Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 10, No. 62, December, 1862
Part 3 out of 5
battlements, the massive buttresses, the high-windowed walls, shape out
our indistinct ideas of the antique time. It might rather seem as if the
sleepy river (being Shakspeare's Avon, and often, no doubt, the mirror
of his gorgeous visions) were dreaming now of a lordly residence that
stood here many centuries ago; and this fantasy is strengthened,
when you observe that the image in the tranquil water has all the
distinctness of the actual structure. Either might be the reflection of
the other. Wherever Time has gnawed one of the stones, you see the
mark of his tooth just as plainly in the sunken reflection. Each is so
perfect, that the upper vision seems a castle in the air, and the lower
one an old stronghold of feudalism, miraculously kept from decay in an
A ruinous and ivy-grown bridge, that projects from the bank a little on
the hither side of the castle, has the effect of making the scene appear
more entirely apart from the every-day world, for it ends abruptly in
the middle of the stream,--so that, if a cavalcade of the knights and
ladies of romance should issue from the old walls, they could never
tread on earthly ground, any more than we, approaching from the side of
modern realism, can overleap the gulf between our domain and theirs.
Yet, if we seek to disenchant ourselves, it may readily be done.
Crossing the bridge on which we stand, and passing a little farther on,
we come to the entrance of the castle, abutting on the highway, and
hospitably open at certain hours to all curious pilgrims who choose to
disburse half a crown or so towards the support of the Earl's domestics.
The sight of that long series of historic rooms, full of such splendors
and rarities as a great English family necessarily gathers about itself,
in its hereditary abode, and in the lapse of ages, is well worth the
money, or ten times as much, if indeed the value of the spectacle could
be reckoned in money's-worth. But after the attendant has hurried you
from end to end of the edifice, repeating a guide-book by rote, and
exorcising each successive hall of its poetic glamour and witchcraft
by the mere tone in which he talks about it, you will make the doleful
discovery that Warwick Castle has ceased to be a dream. It is better,
methinks, to linger on the bridge, gazing at Caesar's Tower and Guy's
Tower in the dim English sunshine above, and in the placid Avon below,
and still keep them as thoughts in your own mind, than climb to their
summits, or touch even a stone of their actual substance. They will have
all the more reality for you, as stalwart relics of immemorial time, if
you are reverent enough to leave them in the intangible sanctity of a
From the bridge over the Avon, the road passes in front of the
castle-gate, and soon enters the principal street of Warwick, a little
beyond St. John's School-House, already described. Chester itself, most
antique of English towns, can hardly show quainter architectural shapes
than many of the buildings that border this street. They are mostly of
the timber-and-plaster kind, with bowed and decrepit ridge-poles, and a
whole chronology of various patchwork in their walls; their low-browed
door-ways open upon a sunken floor; their projecting stories peep, as
it were, over one another's shoulders, and rise into a multiplicity of
peaked gables; they have curious windows, breaking out irregularly all
over the house, some even in the roof, set in their own little peaks,
opening lattice-wise, and furnished with twenty small panes of
lozenge-shaped glass. The architecture of these edifices (a visible
oaken framework, showing the whole skeleton of the house,--as if a man's
bones should be arranged on his outside, and his flesh seen through the
interstices) is often imitated by modern builders, and with sufficiently
picturesque effect. The objection is, that such houses, like all
imitations of by-gone styles, have an air of affectation; they do not
seem to be built in earnest; they are no better than playthings, or
overgrown baby-houses, in which nobody should be expected to encounter
the serious realities of either birth or death. Besides, originating
nothing, we leave no fashions for another age to copy, when we ourselves
shall have grown antique.
Old as it looks, all this portion of Warwick has overbrimmed, as it
were, from the original settlement, being outside of the ancient wall.
The street soon runs under an arched gateway, with a church or some
other venerable structure above it, and admits us into the heart of
the town. At one of my first visits, I witnessed a military display. A
regiment of Warwickshire militia, probably commanded by the Earl, was
going through its drill in the market-place; and on the collar of one of
the officers was embroidered the Bear and Ragged Staff, which has been
the cognizance of the Warwick earldom from time immemorial. The soldiers
were sturdy young men, with the simple, stolid, yet kindly, faces of
English rustics, looking exceedingly well in a body, but slouching into
a yeoman-like carriage and appearance, the moment they were dismissed
from drill. Squads of them were distributed everywhere about the
streets, and sentinels were posted at various points; and I saw a
sergeant, with a great key in his hand, (big enough to have been the key
of the castle's main entrance when the gate was thickest and heaviest,)
apparently setting a guard. Thus, centuries after feudal times are
past, we find warriors still gathering under the old castle-walls, and
commanded by a feudal lord, just as in the days of the King-Maker, who,
no doubt, often mustered his retainers in the same market-place where I
beheld this modern regiment.
The interior of the town wears a less old-fashioned aspect than the
suburbs through which we approach it; and the High Street has shops with
modern plate-glass, and buildings with stuccoed fronts, exhibiting as
few projections to hang a thought or sentiment upon as if an architect
of to-day had planned them. And, indeed, so far as their surface goes,
they are perhaps new enough to stand unabashed in an American street;
but behind these renovated faces, with their monotonous lack of
expression, there is probably the substance of the same old town that
wore a Gothic exterior in the Middle Ages. The street is an emblem of
England itself. What seems new in it is chiefly a skilful and fortunate
adaptation of what such a people as ourselves would destroy. The new
things are based and supported on sturdy old things, and derive a
massive strength from their deep and immemorial foundations, though with
such limitations and impediments as only an Englishman could endure.
But he likes to feel the weight of all the past upon his back; and,
moreover, the antiquity that overburdens him has taken root in his
being, and has grown to be rather a hump than a pack, so that there is
no getting rid of it without tearing his whole structure to pieces. In
my judgment, as he appears to be sufficiently comfortable under the
mouldy accretion, he had better stumble on with it as long as he can.
He presents a spectacle which is by no means without its charm for a
disinterested and unincumbered observer.
When the old edifice, or the antiquated custom or institution, appears
in its pristine form, without any attempt at intermarrying it with
modern fashions, an American cannot but admire the picturesque effect
produced by the sudden cropping up of an apparently dead-and-buried
state of society into the actual present, of which he is himself a part.
We need not go far in Warwick without encountering an instance of the
kind. Proceeding westward through the town, we find ourselves confronted
by a huge mass of natural rock, hewn into something like architectural
shape, and penetrated by a vaulted passage, which may well have been one
of King Cymbeline's original gateways; and on the top of the rock, over
the archway, sits a small, old church, communicating with an ancient
edifice, or assemblage of edifices, that look down from a similar
elevation on the side of the street. A range of trees half hides the
latter establishment from the sun. It presents a curious and venerable
specimen of the timber-and-plaster style of building, in which some of
the finest old houses in England are constructed; the front projects
into porticos and vestibules, and rises into many gables, some in a row,
and others crowning semi-detached portions of the structure; the windows
mostly open on hinges, but show a delightful irregularity of shape and
position; a multiplicity of chimneys break through the roof at their own
will, or, at least, without any settled purpose of the architect. The
whole affair looks very old,--so old, indeed, that the front bulges
forth, as if the timber framework were a little weary, at last, of
standing erect so long; but the state of repair is so perfect, and there
is such an indescribable aspect of continuous vitality within the system
of this aged house, that you feel confident that there may be safe
shelter yet, and perhaps for centuries to come, under its time-honored
roof. And on a bench, sluggishly enjoying the sunshine, and looking into
the street of Warwick as from a life apart, a few old men are generally
to be seen, wrapped in long cloaks, on which you may detect the
glistening of a silver badge representing the Bear and Ragged Staff.
These decorated worthies are some of the twelve brethren of Leicester's
Hospital,--a community which subsists to-day under the identical modes
that were established for it in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and of
course retains many features of a social life that has vanished almost
The edifice itself dates from a much older period than the charitable
institution of which it is now the home. It was the seat of a religious
fraternity far back in the Middle Ages, and continued so till Henry
VIII. turned all the priesthood of England out-of-doors, and put the
most unscrupulous of his favorites into their vacant abodes. In many
instances, the old monks had chosen the sites of their domiciles so
well, and built them on such a broad system of beauty and convenience,
that their lay-occupants found it easy to convert them into stately and
comfortable homes; and as such they still exist, with something of the
antique reverence lingering about them. The structure now before us
seems to have been first granted to Sir Nicholas Lestrange, who perhaps
intended, like other men, to establish his household gods in the niches
whence he had thrown down the images of saints, and to lay his hearth
where an altar had stood. But there was probably a natural reluctance
in those days (when Catholicism, so lately repudiated, must needs Lave
retained an influence over all but the most obdurate characters) to
bring one's hopes of domestic prosperity and a fortunate lineage into
direct hostility with the awful claims of the ancient religion. At all
events, there is still a superstitious idea, betwixt a fantasy and a
belief, that the possession of former Church-property has drawn a curse
along with it, not only among the posterity of those to whom it was
originally granted, but wherever it has subsequently been transferred,
even if honestly bought and paid for. There are families, now inhabiting
some of the beautiful old abbeys, who appear to indulge a species of
pride in recording the strange deaths and ugly shapes of misfortune that
have occurred among their predecessors, and may be supposed likely to
dog their own pathway down the ages of futurity. Whether Sir Nicholas
Lestrange, in the beef-eating days of Old Harry and Elizabeth, was a
nervous man, and subject to apprehensions of this kind, I cannot tell;
but it is certain that he speedily rid himself of the spoils of the
Church, and that, within twenty years afterwards, the edifice became the
property of the famous Dudley, Earl of Leicester, brother of the Earl of
Warwick. He devoted the ancient religious precinct to a charitable use,
endowing it with an ample revenue, and making it the perpetual home of
twelve poor, honest, and war-broken soldiers, mostly his own retainers,
and natives either of Warwickshire or Gloucestershire. These veterans,
or others wonderfully like them, still occupy their monkish dormitories
and haunt the time-darkened corridors and galleries of the hospital,
leading a life of old-fashioned comfort, wearing the old-fashioned
cloaks, and burnishing the identical silver badges which the Earl of
Leicester gave to the original twelve. He is said to have been a bad man
in his day; but he has succeeded in prolonging one good deed into what
was to him a distant future.
On the projecting story, over the arched entrance, there is the date,
1571, and several coats-of-arms, either the Earl's or those of his
kindred, and immediately above the door-way a stone sculpture of the
Bear and Ragged Staff.
Passing through the arch, we find ourselves in a quadrangle, or
inclosed court, such as always formed the central part of a great
family-residence in Queen Elizabeth's time, and earlier. There can
hardly be a more perfect specimen of such an establishment than
Leicester's Hospital. The quadrangle is a sort of sky-roofed hall, to
which there is convenient access from all parts of the house. The four
inner fronts, with their high, steep roofs and sharp gables, look into
it from antique windows, and through open corridors and galleries along
the sides; and there seems to be a richer display of architectural
devices and ornaments, quainter carvings in oak, and more fantastic
shapes of the timber framework, than on the side towards the street. On
the wall opposite the arched entrance are the following inscriptions,
comprising such moral rules, I presume, as were deemed most essential
for the daily observance of the community: "HONOR ALL MEN"--"FEAR
GOD"--"HONOR THE KING"--"LOVE THE BROTHERHOOD"; and again, as if this
latter injunction needed emphasis and repetition among a household of
aged people soured with the hard fortune of their previous lives,--"BE
KINDLY AFFECTIONED ONE TO ANOTHER." One sentence, over a door
communicating with the Master's side of the house, is addressed to
that dignitary,--"HE THAT RULETH OVER MEN MUST BE JUST." All these
are charactered in black-letter, and form part of the elaborate
ornamentation of the Louse. Everywhere--on the walls, over windows and
doors, and at all points where there is room to place them--appear
escutcheons of arms, cognizances, and crests, emblazoned in their proper
colors, and illuminating the ancient quadrangle with their splendor. One
of these devices is a large image of a porcupine on an heraldic wreath,
being the crest of the Lords de Lisle. But especially is the cognizance
of the Bear and Ragged Staff repeated over and over, and over again and
again, in a great variety of attitudes, at full-length and half-length,
in paint and in oaken sculpture, in bas-relief and rounded image.
The founder of the hospital was certainly disposed to reckon his own
beneficence as among the hereditary glories of his race; and had he
lived and died a half-century earlier, he would have kept up an old
Catholic custom by enjoining the twelve bedesmen to pray for the welfare
of his soul.
At my first visit, some of the brethren were seated on the bench outside
of the edifice, looking down into the street; but they did not vouchsafe
me a word, and seemed so estranged from modern life, so enveloped in
antique customs and old-fashioned cloaks, that to converse with them
would have been like shouting across the gulf between our age and
Queen Elizabeth's. So I passed into the quadrangle, and found it quite
solitary, except that a plain and neat old woman happened to be crossing
it, with an aspect of business and carefulness that bespoke her a woman
of this world, and not merely a shadow of the past. Asking her if I
could come in, she answered very readily and civilly that I might, and
said that I was free to look about me, hinting a hope, however, that I
would not open the private doors of the brotherhood, as some visitors
were in the habit of doing. Under her guidance, I went into what was
formerly the great hall of the establishment, where King James I. had
once been feasted by an Earl of Warwick, as is commemorated by an
inscription on the cobwebbed and dingy wall. It is a very spacious and
barn-like apartment, with a brick floor, and a vaulted roof, the rafters
of which are oaken beams, wonderfully carved, but hardly visible in
the duskiness that broods aloft. The hall may have made a splendid
appearance, when it was decorated with rich tapestry, and illuminated
with chandeliers, cressets, and torches glistening upon silver dishes,
while King James sat at supper among his brilliantly dressed nobles;
but it has come to base uses in these latter days,--being improved,
in Yankee phrase, as a brewery and wash-room, and as a cellar for the
brethren's separate allotments of coal.
The old lady here left me to myself, and I returned into the quadrangle.
It was very quiet, very handsome, in its own obsolete style, and must be
an exceedingly comfortable place for the old people to lounge in, when
the inclement winds render it inexpedient to walk abroad. There are
shrubs against the wall, on one side; and on another is a cloistered
walk, adorned with stags' heads and antlers, and running beneath a
covered gallery, up to which ascends a balustraded staircase. In the
portion of the edifice opposite the entrance-arch are the apartments
of the Master; and looking into the window, (as the old woman, at no
request of mine, had specially informed me that I might,) I saw a low,
but vastly comfortable parlor, very handsomely furnished, and altogether
a luxurious place. It had a fireplace with an immense arch, the antique
breadth of which extended almost from wall to wall of the room, though
now fitted up in such a way that the modern coal-grate looked very
diminutive in the midst. Gazing into this pleasant interior, it seemed
to me, that, among these venerable surroundings, availing himself of
whatever was good in former things, and eking out their imperfection
with the results of modern ingenuity, the Master might lead a not
unenviable life. On the cloistered side of the quadrangle, where the
dark oak panels made the inclosed space dusky, I beheld a curtained
window reddened by a great blaze from within, and heard the bubbling and
squeaking of something--doubtless very nice and succulent--that was
being cooked at the kitchen-fire. I think, indeed, that a whiff or
two of the savory fragrance reached my nostrils; at all events, the
impression grew upon me that Leicester's Hospital is one of the jolliest
old domiciles in England.
I was about to depart, when another old woman, very plainly dressed,
but fat, comfortable, and with a cheerful twinkle in her eyes, came in
through the arch, and looked curiously at me. This repeated apparition
of the gentle sex (though by no means under its loveliest guise) had
still an agreeable effect in modifying my ideas of an institution which
I had supposed to be of a stern and monastic character. She asked
whether I wished to see the hospital, and said that the porter, whose
office it was to attend to visitors, was dead, and would be buried that
very day, so that the whole establishment could not conveniently be
shown me. She kindly invited me, however, to visit the apartment
occupied by her husband and herself; so I followed her up the antique
staircase, along the gallery, and into a small, oak-panelled parlor,
where sat an old man in a long blue garment, who arose and saluted me
with much courtesy. He seemed a very quiet person, and yet had a look of
travel and adventure, and gray experience, such as I could have fancied
in a palmer of ancient times, who might likewise have worn a similar
costume. The little room was carpeted and neatly furnished; a portrait
of its occupant was hanging on the wall; and on a table were two swords
crossed,--one, probably, his own battle-weapon, and the other, which
I drew half out of the scabbard, had an inscription on the blade,
purporting that it had been taken from the field of Waterloo. My
kind old hostess was anxious to exhibit all the particulars of their
housekeeping, and led me into the bed-room, which was in the nicest
order, with a snow-white quilt upon the bed; and in a little intervening
room was a washing and bathing apparatus,--a convenience (judging from
the personal aspect and atmosphere of such parties) seldom to be met
with in the humbler ranks of British life.
The old soldier and his wife both seemed glad of somebody to talk with;
but the good woman availed herself of the privilege far more copiously
than the veteran himself, insomuch that he felt it expedient to give her
an occasional nudge with his elbow in her well-padded ribs. "Don't you
be so talkative!" quoth he; and, indeed, he could hardly find space for
a word, and quite as little after his admonition as before. Her nimble
tongue ran over the whole system of life in the hospital. The brethren,
she said, had a yearly stipend, (the amount of which she did not
mention,) and such decent lodgings as I saw, and some other advantages,
free; and instead of being pestered with a great many rules, and made
to dine together at a great table, they could manage their little
household-matters as they liked, buying their own dinners, and having
them cooked in the general kitchen, and eating them snugly in their own
parlors. "And," added she, rightly deeming this the crowning privilege,
"with the Master's permission, they can have their wives to take care of
them; and no harm comes of it; and what more can an old man desire?"
It was evident enough that the good dame found herself in what she
considered very rich clover, and, moreover, had plenty of small
occupations to keep her from getting rusty and dull; but the veteran
impressed me as deriving far less enjoyment from the monotonous ease,
without fear of change or hope of improvement, that had followed upon
thirty years of peril and vicissitude. I fancied, too, that, while
pleased with the novelty of a stranger's visit, he was still a little
shy of becoming a spectacle for the stranger's curiosity; for, if he
chose to be morbid about the matter, the establishment was but an
almshouse, in spite of its old-fashioned magnificence, and his fine blue
cloak only a pauper's garment, with a silver badge on it that perhaps
galled his shoulder. In truth, the badge and the peculiar garb, though
quite in accordance with the manners of the Earl of Leicester's age,
are repugnant to modern prejudices, and might fitly and humanely be
A year or two afterwards I paid another visit to the hospital, and found
a new porter established in office, and already capable of talking like
a guide-book about the history, antiquities, and present condition of
the charity. He informed me that the twelve brethren are selected from
among old soldiers of good character, whose private resources must
not exceed an income of five pounds; thus excluding all commissioned
officers, whose half-pay would of course be more than that amount. They
receive from the hospital an annuity of eighty pounds each, besides
their apartments, a garment of fine blue cloth, an annual abundance of
ale, and a privilege at the kitchen-fire; so that, considering the class
from which they are taken, they may well reckon themselves among the
fortunate of the earth. Furthermore, they are invested with political
rights, acquiring a vote for member of Parliament in virtue either
of their income or brotherhood. On the other hand, as regards their
personal freedom and conduct, they are subject to a supervision which
the Master of the hospital might render extremely annoying, were he so
inclined; but the military restraint under which they have spent the
active portion of their lives makes it easier for them to endure the
domestic discipline here imposed upon their age. The porter bore his
testimony (whatever were its value) to their being as contented and
happy as such a set of old people could possibly be, and affirmed that
they spent much time in burnishing their silver badges, and were as
proud of them as a nobleman of his star. These badges, by-the-by, except
one that was stolen and replaced in Queen Anne's time, are the very same
that decorated the original twelve brethren.
I have seldom met with a better guide than my friend the porter.
He appeared to take a genuine interest in the peculiarities of the
establishment, and yet had an existence apart from them, so that he
could the better estimate what those peculiarities were. To be sure, his
knowledge and observation were confined to external things, but, so
far, had a sufficiently extensive scope. He led me up the staircase
and exhibited portions of the timber framework of the edifice that are
reckoned to be eight or nine hundred years old, and are still neither
worm-eaten nor decayed; and traced out what had been a great hall, in
the days of the Catholic fraternity, though its area is now filled up
with the apartments of the twelve brethren; and pointed to ornaments of
sculptured oak, done in an ancient religious style of art, but hardly
visible amid the vaulted dimness of the roof. Thence we went to the
chapel--the Gothic church which I noted several pages back--surmounting
the gateway that stretches half across the street. Here the brethren
attend daily prayer, and have each a prayer-book of the finest paper,
with a fair, large type for their old eyes. The interior of the chapel
is very plain, with a picture of no merit for an altar-piece, and
a single old pane of painted glass in the great eastern window,
representing--no saint, nor angel, as is customary in such cases--but
that grim sinner, the Earl of Leicester. Nevertheless, amid so many
tangible proofs of his human sympathy, one comes to doubt whether the
Earl could have been such a hardened reprobate, after all.
We ascended the tower of the chapel, and looked down between its
battlements into the street, a hundred feet below us; while clambering
half-way up were foxglove-flowers, weeds, small shrubs, and tufts of
grass, that had rooted themselves into the roughnesses of the stone
foundation. Far around us lay a rich and lovely English landscape, with
many a church-spire and noble country-seat, and several objects of high
historic interest. Edge Hill, where the Puritans defeated Charles I., is
in sight on the edge of the horizon, and much nearer stands the house
where Cromwell lodged on the night before the battle. Right under our
eyes, and half-enveloping the town with its high-shouldering wall, so
that all the closely compacted streets seemed but a precinct of the
estate, was the Earl of Warwick's delightful park, a wide extent of
sunny lawns, interspersed with broad contiguities of forest-shade. Some
of the cedars of Lebanon were there,--a growth of trees in which the
Warwick family take an hereditary pride. The two highest towers of the
castle heave themselves up out of a mass of foliage, and look down in a
lordly manner upon the plebeian roofs of the town, a part of which are
slate-covered, (these are the modern houses,) and a part are coated with
old red tiles, denoting the more ancient edifices. A hundred and sixty
or seventy years ago, a great fire destroyed a considerable portion
of the town, and doubtless annihilated many structures of a remote
antiquity; at least, there was a possibility of very old houses in the
long past of Warwick, which King Cymbeline is said to have founded in
the year ONE of the Christian era!
And this historic fact or poetic fiction, whichever it may be, brings to
mind a more indestructible reality than anything else that has occurred
within the present field of our vision; though this includes the scene
of Guy of Warwick's legendary exploits, and some of those of the Round
Table, to say nothing of the Battle of Edge Hill. For perhaps it was
in the landscape now under our eyes that Post-humus wandered with the
King's daughter, the sweet, chaste, faithful, and courageous Imogen, the
tenderest and womanliest woman that Shakspeare ever made immortal in
the world. The silver Avon, which we see flowing so quietly by the gray
castle, may have held their images in its bosom.
The day, though it began brightly, had long been overcast, and the
clouds now spat down a few spiteful drops upon us, besides that the
east-wind was very chill; so we descended the winding tower-stair, and
went next into the garden, one side of which is shut in by almost the
only remaining portion of the old city-wall. A part of the garden-ground
is devoted to grass and shrubbery, and permeated by gravel-walks, in the
centre of one of which is a beautiful stone vase of Egyptian sculpture,
having formerly stood on the top of a Nilometer, or graduated pillar
for measuring the rise and fall of the River Nile. On the pedestal is
a Latin inscription by Dr. Parr, who (his vicarage of Hatton being so
close at hand) was probably often the Master's guest, and smoked his
interminable pipe along these garden-walks. Of the vegetable-garden,
which lies adjacent, the lion's share is appropriated to the Master, and
twelve small, separate patches to the individual brethren, who cultivate
them at their own judgment and by their own labor; and their beans
and cauliflowers have a better flavor, I doubt not, than if they had
received them directly from the dead hand of the Earl of Leicester, like
the rest of their food. In the farther part of the garden is an arbor
for the old men's pleasure and convenience, and I should like well to
sit down among them there, and find out what is really the bitter and
the sweet of such a sort of life. As for the old gentlemen themselves,
they put me queerly in mind of the Salem Custom-House, and the venerable
personages whom I found so quietly at anchor there.
The Master's residence, forming one entire side of the quadrangle,
fronts on the garden, and wears an aspect at once stately and homely.
It can hardly have undergone any perceptible change with in three
centuries; but the garden, into which its old windows look, has probably
put off a great many eccentricities and quaintnesses, in the way of
cunningly clipped shrubbery, since the gardener of Queen Elizabeth's
reign threw down his rusty shears and took his departure. The present
Master's name is Harris; he is a descendant of the founder's family, a
gentleman of independent fortune, and a clergyman of the Established
Church, as the regulations of the hospital require him to be. I know
not what are his official emoluments; but, according to all English
precedent, an ancient charitable fund is certain to be held directly for
the behoof of those who administer it, and perhaps incidentally, in a
moderate way, for the nominal beneficiaries; and, in the case before us,
the brethren being so comfortably provided for, the Master is likely to
be at least as comfortable as all the twelve together. Yet I ought not,
even in a distant land, to fling an idle gibe against a gentleman of
whom I really know nothing, except that the people under his charge bear
all possible tokens of being tended and cared for as sedulously as if
each of them sat by a warm fireside of his own, with a daughter bustling
round the hearth to make ready his porridge and his titbits. It is
delightful to think of the good life which a suitable man, in the
Master's position, has an opportunity to lead,--linked to time-honored
customs, welded in with an ancient system, never dreaming of radical
change, and bringing all the mellowness and richness of the past down
into these railway-days, which do not compel him or his community
to move a whit quicker than of yore. Everybody can appreciate the
advantages of going ahead; it might be well, sometimes, to think whether
there is not a word or two to be said in favor of standing still, or
going to sleep.
From the garden we went into the kitchen, where the fire was burning
hospitably, and diffused a genial warmth far and wide, together with the
fragrance of some old English roast-beef, which, I think must at that
moment have been nearly to a turn. The kitchen is a lofty, spacious,
and noble room, partitioned off round the fireplace by a sort of
semicircular oaken screen, or, rather, an arrangement of heavy and
high-backed settles, with an ever open entrance between them, on either
side of which is the omnipresent image of the Bear and Ragged Staff,
three feet high, and excellently carved in oak, now black with time and
unctuous kitchen-smoke. The ponderous mantel-piece, likewise of carved
oak, towers high towards the dusky ceiling, and extends its mighty
breadth to take in a vast area of hearth, the arch of the fireplace
being positively so immense that I could compare it to nothing but the
city-gateway. Above its cavernous opening were crossed two ancient
halberds, the weapons, possibly, of soldiers who had fought under
Leicester in the Low Countries; and elsewhere on the walls were
displayed several muskets, which some of the present inmates of the
hospital may have levelled against the French. Another ornament of the
mantel-piece was a square of silken needlework or embroidery, faded
nearly white, but dimly representing that wearisome Bear and Ragged
Staff, which we should hardly look twice at, only that it was wrought by
the fair fingers of poor Amy Robsart, and beautifully framed in oak from
Kenilworth Castle at the expense of a Mr. Conner, a countryman of our
own. Certainly, no Englishman would be capable of this little bit of
enthusiasm. Finally, the kitchen-firelight glistens on a splendid
display of copper flagons, all of generous capacity, and one of them
about as big as a half-barrel; the smaller vessels contain the customary
allowance of ale, and the larger one is filled with that foaming liquor
on four festive occasions of the year, and emptied amain by the jolly
brotherhood. I should be glad to see them do it; but it would be an
exploit fitter for Queen Elizabeth's age than these degenerate times.
The kitchen is the social hall of the twelve brethren. In the day-time,
they bring their little messes to be cooked here, and eat them in their
own parlors; but after a certain hour, the great hearth is cleared and
swept, and the old men assemble round its blaze, each with his tankard
and his pipe, and hold high converse through the evening. If the Master
be a fit man for his office, methinks he will sometimes sit down
sociably among them; for there is an elbow-chair by the fireside which
it would not demean his dignity to fill, since it was occupied by King
James at the great festival of nearly three centuries ago. A sip of the
ale and a whiff of the tobacco-pipe would put him in friendly relations
with his venerable household; and then we can fancy him instructing them
by pithy apothegms and religious texts which were first uttered here by
some Catholic priest and have impregnated the atmosphere ever since. If
a joke goes round, it shall be of an elder coinage than Joe Miller's, as
old as Lord Bacon's collection, or as the jest-book that Master Slender
asked for when he lacked small-talk for sweet Anne Page. No news shall
be spoken of, later than the drifting ashore, on the northern coast,
of sonic stern-post or figure-head, a barnacled fragment of one of the
great galleons of the Spanish Armada. What a tremor would pass through
the antique group, if a damp newspaper should suddenly be spread to dry
before the fire! They would feel as if either that printed sheet or they
themselves must be an unreality. What a mysterious awe, if the shriek
of the railway-train, as it reaches the Warwick station, should ever so
faintly invade their ears! Movement of any kind seems inconsistent with
the stability of such an institution. Nevertheless, I trust that the
ages will carry it along with them; because it is such a pleasant kind
of dream for an American to find his way thither, and behold a piece of
the sixteenth century set into our prosaic times, and then to depart,
and think of its arched door-way as a spell-guarded entrance which will
never be accessible or visible to him any more.
Not far from the market-place of Warwick stands the great church of St.
Mary's: a vast edifice, indeed, and almost worthy to be a cathedral.
People who pretend to skill in such matters say that it is in a poor
style of architecture, though designed (or, at least, extensively
restored) by Sir Christopher Wren; but I thought it very striking, with
its wide, high, and elaborate windows, its tall tower, its immense
length, and (for it was long before I outgrew this Americanism, the
love of an old thing merely for the sake of its age) the tinge of gray
antiquity over the whole. Once, while I stood gazing up at the tower,
the clock struck twelve with a very deep intonation, and immediately
some chimes began to play, and kept up their resounding music for five
minutes, as measured by the hand upon the dial. It was a very delightful
harmony, as airy as the notes of birds, and seemed a not unbecoming
freak of half-sportive fancy in the huge, ancient, and solemn church;
although I have seen an old-fashioned parlor-clock that did precisely
the same thing, in its small way.
The great attraction of this edifice is the Beauchamp (or, as the
English, who delight in vulgarizing their fine old Norman names, call
it, the Beechum) Chapel, where the Earls of Warwick and their kindred
have been buried, from four hundred years back till within a recent
period. It is a stately and very elaborate chapel, with a large window
of ancient painted glass, as perfectly preserved as any that I remember
seeing in England, and remarkably vivid in its colors. Here are several
monuments with marble figures recumbent upon them, representing the
Earls in their knightly armor, and their dames in the ruffs and
court-finery of their day, looking hardly stiffer in stone than they
must needs have been in their starched linen and embroidery. The
renowned Earl of Leicester of Queen Elizabeth's time, the benefactor
of the hospital, reclines at full length on the tablet of one of these
tombs, side by side with his Countess,--not Amy Robsart, but a lady who
(unless I have confused the story with some other mouldy scandal) is
said to have avenged poor Amy's murder by poisoning the Earl himself.
Be that as it may, both figures, and especially the Earl, look like the
very types of ancient Honor and Conjugal Faith. In consideration of
his long-enduring kindness to the twelve brethren, I cannot consent to
believe him as wicked as he is usually depicted; and it seems a marvel,
now that so many well-established historical verdicts have been
reversed, why some enterprising writer does not make out Leicester to
have been the pattern nobleman of his age.
In the centre of the chapel is the magnificent memorial of its founder,
Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick in the time of Henry VI. On a richly
ornamented altar-tomb of gray marble lies the bronze figure of a knight
in gilded armor, most admirably executed: for the sculptors of those
days had wonderful skill in their own style, and could make so life-like
an image of a warrior, in brass or marble, that, if a trumpet were
sounded over his tomb, you would expect him to start up and handle his
sword. The Earl whom we now speak of, however, has slept soundly in
spite of a more serious disturbance than any blast of a trumpet, unless
it were the final one. Some centuries after his death, the floor of the
chapel fell down and broke open the stone coffin in which he was buried;
and among the fragments appeared the Earl of Warwick, with the color
scarcely faded out of his checks, his eyes a little sunken, but in other
respects looking as natural as if he had died yesterday. But exposure to
the atmosphere appeared to begin and finish the long-delayed process of
decay in a moment, causing him to vanish like a bubble; so that, almost
before there had been time to wonder at him, there was nothing left of
the stalwart Earl save his hair. This sole relic the ladies of Warwick
made prize of, and braided it into rings and brooches for their own
adornment; and thus, with a chapel and a ponderous tomb built on purpose
to protect his remains, this great nobleman could not help being brought
untimely to the light of day, nor even keep his love-locks on his skull
after he had so long done with love. There seems to be a fatality that
disturbs people in their sepulchres, when they have been over-careful to
render them magnificent and impregnable,--as witness the builders of
the Pyramids, and Hadrian, Augustus, and the Scipios, and most other
personages whose mausoleums have been conspicuous enough to attract the
violator; and as for dead men's hair, I have seen a lock of King Edward
the Fourth's, of a reddish-brown color, which perhaps was once twisted
round the delicate forefinger of Mistress Shore.
The direct lineage of the renowned characters that lie buried in this
splendid chapel has long been extinct. The earldom is now held by
the Grevilles, descendants of the Lord Brooke who was slain in the
Parliamentary War; and they have recently (that is to say, within
a century) built a burial-vault on the other side of the church,
calculated (as the sexton assured me, with a nod as if be were pleased)
to afford suitable and respectful accommodation to as many as fourscore
coffins. Thank Heaven, the old man did not call them "CASKETS"!--a vile
modern phrase, which compels a person of sense and good taste to shrink
more disgustfully than ever before from the idea of being buried at
all. But as regards those eighty coffins, only sixteen have as yet
been contributed; and it may be a question with some minds, not merely
whether the Grevilles will hold the earldom of Warwick until the
full number shall be made up, but whether earldoms and all manner of
lordships will not have faded out of England long before those many
generations shall have passed from the castle to the vault. I hope not.
A titled and landed aristocracy, if anywise an evil and an incumbrance,
is so only to the nation which is doomed to bear it on its shoulders;
and an American, whose sole relation to it is to admire its picturesque
effect upon society, ought to be the last man to quarrel with what
affords him so much gratuitous enjoyment. Nevertheless, conservative
as England is, and though I scarce ever found an Englishman who seemed
really to desire change, there was continually a dull sound in my ears
as if the old foundations of things were crumbling away. Some time or
other,--by no irreverent effort of violence, but, rather, in spite of
all pious efforts to uphold a heterogeneous pile of institutions that
will have outlasted their vitality,--at some unexpected moment, there
must come a terrible crash. The sole reason why I should desire it to
happen in my day is, that I might be there to see! But the ruin of my
own country is, perhaps, all that I am destined to witness; and that
immense catastrophe (though I am strong in the faith that there is a
national lifetime of a thousand years in us yet) would serve any man
well enough as his final spectacle on earth.
If the visitor is inclined to carry away any little memorial of Warwick,
he had better go to an Old Curiosity Shop in the High Street, where
there is a vast quantity of obsolete gewgaws, great and small, and many
of them so pretty and ingenious that you wonder how they came to be
thrown aside and forgotten. As regards its minor tastes, the world
changes, but does not improve; it appears to me, indeed, that there have
been epochs of far more exquisite fancy than the present one, in matters
of personal ornament, and such delicate trifles as we put upon a
drawing-room table, a mantel-piece, or a what-not. The shop in question
is near the East Gate, but is hardly to be found without careful
search, being denoted only by the name of "REDFERN," painted not very
conspicuously in the top-light of the door. Immediately on entering, we
find ourselves among a confusion of old rubbish and valuables, ancient
armor, historic portraits, ebony cabinets inlaid with pearl, tall,
ghostly clocks, hideous old China, dim looking-glasses in frames of
tarnished magnificence,--a thousand objects of strange aspect, and
others that almost frighten you by their likeness in unlikeness to
things now in use. It is impossible to give an idea of the variety of
articles, so thickly strewn about that we can scarcely move without
overthrowing some great curiosity with a crash, or sweeping away some
small one hitched to our sleeves. Three stories of the entire house are
crowded in like manner. The collection, even as we see it exposed to
view, must have been got together at great cost; but the real treasures
of the establishment lie in secret repositories, whence they are not
likely to be drawn forth at an ordinary summons; though, if a gentleman
with a competently long purse should call for them, I doubt not that
the signet-ring of Joseph's friend Pharaoh, or the Duke of Alva's
leading-staff, or the dagger that killed the Duke of Buckingham, or
any other almost incredible thing, might make its appearance. Gold
snuff-boxes, antique gems, jewelled goblets, Venetian wine-glasses,
(which burst when poison is poured into them, and therefore must not be
used for modern wine-drinking,) jasper-handled knives, painted Sevres
teacups,--in short, there are all sorts of things that a virtuoso
ransacks the world to discover.
It would be easier to spend a hundred pounds in Mr. Redfern's shop than
to keep it in one's pocket; but, for my part, I contented myself with
buying a little old spoon of silver-gilt, and fantastically shaped, and
got it at all the more reasonable rate because there happened to be no
legend attached to it. I could supply any deficiency of that kind at
much less expense than re-gilding the spoon!
* * * * *
LYRICS OF THE STREET.
THE CHARITABLE VISITOR.
She carries no flag of fashion, her clothes are but passing plain,
Though she comes from a city palace all jubilant with her reign.
She threads a bewildering alley, with ashes and dust thrown out,
And fighting and cursing children, who mock as she moves about.
Why walk you this way, my lady, in the snow and slippery ice?
These are not the shrines of virtue,--here misery lives, and vice:
Rum helps the heart of starvation to a courage bold and bad;
And women are loud and brawling, while men sit maudlin and mad.
I see in the corner yonder the boy with the broken arm,
And the mother whose blind wrath did it, strange guardian from childish
That face will grow bright at your coming, but your steward might come
Or better the Sunday teacher that helped him to read and spell.
Oh! I do not come of my willing, with froward and restless feet;
I have pleasant tasks in my chamber, and friends well-beloved to greet.
To follow the dear Lord Jesus I walk in the storm and snow;
Where I find the trace of His footsteps, there lilies and roses grow.
He said that to give was blessed, more blessed than to receive;
But what could He take, dear angels, of all that we had to give,
Save a little pause of attention, and a little thrill of delight,
When the dead were waked from their slumbers, and the blind recalled to
Say, the King came forth with the morning, and opened His palace-doors,
Thence flinging His gifts like sunbeams that break upon marble floors;
But the wind with wild pinions caught them, and carried them round
Though I looked till mine eyes were dazzled, I never could make them out.
But He bade me go far and find them, "go seek them with zeal and pain;
The hand is most welcome to me that brings me mine own again;
And those who follow them farthest, with faithful searching and sight,
Are brought with joy to my presence, and sit at my feet all night."
So, hither and thither walking, I gather them broadly cast;
Where yonder young face doth sicken, it may be the best and last.
In no void or vague of duty I come to his aid to-day;
I bring God's love to his bed-side, and carry God's gift away.
"Miss Anna! Miss Anna! Doctor Percival is waiting for you," were the
opening words of the next day's life. Its bells had had no influence in
restoring me to consciousness of existence. I never have liked metallic
commanders. Now Jeffy's Ethiopian tones were inspiriting, and to their
music I began the mystic march of another day.
Doctor Percival was not out of patience, it seemed, with waiting; for,
as I went in, he was so engrossed with a morning paper that he did not
even look up, or notice me, until I made myself vocal, and then only to
"Ring for breakfast, Anna; I shall have done by the time it comes."
"It is here, father"; and he dropped the newspaper, turned his chair to
the table, leaned his arms upon it, covered his precious face with two
thin, quivering hands, and remained thus, whilst I prepared coffee, and
lingered as long as possible in the seeming occupation.
Jeffy--and I suspect that the mischievous African designed the
act--overturned the coffee in handing it to my father, who is not
endowed with the most equable temper ever consigned to mortals; but this
morning he did not give Jeffy even a severe look, for his eyes were full
of tender pity, such as I had never seen in them in all the past.
"How is your patient?" I asked.
"Better, thank God!" he replied.
"Were you with him all night?"
"Yes, all night. I must go out this morning to see some patients. I'll
send up a nurse from the hospital on my way. I don't think the delirium
will return before mid-day; can you watch him till then, Anna?"--and
he asked with a seeming doubt either of my willingness or my ability,
perhaps a mingling of both.
I did not like to recount my serious failures with Miss Axtell, but I
"I will try."
Before he went, he took me in to the place of my watching. The gentleman
was asleep. The housekeeper was quite willing to relinquish her office.
The good physician gave me orders concerning the febrifuge to be
administered in case of increase of febrile symptoms, and saying that
"it wouldn't be long ere some one came to relieve me," he bent over the
sleeping patient for an instant, and the next was gone.
I think a half-hour must have fled in silence, when Jeffy stole in, his
eyes opening as Chloe's had done not many days agone, when the vision
of myself was painted thereon. I upheld a cautionary index, and he was
still as a mouse, but like a mouse he proceeded to investigate; he
opened a bureau-drawer the least way, and pushing his arm in where my
laces were wont to dwell, he drew out, with exultant delight, the wig
"What _do_ you s'pose _he_ wants with this thing'?" whispered Jeffy; and
he pointed to the soft, fair masses of curling hair that rested against
Jeffy was a spoiled boy,--"my doing," everybody said, and it may
have been truly. He was Chloe's son, and had inherited her ways and
affectionate heart, and for these I forgave him much.
I said, "Hush!"--whereupon he lifted up the wig and deposited it upon
the top of his tangled circlets of hair before I could stay him.
I reached out my hand for it, not venturing on words, for fear of
disturbing the patient; but Jeffy, with unpardonable wilfulness, danced
out of my circuit, and at the same instant the sick man turned his head,
and beheld Jeffy in the possession of his property. Jeffy looked very
repentant, said in low, deprecatory tones, "I'm sorry," and, depositing
the wig in the drawer, hastened to escape, which I know he would not
have done but for the disabled condition of the invalid, who could only
look his wrath. I had so hoped that he would sleep until some one came;
but this unfortunate Jeffy had dissipated my hope, and left me in
In the vain endeavor to restore the scattered influence of Morpheus,
I flew to one of the aids of the mystic god, and beseeching its
assistance, I prepared to administer the draught. I could not find a
spoon on the instant. When I did, I made a mistake in dropping the
opiate, and was obliged to commence anew, and all the while that
handsome face, with large, pleading eyes in it, held me in painful
duress. When I turned towards him and held the glass to his lips, I
trembled, as I had not done, even in the church, when Abraham Axtell and
I stood before the opened entrance into earth. All the words that I that
day had heard in the tower were ringing like clarions in the air, and
they shook me with their vibrant forces.
"Am _I_ in heaven?"
It was the same voice that had said to Miss Axtell, "Will you send me
out again?" that spake these words.
Was he going into delirium again? I was desirous of keeping him upon our
planet, and I said,--
"Oh, no,--they don't need morphine in heaven."
"They need _you_ there, though. You must go _now_," he said; and he made
an effort to take the glass from my hand.
"I have never been in heaven," I said.
"Then they deceive, they deceive, and there isn't any heaven! Oh, what
if after all there shouldn't be such a place?"
He lifted up his one usable hand in agony.
"We wait until we die, before going there," I said; "I am alive, don't
"Alive, and not dead? you! whom I killed eighteen years ago, have you
come to reproach me now? Oh, I have suffered, even to atonement, for it!
You would pardon, if you only knew what I have suffered for you."
Surely delirium had returned. I urged the poor man to take the contents
of the glass.
He promised, upon condition of my forgiveness,--forgiveness for having
killed me, who never had been killed, who was surely alive. Jeffy had
come in again, and had listened to the pleading.
"Why don't you tell him yes, Miss Anna? He doesn't know a word he's
sayin'. It'll keep him quiet like; he's like a baby," he whispered, with
a covert pull at my dress by way of impressment.
And so, guided by Chloe's boy, I said, "I forgive."
"Why don't you go, if you forgive me? I don't like to keep you here,
when you belong up there"; and he pointed his words by the aid of his
I knew then _why_ Miss Axtell had loved this man: it was simply one of
those cruel, compulsory offerings up of self, that allure one, in open
sight of torture, on to the altar. Oh, poor woman! why hath thy Maker
so forsaken thee? And in mute wonder at this most wondrous wrong, that
crept into mortal life when the serpent went out through Eden and
left an opening in the Garden, I forgot for the while my present
responsibility, in compassionate pity for the pale, beautiful lady in
Redleaf, into whose heart this man had come,--unwillingly, I knew, when
I looked into his face, and yet, _having come, must grow into its Eden,
even unto the time that Eternity shadows;_ and I sent out the arms of my
spirit, and twined them invisibly around her, who truly had spoken when
she said, "I want you," with such hungry tones. God, the Infinite,
has given me comprehension of such women, has given me His own loving
pity,--in little human grains, it is true, but they come from "the
shining shore." "Miss Axtell does want me," I thought; "she is right,--I
am gladness to her."
"Will you go?" came from the invalid.
"A woman, loving thus, never comes alone into a friend's heart,"
something said; "you must receive her shadow"; and I looked at the
person who had said, "Will you go?"
There are various words used in the dictionary of life, descriptive
of men such as him now before me. They mostly are formed in syllables
numbering four and five, which all integrate in the one word
_irresistible_: how pitifully I abhor that word!--every letter has a
serpent-coil in it. "Love thy neighbor even as thyself." It is good that
these words came just here to wall themselves before the torrent that
might not have been stayed until I had laid the mountain of my thought
upon the sycophantic syllabication that the world loves to "lip" unto
the world,--the false world, that, blinded, blinds to blinder blindness
those that fain would behold. There is a crying out in the earth for
a place of torment; there are sins for which we want what God hath
prepared for the wicked.
"Are you going?"--and this time there was plaintive moaning in the
"You must take him in, too," my spirit whispered; and I acted the "I
will" that formed in the mental court where my soul sat enthroned,--my
"Oh, no, I am not going away," I said; "I am come to stay with you,
until some one else comes."
A certain resignment of opposition seemed to be effected. I knew it
would be so,--it is in all such natures,--and he seemed intent upon
making atonement for his imaginary wrong, since I would stay.
"Mary, I didn't mean to kill you," he said; "I wouldn't have destroyed
your young life; oh! I wouldn't;--but I did! I did!"
"You make some strange mistake; you ought not to talk," I urged,
surprised at this second time being called Mary.
"Yes, I guess 'twas a mistake,--you're right, all a mistake,--I didn't
mean to kill you; but I did _him_, though. Oh! I wanted to destroy
him,--_he hadn't any pity, he wouldn't yield_. But it's _you_, Mary,
_you_ oughtn't to hear me say such things of _him_."
"I am not Mary, I am Miss Percival; and you may tell me."
"I beg pardon, I had no right to call you Mary; but it is there, now, on
your tomb-stone in the old church-yard,--Mary Percival,--there isn't any
Miss there. Do they call you Miss Percival in heaven?"--and he began to
sing, deep, stirring songs of rhythmic melody, that catch up individual
existences and bear them to congregated continents, where mountains sing
and seas respond, amid the _encore_ of starry spheres.
O Music! if we could but divine thee, dear divinity, thou mightst be
less divine! then let us be content to be divinized in thee!--and I was.
I let him sing, knowing that it was in delirium; and for the moment my
wonder ceased concerning Miss Axtell's love for Herbert.
This while, Jeffy stood speechless, transfused into melody. Whence came
this love of Africans for harmonious measure? Oh, I remember: the scroll
of song whereon were written the accents of the joyed morning-stars,
when they grew jubilant that earth stood create, was let fall by an
angel upon Afric's soil. No one of the children of the land was found of
wisdom sufficient to read the hieroglyphs; therefore the sacred roll was
divided among the souls in the nation: unto each was given one note from
the divine whole.
"Jeffy must have received a semi-breve as his portion," I thought, for
he was rapt in ecstasy.
"Oh, sing again!" he said, unconsciously, when, exhausted, the invalid
reached the shore of Silence,--where he did not long linger, for he
changed his song to lament that he could not reach his ship, that would
sail before he could recover; and he made an effort to rise. He fell
It seemed a great blessing that at this moment the housekeeper
introduced the person Doctor Percival had sent.
That night, and for many after, it seemed, my father looked extremely
anxious. I did not see the patient again until the eventful twenty-fifth
of March was past.
Two days only was I permitted for my visit. Would Miss Axtell expect me?
or had she, it might be, forgotten that she had asked my presence?
My father had not forgotten the obligation of the ring of gold; he made
allusion to it in the moment of parting, and I felt it tightening about
me more and more as the miles of sea and land rolled back over our
separation; and a question, asked long ago and unanswered yet, was
repeated in my mental realm,--"Canst thou bind the sweet influences of
the Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?" and I said, "I will not
It was evening when I arrived at the parsonage. Sophie was full of sweet
sisterly joy on seeing me, and of surprise when I told her what had
occurred in our father's house. It was so unprecedented, this taking in
a stranger whose name and home were unknown; for I could not tell Sophie
my conviction that father had discovered who the patient was.
"Miss Axtell is almost well." Sophie gave the information before I found
time to ask. "She pleases to be quite charming to me. I hope she will be
equally gracious to you." And so I hoped.
From out the ark of the round year God sends some day-doves of summer
into the barren spring-time, to sing of coming joys and peck the buds
into opening. One of His sending brooded over Redleaf when I walked
forth in its morning-time to redeem my promise.
"Miss Percival! I'm so glad!"
Katie showed me into the room that once I had been so much afraid of.
She did not long leave me there.
"Miss Lettie would like to see you in her room."
Sophie was right. She is almost well.
"Come!" was the sole word that met my entering in; then followed two
small acts, supposed to be conventionalities. Isn't it good that all
suppositions are _not_ based upon truth? I thought it good then. I hope
I may away on to the dawning of the new life.
This was my first seeing of Miss Axtell in her self-light. She said,--
"This is the only day that I have been down in time for
breakfast,"--she, who looked as if the fair Dead-Sea fruits had been all
of sustenance that had dropped through the leaden waves for her; and
an emotion of awe swept past me, borne upon the renewal of the
consciousness that I had been made essential to her.
"I knew that you would come," she continued. "Oh! I have great
confidence in you; you must never disappoint me,--will you?"--and,
playfully, she motioned me to the footstool where she had appointed me a
place on the first night when she told me of her mother, dead.
I assured her that I should. I must begin that moment by mentioning the
time of my visit's duration.
"How long?" and there was import in the tone of her voice.
"I must be at home to-morrow morning."
I answered, "None,"--and turned the circlet of obligation upon my
"I am glad you told me; I like limits; I wish to know the precise moment
when my rainbows will disband. It's very nice, meeting Fate half-way;
there's consolation in knowing that it will have as far to go as you on
the return voyage."
I smiled; a little inward ripple of gladness sent muscle-waves to my
lips. She noticed it, and her tone changed.
"I see, I see, my good little Anemone! You don't know how exultant it
is to stand alone, above the forest of your fellows,--to lift up your
highest bough of feeling,--to meet the Northland's fiercest courser that
thinks to lay you low. Did you ever turn to see the expression with
which the last leap of wind is met, the peculiar suavity of the bowing
of the boughs, that says as plainly as ever did speaking leaves, '_You
have left me myself_'? You don't understand these things, you small
wind-flower, that have grown sheltered from all storms!"
"One would think not, Miss Axtell, but"--and I paused until she bade me
"Perhaps it is vanity,--I hope not,--but it seems to me that I have a
mirror of all Nature set into the frame of my soul. It isn't a part of
myself; it is a mental telescope, that resolves the actions of all the
people around me into myriads of motives, atomies of inducement, that I
see woven and webbed around them, by the sight-power given. Besides, I
am not an anemone,--oh, no! I am something more substantial."
"I see, very"; and before I could divine her intent, she had lifted up
my face in both her hands and held my eyes in her own intensity of gaze,
as, oh, long ago! I remember my mother to have done, when she doubted my
Miss Axtell was engaged in looking over old treasured letters, bits of
memory-memoranda, when I arrived. She had laid them aside to greet me,
somewhat hastily, and a rustling commotion testified their feeling at
their summary disposal. Now she sat framed in by the yellow-and-white
foam, that had settled to motionlessness,--an island in the midst of
waves of memory.
"Did you bring my treasures?" were the first words, after investigating
"They are safely here."
I gave the package.
She made no mention of former occurrences. She trusted me implicitly,
with that far-deep of confidence that says, "Explanation would be
useless; your spirit recognizes mine." She only said, drooping her regal
head with the slightest dip into motion,--
"I want to tell you a story; it is of people who are, some in heaven and
some upon the earth;--a story with which you must have something to do
for me, because I cannot do it for myself. I did not intend telling so
soon, but my disbanded rainbow lies in the future."
Before commencing, she wandered up and down the room a little, stopped
before the dressing-bureau, brushed back the hair, with many repetitions
of stroke, from the temples wherein so much of worship had been
gathered, smoothed down the swollen arches of veinery that fretted
across either temple's dome, looked one moment into the censers of
incense that burned always with emotionary fires, flashed out a little
superabundant flame into the cold quicksilver, turned the key, fastening
our two selves in, examined the integrity of the latch leading into the
dressing-room beyond, threw up the window-sash,--the same one that Mr.
Axtell had lifted to look out into the night for her,--asked, "should I
be cold, if she left it open?" looked contentment at my negative answer,
rolled the lounge out to where her easy-chair was still vibrating in
memory of her late presence, made me its occupant, reached out for the
package over which I had been guardian, pinioned it between her two
beautiful hands, laid it down one moment to wrap a shawl around me,
then, resuming it, sat where she had when she said, "I want to tell you
a story," and perhaps she was praying. I may never know, but it was many
moments before she made answer to my slight touch, "Yes, child, I have
not forgotten," and with face hidden from me she told me her story.
MISS AXTELL'S STORY.
"Alice Axtell was my sister. Eighteen years ago last August-time she was
"There has been beauty in the Axtell race; in her it was radiant. It
would have been truth to say, 'She is beautiful.'
"I said that it was August-time,--the twenty-seventh day of the month.
Alice and I had been out in the little bay outside of Redcliff beach,
with your sister. You don't remember her: she was like you. Doctor
Percival had given Mary a boat, taught her to row it, and she had that
afternoon given Alice a first lesson in the art. The day went down hot
and sultry; we lingered on the cooler beach until near evening. We
saw clouds lying dark along the western horizon, and that voiceless
lightnings played in them. Then we came home. The air was tiresome, the
walk seemed endless; still Alice and Mary lingered at the gate of your
father's house to say their last words. The mid-summer weariness was
over us both, as we reached home. We came up to this room,--our room
then. Alice said,--
"'I think I shall go to bed, I'm so tired.'
"She closed the blinds. As she did so, a crash of thunder came.
"'We're going to have a thunder-shower, after all,' she said; 'how
quickly it is coming up! Come and see.'
"I looked a moment out. Jet masses of vapor were curling up amid the
stars, blotting out, one by one, their brightness from the sky. Alice
was always timid in thunder-storms. She shuddered, as a second flash
pealed out its thunder, and crept up to me. I put my arms around her,
and rested my cheek against her head. She was trembling violently.
"'Lie down, Allie; let me close the other blinds; don't look out any
"Our mother came in.
"'I came to see if the windows were all down,' she said; 'it will rain
in a moment'; and she hurried away, and I heard her closing, one after
another, the windows that had been all day open.
"Alice lay for a long time quietly. The storm uprose with fearful might;
it shook the house in its passing grasp, and I sat by this table,
listening to the music wrought out of the thunderous echoes.
"'Couldn't we have a window open?' Alice asked; 'I feel stifled in
here'; and she went across the room and lifted the sash before I was
"I looked around, when I heard the noise. The same instant there came a
blinding, dazzling light; then, that awful vacuous rattle in the throat
of thunder that tells it comes in the name of Death the destroyer.
"'Oh, Allie, come away!' I screamed.
"In obedience to my wish, she leaned towards me; but, oh, her face! I
caught her, ere she fell, even. I sent out the wings of my voice, but no
one heard me, no one came. I could not lift her in my arms, so I laid
her upon the floor, and ran down.
"'Go to Alice,--the lightning!' was all I could say, and it was enough.
I heard groans before I gained the street.
"My pale, silent sister was stronger than the storm which flapped its
wings around me and threatened to take me to its eyry; but it did not;
it permitted me to gain Doctor Percival's door. I was dazzled with the
lightning, only my brain was distinct with 'its skeleton of woe,' when I
found myself in your father's house.
"I could not see the faces that were there. I asked for Doctor Percival.
Some one answered, 'He is not come home. What has happened?' and Mary
ran forward in alarm.
"'It is lightning! Oh, come!' was all that I could utter; and with me
there went out into the pouring rain every soul that was there when I
"'She is dead; there is nothing to be done.'
"Three hours after the stroke, these words came. Then I looked up.
Alice, with her little white face of perfect beauty, lay upon that bed.
Thunder-storms would never more make her tremble, never awake to fear
the spirit gone. It was Doctor Percival from whom these fateful words
came. I had had so much hope! In very desperation of feeling, I strove
to look up to his face. My eyes were arrested before they reached him.
"'By what?' did you ask?"
Her long silence had incited me to question, and she turned her face to
me, and slowly said,--
"By the Lightning of Life.
"Two sisters, in one night,--one unto Death, the other unto Life. Beside
Doctor Percival was standing one. I do not know what he was like, I
cannot tell you; but, believe me, it is solemnly true, that, that
instant, this human being flashed into my heart and soul. I saw, and
felt, and have heard the rolling thunder that followed the flash to this
very hour. It was very hard, over my Alice. If I had only been she, how
much, how much happier it would have been!--and yet it must have been
wiser. She could not have endured to the end. She would have failed in
the bitterness of the trial.
"My Alice! I am devoutly thankful that you are safe in heaven!"--and for
a moment the hands were lifted up from the treasured packet; they closed
over it, and she went on.
"Alice was wrapped up in earth. In the moment when the first fold of the
clod-mantle, that trails about us all at the last, fell protectingly
over her, I was in that condition of superlative misery that cries out
for something to the very welkin that sends down such harsh hardness;
and I hurried my eyes out of the open grave, only to find them again
arrested by the same soul that had stood beside Doctor Percival and
Alice in her death. They said something to me, kinder than ever came out
of the blue vault, and yet they awoke the fever of resistance. I would
have no thought but that of Alice. What right had any other to come in
then and there?
"September came. Its days brought my sorrow to me ever anew. The early
dew baptized it; the great sun laid his hot hand upon its brow and named
it Death, in the name of the Mighty God; and the evening stars looked
down on me, rocking Alice in my soul, and singing lamentful lullabies
to her, sleeping, till such time as Lethean vapors curled through the
horizon of my mind, and hid its formless shadows of suffering.
"Mary Percival was Alice's best friend; as such, she came to comfort and
to mourn with me. One day, it was the latest of September's thirty, Mary
lured me on to the sea-shore, and into her small boat once more. Little
echoes of gladness sprang up from the sea; voices from Alice's silence
floated on the unbroken waves.
"'You look a little like yourself again; I'm so glad to see it!' Mary
said. 'There comes Mr. McKey. I wonder what brings him here.'
"I looked up, and saw, slowly walking on to the point at which Mary was
securing her boat, the possessor of the existence that had come into
mine. There was no way for me to flee, except seaward; and of two
suicides I chose the pleasanter, and I stayed.
"'Who is it, Mary?' I had time to question, and she to answer.
"'It is Bernard McKey; he has come to study medicine in papa's office;
he came the night Alice died.'
"He was too near to permit of questioning more, and so I stood upon the
seashore and saw my fate coming close.
"Mary simply said, 'Good evening,' to him, followed by the requisite
introductory words that form the basis of acquaintance.
"'I think Miss Axtell and I scarcely need an introduction,' he said;
nevertheless he looked the pleasure it had strewed into his field, and
guarded it, as a careful husbandman would choicest seed.
"He asked the style of question which monosyllables can never answer, to
which responding, one has to offer somewhat of herself; and all the
time of that sombre autumn, there grew from out the chasm of the
lightning-stroke luxuriant foliage. I gave it all the resistance of my
nature, yet I knew, as the consumptive knows, that I should be conquered
by my conqueror. It was only the old story of the captive polishing
chains to wear them away; and yet Mr. McKey was simply very civil and
intentionally kind, where he might have been courteously indifferent.
Abraham was away when Bernard McKey came to Redleaf. For more than
twelve months this terrible something had been working its power into
my soul. Yet we were not lovers,"--and Miss Axtell made the
_pronunciamiento_ as if she held the race mentioned in utmost
veneration. "Day by day brought to me new reasons why Bernard McKey must
be unto me only a medical student in Doctor Percival's office, and the
stars sealed all that the day had done; whilst no night of sky was
without a wandering comet, whereon was inscribed, in letters that
flashed every way, the sentence that came with the lightning-stroke;
even storms drowned it not; winter's cold did not freeze it. Verily,
little friend, _I know that God had put it into Creation for me, and yet
there seemed His own law written against it_"; and Miss Axtell's tones
grew very soft and tremulously low, as she said,--
"Mr. McKey had faults that could not, existing in action, make any woman
happy: do you think happiness was meant for woman?"
She waited my answer in the same way that she had done when she was
ill and asked if I liked bitters concealed. She waited as long without
reply. The pause grew oppressive, and I spanned it by an assurance of
individual possessive happiness.
"Anemones never know which way the wind blows, until it comes down close
to the ground," she said; "but souls which are on bleak mountain-summits
_must_ watch whirlwinds, poised in space, and note their airy march. So
I saw, clearly cut into the rock of the future, my own face, with all
the lines and carvings wrought into it that the life of Bernard McKey
would chisel out, and I only waited. I might have waited on forever, for
Mr. McKey had not cast one pebbly word that must send up wavy ripples
from deep spirit-waters; he only wandered, as any other might have
done, upon the shore of my life, along its quiet, dewy sands, above its
chalk-cliffs, and by the side of its green, sloping shores. He never
questioned why rose and fell the waves; he never went down where 'tide,
the moon-slave, sleeps,' to find the foundations of my heart's mainland.
I had only seen him standing at times, as one sees a person upon a
ship's deck, peering off over Earth's blue ocean-cheek, simply in mute,
solemn wonder at what may be beyond, without one wish to speed the ship
"It might have been forever thus, but Abraham came home. He is my
brother, you know. If he made me suffer, he has been made to suffer
with me. Bernard McKey was Doctor Percival's favorite. He made him his
friend, and was everything to him that friend could be. I cannot tell
you my story without mention of my brother, he has been so woven into
every part of it. An unaccountable fancy for the study of medicine
developed itself in his erratic nature soon after he came home; and he
relinquished his brilliant prospects and devoted himself to the little
white office near Doctor Percival's house, with Bernard McKey for his
hourly companion. The two had scarce a thought in common: one was
impulsive, prone to throw himself on the stream of circumstance, to waft
with the wind, and blossom with the spring; the other was the great
mountain-pine, distilling the same aroma in all atmospheres, extending
fibrous roots against Nature's granite, whenceever it comes up. How
could the two harmonize? They could not, and a time of trial came. We
knew, before it came, why Doctor Percival's little white office held
Abraham so many hours in the day. It was because the Mountain-Pine found
in the moss of Redleaf the sweet Trailing-Arbutus."
She asked me if I knew the flower; and when I answered her with my words
of love of it, she said, "she had always thought it was one of Eden's
own bits of blossomry, that, missing man from the hallowed grounds,
crept out to know his fate, and, finding him so forlornly unblest, had
sacrificed its emerald leaves, left in the Garden, and, creeping into
mosses, lived, waiting for man's redemption. We used to call Mary
'The Arbutus,' and it was pleasant to see the great rough branches of
Abraham's nature drooping down, more and more, toward the pink-and-white
pale flower that looked into the sky, from a level as lofty as the
Pine's highest crown. Abraham goes out to search for the type of Mary
every spring"; and rising, she brought to me the waxen buds that were
I took them in my hands, with the same feeling that I would have done a
tress of Mary's hair, or a fragment that she had handled. I think Miss
Axtell divined this feeling; for she cautiously opened the door leading
into her brother's room, and finding that he was not there, she bade me
"come and see." It was Mary's portrait that once more I looked upon;
framed in a wreath of the trailing-arbutus, it was hanging just where he
could look at it at night, as I my strange tower-key.
We went back. Miss Axtell closed the sash; she was looking weary and
pale. I was afraid she would suffer harm from the continued recital. She
said "No," to my fear,--that "it must all be spoken now, once, and that
forever,"--and I listened unto the story's end.
"One year had passed since Alice's death before Abraham's coming.
Another had almost fled before the eventful time when I began to feel
the weight of my cross. I know not how it came to Abraham's knowledge
that Bernard McKey felt in his soul my presence. I only know that
he came home one night, with a storm of rage whitening his lips and
furrowing his forehead. He came up here, where I was sitting. I had
watched his figure coming through tree-openings from Doctor Percival's
house, and mingled with the memories of the fair young girl whom I had
seen dead by lightning were fears for Mary Percival. For several days
she had been ill, and I knew that Abraham felt anxious; therefore I did
not wonder at his hasty coming in and instant seeking of me. He came
quite close. He wound his face in between me and the darkening sky; he
"'Do you care for him?'
"'What is it, Abraham?' I asked, startled by his words and manner, but
with not the faintest idea of the meaning entering in with his words.
"'Bernard McKey, is he anything to you?'
"'You've no right to question me thus,' I said.
"'And you will not answer me?'
"'I will not, Abraham.'
"The next morning Abraham was gone. He had not told me of his intended
absence. He had only left a note, stating the time of his return.
"It was a week ere he came. Mary had not improved in his absence, yet no
one deemed her very ill.
"I dreaded Abraham's coming home, because he had left me in silent
anger; but how could I have replied to his question otherwise than I
did? No one, not Mr. McKey himself, had asked me; and should I give him,
my brother, my answer first?
"Lazily the village-clock swung out the hours that summer's afternoon.
The stroke of three awakened me. I had not seen Mary that day.
"'I would go and see her,' I decided.
"'She was sleeping, the dear child,' Chloe said. 'She would come and
tell me when she was awake, if I would wait.'
"I said that I would stay awhile, and I wandered out under the shade of
the great whispering trees, to wait the waking hour.
"I remember the events of that afternoon, as Mary and Martha must have
remembered the day on which Lazarus came up from the grave unto them.
"The air was still, save a humming in the very tree-tops that must have
been only echoes tangled there, breezes that once blew past. The long
grape-arbor at the end of the lawn looked viny and cool. I walked up and
down under the green archway, until Chloe's words summoned me.
"Mary was 'better,' she said; 'a few days, and she should feel quite
strong, she hoped'; but she looked weary, and I only waited a little
while, until her father and mother came in, and then I went.
"Mr. McKey was sitting in the door of the little white office. He came
out to meet me ere I had reached the street,--asked if I was on my way
"I said 'Yes,' with the lazy sort of languor born of the indolence of
"'Have you energy enough for a walk to the sea-shore?' he asked.
"It had been my wish that very day. I had not been there since Mary's
illness. I hesitated in giving an answer. Abraham would be home at
"'Don't go, if it is only to please me,' he said.
"'I am going to please myself,' I answered; 'only I wish to be at home
on Abraham's coming.'
"That afternoon, Bernard McKey for the first time told me of himself,
and what the two years in Redleaf had done for him. One month more, and
he should leave it. He put into words the memory of that first look
across the dead. He talked to me, until the sea lost its sunlight
sheen,--until I no longer heard its beat of incoming tide,--until I
forgot the hour for Abraham's coming. It was he who reminded me of it.
Once more we paced the sands, already sown with our many footsteps,
that the advancing waters would soon overwhelm. After that we went
village-ward. The gloaming had come down when we reached home.
"'Abraham must have been an hour here,' I thought, as alone I went in.
"He met me in the hall.
"'Where have you been, Lettie?' was his greeting.
"'On the sands.'
"'No, Abraham; Bernard McKey has been with me.'
"'By what right?' he demanded, with that mighty power of voice that is
laid up within him for especial occasions.
"'By the right that I gave him, by the right that is his to walk with
me,' I said; for I grew defiant, and felt a renewal of strength, enough
to tell Abraham the truth.
"Don't start so, Anemone," she said to me. "You think defiance
unwomanly, and so do I; but it was for once only, and I felt that my
brother had no right to question me.
"But one word came from his lips, as he confronted me there, with folded
arms; it was,--
"'This very afternoon, Abraham.'
"Mother came out at the moment. She saw the cloud on Abraham's brow even
in the dim light. She asked, 'What is it?' and Abraham answered us both
at the same time.
"He had been to the home of Bernard McKey. He proved to my mother's
utmost satisfaction that her daughter had no right to care for one like
Bernard McKey. He did not know the right that came on that night almost
two years before. He saw that his proofs were idle to me; but he said
'he had another, one that I would accept, for I was an Axtell.'
"'Yes, Abraham, I am an Axtell, and I shall prove my right to the name,
come what will'; and without waiting to hear more, I glided into the
"For a long time I heard mother and Abraham talking together; it seemed
as if they would never cease. At last, mother sent up to know if I was
not coming to take my tea. I had forgotten its absence till then. I went
down. A half-hour later, during which time a momentous mist of silence
hung over the house, I heard steps approaching. You know that it was
summer time, and the windows were all thrown open, after the heat of the
day. I had been wondering where every one was gone. I recognized both of
the comers, as their footsteps fell upon the walk, but I heard no words.
Oh, would there had been none to come! I heard Abraham go on up the
stairs, and knew that he was searching for me. I knew who had come in
with him, and I arose from my concealment in the unlighted library, and
went into the parlor. It was Mr. McKey who sat there.
"'What is it?' I asked,--for a gnome of ill was walking up and down in
my brain, as we had walked on the sands so few hours before.
"'What is it? I don't know,' he said. 'Your brother asked me to come
over for a few minutes.'
"Evidently Abraham had not shown him one coal of the fire that burned
under his cool seeming. That is the way with these mountain pine-trees:
one never knows how deep into volcanic fires their roots are plunged.
"'Something has happened,' I whispered. 'Whatever comes, bear it
"He laughed, a low, rippling laugh, like the breaking up of ever so many
songs all at once; and the notes had not floated down to rest, when
mother and Abraham came in. Mr. McKey arose to greet my mother. She
stood proudly erect, her regal head unbending, her eyes straight on,
into an endless future, in which he must have no part,--that I saw.
Whatever he discerned there, he, too, stood before her and my brother.
Abraham handed me a letter, saying, 'Read that, for your proof.'
"And I read. The letter bore the signature of Bernard McKey. The date
was the night of Alice's death. The words descriptive of the scene
chiselled into my brain were on that fair paper-surface; and there were
others, words which only one man may write to one woman. I read it on to
"'You are right, Abraham,' I said, 'and I thank you for my proof'; and
without one word for the pale, handsome face that stood beseechingly
between me and the great future, through which I gazed, I went forth
alone into the starry night. Anywhere, to be alone with God, leaving
that trio of souls in there; and as I fled past the windows, I heard my
mother speak terrible words to one that was, yes, even then, myself.
Some angel must have come down the starry way to guide me; for, without
seeking it, without consciousness of whither I fled, I found myself near
the old church, where, from the day of my solemn baptism within its
walls, I had gone up to the weekly worship. I crept up close to the
door. In the shadow there no one would see me; and so, upon the hard
stones, I writhed through the anguish of the fire and iceberg that made
war in my heart.
"Then came unto me the old inheritance, the gift of towering pride; and
I said unto myself, 'No one shall think I sorrow; no one shall know that
an Axtell has sipped from a poisoned cup; no one shall see a leaf of
myrtle in my garden of life'; and from off the friendly granite steps
that had received me in my hour of bitterness, I went back to my home.
"What, could have happened there, that I had not been missed? Father was
absent from Redleaf. Bernard McKey was coming down the walk. I hid in
the shrubbery, and let him pass. Oh, would that I had spoken to him,
then, there! It would have saved so much misery on the round globe!
"But I did not. I stood breathless until he entered Doctor Percival's
house; then I waited a moment to determine my own course; I wanted to
gain my room undiscovered. I saw the same figure come out; I knew it by
the light that the open door threw around it; and a moment later, in the
still air,--I knew the sound, it was the unlocking of the little white
office. Then I stole in, and fled to my refuge. No one had discovered my
"The night went by. I did not sleep. I did not weep,--oh, no! it was not
a case for tears; there are some sorrows that cannot be counted out in
drops; a flood comes, a great freshet rises in the soul, and whirls
spirit, mind, and body on, on, until the Mighty Hand comes down and
lifts the poor wreck out of the flood, and dries it in the sun of His
"It was morning at last. Slowly up the ascent, to heights of glory,
walked the stars, waving toward earth, as they went, their wafting of
golden light, and sending messages of love to the dark, round world,
over which they had kept such solemn watch,--sending them down, borne
by rays of early morning; and still I sat beside the window, where all
through the night I had suffered. My mother and Abraham had sought to
see me, but I had answered, with calm words, that I chose to be alone;
and they had left me there, and gone to their nightly rest."
Miss Axtell hid her face a little while; then, lifting it up, she went
to the window so often mentioned, beckoned me thither, pointed to the
house where my life had commenced, to a door opening out on the eastern
side, and said,--
"I wish you to look at that door one moment; out of it came my doom that
midsummer's morning. Light had just gained ascendency over darkness,
when I saw Chloe come out. I knew instantly that something had happened
there. The poor creature crept out of the house,--I saw her go,--and
kneeling down behind that great maple-tree, she lifted up her arms to
heaven, and I heard, or thought I heard her, moaning. Then, whilst I
watched, she got up, looked over at our house, from window to window;
once more she raised her hands, as if invoking some power for help, and
"I brushed back the hair that my fingers had idly threaded in unrest,
looked one moment, in the dim twilight of morning, to see what changes
my war-fare had wrought, then, cautiously, breathlessly, for fear of
awakening some one, I went out. The night-dew lay heavy on the lawn. I
heeded it not. I knew that trouble had come to Doctor Percival's house.
I went to the door that Chloe had opened. No one seemed awake; deep
stillness brooded over and in the dwelling. Could I have been mistaken?
Whilst I stood in doubt whether to go or stay, there came a long,
sobbing moan, that peopled the dwelling with woe.
"It came from Mary's room. Thither I went. There stood Doctor and Mrs.
Percival beside Mary, and she--was dead.
"I shudder now, as I did then, though eighteen years have rolled their
wheels of misery between,--shudder, as I look in memory into that room
again, and see your father standing in the awful grief that has no
voice, see your mother lifting up her words of moaning, up where I so
late had watched the feet of stars walking into heaven. I don't know how
long it was, I had lost the noting of time, but I remember growing into
rigidness. I remember Bernard McKey's wild, wretched face in the room; I
remember hearing him ask if it was all over. I remember Abraham's coming
in; I _felt_, when through his life the east-wind went, withering it up
within him. I do not know how I went home. I asked no questions. Mary
was dead; she had gone whither Alice went. It seemed little consolation
to me to ask when or how she died.
"Father came home that day. Mother forgot me for Abraham: love of him
was her life. Father did not know, no one had told him, the events of
the night before; he thought me sorrowing for Mary, and so I was; my
grief seemed weak and small before this reality of sorrow.
"It was late in the day, and I was trying to get some sleep, when Chloe
sent a request to see me. I had not seen her since I knew why she had
hid her suffering behind the tree in the morning. I saw that she had
something to say beside telling me of Mary; for she looked cautiously
around the room, as if fearing other ears might be there to hear.
"'Oh! oh! Miss Lettie,' she said, 'I stayed with Miss Mary last night. I
must have gone to sleep when she went away; but I'm afraid, I'm afraid
it wasn't the sickness that killed her.'
"'What then? what was it, Chloe?' I asked, whilst the tears fell fast
from her eyes.
"'Doctor Percival gave her some medicine just afore he went to bed,
and she said she was "very sick"; she said so a good many times, Miss
Lettie, afore I went to sleep.'
"'You don't think it was the medicine that killed her?'--for a horrible
thought had come in to me.
"'I hope not, but I'm afraid'; and with a still lower, whispering tone,
and another frightened look about the room, Chloe took from under her
shawl a small cup. She held it up close to me, and her voice penetrated
with its meaning all the folds of my thought,--'Chloe's afraid Miss Mary
drank her death in here.'
"'Give it to me,' I said; and I snatched at the cup. Catching it from
her, I looked into it. The draught had been taken; the sediment only lay
dried upon it.
"'You think so, Chloe? How could it have been? You say Doctor Percival
gave it to her?'
"She said that 'Mr. Abraham had been in to see her a little while,--only
a few moments. Something was the matter with him. Miss Mary talked,
just a few words; what they were she did not hear,--she was in the next
room,--only, when he went away, she heard her say, "Don't do it; you may
be wrong, and then you'll be sorry as long as you live"; and then
Mr. Abraham shut the door heavy-like and was gone. Afterwards Doctor
Percival came up,--said Miss Mary must sleep, she had more fever; asked
her so many kind questions, and was just going down to go to the office
for something to give her, when he met Master McKey coming in. I heard
my master ask him to go for it. And I doesn't know anything more, Miss
Lettie. I came to tell you.'
"I asked her 'if she had told any one else? if any one had seen the
"She said, 'No'; and I made her promise me that she would never mention
it, never speak of it to any living soul.
"She promised, and she has kept her promise faithfully to this day."
I thought, at this pause in the story, of Chloe's hiding chloroform from
"I had myself seen Bernard McKey go out to the office that night. Had
he given poison to Mary Percival? And with the question the hot answer
came, 'Never!--he did not do it!'
"Chloe went, leaving the cup with me.
"I knew that I must see Bernard. How? The household were absorbed in
Abraham. His condition perilled his reason. Doctor Percival came over
every hour to see him, and I was sure that his hair whitened from time
to time. It was terrible to hear Abraham declaring that he had killed
Mary,--that he might have granted her request. And as often as his eyes
fell upon me, his words changed to, 'It was for you that I did it,--for
my sister!' And whilst all sorrowed and watched him, I sought my
opportunity. 'It would never come to me,' I thought, 'I must go to it';
and under cover of looking upon the face of Mary, I went out to seek
"We met before I reached the house; we should have passed in silence,
had I not spoken. It was the same hour as that in which we had come from
the sands the night before. What a horrible lifetime had intervened! I
said that 'I had some words for him.' He stood still in the air that
throbbed in waves over me. He was speechlessly calm just then.
"'I expected no words after my judgment,' at length he said,--for I knew
not how to open my terrible theme; 'will you tell me on what evidence
"What a trifle then seemed any merely human love in the presence of
Death! I was almost angry that he should once think of it.
"'It is something of more importance than the human affection with which
you play,' I said. 'It is a life, the life of Mary Percival, that last
night went out,--and how? Was it by this cup?'--and I handed the cup to
"He looked simple amazement, as he would have done, had it been a rock
or flower; he did not offer to take it,--still I held it out.
"'Will you examine the contents,' I asked, 'and report to me the
"'Certainly I will, Miss Axtell,' he said; and with it he walked to the
"I watched him through the window. I saw him coolly apply various tests.
The third one seemed satisfactory.
"He came to the door. I was very near, and went in
"'This is nothing Miss Mary had,--it is poison,' he said.
"He was innocent; I knew it in the very depth of my soul. How could I
tell him the deed his hand had done? But I must, and I did. I told him
how Chloe had brought the cup to me. When I had done, he said,--
"'You believe this of me?'
"'The cup is now in your hand; judge you of its work'; and I told him
how I had seen him come out the night before,--that I was in the
shrubbery when he went to the office.
"The words of his answer came; they were iron in my heart, though spoken
not to me.
"'O my God, why hast Thou let me do this?' he cried, and went past me
out of the little white office,--out, as I had done, into the open air,
in my sorrow, the night before.
"I would not lose sight of him; I followed on; and, as I went, I thought
I heard a rustling in the leaves. A momentary horror swept past me, lest
some one had been watching,--listening, perhaps,--but I did not pause.
I must know how, where, Bernard would hide his misery. It was not quite
dark; I could not run through the night, as I had done before; I must
follow on at a respectable pace, stop to greet the village-people who
were come out in the cool of the evening, and all the while keep in view
that figure, hastening, for what I knew not, but on to the sands, whilst
those whom I met stayed me to ask how Mary Percival died. I passed the
last of the village-houses. There was nothing before me now but Nature
and this unhappy soul. I lost sight of him; I came to the sands; I saw
only long, low flats stretching far out,--beyond them the line of foam.
The moon was not yet gone; but its crescent momently lessened its light.
I went up and down the shore two or three times, going on a little
farther each time, meeting nothing,--nothing but the fear that stood on
the sands before me, whichever way I turned. It bent down from the sky
to tell me of its presence; it came surging up behind me; and one awful
word was on its face and in its voice. I remember shutting my eyes to
keep it out; I remember putting my fingers into my ears to still its
voice. I was so helpless, so alone to do, so threadless of action,
"People pray in this world from so many causes,--it matters not what
or how; the hour for prayer comes into every life at some time of its
earthly course, whether softly falling and refreshing as the early rain,
or by the north-wind's icy path. Mine came then, on the sands; my spirit
went out of my mortality unto God for help,--solely because that which I
wanted was not in me, not in all the earth.
"I stooped down to see if the figure I sought was outlined on the rim of
sky that brightened at the sea's edge: it was not there, not seaward.
I tried to call: the air refused the weight of my voice; it went no
farther than the lips, out of which it quivered and fell: I could not
call. I took the dark tide-mark for my guide, and began searching
landward. I went a little way, then stopped to look and listen: no
sight, no sound. The long sedge-grass gave rustling sighs of motion, as
I passed near, and disturbed the air for a moment. A night-bird uttered
its cry out of the tall reeds. The moon went down. The tide began to
come in; with it came up the wind. The memory of Alice, of Mary, walked
with and did not leave me, until I gained the little cove wherein Mary's
boat lay secure. The tide had not reached it. Mary's boat! I remember
thinking--a mere drop of thought it was, as I hurried on, but it held
all the animalcules of emotion that round out a lifetime--that Mary
never more would come to unloose the bound boat, never more in it go
forth to meet the joys that wander in from unknown shores. I saw the
boat lying dark along the water's edge. 'I would run down a moment,' I
thought, 'run down to speak a word of comfort, as if it were a living
"Mary's boat was not alone; it had a companion. I thought it was
Bernard. I drew near and spoke his name. Doctor Percival answered me.
I do not think that he recognized my voice. He turned around with a
startled movement, for I was quite close, and asked, 'Who is it?'
"I did not answer. I turned and fled away into the darkness, across the
sands, that answer no footsteps with echoes. It was a comfort to feel
that he was out there, between me and the boundless space of sea.
"When I draw near the confines of Hereafter's shore, I think I shall
feel the same kind of comfort, if some soul that I knew has gone out
just before me; it will cape the boundary-line of 'all-aloneness.'"
Miss Axtell must have forgotten that she was talking to me, as she
retraced her steps and thoughts of that night, for, with this thought,
she seemed to "wander out into silence."
Katie brought her back by coming up to say that "Mr. Abraham was waiting
to know if she would go out a little while, it was so fine."
Miss Axtell said that "she would not go,--she would wait."
Katie went to carry the message. Miss Axtell wandered a little. Between
her words and memories I picked up the thread for her, and she went on
"I took the direction of the village-pier, when I fled from Doctor
Percival. An unusual number of boats had come in. I heard noises amid
the shipping. At any other time I should have avoided the place. Now I
"Two men were slowly walking down the way. I heard one of them ask, 'Do
you know who it is?'
"The other replied, 'No, I never saw him before; we had better watch
him; he went on in a desperate way. I've seen it before, and it ended
"He did not finish, although I was thirsting for the words; they both
seemed arrested suddenly, then started on, and I watched whither they
"There was now no light, save that of the stars. I could scarcely keep
them in sight. I went nearer,--hid myself behind one of the posts on the
pier. They had gone upon one of the boats,--that which lay farthest down
the stream. It was Bernard that they watched. I found him with my eyes
before they reached where he stood. A boy came singing from his daily
work; he passed close beside me, and, as he went, he beat upon the post
with a boat's oar. I waited until I could come from my hiding-place
without his seeing; then I went after him. I sent him for 'the gentleman
that had gone down there,' telling him to say that 'a lady wished to see
"Bernard came. I told him that I had been searching for him on the
sands,--that I wanted to talk to him; and he and I walked on again,
village-ward, as we had done on the last night. It was very hard to
begin, to open the cruel theme,--to say to this person, who walked with
folded arms, and eyes that I knew had no external sight, what I thought;
but I must. When I had said all that I would have said to any other
human soul, under like darkness, he lighted up the night of his sin with
strange fires. He poured upon his family's past the light hereditary.
Abraham had been true in his statements. Bernard McKey was not
well-born. He told me this: that his father had been a destroyer of
life; that God had been his Judge, and had now set the seal of the
father's sin into the son's heart. Oh, it was fearful, this tide of
agony with which that soul was overwhelmed! He pictured his deed.
Abraham had found out the crime of his father, had cruelly sent it home
on his own head, had said that a murderer's son could never find rest in
the family of Axtell, had sent him forth, with hatred in his heart, to
work out in shadow the very deed his father had wrought in substance, to
destroy Mary Percival, the child of his best friend, and to strike from
off the earth Abraham's arch of light. It was wonderful: a chance, a
change, had killed Mary.
"Doctor Percival had that very afternoon, while we were gone, wrought
changes in the little white office; hence the fatal mistake. Bernard had
gone in, taken up a bottle from the very place where the article wanted
had stood for two years, poured its contents into the cup, carried it
in, and no hand stayed him. He was too blinded by suffering to see for
himself. Doctor Percival's hand gave the draught, and Mary was dead.
What should be done?
"'What shall I do? What would you have me to do?' asked Bernard.
"We were come to the church on our way. I stayed my steps, and thought
of the letter that Abraham had given me; it came up for the first time
since I knew of Mary's death. But I did not allude to it. I could not
acknowledge, even to him, that I knew another had received the words
that should have been spoken only to me; and sincerely I told him that
he must go away, at once and for always,--that the deed his hand had
unknowingly done must be borne in swift, solemn current through his
life,--that he must live beside it until it reached the ocean to come:
it could do no good to reveal it; it could arouse only new misery; it
seemed better that it should be written on marble and in memory that
'God took her.'
"He took up the silence that came after my words, and filled it with an
"'If I go out, and bear this deed, as you say bear it, in silence and in
suffering, will you,--you, to whom God has given a good inheritance, who
know not the rush and roar of any evil in your soul, whose spring rises
far back in ancestral natures,--will you stand between me and all this
that I must bear? Will you be my rock, set here, in this village? May I
come back at times, and tell you how I endure? If you will promise me
this, I will go.'
"Why should he come to me? why not to the other one, to whom he told of
Alice's death two years ago? He did not know that pride was the ever
vernal sin of _my_ race, that I had it to battle with. But I conquered,
and promised I would help him, since it was all I had to do. A few more
words were spoken; he was to write to me when he would come; and we
parted, there, at the old church-door,--he promising to live, to try and
make atonement for his sin,--I to hold his deed in keeping, alone of all
the world, save Chloe, and in her I had trust. I did not see him again:
he left the following day.
"You remember that I heard a rustling in the shrubbery, when Bernard
fled from the office. It was my mother, watching me. She had seen and
heard sufficient to convince her of what had been done. Mothers are
endowed with wonderful intuitive perception. Abraham had been her one
love from his childhood. Now came a strife in her nature. Bernard McKey
had wronged Abraham, had taken the light out of his life, and a great
longing for his punishment came up. How should it be effected? She
believed that open judgment would awaken resistance in me,--that I would
stand beside him then, in the face of all the world, and recompense him
for his punishment,--I, an Axtell, her daughter. So she came to me with
a compromise. She told me that she had heard what had been said,--that
she knew the deed, had seen the cup,--that Abraham, knowing the act,
would never forgive it, though done, as she acknowledged, in error;
and she, my mother, to save the family, made conditions. Her knowledge
should remain hers only, if Bernard McKey should remain such as he now
was to me,--never to be more.
"'An easy condition,' I thought, 'since the letter Abraham gave'; and I
said the two words to my mother,--
"'My daughter,' was her only answer; and she touched her child's
forehead with two burning lips, and went away to watch Abraham through
the night,--watch him tread the dark way, without Mary.
"Where now was the Mountain-Pine? higher than the Arbutus?
"Our mother had her trial. When she heard Abraham reproaching himself
with having brought on a return of fever by refusing Mary's wish, of
having been the means of her death, I know her heart ached to say, 'It
was not you, Abraham, it was Bernard McKey who killed her.' But no, she
did not; family pride towered above affection, and she was true to her
promise, true to the last. She died with the secret hers.
"Bernard McKey's absence was much wondered at, although it began only
one month earlier than the appointed time. Doctor Percival mourned his
going as if he had been his son; he spoke to me of it. Mary was buried.
I remember your little face on her burial-day; it was bright, and
unconscious of the sad scene"; and Miss Axtell now sought to look into
it, but it was not to be seen. I think she must have forgotten, at
times, that it was to Mary's sister that she was telling her story. She
waited a little, until I asked her to "tell me more."
"The face of that Autumn grew rosy, wrinkled, and died upon Winter's
snowy bed; and yet I lived, and Abraham, and Bernard McKey perhaps,--I
knew not. The year was nearly gone since Mary died, and no ray of
knowledge had come from him. Every day I re-read those words written to
some fair woman-soul, until after so many readings they began to take
root in my heart. I found it out one day, and I began vigorously to tear
them up. It was on the evening of the same day that Abraham came home:
he had been away for several weeks. He left, with intentional seeming, a
paper where I should see it; he had read with almost careless eyes what
mine fell upon, for he believed that Bernard McKey was forgotten by me;
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