pitying that
girl, you ever come to love her, you are lost. If you deal carelessly
with her, beware! This is not all. There are other eyes on you beside
Elsie Venner’s. Do you go armed?”

“I do!” said Mr. Bernard,--and he “put his hands up” in the shape
of fists, in such a way as to show that he was master of the natural
weapons at any rate.

The Doctor could not help smiling. But his face fell in an instant.

“You may want something more than those tools to work with. Come with me
into my sanctum.”

The Doctor led Mr. Bernard into a small room opening out of the study.
It was a place such as anybody but a medical man would shiver to enter.
There was the usual tall box with its bleached, rattling tenant; there
were jars in rows where “interesting cases” outlived the grief of widows
and heirs in alcoholic immortality,--for your “preparation-jar” is the
true “monumentum aere perennius;” there were various semi-possibilities
of minute dimensions and unpromising developments; there were shining
instruments of evil aspect, and grim plates on the walls, and on one
shelf by itself, accursed and apart, coiled in a long cylinder of
spirit, a huge crotalus, rough-scaled, flatheaded, variegated with dull
bands, one of which partially encircled the neck like a collar,--an
awful wretch to look upon, with murder written all over him in horrid
hieroglyphics. Mr. Bernard’s look was riveted on this creature,--not
fascinated certainly, for its eyes looked like white beads, being
clouded by the action of the spirits in which it had been long
kept,--but fixed by some indefinite sense of the renewal of a previous
impression;--everybody knows the feeling, with its suggestion of some
past state of existence. There was a scrap of paper on the jar, with
something written on it. He was reaching up to read it when the Doctor
touched him lightly.

“Look here, Mr. Langdon!” he said, with a certain vivacity of manner, as
if wishing to call away his attention,--“this is my armory.”

The Doctor threw open the door of a small cabinet, where were disposed
in artistic patterns various weapons of offence and defence,--for he was
a virtuoso in his way, and by the side of the implements of the art of
healing had pleased himself with displaying a collection of those other
instruments, the use of which renders the first necessary.

“See which of these weapons you would like best to carry about you,”
 said the Doctor.

Mr. Bernard laughed, and looked at the Doctor as if he half doubted
whether he was in earnest.

“This looks dangerous enough,” he said,--“for the man who carries it, at
least.”

He took down one of the prohibited Spanish daggers or knives which a
traveller may, occasionally get hold of and smuggle out of the country.
The blade was broad, trowel-like, but the point drawn out several
inches, so as to look like a skewer.

“This must be a jealous bull-fighter’s weapon,” he said, and put it back
in its place.

Then he took down an ancient-looking broad-bladed dagger, with a complex
aspect about it, as if it had some kind of mechanism connected with it.

“Take care!” said the Doctor; “there is a trick to that dagger.”

He took it and touched a spring. The dagger split suddenly into three
blades, as when one separates the forefinger and the ring-finger from
the middle one. The outside blades were sharp on their outer edge. The
stab was to be made with the dagger shut, then the spring touched and
the split blades withdrawn.

Mr. Bernard replaced it, saying, that it would have served for sidearm
to old Suwarrow, who told his men to work their bayonets back and
forward when they pinned a Turk, but to wriggle them about in the wound
when they stabbed a Frenchman.

“Here,” said the Doctor, “this is the thing you want.”

He took down a much more modern and familiar implement,--a small,
beautifully finished revolver.

“I want you to carry this,” he said; “and more than that, I want you to
practise with it often, as for amusement, but so that it maybe seen and
understood that you are apt to have a pistol about you. Pistol-shooting
is pleasant sport enough, and there is no reason why you should not
practise it like other young fellows. And now,” the Doctor said, “I have
one other, weapon to give you.”

He took a small piece of parchment and shook a white powder into it from
one of his medicine-jars. The jar was marked with the name of a mineral
salt, of a nature to have been serviceable in case of sudden illness in
the time of the Borgias. The Doctor folded the parchment carefully, and
marked the Latin name of the powder upon it.

“Here,” he said, handing it to Mr. Bernard, “you see what it is, and you
know what service it can render. Keep these two protectors about your
person day and night; they will not harm you, and you may want one or
the other or both before you think of it.”

Mr. Bernard thought it was very odd, and not very old-gentlemanlike,
to be fitting him out for treason, stratagem, and spoils, in this way.
There was no harm, however, in carrying a doctor’s powder in his pocket,
or in amusing himself with shooting at a mark, as he had often done
before. If the old gentleman had these fancies, it was as well to humor
him.

So he thanked old Doctor Kittredge, and shook his hand warmly as he left
him.

“The fellow’s hand did not tremble, nor his color change,” the Doctor
said, as he watched him walking away. “He is one of the right sort.”



CHAPTER XVI. EPISTOLARY.

Mr. Langdon to the Professor.

MY DEAR PROFESSOR, You were kind enough to promise me that you would
assist me in any professional or scientific investigations in which I
might become engaged. I have of late become deeply interested in a class
of subjects which present peculiar difficulty, and I must exercise
the privilege of questioning you on some points upon which I desire
information I cannot otherwise obtain. I would not trouble you, if I
could find any person or books competent to enlighten me on some of
these singular matters which have so excited me. The leading doctor here
is a shrewd, sensible man, but not versed in the curiosities of medical
literature.

I proceed, with your leave, to ask a considerable number of
questions,--hoping to get answers to some of them, at least.

Is there any evidence that human beings can be infected or wrought
upon by poisons, or otherwise, so that they shall manifest any of
the peculiarities belonging to beings of a lower nature? Can such
peculiarities--be transmitted by inheritance? Is there anything to
countenance the stories, long and widely current, about the “evil eye”?
or is it a mere fancy that such a power belongs to any human being? Have
you any personal experience as to the power of fascination said to be
exercised by certain animals? What can you make of those circumstantial
statements we have seen in the papers, of children forming mysterious
friendships with ophidians of different species, sharing their food with
them, and seeming to be under some subtile influence exercised by those
creatures? Have you read, critically, Coleridge’s poem of “Christabel,”
 and Keats’s “Lamia”?--If so, can you understand them, or find any
physiological foundation for the story of either?

There is another set of questions of a different nature I should like
to ask, but it is hardly fair to put so many on a single sheet. There
is one, however, you must answer. Do you think there may be
predispositions, inherited or ingrafted, but at any rate constitutional,
which shall take out certain apparently voluntary determinations
from the control of the will, and leave them as free from moral
responsibility as the instincts of the lower animals? Do you not think
there may be a crime which is not a sin?

Pardon me, my dear Sir, for troubling you with such a list of notes of
interrogation. There are some very strange things going on here in this
place, country-town as it is. Country-life is apt to be dull; but when
it once gets going, it beats the city hollow, because it gives its whole
mind to what it is about. These rural sinners make terrible work with
the middle of the Decalogue, when they get started. However, I hope I
shall live through my year’s school-keeping without catastrophes, though
there are queer doings about me which puzzle me and might scare some
people. If anything should happen, you will be one of the first to
hear of it, no doubt. But I trust not to help out the editors of the
“Rockland Weekly Universe” with an obituary of the late lamented, who
signed himself in life--

Your friend and pupil, BERNARD C. LANGDON.


The Professor to Mr. Langdon.

MY DEAR MR. LANGDON, I do not wonder that you find no answer from your
country friends to the curious questions you put. They belong to that
middle region between science and poetry which sensible men, as they are
called, are very shy of meddling with. Some people think that truth and
gold are always to be washed for; but the wiser sort are of opinion,
that, unless there are so many grains to the peck of sand or nonsense
respectively, it does not pay to wash for either, so long as one can
find anything else to do. I don’t doubt there is some truth in the
phenomena of animal magnetism, for instance; but when you ask me to
cradle for it, I tell you that the hysteric girls cheat so, and the
professionals are such a set of pickpockets, that I can do something
better than hunt for the grains of truth among their tricks and lies. Do
you remember what I used to say in my lectures?--or were you asleep
just then, or cutting your initials on the rail? (You see I can ask
questions, my young friend.) Leverage is everything,--was what I used to
say;--don’t begin to pry till you have got the long arm on your side.

To please you, and satisfy your doubts as far as possible, I have looked
into the old books,--into Schenckius and Turner and Kenelm. Digby and
the rest, where I have found plenty of curious stories which you must
take for what they are worth.

Your first question I can answer in the affirmative upon pretty good
authority. Mizaldus tells, in his “Memorabilia,” the well-known story
of the girl fed on poisons, who was sent by the king of the Indies to
Alexander the Great. “When Aristotle saw her eyes sparkling and snapping
like those of serpents, he said, ‘Look out for yourself, Alexander! this
is a dangerous companion for you!’”--and sure enough, the young lady
proved to be a very unsafe person to her friends. Cardanus gets a story
from Avicenna, of a certain man bit by a serpent, who recovered of his
bite, the snake dying therefrom. This man afterwards had a daughter
whom venomous serpents could not harm, though she had a fatal power over
them.

I suppose you may remember the statements of old authors about
Zycanthropy, the disease in which men took on the nature and aspect of
wolves. Actius and Paulus, both men of authority, describe it. Altomaris
gives a horrid case; and Fincelius mentions one occurring as late as
1541, the subject of which was captured, still insisting that he was a
wolf, only that the hair of his hide was turned in! Versipelles, it may
be remembered, was the Latin name for these “were-wolves.”

As for the cases where rabid persons have barked and bit like dogs,
there are plenty of such on record.

More singular, or at least more rare, is the account given by Andreas
Baccius, of a man who was struck in the hand by a cock, with his beak,
and who died on the third day thereafter, looking for all the world like
a fighting-cock, to the great horror of the spectators.

As to impressions transmitted at a very early period of existence, every
one knows the story of King James’s fear of a naked sword, and the way
it is accounted for. Sir Kenelm Digby says,--“I remember when he dubbed
me Knight, in the ceremony of putting the point of a naked sword upon
my shoulder, he could not endure to look upon it, but turned his face
another way, insomuch, that, in lieu of touching my shoulder, he had
almost thrust the point into my eyes, had not the Duke of Buckingham
guided his hand aright.” It is he, too, who tells the story of the
mulberry mark upon the neck of a certain lady of high condition, which
“every year, to mulberry season, did swell, grow big, and itch.” And
Gaffarel mentions the case of a girl born with the figure of a fish on
one of her limbs, of which the wonder was, that, when the girl did eat
fish, this mark put her to sensible pain. But there is no end to cases
of this kind, and I could give some of recent date, if necessary,
lending a certain plausibility at least to the doctrine of transmitted
impressions.

I never saw a distinct case of evil eye, though I have seen eyes so bad
that they might produce strange effects on very sensitive natures. But
the belief in it under various names, fascination, jettcztura, etc., is
so permanent and universal, from Egypt to Italy, and from the days
of Solomon to those of Ferdinand of Naples, that there must be some
peculiarity, to say the least, on which the opinion is based. There is
very strong evidence that some such power is exercised by certain of the
lower animals. Thus, it is stated on good authority that “almost every
animal becomes panic-struck at the sight of the rattlesnake, and seems
at once deprived of the power of motion, or the exercise of its usual
instinct of self-preservation.” Other serpents seem to share this power
of fascination, as the Cobra and the Buccephalus Capensis.

Some think that it is nothing but fright; others attribute it to the

               “strange powers that lie
          Within the magic circle of the eye,”--

as Churchill said, speaking of Garrick.

You ask me about those mysterious and frightful intimacies between
children and serpents, of which so many instances have been recorded.
I am sure I cannot tell what to make of them. I have seen several such
accounts in recent papers, but here is one published in the seventeenth
century, which is as striking as any of the more modern ones:

“Mr. Herbert Tones of Monmouth, when he was a little Boy, was used to
eat his Milk in a Garden in the Morning, and was no sooner there, but
a large Snake always came, and eat out of the Dish with him, and did so
for a considerable time, till one Morning, he striking the Snake on the
Head, it hissed at him. Upon which he told his Mother that the Baby
(for so he call’d it) cry’d Hiss at him. His Mother had it kill’d, which
occasioned him a great Fit of Sickness, and ‘twas thought would have
dy’d, but did recover.”

There was likewise one “William Writtle, condemned at Maidston Assizes
for a double murder, told a Minister that was with him after he was
condemned, that his mother told him, that when he was a Child, there
crept always to him a Snake, wherever she laid him. Sometimes she would
convey him up Stairs, and leave him never so little, she should be sure
to find a Snake in the Cradle with him, but never perceived it did him
any harm.”

One of the most striking alleged facts connected with the mysterious
relation existing between the serpent and-the human species is the
influence which the poison of the Crotulus, taken internally, seemed to
produce over the moral faculties, in the experiments instituted by Dr.
Hering at Surinam. There is something frightful in the disposition of
certain ophidians, as the whipsnake, which darts at the eyes of cattle
without any apparent provocation or other motive. It is natural enough
that the evil principle should have been represented in the form of a
serpent, but it is strange to think of introducing it into a human being
like cow-pox by vaccination.

You know all about the Psylli, or ancient serpent tamers, I suppose.
Savary gives an account of the modern serpent-tamers in his “Letters on
Egypt.” These modern jugglers are in the habit of making the venomous
Naja counterfeit death, lying out straight and stiff, changing it into
a rod, as the ancient magicians did with their serpents, (probably the
same animal,) in the time of Moses.

I am afraid I cannot throw much light on “Christabel” or “Lamia” by any
criticism I can offer. Geraldine, in the former, seems to be simply a
malignant witch-woman with the evil eye, but with no absolute ophidian
relationship. Lamia is a serpent transformed by magic into a woman. The
idea of both is mythological, and not in any sense physiological. Some
women unquestionably suggest the image of serpents; men rarely or never.
I have been struck, like many others, with the ophidian head and eye of
the famous Rachel.

Your question about inherited predispositions, as limiting the sphere of
the will, and, consequently, of moral accountability, opens a very wide
range of speculation. I can give you only a brief abstract of my own
opinions on this delicate and difficult subject. Crime and sin, being
the preserves of two great organized interests, have been guarded
against all reforming poachers with as great jealousy as the Royal
Forests. It is so easy to hang a troublesome fellow! It is so much
simpler to consign a soul to perdition, or say masses, for money, to
save it, than to take the blame on ourselves for letting it grow up in
neglect and run to ruin for want of humanizing influences! They hung
poor, crazy Bellingham for shooting Mr. Perceval. The ordinary of
Newgate preached to women who were to swing at Tyburn for a petty theft
as if they were worse than other people,--just as though he would not
have been a pickpocket or shoplifter, himself, if he had been born in
a den of thieves and bred up to steal or starve! The English law never
began to get hold of the idea that a crime was not necessarily a sin,
till Hadfield, who thought he was the Saviour of mankind, was tried for
shooting at George the Third;--lucky for him that he did not hit his
Majesty!

It is very singular that we recognize all the bodily defects that unfit
a man for military service, and all the intellectual ones that limit his
range of thought, but always talk at him as if all his moral powers were
perfect. I suppose we must punish evil-doers as we extirpate vermin; but
I don’t know that we have any more right to judge them than we have to
judge rats and mice, which are just as good as cats and weasels, though
we think it necessary to treat them as criminals.

The limitations of human responsibility have never been properly
studied, unless it be by the phrenologists. You know from my lectures
that I consider phrenology, as taught, a pseudo-science, and not a
branch of positive knowledge; but, for all that, we owe it an immense
debt. It has melted the world’s conscience in its crucible, and cast it
in a new mould, with features less like those of Moloch and more like
those of humanity. If it has failed to demonstrate its system of special
correspondences, it has proved that there are fixed relations between
organization and mind and character. It has brought out that great
doctrine of moral insanity, which has done more to make men charitable
and soften legal and theological barbarism than any one doctrine that I
can think of since the message of peace and good-will to men.

Automatic action in the moral world; the reflex movement which seems
to be self-determination, and has been hanged and howled at as such
(metaphorically) for nobody knows how many centuries: until somebody
shall study this as Marshall Hall has studied reflex nervous action in
the bodily system, I would not give much for men’s judgments of each
others’ characters. Shut up the robber and the defaulter, we must. But
what if your oldest boy had been stolen from his cradle and bred in a
North-Street cellar? What if you are drinking a little too much wine and
smoking a little too much tobacco, and your son takes after you, and so
your poor grandson’s brain being a little injured in physical texture,
he loses the fine moral sense on which you pride yourself, and doesn’t
see the difference between signing another man’s name to a draft and his
own?

I suppose the study of automatic action in the moral world (you see what
I mean through the apparent contradiction of terms) may be a dangerous
one in the view of many people. It is liable to abuse, no doubt.
People are always glad to, get hold of anything which limits their
responsibility. But remember that our moral estimates come down to us
from ancestors who hanged children for stealing forty shillings’ worth,
and sent their souls to perdition for the sin of being born,--who
punished the unfortunate families of suicides, and in their eagerness
for justice executed one innocent person every three years, on the
average, as Sir James Mackintosh tells us.

I do not know in what shape the practical question may present itself to
you; but I will tell you my rule in life, and I think you will find it
a good one. Treat bad men exactly as if they were insane. They are
in-sane, out of health, morally. Reason, which is food to sound minds,
is not tolerated, still less assimilated, unless administered with the
greatest caution; perhaps, not at all. Avoid collision with them, so far
as you honorably can; keep your temper, if you can,--for one angry
man is as good as another; restrain them from violence, promptly,
completely, and with the least possible injury, just as in the case of
maniacs,--and when you have got rid of them, or got them tied hand and
foot so that they can do no mischief, sit down and contemplate them
charitably, remembering that nine tenths of their’ perversity comes from
outside influences, drunken ancestors, abuse in childhood, bad company,
from which you have happily been preserved, and for some of which you,
as a member of society, may be fractionally responsible. I think also
that there are special influences which work in the brood lake ferments,
and I have a suspicion that some of those curious old stories I cited
may have more recent parallels. Have you ever met with any cases which
admitted of a solution like that which I have mentioned?

Yours very truly, _____________ _____________

               Bernard Langdon to Philip Staples.
MY DEAR PHILIP,--

I have been for some months established in this place, turning the
main crank of the machinery for the manufactory of accomplishments
superintended by, or rather worked to the profit of, a certain Mr. Silas
Peckham. He is a poor wretch, with a little thin fishy blood in his
body, lean and flat, long-armed and large-handed, thick-jointed
and thin-muscled,--you know those unwholesome, weak-eyed, half-fed
creatures, that look not fit to be round among live folks, and yet not
quite dead enough to bury. If you ever hear of my being in court to
answer to a charge of assault and battery, you may guess that I have
been giving him a thrashing to settle off old scores; for he is a
tyrant, and has come pretty near killing his principal lady-assistant
with overworking her and keeping her out of all decent privileges.

Helen Darley is this lady’s name,--twenty two or three years old,
I should think,--a very sweet, pale woman,--daughter of the usual
country-clergyman,--thrown on her own resources from an early age, and
the rest: a common story, but an uncommon person,--very. All conscience
and sensibility, I should say,--a cruel worker,--no kind of regard for
herself, seems as fragile and supple as a young willow-shoot, but try
her and you find she has the spring in her of a steel cross-bow. I am
glad I happened to come to this place, if it were only for her sake. I
have saved that girl’s life; I am as sure of it as if I had pulled her
out of the fire or water.

Of course I’m in love with her, you say,--we always love those whom
we have benefited; “saved her life,--her love was the reward of his
devotion,” etc., etc., as in a regular set novel. In love, Philip? Well,
about that,--I love Helen Darley--very much: there is hardly anybody I
love so well. What a noble creature she is! One of those that just go
right on, do their own work and everybody else’s, killing themselves
inch by inch without ever thinking about it,--singing and dancing
at their toil when they begin, worn and saddened after a while, but
pressing steadily on, tottering by and by, and catching at the rail by
the way-side to help them lift one foot before the other, and at last
falling, face down, arms stretched forward.

Philip, my boy, do you know I am the sort of man that locks his door
sometimes and cries his heart out of his eyes,--that can sob like a
woman and not be ashamed of it? I come of fighting-blood on one side,
you know; I think I could be savage on occasion. But I am tender,--more
and more tender as I come into my fulness of manhood. I don’t like
to strike a man, (laugh, if you like,--I know I hit hard when I do
strike,)--but what I can’t stand is the sight of these poor, patient,
toiling women, who never find out in this life how good they are, and
never know what it is to be told they are angels while they still wear
the pleasing incumbrances of humanity. I don’t know what to make
of these cases. To think that a woman is never to be a woman again,
whatever she may come to as an unsexed angel,--and that she should die
unloved! Why does not somebody come and carry off this noble woman,
waiting here all ready to make a man happy? Philip, do you know the
pathos there is in the eyes of unsought women, oppressed with the burden
of an inner life unshared? I can see into them now as I could not in
those ‘earlier days. I sometimes think their pupils dilate on purpose to
let my consciousness glide through them; indeed, I dread them, I come so
close to the nerve of the soul itself in these momentary intimacies. You
used to tell me I was a Turk,--that my heart was full of pigeon-holes,
with accommodations inside for a whole flock of doves. I don’t know but
I am still as Youngish as ever in my ways,--Brigham-Youngish, I mean;
at any rate, T. always want to give a little love to all the poor
things that cannot have a whole man to themselves. If they would only be
contented with a little!

Here now are two girls in this school where I am teaching. One of them,
Rosa M., is not more than sixteen years old, I think they say; but
Nature has forced her into a tropical luxuriance of beauty, as if it
were July with her, instead of May. I suppose it is all natural enough
that this girl should like a young man’s attention, even if he were
a grave schoolmaster; but the eloquence of this young thing’s look
is unmistakable,--and yet she does not know the language it is
talking,--they none of them do; and there is where a good many poor
creatures of our good-for-nothing sex are mistaken. There is no danger
of my being rash, but I think this girl will cost somebody his life
yet. She is one of those women men make a quarrel about and fight to the
death for,--the old feral instinct, you know.

Pray, don’t think I am lost in conceit, but there is another girl here
who I begin to think looks with a certain kindness on me. Her name is
Elsie V., and she is the only daughter and heiress of an old family in
this place. She is a portentous and almost fearful creature. If I should
tell you all I know and half of what I fancy about her, you would
tell me to get my life insured at once. Yet she is the most painfully
interesting being,--so handsome! so lonely!--for she has no friends
among the girls, and sits apart from them,--with black hair like the
flow of a mountain-brook after a thaw, with a low-browed, scowling
beauty of face, and such eyes as were never seen before, I really
believe, in any human creature.

Philip, I don’t know what to say about this Elsie. There is something
about her I have not fathomed. I have conjectures which I could not
utter to any living soul. I dare not even hint the possibilities which
have suggested themselves to me. This I will say, that I do take the
most intense interest in this young person, an interest much more like
pity than love in its common sense. If what I guess at is true, of all
the tragedies of existence I ever knew this is the saddest, and yet so
full of meaning! Do not ask me any questions,--I have said more than
I meant to already; but I am involved in strange doubts and
perplexities,--in dangers too, very possibly,--and it is a relief just
to speak ever so guardedly of them to an early and faithful friend.

Yours ever, BERNARD.

P. S. I remember you had a copy of Fortunius Licetus’ “De Monstris”
 among your old books. Can’t you lend it to me for a while? I am curious,
and it will amuse me.



CHAPTER XVII. OLD SOPHY CALLS ON THE REVEREND DOCTOR.

The two meeting-houses which faced each other like a pair of
fighting-cocks had not flapped their wings or crowed at each other for
a considerable time. The Reverend Mr. Fairweather had been dyspeptic and
low-spirited of late, and was too languid for controversy. The Reverend
Doctor Honeywood had been very busy with his benevolent associations,
and had discoursed chiefly on practical matters, to the neglect of
special doctrinal subjects. His senior deacon ventured to say to him
that some of his people required to be reminded of the great fundamental
doctrine of the worthlessness of all human efforts and motives. Some of
them were altogether too much pleased with the success of the Temperance
Society and the Association for the Relief of the Poor. There was a
pestilent heresy about, concerning the satisfaction to be derived from
a good conscience, as if, anybody ever did anything which was not to be
hated, loathed, despised, and condemned.

The old minister listened gravely, with an inward smile, and told his
deacon that he would attend to his suggestion. After the deacon had
gone, he tumbled over his manuscripts, until at length he came upon his
first-rate old sermon on “Human Nature.” He had read a great deal of
hard theology, and had at last reached that curious state which is
so common in good ministers,--that, namely, in which they contrive to
switch off their logical faculties on the narrow sidetrack of their
technical dogmas, while the great freight-train of their substantial
human qualities keeps in the main highway of common-sense, in which
kindly souls are always found by all who approach them by their human
side.

The Doctor read his sermon with a pleasant, paternal interest: it was
well argued from his premises. Here and there he dashed his pen through
a harsh expression. Now and then he added an explanation or qualified
abroad statement. But his mind was on the logical side-track, and he
followed the chain of reasoning without fairly perceiving where it would
lead him, if he carried it into real life.

He was just touching up the final proposition, when his granddaughter,
Letty, once before referred to, came into the room with her smiling face
and lively movement. Miss Letty or Letitia Forrester was a city-bred
girl of some fifteen or sixteen years old, who was passing the summer
with her grandfather for the sake of country air and quiet. It was a
sensible arrangement; for, having the promise of figuring as a belle by
and by, and being a little given to dancing, and having a voice which
drew a pretty dense circle around the piano when she sat down to play
and sing, it was hard to keep her from being carried into society before
her time, by the mere force of mutual attraction. Fortunately, she had
some quiet as well as some social tastes, and was willing enough to pass
two or three of the summer months in the country, where she was much
better bestowed than she would have been at one of those watering-places
where so many half-formed girls get prematurely hardened in the vice of
self-consciousness.

Miss Letty was altogether too wholesome, hearty, and high-strung a young
girl to be a model, according to the flat-chested and cachectic pattern
which is the classical type of certain excellent young females, often
the subjects of biographical memoirs. But the old minister was proud of
his granddaughter for all that. She was so full of life, so graceful, so
generous, so vivacious, so ready always to do all she could for him and
for everybody, so perfectly frank in her avowed delight in the pleasures
which this miserable world offered her in the shape of natural beauty,
of poetry, of music, of companionship, of books, of cheerful cooperation
in the tasks of those about her, that the Reverend Doctor could not
find it in his heart to condemn her because she was deficient in those
particular graces and that signal other-worldliness he had sometimes
noticed in feeble young persons suffering from various chronic diseases
which impaired their vivacity and removed them from the range of
temptation.

When Letty, therefore, came bounding into the old minister’s study,
he glanced up from his manuscript, and, as his eye fell upon her,
it flashed across him that there was nothing so very monstrous and
unnatural about the specimen of congenital perversion he was looking at,
with his features opening into their pleasantest sunshine. Technically,
according to the fifth proposition of the sermon on Human Nature, very
bad, no doubt. Practically, according to the fact before him, a very
pretty piece of the Creator’s handiwork, body and soul. Was it not a
conceivable thing that the divine grace might show itself in different
forms in a fresh young girl like Letitia, and in that poor thing he had
visited yesterday, half-grown, half-colored, in bed for the last year
with hip-disease?

Was it to be supposed that this healthy young girl, with life throbbing
all over her, could, without a miracle, be good according to the invalid
pattern and formula?

And yet there were mysteries in human nature which pointed to some
tremendous perversion of its tendencies,--to some profound, radical vice
of moral constitution, native or transmitted, as you will have it, but
positive, at any rate, as the leprosy, breaking out in the blood of
races, guard them ever so carefully. Did he not know the case of a young
lady in Rockland, daughter of one of the first families in the place,
a very beautiful and noble creature to look at, for whose bringing up
nothing had been spared,--a girl who had had governesses to teach her at
the house, who had been indulged almost too kindly,--a girl whose father
had given himself, up to her, he being himself a pure and high-souled
man?--and yet this girl was accused in whispers of having been on the
very verge of committing a fatal crime; she was an object of fear to
all who knew the dark hints which had been let fall about her, and there
were some that believed--Why, what was this but an instance of the total
obliquity and degeneration of the moral principle? and to what could it
be owing, but to an innate organic tendency?

“Busy, grandpapa?” said Letty, and without waiting for an answer
kissed his cheek with a pair of lips made on purpose for that little
function,--fine, but richly turned out, the corners tucked in with a
finish of pretty dimples, the rose-bud lips of girlhood’s June.

The old gentleman looked at his granddaughter. Nature swelled up from
his heart in a wave that sent a glow to his cheek and a sparkle to his
eye. But it is very hard to be interrupted just as we are winding up a
string of propositions with the grand conclusion which is the statement
in brief of all that has gone before: our own starting-point, into which
we have been trying to back our reader or listener as one backs a horse
into the shafts.

“Video meliora, proboque,--I see the better, and approve it; deteriora
sequor, I follow after the worse; ‘t is that natural dislike to what
is good, pure, holy, and true, that inrooted selfishness, totally
insensible to the claims of”--

Here the worthy man was interrupted by Miss Letty.

“Do come, if you can, grandpapa,” said the young girl; “here is a poor
old black woman wants to see you so much!”

The good minister was as kind-hearted as if he had never groped in the
dust and ashes of those cruel old abstractions which have killed out so
much of the world’s life and happiness. “With the heart man believeth
unto righteousness;” a man’s love is the measure of his fitness for good
or bad company here or elsewhere. Men are tattooed with their special
beliefs like so many South-Sea Islanders; but a real human heart, with
Divine love in it, beats with the same glow under all, the patterns of
all earth’s thousand tribes!

The Doctor sighed, and folded the sermon, and laid the Quarto Cruden on
it. He rose from his desk, and, looking once more at the young girl’s
face, forgot his logical conclusions, and said to himself that she was
a little angel,--which was in violent contradiction to the leading
doctrine of his sermon on Human Nature. And so he followed her out of
the study into the wide entry of the old-fashioned country-house.

An old black woman sat on the plain oaken settle which humble visitors
waiting to see the minister were wont to occupy. She was old, but how
old it would be very hard to guess. She might be seventy. She might be
ninety. One could not swear she was not a hundred. Black women remain
at a stationary age (to the eyes of white people, at least) for thirty
years. They do not appear to change during this period any more than
so many Trenton trilobites. Bent up, wrinkled, yellow-eyed, with long
upper-lip, projecting jaws, retreating chin, still meek features, long
arms, large flat hands with uncolored palms and slightly webbed
fingers, it was impossible not to see in this old creature a hint of
the gradations by which life climbs up through the lower natures to the
highest human developments. We cannot tell such old women’s ages because
we do not understand the physiognomy of a race so unlike our own.
No doubt they see a great deal in each other’s faces that we
cannot,--changes of color and expression as real as our own, blushes and
sudden betrayals of feeling,--just as these two canaries know what
their single notes and short sentences and full song with this or that
variation mean, though it is a mystery to us unplumed mortals.

This particular old black woman was a striking specimen of her
class. Old as she looked, her eye was bright and knowing. She wore a
red-and-yellow turban, which set off her complexion well, and hoops of
gold in her ears, and beads of gold about her neck, and an old funeral
ring upon her finger. She had that touching stillness about her which
belongs to animals that wait to be spoken to and then look up with a
kind of sad humility.

“Why, Sophy!” said the good minister, “is this you?”

She looked up with the still expression on her face. “It’s ol’ Sophy,”
 she said.

“Why,” said the Doctor, “I did not believe you could walk so far as this
to save the Union. Bring Sophy a glass of wine, Letty. Wine’s good for
old folks like Sophy and me, after walking a good way, or preaching a
good while.”

The young girl stepped into the back-parlor, where she found the
great pewter flagon in which the wine that was left after each
communion-service was brought to the minister’s house. With much toil
she managed to tip it so as to get a couple of glasses filled. The
minister tasted his, and made old Sophy finish hers.

“I wan’ to see you ‘n’ talk wi’ you all alone,” she said presently.

The minister got up and led the way towards his study. “To be sure,” he
said; he had only waited for her to rest a moment before he asked her
into the library. The young girl took her gently by the arm, and helped
her feeble steps along the passage. When they reached the study, she
smoothed the cushion of a rocking-chair, and made the old woman sit
down in it. Then she tripped lightly away, and left her alone with the
minister.

Old Sophy was a member of the Reverend Doctor Honeywood’s church.
She had been put through the necessary confessions in a tolerably
satisfactory manner. To be sure, as her grandfather had been a cannibal
chief, according to the common story, and, at any rate, a terrible wild
savage, and as her mother retained to the last some of the prejudices
of her early education, there was a heathen flavor in her Christianity
which had often scandalized the elder of the minister’s two deacons.
But, the good minister had smoothed matters over: had explained that
allowances were to be made for those who had been long sitting without
the gate of Zion,--that, no doubt, a part of the curse which descended
to the children of Ham consisted in “having the understanding darkened,”
 as well as the skin,--and so had brought his suspicious senior deacon to
tolerate old Sophy as one of the communion of fellow-sinners.

--Poor things! How little we know the simple notions with which these
rudiments of souls are nourished by the Divine Goodness! Did not Mrs.
Professor come home this very blessed morning with a story of one of her
old black women?

“And how do you feel to-day, Mrs. Robinson?”

“Oh, my dear, I have this singing in my head all the time.” (What
doctors call tinnitus aurium.)

“She ‘s got a cold in the head,” said old Mrs. Rider.

“Oh, no, my dear! Whatever I’m thinking about, it’s all this singing,
this music. When I’m thinking of the dear Redeemer, it all turns into
this singing and music. When the clark came to see me, I asked him if
he couldn’t cure me, and he said, No,--it was the Holy Spirit in me,
singing to me; and all the time I hear this beautiful music, and it’s
the Holy Spirit a-singing to me.”

The good man waited for Sophy to speak; but she did not open her lips as
yet.

“I hope you are not troubled in mind or body,” he said to her at length,
finding she did not speak.

The poor old woman took out a white handkerchief, and lifted it--to her
black face. She could not say a word for her tears and sobs.

The minister would have consoled her; he was used to tears, and could in
most cases withstand their contagion manfully; but something choked
his voice suddenly, and when he called upon it, he got no answer, but a
tremulous movement of the muscles, which was worse than silence.

At last she spoke.

“Oh, no, no, no! It’s my poor girl, my darling, my beauty, my baby,
that ‘s grown up to be a woman; she will come to a bad end; she will do
something that will make them kill her or shut her up all her life. Or,
Doctor, Doctor, save her, pray for her! It a’n’t her fault. It a’n’t
her fault. If they knew all that I know, they would n’ blame that poor
child. I must tell you, Doctor: if I should die, perhaps nobody else
would tell you. Massa Veneer can’t talk about it. Doctor Kittredge won’t
talk about it. Nobody but old Sophy to tell you, Doctor; and old Sophy
can’t die without telling you.”

The kind minister soothed the poor old soul with those gentle, quieting
tones which had carried peace and comfort to so many chambers of
sickness and sorrow, to so many hearts overburdened by the trials laid
upon them.

Old Sophy became quiet in a few minutes, and proceeded to tell her
story. She told it in the low half-whisper which is the natural voice
of lips oppressed wish grief and fears; with quick glances around the
apartment from time to time, as if she dreaded lest the dim portraits on
the walls and the dark folios on the shelves might overhear her words.

It was not one of those conversations which a third person can report
minutely, unless by that miracle of clairvoyance known to the readers
of stories made out of authors’ brains. Yet its main character can be
imparted in a much briefer space than the old black woman took to give
all its details.

She went far back to the time when Dudley Venner was born,--she being
then a middle-aged woman. The heir and hope of a family which had been
narrowing down as if doomed to extinction, he had been surrounded
with every care and trained by the best education he could have in New
England. He had left college, and was studying the profession which
gentlemen of leisure most affect, when he fell in love with a young girl
left in the world almost alone, as he was. The old woman told the story
of his young love and his joyous bridal with a tenderness which had
something more, even, than her family sympathies to account for it. Had
she not hanging over her bed a paper-cutting of a profile,--jet black,
but not blacker than the face it represented--of one who would have been
her own husband in the small years of this century, if the vessel in
which he went to sea, like Jamie in the ballad, had not sailed away and
never come back to land? Had she not her bits of furniture stowed away
which had been got ready for her own wedding,--two rocking-chairs,
one worn with long use, one kept for him so long that it had grown a
superstition with her never to sit in it,--and might he not come back
yet, after all? Had she not her chest of linen ready for her humble
house-keeping with store of serviceable huckaback and piles of neatly
folded kerchiefs, wherefrom this one that showed so white against her
black face was taken, for that she knew her eyes would betray her in
“the presence”?

All the first part of the story the old woman told tenderly, and yet
dwelling upon every incident with a loving pleasure. How happy this
young couple had been, what plans and projects of improvement they had
formed, how they lived in each other, always together, so young and
fresh and beautiful as she remembered them in that one early summer when
they walked arm in arm through the wilderness of roses that ran riot in
the garden,--she told of this as loath to leave it and come to the woe
that lay beneath.

She told the whole story;-shall I repeat it? Not now. If, in the course
of relating the incidents I have undertaken to report, it tells itself,
perhaps this will be better than to run the risk of producing a painful
impression on some of those susceptible readers whom it would be
ill-advised to disturb or excite, when they rather require to be amused
and soothed. In our pictures of life, we must show the flowering-out of
terrible growths which have their roots deep, deep underground. Just
how far we shall lay bare the unseemly roots themselves is a matter of
discretion and taste, and which none of us are infallible.

The old woman told the whole story of Elsie, of her birth, of her
peculiarities of person and disposition, of the passionate fears and
hopes with which her father had watched the course of her development.
She recounted all her strange ways, from the hour when she first tried
to crawl across the carpet, and her father’s look as she worked her way
towards him. With the memory of Juliet’s nurse she told the story of
her teething, and how, the woman to whose breast she had clung dying
suddenly about that time, they had to struggle hard with the child
before she would learn the accomplishment of feeding with a spoon. And
so of her fierce plays and fiercer disputes with that boy who had been
her companion, and the whole scene of the quarrel when she struck him
with those sharp white teeth, frightening her, old Sophy, almost to
death; for, as she said, the boy would have died, if it hadn’t been for
the old Doctor’s galloping over as fast as he could gallop and burning
the places right out of his arm. Then came the story of that other
incident, sufficiently alluded to already, which had produced such
an ecstasy of fright and left such a nightmare of apprehension in the
household. And so the old woman came down to this present time. That boy
she never loved nor trusted was grown to a dark, dangerous-looking man,
and he was under their roof. He wanted to marry our poor Elsie, and
Elsie hated him, and sometimes she would look at him over her shoulder
just as she used to look at that woman she hated; and she, old Sophy,
couldn’t sleep for thinking she should hear a scream from the white
chamber some night and find him in spasms such as that woman came so
near dying with. And then there was something about Elsie she did not
know what to make of: she would sit and hang her head sometimes, and
look as if she were dreaming; and she brought home books they said a
young gentleman up at the great school lent her; and once she heard her
whisper in her sleep, and she talked as young girls do to themselves
when they’re thinking about somebody they have a liking for and think
nobody knows it.

She finished her long story at last. The minister had listened to it in
perfect silence. He sat still even when she had done speaking,--still,
and lost in thought. It was a very awkward matter for him to have a
hand in. Old Sophy was his parishioner, but the Veneers had a pew in
the Reverend Mr. Fairweather’s meeting-house. It would seem that he, Mr.
Fairweather, was the natural adviser of the parties most interested. Had
he sense and spirit enough to deal with such people? Was there enough
capital of humanity in his somewhat limited nature to furnish sympathy
and unshrinking service for his friends in an emergency? or was he too
busy with his own attacks of spiritual neuralgia, and too much occupied
with taking account of stock of his own thin-blooded offences, to forget
himself and his personal interests on the small scale and the large,
and run a risk of his life, if need were, at any rate give himself up
without reserve to the dangerous task of guiding and counselling these
distressed and imperilled fellow-creatures?

The good minister thought the best thing to do would be to call and talk
over some of these matters with Brother Fairweather,--for so he would
call him at times, especially if his senior deacon were not within
earshot. Having settled this point, he comforted Sophy with a few words
of counsel and a promise of coming to see her very soon. He then called
his man to put the old white horse into the chaise and drive Sophy back
to the mansion-house.

When the Doctor sat down to his sermon again, it looked very differently
from the way it had looked at the moment he left it. When he came to
think of it, he did not feel quite so sure practically about that matter
of the utter natural selfishness of everybody. There was Letty, now,
seemed to take a very unselfish interest in that old black woman, and
indeed in poor people generally; perhaps it would not be too much to
say that she was always thinking of other people. He thought he had
seen other young persons naturally unselfish, thoughtful for others; it
seemed to be a family trait in some he had known.

But most of all he was exercised about this poor girl whose story Sophy
had been telling. If what the old woman believed was true,--and it
had too much semblance of probability,--what became of his theory of
ingrained moral obliquity applied to such a case? If by the visitation
of God a person receives any injury which impairs the intellect or the
moral perceptions, is it not monstrous to judge such a person by our
common working standards of right and wrong? Certainly, everybody will
answer, in cases where there is a palpable organic change brought about,
as when a blow on the head produces insanity. Fools! How long will it be
before we shall learn that for every wound which betrays itself to the
sight by a scar, there are a thousand unseen mutilations that cripple,
each of them, some one or more of our highest faculties? If what Sophy
told and believed was the real truth, what prayers could be agonizing
enough, what tenderness could be deep enough, for this poor, lost,
blighted, hapless, blameless child of misfortune, struck by such a doom
as perhaps no living creature in all the sisterhood of humanity shared
with her?

The minister thought these matters over until his mind was bewildered
with doubts and tossed to and fro on that stormy deep of thought heaving
forever beneath the conflict of windy dogmas. He laid by his old sermon.
He put back a pile of old commentators with their eyes and mouths and
hearts full of the dust of the schools. Then he opened the book of
Genesis at the eighteenth chapter and read that remarkable argument of
Abraham’s with his Maker in which he boldly appeals to first principles.
He took as his text, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
 and began to write his sermon, afterwards so famous, “On the Obligations
of an Infinite Creator to a Finite Creature.”

It astonished the good people, who had been accustomed so long to repeat
mechanically their Oriental hyperboles of self-abasement, to hear their
worthy minister maintaining that the dignified attitude of the old
Patriarch, insisting on what was reasonable and fair with reference to
his fellow-creatures, was really much more respectful to his Maker, and
a great deal manlier and more to his credit, than if he had yielded the
whole matter, and pretended that men had not rights as well as duties.
The same logic which had carried him to certain conclusions with
reference to human nature, this same irresistible logic carried him
straight on from his text until he arrived at those other results, which
not only astonished his people, as was said, but surprised himself. He
went so far in defence of the rights of man, that he put his foot into
several heresies, for which men had been burned so often, it was time,
if ever it could be, to acknowledge the demonstration of the argumentum
ad ignem. He did not believe in the responsibility of idiots. He did
not believe a new-born infant was morally answerable for other people’s
acts. He thought a man with a crooked spine would never be called to
account for not walking erect. He thought if the crook was in his brain,
instead of his back, he could not fairly be blamed for any consequence
of this natural defect, whatever lawyers or divines might call it.
He argued, that, if a person inherited a perfect mind, body, and
disposition, and had perfect teaching from infancy, that person could do
nothing more than keep the moral law perfectly. But supposing that
the Creator allows a person to be born with an hereditary or ingrafted
organic tendency, and then puts this person into the hands of
teachers incompetent or positively bad, is not what is called sin or
transgression of the law necessarily involved in the premises? Is not
a Creator bound to guard his children against the ruin which inherited
ignorance might entail on them? Would it be fair for a parent to put
into a child’s hands the title-deeds to all its future possessions, and
a bunch of matches? And are not men children, nay, babes, in the eye
of Omniscience?--The minister grew bold in his questions. Had not he as
good right to ask questions as Abraham?

This was the dangerous vein of speculation in which the Reverend Doctor
Honeywood found himself involved, as a consequence of the suggestions
forced upon him by old Sophy’s communication. The truth was, the good
man had got so humanized by mixing up with other people in various
benevolent schemes, that, the very moment he could escape from his old
scholastic abstractions, he took the side of humanity instinctively,
just as the Father of the Faithful did,--all honor be to the noble old
Patriarch for insisting on the worth of an honest man, and making the
best terms he could for a very ill-conditioned metropolis, which might
possibly, however, have contained ten righteous people, for whose sake
it should be spared!

The consequence of all this was, that he was in a singular and seemingly
self-contradictory state of mind when he took his hat and cane and went
forth to call on his heretical brother. The old minister took it for
granted that the Reverend Mr. Fairweather knew the private history of
his parishioner’s family. He did not reflect that there are griefs
men never put into words,--that there are fears which must not be
spoken,--intimate matters of consciousness which must be carried,
as bullets which have been driven deep into the living tissues are
sometimes carried, for a whole lifetime,--encysted griefs, if we may
borrow the chirurgeon’s term, never to be reached, never to be seen,
never to be thrown out, but to go into the dust with the frame that
bore them about with it, during long years of anguish, known only to the
sufferer and his Maker. Dudley Venner had talked with his minister about
this child of his. But he had talked cautiously, feeling his way for
sympathy, looking out for those indications of tact and judgment which
would warrant him in some partial communication, at least, of the origin
of his doubts and fears, and never finding them.

There was something about the Reverend Mr. Fairweather which repressed
all attempts at confidential intercourse. What this something was,
Dudley Venner could hardly say; but he felt it distinctly, and it
sealed his lips. He never got beyond certain generalities connected
with education and religious instruction. The minister could not help
discovering, however, that there were difficulties connected with this
girl’s management, and he heard enough outside of the family to convince
him that she had manifested tendencies, from an early age, at variance
with the theoretical opinions he was in the habit of preaching, and in
a dim way of holding for truth, as to the natural dispositions of the
human being.

About this terrible fact of congenital obliquity his new beliefs
began to cluster as a centre, and to take form as a crystal around its
nucleus. Still, he might perhaps have struggled against them, had it not
been for the little Roman Catholic chapel he passed every Sunday, on his
way to the meeting-house. Such a crowd of worshippers, swarming into the
pews like bees, filling all the aisles, running over at the door like
berries heaped too full in the measure,--some kneeling on the steps,
some standing on the sidewalk, hats off, heads down, lips moving, some
looking on devoutly from the other side of the street! Oh, could he
have followed his own Bridget, maid of all work, into the heart of that
steaming throng, and bowed his head while the priests intoned their
Latin prayers! could he have snuffed up the cloud of frankincense, and
felt that he was in the great ark which holds the better half of the
Christian world, while all around it are wretched creatures, some
struggling against the waves in leaky boats, and some on ill-connected
rafts, and some with their heads just above water, thinking to ride out
the flood which is to sweep the earth clean of sinners, upon their own
private, individual life-preservers!

Such was the present state of mind of the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather,
when his clerical brother called upon him to talk over the questions to
which old Sophy had called his attention.



CHAPTER XVIII. THE REVEREND DOCTOR CALLS ON BROTHER FAIRWEATHER.

For the last few months, while all these various matters were going on
in Rockland, the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather had been busy with the
records of ancient councils and the writings of the early fathers. The
more he read, the more discontented he became with the platform upon
which he and his people were standing. They and he were clearly in
a minority, and his deep inward longing to be with the majority was
growing into an engrossing passion. He yearned especially towards the
good old unquestioning, authoritative Mother Church, with her articles
of faith which took away the necessity for private judgment, with her
traditional forms and ceremonies, and her whole apparatus of stimulants
and anodynes.

About this time he procured a breviary and kept it in his desk under
the loose papers. He sent to a Catholic bookstore and obtained a small
crucifix suspended from a string of beads. He ordered his new coat to be
cut very narrow in the collar and to be made single-breasted. He began
an informal series of religious conversations with Miss O’Brien, the
young person of Irish extraction already referred to as Bridget, maid
of all work. These not proving very satisfactory, he managed to fall in
with Father McShane, the Catholic priest of the Rockland church.

Father McShane encouraged his nibble very scientifically. It would be
such a fine thing to bring over one of those Protestant heretics, and a
“liberal” one too!--not that there was any real difference between
them, but it sounded better, to say that one of these rationalizing
free-and-equal religionists had been made a convert than any of those
half-way Protestants who were the slaves of catechisms instead of
councils, and of commentators instead of popes. The subtle priest played
his disciple with his finest tackle. It was hardly necessary: when
anything or anybody wishes to be caught, a bare hook and a coarse line
are all that is needed.

If a man has a genuine, sincere, hearty wish to get rid of his liberty,
if he is really bent upon becoming a slave, nothing can stop him. And
the temptation is to some natures a very great one. Liberty is often a
heavy burden on a man. It involves that necessity for perpetual choice
which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded. In common life we
shirk it by forming habits, which take the place of self-determination.
In politics party-organization saves us the pains of much thinking
before deciding how to cast our vote. In religious matters there are
great multitudes watching us perpetually, each propagandist ready with
his bundle of finalities, which having accepted we may be at peace.
The more absolute the submission demanded, the stronger the temptation
becomes to those who have been long tossed among doubts and conflicts.

So it is that in all the quiet bays which indent the shores of the great
ocean of thought, at every sinking wharf, we see moored the hulks
and the razees of enslaved or half-enslaved intelligences. They rock
peacefully as children in their cradles on the subdued swell which
comes feebly in over the bar at the harbor’s mouth, slowly crusting with
barnacles, pulling at their iron cables as if they really wanted to be
free; but better contented to remain bound as they are. For these no
more the round unwalled horizon of the open sea, the joyous breeze
aloft, the furrow, the foam, the sparkle, that track the rushing keel!
They have escaped the dangers of the wave, and lie still henceforth,
evermore. Happiest of souls, if lethargy is bliss, and palsy the chief
beatitude!

America owes its political freedom to religious Protestantism. But
political freedom is reacting on religious prescription with still
mightier force. We wonder, therefore, when we find a soul which was
born to a full sense of individual liberty, an unchallenged right
of self-determination on every new alleged truth offered to its
intelligence, voluntarily surrendering any portion of its liberty to
a spiritual dictatorship which always proves to rest, in the last
analysis, on a majority vote, nothing more nor less, commonly an old
one, passed in those barbarous times when men cursed and murdered each
other for differences of opinion, and of course were not in a condition
to settle the beliefs of a comparatively civilized community.

In our disgust, we are liable to be intolerant. We forget that weakness
is not in itself a sin. We forget that even cowardice may call for our
most lenient judgment, if it spring from innate infirmity, Who of us
does not look with great tenderness on the young chieftain in the “Fair
Maid of Perth,” when he confesses his want of courage? All of us love
companionship and sympathy; some of us may love them too much. All of us
are more or less imaginative in our theology.

Some of us may find the aid of material symbols a comfort, if not a
necessity. The boldest thinker may have his moments of languor and
discouragement, when he feels as if he could willingly exchange faiths
with the old beldame crossing herself at the cathedral-door,--nay, that,
if he could drop all coherent thought, and lie in the flowery meadow
with the brown-eyed solemnly unthinking cattle, looking up to the sky,
and all their simple consciousness staining itself blue, then down to
the grass, and life turning to a mere greenness, blended with confused
scents of herbs,--no individual mind-movement such as men are teased
with, but the great calm cattle-sense of all time and all places that
know the milky smell of herds,--if he could be like these, he would be
content to be driven home by the cow-boy, and share the grassy banquet
of the king of ancient Babylon. Let us be very generous, then, in our
judgment of those who leave the front ranks of thought for the company
of the meek non-combatants who follow with the baggage and provisions.
Age, illness, too much wear and tear, a half-formed paralysis, may bring
any of us to this pass. But while we can think and maintain the rights
of our own individuality against every human combination, let us
not forget to caution all who are disposed to waver that there is a
cowardice which is criminal, and a longing for rest which it is baseness
to indulge. God help him, over whose dead soul in his living body must
be uttered the sad supplication, Requiescat in pace!

A knock at the Reverend Mr. Fairweather’s study door called his eyes
from the book on which they were intent. He looked up, as if expecting a
welcome guest.

The Reverend Pierrepont Honeywood, D. D., entered the study of the
Reverend Chauncy Fairweather. He was not the expected guest. Mr.
Fairweather slipped the book he was reading into a half-open drawer,
and pushed in the drawer. He slid something which rattled under a paper
lying on the table. He rose with a slight change of color, and welcomed,
a little awkwardly, his unusual visitor.

“Good-evening, Brother Fairweather!” said the Reverend Doctor, in a
very cordial, good-humored way. “I hope I am not spoiling one of those
eloquent sermons I never have a chance to hear.”

“Not at all, not at all,” the younger clergyman answered, in a languid
tone, with a kind of habitual half-querulousness which belonged to
it,--the vocal expression which we meet with now and then, and which
says as plainly as so many words could say it, “I am a suffering
individual. I am persistently undervalued, wronged, and imposed upon by
mankind and the powers of the universe generally. But I endure all. I
endure you. Speak. I listen. It is a burden to me, but I even approve. I
sacrifice myself. Behold this movement of my lips! It is a smile.”

The Reverend Doctor knew this forlorn way of Mr. Fairweather’s, and
was not troubled by it. He proceeded to relate the circumstances of his
visit from the old black woman, and the fear she was in about the young
girl, who being a parishioner of Mr. Fairweather’s, he had thought it
best to come over and speak to him about old Sophy’s fears and fancies.

In telling the old woman’s story, he alluded only vaguely to those
peculiar circumstances to which she had attributed so much importance,
taking it for granted that the other minister must be familiar with
the whole series of incidents she had related. The old minister was
mistaken, as we have before seen. Mr. Fairweather had been settled in
the place only about ten years, and, if he had heard a strange hint now
and then about Elsie, had never considered it as anything more than
idle and ignorant, if not malicious, village-gossip. All that he fully
understood was that this had been a perverse and unmanageable child, and
that the extraordinary care which had been bestowed on her had been so
far thrown away that she was a dangerous, self-willed girl, whom all
feared and almost all shunned, as if she carried with her some malignant
influence.

He replied, therefore, after hearing the story, that Elsie had always
given trouble. There seemed to be a kind of natural obliquity about
her. Perfectly unaccountable. A very dark case. Never amenable to good
influences. Had sent her good books from the Sunday-school library.
Remembered that she tore out the frontispiece of one of them, and kept
it, and flung the book out of the window. It was a picture of
Eve’s temptation; and he recollected her saying that Eve was a good
woman,--and she’d have done just so, if she’d been there. A very sad
child, very sad; bad from infancy. He had talked himself bold, and
said all at once, “Doctor, do you know I am almost ready to accept your
doctrine of the congenital sinfulness of human nature? I am afraid that
is the only thing which goes to the bottom of the difficulty.”

The old minister’s face did not open so approvingly as Mr. Fairweather
had expected.

“Why, yes,--well,--many find comfort in it,--I believe;--there is much
to be said,--there are many bad people,--and bad children,--I can’t
be so sure about bad babies,--though they cry very malignantly at
times,--especially if they have the stomach-ache. But I really don’t
know how to condemn this poor Elsie; she may have impulses that act
in her like instincts in the lower animals, and so not come under the
bearing of our ordinary rules of judgment.”

“But this depraved tendency, Doctor,--this unaccountable perverseness.
My dear Sir, I am afraid your school is in the right about human nature.
Oh, those words of the Psalmist, ‘shapen in iniquity,’ and the rest!
What are we to do with them,--we who teach that the soul of a child is
an unstained white tablet?”

“King David was very subject to fits of humility, and much given to
self-reproaches,” said the Doctor, in a rather dry way. “We owe you and
your friends a good deal for calling attention to the natural graces,
which, after all, may, perhaps, be considered as another form of
manifestation of the divine influence. Some of our writers have pressed
rather too hard on the tendencies of the human soul toward evil as such.
It maybe questioned whether these views have not interfered with the
sound training of certain young persons, sons of clergymen and others.
I am nearer of your mind about the possibility of educating children so
that they shall become good Christians without any violent transition.
That is what I should hope for from bringing them up ‘in the nurture and
admonition of the Lord.’”

The younger minister looked puzzled, but presently answered, “Possibly
we may have called attention to some neglected truths; but, after all, I
fear we must go to the old school, if we want to get at the root of the
matter. I know there is an outward amiability about many young persons,
some young girls especially, that seems like genuine goodness; but I
have been disposed of late to lean toward your view, that these human
affections, as we see them in our children,--ours, I say, though I have
not the fearful responsibility of training any of my own,--are only a
kind of disguised and sinful selfishness.”

The old minister groaned in spirit. His heart had been softened by
the sweet influences of children and grandchildren. He thought of
a half-sized grave in the burial-ground, and the fine, brave,
noble-hearted boy he laid in it thirty years before,--the sweet,
cheerful child who had made his home all sunshine until the day when he
was brought into it, his long curls dripping, his fresh lips purpled in
death,--foolish dear little blessed creature to throw himself into the
deep water to save the drowning boy, who clung about him and carried him
under! Disguised selfishness! And his granddaughter too, whose disguised
selfishness was the light of his household!

“Don’t call it my view!” he said. “Abstractly, perhaps, all natures may
be considered vitiated; but practically, as I see it in life, the divine
grace keeps pace with the perverted instincts from infancy in many
natures. Besides, this perversion itself may often be disease, bad
habits transmitted, like drunkenness, or some hereditary misfortune, as
with this Elsie we were talking about.”

The younger minister was completely mystified. At every step he made
towards the Doctor’s recognized theological position, the Doctor took
just one step towards his. They would cross each other soon at this
rate, and might as well exchange pulpits,--as Colonel Sprowle once
wished they would, it may be remembered.

The Doctor, though a much clearer-headed man, was almost equally
puzzled. He turned the conversation again upon Elsie, and endeavored
to make her minister feel the importance of bringing every friendly
influence to bear upon her at this critical period of her life. His
sympathies did not seem so lively as the Doctor could have wished.
Perhaps he had vastly more important objects of solicitude in his own
spiritual interests.

A knock at the door interrupted them. The Reverend Mr. Fairweather rose
and went towards it. As he passed the table, his coat caught something,
which came rattling to the floor. It was a crucifix with a string of
beads attached. As he opened the door, the Milesian features of Father
McShane presented themselves, and from their centre proceeded the
clerical benediction in Irish-sounding Latin, Pax vobiscum!

The Reverend Doctor Honeywood rose and left the priest and his disciple
together.



CHAPTER XIX. THE SPIDER ON HIS THREAD.

There was nobody, then, to counsel poor Elsie, except her father,
who had learned to let her have her own way so as not to disturb such
relations as they had together, and the old black woman, who had a
real, though limited influence over the girl. Perhaps she did not need
counsel. To look upon her, one might well suppose that she was
competent to defend herself against any enemy she was like to have. That
glittering, piercing eye was not to be softened by a few smooth words
spoken in low tones, charged with the common sentiments which win their
way to maidens’ hearts. That round, lithe, sinuous figure was as full
of dangerous life as ever lay under the slender flanks and clean-shaped
limbs of a panther.

There were particular times when Elsie was in such a mood that it must
have been a bold person who would have intruded upon her with reproof or
counsel. “This is one of her days,” old Sophy would say quietly to her
father, and he would, as far as possible, leave her to herself. These
days were more frequent, as old Sophy’s keen, concentrated watchfulness
had taught her, at certain periods of the year. It was in the heats of
summer that they were most common and most strongly characterized. In
winter, on the other hand, she was less excitable, and even at times
heavy and as if chilled and dulled in her sensibilities. It was a
strange, paroxysmal kind of life that belonged to her. It seemed to come
and go with the sunlight. All winter long she would be comparatively
quiet, easy to manage, listless, slow in her motions; her eye would lose
something of its strange lustre; and the old nurse would feel so little
anxiety, that her whole expression and aspect would show the change, and
people would say to her, “Why, Sophy, how young you’re looking!”

As the spring came on, Elsie would leave the fireside, have her
tiger-skin spread in the empty southern chamber next the wall, and lie
there basking for whole hours in the sunshine. As the season warmed, the
light would kindle afresh in her eyes, and the old woman’s sleep would
grow restless again,--for she knew, that, so long as the glitter
was fierce in the girl’s eyes, there was no trusting her impulses or
movements.

At last, when the veins of the summer were hot and swollen, and the
juices of all the poison-plants and the blood of all the creatures that
feed upon them had grown thick and strong,--about the time when the
second mowing was in hand, and the brown, wet-faced men were following
up the scythes as they chased the falling waves of grass, (falling as
the waves fall on sickle-curved beaches; the foam-flowers dropping
as the grass-flowers drop,--with sharp semivowel consonantal
sounds,--frsh,--for that is the way the sea talks, and leaves all pure
vowel-sounds for the winds to breathe over it, and all mutes to the
unyielding earth,)--about this time of over-ripe midsummer, the life of
Elsie seemed fullest of its malign and restless instincts. This was
the period of the year when the Rockland people were most cautious of
wandering in the leafier coverts which skirted the base of The Mountain,
and the farmers liked to wear thick, long boots, whenever they went
into the bushes. But Elsie was never so much given to roaming over
The Mountain as at this season; and as she had grown more absolute and
uncontrollable, she was as like to take the night as the day for her
rambles.

At this season, too, all her peculiar tastes in dress and ornament came
out in a more striking way than at other times. She was never so superb
as then, and never so threatening in her scowling beauty. The barred
skirts she always fancied showed sharply beneath her diaphanous muslins;
the diamonds often glittered on her breast as if for her own pleasure
rather than to dazzle others; the asp-like bracelet hardly left her arm.
She was never seen without some necklace,--either the golden cord she
wore at the great party, or a chain of mosaics, or simply a ring of
golden scales. Some said that Elsie always slept in a necklace, and that
when she died she was to be buried in one. It was a fancy of hers,--but
many thought there was a reason for it.

Nobody watched Elsie with a more searching eye than her cousin, Dick
Venner. He had kept more out of her way of late, it is true, but there
was not a movement she made which he did not carefully observe just so
far as he could without exciting her suspicion. It was plain enough to
him that the road to fortune was before him, and that the first thing
was to marry Elsie. What course he should take with her, or with others
interested, after marrying her, need not be decided in a hurry.

He had now done all he could expect to do at present in the way of
conciliating the other members of the household. The girl’s father
tolerated him, if he did not even like him. Whether he suspected his
project or not Dick did not feel sure; but it was something to have got
a foothold in the house, and to have overcome any prepossession against
him which his uncle might have entertained. To be a good listener and
a bad billiard-player was not a very great sacrifice to effect this
object. Then old Sophy could hardly help feeling well-disposed towards
him, after the gifts he had bestowed on her and the court he had paid
her. These were the only persons on the place of much importance to gain
over. The people employed about the house and farm-lands had little to
do with Elsie, except to obey her without questioning her commands.

Mr. Richard began to think of reopening his second parallel. But he had
lost something of the coolness with which he had begun his system of
operations. The more he had reflected upon the matter, the more he had
convinced himself that this was his one great chance in life. If he
suffered this girl to escape him, such an opportunity could hardly,
in the nature of things, present itself a second time. Only one life
between Elsie and her fortune,--and lives are so uncertain! The girl
might not suit him as a wife. Possibly. Time enough to find out after he
had got her. In short, he must have the property, and Elsie Venner,
as she was to go with it,--and then, if he found it convenient and
agreeable to, lead a virtuous life, he would settle down and
raise children and vegetables; but if he found it inconvenient and
disagreeable, so much the worse for those who made it so. Like many
other persons, he was not principled against virtue, provided virtue
were a better investment than its opposite; but he knew that there
might be contingencies in which the property would be better without its
incumbrances, and he contemplated this conceivable problem in the light
of all its possible solutions.

One thing Mr. Richard could not conceal from himself: Elsie had some
new cause of indifference, at least, if not of aversion to him. With the
acuteness which persons who make a sole business of their own interest
gain by practice, so that fortune-hunters are often shrewd where real
lovers are terribly simple, he fixed at once on the young man up at the
school where the girl had been going of late, as probably at the bottom
of it.

“Cousin Elsie in love!” so he communed with himself upon his lonely
pillow. “In love with a Yankee schoolmaster! What else can it be? Let
him look out for himself! He’ll stand but a bad chance between us. What
makes you think she’s in love with him? Met her walking with him. Don’t
like her looks and ways;--she’s thinking about something, anyhow.
Where does she get those books she is reading so often? Not out of our
library, that ‘s certain. If I could have ten minutes’ peep into her
chamber now, I would find out where she got them, and what mischief she
was up to.”

At that instant, as if some tributary demon had heard his wish, a shape
which could be none but Elsie’s flitted through a gleam of moonlight
into the shadow of the trees. She was setting out on one of her midnight
rambles.

Dick felt his heart stir in its place, and presently his cheeks flushed
with the old longing for an adventure. It was not much to invade a young
girl’s deserted chamber, but it would amuse a wakeful hour, and tell him
some little matters he wanted to know. The chamber he slept in was over
the room which Elsie chiefly occupied at this season. There was no
great risk of his being seen or heard, if he ventured down-stairs to her
apartment.

Mr. Richard Venner, in the pursuit of his interesting project, arose
and lighted a lamp. He wrapped himself in a dressing-gown and thrust his
feet into a pair of cloth slippers. He stole carefully down the stair,
and arrived safely at the door of Elsie’s room.

The young lady had taken the natural precaution to leave it fastened,
carrying the key with her, no doubt,--unless; indeed, she had got out by
the window, which was not far from the ground. Dick could get in at
this window easily enough, but he did not like the idea of leaving
his footprints in the flower-bed just under it. He returned to his own
chamber, and held a council of war with himself.

He put his head out of his own window and looked at that beneath. It was
open. He then went to one of his trunks, which he unlocked, and began
carefully removing its contents. What these were we need not stop to
mention,--only remarking that there were dresses of various patterns,
which might afford an agreeable series of changes, and in certain
contingencies prove eminently useful. After removing a few of these, he
thrust his hand to the very bottom of the remaining pile and drew out
a coiled strip of leather many yards in length, ending in a noose,--a
tough, well-seasoned lasso, looking as if it had seen service and was
none the worse for it. He uncoiled a few yards of this and fastened it
to the knob of a door. Then he threw the loose end out of the window so
that it should hang by the open casement of Elsie’s room. By this he let
himself down opposite her window, and with a slight effort swung himself
inside the room. He lighted a match, found a candle, and, having lighted
that, looked curiously about him, as Clodius might have done when he
smuggled himself in among the Vestals.

Elsie’s room was almost as peculiar as her dress and ornaments. It was
a kind of museum of objects, such as the woods are full of to those who
have eyes to see them, but many of them such as only few could hope to
reach, even if they knew where to look for them. Crows’ nests, which
are never found but in the tall trees, commonly enough in the forks of
ancient hemlocks, eggs of rare birds, which must have taken a quick eye
and a hard climb to find and get hold of, mosses and ferns of unusual
aspect, and quaint monstrosities of vegetable growth, such as Nature
delights in, showed that Elsie had her tastes and fancies like any
naturalist or poet.

Nature, when left to her own freaks in the forest, is grotesque and
fanciful to the verge of license, and beyond it. The foliage of trees
does not always require clipping to make it look like an image of life.
From those windows at Canoe Meadow, among the mountains, we could see
all summer long a lion rampant, a Shanghai chicken, and General Jackson
on horseback, done by Nature in green leaves, each with a single tree.
But to Nature’s tricks with boughs and roots and smaller vegetable
growths there is no end. Her fancy is infinite, and her humor not always
refined. There is a perpetual reminiscence of animal life in her rude
caricatures, which sometimes actually reach the point of imitating the
complete human figure, as in that extraordinary specimen which nobody
will believe to be genuine, except the men of science, and of which the
discreet reader may have a glimpse by application in the proper quarter.

Elsie had gathered so many of these sculpture-like monstrosities, that
one might have thought she had robbed old Sophy’s grandfather of his
fetishes. They helped to give her room a kind of enchanted look, as if
a witch had her home in it. Over the fireplace was a long, staff-like
branch, strangled in the spiral coils of one of those vines which strain
the smaller trees in their clinging embraces, sinking into the bark
until the parasite becomes almost identified with its support. With
these sylvan curiosities were blended objects of art, some of them not
less singular, but others showing a love for the beautiful in form
and color, such as a girl of fine organization and nice culture might
naturally be expected to feel and to indulge, in adorning her apartment.

All these objects, pictures, bronzes, vases, and the rest, did not
detain Mr. Richard Veneer very long, whatever may have been his
sensibilities to art. He was more curious about books and papers. A copy
of Keats lay on the table. He opened it and read the name of Bernard
C. Langdon on the blank leaf. An envelope was on the table with Elsie’s
name written in a similar hand; but the envelope was empty, and he could
not find the note it contained. Her desk was locked, and it would not be
safe to tamper with it. He had seen enough; the girl received books
and notes from this fellow up at the school, this usher, this Yankee
quill-driver;--he was aspiring to become the lord of the Dudley domain,
then, was he?

Elsie had been reasonably careful. She had locked up her papers,
whatever they might be. There was little else that promised to
reward his curiosity, but he cast his eye on everything. There was a
clasp-Bible among her books. Dick wondered if she ever unclasped it.
There was a book of hymns; it had her name in it, and looked as if it
might have been often read;--what the diablo had Elsie to do with hymns?

Mr. Richard Venner was in an observing and analytical state of mind, it
will be noticed, or he might perhaps have been touched with the innocent
betrayals of the poor girl’s chamber. Had she, after all, some human
tenderness in her heart? That was not the way he put the question,--but
whether she would take seriously to this schoolmaster, and if she did,
what would be the neatest and surest and quickest way of putting a stop
to all that nonsense. All this, however, he could think over more safely
in his own quarters. So he stole softly to the window, and, catching
the end of the leathern thong, regained his own chamber and drew in the
lasso.

It needs only a little jealousy to set a man on who is doubtful in love
or wooing, or to make him take hold of his courting in earnest. As soon
as Dick had satisfied himself that the young schoolmaster was his rival
in Elsie’s good graces, his whole thoughts concentrated themselves more
than ever on accomplishing his great design of securing her for himself.
There was no time to be lost. He must come into closer relations with
her, so as to withdraw her thoughts from this fellow, and to find out
more exactly what was the state of her affections, if she had any. So he
began to court her company again, to propose riding with her, to sing to
her, to join her whenever she was strolling about the grounds, to make
himself agreeable, according to the ordinary understanding of that
phrase, in every way which seemed to promise a chance for succeeding in
that amiable effort.

The girl treated him more capriciously than ever. She would be sullen
and silent, or she would draw back fiercely at some harmless word or
gesture, or she would look at him with her eyes narrowed in such a
strange way and with such a wicked light in them that Dick swore to
himself they were too much for him, and would leave her for the moment.
Yet she tolerated him, almost as a matter of necessity, and sometimes
seemed to take a kind of pleasure in trying her power upon him. This he
soon found out, and humored her in the fancy that she could exercise
a kind of fascination over him, though there were times in which he
actually felt an influence he could not understand, an effect of some
peculiar expression about her, perhaps, but still centring in those
diamond eyes of hers which it made one feel so curiously to look into.

Whether Elsie saw into his object or not was more than he could tell.
His idea was, after having conciliated the good-will of all about her as
far as possible, to make himself first a habit and then a necessity
with the girl,--not to spring any trap of a declaration upon her until
tolerance had grown into such a degree of inclination as her nature was
like to admit. He had succeeded in the first part of his plan. He was at
liberty to prolong his visit at his own pleasure. This was not strange;
these three persons, Dudley Venner, his daughter, and his nephew,
represented all that remained of an old and honorable family. Had
Elsie been like other girls, her father might have been less willing
to entertain a young fellow like Dick as an inmate; but he had long
outgrown all the slighter apprehensions which he might have had in
common with all parents, and followed rather than led the imperious
instincts of his daughter. It was not a question of sentiment, but of
life and death, or more than that,--some dark ending, perhaps, which
would close the history of his race with disaster and evil report upon
the lips of all coming generations.

As to the thought of his nephew’s making love to his daughter, it had
almost passed from his mind. He had been so long in the habit of looking
at Elsie as outside of all common influences and exceptional in the law
of her nature, that it was difficult for him to think of her as a girl
to be fallen in love with. Many persons are surprised, when others
court their female relatives; they know them as good young or old women
enough,--aunts, sisters, nieces, daughters, whatever they may be,--but
never think of anybody’s falling in love with them, any more than of
their being struck by lightning. But in this case there were special
reasons, in addition to the common family delusion,--reasons which
seemed to make it impossible that she should attract a suitor. Who would
dare to marry Elsie? No, let her have the pleasure, if it was one, at
any rate the wholesome excitement, of companionship; it might save her
from lapsing into melancholy or a worse form of madness. Dudley Venner
had a kind of superstition, too, that, if Elsie could only outlive three
septenaries, twenty-one years, so that, according to the prevalent idea,
her whole frame would have been thrice made over, counting from her
birth, she would revert to the natural standard of health of mind and
feelings from which she had been so long perverted. The thought of any
other motive than love being sufficient to induce Richard to become
her suitor had not occurred to him. He had married early, at that happy
period when interested motives are least apt to influence the choice;
and his single idea of marriage was, that it was the union of persons
naturally drawn towards each other by some mutual attraction. Very
simple, perhaps; but he had lived lonely for many years since his wife’s
death, and judged the hearts of others, most of all of his brother’s
son, by his own. He had often thought whether, in case of Elsie’s dying
or being necessarily doomed to seclusion, he might not adopt this nephew
and make him his heir; but it had not occurred to him that Richard might
wish to become his son-in-law for the sake of his property.

It is very easy to criticise other people’s modes of dealing with their
children. Outside observers see results; parents see processes. They
notice the trivial movements and accents which betray the blood of
this or that ancestor; they can detect the irrepressible movement of
hereditary impulse in looks and acts which mean nothing to the common
observer. To be a parent is almost to be a fatalist. This boy sits
with legs crossed, just as his uncle used to whom he never saw; his
grandfathers both died before he was born, but he has the movement of
the eyebrows which we remember in one of them, and the gusty temper
of three different generations, can tell pretty nearly the range of
possibilities and the limitations of a child, actual or potential, of a
given stock,--errors excepted always, because children of the same stock
are not bred just alike, because the traits of some less known ancestor
are liable to break out at any time, and because each human being has,
after all, a small fraction of individuality about him which gives him a
flavor, so that he is distinguishable from others by his friends or in a
court of justice, and which occasionally makes a genius or a saint or a
criminal of him. It is well that young persons cannot read these fatal
oracles of Nature. Blind impulse is her highest wisdom, after all. We
make our great jump, and then she takes the bandage off our eyes.
That is the way the broad sea-level of average is maintained, and the
physiological democracy is enabled to fight against the principle
of selection which would disinherit all the weaker children. The
magnificent constituency of mediocrities of which the world is made
up,--the people without biographies, whose lives have made a clear
solution in the fluid menstruum of time, instead of being precipitated
in the opaque sediment of history--

But this is a narrative, and not a disquisition.



CHAPTER XX. FROM WITHOUT AND FROM WITHIN.

There were not wanting people who accused Dudley VENNER of weakness and
bad judgment in his treatment of his daughter. Some were of opinion that
the great mistake was in not “breaking her will” when she was a little
child. There was nothing the matter with her, they said, but that she
had been spoiled by indulgence. If they had had the charge of her,
they’d have brought her down. She’d got the upperhand of her father now;
but if he’d only taken hold of her in season! There are people who think
that everything may be done, if the doer, be he educator or physician,
be only called “in season.” No doubt,--but in season would often be a
hundred or two years before the child was born; and people never send so
early as that.

The father of Elsie Veneer knew his duties and his difficulties too well
to trouble himself about anything others might think or say. So soon
as he found that he could not govern his child, he gave his life up to
following her and protecting her as far as he could. It was a stern and
terrible trial for a man of acute sensibility, and not without force
of intellect and will, and the manly ambition for himself and his
family-name which belonged to his endowments and his position. Passive
endurance is the hardest trial to persons of such a nature.

What made it still more a long martyrdom was the necessity for bearing
his cross in utter loneliness. He could not tell his griefs. He could
not talk of them even with those who knew their secret spring. His
minister had the unsympathetic nature which is common in the meaner sort
of devotees,--persons who mistake spiritual selfishness for sanctity,
and grab at the infinite prize of the great Future and Elsewhere with
the egotism they excommunicate in its hardly more odious forms of
avarice and self-indulgence. How could he speak with the old physician
and the old black woman about a sorrow and a terror which but to name
was to strike dumb the lips of Consolation?

In the dawn of his manhood he had found that second consciousness for
which young men and young women go about looking into each other’s
faces, with their sweet, artless aim playing in every feature, and
making them beautiful to each other, as to all of us. He had found his
other self early, before he had grown weary in the search and wasted his
freshness in vain longings: the lot of many, perhaps we may say of most,
who infringe the patent of our social order by intruding themselves
into a life already upon half allowance of the necessary luxuries of
existence. The life he had led for a brief space was not only beautiful
in outward circumstance, as old Sophy had described it to the Reverend
Doctor. It was that delicious process of the tuning of two souls to each
other, string by string, not without little half-pleasing discords now
and then when some chord in one or the other proves to be overstrained
or over-lax, but always approaching nearer and nearer to harmony, until
they become at last as two instruments with a single voice. Something
more than a year of this blissful doubled consciousness had passed over
him when he found himself once more alone,--alone, save for the little
diamond-eyed child lying in the old black woman’s arms, with the coral
necklace round--her throat and the rattle in her hand.

He would not die by his own act. It was not the way in his family. There
may have been other, perhaps better reasons, but this was enough; he did
not come of suicidal stock. He must live for this child’s sake, at any
rate; and yet,--oh, yet, who could tell with what thoughts he looked
upon her? Sometimes her little features would look placid, and something
like a smile would steal over them; then all his tender feelings would
rush up, into his eyes, and he would put his arms out to take her from
the old woman,--but all at once her eyes would narrow and she would
throw her head back, and a shudder would seize him as he stooped over
his child,--he could not look upon her,--he could not touch his lips to
her cheek; nay, there would sometimes come into his soul such frightful
suggestions that he would hurry from the room lest the hinted thought
should become a momentary madness and he should lift his hand against
the hapless infant which owed him life.

In those miserable days he used to wander all over The Mountain in his
restless endeavor to seek some relief for inward suffering in outward
action. He had no thought of throwing himself from the summit of any of
the broken cliffs, but he clambered over them recklessly, as having no
particular care for his life. Sometimes he would go into the accursed
district where the venomous reptiles were always to be dreaded, and
court their worst haunts, and kill all he could come near with a kind of
blind fury which was strange in a person of his gentle nature.

One overhanging cliff was a favorite haunt of his. It frowned upon
his home beneath in a very menacing way; he noticed slight seams and
fissures that looked ominous;--what would happen, if it broke off some
time or other and came crashing down on the fields and roofs below? He
thought of such a possible catastrophe with a singular indifference, in
fact with a feeling almost like pleasure. It would be such a swift and
thorough solution of this great problem of life he was working out
in ever-recurring daily anguish! The remote possibility of such a
catastrophe had frightened some timid dwellers beneath The Mountain to
other places of residence; here the danger was most imminent, and yet he
loved to dwell upon the chances of its occurrence. Danger is often the
best counterirritant in cases of mental suffering; he found a solace in
careless exposure of his life, and learned to endure the trials of each
day better by dwelling in imagination on the possibility that it might
be the last for him and the home that was his.

Time, the great consoler, helped these influences, and he gradually fell
into more easy and less dangerous habits of life. He ceased from his
more perilous rambles. He thought less of the danger from the great
overhanging rocks and forests; they had hung there for centuries; it
was not very likely they would crash or slide in his time. He became
accustomed to all Elsie’s strange looks and ways. Old Sophy dressed her
with ruffles round her neck, and hunted up the red coral branch with
silver bells which the little toothless Dudleys had bitten upon for
a hundred years. By an infinite effort, her father forced himself to
become the companion of this child, for whom he had such a mingled
feeling, but whose presence was always a trial to him, and often a
terror.

At a cost which no human being could estimate, he had done his duty, and
in some degree reaped his reward. Elsie grew up with a kind of filial
feeling for him, such as her nature was capable of. She never would obey
him; that was not to be looked for. Commands, threats, punishments, were
out of the question with her; the mere physical effects of crossing her
will betrayed themselves in such changes of expression and manner that
it would have been senseless to attempt to govern her in any such way.
Leaving her mainly to herself, she could be to some extent indirectly
influenced,--not otherwise. She called her father “Dudley,” as if he had
been her brother. She ordered everybody and would be ordered by none.

Who could know all these things, except the few people of the household?
What wonder, therefore, that ignorant and shallow persons laid the blame
on her father of those peculiarities which were freely talked about,--of
those darker tendencies which were hinted of in whispers? To all this
talk, so far as it reached him, he was supremely indifferent, not only
with the indifference which all gentlemen feel to the gossip of their
inferiors, but with a charitable calmness which did not wonder or blame.
He knew that his position was not simply a difficult, but an impossible
one, and schooled himself to bear his destiny as well as he might, and
report himself only at Headquarters.

He had grown gentle under this discipline. His hair was just beginning
to be touched with silver, and his expression was that of habitual
sadness and anxiety. He had no counsellor, as we have seen, to turn to,
who did not know either too much or too little. He had no heart to rest
upon and into which he might unburden himself of the secrets and the
sorrows that were aching in his own breast. Yet he had not allowed
himself to run to waste in the long time since he was left alone to
his trials and fears. He had resisted the seductions which always beset
solitary men with restless brains overwrought by depressing agencies.
He disguised no misery to himself with the lying delusion of wine. He
sought no sleep from narcotics, though he lay with throbbing, wide-open
eyes through all the weary hours of the night.

It was understood between Dudley Veneer and old Doctor Kittredge that
Elsie was a subject of occasional medical observation, on account of
certain mental peculiarities which might end in a permanent affection of
her reason. Beyond this nothing was said, whatever may have been in the
mind of either. But Dudley Veneer had studied Elsie’s case in the
light of all the books he could find which might do anything towards
explaining it. As in all cases where men meddle with medical science
for a special purpose, having no previous acquaintance with it, his
imagination found what it wanted in the books he read, and adjusted it
to the facts before him. So it was he came to cherish those two fancies
before alluded to that the ominous birthmark she had carried from
infancy might fade and become obliterated, and that the age of complete
maturity might be signalized by an entire change in her physical and
mental state. He held these vague hopes as all of us nurse our only
half-believed illusions. Not for the world would he have questioned his
sagacious old medical friend as to the probability or possibility of
their being true. We are very shy of asking questions of those who know
enough to destroy with one word the hopes we live on.

In this life of comparative seclusion to which the father had doomed
himself for the sake of his child, he had found time for large and
varied reading. The learned Judge Thornton confessed himself surprised
at the extent of Dudley Veneer’s information. Doctor Kittredge found
that he was in advance of him in the knowledge of recent physiological
discoveries. He had taken pains to become acquainted with agricultural
chemistry; and the neighboring farmers owed him some useful hints about
the management of their land. He renewed his old acquaintance with the
classic authors. He loved to warm his pulses with Homer and calm them
down with Horace. He received all manner of new books and periodicals,
and gradually gained an interest in the events of the passing time.
Yet he remained almost a hermit, not absolutely refusing to see his
neighbors, nor even churlish towards them, but on the other hand not
cultivating any intimate relations with them.

He had retired from the world a young man, little more than a
youth, indeed, with sentiments and aspirations all of them suddenly
extinguished. The first had bequeathed him a single huge sorrow, the
second a single trying duty. In due time the anguish had lost something
of its poignancy, the light of earlier and happier memories had begun to
struggle with and to soften its thick darkness, and even that duty which
he had confronted with such an effort had become an endurable habit.

At a period of life when many have been living on the capital of their
acquired knowledge and their youthful stock of sensibilities until their
intellects are really shallower and their hearts emptier than they were
at twenty, Dudley Veneer was stronger in thought and tenderer in soul
than in the first freshness of his youth, when he counted but half his
present years. He had entered that period which marks the decline of men
who have ceased growing in knowledge and strength: from forty to fifty
a man must move upward, or the natural falling off in the vigor of life
will carry him rapidly downward. At this time his inward: nature was
richer and deeper than in any earlier period of his life. If he could
only be summoned to action, he was capable of noble service. If his
sympathies could only find an outlet, he was never so capable of love as
now; for his natural affections had been gathering in the course of all
these years, and the traces of that ineffaceable calamity of his
life were softened and partially hidden by new growths of thought and
feeling, as the wreck left by a mountainslide is covered over by the
gentle intrusion of the soft-stemmed herbs which will prepare it for the
stronger vegetation that will bring it once more into harmony with the
peaceful slopes around it.

Perhaps Dudley Veneer had not gained so much in worldly wisdom as if
he had been more in society and less in his study. The indulgence with
which he treated his nephew was, no doubt, imprudent. A man more in the
habit of dealing with men would have been more guarded with a person
with Dick’s questionable story and unquestionable physiognomy. But he
was singularly unsuspicious, and his natural kindness was an additional
motive to the wish for introducing some variety into the routine of
Elsie’s life.

If Dudley Veneer did not know just what he wanted at this period of his
life, there were a great many people in the town of Rockland who thought
they did know. He had been a widower long enough, “--nigh twenty year,
wa’n’t it? He’d been aout to Spraowles’s party,--there wa’n’t anything
to hender him why he shouldn’t stir raound l’k other folks. What was the
reason he did n’t go abaout to taown-meetin’s ‘n’ Sahbath-meetin’s,
‘n’ lyceums, ‘n’ school ‘xaminations, ‘n’ s’prise-parties, ‘n’
funerals,--and other entertainments where the still-faced two-story
folks were in the habit of looking round to see if any of the
mansion-house gentry were present?--Fac’ was, he was livin’ too lonesome
daown there at the mansion-haouse. Why shouldn’t he make up to the
Jedge’s daughter? She was genteel enough for him, and--let’s see, haow
old was she? Seven-’n’itwenty,--no, six-’n’-twenty,--born the same year
we buried our little Anny Marl”.

There was no possible objection to this arrangement, if the parties
interested had seen fit to make it or even to think of it. But “Portia,”
 as some of the mansion-house people called her, did not happen to awaken
the elective affinities of the lonely widower. He met her once in a
while, and said to himself that she was a good specimen of the grand
style of woman; and then the image came back to him of a woman not quite
so large, not quite so imperial in her port, not quite so incisive in
her speech, not quite so judicial in her opinions, but with two or
three more joints in her frame, and two or three soft inflections in her
voice, which for some absurd reason or other drew him to her side and so
bewitched him that he told her half his secrets and looked into her eyes
all that he could not tell, in less time than it would have takes him
to discuss the champion paper of the last Quarterly with the admirable
“Portia.” Heu, quanto minus! How much more was that lost image to him
than all it left on earth!

The study of love is very much like that of meteorology. We know that
just about so much rain will fall in a season; but on what particular
day it will shower is more than we can tell. We know that just about so
much love will be made every year in a given population; but who will
rain his young affections upon the heart of whom is not known except to
the astrologers and fortune-tellers. And why rain falls as it does and
why love is made just as it is are equally puzzling questions.

The woman a man loves is always his own daughter, far more his daughter
than the female children born to him by the common law of life. It is
not the outside woman, who takes his name, that he loves: before her
image has reached the centre of his consciousness, it has passed through
fifty many-layered nerve-strainers, been churned over by ten thousand
pulse-beats, and reacted upon by millions of lateral impulses which
bandy it about through the mental spaces as a reflection is sent back
and forward in a saloon lined with mirrors. With this altered image of
the woman before him, his preexisting ideal becomes blended. The object
of his love is in part the offspring of her legal parents, but more of
her lover’s brain. The difference between the real and the ideal objects
of love must not exceed a fixed maximum. The heart’s vision cannot unite
them stereoscopically into a single image, if the divergence passes
certain limits. A formidable analogy, much in the nature of a proof,
with very serious consequences, which moralists and match-makers would
do well to remember! Double vision with the eyes of the heart is a
dangerous physiological state, and may lead to missteps and serious
falls.

Whether Dudley Veneer would ever find a breathing image near enough to
his ideal one, to fill the desolate chamber of his heart, or not, was
very doubtful. Some gracious and gentle woman, whose influence would
steal upon him as the first low words of prayer after that interval of
silent mental supplication known to one of our simpler forms of public
worship, gliding into his consciousness without hurting its old griefs,
herself knowing the chastening of sorrow, and subdued into sweet
acquiescence with the Divine will,--some such woman as this, if Heaven
should send him such, might call him back to the world of happiness,
from which he seemed forever exiled. He could never again be the young
lover who walked through the garden-alleys all red with roses in the old
dead and buried June of long ago. He could never forget the bride of his
youth, whose image, growing phantomlike with the lapse of years, hovered
over him like a dream while waking and like a reality in dreams. But if
it might be in God’s good providence that this desolate life should come
under the influence of human affections once more, what an ecstasy of
renewed existence was in store for him! His life had not all been buried
under that narrow ridge of turf with the white stone at its head. It
seemed so for a while; but it was not and could not and ought not to be
so. His first passion had been a true and pure one; there was no spot or
stain upon it. With all his grief there blended no cruel recollection
of any word or look he would have wished to forget. All those little
differences, such as young married people with any individual flavor in
their characters must have, if they are tolerably mated, had only added
to the music of existence, as the lesser discords admitted into some
perfect symphony, fitly resolved, add richness and strength to the whole
harmonious movement. It was a deep wound that Fate had inflicted on him;
nay, it seemed like a mortal one; but the weapon was clean, and its edge
was smooth. Such wounds must heal with time in healthy natures, whatever
a false sentiment may say, by the wise and beneficent law of our
being. The recollection of a deep and true affection is rather a divine
nourishment for a life to grow strong upon than a poison to destroy it.

Dudley Venner’s habitual sadness could not be laid wholly to his early
bereavement. It was partly the result of the long struggle between
natural affection and duty, on one side, and the involuntary tendencies
these had to overcome, on the other,--between hope and fear, so long
in conflict that despair itself would have been like an anodyne, and he
would have slept upon some final catastrophe with the heavy sleep of a
bankrupt after his failure is proclaimed. Alas! some new affection might
perhaps rekindle the fires of youth in his heart; but what power could
calm that haggard terror of the parent which rose with every morning’s
sun and watched with every evening star,--what power save alone that of
him who comes bearing the inverted torch, and leaving after him only the
ashes printed with his footsteps?



CHAPTER XXI. THE WIDOW ROWENS GIVES A TEA-PARTY.

There was a good deal of interest felt, as has been said, in the lonely
condition of Dudley Venner in that fine mansion-house of his, and
with that strange daughter, who would never be married, as many people
thought, in spite of all the stories. The feelings expressed by the good
folks who dated from the time when they “buried aour little Anny Mari’,”
 and others of that homespun stripe, were founded in reason, after all.
And so it was natural enough that they should be shared by various
ladies, who, having conjugated the verb to live as far as the
preterpluperfect tense, were ready to change one of its vowels and begin
with it in the present indicative. Unfortunately, there was very little
chance of showing sympathy in its active form for a gentleman who kept
himself so much out of the way as the master of the Dudley Mansion.

Various attempts had been made, from time to time, of late years, to get
him out of his study, which had, for the most part, proved failures. It
was a surprise, therefore, when he was seen at the Great Party at
the Colonel’s. But it was an encouragement to try him again, and the
consequence had been that he had received a number of notes inviting him
to various smaller entertainments, which, as neither he nor Elsie had
any fancy for them, he had politely declined.

Such was the state of things when he received an invitation to take tea
sociably, with a few friends, at Hyacinth Cottage, the residence of the
Widow Rowens, relict of the late Beeri Rowens, Esquire, better known as
Major Rowens. Major Rowens was at the time of his decease a promising
officer in the militia, in the direct line of promotion, as his
waistband was getting tighter every year; and, as all the world knows,
the militia-officer who splits off most buttons and fills the largest
sword-belt stands the best chance of rising, or, perhaps we might say,
spreading, to be General.

Major Rowens united in his person certain other traits which help a man
to eminence in the branch of public service referred to. He ran to high
colors, to wide whiskers, to open pores; he had the saddle-leather skin
common in Englishmen, rarer in Americans,--never found in the Brahmin
caste, oftener in the military and the commodores: observing people know
what is meant; blow the seed-arrows from the white-kid-looking button
which holds them on a dandelion-stalk, and the pricked-pincushion
surface shows you what to look for. He had the loud gruff voice which
implies the right to command. He had the thick hand, stubbed fingers,
with bristled pads between their joints, square, broad thumb-nails, and
sturdy limbs, which mark a constitution made to use in rough out-door
work. He had the never-failing predilection for showy switch-tailed
horses that step high, and sidle about, and act as if they were going to
do something fearful the next minute, in the face of awed and admiring
multitudes gathered at mighty musters or imposing cattle-shows. He had
no objection, either, to holding the reins in a wagon behind another
kind of horse,--a slouching, listless beast, with a strong slant to his
shoulder; and a notable depth to his quarter and an emphatic angle at
the hock, who commonly walked or lounged along in a lazy trot of five
or six miles an hour; but, if a lively colt happened to come rattling up
alongside, or a brandy-faced old horse-jockey took the road to show off
a fast nag, and threw his dust into the Major’s face, would pick his
legs up all at once, and straighten his body out, and swing off into a
three-minute gait, in a way that “Old Blue” himself need not have been
ashamed of.

For some reason which must be left to the next generation of professors
to find out, the men who are knowing in horse-flesh have an eye also
for, let a long dash separate the brute creation from the angelic
being now to be named,--for lovely woman. Of this fact there can be no
possible doubt; and therefore you shall notice, that, if a fast
horse trots before two, one of the twain is apt to be a pretty bit of
muliebrity, with shapes to her, and eyes flying about in all directions.

Major Rowens, at that time Lieutenant of the Rockland Fusileers, had
driven and “traded” horses not a few before he turned his acquired skill
as a judge of physical advantages in another direction. He knew a neat,
snug hoof, a delicate pastern, a broad haunch, a deep chest, a close
ribbed-up barrel, as well as any other man in the town. He was not to be
taken in by your thick-jointed, heavy-headed cattle, without any go
to them, that suit a country-parson, nor yet by the “gaanted-up,”
 long-legged animals, with all their constitutions bred out of them, such
as rich greenhorns buy and cover up with their plated trappings.

Whether his equine experience was of any use to him in the selection of
the mate with whom he was to go in double harness so long as they both
should live, we need not stop to question. At any rate, nobody could
find fault with the points of Miss Marilla Van Deusen, to whom he
offered the privilege of becoming Mrs. Rowens. The Van must have been
crossed out of her blood, for she was an out-and-out brunette, with hair
and eyes black enough for a Mohawk’s daughter. A fine style of woman,
with very striking tints and outlines,--an excellent match for the
Lieutenant, except for one thing. She was marked by Nature for a widow.
She was evidently got up for mourning, and never looked so well as in
deep black, with jet ornaments.

The man who should dare to marry her would doom himself; for how could
she become the widow she was bound to be, unless he could retire and
give her a chance? The Lieutenant lived, however, as we have seen, to
become Captain and then Major, with prospects of further advancement.
But Mrs. Rowens often said she should never look well in colors. At last
her destiny fulfilled itself, and the justice of Nature was vindicated.
Major Rowens got overheated galloping about the field on the day of
the Great Muster, and had a rush of blood to the head, according to the
common report,--at any rate, something which stopped him short in his
career of expansion and promotion, and established Mrs. Rowens in her
normal condition of widowhood.

The Widow Rowens was now in the full bloom of ornamental sorrow. A very
shallow crape bonnet, frilled and froth-like, allowed the parted raven
hair to show its glossy smoothness. A jet pin heaved upon her bosom with
every sigh of memory, or emotion of unknown origin. Jet bracelets shone
with every movement of her slender hands, cased in close-fitting black
gloves. Her sable dress was ridged with manifold flounces, from beneath
which a small foot showed itself from time to time, clad in the same
hue of mourning. Everything about her was dark, except the whites of her
eyes and the enamel of her teeth. The effect was complete. Gray’s Elegy
was not a more perfect composition.

Much as the Widow was pleased with the costume belonging to her
condition, she did not disguise from herself that under certain
circumstances she might be willing to change her name again. Thus, for
instance, if a gentleman not too far gone in maturity, of dignified
exterior, with an ample fortune, and of unexceptionable character,
should happen to set his heart upon her, and the only way to make him
happy was to give up her weeds and go into those unbecoming colors
again for his sake,--why, she felt that it was in her nature to make the
sacrifice. By a singular coincidence it happened that a gentleman was
now living in Rockland who united in himself all these advantages. Who
he was, the sagacious reader may very probably have divined. Just to see
how it looked, one day, having bolted her door, and drawn the curtains
close, and glanced under the sofa, and listened at the keyhole to be
sure there was nobody in the entry,--just to see how it looked, she had
taken out an envelope and written on the back of it Mrs. Manilla Veneer.
It made her head swim and her knees tremble. What if she should faint,
or die, or have a stroke of palsy, and they should break into the room
and find that name written! How she caught it up and tore it into little
shreds, and then could not be easy until she had burned the small heap
of pieces--

But these are things which every honorable reader will consider imparted
in strict confidence.

The Widow Rowens, though not of the mansion house set, was among the
most genteel of the two-story circle, and was in the habit of visiting
some of the great people. In one of these visits she met a dashing young
fellow with an olive complexion at the house of a professional gentleman
who had married one of the white necks and pairs of fat arms from a
distinguished family before referred to. The professional gentleman
himself was out, but the lady introduced the olive-complexioned young
man as Mr. Richard Venner.

The Widow was particularly pleased with this accidental meeting. Had
heard Mr. Venner’s name frequently mentioned. Hoped his uncle was well,
and his charming cousin,--was she as original as ever? Had often admired
that charming creature he rode: we had had some fine horses. Had never
got over her taste for riding, but could find nobody that liked a good
long gallop since--well--she could n’t help wishing she was alongside of
him, the other day, when she saw him dashing by, just at twilight.

The Widow paused; lifted a flimsy handkerchief with a very deep black
border so as to play the jet bracelet; pushed the tip of her slender
foot beyond the lowest of her black flounces; looked up; looked down;
looked at Mr. Richard, the very picture of artless simplicity,--as
represented in well-played genteel comedy.

“A good bit of stuff,” Dick said to himself, “and something of it left
yet; caramba!” The Major had not studied points for nothing, and
the Widow was one of the right sort. The young man had been a little
restless of late, and was willing to vary his routine by picking up an
acquaintance here and there. So he took the Widow’s hint. He should like
to have a scamper of half a dozen miles with her some fine morning.

The Widow was infinitely obliged; was not sure that she could find any
horse in the village to suit her; but it was so kind in him! Would he
not call at Hyacinth Cottage, and let her thank him again there?

Thus began an acquaintance which the Widow made the most of, and on the
strength of which she determined to give a tea-party and invite a number
of persons of whom we know something already. She took a half-sheet of
note-paper and made out her list as carefully as a country “merchant’s
clerk” adds up two and threepence (New-England nomenclature) and twelve
and a half cents, figure by figure, and fraction by fraction, before
he can be sure they will make half a dollar, without cheating somebody.
After much consideration the list reduced itself to the following names:
Mr. Richard Venner and Mrs. Blanche Creamer, the lady at whose house she
had met him,--mansion-house breed,--but will come,--soft on Dick; Dudley
Venner,--take care of him herself; Elsie,--Dick will see to her,--won’t
it fidget the Creamer woman to see him round her? the old Doctor,--he
‘s always handy; and there’s that young master there, up at the
school,--know him well enough to ask him,--oh, yes, he’ll come. One,
two, three, four, five, six,--seven; not room enough, without the leaf
in the table; one place empty, if the leaf’s in. Let’s see,--Helen
Darley,--she ‘ll do well enough to fill it up,--why, yes, just the
thing,--light brown hair, blue eyes,--won’t my pattern show off well
against her? Put her down,--she ‘s worth her tea and toast ten times
over,--nobody knows what a “thunder-and-lightning woman,” as poor Major
used to have it, is, till she gets alongside of one of those old-maidish
girls, with hair the color of brown sugar, and eyes like the blue of a
teacup.

The Widow smiled with a feeling of triumph at having overcome her
difficulties and arranged her party,--arose and stood before her glass,
three-quarters front, one-quarter profile, so as to show the whites of
the eyes and the down of the upper lip. “Splendid!” said the Widow--and
to tell the truth, she was not far out of the way, and with Helen Darley
as a foil anybody would know she must be foudroyant and pyramidal,--if
these French adjectives may be naturalized for this one particular
exigency.

So the Widow sent out her notes. The black grief which had filled her
heart and had overflowed in surges of crape around her person had left a
deposit half an inch wide at the margin of her note-paper. Her seal was
a small youth with an inverted torch, the same on which Mrs. Blanche
Creamer made her spiteful remark, that she expected to see that boy of
the Widow’s standing on his head yet; meaning, as Dick supposed, that
she would get the torch right-side up as soon as she had a chance. That
was after Dick had made the Widow’s acquaintance, and Mrs. Creamer had
got it into her foolish head that she would marry that young fellow,
if she could catch him. How could he ever come to fancy such a
quadroon-looking thing as that, she should like to know?

It is easy enough to ask seven people to a party; but whether they will
come or not is an open question, as it was in the case of the spirits of
the vasty deep. If the note issues from a three-story mansion-house, and
goes to two-story acquaintances, they will all be in an excellent
state of health, and have much pleasure in accepting this very polite
invitation. If the note is from the lady of a two-story family to
three-story ones, the former highly respectable person will very
probably find that an endemic complaint is prevalent, not represented in
the weekly bills of mortality, which occasions numerous regrets in the
bosoms of eminently desirable parties that they cannot have the pleasure
of and-so-forthing.

In this case there was room for doubt,--mainly as to whether Elsie
would take a fancy to come or not. If she should come, her father would
certainly be with her. Dick had promised, and thought he could bring
Elsie. Of course the young schoolmaster will come, and that poor
tired-out looking Helen, if only to get out of sight of those horrid
Peckham wretches. They don’t get such invitations every day. The others
she felt sure of,--all but the old Doctor,--he might have some
horrid patient or other to visit; tell him Elsie Venner’s going to be
there,--he always likes to have an eye on her, they say,--oh, he’d come
fast enough, without any more coaxing.

She wanted the Doctor, particularly. It was odd, but she was afraid of
Elsie. She felt as if she should be safe enough, if the old Doctor were
there to see to the girl; and then she should have leisure to devote
herself more freely to the young lady’s father, for whom all her
sympathies were in a state of lively excitement.

It was a long time since the Widow had seen so many persons round her
table as she had now invited. Better have the plates set and see how
they will fill it up with the leaf in.--A little too scattering with
only eight plates set: if she could find two more people, now, that
would bring the chairs a little closer,--snug, you know,--which makes
the company sociable. The Widow thought over her acquaintances. Why how
stupid! there was her good minister, the same who had married her, and
might--might--bury her for aught she anew, and his granddaughter
staying with him,--nice little girl, pretty, and not old enough to be
dangerous;--for the Widow had no notion of making a tea-party and asking
people to it that would be like to stand between her and any little
project she might happen to have on anybody’s heart,--not she! It was
all right now; Blanche was married and so forth; Letty was a child;
Elsie was his daughter; Helen Darley was a nice, worthy drudge,--poor
thing!--faded, faded,--colors wouldn’t wash, just what she wanted to
show off against. Now, if the Dudley mansion-house people would only
come,--that was the great point.

“Here’s a note for us, Elsie,” said her father, as they sat round the
breakfast-table. “Mrs. Rowens wants us all to come to tea.”

It was one of “Elsie’s days,” as old Sophy called them. The light in her
eyes was still, but very bright. She looked up so full of perverse and
wilful impulses, that Dick knew he could make her go with him and
her father. He had his own motives for bringing her to this
determination,--and his own way of setting about it.

“I don’t want to go,” he said. “What do you say, uncle?”

“To tell the truth, Richard, I don’t mach fancy the Major’s widow. I
don’t like to see her weeds flowering out quite so strong. I suppose you
don’t care about going, Elsie?”

Elsie looked up in her father’s face with an expression which he knew
but too well. She was just in the state which the plain sort of people
call “contrary,” when they have to deal with it in animals. She would
insist on going to that tea-party; he knew it just as well before she
spoke as after she had spoken. If Dick had said he wanted to go and her
father had seconded his wishes, she would have insisted on staying at
home. It was no great matter, her father said to himself, after
all; very likely it would amuse her; the Widow was a lively woman
enough,--perhaps a little comme il ne faut pas socially, compared with
the Thorntons and some other families; but what did he care for these
petty village distinctions?

Elsie spoke.

“I mean to go. You must go with me, Dudley. You may do as you like,
Dick.”

That settled the Dudley-mansion business, of course. They all three
accepted, as fortunately did all the others who had been invited.

Hyacinth Cottage was a pretty place enough, a little too much choked
round with bushes, and too much overrun with climbing-roses, which, in
the season of slugs and rose-bugs, were apt to show so brown about
the leaves and so coleopterous about the flowers, that it might be
questioned whether their buds and blossoms made up for these unpleasant
animal combinations,--especially as the smell of whale-oil soap was very
commonly in the ascendant over that of the roses. It had its patch
of grass called “the lawn,” and its glazed closet known as “the
conservatory,” according to that system of harmless fictions
characteristic of the rural imagination and shown in the names applied
to many familiar objects. The interior of the cottage was more tasteful
and ambitious than that of the ordinary two-story dwellings. In place
of the prevailing hair-cloth covered furniture, the visitor had the
satisfaction of seating himself upon a chair covered with some of the
Widow’s embroidery, or a sofa luxurious with soft caressing plush. The
sporting tastes of the late Major showed in various prints on the
wall: Herring’s “Plenipotentiary,” the “red bullock” of the ‘34 Derby;
“Cadland” and “The Colonel;” “Crucifix;” “West-Australian,” fastest of
modern racers; and among native celebrities, ugly, game old “Boston,”
 with his straight neck and ragged hips; and gray “Lady Suffolk,” queen,
in her day, not of the turf but of the track, “extending” herself till
she measured a rod, more or less, skimming along within a yard of the
ground, her legs opening and shutting under her with a snap, like the
four blades of a compound jack-knife.

These pictures were much more refreshing than those dreary fancy
death-bed scenes, common in two-story country-houses, in which
Washington and other distinguished personages are represented as
obligingly devoting their last moments to taking a prominent part in
a tableau, in which weeping relatives, attached servants, professional
assistants, and celebrated personages who might by a stretch of
imagination be supposed present, are grouped in the most approved style
of arrangement about the chief actor’s pillow.

A single glazed bookcase held the family library, which was hidden from
vulgar eyes by green silk curtains behind the glass. It would have been
instructive to get a look at it, as it always is to peep into one’s
neighbor’s book-shelves. From other sources and opportunities a partial
idea of it has been obtained. The Widow had inherited some books from
her mother, who was something of a reader: Young’s “Night-Thoughts;”
 “The Preceptor;” “The Task, a Poem,” by William Cowper; Hervey’s
“Meditations;” “Alonzo and Melissa;” “Buccaneers of America;” “The
Triumphs of Temper;” “La Belle Assemblee;” Thomson’s “Seasons;” and a
few others. The Major had brought in “Tom Jones” and “Peregrine Pickle;”
 various works by Mr. Pierce Egan; “Boxiana,” “The Racing Calendar;” and
a “Book of Lively Songs and Jests.” The Widow had added the Poems
of Lord Byron and T. Moore; “Eugene Aram;” “The Tower of London,” by
Harrison Ainsworth; some of Scott’s Novels; “The Pickwick Papers;” a
volume of Plays, by W. Shakespeare; “Proverbial Philosophy;” “Pilgrim’s
Progress;” “The Whole Duty of Man” (a present when she was married);
with two celebrated religious works, one by William Law and the other
by Philip Doddridge, which were sent her after her husband’s death, and
which she had tried to read, but found that they did not agree with her.
Of course the bookcase held a few school manuals and compendiums, and
one of Mr. Webster’s Dictionaries. But the gilt-edged Bible always lay
on the centre-table, next to the magazine with the fashion-plates and
the scrap-book with pictures from old annuals and illustrated papers.

The reader need not apprehend the recital, at full length, of such
formidable preparations for the Widow’s tea-party as were required in
the case of Colonel Sprowle’s Social Entertainment. A tea-party, even in
the country, is a comparatively simple and economical piece of business.
As soon as the Widow found that all her company were coming, she set
to work, with the aid of her “smart” maid-servant and a daughter of her
own, who was beginning to stretch and spread at a fearful rate, but whom
she treated as a small child, to make the necessary preparations. The
silver had to be rubbed; also the grand plated urn,--her mother’s before
hers,--style of the Empire,--looking as if it might have been made to
hold the Major’s ashes. Then came the making and baking of cake and
gingerbread, the smell whereof reached even as far as the sidewalk in
front of the cottage, so that small boys returning from school snuffed
it in the breeze, and discoursed with each other on its suggestions;
so that the Widow Leech, who happened to pass, remembered she had n’t
called on Marilly Raowens for a consid’ble spell, and turned in at the
gate and rang three times with long intervals,--but all in vain, the
inside Widow having “spotted” the outside one through the blinds, and
whispered to her aides-de-camp to let the old thing ring away till she
pulled the bell out by the roots, but not to stir to open the door.

Widow Rowens was what they called a real smart, capable woman, not very
great on books, perhaps, but knew what was what and who was who as well
as another,--knew how to make the little cottage look pretty, how to set
out a tea-table, and, what a good many women never can find out, knew
her own style and “got herself up tip-top,” as our young friend Master
Geordie, Colonel Sprowle’s heir-apparent, remarked to his friend from
one of the fresh-water colleges. Flowers were abundant now, and she
had dressed her rooms tastefully with them. The centre-table had two or
three gilt-edged books lying carelessly about on it, and some prints
and a stereoscope with stereographs to match, chiefly groups of picnics,
weddings, etc., in which the same somewhat fatigued looking ladies
of fashion and brides received the attentions of the same
unpleasant-looking young men, easily identified under their different
disguises, consisting of fashionable raiment such as gentlemen are
supposed to wear habitually. With these, however, were some pretty
English scenes,--pretty except for the old fellow with the hanging
under-lip who infests every one of that interesting series; and a statue
or two, especially that famous one commonly called the Lahcoon, so as to
rhyme with moon and spoon, and representing an old man with his two sons
in the embraces of two monstrous serpents.

There is no denying that it was a very dashing achievement of the
Widow’s to bring together so considerable a number of desirable guests.
She felt proud of her feat; but as to the triumph of getting Dudley
Venner to come out for a visit to Hyacinth Cottage, she was surprised
and almost frightened at her own success. So much might depend on the
impressions of that evening!

The next thing was to be sure that everybody should be in the right
place at the tea-table, and this the Widow thought she could manage by a
few words to the older guests and a little shuffling about and shifting
when they got to the table. To settle everything the Widow made out
a diagram, which the reader should have a chance of inspecting in an
authentic copy, if these pages were allowed under any circumstances to
be the vehicle of illustrations. If, however, he or she really wishes to
see the way the pieces stood as they were placed at the beginning of the
game, (the Widow’s gambit,) he or she had better at once take a sheet
of paper, draw an oval, and arrange the characters according to the
following schedule.

At the head of the table, the Hostess, Widow Marilla Rowens. Opposite
her, at the other end, Rev. Dr. Honeywood. At the right of the Hostess,
Dudley Veneer, next him Helen Darley, next her Dr. Kittredge, next
him Mrs. Blanche Creamer, then the Reverend Doctor. At the left of
the Hostess, Bernard Langdon, next him Letty Forrester, next Letty Mr.
Richard Veneer, next him Elsie, and so to the Reverend Doctor again.

The company came together a little before the early hour at which it was
customary to take tea in Rockland. The Widow knew everybody, of course:
who was there in Rockland she did not know? But some of them had to
be introduced: Mr. Richard Veneer to Mr. Bernard, Mr. Bernard to Miss
Letty, Dudley Veneer to Miss Helen Darley, and so on. The two young men
looked each other straight in the eyes, both full of youthful life,
but one of frank and fearless aspect, the other with a dangerous feline
beauty alien to the New England half of his blood.

The guests talked, turned over the prints, looked at the flowers, opened
the “Proverbial Philosophy” with gilt edges, and the volume of Plays by
W. Shakespeare, examined the horse-pictures on the walls, and so passed
away the time until tea was announced, when they paired off for the room
where it was in readiness. The Widow had managed it well; everything was
just as she wanted it. Dudley Veneer was between herself and the poor
tired-looking schoolmistress with her faded colors. Blanche Creamer, a
lax, tumble-to-pieces, Greuze-ish looking blonde, whom the Widow
hated because the men took to her, was purgatoried between the two old
Doctors, and could see all the looks that passed between Dick Venner and
his cousin. The young schoolmaster could talk to Miss Letty: it was his
business to know how to talk to schoolgirls. Dick would amuse himself
with his cousin Elsie. The old Doctors only wanted to be well fed and
they would do well enough.

It would be very pleasant to describe the tea-table; but in reality, it
did not pretend to offer a plethoric banquet to the guests. The Widow
had not visited the mansion-houses for nothing, and she had learned
there that an overloaded tea-table may do well enough for farm-hands
when they come in at evening from their work and sit down unwashed in
their shirtsleeves, but that for decently bred people such an insult to
the memory of a dinner not yet half-assimilated is wholly inadmissible.
Everything was delicate, and almost everything of fair complexion: white
bread and biscuits, frosted and sponge cake, cream, honey, straw-colored
butter; only a shadow here and there, where the fire had crisped and
browned the surfaces of a stack of dry toast, or where a preserve had
brought away some of the red sunshine of the last year’s summer. The
Widow shall have the credit of her well-ordered tea-table, also of her
bountiful cream-pitchers; for it is well known that city-people find
cream a very scarce luxury in a good many country-houses of more
pretensions than Hyacinth Cottage. There are no better maims for ladies
who give tea-parties than these:

Cream is thicker than water. Large heart never loved little cream pot.

There is a common feeling in genteel families that the third meal of
the day is not so essential a part of the daily bread as to require any
especial acknowledgment to the Providence which bestows it. Very devout
people, who would never sit down to a breakfast or a dinner without the
grace before meat which honors the Giver of it, feel as if they thanked
Heaven enough for their tea and toast by partaking of them cheerfully
without audible petition or ascription. But the Widow was not exactly
mansion-house-bred, and so thought it necessary to give the Reverend
Doctor a peculiar look which he understood at once as inviting his
professional services. He, therefore, uttered a few simple words of
gratitude, very quietly,--much to the satisfaction of some of the
guests, who had expected one of those elaborate effusions, with rolling
up of the eyes and rhetorical accents, so frequent with eloquent divines
when they address their Maker in genteel company.

Everybody began talking with the person sitting next at hand. Mr.
Bernard naturally enough turned his attention first to the Widow; but
somehow or other the right side of the Widow seemed to be more
wide awake than the left side, next him, and he resigned her to
the courtesies of Mr. Dudley Venner, directing himself, not very
unwillingly, to the young girl next him on the other side. Miss Letty
Forrester, the granddaughter of the Reverend Doctor, was city-bred, as
anybody might see, and city-dressed, as any woman would know at sight; a
man might only feel the general effect of clear, well-matched colors, of
harmonious proportions, of the cut which makes everything cling like a
bather’s sleeve where a natural outline is to be kept, and ruffle itself
up like the hackle of a pitted fighting-cock where art has a right to
luxuriate in silken exuberance. How this citybred and city-dressed girl
came to be in Rockland Mr. Bernard did not know, but he knew at any rate
that she was his next neighbor and entitled to his courtesies. She was
handsome, too, when he came to look, very handsome when he came to
look again,--endowed with that city beauty which is like the beauty of
wall-fruit, something finer in certain respects than can be reared off
the pavement.

The miserable routinists who keep repeating invidiously Cowper’s

    “God made the country and man made the town,”

as if the town were a place to kill out the race in, do not know what
they are talking about. Where could they raise such Saint-Michael pears,
such Saint-Germains, such Brown-Beurres, as we had until within a few
years growing within the walls of our old city-gardens? Is the dark
and damp cavern where a ragged beggar hides himself better than a
town-mansion which fronts the sunshine and backs on its own cool shadow,
with gas and water and all appliances to suit all needs? God made the
cavern and man made the house! What then?

There is no doubt that the pavement keeps a deal of mischief from coming
up out of the earth, and, with a dash off of it in summer, just to cool
the soles of the feet when it gets too hot, is the best place for many
constitutions, as some few practical people have already discovered. And
just so these beauties that grow and ripen against the city-walls, these
young fellows with cheeks like peaches and young girls with cheeks like
nectarines, show that the most perfect forms of artificial life can do
as much for the human product as garden-culture for strawberries and
blackberries.

If Mr. Bernard had philosophized or prosed in this way, with so pretty,
nay, so lovely a neighbor as Miss Letty Forrester waiting for him to
speak to her, he would have to be dropped from this narrative as a
person unworthy of his good-fortune, and not deserving the kind reader’s
further notice. On the contrary, he no sooner set his eyes fairly on her
than he said to himself that she was charming, and that he wished she
were one of his scholars at the Institute. So he began talking with her
in an easy way; for he knew something of young girls by this time, and,
of course, could adapt himself to a young lady who looked as if she
might be not more than fifteen or sixteen years old, and therefore
could hardly be a match in intellectual resources for the seventeen and
eighteen year-old first-class scholars of the Apollinean Institute.
But city-wall-fruit ripens early, and he soon found that this girl’s
training had so sharpened her wits and stored her memory, that he need
not be at the trouble to stoop painfully in order to come down to her
level.

The beauty of good-breeding is that it adjusts itself to all relations
without effort, true to itself always however the manners of those
around it may change. Self-respect and respect for others,--the
sensitive consciousness poises itself in these as the compass in the
ship’s binnacle balances itself and maintains its true level within
the two concentric rings which suspend it on their pivots. This
thorough-bred school-girl quite enchanted Mr. Bernard. He could not
understand where she got her style, her way of dress, her enunciation,
her easy manners. The minister was a most worthy gentleman, but this
was not the Rockland native-born manner; some new element had come in
between the good, plain, worthy man and this young girl, fit to be a
Crown Prince’s partner where there were a thousand to choose from.

He looked across to Helen Darley, for he knew she would understand the
glance of admiration with which he called her attention to the young
beauty at his side; and Helen knew what a young girl could be, as
compared with what too many a one is, as well as anybody.

This poor, dear Helen of ours! How admirable the contrast between her
and the Widow on the other side of Dudley Venner! But, what was very
odd, that gentleman apparently thought the contrast was to the advantage
of this poor, dear Helen. At any rate, instead of devoting himself
solely to the Widow, he happened to be just at that moment talking in a
very interested and, apparently, not uninteresting way to his right-hand
neighbor, who, on her part, never looked more charmingly,--as Mr.
Bernard could not help saying to himself,--but, to be sure, he had just
been looking at the young girl next him, so that his eyes were brimful
of beauty, and may have spilled some of it on the first comer: for
you know M. Becquerel has been showing us lately how everything
is phosphorescent; that it soaks itself with light in an instant’s
exposure, so that it is wet with liquid sunbeams, or, if you will,
tremulous with luminous vibrations, when first plunged into the negative
bath of darkness, and betrays itself by the light which escapes from its
surface.

Whatever were the reason, this poor, dear Helen never looked so sweetly.
Her plainly parted brown hair, her meek, blue eyes, her cheek just a
little tinged with color, the almost sad simplicity of her dress, and
that look he knew so well,--so full of cheerful patience, so sincere,
that he had trusted her from the first moment as the believers of the
larger half of Christendom trust the Blessed Virgin,--Mr. Bernard took
this all in at a glance, and felt as pleased as if it had been his own
sister Dorothea Elizabeth that he was looking at. As for Dudley Veneer,
Mr. Bernard could not help being struck by the animated expression of
his countenance. It certainly showed great kindness, on his part, to
pay so much attention to this quiet girl, when he had the
thunder-and-lightning Widow on the other side of him.

Mrs. Marilla Rowens did not know what to make of it. She had made her
tea-party expressly for Mr. Dudley Veneer. She had placed him just as
she wanted, between herself and a meek, delicate woman who dressed in
gray, wore a plain breastpin with hair in it, who taught a pack of
girls up there at the school, and looked as if she were born for a
teacher,--the very best foil that she could have chosen; and here was
this man, polite enough to herself, to be sure, but turning round to
that very undistinguished young person as if he rather preferred her
conversation of the two!

The truth was that Dudley Veneer and Helen Darley met as two travellers
might meet in the desert, wearied, both of them, with their long
journey, one having food, but no water, the other water, but no food.
Each saw that the other had been in long conflict with some trial; for
their voices were low and tender, as patiently borne sorrow and humbly
uttered prayers make every human voice. Through these tones, more than
by what they said, they came into natural sympathetic relations with
each other. Nothing could be more unstudied. As for Dudley Venner, no
beauty in all the world could have so soothed and magnetized him as the
very repose and subdued gentleness which the Widow had thought would
make the best possible background for her own more salient and effective
attractions. No doubt, Helen, on her side, was almost too readily
pleased with the confidence this new acquaintance she was making seemed
to show her from the very first. She knew so few men of any condition!
Mr. Silas Peckham: he was her employer, and she ought to think of him
as well as she could; but every time she thought of him it was with
a shiver of disgust. Mr. Bernard Langdon: a noble young man, a true
friend, like a brother to her,--God bless him, and send him some young
heart as fresh as his own! But this gentleman produced a new impression
upon her, quite different from any to which she was accustomed. His
rich, low tones had the strangest significance to her; she felt sure
he must have lived through long experiences, sorrowful like her own.
Elsie’s father! She looked into his dark eyes, as she listened to him,
to see if they had any glimmer of that peculiar light, diamond-bright,
but cold and still, which she knew so well in Elsie’s. Anything but
that! Never was there more tenderness, it seemed to her, than in the
whole look and expression of Elsie’s father. She must have been a great
trial to him; yet his face was that of one who had been saddened, not
soured, by his discipline. Knowing what Elsie must be to him, how hard
she must make any parent’s life, Helen could not but be struck with the
interest Mr. Dudley Venner showed in her as his daughter’s instructress.
He was too kind to her; again and again she meekly turned from him, so
as to leave him free to talk to the showy lady at his other side, who
was looking all the while

                         “like the night
          Of cloudless realms and starry skies;”

but still Mr. Dudley Venner, after a few courteous words, came back to
the blue eyes and brown hair; still he kept his look fixed upon her, and
his tones grew sweeter and lower as he became more interested in talk,
until this poor, dear Helen, what with surprise, and the bashfulness
natural to one who had seen little of the gay world, and the stirring of
deep, confused sympathies with this suffering father, whose heart seemed
so full of kindness, felt her cheeks glowing with unwonted flame, and
betrayed the pleasing trouble of her situation by looking so sweetly as
to arrest Mr. Bernard’s eye for a moment, when he looked away from the
young beauty sitting next him.

Elsie meantime had been silent, with that singular, still, watchful
look which those who knew her well had learned to fear. Her head just a
little inclined on one side, perfectly motionless for whole minutes, her
eyes seeming to, grow small and bright, as always when she was under her
evil influence, she was looking obliquely at the young girl on the
other side of her cousin Dick and next to Bernard Langdon. As for Dick
himself, she seemed to be paying very little attention to him. Sometimes
her eyes would wander off to Mr. Bernard, and their expression, as old
Dr. Kittredge, who watched her for a while pretty keenly, noticed, would
change perceptibly. One would have said that she looked with a kind of
dull hatred at the girl, but with a half-relenting reproachful anger at
Mr. Bernard.

Miss Letty Forrester, at whom Elsie had been looking from time to time
in this fixed way, was conscious meanwhile of some unusual influence.
First it was a feeling of constraint,--then, as it were, a diminished
power over the muscles, as if an invisible elastic cobweb were spinning
round her,--then a tendency to turn away from Mr. Bernard, who was
making himself very agreeable, and look straight into those eyes which
would not leave her, and which seemed to be drawing her towards them,
while at the same time they chilled the blood in all her veins.

Mr. Bernard saw this influence coming over her. All at once he noticed
that she sighed, and that some little points of moisture began to
glisten on her forehead. But she did not grow pale perceptibly; she
had no involuntary or hysteric movements; she still listened to him and
smiled naturally enough. Perhaps she was only nervous at being stared
at. At any rate, she was coming under some unpleasant influence or
other, and Mr. Bernard had seen enough of the strange impression Elsie
sometimes produced to wish this young girl to be relieved from it,
whatever it was. He turned toward Elsie and looked at her in such a way
as to draw her eyes upon him. Then he looked steadily and calmly into
them. It was a great effort, for some perfectly inexplicable reason.
At one instant he thought he could not sit where he was; he must go and
speak to Elsie. Then he wanted to take his eyes away from hers; there
was something intolerable in the light that came from them. But he was
determined to look her down, and he believed he could do it, for he had
seen her countenance change more than once when he had caught her gaze
steadily fixed on him. All this took not minutes, but seconds. Presently
she changed color slightly,--lifted her head, which was inclined a
little to one side,--shut and opened her eyes two or three times, as if
they had been pained or wearied,--and turned away baffled, and shamed,
as it would seem, and shorn for the time of her singular and formidable
or at least evil-natured power of swaying the impulses of those around
her.

It takes too long to describe these scenes where a good deal of life
is concentrated into a few silent seconds. Mr. Richard Veneer had sat
quietly through it all, although this short pantomime had taken place
literally before his face. He saw what was going on well enough, and
understood it all perfectly well. Of course the schoolmaster had been
trying to make Elsie jealous, and had succeeded. The little schoolgirl
was a decoy-duck,--that was all. Estates like the Dudley property were
not to be had every day, and no doubt the Yankee usher was willing to
take some pains to make sure of Elsie. Does n’t Elsie look savage? Dick
involuntarily moved his chair a little away from her, and thought he
felt a pricking in the small white scars on his wrist. A dare-devil
fellow, but somehow or other this girl had taken strange hold of his
imagination, and he often swore to himself, that, when he married her,
he would carry a loaded revolver with him to his bridal chamber.

Mrs. Blanche Creamer raged inwardly at first to find herself between
the two old gentlemen of the party. It very soon gave her great
comfort, however, to see that Marilla, Rowens had just missed it in her
calculations, and she chuckled immensely to find Dudley Veneer devoting
himself chiefly to Helen Darley. If the Rowens woman should hook Dudley,
she felt as if she should gnaw all her nails off for spite. To think of
seeing her barouching about Rockland behind a pair of long-tailed bays
and a coachman with a band on his hat, while she, Blanche Creamer, was
driving herself about in a one-horse “carriage”! Recovering her spirits
by degrees, she began playing her surfaces off at the two old Doctors,
just by way of practice. First she heaved up a glaring white shoulder,
the right one, so that the Reverend Doctor should be stunned by it, if
such a thing might be. The Reverend Doctor was human, as the Apostle was
not ashamed to confess himself. Half-devoutly and half-mischievously he
repeated inwardly, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” As the
Reverend Doctor did not show any lively susceptibility, she thought
she would try the left shoulder on old Dr. Kittredge. That worthy
and experienced student of science was not at all displeased with the
manoeuvre, and lifted his head so as to command the exhibition through
his glasses. “Blanche is good for half a dozen years or so, if she is
careful,” the Doctor said to himself, “and then she must take to her
prayer-book.” After this spasmodic failure of Mrs. Blanche Creamer’s
to stir up the old Doctors, she returned again to the pleasing task of
watching the Widow in her evident discomfiture. But dark as the Widow
looked in her half-concealed pet, she was but as a pale shadow, compared
to Elsie in her silent concentration of shame and anger.

“Well, there is one good thing,” said Mrs. Blanche Creamer; “Dick
doesn’t get much out of that cousin of his this evening! Does n’t he
look handsome, though?”

So Mrs. Blanche, being now a good deal taken up with her observations of
those friends of hers and ours, began to be rather careless of her two
old Doctors, who naturally enough fell into conversation with each other
across the white surfaces of that lady, perhaps not very politely, but,
under the circumstances, almost as a matter of necessity.

When a minister and a doctor get talking together, they always have a
great deal to say; and so it happened that the company left the table
just as the two Doctors were beginning to get at each other’s ideas
about various interesting matters. If we follow them into the other
parlor, we can, perhaps, pick up something of their conversation.



CHAPTER XXII. WHY DOCTORS DIFFER.

The company rearranged itself with some changes after leaving the
tea-table. Dudley Veneer was very polite to the Widow; but that lady
having been called off for a few moments for some domestic arrangement,
he slid back to the side of Helen Darley, his daughter’s faithful
teacher. Elsie had got away by herself, and was taken up in studying the
stereoscopic Laocoon. Dick, being thus set free, had been seized upon by
Mrs. Blanche Creamer, who had diffused herself over three-quarters of
a sofa and beckoned him to the remaining fourth. Mr. Bernard and Miss
Letty were having a snug fete-’a-fete in the recess of a bay-window. The
two Doctors had taken two arm-chairs and sat squared off against each
other. Their conversation is perhaps as well worth reporting as that of
the rest of the company, and, as it was carried on in a louder tone, was
of course more easy to gather and put on record.

It was a curious sight enough to see those two representatives of two
great professions brought face to face to talk over the subjects they
had been looking at all their lives from such different points of
view. Both were old; old enough to have been moulded by their habits of
thought and life; old enough to have all their beliefs “fretted in,” as
vintners say,--thoroughly worked up with their characters. Each of them
looked his calling. The Reverend Doctor had lived a good deal among
books in his study; the Doctor, as we will call the medical gentleman,
had been riding about the country for between thirty and forty years.
His face looked tough and weather-worn; while the Reverend Doctor’s,
hearty as it appeared, was of finer texture. The Doctor’s was the graver
of the two; there was something of grimness about it, partly owing
to the northeasters he had faced for so many years, partly to long
companionship with that stern personage who never deals in sentiment or
pleasantry. His speech was apt to be brief and peremptory; it was a way
he had got by ordering patients; but he could discourse somewhat, on
occasion, as the reader may find out. The Reverend Doctor had an open,
smiling expression, a cheery voice, a hearty laugh, and a cordial
way with him which some thought too lively for his cloth, but which
children, who are good judges of such matters, delighted in, so that
he was the favorite of all the little rogues about town. But he had the
clerical art of sobering down in a moment, when asked to say grace while
somebody was in the middle of some particularly funny story; and though
his voice was so cheery in common talk, in the pulpit, like almost
all preachers, he had a wholly different and peculiar way of speaking,
supposed to be more acceptable to the Creator than the natural manner.
In point of fact, most of our anti-papal and anti-prelatical clergymen
do really intone their prayers, without suspecting in the least that
they have fallen into such a Romish practice.

This is the way the conversation between the Doctor of Divinity and the
Doctor of Medicine was going on at the point where these notes take it
up.

“Obi tres medici, duo athei, you know, Doctor. Your profession has
always had the credit of being lax in doctrine,--though pretty stringent
in practice, ha! ha!”

“Some priest said that,” the Doctor answered, dryly. “They always talked
Latin when they had a bigger lie than common to get rid of.”

“Good!” said the Reverend Doctor; “I’m afraid they would lie a little
sometimes. But isn’t there some truth in it, Doctor? Don’t you think
your profession is apt to see ‘Nature’ in the place of the God of
Nature,--to lose sight of the great First Cause in their daily study of
secondary causes?”

“I’ve thought about that,” the Doctor answered, “and I’ve talked about
it and read about it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that nobody
believes in God and trusts in God quite so much as the doctors; only it
is n’t just the sort of Deity that some of your profession have wanted
them to take up with. There was a student of mine wrote a dissertation
on the Natural Theology of Health and Disease, and took that old lying
proverb for his motto. He knew a good deal more about books than ever
I did, and had studied in other countries. I’ll tell you what he said
about it. He said the old Heathen Doctor, Galen, praised God for his
handiwork in the human body, just as if he had been a Christian, or the
Psalmist himself. He said they had this sentence set up in large letters
in the great lecture-room in Paris where he attended: I dressed his
wound and God healed him. That was an old surgeon’s saying. And he gave
a long list of doctors who were not only Christians, but famous ones. I
grant you, though, ministers and doctors are very apt to see differently
in spiritual matters.”

“That’s it,” said the Reverend Doctor; “you are apt to see ‘Nature’
where we see God, and appeal to ‘Science’ where we are contented with
Revelation.”

“We don’t separate God and Nature, perhaps, as you do,” the Doctor
answered. “When we say that God is omnipresent and omnipotent and
omniscient, we are a little more apt to mean it than your folks are. We
think, when a wound heals, that God’s presence and power and knowledge
are there, healing it, just as that old surgeon did. We think a good
many theologians, working among their books, don’t see the facts of the
world they live in. When we tell ‘em of these facts, they are apt to
call us materialists and atheists and infidels, and all that. We can’t
help seeing the facts, and we don’t think it’s wicked to mention ‘em.”

“Do tell me,” the Reverend Doctor said, “some of these facts we are in
the habit of overlooking, and which your profession thinks it can see
and understand.”

“That’s very easy,” the Doctor replied. “For instance: you don’t
understand or don’t allow for idiosyncrasies as we learn to. We know
that food and physic act differently with different people; but you
think the same kind of truth is going to suit, or ought to suit, all
minds. We don’t fight with a patient because he can’t take magnesia or
opium; but you are all the time quarrelling over your beliefs, as if
belief did not depend very much on race and constitution, to say nothing
of early training.”

“Do you mean to say that every man is not absolutely free to choose his
beliefs?”

“The men you write about in your studies are, but not the men we see
in the real world. There is some apparently congenital defect in the
Indians, for instance, that keeps them from choosing civilization and
Christianity. So with the Gypsies, very likely. Everybody knows
that Catholicism or Protestantism is a good deal a matter of race.
Constitution has more to do with belief than people think for. I went to
a Universalist church, when I was in the city one day, to hear a famous
man whom all the world knows, and I never saw such pews-full of broad
shoulders and florid faces, and substantial, wholesome-looking persons,
male and female, in all my life. Why, it was astonishing. Either their
creed made them healthy, or they chose it because they were healthy.
Your folks have never got the hang of human nature.”

“I am afraid this would be considered a degrading and dangerous view of
human beliefs and responsibility for them,” the Reverend Doctor replied.
“Prove to a man that his will is governed by something outside of
himself, and you have lost all hold on his moral and religious nature.
There is nothing bad men want to believe so much as that they are
governed by necessity. Now that which is at once degrading and dangerous
cannot be true.”

“No doubt,” the Doctor replied, “all large views of mankind limit our
estimate of the absolute freedom of the will. But I don’t think it
degrades or endangers us, for this reason, that, while it makes us
charitable to the rest of mankind, our own sense of freedom, whatever it
is, is never affected by argument. Conscience won’t be reasoned with.
We feel that we can practically do this of that, and if we choose the
wrong, we know we are responsible; but observation teaches us that this
or that other race or individual has not the same practical freedom of
choice. I don’t see how we can avoid this conclusion in the instance
of the American Indians. The science of Ethnology has upset a good many
theoretical notions about human nature.”

“Science!” said the Reverend Doctor, “science! that was a word the
Apostle Paul did not seem to think much of, if we may judge by the
Epistle to Timothy: ‘Oppositions of science falsely so called.’ I own
that I am jealous of that word and the pretensions that go with
it. Science has seemed to me to be very often only the handmaid of
skepticism.”

“Doctor!” the physician said, emphatically, “science is knowledge.
Nothing that is not known properly belongs to science. Whenever
knowledge obliges us to doubt, we are always safe in doubting.
Astronomers foretell eclipses, say how long comets are to stay with us,
point out where a new planet is to be found. We see they know what they
assert, and the poor old Roman Catholic Church has at last to knock
under. So Geology proves a certain succession of events, and the best
Christian in the world must make the earth’s history square with it.
Besides, I don’t think you remember what great revelations of himself
the Creator has made in the minds of the men who have built up science.
You seem to me to hold his human masterpieces very cheap. Don’t
you think the ‘inspiration of the Almighty’ gave Newton and Cuvier
‘understanding’?”

The Reverend Doctor was not arguing for victory. In fact, what he
wanted was to call out the opinions of the old physician by a show of
opposition, being already predisposed to agree with many of them. He was
rather trying the common arguments, as one tries tricks of fence merely
to learn the way of parrying. But just here he saw a tempting opening,
and could not resist giving a home-thrust.

“Yes; but you surely would not consider it inspiration of the same kind
as that of the writers of the Old Testament?”

That cornered the Doctor, and he paused a moment before he replied. Then
he raised his head, so as to command the Reverend Doctor’s face through
his spectacles, and said,

“I did not say that. You are clear, I suppose, that the Omniscient spoke
through Solomon, but that Shakespeare wrote without his help?”

The Reverend Doctor looked very grave. It was a bold, blunt way
of putting the question. He turned it aside with the remark, that
Shakespeare seemed to him at times to come as near inspiration as any
human being not included among the sacred writers.

“Doctor,” the physician began, as from a sudden suggestion, “you won’t
quarrel with me, if I tell you some of my real thoughts, will you?”

“Say on, my dear Sir, say on,” the minister answered, with his most
genial smile; “your real thoughts are just what I want to get at. A
man’s real thoughts are a great rarity. If I don’t agree with you, I
shall like to hear you.”

The Doctor began; and in order to give his thoughts more connectedly, we
will omit the conversational breaks, the questions and comments of the
clergyman, and all accidental interruptions.

“When the old ecclesiastics said that where there were three doctors
there were two atheists, they lied, of course. They called everybody who
differed from them atheists, until they found out that not believing in
God was n’t nearly so ugly a crime as not believing in some particular
dogma; then they called them heretics, until so many good people
had been burned under that name that it began to smell too strong of
roasting flesh,--and after that infidels, which properly means people
without faith, of whom there are not a great many in any place or time.
But then, of course, there was some reason why doctors shouldn’t think
about religion exactly as ministers did, or they never would have made
that proverb. It ‘s very likely that something of the same kind is true
now; whether it is so or not, I am going to tell you the reasons why it
would not be strange, if doctors should take rather different views from
clergymen about some matters of belief. I don’t, of course, mean all
doctors nor all clergymen. Some doctors go as far as any old New England
divine, and some clergymen agree very well with the doctors that think
least according to rule.

“To begin with their ideas of the Creator himself. They always see him
trying to help his creatures out of their troubles. A man no sooner gets
a cut, than the Great Physician, whose agency we often call Nature, goes
to work, first to stop the blood, and then to heal the wound, and then
to make the scar as small as possible. If a man’s pain exceeds a certain
amount, he faints, and so gets relief. If it lasts too long, habit comes
in to make it tolerable. If it is altogether too bad, he dies. That
is the best thing to be done under the circumstances. So you see, the
doctor is constantly in presence of a benevolent agency working against
a settled order of things, of which pain and disease are the accidents,
so to speak. Well, no doubt they find it harder than clergymen to
believe that there can be any world or state from which this benevolent
agency is wholly excluded. This may be very wrong; but it is not
unnatural.

“They can hardly conceive of a permanent state of being in which cuts
would never try to heal, nor habit render suffering endurable. This is
one effect of their training.

“Then, again, their attention is very much called to human limitations.
Ministers work out the machinery of responsibility in an abstract kind
of way; they have a sort of algebra of human nature, in which friction
and strength (or weakness) of material are left out. You see, a doctor
is in the way of studying children from the moment of birth upwards. For
the first year or so he sees that they are just as much pupils of their
Maker as the young of any other animals. Well, their Maker trains them
to pure selfishness. Why? In order that they may be sure to take care of
themselves. So you see, when a child comes to be, we will say a year and
a day old, and makes his first choice between right and wrong, he is
at a disadvantage; for he, has that vis a tergo, as we doctors call it,
that force from behind, of a whole year’s life of selfishness, for which
he is no more to blame than a calf is to blame for having lived in the
same way, purely to gratify his natural appetites. Then we see that baby
grow up to a child, and, if he is fat and stout and red and lively,
we expect to find him troublesome and noisy, and, perhaps, sometimes
disobedient more or less; that’s the way each new generation breaks its
egg-shell; but if he is very weak and thin, and is one of the kind that
may be expected to die early, he will very likely sit in the house all
day and read good books about other little sharp-faced children just
like himself, who died early, having always been perfectly indifferent
to all the out-door amusements of the wicked little red-cheeked
children.

“Some of the little folks we watch grow up to be young women, and
occasionally one of them gets nervous, what we call hysterical, and then
that girl will begin to play all sorts of pranks,--to lie and cheat,
perhaps, in the most unaccountable way, so that she might seem to a
minister a good example of total depravity. We don’t see her in that
light. We give her iron and valerian, and get her on horseback, if we
can, and so expect to make her will come all right again. By and by we
are called in to see an old baby, threescore years and ten or more old.
We find this old baby has never got rid of that first year’s teaching
which led him to fill his stomach with all he could pump into it, and
his hands with everything he could grab. People call him a miser. We are
sorry for him; but we can’t help remembering his first year’s training,
and the natural effect of money on the great majority of those that have
it. So while the ministers say he ‘shall hardly enter into the kingdom
of heaven,’ we like to remind them that ‘with God all things are
possible.’

“Once more, we see all kinds of monomania and insanity. We learn from
them to recognize all sorts of queer tendencies in minds supposed to
be sane, so that we have nothing but compassion for a large class of
persons condemned as sinners by theologians, but considered by us as
invalids. We have constant reasons for noticing the transmission of
qualities from parents to offspring, and we find it hard to hold a
child accountable in any moral point of view for inherited bad temper
or tendency to drunkenness,--as hard as we should to blame him for
inheriting gout or asthma. I suppose we are more lenient with human
nature than theologians generally are. We know that the spirits of men
and their views of the present and the future go up and down with the
barometer, and that a permanent depression of one inch in the mercurial
column would affect the whole theology of Christendom.

“Ministers talk about the human will as if it stood on a high look-out,
with plenty of light, and elbowroom reaching to the horizon. Doctors
are constantly noticing how it is tied up and darkened by inferior
organization, by disease, and all sorts of crowding interferences, until
they get to look upon Hottentots and Indians--and a good many of their
own race as a kind of self-conscious blood-clocks with very limited
power of self-determination. That’s the tendency, I say, of a doctor’s
experience. But the people to whom they address their statements of the
results of their observation belong to the thinking class of the highest
races, and they are conscious of a great deal of liberty of will. So in
the face of the fact that civilization with all it offers has proved a
dead failure with the aboriginal races of this country,--on the whole, I
say, a dead failure,--they talk as if they knew from their own will all
about that of a Digger Indian! We are more apt to go by observation of
the facts in the case. We are constantly seeing weakness where you see
depravity. I don’t say we’re right; I only tell what you must often find
to be the fact, right or wrong, in talking with doctors. You see, too,
our notions of bodily and moral disease, or sin, are apt to go together.
We used to be as hard on sickness as you were on sin. We know better
now. We don’t look at sickness as we used to, and try to poison it
with everything that is offensive, burnt toads and earth-worms and
viper-broth, and worse things than these. We know that disease has
something back of it which the body isn’t to blame for, at least in most
cases, and which very often it is trying to get rid of. Just so with
sin. I will agree to take a hundred new-born babes of a certain stock
and return seventy-five of them in a dozen years true and honest, if not
‘pious’ children. And I will take another hundred, of a different stock,
and put them in the hands of certain Ann-Street or Five-Points teachers,
and seventy-five of them will be thieves and liars at the end of the
same dozen years. I have heard of an old character, Colonel Jaques, I
believe it was, a famous cattle-breeder, who used to say he could breed
to pretty much any pattern he wanted to. Well, we doctors see so much of
families, how the tricks of the blood keep breaking out, just as much in
character as they do in looks, that we can’t help feeling as if a great
many people hadn’t a fair chance to be what is called ‘good,’ and that
there isn’t a text in the Bible better worth keeping always in mind than
that one, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’

“As for our getting any quarter at the hands of theologians, we don’t
expect it, and have no right to. You don’t give each other any quarter.
I have had two religious books sent me by friends within a week or
two. One is Mr. Brownson’s; he is as fair and square as Euclid; a
real honest, strong thinker, and one that knows what he is talking
about,--for he has tried all sorts of religions, pretty much. He tells
us that the Roman Catholic Church is the one ‘through which alone we can
hope for heaven.’ The other is by a worthy Episcopal rector, who appears
to write as if he were in earnest, and he calls the Papacy the ‘Devil’s
Masterpiece,’ and talks about the ‘Satanic scheme’ of that very Church
‘through which alone,’ as Mr. Brownson tells us, ‘we can hope for
heaven.’

“What’s the use in our caring about hard words after this,--‘atheists,’
heretics, infidels, and the like? They’re, after all, only the cinders
picked up out of those heaps of ashes round the stumps of the old stakes
where they used to burn men, women, and children for not thinking just
like other folks. They ‘ll ‘crock’ your fingers, but they can’t burn us.

“Doctors are the best-natured people in the world, except when they get
fighting with each other. And they have some advantages over you. You
inherit your notions from a set of priests that had no wives and no
children, or none to speak of, and so let their humanity die out of
them. It did n’t seem much to them to condemn a few thousand millions of
people to purgatory or worse for a mistake of judgment. They didn’t know
what it was to have a child look up in their faces and say ‘Father!’
It will take you a hundred or two more years to get decently humanized,
after so many centuries of de-humanizing celibacy.

“Besides, though our libraries are, perhaps, not commonly quite so big
as yours, God opens one book to physicians that a good many of you don’t
know much about,--the Book of Life. That is none of your dusty folios
with black letters between pasteboard and leather, but it is printed
in bright red type, and the binding of it is warm and tender to every
touch. They reverence that book as one of the Almighty’s infallible
revelations. They will insist on reading you lessons out of it, whether
you call them names or not. These will always be lessons of charity. No
doubt, nothing can be more provoking to listen to. But do beg your folks
to remember that the Smithfield fires are all out, and that the cinders
are very dirty and not in the least dangerous. They’d a great deal
better be civil, and not be throwing old proverbs in the doctors’ faces,
when they say that the man of the old monkish notions is one thing
and the man they watch from his cradle to his coffin is something very
different.”

It has cost a good deal of trouble to work the Doctor’s talk up into
this formal shape. Some of his sentences have been rounded off for him,
and the whole brought into a more rhetorical form than it could have
pretended to, if taken as it fell from his lips. But the exact course
of his remarks has been followed, and as far as possible his expressions
have been retained. Though given in the form of a discourse, it must
be remembered that this was a conversation, much more fragmentary and
colloquial than it seems as just read.

The Reverend Doctor was very far from taking offence at the old
physician’s freedom of speech. He knew him to be honest, kind,
charitable, self-denying, wherever any sorrow was to be alleviated,
always reverential, with a cheerful trust in the great Father of all
mankind. To be sure, his senior deacon, old Deacon Shearer,--who seemed
to have got his Scripture-teachings out of the “Vinegar Bible,” (the one
where Vineyard is misprinted Vinegar; which a good many people seem to
have adopted as the true reading,)--his senior deacon had called Dr.
Kittredge an “infidel.” But the Reverend Doctor could not help feeling,
that, unless the text, “By their fruits ye shall know them,” were an
interpolation, the Doctor was the better Christian of the two. Whatever
his senior deacon might think about it, he said to himself that he
shouldn’t be surprised if he met the Doctor in heaven yet, inquiring
anxiously after old Deacon Shearer.

He was on the point of expressing himself very frankly to the Doctor,
with that benevolent smile on his face which had sometimes come near
giving offence to the readers of the “Vinegar” edition, but he saw that
the physician’s attention had been arrested by Elsie. He looked in the
same direction himself, and could not help being struck by her attitude
and expression. There was something singularly graceful in the curves of
her neck and the rest of her figure, but she was so perfectly still that
it seemed as if she were hardly breathing. Her eyes were fixed on the
young girl with whom Mr. Bernard was talking. He had often noticed their
brilliancy, but now it seemed to him that they appeared dull, and the
look on her features was as of some passion which had missed its stroke.
Mr. Bernard’s companion seemed unconscious that she was the object
of this attention, and was listening to the young master as if he had
succeeded in making himself very agreeable.

Of course Dick Veneer had not mistaken the game that was going on. The
schoolmaster meant to make Elsie jealous,--and he had done it. That ‘s
it: get her savage first, and then come wheedling round her,--a sure
trick, if he isn’t headed off somehow. But Dick saw well enough that he
had better let Elsie alone just now, and thought the best way of killing
the evening would be to amuse himself in a little lively talk with
Mrs. Blanche Creamer, and incidentally to show Elsie that he could make
himself acceptable to other women, if not to herself.

The Doctor presently went up to Elsie, determined to engage her in
conversation and get her out of her thoughts, which he saw, by her look,
were dangerous. Her father had been on the point of leaving Helen Darley
to go to her, but felt easy enough when he saw the old Doctor at her
side, and so went on talking. The Reverend Doctor, being now left alone,
engaged the Widow Rowens, who put the best face on her vexation she
could, but was devoting herself to all the underground deities for
having been such a fool as to ask that pale-faced thing from the
Institute to fill up her party.

There is no space left to report the rest of the conversation. If there
was anything of any significance in it, it will turn up by and by, no
doubt. At ten o’clock the Reverend Doctor called Miss Letty, who had no
idea it was so late; Mr. Bernard gave his arm to Helen; Mr. Richard saw
to Mrs. Blanche Creamer; the Doctor gave Elsie a cautioning look, and
went off alone, thoughtful; Dudley Venner and his daughter got into
their carriage and were whirled away. The Widow’s gambit was played, and
she had not won the game.



CHAPTER XXIII. THE WILD HUNTSMAN.

The young master had not forgotten the old Doctor’s cautions. Without
attributing any great importance to the warning he had given him, Mr.
Bernard had so far complied with his advice that he was becoming a
pretty good shot with the pistol. It was an amusement as good as many
others to practise, and he had taken a fancy to it after the first few
days.

The popping of a pistol at odd hours in the backyard of the Institute
was a phenomenon more than sufficiently remarkable to be talked about
in Rockland. The viscous intelligence of a country-village is not easily
stirred by the winds which ripple the fluent thought of great cities,
but it holds every straw and entangles every insect that lights upon it.
It soon became rumored in the town that the young master was a wonderful
shot with the pistol. Some said he could hit a fo’pence-ha’penny at
three rod; some, that he had shot a swallow, flying, with a single ball;
some, that he snuffed a candle five times out of six at ten paces, and
that he could hit any button in a man’s coat he wanted to. In other
words, as in all such cases, all the common feats were ascribed to him,
as the current jokes of the day are laid at the door of any noted wit,
however innocent he may be of them.

In the natural course of things, Mr. Richard Venner, who had by this
time made some acquaintances, as we have seen, among that class of the
population least likely to allow a live cinder of gossip to go out for
want of air, had heard incidentally that the master up there at the
Institute was all the time practising with a pistol, that they say
he can snuff a candle at ten rods, (that was Mrs. Blanche Creamer’s
version,) and that he could hit anybody he wanted to right in the eye,
as far as he could see the white of it.

Dick did not like the sound of all this any too well. Without believing
more than half of it, there was enough to make the Yankee schoolmaster
too unsafe to be trifled with. However, shooting at a mark was pleasant
work enough; he had no particular objection to it himself. Only he did
not care so much for those little popgun affairs that a man carries
in his pocket, and with which you could n’t shoot a fellow,--a robber,
say,--without getting the muzzle under his nose. Pistols for boys;
long-range rifles for men. There was such a gun lying in a closet with
the fowling-pieces. He would go out into the fields and see what he
could do as a marksman.

The nature of the mark which Dick chose for experimenting upon was
singular. He had found some panes of glass which had been removed
from an old sash, and he placed these successively before his target,
arranging them at different angles. He found that a bullet would go
through the glass without glancing or having its force materially
abated. It was an interesting fact in physics, and might prove of some
practical significance hereafter. Nobody knows what may turn up to
render these out-of-the-way facts useful. All this was done in a quiet
way in one of the bare spots high up the side of The Mountain. He
was very thoughtful in taking the precaution to get so far away;
rifle-bullets are apt to glance and come whizzing about people’s ears,
if they are fired in the neighborhood of houses. Dick satisfied himself
that he could be tolerably sure of hitting a pane of glass at a distance
of thirty rods, more or less, and that, if there happened to be anything
behind it, the glass would not materially alter the force or direction
of the bullet.

About this time it occurred to him also that there was an old
accomplishment of his which he would be in danger of losing for want of
practice, if he did not take some opportunity to try his hand and regain
its cunning, if it had begun to be diminished by disuse. For his first
trial, he chose an evening when the moon was shining, and after the hour
when the Rockland people were like to be stirring abroad. He was so far
established now that he could do much as he pleased without exciting
remark.

The prairie horse he rode, the mustang of the Pampas, wild as he was,
had been trained to take part in at least one exercise. This was the
accomplishment in which Mr. Richard now proposed to try himself. For
this purpose he sought the implement of which, as it may be remembered,
he had once made an incidental use,--the lasso, or long strip of hide
with a slip-noose at the end of it. He had been accustomed to playing
with such a thong from his boyhood, and had become expert in its use in
capturing wild cattle in the course of his adventures. Unfortunately,
there were no wild bulls likely to be met with in the neighborhood, to
become the subjects of his skill. A stray cow in the road, an ox or a
horse in a pasture, must serve his turn,--dull beasts, but moving marks
to aim at, at any rate.

Never, since he had galloped in the chase over the Pampas, had Dick
Venner felt such a sense of life and power as when he struck the long
spurs into his wild horse’s flanks, and dashed along the road with the
lasso lying like a coiled snake at the saddle-bow. In skilful hands, the
silent, bloodless noose, flying like an arrow, but not like that leaving
a wound behind it,--sudden as a pistol-shot, but without the telltale
explosion,--is one of the most fearful and mysterious weapons that arm
the hand of man. The old Romans knew how formidable, even in contest
with a gladiator equipped with sword, helmet, and shield, was the almost
naked retiarius, with his net in one hand and his three-pronged javelin
in the other. Once get a net over a man’s head, or a cord round his
neck, or, what is more frequently done nowadays, bonnet him by knocking
his hat down over his eyes, and he is at the mercy of his opponent. Our
soldiers who served against the Mexicans found this out too well. Many
a poor fellow has been lassoed by the fierce riders from the plains,
and fallen an easy victim to the captor who had snared him in the fatal
noose.

But, imposing as the sight of the wild huntsmen of the Pampas might
have been, Dick could not help laughing at the mock sublimity of his
situation, as he tried his first experiment on an unhappy milky mother
who had strayed from her herd and was wandering disconsolately along
the road, laying the dust, as slue went, with thready streams from her
swollen, swinging udders. “Here goes the Don at the windmill!” said
Dick, and tilted full speed at her, whirling the lasso round his head as
he rode. The creature swerved to one side of the way, as the wild horse
and his rider came rushing down upon her, and presently turned and ran,
as only cows and it would n’t be safe to say it--can run. Just before
he passed,--at twenty or thirty feet from her,--the lasso shot from his
hand, uncoiling as it flew, and in an instant its loop was round
her horns. “Well cast!” said Dick, as he galloped up to her side and
dexterously disengaged the lasso. “Now for a horse on the run!”

He had the good luck to find one, presently, grazing in a pasture at the
road-side. Taking down the rails of the fence at one point, he drove the
horse into the road and gave chase. It was a lively young animal enough,
and was easily roused to a pretty fast pace. As his gallop grew more
and more rapid, Dick gave the reins to the mustang, until the two horses
stretched themselves out in their longest strides. If the first feat
looked like play, the one he was now to attempt had a good deal the
appearance of real work. He touched the mustang with the spur, and in a
few fierce leaps found himself nearly abreast of the frightened animal
he was chasing. Once more he whirled the lasso round and round over his
head, and then shot it forth, as the rattlesnake shoots his head from
the loops against which it rests. The noose was round the horse’s neck,
and in another instant was tightened so as almost to stop his breath.
The prairie horse knew the trick of the cord, and leaned away from the
captive, so as to keep the thong tensely stretched between his neck and
the peak of the saddle to which it was fastened. Struggling was of no
use with a halter round his windpipe, and he very soon began to tremble
and stagger,--blind, no doubt, and with a roaring in his ears as of a
thousand battle-trumpets,--at any rate, subdued and helpless. That was
enough. Dick loosened his lasso, wound it up again, laid it like a pet
snake in a coil at his saddle-bow, turned his horse, and rode slowly
along towards the mansion-house.

The place had never looked more stately and beautiful to him than as
he now saw it in the moonlight. The undulations of the land,--the grand
mountain screen which sheltered the mansion from the northern blasts,
rising with all its hanging forests and parapets of naked rock high
towards the heavens,--the ancient mansion, with its square chimneys, and
bodyguard of old trees, and cincture of low walls with marble-pillared
gateways,--the fields, with their various coverings,--the beds of
flowers,--the plots of turf, one with a gray column in its centre
bearing a sundial on which the rays of the moon were idly shining,
another with a white stone and a narrow ridge of turf,--over all these
objects, harmonized with all their infinite details into one fair whole
by the moonlight, the prospective heir, as he deemed himself, looked
with admiring eyes.

But while he looked, the thought rose up in his mind like waters from a
poisoned fountain, that there was a deep plot laid to cheat him of the
inheritance which by a double claim he meant to call his own. Every day
this ice-cold beauty, this dangerous, handsome cousin of his, went up to
that place,--that usher’s girl-trap. Everyday,--regularly now,--it used
to be different. Did she go only to get out of his, her cousin’s, reach?
Was she not rather becoming more and more involved in the toils of this
plotting Yankee?

If Mr. Bernard had shown himself at that moment a few rods in advance,
the chances are that in less than one minute he would have found
himself with a noose round his neck, at the heels of a mounted horseman.
Providence spared him for the present. Mr. Richard rode his horse
quietly round to the stable, put him up, and proceeded towards the
house. He got to his bed without disturbing the family, but could not
sleep. The idea had fully taken possession of his mind that a deep
intrigue was going on which would end by bringing Elsie and the
schoolmaster into relations fatal to all his own hopes. With that
ingenuity which always accompanies jealousy, he tortured every
circumstance of the last few weeks so as to make it square with this
belief. From this vein of thought he naturally passed to a consideration
of every possible method by which the issue he feared might be avoided.

Mr. Richard talked very plain language with himself in all these inward
colloquies. Supposing it came to the worst, what could be done then?
First, an accident might happen to the schoolmaster which should put
a complete and final check upon his projects and contrivances. The
particular accident which might interrupt his career must, evidently,
be determined by circumstances; but it must be of a nature to explain
itself without the necessity of any particular person’s becoming
involved in the matter. It would be unpleasant to go into particulars;
but everybody knows well enough that men sometimes get in the way of
a stray bullet, and that young persons occasionally do violence to
themselves in various modes,--by firearms, suspension, and other
means,--in consequence of disappointment in love, perhaps, oftener than
from other motives. There was still another kind of accident which might
serve his purpose. If anything should happen to Elsie, it would be the
most natural thing in the world that his uncle should adopt him, his
nephew and only near relation, as his heir. Unless, indeed, uncle Dudley
should take it into his head to marry again. In that case, where would
he, Dick, be? This was the most detestable complication which he could
conceive of. And yet he had noticed--he could not help noticing--that
his uncle had been very attentive to, and, as it seemed, very much
pleased with, that young woman from the school. What did that mean? Was
it possible that he was going to take a fancy to her?

It made him wild to think of all the several contingencies which might
defraud him of that good-fortune which seemed but just now within his
grasp. He glared in the darkness at imaginary faces: sometimes at that
of the handsome, treacherous schoolmaster; sometimes at that of the
meek-looking, but no doubt, scheming, lady-teacher; sometimes at that of
the dark girl whom he was ready to make his wife; sometimes at that of
his much respected uncle, who, of course, could not be allowed to peril
the fortunes of his relatives by forming a new connection. It was a
frightful perplexity in which he found himself, because there was no
one single life an accident to which would be sufficient to insure the
fitting and natural course of descent to the great Dudley property. If
it had been a simple question of helping forward a casualty to any one
person, there was nothing in Dick’s habits of thought and living to make
that a serious difficulty. He had been so much with lawless people, that
a life between his wish and his object seemed only as an obstacle to
be removed, provided the object were worth the risk and trouble. But if
there were two or three lives in the way, manifestly that altered the
case.

His Southern blood was getting impatient. There was enough of the
New-Englander about him to make him calculate his chances before he
struck; but his plans were liable to be defeated at any moment by a
passionate impulse such as the dark-hued races of Southern Europe and
their descendants are liable to. He lay in his bed, sometimes arranging
plans to meet the various difficulties already mentioned, sometimes
getting into a paroxysm of blind rage in the perplexity of considering
what object he should select as the one most clearly in his way. On the
whole, there could be no doubt where the most threatening of all his
embarrassments lay. It was in the probable growing relation between
Elsie and the schoolmaster. If it should prove, as it seemed likely,
that there was springing up a serious attachment tending to a union
between them, he knew what he should do, if he was not quite so sure how
he should do it.

There was one thing at least which might favor his projects, and which,
at any rate, would serve to amuse him. He could, by a little quiet
observation, find out what were the schoolmaster’s habits of life:
whether he had any routine which could be calculated upon; and under
what circumstances a strictly private interview of a few minutes with
him might be reckoned on, in case it should be desirable. He could also
very probably learn some facts about Elsie, whether the young man was
in the habit of attending her on her way home from school; whether she
stayed about the schoolroom after the other girls had gone; and any
incidental matters of interest which might present themselves.

He was getting more and more restless for want of some excitement. A mad
gallop, a visit to Mrs. Blanche Creamer, who had taken such a fancy to
him, or a chat with the Widow Rowens, who was very lively in her talk,
for all her sombre colors, and reminded him a good deal of same of his
earlier friends, the senoritas,--all these were distractions, to be
sure, but not enough to keep his fiery spirit from fretting itself
in longings for more dangerous excitements. The thought of getting a
knowledge of all Mr. Bernard’s ways, so that he would be in his power at
any moment, was a happy one.

For some days after this he followed Elsie at a long distance behind, to
watch her until she got to the schoolhouse. One day he saw Mr. Bernard
join her: a mere accident, very probably, for it was only once this
happened. She came on her homeward way alone,--quite apart from the
groups of girls who strolled out of the schoolhouse yard in company.
Sometimes she was behind them all,--which was suggestive. Could she have
stayed to meet the schoolmaster?

If he could have smuggled himself into the school, he would have liked
to watch her there, and see if there was not some understanding between
her and the master which betrayed itself by look or word. But this was
beyond the limits of his audacity, and he had to content himself with
such cautious observations as could be made at a distance. With the aid
of a pocket-glass he could make out persons without the risk of being
observed himself.

Mr. Silos Peckham’s corps of instructors was not expected to be off duty
or to stand at ease for any considerable length of time. Sometimes Mr.
Bernard, who had more freedom than the rest, would go out for a ramble
in the daytime, but more frequently it would be in the evening, after
the hour of “retiring,” as bedtime was elegantly termed by the young
ladies of the Apollinean Institute. He would then not unfrequently walk
out alone in the common roads, or climb up the sides of The Mountain,
which seemed to be one of his favorite resorts. Here, of course, it was
impossible to follow him with the eye at a distance. Dick had a hideous,
gnawing suspicion that somewhere in these deep shades the schoolmaster
might meet Elsie, whose evening wanderings he knew so well. But of this
he was not able to assure himself. Secrecy was necessary to his present
plans, and he could not compromise himself by over-eager curiosity. One
thing he learned with certainty. The master returned, after his walk one
evening, and entered the building where his room was situated. Presently
a light betrayed the window of his apartment. From a wooded bank, some
thirty or forty rods from this building, Dick Venner could see the
interior of the chamber, and watch the master as he sat at his desk, the
light falling strongly upon his face, intent upon the book or manuscript
before him. Dick contemplated him very long in this attitude. The sense
of watching his every motion, himself meanwhile utterly unseen, was
delicious. How little the master was thinking what eyes were on him!

Well,--there were two things quite certain. One was, that, if he chose,
he could meet the schoolmaster alone, either in the road or in a more
solitary place, if he preferred to watch his chance for an evening or
two. The other was, that he commanded his position, as he sat at his
desk in the evening, in such a way that there would be very little
difficulty,--so far as that went; of course, however, silence is always
preferable to noise, and there is a great difference in the marks left
by different casualties. Very likely nothing would come of all this
espionage; but, at any rate, the first thing to be done with a man you
want to have in your power is to learn his habits.

Since the tea-party at the Widow Rowens’s, Elsie had been more fitful
and moody than ever. Dick understood all this well enough, you know. It
was the working of her jealousy against that young schoolgirl to whom
the master had devoted himself for the sake of piquing the heiress
of the Dudley mansion. Was it possible, in any way, to exasperate
her irritable nature against him, and in this way to render her more
accessible to his own advances? It was difficult to influence her at
all. She endured his company without seeming to enjoy it. She watched
him with that strange look of hers, sometimes as if she were on her
guard against him, sometimes as if she would like to strike at him as
in that fit of childish passion. She ordered him about with a haughty
indifference which reminded him of his own way with the dark-eyed women
whom he had known so well of old. All this added a secret pleasure to
the other motives he had for worrying her with jealous suspicions. He
knew she brooded silently on any grief that poisoned her comfort,--that
she fed on it, as it were, until it ran with every drop of blood in her
veins,--and that, except in some paroxysm of rage, of which he himself
was not likely the second time to be the object, or in some deadly
vengeance wrought secretly, against which he would keep a sharp lookout,
so far as he was concerned, she had no outlet for her dangerous,
smouldering passions.

Beware of the woman who cannot find free utterance for all her stormy
inner life either in words or song! So long as a woman can talk, there
is nothing she cannot bear. If she cannot have a companion to listen to
her woes, and has no musical utterance, vocal or instrumental,--then, if
she is of the real woman sort, and has a few heartfuls of wild blood in
her, and you have done her a wrong,--double-bolt the door which she may
enter on noiseless slipper at midnight,--look twice before you taste of
any cup whose draught the shadow of her hand may have darkened!

But let her talk, and, above all, cry, or, if she is one of the
coarser-grained tribe, give her the run of all the red-hot expletives in
the language, and let her blister her lips with them until she is tired,
she will sleep like a lamb after it, and you may take a cup of coffee
from her without stirring it up to look for its sediment.

So, if she can sing, or play on any musical instrument, all her
wickedness will run off through her throat or the tips of her fingers.
How many tragedies find their peaceful catastrophe in fierce roulades
and strenuous bravuras! How many murders are executed in double-quick
time upon the keys which stab the air with their dagger-strokes of
sound! What would our civilization be without the piano? Are not Erard
and Broadwood and Chickering the true humanizers of our time? Therefore
do I love to hear the all-pervading tum tum jarring the walls of little
parlors in houses with double door-plates on their portals, looking out
on streets and courts which to know is to be unknown, and where to exist
is not to live, according to any true definition of living. Therefore
complain I not of modern degeneracy, when, even from the open window of
the small unlovely farmhouse, tenanted by the hard-handed man of bovine
flavors and the flat-patterned woman of broken-down countenance, issue
the same familiar sounds. For who knows that Almira, but for these keys,
which throb away her wild impulses in harmless discords would not
have been floating, dead, in the brown stream which slides through the
meadows by her father’s door,--or living, with that other current
which runs beneath the gas-lights over the slimy pavement, choking with
wretched weeds that were once in spotless flower?

Poor Elsie! She never sang nor played. She never shaped her inner life
in words: such utterance was as much denied to her nature as common
articulate speech to the deaf mute. Her only language must be in action.
Watch her well by day and by night, old Sophy! watch her well! or
the long line of her honored name may close in shame, and the stately
mansion of the Dudleys remain a hissing and a reproach till its roof is
buried in its cellar!



CHAPTER XXIV. ON HIS TRACKS.

“Able!” said the old Doctor, one morning, “after you’ve harnessed
Caustic, come into the study a few minutes, will you?”

Abel nodded. He was a man of few words, and he knew that the “will you”
 did not require an answer, being the true New-England way of rounding
the corners of an employer’s order,--a tribute to the personal
independence of an American citizen.

The hired man came into the study in the course of a few minutes.
His face was perfectly still, and he waited to be spoken to; but the
Doctor’s eye detected a certain meaning in his expression, which looked
as if he had something to communicate.

“Well?” said the Doctor.

“He’s up to mischief o’ some kind, I guess,” said Abel. “I jest happened
daown by the mansion-haouse last night, ‘n’ he come aout o’ the gate
on that queer-lookin’ creator’ o’ his. I watched him, ‘n’ he rid, very
slow, all raoun’ by the Institoot, ‘n’ acted as ef he was spyin’ abaout.
He looks to me like a man that’s calc’latin’ to do some kind of ill-turn
to somebody. I should n’t like to have him raoun’ me, ‘f there wa’n’t
a pitchfork or an eel-spear or some sech weep’n within reach. He may be
all right; but I don’t like his looks, ‘n’ I don’t see what he’s lurkin’
raoun’ the Institoot for, after folks is abed.”

“Have you watched him pretty close for the last few days?” said the
Doctor.

“W’ll, yes,--I’ve had my eye on him consid’ble o’ the time. I haf to be
pooty shy abaout it, or he’ll find aout th’t I’m on his tracks. I don’
want him to get a spite ag’inst me, ‘f I c’n help it; he looks to me
like one o’ them kind that kerries what they call slung-shot, ‘n’ hits
ye on the side o’ th’ head with ‘em so suddin y’ never know what hurts
ye.”

“Why,” said the Doctor, sharply,--“have you ever seen him with any such
weapon about him?”

“W’ll, no,--I caan’t say that I hev,” Abel answered. “On’y he looks kin’
o’ dangerous. Maybe he’s all jest ‘z he ought to be,--I caan’t say that
he a’n’t,--but he’s aout late nights, ‘n’ lurkin’ raonn’ jest ‘z ef
he was spyin’ somebody, ‘n’ somehaow I caan’t help mistrustin’ them
Portagee-lookin’ fellahs. I caan’t keep the run o’ this chap all the
time; but I’ve a notion that old black woman daown ‘t the mansion-haouse
knows ‘z much abaout him ‘z anybody.”

The Doctor paused a moment, after hearing this report from his private
detective, and then got into his chaise, and turned Caustic’s head in
the direction of the Dudley mansion. He had been suspicious of Dick from
the first. He did not like his mixed blood, nor his looks, nor his
ways. He had formed a conjecture about his projects early. He had made
a shrewd guess as to the probable jealousy Dick would feel of the
schoolmaster, had found out something of his movements, and had
cautioned Mr. Bernard,--as we have seen. He felt an interest in
the young man,--a student of his own profession, an intelligent and
ingenuously unsuspecting young fellow, who had been thrown by accident
into the companionship or the neighborhood of two persons, one of whom
he knew to be dangerous, and the other he believed instinctively might
be capable of crime.

The Doctor rode down to the Dudley mansion solely for the sake of seeing
old Sophy. He was lucky enough to find her alone in her kitchen.
He began taking with her as a physician; he wanted to know how her
rheumatism had been. The shrewd old woman saw through all that with her
little beady black eyes. It was something quite different he had come
for, and old Sophy answered very briefly for her aches and ails.

“Old folks’ bones a’n’t like young folks’,” she said. “It’s the Lord’s
doin’s, ‘n’ ‘t a’n’t much matter. I sha’n’ be long roan’ this kitchen.
It’s the young Missis, Doctor,--it ‘s our Elsie,--it ‘s the baby, as we
use’ t’ call her,--don’ you remember, Doctor? Seventeen year ago, ‘n’
her poor mother cryin’ for her,--‘Where is she? where is she? Let me see
her! ‘--‘n’ how I run up-stairs,--I could run then,--‘n’ got the coral
necklace ‘n’ put it round her little neck, ‘n’ then showed her to her
mother,--‘n’ how her mother looked at her, ‘n’ looked, ‘n’ then put out
her poor thin fingers ‘n’ lifted the necklace,--‘n’ fell right back on
her piller, as white as though she was laid out to bury?”

The Doctor answered her by silence and a look of grave assent. He had
never chosen to let old Sophy dwell upon these matters, for obvious
reasons. The girl must not grow up haunted by perpetual fears and
prophecies, if it were possible to prevent it.

“Well, how has Elsie seemed of late?” he said, after this brief pause.

The old woman shook her head. Then she looked up at the Doctor so
steadily and searchingly that the diamond eyes of Elsie herself could
hardly have pierced more deeply.

The Doctor raised his head, by his habitual movement, and met the old
woman’s look with his own calm and scrutinizing gaze, sharpened by the
glasses through which he now saw her.

Sophy spoke presently in an awed tone, as if telling a vision.

“We shall be havin’ trouble before long. The’ ‘s somethin’ comin’
from the Lord. I’ve had dreams, Doctor. It’s many a year I’ve been
a-dreamin’, but now they’re comin’ over ‘n’ over the same thing. Three
times I’ve dreamed one thing, Doctor,--one thing!”

“And what was that?” the Doctor said, with that shade of curiosity
in his tone which a metaphysician would probably say is an index of a
certain tendency to belief in the superstition to which the question
refers.

“I ca’n’ jestly tell y’ what it was, Doctor,” the old woman answered,
as if bewildered and trying to clear up her recollections; “but it
was somethin’ fearful, with a great noise ‘n’ a great cryin’ o’
people,--like the Las’ Day, Doctor! The Lord have mercy on my poor
chil’, ‘n’ take care of her, if anything happens! But I’s feared she’ll
never live to see the Las’ Day, ‘f ‘t don’ come pooty quick.”

Poor Sophy, only the third generation from cannibalism, was, not
unnaturally, somewhat confused in her theological notions. Some of the
Second-Advent preachers had been about, and circulated their predictions
among the kitchen--population of Rockland. This was the way in which it
happened that she mingled her fears in such a strange manner with their
doctrines.

The Doctor answered solemnly, that of the day and hour we knew not, but
it became us to be always ready.--“Is there anything going on in the
household different from common?”

Old Sophy’s wrinkled face looked as full of life and intelligence,
when she turned it full upon the Doctor, as if she had slipped off her
infirmities and years like an outer garment. All those fine instincts
of observation which came straight to her from her savage grandfather
looked out of her little eyes. She had a kind of faith that the Doctor
was a mighty conjurer, who, if he would, could bewitch any of them. She
had relieved her feelings by her long talk with the minister, but the
Doctor was the immediate adviser of the family, and had watched them
through all their troubles. Perhaps he could tell them what to do. She
had but one real object of affection in the world,--this child that
she had tended from infancy to womanhood. Troubles were gathering thick
round her; how soon they would break upon her, and blight or destroy
her, no one could tell; but there was nothing in all the catalogue of
terrors which might not come upon the household at any moment. Her own
wits had sharpened themselves in keeping watch by day and night, and
her face had forgotten its age in the excitement which gave life to its
features.

“Doctor,” old Sophy said, “there’s strange things goin’ on here by night
and by day. I don’ like that man,--that Dick,--I never liked him. He
giv’ me some o’ these things I’ got on; I take ‘em ‘cos I know it make
him mad, if I no take ‘em; I wear ‘em, so that he need n’ feel as if I
did n’ like him; but, Doctor, I hate him,--jes’ as much as a member of
the church has the Lord’s leave to hate anybody.”

Her eyes sparkled with the old savage light, as if her ill-will to Mr.
Richard Veneer might perhaps go a little farther than the Christian
limit she had assigned. But remember that her grandfather was in the
habit of inviting his friends to dine with him upon the last enemy he
had bagged, and that her grandmother’s teeth were filed down to points,
so that they were as sharp as a shark’s.

“What is that you have seen about Mr. Richard Veneer that gives you such
a spite against him, Sophy?” asked the Doctor.

“What I’ seen ‘bout Dick Veneer?” she replied, fiercely. “I’ll tell y’
what I’ seen. Dick wan’s to marry our Elsie,--that ‘s what he wan’s; ‘n’
he don’ love her, Doctor,--he hates her, Doctor, as bad as I hate him!
He wan’s to marry our Elsie, In’ live here in the big house, ‘n’ have
nothin’ to do but jes’ lay still ‘n’ watch Massa Venner ‘n’ see how long
‘t Ill take him to die, ‘n’ ‘f he don’ die fas’ ‘puff, help him some
way t’ die fasser!--Come close up t’ me, Doctor! I wan’ t’ tell you
somethin’ I tol’ th’ minister t’ other day. Th’ minister, he come down
‘n’ prayed ‘n’ talked good,--he’s a good man, that Doctor Honeywood, ‘n’
I tol’ him all ‘bout our Elsie, but he did n’ tell nobody what to do
to stop all what I’ been dreamin’ about happenin’. Come close up to me,
Doctor!”

The Doctor drew his chair close up to that of the old woman.

“Doctor, nobody mus’n’ never marry our Elsie ‘s longs she lives! Nobody
mus’ n’ never live with Elsie but ol Sophy; ‘n’ ol Sophy won’t never die
‘s long ‘s Elsie ‘s alive to be took care of. But I’s feared, Doctor,
I’s greatly feared Elsie wan’ to marry somebody. The’ ‘s a young
gen’l’m’n up at that school where she go,--so some of ‘em tells me, ‘n’
she loves t’ see him ‘n’ talk wi’ him, ‘n’ she talks about him when she
‘s asleep sometimes. She mus ‘n’ never marry nobody, Doctor! If she do,
he die, certain!”

“If she has a fancy for the young man up at the school there,” the
Doctor said, “I shouldn’t think there would be much danger from Dick.”

“Doctor, nobody know nothin’ ‘bout Elsie but of Sophy. She no like any
other creator’ th’t ever drawed the bref o’ life. If she ca’n’ marry one
man ‘cos she love him, she marry another man ‘cos she hate him.”

“Marry a man because she hates him, Sophy? No woman ever did such a
thing as that, or ever will do it.”

“Who tol’ you Elsie was a woman, Doctor?” said old Sophy, with a flash
of strange intelligence in her eyes.

The Doctor’s face showed that he was startled. The old woman could
not know much about Elsie that he did not know; but what strange
superstition had got into her head, he was puzzled to guess. He had
better follow Sophy’s lead and find out what she meant.

“I should call Elsie a woman, and a very handsome one,” he said. “You
don’t mean that she has any mark about her, except--you know--under the
necklace?”

The old woman resented the thought of any deformity about her darling.

“I did n’ say she had nothin’--but jes’ that--you know. My beauty have
anything ugly? She’s the beautifullest-shaped lady that ever had a
shinin’ silk gown drawed over her shoulders. On’y she a’n’t like no
other woman in none of her ways. She don’t cry ‘n’ laugh like other
women. An’ she ha’n’ got the same kind o’ feelin’s as other women.--Do
you know that young gen’l’m’n up at the school, Doctor?”

“Yes, Sophy, I’ve met him sometimes. He’s a very nice sort of young
man, handsome, too, and I don’t much wonder Elsie takes to him. Tell me,
Sophy, what do you think would happen, if he should chance to fall in
love with Elsie, and she with him, and he should marry her?”

“Put your ear close to my lips, Doctor, dear!” She whispered a little to
the Doctor, then added aloud, “He die,--that’s all.”

“But surely, Sophy, you a’n’t afraid to have Dick marry her, if she
would have him for any reason, are you? He can take care of himself, if
anybody can.”

“Doctor!” Sophy answered, “nobody can take care of hisself that live wi’
Elsie! Nobody never in all this worl’ mus’ live wi’ Elsie but of Sophy,
I tell you. You don’ think I care for Dick? What do I care, if Dick
Venner die? He wan’s to marry our Elsie so ‘s to live in the big house
‘n’ get all the money ‘n’ all the silver things ‘n’ all the chists full
o’ linen ‘n’ beautiful clothes. That’s what Dick wan’s. An’ he hates
Elsie ‘cos she don’ like him. But if he marry Elsie, she ‘ll make him
die some wrong way or other, ‘n’ they’ll take her ‘n’ hang her, or he’ll
get mad with her ‘n’ choke her.--Oh, I know his chokin’ tricks!--he don’
leave his keys roun’ for nothin.’”

“What’s that you say, Sophy? Tell me what you mean by all that.”

So poor Sophy had to explain certain facts not in all respects to her
credit. She had taken the opportunity of his absence to look about his
chamber, and, having found a key in one of his drawers, had applied it
to a trunk, and, finding that it opened the trunk, had made a kind of
inspection for contraband articles, and, seeing the end of a leather
thong, had followed it up until she saw that it finished with a noose,
which, from certain appearances, she inferred to have seen service of at
least doubtful nature. An unauthorized search; but old Sophy considered
that a game of life and death was going on in the household, and that
she was bound to look out for her darling.

The Doctor paused a moment to think over this odd piece of
information. Without sharing Sophy’s belief as to the kind of use this
mischievous-looking piece of property had been put to, it was certainly
very odd that Dick should have such a thing at the bottom of his trunk.
The Doctor remembered reading or hearing something about the lasso and
the lariat and the bolas, and had an indistinct idea that they had been
sometimes used as weapons of warfare or private revenge; but they were
essentially a huntsman’s implements, after all, and it was not very
strange that this young man had brought one of them with him. Not
strange, perhaps, but worth noting.

“Do you really think Dick means mischief to anybody, that he has such
dangerous-looking things?” the Doctor said, presently.

“I tell you, Doctor. Dick means to have Elsie. If he ca’n’ get her, he
never let nobody else have her! Oh, Dick ‘s a dark man, Doctor! I know
him! I ‘member him when he was little boy,--he always cunin’. I think
he mean mischief to somebody. He come home late nights,--come in
softly,--oh, I hear him! I lay awake, ‘n’ got sharp ears,--I hear the
cats walkin’ over the roofs,--‘n’ I hear Dick Veneer, when he comes up
in his stockin’-feet as still as a cat. I think he mean’ mischief to
somebody. I no like his looks these las’ days.--Is that a very pooty
gen’l’m’n up at the schoolhouse, Doctor?”

“I told you he was good-looking. What if he is?”

“I should like to see him, Doctor,--I should like to see the pooty
gen’l’m’n that my poor Elsie loves. She mus ‘n’ never marry nobody,
--but, oh, Doctor, I should like to see him, ‘n’ jes’ think a little how
it would ha’ been, if the Lord had n’ been so hard on Elsie.”

She wept and wrung her hands. The kind Doctor was touched, and left her
a moment to her thoughts.

“And how does Mr. Dudley Veneer take all this?” he said, by way of
changing the subject a little.

“Oh, Massa Veneer, he good man, but he don’ know nothin’ ‘bout Elsie, as
of Sophy do. I keep close by her; I help her when she go to bed, ‘n’ set
by her sometime when she--‘sleep; I come to her in th’ mornin’ ‘n’ help
her put on her things.”--Then, in a whisper;--“Doctor, Elsie lets of
Sophy take off that necklace for her. What you think she do, ‘f anybody
else tech it?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure, Sophy,--strike the person, perhaps.”

“Oh, yes, strike ‘em! but not with her han’s, Doctor!”--The old woman’s
significant pantomime must be guessed at.

“But you haven’t told me, Sophy, what Mr. Dudley Veneer thinks of his
nephew, nor whether he has any notion that Dick wants to marry Elsie.”

“I tell you. Massa Venner, he good man, but he no see nothin’ ‘bout what
goes on here in the house. He sort o’ broken-hearted, you know,--sort
o’ giv up,--don’ know what to do wi’ Elsie, ‘xcep’ say ‘Yes, yes.’ Dick
always look smilin’ ‘n’ behave well before him. One time I thought Massa
Veneer b’lieve Dick was goin’ to take to Elsie; but now he don’ seem
to take much notice,--he kin’ o’ stupid-’ like ‘bout sech things. It’s
trouble, Doctor; ‘cos Massa Veneer bright man naterally,--‘n’ he’s got
a great heap o’ books. I don’ think Massa Veneer never been jes’ heself
sence Elsie ‘s born. He done all he know how,--but, Doctor, that wa’n’ a
great deal. You men-folks don’ know nothin’ ‘bout these young gals;
‘n’ ‘f you knowed all the young gals that ever lived, y’ would n’ know
nothin’ ‘bout our Elsie.”

“No,--but, Sophy, what I want to know is, whether you think Mr. Veneer
has any kind of suspicion about his nephew,--whether he has any notion
that he’s a dangerous sort of fellow,--or whether he feels safe to have
him about, or has even taken a sort of fancy to him.”

“Lar’ bless you, Doctor, Massa Veneer no more idee ‘f any mischief
‘bout Dick than he has ‘bout you or me. Y’ see, he very fond o’ the
Cap’n,--that Dick’s father,--‘n’ he live so long alone here, ‘long wi’
us, that he kin’ o’ like to see mos’ anybody ‘t ‘s got any o’ th’ of
family-blood in ‘em. He ha’n’t got no more suspicions ‘n a baby,--y’
never see sech a man ‘n y’r life. I kin’ o’ think he don’ care for
nothin’ in this world ‘xcep’ jes’ t’ do what Elsie wan’s him to. The
fus’ year after young Madam die he do nothin’ but jes’ set at the window
‘n’ look out at her grave, ‘n’ then come up ‘n’ look at the baby’s neck
‘n’ say, ‘It’s fadin’, Sophy, a’n’t it? ‘n’ then go down in the study
‘n’ walk ‘n’ walk, ‘n’ them kneel down ‘n’ pray. Doctor, there was two
places in the old carpet that was all threadbare, where his knees had
worn ‘em. An’ sometimes, you remember ‘bout all that,--he’d go off up
into The Mountain, ‘n’ be gone all day, ‘n’ kill all the Ugly Things
he could find up there.--Oh, Doctor, I don’ like to think o’ them
days!--An’ by ‘n’ by he grew kin’ o’ still, ‘n’ begun to read a little,
‘n’ ‘t las’ he got ‘s quiet’s a lamb, ‘n’ that’s the way he is now. I
think he’s got religion, Doctor; but he a’n’t so bright about what’s
goin’ on, ‘n’ I don’ believe he never suspec’ nothin’ till somethin’
happens; for the’ ‘s somethin’ goin’ to happen, Doctor, if the Las’ Day
does n’ come to stop it; ‘n’ you mus’ tell us what to do, ‘n’ save my
poor Elsie, my baby that the Lord has n’ took care of like all his other
childer.”

The Doctor assured the old woman that he was thinking a great deal about
them all, and that there were other eyes on Dick besides her own. Let
her watch him closely about the house, and he would keep a look-out
elsewhere. If there was anything new, she must let him know at once.
Send up one of the menservants, and he would come down at a moment’s
warning.

There was really nothing definite against this young man; but the Doctor
was sure that he was meditating some evil design or other. He rode
straight up to the Institute. There he saw Mr. Bernard, and had a brief
conversation with him, principally on matters relating to his personal
interests.

That evening, for some unknown reason, Mr. Bernard changed the place of
his desk and drew down the shades of his windows. Late that night Mr.
Richard Venner drew the charge of a rifle, and put the gun back among
the fowling-pieces, swearing that a leather halter was worth a dozen of
it.



CHAPTER XXV. THE PERILOUS HOUR.

Up to this time Dick Venner had not decided on the particular mode
and the precise period of relieving himself from the unwarrantable
interference which threatened to defeat his plans. The luxury of feeling
that he had his man in his power was its own reward. One who watches
in the dark, outside, while his enemy, in utter unconsciousness, is
illuminating his apartment and himself so that every movement of his
head and every button on his coat can be seen and counted, experiences a
peculiar kind of pleasure, if he holds a loaded rifle in his hand, which
he naturally hates to bring to its climax by testing his skill as a
marksman upon the object of his attention.

Besides, Dick had two sides in his nature, almost as distinct as we
sometimes observe in those persons who are the subjects of the condition
known as double consciousness. On his New England side he was cunning
and calculating, always cautious, measuring his distance before he
risked his stroke, as nicely as if he were throwing his lasso. But
he was liable to intercurrent fits of jealousy and rage, such as the
light-hued races are hardly capable of conceiving, blinding paroxysms of
passion, which for the time overmastered him, and which, if they found
no ready outlet, transformed themselves into the more dangerous forces
that worked through the instrumentality of his cool craftiness.

He had failed as yet in getting any positive evidence that there was
any relation between Elsie and the schoolmaster other than such as might
exist unsuspected and unblamed between a teacher and his pupil. A book,
or a note, even, did not prove the existence of any sentiment. At one
time he would be devoured by suspicions, at another he would try to
laugh himself out of them. And in the mean while he followed Elsie’s
tastes as closely as he could, determined to make some impression upon
her,--to become a habit, a convenience, a necessity,--whatever might aid
him in the attainment of the one end which was now the aim of his life.

It was to humor one of her tastes already known to the reader, that he
said to her one morning,--“Come, Elsie, take your castanets, and let us
have a dance.”

He had struck the right vein in the girl’s fancy, for she was in the
mood for this exercise, and very willingly led the way into one of the
more empty apartments. What there was in this particular kind of dance
which excited her it might not be easy to guess; but those who looked
in with the old Doctor, on a former occasion, and saw her, will remember
that she was strangely carried away by it, and became almost fearful in
the vehemence of her passion. The sound of the castanets seemed to make
her alive all over. Dick knew well enough what the exhibition would
be, and was almost afraid of her at these moments; for it was like
the dancing mania of Eastern devotees, more than the ordinary light
amusement of joyous youth,--a convulsion of the body and the mind,
rather than a series of voluntary modulated motions.

Elsie rattled out the triple measure of a saraband. Her eyes began to
glitter more brilliantly, and her shape to undulate in freer curves.
Presently she noticed that Dick’s look was fixed upon her necklace. His
face betrayed his curiosity; he was intent on solving the question, why
she always wore something about her neck. The chain of mosaics she had
on at that moment displaced itself at every step, and he was peering
with malignant, searching eagerness to see if an unsunned ring of
fairer hue than the rest of the surface, or any less easily explained
peculiarity, were hidden by her ornaments.

She stopped suddenly, caught the chain of mosaics and settled it hastily
in its place, flung down her castanets, drew herself back, and stood
looking at him, with her head a little on one side, and her eyes
narrowing in the way he had known so long and well.

“What is the matter, Cousin Elsie? What do you stop for?” he said.

Elsie did not answer, but kept her eyes on him, full of malicious light.
The jealousy which lay covered up under his surface-thoughts took this
opportunity to break out.

“You would n’t act so, if you were dancing with Mr. Langdon,--would you,
Elsie?” he asked.

It was with some effort that he looked steadily at her to see the effect
of his question.

Elsie colored,--not much, but still perceptibly. Dick could not remember
that he had ever seen her show this mark of emotion before, in all his
experience of her fitful changes of mood. It had a singular depth of
significance, therefore, for him; he knew how hardly her color came.
Blushing means nothing, in some persons; in others, it betrays a
profound inward agitation,--a perturbation of the feelings far more
trying than the passions which with many easily moved persons break
forth in tears. All who have observed much are aware that some men,
who have seen a good deal of life in its less chastened aspects and
are anything but modest, will blush often and easily, while there
are delicate and sensitive women who can faint, or go into fits, if
necessary, but are very rarely seen to betray their feelings in their
cheeks, even when their expression shows that their inmost soul is
blushing scarlet. Presently she answered, abruptly and scornfully, “Mr.
Langdon is a gentleman, and would not vex me as you do.”

“A gentleman!” Dick answered, with the most insulting accent,--“a
gentleman! Come, Elsie, you ‘ve got the Dudley blood in your veins,
and it does n’t do for you to call this poor, sneaking schoolmaster a
gentleman!”

He stopped short. Elsie’s bosom was heaving, the faint flush on her
cheek was becoming a vivid glow. Whether it were shame or wrath, he
saw that he had reached some deep-lying centre of emotion. There was no
longer any doubt in his mind. With another girl these signs of confusion
might mean little or nothing; with her they were decisive and final.
Elsie Venner loved Bernard Langdon.

The sudden conviction, absolute, overwhelming, which rushed upon him,
had well-nigh led to an explosion of wrath, and perhaps some terrible
scene which might have fulfilled some of old Sophy’s predictions. This,
however, would never do. Dick’s face whitened with his thoughts, but he
kept still until he could speak calmly.

“I’ve nothing against the young fellow,” he said; “only I don’t think
there’s anything quite good enough to keep the company of people that
have the Dudley blood in them. You a’n’t as proud as I am. I can’t quite
make up my mind to call a schoolmaster a gentleman, though this one may
be well enough. I ‘ve nothing against him, at any rate.”

Elsie made no answer, but glided out of the room and slid away to her
own apartment. She bolted the door and drew her curtains close. Then she
threw herself on the floor, and fell into a dull, slow ache of passion,
without tears, without words, almost without thoughts. So she remained,
perhaps, for a half-hour, at the end of which time it seemed that her
passion had become a sullen purpose. She arose, and, looking cautiously
round, went to the hearth, which was ornamented with curious old Dutch
tiles, with pictures of Scripture subjects. One of these represented
the lifting of the brazen serpent. She took a hair-pin from one of her
braids, and, insinuating its points under the edge of the tile, raised
it from its place. A small leaden box lay under the tile, which she
opened, and, taking from it a little white powder, which she folded in a
scrap of paper, replaced the box and the tile over it.

Whether Dick had by any means got a knowledge of this proceeding, or
whether he only suspected some unmentionable design on her part, there
is no sufficient means of determining. At any rate, when they met, an
hour or two after these occurrences, he could not help noticing how
easily she seemed to have got over her excitement. She was very pleasant
with him,--too pleasant, Dick thought. It was not Elsie’s way to come
out of a fit of anger so easily as that. She had contrived some way of
letting off her spite; that was certain. Dick was pretty cunning, as old
Sophy had said, and, whether or not he had any means of knowing Elsie’s
private intentions, watched her closely, and was on his guard against
accidents.

For the first time, he took certain precautions with reference to his
diet, such as were quite alien to his common habits. On coming to the
dinner-table, that day, he complained of headache, took but little food,
and refused the cup of coffee which Elsie offered him, saying that it
did not agree with him when he had these attacks.

Here was a new complication. Obviously enough, he could not live in this
way, suspecting everything but plain bread and water, and hardly feeling
safe in meddling with them. Not only had this school-keeping wretch come
between him and the scheme by which he was to secure his future fortune,
but his image had so infected his cousin’s mind that she was ready to
try on him some of those tricks which, as he had heard hinted in the
village, she had once before put in practice upon a person who had
become odious to her.

Something must be done, and at once, to meet the double necessities of
this case. Every day, while the young girl was in these relations with
the young man, was only making matters worse. They could exchange words
and looks, they could arrange private interviews, they would be stooping
together over the same book, her hair touching his cheek, her breath
mingling with his, all the magnetic attractions drawing them together
with strange, invisible effluences. As her passion for the schoolmaster
increased, her dislike to him, her cousin, would grow with it, and all
his dangers would be multiplied. It was a fearful point he had, reached.
He was tempted at one moment to give up all his plans and to disappear
suddenly from the place, leaving with the schoolmaster, who had
come between him and his object, an anonymous token of his personal
sentiments which would be remembered a good while in the history of the
town of Rockland. This was but a momentary thought; the great Dudley
property could not be given up in that way.

Something must happen at once to break up all this order of things. He
could think of but one Providential event adequate to the emergency,--an
event foreshadowed by various recent circumstances, but hitherto
floating in his mind only as a possibility. Its occurrence would at once
change the course of Elsie’s feelings, providing her with something to
think of besides mischief, and remove the accursed obstacle which
was thwarting all his own projects. Every possible motive, then,--his
interest, his jealousy, his longing for revenge, and now his fears for
his own safety,--urged him to regard the happening of a certain casualty
as a matter of simple necessity. This was the self-destruction of Mr.
Bernard Langdon.

Such an event, though it might be surprising to many people, would not
be incredible, nor without many parallel cases. He was poor, a miserable
fag, under the control of that mean wretch up there at the school, who
looked as if he had sour buttermilk in his veins instead of blood. He
was in love with a girl above his station, rich, and of old family, but
strange in all her ways, and it was conceivable that he should become
suddenly jealous of her. Or she might have frightened him with some
display of her peculiarities which had filled him with a sudden
repugnance in the place of love. Any of these things were credible, and
would make a probable story enough,--so thought Dick over to himself
with the New-England half of his mind.

Unfortunately, men will not always take themselves out of the way when,
so far as their neighbors are concerned, it would be altogether the most
appropriate and graceful and acceptable service they could render. There
was at this particular moment no special reason for believing that the
schoolmaster meditated any violence to his own person. On the contrary,
there was good evidence that he was taking some care of himself. He was
looking well and in good spirits, and in the habit of amusing himself
and exercising, as if to keep up his standard of health, especially of
taking certain evening-walks, before referred to, at an hour when most
of the Rockland people had “retired,” or, in vulgar language, “gone to
bed.”

Dick Veneer settled it, however, in his own mind, that Mr. Bernard
Langdon must lay violent hands upon himself. He even went so far as to
determine the precise hour, and the method in which the “rash act,” as
it would undoubtedly be called in the next issue of “The Rockland Weekly
Universe,” should be committed. Time,--this evening. Method, asphyxia,
by suspension. It was, unquestionably, taking a great liberty with a
man to decide that he should become felo de se without his own consent.
Such, however, was the decision of Mr. Richard Veneer with regard to Mr.
Bernard Langdon.

If everything went right, then, there would be a coroner’s inquest
to-morrow upon what remained of that gentleman, found suspended to the
branch of a tree somewhere within a mile of the Apollinean Institute.
The “Weekly Universe” would have a startling paragraph announcing a
“SAD EVENT!!!” which had “thrown the town into an intense state of
excitement. Mr. Barnard Langden, a well-known teacher at the Appolinian
Institute, was found, etc., etc. The vital spark was extinct. The
motive to the rash act can only be conjectured, but is supposed to be
disappointed affection. The name of an accomplished young lady of the
highest respectability and great beauty is mentioned in connection with
this melancholy occurrence.”

Dick Venner was at the tea-table that evening, as usual.--No, he would
take green tea, if she pleased,--the same that her father drank. It
would suit his headache better.--Nothing,--he was much obliged to her.
He would help himself,--which he did in a little different way from
common, naturally enough, on account of his headache. He noticed that
Elsie seemed a little nervous while she was rinsing some of the teacups
before their removal.

“There’s something going on in that witch’s head,” he said to himself.
“I know her,--she ‘d be savage now, if she had n’t got some trick in
hand. Let ‘s see how she looks to-morrow!”

Dick announced that he should go to bed early that evening, on account
of this confounded headache which had been troubling him so much. In
fact, he went up early, and locked his door after him, with as much
noise as he could make. He then changed some part of his dress, so that
it should be dark throughout, slipped off his boots, drew the lasso out
from the bottom of the contents of his trunk, and, carrying that and
his boots in his hand, opened his door softly, locked it after him, and
stole down the back-stairs, so as to get out of the house unnoticed. He
went straight to the stable and saddled the mustang. He took a rope from
the stable with him, mounted his horse, and set forth in the direction
of the Institute.

Mr. Bernard, as we have seen, had not been very profoundly impressed by
the old Doctor’s cautions,--enough, however, to follow out some of his
hints which were not troublesome to attend to. He laughed at the idea of
carrying a loaded pistol about with him; but still it seemed only fair,
as the old Doctor thought so much of the matter, to humor him about it.
As for not going about when and where he liked, for fear he might have
some lurking enemy, that was a thing not to be listened to nor thought
of. There was nothing to be ashamed of or troubled about in any of
his relations with the school-girls. Elsie, no doubt, showed a kind
of attraction towards him, as did perhaps some others; but he had been
perfectly discreet, and no father or brother or lover had any just
cause of quarrel with him. To be sure, that dark young man at the Dudley
mansion-house looked as if he were his enemy, when he had met him; but
certainly there was nothing in their relations to each other, or in
his own to Elsie, that would be like to stir such malice in his mind
as would lead him to play any of his wild Southern tricks at his, Mr.
Bernard’s, expense. Yet he had a vague feeling that this young man was
dangerous, and he had been given to understand that one of the risks he
ran was from that quarter.

On this particular evening, he had a strange, unusual sense of some
impending peril. His recent interview with the Doctor, certain remarks
which had been dropped in his hearing, but above all an unaccountable
impression upon his spirits, all combined to fill his mind with a
foreboding conviction that he was very near some overshadowing danger.
It was as the chill of the ice-mountain toward which the ship is
steering under full sail. He felt a strong impulse to see Helen Darley
and talk with her. She was in the common parlor, and, fortunately,
alone.

“Helen,” he said,--for they were almost like brother and sister now,--“I
have been thinking what you would do, if I should have to leave the
school at short notice, or be taken away suddenly by any accident.”

“Do?” she said, her cheek growing paler than its natural delicate
hue,--“why, I do not know how I could possibly consent to live here, if
you left us. Since you came, my life has been almost easy; before, it
was getting intolerable. You must not talk about going, my dear friend;
you have spoiled me for my place. Who is there here that I can have any
true society with, but you? You would not leave us for another school,
would you?”

“No, no, my dear Helen,” Mr. Bernard said, “if it depends on myself, I
shall stay out my full time, and enjoy your company and friendship. But
everything is uncertain in this world. I have been thinking that I might
be wanted elsewhere, and called when I did not think of it;--it was a
fancy, perhaps,--but I can’t keep it out of my mind this evening. If any
of my fancies should come true, Helen, there are two or three messages
I want to leave with you. I have marked a book or two with a cross in
pencil on the fly-leaf;--these are for you. There is a little hymn-book
I should like to have you give to Elsie from me;--it may be a kind of
comfort to the poor girl.”

Helen’s eyes glistened as she interrupted him,--

“What do you mean? You must not talk so, Mr. Langdon. Why, you never
looked better in your life. Tell me now, you are not in earnest, are
you, but only trying a little sentiment on me?”

Mr. Bernard smiled, but rather sadly.

“About half in earnest,” he said. “I have had some fancies in my
head,--superstitions, I suppose,--at any rate, it does no harm to tell
you what I should like to have done, if anything should happen,--very
likely nothing ever will. Send the rest of the books home, if you
please, and write a letter to my mother. And, Helen, you will find
one small volume in my desk enveloped and directed, you will see to
whom;--give this with your own hands; it is a keepsake.”

The tears gathered in her eyes; she could not speak at first. Presently,
“Why, Bernard, my dear friend, my brother, it cannot be that you are in
danger? Tell me what it is, and, if I can share it with you, or counsel
you in any way, it will only be paying back the great debt I owe you.
No, no,--it can’t be true,--you are tired and worried, and your spirits
have got depressed. I know what that is;--I was sure, one winter, that
I should die before spring; but I lived to see the dandelions
and buttercups go to seed. Come, tell me it was nothing but your
imagination.”

She felt a tear upon her cheek, but would not turn her face away from
him; it was the tear of a sister.

“I am really in earnest, Helen,” he said. “I don’t know that there is
the least reason in the world for these fancies. If they all go off and
nothing comes of them, you may laugh at me, if you like. But if there
should be any occasion, remember my requests. You don’t believe in
presentiments, do you?”

“Oh, don’t ask-me, I beg you,” Helen answered. “I have had a good many
frights for every one real misfortune I have suffered. Sometimes I have
thought I was warned beforehand of coming trouble, just as many people
are of changes in the weather, by some unaccountable feeling,--but not
often, and I don’t like to talk about such things. I wouldn’t think
about these fancies of yours. I don’t believe you have exercised
enough;--don’t you think it’s confinement in the school has made you
nervous?”

“Perhaps it has; but it happens that I have thought more of exercise
lately, and have taken regular evening walks, besides playing my old
gymnastic tricks every day.”

They talked on many subjects, but through all he said Helen perceived a
pervading tone of sadness, and an expression as of a dreamy foreboding
of unknown evil. They parted at the usual hour, and went to their
several rooms. The sadness of Mr. Bernard had sunk into the heart
of Helen, and she mingled many tears with her prayers that evening,
earnestly entreating that he might be comforted in his days of trial and
protected in his hour of danger.

Mr. Bernard stayed in his room a short time before setting out for his
evening walk. His eye fell upon the Bible his mother had given him when
he left home, and he opened it in the New Testament at a venture.
It happened that the first words he read were these,--“Lest, coming
suddenly, he find you sleeping.” In the state of mind in which he was at
the moment, the text startled him. It was like a supernatural warning.
He was not going to expose himself to any particular danger this
evening; a walk in a quiet village was as free from risk as Helen Darley
or his own mother could ask; yet he had an unaccountable feeling of
apprehension, without any definite object. At this moment he remembered
the old Doctor’s counsel, which he had sometimes neglected, and,
blushing at the feeling which led him to do it, he took the pistol his
suspicious old friend had forced upon him, which he had put away loaded,
and, thrusting it into his pocket, set out upon his walk.

The moon was shining at intervals, for the night was partially clouded.
There seemed to be nobody stirring, though his attention was unusually
awake, and he could hear the whirr of the bats overhead, and the
pulsating croak of the frogs in the distant pools and marshes. Presently
he detected the sound of hoofs at some distance, and, looking forward,
saw a horseman coming in his direction. The moon was under a cloud
at the moment, and he could only observe that the horse and his rider
looked like a single dark object, and that they were moving along at an
easy pace. Mr. Bernard was really ashamed of himself, when he found his
hand on the butt of his pistol. When the horseman was within a hundred
and fifty yards of him, the moon shone out suddenly and revealed each
of them to the other. The rider paused for a moment, as if carefully
surveying the pedestrian, then suddenly put his horse to the full
gallop, and dashed towards him, rising at the same instant in his
stirrups and swinging something round his head, what, Mr. Bernard could
not make out. It was a strange manoeuvre,--so strange and threatening in
aspect that the young man forgot his nervousness in an instant, cocked
his pistol, and waited to see what mischief all this meant. He did not
wait long. As the rider came rushing towards him, he made a rapid
motion and something leaped five-and-twenty feet through the air, in
Mr. Bernard’s direction. In an instant he felt a ring, as of a rope or
thong, settle upon his shoulders. There was no time to think, he would
be lost in another second. He raised his pistol and fired,--not at the
rider, but at the horse. His aim was true; the mustang gave one bound
and fell lifeless, shot through the head. The lasso was fastened to his
saddle, and his last bound threw Mr. Bernard violently to the earth,
where he lay motionless, as if stunned.

In the mean time, Dick Venner, who had been dashed down with his horse,
was trying to extricate himself,--one of his legs being held fast under
the animal, the long spur on his boot having caught in the saddle-cloth.
He found, however, that he could do nothing with his right arm, his
shoulder having been in some way injured in his fall. But his Southern
blood was up, and, as he saw Mr. Bernard move as if he were coming to
his senses, he struggled violently to free himself.

“I ‘ll have the dog, yet,” he said,--“only let me get at him with the
knife!”

He had just succeeded in extricating his imprisoned leg, and was ready
to spring to his feet, when he was caught firmly by the throat, and
looking up, saw a clumsy barbed weapon, commonly known as a hay fork,
within an inch of his breast.

“Hold on there! What ‘n thunder ‘r’ y’ abaout, y’ darned Portagee?” said
a voice, with a decided nasal tone in it, but sharp and resolute.

Dick looked from the weapon to the person who held it, and saw a sturdy,
plain man standing over him, with his teeth clinched, and his aspect
that of one all ready for mischief.

“Lay still, naow!” said Abel Stebbins, the Doctor’s man; “‘f y’ don’t,
I’ll stick ye, ‘z sure ‘z y’ ‘r’ alive! I been arfter ye f’r a week,
‘n’ I got y’ naow! I knowed I’d ketch ye at some darned trick or ‘nother
‘fore I’d done ‘ith ye!”

Dick lay perfectly still, feeling that he was crippled and helpless,
thinking all the time with the Yankee half of his mind what to do about
it. He saw Mr. Bernard lift his head and look around him. He would
get his senses again in a few minutes, very probably, and then he, Mr.
Richard Venner, would be done for.

“Let me up! let me up!” he cried, in a low, hurried voice,--“I ‘ll give
you a hundred dollars in gold to let me go. The man a’n’t hurt,--don’t
you see him stirring? He’ll come to himself in two minutes. Let me up!
I’ll give you a hundred and fifty dollars in gold, now, here on the
spot,--and the watch out of my pocket; take it yourself, with your own
hands!”

“I’ll see y’ darned fust! Ketch me lett’n’ go!” was Abel’s emphatic
answer. “Yeou lay still, ‘n’ wait t’ll that man comes tew.”

He kept the hay-fork ready for action at the slightest sign of
resistance.

Mr. Bernard, in the mean time, had been getting, first his senses, and
then some few of his scattered wits, a little together.

“What is it?”--he said. “Who’shurt? What’s happened?”

“Come along here ‘z quick ‘z y’ ken,” Abel answered, “‘n’ haalp me fix
this fellah. Y’ been hurt, y’rself, ‘n’ the’ ‘s murder come pooty nigh
happenin’.”

Mr. Bernard heard the answer, but presently stared about and asked
again, “Who’s hurt? What’s happened?”

“Y’ ‘r’ hurt, y’rself, I tell ye,” said Abel; “‘n’ the’ ‘s been a
murder, pooty nigh.”

Mr. Bernard felt something about his neck, and, putting his hands up,
found the loop of the lasso, which he loosened, but did not think to
slip over his head, in the confusion of his perceptions and thoughts. It
was a wonder that it had not choked him, but he had fallen forward so as
to slacken it.

By this time he was getting some notion of what he was about, and
presently began looking round for his pistol, which had fallen. He
found it lying near him, cocked it mechanically, and walked, somewhat
unsteadily, towards the two men, who were keeping their position as
still as if they were performing in a tableau.

“Quick, naow!” said Abel, who had heard the click of cocking the pistol,
and saw that he held it in his hand, as he came towards him. “Gi’ me
that pistil, and yeou fetch that ‘ere rope layin’ there. I ‘ll have this
here fellah fixed ‘n less ‘n two minutes.”

Mr. Bernard did as Abel said,--stupidly and mechanically, for he was but
half right as yet. Abel pointed the pistol at Dick’s head.

“Naow hold up y’r hands, yeou fellah,” he said, “‘n’ keep ‘em up, while
this man puts the rope mound y’r wrists.”

Dick felt himself helpless, and, rather than have his disabled arm
roughly dealt with, held up his hands. Mr. Bernard did as Abel said; he
was in a purely passive state, and obeyed orders like a child. Abel then
secured the rope in a most thorough and satisfactory complication of
twists and knots.

“Naow get up, will ye?” he said; and the unfortunate Dick rose to his
feet.

“Who’s hurt? What’s happened?” asked poor Mr. Bernard again, his memory
having been completely jarred out of him for the time.

“Come, look here naow, yeou, don’ Stan’ askin’ questions over ‘n’
over;--‘t beats all! ha’n’t I tol’ y’ a dozen times?”

As Abel spoke, he turned and looked at Mr. Bernard.

“Hullo! What ‘n thunder’s that ‘ere raoun’ y’r neck? Ketched ye ‘ith a
slippernoose, hey? Wal, if that a’n’t the craowner! Hol’ on a minute,
Cap’n, ‘n’ I’ll show ye what that ‘ere halter’s good for.”

Abel slipped the noose over Mr. Bernard’s head, and put it round
the neck of the miserable Dick Veneer, who made no sign of
resistance,--whether on account of the pain he was in, or from mere
helplessness, or because he was waiting for some unguarded moment to
escape,--since resistance seemed of no use.

“I ‘m go’n’ to kerry y’ home,” said Abel; “‘T’ th’ ol Doctor, he’s got
a gre’t cur’osity t’ see ye. Jes’ step along naow,--off that way, will
ye?--‘n’ I Ill hol’ on t’ th’ bridle, f’ fear y’ sh’d run away.”

He took hold of the leather thong, but found that it was fastened at the
other end to the saddle. This was too much for Abel.

“Wal, naow, yeou be a pooty chap to hev raound! A fellah’s neck in a
slippernoose at one eend of a halter, ‘n’ a hors on th’ full spring at
t’ other eend!”

He looked at him from’ head to foot as a naturalist inspects a new
specimen. His clothes had suffered in his fall, especially on the leg
which had been caught under the horse.

“Hullo! look o’ there, naow! What’s that ‘ere stickin’ aout o’ y’r
boot?”

It was nothing but the handle of an ugly knife, which Abel instantly
relieved him of.

The party now took up the line of march for old Doctor Kittredge’s
house, Abel carrying the pistol and knife, and Mr. Bernard walking in
silence, still half-stunned, holding the hay-fork, which Abel had thrust
into his hand. It was all a dream to him as yet. He remembered the
horseman riding at him, and his firing the pistol; but whether he was
alive, and these walls around him belonged to the village of Rockland,
or whether he had passed the dark river, and was in a suburb of the New
Jerusalem, he could not as yet have told.

They were in the street where the Doctor’s house was situated.

“I guess I’ll fire off one o’ these here berrils,” said Abel.

He fired.

Presently there was a noise of opening windows, and the nocturnal
head-dresses of Rockland flowered out of them like so many developments
of the Nightblooming Cereus. White cotton caps and red bandanna
handkerchiefs were the prevailing forms of efflorescence. The main point
was that the village was waked up. The old Doctor always waked easily,
from long habit, and was the first among those who looked out to see
what had happened.

“Why, Abel!” he called out, “what have you got there? and what ‘s all
this noise about?”

“We’ve ketched the Portagee!” Abel answered, as laconically as the hero
of Lake Erie, in his famous dispatch. “Go in there, you fellah!”

The prisoner was marched into the house, and the Doctor, who had
bewitched his clothes upon him in a way that would have been miraculous
in anybody but a physician, was down in presentable form as soon as if
it had been a child in a fit that he was sent for.

“Richard Veneer!” the Doctor exclaimed. “What is the meaning of all
this? Mr. Langdon, has anything happened to you?”

Mr. Bernard put his hand to his head.

“My mind is confused,” he said. “I’ve had a fall.--Oh, yes!--wait a
minute and it will all come back to me.”

“Sit down, sit down,” the Doctor said. “Abel will tell me about it.
Slight concussion of the brain. Can’t remember very well for an hour or
two,--will come right by to-morrow.”

“Been stunded,” Abel said. “He can’t tell nothin’.”

Abel then proceeded to give a Napoleonic bulletin of the recent combat
of cavalry and infantry and its results,--none slain, one captured.

The Doctor looked at the prisoner through his spectacles.

“What ‘s the matter with your shoulder, Venner?”

Dick answered sullenly, that he didn’t know, fell on it when his horse
came down. The Doctor examined it as carefully as he could through his
clothes.

“Out of joint. Untie his hands, Abel”

By this time a small alarm had spread among the neighbors, and there was
a circle around Dick, who glared about on the assembled honest people
like a hawk with a broken wing.

When the Doctor said, “Untie his hands,” the circle widened perceptibly.

“Isn’t it a leetle rash to give him the use of his hands? I see there’s
females and children standin’ near.”

This was the remark of our old friend, Deacon Soper, who retired from
the front row, as he spoke, behind a respectable-looking, but somewhat
hastily dressed person of the defenceless sex, the female help of a
neighboring household, accompanied by a boy, whose unsmoothed shock of
hair looked like a last year’s crow’s-nest.

But Abel untied his hands, in spite of the Deacon’s considerate
remonstrance.

“Now,” said the Doctor, “the first thing is to put the joint back.”

“Stop,” said Deacon Soper,--“stop a minute. Don’t you think it will be
safer--for the women-folks--jest to wait till mornin’, afore you put
that j’int into the socket?”

Colonel Sprowle, who had been called by a special messenger, spoke up at
this moment.

“Let the women-folks and the deacons go home, if they’re scared, and put
the fellah’s j’int in as quick as you like. I ‘ll resk him, j’int in or
out.”

“I want one of you to go straight down to Dudley Venner’s with a
message,” the Doctor said. “I will have the young man’s shoulder in
quick enough.”

“Don’t send that message!” said Dick, in a hoarse voice;--“do what you
like with my arm, but don’t send that message! Let me go,--I can walk,
and I’ll be off from this place. There’s nobody hurt but myself. Damn
the shoulder!--let me go! You shall never hear of me again!”

Mr. Bernard came forward.

“My friends,” he said, “I am not injured,--seriously, at least. Nobody
need complain against this man, if I don’t. The Doctor will treat him
like a human being, at any rate; and then, if he will go, let him. There
are too many witnesses against him here for him to want to stay.”

The Doctor, in the mean time, without saying a word to all this, had got
a towel round the shoulder and chest and another round the arm, and had
the bone replaced in a very few minutes.

“Abel, put Cassia into the new chaise,” he said, quietly. “My friends
and neighbors, leave this young man to me.”

“Colonel Sprowle, you’re a justice of the peace,” said Deacon Soper,
“and you know what the law says in cases like this. It a’n’t so clear
that it won’t have to come afore the Grand Jury, whether we will or no.”

“I guess we’ll set that j’int to-morrow mornin’,” said Colonel
Sprowle,--which made a laugh at the Deacon’s expense, and virtually
settled the question.

“Now trust this young man in my care,” said the old Doctor, “and go home
and finish your naps. I knew him when he was a boy and I’ll answer for
it, he won’t trouble you any more. The Dudley blood makes folks proud, I
can tell you, whatever else they are.”

The good people so respected and believed in the Doctor that they left
the prisoner with him.

Presently, Cassia, the fast Morgan mare, came up to the front-door,
with the wheels of the new, light chaise flashing behind her in the
moonlight. The Doctor drove Dick forty miles at a stretch that night,
out of the limits of the State.

“Do you want money?” he said, before he left him.

Dick told him the secret of his golden belt.

“Where shall I send your trunk after you from your uncle’s?”

Dick gave him a direction to a seaport town to which he himself was
going, to take passage for a port in South America.

“Good-bye, Richard,” said the Doctor. “Try to learn something from
to-night’s lesson.”

The Southern impulses in Dick’s wild blood overcame him, and he kissed
the old Doctor on both cheeks, crying as only the children of the sun
can cry, after the first hours in the dewy morning of life. So Dick
Venner disappears from this story. An hour after dawn, Cassia pointed
her fine ears homeward, and struck into her square, honest trot, as
if she had not been doing anything more than her duty during her four
hours’ stretch of the last night.

Abel was not in the habit of questioning the Doctor’s decisions.

“It’s all right,” he said to Mr. Bernard. “The fellah ‘s Squire Venner’s
relation, anyhaow. Don’t you want to wait here, jest a little while,
till I come back? The’s a consid’able nice saddle ‘n’ bridle on a dead
boss that’s layin’ daown there in the road ‘n’ I guess the’ a’n’t no use
in lettin’ on ‘em spite,--so I’ll jest step aout ‘n’ fetch ‘em along. I
kind o’ calc’late ‘t won’t pay to take the cretur’s shoes ‘n’ hide off
to-night,--‘n’ the’ won’t be much iron on that hose’s huffs an haour
after daylight, I’ll bate ye a quarter.”

“I’ll walk along with you,” said Mr. Bernard; “I feel as if I could get
along well enough now.”

So they set off together. There was a little crowd round the dead
mustang already, principally consisting of neighbors who had adjourned
from the Doctor’s house to see the scene of the late adventure. In
addition to these, however, the assembly was honored by the presence of
Mr. Principal Silas Peckham, who had been called from his slumbers by
a message that Master Langdon was shot through the head by a
highway-robber, but had learned a true version of the story by this
time. His voice was at that moment heard above the rest,--sharp, but
thin, like bad cider-vinegar.

“I take charge of that property, I say. Master Langdon ‘s actin’ under
my orders, and I claim that hoss and all that’s on him. Hiram! jest slip
off that saddle and bridle, and carry ‘em up to the Institoot, and bring
down a pair of pinchers and a file,--and--stop--fetch a pair of shears,
too; there’s hosshair enough in that mane and tail to stuff a bolster
with.”

“You let that hoss alone!” spoke up Colonel Sprowle. “When a fellah
goes out huntin’ and shoots a squirrel, do you think he’s go’n’ to
let another fellah pick him up and kerry him off? Not if he’s got a
double-berril gun, and t’other berril ha’n’t been fired off yet! I
should like to see the mahn that’ll take off that seddle ‘n’ bridle,
excep’ the one th’t hez a fair right to the whole concern!”

Hiram was from one of the lean streaks in New Hampshire, and, not being
overfed in Mr. Silas Peckham’s kitchen, was somewhat wanting in stamina,
as well as in stomach, for so doubtful an enterprise, as undertaking to
carry out his employer’s orders in the face of the Colonel’s defiance.

Just then Mr. Bernard and Abel came up together. “Here they be,” said
the Colonel. “Stan’ beck, gentlemen!”

Mr. Bernard, who was pale and still a little confused, but gradually
becoming more like himself, stood and looked in silence for a moment.

All his thoughts seemed to be clearing themselves in this interval.
He took in the whole series of incidents: his own frightful risk; the
strange, instinctive, nay, Providential impulse, which had led him so
suddenly to do the one only thing which could possibly have saved him;
the sudden appearance of the Doctor’s man, but for which he might yet
have been lost; and the discomfiture and capture of his dangerous enemy.

It was all past now, and a feeling of pity rose in Mr. Bernard’s heart.

“He loved that horse, no doubt,” he said,--“and no wonder. A beautiful,
wild--looking creature! Take off those things that are on him, Abel, and
have them carried to Mr. Dudley Veneer’s. If he does not want them, you
may keep them yourself, for all that I have to say. One thing more. I
hope nobody will lift his hand against this noble creature to mutilate
him in any way. After you have taken off the saddle and bridle, Abel,
bury him just as he is. Under that old beech-tree will be a good place.
You’ll see to it,--won’t you, Abel?”

Abel nodded assent, and Mr. Bernard returned to the Institute, threw
himself in his clothes on the bed, and slept like one who is heavy with
wine.

Following Mr. Bernard’s wishes, Abel at once took off the high-peaked
saddle and the richly ornamented bridle from the mustang. Then, with
the aid of two or three others, he removed him to the place indicated.
Spades and shovels were soon procured, and before the moon had set, the
wild horse of the Pampas was at rest under the turf at the wayside, in
the far village among the hills of New England.



CHAPTER XXVI. THE NEWS REACHES THE DUDLEY MANSION.

Early the next morning Abel Stebbins made his appearance at Dudley
Veneer’s, and requested to see the maan o’ the haouse abaout somethin’
o’ consequence. Mr. Veneer sent word that the messenger should wait
below, and presently appeared in the study, where Abel was making
himself at home, as is the wont of the republican citizen, when he hides
the purple of empire beneath the apron of domestic service.

“Good mornin’, Squire!” said Abel, as Mr. Venner entered. “My name’s
Stebbins, ‘n’ I’m stoppin’ f’r a spell ‘ith of Doctor Kittredge.”

“Well, Stebbins,” said Mr. Dudley Veneer, “have you brought any special
message from the Doctor?”

“Y’ ha’n’t heerd nothin’ abaout it, Squire, d’ ye mean t’ say?” said
Abel,--beginning to suspect that he was the first to bring the news of
last evening’s events.

“About what?” asked Mr. Veneer, with some interest.

“Dew tell, naow! Waal, that beats all! Why, that ‘ere Portagee relation
o’ yourn ‘z been tryin’ t’ ketch a fellah ‘n a slippernoose, ‘n’ got
ketched himself,--that’s all. Y’ ha’n’t heerd noth’n’ abaout it?”

“Sit down,” said Mr. Dudley Veneer, calmly, “and tell me all you have to
say.”

So Abel sat down and gave him an account of the events of the last
evening. It was a strange and terrible surprise to Dudley Veneer to find
that his nephew, who had been an inmate of his house and the companion
of his daughter, was to all intents and purposes guilty of the gravest
of crimes. But the first shock was no sooner over than he began to think
what effect the news would have on Elsie. He imagined that there was a
kind of friendly feeling between them, and he feared some crisis would
be provoked in his daughter’s mental condition by the discovery. He
would wait, however, until she came from her chamber, before disturbing
her with the evil tidings.

Abel did not forget his message with reference to the equipments of the
dead mustang.

“The’ was some things on the hoss, Squire, that the man he ketched
said he did n’ care no gre’t abaout; but perhaps you’d like to have ‘em
fetched to the mansion-haouse. Ef y’ did n’ care abaout ‘em, though,
I should n’ min’ keepin’ on ‘em; they might come handy some time or
‘nother; they say, holt on t’ anything for ten year ‘n’ there ‘ll be
some kin’ o’ use for ‘t.”

“Keep everything,” said Dudley Veneer. “I don’t want to see anything
belonging to that young man.”

So Abel nodded to Mr. Veneer, and left the study to find some of the men
about the stable to tell and talk over with them the events of the
last evening. He presently came upon Elbridge, chief of the equine
department, and driver of the family-coach.

“Good mornin’, Abe,” said Elbridge. “What’s fetched y’ daown here so
all-fired airly?”

“You’re a darned pooty lot daown here, you be!”

Abel answered. “Better keep your Portagees t’ home nex’ time, ketchin’
folks ‘ith slippernooses raoun’ their necks, ‘n’ kerryin’ knives ‘n
their boots!”

“What ‘r’ you jawin’ abaout?” Elbridge said, looking up to see if he was
in earnest, and what he meant.

“Jawin’ abaout? You’ll find aout’z soon ‘z y’ go into that ‘ere stable
o’ yourn! Y’ won’t curry that ‘ere long-tailed black hoss no more; ‘n’
y’ won’t set y’r eyes on the fellah that rid him, ag’in, in a hurry!”

Elbridge walked straight to the stable, without saying a word, found the
door unlocked, and went in.

“Th’ critter’s gone, sure enough!” he said. “Glad on ‘t! The darndest,
kickin’est, bitin’est beast th’t ever I see, ‘r ever wan’ t’ see ag’in!
Good reddance! Don’ wan’ no snappin’-turkles in my stable! Whar’s the
man gone th’t brought the critter?”

“Whar he’s gone? Guess y’ better go ‘n ask my ol man; he kerried him off
lass’ night; ‘n’ when he comes back, mebbe he ‘ll tell ye whar he’s gone
tew!”

By this time Elbridge had found out that Abel was in earnest, and had
something to tell. He looked at the litter in the mustang’s stall, then
at the crib.

“Ha’n’t eat b’t haalf his feed. Ha’n’t been daown on his straw. Must ha’
been took aout somewhere abaout ten ‘r ‘levee o’clock. I know that ‘ere
critter’s ways. The fellah’s had him aout nights afore; b’t I never
thought nothin’ o’ no mischief. He ‘s a kin’ o’ haalf Injin. What is ‘t
the chap’s been a-doin’ on? Tell ‘s all abaout it.”

Abel sat down on a meal-chest, picked up a straw and put it into his
mouth. Elbridge sat down at the other end, pulled out his jack-knife,
opened the penknife-blade, and began sticking it into the lid of the
meal-chest. The Doctor’s man had a story to tell, and he meant to
get all the enjoyment out of it. So he told it with every luxury of
circumstance. Mr. Veneer’s man heard it all with open mouth. No listener
in the gardens of Stamboul could have found more rapture in a tale heard
amidst the perfume of roses and the voices of birds and tinkling of
fountains than Elbridge in following Abel’s narrative, as they sat there
in the aromatic ammoniacal atmosphere of the stable, the grinding of
the horses’ jaws keeping evenly on through it all, with now and then the
interruption of a stamping hoof, and at intervals a ringing crow from
the barn-yard.

Elbridge stopped a minute to think, after Abel had finished.

“Who’s took care o’ them things that was on the hoss?” he said, gravely.

“Waal, Langden, he seemed to kin ‘o’ think I’d ought to have ‘em,--‘n’
the Squire; he did n’ seem to have no ‘bjection; ‘n’ so,--waal, I
calc’late I sh’ll jes’ holt on to ‘em myself; they a’n’t good f ‘r much,
but they’re cur’ous t’ keep t’ look at.”

Mr. Veneer’s man did not appear much gratified by this arrangement,
especially as he had a shrewd suspicion that some of the ornaments of
the bridle were of precious metal, having made occasional examinations
of them with the edge of a file. But he did not see exactly what to do
about it, except to get them from Abel in the way of bargain.

“Waal, no,--they a’n’t good for much ‘xcep’ to look at. ‘F y’ ever rid
on that seddle once, y’ would n’ try it ag’in, very spry,--not ‘f y’ c’d
haalp y’rsaalf.

“I tried it,--darned ‘f I sot daown f’r th’ nex’ week,--eat all my
victuals stan’in’. I sh’d like t’ hev them things wal enough to heng up
‘n the stable; ‘f y’ want t’ trade some day, fetch ‘em along daown.”

Abel rather expected that Elbridge would have laid claim to the saddle
and bridle on the strength of some promise or other presumptive title,
and thought himself lucky to get off with only offering to think abaout
tradin’.

When Elbridge returned to the house, he found the family in a state of
great excitement. Mr. Venner had told Old Sophy, and she had informed
the other servants. Everybody knew what had happened, excepting Elsie.
Her father had charged them all to say nothing about it to her; he would
tell her, when she came down.

He heard her step at last,--alight, gliding step,--so light that her
coming was often unheard, except by those who perceived the faint rustle
that went with it. She was paler than common this morning, as she came
into her father’s study.

After a few words of salutation, he said quietly, “Elsie, my dear, your
cousin Richard has left us.”

She grew still paler, as she asked,

“Is he dead?”

Dudley Venner started to see the expression with which Elsie put this
question.

“He is living,--but dead to us from this day forward,” said her father.

He proceeded to tell her, in a general way, the story he had just heard
from Abel. There could be no doubting it;--he remembered him as the
Doctor’s man; and as Abel had seen all with his own eyes, as Dick’s
chamber, when unlocked with a spare key, was found empty, and his bed
had not been slept in, he accepted the whole account as true.

When he told of Dick’s attempt on the young schoolmaster, (“You know
Mr. Langdon very well, Elsie,--a perfectly inoffensive young man, as I
understand,”) Elsie turned her face away and slid along by the wall
to the window which looked out oh the little grass-plot with the white
stone standing in it. Her father could not see her face, but he knew
by her movements that her dangerous mood was on her. When she heard the
sequel of the story, the discomfiture and capture of Dick, she turned
round for an instant, with a look of contempt and of something like
triumph upon her face. Her father saw that her cousin had become
odious to her: He knew well, by every change of her countenance, by
her movements, by every varying curve of her graceful figure, the
transitions front passion to repose, from fierce excitement to the dull
languor which often succeeded her threatening paroxysms.

She remained looking out at the window. A group of white fan-tailed
pigeons had lighted on the green plot before it and clustered about one
of their companions who lay on his back, fluttering in a strange way,
with outspread wings and twitching feet. Elsie uttered a faint cry;
these were her special favorites and often fed from her hand. She threw
open the long window, sprang out, caught up the white fantail, and held
it to her bosom. The bird stretched himself out, and then lay still,
with open eyes, lifeless. She looked at him a moment, and, sliding in
through the open window and through the study, sought her own apartment,
where she locked herself in, and began to sob and moan like those that
weep. But the gracious solace of tears seemed to be denied her, and her
grief, like her anger, was a dull ache, longing, like that, to finish
itself with a fierce paroxysm, but wanting its natural outlet.

This seemingly trifling incident of the death of her favorite appeared
to change all the current of her thought. Whether it were the sight
of the dying bird, or the thought that her own agency might have beep
concerned in it, or some deeper grief, which took this occasion to
declare itself,--some dark remorse or hopeless longing,--whatever it
might be, there was an unwonted tumult in her soul. To whom should
she go in her vague misery? Only to Him who knows all His creatures’
sorrows, and listens to the faintest human cry. She knelt, as she had
been taught to kneel from her childhood, and tried to pray. But her
thoughts refused to flow in the language of supplication. She could not
plead for herself as other women plead in their hours of anguish. She
rose like one who should stoop to drink, and find dust in the place of
water. Partly from restlessness, partly from an attraction she hardly
avowed to herself, she followed her usual habit and strolled listlessly
along to the school.

Of course everybody at the Institute was full of the terrible adventure
of the preceding evening. Mr. Bernard felt poorly enough; but he had
made it a point to show himself the next morning, as if nothing had
happened. Helen Darley knew nothing of it all until she hard risen, when
the gossipy matron of the establishment made her acquainted with all its
details, embellished with such additional ornamental appendages as
it had caught up in transmission from lip to lip. She did not love to
betray her sensibilities, but she was pale and tremulous and very
nearly tearful when Mr. Bernard entered the sitting-room, showing on
his features traces of the violent shock he had received and the heavy
slumber from which he had risen with throbbing brows. What the poor
girl’s impulse was, on seeing him, we need not inquire too curiously. If
he had been her own brother, she would have kissed him and cried on
his neck; but something held her back. There is no galvanism in
kiss-your-brother; it is copper against copper: but alien bloods develop
strange currents, when they flow close to each other, with only the
films that cover lip and cheek between them. Mr. Bernard, as some of us
may remember, violated the proprieties and laid himself open to reproach
by his enterprise with a bouncing village-girl, to whose rosy cheek an
honest smack was not probably an absolute novelty. He made it all up by
his discretion and good behavior now. He saw by Helen’s moist eye and
trembling lip that her woman’s heart was off its guard, and he knew,
by the infallible instinct of sex, that he should be forgiven, if
he thanked her for her sisterly sympathies in the most natural
way,--expressive, and at the same time economical of breath and
utterance. He would not give a false look to their friendship by any
such demonstration. Helen was a little older than himself, but the
aureole of young womanhood had not yet begun to fade from around her.
She was surrounded by that enchanted atmosphere into which the girl
walks with dreamy eyes, and out of which the woman passes with a
story written on her forehead. Some people think very little of these
refinements; they have not studied magnetism and the law of the square
of the distance.

So Mr. Bernard thanked Helen for her interest without the aid of the
twenty-seventh letter of the alphabet,--the love labial,--the limping
consonant which it takes two to speak plain. Indeed, he scarcely let her
say a word, at first; for he saw that it was hard for her to conceal her
emotion. No wonder; he had come within a hair’s-breadth of losing his
life, and he had been a very kind friend and a very dear companion to
her.

There were some curious spiritual experiences connected with his last
evening’s adventure which were working very strongly in his mind. It was
borne in upon him irresistibly that he had been dead since he had seen
Helen,--as dead as the son of the Widow of Nain before the bier was
touched and he sat up and began to speak. There was an interval
between two conscious moments which appeared to him like a temporary
annihilation, and the thoughts it suggested were worrying him with
strange perplexities.

He remembered seeing the dark figure on horseback rise in the saddle and
something leap from its hand. He remembered the thrill he felt as the
coil settled on his shoulders, and the sudden impulse which led him to
fire as he did. With the report of the pistol all became blank, until
he found himself in a strange, bewildered state, groping about for
the weapon, which he had a vague consciousness of having dropped. But,
according to Abel’s account, there must have been an interval of some
minutes between these recollections, and he could not help asking, Where
was the mind, the soul, the thinking principle, all this time?

A man is stunned by a blow with a stick on the head. He becomes
unconscious. Another man gets a harder blow on the head from a bigger
stick, and it kills him. Does he become unconscious, too? If so, when
does he come to his consciousness? The man who has had a slight or
moderate blow comes to himself when the immediate shock passes off and
the organs begin to work again, or when a bit of the skull is pried up,
if that happens to be broken. Suppose the blow is hard enough to spoil
the brain and stop the play of the organs, what happens them?

A British captain was struck by a cannon-ball on the head, just as
he was giving an order, at the Battle of the Nile. Fifteen months
afterwards he was trephined at Greenwich Hospital, having been
insensible all that time. Immediately after the operation his
consciousness returned, and he at once began carrying out the order
he was giving when the shot struck him. Suppose he had never been
trephined, when would his consciousness have returned? When his breath
ceased and his heart stopped beating?

When Mr. Bernard said to Helen, “I have been dead since I saw you,” it
startled her not a little; for his expression was that of perfect good
faith, and she feared that his mind was disordered. When he explained,
not as has been done just now, at length, but in a hurried, imperfect
way, the meaning of his strange assertion, and the fearful Sadduceeisms
which it had suggested to his mind, she looked troubled at first, and
then thoughtful. She did not feel able to answer all the difficulties he
raised, but she met them with that faith which is the strength as well
as the weakness of women,--which makes them weak in the hands of man,
but strong in the presence of the Unseen.

“It is a strange experience,” she said; “but I once had something like
it. I fainted, and lost some five or ten minutes out of my life, as much
as if I had been dead. But when I came to myself, I was the same person
every way, in my recollections and character. So I suppose that loss
of consciousness is not death. And if I was born out of unconsciousness
into infancy with many family-traits of mind and body, I can believe,
from my own reason, even without help from Revelation, that I shall be
born again out of the unconsciousness of death with my individual
traits of mind and body. If death is, as it should seem to be, a loss of
consciousness, that does not shake my faith; for I have been put into
a body once already to fit me for living here, and I hope to be in some
way fitted after this life to enjoy a better one. But it is all trust in
God and in his Word. These are enough for me; I hope they are for you.”

Helen was a minister’s daughter, and familiar from her childhood with
this class of questions, especially with all the doubts and perplexities
which are sure to assail every thinking child bred in any inorganic
or not thoroughly vitalized faith,--as is too often the case with the
children of professional theologians. The kind of discipline they are
subjected to is like that of the Flat-Head Indian pappooses. At five or
ten or fifteen years old they put their hands up to their foreheads and
ask, What are they strapping down my brains in this way for? So they
tear off the sacred bandages of the great Flat-Head tribe, and there
follows a mighty rush of blood to the long-compressed region. This
accounts, in the most lucid manner, for those sudden freaks with which
certain children of this class astonish their worthy parents at the
period of life when they are growing fast, and, the frontal pressure
beginning to be felt as something intolerable, they tear off the holy
compresses.

The hour for school came, and they went to the great hall for study.
It would not have occurred to Mr. Silas Peckham to ask his assistant
whether he felt well enough to attend to his duties; and Mr. Bernard
chose to be at his post. A little headache and confusion were all that
remained of his symptoms.

Later, in the course of the forenoon, Elsie Venner came and took her
place. The girls all stared at her--naturally enough; for it was hardly
to have been expected that she would show herself, after such an event
in the household to which she belonged. Her expression was somewhat
peculiar, and, of course, was attributed to the shock her feelings had
undergone on hearing of the crime attempted by her cousin and daily
companion. When she was looking on her book, or on any indifferent
object, her countenance betrayed some inward disturbance, which knitted
her dark brows, and seemed to throw a deeper shadow over her features.
But, from time to time, she would lift her eyes toward Mr. Bernard, and
let them rest upon him, without a thought, seemingly, that she herself
was the subject of observation or remark. Then they seemed to lose their
cold glitter, and soften into a strange, dreamy tenderness. The deep
instincts of womanhood were striving to grope their way to the surface
of her being through all the alien influences which overlaid them.
She could be secret and cunning in working out any of her dangerous
impulses, but she did not know how to mask the unwonted feeling which
fixed her eyes and her thoughts upon the only person who had ever
reached the spring of her hidden sympathies.

The girls all looked at Elsie, whenever they could steal a glance
unperceived, and many of them were struck with this singular expression
her features wore. They had long whispered it around among each other
that she had a liking for the master; but there were too many of them of
whom something like this could be said, to make it very remarkable. Now,
however, when so many little hearts were fluttering at the thought
of the peril through which the handsome young master had so recently
passed, they were more alive than ever to the supposed relation between
him and the dark school-girl. Some had supposed there was a mutual
attachment between them; there was a story that they were secretly
betrothed, in accordance with the rumor which had been current in the
village. At any rate, some conflict was going on in that still, remote,
clouded soul, and all the girls who looked upon her face were impressed
and awed as they had never been before by the shadows that passed over
it.

One of these girls was more strongly arrested by Elsie’s look than the
others. This was a delicate, pallid creature, with a high forehead, and
wide-open pupils, which looked as if they could take in all the shapes
that flit in what, to common eyes, is darkness,--a girl said to be
clairvoyant under certain influences. In the recess, as it was called,
or interval of suspended studies in the middle of the forenoon, this
girl carried her autograph-book,--for she had one of those indispensable
appendages of the boarding-school miss of every degree,--and asked Elsie
to write her name in it. She had an irresistible feeling, that, sooner
or later, and perhaps very soon, there would attach an unusual interest
to this autograph. Elsie took the pen and wrote, in her sharp Italian
hand,

Elsie Venner, Infelix.

It was a remembrance, doubtless, of the forlorn queen of the “AEneid”;
but its coming to her thought in this way confirmed the sensitive
school-girl in her fears for Elsie, and she let fall a tear upon the
page before she closed it.

Of course, the keen and practised observation of Helen Darley could not
fail to notice the change of Elsie’s manner and expression. She had long
seen that she was attracted to the young master, and had thought, as
the old Doctor did, that any impression which acted upon her affections
might be the means of awakening a new life in her singularly isolated
nature. Now, however, the concentration of the poor girl’s thoughts upon
the one object which had had power to reach her deeper sensibilities
was so painfully revealed in her features, that Helen began to fear
once more, lest Mr. Bernard, in escaping the treacherous violence of
an assassin, had been left to the equally dangerous consequences of a
violent, engrossing passion in the breast of a young creature whose love
it would be ruin to admit and might be deadly to reject. She knew her
own heart too well to fear that any jealousy might mingle with her new
apprehensions. It was understood between Bernard and Helen that they
were too good friends to tamper with the silences and edging proximities
of lovemaking. She knew, too, the simply human, not masculine, interest
which Mr. Bernard took in Elsie; he had been frank with Helen, and more
than satisfied her that with all the pity and sympathy which overflowed
his soul, when he thought of the stricken girl, there mingled not one
drop of such love as a youth may feel for a maiden.

It may help the reader to gain some understanding of the anomalous
nature of Elsie Veneer, if we look with Helen into Mr. Bernard’s
opinions and feelings with reference to her, as they had shaped
themselves in his consciousness at the period of which we are speaking.

At first he had been impressed by her wild beauty, and the contrast of
all her looks and ways with those of the girls around her. Presently
a sense of some ill-defined personal element, which half-attracted and
half-repelled those who looked upon her, and especially those on whom
she looked, began to make itself obvious to him, as he soon found it was
painfully sensible to his more susceptible companion, the lady-teacher.
It was not merely in the cold light of her diamond eyes, but in all her
movements, in her graceful postures as she sat, in her costume, and, he
sometimes thought, even in her speech, that this obscure and exceptional
character betrayed itself. When Helen had said, that, if they were
living in times when human beings were subject to possession, she should
have thought there was something not human about Elsie, it struck an
unsuspected vein of thought in his own mind, which he hated to put in
words, but which was continually trying to articulate itself among the
dumb thoughts which lie under the perpetual stream of mental whispers.

Mr. Bernard’s professional training had made him slow to accept
marvellous stories and many forms of superstition. Yet, as a man of
science, he well knew that just on the verge of the demonstrable facts
of physics and physiology there is a nebulous border-land which what
is called “common sense” perhaps does wisely not to enter, but which
uncommon sense, or the fine apprehension of privileged intelligences,
may cautiously explore, and in so doing find itself behind the scenes
which make up for the gazing world the show which is called Nature.

It was with something of this finer perception, perhaps with some degree
of imaginative exaltation, that he set himself to solving the problem
of Elsie’s influence to attract and repel those around her. His letter
already submitted to the reader hints in what direction his thoughts
were disposed to turn. Here was a magnificent organization, superb
in vigorous womanhood, with a beauty such as never comes but after
generations of culture; yet through all this rich nature there ran some
alien current of influence, sinuous and dark, as when a clouded streak
seams the white marble of a perfect statue.

It would be needless to repeat the particular suggestions which had come
into his mind, as they must probably have come into that of the reader
who has noted the singularities of Elsie’s tastes and personal traits.
The images which certain poets had dreamed of seemed to have become a
reality before his own eyes. Then came that unexplained adventure of The
Mountain,--almost like a dream in recollection, yet assuredly real in
some of its main incidents,--with all that it revealed or hinted. This
girl did not fear to visit the dreaded region, where danger lurked in
every nook and beneath every tuft of leaves. Did the tenants of the
fatal ledge recognize some mysterious affinity which made them tributary
to the cold glitter of her diamond eyes? Was she from her birth one of
those frightful children, such as he had read about, and the Professor
had told him of, who form unnatural friendships with cold, writhing
ophidians? There was no need of so unwelcome a thought as this; she had
drawn him away from the dark opening in the rock at the moment when he
seemed to be threatened by one of its malignant denizens; that was all
he could be sure of; the counter-fascination might have been a dream, a
fancy, a coincidence. All wonderful things soon grow doubtful in our own
minds, as do even common events, if great interests prove suddenly to
attach to their truth or falsehood.

--I, who am telling of these occurrences, saw a friend in the great
city, on the morning of a most memorable disaster, hours after the
time when the train which carried its victims to their doom had left.
I talked with him, and was for some minutes, at least, in his company.
When I reached home, I found that the story had gone before that he was
among the lost, and I alone could contradict it to his weeping friends
and relatives. I did contradict it; but, alas! I began soon to doubt
myself, penetrated by the contagion of their solicitude; my recollection
began to question itself; the order of events became dislocated; and
when I heard that he had reached home in safety, the relief was almost
as great to me as to those who had expected to see their own brother’s
face no more.

Mr. Bernard was disposed, then, not to accept the thought of any odious
personal relationship of the kind which had suggested itself to him
when he wrote the letter referred to. That the girl had something of the
feral nature, her wild, lawless rambles in forbidden and blasted regions
of The Mountain at all hours, her familiarity with the lonely haunts
where any other human foot was so rarely seen, proved clearly enough.
But the more he thought of all her strange instincts and modes of being,
the more he became convinced that whatever alien impulse swayed her will
and modulated or diverted or displaced her affections came from some
impression that reached far back into the past, before the days when the
faithful Old Sophy had rocked her in the cradle. He believed that she
had brought her ruling tendency, whatever it was, into the world with
her.

When the school was over and the girls had all gone, Helen lingered in
the schoolroom to speak with Mr. Bernard.

“Did you remark Elsie’s ways this forenoon?” she said.

“No, not particularly; I have not noticed anything as sharply as I
commonly do; my head has been a little queer, and I have been thinking
over what we were talking about, and how near I came to solving the
great problem which every day makes clear to such multitudes of people.
What about Elsie?”

“Bernard, her liking for you is growing into a passion. I have studied
girls for a long while, and I know the difference between their passing
fancies and their real emotions. I told you, you remember, that Rosa
would have to leave us; we barely missed a scene, I think, if not a
whole tragedy, by her going at the right moment. But Elsie is infinitely
more dangerous to herself and others. Women’s love is fierce enough, if
it once gets the mastery of them, always; but this poor girl does not
know what to do with a passion.”

Mr. Bernard had never told Helen the story of the flower in his Virgil,
or that other adventure--which he would have felt awkwardly to refer to;
but it had been perfectly understood between them that Elsie showed in
her own singular way a well-marked partiality for the young master.

“Why don’t they take her away from the school, if she is in such a
strange, excitable state?” said Mr. Bernard.

“I believe they are afraid of her,” Helen answered. “It is just one of
those cases that are ten thousand thousand times worse than insanity. I
don’t think from what I hear, that her father has ever given up hoping
that she will outgrow her peculiarities. Oh, these peculiar children for
whom parents go on hoping every morning and despairing every night! If
I could tell you half that mothers have told me, you would feel that the
worst of all diseases of the moral sense and the will are those which
all the Bedlams turn away from their doors as not being cases of
insanity!”

“Do you think her father has treated her judiciously?” said Mr. Bernard.

“I think,” said Helen, with a little hesitation, which Mr. Bernard did
not happen to notice,--“I think he has been very kind and indulgent,
and I do not know that he could have treated her otherwise with a better
chance of success.”

“He must of course be fond of her,” Mr. Bernard said; “there is nothing
else in the world for him to love.”

Helen dropped a book she held in her hand, and, stooping to pick it up,
the blood rushed into her cheeks.

“It is getting late,” she said; “you must not stay any longer in
this close schoolroom. Pray, go and get a little fresh air before
dinner-time.”



CHAPTER XXVII. A SOUL IN DISTRESS.

The events told in the last two chapters had taken place toward the
close of the week. On Saturday evening the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather
received a note which was left at his door by an unknown person who
departed without saying a word. Its words were these: “One who is in
distress of mind requests the prayers of this congregation that God
would be pleased to look in mercy upon the soul that he has afflicted.”

There was nothing to show from whom the note came, or the sex or age
or special source of spiritual discomfort or anxiety of the writer. The
handwriting was delicate and might well be a woman’s. The clergyman was
not aware of any particular affliction among his parishioners which was
likely to be made the subject of a request of this kind. Surely neither
of the Venners would advertise the attempted crime of their relative in
this way. But who else was there? The more he thought about it, the
more it puzzled him, and as he did not like to pray in the dark, without
knowing for whom he was praying, he could think of nothing better than
to step into old Doctor Kittredge’s and see what he had to say about it.

The old Doctor was sitting alone in his study when the Reverend Mr.
Fairweather was ushered in. He received his visitor very pleasantly,
expecting, as a matter of course, that he would begin with some new
grievance, dyspeptic, neuralgic, bronchitic, or other. The minister,
however, began with questioning the old Doctor about the sequel of the
other night’s adventure; for he was already getting a little Jesuitical,
and kept back the object of his visit until it should come up as if
accidentally in the course of conversation.

“It was a pretty bold thing to go off alone with that reprobate, as you
did,” said the minister.

“I don’t know what there was bold about it,” the Doctor answered. “All
he wanted was to get away. He was not quite a reprobate, you see; he
didn’t like the thought of disgracing his family or facing his uncle. I
think he was ashamed to see his cousin, too, after what he had done.”

“Did he talk with you on the way?”

“Not much. For half an hour or so he did n’t speak a word. Then he asked
where I was driving him. I told him, and he seemed to be surprised into
a sort of grateful feeling. Bad enough, no doubt, but might be worse.
Has some humanity left in him yet. Let him go. God can judge him,--I
can’t.”

“You are too charitable, Doctor,” the minister said. “I condemn him just
as if he had carried out his project, which, they say, was to make it
appear as if the schoolmaster had committed suicide. That’s what people
think the rope found by him was for. He has saved his neck,--but his
soul is a lost one, I am afraid, beyond question.”

“I can’t judge men’s souls,” the Doctor said. “I can judge their acts,
and hold them responsible for those,--but I don’t know much about their
souls. If you or I had found our soul in a half-breed body; and been
turned loose to run among the Indians, we might have been playing
just such tricks as this fellow has been trying. What if you or I had
inherited all the tendencies that were born with his cousin Elsie?”

“Oh, that reminds me,”--the minister said, in a sudden way,--“I have
received a note, which I am requested to read from the pulpit tomorrow.
I wish you would just have the kindness to look at it and see where you
think it came from.”

The Doctor examined it carefully. It was a woman’s or girl’s note, he
thought. Might come from one of the school-girls who was anxious about
her spiritual condition. Handwriting was disguised; looked a little like
Elsie Veneer’s, but not characteristic enough to make it certain. It
would be a new thing, if she had asked public prayers for herself, and
a very favorable indication of a change in her singular moral nature. It
was just possible Elsie might have sent that note. Nobody could foretell
her actions. It would be well to see the girl and find out whether
any unusual impression had been produced on her mind by the recent
occurrence or by any other cause.

The Reverend Mr. Fairweather folded the note and put it into his pocket.

“I have been a good deal exercised in mind lately, myself,” he said.

The old Doctor looked at him through his spectacles, and said, in his
usual professional tone,

“Put out your tongue.”

The minister obeyed him in that feeble way common with persons of weak
character,--for people differ as much in their mode of performing this
trifling act as Gideon’s soldiers in their way of drinking at the brook.
The Doctor took his hand and placed a finger mechanically on his wrist.

“It is more spiritual, I think, than bodily,” said the Reverend Mr.
Fairweather.

“Is your appetite as good as usual?” the Doctor asked.

“Pretty good,” the minister answered; “but my sleep, my sleep,
Doctor,--I am greatly troubled at night with lying awake and thinking of
my future, I am not at ease in mind.”

He looked round at all the doors, to be sure they were shut, and moved
his chair up close to the Doctor’s.

“You do not know the mental trials I have been going through for the
last few months.”

“I think I do,” the old Doctor said. “You want to get out of the new
church into the old one, don’t you?”

The minister blushed deeply; he thought he had been going on in a very
quiet way, and that nobody suspected his secret. As the old Doctor was
his counsellor in sickness, and almost everybody’s confidant in trouble,
he had intended to impart cautiously to him some hints of the change of
sentiments through which he had been passing. He was too late with his
information, it appeared, and there was nothing to be done but to throw
himself on the Doctor’s good sense and kindness, which everybody knew,
and get what hints he could from him as to the practical course he
should pursue. He began, after an awkward pause,

“You would not have me stay in a communion which I feel to be alien to
the true church, would you?”

“Have you stay, my friend?” said the Doctor, with a pleasant, friendly
look,--“have you stay? Not a month, nor a week, nor a day, if I could
help it. You have got into the wrong pulpit, and I have known it from
the first. The sooner you go where you belong, the better. And I’m very
glad you don’t mean to stop half-way. Don’t you know you’ve always
come to me when you’ve been dyspeptic or sick anyhow, and wanted to put
yourself wholly into my hands, so that I might order you like a child
just what to do and what to take? That ‘s exactly what you want
in religion. I don’t blame you for it. You never liked to take the
responsibility of your own body; I don’t see why you should want to have
the charge of your own soul. But I’m glad you’re going to the Old Mother
of all. You wouldn’t have been contented short of that.”

The Reverend Mr. Fairweather breathed with more freedom. The Doctor saw
into his soul through those awful spectacles of his,--into it and
beyond it, as one sees through a thin fog. But it was with a real human
kindness, after all. He felt like a child before a strong man; but the
strong man looked on him with a father’s indulgence. Many and many a
time, when he had come desponding and bemoaning himself on account of
some contemptible bodily infirmity, the old Doctor had looked at him
through his spectacles, listened patiently while he told his ailments,
and then, in his large parental way, given him a few words of wholesome
advice, and cheered him up so that he went off with a light heart,
thinking that the heaven he was so much afraid of was not so very near,
after all. It was the same thing now. He felt, as feeble natures always
do in the presence of strong ones, overmastered, circumscribed, shut in,
humbled; but yet it seemed as if the old Doctor did not despise him any
more for what he considered weakness of mind than he used to despise him
when he complained of his nerves or his digestion.

Men who see into their neighbors are very apt to be contemptuous; but
men who see through them find something lying behind every human soul
which it is not for them to sit in judgment on, or to attempt to sneer
out of the order of God’s manifold universe.

Little as the Doctor had said out of which comfort could be extracted,
his genial manner had something grateful in it. A film of gratitude
came over the poor man’s cloudy, uncertain eye, and a look of tremulous
relief and satisfaction played about his weak mouth. He was gravitating
to the majority, where he hoped to find “rest”; but he was dreadfully
sensitive to the opinions of the minority he was on the point of
leaving.

The old Doctor saw plainly enough what was going on in his mind.

“I sha’n’t quarrel with you,” he said,--“you know that very well; but
you mustn’t quarrel with me, if I talk honestly with you; it isn’t
everybody that will take the trouble. You flatter yourself that you will
make a good many enemies by leaving your old communion. Not so many as
you think. This is the way the common sort of people will talk:--‘You
have got your ticket to the feast of life, as much as any other man that
ever lived. Protestantism says,--“Help yourself; here’s a clean plate,
and a knife and fork of your own, and plenty of fresh dishes to choose
from.” The Old Mother says,--“Give me your ticket, my dear, and I’ll
feed you with my gold spoon off these beautiful old wooden trenchers.
Such nice bits as those good old gentlemen have left for you!” There is
no quarrelling with a man who prefers broken victuals. That’s what the
rougher sort will say; and then, where one scolds, ten will laugh. But,
mind you, I don’t either scold or laugh. I don’t feel sure that you
could very well have helped doing what you will soon do. You know you
were never easy without some medicine to take when you felt ill in
body. I’m afraid I’ve given you trashy stuff sometimes, just to keep
you quiet. Now, let me tell you, there is just the same difference in
spiritual patients that there is in bodily ones. One set believes
in wholesome ways of living, and another must have a great list of
specifics for all the soul’s complaints. You belong with the last, and
got accidentally shuffled in with the others.”

The minister smiled faintly, but did not reply. Of course, he considered
that way of talking as the result of the Doctor’s professional training.
It would not have been worth while to take offence at his plain speech,
if he had been so disposed; for he might wish to consult him the next
day as to “what he should take” for his dyspepsia or his neuralgia.

He left the Doctor with a hollow feeling at the bottom of his soul, as
if a good piece of his manhood had been scooped out of him. His hollow
aching did not explain itself in words, but it grumbled and worried down
among the unshaped thoughts which lie beneath them. He knew that he had
been trying to reason himself out of his birthright of reason. He knew
that the inspiration which gave him understanding was losing its throne
in his intelligence, and the almighty Majority-Vote was proclaiming
itself in its stead. He knew that the great primal truths, which each
successive revelation only confirmed, were fast becoming hidden beneath
the mechanical forms of thought, which, as with all new converts,
engrossed so large a share of his attention. The “peace,” the “rest,”
 which he had purchased were dearly bought to one who had been trained
to the arms of thought, and whose noble privilege it might have been
to live in perpetual warfare for the advancing truth which the next
generation will claim as the legacy of the present.

The Reverend Mr. Fairweather was getting careless about his sermons. He
must wait the fitting moment to declare himself; and in the mean time
he was preaching to heretics. It did not matter much what he preached,
under such circumstances. He pulled out two old yellow sermons from a
heap of such, and began looking over that for the forenoon. Naturally
enough, he fell asleep over it, and, sleeping, he began to dream.

He dreamed that he was under the high arches of an old cathedral, amidst
a throng of worshippers. The light streamed in through vast windows,
dark with the purple robes of royal saints, or blazing with yellow
glories around the heads of earthly martyrs and heavenly messengers. The
billows of the great organ roared among the clustered columns, as the
sea breaks amidst the basaltic pillars which crowd the stormy cavern of
the Hebrides. The voice of the alternate choirs of singing boys swung
back and forward, as the silver censer swung in the hands of the
white-robed children. The sweet cloud of incense rose in soft, fleecy
mists, full of penetrating suggestions of the East and its perfumed
altars. The knees of twenty generations had worn the pavement; their
feet had hollowed the steps; their shoulders had smoothed the columns.
Dead bishops and abbots lay under the marble of the floor in their
crumbled vestments; dead warriors, in rusted armor, were stretched
beneath their sculptured effigies. And all at once all the buried
multitudes who had ever worshipped there came thronging in through the
aisles. They choked every space, they swarmed into all the chapels, they
hung in clusters over the parapets of the galleries, they clung to
the images in every niche, and still the vast throng kept flowing and
flowing in, until the living were lost in the rush of the returning dead
who had reclaimed their own. Then, as his dream became more fantastic,
the huge cathedral itself seemed to change into the wreck of some mighty
antediluvian vertebrate; its flying-buttresses arched round like ribs,
its piers shaped themselves into limbs, and the sound of the organ-blast
changed to the wind whistling through its thousand-jointed skeleton.

And presently the sound lulled, and softened and softened, until it was
as the murmur of a distant swarm of bees. A procession of monks wound
along through an old street, chanting, as they walked. In his dream he
glided in among them and bore his part in the burden of their song.
He entered with the long train under a low arch, and presently he was
kneeling in a narrow cell before an image of the Blessed Maiden holding
the Divine Child in her arms, and his lips seemed to whisper,

               Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis!

He turned to the crucifix, and, prostrating himself before the spare,
agonizing shape of the Holy Sufferer, fell into a long passion of tears
and broken prayers. He rose and flung himself, worn-out, upon his hard
pallet, and, seeming to slumber, dreamed again within his dream. Once
more in the vast cathedral, with throngs of the living choking its
aisles, amidst jubilant peals from the cavernous depths of the great
organ, and choral melodies ringing from the fluty throats of the singing
boys. A day of great rejoicings,--for a prelate was to be consecrated,
and the bones of the mighty skeleton-minster were shaking with anthems,
as if there were life of its own within its buttressed ribs. He looked
down at his feet; the folds of the sacred robe were flowing about them:
he put his hand to his head; it was crowned with the holy mitre. A
long sigh, as of perfect content in the consummation of all his earthly
hopes, breathed through the dreamer’s lips, and shaped itself, as it
escaped, into the blissful murmur,

               Ego sum Episcopus!

One grinning gargoyle looked in from beneath the roof through an opening
in a stained window. It was the face of a mocking fiend, such as the old
builders loved to place under the eaves to spout the rain through their
open mouths. It looked at him, as he sat in his mitred chair, with its
hideous grin growing broader and broader, until it laughed out aloud,
such a hard, stony, mocking laugh, that he awoke out of his second dream
through his first into his common consciousness, and shivered, as he
turned to the two yellow sermons which he was to pick over and weed of
the little thought they might contain, for the next day’s service.

The Reverend Chauncy Fairweather was too much taken up with his own
bodily and spiritual condition to be deeply mindful of others. He
carried the note requesting the prayers of the congregation in his
pocket all day; and the soul in distress, which a single tender petition
might have soothed, and perhaps have saved from despair or fatal error,
found no voice in the temple to plead for it before the Throne of Mercy!



CHAPTER XXVIII. THE SECRET IS WHISPERED.

The Reverend Chauncy Fairweather’s congregation was not large, but
select. The lines of social cleavage run through religious creeds as
if they were of a piece with position and fortune. It is expected of
persons of a certain breeding, in some parts of New England, that they
shall be either Episcopalians or Unitarians. The mansion-house gentry of
Rockland were pretty fairly divided between the little chapel, with the
stained window and the trained rector, and the meeting-house where the
Reverend Mr. Fairweather officiated.

It was in the latter that Dudley Venner worshipped, when he attended
service anywhere,--which depended very much on the caprice of Elsie. He
saw plainly enough that a generous and liberally cultivated nature might
find a refuge and congenial souls in either of these two persuasions,
but he objected to some points of the formal creed of the older church,
and especially to the mechanism which renders it hard to get free
from its outworn and offensive formulae,--remembering how Archbishop
Tillotson wished in vain that it could be “well rid of” the Athanasian
Creed. This, and the fact that the meeting-house was nearer than the
chapel, determined him, when the new rector, who was not quite up to
his mark in education, was appointed, to take a pew in the “liberal”
 worshippers’ edifice.

Elsie was very uncertain in her feeling about going to church. In
summer, she loved rather to stroll over The Mountain, on Sundays. There
was even a story, that she had one of the caves before mentioned fitted
up as an oratory, and that she had her own wild way of worshipping
the God whom she sought in the dark chasms of the dreaded cliffs. Mere
fables, doubtless; but they showed the common belief, that Elsie, with
all her strange and dangerous elements of character, had yet strong
religious feeling mingled with them. The hymn-book which Dick had found,
in his midnight invasion of her chamber, opened to favorite hymns,
especially some of the Methodist and Quietist character. Many had
noticed, that certain tunes, as sung by the choir, seemed to impress
her deeply; and some said, that at such times her whole expression would
change, and her stormy look would soften so as to remind them of her
poor, sweet mother.

On the Sunday morning after the talk recorded in the last chapter, Elsie
made herself ready to go to meeting. She was dressed much as usual,
excepting that she wore a thick veil, turned aside, but ready to conceal
her features. It was natural enough that she should not wish to be
looked in the face by curious persons who would be staring to see what
effect the occurrence of the past week had had on her spirits. Her
father attended her willingly; and they took their seats in the pew,
somewhat to the surprise of many, who had hardly expected to see them,
after so humiliating a family development as the attempted crime of
their kinsman had just been furnishing for the astonishment of the
public.

The Reverend Mr. Fairweather was now in his coldest mood. He had passed
through the period of feverish excitement which marks a change of
religious opinion. At first, when he had began to doubt his own
theological positions, he had defended them against himself with
more ingenuity and interest, perhaps, than he could have done against
another; because men rarely take the trouble to understand anybody’s
difficulties in a question but their own. After this, as he began
to draw off from different points of his old belief, the cautious
disentangling of himself from one mesh after another gave sharpness to
his intellect, and the tremulous eagerness with which he seized upon the
doctrine which, piece by piece, under various pretexts and with various
disguises, he was appropriating, gave interest and something like
passion to his words. But when he had gradually accustomed his people
to his new phraseology, and was really adjusting his sermons and his
service to disguise his thoughts, he lost at once all his intellectual
acuteness and all his spiritual fervor.

Elsie sat quietly through the first part of the service, which was
conducted in the cold, mechanical way to be expected. Her face was
hidden by her veil; but her father knew her state of feeling, as well
by her movements and attitudes as by the expression of her features. The
hymn had been sung, the short prayer offered, the Bible read, and the
long prayer was about to begin. This was the time at which the “notes”
 of any who were in affliction from loss of friends, the sick who
were doubtful of recovery, those who had cause to be grateful for
preservation of life or other signal blessing, were wont to be read.

Just then it was that Dudley Veneer noticed that his daughter was
trembling,--a thing so rare, so unaccountable, indeed, under the
circumstances, that he watched her closely, and began to fear that some
nervous paroxysm, or other malady, might have just begun to show itself
in this way upon her.

The minister had in his pocket two notes. One, in the handwriting of
Deacon Soper, was from a member of this congregation, returning thanks
for his preservation through a season of great peril, supposed to be the
exposure which he had shared with others, when standing in the circle
around Dick Veneer. The other was the anonymous one, in a female hand,
which he had received the evening before. He forgot them both. His
thoughts were altogether too much taken up with more important matters.
He prayed through all the frozen petitions of his expurgated form of
supplication, and not a single heart was soothed or lifted, or reminded
that its sorrows were struggling their way up to heaven, borne on the
breath from a human soul that was warm with love.

The people sat down as if relieved when the dreary prayer was finished.
Elsie alone remained standing until her father touched her. Then she sat
down, lifted her veil, and looked at him with a blank, sad look, as
if she had suffered some pain or wrong, but could not give any name or
expression to her vague trouble. She did not tremble any longer, but
remained ominously still, as if she had been frozen where she sat.

--Can a man love his own soul too well? Who, on the whole, constitute
the nobler class of human beings? those who have lived mainly to make
sure of their own personal welfare in another and future condition of
existence, or they who have worked with all their might for their race,
for their country, for the advancement of the kingdom of God, and left
all personal arrangements concerning themselves to the sole charge of
Him who made them and is responsible to himself for their safe-keeping?
Is an anchorite who has worn the stone floor of his cell into basins
with his knees bent in prayer, more acceptable than the soldier who
gives his life for the maintenance of any sacred right or truth, without
thinking what will specially become of him in a world where there are
two or three million colonists a month, from this one planet, to be
cared for? These are grave questions, which must suggest themselves to
those who know that there are many profoundly selfish persons who are
sincerely devout and perpetually occupied with their own future, while
there are others who are perfectly ready to sacrifice themselves for
any worthy object in this world, but are really too little occupied with
their exclusive personality to think so much as many do about what is to
become of them in another.

The Reverend Chauncy Fairweather did not, most certainly, belong to this
latter class. There are several kinds of believers, whose history we
find among the early converts to Christianity.

There was the magistrate, whose social position was such that he
preferred a private interview in the evening with the Teacher to
following him--with the street-crowd. He had seen extraordinary facts
which had satisfied him that the young Galilean had a divine commission.
But still he cross-questioned the Teacher himself. He was not ready to
accept statements without explanation. That was the right kind of man.
See how he stood up for the legal rights of his Master, when the people
were for laying hands on him!

And again, there was the government official, intrusted with public
money, which, in those days, implied that he was supposed to be honest.
A single look of that heavenly countenance, and two words of gentle
command, were enough for him. Neither of these men, the early disciple,
nor the evangelist, seems to have been thinking primarily about his own
personal safety.

But now look at the poor, miserable turnkey, whose occupation shows
what he was like to be, and who had just been thrusting two respectable
strangers, taken from the hands of a mob, covered with stripes and
stripped of clothing, into the inner prison, and making their feet fast
in the stocks. His thought, in the moment of terror, is for himself:
first, suicide; then, what he shall do,--not to save his household,--not
to fulfil his duty to his office,--not to repair the outrage he has been
committing,--but to secure his own personal safety. Truly, character
shows itself as much in a man’s way of becoming a Christian as in any
other!

--Elsie sat, statue-like, through the sermon. It would not be fair to
the reader to give an abstract of that. When a man who has been bred to
free thought and free speech suddenly finds himself stepping about, like
a dancer amidst his eggs, among the old addled majority-votes which he
must not tread upon, he is a spectacle for men and angels. Submission to
intellectual precedent and authority does very well for those who have
been bred to it; we know that the underground courses of their minds
are laid in the Roman cement of tradition, and that stately and splendid
structures may be reared on such a foundation. But to see one laying a
platform over heretical quicksands, thirty or forty or fifty years deep,
and then beginning to build upon it, is a sorry sight. A new convert
from the reformed to the ancient faith may be very strong in the arms,
but he will always have weak legs and shaky knees. He may use his hands
well, and hit hard with his fists, but he will never stand on his legs
in the way the man does who inherits his belief.

The services were over at last, and Dudley Venner and his daughter
walked home together in silence. He always respected her moods, and saw
clearly enough that some inward trouble was weighing upon her. There
was nothing to be said in such cases, for Elsie could never talk of her
griefs. An hour, or a day, or a week of brooding, with perhaps a sudden
flash of violence: this was the way in which the impressions which make
other women weep, and tell their griefs by word or letter, showed their
effects in her mind and acts.

She wandered off up into the remoter parts of The Mountain, that day,
after their return. No one saw just where she went,--indeed, no one knew
its forest-recesses and rocky fastnesses as she did. She was gone until
late at night; and when Old Sophy, who had watched for her, bound up her
long hair for her sleep, it was damp with the cold dews.

The old black woman looked at her without speaking, but questioning her
with every feature as to the sorrow that was weighing on her.

Suddenly she turned to Old Sophy.

“You want to know what there is troubling me;” she said. “Nobody loves
me. I cannot love anybody. What is love, Sophy?”

“It’s what poor Ol’ Sophy’s got for her Elsie,” the old woman answered.
“Tell me, darlin’,--don’ you love somebody?--don’ you love? you
know,--oh, tell me, darlin’, don’ you love to see the gen’l’man
that keeps up at the school where you go? They say he’s the pootiest
gen’l’man that was ever in the town here. Don’ be ‘fraid of poor Ol’
Sophy, darlin’,--she loved a man once,--see here! Oh, I’ve showed you
this often enough!”

She took from her pocket a half of one of the old Spanish silver coins,
such as were current in the earlier part of this century. The other half
of it had been lying in the deep sea-sand for more than fifty years.

Elsie looked her in the face, but did not answer in words. What strange
intelligence was that which passed between them through the diamond
eyes and the little beady black ones?--what subtile intercommunication,
penetrating so much deeper than articulate speech? This was the nearest
approach to sympathetic relations that Elsie ever had: a kind of dumb
intercourse of feeling, such as one sees in the eyes of brute mothers
looking on their young. But, subtile as it was, it was narrow and
individual; whereas an emotion which can shape itself in language opens
the gate for itself into the great community of human affections; for
every word we speak is the medal of a dead thought or feeling, struck in
the die of some human experience, worn smooth by innumerable contacts,
and always transferred warm from one to another. By words we share
the common consciousness of the race, which has shaped itself in these
symbols. By music we reach those special states of consciousness which,
being without form, cannot be shaped with the mosaics of the vocabulary.
The language of the eyes runs deeper into the personal nature, but it is
purely individual, and perishes in the expression.

If we consider them all as growing out of the consciousness as their
root, language is the leaf, music is the flower; but when the eyes meet
and search each other, it is the uncovering of the blanched stem through
which the whole life runs, but which has never taken color or form from
the sunlight.

For three days Elsie did not return to the school. Much of the time she
was among the woods and rocks. The season was now beginning to wane, and
the forest to put on its autumnal glory. The dreamy haze was beginning
to soften the landscape, and the mast delicious days of the year were
lending their attraction to the scenery of The Mountain. It was not very
singular that Elsie should be lingering in her old haunts, from which
the change of season must soon drive her. But Old Sophy saw clearly
enough that some internal conflict was going on, and knew very well that
it must have its own way and work itself out as it best could. As much
as looks could tell Elsie had told her. She had said in words, to be
sure, that she could not love. Something warped and thwarted the emotion
which would have been love in another, no doubt; but that such an
emotion was striving with her against all malign influences which
interfered with it the old woman had a perfect certainty in her own
mind.

Everybody who has observed the working of emotions in persons of various
temperaments knows well enough that they have periods of incubation,
which differ with the individual, and with the particular cause and
degree of excitement, yet evidently go through a strictly self-limited
series of evolutions, at the end of which, their result--an act of
violence, a paroxysm of tears, a gradual subsidence into repose, or
whatever it may be--declares itself, like the last stage of an attack of
fever and ague. No one can observe children without noticing that there
is a personal equation, to use the astronomer’s language, in their
tempers, so that one sulks an hour over an offence which makes another a
fury for five minutes, and leaves him or her an angel when it is over.

At the end of three days, Elsie braided her long, glossy, black hair,
and shot a golden arrow through it. She dressed herself with more than
usual care, and came down in the morning superb in her stormy beauty.
The brooding paroxysm was over, or at least her passion had changed its
phase. Her father saw it with great relief; he had always many fears for
her in her hours and days of gloom, but, for reasons before assigned,
had felt that she must be trusted to herself, without appealing to
actual restraint, or any other supervision than such as Old Sophy could
exercise without offence.

She went off at the accustomed hour to the school. All the girls had
their eyes on her. None so keen as these young misses to know an inward
movement by an outward sign of adornment: if they have not as many
signals as the ships that sail the great seas, there is not an end of
ribbon or a turn of a ringlet which is not a hieroglyphic with a hidden
meaning to these little cruisers over the ocean of sentiment.

The girls all looked at Elsie with a new thought; for she was more
sumptuously arrayed than perhaps ever before at the school; and they
said to themselves that she had come meaning to draw the young master’s
eyes upon her. That was it; what else could it be? The beautiful cold
girl with the diamond eyes meant to dazzle the handsome young gentleman.
He would be afraid to love her; it couldn’t be true, that which some
people had said in the village; she was n’t the kind of young lady to
make Mr. Langdon happy. Those dark people are never safe: so one of the
young blondes said to herself. Elsie was not literary enough for such
a scholar: so thought Miss Charlotte Ann Wood, the young poetess. She
couldn’t have a good temper, with those scowling eyebrows: this was the
opinion of several broad-faced, smiling girls, who thought, each in her
own snug little mental sanctum, that, if, etc., etc., she could make him
so happy!

Elsie had none of the still, wicked light in her eyes, that morning.
She looked gentle, but dreamy; played with her books; did not trouble
herself with any of the exercises,--which in itself was not very
remarkable, as she was always allowed, under some pretext or other, to
have her own way.

The school-hours were over at length. The girls went out, but she
lingered to the last. She then came up to Mr. Bernard, with a book in
her hand, as if to ask a question.

“Will you walk towards my home with me today?” she said, in a very low
voice, little more than a whisper.

Mr. Bernard was startled by the request, put in such a way. He had a
presentiment of some painful scene or other. But there was nothing to be
done but to assure her that it would give him great pleasure.

So they walked along together on their way toward the Dudley mansion.

“I have no friend,” Elsie said, all at once. “Nothing loves me but one
old woman. I cannot love anybody. They tell me there is something in my
eyes that draws people to me and makes them faint: Look into them, will
you?”

She turned her face toward him. It was very pale, and the diamond eyes
were glittering with a film, such as beneath other lids would have
rounded into a tear.

“Beautiful eyes, Elsie,” he said,--“sometimes very piercing,--but soft
now, and looking as if there were something beneath them that friendship
might draw out. I am your friend, Elsie. Tell me what I can do to render
your life happier.”

“Love me!” said Elsie Venner.

What shall a man do, when a woman makes such a demand, involving such
an avowal? It was the tenderest, cruellest, humblest moment of Mr.
Bernard’s life. He turned pale, he trembled almost, as if he had been a
woman listening to her lover’s declaration.

“Elsie,” he said, presently, “I so long to be of some use to you, to
have your confidence and sympathy, that I must not let you say or
do anything to put us in false relations. I do love you, Elsie, as a
suffering sister with sorrows of her own,--as one whom I would save at
the risk of my happiness and life,--as one who needs a true friend more
than--any of all the young girls I have known. More than this you would
not ask me to say. You have been through excitement and trouble lately,
and it has made you feel such a need more than ever. Give me your hand,
dear Elsie, and trust me that I will be as true a friend to you as if we
were children of the same mother.”

Elsie gave him her hand mechanically. It seemed to him that a cold aura
shot from it along his arm and chilled the blood running through his
heart. He pressed it gently, looked at her with a face full of grave
kindness and sad interest, then softly relinquished it.

It was all over with poor Elsie. They walked almost in silence the rest
of the way. Mr. Bernard left her at the gate of the mansion-house, and
returned with sad forebodings. Elsie went at once to her own room, and
did not come from it at the usual hours. At last Old Sophy began to
be alarmed about her, went to her apartment, and, finding the door
unlocked, entered cautiously. She found Elsie lying on her bed, her
brows strongly contracted, her eyes dull, her whole look that of great
suffering. Her first thought was that she had been doing herself a harm
by some deadly means or other. But Elsie, saw her fear, and reassured
her.

“No,” she said, “there is nothing wrong, such as you are thinking of; I
am not dying. You may send for the Doctor; perhaps he can take the pain
from my head. That is all I want him to do. There is no use in the pain,
that I know of; if he can stop it, let him.”

So they sent for the old Doctor. It was not long before the solid trot
of Caustic, the old bay horse, and the crashing of the gravel under the
wheels, gave notice that the physician was driving up the avenue.

The old Doctor was a model for visiting practitioners. He always
came into the sick-room with a quiet, cheerful look, as if he had a
consciousness that he was bringing some sure relief with him. The way a
patient snatches his first look at his doctor’s face, to see whether
he is doomed, whether he is reprieved, whether he is unconditionally
pardoned, has really something terrible about it. It is only to be
met by an imperturbable mask of serenity, proof against anything and
everything in a patient’s aspect. The physician whose face reflects his
patient’s condition like a mirror may do well enough to examine people
for a life-insurance office, but does not belong to the sickroom. The
old Doctor did not keep people waiting in dread suspense, while he
stayed talking about the case,--the patient all the time thinking that
he and the friends are discussing some alarming symptom or formidable
operation which he himself is by-and-by--to hear of.

He was in Elsie’s room almost before she knew he was in the house. He
came to her bedside in such a natural, quiet way, that it seemed as if
he were only a friend who had dropped in for a moment to say a pleasant
word. Yet he was very uneasy about Elsie until he had seen her; he never
knew what might happen to her or those about her, and came prepared for
the worst.

“Sick, my child?” he said, in a very soft, low voice.

Elsie nodded, without speaking.

The Doctor took her hand,--whether with professional views, or only in a
friendly way, it would have been hard to tell. So he sat a few minutes,
looking at her all the time with a kind of fatherly interest, but with
it all noting how she lay, how she breathed, her color, her expression,
all that teaches the practised eye so much without a single question
being asked. He saw she was in suffering, and said presently,

“You have pain somewhere; where is it?”

She put her hand to her head.

As she was not disposed to talk, he watched her for a while, questioned
Old Sophy shrewdly a few minutes, and so made up his mind as to the
probable cause of disturbance and the proper remedies to be used.

Some very silly people thought the old Doctor did not believe in
medicine, because he gave less than certain poor half-taught creatures
in the smaller neighboring towns, who took advantage of people’s
sickness to disgust and disturb them with all manner of ill-smelling
and ill-behaving drugs. In truth, he hated to give anything noxious or
loathsome to those who were uncomfortable enough already, unless he was
very sure it would do good,--in which case, he never played with drugs,
but gave good, honest, efficient doses. Sometimes he lost a family of
the more boorish sort, because they did not think they got their
money’s worth out of him, unless they had something more than a taste of
everything he carried in his saddlebags.

He ordered some remedies which he thought would relieve Elsie, and left
her, saying he would call the next day, hoping to find her better.
But the next day came, and the next, and still Elsie was on her bed,
feverish, restless, wakeful, silent. At night she tossed about and
wandered, and it became at length apparent that there was a settled
attack, something like what they called, formerly, a “nervous fever.”

On the fourth day she was more restless than common. One of the women
of the house came in to help to take care of her; but she showed an
aversion to her presence.

“Send me Helen Darley,” she said, at last.

The old Doctor told them, that, if possible, they must indulge this
fancy of hers. The caprices of sick people were never to be despised,
least of all of such persons as Elsie, when rendered irritable and
exacting by pain and weakness.

So a message was sent to Mr. Silas Peckham at the Apollinean Institute,
to know if he could not spare Miss Helen Darley for a few days, if
required, to give her attention to a young lady who attended his school
and who was now lying ill,--no other person than the daughter of Dudley
Venner.

A mean man never agrees to anything without deliberately turning it
over, so that he may see its dirty side, and, if he can, sweating the
coin he pays for it. If an archangel should offer to save his soul for
sixpence, he would try to find a sixpence with a hole in it. A gentleman
says yes to a great many things without stopping to think: a shabby
fellow is known by his caution in answering questions, for fear of,
compromising his pocket or himself.

Mr. Silas Peckham looked very grave at the request. The dooties of Miss
Darley at the Institoot were important, very important. He paid her
large sums of money for her time,--more than she could expect to get in
any other institootion for the edoocation of female youth. A deduction
from her selary would be necessary, in case she should retire from the
sphere of her dooties for a season. He should be put to extry expense,
and have to perform additional labors himself. He would consider of the
matter. If any arrangement could be made, he would send word to Squire
Venner’s folks.

“Miss Darley,” said Silas Peckham, “the’ ‘s a message from Squire
Venner’s that his daughter wants you down at the mansion-house to see
her. She’s got a fever, so they inform me. If it’s any kind of ketchin’
fever, of course you won’t think of goin’ near the mansion-house. If
Doctor Kittredge says it’s safe, perfec’ly safe, I can’t object to your
goin’, on sech conditions as seem to be fair to all’ concerned. You will
give up your pay for the whole time you are absent,--portions of days to
be caounted as whole days. You will be charged with board the same as
if you eat your victuals with the household. The victuals are of no use
after they’re cooked but to be eat, and your bein’ away is no savin’ to
our folks. I shall charge you a reasonable compensation for the demage
to the school by the absence of a teacher. If Miss Crabs undertakes any
dooties belongin’ to your department of instruction, she will look to
you for sech pecooniary considerations as you may agree upon between
you. On these conditions I am willin’ to give my consent to your
temporary absence from the post of dooty. I will step down to Doctor
Kittredge’s myself, and make inquiries as to the natur’ of the
complaint.”

Mr. Peckham took up a rusty and very narrow-brimmed hat, which he cocked
upon one side of his head, with an air peculiar to the rural gentry. It
was the hour when the Doctor expected to be in his office, unless he had
some special call which kept him from home.

He found the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather just taking leave of the
Doctor. His hand was on the pit of his stomach, and his countenance was
expressive of inward uneasiness.

“Shake it before using,” said the Doctor; “and the sooner you make up
your mind to speak right out, the better it will be for your digestion.”

“Oh, Mr. Peckham! Walk in, Mr. Peckham! Nobody sick up at the school, I
hope?”

“The haalth of the school is fust-rate,” replied Mr. Peckham. “The
sitooation is uncommonly favorable to saloobrity.” (These last words
were from the Annual Report of the past year.) “Providence has spared
our female youth in a remarkable measure. I’ve come with reference to
another consideration. Dr. Kittredge, is there any ketchin’ complaint
goin’ about in the village?”

“Well, yes,” said the Doctor, “I should say there was something of that
sort. Measles. Mumps. And Sin,--that’s always catching.”

The old Doctor’s eye twinkled; once in a while he had his little touch
of humor.

Silas Peckham slanted his eye up suspiciously at the Doctor, as if he
was getting some kind of advantage over him. That is the way people of
his constitution are apt to take a bit of pleasantry.

“I don’t mean sech things, Doctor; I mean fevers. Is there any ketchin’
fevers--bilious, or nervous, or typus, or whatever you call ‘em--now
goin’ round this village? That’s what I want to ascertain, if there’s no
impropriety.”

The old Doctor looked at Silas through his spectacles.

“Hard and sour as a green cider-apple,” he thought to himself. “No,”; he
said,--“I don’t know any such cases.”

“What’s the matter with Elsie Venner?” asked Silas, sharply, as if he
expected to have him this time.

“A mild feverish attack, I should call it in anybody else; but she has
a peculiar constitution, and I never feel so safe about her as I should
about most people.”

“Anything ketchin’ about it?” Silas asked, cunningly.

“No, indeed!” said the Doctor,--“catching? no,--what put that into your
head, Mr. Peckham?”

“Well, Doctor,” the conscientious Principal answered, “I naterally feel
a graat responsibility, a very graaat responsibility, for the noomerous
and lovely young ladies committed to my charge. It has been a question,
whether one of my assistants should go, accordin’ to request, to stop
with Miss Venner for a season. Nothin’ restrains my givin’ my full and
free consent to her goin’ but the fear lest contagious maladies should
be introdooced among those lovely female youth. I shall abide by your
opinion,--I understan’ you to say distinc’ly, her complaint is not
ketchin’?--and urge upon Miss Darley to fulfil her dooties to a
sufferin’ fellow-creature at any cost to myself and my establishment. We
shall miss her very much; but it is a good cause, and she shall go,--and
I shall trust that Providence will enable us to spare her without
permanent demage to the interests of the Institootion.”

Saying this, the excellent Principal departed, with his rusty
narrow-brimmed hat leaning over, as if it had a six-knot breeze abeam,
and its gunwale (so to speak) was dipping into his coat-collar. He
announced the result of his inquiries to Helen, who had received a brief
note in the mean time from a poor relation of Elsie’s mother, then at
the mansion-house, informing her of the critical situation of Elsie
and of her urgent desire that Helen should be with her. She could not
hesitate. She blushed as she thought of the comments that might be made;
but what were such considerations in a matter of life and death? She
could not stop to make terms with Silas Peckham. She must go. He might
fleece her, if he would; she would not complain,--not even to Bernard,
who, she knew, would bring the Principal to terms, if she gave the least
hint of his intended extortions.

So Helen made up her bundle of clothes to be sent after her, took a book
or two with her to help her pass the time, and departed for the Dudley
mansion. It was with a great inward effort that she undertook the
sisterly task which was thus forced upon her. She had a kind of terror
of Elsie; and the thought of having charge of her, of being alone with
her, of coming under the full influence of those diamond eyes,--if,
indeed, their light were not dimmed by suffering and weariness,--was one
she shrank from. But what could she do? It might be a turning-point in
the life of the poor girl; and she must overcome all her fears, all her
repugnance, and go to her rescue.

“Is Helen come?” said Elsie, when she heard, with her fine sense
quickened by the irritability of sickness, a light footfall on the
stair, with a cadence unlike that of any inmate of the house.

“It’s a strange woman’s step,” said Old Sophy, who, with her exclusive
love for Elsie, was naturally disposed to jealousy of a new-comer. “Let
Ol’ Sophy set at ‘th’ foot o’ th’ bed, if th’ young missis sets by th’
piller,--won’ y’, darlin’? The’ ‘s nobody that’s white can love y’
as th’ of black woman does;--don’ sen’ her away, now, there ‘s a dear
soul!”

Elsie motioned her to sit in the place she had pointed to, and Helen at
that moment entered the room. Dudley Venner followed her.

“She is your patient,” he said, “except while the Doctor is here. She
has been longing to have you with her, and we shall expect you to make
her well in a few days.”

So Helen Darley found herself established in the most unexpected manner
as an inmate of the Dudley mansion. She sat with Elsie most of the
time, by day and by night, soothing her, and trying to enter into her
confidence and affections, if it should prove that this strange creature
was really capable of truly sympathetic emotions.

What was this unexplained something which came between her soul and
that of every other human being with whom she was in relations? Helen
perceived, or rather felt, that she had, folded up in the depths of
her being, a true womanly nature. Through the cloud that darkened her
aspect, now and then a ray would steal forth, which, like the smile of
stern and solemn people, was all the more impressive from its contrast
with the expression she wore habitually. It might well be that pain and
fatigue had changed her aspect; but, at any rate, Helen looked into
her eyes without that nervous agitation which their cold glitter had
produced on her when they were full of their natural light. She felt
sure that her mother must have been a lovely, gentle woman. There were
gleams of a beautiful nature shining through some ill-defined medium
which disturbed and made them flicker and waver, as distant images do
when seen through the rippling upward currents of heated air. She loved,
in her own way, the old black woman, and seemed to keep up a kind of
silent communication with her, as if they did not require the use of
speech. She appeared to be tranquillized by the presence of Helen, and
loved to have her seated at the bedside. Yet something, whatever it was,
prevented her from opening her heart to her kind companion; and even now
there were times when she would lie looking at her, with such a still,
watchful, almost dangerous expression, that Helen would sigh, and change
her place, as persons do whose breath some cunning orator had been
sucking out of them with his spongy eloquence, so that, when he stops,
they must get some air and stir about, or they feel as if they should be
half smothered and palsied.

It was too much to keep guessing what was the meaning of all this. Helen
determined to ask Old Sophy some questions which might probably throw
light upon her doubts. She took the opportunity one evening when Elsie
was lying asleep and they were both sitting at some distance from her
bed.

“Tell me, Sophy,” she said, “was Elsie always as shy as she seems to be
now, in talking with those to whom she is friendly?”

“Alway jes’ so, Miss Darlin’, ever sense she was little chil’. When she
was five, six year old, she lisp some,--call me Thophy; that make her
kin’ o’ ‘shamed, perhaps: after she grow up, she never lisp, but she
kin’ o’ got the way o’ not talkin’ much. Fac’ is, she don’ like talkin’
as common gals do, ‘xcep’ jes’ once in a while wi’ some partic’lar
folks,--‘n’ then not much.”

“How old is Elsie?”

“Eighteen year this las’ September.”

“How long ago did her mother die?” Helen asked, with a little trembling
in her voice.

“Eighteen year ago this October,” said Old Sophy.

Helen was silent for a moment. Then she whispered, almost
inaudibly,--for her voice appeared to fail her,

“What did her mother die of, Sophy?”

The old woman’s small eyes dilated until a ring of white showed round
their beady centres. She caught Helen by the hand and clung to it, as if
in fear. She looked round at Elsie, who lay sleeping, as of she might be
listening. Then she drew Helen towards her and led her softly out of the
room.

“‘Sh!--‘sh!” she said, as soon as they were outside the door. “Don’
never speak in this house ‘bout what Elsie’s mother died of!” she said.
“Nobody never says nothin’ ‘bout it. Oh, God has made Ugly Things wi’
death in their mouths, Miss Darlin’, an’ He knows what they’re for; but
my poor Elsie!--to have her blood changed in her before--It was in July
Mistress got her death, but she liv’ till three week after my poor Elsie
was born.”

She could speak no more. She had said enough. Helen remembered the
stories she had heard on coming to the village, and among them one
referred to in an early chapter of this narrative. All the unaccountable
looks and tastes and ways of Elsie came back to her in the light of an
ante-natal impression which had mingled an alien element in her nature.
She knew the secret of the fascination which looked out of her cold,
glittering eyes. She knew the significance of the strange repulsion
which she felt in her own intimate consciousness underlying the
inexplicable attraction which drew her towards the young girl in
spite of this repugnance. She began to look with new feelings on the
contradictions in her moral nature,--the longing for sympathy, as shown
by her wishing for Helen’s company, and the impossibility of passing
beyond the cold circle of isolation within which she had her being.
The fearful truth of that instinctive feeling of hers, that there was
something not human looking out of Elsie’s eyes, came upon her with
a sudden flash of penetrating conviction. There were two warring
principles in that superb organization and proud soul. One made her a
woman, with all a woman’s powers and longings. The other chilled all the
currents of outlet for her emotions. It made her tearless and mute, when
another woman would have wept and pleaded. And it infused into her
soul something--it was cruel now to call it malice--which was still and
watchful and dangerous, which waited its opportunity, and then shot like
an arrow from its bow out of the coil of brooding premeditation. Even
those who had never seen the white scars on Dick Venner’s wrist,
or heard the half-told story of her supposed attempt to do a graver
mischief, knew well enough by looking at her that she was one of
the creatures not to be tampered with,--silent in anger and swift in
vengeance.

Helen could not return to the bedside at once after this communication.
It was with altered eyes that she must look on the poor girl, the victim
of such an unheard-of fatality. All was explained to her now. But it
opened such depths of solemn thought in her awakened consciousness, that
it seemed as if the whole mystery of human life were coming up again
before her for trial and judgment. “Oh,” she thought, “if, while the
will lies sealed in its fountain, it may be poisoned at its very source,
so that it shall flow dark and deadly through its whole course, who are
we that we should judge our fellow-creatures by ourselves?” Then came
the terrible question, how far the elements themselves are capable
of perverting the moral nature: if valor, and justice, and truth, the
strength of man and the virtue of woman, may not be poisoned out of a
race by the food of the Australian in his forest, by the foul air and
darkness of the Christians cooped up in the “tenement-houses” close by
those who live in the palaces of the great cities?

She walked out into the garden, lost in thought upon these dark and deep
matters. Presently she heard a step behind her, and Elsie’s father came
up and joined her. Since his introduction to Helen at the distinguished
tea-party given by the Widow Rowens, and before her coming to sit with
Elsie, Mr. Dudley Venner had in the most accidental way in the world
met her on several occasions: once after church, when she happened to be
caught in a slight shower and he insisted on holding his umbrella
over her on her way home;--once at a small party at one of the
mansion-houses, where the quick-eyed lady of the house had a wonderful
knack of bringing people together who liked to see each other;--perhaps
at other times and places; but of this there is no certain evidence.

They naturally spoke of Elsie, her illness, and the aspect it had taken.
But Helen noticed in all that Dudley Venner said about his daughter a
morbid sensitiveness, as it seemed to her, an aversion to saying much
about her physical condition or her peculiarities,--a wish to feel
and speak as a parent should, and yet a shrinking, as if there were
something about Elsie which he could not bear to dwell upon. She thought
she saw through all this, and she could interpret it all charitably.
There were circumstances about his daughter which recalled the great
sorrow of his life; it was not strange that this perpetual reminder
should in some degree have modified his feelings as a father. But what
a life he must have been leading for so many years, with this perpetual
source of distress which he could not name! Helen knew well enough, now,
the meaning of the sadness which had left such traces in his features
and tones, and it made her feel very kindly and compassionate towards
him.

So they walked over the crackling leaves in the garden, between the
lines of box breathing its fragrance of eternity;--for this is one of
the odors which carry us out of time into the abysses of the unbeginning
past; if we ever lived on another ball of stone than this, it must be
that there was box growing on it. So they walked, finding their way
softly to each other’s sorrows and sympathies, each matching some
counterpart to the other’s experience of life, and startled to see how
the different, yet parallel, lessons they had been taught by suffering
had led them step by step to the same serene acquiescence in the
orderings of that Supreme Wisdom which they both devoutly recognized.

Old Sophy was at the window and saw them walking up and down the
garden-alleys. She watched them as her grandfather the savage watched
the figures that moved among the trees when a hostile tribe was lurking
about his mountain.

“There’ll be a weddin’ in the ol house,” she said, “before there’s roses
on them bushes ag’in. But it won’ be my poor Elsie’s weddin’, ‘n’ ol’
Sophy won’ be there.”

When Helen prayed in the silence of her soul that evening, it was not
that Elsie’s life might be spared. She dared not ask that as a favor of
Heaven. What could life be to her but a perpetual anguish, and to those
about her but an ever-present terror? Might she but be so influenced
by divine grace, that what in her was most truly human, most purely
woman-like, should overcome the dark, cold, unmentionable instinct which
had pervaded her being like a subtile poison that was all she could ask,
and the rest she left to a higher wisdom and tenderer love than her own.



CHAPTER XXIX. THE WHITE ASH.

When Helen returned to Elsie’s bedside, it was with a new and still
deeper feeling of sympathy, such as the story told by Old Sophy might
well awaken. She understood, as never before, the singular fascination
and as singular repulsion which she had long felt in Elsie’s presence.
It had not been without a great effort that she had forced herself to
become the almost constant attendant of the sick girl; and now she was
learning, but not for the first time, the blessed truth which so many
good women have found out for themselves, that the hardest duty bravely
performed soon becomes a habit, and tends in due time to transform
itself into a pleasure.

The old Doctor was beginning to look graver, in spite of himself. The
fever, if such it was, went gently forward, wasting the young girl’s
powers of resistance from day to day; yet she showed no disposition
to take nourishment, and seemed literally to be living on air. It was
remarkable that with all this her look was almost natural, and her
features were hardly sharpened so as to suggest that her life was
burning away. He did not like this, nor various other unobtrusive signs
of danger which his practised eye detected. A very small matter might
turn the balance which held life and death poised against each other.
He surrounded her with precautions, that Nature might have every
opportunity of cunningly shifting the weights from the scale of death
to the scale of life, as she will often do if not rudely disturbed or
interfered with.

Little tokens of good-will and kind remembrance were constantly coming
to her from the girls in the school and the good people in the village.
Some of the mansion-house people obtained rare flowers which they sent
her, and her table was covered with fruits which tempted her in vain.
Several of the school-girls wished to make her a basket of their own
handiwork, and, filling it with autumnal flowers, to send it as a joint
offering. Mr. Bernard found out their project accidentally, and, wishing
to have his share in it, brought home from one of his long walks some
boughs full of variously tinted leaves, such as were still clinging
to the stricken trees. With these he brought also some of the already
fallen leaflets of the white ash, remarkable for their rich olive-purple
color, forming a beautiful contrast with some of the lighter-hued
leaves. It so happened that this particular tree, the white ash, did
not grow upon The Mountain, and the leaflets were more welcome for their
comparative rarity. So the girls made their basket, and the floor of it
they covered with the rich olive-purple leaflets. Such late flowers as
they could lay their hands upon served to fill it, and with many kindly
messages they sent it to Miss Elsie Venner at the Dudley mansion-house.

Elsie was sitting up in her bed when it came, languid, but tranquil, and
Helen was by her, as usual, holding her hand, which was strangely cold,
Helen thought, for one who was said to have some kind of fever. The
school-girls’ basket was brought in with its messages of love and hopes
for speedy recovery. Old Sophy was delighted to see that it pleased
Elsie, and laid it on the bed before her. Elsie began looking at the
flowers, and taking them from the basket, that she might see the leaves.
All at once she appeared to be agitated; she looked at the basket, then
around, as if there were some fearful presence about her which she was
searching for with her eager glances. She took out the flowers, one
by one, her breathing growing hurried, her eyes staring, her hands
trembling,--till, as she came near the bottom of the basket, she flung
out all the rest with a hasty movement, looked upon the olive-purple
leaflets as if paralyzed for a moment, shrunk up, as it were, into
herself in a curdling terror, dashed the basket from her, and fell back
senseless, with a faint cry which chilled the blood of the startled
listeners at her bedside.

“Take it away!--take it away!--quick!” said Old Sophy, as she hastened
to her mistress’s pillow. “It ‘s the leaves of the tree that was always
death to her,--take it away! She can’t live wi’ it in the room!”

The poor old woman began chafing Elsie’s hands, and Helen to try to
rouse her with hartshorn, while a third frightened attendant gathered
up the flowers and the basket and carried them out of the apartment, She
came to herself after a time, but exhausted and then wandering. In
her delirium she talked constantly as if she were in a cave, with such
exactness of circumstance that Helen could not doubt at all that she had
some such retreat among the rocks of The Mountain, probably fitted up
in her own fantastic way, where she sometimes hid herself from all human
eyes, and of the entrance to which she alone possessed the secret.

All this passed away, and left her, of course, weaker than before. But
this was not the only influence the unexplained paroxysm had left behind
it. From this time forward there was a change in her whole expression
and her manner. The shadows ceased flitting over her features, and the
old woman, who watched her from day to day and from hour to hour as a
mother watches her child, saw the likeness she bore to her mother coming
forth more and more, as the cold glitter died out of the diamond eyes,
and the stormy scowl disappeared from the dark brows and low forehead.

With all the kindness and indulgence her father had bestowed upon her,
Elsie had never felt that he loved her. The reader knows well enough
what fatal recollections and associations had frozen up the springs of
natural affection in his breast. There was nothing in the world he would
not do for Elsie. He had sacrificed his whole life to her. His very
seeming carelessness about restraining her was all calculated; he knew
that restraint would produce nothing but utter alienation. Just so
far as she allowed him, he shared her studies, her few pleasures, her
thoughts; but she was essentially solitary and uncommunicative. No
person, as was said long ago, could judge him, because his task was not
merely difficult, but simply impracticable to human powers. A nature
like Elsie’s had necessarily to be studied by itself, and to be followed
in its laws where it could not be led.

Every day, at different hours, during the whole of his daughter’s
illness, Dudley Venner had sat by her, doing all he could to soothe and
please her. Always the same thin film of some emotional non-conductor
between them; always that kind of habitual regard and family-interest,
mingled with the deepest pity on one side and a sort of respect on the
other, which never warmed into outward evidences of affection.

It was after this occasion, when she had been so profoundly agitated
by a seemingly insignificant cause, that her father and Old Sophy were
sitting, one at one side of her bed and one at the other. She had fallen
into a light slumber. As they were looking at her, the same thought came
into both their minds at the same moment. Old Sophy spoke for both, as
she said, in a low voice,

“It ‘s her mother’s look,--it ‘s her mother’s own face right over
again,--she never look’ so before, the Lord’s hand is on her! His will
be done!”

When Elsie woke and lifted her languid eyes upon her father’s face, she
saw in it a tenderness, a depth of affection, such as she remembered
at rare moments of her childhood, when she had won him to her by some
unusual gleam of sunshine in her fitful temper.

“Elsie, dear,” he said, “we were thinking how much your expression was
sometimes like that of your sweet mother. If you could but have seen
her, so as to remember her!”

The tender look and tone, the yearning of the daughter’s heart for the
mother she had never seen, save only with the unfixed, undistinguishing
eyes of earliest infancy, perhaps the under-thought that she might soon
rejoin her in another state of being,--all came upon her with a sudden
overflow of feeling which broke through all the barriers between her
heart and her eyes, and Elsie wept. It seemed to her father as if the
malign influence--evil spirit it might almost be called--which had
pervaded her being, had at last been driven forth or exorcised, and that
these tears were at once the sign and the pledge of her redeemed nature.
But now she was to be soothed, and not excited. After her tears she
slept again, and the look her face wore was peaceful as never before.

Old Sophy met the Doctor at the door and told him all the circumstances
connected with the extraordinary attack from which Elsie had suffered.
It was the purple leaves, she said. She remembered that Dick once
brought home a branch of a tree with some of the same leaves on it, and
Elsie screamed and almost fainted then. She, Sophy, had asked her, after
she had got quiet, what it was in the leaves that made her feel so bad.
Elsie could n’t tell her,--did n’t like to speak about it,--shuddered
whenever Sophy mentioned it.

This did not sound so strangely to the old Doctor as it does to some
who listen to his narrative. He had known some curious examples of
antipathies, and remembered reading of others still more singular.
He had known those who could not bear the presence of a cat, and
recollected the story, often told, of a person’s hiding one in a chest
when one of these sensitive individuals came into the room, so as not
to disturb him; but he presently began to sweat and turn pale, and cried
out that there must be a cat hid somewhere. He knew people who were
poisoned by strawberries, by honey, by different meats, many who could
not endure cheese,--some who could not bear the smell of roses. If he
had known all the stories in the old books, he would have found that
some have swooned and become as dead men at the smell of a rose,--that
a stout soldier has been known to turn and run at the sight or smell of
rue,--that cassia and even olive-oil have produced deadly faintings in
certain individuals,--in short, that almost everything has seemed to be
a poison to somebody.

“Bring me that basket, Sophy,” said the old Doctor, “if you can find
it.”

Sophy brought it to him,--for he had not yet entered Elsie’s apartment.

“These purple leaves are from the white ash,” he said. “You don’t know
the notion that people commonly have about that tree, Sophy?”

“I know they say the Ugly Things never go where the white ash grows,”
 Sophy answered. “Oh, Doctor dear, what I’m thinkin’ of a’n’t true, is
it?”

The Doctor smiled sadly, but did not answer. He went directly to Elsie’s
room. Nobody would have known by his manner that he saw any special
change in his patient. He spoke with her as usual, made some slight
alteration in his prescriptions, and left the room with a kind, cheerful
look. He met her father on the stairs.

“Is it as I thought?” said Dudley Veneer.

“There is everything to fear,” the Doctor said, “and not much, I am
afraid, to hope. Does not her face recall to you one that you remember,
as never before?”

“Yes,” her father answered,--“oh, yes! What is the meaning of this
change which has come over her features, and her voice, her temper, her
whole being? Tell me, oh, tell me, what is it? Can it be that the curse
is passing away, and my daughter is to be restored to me,--such as her
mother would have had her,--such as her mother was?”

“Walk out with me into the garden,” the Doctor said, “and I will tell
you all I know and all I think about this great mystery of Elsie’s
life.”

They walked out together, and the Doctor began: “She has lived a double
being, as it were,--the consequence of the blight which fell upon her
in the dim period before consciousness. You can see what she might have
been but for this. You know that for these eighteen years her whole
existence has taken its character from that influence which we need not
name. But you will remember that few of the lower forms of life last as
human beings do; and thus it might have been hoped and trusted with
some show of reason, as I have always suspected you hoped and trusted,
perhaps more confidently than myself, that the lower nature which had
become engrafted on the higher would die out and leave the real woman’s
life she inherited to outlive this accidental principle which had so
poisoned her childhood and youth. I believe it is so dying out; but I am
afraid,--yes, I must say it, I fear it has involved the centres of
life in its own decay. There is hardly any pulse at Elsie’s wrist;
no stimulants seem to rouse her; and it looks as if life were slowly
retreating inwards, so that by-and-by she will sleep as those who lie
down in the cold and never wake.”

Strange as it may seem, her father heard all this not without deep
sorrow, and such marks of it as his thoughtful and tranquil nature,
long schooled by suffering, claimed or permitted, but with a resignation
itself the measure of his past trials. Dear as his daughter might become
to him, all he dared to ask of Heaven was that she might be restored to
that truer self which lay beneath her false and adventitious being. If
he could once see that the icy lustre in her eyes had become a soft,
calm light,--that her soul was at peace with all about her and with Him;
above,--this crumb from the children’s table was enough for him, as it
was for the Syro-Phoenician woman who asked that the dark spirit might
go out from her daughter.

There was little change the next day, until all at once she said in a
clear voice that she should like to see her master at the school,
Mr. Langdon. He came accordingly, and took the place of Helen at her
bedside. It seemed as if Elsie had forgotten the last scene with him.
Might it be that pride had come in, and she had sent for him only to
show how superior she had grown to the weakness which had betrayed her
into that extraordinary request, so contrary to the instincts and usages
of her sex? Or was it that the singular change which had come over her
had involved her passionate fancy for him and swept it away with her
other habits of thought and feeling? Or could it be that she felt that
all earthly interests were becoming of little account to her, and wished
to place herself right with one to whom she had displayed a wayward
movement of her unbalanced imagination? She welcomed Mr. Bernard as
quietly as she had received Helen Darley. He colored at the recollection
of that last scene, when he came into her presence; but she smiled with
perfect tranquillity. She did not speak to him of any apprehension; but
he saw that she looked upon herself as doomed. So friendly, yet so calm
did she seem through all their interview, that Mr. Bernard could only
look back upon her manifestation of feeling towards him on their walk
from the school as a vagary of a mind laboring under some unnatural
excitement, and wholly at variance with the true character of Elsie
Venner as he saw her before him in her subdued, yet singular beauty. He
looked with almost scientific closeness of observation into the diamond
eyes; but that peculiar light which he knew so well was not there. She
was the same in one sense as on that first day when he had seen her
coiling and uncoiling her golden chain; yet how different in every
aspect which revealed her state of mind and emotion! Something of
tenderness there was, perhaps, in her tone towards him; she would not
have sent for him, had she not felt more than an ordinary interest in
him. But through the whole of his visit she never lost her gracious
self-possession. The Dudley race might well be proud of the last of
its daughters, as she lay dying, but unconquered by the feeling of the
present or the fear of the future.

As for Mr. Bernard, he found it very hard to look upon her, and
listen to her unmoved. There was nothing that reminded him of the
stormy--browed, almost savage girl he remembered in her fierce
loveliness,--nothing of all her singularities of air and of costume.
Nothing? Yes, one thing. Weak and suffering as she was, she had never
parted with one particular ornament, such as a sick person would
naturally, as it might be supposed, get rid of at once. The golden cord
which she wore round her neck at the great party was still there. A
bracelet was lying by her pillow; she had unclasped it from her wrist.

Before Mr. Bernard left her, she said,

“I shall never see you again. Some time or other, perhaps, you will
mention my name to one whom you love. Give her this from your scholar
and friend Elsie.”

He took the bracelet, raised her hand to his lips, then turned his face
away; in that moment he was the weaker of the two.

“Good-bye,” she said; “thank you for coming.”

His voice died away in his throat, as he tried to answer her. She
followed him with her eyes as he passed from her sight through the
door, and when it closed after him sobbed tremulously once or twice,
but stilled herself, and met Helen, as she entered, with a composed
countenance.

“I have had a very pleasant visit from Mr. Langdon,” Elsie said. “Sit
by me, Helen, awhile without speaking; I should like to sleep, if I
can,--and to dream.”



CHAPTER XXX. THE GOLDEN CORD IS LOOSED.

The Reverend Chauncy Fairweather, hearing that his parishioner’s
daughter, Elsie, was very ill, could do nothing less than come to the
mansion-house and tender such consolations as he was master of. It was
rather remarkable that the old Doctor did not exactly approve of his
visit. He thought that company of every sort might be injurious in
her weak state. He was of opinion that Mr. Fairweather, though greatly
interested in religious matters, was not the most sympathetic person
that could be found; in fact, the old Doctor thought he was too much
taken up with his own interests for eternity to give himself quite ‘so
heartily to the need of other people as some persons got up on a rather
more generous scale (our good neighbor Dr. Honeywood, for instance)
could do. However, all these things had better be arranged to suit her
wants; if she would like to talk with a clergyman, she had a great
deal better see one as often as she liked, and run the risk of the
excitement, than have a hidden wish for such a visit and perhaps find
herself too weak to see him by-and-by.

The old Doctor knew by sad experience that dreadful mistake against
which all medical practitioners should be warned. His experience may
well be a guide for others. Do not overlook the desire for spiritual
advice and consolation which patients sometimes feel, and, with the
frightful mauvaise honte peculiar to Protestantism, alone among all
human beliefs, are ashamed to tell. As a part of medical treatment, it
is the physician’s business to detect the hidden longing for the food of
the soul, as much as for any form of bodily nourishment. Especially
in the higher walks of society, where this unutterably miserable false
shame of Protestantism acts in proportion to the general acuteness of
the cultivated sensibilities, let no unwillingness to suggest the sick
person’s real need suffer him to languish between his want and his
morbid sensitiveness. What an infinite advantage the Mussulmans and the
Catholics have over many of our more exclusively spiritual sects in the
way they keep their religion always by them and never blush for it! And
besides this spiritual longing, we should never forget that

          “On some fond breast the parting soul relies,”

and the minister of religion, in addition to the sympathetic nature
which we have a right to demand in him, has trained himself to the art
of entering into the feelings of others.

The reader must pardon this digression, which introduces the visit of
the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather to Elsie Veneer. It was mentioned
to her that he would like to call and see how she was, and she
consented,--not with much apparent interest, for she had reasons of her
own for not feeling any very deep conviction of his sympathy for persons
in sorrow. But he came, and worked the conversation round to religion,
and confused her with his hybrid notions, half made up of what he had
been believing and teaching all his life, and half of the new doctrines
which he had veneered upon the surface of his old belief. He got so
far as to make a prayer with her,--a cool, well-guarded prayer, which
compromised his faith as little as possible, and which, if devotion were
a game played against Providence, might have been considered a cautious
and sagacious move.

When he had gone, Elsie called Old Sophy to her.

“Sophy,” she said, “don’t let them send that cold hearted man to me any
more. If your old minister comes--to see you, I should like to hear him
talk. He looks as if he cared for everybody, and would care for me. And,
Sophy, if I should die one of these days, I should like to have that old
minister come and say whatever is to be said over me. It would comfort
Dudley more, I know, than to have that hard man here, when you’re
in trouble, for some of you will be sorry when I’m gone,--won’t you,
Sophy?”

The poor old black woman could not stand this question. The cold
minister had frozen Elsie until she felt as if nobody cared for her or
would regret her,--and her question had betrayed this momentary feeling.

“Don’ talk so! don’ talk so, darlin’!” she cried, passionately. “When
you go, Ol’ Sophy’ll go; ‘n’ where you go, Ol’ Sophy’ll go: ‘n’ we’ll
both go t’ th’ place where th’ Lord takes care of all his children,
whether their faces are white or black. Oh, darlin’, darlin’! if th’
Lord should let me die firs’, you shall fin’ all ready for you when you
come after me. On’y don’ go ‘n’ leave poor Ol’ Sophy all ‘lone in th’
world!”

Helen came in at this moment and quieted the old woman with a look. Such
scenes were just what were most dangerous, in the state in which Elsie
was lying: but that is one of the ways in which an affectionate friend
sometimes unconsciously wears out the life which a hired nurse, thinking
of nothing but her regular duties and her wages, would have spared from
all emotional fatigue.

The change which had come over Elsie’s disposition was itself the cause
of new excitements. How was it possible that her father could keep away
from her, now that she was coming back to the nature and the very look
of her mother, the bride of his youth? How was it possible to refuse
her, when she said to Old Sophy, that she should like to have her
minister come in and sit by her, even though his presence might perhaps
prove a new source of excitement?

But the Reverend Doctor did come and sit by her, and spoke such soothing
words to her, words of such peace and consolation, that from that hour
she was tranquil as never before. All true hearts are alike in the
hour of need; the Catholic has a reserved fund of faith for his
fellow-creature’s trying moment, and the Calvinist reveals those springs
of human brotherhood and charity in his soul which are only covered over
by the iron tables inscribed with the harder dogmas of his creed. It was
enough that the Reverend Doctor knew all Elsie’s history. He could not
judge her by any formula, like those which have been moulded by past
ages out of their ignorance. He did not talk with her as if she were an
outside sinner worse than himself. He found a bruised and languishing
soul, and bound up its wounds. A blessed office,--one which is confined
to no sect or creed, but which good men in all times, under various
names and with varying ministries, to suit the need of each age, of each
race, of each individual soul, have come forward to discharge for their
suffering fellow-creatures.

After this there was little change in Elsie, except that her heart beat
more feebly every day,--so that the old Doctor himself, with all his
experience, could see nothing to account for the gradual failing of the
powers of life, and yet could find no remedy which seemed to arrest its
progress in the smallest degree.

“Be very careful,” he said, “that she is not allowed to make any
muscular exertion. Any such effort, when a person is so enfeebled, may
stop the heart in a moment; and if it stops, it will never move again.”

Helen enforced this rule with the greatest care. Elsie was hardly
allowed to move her hand or to speak above a whisper. It seemed to be
mainly the question now, whether this trembling flame of life would be
blown out by some light breath of air, or whether it could be so nursed
and sheltered by the hollow of these watchful hands that it would have a
chance to kindle to its natural brightness.

--Her father came in to sit with her in the evening. He had never talked
so freely with her as during the hour he had passed at her bedside,
telling her little circumstances of her mother’s life, living over with
her all that was pleasant in the past, and trying to encourage her with
some cheerful gleams of hope for the future. A faint smile played over
her face, but she did not answer his encouraging suggestions. The hour
came for him to leave her with those who watched by her.

“Good-night, my dear child,” he said, and stooping down, kissed her
cheek.

Elsie rose by a sudden effort, threw her arms round his neck, kissed
him, and said, “Good-night, my dear father!”

The suddenness of her movement had taken him by surprise, or he would
have checked so dangerous an effort. It was too late now. Her arms
slid away from him like lifeless weights,--her head fell back upon her
pillow,--along sigh breathed through her lips.

“She is faint,” said Helen, doubtfully; “bring me the hartshorn, Sophy.”

The old woman had started from her place, and was now leaning over her,
looking in her face, and listening for the sound of her breathing.

“She ‘s dead! Elsie ‘s dead! My darlin ‘s dead!” she cried aloud,
filling the room with her utterance of anguish.

Dudley Venner drew her away and silenced her with a voice of authority,
while Helen and an assistant plied their restoratives. It was all in
vain.

The solemn tidings passed from the chamber of death through the family.
The daughter, the hope of that old and honored house, was dead in the
freshness of her youth, and the home of its solitary representative was
hereafter doubly desolate.

A messenger rode hastily out of the avenue. A little after this the
people of the village and the outlying farm-houses were startled by the
sound of a bell.

One,--two,--three,--four,

They stopped in every house, as far as the wavering vibrations reached,
and listened--

five,--six,--seven,--

It was not the little child which had been lying so long at the point of
death; that could not be more than three or four years old--

eight,--nine,--ten,--and so on to fifteen, sixteen,--seventeen,
--eighteen--

The pulsations seemed to keep on,--but it was the brain, and not the
bell, that was throbbing now.

“Elsie ‘s dead!” was the exclamation at a hundred firesides.

“Eighteen year old,” said old Widow Peake, rising from her chair.
“Eighteen year ago I laid two gold eagles on her mother’s eyes,--he
wouldn’t have anything but gold touch her eyelids,--and now Elsie’s to
be straightened,--the Lord have mercy on her poor sinful soul!”

Dudley Venner prayed that night that he might be forgiven, if he had
failed in any act of duty or kindness to this unfortunate child of his,
now freed from all the woes born with her and so long poisoning her
soul. He thanked God for the brief interval of peace which had been
granted her, for the sweet communion they had enjoyed in these last
days, and for the hope of meeting her with that other lost friend in a
better world.

Helen mingled a few broken thanks and petitions with her tears: thanks
that she had been permitted to share the last days and hours of this
poor sister in sorrow; petitions that the grief of bereavement might be
lightened to the lonely parent and the faithful old servant.

Old Sophy said almost nothing, but sat day and night by her dead
darling. But sometimes her anguish would find an outlet in strange
sounds, something between a cry and a musical note,--such as noise had
ever heard her utter before. These were old remembrances surging up from
her childish days, coming through her mother from the cannibal chief,
her grandfather,--death-wails, such as they sing in the mountains of
Western Africa, when they see the fires on distant hill-sides and know
that their own wives and children are undergoing the fate of captives.

The time came when Elsie was to be laid by her mother in the small
square marked by the white stone.

It was not unwillingly that the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather had
relinquished the duty of conducting the service to the Reverend Doctor
Honeywood, in accordance with Elsie’s request. He could not, by any
reasoning, reconcile his present way of thinking with a hope for the
future of his unfortunate parishioner. Any good old Roman Catholic
priest, born and bred to his faith and his business, would have found a
loophole into some kind of heaven for her, by virtue of his doctrine of
“invincible ignorance,” or other special proviso; but a recent convert
cannot enter into the working conditions of his new creed. Beliefs must
be lived in for a good while, before they accommodate themselves to the
soul’s wants, and wear loose enough to be comfortable.

The Reverend Doctor had no such scruples. Like thousands of those who
are classed nominally with the despairing believers, he had never prayed
over a departed brother or sister without feeling and expressing a
guarded hope that there was mercy in store for the poor sinner, whom
parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters could not bear to give up
to utter ruin without a word,--and would not, as he knew full well,
in virtue of that human love and sympathy which nothing can ever
extinguish. And in this poor Elsie’s history he could read nothing
which the tears of the recording angel might not wash away. As the good
physician of the place knew the diseases that assailed the bodies of men
and women, so he had learned the mysteries of the sickness of the soul.

So many wished to look upon Elsie’s face once more, that her father
would not deny them; nay, he was pleased that those who remembered her
living should see her in the still beauty of death. Helen and those with
her arrayed her for this farewell-view. All was ready for the sad or
curious eyes which were to look upon her. There ‘was no painful change
to be concealed by any artifice. Even her round neck was left uncovered,
that she might be more like one who slept. Only the golden cord was left
in its place: some searching eye might detect a trace of that birthmark
which it was whispered she had always worn a necklace to conceal.

At the last moment, when all the preparations were completed, Old Sophy
stooped over her, and, with trembling hand, loosed the golden cord. She
looked intently; for some little space: there was no shade nor blemish
where the ring of gold had encircled her throat. She took it gently away
and laid it in the casket which held her ornaments.

“The Lord be praised!” the old woman cried, aloud. “He has taken away
the mark that was on her; she’s fit to meet his holy angels now!”

So Elsie lay for hours in the great room, in a kind of state, with
flowers all about her,--her black hair braided as in life,--her brows
smooth, as if they had never known the scowl of passion,--and on her
lips the faint smile with which she had uttered her last “Good--night.”
 The young girls from the school looked at her, one after another, and
passed on, sobbing, carrying in their hearts the picture that would be
with them all their days. The great people of the place were all there
with their silent sympathy. The lesser kind of gentry, and many of the
plainer folk of the village, half-pleased to find themselves passing
beneath the stately portico of the ancient mansion-house, crowded
in, until the ample rooms were overflowing. All the friends whose
acquaintance we have made were there, and many from remoter villages and
towns.

There was a deep silence at last. The hour had come for the parting
words to be spoken over the dead. The good old minister’s voice rose out
of the stillness, subdued and tremulous at first, but growing firmer
and clearer as he went on, until it reached the ears of the visitors who
were in the far, desolate chambers, looking at the pictured hangings
and the old dusty portraits. He did not tell her story in his prayer. He
only spoke of our dear departed sister as one of many whom Providence
in its wisdom has seen fit to bring under bondage from their cradles. It
was not for us to judge them by any standard of our own. He who made the
heart alone knew the infirmities it inherited or acquired. For all that
our dear sister had presented that was interesting and attractive in her
character we were to be grateful; for whatever was dark or inexplicable
we must trust that the deep shadow which rested on the twilight dawn of
her being might render a reason before the bar of Omniscience; for the
grace which had lightened her last days we should pour out our hearts
in thankful acknowledgment. From the life and the death of this our dear
sister we should learn a lesson of patience with our fellow-creatures in
their inborn peculiarities, of charity in judging what seem to us wilful
faults of character, of hope and trust, that, by sickness or affliction,
or such inevitable discipline as life must always bring with it, if by
no gentler means, the soul which had been left by Nature to wander into
the path of error and of suffering might be reclaimed and restored to
its true aim, and so led on by divine grace to its eternal welfare. He
closed his prayer by commending each member of the afflicted family to
the divine blessing.

Then all at once rose the clear sound of the girls’ voices, in the
sweet, sad melody of a funeral hymn,--one of those which Elsie had
marked, as if prophetically, among her own favorites.

And so they laid her in the earth, and showered down flowers upon her,
and filled her grave, and covered it with green sods. By the side of it
was another oblong ridge, with a white stone standing at its head. Mr.
Bernard looked upon it, as he came close to the place where Elsie was
laid, and read the inscription,

                         CATALINA

                  WIFE TO DUDLEY VENNER

                          DIED
                    OCTOBER 13TH 1840

                      AGED XX YEARS

A gentle rain fell on the turf after it was laid. This was the beginning
of a long and dreary autumnal storm, a deferred “equinoctial,” as many
considered it. The mountain streams were all swollen and turbulent, and
the steep declivities were furrowed in every direction by new channels.
It made the house seem doubly desolate to hear the wind howling and the
rain beating upon the roofs. The poor relation who was staying at the
house would insist on Helen’s remaining a few days: Old Sophy was in
such a condition, that it kept her in continual anxiety, and there were
many cares which Helen could take off from her.

The old black woman’s life was buried in her darling’s grave. She did
nothing but moan and lament for her. At night she was restless, and
would get up and wander to Elsie’s apartment and look for her and call
her by name. At other times she would lie awake and listen to the wind
and the rain,--sometimes with such a wild look upon her face, and with
such sudden starts and exclamations, that it seemed as if she heard
spirit-voices and were answering the whispers of unseen visitants. With
all this were mingled hints of her old superstition,--forebodings of
something fearful about to happen,--perhaps the great final catastrophe
of all things, according to the prediction current in the kitchens of
Rockland.

“Hark!” Old Sophy would say,--“don’ you hear th’ crackin’ ‘n’ th’
snappin’ up in Th’ Mountain, ‘n’ th’ rollin’ o’ th’ big stones? The’ ‘s
somethin’ stirrin’ among th’ rocks; I hear th’ soun’ of it in th’ night,
when th’ wind has stopped blowin’. Oh, stay by me a little while, Miss
Darlin’! stay by me! for it’s th’ Las’ Day, maybe, that’s close on us,
‘n’ I feel as if I could n’ meet th’ Lord all alone!”

It was curious,--but Helen did certainly recognize sounds, during
the lull of the storm, which were not of falling rain or running
streams,--short snapping sounds, as of tense cords breaking,--long
uneven sounds, as of masses rolling down steep declivities. But the
morning came as usual; and as the others said nothing of these singular
noises, Helen did not think it necessary to speak of them. All day long
she and the humble relative of Elsie’s mother, who had appeared as
poor relations are wont to in the great prises of life, were busy in
arranging the disordered house, and looking over the various objects
which Elsie’s singular tastes had brought together, to dispose of them
as her father might direct. They all met together at the usual hour for
tea. One of the servants came in, looking very blank, and said to the
poor relation,

“The well is gone dry; we have nothing but rainwater.”

Dudley Venner’s countenance changed; he sprang to, his feet and went
to--assure himself of the fact, and, if he could, of the reason of it.
For a well to dry up during such a rain-storm was extraordinary,--it was
ominous.

He came back, looking very anxious.

“Did any of you notice any remarkable sounds last night,” he said,--“or
this morning? Hark! do you hear anything now?”

They listened in perfect silence for a few moments. Then there came a
short cracking sound, and two or three snaps, as of parting cords.

Dudley Venner called all his household together.

“We are in danger here, as I think, to-night,” he said,--“not very great
danger, perhaps, but it is a risk I do not wish you to run. These heavy
rains have loosed some of the rocks above, and they may come down and
endanger the house. Harness the horses, Elbridge, and take all the
family away. Miss Darley will go to the Institute; the others will pass
the night at the Mountain House. I shall stay here, myself: it is not
at all likely that anything will come of these warnings; but if there
should, I choose to be there and take my chance.”

It needs little, generally, to frighten servants, and they were all
ready enough to go. The poor relation was one of the timid sort, and was
terribly uneasy to be got out of the house. This left no alternative, of
course, for Helen, but to go also. They all urged upon Dudley Veneer to
go with them: if there was danger, why should he remain to risk it, when
he sent away the others?

Old Sophy said nothing until the time came for her to go with the second
of Elbridge’s carriage-loads.

“Come, Sophy,” said Dudley Veneer, “get your things and go. They will
take good care of you at the Mountain House; and when we have made sure
that there is no real danger, you shall come back at once.”

“No, Masse!” Sophy answered. “I’ve seen Elsie into th’ ground, ‘n’ I
a’n’t goin’ away to come back ‘n’ fin’ Masse Veneer buried under th’
rocks. My darlin’ ‘s gone; ‘n’ now, if Masse goes, ‘n’ th’ of place
goes, it’s time for Ol’ Sophy to go, too. No, Masse Veneer, we’ll both
stay in th’ of mansion ‘n’ wait for th’ Lord!”

Nothing could change the old woman’s determination; and her master, who
only feared, but did not really expect the long-deferred catastrophe,
was obliged to consent to her staying. The sudden drying of the well at
such a time was the most alarming sign; for he remembered that the same
thing had been observed just before great mountain-slides. This long
rain, too, was just the kind of cause which was likely to loosen the
strata of rock piled up in the ledges; if the dreaded event should ever
come to pass, it would be at such a time.

He paced his chamber uneasily until long past midnight. If the morning
came without accident, he meant to have a careful examination made of
all the rents and fissures above, of their direction and extent, and
especially whether, in case of a mountain-slide, the huge masses would
be like to reach so far to the east and so low down the declivity as the
mansion.

At two o’clock in the morning he was dozing in his chair. Old Sophy had
lain down on her bed, and was muttering in troubled dreams.

All at once a loud crash seemed to rend the very heavens above them: a
crack as of the thunder that follows close upon the bolt,--a rending and
crashing as of a forest snapped through all its stems, torn, twisted,
splintered, dragged with all its ragged boughs into one chaotic ruin.
The ground trembled under them as in an earthquake; the old mansion
shuddered so that all its windows chattered in their casements; the
great chimney shook off its heavy cap-stones, which came down on the
roof with resounding concussions; and the echoes of The Mountain roared
and bellowed in long reduplication, as if its whole foundations were
rent, and this were the terrible voice of its dissolution.

Dudley Venner rose from his chair, folded his arms, and awaited his
fate. There was no knowing where to look for safety; and he remembered
too well the story of the family that was lost by rushing out of the
house, and so hurrying into the very jaws of death.

He had stood thus but for a moment, when he heard the voice of Old Sophy
in a wild cry of terror:

“It’s th’ Las’ Day! It’s th’ Las’ Day! The Lord is comin’ to take us
all!”

“Sophy!” he called; but she did not hear him or heed him, and rushed out
of the house.

The worst danger was over. If they were to be destroyed, it would
necessarily be in a few seconds from the first thrill of the terrible
convulsion. He waited in awful suspense, but calm. Not more than one or
two minutes could have passed before the frightful tumult and all its
sounding echoes had ceased. He called Old Sophy; but she did not answer.
He went to the western window and looked forth into the darkness. He
could not distinguish the outlines of the landscape, but the white stone
was clearly visible, and by its side the new-made mound. Nay, what was
that which obscured its outline, in shape like a human figure? He flung
open the window and sprang through. It was all that there was left of
poor Old Sophy, stretched out lifeless, upon her darling’s grave.

He had scarcely composed her limbs and drawn the sheet over her, when
the neighbors began to arrive from all directions. Each was expecting
to hear of houses overwhelmed and families destroyed; but each came with
the story that his own household was safe. It was not until the morning
dawned that the true nature and extent of the sudden movement was
ascertained. A great seam had opened above the long cliff, and the
terrible Rattlesnake Ledge, with all its envenomed reptiles, its
dark fissures and black caverns, was buried forever beneath a mighty
incumbent mass of ruin.



CHAPTER XXXI. MR. SILAS PECKHAM RENDERS HIS ACCOUNT.

The morning rose clear and bright. The long storm was over, and the calm
autumnal sunshine was now to return, with all its infinite repose and
sweetness. With the earliest dawn exploring parties were out in every
direction along the southern slope of The Mountain, tracing the ravages
of the great slide and the track it had followed. It proved to be not
so much a slide as the breaking off and falling of a vast line of cliff,
including the dreaded Ledge. It had folded over like the leaves of a
half-opened book when they close, crushing the trees below, piling its
ruins in a glacis at the foot of what had been the overhanging wall of
the cliff, and filling up that deep cavity above the mansion-house which
bore the ill-omened name of Dead Man’s Hollow. This it was which had
saved the Dudley mansion. The falling masses, or huge fragments
breaking off from them, would have swept the house and all around it to
destruction but for this deep shelving dell, into which the stream of
ruin was happily directed. It was, indeed, one of Nature’s conservative
revolutions; for the fallen masses made a kind oz shelf, which
interposed a level break between the inclined planes above and below it,
so that the nightmare-fancies of the dwellers in the Dudley mansion, and
in many other residences under the shadow of The Mountain, need not keep
them lying awake hereafter to listen for the snapping of roots and the
splitting of the rocks above them.

Twenty-four hours after the falling of the cliff, it seemed as if it had
happened ages ago. The new fact had fitted itself in with all the old
predictions, forebodings, fears, and acquired the solidarity belonging
to all events which have slipped out of the fingers of Time and
dissolved in the antecedent eternity.

Old Sophy was lying dead in the Dudley mansion. If there were tears shed
for her, they could not be bitter ones; for she had lived out her full
measure of days, and gone--who could help fondly believing it?--to
rejoin her beloved mistress. They made a place for her at the foot of
the two mounds. It was thus she would have chosen to sleep, and not to
have wronged her humble devotion in life by asking to lie at the side
of those whom she had served so long and faithfully. There were very few
present at the simple ceremony. Helen Darley was one of these few. The
old black woman had been her companion in all the kind offices of which
she had been the ministering angel to Elsie.

After it was all over, Helen was leaving with the rest, when Dudley
Veneer begged her to stay a little, and he would send her back: it was
a long walk; besides, he wished to say some things to her, which he had
not had the opportunity of speaking. Of course Helen could not refuse
him; there must be many thoughts coming into his mind which he would
wish to share with her who had known his daughter so long and been with
filer in her last days.

She returned into the great parlor with the wrought cornices and the
medallion-portraits on the ceiling.

“I am now alone in the world,” Dudley Veneer said.

Helen must have known that before he spoke. But the tone in which he
said it had so much meaning, that she could not find a word to answer
him with. They sat in silence, which the old tall clock counted out in
long seconds; but it was silence which meant more than any words they
had ever spoken.

“Alone in the world. Helen, the freshness of my life is gone, and there
is little left of the few graces which in my younger days might have
fitted me to win the love of women. Listen to me,--kindly, if you can;
forgive me, at least. Half my life has been passed in constant fear and
anguish, without any near friend to share my trials. My task is done
now; my fears have ceased to prey upon me; the sharpness of early
sorrows has yielded something of its edge to time. You have bound me
to you by gratitude in the tender care you have taken of my poor child.
More than this. I must tell you all now, out of the depth of this
trouble through which I am passing. I have loved you from the moment
we first met; and if my life has anything left worth accepting, it is
yours. Will you take the offered gift?”

Helen looked in his face, surprised, bewildered.

“This is not for me,--not for me,” she said. “I am but a poor faded
flower, not worth the gathering, of such a one as you. No, no,--I have
been bred to humble toil all my days, and I could not be to you what
you ought to ask. I am accustomed to a kind of loneliness and
self-dependence. I have seen nothing, almost, of the world, such as you
were born to move in. Leave me to my obscure place and duties; I shall
at least have peace;--and you--you will surely find in due time some one
better fitted by Nature and training to make you happy.”

“No, Miss Darley!” Dudley Venner said, almost sternly. “You must not
speak to a man, who has lived through my experiences, of looking about
for a new choice after his heart has once chosen. Say that you can never
love me; say that I have lived too long to share your young life; say
that sorrow has left nothing in me for Love to find his pleasure in; but
do not mock me with the hope of a new affection for some unknown object.
The first look of yours brought me to your side. The first tone of your
voice sunk into my heart. From this moment my life must wither out or
bloom anew. My home is desolate. Come under my roof and make it bright
once more,--share my life with me,--or I shall give the halls of the old
mansion to the bats and the owls, and wander forth alone without a hope
or a friend!”

To find herself with a man’s future at the disposal of a single word of
hers!--a man like this, too, with a fascination for her against which
she had tried to shut her heart, feeling that he lived in another sphere
than hers, working as she was for her bread a poor operative in the
factory of a hard master and jealous overseer, the salaried drudge of
Mr. Silas Peckham! Why, she had thought he was grateful to her as a
friend of his daughter; she had even pleased herself with the feeling
that he liked her, in her humble place, as a woman of some cultivation
and many sympathetic points of relation with himself; but that he loved
her,--that this deep, fine nature, in a man so far removed from her in
outward circumstance, should have found its counterpart in one whom life
had treated so coldly as herself,--that Dudley Venner should stake
his happiness on a breath of hers,--poor Helen Darley’s,--it was all a
surprise, a confusion, a kind of fear not wholly fearful. Ah, me! women
know what it is, that mist over the eyes, that trembling in the
limbs, that faltering of the voice, that sweet, shame-faced, unspoken
confession of weakness which does not wish to be strong, that sudden
overflow in the soul where thoughts loose their hold on each other and
swim single and helpless in the flood of emotion,--women know what it
is!

No doubt she was a little frightened and a good deal bewildered, and
that her sympathies were warmly excited for a friend to whom she had
been brought so near, and whose loneliness she saw and pitied. She lost
that calm self-possession she had hoped to maintain.

“If I thought that I could make you happy,--if I should speak from my
heart, and not my reason,--I am but a weak woman,--yet if I can be to
you--What can I say?”

What more could this poor, dear Helen say?

“Elbridge, harness the horses and take Miss Darley back to the school.”

What conversation had taken place since Helen’s rhetorical failure is
not recorded in the minutes from which this narrative is constructed.
But when the man who had been summoned had gone to get the carriage
ready, Helen resumed something she had been speaking of.

“Not for the world. Everything must go on just as it has gone on, for
the present. There are proprieties to be consulted. I cannot be hard
with you, that out of your very affliction has sprung this--this
well--you must name it for me,--but the world will never listen to
explanations. I am to be Helen Darley, lady assistant in Mr. Silas
Peckham’s school, as long as I see fit to hold my office. And I mean to
attend to my scholars just as before; so that I shall have very little
time for visiting or seeing company. I believe, though, you are one of
the Trustees and a Member of the Examining Committee; so that, if you
should happen to visit the school, I shall try to be civil to you.”

Every lady sees, of course, that Helen was quite right; but perhaps here
and there one will think that Dudley Venner was all wrong,--that he was
too hasty,--that he should have been too full of his recent grief for
such a confession as he has just made, and the passion from which it
sprung. Perhaps they do not understand the sudden recoil of a strong
nature long compressed. Perhaps they have not studied the mystery
of allotropism in the emotions of the human heart. Go to the nearest
chemist and ask him to show you some of the dark-red phosphorus which
will not burn without fierce heating, but at 500 deg. Fahrenheit,
changes back again to the inflammable substance we know so well. Grief
seems more like ashes than like fire; but as grief has been love once,
so it may become love again. This is emotional allotropism.

Helen rode back to the Institute and inquired for Mr. Peckham. She had
not seen him during the brief interval between her departure from the
mansion-house and her return to Old Sophy’s funeral. There were various
questions about the school she wished to ask.

“Oh, how’s your haalth, Miss Darley?” Silas began. “We’ve missed you
consid’able. Glad to see you back at the post of dooty. Hope the Squire
treated you hahnsomely,--liberal pecooniary compensation,--hey? A’n’t
much of a loser, I guess, by acceptin’ his propositions?”

Helen blushed at this last question, as if Silas had meant something by
it beyond asking what money she had received; but his own double-meaning
expression and her blush were too nice points for him to have taken
cognizance of. He was engaged in a mental calculation as to the amount
of the deduction he should make under the head of “demage to the
institootion,”--this depending somewhat on that of the “pecooniary
compensation” she might have received for her services as the friend of
Elsie Venner.

So Helen slid back at once into her routine, the same faithful, patient
creature she had always been. But what was this new light which seemed
to have kindled in her eyes? What was this look of peace, which nothing
could disturb, which smiled serenely through all the little meannesses
with which the daily life of the educational factory surrounded her,
which not only made her seem resigned, but overflowed all her features
with a thoughtful, subdued happiness? Mr. Bernard did not know,--perhaps
he did not guess. The inmates of the Dudley mansion were not scandalized
by any mysterious visits of a veiled or unveiled lady. The vibrating
tongues of the “female youth” of the Institute were not set in motion by
the standing of an equipage at the gate, waiting for their lady-teacher.
The servants at the mansion did not convey numerous letters with
superscriptions in a bold, manly hand, sealed with the arms of a
well-known house, and directed to Miss Helen Darley; nor, on the other
hand, did Hiram, the man from the lean streak in New Hampshire,
carry sweet-smelling, rose-hued, many-layered, criss-crossed,
fine-stitch-lettered packages of note-paper directed to Dudley Venner,
Esq., and all too scanty to hold that incredible expansion of the famous
three words which a woman was born to say,--that perpetual miracle which
astonishes all the go-betweens who wear their shoes out in carrying a
woman’s infinite variations on the theme--

    “I love you.”

But the reader must remember that there are walks in country-towns where
people are liable to meet by accident, and that the hollow of an old
tree has served the purpose of a post-office sometimes; so that he has
her choice (to divide the pronouns impartially) of various hypotheses to
account for the new glory of happiness which seemed to have irradiated
our poor Helen’s features, as if her dreary life were awakening in the
dawn of a blessed future.

With all the alleviations which have been hinted at, Mr. Dudley Venner
thought that the days and the weeks had never moved so slowly as
through the last period of the autumn that was passing. Elsie had been a
perpetual source of anxiety to him, but still she had been a companion.
He could not mourn for her; for he felt that she was safer with her
mother, in that world where there are no more sorrows and dangers, than
she could have been with him. But as he sat at his window and looked at
the three mounds, the loneliness of the great house made it seem more
like the sepulchre than these narrow dwellings where his beloved and her
daughter lay close to each other, side by side,--Catalina, the bride
of his youth, and Elsie, the child whom he had nurtured, with poor Old
Sophy, who had followed them like a black shadow, at their feet, under
the same soft turf, sprinkled with the brown autumnal leaves. It was not
good for him to be thus alone. How should he ever live through the long
months of November and December?

The months of November and December did, in some way or other, get
rid of themselves at last, bringing with them the usual events of
village-life and a few unusual ones. Some of the geologists had been
up to look at the great slide, of which they gave those prolix accounts
which everybody remembers who read the scientific journals of the time.
The engineers reported that there was little probability of any further
convulsion along the line of rocks which overhung the more thickly
settled part of the town. The naturalists drew up a paper on the
“Probable Extinction of the Crotalus Durissus in the Township of
Rockland.” The engagement of the Widow Rowens to a Little Millionville
merchant was announced,--“Sudding ‘n’ onexpected,” Widow Leech
said,--“waalthy, or she wouldn’t ha’ looked at him,--fifty year old,
if he is a day, ‘n’ hu’n’t got a white hair in his head.” The Reverend
Chauncy Fairweather had publicly announced that he was going to join the
Roman Catholic communion,--not so much to the surprise or consternation
of the religious world as he had supposed. Several old ladies forthwith
proclaimed their intention of following him; but, as one or two of them
were deaf, and another had been threatened with an attack of that mild,
but obstinate complaint, dementia senilis, many thought it was not so
much the force of his arguments as a kind of tendency to jump as the
bellwether jumps, well known in flocks not included in the Christian
fold. His bereaved congregation immediately began pulling candidates on
and off, like new boots, on trial. Some pinched in tender places; some
were too loose; some were too square-toed; some were too coarse, and
did n’t please; some were too thin, and would n’t last;--in short, they
could n’t possibly find a fit. At last, people began to drop in to hear
old Doctor Honeywood. They were quite surprised to find what a human old
gentleman he was, and went back and told the others, that, instead of
being a case of confluent sectarianism, as they supposed, the good old
minister had been so well vaccinated with charitable virus that he was
now a true, open-souled Christian of the mildest type. The end of all
which was, that the liberal people went over to the old minister almost
in a body, just at the time that Deacon Shearer and the “Vinegar-Bible”
 party split off, and that not long afterwards they sold their own
meeting-house to the malecontents, so that Deacon Soper used often to
remind Colonel Sprowle of his wish that “our little man and him [the
Reverend Doctor] would swop pulpits,” and tell him it had “pooty nigh
come trew.”--But this is anticipating the course of events, which were
much longer in coming about; for we have but just got through that
terrible long month, as Mr. Dudley Venner found it, of December.

On the first of January, Mr. Silas Peckham was in the habit of settling
his quarterly accounts, and making such new arrangements as his
convenience or interest dictated. New Year was a holiday at the
Institute. No doubt this accounted for Helen’s being dressed so
charmingly,--always, to be sure in, her own simple way, but yet with
such a true lady’s air, that she looked fit to be the mistress of any
mansion in the land.

She was in the parlor alone, a little before noon, when Mr. Peckham came
in.

“I’m ready to settle my accaount with you now, Miss Darley,” said Silas.

“As you please, Mr. Peckham,” Helen answered, very graciously.

“Before payin’ you your selary,” the Principal continued, “I wish to
come to an understandin’ as to the futur’. I consider that I’ve been
payin’ high, very high, for the work you do. Women’s wages can’t be
expected to do more than feed and clothe ‘em, as a gineral thing, with
a little savin’, in case of sickness, and to bury ‘em, if they
break daown, as all of ‘em are liable to do at any time. If I a’n’t
misinformed, you not only support yourself out of my establishment, but
likewise relatives of yours, who I don’t know that I’m called upon to
feed and clothe. There is a young woman, not burdened with destitute
relatives, has signified that she would be glad to take your dooties
for less pecooniary compensation, by a consid’able amaount, than you now
receive. I shall be willin’, however, to retain your services at sech
redooced rate as we shall fix upon,--provided sech redooced rate be as
low or lower than the same services can be obtained elsewhere.”

“As you please, Mr. Peckham,” Helen answered, with a smile so sweet that
the Principal (who of course had trumped up this opposition-teacher for
the occasion) said to himself she would stand being cut down a quarter,
perhaps a half, of her salary.

“Here is your accaount, Miss Darley, and the balance doo you,”
 said Silas Peckham, handing her a paper and a small roll of
infectious-flavored bills wrapping six poisonous coppers of the old
coinage.

She took the paper and began looking at it. She could not quite make up
her mind to touch the feverish bills with the cankering coppers in them,
and left them airing themselves on the table.

The document she held ran as follows:

Silas Peckham, Esq., Principal of the Apollinean Institute, In Account
with Helen Darley, Assist. Teacher.

            Dr.                                Cr.

  To salary for quarter              By Deduction for absence
  ending Jan 1st @ $75 per             1 week 3 days........... $10.00
  quarter................ $75.00
                                     “Board, lodging, etc for
                                       10 days @ 75 cts per day.. 7.50

                                     “Damage to Institution by
                                       absence of teacher from
                                       duties, say.............. 25.00

                                     “Stationary furnished......... 43

                                     “Postage-stamp................ 01

                                     “Balance due Helen Darley.  32.06
                           ------                             --------
                           $75.00                               $75.00

  ROCKLAND, Jan. 1st, 1859.


Now Helen had her own private reasons for wishing to receive the
small sum which was due her at this time without any unfair
deduction,--reasons which we need not inquire into too particularly,
as we may be very sure that they were right and womanly. So, when she
looked over this account of Mr. Silas Peckham’s, and saw that he had
contrived to pare down her salary to something less than half its
stipulated amount, the look which her countenance wore was as near to
that of righteous indignation as her gentle features and soft blue eyes
would admit of its being.

“Why, Mr. Peckham,” she said, “do you mean this? If I am of so much
value to you that you must take off twenty-five dollars for ten days’
absence, how is it that my salary is to be cut down to less than
seventy-five dollars a quarter, if I remain here?”

“I gave you fair notice,” said Silas. “I have a minute of it I took down
immed’ately after the intervoo.”

He lugged out his large pocket-book with the strap going all round it,
and took from it a slip of paper which confirmed his statement.

“Besides,” he added, slyly, “I presoom you have received a liberal
pecooniary compensation from Squire Venner for nussin’ his daughter.”

Helen was looking over the bill while he was speaking.

“Board and lodging for ten days, Mr. Peckham,--whose board and lodging,
pray?”

The door opened before Silas Peckham could answer, and Mr. Bernard
walked into the parlor. Helen was holding the bill in her hand, looking
as any woman ought to look who has been at once wronged and insulted.

“The last turn of the thumbscrew!” said Mr. Bernard to himself.

“What is it, Helen? You look troubled.”

She handed him the account.

He looked at the footing of it. Then he looked at the items. Then he
looked at Silas Peckham.

At this moment Silas was sublime. He was so transcendently unconscious
of the emotions going on in Mr. Bernard’s mind at the moment, that he
had only a single thought.

“The accaount’s correc’ly cast, I presoom;--if the’ ‘s any mistake
of figgers or addin’ ‘em up, it’ll be made all right. Everything’s
accordin’ to agreement. The minute written immed’ately after the
intervoo is here in my possession.”

Mr. Bernard looked at Helen. Just what would have happened to Silas
Peckham, as he stood then and there, but for the interposition of a
merciful Providence, nobody knows or ever will know; for at that moment
steps were heard upon the stairs, and Hiram threw open the parlor-door
for Mr. Dudley Venner to enter.

He saluted them all gracefully with the good-wishes of the season, and
each of them returned his compliment,--Helen blushing fearfully, of
course, but not particularly noticed in her embarrassment by more than
one.

Silas Peckham reckoned with perfect confidence on his Trustees, who had
always said what he told them to, and done what he wanted. It was a good
chance now to show off his power, and, by letting his instructors know
the unstable tenure of their offices, make it easier to settle his
accounts and arrange his salaries. There was nothing very strange in Mr.
Venner’s calling; he was one of the Trustees, and this was New Year’s
Day. But he had called just at the lucky moment for Mr. Peckham’s
object.

“I have thought some of makin’ changes in the department of
instruction,” he began. “Several accomplished teachers have applied to
me, who would be glad of sitooations. I understand that there never have
been so many fust-rate teachers, male and female, out of employment as
doorin’ the present season. If I can make sahtisfahctory arrangements
with my present corpse of teachers, I shall be glad to do so; otherwise
I shell, with the permission of the Trustees, make sech noo arrangements
as circumstahnces compel.”

“You may make arrangements for a new assistant in my department, Mr.
Peckham,” said Mr. Bernard, “at once,--this day,--this hour. I am not
safe to be trusted with your person five minutes out of this lady’s
presence,--of whom I beg pardon for this strong language. Mr. Venner, I
must beg you, as one of the Trustees of this Institution, to look at
the manner in which its Principal has attempted to swindle this faithful
teacher whose toils and sacrifices and self-devotion to the school
have made it all that it is, in spite of this miserable trader’s
incompetence. Will you look at the paper I hold?”

Dudley Venner took the account and read it through, without changing a
feature. Then he turned to Silas Peckham.

“You may make arrangements for a new assistant in the branches this
lady has taught. Miss Helen Darley is to be my wife. I had hoped to have
announced this news in a less abrupt and ungraceful manner. But I came
to tell you with my own lips what you would have learned before evening
from my friends in the village.”

Mr. Bernard went to Helen, who stood silent, with downcast eyes, and
took her hand warmly, hoping she might find all the happiness she
deserved. Then he turned to Dudley Venner, and said, “She is a queen,
but has never found it out. The world has nothing nobler than this dear
woman, whom you have discovered in the disguise of a teacher. God bless
her and you!”

Dudley Venner returned his friendly grasp, without answering a word in
articulate speech.

Silas remained dumb and aghast for a brief space. Coming to himself
a little, he thought there might have been some mistake about the
items,--would like to have Miss barley’s bill returned,--would make it
all right,--had no idee that Squire Venner had a special int’rest in
Miss barley,--was sorry he had given offence,--if he might take that
bill and look it over--

“No. Mr. Peckham,” said Mr. Dudley Venner, “there will be a full meeting
of the Board next week, and the bill, and such evidence with reference
to the management of the Institution and the treatment of its
instructors as Mr. Langdon sees fit to bring forward will be laid before
them.”

Miss Helen Darley became that very day the guest of Miss Arabella
Thornton, the Judge’s daughter. Mr. Bernard made his appearance a week
or two later at the Lectures, where the Professor first introduced him
to the reader.

He stayed after the class had left the room.

“Ah, Mr. Langdon! how do you do? Very glad to see you back again. How
have you been since our correspondence on Fascination and other curious
scientific questions?”

It was the Professor who spoke,--whom the reader will recognize as
myself, the teller of this story.

“I have been well,” Mr. Bernard answered, with a serious look which
invited a further question.

“I hope you have had none of those painful or dangerous experiences you
seemed to be thinking of when you wrote; at any rate, you have escaped
having your obituary written.”

“I have seen some things worth remembering. Shall I call on you this
evening and tell you about them?”

“I shall be most happy to see you.”

This was the way in which I, the Professor, became acquainted with some
of the leading events of this story. They interested me sufficiently
to lead me to avail myself of all those other extraordinary methods of
obtaining information well known to writers of narrative.

Mr. Langdon seemed to me to have gained in seriousness and strength of
character by his late experiences. He threw his whole energies into
his studies with an effect which distanced all his previous efforts.
Remembering my former hint, he employed his spare hours in writing for
the annual prizes, both of which he took by a unanimous vote of the
judges. Those who heard him read his Thesis at the Medical Commencement
will not soon forget the impression made by his fine personal appearance
and manners, nor the universal interest excited in the audience, as
he read, with his beautiful enunciation, that striking paper entitled
“Unresolved Nebulae in Vital Science.” It was a general remark of the
Faculty,--and old Doctor Kittredge, who had come down on purpose to hear
Mr. Langdon, heartily agreed to it,--that there had never been a diploma
filled up, since the institution which conferred upon him the degree of
Doctor Medicdnce was founded, which carried with it more of promise to
the profession than that which bore the name of

                    BERNARDUS CARYL LANGDON



CHAPTER XXXII. CONCLUSION.

Mr. Bernard Langdon had no sooner taken his degree, than, in accordance
with the advice of one of his teachers whom he frequently consulted,
he took an office in the heart of the city where he had studied. He had
thought of beginning in a suburb or some remoter district of the city
proper.

“No,” said his teacher,--to wit, myself,--“don’t do any such thing. You
are made for the best kind of practice; don’t hamper yourself with an
outside constituency, such as belongs to a practitioner of the second
class. When a fellow like you chooses his beat, he must look ahead
a little. Take care of all the poor that apply to you, but leave the
half-pay classes to a different style of doctor,--the people who spend
one half their time in taking care of their patients, and the other half
in squeezing out their money. Go for the swell-fronts and south-exposure
houses; the folks inside are just as good as other people, and the
pleasantest, on the whole, to take care of. They must have somebody, and
they like a gentleman best. Don’t throw yourself away. You have a
good presence and pleasing manners. You wear white linen by inherited
instinct. You can pronounce the word view. You have all the elements of
success; go and take it. Be polite and generous, but don’t undervalue
yourself. You will be useful, at any rate; you may just as well be
happy, while you are about it. The highest social class furnishes
incomparably the best patients, taking them by and large. Besides,
when they won’t get well and bore you to death, you can send ‘em off to
travel. Mind me now, and take the tops of your sparrowgrass. Somebody
must have ‘em,--why shouldn’t you? If you don’t take your chance, you’ll
get the butt-ends as a matter of course.”

Mr. Bernard talked like a young man full of noble sentiments. He wanted
to be useful to his fellow-beings. Their social differences were nothing
to him. He would never court the rich,--he would go where he was called.
He would rather save the life of a poor mother of a family than that of
half a dozen old gouty millionaires whose heirs had been yawning and
stretching these ten years to get rid of them.

“Generous emotions!” I exclaimed. “Cherish ‘em; cling to ‘em till you
are fifty, till you are seventy, till you are ninety! But do as I tell
you,--strike for the best circle of practice, and you ‘ll be sure to get
it!”

Mr. Langdon did as I told him,--took a genteel office, furnished it
neatly, dressed with a certain elegance, soon made a pleasant circle
of acquaintances, and began to work his way into the right kind of
business. I missed him, however, for some days, not long after he had
opened his office. On his return, he told me he had been up at Rockland,
by special invitation, to attend the wedding of Mr. Dudley Venner and
Miss Helen Darley. He gave me a full account of the ceremony, which
I regret that I cannot relate in full. “Helen looked like an
angel,”--that, I am sure, was one of his expressions. As for her dress,
I should like to give the details, but am afraid of committing blunders,
as men always do, when they undertake to describe such matters. White
dress, anyhow,--that I am sure of,--with orange-flowers, and the most
wonderful lace veil that was ever seen or heard of. The Reverend Doctor
Honeywood performed the ceremony, of course. The good people seemed
to have forgotten they ever had had any other minister, except Deacon
Shearer and his set of malcontents, who were doing a dull business in
the meeting-house lately occupied by the Reverend Mr. Fairweather.

“Who was at the wedding?”

“Everybody, pretty much. They wanted to keep it quiet, but it was of
no use. Married at church. Front pews, old Dr. Kittredge and all the
mansionhouse people and distinguished strangers,--Colonel Sprowle and
family, including Matilda’s young gentleman, a graduate of one of
the fresh-water colleges,--Mrs. Pickins (late Widow Rowens) and
husband,--Deacon Soper and numerous parishioners. A little nearer the
door, Abel, the Doctor’s man, and Elbridge, who drove them to church in
the family-coach. Father Fairweather, as they all call him now, came in
late with Father McShane.”

“And Silas Peckham?”

“Oh, Silas had left The School and Rockland. Cut up altogether too
badly in the examination instituted by the Trustees. Had removed over
to Tamarack, and thought of renting a large house and ‘farming’ the
town-poor.”

Some time after this, as I was walking with a young friend along by
the swell-fronts and south-exposures, whom should I see but Mr. Bernard
Langdon, looking remarkably happy, and keeping step by the side of
a very handsome and singularly well-dressed young lady? He bowed and
lifted his hat as we passed.

“Who is that pretty girl my young doctor has got there?” I said to my
companion.

“Who is that?” he answered. “You don’t know? Why, that is neither more
nor less than Miss Letitia Forrester, daughter of--of--why, the great
banking firm, you know, Bilyuns Brothers & Forrester. Got acquainted
with her in the country, they say. There ‘s a story that they’re
engaged, or like to be, if the firm consents.”

“Oh” I said.

I did not like the look of it in the least. Too young,--too young. Has
not taken any position yet. No right to ask for the hand of Bilyuns
Brothers & Co.’s daughter. Besides, it will spoil him for practice, if
he marries a rich girl before he has formed habits of work.

I looked in at his office the other day. A box of white kids was lying
open on the table. A three-cornered note, directed in a very delicate
lady’s-hand, was distinguishable among a heap of papers. I was just
going to call him to account for his proceedings, when he pushed
the three-cornered note aside and took up a letter with a great
corporation-seal upon it. He had received the offer of a professor’s
chair in an ancient and distinguished institution.

“Pretty well for three-and-twenty, my boy,” I said. “I suppose you’ll
think you must be married one of these days, if you accept this office.”

Mr. Langdon blushed.--There had been stories about him, he knew. His
name had been mentioned in connection with that of a very charming young
lady. The current reports were not true. He had met this young lady,
and been much pleased with her, in the country, at the house of her
grandfather, the Reverend Doctor Honeywood,--you remember Miss Letitia
Forrester, whom I have mentioned repeatedly? On coming to town, he found
his country-acquaintance in a social position which seemed to discourage
his continued intimacy. He had discovered, however; that he was a not
unwelcome visitor, and had kept up friendly relations with her. But
there was no truth in the current reports,--none at all.’

Some months had passed, after this visit, when I happened one evening to
stroll into a box in one of the principal theatres of the city. A small
party sat on the seats before me: a middle-aged gentleman and his lady,
in front, and directly behind them my young doctor and the same very
handsome young lady I had seen him walking with on the sidewalk before
the swell-fronts and south-exposures. As Professor Langdon seemed to
be very much taken up with his companion, and both of them looked as
if they were enjoying themselves, I determined not to make my presence
known to my young friend, and to withdraw quietly after feasting my eyes
with the sight of them for a few minutes.

“It looks as if something might come of it,” I said to myself. At that
moment the young lady lifted her arm accidentally in such a way that the
light fell upon the clasp of a chain which encircled her wrist. My eyes
filled with tears as I read upon the clasp, in sharp-cut Italic
letters, E. V. They were tears at once of sad remembrance and of joyous
anticipation; for the ornament on which I looked was the double
pledge of a dead sorrow and a living affection. It was the golden
bracelet,--the parting-gift of Elsie Venner, the golden bracelet,--the
parting-gift of Elsie Venner.





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