The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 29 out of 51
"That's what I call a compliment worth having," said Byles Gridley to
himself, when he got home. "Let me look at that passage."
He took down "Thoughts on the Universe," and got so much interested,
reading on page after page, that he did not hear the little tea-bell,
and Susan Posey volunteered to run up to his study and call him down
Miss Suzan Posey knocked timidly at his door and informed him that
tea was waiting. He rather liked Susan Posey. She was a pretty
creature, slight, blonde, a little too light, a village beauty of the
second or third grade, effective at picnics and by moonlight,--the
kind of girl that very young men are apt to remember as their first
love. She had a taste for poetry, and an admiration of poets; but,
what was better, she was modest and simple, and a perfect sister and
mother and grandmother to the two little forlorn twins who had been
stranded on the Widow Hopkins's doorstep.
These little twins, a boy and girl, were now between two and three
years old. A few words will make us acquainted with them. Nothing
had ever been known of their origin. The sharp eyes of all the
spinsters had been through every household in the village and
neighborhood, and not a suspicion fixed itself on any one. It was a
dark night when they were left; and it was probable that they had
been brought from another town, as the sound of wheels had been heard
close to the door where they were found, had stopped for a moment,
then been heard again, and lost in the distance.
How the good woman of the house took them in and kept them has been
briefly mentioned. At first nobody thought they would live a day,
such little absurd attempts at humanity did they seem. But the young
doctor came and the old doctor came, and the infants were laid in
cotton-wool, and the room heated up to keep them warm, and baby-
teaspoonfuls of milk given them, and after being kept alive in this
way, like the young of opossums and kangaroos, they came to a
conclusion about which they did not seem to have made up their
thinking-pulps for some weeks, namely, to go on trying to cross the
sea of life by tugging at the four-and-twenty oars which must be
pulled day and night until the unknown shore is reached, and the oars
lie at rest under the folded hands.
As it was not very likely that the parents who left their offspring
round on doorsteps were of saintly life, they were not presented for
baptism like the children of church-members. Still, they must have
names to be known by, and Mrs. Hopkins was much exercised in the
matter. Like many New England parents, she had a decided taste for
names that were significant and sonorous. That which she had chosen
for her oldest child, the young poet, was either a remarkable
prophecy, or it had brought with it the endowments it promised. She
had lost, or, in her own more pictorial language, she had buried, a
daughter to whom she had given the names, at once of cheerful omen
and melodious effect, Wealthy Amadora.
As for them poor little creturs, she said, she believed they was
rained down out o' the skies, jest as they say toads and tadpoles
come. She meant to be a mother to 'em for all that, and give 'em
jest as good names as if they was the governor's children, or the
minister's. If Mr. Gridley would be so good as to find her some kind
of a real handsome Chris'n name for 'em, she'd provide 'em with the
other one. Hopkinses they shall be bred and taught, and Hopkinses
they shall be called. Ef their father and mother was ashamed to own
'em, she was n't. Couldn't Mr. Gridley pick out some pooty sounding
names from some of them great books of his. It's jest as well to
have 'em pooty as long as they don't cost any more than if they was
Tom and Sally.
A grim smile passed over the rugged features of Byles Gridley.
"Nothing is easier than that, Mrs. Hopkins," he said. "I will give
you two very pretty names that I think will please you and other
folks. They're new names, too. If they shouldn't like to keep them,
they can change them before they're christened, if they ever are.
Isosceles will be just the name for the boy, and I'm sure you won't
find a prettier name for the girl in a hurry than Helminthia."
Mrs. Hopkins was delighted with the dignity and novelty of these two
names, which were forthwith adopted. As they were rather long for
common use in the family, they were shortened into the easier forms
of Sossy and Minthy, under which designation the babes began very
soon to thrive mightily, turning bread and milk into the substance of
little sinners at a great rate, and growing as if they were put out
at compound interest.
This short episode shows us the family conditions surrounding Byles
Gridley, who, as we were saying, had just been called down to tea by
Miss Susan Posey.
"I am coming, my dear," he said,--which expression quite touched Miss
Susan, who did not know that it was a kind of transferred caress from
the delicious page he was reading. It was not the living child that
was kissed, but the dead one lying under the snow, if we may make a
trivial use of a very sweet and tender thought we all remember.
Not long after this, happening to call in at the lawyer's office, his
eye was caught by the corner of a book lying covered up by a pile of
papers. Somehow or other it seemed to look very natural to him.
Could that be a copy of "Thoughts on the Universe"? He watched his
opportunity, and got a hurried sight of the volume. His own
treatise, sure enough! Leaves Uncut. Opened of itself to the one
hundred and twentieth page. The axiom Murray Bradshaw had quoted--he
did not remember from what,--"sounded like Coleridge"--was staring
him in the face from that very page. When he remembered how he had
pleased himself with that compliment the other day, he blushed like a
school-girl; and then, thinking out the whole trick,--to hunt up his
forgotten book, pick out a phrase or two from it, and play on his
weakness with it, to win his good opinion,--for what purpose he did
not know, but doubtless to use him in some way,--he grinned with a
contempt about equally divided between himself and the young schemer.
"Ah ha!" he muttered scornfully. "Sounds like Coleridge, hey?
Niccolo Macchiavelli Bradshaw!"
From this day forward he looked on all the young lawyer's doings with
even more suspicion than before. Yet he would not forego his company
and conversation; for he was very agreeable and amusing to study; and
this trick he had played him was, after all, only a diplomatist's way
of flattering his brother plenipotentiary. Who could say? Some time
or other he might cajole England or France or Russia into a treaty
with just such a trick. Shallower men than he had gone out as
ministers of the great Republic. At any rate, the fellow was worth
THE USE OF SPECTACLES.
The old Master of Arts had a great reputation in the house where he
lived for knowing everything that was going on. He rather enjoyed
it; and sometimes amused himself with surprising his simple-hearted
landlady and her boarders with the unaccountable results of his
sagacity. One thing was quite beyond her comprehension. She was
perfectly sure that Mr. Gridley could see out of the back of his
head, just as other people see with their natural organs. Time and
again he had told her what she was doing when his back was turned to
her, just as if he had been sitting squarely in front of her. Some
laughed at this foolish notion; but others, who knew more of the
nebulous sciences, told her it was like's not jes' so. Folks had
read letters laid ag'in' the pits o' their stomachs, 'n' why should
n't they see out o' the backs o' their heads?
Now there was a certain fact at the bottom of this belief of Mrs.
Hopkins; and as it world be a very small thing to make a mystery of
so simple a matter, the reader shall have the whole benefit of
knowing all there is in it,--not quite yet, however, of knowing all
that came of it. It was not the mirror trick, of course, which Mrs.
Felix Lorraine and other dangerous historical personages have so long
made use of. It was nothing but this: Mr. Byles Gridley wore a pair
of formidable spectacles with large round glasses. He had often
noticed the reflection of objects behind him when they caught their
images at certain angles, and had got the habit of very often looking
at the reflecting surface of one or the other of the glasses, when he
seemed to be looking through them. It put a singular power into his
possession, which might possibly hereafter lead to something more
significant than the mystification of the Widow Hopkins.
A short time before Myrtle Hazard's disappearance, Mr. Byles Gridley
had occasion to call again at the office of Penhallow and Bradshaw on
some small matter of business of his own. There were papers to look
over, and he put on his great round-glassed spectacles. He and Mr.
Penhallow sat down at the table, and Mr. Bradshaw was at a desk
behind them. After sitting for a while, Mr. Penhallow seemed to
remember something he had meant to attend to, for he said all at
once: "Excuse me, Mr. Gridley. Mr. Bradshaw, if you are not busy, I
wish you would look over this bundle of papers. They look like old
receipted bills and memoranda of no particular use; but they came
from the garret of the Withers place, and might possibly have
something that would be of value. Look them over, will you, and see
whether there is anything there worth saving."
The young man took the papers, and Mr. Penhallow sat down again at
the table with Mr. Byles Gridley.
This last-named gentleman felt just then a strong impulse to observe
the operations of Murray Bradshaw. He could not have given any very
good reason for it, any more than any of us can for half of what we
"I should like to examine that conveyance we were speaking of once
more," said he. "Please to look at this one in the mean time, will
you, Mr. Penhallow?"
Master Gridley held the document up before him. He did not seem to
find it quite legible, and adjusted his spectacles carefully, until
they were just as he wanted them. When he had got them to suit
himself, sitting there with his back to Murray Bradshaw, he could see
him and all his movements, the desk at which he was standing, and the
books in the shelves before him,--all this time appearing as if he
were intent upon his own reading.
The young man began in a rather indifferent way to look over the
papers. He loosened the band round them, and took them up one by
one, gave a careless glance at them, and laid them together to tie up
again when he had gone through them. Master Gridley saw all this
process, thinking what a fool he was all the time to be watching such
a simple proceeding. Presently he noticed a more sudden movement:
the young man had found something which arrested his attention, and
turned his head to see if he was observed. The senior partner and
his client were both apparently deep in their own affairs. In his
hand Mr. Bradshaw held a paper folded like the others, the back of
which he read, holding it in such a way that Master Gridley saw very
distinctly three large spots of ink upon it, and noticed their
position. Murray Bradshaw took another hurried glance at the two
gentlemen, and then quickly opened the paper. He ran it over with a
flash of his eye, folded it again, and laid it by itself. With
another quick turn of his head, as if to see whether he were observed
or like to be, he reached his hand out and took a volume down from
the shelves. In this volume he shut the document, whatever it was,
which he had just taken out of the bundle, and placed the book in a
very silent and as it were stealthy way back in its place. He then
gave a look at each of the other papers, and said to his partner:
"Old bills, old leases, and insurance policies that have run out.
Malachi seems to have kept every scrap of paper that had a signature
"That 's the way with the old misers, always," said Mr. Penhallow.
Byles Gridley had got through reading the document he held,--or
pretending to read it. He took off his spectacles.
"We all grow timid and cautious as we get old, Mr. Penhallow." Then
turning round to the young man, he slowly repeated the lines,
"'Multa senem circumveniunt incommoda, vel quod
Quaerit et inventis miser abstinet, ac timet uti;
Vel quod res omnes timide, gelideque ministrat '
"You remember the passage, Mr. Bradshaw?"
While he was reciting these words from Horace, which he spoke slowly
as if he relished every syllable, he kept his eyes on the young man
steadily, but with out betraying any suspicion. His old habits as a
teacher made that easy.
Murray Bradshaw's face was calm as usual, but there was a flush on
his cheek, and Master Gridley saw the slight but unequivocal signs of
"Something is going on inside there," the old man said to himself.
He waited patiently, on the pretext of business, until Mr. Bradshaw
got up and left the office. As soon as he and the senior partner
were alone, Master Gridley took a lazy look at some of the books in
his library. There stood in the book-shelves a copy of the Corpus
Juris Civilis,--the fine Elzevir edition of 1664. It was bound in
parchment, and thus readily distinguishable at a glance from all the
books round it. Now Mr. Penhallow was not much of a Latin scholar,
and knew and cared very little about the civil law. He had fallen in
with this book at an auction, and bought it to place in his shelves
with the other "properties" of the office, because it would look
respectable. Anything shut up in one of those two octavos might stay
there a lifetime without Mr. Penhallow's disturbing it; that Master
Gridley knew, and of course the young man knew it too.
We often move to the objects of supreme curiosity or desire, not in
the lines of castle or bishop on the chess-board, but with the
knight's zigzag, at first in the wrong direction, making believe to
ourselves we are not after the thing coveted. Put a lump of sugar in
a canary-bird's cage, and the small creature will illustrate the
instinct for the benefit of inquirers or sceptics. Byles Gridley
went to the other side of the room and took a volume of Reports from
the shelves. He put it back and took a copy of "Fearne on Contingent
Remainders," and looked at that for a moment in an idling way, as if
from a sense of having nothing to do. Then he drew the back of his
forefinger along the books on the shelf, as if nothing interested him
in them, and strolled to the shelf in front of the desk at which
Murray Bradshaw had stood. He took down the second volume of the
Corpus Juris Civilis, turned the leaves over mechanically, as if in
search of some title, and replaced it.
He looked round for a moment. Mr. Penhallow was writing hard at his
table, not thinking of him, it was plain enough. He laid his hand on
the FIRST volume of the Corpus Juris Civilis. There was a document
shut up in it. His hand was on the book, whether taking it out or
putting it back was not evident, when the door opened and Mr. William
Murray Bradshaw entered.
"Ah, Mr. Gridley," he said, "you are not studying the civil law, are
you?" He strode towards him as he spoke, his face white, his eyes
fixed fiercely on him.
"It always interests me, Mr. Bradshaw," he answered, "and this is a
fine edition of it. One may find a great many valuable things in the
Corpus Juris Civilis."
He looked impenetrable, and whether or not he had seen more than Mr.
Bradshaw wished him to see, that gentleman could not tell. But there
stood the two books in their place, and when, after Master Gridley
had gone, he looked in the first volume, there was the document he
had shut up in it.
MYRTLE'S LETTER--THE YOUNG MEN'S PURSUIT.
"You know all about it, Olive?" Cyprian Eveleth said to his sister,
after a brief word of greeting.
"Know of what, Cyprian?"
"Why, sister, don't you know that Myrtle Hazard is missing,--gone!
--gone nobody knows where, and that we are looking in all directions
to find her?"
Olive turned very pale and was silent for a moment. At the end of
that moment the story seemed almost old to her. It was a natural
ending of the prison-life which had been round Myrtle since her
earliest years. When she got large and strong enough, she broke out
of jail,--that was all. The nursery-bar is always climbed sooner or
later, whether it is a wooden or an iron one. Olive felt as if she
had dimly foreseen just such a finishing to the tragedy of the poor
girl's home bringing-up. Why could not she have done something to
prevent it? Well,--what shall we do now, and as it is?--that is the
"Has she left no letter,--no explanation of her leaving in this way?"
"Not a word, so far as anybody in the village knows."
"Come over to the post-office with me; perhaps we may find a letter.
I think we shall."
Olive's sagacity and knowledge of her friend's character had not
misled her. She found a letter from Myrtle to herself, which she
opened and read as here follows:
MY DEAREST OLIVE:--Think no evil of me for what I have done. The
fire-hang-bird's nest, as Cyprian called it, is empty, and the poor
bird is flown.
I can live as I have lived no longer. This place is chilling all the
life out of me, and I must find another home. It is far, far away,
and you will not hear from me again until I am there. Then I will
write to you.
You know where I was born,--under a hot sun and in the midst of
strange, lovely scenes that I seem still to remember. I must visit
them again: my heart always yearns for them. And I must cross the
sea to get there,--the beautiful great sea that I have always longed
for and that my river has been whispering about to me ever so many
years. My life is pinched and starved here. I feel as old as aunt
Silence, and I am only fifteen,--a child she has called me within a
few days. If this is to be a child, what is it to be a woman?
I love you dearly,--and your brother is almost to me as if he were
mine. I love our sweet, patient Bathsheba,--yes, and the old man
that has spoken so kindly with me, good Master Gridley; I hate to
give you pain,--to leave you all,--but my way of life is killing me,
and I am too young to die. I cannot take the comfort with you, my
dear friends, that I would; for it seems as if I carried a lump of
ice in my heart, and all the warmth I find in you cannot thaw it out.
I have had a strange warning to leave this place, Olive. Do you
remember how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and told him to
flee into Egypt? I have had a dream like that, Olive. There is an
old belief in our family that the spirit of one who died many
generations ago watches over some of her descendants. They say it
led our first ancestor to come over here when it was a wilderness. I
believe it has appeared to others of the family in times of trouble.
I have had a strange dream at any rate, and the one I saw, or thought
I saw, told me to leave this place. Perhaps I should have stayed if
it had not been for that, but it seemed like an angel's warning.
Nobody will know how I have gone, or which way I have taken. On
Monday, you may show this letter to my friends, not before. I do not
think they will be in danger of breaking their hearts for me at our
house. Aunt Silence cares for nothing but her own soul, and the
other woman hates me, I always thought. Kitty Fagan will cry hard.
Tell her perhaps I shall come back by and by. There is a little box
in my room, with some keepsakes marked,--one is for poor Kitty. You
can give them to the right ones. Yours is with them.
Good-by, dearest. Keep my secret, as I told you, till Monday. And
if you never see me again, remember how much I loved you. Never
think hardly of me, for you have grown up in a happy home, and do not
know how much misery can be crowded into fifteen years of a young
girl's life. God be with you!
Olive could not restrain her tears, as she handed the letter to
Cyprian. "Her secret is as safe with you as with me," she said.
"But this is madness, Cyprian, and we must keep her from doing
herself a wrong.
"What she means to do, is to get to Boston, in some way or other, and
sail for India. It is strange that they have not tracked her. There
is no time to be lost. She shall not go out into the world in this
way, child that she is. No; she shall come back, and make her home
with us, if she cannot be happy with these people. Ours is a happy
and a cheerful home, and she shall be to me as a younger sister, and
your sister too, Cyprian. But you must see her; you must leave this
very hour; and you may find her. Go to your cousin Edward, in
Boston, at once; tell him your errand, and get him to help you find
our poor dear sister. Then give her the note I will write, and say I
know your heart, Cyprian, and I can trust that to tell you what to
In a very short time Cyprian Eveleth was on his way to Boston. But
another, keener even in pursuit than he, was there before him.
Ever since the day when Master Gridley had made that over-curious
observation of the young lawyer's proceedings at the office, Murray
Bradshaw had shown a far livelier interest than before in the
conditions and feelings of Myrtle Hazard. He had called frequently
at The Poplars to talk over business matters, which seemed of late to
require a deal of talking. He had been very deferential to Miss
Silence, and had wound himself into the confidence of Miss Badlam.
He found it harder to establish any very near relations with Myrtle,
who had never seemed to care much for any young man but Cyprian
Eveleth, and to care for him quite as much as Olive's brother as for
any personal reason. But he carefully studied Myrtle's tastes and
ways of thinking and of life, so that, by and by, when she should
look upon herself as a young woman, and not as a girl, he would have
a great advantage in making her more intimate acquaintance.
Thus, she corresponded with a friend of her mother's in India. She
talked at times as if it were her ideal home, and showed many tastes
which might well be vestiges of early Oriental impressions. She made
herself a rude hammock,--such as are often used in hot climates,--and
swung it between two elms. Here she would lie in the hot summer
days, and fan herself with the sandal-wood fan her friend in India
had sent her,--the perfume of which, the women said, seemed to throw
her into day-dreams, which were almost like trances.
These circumstances gave a general direction to his ideas, which were
presently fixed more exactly by two circumstances which he learned
for himself and kept to himself; for he had no idea of making a hue
and cry, and yet he did not mean that Myrtle Hazard should get away
if he could help it.
The first fact was this. He found among the copies of the city
newspaper they took at The Poplars a recent number from which a
square had been cut out. He procured another copy of this paper of
the same date, and found that the piece cut out was an advertisement
to the effect that the A 1 Ship Swordfish, Captain Hawkins, was to
sail from Boston for Calcutta, on the 20th of June.
The second fact was the following. On the window-sill of her little
hanging chamber, which the women allowed him to inspect, he found
some threads of long, black, glossy hair caught by a splinter in the
wood. They were Myrtle's of course. A simpleton might have
constructed a tragedy out of this trivial circumstance,--how she had
cast herself from the window into the waters beneath it,--how she had
been thrust out after a struggle, of which this shred from her
tresses was the dreadful witness,--and so on. Murray Bradshaw did
not stop to guess and wonder. He said nothing about it, but wound
the shining threads on his finger, and, as soon as he got home,
examined them with a magnifier. They had been cut off smoothly, as
with a pair of scissors. This was part of a mass of hair, then,
which had been shorn and thrown from the window. Nobody would do
that but she herself. What would she do it for? To disguise her
sex, of course. The other inferences were plain enough.
The wily young man put all these facts and hints together, and
concluded that be would let the rustics drag the ponds and the river,
and scour the woods and swamps, while he himself went to the seaport
town from which she would without doubt sail if she had formed the
project he thought on the whole most probable.
Thus it was that we found him hurrying to the nearest station to
catch the train to Boston, while they were all looking for traces of
the missing girl nearer home. In the cars he made the most
suggestive inquiries he could frame, to stir up the gentlemanly
conductor's memory. Had any young fellow been on the train within a
day or two, who had attracted his notice? Smooth, handsome face,
black eyes, short black hair, new clothes, not fitting very well,
looked away when he paid his fare, had a soft voice like a woman's,--
had he seen anybody answering to some such description as this? The
gentlemanly conductor had not noticed,--was always taking up and
setting down way-passengers,--might have had such a young man
aboard,--there was two or three students one day in the car singing
college songs,--he did n't care how folks looked if they had their
tickets ready,--and minded their own business,--and, so saying, he
poked a young man upon whose shoulder a ringleted head was reclining
with that delightful abandon which the railroad train seems to
provoke in lovely woman,--"Fare!"
It is a fine thing to be set down in a great, overcrowded hotel,
where they do not know you, looking dusty, and for the moment shabby,
with nothing but a carpet-bag in your hand, feeling tired, and
anything but clean, and hungry, and worried, and every way miserable
and mean, and to undergo the appraising process of the gentleman in
the office, who, while he shoves the book round to you for your name,
is making a hasty calculation as to how high up he can venture to
doom you. But Murray Bradshaw's plain dress and carpet-bag were more
than made up for by the air and tone which imply the habit of being
attended to. The clerk saw that in a glance, and, as he looked at
the name and address in the book, spoke sharply in the explosive
dialect of his tribe,--
When Cyprian Eveleth reached the same hotel late at night, he
appeared in his best clothes and with a new valise; but his amiable
countenance and gentle voice and modest manner sent him up two
stories higher, where he found himself in a room not much better than
a garret, feeling lonely enough, for he did not know he had an
acquaintance in the same house. The two young men were in and out so
irregularly that it was not very strange that they did not happen to
meet each other.
The young lawyer was far more likely to find Myrtle if she were in
the city than the other, even with the help of his cousin Edward. He
was not only older, but sharper, better acquainted with the city and
its ways, and, whatever might be the strength of Cyprian's motives,
his own were of such intensity that he thought of nothing else by
day, and dreamed of nothing else by night. He went to work,
therefore, in the most systematic manner. He first visited the ship
Swordfish, lying at her wharf, saw her captain, and satisfied himself
that as yet nobody at all corresponding to the description of Myrtle
Hazard had been seen by any person on board. He visited all the
wharves, inquiring on every vessel where it seemed possible she might
have been looking about. Hotels, thoroughfares, every place where he
might hear of her or meet her, were all searched. He took some of
the police into his confidence, and had half a dozen pairs of eyes
besides his own opened pretty widely, to discover the lost girl.
On Sunday, the 19th, he got the first hint which encouraged him to
think he was on the trail of his fugitive. He had gone down again to
the wharf where the Swordfish, advertised to sail the next day, was
lying. The captain was not on board, but one of the mates was there,
and he addressed his questions to him, not with any great hope of
hearing anything important, but determined to lose no chance, however
small. He was startled with a piece of information which gave him
such an exquisite pang of delight that he could hardly keep the usual
quiet of his demeanor. A youth corresponding to his description of
Myrtle Hazard in her probable disguise had been that morning on board
the Swordfish, making many inquires as to the hour at which she was
to sail, and who were to be the passengers, and remained some time on
board, going all over the vessel, examining her cabin accommodations,
and saying he should return to-morrow before she sailed,--doubtless
intending to take passage in her, as there was plenty of room on
board. There could be little question, from the description, who
this young person was. It was a rather delicate--looking, dark--
haired youth, smooth-faced, somewhat shy and bashful in his ways, and
evidently excited and nervous. He had apparently been to look about
him, and would come back at the last moment, just as the vessel was
ready to sail, and in an hour or two be beyond the reach of inquiry.
Murray Bradshaw returned to his hotel, and, going to his chamber,
summoned all his faculties in state council to determine what course
he should follow, now that he had the object of his search certainly
within reaching distance. There was no danger now of her eluding
him; but the grave question arose, what was he to do when he stood
face to face with her. She must not go,--that was fixed. If she
once got off in that ship, she might be safe enough; but what would
become of certain projects in which he was interested,--that was the
question. But again, she was no child, to be turned away from her
adventure by cajolery, or by any such threats as common truants would
find sufficient to scare them back to their duty. He could tell the
facts of her disguise and the manner of her leaving home to the
captain of the vessel, and induce him to send her ashore as a stray
girl, to be returned to her relatives. But this would only make her
furious with him; and he must not alienate her from himself, at any
rate. He might plead with her in the name of duty, for the sake of
her friends, for the good name of the family. She had thought all
these things over before she ran away. What if he should address her
as a lover, throw himself at her feet, implore her to pity him and
give up her rash scheme, and, if things came to the very worst, offer
to follow her wherever she went, if she would accept him in the only
relation that would render it possible. Fifteen years old,--he
nearly ten years older,--but such things had happened before, and
this was no time to stand on trifles.
He worked out the hypothesis of the matrimonial offer as he would
have reasoned out the probabilities in a law case he was undertaking.
1. He would rather risk that than lose all hold upon her. The girl
was handsome enough for his ambitious future, wherever it might carry
him. She came of an honorable family, and had the great advantage of
being free from a tribe of disagreeable relatives, which is such a
drawback on many otherwise eligible parties. To these considerations
were to be joined other circumstances which we need not here mention,
of a nature to add greatly to their force, and which would go far of
themselves to determine his action.
2. How was it likely she would look on such an extraordinary
proposition? At first, no doubt, as Lady Anne looked upon the
advances of Richard. She would be startled, perhaps shocked. What
then? She could not help feeling flattered at such an offer from
him,--him, William Murray Bradshaw, the rising young man of his
county, at her feet, his eyes melting with the love he would throw
into them, his tones subdued to their most sympathetic quality, and
all those phrases on his lips which every day beguile women older and
more discreet than this romantic, long-imprisoned girl, whose rash
and adventurous enterprise was an assertion of her womanhood and her
right to dispose of herself as she chose. He had not lived to be
twenty-five years old without knowing his power with women. He
believed in himself so thoroughly, that his very confidence was a
strong promise of success.
3. In case all his entreaties, arguments, and offers made no
impression, should he make use of that supreme resource, not to be
employed save in extreme need, but which was of a nature, in his
opinion, to shake a resolution stronger than this young girl was like
to oppose to it? That would be like Christian's coming to his weapon
called All-prayer, he said to himself, with a smile that his early
readings of Bunyan should have furnished him an image for so
different an occasion. The question was one he could not settle till
the time came,--he must leave it to the instinct of the moment.
The next morning found him early waking after a night of feverish
dreams. He dressed himself with more than usual care, and walked
down to the wharf where the Swordfish was moored. The ship had left
the wharf, and was lying out in the stream: A small boat had just
reached her, and a slender youth, as he appeared at that distance,
climbed, not over-adroitly, up the vessel's side.
Murray Bradshaw called to a boatman near by and ordered the man to
row him over as fast as he could to the vessel lying in the stream.
He had no sooner reached the deck of the Swordfish than he asked for
the young person who had just been put on board.
"He is in the cabin, sir, just gone down with the captain," was the
His heart beat, in spite of his cool temperament, as he went down the
steps leading to the cabin. The young person was talking earnestly
with the captain, and, on his turning round, Mr. William Murray
Bradshaw had the pleasure of recognizing his young friend, Mr.
DOWN THE RIVER.
Look at the flower of a morning-glory the evening before the dawn
which is to see it unfold. The delicate petals are twisted into a
spiral, which at the appointed hour, when the sunlight touches the
hidden springs of its life, will uncoil itself and let the day into
the chamber of its virgin heart. But the spiral must unwind by its
own law, and the hand that shall try to hasten the process will only
spoil the blossom which would have expanded in symmetrical beauty
under the rosy fingers of morning.
We may take a hint from Nature's handling of the flower in dealing
with young souls, and especially with the souls of young girls,
which, from their organization and conditions, require more careful
treatment than those of their tougher-fibred brothers. Many parents
reproach themselves for not having enforced their own convictions on
their children in the face of every inborn antagonism they
encountered. Let them not be too severe in their self-condemnation.
A want of judgment in this matter has sent many a young person to
Bedlam, whose nature would have opened kindly enough if it had only
been trusted to the sweet influences of morning sunshine. In such
cases it may be that the state we call insanity is not always an
unalloyed evil. It may take the place of something worse, the
wretchedness of a mind not yet dethroned, but subject to the
perpetual interferences of another mind governed by laws alien and
hostile to its own. Insanity may perhaps be the only palliative left
to Nature in this extremity. But before she comes to that, she has
many expedients. The mind does not know what diet it can feed on
until it has been brought to the starvation point. Its experience is
like that of those who have been long drifting about on rafts or in
long-boats. There is nothing out of which it will not contrive to
get some sustenance. A person of note, long held captive for a
political offence, is said to have owed the preservation of his
reason to a pin, out of which he contrived to get exercise and
excitement by throwing it down carelessly on the dark floor of his
dungeon, and then hunting for it in a series of systematic
explorations until he had found it.
Perhaps the most natural thing Myrtle Hazard could have done would
have been to go crazy, and be sent to the nearest asylum, if
Providence, which in its wisdom makes use of the most unexpected
agencies, had not made a special provision for her mental welfare.
She was in that arid household as the prophet in the land where there
was no dew nor rain for these long years. But as he had the brook
Cherith, and the bread and flesh in the morning and the bread and
flesh in the evening which the ravens brought him, so she had the
river and her secret store of books.
The river was light and life and music and companionship to her. She
learned to row herself about upon it, to swim boldly in it, for it
had sheltered nooks but a little way above The Poplars. But there
was more than that in it,--it was infinitely sympathetic. A river is
strangely like a human soul. It has its dark and bright days, its
troubles from within, and its disturbances from without. It often
runs over ragged rocks with a smooth surface, and is vexed with
ripples as it slides over sands that are level as a floor. It
betrays its various moods by aspects which are the commonplaces of
poetry, as smiles and dimples and wrinkles and frowns. Its face is
full of winking eyes, when the scattering rain-drops first fall upon
it, and it scowls back at the storm-cloud, as with knitted brows,
when the winds are let loose. It talks, too, in its own simple
dialect, murmuring, as it were, with busy lips all the way to the
ocean, as children seeking the mother's breast and impatient of
delay. Prisoners who know what a flower or an insect has been to
them in their solitary cell, invalids who have employed their vacant
minds in studying the patterns of paper-hangings on the walls of
their sick-chambers, can tell what the river was to the lonely,
imaginative creature who used to sit looking into its depths, hour
after hour, from the airy height of the Fire-hang-bird's Nest.
Of late a thought had mingled with her fancies which had given to the
river the aspect of something more than a friend and a companion. It
appeared all at once as a Deliverer. Did not its waters lead, after
long wanderings, to the great highway of the world, and open to her
the gates of those cities from which she could take her departure
unchallenged towards the lands of the morning or of the sunset?
Often, after a freshet, she had seen a child's miniature boat
floating down on its side past her window, and traced it in
imagination back to some crystal brook flowing by the door of a
cottage far up a blue mountain in the distance. So she now began to
follow down the stream the airy shallop that held her bright fancies.
These dreams of hers were colored by the rainbows of an enchanted
fountain,--the books of adventure, the romances, the stories which
fortune had placed in her hands,--the same over which the heart of
the Pride of the County had throbbed in the last century, and on the
pages of some of which the traces of her tears might still be seen.
The literature which was furnished for Myrtle's improvement was
chiefly of a religious character, and, however interesting and
valuable to those to whom it was adapted, had not been chosen with
any wise regard to its fitness for her special conditions. Of what
use was it to offer books like the "Saint's Rest" to a child whose
idea of happiness was in perpetual activity? She read "Pilgrim's
Progress," it is true, with great delight. She liked the idea of
travelling with a pack on one's back, the odd shows at the House of
the interpreter, the fighting, the adventures, the pleasing young
ladies at the palace the name of which was Beautiful, and their very
interesting museum of curiosities. As for the allegorical meaning,
it went through her consciousness like a peck of wheat through a
bushel measure with the bottom out, without touching.
But the very first book she got hold of out of the hidden treasury
threw the "Pilgrim's Progress" quite into the shade. It was the
story of a youth who ran away and lived on an island,--one Crusoe,
--a homely narrative, but evidently true, though full of remarkable
adventures. There too was the history, coming much nearer home, of
Deborah Sampson, the young woman who served as a soldier in the
Revolutionary War, with a portrait of her in man's attire, looking
intrepid rather than lovely. A virtuous young female she was, and
married well, as she deserved to, and raised a family with as good a
name as wife and mother as the best of them. But perhaps not one of
these books and stories took such hold of her imagination as the tale
of Rasselas, which most young persons find less entertaining than the
"Vicar of Wakefield," with which it is nowadays so commonly bound up.
It was the prince's discontent in the Happy Valley, the iron gate
opening to the sound of music, and closing forever on those it
admitted, the rocky boundaries of the imprisoning valley, the visions
of the world beyond, the projects of escape, and the long toil which
ended in their accomplishment, which haunted her sleeping and waking.
She too was a prisoner, but it was not in the Happy Valley. Of the
romances and the love-letters we must take it for granted that she
selected wisely, and read discreetly; at least we know nothing to the
There were mysterious reminiscences and hints of her past coming over
her constantly. It was in the course of the long, weary spring
before her disappearance, that a dangerous chord was struck which
added to her growing restlessness. In an old closet were some
seashells and coral-fans, and dried star-fishes and sea, horses, and
a natural mummy of a rough-skinned dogfish. She had not thought of
them for years, but now she felt impelled to look after them. The
dim sea odors which still clung to them penetrated to the very inmost
haunts of memory, and called up that longing for the ocean breeze
which those who have once breathed and salted their blood with it
never get over, and which makes the sweetest inland airs seem to them
at last tame and tasteless. She held a tigershell to her ear, and
listened to that low, sleepy murmur, whether in the sense or in the
soul we hardly know, like that which had so often been her lullaby,
--a memory of the sea, as Landor and Wordsworth have sung.
"You are getting to look like your father," Aunt Silence said one
day; "I never saw it before. I always thought you took after old
Major Gideon Withers. Well, I hope you won't come to an early grave
like poor Charles,--or at any rate, that you may be prepared."
It did not seem very likely that the girl was going out of the world
at present, but she looked Miss Silence in the face very seriously,
and said, "Why not an early grave, Aunt, if this world is such a bad
place as you say it is?"
"I'm afraid you are not fit for a better."
She wondered if Silence Withers and Cynthia Badlam were just ripe for
For some months Miss Cynthia Badlam, who, as was said, had been an
habitual visitor at The Poplars, had lived there as a permanent
resident. Between her and Silence Withers, Myrtle Hazard found no
rest for her soul. Each of them was for untwisting the morning-glory
without waiting for the sunshine to do it. Each had her own wrenches
and pincers to use for that purpose. All this promised little for
the nurture and admonition of the young girl, who, if her will could
not be broken by imprisonment and starvation at three years old, was
not likely to be over-tractable to any but gentle and reasonable
treatment at fifteen.
Aunt Silence's engine was responsibility,--her own responsibility,
and the dreadful consequences which would follow to her, Silence, if
Myrtle should in any way go wrong. Ever since her failure in that
moral coup d'etat by which the sinful dynasty of the natural self-
determining power was to be dethroned, her attempts in the way of
education had been a series of feeble efforts followed by plaintive
wails over their utter want of success. The face she turned upon the
young girl in her solemn expostulations looked as if it were
inscribed with the epitaphs of hope and virtue. Her utterances were
pitched in such a forlorn tone, that the little bird in his cage, who
always began twittering at the sound of Myrtle's voice, would stop in
his song, and cock his head with a look of inquiry full of pathos, as
if he wanted to know what was the matter, and whether he could do
anything to help.
The specialty of Cynthia Badlam was to point out all the dangerous
and unpardonable trangressions into which young people generally, and
this young person in particular, were likely to run, to hold up
examples of those who had fallen into evil ways and come to an evil
end, to present the most exalted standard of ascetic virtue to the
lively girl's apprehension, leading her naturally to the conclusion
that a bright example of excellence stood before her in the
irreproachable relative who addressed her. Especially with regard to
the allurements which the world offers to the young and inexperienced
female, Miss Cynthia Badlam was severe and eloquent. Sometimes poor
Myrtle would stare, not seeing the meaning of her wise caution,
sometimes look at Miss Cynthia with a feeling that there was
something about her that was false and forced, that she had nothing
in common with young people, that she had no pity for them, only
hatred of their sins, whatever these might be,--a hatred which seemed
to extend to those sources of frequent temptation, youth and beauty,
as if they were in themselves objectionable.
Both the lone women at The Poplars were gifted with a thin vein of
music. They gave it expression in psalmody, of course, in which
Myrtle, who was a natural singer, was expected to bear her part.
This would have been pleasantry if the airs most frequently selected
had been cheerful or soothing, and if the favorite hymns had been of
a sort to inspire a love for what was lovely in this life, and to
give some faint foretaste of the harmonies of a better world to come.
But there is a fondness for minor keys and wailing cadences common to
the monotonous chants of cannibals and savages generally, to such
war-songs as the wild, implacable "Marseillaise," and to the favorite
tunes of low--spirited Christian pessimists. That mournful "China,"
which one of our most agreeable story-tellers has justly singled out
as the cry of despair itself, was often sung at The Poplars, sending
such a sense of utter misery through the house, that poor Kitty Fagan
would cross herself, and wring her hands, and think of funerals, and
wonder who was going to die,--for she fancied she heard the Banshee's
warning in those most dismal ululations.
On the first Saturday of June, a fortnight before her disappearance,
Myrtle strolled off by the river shore, along its lonely banks, and
came dome with her hands full of leaves and blossoms. Silence
Withers looked at them as if they were a kind of melancholy
manifestation of frivolity on the part of the wicked old earth. Not
that she did not inhale their faint fragrance with a certain
pleasure, and feel their beauty as none whose souls are not wholly
shriveled and hardened can help doing, but the world was, in her
estimate, a vale of tears, and it was only by a momentary
forgetfulness that she could be moved to smile at anything.
Miss Cynthia, a sharper-edged woman, had formed the habit of crushing
everything for its moral, until it lost its sweetness and grew almost
odious, as flower-de-luces do when handled roughly. "There's a worm
in that leaf, Myrtle. He has rolled it all round him, and hidden
himself from sight; but there is a horrid worm in it, for all it is
so young and fresh. There is a worm in every young soul, Myrtle."
"But there is not a worm in every leaf, Miss Cynthia. Look," she
said," all these are open, and you can see all over and under them,
and there is nothing there. Are there never any worms in the leaves
after they get old and yellow, Miss Cynthia?"
That was a pretty fair hit for a simple creature of fifteen, but
perhaps she was not so absolutely simple as one might have thought.
It was on the evening of this same day that they were sitting
together. The sweet season was opening, and it seemed as if the
whispering of the leaves, the voices of the birds, the softness of
the air, the young life stirring in everything, called on all
creatures to join the universal chorus of praise that was going up
"What shall we sing this evening?" said Miss Silence.
"Give me one of the books, if you please, Cousin Silence," said Miss
Cynthia." It is Saturday evening. Holy time has begun. Let us
prepare our minds for the solemnities of the Sabbath."
She took the book, one well known to the schools and churches of this
"Book Second. Hymn 44. Long metre. I guess 'Putney' will be as
good a tune as any to sing it to."
The trio began,--
"With holy fear, and humble song,"
and got through the first verse together pretty well. Then came the
"Far in the deep where darkness dwells,
The land of horror and despair,
Justice has built a dismal hell,
And laid her stores of vengeance there."
Myrtle's voice trembled a little in singing this verse, and she
hardly kept up her part with proper spirit.
"Sing out, Myrtle," said Miss Cynthia, and she struck up the third
"Eternal plagues and heavy chains,
Tormenting racks and fiery coals,
And darts t' inflict immortal pains,
Dyed in the blood of damned souls."
This last verse was a duet, and not a trio. Myrtle closed her lips
while it was singing, and when it was done threw down the book with a
look of anger and disgust. The hunted soul was at bay.
"I won't sing such words," she said, "and I won't stay here to hear
them sung. The boys in the streets say just such words as that, and
I am not going to sing them. You can't scare me into being good with
your cruel hymn-book!"
She could not swear: she was not a boy. She would not cry: she felt
proud, obdurate, scornful, outraged. All these images, borrowed from
the holy Inquisition, were meant to frighten her--and had simply
irritated her. The blow of a weapon that glances off, stinging, but
not penetrating, only enrages. It was a moment of fearful danger to
her character, to her life itself.
Without heeding the cries of the two women, she sprang up-stairs to
her hanging chamber. She threw open the window and looked down into
the stream. For one moment her head swam with the sudden,
overwhelming, almost maddening thought that came over her,--the
impulse to fling herself headlong into those running waters and dare
the worst these dreadful women had threatened her with. Something
she often thought afterwards it was an invisible hand held her back
during that brief moment, and the paroxysm--just such a paroxysm as
throws many a young girl into the Thames or the Seine--passed away.
She remained looking, in a misty dream, into the water far below.
Its murmur recalled the whisper of the ocean waves. And through the
depths it seemed as if she saw into that strange, half--remembered
world of palm-trees and white robes and dusky faces, and amidst them,
looking upon her with ineffable love and tenderness, until all else
faded from her sight, the face of a fair woman,--was it hers, so
long, long dead, or that dear young mother's who was to her less a
recollection than a dream?
Could it have been this vision that soothed her, so that she
unclasped her hands and lifted her bowed head as if she had heard a
voice whispering to her from that unknown world where she felt there
was a spirit watching over her? At any rate, her face was never more
serene than when she went to meeting with the two maiden ladies on
the following day, Sunday, and heard the Rev. Mr. Stoker preach a
sermon from Luke vii. 48, which made both the women shed tears, but
especially so excited Miss Cynthia that she was in a kind of half-
hysteric condition all the rest of the day.
After that Myrtle was quieter and more docile than ever before.
Could it be, Miss Silence thought, that the Rev. Mr. Stoker's sermon
had touched her hard heart? However that was, she did not once wear
the stormy look with which she had often met the complaining
remonstrances Miss Silence constantly directed against all the
spontaneous movements of the youthful and naturally vivacious subject
of her discipline.
June is an uncertain month, as everybody knows, and there were frosts
in many parts of New England in the June of 1859. But there were
also beautiful days and nights, and the sun was warm enough to be
fast ripening the strawberries,--also certain plans which had been in
flower some little time. Some preparations had been going on in a
quiet way, so that at the right moment a decisive movement could be
made. Myrtle knew how to use her needle, and always had a dexterous
way of shaping any article of dress or ornament,--a natural gift not
very rare, but sometimes very needful, as it was now.
On the morning of the 15th of June she was wandering by the shores of
the river, some distance above The Poplars, when a boat came drifting
along by her, evidently broken loose from its fastenings farther up
the stream. It was common for such waifs to show themselves after
heavy rains had swollen the river. They might have run the gauntlet
of nobody could tell how many farms, and perhaps passed by half a
dozen towns and villages in the night, so that, if of common, cheap
make, they were retained without scruple, by any who might find them,
until the owner called for them, if he cared to take the trouble.
Myrtle took a knife from her pocket, cut down a long, slender
sapling, and coaxed the boat to the side of the bank. A pair of old
oars lay in the bottom of the boat; she took one of these and paddled
it into a little cove, where it could lie hid among the thick alders.
Then she went home and busied herself about various little matters
more interesting to her than to us.
She was never more amiable and gracious than on this day. But she
looked often at the clock, as they remembered afterwards, and studied
over a copy of the Farmer's Almanac which was lying in the kitchen,
with a somewhat singular interest. The days were nearly at their
longest, the weather was mild, the night promised to be clear and
The household was, to all appearance, asleep at the usual early hour.
When all seemed quiet, Myrtle lighted her lamp, stood before her
mirror, and untied the string that bound her long and beautiful.
dark hair, which fell in its abundance over her shoulders and below
She lifted its heavy masses with one hand, and severed it with a
strong pair of scissors, with remorseless exaction of every wandering
curl, until she stood so changed by the loss of that outward glory of
her womanhood, that she felt as if she had lost herself and found a
brother she had never seen before.
"Good-by, Myrtle!" she said, and, opening her window very gently, she
flung the shining tresses upon the running water, and watched them
for a few moments as they floated down the stream. Then she dressed
herself in the character of her imaginary brother, took up the
carpet-bag in which she had placed what she chose to carry with her,
stole softly down-stairs, and let herself out of a window on the
lower floor, shutting it very carefully so as to be sure that nobody
should be disturbed.
She glided along, looking all about her, fearing she might be seen by
some curious wanderer, and reached the cove where the boat she had
concealed was lying. She got into it, and, taking the rude oars,
pulled herself into the middle of the swollen stream. Her heart beat
so that it seemed to her as if she could hear it between the strokes
of the oar. The lights were not all out in the village, and she
trembled lest she should see the figure of some watcher looking from
the windows in sight of which she would have to pass, and that a
glimpse of this boat stealing along at so late an hour might give the
clue to the secret of her disappearance, with which the whole region
was to be busied in the course of the next day.
Presently she came abreast of The Poplars. The house lay so still,
so peaceful,--it would wake to such dismay! The boat slid along
beneath her own overhanging chamber.
"No song to-morrow from the Fire-hang-bird's Nest!" she said. So she
floated by the slumbering village, the flow of the river carrying her
steadily on, and the careful strokes of the oars adding swiftness to
At last she came to the "Broad Meadows," and knew that she was alone,
and felt confident that she had got away unseen. There was nothing,
absolutely nothing, to point out which way she had gone. Her boat
came from nobody knew where, her disguise had been got together at
different times in such a manner as to lead to no suspicion, and not
a human being ever had the slightest hint that she had planned and
meant to carry out the enterprise which she had now so fortunately
Not till the last straggling house had been long past, not till the
meadows were stretched out behind her as well as before her,
spreading far off into the distance on each side, did she give way to
the sense of wild exultation which was coming fast over her. But
then, at last, she drew a long, long breath, and, standing up in the
boat, looked all around her. The stars were shining over her head
and deep down beneath her. The cool wind came fresh upon her cheek
over the long grassy reaches. No living thing moved in all the wide
level circle which lay about her. She had passed the Red Sea, and
was alone in the Desert.
She threw down her oars, lifted her hands like a priestess, and her
strong, sweet voice burst into song,--the song of the Jewish maiden
when she went out before the chorus of, women and sang that grand
solo, which we all remember in its ancient words, and in their modern
"Sound the loud timbrel o'er Egypt's dark sea!
Jehovah hath triumphed, his people are free!"
The poor child's repertory was limited to songs of the religious sort
mainly, but there was a choice among these. Her aunt's favorites,
beside "China," already mentioned, were "Bangor," which the worthy
old New England clergyman so admired that he actually had the down-
east city called after it, and "Windsor," and "Funeral Hymn." But
Myrtle was in no mood for these. She let off her ecstasy in
"Balerma," and "Arlington," and "Silver Street," and at last in that
most riotous of devotional hymns, which sounds as if it had been
composed by a saint who had a cellar under his chapel,--"Jordan." So
she let her wild spirits run loose; and then a tenderer feeling stole
over her, and she sang herself into a more tranquil mood with the
gentle music of "Dundee." And again she pulled quietly and steadily
at her oars, until she reached the wooded region through which the
river winds after leaving the "Broad Meadows."
The tumult in her blood was calmed, yet every sense and faculty was
awake to the manifold delicious, mysterious impressions of that
wonderful June night, The stars were shining between the tall trees,
as if all the jewels of heaven had been set in one belt of midnight
sky. The voices of the wind, as they sighed through the pines,
seemed like the breath of a sleeping child, and then, as they lisped
from the soft, tender leaves of beeches and maples, like the half-
articulate whisper of the mother hushing all the intrusive sounds
that might awaken it. Then came the pulsating monotone of the frogs
from a far-off pool, the harsh cry of an owl from an old tree that
overhung it, the splash of a mink or musquash, and nearer by, the
light step of a woodchuck, as he cantered off in his quiet way to his
hole in the nearest bank. The laurels were just coming into bloom,--
the yellow lilies, earlier than their fairer sisters, pushing their
golden cups through the water, not content, like those, to float on
the surface of the stream that fed them, emblems of showy wealth,
and, like that, drawing all manner of insects to feed upon them. The
miniature forests of ferns came down to the edge of the stream, their
tall, bending plumes swaying in the night breeze. Sweet odors from
oozing pines, from dewy flowers, from spicy leaves, stole out of the
tangled thickets, and made the whole scene more dream-like with their
faint, mingled suggestions.
By and by the banks of the river grew lower and marshy, and in place
of the larger forest-trees which had covered them stood slender
tamaracks, sickly, mossy, looking as if they had been moon-struck and
were out of their wits, their tufts of leaves staring off every way
from their spindling branches. The winds came cool and damp out of
the hiding-places among their dark recesses. The country people
about here called this region the "Witches' Hollow," and had many
stories about the strange things that happened there. The Indians
used to hold their "powwows," or magical incantations, upon a broad
mound which rose out of the common level, and where some old hemlocks
and beeches formed a dark grove, which served them as a temple for
their demon-worship. There were many legends of more recent date
connected with this spot, some of them hard to account for, and no
superstitious or highly imaginative person would have cared to pass
through it alone in the dead of the night, as this young girl was
She knew nothing of all these fables and fancies. Her own singular
experiences in this enchanted region were certainly not suggested by
anything she had heard, and may be considered psychologically curious
by those who would not think of attributing any mystical meaning to
them. We are at liberty to report many things without attempting to
explain them, or committing ourselves to anything beyond the fact
that so they were told us. The reader will find Myrtle's "Vision,"
as written out at a later period from her recollections, at the end
of this chapter.
The night was passing, and she meant to be as far away as possible
from the village she had left, before morning. But the boat, like
all craft on country rivers, was leaky, and she had to work until
tired, bailing it out, before she was ready for another long effort.
The old tin measure, which was all she had to bail with, leaked as
badly as the boat, and her task was a tedious one. At last she got
it in good trim, and sat down to her oars with the determination to
pull steadily as long as her strength would hold out.
Hour after hour she kept at her work, sweeping round the long bends
where the river was hollowing out one bank and building new shore on
the opposite one, so as gradually to shift its channel; by clipper-
shaped islands, sharp at the bows looking up stream, sharp too at the
stern, looking down,--their shape solving the navigator's problem of
least resistance, as a certain young artist had pointed out; by
slumbering villages; by outlying farm-houses; between cornfields
where the young plants were springing up in little thready fountains;
in the midst of stumps where the forest had just been felled; through
patches, where the fire of the last great autumnal drought had turned
all the green beauty of the woods into brown desolation; and again
amidst broad expanses of open meadow stretching as far as the eye
could reach in the uncertain light. A faint yellow tinge was
beginning to stain the eastern horizon. Her boat was floating
quietly along, for she had at last taken in her oars, and she was now
almost tired out with toil and excitement. She rested her head upon
her hands, and felt her eyelids closing in spite of herself. And now
there stole upon her ear a low, gentle, distant murmur, so soft that
it seemed almost to mingle with the sound of her own breathing, but
so steady, so uniform, that it soothed her to sleep, as if it were
the old cradle-song the ocean used to sing to her, or the lullaby of
her fair young mother.
So she glided along, slowly, slowly, down the course of the winding
river, and the flushing dawn kindled around her as she slumbered, and
the low, gentle murmur grew louder and louder, but still she slept,
dreaming of the murmuring ocean.
APPENDIX TO CHAPTER VIII.
MYRTLE HAZARD'S STATEMENT.
"A Vision seen by me, Myrtle Hazard, aged fifteen, on the night of
June 15, 1859. Written out at the request of a friend from my
"The place where I saw these sights is called, as I have been told
since, Witches' Hollow. I had never been there before, and did not
know that it was called so, or anything about it.
"The first strange thing that I noticed was on coming near a kind of
hill or mound that rose out of the low meadows. I saw a burning
cross lying on the slope of that mound. It burned with a pale
greenish light, and did not waste, though I watched it for a long
time, as the boat I was in moved slowly with the current and I had
"I know that my eyes were open, and I was awake while I was looking
at this cross. I think my eyes were open when I saw these other
appearances, but I felt just as if I were dreaming while awake.
"I heard a faint rustling sound, and on looking up I saw many figures
moving around me, and I seemed to see myself among them as if I were
outside of myself.
"The figures did not walk, but slid or glided with an even movement,
as if without any effort. They made many gestures, and seemed to
speak, but I cannot tell whether I heard what they said, or knew its
meaning in some other way.
"I knew the faces of some of these figures. They were the same I
have seen in portraits, as long as I can remember, at the old house
where I was brought up, called The Poplars. I saw my father and my
mother as they look in the two small pictures; also my grandmother,
and her father and mother and grandfather, and one other person, who
lived a great while ago. All of these have been long dead, and the
longer they had been dead the less like substance they looked and the
more like shadows, so that the oldest was like one's breath of a
frosty morning, but shaped like the living figure.
"There was no motion of their breasts, and their lips seemed to be
moving as if they were saying, Breath! Breath! Breath! I thought
they wanted to breathe the air of this world again in my shape, which
I seemed to see as it were empty of myself and of these other selves,
like a sponge that has water pressed out of it.
"Presently it seemed to me that I returned to myself, and then those
others became part of me by being taken up, one by one, and so lost
in my own life.
"My father and mother came up, hand in hand, looking more real than
any of the rest. Their figures vanished, and they seemed to have
become a part of me; for I felt all at once the longing to live over
the life they had led, on the sea and in strange countries.
"Another figure was just like the one we called the Major, who was a
very strong, hearty-looking man, and who is said to have drank hard
sometimes, though there is nothing about it on his tombstone, which I
used to read in the graveyard. It seemed to me that there was
something about his life that I did not want to make a part of mine,
but that there was some right he had in me through my being of his
blood, and so his health and his strength went all through me, and I
was always to have what was left of his life in that shadow-like
shape, forming a portion of mine.
"So in the same way with the shape answering to the portrait of that
famous beauty who was the wife of my great-grandfather, and used to
be called the Pride of the County.
"And so too with another figure which had the face of that portrait
marked on the back, Ruth Bradford, who married one of my ancestors,
and was before the court, as I have heard, in the time of the
"There was with the rest a dark, wild-looking woman, with a head-
dress of feathers. She kept as it were in shadow, but I saw
something of my own features in her face.
"It was on my mind very strongly that the shape of that woman of our
blood who was burned long ago by the Papists came very close to me,
and was in some way made one with mine, and that I feel her presence
with me since, as if she lived again in me; but not always,--only at
times,--and then I feel borne up as if I could do anything in the
world. I had a feeling as if she were my guardian and protector.
"It seems to me that these, and more, whom I have not mentioned, do
really live over some part of their past lives in my life. I do not
understand it all, and perhaps it can be accounted for in some way I
have not thought of. I write it down as nearly as I can give it from
memory, by request, and if it is printed at this time had rather have
all the real names withheld.
NOTE BY THE FRIEND.
"This statement must be accounted for in some way, or pass into the
category of the supernatural. Probably it was one of those
intuitions, with objective projection, which sometimes come to
imaginative young persons, especially girls, in certain exalted
nervous conditions. The study of the portraits, with the knowledge
of some parts of the history of the persons they represented, and the
consciousness of instincts inherited in all probability from these
same ancestors, formed the basis of Myrtle's 'Vision.' The lives of
our progenitors are, as we know, reproduced in different proportions
in ourselves. Whether they as individuals have any consciousness of
it, is another matter. It is possible that they do get a second as
it were fractional life in us. It might seem that many of those
whose blood flows in our veins struggle for the mastery, and by and
by one or more get the predominance, so that we grow to be like
father, or mother, or remoter ancestor, or two or more are blended in
us, not to the exclusion, however, it must be understood, of a
special personality of our own, about which these others are grouped.
Independently of any possible scientific value, this 'Vision' serves
to illustrate the above-mentioned fact of common experience, which is
not sufficiently weighed by most moralists.
"How much it may be granted to certain young persons to see, not in
virtue of their intellectual gifts, but through those direct channels
which worldly wisdom may possibly close to the luminous influx, each
reader must determine for himself by his own standards of faith and
"One statement of the narrative admits of a simple natural
explanation, which does not allow the lovers of the marvellous to
class it with the quasi-miraculous appearance seen by Colonel
Gardiner, and given in full by Dr. Doddridge in his Life of that
remarkable Christian soldier. Decaying wood is often phosphorescent,
as many readers must have seen for themselves. The country people
are familiar with the sight of it in wild timber-land, and have given
it the name of 'Fox-fire.' Two trunks of trees in this state, lying
across each other, will account for the fact observed, and vindicate
the truth of the young girl's story without requiring us to suppose
any exceptional occurrence outside of natural laws."
MR. CLEMENT LINDSAY RECEIVES A LETTER, AND BEGINS HIS ANSWER.
It was already morning when a young man living in the town of
Alderbank, after lying awake for an hour thinking the unutterable
thoughts that nineteen years of life bring to the sleeping and waking
dreams of young people, rose from his bed, and, half dressing
himself, sat down at his desk, from which he took a letter, which he
opened and read. It was written in a delicate, though hardly formed
female hand, and crossed like a checker-board, as is usual with these
redundant manuscripts. The letter was as follows:
OXBOW VILLAGE, June 13, 1859.
MY DEAREST CLEMENT,--You was so good to write me such a sweet little
bit of a letter,--only, dear, you never seem to be in quite so good
spirits as you used to be. I wish your Susie was with you to cheer
you up; but no, she must be patient, and you must be patient too, for
you are so ambitious! I have heard you say so many times that nobody
could be a great artist without passing years and years at work, and
growing pale and lean with thinking so hard. You won't grow pale and
lean, I hope; for I do so love to see that pretty color in your
cheeks you have always had ever since I have known you; and besides,
I do not believe you will have to work so very hard to do something
great,--you have so much genius, and people of genius do such
beautiful things with so little trouble. You remember those
beautiful lines out of our newspaper I sent you? Well, Mr. Hopkins
told me he wrote those lines in one evening without stopping! I wish
you could see Mr. Hopkins,--he is a very talented person. I cut out
this little piece about him from the paper on purpose to show you,
--for genius loves genius,--and you would like to hear him read his
own poetry,--he reads it beautifully. Please send this piece from
the paper back, as I want to put it in my scrapbook, under his
"Our young townsman, Mr. Gifted Hopkins, has proved himself worthy of
the name he bears. His poetical effusions are equally creditable to
his head and his heart, displaying the highest order of genius and
powers of imagination and fancy hardly second to any writer of the
age. He is destined to make a great sensation in the world of
Mrs. Hopkins is the same good soul she always was. She is very proud
of her son, as is natural, and keeps a copy of everything he writes.
I believe she cries over them every time she reads them. You don't
know how I take to little Sossy and Minthy, those two twins I have
written to you about before. Poor little creatures,--what a cruel
thing it was in their father and mother not to take care of them!
What do you think? Old bachelor Gridley lets them come up into his
room, and builds forts and castles for them with his big books! "The
world's coming to an end," Mrs. Hopkins said the first time he did
so. He looks so savage with that scowl of his, and talks so gruff
when he is scolding at things in general, that nobody would have
believed he would have let such little things come anywhere near him.
But he seems to be growing kind to all of us and everybody. I saw
him talking to the Fire-hang-bird the other day. You know who the
Fire-hang-bird is, don't you? Myrtle Hazard her name is. I wish you
could see her. I don't know as I do, though. You would want to make
a statue of her, or a painting, I know. She is so handsome that all
the young men stand round to see her come out of meeting. Some say
that Lawyer Bradshaw is after her; but my! he is ten years older than
she is. She is nothing but a girl, though she looks as if she was
eighteen. She lives up at a place called The Poplars, with an old
woman that is her aunt or something, and nobody seems to be much
acquainted with her except Olive Eveleth, who is the minister's
daughter at Saint Bartholomew's Church. She never has beauxs round
her, as some young girls do--they say that she is not happy with her
aunt and another woman that stays with her, and that is the reason
she keeps so much to herself. The minister came to see me the other
day,--Mr. Stoker his name is. I was all alone, and it frightened me,
for he looks, oh, so solemn on Sundays! But he called me "My dear,"
and did n't say anything horrid, you know, about my being such a
dreadful, dreadful sinner, as I have heard of his saying to some
people,--but he looked very kindly at me, and took my hand, and laid
his hand on my shoulder like a brother, and hoped I would come and
see him in his study. I suppose I must go, but I don't want to. I
don't seem to like him exactly.
I hope you love me as well as ever you did. I can't help feeling
sometimes as if you was growing away from me,--you know what I mean,
--getting to be too great a person for such a small person as I am.
I know I can't always understand you when you talk about art, and
that you know a great deal too much for such a simple girl as I am.
Oh, if I thought I could never make you happy!... There, now! I am
almost ashamed to send this paper so spotted. Gifted Hopkins wrote
some beautiful verses one day on "A Maiden Weeping." He compared the
tears falling from her eyes to the drops of dew which one often sees
upon the flowers in the morning. Is n't it a pretty thought?
I wish I loved art as well as I do poetry; but I am afraid I have not
so much taste as some girls have. You remember how I liked that
picture in the illustrated magazine, and you said it was horrid. I
have been afraid since to like almost anything, for fear you should
tell me some time or other it was horrid. Don't you think I shall
ever learn to know what is nice from what is n't?
Oh, dear Clement, I wish you would do one thing to please me. Don't
say no, for you can do everything you try to,--I am sure you can. I
want you to write me some poetry,--just three or four little verses
TO SUZIE. Oh, I should feel so proud to have some lines written all
on purpose for me. Mr. Hopkins wrote some the other day, and printed
them in the paper, "To M---e." I believe he meant them for Myrtle,
--the first and last letter of her name, you see, "M "and "e."
Your letter was a dear one, only so short! I wish yon would tell me
all about what you are doing at Alderbank. Have you made that model
of Innocence that is to have my forehead, and hair parted like mine!
Make it pretty, do, that is a darling.
Now don't make a face at my letter. It is n't a very good one, I
know; but your poor little Susie does the best she can, and she loves
you so much!
Now do be nice and write me one little bit of a mite of a poem,--it
will make me just as happy!
I am very well, and as happy as I can be when you are away.
Your affectionate SUSIE.
(Directed to Mr. Clement Lindsay, Alderbank.)
The envelope of this letter was unbroken, as was before said, when
the young man took it from his desk. He did not tear it with the hot
impatience of some lovers, but cut it open neatly, slowly, one would
say sadly. He read it with an air of singular effort, and yet with a
certain tenderness. When he had finished it, the drops were thick on
his forehead; he groaned and put his hands to his face, which was
This was what the impulse of boyhood, years ago, had brought him to!
He was a stately youth, of noble bearing, of high purpose, of
fastidious taste; and, if his broad forehead, his clear, large blue
eyes, his commanding features, his lips, firm, yet plastic to every
change of thought and feeling, were not an empty mask, might not
improbably claim that Promethean quality of which the girl's letter
had spoken,--the strange, divine, dread gift of genius.
This poor, simple, innocent, trusting creature, so utterly incapable
of coming into any true relation with his aspiring mind, his large
and strong emotions,--this mere child, all simplicity and goodness,
but trivial and shallow as the little babbling brooklet that ran by
his window to the river, to lose its insignificant being in the swift
torrent he heard rushing over the rocks,--this pretty idol for a weak
and kindly and easily satisfied worshipper, was to be enthroned as
the queen of his affections, to be adopted as the companion of his
labors! The boy, led by the commonest instinct, the mere attraction
of biped to its female, which accident had favored, had thrown away
the dearest possession of manhood,--liberty,--and this bauble was to
be his lifelong reward! And yet not a bauble either, for a pleasing
person and a gentle and sweet nature, which had once made her seem to
him the very paragon of loveliness, were still hers. Alas! her
simple words were true,--he had grown away from her. Her only fault
was that she had not grown with him, and surely he could not reproach
her with that.
"No," he said to himself, "I will never leave her so long as her
heart clings to me. I have been rash, but she shall not pay the
forfeit. And if I may think of myself, my life need not be wretched
because she cannot share all my being with me. The common human
qualities are more than all exceptional gifts. She has a woman's
heart; and what talent of mine is to be named by the love a true
woman can offer in exchange for these divided and cold affections?
If it had pleased God to mate me with one more equal in other ways,
who could share my thoughts, who could kindle my inspiration, who had
wings to rise into the air with me as well as feet to creep by my
side upon the earth,--what cannot such a woman do for a man!
"What! cast away the flower I took in the bud because it does not
show as I hoped it would when it opened? I will stand by my word; I
will be all as a man that I promised as a boy. Thank God, she is
true and pure and sweet. My nest will be a peaceful one; but I must
take wing alone,--alone."
He drew one long sigh, and the cloud passed from his countenance. He
must answer that letter now, at once. There were reasons, he
thought, which made it important. And so, with the cheerfulness
which it was kind and becoming to show, so far as possible, and yet
with a little excitement on one particular point, which was the cause
of his writing so promptly, he began his answer.
ALDERBANK, Thursday morning, June 16, 1859.
MY DEAR SUSIE,--I have just been reading your pleasant letter; and if
I do not send you the poem you ask for so eloquently, I will give you
a little bit of advice, which will do just as well,--won't it, my
dear? I was interested in your account of various things going on at
Oxbow Village. I am very glad you find young Mr. Hopkins so
agreeable a friend. His poetry is better than some which I see
printed in the village papers, and seems generally unexceptionable in
its subjects and tone. I do not believe he is a dangerous companion,
though the habit of writing verse does not always improve the
character. I think I have seen it make more than one of my
acquaintances idle, conceited, sentimental, and frivolous,--perhaps
it found them so already. Don't make too much of his talent, and
particularly don't let him think that because he can write verses he
has nothing else to do in this world. That is for his benefit, dear,
and you must skilfully apply it.
Now about yourself. My dear Susie, there was something in your
letter that did not please me. You speak of a visit from the Rev.
Mr. Stoker, and of his kind, brotherly treatment, his cordiality of
behavior, and his asking you to visit him in his study. I am very
glad to hear you say that you "don't seem to like him." He is very
familiar, it seems to me, for so new an acquaintance. What business
had he to be laying his hand on your shoulder? I should like to see
him try these free-and-easy ways in my presence! He would not have
taken that liberty, my dear! No, he was alone with you, and thought
it safe to be disrespectfully familiar. I want you to maintain your
dignity always with such persons, and I beg you not to go to the
study of this clergyman, unless some older friend goes with you on
every occasion, and sits through the visit. I must speak plainly to
you, my dear, as I have a right to. If the minister has anything of
importance to say, let it come through the lips of some mature
person. It may lose something of the fervor with which it would have
been delivered at first hand, but the great rules of Christian life
are not so dependent on the particular individual who speaks them,
that you must go to this or that young man to find out what they are.
If to any man, I should. prefer the old gentleman whom you have
mentioned in your letters, Father Pemberton. You understand me, my
dear girl, and the subject is not grateful. You know how truly I am
interested in all that relates to you,--that I regard you with an
HELP! HELP! HELP!
A cry as of a young person's voice was heard faintly, coming from the
direction of the river. Something in the tone of it struck to his
heart, and he sprang as if he had been stabbed. He flung open his
chamber window and leaped from it to the ground. He ran straight to
the bank of the river by the side of which the village of Alderbank
was built, a little farther down the stream than the house in which
he was living.
Everybody that travels in that region knows the beautiful falls which
break the course of the river just above the village; narrow and
swift, and surrounded by rocks of such picturesque forms that they
are sought and admired by tourists. The stream was now swollen, and
rushed in a deep and rapid current over the ledges, through the rocky
straits, plunging at last in tumult and foam, with loud, continuous
roar, into the depths below the cliff from which it tumbled.
A short distance above the fall there projected from the water a rock
which had, by parsimonious saving during a long course of years,
hoarded a little soil, out of which a small tuft of bushes struggled.
to support a decent vegetable existence. The high waters had nearly
submerged it, but a few slender twigs were seen above their surface.
A skiff was lying close to this rock, between it and the brink of the
fall, which was but a few rods farther down. In the skiff was a
youth of fourteen or fifteen years, holding by the slender twigs, the
boat dragging at them all the time, and threatening to tear them away
and go over the fall. It was not likely that the boy would come to
shore alive if it did. There were stories, it is true, that the
Indians used to shoot the fall in their canoes with safety; but
everybody knew that at least three persons had been lost by going
over it since the town was settled; and more than one dead body had
been found floating far down the river, with bruises and fractured
bones, as if it had taken the same fatal plunge.
There was no time to lose. Clement ran a little way up the river-
bank, flung off his shoes, and sprang from the bank as far as he
could leap into the water. The current swept him toward the fall,
but he worked nearer and nearer the middle of the stream. He was
making for the rock, thinking he could plant his feet upon it and at
the worst hold the boat until he could summon other help by shouting.
He had barely got his feet upon the rock, when the twigs by which the
boy was holding gave way. He seized the boat, but it dragged him
from his uncertain footing, and with a desperate effort he clambered
over its side and found himself its second doomed passenger.
There was but an instant for thought.
"Sit still," he said, "and, just as we go over, put your arms round
me under mine, and don't let go for your life!"
He caught up the single oar, and with a few sharp paddle-strokes
brought the skiff into the blackest centre of the current, where it
was deepest, and would plunge them into the deepest pool.
"Hold your breath! God save us! Now!"
They rose, as if with one will, and stood for an instant, the arms of
the younger closely embracing the other as he had directed.
A sliding away from beneath them of the floor on which they stood, as
the drop fails under the feet of a felon. A great rush of air, and a
mighty, awful, stunning roar,--an involuntary gasp, a choking flood
of water that came bellowing after them, and hammered them down into
the black depths so far that the young man, though used to diving and
swimming long distances underwater, had well-nigh yielded to the
fearful need of air, and sucked in his death in so doing.
The boat came up to the surface, broken in twain, splintered, a load
of firewood for those who raked the river lower down. It had turned
crosswise, and struck the rocks. A cap rose to the surface, such a
one as boys wear,--the same that boy had on. And then--after how
many seconds by the watch cannot be known, but after a time long
enough, as the young man remembered it, to live his whole life over
in memory--Clement Lindsay felt the blessed air against his face,
and, taking a great breath, came to his full consciousness. The arms
of the boy were still locked around him as in the embrace of death.
A few strokes brought him to the shore, dragging his senseless burden
He unclasped the arms that held him so closely encircled, and laid
the slender form of the youth he had almost died to save gently upon
the grass. It was as if dead. He loosed the ribbon that was round
the neck, he tore open the checked shirt
The story of Myrtle Hazard's sex was told; but she was deaf to his
cry of surprise, and no blush came to her cold cheek. Not too late,
perhaps, to save her,--not too late to try to save her, at least!
He placed his lips to hers, and filled her breast with the air from
his own panting chest. Again and again he renewed these efforts,
hoping, doubting, despairing,--once more hoping, and at last, when he
had almost ceased to hope, she gasped, she breathed, she moaned, and
rolled her eyes wildly round her, she was born again into this mortal
He caught her up in his arms, bore her to the house, laid her on a
sofa, and, having spent his strength in this last effort, reeled and
fell, and lay as one over whom have just been whispered the words,
"He is gone."
MR. CLEMENT LINDSAY FINISHES HIS LETTER--WHAT CAME OF IT.
The first thing Clement Lindsay did, when he was fairly himself
again, was to finish his letter to Susan Posey. He took it up where
it left off, "with an affection which " and drew a long dash, as
above. It was with great effort he wrote the lines which follow, for
he had got an ugly blow on the forehead, and his eyes were "in
mourning," as the gentlemen of the ring say, with unbecoming levity.
"An adventure! Just as I was writing these last words, I heard the
cry of a young person, as it sounded, for help. I ran to the river
and jumped in, and had the pleasure of saving a life. I got some
bruises which have laid me up for a day or two; but I am getting over
them very well now, and you need not worry about me at all. I will
write again soon; so pray do not fret yourself, for I have had no
hurt that will trouble me for any time."
Of course, poor Susan Posey burst out crying, and cried as if her
heart would break. Oh dear! Oh dear! what should she do! He was
almost killed, she knew he was, or he had broken some of his bones.
Oh dear! Oh dear! She would go and see him, there!--she must and
would. He would die, she knew he would,--and so on.
It was a singular testimony to the evident presence of a human
element in Mr. Bytes Gridley that the poor girl, on her extreme
trouble, should think of him as a counsellor. But the wonderful
relenting kind of look on his grave features as he watched the little
twins tumbling about his great books, and certain marks of real
sympathy he had sometimes shown for her in her lesser woes,
encouraged her, and she went straight to his study, letter in hand.
She gave a timid knock at the door of that awful sanctuary.
"Come in, Susan Posey," was its answer, in a pleasant tone. The old
master knew her light step and the maidenly touch of her small hand
on the panel.
What a sight! 'there were Sossy and Minthy intrenched in a
Sebastopol which must have cost a good half-hour's engineering, and
the terrible Bytes Gridley besieging the fortress with hostile
manifestations of the most singular character. He was actually
discharging a large sugar-plum at the postern gate, which having been
left unclosed, the missile would certainly have reached one of the
garrison, when he paused as the door opened, and the great round
spectacles and four wide, staring infants' eyes were levelled at Miss
She almost forgot her errand, grave as it was, in astonishment at
this manifestation. The old man had emptied his shelves of half
their folios to build up the fort, in the midst of which he had
seated the two delighted and uproarious babes. There was his Cave's
"Historia Literaria," and Sir Walter Raleigh's "History of the
World," and a whole array of Christian Fathers, and Plato, and
Aristotle, and Stanley's book of Philosophers, with Effigies, and the
Junta Galen, and the Hippocrates of Foesius, and Walton's Polyglot,
supported by Father Sanchez on one side and Fox's "Acts and
Monuments" on the other,--an odd collection, as folios from lower
shelves are apt to be.
The besieger discharged his sugar-plum, which was so well aimed that
it fell directly into the lap of Minthy, who acted with it as if the
garrison had been on short rations for some time.
He saw at once, on looking up, that there was trouble. "What now,
Susan Posey, my dear?"
"O Mr. Gridley, I am in such trouble! What shall I do? What shall I
She turned back the name and the bottom of the letter in such a way
that Mr. Gridley could read nothing but the few lines relating their
"So Mr. Clement Lindsay has been saving a life, has he, and got some
hard knocks doing it, hey, Susan Posey? Well, well, Clement Lindsay
is a brave fellow, and there is no need of hiding his name, my child.
Let me take the letter again a moment, Susan Posey. What is the date
of it? June 16th. Yes,--yes,--yes!"
He read the paragraph over again, and the signature too, if he wanted
to; for poor Susan had found that her secret was hardly opaque to
those round spectacles and the eyes behind them, and, with a not
unbecoming blush, opened the fold of the letter before she handed it
"No, no, Susan Posey. He will come all right. His writing is
steady, and if he had broken any bones he would have mentioned it.
It's a thing his wife will be proud of, if he is ever married, Susan
Posey," (blushes,) "and his children too," (more blushes running up
to her back hair,) "and there 's nothing to be worried about. But
I'll tell you what, my dear, I've got a little business that calls me
down the river tomorrow, and I shouldn't mind stopping an hour at
Alderbank and seeing how our young friend Clement Lindsay is; and
then, if he was going to have a long time of it, why we could manage
it somehow that any friend who had any special interest in him could
visit him, just to while away the tiresomeness of being sick. That's
it, exactly. I'll stop at Alderbank, Susan Posey. Just clear up
these two children for me, will you, my dear? Isosceles, come now,--
that 's a good child. Helminthia, carry these sugar-plums down--
stairs for me, and take good care of them, mind!"
It was a case of gross bribery and corruption, for the fortress was
immediately, evacuated on the receipt of a large paper of red and
white comfits, and the garrison marched down--stairs much like
conquerors, under the lead of the young lady, who was greatly eased
in mind by the kind words and the promise of Mr. Byles Gridley.
But he, in the mean time, was busy with thoughts she did not suspect.
"A young person," he said to himself,--"why a young person? Why not
say a boy, if it was a boy? What if this should be our handsome
truant?--'June 16th, Thursday morning!'--About time to get to
Alderbank by the river, I should think. None of the boats missing?
What then? She may have made a raft, or picked up some stray skiff.
Who knows? And then got shipwrecked, very likely. There are rapids
and falls farther along the river. It will do no harm to go down
there and look about, at any rate."
On Saturday morning, therefore, Mr. Byles Gridley set forth to
procure a conveyance to make a visit, as he said, dawn the river, and
perhaps be gone a day or two. He went to a stable in the village,
and asked if they could let him have a horse.
The man looked at him with that air of native superiority which the
companionship of the generous steed confers on all his associates,
down to the lightest weight among the jockeys.
"Wal, I hain't got nothin' in the shape of a h'oss, Mr. Gridley.
I've got a mare I s'pose I could let y' have."
"Oh, very well," said the old master, with a twinkle in his eye as
sly as the other's wink,--he had parried a few jokes in his time,--"
they charge half-price for mares always, I believe."
That was a new view of the subject. It rather took the wind out of
the stable-keeper, and set a most ammoniacal fellow, who stood
playing with a currycomb, grinning at his expense. But he rallied
"Wal, I b'lieve they do for some mares, when they let 'em to some
folks; but this here ain't one o' them mares, and you ain't one o'
them folks. All my cattle's out but this critter, 'n' I don't jestly
want to have nobody drive her that ain't pretty car'ful,--she's
faast, I tell ye,--don't want no whip.--How fur d' d y' want t' go?"
Mr. Gridley was quite serious now, and let the man know that he
wanted the mare and a light covered wagon, at once, to be gone for
one or two days, and would waive the question of sex in the matter of
Alderbank was about twenty miles down the river by the road. On
arriving there, he inquired for the house where a Mr. Lindsay lived.
There was only one Lindsay family in town,--he must mean Dr. William
Lindsay. His house was up there a little way above the village,
lying a few rods back from the river.
He found the house without difficulty, and knocked at the door. A
motherly-looking woman opened it immediately, and held her hand up as
if to ask him to speak and move softly.
"Does Mr. Clement Lindsay live here?"
"He is staying here for the present. He is a nephew of ours. He is
in his bed from an injury."
"Nothing very serious, I hope?"
"A bruise on his head,--not very bad, but the doctor was afraid of
erysipelas. Seems to be doing well enough now."
"Is there a young person here, a stranger?"
"There is such a young person here. Do you come with any authority
to make inquiries?"
"I do. A young friend of mine is missing, arid I thought it possible
I might learn something here about it. Can I see this young person?"
The matron came nearer to Byles Gridley, and said: "This person is a
young woman disguised as a boy. She was rescued by my nephew at the
risk of his life, and she has been delirious ever since she has
recovered her consciousness. She was almost too far gone to be
resuscitated, but Clement put his mouth to hers and kept her
breathing until her own breath returned and she gradually came to."
"Is she violent in her delirium?"
"Not now. No; she is quiet enough, but wandering,--wants to know
where she is, and whose the strange faces are,--mine and my
husband's,--that 's Dr. Lindsay,--and one of my daughters, who has
watched with her."
"If that is so, I think I had better see her. If she is the person I
suspect her to be, she will know me; and a familiar face may bring
back her recollections and put a stop to her wanderings. If she does
not know me, I will not stay talking with her. I think she will, if
she is the one I am seeking after. There is no harm in trying."
Mrs. Lindsay took a good long look at the old man. There was no
mistaking his grave, honest, sturdy, wrinkled, scholarly face. His
voice was assured and sincere in its tones. His decent black coat
was just what a scholar's should be,--old, not untidy, a little shiny
at the elbows with much leaning on his study-table, but neatly bound
at the cuffs, where worthy Mrs. Hopkins had detected signs of fatigue
and come to the rescue. His very hat looked honest as it lay on the
table. It had moulded itself to a broad, noble head, that held
nothing but what was true and fair, with a few harmless crotchets
just to fill in with, and it seemed to know it.
The good woman gave him her confidence at once. "Is the person you
are seeking a niece or other relative of yours?"
(Why did not she ask if the girl was his daughter? What is that look
of paternity and of maternity which observing and experienced mothers
and old nurses know so well in men and in women?)
"No, she is not a relative. But I am acting for those who are."
"Wait a moment and I will go and see that the room is all right."
She returned presently. "Follow me softly, if you please. She is
asleep,--so beautiful,--so innocent!"
Byles Gridley, Master of Arts, retired professor, more than sixty
years old, childless, loveless, stranded in a lonely study strewed
with wrecks of the world's thought, his work in life finished, his
one literary venture gone down with all it held, with nobody to care
for him but accidental acquaintances, moved gently to the side of the
bed and looked upon the pallid, still features of Myrtle Hazard. He
strove hard against a strange feeling that was taking hold of him,
that was making his face act rebelliously, and troubling his eyes
with sudden films. He made a brief stand against this invasion.
"A weakness,--a weakness!" he said to himself. "What does all this
mean? Never such a thing for these twenty years! Poor child! poor
child!--Excuse me, madam," he said, after a little interval, but for
what offence he did not mention. A great deal might be forgiven,
even to a man as old as Byles Gridley, looking upon such a face,--so
lovely, yet so marked with the traces of recent suffering, and even
now showing by its changes that she was struggling in some fearful
dream. Her forehead contracted, she started with a slight convulsive
movement, and then her lips parted, and the cry escaped from them,--
how heart-breaking when there is none to answer it,--"Mother!"
Gone back again through all the weary, chilling years of her girlhood
to that hardly remembered morning of her life when the cry she
uttered was answered by the light of loving eyes, the kiss of
clinging lips, the embrace of caressing arms!
"It is better to wake her," Mrs. Lindsay said; "she is having a
troubled dream. Wake up, my child, here is a friend waiting to see
She laid her hand very gently on Myrtle's forehead. Myrtle opened
her eyes, but they were vacant as yet.
"Are we dead?" she said. "Where am I? This is n't heaven--there are
no angels--Oh, no, no, no! don't send me to the other place--fifteen
years,--only fifteen years old--no father, no mother--nobody loved
me. Was it wicked in me to live? "Her whole theological training
was condensed in that last brief question.
The, old man took her hand and looked her in the face, with a
wonderful tenderness in his squared features. "Wicked to live, my
dear? No indeed! Here! look at me, my child; don't you know your
old friend Byles Gridley?"
She was awake now. The sight of a familiar countenance brought back
a natural train of thought. But her recollection passed over
everything that had happened since Thursday morning.
"Where is the boat I was in?" she said. "I have just been in the
water, and I was dreaming that I was drowned. Oh! Mr. Gridley, is
that you? Did you pull me out of the water?"
"No, my dear, but you are out of it, and safe and sound: that is the
main point. How do you feel now you are awake?"
She yawned, and stretched her arms and looked round, but did not
answer at first. This was all natural, and a sign that she was
coming right. She looked down at her dress. It was not
inappropriate to her sex, being a loose gown that belonged to one of
the girls in the house.
"I feel pretty well," she answered, "but a little confused. My boat
will be gone, if you don't run and stop it now. How did you get me
into dry clothes so quick?"
Master Byles Gridley found himself suddenly possessed by a large and
luminous idea of the state of things, and made up his mind in a
moment as to what he must do. There was no time to be lost. Every
day, every hour, of Myrtle's absence was not only a source of anxiety
and a cause of useless searching but it gave room for inventive
fancies to imagine evil. It was better to run some risk of injury to
health, than to have her absence prolonged another day.
"Has this adventure been told about in the village, Mrs. Lindsay?"
"No, we thought it best to wait until she could tell her own story,
expecting her return to consciousness every hour, and thinking there
might be some reason for her disguise which it would be kinder to
keep quiet about."
"You know nothing about her, then?"
"Not a word. It was a great question whether to tell the story and
make inquiries; but she was safe, and could hardly bear disturbance,
and, my dear sir, it seemed too probable that there was some sad
story behind this escape in disguise, and that the poor child might
need shelter and retirement. We meant to do as well as we could for
"All right, Mrs. Lindsay. You do not know who she is, then?"
"No, sir, and perhaps it is as well that I should not know. Then I
shall not have to answer any questions about it."
"Very good, madam,--just as it should be. And your family, are they
as discreet as yourself?"
"Not one word of the whole story has been or will be told by any one
of us. That was agreed upon among us."
"Now then, madam. My name, as you heard me say, is Byles Gridley.
Your husband will know it, perhaps; at any rate I will wait until he
comes back. This child is of good family and of good name. I know
her well, and mean, with your kind help, to save her from the
consequences which her foolish adventure might have brought upon her.
Before the bells ring for meeting to-morrow morning this girl must be
in her bed at her home, at Oxbow Village, and we must keep her story
to ourselves as far as may be. It will all blow over, if we do. The
gossips will only know that she was upset in the river and cared for
by some good people,--good people and sensible people too, Mrs.
Lindsay. And now I want to see the young man that rescued my friend
here,--Clement Lindsay, I have heard his name before."
Clement was not a beauty for the moment, but Master Gridley saw well
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