The Blithedale Romance
Part 4 out of 4
inhabitants of the gubernatorial mansion. The rumor spread thence
into a wider circle. Those who knew old Moodie, as he was now called,
used often to jeer him, at the very street-corners, about his
daughter's gift of second-sight and prophecy. It was a period when
science (though mostly through its empirical professors) was bringing
forward, anew, a hoard of facts and imperfect theories, that had
partially won credence in elder times, but which modern scepticism
had swept away as rubbish. These things were now tossed up again,
out of the surging ocean of human thought and experience. The story
of Priscilla's preternatural manifestations, therefore, attracted a
kind of notice of which it would have been deemed wholly unworthy a
few years earlier. One day a gentleman ascended the creaking
staircase, and inquired which was old Moodie's chamber door. And,
several times, he came again. He was a marvellously handsome man,--
still youthful, too, and fashionably dressed. Except that
Priscilla, in those days, had no beauty, and, in the languor of her
existence, had not yet blossomed into womanhood, there would have
been rich food for scandal in these visits; for the girl was
unquestionably their sole object, although her father was supposed
always to be present. But, it must likewise be added, there was
something about Priscilla that calumny could not meddle with; and
thus far was she privileged, either by the preponderance of what was
spiritual, or the thin and watery blood that left her cheek so pallid.
Yet, if the busy tongues of the neighborhood spared Priscilla in one
way, they made themselves amends by renewed and wilder babble on
another score. They averred that the strange gentleman was a wizard,
and that he had taken advantage of Priscilla's lack of earthly
substance to subject her to himself, as his familiar spirit, through
whose medium he gained cognizance of whatever happened, in regions
near or remote. The boundaries of his power were defined by the
verge of the pit of Tartarus on the one hand, and the third sphere of
the celestial world on the other. Again, they declared their
suspicion that the wizard, with all his show of manly beauty, was
really an aged and wizened figure, or else that his semblance of a
human body was only a necromantic, or perhaps a mechanical
contrivance, in which a demon walked about. In proof of it, however,
they could merely instance a gold band around his upper teeth, which
had once been visible to several old women, when he smiled at them
from the top of the governor's staircase. Of course this was all
absurdity, or mostly so. But, after every possible deduction, there
remained certain very mysterious points about the stranger's
character, as well as the connection that he established with
Priscilla. Its nature at that period was even less understood than
now, when miracles of this kind have grown so absolutely stale, that
I would gladly, if the truth allowed, dismiss the whole matter from
We must now glance backward, in quest of the beautiful daughter of
Fauntleroy's prosperity. What had become of her? Fauntleroy's only
brother, a bachelor, and with no other relative so near, had adopted
the forsaken child. She grew up in affluence, with native graces
clustering luxuriantly about her. In her triumphant progress towards
womanhood, she was adorned with every variety of feminine
accomplishment. But she lacked a mother's care. With no adequate
control, on any hand (for a man, however stern, however wise, can
never sway and guide a female child), her character was left to shape
itself. There was good in it, and evil. Passionate, self-willed,
and imperious, she had a warm and generous nature; showing the
richness of the soil, however, chiefly by the weeds that flourished
in it, and choked up the herbs of grace. In her girlhood her uncle
died. As Fauntleroy was supposed to be likewise dead, and no other
heir was known to exist, his wealth devolved on her, although, dying
suddenly, the uncle left no will. After his death there were obscure
passages in Zenobia's history. There were whispers of an attachment,
and even a secret marriage, with a fascinating and accomplished but
unprincipled young man. The incidents and appearances, however,
which led to this surmise soon passed away, and were forgotten.
Nor was her reputation seriously affected by the report. In fact, so
great was her native power and influence, and such seemed the
careless purity of her nature, that whatever Zenobia did was
generally acknowledged as right for her to do. The world never
criticised her so harshly as it does most women who transcend its
rules. It almost yielded its assent, when it beheld her stepping out
of the common path, and asserting the more extensive privileges of
her sex, both theoretically and by her practice. The sphere of
ordinary womanhood was felt to be narrower than her development
A portion of Zenobia's more recent life is told in the foregoing
pages. Partly in earnest,--and, I imagine, as was her disposition,
half in a proud jest, or in a kind of recklessness that had grown
upon her, out of some hidden grief,--she had given her countenance,
and promised liberal pecuniary aid, to our experiment of a better
social state. And Priscilla followed her to Blithedale. The sole
bliss of her life had been a dream of this beautiful sister, who had
never so much as known of her existence. By this time, too, the poor
girl was enthralled in an intolerable bondage, from which she must
either free herself or perish. She deemed herself safest near
Zenobia, into whose large heart she hoped to nestle.
One evening, months after Priscilla's departure, when Moodie (or
shall we call him Fauntleroy?) was sitting alone in the state-chamber
of the old governor, there came footsteps up the staircase. There
was a pause on the landing-place. A lady's musical yet haughty
accents were heard making an inquiry from some denizen of the house,
who had thrust a head out of a contiguous chamber. There was then a
knock at Moodie's door. "Come in!" said he.
And Zenobia entered. The details of the interview that followed
being unknown to me,--while, notwithstanding, it would be a pity
quite to lose the picturesqueness of the situation,--I shall attempt
to sketch it, mainly from fancy, although with some general grounds
of surmise in regard to the old man's feelings.
She gazed wonderingly at the dismal chamber. Dismal to her, who
beheld it only for an instant; and how much more so to him, into
whose brain each bare spot on the ceiling, every tatter of the
paper-hangings, and all the splintered carvings of the mantelpiece,
seen wearily through long years, had worn their several prints!
Inexpressibly miserable is this familiarity with objects that have
been from the first disgustful.
"I have received a strange message," said Zenobia, after a moment's
silence, "requesting, or rather enjoining it upon me, to come hither.
Rather from curiosity than any other motive,--and because, though a
woman, I have not all the timidity of one,--I have complied. Can it
be you, sir, who thus summoned me?"
"It was," answered Moodie.
"And what was your purpose?" she continued. "You require charity,
perhaps? In that case, the message might have been more fitly worded.
But you are old and poor, and age and poverty should be allowed
their privileges. Tell me, therefore, to what extent you need my aid."
"Put up your purse," said the supposed mendicant, with an
inexplicable smile. "Keep it,--keep all your wealth,--until I demand
it all, or none! My message had no such end in view. You are
beautiful, they tell me; and I desired to look at you."
He took the one lamp that showed the discomfort and sordidness of his
abode, and approaching Zenobia held it up, so as to gain the more
perfect view of her, from top to toe. So obscure was the chamber,
that you could see the reflection of her diamonds thrown upon the
dingy wall, and flickering with the rise and fall of Zenobia's breath.
It was the splendor of those jewels on her neck, like lamps that
burn before some fair temple, and the jewelled flower in her hair,
more than the murky, yellow light, that helped him to see her beauty.
But he beheld it, and grew proud at heart; his own figure, in spite
of his mean habiliments, assumed an air of state and grandeur.
"It is well," cried old Moodie. "Keep your wealth. You are right
worthy of it. Keep it, therefore, but with one condition only."
Zenobia thought the old man beside himself, and was moved with pity.
"Have you none to care for you?" asked she. "No daughter?--no
kind-hearted neighbor?--no means of procuring the attendance which
you need? Tell me once again, can I do nothing for you?"
"Nothing," he replied. "I have beheld what I wished. Now leave me.
Linger not a moment longer, or I may be tempted to say what would
bring a cloud over that queenly brow. Keep all your wealth, but with
only this one condition: Be kind--be no less kind than sisters
are--to my poor Priscilla!"
And, it may be, after Zenobia withdrew, Fauntleroy paced his gloomy
chamber, and communed with himself as follows,--or, at all events, it
is the only solution which I can offer of the enigma presented in his
character:--"I am unchanged,--the same man as of yore!" said he.
"True, my brother's wealth--he dying intestate--is legally my own. I
know it; yet of my own choice, I live a beggar, and go meanly clad,
and hide myself behind a forgotten ignominy. Looks this like
ostentation? Ah! but in Zenobia I live again! Beholding her, so
beautiful,--so fit to be adorned with all imaginable splendor of
outward state,--the cursed vanity, which, half a lifetime since,
dropt off like tatters of once gaudy apparel from my debased and
ruined person, is all renewed for her sake. Were I to reappear, my
shame would go with me from darkness into daylight. Zenobia has the
splendor, and not the shame. Let the world admire her, and be
dazzled by her, the brilliant child of my prosperity! It is
Fauntleroy that still shines through her!" But then, perhaps,
another thought occurred to him.
"My poor Priscilla! And am I just to her, in surrendering all to
this beautiful Zenobia? Priscilla! I love her best,--I love her
only!--but with shame, not pride. So dim, so pallid, so shrinking,--
the daughter of my long calamity! Wealth were but a mockery in
Priscilla's hands. What is its use, except to fling a golden
radiance around those who grasp it? Yet let Zenobia take heed!
Priscilla shall have no wrong!" But, while the man of show thus
meditated,--that very evening, so far as I can adjust the dates of
these strange incidents,--Priscilla poor, pallid flower!--was either
snatched from Zenobia's hand, or flung wilfully away!
XXIII. A VILLAGE HALL
Well, I betook myself away, and wandered up and down, like an
exorcised spirit that had been driven from its old haunts after a
mighty struggle. It takes down the solitary pride of man, beyond
most other things, to find the impracticability of flinging aside
affections that have grown irksome. The bands that were silken once
are apt to become iron fetters when we desire to shake them off. Our
souls, after all, are not our own. We convey a property in them to
those with whom we associate; but to what extent can never be known,
until we feel the tug, the agony, of our abortive effort to resume an
exclusive sway over ourselves. Thus, in all the weeks of my absence,
my thoughts continually reverted back, brooding over the bygone
months, and bringing up incidents that seemed hardly to have left a
trace of themselves in their passage. I spent painful hours in
recalling these trifles, and rendering them more misty and
unsubstantial than at first by the quantity of speculative musing
thus kneaded in with them. Hollingsworth, Zenobia, Priscilla! These
three had absorbed my life into themselves. Together with an
inexpressible longing to know their fortunes, there was likewise a
morbid resentment of my own pain, and a stubborn reluctance to come
again within their sphere.
All that I learned of them, therefore, was comprised in a few brief
and pungent squibs, such as the newspapers were then in the habit of
bestowing on our socialist enterprise. There was one paragraph,
which if I rightly guessed its purport bore reference to Zenobia, but
was too darkly hinted to convey even thus much of certainty.
Hollingsworth, too, with his philanthropic project, afforded the
penny-a-liners a theme for some savage and bloody minded jokes; and,
considerably to my surprise, they affected me with as much
indignation as if we had still been friends.
Thus passed several weeks; time long enough for my brown and
toil-hardened hands to reaccustom themselves to gloves. Old habits,
such as were merely external, returned upon me with wonderful
promptitude. My superficial talk, too, assumed altogether a worldly
tone. Meeting former acquaintances, who showed themselves inclined
to ridicule my heroic devotion to the cause of human welfare, I spoke
of the recent phase of my life as indeed fair matter for a jest. But,
I also gave them to understand that it was, at most, only an
experiment, on which I had staked no valuable amount of hope or fear.
It had enabled me to pass the summer in a novel and agreeable way,
had afforded me some grotesque specimens of artificial simplicity,
and could not, therefore, so far as I was concerned, be reckoned a
failure. In no one instance, however, did I voluntarily speak of my
three friends. They dwelt in a profounder region. The more I
consider myself as I then was, the more do I recognize how deeply my
connection with those three had affected all my being.
As it was already the epoch of annihilated space, I might in the time
I was away from Blithedale have snatched a glimpse at England, and
been back again. But my wanderings were confined within a very
limited sphere. I hopped and fluttered, like a bird with a string
about its leg, gyrating round a small circumference, and keeping up a
restless activity to no purpose. Thus it was still in our familiar
Massachusetts--in one of its white country villages--that I must next
particularize an incident.
The scene was one of those lyceum halls, of which almost every
village has now its own, dedicated to that sober and pallid, or
rather drab-colored, mode of winter-evening entertainment, the
lecture. Of late years this has come strangely into vogue, when the
natural tendency of things would seem to be to substitute lettered
for oral methods of addressing the public. But, in halls like this,
besides the winter course of lectures, there is a rich and varied
series of other exhibitions. Hither comes the ventriloquist, with
all his mysterious tongues; the thaumaturgist, too, with his
miraculous transformations of plates, doves, and rings, his pancakes
smoking in your hat, and his cellar of choice liquors represented in
one small bottle. Here, also, the itinerant professor instructs
separate classes of ladies and gentlemen in physiology, and
demonstrates his lessons by the aid of real skeletons, and manikins
in wax, from Paris. Here is to be heard the choir of Ethiopian
melodists, and to be seen the diorama of Moscow or Bunker Hill, or
the moving panorama of the Chinese wall. Here is displayed the
museum of wax figures, illustrating the wide catholicism of earthly
renown, by mixing up heroes and statesmen, the pope and the Mormon
prophet, kings, queens, murderers, and beautiful ladies; every sort
of person, in short, except authors, of whom I never beheld even the
most famous done in wax. And here, in this many-purposed hall
(unless the selectmen of the village chance to have more than their
share of the Puritanism, which, however diversified with later
patchwork, still gives its prevailing tint to New England character),--
here the company of strolling players sets up its little stage, and
claims patronage for the legitimate drama.
But, on the autumnal evening which I speak of, a number of printed
handbills--stuck up in the bar-room, and on the sign-post of the
hotel, and on the meeting-house porch, and distributed largely
through the village--had promised the inhabitants an interview with
that celebrated and hitherto inexplicable phenomenon, the Veiled Lady!
The hall was fitted up with an amphitheatrical descent of seats
towards a platform, on which stood a desk, two lights, a stool, and a
capacious antique chair. The audience was of a generally decent and
respectable character: old farmers, in their Sunday black coats, with
shrewd, hard, sun-dried faces, and a cynical humor, oftener than any
other expression, in their eyes; pretty girls, in many-colored attire;
pretty young men,--the schoolmaster, the lawyer, or student at law,
the shop-keeper,--all looking rather suburban than rural. In these
days, there is absolutely no rusticity, except when the actual labor
of the soil leaves its earth-mould on the person. There was likewise
a considerable proportion of young and middle-aged women, many of
them stern in feature, with marked foreheads, and a very definite
line of eyebrow; a type of womanhood in which a bold intellectual
development seems to be keeping pace with the progressive delicacy of
the physical constitution. Of all these people I took note, at first,
according to my custom. But I ceased to do so the moment that my
eyes fell on an individual who sat two or three seats below me,
immovable, apparently deep in thought, with his back, of course,
towards me, and his face turned steadfastly upon the platform.
After sitting awhile in contemplation of this person's familiar
contour, I was irresistibly moved to step over the intervening
benches, lay my hand on his shoulder, put my mouth close to his ear,
and address him in a sepulchral, melodramatic whisper: "Hollingsworth!
where have you left Zenobia?"
His nerves, however, were proof against my attack. He turned half
around, and looked me in the face with great sad eyes, in which there
was neither kindness nor resentment, nor any perceptible surprise.
"Zenobia, when I last saw her," he answered, "was at Blithedale."
He said no more. But there was a great deal of talk going on near me,
among a knot of people who might be considered as representing the
mysticism, or rather the mystic sensuality, of this singular age.
The nature of the exhibition that was about to take place had
probably given the turn to their conversation.
I heard, from a pale man in blue spectacles, some stranger stories
than ever were written in a romance; told, too, with a simple,
unimaginative steadfastness, which was terribly efficacious in
compelling the auditor to receive them into the category of
established facts. He cited instances of the miraculous power of one
human being over the will and passions of another; insomuch that
settled grief was but a shadow beneath the influence of a man
possessing this potency, and the strong love of years melted away
like a vapor. At the bidding of one of these wizards, the maiden,
with her lover's kiss still burning on her lips, would turn from him
with icy indifference; the newly made widow would dig up her buried
heart out of her young husband's grave before the sods had taken root
upon it; a mother with her babe's milk in her bosom would thrust away
her child. Human character was but soft wax in his hands; and guilt,
or virtue, only the forms into which he should see fit to mould it.
The religious sentiment was a flame which he could blow up with his
breath, or a spark that he could utterly extinguish. It is
unutterable, the horror and disgust with which I listened, and saw
that, if these things were to be believed, the individual soul was
virtually annihilated, and all that is sweet and pure in our present
life debased, and that the idea of man's eternal responsibility was
made ridiculous, and immortality rendered at once impossible, and not
worth acceptance. But I would have perished on the spot sooner than
The epoch of rapping spirits, and all the wonders that have followed
in their train,--such as tables upset by invisible agencies, bells
self-tolled at funerals, and ghostly music performed on jew's-harps,--
had not yet arrived. Alas, my countrymen, methinks we have fallen
on an evil age! If these phenomena have not humbug at the bottom, so
much the worse for us. What can they indicate, in a spiritual way,
except that the soul of man is descending to a lower point than it
has ever before reached while incarnate? We are pursuing a downward
course in the eternal march, and thus bring ourselves into the same
range with beings whom death, in requital of their gross and evil
lives, has degraded below humanity! To hold intercourse with spirits
of this order, we must stoop and grovel in some element more vile
than earthly dust. These goblins, if they exist at all, are but the
shadows of past mortality, outcasts, mere refuse stuff, adjudged
unworthy of the eternal world, and, on the most favorable supposition,
dwindling gradually into nothingness. The less we have to say to
them the better, lest we share their fate!
The audience now began to be impatient; they signified their desire
for the entertainment to commence by thump of sticks and stamp of
boot-heels. Nor was it a great while longer before, in response to
their call, there appeared a bearded personage in Oriental robes,
looking like one of the enchanters of the Arabian Nights. He came
upon the platform from a side door, saluted the spectators, not with
a salaam, but a bow, took his station at the desk, and first blowing
his nose with a white handkerchief, prepared to speak. The
environment of the homely village hall, and the absence of many
ingenious contrivances of stage effect with which the exhibition had
heretofore been set off, seemed to bring the artifice of this
character more openly upon the surface. No sooner did I behold the
bearded enchanter, than, laying my hand again on Hollingsworth's
shoulder, I whispered in his ear, "Do you know him?"
"I never saw the man before," he muttered, without turning his head.
But I had seen him three times already.
Once, on occasion of my first visit to the Veiled Lady; a second time,
in the wood-path at Blithedale; and lastly, in Zenobia's
drawing-room. It was Westervelt. A quick association of ideas made
me shudder from head to foot; and again, like an evil spirit,
bringing up reminiscences of a man's sins, I whispered a question in
Hollingsworth's ear,--"What have you done with Priscilla?"
He gave a convulsive start, as if I had thrust a knife into him,
writhed himself round on his seat, glared fiercely into my eyes, but
answered not a word.
The Professor began his discourse, explanatory of the psychological
phenomena, as he termed them, which it was his purpose to exhibit to
the spectators. There remains no very distinct impression of it on
my memory. It was eloquent, ingenious, plausible, with a delusive
show of spirituality, yet really imbued throughout with a cold and
dead materialism. I shivered, as at a current of chill air issuing
out of a sepulchral vault, and bringing the smell of corruption along
with it. He spoke of a new era that was dawning upon the world; an
era that would link soul to soul, and the present life to what we
call futurity, with a closeness that should finally convert both
worlds into one great, mutually conscious brotherhood. He described
(in a strange, philosophical guise, with terms of art, as if it were
a matter of chemical discovery) the agency by which this mighty
result was to be effected; nor would it have surprised me, had he
pretended to hold up a portion of his universally pervasive fluid, as
he affirmed it to be, in a glass phial.
At the close of his exordium, the Professor beckoned with his hand,--
once, twice, thrice,--and a figure came gliding upon the platform,
enveloped in a long veil of silvery whiteness. It fell about her
like the texture of a summer cloud, with a kind of vagueness, so that
the outline of the form beneath it could not be accurately discerned.
But the movement of the Veiled Lady was graceful, free, and
unembarrassed, like that of a person accustomed to be the spectacle
of thousands; or, possibly, a blindfold prisoner within the sphere
with which this dark earthly magician had surrounded her, she was
wholly unconscious of being the central object to all those straining
Pliant to his gesture (which had even an obsequious courtesy, but at
the same time a remarkable decisiveness), the figure placed itself in
the great chair. Sitting there, in such visible obscurity, it was,
perhaps, as much like the actual presence of a disembodied spirit as
anything that stage trickery could devise. The hushed breathing of
the spectators proved how high-wrought were their anticipations of
the wonders to be performed through the medium of this
incomprehensible creature. I, too, was in breathless suspense, but
with a far different presentiment of some strange event at hand.
"You see before you the Veiled Lady, said the bearded Professor,
advancing to the verge of the platform. "By the agency of which I
have just spoken, she is at this moment in communion with the
spiritual world. That silvery veil is, in one sense, an enchantment,
having been dipped, as it were, and essentially imbued, through the
potency of my art, with the fluid medium of spirits. Slight and
ethereal as it seems, the limitations of time and space have no
existence within its folds. This hall--these hundreds of faces,
encompassing her within so narrow an amphitheatre--are of thinner
substance, in her view, than the airiest vapor that the clouds are
made of. She beholds the Absolute!"
As preliminary to other and far more wonderful psychological
experiments, the exhibitor suggested that some of his auditors should
endeavor to make the Veiled Lady sensible of their presence by such
methods--provided only no touch were laid upon her person--as they
might deem best adapted to that end. Accordingly, several
deep-lunged country fellows, who looked as if they might have blown
the apparition away with a breath, ascended the platform. Mutually
encouraging one another, they shouted so close to her ear that the
veil stirred like a wreath of vanishing mist; they smote upon the
floor with bludgeons; they perpetrated so hideous a clamor, that
methought it might have reached, at least, a little way into the
eternal sphere. Finally, with the assent of the Professor, they laid
hold of the great chair, and were startled, apparently, to find it
soar upward, as if lighter than the air through which it rose. But
the Veiled Lady remained
seated and motionless, with a composure that was hardly less than
awful, because implying so immeasurable a distance betwixt her and
these rude persecutors.
"These efforts are wholly without avail," observed the Professor, who
had been looking on with an aspect of serene indifference. "The roar
of a battery of cannon would be inaudible to the Veiled Lady. And
yet, were I to will it, sitting in this very hall, she could hear the
desert wind sweeping over the sands as far off as Arabia; the
icebergs grinding one against the other in the polar seas; the rustle
of a leaf in an East Indian forest; the lowest whispered breath of
the bashfullest maiden in the world, uttering the first confession of
her love. Nor does there exist the moral inducement, apart from my
own behest, that could persuade her to lift the silvery veil, or
arise out of that chair."
Greatly to the Professor's discomposure, however, just as he spoke
these words, the Veiled Lady arose. There was a mysterious tremor
that shook the magic veil. The spectators, it may be, imagined that
she was about to take flight into that invisible sphere, and to the
society of those purely spiritual beings with whom they reckoned her
so near akin. Hollingsworth, a moment ago, had mounted the platform,
and now stood gazing at the figure, with a sad intentness that
brought the whole power of his great, stern, yet tender soul into his
"Come," said he, waving his hand towards her. "You are safe!"
She threw off the veil, and stood before that multitude of people
pale, tremulous, shrinking, as if only then had she discovered that a
thousand eyes were gazing at her. Poor maiden! How strangely had
she been betrayed! Blazoned abroad as a wonder of the world, and
performing what were adjudged as miracles,--in the faith of many, a
seeress and a prophetess; in the harsher judgment of others, a
mountebank,--she had kept, as I religiously believe, her virgin
reserve and sanctity of soul throughout it all. Within that
encircling veil, though an evil hand had flung it over her, there was
as deep a seclusion as if this forsaken girl had, all the while, been
sitting under the shadow of Eliot's pulpit, in the Blithedale woods,
at the feet of him who now summoned her to the shelter of his arms.
And the true heart-throb of a woman's affection was too powerful for
the jugglery that had hitherto environed her. She uttered a shriek,
and fled to Hollingsworth, like one escaping from her deadliest enemy,
and was safe forever.
XXIV. THE MASQUERADERS
Two nights had passed since the foregoing occurrences, when, in a
breezy September forenoon, I set forth from town, on foot, towards
Blithedale. It was the most delightful of all days for a walk, with
a dash of invigorating ice-temper in the air, but a coolness that
soon gave place to the brisk glow of exercise, while the vigor
remained as elastic as before. The atmosphere had a spirit and
sparkle in it. Each breath was like a sip of ethereal wine, tempered,
as I said, with a crystal lump of ice. I had started on this
expedition in an exceedingly sombre mood, as well befitted one who
found himself tending towards home, but was conscious that nobody
would be quite overjoyed to greet him there. My feet were hardly off
the pavement, however, when this morbid sensation began to yield to
the lively influences of air and motion. Nor had I gone far, with
fields yet green on either side, before my step became as swift and
light as if Hollingsworth were waiting to exchange a friendly
hand-grip, and Zenobia's and Priscilla's open arms would welcome the
wanderer's reappearance. It has happened to me on other occasions,
as well as this, to prove how a state of physical well-being can
create a kind of joy, in spite of the profoundest anxiety of mind.
The pathway of that walk still runs along, with sunny freshness,
through my memory. I know not why it should be so. But my mental
eye can even now discern the September grass, bordering the pleasant
roadside with a brighter verdure than while the summer heats were
scorching it; the trees, too, mostly green, although here and there a
branch or shrub has donned its vesture of crimson and gold a week or
two before its fellows. I see the tufted barberry-bushes, with their
small clusters of scarlet fruit; the toadstools, likewise,--some
spotlessly white, others yellow or red,--mysterious growths,
springing suddenly from no root or seed, and growing nobody can tell
how or wherefore. In this respect they resembled many of the
emotions in my breast. And I still see the little rivulets, chill,
clear, and bright, that murmured beneath the road, through
subterranean rocks, and deepened into mossy pools, where tiny fish
were darting to and fro, and within which lurked the hermit frog.
But no,--I never can account for it, that, with a yearning interest
to learn the upshot of all my story, and returning to Blithedale for
that sole purpose, I should examine these things so like a
peaceful-bosomed naturalist. Nor why, amid all my sympathies and
fears, there shot, at times, a wild exhilaration through my frame.
Thus I pursued my way along the line of the ancient stone wall that
Paul Dudley built, and through white villages, and past orchards of
ruddy apples, and fields of ripening maize, and patches of woodland,
and all such sweet rural scenery as looks the fairest, a little
beyond the suburbs of a town. Hollingsworth, Zenobia, Priscilla!
They glided mistily before me, as I walked. Sometimes, in my
solitude, I laughed with the bitterness of self-scorn, remembering
how unreservedly I had given up my heart and soul to interests that
were not mine. What had I ever had to do with them? And why, being
now free, should I take this thraldom on me once again? It was both
sad and dangerous, I whispered to myself, to be in too close affinity
with the passions, the errors, and the misfortunes of individuals who
stood within a circle of their own, into which, if I stept at all, it
must be as an intruder, and at a peril that I could not estimate.
Drawing nearer to Blithedale, a sickness of the spirits kept
alternating with my flights of causeless buoyancy. I indulged in a
hundred odd and extravagant conjectures. Either there was no such
place as Blithedale, nor ever had been, nor any brotherhood of
thoughtful laborers, like what I seemed to recollect there, or else
it was all changed during my absence. It had been nothing but dream
work and enchantment. I should seek in vain for the old farmhouse,
and for the greensward, the potato-fields, the root-crops, and acres
of Indian corn, and for all that configuration of the land which I
had imagined. It would be another spot, and an utter strangeness.
These vagaries were of the spectral throng so apt to steal out of an
unquiet heart. They partly ceased to haunt me, on my arriving at a
point whence, through the trees, I began to catch glimpses of the
Blithedale farm. That surely was something real. There was hardly a
square foot of all those acres on which I had not trodden heavily, in
one or another kind of toil. The curse of Adam's posterity--and,
curse or blessing be it, it gives substance to the life around
us--had first come upon me there. In the sweat of my brow I had
there earned bread and eaten it, and so established my claim to be on
earth, and my fellowship with all the sons of labor. I could have
knelt down, and have laid my breast against that soil. The red clay
of which my frame was moulded seemed nearer akin to those crumbling
furrows than to any other portion of the world's dust. There was my
home, and there might be my grave.
I felt an invincible reluctance, nevertheless, at the idea of
presenting myself before my old associates, without first
ascertaining the state in which they were. A nameless foreboding
weighed upon me. Perhaps, should I know all the circumstances that
had occurred, I might find it my wisest course to turn back,
unrecognized, unseen, and never look at Blithedale more. Had it been
evening, I would have stolen softly to some lighted window of the old
farmhouse, and peeped darkling in, to see all their well-known faces
round the supper-board. Then, were there a vacant seat, I might
noiselessly unclose the door, glide in, and take my place among them,
without a word. My entrance might be so quiet, my aspect so familiar,
that they would forget how long I had been away, and suffer me to
melt into the scene, as a wreath of vapor melts into a larger cloud.
I dreaded a boisterous greeting. Beholding me at table, Zenobia, as
a matter of course, would send me a cup of tea, and Hollingsworth
fill my plate from the great dish of pandowdy, and Priscilla, in her
quiet way, would hand the cream, and others help me to the bread and
butter. Being one of them again, the knowledge of what had happened
would come to me without a shock. For still, at every turn of my
shifting fantasies, the thought stared me in the face that some evil
thing had befallen us, or was ready to befall.
Yielding to this ominous impression, I now turned aside into the
woods, resolving to spy out the posture of the Community as craftily
as the wild Indian before he makes his onset. I would go wandering
about the outskirts of the farm, and, perhaps, catching sight of a
solitary acquaintance, would approach him amid the brown shadows of
the trees (a kind of medium fit for spirits departed and revisitant,
like myself), and entreat him to tell me how all things were.
The first living creature that I met was a partridge, which sprung up
beneath my feet, and whirred away; the next was a squirrel, who
chattered angrily at me from an overhanging bough. I trod along by
the dark, sluggish river, and remember pausing on the bank, above one
of its blackest and most placid pools (the very spot, with the
barkless stump of a tree aslantwise over the water, is depicting
itself to my fancy at this instant), and wondering how deep it was,
and if any overladen soul had ever flung its weight of mortality in
thither, and if it thus escaped the burden, or only made it heavier.
And perhaps the skeleton of the drowned wretch still lay beneath the
inscrutable depth, clinging to some sunken log at the bottom with the
gripe of its old despair. So slight, however, was the track of these
gloomy ideas, that I soon forgot them in the contemplation of a brood
of wild ducks, which were floating on the river, and anon took flight,
leaving each a bright streak over the black surface. By and by, I
came to my hermitage, in the heart of the white-pine tree, and
clambering up into it, sat down to rest. The grapes, which I had
watched throughout the summer, now dangled around me in abundant
clusters of the deepest purple, deliciously sweet to the taste, and,
though wild, yet free from that ungentle flavor which distinguishes
nearly all our native and uncultivated grapes. Methought a wine
might be pressed out of them possessing a passionate zest, and
endowed with a new kind of intoxicating quality, attended with such
bacchanalian ecstasies as the tamer grapes of Madeira, France, and
the Rhine are inadequate to produce. And I longed to quaff a great
goblet of it that moment!
While devouring the grapes, I looked on all sides out of the
peep-holes of my hermitage, and saw the farmhouse, the fields, and
almost every part of our domain, but not a single human figure in the
landscape. Some of the windows of the house were open, but with no
more signs of life than in a dead man's unshut eyes. The barn-door
was ajar, and swinging in the
breeze. The big old dog,--he was a relic of the former dynasty of
the farm,--that hardly ever stirred out of the yard, was nowhere to
be seen. What, then, had become of all the fraternity and
sisterhood? Curious to ascertain this point, I let myself down out
of the tree, and going to the edge of the wood, was glad to perceive
our herd of cows chewing the cud or grazing not far off. I fancied,
by their manner, that two or three of them recognized me (as, indeed,
they ought, for I had milked them and been their chamberlain times
without number); but, after staring me in the face a little while,
they phlegmatically began grazing and chewing their cuds again. Then
I grew foolishly angry at so cold a reception, and flung some rotten
fragments of an old stump at these unsentimental cows.
Skirting farther round the pasture, I heard voices and much laughter
proceeding from the interior of the wood. Voices, male and feminine;
laughter, not only of fresh young throats, but the bass of grown
people, as if solemn organ-pipes should pour out airs of merriment.
Not a voice spoke, but I knew it better than my own; not a laugh, but
its cadences were familiar. The wood, in this portion of it, seemed
as full of jollity as if Comus and his crew were holding their revels
in one of its usually lonesome glades. Stealing onward as far as I
durst, without hazard of discovery, I saw a concourse of strange
figures beneath the overshadowing branches. They appeared, and
vanished, and came again, confusedly with the streaks of sunlight
glimmering down upon them.
Among them was an Indian chief, with blanket, feathers, and war-paint,
and uplifted tomahawk; and near him, looking fit to be his woodland
bride, the goddess Diana, with the crescent on her head, and attended
by our big lazy dog, in lack of any fleeter hound. Drawing an arrow
from her quiver, she let it fly at a venture, and hit the very tree
behind which I happened to be lurking. Another group consisted of a
Bavarian broom-girl, a negro of the Jim Crow order, one or two
foresters of the Middle Ages, a Kentucky woodsman in his trimmed
hunting-shirt and deerskin leggings, and a Shaker elder, quaint,
demure, broad-brimmed, and square-skirted. Shepherds of Arcadia, and
allegoric figures from the "Faerie Queen," were oddly mixed up with
these. Arm in arm, or otherwise huddled together in strange
discrepancy, stood grim Puritans, gay Cavaliers, and Revolutionary
officers with three-cornered cocked hats, and queues longer than
their swords. A bright-complexioned, dark-haired, vivacious little
gypsy, with a red shawl over her head, went from one group to another,
telling fortunes by palmistry; and Moll Pitcher, the renowned old
witch of Lynn, broomstick in hand, showed herself prominently in the
midst, as if announcing all these apparitions to be the offspring of
her necromantic art. But Silas Foster, who leaned against a tree
near by, in his customary blue frock and smoking a short pipe, did
more to disenchant the scene, with his look of shrewd, acrid, Yankee
observation, than twenty witches and necromancers could have done in
the way of rendering it weird and fantastic.
A little farther off, some old-fashioned skinkers and drawers, all
with portentously red noses, were spreading a banquet on the
leaf-strewn earth; while a horned and long-tailed gentleman (in whom
I recognized the fiendish musician erst seen by Tam O'Shanter) tuned
his fiddle, and summoned the whole motley rout to a dance, before
partaking of the festal cheer. So they joined hands in a circle,
whirling round so swiftly, so madly, and so merrily, in time and tune
with the Satanic music, that their separate incongruities were
blended all together, and they became a kind of entanglement that
went nigh to turn one's brain with merely looking at it. Anon they
stopt all of a sudden, and staring at one another's figures, set up a
roar of laughter; whereat a shower of the September leaves (which,
all day long, had been hesitating whether to fall or no) were shaken
off by the movement of the air, and came eddying down upon the
Then, for lack of breath, ensued a silence, at the deepest point of
which, tickled by the oddity of surprising my grave associates in
this masquerading trim, I could not possibly refrain from a burst of
laughter on my own separate account;
"Hush!" I heard the pretty gypsy fortuneteller say. "Who is that
"Some profane intruder!" said the goddess Diana. "I shall send an
arrow through his heart, or change him into a stag, as I did Actaeon,
if he peeps from behind the trees!"
"Me take his scalp!" cried the Indian chief, brandishing his tomahawk,
and cutting a great caper in the air.
"I'll root him in the earth with a spell that I have at my tongue's
end!" squeaked Moll Pitcher. "And the green moss shall grow all over
him, before he gets free again!"
"The voice was Miles Coverdale's," said the fiendish fiddler, with a
whisk of his tail and a toss of his horns. "My music has brought him
hither. He is always ready to dance to the Devil's tune!"
Thus put on the right track, they all recognized the voice at once,
and set up a simultaneous shout.
"Miles! Miles! Miles Coverdale, where are you?" they cried.
"Zenobia! Queen Zenobia! here is one of your vassals lurking in the
wood. Command him to approach and pay his duty!"
The whole fantastic rabble forthwith streamed off in pursuit of me,
so that I was like a mad poet hunted by chimeras. Having fairly the
start of them, however, I succeeded in making my escape, and soon
left their merriment and riot at a good distance in the rear. Its
fainter tones assumed a kind of mournfulness, and were finally lost
in the hush and solemnity of the wood. In my haste, I stumbled over
a heap of logs and sticks that had been cut for firewood, a great
while ago, by some former possessor of the soil, and piled up square,
in order to be carted or sledded away to the farmhouse. But, being
forgotten, they had lain there perhaps fifty years, and possibly much
longer; until, by the accumulation of moss, and the leaves falling
over them, and decaying there, from autumn to autumn, a green mound
was formed, in which the softened outline of the woodpile was still
perceptible. In the fitful mood that then swayed my mind, I found
something strangely affecting in this simple circumstance. I
imagined the long-dead woodman, and his long-dead wife and children,
coming out of their chill graves, and essaying to make a fire with
this heap of mossy fuel!
From this spot I strayed onward, quite lost in reverie, and neither
knew nor cared whither I was going, until a low, soft,
well-remembered voice spoke, at a little distance.
"There is Mr. Coverdale!"
"Miles Coverdale!" said another voice,--and its tones were very stern.
"Let him come forward, then!"
"Yes, Mr. Coverdale," cried a woman's voice,--clear and melodious,
but, just then, with something unnatural in its chord,--"you are
welcome! But you come half an hour too late, and have missed a scene
which you would have enjoyed!"
I looked up and found myself nigh Eliot's pulpit, at the base of
which sat Hollingsworth, with Priscilla at his feet and Zenobia
standing before them.
XXV. THE THREE TOGETHER
Hollingsworth was in his ordinary working-dress. Priscilla wore a
pretty and simple gown, with a kerchief about her neck, and a calash,
which she had flung back from her head, leaving it suspended by the
strings. But Zenobia (whose part among the maskers, as may be
supposed, was no inferior one) appeared in a costume of fanciful
magnificence, with her jewelled flower as the central ornament of
what resembled a leafy crown, or coronet. She represented the
Oriental princess by whose name we were accustomed to know her. Her
attitude was free and noble; yet, if a queen's, it was not that of a
queen triumphant, but dethroned, on trial for her life, or, perchance,
condemned already. The spirit of the conflict seemed, nevertheless,
to be alive in her. Her eyes were on fire; her cheeks had each a
crimson spot, so exceedingly vivid, and marked with so definite an
outline, that I at first doubted whether it were not artificial. In
a very brief space, however, this idea was shamed by the paleness
that ensued, as the blood sunk suddenly away. Zenobia now looked
One always feels the fact, in an instant, when he has intruded on
those who love, or those who hate, at some acme of their passion that
puts them into a sphere of their own, where no other spirit can
pretend to stand on equal ground with them. I was confused,--
affected even with a species of terror,--and wished myself away.
The intenseness of their feelings gave them the exclusive property of
the soil and atmosphere, and left me no right to be or breathe there.
"Hollingsworth,--Zenobia,--I have just returned to Blithedale," said
I, "and had no thought of finding you here. We shall meet again at
the house. I will retire."
"This place is free to you," answered Hollingsworth.
"As free as to ourselves," added Zenobia. "This long while past, you
have been following up your game, groping for human emotions in the
dark corners of the heart. Had you been here a little sooner, you
might have seen them dragged into the daylight. I could even wish to
have my trial over again, with you standing by to see fair play! Do
you know, Mr. Coverdale, I have been on trial for my life?"
She laughed, while speaking thus. But, in truth, as my eyes wandered
from one of the group to another, I saw in Hollingsworth all that an
artist could desire for the grim portrait of a Puritan magistrate
holding inquest of life and death in a case of witchcraft; in Zenobia,
the sorceress herself, not aged, wrinkled, and decrepit, but fair
enough to tempt Satan with a force reciprocal to his own; and, in
Priscilla, the pale victim, whose soul and body had been wasted by
her spells. Had a pile of fagots been heaped against the rock, this
hint of impending doom would have completed the suggestive picture.
"It was too hard upon me," continued Zenobia, addressing
Hollingsworth, "that judge, jury, and accuser should all be
comprehended in one man! I demur, as I think the lawyers say, to the
jurisdiction. But let the learned Judge Coverdale seat himself on
the top of the rock, and you and me stand at its base, side by side,
pleading our cause before him! There might, at least, be two
criminals instead of one."
"You forced this on me," replied Hollingsworth, looking her sternly
in the face. "Did I call you hither from among the masqueraders
yonder? Do I assume to be your judge? No; except so far as I have
an unquestionable right of judgment, in order to settle my own line
of behavior towards those with whom the events of life bring me in
contact. True, I have already judged you, but not on the world's
part,--neither do I pretend to pass a sentence!"
"Ah, this is very good!" cried Zenobia with a smile. "What strange
beings you men are, Mr. Coverdale!--is it not so? It is the simplest
thing in the world with you to bring a woman before your secret
tribunals, and judge and condemn her unheard, and then tell her to go
free without a sentence. The misfortune is, that this same secret
tribunal chances to be the only judgment-seat that a true woman
stands in awe of, and that any verdict short of acquittal is
equivalent to a death sentence!"
The more I looked at them, and the more I heard, the stronger grew my
impression that a crisis had just come and gone. On Hollingsworth's
brow it had left a stamp like that of irrevocable doom, of which his
own will was the instrument. In Zenobia's whole person, beholding
her more closely, I saw a riotous agitation; the almost delirious
disquietude of a great struggle, at the close of which the vanquished
one felt her strength and courage still mighty within her, and longed
to renew the contest. My sensations were as if I had come upon a
battlefield before the smoke was as yet cleared away.
And what subjects had been discussed here? All, no doubt, that for
so many months past had kept my heart and my imagination idly
feverish. Zenobia's whole character and history; the true nature of
her mysterious connection with Westervelt; her later purposes towards
Hollingsworth, and, reciprocally, his in reference to her; and,
finally, the degree in which Zenobia had been cognizant of the plot
against Priscilla, and what, at last, had been the real object of
that scheme. On these points, as before, I was left to my own
conjectures. One thing, only, was certain. Zenobia and
Hollingsworth were friends no longer. If their heartstrings were
ever intertwined, the knot had been adjudged an entanglement, and was
now violently broken.
But Zenobia seemed unable to rest content with the matter in the
posture which it had assumed.
"Ah! do we part so?" exclaimed she, seeing Hollingsworth about to
"And why not?" said he, with almost rude abruptness. "What is there
further to be said between us?"
"Well, perhaps nothing," answered Zenobia, looking him in the face,
and smiling. "But we have come many times before to this gray rock,
and we have talked very softly among the whisperings of the
birch-trees. They were pleasant hours! I love to make the latest of
them, though not altogether so delightful, loiter away as slowly as
may be. And, besides, you have put many queries to me at this, which
you design to be our last interview; and being driven, as I must
acknowledge, into a corner, I have responded with reasonable
frankness. But now, with your free consent, I desire the privilege
of asking a few questions, in my turn."
"I have no concealments," said Hollingsworth.
"We shall see," answered Zenobia. "I would first inquire whether you
have supposed me to be wealthy?"
"On that point," observed Hollingsworth, "I have had the opinion
which the world holds."
"And I held it likewise," said Zenobia. "Had I not, Heaven is my
witness the knowledge should have been as free to you as me. It is
only three days since I knew the strange fact that threatens to make
me poor; and your own acquaintance with it, I suspect, is of at least
as old a date. I fancied myself affluent. You are aware, too, of
the disposition which I purposed making of the larger portion of my
imaginary opulence,--nay, were it all, I had not hesitated. Let me
ask you, further, did I ever propose or intimate any terms of compact,
on which depended this--as the world would consider it--so important
"You certainly spoke of none," said Hollingsworth.
"Nor meant any," she responded. "I was willing to realize your dream
freely,--generously, as some might think,--but, at all events, fully,
and heedless though it should prove the ruin of my fortune.
If, in your own thoughts, you have imposed any conditions of this
expenditure, it is you that must be held responsible for whatever is
sordid and unworthy in them. And now one other question. Do you
love this girl?"
"O Zenobia!" exclaimed Priscilla, shrinking back, as if longing for
the rock to topple over and hide her.
"Do you love her?" repeated Zenobia.
"Had you asked me that question a short time since," replied
Hollingsworth, after a pause, during which, it seemed to me, even the
birch-trees held their whispering breath, "I should have told
you--'No!' My feelings for Priscilla differed little from those of an
elder brother, watching tenderly over the gentle sister whom God has
given him to protect."
"And what is your answer now?" persisted Zenobia.
"I do love her!" said Hollingsworth, uttering the words with a deep
inward breath, instead of speaking them outright. "As well declare
it thus as in any other way. I do love her!"
"Now, God be judge between us," cried Zenobia, breaking into sudden
passion, "which of us two has most mortally offended Him! At least,
I am a woman, with every fault, it may be, that a woman ever had,--
weak, vain, unprincipled (like most of my sex; for our virtues,
when we have any, are merely impulsive and intuitive), passionate,
too, and pursuing my foolish and unattainable ends by indirect and
cunning, though absurdly chosen means, as an hereditary bond-slave
must; false, moreover, to the whole circle of good, in my reckless
truth to the little good I saw before me,--but still a woman! A
creature whom only a little change of earthly fortune, a little
kinder smile of Him who sent me hither, and one true heart to
encourage and direct me, might have made all that a woman can be!
But how is it with you? Are you a man? No; but a monster! A cold,
heartless, self-beginning and self-ending piece of mechanism!"
"With what, then, do you charge me!" asked Hollingsworth, aghast, and
greatly disturbed by this attack. "Show me one selfish end, in all I
ever aimed at, and you may cut it out of my bosom with a knife!"
"It is all self!" answered Zenobia with still intenser bitterness.
"Nothing else; nothing but self, self, self! The fiend, I doubt not,
has made his choicest mirth of you these seven years past, and
especially in the mad summer which we have spent together. I see it
now! I am awake, disenchanted, disinthralled! Self, self, self!
You have embodied yourself in a project. You are a better
masquerader than the witches and gypsies yonder; for your disguise is
a self-deception. See whither it has brought you! First, you aimed
a death-blow, and a treacherous one, at this scheme of a purer and
higher life, which so many noble spirits had wrought out. Then,
because Coverdale could not be quite your slave, you threw him
ruthlessly away. And you took me, too, into your plan, as long as
there was hope of my being available, and now fling me aside again, a
broken tool! But, foremost and blackest of your sins, you stifled
down your inmost consciousness!--you did a deadly wrong to your own
heart!--you were ready to sacrifice this girl, whom, if God ever
visibly showed a purpose, He put into your charge, and through whom
He was striving to redeem you!"
"This is a woman's view," said Hollingsworth, growing deadly pale,--
"a woman's, whose whole sphere of action is in the heart, and who
can conceive of no higher nor wider one!"
"Be silent!" cried Zenobia imperiously. "You know neither man nor
woman! The utmost that can be said in your behalf--and because I
would not be wholly despicable in my own eyes, but would fain excuse
my wasted feelings, nor own it wholly a delusion, therefore I say
it--is, that a great and rich heart has been ruined in your breast.
Leave me, now. You
have done with me, and I with you. Farewell!"
"Priscilla," said Hollingsworth, "come." Zenobia smiled; possibly I
did so too. Not often, in human life, has a gnawing sense of injury
found a sweeter morsel of revenge than was conveyed in the tone with
which Hollingsworth spoke those two words. It was the abased and
tremulous tone of a man whose faith in himself was shaken, and who
sought, at last, to lean on an affection. Yes; the strong man bowed
himself and rested on this poor Priscilla! Oh, could she have failed
him, what a triumph for the lookers-on!
And, at first, I half imagined that she was about to fail him. She
rose up, stood shivering like the birch leaves that trembled over her
head, and then slowly tottered, rather than walked, towards Zenobia.
Arriving at her feet, she sank down there, in the very same attitude
which she had assumed on their first meeting, in the kitchen of the
old farmhouse. Zenobia remembered it.
"Ah, Priscilla!" said she, shaking her head, "how much is changed
since then! You kneel to a dethroned princess. You, the victorious
one! But he is waiting for you. Say what you wish, and leave me."
"We are sisters!" gasped Priscilla.
I fancied that I understood the word and action. It meant the
offering of herself, and all she had, to be at Zenobia's disposal.
But the latter would not take it thus.
"True, we are sisters!" she replied; and, moved by the sweet word,
she stooped down and kissed Priscilla; but not lovingly, for a sense
of fatal harm received through her seemed to be lurking in Zenobia's
heart. "We had one father! You knew it from the first; I, but a
little while,--else some things that have chanced might have been
spared you. But I never wished you harm. You stood between me and
an end which I desired. I wanted a clear path. No matter what I
meant. It is over now. Do you forgive me?"
"O Zenobia," sobbed Priscilla, "it is I that feel like the guilty one!"
"No, no, poor little thing!" said Zenobia, with a sort of contempt.
"You have been my evil fate, but there never was a babe with less
strength or will to do an injury. Poor child! Methinks you have but
a melancholy lot before you, sitting all alone in that wide,
cheerless heart, where, for aught you know,--and as I, alas! believe,--
the fire which you have kindled may soon go out. Ah, the thought
makes me shiver for you! What will you do, Priscilla, when you find
no spark among the ashes?"
"Die!" she answered.
"That was well said!" responded Zenobia, with an approving smile.
"There is all a woman in your little compass, my poor sister.
Meanwhile, go with him, and live!"
She waved her away with a queenly gesture, and turned her own face to
the rock. I watched Priscilla, wondering what judgment she would
pass between Zenobia and Hollingsworth; how interpret his behavior,
so as to reconcile it with true faith both towards her sister and
herself; how compel her love for him to keep any terms whatever with
her sisterly affection! But, in truth, there was no such difficulty
as I imagined. Her engrossing love made it all clear. Hollingsworth
could have no fault. That was the one principle at the centre of the
universe. And the doubtful guilt or possible integrity of other
people, appearances, self-evident facts, the testimony of her own
senses,--even Hollingsworth's self-accusation, had he volunteered it,--
would have weighed not the value of a mote of thistledown on the
other side. So secure was she of his right, that she never thought
of comparing it with another's wrong, but left the latter to itself.
Hollingsworth drew her arm within his, and soon disappeared with her
among the trees. I cannot imagine how Zenobia knew when they were
out of sight; she never glanced again towards them. But, retaining a
proud attitude so long as they might have thrown back a retiring look,
they were no sooner departed,--utterly departed,--than she began
slowly to sink down. It was as if a great, invisible, irresistible
weight were pressing her to the earth. Settling upon her knees, she
leaned her forehead against the rock, and sobbed convulsively; dry
sobs they seemed to be, such as have nothing to do with tears.
XXVI. ZENOBIA AND COVERDALE
Zenobia had entirely forgotten me. She fancied herself alone with
her great grief. And had it been only a common pity that I felt for
her,--the pity that her proud nature would have repelled, as the one
worst wrong which the world yet held in reserve,--the sacredness and
awfulness of the crisis might have impelled me to steal away silently,
so that not a dry leaf should rustle under my feet. I would have
left her to struggle, in that solitude, with only the eye of God upon
her. But, so it happened, I never once dreamed of questioning my
right to be there now, as I had questioned it just before, when I
came so suddenly upon Hollingsworth and herself, in the passion of
their recent debate. It suits me not to explain what was the analogy
that I saw or imagined between Zenobia's situation and mine; nor, I
believe, will the reader detect this one secret, hidden beneath many
a revelation which perhaps concerned me less. In simple truth,
however, as Zenobia leaned her forehead against the rock, shaken with
that tearless agony, it seemed to me that the self-same pang, with
hardly mitigated torment, leaped thrilling from her heartstrings to
my own. Was it wrong, therefore, if I felt myself consecrated to the
priesthood by sympathy like this, and called upon to minister to this
woman's affliction, so far as mortal could?
But, indeed, what could mortal do for her? Nothing! The attempt
would be a mockery and an anguish. Time, it is true, would steal
away her grief, and bury it and the best of her heart in the same
grave. But Destiny itself, methought, in its kindliest mood, could
do no better for Zenobia, in the way of quick relief; than to cause
the impending rock to impend a little farther, and fall upon her head.
So I leaned against a tree, and listened to her sobs, in unbroken
silence. She was half prostrate, half kneeling, with her forehead
still pressed against the rock. Her sobs were the only sound; she
did not groan, nor give any other utterance to her distress. It was
At length she sat up, put back her hair, and stared about her with a
bewildered aspect, as if not distinctly recollecting the scene
through which she had passed, nor cognizant of the situation in which
it left her. Her face and brow were almost purple with the rush of
blood. They whitened, however, by and by, and for some time retained
this deathlike hue. She put her hand to her forehead, with a gesture
that made me forcibly conscious of an intense and living pain there.
Her glance, wandering wildly to and fro, passed over me several times,
without appearing to inform her of my presence. But, finally, a
look of recognition gleamed from her eyes into mine.
"Is it you, Miles Coverdale?" said she, smiling. "Ah, I perceive
what you are about! You are turning this whole affair into a ballad.
Pray let me hear as many stanzas as you happen to have ready."
"Oh, hush, Zenobia!" I answered. "Heaven knows what an ache is in
"It is genuine tragedy, is it not?" rejoined Zenobia, with a sharp,
light laugh. "And you are willing to allow, perhaps, that I have had
hard measure. But it is a woman's doom, and I have deserved it like
a woman; so let there be no pity, as, on my part, there shall be no
complaint. It is all right, now, or will shortly be so. But, Mr.
Coverdale, by all means write this ballad, and put your soul's ache
into it, and turn your sympathy to good account, as other poets do,
and as poets must, unless they choose to give us glittering icicles
instead of lines of fire. As for the moral, it shall be distilled
into the final stanza, in a drop of bitter honey."
"What shall it be, Zenobia?" I inquired, endeavoring to fall in with
"Oh, a very old one will serve the purpose," she replied. "There are
no new truths, much as we have prided ourselves on finding some. A
moral? Why, this: That, in the battlefield of life, the downright
stroke, that would fall only on a man's steel headpiece, is sure to
light on a woman's heart, over which she wears no breastplate, and
whose wisdom it is, therefore, to keep out of the conflict. Or, this:
That the whole universe, her own sex and yours, and Providence, or
Destiny, to boot, make common cause against the woman who swerves one
hair's-breadth out of the beaten track. Yes; and add (for I may as
well own it, now) that, with that one hair's-breadth, she goes all
astray, and never sees the world in its true aspect afterwards."
"This last is too stern a moral," I observed. "Cannot we soften it a
"Do it if you like, at your own peril, not on my responsibility," she
answered. Then, with a sudden change of subject, she went on: "After
all, he has flung away what would have served him better than the
poor, pale flower he kept. What can Priscilla do for him? Put
passionate warmth into his heart, when it shall be chilled with
frozen hopes? Strengthen his hands, when they are weary with much
doing and no performance? No! but only tend towards him with a blind,
instinctive love, and hang her
little, puny weakness for a clog upon his arm! She cannot even give
him such sympathy as is worth the name. For will he never, in many
an hour of darkness, need that proud intellectual sympathy which he
might have had from me?--the sympathy that would flash light along
his course, and guide, as well as cheer him? Poor Hollingsworth!
Where will he find it now?"
"Hollingsworth has a heart of ice!" said I bitterly. "He is a wretch!"
"Do him no wrong," interrupted Zenobia, turning haughtily upon me.
"Presume not to estimate a man like Hollingsworth. It was my fault,
all along, and none of his. I see it now! He never sought me. Why
should he seek me? What had I to offer him? A miserable, bruised,
and battered heart, spoilt long before he met me. A life, too,
hopelessly entangled with a villain's! He did well to cast me off.
God be praised, he did it! And yet, had he trusted me, and borne
with me a little longer, I would have saved him all this trouble."
She was silent for a time, and stood with her eyes fixed on the
ground. Again raising them, her look was more mild and calm.
"Miles Coverdale!" said she.
"Well, Zenobia," I responded. "Can I do you any service?"
"Very little," she replied. "But it is my purpose, as you may well
imagine, to remove from Blithedale; and, most likely, I may not see
Hollingsworth again. A woman in my position, you understand, feels
scarcely at her ease among former friends. New faces,--unaccustomed
looks,--those only can she tolerate. She would pine among familiar
scenes; she would be apt to blush, too, under the eyes that knew her
secret; her heart might throb uncomfortably; she would mortify
herself, I suppose, with foolish notions of having sacrificed the
honor of her sex at the foot of proud, contumacious man. Poor
womanhood, with its rights and wrongs! Here will be new matter for
my course of lectures, at the idea of which you smiled, Mr. Coverdale,
a month or two ago. But, as you have really a heart and sympathies,
as far as they go, and as I shall depart without seeing Hollingsworth,
I must entreat you to be a messenger between him and me."
"Willingly," said I, wondering at the strange way in which her mind
seemed to vibrate from the deepest earnest to mere levity. "What is
"True,--what is it?" exclaimed Zenobia. "After all, I hardly know.
On better consideration, I have no message. Tell him,--tell him
something pretty and pathetic, that will come nicely and sweetly into
your ballad,--anything you please, so it be tender and submissive
enough. Tell him he has murdered me! Tell him that I'll haunt him!
"--She spoke these words with the wildest energy.--"And give him--no,
Thus saying, she took the jewelled flower out of her hair; and it
struck me as the act of a queen, when worsted in a combat,
discrowning herself, as if she found a sort of relief in abasing all
"Bid her wear this for Zenobia's sake," she continued. "She is a
pretty little creature, and will make as soft and gentle a wife as
the veriest Bluebeard could desire. Pity that she must fade so soon!
These delicate and puny maidens always do. Ten years hence, let
Hollingsworth look at my face and Priscilla's, and then choose
betwixt them. Or, if he pleases, let him do it now."
How magnificently Zenobia looked as she said this! The effect of her
beauty was even heightened by the over-consciousness and
self-recognition of it, into which, I suppose, Hollingsworth's scorn
had driven her. She understood the look of admiration in my face;
and--Zenobia to the last--it gave her pleasure.
"It is an endless pity," said she, "that I had not bethought myself
of winning your heart, Mr. Coverdale, instead of Hollingsworth's. I
think I should have succeeded, and many women would have deemed you
the worthier conquest of the two. You are certainly much the
handsomest man. But there is a fate in these things. And beauty, in
a man, has been of little account with me since my earliest girlhood,
when, for once, it turned my head. Now, farewell!"
"Zenobia, whither are you going?" I asked.
"No matter where," said she. "But I am weary of this place, and sick
to death of playing at philanthropy and progress. Of all varieties
of mock-life, we have surely blundered into the very emptiest mockery
in our effort to establish the one true system. I have done with it;
and Blithedale must find another woman to superintend the laundry,
and you, Mr. Coverdale, another nurse to make your gruel, the next
time you fall ill. It was, indeed, a foolish dream! Yet it gave us
some pleasant summer days, and bright hopes, while they lasted. It
can do no more; nor will it avail us to shed tears over a broken
bubble. Here is my hand! Adieu!"
She gave me her hand with the same free, whole-souled gesture as on
the first afternoon of our acquaintance, and, being greatly moved, I
bethought me of no better method of expressing my deep sympathy than
to carry it to my lips. In so doing, I perceived that this white
hand--so hospitably warm when I first touched it, five months
since--was now cold as a veritable piece of snow.
"How very cold!" I exclaimed, holding it between both my own, with
the vain idea of warming it. "What can be the reason? It is really
"The extremities die first, they say," answered Zenobia, laughing.
"And so you kiss this poor, despised, rejected hand! Well, my dear
friend, I thank you. You have reserved your homage for the fallen.
Lip of man will never touch my hand again. I intend to become a
Catholic, for the sake of going into a nunnery. When you next hear
of Zenobia, her face will be behind the black veil; so look your last
at it now,--for all is over. Once more, farewell!"
She withdrew her hand, yet left a lingering pressure, which I felt
long afterwards. So intimately connected as I had been with perhaps
the only man in whom she was ever truly interested, Zenobia looked on
me as the representative of all the past, and was conscious that, in
bidding me adieu, she likewise took final leave of Hollingsworth, and
of this whole epoch of her life. Never did her beauty shine out more
lustrously than in the last glimpse that I had of her. She departed,
and was soon hidden among the trees. But, whether it was the strong
impression of the foregoing scene, or whatever else the cause, I was
affected with a fantasy that Zenobia had not actually gone, but was
still hovering about the spot and haunting it. I seemed to feel her
eyes upon me. It was as if the vivid coloring of her character had
left a brilliant stain upon the air. By degrees, however, the
impression grew less distinct. I flung myself upon the fallen leaves
at the base of Eliot's pulpit. The sunshine withdrew up the tree
trunks and flickered on the topmost boughs; gray twilight made the
wood obscure; the stars brightened out; the pendent boughs became wet
with chill autumnal dews. But I was listless, worn out with emotion
on my own behalf and sympathy for others, and had no heart to leave
my comfortless lair beneath the rock.
I must have fallen asleep, and had a dream, all the circumstances of
which utterly vanished at the moment when they converged to some
tragical catastrophe, and thus grew too powerful for the thin sphere
of slumber that enveloped them. Starting from the ground, I found
the risen moon shining upon the rugged face of the rock, and myself
all in a tremble.
It could not have been far from midnight when I came beneath
Hollingsworth's window, and, finding it open, flung in a tuft of
grass with earth at the roots, and heard it fall upon the floor. He
was either awake or sleeping very lightly; for scarcely a moment had
gone by before he looked out and discerned me standing in the
"Is it you, Coverdale?" he asked. "What is the matter?"
"Come down to me, Hollingsworth!" I answered. "I am anxious to
speak with you."
The strange tone of my own voice startled me, and him, probably, no
less. He lost no time, and soon issued from the house-door, with his
dress half arranged.
"Again, what is the matter?" he asked impatiently.
"Have you seen Zenobia," said I, "since you parted from her at
"No," answered Hollingsworth; "nor did I expect it."
His voice was deep, but had a tremor in it,
Hardly had he spoken, when Silas Foster thrust his head, done up in a
cotton handkerchief, out of another window, and took what he called
as it literally was--a squint at us.
"Well, folks, what are ye about here?" he demanded. "Aha! are you
there, Miles Coverdale? You have been turning night into day since
you left us, I reckon; and so you find it quite natural to come
prowling about the house at this time o' night, frightening my old
woman out of her wits, and making her disturb a tired man out of his
best nap. In with you, you vagabond, and to bed!"
"Dress yourself quickly, Foster," said I. "We want your assistance."
I could not, for the life of me, keep that strange tone out of my
voice. Silas Foster, obtuse as were his sensibilities, seemed to
feel the ghastly earnestness that was conveyed in it as well as
Hollingsworth did. He immediately withdrew his head, and I heard him
yawning, muttering to his wife, and again yawning heavily, while he
hurried on his clothes. Meanwhile I showed Hollingsworth a delicate
handkerchief, marked with a well-known cipher, and told where I had
found it, and other circumstances, which had filled me with a
suspicion so terrible that I left him, if he dared, to shape it out
for himself. By the time my brief explanation was finished, we were
joined by Silas Foster in his blue woollen frock.
"Well, boys," cried he peevishly, "what is to pay now?"
"Tell him, Hollingsworth," said I.
Hollingsworth shivered perceptibly, and drew in a hard breath betwixt
his teeth. He steadied himself, however, and, looking the matter
more firmly in the face than I had done, explained to Foster my
suspicions, and the grounds of them, with a distinctness from which,
in spite of my utmost efforts, my words had swerved aside. The
tough-nerved yeoman, in his comment, put a finish on the business,
and brought out the hideous idea in its full terror, as if he were
removing the napkin from the face of a corpse.
"And so you think she's drowned herself?" he cried. I turned away my
"What on earth should the young woman do that for?" exclaimed Silas,
his eyes half out of his head with mere surprise. "Why, she has more
means than she can use or waste, and lacks nothing to make her
comfortable, but a husband, and that's an article she could have, any
day. There's some mistake about this, I tell you!"
"Come," said I, shuddering; "let us go and ascertain the truth."
"Well, well," answered Silas Foster; "just as you say. We'll take
the long pole, with the hook at the end, that serves to get the
bucket out of the draw-well when the rope is broken. With that, and
a couple of long-handled hay-rakes, I'll answer for finding her, if
she's anywhere to be found. Strange enough! Zenobia drown herself!
No, no; I don't believe it. She had too much sense, and too much
means, and enjoyed life a great deal too well."
When our few preparations were completed, we hastened, by a shorter
than the customary route, through fields and pastures, and across a
portion of the meadow, to the particular spot on the river-bank which
I had paused to contemplate in the course of my afternoon's ramble.
A nameless presentiment had again drawn me thither, after leaving
Eliot's pulpit. I showed my companions where I had found the
handkerchief, and pointed to two or three footsteps, impressed into
the clayey margin, and tending towards the water. Beneath its
shallow verge, among the water-weeds, there were further traces, as
yet unobliterated by the sluggish current, which was there almost at
a standstill. Silas Foster thrust his face down close to these
footsteps, and picked up a shoe that had escaped my observation,
being half imbedded in the mud.
"There's a kid shoe that never was made on a Yankee last," observed
he. "I know enough of shoemaker's craft to tell that. French
manufacture; and see what a high instep! and how evenly she trod in
it! There never was a woman that stept handsomer in her shoes than
Zenobia did. Here," he added, addressing Hollingsworth, "would you
like to keep the shoe?"
Hollingsworth started back.
"Give it to me, Foster," said I.
I dabbled it in the water, to rinse off the mud, and have kept it
ever since. Not far from this spot lay an old, leaky punt, drawn up
on the oozy river-side, and generally half full of water. It served
the angler to go in quest of pickerel, or the sportsman to pick up
his wild ducks. Setting this crazy bark afloat, I seated myself in
the stern with the paddle, while Hollingsworth sat in the bows with
the hooked pole, and Silas Foster amidships with a hay-rake.
"It puts me in mind of my young days," remarked Silas, "when I used
to steal out of bed to go bobbing for hornpouts and eels. Heigh-ho!--
well, life and death together make sad work for us all! Then I was
a boy, bobbing for fish; and now I am getting to be an old fellow,
and here I be, groping for a dead body! I tell you what, lads; if I
thought anything had really happened to Zenobia, I should feel kind
"I wish, at least, you would hold your tongue," muttered I.
The moon, that night, though past the full, was still large and oval,
and having risen between eight and nine o'clock, now shone aslantwise
over the river, throwing the high, opposite bank, with its woods,
into deep shadow, but lighting up the hither shore pretty effectually.
Not a ray appeared to fall on the river itself. It lapsed
imperceptibly away, a broad, black, inscrutable depth, keeping its
own secrets from the eye of man, as impenetrably as mid-ocean could.
"Well, Miles Coverdale," said Foster, "you are the helmsman. How do
you mean to manage this business?"
"I shall let the boat drift, broadside foremost, past that stump," I
replied. "I know the bottom, having sounded it in fishing. The
shore, on this side, after the first step or two, goes off very
abruptly; and there is a pool, just by the stump, twelve or fifteen
feet deep. The current could not have force enough to sweep any
sunken object, even if partially buoyant, out of that hollow."
"Come, then," said Silas; "but I doubt whether I can touch bottom
with this hay-rake, if it's as deep as you say. Mr. Hollingsworth, I
think you'll be the lucky man to-night, such luck as it is."
We floated past the stump. Silas Foster plied his rake manfully,
poking it as far as he could into the water, and immersing the whole
length of his arm besides. Hollingsworth at first sat motionless,
with the hooked pole elevated in the air. But, by and by, with a
nervous and jerky movement, he began to plunge it into the blackness
that upbore us, setting his teeth, and making precisely such thrusts,
methought, as if he were stabbing at a deadly enemy. I bent over the
side of the boat. So obscure, however, so awfully mysterious, was
that dark stream, that--and the thought made me shiver like a leaf--I
might as well have tried to look into the enigma of the eternal world,
to discover what had become of Zenobia's soul, as into the river's
depths, to find her body. And there, perhaps, she lay, with her face
upward, while the shadow of the boat, and my own pale face peering
downward, passed slowly betwixt her and the sky!
Once, twice, thrice, I paddled the boat upstream, and again suffered
it to glide, with the river's slow, funereal motion, downward. Silas
Foster had raked up a large mass of stuff, which, as it came towards
the surface, looked somewhat like a flowing garment, but proved to be
a monstrous tuft of water-weeds. Hollingsworth, with a gigantic
effort, upheaved a sunken log. When once free of the bottom, it rose
partly out of water,--all weedy and slimy, a devilish-looking object,
which the moon had not shone upon for half a hundred years,--then
plunged again, and sullenly returned to its old resting-place, for
the remnant of the century.
"That looked ugly!" quoth Silas. "I half thought it was the Evil One,
on the same errand as ourselves,--searching for Zenobia."
"He shall never get her," said I, giving the boat a strong impulse.
"That's not for you to say, my boy," retorted the yeoman. "Pray God
he never has, and never may. Slow work this, however! I should
really be glad to find something! Pshaw! What a notion that is,
when the only good luck would be to paddle, and drift, and poke, and
grope, hereabouts, till morning, and have our labor for our pains!
For my part, I shouldn't wonder if the creature had only lost her
shoe in the mud, and saved her soul alive, after all. My stars! how
she will laugh at us, to-morrow morning!"
It is indescribable what an image of Zenobia--at the breakfast-table,
full of warm and mirthful life--this surmise of Silas Foster's
brought before my mind. The terrible phantasm of her death was
thrown by it into the remotest and dimmest background, where it
seemed to grow as improbable as a myth.
"Yes, Silas, it may be as you say," cried I. The drift of the stream
had again borne us a little below the stump, when I felt--yes, felt,
for it was as if the iron hook had smote my breast--felt
Hollingsworth's pole strike some object at the bottom of the river!
He started up, and almost overset the boat.
"Hold on!" cried Foster; "you have her!"
Putting a fury of strength into the effort, Hollingsworth heaved
amain, and up came a white swash to the surface of the river. It was
the flow of a woman's garments. A little higher, and we saw her dark
hair streaming down the current. Black River of Death, thou hadst
yielded up thy victim! Zenobia was found!
Silas Foster laid hold of the body; Hollingsworth likewise grappled
with it; and I steered towards the bank, gazing all the while at
Zenobia, whose limbs were swaying in the current close at the boat's
side. Arriving near the shore, we all three stept into the water,
bore her out, and laid her on the ground beneath a tree.
"Poor child!" said Foster,--and his dry old heart, I verily believe,
vouchsafed a tear, "I'm sorry for her!"
Were I to describe the perfect horror of the spectacle, the reader
might justly reckon it to me for a sin and shame. For more than
twelve long years I have borne it in my memory, and could now
reproduce it as freshly as if it were still before my eyes. Of all
modes of death, methinks it is the ugliest. Her wet garments swathed
limbs of terrible inflexibility. She was the marble image of a
death-agony. Her arms had grown rigid in the act of struggling, and
were bent before her with clenched hands; her knees, too, were bent,
and--thank God for it!--in the attitude of prayer. Ah, that rigidity!
It is impossible to bear the terror of it. It seemed,--I must
needs impart so much of my own miserable idea,--it seemed as if her
body must keep the same position in the coffin, and that her skeleton
would keep it in the grave; and that when Zenobia rose at the day of
judgment, it would be in just the same attitude as now!
One hope I had, and that too was mingled half with fear. She knelt
as if in prayer. With the last, choking consciousness, her soul,
bubbling out through her lips, it may be, had given itself up to the
Father, reconciled and penitent. But her arms! They were bent
before her, as if she struggled against Providence in never-ending
hostility. Her hands! They were clenched in immitigable defiance.
Away with the hideous thought. The flitting moment after Zenobia
sank into the dark pool--when her breath was gone, and her soul at
her lips was as long, in its capacity of God's infinite forgiveness,
as the lifetime of the world!
Foster bent over the body, and carefully examined it.
"You have wounded the poor thing's breast," said he to Hollingsworth,
"close by her heart, too!"
"Ha!" cried Hollingsworth with a start.
And so he had, indeed, both before and after death!
"See!" said Foster. "That's the place where the iron struck her. It
looks cruelly, but she never felt it!"
He endeavored to arrange the arms of the corpse decently by its side.
His utmost strength, however, scarcely sufficed to bring them down;
and rising again, the next instant, they bade him defiance, exactly
as before. He made another effort, with the same result.
"In God's name, Silas Foster," cried I with bitter indignation. "let
that dead woman alone!"
"Why, man, it's not decent!" answered he, staring at me in amazement.
"I can't bear to see her looking so! Well, well," added he, after a
third effort, "'tis of no use, sure enough; and we must leave the
women to do their best with her, after we get to the house. The
sooner that's done, the better."
We took two rails from a neighboring fence, and formed a bier by
laying across some boards from the bottom of the boat. And thus we
bore Zenobia homeward. Six hours before, how beautiful! At midnight,
what a horror! A reflection occurs to me that will show ludicrously,
I doubt not, on my page, but must come in for its sterling truth.
Being the woman that she was, could Zenobia have foreseen all these
ugly circumstances of death,--how ill it would become her, the
altogether unseemly aspect which she must put on, and especially old
Silas Foster's efforts to improve the matter,--she would no more have
committed the dreadful act than have exhibited herself to a public
assembly in a badly fitting garment! Zenobia, I have often thought,
was not quite simple in her death. She had seen pictures, I suppose,
of drowned persons in lithe and graceful attitudes. And she deemed
it well and decorous to die as so many village maidens have, wronged
in their first love, and seeking peace in the bosom of the old
familiar stream,--so familiar that they could not dread it,--where,
in childhood, they used to bathe their little feet, wading mid-leg
deep, unmindful of wet skirts. But in Zenobia's case there was some
tint of the Arcadian affectation that had been visible enough in all
our lives for a few months past.
This, however, to my conception, takes nothing from the tragedy. For,
has not the world come to an awfully sophisticated pass, when, after
a certain degree of acquaintance with it, we cannot even put
ourselves to death in whole-hearted simplicity? Slowly, slowly, with
many a dreary pause,--resting the bier often on some rock or
balancing it across a mossy log, to take fresh hold,--we bore our
burden onward through the moonlight, and at last laid Zenobia on the
floor of the old farmhouse. By and by came three or four withered
women and stood whispering around the corpse, peering at it through
their spectacles, holding up their skinny hands, shaking their
night-capped heads, and taking counsel of one another's experience
what was to be done.
With those tire-women we left Zenobia.
XXVIII. BLITHEDALE PASTURE
Blithedale, thus far in its progress, had never found the necessity
of a burial-ground. There was some consultation among us in what
spot Zenobia might most fitly be laid. It was my own wish that she
should sleep at the base of Eliot's pulpit, and that on the rugged
front of the rock the name by which we familiarly knew her, Zenobia,--
and not another word, should be deeply cut, and left for the moss
and lichens to fill up at their long leisure. But Hollingsworth (to
whose ideas on this point great deference was due) made it his
request that her grave might be dug on the gently sloping hillside,
in the wide pasture, where, as we once supposed, Zenobia and he had
planned to build their cottage. And thus it was done, accordingly.
She was buried very much as other people have been for hundreds of
years gone by. In anticipation of a death, we Blithedale colonists
had sometimes set our fancies at work to arrange a funereal ceremony,
which should be the proper symbolic expression of our spiritual faith
and eternal hopes; and this we meant to substitute for those
customary rites which were moulded originally out of the Gothic gloom,
and by long use, like an old velvet pall, have so much more than
their first death-smell in them. But when the occasion came we found
it the simplest and truest thing, after all, to content ourselves
with the old fashion, taking away what we could, but interpolating no
novelties, and particularly avoiding all frippery of flowers and
cheerful emblems. The procession moved from the farmhouse. Nearest
the dead walked an old man in deep mourning, his face mostly
concealed in a white handkerchief, and with Priscilla leaning on his
arm. Hollingsworth and myself came next. We all stood around the
narrow niche in the cold earth; all saw the coffin lowered in; all
heard the rattle of the crumbly soil upon its lid,--that final sound,
which mortality awakens on the utmost verge of sense, as if in the
vain hope of bringing an echo from the spiritual world.
I noticed a stranger,--a stranger to most of those present, though
known to me,--who, after the coffin had descended, took up a handful
of earth and flung it first into the grave. I had given up
Hollingsworth's arm, and now found myself near this man.
"It was an idle thing--a foolish thing--for Zenobia to do," said he.
"She was the last woman in the world to whom death could have been
necessary. It was too absurd! I have no patience with her."
"Why so?" I inquired, smothering my horror at his cold comment, in
my eager curiosity to discover some tangible truth as to his relation
with Zenobia. "If any crisis could justify the sad wrong she offered
to herself, it was surely that in which she stood. Everything had
failed her; prosperity in the world's sense, for her opulence was
gone,--the heart's prosperity, in love. And there was a secret
burden on her, the nature of which is best known to you. Young as
she was, she had tried life fully, had no more to hope, and something,
perhaps, to fear. Had Providence taken her away in its own holy
hand, I should have thought it the kindest dispensation that could be
awarded to one so wrecked."
"You mistake the matter completely," rejoined Westervelt.
"What, then, is your own view of it?" I asked.
"Her mind was active, and various in its powers," said he. "Her
heart had a manifold adaptation; her constitution an infinite
buoyancy, which (had she possessed only a little patience to await
the reflux of her troubles) would have borne her upward triumphantly
for twenty years to come. Her beauty would not have waned--or
scarcely so, and surely not beyond the reach of art to restore it--in
all that time. She had life's summer all before her, and a hundred
varieties of brilliant success. What an actress Zenobia might have
been! It was one of her least valuable capabilities. How forcibly
she might have wrought upon the world, either directly in her own
person, or by her influence upon some man, or a series of men, of
controlling genius! Every prize that could be worth a woman's
having--and many prizes which other women are too timid to
desire--lay within Zenobia's reach."
"In all this," I observed, "there would have been nothing to satisfy
"Her heart!" answered Westervelt contemptuously. "That troublesome
organ (as she had hitherto found it) would have been kept in its due
place and degree, and have had all the gratification it could fairly
claim. She would soon have established a control over it. Love had
failed her, you say. Had it never failed her before? Yet she
survived it, and loved again,--possibly not once alone, nor twice
either. And now to drown herself for yonder dreamy philanthropist!"
"Who are you," I exclaimed indignantly, "that dare to speak thus of
the dead? You seem to intend a eulogy, yet leave out whatever was
noblest in her, and blacken while you mean to praise. I have long
considered you as Zenobia's evil fate. Your sentiments confirm me in
the idea, but leave me still ignorant as to the mode in which you
have influenced her life. The connection may have been indissoluble,
except by death. Then, indeed,--always in the hope of God's infinite
mercy,--I cannot deem it a misfortune that she sleeps in yonder grave!"
"No matter what I was to her," he answered gloomily, yet without
actual emotion. "She is now beyond my reach. Had she lived, and
hearkened to my counsels, we might have served each other well. But
there Zenobia lies in yonder pit, with the dull earth over her.
Twenty years of a brilliant lifetime thrown away for a mere woman's
Heaven deal with Westervelt according to his nature and deserts!--
that is to say, annihilate him. He was altogether earthy, worldly,
made for time and its gross objects, and incapable--except by a sort
of dim reflection caught from other minds--of so much as one
spiritual idea. Whatever stain Zenobia had was caught from him; nor
does it seldom happen that a character of admirable qualities loses
its better life because the atmosphere that should sustain it is
rendered poisonous by such breath as this man mingled with Zenobia's.
Yet his reflections possessed their share of truth. It was a woeful
thought, that a woman of Zenobia's diversified capacity should have
fancied herself irretrievably defeated on the broad battlefield of
life, and with no refuge, save to fall on her own sword, merely
because Love had gone against her. It is nonsense, and a miserable
wrong,--the result, like so many others, of masculine egotism,--that
the success or failure of woman's existence should be made to depend
wholly on the affections, and on one species of affection, while man
has such a multitude of other chances, that this seems but an
incident. For its own sake, if it will do no more, the world should
throw open all its avenues to the passport of a woman's bleeding
As we stood around the grave, I looked often towards Priscilla,
dreading to see her wholly overcome with grief. And deeply grieved,
in truth, she was. But a character so simply constituted as hers has
room only for a single predominant affection. No other feeling can
touch the heart's inmost core, nor do it any deadly mischief. Thus,
while we see that such a being responds to every breeze with
tremulous vibration, and imagine that she must be shattered by the
first rude blast, we find her retaining her equilibrium amid shocks
that might have overthrown many a sturdier frame. So with Priscilla;
her one possible misfortune was Hollingsworth's unkindness; and that
was destined never to befall her, never yet, at least, for Priscilla
has not died.
But Hollingsworth! After all the evil that he did, are we to leave
him thus, blest with the entire devotion of this one true heart, and
with wealth at his disposal to execute the long-contemplated project
that had led him so far astray? What retribution is there here? My
mind being vexed with precisely this query, I made a journey, some
years since, for the sole purpose of catching a last glimpse of
Hollingsworth, and judging for myself whether he were a happy man or
no. I learned that he inhabited a small cottage, that his way of
life was exceedingly retired, and that my only chance of encountering
him or Priscilla was to meet them in a secluded lane, where, in the
latter part of the afternoon, they were accustomed to walk. I did
meet them, accordingly. As they approached me, I observed in
Hollingsworth's face a depressed and melancholy look, that seemed
habitual; the powerfully built man showed a self-distrustful weakness,
and a childlike or childish tendency to press close, and closer
still, to the side of the slender woman whose arm was within his. In
Priscilla's manner there was a protective and watchful quality, as if
she felt herself the guardian of her companion; but, likewise, a deep,
submissive, unquestioning reverence, and also a veiled happiness in
her fair and quiet countenance.
Drawing nearer, Priscilla recognized me, and gave me a kind and
friendly smile, but with a slight gesture, which I could not help
interpreting as an entreaty not to make myself known to Hollingsworth.
Nevertheless, an impulse took possession of me, and compelled me to
"I have come, Hollingsworth," said I, "to view your grand edifice for
the reformation of criminals. Is it finished yet?"
"No, nor begun," answered he, without raising his eyes. "A very
small one answers all my purposes."
Priscilla threw me an upbraiding glance. But I spoke again, with a
bitter and revengeful emotion, as if flinging a poisoned arrow at
"Up to this moment," I inquired, "how many criminals have you
"Not one," said Hollingsworth, with his eyes still fixed on the
ground. "Ever since we parted, I have been busy with a single
Then the tears gushed into my eyes, and I forgave him; for I
remembered the wild energy, the passionate shriek, with which Zenobia
had spoken those words, "Tell him he has murdered me! Tell him that
I'll haunt him!"--and I knew what murderer he meant, and whose
vindictive shadow dogged the side where Priscilla was not.
The moral which presents itself to my reflections, as drawn from
Hollingsworth's character and errors, is simply this, that, admitting
what is called philanthropy, when adopted as a profession, to be
often useful by its energetic impulse to society at large, it is
perilous to the individual whose ruling passion, in one exclusive
channel, it thus becomes. It ruins, or is fearfully apt to ruin, the
heart, the rich juices of which God never meant should be pressed
violently out and distilled into alcoholic liquor by an unnatural
process, but should render life sweet, bland, and gently beneficent,
and insensibly influence other hearts and other lives to the same
blessed end. I see in Hollingsworth an exemplification of the most
awful truth in Bunyan's book of such, from the very gate of heaven
there is a by-way to the pit!
But, all this while, we have been standing by Zenobia's grave. I
have never since beheld it, but make no question that the grass grew
all the better, on that little parallelogram of pasture land, for the
decay of the beautiful woman who slept beneath. How Nature seems to
love us! And how readily, nevertheless, without a sigh or a
complaint, she converts us to a meaner purpose, when her highest
one--that of a conscious intellectual life and sensibility has been
untimely balked! While Zenobia lived, Nature was proud of her, and
directed all eyes upon that radiant presence, as her fairest
handiwork. Zenobia perished. Will not Nature shed a tear? Ah, no!--
she adopts the calamity at once into her system, and is just as
well pleased, for aught we can see, with the tuft of ranker
vegetation that grew out of Zenobia's heart, as with all the beauty
which has bequeathed us no earthly representative except in this crop
of weeds. It is because the spirit is inestimable that the lifeless
body is so little valued.
XXIX. MILES COVERDALE'S CONFESSION
It remains only to say a few words about myself. Not improbably, the
reader might be willing to spare me the trouble; for I have made but
a poor and dim figure in my own narrative, establishing no separate
interest, and suffering my colorless life to take its hue from other
lives. But one still retains some little consideration for one's
self; so I keep these last two or three pages for my individual and
But what, after all, have I to tell? Nothing, nothing, nothing! I
left Blithedale within the week after Zenobia's death, and went back
thither no more. The whole soil of our farm, for a long time
afterwards, seemed but the sodded earth over her grave. I could not
toil there, nor live upon its products. Often, however, in these
years that are darkening around me, I remember our beautiful scheme
of a noble and unselfish life; and how fair, in that first summer,
appeared the prospect that it might endure for generations, and be
perfected, as the ages rolled away, into the system of a people and a
world! Were my former associates now there,--were there only three
or four of those true-hearted men still laboring in the sun,--I
sometimes fancy that I should direct my world-weary footsteps
thitherward, and entreat them to receive me, for old friendship's
sake. More and more I feel that we had struck upon what ought to be
a truth. Posterity may dig it up, and profit by it. The experiment,
so far as its original projectors were concerned, proved, long ago, a
failure; first lapsing into Fourierism, and dying, as it well
deserved, for this infidelity to its own higher spirit. Where once
we toiled with our whole hopeful hearts, the town paupers, aged,
nerveless, and disconsolate, creep sluggishly afield. Alas, what
faith is requisite to bear up against such results of generous effort!
My subsequent life has passed,--I was going to say happily, but, at
all events, tolerably enough. I am now at middle age, well, well, a
step or two beyond the midmost point, and I care not a fig who knows
it!--a bachelor, with no very decided purpose of ever being otherwise.
I have been twice to Europe, and spent a year or two rather
agreeably at each visit. Being well to do in the world, and having
nobody but myself to care for, I live very much at my ease, and fare
sumptuously every day. As for poetry, I have given it up,
notwithstanding that Dr. Griswold--as the reader, of course,
knows--has placed me at a fair elevation among our minor minstrelsy,
on the strength of my pretty little volume, published ten years ago.
As regards human progress (in spite of my irrepressible yearnings
over the Blithedale reminiscences), let them believe in it who can,
and aid in it who choose. If I could earnestly do either, it might
be all the better for my comfort. As Hollingsworth once told me, I
lack a purpose. How strange! He was ruined, morally, by an overplus
of the very same ingredient, the want of which, I occasionally
suspect, has rendered my own life all an emptiness. I by no means
wish to die. Yet, were there any cause, in this whole chaos of human
struggle, worth a sane man's dying for, and which my death would
benefit, then--provided, however, the effort did not involve an
unreasonable amount of trouble--methinks I might be bold to offer up
my life. If Kossuth, for example, would pitch the battlefield of
Hungarian rights within an easy ride of my abode, and choose a mild,
sunny morning, after breakfast, for the conflict, Miles Coverdale
would gladly be his man, for one brave rush upon the levelled
bayonets. Further than that, I should be loath to pledge myself.
I exaggerate my own defects. The reader must not take my own word
for it, nor believe me altogether changed from the young man who once
hoped strenuously, and struggled not so much amiss. Frostier heads
than mine have gained honor in the world; frostier hearts have
imbibed new warmth, and been newly happy. Life, however, it must be
owned, has come to rather an idle pass with me. Would my friends
like to know what brought it thither? There is one secret,--I have
concealed it all along, and never meant to let the least whisper of
it escape,--one foolish little secret, which possibly may have had
something to do with these inactive years of meridian manhood, with
my bachelorship, with the unsatisfied retrospect that I fling back on
life, and my listless glance towards the future. Shall I reveal it?
It is an absurd thing for a man in his afternoon,--a man of the world,
moreover, with these three white hairs in his brown mustache and
that deepening track of a crow's-foot on each temple,--an absurd
thing ever to have happened, and quite the absurdest for an old
bachelor, like me, to talk about. But it rises to my throat; so let
I perceive, moreover, that the confession, brief as it shall be, will
throw a gleam of light over my behavior throughout the foregoing
incidents, and is, indeed, essential to the full understanding of my
story. The reader, therefore, since I have disclosed so much, is
entitled to this one word more. As I write it, he will charitably
suppose me to blush, and turn away my face:
I--I myself--was in love--with--Priscilla!
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