Atlantic Monthly, Vol. IV, No. 26, December, 1859
Part 3 out of 5
respected by the old man as "a boy that took naterally to book-larnin',
and would _be_ suthin' some day." Of course he went to the Banks, and
acquitted himself there with honor,--no man fishing more zealously or
having better luck. But all the time he was dreaming of his future,
counting this present as nothing, and ready, as soon as Fortune should
make him an opening, to cast away this life, and grasp--he had not
"_I_ dun know what ails him," said his father; "but he don't take
kindly to the Banks. Seems to me he kinder despises the work, though he
_does_ it well enough. And then he makes the best shoes on the Cape;
but he a'n't content, somehow."
And that was just it. He was not contented. He had seen men--"no better
than I," thought he, poor fool!--in Boston, living in big houses,
wearing fine clothes, putting fair, soft hands into smooth-fitting
kid-gloves; "and why not I?" he cried to himself continually. Year by
year, from his seventeenth to his twenty-first, he was pursued by this
demon of "ambition," which so took possession of his heart as to crowd
out nearly everything else,--father, mother, work,--even pretty
Hepzibah Nickerson, almost, who loved him, and whom he also loved
truly. They had almost grown up together, had long loved each other,
and had been now two years betrothed. When Elkanah was out of his time
and able to buy a share in a vessel, and had made a voyage to the Banks
as captain, they were to be married.
The summer before this spring in which our story opens, Elkanah had
stayed at home for two months, because of a rheumatism contracted by
unusual exposure on the Banks in early spring; and at this time he made
the acquaintance of Mr. James Graves, N. A., from New York, spending
part of his summer on the Cape in search of the picturesque,--which I
hope he found. Elkanah had, as I have said, a natural talent for
drawing, and some of his sketches had that in them which elicited the
approval of Graves, who saw in the young fellow an untutored genius,
or, at least, very considerable promise of future excellence. To him
there could be but one choice between shoemaking and "Art"; and finding
that young Brewster made rapid advances under his desultory tuition, he
told him his thoughts, that he should not waste himself making
sea-boots for fishermen, but enter a studio in Boston or New York, and
make his career as a painter. It scarcely needed this, however; for
Elkanah took such delight in his new proficiency, and got from Graves's
stories of artist life such exalted ideas of the unalloyed felicity of
the gentleman of the brush, that, even had the painter said no word, he
would have worked out that way himself.
"Only wait till next year, when I'm out of my time," said he to Graves;
and to himself,--"This is the opening for which I have been waiting."
That winter--"my last at shoemaking"--he worked more diligently than
ever before, and more good-naturedly. Uncle Abijah was delighted at the
change in his boy, and promised him great things in the way of a lift
next year, to help him to a speedy wedding. Elkanah kept his own
counsel, read much in certain books--which Graves had left him, and
looked impatiently ahead to the day when, twenty-one years of age, he
should be a free man,--able to go whither he listed and do what he
would, with no man authoritatively to say him nay.
And now the day had come; and with I don't know how few dollars in his
pocket, his scant earnings, he had declared to his astounded parents
his determination to fish and shoemake no longer, but to learn to be a
"A great painter,"--that was what he said.
"I don't see the use o' paintin' picters, for my part," said the old
man, despairingly; "can't you learn that, an' fish tu?"
"Famous and rich too," said Elkanah half to himself, looking through
the vista of years at the result he hoped for, and congratulating
himself in advance upon it. And a proud, hard loot settled in his eye,
which froze the opposition of father and mother, and was hardly dimmed
by encountering the grieved glance of poor Hepsy Ann Nickerson.
Poor Hepsy Ann! They had talked it all over, time and again. At first
she was in despair; but when he laid before her all his dazling hopes,
and painted for her in such glowing colors the final reward which
should come to him and her in return for his struggles,--when she saw
him, her love and pride, before her already transfigured, as it were,
by this rare triumph, clothed in honors, his name in all mouths,--dear,
loving soul, her heart consented, "ay, if it should break meantime,"
thought she, as she looked proudly on him through her tears, and
said,--"Go, in God's name, and God be with you!"
Perhaps we might properly here consider a little whether this young man
did well thus to leave father, mother, home, his promised bride,
sufficient bread-and-butter, healthy occupation, all, to attempt life
in a new direction. Of course, your man who lives by bread alone will
"pooh! pooh!" all such folly, and tell the young man to let well enough
alone. But consider candidly, and decide: Should Elkanah have gone to
On the whole, _I_ think, _yes_. For,--He had a certain talent, and gave
good promise of excellence in his chosen profession.
He liked it, felt strongly impelled towards it. Let us not yet
scrutinize too closely the main impelling forces. Few human actions
originate solely in what we try to think the most exalted motives.
He would have been discontented for life, had he not had his way. And
this should count for something,--for much, indeed. Give our boys
liberty to try that to which their nature or fancy strongly drives
them,--to burn their fingers, if that seem best.
Let him go, then; and God be with him! as surely He will be, if the
simple, faithful prayers of fair, sad Hepsy Ann are heard. Thus will
he, thus only can any, solve that sphinx-riddle of life which is
propounded to each passer to-day, as of old in fable-lands,--failing to
read which, he dies the death of rusting discontent,--solving whose
mysteries, he has revealed to him the deep secret of his life, and sees
and knows what best he may do here for himself and the world.
But _what, where, who_, is Elkanah Brewster's world?
While we stand reasoning, he has gone. In New York, his friend Graves
assisted him to a place in the studio of an artist, whose own works
have proved, no less than those of many who have gathered their most
precious lessons from him, that he is truly a master of his art. But
what are masters, teachers, to a scholar? It's very fine boarding at
the Spread-Eagle Hotel; but even after you have feed the waiter, you
have to chew your own dinner, and are benefited, not by the amount you
pay for it, but only by so much of all that with which the bounteous
mahogany is covered as you can thoroughly masticate, easily contain,
and healthily digest. Elkanah began with the soup, so to speak. He
brought all his Cape-Cod acuteness of observation to bear on his
profession; lived closely, as well he might; studied attentively and
intelligently; lost no hints, no precious morsels dropping from the
master's board; improved slowly, but surely. Day by day he gained in
that facility of hand, quickness of observation, accuracy of memory,
correctness of judgment, patience of detail, felicity of touch, which,
united and perfected and honestly directed, we call genius. He was
above no drudgery, shirked no difficulties, and labored at the
insignificant sketch in hand to-day as though it were indeed his
masterpiece, to be hung up beside Raphael's and Titian's; meantime,
keeping up poor Hepsy Ann's heart by letters full of a hope bred of his
own brave spirit, rather than of any favoring circumstances in his
life, and gaining his scant bread-and-butter by various honest
drudgeries which I will not here recount.
So passed away three years; for the growth of a poor young artist in
public favor, and that thing called fame, is fearfully slow. Oftenest
he has achieved his best when the first critic speaks kindly or
savagely of him. What, indeed, _at best_, do those blind leaders, but
zealously echo a sentiment already in the public heart,--which they
vainly endeavor to create (out of nothing) by any awe-inspiring formula
of big words?
Men grow so slowly! But then so do oaks. And little matter, so the
growth be straight.
Meantime Elkanah was getting, slowly and by hardest labor, to have some
true conception of his art and his aims. He became less and less
satisfied with his own performances; and, having with much pains and
anxious prayers finished his first picture for the Academy, carefully
hid it under the bed, and for that year played the part of independent
critic at the Exhibition. Wherefrom resulted some increase of
knowledge,--though chiefly negative.
For what positive lesson is taught to any by that yearly show of what
we flatter ourselves by calling Art? Eight hundred and fifteen new
paintings this year, shown by no less than two hundred and eighty-one
painters. When you have gone patiently through and looked at every
picture, see if you don't wish the critics _had_ eyes, and a little
common sense, too. How many of these two hundred and eighty-one, if
they live to be a hundred, will ever solve their great riddle? and once
solved, how many would honestly go back to shoemaking?
Why should they not paint? Because, unless some of them are poorer men
than I think, that is not the thing they are like to do best; and a man
is put into this world, not to do what he may think or hope will most
speedily or effectually place him in the list of this world's
illustrious benefactors, but honestly and against all devilish
temptations to stick to that thing by which he can best serve and
Whom? A city? A state? A republic? A king?
No,--but that person who Is nearest to, and most dependent upon him.
Look at Charles Lamb, and then at Byron and Shelley.
The growth of a poor young artist into public favor is slow enough. But
even poor young artists have their temptations. When Elkanah hung his
first picture in the Academy rooms, he thought the world must feel the
acquisition. Now the world is a notoriously stupid world, and never
does its duty; but kind woman not seldom supplies its omissions. So it
happened, that, though the world ignored the picture, Elkanah became at
once the centre of admiration to a coterie of young ladies, who thought
they were appreciating Art when they flattered an artist, and who, when
they read in the papers the gratifying Intelligence (invented by some
sanguine critic, over a small bottle of Champagne cider) that the
American people are rapidly growing in true love for the fine arts,
blushingly owned to themselves that their virtuous labors in this
direction were not going unrewarded.
Have you never seen them in the Academy,--these dear young ladies, who
are so constantly foreseeing new Raphaels, Claudes, and Rembrandts?
Positively, in this year's Exhibition they are better worth study than
the paintings. There they run, up and down, critical or enthusiastical,
as the humor strikes: Laura, with big blue eyes and a loud voice,
pitying Isidora because she "has never met" that dear Mr. Herkimer, who
paints such delicious, dreamy landscapes; and Emily dragging everybody
off to see Mr. Smith's great work, "The Boy and the Windmill,"
which--so surprising is his facility--he actually painted in less than
twelve days, and which "promises so much for his success and the future
of American Art," says this sage young critic, out of whose gray eyes
look the garnered experiences of almost eighteen summers.
Whoever desiderates cheap praise, let him cultivate a beard and a
sleepy look, and hang a picture in the Academy rooms. Elkanah received
it, you may be sure. It was thought _so_ romantic, that he, a
fisherman,--the young ladies sunk the shoemaker, I believe,--should be
_so_ devoted to Art. How splendidly it spoke for our civilization, when
even sailors left their vessels, and, abjuring codfish, took to canvas
and brushes! What admirable courage in him, to come here and endeavor
to work his way up from the very bottom! What praiseworthy
self-denial,--"No!! is it _really_ so?" cried Miss Jennie,--when he had
left behind him a fair young bride!
It was as though it had been written, "Blessed is he who forsaketh
father, mother, and wife to paint pictures." But it is not so written.
It was as if the true aim and glory of every man in a civilized
community should be to paint pictures. Which has this grain of truth in
it, that, in the highest form of human development, I believe every man
will be at heart an artist. But then we shall be past picture-painting
and exhibitions. Don't you see, that, if the fruit be thoroughly ripe,
it needs no violent plucking? or that, if a man is really a painter, he
_will_ paint,--ay, though he were ten times a shoe-maker, and could
never, never hope to hang;--his pictures on the Academy walls, to win
cheap wonder from boarding-school misses, or just regard from
Elkanah Brewster came to New York to make his career,--to win nothing
less than fame and fortune. When he had struggled through five years of
Art-study, and was now just beginning to earn a little money, he began
also to think that he had somehow counted his chickens before they were
hatched,--perhaps, indeed, before the eggs were laid. "Good and quickly
come seldom together," said old Uncle Shubael. But then a man who has
courage commonly has also endurance; and Elkanah, ardently pursuing
from love now what he had first been prompted to by ambition, did not
murmur nor despair. For, indeed, I must own that this young fellow had
worked himself up to the highest and truest conception of his art, and
felt, that, though the laborer is worthy of his hire, unhappy is the
man who lowers his art to the level of a trade. In olden times, the
priests did, indeed, eat of the sacrificial meats; but we live under a
new and higher dispensation.
Meantime, what of Hepsy Ann Nickerson? She had bravely sent her hero
out, with her blessing on his aspirations. Did she regret her love and
trust? I am ashamed to say that these five long, weary years had passed
happily to this young woman. She had her hands full of work at home,
where she reigned over a family of brothers and sisters, _vice_ her
mother, promoted. Hands busied with useful toils, head and heart filled
with love and trust of Elkanah, there was no room for unhappiness. To
serve and to be loved: this seems, indeed, to be the bliss of the
happiest women I have known,--and of the happiest men, too, for that
matter. It does not sound logical, and I know of no theory of woman's
rights which will satisfactorily account for the phenomenon. But
then--there are the facts.
A Cape household is a simpler affair than you will meet with in the
city. If any young marrying man waits for a wife who shall be an adept
in the mysteries of the kitchen and the sewing-basket, let him go down
to the Cape. Captain Elijah Nickerson, Hepsy Ann's father, was master
and owner of the good schooner "Miranda," in which excellent, but
rather strongly scented vessel, he generally made yearly two trips to
the Newfoundland Banks, to draw thence his regular income; and it is to
be remarked, that his drafts, presented in person, were never
dishonored in that foggy region. Uncle Elijah, (they are all uncles, on
the Cape, when they marry and have children,--and _boys_ until then,)
Uncle Elijah, I say, was not uncomfortably off, as things go in those
parts. The year before Elkanah went to New York, the old fellow had
built himself a brand-new house, and Hepsy Ann was looked up to by her
acquaintance as the daughter of a man who was not only brave and
honest, but also lucky. "Elijah Nickerson's new house"--as it is still
called, and will be, I suppose, until it ceases to be a house--was
fitted up inside in a way which put you much in mind of a ship's cabin,
and would have delighted the simple heart of good Captain Cuttle. There
was no spare space anywhere thrown away, nor anything suffered to lie
loose. Beckets and cleats, fixed into the walls of the sitting-room,
held and secured against any possible damage the pipes, fish-lines,
dolphin-grains, and sou'westers of the worthy Captain; and here he and
his sat, when he was at home, through the long winter evenings, in
simple and not often idle content. The kitchen, flanked by the
compendious outhouses which make our New England kitchens almost
luxurious in the comfort and handiness of every arrangement, was the
centre of Hepsy Ann's kingdom, where she reigned supreme, and waged
sternest warfare against dirt and disorder. Hence her despotic sway
extended over the pantry, an awful and fragrant sanctuary, whither she
fled when household troubles, or a letter from Elkanah, demanded her
entire seclusion from the outer world, and of whose interior the
children got faint glimpses and sniffs only on special and
long-remembered occasions; the west room, where her father slept when
he was at home, and where the curious searcher might find store of old
compasses, worn-out cod-hooks, condemned gurry-knives, and last year's
fishing-mittens, all "stowed away against time-o'-need"; the spare
room, sacred to the rites of hospitality; the "up-stairs," occupied by
the children and Hepsy Ann's self; and finally, but most important of
all, the parlor, a mysterious and hermetically sealed apartment, which
almost seemed to me an unconsecrated spot in this little temple of the
homely virtues and affections,--a room furnished in a style somewhat
ostentatious and decidedly uncomfortable, swept and dusted on Saturday
afternoons by Hepsy Ann's own careful hands, sat in by the Captain and
her for an hour or two on Sundays in awkward state, then darkened and
locked for the rest of the week.
As for the queen and mistress of so much neatness and comfort, I must
say, that, like most queens whose likeness I have seen, she was rather
plain than strictly beautiful,--though, no doubt, her loyal subjects,
as in such cases commonly occurs, pictured her to themselves as a very
Helen of Troy. If her cheeks had something of the rosy hue of health,
cheeks, and arms, too, were well tanned by frequent exposure to the
sun. Neither tall nor short, but with a lithe figure, a natural grace
and sweet dignity of carriage, the result of sufficient healthy
exercise and a pure, untroubled spirit; hands and feet, mouth and nose,
not such as a gentleman would particularly notice; and straight brown
hair, which shaded the only _really_ beautiful part of Hepsy Ann's
face,--her clear, honest, brave blue eyes: eyes from which spoke a soul
at peace with itself and with the outward world,--a soul yet full of
love and trust, fearing nothing, doubting nothing, believing much good,
and inclined to patient endurance of the human weaknesses it met with
in daily life, as not perhaps altogether strange to itself. The Cape
men are a brave, hardy race; and the Cape women, grave and somewhat
silent, not demonstrative in joy or grief, reticent mostly of anxieties
and sorrows, born to endure, in separation from fathers, brothers,
lovers, husbands, in dangers not oftener fancied than real, griefs
which more fortunate women find it difficult to imagine,--these Cape
women are worthy mothers of brave men. Of such our Hepsy Ann was a fair
example,--weaving her rather prosaic life into golden dreams in the
quiet light of her pantry refuge, happy chiefly because she thought
much and carefully for others and had little time for self-brooding;
like most genuine heroines, (except those of France,) living an heroic
life without in the least suspecting it.
And did she believe in Elkanah?
And did Elkanah believe in himself?
Yes,--but with certain grave doubts. Here is the difference: the
woman's faith is intuition; the man must have a reason for the faith
that is in him.
Yet Elkanah was growing. I think a man grows like the walls of a house,
by distinct stages: so far the scaffolding reaches, and then a general
stoppage while the outer shell is raised, the ladders lengthened, and
the work squared off. Now I don't know, unhappily, the common process
of growth of the artistic mind, and how far the light of today helps
the neophyte to look into the indefinite twilight of to-morrow; but
step by step was the slow rule of Elkanah's mind, and he had been now
five years an artist, and was held in no despicable repute by those few
who could rightly judge of a man's future by his past, when first it
became very clear to him that he had yet to find his _speciality_ in
Art,--that truth which _he_ might better represent than any other man.
Don't think five years long to determine so trivial a point. The right
man in the right place is still a rare phenomenon in the world; and
some men spend a lifetime in the consideration of this very point,
doubtless looking to take their chance of real work in the next world.
I mean to say it took Elkanah just five years to discover, that, though
he painted many things well, he did yet put his very soul into none,
and that, unless he could now presently find this, _his_ right place,
he had, perhaps, better stop altogether.
Elkanah considered; but he also worked unceasingly, feeling that the
best way to break through a difficulty is to pepper away at its outer
Now while he was firing away wearily at this fortress, which held, he
thought, the deepest secret of his life, Hepsy Ann sat in her pantry,
her serene soul troubled by unwonted fears. Captain Elijah Nickerson
had sailed out in his stanch schooner in earliest spring, for the
Banks. The old man had been all winter meditating a surprise; and his
crew were in unusual excitement, peering out at the weather, consulting
almanacs, prophesying (to outsiders) a late season, and winking to each
other a cheerful disbelief of their own auguries. The fact is, they
were intending to slip off before the rest, and perhaps have half their
fare of fish caught before the fleet got along. No plan could have
succeeded better--up to a certain point. Captain Elijah got off to sea
full twelve days earlier than anybody else, and was bowling merrily
down towards the eternal fog-banks when his neighbors were yet scarce
thinking of gathering up their mittens and sea-boots. By the time the
last comers arrived on the fishing-ground, one who had spoken the
"Miranda" some days before, anchored and fishing away, reported that
they had, indeed, nearly _wet her salt_,--by which is meant that she
was nearly filled with good, sound codfish. The men were singing as
they dressed their fish, and Captain Elijah, sitting high up on the
schooner's quarter, took his pipe out of his mouth, and asked, as the
vessel rose on the sea, if they had any news to send home, for three
days more like that would fill him up.
That was the last word of Captain Elijah Nickerson's ever heard by men
now living. Whether the "Miranda" was sunk by an iceberg; whether run
down in the dark and silent watches of the night by some monster packet
or swift hurling steamer, little recking the pale fisher's light feebly
glimmering up from the surface of the deep; or whether they went down
at their anchors, in the great gale which set in on the third night, as
many brave men have done before, looking their fate steadfastly in the
face for long hours, and taking time to bid each other farewell ere the
great sea swallowed them;--the particulars of their hapless fate no man
may know, till the dread day when the sea shall give up its dead.
Vainly poor Hepsy Ann waited for the well-known signal in the
offing,--daily walking to the shore, where kind old Uncle Shubael, now
long superannuated, and idly busying himself about the fish-house,
strove to cheer her fainting soul by store of well-chosen proverbs, and
yarns of how, aforetimes, schooners not larger and not so stout as the
"Miranda," starting early for the Banks, had been blown southward to
the West Indies, and, when the second-fare men came in with their fish,
had made their appearance laden with rich cargoes of tropical molasses
and bananas. Poor Hepsy Ann! what need to describe the long-drawn agony
which grew with the summer flowers, but did not wane with the summer
sun? Hour after hour, day after day, she sat by her pantry-window,
looking with wistful eyes out upon the sand, to that spot where the
ill-fated "Miranda" had last been seen, but never should appear
"poor lone Hannah,
Sitting by the window, binding shoes,"--
cheeks paling, eyes dimming, with that hope deferred which maketh the
heart sick. Pray God you never may be so tried, fair reader! If, in
these days, she had not had the children to keep and comfort, she has
since told me, she could scarce have borne it. To calm their fears, to
soothe their little sorrows, to look anxiously--more anxiously than
ever before--after each one of her precious little brood, became now
her chief solace.
Thus the long, weary days rolled away, each setting sun crushing
another hope, until at last the autumn storms approached, the last
Banker was safe home; and by this time it was plain, even to poor Hepsy
Ann's faithful heart, that her dead would not come back to her.
"If only Elkanah were here!" she had sometimes sighed to herself;--but
in all these days she wrote him no word. And he--guessing nothing of
her long, silent agony, himself sufficiently bemired in his slough of
despond, working away with sad, unsatisfied heart in his little studio,
hoping yet for light to come to his night--was, in truth, so full of
himself, that Hepsy Ann had little of his thoughts. Shall I go farther,
and admit that sometimes this poor fellow dimly regretted his pledged
heart, and faintly murmured, "If only I were free, _then_ I might do
something"? If only the ship were rid of her helmsman, then indeed
would she go--somewhere.
At last,--it was already near Thanksgiving,--the news reached Elkanah.
"I thought you'd ha' been down afore this to see Hepsy Ann Nickerson in
her trouble," said an old coasting-skipper to him, with mild reproach,
handing him a letter from his mother,--of all persons in the world!
Whereupon, seeing ignorance in Elkanah's inquiring glance, he told the
Elkanah was as one in a maze. Going to his little room, he opened his
mother's letter, half-dreading to find here a detailed repetition of
what his heart had just taken in. But the letter was short.
"MY SON ELKANAH,--
"Do you not know that Captain Elijah Nickerson will never come home
from the Banks, and that Hepsy Ann is left alone in the world?
"'For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and be joined
to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.'"
That was all.
Elkanah sat on his stool, before his easel, looking vacantly at the
unfinished picture, as one stunned and breathless. For the purport of
this message was not to be mistaken. Nor did his conscience leave him
in doubt as to his duty, O God! was this, indeed, the end? Had he
toiled, and hoped, and prayed, and lived the life of an anchorite these
five years only for this? Was such faith, such devotion, _so_ rewarded?
But had any one the right to demand this sacrifice of him? Was it not a
devilish temptation to take him from his calling, from that work in
which God had evidently intended him to work for the world? Had he a
right to spoil his life, to belittle his soul, for any consideration?
If Hepsy Ann Nickerson had claims, had not he also, and his Art? If he
were willing, in this dire extremity, to sacrifice his love, his
prospects of married bliss, might he not justly require the same of
her? Was not Art his mistress?--Thus whispered the insidious devil of
Selfishness to this poor, tempted, anguished soul.
"Yea," whispered another still, small voice; "but is not Hepsy Ann your
promised wife?" And those fatal words sounded in his heart: "For this
cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and be joined to his
"Lord, inspire me to do what is right!" prayed poor mazed Elkanah,
sinking on his knees at his cot-side.
But presently, through his blinding tears, "Lord, give me strength to
do the right!"
And then, when he awoke next morning, the world seemed another world to
him. The foundations of his life seemed broken loose. Tears were no
longer, nor prayers. But he went about slowly, and with loving hands,
packing up his brushes, pallets, paints, easel,--all the few familiar
objects of a life which was his no longer, and on which he seemed to
himself already looking as across some vast gulf of years. At last all
was done. A last look about the dismantled garret, so long his
workshop, his home, where he had grown out of one life into another,
and a better, as he thought,--out of a narrow circle into a broader.
And then, away for the Cape. No farewells, no explanations to friends,
nothing that should hold out to his sad soul any faintest hope of a
return to this garret, this toil, which now seemed to him more heaven
than ever before. Thus this Adam, left his paradise, clinging to his
It was the day before Thanksgiving when Elkanah arrived at home. Will
any one blame him, if he felt little thankful? if the thought of the
Thanksgiving turkey was like to choke him, and the very idea of giving
thanks seemed to him a bitter satire? Poor fellow! he forgot that there
were other hearts to whom Thanksgiving turkey seemed little tempting.
The Cape folk are not demonstrative. They have warm hearts, but the old
Puritan ice has never quite melted away from the outer shell.
"Well, Elkanah, glad to see you, boy!" said his father, looking up from
his corner by the stove; "how's things in New York?" Father and son had
not met for three years. But, going out into the kitchen, he received a
warm grasp of the hand, and his mother said, in her low, sweet voice,
"I knew you'd come." That was all. But it was enough.
How to take his sad face over to Elijah Nickerson's new house? But that
must be done, too. Looking through the little sitting-room window, as
he passed, he saw pale-faced Hepsy Ann sitting quietly by the table,
sewing. The children had gone to bed. He did not knock;--why should
he?--but, walking in, stood silent on the floor. A glad, surprised
smile lit up the sad, wan face, as she recognized him, and, stepping to
his side, said, "Oh, Elkanah! I knew you'd come. How good of you!"
Then, abashed to have so committed herself and him, she shrank to her
Let us not intrude further on these two. Surely--Elkanah Brewster had
been less than man, had he not found his hard heart to soften, and his
cold love to warm, as he drew from her the story of her long agony, and
saw this weary heart ready to rest upon him, longing to be comforted in
his strong arms.
The next day a small sign was put up at Abijah Brewster's door:--
BOOTS AND SHOES
MADE AND MENDED
It was arranged that he should work at his trade all winter. In the
spring, he was to have his father's vessel, and the wedding would be
before he started for the Banks.
So the old life was put on again. I will not say that Elkanah was
thoroughly content,--that there were no bitter longings, no dim
regrets, no faint questionings of Providence. But hard work is a good
salve for a sore heart; and in his honest toils, in his care for Hepsy
Ann and her little brood, in her kind heart, which acknowledged with
such humility of love all he did for her and all he had cast away for
her, he found his reward.
The wedding was over,--a quiet affair enough,--and Elkanah was anchored
on the Banks, with a brave, skilful crew, and plenty of fish. His old
luck had not deserted him; wherever he dropped anchor, there the cod
seemed to gather; and, in the excitement of catching fish and guarding
against the dangers of the Banks, the old New York life seemed
presently forgotten; and, once more, Elkanah's face wore the old,
hopeful calm which belonged there. Art, that had been so long his
tyrant mistress, was at last cast off.
As he sat, one evening, high on the quarter, smoking his pipe, in that
calm, contemplative mood which is the smoker's reward for a day of
toil,--the little vessel pitching bows under in the long, tremendous
swell of the Atlantic, the low drifting fog lurid in the light of the
setting sun, but bright stars twinkling out, one by one, overhead, in a
sky of Italian clearness and softness,--it all came to him,--that which
he had so long, so vainly sought, toiled for, prayed for in New
Why should he paint heads, figures, landscapes, objects with which his
heart had never been really filled?
But now, as in one flash of divinest intelligence, it was revealed to
him!--This sea, this fog, this sky, these stars, this old, old life,
which he had been almost born into.--Oh, blind bat indeed, not to have
seen, long, long ago, that this was your birthright in Art! not to have
felt in your innermost heart, that this was indeed that thing, if
anything, which God had called you to paint!
For this Elkanah had drunk in from his earliest youth,--this he
understood to its very core; but the poor secret of that other life,
which is so draped about with the artistic mannerisms and fashionable
Art of New York, or any other civilized life, he had never rightly
In that sunset-hour was born a _painter_!
It chanced, that, a few months ago, I paid my accustomed summer visit
to an old friend, living near Boston,--a retired merchant he calls
himself. He began life as a cabin-boy,--became, in time, master of an
Indiaman,--then, partner in a China house,--and after many years'
residence in Canton, returned some years ago, heart and liver whole, to
spend his remaining days among olden scenes. A man of truest culture,
generous heart, and rarely erring taste. I never go there without
finding something new and admirable.
"What am I to see, this time?" I asked, after dinner, looking about the
"Come. I'll show you."
He led me up to a painting,--a sea-piece:--A schooner, riding at her
anchor, at sunset, far out at sea, no land in sight, sails down, all
but a little patch of storm-sail fluttering wildly in the gale, and
heavily pitching in a great, grand, rolling sea; around, but not
closely enveloping her, a driving fog-bank, lurid in the yellow sheen
of the setting sun; above her, a few stars dimly twinkling through a
clear blue sky; on the quarter-deck, men sitting, wrapped in all the
paraphernalia of storm-clothing, smoking and watching the roll of the
"What do you think?" asked Captain Eastwick, interrupting my rapt
"I never in my life saw so fine a seaview. Whose can it be?"
"A Cape-Cod fisherman's."
"But he is a genius!" cried I, enthusiastically.
"A great, a splendid genius!" said my friend, quietly.
"And a fisherman?"
"Yes, and shoemaker."
"What a magnificent career he might make! Why don't you help him? What
a pity to bury such a man in fish-boots and cod-livers!"
"My dear----," said Captain Eastwick, "you are a goose. The highest
genius lives above the littleness of making a career. This man needs no
Academy prizes or praises. To my mind, his is the noblest, happiest
life of all."
Whereupon he told me the story which I have endeavored to relate.
* * * * *
I would have killed you, if a breath
Freighted with some insensate death,
Had power to breathe your life away,
To so exhale that rose-hued clay,
That it had faded from my sight,
Like roses in a single night,
I could have killed you thus, and felt
My will a blessed doom had dealt,
Ah, would to God! then I had been
Unconscious of your scarlet sin,
Ah, when I thought your soul as white
As the white rose you wore that night,
I wondered how your mother came
To give you that sin-sullied name,
Did some remorseless, vengeful Fate,
In mockery of your lofty state,
Because you wore the branded name,
Fling over you its scarlet shame,
There is no peace for you below
That horrid heritage of woe,
There is no room for you on earth,
Accursed from your very birth,
But where the angels chant and sing,
And where the amaranth-blossoms spring,
There's room for you, who have no room
Where lower angels chant your doom,
There's room for you! The gate's ajar!
The white hands beckon from afar,
And nearer yet! they stoop! they wait!
They open wide the jasper gate,
And nearer yet! the hands stretch out!
A thousand silver trumpets shout,
They lift you up through floods of light!
I see your garments growing white,
And whiter still, too white to touch
The robes of us, who blamed you much,
They lift you up through floods of light!
The streaming splendor blinds my sight,
I feel the whirl of countless wings!
I lose the sense of earthly things,
The starry splendors burn anew!
The starry splendors light me through,
I gain the dizzy height! I see!
There's room for _me!_ There's room for _me_,
"STRANGE COUNTRIES FOR TO SEE."
To begin with a mild egotism,--I do not like De Sautys.
You remember De Sauty? Perched on his steadfast stool, in a deserted
telegraph-house, hard by that bay of the broken promise, De Sauty, like
Poe's raven, "still was sitting, still was sitting," watching, in
forlorn, but hopeful loneliness, the paralyzed tongue of the Atlantic
Cable, to catch the utterances that never came for all his patient
coaxing; and ever and anon he iterated, feebly and more feebly, as if
all his sinking soul he did outpour into the words, that melancholy
monotone which was his only stock and store,--"All right! De Sauty."
I never did like ravens, and I do not like De Sautys; for if, indeed,
it were all right with the De Sautys, it would be all wrong with
certain things that are most dear to the romantic part of me; since De
Sauty is to my imagination the living type of that indiscriminate
sacrilege of trade which would penetrate the beautiful illusions of
remoteness, as through an opera-glass,--which would tie the ends of the
earth together and toss it over shoulder like a peddler's bundle, to
"swop" quaint curiosities, inspiring relics, and solemn symbols, for
British prints or American pig-iron. Puck us no Pucks, De Sauty, nor
constrict our planet's rotundity with any forty-minute girdle; for in
these days of inflating crinoline and ever-increasing circumference of
hooped skirts, it becomes us to leave our Mother Earth at least in the
fashion, nor strive to reduce her to such unmodish dimensions that one
may circumnavigate her in as little time, comparatively, as he may make
the circuit of Miss Flora MacFlimsey.
I beseech you, do not call that nonsense; it is but a good-natured way
of stating the case in the aspect it presents from the De Sauty point
of view; for tightly laced as poor Mother Earth already is, with
railroad corsets and steamship stays, growing small by degrees and
beautifully less, she needs but the forty-minute girdle of Puck De
Sauty to so contract her waist at the equator that any impudent
traveller may span it with a carpet-bag and an umbrella.
On that memorable night of the Cable Celebration, when so many paper
lanterns and so many enlightened New Yorkers were sold in the name of
De Sauty,--when all the streets and all the people were alive with
gas,--when we fired off rockets and Roman candles and spread-eagle
speeches in illustrious exuberance,--when the city children lit their
little dips, and the City Fathers lit their City Hall,--when we hung
out our banners, and clanged our bells, and banged our guns,--when
there was Glory to God in the highest steeple, and Peace on Earth in
the lowest cellar,--I drifted down the Broadway current of a mighty
flood of folk, a morose and miserable sentimentalist.
I had seen locomotives, those Yankee Juggernauts, drive, roaring and
ruthless, over the beautiful bodies of fine old travellers' fictions;
and once, in Burmah, I had beheld a herd of stately elephants plunge
and scoot, scampering and squealing, like pigs on a railroad, away from
the steam scream of a new-fangled man-of-war. I had witnessed those
monstrous sacrileges, and survived,--had even, when locomotive and
steamer were passed, picked up my beautiful fictions again, and called
back my panic-stricken elephants with the gong of imagination; but here
were Gulliver and Aladdin and Sinbad the Sailor torn from their golden
thrones, and this insolent De Sauty, crowned with zinc and copper and
sceptred with gutta-percha, set up in their places to the tune of "All
"I will build you a house of gold, and you shall be my Padshah Begum,
some day," said the whimsically cruel King of Oude to Nuna, his favorite
For a while Nima's dreams were golden. But the time came when the King
was not in the vein. He followed vacantly her most enchanting
undulations and yawned listlessly.
"Boppery bopp!" he exclaimed, presently, "but this bores us. Is there
no better fun? Let us have a quail-fight, Khan."
The Khan rose to order in the quails. The King gazed on Nuna with
"I wonder how she would look, Europe-fashion."
"Nothing is easier, Sire, than to see how she would look," said the
Khan, as he returned with the quails.
So a gown, and other articles of European female attire, were sent for
to the Khan's house; for he was a married man; and when they were
brought, Nuna was told to retire and put them on. The quail-fight
proceeded on the table.
Then Nuna reappeared in her new costume. A more miserable
transformation it is hardly possible to imagine. The clothes hung
loosely about her, in forlorn dowdyness. She felt that she was
ridiculous. All grace was gone, all beauty. It was distressing to
witness her mortified plight.
The King and the Khan laughed heartily, while scalding tears coursed
down poor Nuna's cheeks. The other nautch-girls, jealous, had no pity
for her; they chuckled at her disgrace, turning up their pretty noses,
as they whispered,--"Serve her right,--the brazen minx!"
For days, nay, for weeks, did poor Nuna thus appear, a laughing-stock.
She implored permission to leave the court, and return to her wretched
home in Cashmere; but that was refused. In the midst of the Mohurrim,
she suddenly disappeared. There were none to inquire for her.
[Footnote 1: Private Life of an Eastern King.]
Oh, they may say what they please about the irresistible march of
civilization, and clearing the way for Webster's Spelling-Book,--about
pumps for Afric's sunny fountains, and Fulton ferry-boats for India's
coral strand; but there's nothing in what the Atlantic Cable gives,
like that it takes away from the heart of the man who has looked the
Sphinx in the face and dreamed with the Brahmin under his own banian.
Spare the shrinking Nunas of our poetry your Europe-fashions!
Because the De Sautys are scientifically virtuous, shall there be no
more barbaric cakes and ale for us? Because they are joined to their
improved Shanghaes, must we let our phoenixes alone? Must we deny our
crocodiles when they preach to us codfish? And shall we abstain from
crying, "In the name of the Prophet, figs!" in order that they may
bawl, "In the name of Brother Jonathan, doughnuts"?
Yes, the world is visibly shrinking in the hard grip of commerce, and
the magic and the marvels that filled our childish souls with
adventurous longing are fading away in the change. Let us make haste,
then, before it is too late,--before the very Sphinx is guessed, and
the Boodh himself baptized in Croton water; and, like the Dutchmen in
Hans Christian Andersen's story, who put on the galoches of happiness
and stepped out into the Middle Ages, let us slip our feet into the
sandals of imagination and step out into the desert or the jungle.
One who expressed his Oriental experiences in an epic of fresh and
thrilling sensations has written,--"If a man be not born of his mother
with a natural Chifney bit in his mouth, there comes to him a time for
loathing the wearisome ways of society,--a time for not liking tamed
people,--a time for not dancing quadrilles,--a time for pretending that
Milton, and Shelley, and all sorts of mere dead people are greater in
death than the first living lord of the treasury,--a time, in short,
for scoffing and railing, for speaking lightly of the opera, and all
our most cherished institutions. A little while you are free and
unlabelled, like the ground you compass; but civilization is coming,
and coming; you and your much-loved waste-lands will be surely
inclosed, and sooner or later you will be brought down to a state of
utter usefulness,--the ground will be curiously sliced into acres and
roods and perches, and you, for all you sit so smartly on your saddle,
you will be caught, you will be taken up from travel, as a colt from
grass, to be trained, and matched, and run.
"All this in time: but first come Continental tours, and the moody
longing for Eastern travel; your native downs and moors can hold you no
longer; with larger stride you burst away from these slips and patches
of free-land,--you thread your way through the crowds of Europe, and at
last, on the banks of the Jordan, you joyfully know that you are upon
the very frontier of all accustomed respectabilities.
"There, on the other side of the river, (you can swim it with one arm,)
there reigns the people that will be like to put you to death for _not_
being a vagrant, for _not_ being a robber, for _not_ being armed and
houseless. There is comfort in that,--health, comfort, and strength, to
one who is dying from very weariness of that poor, dear, middle-aged,
deserving, accomplished, pedantic, pains-taking governess, Europe."
Better the abodes of the anthropophagi, the "men whose heads do grow
beneath their shoulders," than no place to get away to at all; for to
every vigorous soul there one day comes a longing, by the light of
which magnificent distances appear beautiful, and the possibilities of
infinite far-offness delicious; to the Christian traveller, who exults
in the faith that "each remotest nation shall learn Messiah's name,"
how dear is that remoteness which renders the promise sublime! It is
these considerations which make us, old-fashioned Pucks, whose
performances go no farther than putting a girdle round about the earth
in fifty months, object to telegraphs, and protest against De Sauty.
Among your books and your lectures, you must have observed that there
are several well-defined and widely distinct kinds of traveller. One is
the professional tourist, who formally and statedly "sets out," in his
own deliberate way, packed, marked, and paid through; he is shipped
like preserved meats, hermetically sealed to foreign impressions, and
warranted to keep in any climate,--the same snug, well-arranged
"commercial traveller" who went abroad for materials, for which you are
to pay; and when he has laid in the necessary stock,--the identical
stock as per original advices,--he comes back again, and that is
all,--the very same as to himself and his baggage, except that the
latter is heavier by the addition of a corpulent carpet-bag bloated
with facts and figures, the aspect of the country, the dimensions of
monuments, the customs of the people, their productions and
manufactures; he might as well have done his tour around his own
library, with a copy of Bayard Taylor's Cyclopaedia of Travel, and an
assortment of stereoscopic views, for all the freshness of impression
or originality of narrative you'll get from him,--from whom preserve
us! Give us, rather, that truer traveller who goes by the
accommodation-train of Whim, and whom, in the language of conductors,
you may take up or put down anywhere, because he is no "dead-head," nor
"ticketed through." This is he of whom I have spoken elsewhere,--in the
magic mirror of whose memory (as to the last he saw of this wonder or
of that) "a stony statuesqueness prevails, to produce an effect the
weirdest of all; for there every living thing stands arrested in the
attitude or gesture it presented at the fine instant to which his
thought returns to find it,--seized in the midst, it may be, of the
gayest, most spirited, or most passionate action,--laughter, dance,
rage, conflict; and so fixed as unchangeable as the stone faces of the
gods, forever and forever." In the midst of a Burmese jungle I have
tried that sad experiment by its reverse, and, gazing into _my_ magic
mirror, have beheld my own dear home, and the old, familiar faces,--all
stony, pale, and dim. At such times, how painfully the exile's heart is
tried by the apparition of any object, however insignificant, to which
his happy childhood was accustomed! I think my heart was never more
sharply wrung than once at Prome, in the porch of a grim old temple of
Guadma;--a kitten was playing with a feather there.
In his enumeration of the chief points of attraction in the more
striking books of voyages and travels, Leigh Hunt, with his happy
appreciation of whatever is most quaint in description, most
sympathetic in impression, has helped us to an arrangement, which, with
a convenient modification of our own, we shall follow congenially. We
shall seek for remoteness and obscurity of place,--marvellousness of
hearsay,--surprising, but conceivable truth,--barbaric magnificence,--
the grotesque and the fantastic,--strangeness of custom,--personal
danger, courage, and suffering,--and their barbaric consolations.
In the pursuit of these, our path should wind, had we time to take
the longest, among deserts and lands of darkness,--phoenixes and
griffins and sphinxes,--human monsters, and more monstrous gods,--the
courts of Akbhar and Aurengzebe,--palaces of the Mogul and the Kathayan
Khan,--pigmies, monkey-gods, mummies, Fakeers, dancing-girls, tattooed
warriors, Thugs, cannibals, Fetishes, human sacrifices, and the Evil
Eye,--Chinese politeness, Bedouin honor, Bechuana simplicity,--the plague,
the _amok_, the bearding of lions, the graves of hero-travellers, flowers
in the desert, and the universal tenderness of women.
And as our wild way leads us onward, it shall open up visions, new and
wondrous, or beautiful as new, to those who try it for the first time.
See now, at the outset, stepping into the footprints of old Sir John
Mandeville, what do we behold?--"In that kingdom of Abcay is a great
marvel; for a province of the country, that hath in circuit three days'
journeys, that men call Hanyson, is all covered with darkness, without
any brightness or light,--so that no man may see nor hear, nor no man
dare enter into it. And nevertheless, they of that country say that
sometimes men hear voices of folks, and horses neighing, and cocks
crowing; and they know well that men live there, but they know not what
men. And they say that the darkness befell by miracle of God; for an
accursed emperor of Persia, that was named Saures, pursued all
Christian men for to destroy them, and to compel them to make sacrifice
to his idols; and rode with a great host, all that ever he could, for
to confound the Christian men. And then in that country dwelled many
good Christian men, the which left their goods, and would have fled
into Greece; and when they were in a plain called Megon, anon this
cursed emperor met with them, with his host, for to have slain them and
hewn them in pieces. And anon the Christian men did kneel to the
ground, and make their prayers to God to succor them. Then a great
thick cloud came and covered the emperor and all his host; and so they
remain in that manner, that no more may they get out on any side; and
so shall they evermore abide in darkness, till the day of doom, by the
miracle of God. And then the Christian men went whither they liked
best, at their own pleasure, without hindrance of any creature, and
their enemies were inclosed and confounded in darkness without a blow.
And that was a great miracle that God made for them; wherefore methinks
that Christian men should be more devout to serve our Lord God than any
other men of any other belief."
Thus doth the simple, willing faith of the childlike traveller of 1350
draw from his strange old story a moral which may serve to light the
way for you and me when we wend through the soul's land of darkness.
"Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."--
So sings Tennyson; and what's a cycle of Cathay? Let us ask Mandeville.
"Cathay is a great country, and a fair, noble, and rich, and full of
merchants. Thither go merchants, every year, for to seek spices, and
all manner of merchandises, more commonly than in any other part.
"In Cathay is the great city of Xanadu; and in this city is the seat of
the great Khan, in a full great palace, and the most passing fair in
all the world, of the which the walls be in circuit more than two
miles; and within the walls it is all full of other palaces. And in the
garden of the great palace there is a great hill, upon the which there
is another palace; and it is the most fair and the most rich that any
man may devise. And there is the great garden, full of wild beasts; so
that when the great Khan would have any sport, to take any of the wild
beasts, or of the fowls, he will cause them to be chased, and take them
at his windows, without going out of his chamber. The palace where the
seat is is both great and passing fair; and within the palace, in the
hall, there be twenty-four pillars of fine gold; and all the walls are
covered within with red skins of beasts, that men call panthers, that
be fair beasts, and well smelling; so that for the sweet odor of the
skins no evil air may enter into the palace. And in the midst of this
palace is the _mountour_ (high seat) for the great Khan, that is all
wrought of gold and of precious stones and great pearls; and at the
four corners of the _mountour_ be four serpents of gold, and all about
there is made large nets of silk and gold and great pearls hanging all
about the _mountour_. And the hall of the palace is full nobly arrayed,
and full marvellously attired on all parts, in all things that men
apparel any hall with. And at the chief end of the hall is the
emperor's throne, full high, where he sitteth at his meat; and that is
of fine precious stones, bound all about with purified gold and
precious stones and great pearls; and the steps that he goeth up to the
table be of precious stones mixed with gold. Under the firmament is not
so great a lord, nor so mighty, nor so rich, as the great Khan. Neither
Prester John, that is emperor of the high India, nor the Sultan of
Babylonia, nor the Emperor of Persia. All these be not in comparison to
the great Khan, neither of might, nor of nobleness, nor of royalty, nor
of riches; for in all these he passeth all earthly princes. Wherefore
it is great harm that he believeth not faithfully in God."
And here we naturally recall that wondrous vision which Coleridge
conjured up, when, opium-rapt, he dreamed in his study-chair of Kubla's
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree,
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran,
Through caverns measureless to man,
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girded round;
And here were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
"Five miles, meandering with a mazy motion,
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
"A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw;
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! beware
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your lips with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise!"
The account which Herodotus gives of the gifts that Croesus sent to the
Oracle at Delphi is a splendid example of barbaric magnificence. First,
the King offered up three thousand of every kind of sacrificial beast,
and burned upon a huge pile couches coated with silver and gold, and
golden goblets, and robes and vests of purple. Next he issued a command
to all the people of the land to offer up a sacrifice according to
their means. And when this sacrifice was consumed, he melted down a
vast quantity of gold, and ran it into one hundred and seventeen
ingots, each six palms long, three palms broad, and one palm in
thickness. He also caused the statue of a lion to be made of refined
gold, in weight ten talents. When these great works were completed,
Croesus sent them away to Delphi, and with them two bowls of enormous
size, one of gold, the other of silver. These two bowls, Herodotus
affirms, were removed when the temple of Delphi was burned to the
ground; and now the golden one is in the Clazomenian treasury, and
weighs eight talents and forty-two _minae_; the silver one stands in a
corner of the ante-chapel and holds six hundred _amphorae_ (over five
thousand gallons);--this is known, because the Delphians fill it at the
time of the Theophania. Croesus sent also four silver casks, which are
in the Corinthian treasury; and two lustral vases, a golden and a
silver one. Beside these various offerings, he sent to Delphi many
others of less account, among the rest a number of round silver basins.
He also dedicated a female figure in gold, three cubits high, which the
Delphians declared was the statue of his baking woman; and lastly, he
presented the necklace and the girdles of his wife.
When Croesus sent his Lydian messengers to the Oracle, one Alcmaeon,
who seems to have been a shrewd fellow, with a sharp eye to the main
chance, entertained them with generous hospitality; which so pleased
Croesus, when he was told of it, that he immediately invited Alcmaeon
to visit him at Sardis. When he arrived, the King told him that he was
at liberty to enter his treasury and help himself to as much gold as he
could carry off on his person at once. No sooner said than done.
Alcmaeon, without bashfulness, arrayed himself in a tunic that bagged
abominably at the waist, drew on the biggest buskins in Sardis, dressed
his hair loose, and, marching into the treasure-house, (imagine what
the treasury of Croesus must have been,) waded into a desert of gold
dust. He crammed the bosom of his tunic, crammed his bombastian
buskins, filled his hair full, and finally stuffed his mouth, so that,
as he passed out, he could only wink his fat red eyes and bob to
Croesus, who, when he had laughed till his sides ached, repaid his
funny, but voracious guest for the amusement he had afforded him by not
only confirming the gift of gold, but conferring an equal amount in
jewels and rich raiment.
But we must not remain to marvel among the overwhelming displays of
barbaric profusion. Akbhar, the imperial Mogul, who on his birthday
caused himself to be weighed in golden scales three times,--first
against gold pieces, then against silver, and lastly against fine
perfumes,--who scattered among his courtiers showers of gold and silver
nuts, for which even his gravest ministers were not too dignified to
scramble,--even Akbhar must not detain us. Nor Aurengzebe, who made his
marches, seated on a throne flashing with gold and rich brocades, and
borne on the shoulders of men; while his princesses and favorite begums
followed in all the pomp and glory of the seraglio, nestled in
delicious pavilions curtained with massy silk, and mounted on the backs
of stately elephants of Pegu and Martaban.
We must get away from these; for the realm of the Supernatural and the
Marvellous lies open before us, and on the very threshold, over which
Sir John Mandeville conducts us, broods in his fiery nest that wondrous
fowl, the Phoenix.
"In Egypt is the city of Eliopolis, that is to say, the City of the
Sun. In that city there is a temple made round, after the shape of the
temple of Jerusalem. The priests of that temple have all their writing
dated by the fowl that is called Phoenix; and there is none but one in
all the world. And he cometh to burn himself upon the altar of the
temple at the end of five hundred years; for so long he liveth. And at
the end of the five hundred years, they array their altar carefully,
and put thereon spices and live sulphur, and other things that will
burn lightly. And then the bird Phoenix cometh and burneth himself to
ashes. And the first day next after, men find in the ashes a worm; and
the second day next after, men find a bird, quick and perfect; and the
third day next after, he flieth away. And so there is no more birds of
that kind in all the world but that alone. And, truly, that is a great
miracle of God. And men may well liken that bird unto God, because
there is no God but one, and also that our Lord arose from death the
third day. This bird men see often flying in those countries; and he is
not much more than an eagle. And he hath a crest of feathers upon his
head greater than the peacock hath. And his neck is yellow, after the
color of an orial, that is a stone well shining. And his beak is
colored blue, and his wings are of purple color, and his tail is yellow
and red. And he is a full fair bird to look upon against the sun; for
he shineth full gloriously and nobly."
Let us pray that our Phoenix may not fall into the clutches of the De
Sautys, to be made goose-meat of; rather may they themselves be utterly
cast out,--into the land of giants that are hideous to look upon, and
have but one eye, and that in the middle of the forehead,--into the
land of folk of foul stature and of cursed kind, that have no heads,
and whose eyes be in their shoulders,--into the isle of those that go
upon their hands and feet, like beasts, and that are all furred and
feathered,--or into the country of the people who have but one leg, the
foot of which is so large that it shades all the rest of the body from
the sun, when they lie down on their backs to rest at noonday. But not
into the Land of Women, where all are wise, noble, and worthy. For once
there was a king in that country, and men married; but presently befell
a war with the Scythians, and the king was slain in battle, and with
him all of the best blood of his realm. So when the queen, and the
other noble ladies, saw that they were all widows, and all the royal
blood was spilled, they armed themselves, and, like mad creatures, slew
all the men that were left in the country; for they wished that all the
women might be widows, as the queen and they were. And thenceforward
they never would suffer men to dwell among them, especially men of the
De Sauty sort, who, as Hans Christian Andersen says, ask questions and
The town of Lop, says Marco Polo, is situated near the commencement of
the great desert called the Desert of Lop. It is asserted as a
well-known fact, that this desert is the abode of many evil spirits,
which entice travellers to destruction with extraordinary delusions.
If, during the daytime, any persons remain behind on the road until the
caravan has passed a hill and is no longer in sight, they unexpectedly
hear themselves called by their names, in a tone of voice to which they
are accustomed. Supposing the call to proceed from their companions,
they are led away by it from the direct road, and, not knowing in what
direction to advance, are left to perish. In the night-time they are
persuaded they hear the march of a great cavalcade, and concluding the
noise to be the tramp of their own party, they make the best of their
way in the direction of the quarter whence it seems to come; but when
the day breaks, they find they have been misled and drawn into a
situation of danger. Sometimes, during the day, these spirits assume
the appearance of their travelling-companions, who address them by
name, and endeavor to draw them out of the proper road. It is said,
also, that some travellers, in their way across the desert, have seen
what appeared to them to be a body of armed men advancing toward them,
and, fearful of being attacked and plundered, have taken to flight.
Thus, losing the right path, and ignorant of the direction they should
take to regain it, they have miserably perished of hunger.
Marvellous, indeed, and almost passing belief, are the stories related
of these spirits of the desert, which are said to fill the air at times
with the sounds of all kinds of musical instruments, of drama, and the
clash of arms. When the journey across this dreadful waste is
completed, the trembling traveller arrives at the city of the Great
[Footnote 1: Leigh Hunt.]
In this rich chapter of horrors how finished an allegory for old John
Bunyan! With what religious unction he would have led his Christian
traveller from that unknown city on the edge of the sands, across the
Soul's Desert of Lop, with its
"Voices calling in the dead of night,
And airy tongues that syllable men's names,"
safe into the _City of the Great Khan!_
Leigh Hunt declares that he has read, in some other account, of a
dreadful, unendurable face that used to stare at people as they went
The Barbaric has also its features of solemnity and grandeur, filling
the mind with exalted contemplations, and the imagination with
inspiring and ennobling apparitions. Surroundings that contribute a
quality of awfulness embrace in such scenes the soul of the traveller,
and hold him in their tremendous thrall. Mean or flippant ideas may not
enter here; but the man puts off the smaller part of him, as the
Asiatic puts off his sandals on entering the porches of his god. Of
such is the Eternal Sphinx, as Eothen Kinglake beheld her. We cannot
feel her aspect more grandly than by the aid of his inspiration.
"And near the Pyramids, more wondrous and more awful than all else in
the land of Egypt, there sits the lonely Sphinx. Comely the creature
is; but the comeliness is not of this world; the once worshipped beast
is a deformity and a monster to this generation; and yet you can see
that those lips, so thick and heavy, were fashioned according to some
ancient mould of beauty, now forgotten,--forgotten because that Greece
drew forth Cytherea from the flashing foam of the Aegean, and in her
image created new forms of beauty, and made it a law among men that the
short and proudly wreathed lip should stand for the sign and main
condition of loveliness through all generations to come. Yet still
lives on the race of those who were beautiful in the fashion of the
elder world; and Christian girls of Coptic blood will look on you with
the sad, serious gaze, and kiss you your charitable hand with the big,
pouting lips of the very Sphinx.
"Laugh and mock, if you will, at the worship of stone idols; but mark
ye this, ye breakers of images, that in one regard the stone idol bears
awful semblance of Deity,--unchangefulness in the midst of change,--the
same seeming will and intent, forever and forever inexorable. Upon
ancient dynasties of Ethiopian and Egyptian kings,--upon Greek and
Roman, upon Arab and Ottoman conquerors,--upon Napoleon dreaming of an
Eastern empire,--upon battle and pestilence,--upon the ceaseless misery
of the Egyptian race,--upon keen-eyed travellers,--Herodotus yesterday,
Warbarton to-day,--upon all, and more, this unworldly Sphinx has
watched and watched like a Providence, with the same earnest eyes, and
the same sad, tranquil mien. And we, we shall die; and Islam will
wither away; and the Englishman, leaning far over to hold his loved
India, will plant a firm foot on the banks of the Nile, and sit in the
seats of the Faithful; and still that sleepless rock will lie watching
and watching the works of the new, busy race, with those same sad,
earnest eyes, and that same tranquil mien, everlasting. You dare not
mock at the Sphinx!"
Not less stupendously placid than the Sphinx, and even grimmer in his
remoteness from the places that have heard Messiah's name, is the
Boodh, throned in trance, and multitudinously worshipped. Shall I tell
you how I first beheld him in his glory?
We were approaching some sacred caves in Burmah. Lighting our torches,
and each man taking one, we mounted the steep, tortuous, and slippery
foot-path of damp, green stones, through the thorny shrubs that beset
it, to the low entrance to the outer cavern. Stooping uncomfortably, we
passed into a small, vacant antechamber, having a low, dripping roof,
perpendicular walls, clammy and green, and a rocky floor, sloping
inward through a narrow arch to a long, double, transverse gallery,
divided in the direction of its length, partly by a face of rock,
partly by a row of pillars. Here were innumerable images of Guadma, the
counterfeit presentment of the Fourth Boodh, whose successor is to see
the end of all things,--innumerable, and of every stature, from
Hop-o'-my-thumbs to Hurlo-thrombos, but all of the identical orthodox
pattern,--with pendulous ears, one hand planted squarely on the knee,
the other sleeping in the lap, an eternity of front face, and a smooth
stagnancy of expression, typical of an unfathomable calm,--the Guadma
of a span as grim as he of ten cubits, and he of ten cubits as vacant
as the Guadma of a span,--of stone, of lead, of wood, of clay, of
earthenware and alabaster,--on their bottoms, on their heads, on their
backs, on their sides, on their faces,--black, white, red, yellow,--an
eye gone, a nose gone, an ear gone, a head gone,--an arm off at the
shoulder, a leg at the knee,--a back split, a bosom burst,--Guadma,
imperturbable, eternal, calm,--in the midst of time, timeless! It is
not annihilation which the Boodh has promised, as the blessed crown of
a myriad of progressive transmigrations; it is not Death; it is not
Sleep,--it is this.
Our entrance awoke a pandemonium. Myriads of bats and owls, and all
manner of fowls of darkness and bad omen, crazed by the glare of twenty
torches, startled the echoes with infernal clangor. Screaming and
huddling together, some fled under the wide skirts of sable, which
Darkness, climbing to the roof in fear, drew up after her; some hid
with lesser shadows between columns of great girth, or in the remotest
murky niches, or down in the black profound of resounding chasms; some,
bewildered or quite blinded by the flashes of the co-eternal beam,
dashed themselves against the stony walls, and fell crippled, gasping,
staring, at our feet. And when, at last, our guides and servants,
mounting to pinnacles and jutting points, and many a frieze and coigne
of vantage, placed blue lights on them all, and at the word illuminated
all together, there was redoubled bedlam in that abode of Hecate, and
the eternal calm of the Boodh became awful. For what deeds of outer
darkness, done long ago in that black hole of superstition, so many
damned souls shrieked from their night-fowl transmigrations, 'twere
vain to question there were no disclosures in that trance of stone.
For an experience of the oppressive awfulness of solitude, and all the
weary monotony of waste, come now, with Kinglake, into mid-desert.
"As long as you are journeying in the interior of the desert, you have
no particular point to make for as your resting-place. The endless
sands yield nothing but small stunted shrubs; even these fail after the
first two or three days; and from that time you pass over broad plains,
you pass over newly reared hills, you pass through valleys that the
storm of the last week has dug; and the hills and the valleys are sand,
sand, sand, still sand and only sand, and sand and sand again. The
earth is so samely, that your eyes turn toward heaven,--toward heaven,
I mean, in the sense of sky. You look to the sun, for he is your
task-master, and by him you know the measure of the work that you have
done, the measure of the work that remains for you to do. He comes when
you strike your tent in the early morning, and then, for the first hour
of the day, as you move forward on your camel, he stands at your near
side, and makes you know that the whole day's toil is before you. Then,
for a while, and a long while, you see him no more; for you are veiled
and shrouded, and dare not look upon the greatness of his glory; but
you know where he strides over your head by the touch of his flaming
sword. No words are spoken; but your Arabs moan, your camels sigh, your
skin glows, your shoulders ache; and, for sights, you see the pattern
and the web of the silk that veils your eyes, and the glare of the
"Time labors on,--your skin glows, and your shoulders ache, your Arabs
moan, your camels sigh, and you see the same pattern on the silk, and
the same glare beyond; but conquering Time marches on, and by-and-by
the descending sun has compassed the heaven, and now softly touches
your right arm, and throws your lank shadow over the sand, right along
on the way to Persia. Then again you look upon his face, for his power
is all veiled in his beauty, and the redness of flames has become the
redness of roses; the fair, wavy cloud that fled in the morning now
comes to his sight once more,--comes blushing, but still comes
on,--comes burning with blushes, yet hastens, and clings to his side."
When one has been sufficiently dis-Europized by remote travel, to
become, as to his imagination, a child again, and receive a child's
impressions from the strangeness that surrounds him, the grotesque and
fantastic aspects of his situation afford him the same emotions, of
unquestioning wonder and romantic sympathy, that he derived in the old
time from the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, the exploits of Jack the
Giant-Killer, what Gulliver saw, or Munchausen did. Behold Belzoni in
the necropolis of Thebes, crawling on his very face among the dusty
rubbish of unnumbered mummies, to steal papyri from their bosoms.
Fatigued with the exertion of squirming through a mummy-choked passage
of five hundred yards, he sought a resting-place; but when he would
have sat down, his weight bore on the body of an Egyptian, and crushed
it like a bandbox. He naturally had recourse to his hands to sustain
his weight; but they found no better support, and he sunk altogether in
a crash of broken bones, rags, and wooden cases, that raised such a
dust as kept him motionless for a quarter of an hour, waiting for it to
subside. He could not move from the place, however, without increasing
it, and every step he took smashed a mummy. Once, in forcing his way
through a steeply inclined passage, about twenty feet in length, and no
wider than his body could be squeezed through, he was overwhelmed with
an avalanche of bones, legs, arms, and hands, rolling from above; and
every forward move brought his face in contact with the abhorred
features of some decayed Egyptian.
[Footnote 1: Bayard Taylor.]
Behold Denham in the Desert of Dead Bones, where his sick comrades were
constantly disheartened by the sight of the skulls and skeletons of men
who had perished on those sands. During several days, they passed from
sixty to ninety skeletons a day; but the numbers that lay about the
wells at El Hammar were countless. Those of two women, whose perfect
and regular teeth bespoke them young, perhaps beautiful, were
particularly shocking. Their arms were still clasped around each
other's neck, in the attitude in which they had expired, although the
flesh had long since been consumed in the rays of the sun, and the
blackened bones alone were left.
Parkyns, among the little greenish-gray monkeys of Tigre, enjoyed a
treat to make the mouth of our young imagination water. He saw them
conversing, quarrelling, making love; mothers were taking care of their
children, combing their hair, nursing or "trotting" them; and the
passions of all--jealousy, rage, love--were as strongly marked as in
men. They had a language as distinct to them as ours to us; and their
women were as noisy and as fond of disputation as any fish-fag in
"On their marches, a few of the heedless youth occasionally lagged
behind to snatch a handful of berries; sometimes a matron halted for a
while to nurse her baby, and, not to lose time, dressed its hair while
it took its meal. Now and then a young lady, excited by jealousy or
some sneering look or word, made an ugly mouth at one of her
companions, and then, uttering a shrill squeal, highly expressive of
rage, vindictively snatched at the offender's tail or leg, and
administered a hearty bite. This provoked a retort, and a most
unladylike quarrel ensued, till a loud remonstrance from mothers or
aunts called them to order."
According to Marco Polo, there have been among the monkeys, from time
to time, certain Asiatic Yankees, who did a lively business in the
manufacture of an article which would, no doubt, have found a ready
purchaser at Barnum's Museum.
"It should be known," says the veracious old Venetian, "that what is
reported respecting the dead bodies of diminutive human creatures or
pigmies, brought from India, is an idle tale; such pretended men being
manufactured in the island of Basman in the following manner. The
country produces a species of monkey of a tolerable size, and having a
countenance resembling that of a man. Those persons who make it their
business to catch them shave off the hair, leaving it only about the
chin. They then dry and preserve them with camphor and other drugs; and
having prepared them in such a mode that they have exactly the
appearance of little men, they put them into wooden boxes, and sell
them to trading people, who carry them to all parts of the world."
Not the least familiar of the aspects of the Barbaric are its actions
and situations of horror. I could tell tales from the later, not less
than from the older travellers, that would send my readers shuddering
to sleepless beds: the ferocities of Tippoo reenacted in the name of
Nena Sahib; the noiseless murders of Thuggee's nimble cord; the drunken
_diablerie_ of the Doorga Pooja; the monstrous human sacrifices of the
Khonds and Bheels; the dreadful rites of the Janni before the gory
altar of the Earth goddess; the indiscriminate slashing and stabbing of
the Amok; the shuddering dodges of the plague-chased Cavrite; the grim
and lonely duels of the French lion-killer under the melancholy stars;
the carrion-like exposures of the Parsee dead; the nightmarish legends
of the Evil Eye. But my hope is to part with them on pleasant terms; so
rather would I strew their pillows with the consolations of this
many-mooded Barbaric,--moss from ruins, and pretty flowers from the
desert,--that beneficent botany which maketh the wilderness to blossom
like the rose.
When Mungo Park, deserted by his guides, and stripped by thieves,
utterly paralyzed by misfortune, and misery, would have laid him down
to die in a desert place,--at that moment, of all others, the
extraordinary beauty of a small moss in fructification caught his eye.
"I mention this," he says, "to show you from what trifling
circumstances the mind will sometimes derive consolation; for, though
the whole plant was not larger than the top of one of my fingers, I
could not contemplate the delicate conformation of its root, leaves,
and capsule without admiration. Can that Being, thought I, who planted,
watered, and brought to perfection, in this obscure part of the world,
a thing which appears of so small importance, look with unconcern upon
the situation and sufferings of creatures formed after his own image? I
started up, and, disregarding both danger and fatigue, travelled
forward, assured that relief was at hand; and I was not disappointed."
Richardson, in the midst of Sahara, beheld with brimming eyes two small
trees, the common desert acacia, and by-and-by two or three pretty blue
flowers. As he snatched them, to fold them in his bosom, he could not
help exclaiming, _Elhamdullah!_ "Praise be to God!"--for Arabic was
growing second-born to his tongue, and he began to think in it and to
pray in it. An Arab said to him, "Yakob, if we had a reed, and were to
make a melodious sound, those flowers, the color of heaven, would open
and shut their mouths."
Once, Mungo Park (the once too often of telling this story can never
come) sat all day,--without food, under a tree. The night threatened to
be very pitiless; for the wind arose, and there was every sign of a
heavy rain; and wild beasts prowled around. But about sunset, as he was
preparing to pass the night in the branches of the tree, a woman,
returning from the labors of the field, perceived how weary and
dejected he was, and, taking up his saddle and bridle, invited him to
follow her. She conducted him to her hut, where she lighted a lamp,
spread a mat on the floor, and bade him welcome. Then she went out, and
presently returning with a fine fish, broiled it on the embers, and set
his supper before him. The rites of hospitality thus performed toward a
stranger in distress, that _savage_ angel, pointing to the mat, and
assuring him that he might sleep there without fear, commanded the
females of her family, who all the while had stood gazing on him in
fixed astonishment, to resume their spinning. Then they sang, to a
sweet and plaintive air, these words: "The winds roared, and the rains
fell. The poor white man, faint and weary, came and sat under our tree.
Let us pity the white man; no mother hath he to bring him milk, no wife
to grind his corn." Flowers in the desert!
[Footnote 1: Leigh Hunt.]
Flowers in the desert! And De Sauty shall spare them, though he
botanize on his mother's grave. Borro-boolah-gah may know us by our
India-rubber shirts and pictorial pocket-handkerchiefs; and King Mumbo
Jumbo may reduce his rebellious locks to subjection with a Yankee
currycomb; but these, our desert flowers, are All Right, De Sauty!
BEAUTY AT BILLIARDS.
There is a lady in this case.
For three days she had sat opposite me at the table of the pleasantest
of White Mountain resorts, (of course I give no hint as to which _that_
is,--tastes differ,) and I had gradually become enthralled. Her beauty
was dazzling, and her name was Tarlingford. For the first of these
items, I was indebted to my own intelligence; for the second to the
hotel register, which also informed me that she was from New York.
I, too, had come from New York;--a coincidence too startling to be
Our acquaintance began oddly. One morning, at breakfast, I was musing
over a hard-boiled egg, and wondering if I could perforate her
affections with anything like the success which had followed my fork as
it penetrated the shell before me, when I felt a timid touch upon my
toe, thrilling me from end to end like a telegraph-wire when the
insulation is perfect. I looked up, and detected a pink flush making
its way browward on the lovely countenance across the table.
"I beg your pardon," said I, with much concern.
"It was my fault, Sir; excuse _me_," said she, permitting the pink
flush to deepen, rosily.
"Shall I pass you the buttered toast?" said I.
"Muffins, if you please," said she, and so sweetly that I was blinded
to the absence of sugar in my second cup of coffee.
I was confused by this incident. Many men would have concealed their
disquietude by an affectation of sudden appetite, or by bullying the
waiter, or by abrupt departure from the scene. I did neither. I felt I
had a right to be confused, and I gloried in it.
Very soon Miss Tarlingford withdrew, and I experienced an aching void
within, which chops and fritters had no power to replenish.
I opened a chambermaid's heart with a half-dollar, and the treasures of
her knowledge were revealed to me. The beauty and her party were to
remain a fortnight Among her companions there were no males, except a
youthful irresponsibility. _Exultemus!_
Later in the morning I heard the tinkling of the parlor pianoforte.
Music has soothing charms for me, though I have not a savage breast. I
drew near, and found Miss Tarlingford trifling with the keys,--those
keys which lock together so many chains of human sympathy. She rose,
and gave out demonstrations of impending disappearance. I interposed,--
"Pray, continue. I am famished for music, and came specially to
"It is hardly worth while."
"How can you say so? It is I who know best what I need."
"I will play for you, then."
And she did. This was wonderful. Usually, a long and painful struggle
precedes feminine acquiescence, on such occasions. Repeated refusals,
declarations of incapacity, partial consent vouchsafed and then
waywardly withdrawn, poutings, head-tossings, feebler murmurs of
disinclination, and final reluctant yielding form the fashionable order
of proceeding. The charm of it all is, that the original intention is
the same as the ultimate action. Whence, then, this folly? Having been
many times wretchedly bored by this sort of thing, I was now
correspondingly gladdened by the contrast.
Miss Tarlingford played well, and I said so.
"Pretty well," she answered, frankly; "but not so well as I could
Shock Number Two. It is customary in good society for tolerable
performers to disavow all praises, (secretly yearning for more,) and to
assail with invective their own artistic accomplishments. Here was a
young lady who played well, and had the hardihood to acknowledge it.
This rather took away my breath, and a vacuum began to come under my
For three blissful days Miss Tarlingford and I were seldom separated.
Her sister, a pale, sedate maiden, of amiable appearance, and her
brother, a small, rude boy, of intrusive habits and unguarded speech, I
consented to undergo, for the sake of conventional necessity. To the
mother of the Tarlingfords additional respect seemed due, and was
Three blissful days of sunshine, meadowy rambles, forest explorations,
the majestic tranquillity of Nature spiced with the sauce of
flirtation, or something stronger. Sometimes we took our morning
happiness on foot, sometimes our mid-day ecstasy served up on
horseback, sometimes our evening rapture in an open wagon at two forty.
The puerile Tarlingford, interfering at first, was summarily crushed.
Aspiring to equestrian distinctions, he wrought upon maternal
indulgence, until, not without misgivings, maternal anxiety was
stifled, and, with injunctions that we should hover protectingly near
him, he was sent forth, a thorn in our sides. In half an hour he was
accidentally remembered, and was found to be nowhere within view; so we
pursued our way, well pleased. He had dropped quietly off, at the first
canter, into a miry slough, and had returned sobbingly, covered with
mortification and mud, to the arms of his parent. Keen questioning at
dinner was the result.
"Why did you so neglect him?" demanded fond mamma, adding,
reproachfully, "The child's life might have been sacrificed."
"Mother, we looked for him, and he was gone. Why didn't he cry out?"
"So I did," shouted this youth of open speech; "but you two had your
heads together, laughing and talking like anything, and couldn't hear,
I suppose." (With a juvenile sneer.)
"Oh, fie, Walter! Now I think you were so frightened that you could not
"I shall know better than to intrust him to your care again," said
indignant mamma, as one who withdrew a blessed privilege.
"Don't say that, mother; it would be a punishment too severe," said the
mischievous little pale sister, in tones of pity, and her face brimming
Everybody laughed, and peace was restored.
On the third evening, misery came to me in an envelope post-marked New
"My DEAR PLOVINS:--
"I shall be with you the night after you receive this. Engage a room
for me. Have you seen anything of a Miss Tarlingford, where you are
staying? You should know her. She is very brilliant and accomplished,
but is retiring. I am willing to tell you, but it must go no farther,
that we are betrothed.
"Yours, in a hurry,
My heart was as the mercury of a thermometer which is plunged into ice;
but I preserved an outward composure. Turning over the pile of letters
awaiting owners, I came upon one, directed in Lillivan's handwriting,
to Miss A. Tarlingford, etc., etc.
To think that a paltry superscription should carry such a weight of
tribulation with it!
I thus discovered that my lines had fallen in unpleasant places. I was
fishing in a preoccupied stream, and had got myself entangled.
I avoided the public table, and shrunk from society. During the whole
of the next morning, I kept aloof from the temptations of Tarlingford,
and took to billiards.
In the afternoon, as I sat gloomily in my room, with feet protruding
from the window, and body inclined rearward, (the American attitude of
despair,) the piano tinkled. It was the same melody which had attracted
me a few happy days before. Strengthening myself with a powerful
resolution to extricate myself from the bewitching influence which had
surrounded me, I arose, and went straightway to the parlor. Could it be
that a flash of pleasure beamed on Miss Tarlingford's face? or was I a
deluded gosling? The latter suggestion seemed the more credible, so I
cheerfully adopted it.
"We have missed you, Mr. Plovins," said the fair enslaver; "I hope you
have not been unwell?"
"Unwell?--oh, no, no!"
"You have not been near me--us, today," (reprovingly,) "not even at
dinner; and the trout were superb."
A sudden hope mounted within me.
"Miss Tarlingford, pray, excuse me,--your first name, may I ask what it
"Arabella is my name, and" (whisperingly) "you may use it, if you
"Oh, hideous horror! And this is what they call flirtation," I thought.
And the hope which had risen blazing, like a rocket, went down
fuliginous, like the stick.
"Mr. Plovins, I will say you are very--very inconstant, to be absent
all day, thus."
"Miss Tarlingford, it is not inconstancy, it is billiards."
"Billiards. I adore them. You know nothing of billiards; women never
do. They are my joy. Pardon me," (with a sudden uprising of the moral
sense,) "I have an engagement at the billiard-room, and I should be
"Dear me! I should like to do billiards."
"Why so, Sir?"
"No, I do not mean that; but ladies never play billiards."
"I suppose there is no reason why they should not?"
"Why, what harm?"
"My dear Miss Tarlingford, if your first name were not Arabella,--alas,
alas!--there would be none."
"Nonsense! now you are laughing at me. Come, you shall teach me
"It cannot be, Miss Tarlingford." (Low tragedy tones.)
"Because your name is Arabella."
"Very well, Sir,--if you do not like my name, you need not repeat it."
"I adore it; it is not that. Forgive me."
"Then I will get my hat";--and her light footsteps tapped upon the
Here was a state of things! Where were my firmness and my resolution
now? Where was the Pythian probity for which, according to my
expectations, Lillivan was to have poured Damoniac gratitude upon me?
Was I, or was I not, rapidly degenerating into villany? I felt that I
was, and blushed for my family.
If her name had been anything but Arabella,--anything the initial of
which was not A, then I could have justified myself; but now,--and I
was about to teach her billiards! To what depth of depravity had I come
She rejoined me, beaming with anticipation and radiant with the
exercise of running down-stairs. Together we entered the billiard-room.
Now this I declare: the ball-room, with its flashing lights,
intoxicating perfumes, starry hosts of gleaming, eyes, refulgent robes,
mirrors duplicating countless splendors and ceaseless whirl of vanity,
may add a tenfold lustre to the charm of beauty, and I know it does;
the opera-box embellishments of blazing gas, and glittering gems and
flowers, fresh from native beds of millinery, all-odorous with divinest
scents of Lubin, harmoniously dulcified, have their value, which is
great and glorious, no doubt, and regally doth woman expand and glow
among them; in numberless ways, and aided by numberless accessories, do
feminine graces nimbly and sweetly recommend themselves unto our
pleasant senses; but this I will for ever and ever say,--that nowhere,
neither in gorgeous hall, nor gilded opera-box, nor in any other place,
nor under any other circumstances, may such bewildering and insidious
power of maidenly enchantment be exercised as at the billiard-table;
especially when the enchantress is utterly ignorant of the duties
required of her, and confidingly seeks manly encouragement and
guidance. Controlled by the hand of beauty, the cue becomes a magic
wand, and the balls are no longer bits of inanimate ivory, but, poked
restlessly hither and thither, circulating messengers of fascination.
I know, for I have been there.
Had Miss Tarlingford turned her thoughts toward the bowling-alley, I
might without difficulty have retained my self-possession; for her sex
are not charming at ten-pins. They stride rampant, and hurl danger
around them, aiming anywhere at random; or they make small skips and
screams, and perform ridiculous flings in the air, injurious to the
alleys and to their game; or they drop balls with unaffected languor,
and develop at an early stage of proceedings a tendency to _gutters_,
above which they never rise throughout; and all this is annoying, and
fit only for Bloomers, who can be degraded by nothing on earth.
But billiards! what statuesque postures, what freedom of gesture, what
swaying grace and vivacious energy this game involves! And then the
attendant distractions,--the pinching together of the hand, to form the
needed notch, the perfect art of which, like fist-clenching, is
unattainable by woman, who substitutes some queerness all her own,--the
fierce grasping and propulsion of the cue,--the loving reclension upon
the table when the long shots come in,--the dainty foot, uprising, to
preserve the owner's balance, but, as it gleams suspended, destroying
the observer's,--all combine, as they did this time, to scatter stern
promptings of duty beyond recalling.
First, Arabella's little hand must be moulded into a bridge, and, being
slow to cramp itself correctly, though pliant as a politician's
conscience, the operation of folding it together had to be many times
repeated. Next, shots must be made for her, she retaining her hold of
the cue, to get into the way of it. Then all went on smoothly with her,
turbulently with me, until, enthusiastically excited, she must be
lifted on to the table's edge, "just to try one lovely little shot,"
which escaped her reach from the ground.
My game was up!
We were alone. Arabella perched upon the table, jubilant at having
achieved a pocket,--I dismal and blue, beside her.
"There, take me down," she said.
I looked around through each window, inclined my ear to the door, swept
an arm around her waist, and forgot to proceed.
"Oh, Arabella! Arabella! wherefore art thou Arabella?"
"Do you wish I were somebody else?" she asked, slyly.
"No, no! but what of Frank Lillivan?"
"Frank, do you know him?" (With a luminous face.)
"And he has told me----yes."
"Of his relations with Miss Tarlingford."
"What Anna? Who is Anna?"
"Dear me! my sister Anna. Don't be absurd!"
"But I never knew"----
"No,--you knew nothing of her; the worse for you! You avoided her,--I'm
sure I don't see why,--and she is retiring."
"_Retiring!_--the very word!"
"What word? You vex me; you puzzle me; take me down."
"Forgive me, dear Arabella! I'm too delighted to explain. I never will
explain. I thought it was you on whom Frank's affections were fixed."
"Dear, no! Frank is sensible; he knows better; he has judgment"; and
she laughed a quiet laugh, and made as if she would jump down.
As she descended, two heads caromed together with a click. It was the
irrepressible influence of the billiard atmosphere, I suppose. No one
That evening, when Frank Lillivan arrived, I met him at the door.
"God bless you, Frank!" said I; "I forgive you everything. Say no
"Hollo! what's up?" cried Frank.
"Well, certainly, it was a little imprudent for you to neglect writing
the whole address of the letter you sent to Anna Tarlingford. I thought
it was for Arabella."
"Dear me!" said Frank, twinkling, "what then?"
That is enough.
* * * * *
Wait a little: do _we_ not wait?
Louis Napoleon is not Fate;
Francis Joseph is not Time;
There's One hath swifter feet than Crime;
Cannon-parliaments settle nought;
Venice is Austria's,--whose is Thought?
Minie is good, but, spite of change,
Gutenberg's gun has the longer range.
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
Wait, we say; our years are long;
Men are weak, but Man is strong;
Since the stars first curved their rings,
We have looked on many things;
Great wars come and great wars go,
Wolf-tracks light on polar snow;
We shall see him come and gone,
This second-hand Napoleon.
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
We saw the elder Corsican,
And Clotho muttered as she span,
While crowned lackeys bore the train
Of the pinchbeck Charlemagne,--
"Sister, stint not length of thread!
Sister, stay the scissors dread!
On St. Helen's granite bleak,
Hark, the vulture whets his beak!"
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
The Bonapartes, we know their bees,
That wade in honey, red to the knees;
Their patent-reaper, its sheaves sleep sound
In doorless garners underground:
We know false Glory's spendthrift race,
Pawning nations for feathers and lace;
It may be short, it may be long,--
"'Tis reckoning-day!" sneers unpaid Wrong.
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
The cock that wears the eagle's skin
Can promise what he ne'er could win;
Slavery reaped for fine words sown,
System for all and rights for none,
Despots at top, a wild clan below,
Such is the Gaul from long ago:
Wash the black from the Ethiop's face,
Wash the past out of man or race!
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
'Neath Gregory's throne a spider swings
And snares the people for the kings:
"Luther is dead; old quarrels pass;
The stake's black scars are healed with grass";
So dreamers prate;--did man e'er live
Saw priest or woman yet forgive?
But Luther's broom is left, and eyes
Peep o'er their creeds to where it lies.
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
In the shadow, year out, year in,
The silent headsman waits forever!
Smooth sails the ship of either realm,
Kaiser and Jesuit at the helm;
But we look down the deeps and mark
Silent workers in the dark,
Building slow the sharp-tusked reefs,
Old instincts hardening to new beliefs:
Patience, a little; learn to wait;
Hours are long on the clock of Fate.
Spin, spin, Clotho, spin!
Lachesis, twist! and Atropos, sever!
Darkness is strong, and so is Sin,
But only God endures forever!
* * * * *
THE AURORA BOREALIS.
The aurora borealia, or rather, the polar aurora,--for there are
aurorae australes as well as aurorae boreales,--has been an object of
wonder and admiration from time immemorial.
Pliny and Aristotle record phenomena identical with those which later
times have witnessed. The ancients ranked this with other celestial
phenomena, as portending great events.
In a Bible imprinted at London in the year 1599, the 22d verse of the
37th chapter of Job reads thus: "The brightness commeth out of the
Northe, the praise to God which is terrible." The writer of the Book of
Job was very conversant with natural objects, and may have referred to
the aurora borealis and the phenomena immediately connected therewith.
In 1560, we are told, it was seen at London in the shape of burning
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