The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)

Part 25 out of 51


There were not wanting people who accused Dudley VENNER of weakness
and bad judgment in his treatment of his daughter. Some were of
opinion that the great mistake was in not "breaking her will" when
she was a little child. There was nothing the matter with her, they
said, but that she had been spoiled by indulgence. If they had had
the charge of her, they'd have brought her down. She'd got the
upperhand of her father now; but if he'd only taken hold of her in
season! There are people who think that everything may be done, if
the doer, be he educator or physician, be only called "in season."
No doubt,--but in season would often be a hundred or two years before
the child was born; and people never send so early as that.

The father of Elsie Veneer knew his duties and his difficulties too
well to trouble himself about anything others might think or say. So
soon as he found that he could not govern his child, he gave his life
up to following her and protecting her as far as he could. It was a
stern and terrible trial for a man of acute sensibility, and not
without force of intellect and will, and the manly ambition for
himself and his family-name which belonged to his endowments and his
position. Passive endurance is the hardest trial to persons of such
a nature.

What made it still more a long martyrdom was the necessity for
bearing his cross in utter loneliness. He could not tell his griefs.
He could not talk of them even with those who knew their secret
spring. His minister had the unsympathetic nature which is common in
the meaner sort of devotees,--persons who mistake spiritual
selfishness for sanctity, and grab at the infinite prize of the great
Future and Elsewhere with the egotism they excommunicate in its
hardly more odious forms of avarice and self-indulgence. How could
he speak with the old physician and the old black woman about a
sorrow and a terror which but to name was to strike dumb the lips of

In the dawn of his manhood he had found that second consciousness for
which young men and young women go about looking into each other's
faces, with their sweet, artless aim playing in every feature, and
making them beautiful to each other, as to all of us. He had found
his other self early, before he had grown weary in the search and
wasted his freshness in vain longings: the lot of many, perhaps we
may say of most, who infringe the patent of our social order by
intruding themselves into a life already upon half allowance of the
necessary luxuries of existence. The life he had led for a brief
space was not only beautiful in outward circumstance, as old Sophy
had described it to the Reverend Doctor. It was that delicious
process of the tuning of two souls to each other, string by string,
not without little half-pleasing discords now and then when some
chord in one or the other proves to be overstrained or over-lax, but
always approaching nearer and nearer to harmony, until they become at
last as two instruments with a single voice. Something more than a
year of this blissful doubled consciousness had passed over him when
he found himself once more alone,--alone, save for the little
diamond-eyed child lying in the old black woman's arms, with the
coral necklace round--her throat and the rattle in her hand.

He would not die by his own act. It was not the way in his family.
There may have been other, perhaps better reasons, but this was
enough; he did not come of suicidal stock. He must live for this
child's sake, at any rate; and yet,--oh, yet, who could tell with
what thoughts he looked upon her? Sometimes her little features
would look placid, and something like a smile would steal over them;
then all his tender feelings would rush up, into his eyes, and he
would put his arms out to take her from the old woman,--but all at
once her eyes would narrow and she would throw her head back, and a
shudder would seize him as he stooped over his child,--he could not
look upon her,--he could not touch his lips to her cheek; nay, there
would sometimes come into his soul such frightful suggestions that he
would hurry from the room lest the hinted thought should become a
momentary madness and he should lift his hand against the hapless
infant which owed him life.

In those miserable days he used to wander all over The Mountain in
his restless endeavor to seek some relief for inward suffering in
outward action. He had no thought of throwing himself from the
summit of any of the broken cliffs, but he clambered over them
recklessly, as having no particular care for his life. Sometimes he
would go into the accursed district where the venomous reptiles were
always to be dreaded, and court their worst haunts, and kill all he
could come near with a kind of blind fury which was strange in a
person of his gentle nature.

One overhanging cliff was a favorite haunt of his. It frowned upon
his home beneath in a very menacing way; he noticed slight seams and
fissures that looked ominous;--what would happen, if it broke off
some time or other and came crashing down on the fields and roofs
below? He thought of such a possible catastrophe with a singular
indifference, in fact with a feeling almost like pleasure. It would
be such a swift and thorough solution of this great problem of life
he was working out in ever-recurring daily anguish! The remote
possibility of such a catastrophe had frightened some timid dwellers
beneath The Mountain to other places of residence; here the danger
was most imminent, and yet he loved to dwell upon the chances of its
occurrence. Danger is often the best counterirritant in cases of
mental suffering; he found a solace in careless exposure of his life,
and learned to endure the trials of each day better by dwelling in
imagination on the possibility that it might be the last for him and
the home that was his.

Time, the great consoler, helped these influences, and he gradually
fell into more easy and less dangerous habits of life. He ceased
from his more perilous rambles. He thought less of the danger from
the great overhanging rocks and forests; they had hung there for
centuries; it was not very likely they would crash or slide in his
time. He became accustomed to all Elsie's strange looks and ways.
Old Sophy dressed her with ruffles round her neck, and hunted up the
red coral branch with silver bells which the little toothless Dudleys
had bitten upon for a hundred years. By an infinite effort, her
father forced himself to become the companion of this child, for whom
he had such a mingled feeling, but whose presence was always a trial
to him, and often a terror.

At a cost which no human being could estimate, he had done his duty,
and in some degree reaped his reward. Elsie grew up with a kind of
filial feeling for him, such as her nature was capable of. She never
would obey him; that was not to be looked for. Commands, threats,
punishments, were out of the question with her; the mere physical
effects of crossing her will betrayed themselves in such changes of
expression and manner that it would have been senseless to attempt to
govern her in any such way. Leaving her mainly to herself, she could
be to some extent indirectly influenced,--not otherwise. She called
her father "Dudley," as if he had been her brother. She ordered
everybody and would be ordered by none.

Who could know all these things, except the few people of the
household? What wonder, therefore, that ignorant and shallow persons
laid the blame on her father of those peculiarities which were freely
talked about,--of those darker tendencies which were hinted of in
whispers? To all this talk, so far as it reached him, he was
supremely indifferent, not only with the indifference which all
gentlemen feel to the gossip of their inferiors, but with a
charitable calmness which did not wonder or blame. He knew that his
position was not simply a difficult, but an impossible one, and
schooled himself to bear his destiny as well as he might, and report
himself only at Headquarters.

He had grown gentle under this discipline. His hair was just
beginning to be touched with silver, and his expression was that of
habitual sadness and anxiety. He had no counsellor, as we have seen,
to turn to, who did not know either too much or too little. He had
no heart to rest upon and into which he might unburden himself of the
secrets and the sorrows that were aching in his own breast. Yet he
had not allowed himself to run to waste in the long time since he was
left alone to his trials and fears. He had resisted the seductions
which always beset solitary men with restless brains overwrought by
depressing agencies. He disguised no misery to himself with the
lying delusion of wine. He sought no sleep from narcotics, though he
lay with throbbing, wide-open eyes through all the weary hours of the

It was understood between Dudley Veneer and old Doctor Kittredge that
Elsie was a subject of occasional medical observation, on account of
certain mental peculiarities which might end in a permanent affection
of her reason. Beyond this nothing was said, whatever may have been
in the mind of either. But Dudley Veneer had studied Elsie's case in
the light of all the books he could find which might do anything
towards explaining it. As in all cases where men meddle with medical
science for a special purpose, having no previous acquaintance with
it, his imagination found what it wanted in the books he read, and
adjusted it to the facts before him. So it was he came to cherish
those two fancies before alluded to that the ominous birthmark she
had carried from infancy might fade and become obliterated, and that
the age of complete maturity might be signalized by an entire change
in her physical and mental state. He held these vague hopes as all
of us nurse our only half-believed illusions. Not for the world
would he have questioned his sagacious old medical friend as to the
probability or possibility of their being true. We are very shy of
asking questions of those who know enough to destroy with one word
the hopes we live on.

In this life of comparative seclusion to which the father had doomed
himself for the sake of his child, he had found time for large and
varied reading. The learned Judge Thornton confessed himself
surprised at the extent of Dudley Veneer's information. Doctor
Kittredge found that he was in advance of him in the knowledge of
recent physiological discoveries. He had taken pains to become
acquainted with agricultural chemistry; and the neighboring farmers
owed him some useful hints about the management of their land. He
renewed his old acquaintance with the classic authors. He loved to
warm his pulses with Homer and calm them down with Horace. He
received all manner of new books and periodicals, and gradually
gained an interest in the events of the passing time. Yet he
remained almost a hermit, not absolutely refusing to see his
neighbors, nor even churlish towards them, but on the other hand not
cultivating any intimate relations with them.

He had retired from the world a young man, little more than a youth,
indeed, with sentiments and aspirations all of them suddenly
extinguished. The first had bequeathed him a single huge sorrow, the
second a single trying duty. In due time the anguish had lost
something of its poignancy, the light of earlier and happier memories
had begun to struggle with and to soften its thick darkness, and even
that duty which he had confronted with such an effort had become an
endurable habit.

At a period of life when many have been living on the capital of
their acquired knowledge and their youthful stock of sensibilities
until their intellects are really shallower and their hearts emptier
than they were at twenty, Dudley Veneer was stronger in thought and
tenderer in soul than in the first freshness of his youth, when he
counted but half his present years. He had entered that period which
marks the decline of men who have ceased growing in knowledge and
strength: from forty to fifty a man must move upward, or the natural
falling off in the vigor of life will carry him rapidly downward. At
this time his inward: nature was richer and deeper than in any
earlier period of his life. If he could only be summoned to action,
he was capable of noble service. If his sympathies could only find
an outlet, he was never so capable of love as now; for his natural
affections had been gathering in the course of all these years, and
the traces of that ineffaceable calamity of his life were softened
and partially hidden by new growths of thought and feeling, as the
wreck left by a mountainslide is covered over by the gentle intrusion
of the soft-stemmed herbs which will prepare it for the stronger
vegetation that will bring it once more into harmony with the
peaceful slopes around it.

Perhaps Dudley Veneer had not gained so much in worldly wisdom as if
he had been more in society and less in his study. The indulgence
with which he treated his nephew was, no doubt, imprudent. A man
more in the habit of dealing with men would have been more guarded
with a person with Dick's questionable story and unquestionable
physiognomy. But he was singularly unsuspicious, and his natural
kindness was an additional motive to the wish for introducing some
variety into the routine of Elsie's life.

If Dudley Veneer did not know just what he wanted at this period of
his life, there were a great many people in the town of Rockland who
thought they did know. He had been a widower long enough, "--nigh
twenty year, wa'n't it? He'd been aout to Spraowles's party,--there
wa'n't anything to hender him why he shouldn't stir raound l'k other
folks. What was the reason he did n't go abaout to taown-meetin's
'n' Sahbath-meetin's, 'n' lyceums, 'n' school 'xaminations, 'n'
s'prise-parties, 'n' funerals,--and other entertainments where the
still-faced two-story folks were in the habit of looking round to see
if any of the mansion-house gentry were present?---Fac' was, he was
livin' too lonesome daown there at the mansion-haouse. Why shouldn't
he make up to the Jedge's daughter? She was genteel enough for him,
and--let's see, haow old was she? Seven-'n'itwenty,--no, six-'n'-
twenty,--born the same year we buried our little Anny Marl".

There was no possible objection to this arrangement, if the parties
interested had seen fit to make it or even to think of it. But
"Portia," as some of the mansion-house people called her, did not
happen to awaken the elective affinities of the lonely widower. He
met her once in a while, and said to himself that she was a good
specimen of the grand style of woman; and then the image came back to
him of a woman not quite so large, not quite so imperial in her port,
not quite so incisive in her speech, not quite so judicial in her
opinions, but with two or three more joints in her frame, and two or
three soft inflections in her voice, which for some absurd reason or
other drew him to her side and so bewitched him that he told her half
his secrets and looked into her eyes all that he could not tell, in
less time than it would have takes him to discuss the champion paper
of the last Quarterly with the admirable "Portia." Heu, quanto
minus! How much more was that lost image to him than all it left on

The study of love is very much like that of meteorology. We know
that just about so much rain will fall in a season; but on what
particular day it will shower is more than we can tell. We know that
just about so much love will be made every year in a given
population; but who will rain his young affections upon the heart of
whom is not known except to the astrologers and fortune-tellers. And
why rain falls as it does and why love is made just as it is are
equally puzzling questions.

The woman a man loves is always his own daughter, far more his
daughter than the female children born to him by the common law of
life. It is not the outside woman, who takes his name, that he
loves: before her image has reached the centre of his consciousness,
it has passed through fifty many-layered nerve-strainers, been
churned over by ten thousand pulse-beats, and reacted upon by
millions of lateral impulses which bandy it about through the mental
spaces as a reflection is sent back and forward in a saloon lined
with mirrors. With this altered image of the woman before him, his
preexisting ideal becomes blended. The object of his love is in part
the offspring of her legal parents, but more of her lover's brain.
The difference between the real and the ideal objects of love must
not exceed a fixed maximum. The heart's vision cannot unite them
stereoscopically into a single image, if the divergence passes
certain limits. A formidable analogy, much in the nature of a proof,
with very serious consequences, which moralists and match-makers
would do well to remember! Double vision with the eyes of the heart
is a dangerous physiological state, and may lead to missteps and
serious falls.

Whether Dudley Veneer would ever find a breathing image near enough
to his ideal one, to fill the desolate chamber of his heart, or not,
was very doubtful. Some gracious and gentle woman, whose influence
would steal upon him as the first low words of prayer after that
interval of silent mental supplication known to one of our simpler
forms of public worship, gliding into his consciousness without
hurting its old griefs, herself knowing the chastening of sorrow, and
subdued into sweet acquiescence with the Divine will,--some such
woman as this, if Heaven should send him such, might call him back to
the world of happiness, from which he seemed forever exiled. He
could never again be the young lover who walked through the garden-
alleys all red with roses in the old dead and buried June of long
ago. He could never forget the bride of his youth, whose image,
growing phantomlike with the lapse of years, hovered over him like a
dream while waking and like a reality in dreams. But if it might be
in God's good providence that this desolate life should come under
the influence of human affections once more, what an ecstasy of
renewed existence was in store for him! His life had not all been
buried under that narrow ridge of turf with the white stone at its
head. It seemed so for a while; but it was not and could not and
ought not to be so. His first passion had been a true and pure one;
there was no spot or stain upon it. With all his grief there blended
no cruel recollection of any word or look he would have wished to
forget. All those little differences, such as young married people
with any individual flavor in their characters must have, if they are
tolerably mated, had only added to the music of existence, as the
lesser discords admitted into some perfect symphony, fitly resolved,
add richness and strength to the whole harmonious movement. It was a
deep wound that Fate had inflicted on him; nay, it seemed like a
mortal one; but the weapon was clean, and its edge was smooth. Such
wounds must heal with time in healthy natures, whatever a false
sentiment may say, by the wise and beneficent law of our being. The
recollection of a deep and true affection is rather a divine
nourishment for a life to grow strong upon than a poison to destroy

Dudley Venner's habitual sadness could not be laid wholly to his
early bereavement. It was partly the result of the long struggle
between natural affection and duty, on one side, and the involuntary
tendencies these had to overcome, on the other,--between hope and
fear, so long in conflict that despair itself would have been like an
anodyne, and he would have slept upon some final catastrophe with the
heavy sleep of a bankrupt after his failure is proclaimed. Alas!
some new affection might perhaps rekindle the fires of youth in his
heart; but what power could calm that haggard terror of the parent
which rose with every morning's sun and watched with every evening
star,--what power save alone that of him who comes bearing the
inverted torch, and leaving after him only the ashes printed with his



There was a good deal of interest felt, as has been said, in the
lonely condition of Dudley Venner in that fine mansion-house of his,
and with that strange daughter, who would never be married, as many
people thought, in spite of all the stories. The feelings expressed
by the good folks who dated from the time when they "buried aour
little Anny Mari'," and others of that homespun stripe, were founded
in reason, after all. And so it was natural enough that they should
be shared by various ladies, who, having conjugated the verb to live
as far as the preterpluperfect tense, were ready to change one of its
vowels and begin with it in the present indicative. Unfortunately,
there was very little chance of showing sympathy in its active form
for a gentleman who kept himself so much out of the way as the master
of the Dudley Mansion.

Various attempts had been made, from time to time, of late years, to
get him out of his study, which had, for the most part, proved
failures. It was a surprise, therefore, when he was seen at the
Great Party at the Colonel's. But it was an encouragement to try him
again, and the consequence had been that he had received a number of
notes inviting him to various smaller entertainments, which, as
neither he nor Elsie had any fancy for them, he had politely

Such was the state of things when he received an invitation to take
tea sociably, with a few friends, at Hyacinth Cottage, the residence
of the Widow Rowens, relict of the late Beeri Rowens, Esquire, better
known as Major Rowens. Major Rowens was at the time of his decease a
promising officer in the militia, in the direct line of promotion, as
his waistband was getting tighter every year; and, as all the world
knows, the militia-officer who splits off most buttons and fills the
largest sword-belt stands the best chance of rising, or, perhaps we
might say, spreading, to be General.

Major Rowens united in his person certain other traits which help a
man to eminence in the branch of public service referred to. He ran
to high colors, to wide whiskers, to open pores; he had the saddle-
leather skin common in Englishmen, rarer in Americans,--never found
in the Brahmin caste, oftener in the military and the commodores:
observing people know what is meant; blow the seed-arrows from the
white-kid-looking button which holds them on a dandelion-stalk, and
the pricked-pincushion surface shows you what to look for. He had
the loud gruff voice which implies the right to command. He had the
thick hand, stubbed fingers, with bristled pads between their joints,
square, broad thumb-nails, and sturdy limbs, which mark a
constitution made to use in rough out-door work. He had the never-
failing predilection for showy switch-tailed horses that step high,
and sidle about, and act as if they were going to do something
fearful the next minute, in the face of awed and admiring multitudes
gathered at mighty musters or imposing cattle-shows. He had no
objection, either, to holding the reins in a wagon behind another
kind of horse,--a slouching, listless beast, with a strong slant to
his shoulder; and a notable depth to his quarter and an emphatic
angle at the hock, who commonly walked or lounged along in a lazy
trot of five or six miles an hour; but, if a lively colt happened to
come rattling up alongside, or a brandy-faced old horse-jockey took
the road to show off a fast nag, and threw his dust into the Major's
face, would pick his legs up all at once, and straighten his body
out, and swing off into a three-minute gait, in a way that "Old Blue"
himself need not have been ashamed of.

For some reason which must be left to the next generation of
professors to find out, the men who are knowing in horse-flesh have
an eye also for, let a long dash separate the brute creation from the
angelic being now to be named,--for lovely woman. Of this fact there
can be no possible doubt; and therefore you shall notice, that, if a
fast horse trots before two, one of the twain is apt to be a pretty
bit of muliebrity, with shapes to her, and eyes flying about in all

Major Rowens, at that time Lieutenant of the Rockland Fusileers, had
driven and "traded" horses not a few before he turned his acquired
skill as a judge of physical advantages in another direction. He
knew a neat, snug hoof, a delicate pastern, a broad haunch, a deep
chest, a close ribbed-up barrel, as well as any other man in the
town. He was not to be taken in by your thick-jointed, heavy-headed
cattle, without any go to them, that suit a country-parson, nor yet
by the "gaanted-up," long-legged animals, with all their
constitutions bred out of them, such as rich greenhorns buy and cover
up with their plated trappings.

Whether his equine experience was of any use to him in the selection
of the mate with whom he was to go in double harness so long as they
both should live, we need not stop to question. At any rate, nobody
could find fault with the points of Miss Marilla Van Deusen, to whom
he offered the privilege of becoming Mrs. Rowens. The Van must have
been crossed out of her blood, for she was an out-and-out brunette,
with hair and eyes black enough for a Mohawk's daughter. A fine
style of woman, with very striking tints and outlines,--an excellent
match for the Lieutenant, except for one thing. She was marked by
Nature for a widow. She was evidently got up for mourning, and never
looked so well as in deep black, with jet ornaments.

The man who should dare to marry her would doom himself; for how
could she become the widow she was bound to be, unless he could
retire and give her a chance? The Lieutenant lived, however, as we
have seen, to become Captain and then Major, with prospects of
further advancement. But Mrs. Rowens often said she should never
look well in colors. At last her destiny fulfilled itself, and the
justice of Nature was vindicated. Major Rowens got overheated
galloping about the field on the day of the Great Muster, and had a
rush of blood to the head, according to the common report,--at any
rate, something which stopped him short in his career of expansion
and promotion, and established Mrs. Rowens in her normal condition of

The Widow Rowens was now in the full bloom of ornamental sorrow. A
very shallow crape bonnet, frilled and froth-like, allowed the parted
raven hair to show its glossy smoothness. A jet pin heaved upon her
bosom with every sigh of memory, or emotion of unknown origin. Jet
bracelets shone with every movement of her slender hands, cased in
close-fitting black gloves. Her sable dress was ridged with manifold
flounces, from beneath which a small foot showed itself from time to
time, clad in the same hue of mourning. Everything about her was
dark, except the whites of her eyes and the enamel of her teeth. The
effect was complete. Gray's Elegy was not a more perfect

Much as the Widow was pleased with the costume belonging to her
condition, she did not disguise from herself that under certain
circumstances she might be willing to change her name again. Thus,
for instance, if a gentleman not too far gone in maturity, of
dignified exterior, with an ample fortune, and of unexceptionable
character, should happen to set his heart upon her, and the only way
to make him happy was to give up her weeds and go into those
unbecoming colors again for his sake,--why, she felt that it was in
her nature to make the sacrifice. By a singular coincidence it
happened that a gentleman was now living in Rockland who united in
himself all these advantages. Who he was, the sagacious reader may
very probably have divined. Just to see how it looked, one day,
having bolted her door, and drawn the curtains close, and glanced
under the sofa, and listened at the keyhole to be sure there was
nobody in the entry,--just to see how it looked, she had taken out an
envelope and written on the back of it Mrs. Manilla Veneer. It made
her head swim and her knees tremble. What if she should faint, or
die, or have a stroke of palsy, and they should break into the room
and find that name written! How she caught it up and tore it into
little shreds, and then could not be easy until she had burned the
small heap of pieces

But these are things which every honorable reader will consider
imparted in strict confidence.

The Widow Rowens, though not of the mansion house set, was among the
most genteel of the two-story circle, and was in the habit of
visiting some of the great people. In one of these visits she met a
dashing young fellow with an olive complexion at the house of a
professional gentleman who had married one of the white necks and
pairs of fat arms from a distinguished family before referred to.
The professional gentleman himself was out, but the lady introduced
the olive-complexioned young man as Mr. Richard Venner.

The Widow was particularly pleased with this accidental meeting. Had
heard Mr. Venner's name frequently mentioned. Hoped his uncle was
well, and his charming cousin,--was she as original as ever? Had
often admired that charming creature he rode: we had had some fine
horses. Had never got over her taste for riding, but could find
nobody that liked a good long gallop since--well--she could n't help
wishing she was alongside of him, the other day, when she saw him
dashing by, just at twilight.

The Widow paused; lifted a flimsy handkerchief with a very deep black
border so as to play the jet bracelet; pushed the tip of her slender
foot beyond the lowest of her black flounces; looked up; looked down;
looked at Mr. Richard, the very picture of artless simplicity,--as
represented in well-played genteel comedy.

"A good bit of stuff," Dick said to himself, "and something of it
left yet; caramba! "The Major had not studied points for nothing,
and the Widow was one of the right sort. The young man had been a
little restless of late, and was willing to vary his routine by
picking up an acquaintance here and there. So he took the Widow's
hint. He should like to have a scamper of half a dozen miles with
her some fine morning.

The Widow was infinitely obliged; was not sure that she could find
any horse in the village to suit her; but it was so kind in him!
Would he not call at Hyacinth Cottage, and let her thank him again

Thus began an acquaintance which the Widow made the most of, and on
the strength of which she determined to give a tea-party and invite a
number of persons of whom we know something already. She took a
half-sheet of note-paper and made out her list as carefully as a
country "merchant's clerk" adds up two and threepence (New-England
nomenclature) and twelve and a half cents, figure by figure, and
fraction by fraction, before he can be sure they will make half a
dollar, without cheating somebody. After much consideration the list
reduced itself to the following names: Mr. Richard Venner and Mrs.
Blanche Creamer, the lady at whose house she had met him,--mansion-
house breed,--but will come,--soft on Dick; Dudley Venner,--take care
of him herself; Elsie,--Dick will see to her,--won't it fidget the
Creamer woman to see him round her? the old Doctor,--he 's always
handy; and there's that young master there, up at the school,--know
him well enough to ask him,--oh, yes, he'll come. One, two, three,
four, five, six,--seven; not room enough, without the leaf in the
table; one place empty, if the leaf's in. Let's see,--Helen Darley,
--she 'll do well enough to fill it up,--why, yes, just the thing,--
light brown hair, blue eyes,--won't my pattern show off well against
her? Put her down,--she 's worth her tea and toast ten times over,--
nobody knows what a "thunder-and-lightning woman," as poor Major used
to have it, is, till she gets alongside of one of those old-maidish
girls, with hair the color of brown sugar, and eyes like the blue of
a teacup.

The Widow smiled with a feeling of triumph at having overcome her
difficulties and arranged her party,--arose and stood before her
glass, three-quarters front, one-quarter profile, so as to show the
whites of the eyes and the down of the upper lip. "Splendid!" said
the Widow--and to tell the truth, she was not far out of the way, and
with Helen Darley as a foil anybody would know she must be foudroyant
and pyramidal,--if these French adjectives may be naturalized for
this one particular exigency.

So the Widow sent out her notes. The black grief which had filled
her heart and had overflowed in surges of crape around her person had
left a deposit half an inch wide at the margin of her note-paper.
Her seal was a small youth with an inverted torch, the same on which
Mrs. Blanche Creamer made her spiteful remark, that she expected to
see that boy of the Widow's standing on his head yet; meaning, as
Dick supposed, that she would get the torch right-side up as soon as
she had a chance. That was after Dick had made the Widow's
acquaintance, and Mrs. Creamer had got it into her foolish head that
she would marry that young fellow, if she could catch him. How could
he ever come to fancy such a quadroon-looking thing as that, she
should like to know?

It is easy enough to ask seven people to a party; but whether they
will come or not is an open question, as it was in the case of the
spirits of the vasty deep. If the note issues from a three-story
mansion-house, and goes to two-story acquaintances, they will all be
in an excellent state of health, and have much pleasure in accepting
this very polite invitation. If the note is from the lady of a two-
story family to three-story ones, the former highly respectable
person will very probably find that an endemic complaint is
prevalent, not represented in the weekly bills of mortality, which
occasions numerous regrets in the bosoms of eminently desirable
parties that they cannot have the pleasure of and-so-forthing.

In this case there was room for doubt,--mainly as to whether Elsie
would take a fancy to come or not. If she should come, her father
would certainly be with her. Dick had promised, and thought he could
bring Elsie. Of course the young schoolmaster will come, and that
poor tired-out looking Helen, if only to get out of sight of those
horrid Peckham wretches. They don't get such invitations every day.
The others she felt sure of,--all but the old Doctor,--he might have
some horrid patient or other to visit; tell him Elsie Venner's going
to be there,--he always likes to have an eye on her, they say,--oh,
he'd come fast enough, without any more coaxing.

She wanted the Doctor, particularly. It was odd, but she was afraid
of Elsie. She felt as if she should be safe enough, if the old
Doctor were there to see to the girl; and then she should have
leisure to devote herself more freely to the young lady's father, for
whom all her sympathies were in a state of lively excitement.

It was a long time since the Widow had seen so many persons round her
table as she had now invited. Better have the plates set and see how
they will fill it up with the leaf in.--A little too scattering with
only eight plates set: if she could find two more people, now, that
would bring the chairs a little closer,--snug, you know,--which makes
the company sociable. The Widow thought over her acquaintances. Why
how stupid! there was her good minister, the same who had married
her, and might--might--bury her for aught she anew, and his
granddaughter staying with him,--nice little girl, pretty, and not
old enough to be dangerous;--for the Widow had no notion of making a
tea-party and asking people to it that would be like to stand between
her and any little project she might happen to have on anybody's
heart,--not she! It was all right now; Blanche was married and so
forth; Letty was a child; Elsie was his daughter; Helen Darley was a
nice, worthy drudge,--poor thing!--faded, faded,--colors wouldn't
wash, just what she wanted to show off against. Now, if the Dudley
mansion-house people would only come,--that was the great point.

"Here's a note for us, Elsie," said her father, as they sat round the
breakfast-table. "Mrs. Rowens wants us all to come to tea."

It was one of "Elsie's days," as old Sophy called them. The light in
her eyes was still, but very bright. She looked up so full of
perverse and wilful impulses, that Dick knew he could make her go
with him and her father. He had his own motives for bringing her to
this determination,--and his own way of setting about it.

"I don't want to go," he said. "What do you say, uncle?"

"To tell the truth, Richard, I don't mach fancy the Major's widow. I
don't like to see her weeds flowering out quite so strong. I suppose
you don't care about going, Elsie?"

Elsie looked up in her father's face with an expression which he knew
but too well. She was just in the state which the plain sort of
people call "contrary," when they have to deal with it in animals.
She would insist on going to that tea-party; he knew it just as well
before she spoke as after she had spoken. If Dick had said he wanted
to go and her father had seconded his wishes, she would have insisted
on staying at home. It was no great matter, her father said to
himself, after all; very likely it would amuse her; the Widow was a
lively woman enough,--perhaps a little comme il ne faut pas socially,
compared with the Thorntons and some other families; but what did he
care for these petty village distinctions?

Elsie spoke.

"I mean to go. You must go with me, Dudley. You may do as you like,

That settled the Dudley-mansion business, of course. They all three
accepted, as fortunately did all the others who had been invited.

Hyacinth Cottage was a pretty place enough, a little too much choked
round with bushes, and too much overrun with climbing-roses, which,
in the season of slugs and rose-bugs, were apt to show so brown about
the leaves and so coleopterous about the flowers, that it might be
questioned whether their buds and blossoms made up for these
unpleasant animal combinations,--especially as the smell of whale-oil
soap was very commonly in the ascendant over that of the roses. It
had its patch of grass called "the lawn," and its glazed closet known
as "the conservatory," according to that system of harmless fictions
characteristic of the rural imagination and shown in the names
applied to many familiar objects. The interior of the cottage was
more tasteful and ambitious than that of the ordinary two-story
dwellings. In place of the prevailing hair-cloth covered furniture,
the visitor had the satisfaction of seating himself upon a chair
covered with some of the Widow's embroidery, or a sofa luxurious with
soft caressing plush. The sporting tastes of the late Major showed
in various prints on the wall: Herring's "Plenipotentiary," the "red
bullock" of the '34 Derby; "Cadland" and "The Colonel;" "Crucifix;"
"West-Australian," fastest of modern racers; and among native
celebrities, ugly, game old "Boston," with his straight neck and
ragged hips; and gray "Lady Suffolk," queen, in her day, not of the
turf but of the track, "extending" herself till she measured a rod,
more or less, skimming along within a yard of the ground, her legs
opening and shutting under her with a snap, like the four blades of a
compound jack-knife.

These pictures were much more refreshing than those dreary fancy
death-bed scenes, common in two-story country-houses, in which
Washington and other distinguished personages are represented as
obligingly devoting their last moments to taking a prominent part in
a tableau, in which weeping relatives, attached servants,
professional assistants, and celebrated personages who might by a
stretch of imagination be supposed present, are grouped in the most
approved style of arrangement about the chief actor's pillow.

A single glazed bookcase held the family library, which was hidden
from vulgar eyes by green silk curtains behind the glass. It would
have been instructive to get a look at it, as it always is to peep
into one's neighbor's book-shelves. From other sources and
opportunities a partial idea of it has been obtained. The Widow had
inherited some books from her mother, who was something of a reader:
Young's "Night-Thoughts;" "The Preceptor;" "The Task, a Poem," by
William Cowper; Hervey's "Meditations;" "Alonzo and Melissa;"
"Buccaneers of America;" "The Triumphs of Temper;" "La Belle
Assemblee;" Thomson's "Seasons;" and a few others. The Major had
brought in "Tom Jones" and "Peregrine Pickle;" various works by Mr.
Pierce Egan; "Boxiana," "The Racing Calendar;" and a "Book of Lively
Songs and Jests." The Widow had added the Poems of Lord Byron and
T. Moore; "Eugene Aram;" "The Tower of London," by Harrison
Ainsworth; some of Scott's Novels; "The Pickwick Papers;" a volume of
Plays, by W. Shakespeare; "Proverbial Philosophy;" "Pilgrim's
Progress;" "The Whole Duty of Man" (a present when she was married);
with two celebrated religious works, one by William Law and the other
by Philip Doddridge, which were sent her after her husband's death,
and which she had tried to read, but found that they did not agree
with her. Of course the bookcase held a few school manuals and
compendiums, and one of Mr. Webster's Dictionaries. But the gilt-
edged Bible always lay on the centre-table, next to the magazine with
the fashion-plates and the scrap-book with pictures from old annuals
and illustrated papers.

The reader need not apprehend the recital, at full length, of such
formidable preparations for the Widow's tea-party as were required in
the case of Colonel Sprowle's Social Entertainment. A tea-party,
even in the country, is a comparatively simple and economical piece
of business. As soon as the Widow found that all her company were
coming, she set to work, with the aid of her "smart" maid-servant and
a daughter of her own, who was beginning to stretch and spread at a
fearful rate, but whom she treated as a small child, to make the
necessary preparations. The silver had to be rubbed; also the grand
plated urn,--her mother's before hers,--style of the Empire,--looking
as if it might have been made to hold the Major's ashes. Then came
the making and baking of cake and gingerbread, the smell whereof
reached even as far as the sidewalk in front of the cottage, so that
small boys returning from school snuffed it in the breeze, and
discoursed with each other on its suggestions; so that the Widow
Leech, who happened to pass, remembered she had n't called on Marilly
Raowens for a consid'ble spell, and turned in at the gate and rang
three times with long intervals,--but all in vain, the inside Widow
having "spotted" the outside one through the blinds, and whispered to
her aides-de-camp to let the old thing ring away till she pulled the
bell out by the roots, but not to stir to open the door.

Widow Rowens was what they called a real smart, capable woman, not
very great on books, perhaps, but knew what was what and who was who
as well as another,--knew how to make the little cottage look pretty,
how to set out a tea-table, and, what a good many women never can
find out, knew her own style and "got herself up tip-top," as our
young friend Master Geordie, Colonel Sprowle's heir-apparent,
remarked to his friend from one of the fresh-water colleges. Flowers
were abundant now, and she had dressed her rooms tastefully with
them. The centre-table had two or three gilt-edged books lying
carelessly about on it, and some prints and a stereoscope with
stereographs to match, chiefly groups of picnics, weddings, etc., in
which the same somewhat fatigued looking ladies of fashion and brides
received the attentions of the same unpleasant-looking young men,
easily identified under their different disguises, consisting of
fashionable raiment such as gentlemen are supposed to wear
habitually. With these, however, were some pretty English scenes,--
pretty except for the old fellow with the hanging under-lip who
infests every one of that interesting series; and a statue or two,
especially that famous one commonly called the Lahcoon, so as to
rhyme with moon and spoon, and representing an old man with his two
sons in the embraces of two monstrous serpents.

There is no denying that it was a very dashing achievement of the
Widow's to bring together so considerable a number of desirable
guests. She felt proud of her feat; but as to the triumph of getting
Dudley Venner to come out for a visit to Hyacinth Cottage, she was
surprised and almost frightened at her own success. So much might
depend on the impressions of that evening!

The next thing was to be sure that everybody should be in the right
place at the tea-table, and this the Widow thought she could manage
by a few words to the older guests and a little shuffling about and
shifting when they got to the table. To settle everything the Widow
made out a diagram, which the reader should have a chance of
inspecting in an authentic copy, if these pages were allowed under
any circumstances to be the vehicle of illustrations. If, however,
he or she really wishes to see the way the pieces stood as they were
placed at the beginning of the game, (the Widow's gambit,) he or she
had better at once take a sheet of paper, draw an oval, and arrange
the characters according to the following schedule.

At the head of the table, the Hostess, Widow Marilla Rowens.
Opposite her, at the other end, Rev. Dr. Honeywood. At the right of
the Hostess, Dudley Veneer, next him Helen Darley, next her Dr.
Kittredge, next him Mrs. Blanche Creamer, then the Reverend Doctor.
At the left of the Hostess, Bernard Langdon, next him Letty
Forrester, next Letty Mr. Richard Veneer, next him Elsie, and so to
the Reverend Doctor again.

The company came together a little before the early hour at which it
was customary to take tea in Rockland. The Widow knew everybody, of
course: who was there in Rockland she did not know? But some of them
had to be introduced: Mr. Richard Veneer to Mr. Bernard, Mr. Bernard
to Miss Letty, Dudley Veneer to Miss Helen Darley, and so on. The
two young men looked each other straight in the eyes, both full of
youthful life, but one of frank and fearless aspect, the other with a
dangerous feline beauty alien to the New England half of his blood.

The guests talked, turned over the prints, looked at the flowers,
opened the "Proverbial Philosophy" with gilt edges, and the volume of
Plays by W. Shakespeare, examined the horse-pictures on the walls,
and so passed away the time until tea was announced, when they paired
off for the room where it was in readiness. The Widow had managed it
well; everything was just as she wanted it. Dudley Veneer was
between herself and the poor tired-looking schoolmistress with her
faded colors. Blanche Creamer, a lax, tumble-to-pieces, Greuze-ish
looking blonde, whom the Widow hated because the men took to her, was
purgatoried between the two old Doctors, and could see all the looks
that passed between Dick Venner and his cousin. The young
schoolmaster could talk to Miss Letty: it was his business to know
how to talk to schoolgirls. Dick would amuse himself with his cousin
Elsie. The old Doctors only wanted to be well fed and they would do
well enough.

It would be very pleasant to describe the tea-table; but in reality,
it did not pretend to offer a plethoric banquet to the guests. The
Widow had not visited the mansion-houses for nothing, and she had
learned there that an overloaded tea-table may do well enough for
farm-hands when they come in at evening from their work and sit down
unwashed in their shirtsleeves, but that for decently bred people
such an insult to the memory of a dinner not yet half-assimilated is
wholly inadmissible. Everything was delicate, and almost everything
of fair complexion: white bread and biscuits, frosted and sponge
cake, cream, honey, straw-colored butter; only a shadow here and
there, where the fire had crisped and browned the surfaces of a stack
of dry toast, or where a preserve had brought away some of the red
sunshine of the last year's summer. The Widow shall have the credit
of her well-ordered tea-table, also of her bountiful cream-pitchers;
for it is well known that city-people find cream a very scarce luxury
in a good many country-houses of more pretensions than Hyacinth
Cottage. There are no better maims for ladies who give tea-parties
than these:

Cream is thicker than water.
Large heart never loved little cream pot.

There is a common feeling in genteel families that the third meal of
the day is not so essential a part of the daily bread as to require
any especial acknowledgment to the Providence which bestows it. Very
devout people, who would never sit down to a breakfast or a dinner
without the grace before meat which honors the Giver of it, feel as
if they thanked Heaven enough for their tea and toast by partaking of
them cheerfully without audible petition or ascription. But the
Widow was not exactly mansion-house-bred, and so thought it necessary
to give the Reverend Doctor a peculiar look which he understood at
once as inviting his professional services. He, therefore, uttered a
few simple words of gratitude, very quietly,--much to the
satisfaction of some of the guests, who had expected one of those
elaborate effusions, with rolling up of the eyes and rhetorical
accents, so frequent with eloquent divines when they address their
Maker in genteel company.

Everybody began talking with the person sitting next at hand. Mr.
Bernard naturally enough turned his attention first to the Widow; but
somehow or other the right side of the Widow seemed to be more wide
awake than the left side, next him, and he resigned her to the
courtesies of Mr. Dudley Venner, directing himself, not very
unwillingly, to the young girl next him on the other side. Miss
Letty Forrester, the granddaughter of the Reverend Doctor, was city-
bred, as anybody might see, and city-dressed, as any woman would know
at sight; a man might only feel the general effect of clear, well-
matched colors, of harmonious proportions, of the cut which makes
everything cling like a bather's sleeve where a natural outline is to
be kept, and ruffle itself up like the hackle of a pitted fighting-
cock where art has a right to luxuriate in silken exuberance. How
this citybred and city-dressed girl came to be in Rockland Mr.
Bernard did not know, but he knew at any rate that she was his next
neighbor and entitled to his courtesies. She was handsome, too, when
he came to look, very handsome when he came to look again,--endowed
with that city beauty which is like the beauty of wall-fruit,
something finer in certain respects than can be reared off the

The miserable routinists who keep repeating invidiously Cowper's

"God made the country and man made the town,"

as if the town were a place to kill out the race in, do not know what
they are talking about. Where could they raise such Saint-Michael
pears, such Saint-Germains, such Brown-Beurres, as we had until
within a few years growing within the walls of our old city-gardens?
Is the dark and damp cavern where a ragged beggar hides himself
better than a town-mansion which fronts the sunshine and backs on its
own cool shadow, with gas and water and all appliances to suit all
needs? God made the cavern and man made the house! What then?

There is no doubt that the pavement keeps a deal of mischief from
coming up out of the earth, and, with a dash off of it in summer,
just to cool the soles of the feet when it gets too hot, is the best
place for many constitutions, as some few practical people have
already discovered. And just so these beauties that grow and ripen
against the city-walls, these young fellows with cheeks like peaches
and young girls with cheeks like nectarines, show that the most
perfect forms of artificial life can do as much for the human product
as garden-culture for strawberries and blackberries.

If Mr. Bernard had philosophized or prosed in this way, with so
pretty, nay, so lovely a neighbor as Miss Letty Forrester waiting for
him to speak to her, he would have to be dropped from this narrative
as a person unworthy of his good-fortune, and not deserving the kind
reader's further notice. On the contrary, he no sooner set his eyes
fairly on her than he said to himself that she was charming, and that
he wished she were one of his scholars at the Institute. So he began
talking with her in an easy way; for he knew something of young girls
by this time, and, of course, could adapt himself to a young lady who
looked as if she might be not more than fifteen or sixteen years old,
and therefore could hardly be a match in intellectual resources for
the seventeen and eighteen year-old first-class scholars of the
Apollinean Institute. But city-wall-fruit ripens early, and he soon
found that this girl's training had so sharpened her wits and stored
her memory, that he need not be at the trouble to stoop painfully in
order to come down to her level.

The beauty of good-breeding is that it adjusts itself to all
relations without effort, true to itself always however the manners
of those around it may change. Self-respect and respect for others,
--the sensitive consciousness poises itself in these as the compass
in the ship's binnacle balances itself and maintains its true level
within the two concentric rings which suspend it on their pivots.
This thorough-bred school-girl quite enchanted Mr. Bernard. He could
not understand where she got her style, her way of dress, her
enunciation, her easy manners. The minister was a most worthy
gentleman, but this was not the Rockland native-born manner; some new
element had come in between the good, plain, worthy man and this
young girl, fit to be a Crown Prince's partner where there were a
thousand to choose from.

He looked across to Helen Darley, for he knew she would understand
the glance of admiration with which he called her attention to the
young beauty at his side; and Helen knew what a young girl could be,
as compared with what too many a one is, as well as anybody.

This poor, dear Helen of ours! How admirable the contrast between
her and the Widow on the other side of Dudley Venner! But, what was
very odd, that gentleman apparently thought the contrast was to the
advantage of this poor, dear Helen. At any rate, instead of devoting
himself solely to the Widow, he happened to be just at that moment
talking in a very interested and, apparently, not uninteresting way
to his right-hand neighbor, who, on her part, never looked more
charmingly,--as Mr. Bernard could not help saying to himself,--but,
to be sure, he had just been looking at the young girl next him, so
that his eyes were brimful of beauty, and may have spilled some of it
on the first comer: for you know M. Becquerel has been showing us
lately how everything is phosphorescent; that it soaks itself with
light in an instant's exposure, so that it is wet with liquid
sunbeams, or, if you will, tremulous with luminous vibrations, when
first plunged into the negative bath of darkness, and betrays itself
by the light which escapes from its surface.

Whatever were the reason, this poor, dear Helen never looked so
sweetly. Her plainly parted brown hair, her meek, blue eyes, her
cheek just a little tinged with color, the almost sad simplicity of
her dress, and that look he knew so well,--so full of cheerful
patience, so sincere, that he had trusted her from the first moment
as the believers of the larger half of Christendom trust the Blessed
Virgin,--Mr. Bernard took this all in at a glance, and felt as
pleased as if it had been his own sister Dorothea Elizabeth that he
was looking at. As for Dudley Veneer, Mr. Bernard could not help
being struck by the animated expression of his countenance. It
certainly showed great kindness, on his part, to pay so much
attention to this quiet girl, when he had the thunder-and-lightning
Widow on the other side of him.

Mrs. Marilla Rowens did not know what to make of it. She had made
her tea-party expressly for Mr. Dudley Veneer. She had placed him
just as she wanted, between herself and a meek, delicate woman who
dressed in gray, wore a plain breastpin with hair in it, who taught a
pack of girls up there at the school, and looked as if she were born
for a teacher,--the very best foil that she could have chosen; and
here was this man, polite enough to herself, to be sure, but turning
round to that very undistinguished young person as if he rather
preferred her conversation of the two!

The truth was that Dudley Veneer and Helen Darley met as two
travellers might meet in the desert, wearied, both of them, with
their long journey, one having food, but no water, the other water,
but no food. Each saw that the other had been in long conflict with
some trial; for their voices were low and tender, as patiently borne
sorrow and humbly uttered prayers make every human voice. Through
these tones, more than by what they said, they came into natural
sympathetic relations with each other. Nothing could be more
unstudied. As for Dudley Venner, no beauty in all the world could
have so soothed and magnetized him as the very repose and subdued
gentleness which the Widow had thought would make the best possible
background for her own more salient and effective attractions. No
doubt, Helen, on her side, was almost too readily pleased with the
confidence this new acquaintance she was making seemed to show her
from the very first. She knew so few men of any condition! Mr.
Silas Peckham: he was her employer, and she ought to think of him as
well as she could; but every time she thought of him it was with a
shiver of disgust. Mr. Bernard Langdon: a noble young man, a true
friend, like a brother to her,--God bless him, and send him some
young heart as fresh as his own! But this gentleman produced a new
impression upon her, quite different from any to which she was
accustomed. His rich, low tones had the strangest significance to
her; she felt sure he must have lived through long experiences,
sorrowful like her own. Elsie's father! She looked into his dark
eyes, as she listened to him, to see if they had any glimmer of that
peculiar light, diamond-bright, but cold and still, which she knew so
well in Elsie's. Anything but that! Never was there more
tenderness, it seemed to her, than in the whole look and expression
of Elsie's father. She must have been a great trial to him; yet his
face was that of one who had been saddened, not soured, by his
discipline. Knowing what Elsie must be to him, how hard she must
make any parent's life, Helen could not but be struck with the
interest Mr. Dudley Venner showed in her as his daughter's
instructress. He was too kind to her; again and again she meekly
turned from him, so as to leave him free to talk to the showy lady at
his other side, who was looking all the while

"like the night
Of cloudless realms and starry skies;"

but still Mr. Dudley Venner, after a few courteous words, came back
to the blue eyes and brown hair; still he kept his look fixed upon
her, and his tones grew sweeter and lower as he became more
interested in talk, until this poor, dear Helen, what with surprise,
and the bashfulness natural to one who had seen little of the gay
world, and the stirring of deep, confused sympathies with this
suffering father, whose heart seemed so full of kindness, felt her
cheeks glowing with unwonted flame, and betrayed the pleasing trouble
of her situation by looking so sweetly as to arrest Mr. Bernard's eye
for a moment, when he looked away from the young beauty sitting next

Elsie meantime had been silent, with that singular, still, watchful
look which those who knew her well had learned to fear. Her head
just a little inclined on one side, perfectly motionless for whole
minutes, her eyes seeming to, grow small and bright, as always when
she was under her evil influence, she was looking obliquely at the
young girl on the other side of her cousin Dick and next to Bernard
Langdon. As for Dick himself, she seemed to be paying very little
attention to him. Sometimes her eyes would wander off to Mr.
Bernard, and their expression, as old Dr. Kittredge, who watched her
for a while pretty keenly, noticed, would change perceptibly. One
would have said that she looked with a kind of dull hatred at the
girl, but with a half-relenting reproachful anger at Mr. Bernard.

Miss Letty Forrester, at whom Elsie had been looking from time to
time in this fixed way, was conscious meanwhile of some unusual
influence. First it was a feeling of constraint,--then, as it were,
a diminished power over the muscles, as if an invisible elastic
cobweb were spinning round her,--then a tendency to turn away from
Mr. Bernard, who was making himself very agreeable, and look straight
into those eyes which would not leave her, and which seemed to be
drawing her towards them, while at the same time they chilled the
blood in all her veins.

Mr. Bernard saw this influence coming over her. All at once he
noticed that she sighed, and that some little points of moisture
began to glisten on her forehead. But she did not grow pale
perceptibly; she had no involuntary or hysteric movements; she still
listened to him and smiled naturally enough. Perhaps she was only
nervous at being stared at. At any rate, she was coming under some
unpleasant influence or other, and Mr. Bernard had seen enough of the
strange impression Elsie sometimes produced to wish this young girl
to be relieved from it, whatever it was. He turned toward Elsie and
looked at her in such a way as to draw her eyes upon him. Then he
looked steadily and calmly into them. It was a great effort, for
some perfectly inexplicable reason. At one instant he thought he
could not sit where he was; he must go and speak to Elsie. Then he
wanted to take his eyes away from hers; there was something
intolerable in the light that came from them. But he was determined
to look her down, and he believed he could do it, for he had seen her
countenance change more than once when he had caught her gaze
steadily fixed on him. All this took not minutes, but seconds.
Presently she changed color slightly,--lifted her head, which was
inclined a little to one side,--shut and opened her eyes two or three
times, as if they had been pained or wearied,--and turned away
baffled, and shamed, as it would seem, and shorn for the time of her
singular and formidable or at least evil-natured power of swaying the
impulses of those around her.

It takes too long to describe these scenes where a good deal of life
is concentrated into a few silent seconds. Mr. Richard Veneer had
sat quietly through it all, although this short pantomime had taken
place literally before his face. He saw what was going on well
enough, and understood it all perfectly well. Of course the
schoolmaster had been trying to make Elsie jealous, and had
succeeded. The little schoolgirl was a decoy-duck,--that was all.
Estates like the Dudley property were not to be had every day, and no
doubt the Yankee usher was willing to take some pains to make sure of
Elsie. Does n't Elsie look savage? Dick involuntarily moved his
chair a little away from her, and thought he felt a pricking in the
small white scars on his wrist. A dare-devil fellow, but somehow or
other this girl had taken strange hold of his imagination, and he
often swore to himself, that, when he married her, he would carry a
loaded revolver with him to his bridal chamber.

Mrs. Blanche Creamer raged inwardly at first to find herself between
the two old gentlemen of the party. It very soon gave her great
comfort, however, to see that Marilla, Rowens had just missed it in
her calculations, and she chuckled immensely to find Dudley Veneer
devoting himself chiefly to Helen Darley. If the Rowens woman should
hook Dudley, she felt as if she should gnaw all her nails off for
spite. To think of seeing her barouching about Rockland behind a
pair of long-tailed bays and a coachman with a band on his hat, while
she, Blanche Creamer, was driving herself about in a one-horse
"carriage"! Recovering her spirits by degrees, she began playing her
surfaces off at the two old Doctors, just by way of practice. First
she heaved up a glaring white shoulder, the right one, so that the
Reverend Doctor should be stunned by it, if such a thing might be.
The Reverend Doctor was human, as the Apostle was not ashamed to
confess himself. Half-devoutly and half-mischievously he repeated
inwardly, "Resist the Devil and he will flee from you." As the
Reverend Doctor did not show any lively susceptibility, she thought
she would try the left shoulder on old Dr. Kittredge. That worthy
and experienced student of science was not at all displeased with the
manoeuvre, and lifted his head so as to command the exhibition
through his glasses. "Blanche is good for half a dozen years or so,
if she is careful," the Doctor said to himself, "and then she must
take to her prayer-book." After this spasmodic failure of Mrs.
Blanche Creamer's to stir up the old Doctors, she returned again to
the pleasing task of watching the Widow in her evident discomfiture.
But dark as the Widow looked in her half-concealed pet, she was but
as a pale shadow, compared to Elsie in her silent concentration of
shame and anger.

"Well, there is one good thing," said Mrs. Blanche Creamer; "Dick
doesn't get much out of that cousin of his this evening! Does n't he
look handsome, though?"

So Mrs. Blanche, being now a good deal taken up with her observations
of those friends of hers and ours, began to be rather careless of her
two old Doctors, who naturally enough fell into conversation with
each other across the white surfaces of that lady, perhaps not very
politely, but, under the, circumstances, almost as a matter of

When a minister and a doctor get talking together, they always have a
great deal to say; and so it happened that the company left the table
just as the two Doctors were beginning to get at each other's ideas
about various interesting matters. If we follow them into the other
parlor, we can, perhaps, pick up something of their conversation.



The company rearranged itself with some changes after leaving the
tea-table. Dudley Veneer was very polite to the Widow; but that lady
having been called off for a few moments for some domestic
arrangement, he slid back to the side of Helen Darley, his daughter's
faithful teacher. Elsie had got away by herself, and was taken up in
studying the stereoscopic Laocoon. Dick, being thus set free, had
been seized upon by Mrs. Blanche Creamer, who had diffused herself
over three-quarters of a sofa and beckoned him to the remaining
fourth. Mr. Bernard and Miss Letty were having a snug fete-'a-fete
in the recess of a bay-window. The two Doctors had taken two arm-
chairs and sat squared off against each other. Their conversation is
perhaps as well worth reporting as that of the rest of the company,
and, as it was carried on in a louder tone, was of course more easy
to gather and put on record.

It was a curious sight enough to see those two representatives of two
great professions brought face to face to talk over the subjects they
had been looking at all their lives from such different points of
view. Both were old; old enough to have been moulded by their habits
of thought and life; old enough to have all their beliefs "fretted
in," as vintners say,--thoroughly worked up with their characters.
Each of them looked his calling. The Reverend Doctor had lived a
good deal among books in his study; the Doctor, as we will call the
medical gentleman, had been riding about the country for between
thirty and forty years. His face looked tough and weather-worn;
while the Reverend Doctor's, hearty as it appeared, was of finer
texture. The Doctor's was the graver of the two; there was something
of grimness about it, partly owing to the northeasters he had faced
for so many years, partly to long companionship with that stern
personage who never deals in sentiment or pleasantry. His speech was
apt to be brief and peremptory; it was a way he had got by ordering
patients; but he could discourse somewhat, on occasion, as the reader
may find out. The Reverend Doctor had an open, smiling expression, a
cheery voice, a hearty laugh, and a cordial way with him which some
thought too lively for his cloth, but which children, who are good
judges of such matters, delighted in, so that he was the favorite of
all the little rogues about town. But he had the clerical art of
sobering down in a moment, when asked to say grace while somebody was
in the middle of some particularly funny story; and though his voice
was so cheery in common talk, in the pulpit, like almost all
preachers, he had a wholly different and peculiar way of speaking,
supposed to be more acceptable to the Creator than the natural
manner. In point of fact, most of our anti-papal and anti-prelatical
clergymen do really intone their prayers, without suspecting in the
least that they have fallen into such a Romish practice.

This is the way the conversation between the Doctor of Divinity and
the Doctor of Medicine was going on at the point where these notes
take it up.

"Obi tres medici, duo athei, you know, Doctor. Your profession has
always had the credit of being lax in doctrine,--though pretty
stringent in practice, ha! ha!"

"Some priest said that," the Doctor answered, dryly. "They always
talked Latin when they had a bigger lie than common to get rid of."

"Good!" said the Reverend Doctor; "I'm afraid they would lie a
little sometimes. But isn't there some truth in it, Doctor? Don't
you think your profession is apt to see 'Nature' in the place of the
God of Nature,--to lose sight of the great First Cause in their daily
study of secondary causes?"

"I've thought about that," the Doctor answered, "and I've talked
about it and read about it, and I've come to the conclusion that
nobody believes in God and trusts in God quite so much as the
doctors; only it is n't just the sort of Deity that some of your
profession have wanted them to take up with. There was a student of
mine wrote a dissertation on the Natural Theology of Health and
Disease, and took that old lying proverb for his motto. He knew a
good deal more about books than ever I did, and had studied in other
countries. I'll tell you what he said about it. He said the old
Heathen Doctor, Galen, praised God for his handiwork in the human
body, just as if he had been a Christian, or the Psalmist himself.
He said they had this sentence set up in large letters in the great
lecture-room in Paris where he attended: I dressed his wound and God
healed him. That was an old surgeon's saying. And he gave a long
list of doctors who were not only Christians, but famous ones. I
grant you, though, ministers and doctors are very apt to see
differently in spiritual matters."

"That's it," said the Reverend Doctor; "you are apt to see 'Nature'
where we see God, and appeal to 'Science' where we are contented with

"We don't separate God and Nature, perhaps, as you do," the Doctor
answered. "When we say that God is omnipresent and omnipotent and
omniscient, we are a little more apt to mean it than your folks are.
We think, when a wound heals, that God's presence and power and
knowledge are there, healing it, just as that old surgeon did. We
think a good many theologians, working among their books, don't see
the facts of the world they live in. When we tell 'em of these
facts, they are apt to call us materialists and atheists and
infidels, and all that. We can't help seeing the facts, and we don't
think it's wicked to mention 'em."

"Do tell me," the Reverend Doctor said, "some of these facts we are
in the habit of overlooking, and which your profession thinks it can
see and understand."

"That's very easy," the Doctor replied. "For instance: you don't
understand or don't allow for idiosyncrasies as we learn to. We know
that food and physic act differently with different people; but you
think the same kind of truth is going to suit, or ought to suit, all
minds. We don't fight with a patient because he can't take magnesia
or opium; but you are all the time quarrelling over your beliefs, as
if belief did not depend very much on race and constitution, to say
nothing of early training."

"Do you mean to say that every man is not absolutely free to choose
his beliefs?"

"The men you write about in your studies are, but not the men we see
in the real world. There is some apparently congenital defect in the
Indians, for instance, that keeps them from choosing civilization and
Christianity. So with the Gypsies, very likely. Everybody knows
that Catholicism or Protestantism is a good deal a matter of race.
Constitution has more to do with belief than people think for. I
went to a Universalist church, when I was in the city one day, to
hear a famous man whom all the world knows, and I never saw such
pews-full of broad shoulders and florid faces, and substantial,
wholesome-looking persons, male and female, in all my life. Why, it
was astonishing. Either their creed made them healthy, or they chose
it because they were healthy. Your folks have never got the hang of
human nature."

"I am afraid this would be considered a degrading and dangerous view
of human beliefs and responsibility for them," the Reverend Doctor
replied. "Prove to a man that his will is governed by something
outside of himself, and you have lost all hold on his moral and
religious nature. There is nothing bad men want to believe so much
as that they are governed by necessity. Now that which is at once
degrading and dangerous cannot be true."

"No doubt," the Doctor replied, "all large views of mankind limit our
estimate of the absolute freedom of the will. But I don't think it
degrades or endangers us, for this reason, that, while it makes us
charitable to the rest of mankind, our own sense of freedom, whatever
it is, is never affected by argument. Conscience won't be reasoned
with. We feel that we can practically do this of that, and if we
choose the wrong, we know we are responsible; but observation teaches
us that this or that other race or individual has not the same
practical freedom of choice. I don't see how we can avoid this
conclusion in the instance of the American Indians. The science of
Ethnology has upset a good many theoretical notions about human

"Science!" said the Reverend Doctor, "science! that was a word the
Apostle Paul did not seem to think much of, if we may judge by the
Epistle to Timothy: 'Oppositions of science falsely so called.'
I own that I am jealous of that word and the pretensions that go with
it. Science has seemed to me to be very often only the handmaid of

"Doctor!" the physician said, emphatically, "science is knowledge.
Nothing that is not known properly belongs to science. Whenever
knowledge obliges us to doubt, we are always safe in doubting.
Astronomers foretell eclipses, say how long comets are to stay with
us, point out where a new planet is to be found. We see they know
what they assert, and the poor old Roman Catholic Church has at last
to knock under. So Geology proves a certain succession of events,
and the best Christian in the world must make the earth's history
square with it. Besides, I don't think you remember what great
revelations of himself the Creator has made in the minds of the men
who have built up science. You seem to me to hold his human
masterpieces very cheap. Don't you think the 'inspiration of the
Almighty' gave Newton and Cuvier 'understanding'?"

The Reverend Doctor was not arguing for victory. In fact, what he
wanted was to call out the opinions of the old physician by a show of
opposition, being already predisposed to agree with many of them. He
was rather trying the common arguments, as one tries tricks of fence
merely to learn the way of parrying. But just here he saw a tempting
opening, and could not resist giving a home-thrust.

"Yes; but you surely would not consider it inspiration of the same
kind as that of the writers of the Old Testament?"

That cornered the Doctor, and he paused a moment before he replied.
Then he raised his head, so as to command the Reverend Doctor's face
through his spectacles, and said,

"I did not say that. You are clear, I suppose, that the Omniscient
spoke through Solomon, but that Shakespeare wrote without his help?"

The Reverend Doctor looked very grave. It was a bold, blunt way of
putting the question. He turned it aside with the remark, that
Shakespeare seemed to him at times to come as near inspiration as any
human being not included among the sacred writers.

"Doctor," the physician began, as from a sudden suggestion, "you
won't quarrel with me, if I tell you some of my real thoughts, will

"Say on, my dear Sir, say on," the minister answered, with his most
genial smile; "your real thoughts are just what I want to get at. A
man's real thoughts are a great rarity. If I don't agree with you, I
shall like to hear you."

The Doctor began; and in order to give his thoughts more connectedly,
we will omit the conversational breaks, the questions and comments of
the clergyman, and all accidental interruptions.

"When the old ecclesiastics said that where there were three doctors
there were two atheists, they lied, of course. They called everybody
who differed from them atheists, until they found out that not
believing in God was n't nearly so ugly a crime as not believing in
some particular dogma; then they called them heretics, until so many
good people had been burned under that name that it began to smell
too strong of roasting flesh,--and after that infidels, which
properly means people without faith, of whom there are not a great
many in any place or time. But then, of course, there was some
reason why doctors shouldn't think about religion exactly as
ministers did, or they never would have made that proverb. It 's
very likely that something of the same kind is true now; whether it
is so or not, I am going to tell you the reasons why it would not be
strange, if doctors should take rather different views from clergymen
about some matters of belief. I don't, of course, mean all doctors
nor all clergymen. Some doctors go as far as any old New England
divine, and some clergymen agree very well with the doctors that
think least according to rule.

"To begin with their ideas of the Creator himself. They always see
him trying to help his creatures out of their troubles. A man no
sooner gets a cut, than the Great Physician, whose agency we often
call Nature, goes to work, first to stop the blood, and then to heal
the wound, and then to make the scar as small as possible. If a
man's pain exceeds a certain amount, he faints, and so gets relief.
If it lasts too long, habit comes in to make it tolerable. If it is
altogether too bad, he dies. That is the best thing to be done under
the circumstances. So you see, the doctor is constantly in presence
of a benevolent agency working against a settled order of things, of
which pain and disease are the accidents, so to speak. Well, no
doubt they find it harder than clergymen to believe that there can be
any world or state from which this benevolent agency is wholly
excluded. This may be very wrong; but it is not unnatural.

"They can hardly conceive of a permanent state of being in which cuts
would never try to heal, nor habit render suffering endurable. This
is one effect of their training.

"Then, again, their attention is very much called to human
limitations. Ministers work out the machinery of responsibility in
an abstract kind of way; they have a sort of algebra of human nature,
in which friction and strength (or weakness) of material are left
out. You see, a doctor is in the way of studying children from the
moment of birth upwards. For the first year or so he sees that they
are just as much pupils of their Maker as the young of any other
animals. Well, their Maker trains them to pure selfishness. Why?
In order that they may be sure to take care of themselves. So you
see, when a child comes to be, we will say a year and a day old, and
makes his first choice between right and wrong, he is at a
disadvantage; for he, has that vis a tergo, as we doctors call it,
that force from behind, of a whole year's life of selfishness, for
which he is no more to blame than a calf is to blame for having lived
in the same way, purely to gratify his natural appetites. Then we
see that baby grow up to a child, and, if he is fat and stout and red
and lively, we expect to find him troublesome and noisy, and,
perhaps, sometimes disobedient more or less; that's the way each new
generation breaks its egg-shell; but if he is very weak and thin, and
is one of the kind that may be expected to die early, he will very
likely sit in the house all day and read good books about other
little sharp-faced children just like himself, who died early, having
always been perfectly indifferent to all the out-door amusements of
the wicked little red-cheeked children.

"Some of the little folks we watch grow up to be young women, and
occasionally one of them gets nervous, what we call hysterical, and
then that girl will begin to play all sorts of pranks,--to lie and
cheat, perhaps, in the most unaccountable way, so that she might seem
to a minister a good example of total depravity. We don't see her in
that light. We give her iron and valerian, and get her on horseback,
if we can, and so expect to make her will come all right again. By
and by we are called in to see an old baby, threescore years and ten
or more old. We find this old baby has never got rid of that first
year's teaching which led him to fill his stomach with all he could.
pump into it, and his hands with everything he could grab. People
call him a miser. We are sorry for him; but we can't help
remembering his first year's training, and the natural effect of
money on the great majority of those that have it. So while the
ministers say he 'shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven,' we
like to remind them that 'with God all things are possible.'

"Once more, we see all kinds of monomania and insanity. We learn
from them to recognize all sorts of queer tendencies in minds
supposed to be sane, so that we have nothing but compassion for a
large class of persons condemned as sinners by theologians, but
considered by us as invalids. We have constant reasons for noticing
the transmission of qualities from parents to offspring, and we find
it hard to hold a child accountable in any moral point of view for
inherited bad temper or tendency to drunkenness,--as hard as we
should to blame him for inheriting gout or asthma. I suppose we are
more lenient with human nature than theologians generally are. We
know that the spirits of men and their views of the present and the
future go up and down with the barometer, and that a permanent
depression of one inch in the mercurial column would affect the whole
theology of Christendom.

"Ministers talk about the human will as if it stood on a high look-
out, with plenty of light, and elbowroom reaching to the horizon.
Doctors are constantly noticing how it is tied up and darkened by
inferior organization, by disease, and all sorts of crowding
interferences, until they get to look upon Hottentots and Indians--
and a good many of their own race as a kind of self-conscious blood-
clocks with very limited power of self-determination. That's the
tendency, I say, of a doctor's experience. But the people to whom
they address their statements of the results of their observation
belong to the thinking class of the highest races, and they are
conscious of a great deal of liberty of will. So in the face of the
fact that civilization with all it offers has proved a dead failure
with the aboriginal races of this country,--on the whole, I say, a
dead failure,--they talk as if they knew from their own will all
about that of a Digger Indian! We are more apt to go by observation
of the facts in the case. We are constantly seeing weakness where
you see depravity. I don't say we're right; I only tell what you
must often find to be the fact, right or wrong, in talking with
doctors. You see, too, our notions of bodily and moral disease, or
sin, are apt to go together. We used to be as hard on sickness as
you were on sin. We know better now. We don't look at sickness as
we used to, and try to poison it with everything that is offensive,
burnt toads and earth-worms and viper-broth, and worse things than
these. We know that disease has something back of it which the body
isn't to blame for, at least in most cases, and which very often it
is trying to get rid of. Just so with sin. I will agree to take a
hundred new-born babes of a certain stock and return seventy-five of
them in a dozen years true and honest, if not 'pious' children. And
I will take another hundred, of a different stock, and put them in
the hands of certain Ann-Street or Five-Points teachers, and seventy-
five of them will be thieves and liars at the end of the same dozen
years. I have heard of an old character, Colonel Jaques, I believe
it was, a famous cattle-breeder, who used to say he could breed to
pretty much any pattern he wanted to. Well, we doctors see so much
of families, how the tricks of the blood keep breaking out, just as
much in character as they do in looks, that we can't help feeling as
if a great many people hadn't a fair chance to be what is called
'good,' and that there isn't a text in the Bible better worth keeping
always in mind than that one, 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.'

"As for our getting any quarter at the hands of theologians, we don't
expect it, and have no right to. You don't give each other any
quarter. I have had two religious books sent me by friends within a
week or two. One is Mr. Brownson's; he is as fair and square as
Euclid; a real honest, strong thinker, and one that knows what he is
talking about,--for he has tried all sorts of religions, pretty much.
He tells us that the Roman Catholic Church is the one 'through which
alone we can hope for heaven.' The other is by a worthy Episcopal
rector, who appears to write as if he were in earnest, and he calls
the Papacy the 'Devil's Masterpiece,' and talks about the 'Satanic
scheme' of that very Church 'through which alone,' as Mr. Brownson
tells us, 'we can hope for heaven'

"What's the use in our caring about hard words after this,--
'atheists,' heretics, infidels, and the like? They're, after all,
only the cinders picked up out of those heaps of ashes round the
stumps of the old stakes where they used to burn men, women, and
children for not thinking just like other folks. They 'll 'crock'
your fingers, but they can't burn us.

"Doctors are the best-natured people in the world, except when they
get fighting with each other. And they have some advantages over
you. You inherit your notions from a set of priests that had no
wives and no children, or none to speak of, and so let their humanity
die out of them. It did n't seem much to them to condemn a few
thousand millions of people to purgatory or worse for a mistake of
judgment. They didn't know what it was to have a child look up in
their faces and say 'Father!' It will take you a hundred or two more
years to get decently humanized, after so many centuries of de-
humanizing celibacy.

"Besides, though our libraries are, perhaps, not commonly quite so
big as yours, God opens one book to physicians that a good many of
you don't know much about,--the Book of Life. That is none of your
dusty folios with black letters between pasteboard and leather, but
it is printed in bright red type, and the binding of it is warm and
tender to every touch. They reverence that book as one of the
Almighty's infallible revelations. They will insist on reading you
lessons out of it, whether you call them names or not. These will
always be lessons of charity. No doubt, nothing can be more
provoking to listen to. But do beg your folks to remember that the
Smithfield fires are all out, and that the cinders are very dirty and
not in the least dangerous. They'd a great deal better be civil, and
not be throwing old proverbs in the doctors' faces, when they say
that the man of the old monkish notions is one thing and the man they
watch from his cradle to his coffin is something very different."

It has cost a good deal of trouble to work the Doctor's talk up into
this formal shape. Some of his sentences have been rounded off for
him, and the whole brought into a more rhetorical form than it could
have pretended to, if taken as it fell from his lips. But the exact
course of his remarks has been followed, and as far as possible his
expressions have been retained. Though given in the form of a
discourse, it must be remembered that this was a conversation, much
more fragmentary and colloquial than it seems as just read.

The Reverend Doctor was very far from taking offence at the old
physician's freedom of speech. He knew him to be honest, kind,
charitable, self-denying, wherever any sorrow was to be alleviated,
always reverential, with a cheerful trust in the great Father of all
mankind. To be sure, his senior deacon, old Deacon Shearer,--who
seemed to have got his Scripture-teachings out of the "Vinegar
Bible," (the one where Vineyard is misprinted Vinegar; which a good
many people seem to have adopted as the true reading,)--his senior
deacon had called Dr. Kittredge an "infidel." But the Reverend
Doctor could not help feeling, that, unless the text, "By their
fruits ye shall know them," were an interpolation, the Doctor was the
better Christian of the two. Whatever his senior deacon might think
about it, he said to himself that he shouldn't be surprised if he met
the Doctor in heaven yet, inquiring anxiously after old Deacon

He was on the point of expressing himself very frankly to the Doctor,
with that benevolent smile on his face which had sometimes come near
giving offence to the readers of the "Vinegar" edition, but he saw
that the physician's attention had been arrested by Elsie. He looked
in the same direction himself, and could not help being struck by her
attitude and expression. There was something singularly graceful in
the curves of her neck and the rest of her figure, but she was so
perfectly still that it seemed as if she were hardly breathing. Her
eyes were fixed on the young girl with whom Mr. Bernard was talking.
He had often noticed their brilliancy, but now it seemed to him that
they appeared dull, and the look on her features was as of some
passion which had missed its stroke. Mr. Bernard's companion seemed
unconscious that she was the object of this attention, and was
listening to the young master as if he had succeeded in making
himself very agreeable.

Of course Dick Veneer had not mistaken the game that was going on.
The schoolmaster meant to make Elsie jealous,--and he had done it.
That 's it: get her savage first, and then come wheedling round her,
--a sure trick, if he isn't headed off somehow. But Dick saw well
enough that he had better let Elsie alone just now, and thought the
best way of killing the evening would be to amuse himself in a little
lively talk with Mrs. Blanche Creamer, and incidentally to show Elsie
that he could make himself acceptable to other women, if not to

The Doctor presently went up to Elsie, determined to engage her in
conversation and get her out of her thoughts, which he saw, by her
look, were dangerous. Her father had been on the point of leaving
Helen Darley to go to her, but felt easy enough when he saw the old
Doctor at her side, and so went on talking. The Reverend Doctor,
being now left alone, engaged the Widow Rowens, who put the best face
on her vexation she could, but was devoting herself to all the
underground deities for having been such a fool as to ask that pale-
faced thing from the Institute to fill up her party.

There is no space left to report the rest of the conversation. If
there was anything of any significance in it, it will turn up by and
by, no doubt. At ten o'clock the Reverend Doctor called Miss Letty,
who had no idea it was so late; Mr. Bernard gave his arm to Helen;
Mr. Richard saw to Mrs. Blanche Creamer; the Doctor gave Elsie a
cautioning look, and went off alone, thoughtful; Dudley Venner and
his daughter got into their carriage and were whirled away. The
Widow's gambit was played, and she had not won the game.



The young master had not forgotten the old Doctor's cautions.
Without attributing any great importance to the warning he had given
him, Mr. Bernard had so far complied with his advice that he was
becoming a pretty good shot with the pistol. It was an amusement as
good as many others to practise, and he had taken a fancy to it after
the first few days.

The popping of a pistol at odd hours in the backyard of the Institute
was a phenomenon more than sufficiently remarkable to be talked about
in Rockland. The viscous intelligence of a country-village is not
easily stirred by the winds which ripple the fluent thought of great
cities, but it holds every straw and entangles every insect that
lights upon it. It soon became rumored in the town that the young
master was a wonderful shot with the pistol. Some said he could hit
a fo'pence-ha'penny at three rod; some, that he had shot a swallow,
flying, with a single ball; some, that he snuffed a candle five times
out of six at ten paces, and that he could hit any button in a man's
coat he wanted to. In other words, as in all such cases, all the
common feats were ascribed to him, as the current jokes of the day
are laid at the door of any noted wit, however innocent he may be of

In the natural course of things, Mr. Richard Venner, who had by this
time made some acquaintances, as we have seen, among that class of
the population least likely to allow a live cinder of gossip to go
out for want of air, had heard incidentally that the master up there
at the Institute was all the time practising with a pistol, that they
say he can snuff a candle at ten rods, (that was Mrs. Blanche
Creamer's version,) and that he could hit anybody he wanted to right
in the eye, as far as he could see the white of it.

Dick did not like the sound of all this any too well. Without
believing more than half of it, there was enough to make the Yankee
schoolmaster too unsafe to be trifled with. However, shooting at a
mark was pleasant work enough; he had no particular objection to it
himself. Only he did not care so much for those little popgun
affairs that a man carries in his pocket, and with which you could
n't shoot a fellow,--a robber, say,--without getting the muzzle under
his nose. Pistols for boys; long-range rifles for men. There was
such a gun lying in a closet with the fowling-pieces. He would go
out into the fields and see what he could do as a marksman.

The nature of the mark which Dick chose for experimenting upon was
singular. He had found some panes of glass which had been removed
from an old sash, and he placed these successively before his target,
arranging them at different angles. He found that a bullet would go
through the glass without glancing or having its force materially
abated. It was an interesting fact in physics, and might prove of
some practical significance hereafter. Nobody knows what may turn up
to render these out-of-the-way facts useful. All this was done in a
quiet way in one of the bare spots high up the side of The Mountain.
He was very thoughtful in taking the precaution to get so far away;
rifle-bullets are apt to glance and come whizzing about people's
ears, if they are fired in the neighborhood of houses. Dick
satisfied himself that he could be tolerably sure of hitting a pane
of glass at a distance of thirty rods, more or less, and that, if
there happened to be anything behind it, the glass would not
materially alter the force or direction of the bullet.

About this time it occurred to him also that there was an old
accomplishment of his which he would be in danger of losing for want
of practice, if he did not take some opportunity to try his hand and
regain its cunning, if it had begun to be diminished by disuse. For
his first trial, he chose an evening when the moon was shining, and
after the hour when the Rockland people were like to be stirring
abroad. He was so far established now that he could do much as he
pleased without exciting remark.

The prairie horse he rode, the mustang of the Pampas, wild as he was,
had been trained to take part in at least one exercise. This was the
accomplishment in which Mr. Richard now proposed to try himself. For
this purpose he sought the implement of which, as it may be
remembered, he had once made an incidental use,--the lasso, or long
strip of hide with a slip-noose at the end of it. He had been
accustomed to playing with such a thong from his boyhood, and had
become expert in its use in capturing wild cattle in the course of
his adventures. Unfortunately, there were no wild bulls likely to be
met with in the neighborhood, to become the subjects of his skill. A
stray cow in the road, an ox or a horse in a pasture, must serve his
turn,--dull beasts, but moving marks to aim at, at any rate.

Never, since he had galloped in the chase over the Pampas, had Dick
Venner felt such a sense of life and power as when he struck the long
spurs into his wild horse's flanks, and dashed along the road with
the lasso lying like a coiled snake at the saddle-bow. In skilful
hands, the silent, bloodless noose, flying like an arrow, but not
like that leaving a wound behind it,--sudden as a pistol-shot, but
without the telltale explosion,--is one of the most fearful and
mysterious weapons that arm the hand of man. The old Romans knew how
formidable, even in contest with a gladiator equipped with sword,
helmet, and shield, was the almost naked retiarius, with his net in
one hand and his three-pronged javelin in the other. Once get a net
over a man's head, or a cord round his neck, or, what is more
frequently done nowadays, bonnet him by knocking his hat down over
his eyes, and he is at the mercy of his opponent. Our soldiers who
served against the Mexicans found this out too well. Many a poor
fellow has been lassoed by the fierce riders from the plains, and
fallen an easy victim to the captor who had snared him in the fatal

But, imposing as the sight of the wild huntsmen of the Pampas might
have been, Dick could not help laughing at the mock sublimity of his
situation, as he tried his first experiment on an unhappy milky
mother who had strayed from her herd and was wandering disconsolately
along the road, laying the dust, as slue went, with thready streams
from her swollen, swinging udders. "Here goes the Don at the
windmill!" said Dick, and tilted full speed at her, whirling the
lasso round his head as he rode. The creature swerved to one side of
the way, as the wild horse and his rider came rushing down upon her,
and presently turned and ran, as only cows and it would n't be safe
to say it--can run. Just before he passed,--at twenty or thirty feet
from her,--the lasso shot from his hand, uncoiling as it flew, and in
an instant its loop was round her horns. "Well cast!" said Dick, as
he galloped up to her side and dexterously disengaged the lasso.
"Now for a horse on the run!"

He had the good luck to find one, presently, grazing in a pasture at
the road-side. Taking down the rails of the fence at one point, he
drove the horse into the road and gave chase. It was a lively young
animal enough, and was easily roused to a pretty fast pace. As his
gallop grew more and more rapid, Dick gave the reins to the mustang,
until the two horses stretched themselves out in their longest
strides. If the first feat looked like play, the one he was now to
attempt had a good deal the appearance of real work. He touched the
mustang with the spur, and in a few fierce leaps found himself nearly
abreast of the frightened animal he was chasing. Once more he
whirled the lasso round and round over his head, and then shot it
forth, as the rattlesnake shoots his head from the loops against
which it rests. The noose was round the horse's neck, and in another
instant was tightened so as almost to stop his breath. The prairie
horse knew the trick of the cord, and leaned away from the captive,
so as to keep the thong tensely stretched between his neck and the
peak of the saddle to which it was fastened. Struggling was of no
use with a halter round his windpipe, and he very soon began to
tremble and stagger,--blind, no doubt, and with a roaring in his ears
as of a thousand battle-trumpets,--at any rate, subdued and helpless.
That was enough. Dick loosened his lasso, wound it up again, laid it
like a pet snake in a coil at his saddle-bow, turned his horse, and
rode slowly along towards the mansion-house.

The place had never looked more stately and beautiful to him than as
he now saw it in the moonlight. The undulations of the land,--the
grand mountain screen which sheltered the mansion from the northern
blasts, rising with all its hanging forests and parapets of naked
rock high towards the heavens,--the ancient mansion, with its square
chimneys, and bodyguard of old trees, and cincture of low walls with
marble-pillared gateways,--the fields, with their various coverings,
--the beds of flowers,--the plots of turf, one with a gray column in
its centre bearing a sundial on which the rays of the moon were idly
shining, another with a white stone and a narrow ridge of turf,--over
all these objects, harmonized with all their infinite details into
one fair whole by the moonlight, the prospective heir, as he deemed
himself, looked with admiring eyes.

But while he looked, the thought rose up in his mind like waters from
a poisoned fountain, that there was a deep plot laid to cheat him of
the inheritance which by a double claim he meant to call his own.
Every day this ice-cold beauty, this dangerous, handsome cousin of
his, went up to that place,--that usher's girl-trap. Everyday,--
regularly now,--it used to be different. Did she go only to get out
of his, her cousin's, reach? Was she not rather becoming more and
more involved in the toils of this plotting Yankee?

If Mr. Bernard had shown himself at that moment a few rods in
advance, the chances are that in less than one minute he would have
found himself with a noose round his neck, at the heels of a mounted
horseman. Providence spared him for the present. Mr. Richard rode
his horse quietly round to the stable, put him up, and proceeded
towards the house. He got to his bed without disturbing the family,
but could not sleep. The idea had fully taken possession of his mind
that a deep intrigue was going on which would end by bringing Elsie
and the schoolmaster into relations fatal to all his own hopes. With
that ingenuity which always accompanies jealousy, he tortured every
circumstance of the last few weeks so as to make it square with this
belief. From this vein of thought he naturally passed to a
consideration of every possible method by which the issue he feared
might be avoided.

Mr. Richard talked very plain language with himself in all these
inward colloquies. Supposing it came to the worst, what could be
done then? First, an accident might happen to the schoolmaster which
should put a complete and final check upon his projects and
contrivances. The particular accident which might interrupt his
career must, evidently, be determined by circumstances; but it must
be of a nature to explain itself without the necessity of any
particular person's becoming involved in the matter. It would be
unpleasant to go into particulars; but everybody knows well enough
that men sometimes get in the way of a stray bullet, and that young
persons occasionally do violence to themselves in various modes,--by
firearms, suspension, and other means,--in consequence of
disappointment in love, perhaps, oftener than from other motives.
There was still another kind of accident which might serve his
purpose. If anything should happen to Elsie, it would be the most
natural thing in the world that his uncle should adopt him, his
nephew and only near relation, as his heir. Unless, indeed, uncle
Dudley should take it into his head to marry again. In that case,
where would he, Dick, be? This was the most detestable complication
which he could conceive of. And yet he had noticed--he could not
help noticing--that his uncle had been very attentive to, and, as it
seemed, very much pleased with, that young woman from the school.
What did that mean? Was it possible that he was going to take a
fancy to her?

It made him wild to think of all the several contingencies which
might defraud him of that good-fortune which seemed but just now
within his grasp. He glared in the darkness at imaginary faces:
sometimes at that of the handsome, treacherous schoolmaster;
sometimes at that of the meek-looking, but no doubt, scheming, lady-
teacher; sometimes at that of the dark girl whom he was ready to make
his wife; sometimes at that of his much respected uncle, who, of
course, could not be allowed to peril the fortunes of his relatives
by forming a new connection. It was a frightful perplexity in which
he found himself, because there was no one single life an accident to
which would be sufficient to insure the fitting and natural course of
descent to the great Dudley property. If it had been a simple
question of helping forward a casualty to any one person, there was
nothing in Dick's habits of thought and living to make that a serious
difficulty. He had been so much with lawless people, that a life
between his wish and his object seemed only as an obstacle to be
removed, provided the object were worth the risk and trouble. But if
there were two or three lives in the way, manifestly that altered the

His Southern blood was getting impatient. There was enough of the
New-Englander about him to make him calculate his chances before he
struck; but his plans were liable to be defeated at any moment by a
passionate impulse such as the dark-hued races of Southern Europe and
their descendants are liable to. He lay in his bed, sometimes
arranging plans to meet the various difficulties already mentioned,
sometimes getting into a paroxysm of blind rage in the perplexity of
considering what object he should select as the one most clearly in
his way. On the whole, there could be no doubt where the most
threatening of all his embarrassments lay. It was in the probable
growing relation between Elsie and the schoolmaster. If it should
prove, as it seemed likely, that there was springing up a serious
attachment tending to a union between them, he knew what he should
do, if he was not quite so sure how he should do it.

There was one thing at least which might favor his projects, and
which, at any rate, would serve to amuse him. He could, by a little
quiet observation, find out what were the schoolmaster's habits of
life: whether he had any routine which could be calculated upon; and
under what circumstances a strictly private interview of a few
minutes with him might be reckoned on, in case it should be
desirable. He could also very probably learn some facts about Elsie.
whether the young man was in the habit of attending her on her way
home from school; whether she stayed about the schoolroom after the
other girls had gone; and any incidental matters of interest which
might present themselves.

He was getting more and more restless for want of some excitement. A
mad gallop, a visit to Mrs. Blanche Creamer, who had taken such a
fancy to him, or a chat with the Widow Rowens, who was very lively in
her talk, for all her sombre colors, and reminded him a good deal
of same of his earlier friends, the senoritas,--all these were
distractions, to be sure, but not enough to keep his fiery spirit
from fretting itself in longings for more dangerous excitements. The
thought of getting a knowledge of all Mr. Bernard's ways, so that he
would be in his power at any moment, was a happy one.

For some days after this he followed Elsie at a long distance behind,
to watch her until she got to the schoolhouse. One day he saw Mr.
Bernard join her: a mere accident, very probably, for it was only
once this happened. She came on her homeward way alone,--quite apart
from the groups of girls who strolled out of the schoolhouse yard in
company. Sometimes she was behind them all,--which was suggestive.
Could she have stayed to meet the schoolmaster?

If he could have smuggled himself into the school, he would have
liked to watch her there, and see if there was not some understanding
between her and the master which betrayed itself by look or word.
But this was beyond the limits of his audacity, and he had to content
himself with such cautious observations as could be made at a
distance. With the aid of a pocket-glass he could make out persons
without the risk of being observed himself.

Mr. Silos Peckham's corps of instructors was not expected to be off
duty or to stand at ease for any considerable length of time.
Sometimes Mr. Bernard, who had more freedom than the rest, would go
out for a ramble in the daytime, but more frequently it would be in
the evening, after the hour of "retiring," as bedtime was elegantly
termed by the young ladies of the Apollinean Institute. He would
then not unfrequently walk out alone in the common roads, or climb up
the sides of The Mountain, which seemed to be one of his favorite
resorts. Here, of course, it was impossible to follow him with the
eye at a distance. Dick had a hideous, gnawing suspicion that
somewhere in these deep shades the schoolmaster might meet Elsie,
whose evening wanderings he knew so well. But of this he was not
able to assure himself. Secrecy was necessary to his present plans,
and he could not compromise himself by over-eager curiosity. One
thing he learned with certainty. The master returned, after his walk
one evening, and entered the building where his room was situated.
Presently a light betrayed the window of his apartment. From a
wooded bank, some thirty or forty rods from this building, Dick
Venner could see the interior of the chamber, and watch the master as
he sat at his desk, the light falling strongly upon his face, intent
upon the book or manuscript before him. Dick contemplated him very
long in this attitude. The sense of watching his every motion,
himself meanwhile utterly unseen, was delicious. How little the
master was thinking what eyes were on him!

Well,--there were two things quite certain. One was, that, if he
chose, he could meet the schoolmaster alone, either in the road or in
a more solitary place, if he preferred to watch his chance for an
evening or two. The other was, that he commanded his position, as he
sat at his desk in the evening, in such a way that there would be
very little difficulty,--so far as that went; of course, however,
silence is always preferable to noise, and there is a great
difference in the marks left by different casualties. Very likely
nothing would come of all this espionage; but, at any rate, the first
thing to be done with a man you want to have in your power is to
learn his habits.

Since the tea-party at the Widow Rowens's, Elsie had been more fitful
and moody than ever. Dick understood all this well enough, you know.
It was the working of her jealousy against that young schoolgirl to
whom the master had devoted himself for the sake of piquing the
heiress of the Dudley mansion. Was it possible, in any way, to
exasperate her irritable nature against him, and in this way to
render her more accessible to his own advances? It was difficult to
influence her at all. She endured his company without seeming to
enjoy it. She watched him with that strange look of hers, sometimes
as if she were on her guard against him, sometimes as if she would
like to strike at him as in that fit of childish passion. She
ordered him about with a haughty indifference which reminded him of
his own way with the dark-eyed women whom he had known so well of
old. All this added a secret pleasure to the other motives he had
for worrying her with jealous suspicions. He knew she brooded
silently on any grief that poisoned her comfort,--that she fed on it,
as it were, until it ran with every drop of blood in her veins,--and
that, except in some paroxysm of rage, of which he himself was not
likely the second time to be the object, or in some deadly vengeance
wrought secretly, against which he would keep a sharp lookout, so far
as he was concerned, she had no outlet for her dangerous, smouldering

Beware of the woman who cannot find free utterance for all her stormy
inner life either in words or song! So long as a woman can talk,
there is nothing she cannot bear. If she cannot have a companion to
listen to her woes, and has no musical utterance, vocal or
instrumental,--then, if she is of the real woman sort, and has a few
heartfuls of wild blood in her, and you have done her a wrong,--
double-bolt the door which she may enter on noiseless slipper at
midnight,--look twice before you taste of any cup whose draught the
shadow of her hand may have darkened!

But let her talk, and, above all, cry, or, if she is one of the
coarser-grained tribe, give her the run of all the red-hot expletives
in the language, and let her blister her lips with them until she is
tired, she will sleep like a lamb after it, and you may take a cup of
coffee from her without stirring it up to look for its sediment.

So, if she can sing, or play on any musical instrument, all her
wickedness will run off through her throat or the tips of her
fingers. How many tragedies find their peaceful catastrophe in
fierce roulades and strenuous bravuras! How many murders are
executed in double-quick time upon the keys which stab the air with
their dagger-strokes of sound! What would our civilization be
without the piano? Are not Erard and Broadwood and Chickering the
true humanizers of our time? Therefore do I love to hear the all-
pervading tum tum jarring the walls of little parlors in houses with
double door-plates on their portals, looking out on streets and
courts which to know is to be unknown, and where to exist is not to
live, according to any true definition of living. Therefore complain
I not of modern degeneracy, when, even from the open window of the
small unlovely farmhouse, tenanted by the hard-handed man of bovine
flavors and the flat-patterned woman of broken-down countenance,
issue the same familiar sounds. For who knows that Almira, but for
these keys, which throb away her wild impulses in harmless discords
would not have been floating, dead, in the brown stream which slides
through the meadows by her father's door,--or living, with that other
current which runs beneath the gas-lights over the slimy pavement,
choking with wretched weeds that were once in spotless flower?

Poor Elsie! She never sang nor played. She never shaped her inner
life in words: such utterance was as much denied to her nature as
common articulate speech to the deaf mute. Her only language must be
in action. Watch her well by day and by night, old Sophy! watch her
well! or the long line of her honored name may close in shame, and
the stately mansion of the Dudleys remain a hissing and a reproach
till its roof is buried in its cellar!



"Able!" said the old Doctor, one morning, "after you've harnessed
Caustic, come into the study a few minutes, will you?"

Abel nodded. He was a man of few words, and he knew that the "will
you" did not require an answer, being the true New-England way of
rounding the corners of an employer's order,--a tribute to the
personal independence of an American citizen.

The hired man came into the study in the course of a few minutes.
His face was perfectly still, and he waited to be spoken to; but the
Doctor's eye detected a certain meaning in his expression, which


Back to Full Books