A Mortal Antipathy
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 5 out of 5
emotions which many who are capable of experiencing die without ever
This was the scene upon which the doctor and Paolo suddenly appeared
at the same moment.
As the fresh breeze passed over the face of the rescued patient, his
eyes opened wide, and his consciousness returned in almost
supernatural lucidity. Euthymia had sat down upon a bank, and was
still supporting him. His head was resting on her bosom. Through
his awakening senses stole the murmurs of the living cradle which
rocked him with the wavelike movements of respiration, the soft
susurrus of the air that entered with every breath, the double beat
of the heart which throbbed close to his ear. And every sense, and
every instinct, and every reviving pulse told him in language like a
revelation from another world that a woman's arms were around
him, and that it was life, and not death, which her embrace had
She would have disengaged him from her protecting hold, but the
doctor made her a peremptory sign, which he followed by a sharp
"Do not move him a hair's breadth," he said. "Wait until the litter
comes. Any sudden movement might be dangerous. Has anybody a brandy
flask about him?"
One or two members of the local temperance society looked rather
awkward, but did not come forward.
The fresh-water fisherman was the first who spoke.
"I han't got no brandy," he said, "but there's a drop or two of old
Medford rum in this here that you're welcome to, if it'll be of any
help. I alliz kerry a little on 't in case o' gettin' wet 'n'
So saying he held forth a flat bottle with the word Sarsaparilla
stamped on the green glass, but which contained half a pint or more
of the specific on which he relied in those very frequent exposures
which happen to persons of his calling.
The doctor motioned back Paolo, who would have rushed at once to the
aid of Maurice, and who was not wanted at that moment. So poor
Paolo, in an agony of fear for his master, was kept as quiet as
possible, and had to content himself with asking all sorts of
questions and repeating all the prayers he could think of to Our Lady
and to his holy namesake the Apostle.
The doctor wiped the mouth of the fisherman's bottle very carefully.
"Take a few drops of this cordial," he said, as he held it to his
patient's lips. "Hold him just so, Euthymia, without stirring. I
will watch him, and say when he is ready to be moved. The litter is
near by, waiting." Dr. Butts watched Maurice's pulse and color. The
"Old Medford" knew its business. It had knocked over its tens of
thousands; it had its redeeming virtue, and helped to set up a poor
fellow now and then. It did this for Maurice very effectively. When
he seemed somewhat restored, the doctor had the litter brought to his
side, and Euthymia softly resigned her helpless burden, which Paolo
and the attendant Robert lifted with the aid of the doctor, who
walked by the patient as he was borne to the home where Mrs. Butts
had made all ready for his reception.
As for poor Lurida, who had thought herself equal to the sanguinary
duties of the surgeon, she was left lying on the grass with an old
woman over her, working hard with fan and smelling-salts to bring her
back from her long fainting fit.
Why should not human nature be the same in Arrowhead Village as
elsewhere? It could not seem strange to the good people of that
place and their visitors that these two young persons, brought
together under circumstances that stirred up the deepest emotions of
which the human soul is capable, should become attached to each
other. But the bond between them was stronger than any knew, except
the good doctor, who had learned the great secret of Maurice's life.
For the first time since his infancy he had fully felt the charm
which the immediate presence of youthful womanhood carries with it.
He could hardly believe the fact when he found himself no longer the
subject of the terrifying seizures of which he had had many and
It was the doctor's business to save his patient's life, if he could
possibly do it. Maurice had been reduced to the most perilous state
of debility by the relapse which had interrupted his convalescence.
Only by what seemed almost a miracle had he survived the exposure to
suffocation and the mental anguish through which he had passed. It
was perfectly clear to Dr. Butts that if Maurice could see the young
woman to whom he owed his life, and, as the doctor felt assured, the
revolution in his nervous system which would be the beginning of a
new existence, it would be of far more value as a restorative agency
than any or all of the drugs in the pharmacopoeia. He told this to
Euthymia, and explained the matter to her parents and friends. She
must go with him on some of his visits. Her mother should go with
her, or her sister; but this was a case of life and death, and no
maidenly scruples must keep her from doing her duty.
The first of her visits to the sick, perhaps dying, man presented a
scene not unlike the picture before spoken of on the title-page of
the old edition of Galen. The doctor was perhaps the most agitated
of the little group. He went before the others, took his seat by the
bedside, and held the patient's wrist with his finger on the pulse.
As Euthymia entered it gave a single bound, fluttered for an instant
as if with a faint memory of its old habit, then throbbed full and
strong, comparatively, as if under the spur of some powerful
stimulus. Euthymia's task was a delicate one, but she knew how to
disguise its difficulty.
"Here is a flower I have brought you, Mr. Kirkwood," she said, and
handed him a white chrysanthemum. He took it from her hand, and
before she knew it he took her hand into his own, and held it with a
gentle constraint. What could she do? Here was the young man whose
life she had saved, at least for the moment, and who was yet in
danger from the disease which had almost worn out his powers of
"Sit down by Mr. Kirkwood's side," said the doctor. "He wants to
thank you, if he has strength to do it, for saving him from the death
which seemed inevitable."
Not many words could Maurice command. He was weak enough for womanly
tears, but their fountains no longer flowed; it was with him as with
the dying, whose eyes may light up, but rarely shed a tear.
The river which has found a new channel widens and deepens--it; it
lets the old water-course fill up, and never returns to its forsaken
bed. The tyrannous habit was broken. The prophecy of the gitana had
verified itself, and the ill a fair woman had wrought a fairer woman
bad conquered and abolished.
The history of Maurice Kirkwood loses its exceptional character from
the time of his restoration to his natural conditions. His
convalescence was very slow and gradual, but no further accident
interrupted its even progress. The season was over, the summer
visitors had left Arrowhead Village; the chrysanthemums were going
out of flower, the frosts had come, and Maurice was still beneath the
roof of the kind physician. The relation between him and his
preserver was so entirely apart from all common acquaintances and
friendships that no ordinary rules could apply to it. Euthymia
visited him often during the period of his extreme prostration.
"You must come every day," the doctor said. "He gains with every
visit you make him; he pines if you miss him for a single day." So
she came and sat by him, the doctor or good Mrs. Butts keeping her
company in his presence. He grew stronger,--began to sit up in bed;
and at last Euthymia found him dressed as in health, and beginning to
walk about the room. She was startled. She had thought of herself
as a kind of nurse, but the young gentleman could hardly be said to
need a nurse any longer. She had scruples about making any further
visits. She asked Lurida what she thought about it.
"Think about it?" said Lurida. "Why should n't you go to see a
brother as well as a sister, I should like to know? If you are
afraid to go to see Maurice Kirkwood, I am not afraid, at any rate.
If you would rather have me go than go yourself, I will do it, and
let people talk just as much as they want to. Shall I go instead of
Euthymia was not quite sure that this would be the best thing for the
patient. The doctor had told her he thought there were special
reasons for her own course in coming daily to see him. "I am
afraid," she said, "you are too bright to be safe for him in his
weak state. Your mind is such a stimulating one, you know. A dull
sort of person like myself is better for him just now. I will
continue visiting him as long as the doctor says it is important that
I should; but you must defend me, Lurida,--I know you can explain it
all so that people will not blame me."
Euthymia knew full well what the effect of Lurida's penetrating head-
voice would be in a convalescent's chamber. She knew how that active
mind of hers would set the young man's thoughts at work, when what he
wanted was rest of every faculty. Were not these good and sufficient
reasons for her decision? What others could there be?
So Euthymia kept on with her visits, until she blushed to see that
she was continuing her charitable office for one who was beginning to
look too well to be called an invalid. It was a dangerous condition
of affairs, and the busy tongues of the village gossips were free in
their comments. Free, but kindly, for the story of the rescue had
melted every heart; and what could be more natural than that these
two young people whom God had brought together in the dread moment of
peril should find it hard to tear themselves asunder after the hour
of danger was past? When gratitude is a bankrupt, love only can pay
his debts; and if Maurice gave his heart to Euthymia, would not she
receive it as payment in full?
The change which had taken place in the vital currents of Maurice
Kirkwood's system was as simple and solid a fact as the change in a
magnetic needle when the boreal becomes the austral pole, and the
austral the boreal. It was well, perhaps, that this change took
place while he was enfeebled by the wasting effects of long illness.
For all the long-defeated, disturbed, perverted instincts had found
their natural channel from the centre of consciousness to the organ
which throbs in response to every profound emotion. As his health
gradually returned, Euthymia could not help perceiving a flush in his
cheek, a glitter in his eyes, a something in the tone of his voice,
which altogether were a warning to the young maiden that the highway
of friendly intercourse was fast narrowing to a lane, at the head of
which her woman's eye could read plainly enough, "Dangerous passing."
"You look so much better to-day, Mr. Kirkwood," she said, "that I
think I had better not play Sister of Charity any longer. The next
time we meet I hope you will be strong enough to call on me."
She was frightened to see how pale he turned,--he was weaker than she
thought. There was a silence so profound and so long that Mrs. Butts
looked up from the stocking she was knitting. They had forgotten the
good woman's presence.
Presently Maurice spoke,--very faintly, but Mrs. Butts dropped a
stitch at the first word, and her knitting fell into her lap as she
listened to what followed.
"No! you must not leave me. You must never leave me. You saved my
life. But you have done more than that,--more than you know or can
ever know. To you I owe it that I am living; with you I live
henceforth, if I am to live at all. All I am, all I hope,--will you
take this poor offering from one who owes you everything, whose lips
never touched those of woman or breathed a word of love before you?"
What could Euthymia reply to this question, uttered with all the
depth of a passion which had never before found expression.
Not one syllable of answer did listening Mrs. Butts overhear. But
she told her husband afterwards that there was nothing in the
tableaux they had had in September to compare with what she then saw.
It was indeed a pleasing picture which those two young heads
presented as Euthymia gave her inarticulate but infinitely expressive
answer to the question of Maurice Kirkwood. The good-hearted woman
thought it time to leave the young people. Down went the stocking
with the needles in it; out of her lap tumbled the ball of worsted,
rolling along the floor with its yarn trailing after it, like some
village matron who goes about circulating from hearth to hearth,
leaving all along her track the story of the new engagement or of the
arrival of the last "little stranger."
Not many suns had set before it was told all through Arrowhead
Village that Maurice Kirkwood was the accepted lover of Euthymia
MISS LURIDA VINCENT TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD.
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, May 18.
MY DEAREST EUTHYMIA,--Who would have thought, when you broke your oar
as the Atalanta flashed by the Algonquin, last June, that before the
roses came again you would find yourself the wife of a fine scholar
and grand gentleman, and the head of a household such as that of
which you are the mistress? You must not forget your old Arrowhead
Village friends. What am I saying?---you forget them! No, dearest,
I know your heart too well for that! You are not one of those who
lay aside their old friendships as they do last years bonnet when
they get a new one. You have told me all about yourself and your
happiness, and now you want me to tell you about myself and what is
going on in our little place.
And first about myself. I have given up the idea of becoming a
doctor. I have studied mathematics so much that I have grown fond of
certainties, of demonstrations, and medicine deals chiefly in
probabilities. The practice of the art is so mixed up with the
deepest human interests that it is hard to pursue it with that even
poise of the intellect which is demanded by science. I want
knowledge pure and simple,--I do not fancy having it mixed. Neither
do I like the thought of passing my life in going from one scene of
suffering to another; I am not saintly enough for such a daily
martyrdom, nor callous enough to make it an easy occupation. I
fainted at the first operation I saw, and I have never wanted to see
another. I don't say that I wouldn't marry a physician, if the right
one asked me, but the young doctor is not forthcoming at present.
Yes, I think I might make a pretty good doctor's wife. I could teach
him a good deal about headaches and backaches and all sorts of
nervous revolutions, as the doctor says the French women call their
tantrums. I don't know but I should be willing to let him try his
new medicines on me. If he were a homeopath, I know I should; for if
a billionth of a grain of sugar won't begin to sweeten my tea or
coffee, I don't feel afraid that a billionth of a grain of anything
would poison me,--no, not if it were snake-venom; and if it were not
disgusting, I would swallow a handful of his lachesis globules, to
please my husband. But if I ever become a doctor's wife, my husband
will not be one of that kind of practitioners, you may be sure of
that, nor an "eclectic," nor a "faith-cure man." On the whole, I
don't think I want to be married at all. I don't like the male
animal very well (except such noble specimens as your husband). They
are all tyrants,--almost all,--so far as our sex is concerned, and I
often think we could get on better without them.
However, the creatures are useful in the Society. They send us
papers, some of them well worth reading. You have told me so often
that you would like to know how the Society is getting on, and to
read some of the papers sent to it if they happened to be
interesting, that I have laid aside one or two manuscripts expressly
for your perusal. You will get them by and by.
I am delighted to know that you keep Paolo with you. Arrowhead
Village misses him dreadfully, I can tell you. That is the reason
people become so attached to these servants with Southern sunlight in
their natures? I suppose life is not long enough to cool their blood
down to our Northern standard. Then they are so child-like, whereas
the native of these latitudes is never young after he is ten or
twelve years old. Mother says,--you know mother's old-fashioned
notions, and how shrewd and sensible she is in spite of them,--mother
says that when she was a girl families used to import young men and
young women from the country towns, who called themselves "helps,"
not servants,--no, that was Scriptural; "but they did n't know
everything down in Judee," and it is not good American language. She
says that these people would live in the same household until they
were married, and the women often remain in the same service until
they died or were old and worn out, and then, what with the money
they had saved and the care and assistance they got from their former
employers, would pass a decent and comfortable old age, and be buried
in the family lot. Mother has made up her mind to the change, but
grandmother is bitter about it. She says there never was a country
yet where the population was made up of "ladies" and "gentlemen," and
she does n't believe there can be; nor that putting a spread eagle on
a copper makes a gold dollar of it. She is a pessimist after her own
fashion. She thinks all sentiment is dying out of our people. No
loyalty for the sovereign, the king-post of the political edifice,
she says; no deep attachment between employer and employed; no
reverence of the humbler members of a household for its heads; and to
make sure of continued corruption and misery, what she calls
"universal suffrage" emptying all the sewers into the great aqueduct
we all must drink from. "Universal suffrage!" I suppose we women
don't belong to the universe! Wait until we get a chance at the
ballot-box, I tell grandma, and see if we don't wash out the sewers
before they reach the aqueduct! But my pen has run away with men I
was thinking of Paolo, and what a pleasant thing it is to have one of
those child-like, warm-hearted, attachable, cheerful, contented,
humble, faithful, companionable, but never presuming grownup children
of the South waiting on one, as if everything he could do for one was
a pleasure, and carrying a look of content in his face which makes
every one who meets him happier for a glimpse of his features.
It does seem a shame that the charming relation of master and
servant, intelligent authority and cheerful obedience, mutual
interest in each other's welfare, thankful recognition of all the
advantages which belong to domestic service in the better class of
families, should be almost wholly confined to aliens and their
immediate descendants. Why should Hannah think herself so much
better than Bridget? When they meet at the polls together, as they
will before long, they will begin to feel more of an equality than is
recognized at present. The native female turns her nose up at the
idea of "living out;" does she think herself so much superior to the
women of other nationalities? Our women will have to come to it,--so
grandmother says,--in another generation or two, and in a hundred
years, according to her prophecy, there will be a new set of old
"Miss Pollys" and "Miss Betseys" who have lived half a century in
the same families, respectful and respected, cherished, cared for in
time of need (citizens as well as servants, holding a ballot as well
as a broom, I tell her), and bringing back to us the lowly, underfoot
virtues of contentment and humility, which we do so need to carpet
the barren and hungry thoroughfare of our unstratified existence.
There, I have got a-going, and am forgetting all the news I have to
tell you. There is an engagement you will want to know all about.
It came to pass through our famous boat-race, which you and I
remember, and shall never forget as long as we live. It seems that
the young fellow who pulled the bow oar of that men's college boat
which we had the pleasure of beating got some glimpses of Georgina,
our handsome stroke oar. I believe he took it into his head that it
was she who threw the bouquet that won the race for us. He was, as
you know, greatly mistaken, and ought to have made love to me, only
he did n't. Well, it seems he came posting down to the Institute
just before the vacation was over, and there got a sight of Georgina.
I wonder whether she told him she didn't fling the bouquet! Anyhow,
the acquaintance began in that way, and now it seems that this young
fellow, good-looking and a bright scholar, but with a good many
months more to pass in college, is her captive. It was too bad.
Just think of my bouquet's going to another girl's credit! No
matter, the old Atalanta story was paid off, at any rate.
You want to know all about dear Dr. Butts. They say he has just been
offered a Professorship in one of the great medical colleges. I
asked him about it, and he did not say that he had or had not.
"But," said be, "suppose that I had been offered such a place; do you
think I ought to accept it and leave Arrowhead Village? Let us talk
it over," said he, "just as if I had had such an offer." I told him
he ought to stay. There are plenty of men that can get into a
Professor's chair, I said, and talk like Solomons to a class of
wondering pupils: but once get a really good doctor in a place, a man
who knows all about everybody, whether they have this or that
tendency, whether when they are sick they have a way of dying or a
way of getting well, what medicines agree with them and what drugs
they cannot take, whether they are of the sort that think nothing is
the matter with them until they are dead as smoked herring, or of the
sort that send for the minister if they get a stomach-ache from
eating too many cucumbers,--who knows all about all the people within
half a dozen miles (all the sensible ones, that is, who employ a
regular practitioner),--such a man as that, I say, is not to be
replaced like a missing piece out of a Springfield musket or a
Waltham watch. Don't go! said I. Stay here and save our precious
lives, if you can, or at least put us through in the proper way, so
that we needn't be ashamed of ourselves for dying, if we must die.
Well, Dr. Butts is not going to leave us. I hope you will have no
unwelcome occasion for his services,--you are never ill, you know,--
but, anyhow, he is going to be here, and no matter what happens he
will be on hand.
The village news is not of a very exciting character. Item 1. A new
house is put up over the ashes of the one in which your husband lived
while he was here. It was planned by one of the autochthonous
inhabitants with the most ingenious combination of inconveniences
that the natural man could educe from his original perversity of
intellect. To get at any one room you must pass through every other.
It is blind, or nearly so, on the only side which has a good
prospect, and commands a fine view of the barn and pigsty through
numerous windows. Item 2. We have a small fire-engine near the new
house which can be worked by a man or two, and would be equal to the
emergency of putting out a bunch of fire-crackers. Item 3. We have
a new ladder, in a bog, close to the new fire-engine, so if the new
house catches fire, like its predecessor, and there should happen to,
be a sick man on an upper floor, he can be got out without running
the risk of going up and down a burning staircase. What a blessed
thing it was that there was no fire-engine near by and no ladder at
hand on the day of the great rescue! If there had been, what a
change in your programme of life! You remember that "cup of tea
spilt on Mrs. Masham's apron," which we used to read of in one of
Everett's Orations, and all its wide-reaching consequences in the
affairs of Europe. I hunted up that cup of tea as diligently as ever
a Boston matron sought for the last leaves in her old caddy after the
tea-chests had been flung overboard at Griffin's wharf,--but no
matter about that, now. That is the way things come about in this
world. I must write a lecture on lucky mishaps, or, more elegantly,
fortunate calamities. It will be just the converse of that odd essay
of Swift's we read together, the awkward and stupid things done with
the best intentions. Perhaps I shall deliver the lecture in your
city: you will come and hear it, and bring him, won't
Always, your loving
MISS LURIDA VINCENT TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD.
It seems forever since you left us, dearest Euthymia! And are you,
and is your husband, and Paolo,--good Paolo,--are you all as well and
happy as you have been and as you ought to be? I suppose our small
village seems a very quiet sort of place to pass the winter in, now
that you have become accustomed to the noise and gayety of a great
city. For all that, it is a pretty busy place this winter, I can
tell you. We have sleighing parties,--I never go to them, myself,
because I can't keep warm, and my mind freezes up when my blood cools
down below 95 or 96 deg. Fahrenheit. I had a great deal rather sit
by a good fire and read about Arctic discoveries. But I like very
well to hear the bells' jingling and to see the young people trying
to have a good time as hard as they do at a picnic. It may be that
they do, but to me a picnic is purgatory and a sleigh-ride that other
place, where, as my favorite Milton says, "frost performs the effect
of fire." I believe I have quoted him correctly; I ought to, for I
could repeat half his poems from memory once, if I cannot now.
You must have plenty of excitement in your city life. I suppose you
recognized yourself in one of the society columns of the "Household
Inquisitor:" "Mrs. E. K., very beautiful, in an elegant," etc., etc,
"with pearls," etc., etc.,--as if you were not the ornament of all
that you wear, no matter what it is!
I am so glad that you have married a scholar! Why should not
Maurice--you both tell me to call him so--take the diplomatic office
which has been offered him? It seems to me that he would find
himself in exactly the right place. He can talk in two or three
languages, has good manners, and a wife who--well, what shall I say
of Mrs. Kirkwood but that "she would be good company for a queen," as
our old friend the quondam landlady of the Anchor Tavern used to say?
I should so like to see you presented at Court! It seems to me that
I should be willing to hold your train for the sake of seeing you in
your court feathers and things.
As for myself, I have been thinking of late that I would become
either a professional lecturer or head mistress of a great school or
college for girls. I have tried the first business a little. Last
month I delivered a lecture on Quaternions. I got three for my
audience; two came over from the Institute, and one from that men's
college which they try to make out to be a university, and where no
female is admitted unless she belongs among the quadrupeds. I
enjoyed lecturing, but the subject is a difficult one, and I don't
think any one of them had any very clear notion of what I was talking
about, except Rhodora,--and I know she did n't. To tell the truth, I
was lecturing to instruct myself. I mean to try something easier
next time. I have thought of the Basque language and literature.
What do you say to that?
The Society goes on famously. We have had a paper presented and read
lately which has greatly amused some of us and provoked a few of the
weaker sort. The writer is that crabbed old Professor of Belles-
Lettres at that men's college over there. He is dreadfully hard on
the poor "poets," as they call themselves. It seems that a great
many young persons, and more especially a great many young girls, of
whom the Institute has furnished a considerable proportion, have
taken to sending him their rhymed productions to be criticised,--
expecting to be praised, no doubt, every one of them. I must give
you one of the sauciest extracts from his paper in his own words:
"It takes half my time to read the 'poems' sent me by young people of
both sexes. They would be more shy of doing it if they knew that I
recognize a tendency to rhyming as a common form of mental weakness,
and the publication of a thin volume of verse as prima facie evidence
of ambitious mediocrity, if not inferiority. Of course there are
exceptions to this rule of judgment, but I maintain that the
presumption is always against the rhymester as compared with the less
pretentious persons about him or her, busy with some useful calling,
--too busy to be tagging rhymed commonplaces together. Just now
there seems to be an epidemic of rhyming as bad as the dancing mania,
or the sweating sickness. After reading a certain amount of
manuscript verse one is disposed to anathematize the inventor of
homophonous syllabification. [This phrase made a great laugh when it
was read.] This, that is rhyming, must have been found out very
"'Where are you, Adam?'
"'Here am I, Madam;'
"but it can never have been habitually practised until after the Fall.
The intrusion of tintinnabulating terminations into the
conversational intercourse of men and angels would have spoiled
Paradise itself. Milton would not have them even in Paradise Lost,
you remember. For my own part, I wish certain rhymes could be
declared contraband of written or printed language. Nothing should
be allowed to be hurled at the world or whirled with it, or furled
upon it or curled over it; all eyes should be kept away from the
skies, in spite of os homini sublime dedit; youth should be coupled
with all the virtues except truth; earth should never be reminded of
her birth; death should never be allowed to stop a mortal's breath,
nor the bell to sound his knell, nor flowers from blossoming bowers
to wave over his grave or show their bloom upon his tomb. We have
rhyming dictionaries,--let us have one from which all rhymes are
rigorously excluded. The sight of a poor creature grubbing for
rhymes to fill up his sonnet, or to cram one of those voracious,
rhyme-swallowing rigmaroles which some of our drudging poetical
operatives have been exhausting themselves of late to satiate with
jingles, makes my head ache and my stomach rebel. Work, work of some
kind, is the business of men and women, not the making of jingles!
No,--no,--no! I want to see the young people in our schools and
academies and colleges, and the graduates of these institutions,
lifted up out of the little Dismal Swamp of self-contemplating and
self-indulging and self-commiserating emotionalism which is
surfeiting the land with those literary sandwiches,--thin slices of
tinkling sentimentality between two covers looking like hard-baked
gilt gingerbread. But what faces these young folks make up at my
good advice! They get tipsy on their rhymes. Nothing intoxicates
one like his--or her--own verses, and they hold on to their metre-
ballad-mongering as the fellows that inhale nitrous oxide hold on to
We laughed over this essay of the old Professor; though it hit us
pretty hard. The best part of the joke is that the old man himself
published a thin volume of poems when he was young, which there is
good reason to think he is not very proud of, as they say he buys up
all the copies he can find in the shops. No matter what they say, I
can't help agreeing with him about this great flood of "poetry," as
it calls itself, and looking at the rhyming mania much as he does.
How I do love real poetry! That is the reason hate rhymes which have
not a particle of it in them. The foolish scribblers that deal in
them are like bad workmen in a carpenter's shop. They not only turn
out bad jobs of work, but they spoil the tools for better workmen.
There is hardly a pair of rhymes in the English language that is not
so dulled and hacked and gapped by these 'prentice hands that a
master of the craft hates to touch them, and yet he cannot very well
do without them. I have not been besieged as the old Professor has
been with such multitudes of would-be-poetical aspirants that he
could not even read their manuscripts, but I have had a good many
letters containing verses, and I have warned the writers of the
delusion under which they were laboring.
You may like to know that I have just been translating some extracts
from the Greek Anthology. I send you a few specimens of my work,
with a Dedication to the Shade of Sappho. I hope you will find
something of the Greek rhythm in my versions, and that I have caught
a spark of inspiration from the impassioned Lesbian. I have found
great delight in this work, at any rate, and am never so happy as
when I read from my manuscript or repeat from memory the lines into
which I have transferred the thought of the men and women of two
thousand years ago, or given rhythmical expression to my own
rapturous feelings with regard to them. I must read you my
Dedication to the Shade of Sappho. I cannot help thinking that you
will like it better than either of my last two, The Song of the
Roses, or The Wail of the Weeds.
How I do miss you, dearest! I want you: I want you to listen to what
I have written; I want you to hear all about my plans for the future;
I want to look at you, and think how grand it must be to feel one's
self to be such a noble and beautiful-creature; I want to wander in
the woods with you, to float on the lake, to share your life and talk
over every day's doings with you. Alas! I feel that we have parted
as two friends part at a port of embarkation: they embrace, they kiss
each other's cheeks, they cover their faces and weep, they try to
speak good-by to each other, they watch from the pier and from the
deck; the two forms grow less and less, fainter and fainter in the
distance, two white handkerchiefs flutter once and again, and yet
once more, and the last visible link of the chain which binds them
has parted. Dear, dear, dearest Euthymia, my eyes are running over
with tears when I think that we may never, never meet again.
Don't you want some more items of village news? We are threatened
with an influx of stylish people: "Buttons" to answer the door-bell,
in place of the chamber-maid; "butler," in place of the "hired man;"
footman in top-boots and breeches, cockade on hat, arms folded a la
Napoleon; tandems, "drags," dogcarts, and go-carts of all sorts. It
is rather amusing to look at their ambitious displays, but it takes
away the good old country flavor of the place.
I don't believe you mean to try to astonish us when you come back to
spend your summers here. I suppose you must have a large house, and
I am sure you will have a beautiful one. I suppose you will have
some fine horses, and who would n't be glad to? But I do not believe
you will try to make your old Arrowhead Village friends stare their
eyes out of their heads with a display meant to outshine everybody
else that comes here. You can have a yacht on the lake, if you like,
but I hope you will pull a pair of oars in our old boat once in a
while, with me to steer you. I know you will be just the same dear-
Euthymia you always were and always must be. How happy you must make
such a man as Maurice Kirkwood! And how happy you ought to be with
him!--a man who knows what is in books, and who has seen for himself,
what is in men. If he has not seen so much of women, where could he
study all that is best in womanhood as he can in his own wife? Only
one thing that dear Euthymia lacks. She is not quite pronounced
enough in her views as to the rights and the wrongs of the sex. When
I visit you, as you say I shall, I mean to indoctrinate Maurice with
sound views on that subject. I have written an essay for the
Society, which I hope will go a good way towards answering all the
objections to female suffrage. I mean to read it to your husband, if
you will let me, as I know you will, and perhaps you would like to
hear it,--only you know my thoughts on the subject pretty well
With all sorts of kind messages to your dear husband, and love to
your precious self,
I am ever your
DR. BUTTS TO MRS. EUTHYMIA KIRKWOOD.
MY DEAR EUTHYMIA,--My pen refuses to call you by any other name.
Sweet-souled you are, and your Latinized Greek name is--the one which
truly designates you. I cannot tell you how we have followed you,
with what interest and delight through your travels, as you have told
their story in your letters to your mother. She has let us have the
privilege of reading them, and we have been with you in steamer,
yacht, felucca, gondola, Nile-boat; in all sorts of places, from
crowded capitals to "deserts where no men abide,"--everywhere keeping
company with you in your natural and pleasant descriptions of your
experiences. And now that you have returned to your home in the
great city I must write you a few lines of welcome, if nothing more.
You will find Arrowhead Village a good deal changed since you left
it. We are discovered by some of those over-rich people who make the
little place upon which they swarm a kind of rural city. When this
happens the consequences are striking,--some of them desirable and
some far otherwise. The effect of well-built, well-furnished, well-
kept houses and of handsome grounds always maintained in good order
about them shows itself in a large circuit around the fashionable
centre. Houses get on a new coat of paint, fences are kept in better
order, little plots of flowers show themselves where only ragged
weeds had rioted, the inhabitants present themselves in more comely
attire and drive in handsomer vehicles with more carefully groomed
horses. On the other hand, there is a natural jealousy on the part
of the natives of the region suddenly become fashionable. They have
seen the land they sold at farm prices by the acre coming to be
valued by the foot, like the corner lots in a city. Their simple and
humble modes of life look almost poverty-stricken in the glare of
wealth and luxury which so outshines their plain way of living. It
is true that many of them have found them selves richer than in
former days, when the neighborhood lived on its own resources. They
know how to avail themselves of their altered position, and soon
learn to charge city prices for country products; but nothing can
make people feel rich who see themselves surrounded by men whose
yearly income is many times their own whole capital. I think it
would be better if our rich men scattered themselves more than they
do,--buying large country estates, building houses and stables which
will make it easy to entertain their friends, and depending for
society on chosen guests rather than on the mob of millionaires who
come together for social rivalry. But I do not fret myself about it.
Society will stratify itself according to the laws of social
gravitation. It will take a generation or two more, perhaps, to
arrange the strata by precipitation and settlement, but we can always
depend on one principle to govern the arrangement of the layers.
People interested in the same things will naturally come together.
The youthful heirs of fortunes who keep splendid yachts have little
to talk about with the oarsman who pulls about on the lake or the
river. What does young Dives, who drives his four-in-hand and keeps
a stable full of horses, care about Lazarus, who feels rich in the
possession of a horse-railroad ticket? You know how we live at our
house, plainly, but with a certain degree of cultivated propriety.
We make no pretensions to what is called "style." We are still in
that social stratum where the article called "a napkin-ring" is
recognized as admissible at the dinner-table. That fact sufficiently
defines our modest pretensions. The napkin-ring is the boundary mark
between certain classes. But one evening Mrs. Butts and I went out
to a party given by the lady of a worthy family, where the napkin
itself was a newly introduced luxury. The conversation of the
hostess and her guests turned upon details of the kitchen and the
laundry; upon the best mode of raising bread, whether with "emptins"
(emptyings, yeast) or baking powder; about "bluing" and starching and
crimping, and similar matters. Poor Mrs. Butts! She knew nothing
more about such things than her hostess did about Shakespeare and the
musical glasses. What was the use of trying to enforce social
intercourse under such conditions? Incompatibility of temper has
been considered ground for a divorce; incompatibility of interests is
a sufficient warrant for social separation. The multimillionaires
have so much that is common among themselves, and so little that they
share with us of moderate means, that they will naturally form a
specialized class, and in virtue of their palaces, their picture-
galleries, their equipages, their yachts, their large hospitality,
constitute a kind of exclusive aristocracy. Religion, which ought to
be the great leveller, cannot reduce these elements to the same
grade. You may read in the parable, "Friend, how camest thou in
hither not having a wedding garment?" The modern version would be,
"How came you at Mrs. Billion's ball not having a dress on your back
which came from Paris?"
The little church has got a new stained window, a saint who reminds
me of Hamlet's uncle,--a thing "of shreds and patches," but rather
pretty to look at, with an inscription under it which is supposed to
be the name of the person in whose honor the window was placed in the
church. Smith was a worthy man and a faithful churchwarden, and I
hope posterity will be able to spell out his name on his monumental
window; but that old English lettering would puzzle Mephistopheles
himself, if he found himself before this memorial tribute, on the
inside,--you know he goes to church sometimes, if you remember your
The rector has come out, in a quiet way, as an evolutionist. He has
always been rather "broad" in his views, but cautious in their
expression. You can tell the three branches of the mother-island
church by the way they carry their heads. The low-church clergy look
down, as if they felt themselves to be worms of the dust; the high-
church priest drops his head on one side, after the pattern of the
mediaeval saints; the broad-church preacher looks forward and round
about him, as if he felt himself the heir of creation. Our rector
carries his head in the broad-church aspect, which I suppose is the
least open to the charge of affectation,--in fact, is the natural and
manly way of carrying it.
The Society has justified its name of Pansophian of late as never
before. Lurida has stirred up our little community and its
neighbors, so that we get essays on all sorts of subjects, poems and
stories in large numbers. I know all about it, for she often
consults me as to the merits of a particular contribution.
What is to be the fate of Lurida? I often think, with no little
interest and some degree of anxiety, about her future. Her body is
so frail and her mind so excessively and constantly active that I am
afraid one or the other will give way. I do not suppose she thinks
seriously of ever being married. She grows more and more zealous in
behalf of her own sex, and sterner in her judgment of the other. She
declares that she never would marry any man who was not an advocate
of female suffrage, and as these gentlemen are not very common
hereabouts the chance is against her capturing any one of the hostile
What do you think? I happened, just as I was writing the last
sentence, to look out of my window, and whom should I see but Lurida,
with a young man in tow, listening very eagerly to her conversation,
according to all appearance! I think he must be a friend of the
rector, as I have seen a young man like this one in his company. Who
Affectionately yours, etc.
DR. BUTTS TO MRS. BUTTS.
MY BELOVED WIFE,--This letter will tell you more news than you would
have thought could have been got together in this little village
during the short time you have been staying away from it.
Lurida Vincent is engaged! He is a clergyman with a mathematical
turn. The story is that he put a difficult problem into one of the
mathematical journals, and that Lurida presented such a neat solution
that the young man fell in love with her on the strength of it. I
don't think the story is literally true, nor do I believe that other
report that he offered himself to her in the form of an equation
chalked on the blackboard; but that it was an intellectual rather
than a sentimental courtship I do not doubt. Lurida has given up the
idea of becoming a professional lecturer,--so she tells me,--thinking
that her future husband's parish will find her work enough to do. A
certain amount of daily domestic drudgery and unexciting intercourse
with simple-minded people will be the best thing in the world for
that brain of hers, always simmering with some new project in its
least fervid condition.
All our summer visitors have arrived. Euthymia Mrs. Maurice
Kirkwood and her husband and little Maurice are here in their
beautiful house looking out on the lake. They gave a grand party the
other evening. You ought to have been there, but I suppose you could
not very well have left your sister in the middle of your visit: All
the grand folks were there, of course. Lurida and her young man--
Gabriel is what she calls him--were naturally the objects of special
attention. Paolo acted as major-domo, and looked as if he ought to
be a major-general. Nothing could be pleasanter than the way in
which Mr. and Mrs. Kirkwood received their plain country neighbors;
that is, just as they did the others of more pretensions, as if they
were really glad to see them, as I am sure they were. The old
landlord and his wife had two arm-chairs to themselves, and I saw
Miranda with the servants of the household looking in at the dancers
and out at the little groups in the garden, and evidently enjoying it
as much as her old employers. It was a most charming and successful
party. We had two sensations in the course of the evening. One was
pleasant and somewhat exciting, the other was thrilling and of
strange and startling interest.
You remember how emaciated poor Maurice Kirkwood was left after his
fever, in that first season when he was among us. He was out in a
boat one day, when a ring slipped off his thin finger and sunk in a
place where the water was rather shallow. "Jake"--you know Jake,--
everybody knows Jake--was rowing him. He promised to come to the
spot and fish up the ring if he could possibly find it. He was seen
poking about with fish-hooks at the end of a pole, but nothing was
ever heard from him about the ring. It was an antique intaglio stone
in an Etruscan setting,--a wild goose flying over the Campagna. Mr.
Kirkwood valued it highly, and regretted its loss very much.
While we were in the garden, who should appear at the gate but Jake,
with a great basket, inquiring for Mr. Kirkwood. "Come," said
Maurice to me, "let us see what our old friend the fisherman has
brought us. What have you got there, Jake?"
"What I 've got? Wall, I 'll tell y' what I've got: I 've got the
biggest pickerel that's been ketched in this pond for these ten year.
An' I 've got somethin' else besides the pickerel. When I come to
cut him open, what do you think I faound in his insides but this here
ring o' yourn,"--and he showed the one Maurice had lost so long
before. There it was, as good as new, after having tried Jonah's
style of housekeeping for all that time. There are those who
discredit Jake's story about finding the ring in the fish; anyhow,
there was the ring and there was the pickerel. I need not say that
Jake went off well paid for his pickerel and the precious contents of
its stomach. Now comes the chief event of the evening. I went early
by special invitation. Maurice took me into his library, and we sat
"I have something of great importance," he said, "to say to you. I
learned within a few days that my cousin Laura is staying with a
friend in the next town to this. You know, doctor, that we have
never met since the last, almost fatal, experience of my early years.
I have determined to defy the strength of that deadly chain of
associations connected with her presence, and I have begged her to
come this evening with the friends with whom she is staying. Several
letters passed between us, for it was hard to persuade her that there
was no longer any risk in my meeting her. Her imagination was almost
as deeply impressed as mine had been at those alarming interviews,
and I had to explain to her fully that I had become quite indifferent
to the disturbing impressions of former years. So, as the result of
our correspondence, Laura is coming this evening, and I wish you to
be present at our meeting. There is another reason why I wish you to
be here. My little boy is not far from the--age at which I received
my terrifying, almost disorganizing shock. I mean to have little
Maurice brought into the presence of Laura, who is said to be still a
very handsome woman, and see if he betrays any hint of that peculiar
sensitiveness which showed itself in my threatening seizure. It
seemed to me not impossible that he might inherit some tendency of
that nature, and I wanted you to be at hand if any sign of danger
should declare itself. For myself I have no fear. Some radical
change has taken place in my nervous system. I have been born again,
as it were, in my susceptibilities, and am in certain respects a new
man. But I must know how it is with my little Maurice."
Imagine with what interest I looked forward to this experiment; for
experiment it was, and not without its sources of anxiety, as it
seemed to me. The evening wore along; friends and neighbors came in,
but no Laura as yet. At last I heard the sound of wheels, and a
carriage stopped at the door. Two ladies and a gentleman got out,
and soon entered the drawing room.
"My cousin Laura!" whispered Maurice to me, and went forward to meet
her. A very handsome woman, who might well have been in the
thirties,--one of those women so thoroughly constituted that they
cannot help being handsome at every period of life. I watched them
both as they approached each other. Both looked pale at first, but
Maurice soon recovered his usual color, and Laura's natural, rich
bloom came back by degrees. Their emotion at meeting was not to be
wondered at, but there was no trace in it of the paralyzing influence
on the great centres of life which had once acted upon its fated
victim like the fabled head which turned the looker-on into a stone.
"Is the boy still awake?" said Maurice to Paolo, who, as they used to
say of Pushee at the old Anchor Tavern, was everywhere at once on
that gay and busy evening.
"What! Mahser Maurice asleep an' all this racket going on? I hear
him crowing like young cockerel when he fus' smell daylight."
"Tell the nurse to bring him down quietly to the little room that
leads out of the library."
The child was brought down in his night-clothes, wide awake,
wondering apparently at the noise he heard, which he seemed to think
was for his special amusement.
"See if he will go to that lady," said his father. Both of us held
our breath as Laura stretched her arms towards little Maurice.
The child looked for an instant searchingly, but fearlessly, at her
glowing cheeks, her bright eyes, her welcoming smile, and met her
embrace as she clasped him to her bosom as if he had known her all
The mortal antipathy had died out of the soul and the blood of
Maurice Kirkwood at that supreme moment when he found himself
snatched from the grasp of death and cradled in the arms of Euthymia.
In closing the New Portfolio I remember that it began with a prefix
which the reader may by this time have forgotten, namely, the First
Opening. It was perhaps presumptuous to thus imply the probability
of a second opening.
I am reminded from time to time by the correspondents who ask a
certain small favor of me that, as I can only expect to be with my
surviving contemporaries a very little while longer, they would be
much obliged if I would hurry up my answer before it is too late.
They are right, these delicious unknown friends of mine, in reminding
me of a fact which I cannot gainsay and might suffer to pass from my
recollection. I thank them for recalling my attention to a truth
which I shall be wiser, if not more hilarious, for remembering.
No, I had no right to say the First Opening. How do I know that I
shall have a chance to open it again? How do I know that anybody
will want it to be opened a second time? How do I know that I shall
feel like opening it? It is safest neither to promise to open the
New Portfolio once more, nor yet to pledge myself to keep it closed
hereafter. There are many papers potentially existent in it, some of
which might interest a reader here and there. The Records of the
Pansophian Society contain a considerable number of essays, poems,
stories, and hints capable of being expanded into presentable
dimensions. In the mean time I will say with Prospero, addressing my
old readers, and my new ones, if such I have,
"If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind."
When it has got quiet I may take up the New Portfolio again, and
consider whether it is worth while to open it.
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