Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, Issue 67, May, 1863
Part 2 out of 5
"You cannot tell me why they work?" she said. "From habit, from fear,
because committed? It cannot be, then, that they are in earnest, that
they are sincere, that they care a rush for this cause so holy to you.
They have entered into it, as all this common people do, for the love
of a new excitement, for the pleasurable mystery of conspiracy, for the
self-importance and gratulation. They will scatter at the signal of
danger, like mischievous boys when a gendarme comes round the corner.
They will betray you at the lifting of an Austrian finger. Leave them!"
This was too much to hear in silence,--to hear of these faithful
comrades, who had endured everything, and were yet to overcome because
they possessed their souls in patience, each of whom stood higher before
God than I in unspotted public purity, and whose praise and love led me
constantly to larger effort. At least I would make them the reparation
"You mistrust them?" I exclaimed. "They whose souls have been tried in
the furnace, who have the temper of fine steel, pliant as gold, but
incorruptible as adamant,--heroes and saints, they stand so low in your
favor? Come, then, come with me now,--for the bells have struck the
hour, and shadows clothe the earth,--come to their conclave where
discovery is death, and judge if they be idle prattlers, or men who
carry their lives in their hands!"
Fool! Fool! Fool! Every sound in the air cries out that word to me:
the bee that wings across the tower hums it in my ear; the booming
alarm-bell rings it forth; my heart, my failing heart, beats it while
I speak. I would have carried a snake to the sacred ibis-nest, and
thenceforth hope was hollow as an egg-shell!
She ran from the room, but, pausing in the door-way, exclaimed,--
"Remember, if you take me there, that I am no Roman patriot,--I! I,
who am of the House of Austria, that House that wears the crown of the
Caesars, those Caesars who swayed the very imperial sceptre, who trailed
the very imperial purple of old Rome! I endure the cause because it is
yours. I beseech you to be faithful to it; because I should despise you,
if for any woman you swerved from an object that had previously been
with you holier than heaven!"
I stood there leaning from the lofty window, and looking down over the
wide, solitary fields. Recollections crowded upon me, hopes rose before
me. One day, that yet lives in my heart, Anselmo, sprang up afresh, a
day forever domed in memory. Fair rose the sun that day, and I walked on
the nation's errands through the streets of a distant town,--a hoar and
antique place, that sheltered me safely, so slight guard was it thought
to need by our oppressors! It pleased that reverend arch-hypocrite to
take at this hour his airing. Late events had given the people courage.
It was a market-day, peasants from the country obstructed the ancient
streets, the citizens were all abroad. Not few were the maledictions
muttered over a column of French infantry that wound along as it
returned to Rome from some movement of subjection, not low the curses
showered on an officer who escorted ladies upon their drive. As I went,
I considered what a day it would have been for _emeute_, and what mortal
injury _emeute_ would have done our cause. Italy, we said, like fools,
but honest fools, must not be redeemed with blood. As if there were ever
any sacred pact, any new order of things, that was not first sealed
by blood! Therefore, when I, alone perhaps of all the throng, saw one
man--a man in whose soul I knew the iron rankled--stealing behind the
crowd, behind the monuments, and, as the coach of His Excellency rolled
luxuriously along, levelling a glittering barrel,--it was but an
instant's work to seize the advancing creatures, to hold them
rearing,--and then a deadly flash,--while the ball whistled past me,
grazed my hand, and pierced the leader's heart. In a twinkling the dead
horse was cut away, and His Excellency, cowering in the bottom of the
coach, galloped borne more swiftly than the wind, without a word. But
the populace appreciated the action, took it up with _vivas_ long and
loud, that rang after me when I had slipped away, and before nightfall
had echoed in all ears through leagues of country round. I went that
night to the theatre. The house was filled, and, as we entered, a murmur
went about, and then cries broke forth,--the multitude rose with cheers
and bravos, calling my name, intoxicated with enthusiasm, and dazzled,
not by a daring feat, but by the spirit that prompted it. Women tore off
their jewels to twist them into a sling for my injured hand; men rose
and made me a conqueror's ovation; the orchestra played the old Etrurian
hymns of freedom; I was attended home with a more than Roman triumph of
torch and song, stately men and beautiful women. But chameleons change
their tint in the sunshine, and why should men always march under one
color? Friend, not six months later there came another day, when triumph
was shame,--plaudits, curses,--joyous tumult, scorching silence. Oh!--
But I shall come to that in time. Now let me hasten; the hours are less
tardy than I, and they bring with them my last.
Thought of this day--sole pageant defiling through memory--was startled
again by the far, sweet sound of a bell, some bell ringing twilight out
and evening in across the wide Campagna. I wondered what delayed Lenore.
Did it take so long to toss off the cloudy back-falling veil, to wrap in
any long cloak her gown of white damask and all the sheen of her milky
pearl-dusters and fiery rubies? I thought with exultation then of what
she was so soon to see,--of the route through sunken ruins, down wells
forsaken of their pristine sources and hidden by masses of moss, winding
with the faint light in our hands through the awful ways and avenues of
the catacombs. The scene grew real to me, as I mused. Alone, what should
I fear? These silent hosts encamped around would but have cheered their
child. But with her, every murmur becomes a portent of danger, every
current of air gives me fresh tremors; as we pass casual openings into
the sky, the vault of air, the glint of stars, shall seem a malignant
face; I fancy to hear impossible footsteps behind us, some bone that
crumbling falls from its shelf makes my heart beat high, her dear hand
trembles in my hold, and, full of a new and superstitious awe, I half
fear this ancient population of the graves will rise and surround us
with phantom array. Now and then, a cold, lonely wind, blowing from no
one knows where, rises and careers past us, piercing to the marrow. I
think, too, of that underground space, half choked with rubbish, into
which we are to emerge at last, once the hall of some old Roman revel. I
see the troubled flashes flung from the flaring torch over our assembly.
Alert and startled, I see Lenore listen to the names as if they summoned
the wraiths and not the bodies of men whom she had supposed to be lost
in the pampas of Paraguay, dead in the Papal prisons, sheltered in
English homes, or tossing far away on the long voyages of the Pacific
seas. I see myself at length taking the torch from its niche and
restoring it, as a hundred times before, to Pietro da Valambo, while
it glitters on some strange object looking in at the vine-clad opening
above with its breaths of air, serpent or hare, or the large face and
slow eyes of a browsing buffalo. And as I think, lo! an echo in the
house, a dull tramp in the hall, a stealthy tread in the room, a heavy
hand upon my shoulder,--I was arrested for high treason.
Do not think I surrendered then. Without a struggle I would be the
prize of Pope nor King nor Kaiser! I shook the minions' grasp from my
shoulder, I flashed my sword in their eyes; and not till the crescent
of weapons encircled me in one blinding gleam, vain grew defence, vain
honor, vain bravery. Of what use was my soul to me thenceforth? I became
but carrion prey. I fell, and the world fell from me.
Sensation, emotion, awoke from their swooning lapse only in the light
of day, the next or another, I knew not which. I was lifted from some
conveyance, I saw blue reaches of curving bay and the great purifying
priest of flame, and knew I was in the city guarded by its pillar of
cloud by day, of fire by night. I had reason to know it, when, yet
unfed, unrested, faint, smirched and smeared with blood and travel,
loaded with chains, I was brought to a tribunal where sat the sleek and
subtle tyrant of Naples.
"Signor," said a bland voice from the king's side,--and looking in its
direction, I encountered the Neapolitan,--"Signor, I lately said that at
some day I would trouble you to repeat a brilliant sentence addressed
to me. The day has arrived. I scarcely dared dream it would be so soon.
Shall we listen?"
I was silent: not that I feared to say it; they could but finish their
Then I saw the beautifully cut lips of my judge part, that the voice
might slide forth, and, taking a comfit, he tittered, with unchanging
tint and sweetest tone, the three words, "Apply the question."
Why should I endure that for a whim? Who courts torment? Already they
drew near with the cunning instruments. Let me say it, and what then?
Nothing worse than torture. Let me _not_ say it, and certainly torture.
Oh, I was weaker than a child! my body ruled my spirit with its
exhaustion and pain. Yet there was a certain satisfaction in flinging
the words in their faces. I waved back with my remaining arm the slaves
"You should allow a weary man the time to collect his thoughts," I said,
and then turned to my persecutors. "I have spoken with you many times,
Signor," I replied to the Neapolitan, "yet of all our words I can
remember none but these, that you could care to hear with this auditory.
I said,--that the tyrant of Naples walks in blood to his knees!"
The Neapolitan smiled. The king rose.
"Well said!" he murmured, in his silvery tones. "One that knows so
much must know more. Exhaust his knowledge, I pray. Do not spare your
courtesies; remember he is my guest. I leave him in your hands."
He fixed me with his eye,--that darkly-glazed eye, devoid of life, of
love, of joy, as if he were the thing of another element,--then bowed
and passed away.
"The urbanity of His Majesty is too well known to suppose it possible
that he should prove you a liar," said the Neapolitan.
Truly, I was loft in their hands! Shall I tell you of the charities I
found there? Not I, friend! it would wring your heart as dry of tears
as mine was wrung of groans. At last I was alone, it seemed,--on a wet
stone floor, sweat pouring from every muscle, each fibre quivering; I
was distorted and unjointed, I only hoped I was dying. But no, that
was too good for me. Anselmo, how can I but be full of scoffs, when I
remember those hours, those ages? The cold dampness of the place crept
into my bones; I became swollen and teeming with intimate pain. But
that was light, my body might have ached till the throbs stiffened into
death-spasms, and yet the suffering had been nought, compared with that
loathing and disgust in my soul. It had seemed that I was alone, I said.
Alone as the corpse in unshrouded grave! I was in a charnel-house. Men
who were sinless as you hung dead upon the wall, hung dying there.
Darkness covered all things at a distance, sighs crept up from
far corners, chains clanked, or imprecations or prayer uttered
themselves,--bodiless voices in the night. I did not know what untold
horror there might yet be hid. I heard the drip of water from the black
vaults; I heard the short, fierce pants and deadly groans. Oh, worst
infliction of Hell's armory it is to see another suffer! Why was it
allowed, Anselmo? Did it come in the long train of a broken law? was it
one of the dark places of Providence? or was it indeed the vile compost
to mature some beautiful germ? Ah, then, is it possible that Heaven
looks on us so in the mass?
But for me, after a while I lay torpid, and then perchance I slept, for
finally I opened my eyes and found the white strong light; T lay on a
bed, and a surgeon handled me. Too elastic was I to be long crushed,
once the weight removed. Soon I breathed fresh air; and save that my
frame had become in its distortion hideous, I was the same as before.
Then, indeed, began my torture,--torture to which this had been idle
jest. I was taken once more to the room of tribunal. Beside the
Neapolitan a woman sat veiled and shrouded in masses of sable drapery.
"A queen?" I thought, "or a slave?" But I had no further room for fancy;
the same interrogatories as before were given me to answer, and then I
felt why I had been nursed back to life. In the months that had elapsed,
I could not know if Italy were saved or lost, if Naples tottered or
remained impregnable. I stood only on my personal basis of right or
wrong. I refused to open my lips. They wheeled forward a low bed that I
knew well. Oh, the slow starting of the socket! Oh, the long wrench of
tendon and nerve! A bed of steel and cords, rollers and levers, bound me
there, and bent to their creaking toil. I was strong to endure; I had
set my teeth and sworn myself to silence; no woman should hear me moan.
Even in this misery I saw that she who sat there, shaking, fell.
The tyrant was lily-livered; seldom he witnessed what others died under;
he intended nothing further then;--many men who faint at sight of blood
can probe a soul to its utmost gasp. Now he motioned, and they paused.
Then others lifted the woman and held her beside him, yet a little in
"Keep your silence," said he, in a voice unrecognizable, and as if a
wild beast, half-glutted, should speak, "and I keep her! She is in my
power. Mine, and you know what that means. Mine," and he bent toward me,
"_body and--soul_. To use, to blast, to destroy, to tear piecemeal,--as
I will do, so help me God! unless you meet my condition." And extending
his hand, he drew aside the black veil, and my eye lay on the face of
Lenore, thin and white as the familiar faces of corpses, and utterly
insensible in swoon.
All, that mortal horror stops my pulse! Was I wrong? Why not have borne
that, too? Had she loved me, she had chosen it, chosen it rather. And
death would have made all right!--God! why not have seized some poignard
lying there? why not have sprung upon her, have slain her? Then silence
had been simply secure. Then I could have smiled in their frustrated
faces, one keen, deep smile, and died. I was dissolved in pain, writhed
with prolonged strokes that thrilled me from head to foot, pierced as
with acute stabs, my heart seemed to forge thunderbolts to break upon my
brain,--but this agony had been spared me. They unbound me, fed me with
some stimulating cordial, gave me cold air, and I rose on my elbow a
"Swear!" I said, hoarsely. "But you do not keep oaths. God help you?
Never! There must be a Hell to help you! Imprecate this, then, on
yourself! May you in your smooth white body know the torture I have
known, be racked till each bone in your skin changes place, hang
festering in chains from the wall of a living grave, make fellowship
with putridity, and lie in the pitiless dark to see all the dead who
died under your hand rise, rise and accuse you before God! And may your
little son know the deeds you have done, live the life those deeds
merit, and die the death that _I_ shall die,--if you do not keep your
"What word?" he said.
"Promise, if I reveal all, and my revelations shall be true and thorough
therefore,--promise that you will leave her in safe security and freedom
to-day, untouched, unscathed, unharmed, and that so ever shall she
remain. And false to this oath, may no priest shrive you, no land own
you, God blight you and curse you and wither you from the face of the
And taking a crucifix, he swore the oath.
Then they busied themselves about Lenore, revived her, soothed her,
gave her of the same cordial to drink, and placed her once more in her
dais-seat. Her veil was thrown back, her wide blue eyes fixed on me in
intense strain, her face and lips still blanched more bitterly beneath
that hue, her features sharp as chisel-graven death. Ah, God! must
I endure that too? Was she to hear me,--she, not knowing why, never
knowing why,--she in whom that look of aching passion and pity was to
die out and freeze and fade in one of utter scorn?
They brought me some strange draught, as if one swallowed fire. The
blood coursed richly through my shrunken veins; I felt filled with a
different life. I arose and left that bed of torture, but came back to
it as to my rest.
And lying there, I betrayed Italy.
Root and branch and spray and leaf, I uprooted all my memories; I forgot
no name, I lost no fact; I was eagerer than they; I modified nothing,
I abbreviated nothing; the past, the future, what had been, was to be,
plan and scheme and supreme purpose, I never faltered, I told the whole!
I did not look at her, I kept my eyes on the tyrant; I wished I might
have the evil eye,--but that gift was for him, the Neapolitan. Yet at
length I heard a low moan trailing toward me; I turned, and saw her
face, as I saw it last, Anselmo,--stonily quiet, frozen from indignant
pain to icy apathy, and the words she would have said had hissed
inarticulately through her ashen lips. Then they brought me the
confession, and, as I could, I signed it.
"Madame," said the tyrant, "your knowledge is coextensive with his. Does
all this agree?"
"Sire, it does agree," she answered, and they led her out.
"I have no authority over you," said the tyrant then to me. "You might
go freely now, but that, precious as Homer, seven cities claim you,
Signor! My prisons also will now be full of rarer game. But as a crime
of your commission places you within Austrian jurisdiction, I shall take
pleasure in presenting you to my cousin and surrendering you to his
mercy," and he withdrew.
"You may not be aware," said the courteous Neapolitan, "that on the
night of your arrest your frantic sword-slashes had serious result. My
friend the little Viennois fell at your hands."
[Transcriber's note: Page missing in source text.]
through dazzling rings of light, and I fell forward in the cart and hung
by my chains among the hoofs of the trampling horses who dragged me. On
that day I had taken my last step; I never set foot on the round earth
again. But, with all, I smiled through my groans; for the shining, solid
hoofs that did their work on me did their work as well on the man who
walked by my side,--dashed dead the accursed Neapolitan.
They were not the surgeons of Naples who essayed to galvanize volition
through my paralyzed limbs, but those who knew the utmost resources of
their art. And so I lived,--lived, too, by reason of my inextinguishable
vitality, by reason of this spark that will not quench,--and so I came
to Hellberg. It would have been mockery to give this shapeless hulk to
sentence, and then to headsman or hangman; perhaps, too, her haughty
name had been involved; and so I was never brought to trial, and so I am
And I have never set foot on the ground again. But, oh, to touch it
for a moment, to sit anywhere on the summer mould, to pull down the
sun-quivering, sun-steeped branches about me, to scent the fresh grass
as it springs to the light! Oh. but to touch the sweet, kind earth, the
warm earth, silent with ineffable tenderness and soothing, to feel it
under my hand, to lay my cheek there for a moment, while it drew away
pain and weariness with its absorbing, purifying power! Oh, but to lie
once more where the blossoms grow! Soon, soon, they will grow above me!
Soon the kind mother will cover me!
* * * * *
What had happened in the outer world I knew not till you came. I fancied
Lenore returned, breathing Austrian air, and living under the same
horizon that girds me in. Sometimes I have seen a distant cavalcade
skimming over the vale, as once we careered over the Campagna, when she
handled her steed as another woman handles her needle, and the sweet
wind fanned peach-tints to her cheeks and drew out unravelled braids of
gold in lingering caress. She could have come to me, had she pleased,
then: this old chief who rules the place was her father's friend and
hers.--But look I but see! Who is it comes now,--sweeps round the donjon
flank? Lean over the embrasure, and learn! Ah, man, are my eyes so old,
my memories so treacherous, that I do not know day from night? They have
gone on,--or did they enter, think you? Or yet, there is to be carousal,
perhaps, in the halls beyond and below, and she comes to join the gay
feast; she will drink healths in red wine, will listen to flattering
dalliance with pleased eyes, will utter light laughs through the lips
that once glowed to my kisses, and will forget that the same roof
which shelters the revellers shelters also her lover dying in moans!
Careless--Best so! best so! What cavalier whispered in her ear as she
passed? Have years tarnished her beauty? Ah, God! this wind, that
maddens me now, a moment since touched her!
Anselmo, I will go in. This vault of heaven with its spotless blue, this
wide land that laughs in festive summer, these winds that lift my hair
and come heavy with odors,--these do not fit with me, I burlesque the
fair face of creation. O invisible airs, that softly sport round the
castle-towers, why do you not woo my soul forth and bear it and lose it
in the flawless cope of sky?
Nay, why, any more than Ajax, should I die in the dark? Never again
will I enter the cell, never again! The wide universe shall receive my
breath. Lower the back of my chair, pull away the cushions, wrap my
cloak round me, Anselmo. There! I will lie, and wait, and look up. Give
me ghostly counsel, my friend, console me. You are not too weary with
this long tale? Tell me I needed all the tears I have shed to quench the
fiery defiance, the independence of heaven and tumult of earth in my
being. If you could tell me that she had not been false, that she never
feigned her passion to decoy, that, Austrian though she were--Ah, but
I had evidence! I had evidence! his words, that ate out my life like
gangrene and rust.--Speak slower, Anselmo, slower. Can it be that I
sinned most, when I held his words before hers,--his black damning
falsehoods?--Mother of God! do you know what you say?
Tell me, then, that I am a fool,--that not through other loss than the
loss of faith did the curse fall on me! Tell me, then, that these dark
ways lead me out on a height! Needful the shadow and the groping. He
anointed my eyes with the clay beneath his feet,--I was blind, but now I
Repeat, Anselmo, repeat that she was true, though the knowledge blast me
with self-consuming pangs. But, true or false, one thing she promised
me: though other spheres, though other lives had come between us, she
would be with me in my dying hour. Soon the bell will toll that hour,
and toll my knell!
* * * * *
What is this, Anselmo,--this face that hangs between me and
heaven,--this pitying, sorrowing countenance?--Ave Maria!--Never! Never!
Still of the earth, this melting mouth, these violet eyes, this brow
of snow, this fragrant bosom pillowing my head! Mirage of fainting
fancy,--out, beautiful thing, away! Do not torment me with such a
despairing lie! do not cheat me into death! Let me at least look on the
unobstructed sky, as I sink lower and lower to my eternal rest!
* * * * *
Still there? Still there? Still bending above me, smiling and weeping,
sweet April face? Oh, were they truly thy lips that lay on mine, then,
that stamped them with life's impress, that woke me? Are they truly thy
fingers that pressed my throbless temples? These arms that are wound
about me, are thine? Thy heart beats for me, thy tears flow, thy perfect
womanhood does not recoil in horror? Lenore! Lenore! is it thou?
* * * * *
Nay, nay, Sweet, ask me no question; I have wronged thee; he shall tell
thee how. Yet best thou shouldst never hear it. Sin to thee greater than
all treachery had been. Forgive, forgive! I go,--in meeting, leave thee;
but be glad for me,--whether I sleep or whether I wake, know that a
great curse will have fallen from me. Swathe my memory in thy love. Kiss
me again, child! Rock me a little; stoop lower, and croon those old
mountain-songs that once you sang when the sunshine soaked the sward and
your hair was crowned with blue morning-glories.
Ah, your song drowns in tears! Yet you do not wish me to live, Lenore? O
love, I can do nothing but die!
The sunlight fades from the hills, the air wavers and glimmers, and day
is dim. Thy face is mistier than a vision of angels. There are faint,
strange voices in my ear, swift rustlings, far harmonics;--has sense
become so attenuated that I hear the blood in my failing pulses? Lenore,
love, lower. Thy lips to mine, and breathe my life away. Twice would I
die to save thee!
--Anselmo! man! where art thou? Come back ere I fall,--strength flares
up like a dying flame. _Never tell her why I betrayed Italy!_
--Closer, dear love, closer! What old murmurs do I hear?
"The night is spread for thee,
The heavens are wide,
And the dark earth's mystery"--
So,--in thy arms,--from thee to God! O love,
forever--kiss--forgive!--Lift me, that I confront eternity and Christ!
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
As I lay with my blanket on,
By the dim fire-light, in the moonlit night,
When the skirmishing fight was done.
The measured beat of the sentry's feet,
With the jingling scabbard's ring!
Tramp! Tramp! in my meadow-camp
By the Shenandoah's spring.
The moonlight seems to shed cold beams
On a row of pale gravestones:
Give the bugle breath, and that image of Death
Will fly from the reveille's tones.
By each tented roof, a charger's hoof
Makes the frosty hill-side ring:
Give the bugle breath, and a spirit of Death
To each horse's girth will spring.
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
The sentry, before my tent,
Guards, in gloom, his chief, for whom
Its shelter to-night is lent.
I am not there. On the hill-side bare
I think of the ghost within;
Of the brave who died at my sword-hand side,
To-day, 'mid the horrible din
Of shot and shell and the infantry yell,
As we charged with the sabre drawn.
To my heart I said, "Who shall be the dead
In _my_ tent, at another dawn?"
I thought of a blossoming almond-tree,
The stateliest tree that I know;
Of a golden bowl; of a parted soul;
And a lamp that is burning low.
Oh, thoughts that kill! I thought of the hill
In the far-off Jura chain;
Of the two, the three, o'er the wide salt sea,
Whose hearts would break with pain;
Of my pride and joy,--my eldest boy;
Of my darling, the second--in years;
Of _Willie_, whose face, with its pure, mild grace,
Melts memory into tears;
Of their mother, my bride, by the Alpine lake's side,
And the angel asleep in her arms;
Love, Beauty, and Truth, which she brought to my youth,
In that sweet April day of her charms.
"HALT! _Who comes there?_" The cold midnight air
And the challenging word chill me through.
The ghost of a fear whispers, close to my ear,
"Is peril, love, coming to you?"
The hoarse answer, "RELIEF," makes the shade of a grief
Die away, with the step on the sod.
A kiss melts in air, while a tear and a prayer
Confide my beloved to God.
Tramp! Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!
With a solemn, pendulum-swing!
Though _I_ slumber all night, the fire burns bright,
And my sentinels' scabbards ring.
* * * * *
"Boot and saddle!" is sounding. Our pulses are bounding.
"To horse!" And I touch with my heel
Black Gray in the flanks, and ride down the ranks,
With my heart, like my sabre, of steel.
THE HUMAN WHEEL, ITS SPOKES AND FELLOES.
The starting-point of this paper was a desire to call attention to
certain remarkable AMERICAN INVENTIONS, especially to one class of
mechanical contrivances, which, at the present time, assumes a vast
importance and interests great multitudes. The limbs of our friends and
countrymen are a part of the melancholy harvest which War is sweeping
down with Dahlgren's mowing-machine and the patent reapers of
Springfield and Hartford. The admirable contrivances of an American
inventor, prized as they were in ordinary times, have risen into the
character of great national blessings since the necessity for them has
become so widely felt. While the weapons that have gone from Mr. Colt's
armories have been carrying death to friend and foe, the beneficent
and ingenious inventions of MR. PALMER have been repairing the losses
inflicted by the implements of war.
The study of the artificial limbs which owe their perfection to his
skill and long-continued labor has led us a little beyond its first
object, and finds its natural prelude in some remarks on the natural
limbs and their movements. Accident directed our attention, while
engaged with this subject, to the efforts of another ingenious American
to render the use of our lower extremities easier by shaping their
artificial coverings more in accordance with their true form than is
done by the empirical cordwainer, and thus _Dr. Plumer_ must submit to
the coupling of some mention of his praiseworthy efforts in the same
pages with the striking achievements of his more aspiring compatriot.
We should not tell the whole truth, if we did not own that we have for
a long time been lying in wait for a chance to say something about the
mechanism of walking, because we thought we could add something to what
is known about it from a new source, accessible only within the last
few years, and never, so far as we know, employed for its elucidation,
namely, _the instantaneous photograph_.
* * * * *
The two accomplishments common to all mankind are walking and talking.
Simple as they seem, they are yet acquired with vast labor, and very
rarely understood in any clear way by those who practise them with
perfect ease and unconscious skill.
Talking seems the hardest to comprehend. Yet it has been clearly
explained and successfully imitated by artificial contrivances. We
know that the moist membranous edges of a narrow crevice (the glottis)
vibrate as the reed of a clarionet vibrates, and thus produce the human
_bleat_. We narrow or widen or check or stop the flow of this sound by
the lips, the tongue, the teeth, and thus _articulate_, or break into
joints, the even current of sound. The sound varies with the degree and
kind of interruption, as the "babble" of the brook with the shape and
size of its impediments,--pebbles, or rocks, or dams. To whisper is to
articulate without _bleating_, or vocalizing; to _coo_ as babies do is
to bleat or vocalize without articulating. Machines are easily made that
bleat not unlike human beings. A bit of India-rubber tube tied round a
piece of glass tube is one of the simplest voice-uttering contrivances.
To make a machine that _articulates_ is not so easy; but we remember
Maelzel's wooden children, which said, "Pa-pa" and "Ma-ma"; and more
elaborate and successful speaking machines have, we believe, been since
But no man has been able to make a figure that can _walk_. Of all the
automata imitating men or animals moving, there is not one in which the
legs are the true sources of motion. So said the Webers[A] more than
twenty years ago, and it is as true now as then. These authors, after a
profound experimental and mathematical investigation of the mechanism
of animal locomotion, recognize the fact that our knowledge is not yet
advanced enough to hope to succeed in making real walking machines. But
they conceive that the time may come hereafter when colossal figures
will be constructed whose giant strides will not be arrested by the
obstacles which are impassable to wheeled conveyances.
[Footnote A: _Traite de la Mechanique des Organes de la Locomotion_,
Translated from the German in the _Encyclopedie Anatomique_. Paris,
We wish to give our readers as clear an idea as possible of that
wonderful art of balanced vertical progression which they have
practised, as M. Jourdain talked prose, for so many years, without
knowing what a marvellous accomplishment they had mastered. We shall
have to begin with a few simple anatomical data.
The foot is arched both longitudinally and transversely, so as to give
it elasticity, and thus break the sudden shock when the weight of the
body is thrown upon it. The ankle-joint is a loose hinge, and the great
muscles of the calf can straighten the foot out so far that practised
dancers walk on the tips of their toes. The knee is another hinge-joint,
which allows the leg to bend freely, but not to be carried beyond a
straight line in the other direction. Its further forward movement is
checked by two very powerful cords in the interior of the joint, which
cross each other like the letter X, and are hence called the _crucial
ligaments_. The upper ends of the thighbones are almost globes, which
are received into the deep cup-like cavities of the haunch-bones. They
are tied to these last so loosely, that, if their ligaments alone held
them, they would be half out of their sockets in many positions of the
lower limbs. But here comes in a simple and admirable contrivance. The
smooth, rounded head of the thighbone, moist with glairy fluid, fits so
perfectly into the smooth, rounded cavity which receives it, that it
holds firmly by _suction_, or atmospheric pressure. It takes a hard pull
to draw it out after all the ligaments are cut, and then it comes with a
smack like a tight cork from a bottle. Holding in this way by the close
apposition of two polished surfaces, the lower extremity swings freely
forward and backward like a _pendulum_, if we give it a chance, as is
shown by standing on a chair upon the other limb, and moving the pendent
one out of the vertical line. The force with which it swings depends
upon its weight, and this is much greater than we might at first
suppose; for our limbs not only carry themselves, but our bodies also,
with a sense of lightness rather than of weight, when we are in good
condition. Accident sometimes makes us aware how heavy our limbs are. An
officer, whose arm was shattered by a ball in one of our late battles,
told us that the dead weight of the helpless member seemed to drag him
down to the earth; he could hardly carry it; it "weighed a ton," to his
feeling, as he said.
In _ordinary walking_, a man's lower extremity swings essentially by its
own weight, requiring little muscular effort to help it. So heavy a body
easily overcomes all impedimenta from clothing, even in the sex least
favored in its costume. But if a man's legs are pendulums, then a short
man's legs will swing quicker than a tall man's, and he will take more
steps to a minute, other things being equal. Thus there is a natural
rhythm to a man's walk, depending on the length of his legs, which beat
more or less rapidly as they are longer or shorter, like metronomes
differently adjusted, or the pendulums of different time-keepers.
Commodore Nutt is to M. Bihin in this respect as a little, fast-ticking
mantel-clock is to an old-fashioned, solemn-clicking, upright
The mathematical formulae in which the Messrs. Weber embody their
results would hardly be instructive to most of our readers. The figures
of their Atlas would serve our purpose better, had we not the means of
coming nearer to the truth than even their careful studies enabled them
to do. We have selected a number of instantaneous stereoscopic views of
the streets and public places of Paris and of New York, each of them
showing numerous walking figures, among which some may be found in
every stage of the complex act we are studying. Mr. Darley has had the
kindness to leave his higher tasks to transfer several of these to our
pages, so that the reader may be sure that he looks upon an exact copy
of real human individuals in the act of walking.
[Illustration: Fig. 1.]
The first subject is caught with his legs stretched in a stride, the
remarkable length of which arrests our attention. The sole of the right
foot is almost vertical. By the action of the muscles of the calf it has
_rolled off_ from the ground like a portion of the tire of a wheel, the
heel rising first, and thus the body, already advancing with all its
acquired velocity, and inclined forward, has been pushed along, and, as
it were, _tipped over_, so as to fall upon the other foot, now ready to
receive its weight.
[Illustration: Fig. 2.]
In the second figure, the right leg is bending at the knee, so as to
lift the foot from the ground, in order that it may swing forward.
[Illustration: Fig. 3.]
The next stage of movement is shown in the _left_ leg of figure 3. This
leg is seen suspended in air, a little beyond the middle of the arc
through which it swings, and before it has straightened itself, which it
will presently do, as shown in the next figure.
[Illustration: Fig. 4.]
The foot has now swung forward, and, tending to swing back again, the
limb being straightened, and the body tipped forward, the heel strikes
the ground. The angle which the sole of the foot forms with the ground
increases with the length of the stride; and as this last surprised us,
so the extent of this angle astonishes us in many of the figures, in
this among the rest.
The heel strikes the ground with great force, as the wear of our boots
and shoes in that part shows us. But the projecting heel of the human
foot is the arm of a lever, haying the ankle-joint as its fulcrum, and,
as it strikes the ground, brings the sole of the foot down flat upon it,
as shown in figure 1. At the same time the weight of the limb and body
is thrown upon the foot, by the joint effect of muscular action and
acquired velocity, and the other foot is now ready to rise from the
ground and repeat the process we have traced in its fellow.
No artist would have dared to draw a walking figure in attitudes like
some of these. The swinging limb is so much shortened that the toe never
by any accident scrapes the ground, if this is tolerably even. In cases
of partial paralysis, the scraping of the toe, as the patient walks, is
one of the characteristic marks of imperfect muscular action.
Walking, then, is a perpetual falling with a perpetual self-recovery. It
is a most complex, violent, and perilous operation, which we divest of
its extreme danger only by continual practice from a very early period
of life. We find how complex it is when we attempt to analyze it, and
we see that we never understood it thoroughly until the time of the
instantaneous photograph. We learn how violent it is, when we walk
against a post or a door in the dark. We discover how dangerous it is,
when we slip or trip and come down, perhaps breaking or dislocating our
limbs, or overlook the last step of a flight of stairs, and discover
with what headlong violence we have been hurling ourselves forward.
Two curious facts are easily proved. First, a man is shorter when he is
walking than when at rest. We have found a very simple way of showing
this by having a rod or yardstick placed horizontally, so as to touch
the top of the head forcibly, as we stand under it. In walking rapidly
beneath it, even if the eyes are shut, to avoid involuntary stooping,
the top of the head will not even graze the rod. The other fact is, that
one side of a man always tends to outwalk the other, so that no person
can walk far in a straight line, if he is blindfolded.
The somewhat singular illustration at the head of our article carries
out an idea which has only been partially alluded to by others. Man is
a _wheel_, with two spokes, his legs, and two fragments of a tire, his
feet. He _rolls_ successively on each of these fragments from the heel
to the toe. If he had spokes enough, he would go round and round as the
boys do when they "make a wheel" with their four limbs for its spokes.
But having only two available for ordinary locomotion, each of these has
to be taken up as soon as it has been used, and carried forward to
be used again, and so alternately with the pair. The peculiarity of
biped-walking is, that the centre of gravity is shifted from one leg to
the other, and the one not employed can shorten itself so as to swing
forward, passing by that which supports the body.
This is just what no automaton can do. Many of our readers have,
however, seen a young lady in the shop-windows, or entertained her in
their own nurseries, who professes to be this hitherto impossible
walking automaton, and who calls herself by the Homeric-sounding epithet
_Autoperipatetikos._ The golden-booted legs of this young lady remind
us of Miss Kilmansegg, while their size assures us that she is not in
any way related to Cinderella. On being wound up, as if she were a piece
of machinery, and placed on a level surface, she proceeds to toddle off,
taking very short steps like a child, holding herself very stiff and
straight, with a little lifting at each step, and all this with a mighty
inward whirring and buzzing of the enginery which constitutes her
An autopsy of one of her family who fell into our hands reveals the
secret springs of her action. Wishing to spare her as a member of the
defenceless sex, it pains us to say, that, ingenious as her counterfeit
walking is, she is an impostor. Worse than this,--with all our reverence
for her brazen crinoline, duty compels us to reveal a fact concerning
her which will shock the feelings of those who have watched the stately
rigidity of decorum with which she moves in the presence of admiring
multitudes. _She is a quadruped!_. Inside of her great golden boots,
which represent one pair of feet, is another smaller pair, which move
freely through these hollow casings.
Four _cams_ or eccentric wheels impart motion to her four supports, by
which she is carried forward, always resting on two of them,--the boot
of one side, and the foot of the other. Her movement, then, is not
walking; it is not skating, which it seems to resemble; it is more like
that of a person walking with two crutches besides his two legs. The
machinery is simple enough: a strong spiral spring, three or four
cog-wheels and pinions, a fly to regulate the motion as in a musical
box, and the cams before mentioned. As a toy, it or she is very taking
to grown people as well as children. It is a literal fact, that the
police requested one of our dealers to remove Miss Autoperipatetikos
from his window, because the crowd she drew obstructed the sidewalk.
We see by our analysis of the process, and by the difficulty of
imitating it, that walking is a much more delicate, perilous,
complicated operation than we should suppose, and well worth studying in
a practical point of view, to see what can be done to make it easier and
safer. Two Americans have applied themselves to this task: one laboring
for those who possess their lower limbs and want to use them to
advantage, the other for such as have had the misfortune to lose one or
both of them.
_Dr. J.C. Plumer_, formerly of Portland, now of Boston, has devoted
himself to the study of the foot, and to the construction of a last upon
which a boot or shoe can be moulded which shall be adapted to its form
and accommodated to its action.
Most persons know something of the cruel injustice to which the feet are
subjected, and the extraordinary distortions and diseases to which they
are liable in consequence. The foot's fingers are the slaves in the
republic of the body. Their black leathern integument is only the mask
of their servile condition. They bear the burdens, while the hands,
their white masters, handle the money and wear the rings. They are
crowded promiscuously in narrow prisons, while each of the hand's
fingers claims its separate apartment, leading from the antechamber, in
the dainty glove. As a natural consequence of all this, their faculties
are cramped, they grow into ignoble shapes, they become callous by long
abuse, and all their natural gifts are crushed and trodden out of them.
Dr. Plumer is the Garrison of these oppressed members of the body
corporeal. He comes to break their chains, to lift their bowed figures,
to strengthen their weakness, to restore them to the dignity of digits.
To do this, he begins where every sensible man would, by contemplating
the natural foot as it appears in infancy, unspoiled as yet by
social corruptions, in adults fortunate enough to have escaped these
destructive influences, in the grim skeleton aspect divested of its
outward disguises. We will give the reader two views of the latter kind,
illustrating the longitudinal and transverse arches before spoken of.
A man who walks on natural surfaces, with his feet unprotected by any
artificial defences, calls the action of these arches into full play at
every step. The longitudinal arch is the most strikingly marked of the
two. In some races and in certain individuals it is much developed, so
as to give the high instep which is prized as an evidence of good blood.
The Arab says that a stream of water can flow under his foot without
touching its sole. Under the conditions supposed, of a naked foot on a
natural surface, the arches of the foot will commonly maintain their
integrity, and give the noble savage or the barefooted Scotch lassie the
elasticity of gait which we admire in the children of Nature.
But as a large portion of mankind tread on artificial hard surfaces,
especially pavements, their feet are subjected to a very unnatural
amount of wear and tear. How great this is the inhabitants of cities
are apt to forget. After passing some months in the country, we have
repeatedly found ourselves terribly lamed and shaken by our first walk
on the pavement. A party of city-folk who landed on a beach upon Cape
Cod complained greatly to one of the natives accompanying them of the
difficulty of walking through the deep sand. "Ah," he answered, "it's
nothing to the trouble I have walking on your city-sidewalks." To save
the feet from the effects of violent percussion and uneven surfaces,
they must be protected by thick soles, and thick soles require strong
upper-leather. When the foot is wedged into one of these casings, a new
boot, a struggle begins between them, which ends in a compromise. The
foot becomes more or less compressed or deformed, and the boot more or
less stretched at the points where the counter-pressure takes place.
On the part of the foot, the effects of this warfare are liable to
show themselves in thickening and inflammation of the integuments, in
displacement of the toes, and occasionally in the breaking down of the
transverse or longitudinal arches. On the part of the boot or shoe,
there is a gradual accommodation which in time fits it to the foot
almost as if it had been moulded upon it, so that a little before it is
worn out it is invaluable, like other blessings brightening before they
take their flight.
Now Mr. Plumer's improvements proceed from two series of data. _First_,
certain theoretical inferences from the facts above named. Finding the
arches liable to break down, he supports the transverse arch by making
the inner surface of the sole corresponding to it _convex_ instead of
concave transversely; he makes the middle portion of the sole convex
again in both directions to support the longitudinal arch, and for the
same reason extends the heel of the boot or shoe forward, so as to
support the anterior portion of the heel of the foot. _Secondly_, Mr.
Plumer takes an old shoe that has done good service, and studies the
reliefs and hollows-which the foot has shaped on the inner surface of
its sole. Comparing the empirical results of this examination with
those based on the anatomical data above given, and finding a general
coincidence in them, he constructs his last in accordance with their
joint teachings. Theoretically, Mr. Plumer is on somewhat dangerous
ground. If the arches of the foot are made to yield like elliptical
springs, why support them? But we subject them to such unnatural
conditions by pressure from above over the instep, by adding high heels
to our boots and shoes, by taking away all yielding qualities from the
soil on which we tread, that very probably they may want artificial
support as much as the soles of the feet want artificial protection. If,
now, we find that an old, easy shoe has worked the inside surface of its
sole into convexities which support the arches, we are safe in imitating
that at any rate. We shall have a new shoe with some, at least, of the
virtues of the old one.
This all sounds very well, and the next question is, whether it works
well. We cannot but remember the coat made for Mr. Gulliver by the
Laputan tailors, which, though projected from the most refined
geometrical data and the most profound calculations, he found to be the
worst fit he ever put on his back. We must ask those who have eaten the
pudding how it tastes, and those who have worn the shoe how it wears. We
have no satisfactory experience of our own, having only within a week
or two, by mere accident, stumbled into a pair of Plumerian boots, and
being thus led to look into a matter which seemed akin to the main
subject of this paper. But the author of "Views Afoot," who ought to be
a sovereign authority on all that interests pedestrians, confirms from
his own experience the favorable opinions expressed by several of our
most eminent physicians, from an examination of the principles of
construction. We are informed that the Plumer last has been recently
adopted for the use of the army. We add our own humble belief that Dr.
Plumer deserves well of mankind for applying sound anatomical principles
to the construction of coverings for the feet, and for contriving a last
serving as a model for a boot or shoe which is adapted to the form of
the foot from the first, instead of having to be broken in by a painful
series of limping excursions, too often accompanied by impatient and
even profane utterances.
* * * * *
It is not two years since the sight of a person who had lost one of his
lower limbs was an infrequent occurrence. Now, alas! there are few of us
who have not a cripple among our friends, if not in our own families. A
mechanical art which provided for an occasional and exceptional want
has become a great and active branch of industry. War unmakes legs, and
human skill must supply their places as it best may.
Our common idea of a wooden leg is realized in the "peg" of the
Greenwich pensioner. This humble contrivance has done excellent service
in its time, and may serve a good purpose still in some cases. A plain
working-man, who has outlived his courting-days and need not sacrifice
much to personal appearance, may find an honest, old-fashioned wooden
leg, cheap, lasting, requiring no repairs, the best thing for his
purpose. In higher social positions, and at an age when appearances are
realities, in the condition of the Marquis of Anglesea, for instance,
it becomes important to provide the cripple with a limb which shall
be presentable in polite society, where misfortunes of a certain
obtrusiveness may be pitied, but are never tolerated under the
The leg invented by Mr. Potts, and bearing the name of the "Anglesea
leg," was long famous, and doubtless merited the reputation it acquired
as superior to its predecessors. But legs cannot remain stationary while
the march of improvement goes on around them, and they, too, have moved
onward with the stride of progress.
A boy of ten years old, living in a New-Hampshire village, had one of
his legs crushed so as to require amputation. The little fellow was
furnished with a "Peg" and stumped round upon it for ten years. We can
imagine what he suffered as he grew into adolescence under the cross of
this unsightly appendage. He was of comely aspect, tall, well-shaped,
with well-marked, regular features. But just at the period when personal
graces are most valued, when a good presence is a blank check on the
Bank of Fortune, with Nature's signature at the bottom, he found himself
made hideous by this fearful-looking counterfeit of a limb. It announced
him at the threshold he reached with beating heart by a thump more
energetic than the palpitation in his breast. It identified him as far
as the eye of jealousy could see his moving figure. The "peg" became
intolerable, and he unstrapped it and threw himself on the tender
mercies of the crutch.
But the crutch is at best an instrument of torture. It presses upon a
great bundle of nerves; it distorts the figure; it stamps a character of
its own upon the whole organism; it is even accused of distempering the
This young man, whose name was "B. FRANK. PALMER," (the abbreviations
probably implying the name of a distinguished Boston philosopher of the
last century, whose visit to Philadelphia is still remembered in that
city,) set himself at work to contrive a limb which should take
the place of the one he had lost, fulfilling its functions and
counterfeiting its aspect so far as possible. The result was the "Palmer
leg," one of the most unquestionable triumphs of American ingenuity. Its
victorious march has been unimpeded by any serious obstacle since it
first stepped into public notice. The inventor was introduced by the
late Dr. John C. Warren, in 1846, to the Massachusetts General Hospital,
which institution he has for many years supplied with his artificial
limbs. He received medals from the American Institute, the Massachusetts
Charitable Association, and the Great Exhibition in New York, and
obtained an honorary mention from the Royal Commissioners of the World's
Exhibition in London,--being the only maker of legs so distinguished.
These are only a few of fifty honorary awards he has received at various
times. The famous surgeons of London, the _Societe de Chirurgie_ of
Paris, and the most celebrated practitioners of the United States have
given him their hearty recommendations. So lately as last August, that
shrewd and skilful surgeon, Dr. Henry J. Bigelow, who is as cautious in
handling his epithets as he is bold in using the implements of his art,
strongly advised Surgeon-General Hammond to adopt the Palmer leg, which,
after a dozen years' experience, he had found none to equal. We see it
announced that the Board of Surgeons appointed by the Surgeon-General
to select the best arm and leg to be procured by the Government for
its crippled soldiers chose that of Mr. Palmer, and that Dr. Hammond
approved their selection.
We have thought it proper to show that Mr. Palmer's invention did not
stand in need of our commendation. Its merits, as we have seen, are
conceded by the tribunals best fitted to judge, and we are therefore
justified in selecting it as an illustration of American mechanical
We give three views of the Palmer leg: an inside view when extended, a
second when flexed, a third as it appears externally.
The Committee on Science and the Arts of the Franklin Institute of
Pennsylvania thus stated the peculiarities of Mr. Palmer's invention:--
"_First,_ An ingenious arrangement of springs and cords in the _inside_
of the limb, by which, when the wearer is in the erect position, the
limb is extended, and the foot flexed so as to present a natural
"_Second_. By a second arrangement of cords and springs in the inside of
the limb, the foot and toes are gradually and easily extended, when
the heel is placed in contact with the ground. In consequence of this
arrangement, the limping gait, and the unpleasant noise made by the
sudden stroke of the ball of the foot upon the ground in walking, which
are so obvious in the ordinary leg, are avoided.
"_Third_. By a peculiar arrangement of the knee-joint, it is rendered
little liable to wear, and all lateral or rotary motion is avoided. It
is hardly necessary to remark that any such motion is undesirable in an
artificial leg, as it renders its support unstable."
Before reporting some of the facts which we have seen, or learned by
personal inquiry, we must be allowed, for the sake of convenience,
to exercise the privilege granted to all philosophical students, of
enlarging the nomenclature applicable to the subject of which we are
Man, according to the Sphinx, is successively a _quadruped_, a _biped_,
and a _triped_. But circumstances may change his natural conditions. If
he loses a leg, he becomes a _uniped_. If he loses both his legs, he
becomes a _nulliped_. If art replaces the loss of one limb with a
factitious substitute, he becomes a _ligniped_, or, if we wish to be
very precise, a _uni-ligniped_; two wooden legs entitle him to be called
a _biligniped_. Our terminology being accepted, we are ready to proceed.
To make ourselves more familiar with the working of the invention we are
considering, we have visited Mr. Palmer's establishments in Philadelphia
and Boston. The distinguished "Surgeon-Artist" is a man of fine person,
as we have said. But if he has any personal vanity, it does not betray
itself with regard to that portion of his organism which Nature
furnished him. There is some reason to think that Mr. Palmer is a little
ashamed of the lower limb which he brought into the world with him. At
least, if he follows the common rule and puts that which he considers
his best foot foremost, he evidently awards the preference to that which
was born of his brain over the one which he owes to his mother. He walks
as well as many do who have their natural limbs, though not so well as
some of his own patients. He puts his vegetable leg through many of the
movements which would seem to demand the contractile animal fibre. He
goes up and down stairs with very tolerable ease and despatch. Only when
he comes to _stand_ upon the human limb, we begin, to find that it is
not in all respects equal to the divine one. For a certain number of
seconds he can poise himself upon it; but Mr. Palmer, if he indulges
in verse, would hardly fill the Horatian complement of lines in that
attitude. In his anteroom were unipeds in different stages of their
second learning to walk as lignipeds. At first they move with a good
deal of awkwardness, but gradually the wooden limb seems to become, as
it were, penetrated by the nerves, and the intelligence to run downwards
until it reaches the last joint of the member.
Mr. Palmer, as we have incidentally mentioned, has a branch
establishment in Boston, to which also we have paid a visit, in order
to learn some of the details of the manufacture to which we had not
attended in our pleasant interview with the inventor. The antechamber
here, too, was the nursery of immature lignipeds, ready to exhibit their
growing accomplishments to the inquiring stranger. It almost seems as if
the artificial leg were the scholar, rather than the person who wears
it. The man does well enough, but the leg is stupid until practice has
taught it just what is expected from its various parts.
The polite Boston partner, who, if he were in want of a customer, would
almost persuade a man with two good legs to provide himself with a
third, carried us to the back part of the building, where legs are
The _willow_, which furnishes the charcoal for the gunpowder that blows
off limbs, is the wood chosen to supply the loss it has helped to
occasion. It is light, strong, does not warp or "check" much as many
other woods, and is, as the workmen say, _healthy_, that is, not
irritating to the parts with which it is in contact. Whether the
_salicine_ it may contain enters the pores and invigorates the system
may be a question for those who remember the drugs in the Sultan's
bat-handle and the remarkable cure they wrought. This wood is kept in
a dry-house with as much care as that intended for the manufacture of
pianos. It is thoroughly steamed also, before using.
The wood comes in rudely shaped blocks, as lasts are sent to the
factory, seeming to have been coarsely hewed out of the log. The
shaping, as we found to our surprise, is all done by hand. We had
expected to see great lathes, worked by steam-power, taking in a rough
stick and turning out a finished limb. But it is shaped very much as a
sculptor finishes his marble, with an eye to artistic effect,--not so
much in the view of the stranger, who does not look upon its naked
loveliness, as in that of the wearer, who is seduced by its harmonious
outlines into its purchase, and solaced with the consciousness that he
carries so much beauty and symmetry about with him. The hollowing-out of
the interior is done by wicked-looking blades and scoops at the end of
long stems, suggesting the thought of dentists' instruments as they
might have been in the days of the giants. The joints are most carefully
made, more particularly at the knee, where a strong bolt of steel passes
through the solid wood. Windows, oblong openings, are left in the sides
of the limb, to insure a good supply of air to the extremity of the
mutilated limb. Many persons are not aware that all parts of the surface
_breathe_ just as the lungs breathe, exhaling carbonic acid as well as
water, and taking in more or less oxygen.
One of the workmen, a pleasant-looking young fellow, was himself, we
were told, a ligniped. We begged him to give us a specimen of his
walking. He arose and walked rather slowly across the room and back.
"Once more," we said, not feeling quite sure which was Nature's leg and
which Mr. Palmer's. So he walked up and down the room again, until we
had satisfied ourselves which was the leg of willow and which that
of flesh and bone. It is not, perhaps, to the credit of our eyes or
observing powers, but it is a fact, that we deliberately selected _the
wrong leg_. No victim of the thimble-rigger's trickery was ever more
completely taken in than we were by the contrivance of the ingenious
Our freely expressed admiration led to the telling of wonderful stories
about the doings of persons with artificial legs. One individual was
mentioned who _skated_ particularly well; another who _danced_ with zeal
and perseverance; and a third who must needs _swim_ in his leg, which
brought on a dropsical affection of the limb,--to which kind of
complaint the willow has, of course, a constitutional tendency,--and for
which it had to come to the infirmary where the diseases that wood is
heir to are treated.
But the most wonderful monuments of the great restorer's skill are the
patients who have lost both legs,--_nullipeds_, as presented to Mr.
Palmer, _bilignipeds_, as they walk forth again before the admiring
world, balanced upon their two new-born members. We have before us
delineations of six of these hybrids between the animal and vegetable
world. One of them was employed at a railway-station near this
(Atlantic) city, where he was often seen by a member of our own
household, whose testimony we are in the habit of considering superior
in veracity to the naked truth as commonly delivered. He walked about,
we are assured, a little slowly and stiffly, but in a way that hardly
The inventor of the leg has not been contented to stop there. He has
worked for years upon the construction of an artificial _arm_, and has
at length succeeded in arranging a mechanism, which, if it cannot serve
a pianist or violinist, is yet equal to holding the reins in driving,
receiving fees for professional services, and similar easy labors.
Where Mr. Palmer means to stop in supplying bodily losses it would be
premature to say. We suppose the accidents happening occasionally from
the use of the guillotine are beyond his skill, and spare our readers
the lively remark suggested by the contrary hypothesis.
* * * * *
It is one of the signs of our advancing American civilization, that the
arts which preserve and restore the personal advantages necessary or
favorable to cultivated social life should have reached such perfection
among us. American dentists have achieved a reputation which has sent
them into the palaces of Europe to open the mouths of sovereigns and
princes as freely as the jockeys look into those of horses and colts.
Bad teeth, too common among us, help to breed good dentists, no doubt;
but besides this there is an absolute demand for a certain comeliness of
person throughout all the decent classes of our society. It is the same
standard of propriety in appearances which lays us open to the reproach
of caring too much for dress. If the national ear for music is not so
acute as that of some other peoples, the national eye for the harmonies
of form and color is better than we often find in older communities. We
have a right to claim that our sculptors and painters prove so much as
this for us. American taste was offended, outraged, by the odious "peg"
which the Old-World soldier or beggar was proud to show. We owe the
well-shaped, intelligent, docile limb, the half-reasoning willow of Mr.
Palmer, to the same sense of beauty and fitness which moulded the soft
outlines of the Indian Girl and the White Captive in the studio of his
namesake at Albany.
As we wean ourselves from the Old World, and become more and more
nationalized in our great struggle for existence as a free people, we
shall carry this aptness for the production of beautiful forms more and
more into common life, which demands first what is necessary and then
what is pleasing. It is but a step from the painter's canvas to the
weaver's loom, and the pictures which are leaving the easel to-day
will show themselves in the patterns that sweep the untidy sidewalks
to-morrow. The same plastic power which is showing itself in
the triumphs of American sculpture will reach the forms of our
household-utensils. The beans of Beverly shall yet be baked in vases
that Etruria might have envied, and the clay pipe of the Americanized
Milesian shall be a thing of beauty as well as a joy forever. We
are already pushing the plastic arts farther than many persons have
suspected. There is a small town not far from us where a million
dollars' worth of gold is annually beaten into ornaments for the
breasts, the fingers, the ears, the necks of women. Many a lady supposes
she is buying Parisian adornments, when _Attleborough_ could say to
her proudly, like Cornelia, "These are my jewels." The workmen of this
little town not only meet the tastes of the less fastidious classes, to
whom all that glisters is gold, but they shape the purest metal into
artistic and effective patterns. When the Koh-i-noor--the Mountain of
Light--was to be fashioned, it was found to be almost as formidable a
task as that of Xerxes, when he undertook to hew Mount Athos to the
shape of man. The great crystal was sent to Holland, as the only place
where it could be properly cut. We have lately seen a brilliant which,
if not a mountain of light, was yet a very respectable mound of
radiance, valued at some ten or twelve thousand dollars, cut in this
virgin settlement, and exposed in one of our shop-windows to tempt our
Monsieur Trousseau, Professor in the Medical School of Paris, delivered
a discursive lecture not long ago, in which he soared from the region
of drugs, his well-known special province, into the thin atmosphere
of aesthetics. It is the influence that surrounds his fortunate
fellow-citizens, he declares, which alone preserves their intellectual
supremacy. If a Parisian milliner, he says, remove to New York, she will
so degenerate in the course of a couple of years that the squaw of a
Choctaw chief would be ashamed to wear one of her bonnets.
Listen, O Parisian cockney, pecking among the brood most plethoric with
conceit, of all the coop-fed citizens who tread the pavements of earth's
many-chimneyed towns! America has made implements of husbandry which
out-mow and out-reap the world. She has contrived man-slaying engines
which kill people faster than any others. She has modelled the
wave-slicing clipper which outsails all your argosies and armadas.
She has revolutionized naval warfare once by the steamboat. She has
revolutionized it a second time by planting towers of iron on the
elephantine backs of the waves. She has invented the sewing-machine to
save the dainty fingers of your virtuous grisettes from uncongenial
toil, so that Fifine and Fretillon may have more leisure for
self-development. She has taught you a whole new system of labor in her
machinery for making watches and rifles. She has bestowed upon you and
all the world an anodyne which enables you to cut arms and legs off
without hurting the patient; and when his leg is off, she has given you
a true artist's limb for your cripple to walk upon, instead of the peg
on which he has stumped from the days of Guy de Chauliac to those of M.
Nelaton. She has been contriving well-shaped boots and shoes for the
very people who, if they were your countrymen, would be clumping about
in wooden _sabots_. In works of scientific industry, hardly to be looked
for among so new a people she has distanced your best artificers. The
microscopes made at Canastota, in the backwoods of New York, look in
vain for their rivals in Paris, and must challenge the best workmanship
of London before they can be approached in excellence. The great eye
that stares into the celestial spaces from its workshop in Cambridge,
dives deeper through their clouds of silvery dust than any instrument
mounted in your observatory in face of the Luxembourg. Our artisans
produce no Gobelin tapestries or Sevres porcelain as yet; but when your
mobs have looted the Tuileries, our shopkeepers have bought up enough
specimens to serve them as patterns by-and-by.
All this is something for a nation which has hardly pulled up the stumps
out of its city market-places. It is sad to reflect that milliners, like
Burgundy, are spoiled by transportation to the headquarters of American
fashion. But as the best bonnet of the Empress's own artist would be
exploded with yells a couple of seasons after the time when it was the
rage, the Icarian professor's flight into the regions of rhetoric has
not led him to any very logical resting-place from which he can look
down on the aesthetic possibilities of New York or other Western cities
emerging from the semi-barbarous state.
We are not proud, of course, of any of the mechanical triumphs we
have won; they are well enough, and show--to borrow the words of a
distinguished American, whom, during his too brief career, we held
unrivalled by any experimenter in the Old World for the depth as well as
the daring of his investigations--that some things can be done as well
Our specialty is of somewhat larger scope. We profess to make men and
women out of human beings better than any of the joint-stock companies
called dynasties have done or can do it. We profess to make citizens out
of men,--not _citoyens_, but persons educated to question all privileges
asserted by others, and claim all rights belonging to themselves,--the
only way in which the infinitely most important party to the compact
between the governed and governing can avoid being cheated out of the
best rights inherent in human nature, as an experience the world has
seen almost enough of has proved. We are in trouble just now, on account
of a neglected hereditary _melanosis_, as Monsieur Trousseau might call
it. When we recover from the social and political convulsion it has
produced, and eliminate the _materies morbi_,--and both these events are
only matters of time,--perhaps we shall have leisure to breed our own
milliners. If not, there will probably be refugees enough from the Old
World, who have learned the fashions in courts, and will be glad to turn
their knowledge to a profitable use for the benefit of their republican
patronesses in New York and Boston.
We have run away from our subject farther than we intended at starting;
but an essay on legs could hardly avoid the rambling tendency which
naturally belongs to these organs.
* * * * *
"Which serves life's purpose best,
To enjoy or to renounce?"
A thorough American, who comprehends what America has to do, and means
to help on with it, ought to choose to be born in New England, for the
vitalized brain, finely-chorded nerves, steely self-control,--then to go
West, for more live, muscular passion, succulent manhood, naked-handed
grip of his work. But when he wants to die, by all means let him hunt
out a town in the valley of Pennsylvania or Virginia: Nature and man
there are so ineffably self-contained, content with that which is, shut
in from the outer surge, putting forth their little peculiarities, as
tranquil and glad to be alive as if they were pulseless sea-anemones,
and after a while going back to the Being whence they came, just as
tranquil and glad to be dead.
Paul Blecker had some such fancy as this, that last evening before the
regiment of which he was surgeon started for Harper's Ferry, while he
and the Captain were coming from camp by the hill-road into the village
(or burgh: there are no Villages in Pennsylvania). Nothing was lost on
Blecker; his wide, nervous eyes took all in: the age and complacent
quiet of this nook of the world, the full-blooded Nature asleep in the
yellow June sunset; why! she had been asleep there since the beginning,
he knew. The very Indians in these hills must have been a fishing,
drowsy crew; their names and graves yet dreamily haunted the farms and
creek-shores. The Covenanters who came after them never had roused
themselves enough to shake them off. Covenanters: the Doctor began
joking to himself, as he walked along, humming some tune, about how the
spirit of every sect came out, always alike, in the temperament, the
very cut of the face, or whim of accent. These descendants of the
Covenanters, now,--Presbyterian elders and their wives,--going down to
camp to bid their boys good-bye, devoted them to death with just as
stern integrity, as partial a view of the right, as their ancestors did
theirs at Naseby or Drumclog: their religion loved its friends and hated
its enemies just as bitterly as when it scowled at Monmouth; the "boys,"
no doubt, would call themselves Roundheads, as they had done in the
three months' service. Paul Blecker, who had seen a good many sides of
the world, laughed to himself: the very Captain here, good, anxious,
innocent as a baby, as he was, looked at the world exactly through
Balfour of Burley's dead eyes, was going to cure the disease of it by
the old pill of intolerance and bigotry. No wonder Paul laughed.
The sobered Quaker evening was making ready for night: the yellow warmth
overhead thinning into tintless space; the low hills drawing farther off
in the melancholy light; the sky sinking nearer; clouds, unsteady all
day, softened at last into a thoughtful purple, and couching themselves
slowly in the hollows of the horizon; the sweep of cornfields and woods
and distant farms growing dim,--daguerreotype-like; the tinkle of the
sheep-bells on the meadows, the shouts of the boys in camp yonder, the
bass drone of the frogs in the swamp dulling down into the remoteness of
sleep. The Doctor slackened his sharp, jerking stride, and fell into
the monotonous gait of his companion, glancing up to him. McKinstry, he
thought, was going out to battle to-morrow with just as cool phlegm and
childlike content as he would set out to buy his merino ewes; but he
would receive no pay,--meant to transfer it to his men. And he would be
in the thickest of the fight,--you might bet on that. Umph! his quick
eyes darting over the big, leisurely frame, the neat yellow hair,
and the blue eyes mildly peering through spectacles. Then, having
satisfactorily anatomized McKinstry, he turned to the evening again with
open senses, the sensitive pulsing of his wide nostrils telling that
even the milky scent of the full-uddered cows gave him keen enjoyment.
The cows were going home from pasture, up shady barn-lanes, into the
grayer shadows about the houses on either side of the road, in whose
windows lights were beginning to glimmer. Solid old homesteads they
were, stone or brick, never wood. Out in these Western settlements, a
hundred years ago, they built durable homes, curiously enough, more than
in the Northern States; planted oaks about them, that bore the strength
of the earth up to heaven in sturdy arms, shaming the graceful,
uncertain elm of shallower soils. Just such old farm-houses as those,
Blecker thought, would turn out such old-time moulded men as McKinstry:
houses whose orchards still held on to the Waldower and Smoke-house
apples; their gardens gay with hollyhocks and crimson prince's-feather;
on the book-shelves the "Spectator" and "Gentleman's Magazine." The
women of them kept up the old-fashioned knitting-parties, and a
donation-visit to the pastor once a year; and the men were all gone to
the war, to keep the Union as it was in their fathers' time, and would
doubtless vote the conservative ticket next election because their
fathers did, which would make the war a horrible farce. The town,
Blecker thought, had rooted itself in between the hills with as solid
a persistence as the prejudices of its builders. Obstinately steep
streets, shaded by gnarled locust-trees; houses drawn back from the
sidewalks, in surly dread of all new-comers; the very smoke, vaporing
through the sky, had defiance in it of the outer barbarous world and its
vulgar newness. Yet the town had an honest country heart in it, if it
was a bit gray and crusty with age. Blecker, knowing it as he did, did
not wonder the boys who left it named a village for it out in Kansas,
trying to fancy themselves at home,--or that one old beggar in it asked
to be buried in the middle of the street, "So's I kin hear the stages
a-comin' in, an' know if the old place is a-gittin' on."
There seemed to be a migration from it to-night: they met, every minute,
buggies, old-fashioned carriages, horsemen.
"Going out to camp," McKinstry said; "the boys all have some one to bid
What a lonely, reserved voice the man had! Blecker had the curiosity of
all sensitive men to know the soul-history of people; he glanced again
keenly in McKinstry's face. Pshaw! one might as well ask their story
from the deaf and dumb. But that they were dumb,--there was hint of a
tragedy in that!
Everybody stopped to speak to the Doctor. He had been but a few
months in the place; but the old church-goers had found him out as
a passionate, free-and-easy, honorable fellow, full of joke and
anecdote,--shrewd, too. They "fellowshipped" with him heartily, and were
glad when he got the post of surgeon with their sons. If there were
anything more astringent below this, any more real self in the man, held
back, belonging to a world outside of theirs, they did not see it. They
knew him better, they thought, than they did Daniel McKinstry, who had
grown up among them, just as mild and silent when he was a tow-haired
boy as now, a man of forty-five. He touched his hat to them now, and
went on, while Blecker leaned on the carriage-doors, his brown face
aglow with fun, his uneasy fingers drumming boyishly on the panel. Not
knowing that through the changeful face, and fierce, pitiful eyes of the
boy, the man Paul Blecker looked coolly out, testing, labelling
them. The boy in him, that they saw, Nature had made; but years of a
hand-to-hand fight with starvation came after, crime, and society, whose
work is later than Nature's, and sometimes better done.
"Fine girl!" said the Doctor, touching his hat to Miss Mallard, as she
cantered past. "Got a head of her own, too. Made a deused good speech,
when she presented the flag to-day."
Miss Mallard overheard him, as he intended she should, and blushed a
visible acknowledgment. All of her character was visible, well-developed
as her body: her timidity showed itself in the unceasing dropping of her
eyelid; her arch simplicity in the pouting lips; a coy reserve--well,
that everywhere, to the very rosette on her retreating slipper; and her
patriotism was quite palpable in the color of her Balmoral. She rode
Squire Mallard's gray.
"And very well they turn out," sneered Blecker.
"She is a woman," said the Captain, blushing,--differently from the
"And if she is?" turning suddenly. "She has the nature of a Bowery
rough. Pah, McKinstry! Sexes stand alike with me. If a woman's flesh is
weaker-grained a bit, what of that? Whoever would earn esteem must work
The Captain said nothing, stammered a little, then, hoisting his foot on
a stump, tied his shoe nervously.
Blecker smiled, a queer, sorrowful smile, as if, oddly enough, he felt
sorry for himself.
"I'd like to think of women as you do, Mac," he said. "You never knew
"Only two, until now,--my mother and little Sarah. They're gone now."
Sarah? The Doctor was silent a moment, thinking. He had heard of a
sister of McKinstry's, sick for years with some terrible disease, whom
he had nursed until the end. She was Sarah, most likely. Well, that was
what _his_ life had been given up for, was it? There was a twitching
about McKinstry's wide mouth: Paul looked away from him a moment, and
then, glancing furtively back, began again.
"No, I never knew my mother or sister, Mac. The great discovery of this
age is woman, old fellow! I've been, knocked about too much not to have
lost all delusions about them. It did well enough for the crusading
times to hold them as angels in theory, and in practice as idiots; but
in these rough-and-tumble days we'd better give 'em their places as
flesh and blood, with exactly such wants and passions as men."
The Captain never argued.
"I don't know," he said, dryly.
After that he jogged on in silence, glancing askance at the masculine,
self-assertant figure of his companion,--at the face, acrid, unyielding,
beneath its surface-heat: ruminating mildly to himself on what a good
thing it was for him never to have known any but old-fashioned women.
This Blecker, now, had been made by intercourse with such women as those
he talked of: he came from the North. The Captain looked at him with a
vague, moony compassion: the usual Western vision of a Yankee female
in his head,--Bloomer-clad, hatchet-faced, capable of anything, from
courting a husband to commanding a ship. (It is all your fault, genuine
women of New England! Why don't you come among us, and know your
country, and let your country know you? Better learn the meaning of
Chicago than of Venice, for your own sakes, believe me.)
They were near the town now, the road crossing a railroad-track, where
the hill, chopped apart for the grade, left bare the black stratum of
coal, tinged here and there with a bloody brown and whitish shale.
"Hillo! this means iron," said the Doctor, climbing up the bank,
cat-like, to break off a bit; "and here an odd formation, Mac. Take it
in to old Gurney."
The Captain cleaned his spectacles with piece of chamois-leather, put
them on, folded the leather and replaced it in its especial place in his
pocket, before he took the bit of rock.
"All that finical ceremony he would go through in the face of the
enemy," thought Blecker, jumping down on the track.
"Give it to old Gurney, Mac. It will insure you a welcome."
"It is curious, Doctor Blecker. But you"--
"I never care to gratify anybody. Besides, the old gentleman and I
inter-despised. Our instincts cried out, ''Ware dog!' the first day You
are a friend of his, eh, Mac?"
The Captain's face grew red, like a bashful woman's. He thought Blecker
had divined his secret, would haul it out roughly in another moment.
If this slang-talking Yankee should take little Lizzy's name into his
mouth! But the Doctor was silent, even looked away until the heat on the
poor old bachelor's face had died out. He knew McKinstry's thought of
that little girl well enough, but he held the child-hearted man's secret
tenderly and charily in his hand. Paul Blecker did talk slang and assert
himself; but every impulse in him was clean, delicate, liberal. So,
Paul remaining silent, the Captain took heart of grace, going down the
street, and ventured back to the Gurney question.
"I thought I would accompany you there, Doctor Blecker. They might only
think it seemly in me to bid farewell. I"--
Blecker nodded. The man had not been able to hide an harassed frown that
day under his usual vigor of speech and look. It became more palpable
after this; his voice, when he did speak, was fretful, irritable,--his
lips compressed; he stopped at a village-well to drink, as though his
mouth were parched.
"How old is that house,--the Gurneys?" he asked, affecting carelessness,
to baffle the curious inspection of McKinstry.
"The Fort? We call it the Fort because it was used for one in Indian
times," McKinstry began, chafing his lean whiskers delightedly.
Old houses were his hobby, especially this which they approached,--a
narrow, long building of unhewn stone, facing on the street, the lintels
and doors worm-eaten, and green with moss.
"Built by Bradford, the new part,--Bradford, of the Whiskey
Insurrection, you know? Carvings on the walls brought over the
mountains, when to bring them by panels was a two-months' journey.
There's queer stories hang about these old Pennsylvania homesteads."
"Bradford? The Gurneys are a new family here, then?"
"Came here but a few years back, from a country farther up the
mountains. They're different from us."
"How, different?" with a keen, surprised glance. "_I_ see they are a
newer people than the others; but I thought the village accepted them
with shut eyes."
The Captain stammered again.
"Old Father Gurney, as we call him, taught school when they first came,
but he gave that up. This section is a good geological field, and he
wished to devote himself to that," he went on, evading the question.
"They live off of those acres at the back of the house since that. You
see? Corn, potatoes, buckwheat,--good yield."
"Who oversees the planting?" sharply.
McKinstry wondered vaguely at the little Doctor's curious interest in
the Gurneys, but went on with his torpid, slow answers.
"That eldest girl, I believe, Grey. Cow there, you see, and ducks. He's
popular, old Father Gurney. People have a liking for his queer ways,
help him collect specimens for his cabinet; the boys bring him birds to
stuff, and snakes. If it hadn't been for the troubles breaking out,
he was on the eve of a most im-por-tant discovery,--the crater of an
exhausted volcano in Virginia." McKinstry lowered his voice cautiously.
"Fact, Sir. In Mercer County. But the guerrillas interfered with his
"I think it probable. So he stuffs birds, does he?" Blecker's lips
"And keeps the snakes in alcohol. There are shelves in Miss Lizzy's room
quite full of them. That lower room it was, but Joseph has taken it for
a study. She has the upper one for her flowers and her father's birds."
"And Grey, and the twins, and the four boys bedaubed with molasses, and
the dog, and the cooking?"
"Stowed away somewhere," the Captain mildly responded.
Dr. Blecker was testy.
"You know Joseph, her brother? I mean our candidate for Congress next
"Yes. Democratic. J. Schuyler Gurney,--give him his name, Mac.
Republican last winter. Joseph trims to wind and tide well. I heard
him crow like a barn-yard fowl on the Capitol-steps at Washington
when Lincoln called for the seventy-five thousand: now, he hashes up
Breckinridge's conservative speech for your hickory-backed farmers. Does
he support the family, Mac?"
"His election-expenses are heavy."
"Brandy-slings. I know his proclivities."
McKinstry colored. Dr. Blecker was coarse, an ill-bred man, he
suspected,--noting, too, the angry repression in his eyes, as he stood
leaning on the gate, looking in at the Fort, for they had reached it
by this time. The Captain looked in, too, through the dusky clumps of
altheas and plum-trees, at the old stone house, dyed tawny-gray in the
evening light, and talked on, the words falling unconscious and simple
as a stream of milk. The old plodder was no longer dumb. Blecker had
hit on the one valve of the shut-up nature, the obstinate point of
self-reliant volition in a life that had been one long drift of
circumstance. This old stone house, shaggy with vines, its bloody script
of Indian warfare hushed down and covered with modern fruit-trees and
sunflowers,--this fort, and the Gurneys within it, stood out in the bare
swamped stretch of the man's years, their solitary bit of enchantment.
They were bare years,--the forty he had known: Fate had drained them
tolerably dry before she flung them to him to accomplish duty in;--the
duty was done now. McKinstry, a mild, common-faced man, had gone through
it for nearly half a century, pleasantly,--never called it heroism. It
was done. He had time now to stretch his nerves of body and soul with
a great sigh of relief,--to see that Duty was, after all, a lean,
meagre-faced angel, that Christ sends first, but never meant should be
nearest and best. Faith, love, and so, happiness, these were words of
more pregnant meaning in the gospel the Helper left us. So McKinstry
stood straight up, for the first time in his life, and looked about him.
A man, with an adult's blood, muscles, needs; an idle soul which his
cramped creed did not fill, hungry domestic instincts, narrow and
patient habit;--he claimed work and happiness, his right. Of course it
came, and tangibly. Into every life God sends an actual messenger to
widen and lift it above itself: puerile or selfish the messenger often
is, but so straight from Him that the divine radiance clings about it,
and all that it touches. We call that _love_, you remember. A secular
affair, according to McKinstry's education, as much as marketing. So
when he found that the tawny old house and the quiet little girl in
there with the curious voice, which people came for miles to hear,
were gaining an undue weight in his life, held, to be plain, all the
fairy-land of which his childhood had been cheated, all fierce beauty,
aspiration, passionate strength to insult Fate, which his life had never
known, he kept the knowledge to himself. It was boyish weakness. He
choked it out of thought on Sundays as sacrilege: how could he talk
of the Gurney house and Lizzy to that almighty, infinite Vagueness he
worshipped? Stalking to and fro, in the outskirts of the churchyard,
he used to watch the flutter of the little girl's white dress, as she
passed by to "meeting." He could not help it that his great limbs
trembled, if the dress touched them, or that he had a mad longing to
catch the tired-looking child up to his brawny breast and hold her there
forever. But he felt guilty and ashamed that it was so; not knowing that
Christ, seeing the pure thrill in his heart, smiled just as he did long
ago when Mary brought the beloved disciple to him.
He never had told little Lizzy that he loved her,--hardly told himself.
Why, he was forty-five,--and a year or two ago she was sledding down the
street with her brothers, a mere yellow-haired baby. He remembered the
first time he had noticed her,--one Christmas eve; his mother and Sarah
were alive then. There was an Italian woman came to the village with a
broken hand-organ, a filthy, starving wretch, and Gurney's little girl
went with her from house to house in the snow, singing Christmas carols,
and handing the tambourine. Everybody said, "Why, you little tot!" and
gave her handfuls of silver. Such a wonderful voice she had even then,
and looked so chubby and pretty in her little blue cloak and hood; and
going about with the woman was such a pure-hearted thing to do. She
danced once or twice that day, striking the tambourine, he remembered;
the sound of it seemed to put her in a sort of ecstasy, laughing till
her eyes were full of tears, and her tangled hair fell all about her red
cheeks. She could not help but do it, he believed, for at other times
she was shy, terrified, if one spoke to her; but he wished he had not
seen her dance then, though she was only a child: dancing, he thought,
was as foul and effective a snare as ever came from hell. After that day
she used often to come to the farm to see his mother and Sarah.
They tried to teach her to sew, but she was a lazy little thing, he
remembered, with an indulgent smile. And he was "Uncle Dan." So now she
was grown up, quite a woman: in those years, when she had been with her
kinsfolk in New York, she had been taught to sing. Well, well! McKinstry
reckoned music as about as useful as the crackling of thorns under a
pot; so he never cared to know, what was the fact, that this youngest
daughter of Gurney's had one of the purest contralto voices in the
States. She came home, grown, but just as shy; only tired, needing care:
no one could look in Lizzy Gurney's face without wishing to comfort and
help the child. The Gurneys were so wretchedly poor, that might be the
cause of her look. She was a woman now. Well, and then? Why, nothing
then. He was Uncle Dan still, of whom she was less afraid than of any
other living creature; that was all. Thinking, as he stood with Paul
Blecker, leaning over the gate, of how she had brought him a badly-made
havelock that morning. "You're always so kind to me," she said. "So I
am kind to her," he thought, his quiet blue eyes growing duller behind
their spectacles; "so I will be."
The Doctor opened the gate, and went in, turning into the shrubbery, and
seating himself under a sycamore.
"Don't wait for me, McKinstry," he said. "I'll sit here and smoke a bit.
Here comes the aforesaid Joseph."
He did not light his cigar, however, when the other left him; took off
his hat to let the wind blow through his hair, the petulant heat dying
out of his face, giving place to a rigid settling, at last, of the
A flabby, red-faced man in fine broadcloth and jaunty beaver came down
the path, fumbling his seals, and met the Captain with a puffing snort
of salutation. To Blecker, whose fancy was made sultry to-night by some
passion we know nothing of, he looked like a bloated spider coming out
of the cell where his victims were. "Gorging himself, while they and the
country suffer the loss," he muttered. But Paul was a hot-brained
young man. We should only have seen a vulgar, commonplace trickster in
politics, such as the people make pets of. "Such men as Schuyler Gurney
get the fattest offices. God send us a monarchy soon!" he hissed under
his breath, as the gate closed after the politician. By which you will
perceive that Dr. Blecker, like most men fighting their way up, was too
near-sighted for any abstract theories. Liberty, he thought, was a very
poetic, Millennium-like idea for stump-speeches and college-cubs, but he
grappled with the time the States were too chaotic, untaught a mass for
self-government; he cursed secession as anarchy, and the government at
Washington for those equally anarchical, drunken whims of tyranny; he
would like to see an iron heel put on the whole concern, for wholesome
discipline. The Doctor was born in one of the Border States; men there,
it is said, have a sort of hand-to-mouth politics; their daily bread of
rights is all they care for; so Paul seldom looked into to-morrow for
anything. In other ways, too, his birth had curdled his blood into a
sensuous languor. To-night, after McKinstry had entered the house, and
he was left alone, the quaint old garden quiet, the air about him clean,
pure, unperfumed, the stars distant and lonely, his limbs bedded in the
clinging moss, he was rested for the moment, happy like a child, with
no subtile-sensed questionings why. The sounds of the village could not
penetrate there; the content, the listless hush of the night was with
him; the delicious shimmer of the trees in the starlight, the low call
of the pigeon to its mate, even the fall of the catalpa-blossoms upon
his hand, thrilled him with unreasoning pleasure: a dull consciousness
that the earth was alive and well, and he was glad to live with the
Something in Blecker's nature came into close _rapport_ with the higher
animal life. If he had been born with money, and lived here in these
stagnating hills, or down yonder on some lazy cotton-plantation, he
would have settled down before this into a genial, child-loving,
arbitrary husband and master, fond of pictures and horses, his house in
decent taste, his land pleasure-giving, his wines good. By this time he
would have been Judge Blecker, with a portly voice, flushed face, and
thick eyelids. But he had scuffled and edged his way in the thin air of
Connecticut as errand-boy, daguerreotypist, teacher, doctor;--so he came
into the Gurney garden that night, shrewd, defiant, priding himself on
detecting shams. His waistcoat and trousers were of coarser stuff than
suited his temperament; a taint of vulgarity in his talk, his whiskers
untrimmed, the meaning of his face compacted, sharpened. It was many
a year since a tear had come into his black eyes; yet tears belonged
there, as much as to a woman's.
Only for a few moments, therefore, he was contented to sit quiet in the
soft gloaming: then he puffed his cigar impatiently, watching the
house. Waiting for some one: with no fancies about the old fort, like
McKinstry. An over-full house, with an unordered, slipshod life, hungry,
clinging desperately in its poverty to an old prestige of rank, one
worker inside patiently bearing the whole selfish burden. Well, there
was the history of the anxious, struggling, middle class of America: why
need he have been goaded so intolerably by this instance? Paul's eyes
were jaundiced; he sat moodily watching the lighted window off in the
darkness, through which he could catch glimpses of the family-room
within: he called it a pitiful tragedy going on there; yet it seemed to
be a cheerful and hearty life. This girl Grey, whom he looked on as one
might on some victim from whose lungs the breath was drawn slowly, was
fresh, careless, light-hearted enough. Going to and fro in the room,
now carrying one of the children, she sang it to sleep with no doleful
ditty, such as young women fresh from boarding-school affect, but with
a ringing, cheery song. You might be sure that Baby would wake laughing
to-morrow morning after it. He could see her shadow pass and repass the
windows; she would be out presently; she was used to come out always
after the hot day's flurry,--to say her prayers, he believed; and he
chose to see her there in the dark and coolness to bid her good-bye. He
waited, not patiently.
Grey, trotting up and down, holding by the chubby legs and wriggling
arms of Master Pen, sang herself out of breath with "Roy's Wife," and
"I'm sure, Pen, I don't know what to do with you,"--half ready to cry.
"'Dixie,' now, Sis."
Pen was three years old, but he was the baby when his mother died; so
Sis walked him to sleep every night: all tender memories of her who
was gone clinging about the little fat lump of mischief in his white
night-gown. A wiry voice spoke out of some corner,--
"Yer 'd hev a thumpin' good warmin', Mars' Penrose, ef ole Oth hed his
will o' yer! It 'ud be a special 'pensation ob de Lord fur dat chile!"
Pen prospected his sister's face with the corner of one blue eye. There
was a line about the freckled cheeks and baby-mouth of "Sis" that
sometimes agreed with Oth on the subject of dispensations, but it was
not there to-night.
"No, no, uncle. Not the last thing before he goes to bed. I always try,
myself, to see something bright and pretty for the last thing, and then
shut my eyes, quick,--just as Pen will do now: quick! there's my sonny
Nobody ever called Grey Gurney pretty; but Pen took an immense delight
in her now; shook and kicked her for his pony, but could not make her
step less firm or light; thrust his hands about her white throat; pulled
the fine reddish hair down; put his dumpling face to hers. A thin,
uncertain face, but Pen knew nothing of that; he did know, though, that
the skin was fresh and dewy as his own, the soft lips very ready for
kisses, and the pale hazel eyes just as straightforward-looking as a
baby's. Children and dogs believe in women like Grey Gurney. Finally,
from pure exhaustion, Pen cuddled up and went to sleep.
It was a long, narrow room where Grey and the children were, covered
with rag-carpet, (she and the boys and old Oth had made the balls for
it last winter): well lighted, for Father Gurney had his desk in
there to-night. He was working at his catalogue of Sauroidichnites in
Pennsylvania. A tall, lean man, with hook-nose, and peering, protruding,
blue eyes. Captain McKinstry sat by him, turning over Brongniart; his
brain, if one might judge from the frequency with which he blew his
nose, evidently the worse from the wear since he came in; glancing with
an irresolute awe from the book to the bony frame of the old man in his
red dressing-gown, and then to the bony carcasses of the birds on the
wall in their dusty plumage.
"Like enough each to t' other," old Oth used to mutter; "on'y dem birds
done forgot to eat, an' Mars' Gurney neber will, gorry knows dat!"
"If you could, Captain McKinstry,"--it was the old man who spoke now,
with a sort of whiffle through his teeth,--"if you could? A chip of
shale next to this you brought this evening would satisfy me. This is
evidently an original fossil foot-mark: no work of Indians. I'll go with
you,"--gathering his dressing-gown about his lank-legs.
"No," said the Captain, some sudden thought bringing gravity and
self-reliance into his face. "My little girl is going with Uncle Dan.
It's the last walk I can take with her. Go, child, and bring your
Little Lizzy (people generally called her that) got up from the
door-step where she sat, and ran up-stairs. She was one of those women
who look as if they ought to be ordered and taken care of. Grey put a
light shawl over her shoulders as she passed her. Grey thought of Lizzy
always very much as a piece of fine porcelain among some earthen crocks,
she being a very rough crock herself. Did not she have to make a
companion in some Ways of old Oth? When she had no potatoes for dinner,
or could get no sewing to pay for Lizzy's shoes, (Lizzy _was_ hard on
her shoes, poor thing!) she found herself talking it over with Oth. The
others did not-care for such things, and it would be mean to worry
them, but Oth liked a misery, and it was such a relief to tell things
sometimes! The old negro had been a slave of her grandfather's until he
was of age; he was quite helpless now, having a disease of the spine.
But Grey had brought him to town with them, "because, you know, uncle, I
couldn't keep house without you, at all,--I really couldn't." So he had
his chair covered with sheepskin in the sunniest corner always, and
Grey made over her father's old clothes for him on the machine. Oth had
learned to knit, and made "hisself s'ficiently independent, heelin' an'
ribbin' der boys' socks, an' keepin' der young debbils in order," he
It was but a cheap machine Grey had, but a sturdy little chap; the steel
band of it, even the wheel, flashed back a jolly laugh at her as she
passed it, slowly hushing Pen, as if it would like to say, "I'll put you
through, Sis!" and looked quite contemptuously at the heaps of white
muslin piled up beside it. The boys' shirts, you know,--but wasn't it a
mercy she had made enough to buy them before muslin went up? There were
three of the boys asleep now, legs and arms adrift over the floor,
pockets gorged with half-apples, bits of twine instead of suspenders,
other surreptitious bits under their trousers for straps. There were
the twins, girls of ten, hungering for beaux, pickles, and photographic
albums. They were gone to a party in the village. "Sis" had done up
their white dresses; and such fun as they had with her, putting them on
to hide the darns! She made it so comical that they laughed more than
they did the whole evening.
Grey had saved some money to buy them ribbon for sashes, but Joseph had
taken it from her work-basket that morning to buy cigars. One of the
girls had cried, and even Grey's lips grew scarlet; her Welsh blood
maddened. This woman was neither an angel nor an idiot, Paul Blecker.
Then--it was such a trifle! Poor Joseph! he had been her mother's
favorite, was spoiled a little. So she hurried to his chamber-door with
his shaving-water, calling, "Brother!" Grey had a low, always pleasant
voice, I remember; you looked in her eyes, when you heard it, to see her
laughing. The ex-Congressman was friendly, but dignified, when he took
the water. Grey presumed on her usefulness; women seldom did know their
There was yet another girl busy now, convoying the lubberly hulks of
boys to bed,--a solid, Dutch-built little clipper, Loo by name. Loo
looked upon Grey secretly as rather silly; (she did all the counting for
her; Grey hardly knew the multiplication-table;) she always, however,
kept her opinions to herself. Tugging the boys after her in the manner
of a tow-boat, she thumped past her father and "that gype, McKinstry,
colloging over their bits of rock," indignation in every twist of her
"Fresh air," she said to Grey, jerking her head emphatically toward the
"I will, Looey."
It was no admiring glance she bestowed on the slight figure that came
down the stairs, and stood timidly waiting for McKinstry.
"You're going, Captain?" the old man's nose and mind starting suddenly
up from his folio. "Lizzy,--eh? Here's the bit of rock. In the coal
formation, you say? Impossible, then, to be as old as the batrachian
A sudden howl brought him back to the present era. Loo was arguing her
charge up to bed by a syllogism applied at the right time in the right
place. The old man held his hands to his ears with a patient smile,
until McKinstry was out of hearing.
"It is hard to devote the mind pure to a search for truth here, my
daughter," looking over Grey's head as usual, with pensive, benevolent
eyes. "But I do what I can,--I do what I can."
"I know, father,"--stroking his hair as she might a child's, trimming
the lamp, and bringing his slippers while he held out his feet for her
to put them on,--"I know."
Then, when he took up the pen, she went out into the cool night.
"I do what I can," said he, earnestly, looking at the catalogue, with
his head to one side.
It was Oth's time,--now or never.
"Debbil de bit yer do! Ef yer did what yer could, Mars' Si, dar 'ud be
more 'n one side o' sparerib in de cellar fur ten hungry mouths. We've
gone done eat dat pig o' Miss Grey's from head ter tail. An' pigs in
June's a disgrace ter Christians, let alone Presbyterians like us uns."
The old man glanced at him. Oth's spine gave his tongue free license.
"I'll discharge him," faintly.
"'Scharge yerself," growled Oth, under his breath.
So the old man went back to his batrachians, and Oth ribbed Pen's sock
in silence: the old fort stood at last as quiet in the moonlight as if
it were thinking over all of its long-ago Indian sieges.
Grey's step was noiseless, going down the tan-bark path. She drew long
breaths, her lungs being choked with the day's work, and threw back the
hair from her forehead and throat. There was a latent dewiness in
the air that made the clear moonlight as fresh and invigorating as a
winter's morning. Grey stretched out her arms in it, with a laugh, as
a child might. You would know, to look at her hair, that there was a
strong poetic capacity in that girl below her simple Quaker character;
as it lay in curly masses where the child had pulled it down, there was
no shine, but clear depth of color in it: her eyes the same; not soggy,
black, flashing as women's are who effuse their experience every day
for the benefit of by-standers; this girl's were pale hazel, clear,
meaningless at times, but when her soul did force itself to the light
they gave it fit utterance. Women with hair and eyes like those, with
passionate lips and strong muscles like Grey Gurney's, are children,
single-natured all their lives, until some day God's test comes: then
they live tragedies, unconscious of their deed.
The night was singularly clear, in its quiet: only a few dreamy trails
of gray mist, asleep about the moon: far off on the crest of the closing
hills, she fancied she could see the wind-stir in the trees that made a
feathered shadow about the horizon. She leaned on the stile, looking
over the sweep of silent meadows and hills, and slow--creeping
watercourses. The whole earth waited, she fancied, with newer life and
beauty than by day: going back, it might be, in the pure moonlight,
to remember that dawn when God said, "Let there be light." The girl
comprehended the meaning of the night better, perhaps, because of the
house she had left. Every night she came out there. She left the clothes
and spareribs behind her, and a Something, a Grey Gurney that might have
been, came back to her in the coolness and rest, the nearer she drew to
the pure old earth. She never went down into those mossy hollows, or
among the shivering pines, with a soiled, tawdry dress; she wore always
the clear, primitive colors, or white,--Grey: it was the girl's only bit
of self-development. This night she could see McKinstry's figure, as he
went down the path through the rye-field. He was stooping, leading Lizzy
by the hand, as a nurse might an infant. Grey thrust the currant-bushes
aside eagerly; she could catch a glimpse of the girl's face in the
colorless light. It always had a livid tinge, but she fancied it was red
now with healthy blushes; her eyes were on the ground: in the house they
looked out from under their heavy brows on their daily life with a tired
coldness that made silly Grey ashamed of her own light-heartedness. The
man's common face was ennobled with such infinite tenderness and pain,
Grey thought the help that lay therein would content her sister. It was
time for the girl's rest to come; she was sick of herself and of life.
So the tears came to Grey's eyes, though to the very bottom of her heart
she was thankful and glad.
"She has found home at last!"--she said; and, maybe, because something
in the thought clung to her as she sauntered slowly down the
garden--alleys, her lips kept moving in a childish fashion of hers. "A
home at last, at last!"--that was what she said.
Paul Blecker, too, waiting back yonder among the trees, saw McKinstry
and his companion, and read the same story that Grey did, but in a
different fashion. "The girl loves him." There were possibilities,
however, in that woman's curious traits, that Blecker, being a physician
and a little of a soul-fancier, saw: nothing in McKinstry's formal,
orthodox nature ran parallel with them; therefore he never would know
them. As they passed Blecker's outlook through the trees, his half-shut
eye ran over her,--the despondent step, the lithe, nervous limbs, the
manner in which she clung for protection to his horny hand. "Poor
child!" the Doctor thought. There was something more, in the girl's
face, that, people called gentle and shy: a weak, uncertain chin; thin
lips, never still an instant, opening and shutting like a starving
animal's; gray eyes, dead, opaque, such as Blecker had noted in the
spiritual mediums in New England.
"I'm glad it is McKinstry she loves, and not I," he said.
He turned, and forgot her, watching Grey coming nearer to him. The
garden sloped down to the borders of the creek, and she stood on its
edge now, looking at the uneasy crusting of the black water and the
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