The Blithedale Romance
Part 2 out of 4
invariably kicked over the pails; partly in consequence of our
putting the stool on the wrong side, and partly because, taking
offence at the whisking of their tails, we were in the habit of
holding these natural fly-flappers with one hand and milking with the
other. They further averred that we hoed up whole acres of Indian
corn and other crops, and drew the earth carefully about the weeds;
and that we raised five hundred tufts of burdock, mistaking them for
cabbages; and that by dint of unskilful planting few of our seeds
ever came up at all, or, if they did come up, it was stern-foremost;
and that we spent the better part of the month of June in reversing a
field of beans, which had thrust themselves out of the ground in this
unseemly way. They quoted it as nothing more than an ordinary
occurrence for one or other of us to crop off two or three fingers,
of a morning, by our clumsy use of the hay-cutter. Finally, and as
an ultimate catastrophe, these mendacious rogues circulated a report
that we communitarians were exterminated, to the last man, by
severing ourselves asunder with the sweep of our own scythes! and
that the world had lost nothing by this little accident.
But this was pure envy and malice on the part of the neighboring
farmers. The peril of our new way of life was not lest we should
fail in becoming practical agriculturists, but that we should
probably cease to be anything else. While our enterprise lay all in
theory, we had pleased ourselves with delectable visions of the
spiritualization of labor. It was to be our form of prayer and
ceremonial of worship. Each stroke of the hoe was to uncover some
aromatic root of wisdom, heretofore hidden from the sun. Pausing in
the field, to let the wind exhale the moisture from our foreheads, we
were to look upward, and catch glimpses into the far-off soul of
truth. In this point of view, matters did not turn out quite so well
as we anticipated. It is very true that, sometimes, gazing casually
around me, out of the midst of my toil, I used to discern a richer
picturesqueness in the visible scene of earth and sky. There was, at
such moments, a novelty, an unwonted aspect, on the face of Nature,
as if she had been taken by surprise and seen at unawares, with no
opportunity to put off her real look, and assume the mask with which
she mysteriously hides herself from mortals. But this was all. The
clods of earth, which we so constantly belabored and turned over and
over, were never etherealized into thought. Our thoughts, on the
contrary, were fast becoming cloddish. Our labor symbolized nothing,
and left us mentally sluggish in the dusk of the evening.
Intellectual activity is incompatible with any large amount of bodily
exercise. The yeoman and the scholar--the yeoman and the man of
finest moral culture, though not the man of sturdiest sense and
integrity--are two distinct individuals, and can never be melted or
welded into one substance.
Zenobia soon saw this truth, and gibed me about it, one evening, as
Hollingsworth and I lay on the grass, after a hard day's work.
"I am afraid you did not make a song today, while loading the
hay-cart," said she, "as Burns did, when he was reaping barley."
"Burns never made a song in haying-time," I answered very positively.
"He was no poet while a farmer, and no farmer while a poet."
"And on the whole, which of the two characters do you like best?"
asked Zenobia. "For I have an idea that you cannot combine them any
better than Burns did. Ah, I see, in my mind's eye, what sort of an
individual you are to be, two or three years hence. Grim Silas
Foster is your prototype, with his palm of sole-leather, and his
joints of rusty iron (which all through summer keep the stiffness of
what he calls his winter's rheumatize), and his brain of--I don't
know what his brain is made of, unless it be a Savoy cabbage; but
yours may be cauliflower, as a rather more delicate variety. Your
physical man will be transmuted into salt beef and fried pork, at the
rate, I should imagine, of a pound and a half a day; that being about
the average which we find necessary in the kitchen. You will make
your toilet for the day (still like this delightful Silas Foster) by
rinsing your fingers and the front part of your face in a little tin
pan of water at the doorstep, and teasing your hair with a wooden
pocket-comb before a seven-by-nine-inch looking-glass. Your only
pastime will be to smoke some very vile tobacco in the black stump of
"Pray, spare me!" cried I. "But the pipe is not Silas's only mode of
solacing himself with the weed."
"Your literature," continued Zenobia, apparently delighted with her
description, "will be the 'Farmer's Almanac;' for I observe our
friend Foster never gets so far as the newspaper. When you happen to
sit down, at odd moments, you will fall asleep, and make nasal
proclamation of the fact, as he does; and invariably you must be
jogged out of a nap, after supper, by the future Mrs. Coverdale, and
persuaded to go regularly to bed. And on Sundays, when you put on a
blue coat with brass buttons, you will think of nothing else to do
but to go and lounge over the stone walls and rail fences, and stare
at the corn growing. And you will look with a knowing eye at oxen,
and will have a tendency to clamber over into pigsties, and feel of
the hogs, and give a guess how much they will weigh after you shall
have stuck and dressed them. Already I have noticed you begin to
speak through your nose, and with a drawl. Pray, if you really did
make any poetry to-day, let us hear it in that kind of utterance!"
"Coverdale has given up making verses now," said Hollingsworth, who
never had the slightest appreciation of my poetry. "Just think of
him penning a sonnet with a fist like that! There is at least this
good in a life of toil, that it takes the nonsense and fancy-work out
of a man, and leaves nothing but what truly belongs to him. If a
farmer can make poetry at the plough-tail, it must be because his
nature insists on it; and if that be the case, let him make it, in
"And how is it with you?" asked Zenobia, in a different voice; for
she never laughed at Hollingsworth, as she often did at me. "You, I
think, cannot have ceased to live a life of thought and feeling."
"I have always been in earnest," answered Hollingsworth. "I have
hammered thought out of iron, after heating the iron in my heart! It
matters little what my outward toil may be. Were I a slave, at the
bottom of a mine, I should keep the same purpose, the same faith in
its ultimate accomplishment, that I do now. Miles Coverdale is not
in earnest, either as a poet or a laborer."
"You give me hard measure, Hollingsworth," said I, a little hurt. "I
have kept pace with you in the field; and my bones feel as if I had
been in earnest, whatever may be the case with my brain!"
"I cannot conceive," observed Zenobia with great emphasis,--and, no
doubt, she spoke fairly the feeling of the moment,--"I cannot
conceive of being so continually as Mr. Coverdale is within the
sphere of a strong and noble nature, without being strengthened and
ennobled by its influence!"
This amiable remark of the fair Zenobia confirmed me in what I had
already begun to suspect, that Hollingsworth, like many other
illustrious prophets, reformers, and philanthropists, was likely to
make at least two proselytes among the women to one among the men.
Zenobia and Priscilla! These, I believe (unless my unworthy self
might be reckoned for a third), were the only disciples of his
mission; and I spent a great deal of time, uselessly, in trying to
conjecture what Hollingsworth meant to do with them--and they with
IX. HOLLINGSWORTH, ZENOBIA, PRISCILLA
It is not, I apprehend, a healthy kind of mental occupation to devote
ourselves too exclusively to the study of individual men and women.
If the person under examination be one's self, the result is pretty
certain to be diseased action of the heart, almost before we can
snatch a second glance. Or if we take the freedom to put a friend
under our microscope, we thereby insulate him from many of his true
relations, magnify his peculiarities, inevitably tear him into parts,
and of course patch him very clumsily together again. What wonder,
then, should we be frightened by the aspect of a monster, which,
after all,--though we can point to every feature of his deformity in
the real personage,--may be said to have been created mainly by
Thus, as my conscience has often whispered me, I did Hollingsworth a
great wrong by prying into his character; and am perhaps doing him as
great a one, at this moment, by putting faith in the discoveries
which I seemed to make. But I could not help it. Had I loved him
less, I might have used him better. He and Zenobia and
Priscilla--both for their own sakes and as connected with him--were
separated from the rest of the Community, to my imagination, and
stood forth as the indices of a problem which it was my business to
solve. Other associates had a portion of my time; other matters
amused me; passing occurrences carried me along with them, while they
lasted. But here was the vortex of my meditations, around which they
revolved, and whitherward they too continually tended. In the midst
of cheerful society, I had often a feeling of loneliness. For it was
impossible not to be sensible that, while these three characters
figured so largely on my private theatre, I--though probably reckoned
as a friend by all--was at best but a secondary or tertiary personage
with either of them.
I loved Hollingsworth, as has already been enough expressed. But it
impressed me, more and more, that there was a stern and dreadful
peculiarity in this man, such as could not prove otherwise than
pernicious to the happiness of those who should be drawn into too
intimate a connection with him. He was not altogether human. There
was something else in Hollingsworth besides flesh and blood, and
sympathies and affections and celestial spirit.
This is always true of those men who have surrendered themselves to
an overruling purpose. It does not so much impel them from without,
nor even operate as a motive power within, but grows incorporate with
all that they think and feel, and finally converts them into little
else save that one principle. When such begins to be the predicament,
it is not cowardice, but wisdom, to avoid these victims. They have
no heart, no sympathy, no reason, no conscience. They will keep no
friend, unless he make himself the mirror of their purpose; they will
smite and slay you, and trample your dead corpse under foot, all the
more readily, if you take the first step with them, and cannot take
the second, and the third, and every other step of their terribly
strait path. They have an idol to which they consecrate themselves
high-priest, and deem it holy work to offer sacrifices of whatever is
most precious; and never once seem to suspect--so cunning has the
Devil been with them--that this false deity, in whose iron features,
immitigable to all the rest of mankind, they see only benignity and
love, is but a spectrum of the very priest himself, projected upon
the surrounding darkness. And the higher and purer the original
object, and the more unselfishly it may have been taken up, the
slighter is the probability that they can be led to recognize the
process by which godlike benevolence has been debased into
Of course I am perfectly aware that the above statement is
exaggerated, in the attempt to make it adequate. Professed
philanthropists have gone far; but no originally good man, I presume,
ever went quite so far as this. Let the reader abate whatever he
deems fit. The paragraph may remain, however, both for its truth and
its exaggeration, as strongly expressive of the tendencies which were
really operative in Hollingsworth, and as exemplifying the kind of
error into which my mode of observation was calculated to lead me.
The issue was, that in solitude I often shuddered at my friend. In
my recollection of his dark and impressive countenance, the features
grew more sternly prominent than the reality, duskier in their depth
and shadow, and more lurid in their light; the frown, that had merely
flitted across his brow, seemed to have contorted it with an
adamantine wrinkle. On meeting him again, I was often filled with
remorse, when his deep eyes beamed kindly upon me, as with the glow
of a household fire that was burning in a cave. "He is a man after
all," thought I; "his Maker's own truest image, a philanthropic man!--
not that steel engine of the Devil's contrivance, a philanthropist!"
But in my wood-walks, and in my silent chamber, the dark face
frowned at me again.
When a young girl comes within the sphere of such a man, she is as
perilously situated as the maiden whom, in the old classical myths,
the people used to expose to a dragon. If I had any duty whatever,
in reference to Hollingsworth, it was to endeavor to save Priscilla
from that kind of personal worship which her sex is generally prone
to lavish upon saints and heroes. It often requires but one smile
out of the hero's eyes into the girl's or woman's heart, to transform
this devotion, from a sentiment of the highest approval and
confidence, into passionate love. Now, Hollingsworth smiled much
upon Priscilla,--more than upon any other person. If she thought him
beautiful, it was no wonder. I often thought him so, with the
expression of tender human care and gentlest sympathy which she alone
seemed to have power to call out upon his features. Zenobia, I
suspect, would have given her eyes, bright as they were, for such a
look; it was the least that our poor Priscilla could do, to give her
heart for a great many of them. There was the more danger of this,
inasmuch as the footing on which we all associated at Blithedale was
widely different from that of conventional society. While inclining
us to the soft affections of the golden age, it seemed to authorize
any individual, of either sex, to fall in love with any other,
regardless of what would elsewhere be judged suitable and prudent.
Accordingly the tender passion was very rife among us, in various
degrees of mildness or virulence, but mostly passing away with the
state of things that had given it origin. This was all well enough;
but, for a girl like Priscilla and a woman like Zenobia to jostle one
another in their love of a man like Hollingsworth, was likely to be
no child's play.
Had I been as cold-hearted as I sometimes thought myself, nothing
would have interested me more than to witness the play of passions
that must thus have been evolved. But, in honest truth, I would
really have gone far to save Priscilla, at least, from the
catastrophe in which such a drama would be apt to terminate.
Priscilla had now grown to be a very pretty girl, and still kept
budding and blossoming, and daily putting on some new charm, which
you no sooner became sensible of than you thought it worth all that
she had previously possessed. So unformed, vague, and without
substance, as she had come to us, it seemed as if we could see Nature
shaping out a woman before our very eyes, and yet had only a more
reverential sense of the mystery of a woman's soul and frame.
Yesterday, her cheek was pale, to-day, it had a bloom. Priscilla's
smile, like a baby's first one, was a wondrous novelty. Her
imperfections and shortcomings affected me with a kind of playful
pathos, which was as absolutely bewitching a sensation as ever I
experienced. After she had been a month or two at Blithedale, her
animal spirits waxed high, and kept her pretty constantly in a state
of bubble and ferment, impelling her to far more bodily activity than
she had yet strength to endure. She was very fond of playing with
the other girls out of doors. There is hardly another sight in the
world so pretty as that of a company of young girls, almost women
grown, at play, and so giving themselves up to their airy impulse
that their tiptoes barely touch the ground.
Girls are incomparably wilder and more effervescent than boys, more
untamable and regardless of rule and limit, with an ever-shifting
variety, breaking continually into new modes of fun, yet with a
harmonious propriety through all. Their steps, their voices, appear
free as the wind, but keep consonance with a strain of music
inaudible to us. Young men and boys, on the other hand, play,
according to recognized law, old, traditionary games, permitting no
caprioles of fancy, but with scope enough for the outbreak of savage
instincts. For, young or old, in play or in earnest, man is prone to
be a brute.
Especially is it delightful to see a vigorous young girl run a race,
with her head thrown back, her limbs moving more friskily than they
need, and an air between that of a bird and a young colt. But
Priscilla's peculiar charm, in a foot-race, was the weakness and
irregularity with which she ran. Growing up without exercise, except
to her poor little fingers, she had never yet acquired the perfect
use of her legs. Setting buoyantly forth, therefore, as if no rival
less swift than Atalanta could compete with her, she ran falteringly,
and often tumbled on the grass. Such an incident--though it seems
too slight to think of--was a thing to laugh at, but which brought
the water into one's eyes, and lingered in the memory after far
greater joys and sorrows were wept out of it, as antiquated trash.
Priscilla's life, as I beheld it, was full of trifles that affected
me in just this way.
When she had come to be quite at home among us, I used to fancy that
Priscilla played more pranks, and perpetrated more mischief, than any
other girl in the Community. For example, I once heard Silas Foster,
in a very gruff voice, threatening to rivet three horseshoes round
Priscilla's neck and chain her to a post, because she, with some
other young people, had clambered upon a load of hay, and caused it
to slide off the cart. How she made her peace I never knew; but very
soon afterwards I saw old Silas, with his brawny hands round
Priscilla's waist, swinging her to and fro, and finally depositing
her on one of the oxen, to take her first lessons in riding. She met
with terrible mishaps in her efforts to milk a cow; she let the
poultry into the garden; she generally spoilt whatever part of the
dinner she took in charge; she broke crockery; she dropt our biggest
water pitcher into the well; and--except with her needle, and those
little wooden instruments for purse-making--was as unserviceable a
member of society as any young lady in the land. There was no other
sort of efficiency about her. Yet everybody was kind to Priscilla;
everybody loved her and laughed at her to her face, and did not laugh
behind her back; everybody would have given her half of his last
crust, or the bigger share of his plum-cake. These were pretty
certain indications that we were all conscious of a pleasant weakness
in the girl, and considered her not quite able to look after her own
interests or fight her battle with the world. And
Hollingsworth--perhaps because he had been the means of introducing
Priscilla to her new abode--appeared to recognize her as his own
Her simple, careless, childish flow of spirits often made me sad.
She seemed to me like a butterfly at play in a flickering bit of
sunshine, and mistaking it for a broad and eternal summer. We
sometimes hold mirth to a stricter accountability than sorrow; it
must show good cause, or the echo of its laughter comes back drearily.
Priscilla's gayety, moreover, was of a nature that showed me how
delicate an instrument she was, and what fragile harp-strings were
her nerves. As they made sweet music at the airiest touch, it would
require but a stronger one to burst them all asunder. Absurd as it
might be, I tried to reason with her, and persuade her not to be so
joyous, thinking that, if she would draw less lavishly upon her fund
of happiness, it would last the longer. I remember doing so, one
summer evening, when we tired laborers sat looking on, like
Goldsmith's old folks under the village thorn-tree, while the young
people were at their sports.
"What is the use or sense of being so very gay?" I said to Priscilla,
while she was taking breath, after a great frolic. "I love to see a
sufficient cause for everything, and I can see none for this. Pray
tell me, now, what kind of a world you imagine this to be, which you
are so merry in."
"I never think about it at all," answered Priscilla, laughing. "But
this I am sure of, that it is a world where everybody is kind to me,
and where I love everybody. My heart keeps dancing within me, and
all the foolish things which you see me do are only the motions of my
heart. How can I be dismal, if my heart will not let me?"
"Have you nothing dismal to remember?" I suggested. "If not, then,
indeed, you are very fortunate!"
"Ah!" said Priscilla slowly.
And then came that unintelligible gesture, when she seemed to be
listening to a distant voice.
"For my part," I continued, beneficently seeking to overshadow her
with my own sombre humor, "my past life has been a tiresome one
enough; yet I would rather look backward ten times than forward once.
For, little as we know of our life to come, we may be very sure, for
one thing, that the good we aim at will not be attained. People
never do get just the good they seek. If it come at all, it is
something else, which they never dreamed of, and did not particularly
want. Then, again, we may rest certain that our friends of to-day
will not be our friends of a few years hence; but, if we keep one of
them, it will be at the expense of the others; and most probably we
shall keep none. To be sure, there are more to be had; but who cares
about making a new set of friends, even should they be better than
those around us?"
"Not I!" said Priscilla. "I will live and die with these!"
"Well; but let the future go," resumed I. "As for the present moment,
if we could look into the hearts where we wish to be most valued,
what should you expect to see? One's own likeness, in the innermost,
holiest niche? Ah! I don't know! It may not be there at all. It
may be a dusty image, thrust aside into a corner, and by and by to be
flung out of doors, where any foot may trample upon it. If not
to-day, then to-morrow! And so, Priscilla, I do not see much wisdom
in being so very merry in this kind of a world."
It had taken me nearly seven years of worldly life to hive up the
bitter honey which I here offered to Priscilla. And she rejected it!
"I don't believe one word of what you say!" she replied, laughing
anew. "You made me sad, for a minute, by talking about the past; but
the past never comes back again. Do we dream the same dream twice?
There is nothing else that I am afraid of."
So away she ran, and fell down on the green grass, as it was often
her luck to do, but got up again, without any harm.
"Priscilla, Priscilla!" cried Hollingsworth, who was sitting on the
doorstep; "you had better not run any more to-night. You will weary
yourself too much. And do not sit down out of doors, for there is a
heavy dew beginning to fall."
At his first word, she went and sat down under the porch, at
Hollingsworth's feet, entirely contented and happy. What charm was
there in his rude massiveness that so attracted and soothed this
shadow-like girl? It appeared to me, who have always been curious in
such matters, that Priscilla's vague and seemingly causeless flow of
felicitous feeling was that with which love blesses inexperienced
hearts, before they begin to suspect what is going on within them.
It transports them to the seventh heaven; and if you ask what brought
them thither, they neither can tell nor care to learn, but cherish an
ecstatic faith that there they shall abide forever.
Zenobia was in the doorway, not far from Hollingsworth. She gazed at
Priscilla in a very singular way. Indeed, it was a sight worth
gazing at, and a beautiful sight, too, as the fair girl sat at the
feet of that dark, powerful figure. Her air, while perfectly modest,
delicate, and virgin-like, denoted her as swayed by Hollingsworth,
attracted to him, and unconsciously seeking to rest upon his strength.
I could not turn away my own eyes, but hoped that nobody, save
Zenobia and myself, was witnessing this picture. It is before me now,
with the evening twilight a little deepened by the dusk of memory.
"Come hither, Priscilla," said Zenobia. "I have something to say to
She spoke in little more than a whisper. But it is strange how
expressive of moods a whisper may often be. Priscilla felt at once
that something had gone wrong.
"Are you angry with me?" she asked, rising slowly, and standing
before Zenobia in a drooping attitude. "What have I done? I hope
you are not angry!"
"No, no, Priscilla!" said Hollingsworth, smiling. "I will answer for
it, she is not. You are the one little person in the world with whom
nobody can be angry!"
"Angry with you, child? What a silly idea!" exclaimed Zenobia,
laughing. "No, indeed! But, my dear Priscilla, you are getting to
be so very pretty that you absolutely need a duenna; and, as I am
older than you, and have had my own little experience of life, and
think myself exceedingly sage, I intend to fill the place of a maiden
aunt. Every day, I shall give you a lecture, a quarter of an hour in
length, on the morals, manners, and proprieties of social life. When
our pastoral shall be quite played out, Priscilla, my worldly wisdom
may stand you in good stead."
"I am afraid you are angry with me!" repeated Priscilla sadly; for,
while she seemed as impressible as wax, the girl often showed a
persistency in her own ideas as stubborn as it was gentle.
"Dear me, what can I say to the child!" cried Zenobia in a tone of
humorous vexation. "Well, well; since you insist on my being angry,
come to my room this moment, and let me beat you!"
Zenobia bade Hollingsworth good-night very sweetly, and nodded to me
with a smile. But, just as she turned aside with Priscilla into the
dimness of the porch, I caught another glance at her countenance. It
would have made the fortune of a tragic actress, could she have
borrowed it for the moment when she fumbles in her bosom for the
concealed dagger, or the exceedingly sharp bodkin, or mingles the
ratsbane in her lover's bowl of wine or her rival's cup of tea. Not
that I in the least anticipated any such catastrophe,--it being a
remarkable truth that custom has in no one point a greater sway than
over our modes of wreaking our wild passions. And besides, had we
been in Italy, instead of New England, it was hardly yet a crisis for
the dagger or the bowl.
It often amazed me, however, that Hollingsworth should show himself
so recklessly tender towards Priscilla, and never once seem to think
of the effect which it might have upon her heart. But the man, as I
have endeavored to explain, was thrown completely off his moral
balance, and quite bewildered as to his personal relations, by his
great excrescence of a philanthropic scheme. I used to see, or fancy,
indications that he was not altogether obtuse to Zenobia's influence
as a woman. No doubt, however, he had a still more exquisite
enjoyment of Priscilla's silent sympathy with his purposes, so
unalloyed with criticism, and therefore more grateful than any
intellectual approbation, which always involves a possible reserve of
latent censure. A man--poet, prophet, or whatever he may be--readily
persuades himself of his right to all the worship that is voluntarily
tendered. In requital of so rich benefits as he was to confer upon
mankind, it would have been hard to deny Hollingsworth the simple
solace of a young girl's heart, which he held in his hand, and
smelled too, like a rosebud. But what if, while pressing out its
fragrance, he should crush the tender rosebud in his grasp!
As for Zenobia, I saw no occasion to give myself any trouble. With
her native strength, and her experience of the world, she could not
be supposed to need any help of mine. Nevertheless, I was really
generous enough to feel some little interest likewise for Zenobia.
With all her faults (which might have been a great many besides the
abundance that I knew of), she possessed noble traits, and a heart
which must, at least, have been valuable while new. And she seemed
ready to fling it away as uncalculatingly as Priscilla herself. I
could not but suspect that, if merely at play with Hollingsworth, she
was sporting with a power which she did not fully estimate. Or if in
earnest, it might chance, between Zenobia's passionate force and his
dark, self-delusive egotism, to turn out such earnest as would
develop itself in some sufficiently tragic catastrophe, though the
dagger and the bowl should go for nothing in it.
Meantime, the gossip of the Community set them down as a pair of
lovers. They took walks together, and were not seldom encountered in
the wood-paths: Hollingsworth deeply discoursing, in tones solemn and
sternly pathetic; Zenobia, with a rich glow on her cheeks, and her
eyes softened from their ordinary brightness, looked so beautiful,
that had her companion been ten times a philanthropist, it seemed
impossible but that one glance should melt him back into a man.
Oftener than anywhere else, they went to a certain point on the slope
of a pasture, commanding nearly the whole of our own domain, besides
a view of the river, and an airy prospect of many distant hills. The
bond of our Community was such, that the members had the privilege of
building cottages for their own residence within our precincts, thus
laying a hearthstone and fencing in a home private and peculiar to
all desirable extent, while yet the inhabitants should continue to
share the advantages of an associated life. It was inferred that
Hollingsworth and Zenobia intended to rear their dwelling on this
I mentioned those rumors to Hollingsworth in a playful way.
"Had you consulted me," I went on to observe, "I should have
recommended a site farther to the left, just a little withdrawn into
the wood, with two or three peeps at the prospect among the trees.
You will be in the shady vale of years long before you can raise any
better kind of shade around your cottage, if you build it on this
"But I offer my edifice as a spectacle to the world," said
Hollingsworth, "that it may take example and build many another like
it. Therefore, I mean to set it on the open hillside."
Twist these words how I might, they offered no very satisfactory
import. It seemed hardly probable that Hollingsworth should care
about educating the public taste in the department of cottage
architecture, desirable as such improvement certainly was.
X. A VISITOR FROM TOWN
Hollingsworth and I--we had been hoeing potatoes, that forenoon,
while the rest of the fraternity were engaged in a distant quarter of
the farm--sat under a clump of maples, eating our eleven o'clock
lunch, when we saw a stranger approaching along the edge of the field.
He had admitted himself from the roadside through a turnstile, and
seemed to have a purpose of speaking with us.
And, by the bye, we were favored with many visits at Blithedale,
especially from people who sympathized with our theories, and perhaps
held themselves ready to unite in our actual experiment as soon as
there should appear a reliable promise of its success. It was rather
ludicrous, indeed (to me, at least, whose enthusiasm had insensibly
been exhaled together with the perspiration of many a hard day's
toil), it was absolutely funny, therefore, to observe what a glory
was shed about our life and labors, in the imaginations of these
longing proselytes. In their view, we were as poetical as Arcadians,
besides being as practical as the hardest-fisted husbandmen in
Massachusetts. We did not, it is true, spend much time in piping to
our sheep, or warbling our innocent loves to the sisterhood. But
they gave us credit for imbuing the ordinary rustic occupations with
a kind of religious poetry, insomuch that our very cow-yards and
pig-sties were as delightfully fragrant as a flower garden. Nothing
used to please me more than to see one of these lay enthusiasts
snatch up a hoe, as they were very prone to do, and set to work with
a vigor that perhaps carried him through about a dozen ill-directed
strokes. Men are wonderfully soon satisfied, in this day of shameful
bodily enervation, when, from one end of life to the other, such
multitudes never taste the sweet weariness that follows accustomed
toil. I seldom saw the new enthusiasm that did not grow as flimsy
and flaccid as the proselyte's moistened shirt-collar, with a quarter
of an hour's active labor under a July sun.
But the person now at hand had not at all the air of one of these
amiable visionaries. He was an elderly man, dressed rather shabbily,
yet decently enough, in a gray frock-coat, faded towards a brown hue,
and wore a broad-brimmed white hat, of the fashion of several years
gone by. His hair was perfect silver, without a dark thread in the
whole of it; his nose, though it had a scarlet tip, by no means
indicated the jollity of which a red nose is the generally admitted
symbol. He was a subdued, undemonstrative old man, who would
doubtless drink a glass of liquor, now and then, and probably more
than was good for him,--not, however, with a purpose of undue
exhilaration, but in the hope of bringing his spirits up to the
ordinary level of the world's cheerfulness. Drawing nearer, there
was a shy look about him, as if he were ashamed of his poverty, or,
at any rate, for some reason or other, would rather have us glance at
him sidelong than take a full front view. He had a queer appearance
of hiding himself behind the patch on his left eye.
"I know this old gentleman," said I to Hollingsworth, as we sat
observing him; "that is, I have met him a hundred times in town, and
have often amused my fancy with wondering what he was before he came
to be what he is. He haunts restaurants and such places, and has an
odd way of lurking in corners or getting behind a door whenever
practicable, and holding out his hand with some little article in it
which he wishes you to buy. The eye of the world seems to trouble
him, although he necessarily lives so much in it. I never expected
to see him in an open field."
"Have you learned anything of his history?" asked Hollingsworth.
"Not a circumstance," I answered; "but there must be something
curious in it. I take him to be a harmless sort of a person, and a
tolerably honest one; but his manners, being so furtive, remind me of
those of a rat,--a rat without the mischief, the fierce eye, the
teeth to bite with, or the desire to bite. See, now! He means to
skulk along that fringe of bushes, and approach us on the other side
of our clump of maples."
We soon heard the old man's velvet tread on the grass, indicating
that he had arrived within a few feet of where we Sat.
"Good-morning, Mr. Moodie," said Hollingsworth, addressing the
stranger as an acquaintance; "you must have had a hot and tiresome
walk from the city. Sit down, and take a morsel of our bread and
The visitor made a grateful little murmur of acquiescence, and sat
down in a spot somewhat removed; so that, glancing round, I could see
his gray pantaloons and dusty shoes, while his upper part was mostly
hidden behind the shrubbery. Nor did he come forth from this
retirement during the whole of the interview that followed. We
handed him such food as we had, together with a brown jug of molasses
and water (would that it had been brandy, or some thing better, for
the sake of his chill old heart!), like priests offering dainty
sacrifice to an enshrined and invisible idol. I have no idea that he
really lacked sustenance; but it was quite touching, nevertheless, to
hear him nibbling away at our crusts.
"Mr. Moodie," said I, "do you remember selling me one of those very
pretty little silk purses, of which you seem to have a monopoly in
the market? I keep it to this day, I can assure you."
"Ah, thank you," said our guest. "Yes, Mr. Coverdale, I used to sell
a good many of those little purses."
He spoke languidly, and only those few words, like a watch with an
inelastic spring, that just ticks a moment or two and stops again.
He seemed a very forlorn old man. In the wantonness of youth,
strength, and comfortable condition,--making my prey of people's
individualities, as my custom was,--I tried to identify my mind with
the old fellow's, and take his view of the world, as if looking
through a smoke-blackened glass at the sun. It robbed the landscape
of all its life. Those pleasantly swelling slopes of our farm,
descending towards the wide meadows, through which sluggishly circled
the brimful tide of the Charles, bathing the long sedges on its
hither and farther shores; the broad, sunny gleam over the winding
water; that peculiar picturesqueness of the scene where capes and
headlands put themselves boldly forth upon the perfect level of the
meadow, as into a green lake, with inlets between the promontories;
the shadowy woodland, with twinkling showers of light falling into
its depths; the sultry heat-vapor, which rose everywhere like incense,
and in which my soul delighted, as indicating so rich a fervor in
the passionate day, and in the earth that was burning with its love,--
I beheld all these things as through old Moodie's eyes. When my
eyes are dimmer than they have yet come to be, I will go thither
again, and see if I did not catch the tone of his mind aright, and if
the cold and lifeless tint of his perceptions be not then repeated in
Yet it was unaccountable to myself, the interest that I felt in him.
"Have you any objection," said I, "to telling me who made those
"Gentlemen have often asked me that," said Moodie slowly; "but I
shake my head, and say little or nothing, and creep out of the way as
well as I can. I am a man of few words; and if gentlemen were to be
told one thing, they would be very apt, I suppose, to ask me another.
But it happens just now, Mr. Coverdale, that you can tell me more
about the maker of those little purses than I can tell you."
"Why do you trouble him with needless questions, Coverdale?"
interrupted Hollingsworth. "You must have known, long ago, that it
was Priscilla. And so, my good friend, you have come to see her?
Well, I am glad of it. You will find her altered very much for the
better, since that winter evening when you put her into my charge.
Why, Priscilla has a bloom in her cheeks, now!"
"Has my pale little girl a bloom?" repeated Moodie with a kind of
slow wonder. "Priscilla with a bloom in her cheeks! Ah, I am afraid
I shall not know my little girl. And is she happy?"
"Just as happy as a bird," answered Hollingsworth.
"Then, gentlemen," said our guest apprehensively," I don't think it
well for me to go any farther. I crept hitherward only to ask about
Priscilla; and now that you have told me such good news, perhaps I
can do no better than to creep back again. If she were to see this
old face of mine, the child would remember some very sad times which
we have spent together. Some very sad times, indeed! She has
forgotten them, I know,--them and me,--else she could not be so happy,
nor have a bloom in her cheeks. Yes--yes--yes," continued he, still
with the same torpid utterance; "with many thanks to you, Mr.
Hollingsworth, I will creep back to town again."
"You shall do no such thing, Mr. Moodie," said Hollingsworth bluffly.
"Priscilla often speaks of you; and if there lacks anything to make
her cheeks bloom like two damask roses, I'll venture to say it is
just the sight of your face. Come,--we will go and find her."
"Mr. Hollingsworth!" said the old man in his hesitating way.
"Well," answered Hollingsworth.
"Has there been any call for Priscilla?" asked Moodie; and though his
face was hidden from us, his tone gave a sure indication of the
mysterious nod and wink with which he put the question. "You know, I
think, sir, what I mean."
"I have not the remotest suspicion what you mean, Mr. Moodie,"
replied Hollingsworth; "nobody, to my knowledge, has called for
Priscilla, except yourself. But come; we are losing time, and I have
several things to say to you by the way."
"And, Mr. Hollingsworth!" repeated Moodie.
"Well, again!" cried my friend rather impatiently. "What now?"
"There is a lady here," said the old man; and his voice lost some of
its wearisome hesitation. "You will account it a very strange matter
for me to talk about; but I chanced to know this lady when she was
but a little child. If I am rightly informed, she has grown to be a
very fine woman, and makes a brilliant figure in the world, with her
beauty, and her talents, and her noble way of spending her riches. I
should recognize this lady, so people tell me, by a magnificent
flower in her hair."
"What a rich tinge it gives to his colorless ideas, when he speaks of
Zenobia!" I whispered to Hollingsworth. "But how can there possibly
be any interest or connecting link between him and her?"
"The old man, for years past," whispered Hollingsworth, "has been a
little out of his right mind, as you probably see."
"What I would inquire," resumed Moodie, "is whether this beautiful
lady is kind to my poor Priscilla."
"Very kind," said Hollingsworth.
"Does she love her?" asked Moodie.
"It should seem so," answered my friend. "They are always together."
"Like a gentlewoman and her maid-servant, I fancy?" suggested the old
There was something so singular in his way of saying this, that I
could not resist the impulse to turn quite round, so as to catch a
glimpse of his face, almost imagining that I should see another
person than old Moodie. But there he sat, with the patched side of
his face towards me.
"Like an elder and younger sister, rather," replied Hollingsworth.
"Ah!" said Moodie more complacently, for his latter tones had
harshness and acidity in them,--"it would gladden my old heart to
witness that. If one thing would make me happier than another, Mr.
Hollingsworth, it would be to see that beautiful lady holding my
little girl by the hand."
"Come along," said Hollingsworth, "and perhaps you may."
After a little more delay on the part of our freakish visitor, they
set forth together, old Moodie keeping a step or two behind
Hollingsworth, so that the latter could not very conveniently look
him in the face. I remained under the tuft of maples, doing my
utmost to draw an inference from the scene that had just passed. In
spite of Hollingsworth's off-hand explanation, it did not strike me
that our strange guest was really beside himself, but only that his
mind needed screwing up, like an instrument long out of tune, the
strings of which have ceased to vibrate smartly and sharply.
Methought it would be profitable for us, projectors of a happy life,
to welcome this old gray shadow, and cherish him as one of us, and
let him creep about our domain, in order that he might be a little
merrier for our sakes, and we, sometimes, a little sadder for his.
Human destinies look ominous without some perceptible intermixture of
the sable or the gray. And then, too, should any of our fraternity
grow feverish with an over-exulting sense of prosperity, it would be
a sort of cooling regimen to slink off into the woods, and spend an
hour, or a day, or as many days as might be requisite to the cure, in
uninterrupted communion with this deplorable old Moodie!
Going homeward to dinner, I had a glimpse of him, behind the trunk of
a tree, gazing earnestly towards a particular window of the farmhouse;
and by and by Priscilla appeared at this window, playfully drawing
along Zenobia, who looked as bright as the very day that was blazing
down upon us, only not, by many degrees, so well advanced towards her
noon. I was convinced that this pretty sight must have been
purposely arranged by Priscilla for the old man to see. But either
the girl held her too long, or her fondness was resented as too great
a freedom; for Zenobia suddenly put Priscilla decidedly away, and
gave her a haughty look, as from a mistress to a dependant. Old
Moodie shook his head; and again and again I saw him shake it, as he
withdrew along the road; and at the last point whence the farmhouse
was visible, he turned and shook his uplifted staff.
XI. THE WOOD-PATH
Not long after the preceding incident, in order to get the ache of
too constant labor out of my bones, and to relieve my spirit of the
irksomeness of a settled routine, I took a holiday. It was my
purpose to spend it all alone, from breakfast-time till twilight, in
the deepest wood-seclusion that lay anywhere around us. Though fond
of society, I was so constituted as to need these occasional
retirements, even in a life like that of Blithedale, which was itself
characterized by a remoteness from the world. Unless renewed by a
yet further withdrawal towards the inner circle of self-communion, I
lost the better part of my individuality. My thoughts became of
little worth, and my sensibilities grew as arid as a tuft of moss (a
thing whose life is in the shade, the rain, or the noontide dew),
crumbling in the sunshine after long expectance of a shower. So,
with my heart full of a drowsy pleasure, and cautious not to
dissipate my mood by previous intercourse with any one, I hurried
away, and was soon pacing a wood-path, arched overhead with
boughs, and dusky-brown beneath my feet.
At first I walked very swiftly, as if the heavy flood tide of social
life were roaring at my heels, and would outstrip and overwhelm me,
without all the better diligence in my escape. But, threading the
more distant windings of the track, I abated my pace, and looked
about me for some side-aisle, that should admit me into the innermost
sanctuary of this green cathedral, just as, in human acquaintanceship,
a casual opening sometimes lets us, all of a sudden, into the
long-sought intimacy of a mysterious heart. So much was I absorbed
in my reflections,--or, rather, in my mood, the substance of which
was as yet too shapeless to be called thought,--that footsteps
rustled on the leaves, and a figure passed me by, almost without
impressing either the sound or sight upon my consciousness.
A moment afterwards, I heard a voice at a little distance behind me,
speaking so sharply and impertinently that it made a complete discord
with my spiritual state, and caused the latter to vanish as abruptly
as when you thrust a finger into a soap-bubble.
"Halloo, friend!" cried this most unseasonable voice. "Stop a moment,
I say! I must have a word with you!"
I turned about, in a humor ludicrously irate. In the first place,
the interruption, at any rate, was a grievous injury; then, the tone
displeased me. And finally, unless there be real affection in his
heart, a man cannot,--such is the bad state to which the world has
brought itself,--cannot more effectually show his contempt for a
brother mortal, nor more gallingly assume a position of superiority,
than by addressing him as "friend." Especially does the
misapplication of this phrase bring out that latent hostility which
is sure to animate peculiar sects, and those who, with however
generous a purpose, have sequestered themselves from the crowd; a
feeling, it is true, which may be hidden in some dog-kennel of the
heart, grumbling there in the darkness, but is never quite extinct,
until the dissenting party have gained power and scope enough to
treat the world generously. For my part, I should have taken it as
far less an insult to be styled "fellow," "clown," or "bumpkin." To
either of these appellations my rustic garb (it was a linen blouse,
with checked shirt and striped pantaloons, a chip hat on my head, and
a rough hickory stick in my hand) very fairly entitled me. As the
case stood, my temper darted at once to the opposite pole; not friend,
"What do you want with me?" said I, facing about.
"Come a little nearer, friend," said the stranger, beckoning.
"No," answered I. "If I can do anything for you without too much
trouble to myself, say so. But recollect, if you please, that you
are not speaking to an acquaintance, much less a friend!"
"Upon my word, I believe not!" retorted he, looking at me with some
curiosity; and, lifting his hat, he made me a salute which had enough
of sarcasm to be offensive, and just enough of doubtful courtesy to
render any resentment of it absurd. "But I ask your pardon! I
recognize a little mistake. If I may take the liberty to suppose it,
you, sir, are probably one of the aesthetic--or shall I rather say
ecstatic?--laborers, who have planted themselves hereabouts. This is
your forest of Arden; and you are either the banished Duke in person,
or one of the chief nobles in his train. The melancholy Jacques,
perhaps? Be it so. In that case, you can probably do me a favor."
I never, in my life, felt less inclined to confer a favor on any man.
"I am busy," said I.
So unexpectedly had the stranger made me sensible of his presence,
that he had almost the effect of an apparition; and certainly a less
appropriate one (taking into view the dim woodland solitude about us)
than if the salvage man of antiquity, hirsute and cinctured with a
leafy girdle, had started out of a thicket. He was still young,
seemingly a little under thirty, of a tall and well-developed figure,
and as handsome a man as ever I beheld. The style of his beauty,
however, though a masculine style, did not at all commend itself to
my taste. His countenance--I hardly know how to describe the
peculiarity--had an indecorum in it, a kind of rudeness, a hard,
coarse, forth-putting freedom of expression, which no degree of
external polish could have abated one single jot. Not that it was
vulgar. But he had no fineness of nature; there was in his eyes
(although they might have artifice enough of another sort) the naked
exposure of something that ought not to be left prominent. With
these vague allusions to what I have seen in other faces as well as
his, I leave the quality to be comprehended best--because with an
intuitive repugnance--by those who possess least of it.
His hair, as well as his beard and mustache, was coal-black; his eyes,
too, were black and sparkling, and his teeth remarkably brilliant.
He was rather carelessly but well and fashionably dressed, in a
summer-morning costume. There was a gold chain, exquisitely wrought,
across his vest. I never saw a smoother or whiter gloss than that
upon his shirt-bosom, which had a pin in it, set with a gem that
glimmered, in the leafy shadow where he stood, like a living tip of
fire. He carried a stick with a wooden head, carved in vivid
imitation of that of a serpent. I hated him, partly, I do believe,
from a comparison of my own homely garb with his well-ordered
"Well, sir," said I, a little ashamed of my first irritation, but
still with no waste of civility, "be pleased to speak at once, as I
have my own business in hand."
"I regret that my mode of addressing you was a little unfortunate,"
said the stranger, smiling; for he seemed a very acute sort of person,
and saw, in some degree, how I stood affected towards him. "I
intended no offence, and shall certainly comport myself with due
ceremony hereafter. I merely wish to make a few inquiries respecting
a lady, formerly of my acquaintance, who is now resident in your
Community, and, I believe,
largely concerned in your social enterprise. You call her, I think,
"That is her name in literature," observed I; "a name, too, which
possibly she may permit her private friends to know and address her
by,--but not one which they feel at liberty to recognize when used of
her personally by a stranger or casual acquaintance."
"Indeed!" answered this disagreeable person; and he turned aside his
face for an instant with a brief laugh, which struck me as a
noteworthy expression of his character. "Perhaps I might put forward
a claim, on your own grounds, to call the lady by a name so
appropriate to her splendid qualities. But I am willing to know her
by any cognomen that you may suggest."
Heartily wishing that he would be either a little more offensive, or
a good deal less so, or break off our intercourse altogether, I
mentioned Zenobia's real name.
"True," said he; "and in general society I have never heard her
called otherwise. And, after all, our discussion of the point has
been gratuitous. My object is only to inquire when, where, and how
this lady may most conveniently be seen."
"At her present residence, of course," I replied. "You have but to
go thither and ask for her. This very path will lead you within
sight of the house; so I wish you good-morning."
"One moment, if you please," said the stranger. "The course you
indicate would certainly be the proper one, in an ordinary morning
call. But my business is private, personal, and somewhat peculiar.
Now, in a community like this, I should judge that any little
occurrence is likely to be discussed rather more minutely than would
quite suit my views. I refer solely to myself, you understand, and
without intimating that it would be other than a matter of entire
indifference to the lady. In short, I especially desire to see her
in private. If her habits are such as I have known them, she is
probably often to be met with in the woods, or by the river-side; and
I think you could do me the favor to point out some favorite walk,
where, about this hour, I might be fortunate enough to gain an
I reflected that it would be quite a supererogatory piece of
Quixotism in me to undertake the guardianship of Zenobia, who, for my
pains, would only make me the butt of endless ridicule, should the
fact ever come to her knowledge. I therefore described a spot which,
as often as any other, was Zenobia's resort at this period of the day;
nor was it so remote from the farmhouse as to leave her in much
peril, whatever might be the stranger's character.
"A single word more," said he; and his black eyes sparkled at me,
whether with fun or malice I knew not, but certainly as if the Devil
were peeping out of them. "Among your fraternity, I understand,
there is a certain holy and benevolent blacksmith; a man of iron, in
more senses than one; a rough, cross-grained, well-meaning individual,
rather boorish in his manners, as might be expected, and by no means
of the highest intellectual cultivation. He is a philanthropical
lecturer, with two or three disciples, and a scheme of his own, the
preliminary step in which involves a large purchase of land, and the
erection of a spacious edifice, at an expense considerably beyond his
means; inasmuch as these are to be reckoned in copper or old iron
much more conveniently than in gold or silver. He hammers away upon
his one topic as lustily as ever he did upon a horseshoe! Do you
know such a person?" I shook my head, and was turning away. "Our
friend," he continued, "is described to me as a brawny, shaggy, grim,
and ill-favored personage, not particularly well calculated, one
would say, to insinuate himself with the softer sex. Yet, so far has
this honest fellow succeeded with one lady whom we wot of, that he
anticipates, from her abundant resources, the necessary funds for
realizing his plan in brick and mortar!"
Here the stranger seemed to be so much amused with his sketch of
Hollingsworth's character and purposes, that he burst into a fit of
merriment, of the same nature as the brief, metallic laugh already
alluded to, but immensely prolonged and enlarged. In the excess of
his delight, he opened his mouth wide, and disclosed a gold band
around the upper part of his teeth, thereby making it apparent that
every one of his brilliant grinders and incisors was a sham. This
discovery affected me very oddly.
I felt as if the whole man were a moral and physical humbug; his
wonderful beauty of face, for aught I knew, might be removable like a
mask; and, tall and comely as his figure looked, he was perhaps but a
wizened little elf, gray and decrepit, with nothing genuine about him
save the wicked expression of his grin. The fantasy of his spectral
character so wrought upon me, together with the contagion of his
strange mirth on my sympathies, that I soon began to laugh as loudly
By and by, he paused all at once; so suddenly, indeed, that my own
cachinnation lasted a moment longer.
"Ah, excuse me!" said he. "Our interview seems to proceed more
merrily than it began."
"It ends here," answered I. "And I take shame to myself that my folly
has lost me the right of resenting your ridicule of a friend."
"Pray allow me," said the stranger, approaching a step nearer, and
laying his gloved hand on my sleeve. "One other favor I must ask of
you. You have a young person here at Blithedale, of whom I have
heard,--whom, perhaps, I have known,--and in whom, at all events, I
take a peculiar interest. She is one of those delicate, nervous
young creatures, not uncommon in New England, and whom I suppose to
have become what we find them by the gradual refining away of the
physical system among your women. Some philosophers choose to
glorify this habit of body by terming it spiritual; but, in my
opinion, it is rather the effect of unwholesome food, bad air, lack
of outdoor exercise, and neglect of bathing, on the part of these
damsels and their female progenitors, all resulting in a kind of
hereditary dyspepsia. Zenobia, even with her uncomfortable surplus
of vitality, is far the better model of womanhood. But--to revert
again to this young person--she goes among you by the name of
Priscilla. Could you possibly afford me the means of speaking with
"You have made so many inquiries of me," I observed, "that I may at
least trouble you with one. What is your name?"
He offered me a card, with "Professor Westervelt" engraved on it. At
the same time, as if to vindicate his claim to the professorial
dignity, so often assumed on very questionable grounds, he put on a
pair of spectacles, which so altered the character of his face that I
hardly knew him again. But I liked the present aspect no better than
the former one.
"I must decline any further connection with your affairs," said I,
drawing back. "I have told you where to find Zenobia. As for
Priscilla, she has closer friends than myself, through whom, if they
see fit, you can gain access to her."
"In that case," returned the Professor, ceremoniously raising his hat,
"good-morning to you."
He took his departure, and was soon out of sight among the windings
of the wood-path. But after a little reflection, I could not help
regretting that I had so peremptorily broken off the interview, while
the stranger seemed inclined to continue it. His evident knowledge
of matters affecting my three friends might have led to disclosures
or inferences that would perhaps have been serviceable. I was
particularly struck with the fact that, ever since the appearance of
Priscilla, it had been the tendency of events to suggest and
establish a connection between Zenobia and her. She had come, in the
first instance, as if with the sole purpose of claiming Zenobia's
protection. Old Moodie's visit, it appeared, was chiefly to
ascertain whether this object had been accomplished. And here,
to-day, was the questionable Professor, linking one with the other in
his inquiries, and seeking communication with both.
Meanwhile, my inclination for a ramble having been balked, I lingered
in the vicinity of the farm, with perhaps a vague idea that some new
event would grow out of Westervelt's proposed interview with Zenobia.
My own part in these transactions was singularly subordinate. It
of the Chorus in a classic play, which seems to be set aloof from the
possibility of personal concernment, and bestows the whole measure of
its hope or fear, its exultation or sorrow, on the fortunes of others,
between whom and itself this sympathy is the only bond. Destiny, it
may be,--the most skilful of stage managers,--seldom chooses to
arrange its scenes, and carry forward its drama, without securing the
presence of at least one calm observer. It is his office to give
applause when due, and sometimes an inevitable tear, to detect the
final fitness of incident to character, and distil in his
long-brooding thought the whole morality of the performance.
Not to be out of the way in case there were need of me in my vocation,
and, at the same time, to avoid thrusting myself where neither
destiny nor mortals might desire my presence, I remained pretty near
the verge of the woodlands. My position was off the track of
Zenobia's customary walk, yet not so remote but that a recognized
occasion might speedily have brought me thither.
XII. COVERDALE'S HERMITAGE
Long since, in this part of our circumjacent wood, I had found out
for myself a little hermitage. It was a kind of leafy cave, high
upward into the air, among the midmost branches of a white-pine tree.
A wild grapevine, of unusual size and luxuriance, had twined and
twisted itself up into the tree, and, after wreathing the
entanglement of its tendrils around almost every bough, had caught
hold of three or four neighboring
trees, and married the whole clump with a perfectly inextricable knot
of polygamy. Once, while sheltering myself from a summer shower, the
fancy had taken me to clamber up into this seemingly impervious mass
of foliage. The branches yielded me a passage, and closed again
beneath, as if only a squirrel or a bird had passed. Far aloft,
around the stem of the central pine, behold a perfect nest for
Robinson Crusoe or King Charles! A hollow chamber of rare seclusion
had been formed by the decay of some of the pine branches, which the
vine had lovingly strangled with its embrace, burying them from the
light of day in an aerial sepulchre of its own leaves. It cost me
but little ingenuity to enlarge the interior, and open loopholes
through the verdant walls. Had it ever been my fortune to spend a
honeymoon, I should have thought seriously of inviting my bride up
thither, where our next neighbors would have been two orioles in
another part of the clump.
It was an admirable place to make verses, tuning the rhythm to the
breezy symphony that so often stirred among the vine leaves; or to
meditate an essay for "The Dial," in which the many tongues of Nature
whispered mysteries, and seemed to ask only a little stronger puff of
wind to speak out the solution of its riddle. Being so pervious to
air-currents, it was just the nook, too, for the enjoyment of a cigar.
This hermitage was my one exclusive possession while I counted
myself a brother of the socialists. It symbolized my individuality,
and aided me in keeping it inviolate. None ever found me out in it,
except, once, a squirrel. I brought thither no guest, because, after
Hollingsworth failed me, there was no longer the man alive with whom
I could think of sharing all. So there I used to sit, owl-like, yet
not without liberal and hospitable thoughts. I counted the
innumerable clusters of my vine, and fore-reckoned the abundance of
my vintage. It gladdened me to anticipate the surprise of the
Community, when, like an allegorical figure of rich October, I should
make my appearance, with shoulders bent beneath the burden of ripe
grapes, and some of the crushed ones crimsoning my brow as with a
Ascending into this natural turret, I peeped in turn out of several
of its small windows. The pine-tree, being ancient, rose high above
the rest of the wood, which was of comparatively recent growth. Even
where I sat, about midway between the root and the topmost bough, my
position was lofty enough to serve as an observatory, not for starry
investigations, but for those sublunary matters in which lay a lore
as infinite as that of the planets. Through one loophole I saw the
river lapsing calmly onward, while in the meadow, near its brink, a
few of the brethren were digging peat for our winter's fuel. On the
interior cart-road of our farm I discerned Hollingsworth, with a yoke
of oxen hitched to a drag of stones, that were to be piled into a
fence, on which we employed ourselves at the odd intervals of other
labor. The harsh tones of his voice, shouting to the sluggish steers,
made me sensible, even at such a distance, that he was ill at ease,
and that the balked philanthropist had the battle-spirit in his heart.
"Haw, Buck!" quoth he. "Come along there, ye lazy ones! What are ye
about, now? Gee!"
"Mankind, in Hollingsworth's opinion," thought I, "is but another
yoke of oxen, as stubborn, stupid, and sluggish as our old Brown and
Bright. He vituperates us aloud, and curses us in his heart, and
will begin to prick us with the goad-stick, by and by. But are we
his oxen? And what right has he to be the driver? And why, when
there is enough else to do, should we waste our strength in dragging
home the ponderous load of his philanthropic absurdities? At my
height above the earth, the whole matter looks ridiculous!"
Turning towards the farmhouse, I saw Priscilla (for, though a great
way off, the eye of faith assured me that it was she) sitting at
Zenobia's window, and making little purses, I suppose; or, perhaps,
mending the Community's old linen. A bird flew past my tree; and, as
it clove its way onward into the sunny atmosphere, I flung it a
message for Priscilla.
"Tell her," said I, "that her fragile thread of life has inextricably
knotted itself with other and tougher threads, and most likely it
will be broken. Tell her that Zenobia will not be long her friend.
Say that Hollingsworth's heart is on fire with his own purpose, but
icy for all human affection; and that, if she has given him her love,
it is like casting a flower into a sepulchre. And say that if any
mortal really cares for her, it is myself; and not even I for her
realities,--poor little seamstress, as Zenobia rightly called her!--
but for the fancy-work with which I have idly decked her out!"
The pleasant scent of the wood, evolved by the hot sun, stole up to
my nostrils, as if I had been an idol in its niche. Many trees
mingled their fragrance into a thousand-fold odor. Possibly there
was a sensual influence in the broad light of noon that lay beneath
me. It may have been the cause, in part, that I suddenly found
myself possessed by a mood of disbelief in moral beauty or heroism,
and a conviction of the folly of attempting to benefit the world.
Our especial scheme of reform, which, from my observatory, I could
take in with the bodily eye, looked so ridiculous that it was
impossible not to laugh aloud.
"But the joke is a little too heavy," thought I. "If I were wise, I
should get out of the scrape with all diligence, and then laugh at my
companions for remaining in it."
While thus musing, I heard with perfect distinctness, somewhere in
the wood beneath, the peculiar laugh which I have described as one of
the disagreeable characteristics of Professor Westervelt. It brought
my thoughts back to our recent interview. I recognized as chiefly
due to this man's influence the sceptical and sneering view which
just now had filled my mental vision in regard to all life's better
purposes. And it was through his eyes, more than my own, that I was
looking at Hollingsworth, with his glorious if impracticable dream,
and at the noble earthliness of Zenobia's character, and even at
Priscilla, whose impalpable grace lay so singularly between disease
and beauty. The essential charm of each had vanished. There are
some spheres the contact with which inevitably degrades the high,
debases the pure, deforms the beautiful. It must be a mind of
uncommon strength, and little impressibility, that can permit itself
the habit of such intercourse, and not be permanently deteriorated;
and yet the Professor's tone represented that of worldly society at
large, where a cold scepticism smothers what it can of our spiritual
aspirations, and makes the rest ridiculous. I detested this kind of
man; and all the more because a part of my own nature showed itself
responsive to him.
Voices were now approaching through the region of the wood which lay
in the vicinity of my tree. Soon I caught glimpses of two figures--a
woman and a man--Zenobia and the stranger--earnestly talking together
as they advanced.
Zenobia had a rich though varying color. It was, most of the while,
a flame, and anon a sudden paleness. Her eyes glowed, so that their
light sometimes flashed upward to me, as when the sun throws a dazzle
from some bright object on the ground. Her gestures were free, and
strikingly impressive. The whole woman was alive with a passionate
intensity, which I now perceived to be the phase in which her beauty
culminated. Any passion would have become her well; and passionate
love, perhaps, the best of all. This was not love, but anger,
largely intermixed with scorn. Yet the idea strangely forced itself
upon me, that there was a sort of familiarity between these two
companions, necessarily the result of an intimate love,--on Zenobia's
part, at least,--in days gone by, but which had prolonged itself into
as intimate a hatred, for all futurity. As they passed among the
trees, reckless as her movement was, she took good heed that even the
hem of her garment should not brush against the stranger's person. I
wondered whether there had always been a chasm, guarded so
religiously, betwixt these two.
As for Westervelt, he was not a whit more warmed by Zenobia's passion
than a salamander by the heat of its native furnace. He would have
been absolutely statuesque, save for a look of slight perplexity,
tinctured strongly with derision. It was a crisis in which his
intellectual perceptions could not altogether help him out. He
failed to comprehend, and cared but little for comprehending, why
Zenobia should put herself into such a fume; but satisfied his mind
that it was all folly, and only another shape of a woman's manifold
absurdity, which men can never understand. How many a woman's evil
fate has yoked her with a man like this! Nature thrusts some of us
into the world miserably incomplete on the emotional side, with
hardly any sensibilities except what pertain to us as animals. No
passion, save of the senses; no holy tenderness, nor the delicacy
that results from this. Externally they bear a close resemblance to
other men, and have perhaps all save the finest grace; but when a
woman wrecks herself on such a being, she ultimately finds that the
real womanhood within her has no corresponding part in him. Her
deepest voice lacks a response; the deeper her cry, the more dead his
silence. The fault may be none of his; he cannot give her what never
lived within his soul. But the wretchedness on her side, and the
moral deterioration attendant on a false and shallow life, without
strength enough to keep itself sweet, are among the most pitiable
wrongs that mortals suffer.
Now, as I looked down from my upper region at this man and woman,--
outwardly so fair a sight, and wandering like two lovers in the
wood,--I imagined that Zenobia, at an earlier period of youth, might
have fallen into the misfortune above indicated. And when her
passionate womanhood, as was inevitable, had discovered its mistake,
here had ensued the character of eccentricity and defiance which
distinguished the more public portion of her life.
Seeing how aptly matters had chanced thus far, I began to think it
the design of fate to let me into all Zenobia's secrets, and that
therefore the couple would sit down beneath my tree, and carry on a
conversation which would leave me nothing to inquire. No doubt,
however, had it so happened, I should have deemed myself honorably
bound to warn them of a listener's presence by flinging down a
handful of unripe grapes, or by sending an unearthly groan out of my
hiding-place, as if this were one of the trees of Dante's ghostly
forest. But real life never arranges itself exactly like a romance.
In the first place, they did not sit down at all. Secondly, even
while they passed beneath the tree, Zenobia's utterance was so hasty
and broken, and Westervelt's so cool and low, that I hardly could
make out an intelligible sentence on either side. What I seem to
remember, I yet suspect, may have been patched together by my fancy,
in brooding over the matter afterwards.
"Why not fling the girl off," said Westervelt, "and let her go?"
"She clung to me from the first," replied Zenobia. "I neither know
nor care what it is in me that so attaches her. But she loves me,
and I will not fail her."
"She will plague you, then," said he, "in more ways than one."
"The poor child!" exclaimed Zenobia. "She can do me neither good nor
harm. How should she?"
I know not what reply Westervelt whispered; nor did Zenobia's
subsequent exclamation give me any clew, except that it evidently
inspired her with horror and disgust.
"With what kind of a being am I linked?" cried she. "If my Creator
cares aught for my soul, let him release me from this miserable bond!"
"I did not think it weighed so heavily," said her companion..
"Nevertheless," answered Zenobia, "it will strangle me at last!"
And then I heard her utter a helpless sort of moan; a sound which,
struggling out of the heart of a person of her pride and strength,
affected me more than if she had made the wood dolorously vocal with
a thousand shrieks and wails.
Other mysterious words, besides what are above written, they spoke
together; but I understood no more, and even question whether I
fairly understood so much as this. By long brooding over our
recollections, we subtilize them into something akin to imaginary
stuff, and hardly capable of being distinguished from it. In a few
moments they were completely beyond ear-shot. A breeze stirred after
them, and awoke the leafy tongues of the surrounding trees, which
forthwith began to babble, as if innumerable gossips had all at once
got wind of Zenobia's secret. But, as the breeze grew stronger, its
voice among the branches was as if it said, "Hush! Hush!" and I
resolved that to no mortal would I disclose what I had heard. And,
though there might be room for casuistry, such, I conceive, is the
most equitable rule in all similar conjunctures.
XIII. ZENOBIA'S LEGEND
The illustrious Society of Blithedale, though it toiled in downright
earnest for the good of mankind, yet not unfrequently illuminated its
laborious life with an afternoon or evening of pastime. Picnics
under the trees were considerably in vogue; and, within doors,
fragmentary bits of theatrical performance, such as single acts of
tragedy or comedy, or dramatic proverbs and charades. Zenobia,
besides, was fond of giving us readings from Shakespeare, and often
with a depth of tragic power, or breadth of comic effect, that made
one feel it an intolerable wrong to the world that she did not at
once go upon the stage. Tableaux vivants were another of our
occasional modes of amusement, in which scarlet shawls, old silken
robes, ruffs, velvets, furs, and all kinds of miscellaneous trumpery
converted our familiar companions into the people of a pictorial
world. We had been thus engaged on the evening after the incident
narrated in the last chapter. Several splendid works of art--either
arranged after engravings from the old masters, or original
illustrations of scenes in history or romance--had been presented,
and we were earnestly entreating Zenobia for more.
She stood with a meditative air, holding a large piece of gauze, or
some such ethereal stuff, as if considering what picture should next
occupy the frame; while at her feet lay a heap of many-colored
garments, which her quick fancy and magic skill could so easily
convert into gorgeous draperies for heroes and princesses.
"I am getting weary of this," said she, after a moment's thought.
"Our own features, and our own figures and airs, show a little too
intrusively through all the characters we assume. We have so much
one another's realities, that we cannot remove ourselves, at pleasure,
into an imaginary sphere. Let us have no more pictures to-night;
but, to make you what poor amends I can, how would you like to have
me trump up a wild, spectral legend, on the spur of the moment?"
Zenobia had the gift of telling a fanciful little story, off-hand, in
a way that made it greatly more effective than it was usually found
to be when she afterwards elaborated the same production with her pen.
Her proposal, therefore, was greeted with acclamation.
"Oh, a story, a story, by all means!" cried the young girls. "No
matter how marvellous; we will believe it, every word. And let it be
a ghost story, if you please."
"No, not exactly a ghost story," answered Zenobia; "but something so
nearly like it that you shall hardly tell the difference. And,
Priscilla, stand you before me, where I may look at you, and get my
inspiration out of your eyes. They are very deep and dreamy to-night."
I know not whether the following version of her story will retain any
portion of its pristine character; but, as Zenobia told it wildly and
rapidly, hesitating at no extravagance, and dashing at absurdities
which I am too timorous to repeat,--giving it the varied emphasis of
her inimitable voice, and the pictorial illustration of her mobile
face, while through it all we caught the freshest aroma of the
thoughts, as they came bubbling out of her mind,--thus narrated, and
thus heard, the legend seemed quite a remarkable affair. I scarcely
knew, at the time, whether she intended us to laugh or be more
seriously impressed. From beginning to end, it was undeniable
nonsense, but not necessarily the worse for that.
THE SILVERY VEIL
You have heard, my dear friends, of the Veiled Lady, who grew
suddenly so very famous, a few months ago. And have you never
thought how remarkable it was that this marvellous creature should
vanish, all at once, while her renown was on the increase, before the
public had grown weary of her, and when the enigma of her character,
instead of being solved, presented itself more mystically at every
exhibition? Her last appearance, as you know, was before a crowded
audience. The next evening,--although the bills had announced her,
at the corner of every street, in red letters of a gigantic size,--
there was no Veiled Lady to be seen! Now, listen to my simple
little tale, and you shall hear the very latest incident in the known
life--(if life it may be called, which seemed to have no more reality
than the candle-light image of one's self which peeps at us outside
of a dark windowpane)--the life of this shadowy phenomenon.
A party of young gentlemen, you are to understand, were enjoying
themselves, one afternoon,--as young gentlemen are sometimes fond of
doing,--over a bottle or two of champagne; and, among other ladies
less mysterious, the subject of the Veiled Lady, as was very natural,
happened to come up before them for discussion. She rose, as it were,
with the sparkling effervescence of their wine, and appeared in a
more airy and fantastic light on account of the medium through which
they saw her. They repeated to one another, between jest and earnest,
all the wild stories that were in vogue; nor, I presume, did they
hesitate to add any small circumstance that the inventive whim of the
moment might suggest, to heighten the marvellousness of their theme.
"But what an audacious report was that," observed one, "which
pretended to assert the identity of this strange creature with a
young lady,"--and here he mentioned her name,--"the daughter of one
of our most distinguished families!"
"Ah, there is more in that story than can well be accounted for,"
remarked another. "I have it on good authority, that the young lady
in question is invariably out of sight, and not to be traced, even by
her own family, at the hours when the Veiled Lady is before the
public; nor can any satisfactory explanation be given of her
disappearance. And just look at the thing: Her brother is a young
fellow of spirit. He cannot but be aware of these rumors in
reference to his sister. Why, then, does he not come forward to
defend her character, unless he is conscious that an investigation
would only make the matter worse?"
It is essential to the purposes of my legend to distinguish one of
these young gentlemen from his companions; so, for the sake of a soft
and pretty name (such as we of the literary sisterhood invariably
bestow upon our heroes), I deem it fit to call him Theodore.
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Theodore; "her brother is no such fool! Nobody,
unless his brain be as full of bubbles as this wine, can seriously
think of crediting that ridiculous rumor. Why, if my senses did not
play me false (which never was the case yet), I affirm that I saw
that very lady, last evening, at the exhibition, while this veiled
phenomenon was playing off her juggling tricks! What can you say to
"Oh, it was a spectral illusion that you saw!" replied his friends,
with a general laugh. "The Veiled Lady is quite up to such a thing."
However, as the above-mentioned fable could not hold its ground
against Theodore's downright refutation, they went on to speak of
other stories which the wild babble of the town had set afloat. Some
upheld that the veil covered the most beautiful countenance in the
world; others,--and certainly with more reason, considering the sex
of the Veiled Lady,--that the face was the most hideous and horrible,
and that this was her sole motive for hiding it. It was the face of
a corpse; it was the head of a skeleton; it was a monstrous visage,
with snaky locks, like Medusa's, and one great red eye in the centre
of the forehead. Again, it was affirmed that there was no single and
unchangeable set of features beneath the veil; but that whosoever
should be bold enough to lift it would behold the features of that
person, in all the world, who was destined to be his fate; perhaps he
would be greeted by the tender smile of the woman whom he loved, or,
quite as probably, the deadly scowl of his bitterest enemy would
throw a blight over his life. They quoted, moreover, this startling
explanation of the whole affair: that the magician who exhibited the
Veiled Lady--and who, by the bye, was the handsomest man in the whole
world--had bartered his own soul for seven years' possession of a
familiar fiend, and that the last year of the contract was wearing
towards its close.
If it were worth our while, I could keep you till an hour beyond
midnight listening to a thousand such absurdities as these. But
finally our friend Theodore, who prided himself upon his common-sense,
found the matter getting quite beyond his patience.
"I offer any wager you like," cried he, setting down his glass so
forcibly as to break the stem of it, "that this very evening I find
out the mystery of the Veiled Lady!"
Young men, I am told, boggle at nothing over their wine; so, after a
little more talk, a wager of considerable amount was actually laid,
the money staked, and Theodore left to choose his own method of
settling the dispute.
How he managed it I know not, nor is it of any great importance to
this veracious legend. The most natural way, to be sure, was by
bribing the doorkeeper,--or possibly he preferred clambering in at
the window. But, at any rate, that very evening, while the
exhibition was going forward in the hall, Theodore contrived to gain
admittance into the private withdrawing-room whither the Veiled Lady
was accustomed to retire at the close of her performances. There he
waited, listening, I suppose, to the stifled hum of the great
audience; and no doubt he could distinguish the deep tones of the
magician, causing the wonders that he wrought to appear more dark and
intricate, by his mystic pretence of an explanation. Perhaps, too,
in the intervals of the wild breezy music which accompanied the
exhibition, he might hear the low voice of the Veiled Lady, conveying
her sibylline responses. Firm as Theodore's nerves might be, and
much as he prided himself on his sturdy perception of realities, I
should not be surprised if his heart throbbed at a little more than
its ordinary rate.
Theodore concealed himself behind a screen. In due time the
performance was brought to a close, and whether the door was softly
opened, or whether her bodiless presence came through the wall, is
more than I can say, but, all at once, without the young man's
knowing how it happened, a veiled figure stood in the centre of the
room. It was one thing to be in presence of this mystery in the hall
of exhibition, where the warm, dense life of hundreds of other
mortals kept up the beholder's courage, and distributed her influence
among so many; it was another thing to be quite alone with her, and
that, too, with a hostile, or, at least, an unauthorized and
unjustifiable purpose. I further imagine that Theodore now began to
be sensible of something more serious in his enterprise than he had
been quite aware of while he sat with his boon-companions over their
Very strange, it must be confessed, was the movement with which the
figure floated to and fro over the carpet, with the silvery veil
covering her from head to foot; so impalpable, so ethereal, so
without substance, as the texture seemed, yet hiding her every
outline in an impenetrability like that of midnight. Surely, she did
not walk! She floated, and flitted, and hovered about the room; no
sound of a footstep, no perceptible motion of a limb; it was as if a
wandering breeze wafted her before it, at its own wild and gentle
pleasure. But, by and by, a purpose began to be discernible,
throughout the seeming vagueness of her unrest. She was in quest of
something. Could it be that a subtile presentiment had informed her
of the young man's presence? And if so, did the Veiled Lady seek or
did she shun him? The doubt in Theodore's mind was speedily resolved;
for, after a moment or two of these erratic flutterings, she
advanced more decidedly, and stood motionless before the screen.
"Thou art here!" said a soft, low voice. "Come forth, Theodore!"
Thus summoned by his name, Theodore, as a man of courage, had no
choice. He emerged from his concealment, and presented himself
before the Veiled Lady, with the wine-flush, it may be, quite gone
out of his cheeks.
"What wouldst thou with me?" she inquired, with the same gentle
composure that was in her former utterance.
"Mysterious creature," replied Theodore, "I would know who and what
"My lips are forbidden to betray the secret," said the Veiled Lady.
"At whatever risk, I must discover it," rejoined Theodore.
"Then," said the Mystery, "there is no way save to lift my veil."
And Theodore, partly recovering his audacity, stept forward on the
instant, to do as the Veiled Lady had suggested. But she floated
backward to the opposite side of the room, as if the young man's
breath had possessed power enough to waft her away.
"Pause, one little instant," said the soft, low voice, "and learn the
conditions of what thou art so bold to undertake. Thou canst go
hence, and think of me no more; or, at thy option, thou canst lift
this mysterious veil, beneath which I am a sad and lonely prisoner,
in a bondage which is worse to me than death. But, before raising it,
I entreat thee, in all maiden modesty, to bend forward and impress a
kiss where my breath stirs the veil; and my virgin lips shall come
forward to meet thy lips; and from that instant, Theodore, thou shalt
be mine, and I thine, with never more a veil between us. And all the
felicity of earth and of the future world shall be thine and mine
together. So much may a maiden say behind the veil. If thou
shrinkest from this, there is yet another way." "And what is that?"
asked Theodore. "Dost thou hesitate," said the Veiled Lady, "to
pledge thyself to me, by meeting these lips of mine, while the veil
yet hides my face? Has not thy heart recognized me? Dost thou come
hither, not in holy faith, nor with a pure and generous purpose, but
in scornful scepticism and idle curiosity? Still, thou mayest lift
the veil! But, from that instant, Theodore, I am doomed to be thy
evil fate; nor wilt thou ever taste another breath of happiness!"
There was a shade of inexpressible sadness in the utterance of these
last words. But Theodore, whose natural tendency was towards
scepticism, felt himself almost injured and insulted by the Veiled
Lady's proposal that he should pledge himself, for life and eternity,
to so questionable a creature as herself; or even that she should
suggest an inconsequential kiss, taking into view the probability
that her face was none of the most bewitching. A delightful idea,
truly, that he should salute the lips of a dead girl, or the jaws of
a skeleton, or the grinning cavity of a monster's mouth! Even should
she prove a comely maiden enough in other respects, the odds were ten
to one that her teeth were defective; a terrible drawback on the
delectableness of a kiss.
"Excuse me, fair lady," said Theodore, and I think he nearly burst
into a laugh, "if I prefer to lift the veil first; and for this
affair of the kiss, we may decide upon it afterwards."
"Thou hast made thy choice," said the sweet, sad voice behind the
veil; and there seemed a tender but unresentful sense of wrong done
to womanhood by the young man's contemptuous interpretation of her
offer. "I must not counsel thee to pause, although thy fate is still
in thine own hand!"
Grasping at the veil, he flung it upward, and caught a glimpse of a
pale, lovely face beneath; just one momentary glimpse, and then the
apparition vanished, and the silvery veil fluttered slowly down and
lay upon the floor. Theodore was alone. Our legend leaves him there.
His retribution was, to pine forever and ever for another sight of
that dim, mournful face,--which might have been his life-long
household fireside joy,--to desire, and waste life in a feverish
quest, and never meet it more.
But what, in good sooth, had become of the Veiled Lady? Had all her
existence been comprehended within that mysterious veil, and was she
now annihilated? Or was she a spirit, with a heavenly essence, but
which might have been tamed down to human bliss, had Theodore been
brave and true enough to claim her? Hearken, my sweet friends,--and
hearken, dear Priscilla,--and you shall learn the little more that
Zenobia can tell you.
Just at the moment, so far as can be ascertained, when the Veiled
Lady vanished, a maiden, pale and shadowy, rose up amid a knot of
visionary people, who were seeking for the better life. She was so
gentle and so sad,--a nameless melancholy gave her such hold upon
their sympathies,--that they never thought of questioning whence she
came. She might have heretofore existed, or her thin substance might
have been moulded out of air at the very instant when they first
beheld her. It was all one to them; they took her to their hearts.
Among them was a lady to whom, more than to all the rest, this pale,
mysterious girl attached herself.
But one morning the lady was wandering in the woods, and there met
her a figure in an Oriental robe, with a dark beard, and holding in
his hand a silvery veil. He motioned her to stay. Being a woman of
some nerve, she did not shriek, nor run away, nor faint, as many
ladies would have been apt to do, but stood quietly, and bade him
speak. The truth was, she had seen his face before, but had never
feared it, although she knew him to be a terrible magician.
"Lady," said he, with a warning gesture, "you are in peril!" "Peril!"
she exclaimed. "And of what nature?"
"There is a certain maiden," replied the magician, "who has come out
of the realm of mystery, and made herself your most intimate
companion. Now, the fates have so ordained it, that, whether by her
own will or no, this stranger is your deadliest enemy. In love, in
worldly fortune, in all your pursuit of happiness, she is doomed to
fling a blight over your prospects. There is but one possibility of
thwarting her disastrous influence."
"Then tell me that one method," said the lady.
"Take this veil," he answered, holding forth the silvery texture.
"It is a spell; it is a powerful enchantment, which I wrought for her
sake, and beneath which she was once my prisoner. Throw it, at
unawares, over the head of this secret foe, stamp your foot, and cry,
'Arise, Magician! Here is the Veiled Lady!' and immediately I will
rise up through the earth, and seize her; and from that moment you
So the lady took the silvery veil, which was like woven air, or like
some substance airier than nothing, and that would float upward and
be lost among the clouds, were she once to let it go. Returning
homeward, she found the shadowy girl amid the knot of visionary
transcendentalists, who were still seeking for the better life. She
was joyous now, and had a rose-bloom in her cheeks, and was one of
the prettiest creatures, and seemed one of the happiest, that the
world could show. But the lady stole noiselessly behind her and
threw the veil over her head. As the slight, ethereal texture sank
inevitably down over her figure, the poor girl strove to raise it,
and met her dear friend's eyes with one glance of mortal terror, and
deep, deep reproach. It could not change her purpose.
"Arise, Magician!" she exclaimed, stamping her foot upon the earth.
"Here is the Veiled Lady!"
At the word, up rose the bearded man in the Oriental robes,--the
beautiful, the dark magician, who had bartered away his soul! He
threw his arms around the Veiled Lady, and she was his bond-slave for
Zenobia, all this while, had been holding the piece of gauze, and so
managed it as greatly to increase the dramatic effect of the legend
at those points where the magic veil was to be described. Arriving
at the catastrophe, and uttering the fatal words, she flung the gauze
over Priscilla's head; and for an instant her auditors held their
breath, half expecting, I verily believe, that the magician would
start up through the floor, and carry off our poor little friend
before our eyes.
As for Priscilla, she stood droopingly in the midst of us, making no
attempt to remove the veil.
"How do you find yourself, my love?" said Zenobia, lifting a corner
of the gauze, and peeping beneath it with a mischievous smile. "Ah,
the dear little soul! Why, she is really going to faint! Mr.
Coverdale, Mr. Coverdale, pray bring a glass of water!"
Her nerves being none of the strongest, Priscilla hardly recovered
her equanimity during the rest of the evening. This, to be sure, was
a great pity; but, nevertheless, we thought it a very bright idea of
Zenobia's to bring her legend to so effective a conclusion.
XIV. ELIOT'S PULPIT
Our Sundays at Blithedale were not ordinarily kept with such rigid
observance as might have befitted the descendants of the Pilgrims,
whose high enterprise, as we sometimes flattered ourselves, we had
taken up, and were carrying it onward and aloft, to a point which
they never dreamed of attaining.
On that hallowed day, it is true, we rested from our labors. Our
oxen, relieved from their week-day yoke, roamed at large through the
pasture; each yoke-fellow, however, keeping close beside his mate,
and continuing to acknowledge, from the force of habit and sluggish
sympathy, the union which the taskmaster had imposed for his own hard
ends. As for us human yoke-fellows, chosen companions of toil, whose
hoes had clinked together throughout the week, we wandered off, in
various directions, to enjoy our interval of repose. Some, I believe,
went devoutly to the village church. Others, it may be, ascended a
city or a country pulpit, wearing the clerical robe with so much
dignity that you would scarcely have suspected the yeoman's frock to
have been flung off only since milking-time. Others took long
rambles among the rustic lanes and by-paths, pausing to look at black
old farmhouses, with their sloping roofs; and at the modern cottage,
so like a plaything that it seemed as if real joy or sorrow could
have no scope within; and at the more pretending villa, with its
range of wooden columns supporting the needless insolence of a great
portico. Some betook themselves into the wide, dusky barn, and lay
there for hours together on the odorous hay; while the sunstreaks and
the shadows strove together,--these to make the barn solemn, those to
make it cheerful,--and both were conquerors; and the swallows
twittered a cheery anthem, flashing into sight, or vanishing as they
darted to and fro among the golden rules of sunshine. And others
went a little way into the woods, and threw themselves on mother
earth, pillowing their heads on a heap of moss, the green decay of an
old log; and, dropping asleep, the bumblebees and mosquitoes sung and
buzzed about their ears, causing the slumberers to twitch and start,
With Hollingsworth, Zenobia, Priscilla, and myself, it grew to be a
custom to spend the Sabbath afternoon at a certain rock. It was
known to us under the name of Eliot's pulpit, from a tradition that
the venerable Apostle Eliot had preached there, two centuries gone by,
to an Indian auditory. The old pine forest, through which the
Apostle's voice was wont to sound, had fallen an immemorial time ago.
But the soil, being of the rudest and most broken surface, had
apparently never been brought under tillage; other growths, maple and
beech and birch, had succeeded to the primeval trees; so that it was
still as wild a tract of woodland as the great-great-great-great
grandson of one of Eliot's Indians (had any such posterity been in
existence) could have desired for the site and shelter of his wigwam.
These after-growths, indeed, lose the stately solemnity of the
original forest. If left in due neglect, however, they run into an
entanglement of softer wildness, among the rustling leaves of which
the sun can scatter cheerfulness as it never could among the
The rock itself rose some twenty or thirty feet, a shattered granite
bowlder, or heap of bowlders, with an irregular outline and many
fissures, out of which sprang shrubs, bushes, and even trees; as if
the scanty soil within those crevices were sweeter to their roots
than any other earth. At the base of the pulpit, the broken bowlders
inclined towards each other, so as to form a shallow cave, within
which our little party had sometimes found protection from a summer
shower. On the threshold, or just across it, grew a tuft of pale
columbines, in their season, and violets, sad and shadowy recluses,
such as Priscilla was when we first knew her; children of the sun,
who had never seen their father, but dwelt among damp mosses, though
not akin to them. At the summit, the rock was overshadowed by the
canopy of a birch-tree, which served as a sounding-board for the
pulpit. Beneath this shade (with my eyes of sense half shut and
those of the imagination widely opened) I used to see the holy
Apostle of the Indians, with the sunlight flickering down upon him
through the leaves, and glorifying his figure as with the
half-perceptible glow of a transfiguration.
I the more minutely describe the rock, and this little Sabbath
solitude, because Hollingsworth, at our solicitation, often ascended
Eliot's pulpit, and not exactly preached, but talked to us, his few
disciples, in a strain that rose and fell as naturally as the wind's
breath among the leaves of the birch-tree. No other speech of man
has ever moved me like some of those discourses. It seemed most
pitiful--a positive calamity to the world--that a treasury of golden
thoughts should thus be scattered, by the liberal handful, down among
us three, when a thousand hearers might have been the richer for them;
and Hollingsworth the richer, likewise, by the sympathy of
multitudes. After speaking much or little, as might happen, he would
descend from his gray pulpit, and generally fling himself at full
length on the ground, face downward. Meanwhile, we talked around him
on such topics as were suggested by the discourse.
Since her interview with Westervelt, Zenobia's continual inequalities
of temper had been rather difficult for her friends to bear. On the
first Sunday after that incident, when Hollingsworth had clambered
down from Eliot's pulpit, she declaimed with great earnestness and
passion, nothing short of anger, on the injustice which the world did
to women, and equally to itself, by not allowing them, in freedom and
honor, and with the fullest welcome, their natural utterance in
"It shall not always be so!" cried she. "If I live another year, I
will lift up my own voice in behalf of woman's wider liberty!"
She perhaps saw me smile.
"What matter of ridicule do you find in this, Miles Coverdale?"
exclaimed Zenobia, with a flash of anger in her eyes. "That smile,
permit me to say, makes me suspicious of a low tone of feeling and
shallow thought. It is my belief--yes, and my prophecy, should I die
before it happens--that, when my sex shall achieve its rights, there
will be ten eloquent women where there is now one eloquent man. Thus
far, no woman in the world has ever once spoken out her whole heart
and her whole mind. The mistrust and disapproval of the vast bulk of
society throttles us, as with two gigantic hands at our throats! We
mumble a few weak words, and leave a thousand better ones unsaid.
You let us write a little, it is true, on a limited range of subjects.
But the pen is not for woman. Her power is too natural and
immediate. It is with the living voice alone that she can compel the
world to recognize the light of her intellect and the depth of her
Now,--though I could not well say so to Zenobia,--I had not smiled
from any unworthy estimate of woman, or in denial of the claims which
she is beginning to put forth. What amused and puzzled me was the
fact, that women, however intellectually superior, so seldom disquiet
themselves about the rights or wrongs of their sex, unless their own
individual affections chance to lie in idleness, or to be ill at ease.
They are not natural reformers, but become such by the pressure of
exceptional misfortune. I could measure Zenobia's inward trouble by
the animosity with which she now took up the general quarrel of woman
"I will give you leave, Zenobia," replied I, "to fling your utmost
scorn upon me, if you ever hear me utter a sentiment unfavorable to
the widest liberty which woman has yet dreamed of. I would give her
all she asks, and add a great deal more, which she will not be the
party to demand, but which men, if they were generous and wise, would
grant of their own free motion. For instance, I should love
dearly--for the next thousand years, at least--to have all government
devolve into the hands of women. I hate to be ruled by my own sex;
it excites my jealousy, and wounds my pride. It is the iron sway of
bodily force which abases us, in our compelled submission. But how
sweet the free, generous courtesy with which I would kneel before a
"Yes, if she were young and beautiful," said Zenobia, laughing. "But
how if she were sixty, and a fright?"
"Ah! it is you that rate womanhood low," said I. "But let me go on.
I have never found it possible to suffer a bearded priest so near my
heart and conscience as to do me any spiritual good. I blush at the
very thought! Oh, in the better order of things, Heaven grant that
the ministry of souls may be left in charge of women! The gates of
the Blessed City will be thronged with the multitude that enter in,
when that day comes! The task belongs to woman. God meant it for
her. He has endowed her with the religious sentiment in its utmost
depth and purity, refined from that gross, intellectual alloy with
which every masculine theologist--save only One, who merely veiled
himself in mortal and masculine shape, but was, in truth, divine--has
been prone to mingle it. I have always envied the Catholics their
faith in that sweet, sacred Virgin Mother, who stands between them
and the Deity, intercepting somewhat of his awful splendor, but
permitting his love to stream upon the worshipper more intelligibly
to human comprehension through the medium of a woman's tenderness.
Have I not said enough, Zenobia?"
"I cannot think that this is true," observed Priscilla, who had been
gazing at me with great, disapproving eyes. "And I am sure I do not
wish it to be true!"
"Poor child!" exclaimed Zenobia, rather contemptuously. "She is the
type of womanhood, such as man has spent centuries in making it. He
is never content unless he can degrade himself by stooping towards
what he loves. In denying us our rights, he betrays even more
blindness to his own interests than profligate disregard of ours!"
"Is this true?" asked Priscilla with simplicity, turning to
Hollingsworth. "Is it all true, that Mr. Coverdale and Zenobia have
"No, Priscilla!" answered Hollingsworth with his customary bluntness.
"They have neither of them spoken one true word yet."
"Do you despise woman?" said Zenobia.
"Ah, Hollingsworth, that would be most ungrateful!"
"Despise her? No!" cried Hollingsworth, lifting his great shaggy
head and shaking it at us, while his eyes glowed almost fiercely.
"She is the most admirable handiwork of God, in her true place and
character. Her place is at man's side. Her office, that of the
sympathizer; the unreserved, unquestioning believer; the recognition,
withheld in every other manner, but given, in pity, through woman's
heart, lest man should utterly lose faith in himself; the echo of
God's own voice, pronouncing, 'It is well done!' All the separate
action of woman is, and ever has been, and always shall be, false,
foolish, vain, destructive of her own best and holiest qualities,
void of every good effect, and productive of intolerable mischiefs!
Man is a wretch without woman; but woman is a monster--and, thank
Heaven, an almost impossible and hitherto imaginary monster--without
man as her acknowledged principal! As true as I had once a mother
whom I loved, were there any possible prospect of woman's taking the
social stand which some of them,--poor, miserable, abortive creatures,
who only dream of such things because they have missed woman's
peculiar happiness, or because nature made them really neither man
nor woman!--if there were a chance of their attaining the end which
these petticoated monstrosities have in view, I would call upon my
own sex to use its physical force, that unmistakable evidence of
sovereignty, to scourge them back within their proper bounds! But it
will not be needful. The heart of time womanhood knows where its own
sphere is, and never seeks to stray beyond it!"
Never was mortal blessed--if blessing it were--with a glance of such
entire acquiescence and unquestioning faith, happy in its
completeness, as our little Priscilla unconsciously bestowed on
Hollingsworth. She seemed to take the sentiment from his lips into
her heart, and brood over it in perfect content. The very woman whom
he pictured--the gentle parasite, the soft reflection of a more
powerful existence--sat there at his feet.
I looked at Zenobia, however, fully expecting her to resent--as I
felt, by the indignant ebullition of my own blood, that she ought
this outrageous affirmation of what struck me as the intensity of
masculine egotism. It centred everything in itself, and deprived
woman of her very soul, her inexpressible and unfathomable all, to
make it a mere incident in the great sum of man. Hollingsworth had
boldly uttered what he, and millions of despots like him, really felt.
Without intending it, he had disclosed the wellspring of all these
troubled waters. Now, if ever, it surely behooved Zenobia to be the
champion of her sex.
But, to my surprise, and indignation too, she only looked humbled.
Some tears sparkled in her eyes, but they were wholly of grief, not
"Well, be it so," was all she said. "I, at least, have deep cause to
think you right. Let man be but manly and godlike, and woman is only
too ready to become to him what you say!"
I smiled--somewhat bitterly, it is true--in contemplation of my own
ill-luck. How little did these two women care for me, who had freely
conceded all their claims, and a great deal more, out of the fulness
of my heart; while Hollingsworth, by some necromancy of his horrible
injustice, seemed to have brought them both to his feet!
"Women almost invariably behave thus," thought I. "What does the fact
mean? Is it their nature? Or is it, at last, the result of ages of
compelled degradation? And, in either case, will it be possible ever
to redeem them?"
An intuition now appeared to possess all the party, that, for this
time, at least, there was no more to be said. With one accord, we
arose from the ground, and made our way through the tangled
undergrowth towards one of those pleasant wood-paths that wound among
the overarching trees. Some of the branches hung so low as partly to
conceal the figures that went before from those who followed.
Priscilla had leaped up more lightly than the rest of us, and ran
along in advance, with as much airy activity of spirit as was
typified in the motion of a bird, which chanced to be flitting from
tree to tree, in the same direction as herself. Never did she seem
so happy as that afternoon. She skipt, and could not help it, from
very playfulness of heart.
Zenobia and Hollingsworth went next, in close contiguity, but not
with arm in arm. Now, just when they had passed the impending bough
of a birch-tree, I plainly saw Zenobia take the hand of Hollingsworth
in both her own, press it to her bosom, and let it fall again!
The gesture was sudden, and full of passion; the impulse had
evidently taken her by surprise; it expressed all! Had Zenobia knelt
before him, or flung herself upon his breast, and gasped out, "I love
you, Hollingsworth!" I could not have been more certain of what it
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