The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 22 out of 51
the news, and then fall into that solemn state of suspended animation
which the temperance bar-rooms of modern days produce in human
beings, as the Grotta del Cane does in dogs in the well-known
experiments related by travellers. This bar-room used to be famous
for drinking and storytelling, and sometimes fighting, in old times.
That was when there were rows of decanters on the shelf behind the
bar, and a hissing vessel of hot water ready, to make punch, and
three or four loggerheads (long irons clubbed at the end) were always
lying in the fire in the cold season, waiting to be plunged into
sputtering and foaming mugs of flip,--a goodly compound; speaking
according to the flesh, made with beer and sugar, and a certain
suspicion of strong waters, over which a little nutmeg being grated,
and in it the hot iron being then allowed to sizzle, there results a
peculiar singed aroma, which the wise regard as a warning to remove
themselves at once out of the reach of temptation.
But the bar of Pollard's Tahvern no longer presented its old
attractions, and the loggerheads had long disappeared from the fire.
In place of the decanters, were boxes containing "lozengers," as they
were commonly called, sticks of candy in jars, cigars in tumblers, a
few lemons, grown hard-skinned and marvellously shrunken by long
exposure, but still feebly suggestive of possible lemonade,--the
whole ornamented by festoons of yellow and blue cut flypaper. On the
front shelf of the bar stood a large German-silver pitcher of water,
and scattered about were ill-conditioned lamps, with wicks that
always wanted picking, which burned red and smoked a good deal, and
were apt to go out without any obvious cause, leaving strong
reminiscences of the whale-fishery in the circumambient air.
The common schoolhouses of Rockland were dwarfed by the grandeur of
the Apollinean Institute. The master passed one of them, in a walk
he was taking, soon after his arrival at Rockland. He looked in at
the rows of desks, and recalled his late experiences. He could not
help laughing, as he thought how neatly he had knocked the young
butcher off his pins.
"A little science is a dangerous thing,' as well as a little
'learning,'" he said to himself; "only it's dangerous to the fellow
you' try it on." And he cut him a good stick, and began climbing the
side of The Mountain to get a look at that famous Rattlesnake Ledge.
THE SUNBEAM AND THE SHADOW.
The virtue of the world is not mainly in its leaders. In the midst
of the multitude which follows there is often something better than
in the one that goes before. Old generals wanted to take Toulon, but
one of their young colonels showed them how. The junior counsel has
been known not unfrequently to make a better argument than his senior
fellow,--if, indeed, he did not make both their arguments. Good
ministers will tell you they have parishioners who beat them in the
practice of the virtues. A great establishment, got up on commercial
principles, like the Apollinean Institute, might yet be well carried
on, if it happened to get good teachers. And when Master Langdon
came to see its management, he recognized that there must be fidelity
and intelligence somewhere among the instructors. It was only
necessary to look for a moment at the fair, open forehead, the still,
tranquil eye of gentle, habitual authority, the sweet gravity that
lay upon the lips, to hear the clear answers to the pupils'
questions, to notice how every request had the force without the form
of a command, and the young man could not doubt that the good genius
of the school stood before him in the person of Helen barley.
It was the old story. A poor country-clergyman dies, and leaves a
widow and a daughter. In Old England the daughter would have eaten
the bitter bread of a governess in some rich family. In New England
she must keep a school. So, rising from one sphere to another, she
at length finds herself the prima donna in the department of
instruction in Mr. Silas Peckham's educational establishment.
What a miserable thing it is to be poor. She was dependent, frail,
sensitive, conscientious. She was in the power of a hard, grasping,
thin-blooded, tough-fibred, trading educator, who neither knew nor
cared for a tender woman's sensibilities, but who paid her and meant
to have his money's worth out of her brains, and as much more than
his money's worth as he could get. She was consequently, in plain
English, overworked, and an overworked woman is always a sad sight,--
sadder a great deal than an overworked man, because she is so much
more fertile in capacities of suffering than a man. She has so many
varieties of headache,--sometimes as if Jael were driving the nail
that killed Sisera into her temples,--sometimes letting her work with
half her brain while the other half throbs as if it would go to
pieces,--sometimes tightening round the brows as if her cap-band were
a ring of iron,--and then her neuralgias, and her backaches, and her
fits of depression, in which she thinks she is nothing and less than
nothing, and those paroxysms which men speak slightingly of as
hysterical,--convulsions, that is all, only not commonly fatal ones,
--so many trials which belong to her fine and mobile structure,--that
she is always entitled to pity, when she is placed in conditions
which develop her nervous tendencies.
The poor young lady's work had, of course, been doubled since the
departure of Master Langdon's predecessor. Nobody knows what the
weariness of instruction is, as soon as the teacher's faculties begin
to be overtasked, but those who have tried it. The relays of fresh
pupils, each new set with its exhausting powers in full action,
coming one after another, take out all the reserved forces and
faculties of resistance from the subject of their draining process.
The day's work was over, and it was late in the evening, when she sat
down, tired and faint, with a great bundle of girls' themes or
compositions to read over before she could rest her weary head on the
pillow of her narrow trundle-bed, and forget for a while the
treadmill stair of labor she was daily climbing.
How she dreaded this most forlorn of all a teacher's tasks! She was
conscientious in her duties, and would insist on reading every
sentence,--there was no saying where she might find faults of grammar
or bad spelling. There might have been twenty or thirty of these
themes in the bundle before her. Of course she knew pretty well the
leading sentiments they could contain: that beauty was subject to the
accidents of time; that wealth was inconstant, and existence
uncertain; that virtue was its own reward; that youth exhaled, like
the dewdrop from the flower, ere the sun had reached its meridian;
that life was o'ershadowed with trials; that the lessons of virtue
instilled by our beloved teachers were to be our guides through all
our future career. The imagery employed consisted principally of
roses, lilies, birds, clouds, and brooks, with the celebrated
comparison of wayward genius to meteor. Who does not know the small,
slanted, Italian hand of these girls'-compositions, their stringing
together of the good old traditional copy-book phrases; their
occasional gushes of sentiment, their profound estimates of the
world, sounding to the old folks that read them as the experience of
a bantam pullet's last-hatched young one with the chips of its shell
on its head would sound to a Mother Cary's chicken, who knew the
great ocean with all its typhoons and tornadoes? Yet every now and
then one is liable to be surprised with strange clairvoyant flashes,
that can hardly be explained, except by the mysterious inspiration
which every now and then seizes a young girl and exalts her
intelligence, just as hysteria in other instances exalts the
sensibility,--a little something of that which made Joan of Arc, and
the Burney girl who prophesied "Evelina," and the Davidson sisters.
In the midst of these commonplace exercises which Miss Darley read
over so carefully were two or three that had something of individual
flavor about them, and here and there there was an image or an
epithet which showed the footprint of a passionate nature, as a
fallen scarlet feather marks the path the wild flamingo has trodden.
The young lady-teacher read them with a certain indifference of
manner, as one reads proofs--noting defects of detail, but not
commonly arrested by the matters treated of. Even Miss Charlotte Ann
Wood's poem, beginning
"How sweet at evening's balmy hour,"
did not excite her. She marked the inevitable false rhyme of Cockney
and Yankee beginners, morn and dawn, and tossed the verses on the
pile of papers she had finished. She was looking over some of the
last of them in a rather listless way,--for the poor thing was
getting sleepy in spite of herself,--when she came to one which
seemed to rouse her attention, and lifted her drooping lids. She
looked at it a moment before she would touch it. Then she took hold
of it by one corner and slid it off from the rest. One would have
said she was afraid of it, or had some undefined antipathy which made
it hateful to her. Such odd fancies are common enough in young
persons in her nervous state. Many of these young people will jump
up twenty times a day and run to dabble the tips of their fingers in
water, after touching the most inoffensive objects.
This composition was written in a singular, sharp-pointed, long,
slender hand, on a kind of wavy, ribbed paper. There was something
strangely suggestive about the look of it, but exactly of what, Miss
barley either could not or did not try to think. The subject of the
paper was The Mountain,--the composition being a sort of descriptive
rhapsody. It showed a startling familiarity with some of the savage
scenery of the region. One would have said that the writer must have
threaded its wildest solitudes by the light of the moon and stars as
well as by day. As the teacher read on, her color changed, and a
kind of tremulous agitation came over her. There were hints in this
strange paper she did not know what to make of. There was something
in its descriptions and imagery that recalled,--Miss Darley could not
say what,--but it made her frightfully nervous. Still she could not
help reading, till she came to one passage which so agitated her,
that the tired and over-wearied girl's self-control left her
entirely. She sobbed once or twice, then laughed convulsively; and
flung herself on the bed, where she worked out a set hysteric spasm
as she best might, without anybody to rub her hands and see that she
did not hurt herself.
By and by she got quiet, rose and went to her bookcase, took down a
volume of Coleridge, and read a short time, and so to bed, to sleep
and wake from time to time with a sudden start out of uneasy dreams.
Perhaps it is of no great consequence what it was in the composition
which set her off into this nervous paroxysm. She was in such a
state that almost any slight agitation would have brought on the
attack, and it was the accident of her transient excitability, very
probably, which made a trifling cause the seeming occasion of so much
disturbance. The theme was signed, in the same peculiar, sharp,
slender hand, E. Venner, and was, of course, written by that wild-
looking girl who had excited the master's curiosity and prompted his
question, as before mentioned. The next morning the lady-teacher
looked pale and wearied, naturally enough, but she was in her place
at the usual hour, and Master Langdon in his own.
The girls had not yet entered the school room.
"You have been ill, I am afraid," said Mr. Bernard.
"I was not well yesterday," she, answered. "I had a worry and a kind
of fright. It is so dreadful to have the charge of all these young
souls and bodies. Every young girl ought to walk locked close, arm
in arm, between two guardian angels. Sometimes I faint almost with
the thought of all that I ought to do, and of my own weakness and
wants.--Tell me, are there not natures born so out of parallel with
the lines of natural law that nothing short of a miracle can bring
Mr. Bernard had speculated somewhat, as all thoughtful persons of his
profession are forced to do, on the innate organic tendencies with
which individuals, families, and races are born. He replied,
therefore, with a smile, as one to whom the question suggested a very
familiar class of facts.
"Why, of course. Each of us is only the footing-up of a double
column of figures that goes back to the first pair. Every unit
tells,--and some of them are plus, and some minus. If the columns
don't add up right, it is commonly because we can't make out all the
figures. I don't mean to say that something may not be added by
Nature to make up for losses and keep the race to its average, but we
are mainly nothing but the answer to a long sum in addition and
subtraction. No doubt there are people born with impulses at every
possible angle to the parallels of Nature, as you call them. If they
happen to cut these at right angles, of course they are beyond the
reach of common influences. Slight obliquities are what we have most
to do with in education. Penitentiaries and insane asylums take care
of most of the right-angle cases.--I am afraid I have put it too
much like a professor, and I am only a student, you know. Pray, what
set you to asking me this? Any strange cases among the scholars?"
The meek teacher's blue eyes met the luminous glance that came with
the question. She, too, was of gentle blood,--not meaning by that
that she was of any noted lineage, but that she came of a cultivated
stock, never rich, but long trained to intellectual callings. A
thousand decencies, amenities, reticences, graces, which no one
thinks of until he misses them, are the traditional right of those
who spring from such families. And when two persons of this
exceptional breeding meet in the midst of the common multitude, they
seek each other's company at once by the natural law of elective
affinity. It is wonderful how men and women know their peers. If
two stranger queens, sole survivors of two shipwrecked vessels, were
cast, half-naked, on a rock together, each would at once address the
other as "Our Royal Sister."
Helen Darley looked into the dark eyes of Bernard Langdon glittering
with the light which flashed from them with his question. Not as
those foolish, innocent country-girls of the small village did she
look into them, to be fascinated and bewildered, but to sound them
with a calm, steadfast purpose. "A gentleman," she said to herself,
as she read his expression and his features with a woman's rapid, but
exhausting glance. "A lady," he said to himself, as he met her
questioning look,--so brief, so quiet, yet so assured, as of one whom
necessity had taught to read faces quickly without offence, as
children read the faces of parents, as wives read the faces of hard-
souled husbands. All this was but a few seconds' work, and yet the
main point was settled. If there had been any vulgar curiosity or
coarseness of any kind lurking in his expression, she would have
detected it. If she had not lifted her eyes to his face so softly
and kept them there so calmly and withdrawn them so quietly, he would
not have said to himself, "She is a LADY," for that word meant a good
deal to the descendant of the courtly Wentworths and the scholarly
"There are strange people everywhere, Mr. Langdon," she said, "and I
don't think our schoolroom is an exception. I am glad you believe in
the force of transmitted tendencies. It would break my heart, if I
did not think that there are faults beyond the reach of everything
but God's special grace. I should die, if I thought that my
negligence or incapacity was alone responsible for the errors and
sins of those I have charge of. Yet there are mysteries I do not
know how to account for." She looked all round the schoolroom, and
then said, in a whisper, "Mr. Langdon, we had a girl that stole, in
the school, not long ago. Worse than that, we had a girl who tried
to set us on fire. Children of good people, both of them. And we
have a girl now that frightens me so"--
The door opened, and three misses came in to take their seats: three
types, as it happened, of certain classes, into which it would not
have been difficult to distribute the greater number of the girls in
the school.---Hannah Martin. Fourteen years and three months old.
Short-necked, thick-waisted, round-cheeked, smooth, vacant forehead,
large, dull eyes. Looks good-natured, with little other expression.
Three buns in her bag, and a large apple. Has a habit of attacking
her provisions in school-hours.--Rosa Milburn. Sixteen. Brunette,
with a rare-ripe flush in her cheeks. Color comes and goes easily.
Eyes wandering, apt to be downcast. Moody at times. Said to be
passionate, if irritated. Finished in high relief. Carries
shoulders well back and walks well, as if proud of her woman's life,
with a slight rocking movement, being one of the wide-flanged
pattern, but seems restless,--a hard girl to look after. Has a
romance in her pocket, which she means to read in school-time.
--Charlotte Ann Wood. Fifteen. The poetess before mentioned. Long,
light ringlets, pallid complexion, blue eyes. Delicate child, half
unfolded. Gentle, but languid and despondent. Does not go much with
the other girls, but reads a good deal, especially poetry,
underscoring favorite passages. Writes a great many verses, very
fast, not very correctly; full of the usual human sentiments,
expressed in the accustomed phrases. Under-vitalized. Sensibilities
not covered with their normal integuments. A negative condition,
often confounded with genius, and sometimes running into it. Young
people who fall out of line through weakness of the active faculties
are often confounded with those who step out of it through strength
of the intellectual ones.
The girls kept coming in, one after another, or in pairs or groups,
until the schoolroom was nearly full. Then there was a little pause,
and a light step was heard in the passage. The lady-teacher's eyes
turned to the door, and the master's followed them in the same
A girl of about seventeen entered. She was tall and slender, but
rounded, with a peculiar undulation of movement, such as one
sometimes sees in perfectly untutored country-girls, whom Nature, the
queen of graces, has taken in hand, but more commonly in connection
with the very highest breeding of the most thoroughly trained
society. She was a splendid scowling beauty, black-browed, with a
flash of white teeth which was always like a surprise when her lips
parted. She wore a checkered dress, of a curious pattern, and a
camel's-hair scarf twisted a little fantastically about her. She
went to her seat, which she had moved a short distance apart from the
rest, and, sitting down, began playing listlessly with her gold
chain, as was a common habit with her, coiling it and uncoiling it
about her slender wrist, and braiding it in with her long, delicate
fingers. Presently she looked up. Black, piercing eyes, not large,
--a low forehead, as low as that of Clytie in the Townley bust,--
black hair, twisted in heavy braids,--a face that one could not help
looking at for its beauty, yet that one wanted to look away from for
something in its expression, and could not for those diamond eyes.
They were fixed on the lady-teacher now. The latter turned her own
away, and let them wander over the other scholars. But they could
not help coming back again for a single glance at the wild beauty.
The diamond eyes were on her still. She turned the leaves of several
of her books, as if in search of some passage, and, when she thought
she had waited long enough to be safe, once more stole a quick look
at the dark girl. The diamond eyes were still upon her. She put her
kerchief to her forehead, which had grown slightly moist; she sighed
once, almost shivered, for she felt cold; then, following some ill-
defined impulse, which she could not resist, she left her place and
went to the young girl's desk.
"What do you want of me, Elsie Venner?" It was a strange question to
put, for the girl had not signified that she wished the teacher to
come to her.
"Nothing," she said. "I thought I could make you come." The girl
spoke in a low tone, a kind of half-whisper. She did not lisp, yet
her articulation of one or two consonants was not absolutely perfect.
"Where did you get that flower, Elsie?" said Miss Darley. It was a
rare alpine flower, which was found only in one spot among the rocks
of The Mountain.
"Where it grew," said Elsie Veneer. "Take it." The teacher could not
refuse her. The girl's finger tips touched hers as she took it. How
cold they were for a girl of such an organization!
The teacher went back to her seat. She made an excuse for quitting
the schoolroom soon afterwards. The first thing she did was to fling
the flower into her fireplace and rake the ashes over it. The second
was to wash the tips of her fingers, as if she had been another Lady
Macbeth. A poor, over-tasked, nervous creature,--we must not think
too much of her fancies.
After school was done, she finished the talk with the master which
had been so suddenly interrupted. There were things spoken of which
may prove interesting by and by, but there are other matters we must
first attend to.
THE EVENT OF THE SEASON.
"Mr. and Mrs. Colonel Sprowle's compliments to Mr. Langdon and
requests the pleasure of his company at a social entertainment on
Wednesday evening next.
" Elm St. Monday."
On paper of a pinkish color and musky smell, with a large "S" at the
top, and an embossed border. Envelop adherent, not sealed.
Brought by H. Frederic Sprowle, youngest son of the Colonel,--the H.
of course standing for the paternal Hezekiah, put in to please the
father, and reduced to its initial to please the mother, she having a
marked preference for Frederic. Boy directed to wait for an answer.
"Mr. Langdon has the pleasure of accepting Mr. and Mrs. Colonel
Sprowle's polite invitation for Wednesday evening."
On plain paper, sealed with an initial.
In walking along the main street, Mr. Bernard had noticed a large
house of some pretensions to architectural display, namely,
unnecessarily projecting eaves, giving it a mushroomy aspect, wooden
mouldings at various available points, and a grandiose arched
portico. It looked a little swaggering by the side of one or two of
the mansion-houses that were not far from it, was painted too bright
for Mr. Bernard's taste, had rather too fanciful a fence before it,
and had some fruit-trees planted in the front-yard, which to this
fastidious young gentleman implied a defective sense of the fitness
of things, not promising in people who lived in so large a house,
with a mushroom roof and a triumphal arch for its entrance.
This place was known as "Colonel Sprowle's villa," (genteel
friends,)--as "the elegant residence of our distinguished fellow-
citizen, Colonel Sprowle," (Rockland Weekly Universe,)--as "the neew
haouse," (old settlers,)--as "Spraowle's Folly, "(disaffected and
possibly envious neighbors,)--and in common discourse, as "the
Hezekiah Sprowle, Esquire, Colonel Sprowle of the Commonwealth's
Militia, was a retired "merchant." An India merchant he might,
perhaps, have been properly called; for he used to deal in West India
goods, such as coffee, sugar, and molasses, not to speak of rum,--
also in tea, salt fish, butter and cheese, oil and candles, dried
fruit, agricultural "p'doose" generally, industrial products, such
as boots and shoes, and various kinds of iron and wooden ware, and at
one end of the establishment in calicoes and other stuffs,--to say
nothing of miscellaneous objects of the most varied nature, from
sticks of candy, which tempted in the smaller youth with coppers in
their fists, up to ornamental articles of apparel, pocket-books,
breast-pins, gilt-edged Bibles, stationery, in short, everything
which was like to prove seductive to the rural population. The
Colonel had made money in trade, and also by matrimony. He had
married Sarah, daughter and heiress of the late Tekel Jordan, Esq.,
an old miser, who gave the town-clock, which carries his name to
posterity in large gilt letters as a generous benefactor of his
native place. In due time the Colonel reaped the reward of well-
placed affections. When his wife's inheritance fell in, he thought
he had money enough to give up trade, and therefore sold out his
"store," called in some dialects of the English language shop, and
Life became pretty hard work to him, of course, as soon as he had
nothing particular to do. Country people with money enough not to
have to work are in much more danger than city people in the same
condition. They get a specific look and character, which are the
same in all the villages where one studies them. They very commonly
fall into a routine, the basis of which is going to some lounging-
place or other, a bar-room, a reading-room, or something of the kind.
They grow slovenly in dress, and wear the same hat forever. They
have a feeble curiosity for news perhaps, which they take daily as a
man takes his bitters, and then fall silent and think they are
thinking. But the mind goes out under this regimen, like a fire
without a draught; and it is not very strange, if the instinct of
mental self-preservation drives them to brandy-and-water, which makes
the hoarse whisper of memory musical for a few brief moments, and
puts a weak leer of promise on the features of the hollow-eyed
future. The Colonel was kept pretty well in hand as yet by his wife,
and though it had happened to him once or twice to come home rather
late at night with a curious tendency to say the same thing twice and
even three times over, it had always been in very cold weather,--and
everybody knows that no one is safe to drink a couple of glasses of
wine in a warm room and go suddenly out into the cold air.
Miss Matilda Sprowle, sole daughter of the house, had reached the age
at which young ladies are supposed in technical language to have come
out, and thereafter are considered to be in company.
"There's one piece o' goods," said the Colonel to his wife, "that we
ha'n't disposed of, nor got a customer for yet. That 's Matildy. I
don't mean to set HER up at vaandoo. I guess she can have her pick
of a dozen."
"She 's never seen anybody yet," said Mrs. Sprowle, who had had a
certain project for some time, but had kept quiet about it. "Let's
have a party, and give her a chance to show herself and see some of
the young folks."
The Colonel was not very clear-headed, and he thought, naturally
enough, that the party was his own suggestion, because his remark led
to the first starting of the idea. He entered into the plan,
therefore, with a feeling of pride as well as pleasure, and the great
project was resolved upon in a family council without a dissentient
voice. This was the party, then, to which Mr. Bernard was going.
The town had been full of it for a week. "Everybody was asked." So
everybody said that was invited. But how in respect of those who
were not asked? If it had been one of the old mansion-houses that
was giving a party, the boundary between the favored and the slighted
families would have been known pretty well beforehand, and there
would have been no great amount of grumbling. But the Colonel, for
all his title, had a forest of poor relations and a brushwood swamp
of shabby friends, for he had scrambled up to fortune, and now the
time was come when he must define his new social position.
This is always an awkward business in town or country. An exclusive
alliance between two powers is often the same thing as a declaration
of war against a third. Rockland was soon split into a triumphant
minority, invited to Mrs. Sprowle's party, and a great majority,
uninvited, of which the fraction just on the border line between
recognized "gentility" and the level of the ungloved masses was in an
active state of excitement and indignation.
"Who is she, I should like to know?" said Mrs. Saymore, the tailor's
wife. "There was plenty of folks in Rockland as good as ever Sally
Jordan was, if she had managed to pick up a merchant. Other folks
could have married merchants, if their families was n't as wealthy as
them old skinflints that willed her their money," etc., etc. Mrs.
Saymore expressed the feeling of many beside herself. She had,
however, a special right to be proud of the name she bore. Her
husband was own cousin to the Saymores of Freestone Avenue (who write
the name Seymour, and claim to be of the Duke of Somerset's family,
showing a clear descent from the Protector to Edward Seymour,
(1630,)--then a jump that would break a herald's neck to one Seth
Saymore,(1783,)--from whom to the head of the present family the line
is clear again). Mrs. Saymore, the tailor's wife, was not invited,
because her husband mended clothes. If he had confined himself
strictly to making them, it would have put a different face upon the
The landlord of the Mountain House and his lady were invited to Mrs.
Sprowle's party. Not so the landlord of Pollard's Tahvern and his
lady. Whereupon the latter vowed that they would have a party at
their house too, and made arrangements for a dance of twenty or
thirty couples, to be followed by an entertainment. Tickets to this
"Social Ball" were soon circulated, and, being accessible to all at a
moderate price, admission to the "Elegant Supper" included, this
second festival promised to be as merry, if not as select, as the
Wednesday came. Such doings had never been heard of in Rockland as
went on that day at the "villa." The carpet had been taken up in the
long room, so that the young folks might have a dance. Miss
Matilda's piano had been moved in, and two fiddlers and a clarionet-
player engaged to make music. All kinds of lamps had been put in
requisition, and even colored wax-candles figured on the mantel-
pieces. The costumes of the family had been tried on the day before:
the Colonel's black suit fitted exceedingly well; his lady's velvet
dress displayed her contours to advantage; Miss Matilda's flowered
silk was considered superb; the eldest son of the family, Mr. T.
Jordan Sprowle, called affectionately and elegantly "Geordie," voted
himself "stunnin'"; and even the small youth who had borne Mr.
Bernard's invitation was effective in a new jacket and trousers,
buttony in front, and baggy in the reverse aspect, as is wont to be
the case with the home-made garments of inland youngsters.
Great preparations had been made for the refection which was to be
part of the entertainment. There was much clinking of borrowed
spoons, which were to be carefully counted, and much clicking of
borrowed china, which was to be tenderly handled, for nobody in the
country keeps those vast closets full of such things which one may
see in rich city-houses. Not a great deal could be done in the way
of flowers, for there were no greenhouses, and few plants were out as
yet; but there were paper ornaments for the candlesticks, and colored
mats for the lamps, and all the tassels of the curtains and bells
were taken out of those brown linen bags, in which, for reasons
hitherto undiscovered, they are habitually concealed in some
households. In the remoter apartments every imaginable operation was
going on at once,--roasting, boiling, baking, beating, rolling,
pounding in mortars, frying, freezing; for there was to be ice-cream
to-night of domestic manufacture;--and in the midst of all these
labors, Mrs. Sprowle and Miss Matilda were moving about, directing
and helping as they best might, all day long. When the evening came,
it might be feared they would not be in just the state of mind and
body to entertain company.
--One would like to give a party now and then, if one could be a
billionnaire.--"Antoine, I am going to have twenty people to dine to-
day." "Biens, Madame." Not a word or thought more about it, but get
home in season to dress, and come down to your own table, one of your
own guests.--"Giuseppe, we are to have a party a week from to-night,
--five hundred invitations--there is the list." The day comes.
"Madam, do you remember you have your party tonight?" "Why, so I
have! Everything right? supper and all?" "All as it should be,
"Send up Victorine." "Victorine, full toilet for this evening,--
pink, diamonds, and emeralds. Coiffeur at seven. Allez."--
Billionism, or even millionism, must be a blessed kind of state, with
health and clear conscience and youth and good looks,--but most
blessed is this, that it takes off all the mean cares which give
people the three wrinkles between the eyebrows, and leaves them free
to have a good time and make others have a good time, all the way
along from the charity that tips up unexpected loads of wood before
widows' houses, and leaves foundling turkeys upon poor men's door-
steps, and sets lean clergymen crying at the sight of anonymous
fifty-dollar bills, to the taste which orders a perfect banquet in
such sweet accord with every sense that everybody's nature flowers
out full--blown in its golden--glowing, fragrant atmosphere.
--A great party given by the smaller gentry of the interior is a kind
of solemnity, so to speak. It involves so much labor and anxiety,--
its spasmodic splendors are so violently contrasted with the
homeliness of every-day family-life,--it is such a formidable matter
to break in the raw subordinates to the manege of the cloak-room and
the table,--there is such a terrible uncertainty in the results of
unfamiliar culinary operations,--so many feuds are involved in
drawing that fatal line which divides the invited from the uninvited
fraction of the local universe,--that, if the notes requested the
pleasure of the guests' company on "this solemn occasion," they would
pretty nearly express the true state of things.
The Colonel himself had been pressed into the service. He had
pounded something in the great mortar. He had agitated a quantity of
sweetened and thickened milk in what was called a cream-freezer. At
eleven o'clock, A. M., he retired for a space. On returning, his
color was noted to be somewhat heightened, and he showed a
disposition to be jocular with the female help,--which tendency,
displaying itself in livelier demonstrations than were approved at
head-quarters, led to his being detailed to out-of-door duties, such
as raking gravel, arranging places for horses to be hitched to, and
assisting in the construction of an arch of wintergreen at the porch
of the mansion.
A whiff from Mr. Geordie's cigar refreshed the toiling females from
time to time; for the windows had to be opened occasionally, while
all these operations were going on, and the youth amused himself with
inspecting the interior, encouraging the operatives now and then in
the phrases commonly employed by genteel young men,--for he had
perused an odd volume of "Verdant Green," and was acquainted with a
Sophomore from one of the fresh-water colleges. "Go it on the feed!"
exclaimed this spirited young man. "Nothin' like a good spread.
Grub enough and good liquor, that's the ticket. Guv'nor'll do the
heavy polite, and let me alone for polishin' off the young charmers."
And Mr. Geordie looked expressively at a handmaid who was rolling
gingerbread, as if he were rehearsing for "Don Giovanni."
Evening came at last, and the ladies were forced to leave the scene
of their labors to array themselves for the coming festivities. The
tables had been set in a back room, the meats were ready, the pickles
were displayed, the cake was baked, the blanc-mange had stiffened,
and the ice-cream had frozen.
At half past seven o'clock, the Colonel, in costume, came into the
front parlor, and proceeded to light the lamps. Some were good-
humored enough and took the hint of a lighted match at once. Others
were as vicious as they could be,--would not light on any terms, any
more than if they were filled with water, or lighted and smoked one
side of the chimney, or spattered a few sparks and sulked themselves
out, or kept up a faint show of burning, so that their ground glasses
looked as feebly phosphorescent as so many invalid fireflies. With
much coaxing and screwing and pricking, a tolerable illumination was
at last achieved. At eight there was a grand rustling of silks, and
Mrs. and Miss Sprowle descended from their respective bowers or
boudoirs. Of course they were pretty well tired by this time, and
very glad to sit down,--having the prospect before them of being
obliged to stand for hours. The Colonel walked about the parlor,
inspecting his regiment of lamps. By and by Mr. Geordie entered.
"Mph! mph!" he sniffed, as he came in. "You smell of lamp-smoke
That always galls people,--to have a new-comer accuse them of smoke
or close air, which they have got used to and do not perceive. The
Colonel raged at the thought of his lamps' smoking, and tongued a few
anathemas inside of his shut teeth, but turned down two or three
wicks that burned higher than the rest.
Master H. Frederic next made his appearance, with questionable marks
upon his fingers and countenance. Had been tampering with something
brown and sticky. His elder brother grew playful, and caught him by
the baggy reverse of his more essential garment.
"Hush!" said Mrs. Sprowle,--"there 's the bell!"
Everybody took position at once, and began to look very smiling and
altogether at ease.--False alarm. Only a parcel of spoons,--
"loaned," as the inland folks say when they mean lent, by a neighbor.
"Better late than never!" said the Colonel, "let me heft them
Mrs. Sprowle came down into her chair again as if all her bones had
been bewitched out of her.
"I'm pretty nigh beat out a'ready," said she, "before any of the
folks has come."
They sat silent awhile, waiting for the first arrival. How nervous
they got! and how their senses were sharpened!
"Hark!" said Miss Matilda,--"what 's that rumblin'?"
It was a cart going over a bridge more than a mile off, which at any
other time they would not have heard. After this there was a lull,
and poor Mrs. Sprowle's head nodded once or twice. Presently a
crackling and grinding of gravel;--how much that means, when we are
waiting for those whom we long or dread to see! Then a change in the
tone of the gravel-crackling.
"Yes, they have turned in at our gate. They're comin'! Mother!
Everybody in position, smiling and at ease. Bell rings. Enter the
first set of visitors. The Event of the Season has begun.
"Law! it's nothin' but the Cranes' folks! I do believe Mahala 's
come in that old green de-laine she wore at the Surprise Party!"
Miss Matilda had peeped through a crack of the door and made this
observation and the remark founded thereon. Continuing her attitude
of attention, she overheard Mrs. Crane and her two daughters
conversing in the attiring-room, up one flight.
"How fine everything is in the great house!" said Mrs. Crane,--"jest
look at the picters!"
"Matildy Sprowle's drawin's," said Ada Azuba, the eldest daughter.
"I should think so," said Mahala Crane, her younger sister,--a wide-
awake girl, who had n't been to school for nothing, and performed a
little on the lead pencil herself. "I should like to know whether
that's a hay-cock or a mountain!"
Miss Matilda winced; for this must refer to her favorite monochrome,
executed by laying on heavy shadows and stumping them down into
mellow harmony,--the style of drawing which is taught in six lessons,
and the kind of specimen which is executed in something less than one
hour. Parents and other very near relatives are sometimes gratified
with these productions, and cause them to be framed and hung up, as
in the present instance.
"I guess we won't go down jest yet," said Mrs. Crane, "as folks don't
seem to have come."
So she began a systematic inspection of the dressing-room and its
"Mahogany four-poster;--come from the Jordans', I cal'la,te.
Marseilles quilt. Ruffles all round the piller. Chintz curtings,--
jest put up,--o' purpose for the party, I'll lay ye a dollar.---What
a nice washbowl!" (Taps it with a white knuckle belonging to a red
finger.) "Stone chaney.--Here's a bran'-new brush and comb,--and
here's a scent-bottle. Come here, girls, and fix yourselves in the
glass, and scent your pocket-handkerchers."
And Mrs. Crane bedewed her own kerchief with some of the eau de
Cologne of native manufacture,--said on its label to be much superior
to the German article.
It was a relief to Mrs. and the Miss Cranes when the bell rang and
the next guests were admitted. Deacon and Mrs. Soper,--Deacon Soper
of the Rev. Mr. Fairweather's church, and his lady. Mrs. Deacon
Soper was directed, of course, to the ladies' dressing-room, and her
husband to the other apartment, where gentlemen were to leave their
outside coats and hats. Then came Mr. and Mrs. Briggs, and then the
three Miss Spinneys, then Silas Peckham, Head of the Apollinean
Institute, and Mrs. Peckham, and more after them, until at last the
ladies' dressing-room got so full that one might have thought it was
a trap none of them could get out of. In truth, they all felt a
little awkwardly. Nobody wanted to be first to venture down-stairs.
At last Mr. Silas Peckham thought it was time to make a move for the
parlor, and for this purpose presented himself at the door of the
"Lorindy, my dear!" he exclaimed to Mrs. Peckham,--"I think there
can be no impropriety in our joining the family down-stairs."
Mrs. Peckham laid her large, flaccid arm in the sharp angle made by
the black sleeve which held the bony limb her husband offered, and
the two took the stair and struck out for the parlor. The ice was
broken, and the dressing-room began to empty itself into the
spacious, lighted apartments below.
Mr. Silas Peckham slid into the room with Mrs. Peckham alongside,
like a shad convoying a jelly-fish.
"Good-evenin', Mrs. Sprowle! I hope I see you well this evenin'.
How 's your haalth, Colonel Sprowle?"
"Very well, much obleeged to you. Hope you and your good lady are
well. Much pleased to see you. Hope you'll enjoy yourselves. We've
laid out to have everything in good shape,--spared no trouble nor
"pence,"--said Silas Peckham.
Mrs. Colonel Sprowle, who, you remember, was a Jordan, had nipped the
Colonel's statement in the middle of the word Mr. Peckham finished,
with a look that jerked him like one of those sharp twitches women
keep giving a horse when they get a chance to drive one.
Mr. and Mrs. Crane, Miss Ada Azuba, and Miss Mahala Crane made their
entrance. There had been a discussion about the necessity and
propriety of inviting this family, the head of which kept a small
shop for hats and boots and shoes. The Colonel's casting vote had
carried it in the affirmative.--How terribly the poor old green
de-laine did cut up in the blaze of so many lamps and candles.
--Deluded little wretch, male or female, in town or country, going to
your first great party, how little you know the nature of the
ceremony in which you are to bear the part of victim! What! are not
these garlands and gauzy mists and many-colored streamers which adorn
you, is not this music which welcomes you, this radiance that glows
about you, meant solely for your enjoyment, young miss of seventeen
or eighteen summers, now for the first time swimming unto the frothy,
chatoyant, sparkling, undulating sea of laces and silks and satins,
and white-armed, flower-crowned maidens struggling in their waves
beneath the lustres that make the false summer of the drawing-room?
Stop at the threshold! This is a hall of judgment you are entering;
the court is in session; and if you move five steps forward, you will
be at its bar.
There was a tribunal once in France, as you may remember, called the
Chambre Ardente, the Burning Chamber. It was hung all round with
lamps, and hence its name. The burning chamber for the trial of
young maidens is the blazing ball-room. What have they full-dressed
you, or rather half-dressed you for, do you think? To make you look
pretty, of course! Why have they hung a chandelier above you,
flickering all over with flames, so that it searches you like the
noonday sun, and your deepest dimple cannot hold a shadow? To give
brilliancy to the gay scene, no doubt!--No, my clear! Society is
inspecting you, and it finds undisguised surfaces and strong lights a
convenience in the process. The dance answers the purpose of the
revolving pedestal upon which the "White Captive" turns, to show us
the soft, kneaded marble, which looks as if it had never been hard,
in all its manifold aspects of living loveliness. No mercy for you,
my love! Justice, strict justice, you shall certainly have,--neither
more nor less. For, look you, there are dozens, scores, hundreds,
with whom you must be weighed in the balance; and you have got to
learn that the "struggle for life" Mr. Charles Darwin talks about
reaches to vertebrates clad in crinoline, as well as to mollusks in
shells, or articulates in jointed scales, or anything that fights for
breathing-room and food and love in any coat of fur or feather!
Happy they who can flash defiance from bright eyes and snowy
shoulders back into the pendants of the insolent lustres!
--Miss Mahala Crane did not have these reflections; and no young girl
ever did, or ever will, thank Heaven! Her keen eyes sparkled under
her plainly parted hair and the green de-laine moulded itself in
those unmistakable lines of natural symmetry in which Nature indulges
a small shopkeeper's daughter occasionally as well as a wholesale
dealer's young ladies. She would have liked a new dress as much as
any other girl, but she meant to go and have a good time at any rate.
The guests were now arriving in the drawing-room pretty fast, and the
Colonel's hand began to burn a good deal with the sharp squeezes
which many of the visitors gave it. Conversation, which had begun
like a summer-shower, in scattering drops, was fast becoming
continuous, and occasionally rising into gusty swells, with now and
then a broad-chested laugh from some Captain or Major or other
military personage,--for it may be noted that all large and loud men
in the unpaved districts bear military titles.
Deacon Soper came up presently, and entered into conversation with
"I hope to see our pastor present this evenin'," said the Deacon.
"I don't feel quite sure," the Colonel answered. "His dyspepsy has
been bad on him lately. He wrote to say, that, Providence
permittin', it would be agreeable to him to take a part in the
exercises of the evenin'; but I mistrusted he did n't mean to come.
To tell the truth, Deacon Soper, I rather guess he don't like the
idee of dancin', and some of the other little arrangements."
"Well," said the Deacon, "I know there's some condemns dancin'. I've
heerd a good deal of talk about it among the folks round. Some have
it that it never brings a blessin' on a house to have dancin' in it.
Judge Tileston died, you remember, within a month after he had his
great ball, twelve year ago, and some thought it was in the natur' of
a judgment. I don't believe in any of them notions. If a man
happened to be struck dead the night after he'd been givin' a ball,"
(the Colonel loosened his black stock a little, and winked and
swallowed two or three times,) "I should n't call it a judgment,--I
should call it a coincidence. But I 'm a little afraid our pastor
won't come. Somethin' or other's the matter with Mr. Fairweather. I
should sooner expect to see the old Doctor come over out of the
"I've asked him," said the Colonel.
"Well?" said Deacon Soper.
"He said he should like to come, but he did n't know what his people
would say. For his part, he loved to see young folks havin' their
sports together, and very often felt as if he should like to be one
of 'em himself. 'But,' says I, 'Doctor, I don't say there won't be a
little dancin'.' 'Don't!' says he, 'for I want Letty to go,' (she's
his granddaughter that's been stayin' with him,) 'and Letty 's mighty
fond of dancin'. You know,' says the Doctor, 'it is n't my business
to settle whether other people's children should dance or not.' And
the Doctor looked as if he should like to rigadoon and sashy across
as well as the young one he was talkin' about. He 's got blood in
him, the old Doctor has. I wish our little man and him would swop
Deacon Soper started and looked up into the Colonel's face, as if to
see whether he was in earnest.
Mr. Silas Peckham and his lady joined the group.
"Is this to be a Temperance Celebration, Mrs. Sprowle?" asked Mr.
Mrs. Sprowle replied, "that there would be lemonade and srub for
those that preferred such drinks, but that the Colonel had given
folks to understand that he did n't mean to set in judgment on the
marriage in Canaan, and that those that didn't like srub and such
things would find somethin' that would suit them better."
Deacon Soper's countenance assumed a certain air of restrained
cheerfulness. The conversation rose into one of its gusty paroxysms
just then. Master H. Frederic got behind a door and began performing
the experiment of stopping and unstopping his ears in rapid
alternation, greatly rejoicing in the singular effect of mixed
conversation chopped very small, like the contents of a mince-pie, or
meat-pie, as it is more forcibly called in the deep-rutted villages
lying along the unsalted streams. All at once it grew silent just
round the door, where it had been loudest,--and the silence spread
itself like a stain, till it hushed everything but a few corner-
duets. A dark, sad-looking, middle-aged gentleman entered the
parlor, with a young lady on his arm,--his daughter, as it seemed,
for she was not wholly unlike him in feature, and of the same dark
"Dudley Venner," exclaimed a dozen people, in startled, but half-
"What can have brought Dudley out to-night?" said Jefferson Buck, a
young fellow, who had been interrupted in one of the corner-duets
which he was executing in concert with Miss Susy Pettingill.
"How do I know, Jeff?" was Miss Susy's answer. Then, after a
pause,--"Elsie made him come, I guess. Go ask Dr. Kittredge; he
knows all about 'em both, they say."
Dr. Kittredge, the leading physician of Rockland, was a shrewd old
man, who looked pretty keenly into his patients through his
spectacles, and pretty widely at men, women, and things in general
over them. Sixty-three years old,--just the year of the grand
climacteric. A bald crown, as every doctor should have. A
consulting practitioner's mouth; that is, movable round the corners
while the case is under examination, but both corners well drawn down
and kept so when the final opinion is made up. In fact, the Doctor
was often sent for to act as "caounsel," all over the county, and
beyond it. He kept three or four horses, sometimes riding in the
saddle, commonly driving in a sulky, pretty fast, and looking
straight before him, so that people got out of the way of bowing to
him as he passed on the road. There was some talk about his not
being so long-sighted as other folks, but his old patients laughed
and looked knowing when this was spoken of.
The Doctor knew a good many things besides how to drop tinctures and
shake out powders. Thus, he knew a horse, and, what is harder to
understand, a horse-dealer, and was a match for him. He knew what a
nervous woman is, and how to manage her. He could tell at a glance
when she is in that condition of unstable equilibrium in which a
rough word is like a blow to her, and the touch of unmagnetized
fingers reverses all her nervous currents. It is not everybody that
enters into the soul of Mozart's or Beethoven's harmonies; and there
are vital symphonies in B flat, and other low, sad keys, which a
doctor may know as little of as a hurdy-gurdy player of the essence
of those divine musical mysteries. The Doctor knew the difference
between what men say and what they mean as well as most people. When
he was listening to common talk, he was in the habit of looking over
his spectacles; if he lifted his head so as to look through them at
the person talking, he was busier with that person's thoughts than
with his words.
Jefferson Buck was not bold enough to confront the Doctor with Miss
Susy's question, for he did not look as if he were in the mood to
answer queries put by curious young people. His eyes were fixed
steadily on the dark girl, every movement of whom he seemed to
She was, indeed, an apparition of wild beauty, so unlike the girls
about her that it seemed nothing more than natural, that, when she
moved, the groups should part to let her pass through them, and that
she should carry the centre of all looks and thoughts with her. She
was dressed to please her own fancy, evidently, with small regard to
the modes declared correct by the Rockland milliners and mantua-
makers. Her heavy black hair lay in a braided coil, with a long gold
pin shat through it like a javelin. Round her neck was a golden
torque, a round, cord-like chain, such as the Gaols used to wear; the
"Dying Gladiator" has it. Her dress was a grayish watered silk; her
collar was pinned with a flashing diamond brooch, the stones looking
as fresh as morning dew-drops, but the silver setting of the past
generation; her arms were bare, round, but slender rather than large,
in keeping with her lithe round figure. On her wrists she wore
bracelets: one was a circlet of enamelled scales; the other looked as
if it might have been Cleopatra's asp, with its body turned to gold
and its, eyes to emeralds.
Her father--for Dudley Venner was her father--looked like a man of
culture and breeding, but melancholy and with a distracted air, as
one whose life had met some fatal cross or blight. He saluted hardly
anybody except his entertainers and the Doctor. One would have said,
to look at him, that he was not at the party by choice; and it was
natural enough to think, with Susy Pettingill, that it must have been
a freak of the dark girl's which brought him there, for he had the
air of a shy and sad-hearted recluse.
It was hard to say what could have brought Elsie Venner to the party.
Hardly anybody seemed to know her, and she seemed not at all disposed
to make acquaintances. Here and there was one of the older girls
from the Institute, but she appeared to have nothing in common with
them. Even in the schoolroom, it may be remembered, she sat apart by
her own choice, and now in the midst of the crowd she made a circle
of isolation round herself. Drawing her arm out of her father's, she
stood against the wall, and looked, with a strange, cold glitter in
her eyes, at the crowd which moved and babbled before her.
The old Doctor came up to her by and by.
"Well, Elsie, I am quite surprised to find you here. Do tell me how
you happened to do such a good-natured thing as to let us see you at
such a great party."
"It's been dull at the mansion-house," she said, "and I wanted to get
out of it. It's too lonely there,--there's nobody to hate since
The Doctor laughed good-naturedly, as if this were an amusing bit of
pleasantry,--but he lifted his head and dropped his eyes a little, so
as to see her through his spectacles. She narrowed her lids
slightly, as one often sees a sleepy cat narrow hers,--somewhat as
you may remember our famous Margaret used to, if you remember her at
all,--so that her eyes looked very small, but bright as the diamonds
on her breast. The old Doctor felt very oddly as she looked at him;
be did not like the feeling, so he dropped his head and lifted his
eyes and looked at her over his spectacles again.
"And how have you all been at the mansion house?" said the Doctor.
"Oh, well enough. But Dick's gone, and there's nobody left but
Dudley and I and the people. I'm tired of it. What kills anybody
quickest, Doctor?" Then, in a whisper, "I ran away again the other
day, you know."
"Where did you go?" The Doctor spoke in a low, serious tone.
"Oh, to the old place. Here, I brought this for you."
The Doctor started as she handed him a flower of the Atragene
Americana, for he knew that there was only one spot where it grew,
and that not one where any rash foot, least of all a thin-shod
woman's foot, should venture.
"How long were you gone?" said the Doctor.
"Only one night. You should have heard the horns blowing and the
guns firing. Dudley was frightened out of his wits. Old Sophy told
him she'd had a dream, and that I should be found in Dead-Man's
Hollow, with a great rock lying on me. They hunted all over it, but
they did n't find me,--I was farther up."
Doctor Kittredge looked cloudy and worried while she was speaking,
but forced a pleasant professional smile, as he said cheerily, and as
if wishing to change the subject,
"Have a good dance this evening, Elsie. The fiddlers are tuning up.
Where 's the young master? has he come yet? or is he going to be
late, with the other great folks?"
The girl turned away without answering, and looked toward the door.
The "great folks," meaning the mansion-house gentry, were just
beginning to come; Dudley Venner and his daughter had been the first
of them. Judge Thornton, white-headed, fresh-faced, as good at sixty
as he was at forty, with a youngish second wife, and one noble
daughter, Arabella, who, they said, knew as much law as her father, a
stately, Portia like girl, fit for a premier's wife, not like to find
her match even in the great cities she sometimes visited; the
Trecothicks, the family of a merchant, (in the larger sense,) who,
having made himself rich enough by the time he had reached middle
life, threw down his ledger as Sylla did his dagger, and retired to
make a little paradise around him in one of the stateliest residences
of the town, a family inheritance; the Vaughans, an old Rockland
race, descended from its first settlers, Toryish in tendency in
Revolutionary times, and barely escaping confiscation or worse; the
Dunhams, a new family, dating its gentility only as far back as the
Honorable Washington Dunham, M. C., but turning out a clever boy or
two that went to college; and some showy girls with white necks and
fat arms who had picked up professional husbands: these were the
principal mansion-house people. All of them had made it a point to
come; and as each of them entered, it seemed to Colonel and Mrs.
Sprowle that the lamps burned up with a more cheerful light, and that
the fiddles which sounded from the uncarpeted room were all half a
tone higher and half a beat quicker.
Mr. Bernard came in later than any of them; he had been busy with his
new duties. He looked well and that is saying a good deal; for
nothing but a gentleman is endurable in full dress. Hair that masses
well, a head set on with an air, a neckerchief tied cleverly by an
easy, practised hand, close-fitting gloves, feet well shaped and well
covered,---these advantages can make us forgive the odious sable
broadcloth suit, which appears to have been adopted by society on the
same principle that condemned all the Venetian gondolas to perpetual
and uniform blackness. Mr. Bernard, introduced by Mr. Geordie, made
his bow to the Colonel and his lady and to Miss Matilda, from whom he
got a particularly gracious curtsy, and then began looking about him
for acquaintances. He found two or three faces he knew,--many more
strangers. There was Silas Peckham,--there was no mistaking him;
there was the inelastic amplitude of Mrs. Peckham; few of the
Apollinean girls, of course, they not being recognized members of
society,--but there is one with the flame in her cheeks and the fire
in her eyes, the girl of vigorous tints and emphatic outlines, whom
we saw entering the schoolroom the other day. Old Judge Thornton has
his eyes on her, and the Colonel steals a look every now and then at
the red brooch which lifts itself so superbly into the light, as if
he thought it a wonderfully becoming ornament. Mr. Bernard himself
was not displeased with the general effect of the rich-blooded
schoolgirl, as she stood under the bright lamps, fanning herself in
the warm, languid air, fixed in a kind of passionate surprise at the
new life which seemed to be flowering out in her consciousness.
Perhaps he looked at her somewhat steadily, as some others had done;
at any rate, she seemed to feel that she was looked at, as people
often do, and, turning her eyes suddenly on him, caught his own on
her face, gave him a half-bashful smile, and threw in a blush
involuntarily which made it more charming.
"What can I do better," he said to himself, "than have a dance with
Rosa Milburn? "So he carried his handsome pupil into the next room
and took his place with her in a cotillon. Whether the breath of the
Goddess of Love could intoxicate like the cup of Circe,--whether a
woman is ever phosphorescent with the luminous vapor of life that she
exhales,--these and other questions which relate to occult influences
exercised by certain women we will not now discuss. It is enough
that Mr. Bernard was sensible of a strange fascination, not wholly
new to him, nor unprecedented in the history of human experience, but
always a revelation when it comes over us for the first or the
hundredth time, so pale is the most recent memory by the side of the
passing moment with the flush of any new-born passion on its cheek.
Remember that Nature makes every man love all women, and trusts the
trivial matter of special choice to the commonest accident.
If Mr. Bernard had had nothing to distract his attention, he might
have thought too much about his handsome partner, and then gone home
and dreamed about her, which is always dangerous, and waked up
thinking of her still, and then begun to be deeply interested in her
studies, and so on, through the whole syllogism which ends in
Nature's supreme quod erat demonstrandum. What was there to distract
him or disturb him? He did not know,--but there was something. This
sumptuous creature, this Eve just within the gate of an untried
Paradise, untutored in the ways of the world, but on tiptoe to reach
the fruit of the tree of knowledge,--alive to the moist vitality of
that warm atmosphere palpitating with voices and music, as the flower
of some dioecious plant which has grown in a lone corner and suddenly
unfolding its corolla on some hot-breathing June evening, feels that
the air is perfumed with strange odors and loaded with golden dust
wafted from those other blossoms with which its double life is
shared,--this almost over-womanized woman might well have bewitched
him, but that he had a vague sense of a counter-charm. It was,
perhaps, only the same consciousness that some one was looking at him
which he himself had just given occasion to in his partner.
Presently, in one of the turns of the dance, he felt his eyes drawn
to a figure he had not distinctly recognized, though he had dimly
felt its presence, and saw that Elsie Venner was looking at him as if
she saw nothing else but him. He was not a nervous person, like the
poor lady-teacher, yet the glitter of the diamond eyes affected him
strangely. It seemed to disenchant the air, so full a moment before
of strange attractions. He became silent, and dreamy, as it were.
The round-limbed beauty at his side crushed her gauzy draperies
against him, as they trod the figure of the dance together, but it
was no more to him than if an old nurse had laid her hand on his
sleeve. The young girl chafed at his seeming neglect, and her
imperious blood mounted into her cheeks; but he appeared unconscious
"There is one of our young ladies I must speak to," he said,--and was
just leaving his partner's side.
"Four hands all round?" shouted the first violin,--and Mr. Bernard
found himself seized and whirled in a circle out of which he could
not escape, and then forced to "cross over," and then to "dozy do,"
as the maestro had it,--and when, on getting back to his place, he
looked for Elsie Venner, she was gone.
The dancing went on briskly. Some of the old folks looked on, others
conversed in groups and pairs, and so the evening wore along, until a
little after ten o'clock. About this time there was noticed an
increased bustle in the passages, with a considerable opening and
shutting of doors. Presently it began to be whispered about that
they were going to have supper. Many, who had never been to any
large party before, held their breath for a moment at this
announcement. It was rather with a tremulous interest than with open
hilarity that the rumor was generally received.
One point the Colonel had entirely forgotten to settle. It was a
point involving not merely propriety, but perhaps principle also, or
at least the good report of the house,--and he had never thought to
arrange it. He took Judge Thornton aside and whispered the important
question to him,--in his distress of mind, mistaking pockets and
taking out his bandanna instead of his white handkerchief to wipe his
"Judge," he said, "do you think, that, before we commence refreshing
ourselves at the tables, it would be the proper thing to--crave a--to
request Deacon Soper or some other elderly person--to ask a
The Judge looked as grave as if he were about giving the opinion of
the Court in the great India-rubber case.
"On the whole," he answered, after a pause, "I should think it might,
perhaps, be dispensed with on this occasion. Young folks are noisy,
and it is awkward to have talking and laughing going on while
blessing is being asked. Unless a clergyman is present and makes a
point of it, I think it will hardly be expected."
The Colonel was infinitely relieved. "Judge, will you take Mrs.
Sprowle in to supper? "And the Colonel returned the compliment by
offering his arm to Mrs. Judge Thornton.
The door of the supper-room was now open, and the company, following
the lead of the host and hostess, began to stream into it, until it
was pretty well filled.
There was an awful kind of pause. Many were beginning to drop their
heads and shut their eyes, in anticipation of the usual petition
before a meal; some expected the music to strike up,--others, that an
oration would now be delivered by the Colonel.
"Make yourselves at home, ladies and gentlemen," said the Colonel;
"good things were made to eat, and you're welcome to all you see
So saying he attacked a huge turkey which stood at the head of the
table; and his example being followed first by the bold, then by the
doubtful, and lastly by the timid, the clatter soon made the circuit
of the tables. Some were shocked, however, as the Colonel had feared
they would be, at the want of the customary invocation. Widow Leech,
a kind of relation, who had to be invited, and who came with her old,
back-country-looking string of gold beads round her neck, seemed to
feel very serious about it.
"If she'd ha' known that folks would begrutch cravin' a blessin' over
sech a heap o' provisions, she'd rather ha' staid t' home. It was a
bad sign, when folks was n't grateful for the baounties of
The elder Miss Spinney, to whom she made this remark, assented to it,
at the same time ogling a piece of frosted cake, which she presently
appropriated with great refinement of manner,--taking it between her
thumb and forefinger, keeping the others well spread and the little
finger in extreme divergence, with a graceful undulation of the neck,
and a queer little sound in her throat, as of an M that wanted to get
out and perished in the attempt.
The tables now presented an animated spectacle. Young fellows of the
more dashing sort, with high stand-up collars and voluminous bows to
their neckerchiefs, distinguished themselves by cutting up fowls and
offering portions thereof to the buxom girls these knowing ones had
"A bit of the wing, Roxy, or of the--under limb?"
The first laugh broke out at this, but it was premature, a sporadic
laugh, as Dr. Kittredge would have said, which did not become
epidemic. People were very solemn as yet, many of them being new to
such splendid scenes, and crushed, as it were, in the presence of so
much crockery and so many silver spoons, and such a variety of
unusual viands and beverages. When the laugh rose around Roxy and
her saucy beau, several looked in that direction with an anxious
expression, as if something had happened, a lady fainted, for
instance, or a couple of lively fellows come to high words.
"Young folks will be young folks," said Deacon Soper. "No harm done.
Least said soonest mended."
"Have some of these shell-oysters?" said the Colonel to Mrs.
A delicate emphasis on the word shell implied that the Colonel knew
what was what. To the New England inland native, beyond the reach of
the east winds, the oyster unconditioned, the oyster absolute,
without a qualifying adjective, is the pickled oyster. Mrs.
Trecothick, who knew very well that an oyster long out of his shell
(as is apt to be the case with the rural bivalve) gets homesick and
loses his sprightliness, replied, with the pleasantest smile in the
world, that the chicken she had been helped to was too delicate to be
given up even for the greater rarity. But the word "shell-oysters"
had been overheard; and there was a perceptible crowding movement
towards their newly discovered habitat, a large soup-tureen.
Silas Peckham had meantime fallen upon another locality of these
recent mollusks. He said nothing, but helped himself freely, and
made a sign to Mrs. Peckham.
"Lorindy," he whispered, "shell-oysters"
And ladled them out to her largely, without betraying any emotion,
just as if they had been the natural inland or pickled article.
After the more solid portion of the banquet had been duly honored,
the cakes and sweet preparations of various kinds began to get their
share of attention. There were great cakes and little cakes, cakes
with raisins in them, cakes with currants, and cakes without either;
there were brown cakes and yellow cakes, frosted cakes, glazed cakes,
hearts and rounds, and jumbles, which playful youth slip over the
forefinger before spoiling their annular outline. There were mounds
of blo'monje, of the arrowroot variety,--that being undistinguishable
from such as is made with Russia isinglass. There were jellies,
which had been shaking, all the time the young folks were dancing in
the next room, as if they were balancing to partners. There were
built-up fabrics, called Charlottes, caky externally, pulpy within;
there were also marangs, and likewise custards,--some of the
indolent-fluid sort, others firm, in which every stroke of the
teaspoon left a smooth, conchoidal surface like the fracture of
chalcedony, with here and there a little eye like what one sees in
cheeses. Nor was that most wonderful object of domestic art called
trifle wanting, with its charming confusion of cream and cake and
almonds and jam and jelly and wine and cinnamon and froth; nor yet
the marvellous floating-island,---name suggestive of all that is
romantic in the imaginations of youthful palates.
"It must have cost you a sight of work, to say nothin' of money, to
get all this beautiful confectionery made for the party," said Mrs.
Crane to Mrs. Sprowle.
"Well, it cost some consid'able labor, no doubt," said Mrs. Sprowle.
"Matilda and our girls and I made 'most all the cake with our own
hands, and we all feel some tired; but if folks get what suits 'em,
we don't begrudge the time nor the work. But I do feel thirsty,"
said the poor lady, "and I think a glass of srub would do my throat
good; it's dreadful dry. Mr. Peckham, would you be so polite as to
pass me a glass of srub?"
Silas Peckham bowed with great alacrity, and took from the table a
small glass cup, containing a fluid reddish in hue and subacid in
taste. This was srub, a beverage in local repute, of questionable
nature, but suspected of owing its tint and sharpness to some kind of
syrup derived from the maroon-colored fruit of the sumac. There were
similar small cups on the table filled with lemonade, and here and
there a decanter of Madeira wine, of the Marsala kind, which some
prefer to, and many more cannot distinguish from, that which comes
from the Atlantic island.
"Take a glass of wine, Judge," said, the Colonel; "here is an article
that I rather think 'll suit you."
The Judge knew something of wines, and could tell all the famous old
Madeiras from each other, "Eclipse," "Juno," the almost fabulously
scarce and precious "White-top," and the rest. He struck the
nativity of the Mediterranean Madeira before it had fairly moistened
"A sound wine, Colonel, and I should think of a genuine vintage.
Your very good health."
"Deacon Soper," said the Colonel, "here is some Madary Judge Thornton
recommends. Let me fill you a glass of it."
The Deacon's eyes glistened. He was one of those consistent
Christians who stick firmly by the first miracle and Paul's advice to
"A little good wine won't hurt anybody," said the Deacon. "Plenty,--
plenty,--plenty. There!" He had not withdrawn his glass, while the
Colonel was pouring, for fear it should spill, and now it was running
--It is very odd how all a man's philosophy and theology are at the
mercy of a few drops of a fluid which the chemists say consists of
nothing but C4, O2, H6. The Deacon's theology fell off several points
towards latitudinarianism in the course of the next ten minutes. He
had a deep inward sense that everything was as it should be, human
nature included. The little accidents of humanity, known
collectively to moralists as sin, looked very venial to his growing
sense of universal brotherhood and benevolence.
"It will all come right," the Deacon said to himself,--"I feel a
joyful conviction that everything is for the best. I am favored with
a blessed peace of mind, and a very precious season of good feelin'
toward my fellow-creturs."
A lusty young fellow happened to make a quick step backward just at
that instant, and put his heel, with his weight on top of it, upon
the Deacon's toes.
"Aigh! What the d' d' didos are y' abaout with them great huffs o'
yourn?" said the Deacon, with an expression upon his features not
exactly that of peace and good-will to men. The lusty young fellow
apologized; but the Deacon's face did not come right, and his
theology backed round several points in the direction of total
Some of the dashing young men in stand-up collars and extensive
neckties, encouraged by Mr. Geordie, made quite free with the
"Ma,dary," and even induced some of the more stylish girls--not of
the mansion-house set, but of the tip-top two-story families--to
taste a little. Most of these young ladies made faces at it, and
declared it was "perfectly horrid," with that aspect of veracity
peculiar to their age and sex.
About this time a movement was made on the part of some of the
mansion-house people to leave the supper-table. Miss Jane Trecothick
had quietly hinted to her mother that she had had enough of it. Miss
Arabella Thornton had whispered to her father that he had better
adjourn this court to the next room. There were signs of migration,
--a loosening of people in their places,--a looking about for arms to
hitch on to.
"Stop!" said the Colonel. "There's something coming yet.
The great folks saw that the play was not over yet, and that it was
only polite to stay and see it out. The word "ice-cream" was no
sooner whispered than it passed from one to another all down the
tables. The effect was what might have been anticipated. Many of
the guests had never seen this celebrated product of human skill, and
to all the two-story population of Rockland it was the last
expression of the art of pleasing and astonishing the human palate.
Its appearance had been deferred for several reasons: first, because
everybody would have attacked it, if it had come in with the other
luxuries; secondly, because undue apprehensions were entertained
(owing to want of experience) of its tendency to deliquesce and
resolve itself with alarming rapidity into puddles of creamy fluid;
and, thirdly, because the surprise would make a grand climax to
finish off the banquet.
There is something so audacious in the conception of ice-cream, that
it is not strange that a population undebauched by the luxury of
great cities looks upon it with a kind of awe and speaks of it with a
certain emotion. This defiance of the seasons, forcing Nature to do
her work of congelation in the face of her sultriest noon, might well
inspire a timid mind with fear lest human art were revolting against
the Higher Powers, and raise the same scruples which resisted the use
of ether and chloroform in certain contingencies. Whatever may be
the cause, it is well known that the announcement at any private
rural entertainment that there is to be ice-cream produces an
immediate and profound impression. It may be remarked, as aiding
this impression, that exaggerated ideas are entertained as to the
dangerous effects this congealed food may produce on persons not in
the most robust health.
There was silence as the pyramids of ice were placed on the table,
everybody looking on in admiration. The Colonel took a knife and
assailed the one at the head of the table. When he tried to cut off
a slice, it didn't seem to understand it, however, and only tipped,
as if it wanted to upset. The Colonel attacked it on the other side,
and it tipped just as badly the other way. It was awkward for the
Colonel. "Permit me," said the Judge,--and he took the knife and
struck a sharp slanting stroke which sliced off a piece just of the
right size, and offered it to Mrs. Sprowle. This act of dexterity
was much admired by the company.
The tables were all alive again.
"Lorindy, here's a plate of ice-cream," said Silas Peckham.
"Come, Mahaly," said a fresh-looking young-fellow with a saucerful in
each hand, "here's your ice-cream;--let's go in the corner and have a
celebration, us two." And the old green de-lame, with the young
curves under it to make it sit well, moved off as pleased apparently
as if it had been silk velvet with thousand-dollar laces over it.
"Oh, now, Miss Green! do you think it's safe to put that cold stuff
into your stomick?" said the Widow Leech to a young married lady,
who, finding the air rather warm, thought a little ice would cool her
down very nicely. "It's jest like eatin' snowballs. You don't look
very rugged; and I should be dreadful afeard, if I was you."
"Carrie," said old Dr. Kittredge, who had overheard this,--"how well
you're looking this evening! But you must be tired and heated;--sit
down here, and let me give you a good slice of ice-cream. How you
young folks do grow up, to be sure! I don't feel quite certain
whether it's you or your older sister, but I know it 's somebody I
call Carrie, and that I 've known ever since."
A sound something between a howl and an oath startled the company and
broke off the Doctor's sentence. Everybody's eyes turned in the
direction from which it came. A group instantly gathered round the
person who had uttered it, who was no other than Deacon Soper.
"He's chokin'! he's chokin'!" was the first exclamation,--"slap him
on the back!"
Several heavy fists beat such a tattoo on his spine that the Deacon
felt as if at least one of his vertebrae would come up.
"He's black in the face," said Widow Leech, "he 's swallered
somethin' the wrong way. Where's the Doctor?--let the Doctor get to
him, can't ye?"
"If you will move, my good lady, perhaps I can," said Doctor
Kittredge, in a calm tone of voice. "He's not choking, my friends,"
the Doctor added immediately, when he got sight of him.
"It 's apoplexy,--I told you so,--don't you see how red he is in the
face?" said old Mrs. Peake, a famous woman for "nussin" sick folks,
--determined to be a little ahead of the Doctor.
"It's not apoplexy," said Dr. Kittredge.
"What is it, Doctor? what is it? Will he die? Is he dead?--Here's
his poor wife, the Widow Soper that is to be, if she a'n't a'ready"
"Do be quiet, my good woman," said Dr. Kittredge.--"Nothing serious,
I think, Mrs. Soper. Deacon!"
The sudden attack of Deacon Soper had begun with the extraordinary
sound mentioned above. His features had immediately assumed an
expression of intense pain, his eyes staring wildly, and, clapping
his hands to his face, he had rocked his head backward and forward in
At the Doctor's sharp appeal the Deacon lifted his head.
"It's all right," said the Doctor, as soon as he saw his face. "The
Deacon had a smart attack of neuralgic pain. That 's all. Very
severe, but not at all dangerous."
The Doctor kept his countenance, but his diaphragm was shaking the
change in iris waistcoat-pockets with subterranean laughter. He had
looked through his spectacles and seen at once what had happened.
The Deacon, not being in the habit of taking his nourishment in the
congealed state, had treated the ice-cream as a pudding of a rare
species, and, to make sure of doing himself justice in its
distribution, had taken a large mouthful of it without the least
precaution. The consequence was a sensation as if a dentist were
killing the nerves of twenty-five teeth at once with hot irons, or
cold ones, which would hurt rather worse.
The Deacon swallowed something with a spasmodic effort, and recovered
pretty soon and received the congratulations of his friends. There
were different versions of the expressions he had used at the onset
of his complaint,--some of the reported exclamations involving a
breach of propriety, to say the least,--but it was agreed that a man
in an attack of neuralgy wasn't to be judged of by the rules that
applied to other folks.
The company soon after this retired from the supper-room. The
mansion-house gentry took their leave, and the two-story people soon
followed. Mr. Bernard had stayed an hour or two, and left soon after
he found that Elsie Venner and her father had disappeared. As he
passed by the dormitory of the Institute, he saw a light glimmering
from one of its upper rooms, where the lady-teacher was still waking.
His heart ached, when he remembered, that, through all these hours of
gayety, or what was meant for it, the patient girl had been at work
in her little chamber; and he looked up at the silent stars, as if to
see that they were watching over her. The planet Mars was burning
like a red coal; the northern constellation was slanting downward
about its central point of flame; and while he looked, a falling star
slid from the zenith and was lost.
He reached his chamber and was soon dreaming over the Event of the
THE MORNING AFTER.
Colonel Sprowle's family arose late the next morning. The fatigues
and excitements of the evening and the preparation for it were
followed by a natural collapse, of which somnolence was a leading
symptom. The sun shone into the window at a pretty well opened angle
when the Colonel first found himself sufficiently awake to address
his yet slumbering spouse.
"Sally!" said the Colonel, in a voice that was a little husky,--for
he had finished off the evening with an extra glass or two of
"Madary," and had a somewhat rusty and headachy sense of renewed
existence, on greeting the rather advanced dawn,--"Sally!"
"Take care o' them custard-cups! There they go!"
Poor Mrs. Sprowle was fighting the party over in her dream; and as
the visionary custard-cups crashed down through one lobe of her brain
into another, she gave a start as if an inch of lightning from a
quart Leyden jar had jumped into one of her knuckles with its sudden
and lively poonk!
"Sally!" said the Colonel,--"wake up, wake up. What 'r' y' dreamin'
Mrs. Sprowle raised herself, by a sort of spasm, sur son seant, as
they say in France,--up on end, as we have it in New England. She
looked first to the left, then to the right, then straight before
her, apparently without seeing anything, and at last slowly settled
down, with her two eyes, blank of any particular meaning, directed
upon the Colonel.
"What time is 't?" she said.
"Ten o'clock. What y' been dreamin' abaout? Y' giv a jump like a
hopper-grass. Wake up, wake UP! Th' party 's over, and y' been
asleep all the mornin'. The party's over, I tell ye! Wake up!"
"Over!" said Mrs. Sprowle, who began to define her position at
last,--"over! I should think 't was time 't was over! It's lasted a
hundud year. I've been workin' for that party longer 'n Methuselah's
lifetime, sence I been asleep. The pies would n' bake, and the
blo'monje would n' set, and the ice-cream would n' freeze, and all
the folks kep' comin' 'n' comin' 'n' comin',--everybody I ever knew
in all my life,--some of 'em 's been dead this twenty year 'n' more,
--'n' nothin' for 'em to eat nor drink. The fire would n' burn to
cook anything, all we could do. We blowed with the belluses, 'n' we
stuffed in paper 'n' pitch-pine kindlin's, but nothin' could make
that fire burn; 'n' all the time the folks kep' comin', as if they'd
never stop,--'n' nothin' for 'em but empty dishes, 'n' all the
borrowed chaney slippin' round on the waiters 'n' chippin' 'n'
crackin',--I would n' go through what I been through t'-night for all
th' money in th' Bank,--I do believe it's harder t' have a party than
Mrs. Sprowle stated the case strongly.
The Colonel said he did n't know how that might be. She was a better
judge than he was. It was bother enough, anyhow, and he was glad
that it was over. After this, the worthy pair commenced preparations
for rejoining the waking world, and in due time proceeded downstairs.
Everybody was late that morning, and nothing had got put to rights.
The house looked as if a small army had been quartered in it over
night. The tables were of course in huge disorder, after the
protracted assault they had undergone. There had been a great battle
evidently, and it had gone against the provisions. Some points had
been stormed, and all their defences annihilated, but here and there
were centres of resistance which had held out against all attacks,--
large rounds of beef, and solid loaves of cake, against which the
inexperienced had wasted their energies in the enthusiasm of youth or
uninformed maturity, while the longer-headed guests were making
discoveries of "shell-oysters" and "patridges" and similar
The breakfast was naturally of a somewhat fragmentary character. A
chicken that had lost his legs in the service of the preceding
campaign was once more put on duty. A great ham stuck with cloves,
as Saint Sebastian was with arrows, was again offered for martyrdom.
It would have been a pleasant sight for a medical man of a
speculative turn to have seen the prospect before the Colonel's
family of the next week's breakfasts, dinners, and suppers. The
trail that one of these great rural parties leaves after it is one of
its most formidable considerations. Every door-handle in the house
is suggestive of sweetmeats for the next week, at least. The most
unnatural articles of diet displace the frugal but nutritious food of
unconvulsed periods of existence. If there is a walking infant about
the house, it will certainly have a more or less fatal fit from
overmuch of some indigestible delicacy. Before the week is out,
everybody will be tired to death of sugary forms of nourishment and
long to see the last of the remnants of the festival.
The family had not yet arrived at this condition. On the contrary,
the first inspection of the tables suggested the prospect of days of
unstinted luxury; and the younger portion of the household,
especially, were in a state of great excitement as the account of
stock was taken with reference to future internal investments. Some
curious facts came to light during these researches.
"Where's all the oranges gone to?" said Mrs. Sprowle. "I expected
there'd be ever so many of 'em left. I did n't see many of the folks
eatin' oranges. Where's the skins of 'em? There ought to be six
dozen orange-skins round on the plates, and there a'n't one dozen.
And all the small cakes, too, and all the sugar things that was stuck
on the big cakes. Has anybody counted the spoons? Some of 'em got
swallered, perhaps. I hope they was plated ones, if they did!"
The failure of the morning's orange-crop and the deficit in other
expected residual delicacies were not very difficult to account for.
In many of the two-story Rockland families, and in those favored
households of the neighboring villages whose members had been invited
to the great party, there was a very general excitement among the
younger people on the morning after the great event. "Did y' bring
home somethin' from the party? What is it? What is it? Is it frut-
cake? Is it nuts and oranges and apples? Give me some! Give me
some!" Such a concert of treble voices uttering accents like these
had not been heard since the great Temperance Festival with the
celebrated "colation" in the open air under the trees of the
Parnassian Grove,--as the place was christened by the young ladies of
the Institute. The cry of the children was not in vain. From the
pockets of demure fathers, from the bags of sharp-eyed spinsters,
from the folded handkerchiefs of light-fingered sisters, from the
tall hats of sly-winking brothers, there was a resurrection of the
missing oranges and cakes and sugar-things in many a rejoicing
family-circle, enough to astonish the most hardened "caterer" that
ever contracted to feed a thousand people under canvas.
The tender recollections of those dear little ones whom extreme youth
or other pressing considerations detain from scenes of festivity--a
trait of affection by no means uncommon among our thoughtful people--
dignifies those social meetings where it is manifested, and sheds a
ray of sunshine on our common nature. It is "an oasis in the
desert,"--to use the striking expression of the last year's
"Valedictorian" of the Apollinean Institute. In the midst of so much
that is purely selfish, it is delightful to meet such disinterested
care for others. When a large family of children are expecting a
parent's return from an entertainment, it will often require great
exertions on his part to freight himself so as to meet their
reasonable expectations. A few rules are worth remembering by all
who attend anniversary dinners in Faneuil Hall or elsewhere. Thus:
Lobsters' claws are always acceptable to children of all ages.
Oranges and apples are to be taken one at a time, until the coat-
pockets begin to become inconveniently heavy. Cakes are injured by
sitting upon them; it is, therefore, well to carry a stout tin box of
a size to hold as many pieces as there are children in the domestic
circle. A very pleasant amusement, at the close of one of these
banquets, is grabbing for the flowers with which the table is
embellished. These will please the ladies at home very greatly, and,
if the children are at the same time abundantly supplied with fruits,
nuts, cakes, and any little ornamental articles of confectionery
which are of a nature to be unostentatiously removed, the kind-
hearted parent will make a whole household happy, without any
additional expense beyond the outlay for his ticket.
There were fragmentary delicacies enough left, of one kind and
another, at any rate, to make all the Colonel's family uncomfortable
for the next week. It bid fair to take as long to get rid of the
remains of the great party as it had taken to make ready for it.
In the mean time Mr. Bernard had been dreaming, as young men dream,
of gliding shapes with bright eyes and burning cheeks, strangely
blended with red planets and hissing meteors, and, shining over all,
the white, un-wandering star of the North, girt with its tethered
After breakfast he walked into the parlor, where he found Miss
Darley. She was alone, and, holding a school-book in her hand, was
at work with one of the morning's lessons. She hardly noticed him as
he entered, being very busy with her book,--and he paused a moment
before speaking, and looked at her with a kind of reverence. It
would not have been strictly true to call her beautiful. For years,
--since her earliest womanhood,--those slender hands had taken the
bread which repaid the toil of heart and brain from the coarse palms
which offered it in the world's rude market. It was not for herself
alone that she had bartered away the life of her youth, that she had
breathed the hot air of schoolrooms, that she had forced her
intelligence to posture before her will, as the exigencies of her
place required,--waking to mental labor,--sleeping to dream of
problems,--rolling up the stone of education for an endless
twelvemonth's term, to find it at the bottom of the hill again when
another year called her to its renewed duties, schooling her temper
in unending inward and outward conflicts, until neither dulness nor
obstinacy nor ingratitude nor insolence could reach her serene self-
possession. Not for herself alone. Poorly as her prodigal labors
were repaid in proportion to the waste of life they cost, her value
was too well established to leave her without what, under other
circumstances, would have been a more than sufficient compensation.
But there were others who looked to her in their need, and so the
modest fountain which might have been filled to its brim was
continually drained through silent-flowing, hidden sluices.
Out of such a life, inherited from a race which had lived in
conditions not unlike her own, beauty, in the common sense of the
term, could hardly find leisure to develop and shape itself. For it
must be remembered, that symmetry and elegance of features and
figure, like perfectly formed crystals in the mineral world, are
reached only by insuring a certain necessary repose to individuals
and to generations. Human beauty is an agricultural product in the
country, growing up in men and women as in corn and cattle, where the
soil is good. It is a luxury almost monopolized by the rich in
cities, bred under glass like their forced pine-apples and peaches.
Both in city and country, the evolution of the physical harmonies
which make music to our eyes requires a combination of favorable
circumstances, of which alternations of unburdened tranquillity with
intervals of varied excitement of mind and body are among the most
important. Where sufficient excitement is wanting, as often happens
in the country, the features, however rich in red and white, get
heavy, and the movements sluggish; where excitement is furnished in
excess, as is frequently the case in cities, the contours and colors
are impoverished, and the nerves begin to make their existence known
to the consciousness, as the face very soon informs us.
Helen Darley could not, in the nature of things, have possessed the
kind of beauty which pleases the common taste. Her eye was calm,
sad-looking, her features very still, except when her pleasant smile
changed them for a moment, all her outlines were delicate, her voice
was very gentle, but somewhat subdued by years of thoughtful labor,
and on her smooth forehead one little hinted line whispered already
that Care was beginning to mark the trace which Time sooner or later
would make a furrow. She could not be a beauty; if she had been, it
would have been much harder for many persons to be interested in her.
For, although in the abstract we all love beauty, and although, if we
were sent naked souls into some ultramundane warehouse of soulless
bodies and told to select one to our liking, we should each choose a
handsome one, and never think of the consequences,--it is quite
certain that beauty carries an atmosphere of repulsion as well as of
attraction with it, alike in both sexes. We may be well assured that
there are many persons who no more think of specializing their love
of the other sex upon one endowed with signal beauty, than they think
of wanting great diamonds or thousand-dollar horses. No man or woman
can appropriate beauty without paying for it,--in endowments, in
fortune, in position, in self-surrender, or other valuable stock; and
there are a great many who are too poor, too ordinary, too humble,
too busy, too proud, to pay any of these prices for it. So the
unbeautiful get many more lovers than the beauties; only, as there
are more of them, their lovers are spread thinner and do not make so
The young master stood looking at Helen Darley with a kind of tender
admiration. She was such a picture of the martyr by the slow social
combustive process, that it almost seemed to him he could see a pale
lambent nimbus round her head.
"I did not see you at the great party last evening," he said,
She looked up and answered, "No. I have not much taste for such
large companies. Besides, I do not feel as if my time belonged to me
after it has been paid for. There is always something to do, some
lesson or exercise,--and it so happened, I was very busy last night
with the new problems in geometry. I hope you had a good time."
"Very. Two or three of our girls were there. Rosa Milburn. What a
beauty she is! I wonder what she feeds on! Wine and musk and
chloroform and coals of fire, I believe; I didn't think there was
such color and flavor in a woman outside the tropics."
Miss Darley smiled rather faintly; the imagery was not just to her
taste: femineity often finds it very hard to accept the fact of
She stopped short; but her question had asked itself.
"Elsie there? She was, for an hour or so. She looked frightfully
handsome. I meant to have spoken to her, but she slipped away before
I knew it."
"I thought she meant to go to the party," said Miss Darley. "Did she
look at you?"
"She did. Why?"
"And you did not speak to her?"
"No. I should have spoken to her, but she was gone when I looked for
her. A strange creature! Is n't there an odd sort of fascination
about her? You have not explained all the mystery about the girl.
What does she come to this school for? She seems to do pretty much
as she likes about studying."
Miss Darley answered in very low tones. "It was a fancy of hers to
come, and they let her have her way. I don't know what there is
about her, except that she seems to take my life out of me when she
looks at me. I don't like to ask other people about our girls. She
says very little to anybody, and studies, or makes believe to study,
almost what she likes. I don't know what she is," (Miss Darley laid
her hand, trembling, on the young master's sleeve,) "but I can tell
when she is in the room without seeing or hearing her. Oh, Mr.
Langdon, I am weak and nervous, and no doubt foolish,--but--if there
were women now, as in the days of our Saviour, possessed of devils, I
should think there was something not human looking out of Elsie
The poor girl's breast rose and fell tumultuously as she spoke, and
her voice labored, as if some obstruction were rising in her throat.
A scene might possibly have come of it, but the door opened. Mr.
Silas Peckham. Miss Darley got away as soon as she well could.
"Why did not Miss Darley go to the party last evening?" said Mr.
"Well, the fact is," answered Mr. Silas Peckham, "Miss Darley, she's
pooty much took up with the school. She's an industris young.
woman,--yis, she is industris,--but perhaps she a'n't quite so spry
a worker as some. Maybe, considerin' she's paid for her time, she is
n't fur out o' the way in occoopyin' herself evenin's,--that--is, if
so be she a'n't smart enough to finish up all her work in the
daytime. Edoocation is the great business of the Institoot.
Amoosements are objec's of a secondary natur', accordin' to my v'oo."
[The unspellable pronunciation of this word is the touchstone of New
Mr. Bernard drew a deep breath, his thin nostrils dilating, as if the
air did not rush in fast enough to cool his blood, while Silas
Peckham was speaking. The Head of the Apollinean Institute delivered
himself of these judicious sentiments in that peculiar acid,
penetrating tone, thickened with a nasal twang, which not rarely
becomes hereditary after three or four generations raised upon east
winds, salt fish, and large, white-bellied, pickled cucumbers. He
spoke deliberately, as if weighing his words well, so that, during
his few remarks, Mr. Bernard had time for a mental accompaniment with
variations, accented by certain bodily changes, which escaped Mr.
Peckham's observation. First there was a feeling of disgust and
shame at hearing Helen Darley spoken of like a dumb working animal.
That sent the blood up into his cheeks. Then the slur upon her
probable want of force--her incapacity, who made the character of the
school and left this man to pocket its profits--sent a thrill of the
old Wentworth fire through him, so that his muscles hardened, his
hands closed, and he took the measure of Mr. Silas Peckham, to see if
his head would strike the wall in case he went over backwards all of
a sudden. This would not do, of course, and so the thrill passed off
and the muscles softened again. Then came that state of tenderness
in the heart, overlying wrath in the stomach, in which the eyes grow
moist like a woman's, and there is also a great boiling-up of
objectionable terms out of the deep-water vocabulary, so that
Prudence and Propriety and all the other pious P's have to jump upon
the lid of speech to keep them from boiling over into fierce
articulation. All this was internal, chiefly, and of course not
recognized by Mr. Silas Peckham. The idea, that any full-grown,
sensible man should have any other notion than that of getting the
most work for the least money out of his assistants, had never
suggested itself to him.
Mr. Bernard had gone through this paroxysm, and cooled down, in the
period while Mr. Peckham was uttering these words in his thin,
shallow whine, twanging up into the frontal sinuses. What was the
use of losing his temper and throwing away his place, and so, among
the consequences which would necessarily follow, leaving the poor
lady-teacher without a friend to stand by her ready to lay his hand
on the grand-inquisitor before the windlass of his rack had taken one
turn too many?
"No doubt, Mr. Peckham," he said, in a grave, calm voice, "there is a
great deal of work to be done in the school; but perhaps we can
distribute the duties a little more evenly after a time. I shall
look over the girls' themes myself, after this week. Perhaps there
will be some other parts of her labor that I can take on myself. We
can arrange a new programme of studies and recitations."
"We can do that," said Mr. Silas Peckham. "But I don't propose
mater'lly alterin' Miss Darley's dooties. I don't think she works to
hurt herself. Some of the Trustees have proposed interdoosin' new
branches of study, and I expect you will be pooty much occoopied with
the dooties that belong to your place. On the Sahbath you will be
able to attend divine service three times, which is expected of our
teachers. I shall continoo myself to give Sahbath Scriptur' readin's
to the young ladies. That is a solemn dooty I can't make up my mind
to commit to other people. My teachers enjoy the Lord's day as a day
of rest. In it they do no manner of work, except in cases of
necessity or mercy, such as fillin' out diplomas, or when we git
crowded jest at the end of a term, or when there is an extry number
of p'oopils, or other Providential call to dispense with the
Mr. Bernard had a fine glow in his cheeks by this time,--doubtless
kindled by the thought of the kind consideration Mr. Peckham showed
for his subordinates in allowing them the between meeting-time on
Sundays except for some special reason. But the morning was wearing
away; so he went to the schoolroom, taking leave very properly of his
respected principal, who soon took his hat and departed.
Mr. Peckham visited certain "stores" or shops, where he made
inquiries after various articles in the provision-line, and effected
a purchase or two. Two or three barrels of potatoes, which had
sprouted in a promising way, he secured at a bargain. A side of
feminine beef was also obtained at a low figure. He was entirely
satisfied with a couple of barrels of flour, which, being invoiced
"slightly damaged," were to be had at a reasonable price.
After this, Silas Peckham felt in good spirits. He had done a pretty
stroke of business. It came into his head whether he might not
follow it up with a still more brilliant speculation. So he turned
his steps in the direction of Colonel Sprowle's.
It was now eleven o'clock, and the battle-field of last evening was
as we left it. Mr. Peckham's visit was unexpected, perhaps not very
well timed, but the Colonel received him civilly.
"Beautifully lighted,--these rooms last night!" said Mr. Peckham.
The Colonel nodded.
"How much do you pay for your winter-strained?"
The Colonel told him the price.
"Very hahnsome supper,--very hahnsome. Nothin' ever seen like it in
Rockland. Must have been a great heap of things leftover."
The compliment was not ungrateful, and the Colonel acknowledged it by
smiling and saying, "I should think the' was a trifle? Come and
When Silas Peckham saw how many delicacies had survived the evening's
conflict, his commercial spirit rose at once to the point of a
"Colonel Sprowle," said he, "there's 'meat and cakes and pies and
pickles enough on that table to spread a hahnsome colation. If you'd
like to trade reasonable, I think perhaps I should be willin' to take
'em off your hands. There's been a talk about our havin' a
celebration in the Parnassian Grove, and I think I could work in what
your folks don't want and make myself whole by chargin' a small sum
for tickets. Broken meats, of course, a'n't of the same valoo as
fresh provisions; so I think you might be willin' to trade
Mr. Peckham paused and rested on his proposal. It would not,
perhaps, have been very extraordinary, if Colonel Sprowle had
entertained the proposition. There is no telling beforehand how such
things will strike people. It didn't happen to strike the Colonel
favorably. He had a little red-blooded manhood in him.
"Sell you them things to make a colation out of?" the Colonel
replied. "Walk up to that table, Mr. Peckham, and help yourself!
Fill your pockets; Mr. Peckham! Fetch a basket, and our hired folks
shall fill it full for ye! Send a cart, if y' like, 'n' carry off
them leavin's to make a celebration for your pupils with! Only let
me tell ye this:--as sure 's my name's Hezekiah Spraowle, you 'll be
known through the taown 'n' through the caounty, from that day
forrard, as the Principal of the Broken-Victuals Institoot!"
Even provincial human-nature sometimes has a touch of sublimity about
it. Mr. Silas Peckham had gone a little deeper than he meant, and
come upon the "hard pan," as the well-diggers call it, of the
Colonel's character, before he thought of it. A militia-colonel
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