Atlantic Monthly Volume 7, No. 39, January, 1861
Part 2 out of 5
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,--
A line of black, that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.
Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride,
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere
Now he patted his horse's side,
Now gazed on the landscape far and near,
Then impetuous stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry-tower of the old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely, and spectral, and sombre, and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height,
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!
A hurry of hoofs in a village-street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed that flies fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
It was twelve by the village-clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer's dog,
And felt the damp of the river-fog,
That rises when the sun goes down.
It was one by the village-clock,
When he rode into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.
It was two by the village-clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning-breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.
You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled,--
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.
So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,--
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,--
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo forevermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,
And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.
A NIGHT UNDER GROUND.
My dear Laura Matilda, have you ever worked your way under ground, like
the ghost Hamlet, Senior? On the contrary, you confess, but a dim idea
of that peculiar mode of progression abides in the well-ordered mansion
of your mind?
Well, I do not wonder at it; you are civilized beyond the common herd;
your mamma, careful of her own comfort and the beauty of her child,
guards both. Your sunny summer-times go by in the shade of sylvan
groves, or amid the whirl of Saratoga or Newport ball-rooms. I accept
your ignorance; it is a pretty blossom in your maiden chaplet. For
myself, I blush for my own familiarity with rough scenes chanced upon in
Let me tell you of a path among the "untrodden ways." Transport yourself
Fancy a low, level, drowsy point of land, stretching out into the
unbroken emerald green of Lake Superior, at the point where a narrow,
yellowish river offers its tribute. The King of Lakes is exclusive; he
disdains to blend his brilliant waters with those of the muddy river; a
wavy line, distinctly and clearly defined, but seeming as if drawn by
a trembling hand, undulates at their junction,--no democratic,
union-seeking boundary, but the arbitrary line of division that
separates the Sultan from the slave, the peer from the peasant.
Along this shore are scattered various buildings that seem to nod in the
indolent sunshine of the bright, clear, quiet air of midsummer. One of
these, differing from the rest in its more modern construction, is a
spacious hotel that holds itself proudly erect, and from its summit the
gay flag of my country floats flauntingly.
We must pass this by, and go down a plank-covered walk to reach the
sandy-golden beach where the green waves dash with silent dignity,
in these long calms of July. Before the hotel the river flows also
sleepily; but both shores are vocal with ladies' laughter and
the singing of young girls, the lively chatter of a party of
The fine steamer that brought us to this point has gone,
"Sailing out into the west,
Out into the west, as the sun went down";
but no "weeping and wringing of hands" was there; we knew it must "come
back to the town,"--that we are merely transient waifs cast upon this
quiet beach, flitting birds of passage who have alighted in the porticos
of the "Bigelow House," Ontonagon, Michigan.
A long, low flat-boat, without visible sails, steam-pipes, or oars,--a
narrow river-craft, with a box-like cabin at one end, the whole rude
in its _ensemble_, and uncivilized in its details,--is the object that
meets the gaze of those who would curiously inspect the means by which
the adventurous novelty-seeking portion of our party are to be conveyed
up this Ontonagon river to the great copper-mines that form the
inestimable wealth of that region. For the metallic attraction has
proved magnetic to the fancies of a few. A mine is a mystery; and
mysteries, to the female mind, are delights.
What is the boat to us but a means? If it seem prosaic, what care we?
Have we escaped the French fashions of _a-la-mode_ watering-places, to
be fastidious amid wigwams and unpeopled shores?
We all know what it is to embark for a day's travel, but we do not all
understand the charm of being stowed away like freight in a boat such as
the one here faintly sketched; how seats are improvised; how umbrellas
are converted into stationary screens, and awnings grow out of
inspiration; how baskets are hidden carefully among carpet-bags, and
camp-stools, and water-jugs, and stowed-in-shavings ice; how the
long-suffering, patient ladies shelter themselves in the tiny, stifling
cabin, while those of the merry, complexion-careless sort lounge in
the daylight's glare, and one couple, fond of seclusion and sentiment,
discover a good place for both, at the rudder-end.
There is an oar or two on board, it appears, as we push off in the early
dawn; and these are employed for a mile or so at the mouth of the river;
then the current begins to quicken in a narrower bed, and a group of
sinewy men betake themselves to their poles, lazily at first, until----
But you do not know exactly what these implements are?
They are heavy, wooden, sharp-pointed poles, ten or twelve feet long. On
either side of the boat runs a "walk," arranged as if a ladder were laid
horizontally; but in reality the bars or rungs are firmly fastened to
the walk, to be used as rests for the feet. Here the men, five on a
side, march like a chain-gang, backward and forward; placing one end of
the pole in the bed of the stream, resting the other in the hollow of
the shoulder near the arm-pit, and bracing themselves by their feet
against these bars, they pry the boat along.
Progression by such means is unavoidably slow; but no steamboat-race
on our Western rivers, blind and reckless, boiler-defying and
life-despising, ever produced more excitement than this same poling.
Wait till the current runs rapidly, fretting and seething in its angry
haste, when for a moment's delay the boat must lose ground; when the
poles are plunged into the rocky bed like harpoons into the back of an
escaping whale; when the athletic forms of the men are bent forward
until each prostrates himself in the exertion of his full powers; when
not a false step--each step a run--can be hazarded; when that monotonous
unanimity of labor is at its height, in which each boatman becomes
possessed as if by a devil of strife; when their faces lose every gentle
semblance of humanity, and become distorted to a simple expression
of stubborn brute force; when the muscles of their arms are knitted,
rope-like, and every nerve stretched to its utmost;--wait till you have
seen all this, and you will confess that a woman's lazy life can know no
harder toil than that of the mind's sympathetic coexertion,--that is, if
she be excitable or impressible.
The stream is tortuous, erratic, shallow, and narrow. Sometimes, as we
glide, always noiselessly, beneath the overhanging foliage and tangled
vines along shore, what myriads of gayly winged insects--brilliant
dragon-flies, mammoth gnats, preposterous mosquitoes--swarm about our
heads, disturbed from their gambols by the laughter and songs aboard our
Only one halt in our journey, and that to dine. Just above this point we
pass the swiftest rapids on the route, where the river widens, and each
side of the bank is beautiful in its wooded picturesqueness, while the
waters rush, in foaming, surging, tumbling confusion, over the rugged
rocks, or dart between them like a merry band of water-sprites chasing
each other in gleesome frolic.
It seems a desecration of these rapids thus to subdue and triumph over
them. They are as if placed there by Nature as a sportive check to man's
further intrusion; and as the waters come hurrying down, led, as it
were, by some Undine jealous for her realm, their murmurings seem to
say, in playful, yet earnest remonstrance,--"Let our gambols divert
you; we will hasten to you; but approach no nearer! Permit us to guard
the sanctuary of our hidden sources, our beloved and holy solitudes!"
But vain appeal! Our men pole frantically onward, and so the day passes.
By mid-afternoon their labors cease, and we come to anchor at the bank,
having achieved seventeen miles in nine hours! Let those of us to whom
lightning-express-trains have been slow grumble hereafter at their fifty
miles an hour!
A country-wagon receives most of the ladies; the majority of their
attendant cavaliers walk; of two horses, the side-saddled one has about
one hundred pounds avoirdupois for his share, and, in spite of the lack
of habit and equestrian "pomp and circumstance" generally, I cannot term
it the most unpleasant three miles I ever travelled. The road is a wild,
rugged ascent up a well-wooded hill-side. There is a tonic vigor in
the atmosphere, which communicates itself irresistibly to one's mental
state; the gladdened lungs inhale it eagerly, as a luxury. When one
walks in this air, one seems to gain wings; to ride is to float at will.
Presently, at the top, a low village comes in sight; yelping curs start
from wayside cabins; coarse, dull-featured women gape at half-opened
doors or sit idly on rude steps; and the men we chance to meet wear that
cadaverous pallor inseparable from the mere idea of a miner. We do not
regret that the pert dogs have imparted speed to our horses' heels;--a
swift, exhilarating gallop brings us in sight of a large, comfortable
house, perched like a bird-box in the hills; then others are discerned;
and in a few more bounds, we are at the gate. Here, where all visitors
to the Minnesota Mines are received and entertained, we prove
_avant-couriers_ of the slowly advancing wagon-load,--"the largest party
of ladies ever met there," they tell us, as we forewarn our hosts of the
band so boldly invading their copper-bound country.
Very soon we are rambling over the hills,--those of Nature's rearing,
and others formed by the accumulation of refuse brought up from the
mine. We discover and secure some fine specimens of the metal; sundry
of the knowing ones, after mysterious interviews with rascally-looking
miners, appear with curious bits of pure silver ore mingled with
crystals of quartz and tinted with tiny specks of copper. These, being
the most valuable curiosities of the region, are usually secreted by the
miners for the purpose of private speculation.
We feel a reverence for this ground, so teeming with metallic
wealth,--and yet a certain timorousness, as we remember that we walk on
a crust, that beneath us are great caves and subterranean galleries.
This outer shell, this surface-knowledge of what lies below, does not
content me. I have also a brave friend who shares my feeling. We agree,
that, despite the interest of this crust, to know of the fruit beneath
and not taste it is worse than aggravating; we grow reckless in our
thirst for the forbidden knowledge.
We have entertained a little plot in our headstrong minds all the way,
which we have hardly dared to name before. It is surely not feminine to
look longingly on those ladders made for the descent of hardy miners
only; visitors beneath the surface are rare; only gentlemen interested
in seeing for themselves the richness of these vaunted mines have
essayed the tour; even many of these failing to penetrate farther than
the first level, and bravely owning their faint-heartedness. In spite of
this, we feel our way cautiously. A descent is to be made this night,
when the Captain of the Mine goes his nightly round of inspection; a
gentleman, the head and front of our expedition, whom we shall call the
"Colonel," proposes to accompany him.
Why may we not form an harmonious quartette? We have nerve; has it not
been tested throughout the somewhat arduous journey of the preceding
weeks? We have presence of mind; we are passable _gymnastes_.
In fact, viewing _Mon Amie_ and me from our own point of view, than
ourselves never did there exist two mortals more manifestly fashioned
straight from the hand of Nature, and educated by previous physical
culture and mental discipline for the performance of a feat at once
perilous and daring, one unknown to the members of "our set," and which
might have been thought impracticable by all who had known us only in
the gas-light glare of Society, and the circumspection of crinoline's
Does it matter by what cunning wiles of pretty pleading and downright
demonstrations of the project's reasonableness we succeeded (for we did
succeed) in being allowed to take our fates in our own hands or trust
them to our own sure-footedness? I think not.
"For when a woman will, she will, you may
But you should have seen the robing! We are to start at ten, P.M.
Previously we betake ourselves to our chambers, and, entertaining a
vague notion that Fashion's expanse may prove inconvenient, we are
looping up our trailing robes in fantastic folds, when a tap at the
_Voila!_ a servant with two full suits of new, but coarse, miners'
clothes,--with a modest intimation from our companions of their
advisability,--in fact, their absolute necessity. We pause aghast! Ah!
the renewed shouts of laughter from those merry, but more timorous
damsels, who, from their secure surroundings,--those becoming barriers
adopted at the dictate of Parisian caprice and retained with feminine
pertinacity,--had poked fun at our forlorn limpness!
This climax of costume is startling, but the laughter rouses our
courage. We stand on the brink of our Rubicon. Shall trousers deter us
from the passage? Shall a coat be synonymous with cowardice? No,--we
rise superior to the occasion; we pant to be free; we in-breathe the
spirit of liberty, as we don our blouses. We loop our long tresses under
such head-coverings as would drive any artist hatter to despair; to us
they prove a weighty argument against hats in general, as we feel their
heavy rims press on our tender brain-roofs. However, when the saucy eyes
of _Mon Amie_ look out sparkling from under her begrimed helmet, the
effect is not bad; on the contrary, the masquerade is piquant. No need
to mention the ribbons that we knot under our wide, square collars for
becomingness, our coquetry "under difficulties," nor the gauntleted
gloves wherewith we protect our hands, nor the daintiness of the little
boots that peep from the loose trousers, which have something Turkish
in their cut. _Mon Amie_, with her rosy blushes, reminds me of a jocund
miller's boy;--as for myself, well, I do not think the Bloomer dress so
very bad, after all!
A torch-bearing band have stationed themselves at the doors to bid us
god-speed,--to make merry at our droll masquerade,--to quiz our odd
head-gear,--to criticize us from head to foot, in short,--but between
all, to offer words of caution. Then we go out into the starlit, but not
over-bright night,--such a one as is friendly to lovers and to thieves,
friendly to religion and to thought, the beloved of sentimentalists, and
the adored of this particular group of adventurous miners. In Indian
file, lantern-led, we traverse the narrow, beaten path that leads to
one of the openings of the mine. These are covered by a rough-plank
house,--too much like a shed to merit that pretentious term, which
implies something fit to live in; in the centre of this shelter is
an open space, perhaps a yard square, and similar in appearance to a
trap-door in a roof. Here we wait a few moments, while the Captain of
the Mine and the Agent of the Mining Company,--who has joined our party
at the last moment, to afford us the undivided services of the Captain
as guide,--are engaged in some mysterious process of moulding; an odor,
not attar of rose, nor yet Frangipanni, salutes our nostrils; then our
companions approach. Both the Colonel and the Agent are "lit up,"--in
fact, all-luminous with the radiance of tallow "dips"; one of these,
stuck in a lump of soft clay, adheres to the front of each hat, and in
their hands they have others.
We also are to wear a starry flame on our brows; and, not content with
this, are invested with several short unlighted candles, which are to
dangle gracefully by their wicks from a buttonhole of our becoming
blouses. Thus our costume is complete; and I doubt if Buckingham sported
the diamond tags of Anne of Austria with more satisfaction than do we
our novel and odorous decoration: we dub ourselves the Light Guard on
In the delay before starting, we observe several miners descend through
the black and most suggestive trap-door, each bearing a tin can in his
mouth, as a good dog carries a basket at the bidding of his master.
The flame of the candle, bright in the density of the pit's darkness, as
its bearer descends step by step with the rapidity which custom has
made easy, becomes in a few seconds like the tiniest glow-worm: one can
follow the spark only; the man disappears within the moment.
I cannot describe, nor, indeed, convey the least idea of this peculiar
effect. We feel our hearts tremble at the thought that whither that
light has gone we must follow. For the first time I realize that we
are about to go _into_ the earth,--that we shall presently crawl like
insects, burrow like underground vermin, beneath the surface, man's
proper place. But such thoughts are not for long indulgence.
"Now let us descend!" says the Colonel.
Grasping the round of the ladder where it rose slightly above the floor,
the Captain, our guide, with that air of assurance which practice
bestows, swings himself from sight. To him succeeds the Colonel. Next
comes my own turn. This is not the first time my feet have tried
ladder-bars; in the country-spent vacations of my school-days, how
many times have I alertly scaled the highest leading to granaries, to
barn-lofts, to bird-houses, to all quasi-inaccessible places, whither my
daring ignorance--reckless, because unconscious of danger--had tempted
me! But mounting a clean, strong, wide ladder, in the full flood of day,
light below, above, around, promising you security by its very fulness
of effulgence, is a far different thing from groping your way, step by
step, down a slimy, muddy frame which hangs in a straight line from the
very start. I shake off a first tremor, draw a full breath, and with
fortitude follow my leader carefully. As I look above, after fairly
getting committed, I can behold _Mon Amie's_ feet, whose arched in-steps
cling round each bar with a pretty dependence that is in the highest
degree appealing. Above her I hear the deep voice of the Agent.
And so the quintette, in grim harmony of enterprise, go down, down,
down, like so many human buckets, into a bottomless well.
Alas, and alas! our own arms, with their as yet untried muscles, must be
our only windlass to bring us to the surface again! Down, down, down,
deeper, deeper, deeper! Will this first ladder never end?
Ah, at last! At the foot, on either side, stand the Captain and the
Colonel, like sentries. We have reached a shelf of rock, and we may
rest. Here we perch ourselves, like sea-birds on a precipice that
overlooks the sea.
By the light of our flickering candles we behold each other's faces,
and we can talk together. We are but two hundred feet under ground. A
desolate stillness reigns here; no sound reaches us, either of labor or
the steps of passing workmen. A cold stream of water trickles from a
cleft rock behind us; we bathe our foreheads in it, and betake ourselves
to the ladder again.
From our next resting-place we proceed through a gallery, an exhausted
vein, kept open as a passage from one shaft to another. As we turn a
corner, we seem to plunge into a rocky cavern; our feet tread on
roughly imbedded rocks; the sides of the cave jut out in refuse
boulders,--harsh, dark-colored, ashen; overhead are beams of hard wood,
bracing and strengthening the excavation. We traverse this gallery
Now that we are here, we are conscious of excitement. _Mon Amie_
manifests hers by her steady, deliberate tones, a sort of exaltation
foreign to her usually vibrating voice, her tremulous cadences; she
seems borne along, despite and above herself. For my own part, as my
lungs inflate themselves with this pure, dry, bracing air, exquisitely
redolent of health, and testifying at once to a total exemption
from noxious exhalations or mephitic vapors, I grow _tete-montee_,
rattle-brained; my laugh echoes through these stony chambers, wild
snatches of song hover on my lips, odd conceits flit through my brain,
I joke, I dash forward with haste; my excitement endows me with a
But now we hear an ominous rattle, a clanking of chains, a rumbling as
of distant thunder; we are approaching a shaft. The shafts in this
mine are not sunk perpendicularly, but are slightly inclined: the huge
buckets, lowered and raised by means of powerful machinery, are but
ancient caldrons, counterparts of those in which the weird witches in
"Macbeth" might have brewed their unholy decoctions, or such as the
dreadful giants that formed the nightmare of my childhood might have
used in preparing those Brobdignagian repasts among the ingredients of
which a plump child held the same rank as a crab in ours.
The sounds grow nearer; presently our guide disappears; then I behold
the Colonel, in whose steps I follow, faithful as his shadow, crouch
sidewise: we must pass behind this inclined plane, which rests on
roughly hewn rocks, that protrude till it appears impossible that any
living thing, except a lizard, can find a passage. I am sure we must
shrink from the original rotundity with which Nature blessed us. I
feel as the frog in the fable might have felt, if, after successfully
inflating himself to the much-envied dimensions of the ox, he had
suddenly found himself reduced to his proper proportions. Edging
sidewise, accommodating the inequalities of the damp surfaces to the
undulations of our forms, deafened, crazed by the roar of the caldrons
that dash madly from side to side, we fairly _ooze_ through.
More ladders! This time they are not hung quite perpendicularly, are
shorter, and some lean, a little, which affords rest; others have one
side higher than the other: to these my already aching palms cling with
desperation. So have I seen insects adhere, through sheer force of fear,
to a shaken stem, or a perilous branch beaten by a storm-wind.
The voices of my companions come to me from above, though I cannot see
the soles of _Mon Amie's_ friendly feet, which at first preserved an
amiable companionship with my own hands; but, looking far upward, I
behold a tiny, star-like spark. When I was a child, I used to think that
fire-flies were the crowns of the fairies, which shone despite their
wearers' invisibility: this idea was recalled to me.
Hark! booming from unthought-of depths, a roar rolls up in majestic
waves of echoing thunder. At this resonant burst, I tremble,--I think a
"They are blasting below us," cries the Colonel, _de profundis_.
Then up rushes a volume of thick, white smoke, and we are enveloped as
in shrouds. I have no more fear,--but the odor, ah! that sulphureous,
sickening, deathly odor! Faintness seizes me,--the ladder swims before
my eyes,--I am paralyzed,--Death has me, I think!
But the very excess of the danger has in it something of reviving power.
I remember, that, just as I left my room,--whose quiet safety never
before appeared so heavenly,--prompted by some instinctive impulse, I
had placed a small vial of ammonia in the breast-pocket of my coat.
I have wellnigh swooned with ecstasy, as I have inhaled the overcoming
odors of some rare bouquet, love-bestowed and prized beyond gems; my
senses have reeled in the intoxication of those wondrous extracts whose
Oriental, tangible richness of fragrance holds me in a spell almost
mystical in its enthralment; but I dare aver that no blossom's breath,
no pungent perfume distilled by the erudite inspiration of Science, ever
possessed a tithe of the delicious agony of that whiff of unromantic
ammonia, which, powerful as the touch of magic, and thrilling as the
kiss of love, snatched me back to life, arrested my tottering senses, as
they blindly staggered on the very brink of certain death.
When we reach the next level, and our faces are revealed to each other,
with one voice they exclaim, "How frightfully pale you are!" But I say
nothing. In fact, their familiar features, wearing no longer their
daylight semblance, present an aspect at once grim and grotesque, and
more like the spirits of my friends than their incorporated substances.
Traversing the wild, rude corridors, we find that the path grows more
perilous, the way more intricate; we have words of warning from our
protectors, who often look back anxiously. They have begun to realize
what they have done in yielding to a woman's odd caprice.
In this level we are shown the spots from which famous masses of copper
have been removed, and are granted useful, but fleeting statistics
of weight; we are also so fortunate as to discover some chips of the
wonderful block, raised in '54, I think, which weighed five hundred
tons. Then we chance upon chasms, which, seen so dimly, though dreadful
enough in reality, are made a thousand times more so by the terrors of
imagination; we creep along the brinks of these, scarcely daring to look
down; above, the heavy boulders lie heaped in frightful confusion. When
we have crawled past these death-traps and stand in safety once more,
we throw down bits of stone, and seconds elapse before we hear the dull
_thump_ with which each signals its arrival in the depths. Along the
edges of some of these gloomy pits we cannot pick our way; therefore a
plank is thrown across, and, trusting to so slender a bridge, we pass,
one by one. A single false step were enough to dash one to atoms,--so
to be transformed to a bruised and mangled mass, to perform one's own
sepulture, and lie in a grander grave than will ever be hollowed by
mortal hands to hide our useless bodies.
The deeper one penetrates into these mines, the wilder, more dangerous
the paths. It is as though the upper regions were kept in "company"
order, but lower down we meet with the every-day roughnesses of
veritable miners'-life; we follow their hazardous, but familiar steps;
we behold all the hardships these toiling, burrowing workers undergo,
that the hidden coffers of Earth may yield their tribute of treasure to
Man, its self-appointed, arrogant master.
Occasionally we meet a passing miner. Grasping his ponderous tools, he
flits by like a phantom; even in the momentary glance, we can perceive
how livid his sunless labor has left him; he is blanched as a ghoul,
and moves as noiselessly, with feather-light step. Each with a motion
salutes the Captain; but they do not heed the little group of strangers
who have braved so many dangers to behold the wonders which to them
are as commonplace as the forge to a blacksmith, or to a carpenter his
Still farther below us we hear the clink and clatter of real work. Down
we plunge,--another ladder, "long drawn out." Some of its rounds are
wanting; others are loose and worn to a mere splinter. Warned by the
voice below me, I proceed with a trembling caution, tenfold more
exciting to the strained nerves than the wildest bound on a mettled
racer, the fiercest rush that ever tingled through every fibre of the
The water has saturated the banks by which our crazy ladder hangs, and
every round is damp and slimy with clayey mud. Alas, for my poor pretty
gantlets! _Mon Amie_ has thrown away hers, as useless.
Finally the ladder ceases abruptly. My feet in vain seek a
resting-place. There is none.
A voice says,--that kindly, earnest voice, the symbol of protective
care, and our smoother of all difficulties,--"We have swung ourselves
down by a chain that hangs from the side of the last round. We are too
far below to reach or assist you. Take the chain firmly; it is the only
route, and we cannot return!"
_Que faire?_ Behold a pleasant predicament for two city-bred ladies, not
"to the manner born," of swinging themselves from the end of a ladder
by means of a rusty iron chain, from which they would alight--where?
Surely, we know not.
I am very sure I could not reproduce in description, and probably not
by practice, the inevitable monkey-contortions, the unimaginable animal
agility, by which I transfer my weight to the clumsy links of this
almost invisible chain. The size of the staple from which it hangs
dissipates all fears in respect to its strength. Hand over hand, my feet
sliding on the slippery bank, remembering sailors in the shrouds, and
taking time to pity them, at last I reach friendly hands, and stand
breathless on another level.
How the soft, white, dimpled palms of _Mon Amie_ testify to the hardship
of this episode, as she bathes them in the cooling water! But, because
one's hands are tender, cannot one's nerves be strong, one's will
Again on the tramp. The cavernous passages are sublime in height, the
chasms fearful in their yawning gulfs. We pick our way daintily, at
intervals pausing to listen to the distant reverberations of exploding
blasts. The atmosphere here, as above, is fairly heavenly in its purity
and invigorating freshness; it girds us with singular strength,
and clothes us as in a garment of enchanted armor that defies all
Creeping behind another shaft, we reach still another chasm, above which
piles of dark rocks lie heaped in such confusion as might result from a
great convulsion. There is a narrow path along its edge, and here the
stones are small; but, as we look up, the mighty masses frown down upon
us with threatening grandeur. Along this path, treading lightly, as
if gifted with wings, the Captain passes; then the Agent (for we had
slightly altered our order of march); _Mon Amie_ follows. She is
half-way past the danger, when an ominous pause,--we are ordered to
Down into the chasm rolls a stone, displaced by an unlucky step of our
pioneer. One stone is nothing,--but more follow that had been supported
by this: small ones at first,--but the larger rocks threaten a slide. If
they are not arrested in their course, she is lost!
What a moment that is! I dare not breathe. _Mon Amie_ stands
statue-like, awaiting the death which she believes is upon her. Not many
words are spoken. I think I feel all that her one glance conveys.
But the brave men beyond her, with instant unanimous action bracing
themselves against the sliding rocks, oppose their feeble force to the
down-sweeping agents of destruction; a moment more, and they would
have been too late. With the step of a frightened antelope _Mon Amie_
trembles past them. I see her safe, and hasten on. "Step lightly!" says
a voice full of suspense and fear, despite its calmness.
Step, indeed! As if I rest on those treacherous stones! My feet brush
them no more than the wing of a butterfly grazes the roses among which
it flutters. Step, forsooth! If ever the angels concerned themselves for
this atom in Creation's myriads, they hover round me now, they bear me
up, they teach me how to fly! Deprived now of their human props, how
the angry fragments leap and tumble and chase one another through the
echoing abyss below! These reverberations seem freighted with elfin
voices that jeer the insensate rocks for their baffled scheme of
But they chanted a far different chorus, and the darkness saw another
sight, when, a few moons later, they dashed themselves down in
irresistible array, and bore with them in their desperate plunge the
lifeless bodies of two passing miners, in whose hearts, it may be, dwelt
at the moment only happy thoughts of the homes 'neath the blue skies to
which they were hurrying, the dear familiar sunlit Paradise that would
succeed the endless night of their _Inferno_ of toil.
"But men must work, and women must weep;
And the sooner 'tis over, the sooner to sleep!"
Well, we take up our march again presently, and, led by a monotonous
hammering, proceed toward the sound. Some of the miners are at work
here, clearing a mass of ore from the stubborn rock. Their strokes fall
as regularly as those of machinery, and the grim men who wield the
ponderous hammers accompany each blow with a peculiar loud indrawing of
the breath, like the pant of a blacksmith at his anvil. So strong is
this resemblance, that we burst forth all together in the strains of
the "Anvil Chorus"; and the accompaniment is beaten with tenfold more
regularity and effect than on the stage, in the glare of the footlights,
by "Il Trovatore's" gypsy-comrades. I doubt if Verdi's music was ever
so rendered before, amid such surroundings. The compliment may be the
higher, coming from so low a region.
Beyond this group are a few miners resting from toil. One of these, as
he stands leaning his folded arms on a jutting rock, upon which he has
placed his candle, elicits our spontaneous admiration. His beauty is
Apollo-like,--every chiselled feature perfect in its classic regularity;
his eyes sad, slumberous, and yet deep and glowing, are quite enough
for any susceptible maiden's heart; about a broad expanse of forehead
cluster thick masses of dark brown hair; his shirt, open at the throat,
reveals glimpses of ivory; altogether he is statuesque and beautiful.
Even his hands, strongly knit as they are, have not been rendered coarse
by labor; they bear the same pallid hue as his face, and he looks like
some nobly-born prisoner. "What untoward fate cast him there?" I often
ask myself. He exists in my memory as a veritable Prince Charming, held
captive in those gloomy caves of enchantment that yielded up to me their
unreal realities in that nightmarish experience. I never fancy him on
upper earth living coarsely, even, it may be, talking ungrammatically,
defying Horne Tooke and outraging Murray, among beings of a lower order
of humanity; but he rises like a statue, standing silent and apart.
Some one throws away a nearly burnt-out candle at this spot. It falls
but a few inches from a can of gunpowder, which is not too securely
closed. As I utter a quick word of warning to the careless one, a miner
starts. "Good Heaven!" I hear him exclaim, as we disappear,--"that was a
When we reach the next shaft, the Captain deposits himself in the
descending bucket, and, irregularly tossing from side to side, goes down
to overlook some work, and leave fresh orders with the miners. We await
his return before again betaking ourselves to the ladders.
On the next level, we behold scores of men in busy action. I can think
only of ants in an ant-hill: some are laden with ore; others bearing the
refuse rocks and earth, the _debris_ of the mine, to the shafts; others,
again, are preparing blasts,--we do not tarry long with these; others
with picks work steadily at the tough ore. In some places, the copper
freshly broken glitters like gold, and the specks on the rocks, or in
the earth-covered mass, as our candle-light awakens their sparkles,
gleam like the spangles on a dancer's robe or stars in a midnight sky.
All the while we hear the dreadful rattle of the down-sinking caldrons,
or the heavy labor of the freighted ones, as they ascend from level to
Suddenly our path conducts us past a seated bevy of miners taking their
"crib," as it is termed, from the food-can, which stands at hand,--a
small fire blazing in the midst of them. Weary and sore, we seat
ourselves near them, while our hardier companions talk with the
They work eight hours at a time, they tell us,--ascending at the
expiration of that period to betake themselves to their homes, which are
mostly in the little village where the yelping curs also reside. They
enjoy unusual health, and pity the upper-world of surface-laborers,
whom they regard with a kind of contempt. Accidents are not frequent,
considering the perils of their occupation. The miners here are
generally Cornish-men, with some Germans.
I sit silent, thinking of my Prince Charming, with many vague
At first, these men have paused in their repast in presence of the
strangers; but now, with rude courtesy, noticing our weariness, they
offer a portion to us. Faint and famishing, we by no means disdain it. I
wonder what Mrs. Grundy would say, could her Argus-eyes penetrate to
the spot, where we,--bound to "die of roses in aromatic pain,"--in
miners'-garb, masculine and muddy, sit on stones with earthy delvers,
more than six hundred feet under ground,--where the foot of woman has
never trod before, nor the voice of woman echoed,--and sip, with the
relish of intense thirst, steaming black tea from an old tin cup!
_Eh, bien!_ for all that, let me do it justice. Never was black tea
less herb-like; never draught of sillery, quaffed from goblet of rare
Bohemian glass, more delicious! And so, with thank-yous that were not
only from the lip, we toil on some distance yet, to the shaft by which
we are to ascend,--one quite remote from that by which we began our
Halting at the foot of the ladder, we pour forth the "Star-spangled
Banner" with the full strength of lungs inflated by patriotism, until
the stirring staves ring and resound through those dim caves. The
miners, who hold the superstition, that to whisper bodes ill-luck, must
have imagined we were exorcising evil spirits with an incantation.
Then begins our weary way upward. We sing "Excelsior" in our hearts, and
forget our aching limbs, for the most laborious portion of the night's
toil is before us. The almost perpendicular ladder is just beside the
powerful pump, which, worked by a steam-engine, exhausts the water from
the mine, and its busy piston, in monotonous measure, keeps time to our
Two rests during the entire distance, which we travel in brave silence.
Indeed, we cannot speak,--the oppressive strain upon the chest is so
great. Step after step, hand over hand, up we go. At last, warmer air
greets us, lights flicker from above; the trap-door is reached; we are
on the surface again; we are out of the depths,--and our hearts whisper
a _Te Deum_ of thanksgiving.
I think well of the establishment of a chapel, such as exists at the
entrance to the Valenciana mine in Mexico, where each miner spends half
an hour, going to or returning from his labors. Such a union of work and
worship seems a proper adjunct to the profit and the peril.
There is a faint glimmer of coming dawn far away in the east, as we
go forth into the midsummer-night, and we catch the distant notes of
chanticleer, as he sounds his shrill _reveille_ to the day.
As my confused brain seeks repose, and my weary limbs sink into the
softness of the never-so-welcome bed, my thoughts fly to distant ones,
to whom I would whisper,--as I do to you who have so patiently burrowed
with me,--"Only love me for the dangers I have passed!"
But it is in vain that you long for a similar experience, my dear Laura
Matilda. Being the first, we are also the last women to whom these
subterranean passages will yield their mysteries, their windings, and
their wonders. Against all of my own sex the Pandemonian depths of the
Minnesota Mines are henceforth as obstinately barred as ever were the
golden gates of the Mohammedan Paradise.
A LONELY HOUSE.
"Some weighty crime that Heaven could not pardon,
A secret curse, on that old building hung,
And its deserted garden."
HOOD'S _Haunted House_.
One autumn evening, not very long ago, I was driving out with my uncle.
I had been spending several weeks at his house, and in that time had
driven with him very often, so that I supposed myself familiar with
nearly all the roads that stretched away from the pleasant village where
he resided; but on this occasion he proposed taking me in an entirely
new direction, over a tract of country I had never before seen.
For a mile or two after we left home, we bowled rapidly along on a
well-travelled turnpike; then a sudden turn to the right brought us,
with slackened speed, into a quiet country-road. Passing through the
fields that bordered the highway, we came into a wild, romantic region
of hill and dale that fully deserved all that my uncle had said in its
Giving ourselves up to the sweet influences of the scene, we trotted our
horses slowly, past dusky bits of forest that made the air fragrant with
the damp smell of the woods, and by occasional shining pools adorned
with floating pond-lilies, and shaded with thick, low bushes of
witch-hazel. The sunlight had that orange glow that comes only on autumn
evenings, the long, slant rays striking across the yellow fields and
lighting up the dark evergreens which dotted the landscape with a tawny
illumination, like dull flames. The locusts hummed drowsily, as if they
were almost asleep, and the frogs in the ponds sent out an occasional
muffled croak. Altogether, it was deliciously calm and deserted; we did
not meet a human being or a habitation for miles, as we wound along
the secluded path, now up and now down, but on the whole gradually
ascending, till we reached the summit of a hill larger and steeper than
Here there stood a lonely house.
Pausing to allow our horses a moment's rest, my eye was caught by its
deserted and dilapidated appearance. It had evidently been uninhabited
for years. The fence had gone to decay, the gate lay rotting on the
ground, and a forlorn sleigh, looking strangely out of place in contrast
with the summer-flowers that had over-grown it, was drawn up before the
entrance. The grass had obliterated every trace of the path that once
led to the decayed steps, bushes had grown up thickly around the lower
story of the house, and tangled vines, creeping in through the broken
panes of the windows, hung in festoons from the moss-covered sills.
The door had dropped from its hinges, and on one side of the front the
boards had fallen off, so that I could see quite into the interior,
where I noticed, with surprise, some furniture yet remained, though in
great confusion, a broken chair and an overturned table being the most
prominent objects. Outside, the same disorder was manifest in the great
farm-wagon, left standing where it had last been used, and the neglected
out-buildings fast going to decay. About the whole place there was an
aspect of peculiar gloom, and the house itself stood on this bleak hill
looking out over the lonesome landscape with a sort of tragic melancholy
in its black and weather-beaten front.
Now such a sight as this is very rare in our busy New England, where
everything is turned to advantage, and where the thrifty owner of a
tenement too old for habitation is sure to tear it down and convert the
materials of which it is built to some other use. My curiosity was,
therefore, at once excited regarding this place, and I turned to my
uncle with an inquiry as to its history.
"It is a very sad one," he answered,--"so sad that it gives a terrible
dreariness to this solitary spot."
"Then I am sure you will tell me the causes which led to its desertion.
You know how much I like a story."
My uncle complied with the request, and, as we wended our way home
through the deepening twilight, related a series of strange facts,
which, at the time, took a powerful hold on my imagination, and which I
have since endeavored to group into a continuous narrative.
* * * * *
This house, now so forlorn, was once a neat and happy home. It was built
by a young farmer named James Blount, who went into it with his young
wife when he brought her home from the distant State where he had
married her. For several years they seemed very prosperous and happy;
then a heavy affliction came. The healthy young farmer was thrown from
his horse, and carried to his home only to linger a few terrible hours
and expire in great agony. Thus early in its history was the doomed
house overshadowed with the gloom of sudden and violent death.
Every one was heartily sorry for the widow with her two little boys,
and the people of the country-side did all that they could to cheer
her loneliness and lighten her grief. But, as I have said, she was a
stranger among them, and she seems to have been naturally of a reserved
disposition, preferring solitude in her affliction; for she so repelled
their attentions, that, one by one, even her husband's friends deserted
her. Then, too, her house was three miles from the nearest neighbor, and
this was necessarily a barrier to frequent social intercourse. She very
rarely went into the village, even to church, and thus people came to
know very little of her manner of life; it was only guessed at by those
few acquaintance who, at rare intervals, made their way to the Blount
Among them it was remarked, that the widow, still quite young, was
unnaturally stern and cold, and that her two sons, who were growing up
in this sad isolation, were strangely like their mother, not only in
appearance, but in manners. Their names were James and John. There was
but little over a year between them, and they were so much alike that
most persons found a difficulty in distinguishing one from the other.
Both had fierce, black eyes, short, crisp, black hair, and swarthy
skins,--quite unlike our freckled-face Yankee boys,--so that the older
villagers declared, with a sigh, that there was not a trace of the
good-hearted father about them; they wholly resembled their strange
mother. The boys themselves did nothing to lessen this disagreeable
impression; they were unusually grave and reserved for their years,
taking no interest in the sports of other children; and after a time,
it became painfully evident to those who watched them that they had no
fondness for each other; on the contrary, that affection which would
naturally have sprung from their nearness in age and their constant
companionship seemed to be entirely wanting, and its place usurped by an
When this was first discovered, it was supposed to account for the
widow's aversion to society. This idea, being once started, made those
idle busybodies there are in every village eager to discover if the
suspicion were correct. Through the men hired to work on the farm, it
was ascertained that the poor mother, with all her sternness and her
iron law, had difficulty in keeping peace between the boys. Twenty times
a day they would fall into angry dispute about some trifle; and so
violent were these altercations, that it was said that she durst not for
a moment have them both out of her sight, lest one should inflict some
deadly injury upon the other. That this was no ill-founded fear was
evinced by a quarrel that took place between them, when John was perhaps
eleven, and James twelve years old.
It was witnessed by a village lad named Isaac Welles. He was an alert,
active person, who liked to earn a penny or two on his own account, out
of work-hours. With this notable intention, he arose soon after dawn of
a pleasant summer-morning, for the purpose of picking blackberries.
Now he knew that they were very plentiful in a field near the Blount
farmhouse, and, thinking such small theft no robbery, he made his
way thither with all speed, and was soon filling his basket with the
dew-sprinkled fruit. Early as it was, however, he soon discovered that
there was some one up before him. He heard a sound of talking in low,
caressing tones, and, glancing in the direction whence it came, he saw
John Blount sitting under a tree near by, and playing with a little
black squirrel, which appeared to be quite tame. Not caring to be
discovered and warned off, Isaac went on with his work quietly, taking
care to keep where he could see without being seen.
John was not long left alone in his innocent amusement, for in a few
moments James Blount came running down from the house towards him. As he
approached, John's face darkened; he caught up the squirrel, and made an
endeavor to hide it under his jacket.
"No, you don't!" said James, as he came up, breathless. "I see you have
got him, plain enough; he sha'n't get away this time,--so you might as
well give him to me."
"No, I won't!" replied John, sullenly.
"No!" said John, more fiercely, and then burst out, passionately,--"I
don't see why you want to tease me about it; he a'n't your pet; I have
found him and tamed him; he knows me and loves me, and he don't care for
you; besides, you only want him to torment him. No! you sha'n't have
"Sha'n't I? we'll see!" And James made a step forward.
John drew back several paces, at the same time trying to soothe the
squirrel, which was becoming impatient of its confinement. His face
quivered with excitement, as he went on, passionately,--
"I know what you want him for: you want him to hurt some way. You wrung
my black kitten's neck, and now you want to kill my squirrel. You are a
bad, wicked boy, and I hate you!"
With the last words he started to run; but he had not gone far when his
foot struck a stone, and he fell. At this, the squirrel, terrified,
jumped from his arms; but James was close by, and before it could
escape, he had caught it. John was up in an instant, and James, seeing
that he could not avoid him, gave the poor little creature's neck a
sudden twist and flung it gasping at his brother's feet, exclaiming,--
"There, now, you may have it!"
For one moment John stood still, white with rage and grief; then he
uttered a sort of choking howl, and sprang at James,--
"You cruel coward!"
The words were accompanied with a half-articulate curse, as he struck
at him, blindly, fiercely, and they closed in what seemed a deadly
struggle. John, being the younger, had a slight disadvantage in size and
weight, but wrath gave him more than his usual strength; while James
fought desperately, as if for life. After a few moments they rolled on
the ground together.
It was a fearful sight, those two brothers, boys though they were,
fighting in that mad way. Their faces, so much alike that they seemed
almost reflections of each other, were crimson with anger; their eyes
shot fire; their breath came in sobbing pants; and very soon blood was
drawn on both. After a brief contest, John, with a tremendous effort,
threw James under him. With one hand he pinioned his arms, while the
other was at his throat, where it closed with a deadly gripe. James made
one last effort to save himself; with a violent wrench he succeeded in
fixing his teeth in his brother's arm, but he failed in making him relax
his hold, though they met in the firm flesh. John's brow grew darker,
but he only tightened his clasp closer and closer, muttering,--
"So help me, God! I will kill you!"
His words were near being verified; already the fallen boy's mouth had
unclosed, the red of his face turned to livid purple, and his eyes
stared wildly, when Mrs. Blount, pale, with disordered attire, as if she
had but just risen and dressed hastily, ran, screaming, down the hill.
Seizing John around the waist, she dragged him back, and flung him to
the ground, exclaiming,--
"Oh, my sons! my sons! are you not brothers? Will you never be at
At this moment, Isaac arrived, breathless with running, at the spot.
When she saw him, the widow ceased speaking, and made no further
allusion to the quarrel while he remained. However, she gladly accepted
his offered assistance in lifting James, who lay gasping, and wellnigh
dead. As they turned towards the house, John rose, sullenly, and
wrapping a handkerchief round his wounded arm, which was bleeding
profusely, he glanced scowlingly at his brother.
"He will get over this," he muttered, with an oath; "but, sooner or
later, I swear I will kill him!"
Without noticing his mother's appealing look, he walked back to the tree
where the dead pet lay.
The half-strangled boy was carried to his bed, and a few simple remedies
restored him to consciousness. As soon as possible, Mrs. Blount
dismissed Isaac, declining his offers of going for a doctor, with cold
thanks. As he went back to resume his interrupted blackberrying, he saw
John sitting at the foot of the tree. He had dug a hole in which to bury
the poor squirrel; it lay on his knee, a stream of dark gore oozing
through its tiny white teeth. John was vainly endeavoring to wipe this
with the handkerchief already stained with his own blood, while his hot
tears fell fast and heavy.
As John had said, James recovered from the choking, and the only
apparent results of the fight were that both boys were scarred for life.
John bore on his right wrist the impression of his brother's teeth; and
James's throat was disfigured by two deep, black marks, on each side,
which were quite visible till his beard concealed them. Yet, I doubt
not, that desperate struggle, in that dawning summer-day, laid the
foundation of the inextinguishable hatred that blasted those men's lives
and was to be quenched only in death.
Several years passed after this, in which very little was known of what
passed at the lonely house. The boys were old enough to perform most of
the work of the farm, so that they no longer hired laborers except at
harvest. Mrs. Blount had herself given her sons all the instruction they
had ever received, and, being a woman of attainments beyond those usual
in her station, she seemed quite competent to the task. Nothing more was
heard of their quarrels; they were always coldly civil to each other,
when in the presence of others, and were regarded by their companions
with respect, though, I imagine, never with any cordial liking. So they
grew up to be grave, taciturn men, still retaining the same strong
resemblance of face and figure, though time had somewhat altered the
features, by fixing a different expression on each, giving to John a
fierce resolution, and to James a lurking distrustfulness of look. These
years made less change in Mrs. Blount than in her sons; she was the same
active, black-eyed woman, only that her sternness and reserve seemed to
increase with her age, and a few silver threads appeared in her raven
I have said that it was three miles from the Blount place to the nearest
house. This was at the toll-gate, which was kept by a man named Curtis.
He was a person of progressive tastes, supposed to have aristocratic
inclinations. As he was a well-to-do man, these were evinced in a
Brussels carpet and a piano-forte which figured in his small parlor, and
by his sending his only child, a daughter, to a city boarding-school.
She returned, as might have been expected, with ideas and desires far
beyond the hill-side cottage where she was condemned to vegetate. Now
she was very pretty, with dancing blue eyes and a profusion of golden
curls; she had, too, a most winning manner, hard for any one to resist;
and these personal attractions, added to style of dress that had never
been seen or imagined among the simple country-folk, rendered her a
most important person, so that no "tea-fight" or merry-making was
complete without Nelly Curtis.
However, it might have been long enough before the recluse young Blounts
would have encountered the gay little belle, had it not been that they
were of necessity obliged to pass through the toll-gate, and sometimes
forced to stop there. From some of her friends Nelly heard what a
secluded life the two brothers led, and how especially averse they
seemed to female society, and, with the appetite for conquest of a true
flirt, she at once determined on adding them to the list of her victims.
It was not long before she had an opportunity for beginning her wiles.
One fine spring morning, John Blount started on horseback to go to the
village. The sun shone very brightly, the hedge-rows blushed with early
blossoms, and the birds sang a song of rejoicing. It was one of those
clear, soft days when one feels new life and vigor at the thought of the
coming summer. Arrived at the toll-gate, John was surprised at seeing no
one there to open it; he waited a moment, somewhat impatiently, and then
At this, as if startled at his voice, there appeared in the cottage
door-way a slender, rosy-cheeked maiden, who looked blooming and
graceful enough to be the incarnation of the fresh and beautiful May.
"Excuse me," she said, with a little curtsy; "I did not see you come
This, as Nelly informed the friend to whom she related the adventure,
was a fib,--for Mr. Curtis was away, and she had been watching all the
morning, in hopes one of the Blounts would pass; but she considered it a
justifiable stratagem, as likely to secure his attention.
Meantime John was gazing spellbound at this apparition, which appeared
to him charming beyond anything he had ever imagined. He was so far
carried away, that he was quite speechless and wholly oblivious of the
toll, until she came up to the side of the horse and held out her hand.
Then he colored, and, with awkward apology, gave her the change.
"Thank you, Sir."
Nelly smiled sweetly, and was just about to undo the latch of the gate,
when John anticipated her by springing from his horse, and laying his
powerful brown hand over her small white one, saying,--
"You can't do anything with this great, heavy gate. Stand aside, and let
me open it."
Of course the offer was kindly accepted, and Nelly fairly overwhelmed
him with her thanks, being herself somewhat touched by the unusual
civility. John appeared quite overcome with confusion, and, remounting
his horse, he rode off with a gruff "Good day." However, I fancy, that
pleasant voice, and the accidental touch of that little hand, made an
impression that never was effaced.
Having thus enslaved John, it was not long before a similar opportunity
occurred for captivating James; though it would seem from Nelly's
confessions to her confidante that this was not so easily accomplished
with him as with his brother. The first time she opened the gate for
him, he paid but little more heed to her than he would have to her
father, and she never considered her conquest complete until one day
when Mr. Curtis availed himself of a vacant seat in James's wagon to
get Nelly taken into the village: that ride, she fancied, insured the
wished-for result. Whether this was a correct supposition or not,
certain it is that not many weeks elapsed before both the Blounts were
completely fascinated by the gay coquette.
For some time the passion of each brother remained a secret to the
other. Accident revealed it.
One soft summer-evening, John rode down to the village for letters. As
he passed through the toll-gate, he succeeded in making an appointment
with Nelly for a walk on his return. He came back an hour later, and
soon after sunset the two strolled down a shady path into the woods. It
was moonlight, and Nelly was doubtless very charming in the mysterious
radiance,--certainly her companion thought so,--for, when their walk
was over, he induced her to sit with him on a fallen log that lay just
within the shade of the trees, instead of returning to the house. They
had been chatting there perhaps half an hour, when they were interrupted
by the girl the Curtises kept to do "chores."
"Please, Miss Nelly, there's a gentleman wants to see you."
"Very well, tell him I will be there in a moment."
When the girl was gone, Nelly suddenly exclaimed, rather regretfully,--
"How stupid of me, not to ask who it was!"
John's answer is not reported, only that he succeeded in lengthening the
"moment" into a quarter of an hour, and then half an hour; and it might,
perhaps, have lasted the whole evening, had they not, in the midst of a
most interesting conversation, been startled by a rustling in the bushes
"There is some one watching us!" cried John, excitedly, and half rising.
"Nonsense!" said Nelly; "it is only a cat. Sit down again."
This invitation was not to be declined. John sat down again, though
still a little restless and uneasy. For some moments all was still. John
had concluded that Nelly's suggestion was a correct one, and they had
begun to chat quite unconcernedly, when they were again interrupted.
This time the sound was that of an approaching footstep, and for an
instant a dark shadow fell across the moonlit path in front of them.
Nelly was now fairly frightened, she uttered a faint shriek, and clung
to John for protection. Doubtless this was a very pleasant appeal to the
young farmer, but just now wrath mastered every other feeling. He was
ever easily angered, and, to be sure, the thought that they were watched
was by no means agreeable. So, with a quick caress, he loosened her
clasp and started to his feet, exclaiming,--
"Don't be frightened, dear! I'll punish the rascal!"
He made a dash in the direction whence the sound had come. In the shade
of the trees stood the intruder quite still, making no attempt to avoid
the furious onset. Mad with rage, John seized him by the collar, and,
striking him repeatedly, and muttering curses, dragged him towards the
bench where Nelly sat trembling. A few staggering steps, and they were
on the path, with the pure, peaceful light of the moon falling full on
the stranger's face.
"Good God!" cried John, loosening his hold,--"it is my brother!"
James drew himself up, tossing back his disordered hair, and for a
moment the two men regarded each other with stern, fixed looks, as if
they were preparing for another encounter. By this time, Nelly, who was
completely terrified, had begun to weep convulsively, and her sobs broke
the ominous silence, as she gasped,--
"Oh, John, please don't strike him again!"
At these words, John started, as if stung, and, looking at her with
indignant sadness, said,--
"There, you needn't cry, Nelly! I won't hurt him; I will leave him to
Then, overcome by the rush of recollection, he burst out,
"Oh, James! James! you have rendered my life miserable by your
treacheries, and now you have robbed me of her! This is no place to
settle our quarrels; but I have sworn it once, and I swear it again now,
some day I will be revenged!"
He would not stop to hear Nelly's entreating voice; but, full of the one
dreadful thought, that all her anxieties had been for another, while he
was indifferent to her, he mounted his horse, without one backward look,
and galloped fast away. I can fancy there was a wild whirl of emotion
in his passionate heart: deadly hatred, jealousy, and crossed love are
enough to drive any man mad.
Meantime, James apologized to Nelly for his intrusion, on the ground,
that, becoming tired of waiting, and hearing she had gone out for a
wait, he had started to meet them, but was about to turn back, fearing
to interrupt them, when John's rudeness compelled him to appear. The
excuse was accepted; and James soon occupied the seat recently vacated
by poor John. So well did he avail himself of the circumstances, that he
succeeded in convincing Nelly that his brother was a very ill-tempered
person, whom it would be well for her to avoid. On this, with the true
instinct of a flirt, she endeavored to persuade him that she had never
really cared for John's attentions. James was but too willing to be
convinced of this; and he parted from her, feeling satisfied that his
suit would be successful.
Knowing well that his life was scarcely safe, if he were for a moment
alone with John, after that night, James constantly exercised such
caution as prevented the possibility of an encounter. He was determined
as soon as possible to leave that neighborhood, always provided that
Nelly would go with him. For some time he considered this as certain.
John carefully avoided her, and no new suitor appeared.
I fear that pretty Nelly was a thorough coquette; for, having nearly
broken one brother's heart, she very soon tired of the other, for whom
she had never really cared a straw. These two men being the last to fall
into her toils, she began to sigh wearily over her too easily captured
victims, when her fickle fancy was caught by game more worthy so expert
It happened that at this time there came to the village a gentleman from
New York, named Brooke, a bachelor of known wealth. He was perhaps forty
years old, and had run through a course of reckless dissipation which
had rendered him thoroughly tired of city ways and city women. On the
very first Sunday after his arrival, as he stood idly lounging at the
church-door, his eye was caught by Nelly's fresh, rosy face. He followed
her into church, and spent the time of service in staring her out of
countenance. It will be readily imagined that she was not slow to
follow up this first impression; and but few days elapsed before their
acquaintance had ripened into intimacy.
Of course, his unceasing attentions could not fail of attracting notice
and exciting remark; and it was not long before they came to the ears
of the Blounts. John received the news with sullen indifference. It
mattered little to him whom she liked now. James, however, refused to
believe that there could be anything in it, regarding it as a mere
passing caprice. In this view most of the village-people coincided; they
considered it absurd to suppose that there could be anything serious in
Mr. Brooke's devotion. Time would probably have proved the correctness
of this supposition, had it not been, fortunately for Nelly, that she
had a father with more steadiness of mind than her giddy brain was
capable of. Mr. Curtis succeeded in turning the rapid attachment to such
advantage, that in three weeks from the time of their first meeting they
were not only engaged, but actually married.
It had been Nelly's intention, with the vanity of a true woman, to
postpone the wedding a month longer, and then to have it on such a scale
as would excite the admiration and envy of all her companions; but Mr.
Curtis was too shrewd for this. He durst not put this rapid love to the
test of waiting; and he so worked upon his daughter's fears, that she
consented to a more hasty union. Mr. Brooke, too, showed some aversion
to any public demonstration. Perhaps he was conscious that his friends
would think he was doing a foolish thing, and he was therefore desirous
of having it over before they had time to remonstrate. So, on a fine
bright Sunday, early in September, the drowsy congregation, who were
dozing away the afternoon-service, were aroused by the publication
of the banns of marriage between Henry Brooke and Nelly Curtis. It
occasioned great whispering and tittering. But no one suspected that the
wedding was near at hand; and there were very few lingerers after the
service was over, when Kelly came in at the side-door with her father,
was joined by Mr. Brooke, and actually married then and there.
The Blount brothers never went to church, but they almost always came
into the village of a Sunday afternoon, and on this memorable day they
were there as usual, but not together. John was earnestly discussing a
new breed of cattle with a neighboring farmer, wholly oblivious of
the false Nelly. James was standing with a group of young men on the
village-green, when Isaac Welles, the whilom blackberry-boy, rushed
up, breathless, to say that he had been detained in the church and had
actually seen Nelly and Mr. Brooke married.
In the first eager questions that followed this announcement, no one
noticed James, until they were astonished to see him fall heavily to the
ground. He had fainted. They had not mentioned the publication of the
banns to him, and he was wholly unprepared for this utter annihilation
of all his hopes. Welles sprang to his side, and they raised him
quickly. He was a strong man, and before they could bring any
restoratives he had recovered.
"It is nothing," he said, with a sickly smile. "I think it must have
been a sunstroke. It is confoundedly hot."
This lame explanation was accepted, and James refused to go into any of
the neighbors' houses, though he consented to seat himself, for a few
moments, on a rustic bench in the shade of the trees.
Half an hour later, John, having finished his chat, strolled to the
green and approached the group. He looked surprised when he caught
sight of his brother, who of late had so carefully avoided him. His
astonishment increased when James rose, and, advancing a step, said,--
"John, Nelly Curtis is married to that Brooke!"
An angry flush rose to John's brow, and his black eyes flashed
ominously, as he answered, in a hoarse, low voice,--
"So much the better, for now she will never be your wife."
"Neither mine nor yours," said James, maliciously;--then, after a
moment, he added, "She was a worthless thing, and we are well rid of
At this, a tornado of passion seemed to seize John. He sprang forward,
"She was not worthless, and I will kill the first man who dares to say
There was an interval of dead silence; the brothers regarded each other
for a moment, then James shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and
turned away. John glanced around him defiantly on the astonished crowd,
and, seeing no one there likely to dispute with him, he seemed to have
formed a sudden resolution, for he walked off rapidly after his brother.
Isaac Welles had stood by, no unobservant witness of this scene. He
noted something in those two men's eyes that recalled the fierce quarrel
of the two boys; and as soon as it was possible for him to get away,
he went off after the Blounts, determined, if possible, to prevent
Meantime John had not met his brother; but, seeing James's horse was
gone, he mounted his own and rode away towards home, determining to
catch James before he could reach there. However, he did not overtake
him. James was too cunning to ride directly to the farm-house, and
John's headlong speed availed only to bring him there in time to find
his mother alone and dangerously ill.
In a moment all other thoughts were laid aside. The pent-up affection of
John's heart had centred itself on his only parent. She had always been
cold and stern with her sons, yet they loved her with a tender devotion
which reclaimed natures that might otherwise have been wholly bad.
With all the tenderness of a woman, John assisted his mother to her bed,
and, not daring to leave her, awaited eagerly the coming of the only
other person who could summon aid,--his brother James.
At last he came,--riding slowly, with bowed head, up the lonely road.
John went out to meet him. James looked up angry and astonished, and
immediately threw himself into a position of defence. John shook his
"James," he said, "I cannot settle our quarrel now. Mother is very
James started forward.
"Where is she? What is the matter?" he cried, eagerly.
"I do not know," answered John. "I will go for the doctor, now that you
are come. I durst not leave her before. But, James, stop one moment. As
long as she lives, you are safe,--I will not hurt you by word or act;
but when she is gone,--beware!"
James did not answer, except by a nod, and John, turning, saw Isaac
Welles standing at the gate. He had overheard the conversation and felt
that there was no danger of a quarrel, and he now came eagerly forward
with offers of assistance. They were gratefully accepted; for even the
taciturnity of the brothers seemed to give way before the pressing fear
that beset them.
There is ever great good-will and kindness in the scattered community of
a village, and, despite the unpopularity of the Blounts, neighbors and
friends soon came to them, ready and willing to aid them by every means
in their power.
Mrs. Blount's illness proved to be quite as alarming as John had
feared. The physician, from the first, held out very little hope of her
recovery. The strong, healthy woman was stricken, as if in a moment;
it was the first real illness she had ever had, and it made fearful
progress. Yet her naturally iron constitution resisted desperately, so
that, to the astonishment of all who saw her sufferings, she lingered
on, week after week, with wonderful tenacity of life. The summer faded
into autumn, and autumn died into winter, and still she lived, failing
slowly, each day losing strength, growing weaker and weaker, until it
seemed as if she existed only by the force of will.
Of course it had long ago been found necessary to have some other
dependence than the kindness of neighbors, and a stout Irish girl had
been hired for the kitchen, while Mrs. Clark, a good, responsible woman,
occupied the post of nurse. From these persons, and from Isaac Welles,
the rest of the story is collected.
During all these months of her illness, the two brothers had been
unfailing in their devotion to their poor suffering mother. Night and
day they never tired, watching by her bedside for hours, and seeming
scarcely to sleep. Of course they were much together, but no words of
harshness ever passed their lips. When out of Mrs. Blount's presence,
they spoke to each other as little as possible; in her presence, there
was a studied civility that might have deceived any one but a mother.
Even she was puzzled. She would lie and watch them with burning, eager
eyes, striving to discover if it was a heartfelt reconciliation or only
a hollow truce. It was the strong feeling she had that only her life
kept them apart, which gave her power to defy death. Perhaps on this
very account his stroke was all the more sudden at last.
It was a dark, lowering afternoon in December when the summons came.
Mrs. Blount had been lying in a half-doze for more than an hour. Her
sons had taken advantage of this sleep to attend to some necessary
duties. The nurse sat beside the fire, watching the flames flicker on
the dark walls, and idly wondering if the leaden-hued sky portended a
snow-storm. Her musings were broken by the voice of the invalid, very
faint, but quite distinct,--
"Nurse! nurse! Call my sons. I am dying!"
Mrs. Clark ran to the bed.
"Quick! quick!" cried Mrs. Blount. "Do not stop for me. You cannot help
me now. Call my sons before it is too late!"
Her tone and action were so imperative that they enforced obedience, and
the nurse ran down-stairs with all speed. She found no one but the hired
girl in the kitchen, who said, in answer to her hurried inquiries, that
both brothers were out, gone to bring in the cattle before the storm.
Mrs. Clark sent her in all haste to recall them, and then returned to
the sick-room. As she entered, the dying woman looked up quickly, her
face clouded with disappointment when she saw that she was alone. The
nurse said all in her power to assure her that her sons would soon be
there, but she could not allay the strange excitement into which their
absence seemed to have thrown her.
"My strength is failing," she said, sadly; "every moment is precious;
if I die without that promise which they could not refuse to a dying
mother's prayer, God knows what will become of them!"
Mrs. Clark urged the necessity of quiet, but the sufferer paid no heed
to the caution. She talked on, wildly, and sometimes incoherently,
about the hopes she built upon the reconciliation her death-bed would
effect,--showing, in these few moments of unnatural loquacity, how
deeply she had felt the animosity between her sons, and how great had
been the effort to conquer it. This excitement could not continue long;
her voice soon grew weaker, and at last she ceased speaking, appearing
to sink into a stupor of exhaustion.
An instant after, the door opened and John ran eagerly to the couch,
closely followed by James. Already the poor widow's eyes were closed;
the livid hue that is so fatally significant overspread her face; her
breath came in quick gasps.
"Mother! mother!" cried John, flinging himself on his knees beside her,
and seizing the thin, hard hand.
At that sound, she opened her eyes, but it was too late; she no longer
had the power of utterance. She glanced from one brother to the other
with a piteous, entreating look; her mouth moved convulsively; in the
effort to speak, she sat upright for an instant, ghastly and rigid, and
then fell heavily back.
All was over; her life of labor was changed for eternal rest; and the
two men, whom only her power had restrained, stood with the last barrier
between them removed, avowed and deadly enemies.
Yet, for all that, they were sincere mourners for the sole parent they
had ever known, though it seemed, that, jealous even in their grief,
neither cared to have the other see how much he suffered; for, after
the first few moments, when the heart refuses to be satisfied of the
certainty which it knows only too well, they turned away, and each
sought his own room. Afterwards, when all was prepared and the room
decently arranged, they returned, and alternately through the long night
kept their vigil beside the corpse. It is strange, that, in those quiet
hours of communion with the loved dead, no thought of relenting towards
each other ever suggested itself.
The snow that had been hanging all day in the dark clouds above them
towards evening began to fall. Stilly and continually the tiny flakes
came down, hiding all the ruggedness of earth under a spotless mantle,
even as the white shroud covered the toil-worn frame of the released
In the morning the news spread rapidly, and neighbors came to the
afflicted house. But the brothers seemed to resent their offers of
assistance as an intrusion, refusing to allow any other watchers,
themselves continuing night and day to watch beside the corpse; and that
awful vigil, instead of softening their hearts, seemed to harden them
into a more deadly hatred.
The third afternoon, when all the country-side was ghastly in its
winding-sheet of snow, and the clouds hung heavy as a pall over the
stricken earth, the little funeral held its way from the lonely
farm-house to the village-churchyard. As a last tribute of respect to
their mother, the two brothers drove side by side in the same sleigh.
Those who saw them said that it was a sight not to be forgotten,--those
two black figures, with their stern, pale faces, so much alike, yet so
unsympathizing, sitting motionless, not even leaning on each other in
that moment of grief. So they were together, yet apart, during the
ceremony that consigned the wife to the grave where five-and-twenty
years before they had laid the husband. So they were together, yet
apart, when they turned their horse's head towards their home and rode
away silently into the sombre twilight.
The last person who saw them that night was Mrs. Clark. The brothers
had insisted that both she and the Irish girl should leave early in the
day,--replying to all offers of putting the house in order, that they
preferred to be alone. But on her way home after the funeral, Mrs. Clark
passed the house in a friend's sleigh and stopped a moment for her
bundle, which in the hurry of the morning had been forgotten. To her
surprise, as she approached the door, she saw that there were no lights
visible in any of the windows, although it was already very dark.
Thinking the brothers were in the back part of the house, she pushed
open the door, which yielded to her touch, and was just about to make
her way towards the kitchen, when she heard a sound in the parlor, and
then these words, quite distinctly:--
"Are you ready, James?"
"Yes,--only one word. It is a long account we have to settle, and it
must be final."
"It shall be. Mine is a heavy score. Years ago I swore to wipe it out,
and now the time has come."
Mrs. Clark's knock interrupted them. There was an angry exclamation, and
the door was opened. To her intense surprise, no light came from within.
She could not understand how they could settle their accounts in the
darkness; but they gave her no time for reflection; an angry voice, in
answer to her inquiries, bade her go on to the kitchen, and she hastened
off. There she found a single candle burning dimly; by its light she
picked up her bundle, and, leaving the door open to see her way,
returned to the front of the house. Though not a nervous woman, she felt
an undefined fear at the mysterious darkness and silence; and as she
passed the brothers standing in the doorway, she was struck with fresh
terror at the livid pallor of those two stern faces that looked out from
the black shadow. When she was going out, she heard the door of the
parlor bolted within, and she rejoined her friends, right glad to be
away from the sad house.
So those two men were left alone, locked into the dark room together, in
the horrible companionship of their inextinguishable hatred and their
own bad hearts. It will forever remain unknown what passed between them
through the long hours of that awful night, when the wind howled madly
around the lightless house, and the clouds gathered blacker and thicker,
shrouding it in impenetrable gloom.
Three days passed before any living creature approached the spot,--three
days of cold unparalleled in the annals of that country,--cold so severe
that it compelled even the hardy farmers to keep as much as possible by
the fireside. On the fourth day, Isaac Welles began to think they had
been quite long enough alone, and he started with a friend to visit the
Blount brothers. Arrived at the farm-house, they saw the sleigh standing
before the door, but no sign of any one stirring. The shutters of the
windows were closed, and no smoke came out of the chimney. They knocked
at the door. No answer. Surprised at the silence, they at length tried
to open it. It was not locked, but some heavy substance barred the way.
With difficulty they forced it open wide enough to go in.
To this day those men shudder and turn pale, as they recall the awful
scene that awaited them within that house, which was, in fact, a tomb.
The obstacle which opposed their entrance was the dead body of John
Blount. He lay stretched on the floor,--his face mutilated by cuts and
disfigured with gore, his clothes disordered and bloody, and one hand
nearly severed from the arm by a deep gash at the wrist; yet it was
evident that none of these wounds were mortal. After that terrible
conflict, he had probably crawled to the door and fallen there, faint
with loss of blood; the silent, cruel cold had completed the work of
Following the blood-track, the two men entered the parlor, with
suspended breath and hearts that almost ceased to beat. There they
found the dead body of James Blount,--his clothes half torn off, in the
violence of the strife that could end only in murder. A long, deep cut
on the throat had terminated that awful struggle, though many other less
dangerous wounds showed how desperate it had been. He lay just as he
fell,--his features still contracted with a look of defiance and
hatred, and in his right hand still clasped a long, sharp knife. He had
succumbed in that mortal conflict, which quenched a lifelong quarrel,
and was to prove fatal alike to victor and vanquished. Thus the vow of
John Blount was fulfilled,--the pent-up hatred of years satisfied in his
The room was in the wildest disorder,--chairs thrown down and broken,
tables overturned, and the carpet torn. In one corner they found a
second long, sharp knife. It had been at least a fair fight.
They laid the two ghastly corpses side by side: they had been chained
together all their lives; they were chained together in death. The two
fratricides are buried in one grave.
This terrible tragedy blighted the spot where it took place. No one
would ever inhabit that house again. The furniture was removed, except
from the one room which to this day remains unchanged, and the building
left to fall to decay. The superstitious affirm, that, in the long
winter nights, oaths and groans steal out, muffled, on the rising wind,
from the dark shadows of the Lonely House.
* * * * *
BARBARISM AND CIVILIZATION.
In the interior of the island of Borneo there has been found a certain
race of wild creatures, of which kindred varieties have been discovered
in the Philippine Islands, in Terra del Fuego, and in Southern Africa.
They walk usually almost erect upon two legs, and in that attitude
measure about four feet in height; they are dark, wrinkled, and hairy;
they construct no habitations, form no families, scarcely associate
together, sleep in trees or in caves, feed on snakes and vermin, on ants
and ants' eggs, on mice, and on each other; they cannot be tamed, nor
forced to any labor; and they are hunted and shot among the trees, like
the great gorillas, of which they are a stunted copy. When they are
captured alive, one finds, with surprise, that their uncouth jabbering
sounds like articulate language; they turn up a human face to gaze upon
their captor; the females show instincts of modesty; and, in fine, these
wretched beings are Men.
Men, "created in God's image," born immortal and capable of progress,
and so differing from Socrates and Shakspeare only in degree. It is but
a sliding scale from this melancholy debasement up to the most regal
condition of humanity. A traceable line of affinity unites these outcast
children with the renowned historic races of the world: the Assyrian,
the Egyptian, the Ethiopian, the Jew,--the beautiful Greek, the strong
Roman, the keen Arab, the passionate Italian, the stately Spaniard, the
sad Portuguese, the brilliant Frenchman, the frank Northman, the wise
German, the firm Englishman, and that last-born heir of Time, the
American, inventor of many new things, but himself, by his temperament,
the greatest novelty of all,--the American, with his cold, clear eye,
his skin made of ice, and his veins filled with lava.
Who shall define what makes the essential difference between those
lowest and these loftiest types? Not color; for the most degraded races
seem never to be the blackest, and the builders of the Pyramids were far
darker than the dwellers in the Aleutian Islands. Not unmixed purity of
blood; since the Circassians, the purest type of the supreme Caucasian
race, have given nothing to history but the courage of their men and the
degradation of their women. Not religion; for enlightened nations have
arisen under each great historic faith, while even Christianity has its
Abyssinia and Arkansas. Not climate; for each quarter of the globe has
witnessed both extremes. We can only say that there is an inexplicable
step in progress, which we call civilization; it is the development of
mankind into a sufficient maturity of strength to keep the peace and
organize institutions; it is the arrival of literature and art; it is
the lion and the lamb beginning to lie down together, without having, as
some one has said, the lamb inside of the lion.
There are innumerable aspects of this great transformation; but there is
one, in special, which has been continually ignored or evaded. In the
midst of our civilization, there is a latent distrust of civilization.
We are never weary of proclaiming the enormous gain it has brought
to manners, to morals, and to intellect; but there is a wide-spread
impression that the benefit is purchased by a corresponding physical
decay. This alarm has had its best statement from Emerson. "Society
never advances. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the
other.... What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing,
thinking American, with a watch, a pencil, and a bill of exchange in his
pocket, and the naked New-Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear,
a mat, and the undivided twentieth part of a shed to sleep under! But
compare the health of the two men, and you shall see that his aboriginal
strength the white man has lost. If the traveller tell us truly, strike
the savage with a broad-axe, and in a day or two the flesh shall unite
and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch; and the same blow
shall send the white man to his grave."
Were this true, the fact would be fatal. Man is a progressive being,
only on condition that he begin at the beginning. He can afford to wait
centuries for a brain, but he cannot subsist a second without a body. If
civilization sacrifice the physical thus hopelessly to the mental, and
barbarism merely sacrifice the mental to the physical, then barbarism is
unquestionably the better thing, so far as it goes, because it provides
the essential preliminary conditions, and so can afford to wait.
Barbarism is a one-story log-hut, a poor thing, but better than nothing;
while such a civilization would be simply a second story, with a first
story too weak to sustain it, a magnificent sky-parlor, with all heaven
in view from the upper windows, but with the whole family coming down in
a crash presently, through a fatal neglect of the basement. In such a
view, an American Indian or a Kaffir warrior may be a wholesome object,
good for something already, and for much more when he gets a brain
built on. But when one sees a bookworm in his library, an anxious
merchant-prince in his counting-room, tottering feebly about, his thin
underpinning scarcely able to support what he has already crammed
into that heavy brain of his, and he still piling in more,--one feels
disposed to cry out, "Unsafe passing here! Stand from under!"
Sydney Smith, in his "Moral Philosophy," has also put strongly this case
of physiological despair. "Nothing can be plainer than that a life of
society is unfavorable to all the animal powers of men.... A Choctaw
could run from here to Oxford without stopping. I go in the mail-coach;
and the time the savage has employed in learning to run so fast I have
employed in learning something useful. It would not only be useless in
me to run like a Choctaw, but foolish and disgraceful." But one may well
suppose, that, if the jovial divine had kept himself in training for
this disgraceful lost art of running, his diary might not have recorded
the habit of lying two hours in bed in the morning, "dawdling and
doubting," as he says, or the fact of his having "passed the whole day
in an unpleasant state of body, produced by laziness"; and he might
not have been compelled to invent for himself that amazing rheumatic
armor,--a pair of tin boots, a tin collar, a tin helmet, and a tin
shoulder-of-mutton over each of his natural shoulders, all duly filled
with boiling water, and worn in patience by the sedentary Sydney.
It is also to be remembered that this statement was made in 1805,
when England and Germany were both waking up to a revival of physical
training,--if we may trust Sir John Sinclair in the one case, and
Salzmann in the other,--such as America is experiencing now. Many years
afterwards, Sydney Smith wrote to his brother, that "a working senator
should lead the life of an athlete." But supposing the fact still true,
that an average red man can run, and an average white man cannot,--who
does not see that it is the debility, not the feat, which is
discreditable? Setting aside the substantial advantages of strength
and activity, there is a melancholy loss of self-respect in buying
cultivation for the brain by resigning the proper vigor of the body. Let
men say what they please, they all demand a life which shall be whole
and sound throughout, and there is a drawback upon all gifts that are
paid for in infirmities. There is no thorough satisfaction in art or
intellect, if we yet feel ashamed before the Indian because we cannot
run, and before the South-Sea Islander because we cannot swim. Give us a
total culture, and a success without any discount of shame. After all,
one feels a certain justice in Warburton's story of the Guinea trader,
in Spence's Anecdotes. Mr. Pope was with Sir Godfrey Kneller one day,
when his nephew, a Guinea trader, came in. "Nephew," said Sir Godfrey,
"you have the honor of seeing the two greatest men in the world." "I
don't know how great you may be," said the Guinea-man, "but I don't like
your looks; I have often bought a man, much better than both of you
together, all muscles and bones, for ten guineas."
Fortunately for the hopes of man, the alarm is unfounded. The advance
of accurate knowledge dispels it. Civilization is cultivation, whole
cultivation; and even in its present imperfect state, it not only
permits physical training, but promotes it. The traditional glory of
the savage body is yielding before medical statistics: it is becoming
evident that the average barbarian, observed from the cradle to the
grave, does not know enough and is not rich enough to keep his body in
its highest condition, but, on the contrary, is small and sickly and
short-lived and weak, compared with the man of civilization. The great
athletes of the world have been civilized; the long-lived men have been
civilized; the powerful armies have been civilized; and the average of
life, health, size, and strength is highest to-day among those races
where knowledge and wealth and comfort are most widely spread. And yet,
by the common lamentation, one would suppose that all civilization is a
slow suicide of the race, and that refinement and culture are to leave
man at last in a condition like that of the little cherubs on old
tomb-stones, all head and wings.
It must be owned that the delusion has all the superstitions of history
in its favor, and only the facts against it. If we may trust tradition,
the race has undoubtedly been tapering down from century to century
since the Creation, so that the original Adam must have been more than
twice the size of the Webster statue. However far back we go, admiring
memory looks farther. Homer and Virgil never let their hero throw a
stone without reminding us that modern heroes only live in glass houses,
to have stones thrown at them. Lucretius and Juvenal chant the same
lament. Xenophon, mourning the march of luxury among the Persians, says
that modern effeminacy has reached such a pitch, that men have even
devised coverings for their fingers, called gloves. Herodotus narrates,
that, when Cambyses sent ambassadors to the Macrobians, they asked what
the Persians had to eat and how long they commonly lived. He was told
that they sometimes attained the age of eighty, and that they ate a mass
of crushed grain, which they termed bread. On this, they said that it
was no wonder, if the Persians died young, when they partook of such
rubbish, and that probably they would not survive even so long, but for
the wine they drank; while the Macrobians lived on flesh and milk, and
survived one hundred and twenty years.
But, unfortunately, there were no Life Insurance Companies among the
Macrobians, and therefore nothing to bring down this formidable average
to a reliable schedule,--such as accurately informs every modern man how
long he may live honestly, without defrauding either his relict or his
insurers. We know, moreover, precisely what Dr. Windship can lift, at
any given date, and what the rest of us cannot; but Homer and Virgil
never weighed the stones which their heroes threw, nor even the words in
which they described the process. It is a matter of certainty that
all great exploits are severely tested by Fairbanks's scales and
stop-watches. It is wonderful how many persons, in the remoter
districts, assure the newspaper-editors of their ability to lift twelve
hundred pounds; and many a young oarsman can prove to you that he has
pulled his mile faster than Ward or Clark, if you will only let him give
his own guess at time and distance.
It is easy, therefore, to trace the origin of these exaggerations. Those
old navigators, for instance, who saw so many fine things which were
not to be seen, how should they help peopling the barbarous realms with
races of giants? Job Hartop, who three times observed a merman rise
above water to his waist, near the Bermudas,--Harris, who endured such
terrific cold in the Antarctics, that once, perilously blowing his nose
with his fingers, it flew into the fire and was seen no more,--Knyvett,
who, in the same regions, pulled off his frozen stockings, and his toes
with them, but had them replaced by the ship's surgeon,--of course
these men saw giants, and it is only a matter for gratitude that they
vouchsafed us dwarfs also, to keep up some remains of self-respect in
us. In Magellan's Straits, for instance, they saw, on one side, from
three to four thousand pigmies with mouths from ear to ear; while on the
other shore they saw giants whose footsteps were four times as large as
an Englishman's,--which was a strong expression, considering that the
Englishman's footstep had already reached round the globe.
The only way to test these earlier observations is by later ones. For
instance, in the year 1772, a Dutchman named Roggewein discovered Easter
Island. His expedition had cost the government a good deal, and he
had to bring home his money's worth of discoveries. Accordingly, his
islanders were all giants,--twice as tall, he said, as the tallest of
the Europeans; "they measured, one with another, the height of twelve
feet; so that we could easily,--who will not wonder at it?--without
stooping, have passed between the legs of these sons of Goliath.
According to their height, so is their thickness." Moreover, he "puts
down nothing but the real truth, and upon the nicest inspection," and,
to exhibit this caution, warns us that it would be wrong to rate the
women of those regions as high as the men, they being, as he pityingly
owns, "commonly not above ten or eleven feet." Sweet young creatures
they must have appeared, belle and steeple in one. And it was certainly
a great disappointment to Captain Cook, when, on visiting the same
Island, fifty years later, he could not find man or woman more than six
feet tall. Thus ended the tale of this Flying Dutchman.
Thus lamentably have the inhabitants of Patagonia been also dwindling,
though, there, if anywhere, still lies the Cape of Bad Hope for the
apostles of human degeneracy. Pigafetta originally estimated them at
twelve feet. In the time of Commodore Byron, they had already grown
downward; yet he said of them that they were "enormous goblins," seven
feet high, every one of them. One of his officers, however, writing an
independent narrative, seemed to think this a needless concession; he
admits, indeed, that the women were not, perhaps, more than seven feet,
or seven and a half, or, it might be, eight, "but the men were, for
the most part, about nine feet high, and very often more." Lieutenant
Cumming, he said, being but six feet two, appeared a mere pigmy among
them. But it seems, that, in after-times, on some one's questioning this
diminutive lieutenant as to the actual size of these enormous goblins,
the veteran frankly confessed, that, "had it been anywhere else but in
Patagonia, he should have called them good sturdy savages and thought no
But, these facts apart, there are certain general truths which look
ominous for the reputation of the _physique_ of savage tribes.
First, they cannot keep the race alive, they are always tending to
decay. When first encountered by civilization, they usually tell stories
of their own decline in numbers, and after that the downward movement is
accelerated. They are poor, ignorant, improvident, oppressed by others'
violence, or exhausted by their own; war kills them, infanticide and
abortion cut them off before they reach the age of war, pestilences
sweep them away, whole tribes perish by famine and smallpox. Under the
stern climate of the Esquimaux and the soft skies of Tahiti, the same
decline is seen. Parkman estimates that in 1763 the whole number of
Indians east of the Mississippi was but ten thousand, and they were
already mourning their own decay. Travellers seldom visit a savage
country without remarking on the scarcity of aged people and of young
children. Lewis and Clarke, Mackenzie, Alexander Henry, observed this
among Indian tribes never before visited by white men; Dr. Kane remarked
it among the Esquimaux, D'Azara among the Indians of South America, and
many travellers in the South-Sea Islands and even in Africa, though the
black man apparently takes more readily to civilization than any other
race, and then develops a terrible vitality, as American politicians
find to their cost.
Meanwhile, the hardships which thus decimate the tribe toughen the
survivors, and sometimes give them an apparent advantage over civilized
men. The savages whom one encounters are necessarily the picked men of
the race, and the observer takes no census of the multitudes who have
perished in the process. Civilization keeps alive, in every generation,
multitudes who would otherwise die prematurely. These millions of
invalids do not owe to civilization their diseases, but their lives. It
is painful that your sick friend should live on Cherry Pectoral; but if
he had been born in barbarism, he would neither have had it to drink nor
survived to drink it.
And again, it is now satisfactorily demonstrated that these picked
survivors of savage life are commonly suffering under the same diseases
with their civilized compeers, and show less vital power to resist them.
In barbarous nations every foreigner is taken for a physician, and the
first demand is for medicines; if not the right medicines, then the
wrong ones; if no medicines are at hand, the written prescription,
administered internally, is sometimes found a desirable restorative. The
earliest missionaries to the South-Sea Islands found ulcers and dropsy
and hump-backs there before them. The English Bishop of New Zealand,
landing on a lone islet where no ship had ever touched, found the
whole population prostrate with influenza. Lewis and Clarke, the first
explorers of the Rocky Mountains, found Indian warriors ill with fever
and dysentery, rheumatism and paralysis, and Indian women in hysterics.
"The tooth-ache," said Roger Williams of the New England tribes, "is the
only paine which will force their stoute hearts to cry"; even the Indian
women, he says, never cry as he has heard "some of their men in this
paine"; but Lewis and Clarke found whole tribes who had abolished this
source of tears in the civilized manner, by having no teeth left. We
complain of our weak eyes as a result of civilized habits, and Tennyson,
in "Locksley Hall," wishes his children bred in some savage land, "not
with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books." But savage life
seems more injurious to the organs of vision than even the type of a
cheap edition; for the most vigorous barbarians--on the prairies, in
Southern archipelagos, on African deserts--suffer more from different
forms of ophthalmia than from any other disease; without knowing the
alphabet, they have worse eyes than if they were professors, and have
not even the melancholy consolation of spectacles.
Again, the savage cannot, as a general rule, endure transplantation,--he
cannot thrive in the country of the civilized man; whereas the latter,
with time for training, can equal or excel him in strength and endurance
on his own ground. As it is known that the human race generally can
endure a greater variety of climate than the hardiest of the lower
animals, so it is with the man of civilization, when compared with the
barbarian. Kane, when he had once learned how to live in the Esquimaux
country, lived better than the Esquimaux themselves; and he says
expressly, that "their powers of resistance are no greater than those of
well-trained voyagers from other lands." Richardson, Parkyns, Johnstone,
give it as their opinion, that the European, once acclimated, bears
the heat of the African deserts better than the native negro. "These
Christians are devils," say the Arabs; "they can endure both cold and
heat." What are the Bedouins to the Zouaves, who unquestionably would be
as formidable in Lapland as in Algiers? Nay, in the very climates where
the natives are fading away, the civilized foreigner multiplies: thus,
the strong New-Zealanders do not average two children to a family, while
the households of the English colonists are larger than at home,--which
is saying a good deal.
Most formidable of all is the absence of all recuperative power in
the savage who rejects civilization. No effort of will improves his
condition; he sees his race dying out, and he can only drink and forget
it. But the civilized man has an immense capacity for self-restoration;
he can make mistakes and correct them again, sin and repent, sink and
rise. Instinct can only prevent; science can cure in one generation, and
prevent in the next. It is known that some twenty years ago a thrill
of horror shot through all Anglo-Saxondom at the reported physical
condition of the operatives in English mines and factories. It is not so
generally known, that, by a recent statement of the medical inspector of
factories, there is declared to have been a most astounding renovation
of female health in such establishments throughout all England since
that time,--the simple result of sanitary laws. What science has done
science can do. Everybody knows which symptom of American physical decay
is habitually quoted, as most alarming; one seldom sees a dentist who
does not despair of the republic. Yet this calamity is nothing new; the
elder branch of our race has been through that epidemic, and outlived
it. In the robust days of Queen Bess, the teeth of the court ladies were
habitually so black and decayed, that foreigners used constantly to ask
if Englishwomen ate nothing but sugar. Hentzner, who visited the country
in 1697, speaks of the same calamity as common among the English of all
classes. Two centuries and a half have removed the stigma,--improved
physical habits have put fresh pearls between the lips of all England
now; and there seems no reason why we Americans may not yet be healthy,
in spite of our teeth.
Thus much for general considerations; let us come now to more specific
tests, beginning with the comparison of size. The armor of the knights
of the Middle Ages is too small for their modern descendants: Hamilton
Smith records that two Englishmen of average dimensions found no suit
large enough to fit them in the great collection of Sir Samuel Meyrick.
The Oriental sabre will not admit the English hand, nor the bracelet of
the Kaffir warrior the English arm. The swords found in Roman tumuli
have handles inconveniently small; and the great mediaeval two-handed
sword is now supposed to have been used only for one or two blows at the
first onset, and then exchanged for a smaller one. The statements given
by Homer, Aristotle, and Vitruvius represent six feet as a high standard
for full-grown men; and the irrefutable evidence of the ancient
doorways, bedsteads, and tombs proves the average size of the race to
have certainly not diminished in modern days. The gigantic bones have
all turned out to be animal remains; even the skeleton twenty-five
feet high and ten feet broad, which one _savant_ wrote a book called
"Gigantosteologia" to prove human, and another, a counter-argument,
called "Gigantomachia," to prove animal,--neither of the philosophers
taking the trouble to draw a single fragment of the fossil. The enormous
savage races have turned out, as has been shown, to be travellers'
tales,--even the Patagonians being brought down to an average of five
feet ten inches, and being, moreover, only a part of a race, the
Abipones, of which the other families are smaller. Indeed, we can all
learn by our own experience how irresistible is the tendency of the
imagination to attribute vast proportions to all hardy and warlike
tribes. Most persons fancy the Scottish Highlanders, for instance, to
have been a race of giants; yet Charles Edward was said to be taller
than any man in his Highland army, and his height was but five feet
nine. We have the same impression in regard to our own Aborigines. Yet,
when first, upon the prairies of Nebraska, I came in sight of a tribe of
genuine, unadulterated Indians, with no possession on earth but a
bow and arrow and a bear-skin,--bare-skin in a double sense, I might
add,--my instinctive exclamation was, "What race of dwarfs is this?"
They were the descendants of the glorious Pawnees of Cooper, the heroes
of every boy's imagination; yet, excepting the three chiefs, who were
noble-looking men of six feet in height, the tallest of the tribe could
not have measured five feet six inches.
The most careful investigations give the same results in respect to
physical strength. Early travellers among our Indians, as Hearne and
Mackenzie, and early missionaries to the South-Sea Islands, as Ellis,
report athletic contests in which the natives could not equal the
better-fed, better-clothed, better-trained Europeans. When the French
_savans_, Peron, Regnier, Ransonnet, carried their dynamometers to the
islands of the Indian Ocean, they found with surprise that an average
English sailor was forty-two per cent, stronger, and an average
Frenchman thirty per cent, stronger, than the strongest island tribe
they visited. Even in comparing different European races, it is
undeniable that bodily strength goes with the highest civilization.
It is recorded in Robert Stephenson's Life, that, when the English
"navvies" were employed upon the Paris and Boulogne Railway, they used
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