The Blithedale Romance
Part 3 out of 4
meant. They then walked onward, as before. But, methought, as the
declining sun threw Zenobia's magnified shadow along the path, I
beheld it tremulous; and the delicate stem of the flower which she
wore in her hair was likewise responsive to her agitation.
Priscilla--through the medium of her eyes, at least could not
possibly have been aware of the gesture above described. Yet, at
that instant, I saw her droop. The buoyancy, which just before had
been so bird-like, was utterly departed; the life seemed to pass out
of her, and even the substance of her figure to grow thin and gray.
I almost imagined her a shadow, tiding gradually into the dimness of
the wood. Her pace became so slow that Hollingsworth and Zenobia
passed by, and I, without hastening my footsteps, overtook her.
"Come, Priscilla," said I, looking her intently in the face, which
was very pale and sorrowful, "we must make haste after our friends.
Do you feel suddenly ill? A moment ago, you flitted along so lightly
that I was comparing you to a bird. Now, on the contrary, it is as
if you had a heavy heart, and a very little strength to bear it with.
Pray take my arm!"
"No," said Priscilla, "I do not think it would help me. It is my
heart, as you say, that makes me heavy; and I know not why. Just now,
I felt very happy."
No doubt it was a kind of sacrilege in me to attempt to come within
her maidenly mystery; but, as she appeared to be tossed aside by her
other friends, or carelessly let fall, like a flower which they had
done with, I could not resist the impulse to take just one peep
beneath her folded petals.
"Zenobia and yourself are dear friends of late," I remarked. "At
first,--that first evening when you came to us,--she did not receive
you quite so warmly as might have been wished."
"I remember it," said Priscilla. "No wonder she hesitated to love me,
who was then a stranger to her, and a girl of no grace or beauty,--
she being herself so beautiful!"
"But she loves you now, of course?" suggested I. "And at this very
instant you feel her to be your dearest friend?"
"Why do you ask me that question?" exclaimed Priscilla, as if
frightened at the scrutiny into her feelings which I compelled her to
make. "It somehow puts strange thoughts into my mind. But I do love
Zenobia dearly! If she only loves me half as well, I shall be happy!"
"How is it possible to doubt that, Priscilla?" I rejoined. "But
observe how pleasantly and happily Zenobia and Hollingsworth are
walking together. I call it a delightful spectacle. It truly
rejoices me that Hollingsworth has found so fit and affectionate a
friend! So many people in the world mistrust him,--so many
disbelieve and ridicule, while hardly any do him justice, or
acknowledge him for the wonderful man he is,--that it is really a
blessed thing for him to have won the sympathy of such a woman as
Zenobia. Any man might be proud of that. Any man, even if he be as
great as Hollingsworth, might love so magnificent a woman. How very
beautiful Zenobia is! And Hollingsworth knows it, too."
There may have been some petty malice in what I said. Generosity is
a very fine thing, at a proper time and within due limits. But it is
an insufferable bore to see one man engrossing every thought of all
the women, and leaving his friend to shiver in outer seclusion,
without even the alternative of solacing himself with what the more
fortunate individual has rejected. Yes, it was out of a foolish
bitterness of heart that I had spoken.
"Go on before," said Priscilla abruptly, and with true feminine
imperiousness, which heretofore I had never seen her exercise. "It
pleases me best to loiter along by myself. I do not walk so fast as
With her hand she made a little gesture of dismissal. It provoked me;
yet, on the whole, was the most bewitching thing that Priscilla had
ever done. I obeyed her, and strolled moodily homeward,
wondering--as I had wondered a thousand times already--how
Hollingsworth meant to dispose of these two hearts, which (plainly to
my perception, and, as I could not but now suppose, to his) he had
engrossed into his own huge egotism.
There was likewise another subject hardly less fruitful of
speculation. In what attitude did Zenobia present herself to
Hollingsworth? Was it in that of a free woman, with no mortgage on
her affections nor claimant to her hand, but fully at liberty to
surrender both, in exchange for the heart and hand which she
apparently expected to receive? But was it a vision that I had
witnessed in the wood? Was Westervelt a goblin? Were those words of
passion and agony, which Zenobia had uttered in my hearing, a mere
stage declamation? Were they formed of a material lighter than
common air? Or, supposing them to bear sterling weight, was it a
perilous and dreadful wrong which she was meditating towards herself
Arriving nearly at the farmhouse, I looked back over the long slope
of pasture land, and beheld them standing together, in the light of
sunset, just on the spot where, according to the gossip of the
Community, they meant to build their cottage. Priscilla, alone and
forgotten, was lingering in the shadow of the wood.
XV. A CRISIS
Thus the summer was passing away,--a summer of toil, of interest, of
something that was not pleasure, but which went deep into my heart,
and there became a rich experience. I found myself looking forward
to years, if not to a lifetime, to be spent on the same system. The
Community were now beginning to form their permanent plans. One of
our purposes was to erect a Phalanstery (as I think we called it,
after Fourier; but the phraseology of those days is not very fresh in
my remembrance), where the great and general family should have its
abiding-place. Individual members, too, who made it a point of
religion to preserve the sanctity of an exclusive home, were
selecting sites for their cottages, by the wood-side, or on the
breezy swells, or in the sheltered nook of some little valley,
according as their taste might lean towards snugness or the
picturesque. Altogether, by projecting our minds outward, we had
imparted a show of novelty to existence, and contemplated it as
hopefully as if the soil beneath our feet had not been fathom-deep
with the dust of deluded generations, on every one of which, as on
ourselves, the world had imposed itself as a hitherto unwedded bride.
Hollingsworth and myself had often discussed these prospects. It was
easy to perceive, however, that he spoke with little or no fervor,
but either as questioning the fulfilment of our anticipations, or, at
any rate, with a quiet consciousness that it was no personal concern
of his. Shortly after the scene at Eliot's pulpit, while he and I
were repairing an old stone fence, I amused myself with sallying
forward into the future time.
"When we come to be old men," I said, "they will call us uncles, or
fathers,--Father Hollingsworth and Uncle Coverdale,--and we will look
back cheerfully to these early days, and make a romantic story for
the young People (and if a little more romantic than truth may
warrant, it will be no harm) out of our severe trials and hardships.
In a century or two, we shall, every one of us, be mythical
personages, or exceedingly picturesque and poetical ones, at all
events. They will have a great public hall, in which your portrait,
and mine, and twenty other faces that are living now, shall be hung
up; and as for me, I will be painted in my shirtsleeves, and with the
sleeves rolled up, to show my muscular development. What stories
will be rife among them about our mighty strength!" continued I,
lifting a big stone and putting it into its place, "though our
posterity will really be far stronger than ourselves, after several
generations of a simple, natural, and active life. What legends of
Zenobia's beauty, and Priscilla's slender and shadowy grace, and
those mysterious qualities which make her seem diaphanous with
spiritual light! In due course of ages, we must all figure
heroically in an epic poem; and we will ourselves--at least, I
will--bend unseen over the future poet, and lend him inspiration
while he writes it."
"You seem," said Hollingsworth, "to be trying how much nonsense you
can pour out in a breath."
"I wish you would see fit to comprehend," retorted I, "that the
profoundest wisdom must be mingled with nine tenths of nonsense, else
it is not worth the breath that utters it. But I do long for the
cottages to be built, that the creeping plants may begin to run over
them, and the moss to gather on the walls, and the trees--which we
will set out--to cover them with a breadth of shadow. This
spick-and-span novelty does not quite suit my taste. It is time, too,
for children to be born among us. The first-born child is still to
come. And I shall never feel as if this were a real, practical, as
well as poetical system of human life, until somebody has sanctified
it by death."
"A pretty occasion for martyrdom, truly!" said Hollingsworth.
"As good as any other," I replied. "I wonder, Hollingsworth, who, of
all these strong men, and fair women and maidens, is doomed the first
to die. Would it not be well, even before we have absolute need of
it, to fix upon a spot for a cemetery? Let us choose the rudest,
roughest, most uncultivable spot, for Death's garden ground; and
Death shall teach us to beautify it, grave by grave. By our sweet,
calm way of dying, and the airy elegance out of which we will shape
our funeral rites, and the cheerful allegories which we will model
into tombstones, the final scene shall lose its terrors; so that
hereafter it may be happiness to live, and bliss to die. None of us
must die young. Yet, should Providence ordain it so, the event shall
not be sorrowful, but affect us with a tender, delicious, only
half-melancholy, and almost smiling pathos!"
"That is to say," muttered Hollingsworth, "you will die like a
heathen, as you certainly live like one. But, listen to me,
Coverdale. Your fantastic anticipations make me discern all the more
forcibly what a wretched, unsubstantial scheme is this, on which we
have wasted a precious summer of our lives. Do you seriously imagine
that any such realities as you, and many others here, have dreamed of,
will ever be brought to pass?"
"Certainly I do," said I. "Of course, when the reality comes, it will
wear the every-day, commonplace, dusty, and rather homely garb that
reality always does put on. But, setting aside the ideal charm, I
hold that our highest anticipations have a solid footing on common
"You only half believe what you say," rejoined Hollingsworth; "and as
for me, I neither have faith in your dream, nor would care the value
of this pebble for its realization, were that possible. And what
more do you want of it? It has given you a theme for poetry. Let
that content you. But now I ask you to be, at last, a man of
sobriety and earnestness, and aid me in an enterprise which is worth
all our strength, and the strength of a thousand mightier than we."
There can be no need of giving in detail the conversation that ensued.
It is enough to say that Hollingsworth once more brought forward
his rigid and unconquerable idea,--a scheme for the reformation of
the wicked by methods moral, intellectual, and industrial, by the
sympathy of pure, humble, and yet exalted minds, and by opening to
his pupils the possibility of a worthier life than that which had
become their fate. It appeared, unless he overestimated his own
means, that Hollingsworth held it at his choice (and he did so
choose) to obtain possession of the very ground on which we had
planted our Community, and which had not yet been made irrevocably
ours, by purchase. It was just the foundation that he desired. Our
beginnings might readily be adapted to his great end. The
arrangements already completed would work quietly into his system.
So plausible looked his theory, and, more than that, so practical,--
such an air of reasonableness had he, by patient thought, thrown
over it,--each segment of it was contrived to dovetail into all the
rest with such a complicated applicability, and so ready was he with
a response for every objection, that, really, so far as logic and
argument went, he had the matter all his own way.
"But," said I, "whence can you, having no means of your own, derive
the enormous capital which is essential to this experiment? State
Street, I imagine, would not draw its purser strings very liberally
in aid of such a speculation."
"I have the funds--as much, at least, as is needed for a
commencement--at command," he answered. "They can be produced within
a month, if necessary."
My thoughts reverted to Zenobia. It could only be her wealth which
Hollingsworth was appropriating so lavishly. And on what conditions
was it to be had? Did she fling it into the scheme with the
uncalculating generosity that characterizes a woman when it is her
impulse to be generous at all? And did she fling herself along with
it? But Hollingsworth did not volunteer an explanation.
"And have you no regrets," I inquired, "in overthrowing this fair
system of our new life, which has been planned so deeply, and is now
beginning to flourish so hopefully around us? How beautiful it is,
and, so far as we can yet see, how practicable! The ages have waited
for us, and here we are, the very first that have essayed to carry on
our mortal existence in love and mutual help! Hollingsworth, I would
be loath to take the ruin of this enterprise upon my conscience."
"Then let it rest wholly upon mine!" he answered, knitting his black
brows. "I see through the system. It is full of defects,--
irremediable and damning ones!--from first to last, there is
nothing else! I grasp it in my hand, and find no substance whatever.
There is not human nature in it."
"Why are you so secret in your operations?" I asked. "God forbid
that I should accuse you of intentional wrong; but the besetting sin
of a philanthropist, it appears to me, is apt to be a moral obliquity.
His sense of honor ceases to be the sense of other honorable men.
At some point of his course--I know not exactly when or where--he is
tempted to palter with the right, and can scarcely forbear persuading
himself that the importance of his public ends renders it allowable
to throw aside his private conscience. Oh, my dear friend, beware
this error! If you meditate the overthrow of this establishment,
call together our companions, state your design, support it with all
your eloquence, but allow them an opportunity of defending themselves."
"It does not suit me," said Hollingsworth. "Nor is it my duty to do
"I think it is," replied I.
Hollingsworth frowned; not in passion, but, like fate, inexorably.
"I will not argue the point," said he. "What I desire to know of you
is,--and you can tell me in one word,--whether I am to look for your
cooperation in this great scheme of good? Take it up with me! Be my
brother in it! It offers you (what you have told me, over and over
again, that you most need) a purpose in life, worthy of the extremest
self-devotion,--worthy of martyrdom, should God so order it! In this
view, I present it to you. You can greatly benefit mankind. Your
peculiar faculties, as I shall direct them, are capable of being so
wrought into this enterprise that not one of them need lie idle.
Strike hands with me, and from this moment you shall never again feel
the languor and vague wretchedness of an indolent or half-occupied
man. There may be no more aimless beauty in your life; but, in its
stead, there shall be strength, courage, immitigable will,--
everything that a manly and generous nature should desire! We
shall succeed! We shall have done our best for this miserable world;
and happiness (which never comes but incidentally) will come to us
It seemed his intention to say no more. But, after he had quite
broken off, his deep eyes filled with tears, and he held out both his
hands to me.
"Coverdale," he murmured, "there is not the man in this wide world
whom I can love as I could you. Do not forsake me!"
As I look back upon this scene, through the coldness and dimness of
so many years, there is still a sensation as if Hollingsworth had
caught hold of my heart, and were pulling it towards him with an
almost irresistible force. It is a mystery to me how I withstood it.
But, in truth, I saw in his scheme of philanthropy nothing but what
was odious. A loathsomeness that was to be forever in my daily work!
A great black ugliness of sin, which he proposed to collect out of a
thousand human hearts, and that we should spend our lives in an
transmuting it into virtue! Had I but touched his extended hand,
Hollingsworth's magnetism would perhaps have penetrated me with his
own conception of all these matters. But I stood aloof. I fortified
myself with doubts whether his strength of purpose had not been too
gigantic for his integrity, impelling him to trample on
considerations that should have been paramount to every other.
"Is Zenobia to take a part in your enterprise?" I asked.
"She is," said Hollingsworth.
"She!--the beautiful!--the gorgeous!" I exclaimed. "And how have
you prevailed with such a woman to work in this squalid element?"
"Through no base methods, as you seem to suspect," he answered; "but
by addressing whatever is best and noblest in her."
Hollingsworth was looking on the ground. But, as he often did so,--
generally, indeed, in his habitual moods of thought,--I could not
judge whether it was from any special unwillingness now to meet my
eyes. What it was that dictated my next question, I cannot precisely
say. Nevertheless, it rose so inevitably into my mouth, and, as it
were, asked itself so involuntarily, that there must needs have been
an aptness in it.
"What is to become of Priscilla?"
Hollingsworth looked at me fiercely, and with glowing eyes. He could
not have shown any other kind of expression than that, had he meant
to strike me with a sword.
"Why do you bring in the names of these women?" said he, after a
moment of pregnant silence. "What have they to do with the proposal
which I make you? I must have your answer! Will you devote yourself,
and sacrifice all to this great end, and be my friend of friends
"In Heaven's name, Hollingsworth," cried I, getting angry, and glad
to be angry, because so only was it possible to oppose his tremendous
concentrativeness and indomitable will, "cannot you conceive that a
man may wish well to the world, and struggle for its good, on some
other plan than precisely that which you have laid down? And will
you cast off a friend for no unworthiness, but merely because he
stands upon his right as an individual being, and looks at matters
through his own optics, instead of yours?"
"Be with me," said Hollingsworth, "or be against me! There is no
third choice for you."
"Take this, then, as my decision," I answered. "I doubt the wisdom
of your scheme. Furthermore, I greatly fear that the methods by
which you allow yourself to pursue it are such as cannot stand the
scrutiny of an unbiassed conscience."
"And you will not join me?"
I never said the word--and certainly can never have it to say
hereafter--that cost me a thousandth part so hard an effort as did
that one syllable. The heart-pang was not merely figurative, but an
absolute torture of the breast. I was gazing steadfastly at
Hollingsworth. It seemed to me that it struck him, too, like a
bullet. A ghastly paleness--always so terrific on a swarthy
face--overspread his features. There was a convulsive movement of
his throat, as if he were forcing down some words that struggled and
fought for utterance. Whether words of anger, or words of grief, I
cannot tell; although many and many a time I have vainly tormented
myself with conjecturing which of the two they were. One other
appeal to my friendship,--such as once, already, Hollingsworth had
made,--taking me in the revulsion that followed a strenuous exercise
of opposing will, would completely have subdued me. But he left the
matter there. "Well!" said he.
And that was all! I should have been thankful for one word more,
even had it shot me through the heart, as mine did him. But he did
not speak it; and, after a few moments, with one accord, we set to
work again, repairing the stone fence. Hollingsworth, I observed,
wrought like a Titan; and, for my own part, I lifted stones which at
this day--or, in a calmer mood, at that one--I should no more have
thought it possible to stir than to carry off the gates of Gaza on my
A few days after the tragic passage-at-arms between Hollingsworth and
me, I appeared at the dinner-table actually dressed in a coat,
instead of my customary blouse; with a satin cravat, too, a white
vest, and several other things that made me seem strange and
outlandish to myself. As for my companions, this unwonted spectacle
caused a great stir upon the wooden benches that bordered either side
of our homely board.
"What's in the wind now, Miles?" asked one of them. "Are you
"Yes, for a week or two," said I. "It strikes me that my health
demands a little relaxation of labor, and a short visit to the
seaside, during the dog-days."
"You look like it!" grumbled Silas Foster, not greatly pleased with
the idea of losing an efficient laborer before the stress of the
season was well over. "Now, here's a pretty fellow! His shoulders
have broadened a matter of six inches since he came among us; he can
do his day's work, if he likes, with any man or ox on the farm; and
yet he talks about going to the seashore for his health! Well, well,
old woman," added he to his wife, "let me have a plateful of that
pork and cabbage! I begin to feel in a very weakly way. When the
others have had their turn, you and I will take a jaunt to Newport or
"Well, but, Mr. Foster," said I, "you must allow me to take a little
"Breath!" retorted the old yeoman. "Your lungs have the play of a
pair of blacksmith's bellows already. What on earth do you want
more? But go along! I understand the business. We shall never see
your face here again. Here ends the reformation of the world, so far
as Miles Coverdale has a hand in it!"
"By no means," I replied. "I am resolute to die in the last ditch,
for the good of the cause."
"Die in a ditch!" muttered gruff Silas, with genuine Yankee
intolerance of any intermission of toil, except on Sunday, the Fourth
of July, the autumnal cattle-show, Thanksgiving, or the annual Fast,--
"die in a ditch! I believe, in my conscience, you would, if there
were no steadier means than your own labor to keep you out of it!"
The truth was, that an intolerable discontent and irksomeness had
come over me. Blithedale was no longer what it had been. Everything
was suddenly faded. The sunburnt and arid aspect of our woods and
pastures, beneath the August sky, did but imperfectly symbolize the
lack of dew and moisture, that, since yesterday, as it were, had
blighted my fields of thought, and penetrated to the innermost and
shadiest of my contemplative
recesses. The change will be recognized by many, who, after a period
of happiness, have endeavored to go on with the same kind of life, in
the same scene, in spite of the alteration or withdrawal of some
principal circumstance. They discover (what heretofore, perhaps,
they had not known) that it was this which gave the bright color and
vivid reality to the whole affair.
I stood on other terms than before, not only with Hollingsworth, but
with Zenobia and Priscilla. As regarded the two latter, it was that
dreamlike and miserable sort of change that denies you the privilege
to complain, because you can assert no positive injury, nor lay your
finger on anything tangible. It is a matter which you do not see,
but feel, and which, when you try to analyze it, seems to lose its
very existence, and resolve itself into a sickly humor of your own.
Your understanding, possibly, may put faith in this denial. But your
heart will not so easily rest satisfied. It incessantly remonstrates,
though, most of the time, in a bass-note, which you do not
separately distinguish; but, now and then, with a sharp cry,
importunate to be heard, and resolute to claim belief. "Things are
not as they were!" it keeps saying. "You shall not impose on me! I
will never be quiet! I will throb painfully! I will be heavy, and
desolate, and shiver with cold! For I, your deep heart, know when to
be miserable, as once I knew when to be happy! All is changed for us!
You are beloved no more!" And were my life to be spent over again,
I would invariably lend my ear to this Cassandra of the inward depths,
however clamorous the music and the merriment of a more superficial
My outbreak with Hollingsworth, though never definitely known to our
associates, had really an effect upon the moral atmosphere of the
Community. It was incidental to the closeness of relationship into
which we had brought ourselves, that an unfriendly state of feeling
could not occur between any two members without the whole society
being more or less commoted and made uncomfortable thereby. This
species of nervous sympathy (though a pretty characteristic enough,
sentimentally considered, and apparently betokening an actual bond of
love among us) was yet found rather inconvenient in its practical
operation, mortal tempers being so infirm and variable as they are.
If one of us happened to give his neighbor a box on the ear, the
tingle was immediately felt on the same side of everybody's head.
Thus, even on the supposition that we were far less quarrelsome than
the rest of the world, a great deal of time was necessarily wasted in
rubbing our ears.
Musing on all these matters, I felt an inexpressible longing for at
least a temporary novelty. I thought of going across the Rocky
Mountains, or to Europe, or up the Nile; of offering myself a
volunteer on the Exploring Expedition; of taking a ramble of years,
no matter in what direction, and coming back on the other side of the
world. Then, should the colonists of Blithedale have established
their enterprise on a permanent basis, I might fling aside my pilgrim
staff and dusty shoon, and rest as peacefully here as elsewhere. Or,
in case Hollingsworth should occupy the ground with his School of
Reform, as he now purposed, I might plead earthly guilt enough, by
that time, to give me what I was inclined to think the only
trustworthy hold on his affections. Meanwhile, before deciding on
any ultimate plan, I determined to remove myself to a little distance,
and take an exterior view of what we had all been about.
In truth, it was dizzy work, amid such fermentation of opinions as
was going on in the general brain of the Community. It was a kind of
Bedlam, for the time being, although out of the very thoughts that
were wildest and most destructive might grow a wisdom, holy, calm,
and pure, and that should incarnate itself with the substance of a
noble and happy life. But, as matters now were, I felt myself (and,
having a decided tendency towards the actual, I never liked to feel
it) getting quite out of my reckoning, with regard to the existing
state of the world. I was beginning to lose the sense of what kind
of a world it was, among innumerable schemes of what it might or
ought to be. It was impossible, situated as we were, not to imbibe
the idea that everything in nature and human existence was fluid, or
fast becoming so; that the crust of the earth in many places was
broken, and its whole surface portentously upheaving; that it was a
day of crisis, and that we ourselves were in the critical vortex.
Our great globe floated in the atmosphere of infinite space like an
unsubstantial bubble. No sagacious man will long retain his sagacity,
if he live exclusively among reformers and progressive people,
without periodically returning into the settled system of things, to
correct himself by a new observation from that old standpoint.
It was now time for me, therefore, to go and hold a little talk with
the conservatives, the writers of "The North American Review," the
merchants, the politicians, the Cambridge men, and all those
respectable old blockheads who still, in this intangibility and
mistiness of affairs, kept a death-grip on one or two ideas which had
not come into vogue since yesterday morning.
The brethren took leave of me with cordial kindness; and as for the
sisterhood, I had serious thoughts of kissing them all round, but
forbore to do so, because, in all such general salutations, the
penance is fully equal to the pleasure. So I kissed none of them;
and nobody, to say the truth, seemed to expect it.
"Do you wish me," I said to Zenobia, "to announce in town, and at the
watering-places, your purpose to deliver a course of lectures on the
rights of women?"
"Women possess no rights," said Zenobia, with a half-melancholy smile;
"or, at all events, only little girls and grandmothers would have
the force to exercise them."
She gave me her hand freely and kindly, and looked at me, I thought,
with a pitying expression in her eyes; nor was there any settled
light of joy in them on her own behalf, but a troubled and passionate
flame, flickering and fitful.
"I regret, on the whole, that you are leaving us," she said; "and all
the more, since I feel that this phase of our life is finished, and
can never be lived over again. Do you know, Mr. Coverdale, that I
have been several times on the point of making you my confidant, for
lack of a better and wiser one? But you are too young to be my
father confessor; and you would not thank me for treating you like
one of those good little handmaidens who share the bosom secrets of a
"I would, at least, be loyal and faithful," answered I; "and would
counsel you with an honest purpose, if not wisely."
"Yes," said Zenobia, "you would be only too wise, too honest.
Honesty and wisdom are such a delightful pastime, at another person's
"Ah, Zenobia," I exclaimed, "if you would but let me speak!"
"By no means," she replied, "especially when you have just resumed
the whole series of social conventionalisms, together with that
strait-bodied coat. I would as lief open my heart to a lawyer or a
clergyman! No, no, Mr. Coverdale; if I choose a counsellor, in the
present aspect of my affairs, it must be either an angel or a madman;
and I rather apprehend that the latter would be likeliest of the two
to speak the fitting word. It needs a wild steersman when we voyage
through chaos! The anchor is up,--farewell!"
Priscilla, as soon as dinner was over, had betaken herself into a
corner, and set to work on a little purse. As I approached her, she
let her eyes rest on me with a calm, serious look; for, with all her
delicacy of nerves, there was a singular self-possession in Priscilla,
and her sensibilities seemed to lie sheltered from ordinary
commotion, like the water in a deep well.
"Will you give me that purse, Priscilla," said I, "as a parting
"Yes," she answered, "if you will wait till it is finished."
"I must not wait, even for that," I replied. "Shall I find you here,
on my return?"
"I never wish to go away," said she.
"I have sometimes thought," observed I, smiling, "that you, Priscilla,
are a little prophetess, or, at least, that you have spiritual
intimations respecting matters which are dark to us grosser people.
If that be the case, I should like to ask you what is about to happen;
for I am tormented with a strong foreboding that, were I to return
even so soon as to-morrow morning, I should find everything changed.
Have you any impressions of this nature?"
"Ah, no," said Priscilla, looking at me apprehensively. "If any such
misfortune is coming, the shadow has not reached me yet. Heaven
forbid! I should be glad if there might never be any change, but one
summer follow another, and all just like this."
"No summer ever came back, and no two summers ever were alike," said
I, with a degree of Orphic wisdom that astonished myself. "Times
change, and people change; and if our hearts do not change as readily,
so much the worse for us. Good-by, Priscilla!"
I gave her hand a pressure, which, I think, she neither resisted nor
returned. Priscilla's heart was deep, but of small compass; it had
room but for a very few dearest ones, among whom she never reckoned
On the doorstep I met Hollingsworth. I had a momentary impulse to
hold out my hand, or at least to give a parting nod, but resisted
both. When a real and strong affection has come to an end, it is not
well to mock the sacred past with any show of those commonplace
civilities that belong to ordinary intercourse. Being dead
henceforth to him, and he to me, there could be no propriety in our
chilling one another with the touch of two corpse-like hands, or
playing at looks of courtesy with eyes that were impenetrable beneath
the glaze and the film. We passed, therefore, as if mutually
I can nowise explain what sort of whim, prank, or perversity it was,
that, after all these leave-takings, induced me to go to the pigsty,
and take leave of the swine! There they lay, buried as deeply among
the straw as they could burrow, four huge black grunters, the very
symbols of slothful ease and sensual comfort. They were asleep,
drawing short and heavy breaths, which heaved their big sides up and
down. Unclosing their eyes, however, at my approach, they looked
dimly forth at the outer world, and simultaneously uttered a gentle
grunt; not putting themselves to the trouble of an additional breath
for that particular purpose, but grunting with their ordinary
inhalation. They were involved, and almost stifled and buried alive,
in their own corporeal substance. The very unreadiness and
oppression wherewith these greasy citizens gained breath enough to
keep their life-machinery in sluggish movement appeared to make them
only the more sensible of the ponderous and fat satisfaction of their
existence. Peeping at me an instant out of their small, red, hardly
perceptible eyes, they dropt asleep again; yet not so far asleep but
that their unctuous bliss was still present to them, betwixt dream
"You must come back in season to eat part of a spare-rib," said Silas
Foster, giving my hand a mighty squeeze. "I shall have these fat
fellows hanging up by the heels, heads downward, pretty soon, I tell
"O cruel Silas, what a horrible idea!" cried I. "All the rest of us,
men, women, and livestock, save only these four porkers, are
bedevilled with one grief or another; they alone are happy,--and you
mean to cut their throats and eat them! It would be more for the
general comfort to let them eat us; and bitter and sour morsels we
XVII. THE HOTEL
Arriving in town (where my bachelor-rooms, long before this time, had
received some other occupant), I established myself, for a day or two,
in a certain, respectable hotel. It was situated somewhat aloof
from my former track in life; my present mood inclining me to avoid
most of my old companions, from whom I was now sundered by other
interests, and who would have been likely enough to amuse themselves
at the expense of the amateur workingman. The hotel-keeper put me
into a back room of the third story of his spacious establishment.
The day was lowering, with occasional gusts of rain, and an ugly
tempered east wind, which seemed to come right off the chill and
melancholy sea, hardly mitigated by sweeping over the roofs, and
amalgamating itself with the dusky element of city smoke. All the
effeminacy of past days had returned upon me at once. Summer as it
still was, I ordered a coal fire in the rusty grate, and was glad to
find myself growing a little too warm with an artificial temperature.
My sensations were those of a traveller, long sojourning in remote
regions, and at length sitting down again amid customs once familiar.
There was a newness and an oldness oddly combining themselves into
one impression. It made me acutely sensible how strange a piece of
mosaic-work had lately been wrought into my life. True, if you look
at it in one way, it had been only a summer in the country. But,
considered in a profounder relation, it was part of another age, a
different state of society, a segment of an existence peculiar in its
aims and methods, a leaf of some mysterious volume interpolated into
the current history which time was writing off. At one moment, the
very circumstances now surrounding me--my coal fire and the dingy
room in the bustling hotel--appeared far off and intangible; the next
instant Blithedale looked vague, as if it were at a distance both in
time and space, and so shadowy that a question might be raised
whether the whole affair had been anything more than the thoughts of
a speculative man. I had never before experienced a mood that so
robbed the actual world of its solidity. It nevertheless involved a
charm, on which--a devoted epicure of my own emotions--I resolved to
pause, and enjoy the moral sillabub until quite dissolved away.
Whatever had been my taste for solitude and natural scenery, yet the
thick, foggy, stifled element of cities, the entangled life of many
men together, sordid as it was, and empty of the beautiful, took
quite as strenuous a hold upon my mind. I felt as if there could
never be enough of it. Each characteristic sound was too suggestive
to be passed over unnoticed. Beneath and around me, I heard the stir
of the hotel; the loud voices of guests, landlord, or bar-keeper;
steps echoing on the staircase; the ringing of a bell, announcing
arrivals or departures; the porter lumbering past my door with
baggage, which he thumped down upon the floors of neighboring
chambers; the lighter feet of chambermaids scudding along the
passages;--it is ridiculous to think what an interest they had for me!
From the street came the tumult of the pavements, pervading the
whole house with a continual uproar, so broad and deep that only an
unaccustomed ear would dwell upon it. A company of the city soldiery,
with a full military band, marched in front of the hotel, invisible
to me, but stirringly audible both by its foot-tramp and the clangor
of its instruments. Once or twice all the city bells jangled
together, announcing a fire, which brought out the engine-men and
their machines, like an army with its artillery rushing to battle.
Hour by hour the clocks in many steeples responded one to another.
In some public hall, not a great way off, there seemed to be an
exhibition of a mechanical diorama; for three times during the day
occurred a repetition of obstreperous music, winding up with the
rattle of imitative cannon and musketry, and a huge final explosion.
Then ensued the applause of the spectators, with clap of hands and
thump of sticks, and the energetic pounding of their heels. All this
was just as valuable, in its way, as the sighing of the breeze among
the birch-trees that overshadowed Eliot's pulpit.
Yet I felt a hesitation about plunging into this muddy tide of human
activity and pastime. It suited me better, for the present, to
linger on the brink, or hover in the air above it. So I spent the
first day, and the greater part of the second, in the laziest manner
possible, in a rocking-chair, inhaling the fragrance of a series of
cigars, with my legs and slippered feet horizontally disposed, and in
my hand a novel purchased of a railroad bibliopolist. The gradual
waste of my cigar accomplished itself with an easy and gentle
expenditure of breath. My book was of the dullest, yet had a sort of
sluggish flow, like that of a stream in which your boat is as often
aground as afloat. Had there been a more impetuous rush, a more
absorbing passion of the narrative, I should the sooner have
struggled out of its uneasy current, and have given myself up to the
swell and subsidence of my thoughts. But, as it was, the torpid life
of the book served as an unobtrusive accompaniment to the life within
me and about me. At intervals, however, when its effect grew a
little too soporific,--not for my patience, but for the possibility
of keeping my eyes open, I bestirred myself, started from the
rocking-chair, and looked out of the window.
A gray sky; the weathercock of a steeple that rose beyond the
opposite range of buildings, pointing from the eastward; a sprinkle
of small, spiteful-looking raindrops on the window-pane. In that
ebb-tide of my energies, had I thought of venturing abroad, these
tokens would have checked the abortive purpose.
After several such visits to the window, I found myself getting
pretty well acquainted with that little portion of the backside of
the universe which it presented to my view. Over against the hotel
and its adjacent houses, at the distance of forty or fifty yards, was
the rear of a range of buildings which appeared to be spacious,
modern, and calculated for fashionable residences. The interval
between was apportioned into grass-plots, and here and there an
apology for a garden, pertaining severally to these dwellings. There
were apple-trees, and pear and peach trees, too, the fruit on which
looked singularly large, luxuriant, and abundant, as well it might,
in a situation so warm and sheltered, and where the soil had
doubtless been enriched to a more than natural fertility. In two or
three places grapevines clambered upon trellises, and bore clusters
already purple, and promising the richness of Malta or Madeira in
their ripened juice. The blighting winds of our rigid climate could
not molest these trees and vines; the sunshine, though descending
late into this area, and too early intercepted by the height of the
surrounding houses, yet lay tropically there, even when less than
temperate in every other region. Dreary as was the day, the scene
was illuminated by not a few sparrows and other birds, which spread
their wings, and flitted and fluttered, and alighted now here, now
there, and busily scratched their food out of the wormy earth. Most
of these winged people seemed to have their domicile in a robust and
healthy buttonwood-tree. It aspired upward, high above the roofs of
the houses, and spread a dense head of foliage half across the area.
There was a cat--as there invariably is in such places--who evidently
thought herself entitled to the privileges of forest life in this
close heart of city conventionalisms. I watched her creeping along
the low, flat roofs of the offices, descending a flight of wooden
steps, gliding among the grass, and besieging the buttonwood-tree,
with murderous purpose against its feathered citizens. But, after
all, they were birds of city breeding, and doubtless knew how to
guard themselves against the peculiar perils of their position.
Bewitching to my fancy are all those nooks and crannies where Nature,
like a stray partridge, hides her head among the long-established
haunts of men! It is likewise to be remarked, as a general rule,
that there is far more of the picturesque, more truth to native and
characteristic tendencies, and vastly greater suggestiveness in the
back view of a residence, whether in town or country, than in its
front. The latter is always artificial; it is meant for the world's
eye, and is therefore a veil and a concealment. Realities keep in
the rear, and put forward an advance guard of show and humbug. The
posterior aspect of any old farmhouse, behind which a railroad has
unexpectedly been opened, is so different from that looking upon the
immemorial highway, that the spectator gets new ideas of rural life
and individuality in the puff or two of steam-breath which shoots him
past the premises. In a city, the distinction between what is
offered to the public and what is kept for the family is certainly
not less striking.
But, to return to my window at the back of the hotel. Together with
a due contemplation of the fruit-trees, the grapevines, the
buttonwood-tree, the cat, the birds, and many other particulars, I
failed not to study the row of fashionable dwellings to which all
these appertained. Here, it must be confessed, there was a general
sameness. From the upper story to the first floor, they were so much
alike, that I could only conceive of the inhabitants as cut out on
one identical pattern, like little wooden toy-people of German
manufacture. One long, united roof, with its thousands of slates
glittering in the rain, extended over the whole. After the
distinctness of separate characters to which I had recently been
accustomed, it perplexed and annoyed me not to be able to resolve
this combination of human interests into well-defined elements. It
seemed hardly worth while for more than one of those families to be
in existence, since they all had the same glimpse of the sky, all
looked into the same area, all received just their equal share of
sunshine through the front windows, and all listened to precisely the
same noises of the street on which they boarded. Men are so much
alike in their nature, that they grow intolerable unless varied by
Just about this time a waiter entered my room. The truth was, I had
rung the bell and ordered a sherry-cobbler.
"Can you tell me," I inquired, "what families reside in any of those
"The one right opposite is a rather stylish boarding-house," said the
waiter. "Two of the gentlemen boarders keep horses at the stable of
our establishment. They do things in very good style, sir, the
people that live there."
I might have found out nearly as much for myself, on examining the
house a little more closely, in one of the upper chambers I saw a
young man in a dressing-gown, standing before the glass and brushing
his hair for a quarter of an hour together. He then spent an equal
space of time in the elaborate arrangement of his cravat, and finally
made his appearance in a dress-coat, which I suspected to be newly
come from the tailor's, and now first put on for a dinner-party. At
a window of the next story below, two children, prettily dressed,
were looking out. By and by a middle-aged gentleman came softly
behind them, kissed the little girl, and playfully pulled the little
boy's ear. It was a papa, no doubt, just come in from his
counting-room or office; and anon appeared mamma, stealing as softly
behind papa as he had stolen behind the children, and laying her hand
on his shoulder to surprise him. Then followed a kiss between papa
and mamma; but a noiseless one, for the children did not turn their
"I bless God for these good folks!" thought I to myself. "I have not
seen a prettier bit of nature, in all my summer in the country, than
they have shown me here, in a rather stylish boarding-house. I will
pay them a little more attention by and by."
On the first floor, an iron balustrade ran along in front of the tall
and spacious windows, evidently belonging to a back drawing-room; and
far into the interior, through the arch of the sliding-doors, I could
discern a gleam from the windows of the front apartment. There were
no signs of present occupancy in this suite of rooms; the curtains
being enveloped in a protective covering, which allowed but a small
portion of their crimson material to be seen. But two housemaids
were industriously at work; so that there was good prospect that the
boarding-house might not long suffer from the absence of its most
expensive and profitable guests. Meanwhile, until they should appear,
I cast my eyes downward to the lower regions. There, in the dusk
that so early settles into such places, I saw the red glow of the
kitchen range. The hot cook, or one of her subordinates, with a
ladle in her hand, came to draw a cool breath at the back door. As
soon as she disappeared, an Irish man-servant, in a white jacket,
crept slyly forth, and threw away the fragments of a china dish,
which, unquestionably, he had just broken. Soon afterwards, a lady,
showily dressed, with a curling front of what must have been false
hair, and reddish-brown, I suppose, in hue,--though my remoteness
allowed me only to guess at such particulars,--this respectable
mistress of the boarding-house made a momentary transit across the
kitchen window, and appeared no more. It was her final,
comprehensive glance, in order to make sure that soup, fish, and
flesh were in a proper state of readiness, before the serving up of
There was nothing else worth noticing about the house, unless it be
that on the peak of one of the dormer windows which opened out of the
roof sat a dove, looking very dreary and forlorn; insomuch that I
wondered why she chose to sit there, in the chilly rain, while her
kindred were doubtless nestling in a warm and comfortable dove-cote.
All at once this dove spread her wings, and, launching herself in the
air, came flying so straight across the intervening space, that I
fully expected her to alight directly on my window-sill. In the
latter part of her course, however, she swerved aside, flew upward,
and vanished, as did, likewise, the slight, fantastic pathos with
which I had invested her.
XVIII. THE BOARDING-HOUSE
The next day, as soon as I thought of looking again towards the
opposite house, there sat the dove again, on the peak of the same
dormer window! It was by no means an early hour, for the preceding
evening I had ultimately mustered enterprise enough to visit the
theatre, had gone late to bed, and slept beyond all limit, in my
remoteness from Silas Foster's awakening horn. Dreams had tormented
me throughout the night. The train of thoughts which, for months
past, had worn a track through my mind, and to escape which was one
of my chief objects in leaving Blithedale, kept treading
remorselessly to and fro in their old footsteps, while slumber left
me impotent to regulate them. It was not till I had quitted my three
friends that they first began to encroach upon my dreams. In those
of the last night, Hollingsworth and Zenobia, standing on either side
of my bed, had bent across it to exchange a kiss of passion.
Priscilla, beholding this,--for she seemed to be peeping in at the
chamber window,--had melted gradually away, and left only the sadness
of her expression in my heart. There it still lingered, after I
awoke; one of those unreasonable sadnesses that you know not how to
deal with, because it involves nothing for common-sense to clutch.
It was a gray and dripping forenoon; gloomy enough in town, and still
gloomier in the haunts to which my recollections persisted in
transporting me. For, in spite of my efforts to think of something
else, I thought how the gusty rain was drifting over the slopes and
valleys of our farm; how wet must be the foliage that overshadowed
the pulpit rock; how cheerless, in such a day, my hermitage--the
tree-solitude of my owl-like humors--in the vine-encircled heart of
the tall pine! It was a phase of homesickness. I had wrenched
myself too suddenly out of an accustomed sphere. There was no choice,
now, but to bear the pang of whatever heartstrings were snapt
asunder, and that illusive torment (like the ache of a limb long ago
cut off) by which a past mode of life prolongs itself into the
succeeding one. I was full of idle and shapeless regrets. The
thought impressed itself upon me that I had left duties unperformed.
With the power, perhaps, to act in the place of destiny and avert
misfortune from my friends, I had resigned them to their fate. That
cold tendency, between instinct and intellect, which made me pry with
a speculative interest into people's passions and impulses, appeared
to have gone far towards unhumanizing my heart.
But a man cannot always decide for himself whether his own heart is
cold or warm. It now impresses me that, if I erred at all in regard
to Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla, it was through too much
sympathy, rather than too little.
To escape the irksomeness of these meditations, I resumed my post at
the window. At first sight, there was nothing new to be noticed.
The general aspect of affairs was the same as yesterday, except that
the more decided inclemency of to-day had driven the sparrows to
shelter, and kept the cat within doors; whence, however, she soon
emerged, pursued by the cook, and with what looked like the better
half of a roast chicken in her mouth. The young man in the
dress-coat was invisible; the two children, in the story below,
seemed to be romping about the room, under the superintendence of a
nursery-maid. The damask curtains of the drawing-room, on the first
floor, were now fully displayed, festooned gracefully from top to
bottom of the windows, which extended from the ceiling to the carpet.
A narrower window, at the left of the drawing-room, gave light to
what was probably a small boudoir, within which I caught the faintest
imaginable glimpse of a girl's figure, in airy drapery. Her arm was
in regular movement, as if she were busy with her German worsted, or
some other such pretty and unprofitable handiwork.
While intent upon making out this girlish shape, I became sensible
that a figure had appeared at one of the windows of the drawing-room.
There was a presentiment in my mind; or perhaps my first glance,
imperfect and sidelong as it was, had sufficed to convey subtile
information of the truth. At any rate, it was with no positive
surprise, but as if I had all along expected the incident, that,
directing my eyes thitherward, I beheld--like a full-length picture,
in the space between the heavy festoons of the window curtains--no
other than Zenobia! At the same instant, my thoughts made sure of
the identity of the figure in the boudoir. It could only be
Zenobia was attired, not in the almost rustic costume which she had
heretofore worn, but in a fashionable morning-dress. There was,
nevertheless, one familiar point. She had, as usual, a flower in her
hair, brilliant and of a rare variety, else it had not been Zenobia.
After a brief pause at the window, she turned away, exemplifying, in
the few steps that removed her out of sight, that noble and beautiful
motion which characterized her as much as any other personal charm.
Not one woman in a thousand could move so admirably as Zenobia. Many
women can sit gracefully; some can stand gracefully; and a few,
perhaps, can assume a series of graceful positions. But natural
movement is the result and expression of the whole being, and cannot
be well and nobly performed unless responsive to something in the
character. I often used to think that music--light and airy, wild
and passionate, or the full harmony of stately marches, in accordance
with her varying mood--should have attended Zenobia's footsteps.
I waited for her reappearance. It was one peculiarity,
distinguishing Zenobia from most of her sex, that she needed for her
moral well-being, and never would forego, a large amount of physical
exercise. At Blithedale, no inclemency of sky or muddiness of earth
had ever impeded her daily walks. Here in town, she probably
preferred to tread the extent of the two drawing-rooms, and measure
out the miles by spaces of forty feet, rather than bedraggle her
skirts over the sloppy pavements. Accordingly, in about the time
requisite to pass through the arch of the sliding-doors to the front
window, and to return upon her steps, there she stood again, between
the festoons of the crimson curtains. But another personage was now
added to the scene. Behind Zenobia appeared that face which I had
first encountered in the wood-path; the man who had passed, side by
side with her, in such mysterious familiarity and estrangement,
beneath my vine curtained hermitage in the tall pine-tree. It was
Westervelt. And though he was looking closely over her shoulder, it
still seemed to me, as on the former occasion, that Zenobia repelled
him,--that, perchance, they mutually repelled each other, by some
incompatibility of their spheres.
This impression, however, might have been altogether the result of
fancy and prejudice in me. The distance was so great as to
obliterate any play of feature by which I might otherwise have been
made a partaker of their counsels.
There now needed only Hollingsworth and old Moodie to complete the
knot of characters, whom a real intricacy of events, greatly assisted
by my method of insulating them from other relations, had kept so
long upon my mental stage, as actors in a drama. In itself, perhaps,
it was no very remarkable event that they should thus come across me,
at the moment when
I imagined myself free. Zenobia, as I well knew, had retained an
establishment in town, and had not unfrequently withdrawn herself
from Blithedale during brief intervals, on one of which occasions she
had taken Priscilla along with her. Nevertheless, there seemed
something fatal in the coincidence that had borne me to this one spot,
of all others in a great city, and transfixed me there, and
compelled me again to waste my already wearied sympathies on affairs
which were none of mine, and persons who cared little for me. It
irritated my nerves; it affected me with a kind of heart-sickness.
After the effort which it cost me to fling them off,--after
consummating my escape, as I thought, from these goblins of flesh and
blood, and pausing to revive myself with a breath or two of an
atmosphere in which they should have no share,--it was a positive
despair to find the same figures arraying themselves before me, and
presenting their old problem in a shape that made it more insoluble
I began to long for a catastrophe. If the noble temper of
Hollingsworth's soul were doomed to be utterly corrupted by the too
powerful purpose which had grown out of what was noblest in him; if
the rich and generous qualities of Zenobia's womanhood might not save
her; if Priscilla must perish by her tenderness and faith, so simple
and so devout, then be it so! Let it all come! As for me, I would
look on, as it seemed my part to do, understandingly, if my intellect
could fathom the meaning and the moral, and, at all events,
reverently and sadly. The curtain fallen, I would pass onward with
my poor individual life, which was now attenuated of much of its
proper substance, and diffused among many alien interests.
Meanwhile, Zenobia and her companion had retreated from the window.
Then followed an interval, during which I directed my eves towards
the figure in the boudoir. Most certainly it was Priscilla, although
dressed with a novel and fanciful elegance. The vague perception of
it, as viewed so far off, impressed me as if she had suddenly passed
out of a chrysalis state and put forth wings. Her hands were not now
in motion. She had dropt her work, and sat with her head thrown back,
in the same attitude that I had seen several times before, when she
seemed to be listening to an imperfectly distinguished sound.
Again the two figures in the drawing-room became visible. They were
now a little withdrawn from the window, face to face, and, as I could
see by Zenobia's emphatic gestures, were discussing some subject in
which she, at least, felt a passionate concern. By and by she broke
away, and vanished beyond my ken. Westervelt approached the window,
and leaned his forehead against a pane of glass, displaying the sort
of smile on his handsome features which, when I before met him, had
let me into the secret of his gold-bordered teeth. Every human being,
when given over to the Devil, is sure to have the wizard mark upon
him, in one form or another. I fancied that this smile, with its
peculiar revelation, was the Devil's signet on the Professor.
This man, as I had soon reason to know, was endowed with a cat-like
circumspection; and though precisely the most unspiritual quality in
the world, it was almost as effective as spiritual insight in making
him acquainted with whatever it suited him to discover. He now
proved it, considerably to my discomfiture, by detecting and
recognizing me, at my post of observation. Perhaps I ought to have
blushed at being caught in such an evident scrutiny of Professor
Westervelt and his affairs. Perhaps I did blush. Be that as it
might, I retained presence of mind enough not to make my position yet
more irksome by the poltroonery of drawing back.
Westervelt looked into the depths of the drawing-room, and beckoned.
Immediately afterwards Zenobia appeared at the window, with color
much heightened, and eyes which, as my conscience whispered me, were
shooting bright arrows, barbed with scorn, across the intervening
full at my sensibilities as a gentleman. If the truth must be told,
far as her flight-shot was, those arrows hit the mark. She signified
her recognition of me by a gesture with her head and hand, comprising
at once a salutation and dismissal. The next moment she administered
one of those pitiless rebukes which a woman always has at hand, ready
for any offence (and which she so seldom spares on due occasion), by
letting down a white linen curtain between the festoons of the damask
ones. It fell like the drop-curtain of a theatre, in the interval
between the acts.
Priscilla had disappeared from the boudoir. But the dove still kept
her desolate perch on the peak of the attic window.
XIX. ZENOBIA'S DRAWING-ROOM
The remainder of the day, so far as I was concerned, was spent in
meditating on these recent incidents. I contrived, and alternately
rejected, innumerable methods of accounting for the presence of
Zenobia and Priscilla, and the connection of Westervelt with both.
It must be owned, too, that I had a keen, revengeful sense of the
insult inflicted by Zenobia's scornful recognition, and more
particularly by her letting down the curtain; as if such were the
proper barrier to be interposed between a character like hers and a
perceptive faculty like mine. For, was mine a mere vulgar curiosity?
Zenobia should have known me better than to suppose it. She should
have been able to appreciate that quality of the intellect and the
heart which impelled me (often against my own will, and to the
detriment of my own comfort) to live in other lives, and to
endeavor--by generous sympathies, by delicate intuitions, by taking
note of things too slight for record, and by bringing my human spirit
into manifold accordance with the companions whom God assigned me--to
learn the secret which was hidden even from themselves.
Of all possible observers, methought a woman like Zenobia and a man
like Hollingsworth should have selected me. And now when the event
has long been past, I retain the same opinion of my fitness for the
office. True, I might have condemned them. Had I been judge as well
as witness, my sentence might have been stern as that of destiny
itself. But, still, no trait of original nobility of character, no
struggle against temptation,--no iron necessity of will, on the one
hand, nor extenuating circumstance to be derived from passion and
despair, on the other,--no remorse that might coexist with error,
even if powerless to prevent it,--no proud repentance that should
claim retribution as a meed,--would go unappreciated. True, again, I
might give my full assent to the punishment which was sure to follow.
But it would be given mournfully, and with undiminished love. And,
after all was finished, I would come as if to gather up the white
ashes of those who had perished at the stake, and to tell the
world--the wrong being now atoned for--how much had perished there
which it had never yet known how to praise.
I sat in my rocking-chair, too far withdrawn from the window to
expose myself to another rebuke like that already inflicted. My eyes
still wandered towards the opposite house, but without effecting any
new discoveries. Late in the afternoon, the weathercock on the
church spire indicated a change of wind; the sun shone dimly out, as
if the golden wine of its beams were mingled half-and-half with water.
Nevertheless, they kindled up the whole range of edifices, threw a
glow over the windows, glistened on the wet roofs, and, slowly
withdrawing upward, perched upon the chimney-tops; thence they took a
higher flight, and lingered an instant on the tip of the spire,
making it the final point of more cheerful light in the whole sombre
scene. The next moment, it was all gone. The twilight fell into the
area like a shower of dusky snow, and before it was quite dark, the
gong of the hotel summoned me to tea.
When I returned to my chamber, the glow of an astral lamp was
penetrating mistily through the white curtain of Zenobia's
drawing-room. The shadow of a passing figure was now and then cast
upon this medium, but with too vague an outline for even my
adventurous conjectures to read the hieroglyphic that it presented.
All at once, it occurred to me how very absurd was my behavior in
thus tormenting myself with crazy hypotheses as to what was going on
within that drawing-room, when it was at my option to be personally
present there, My relations with Zenobia, as yet unchanged,--as a
familiar friend, and associated in the same life-long enterprise,--
gave me the right, and made it no more than kindly courtesy
demanded, to call on her. Nothing, except our habitual independence
of conventional rules at Blithedale, could have kept me from sooner
recognizing this duty. At all events, it should now be performed.
In compliance with this sudden impulse, I soon found myself actually
within the house, the rear of which, for two days past, I had been so
sedulously watching. A servant took my card, and, immediately
returning, ushered me upstairs. On the way, I heard a rich, and, as
it were, triumphant burst of music from a piano, in which I felt
Zenobia's character, although heretofore I had known nothing of her
skill upon the instrument. Two or three canary-birds, excited by
this gush of sound, sang piercingly, and did their utmost to produce
a kindred melody. A bright illumination streamed through, the door
of the front drawing-room; and I had barely stept across the
threshold before Zenobia came forward to meet me, laughing, and with
an extended hand.
"Ah, Mr. Coverdale," said she, still smiling, but, as I thought, with
a good deal of scornful anger underneath, "it has gratified me to see
the interest which you continue to take in my affairs! I have long
recognized you as a sort of transcendental Yankee, with all the
native propensity of your countrymen to investigate matters that come
within their range, but rendered almost poetical, in your case, by
the refined methods which you adopt for its gratification. After all,
it was an unjustifiable stroke, on my part,--was it not?--to let
down the window curtain!"
"I cannot call it a very wise one," returned I, with a secret
bitterness, which, no doubt, Zenobia appreciated. "It is really
impossible to hide anything in this world, to say nothing of the next.
All that we ought to ask, therefore, is, that the witnesses of our
conduct, and the speculators on our motives, should be capable of
taking the highest view which the circumstances of the case may admit.
So much being secured, I, for one, would be most happy in feeling
myself followed everywhere by an indefatigable human sympathy."
"We must trust for intelligent sympathy to our guardian angels, if
any there be," said Zenobia. "As long as the only spectator of my
poor tragedy is a young man at the window of his hotel, I must still
claim the liberty to drop the curtain."
While this passed, as Zenobia's hand was extended, I had applied the
very slightest touch of my fingers to her own. In spite of an
external freedom, her manner made me sensible that we stood upon no
real terms of confidence. The thought came sadly across me, how
great was the contrast betwixt this interview and our first meeting.
Then, in the warm light of the country fireside, Zenobia had greeted
me cheerily and hopefully, with a full sisterly grasp of the hand,
conveying as much kindness in it as other women could have evinced by
the pressure of both arms around my neck, or by yielding a cheek to
the brotherly salute. The difference was as complete as between her
appearance at that time--so simply attired, and with only the one
superb flower in her hair--and now, when her beauty was set off by
all that dress and ornament could do for it. And they did much. Not,
indeed, that they created or added anything to what Nature had
lavishly done for Zenobia. But, those costly robes which she had on,
those flaming jewels on her neck, served as lamps to display the
personal advantages which required nothing less than such an
illumination to be fully seen. Even her characteristic flower,
though it seemed to be still there, had undergone a cold and bright
transfiguration; it was a flower exquisitely imitated in jeweller's
work, and imparting the last touch that transformed Zenobia into a
work of art.
"I scarcely feel," I could not forbear saying, "as if we had ever met
before. How many years ago it seems since we last sat beneath
Eliot's pulpit, with Hollingsworth extended on the fallen leaves, and
Priscilla at his feet! Can it be, Zenobia, that you ever really
numbered yourself with our little band of earnest, thoughtful,
"Those ideas have their time and place," she answered coldly. "But I
fancy it must be a very circumscribed mind that can find room for no
Her manner bewildered me. Literally, moreover, I was dazzled by the
brilliancy of the room. A chandelier hung down in the centre,
glowing with I know not how many lights; there were separate lamps,
also, on two or three tables, and on marble brackets, adding their
white radiance to that of the chandelier. The furniture was
exceedingly rich. Fresh from our old farmhouse, with its homely
board and benches in the dining-room, and a few wicker chairs in the
best parlor, it struck me that here was the fulfilment of every
fantasy of an imagination revelling in various methods of costly
self-indulgence and splendid ease. Pictures, marbles, vases,--in
brief, more shapes of luxury than there could be any object in
enumerating, except for an auctioneer's advertisement,--and the whole
repeated and doubled by the reflection of a great mirror, which
showed me Zenobia's proud figure, likewise, and my own. It cost me,
I acknowledge, a bitter sense of shame, to perceive in myself a
positive effort to bear up against the effect which Zenobia sought to
impose on me. I reasoned against her, in my secret mind, and strove
so to keep my footing. In the gorgeousness with which she had
surrounded herself,--in the redundance of personal ornament, which
the largeness of her physical nature and the rich type of her beauty
caused to seem so suitable,--I malevolently beheld the true character
of the woman, passionate, luxurious, lacking simplicity, not deeply
refined, incapable of pure and perfect taste. But, the next instant,
she was too powerful for all my opposing struggles. I saw how fit it
was that she should make herself as gorgeous as she pleased, and
should do a thousand things that would have been ridiculous in the
poor, thin, weakly characters of other women. To this day, however,
I hardly know whether I then beheld Zenobia in her truest attitude,
or whether that were the truer one in which she had presented herself
at Blithedale. In both, there was something like the illusion which
a great actress flings around her.
"Have you given up Blithedale forever?" I inquired.
"Why should you think so?" asked she.
"I cannot tell," answered I; "except that it appears all like a dream
that we were ever there together."
"It is not so to me," said Zenobia. "I should think it a poor and
meagre nature that is capable of but one set of forms, and must
convert all the past into a dream merely because the present happens
to be unlike it. Why should we be content with our homely life of a
few months past, to the exclusion of all other modes? It was good;
but there are other lives as good, or better. Not, you will
understand, that I condemn those who give themselves up to it more
entirely than I, for myself, should deem it wise to do."
It irritated me, this self-complacent, condescending, qualified
approval and criticism of a system to which many individuals--perhaps
as highly endowed as our gorgeous Zenobia--had contributed their all
of earthly endeavor, and their loftiest aspirations. I determined to
make proof if there were any spell that would exorcise her out of the
part which she seemed to be acting. She should be compelled to give
me a glimpse of something true; some nature, some passion, no matter
whether right or wrong, provided it were real.
"Your allusion to that class of circumscribed characters who can live
only in one mode of life," remarked I coolly, "reminds me of our poor
friend Hollingsworth. Possibly he was in your thoughts when you
spoke thus. Poor fellow! It is a pity that, by the fault of a
narrow education, he should have so completely immolated himself to
that one idea of his, especially as the slightest modicum of
common-sense would teach him its utter impracticability. Now that I
have returned into the world, and can look at his project from a
distance, it requires quite all my real regard for this respectable
and well-intentioned man to prevent me laughing at him,--as I find
society at large does."
Zenobia's eyes darted lightning, her cheeks flushed, the vividness of
her expression was like the effect of a powerful light flaming up
suddenly within her. My experiment had fully succeeded. She had
shown me the true flesh and blood of her heart, by thus involuntarily
resenting my slight, pitying, half-kind, half-scornful mention of the
man who was all in all with her. She herself probably felt this; for
it was hardly a moment before she tranquillized her uneven breath,
and seemed as proud and self-possessed as ever.
"I rather imagine," said she quietly, "that your appreciation falls
short of Mr. Hollingsworth's just claims. Blind enthusiasm,
absorption in one idea, I grant, is generally ridiculous, and must be
fatal to the respectability of an ordinary man; it requires a very
high and powerful character to make it otherwise. But a great
man--as, perhaps, you do not know--attains his normal condition only
through the inspiration of one great idea. As a friend of Mr.
Hollingsworth, and, at the same time, a calm observer, I must tell
you that he seems to me such a man. But you are very pardonable for
fancying him ridiculous. Doubtless, he is so--to you! There can be
no truer test of the noble and heroic, in any individual, than the
degree in which he possesses the faculty of distinguishing heroism
I dared make no retort to Zenobia's concluding apothegm. In truth, I
admired her fidelity. It gave me a new sense of Hollingsworth's
native power, to discover that his influence was no less potent with
this beautiful woman here, in the midst of artificial life, than it
had been at the foot of the gray rock, and among the wild birch-trees
of the wood-path, when she so passionately pressed his hand against
her heart. The great, rude, shaggy, swarthy man! And Zenobia loved
"Did you bring Priscilla with you?" I resumed. "Do you know I have
sometimes fancied it not quite safe, considering the susceptibility
of her temperament, that she should be so constantly within the
sphere of a man like Hollingsworth. Such tender and delicate natures,
among your sex, have often, I believe, a very adequate appreciation
of the heroic element in men. But then, again, I should suppose them
as likely as any other women to make a reciprocal impression.
Hollingsworth could hardly give his affections to a person capable of
taking an independent stand, but only to one whom he might absorb
into himself. He has certainly shown great tenderness for Priscilla."
Zenobia had turned aside. But I caught the reflection of her face in
the mirror, and saw that it was very pale,--as pale, in her rich
attire, as if a shroud were round her.
"Priscilla is here," said she, her voice a little lower than usual.
"Have not you learnt as much from your chamber window? Would you
like to see her?"
She made a step or two into the back drawing-room, and called,--
"Priscilla! Dear Priscilla!"
XX. THEY VANISH
Priscilla immediately answered the summons, and made her appearance
through the door of the boudoir. I had conceived the idea, which I
now recognized as a very foolish one, that Zenobia would have taken
measures to debar me from an interview with this girl, between whom
and herself there was so utter an opposition of their dearest
interests, that, on one part or the other, a great grief, if not
likewise a great wrong, seemed a matter of necessity. But, as
Priscilla was only a leaf floating on the dark current of events,
without influencing them by her own choice or plan, as she probably
guessed not whither the stream was bearing her, nor perhaps even felt
its inevitable movement,--there could be no peril of her
communicating to me any intelligence with regard to Zenobia's
On perceiving me, she came forward with great quietude of manner; and
when I held out my hand, her own moved slightly towards it, as if
attracted by a feeble degree of magnetism.
"I am glad to see you, my dear Priscilla," said I, still holding her
hand; "but everything that I meet with nowadays makes me wonder
whether I am awake. You, especially, have always seemed like a
figure in a dream, and now more than ever."
"Oh, there is substance in these fingers of mine," she answered,
giving my hand the faintest possible pressure, and then taking away
her own. "Why do you call me a dream? Zenobia is much more like one
than I; she is so very, very beautiful! And, I suppose," added
Priscilla, as if thinking aloud, "everybody sees it, as I do."
But, for my part, it was Priscilla's beauty, not Zenobia's, of which
I was thinking at that moment. She was a person who could be quite
obliterated, so far as beauty went, by anything unsuitable in her
attire; her charm was not positive and material enough to bear up
against a mistaken choice of color, for instance, or fashion. It was
safest, in her case, to attempt no art of dress; for it demanded the
most perfect taste, or else the happiest accident in the world, to
give her precisely the adornment which she needed. She was now
dressed in pure white, set off with some kind of a gauzy fabric,
which--as I bring up her figure in my memory, with a faint gleam on
her shadowy hair, and her dark eyes bent shyly on mine, through all
the vanished years--seems to be floating about her like a mist. I
wondered what Zenobia meant by evolving so much loveliness out of
this poor girl. It was what few women could afford to do; for, as I
looked from one to the other, the sheen and splendor of Zenobia's
presence took nothing from Priscilla's softer spell, if it might not
rather be thought to add to it.
"What do you think of her?" asked Zenobia.
I could not understand the look of melancholy kindness with which
Zenobia regarded her. She advanced a step, and beckoning Priscilla
near her, kissed her cheek; then, with a slight gesture of repulse,
she moved to the other side of the room. I followed.
"She is a wonderful creature," I said. "Ever since she came among us,
I have been dimly sensible of just this charm which you have brought
out. But it was never absolutely visible till now. She is as lovely
as a flower!"
"Well, say so if you like," answered Zenobia. "You are a poet,--at
least, as poets go nowadays,--and must be allowed to make an
opera-glass of your imagination, when you look at women. I wonder,
in such Arcadian freedom of falling in love as we have lately enjoyed,
it never occurred to you to fall in love with Priscilla. In society,
indeed, a genuine American never dreams of stepping across the
inappreciable air-line which separates one class from another. But
what was rank to the colonists of Blithedale?"
"There were other reasons," I replied, "why I should have
demonstrated myself an ass, had I fallen in love with Priscilla. By
the bye, has Hollingsworth ever seen her in this dress?"
"Why do you bring up his name at every turn?" asked Zenobia in an
undertone, and with a malign look which wandered from my face to
Priscilla's. "You know not what you do! It is dangerous, sir,
to tamper thus with earnest human passions, out of your own mere
idleness, and for your sport. I will endure it no longer! Take care
that it does not happen again! I warn you!"
"You partly wrong me, if not wholly," I responded. "It is an
uncertain sense of some duty to perform, that brings my thoughts, and
therefore my words, continually to that one point."
"Oh, this stale excuse of duty!" said Zenobia, in a whisper so full
of scorn that it penetrated me like the hiss of a serpent. "I have
often heard it before, from those who sought to interfere with me,
and I know precisely what it signifies. Bigotry; self-conceit; an
insolent curiosity; a meddlesome temper; a cold-blooded criticism,
founded on a shallow interpretation of half-perceptions; a monstrous
scepticism in regard to any conscience or any wisdom, except one's
own; a most irreverent propensity to thrust Providence aside, and
substitute one's self in its awful place,--out of these, and other
motives as miserable as these, comes your idea of duty! But, beware,
sir! With all your fancied acuteness, you step blindfold into these
affairs. For any mischief that may follow your interference, I hold
It was evident that, with but a little further provocation, the
lioness would turn to bay; if, indeed, such were not her attitude
already. I bowed, and not very well knowing what else to do, was
about to withdraw. But, glancing again towards Priscilla, who had
retreated into a corner, there fell upon my heart an intolerable
burden of despondency, the purport of which I could not tell, but
only felt it to bear reference to her. I approached and held out my
hand; a gesture, however, to which she made no response. It was
always one of her peculiarities that she seemed to shrink from even
the most friendly touch, unless it were Zenobia's or Hollingsworth's.
Zenobia, all this while, stood watching us, but with a careless
expression, as if it mattered very little what might pass.
"Priscilla," I inquired, lowering my voice, "when do you go back to
"Whenever they please to take me," said she.
"Did you come away of your own free will?" I asked.
"I am blown about like a leaf," she replied. "I never have any free
"Does Hollingsworth know that you are here?" said I.
"He bade me come," answered Priscilla.
She looked at me, I thought, with an air of surprise, as if the idea
were incomprehensible that she should have taken this step without
"What a gripe this man has laid upon her whole being!" muttered I
between my teeth.
"Well, as Zenobia so kindly intimates, I have no more business here.
I wash my hands of it all. On Hollingsworth's head be the
consequences! Priscilla," I added aloud, "I know not that ever we
may meet again. Farewell!"
As I spoke the word, a carriage had rumbled along the street, and
stopt before the house. The doorbell rang, and steps were
immediately afterwards heard on the staircase. Zenobia had thrown a
shawl over her dress.
"Mr. Coverdale," said she, with cool courtesy, "you will perhaps
excuse us. We have an engagement, and are going out."
"Whither?" I demanded.
"Is not that a little more than you are entitled to inquire?" said
she, with a smile. "At all events, it does not suit me to tell you."
The door of the drawing-room opened, and Westervelt appeared. I
observed that he was elaborately dressed, as if for some grand
entertainment. My dislike for this man was infinite. At that moment
it amounted to nothing less than a creeping of the flesh, as when,
feeling about in a dark place, one touches something cold and slimy,
and questions what the secret hatefulness may be. And still I could
not but acknowledge that, for personal beauty, for polish of manner,
for all that externally befits a gentleman, there was hardly another
like him. After bowing to Zenobia, and graciously saluting Priscilla
in her corner, he recognized me by a slight but courteous inclination.
"Come, Priscilla," said Zenobia; "it is time. Mr. Coverdale,
As Priscilla moved slowly forward, I met her in the middle of the
"Priscilla," said I, in the hearing of them all, "do you know whither
you are going?"
"I do not know," she answered.
"Is it wise to go, and is it your choice to go?" I asked. "If not,
I am your friend, and Hollingsworth's friend. Tell me so, at once."
"Possibly," observed Westervelt, smiling, "Priscilla sees in me an
older friend than either Mr. Coverdale or Mr. Hollingsworth. I shall
willingly leave the matter at her option."
While thus speaking, he made a gesture of kindly invitation, and
Priscilla passed me, with the gliding movement of a sprite, and took
his offered arm. He offered the other to Zenobia; but she turned her
proud and beautiful face upon him with a look which--judging from
what I caught of it in profile--would undoubtedly have smitten the
man dead, had he possessed any heart, or had this glance attained to
it. It seemed to rebound, however, from his courteous visage, like
an arrow from polished steel. They all three descended the stairs;
and when I likewise reached the street door, the carriage was already
XXI. AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE
Thus excluded from everybody's confidence, and attaining no further,
by my most earnest study, than to an uncertain sense of something
hidden from me, it would appear reasonable that I should have flung
off all these alien perplexities. Obviously, my best course was to
betake myself to new scenes. Here I was only an intruder. Elsewhere
there might be circumstances in which I could establish a personal
interest, and people who would respond, with a portion of their
sympathies, for so much as I should bestow of mine.
Nevertheless, there occurred to me one other thing to be done.
Remembering old Moodie, and his relationship with Priscilla, I
determined to seek an interview, for the purpose of ascertaining
whether the knot of affairs was as inextricable on that side as I
found it on all others. Being tolerably well acquainted with the old
man's haunts, I went, the next day, to the saloon of a certain
establishment about which he often lurked. It was a reputable place
enough, affording good entertainment in the way of meat, drink, and
fumigation; and there, in my young and idle days and nights, when I
was neither nice nor wise, I had often amused myself with watching
the staid humors and sober jollities of the thirsty souls around me.
At my first entrance, old Moodie was not there. The more patiently
to await him, I lighted a cigar, and establishing myself in a corner,
took a quiet, and, by sympathy, a boozy kind of pleasure in the
customary life that was going forward. The saloon was fitted up with
a good deal of taste. There were pictures on the walls, and among
them an oil-painting of a beefsteak, with such an admirable show of
juicy tenderness, that the beholder sighed to think it merely
visionary, and incapable of ever being put upon a gridiron. Another
work of high art was the lifelike representation of a noble sirloin;
another, the hindquarters of a deer, retaining the hoofs and tawny
fur; another, the head and shoulders of a salmon; and, still more
exquisitely finished, a brace of canvasback ducks, in which the
mottled feathers were depicted with the accuracy of a daguerreotype.
Some very hungry painter, I suppose, had wrought these subjects of
still-life, heightening his imagination with his appetite, and
earning, it is to be hoped, the privilege of a daily dinner off
whichever of his pictorial viands he liked best. Then there was a
fine old cheese, in which you could almost discern the mites; and
some sardines, on a small plate, very richly done, and looking as if
oozy with the oil in which they had been smothered. All these things
were so perfectly imitated, that you seemed to have the genuine
article before you, and yet with an indescribable, ideal charm; it
took away the grossness from what was fleshiest and fattest, and thus
helped the life of man, even in its earthliest relations, to appear
rich and noble, as well as warm, cheerful, and substantial. There
were pictures, too, of gallant revellers, those of the old time,
Flemish, apparently, with doublets and slashed sleeves, drinking
their wine out of fantastic, long-stemmed glasses; quaffing joyously,
quaffing forever, with inaudible laughter and song; while the
champagne bubbled immortally against their moustaches, or the purple
tide of Burgundy ran inexhaustibly down their throats.
But, in an obscure corner of the saloon, there was a little Picture
excellently done, moreover of a ragged, bloated, New England toper,
stretched out on a bench, in the heavy, apoplectic sleep of
drunkenness. The death-in-life was too well portrayed. You smelt
the fumy liquor that had brought on this syncope. Your only comfort
lay in the forced reflection, that, real as he looked, the poor
caitiff was but imaginary, a bit of painted canvass, whom no delirium
tremens, nor so much as a retributive headache, awaited, on the
By this time, it being past eleven o'clock, the two bar-keepers of
the saloon were in pretty constant activity. One of these young men
had a rare faculty in the concoction of gin-cocktails. It was a
spectacle to behold, how, with a tumbler in each hand, he tossed the
contents from one to the other. Never conveying it awry, nor
spilling the least drop, he compelled the frothy liquor, as it seemed
to me, to spout forth from one glass and descend into the other, in a
great parabolic curve, as well-defined and calculable as a planet's
orbit. He had a good forehead, with a particularly large development
just above the eyebrows; fine intellectual gifts, no doubt, which he
had educated to this profitable end; being famous for nothing but
gin-cocktails, and commanding a fair salary by his one accomplishment.
These cocktails, and other artificial combinations of liquor, (of
which there were at least a score, though mostly, I suspect,
fantastic in their differences,) were much in favor with the younger
class of customers, who, at farthest, had only reached the second
stage of potatory life. The staunch, old soakers, on the other hand
men who, if put on tap, would have yielded a red alcoholic liquor, by
way of blood usually confined themselves to plain brandy-and-water,
gin, or West India rum; and, oftentimes, they prefaced their dram
with some medicinal remark as to the wholesomeness and stomachic
qualities of that particular drink. Two or three appeared to have
bottles of their own behind the counter; and, winking one red eye to
the bar-keeper, he forthwith produced these choicest and peculiar
cordials, which it was a matter of great interest and favor, among
their acquaintances, to obtain a sip of.
Agreeably to the Yankee habit, under whatever circumstances, the
deportment of all these good fellows, old or young, was decorous and
thoroughly correct. They grew only the more sober in their cups;
there was no confused babble nor boisterous laughter. They sucked in
the joyous fire of the decanters and kept it smouldering in their
inmost recesses, with a bliss known only to the heart which it warmed
and comforted. Their eyes twinkled a little, to be sure; they hemmed
vigorously after each glass, and laid a hand upon the pit of the
stomach, as if the pleasant titillation there was what constituted
the tangible part of their enjoyment. In that spot, unquestionably,
and not in the brain, was the acme of the whole affair. But the true
purpose of their drinking--and one that will induce men to drink, or
do something equivalent, as long as this weary world shall
endure--was the renewed youth and vigor, the brisk, cheerful sense of
things present and to come, with which, for about a quarter of an
hour, the dram permeated their systems. And when such quarters of an
hour can be obtained in some mode less baneful to the great sum of a
man's life,--but, nevertheless, with a little spice of impropriety,
to give it a wild flavor,--we temperance people may ring out our
bells for victory!
The prettiest object in the saloon was a tiny fountain, which threw
up its feathery jet through the counter, and sparkled down again into
an oval basin, or lakelet, containing several goldfishes. There was
a bed of bright sand at the bottom, strewn with coral and rock-work;
and the fishes went gleaming about, now turning up the sheen of a
golden side, and now vanishing into the shadows of the water, like
the fanciful thoughts that coquet with a poet in his dream. Never
before, I imagine, did a company of water-drinkers remain so entirely
uncontaminated by the bad example around them; nor could I help
wondering that it had not occurred to any freakish inebriate to empty
a glass of liquor into their lakelet. What a delightful idea! Who
would not be a fish, if he could inhale jollity with the essential
element of his existence!
I had begun to despair of meeting old Moodie, when, all at once, I
recognized his hand and arm protruding from behind a screen that was
set up for the accommodation of bashful topers. As a matter of
course, he had one of Priscilla's little purses, and was quietly
insinuating it under the notice of a person who stood near. This was
always old Moodie's way. You hardly ever saw him advancing towards
you, but became aware of his proximity without being able to guess
how he had come thither. He glided about like a spirit, assuming
visibility close to your elbow, offering his petty trifles of
merchandise, remaining long enough for you to purchase, if so
disposed, and then taking himself off, between two breaths, while you
happened to be thinking of something else.
By a sort of sympathetic impulse that often controlled me in those
more impressible days of my life, I was induced to approach this old
man in a mode as undemonstrative as his own. Thus, when, according
to his custom, he was probably just about to vanish, he found me at
"Ah!" said he, with more emphasis than was usual with him. "It is Mr.
"Yes, Mr. Moodie, your old acquaintance," answered I. "It is some
time now since we ate luncheon together at Blithedale, and a good
deal longer since our little talk together at the street corner."
"That was a good while ago," said the old man.
And he seemed inclined to say not a word more. His existence looked
so colorless and torpid,--so very faintly shadowed on the canvas of
reality,--that I was half afraid lest he should altogether disappear,
even while my eyes were fixed full upon his figure. He was certainly
the wretchedest old ghost in the world, with his crazy hat, the dingy
handkerchief about his throat, his suit of threadbare gray, and
especially that patch over his right eye, behind which he always
seemed to be hiding himself. There was one method, however, of
bringing him out into somewhat stronger relief. A glass of brandy
would effect it. Perhaps the gentler influence of a bottle of claret
might do the same. Nor could I think it a matter for the recording
angel to write down against me, if--with my painful consciousness of
the frost in this old man's blood, and the positive ice that had
congealed about his heart--I should thaw him out, were it only for an
hour, with the summer warmth of a little wine. What else could
possibly be done for him? How else could he be imbued with energy
enough to hope for a happier state hereafter? How else be inspired
to say his prayers? For there are states of our spiritual system
when the throb of the soul's life is too faint and weak to render us
capable of religious aspiration.
"Mr. Moodie," said I, "shall we lunch together? And would you like
to drink a glass of wine?"
His one eye gleamed. He bowed; and it impressed me that he grew to
be more of a man at once, either in anticipation of the wine, or as a
grateful response to my good fellowship in offering it.
"With pleasure," he replied.
The bar-keeper, at my request, showed us into a private room, and
soon afterwards set some fried oysters and a bottle of claret on the
table; and I saw the old man glance curiously at the label of the
bottle, as if to learn the brand.
"It should be good wine," I remarked, "if it have any right to its
"You cannot suppose, sir," said Moodie, with a sigh, "that a poor old
fellow like me knows any difference in wines."
And yet, in his way of handling the glass, in his preliminary snuff
at the aroma, in his first cautious sip of the wine, and the
gustatory skill with which he gave his palate the full advantage of
it, it was impossible not to recognize the connoisseur.
"I fancy, Mr. Moodie," said I, "you are a much better judge of wines
than I have yet learned to be. Tell me fairly,--did you never drink
it where the grape grows?"
"How should that have been, Mr. Coverdale?" answered old Moodie shyly;
but then he took courage, as it were, and uttered a feeble little
laugh. "The flavor of this wine," added he, "and its perfume still
more than its taste, makes me remember that I was once a young man."
"I wish, Mr. Moodie," suggested I,--not that I greatly cared about it,
however, but was only anxious to draw him into some talk about
Priscilla and Zenobia,--"I wish, while we sit over our wine, you
would favor me with a few of those youthful reminiscences."
"Ah," said he, shaking his head, "they might interest you more than
you suppose. But I had better be silent, Mr. Coverdale. If this
good wine,--though claret, I suppose, is not apt to play such a trick,--
but if it should make my tongue run too freely, I could never look
you in the face again."
"You never did look me in the face, Mr. Moodie," I replied, "until
this very moment."
"Ah!" sighed old Moodie.
It was wonderful, however, what an effect the mild grape-juice
wrought upon him. It was not in the wine, but in the associations
which it seemed to bring up. Instead of the mean, slouching, furtive,
painfully depressed air of an old city vagabond, more like a gray
kennel-rat than any other living thing, he began to take the aspect
of a decayed gentleman. Even his garments--especially after I had
myself quaffed a glass or two--looked less shabby than when we first
sat down. There was, by and by, a certain exuberance and
elaborateness of gesture and manner, oddly in contrast with all that
I had hitherto seen of him. Anon, with hardly any impulse from me,
old Moodie began to talk. His communications referred exclusively to
a long-past and more fortunate period of his life, with only a few
unavoidable allusions to the circumstances that had reduced him to
his present state. But, having once got the clew, my subsequent
researches acquainted me with the main facts of the following
narrative; although, in writing it out, my pen has perhaps allowed
itself a trifle of romantic and legendary license, worthier of a
small poet than of a grave biographer.
Five-and-twenty years ago, at the epoch of this story, there dwelt in
one of the Middle States a man whom we shall call Fauntleroy; a man
of wealth, and magnificent tastes, and prodigal expenditure. His
home might almost be styled a palace; his habits, in the ordinary
sense, princely. His whole being seemed to have crystallized itself
into an external splendor, wherewith he glittered in the eyes of the
world, and had no other life than upon this gaudy surface. He had
married a lovely woman, whose nature was deeper than his own. But
his affection for her, though it showed largely, was superficial,
like all his other manifestations and developments; he did not so
truly keep this noble creature in his heart, as wear her beauty for
the most brilliant ornament of his outward state. And there was born
to him a child, a beautiful daughter, whom he took from the
beneficent hand of God with no just sense of her immortal value, but
as a man already rich in gems would receive another jewel. If he
loved her, it was because she shone.
After Fauntleroy had thus spent a few empty years, coruscating
continually an unnatural light, the source of it--which was merely
his gold--began to grow more shallow, and finally became exhausted.
He saw himself in imminent peril of losing all that had heretofore
distinguished him; and, conscious of no innate worth to fall back
upon, he recoiled from this calamity with the instinct of a soul
shrinking from annihilation. To avoid it,--wretched man!--or rather
to defer it, if but for a month, a day, or only to procure himself
the life of a few breaths more amid the false glitter which was now
less his own than ever,--he made himself guilty of a crime. It was
just the sort of crime, growing out of its artificial state, which
society (unless it should change its entire constitution for this
man's unworthy sake) neither could nor ought to pardon. More safely
might it pardon murder. Fauntleroy's guilt was discovered. He fled;
his wife perished, by the necessity of her innate nobleness, in its
alliance with a being so ignoble; and betwixt her mother's death and
her father's ignominy, his daughter was left worse than orphaned.
There was no pursuit after Fauntleroy. His family connections, who
had great wealth, made such arrangements with those whom he had
attempted to wrong as secured him from the retribution that would
have overtaken an unfriended criminal. The wreck of his estate was
divided among his creditors: His name, in a very brief space, was
forgotten by the multitude who had passed it so diligently from mouth
to mouth. Seldom, indeed, was it recalled, even by his closest
former intimates. Nor could it have been otherwise. The man had
laid no real touch on any mortal's heart. Being a mere image, an
optical delusion, created by the sunshine of prosperity, it was his
law to vanish into the shadow of the first intervening cloud. He
seemed to leave no vacancy; a phenomenon which, like many others that
attended his brief career, went far to prove the illusiveness of his
Not, however, that the physical substance of Fauntleroy had literally
melted into vapor. He had fled northward to the New England
metropolis, and had taken up his abode, under another name, in a
squalid street or court of the older portion of the city. There he
dwelt among poverty-stricken wretches, sinners, and forlorn good
people, Irish, and whomsoever else were neediest. Many families were
clustered in each house together, above stairs and below, in the
little peaked garrets, and even in the dusky cellars. The house
where Fauntleroy paid weekly rent for a chamber and a closet had been
a stately habitation in its day. An old colonial governor had built
it, and lived there, long ago, and held his levees in a great room
where now slept twenty Irish bedfellows; and died in Fauntleroy's
chamber, which his embroidered and white-wigged ghost still haunted.
Tattered hangings, a marble hearth, traversed with many cracks and
fissures, a richly carved oaken mantelpiece, partly hacked away for
kindling-stuff, a stuccoed ceiling, defaced with great, unsightly
patches of the naked laths,--such was the chamber's aspect, as if,
with its splinters and rags of dirty splendor, it were a kind of
practical gibe at this poor, ruined man of show.
At first, and at irregular intervals, his relatives allowed
Fauntleroy a little pittance to sustain life; not from any love,
perhaps, but lest poverty should compel him, by new offences, to add
more shame to that with which he had already stained them. But he
showed no tendency to further guilt. His character appeared to have
been radically changed (as, indeed, from its shallowness, it well
might) by his miserable fate; or, it may be, the traits now seen in
him were portions of the same character, presenting itself in another
phase. Instead of any longer seeking to live in the sight of the
world, his impulse was to shrink into the nearest obscurity, and to
be unseen of men, were it possible, even while standing before their
eyes. He had no pride; it was all trodden in the dust. No
ostentation; for how could it survive, when there was nothing left of
Fauntleroy, save penury and shame! His very gait demonstrated that
he would gladly have faded out of view, and have crept about
invisibly, for the sake of sheltering himself from the irksomeness of
a human glance. Hardly, it was averred, within the memory of those
who knew him now, had he the hardihood to show his full front to the
world. He skulked in corners, and crept about in a sort of noonday
twilight, making himself gray and misty, at all hours, with his
morbid intolerance of sunshine.
In his torpid despair, however, he had done an act which that
condition of the spirit seems to prompt almost as often as prosperity
and hope. Fauntleroy was again married. He had taken to wife a
forlorn, meek-spirited, feeble young woman, a seamstress, whom he
found dwelling with her mother in a contiguous chamber of the old
gubernatorial residence. This poor phantom--as the beautiful and
noble companion of his former life had done brought him a daughter.
And sometimes, as from one dream into another, Fauntleroy looked
forth out of his present grimy environment into that past
magnificence, and wondered whether the grandee of yesterday or the
pauper of to-day were real. But, in my mind, the one and the other
were alike impalpable. In truth, it was Fauntleroy's fatality to
behold whatever he touched dissolve. After a few years, his second
wife (dim shadow that she had always been) faded finally out of the
world, and left Fauntleroy to deal as he might with their pale and
nervous child. And, by this time, among his distant relatives,--with
whom he had grown a weary thought, linked with contagious infamy, and
which they were only too willing to get rid of,--he was himself
supposed to be no more.
The younger child, like his elder one, might be considered as the
true offspring of both parents, and as the reflection of their state.
She was a tremulous little creature, shrinking involuntarily from
all mankind, but in timidity, and no sour repugnance. There was a
lack of human substance in her; it seemed as if, were she to stand up
in a sunbeam, it would pass right through her figure, and trace out
the cracked and dusty window-panes upon the naked floor. But,
nevertheless, the poor child had a heart; and from her mother's
gentle character she had inherited a profound and still capacity of
affection. And so her life was one of love. She bestowed it partly
on her father, but in greater part on an idea.
For Fauntleroy, as they sat by their cheerless fireside,--which was
no fireside, in truth, but only a rusty stove,--had often talked to
the little girl about his former wealth, the noble loveliness of his
first wife, and the beautiful child whom she had given him. Instead
of the fairy tales which other parents tell, he told Priscilla this.
And, out of the loneliness of her sad little existence, Priscilla's
love grew, and tended upward, and twined itself perseveringly around
this unseen sister; as a grapevine might strive to clamber out of a
gloomy hollow among the rocks, and embrace a young tree standing in
the sunny warmth above. It was almost like worship, both in its
earnestness and its humility; nor was it the less humble--though the
more earnest--because Priscilla could claim human kindred with the
being whom she, so devoutly loved. As with worship, too, it gave her
soul the refreshment of a purer atmosphere. Save for this singular,
this melancholy, and yet beautiful affection, the child could hardly
have lived; or, had she lived, with a heart shrunken for lack of any
sentiment to fill it, she must have yielded to the barren miseries of
her position, and have grown to womanhood characterless and worthless.
But now, amid all the sombre coarseness of her father's outward
life, and of her own, Priscilla had a higher and imaginative life
within. Some faint gleam thereof was often visible upon her face.
It was as if, in her spiritual visits to her brilliant sister, a
portion of the latter's brightness had permeated our dim Priscilla,
and still lingered, shedding a faint illumination through the
cheerless chamber, after she came back.
As the child grew up, so pallid and so slender, and with much
unaccountable nervousness, and all the weaknesses of neglected
infancy still haunting her, the gross and simple neighbors whispered
strange things about Priscilla. The big, red, Irish matrons, whose
innumerable progeny swarmed out of the adjacent doors, used to mock
at the pale Western child. They fancied--or, at least, affirmed it,
between jest and earnest--that she was not so solid flesh and blood
as other children, but mixed largely with a thinner element. They
called her ghost-child, and said that she could indeed vanish when
she pleased, but could never, in her densest moments, make herself
quite visible. The sun at midday would shine through her; in the
first gray of the twilight, she lost all the distinctness of her
outline; and, if you followed the dim thing into a dark corner,
behold! she was not there. And it was true that Priscilla had
strange ways; strange ways, and stranger words, when she uttered any
words at all. Never stirring out of the old governor's dusky house,
she sometimes talked of distant places and splendid rooms, as if she
had just left them. Hidden things were visible to her (at least so
the people inferred from obscure hints escaping unawares out of her
mouth), and silence was audible. And in all the world there was
nothing so difficult to be endured, by those who had any dark secret
to conceal, as the glance of Priscilla's timid and melancholy eyes.
Her peculiarities were the theme of continual gossip among the other
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