The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 4, No. 24, Oct. 1859
Part 3 out of 5
The men of business are apt to name their firm, when they introduce
themselves to you.
"My name is Norval, Sir,--Norval, Grampian, & Company. I suppose you
know the firm."
We do not, indeed; but we murmur, in return, that we have an uncle or a
cousin in business, who may, very likely, know it.
"What is your uncle's firm?" will be the next question.
"Excellent people,--we have often done business with them. Happy to make
your acquaintance, Sir."
And so, the first preliminaries being established, and each party
assured of the other's solvency, we glide easily into a relation of chat
and kind little mutualities which causes the periods of contact to pass
We found among these some manly, straight-forward fellows, to whom one
would confide one's fortunes, or even one's widow and orphans, with
small fear of any flaw In their trustworthiness. Nor was the more
slippery class, we judged, without its representatives; but of this we
had only hints, not experience. There were various day-boarders, who
frequented only our table, and lodged elsewhere. A few of these were
decorous Spaniards, who did not stare, nor talk, nor gobble their
meals with unbecoming vivacity of appetite. They were obviously staid
business-men, differing widely in character from the street Spaniard,
whom I have already copiously described. Some were Germans, thinned by
the climate, and sharpened up to the true Yankee point of competition;
very little smack of Fatherland was left about them,--no song, no
sentimentality, not much quivering of the heart-strings at remembering
the old folks at home, whom some of them have not seen in twenty years,
and never will see again. To be sure, in such a hard life as theirs,
with no social surroundings, and grim death meeting them at every
corner, there is nothing for it but to be as hard and tough as one's
circumstances. But give me rather the German heart in the little old
German village, with the small earnings and spendings, the narrow sphere
of life and experience, and the great vintage of geniality which is laid
up from youth to age, and handed down with the old wine from father to
son. I don't like your cosmopolitan German any better than I do your
Englishman done to death with travel. I prize the home-flavor in all the
races that are capable of home. There are very many Germans scattered
throughout Cuba, in various departments of business. They are generally
successful, and make very good Yankees, in the technical acceptation
of the word. Their original soundness of constitution enables them to
resist the climate better than Americans, and though they lose flesh
and color, they rarely give that evidence of a disordered liver which
foreign residents in tropical countries are so apt to show.
The ladies at the hotel were all our own countrywomen, as we see them at
home and abroad. I have already spoken of their diligence in sewing, and
of their enthusiasm in shopping. Their other distinctive features are
too familiar to us to require illustration. Yet upon one trait I will
adventure. A group of them sat peaceably together, one day, when a
file of newspapers arrived, with full details of a horrible Washington
scandal, and the murder consequent upon it. Now I must say that no swarm
of bees ever settled upon a bed of roses more eagerly than our fair
sisters pounced upon the carrion of that foul and dreadful tale. It
flew from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth, as if it had been glad
tidings of great joy,--and the universal judgment upon it caused our
heart to shudder with the remembrance, that it had heard some one
somewhere propose that female offenders should be tried by a jury of
their own sex.
It was a real comfort, a few days later, to hear this sad subject
discussed by a circle of intelligent Englishwomen, with good sense and
good feeling, and with true appreciation of the twofold crime, the
domestic treason and the public assassination. In passing, I must say of
this English circle, that it is charming, and that the Britannic Consul
has the key of it in his pocket. Wherefore, if any of you, my friends,
would desire to know four of the most charming women in Havana, he is to
lay hold upon Mr. Consul Crawford, and compel him to be his friend.
Mr. Dana recounts his shopping in Havana, whereof the beginning and
ending were one dress, white and blue, which he commendably purchased
for his wife. But does Dana know what he had to be thankful for, in
getting off with one dress? Tell him, ye patient husbands, whose pockets
seem to be made like lemons, only to be squeezed! Tell him, ye insatiate
ones, who have new wants and new ideas every day! Dana's dress was,
probably, an _holan batista_, which he calls "_Bolan_";--it was, in
other words, a figured linen cambric. But you have bought those cambrics
by the piece, and also _pinas_, thin, gossamer fabrics, of all degrees
of color and beauty, sometimes with _pattern flounces_,--do you hear?
And you have bought Spanish table-cloths with red or blue edges, with
bull-fights on them, and balloon-ascensions, and platoons of soldiery in
review, and with bull-fighting and ballooning napkins to match. And you
have secured such bales of transparent white muslins, that one would
think you intended to furnish a whole troupe of ballet-girls with
saucer petticoats. Catalan lace you have got, to trim curtains, sheets,
pillow-cases, and kitchen-towels with. And as for your fans, we only
hope that the stories you tell about them are true, and that Kitty,
Julia, and Jemima at home are to divide them with you; for we shrewdly
suspect that you mean, after all, to keep them, and to have a fan for
every day in the year. Let a man reflect upon all this, added to the
inevitable three dollars and fifty cents _per diem_, with the frequent
refreshment of _volantes_ and ices at the Dominica, and then say whether
it pays to take a partner not of a frugal mind to Havana for the season.
I had intended to give some account of the servants at Mrs. Almy's;
but my gossip runs to such lengths that I must dismiss them with a few
words. Ramon, the porter, never leaves the vestibule; he watches there
all day, takes his meals there, plays cards there in the evening with
his fellow-servants, and at night spreads his cot there, and lies down
to sleep. He is white, as are most of the others. If I have occasion to
go into the kitchen at night, I find a cot there also, with no bed, and
a twisted sheet upon it, which, I am told, is the chrysalis of the cook.
Said cook is a free yellow, from Nassau, who has wrought in this
kitchen for many years past. Heat, hard work, and they say drink, have
altogether brought him to a bad pass. His legs are frightfully swollen,
and in a few days he leaves, unable to continue his function. Somebody
asks after his wife. "She has got a white husband now," he tells us,
with a dejected air. She might have waited a little,--he is to die soon.
Garcia is the kind waiter with the rather expressive face, who is never
weary of bringing us the rice and fried plantain, which form, after all,
the staple of our existence in Cuba. The waiters all do as well as they
can, considering the length of the table, and the extremely short staple
of the boarders' patience. As a general rule, they understand good
English better than bad Spanish; but comparative philology has obviously
been neglected among them.
Luis is a negro boy of twelve, fearfully black in the face and white
in the eye; his wool cropped to entire bareness. He is chiefly good at
dodging your orders,--disappears when anything is asked for, but does
not return with it.
Rosalia is the chambermaid, of whom I have already spoken, as dexterous
in sweeping the mosquitos from the nets,--her afternoon service. She
brings, too, the morning cup of coffee, and always says, "Good morning,
Sir; you want coffee?"--the only English she can speak. Her voice and
smile are particularly sweet, her person tall and well-formed, and her
face comely and modest. She is not altogether black,--about mahogany
color. I mention her modesty, because, so far as I saw, the good-looking
ones among the black women have an air of assumption, and almost of
impudence,--probably the result of flattery.
With all this array of very respectable "help," our hostess avers that
she has not a single person about her whom she can trust. Hence the
weary look about her eyes and brow, speaking of a load never laid down.
She attends to every detail of business herself, and is at work over her
books long after her boarders have retired to rest.
But the one of all the servants who interests us most is Alexander, Mrs.
Almy's own slave. He is, like Rosalia, of mahogany color, with a broad
forehead and intelligent eyes. His proud, impatient nature is little
suited to his position, and every day brings some new account of his
petulant outbreaks. To-day he quarrelled with the new cook, and drew a
knife upon him. Mrs. Almy threatens continually to sell him, and at this
the hearts of some of us grow very sick,--for she always says that his
spirit must be broken, that only the severest punishment will break it,
and that she cannot endure to send him to receive that punishment. What
that mysterious ordeal may be, we dare not question,--we who cannot help
him from it; we can only wish that he might draw that knife across his
own throat before he undergoes it. He is trying to buy his own freedom,
and has something saved towards it. He looks as if he would do good
service, with sufficient training. As it is, he probably knows no law,
save the two conflicting ones, of necessity and his own wild passions.
One of the sad thoughts we shall carry away from here will be, that
Alexander is to be sold and his spirit broken. Good Mrs. Almy, do have a
little patience with him! Enlighten his dark mind; let Christianity be
taught him, which will show him, even in his slave's estate, that he can
conquer his fellow-servant better than by drawing a knife upon him. Set
him free? Ah! that is past praying for; but, as he has the right to buy
himself, give him every chance of doing so, and we, your petitioners,
will pray for him, and for you, who need it, with that heavy brow of
I have called the negroes of Nassau ugly, clumsy, and unserviceable. The
Cuban negroes make, so far, a very different impression upon me. One
sees among them considerable beauty of form, and their faces are more
expressive and better cut than those of the Nassau blacks. The women are
well-made, and particularly well-poised, standing perfectly straight
from top to toe, with no hitch or swing in their gait. Beauty of feature
is not so common among them; still, one meets with it here and there.
There is a massive sweep in the bust and arms of the women which is very
striking. Even in their faces, there is a certain weight of feature and
of darkness, which makes its own impression. The men have less grace
of movement, though powerful and athletic in their make. Those who are
employed at hard work, within-doors, wear very little clothing, being
stripped to the loins. One often has a glimpse of them, in passing the
open smithies and wheelwrights' shops. The greatest defect among the
men is the want of calf. The narrow boots of the postilions make this
particularly discernible. Such a set of spindle-shanks I never saw, not
even in Trumbull's famous Declaration of Independence, in which we have
the satisfaction of assuring ourselves that the fathers of our liberty
had two legs apiece, and crossed them in concert with the utmost
regularity. One might think, at first, that these narrow boots were as
uncomfortable to the _calesero_ as the Scottish instrument of torture of
that name; but his little swagger when he is down, and his freedom in
kicking when he is up, show that he has ample room in them.
Very jolly groups of Spanish artisans does one see in the open shops at
noon, gathered around a table. The board is chiefly adorned with earthen
jars of an ancient pattern filled with oil and wine, platters of bread
and sausage, and the ever fragrant onion is generally perceptible. The
personal qualities of these men are quite unknown to us; but they have
an air of good-fellowship which gives pleasure.
We hired a carriage this afternoon,--we and two others from Boston. We
had a four-wheeled barouche, with two horses, which costs two dollars an
hour; whereas a _volante_ can be hired only at eight dollars and a half
per whole afternoon,--no less time, no less money. As it holds but two,
or, at the utmost, three, this is paying rather dear for the glory of
showing one's self on the Paseo. The moment we were in the carriage, our
coachman nodded to us, and saying, "_A la tropa_," galloped off with us
in an unknown direction. We soon fell in with a line of other carriages,
and concluded that there was something to be seen somewhere, and that we
were going to see it. Nor were we mistaken; for in due time, ascending a
steep acclivity, we came upon "_la tropa_" and found some ten thousand
soldiers undergoing review, in their seersucker coats and Panama hats,
which, being very like the costume of an easy Wall-Street man in August,
had a very peaceful appearance on so military an occasion. The cavalry
and infantry had nearly concluded their evolutions when we arrived. The
troops were spread out on a vast plateau. The view was magnificent.
The coachman pointed to one immovable figure on horseback, and said,
"Concha." We found it was indeed the Captain-General; for as the
different bands passed, they all saluted him, and he returned their
courtesy. Unluckily, his back was towards us, and so remained until he
rode off in an opposite direction. He was mounted on a white horse, and
was dressed like the others. He seemed erect and well-made; but his
back, after all, was very like any one else's back. _Query_,--Did we
see Concha, or did we not? When all was over, the coachman carefully
descended the hill. He had come hither in haste, wishing to witness the
sport himself; but now he drove slowly, and indulged in every sort of
roundabout to spin out his time and our money. We met with a friend
who, on our complaint, expostulated with him, and said,--"Senor, these
gentlemen say that you drive them very slowly (_muy poco a poco_)." To
the which he,--"Senor, if gentlemen will hire a carriage by the
hour, and not by the afternoon, they must expect to get on very
softly."--_Mem_. A white driver is always addressed as _Senor_, and I
have occasionally heard such monologues as the following:--"Senor, why
do you drive me this way? Curse you, Senor! You don't know anything,
Senor! You are the greatest ass I ever encountered." The coachman takes
it all coolly enough; the "Senor" spares his dignity, and he keeps his
feelings to himself.
The writer of this has already spoken of various disappointments, in the
way of seeing things, incidental to the position of the sex in Cuba.
She came abroad prepared for microscopic, telescopic, and stereoscopic
investigation,--but, hedged in on all sides by custom and convenience,
she often observed only four very bare walls and two or three very
stupid people. What could she see? Prisons? No. Men, naked and filthy,
lying about, using very unedifying language, and totally unaccustomed to
the presence of lady-visitors. She invoked the memory of Mrs. Fry and
the example of Miss Dix. "Oh, they were saints, you know." "Only because
they went to prisons, which you won't let me do."--Bull-fight? No. "How
could you go back to Boston after seeing a bull-fight, eh?" "As if
married life were anything else, eh?" And so on.--Negro ball? "Not
exactly the place for a lady." "Miss Bremer went." "Very differently
behaved woman from you." "Yes, virtue with a nose, impregnable."
But there is something she can go to see,--at least, some one,--the
angelic man, Don Pepe, the wise, the gentle, the fearless, whom all the
good praise. Yes, she shall go to see Don Pepe; and one burning Sunday
noon she makes a pilgrimage through the scorching streets, and comes
where he may be inquired for, and is shown up a pair of stairs, at the
head of which stands the angelic man, mild and bland, with great, dark
eyes, and a gracious countenance. He ushers us into a room furnished
with nothing but books, and finds two chairs for us and one for himself,
not without research.
Now I will not pretend to say that Don Pepe occupied himself with me
after the first kind greeting, nor that, my presence occasioned him
either pleasure or surprise. My companion was a man after his own heart,
and, at first sight, the two mounted their humanitarian hobbies, and
rode them till they were tired. And when this came, I went away and said
nothing. Yet I knew that I had seen a remarkable man.
Don Pepe de la Luz is a Cuban by birth, and his age may number some
sixty years. He inherited wealth and its advantages, having received
somewhere a first-rate education, to which he copiously added in
subsequent years. He is a Liberal in politics and religion, a man of
great reason and of great heart. In affairs of state, however, he
meddles not, but contents himself with making statesmen. Like all wise
philanthropists, he sees the chief source of good to man in education,
and devotes his life, and, in a degree, his fortune, to this object. The
building in which we found him was a large school, or rather college,
founded by himself, and carried on in a great measure through his
efforts. This college is upon the same literary footing as the
University of Havana; and Don Pepe's graduates pass examinations and
receive diplomas in the last-named institution. He himself rarely leaves
its walls; and though he has house and wife elsewhere, and the great
world is everywhere open to him, he leads here a more congenial life of
ascetic seclusion, study, and simplicity.
"Oh, noble instinct of good men, to stay and do their duty!
This let us celebrate above all daring, wit, and beauty."
Don Pepe has been abroad as much as it profits a man to be,--but has not
lost his own soul there, as an American is apt to do. He has known the
best men in Europe and America. The best languages, he possesses them;
the best books, here they are, piled all about his room. The floor is
carpeted with them; there are cases all around the walls; and a large
parallelogramic arrangement in the middle of the room, stuck all
with books, as a pin-cushion with pins. True, there is not in their
arrangement that ornateness of order observable in Northern libraries;
dust even lies and blows about; and though he can find his favorites, we
should be much puzzled to find any volume where it ought to be. But it
looks as if the master were happy and undisturbed here, and as if the
housemaid and her hated broom were as far off as the snow and frost.
In person, Don Pepe is not above the middle height. He is a fairly
developed man, but looks thin and worn, and his shoulders have the stoop
of age, which scholars mostly anticipate. His face is much corrugated,
but it bears the traces of vivacious thought and emotion, not the
withering print of passion. Of his eyes I have already spoken; they are
wise, kind, and full of Southern fire.
Don Pepe has had some annoyances from the government,--probably in the
more sanguine period of his life. The experience of years has taught him
the secret of living peaceably with all men. He can be great and good
himself, without perpetually quarrelling with those who can be neither.
He spoke with warm interest of his scholars. "They have much capacity,"
he said; "but we want a little more of that _air_ you spoke of just now,
Doctor." That air was Liberty. Reader, have you ever been in a place
where her name was contraband? All such places are alike. Here, as in
Rome, men who have thoughts disguise them; and painful circumlocution
conveys the meaning of friend to friend. For treachery lies hid, like
the scorpion, under your pillow, and your most trusted companion will
betray your head, to save his own. I am told that this sub-treason
reached, in the days of Lopez, an incredible point. After every secret
meeting of those affected to the invaders, each conspirator ran to save
himself by denouncing all others. One Cuban, of large fortune and small
reputation, being implicated in these matters, brought General Concha
a list of all his confederates, which Concha burned before his face,
unread. Piteous, laughable spectacle! Better be monkeys than such men;
yet such work does Absolutism in government and religion make of the
noble human creature! God preserve us ever from tyrants, spies, and
Don Pepe does not tell us this; but we have much pleasant talk with him
about books, about great men in Europe, and, lastly, about Prescott,
whom he knew and honored. We took leave of him with regret. He
accompanied us to the head of the stairs, and then said, "Ah! my dear
Madam, my liver will not suffer me to go down." "I am glad it is not
your heart," I rejoined, and we parted,--to meet again, in my thoughts,
and perhaps elsewhere, in the dim vista of the future.
At the castle's outer door
Stood Blondel, the Troubadour.
Up the marble stairs the crowd,
Pressing, talked and laughed aloud.
Upward with the throng he went;
With a heart of discontent,
Timed his sullen instrument;
Tried to sing of mirth and jest,
As the knights around him pressed;
But across his heart a pang
Struck him wordless ere he sang.
Then the guests and vassals roared,
Sitting round the oaken board,
"If thou canst not wake our mirth,
Touch some softer rhyme of earth:
Sing of knights in ladies' bowers,--
Twine a lay of love and flowers."
"Can I sing of love?" he said,--
And a moment bowed his head,
Then looked upward, out of space,
With a strange light in his face.
Said Blondel, the Troubadour,
"When I hear the battle roar,
And the trumpet-tones of war,
Can I tinkle my guitar?"
"But the war is o'er," said all;
"Silent now the bugle's call.
Love should be the warrior's dream,--
Love alone the minstrel's theme.
Sing us _Rose-leaves on a stream_."
Said Blondel, "Not roses now,--
Leafless thorns befit the brow.
In this crowd my voice is weak,
But ye force me now to speak.
Know ye not King Richard groans
Chained 'neath Austria's dungeon-stones?
What care I to sing of aught
Save what presses on my thought?
Over laughter, song, and shout
From these windows swelling out,
Over passion's tender words
Intonating through the chords,
"Rings the prisoned monarch's lay,
Through and through me, night and day;
And the only strain I know
Haunts my brain where'er I go,--
Trumpet-tones that ring and ring
Till I see my Richard king!
"Gallants, hear my song of love,
Deeper tones than courtiers move,--
Hear my royal captive's sigh,--
England, Home, and Liberty!"
Then he struck his lute and sang,
Till the shields and lances rang:
How for Christ and Holy Land
Fought the Lion Heart and Hand,--
How the craft of Leopold
Trapped him in a castle old,--
How one balmy morn in May,
Singing to beguile the day,
In his tower, the minstrel heard
Every note and every word,--
How he answered back the song,
"Let thy hope, my king, be strong!
We will bring thee help ere long!"
Still he sang,--"Who goes with me?
Who is it wills King Richard free?
He who bravely toils and dares,
Pain and danger with me shares,--
He whose heart is true and warm,
Though the night perplex with storm
Forest, plain, and dark morass,
Hanging-rock and mountain-pass,
And the thunder bursts ablaze,--
Is the lover that I praise!"
As the minstrel left the hall,
Silent, sorrowing, sat they all.
"Well they knew his banner-sign,
The Lion-Heart of Palestine.
Like a flame the song had swept
O'er them;--then the warriors leapt
Up from the feast with one accord,--
Pledged around their knightly word,--
From the castle-windows rang
The last verse the minstrel sang,
And from out the castle-door
Followed they the Troubadour.
GOLOSH STREET AND ITS PEOPLE.
A small lane, the name of which I have forgotten, or do not choose to
remember, slants suddenly off from Chatham Street, (before that headlong
thoroughfare reaches into the Park,) and retreats suddenly down towards
the East River, as if it were disgusted with the smell of old clothes,
and had determined to wash itself clean. This excellent intention it
has, however, evidently contributed towards the making of that imaginary
pavement mentioned in the old adage; for it is still emphatically a
dirty street. It has never been able to shake off the Hebraic taint of
filth which it inherits from the ancestral thoroughfare. It is slushy
and greasy, as if it were twin brother of the Roman Ghetto.
I like a dirty slum; not because I am naturally unclean,--I have not a
drop of Neapolitan blood in my veins,--but because I generally find a
certain sediment of philosophy precipitated in its gutters. A clean
street is terribly prosaic. There is no food for thought in carefully
swept pavements, barren kennels, and vulgarly spotless houses. But when
I go down a street which has been left so long to itself that it has
acquired a distinct outward character, I find plenty to think about. The
scraps of sodden letters lying in the ash-barrel have their meaning:
desperate appeals, perhaps, from Tom, the baker's assistant, to Amelia,
the daughter of the dry-goods retailer, who is always selling at a
sacrifice in consequence of the late fire. That may be Tom himself who
is now passing me in a white apron, and I look up at the windows of
the house (which does not, however, give any signs of a recent
conflagration) and almost hope to see Amelia wave a white
pocket-handkerchief. The bit of orange-peel lying on the sidewalk
inspires thought. Who will fall over it? who but the industrious mother
of six children, the eldest of which is only nine months old, all of
whom are dependent on her exertions for support? I see her slip and
tumble. I see the pale face convulsed with agony, and the vain struggle
to get up; the pitying crowd closing her off from all air; the anxious
young doctor who happened to be passing by; the manipulation of the
broken limb, the shake of the head, the moan of the victim, the litter
borne on men's shoulders, the gates of the New York Hospital unclosing,
the subscription taken up on the spot. There is some food for
speculation in that three-year-old, tattered child, masked with dirt,
who is throwing a brick at another three-year-old, tattered child,
masked with dirt. It is not difficult to perceive that he is destined to
lurk, as it were, through life. His bad, flat face--or, at least, what
can be seen of it--does not look as if it were made for the light of
day. The mire in which he wallows now is but a type of the moral mire in
which he will wallow hereafter. The feeble little hand lifted at this
instant to smite his companion, half in earnest, half in jest, will be
raised against his fellow-beings forevermore.
Golosh Street--as I will call this nameless lane before alluded to--is
an interesting locality. All the oddities of trade seem to have found
their way thither and made an eccentric mercantile settlement. There
is a bird-shop at one corner, wainscoted with little cages containing
linnets, waxwings, canaries, blackbirds, Mino-birds, with a hundred
other varieties, known only to naturalists. Immediately opposite is an
establishment where they sell nothing but ornaments made out of the
tinted leaves of autumn, varnished and gummed into various forms.
Farther down is a second-hand book-stall, which looks like a sentry-box
mangled out flat, and which is remarkable for not containing a
complete set of any work. There is a small chink between two
ordinary-sized houses, in which a little Frenchman makes and sells
artificial eyes, specimens of which, ranged on a black velvet cushion,
stare at you unwinkingly through the window as you pass, until you
shudder and hurry on, thinking how awful the world would be, if every
one went about without eyelids. There are junk-shops in Golosh Street
that seem to have got hold of all the old nails in the Ark and all the
old brass of Corinth. Madame Filomel, the fortune-teller, lives at No.
12 Golosh Street, second story front, pull the bell on the left-hand
side. Next door to Madame is the shop of Herr Hippe, commonly called the
Herr Hippe's shop is the largest in Golosh Street, and to all appearance
is furnished with the smallest stock. Beyond a few packing-cases, a
turner's lathe, and a shelf laden with dissected maps of Europe, the
interior of the shop is entirely unfurnished. The window, which is lofty
and wide, but much begrimed with dirt, contains the only pleasant object
in the place. This is a beautiful little miniature theatre,--that is
to say, the orchestra and stage. It is fitted with charmingly painted
scenery and all the appliances for scenic changes. There are tiny
traps, and delicately constructed "lifts," and real footlights fed with
burning-fluid, and in the orchestra sits a diminutive conductor before
his desk, surrounded by musical manikins, all provided with the smallest
of violoncellos, flutes, oboes, drums, and such like. There are
characters also on the stage. A Templar in a white cloak is dragging a
fainting female form to the parapet of a ruined bridge, while behind a
great black rock on the left one can see a man concealed, who, kneeling,
levels an arquebuse at the knight's heart. But the orchestra is silent;
the conductor never beats the time, the musicians never play a note. The
Templar never drags his victim an inch nearer to the bridge, the masked
avenger takes an eternal aim with his weapon. This repose appears
unnatural; for so admirably are the figures executed, that they seem
replete with life. One is almost led to believe, in looking on them,
that they are resting beneath some spell which hinders their motion. One
expects every moment to hear the loud explosion of the arquebuse,--to
see the blue smoke curling, the Templar falling,--to hear the orchestra
playing the requiem of the guilty.
Few people knew what Herr Hippe's business or trade really was. That he
worked at something was evident; else why the shop? Some people inclined
to the belief that he was an inventor, or mechanician. His workshop was
in the rear of the store, and into that sanctuary no one but himself had
admission. He arrived in Golosh Street eight or ten years ago, and one
fine morning, the neighbors, taking down their shutters, observed that
No. 13 had got a tenant. A tall, thin, sallow-faced man stood on a
ladder outside the shop-entrance, nailing up a large board, on which
"Herr Hippe, Wondersmith," was painted in black letters on a yellow
ground. The little theatre stood in the window, where it stood ever
after, and Herr Hippe was established.
But what was a Wondersmith? people asked each other. No one could reply.
Madame Filomel was consulted, but she looked grave, and said that it was
none of her business. Mr. Pippel, the bird-fancier, who was a German,
and ought to know best, thought it was the English for some singular
Teutonic profession; but his replies were so vague, that Golosh Street
was as unsatisfied as ever. Solon, the little humpback, who kept the
odd-volume book-stall at the lowest corner, could throw no light upon
it. And at length people had to come to the conclusion, that Herr Hippe
was either a coiner or a magician, and opinions were divided.
A BOTTLEFUL OF SOULS.
It was a dull December evening. There was little trade doing in Golosh
Street, and the shutters were up at most of the shops. Hippe's store had
been closed at least an hour, and the Mino-birds and Bohemian waxwings
at Mr. Pippel's had their heads tucked under their wings in their first
Herr Hippe sat in his parlor, which was lit by a pleasant wood-fire.
There were no candles in the room, and the flickering blaze played
fantastic tricks on the pale gray walls. It seemed the festival of
shadows. Processions of shapes, obscure and indistinct, passed across
the leaden-hued panels and vanished in the dusk corners. Every fresh
blaze flung up by the wayward logs created new images. Now it was a
funeral throng, with the bowed figures of mourners, the shrouded
coffin, the plumes that waved like extinguished torches; now a knightly
cavalcade with flags and lances, and weird horses, that rushed silently
along until they met the angle of the room, when they pranced through
the wall and vanished.
On a table close to where Herr Hippe sat was placed a large square
box of some dark wood, while over it was spread a casing of steel, so
elaborately wrought in an open arabesque pattern that it seemed like a
shining blue lace which was lightly stretched over its surface.
Herr Hippe lay luxuriously in his armchair, looking meditatively into
the fire. He was tall and thin, and his skin was of a dull saffron hue.
Long, straight hair,--sharply cut, regular features,--a long, thin
moustache, that curled like a dark asp around his mouth, the expression
of which was so bitter and cruel that it seemed to distil the venom
of the ideal serpent,--and a bony, muscular form, were the prominent
characteristics of the Wondersmith.
The profound silence that reigned in the chamber was broken by a
peculiar scratching at the panel of the door, like that which at the
French court was formerly substituted for the ordinary knock, when it
was necessary to demand admission to the royal apartments. Herr Hippe
started, raised his head, which vibrated on his long neck like the head
of a cobra when about to strike, and after a moment's silence uttered a
strange guttural sound. The door unclosed, and a squat, broad-shouldered
woman, with large, wild, Oriental eyes, entered softly.
"Ah! Filomel, you are come!" said the Wondersmith, sinking back in his
chair. "Where are the rest of them?"
"They will be here presently," answered Madame Filomel, seating herself
in an arm-chair much too narrow for a person of her proportions, and
over the sides of which she bulged like a pudding.
"Have you brought the souls?" asked the Wondersmith.
"They are here," said the fortune-teller, drawing a large pot-bellied
black bottle from under her cloak. "Ah! I have had such trouble with
"Are they of the right brand,--wild, tearing, dark, devilish fellows? We
want no essence of milk and honey, you know. None but souls bitter as
hemlock or scorching as lightning will suit our purpose."
"You will see, you will see, Grand Duke of Egypt! They are ethereal
demons, every one of them. They are the pick of a thousand births. Do
you think that I, old midwife that I am, don't know the squall of the
demon child from that of the angel child, the very moment they are
delivered? Ask a musician, how he knows, even in the dark, a note struck
by Thalberg from one struck by Listz!"
"I long to test them," cried the Wondersmith, rubbing his hands
joyfully. "I long to see how the little devils will behave when I give
them their shapes. Ah! it will be a proud day for us when we let them
loose upon the cursed Christian children! Through the length and breadth
of the land they will go; wherever our wandering people set foot, and
wherever they are, the children of the Christians shall die. Then we,
the despised Bohemians, the gypsies, as they call us, will be once more
lords of the earth, as we were in the days when the accursed things
called cities did not exist, and men lived in the free woods and
hunted the game of the forest. Toys indeed! Ay, ay, we will give the
little dears toys! toys that all day will sleep calmly in their boxes,
seemingly stiff and wooden and without life,--but at night, when the
souls enter them, will arise and surround the cots of the sleeping
children, and pierce their hearts with their keen, envenomed blades!
Toys indeed! oh, yes! I will sell them toys!"
And the Wondersmith laughed horribly, while the snaky moustache on his
upper lip writhed as if it had truly a serpent's power and could sting.
"Have you got your first batch, Herr Hippe?" asked Madame Filomel. "Are
they all ready?"
"Oh, ay! they are ready," answered the Wondersmith with gusto, opening,
as he spoke, the box covered with the blue steel lace-work; "they are
The box contained a quantity of exquisitely carved wooden manikins of
both sexes, painted with great dexterity so as to present a miniature
resemblance to Nature. They were, in fact, nothing more than admirable
specimens of those toys which children delight in placing in various
positions on the table,--in regiments, or sitting at meals, or grouped
under the stiff green trees which always accompany them in the boxes in
which they are sold at the toy-shops.
The peculiarity, however, about the manikins of Herr Hippe was not alone
the artistic truth with which the limbs and the features were gifted;
but on the countenance of each little puppet the carver's art had
wrought an expression of wickedness that was appalling. Every tiny face
had its special stamp of ferocity. The lips were thin and brimful of
malice; the small black bead-like eyes glittered with the fire of a
universal hate. There was not one of the manikins, male or female, that
did not hold in his or her hand some miniature weapon. The little men,
scowling like demons, clasped in their wooden fingers swords delicate as
a housewife's needle. The women, whose countenances expressed treachery
and cruelty, clutched infinitesimal daggers, with which they seemed
about to take some terrible vengeance.
"Good!" said Madame Filomel, taking one of the manikins out of the box
and examining it attentively; "you work well, Duke Balthazar! These
little ones are of the right stamp; they look as if they had mischief in
them. Ah! here come our brothers."
At this moment the same scratching that preceded the entrance of Madame
Filomel was heard at the door, and Herr Hippe replied with a hoarse,
guttural cry. The next moment two men entered. The first was a small man
with very brilliant eyes. He was wrapt in a long shabby cloak, and wore
a strange nondescript species of cap on his head, such a cap as one
sees only in the low billiard-rooms in Paris. His companion was tall,
long-limbed, and slender; and his dress, although of the ordinary cut,
either from the disposition of colors, or from the careless, graceful
attitudes of the wearer, assumed a certain air of picturesqueness. Both
the men possessed the same marked Oriental type of countenance which
distinguished the Wondersmith and Madame Filomel. True gypsies they
seemed, who would not have been out of place telling fortunes, or
stealing chickens in the green lanes of England, or wandering with their
wild music and their sleight-of-hand tricks through Bohemian villages.
"Welcome, brothers!" said the Wondersmith; "you are in time. Sister
Filomel has brought the souls, and we are about to test them. Monsieur
Kerplonne, take off your cloak. Brother Oaksmith, take a chair. I
promise you some amusement this evening; so make yourselves comfortable.
Here is something to aid you."
And while the Frenchman Kerplonne, and his tall companion, Oaksmith,
were obeying Hippe's invitation, he reached over to a little closet let
into the wall, and took thence a squat bottle and some glasses, which he
placed on the table.
"Drink, brothers!" he said; "it is not Christian blood, but good stout
wine of Oporto. It goes right to the heart, and warms one like the
sunshine of the South."
"It is good," said Kerplonne, smacking his lips with enthusiasm.
"Why don't you keep brandy? Hang wine!" cried Oaksmith, after having
swallowed two bumpers in rapid succession.
"Bah! Brandy has been the ruin of our race. It has made us sots and
thieves. It shall never cross my threshold," cried the Wondersmith, with
a sombre indignation.
"A little of it is not bad, though, Duke," said the fortune-teller. "It
consoles us for our misfortunes; it gives us the crowns we once wore; it
restores to us the power we once wielded; it carries us back, as if by
magic, to that land of the sun from which fate has driven us; it darkens
the memory of all the evils that we have for centuries suffered."
"It is a devil; may it be cursed!" cried Herr Hippe, passionately. "It
is a demon that stole from me my son, the finest youth in all Courland.
Yes! my son, the son of the Waywode Balthazar, Grand Duke of Lower
Egypt, died raving in a gutter, with an empty brandy-bottle in his
hands. Were it not that the plant is a sacred one to our race, I would
curse the grape and the vine that bore it."
This outburst was delivered with such energy that the three gypsies
kept silence. Oaksmith helped himself to another glass of Port, and the
fortune-teller rocked to and fro in her chair, too much overawed by
the Wondersmith's vehemence of manner to reply. The little Frenchman,
Kerplonne, took no part in the discussion, but seemed lost in admiration
of the manikins, which he took from the box in which they lay, handling
them with the greatest care. After the silence had lasted for about a
minute, Herr Hippe broke it with the sudden question,--
"How does your eye get on, Kerplonne?"
"Excellently, Duke. It is finished. I have it here." And the little
Frenchman put his hand into his breeches-pocket and pulled out a large
artificial human eye. Its great size was the only thing in this eye that
would lead any one to suspect its artificiality. It was at least twice
the size of life; but there was a fearful speculative light in its iris,
which seemed to expand and contract like the eye of a living being, that
rendered it a horrible staring paradox. It looked like the naked eye of
the Cyclops, torn from his forehead, and still burning with wrath and
the desire for vengeance.
The little Frenchman laughed pleasantly as he held the eye in his hand,
and gazed down on that huge dark pupil, that stared back at him, it
seemed, with an air of defiance and mistrust.
"It is a devil of an eye," said the little man, wiping the enamelled
surface with an old silk pocket-handkerchief; "it reads like a demon. My
niece--the unhappy one--has a wretch of a lover, and I have a long
time feared that she would run away with him. I could not read her
correspondence, for she kept her writing-desk closely locked. But I
asked her yesterday to keep this eye in some very safe place for me. She
put it, as I knew she would, into her desk, and by its aid I read every
one of her letters. She was to run away next Monday, the ungrateful! but
she will find herself disappointed."
And the little man laughed heartily at the success of his stratagem, and
polished and fondled the great eye until that optic seemed to grow sore
"And you have been at work, too, I see, Herr Hippe. Your manikins are
excellent. But where are the souls?"
"In that bottle," answered the Wondersmith, pointing to the pot-bellied
black bottle that Madame Filomel had brought with her. "Yes, Monsieur
Kerplonne," he continued, "my manikins are well made. I invoked the aid
of Abigor, the demon of soldiery, and he inspired me. The little fellows
will be famous assassins when they are animated. We will try them
"Good!" cried Kerplonne, rubbing his hands joyously. "It is close upon
New Year's Day. We will fabricate millions of the little murderers
by New Year's Eve, and sell them in large quantities; and when the
households are all asleep, and the Christian children are waiting for
Santa Claus to come, the small ones will troop from their boxes and the
Christian children will die. It is famous! Health to Abigor!"
"Let us try them at once," said Oaksmith. "Is your daughter, Zonela, in
bed, Herr Hippe? Are we secure from intrusion?"
"No one is stirring about the house," replied the Wondersmith, gloomily.
Filomel leaned over to Oaksmith, and said, in an undertone,--
"Why do you mention his daughter? You know he does not like to have her
"I will take care that we are not disturbed," said Kerplonne, rising. "I
will put my eye outside the door, to watch."
He went to the door and placed his great eye upon the floor with tender
care. As he did so, a dark form, unseen by him or his second vision,
glided along the passage noiselessly and was lost in the darkness.
"Now for it!'" exclaimed Madame Filomel, taking up her fat black bottle.
"Herr Hippe, prepare your manikins!"
The Wondersmith took the little dolls out, one by one, and set them upon
the table. Such an array of villanous countenances was never seen. An
army of Italian bravos, seen through the wrong end of a telescope, or a
hand of prisoners at the galleys in Liliput, will give some faint idea
of the appearance they presented. While Madame Filomel uncorked the
black bottle, Herr Hippe covered the dolls over with a species of linen
tent, which he took also from the box. This done, the fortune-teller
held the mouth of the bottle to the door of the tent, gathering the
loose cloth closely round the glass neck. Immediately, tiny noises
were heard inside the tent. Madame Filomel removed the bottle, and the
Wondersmith lifted the covering in which he had enveloped his little
A wonderful transformation had taken place. Wooden and inflexible no
longer, the crowd of manikins were now in full motion. The beadlike eyes
turned, glittering, on all sides; the thin, wicked lips quivered with
bad passions; the tiny hands sheathed and unsheathed the little swords
and daggers. Episodes, common to life, were taking place in every
direction. Here two martial manikins paid court to a pretty sly-faced
female, who smiled on each alternately, but gave her hand to be kissed
to a third manikin, an ugly little scoundrel, who crouched behind her
back. There a pair of friendly dolls walked arm in arm, apparently on
the best terms, while, all the time, one was watching his opportunity to
stab the other in the back.
"I think they'll do," said the Wondersmith, chuckling, as he watched
these various incidents. "Treacherous, cruel, bloodthirsty. All goes
marvellously well. But stay! I will put the grand test to them."
So saying, he drew a gold dollar from his pocket, and let it fall on the
table in the very midst of the throng of manikins. It had hardly touched
the table, when there was a pause on all sides. Every head was turned
towards the dollar. Then about twenty of the little creatures rushed
towards the glittering coin. One, fleeter than the rest, leaped upon it,
and drew his sword. The entire crowd of little people had now gathered
round this new centre of attraction. Men and women struggled and shoved
to get nearer to the piece of gold. Hardly had the first Liliputian
mounted upon the treasure, when a hundred blades flashed back a defiant
answer to his, and a dozen men, sword in hand, leaped upon the yellow
platform and drove him off at the sword's point. Then commenced a
general battle. The miniature faces were convulsed with rage and
avarice. Each furious doll tried to plunge dagger or sword into his or
her neighbor, and the women seemed possessed by a thousand devils.
"They will break themselves into atoms," cried Filomel, as she
watched with eagerness this savage _melee_. "You had better gather them
up, Herr Hippe. I will exhaust my bottle and suck all the souls back
"Oh, they are perfect devils! they are magnificent little demons!" cried
the Frenchman, with enthusiasm. "Hippe, you are a wonderful man. Brother
Oaksmith, you have no such man as Hippe among your English gypsies."
"Not exactly," answered Oaksmith, rather sullenly, "not exactly. But
we have men there who can make a twelve-year-old horse look like a
four-year-old,--and who can take you and Herr Hippe up with one hand,
and throw you over their shoulders."
"The good God forbid!" said the little Frenchman. "I do not love such
play. It is incommodious."
While Oaksmith and Kerplonne were talking, the Wondersmith had placed
the linen tent over the struggling dolls, and Madame Filomel, who had
been performing some mysterious manipulations with her black bottle, put
the mouth once more to the door of the tent. In an instant the confused
murmur within ceased. Madame Filomel corked the bottle quickly. The
Wondersmith withdrew the tent, and, lo! the furious dolls were once
more wooden-jointed and inflexible; and the old sinister look was again
frozen on their faces.
"They must have blood, though," said Herr Hippe, as he gathered them up
and put them into their box. "Mr. Pippel, the bird-fancier, is asleep. I
have a key that opens his door. We will let them loose among the birds;
it will be rare fun."
"Magnificent!" cried Kerplonne. "Let us go on the instant. But first let
me gather up my eye."
The Frenchman pocketed his eye, after having given it a polish with the
silk handkerchief; Herr Hippe extinguished the lamp; Oaksmith took a
last bumper of Port; and the four gypsies departed for Mr. Pippel's,
carrying the box of manikins with them.
The shadow that glided along the dark corridor, at the moment that
Monsieur Kerplonne deposited his sentinel eye outside the door of the
Wondersmith's apartment, sped swiftly through the passage and ascended
the stairs to the attic. Here the shadow stopped at the entrance to one
of the chambers and knocked at the door. There was no reply.
"Zonela, are you asleep?" said the shadow, softly.
"Oh, Solon, is it you?" replied a sweet low voice from within. "I
thought it was Herr Hippe. Come in."
The shadow opened the door and entered. There were neither candles nor
lamp in the room; but through the projecting window, which was open,
there came the faint gleams of the starlight, by which one could
distinguish a female figure seated on a low stool in the middle of the
"Has he left you without light again, Zonela?" asked the shadow, closing
the door of the apartment. "I have brought my little lantern with me,
"Thank you, Solon," answered she called Zonela; "you are a good fellow.
He never gives me any light of an evening, but bids me go to bed. I like
to sit sometimes and look at the moon and the stars,--the stars more
than all; for they seem all the time to look right back into my face,
very sadly, as if they would say, 'We see you, and pity you, and would
help you, if we could.' But it is so mournful to be always looking at
such myriads of melancholy eyes! and I long so to read those nice books
that you lend me, Solon!"
By this time the shadow had lit the lantern and was a shadow no longer.
A large head, covered with a profusion of long blonde hair, which was
cut after that fashion known as a _l'enfants d'Edouard;_ a beautiful
pale face, lit with wide, blue, dreamy eyes; long arms and slender
hands, attenuated legs, and--an enormous hump;--such was Solon, the
shadow. As soon as the humpback had lit the lamp, Zonela arose from
the low stool on which she had been seated, and took Solon's hand
affectionately in hers.
Zonela was surely not of gypsy blood. That rich auburn hair, that looked
almost black in the lamp-light, that pale, transparent skin, tinged with
an under-glow of warm rich blood, the hazel eyes, large and soft as
those of a fawn, were never begotten of a Zingaro. Zonela was seemingly
about sixteen; her figure, although somewhat thin and angular, was full
of the unconscious grace of youth. She was dressed in an old cotton
print, which had been once of an exceedingly boisterous pattern, but
was now a mere suggestion of former splendor; while round her head was
twisted, in fantastic fashion, a silk handkerchief of green ground
spotted with bright crimson. This strange headdress gave her an elfish
"I have been out all day with the organ, and I am so tired, Solon!--not
sleepy, but weary, I mean. Poor Furbelow was sleepy, though, and he's
gone to bed."
"I'm weary, too, Zonela;--not weary as you are, though, for I sit in my
little book-stall all day long, and do not drag round an organ and a
monkey and play old tunes for pennies,--but weary of myself, of life, of
the load that I carry on my shoulders"; and, as he said this, the poor
humpback glanced sideways, as if to call attention to his deformed
"Well, but you ought not to be melancholy amidst your books, Solon.
Gracious! If I could only sit in the sun and read as you do, how happy
I should be! But it's very tiresome to trudge round all day with that
nasty organ, and look up at the houses, and know that you are annoying
the people inside; and then the boys play such bad tricks on poor
Furbelow, throwing him hot pennies to pick up, and burning his poor
little hands; and oh! sometimes, Solon, the men in the street make me
so afraid,--they speak to me and look at me so oddly!--I'd a great deal
rather sit in your book-stall and read."
"I have nothing but odd volumes in my stall," answered the humpback.
"Perhaps that's right, though; for, after all, I'm nothing but an odd
"Come, don't be melancholy, Solon. Sit down and tell me a story. I'll
bring Furbelow to listen."
So saying, she went to a dusk corner of the cheerless attic-room, and
returned with a little Brazilian monkey in her arms,--a poor, mild,
drowsy thing, that looked as if it had cried itself to sleep. She sat
down on her little stool, with Furbelow in her lap, and nodded her head
to Solon, as much as to say, "Go on; we are attentive."
"You want a story, do you?" said the humpback, with a mournful smile.
"Well, I'll tell you one. Only what will your father say, if he catches
"Herr Hippe is not my father," cried Zonela, indignantly. "He's a gypsy,
and I know I'm stolen; and I'd run away from him, if I only knew where
to run to. If I were his child, do you think that he would treat me
as he does? make me trudge round the city, all day long, with
a barrel-organ and a monkey,--though I love poor dear little
Furbelow,--and keep me up in a garret, and give me ever so little to
eat? I know I'm not his child, for he hates me."
"Listen to my story, Zonela, and well talk of that afterwards. Let me
sit at your feet";--and, having coiled himself up at the little maiden's
feet, he commenced:--
"There once lived in a great city, just like this city of New York, a
poor little hunchback. He kept a second-hand book-stall, where he made
barely enough money to keep body and soul together. He was very sad at
times, because he knew scarce any one, and those that he did know did
not love him. He had passed a sickly, secluded youth. The children of
his neighborhood would not play with him, for he was not made like them;
and the people in the streets stared at him with pity, or scoffed at
him when he went by. Ah! Zonela, how his poor heart was wrung with
bitterness when he beheld the procession of shapely men and fine women
that every day passed him by in the thoroughfares of the great city! How
he repined and cursed his fate as the torrent of fleet-footed firemen
dashed past him to the toll of the bells, magnificent in their
overflowing vitality and strength! But there was one consolation left
him,--one drop of honey in the jar of gall, so sweet that it ameliorated
all the bitterness of life. God had given him a deformed body, but his
mind was straight and healthy. So the poor hunchback shut himself into
the world of books, and was, if not happy, at least contented. He kept
company with courteous paladins, and romantic heroes, and beautiful
women; and this society was of such excellent breeding that it never so
much as once noticed his poor crooked back or his lame walk. The love
of books grew upon him with his years. He was remarked for his studious
habits; and when, one day, the obscure people that he called father and
mother--parents only in name--died, a compassionate book-vendor gave
him enough stock in trade to set up a little stall of his own. Here, in
his book-stall, he sat in the sun all day, waiting for the customers
that seldom came, and reading the fine deeds of the people of the
ancient time, or the beautiful thoughts of the poets that had warmed
millions of hearts before that hour, and still glowed for him with
undiminished fire. One day, when he was reading some book, that, small
as it was, was big enough to shut the whole world out from him, he heard
some music in the street. Looking up from his book, he saw a little
girl, with large eyes, playing an organ, while a monkey begged for alms
from a crowd of idlers who had nothing in their pockets but their hands.
The girl was playing, but she was also weeping. The merry notes of the
polka were ground out to a silent accompaniment of tears. She looked
very sad, this organ-girl, and her monkey seemed to have caught the
infection, for his large brown eyes were moist, as if he also wept. The
poor hunchback was struck with pity, and called the little girl over to
give her a penny,--not, dear Zonela, because he wished to bestow alms,
but because he wanted to speak with her. She came, and they talked
together. She came the next day,--for it turned out that they were
neighbors,--and the next, and, in short, every day. They became friends.
They were both lonely and afflicted, with this difference, that she was
beautiful, and he--was a hunchback."
"Why, Solon," cried Zonela, "that's the very way you and I met!"
"It was then," continued Solon, with a faint smile, "that life seemed to
have its music. A great harmony seemed to the poor cripple to fill the
world. The carts that took the flour-barrels from the wharves to the
store-houses seemed to emit joyous melodies from their wheels. The hum
of the great business-streets sounded like grand symphonies of triumph.
As one who has been travelling through a barren country without much
heed feels with singular force the sterility of the lands he has passed
through when he reaches the fertile plains that lie at the end of his
journey, so the humpback, after his vision had been freshened with this
blooming flower, remembered for the first time the misery of the life
that he had led. But he did not allow himself to dwell upon the past.
The present was so delightful that it occupied all his thoughts. Zonela,
he was in love with the organ-girl."
"Oh, that's so nice!" said Zonela, innocently,--pinching poor Furbelow,
as she spoke, in order to dispel a very evident snooze that was creeping
over him. "It's going to be a love-story."
"Ah! but, Zonela, he did not know whether she loved him in return. You
forget that he was deformed."
"But," answered the girl, gravely, "he was good."
A light like the flash of an aurora illuminated Solon's face for an
instant. He put out his hand suddenly, as if to take Zonela's and press
it to his heart; but an unaccountable timidity seemed to arrest the
impulse, and he only stroked Furbelow's head,--upon which that
individual opened one large brown eye to the extent of the eighth of an
inch, and, seeing that it was only Solon, instantly closed it again, and
resumed his dream of a city where there were no organs and all the
copper coin of the realm was iced.
"He hoped and feared," continued Solon, in a low, mournful voice; "but
at times he was very miserable, because he did not think it possible
that so much happiness was reserved for him as the love of this
beautiful, innocent girl. At night, when he was in bed, and all the
world was dreaming, he lay awake looking up at the old books that hung
against the walls, thinking how he could bring about the charming of her
heart. One night, when he was thinking of this, with his eyes fixed
upon the mouldy backs of the odd volumes that lay on their shelves, and
looked back at him wistfully, as if they would say,--'We also are like
you, and wait to be completed,'--it seemed as if he heard a rustle of
leaves. Then, one by one, the books came down from their places to the
floor, as if shifted by invisible hands, opened their worm-eaten covers,
and from between the pages of each the hunchback saw issue forth a
curious throng of little people that danced here and there through the
apartment. Each one of these little creatures was shaped so as to bear
resemblance to some one of the letters of the alphabet. One tall,
long-legged fellow seemed like the letter A; a burly fellow, with a big
head and a paunch, was the model of B; another leering little chap might
have passed for a Q; and so on through the whole. These fairies--for
fairies they were--climbed upon the hunchback's bed, and clustered thick
as bees upon his pillow. 'Come!' they cried to him, 'we will lead you
into fairy-land.' So saying, they seized his hand, and he suddenly found
himself in a beautiful country, where the light did not come from sun
or moon or stars, but floated round and over and in everything like the
atmosphere. On all sides he heard mysterious melodies sung by strangely
musical voices. None of the features of the landscape were definite;
yet when he looked on the vague harmonies of color that melted one into
another before his sight, he was filled with a sense of inexplicable
beauty. On every side of him fluttered radiant bodies which darted to
and fro through the illumined space. They were not birds, yet they flew
like birds; and as each one crossed the path of his vision, he felt a
strange delight flash through his brain, and straightway an interior
voice seemed to sing beneath the vaulted dome of his temples a verse
containing some beautiful thought. The little fairies were all this
time dancing and fluttering around him, perching on his head, on his
shoulders, or balancing themselves on his finger-tips. 'Where am I?' he
asked, at last, of his friends, the fairies. 'Ah! Solon,' he heard them
whisper, in tones that sounded like the distant tinkling of silver
bells, 'this land is nameless; but those whom we lead hither, who tread
its soil, and breathe its air, and gaze on its floating sparks of light,
are poets forevermore!' Having said this, they vanished, and with
them the beautiful indefinite land, and the flashing lights, and the
illumined air; and the hunchback found himself again in bed, with the
moonlight quivering on the floor, and the dusty books on their shelves,
grim and mouldy as ever."
"You have betrayed yourself. You called yourself Solon," cried Zonela.
"Was it a dream?"
"I do not know," answered Solon; "but since that night I have been a
"A poet?" screamed the little organ-girl,--"a real poet, who makes
verses which every one reads and every one talks of?"
"The people call me a poet," answered Solon, with a sad smile. "They do
not know me by the name of Solon, for I write under an assumed title;
but they praise me, and repeat my songs. But, Zonela, I can't sing this
load off of my back, can I?"
"Oh, bother the hump!" said Zonela, jumping up suddenly. "You're a poet,
and that's enough, isn't it? I'm so glad you're a poet, Solon! You must
repeat all your best things to me, won't you?"
Solon nodded assent.
"You don't ask me," he said, "who was the little girl that the hunchback
Zonela's face flushed crimson. She turned suddenly away, and ran into a
dark corner of the room. In a moment she returned with an old hand-organ
in her arms.
"Play, Solon, play!" she cried. "I am so glad that I want to dance.
Furbelow, come and dance in honor of Solon the Poet."
It was her confession. Solon's eyes flamed, as if his brain had suddenly
ignited. He said nothing; but a triumphant smile broke over his
countenance. Zonela, the twilight of whose cheeks was still rosy with
the setting blush, caught the lazy Furbelow by his little paws; Solon
turned the crank of the organ, which wheezed out as merry a polka as
its asthma would allow, and the girl and the monkey commenced their
fantastic dance. They had taken but a few steps when the door suddenly
opened, and the tall figure of the Wondersmith appeared on the
threshold. His face was convulsed with rage, and the black snake that
quivered on his upper lip seemed to rear itself as if about to spring
upon the hunchback.
THE MANIKINS AND THE MINOS.
The four gypsies left Herr Hippe's house cautiously, and directed their
steps towards Mr. Pippel's bird-shop. Golosh Street was asleep. Nothing
was stirring in that tenebrous slum, save a dog that savagely gnawed a
bone which lay on a dust-heap, tantalizing him with the flavor of food
without its substance. As the gypsies moved stealthily along in the
darkness, they had a sinister and murderous air that would not have
failed to attract the attention of the policeman of the quarter, if
that worthy had not at the moment been comfortably ensconced in the
neighboring "Rainbow" bar-room, listening to the improvisations of that
talented vocalist, Mr. Harrison, who was making impromptu verses on
every possible subject, to the accompaniment of a cithern which was
played by a sad little Italian in a large cloak, to whom the host of the
"Rainbow" gave so many toddies and a dollar for his nightly performance.
Mr. Pippel's shop was but a short distance from the Wondersmith's house.
A few moments, therefore, brought the gypsy party to the door, when, by
aid of a key which Herr Hippe produced, they silently slipped into the
entry. Here the Wondersmith took a dark-lantern from under his cloak,
removed the cap that shrouded the light, and led the way into the shop,
which was separated from the entry only by a glass door, that yielded,
like the outer one, to a key which Hippe took from his pocket. The four
gypsies now entered the shop and closed the door behind them.
It was a little world of birds. On every side, whether in large or small
cages, one beheld balls of various-colored feathers standing on one leg
and breathing peacefully. Love-birds, nestling shoulder to shoulder,
with their heads tucked under their wings and all their feathers puffed
out, so that they looked like globes of malachite; English bullfinches,
with ashen-colored backs, in which their black heads were buried, and
corselets of a rosy down; Java sparrows, fat and sleek and cleanly;
troupials, so glossy and splendid in plumage that they looked as if they
were dressed in the celebrated armor of the Black Prince, which was jet,
richly damascened with gold; a cock of the rock, gleaming, a ball of
tawny fire, like a setting sun; the Campanero of Brazil, white as snow,
with his dilatable tolling-tube hanging from his head, placid and
silent;--these, with a humbler crowd of linnets, canaries, robins,
mocking-birds, and phoebes, slumbered calmly in their little cages, that
were hung so thickly on the wall as not to leave an inch of it visible.
"Splendid little morsels, all of them!" exclaimed Monsieur Kerplonne.
"Ah we are going to have a rare beating!" "So Pippel does not sleep in
his shop," said the English gypsy, Oaksmith.
"No. The fellow lives somewhere up one of the avenues," answered Madame
Filomel. "He came, the other evening, to consult me about his fortune. I
did not tell him," she added, with a laugh, "that he was going to have
so distinguished a sporting party on his premises."
"Come," said the Wondersmith, producing the box of manikins, "get ready
with souls, Madame Filomel. I am impatient to see my little men letting
out lives for the first time."
Just at the moment that the Wondersmith uttered this sentence, the four
gypsies were startled by a hoarse voice issuing from a corner of the
room, and propounding in the most guttural tones the intemperate query
of "What'll you take?" This sottish invitation had scarce been given,
when a second extremely thick voice replied from an opposite corner,
in accents so rough that they seemed to issue from a throat torn and
furrowed by the liquid lava of many bar-rooms, "Brandy and water."
"Hollo! who's here?" muttered Herr Hippe, flashing the light of his
lantern round the shop.
Oaksmith turned up his coat-cuffs, as if to be ready for a fight; Madame
Filomel glided, or rather rolled, towards the door; while Kerplonne put
his hand into his pocket, as if to assure himself that his supernumerary
optic was all right.
"What'll you take?" croaked the voice in the corner, once more.
"Brandy and water," rapidly replied the second voice in the other
corner. And then, as if by a concerted movement, a series of bibular
invitations and acceptances were rolled backwards and forwards with a
volubility of utterance that threw Patter _versus_ Clatter into the
"What the Devil can it be?" muttered the Wondersmith, flashing his
lantern here and there. "Ah! it is those Minos."
So saying, he stopped under one of the wicker cages that hung high up
on the wall, and raised the lantern above his head, so as to throw the
light upon that particular cage. The hospitable individual who had
been extending all these hoarse invitations to partake of intoxicating
beverages was an inhabitant of the cage. It was a large Mino-bird, who
now stood perched on his cross-bar, with his yellowish orange bill
sloped slightly over his shoulder, and his white eye cocked knowingly
upon the Wondersmith. The respondent voice in the other corner came
from another Mino-bird, who sat in the dusk in a similar cage, also
attentively watching the Wondersmith. These Mino-birds, I may remark, in
passing, have a singular aptitude for acquiring phrases.
"What'll you take?" repeated the Mino, cocking his other eye upon Herr
"_Mon Dieu!_ what a bird!" exclaimed the little Frenchman. "He is, in
"I don't know what I'll take," said Hippe, as if replying to the
Mino-bird; "but I know what you'll get, old fellow! Filomel, open the
cage-doors, and give me the bottle."
Filomel opened, one after another, the doors of the numberless little
cages, thereby arousing from slumber their feathered occupants, who
opened their beaks, and stretched their claws, and stared with great
surprise at the lantern and the midnight visitors.
By this time the Wondersmith had performed the mysterious manipulations
with the bottle, and the manikins were once more in full motion,
swarming out of their box, sword and dagger in hand, with their little
black eyes glittering fiercely, and their white teeth shining. The
little creatures seemed to scent their prey. The gypsies stood in
the centre of the shop, watching the proceedings eagerly, while the
Liliputians made in a body towards the wall and commenced climbing from
cage to cage. Then was heard a tremendous fluttering of wings, and
faint, despairing "quirks" echoed on all sides. In almost every cage
there was a fierce manikin thrusting his sword or dagger vigorously into
the body of some unhappy bird. It recalled the antique legend of the
battles of the Pygmies and the Cranes. The poor love-birds lay with
their emerald feathers dabbled in their hearts' blood, shoulder to
shoulder in death as in life. Canaries gasped at the bottom of their
cages, while the water in their little glass fountains ran red. The
bullfinches wore an unnatural crimson on their breasts. The mocking-bird
lay on his back, kicking spasmodically, in the last agonies, with a tiny
sword-thrust cleaving his melodious throat in twain, so that from the
instrument which used to gush with wondrous music only scarlet drops of
blood now trickled. The manikins were ruthless. Their faces were ten
times wickeder than ever, as they roamed from cage to cage, slaughtering
with a fury that seemed entirely unappeasable. Presently the feathery
rustlings became fewer and fainter, and the little pipings of despair
died away; and in every cage lay a poor murdered minstrel, with the song
that abode within him forever quenched;--in every cage but two, and
those two were high up on the wall; and in each glared a pair of wild,
white eyes; and an orange beak, tough as steel, pointed threateningly
down. With the needles which they grasped as swords all wet and warm
with blood, and their beadlike eyes flashing in the light of the
lantern, the Liliputian assassins swarmed up the cages in two separate
bodies, until they reached the wickets of the habitations in which the
Minos abode. Mino saw them coming,--had listened attentively to the
many death-struggles of his comrades, and had, in fact, smelt a rat.
Accordingly he was ready for the manikins. There he stood at the
barbican of his castle, with formidable beak couched like a lance. The
manikins made a gallant charge. "What'll you take?" was rattled out
by the Mino, in a deep bass, as with one plunge of his sharp bill he
scattered the ranks of the enemy, and sent three of them flying to the
floor, where they lay with broken limbs. But the manikins were brave
automata, and again they closed and charged the gallant Mino. Again the
wicked white eyes of the bird gleamed, and again the orange bill dealt
destruction. Everything seemed to be going on swimmingly for Mino, when
he found himself attacked in the rear by two treacherous manikins, who
had stolen upon him from behind, through the lattice-work of the cage.
Quick as lightning the Mino turned to repel this assault, but all too
late; two slender quivering threads of steel crossed in his poor body,
and he staggered into a corner of the cage. His white eyes closed, then
opened; a shiver passed over his body, beginning at his shoulder-tips
and dying off in the extreme tips of the wings; he gasped as if for air,
and then, with a convulsive shudder, which ruffled all his feathers,
croaked out feebly his little speech, "What'll you take?" Instantly
from the opposite corner came the old response, still feebler than the
question,--a mere gurgle, as it were, of "Brandy and water." Then all
was silent. The Mino-birds were dead.
"They spill blood like Christians," said the Wondersmith, gazing fondly
on the manikins. "They will be famous assassins."
Herr Hippe stood in the doorway, scowling. His eyes seemed to scorch the
poor hunchback, whose form, physically inferior, crouched before that
baneful, blazing glance, while his head, mentally brave, reared itself,
as if to redeem the cowardice of the frame to which it belonged. So the
attitude of the serpent: the body pliant, yielding, supple; but the
crest thrown aloft, erect, and threatening. As for Zonela, she was
frozen in the attitude of motion;--a dancing nymph in colored marble;
agility stunned; elasticity petrified.
Furbelow, astonished at this sudden change, and catching, with all the
mysterious rapidity of instinct peculiar to the lower animals, at
the enigmatical character of the situation, turned his pleading,
melancholy eyes from one to another of the motionless three, as if
begging that his humble intellect (pardon me, naturalists, for the
use of this word "intellect" in the matter of a monkey!) should
be enlightened as speedily as possible. Not receiving the desired
information, he, after the manner of trained animals, returned to his
muttons; in other words, he conceived that this unusual entrance, and
consequent dramatic _tableau_, meant "shop." He therefore dropped
Zonela's hand and pattered on his velvety little feet over towards the
grim figure of the Wondersmith, holding out his poor little paw for
the customary copper. He had but one idea drilled into him,--soulless
creature that he was,--and that was, alms, But I have seen creatures
that professed to have souls, and that would have been indignant, if
you had denied them immortality, who took to the soliciting of alms as
naturally as if beggary had been the original sin, and was regularly
born with them, and never baptized out of them. I will give these
Bandits of the Order of Charity this credit, however, that they knew
the best highways and the richest founts of benevolence,--unlike to
Furbelow, who, unreasoning and undiscriminating, begged from the first
person that was near. Furbelow, owing to this intellectual inferiority
to the before-mentioned Alsatians, frequently got more kicks than
coppers, and the present supplication which he indulged in towards the
Wondersmith was a terrible confirmation of the rule. The reply to the
extended pleading paw was what might be called a double-barrelled kick,
--a kick to be represented by the power of two when the foot touched the
object, multiplied by four when the entire leg formed an angle of 45 deg.
with the spinal column. The long, nervous leg of the Wondersmith caught
the little creature in the centre of the body, doubled up his brown,
hairy form, till he looked like a fur driving-glove, and sent him
whizzing across the room into a far corner, where he dropped senseless
This vengeance which Herr Hippe executed upon Furbelow seemed to have
operated as a sort of escape-valve, and he found voice. He hissed out
the question, "Who are you?" to the hunchback; and in listening to that
essence of sibillation, it really seemed as if it proceeded from the
serpent that curled upon his upper lip.
"Who are you? Deformed dog, who are you? What do you here?"
"My name is Solon," answered the fearless head of the hunchback, while
the frail, cowardly body shivered and trembled inch by inch into a
"So you come to visit my daughter in the night-time, when I am away?"
continued the Wondersmith, with a sneering tone that dropped from his
snake-wreathed mouth like poison. "You are a brave and gallant lover,
are you not? Where did you win that Order of the Curse of God that
decorates your shoulders? The women turn their heads and look after you
in the street, when you pass, do they not? lost in admiration of that
symmetrical figure, those graceful limbs, that neck pliant as the stem
that moors the lotus! Elegant, conquering, Christian cripple, what do
you here in my daughter's room?"
Can you imagine Jove, limitless in power and wrath, hurling from his
vast grasp mountain after mountain upon the struggling Enceladus,--and
picture the Titan sinking, sinking, deeper and deeper into the earth,
crushed and dying, with nothing visible through the superincumbent
masses of Pelion and Ossa, but a gigantic head and two flaming eyes,
that, despite the death which is creeping through each vein, still flash
back defiance to the divine enemy? Well, Solon and Herr Hippe presented
such a picture, seen through the wrong end of a telescope,--reduced in
proportion, but alike in action. Solon's feeble body seemed to sink into
utter annihilation beneath the horrible taunts that his enemy hurled at
him, while the large, brave brow and unconquered eyes still sent forth a
Suddenly the poor hunchback felt his arm grasped. A thrill seemed to run
through his entire body. A warm atmosphere, invigorating and full of
delicious odor, surrounded him. It appeared as if invisible bandages
were twisted all about his limbs, giving him a strange strength. His
sinking legs straightened. His powerless arms were braced. Astonished,
he glanced round for an instant, and beheld Zonela, with a world of love
burning in her large lambent eyes, wreathing her round white arms about
his humped shoulders. Then the poet knew the great sustaining power of
love. Solon reared himself boldly.
"Sneer at my poor form," he cried, in strong vibrating tones, flinging
out one long arm and one thin finger at the Wondersmith, as if he would
have impaled him like a beetle. "Humiliate me, if you can. I care not.
You are a wretch, and I am honest and pure. This girl is not your
daughter. You are like one of those demons in the fairy tales that held
beauty and purity locked in infernal spells. I do not fear you, Heir
Hippe. There are stories abroad about you in the neighborhood, and when
you pass, people say that they feel evil and blight hovering over their
thresholds. You persecute this girl. You are her tyrant. You hate her. I
am a cripple. Providence has cast this lump upon my shoulders. But that
is nothing. The camel, that is the salvation of the children of the
desert, has been given his hump in order that he might bear his human
burden better. This girl, who is homeless as the Arab, is my appointed
load in life, and, please God, I will carry her on this back, hunched
though it may be. I have come to see her, because I love her,--because
she loves me. You have no claim on her; so I will take her from you."
Quick as lightning, the Wondersmith had stridden a few paces, and
grasped the poor cripple, who was yet quivering with the departing
thunder of his passion. He seized him in his bony, muscular grasp, as
he would have seized a puppet, and held him at arm's length gasping
and powerless; while Zonela, pale, breathless, entreating, sank
half-kneeling on the floor.
"Your skeleton will be interesting to science when you are dead, Mr.
Solon," hissed the Wondersmith. "But before I have the pleasure of
reducing you to an anatomy, which I will assuredly do, I wish to
compliment you on your power of penetration, or sources of information;
for I know not if you have derived your knowledge from your own mental
research or the efforts of others. You are perfectly correct in your
statement, that this charming young person, who day after day parades
the streets with a barrel-organ and a monkey,--the last unhappily
indisposed at present,--listening to the degrading jokes of ribald boys
and depraved men,--you are quite correct, Sir, in stating that she is
not my daughter. On the contrary, she is the daughter of an Hungarian
nobleman who had the misfortune to incur my displeasure. I had a son,
crooked spawn of a Christian!--a son, not like you, cankered, gnarled
stump of life that you are,--but a youth tall and fair and noble in
aspect, as became a child of one whose lineage makes Pharaoh modern,--a
youth whose foot in the dance was as swift and beautiful to look at as
the golden sandals of the sun when he dances upon the sea in summer.
This youth was virtuous and good; and being of good race, and dwelling
in a country where his rank, gypsy as he was, was recognized, he mixed
with the proudest of the land. One day he fell in with this accursed
Hungarian, a fierce drinker of that Devil's blood called brandy. My
child until that hour had avoided this bane of our race. Generous wine
he drank, because the soul of the sun our ancestor palpitated in its
purple waves. But brandy, which is fallen and accursed wine, as devils
are fallen and accursed angels, had never crossed his lips, until in an
evil hour he was seduced by this Christian hog, and from that day forth
his life was one fiery debauch, which set only in the black waves of
death. I vowed vengeance on the destroyer of my child, and I kept my
word. I have destroyed _his_ child,--not compassed her death, but
blighted her life, steeped her in misery and poverty, and now, thanks to
the thousand devils, I have discovered a new torture for her heart. She
thought to solace her life with a love-episode! Sweet little epicure
that she was! She shall have her little crooked lover, shan't she?
Oh, yes! She shall have him, cold and stark and livid, with that great,
black, heavy hunch, which no back, however broad, can bear, Death,
sitting between his shoulders!"
There was something so awful and demoniac in this entire speech and the
manner in which it was delivered, that it petrified Zonela into a mere
inanimate figure, whose eyes seemed unalterably fixed on the fierce,
cruel face of the Wondersmith. As for Solon, he was paralyzed in the
grasp of his foe. He heard, but could not reply. His large eyes, dilated
with horror to far beyond their ordinary size, expressed unutterable
The last sentence had hardly been hissed out by the gypsy when he took
from his pocket a long, thin coil of whipcord, which he entangled in
a complicated mesh around the cripple's body. It was not the ordinary
binding of a prisoner. The slender lash passed and repassed in a
thousand intricate folds over the powerless limbs of the poor humpback.
When the operation was completed, he looked as if he had been sewed from
head to foot in some singularly ingenious species of network.
"Now, my pretty lop-sided little lover," laughed Herr Hippe, flinging
Solon over his shoulder, as a fisherman might fling a net-full of fish,
"we will proceed to put you into your little cage until your little
coffin is quite ready. Meanwhile we will lock up your darling
beggar-girl to mourn over your untimely end."
So saying, he stepped from the room with his captive, and securely
locked the door behind him.
When he had disappeared, the frozen Zonela thawed, and with a shriek of
anguish flung herself on the inanimate body of Furbelow.
THE POISONING OF THE SWORDS.
It was New Year's Eve, and eleven o'clock at night. All over this great
land, and in every great city in the land, curly heads were lying on
white pillows, dreaming of the coming of the generous Santa Claus.
Innumerable stockings hung by countless bedsides. Visions of beautiful
toys, passing in splendid pageantry through myriads of dimly lit
dormitories, made millions of little hearts palpitate in sleep. Ah! what
heavenly toys those were that the children of this soil beheld, that
mystic night, in their dreams! Painted cars with orchestral wheels,
making music more delicious than the roll of planets. Agile men of
cylindrical figure, who sprang unexpectedly out of meek-looking boxes,
with a supernatural fierceness in their crimson cheeks and fur-whiskers.
Herds of marvellous sheep, with fleeces as impossible as the one that
Jason sailed after; animals entirely indifferent to grass and water and
"rot" and "ticks." Horses spotted with an astounding regularity, and
furnished with the most ingenious methods of locomotion. Slender
foreigners, attired in painfully short tunics, whose existence passed in
continually turning heels over head down a steep flight of steps, at
the bottom of which they lay in an exhausted condition with dislocated
limbs, until they were restored to their former elevation, when they
went at it again as if nothing had happened. Stately swans, that seemed
to have a touch of the ostrich in them; for they swam continually after
a piece of iron which was held before them, as if consumed with a
ferruginous hunger. Whole farm-yards of roosters, whose tails curled the
wrong way,--a slight defect, that was, however, amply atoned for by the
size and brilliancy of their scarlet combs, which, it would appear,
Providence had intended for pen-wipers. Pears, that, when applied to
youthful lips, gave forth sweet and inspiring sounds. Regiments of
soldiers, that performed neat, but limited evolutions on cross-jointed
contractile battle-fields. All these things, idealized, transfigured,
and illuminated by the powers and atmosphere and colored lamps of
Dreamland, did the millions of dear sleeping children behold, the night
of the New Year's Eve of which I speak.
It was on this night, when Time was preparing to shed his skin and come
out young and golden and glossy as ever,--when, in the vast chambers of
the universe, silent and infallible preparations were making for the
wonderful birth of the coming year,--when mystic dews were secreted
for his baptism, and mystic instruments were tuned in space to welcome
him,--it was at this holy and solemn hour that the Wondersmith and his
three gypsy companions sat in close conclave in the little parlor before
There was a fire roaring in the grate. On a table, nearly in the centre
of the room, stood a huge decanter of Port wine, that glowed in the
blaze which lit the chamber like a flask of crimson fire. On every side,
piled in heaps, inanimate, but scowling with the same old wondrous
scowl, lay myriads of the manikins, all clutching in their wooden hands
their tiny weapons. The Wondersmith held in one hand a small silver
bowl filled with a green, glutinous substance, which he was delicately
applying, with the aid of a camel's-hair brush, to the tips of tiny
swords and daggers. A horrible smile wandered over his sallow face,--a
smile as unwholesome in appearance as the sickly light that plays above
"Let us drink great draughts, brothers," he cried, leaving off his
strange anointment for a while, to lift a great glass, filled with
sparkling liquor, to his lips. "Let us drink to our approaching triumph.
Let us drink to the great poison, Macousha. Subtle seed of Death,--swift
hurricane that sweeps away Life,--vast hammer that crushes brain and
heart and artery with its resistless weight,--I drink to it."
"It is a noble decoction, Duke Balthazar," said the old fortune-teller
and midwife, Madame Filomel, nodding in her chair as she swallowed her
wine in great gulps. "Where did you obtain it?"
"It is made," said the Wondersmith, swallowing another great goblet-full
of wine ere he replied, "in the wild woods of Guiana, in silence and
in mystery. But one tribe of Indians, the Macoushi Indians, know the
secret. It is simmered over fires built of strange woods, and the maker
of it dies in the making. The place, for a mile around the spot where
it is fabricated, is shunned as accursed. Devils hover over the pot in
which it stews; and the birds of the air, scenting the smallest breath
of its vapor from far away, drop to earth with paralyzed wings, cold and
"It kills, then, fast?" asked Kerplonne, the artificial eyemaker,--his
own eyes gleaming, under the influence of the wine, with a sinister
lustre, as if they had been fresh from the factory, and were yet
untarnished by use.
"Kills?" echoed the Wondersmith, derisively; "it is swifter than
thunderbolts, stronger than lightning. But you shall see it proved
before we let forth our army on the city accursed. You shall see a
wretch die, as if smitten by a falling fragment of the sun."
"What? Do you mean Solon?" asked Oaksmith and the fortune-teller
"Ah! you mean the young man who makes the commerce with books?" echoed
Kerplonne. "It is well. His agonies will instruct us."
"Yes! Solon," answered Hippe, with a savage accent. "I hate him, and he
shall die this horrid death. Ah! how the little fellows will leap upon
him, when I bring him in, bound and helpless, and give their beautiful
wicked souls to them! How they will pierce him in ten thousand spots
with their poisoned weapons, until his skin turns blue and violet and
crimson, and his form swells with the venom,--until his hump is lost in
shapeless flesh! He hears what I say, every word of it. He is in the
closet next door, and is listening. How comfortable he feels! How
the sweat of terror rolls on his brow! How he tries to loosen his bonds,
and curses all earth and heaven when he finds that he cannot! Ho! ho!
Handsome lover of Zonela, will she kiss you when you are livid and
swollen? Brothers, let us drink again,--drink always. Here, Oaksmith,
take these brushes,--and you, Filomel,--and finish the anointing of
these swords. This wine is grand. This poison is grand. It is fine to
have good wine to drink, and good poison to kill with; is it not?" and,
with flushed face and rolling eyes, the Wondersmith continued to drink
and use his brush alternately.
The others hastened to follow his example. It was a horrible scene:
those four wicked faces; those myriads of tiny faces, just as wicked;
the certain unearthly air that pervaded the apartment; the red,
unwholesome glare cast by the fire; the wild and reckless way in which
the weird company drank the red-illumined wine.
The anointing of the swords went on rapidly, and the wine went as
rapidly down the throats of the four poisoners. Their faces grew more
and more inflamed each instant; their eyes shone like rolling fireballs;
their hair was moist and dishevelled. The old fortune-teller rocked to
and fro in her chair, like those legless plaster figures that sway upon
convex loaded bottoms. All four began to mutter incoherent sentences,
and babble unintelligible wickednesses. Still the anointing of the
swords went on.
"I see the faces of millions of young corpses," babbled Herr Hippe,
gazing, with swimming eyes, into the silver bowl that contained the
Macousha poison,--"all young, all Christians,--and the little fellows
dancing, dancing, and stabbing, stabbing. Filomel, Filomel, I say!"
"Well, Grand Duke," snored the old woman, giving a violent lurch.
"Where's the bottle of souls?"
"In my right-hand pocket, Herr Hippe"; and she felt, so as to assure
herself that it was there. She half drew out the black bottle,
before described in this narrative, and let it slide again into her
pocket,--let it slide again, but it did not completely regain its former
place. Caught by some accident, it hung half out, swaying over the edge
of the pocket, as the fat midwife rolled backwards and forwards in her
drunken efforts at equilibrium.
"All right," said Herr Hippe, "perfectly right! Let's drink."
He reached out his hand for his glass, and, with a dull sigh, dropped on
the table, in the instantaneous slumber of intoxication. Oaksmith soon
fell back in his chair, breathing heavily. Kerplonne followed. And the
heavy, stertorous breathing of Filomel told that she slumbered also; but
still her chair retained its rocking motion, and still the bottle of
souls balanced itself on the edge of her pocket.
Sure enough, Solon heard every word of the fiendish talk of the
Wondersmith. For how many days he had been shut up, bound in the
terrible net, in that dark closet, he did not know; but now he felt that
his last hour was come. His little strength was completely worn out in
efforts to disentangle himself. Once a day a door opened, and Herr Hippe
placed a crust of bread and a cup of water within his reach. On this
meagre fare he had subsisted. It was a hard life; but, bad as it was, it
was better than the horrible death that menaced him. His brain reeled
with terror at the prospect of it. Then, where was Zonela? Why did she
not come to his rescue? But she was, perhaps, dead. The darkness, too,
appalled him. A faint light, when the moon was bright, came at night
through a chink far up in the wall; and the only other hole in the
chamber was an aperture through which, at some former time, a stove-pipe
had been passed. Even if he were free, there would have been small hope
of escape; but, laced as it were in a network of steel, what was to be
done? He groaned and writhed upon the floor, and tore at the boards with
his hands, which were free from the wrists down. All else was as solidly
laced up as an Indian papoose. Nothing but pride kept him from shrieking
aloud, when, on the night of New Year's Eve, be heard the fiendish Hippe
recite the programme of his murder.
While he was thus wailing and gnashing his teeth in darkness and
torture, he heard a faint noise above his head. Then something seemed to
leap from the ceiling and alight softly on the floor. He shuddered with
terror. Was it some new torture of the Wondersmith's invention? The next
moment, he felt some small animal crawling over his body, and a soft,
silky paw was pushed timidly across his face. His heart leaped with joy.
"It is Furbelow!" he cried. "Zonela has sent him. He came through the
It was Furbelow, indeed, restored to life by Zonela's care, and who had
come down a narrow tube, that no human being could have threaded,
to console the poor captive. The monkey nestled closely into the
hunchback's bosom, and as he did so, Solon felt something cold and hard
hanging from his neck. He touched it. It was sharp. By the dim light
that struggled through the aperture high up in the wall, he discovered
a knife, suspended by a bit of cord. Ah! how the blood came rushing
through the veins that crossed over and through his heart, when life and
liberty came to him in this bit of rusty steel! With his manacled hands
he loosened the heaven-sent weapon; a few cuts were rapidly made in the
cunning network of cord that enveloped his limbs, and in a few seconds
he was free!--cramped and faint with hunger, but free!--free to move,
to use the limbs that God had given him for his preservation,--free to
fight,--to die fighting, perhaps,--but still to die free. He ran to the
door. The bolt was a weak one, for the Wondersmith had calculated more
surely on his prison of cords than on any jail of stone,--and more; and
with a few efforts the door opened. He went cautiously out into the
darkness, with Furbelow perched on his shoulder, pressing his cold
muzzle against his cheek. He had made but a few steps when a trembling
hand was put into his, and in another moment Zonela's palpitating heart
was pressed against his own. One long kiss, an embrace, a few whispered
words, and the hunchback and the girl stole softly towards the door of
the chamber in which the four gypsies slept. All seemed still; nothing
but the hard breathing of the sleepers, and the monotonous rocking of
Madame Filomel's chair broke the silence. Solon stooped down and put his
eye to the keyhole, through which a red bar of light streamed into the
entry. As he did so, his foot crushed some brittle substance that lay
just outside the door; at the same moment a howl of agony was heard to
issue from the room within. Solon started; nor did he know that at that
instant he had crushed into dust Monsieur Kerplonne's supernumerary eye,
and the owner, though wrapt in a drunken sleep, felt the pang quiver
through his brain.
While Solon peeped through the keyhole, all in the room was motionless.
He had not gazed, however, for many seconds, when the chair of the
fortune-teller gave a sudden lurch, and the black bottle, already
hanging half out of her wide pocket, slipped entirely from its
resting-place, and, falling heavily to the ground, shivered into
Then took place an astonishing spectacle. The myriads of armed dolls,
that lay in piles about the room, became suddenly imbued with motion.
They stood up straight, their tiny limbs moved, their black eyes flashed
with wicked purposes, their thread-like swords gleamed as they waved
them to and fro. The villanous souls imprisoned in the bottle began
to work within them. Like the Liliputians, when they found the giant
Gulliver asleep, they scaled in swarms the burly sides of the four
sleeping gypsies. At every step they took, they drove their thin swords
and quivering daggers into the flesh of the drunken authors of their
being. To stab and kill was their mission, and they stabbed and killed
with incredible fury. They clustered on the Wondersmith's sallow cheeks
and sinewy throat, piercing every portion with their diminutive poisoned
blades. Filomel's fat carcass was alive with them. They blackened the
spare body of Monsieur Kerplonne. They covered Oaksmith's huge form like
a cluster of insects.
Overcome completely with the fumes of wine, these tiny wounds did not
for a few moments awaken the sleeping victims. But the swift and deadly
poison Macousha, with which the weapons had been so fiendishly anointed,
began to work. Herr Hippe, stung into sudden life, leaped to his feet,
with a dwarf army clinging to his clothes and his hands,--always
stabbing, stabbing, stabbing. For an instant, a look of stupid
bewilderment clouded his face; then the horrible truth burst upon him.
He gave a shriek like that which a horse utters when he finds himself
fettered and surrounded by fire,--a shriek that curdled the air for
miles and miles.
"Oaksmith! Kerplonne! Filomel! Awake! awake! We are lost! The souls have
got loose! We are dead! poisoned! Oh, accursed ones! Oh, demons, ye are
slaying me! Ah! fiends of Hell!"
Aroused by these frightful howls, the three gypsies sprang also to their
feet, to find themselves stung to death by the manikins. They raved,
they shrieked, they swore. They staggered round the chamber. Blinded in
the eyes by the ever-stabbing weapons,--with the poison already burning
in their veins like red-hot lead,--their forms swelling and discoloring
visibly every moment,--their howls and attitudes and furious gestures
made the scene look like a chamber in Hell.
Maddened beyond endurance, the Wondersmith, half-blind and choking with
the venom that had congested all the blood-vessels of his body, seized
dozens of the manikins and dashed them into the fire, trampling them
down with his feet.
"Ye shall die too, if I die," he cried, with a roar like that of a
tiger. "Ye shall burn, if I burn. I gave ye life,--I give ye death.
Down!--down!--burn!--flame! Fiends that ye are, to slay us! Help me,
brothers! Before we die, let us have our revenge!"
On this, the other gypsies, themselves maddened by approaching death,
began hurling manikins, by handfuls, into the fire. The little
creatures, being wooden of body, quickly caught the flames, and an awful
struggle for life took place in miniature in the grate. Some of them
escaped from between the bars and ran about the room, blazing, writhing
in agony, and igniting the curtains and other draperies that hung
around. Others fought and stabbed one another in the very core of the
fire, like combating salamanders. Meantime, the motions of the gypsies
grew more languid and slow, and their curses were uttered in choked
guttural tones. The faces of all four were spotted with red and green
and violet, like so many egg-plants. Their bodies were swollen to a
frightful size, and at last they dropped on the floor, like overripe
fruit shaken from the boughs by the winds of autumn.
The chamber was now a sheet of fire. The flames roared round and round,
as if seeking for escape, licking every projecting cornice and sill with
greedy tongues, as the serpent licks his prey before he swallows it. A
hot, putrid breath came through the keyhole and smote Solon and Zonela
like a wind of death. They clasped each other's hands with a moan of
terror, and fled from the house.
The next morning, when the young Year was just unclosing its eyes, and
the happy children all over the great city were peeping from their beds
into the myriads of stockings hanging near by, the blue skies of heaven
shone through a black network of stone and charred rafters. These were
all that remained of the habitation of Herr Hippe, the Wondersmith.
ROBA DI ROMA
The gay confusion of Carnival is over, with its mad tossing of flowers
and _bonbons_, its showering of _confetti_, its brilliantly draped
balconies running over with happy faces, its barbaric races, its rows of
joyous _contadine_, its quaint masquerading, and all the glad folly of
its Saturnalia. For Saturnalia it is, in most respects just like the
_festa_ of the Ancient Romans, with its _Saturni septem dies_, its
uproar of "_Io Saturnalia!_" in the streets, and all its mad frolic. In
one point it materially differs, however; for on the ancient _festa_ no
criminal could be punished; but in modern times it is this gay occasion
that the government selects to execute (_giustiziare_) any poor wretch
who may have been condemned to death, so as to strike a wholesome terror
into the crowd. Truly, the ways of the Church are as wonderful as
they are infallible! But all is over now. The last _moccoletti_ are
extinguished, that flashed and danced like myriad fire-flies from window
and balcony and over the heads of the roaring tide of people that ebbed
and flowed in stormy streams of wild laughter through the streets. The
Corso has become sober and staid, and taken in its draperies. The fun is
finished. The masked balls, with their _belle maschere_, are over. The
theatres are all closed. Lent has come, bringing its season of sadness;
and the gay world of strangers is flocking down to Naples.
_Eh, Signore! Finito il nostro carnovale. Adesso e il carnovale dei
preti:_--"Our carnival is over, and that of the priests has come." All
the _frati_ are going round to every Roman family, high and low, from
the prince in his palace to the boy in the _caffe_, demanding "_una
santa elemosina,--un abbondante santa elemosina,--ma abbondante_,"--and
willingly pocketing any sum, from a half-_baiocco_ upwards. The parish
priest is now making his visits in every ward of the city, to register
the names of the Catholics in all the houses, so as to insure a
confession from each during this season of penance. And woe to any wight
who fails to do his duty!--he will soon be brought to his marrow-bones.
His name will be placarded in the church, and he will be punished
according to circumstances,--perhaps by a mortification to the pocket,
perhaps by the penance of the convent; and perhaps his fate will be
worse, if he be obstinate. So nobody is obstinate, and all go to
confession like good Christians, and confess what they please, for the
sake of peace, if not of absolution. The Francescani march more solemnly
up and down the alleys of their cabbage-garden, studiously with books in
their hands, which they pretend to read; now and then taking out their
snuff-stained bandanna and measuring it from corner to corner, in search
of a feasible spot for its appropriate function, and then rolling it
carefully into a little round ball and returning it to the place whence
it came. Whatever penance they do is not to Father Tiber or Santo
Acquedotto, excepting by internal ablutions,--the exterior things of
this world being ignored. There is no meat-eating now, save on certain
festivals, when a supply is laid in for the week. But opposites cure
opposites, (contrary to the homoeopathic rule,) and their _magro_ makes
them _grasso_. Two days of festival, however, there are in the little
church of San Patrizio and Isidoro, when the streets are covered with
sand, and sprigs of box and red and yellow hangings flaunt before the
portico, and scores of young boy-priests invade their garden, and,
tucking up their long skirts, run and scream among the cabbages;
for boydom is an irrepressible thing, even under the extinguisher of a
priest's black dress.
Daily you will hear the tinkle of a bell and the chant of alto
child-voices in the street, and, looking out, you will see two little
boys clad in some refuse of the Church's wardrobe, one of whom carries a
crucifix or a big black cross, while the other rings a bell and chants
as he loiters along; now stopping to chaff with other boys of a similar
age, nay, even at times laying down his cross to dispute or struggle
with them, and now renewing the appeal of the bell. This is to call
together the children of the parish to learn their Dottrina or
Catechism,--from which the Second Commandment is, however, carefully
expurgated, lest to their feeble minds the difference between bowing
down to graven images, or likenesses of things in the earth, and what
they do daily before the images and pictures of the Virgin and Saints
may not clearly appear. Indeed, let us cheerfully confess, in passing,
that, by a strange forgetfulness, this same Commandment is not
reestablished in its place even in the catechism for older persons,--of
course through inadvertence. However, it is of no consequence, as the
real number of Ten Commandments is made up by the division of the last
into two; so that there really are ten. And in a country where so many
pictures are painted and statues made, perhaps this Second Commandment
might be open to misconstruction, if not prohibited by the wise and holy
men of the Church. [A]
[Footnote A: This is a fact,--denied, of course, by some of the Roman
Catholics, in argument; for what will they not deny? But it is,
nevertheless, a fact. I have now before me a little Catechism, from
which the Second Commandment is omitted, and the Tenth divided into two;
and I have examined others in which the same omission is made. I cannot
say that all are in the same category; for the Catholic Church is
everything to everybody; but I can assert it of all I have seen,
and especially of _La Dottrina Xtiana, compilata per Ordine dell
Eminentissinto Cardinale_ GONZAGA MEMBRINI, _Vescovo di Ancona, per
l'Uso delict Citta e Diocesi_, published in 1830, which I mention
because it is a compilation of authority, made under the superintendence
of the Cardinal Bishop of Ancona,--and of the _Catechismo per i
Fanciulll, ad Uso delle Citta e Diocesi di Cortona, Chiuso, Pienza,
Pistoia, Prato e Colle_, published in 1786, under the auspices and with
the approval of the bishops of all these cities and dioceses.]
Meantime the snow is gradually disappearing from Monte Gennaro and the
Sabine Mountains. Picnic parties are spreading their tables under the
Pamfili Doria pines, and drawing St. Peter's from the old wall near
by the ilex avenue,--or making excursions to Frascati, Tusculum, and
Albano,--or spending a day in wandering among the ruins of the Etruscan
city of Veii, lost to the world so long ago that even the site of it was
unknown to the Caesars,--or strolling by the shore at Ostia, or under
the magnificent _pineta_ at Castel Fusano, whose lofty trees repeat, as
in a dream, the sound of the blue Mediterranean that washes the coast at
half a mile distant. There is no lack of places that Time has shattered
and strewn with relics, leaving Nature to festoon her ruins and heal her
wounds with tenderest vines and flowers, where one may spend a charming
day and dream of the old times.
Spring--_prima vera_, the first true thing, as the Italians call it--has
come. The nightingales already begin to bubble into song under the
Ludovisi ilexes and in the Barberini Gardens. Daisies have snowed all
over the Campagna,--periwinkles star the grass,--crocuses and anemones
impurple the spaces between the rows of springing grain along the still
brown slopes. At every turn in the streets baskets-full of _mammole_,
the sweet-scented Parma violet, are offered you by little girls and
boys; and at the corner of the Condotti and Corso is a splendid show of
camelias, set into beds of double violets, and sold for a song. Now and
then one meets huge baskets filled with these delicious violets, on their
way to the confectioners and caffes, where they will be made into syrup;
for the Italians are very fond of this _bibite_, and prize it not only for
its flavor, but for its medicinal qualities. Violets seem to rain over the
villas in the spring,--acres are purple with them, and the air all around
is sweet with their fragrance. Every day, scores of carriages are driving
about the Borghese grounds, which are open to the public, and hundreds of
children are running about, plucking flowers and playing on the lovely
slopes and in the shadows of the noble trees, while their parents stroll
at a distance and wait for them in the shady avenues. At the Pamfili Doria
villa the English play their national game of cricket, on the flower-
enamelled green, which is covered with the most wondrous anemones; and
there is a _matinee_ of friends who come to chat and look on. This game is
rather "slow" at Rome, however, and does not rhyme with the Campagna. The
Italians lift their hands and wonder what there is in it to fascinate the
English; and the English in turn call them a lazy, stupid set, because
they do not admire it. But those who have seen _pallone_ will not,
perhaps, so much wonder at the Italians, nor condemn them for not playing
their own game, when they remember that the French have turned them out of
their only amphitheatre adapted for it, and left them only _pazienza_.
If one drives out at any of the gates, he will see that spring is come.
The hedges are putting forth their leaves, the almond-trees are in full
blossom, and in the vineyards the _contadini_ are setting cane-poles and
trimming the vines to run upon them. Here and there, along the slopes,
the rude old plough of the Georgics, dragged by great gray oxen, turns
up the rich loam, that "needs only to be tickled to laugh out in flowers
and grain." In the olive-orchards, the farmers are carefully pruning
away the decayed branches and loosening the soil about their old roots.
Here and there, the smoke of distant bonfires, burning heaps of useless
stubble, shows against the dreamy purple hills like the pillar of cloud
that led the Israelites. One smells the sharp odor of these fires
everywhere, and hears them crackle in the fields.
"Atque levem stipulam crepitantibus urere flammis."
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