The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 28 out of 51
Silas Peckham, handing her a paper and a small roll of infectious-
flavored bills wrapping six poisonous coppers of the old coinage.
She took the paper and began looking at it. She could not quite make
up her mind to touch the feverish bills with the cankering coppers in
them, and left them airing themselves on the table.
The document she held ran as follows:
Silas Peckham, Esq., Principal of the Apollinean Institute,
In Account with Helen Darley, Assist. Teacher.
To salary for quarter By Deduction for absence
ending Jan 1st @ $75 per 1 week 3 days ...........$10.00
quarter ................ $75.00
"Board, lodging, etc for
10 days @ 75 cts per day.. 7.50
"Damage to Institution by
absence of teacher from
duties, say ............. 25.00
"Stationary furnished ..... .43
"Postage-stamp ............ .01
"Balance due Helen Darley. 32.06
ROCKLAND, Jan. 1st, 1859.
Now Helen had her own private reasons for wishing to receive the
small sum which was due her at this time without any unfair
deduction,--reasons which we need not inquire into too particularly,
as we may be very sure that they were right and womanly. So, when
she looked over this account of Mr. Silas Peckham's, and saw that he
had contrived to pare down her salary to something less than half its
stipulated amount, the look which her countenance wore was as near to
that of righteous indignation as her gentle features and soft blue
eyes would admit of its being.
"Why, Mr. Peckham," she said, "do you mean this? If I am of so much
value to you that you must take off twenty-five dollars for ten days'
absence, how is it that my salary is to be cut down to less than
seventy-five dollars a quarter, if I remain here?"
"I gave you fair notice," said Silas. "I have a minute of it I took
down immed'ately after the intervoo."
He lugged out his large pocket-book with the strap going all round
it, and took from it a slip of paper which confirmed his statement.
"Besides," he added, slyly, "I presoom you have received a liberal
pecooniary compensation from Squire Venner for nussin' his daughter."
Helen was looking over the bill while he was speaking.
"Board and lodging for ten days, Mr. Peckham,--whose board and
The door opened before Silas Peckham could answer, and Mr. Bernard
walked into the parlor. Helen was holding the bill in her hand,
looking as any woman ought to look who has been at once wronged and
"The last turn of the thumbscrew!" said Mr. Bernard to himself.
"What is it, Helen? You look troubled."
She handed him the account.
He looked at the footing of it. Then he looked at the items. Then
he looked at Silas Peckham.
At this moment Silas was sublime. He was so transcendently
unconscious of the emotions going on in Mr. Bernard's mind at the
moment, that he had only a single thought.
"The accaount's correc'ly cast, I presoom;--if the' 's any mistake of
figgers or addin' 'em up, it'll be made all right. Everything's
accordin' to agreement. The minute written immed'ately after the
intervoo is here in my possession."
Mr. Bernard looked at Helen. Just what would have happened to Silas
Peckham, as he stood then and there, but for the interposition of a
merciful Providence, nobody knows or ever will know; for at that
moment steps were heard upon the stairs, and Hiram threw open the
parlor-door for Mr. Dudley Venner to enter.
He saluted them all gracefully with the good-wishes of the season,
and each of them returned his compliment,--Helen blushing fearfully,
of course, but not particularly noticed in her embarrassment by more
Silas Peckham reckoned with perfect confidence on his Trustees, who
had always said what he told them to, and done what he wanted. It
was a good chance now to show off his power, and, by letting his
instructors know the unstable tenure of their offices, make it easier
to settle his accounts and arrange his salaries. There was nothing
very strange in Mr. Venner's calling; he was one of the Trustees, and
this was New Year's Day. But he had called just at the lucky moment
for Mr. Peckham's object.
"I have thought some of makin' changes in the department of
instruction," he began. "Several accomplished teachers have applied
to me, who would be glad of sitooations. I understand that there
never have been so many fust-rate teachers, male and female, out of
employment as doorin' the present season. If I can make
sahtisfahctory arrangements with my present corpse of teachers, I
shall be glad to do so; otherwise I shell, with the permission of the
Trustees, make sech noo arrangements as circumstahnces compel."
"You may make arrangements for a new assistant in my department, Mr.
Peckham," said Mr. Bernard, "at once,--this day,--this hour. I am
not safe to be trusted with your person five minutes out of this
lady's presence,--of whom I beg pardon for this strong language. Mr.
Venner, I must beg you, as one of the Trustees of this Institution,
to look at the manner in which its Principal has attempted to swindle
this faithful teacher whose toils and sacrifices and self-devotion to
the school have made it all that it is, in spite of this miserable
trader's incompetence. Will you look at the paper I hold?"
Dudley Venner took the account and read it through, without changing
a feature. Then he turned to Silas Peckham.
"You may make arrangements for anew assistant in the branches this
lady has taught. Miss Helen Darley is to be my wife. I had hoped to
have announced this news in a less abrupt and ungraceful manner. But
I came to tell you with my own lips what you would have learned
before evening from my friends in the village."
Mr. Bernard went to Helen, who stood silent, with downcast eyes, and
took her hand warmly, hoping she might find all the happiness she
deserved. Then he turned to Dudley Venner, and said,
"She is a queen, but has never found it out. The world has nothing
nobler than this dear woman, whom you have discovered in the disguise
of a teacher. God bless her and you!"
Dudley Venner returned his friendly grasp, without answering a word
in articulate speech.
Silas remained dumb and aghast for a brief space. Coming to himself
a little, he thought there might have been some mistake about the
items,--would like to have Miss barley's bill returned,--would make
it all right,--had no idee that Squire Venner had a special int'rest
in Miss barley,--was sorry he had given offence,--if he might take
that bill and look it over--
"No. Mr. Peckham," said Mr. Dudley Venner, "there will be a full
meeting of the Board next week, and the bill, and such evidence with
reference to the management of the Institution and the treatment of
its instructors as Mr. Langdon sees fit to bring forward will be laid
Miss Helen Darley became that very day the guest of Miss Arabella
Thornton, the Judge's daughter. Mr. Bernard made his appearance a
week or two later at the Lectures, where the Professor first
introduced him to the reader.
He stayed after the class had left the room.
"Ah, Mr. Langdon! how do you do? Very glad to see you back again.
How have you been since our correspondence on Fascination and other
curious scientific questions?"
It was the Professor who spoke,--whom the reader will recognize as
myself, the teller of this story.
"I have been well," Mr. Bernard answered, with a serious look which
invited a further question.
"I hope you have had none of those painful or dangerous experiences
you seemed to be thinking of when you wrote; at any rate, you have
escaped having your obituary written."
"I have seen some things worth remembering. Shall I call on you this
evening and tell you about them?"
"I shall be most happy to see you."
This was the way in which I, the Professor, became acquainted with
some of the leading events of this story. They interested me
sufficiently to lead me to avail myself of all those other
extraordinary methods of obtaining information well known to writers
Mr. Langdon seemed to me to have gained in seriousness and strength
of character by his late experiences. He threw his whole energies
into his studies with an effect which distanced all his previous
efforts. Remembering my former hint, he employed his spare hours in
writing for the annual prizes, both of which he took by a unanimous
vote of the judges. Those who heard him read his Thesis at the
Medical Commencement will not soon forget the impression made by his
fine personal appearance and manners, nor the universal interest
excited in the audience, as he read, with his beautiful enunciation,
that striking paper entitled "Unresolved Nebulae in Vital Science."
It was a general remark of the Faculty,--and old Doctor Kittredge,
who had come down on purpose to hear Mr. Langdon, heartily agreed to
it,--that there had never been a diploma filled up, since the
institution which conferred upon him the degree of Doctor Medicdnce
was founded, which carried with it more of promise to the profession
than that which bore the name of
BERNARDUS CARYL LANGDON
Mr. Bernard Langdon had no sooner taken his degree, than, in
accordance with the advice of one of his teachers whom he frequently
consulted, he took an office in the heart of the city where he had
studied. He had thought of beginning in a suburb or some remoter
district of the city proper.
"No," said his teacher,--to wit, myself,--"don't do any such thing.
You are made for the best kind of practice; don't hamper yourself
with an outside constituency, such as belongs to a practitioner of
the second class. When a fellow like you chooses his beat, he must
look ahead a little. Take care of all the poor that apply to you,
but leave the half-pay classes to a different style of doctor,--the
people who spend one half their time in taking care of their
patients, and the other half in squeezing out their money. Go for
the swell-fronts and south-exposure houses; the folks inside are just
as good as other people, and the pleasantest, on the whole, to take
care of. They must have somebody, and they like a gentleman best.
Don't throw yourself away. You have a good presence and pleasing
manners. You wear white linen by inherited instinct. You can
pronounce the word view. You have all the elements of success; go
and take it. Be polite and generous, but don't undervalue yourself.
You will be useful, at any rate; you may just as well be happy, while
you are about it. The highest social class furnishes incomparably
the best patients, taking them by and large. Besides, when they
won't get well and bore you to death, you can send 'em off to travel.
Mind me now, and take the tops of your sparrowgrass. Somebody must
have 'em,--why shouldn't you? If you don't take your chance, you'll
get the butt-ends as a matter of course."
Mr. Bernard talked like a young man full of noble sentiments. He
wanted to be useful to his fellow-beings. Their social differences
were nothing to him. He would never court the rich,--he would go
where he was called. He would rather save the life of a poor mother
of a family than that of half a dozen old gouty millionnaires whose
heirs had been yawning and stretching these ten years to get rid of
"Generous emotions! "I exclaimed. "Cherish 'em; cling to 'em till
you are fifty, till you are seventy, till you are ninety! But do as
I tell you,--strike for the best circle of practice, and you 'll be
sure to get it!"
Mr. Langdon did as I told him,--took a genteel office, furnished it
neatly, dressed with a certain elegance, soon made a pleasant circle
of acquaintances, and began to work his way into the right kind of
business. I missed him, however, for some days, not long after he
had opened his office. On his return, he told me he had been up at
Rockland, by special invitation, to attend the wedding of Mr. Dudley
Venner and Miss Helen Darley. He gave me a full account of the
ceremony, which I regret that I cannot relate in full. "Helen looked
like an angel,"--that, I am sure, was one of his expressions. As for
her dress, I should like to give the details, but am afraid of
committing blunders, as men always do, when they undertake to
describe such matters. White dress, anyhow,--that I am sure of,--
with orange-flowers, and the most wonderful lace veil that was ever
seen or heard of. The Reverend Doctor Honeywood performed the
ceremony, of course. The good people seemed to have forgotten they
ever had had any other minister, except Deacon Shearer and his set of
malcontents, who were doing a dull business in the meeting-house
lately occupied by the Reverend Mr. Fairweather.
"Who was at the wedding?"
"Everybody, pretty much. They wanted to keep it quiet, but it was of
no use. Married at church. Front pews, old Dr. Kittredge and all
the mansionhouse people and distinguished strangers,--Colonel Sprowle
and family, including Matilda's young gentleman, a graduate of one of
the fresh-water colleges,--Mrs. Pickins (late Widow Rowens) and
husband,--Deacon Soper and numerous parishioners. A little nearer
the door, Abel, the Doctor's man, and Elbridge, who drove them to
church in the family-coach. Father Fairweather, as they all call him
now, came in late with Father McShane."
"And Silas Peckham?"
"Oh, Silas had left The School and Rockland. Cut up altogether too
badly in the examination instituted by the Trustees. Had removed
over to Tamarack, and thought of renting a large house and 'farming'
Some time after this, as I was walking with a young friend along by
the swell-fronts and south-exposures, whom should I see but Mr.
Bernard Langdon, looking remarkably happy, and keeping step by the
side of a very handsome and singularly well-dressed young lady? He
bowed and lifted his hat as we passed.
"Who is that pretty girl my young doctor has got there?" I said to my
"Who is that?" he answered. "You don't know? Why, that is neither
more nor less than Miss Letitia Forrester, daughter of--of--why, the
great banking firm, you know, Bilyuns Brothers & Forrester. Got
acquainted with her in the country, they say. There 's a story that
they're engaged, or like to be, if the firm consents."
"Oh" I said.
I did not like the look of it in the least. Too young,--too young.
Has not taken any position yet. No right to ask for the hand of
Bilyuns Brothers & Co.'s daughter. Besides, it will spoil him for
practice, if he marries a rich girl before he has formed habits of
I looked in at his office the other day. A box of white kids was
lying open on the table. A three-cornered note, directed in a very
delicate lady's-hand, was distinguishable among a heap of papers. I
was just going to call him to account for his proceedings, when he
pushed the three-cornered note aside and took up a letter with a
great corporation-seal upon it. He had received the offer of a
professor's chair in an ancient and distinguished institution.
"Pretty well for three-and-twenty, my boy," I said. "I suppose
you'll think you must be married one of these days, if you accept
Mr. Langdon blushed.--There had been stories about him, he knew.
His name had been mentioned in connection with that of a very
charming young lady. The current reports were not true. He had met
this young lady, and been much pleased with her, in the country, at
the house of her grandfather, the Reverend Doctor Honeywood,--you
remember Miss Letitia Forrester, whom I have mentioned repeatedly?
On coming to town, he found his country-acquaintance in a social
position which seemed to discourage his continued intimacy. He had
discovered, however; that he was a not unwelcome visitor, and had
kept up friendly relations with her. But there was no truth in the
current reports,--none at all.'
Some months had passed, after this visit, when I happened one evening
to stroll into a box in one of the principal theatres of the city. A
small party sat on the seats before me: a middle-aged gentleman and
his lady, in front, and directly behind them my young doctor and the
same very handsome young lady I had seen him walking with on the
sidewalk before the swell-fronts and south-exposures. As Professor
Langdon seemed to be very much taken up with his companion, and both
of them looked as if they were enjoying themselves, I determined not
to make my presence known to my young friend, and to withdraw quietly
after feasting my eyes with the sight of them for a few minutes.
"It looks as if something might come of it," I said to myself. At
that moment the young lady lifted her arm accidentally in such a way
that the light fell upon the clasp of a chain which encircled her
wrist. My eyes filled with tears as I read upon the clasp, in sharp-
cut Italic letters, E. Y. They were tears at once of sad remembrance
and of joyous anticipation; for the ornament on which I looked was
the double pledge of a dead sorrow and a living affection. It was
the golden bracelet,--the parting-gift of Elsie Venner.
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
TO MY READERS.
"A new Preface" is, I find, promised with my story. If there are any
among my readers who loved Aesop's Fables chiefly on account of the
Moral appended, they will perhaps be pleased to turn backward and
learn what I have to say here.
This tale forms a natural sequence to a former one, which some may
remember, entitled "Elsie Venner." Like that,--it is intended for
two classes of readers, of which the smaller one includes the readers
of the "Morals" in Aesop and of this Preface.
The first of the two stories based itself upon an experiment which
some thought cruel, even on paper. It imagined an alien element
introduced into the blood of a human being before that being saw the
light. It showed a human nature developing itself in conflict with
the ophidian characteristics and instincts impressed upon it during
the pre-natal period. Whether anything like this ever happened, or
was possible, mattered little: it enabled me, at any rate, to suggest
the limitations of human responsibility in a simple and effective
The story which follows comes more nearly within the range of common
experience. The successive development of inherited bodily aspects
and habitudes is well known to all who have lived long enough to see
families grow up under their own eyes. The same thing happens, but
less obviously to common observation, in the mental and moral nature.
There is something frightful in the way in which not only
characteristic qualities, but particular manifestations of them, are
repeated from generation to generation. Jonathan Edwards the younger
tells the story of a brutal wretch in New Haven who was abusing his
father, when the old man cried out, "Don't drag me any further, for I
did n't drag my father beyond this tree." [The original version of
this often-repeated story may be found in Aristotle's Ethics, Book
7th, Chapter 7th.] I have attempted to show the successive evolution
of some inherited qualities in the character of Myrtle Hazard, not so
obtrusively as to disturb the narrative, but plainly enough to be
kept in sight by the small class of preface-readers.
If I called these two stories Studies of the Reflex Function in its
higher sphere, I should frighten away all but the professors and the
learned ladies. If I should proclaim that they were protests against
the scholastic tendency to shift the total responsibility of all
human action from the Infinite to the finite, I might alarm the
jealousy of the cabinet-keepers of our doctrinal museums. By saying
nothing about it, the large majority of those whom my book reaches,
not being preface-readers, will never suspect anything to harm them
beyond the simple facts of the narrative.
Should any professional alarmist choose to confound the doctrine of
limited responsibility with that which denies the existence of any
self-determining power, he may be presumed to belong to the class of
intellectual half-breeds, of which we have many representatives in
our new country, wearing the garb of civilization, and even the gown
of scholarship. If we cannot follow the automatic machinery of
nature into the mental and moral world, where it plays its part as
much as in the bodily functions, without being accused of laying "all
that we are evil in to a divine thrusting on," we had better return
at once to our old demonology, and reinstate the Leader of the Lower
House in his time-honored prerogatives.
As fiction sometimes seems stranger than truth, a few words may be
needed here to make some of my characters and statements appear
probable. The long-pending question involving a property which had
become in the mean time of immense value finds its parallel in the
great De Haro land-case, decided in the Supreme Court while this
story was in progress (May 14th, 1867). The experiment of breaking
the child's will by imprisonment and fasting is borrowed from a
famous incident, happening long before the case lately before one of
the courts of a neighboring Commonwealth, where a little girl was
beaten to death because she would not say her prayers. The mental
state involving utter confusion of different generations in a person
yet capable of forming a correct judgment on other matters, is almost
a direct transcript from nature. I should not have ventured to
repeat the questions of the daughters of the millionaires to Myrtle
Hazard about her family conditions, and their comments, had not a
lady of fortune and position mentioned to me a similar circumstance
in the school history of one of her own children. Perhaps I should
have hesitated in reproducing Myrtle Hazard's "Vision," but for a
singular experience of his own related to me by the late Mr.
Gifted Hopkins (under various alliasis) has been a frequent
correspondent of mine. I have also received a good many
communications, signed with various names, which must have been from
near female relatives of that young gentleman. I once sent a kind of
encyclical letter to the whole family connection; but as the delusion
under which they labor is still common, and often leads to the
wasting of time, the contempt of honest study or humble labor, and
the misapplication of intelligence not so far below mediocrity as to
be incapable of affording a respectable return when employed in the
proper direction, I thought this picture from life might also be of
service. When I say that no genuine young poet will apply it to
himself, I think I have so far removed the sting that few or none
will complain of being wounded.
It is lamentable to be forced to add that the Reverend Joseph Bellamy
Stoker is only a softened copy of too many originals to whom, as a
regular attendant upon divine worship from my childhood to the
present time, I have respectfully listened, while they dealt with me
and mine and the bulk of their fellow-creatures after the manner of
their sect. If, in the interval between his first showing himself in
my story and its publication in a separate volume, anything had
occurred to make me question the justice or expediency of drawing and
exhibiting such a portrait, I should have reconsidered it, with the
view of retouching its sharper features. But its essential
truthfulness has been illustrated every month or two, since my story
has been in the course of publication, by a fresh example from real
life, stamped in darker colors than any with which I should have
thought of staining my pages.
There are a great many good clergymen to one bad one, but a writer
finds it hard to keep to the true proportion of good and bad persons
in telling a story. The three or four good ministers I have
introduced in this narrative must stand for many whom I have known
and loved, and some of whom I count to-day among my most valued
friends. I hope the best and wisest of them will like this story and
approve it. If they cannot all do this, I know they will recognize
it as having been written with a right and honest purpose.
PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION.
It is a quarter of a century since the foregoing Preface was written,
and that is long enough to allow a story to be forgotten by the
public, and very possibly by the writer of it also. I will not
pretend that I have forgotten all about "The Guardian Angel," but it
is long since I have read it, and many of its characters and
incidents are far from being distinct in my memory. There are,
however, a few points which hold their place among my recollections.
The revolt of Myrtle Hazard from the tyranny of that dogmatic dynasty
now breaking up in all directions has found new illustrations since
this tale was written. I need only refer to two instances of many.
The first is from real life. Mr. Robert C. Adams's work, "Travels in
Faith from Tradition to Reason," is the outcome of the teachings of
one of the most intransigeant of our New England Calvinists, the late
Reverend Nehemiah Adams. For an example in fiction,--fiction which
bears all the marks of being copied from real life,--I will refer to
"The Story of an African Farm." The boy's honest, but terrible
outburst, "I hate God," was, I doubt not, more acceptable in the view
of his Maker than the lying praise of many a hypocrite who, having
enthroned a demon as Lord of the Universe, thinks to conciliate his
favor by using the phrases which the slaves of Eastern despots are in
the habit of addressing to their masters. I have had many private
letters showing the same revolt of reasoning natures against
doctrines which shock the more highly civilized part of mankind in
this nineteenth century and are leading to those dissensions which
have long shown as cracks, and are fast becoming lines of cleavage in
some of the largest communions of Protestantism.
The principle of heredity has been largely studied since this story
was written. This tale, like "Elsie Venner," depends for its deeper
significance on the ante-natal history of its subject. But the story
was meant to be readable for those who did not care for its
underlying philosophy. If it fails to interest the reader who
ventures upon it, it may find a place on an unfrequented bookshelf in
common with other "medicated novels."
Perhaps I have been too hard with Gifted Hopkins and the tribe of
rhymesters to which he belongs. I ought not to forget that I too
introduced myself to the reading world in a thin volume of verses;
many of which had better not have been written, and would not be
reprinted now, but for the fact that they have established a right to
a place among my poems in virtue of long occupancy. Besides,
although the writing of verses is often a mark of mental weakness, I
cannot forget that Joseph Story and George Bancroft each published
his little book, of rhymes, and that John Quincy Adams has left many
poems on record, the writing of which did not interfere with the vast
and important labors of his illustrious career.
BEVERLY FARMS, MASS., August 7, 1891.
O. W. H.
THE GUARDIAN ANGEL
On Saturday, the 18th day of June, 1859, the "State Banner and
Delphian Oracle," published weekly at Oxbow Village, one of the
principal centres in a thriving river-town of New England, contained
an advertisement which involved the story of a young life, and
stained the emotions of a small community. Such faces of dismay,
such shaking of heads, such gatherings at corners, such halts of
complaining, rheumatic wagons, and dried-up, chirruping chaises, for
colloquy of their still-faced tenants, had not been known since the
rainy November Friday, when old Malachi Withers was found hanging in
his garret up there at the lonely house behind the poplars.
The number of the "Banner and Oracle" which contained this
advertisement was a fair specimen enough of the kind of newspaper to
which it belonged. Some extracts from a stray copy of the issue of
the date referred to will show the reader what kind of entertainment
the paper was accustomed to furnish its patrons, and also serve some
incidental purposes of the writer in bringing into notice a few
personages who are to figure in this narrative.
The copy in question was addressed to one of its regular
subscribers,--"B. Gridley, Esq." The sarcastic annotations at
various points, enclosed in brackets and italicised that they may be
distinguished from any other comments, were taken from the pencilled
remarks of that gentleman, intended for the improvement of a member
of the family in which he resided, and are by no means to be
attributed to the harmless pen which reproduces them.
Byles Gridley, A. M., as he would have been styled by persons
acquainted with scholarly dignities, was a bachelor, who had been a
schoolmaster, a college tutor, and afterwards for many years
professor,--a man of learning, of habits, of whims and crotchets,
such as are hardly to be found, except in old, unmarried students,
--the double flowers of college culture, their stamina all turned to
petals, their stock in the life of the race all funded in the
individual. Being a man of letters, Byles Gridley naturally rather
undervalued the literary acquirements of the good people of the rural
district where he resided, and, having known much of college and
something of city life, was apt to smile at the importance they
attached to their little local concerns. He was, of course, quite as
much an object of rough satire to the natural observers and
humorists, who are never wanting in a New England village,--perhaps
not in any village where a score or two of families are brought
together,--enough of them, at any rate, to furnish the ordinary
characters of a real-life stock company.
The old Master of Arts was a permanent boarder in the house of a very
worthy woman, relict of the late Ammi Hopkins, by courtesy Esquire,
whose handsome monument--in a finished and carefully colored
lithograph, representing a finely shaped urn under a very nicely
groomed willow--hung in her small, well-darkened, and, as it were,
monumental parlor. Her household consisted of herself, her son,
nineteen years of age, of whom more hereafter, and of two small
children, twins, left upon her doorstep when little more than mere
marsupial possibilities, taken in for the night, kept for a week, and
always thereafter cherished by the good soul as her own; also of Miss
Susan Posey, aged eighteen, at school at the "Academy" in another
part of the same town, a distant relative, boarding with her.
What the old scholar took the village paper for it would be hard to
guess, unless for a reason like that which carried him very regularly
to hear the preaching of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker, colleague of
the old minister of the village parish; namely, because he did not
believe a word of his favorite doctrines, and liked to go there so as
to growl to himself through the sermon, and go home scolding all the
way about it.
The leading article of the "Banner and Oracle" for June 18th must
have been of superior excellence, for, as Mr. Gridley remarked,
several of the "metropolitan" journals of the date of June 15th and
thereabout had evidently conversed with the writer and borrowed some
of his ideas before he gave them to the public. The Foreign News by
the Europa at Halifax, 15th, was spread out in the amplest dimensions
the type of the office could supply. More battles! The Allies
victorious! The King and General Cialdini beat the Austrians at
Palestro! 400 Austrians drowned in a canal! Anti-French feeling in
Germany! Allgermine Zeiturg talks of conquest of Allsatia and
Loraine and the occupation of Paris! [Vicious digs with a pencil
through the above proper names.] Race for the Derby won by Sir Joseph
Hawley's Musjid! [That's what England cares for! Hooray for the
Darby! Italy be deedeed!] Visit of Prince Alfred to the Holy Land.
Letter from our, own Correspondent. [Oh! Oh! A West Minkville?]
Cotton advanced. Breadstuffs declining.--Deacon Rumrill's barn
burned down on Saturday night. A pig missing; supposed to have
"fallen a prey to the devouring element." [Got roasted.] A yellow
mineral had been discovered on the Doolittle farm, which, by the
report of those who had seen it, bore a strong resemblance to
California gold ore. Much excitement in the neighborhood in
consequence [Idiots! Iron pyrites!] A hen at Four Corners had just
laid an egg measuring 7 by 8 inches. Fetch on your biddies!
[Editorial wit!] A man had shot an eagle measuring six feet and a
half from tip to tip of his wings.--Crops suffering for want of rain
[Always just so. "Dry times, Father Noah!"] The editors had
received a liberal portion of cake from the happy couple whose
matrimonial union was recorded in the column dedicated to Hymen.
Also a superior article of [article of! bah!] steel pen from the
enterprising merchant [shopkeeper] whose advertisement was to be
found on the third page of this paper.--An interesting Surprise
Party [cheap theatricals] had transpired [bah!] on Thursday evening
last at the house of the Rev. Mr. Stoker. The parishioners had
donated [donated! GIVE is a good word enough for the Lord's Prayer.
DONATE our daily bread!] a bag of meal, a bushel of beans, a keg of
pickles, and a quintal of salt-fish. The worthy pastor was much
affected, etc., etc. [Of course. Call'em. SENSATION parties and
done with it!] The Rev. Dr. Pemberton and the venerable Dr. Hurlbut
honored the occasion with their presence.--We learn that the Rev.
Ambrose Eveleth, rector of St. Bartholomew's Chapel, has returned
from his journey, and will officiate to-morrow.
Then came strings of advertisements, with a luxuriant vegetation of
capitals and notes of admiration. More of those PRIME GOODS! Full
Assortments of every Article in our line! [Except the one thing you
want!] Auction Sale. Old furniture, feather-beds, bed-spreads
[spreads! ugh!], setts [setts!] crockery-ware, odd vols., ullage
bbls. of this and that, with other household goods, etc., etc.,
etc.,--the etceteras meaning all sorts of insane movables, such as
come out of their bedlam-holes when an antiquated domestic
establishment disintegrates itself at a country "vandoo."--Several
announcements of "Feed," whatever that may be,--not restaurant
dinners, anyhow,--also of "Shorts,"--terms mysterious to city ears as
jute and cudbear and gunnybags to such as drive oxen in the remote
interior districts.--Then the marriage column above alluded to, by
the fortunate recipients of the cake. Right opposite, as if for
matrimonial ground-bait, a Notice that Whereas my wife, Lucretia
Babb, has left my bed and board, I will not be responsible, etc.,
etc., from this date.--Jacob Penhallow (of the late firm Wibird and
Penhallow) had taken Mr. William Murray Bradshaw into partnership,
and the business of the office would be carried on as usual under the
title Penhallow and Bradshaw, Attorneys at Law. Then came the
standing professional card of Dr. Lemuel Hurlbut and Dr. Fordyce
Hurlbut, the medical patriarch of the town and his son. Following
this, hideous quack advertisements, some of them with the
certificates of Honorables, Esquires, and Clergymen.--Then a cow,
strayed or stolen from the subscriber.--Then the advertisement
referred to in our first paragraph:
MYRTLE HAZARD has been missing from her home in this place
since Thursday morning, June 16th. She is fifteen years old, tall
and womanly for her age, has dark hair and eyes, fresh complexion,
regular features, pleasant smile and voice, but shy with strangers.
Her common dress was a black and white gingham check, straw hat,
trimmed with green ribbon. It is feared she may have come to harm in
some way, or be wandering at large in a state of temporary mental
alienation. Any information relating to the missing child will be
gratefully received and properly rewarded by her afflicted aunt,
MISS SILENCE WITHERS,
Residing at the Withers Homestead, otherwise known as "The Poplars,"
in this village.
The publication of the advertisement in the paper brought the village
fever of the last two days to its height. Myrtle Hazard's
disappearance had been pretty well talked round through the immediate
neighborhood, but now that forty-eight hours of search and inquiry
had not found her, and the alarm was so great that the young girl's
friends were willing to advertise her in a public journal, it was
clear that the gravest apprehensions were felt and justified. The
paper carried the tidings to many who had not heard it. Some of the
farmers who had been busy all the week with their fields came into
the village in their wagons on Saturday, and there first learned the
news, and saw the paper, and the placards which were posted up, and
listened, open-mouthed, to the whole story.
Saturday was therefore a day of much agitation in Oxbow Village, and
some stir in the neighboring settlements. Of course there was a
great variety of comment, its character depending very much on the
sense, knowledge, and disposition of the citizens, gossips, and young
people who talked over the painful and mysterious occurrence.
The Withers Homestead was naturally the chief centre of interest.
Nurse Byloe, an ancient and voluminous woman, who had known the girl
when she was a little bright-eyed child, handed over "the baby" she
was holding to another attendant, and got on her things to go
straight up to The Poplars. She had been holding "the baby" these
forty years and more, but somehow it never got to be more than a
month or six weeks old. She reached The Poplars after much toil and
travail. Mistress Fagan, Irish, house-servant, opened the door, at
which Nurse Byloe knocked softly, as she was in the habit of doing at
the doors of those who sent for her.
"Have you heerd anything yet, Kitty Fagan?" asked Nurse Byloe.
"Niver a blissed word," said she. "Miss Withers is upstairs with
Miss Bathsheby, a cryin' and a lamentin'. Miss Badlam's in the
parlor. The men has been draggin' the pond. They have n't found not
one thing, but only jest two, and that was the old coffeepot and the
gray cat,--it's them nigger boys hanged her with a string they tied
round her neck and then drownded her." [P. Fagan, Jr., Aet. 14, had
a snarl of similar string in his pocket.]
Mistress Fagan opened the door of the best parlor. A woman was
sitting there alone, rocking back and forward, and fanning herself
with the blackest of black fans.
"Nuss Byloe, is that you? Well, to be sure, I'm glad to see you,
though we 're all in trouble. Set right down, Nuss, do. Oh, it's
A handkerchief which was in readiness for any emotional overflow was
here called on for its function.
Nurse Byloe let herself drop into a flaccid squab chair with one of
those soft cushions, filled with slippery feathers, which feel so
fearfully like a very young infant, or a nest of little kittens, as
they flatten under the subsiding person.
The woman in the rocking-chair was Miss Cynthia Badlam, second-cousin
of Miss Silence Withers, with whom she had been living as a companion
at intervals for some years. She appeared to be thirty-five years
old, more or less, and looked not badly for that stage of youth,
though of course she might have been handsomer at twenty, as is often
the case with women. She wore a not unbecoming cap; frequent
headaches had thinned her locks somewhat of late years. Features a
little too sharp, a keen, gray eye, a quick and restless glance,
which rather avoided being met, gave the impression that she was a
wide-awake, cautious, suspicious, and, very possibly, crafty person.
"I could n't help comin'," said Nurse Byloe, "we do so love our
babies,--how can we help it, Miss Badlam?"
The spinster colored up at the nurse's odd way of using the
possessive pronoun, and dropped her eyes, as was natural on hearing
such a speech.
"I never tended children as you have, Nuss," she said. "But I 've
known Myrtle Hazard ever since she was three years old, and to think
she should have come to such an end,--'The heart is deceitful above
all things and desperately wicked,'"--and she wept.
"Why, Cynthy Badlam, what do y' mean?" said Nurse Byloe. "Y' don't
think anything dreadful has come o' that child's wild nater, do ye?"
"Child!" said Cynthia Badlam,--"child enough to wear this very gown I
have got on and not find it too big for her neither." [It would have
pinched Myrtle here and there pretty shrewdly.]
The two women looked each other in the eyes with subtle interchange
of intelligence, such as belongs to their sex in virtue of its
specialty. Talk without words is half their conversation, just as it
is all the conversation of the lower animals. Only the dull senses
of men are dead to it as to the music of the spheres.
Their minds travelled along, as if they had been yoked together,
through whole fields of suggestive speculation, until the dumb
growths of thought ripened in both their souls into articulate
speech, consentingly, as the movement comes after the long stillness
of a Quaker meeting.
Their lips opened at the same moment. "You don't mean"--began Nurse
Byloe, but stopped as she heard Miss Badlam also speaking.
"They need n't drag the pond," she said. "They need n't go beating
the woods as if they were hunting a patridge,--though for that matter
Myrtle Hazard was always more like a patridge than she was like a
pullet. Nothing ever took hold of that girl,--not catechising, nor
advising, nor punishing. It's that dreadful will of hers never was
broke. I've always been afraid that she would turn out a child of
wrath. Did y' ever watch her at meetin' playing with posies and
looking round all the time of the long prayer? That's what I've seen
her do many and many a time. I'm afraid--Oh dear! Miss Byloe, I'm
afraid to say--what I'm afraid of. Men are so wicked, and young
girls are full of deceit and so ready to listen to all sorts of
artful creturs that take advantage of their ignorance and tender
years." She wept once more, this time with sobs that seemed
"Dear suz!" said the nurse, "I won't believe no sech thing as
wickedness about Myrtle Hazard. You mean she's gone an' run off with
some good-for-nothin' man or other? If that ain't what y' mean, what
do y' mean? It can't be so, Miss Badlam: she's one o' my babies. At
any rate, I handled her when she fust come to this village,--and none
o' my babies never did sech a thing. Fifteen year old, and be
bringin' a whole family into disgrace! If she was thirty year old,
or five-an'-thirty or more, and never'd had a chance to be married,
and if one o' them artful creturs you was talkin' of got hold of her,
then, to be sure,--why, dear me!--law! I never thought, Miss
Badlam!--but then of course you could have had your pickin' and
choosin' in the time of it; and I don't mean to say it's too late now
if you felt called that way, for you're better lookin' now than some
that's younger, and there's no accountin' for tastes."
A sort of hysteric twitching that went through the frame of Cynthia
Badlam dimly suggested to the old nurse that she was not making her
slightly indiscreet personality much better by her explanations. She
stopped short, and surveyed the not uncomely person of the maiden
lady sitting before her with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes,
and one hand clenching the arm of the reeking-chair, as if some spasm
had clamped it there. The nurse looked at her with a certain growing
interest she had never felt before. It was the first time for some
years that she had had such a chance, partly because Miss Cynthia had
often been away for long periods,--partly because she herself had
been busy professionally. There was no occasion for her services, of
course, in the family at The Poplars; and she was always following
round from place to place after that everlasting migratory six-weeks
or less old baby.
There was not a more knowing pair of eyes, in their way, in a circle
of fifty miles, than those kindly tranquil orbs that Nurse Byloe
fixed on Cynthia Badlam. The silver threads in the side fold of
hair, the delicate lines at the corner of the eye, the slight drawing
down at the angle of the mouth,--almost imperceptible, but the nurse
dwelt upon it,--a certain moulding of the features as of an artist's
clay model worked by delicate touches with the fingers, showing that
time or pain or grief had had a hand in shaping them, the contours,
the adjustment of every fold of the dress, the attitude, the very way
of breathing, were all passed through the searching inspection of the
ancient expert, trained to know all the changes wrought by time and
circumstance. It took not so long as it takes to describe it, but it
was an analysis of imponderables, equal to any of Bunsen's with the
Miss Badlam removed her handkerchief and looked in a furtive,
questioning way, in her turn, upon the nurse.
"It's dreadful close here,--I'm 'most smothered," Nurse Byloe said;
and, putting her hand to her throat, unclasped the catch of the
necklace of gold beads she had worn since she was a baby,--a bead
having been added from time to time as she thickened. It lay in a
deep groove of her large neck, and had not troubled her in breathing
before, since the day when her husband was run over by an ox-team.
At this moment Miss Silence Withers entered, followed by Bathsheba
Stoker, daughter of Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker.
She was the friend of Myrtle, and had come to comfort Miss Silence,
and consult with her as to what further search they should institute.
The two, Myrtle's aunt and her friend, were as unlike as they could
well be. Silence Withers was something more than forty years old, a
shadowy, pinched, sallow, dispirited, bloodless woman, with the
habitual look of the people in the funeral carriage which follows
next to the hearse, and the tone in speaking that may be noticed in a
household where one of its members is lying white and still in a
cool, darkened chamber overhead. Bathsheba Stoker was not called
handsome; but she had her mother's youthful smile, which was so fresh
and full of sweetness that she seemed like a beauty while she was
speaking or listening; and she could never be plain so long as any
expression gave life to her features. In perfect repose, her face, a
little prematurely touched by sad experiences,--for she was but
seventeen years old,--had the character and decision stamped in its
outlines which any young man who wanted a companion to warn, to
comfort, and command him, might have depended on as warranting the
courage, the sympathy, and the sense demanded for such a
responsibility. She had been trying her powers of consolation on
Miss Silence. It was a sudden freak of Myrtle's. She had gone off
on some foolish but innocent excursion. Besides, she was a girl that
would take care of herself; for she was afraid of nothing, and
nimbler than any boy of her age, and almost as strong as any. As for
thinking any bad thoughts about her, that was a shame; she cared for
none of the young fellows that were round her. Cyprian Eveleth was
the one she thought most of; but Cyprian was as true as his sister
Olive, and who else was there?
To all this Miss Silence answered only by sighing and moaning, For
two whole days she had been kept in constant fear and worry, afraid
every minute of some tragical message, perplexed by the conflicting
advice of all manner of officious friends, sleepless of course
through the two nights, and now utterly broken down and collapsed.
Bathsheba had said all she could in the way of consolation, and
hastened back to her mother's bedside, which she hardly left, except
for the briefest of visits.
"It's a great trial, Miss Withers, that's laid on you," said Nurse
"If I only knew that she was dead, and had died in the Lord," Miss
Silence answered,--"if I only knew that but if she is living in sin,
or dead in wrong--doing, what is to become of me?--Oh, what is to
become of me when 'He maketh inquisition far blood'?"
"Cousin Silence," said Miss Cynthia, "it is n't your fault, if that
young girl has taken to evil ways. If going to meeting three times
every Sabbath day, and knowing the catechism by heart, and reading of
good books, and the best of daily advice, and all needful discipline,
could have corrected her sinful nature, she would never have run away
from a home where she enjoyed all these privileges. It's that Indian
blood, Cousin Silence. It's a great mercy you and I have n't got any
of it in our veins! What can you expect of children that come from
heathens and savages? You can't lay it to yourself, Cousin Silence,
if Myrtle Hazard goes wrong"---
"The Lord will lay it to me,--the Lord will lay it to me," she
moaned. "Did n't he say to Cain, 'Where is Abel, thy brother?'"
Nurse Byloe was getting very red in the face. She had had about
enough of this talk between the two women. "I hope the Lard 'll take
care of Myrtle Hazard fust, if she's in trouble, 'n' wants help," she
said; "'n' then look out for them that comes next. Y' 're too
suspicious, Miss Badlam; y' 're too easy to believe stories. Myrtle
Hazard was as pretty a child and as good a child as ever I see, if
you did n't rile her; 'n' d' d y' ever see one o' them hearty lively
children, that had n't a sperrit of its own? For my part, I'd rather
handle one of 'em than a dozen o' them little waxy, weak-eyed, slim-
necked creturs that always do what they tell 'em to, and die afore
they're a dozen year old; and never was the time when I've seen
Myrtle Hazard, sence she was my baby, but what it's always been,
'Good mornin', Miss Byloe,' and 'How do you do, Miss Byloe? I'm so
glad to see you.' The handsomest young woman, too, as all the old
folks will agree in tellin' you, s'ence the time o' Judith Pride that
was,--the Pride of the County they used to call her, for her beauty.
Her great-grandma, y' know, Miss Cynthy, married old King David
Withers. What I want to know is, whether anything has been heerd,
and jest what's been done about findin' the poor thing. How d' ye
know she has n't fell into the river? Have they fired cannon? They
say that busts the gall of drownded folks, and makes the corpse rise.
Have they looked in the woods everywhere? Don't believe no wrong of
nobody, not till y' must,--least of all of them that come o' the same
folks, partly, and has lived with yo all their days. I tell y',
Myrtle Hazard's jest as innocent of all what y' 've been thinkin'
about,--bless the poor child; she's got a soul that's as clean and
sweet-well, as a pond-lily when it fust opens of a mornin', without a
speck on it no more than on the fust pond-lily God Almighty ever
That gave a turn to the two women's thoughts, and their handkerchiefs
went up to their faces. Nurse Byloe turned her eyes quickly on
Cynthia Badlam, and repeated her close inspection of every outline
and every light and shadow in her figure. She did not announce any
opinion as to the age or good looks or general aspect or special
points of Miss Cynthia; but she made a sound which the books write
humph! but which real folks make with closed lips, thus: m'!--a sort
of half-suppressed labio-palato-nasal utterance, implying that there
is a good deal which might be said, and all the vocal organs want to
have a chance at it, if there is to be any talking.
Friends and neighbors were coming in and out; and the next person
that came was the old minister, of whom, and of his colleague, the
Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker, some account may here be introduced.
The Rev. Eliphalet Pemberton Father Pemberton as brother ministers
called him, Priest Pemberton as he was commonly styled by the country
people--would have seemed very old, if the medical patriarch of the
village had not been so much older. A man over ninety is a great
comfort to all his elderly neighbors: he is a picket-guard at the
extreme outpost; and the young folks of sixty and seventy feel that
the enemy must get by him before he can come near their camp. Dr.
Hurlbut, at ninety-two, made Priest Pemberton seem comparatively
little advanced; but the college catalogue showed that he must be
seventy-five years old, if, as we may suppose, he was twenty at the
time of his graduation.
He was a man of noble presence always, and now, in the grandeur of
his flowing silver hair and with the gray shaggy brows overhanging
his serene and solemn eyes, with the slow gravity of motion and the
measured dignity of speech which gave him the air of an old pontiff,
he was an imposing personage to look upon, and could be awful, if the
occasion demanded it. His creed was of the sternest: he was looked
up to as a bulwark against all the laxities which threatened New
England theology. But it was a creed rather of the study and of the
pulpit than of every-day application among his neighbors. He dealt
too much in the lofty abstractions which had always such fascinations
for the higher class of New England divines, to busy himself as much
as he might have done with the spiritual condition of individuals.
He had also a good deal in him of what he used to call the Old Man,
which, as he confessed, he had never succeeded in putting off,
--meaning thereby certain qualities belonging to humanity, as much as
the natural gifts of the dumb creatures belong to them, and tending
to make a man beloved by his weak and erring fellow-mortals.
In the olden time he would have lived and died king of his parish,
monarch, by Divine right, as the noblest, grandest, wisest of all
that made up the little nation within hearing of his meeting-house
bell. But Young Calvinism has less reverence and more love of
novelty than its forefathers. It wants change, and it loves young
blood. Polyandry is getting to be the normal condition of the
Church; and about the time a man is becoming a little overripe for
the livelier human sentiments, he may be pretty sure the women are
looking round to find him a colleague. In this way it was that the
Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker became the colleague of the Rev. Eliphalet
If one could have dived deep below all the Christian graces--the
charity, the sweetness of disposition, the humility--of Father
Pemberton, he would have found a small remnant of the "Old Man," as
the good clergyman would have called it, which was never in harmony
with the Rev. Mr. Stoker. The younger divine felt his importance,
and made his venerable colleague feel that he felt it. Father
Pemberton had a fair chance at rainy Sundays and hot summer-afternoon
services; but the junior pushed him aside without ceremony whenever
he thought there was like to be a good show in the pews. As for
those courtesies which the old need, to soften the sense of declining
faculties and failing attractions, the younger pastor bestowed them
in public, but was negligent of them, to say the least, when not on
Good old Father Pemberton could not love this man, but he would not
hate him, and he never complained to him or of him. It would have
been of no use if he had: the women of the parish had taken up the
Rev. Mr. Stoker; and when the women run after a minister or a doctor,
what do the men signify?
Why the women ran after him, some thought it was not hard to guess.
He was not ill-looking, according to the village standard, parted his
hair smoothly, tied his white cravat carefully, was fluent,
plausible, had a gift in prayer, was considered eloquent, was fond of
listening to their spiritual experiences, and had a sickly wife.
This is what Byles Gridley said; but he was apt to be caustic at
Father Pemberton visited his people but rarely. Like Jonathan
Edwards, like David Osgood, he felt his call to be to study-work, and
was impatient of the egotisms and spiritual megrims, in listening to
which, especially from the younger females of his flock, his
colleague had won the hearts of so many of his parishioners. His
presence had a wonderful effect in restoring the despondent Miss
Silence to her equanimity; for not all the hard divinity he had
preached for half a century had spoiled his kindly nature; and not
the gentle Melanchthon himself, ready to welcome death as a refuge
from the rage and bitterness of theologians, was more in contrast
with the disputants with whom he mingled, than the old minister, in
the hour of trial, with the stern dogmatist in his study, forging
thunderbolts to smite down sinners.
It was well that there were no tithing-men about on that next day,
Sunday; for it shone no Sabbath day for the young men within half a
dozen miles of the village. They were out on Bear Hill the whole
day, beating up the bushes as if for game, scaring old crows out of
their ragged nests, and in one dark glen startling a fierce-eyed,
growling, bobtailed catamount, who sat spitting and looking all ready
to spring at them, on the tall tree where he clung with his claws
unsheathed, until a young fellow came up with a gun and shot him
dead. They went through and through the swamp at Musquash Hollow;
but found nothing better than a wicked old snapping-turtle, evil to
behold, with his snaky head and alligator tail, but worse to meddle
with, if his horny jaws were near enough to spring their man-trap on
the curious experimenter. At Wood-End there were some Indians, ill-
conditioned savages in a dirty tent, making baskets, the miracle of
which was that they were so clean. They had seen a young lady
answering the description, about a week ago. She had bought a
basket. Asked them if they had a canoe they wanted to sell.--Eyes
like hers (pointing to a squaw with a man's hat on).
At Pocasset the young men explored all the thick woods,--some who
ought to have known better taking their guns, which made a talk, as
one might well suppose it would. Hunting on a Sabbath day! They did
n't mean to shoot Myrtle Hazard, did they? it was keenly asked. A
good many said it was all nonsense, and a mere excuse to get away
from meeting and have a sort of frolic on pretence that it was a work
of necessity and mercy, one or both.
While they were scattering themselves about in this way, some in
earnest, some rejoicing in the unwonted license, lifting off for a
little while that enormous Sabbath-day pressure which weighs like
forty atmospheres on every true-born Puritan, two young men had been
since Friday in search of the lost girl, each following a clue of his
own, and determined to find her if she was among the living.
Cyprian Eveleth made for the village of Mapleton, where his sister
Olive was staying, trusting that, with her aid, he might get a clue
to the mystery of Myrtle's disappearance.
William Murray Bradshaw struck for a railroad train going to the
great seaport, at a station where it stops for wood and water.
In the mean time, a third young man, Gifted Hopkins by name, son of
the good woman already mentioned, sat down, with tears in his eyes,
and wrote those touching stanzas, "The Lost Myrtle," which were
printed in the next "Banner and Oracle," and much admired by many who
The Withers Homestead was the oldest mansion in town. It was built
on the east bank of the river, a little above the curve which gave
the name to Oxbow Village. It stood on an elevation, its west gable
close to the river's edge, an old orchard and a small pond at the
foot of the slope behind it, woods at the east, open to the south,
with a great row of Lombardy poplars standing guard in front of the
house. The Hon. Selah Withers, Esq., a descendant of one of the
first colonists, built it for his own residence, in the early part of
the last century. Deeply impressed with his importance in the order
of things, he had chosen to place it a little removed from the
cluster of smaller dwellings about the Oxbow; and with some vague
fancy in his mind of the castles that overlook the Rhine and the
Danube, he had selected this eminence on which to place his
substantial gambrel roofed dwelling-house. Long afterwards a bay-
window, almost a little room of itself, had been thrown out of the
second story on the west side, so that it looked directly down on the
river running beneath it. The chamber, thus half suspended in the
air, had been for years the special apartment of Myrtle Hazard; and
as the boys paddling about on the river would often catch glimpses,
through the window, of the little girl dressed in the scarlet jacket
she fancied in those days, one of them, Cyprian Eveleth had given it
a name which became current among the young people, and indeed
furnished to Gifted Hopkins the subject of one of his earliest poems,
to wit, "The Fire-hang-bird's Nest."
If we would know anything about the persons now living at the Withers
Homestead, or The Poplars, as it was more commonly called of late
years, we must take a brief inventory of some of their vital
antecedents. It is by no means certain that our individual
personality is the single inhabitant of these our corporeal frames.
Nay, there is recorded an experience of one of the living persons
mentioned in this narrative,--to be given in full in its proper
place, which, so far as it is received in evidence, tends to show
that some, at least, who have long been dead, may enjoy a kind of
secondary and imperfect, yet self-conscious life, in these bodily
tenements which we are in the habit of considering exclusively our
own. There are many circumstances, familiar to common observers,
which favor this belief to a certain extent. Thus, at one moment we
detect the look, at another the tone of voice, at another some
characteristic movement of this or that ancestor, in our relations or
others. There are times when our friends do not act like themselves,
but apparently in obedience to some other law than that of their own
proper nature. We all do things both awake and asleep which surprise
us. Perhaps we have cotenants in this house we live in. No less
than eight distinct personalities are said to have coexisted in a
single female mentioned by an ancient physician of unimpeachable
authority. In this light we may perhaps see the meaning of a
sentence, from a work which will be repeatedly referred to in this
narrative, viz.: "This body in which we journey across the isthmus
between the two oceans is not a private carriage, but an omnibus."
The ancestry of the Withers family had counted a martyr to their
faith before they were known as Puritans. The record was obscure in
some points; but the portrait, marked "Ann Holyoake, burned by ye
bloudy Papists, ano 15.." (figures illegible), was still hanging
against the panel over the fireplace in the west parlor at The
Poplars. The following words were yet legible on the canvas:
"Thou hast made a covenant O Lord with mee and my Children forever."
The story had come down, that Ann Holyoake spoke these words in a
prayer she offered up at the stake, after the fagots were kindled.
There had always been a secret feeling in the family, that none of
her descendants could finally fall from grace, in virtue of this
There had been also a legend in the family, that the martyred woman's
spirit exercised a kind of supervision over her descendants; that she
either manifested herself to them, or in some way impressed them,
from time to time; as in the case of the first pilgrim before he cast
his lot with the emigrants,--of one Mrs. Winslow, a descendant in the
third generation, when the Indians were about to attack the
settlement where she lived,--and of another, just before he was
killed at Quebec.
There was a remarkable resemblance between the features of Ann
Holyoake, as shown in the portrait, and the miniature likeness of
Myrtle's mother. Myrtle adopted the nearly obsolete superstition
more readily on this account, and loved to cherish the fancy that the
guardian spirit which had watched over her ancestors was often near
her, and would be with her in her time of need.
The wife of Selah Withers was accused of sorcery in the evil days of
that delusion. A careless expression in one of her letters, that "ye
Parson was as lyke to bee in league with ye Divell as anie of em,"
had got abroad, and given great offence to godly people. There was
no doubt that some odd "manifestations," as they would be called
nowadays, had taken place in the household when she was a girl, and
that she presented many of the conditions belonging to what are at
the present day called mediums.
Major Gideon Withers, her son, was of the very common type of hearty,
loud, portly men, who like to show themselves at militia trainings,
and to hear themselves shout orders at musters, or declaim patriotic
sentiments at town-meetings and in the General Court. He loved to
wear a crimson sash and a military cap with a large red feather, in
which the village folk used to say he looked as "hahnsome as a
piny,"--meaning a favorite flower of his, which is better spelt
peony, and to which it was not unnatural that his admirers should
If he had married a wife like himself, there might probably enough
have sprung from the alliance a family of moon-faced children, who
would have dropped into their places like posts into their holes,
asking no questions of life, contented, like so many other honest
folks, with the part of supernumeraries in the drama of being, their
wardrobe of flesh and bones being furnished them gratis, and nothing
to do but to walk across the stage wearing it. But Major Gideon
Withers, for some reason or other, married a slender, sensitive,
nervous, romantic woman, which accounted for the fact that his son
David, "King David," as he was called in his time, had a very
different set of tastes from his father, showing a turn for
literature and sentiment in his youth, reading Young's "Night
Thoughts," and Thomson's "Seasons," and sometimes in those early days
writing verses himself to Celia or to Chloe, which sounded just as
fine to him as Effie and Minnie sound to young people now, as
Musidora, as Saccharissa, as Lesbia, as Helena, as Adah and Zillah,
have all sounded to young people in their time,--ashes of roses as
they are to us now, and as our endearing Scotch diminutives will be
to others by and by.
King David Withers, who got his royal prefix partly because he was
rich, and partly because he wrote hymns occasionally, when he grew
too old to write love-poems, married the famous beauty before
mentioned, Miss Judith Pride, and the race came up again in vigor.
Their son, Jeremy, took for his first wife a delicate, melancholic
girl, who matured into a sad-eyed woman, and bore him two children,
Malachi and Silence.
When she died, he mourned for her bitterly almost a year, and then
put on a ruffled shirt and went across the river to tell his grief to
Miss Virginia Wild, there residing. This lady was said to have a few
drops of genuine aboriginal blood in her veins; and it is certain
that her cheek had a little of the russet tinge which a Seckel pear
shows on its warmest cheek when it blushes.--Love shuts itself up in
sympathy like a knife-blade in its handle, and opens as easily. All
the rest followed in due order according to Nature's kindly
Captain Charles Hazard, of the ship Orient Pearl, fell desperately in
love with the daughter of this second wife, married her, and carried
her to India, where their first and only child was born, and received
the name of Myrtle, as fitting her cradle in the tropics. So her
earliest impressions,--it would not be exact to call them
recollections,--besides the smiles of her father and mother, were of
dusky faces, of loose white raiment, of waving fans, of breezes
perfumed with the sweet exhalations of sandal-wood, of gorgeous
flowers and glowing fruit, of shady verandas, of gliding palanquins,
and all the languid luxury of the South. The pestilence which has
its natural home in India, but has journeyed so far from its birth
place in these later years, took her father and mother away,
suddenly, in the very freshness of their early maturity. A relation
of Myrtle's father, wife of another captain, was returning to America
on a visit, and the child was sent back, under her care, while still
a mere infant, to her relatives at the old homestead. During the
long voyage, the strange mystery of the ocean was wrought into her
consciousness so deeply, that it seemed to have become a part of her
being. The waves rocked her, as if the sea had been her mother; and,
looking over the vessel's side from the arms that held her with
tender care, she used to watch the play of the waters, until the
rhythm of their movement became a part of her, almost as much as her
own pulse and breath.
The instincts and qualities belonging to the ancestral traits which
predominated in the conflict of mingled lives lay in this child in
embryo, waiting to come to maturity. It was as when several grafts,
bearing fruit that ripens at different times, are growing upon the
same stock. Her earlier impulses may have been derived directly from
her father and mother, but all the ancestors who have been mentioned,
and more or less obscurely many others, came uppermost in their time,
before the absolute and total result of their several forces had
found its equilibrium in the character by which she was to be known
as an individual. These inherited impulses were therefore many,
conflicting, some of them dangerous. The World, the Flesh, and the
Devil held mortgages on her life before its deed was put in her
hands; but sweet and gracious influences were also born with her; and
the battle of life was to be fought between them, God helping her in
her need, and her own free choice siding with one or the other. The
formal statement of this succession of ripening characteristics need
not be repeated, but the fact must be borne in mind.
This was the child who was delivered into the hands of Miss Silence
Withers, her mother's half--sister, keeping house with her brother
Malachi, a bachelor, already called Old Malachi, though hardly
entitled by his years to such a venerable prefix. Both these persons
had inherited the predominant traits of their sad-eyed mother.
Malachi, the chief heir of the family property, was rich, but felt
very poor. He owned this fine old estate of some hundreds of acres.
He had moneys in the bank, shares in various companies, wood-lots in
the town; and a large tract of Western land, the subject of a lawsuit
which seemed as if it would never be settled, and kept him always
Some said he hoarded gold somewhere about the old house, but nobody
knew this for a certainty. In spite of his abundant means, he talked
much of poverty, and kept the household on the narrowest footing of
economy. One Irishwoman, with a little aid from her husband now and
then, did all their work; and the only company they saw was Miss
Cynthia Badlam, who, as a relative, claimed a home with them whenever
she was so disposed.
The "little Indian," as Malachi called her, was an awkward accession
to the family. Silence Withers knew no more about children and their
ways and wants than if she had been a female ostrich. Thus it was
that she found it necessary to send for a woman well known in the
place as the first friend whose acquaintance many of the little
people of the town had made in this vale of tears.
Thirty years of practice had taught Nurse Byloe the art of handling
the young of her species with the soft firmness which one may notice
in cats with their kittens,--more grandly in a tawny lioness mouthing
her cubs. Myrtle did not know she was held; she only felt she was
lifted, and borne up, as a cherub may feel upon a white-woolly cloud,
and smiled accordingly at the nurse, as if quite at home in her arms.
"As fine a child as ever breathed the breath of life. But where did
them black eyes come from? Born in Injy,--that 's it, ain't it? No,
it's her poor mother's eyes to be sure. Does n't it seem as if there
was a kind of Injin look to 'em? She'll be a lively one to manage,
if I know anything about childun. See her clinchin' them little
This was when Miss Silence came near her and brought her rather
severe countenance close to the child for inspection of its features.
The ungracious aspect of the woman and the defiant attitude of the
child prefigured in one brief instant the history of many long coming
It was not a great while before the two parties in that wearing
conflict of alien lives, which is often called education, began to
measure their strength against each other. The child was bright,
observing, of restless activity, inquisitively curious, very hard to
frighten, and with a will which seemed made for mastery, not
The stern spinster to whose care this vigorous life was committed was
disposed to discharge her duty to the girl faithfully and
conscientiously; but there were two points in her character and
belief which had a most important bearing on the manner in which she
carried out her laudable intentions. First, she was one of that
class of human beings whose one single engrossing thought is their
own welfare,--in the next world, it is true, but still their own
personal welfare. The Roman Church recognizes this class, and
provides every form of specific to meet their spiritual condition.
But in so far as Protestantism has thrown out works as a means of
insuring future safety, these unfortunates are as badly off as
nervous patients who have no drops, pills, potions, no doctors'
rules, to follow. Only tell a poor creature what to do, and he or
she will do it, and be made easy, were it a pilgrimage of a thousand
miles, with shoes full of split peas instead of boiled ones; but if
once assured that doing does no good, the drooping Little-faiths are
left at leisure to worry about their souls, as the other class of
weaklings worry about their bodies. The effect on character does not
seem to be very different in the two classes. Metaphysicians may
discuss the nature of selfishness at their leisure; if to have all
her thoughts centring on the one point of her own well-being by and
by was selfishness, then Silence Withers was supremely selfish; and
if we are offended with that form of egotism, it is no more than ten
of the twelve Apostles were, as the reader may see by turning to the
Gospel of St. Matthew, the twentieth chapter and the twenty-fourth
The next practical difficulty was, that she attempted to carry out a
theory which, whatever might be its success in other cases, did not
work kindly in the case of Myrtle Hazard, but, on the contrary,
developed a mighty spirit of antagonism in her nature, which
threatened to end in utter lawlessness. Miss Silence started from
the approved doctrine, that all children are radically and utterly
wrong in all their motives, feelings, thoughts, and deeds, so long as
they remain subject to their natural instincts. It was by the
eradication, and not the education, of these instincts, that the
character of the human being she was moulding was to be determined.
The first great preliminary process, so soon as the child manifested
any evidence of intelligent and persistent self-determination, was to
break her will.
There is no doubt that this was a legitimate conclusion from the
teaching of Priest Pemberton, but it required a colder and harder
nature than his own to carry out many of his dogmas to their
practical application. He wrought in the pure mathematics, so to
speak, of theology, and left the working rules to the good sense and
good feeling of his people.
Miss Silence had been waiting for her opportunity to apply the great
doctrine, and it came at last in a very trivial way.
"Myrtle does n't want brown bread. Myrtle won't have brown bread.
Myrtle will have white bread."
"Myrtle is a wicked child. She will have what Aunt Silence says she
shall have. She won't have anything but brown bread."
Thereupon the bright red lip protruded, the hot blood mounted to her
face, the child untied her little "tire," got down from the table,
took up her one forlorn, featureless doll, and went to bed without
her supper. The next morning the worthy woman thought that hunger
and reflection would have subdued the rebellious spirit. So there
stood yesterday's untouched supper waiting for her breakfast. She
would not taste it, and it became necessary to enforce that extreme
penalty of the law which had been threatened, but never yet put in
execution. Miss Silence, in obedience to what she felt to be a
painful duty, without any passion, but filled with high, inexorable
purpose, carried the child up to the garret, and, fastening her so
that she could not wander about and hurt herself, left her to her
repentant thoughts, awaiting the moment when a plaintive entreaty for
liberty and food should announce that the evil nature had yielded and
the obdurate will was broken.
The garret was an awful place. All the skeleton-like ribs of the
roof showed in the dim light, naked overhead, and the only floor to
be trusted consisted of the few boards which bridged the lath and
plaster. A great, mysterious brick tower climbed up through it,--it
was the chimney, but it looked like a horrible cell to put criminals
into. The whole place was festooned with cobwebs,--not light films,
such as the housewife's broom sweeps away before they have become a
permanent residence, but vast gray draperies, loaded with dust,
sprinkled with yellow powder from the beams where the worms were
gnawing day and night, the home of old, hairy spiders who had, lived
there since they were eggs and would leave it for unborn spiders who
would grow old and huge like themselves in it, long after the human
tenants had left the mansion for a narrower home. Here this little
criminal was imprisoned, six, twelve,--tell it not to mothers,
--eighteen dreadful hours, hungry until she was ready to gnaw her
hands, a prey to all childish imaginations; and here at her stern
guardian's last visit she sat, pallid, chilled, almost fainting, but
sullen and unsubdued. The Irishwoman, poor stupid Kitty Fagan, who
had no theory of human nature, saw her over the lean shoulders of the
spinster, and, forgetting all differences of condition and questions
of authority, rushed to her with a cry of maternal tenderness, and,
with a tempest of passionate tears and kisses, bore her off to her
own humble realm, where the little victorious martyr was fed from the
best stores of the house, until there was as much danger from
repletion as there had been from famine. How the experiment might
have ended but for this empirical and most unphilosophical
interference, there is no saying; but it settled the point that the
rebellious nature was not to be subjugated in a brief conflict.
The untamed disposition manifested itself in greater enormities as
she grew older. At the age of four years she was detected in making
a cat's-cradle at meeting, during sermon-time, and, on being
reprimanded for so doing, laughed out loud, so as to be heard by
Father Pemberton, who thereupon bent his threatening, shaggy brows
upon the child, and, to his shame be it spoken, had such a sudden
uprising of weak, foolish, grandfatherly feelings, that a mist came
over his eyes, and he left out his "ninthly" altogether, thereby
spoiling the logical sequence of propositions which had kept his
large forehead knotty for a week.
At eight years old she fell in love with the high-colored picture of
Major Gideon Withers in the crimson sash and the red feather of his
exalted military office. It was then for the first time that her
aunt Silence remarked a shade of resemblance between the child and
the portrait. She had always, up to this time, been dressed in sad
colors, as was fitting, doubtless, for a forlorn orphan; but
happening one day to see a small negro girl peacocking round in a
flaming scarlet petticoat, she struck for bright colors in her own
apparel, and carried her point at last. It was as if a ground-
sparrow had changed her gray feathers for the burning plumage of some
tropical wanderer; and it was natural enough that Cyprian Eveleth
should have called her the fire-hang-bird, and her little chamber the
fire-hang-bird's nest,--using the country boy's synonyme for the
At ten years old she had one of those great experiences which give
new meaning to the life of a child.
Her uncle Malachi had seemed to have a strong liking for her at one
time, but of late years his delusions had gained upon him, and under
their influence he seemed to regard her as an encumbrance and an
extravagance. He was growing more and more solitary in his habits,
more and more negligent of his appearance. He was up late at night,
wandering about the house from the cellar to the garret, so that, his
light being seen flitting from window to window, the story got about
that the old house was haunted.
One dreary, rainy Friday in November, Myrtle was left alone in the
house. Her uncle had been gone since the day before. The two women
were both away at the village. At such times the child took a
strange delight in exploring all the hiding-places of the old
mansion. She had the mysterious dwelling-place of so many of the
dead and the living all to herself. What a fearful kind of pleasure
in its silence and loneliness! The old clock that Marmaduke Storr
made in London more than a hundred years ago was clicking the steady
pulse-beats of its second century. The featured moon on its dial had
lifted one eye, as if to watch the child, as it had watched so many
generations of children, while the swinging pendulum ticked them
along into youth, maturity, gray hairs, deathbeds,--ticking through
the prayer at the funeral, ticking without grief through all the
still or noisy woe of mourning,--ticking without joy when the smiles
and gayety of comforted heirs had come back again. She looked at
herself in the tall, bevelled mirror in the best chamber. She pulled
aside the curtains of the stately bedstead whereon the heads of the
house had slept until they died and were stretched out upon it, and
the sheet shaped itself to them in vague, awful breadth of outline,
like a block of monumental marble the sculptor leaves just hinted by
She groped her way up to the dim garret, the scene of her memorable
punishment. A rusty hook projected from one of the joists a little
higher than a man's head. Something was hanging from it,--an old
garment, was it? She went bravely up and touched--a cold hand. She
did what most children of that age would do,--uttered a cry and ran
downstairs with all her might. She rushed out of the door and called
to the man Patrick, who was doing some work about the place. What
could be done was done, but it was too late.
Uncle Malachi had made away with himself. That was plain on the face
of thing. In due time the coroner's verdict settled it. It was not
so strange as it seemed; but it made a great talk in the village and
all the country round about. Everybody knew he had money enough, and
yet he had hanged himself for fear of starving to death.
For all that, he was found to have left a will, dated some years
before, leaving his property to his sister Silence, with the
exception of a certain moderate legacy to be paid in money to Myrtle
Hazard when she should arrive at the age of twenty years.
The household seemed more chilly than ever after this tragical event.
Its depressing influence followed the child to school, where she
learned the common branches of knowledge. It followed her to the
Sabbath-day catechisings, where she repeated the answers about the
federal headship of Adam, and her consequent personal
responsibilities, and other technicalities which are hardly milk for
babes, perhaps as well as other children, but without any very
profound remorse for what she could not help, so far as she
understood the matter, any more than her sex or stature, and with no
very clear comprehension of the phrases which the New England
followers of the Westminster divines made a part of the elementary
instruction of young people.
At twelve years old she had grown tall and womanly enough to attract
the eyes of the youth and older boys, several of whom made advances
towards her acquaintance. But the dreary discipline of the household
had sunk into her soul, and she had been shaping an internal life for
herself, which it was hard for friendship to penetrate. Bathsheba
Stoker was chained to the bedside of an invalid mother. Olive
Eveleth, a kind, true-hearted girl, belonged to another religious
communion; and this tended to render their meetings less frequent,
though Olive was still her nearest friend. Cyprian was himself a
little shy, and rather held to Myrtle through his sister than by any
true intimacy directly with herself. Of the other young men of the
village Gifted Hopkins was perhaps the most fervent of her admirers,
as he had repeatedly shown by effusions in verse, of which, under the
thinnest of disguises, she was the object.
William Murray Bradshaw, ten years older than herself, a young man of
striking aspect and claims to exceptional ability, had kept his eye
on her of late; but it was generally supposed that he would find a
wife in the city, where he was in the habit of going to visit a
fashionable relative, Mrs. Clymer Ketchum, of 24 Carat Place.
She, at any rate, understood very well that he meant, to use his own
phrase, "to go in for a corner lot,"--understanding thereby a young
lady with possessions and without encumbrances. If the old man had
only given his money to Myrtle, William Murray Bradshaw would have
made sure of her; but she was not likely ever to get much of it.
Miss Silence Withers, it was understood, would probably leave her
money as the Rev. Mr. Stoker, her spiritual director, should
indicate, and it seemed likely that most of it would go to a rising
educational institution where certain given doctrines were to be
taught through all time, whether disproved or not, and whether those
who taught them believed them or not, provided only they would say
they believed them.
Nobody had promised to say masses for her soul if she made this
disposition of her property, or pledged the word of the Church that
she should have plenary absolution. But she felt that she would be
making friends in Influential Quarters by thus laying up her
treasure, and that she would be safe if she had the good-will of the
ministers of her sect.
Myrtle Hazard had nearly reached the age of fourteen, and, though not
like to inherit much of the family property, was fast growing into a
large dower of hereditary beauty. Always handsome, her features
shaped themselves in a finer symmetry, her color grew richer, her
figure promised a perfect womanly development, and her movements had
the grace which high-breeding gives the daughter of a queen, and
which Nature now and then teaches the humblest of village maidens.
She could not long escape the notice of the lovers and flatterers of
beauty, and the time of danger was drawing near.
At this period of her life she made two discoveries which changed the
whole course of her thoughts, and opened for her a new world of ideas
Ever since the dreadful event of November, 1854, the garret had been
a fearful place to think of, and still more to visit. The stories
that the house was haunted gained in frequency of repetition and
detail of circumstance. But Myrtle was bold and inquisitive, and
explored its recesses at such times as she could creep among them
undisturbed. Hid away close under the eaves she found an old trunk
covered with dust and cobwebs. The mice had gnawed through its
leather hinges, and, as it had been hastily stuffed full, the cover
had risen, and two or three volumes had fallen to the floor. This
trunk held the papers and books which her great-grandmother, the
famous beauty, had left behind her, records of the romantic days when
she was the belle of the county,--storybooks, memoirs, novels, and
poems, and not a few love-letters,--a strange collection, which, as
so often happens with such deposits in old families, nobody had cared
to meddle with, and nobody had been willing to destroy, until at last
they had passed out of mind, and waited for a new generation to bring
them into light again.
The other discovery was of a small hoard of coin. Under one of the
boards which formed the imperfect flooring of the garret was hidden
an old leather mitten. Instead of a hand, it had a fat fist of
silver dollars, and a thumb of gold half-eagles.
Thus knowledge and power found their way to the simple and secluded
maiden. The books were hers to read as much as any other's; the gold
and silver were only a part of that small provision which would be
hers by and by, and if she borrowed it, it was borrowing of herself.
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil had shaken its fruit into
her lap, and, without any serpent to tempt her, she took thereof and
BYLES GRIDLEY, A. M.
The old Master of Arts was as notable a man in his outside
presentment as one will find among five hundred college alumni as
they file in procession. His strong, squared features, his
formidable scowl, his solid-looking head, his iron-gray hair, his
positive and as it were categorical stride, his slow, precise way of
putting a statement, the strange union of trampling radicalism in
some directions and high-stepping conservatism in others, which made
it impossible to calculate on his unexpressed opinions, his testy
ways and his generous impulses, his hard judgments and kindly
actions, were characteristics that gave him a very decided
He had all the aspects of a man of books. His study, which was the
best room in Mrs. Hopkins's house, was filled with a miscellaneous-
looking collection of volumes, which his curious literary taste had
got together from the shelves of all the libraries that had been
broken up during his long life as a scholar. Classics, theology,
especially of the controversial sort, statistics, politics, law,
medicine, science, occult and overt, general literature,--almost
every branch of knowledge was represented. His learning was very
various, and of course mixed up, useful and useless, new and ancient,
dogmatic and rational,--like his library, in short; for a library
gathered like his is a looking-glass in which the owner's mind is
The common people about the village did not know what to make of such
a phenomenon. He did not preach, marry, christen, or bury, like the
ministers, nor jog around with medicines for sick folks, nor carry
cases into court for quarrelsome neighbors. What was he good for?
Not a great deal, some of the wiseacres thought,--had "all sorts of
sense but common sense,"--"smart mahn, but not prahctical." There
were others who read him more shrewdly. He knowed more, they said,
than all the ministers put together, and if he'd stan' for
Ripresentative they 'd like to vote for him,--they hed n't hed a
smart mahn in the Gineral Court sence Squire Wibird was thar.
They may have overdone the matter in comparing his knowledge with
that of all the ministers together, for Priest Pemberton was a real
scholar in his special line of study,--as all D. D.'s are supposed to
be, or they would not have been honored with that distinguished
title. But Mr. Byles Gridley not only had more learning than the
deep-sea line of the bucolic intelligence could fathom; he had more
wisdom also than they gave him credit for, even those among them who
thought most of his abilities.
In his capacity of schoolmaster he had sharpened his wits against
those of the lively city boys he had in charge, and made such a
reputation as "Master" Gridley, that he kept that title even after he
had become a college tutor and professor. As a tutor he had to deal
with many of these same boys, and others like them, in the still more
vivacious period of their early college life. He got rid of his
police duties when he became a professor, but he still studied the
pupils as carefully as he used once to watch them, and learned to
read character with a skill which might have fitted him for governing
men instead of adolescents. But he loved quiet and he dreaded
mingling with the brawlers of the market-place, whose stock in trade
is a voice and a vocabulary. So it was that he had passed his life
in the patient mechanical labor of instruction, leaving too many of
his instincts and faculties in abeyance.
The alluvium of all this experience bore a nearer resemblance to
worldly wisdom than might have been conjectured; much nearer, indeed,
than it does in many old instructors, whose eyes get fish-like as
their blood grows cold, and who are not fit to be trusted with
anything more practical than a gerund or a cosine. Master Gridley
not only knew a good deal of human nature, but he knew how to keep
his knowledge to himself upon occasion. He understood singularly
well the ways and tendencies of young people. He was shrewd in the
detection of trickery, and very confident in those who had once
passed the ordeal of his well-schooled observing powers. He had no
particular tendency to meddle with the personal relations of those
about him; but if they were forced upon him in any way, he was like
to see into them at least as quickly as any of his neighbors who
thought themselves most endowed with practical skill.
In leaving the duties of his office he considered himself, as he said
a little despondently, like an old horse unharnessed and turned out
to pasture. He felt that he had separated himself from human
interests, and was henceforth to live in his books with the dead,
until he should be numbered with them himself. He had chosen this
quiet village as a place where he might pass his days undisturbed,
and find a peaceful resting-place in its churchyard, where the gravel
was dry, and the sun lay warm, and the glowing woods of autumn would
spread their many-colored counterpane over the bed where he would be
taking his rest. It sometimes came over him painfully that he was
never more to be of any importance to his fellow-creatures. There
was nobody living to whom he was connected by any very near ties. He
felt kindly enough to the good woman in whose house he lived; he
sometimes gave a few words of counsel to her son; he was not
unamiable with the few people he met; he bowed with great
consideration to the Rev. Dr. Pemberton; and he studied with no small
interest the physiognomy of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker, to whose
sermons he listened, with a black scowl now and then, and a nostril
dilating with ominous intensity of meaning. But he said sadly to
himself, that his life had been a failure,--that he had nothing to
show for it, and his one talent was ready in its napkin to give back
to his Lord.
He owed something of this sadness, perhaps, to a cause which many
would hold of small significance. Though he had mourned for no lost
love, at least so far as was known, though he had never suffered the
pang of parting with a child, though he seemed isolated from those
joys and griefs which come with the ties of family, he too had his
private urn filled with the ashes of extinguished hopes. He was the
father of a dead book.
Why "Thoughts on the Universe, by Byles Gridley, A. M.," had not met
with an eager welcome and a permanent demand from the discriminating
public, it would take us too long to inquire in detail. Indeed; he
himself was never able to account satisfactorily for the state of
things which his bookseller's account made evident to him. He had
read and re-read his work; and the more familiar he became with it,
the less was he able to understand the singular want of popular
appreciation of what he could not help recognizing as its
excellences. He had a special copy of his work, printed on large
paper and sumptuously bound. He loved to read in this, as people
read over the letters of friends who have long been dead; and it
might have awakened a feeling of something far removed from the
ludicrous, if his comments on his own production could have been
heard. "That's a thought, now, for you!--See Mr. Thomas Babington
Macaulay's Essay printed six years after thus book." "A felicitous
image! and so everybody would have said if only Mr. Thomas Carlyle
had hit upon it." "If this is not genuine pathos, where will you
find it, I should like to know? And nobody to open the book where it
stands written but one poor old man--in this generation, at least--in
this generation!" It may be doubted whether he would ever have loved
his book with such jealous fondness if it had gone through a dozen
editions, and everybody was quoting it to his face. But now it lived
only for him; and to him it was wife and child, parent, friend, all
in one, as Hector was all in all to his spouse. He never tired of
it, and in his more sanguine moods he looked forward to the time when
the world would acknowledge its merits, and his genius would find
full recognition. Perhaps he was right: more than one book which
seemed dead and was dead for contemporary readers has had a
resurrection when the rivals who triumphed over it lived only in the
tombstone memory of antiquaries. Comfort for some of us, dear
It followed from the way in which he lived that he must have some
means of support upon which he could depend. He was economical, if
not over frugal in some of his habits; but he bought books, and took
newspapers and reviews, and had money when money was needed; the fact
being, though it was not generally known, that a distant relative had
not long before died, leaving him a very comfortable property.
His money matters had led him to have occasional dealings with the
late legal firm of Wibird and Penhallow, which had naturally passed
into the hands of the new partnership, Penhallow and Bradshaw. He
had entire confidence in the senior partner, but not so much in the
young man who had been recently associated in the business.
Mr. William Murray Bradshaw, commonly called by his last two names,
was the son of a lawyer of some note for his acuteness, who marked
out his calling for him in having him named after the great Lord
Mansfield. Murray Bradshaw was about twenty-five years old, by
common consent good-looking, with a finely formed head, a searching
eye, and a sharp-cut mouth, which smiled at his bidding without the
slightest reference to the real condition of his feeling at the
moment. This was a great convenience; for it gave him an appearance
of good-nature at the small expense of a slight muscular movement
which was as easy as winking, and deceived everybody but those who
had studied him long and carefully enough to find that this play of
his features was what a watch maker would call a detached movement.
He had been a good scholar in college, not so much by hard study as
by skilful veneering, and had taken great pains to stand well with
the Faculty, at least one of whom, Byles Gridley, A. M., had watched
him with no little interest as a man with a promising future,
provided he were not so astute as to outwit and overreach himself in
his excess of contrivance. His classmates could not help liking him;
as to loving him, none of them would have thought of that. He was so
shrewd, so keen, so full of practical sense, and so good-humored as
long as things went on to his liking, that few could resist his
fascination. He had a way of talking with people about what they
were interested in, as if it were the one matter in the world nearest
to his heart. But he was commonly trying to find out something, or
to produce some impression, as a juggler is working at his miracle
while he keeps people's attention by his voluble discourse and make-
believe movements. In his lightest talk he was almost always edging
towards a practical object, and it was an interesting and instructive
amusement to watch for the moment at which he would ship the belt of
his colloquial machinery on to the tight pulley. It was done so
easily and naturally that there was hardly a sign of it. Master
Gridley could usually detect the shifting action, but the young man's
features and voice never betrayed him.
He was a favorite with the other sex, who love poetry and romance, as
he well knew, for which reason he often used the phrases of both, and
in such a way as to answer his purpose with most of those whom he
wished to please. He had one great advantage in the sweepstakes of
life: he was not handicapped with any burdensome ideals. He took
everything at its marked value. He accepted the standard of the
street as a final fact for to-day, like the broker's list of prices.
His whole plan of life was laid out. He knew that law was the best
introduction to political life, and he meant to use it for this end.
He chose to begin his career in the country, so as to feel his way
more surely and gradually to its ultimate aim; but he had no
intention of burning his shining talents in a grazing district,
however tall its grass might grow. His business was not with these
stiff-jointed, slow-witted graziers, but with the supple, dangerous,
far-seeing men who sit scheming by the gas-light in the great cities,
after all the lamps and candles are out from the Merrimac to the
Housatonic. Every strong and every weak point of those who might
probably be his rivals were laid down on his charts, as winds and
currents and rocks are marked on those of a navigator. All the young
girls in the country, and not a few in the city, with which, as
mentioned, he had frequent relations, were on his list of possible
availabilities in the matrimonial line of speculation, provided
always that their position and prospects were such as would make them
proper matches for so considerable a person as the future Hon.
William Murray Bradshaw.
Master Gridley had made a careful study of his old pupil since they
had resided in the same village. The old professor could not help
admiring him, notwithstanding certain suspicious elements in his
character; for after muddy village talk, a clear stream of
intelligent conversation was a great luxury to the hard-headed
scholar. The more he saw of him, the more he learned to watch his
movements, and to be on his guard in talking with him. The old man
could be crafty, with all his simplicity, and he had found out that
under his good-natured manner there often lurked some design more or
less worth noting, and which might involve other interests deserving
For some reason or other the old Master of Arts had of late
experienced a certain degree of relenting with regard to himself,
probably brought about by the expressions of gratitude from worthy
Mrs. Hopkins for acts of kindness to which he himself attached no
great value. He had been kind to her son Gifted; he had been
fatherly with Susan Posey, her relative and boarder; and he had shown
himself singularly and unexpectedly amiable with the little twins who
had been adopted by the good woman into her household. In fact, ever
since these little creatures had begun to toddle about and explode
their first consonants, he had looked through his great round
spectacles upon them with a decided interest; and from that time it
seemed as if some of the human and social sentiments which had never
leafed or flowered in him, for want of their natural sunshine, had
begun growing up from roots which had never lost their life. His
liking for the twins may have been an illustration of that singular
law which old Dr. Hurlbut used to lay down, namely, that at a certain
period of life, say from fifty to sixty and upward, the grand-
paternal instinct awakens in bachelors, the rhythms of Nature
reaching them in spite of her defeated intentions; so that when men
marry late they love their autumn child with a twofold affection,
--father's and grandfather's both in one.
However this may be, there is no doubt that Mr. Byles Gridley was
beginning to take a part in his neighbors' welfare and misfortunes,
such as could hardly have been expected of a man so long lost in his
books and his scholastic duties. And among others, Myrtle Hazard had
come in for a share of his interest. He had met her now and then in
her walks to and from school and meeting, and had been taken with her
beauty and her apparent unconsciousness of it, which he attributed to
the forlorn kind of household in which she had grown up. He had got
so far as to talk with her now and then, and found himself puzzled,
as well he might be, in talking with a girl who had been growing into
her early maturity in antagonism with every influence that surrounded
"Love will reach her by and by," he said, "in spite of the dragons up
at the den yonder.
"'Centum fronte oculos, centum cervice gerebat
Argus, et hos unus saepe fefellit amor.'"
But there was something about Myrtle,--he hardly knew whether to call
it dignity, or pride, or reserve, or the mere habit of holding back
brought about by the system of repression under which she had been
educated,--which kept even the old Master of Arts at his distance.
Yet he was strongly drawn to her, and had a sort of presentiment that
he might be able to help her some day, and that very probably she
would want his help; for she was alone in the world, except for the
dragons, and sure to be assailed by foes from without and from
He noticed that her name was apt to come up in his conversations with
Murray Bradshaw; and, as he himself never introduced it, of course
the young man must have forced it, as conjurers force a card, and
with some special object. This set him thinking hard; and, as a
result of it, he determined the next time Mr. Bradshaw brought her
name up to set him talking.
So he talked, not suspecting how carefully the old man listened.
"It was a demonish hard case," he said, "that old Malachi had left
his money as he did. Myrtle Hazard was going to be the handsomest
girl about, when she came to her beauty, and she was coming to it
mighty fast. If they could only break that will, but it was no use
trying. The doctors said he was of sound mind for at least two years
after making it. If Silence Withers got the land claim, there'd be a
pile, sure enough. Myrtle Hazard ought to have it. If the girl had
only inherited that property--whew? She'd have been a match for any
fellow. That old Silence Withers would do just as her minister told
her,--even chance whether she gives it to the Parson-factory, or
marries Bellamy Stoker, and gives it to him after his wife's dead.
He'd take it if he had to take her with it. Earn his money, hey,
"Why, you don't seem to think very well of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy
Stoker?" said Mr. Gridley, smiling.
"Think well of him? Too fond of using the Devil's pitchfork for my
fancy! Forks over pretty much all the world but himself and his lot
into--the bad place, you know; and toasts his own cheese with it with
very much the same kind of comfort that other folks seem to take in
that business. Besides, he has a weakness for pretty saints--and
sinners. That's an odd name he has. More belle amie than Joseph
about him, I rather guess!"
The old professor smiled again. "So you don't think he believes all
the mediaeval doctrines he is in the habit of preaching, Mr.
"No, sir; I think he belongs to the class I have seen described
somewhere. 'There are those who hold the opinion that truth is only
safe when diluted,--about one fifth to four fifths lies,--as the
oxygen of the air is with its nitrogen. Else it would burn us all
Byles Gridley colored and started a little. This was one of his own
sayings in "Thoughts on the Universe." But the young man quoted it
without seeming to suspect its authorship.
"Where did you pick up that saying, Mr. Bradshaw?"
"I don't remember. Some paper, I rather think. It's one of those
good things that get about without anybody's knowing who says 'em.
Sounds like Coleridge."
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