Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Vol. 17,
Part 4 out of 5
"How does it kill people?" At her question Leam turned suddenly round
on him, her eyes full of a strange light.
"Some poisons kill in one way and some in another," answered Alick.
Leam pondered for a few moments; then she asked, "How much poison is
there in the world?"
"An immense deal," said Alick: "I cannot possibly tell you how much."
"And it all kills?"
"Yes, it all kills, else it is not poison."
"And every one?"
"Yes, every one if enough is taken."
"What is enough?" she asked, still so serious, so intent.
Alick laughed. "That depends on the material," he said. "One grain of
some and twenty of others."
"Don't laugh," said Leam with her Spanish dignity: "I am serious. You
should not laugh when I am serious."
"I did not mean to offend you," faltered Alick humbly. "Will you
"Yes," said Leam superbly, "if you will not laugh again. Tell me about
"What can I tell you? I scarcely know what it is you want to hear."
"What is poison?"
"Strychnine, opium, prussic acid, belladonna, aconite--oh, thousands
"How do they kill?"
"Well, strychnine gives awful pain and convulsions--makes the back
into an arch; opium sends you to sleep; prussic acid stops the action
of the heart; and so on."
"What is that?" asked Leam, pointing to the small phial with its
snake-like spiral label.
"Prussic acid--awfully strong. Two drops of that would kill the
strongest man in a moment."
"In a moment?" asked Learn.
"Yes: he would fall dead directly."
"Would it be painful?"
"No, not at all, I believe."
"Show it me," said Learn.
He took the bottle from the shelf. It was a sixty-minim bottle, quite
full, stoppered and secured.
She held out her hand for it, and he gave it to her. "Two drops!"
"Yes, two drops," returned Alick.
"How many drops are here?"
"Is it nasty?"
"No--like very strong bitter almonds or cherry-water; only in excess,"
he said. "Here is some cherry-water. Will you have a little in some
water? It is not nasty, and it will not hurt you."
"No," said Leam with an offended air: "I do not want your horrid
"It would not hurt you, and it is really rather nice," returned Alick
"It is horrid," said Learn.
"Well, perhaps you are better without it," Alick answered, quietly
taking the bottle of prussic acid from her hands and replacing it on
the shelf, well barricaded by phials and pots.
"You should not have taken it till I gave it you," said Leam proudly.
"You are rude."
From this time the laboratory had the strangest fascination for Leam.
She was never tired of going there, never tired of asking questions,
all bearing on the subject of poisons, which seemed to have possessed
her. Alick, unsuspecting, glad to teach, glad to see her interest
awakened in anything he did or knew, in his own honest simplicity
utterly unable to imagine that things could turn wrong on such a
matter, told her all she asked and a great deal more; and still Leam's
eyes wandered ever to the shelf where the little phial of thirty
deaths was enclosed within its barricades.
One day while they were there Mrs. Corfield called Alick.
"Wait for me, I shall not be long," he said to Leam, and went out to
As he turned Learnm's eyes went again to that small phial of death on
"Take it, Leama! take it, my heart!" she heard her mother whisper.
"Yes, mamma," she said aloud; and leaping like a young panther on the
bench, reached to the shelf and thrust the little bottle in her hair.
She did not know why she took it: she had no motive, no object. It was
mamma who told her--so her unconscious desire translated itself--but
she had no clear understanding why. It was instinct, vague but
powerful, lying at the back of her mind, unknown to herself that it
was there; and all of which she was conscious was a desire to possess
that bottle of poison, and not to let them know here that she had
This was on the afternoon of her last day at the Corfields. She was
to go home to-night in preparation for the arrival of her father and
madame to-morrow, and in a few hours she would be away. She did not
want Alick to come back to the laboratory. She was afraid that he
would miss the bottle which she had secured so almost automatically
if so superstitiously: Alick must not come back. She must keep that
bottle. She hurried across the old-time stick-house, locked the door
and took the key with her, then met Alick coming back to finish his
lesson on the crystallization of alum, and said, "I am tired of your
colored doll's jewelry. Come and tell me about flowers," leading the
way to the garden.
Doubt and suspicion were qualities unknown to Alick Corfield. It never
occurred to him that his young queen was playing a part to hide the
truth, befooling him for the better concealment of her misdeeds. He
was only too happy that she condescended to suggest how he should
amuse her; so he went with her into the garden, where she sat on the
rustic chair, and he brought her flowers and told her the names and
the properties as if he had been a professor.
At last Leam sighed. "It is very tiresome," she said wearily. "I
should like to know as much as you do, but half of it is nonsense, and
it makes my head ache to learn. I wish I had my dolls here, and that
you could make them talk as mamma used. Mamma made them talk and go
to sleep, but you are stupid: you can speak only of flowers that
don't feel, and about your silly crystals that go to water if they
are touched. I like my zambomba and my dolls best. They do not go to
water; my zambomba makes a noise, and my dolls can be beaten when they
"But you see I am not a girl," said Alick blushing.
"No," said Leam, "you are only a boy. What a pity!"
"I am sorry if you would like me better as a girl," said Alick.
She looked at him superbly. Then her face changed to something that
was almost affection as she answered in a softer tone, "You would be
better as a girl, of course, but you are good for a boy, and I like
you the best of every one in England now. If only you had been an
Andalusian woman!" she sighed, as, in obedience to Mrs. Corfield's
signal, she got up to prepare for dinner, and then home for her father
and madame to-morrow.
IN HER MOTHER'S PLACE.
Whatever madame's past life had been--and it had been such as a
handsome woman without money or social status, fond of luxury and to
whom work was abhorrent, with a clear will and very distinct knowledge
of her own desires, clever and destitute of moral principle, finds
made to her hand--whatever ugly bits were hidden behind the veil of
decent pretence which she had worn with such grace during her sojourn
at North Aston, she did honestly mean to do righteously now.
She had deceived the man who had married her in such adoring good
faith--granted; but when he had reconciled himself to as much of the
cheat as he must know, she meant to make him happy--so happy that he
should not regret what he had done. Though she was no marquise, only
plain Madame de Montfort--so far she must confess for policy's sake,
and to forestall discovery by ruder means, but what remained beyond
she must keep secret as the grave, trusting to favorable fortune and
man's honor for her safety--though the story of the fraudulent trustee
was untrue, and she never had more money than the three hundred pounds
brought in her box wherewith to plant her roots in the North Aston
soil--though all the Lionnet bills were yet to be paid, and her
husband must pay them, with awkward friends in London occasionally
turning up to demand substantial sops, else they would show their
teeth unpleasantly,--still, she would get his forgiveness, and she
would make him happy.
And she would be good to Leam. She would be so patient, forbearing,
tender, she would at last force the child to love her. It was a new
luxury to this woman, who had knocked about the world so long and so
disreputably, to feel safe and able to be good. She wondered what it
would be like as time went on--if the rest which she felt now at the
cessation of the struggle and the consciousness of her security would
become monotonous or be always restful. At all events, she knew
that she was happy for the day, and she trusted to her own tact and
management to make the future as fair as the present.
The home-coming was triumphant. Because the rector was inwardly
grieved at the loss of his ewe-lamb--for he had lost her in that
special sense of spiritual proprietorship which had been his--he was
determined to make a demonstration of his joy. He and Mrs. Birkett
meant to stand by Mrs. Dundas as they had stood by Madame la Marquise
de Montfort, and to publish their partisanship broadly. When,
therefore, the travelers returned to North Aston, they found the
rector and his wife waiting to receive them at their own door.
Over the gate was an archway of evergreens with "Welcome!" in white
chrysanthemums, and the posts were wreathed with boughs and ribbons,
but leaving "Virginia Cottage" in its glossy evidence of the new
regime. The drive was bordered all through with flowers from the
rectory garden, and Lionnet too had been ransacked, and the hall was
festooned from end to end with garlands, like a transformation-scene
in a pantomime. One might have thought it the home-coming of a young
earl with his girl-bride, rather than that of a middle-aged widower of
but moderate means with his second wife, one of whose past homes had
been in St. John's Wood, and one of her many names Mrs. Harrington.
But it pleased the good souls who thus displayed their sympathy, and
it gratified those for whom it had all been done; and both husband and
wife expressed their gratitude warmly, and lived up to the occasion in
the emotion of the moment.
When their effusiveness had a little calmed, down, when Mrs. Dundas
had caressed her child--which poor Mrs. Birkett gave up to her with
tears--and Mr. Dundas had also taken it in his arms and called it
"Little Miss Dundas" and "My own little Fina" tenderly--when, the
servants had been spoken to prettily and the bustle had somewhat
subsided, Mrs. Dundas looked round for something missing. "And where
is dear Leam?" she asked with her gracious air and sweet smile.
It was very nice of her to be the first to miss the girl. The father
had forgotten her, friends had overlooked her, but the stepmother, the
traditional oppressor, was thoughtful of her, and wanted to include
her in the love afloat. This little circumstance made a deep
impression on the three witnesses. It was a good omen for Leam, and
promised what indeed her new mother did honestly design to perform.
"Even that little savage must be tamed by such persistent sweetness,"
said Mr. Birkett to his wife, while she, with a kindly half-checked
sigh, true to her central quality of maternity and love of peace all
round, breathed "Poor little Leam!" compassionately.
Leam, however, was no more to the fore at the home-coming than she had
been at the marriage, and much searching went on before she was found.
She was unearthed at last. The gardener had seen her shrink away into
the shrubbery when the carriage-wheels were heard coming up the road,
and he gave information to the cook, by whom the truant was tracked
and brought to her ordeal.
Mrs. Birkett went out by the French window to meet her as she came
slowly up the lawn draped in the deep mourning which for the very
contrariety of love she had made deeper since the marriage, her young
head bent to the earth, her pale face rigid with despair, her heart
full of but one feeling, her brain racked with but one thought, "Mamma
is crying in heaven: mamma must not cry, and this stranger must be
swept from her place."
She did not know how this was to be done; she only knew that it must
be done. She had all along expected the saints to work some miracle
of deliverance for her, and she looked hourly for its coming. She had
prayed to them so passionately that she could not understand why they
had not answered. Still, she trusted them. She had told them she was
angry, and that she thought them cruel for their delay; and in her
heart she believed that they knew they had done wrong, and that the
miracle would be wrought before too late. It was for mamma, not for
herself. Madame must be swept like a snake out of the house, that
mamma might no longer be pained in heaven. Personally, it made no
difference whether she had to see madame at Lionnet or here at home,
but it made all the difference to mamma, and that was all for which
Thinking these things, she met Mrs. Birkett midway on the lawn, the
kind soul having come out to speak a soothing word before the poor
child went in, to let her feel that she was sympathized with, not
abandoned by them all. Fond as she was of madame, the new Mrs, Dundas,
and little as she knew of Leam, the facts of the case were enough for
her, and she saw Adelaide and herself in the child's sorrow and poor
Pepita's successor. "My dear," she said affectionately as she met the
girl walking so slowly up the lawn, "I dare say this is a trial to
you, but you must accept it for your good. I know what you must feel,
but it is better for you to have a good kind stepmother, who will be
your friend and instructress, than to be left with no one to guide
Leam's sad face lifted itself up to the speaker. "It cannot be good
for me if it is against mamma," she said.
"But, Leam, dear child, be reasonable. Your mamma, poor dear! is dead,
and, let us trust, in heaven." The good soul's conscience pricked her
when she said this glib formula, of which in this present instance
she believed nothing. "Your father has the most perfect right to marry
again. Neither the Church nor the Bible forbids it; and you cannot
expect him to remain single all his life--when he needs a wife so
much, too, on your account--because he was married to your dear mamma
when she was alive. Besides, she has done with this life and all the
things of the earth by now; and even if she has not, she will be happy
to see you, her dear child, well cared for and kindly mothered."
Leam raised her eyes with sorrowful skepticism, melancholy contempt.
It was the old note of war, and she responded to it. "I know mamma,"
she said; "I know what she is feeling."
She would have none of their spiritual thaumaturgy--none of that
unreal kind of transformation with which they had tried to modify
their first teaching. There was no satisfaction in imagining mamma
something different from her former self--no more the real, fervid,
passionate, jealous Pepita than those pear-shaped transparent bags,
so logically constructed by Mrs. Corfield's philosopher, are like the
ideal angels of loving fancy. If mamma saw and knew what was going
on here at this present moment--and Mrs. Birkett was not the bold
questioner to doubt this continuance of interest--she felt as she
would have felt when alive, and she would be angry, jealous, weeping,
Mrs. Birkett was puzzled what to say for the best to this
uncomfortable fanatic, this unreasonable literalist. When believers
have to formularize in set words their hazy notions of the feelings
and conditions of souls in bliss, they make but a lame business of it;
and nothing that the dear woman could propound, keeping on the side of
orthodox spirituality, carried comfort or conviction to Leam. Her one
unalterable answer was always simply, "I know mamma: I know what she
is feeling," and no argument could shake her from her point.
At last Mrs. Birkett gave up the contest. "Well, my child," she
said, sighing, "I can only hope that the constant presence of your
stepmother, her kindness and sweetness, will in time soften your
feeling toward her."
Leam looked at her earnestly. "It is not for myself," she said: "it is
And she said it with such pathetic sincerity, such an accent of deep
love and self-abandonment to her cause, that the rector's wife felt
her eyes filling up involuntarily with tears. Wrong-headed, dense,
perverse as Leam was, her filial piety was at the least both touching
and sincere, she said to herself, a pang passing through her heart.
Adelaide would not speak of her if she were dead as this poor ignorant
child spoke of her mother. Yet she had been to Adelaide all that the
best and most affectionate kind of English mother can be, while Pepita
had been a savage, now cruel and now fond; one day making her teeth
meet in her child's arm, another day stifling her with caresses;
treating her by times as a woman, by times as a toy, and never
conscientious or judicious.
All the same, Leam's fidelity, if touching, was embarrassing as things
were; so was her belief in the continued existence of her mother. But
what can be done with those uncompromising reasoners who will carry
their creeds straight to their ultimates, and will not be put off with
eclectic compromises of this part known and that hidden--so much sure
and so much vague? Mrs. Birkett determined that her husband should
talk to the child and try to get a little common sense into her head,
but she doubted the success of the process, perhaps because in her
heart she doubted the skill of the operator.
By this time they reached the window, and the woman and the girl
passed through into the room.
Mrs. Dundas came forward to meet her stepdaughter kindly--not warmly,
not tumultuously--with her quiet, easy, waxen grace that never saw
when things were wrong, and that always assumed the halcyon seas even
in the teeth of a gale. For her greeting she bent forward to kiss the
girl's face, saying, "My dear child, I am glad to see you," but Leam
turned away her head.
"I am not glad to see you, and I will not kiss you," she said.
Her father frowned, his wife smiled. "You are right, my dear: it is a
foolish habit," she said tranquilly, "but we are such slaves to silly
habits," she added, looking at the rector and his wife in her pretty
philosophizing way, while they smiled approvingly at her ready wit and
"Will you say the same to me, Leam?" asked her father with an attempt
at jocularity, advancing toward her.
"Yes," said Leam gravely, drawing back a step.
"Tell me, Mrs, Birkett, what can be done with such an impracticable
creature?" cried Mr. Dundas.
"She will come right: in time, dear husband," said the late marquise
sweetly; and Mrs. Birkett echoed, looking at the girl kindly, "Oh yes,
she will come right in time."
"If you mean by coming right, letting you be my mamma, I never will,"
cried Leam, fronting her stepmother.
"Silence, Leam!" cried Mr. Dundas angrily.
His wife laid her taper fingers tenderly on his. "No, no, dear
husband: let her speak," she pleaded, her voice and manner admirably
effective. "It is far better for her to say what she feels than to
brood over it in silence. I can wait till she comes to me of her own
accord and says, 'Mamma, I love you: forgive me the past'"
"You are an angel," said Mr. Dundas, pressing her hand to his lips,
his eyes moist and tender.
"I always said it," the rector added huskily--"the most noble-natured
woman of my acquaintance."
"I never will come to you and say, 'Mamma, I love you,' and ask you to
forgive me for being true to my own mamma," said Learn. "I am mamma's
daughter, no other person's."
Mrs. Dundas smiled. "You will be; mine, sweet child," she said.
How ugly Leam's persistent hate looked by the side of so much
unwearied goodness! Even Mrs. Birkett, who pitied the poor child,
thought her tenacity too morbid, too dreadful; and the rector honestly
held her as one possessed, and regretted in his own mind that the
Church had no formula for efficient exorcism. Believing, as he did, in
the actuality of Satan, the theory of demoniacal possession came easy
as the explanation of abnormal qualities.
Her father raged against himself in that he had given life to so much
moral deformity. And yet it was not from him that she inherited "that
cursed Spanish blood," he said, turning away with a groan, including
Pepita, Leam, all his past with its ruined love and futile dreams, its
hope and its despair, in that one bitter word.
"Don't say that, papa: mamma and I are true. It is you English that
are bad and false," said Leam at bay.
Mrs. Dundas raised her hand, "Hush, hush, my child!" she said in a
tone of gentle authority. "Say of me and to me what you like, but
respect your father."
"Oh, Leam has never done that," cried Mr. Dundas with intense
"No," said Leam, "I never have. You made mamma unhappy when she was
alive: you are making her unhappy now. I love mamma: how can I love
And then, her words realizing her thoughts in that she seemed to see
her mother visibly before her, sorrowful and weeping while all this
gladness was about in the place which had once been hers, and whence
she was now thrust aside--these flowers of welcome, these smiling
faces, this general content, she alone unhappy, she who had once been
queen and mistress of all--the poor child's heart broke down, and
she rushed from the room, too proud to let them see her cry, but too
penetrated with anguish to restrain the tears.
"I am sure I don't know what on earth we can do with that girl,"
said Mr. Dundas with a dash of his old weak petulance, angry with
circumstance and unable to dominate it--the weak petulance which had
made Pepita despise him so heartily, and had winged so many of her
"Time and patience," said madame with her grand air of noble
cheerfulness. But she had just a moment's paroxysm of dismay as she
looked through the coming years, and thought of life shared between
Leam's untamable hate and her husband's unmanly peevishness. For that
instant it seemed to her that she had bought her personal ease and
security at a high price.
As Leam went up stairs the door of her stepmother's room was standing
open. The maid had unpacked the boxes most in request, and was now at
tea in the servants' hall, telling of her adventures in Paris, where
master and mistress had spent the honeymoon, and in her own way the
heroine of the hour, like her betters in the parlor. The world seemed
all wrong everywhere, life a cheat and love a torture, to Leam, as she
stood within the open door, looking at the room which had been hers
and her mother's, now transformed and appropriated to this stranger,
She did not understand how papa could have done it. The room in which
mamma had lived, the room in which she had died, the window from
which she used to look, the very mirror that used to reflect back her
beautiful and beloved face--ah, if it could only have kept what it
reflected!--and papa to have given all this away to another woman!
Poor mamma! no wonder she was unhappy. What could she, Leam, do to
prevent all this wickedness if the blessed ones were idle and would
not help her?
Her eyes fell on a bottle placed on the console where madame's night
appliances were ranged--her night-light and the box of matches, her
Bible and a hymn-book, a tablespoon, a carafe full of water and a
tumbler, and this bottle marked "Cherry-water--one tablespoonful for
a dose." In madame's handwriting underneath stood, "For my troublesome
heart." Only about two tablespoonsful were left.
Leam took the bottle in one hand, the other thrust itself mechanically
into her hair. No one was about, and the house was profoundly still,
save for the voices coming up from the room below in a subdued and
not unpleasant murmur, with now and then the child's shrill babble
breaking in through the deeper tones like occasional notes in a
sonata. Out of doors were all the pleasant sights and sounds of the
peaceful evening coming on after the labors of the busy day. The birds
were calling to each other in the woods before nesting for the night;
the homing rooks flew round and round their trees, cawing loudly; the
village dogs barked their welcome to their masters as they came off
the fields and the day's work; and the setting sun dyed the autumn
leaves a brighter gold, a deeper crimson, a richer russet. It was
all so peaceful, all so happy, in this soft mild evening of the late
September--all seemed so full of promise, so eloquent of future joy,
to those who had just begun their new career.
But Leam knew nothing of the poetry of the moment--felt nothing of
its pathetic irony in view of the deed she was half-unconsciously
designing. She saw only, at first dimly, then distinctly, that here
were the means by which mamma's enemy might be punished and swept from
mamma's place, and that if she failed her opportunity now she would be
a traitor and a coward, and would fail in her love and duty to mamma.
No, she would not fail. Why should she? It was the way which the
saints themselves had opened, the thing she had to do; and the sooner
it was done the better for mamma.
She uncorked the bottle of cherry-water, good for that troublesome
heart of poor madame's. All that Alick had told her of the action
of poisons came back upon her as clearly as her mother's words,
her mother's voice. This cherry-water, too, had the smell of bitter
almonds, and was own sister to that in the little phial in her other
hand. Now she understood it all--why she had been taken to Steel's
Corner, why Alick had taught her about poisons, and why her mamma
had told her to steal that bottle. She looked at it with its eloquent
paper marked "Poison" wound about it spirally like a snake, uncorked
it and emptied half into the cherry-water.
"Two drops are enough, and there are more than two there," she said to
herself. "Mamma must be safe now." And with this she left the room and
went into her own to watch and wait.
It was early to-night when Mrs. Dundas retired. There were certain
things which she wanted to do on this her first night in her new home;
and among them she wanted to put that green velvet pocket-book, gold
embroidered, in some absolutely safe place, where it would not be seen
by prying eyes or fall into dangerous hands. She did not intend to
destroy its contents. She knew enough of the uncertainty of life to
hold by all sorts of anchorages; and though things looked safe and
sweet enough now, they might drift into the shallows again, and she
wished her little Fina's future to be assured by one or other of those
charged with it--if the stepfather failed, then to fall back on the
father. Wherefore she elected to keep these papers in a safe place
rather than destroy them, and the safest place she could think of
was Pepita's jewel-case, now her own. It had a curious lock, which no
other key than its own would fit--a lock that would have baffled even
a "cracksman" and his whole bunch of skeleton keys.
In putting them away, obliged for the need of space to take off the
paper wrappings, she was foolish enough to look at the photographs
within--just one last look before banishing them for ever from her
sight, as an honest wife should--and the sight of the handsome young
face which she had loved sincerely in its day, and which was the face
of her child's father, shook her nerves more than she liked them to be
shaken. That troublesome heart of hers had begun to play her strange
tricks of late with palpitation and irregularity. She could not afford
that her nerve should fail her. That gone, nothing would remain to her
but a wreck. But her cherry-water was a pleasant and safe calmant, and
she knew exactly how much to take.
Her maid saw nothing more to-night than she had seen on any other
night of her service. Her mistress, if not quite so sweet to her as to
Mrs. Birkett, say, or the rector, was yet fairly amiable as mistresses
go, and to-night was neither better nor worse than ordinary. Her
attendance went on in the usual routine, with nothing to remark, bad
or good; and then madame laid her fair head on the pillow, and took
a tablespoonful of her calmant to check the palpitation that had
come on, and to still her nerves, which that last look backward had
How beautiful she looked! Fair and lovely as she had always been to
the eyes of Sebastian Dundas, never had she looked so grand as now.
Her yellow hair was lying spread out on the pillow like a glory: one
white arm was flung above her head, the other hung down from the bed.
Her pale face, with her mouth half open as if in a smile at the happy
things she dreamt, peaceful and pure as a saint's, seemed to him the
very embodiment of all womanly truth and sweetness. He leaned over her
with a yearning rapture that was almost ecstasy. This noble, loving
woman was his own, his life, his future. No more dark moods of
despair, no more angry passions, disappointment and remorse; all was
to be cloudless sunshine, infinite delight, unending peace and love.
"My darling, oh my love!" he said tenderly, laying his hand on her
glossy golden hair and kissing her. "Virginie, give me one word of
love on your first night at home."
She was silent. Was her sleep so deep that even love could not awake
her? He kissed her again and raised her head on his arm. It fell back
without power, and then he saw that the half-opened mouth had a little
froth clinging about the lips.
A cry rang through the house--cry on cry. The startled servants ran up
trembling at they knew not what, to find their master clasping in his
arms the fair dead body of his newly-married wife.
"Dead--she is dead," they passed in terrified whispers from each to
Leam, standing upright in her room, in her clinging white night-dress,
her dark hair hanging to her knees, her small brown feet bare above
the ankle--not trembling, but tense, listening, her heart on fire, her
whole being as it were pressed together, and concentrated on the one
thought, the one purpose--heard the words passed from lip to lip.
"Dead," they said--"dead!"
Lifting up her rapt face and raising her outstretched arms high above
her head, with no sense of sin, no consciousness of cruelty, only with
the feeling of having done that thing which had been laid on her to
do--of having satisfied and avenged her mother--she cried aloud in
a voice deepened by the pathos of her love, the passion of her deed,
into an exultant hymn of sacrifice, "Mamma, are you happy now? Mamma!
mamma! leave off crying: there is no one in your place now."
[TO BE CONTINUED.]
The following paper contains the substance of a remarkable letter and
accompanying documents recently received from Portugal:
LISBON, September, 1875.
You wish to know what truth there is in the cable reports of "a
drought in the north and south of Portugal, and a threatened famine
in two or three provinces." Shall I tell you all? Well, then, Heaven
nerve me for the task! I shall have an unpleasant story to narrate.
You, who have been in Portugal, need not be reminded that the kingdom
consists of six provinces--Minho, Tras-os-Montes, Beira, Estremadura,
Alemtejo and Algarve. In the early part of this summer a drought
affected the whole kingdom. Toward the end of July abundant rain fell
in Minho, where two products only are raised--wine ("port wine")
and maize. The rain, which, had it fallen in Alemtejo, the principal
wheat-province of the kingdom, would have done incalculable good,
benefited neither the vineyards of Minho nor the maize-crop anywhere.
The consequence is, that this last-named crop, the principal
bread-food of the country, has failed, and famine prevails throughout
the land. Having lived in America, I know what you, so accustomed to
freedom and plenty, will say to this:
"France, Sprain, Morocco, England--all these countries are near to
Portugal. If she is short of bread, let her simply exchange wine for
it, and there need be no fears of a famine."
Ah, my dear American friends, little do you suspect the artlessness
of this reply. Know, then, that those who own the wines of Portugal do
not lack for bread, and those who lack for bread do not own the wines;
that the first of these classes are the aristocrats and foreigners who
live in the cities or abroad, and the second the people at large;
that there exists an abyss between these classes so profound that no
political institutions yet devised have been able to bridge it; that
there is no credit given by one class to the other, and few dealings
occur between them; and that the laws of Portugal discourage the
importation of grain into the kingdom.
You are a straightforward people, and dive at once to the bottom of
a subject. "Why do not the Portuguese devote themselves so largely to
the cultivation of grain that there need never be danger of famine?"
you will now ask. My answer to this is: The people do not own the
"What! Were the reforms of Pombal, the French Revolution, the
Portuguese revolution of 1820 and the various constitutions since that
date, the abolition of serfdom and mortmain, and the law of 1832, all
ineffectual to emancipate the Portuguese peasant from the thralldom of
Alas! they were indeed all in vain, and the Portuguese peasantry
stands to-day at the very lowest step of European civilization--far
beneath all others. The number of agricultural workers in Portugal is
about eight hundred and seventy-five thousand. Of this number,
some seven hundred thousand are hired laborers, farm-servants,
_emphyteutas_ (you shall presently know the meaning of this ominous
word) and metayers; that is to say, persons who may cultivate only
such products as their employers or landlords choose, and the latter
in their greed and short-sightedness always choose that the former
shall cultivate wine. The remainder, or some one hundred and
seventy-five thousand, consist chiefly of small proprietors, owning
three, four, five and ten acre patches of land, often intersected by
other properties, and therefore not adapted for the cultivation of
grain: such of the _emphyteutas_ and metayers as are practically free
to cultivate what they please make up the remainder of this class.
The quantity of land devoted to grain is therefore exactly what the
aristocratic land-owners choose to make it; and, never suspecting that
a well-fed peasant is more efficient as a laborer than a famished one,
they have made it barely enough, in good years, to keep the miserable
population from entirely perishing. The product in such years is about
six bushels of edible grain per head of total population, together
with a little pulse and a taste of fish or bacon on rare occasions. In
unfavorable years, like the present one, the product of edible grain
falls to five bushels per head, and unless the government suspends the
corn laws for the whole country--which since 1855 it has usually done
on such occasions--famine ensues. The nation (excepting, of course,
the court and aristocracy, who live in or near Lisbon and Oporto) is
thus kept always at the brink of starvation, and every mishap in these
artificial and tyrannical arrangements consigns fresh thousands to the
The population of Portugal was the same in 1798 that it is
to-day--viz., about four millions--and there has been no time between
those periods when it was greater. Knowing, as we do, that the law
of social progress is growth--in other words, that the condition of
individual development, both physical and intellectual, is that degree
of freedom which finds its expression in the increase of numbers--what
does this portentous fact of a stationary population bespeak? Simply,
the utmost degradation of body and mind; vice in its most hideous
forms; filth, disease, unnatural crimes; a hell upon earth. These are
always the characteristics of nations which have been prevented from
growing. The melancholy proofs of a condition of affairs in Portugal
which admits of this description shall presently be forthcoming.
Antonio de Leon Pinelo, who was one of the greatest lawyers and
historians that Spain ever produced, very profoundly remarked that no
man could possibly understand the history of slavery in America who
had not first mastered the subject of Spanish _encomiedas_. With equal
truth it may be said that the solution of Portuguese history lies
in the subject of _emphyteusis_. Emphyteusis (Greek: zmphutehuis,
"ingrafting," "implanting," and perhaps, metaphorically,
"ameliorating") is a lease of land where the tenant agrees to improve
it and pay a certain rent. The origin of this tenure is Greek, and it
was probably first adopted in Rome after the conquest of the Achaean
League (B.C. 146), when Greece became a Roman province. It was carried
into Carthage B.C. 145, and into Spain and Portugal about B.C. 133,
when those countries fell beneath the Roman arms. Whenever this
occurred the first act of the conquerors was to assume the ownership
of the land. They then leased it on emphyteusis, either to
the original occupiers, to their own soldiers, or to settlers
("carpet-baggers"). The rent was called _vectigal_, and decurions
(corporals in the army) were usually employed to collect it and
administer the lands.
Syria, Greece, Carthage, and the Iberian Peninsula were the first
countries to succumb to the Roman arms outside of Italy. These
conquests all occurred within the space of fifty-seven years (from 190
to 133 B.C.), and this was doubtless the period when emphyteusis was
first employed upon an extensive scale. Originally, the tenants
were liable to have their rents increased, and to be evicted at the
pleasure of the state, and thus lose the benefit of any improvements
effected by them. The result was, that no improvements were effected.
The forests were cut down, the orchards destroyed, the lands exhausted
by incessant cropping; and by the beginning of the present era the
entire coasts of the Mediterranean were exploited.
This great historical fact is replete with significance--not only to
Portugal, but also to the rest of the world, even to America, which,
by abandoning its public lands to the rapacity of monopolists and the
vandalism of ignorant immigrants, is preparing for itself a future
filled with forebodings of evil.
The ruin of the lands of Carthage, Spain, etc. eventually hastened the
ruin of Italy. It put an end to the legitimate supplies of grain which
those countries had been accustomed to contribute; it forced their
populations to crowd into already overcrowded Italy, and increase the
requirements of food in a country which had been exploited like their
own, and, though not so rapidly, yet by similar means; and it gave
rise to the servile wars, to the most corrupt period in Roman history,
to the Empire, and to the endless series of consequences in its train.
[Footnote 1: Although the various states of Italy were conquered
by Rome before Greece was, it is probable that emphyteusis was not
employed in those states until after the year B.C. 146--between that
and B.C. 120.]
After the Western Empire had apparently fallen beneath the Northern
arms--that is to say, five hundred years later--and not until then,
the Roman Code ameliorated the baneful tenure of emphyteusis. A law of
the emperor Zenos (A.D. 474-491) fixed whatever had theretofore been
uncertain in the nature and incidents of emphyteusis. The tenant was
guaranteed from increase of rent and from eviction--the alienation
of the property by the state being held thenceforth to affect the
quit-rent only--and finally he obtained full power to dispose of the
land, which nevertheless remained subject to the quit-rent in whatever
hands it might be. Before these reforms were effected, Portugal was
conquered by the Visigoths, the Roman proprietors of the soil were
expelled, and their laws and institutions suppressed. This occurred
in the year 476. Whether emphyteusis in any form remained is not quite
certain, but it seems not; and during this government, and the Moorish
one which superseded it in the year 711, the Iberian Peninsula enjoyed
an interval of prosperity to which it had been a stranger for ages.
In the eleventh century this happy condition of affairs was disturbed
by the appearance of certain Spanish crusading knights, who, issuing
from the mountainous parts of the country adjacent to their own, began
to war against the Moorish authorities. In the course of a century,
and with little voluntary aid from the peasants, who distrusted
them and their religious pretensions and promises of advantage, they
managed to acquire possession of the country. Now, what do you suppose
was one of the first acts committed by these adventurers? Nothing less
than the re-enactment of the odious Roman tenure of emphyteusis, and
that in its most ancient and worst form--liability to increased
rent and to eviction; not only this, but with certain base services
combined. The wretched inhabitants were required to work so many days
in the week for these lords, to break up a certain amount of waste
land; to furnish so many cattle; to kill so many birds; to provide (in
rural districts remote from the sea) so many salt fish; to furnish so
much incense or so many porringers, iron tools, pairs of shoes, etc.
Talk of the Western Empire having "declined and fallen," as Messrs.
Gibbon and Wegg put it! Why, here it was again, and with the worst
of its ancient crimes inscribed upon its code of law. Emphyteusis was
reintroduced into Portugal by King Diniz (Dennis) in the year 1279,
and was followed by its usual effects--ruin and depopulation. In
1394 was born Prince Henry. He was the son of John I. and Philippa,
daughter of John of Gaunt, duke of Lancaster, and was therefore the
nephew of Henry IV. of England. Perceiving and commiserating the
wretchedness of the people, and casting about him for a remedy,
Henry saw but one: that was departure from the land, emigration,
colonization, escape from the tyranny of the soil, of nobles and of
ecclesiastics--a tyranny which both his illustrious rank and his piety
forbade him to oppose. Hence his intense devotion to the discovery and
colonization of strange lands, which is in vain to be accounted for
on the ground of a mere passion, the only one usually advanced by
The results of this mania, as it was then considered, of Prince Henry
are well known--the discovery of Madeira, the Azores, Senegambia,
Angola, Benguela, etc., and, after Prince Henry's death, the Cape of
Good Hope, Goa, Macao, the islands, etc.; all of which were colonized
by Portuguese. These colonies, and the commerce which sprang up with
them, afforded outlets for the downtrodden serfs of Portugal. Such was
the beneficial result of this partial measure of freedom that in
the course of the following two centuries Portugal became one of the
leading nations of the world, with a population of 5,000,000 and a
flag respected in every clime.
Unhappily, this interval of prosperity to Portugal was the cause of
infinite misery to the negro race. The discoveries in Africa and Asia
afforded a career to the enslaved Portuguese; yet, by leading, as they
did, to the discovery of America, they were eventually the cause of
the slave-trade, which without America could not have flourished. Such
will ever be the result of the attempt to palliate instead of cure
evil. Moreover, the discovery of America and the resulting slave-trade
were the cause of Portugal's retrogression to the point whence she had
started in Prince Henry's time. When gold and slaves rendered maritime
discovery profitable to the aristocratic class, all the nobles went
into it--not only the aristocrats of Portugal, but those also of
Spain, England, France, Holland, Italy. They all went into the trade
of acquiring empires, and it is not to be wondered at if in this
rivalry of greed and violence Portugal, exploited and burdened with
serfdom and other features of bad government at home, was distanced
and overcome. Her colonies were captured and reduced by foreign
enemies, or invaded and ruined by one of the several political
diseases from which she had never wholly rid herself. For example, the
once magnificent city of Goa, which formerly contained a population of
150,000 Christians and 50,000 Mohammedans, is now an almost deserted
ruin, with but 40,000 inhabitants, _chiefly ecclesiastical_.
When Pombal assumed the reins of government in 1750 the population of
Portugal had been reduced to less than 2,000,000: there was neither
agriculture, manufactures, army nor navy. Perceiving this state of
affairs, and recognizing the cause of it, Pombal caused the vines to
be torn up by the roots and corn planted in their place. Ruffianism
was crushed, the Jesuits were banished, the nobility were taught
to respect the civil law, the peasantry were encouraged. After
twenty-seven years of reforms and prosperity Pombal was dismissed
from office and the old abuses were reinstated, among them those worst
incidents of emphyteusis which had been devised by the base ring of
nobles and ecclesiastics who held the land in their grasp.
These abuses remained without material change until 1832, and thus you
have a complete history of emphyteusis from the first to the last day
of its institution in Portugal. In truth, however, its last day has
not come even yet, for many of its incidents still linger in the code
Now for its effects on the land. What growth of forest trees had
followed the abolition of emphyteusis under the Gothic and Saracenic
monarchs was destroyed under the government of Christian nobles, and
to-day there is scarcely a tree in Portugal--the woods, including
fruit and nut trees, covering less than 400,000 out of 22,000,000
acres, the entire area of the country. The destruction of the woods,
to say nothing of its effects upon the rainfall, caused the top soil
to be washed away, and thus impoverished the arable land, filling the
rivers with earth, rendering them innavigable, and converting them
from gently-flowing streams to devastating torrents, which annually
bestrew the valleys and plains with sand and stones. In the next
place, emphyteusis has caused every kind of improvement to be avoided.
The soil has been exhausted by over-cropping; public works, like
roads, wells, irrigating canals, etc., have been neglected; and the
numerous works left by the industrious Saracens have been allowed to
go to ruin. Finally, the tenant, being placed entirely in the power of
the lord, was continually kept at the point of starvation. To escape
this dreadful fate he has committed every conceivable offence against
the laws of Nature and humanity. Tyranny and starvation have made
of him a liar, thief, smuggler, assassin, beast. The very ground is
tainted with his tread, the air is redolent of his crimes.
[Footnote 2: The Mondega annually overflows its banks, changes its
course and buries thousands of once fertile acres under sand and
stones; the Vonga has converted the once productive land between
Aveiro and Ovar into a vast morass; the Douro is periodically
converted into a frightful and resistless torrent which sweeps
everything before it.]
I am aware of the eminently legal, and therefore judicial, mind of
Americans; therefore I shall give nothing of importance on my own
testimony alone. It shall be seen what the Portuguese peasant is from
the descriptions that travelers have written, and from the fragments
of statistical evidence which the deeply-culpable ruling classes have
permitted to be published.
But first let me describe the degree of destitution to which the
peasant has been reduced, for without this destitution this criminal
character would not have been his.
Baron Forrester says: "The poverty of the inhabitants of the
interior of Portugal is equal to that of the Irish." (This was written
in 1851, immediately after the Irish famine.) "The wretchedness of
their condition checks marriage and promotes clandestine intercourse."
William Doria writes: "The inhabitants (all ages) do not obtain
half (scarcely one-third) as much as the minimum of animal food
required to sustain active vitality, which is one hundred grammes,
about one-fifth of a pound, per day." Marques says: "The daily
ration of an able-bodied man should consist of at least twelve hundred
grammes, of which one-fourth (about three-fifths of a pound) should be
animal food. The Portuguese soldier (much better fed than the peasant)
receives but seventeen grammes (little over half an ounce) of animal
food." Notwithstanding the superior food of the soldier, such is the
hatred of the peasant for the aristocratic classes, in whose service
the army is employed, that he will mutilate himself to escape the
conscription. Says Malte-Brun: "During four months of the year
the inhabitants of the Algarve have little to eat but raw figs. This
causes a disease called _mal de veriga_, which sweeps away numbers of
the people." Says Doria: "All the women work in the fields;" and Dr.
Farr tells us that "when women are employed in any but domestic
labors they discharge the duties of mother imperfectly, and the
mortality of children is high." Says Forrester: "Leavened bread
is beginning to be known in the principal cities, but not in the
provinces. Gourds, cabbages and turnip-sprouts, with bread made from
chestnuts (which are always wormy), form the peasant's diet." "In
Algarve carob-beans are commonly roasted, ground into flour and made
into bread." Says Da Silva: "The growth of the peasantry is stunted
by insufficient nourishment, which consists largely of chestnuts,
beans and chick-peas."
[Footnote 3: _Prize Essay on Portugal_, London, 1854.]
[Footnote 4: _Parliamentary Papers_, London, 1870.]
[Footnote 5: _Estudos Estatisticos, hygienicos e administrativas sobre
as doencas e a mortalidade do exercito Portuguez_, etc., by Dr. Jose
Antonio Marques, Lisbon, 1862.]
[Footnote 6: Doria, p. 184.]
[Footnote 7: The Registrar-General of England.]
[Footnote 8: L.A. Rebello da Silva (minister of marine), _Economia.
Rural_, Lisbon, 1868.]
The utmost area of land which the average Portuguese peasant can
cultivate is two and a half acres: in the United States the average of
cultivated land per laborer is over thirty-two acres; on prairie-land
sixty acres is not uncommon. Forrester writes: "In the Alto Douro, the
richest portion of the kingdom, the villages are formed of wretched
hovels with unglazed windows and without chimneys. Instead of bread or
the ordinary necessaries of life, one finds only filth, wretchedness
and death. Emigration is the one thought of the people."
Now for the moral, intellectual and physical results of the
destitution thus evinced. The work entitled _Voyage du Duc du Chatelet
en Portugal_, although usually quoted under this title, was really
written by M. Comartin, a royalist of La Vendee, and written during
the French Revolution. If it had any bias at all, that bias was all in
favor of Portugal, yet this is his description of her people: "Il est,
je pense, peu de peuple plus laid que celui de Portugal. Il est petit,
basane, mal conforme. L'interieur repond, en general, assez a cette
repoussante envelope, surtout a Lisbonne, ou les hommes paroissent
reunir tous les vices de l'ame et du corps. II y a, au reste, entre
la capitale et le nord de ce royaume, une difference marquee sous ces
deux rapports. Dans les provinces septentrionales, les hommes sont
moins noirs et moin laids, plus francs, plus lians dans la societe,
bien plus braves et plus laborieux, mais encore plus asservis, s'il
est possible, aux prejuges. Cette difference existe egalement pour
les femmes; elles sont beaucoup plus blanches que celles du sud.
Les Portugais, consideres en general, sont vindicatifs bas, vains,
railleurs, presomptueux a l'exces, jaloux. et ignorans. Apres avoir
retrace les defauts que j'ai cru appercevoir en eux, je serois injuste
si je me taisois sur leurs bonnes qualites. Ils sont attaches a leur
patrie, amis genereux, fideles, sobres, charitables. Ils seroient bons
Chretiens si le fanatisme ne les aveugloit pas. Ils sont si accoutumes
aux pratiques de la religion qu'ils sont plus superstitieux que
devots. Les hidalgos, ou les grands de Portugal, sont tres bornes dans
leur education, orgueilleux et insolens; vivant dans la plus grande
ignorance, ils ne sortent presque jamais de leur pays pour aller voir
les autres peuples." Time and changed circumstances have somewhat
softened these traits, but their general correctness is still
"Add hypocrisy to a Spaniard's vices and you have the Portuguese
character," says Dr. Southey. "They are deceitful and cowardly--have
no public spirit nor national character," says Semple. "The morals of
both sexes are lax in the extreme; assassination is a common
offence; they rank about as low in the social scale as any people
of Christendom," says McCulloch. "Their songs are licentious: the
national dance or the _toffa_ is so lascivious that every stranger who
sees it must deplore the corruption of the people, and regret to find
such exhibitions permitted, not only in the country, but in the heart
of towns, and even on the stage," says Malte-Brun. "Portugal is a
paradise inhabited by demons and brutes," says Madame Junot--a phrase
taken probably from Byron's description of Cintra.
My countrymen will be enraged with me for thus repeating the worst
that has been said about them, but I repeat it for their own benefit,
like the surgeon, who, to save the patient's life, cruelly probes
the wound or lays bare the corruption from which he is suffering.
Moreover, I shall have still darker spots to exhibit in a national
character which has been stamped with centuries of feudal and
In a country possessing a fair share of the natural resources commonly
in demand a free and prosperous population will double in numbers
every fifteen years, an increase of about 4-1/2 per cent. per annum
compounded. The United States, a country rich in natural resources,
and one whose government offers but few obstacles to freedom and
individual prosperity, has doubled its population every twenty-two and
a half years since 1790. This is equal to over 3 per cent. per
annum. In that country the annual number of births in every 10,000
of population is 500, of immigrants, 75; total increase, 575. The
deaths are 250, leaving 325 in 10,000, or 3-1/2 per cent. gain as the
net result of the year's growth and decay of population.
There is no reason for believing that the proportion of births in
Portugal is less than it is in Germany, or even the United States: on
the contrary, "in climates where the waste of human life is excessive
from the combined causes of disease and poverty affecting the mass of
the inhabitants, the number of births is proportionately greater
than is experienced in countries more favorably circumstanced....
Population does not so much increase because more are born, as because
fewer die." Hence, the presumption is that the rate of births in
Portugal is equal to that in Carthagena de Colombia, where it is 8 to
10 per cent., or at least that of some parts of Mexico, where it is
6.21 per cent. Yet the population of Portugal has not increased during
a hundred years. What, then, has become of the 250,000 human beings
annually called into existence in Portugal? One-half of them took
their chances with the rest of the population, were registered at
birth, died according to rule, were duly entered upon statistical
tables and buried in consecrated ground: the other half were strangled
by their mothers, flung into ditches, exposed to die, starved to
death, assassinated in some manner. The crimes of foeticide
and infanticide have become so common that there is scarcely a
peasant-woman in Portugal not guilty of them, either as principal or
[Footnote 9: It is understood, of course, that the census figures of
births are admittedly and grossly inaccurate.]
[Footnote 10: Porter's _Progress_, p. 21.]
Illegitimacy is more common in Portugal than in any country of Europe.
This fact can be proved from a comparison of marriages, births and
baptisms; but since the statistics on these subjects are defective,
the better testimony is to be derived from the number of deposits at
the foundling hospitals. The foundling of the house of Misericordia in
Lisbon, that of the Real Casapin in Belem and the foundling at Oporto
together receive nearly five thousand foundlings during the year, of
whom two-thirds perish in the establishments, which thus become
"charnels and houses of woe." Almost every town or village in the
kingdom has its _roda dos expostos_--literally, a "wheel for exposed
ones"--where, upon the ringing of a bell, the children deposited in
a turning-basket or wheel are passed into the interior of the
establishment without inquiry. Although their term of stay is limited
to a few weeks, less than one-half of them ever pass out of the
establishment alive! Says Dr. T. de Carvalho: "The _roda_ is the
_acouque_ ('slaughter-house') for children. It is the permanent and
legal means of infanticide. _Abaixo a roda dos expostos!_"
Notwithstanding this frightful mortality, the number of infants always
on hand in the foundlings of Portugal is nearly 40,000, or 1 per cent
of the entire population. One-eighth of all the reported births in the
kingdom become foundlings: as for the non-reported ones, their fate
is known only to the recording angel. Says Claudio Adriano da Costa:
"Promiscuous intercourse has become common all over the country;"
and he attributes it, though I think superficially, to the "misplaced
indulgence to concubinage awarded by the rodas."
[Footnote 11: During the thirteen years from 1840-52 the number of
children deposited in the Oporto foundling was 15,608, of whom no less
than 11,310, or 72.4 per cent.--_nearly three-fourths_--died while in
the hospital. Most of the remainder died during infancy after leaving
[Footnote 12: In some districts of Portugal the proportion of married
to single persons is as 1 to 173!]
The true cause of Portuguese immorality and crime is the unequal
distribution of wealth, which leaves the mass of the inhabitants a
prey to the vicissitudes of the seasons, the tyranny of the powerful
and wealthy and the despair of insecurity. The origin of this evil
state of affairs was the tenure of emphyteusis: its active and
unfeeling promoters have been always the nobility and ecclesiastics,
and its only powerful enemy, the only hope of the people, the Crown.
After what has been mentioned it is unnecessary to speak of minor
crimes--- of street assassinations, highway robberies and the
like. Your own McCulloch will inform you that according to official
information reported to the Cortes there occurred in one year, and
merely in the two districts of Oporto and Guarda, no less than three
hundred and forty-two assassinations and four hundred and sixty
robberies. It is true that life is not quite so insecure now as when
McCulloch wrote. Some few rays of light have penetrated the profound
abyss of misery and evil in which the country was then plunged;
nevertheless, the improvement has been but slow and partial, and
nothing short of revolution can accelerate it. There is but one man
in the world who possesses the means to render that revolution
successful, and that man--His Majesty Dom Pedro II., the emperor of
Brazil--is now, or soon will be, on his way to the United States.
May he not peruse in vain this sad account of famine and crime in
There are persons with nervous organisms so abused that a sudden cry,
whether it be of boisterousness or despair, will cause them great
agony: so there are others with moral susceptibilities so overstrained
that the story of a nation's misery and crime, such as I have
endeavored to sketch, will evoke within them more pain than interest.
Regard for such exceptional persons has created a namby-pambyism in
literature which would banish these topics--the greatest and holiest
in which human sympathy can be enlisted--to the domains of science.
But science cannot aid unhappy Portugal. Sympathy and prayer alone can
mitigate our sufferings. Therefore sympathize with and pray for us,
you who stand in the broad glare of freedom, filled with plenty and
surrounded by promise, Pray for unhappy Portugal!
AT THE OLD PLANTATION.
The life of the low-country South Carolina planter, until broken up by
the war, had changed but little since colonial times. It was the life
which Washington lived at Mount Vernon, with some slight differences
of local custom. The two-storied house, with its ten or twenty rooms
and broad piazza, had probably been built in ante-Revolutionary days
by the British country gentleman or Huguenot exile from whom the
present owner drew his descent. I well remember how the old house
at Hanover bore near the top of the chimney stack the legend "_Peu a
peu_" written with a stick in the soft mortar with which the bricks
had been covered. The old Huguenot builder had burned his bricks by
guess, and three times the work had to stop until the kiln could
be replenished and a new lot prepared. The top was finally reached,
however, and the triumphant _Peu a peu_ was only his French way
of proclaiming to posterity _Perseverantia vincit omnia_. In many
instances, however, fire has destroyed the original structure--a
danger to which the country residence is specially exposed--but the
new one has usually been modeled after that which it succeeded. Indian
names, flowing softly from the tongue, have usually come down with
the tracts to which they originally belonged, as _Pooshee, Wantoot,
Wampee, Wapahoula_, though Chelsea, White Hall, Sarrazin's or
Sans Souci often betrays the English or French origin of the first
To understand the home and life of the wealthy Carolina planter we
must remember that he was the most contented man in the world. The
greed of gain was unknown to him, and his deep-rooted conservatism
forbade everything like speculation. Solid, substantial comfort and
large-hearted hospitality were the objects in all his expenditures. He
never invested his surplus money except in another plantation to
put his surplus negroes on, for he never sold a negro except for
incorrigible bad qualities or to pay some pressing debt. He had no
expensive tastes except for rare old madeira and racing-stock, from
the last of which his splendid saddle-horses were always selected;
and these were usually of the best and purest blood. He was as much at
home in the saddle as an English fox-hunter or a Don Cossack, and the
only wheeled vehicles in his spacious carriage-house were the heavy
family coach, and the light sulky in which his summer trips were made
between the pineland and the plantation.
Come back with me now to the days when the North-eastern Railroad was
a possibility of the future, and join me in a Christmas visit to old
Pooshee. We take the little steamer for the head of Cooper River, the
December sun being warm enough to tempt us from the close cabin to
the airy deck. The graceful spire of old St. Michael's cuts sharply
against the sky, reminding you, if you have visited the suburbs of
London, of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, that fine specimen of Sir
Christopher Wren's style, after which it was modeled. The old
customhouse looks just as it did when Governor Rutledge had the tea
locked up in its store-rooms, and the gray moss droops in weeping
festoons from the live-oaks of beautiful Magnolia. I wonder how the
miles of green marsh through which we pass can seem to you such a
dreary waste. To my eye it is all alive with interest. I never tire
of watching how the lonely white heron spears his scaly prey, how the
clapper-rail floats on his raft of matted rushes, how the marsh-wren
jerks his saucy little tail over his bottle-shaped nest, or how
with quick and certain stroke the oyster-catcher extracts the juicy
"native" from his bivalved citadel. We are now getting above the
salt-water line, and on either hand the rice-fields, now covered
with water, stretch away from the banks, their surface covered with
countless thousands of ducks. As the winding river brings the channel
somewhat nearer to the shore, the splash of the paddles startles the
feeding multitude, and they rise with a rush and roar of wings which
might be heard for miles. Could we stop for a day or two at Rice Hope,
we might have rare sport among the mallards and bald-pates as they
fly out between sunset and dark, or in the early morning from behind
a well-constructed blind. But we must decline the cordial invitation
which urges us to do so as the boat casts off from the landing, and in
a couple of hours more we step ashore at Fairlawn, where we find the
carriage waiting to take us over the twelve remaining miles of our
journey. The road, like the marsh, may seem lonely and tedious to
you, but I know every turn and bend of it, and the trees are all old
friends. I'm sure I know that green heron which "skowks" to me as he
springs from the rail of the bridge, and there is something familiar
in the bark of the black squirrel which has just rushed up that pine.
Hark! that was the yelp of a turkey. Stop the horses for a moment and
we may see them. One, two, four, seven! What a splendid old gobbler
last crossed the road, and no guns loaded! And there is the track
of as noble a buck as I ever saw: that's where he jumped into the
pea-field, and ten to one he's lying now in that patch of sedge.
"Well!" I think I hear you say, "you have seen more to interest you in
a hundred yards than I should have found in two miles."
Exactly; and that is why I enjoy the country so much. Learn to love
Nature in her every mood and to study her every feature, and you will
never know the feeling of loneliness if you keep outside the walls of
a jail. But we are at the outer gate, and our journey is nearly over.
At the end of a long enclosed road, shaded by trees--which, however,
do not form an avenue, such as you may see near the coast, where the
live-oaks flourish more vigorously--stands the spacious mansion, with
its white walls, green Venetian shutters and red tin roof. There is no
enclosure about it save that which is formed by the rail fences of the
distant fields. The "yard" contains about forty acres of grassy
lawn shaded by spreading forest trees--white-oaks, water-oaks and
hickories--from which hang the graceful folds of the Spanish moss. The
out-buildings are scattered about without the slightest reference to
distance, except in the case of the kitchen, which is at the back and
some twenty yards from the dwelling. The stable and carriage-house
stand on either side, _in front_, but at a distance sufficient to
prevent unsightliness or discomfort. In the background are the large
"cotton-houses," with their bleaching-platforms, the "gin-house," the
corn-house, the fodder-house and the poultry-house, which is nearly
as large as any of them; while nearer the mansion are grouped the
"loom-house," the dairy and the oven-shed, under which is built the
huge brick oven capable of baking to a sugary confection several
bushels of yam "slips" at a time. On the left is the "negro-yard"
(never called "the quarter" in this region), with its fifty or sixty
substantial cabins, each gleaming with whitewash and having its own
little vegetable patch and chicken-house.
It is Saturday evening, and the sun is just entering the heavy
cloud-bank which rests on the western horizon as we drive up to the
door. Our genial and venerable host, "the old doctor," is at the
stables superintending the feeding of his horses, and thither we bend
our steps with a sense of exhilaration which only the crisp, fresh
country air can impart, and a new vigor thrilling through every muscle
as the foot presses the green and springy sod. Our old friend is a
worthy representative of the old _regime_, the only change which the
lapse of thirty years has made in his costume being the substitution
of black for blue broadcloth in the velvet-collared, brass-buttoned,
narrow-skirted coat with its side-pocket flaps. The collar sits as
high in the neck; the red silk handkerchief peeps out behind; the
trousers are cut with the "full fall," over which hangs the watch
fob-chain with its heavy seals; the low-crowned beaver hat has the
same wide brim; and the silver snuff-box is still redolent of Scotch
"The hounds have got fat waiting for you, and the birds are almost
tame enough to put salt on their tails," says the old gentleman after
the hearty welcome is over. "Old Nannie says the foxes are eating up
all her turkeys, and Loudon tells me that he sees deer-tracks coming
out of the new ground every morning."
"How _are_ ye, gentlemen?" says stout John Myers, the "obeshay," which
is negro for "overseer."--"I say, there! you Cuffee, that basket ain't
half full o' corn.--I s'pose you're goin' to clean out all the game by
Chris'mas?--You Caesar, why don't you fill up old Chester's stall with
trash? You niggers are gittin' too lazy to live;" and he walks off to
see that the negroes, who are watching us with open mouths and eyes,
do not allow their astonishment to interfere with the comfort of the
horses. Five sturdy negro men are doing the work of two boys, forking
in the "pine-trash" from the huge pile outside, and bringing ear-corn
in oak bushel-baskets on their shoulders from the corn-house three
hundred yards away.
We cross over to this building when the stable-door has been locked
and watch the eager crowd which is waiting for the weekly "'lowance."
Sturdy, strapping women, with muscular arms and stout calves freely
displayed under the skirts which are tucked around their waists,
are standing in picturesque attitudes or sitting on their upturned
baskets, while ragged, wild-looking little "picknies" are clinging
to the said skirts and peeping with great staring eyes at the strange
"buckrah man." Each will take the week's supply of ear-corn and
potatoes for her household--a peck for each member of the family,
large and small--and will grind her own grist at the mill-house, or
more probably trade away the entire supply at the cross-roads store
for flour, sugar and coffee.
"Why, Rose, is that you? How are you, and how are the children?"
"De Lawd! Wha' dat? who dat da' talk me? Bless de Lawd! da' nyoung
maussa! Ki! enty you tek wife yet? Go 'way! Look! he done got bayd
(beard) same like ole nanny-goat! Bless de Lawd!"
"I'm glad to see you looking so young, Kitty: your children must be
"Tenk de Lawd, maussa," with a low curtsey, "I day yah yet! Dem
pickny, da big man an' 'oman now. Enty you got one piece t'bacca fo'
po' ole nigger?"
The tobacco is forthcoming, together with a few gaudy
head-handkerchiefs and little parcels of sugar, and "nyoung maussa"
has it all his own way with the simple creatures. These negroes are as
near the original wild African type as if a few years instead of more
than a century of contact with civilization had passed over them.
They are all the direct descendants of original importations, chiefly
Ghoolahs and Ashantees; indeed, "Gullah niggah" is a favorite term
of playful reproach among them. Their _male_ names are still largely
Ashantee, as "Cudjo," "Cuffee," "Quarcoo," "Quashee," etc., and
their dialect, a mixture of "pigeon English" and Ghoolah, strongly
impregnated with the French of the Huguenot masters of their
forefathers, is simply incomprehensible to a stranger, whether white
or black. Indeed, when excited and talking rapidly even those who
have grown up among them can scarcely understand the lingo. "Coom,
Hondree," says an old nurse to her little charge at bedtime, "le' we
tek fire go atop:" in English, "Come, Henry, let's take a light and go
up stairs." "Child" is "pickny;" "white man" (or woman), "buckrah;"
"I don't know," "Me no sabbee;" "Is it not?" "Enty?"; "watermelon" is
"attermillion" or "mutwilliam;" and so on.
Paying a medical visit, I enter a house where the patient is a sick
child: the old crone who is sitting in the doorway with a boy's head
between her knees, performing the office of which monkeys are so fond,
calls out, "Lindy! de buckrah coom."
"What's the matter with the child?" I inquire.
"Ki, maussa! me no sabbee wha' do a pickny," replies the intelligent
Lindy, who wishes me to know that she knows nothing about the case.
We shall see more of them before leaving the plantation.
A day on the water and a long drive are excellent preparatives for
a supper of broad rice-waffles toasted crisp and brown before the
crackling hickory fire, of smoking spare-ribs and luscious tripe,
of rich, fragrant Java coffee with boiled milk and cream; nor does a
sound night's sleep unfit one for enjoying at breakfast a repetition
of the same, substituting link sausages and black pudding for the
tripe and spare-ribs, and superadding feathery muffins and soft-boiled
It is Sunday morning, but the service to-day is at the other end of
the parish, some twenty miles away. The sky seems brighter and the
grass more green than on the work-days of the week: the birds sing
more cheerily, and seem to know that for one day they are safe from
man's persecution. Certain it is that the wary crow will on that day
eye you saucily as you pass within ten yards of him, while on any
other you cannot approach him within a hundred. At ten o'clock the
household is assembled in the drawing-room, the piano--with, it may
be, a flute accompaniment--is made to do the organ's duty, and the
full service of the Prayer-Book is read and sung and listened to with
reverent attention. There are yet two hours to dinner, and as the
wild, wailing chant from the negro-yard comes to our ears we determine
to visit their chapel. If there was one point in which, more than
in others, the Carolina planter was faithful to his duty, it was in
securing the privileges of religion to his slaves. Every plantation
had its chapel, sometimes rivaling in its appointments the churches
for the whites. One of the largest congregations of the Protestant
Episcopal Church in South Carolina, having lost its silver during the
sack of Columbia, is still using the sterling communion service of a
chapel for negroes which was burned upon a neighboring plantation. The
missionary is to-day upon another portion of his circuit, and we have
a specimen of genuine African Christianity. On one side the rough
benches are filled with men clad, for once in the week, in _clean_
cotton shirts, with coat and pants of heavy "white plains," some young
dandies here and there being "fixed up" with old black silk waistcoats
and flashy neckties, holding conspicuously old mashed beaver hats,
which have been carefully wetted to make them shine. On the other are
ranged the women, the front benches holding the sedate old "maumas,"
with gaudy yellow and red kerchiefs tied about their heads in stiff
high turbans, and others folded _a la_ Lady Washington over their
bosoms; behind them sit the young women in white woolen "frocks,"
without handkerchiefs on head or breast; while the children who
are not minding babies at home or hunting rabbits in the woods are
gathered about the door.
Old Bob, the preacher, rises and fixes his eyes severely on the small
fry near the door: "We's gwine to wushup de Lawd, an' I desiah dem
chilluns to know dat no noise nor laffin', nor no so't o' onbehavin',
kin be 'lowed; so min' wot you's 'bout dere. You yerry me? (hear me)."
Then, adjusting the great silver-rimmed spectacles and opening a
ragged prayer-book (upside down), he proceeds to read over the hymn,
the whole congregation listening with rapt attention. As he utters the
last word all rise together, the old women with closed eyes, heads on
one side and hands crossed over their breasts, and he begins to "line
out," dividing the words rhythmically into spondaic measure, with the
accent strongly on every second syllable and the falling inflection
invariably on the last uttered:
When I'--kin read'--my ti'--tul clear'--
To man'--shuns in'--de skies'.
Immediately the old mauma at the end of the front bench "sets de
tchune," a sad, quavering minor, and pitched so high that any attempt
to follow it seems utterly hopeless. But no: the women all strike in
on the same soaring key, while the men, by a skillful management of
the _falsetto_, keep up with the screamiest flights. As they wail out
the last word, "skies," the women all curtsey with a sharp jerk of the
body and the men droop their heads upon their breasts--a token that
the strophe is ended; and the next two lines follow in the same
manner. Then follows the prayer, in which due remembrance is made of
"ole maussa" and "nyoung missis an' maussa," and all their friends
and visitors. We are considerate enough to withdraw before the
sermon, lest our presence should embarrass the preacher, but a little
eavesdropping gives us an opportunity of hearing how practically
he deals with "lyin' an' tiefin', an' onbehavin' 'mongst de nyoung
'omans," and how he holds up "de obeshay," as Saint Paul did the
magistrate, in terror to those who "play 'possum w'en de grass too
t'ick," or "stick t'orn in he finger so he can't pick 'nuff cotton
w'en de sun too hot." With our withdrawal is removed a restraint which
has chilled the active devotion of the assembly, and soon the singing
begins again, accompanied now, however, by the heavy tramp of feet
and the clapping of hands keeping time to the sad, wailing minor which
characterizes all their music. The hymn, too, is no longer selected
from the prayer-book, but from some unwritten collection better
adapted to their ideas of "heart-religion":
De angel cry out A-men,
De angel cry out A-men!
I'se bound to de promis' lan'!
I da gwine up to hebbin in a long w'ite robe,
Long w'ite robe! long w'ite robe!
My Sabiour tell me wear dat robe
W'en I meet him in de promis' lan'!
We've a great deal before us during the coming week, for we must give
a day to the partridges (never called "quail" in the South), and we
have a fox-hunt or two in the mornings, and that old buck to look
after whose tracks I showed you in the road; besides the ducks
and turkeys which are waiting to be shot, and all the Christmas
frolicking, from which the ladies will not excuse us. We will
therefore take this quiet Sunday afternoon for a walk among the fields
and woods to see what manner of country we are in. Bending our steps
first toward the huge old oak which seems to hang upon the very edge
of the green hill near the house, we suddenly find ourselves just over
a large basin enclosed with an octagonal brick wall, except where the
clear water runs out over silvery gravel between curbings of heavy
plank. This is the spring, and a queer sort of spring it is. Just
under the tree-roots the water is but a few inches deep over a bed
of bluish-gray limestone, and in no part of the basin, which is about
twelve by twenty feet, does it seem to be more than a half fathom in
depth. But just under the ledge of rock a shelving hole slopes back
under the hill, the bottom of which no man has ever found. This hole
is only about three feet by two, and the narrow outlet to the basin is
but four inches deep, and loses itself within fifty yards in an oozy
bog. Yet, peering into the depth, you catch a glimpse of the black
head and beady white eyes of a mudfish at least two feet long, and
presently of the silvery side of a three-pound bass which glides
across the opening. Drop a line with the cork set at ten feet, and you
will draw out of the very bosom of the earth a mess of fat perch and
bream each as large and as thick as your hand, and eels three feet in
length are sometimes caught in the basin at night. Two miles away,
in the direction of the "run," there are on Woodboo plantation two
similar basins connected by a shallow streamlet, and with no outlet
which a minnow could navigate: one of them is large enough for a
little skiff to float on, and the gray rock slopes down to a centre
depth of ten feet. Just where the sides meet is a long, irregular
fissure, out of which huge bass, pike, jack and mudfish are constantly
emerging, and into which they retreat when disturbed. Hundreds of
perch, bream and young bass sport in the shallow parts, and are easily
caught with rod and line, the water being so clear that you can watch
the fish gorging the bait, and strike when the entire hook disappears.
Now, where do these fish live? where do they breed? and upon what do
they feed? But the mystery does not end there. About a mile in the
opposite direction as we walk through a little belt of wet pineland,
where the woodcock runs across our path or whistles up from the wet
leaves, we come suddenly upon a dozen or more little basins, the
largest not over six feet by nine, which have no outlet whatever. One
hole about two feet in diameter goes sheer down between two pine trees
to a depth never yet fathomed: you cannot see it until right on it,
and you cannot use a rod, but drop your line about twelve feet deep,
and your cork will go down like lead, while you pull up red perch and
blue bream until your arm wearies of the sport. I have caught five
dozen in a winter's afternoon, for the fish bite best in the coldest
weather, the temperature of the water being sixty-two degrees the year
round, irrespective of the weather. You must go fifteen miles before
reaching another of these springs or fountains, and then ten more
to the last of the chain, the famous Eutaw Springs of Revolutionary
memory. Here, then, must be a subterranean river or reservoir at least
twenty-eight miles long, teeming with the same fish which swim in the
surface-streams, yet having no discoverable connection with any of
these. We meet with no rocks or stones anywhere, but our walk leads
us past many marl-pits from which numerous fossil remains have been
obtained. The fertile and superstitious imagination of the negroes has
not been idle in such a suggestive field, and they have peopled these
fountains with spirits which they call "cymbies," akin to the undine
and the kelpie. On Saturday nights you may hear a strange rhythmic,
thumping sound from the spring, and looking out you may see by the
wild, fitful glare of lightwood torches dark figures moving to and
fro. These are the negro women at their laundry-work, knee-deep in the
stream, beating the clothes with heavy clubs. They are merry enough
when together, but not one of them will go alone for a "piggin" of
water, and if you slip up in the shadow of the old oak and throw a
stone into the spring, the entire party will rush away at the splash,
screaming with fear, convinced that the "cymbie" is after them.
Leaving the spring behind us, we pass up the long lane between two
cotton-fields of a hundred acres each, in which the blackened stalks
are still standing, as are the dried cornstalks and gray pea-vines in
the field beyond. These will remain until the early spring, when they
will be cut down and "listed in" with the hoe, for not a foot of this
rich and profitable plantation has ever been broken with the plough.
Incredible as it may appear, there is not a plough or a work-horse,
and but one old mule, upon this highly-cultivated tract of one
thousand acres. All the hauling is done by ox-teams, with three sturdy
negroes to each cart, and the heavy cotton-hoe does everything else.
Where one man and a plough could till three acres, twenty men and
women with hoes 'ridge up the ground, scatter manure in the furrows,
and draw the ridges down on it again. True, the surface only is
scratched, and the soil is soon exhausted, but who cares for that when
there is abundance of rich timber-land from which to clear new fields?
and as to economizing labor, that is the last thing a planter cares
about, for what are the negroes to do? None are ever sold, the
"picknies" who swarm around every cabin growing up to stock the
plantations bought for each child as he or she "comes of age or is
married," and work has to be made for them to do.
"What shall I put the hands at to-day, sir?" asked an overseer of an
old planter when the last bale of cotton had been packed.
"Hum! let's see! Well, set them to filling up the old ditches and
digging new ones."
For the same reason power-gins and saw-mills found little favor, the
single-treadle "foot-gin" and the saw-pit and cross-cut employing ten
times as many hands. It was the aim of every large planter to produce
and manufacture by hand-power everything needed on the place. Of
course, it required a heavy expenditure of labor and land to raise
provisions for such an army of unprofitable workers, on which account
slave capital was the poorest paying property in the world. The
planter was wealthy, but he owned only land and negroes: when the
latter were emancipated the former became useless; and this is the
reason why the war so utterly ruined the rich land-owners of the
OUR MONTHLY GOSSIP.
Pass, '75, across the Styx!
Make way for stately '76,
Who comes with mincing, minuet pace,
Well-powdered hair and patch-deckt face--
An antiquated kerchief on:
White-capped, like Martha Washington;
Clock-hosed and high-heeled slipper-shod,
To give no Nineteenth Century nod;
Nay, but a courtesy profound,
Whose look demure consults the ground.
O rare-seen bloom! No flower perennial,
This aloe-crowned Dame Centennial!
She comes with shades of days long fled--
Knee-breeched; long silk-stockinged;
Well-braided queues; bright-buckled shoon
That flash with diamonds; gold galloon
On rebel uniforms of blue---
A color that this land found _true_;
Three-cornered hats, and plumes that flew
Through conflicts where men dare and do.
A patriot throng, a gallant host,
Our Dame Centennial's train can boast.
O aloe-flower upon her brow!
Of what strange birth-pangs breathest thou,
The while we gaze with dreamy eyes
Back o'er a sea of memories,
And see thy seed of foreign skies
Here washt, to spring beneath our sun
And ripen till its bloom is won!
What storms have rocked thy stem aslant,
O changeful-nurtured Century-Plant!
Whose living flower now opens bland
Its kindly promise o'er the land!
With blood and tears 'twas watered,
The bud whose blossom now is spread
A floral cap her head upon,
Who, _a la_ Martha Washington,
Our Dame Centennial now appears,
Our '76, our crown of years!
Brave preparations thee await,
O dame arrayed in olden state!
For thee, for thee, Penn's city stands
And stretches forth inviting hands
To guests of home and foreign lands,
And gathers all historic pride
Of ancient records at her side,
With gifts from all, on thee to rain
Who bring'st such mem'ries in thy train.
Hail, city well named "Brother's Love!"
The Quaker City of the dove,
That fain would call a land to fling
Its spites away, and 'neath thy wing
Renew the treaty made by Penn
In the wildwood with wilder men;
Yet true men still! Be this the token---
loyal faith, a pledge unbroken!
O year that wear'st thy aloe-flower
So proudly! may thy touch have power
Of healing! May thy visage bland
Drive threatening discord from the land,
And throned Peace more firmly fix!
Then shall the elder '76,
From out the eighteenth century's band
Of Time's host in the shadowy land,
Greet thee as one true soul may smile
Upon another, where nor guile
Nor sorrow can its brightness dim.
So greet the clear-eyed seraphim--
So once in Eden's sinless bower
Unfading flower smiled on flower.
OBER-AMMERGAU, BAVARIA, OCT. 4, 1875.
The town lies at the end of a lovely green valley. Behind it are
fir-clad mountains with rocky peaks: on one side a great square rocky
peak, which towers above all and is surmounted by a cross. On each
side of the valley sloping hills, fir-clad to the top. A rapid, clear
stream runs by on the edge of the village. Green pastures dotted with
haymakers, a few scattered trees and a distant town fill the charming
valley. Virginia creepers hang on the walls, and gay flowers fill
pretty balconies and peep through sunny little casements. All is
simple and neat, and the bright fresco pictures on the fronts of many
houses lighten it all.
On a high hill overlooking the town they are placing a colossal
crucifixion group, presented by King Ludwig II. in _Erinnerung an die
Passionsspiele_--in memory of the Passion play--Christ on the cross,
with the Virgin and St. John, one on each side. The two latter were
ready to be hoisted on to the pedestal: the former is partly up the
hill. All are surrounded by heavy planking, so that it is impossible
to judge of the artistic merit, but the great group cannot fail to
have a fine effect when viewed from a distance.
Yesterday (October 3d) was the eventful day. Our tickets had been
ordered by telegraph, and we had "the best seats." The performance was
to begin at nine o'clock, and at a quarter before nine we were in our
The building in which the play is given is of plain rough wood without
paint ("or polish"); in the interior a gallery and two side-galleries,
below them a parterre, and on each side of it a standing-place, all of
plain, unpainted boards. The orchestra was sunk below the level of the
stage, the proscenium painted to represent columns and entablature.
The curtain represented, or seemed intended to represent, Jerusalem.
The whole place could not probably contain over six hundred people,
and was about half full. There were very few foreigners.
The play to be represented was not the "Passion play," which is given
every ten years, but the _Kreuzesschule_, which is played once in
fifty years--last in 1825. In it the play is taken from the Old
Testament, and the tableaux from the New Testament--the reverse of the
The orchestra began punctually at nine o'clock. There were about
twenty performers, and they played with skill and taste. The selection
of music was admirable. They commenced with a sort of prelude, slow
and declamatory. Perfect silence reigned, and the deep interest of
the spectators was, from the first and throughout, shown in their
expressive faces. Men and women at times shed tears, and made not the
slightest effort to hide their emotion. The black head-*kerchiefs of
many of the women spectators, tight to the skull with ends hanging
down behind, seemed in harmony with the scene.
The prelude ended, the Chorus entered with slow and dignified
pace--seven men and women from one side, six from the other, all in a
kind of Oriental costume, picturesque and handsome. The tallest came
first, and so on in gradation, so that when ranged in front of the
curtain they formed a kind of pyramid. The central figure then began
the prologue, an explanation. Then the basso commenced singing an
air, during which the Chorus divided, falling back to the sides and
kneeling, while the curtain rose, displaying the first tableau. This
lasted nearly three minutes, during which time the figures were really
perfectly motionless. The basso finished his air and the tenor sang
another while the curtain was up. This tableau represented the cross
supported by an angel, while grouped around were men, women
and children looking up at it in adoration. This was the
"Kreuzesschule"--the school of the Cross--the prologue to the piece.
The picture had the simplicity of the best school: no affected
attitudes--all plain, earnest and beautiful. When the curtain fell the
Chorus again took their places in front of it, a duet was sung, then a
chorus, and then they countermarched and retired in quiet dignity.
Then came the first part. A prelude by the orchestra, and the curtain
rises on Abel, dressed in sheep skin, by his altar, from which
smoke ascends, he returning thanks. Enter Cain in leopard skin, much
disturbed and angry. They discourse, Abel all sweetness, Cain bitter
and cross. An angel in blue mantle, like one of Raphael's in the
"Loggia," appears at the side and comforts Abel. Then Eve in white
dress--evidently it had been a puzzle to dress her--and buskins, who
says sweet words to Cain. Then Adam in sheep skin, very sad at all
this difficulty. Eve sweetly strives to reconcile Cain to his brother,
and appeals to him with much feeling. He discourses at length, then
appears to relent and embraces Abel, but is evidently playing the
hypocrite, and as the curtain falls you see that hate is in his heart.
The curtain down, the orchestra plays a prelude, the Chorus enters
as before, and the leader speculates on Cain's behavior. "Is he
honest?"--"Ah no, his heart is full of hate: he meditates evil."
The Chorus divides as before, falls back and the curtain rises. This
tableau represents the hate and rage of the people and Pharisees
toward Christ, who drives the traders out of the Temple. In grouping,
costume, color, tone, action and completeness it was truly a marvelous
picture. The stage was crowded with figures: Christ in the centre,
behind--a row of columns on each side--a scourge in his left hand, his
right upheld in admirable action; in the background a group in
wild confusion; on the right, richly dressed priests and Pharisees,
indignant and fierce; in front, sellers of sheep and doves,
money-changers and traders of various kinds. All the elements of a
great picture were here shown in the highest degree, and no words of
praise could be too strong to express the idea of its merits and its
charm. This tableau lasted nearly two minutes, with the most complete
steadiness, the basso singing an aria. The curtain then fell, and the
Chorus, taking its place, sang and retired as before. This ended the
first part, Cain's hate prefiguring the hatred toward Christ.
Then came Part Second. The curtain rose on Cain by the side of his
ruined in a soliloquy. Enter Abel, gentle and mild. Eve comes in,
and again tries to make peace, and Cain again plays the hypocrite
and invites his brother into the wood on some pretext. They retire,
leaving Eve disturbed by she knows not what. Adam enters, shares her
fears and goes out to seek his sons. Thunder and lightning, admirably
represented, and then enter Cain disheveled and disturbed. His mother
knows not what has happened, but is agonized and calls for her Abel.
An angel appears at the side and discloses all by asking Cain, "Where
is thy brother?" and then announcing the fiat of the Most High to him.
He rushes off as Adam enters bearing the body of Abel; and his mother,
sitting down beside the dead body, makes a most touching picture of
a _Pieta_. Adam with upstretched arms appeals to God, and the curtain
falls. This was the "Blutschuld"--the crime of blood--and prefigured
the betrayal of Christ by Judas for the thirty pieces of silver.
After a most beautiful prelude by the orchestra, the Chorus again
enters; the leader expresses his horror at Cain's action and his
pity for a fate thus given over to Satan; they again divide, and the
curtain rises on the tableau of Judas receiving the money. At the end
the high priest and other priests, in appropriate costume, stand on a
platform beyond a railing. Judas in the centre, by a table, is
taking the money from an attendant: all around are groups, admirably
arranged, expressing, in face and attitude, wonder or pleasure or
disgust. The same artistic ideas and beautiful arrangement and the
same unaffected simplicity. This tableau lasted one minute and a half,
while the tenor sang an aria, "Oh, better for him that he had never
The third part was _Das Opfermahl_--the offering of bread and wine
by Melchisedek to Abraham, prefiguring the Last Supper. Prelude by
orchestra. The curtain rises, displaying Melchisedek before an altar,
on which are bread and wine. Four attendants are near him. He, in
a flowing white robe, discourses to them. The scene is simple
and natural. Enter Abraham and attendants on one side and Lot and
attendants on the other, all dressed in Roman mantles, buskins and
helmets. The stage was filled and the grouping admirable. Abraham
and Lot discourse, embrace and part, Lot and his followers retiring.
Melchisedek comes forward and addresses Abraham, who replies at some
length. Then Melchisedek prepares his bread and wine, takes some,
then offers to Abraham, who eats and drinks. Meantime, a most charming
chorus of Handel is sung behind the scenes, while Melchisedek and his
attendants offer the bread and wine to all of Abraham's suite, who
partake reverentially. Tableau and chorus, and the curtain descends.
The ease and simple quiet action of all this scene were remarkable.
Enter Chorus as before: leader speaks. They divide and the curtain
rises on the tableau of the Last Supper. I know not whether it
was taken from any one picture--I think not--but it was simply and
effectively grouped, and it recalled both Lionardo and Andrea del
Sarto. This lasted two and a half minutes, during which time the
contralto sang an air of Mozart's.
The fourth part--_Die Ergebung_ (Resignation)--was represented in the
play by Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son at God's command,
prefiguring the agony of Christ in the Garden.
After a prelude by the orchestra the curtain rose and discovered
Abraham and Isaac in loving discourse, with figures in the background,
admirably costumed and grouped. An angel in white robe and blue mantle
appears and delivers his heavenly message to the astounded Abraham.
His agony was simply and feelingly depicted. He appears at last
resigned, when Sarah, in red robe and Eastern headdress, enters to
renew his grief. The beauty of this woman was of the highest order in
feature and expression, and her dress was truly artistic. The scene
between these two was most touchingly acted. Isaac reappears, thinking
that he is simply going on a journey, and, scarcely comprehending his
mother's great grief, presents his companion to her as a comfort and
stay, thus prefiguring John and Mary at the cross. Abraham and Isaac
depart, and the curtain falls.
Then another prelude by the orchestra, and the Chorus appears: the
leader delivers the epilogue. They divide and kneel, and the curtain
rises on the tableau of the scene in Gethsemane.
Christ, on an elevation, is kneeling: an angel stands in front of him.
Below, the apostles are all asleep in groups. Behind, in the centre,
Judas advances with the soldiers, who bear tall lanterns. It was like
a picture of Carpaccio, and worthy of that great master. This tableau
lasted two and a quarter minutes, during which time the tenor sang an
The fifth part--_Es ist vollbracht_ (It is fulfilled)--represents
Abraham going out to sacrifice his son, prefiguring the Crucifixion.
The curtain rises on Sarah, full of agony, which is most simply and
powerfully depicted. Attendants enter, who tell a long story: then
Abraham and Isaac appear, and there is a most striking scene--Sarah
fainting, the friend sustaining her, the others grouped around in
various picturesque attitudes. An angel appears, simple and practical,
like those of the good old painters, and delivers the blessing. The
Again the orchestra in a superb prelude: then the Chorus appears,
and, after the epilogue, divides and kneels as the curtain rises on
a tableau which my imagination never could have pictured, for its
wonderful completeness, its power, its feeling, its artistic beauty
and its marvelous expression far exceeded any idea that I had of the
power of men and women to represent such a picture--the Crucifixion.
The stage was crowded with figures, Christ in the centre, fully
extended on the cross, with no signs whatever of support to disturb
the illusion--the thieves on one side and the other, with arms over
the cross, as frequently represented; the group at the foot of the
cross so touchingly tender--the soldiers, the priests, the people--all
grouped with such consummate skill, such harmony of colors, such
appropriateness and vigor of expression, as have never, to my
thinking, been excelled in the greatest pictures of the greatest
masters. Here was most remarkably shown the wonderful artistic talent
and feeling of these simple people. There was nothing repulsive in any
way, scarcely painful, except tenderly so. You breathlessly gazed on
this wondrous scene, and when, after three minutes, the curtain fell,
you were speechless with admiration and emotion. A lovely air by the
soprano accompanied this tableau, and after the curtain fell a grand
chorus completed the fifth part.
The sixth part--_Durch Dunkel zum Lichte_ (through Darkness to
Light)--ended the programme. The play represented Joseph, with all his
honors upon him, receiving his old father and his brothers--prefiguring
the Ascension of Christ.
After the prelude by the orchestra the curtain rises and discovers
old Jacob, surrounded by his sons in various groups. The scene and
costumes were admirable and appropriate. In the midst of a discourse
Joseph bursts in in fine attire, followed by a great train, among
which are two darkies, taken bodily from Flemish pictures. After much
embracing and blessing and forgiveness, the curtain falls as Jacob
with outstretched arms thanks the Lord and prophesies all good things.
Then again the orchestra, and again our Chorus enters on the scene,
and after the epilogue, "At last all woe is ended," they divide and
kneel, as the curtain rises on the scene of the Ascension. This was
most simply represented. Christ ascends from the tomb, standing on it,
surrounded by angels, while figures appropriately grouped around make
a picture which recalled Perugino. The basso sings an aria, and a
grand chorus, "Alleluja!" ends this most remarkable performance.
There was no delay nor interruption throughout. Not the sound of a
hammer nor the whisper of a prompter was ever heard. There was no
applause whatever from the audience until the end, and then it seemed
to come from the strangers. The three hours--for the end was precisely
at twelve--seemed not more than one, so filled was the mind with the
simple, grand beauty and the artistic completeness of the whole thing.
No personality appears for an instant. There are no bills to tell the
names of the actors, nor did any actor or actress at any time look
toward the audience.
Never since early childhood have the Bible stories been brought back
with such vividness, such tender and absorbing interest. Tradition,
faith and earnestness have made this a people of artists. If one could
believe, as all must wish, that love of money-making and speculation
will not invade this simple village, to the demoralization of its
people, the satisfaction would be most complete. Be that as it may, I
shall always owe a debt of gratitude to Ober-Ammergau, and as long as
memory lasts shall remember _Die Kreuzesschule_.
Varese is an ancient little town on a hill overlooking the small lake
of the same name in the midst of the mountainous country between
Como and Lago Maggiore, and a little to the southward of the Lake of
Lugano. It is within a very few miles of the Swiss frontier. All
this lacustrine region has for many generations been celebrated as a
specially privileged one. It is Italy without the enervating heat and
aridity which are such serious drawbacks to the enjoyment of its other
charms by Northern folk. It is Switzerland without the rigidity of its
climate and the comparative poverty of the northern vegetation. You
have the oleander and cactus around your feet, while the snow-peaks
high above your head are rose-colored morning and evening by a
southern sun. You wander amid groves of Spanish chestnut, and may hear
the while the Swiss-sounding cattle-bells from Alpine pastures high
above them. The lakes themselves, with their branching arms and bays
and their fairy-like islands, are of course a feature of ever-varying
and incomparable beauty.
Accordingly, Fortune's favorites of all countries have long, even from
the old Roman times downward, thickly studded the district with their
villas and gardens and palaces and parks. But the possession of a
villa on one of the Italian lakes implies that the happy owner is
nothing very much less than a millionaire. And it has been reserved
for these quite latter days to find the means of placing within the
reach of the many all the delights which were heretofore the exclusive
privilege of the few. In no instance has this been done with so
complete a measure of success as at Varese. The hotel is situated
about a mile from the little town. Its gardens look down on the lake,
the intervening slope being covered with forest. To the left, as one
stands at the garden-front of the house, looking toward the lake, are
the hills in the midst of which the Lake of Lugano nestles, and on
the right, beyond the Lago Maggiore, is a view of Monte Rosa with its
eternal snows, perhaps the finest to be found anywhere. I have seen
Monte Rosa and its chain very finely from the top of the pass called
the Col di Tenda, between Turin and Nice, but I think the view from
the terrace in front of this house is finer. Immediately at the back
of the house we have the hills--mountains they would be called in any
other part of Europe--of which Monte Generoso, now covered with snow,
though with a hotel on the top, is the most conspicuous. The country
more immediately around us is a district of rolling hills, partly
vineyard, but in a larger degree wooded, and here and there
diversified by the well-cared-for gardens of some large villa. Our
outlook, it will be admitted, is pleasant enough. The house I am
speaking of, now known under the style and title of the "Excelsior
Hotel," was recently a magnificent villa of the Morosini family at
Venice. The name will not be new to any who have visited Venice; for
the traveler, even if his tastes did not lead him to take any heed of
such matters, will not have been allowed by the _ciceroni_ to overlook
the tombs of the doges of that family in the grand old church of the
beheaded Saint John, _San Giovanni decollata,_ or "San Zuan Degola,"
as the soft-lisping Venetians call it. Yes, the Morosini were very
great men in their day: more than one of the brightest chapters in
the history of the great republic on the Adriatic is filled with their
name. But now their place knows them no more: the family is extinct.
The last scion of the race, an old lady who died quite recently at
Varese, is said to have declared that it was time for a Morosini to
retire from the scene when their house was about to be turned into an
inn. Poor old lady! One could have wished that she had vanished before
that desecration had been threatened, especially as her end was so
near at hand; for it would, I fear, have been too much to wish that
the Excelsior Hotel should have been kept out of existence for another
The Morosini had palaces among the most splendid of that city of
palaces, Venice, as may be seen to the present day. But this Varese
villa was their place of delight and enjoyment. And truly the ideas
which we generally attach to the word "villa" are scarcely
represented by the magnificent building to which the public are now
indiscriminately invited. It is an enormous pile of building, the vast
garden-frontage of which makes considerable claims to architectural
magnificence. There are, especially in Switzerland, very magnificent
and palace-like hotels which have been built for the purpose they
now serve, but the fact that they were so built has very effectually
prevented even the most splendid among them from rivaling, or indeed
approaching, the grandiose magnificence of this superb hostelrie,
which has chosen its name in no idle spirit of vaunting. For building
is costly, space is precious, and the necessity of finding a due
return for the capital employed is the paramount rule which the
architect has to keep ever in mind. The old Morosini, who raised this
pile with the abundant profits of the trade with the East when Venice
had the monopoly of it, were curbed in their architectural ambition by
no such considerations. The building of this Villa Morosini must
have cost a sum which no possible amount of success in the way of
hotel-keeping could ever be expected to pay a tolerable interest on.
But the sum for which it was purchased by the present proprietors by
no means represents the whole of the capital which has been expended
on it as it now stands. It needed the expenditure of no less a sum
than sixty thousand pounds sterling to adapt it in all respects to its
present purpose, and it is now really such a hotel as does not
exist elsewhere in Europe. The whole of the ground floor of the vast
building, looking in its entire length on the trimly-kept gardens and
on the lake below them, is devoted to public rooms, the spaciousness
of which is such that even if the entire house were filled to its
utmost capacity they would never be in the least degree crowded.
First on the right hand is the breakfast-room. Then comes an enormous
dining-hall, the coved ceiling of which, supported by noble pillars
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