Prue and I
George William Curtis
Part 2 out of 3
what solemnity of debarkation? Was this grave form, Columbus?
Yet these were not so Spanish as they seemed just now. This group of
stern-faced men with high peaked hats, who knelt upon the cold deck
and looked out upon a shore which, I could see by their joyless smile
of satisfaction, was rough, and bare, and forbidding. In that soft
afternoon, standing in mournful groups upon the small deck, why did
they seem to me to be seeing the sad shores of wintry New England?
That phantom-ship could not be the May Flower!
I gazed long upon the shifting illusion.
"If I should board this ship," I asked myself, "where should I go?
whom should I meet? what should I see? Is not this the vessel that
shall carry me to my Europe, my foreign countries, my impossible
India, the Atlantis that I have lost?"
As I sat staring at it I could not but wonder whether Bourne had seen
this sail when he looked upon the water? Does he see such sights every
day, because he lives down here? Is it not perhaps a magic yacht of
his; and does he slip off privately after business hours to Venice,
and Spain, and Egypt, perhaps to El Dorado? Does he run races with
Ptolemy, Philopater and Hiero of Syracuse, rare regattas on fabulous
Why not? He is a rich, man, too, and why should not a New York
merchant do what a Syracuse tyrant and an Egyptian prince did? Has
Bourne's yacht those sumptuous chambers, like Philopater's galley, of
which the greater part was made of split cedar, and of Milesian
cypress; and has he twenty doors put together with beams of
citron-wood, with many ornaments? Has the roof of his cabin a carved
golden face, and is his sail linen with a purple fringe?
"I suppose it is so," I said to myself, as I looked wistfully at the
ship, which began to glimmer and melt in the haze.
"It certainly is not a fishing smack?" I asked, doubtfully.
No, it must be Bourne's magic yacht; I was sure of it. I could not
help laughing at poor old Hiero, whose cabins were divided into many
rooms, with floors composed of mosaic work, of all kinds of stones
tessellated. And, on this mosaic, the whole story of the Iliad was
depicted in a marvellous manner. He had gardens "of all sorts of most
wonderful beauty, enriched with all sorts of plants, and shadowed by
roofs of lead or tiles. And, besides this, there were tents roofed
with boughs of white ivy and of the vine--the roots of which derived
their moisture from casks full of earth, and were watered in the same
manner as the gardens. There were temples, also, with doors of ivory
and citron-wood, furnished in the most exquisite manner, with pictures
and statues, and with goblets and vases of every form and shape
"Poor Bourne!" I said. "I suppose his is finer than Hiero's, which is
a thousand years old. Poor Bourne! I don't wonder that his eyes are
weary, and that he would pay so dearly for a day of leisure. Dear me!
is it one of the prices that must be paid for wealth, the keeping up a
Involuntarily, I had asked the question aloud.
"The magic yacht is not Bourne's," answered a familiar voice. I looked
up, and Titbottom stood by my side. "Do you not know that all Bourne's
money would not buy the yacht?" asked he. "He cannot even see it. And
if he could, it would be no magic yacht to him, but only a battered
and solitary hulk."
The haze blew gently away, as Titbottom spoke and there lay my Spanish
galleon, my Bucentoro, my Cleopatra's galley, Columbus's Santa Maria,
and the Pilgrims' May Flower, an old bleaching wreck upon the beach.
"Do you suppose any true love is in vain?" asked Titbottom solemnly,
as he stood bareheaded, and the soft sunset wind played with his few
hairs. "Could Cleopatra smile upon Antony, and the moon upon Endymion,
and the sea not love its lovers?"
The fresh air breathed upon our faces as he spoke. I might have
sailed in Hiero's ship, or in Roman galleys, had I lived long
centuries ago, and been born a nobleman. But would it be so sweet a
remembrance, that of lying on a marble couch, under a golden-faced
roof, and within doors of citron-wood and ivory, and sailing in that
state to greet queens who are mummies now, as that of seeing those
fair figures, standing under the great gonfalon, themselves as lovely
as Egyptian belles, and going to see more than Egypt dreamed?
The yacht was mine, then, and not Bourne's. I took Titbottom's arm,
and we sauntered toward the ferry. What sumptuous sultan was I, with
this sad vizier? My languid odalisque, the sea, lay at my feet as we
advanced, and sparkled all over with a sunset smile. Had I trusted
myself to her arms, to be borne to the realms that I shall never see,
or sailed long voyages towards Cathay, I am not sure I should have
brought a more precious present to Prue, than the story of that
"Ought I to have gone alone?" I asked her, as I ended.
"I ought not to have gone with you," she replied, "for I had work to
do. But how strange that you should see such things at Staten
Island. I never did, Mr. Titbottom," said she, turning to my deputy,
whom I had asked to tea.
"Madam," answered Titbottom, with a kind of wan and quaint dignity, so
that I could not help thinking he must have arrived in that stray ship
from the Spanish armada, "neither did Mr. Bourne."
"In my mind's eye, Horatio."
Prue and I do not entertain much; our means forbid it. In truth, other
people entertain for us. We enjoy that hospitality of which no
account is made. We see the show, and hear the music, and smell the
flowers, of great festivities, tasting, as it were, the drippings from
Our own dinner service is remarkably plain, our dinners, even on state
occasions, are strictly in keeping, and almost our only guest is
Titbottom. I buy a handful of roses as I come up from the office,
perhaps, and Prue arranges them so prettily in a glass dish for the
centre of the table, that, even when I have hurried out to see Aurelia
step into her carriage to go out to dine, I have thought that the
bouquet she carried was not more beautiful because it was more costly.
I grant that it was more harmonious with her superb beauty and her
rich attire. And I have no doubt that if Aurelia knew the old man,
whom she must have seen so often watching her, and his wife, who
ornaments her sex with as much sweetness, although with less splendor,
than Aurelia herself, she would also acknowledge that the nosegay of
roses was as fine and fit upon their table, as her own sumptuous
bouquet is for herself. I have so much faith in the perception of that
It is my habit,--I hope I may say, my nature,--to believe the best of
people, rather than the worst. If I thought that all this sparkling
setting of beauty,--this fine fashion,--these blazing jewels, and
lustrous silks, and airy gauzes, embellished with gold-threaded
embroidery and wrought in a thousand exquisite elaborations, so that I
cannot see one of those lovely girls pass me by, without thanking God
for the vision,--if I thought that this was all, and that, underneath
her lace flounces and diamond bracelets, Aurelia was a sullen, selfish
woman, then I should turn sadly homeward, for I should see that her
jewels were flashing scorn upon the object they adorned, that her
laces were of a more exquisite loveliness than the woman whom they
merely touched with a superficial grace. It would be like a gaily
decorated mausoleum,--bright to see, but silent and dark within.
"Great excellences, my dear Prue," I sometimes allow myself to say,
"lie concealed in the depths of character, like pearls at the bottom
of the sea. Under the laughing, glancing surface, how little they are
suspected! Perhaps love is nothing else than the sight of them by one
person. Hence every man's mistress is apt to be an enigma to everybody
"I have no doubt that when Aurelia is engaged, people will say she is
a most admirable girl, certainly; but they cannot understand why any
man should be in love with her. As if it were at all necessary that
they should! And her lover, like a boy who finds a pearl in the public
street, and wonders as much that others did not see it as that he did,
will tremble until he knows his passion is returned; feeling, of
course, that the whole world must be in love with this paragon, who
cannot possibly smile upon anything so unworthy as he.
"I hope, therefore, my dear Mrs. Prue," I continue, and my wife looks
up, with pleased pride, from her work, as if I were such an
irresistible humorist, "you will allow me to believe that the depth
may be calm, although the surface is dancing. If you tell me that
Aurelia is but a giddy girl, I shall believe that you think so. But I
shall know, all the while, what profound dignity, and sweetness, and
peace, lie at the foundation of her character."
I say such things to Titbottom, during the dull season at the
office. And I have known him sometimes to reply, with a kind of dry,
sad humor, not as if he enjoyed the joke, but as if the joke must be
made, that he saw no reason why I should be dull because the season
"And what do I know of Aurelia, or any other girl?" he says to me with
that abstracted air; "I, whose Aurelias were of another century, and
Then he falls into a silence which it seems quite profane to
interrupt. But as we sit upon our high stools, at the desk, opposite
each other, I leaning upon my elbows, and looking at him, he, with
sidelong face, glancing out of the window, as if it commanded a
boundless landscape, instead of a dim, dingy office court, I cannot
refrain from saying:
He turns slowly, and I go chatting on,--a little too loquacious
perhaps, about those young girls. But I know that Titbottom regards
such an excess as venial, for his sadness is so sweet that you could
believe it the reflection of a smile from long, long years ago.
One day, after I had been talking for a long time, and we had put up
our books, and were preparing to leave, he stood for some time by the
window, gazing with a drooping intentness, as if he really saw
something more than the dark court, and said slowly:
"Perhaps you would have different impressions of things, if you saw
them through my spectacles."
There was no change in his expression. He still looked from the
window, and I said:
"Titbottom, I did not know that you used glasses. I have never seen
you wearing spectacles."
"No, I don't often wear them. I am not very fond of looking through
them. But sometimes an irresistible necessity compels me to put them
on, and I cannot help seeing."
"Is it so grievous a fate to see?" inquired I.
"Yes; through my spectacles," he said, turning slowly, and looking at
me with wan solemnity.
It grew dark as we stood in the office talking, and, taking our hats,
we went out together. The narrow street of business was deserted. The
heavy iron shutters were gloomily closed over the windows. From one
or two offices struggled the dim gleam of an early candle, by whose
light some perplexed accountant sat belated, and hunting for his
error. A careless clerk passed, whistling. But the great tide of life
had ebbed. We heard its roar far away, and the sound stole into that
silent street like the murmur of the ocean into an inland dell.
"You will come and dine with us, Titbottom?"
He assented by continuing to walk with me, and I think we were both
glad when we reached the house, and Prue came to meet us, saying:
"Do you know I hoped you would bring Mr. Titbottom to dine?"
Titbottom smiled gently, and answered:
"He might have brought his spectacles with him, and have been a
happier man for it."
Prue looked a little puzzled.
"My dear," I said, "you must know that our friend, Mr. Titbottom, is
the happy possessor of a pair of wonderful spectacles. I have never
seen them, indeed; and, from what he says, I should be rather afraid
of being seen by them. Most short-sighted persons are very glad to
have the help of glasses; but Mr. Titbottom seems to find very little
pleasure in his."
"It is because they make him too far-sighted, perhaps," interrupted
Prue quietly, as she took the silver soup-ladle from the sideboard.
We sipped our wine after dinner, and Prue took her work. Can a man be
too far-sighted? I did not ask the question aloud. The very tone in
which Prue had spoken, convinced me that he might.
"At least," I said, "Mr. Titbottom will not refuse to tell us the
history of his mysterious spectacles. I have known plenty of magic in
eyes (and I glanced at the tender blue eyes of Prue), but I have not
heard of any enchanted glasses."
"Yet you must have seen the glass in which your wife looks every
morning, and, I take it, that glass must be daily enchanted," said
Titbottom, with a bow of quaint respect to my wife.
I do not think I have seen such a blush upon Prue's cheek since--well,
since a great many years ago.
"I will gladly tell you the history of my spectacles," began
Titbottom. "It is very simple; and I am not at all sure that a great
many other people have not a pair of the same kind. I have never,
indeed, heard of them by the gross, like those of our young friend,
Moses, the you of the Vicar of Wakefield. In fact, I think a gross
would be quite enough to supply the world. It is a kind of article for
which the demand does not increase with use If we should all wear
spectacles like mine, we should never smile any more. Or--I am not
quite sure--we should all be very happy."
"A very important difference," said Prue, counting her stitches.
"You know my grandfather Titbottom was a West Indian. A large
proprietor, and an easy man he basked in the tropical sun, leading his
quiet, luxurious life. He lived much alone, and was what people call
eccentric--by which I understand, that he was very much himself, and,
refusing the influence of other people, they had their revenges, and
called him names. It is a habit not exclusively tropical. I think I
have seen the same thing even in this city.
"But he was greatly beloved--my bland and bountiful grandfather. He
was so large-hearted and open-handed. He was so friendly, and
thoughtful, and genial, that even his jokes had the air of graceful
benedictions. He did not seem to grow old, and he was one of those who
never appear to have been very young. He flourished in a perennial
maturity, an immortal middle-age.
"My grandfather lived upon one of the small islands--St. Kitt's,
perhaps--and his domain extended to the sea. His house, a rambling
West Indian mansion, was surrounded with deep, spacious piazzas,
covered with luxurious lounges, among which one capacious chair was
his peculiar seat. They tell me, he used sometimes to sit there for
the whole day, his great, soft, brown eyes fastened upon the sea,
watching the specks of sails that flashed upon the horizon, while the
evanescent expressions chased each other over his placid face as if it
reflected the calm and changing sea before him.
"His morning costume was an ample dressing-gown of gorgeously-flowered
silk, and his morning was very apt to last all day. He rarely read;
but he would pace the great piazza for hours, with his hands buried in
the pockets of his dressing-gown, and an air of sweet reverie, which
any book must be a very entertaining one to produce.
"Society, of course, he saw little. There was some slight apprehension
that, if he were bidden to social entertainments, he might forget his
coat, or arrive without some other essential part of his dress; and
there is a sly tradition in the Titbottom family, that once, having
been invited to a ball in honor of a new governor of the island, my
grand father Titbottom sauntered into the hall towards midnight,
wrapped in the gorgeous flowers of his dressing-gown, and with his
hands buried in the pockets, as usual. There was great excitement
among the guests, and immense deprecation of gubernatorial
ire. Fortunately, it happened that the governor and my grandfather
were old friends, and there was no offence. But, as they were
conversing together, one of the distressed managers cast indignant
glances at the brilliant costume of my grandfather, who summoned him,
and asked courteously:
"'Did you invite me, or my coat?'
"'You, in a proper coat,' replied the manager.
"The governor smiled approvingly, and looked at my grandfather.
"'My friend,' said he to the manager, 'I beg your pardon, I forgot.'
"The next day, my grandfather was seen promenading in full ball dress
along the streets of the little town.
"'They ought to know,' said he, 'that I have a proper coat, and that
not contempt, nor poverty, but forgetfulness, sent me to a ball in my
"He did not much frequent social festivals after this failure, but he
always told the story with satisfaction and a quiet smile.
"To a stranger, life upon those little islands is uniform even to
weariness. But the old native dons, like my grandfather, ripen in the
prolonged sunshine, like the turtle upon the Bahama banks, nor know of
existence more desirable. Life in the tropics, I take to be a placid
"During the long, warm mornings of nearly half a century, my
grandfather Titbottom had sat in his dressing-gown, and gazed at the
sea. But one calm June day, as he slowly paced the piazza after
breakfast, his dreamy glance was arrested by a little vessel,
evidently nearing the shore. He called for his spyglass, and,
surveying the craft, saw that she came from the neighboring
island. She glided smoothly, slowly, over the summer sea. The warm
morning air was sweet with perfumes, and silent with heat. The sea
sparkled languidly, and the brilliant blue sky hung cloudlessly
over. Scores of little island vessels had my grandfather seen coming
over the horizon, and cast anchor in the port. Hundreds of summer
mornings had the white sails flashed and faded, like vague faces
through forgotten dreams. But this time he laid down the spyglass, and
leaned against a column of the piazza, and watched the vessel with an
intentness that he could not explain. She came nearer and nearer, a
graceful spectre in the dazzling morning.
"'Decidedly, I must step down and see about that vessel,' said my
"He gathered his ample dressing-gown about him, and stepped from the
piazza, with no other protection from the sun than the little
smoking-cap upon his head. His face wore a calm, beaming smile, as if
he loved the whole world. He was not an old man; but there was almost
a patriarchal pathos in his expression, as he sauntered along in the
sunshine towards the shore. A group of idle gazers was collected, to
watch the arrival. The little vessel furled her sails, and drifted
slowly landward, and, as she was of very light draft, she came close
to the shelving shore. A long plank was put out from her side, and the
"My grandfather Titbottom stood looking on, to see the passengers as
they passed. There were but a few of them, and mostly traders from the
neighboring island. But suddenly the face of a young girl appeared
over the side of the vessel, and she stepped upon the plank to
descend. My grandfather Titbottom instantly advanced, and, moving
briskly, reached the top of the plank at the same moment, and with the
old tassel of his cap flashing in the sun, and one hand in the pocket
of his dressing-gown, with the other he handed the young lady
carefully down the plank. That young lady was afterwards my
"For, over the gleaming sea which he had watched so long, and which
seemed thus to reward his patient gaze, came his bride that sunny
"'Of course, we are happy,' he used to say to her, after they were
married: 'For you are the gift of the sun I have loved so long and so
well.' And my grandfather Titbottom would lay his hand so tenderly
upon the golden hair of his young bride, that you could fancy him a
devout Parsee, caressing sunbeams.
"There were endless festivities upon occasion of the marriage; and my
grandfather did not go to one of them in his dressing-gown. The gentle
sweetness of his wife melted every heart into love and sympathy. He
was much older than she, without doubt. But age, as he used to say
with a smile of immortal youth, is a matter of feeling, not of years.
"And if, sometimes, as she sat by his side on the piazza, her fancy
looked through her eyes upon that summer sea, and saw a younger lover,
perhaps some one of those graceful and glowing heroes who occupy the
foreground of all young maidens' visions by the sea, yet she could not
find one more generous and gracious, nor fancy one more worthy and
loving than my grandfather Titbottom.
"And if, in the moonlit midnight, while he lay calmly sleeping, she
leaned out of the window, and sank into vague reveries of sweet
possibility, and watched the gleaming path of the moonlight upon the
water, until the dawn glided over it--it was only that mood of
nameless regret and longing, which underlies all human happiness; or
it was the vision of that life of cities and the world, which she had
never seen, but of which she had often read, and which looked very
fair and alluring across the sea, to a girlish imagination, which knew
that it should never see that reality.
"These West Indian years were the great days of the family," said
Titbottom, with an air of majestic and regal regret, pausing, and
musing, in our little parlor, like a late Stuart in exile, remembering
Prue raised her eyes from her work, and looked at him with subdued
admiration; for I have observed that, like the rest of her sex, she
has a singular sympathy with the representative of a reduced family.
Perhaps it is their finer perception, which leads these tender-hearted
women to recognize the divine right of social superiority so much more
readily than we; and yet, much as Titbottom was enhanced in my wife's
admiration by the discovery that his dusky sadness of nature and
expression was, as it were, the expiring gleam and late twilight of
ancestral splendors, I doubt if Mr. Bourne would have preferred him
for book-keeper a moment sooner upon that account. In truth, I have
observed, down town, that the fact of your ancestors doing nothing, is
not considered good proof that you can do anything.
But Prue and her sex regard sentiment more than action, and I
understand easily enough why she is never tired of hearing me read of
Prince Charlie. If Titbottom had been only a little younger, a little
handsomer, a little more gallantly dressed--in fact, a little more of
a Prince Charlie, I am sure her eyes would not have fallen again upon
her work so tranquilly, as he resumed his story.
"I can remember my grandfather Titbottom, although I was a very young
child, and he was a very old man. My young mother and my young
grandmother are very distinct figures in my memory, ministering to the
old gentleman, wrapped in his dressing-gown, and seated upon the
piazza. I remember his white hair, and his calm smile, and how, not
long before he died, he called me to him, and laying his hand upon my
head, said to me:
"'My child, the world is not this great sunny piazza, nor life the
fairy stories which the women tell you here, as you sit in their
laps. I shall soon be gone, but I want to leave with you some memento
of my love for you, and I know of nothing more valuable than these
spectacles, which your grandmother brought from her native island,
when she arrived here one fine summer morning, long ago. I cannot tell
whether, when you grow older, you will regard them as a gift of the
greatest value, or as something that you had been happier never to
"'But, grandpapa, I am not short-sighted.'
"'My son, are you not human?' said the old gentleman; and how shall I
ever forget the thoughtful sadness with which, at the same time, he
handed me the spectacles.
"Instinctively I put them on, and looked at my grandfather. But I saw
no grandfather, no piazza, no flowered dressing-gown; I saw only a
luxuriant palm-tree, waving broadly over a tranquil landscape;
pleasant homes clustered around it; gardens teeming with fruit and
flowers; flocks quietly feeding; birds wheeling and chirping. I heard
children's voices, and the low lullaby of happy mothers. The sound of
cheerful singing came wafted from distant fields upon the light
breeze. Golden harvests glistened out of sight, and I caught their
rustling whispers of prosperity. A warm, mellow atmosphere bathed the
"I have seen copies of the landscapes of the Italian, painter Claude,
which seemed to me faint reminiscences of that calm and happy
vision. But all this peace and prosperity seemed to flow from the
spreading palm as from a fountain.
"I do not know how long I looked, but I had, apparently, no power, as
I had no will, to remove the spectacles. What a wonderful island must
Nevis be, thought I, if people carry such pictures in their pockets,
only by buying a pair of spectacles! What wonder that my dear
grandmother Titbottom has lived such a placid life, and has blessed us
all with her sunny temper, when she has lived surrounded by such
images of peace!
"My grandfather died. But still, in the warm morning sunshine upon the
piazza, I felt his placid presence, and as I crawled into his great
chair, and drifted on in reverie through the still tropical day, it
was as if his soft dreamy eye had passed into my soul. My grandmother
cherished his memory with tender regret. A violent passion of grief
for his loss was no more possible than for the pensive decay of the
"We have no portrait of him, but I see always, when I remember him,
that peaceful and luxuriant palm. And I think that to have known one
good old man--one man who, through the chances and rubs of a long
life, has carried his heart in his hand, like a palm branch, waving
all discords into peace, helps our faith in God, in ourselves, and in
each other, more than many sermons. I hardly know whether to be
grateful to my grandfather for the spectacles; and yet when I remember
that it is to them I owe the pleasant image of him which I cherish I
seem to myself sadly ungrateful.
"Madam," said Titbottom to Prue, solemnly, "my memory is a long and
gloomy gallery, and only remotely, at its further end, do I see the
glimmer of soft sunshine, and only there are the pleasant pictures
hung. They seem to me very happy along whose gallery the sunlight
streams to their very feet, striking all the pictured walls into
Prue had laid her work in her lap, and as Titbottom paused a moment,
and I turned towards her, I found her mild eyes fastened upon my face,
and glistening with many tears. I knew that the tears meant that she
felt herself to be one of those who seemed to Titbottom very happy.
"Misfortunes of many kinds came heavily upon the family after the head
was gone. The great house was relinquished. My parents were both dead,
and my grandmother had entire charge of me. But from the moment that
I received the gift of the spectacles, I could not resist their
fascination, and I withdrew into myself, and became a solitary boy.
There were not many companions for me of my own age, and they
gradually left me, or, at least, had not a hearty sympathy with me;
for, if they teased me, I pulled out my spectacles and surveyed them
so seriously that they acquired a kind of awe of me, and evidently
regarded my grandfather's gift as a concealed magical weapon which
might be dangerously drawn upon them at any moment. Whenever, in our
games, there were quarrels and high words, and I began to feel about
my dress and to wear a grave look, they all took the alarm, and
shouted, 'Look out for Titbottom's spectacles,' and scattered like a
flock of scared sheep.
"Nor could I wonder at it. For, at first, before they took the alarm,
I saw strange sights when I looked at them through the glasses.
"If two were quarrelling about a marble, or a ball, I had only to go
behind a tree where I was concealed and look at them leisurely. Then
the scene changed, and it was no longer a green meadow with boys
playing, but a spot which I did not recognise, and forms that made me
shudder, or smile. It was not a big boy bullying a little one, but a
young wolf with glistening teeth and a lamb cowering before him; or,
it was a dog faithful and famishing--or a star going slowly into
eclipse--or a rainbow fading--or a flower blooming--or a sun
rising--or a waning moon.
"The revelations of the spectacles determined my feeling for the boys,
and for all whom I saw through them. No shyness, nor awkwardness, nor
silence, could separate me from those who looked lovely as lilies to
my illuminated eyes. But the vision made me afraid. If I felt myself
warmly drawn to any one, I struggled with the fierce desire of seeing
him through the spectacles, for I feared to find him something else
than I fancied. I longed to enjoy the luxury of ignorant feeling, to
love without knowing, to float like a leaf upon the eddies of life,
drifted now to a sunny point, now to a solemn shade--now over
glittering ripples, now over gleaming calms,--and not to determined
ports, a trim vessel with an inexorable rudder.
"But sometimes, mastered after long struggles, as if the unavoidable
condition of owning the spectacles were using them, I seized them and
sauntered into the little town. Putting them to my eyes I peered into
the houses and at the people who passed me. Here sat a family at
breakfast, and I stood at the window looking in. O motley meal!
fantastic vision! The good mother saw her lord sitting opposite, a
grave, respectable being, eating muffins. But I saw only a bank-bill,
more or less crumbled and tattered, marked with a larger or lesser
figure. If a sharp wind blew suddenly, I saw it tremble and flutter;
it was thin, flat, impalpable. I removed my glasses, and looked with
my eyes at the wife. I could have smiled to see the humid tenderness
with which she regarded her strange _vis-a-vis_. Is life only a
game of blindman's-buff? of droll cross-purposes?
"Or I put them on again, and then looked at the wives. How many stout
trees I saw,--how many tender flowers,--how many placid pools; yes,
and how many little streams winding out of sight, shrinking before the
large, hard, round eyes opposite, and slipping off into solitude and
shade, with a low, inner song for their own solace.
"In many houses I thought to see angels, nymphs, or, at least, women,
and could only find broomsticks, mops, or kettles, hurrying about,
rattling and tinkling, in a state of shrill activity. I made calls
upon elegant ladies, and after I had enjoyed the gloss of silk, and
the delicacy of lace, and the glitter of jewels, I slipped on my
spectacles, and saw a peacock's feather, flounced, and furbelowed, and
fluttering; or an iron rod, thin, sharp, and hard; nor could I
possibly mistake the movement of the drapery for any flexibility of
the thing draped.
"Or, mysteriously chilled, I saw a statue of perfect form, or flowing
movement, it might be alabaster, or bronze, or marble,--but sadly
often it was ice; and I knew that after it had shone a little, and
frozen a few eyes with its despairing perfection, it could not be put
away in the niches of palaces for ornament and proud family tradition,
like the alabaster, or bronze, or marble statues, but would melt, and
shrink, and fall coldly away in colorless and useless water, be
absorbed in the earth and utterly forgotten.
"But the true sadness was rather in seeing those who, not having the
spectacles, thought that the iron rod was flexible, and the ice statue
warm. I saw many a gallant heart, which seemed to me brave and loyal
as the crusaders, pursuing, through days and nights, and a long life
of devotion, the hope of lighting at least a smile in the cold eyes,
if not a fire in the icy heart. I watched the earnest, enthusiastic
sacrifice. I saw the pure resolve, the generous faith, the fine scorn
of doubt, the impatience of suspicion. I wratched the grace, the
ardor, the glory of devotion. Through those strange spectacles how
often I saw the noblest heart renouncing all other hope, all other
ambition, all other life, than the possible love of some one of those
"Ah! me, it was terrible, but they had not the love to give. The face
was so polished and smooth, because there was no sorrow in the
heart,--and drearily, often, no heart to be touched. I could not
wonder that the noble heart of devotion was broken, for it had dashed
itself against a stone. I wept, until my spectacles were dimmed, for
those hopeless lovers; but there was a pang beyond tears for those icy
"Still a boy, I was thus too much a man in knowledge,--I did not
comprehend the sights I was compelled to see. I used to tear my
glasses away from my eyes, and, frightened at myself, run to escape my
own consciousness. Reaching the small house where we then lived, I
plunged into my grandmother's room, and, throwing myself upon the
floor, buried my face in her lap; and sobbed myself to sleep with
"But when I awakened, and felt her cool hand upon my hot forehead, and
heard the low sweet song, or the gentle story, or the tenderly told
parable from the Bible, with which she tried to soothe me, I could not
resist the mystic fascination that lured me, as I lay in her lap, to
steal a glance at her through the spectacles.
"Pictures of the Madonna have not her rare and pensive beauty. Upon
the tranquil little islands her life had been eventless, and all the
fine possibilities of her nature were like flowers that never
bloomed. Placid were all her years; yet I have read of no heroine, of
no woman great in sudden crises, that it did not seem to me she might
have been. The wife and widow of a man who loved his home better than
the homes of others, I have yet heard of no queen, no belle, no
imperial beauty whom in grace, and brilliancy, and persuasive
courtesy, she might not have surpassed.
"Madam," said Titbottom to my wife, whose heart hung upon his story;
"your husband's young friend, Aurelia, wears sometimes a camelia in
her hair, and no diamond in the ball-room seems so costly as that
perfect flower, which women envy, and for whose least and withered
petal men sigh; yet, in the tropical solitudes of Brazil, how many a
camelia bud drops from the bush that no eye has ever seen, which, had
it flowered and been noticed, would have gilded all hearts with its
"When I stole these furtive glances at my grandmother, half fearing
that they were wrong, I saw only a calm lake, whose shores were low,
and over which the sun hung unbroken, so that the least star was
clearly reflected. It had an atmosphere of solemn twilight
tranquillity, and so completely did its unruffled surface blend with
the cloudless, star-studded sky, that, when I looked through my
spectacles at my grandmother, the vision seemed to me all heaven and
"Yet, as I gazed and gazed, I felt what stately cities might well have
been built upon those shores, and have flashed prosperity over the
calm, like coruscations of pearls. I dreamed of gorgeous fleets,
silken-sailed, and blown by perfumed winds, drifting over those
depthless waters and through those spacious skies. I gazed upon the
twilight, the inscrutable silence, like a God-fearing discoverer upon
a new and vast sea bursting upon him through forest glooms, and in the
fervor of whose impassioned gaze, a millenial and poetic world arises,
and man need no longer die to be happy.
"My companions naturally deserted me, for I had grown wearily grave
and abstracted: and, unable to resist the allurements of my
spectacles, I was constantly lost in the world, of which those
companions were part, yet of which they knew nothing.
"I grew cold and hard, almost morose; people seemed to me so blind and
unreasonable. They did the wrong thing. They called green, yellow; and
black, white. Young men said of a girl, 'What a lovely, simple
creature!' I looked, and there was only a glistening wisp of straw,
dry and hollow. Or they said, 'What a cold, proud beauty!' I looked,
and lo! a Madonna, whose heart held the world. Or they said, 'What a
wild, giddy girl!' and I saw a glancing, dancing mountain stream,
pure as the virgin snows whence it flowed, singing through sun and
shade, over pearls and gold dust, slipping along unstained by weed or
rain, or heavy foot of cattle, touching the flowers with a dewy
kiss,--a beam of grace, a happy song, a line of light, in the dim and
"My grandmother sent me to school, but I looked at the master, and saw
that he was a smooth round ferule, or an improper noun, or a vulgar
fraction, and refused to obey him. Or he was a piece of string, a rag,
a willow-wand, and I had a contemptuous pity. But one was a well of
cool, deep water, and looking suddenly in, one day, I saw the stars.
"That one gave me all my schooling. With him I used to walk by the
sea, and, as we strolled and the waves plunged in long legions before
us, I looked at him through the spectacles, and as his eyes dilated
with the boundless view, and his chest heaved with an impossible
desire, I saw Xerxes and his army, tossed and glittering, rank upon
rank, multitude upon multitude, out of sight, but ever regularly
advancing, and with confused roar of ceaseless music, prostrating
themselves in abject homage. Or, as with arms outstretched and hair
streaming on the wind, he chanted full lines of the resounding Iliad,
I saw Homer pacing the Aegean sands of the Greek sunsets of forgotten
"My grandmother died, and I was thrown into the world without
resources, and with no capital but my spectacles. I tried to find
employment, but everybody was shy of me. There was a vague suspicion
that I was either a little crazed, or a good deal in league with the
prince of darkness. My companions, who would persist in calling a
piece of painted muslin, a fair and fragrant flower, had no
difficulty; success waited for them around every corner, and arrived
in every ship.
"I tried to teach, for I loved children. But if anything excited a
suspicion of my pupils, and putting on my spectacles, I saw that I was
fondling a snake, or smelling at a bud with a worm in it, I sprang up
in horror and ran away; or, if it seemed to me through the glasses,
that a cherub smiled upon me, or a rose was blooming in my
button-hole, then I felt myself imperfect and impure, not fit to be
leading and training what was so essentially superior to myself, and I
kissed the children and left them weeping and wondering.
"In despair I went to a great merchant on the island, and asked him to
"'My dear young friend,' said he, 'I understand that you have some
singular secret, some charm, or spell, or amulet, or something, I
don't know what, of which people are afraid. Now you know, my dear,'
said the merchant, swelling up, and apparently prouder of his great
stomach than of his large fortune, 'I am not of that kind. I am not
easily frightened. You may spare yourself the pain of trying to impose
upon me. People who propose to come to time before I arrive, are
accustomed to arise very early in the morning,' said he, thrusting his
thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, and spreading the fingers
like two fans, upon his bosom. 'I think I have heard something of
your secret. You have a pair of spectacles, I believe, that you value
very much, because your grandmother brought them as a marriage portion
to your grandfather. Now, if you think fit to sell me those
spectacles, I will pay you the largest market price for them. What do
"I told him I had not the slightest idea of selling my spectacles.
"'My young friend means to eat them, I suppose,' said he, with a
"I made no reply, but was turning to leave the office, when the
merchant called after me--
"'My young friend, poor people should never suffer themselves to get
into pets. Anger is an expensive luxury, in which only men of a
certain income can indulge. A pair of spectacles and a hot temper are
not the most promising capital for success in life, Master Titbottom.'
"I said nothing, but put my hand upon the door to go out, when the
merchant said, more respect fully--
"'Well, you foolish boy, if you will not sell your spectacles, perhaps
you will agree to sell the use of them to me. That is, you shall only
put them on when I direct you, and for my purposes. Hallo! you little
fool!' cried he, impatiently, as he saw that I intended to make no
"But I had pulled out my spectacles and put them on for my own
purposes, and against his wish and desire. I looked at him, and saw a
huge, bald-headed wild boar, with gross chaps and a leering eye--only
the more ridiculous for the high-arched, gold-bowed spectacles, that
straddled his nose One of his fore-hoofs was thrust into the safe,
where his bills receivable were hived, and the other into his pocket,
among the loose change and bills there. His ears were pricked forward
with a brisk, sensitive smartness. In a world where prize pork was the
best excellence, he would have carried off all the premiums.
"I stepped into the next office in the street, and a mild-faced;
genial man, also a large and opulent merchant, asked me my business in
such a tone, that I instantly looked through my spectacles, and saw a
land flowing with milk and honey. There I pitched my tent, and staid
till the good man died, and his business was discontinued.
"But while there," said Titbottom, and his voice trembled away into a
sigh, "I first saw Preciosa. Despite the spectacles, I saw
Preciosa. For days, for weeks, for months, I did not take my
spectacles with me. I ran away from them, I threw them up on high
shelves, I tried to make up my mind to throw them into the sea, or
down the well. I could not, I would not, I dared not, look at Preciosa
through the spectacles. It was not possible for me deliberately to
destroy them; but I awoke in the night, and could almost have cursed
my dear old grandfather for his gift.
"I sometimes escaped from the office, and sat for whole days with
Preciosa. I told her the strange things I had seen with my mystic
glasses. The hours were not enough for the wild romances which I raved
in her ear. She listened, astonished and appalled. Her blue eyes
turned upon me with sweet deprecation. She clung to me, and then
withdrew, and fled fearfully from the room.
"But she could not stay away. She could not resist my voice, in whose
tones burnt all the love that filled my heart and brain. The very
effort to resist the desire of seeing her as I saw everybody else,
gave a frenzy and an unnatural tension to my feeling and my manner. I
sat by her side, looking into her eyes, smoothing her hair, folding
her to my heart, which was sunken deep and deep--why not for ever?--in
that dream of peace. I ran from her presence, and shouted, and leaped
with joy, and sat the whole night through, thrilled into happiness by
the thought of her love and loveliness, like a wind harp, tightly
strung, and answering the airiest sigh of the breeze with music.
"Then came calmer days--the conviction of deep love settled upon our
lives--as after the hurrying, heaving days of spring, comes the bland
and benignant summer.
"'It is no dream, then, after all, and we are happy,' I said to her,
one day; and there came no answer, for happiness is speechless.
"'We are happy, then,' I said to myself, 'there is no excitement
now. How glad I am that I can now look at her through my spectacles.'
"I feared least some instinct should warn me to beware. I escaped from
her arms, and ran home and seized the glasses, and bounded back again
to Preciosa. As I entered the room I was heated, my head was swimming
with confused apprehensions, my eyes must have glared. Preciosa was
frightened, and rising from her seat, stood with an inquiring glance
of surprise in her eyes.
"But I was bent with frenzy upon my purpose. I was merely aware that
she was in the room. I saw nothing else. I heard nothing. I cared for
nothing, but to see her through that magic glass, and feel at once all
the fulness of blissful perfection which that would reveal. Preciosa
stood before the mirror, but alarmed at my wild and eager movements,
unable to distinguish what I had in my hands, and seeing me raise them
suddenly to my face, she shrieked with terror, and fell fainting upon
the floor, at the very moment that I placed the glasses before my
eyes, and beheld--_myself_, reflected in the mirror, before which
she had been standing.
"Dear madam," cried Titbottom, to my wife, springing up and falling
back again in his chair, pale and trembling, while Prue ran to him and
took his hand, and I poured out a glass of water--"I saw myself."
There was silence for many minutes. Prue laid her hand gently upon the
head of our guest, whose eyes were closed, and who breathed softly
like an infant in sleeping. Perhaps, in all the long years of anguish
since that hour, no tender hand had touched his brow, nor wiped away
the damps of a bitter sorrow. Perhaps the tender, maternal fingers of
my wife soothed his weary head with the conviction that he felt the
hand of his mother playing with the long hair of her boy in the soft
West India morning. Perhaps it was only the natural relief of
expressing a pent-up sorrow.
When he spoke again, it was with the old subdued tone, and the air of
"These things were matters of long, long ago, and I came to this
country soon after. I brought with me, premature age, a past of
melancholy memories, and the magic spectacles. I had become their
slave. I had nothing more to fear. Having seen myself, I was compelled
to see others, properly to understand my relations to them. The lights
that cheer the future of other men had gone out for me; my eyes were
those of an exile turned backwards upon the receding shore, and not
forwards with hope upon the ocean.
"I mingled with men, but with little pleasure. There are but many
varieties of a few types. I did not find those I came to
clearer-sighted than those I had left behind. I heard men called
shrewd and wise, and report said they were highly intelligent and
successful. My finest sense detected no aroma of purity and principle;
but I saw only a fungus that had fattened and spread in a night. They
went to the theatres to see actors upon the stage. I went to see
actors in the boxes, so consummately cunning, that others did not know
they were acting, and they did not suspect it themselves.
"Perhaps you wonder it did not make me misanthropical. My dear
friends, do not forget that I had seen myself. That made me
compassionate not cynical.
"Of course, I could not value highly the ordinary standards of success
and excellence. When I went to church and saw a thin, blue, artificial
flower, or a great sleepy cushion expounding the beauty of holiness to
pews full of eagles, half-eagles, and three-pences, however adroitly
concealed they might be in broadcloth and boots: or saw an onion in an
Easter bonnet weeping over the sins of Magdalen, I did not feel as
they felt who saw in all this, not only propriety but piety.
"Or when at public meetings an eel stood up on end, and wriggled and
squirmed lithely in every direction, and declared that, for his part,
he went in for rainbows and hot water--how could I help seeing that he
was still black and loved a slimy pool?
"I could not grow misanthropical when I saw in the eyes of so many who
were called old, the gushing fountains of eternal youth, and the light
of an immortal dawn, or when I saw those who were esteemed
unsuccessful and aimless, ruling a fair realm of peace and plenty,
either in their own hearts, or in another's--a realm and princely
possession for which they had well renounced a hopeless search and a
"I knew one man who had been for years a byword for having sought the
philosopher's stone. But I looked at him through the spectacles and
saw a satisfaction in concentrated energies, and a tenacity arising
from devotion to a noble dream which was not apparent in the youths
who pitied him in the aimless effeminacy of clubs, nor in the clever
gentlemen who cracked their thin jokes upon him over a gossiping
"And there was your neighbor over the way, who passes for a woman who
has failed in her career, because she is an old maid. People wag
solemn heads of pity, and say that she made so great a mistake in not
marrying the brilliant and famous man who was for long years her
suitor. It is clear that no orange flower will ever bloom for her. The
young people make their tender romances about her as they watch her,
and think of her solitary hours of bitter regret and wasting longing,
never to be satisfied.
"When I first came to town I shared this sympathy, and pleased my
imagination with fancying her hard struggle with the conviction that
she had lost all that made life beautiful. I supposed that if I had
looked at her through my spectacles, I should see that it was only her
radiant temper which so illuminated her dress, that we did not see it
to be heavy sables.
"But when, one day, I did raise my glasses, and glanced at her, I did
not see the old maid whom we all pitied for a secret sorrow, but a
woman whose nature was a tropic, in which the sun shone, and birds
sang, and flowers bloomed for ever. There were no regrets, no doubts
and half wishes, but a calm sweetness, a transparent peace. I saw her
blush when that old lover passed by, or paused to speak to her, but it
was only the sign of delicate feminine consciousness. She knew his
love, and honored it, although she could not understand it nor return
it. I looked closely at her, and I saw that although all the world had
exclaimed at her indifference to such homage, and had declared it was
astonishing she should lose so fine a match, she would only say simply
"'If Shakespeare loved me and I did not love him, how could I marry
"Could I be misanthropical when I saw such fidelity, and dignity, and
"You may believe that I was especially curious to look at that old
lover of hers, through my glasses. He was no longer young, you know,
when I came, and his fame and fortune were secure. Certainly I have
heard of few men more beloved, and of none more worthy to be loved. He
had the easy manner of a man of the world, the sensitive grace of a
poet, and the charitable judgment of a wide-traveller. He was
accounted the most successful and most unspoiled of men. Handsome,
brilliant, wise, tender, graceful, accomplished, rich, and famous, I
looked at him, without the spectacles, in surprise, and admiration,
and wondered how your neighbor over the way had been so entirely
untouched by his homage. I watched their intercourse in society, I saw
her gay smile, her cordial greeting; I marked his frank address, his
lofty courtesy. Their manner told no tales. The eager world was
baulked, and I pulled out my spectacles.
"I had seen her already, and now I saw him. He lived only in memory,
and his memory was a spacious and stately palace. But he did not
oftenest frequent the banqueting hall, where were endless hospitality
and feasting,--nor did he loiter much in the reception rooms, where a
throng of new visitors was for ever swarming,--nor did he feed his
vanity by haunting the apartment in which were stored the trophies of
his varied triumphs,--nor dream much in the great gallery hung with
pictures of his travels.
"From all these lofty halls of memory he constantly escaped to a
remote and solitary chamber, into which no one had ever
penetrated. But my fatal eyes, behind the glasses, followed and
entered with him, and saw that the chamber was a chapel. It was dim,
and silent, and sweet with perpetual incense that burned upon an altar
before a picture forever veiled. There, whenever I chanced to look, I
saw him kneel and pray; and there, by day and by night, a funeral hymn
"I do not believe you will be surprised that I have been content to
remain a deputy book-keeper. My spectacles regulated my ambition, and
I early learned that there were better gods than Plutus. The glasses
have lost much of their fascination now, and I do not often use
them. But sometimes the desire is irresistible. Whenever I am greatly
interested, I am compelled to take them out and see what it is that I
"And yet--and yet," said Titbottom, after a pause, "I am not sure that
I thank my grandfather."
Prue had long since laid away her work, and had heard every word of
the story. I saw that the dear woman had yet one question to ask, and
had been earnestly hoping to hear something that would spare her the
necessity of asking. But Titbottom had resumed his usual tone, after
the momentary excitement, and made no further allusion to himself. We
all sat silently; Titbottom's eyes fastened musingly upon the carpet,
Prue looking wistfully at him, and I regarding both.
It was past midnight, and our guest arose to go. He shook hands
quietly, made his grave Spanish bow to Prue, and, taking his hat, went
towards the front door. Prue and I accompanied him. I saw in her eyes
that she would ask her question, And as Titbottom opened the door, I
heard the low words:
Titbottom paused. He had just opened the door, and the moonlight
streamed over him as he stood, turning back to us.
"I have seen her but once since. It was in church, and she was
kneeling, with her eyes closed, so that she did not see me. But I
rubbed the glasses well, and looked at her, and saw a white lily,
whose stem was broken, but which was fresh, and luminous, and fragrant
"That was a miracle," interrupted Prue.
"Madam, it was a miracle," replied Titbottom, "and for that one sight
I am devoutly grateful for my grandfather's gift. I saw, that although
a flower may have lost its hold upon earthly moisture, it may still
bloom as sweetly, fed by the dews of heaven."
The door closed, and he was gone. But as Prue put her arm in mine, and
we went up stairs together, she whispered in my ear:
"How glad I am that you don't wear spectacles."
A CRUISE IN THE FLYING DUTCHMAN.
"When I sailed: when I sailed."
_Ballad of Robert Kidd._
With the opening of spring my heart opens. My fancy expands with the
flowers, and, as I walk down town in the May morning, toward the dingy
counting-room, and the old routine, you would hardly believe that I
would not change my feelings for those of the French Barber-Poet
Jasmin, who goes, merrily singing, to his shaving and hair cutting.
The first warm day puts the whole winter to flight. It stands in front
of the summer like a young warrior before his host, and,
single-handed, defies and destroys its remorseless enemy.
I throw up the chamber-window, to breathe the earliest breath of
"The brave young David has hit old Goliath square in the forehead this
morning," I say to Prue, as I lean out, and bathe in the soft
My wife is tying on her cap at the glass, and, not quite disentangled
from her dreams, thinks I am speaking of a street-brawl, and replies
that I had better take care of my own head.
"Since you have charge of my heart, I suppose," I answer gaily,
turning round to make her one of Titbottom's bows.
"But seriously, Prue, how is it about my summer wardrobe?"
Prue smiles, and tells me we shall have two months of winter yet, and
I had better stop and order some more coal as I go down town.
Then I step back, and taking her by the arm, lead her to the window. I
throw it open even wider than before. The sunlight streams on the
great church-towers opposite, and the trees in the neighboring square
glisten, and wave their boughs gently, as if they would burst into
leaf before dinner. Cages are hung at the open chamber-windows in the
street, and the birds, touched into song by the sun, make Memnon
true. Prue's purple and white hyacinths are in full blossom, and
perfume the warm air, so that the canaries and the mocking birds are
no longer aliens in the city streets, but are once more swinging in
their spicy native groves.
A soft wind blows upon us as we stand, listening and looking. Cuba and
the Tropics are in the air. The drowsy tune of a hand-organ rises
from the square, and Italy comes singing in upon the sound. My
triumphant eyes meet Prue's. They are full of sweetness and spring.
"What do you think of the summer-wardrobe now?" I ask, and we go down
But the air has magic in it, and I do not cease to dream. If I meet
Charles, who is bound for Alabama, or John, who sails for Savannah,
with a trunk full of white jackets, I do not say to them, as their
other friends say,--
"Happy travellers, who cut March and April out of the dismal year!"
I do not envy them. They will be sea-sick on the way. The southern
winds will blow all the water out of the rivers, and, desolately
stranded upon mud, they will relieve the tedium of the interval by
tying with large ropes a young gentleman raving with delirium
tremens. They will hurry along, appalled by forests blazing in the
windy night; and, housed in a bad inn, they will find themselves
anxiously asking, "Are the cars punctual in leaving?"--grimly sure
that impatient travellers find all conveyances too slow. The
travellers are very warm, indeed, even in March and April,--but Prue
doubts if it is altogether the effect of the southern climate.
Why should they go to the South? If they only wait a little, the South
will come to them. Savannah arrives in April; Florida in May; Cuba and
the Gulf come in with June, and the full splendor of the Tropics
burns through July and August. Sitting upon the earth, do we not
glide by all the constellations, all the awful stars? Does not the
flash of Orion's scimeter dazzle as we pass? Do we not hear, as we
gaze in hushed midnights, the music of the Lyre; are we not throned
with Cassiopea; do we not play with the tangles of Berenice's hair, as
we sail, as we sail?
When Christopher told me that he was going to Italy, I went into
Bourne's conservatory, saw a magnolia, and so reached Italy before
him. Can Christopher bring Italy home? But I brought to Prue a branch
of magnolia blossoms, with Mr. Bourne's kindest regards, and she put
them upon her table, and our little house smelled of Italy for a week
afterward. The incident developed Prue's Italian tastes, which I had
not suspected to be so strong. I found her looking very often at the
magnolias; even holding them in her hand, and standing before the
table with a pensive air. I suppose she was thinking of Beatrice
Cenci, or of Tasso and Leonora, or of the wife of Marino Faliero, or
of some other of those sad old Italian tales of love and woe So easily
Prue went to Italy!
Thus the spring comes in my heart as well as in the air, and leaps
along my veins as well as through the trees. I immediately travel. An
orange takes me to Sorrento, and roses, when they blow, to Paestum.
The camelias in Aurelia's hair bring Brazil into the happy rooms she
treads, and she takes me to South America as she goes to dinner. The
pearls upon her neck make me free of the Persian gulf. Upon her
shawl, like the Arabian prince upon his carpet, I am transported to
the vales of Cashmere; and thus, as I daily walk in the bright spring
days, I go round the world.
But the season wakes a finer longing, a desire that could only be
satisfied if the pavilions of the clouds were real, and I could stroll
among the towering splendors of a sultry spring evening. Ah! if I
could leap those flaming battlements that glow along the west--if I
could tread those cool, dewy, serene isles of sunset, and sink with
them in the sea of stars.
I say so to Prue, and my wife smiles.
"But why is it so impossible," I ask, "if you go to Italy upon a
The smile fades from her eyes.
"I went a shorter voyage than that," she answered; "it was only to
I walked slowly out of the house, and overtook Titbottom as I went. He
smiled gravely as he greeted me, and said:
"I have been asked to invite you to join a little pleasure party."
"Where is it going?"
"Oh! anywhere," answered Titbottom.
"Oh! anyhow," he replied.
"You mean that everybody is to go wherever he pleases, and in the way
he best can. My dear Titbottom, I have long belonged to that pleasure
party, although I never heard it called by so pleasant a name before."
My companion said only:
"If you would like to join, I will introduce you to the party. I
cannot go, but they are all on board."
I answered nothing; but Titbottom drew me along. We took a boat, and
put off to the most extraordinary craft I had ever seen. We approached
her stern, and, as I curiously looked at it, I could think of nothing
but an old picture that hung in my father's house. It was of the
Flemish school, and represented the rear view of the _vrouw_ of a
burgomaster going to market. The wide yards were stretched like
elbows, and even the studding-sails were spread. The hull was seared
and blistered, and, in the tops, I saw what I supposed to be strings
of turnips or cabbages, little round masses, with tufted crests; but
Titbottom assured me they were sailors.
We rowed hard, but came no nearer the vessel.
"She is going with the tide and wind," said I; "we shall never catch
My companion said nothing.
"But why have they set the studding-sails?" asked I.
"She never takes in any sails," answered Titbottom.
"The more fool she," thought I, a little impatiently, angry at not
getting nearer to the vessel. But I did not say it aloud. I would as
soon have said it to Prue as to Titbottom. The truth is, I began to
feel a little ill, from the motion of the boat, and remembered, with a
shade of regret, Prue and peppermint. If wives could only keep their
husbands a little nauseated, I am confident they might be very sure of
But, somehow, the strange ship was gained, and I found myself among as
singular a company as I have ever seen. There were men of every
country, and costumes of all kinds. There was an indescribable
mistiness in the air, or a premature twilight, in which all the
figures looked ghostly and unreal. The ship was of a model such as I
had never seen, and the rigging had a musty odor, so that the whole
craft smelled like a ship-chandler's shop grown mouldy. The figures
glided rather than walked about, and I perceived a strong smell of
cabbage issuing from the hold.
But the most extraordinary thing of all was the sense of resistless
motion which possessed my mind the moment my foot struck the deck. I
could have sworn we were dashing through, the water at the rate of
twenty knots an hour. (Prue has a great, but a little ignorant,
admiration of my technical knowledge of nautical affairs and phrases.)
I looked aloft and saw the sails taut with a stiff breeze, and. I
heard a faint whistling of the wind in the rigging, but very faint,
and rather, it seemed to me, as if it came from the creak of cordage
in the ships of Crusaders; or of quaint old craft upon the Spanish
main, echoing through remote years--so far away it sounded.
Yet I heard no orders given; I saw no sailors running aloft, and only
one figure crouching over the wheel: He was lost behind his great
beard as behind a snow-drift. But the startling speed with which we
scudded along did not lift a solitary hair of that beard, nor did the
old and withered face of the pilot betray any curiosity or interest as
to what breakers, or reefs, or pitiless shores, might be lying in
ambush to destroy us.
Still on we swept; and as the traveller in a night-train knows that he
is passing green fields, and pleasant gardens, and winding streams
fringed with flowers, and is now gliding through tunnels or darting
along the base of fearful cliffs, so I was conscious that we were
pressing through various climates and by romantic shores. In vain I
peered into the gray twilight mist that folded all. I could only see
the vague figures that grew and faded upon the haze, as my eye fell
upon them, like the intermittent characters of sympathetic ink when
heat touches them.
Now, it was a belt of warm, odorous air in which we sailed, and then
cold as the breath of a polar ocean. The perfume of new-mown hay and
the breath of roses, came mingled with the distant music of bells, and
the twittering song of birds, and a low surf-like sound of the wind in
summer woods. There were all sounds of pastoral beauty, of a tranquil
landscape such as Prue loves--and which shall be painted as the
background of her portrait whenever she sits to any of my many artist
friends--and that pastoral beauty shall be called England; I strained
my eyes into the cruel mist that held all that music and all that
suggested beauty, but I could see nothing. It was so sweet that I
scarcely knew if I cared to see. The very thought of it charmed my
senses and satisfied my heart. I smelled and heard the landscape that
I could not see.
Then the pungent, penetrating fragrance of blossoming vineyards was
wafted across the air; the flowery richness of orange groves, and the
sacred odor of crushed bay leaves, such as is pressed from them when
they are strewn upon the flat pavement of the streets of Florence, and
gorgeous priestly processions tread them under foot. A steam of
incense filled the air. I smelled Italy--as in the magnolia from
Bourne's garden--and, even while my heart leaped with the
consciousness, the odor passed, and a stretch of burning silence
It was an oppressive zone of heat--oppressive not only from its
silence, but from the sense of awful, antique forms, whether of art or
nature, that were sitting, closely veiled, in that mysterious
obscurity. I shuddered as I felt that if my eyes could pierce that
mist, or if it should lift and roll away, I should see upon a silent
shore low ranges of lonely hills, or mystic figures and huge temples
trampled out of history by time.
This, too, we left. There was a rustling of distant palms, the
indistinct roar of beasts, and the hiss of serpents. Then all was
still again. Only at times the remote sigh of the weary sea, moaning
around desolate isles undiscovered; and the howl of winds that had
never wafted human voices, but had rung endless changes upon the sound
of dashing waters, made the voyage more appalling and the figures
around me more fearful.
As the ship plunged on through all the varying zones, as climate and
country drifted behind us, unseen in the gray mist, but each, in turn,
making that quaint craft England or Italy, Africa and the Southern
seas, I ventured to steal a glance at the motley crew, to see what
impression this wild career produced upon them.
They sat about the deck in a hundred listless postures. Some leaned
idly over the bulwarks, and looked wistfully away from the ship, as if
they fancied they saw all that I inferred but could not see. As the
perfume, and sound, and climate changed, I could see many a longing
eye sadden and grow moist, and as the chime of bells echoed distinctly
like the airy syllables of names, and, as it were, made pictures in
music upon the minds of those quaint mariners--then dry lips moved,
perhaps to name a name, perhaps to breathe a prayer. Others sat upon
the deck, vacantly smoking pipes that required no refilling, but had
an immortality of weed and fire. The more they smoked the more
mysterious they became. The smoke made the mist around them more
impenetrable, and I could clearly see that those distant sounds
gradually grew more distant, and, by some of the most desperate and
constant smokers, were heard no more. The faces of such had an apathy,
which, had it been human, would have been despair.
Others stood staring up into the rigging, as if calculating when the
sails must needs be rent and the voyage end. But there was no hope in
their eyes, only a bitter longing. Some paced restlessly up and down
the deck. They had evidently been walking a long, long time. At
intervals they, too threw a searching glance into the mist that
enveloped the ship, and up into the sails and rigging that stretched
over them in hopeless strength and order.
One of the promenaders I especially noticed. His beard was long and
snowy, like that of the pilot. He had a staff in his hand, and his
movement was very rapid. His body swung forward, as if to avoid
something, and his glance half turned back over his shoulder,
apprehensively, as if he were threatened from behind. The head and the
whole figure were bowed as if under a burden, although I could not see
that he had anything upon his shoulders; and his gait was not that of
a man who is walking off the ennui of a voyage, but rather of a
criminal flying, or of a startled traveller pursued.
As he came nearer to me in his walk, I saw that his features were
strongly Hebrew, and there was an air of the proudest dignity,
fearfully abased, in his mien and expression. It was more than the
dignity of an individual. I could have believed that the pride of a
race was humbled in his person.
His agile eye presently fastened itself upon me, as a stranger. He
came nearer and nearer to me, as he paced rapidly to and fro, and was
evidently several times on the point of addressing me, but, looking
over his shoulder apprehensively, he passed on. At length, with a
great effort, he paused for an instant, and invited me to join him in
his walk. Before the invitation was fairly uttered, he was in motion
again. I followed, but I could not overtake him. He kept just before
me, and turned occasionally with an air of terror, as if he fancied I
were dogging him; then glided on more rapidly.
His face was by no means agreeable, but it had an inexplicable
fascination, as if it had been turned upon what no other mortal eyes
had ever seen. Yet I could hardly tell whether it were, probably, an
object of supreme beauty or of terror. He looked at everything as if
he hoped its impression might obliterate some anterior and awful one;
and I was gradually possessed with the unpleasant idea that his eyes
were never closed--that, in fact, he never slept.
Suddenly, fixing me with his unnatural, wakeful glare, he whispered
something which I could not understand, and then darted forward even
more rapidly, as if he dreaded that, in merely speaking, he had lost
Still the ship drove on, and I walked hurriedly along the deck, just
behind my companion. But our speed and that of the ship contrasted
strangely with the mouldy smell of old rigging, and the listless and
lazy groups, smoking and leaning on the bulwarks. The seasons, in
endless succession and iteration, passed over the ship. The twilight
was summer haze at the stern, while it was the fiercest winter mist at
the bows. But as a tropical breath, like the warmth of a Syrian day,
suddenly touched the brow of my companion, he sighed, and I could not
"You must be tired."
He only shook his head and quickened his pace. But now that I had
once spoken, it was not so difficult to speak, and I asked him why he
did not stop and rest.
He turned for moment, and a mournful sweetness shone in his dark eyes
and haggard, swarthy face. It played flittingly around that strange
look of ruined human dignity, like a wan beam of late sunset about a
crumbling and forgotten temple. He put his hand hurriedly to his
forehead, as if he were trying to remember--like a lunatic, who,
having heard only the wrangle of fiends in his delirium, suddenly in a
conscious moment, perceives the familiar voice of love. But who could
this be, to whom mere human sympathy was so startlingly sweet?
Still moving, he whispered with a woful sadness, "I want to stop, but
I cannot. If I could only stop long enough to leap over the bulwarks!"
Then he sighed long and deeply, and added, "But I should not drown."
So much had my interest been excited by his face and movement, that I
had not observed the costume of this strange being. He wore a black
hat upon his head. It was not only black, but it was shiny. Even in
the midst of this wonderful scene, I could observe that it had the
artificial newness of a second-hand hat; and, at the same moment, I
was disgusted by the odor of old clothes--very old clothes,
indeed. The mist and my sympathy had prevented my seeing before what a
singular garb the figure wore. It was all second-hand and carefully
ironed, but the garments were obviously collected from every part of
the civilized globe. Good heavens! as I looked at the coat, I had a
strange sensation. I was sure that I had once worn that coat. It was
my wedding surtout--long in the skirts--which Prue had told me, years
and years before, she had given away to the neediest Jew beggar she
had ever seen.
The spectral figure dwindled in my fancy--the features lost their
antique grandeur, and the restless eye ceased to be sublime from
immortal sleeplessness, and became only lively with mean cunning. The
apparition was fearfully grotesque, but the driving ship and the
mysterious company gradually restored its tragic interest. I stopped
and leaned against the side, and heard the rippling water that I could
not see, and flitting through the mist, with anxious speed, the figure
held its way. What was he flying? What conscience with relentless
sting pricked this victim on?
He came again nearer and nearer to me in his walk. I recoiled with
disgust, this time, no less than terror. But he seemed resolved to
speak, and, finally, each time, as he passed me, he asked single
questions, as a ship which fires whenever it can bring a gun to bear.
"Can you tell me to what port we are bound?"
"No," I replied; "but how came you to take passage without inquiry? To
me it makes little difference."
"Nor do I care," he answered, when he next came near enough; I have
already been there."
"Where?" asked I.
"Wherever we are going," he replied. "I have been there a great many
times, and, oh! I am very tired of it."
"But why are you here at all, then; and why don't you stop?"
There was a singular mixture of a hundred conflicting emotions in his
face, as I spoke. The representative grandeur of a race, which he
sometimes showed in his look, faded into a glance of hopeless and puny
despair. His eyes looked at me curiously, his chest heaved, and there
was clearly a struggle in his mind, between some lofty and mean
desire. At times, I saw only the austere suffering of ages in his
strongly-carved features, and again I could see nothing but the
second-hand black hat above them. He rubbed his forehead with his
skinny hand; he glanced over his shoulder, as if calculating whether
he had time to speak to me; and then, as a splendid defiance flashed
from his piercing eyes, so that I know how Milton's Satan looked, he
said, bitterly, and with hopeless sorrow, that no mortal voice ever
"I cannot stop: my woe is infinite, like my sin!"--and he passed into
But, in a few moments, he reappeared. I could now see only the hat,
which sank more and more over his face, until it covered it entirely;
and I heard a querulous voice, which seemed to be quarrelling with
itself, for saying what it was compelled to say, so that the words
were even more appalling than what it had said before:
"Old clo'! old clo'!"
I gazed at the disappearing figure, in speechless amazement, and was
still looking, when I was tapped upon the shoulder, and, turning
round, saw a German cavalry officer, with a heavy moustache, and a
dog-whistle in his hand.
"Most extraordinary man, your friend yonder," said the officer; "I
don't remember to have seen him in Turkey, and yet I recognize upon
his feet the boots that I wore in the great Russian cavalry charge,
where I individually rode down five hundred and thirty Turks, slew
seven hundred, at a moderate computation, by the mere force of my
rush, and, taking the seven insurmountable walls of Constantinople at
one clean flying leap, rode straight into the seraglio, and, dropping
the bridle, cut the sultan's throat with my bridle-hand, kissed the
other to the ladies of the hareem, and was back again within our lines
and taking a glass of wine with the hereditary Grand Duke
Generalissimo before he knew that I had mounted. Oddly enough, your
old friend is now sporting the identical boots I wore on that
The cavalry officer coolly curled his moustache with his fingers. I
looked at him in silence.
"Speaking of boots," he resumed, "I don't remember to have told you of
that little incident of the Princess of the Crimea's diamonds. It was
slight, but curious. I was dining one day with the Emperor of the
Crimea, who always had a cover laid for me at his table, when he said,
in great perplexity, 'Baron, my boy, I am in straits. The Shah of
Persia has just sent me word that he has presented me with two
thousand pearl-of-Oman necklaces, and I don't know how to get them
over, the duties are so heavy.' 'Nothing easier,' replied I; 'I'll
bring them in my boots.' 'Nonsense!' said the Emperor of the
Crimea. 'Nonsense! yourself,' replied I, sportively: for the Emperor
of the Crimea always gives me my joke; and so after dinner I went over
to Persia. The thing was easily enough done. I ordered a hundred
thousand pairs of boots or so, filled them with the pearls; said at
the Custom-house that they were part of my private wardrobe, and I had
left the blocks in to keep them stretched, for I was particular about
my bunions. The officers bowed, and said that their own feet were
tender,--upon which I jokingly remarked that I wished their
consciences were, and so in the pleasantest manner possible the
pearl-of-Oman necklaces were bowed out of Persia, and the Emperor of
the Crimea gave me three thousand of them as my share. It was no
trouble. It was only ordering the boots, and whistling to the infernal
rascals of Persian shoe-makers to hang for their pay."
I could reply nothing to my new acquaintance, but I treasured his
stories to tell to Prue, and at length summoned courage to ask him why
he had taken passage.
"Pure fun," answered he, "nothing else under the sun. You see, it
happened in this way:--I was sitting quietly and swinging in a cedar
of Lebanon, on the very summit of that mountain, when suddenly,
feeling a little warm, I took a brisk dive into the Mediterranean. Now
I was careless, and got going obliquely, and with the force of such a
dive I could not come up near Sicily, as I had intended, but I went
clean under Africa, and came out at the Cape of Grood Hope, and as
Fortune would have it, just as this good ship was passing. So I
sprang over the side, and offered the crew to treat all round if they
would tell me where I started from. But I suppose they had just been
piped to grog, for not a man stirred, except your friend yonder, and
he only kept on stirring."
"Are you going far?" I asked.
The cavalry officer looked a little disturbed. "I cannot precisely
tell," answered he, "in fact, I wish I could;" and he glanced round
nervously at the strange company.
"If you should come our way, Prue and I will be very glad to see you,"
said I, "and I can promise you a warm welcome from the children."
"Many thanks," said the officer,--and handed me his card, upon which I
read, _Le Baron Munchausen_.
"I beg your pardon," said a low voice at my side; and, turning, I saw
one of the most constant smokers--a very old man--"I beg your pardon,
but can you tell me where I came from?"
"I am sorry to say I cannot," answered I, as I surveyed a man with a
very bewildered and wrinkled face, who seemed to be intently looking
"Nor where I am going?"
I replied that it was equally impossible. He mused a few moments, and
then said slowly, "Do you know, it is a very strange thing that I have
not found anybody who can answer me either of those questions. And yet
I must have come from somewhere," said he, speculatively--"yes, and I
must be going somewhere, and I should really like to know something
"I observe," said I, "that you smoke a good deal, and perhaps you find
tobacco clouds your brain a little."
"Smoke! Smoke!" repeated he, sadly, dwelling upon the words; "why, it
all seems smoke to me;" and he looked wistfully around the deck, and I
felt quite ready to agree with him.
"May I ask what you are here for," inquired I; "perhaps your health,
or business of some kind; although I was told it was a pleasure
"That's just it," said he; "if I only knew where we were going, I might
be able to say something about it. But where are you going?"
"I am going home as fast as I can," replied I warmly, for I began to
be very uncomfortable. The old man's eyes half closed, and his mind
seemed to have struck a scent.
"Isn't that where I was going? I believe it is; I wish I knew; I think
that's what it is called, Where is home?"
And the old man puffed a prodigious cloud of smoke, in which he was
"It is certainly very smoky," said he, "I came on board this ship to
go to--in fact, I meant, as I was saying, I took passage for--." He
smoked silently. "I beg your pardon, but where did you say I was
Out of the mist where he had been leaning over the side, and gazing
earnestly into the surrounding obscurity, now came a pale young man,
and put his arm in mine.
"I see," said he, "that you have rather a general acquaintance, and,
as you know many persons, perhaps you know many things. I am young,
you see, but I am a great traveller. I have been all over the world,
and in all kinds of conveyances; but," he continued, nervously,
starting continually, and looking around, "I haven't yet got abroad."
"Not got abroad, and yet you have been everywhere?"
"Oh! yes; I know," he replied, hurriedly; "but I mean that I haven't
yet got away. I travel constantly, but it does no good--and perhaps
you can tell me the secret I want to know. I will pay any sum for
it. I am very rich and very young, and, if money cannot buy it, I will
give as many years of my life as you require."
He moved his hands convulsively, and his hair was wet upon his
forehead. He was very handsome in that mystic light, but his eye
burned with eagerness, and his slight, graceful frame thrilled with
the earnestness of his emotion. The Emperor Hadrian, who loved the boy
Antinous, would have loved the youth.
"But what is it that you wish to leave behind?" said I, at length,
holding his arm paternally; "what do you wish to escape?"
He threw his arms straight down by his side, clenched his, hands, and
looked fixedly in my eyes. The beautiful head was thrown a little
back upon one shoulder, and the wan faced glowed with yearning desire
and utter abandonment to confidence, so that, without his saying it, I
knew that he had never whispered the secret which he was about to
impart to me. Then, with a long sigh, as if his life were exhaling, he
"Ah! my boy, you are bound upon a long journey."
"I know it," he replied mournfully; "and I cannot even get started. If
I don't get off in this ship, I fear I shall never escape." His last
words were lost in the mist which gradually removed him from my view.
"The youth has been amusing you with some of his wild fancies, I
suppose," said a venerable man, who might have been twin brother of
that snowy-bearded pilot. "It is a great pity so promising a young man
should be the victim of such vagaries."
He stood looking over the side for some time, and at length added,
"Don't you think we ought to arrive soon?"
"Where?" asked I.
"Why, in Eldorado, of course," answered he.
"The truth is, I became very tired of that long process to find the
Philosopher's Stone, and, although I was just upon the point of the
last combination which must infallibly have produced the medium, I
abandoned it when I heard Orellana's account, and found that Nature
had already done in Eldorado precisely what I was trying to do. You
see," continued the old man abstractedly, "I had put youth, and love,
and hope, besides a great many scarce minerals, into the crucible, and
they all dissolved slowly, and vanished--in vapor. It was curious, but
they left no residuum except a little ashes, which were not strong
enough to make a lye to cure a lame finger. But, as I was saying,
Orellana told us about Eldorado just in time, and I thought, if any
ship would carry me there it must be this. But I am very sorry to find
that any one who is in pursuit of such a hopeless goal as that pale
young man yonder, should have taken passage. It is only age," he said,
slowly stroking his white beard, "that teaches us wisdom, and
persuades us to renounce the hope of escaping ourselves; and just as
we are discovering the Philosopher's Stone, relieves our anxiety by
pointing the way to Eldorado."
"Are we really going there?" asked I, in some trepidation.
"Can there be any doubt of it?" replied the old man. "Where should we
be going, if not there? However, let us summon the passengers and
So saying, the venerable man beckoned to the various groups that were
clustered, ghost-like, in the mist that enveloped the ship. They
seemed to draw nearer with listless curiosity, and stood or sat near
us, smoking as before, or, still leaning on the side, idly gazing. But
the restless figure who had first accosted me, still paced the deck,
flitting in and out of the obscurity; and as he passed there was the
same mien of humbled pride, and the air of a fate of tragic grandeur,
and still the same faint odor of old clothes, and the low querulous
cry, "Old clo!' old clo'!"
The ship dashed on. Unknown odors and strange sounds still filled the
air, and all the world went by us as we flew, with no other noise than
the low gurgling of the sea around the side.
"Gentlemen," said the reverend passenger for Eldorado, "I hope there
is no misapprehension as to our destination?"
As he said this, there was a general movement of anxiety and
curiosity. Presently the smoker, who had asked me where he was going,
"I don't know--it seems to me--I mean I wish somebody would distinctly
say where we are going."
"I think I can throw a light upon this subject," said a person whom I
had not before remarked. He was dressed like a sailor, and had a
dreamy eye. "It is very clear to me where we are going. I have been
taking observations for some time, and I am glad to announce that we
are on the eve of achieving great fame; and I may add," said he,
modestly, "that my own good name for scientific acumen will be amply
vindicated. Gentlemen, we are undoubtedly going into the Hole."
"What hole is that?" asked M. le Baron Munchausen, a little
"Sir, it will make you more famous than you ever were before," replied
the first speaker, evidently much enraged.
"I am persuaded we are going into no such absurd place," said the
The sailor with the dreamy eye was fearfully angry. He drew himself up
stiffiy and said:
"Sir, you lie!"
M. le Baron Munchausen took it in very good part. He smiled and held
out his hand:
"My friend," said he, blandly, "that is precisely what I have always
heard. I am glad you do me no more than justice. I fully assent to
your theory: and your words constitute me the proper historiographer
of the expedition. But tell me one thing, how soon, after getting into
the Hole, do you think we shall get out?"
"The result will prove," said the marine gentleman, handing the
officer his card, upon which was written, _Captain Symmes_. The
two gentlemen then walked aside; and the groups began to sway to and
fro in the haze as if not quite contented.
"Good God," said the pale youth, running up to me and clutching my
arm, "I cannot go into any Hole alone with myself. I should die--I
should kill myself. I thought somebody was on board, and I hoped you
were he, who would steer us to the fountain of oblivion."
"Very well, that is in the Hole," said M. le Baron, who came out of
the mist at that moment, leaning upon the Captain's arm.
"But can I leave myself outside?" asked the youth, nervously.
"Certainly," interposed the old Alchemist; "you may be sure that you
will not get into the Hole, until you have left yourself behind."
The pale young man grasped his hand, and gazed into his eyes.
"And then I can drink and be happy," murmured he, as he leaned over
the side of the ship and listened to the rippling water, as if it had
been the music of the fountain of oblivion.
"Drink! drink!" said the smoking old man. "Fountain! fountain! Why, I
believe that is what I am after. I beg your pardon," continued he,
addressing the Alchemist. "But can you tell me if I am looking for a
"The fountain of youth, perhaps," replied the Alchemist.
"The very thing!" cried the smoker, with a shrill laugh, while his
pipe fell from his mouth, and was shattered upon the deck, and the old
man tottered away into the mist, chuckling feebly to himself, "Youth!
"He'll find that in the Hole, too," said the Alchemist, as he gazed
after the receding figure.
The crowd now gathered more nearly around us.
"Well, gentlemen," continued the Alchemist, "where shall we go, or,
rather, where are we going?"
A man in a friar's habit, with the cowl closely drawn about his head,
now crossed himself, and whispered:
"I have but one object. I should not have been here if I had not
supposed we were going to find Prester John, to whom I have been
appointed father confessor, and at whose court I am to live
splendidly, like a cardinal at Rome. Gentlemen, if you will only agree
that we shall go there, you shall all be permitted to hold my train
when I proceed to be enthroned as Bishop of Central Africa."
While he was speaking, another old man came from the bows of the ship,
a figure which had been so immoveable in its place that I supposed it
was the ancient figure-head of the craft, and said in a low, hollow
voice, and a quaint accent:
"I have been looking for centuries, and I cannot see it. I supposed we
were heading for it. I thought sometimes I saw the flash of distant
spires, the sunny gleam of upland pastures, the soft undulation of
purple hills. Ah! me. I am sure I heard the singing of birds, and the
faint low of cattle. But I do not know: we come no nearer; and yet I
felt its presence in the air. If the mist would only lift, we should
see it lying so fair upon the sea, so graceful against the sky. I fear
we may have passed it. Gentlemen," said he, sadly, "I am afraid we may
have lost the island of Atlantis for ever."
There was a look of uncertainty in the throng upon the deck.
"But yet," said a group of young men in every kind of costume, and of
every country and time, "we have a chance at the Encantadas, the
Enchanted Islands. We were reading of them only the other day, and the
very style of the story had the music of waves. How happy we shall be
to reach a land where there is no work, nor tempest, nor pain, and we
shall be for ever happy."
"I am content here," said a laughing youth, with heavily matted
curls. "What can be better than this? We feel every climate, the music
and the perfume of every zone, are ours. In the starlight I woo the
mermaids, as I lean over the side, and no enchanted island will show
us fairer forms. I am satisfied. The ship sails on. We cannot see but
we can dream. What work or pain have we here? I like the ship; I like
the voyage; I like my company, and am content."
As he spoke he put something into his mouth, and, drawing a white
substance from his pocket, offered it to his neighbor, saying, "Try a
bit of this lotus; you will find it very soothing to the nerves, and
an infallible remedy for home-sickness."
"Gentlemen," said M. le Baron Munchausen, "I have no fear. The
arrangements are well made; the voyage has been perfectly planned, and
each passenger will discover what he took passage to find, in the Hole
into which we are going, under the auspices of this worthy Captain."
He ceased, and silence fell upon the ship's company. Still on we
swept; it seemed a weary way. The tireless pedestrians still paced to
and fro, and the idle smokers puffed. The ship sailed on, and endless
music and odor chased each other through the misty air. Suddenly a
deep sigh drew universal attention to a person who had not yet spoken.
He held a broken harp in his hand, the strings fluttered loosely in
the air, and the head of the speaker, bound with a withered wreath of
laurels, bent over it.
"No, no," said he, "I will not eat your lotus, nor sail into the
Hole. No magic root can cure the home-sickness I feel; for it is no
regretful remembrance, but an immortal longing. I have roamed farther
than I thought the earth extended. I have climbed mountains; I have
threaded rivers; I have sailed seas; but nowhere have I seen the home
for which my heart aches. Ah! my friends, you look very weary; let us
The pedestrian paused a moment in his walk, and the smokers took their
pipes from their mouths. The soft air which blew in that moment
across the deck, drew a low sound from the broken harp-strings, and a
light shone in the eyes of the old man of the figure-head, as if the
mist had lifted for an instant, and he had caught a glimpse of the
"I really believe that is where I wish to go," said the seeker of the
fountain of youth. "I think I would give up drinking at the fountain
if I could get there. I do not know," he murmured, doubtfully; "it is
not sure; I mean, perhaps, I should not have strength to get to the
fountain, even if I were near it."
"But is it possible to get home?" inquired the pale young man. "I
think I should be resigned if I could get home."
"Certainly," said the dry, hard voice of Prester John's confessor, as
his cowl fell a little back, and a sudden flush burned upon his gaunt
face; "if there is any chance of home, I will give up the Bishop's
palace in Central Africa."
"But Eldorado is my home," interposed the old Alchemist.
"Or is home Eldorado?" asked the poet, with the withered wreath,
turning towards the Alchemist.
It was a strange company and a wondrous voyage. Here were all kinds
of men, of all times and countries, pursuing the wildest hopes, the
most chimerical desires. One took me aside to request that I would not
let it be known, but that he inferred from certain signs we were
nearing Utopia. Another whispered gaily in my ear that he thought the
water was gradually becoming of a ruby color--the hue of wine; and he
had no doubt we should wake in the morning and find ourselves in the
land of Cockaigne. A third, in great anxiety, stated to me that such
continuous mists were unknown upon the ocean; that they were peculiar
to rivers, and that, beyond question, we were drifting along some
stream, probably the Nile, and immediate measures ought to be taken
that we did riot go ashore at the foot of the mountains of the
moon. Others were quite sure that we were in the way of striking the
great southern continent; and a young man, who gave his name as
Wilkins, said we might be quite at ease for presently some friends of
his would come flying over from the neighboring islands and tell us
all we wished.
Still I smelled the mouldy rigging, and the odor of cabbage was strong
from the hold.
O Prue, what could the ship be, in which such fantastic characters
were sailing toward impossible bournes--characters which in every age
have ventured all the bright capital of life in vague speculations and
romantic dreams? What could it be but the ship that haunts the sea for
ever, and, with all sails set, drives onward before a ceaseless gale,
and is not hailed, nor ever comes to port?
I know the ship is always full; I know the gray-beard still watches at
the prow for the lost Atlantis, and still the alchemist believes that
Eldorado is at hand. Upon his aimless quest, the dotard still asks
where he is going, and the pale youth knows that he shall never fly
himself. Yet they would gladly renounce that wild chase and the dear
dreams of years, could they find what I have never lost. They were
ready to follow the poet home, if he would have told them where it
I know where it lies. I breathe the soft air of the purple uplands
which they shall never tread. I hear the sweet music of the voices
they long for in vain. I am no traveller; my only voyage is to the
office and home again. William and Christopher, John and Charles sail
to Europe and the South, but I defy their romantic distances. When the
spring comes and the flowers blow, I drift through the year belted
with summer and with spice.
With the changing months I keep high carnival in all the zones. I sit
at home and walk with Prue, and if the sun that stirs the sap quickens
also the wish to wander, I remember my fellow-voyagers on that
romantic craft, and looking round upon my peaceful room, and pressing
more closely the arm of Prue, I feel that I have reached the port for
which they hopelessly sailed. And when winds blow fiercely and the
night-storm rages, and the thought of lost mariners and of perilous
voyages touches the soft heart of Prue, I hear a voice sweeter to my
ear than that of the syrens to the tempest-tost sailor: "Thank God!
Your only cruising is in the Flying Dutchman!"
"Look here upon this picture, and on this."
We have no family pictures, Prue and I, only a portrait of my
grandmother hangs upon our parlor wall. It was taken at least a
century ago, and represents the venerable lady, whom I remember in my
childhood in spectacles and comely cap, as a young and blooming girl.
She is sitting upon an old-fashioned sofa, by the side of a prim aunt
of hers, and with her back to the open window. Her costume is quaint,
but handsome. It consists of a cream-colored dress made high in the
throat, ruffled around the neck, and over the bosom and the
shoulders. The waist is just under her shoulders, and the sleeves are
tight, tighter than any of our coat sleeves, and also ruffled at the
wrist. Around the plump and rosy neck, which I remember as shrivelled
and sallow, and hidden under a decent lace handkerchief, hangs, in the
picture, a necklace of large ebony beads. There are two curls upon the
forehead, and the rest of the hair flows away in ringlets down the
The hands hold an open book: the eyes look up from it with tranquil
sweetness, and, through the open window behind, you see a quiet
landscape--a hill, a tree, the glimpse of a river, and a few peaceful
Often in my younger days, when my grandmother sat by the fire, after
dinner, lost in thought--perhaps remembering the time when the picture
was really a portrait--I have curiously compared her wasted face with
the blooming beauty of the girl, and tried to detect the likeness. It
was strange how the resemblance would sometimes start out: how, as I
gazed and gazed upon her old face, age disappeared before my eager
glance, as snow melts in the sunshine, revealing the flowers of a
It was touching, to see my grandmother steal quietly up to her
portrait, on still summer mornings when every one had left the
house,--and I, the only child, played, disregarded,--and look at it
wistfully and long.
She held her hand over her eyes to shade them from the light that
streamed in at the window, and I have seen her stand at least a
quarter of an hour gazing steadfastly at the picture. She said
nothing, she made no motion, she shed no tear, but when she turned
away there was always a pensive sweetness in her face that made it not
less lovely than the face of her youth.
I have learned since, what her thoughts must have been--how that long,
wistful glance annihilated time and space, how forms and faces unknown
to any other, rose in sudden resurrection around her--how she loved,
suffered, struggled and conquered again; how many a jest that I shall
never hear, how many a game that I shall never play, how many a song
that I shall never sing, were all renewed and remembered as my
grandmother contemplated her picture.
I often stand, as she stood, gazing earnestly at the picture, so long
and so silently, that Prue looks up from her work and says she shall
be jealous of that beautiful belle, my grandmother, who yet makes her
think more kindly of those remote old times. "Yes, Prue, and that is
the charm of a family portrait."
"Yes, again; but," says Titbottom when he hears the remark, "how, if
one's grandmother were a shrew, a termagant, a virago?"
"Ah! in that case--" I am compelled to say, while Prue looks up again,
half archly, and I add gravely--"you, for instance, Prue."
Then Titbottom smiles one of his sad smiles, and we change the
Yet, I am always glad when Minim Sculpin, our neighbor, who knows that
my opportunities are few, comes to ask me to step round and see the
The Sculpins, I think, are a very old family. Titbottom says they
date from the deluge. But I thought people of English descent
preferred to stop with William the Conqueror, who came from France.
Before going with Minim, I always fortify myself with a glance at the
great family Bible, in which Adam, Eve, and the patriarchs, are
indifferently well represented.
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