Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 8, No. 50, December, 1861
Part 3 out of 5
It was a peculiar landscape,--like the man who looked at it, of a
thoroughly American type. A range of sharp, dark hills, with a sombre
depth of green shadow in the clefts, and on the sides massed forests of
scarlet and flame and crimson. Above, the sharp peaks of stone rose into
the wan blue, wan and pale themselves, and wearing a certain air of
fixed calm, the type of an eternal quiet. At the base of the hills lay
the city, a dirty mass of bricks and smoke and dust, and at its far edge
flowed the Wabash,--deep here, tinted with green, writhing and gurgling
and curdling on the banks over shelving ledges of lichen and mud-covered
rock. Beyond it yawned the opening to the great West,--the Prairies.
Not the dreary deadness here, as farther west. A plain dark russet in
hue,--for the grass was sun-scorched,--stretching away into the vague
distance, intolerable, silent, broken by hillocks and puny streams that
only made the vastness and silence more wide and heavy. Its limitless
torpor weighed on the brain; the eyes ached, stretching to find some
break before the dull russet faded into the amber of the horizon and was
lost. An American landscape: of few features, simple, grand in outline
as a face of one of the early gods. It lay utterly motionless before
him, not a fleck of cloud in the pure blue above, even where the mist
rose from the river; it only had glorified the clear blue into clearer
Holmes stood quietly looking; he could have created a picture like
this, if he never had seen one; therefore he was able to recognize it,
accepted it into his soul, and let it do what it would there.
Suddenly a low wind from the far Pacific coast struck from the amber
line where the sun went down. A faint tremble passed over the great
hills, the broad sweeps of color darkened from base to summit, then
flashed again,--while below, the prairie rose and fell like a dun sea,
and rolled in long, slow, solemn waves.
The wind struck so broad and fiercely in Holmes's face that he caught
his breath. It was a savage freedom, he thought, in the West there,
whose breath blew on him,--the freedom of the primitive man, the untamed
animal man, self-reliant and self-assertant, having conquered Nature.
Well, this fierce masterful freedom was good for the soul, sometimes,
doubtless. It was old Knowles's vital air. He wondered if the old man
would succeed in his hobby, if he could make the slavish beggars and
thieves in the alleys yonder comprehend this fierce freedom. They craved
leave to live on sufferance now, not knowing their possible divinity.
It was a desperate remedy, this sense of unchecked liberty; but their
disease was desperate. As for himself, he did not need it; that element
was not lacking. In a mere bodily sense, to be sure. He felt his arm.
Yes, the cold rigor of this new life had already worn off much of the
clogging weight of flesh, strengthened the muscles. Six months more in
the West would toughen the fibres to iron. He raised an iron weight that
lay on the steps, carelessly testing them. For the rest, he was going
back here; something of the cold, loose freshness got into his brain,
he believed. In the two years of absence his power of concentration had
been stronger, his perceptions more free from prejudice, gaining every
day delicate point, acuteness of analysis. He drew a long breath of
the icy air, coarse with the wild perfume of the prairie. No, his
temperament needed a subtiler atmosphere than this, rarer essence than
mere brutal freedom. The East, the Old World, was his proper sphere for
self-development. He would go as soon as he could command the means,
leaving all clogs behind. _All_? His idle thought balked here, suddenly;
the sallow forehead contracted sharply, and his gray eyes grew in an
instant shallow, careless, formal, as a man who holds back his thought.
There was a fierce warring in his brain for a moment. Then he brushed
his Kossuth hat with his arm, and put it on, looking out at the
landscape again. Somehow its meaning was dulled to him. Just then a
muddy terrier came up, and rubbed itself against his knee. "Why, Tige,
old boy!" he said, stooping to pat it kindly. The hard, shallow look
faded out, and he half smiled, looking in the dog's eyes. A curious
smile, unspeakably tender and sad. It was the idiosyncrasy of the man's
face, rarely seen there. He might have looked with it at a criminal,
condemning him to death. But he would have condemned him, and, if no
hangman could be found, would have put the rope on with his own hands,
and then most probably would have sat down pale and trembling, and
analyzed his sensations on paper,--being sincere in all.
He sat down on the school-house step, which the boys had hacked and
whittled rough, and waited; for he was there by appointment, to meet Dr.
Knowles had gone out early in the morning to look at the ground he was
going to buy for his Phalanstery, or whatever he chose to call it. He
was to bring the deed of sale of the mill out with him for Holmes. The
next day it was to be signed. Holmes saw him at last lumbering across
the prairie, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. Summer or
winter, he contrived to be always hot. There was a cart drawn by an old
donkey coming along beside him. Knowles was talking to the driver.
The old man clapped his hands as stage-coachmen do, and drew in long
draughts of air, as if there were keen life and promise in every breath.
They came up at last, the cart empty, and drying for the day's work
after its morning's scrubbing, Lois's pock-marked face all in a glow
with trying to keep Barney awake. She grew quite red with pleasure
at seeing Holmes, but went on quickly as the men began to talk. Tige
followed her, of course; but when she had gone a little way across
the prairie, they saw her stop, and presently the dog came back with
something in his mouth, which he laid down beside his master, and bolted
off. It was only a rough wicker-basket which she had filled with damp
plushy moss, and half-buried in it clusters of plumy fern, delicate
brown and ashen lichens, masses of forest-leaves all shaded green with a
few crimson tints. It had a clear woody smell, like far-off myrrh. The
Doctor laughed as Holmes took it up.
"An artist's gift, if it is from a mulatto," he said. "A born colorist."
The men were not at ease, for some reason; they seized on every trifle
to keep off the subject which had brought them together.
"That girl's artist-sense is pure, and her religion, down under the
perversion and ignorance of her brain. Curious, eh?"
"Look at the top of her head, when you see her," said Holmes. "It is
necessity for such brains to worship. They let the fire lick their
blood, if they happen to be born Parsees. This girl, if she had been a
Jew when Christ was born, would have known him as Simeon did."
Knowles said nothing,--only glanced at the massive head of the speaker,
with its overhanging brow, square development at the sides, and lowered
crown, and smiled significantly.
"Exactly," laughed Holmes, putting his hand on his head. "Crippled there
by my Yorkshire blood,--my mother. Never mind; outside of this life,
blood or circumstance matters nothing."
They walked on slowly towards town. Surely there was nothing in the
bill-of-sale which the old man had in his pocket but a mere matter of
business; yet they were strangely silent about it, as if it brought
shame to some one. There was an embarrassed pause. The Doctor went back
to Lois for relief.
"I think it is the pain and want of such as she that makes them
susceptible to religion. The self in them is so starved and humbled that
it cannot obscure their eyes; they see God clearly."
"Say rather," said Holmes, "that the soul is so starved and blind that
it cannot recognize itself as God."
The Doctor's intolerant eye kindled.
"Humph! So that's your creed! Not Pantheism. _Ego sum_. Of course you go
on with the conjugation: _I have been, I shall be_. I,--that covers the
whole ground, creation, redemption, and commands the hereafter?"
"It does so," said Holmes, coolly.
"And this wretched huckster carries her deity about her,--her
self-existent soul? How, in God's name, is her life to set it free?"
Holmes said nothing. The coarse sneer could not be answered. Men with
pale faces and heavy jaws like his do not carry their religion on
their tongue's end; their creeds leave them only in the slow oozing
life-blood, false as the creeds may be.
Knowles went on hotly, half to himself, seizing on the new idea
fiercely, as men and women do who are yet groping for the truth of life.
"What is it your Novalis says? 'The true Shechinah is man.' You know no
higher God? Pooh! the idea is old enough; it began with Eve. It works
slowly, Holmes. In six thousand years, taking humanity as one, this
self-existent soul should have clothed itself with a freer, royaller
garment than poor Lois's body,--or mine," he added, bitterly.
"It works slowly," said the other, quietly. "Faster soon, in America.
There are yet many ills of life for the divinity within to conquer."
"And Lois and the swarming mass yonder in those dens? It is late for
them to begin the fight?"
"Endurance is enough for them here. Their religions teach them that they
could not bear the truth. One does not put a weapon into the hands of a
man dying of the fetor and hunger of the siege."
"But what will this life, or the lives to come, give to you champions
who know the truth?"
"Nothing but victory," he said, in a low tone, looking away.
Knowles looked at the pale strength of the iron face.
"God help you, Stephen!" he broke out, his shallow jeering falling off.
"For there _is_ a God higher than we. The ills of life you mean to
conquer will teach it to you, Holmes. You'll find the Something above
yourself, if it's only to curse Him and die."
Holmes did not smile at the old man's heat,--walked gravely, steadily.
There was a short silence. The old man put his hand gently on the
"Stephen," he hesitated, "you're a stronger man than I. I know what you
are; I've watched you from a boy. But you're wrong here. I'm an old man.
There's not much I know in life,--enough to madden me. But I do know
there's something stronger,--some God outside of the mean devil they
call 'Me.' You'll learn it, boy. There's an old story of a man like you
and the rest of your sect, and of the vile, mean, crawling things that
God sent to bring him down. There are such things yet. Mean passions in
your divine soul, low, selfish things, that will get the better of you,
show you what you are. You'll do all that man can do. But they are
coming, Stephen Holmes! they're coming!"
He stopped, startled. For Holmes had turned abruptly, glancing over at
the city with a strange wistfulness. It was over in a moment. He resumed
the slow, controlling walk beside him. They went on in silence into
town, and when they did speak, it was on indifferent subjects, not
referring to the last. The Doctor's heat, as it usually did, boiled out
in spasms on trifles. Once he stumped his toe, and, I am sorry to say,
swore roundly about it, just as he would have done in the new Arcadia,
if one of the jail-birds comprising that colony had been ungrateful for
his advantages. Philanthropists, for some curious reason, are not the
most amiable members of small families.
He gave Holmes the roll of parchment he had in his pocket, looking
keenly at him, as he did so, but only saying, that, if he meant to sign
it, it would be done to-morrow. As Holmes took it, they stopped at the
great door of the factory. He went in alone, Knowles going down the
street. One trifle, strange in its way, he remembered afterwards.
Holding the roll of paper in his hand that would make the mill his, he
went, in his slow, grave way, down the long passage to the loom-rooms.
There was a crowd of porters and firemen there, as usual, and he thought
one of them hastily passed him in the dark passage, hiding behind an
engine. As the shadow fell on him, his teeth chattered with a chilly
shudder. He smiled, thinking how superstitious people would say that
some one trod on his grave just then, or that Death looked at him, and
went on. Afterwards he thought of it. Going through the office, the fat
old book-keeper, Huff, stopped him with a story he had been keeping for
him all day. He liked to tell a story to Holmes; he could see into a
joke; it did a man good to hear a fellow laugh like that. Holmes did
laugh, for the story was a good one, and stood a moment, then went in,
leaving the old fellow chuckling over his desk. Huff did not know how,
lately, after every laugh, this man felt a vague scorn of himself, as if
jokes and laughter belonged to a self that ought to have been dead long
ago. Perhaps, if the fat old book-keeper had known it, he would have
said that the man was better than he knew. But then,--poor Huff! He
passed slowly through the long alleys between the great looms. Overhead
the ceiling looked like a heavy maze of iron cylinders and black
swinging bars and wheels, all in swift, ponderous motion. It was enough
to make a brain dizzy with the clanging thunder of the engines, the
whizzing spindles of red and yellow, and the hot daylight glaring over
all. The looms were watched by women, most of them bold, tawdry girls
of fifteen or sixteen, or lean-jawed women from the hills, wives of the
coal-diggers. There was a breathless odor of copperas. As he went from
one room to another up through the ascending stories, he had a vague
sensation of being followed. Some shadow lurked at times behind the
engines, or stole after him in the dark entries. Were there ghosts,
then, in mills in broad daylight? None but the ghosts of Want and Hunger
and Crime, he might have known, that do not wait for night to walk our
streets: the ghosts that poor old Knowles hoped to lay forever.
Holmes had a room fitted up in the mill, where he slept. He went up
to it slowly, holding the paper tightly in one hand, glancing at the
operatives, the work, through his furtive half-shut eye. Nothing escaped
him. Passing the windows, he did not once look out at the prophetic
dream of beauty he had left without. In the mill he was of the mill.
Yet he went slowly, as if he shrank from the task waiting for him.
Why should he? It was a simple matter of business, this transfer of
Knowles's share in the mill to himself; to-day he was to decide whether
he would conclude the bargain. If any dark history of wrong lay
underneath, if this simple decision of his was to be the struggle for
life and death with him, his cold, firm face told nothing of it. Let us
be just to him, stand by him, if we can, in the midst of his desolate
home and desolate life, and look through his cold, sorrowful eyes at
the deed he was going to do. Dreary enough he looked, going through the
great mill, despite the power in his quiet face. A man who had strength
to be alone; yet, I think, with all his strength and power, his mother
could not have borne to look back from the dead that day, to see her boy
so utterly alone. The day was the crisis of his life, looked forward to
for years; he held in his hand a sure passport to fortune. Yet he thrust
the hour off, perversely, trifling with idle fancies, pushing from him
the one question which all the years past and to come had left for this
day to decide.
Some such idle fancy it may have been that made the man turn from the
usual way down a narrow passage into which opened doors from small
offices. Margaret Howth, he had learned to-day, was in the first one. He
hesitated before he did it, his sallow face turning a trifle paler; then
he went on in his hard, grave way, wondering dimly if she remembered his
step, if she cared to see him now. She used to know it,--she was the
only one in the world who ever had cared to know it,--silly child!
Doubtless she was wiser now. He remembered he used to think, that, when
this woman loved, it would be as he himself would love, with a simple
trust which the wrong of years could not touch. And once he had
thought--Well, well, he was mistaken. Poor Margaret! Better as it was.
They were nothing to each other. She had put him from her, and he had
suffered himself to be put away. Why, he would have given up every
prospect of life, if he had done otherwise! Yet he wondered bitterly if
she had thought him selfish,--if she thought it was money he cared for,
as the others did. It mattered nothing what they thought, but it wounded
him intolerably that she should wrong him. Yet, with all this, whenever
he looked forward to death, it was with the certainty that he should
find her there beyond. There would be no secrets then; she would know
then how he had loved her always. Loved her? Yes; he need not hide it
from himself, surely.
He was now by the door of the office;--she was within. Little Margaret,
poor little Margaret! struggling there day after day for the old father
and mother. What a pale, cold little child she used to be! such a child!
yet kindling at his look or touch, as if her veins were filled with
subtile flame. Her soul was like his own, he thought. He knew what it
was,--he only. Even now he glowed with a man's triumph to know he held
the secret life of this woman bare in his hand. No other human power
could ever come near her; he was secure in possession. She had put him
from her;--it was better for both, perhaps. Their paths were separate
here; for she had some unreal notions of duty, and he had too much to do
in the world to clog himself with cares, or to idle an hour in the rare
ecstasy of even love like this.
He passed the office, not pausing in his slow step. Some sudden impulse
made him put his hand on the door as he brushed against it: just a
quick, light touch; but it had all the fierce passion of a caress. He
drew it back as quickly, and went on, wiping a clammy sweat from his
The room he had fitted up for himself was whitewashed and barely
furnished; it made one's bones ache to look at the iron bedstead and
chairs. Holmes's natural taste was more glowing, however smothered, than
that of any saffron-robed Sybarite. It needed correction, he knew, and
this was the discipline. Besides, he had set apart the coming three or
four years of his life to make money in, enough for the time to come. He
would devote his whole strength to that work, and so be sooner done with
it. Money, or place, or even power, was nothing but means to him: other
men valued them because of their influence on others. As his work in the
world was only the development of himself, it was different, of course.
What would it matter to his soul the day after death, if millions called
his name aloud in blame or praise? Would he hear or answer then? What
would it matter to him then, if he had starved with them or ruled over
them? People talked of benevolence. What would it matter to him then,
the misery or happiness of those yet working in this paltry life of
ours? In so far as the exercise of kindly emotions or self-denial
developed the higher part of his nature, it was to be commended; as
for its effect on others, that he had nothing to do with. He practised
self-denial constantly to strengthen the benevolent instincts. That
very morning he had given his last dollar to Joe Byers, a half-starved
cripple. "Chucked it at me," Joe said, "like as he'd give a bone to a
dog, and be damned to him! Who thanks him?" To tell the truth, you will
find no fairer exponent than this Stephen Holmes of the great idea of
American sociology,--that the object of life is _to grow_. Circumstances
had forced it on him, partly. Sitting now in his room, where he was
counting the cost of becoming a merchant prince, he could look back to
the time of a boyhood passed in the depths of ignorance and vice. He
knew what this Self within him was; he knew how it had forced him to
grope his way up, to give this hungry, insatiate soul air and freedom
and knowledge. All men around him were doing the same,--thrusting and
jostling and struggling, up, up. It was the American motto, Go ahead;
mothers taught it to their children; the whole system was a scale of
glittering prizes. He at least saw the higher meaning of the truth; he
had no low ambitions. To lift this self up into a higher range of
being when it had done with the uses of this,--that was his work.
Self-salvation, self-elevation,--the ideas that give birth to, and
destroy half of our Christianity, half of our philanthropy! Sometimes
sleeping instincts in the man struggled up to assert a divinity more
terrible than this growing self-existent soul that he purified and
analyzed day by day: a depth of tender pity for outer pain; a fierce
longing for rest, on something, in something, he cared not what. He
stifled such rebellious promptings,--called them morbid. He called it
morbid, too, the passion now that chilled his strong blood, and wrung
out these clammy drops on his forehead, at the mere thought of this girl
He shut the door of his room tightly: he had no time to-day for lounging
For Holmes, quiet and steady, was sought for, if not popular, even in
the free-and-easy West; one of those men who are unwillingly masters
among men. Just and mild, always; with a peculiar gift that made men
talk their best thoughts to him, knowing they would be understood; if
any core of eternal flint lay under the simple, truthful manner of the
man, nobody saw it.
He laid the bill of sale on the table; it was an altogether practical
matter on which he sat in judgment, but he was going to do nothing
rashly. A plain business document: he took Dr. Knowles's share in the
factory; the payments made with short intervals; John Herne was to be
his indorser: it needed only the names to make it valid. Plain enough;
no hint there of the tacit understanding that the purchase-money was a
wedding dowry; even between Herne and himself it never was openly put
into words. If he did not marry Miss Herne, the mill was her father's;
that of course must be spoken of, arranged to-morrow. If he took it,
then? if he married her? Holmes had been poor, was miserably poor yet,
with the position and habits of a man of refinement. God knows it was
not to gratify those tastes that he clutched at this money. All the slow
years of work trailed up before him, that were gone,--of hard, wearing
work for daily bread, when his brain had been starving for knowledge,
and his soul dulled, debased with sordid trading. Was this to be always?
Were these few golden moments of life to be traded for the bread and
meat he ate? To eat and drink,--was that what he was here for?
As he paced the floor mechanically, some vague recollection crossed his
brain of a childish story of the man standing where the two great roads
of life parted. They were open before him now. Money, money,--he took
the word into his heart as a miser might do. With it, he was free from
these carking cares that were making his mind foul and muddy. If he had
money! Slow, cool visions of triumphs rose before him outlined on the
years to come, practical, if Utopian. Slow and sure successes of science
and art, where his brain could work, helpful and growing. Far off, yet
surely to come,--surely for him,--a day to come when a pure social
system should be universal, should have thrust out its fibres of light
knitting into one the nations of the earth, when the lowest slave should
find its true place and rightful work, and stand up, knowing itself
divine. "To insure to every man the freest development of his
faculties": he said over the hackneyed dogma again and again, while the
heavy, hateful years of poverty rose before him that had trampled him
down. "To insure to him the freest development," he did not need to wait
for St. Simon, or the golden year, he thought with a dreary gibe; money
was enough, and--Miss Herne.
It was curious, that, when this woman, whom he saw every day, came up in
his mind, it was always in one posture, one costume. You have noticed
that peculiarity in your remembrance of some persons? Perhaps you would
find, if you looked closely, that in that look or indelible gesture
which your memory has caught there lies some subtile hint of the tie
between your soul and theirs. Now, when Holmes had resolved coolly
to weigh this woman, brain, heart, and flesh, to know how much of a
hindrance she would be, he could only see her, with his artist's sense,
as delicate a bloom of coloring as eye could crave, in one immovable
posture,--as he had seen her once in some masquerade or _tableau
vivant_. June, I think it was, she chose to represent that evening,--and
with her usual success; for no woman ever knew more thoroughly her
material of shape or color, or how to work it up. Not an ill-chosen
fancy, either, that of the moist, warm month. Some tranced summer's day
might have drowsed down into such a human form by a dank pool, or on the
thick grass-crusted meadows. There was the full contour of the limbs hid
under warm green folds, the white flesh that glowed when you touched it
as if some smothered heat lay beneath, the sleeping face, the amber hair
uncoiled in a languid quiet, while yellow jasmines deepened its hue into
molten sunshine, and a great tiger-lily laid its sultry head on her
breast. June? Could June become incarnate with higher poetic meaning
than that which this woman gave it? Mr. Kitts, the artist I told you
of, thought not, and fell in love with June and her on the spot, which
passion became quite unbearable after she had graciously permitted him
to sketch her,--for the benefit of Art. Three medical students and one
attorney Miss Herne numbered as having been driven into a state
of dogged despair on that triumphal occasion. Mr. Holmes may have
quarrelled with the rendering, doubting to himself if her lip were not
too thick, her eye too brassy and pale a blue for the queen of months;
though I do not believe he thought at all about it. Yet the picture
clung to his memory.
As he slowly paced the room to-day, thinking of this woman as his
wife, light blue eyes and yellow hair and the unclean sweetness of
jasmine-flowers mixed with the hot sunshine and smells of the mill. He
could think of her in no other light. He might have done so; for the
poor girl had her other sides for view. She had one of those sharp,
tawdry intellects whose possessors are always reckoned "brilliant women,
fine talkers." She was (aside from the necessary sarcasm to keep up this
reputation) a good-humored soul enough,--when no one stood in her way.
But if her shallow virtues or vices were palpable at all to him to-day,
they became one with the torpid beauty of the oppressive summer day,
and weighed on him alike with a vague disgust. The woman luxuriated in
perfume; some heavy odor always hung about her. Holmes, thinking of her
now, fancied he felt it stifling the air, and opened the window for
breath. Patchouli or copperas,--what was the difference? The mill and
his future wife came to him together; it was scarcely his fault, if he
thought of them as one, or muttered, "Damnable clog!" as he sat down to
write, his cold eye growing colder. But he did not argue the question
any longer; decision had come keenly in one moment, fixed, unalterable.
If, through the long day, the starved heart of the man called feebly for
its natural food, he called it a paltry weakness; or if the old thought
of the quiet, pure little girl in the office below came back to him,
he--he wished her well, he hoped she might succeed in her work, he
would always be ready to lend her a helping hand. So many years (he was
ashamed to think how many) he had built the thought of this girl as his
wife into the future, put his soul's strength into the hope, as if love
and the homely duties of husband and father were what life was given
for! A boyish fancy, he thought. He had not learned then that all dreams
must yield to self-reverence and self-growth. As for taking up this life
of poverty and soul-starvation for the sake of a little love, it would
be an ignoble martyrdom, the sacrifice of a grand unmeasured life to a
shallow pleasure. He was no longer a young man now; he had no time to
waste. Poor Margaret! he wondered if it hurt her now.
He left the writing in the slow, quiet way natural to him, and after
a while stooped to pat the dog softly, who was trying to lick his
hand,--with the hard fingers shaking a little, and a smothered
fierceness in the half-closed eye, like a man who is tortured and alone.
There is a miserable drama acted in other homes than the Tuileries, when
men have found a woman's heart in their way to success, and trampled
it down under an iron heel. Men like Napoleon must live out the law of
their natures, I suppose,--on a throne or in a mill.
So many trifles that day roused the under-current of old thoughts and
old hopes that taunted him,--trifles, too, that he would not have heeded
at another time. Pike came in on business, a bunch of bills in his hand.
A wily, keen eye he had, looking over them,--a lean face, emphasized
only by cunning. No wonder Dr. Knowles cursed him for a "slippery
customer," and was cheated by him the next hour. While he and Holmes
were counting out the bills, a little white-headed girl crept shyly
in at the door, and came up to the table,--oddly dressed, in an
old-fashioned frock fastened with great horn buttons, and with an
old-fashioned anxious pair of eyes, the color of blue Delft. Holmes
smoothed her hair, as she stood beside them; for he never could help
caressing children or dogs. Pike looked up sharply,--then half smiled,
as he went on counting.
"Ninety, ninety-five, _and_ one hundred, all right,"--tying a bit of
tape about the papers. "My Sophy, Mr. Holmes. Good girl, Sophy is. Bring
her up to the mill sometimes," he said, apologetically, "on 'count of
not leaving her alone. She gets lonesome at th' house."
Holmes glanced at Pike's felt hat lying on the table: there was a rusty
strip of crape on it.
"Yes," said Pike, in a lower tone, "I'm father and mother, both, to
"I had not heard," said Holmes, kindly. "How about the boys, now?"
"Pete and John's both gone West," the man said, his eyes kindling
eagerly. "'S fine boys as ever turned out of Indiana. Good eddications I
give 'em both. I've felt the want of that all my life. Good eddications.
Says I, 'Now, boys, you've got your fortunes, nothing to hinder your
bein' President. Let's see what stuff's in ye,' says I. So they're doin'
well. Wrote fur me to come out in the fall. But I'd rather scratch on,
and gather up a little for Sophy here, before I stop work."
He patted Sophy's tanned little hand on the table, as if beating some
soft tune. Holmes folded up the bills. Even this man could spare time
out of his hard, stingy life to love, and be loved, and to be generous!
But then he had no higher aim, knew nothing better.
"Well," said Pike, rising, "in case you take th' mill, Mr. Holmes,
I hope we'll be agreeable. I'll strive to do my best,"--in the old
fawning manner, to which Holmes nodded a curt reply.
The man stopped for Sophy to gather up her bits of broken China with
which she was making a tea-party on the table, and went down-stairs.
Towards evening Holmes went out,--not going through the narrow passage
that led to the offices, but avoiding it by a circuitous route. If it
cost him any pain to think why he did it, he showed none in his calm,
observant face. Buttoning up his coat as he went: the October sunset
looked as if it ought to be warm, but he was deathly cold. On the street
the young doctor beset him again, with bows and news: Cox was his name,
I believe; the one, you remember, who had such a Talleyrand nose for
ferreting out successful men. He had to bear with him but for a few
moments, however. They met a crowd of workmen at the corner, one of
whom, an old man freshly washed, with honest eyes looking out of
horn spectacles, waited for them by a fire-plug. It was Polston, the
coal-digger,--an acquaintance, a far-off kinsman of Holmes, in fact.
"Curious person making signs to you, yonder," said Cox; "hand, I
"My cousin Polston. If you do not know him, you'll excuse me?"
Cox sniffed the air down the street, and twirled his rattan, as he went.
The coal-digger was abrupt and distant in his greeting, going straight
"I will keep yoh only a minute, Mr. Holmes"----
"Stephen," corrected Holmes.
The old man's face warmed.
"Stephen, then," holding out his hand, "sence old times dawn't shame
yoh, Stephen. That's hearty, now. It's only a wured I want, but it's
immediate. Concernin' Joe Yare,--Lois's father, yoh know? He's back."
"Back? I saw him to-day, following me in the mill. His hair is gray? I
think it was he."
"No doubt. Yes, he's aged fast, down in the lock-up; goin' fast to the
end. Feeble, pore-like. It's a bad life, Joe Yare's; I wish 'n' 't would
be better to the end"----
He stopped with a wistful look at Holmes, who stood outwardly attentive,
but with little thought to waste on Joe Yare. The old coal-digger
drummed on the fire-plug uneasily.
"Myself, 't was for Lois's sake I thowt on it. To speak plain,--yoh'll
mind that Stokes affair, th' note Yare brought? Yes? Ther's none knows
o' that but yoh an' me. He's safe, Yare is, only fur yoh an' me. Yoh
speak the wured an' back he goes to the lock-up. Fur life. D' yoh see?"
"He's tryin' to do right, Yare is."
The old man went on, trying not to be eager, and watching Holmes's face.
"He's tryin'. Sendin' him back--yoh know how _that_ 'll end. Seems like
as we'd his soul in our hands. S'pose,--what d' yoh think, if we give
him a chance? It's yoh he fears. I see him a-watchin' yoh; what d' yoh
think, if we give him a chance?" catching Holmes's sleeve. "He's old,
an' he's tryin'. Heh?"
"We didn't make the law he broke. Justice before mercy. Haven't I heard
you talk to Sam in that way, long ago?"
The old man loosened his hold of Holmes's arm, looked up and down the
street, uncertain, disappointed.
"The law. Yes. That's right! Yoh're a just man, Stephen Holmes."
"Yes. I dun'no'. Law's right, but Yare's had a bad chance, an' he's
tryin'. An' we're sendin' him to hell. Somethin's wrong. But I think
yoh're a just man," looking keenly in Holmes's face.
"A hard one, people say," said Holmes, after a pause, as they walked on.
He had spoken half to himself, and received no answer. Some blacker
shadow troubled him than old Yare's fate.
"My mother was a hard woman,--you knew her?" he said, abruptly.
"She was just, like yoh. She was one o' th' elect, she said. Mercy's fur
them,--an' outside, justice. It's a narrer showin', I'm thinkin'."
"My father was outside," said Holmes, some old bitterness rising up in
his tone, his gray eye lighting with some unrevenged wrong.
Polston did not speak for a moment.
"Dunnot bear malice agin her. They're dead, now. It wasn't left fur her
to judge him out yonder. Yoh've yer father's eyes, Stephen, 'times.
Hungry, pitiful, like women's. His got desper't' 't th' last. Drunk
hard,--died of't, yoh know. But _she_ killed him,--th' sin was writ down
fur her. Never was a boy I loved like him, when we was boys."
There was a short silence.
"Yoh're like yer mother," said Polston, striving for a lighter tone.
"Here,"--motioning to the heavy iron jaws. "She never--let go. Somehow,
too, she'd the law on her side in outward showin', an' th' right. But I
hated religion, knowin' her. Well, ther's a day of makin' things clear,
They had reached the corner now, and Polston turned down the lane.
"Yoh'll think o' Yare's case?" he said.
"Yes. But how can I help it," Holmes said, lightly, "if I am like my
mother here?"--putting his hand to his mouth.
"God help us, how can yoh? It's harrd to think father and mother leave
their souls fightin' in their childern, cos th' love was wantin' to make
them one here."
Something glittered along the street as he spoke: the silver mountings
of a low-hung phaeton drawn by a pair of Mexican ponies. One or two
gentlemen on horseback were alongside, attendant on a lady within. She
turned her fair face, and pale, greedy eyes, as she passed, and lifted
her hand languidly in recognition of Holmes. Polston's face colored.
"I've heered," he said, holding out his grimy hand. "I wish yoh well,
Stephen, boy. So'll the old 'oman. Yoh'll come an' see us, soon? Ye 'r'
lookin' fagged, an' yer eyes is gettin' more like yer father's. I'm glad
things is takin' a good turn with yoh; an' yoh'll never be like him,
starvin' fur th' kind wured, an' havin' to die without it. I'm glad
yoh've got true love. She'd a fair face, I think. I wish yoh well,
Holmes shook the grimy hand, and then stood a moment looking back to
the mill, from which the hands were just coming, and then down at the
phaeton moving idly down the road. How cold it was growing! People
passing by had a sickly look, as if they were struck by the plague. He
pushed the damp hair back, wiping his forehead, with another glance at
the mill-women coming out of the gate, and then followed the phaeton
down the hill.
* * * * *
HEALTH IN THE HOSPITAL.
In preparing to do the duty of society towards the wounded or sick
soldier, the first consideration is, What is a Military Hospital? No two
nations seem to have answered this question in the same way; yet it is a
point of the first importance to them all.
When England went to war last time, after a peace of forty years, the
only idea in the minds of her military surgeons was of Regimental
Hospitals. There was to be a place provided as an infirmary for a
certain number of soldiers; a certain number of orderlies were to be
appointed as nurses; and the regimental doctor and hospital-sergeant
were to have the charge of the inmates. In each of these Regimental
Hospitals there might be patients ill of a great variety of disorders,
from the gravest to the lightest, all to be treated by the same doctor
or doctors. These doctors had to make out statements of all the diets,
as well as all the medicines required by their patients, and send in
their requisitions; and it might be said that arrangements had to be
separately made for every individual patient in the whole army. The
doctors went to work each in his own way, even in the case of epidemics.
There was no knowing, except by guess, what diseases were the most to be
apprehended in particular places or circumstances; nor what remarkable
phenomena of disease were showing themselves on any extended scale; nor
what improvements could be suggested in the treatment. There was no
possibility of such systematic cleanliness and such absolute regularity
of management as can be secured by organization on a large scale. Yet
the medical officers preferred the plan to any other. One plea was, that
the medical officers and the patients were acquainted with and attached
to each other: and this was very true. Another consideration was, that
each surgeon liked to have his field of duty to himself, and found it an
advantage to have a large variety of ailments to treat, to the constant
improvement of his experience. They said that doctors and patients and
nurses all liked the Regimental Hospital best, and this was clear proof
that it was the best. They could at that time say also, that every
soldier and every doctor had a horror of General Hospitals, where the
mortality was so excessive during the Peninsular War that being carried
to the General Hospital was considered the same thing as being sentenced
Such being the state of opinion and feeling in the profession, it
naturally happened that British army-surgeons stuck to their Regimental
Hospitals as long as they could, and, when compelled to cooperate in a
General Hospital, made the institution as like as possible to a group
of Regimental Hospitals,--resisting all effective organization, and
baffling all the aims of the larger institution.
In busy times, no two Regimental Hospitals were alike in their
management, because the scheme was not capable of expansion. The surgeon
and his hospital-sergeant managed everything. The surgeon saw and
treated the cases, and made out his lists of articles wanted. It was his
proper business to keep the books,--to record the admissions, and make
the returns, and keep the accounts, and post up all the documents: but
professional men do not like this sort of work, when they want to be
treating disease; and the books were too often turned over to the
hospital-sergeant. His indispensable business was to superintend the
wards, and the attendance on the patients, the giving them their
medicines, etc., which most of us would think enough for one man: but he
had besides to keep up the military discipline in the establishment,--to
prepare the materials for the surgeon's duty at the desk,--to take
charge of all the orders for the diet of all the patients, and see them
fulfilled,--to keep the record of all the provisions ordered and used
in every department,--and to take charge of the washing, the hospital
stores, the furniture, the surgery, and the dispensary. In short, the
hospital-sergeant had to be at once ward-master, steward, dispenser,
sergeant, clerk, and purveyor; and, as no man can be a six-sided
official, more or fewer of his duties were deputed to the orderly, or to
anybody within call.
Nobody could dispute the superior economy and comfort of having a
concentration of patients arranged in the wards according to their
ailments, with a general kitchen, a general laundry, a dispensary and
surgery, and a staff of officials, each with his own distinct business,
instead of as many jacks-of-all-trades, each doing a little of
everything. Yet the obstinacy of the fight made by the surgeons for the
system of Regimental Hospitals was almost insuperable. There was no
desire on any hand to abolish their hospitals, which must always be
needed for slight, and also for immediately pressing cases. What was
asked of them was to give way when epidemics, or a sudden influx of
wounded, or protracted cases put a greater strain upon the system than
it would bear.
The French, meantime, had three sorts of hospitals,--the Divisional ones
coming between the Regimental and the General. Only the very slightest
cases ever enter their Regimental Hospital; those which may last weeks
are referred to the Divisional; and those which may last months, with
prospect of recovery, to the General Hospital. The Sardinian plan was
nearly the same. The Russians had Divisional Hospitals at various
stations; and all cases were carried to them.
The Regimental Hospitals are wherever the regiments are. The advantage
is, that aid can be immediately rendered,--not only in case of wounds,
but of cholera, in which it is desirable to lay a patient down in the
nearest bed to which he can be conveyed. The disadvantages are the
hap-hazard quality of the site, the absence of quiet and seclusion, and
the liability of being near the scene of conflict. These things cause
the French to prefer the Divisional Hospital, which, while still within
reach, is set farther back from the force, in a picked situation, and
managed on a large scale and with nicer exactitude.
The General Hospital is understood to be at the base of operations: and
this supposes, as a part of its organization, a system of transport, not
only good of its kind, but adequate to any demands consequent on a
great battle, or the spread of an epidemic in the camp. The nearer the
hospital is to the active force, the better, of course; but there are
conditions to be fulfilled first. It must be safe from the enemy. It
must be placed in a permanent station. It must be on a good road, and
within immediate reach of markets. It ought also to be on the way home,
for the sake of the incurable or the incapacitated who must be sent
In the Regimental Hospital, the surgeon may be seen going from the man
who has lost a finger to a fever patient,--and then to one who has
ophthalmia,--passing on to a fellow raving in delirium tremens,--next to
whom is a sufferer under bronchitis, who will not be allowed to go out
of doors for weeks to come; and if half a dozen are brought in with
cholera in the course of the day, the officials do not know which way to
turn. It is possible that the surgeon may be found making starch over
the kitchen fire, because there is nobody at hand who understands how to
make starched bandages; or he may be at the desk, casting up columns of
figures, or writing returns, when he is urgently wanted at the bedside.
Such things can hardly happen now; but they have happened within ten
years. The Russians, meantime, would be carrying all manner of patients
to one of their hospital-stations,--each sufferer to the hospital of his
own division. The French would leave the men with scratches and slight
diarrhea and delirium tremens in the Regimental Hospital,--would send
the fever and bronchitis and scorbutic patients to the Divisional,--and
any gravely wounded, or rheumatic, or other very long cases to the
General Hospital at the base of operations.
Such arrangements, however, are of no use, if the last be not so
organized as to render it fit to supply what the others cannot give, and
to answer purposes which the others cannot even propose.
When doctors and soldiers alike shuddered at the mention of the General
Hospital as a necessary institution at or near the seat of war, they
were thinking of what they had seen or heard of during the Peninsular
Campaigns. There were such infirmaries wherever there was a line of
march in Spain; and they seemed to be all alike. Hospital gangrene set
in among the wounded, and fever among the sick, so that the soldiers
said, "To send a poor fellow to the hospital is to send him to death."
Yet there was nothing else to be done; for it was impossible to treat
the seriously sick and wounded at the spot where they fell. During that
war, nearly twice the number which composed the army passed through the
hospitals every year; and of these there were known deaths to the amount
of thirteen thousand five hundred; and thousands more were never the
same men again. When the case was better understood,--as during the last
year in the Crimea,--the mortality in the hospitals barely exceeded that
of the Guards in their barracks at home! Recovery had become the rule,
and death a remarkable event. General Hospitals had come to surpass all
other means of curing patients, while fulfilling their own peculiar
service to society through new generations.
What are the functions of General Hospitals, besides curing the sick and
wounded? some readers may ask, who have never particularly attended to
The first business of such institutions is undoubtedly to restore as
many as possible of the sufferers brought into them: and this includes
the duty of bringing in the patients in the most favorable way,
receiving them in an orderly and quiet manner, doctoring, nursing,
feeding, clothing, and cleaning them, keeping their minds composed and
cheerful, and their manners creditable, promoting their convalescence,
and dismissing them in a state of comfort as to equipment. This is the
first duty, in its many subdivisions. The next is to obviate, as far as
possible, future disease in any army. The third grows out of this. It is
to improve the science of the existing generation by a full use of the
peculiar opportunities of observation afforded by the crop of sickness
and wounds yielded by an army in action. To take these in their reverse
There must be much to learn from any great assemblage of sickness, under
circumstances which can be fully ascertained, even at home,--and much
more in a foreign climate. The medical body of every nation has very
imperfect knowledge of classes and modifications of diseases; so that
one of the strongest desires of the most learned physicians is for
an improved classification and constantly improving nomenclature of
diseases; and hospital-records afford the most direct way to this
knowledge. Thus, while the phenomena are frittered away among
Regimental or unorganized General Hospitals, a well-kept record in each
well-organized hospital will do more than all other means to promote the
scientific understanding of disease.
The statistics of disease in armies, the ascertainment of the numbers
who sicken and who die of particular diseases, would save more lives
in future generations than can be now appreciated; but what can the
regimental surgeon do towards furnishing any trustworthy materials to
such an inquiry? A dozen doctors, with each his smattering of patients,
can learn and teach but little while they work apart: whereas a regular
system of inquiry and record, in action where the sick are brought in in
battalions, is the best possible agency. Not only are these objects lost
when surgeons are allowed to make the great hospital a mere receptacle
for a cluster of small and desultory hospitals, but the advantages of a
broad study of diseases and their treatment are lost. Inestimable facts
of treatment are learned by watching, at the same time and in the same
place, a ward full of patients ill of the same disease. People of all
countries know this by the special learning which their physicians
obtain in large civil hospitals: and the same thing happens in military
hospitals, with the additional advantage that the information and
improved art tend to the special safety of the future soldiery, in
whatever climate they may be called on to serve.
There has long been some general notion of the duty of army-surgeons
to record what they saw in foreign campaigns; but no benefit has been
reaped till of late. The works of French field-surgeons have long been
justly celebrated; but I do not know that in the statistics and the
nomenclature of disease they have done much more than others. The
English surgeons carried or sent home in 1810 a mass of papers about the
Walcheren fever, and afterwards of the diseases of the Peninsular force:
but the Director General of the Medical Department considered such a
bulk of records troublesome, and ordered them to be burnt! Such an
act will never be perpetrated again; but directors will have a more
manageable mass of documents to deal with henceforth. With a regular
system of record, at a central station of observation, much more may be
done with much less fatigue to all parties.
But how is it to be done? may well be asked. In the hurry and confusion
of a war, and amidst the pressure of hundreds of new cases in a day,
what can the surgeons of the hospital be expected to do for science, or
even for the improvement of medical and surgical practice?--The answer
is seen in the new arrangements in England, where a statistical branch
has been established in the Army Medical Department. Of course, no one
but the practising surgeon or physician can furnish the pathological
facts in each individual case; but this is what every active and earnest
practitioner does always and everywhere, when he sees reason for it.
His note-book or hospital-journal provides that raw material which the
statistical department is to arrange and utilize. The result will be
that a flood of light will be cast on matters affecting the health and
life of soldiers and other men, in regard to which we might have gone on
groping for centuries among the confusion of regimental records, without
getting what we wanted. As to the method of proceeding, I may have
something to say farther on. Meantime, we must turn to the primary
object of the institution of the Military Hospital,--the cure of the
wounded and sick of the army.
In the case of active war, foreign or civil, the General Hospital is
usually an extemporized establishment, the building a makeshift, and
the arrangements such as the building will admit. In Spain, the British
obtained any houses they could get; and the soldiers were sometimes
crowded into half a dozen of them in one town. In the last war, the
great buildings at Scutari were engaged three months before they were
wanted for extensive use; so that there was plenty of time for making
them clean, airy, warm, and commodious, and for storing them with all
conveniences. This was not done; and the failure and its consequences
afford a lesson by which every people engaged in war should profit. A
mere outline of what was not done at Scutari may be an indication of
what should be done with all convenient speed elsewhere.
There was a catgut manufactory close at hand, which filled the
neighborhood with stench. Half a dozen dead dogs festered under the
windows in the sun; and a dead horse lay in the aqueduct for six weeks.
The drain-pipes within the building were obstructed and had burst,
spreading their contents over the floors and walls. The sloping boarded
divans in the wards, used for sleeping-places, were found, after the
building became crowded, to be a cover for a vast accumulation of dead
rats, old rags, and the dust of years. Like all large stone buildings in
the East, it was intolerably cold in winter, with its stagnant air,
its filthy damps, and its vaultings and chill floors. This wonderful
building was very grandly reported of to England, for its size and
capacity, its imposing character, and so forth; and the English
congratulated themselves on the luck of the wounded in having such a
hospital. Yet, in the next January, fourteen hundred and eighty were
carried out dead.
It appears that nobody knew how to go to work. Everybody writes to
somebody else to advise them to "observe"; and there are so many
assurances that everybody means to "observe," that there seems to have
been no leisure to effect anything. One thinks that this, that, or the
other should be attended to; and another states that the matter is
under consideration. It was some weeks before anybody got so far in
definiteness as to propose whitewash. Somebody understood that somebody
else was intending to have the corridors scoured; and representations
were to be made to the Turkish authorities about getting the drain-pipes
mended. The Turkish authorities wished to employ their own workmen in
putting in the stoves; and on the 18th of December the responsible
British officer hoped the stoves would be put up immediately, but could
not be certain, as Turkish workmen were in question. This was a month
after large companies of wounded and sick had been sent in from the seat
of war. Even then, nothing had been done for ventilation, or, on any
sufficient scale, for putting the poor sufferers comfortably to bed.
These things confirm the necessity of a regulated cooperation between
the sanitary, the medical, and the military officers of an army. The
sanitary officer should be secure of the services of engineers enough to
render the hospital, as well as the camp, safely habitable. As soon as
any building is taken possession of for a hospital, men and their tools
should be at command for exploring the drains and making new ones,--for
covering or filling up ditches,--for clearing and purifying the
water-courses, and leading in more water, if needed,--for removing all
nuisances for a sufficient distance round,--and for improving to the
utmost the means of access to the house. There must be ventilating
spaces in the roof, and in the upper part of all the wards and passages.
Every vaulted space, or other receptacle of stagnant air, should have a
current established through it. All decaying wood in the building should
be removed, and any portion ingrained with dirt should be planed clean.
A due water-supply should be carried up to every story, and provided
for the bathrooms, the wash-houses, and the kitchen. Every edifice in
America is likely to be already furnished with means of warmth; and
the soldiers are probably in no danger of shivering over the uncertain
promise of stoves on the 18th of December.
Next comes the consideration of store-place, which can be going forward
while busy hands are cleaning every inch of ceiling, walls, floors,
and windows within. There must be sheds and stables for the transport
service; and a surgery and dispensary planned with a view to the utmost
saving of time and trouble, so that medicines and utensils may be
within reach and view, and the freest access allowed to applicants. The
kitchens must have the best stoves and boilers, dressers and scales, and
apparatus of every kind that is known to the time; for more lives depend
on perfect food being administered with absolute punctuality than
upon any medical treatment. There must be large and abundant and airy
store-places for the provisions, and also for such stocks of linen and
bedding as perhaps nobody ever dreamed of before the Crimean War.
The fatal notions of Regimental Hospital management caused infinite
misery at Scutari. In entering the Regimental Hospital, the soldier
carries his kit, or can step into his quarters for it: and the
regulations, therefore, suppose him to be supplied with shirts and
stockings, towel and soap, brushes and comb. This supposition was
obstinately persevered in, at Scutari, till private charity had shamed
the authorities into providing for the men's wants. When the wounded
were brought from the Alma, embarked on crowded transports straight from
the battle-field, how could they bring their kits? Miss Nightingale,
and benevolent visitors from England, bought up at Constantinople,
and obtained from home, vast supplies of body- and bed-linen, towels,
basins, and water-cans; and till they did so, the poor patients lay on
a single blanket or coarse canvas sheet, in their one shirt, perhaps
soaked in blood and dirt. There were some stores in the hospital, though
not enough; and endless difficulty was made about granting them, lest
any man should have brought his kit, and thus have a double supply.
Amidst the emergencies of active war, it seems to be an obvious
provision that every General Hospital should have in store, with ample
bedding, body-linen enough for as many patients as can occupy the
beds,--the consideration being kept in view, that, where the sick and
wounded are congregated, more frequent changes of linen are necessary
than under any other circumstances.
The excellent and devoted managers of the hospitals of the Union army
need no teaching as to the daily administration of the affairs of
the wards. They will never have to do and dare the things that Miss
Nightingale had to decide upon, because they have happily had the
privilege of arranging their hospitals on their own principles. They
will not know the exasperation of seeing sufferers crowded together on a
wooden divan (with an under-stratum of dead rats and rotting rags) while
there is an out-house full of bedsteads laid up in store under lock and
key. Not being disposed to acquiesce in such a state of things, and
failing in all attempts to get at the authority which had charge of the
locked door, Miss Nightingale called to an orderly or two, and commanded
them to break open the door. They stared; but she said she assumed the
responsibility; and presently there were as many men in bed as there
were bedsteads. Her doctrine and practice have always been,--instant
and silent obedience to medical and disciplinary orders, without any
qualification whatever; and by her example and teaching in this respect
she at length overcame the jealousy and prejudices of authorities,
medical and military: but in such a case as the actual presence of
necessaries for the sick, sent out by Government or by private charity
for their use, she claimed the benefit, and helped her patients to it,
when there was no other obstruction in the way than forms and rules
never meant to apply to the case.
What the jealousy was appeared through very small incidents. A leading
medical officer declared, in giving evidence, that the reason why the
patients' meals were sometimes served late and cold, or half-cooked,
was, that Miss Nightingale and her nurses were forever in the way in the
general kitchen, keeping the cooks from the fire: whereas the fact was,
that neither Miss Nightingale nor any nurse had ever entered the general
kitchen, on any occasion whatever. Their way was to have a kitchen of
their own. The very idea of that kitchen was savory in the wards; for
out of it came, always at the right moment, arrowroot, hot and of the
pleasantest consistence,--rice puddings, neither hard on the one hand
nor clammy on the other,--cool lemonade for the feverish, cans full of
hot tea for the weary, and good coffee for the faint. When the sinking
sufferer was lying with closed eyes, too feeble to make moan or sign,
the hospital spoon was put between his lips, with the mouthful of strong
broth or hot wine which rallied him till the watchful nurse came round
again. The meat from that kitchen was tenderer than any other; the
beef-tea was more savory. One thing that came out of it was a lesson on
the saving of good cookery. The mere circumstance of the boiling water
being really boiling there made a difference of two ounces of rice in
every four puddings, and of more than half the arrowroot used. The same
quantity of arrowroot which made a pint, thin and poor, in the general
kitchen, made two pints, thick and good, in Miss Nightingale's.
Then there was the difference in readiness and punctuality. Owing
to cumbrous forms and awkward rules, the orderlies charged with the
business were running round almost all day about the food for their
wards; and the patients were disgusted with it at last. There were
endless orders and details, whenever the monotonous regular diet was
departed from; whereas the establishment of several regular diets,
according to the classifications in the wards, would have simplified
matters exceedingly. When everything for dysentery patients, or for
fever patients, or for certain classes of wounded was called "extra
diet," there were special forms to be gone through, and orders and
contradictions given, which threw everything into confusion, under
the name of discipline. The authority of the ward would allow some
extra,--butter, for instance; and then a higher authority, seeing the
butter, and not knowing how it came there, would throw it out of the
window, as "spoiling the men." Between getting the orders, and getting
the meat and extras, and the mutual crowding of the messengers, some
of the dinners were not put on the fire till an hour or two after the
fainting patient should have had his meal: and then, of course, he could
not take it. The cold mutton-chop with its opaque fat, the beef with its
caked gravy, the arrowroot stiff and glazed, all untouched, might be
seen by the bedsides in the afternoons, while the patients were lying
back, sinking for want of support. Probably the dinners had been brought
up on a tray, cooling all the way up-stairs and along the corridors; and
when brought in, there was the cutting up, in full view of the intended
eaters,--sometimes on the orderly's own bed, when the tables were
occupied. Under such a system, what must it have been to see the quick
and quiet nurses enter, as the clock struck, with their hot-water tins,
hot morsels ready-cut, hot plates, bright knife and fork and spoon,--and
all ready for instant eating! This was a strong lesson to those who
would learn; and in a short time there was a great change for the
better. The patients who were able to sit at table were encouraged to
rise, and dress, and dine in cheerful company, and at the proper hour.
It was discovered, that, if an alternation was provided of soups,
puddings, fish, poultry, and vegetables, with the regular beef dinner,
the great mass of trouble about extras was swept away at once; for these
varieties met every case in hospital except the small number which
required slops and cordials, or something very unusual. By this
clearance, time was saved to such an extent that punctuality became
possible, and the refusal of food almost ceased.
All these details point to the essential badness of the system of
requisitions. In the old days, when war was altogether a mass of
formalities,--and in peace times, when soldiers and their guardians had
not enough to do, and it was made an object and employment to save the
national property by hedging round all expenditure of that property with
difficulties, the system of requisitions might suit the period and the
parties. Amidst the rapid action and sharp emergencies of war it is
out of place. It was found intolerable that nothing whatever could be
had,--not a dose of medicine, nor a candle, nor a sheet, nor a spoon or
dish, nor a bit of soap,--without a series of permits, and applications,
and orders, and vouchers, which frittered away the precious hours,
depressed the sick, worried their nurses, and wasted more of money's
worth in official time, paper, and expensive cross-purposes than could
possibly have been saved by all the ostentatious vigilance of the
method. The deck-loads of vegetables at Balaklava, thrown overboard
because they were rotten before they were drawn, were not the only
stores wasted for want of being asked for. When the Scutari hospitals
had become healthy and comfortable, there was a thorough opening-out of
all the stores which had before been made inaccessible by forms. No
more bedsteads, no more lime-juice, no more rice, no more beer, no
more precious medicines were then locked away, out of the reach or the
knowledge of those who were dying, or seeing others die, for want of
One miserable consequence of the cumbrous method was, that there was no
certainty at any hour of some essential commodity not falling short. It
would have been a dismal day for the most suffering of the patients when
there was not fuel enough to cook "extras," if Miss Nightingale had not
providently bought four boat-loads of wood to meet such a contingency.
It was a dreadful night in the hospital, when, as cholera patients were
brought in by the score, the surgeons found there were no candles to be
had. In that disease, of all maladies, they had to tend their patients
in the dark all night; and a more shocking scene can scarcely be
Every great influx of patients was terrible, whether from an epidemic
or after a battle; but experience and devotedness made even this
comparatively easy before the troops turned homewards. The arrival of
a transport was, perhaps, the first intimation of the earlier battles.
Then all was hurry-skurry in the hospitals; everybody was willing to
help, but the effectual organization was not yet ready.
Of every hundred on board the transport, an average of ten had died
since leaving the Crimea. The names and causes of death of these men
ought to be recorded; but the surgeons of the transport are wholly
occupied in despatching their living charge to the hospital; and the
surgeons there have enough to do in receiving them. Attempts are made to
obtain the number and names and injuries of the new patients: there may
or may not be a list furnished from the ship; and the hospital surgeons
inquire from bed to bed: but in such a scene mistakes are sure to arise;
and it was found, in fact, that there was always more or less variation
between the numbers recorded as received or dead and the proper number.
No one could wonder at this who had for a moment looked upon the scene.
The poor fellows just arrived had perhaps not had their clothes off
since they were wounded or were seized with cholera, and they were
steeped in blood and filth, and swarming with vermin. To obtain shirts
and towels was hard work, because it had to be proved that they brought
none with them. They were laid on the floor in the corridors, as close
as they could be packed, thus breathing and contaminating the air which
was to have refreshed the wards within. If laid upon so-called sheets,
they entreated that the sheets might be taken away; for they were of
coarse canvas, intolerable to the skin. Before the miserable company
could be fed, made clean, and treated by the surgeons, many were dead;
and a too large proportion were never to leave the place more, though
struggling for a time with death. It was amidst such a scene that
Florence Nightingale refused to despair of five men so desperately
wounded as to be set aside by the surgeons. The surgeons were right. As
they said, their time was but too little for the cases which were not
hopeless. And Florence Nightingale was right in finding time, if she
could, to see whether there was really no chance. She ascertained that
these five were absolutely given over; and she and her assistants
managed to attend to them through the night. She cleaned and comforted
them, and had spoonfuls of nourishment ready whenever they could be
swallowed. By the morning round of the surgeons, these men were ready to
be operated upon; and they were all saved.
It would have been easier work at a later period. Before many months
were over, the place was ready for any number to be received in peace
and quietness. Instead of being carried from one place to another,
because too many had been sent to one hospital and too few to another,
the poor fellows were borne in the shortest and easiest way from the
boat to their beds. They were found eager for cleanliness; and presently
they were clean accordingly, and lying on a good bed, between clean,
soft sheets. They did not come in scorbutic, like their predecessors;
and they had no reason to dread hospital gangrene or fever. Every floor
and every pane in the windows was clean; and the air came in pure from
the wide, empty corridors. There was a change of linen whenever it was
desired; and the shirts came back from the wash perfectly sweet and
fresh. The cleaning of the wards was done in the mornings, punctually,
quickly, quietly, and thoroughly. The doctors came round, attended by
a nurse who received the orders, and was afterwards steady in the
fulfilment of them. The tables of the medicines of the day were hung up
in the ward; and the nurse went round to administer them with her own
hand. Where she was, there was order and quietness all day, and the
orderlies were worth twice as much as before the women came. Their
manners were better; and they gave their minds more to their business.
The nurse found time to suit each patient who wished it with a book or a
newspaper, when gifts of that sort arrived from England. Kind visitors
sat by the beds to write letters for the patients, undertaking to see
the epistles forwarded to England. When the invalids became able to rise
for dinner, it was a turning-point in their case; and they were soon
getting into the apartment where there were games and books and meetings
of old comrades. As I have said before, those who died at these
hospitals were finally scarcely more than those who died in--not the
hospitals--but the barracks of the Guards at home.
What were the changes in organization needed to produce such a
regeneration as this?
They were such as must appear to Americans very simple and easy. The
wonder will be rather that they were necessary at last than that they
should have been effected with any difficulty. But Americans have never
known what it is to have a standing army as a long-established and
prominent national institution; and they can therefore hardly conceive
of the strength of the class-spirit which grows up in the various
departments of the military organization. This jealousy, egotism, and
stiffness of prejudice were much aggravated by the long peace, in which
a great rusting of the apparatus of the system took place, without at
all impairing the complacency of those who formed a part of it. The old
medical officers were incapable, pedantic, and jealous; and no proper
relation had ever been established between them and the military
authorities. The imbecility of the system cost the lives of others than
the soldiers who died in hospital. Brave men arose, as in all such
crises, to bear the consequences of other men's mistakes, and the burden
of exposing them; and several physicians and surgeons died, far from
home, in the effort to ameliorate a system which they found unworkable.
The greatest benefactor in exhibiting evils and suggesting remedies, Dr.
Alexander, lived to return home, and instigate reforms, and receive the
honors which were his due; but he soon sank under the consequences of
his labors. So did Lord Herbert, the Secretary of War, to whom, in
conjunction with Miss Nightingale, the British army, at home, in India,
and everywhere, owes its redemption from special sickness and undue
mortality. In America the advantages may be enjoyed without tax or
drawback. The citizens are accustomed to organize themselves for action
of all sorts; and no stiff-necked classes stand in the way of good
management. The difficulty in America must rather be to understand how
anything so perverse as the management of British military hospitals ten
years ago can have existed to so late a date.
It was supposed, ten years since, that there must be nine separate
departments in every Military General Hospital, and the officials
bore titles accordingly; but there was such an odd confusion in their
functions that every one of the nine was often seen doing the business
of some other. The medical officers were drawing corks and tasting wines
and inspecting provisions, when they should have been by the bedside.
The purveyor was counting the soldiers' money, and noting its amount,
when he should have been marketing, or ordering the giving out of the
provisions for the day. The paymaster could scarcely find time to
discharge the bills, so much was his day filled up with doing eternal
sums about the stoppages in the pay of the patients. There were thirteen
kinds of stoppages in the army, three of which were for the sick in
hospital: the paymaster could never be quite certain that he had
reckoned rightly with every man to the last penny; the men were never
satisfied; and the confusion was endless. The commissariat, the
purveyor, and the paymaster were all kept waiting to get their books
made up, while soldiers were working the sums,--being called from their
proper business to help about the daily task of the stoppages. Why there
should not be one uniform stoppage out of the pay of men in hospital no
person of modern ideas could see; and the paymaster's toils would
have been lessened by more than one-half, if he had had to reckon the
deduction from the patients' pay at threepence or fourpence each, all
round, instead of having to deal with thousands per day individually,
under three kinds of charge upon the pay.
The commandant's post was the hardest,--he being supposed to control
every province, and have every official under his orders, and yet being
powerless in regard to two or three departments, the business of which
he did not understand. The officers of those departments went each his
own way; and all unity of action in the establishment was lost. This is
enough to say of the old methods.
In the place of them, a far simpler system was proposed at the end of
the war. The eternal dispute as to whether the commandant should be
military or medical, a soldier or a civilian, was set aside by the
decision that he should be simply the ablest administrator that could
be found, and be called the Governor, to avoid the military title. Why
there should be any military management of men who are sick as men, and
not as soldiers, it is difficult to see; and when the patients are about
to leave the hospital, a stated supervision from the adjutant-general's
department is all that can be required. Thus is all the jealousy between
military and medical authority got rid of. The Governor's authority must
be supreme, like that of the commandant of a fortress, or the commander
of a ship. He will not want to meddle in the doctors' professional
business; and in all else he is to be paramount,--being himself
responsible to the War-Office. The office, as thus declared, is
equivalent to three of the nine old ones, namely, the Commandant, the
Adjutant-General, and the Quartermaster-General.
Next to the Governor, the Chief Medical Officer must be the most
important man in the establishment. He is to be concerned with
professional business only, and to see that all under him are to be
devoted in the same way. For this purpose there must be an end to the
system of requisitions. There must be a Steward, taking his orders from
the Governor alone, and administering a simple and liberal system
of diets and appliances of all sorts. It is his business to provide
everything for the consumption of the establishment, and to keep the
contractors up to their duty. The Treasurer's function speaks for
itself. All the accounts and payments under the Governor's warrant are
in his charge.
There is one more office, rendered necessary by the various and active
service always going on,--the superintendent of that service, or Captain
of the Wards. He is to have the oversight of the orderlies, cooks,
washers, and storekeepers; he is to keep order throughout the house; and
he is to be referred to in regard to everything that is wanted in the
wards, except what belongs to the department of the medical officers or
As for the medical department, there is now a training provided for such
soldiers as wish to qualify themselves for hospital duty. Formerly, the
hospital was served by such men as the military officers thought fit to
spare for the purpose; and they naturally did not send the best. These
men knew nothing of either cleaning wards or nursing patients. Their
awkwardness in sweeping and scouring and making beds was extreme; and
they were helpless in case of anything being wanted to a blister or a
sore. One was found, one day, earnestly endeavoring to persuade his
patient to eat his poultice. It is otherwise now. The women, where
there are any, ought to have the entire charge of the sweeping and
cleaning,--the housemaid's work of the wards; and as to the rest, the
men of the medical-staff corps have the means of learning how to dress
a blister, and poultice a sore, and apply plasters, lint, and bandages,
and administer medicine, and how to aid the sick in their ablutions, in
getting their meals with the least fatigue, and so on.
Of female nurses it is not necessary to say much in America, any more
than in England or France. They are not admissible into Regimental
Hospitals, in a general way; but in great military and civil hospitals
they are a priceless treasure.
The questions in regard to them are two. Shall their office be confined
to the care of the linen and stores, and the supplying of extra diets
and comforts? If admitted to officiate in the wards, how far shall that
In England, there seems to be a strong persuasion that some time must
elapse, and perhaps a generation of doctors must pass away, before the
ministration of female nurses in military hospitals can become a custom,
or even an unquestioned good. No rational person can doubt what a
blessing it would be to the patients to have such nurses administer
nourishment, when the rough orderlies would not have discernment or
patience to give the frequent spoonful when the very life may hang upon
it. Nobody doubts that wounds would be cleansed which otherwise go
uncleansed,--that much irritation and suffering would be relieved which
there are otherwise no hands to undertake. Nobody doubts that many lives
would be saved in every great hospital from the time that fevered frames
and the flickerings of struggling vitality were put under the charge of
the nurses whom Nature made. But the difficulties and risks are great.
On the whole, it seems to be concluded by those who know best, that
only a few female nurses should be admitted into military and naval
hospitals: that they should be women of mature age and ascertained good
sense, thoroughly trained to their business: that they should be
the women who have been, or who would be, the head nurses in other
hospitals, and that they should be paid on that scale: that they should
have no responsibility,--being wholly subject to the surgeons in
ward affairs, and to their own superintendent in all others: that no
enthusiasts or religious devotees should be admitted,--because that very
qualification shows that they do not understand the business of nursing:
that everything that can be as well done by men should be done by
trained orderlies: that convalescents should, generally speaking, be
attended on by men,--and if not, that each female nurse of convalescents
should have a hundred or so in her charge, whereas of the graver cases
forty or fifty are as many as one nurse can manage, with any amount
of help from orderlies. These proposals give some idea of what is
contemplated with regard to the ordinary nurses in a General Military
Hospital. The superintendent of the nurses in each institution must be a
woman of high quality and large experience. And she will show her good
sense, in the first place, by insisting on a precise definition of her
province, that there maybe no avoidable ill-will on the part of the
medical officers, and no cause of contention with the captain of
service, or whatever the administrator of the interior may be called.
She must have a decisive voice in the choice of her nurses; and she
will choose them for their qualifications as nurses only, after being
satisfied as to their character, health, and temper.
No good nurse can endure any fuss about her work and her merits.
Enthusiasts and devotees find immediately that they are altogether out
of place in a hospital,--or, as we may now say, they would find this, if
they were ever to enter a hospital: for, in fact, they never now arrive
there. The preparation brings them to a knowledge of themselves; and the
two sorts of women who really and permanently become nurses are those
who desire to make a living by a useful and valued and well-paid
occupation, and those who benevolently desire to save life and mitigate
suffering, with such a temper of sobriety and moderation as causes them
to endure hardship and ill-usage with firmness, and to dislike praise
and celebrity at least as much as hostility and evil construction.
The best nurses are foremost in perceiving the absurdity and
disagreeableness of such heroines of romance as flourished in the press
seven years ago,--young ladies disappointed in love, who went out to
the East, found their lovers in hospital, and went off with them, to
be happy ever after, without any anxiety or shame at deserting their
patients in the wards without leave or notice. Not of this order was
Florence Nightingale, whose practical hard work, personal reserve, and
singular administrative power have placed her as high above impeachment
for feminine weaknesses as above the ridicule which commonly attends the
striking out of a new course by man or woman. Those who most honor her,
and most desire to follow her example, are those who most steadily bring
their understandings and their hearts to bear upon the work which
she began. Her ill-health has withdrawn her from active nursing and
administration; but she has probably done more towards the saving of
life by working in connection with the War-Office in private than by her
best-known deeds in her days of health. Through her, mainly, it is that
every nation has already studied with some success the all-important
subject of Health in the Camp and in the Hospital. It now lies in the
way of American women to take up the office, and, we may trust, to
"better the instruction."
* * * * *
A STORY OF THANKSGIVING-TIME.
Old Jacob Newell sat despondent beside his sitting-room fire.
Gray-haired and venerable, with a hundred hard lines, telling of the
work of time and struggle and misfortune, furrowing his pale face, he
looked the incarnation of silent sorrow and hopelessness, waiting in
quiet meekness for the advent of the King of Terrors: waiting, but not
hoping, for his coming; without desire to die, but with no dread of
At a short distance from him, in an ancient straight-backed
rocking-chair, dark with age, and clumsy in its antique carvings, sat
his wife. Stiffly upright, and with an almost painful primness in dress
and figure, she sat knitting rapidly and with closed eyes. Her face was
rigid as a mask; the motion in her fingers, as she plied her needles,
was spasmodic and machine-like; the figure, though quiet, wore an air of
iron repose that was most uneasy and unnatural. Still, through the mask
and from the figure there stole the aspect and air of one who had within
her deep wells of sweetness and love which only strong training or power
of education had thus covered up and obscured. She looked of that stern
Puritanical stock whose iron will conquered the severity of New England
winters and overcame the stubbornness of its granite hills, and whose
idea of a perfect life consisted in the rigorous discharge of all
Christian duties, and the banishment, forever and at all times, of the
levity of pleasure and the folly of amusement. She could have walked,
if need were, with composure to the stake; but she could neither have
joined in a game at cards, nor have entered into a romp with little
children. All this was plainly to be seen in the stern repose of her
countenance and the stiff harshness of her figure.
Upon the stained deal table, standing a little in the rear and partially
between the two, reposed an open Bible. Between its leaves lay a pair of
large, old-fashioned, silver-bowed spectacles, which the husband had but
recently laid there, after reading the usual daily chapter of Holy Writ.
He had ceased but a moment before, and had laid them down with a heavy
sigh, for his heart to-day was sorely oppressed; and no wonder; for,
following his gaze around the room, we find upon the otherwise bare
walls five sad mementos of those who had "gone before,"--five coarse and
unartistic, but loving tributes to the dead.
There they hang, framed in black, each with its white tomb and
overhanging willow, and severally inscribed to the memories of Mark,
John, James, Martha, and Mary Newell. All their flock. None left to
honor and obey, none to cheer, none to lighten the labor or soothe the
cares. All gone, and these two left behind to travel hand in hand, but
desolate, though together, to the end of their earthly pilgrimage.
There had, indeed, been one other, but for him there hung no loving
memorial. He was the youngest of all, and such a noble, strong, and
lusty infant, that the father, in the pride of his heart, and with his
fondness for Scriptural names, had christened him Samson. He, too, had
gone; but in the dread gallery that hung about the room there was no
framed funereal picture "To the Memory of Samson Newell." If in the tomb
of his father's or mother's heart he lay buried, no outward token gave
So the old couple sat alone before the sitting-room fire. It was not
often used, this room,--scarcely ever now, except upon Sunday, or on
those two grave holidays that the Newells kept,--Thanksgiving- and
Fast-Day. This was Thanksgiving-Day. The snow without was falling thick
and fast. It came in great eddies and white whirls, obscuring the
prospect from the windows and scudding madly around the corners. It lay
in great drifts against the fences, and one large pile before the middle
front-window had gathered volume till it reached half up the second row
of panes; for it had snowed all night and half the day before. The roads
were so blocked by it that they would have been rendered impassable but
for the sturdy efforts of the farmers' boys, who drove teams of four and
five yokes of oxen through the drifts with heavily laden sleds, breaking
out the ways. The sidewalks in the little village were shovelled and
swept clean as fast as the snow fell; for, though all business was
suspended, according to the suggestion in the Governor's proclamation,
and in conformity to old usage, still they liked to keep the paths open
on Thanksgiving-Day,--the paths and the roads; for nearly half the
families in the place expected sons and daughters from far away to
arrive on the train which should have been at the railroad-station on
the previous evening, but had been kept back by the snow.
But Jacob and Ruth Newell had neither son nor daughter, grandchild,
cousin, relation of any nearness or remoteness, to expect; for the white
snow covered with a cold mantle scores of mounds in many graveyards
where lay their dead. And they sat this day and thought of all their
kindred who had perished untimely,--all save one.
Whether he lived, or whether he had died,--where he lay buried, if
buried he were,--or where he rioted, if still in the land of the living,
they had no notion. And why should they care?
He had been a strong-willed and wild lad. He had disobeyed the
injunctions of his parents while yet a boy. He had not loved the stiff,
sad Sabbaths, nor the gloomy Saturday nights. He had rebelled against
the austerities of Fast- and Thanksgiving-Days. He had learned to play
at cards and to roll tenpins with the village boys. He had smoked in the
tavern bar-room of evenings. In vain had his father tried to coerce him
into better ways; in vain had his mother used all the persuasions of
a maternal pride and fondness that showed themselves only, of all her
children, to this brave, handsome, and reckless boy. He had gone from
worse to worse, after the first outbreaking from the strict home rules,
until he had become at length a by-word in the village, and anxious
mothers warned their sons against companionship with wicked Samson
Newell,--and this when he was only seventeen years of age.
Perhaps mildness might have worked well with the self-willed boy, but
his father knew nothing but stern command and prompt obedience in family
management; and so the son daily fell away, until came the inevitable
day when his wrong-doing reached a climax and he left his father's roof
It was on a Thanksgiving-Day, fifteen years ago, that the boy Samson,
then seventeen years old, was brought home drunk and bleeding. He had
passed the previous night at a ball at the tavern, against the express
command of his father, who would have gone to fetch him away, but that
he could not bear to enter upon a scene he thought so wicked, and
especially upon such an errand. When the dance was over, the boy had
lingered at the bar, drinking glass after glass, until he got into a
fight with the bully of the village, whom he thrashed within an inch
of his life, and then he had sat down in a small side-room with a few
choice spirits, with the avowed purpose of getting drunk over his
victory. He had got drunk, "gloriously drunk" his friends at the tavern
styled it, and had been carried in that state home.
Oh, the bitterness of the misery of that Thanksgiving-Day to Jacob
Newell! He may live a hundred years and never know such another.
The next day Samson awoke from a wretched stupor to find himself weak,
nervous, and suffering from a blinding headache. In this condition his
father forced him to the barn, and there, with a heavy raw-hide, flogged
him without mercy. That night Samson Newell disappeared, and was
thenceforward seen no more in the village.
The same night one of the village stores was entered, the door of an
ancient safe wrenched open, and something over a hundred dollars in
specie taken therefrom. So that on Samson Newell's head rested the crime
of filial disobedience, and the suspicion, amounting, with nearly all,
to a certainty, that he had added burglary to his other wrong-doing.
His name was published in the papers throughout the county, together
with a personal description and the offer of a reward for his arrest and
return. But as he was never brought back nor heard of more, the matter
gradually died away and was forgotten by most in the village; the more
so as, from respect and pity for Jacob Newell, it was scarce ever
mentioned, except privately.
Eight years elapsed from the time of his flight and supposed crime, when
the fellow he had thrashed at the tavern was arrested, tried,
convicted, and sentenced to death for a murder committed in a midnight
tavern-brawl. In a confession that he made he exonerated Samson Newell
from any participation in or knowledge of the burglary for which his
reputation had so long suffered, stating in what manner he had himself
committed the deed. So the memory of the erring son of Jacob Newell was
relieved from the great shadow that had darkened it. Still he was never
mentioned by father or mother; and seven years more rolled wearily on,
till they sit, to-day, alone and childless, by the flickering November
Sore trouble had fallen on them since their youngest son had
disappeared. One by one, the elder children had passed away, each
winter's snow for five years covered a fresh grave, till the new
afflictions that were in store for them scarcely seemed to affect them
otherwise than by cutting yet deeper into the sunken cheeks the deep
lines of sorrow and regret.
Jacob Newell had been known for years as a "forehanded man" in the rural
neighborhood. His lands were extensive, and he had pursued a liberal
system of cultivation, putting into the soil in rich manures more in
strength than he took from it, until his farm became the model one of
the county, and his profits were large and ever increasing. Particularly
in orchards of choice fruit did he excel his neighbors, and his apples,
pears, and quinces always commanded the best price in the market. So he
amassed wealth, and prospered.
But, unfortunately, after death had taken away his children, and the
work in the fields was all done by hired hands, the old man became
impatient of the dulness of life, and a spirit of speculation seized
him. Just at that time, railroad-stock was in high favor throughout the
country. Steam-drawn carriages were to do away with all other modes of
public travel, (as, indeed, they generally have done,) and the fortunate
owners of railroad-stock were to grow rich without trouble in a short
time. In particular, a certain line of railroad, to run through the
village where he lived, was to make Jacob Newell and all his neighbors
rich. It would bring a market to their doors, and greatly increase the
value of all they produced; but above all, those who took stock in it
would be insured a large permanent income. Better the twenty and thirty
per cent. that must accrue from this source than to loan spare cash at
six per cent., or invest their surplus in farm improvements. So said
a very fluent and agreeable gentleman from Boston, who addressed the
people on the subject at a "Railroad Meeting" held in the town-hall;
and incautious Jacob Newell (hitherto most prudent throughout his life)
Only twenty per cent. was to be paid down; no more, said the circular
issued by the directors, might be required for years; perhaps there
would never be any further call: but that would depend very materially
on how generously the farmers through whose lands the road would pass
should give up claims for land-damages. Jacob Newell needed excitement
of some sort, and it took the form of speculation. He believed in the
railroad, and subscribed for two hundred shares of the stock, for which
he paid four thousand dollars down. He also gave the company the right
of way where the track crossed his farm.
In six months he was called upon for two thousand dollars more; three
months afterwards another two thousand was wanted; and so it ran till he
was obliged to mortgage his farm, and finally to sell the greater part
of it, to meet his subscription. In vain he begged for mercy, and
pleaded the statement that only twenty per cent. would be needed. A new
set of directors laughed him, and others like him, to scorn. He would
have sold his stock, but he found it quoted at only twenty-five cents on
the dollar, and that price he could not prevail upon himself to take.
So he sat on this drear Thanksgiving-Day despondent beside his hearth.
With a hundred hard lines furrowing his pale face, telling of the work
of time and struggle and misfortune, he looked the incarnation of silent
sorrow and hopelessness, waiting in quiet meekness for the coming of
Death,--without desire, but without dread.
It was not strange that on this day there should come into the hearts of
both Jacob and Ruth, his wife, sad and dismal memories. Still his gaze
wandered silently about the room, and she plied unceasingly her stiff,
bright knitting-needles. One would have thought her a figure of stone,
sitting so pale and bolt upright, but for the activity of the patiently
Presently Jacob spoke.
"Ruth," he said, "it is a bitter time for us, and we are sore oppressed;
but what does the Psalmist say to such poor, worn-out creatures as we
are? 'The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delighteth
in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the
Lord upholdeth him with his hand. I have been young, and now am old; yet
have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.'
Wife, we are not forsaken of the Lord, although all earthly things seem
to go wrong with us."
She made no verbal reply; but there was a nervous flutter in the poor,
wan fingers, as she still plied the needles, and two large tears rolled
silently down her checks and fell upon the white kerchief she wore over
"We have still a house over our heads," continued Jacob, "and
wherewithal to keep ourselves fed and clothed and warmed; we have but a
few years more to live; let us thank God for what blessings He has yet
She arose without a word, stiff, angular, ungainly, and they knelt
together on the floor.
Meanwhile the snow fell thicker and faster without, and blew in fierce
clouds against the windows. The wind was rising and gaining power, and
it whistled wrathfully about the house, howling as in bitter mockery at
the scene within. Sometimes it swelled into wild laughter, and again
dropped into low and plaintive wailings. It was very dismal out in the
cold, and hardly more cheerful in the warm sitting-room, where those two
jaded souls knelt in earnest prayer.
* * * * *
A railway-train was fast in a snow-bank. There it had stuck, unable
to move either backward or forward, since nine o'clock on Wednesday
evening; it was now Thursday morning, the snow was still falling, and
still seemed likely to fall, blocking up more and more the passage
of the unfortunate train. There were two locomotives, with a huge
snow-plough on the forward one, a baggage and express-car, and four cars
filled with passengers. Two hundred people, all anxious, most of them
grumbling, were detained there prisoners, snow-bound and helpless. It
was a hard case, for they were more than two miles distant--with three
feet depth of snow between--from the nearest house. The nearest village
was five miles away at least.
It was Thanksgiving-Day, too, and they had almost all of them "lotted"
upon a New-England Thanksgiving-dinner with old friends, brothers,
fathers, mothers, and grandparents. And there they were, without so much
as a ration of crackers and cheese.
It was noticeable that the women on the train--and there were quite
a number, and most of them with children in their arms or by their
sides--made, as a general rule, less disturbance and confusion than the
men. The children, however, were getting very hungry and noisy by this
In one of the cars were clustered as fine a family-group as the eye
would desire to rest upon. It consisted of a somewhat large and florid,
but firmly and compactly built man of thirty years or thereabout,
a woman, evidently his wife and apparently some two or three years
younger, and three beautiful children.
The man was large in frame, without being coarse, with a chest broad and
ample as a gymnast's, and with arms whose muscular power was evident at
every movement. His hair and beard (which latter he wore full, as was
just beginning to be the custom) were dark brown in color, and thick and
strong almost to coarseness in texture; his eye was a clear hazel, full,
quick, and commanding, sometimes almost fierce; while an aquiline nose,
full, round forehead, and a complexion bronzed by long exposure to all
sorts of weather, gave him an aspect to be noted in any throng he might
be thrown into. There was a constant air of pride and determination
about the man, which softened, however, whenever his glance fell upon
wife or children. At such times his face lighted up with a smile of
peculiar beauty and sweetness.
The woman was of middle size, with fair hair, inclining towards auburn,
blue eyes, and a clear red and white complexion. Her expression was
one of habitual sweetness and good-humor, while a continual half-smile
played about her rosy mouth. She was plump, good-natured, and
cozy,--altogether a most lovable and delicious woman.
This pair, with their bright-looking children, occupied two seats
near the stove, and were in constant pleasant converse, save when an
occasional anxious and impatient shadow flitted across the face of
the husband and father. On the rack over their heads reposed a small
travelling-bag, which the day before had been filled with luncheon for
the children. Upon its bottom was painted in small white letters the
name, "Samson Newell."
It was, indeed, the long-lost son, returning on this day to answer, so
much as in him lay, the prayers repeated for fifteen years by his father
and mother,--returning to see his former home once more, and here,
nearly on the threshold, stopped by a snow-storm almost unprecedented at
that season. There was occasional bitterness in his impatience at the
wearying detention, but he controlled it as well as he was able.
During the night the passengers had been quiet and uncomplaining. Wood
taken from the tenders of the two locomotives in small quantities, and,
when the engineers stopped the supplies in that quarter, rails torn from
neighboring fences and broken up for firewood, kept them warm; but
after the day had dawned, when the little treasures of luncheon were
exhausted, and all began to feel the real pangs of hunger, things
assumed a more serious aspect. Children in all the cars were crying for
breakfast, and even the older passengers began to feel cross and jaded.
One pleasant fellow, with an apparently inexhaustible flask of whiskey
in his pocket, and good-humor oozing from every pore of his jolly
countenance, passed from car to car, retailing a hundred jokes to every
fresh batch of listeners. But presently the passengers began to tire of
his witticisms, and one after another "poohed" and "pshawed" at him as
he approached. Then with infinite good-nature and philosophy he retired
to one of the saloons and peacefully fell asleep.
Almost equally amusing was a wizened, bent, and thin old man, draped
from head to foot in coarse butternut-colored homespun, and called "Old
Woollen" by the funny fellow, who walked from car to car bewailing his
"I've left the old woman to home," he whined, "with all the things on
her hands, an' more 'n fifty of our folks comin' to eat dinner with
us to-day; an' I've got a note of a hundred an' fifty dollars to
pay,--to-morrow's the last day of grace,--an' I've been sixty-five mile
to get the money to pay it. Now look here!" suddenly and sharply to the
Funny Man, "what do _you_ think o' _that_?"
"Old Woollen," said the Funny Man, with a tremulous voice and tears in
his eyes, "it's a hard case!"
"So't is! That's a fact! Call an' see us, when you come round our way!"
And the old gentleman, greatly mollified by the sympathy of his new
friend, moved on to find fresh auditors for his tale of woe.
It came to be nine o'clock on the morning of Thanksgiving-Day, and still
the snow fell with unabated violence, and still drifts piled higher and
higher about the captive train. The conductor and one of the firemen had
started off on foot at early dawn in search of food for the passengers,
and now there arrived, ploughing nearly breast-high through the snow, a
convoy from one of the nearest farm-houses carefully guarding a valuable
treasure of bread, cheese, bacon, eggs, and pumpkin-pies; but so many
were the mouths to fill that it scarcely gave a bite apiece to the men,
after the women and children had been cared for.
Then the passengers began to grow clamorous. Even the Funny Man had his
woes, for some rogue entered the saloon where he slept and stole the
whiskey-flask from his pocket. When he awoke and discovered his loss, he
remarked that he knew where there was more of the same sort, and turned
over to sleep again. But all were not so philosophical as he. Some
cursed the railroad company, some cursed the fate that had placed them
there, some cursed their folly in leaving comfortable quarters in order
to fast in the snow on Thanksgiving-Day.
Presently the impatiently-pulled-out watches showed ten o'clock, and
still it snowed. Then a rumor ran through the train that there were
a couple of barrels of chickens, ready-dressed for market, in the
express-car, and a general rush in that direction followed. One of the
first to hear of it, and one of the first to be on the spot, was Samson
"Stand back, gentlemen," he cried to the foremost of the throng that
poured eagerly into the car,--"stand back a moment. This poultry is in
charge of the express messenger, and we have no right to take it without
As he spoke, he placed himself beside the messenger. There was a
determination in his eye and manner that held the crowd back for a short
"The chickens are mine," the messenger said; "I bought them on
speculation; they will spoil before I can get anywhere with them, and
they are now too late for Thanksgiving. You may have them for what I
"I will give five dollars towards paying for them"; and Samson Newell
drew out his pocket-book.
"Here's a dollar!" "I'll give a half!" "Count me in for two dollars!"
cried the crowd, favorably struck with the notion of paying for their
But one hulking fellow, with a large mock diamond in his shirt-front,
and clumsy rings on his coarse and dirty fingers, stepped forward and
said that he was a hungry man, that he had lost money by the----
company already, waiting a day and a night in that blamed snow-bank,
and that he was going to have a chicken,--or two chickens, if he wanted
them,--and he was decidedly of the opinion that there was no express
messenger on the train who would see the color of _his_ money in the
Samson Newell was evidently a man of few words in a case of emergency.
He paused for only an instant to assure himself that the man was in
earnest, then he slid open one of the side-doors of the express-car, and
stretched forth a hand whose clutch was like the closing of a claw of
steel. He seized the bejewelled stranger by the coat-collar, shook him
for an instant, and dropped him,--dropped him into a soft snow-drift
whose top was level with the car-floor. Whether the unfortunate worked
a subterranean passage to one of the passenger-cars and there buried
himself in the privacy of a saloon is not known; he certainly was not
seen again till after relief came to the imprisoned train.
There was neither noise nor confusion in the matter of paying for and
dividing the poultry. Samson Newell had already made himself prominent
among the captive travellers. He had eaten nothing himself, that he
might the better provide, so far as his limited provision went, for his
wife and children; he had even gone through the cars with his scanty
luncheon of cakes and apples, and economically fed other people's little
ones, besides administering to the wants of an invalid lady upon the
train, who was journeying alone. He was, therefore, a favorite with all
on board. His action, enforcing payment for the provision that would
very likely, but for him, have been taken by force, caused the
passengers to defer to him as a leader whose strength and courage fitted
him for the post, and so he presided at the distribution of the chickens
The fuel in the stoves was replenished, and quite a large space was
cleared to the leeward of the locomotive, where a fire was built from
the neighboring fences, so that in an hour's time from the finding of
the poultry the entire body of passengers were busy picking the bones of
roasted and broiled fowls. It was not so bad a dinner! To be sure, it
was rather chilly, now and then, when the opening of a car-door, to
let in a half-frozen gentleman with a half-cooked chicken in his hand,
admitted with him a snow-laden blast from without; and then the viands
were not served _a la Soyer_, but there was an appetite for sauce and a
certain gypsy-like feeling of being at a picnic that served as a relish.
And so, in the year of our Lord 18--, two hundred strangers sat down
together at a most extraordinary Thanksgiving-dinner, of which no
account has hitherto been published, if I except a vote of thanks,
"together with an exceedingly chaste and richly chased silver goblet,"
(so the newspaper description read,) which were presented to the
conductor by "the surviving passengers," after he had procured help and
rescued them from their perplexing predicament.
But dinners end. Twelve o'clock came, and still the snow was falling
thick and fast, and still the white plain about them mounted slowly and
surely towards the skies. Then the passengers became yet more weary and
unhappy. Old Woollen, the unfortunate, detailed his woes to more and
more appreciative audiences. Even the Funny Man--with a fresh flask of
whiskey--sighed almost dismally between frequent uneasy "cat-naps." And
Samson Newell, first seeing his wife comfortably settled, and his little
ones safely disposed about her, strode up and down, from car to car,
with a gloom of disappointment on his face that was almost ferocious.
"Too bad!" he muttered, "too bad! too bad! too bad!"
One o'clock came, and the snow held up! At first the passengers noticed
that the flakes fell less thickly. Then, gradually and ever slowly
decreasing, they finally ceased falling altogether. The clouds drifted
from before the face of the heavens, and the sun came out. It shone over
a broad surface of glistening snow, with here and there a fence-post
obtruding into notice, but otherwhere a cold, blank expanse of
whiteness. One or two remote farm-houses, with blue smoke rising in
thin, straight columns from their chimneys, a wide stretch of woodland
to the right, distant hills bounding all the prospect,--and everywhere
snow. No fences, no roads, no paths,--but only snow!
The passengers gazed out of the windows or stood upon the
platforms,--drawn thither by the warmth of the sun,--with feelings
almost akin to despair. Presently it was proposed to make for the
farm-houses, and fifteen of the more adventurous started. A few struggled
through and arrived in something over an hour at the nearest house,
wet to the skin with melted snow, and too much fatigued to think of
returning,--but most of them gave out at the end of the first half-mile,
and came back to the train.
So the prisoners sat down and whiled away the time as best they might,
in the relation of anecdotes, telling stories, and grumbling. A few
slept, and a large number tried to do so, without success.
The slow hand of Time, moving more slowly for them than they remembered
it to have ever moved before, crept on to three o'clock, and still there
was no prospect of relief and no incident of note save the arrival
through the snow of a dozen men sent by the conductor. They brought word
that help was approaching from the nearest station where a sufficiently
powerful locomotive could be obtained, and that they would probably be
started on their way during the next forenoon. These messengers also
brought a small supply of provisions and a number of packs of cards,
with the latter of which many of the passengers were soon busy. They now
resigned themselves to another night in the drift.
But at half after three occurred an incident that restored hope of a
more speedy deliverance to a few of the captives.
Through the low pine-lands to the right ran a road which was very
thoroughly protected from drifting snow by the overhanging trees, and
along this road there now appeared two pair of oxen. In front of the
oxen were five men armed with wooden snow-shovels, with which they beat
down and scattered the snow. Behind all was a small, square box on
runners. It was very small and contained only one board seat. Three
persons could sit and three stand in it: no more.
Upon the appearance of this squad of road-breakers with their team,
three hearty cheers went up from the train. They were immediately
answered by the approach of the apparent leader of the expedition. He
was a small, active, spare old fellow, so incrusted with frozen snow,
which hung all over him in tiny white pellets, as to resemble more an
active, but rather diminutive white bear, than anything else known to
Natural History. He scrambled and puffed through the snow till he found
a mounting-place upon an unseen fence, when he arose two or three feet
above the surrounding surface, and spoke,--
"There's five on us, an' two yoke."
"Two yoke yender, an' five on us."
"Well! supposing there is?" from the train.
"Five mile to town," continued the White Bear, "an' been sence nine this
mornin' gittin' here. Five times five is twenty-five, but, seein' it's
you, I'll call it twelve 'n' 'arf."
"Call _what_ 'twelve 'n' 'arf,' Sheep-Shanks?" from the train.
"_That_ man don't ride, nohow! I've marked _him_! I don't cal'late to
take no sarse _this_ trip! Take any six or eight for twelve dollars an'
fifty cents right straight to the tahvern! Who bids?"
"I'll give you fifteen dollars, my friend, to take myself, my wife, and
three children to the village."
It was Samson Newell who spoke.
"'M offered fifteen," cried the White Bear, pricking up his ears; "goin'
to the tahvern at fifteen; who says fifteen 'n' arf?"
"I do!" from a pursy passenger with a double chin and a heavy fob-chain.
He glanced round a little savagely, having made his bid, as who should
say, "And I should like to see the man who will raise it!"
"'N' 'arf! 'n' 'arf! 'n' 'arf! 'n' 'arf!" cried the White Bear, growing
much excited,--"an' who says sixteen?"
Samson Newell nodded.
"Sixteen dollars! sixteen! sixteen! We can't tarry, gentlemen!"
The White Bear proved the truth of this latter assertion by suddenly
disappearing beneath the snow. He reappeared in an instant and resumed
"I see the gentleman's sixteen," quoth the man who had called the White
Bear "Sheep-Shanks," "and go fifty cents better!"
"I see _you_," replied the auctioneer, "an' don't take your bid! Who
says sixteen 'n' 'arf?"
"I do!" quoth the Double Chin; and he glowered upon his
At this instant appeared Old Woollen on the scene. In one hand he bore
his pocket-book; in the other, a paper covered with calculations. The
latter he studied intently for a moment, then,--
"I'll give you sixteen dollars an' sixty-two 'n' a half cents; an' if
you ever come round our way"--
The jubilant auctioneer, fairly dancing upon the fence in the energy of
his delight, broke in here,--
"Can't take no bids, gentlemen, short of a half-dollar rise, each time!"
Old Woollen retired, discomfited, and was seen no more.
From this point the bidding ran up rapidly till it reached twenty-five
dollars, where it stopped, Samson Newell being the successful bidder.
It was a study to watch the man, now that his chance for reaching home
that day brightened. Instead of being elate, his spirits seemed to fall
as he made his arrival at the village certain.
"Ah!" he thought, "are my father and mother yet living? How will my
brothers and sisters welcome me home?"
* * * * *
In the village where dwelt Jacob Newell and his wife, an old man, lame
and totally blind, had been for over thirty years employed by the town
to ring the meetinghouse-bell at noon, and at nine o'clock in the
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