The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 30 out of 51
enough that he was a young man of the right kind. He knew them at
sight, fellows with lime enough in their bones and iron enough in
their blood to begin with,--shapely, large-nerved, firm-fibred and
fine-fibred, with well-spread bases to their heads for the ground-
floor of the faculties, and well-vaulted arches for the upper range
of apprehensions and combinations. "Plenty of basements," he used to
say, "without attics and skylights. Plenty of skylights without
rooms enough and space enough below." But here was "a three-story
brain," he said to himself as he looked at it, and this was the youth
who was to find his complement in our pretty little Susan Posey! His
judgment may seem to have been hasty, but he took the measure of
young men of twenty at sight from long and sagacious observation, as
Nurse Byloe knew the "heft" of a baby the moment she fixed her old
eyes on it.
Clement was well acquainted with Byles Gridley, though he had never
seen him, for Susan's letters had had a good deal to say about him of
late. It was agreed between them that the story should be kept as
quiet as possible, and that the young girl should not know the name
of her deliverer,--it might save awkward complications. It was not
likely that she would be disposed to talk of her adventure, which had
ended so disastrously, and thus the whole story would soon die out.
The effect of the violent shock she had experienced was to change the
whole nature of Myrtle for the time. Her mind was unsettled: she
could hardly recall anything except the plunge over the fall. She
was perfectly docile and plastic,--was ready to go anywhere Mr.
Gridley wanted her to go, without any sign of reluctance. And so it
was agreed that he should carry her back in his covered wagon that
very night. All possible arrangements were made to render her
journey comfortable. The fast mare had to trot very gently, and the
old master would stop and adjust the pillows from time to time, and
administer the restoratives which the physician had got ready, all as
naturally and easily as if he had been bred a nurse, vastly to his
own surprise, and with not a little gain to his self-appreciation.
He was a serviceable kind of body on occasion, after all, was he not,
hey, Mr. Byles Gridley? he said to himself.
At half past four o'clock on Sunday morning the shepherd brought the
stray lamb into the paved yard at The Poplars, and roused the
slumbering household to receive back the wanderer.
It was the Irishwoman, Kitty Fagan, huddled together in such
amorphous guise, that she looked as if she had been fitted in a
tempest of petticoats and a whirlwind of old shawls, who presented
herself at the door.
But there was a very warm heart somewhere in that queer-looking
bundle of clothes, and it was not one of those that can throb or
break in silence. When she saw the long covered wagon, and the grave
face of the old master, she thought it was all over with the poor
girl she loved, and that this was the undertaker's wagon bringing
back only what had once been Myrtle Hazard. She screamed aloud,--so
wildly that Myrtle lifted her head from the pillow against which she
had rested it, and started forward.
The Irishwoman looked at her for a moment to assure herself that it
was the girl she loved, and not her ghost. Then it all came over
her,--she had been stolen by thieves, who had carried her off by
night, and been rescued by the brave old man who had brought her
back. What crying and kisses and prayers and blessings were poured
forth, in a confusion of which her bodily costume was a fitting type,
those who know the vocabulary and the enthusiasm of her eloquent race
may imagine better than we could describe it.
The welcome of the two other women was far less demonstrative. There
were awful questions to be answered before the kind of reception she
was to have could be settled. What they were, it is needless to
suggest; but while Miss Silence was weeping, first with joy that her
"responsibility" was removed, then with a fair share of pity and
kindness, and other lukewarm emotions,--while Miss Badlam waited for
an explanation before giving way to her feelings,--Mr. Gridley put
the essential facts before them in a few words. She had gone down
the river some miles in her boat, which was upset by a rush of the
current, and she had come very near being drowned. She was got out,
however, by a person living near by, and cared for by some kind women
in a house near the river, where he had been fortunate enough to
discover her.--Who cut her hair off? Perhaps those good people,
--she had been out of her head. She was alive and unharmed, at any
rate, wanting only a few days' rest. They might be very thankful to
get her back, and leave her to tell the rest of her story when she
had got her strength and memory, for she was not quite herself yet,
and might not be for some days.
And so there she was at last laid in her own bed, listening again to
the ripple of the waters beneath her, Miss Silence sitting on one
side looking as sympathetic as her insufficient nature allowed her to
look; the Irishwoman uncertain between delight at Myrtle's return and
sorrow for her condition; and Miss Cynthia Badlaxn occupying herself
about house-matters, not unwilling to avoid the necessity of
displaying her conflicting emotions.
Before he left the house, Mr. Gridley repeated the statement is the
most precise manner,--some miles down the river--upset and nearly
drowned--rescued almost dead--brought to and cared for by kind women
in the house where he, Byles Gridley, found her. These were the
facts, and nothing more than this was to be told at present. They
had better be made known at once, and the shortest and best way would
be to have it announced by the minister at meeting that forenoon.
With their permission, he would himself write the note for Mr. Stoker
to read, and tell the other ministers that they might announce it to
The bells rang for meeting, but the little household at The Poplars
did not add to the congregation that day. In the mean time Kitty
Fagan had gone down with Mr. Byles Gridley's note, to carry it to the
Rev. Mr. Stoker. But, on her way, she stopped at the house of one
Mrs. Finnegan, a particular friend of hers; and the great event of
the morning furnishing matter for large discourse, and various social
allurements adding to the fascination of having a story to tell,
Kitty Fagan forgot her note until meeting had begun and the minister
had read the text of his sermon. "Bless my soul! and sure I 've
forgot ahl about the letter!" she cried all at once, and away she
tramped for the meeting-house. The sexton took the note, which was
folded, and said he would hand it up to the pulpit after the sermon,
--it would not do to interrupt the preacher.
The Rev. Mr. Stoker had, as was said, a somewhat remarkable gift in
prayer,--an endowment by no means confined to profoundly spiritual
persons,--in fact, not rarely owing much of its force to a strong
animal nature underlying the higher attributes. The sweet singer of
Israel would never have written such petitions and such hymns if his
manhood had been less complete; the flavor of remembered frailties
could not help giving a character to his most devout exercises, or
they would not have come quite home to our common humanity. But
there is no gift more dangerous to the humility and sincerity of a
minister. While his spirit ought to be on its knees before the
throne of grace, it is too apt to be on tiptoe, following with
admiring look the flight of its own rhetoric. The essentially
intellectual character of an extemporaneous composition spoken to the
Creator with the consciousness that many of his creatures are
listening to criticise or to admire, is the great argument for set
forms of prayer.
The congregation on this particular Sunday was made up chiefly of
women and old men. The young men were hunting after Myrtle Hazard.
Mr. Byles Gridley was in his place, wondering why the minister did
not read his notice before the prayer. This prayer, was never
reported, as is the questionable custom with regard to some of these
performances, but it was wrought up with a good deal of rasping force
and broad pathos. When he came to pray for "our youthful sister,
missing from her pious home, perhaps nevermore to return to her
afflicted relatives," and the women and old men began crying, Byles
Gridley was on the very point of getting up and cutting short the
whole matter by stating the simple fact that she had got back, all
right, and suggesting that he had better pray for some of the older
and tougher sinners before him. But on the whole it would be more
decorous to wait, and perhaps he was willing to hear what the object
of his favorite antipathy had to say about it. So he waited through
the prayer. He waited through the hymn, "Life is the time"--He
waited to hear the sermon.
The minister gave out his text from the Book of Esther, second
chapter, seventh verse: "For she had neither father nor mother, and
the maid was fair and beautiful." It was to be expected that the
reverend gentleman, who loved to produce a sensation, would avail
himself of the excitable state of his audience to sweep the key-board
of their emotions, while, as we may, say, all the stops were drawn
out. His sermon was from notes; for, though absolutely
extemporaneous composition may be acceptable to one's Maker, it is
not considered quite the thing in speaking to one's fellow-mortals.
He discoursed for a time on the loss of parents, and on the dangers
to which the unfortunate orphan is exposed. Then he spoke of the
peculiar risks of the tender female child, left without its natural
guardians. Warming with his subject, he dilated with wonderful
unction on the temptations springing from personal attractions. He
pictured the "fair and beautiful" women of Holy Writ, lingering over
their names with lover-like devotion. He brought Esther before his
audience, bathed and perfumed for the royal presence of Ahasuerus.
He showed them the sweet young Ruth, lying down in her innocence at
the feet of the lord of the manor. He dwelt with special luxury on
the charms which seduced the royal psalmist,--the soldier's wife for
whom he broke the commands of the decalogue, and the maiden for whose
attentions, in his cooler years, he violated the dictates of prudence
and propriety. All this time Byles Gridley had his stern eyes on
him. And while he kindled into passionate eloquence on these
inspiring themes, poor Bathsheba, whom her mother had sent to church
that she might get a little respite from her home duties, felt her
blood growing cold in her veins, as the pallid image of the invalid
wife, lying on her bed of suffering, rose in the midst of the glowing
pictures which borrowed such warmth from her husband's imagination.
The sermon, with its hinted application to the event of the past
week, was over at last. The shoulders of the nervous women were
twitching with sobs. The old men were crying in their vacant way.
But all the while the face of Byles Gridley, firm as a rock in the
midst of this lachrymal inundation, was kept steadily on the
preacher, who had often felt the look that came through the two round
glasses searching into the very marrow of his bones.
As the sermon was finished, the sexton marched up through the broad
aisle and handed the note over the door of the pulpit to the
clergyman, who was wiping his face after the exertion of delivering
his discourse. Mr. Stoker looked at it, started, changed color,--his
vision of "The Dangers of Beauty, a Sermon printed by Request," had
vanished,--and passed the note to Father Pemberton, who sat by him in
the pulpit. With much pains he deciphered its contents, for his eyes
were dim with years, and, having read it, bowed his head upon his
hands in silent thanksgiving. Then he rose in the beauty of his
tranquil and noble old age, so touched with the message he had to
proclaim to his people, that the three deep furrows on his forehead,
which some said he owed to the three dogmas of original sin,
predestination, and endless torment, seemed smoothed for the moment,
and his face was as that of an angel while lie spoke.
"Sisters and Brethren,--Rejoice with us, for we have found our lamb
which had strayed from the fold. This our daughter was dead and is
alive again; she was lost and is found. Myrtle Hazard, rescued from
great peril of the waters, and cared for by good Samaritans, is now
in her home. Thou, O Lord, who didst let the water-flood overflow
her, didst not let the deep swallow her up, nor the pit shut its
mouth upon her. Let us return our thanks to the God of Abraham, the
God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, who is our God and Father, and who
hath wrought this great deliverance."
After his prayer, which it tried him sorely to utter in unbroken
tones, he gave out the hymn,
"Lord, thou hast heard thy servant cry,
And rescued from the grave ";
but it was hardly begun when the leading female voice trembled and
stopped,--and another,--and then a third,--and Father Pemberton,
seeing that they were all overcome, arose and stretched out his arms,
and breathed over them his holy benediction.
The village was soon alive with the news. The sexton forgot the
solemnity of the Sabbath, and the bell acted as if it was crazy,
tumbling heels over head at such a rate, and with such a clamor, that
a good many thought there was a fire, and, rushing out from every
quarter, instantly caught the great news with which the air was
A few of the young men who had come back went even further in their
demonstrations. They got a small cannon in readiness, and without
waiting for the going down of the sun, began firing rapidly, upon
which the Rev. Mr. Stoker sallied forth to put a stop to this
violation of the Sabbath. But in the mean time it was heard on all
the hills, far and near. Some said they were firing in the hope of
raising the corpse; but many who heard the bells ringing their crazy
peals guessed what had happened. Before night the parties were all
in, one detachment bearing the body of the bob-tailed catamount swung
over a pole, like the mighty cluster of grapes from Eshcol, and
another conveying with wise precaution that monstrous snapping-turtle
which those of our friends who wish to see will find among the
specimens marked Chelydra, Serpentine in the great collection at
VEXED WITH A DEVIL.
It was necessary at once to summon a physician to advise as to the
treatment of Myrtle, who had received a shock, bodily and mental, not
lightly to be got rid of, and very probably to be followed by serious
and varied disturbances. Her very tranquillity was suspicious, for
there must be something of exhaustion in it, and the reaction must
come sooner or later.
Old Dr. Lemuel Hurlbut, at the age of ninety-two, very deaf, very
nearly blind, very feeble, liable to odd lapses of memory, was yet a
wise counsellor in doubtful and difficult cases, and on rare
occasions was still called upon to exercise his ancient skill. Here
was a case in which a few words from him might soothe the patient and
give confidence to all who were interested in her. Miss Silence
Withers went herself to see him.
"Miss Withers, father, wants to talk with you about her niece, Miss
Hazard," said Dr. Fordyce Hurlbut.
"Miss Withers, Miss Withers?--Oh, Silence Withers,--lives up at The
Poplars. How's the Deacon, Miss Withers?" [Ob. 1810.]
"My grandfather is not living, Dr. Hurlbut," she screamed into his
"Dead, is he? Well, it isn't long since he was with us; and they
come and go,--they come and go. I remember his father, Major Gideon
Withers. He had a great red feather on training-days,--that was what
made me remember him. Who did you say was sick and wanted to see me,
"Myrtle Hazard, father,--she has had a narrow escape from drowning,
and it has left her in a rather nervous state. They would like to
have you go up to The Poplars and take a look at her. You remember
Myrtle Hazard? She is the great-granddaughter of your old friend the
He had to wait a minute before his thoughts would come to order; with
a little time, the proper answer would be evolved by the slow
automatic movement of the rusted mental machinery.
After the silent moment: "Myrtle Hazard, Myrtle Hazard,--yes, yes, to
be sure! The old Withers stock,--good constitutions,--a little apt
to be nervous, one or two of 'em. I've given 'em a good deal of
valerian and assafoetida,--not quite so much since the new blood came
in. There is n't the change in folks people think,--same thing over
and over again. I've seen six fingers on a child that had a six-
fingered great-uncle, and I've seen that child's grandchild born with
six fingers. Does this girl like to have her own way pretty well,
like the rest of the family?"
"A little too well, I suspect, father. You will remember all about
her when you come to see her and talk with her. She would like to
talk with you, and her aunt wants to see you too; they think there's
nobody like the 'old Doctor'."
He was not too old to be pleased with this preference, and said he
was willing to go when they were ready. With no small labor of
preparation he was at last got to the house, and crept with his son's
aid up to the little room over the water, where his patient was still
There was a little too much color in Myrtle's cheeks and a glistening
lustre in her eyes that told of unnatural excitement. It gave a
strange brilliancy to her beauty, and might have deceived an
unpractised observer. The old man looked at her long and curiously,
his imperfect sight excusing the closeness of his scrutiny.
He laid his trembling hand upon her forehead, and then felt her pulse
with his shriveled fingers. He asked her various questions about
herself, which she answered with a tone not quite so calm as natural,
but willingly and intelligently. They thought she seemed to the old
Doctor to be doing very well, for he spoke cheerfully to her, and
treated her in such a way that neither she nor any of those around
her could be alarmed. The younger physician was disposed to think
she was only suffering from temporary excitement, and that it would
soon pass off.
They left the room to talk it over.
"It does not amount to much, I suppose, father," said Dr. Fordyce
Hurlbut. "You made the pulse about ninety,--a little hard,--did n't
you; as I did? Rest, and low diet for a day or two, and all will be
right, won't it?"
Was it the feeling of sympathy, or was it the pride of superior
sagacity, that changed the look of the old man's wrinkled features?
"Not so fast,--not so fast, Fordyce," he said. "I've seen that look
on another face of the same blood,--it 's a great many years ago, and
she was dead before you were born, my boy,--but I've seen that look,
and it meant trouble then, and I'm afraid it means trouble now. I
see some danger of a brain fever. And if she doesn't have that, then
look out for some hysteric fits that will make mischief. Take that
handkerchief off of her head, and cut her hair close, and keep her
temples cool, and put some drawing plasters to the soles of her feet,
and give her some of my pilulae compositae, and follow them with some
doses of sal polychrest. I've been through it all before--in that
same house. Live folks are only dead folks warmed over. I can see
'em all in that girl's face, Handsome Judith, to begin with. And
that queer woman, the Deacon's mother,--there 's where she gets that
hystericky look. Yes, and the black-eyed woman with the Indian blood
in her,--look out for that,--look out for that. And--and--my son, do
you remember Major Gideon Withers?" [Ob. 1780.]
"Why no, father, I can't say that I remember the Major; but I know
the picture very well. Does she remind you of him?"
He paused again, until the thoughts came slowly straggling, up to the
point where the question left him. He shook his head solemnly, and
turned his dim eyes on his son's face.
Four generations--four generations; man and wife,--yes, five
generations, for old Selah Withers took me in his arms when I was a
child, and called me 'little gal,' for I was in girl's clothes,--five
generations before this Hazard child I 've looked on with these old
eyes. And it seems to me that I can see something of almost every
one of 'em in this child's face, it's the forehead of this one, and
it's the eyes of that one, and it's that other's mouth, and the look
that I remember in another, and when she speaks, why, I've heard that
same voice before--yes, yes as long ago as when I was first married;
for I remember Rachel used to think I praised Handsome Judith's voice
more than it deserved,--and her face too, for that matter. You
remember Rachel, my first wife,--don't you, Fordyce?"
"No, father, I don't remember her, but I know her portrait." (As he
was the son of the old Doctor's second wife, he could hardly be
expected to remember her predecessor.)
The old Doctor's sagacity was not in fault about the somewhat
threatening aspect of Myrtle's condition. His directions were
followed implicitly; for with the exception of the fact of
sluggishness rather than loss of memory, and of that confusion of
dates which in slighter degrees is often felt as early as middle-
life, and increases in most persons from year to year, his mind was
still penetrating, and his advice almost as trustworthy, as in his
It was very fortunate that the old Doctor ordered Myrtle's hair to be
cut, and Miss Silence took the scissors and trimmed it at once. So,
whenever she got well and was seen about, there would be no mystery
about the loss of her locks,--the Doctor had been afraid of brain
fever, and ordered them to cut her hair.
Many things are uncertain in this world, and among them the effect of
a large proportion of the remedies prescribed by physicians. Whether
it was by the use of the means ordered by the old Doctor, or by the
efforts of nature, or by both together, at any rate the first danger
was averted, and the immediate risk from brain fever soon passed
over. But the impression upon her mind and body had been too
profound to be dissipated by a few days' rest. The hysteric stage
which the wise old man had apprehended began to manifest itself by
its usual signs, if anything can be called usual in a condition the
natural order of which is disorder and anomaly.
And now the reader, if such there be, who believes in the absolute
independence and self-determination of the will, and the consequent
total responsibility of every human being for every irregular nervous
action and ill-governed muscular contraction, may as well lay down
this narrative, or he may lose all faith in poor Myrtle Hazard, and
all patience with the writer who tells her story.
The mental excitement so long sustained, followed by a violent shock
to the system, coming just at the period of rapid development, gave
rise to that morbid condition, accompanied with a series of mental
and moral perversions, which in ignorant ages and communities is
attributed to the influence of evil spirits, but for the better-
instructed is the malady which they call hysteria. Few households
have ripened a growth of womanhood without witnessing some of its
manifestations, and its phenomena are largely traded in by scientific
pretenders and religious fanatics. Into this cloud, with all its
risks and all its humiliations, Myrtle Hazard is about to enter.
Will she pass through it unharmed, or wander from her path, and fall
over one of those fearful precipices which lie before her?
After the ancient physician had settled the general plan of
treatment, its details and practical application were left to the
care of his son. Dr. Fordyce Hurlbut was a widower, not yet forty
years old, a man of a fine masculine aspect and a vigorous nature.
He was a favorite with his female patients,--perhaps many of them
would have said because he was good-looking and pleasant in his
manners, but some thought in virtue of a special magnetic power to
which certain temperaments were impressible, though there was no
explaining it. But he himself never claimed any such personal gift,
and never attempted any of the exploits which some thought were in
his power if he chose to exercise his faculty in that direction.
This girl was, as it were, a child to him, for he had seen her grow
up from infancy, and had often held her on his knee in her early
years. The first thing he did was to get her a nurse, for he saw
that neither of the two women about her exercised a quieting
influence upon her nerves. So he got her old friend, Nurse Byloe, to
come and take care of her.
The old nurse looked calm enough at one or two of his first visits,
but the next morning her face showed that something had been going
wrong. "Well, what has been the trouble, Nurse?" the Doctor said, as
soon as he could get her out of the room.
"She's been attackted, Doctor, sence you been here, dreadful. It's
them high stirricks, Doctor, 'n' I never see 'em higher, nor more of
'em. Laughin' as ef she would bust. Cryin' as ef she'd lost all her
friends, 'n' was a follerin' their corpse to their graves. And
spassums,--sech spassums! And ketchin' at her throat, 'n' sayin'
there was a great ball a risin' into it from her stommick. One time
she had a kind o' lockjaw like. And one time she stretched herself
out 'n' laid jest as stiff as ef she was dead. And she says now that
her head feels as ef a nail had been driv' into it,--into the left
temple, she says, and that's what makes her look so distressed now."
The Doctor came once more to her bedside. He saw that her forehead
was contracted, and that she was evidently suffering from severe pain
"Where is your uneasiness, Myrtle?" he asked.
She moved her hand very slowly, and pressed it on her left temple.
He laid his hand upon the same spot, kept it there a moment, and then
removed it. She took it gently with her own, and placed it on her
temple again. As he sat watching her, he saw that her features were
growing easier, and in a short time her deep, even breathing showed
that she was asleep.
"It beats all," the old nurse said. "Why, she's been a complainin'
ever sence daylight, and she hain't slep' not a wink afore, sence
twelve o'clock las' night! It's j es' like them magnetizers,--I
never heerd you was one o' them kind, Dr. Hurlbut."
"I can't say how it is, Nurse,--I have heard people say my hand was
magnetic, but I never thought of its quieting her so quickly. No
sleep since twelve o'clock last night, you say?"
"Not a wink, 'n' actin' as ef she was possessed a good deal o' the
time. You read your Bible, Doctor, don't you? You're pious? Do you
remember about that woman in Scriptur' out of whom the Lord cast
seven devils? Well, I should ha' thought there was seventy devils in
that gal last night, from the way she carr'd on. And now she lays
there jest as peaceful as a new-born babe,--that is, accordin' to the
sayin' about 'em; for as to peaceful new-born babes, I never see one
that come t' anything, that did n't screech as ef the haouse was
afire 'n' it wanted to call all the fire-ingines within ten mild."
The Doctor smiled, but he became thoughtful in a moment. Did he
possess a hitherto unexercised personal power, which put the key of
this young girl's nervous system into his hands? The remarkable
tranquillizing effect of the contact of his hand with her forehead
looked like an immediate physical action.
It might have been a mere coincidence, however. He would not form an
opinion until his next visit.
At that next visit it did seem as if some of Nurse Byloe's seventy
devils had possession of the girl. All the strange spasmodic
movements, the chokings, the odd sounds, the wild talk, the laughing
and crying, were in full blast. All the remedies which had been
ordered seemed to have been of no avail. The Doctor could hardly
refuse trying his quasi magnetic influence, and placed the tips of
his fingers on her forehead. The result was the same that had
followed the similar proceeding the day before,--the storm was soon
calmed, and after a little time she fell into a quiet sleep, as in
the first instance.
Here was an awkward affair for the physician, to be sure! He held
this power in his hands, which no remedy and no other person seemed
to possess. How long would he be chained to her; and she to him, and
what would be the consequence of the mysterious relation which must
necessarily spring up between a man like him, in the plenitude of
vital force, of strongly attractive personality, and a young girl
organized for victory over the calmest blood and the steadiest
Every day after this made matters worse. There was something almost
partaking of the miraculous in the influence he was acquiring over
her. His "Peace, be still!" was obeyed by the stormy elements of
this young soul, as if it had been a supernatural command. How could
he resist the dictate of humanity which called him to make his visits
more frequent, that her intervals of rest might be more numerous?
How could he refuse to sit at her bedside for a while in the evening,
that she might be quieted, instead of beginning the night sleepless
The Doctor was a man of refined feeling as well as of principle, and
he had besides a sacred memory in the deepest heart of his
affections. It was the common belief in the village that he would
never marry again, but that his first and only love was buried in the
grave of the wife of his youth. It did not easily occur to him to
suspect himself of any weakness with regard to this patient of his,
little more than a child in years. It did not at once suggest itself
to him that she, in her strange, excited condition, might fasten her
wandering thoughts upon him, too far removed by his age, as it
seemed, to strike the fancy of a young girl under almost any
Thus it was that many of those beautiful summer evenings found him
sitting by his patient, the river rippling and singing beneath them,
the moon shining over them, sweet odors from the thickets on the
banks of the stream stealing in on the soft air that came through the
open window, and every time they were thus together, the subtile
influence which bound them to each other bringing them more and more
into inexplicable harmonies and almost spiritual identity.
But all this did not hinder the development of new and strange
conditions in Myrtle Hazard. Her will was losing its power. "I
cannot help it"--the hysteric motto--was her constant reply. It is
not pleasant to confess the truth, but she was rapidly undergoing a
singular change of her moral nature. She had been a truthful child.
If she had kept her secret about what she had found in the garret,
she thought she was exercising her rights, and she had never been
obliged to tell any lies about it.
But now she seemed to have lost the healthy instincts for veracity
and honesty. She feigned all sorts of odd symptoms, and showed a
wonderful degree of cunning in giving an appearance of truth to them.
It became next to impossible to tell what was real and what was
simulated. At one time she could not be touched ever so lightly
without shrinking and crying out. At another time she would squint,
and again she would be half paralyzed for a time. She would pretend
to fast for days, living on food she had concealed and took secretly
in the night.
The nurse was getting worn out. Kitty Fagan would have had the
priest come to the house and sprinkle it with holy water. The two
women were beginning to get nervous themselves. The Rev. Mr. Stoker
said in confidence to Miss Silence, that there was reason to fear she
might have been given over for a time to the buffetings of Satan, and
that perhaps his (Mr. Stoker's) personal attentions might be useful
in that case. And so it appeared that the "young doctor" was the
only being left with whom she had any complete relations and absolute
sympathy. She had become so passive in his hands that it seemed as
if her only healthy life was, as it were, transmitted through him,
and that she depended on the transfer of his nervous power, as the
plant upon the light for its essential living processes.
The two young men who had met in so unexpected a manner on board the
ship Swordfish had been reasonably discreet in relating their
adventures. Myrtle Hazard may or may not have had the plan they
attributed to her; however that was, they had looked rather foolish
when they met, and had not thought it worth while to be very
communicative about the matter when they returned. It had at least
given them a chance to become a little better acquainted with each
other, and it was an opportunity which the elder and more artful of
the two meant to turn to advantage.
Of all Myrtle's few friends only one was in the habit of seeing her
often during this period, namely, Olive Eveleth, a girl so quiet and
sensible that she, if anybody, could be trusted with her. But
Myrtle's whole character seemed to have changed, and Olive soon found
that she was in some mystic way absorbed into another nature. Except
when the physician's will was exerted upon her, she was drifting
without any self-directing power, and then any one of those manifold
impulses which would in some former ages have been counted as
separate manifestations on the part of distinct demoniacal beings
might take possession of her. Olive did little, therefore, but visit
Myrtle from time to time to learn if any change had occurred in her
condition. All this she reported to Cyprian, and all this was got
out of him by Mr. William Murray Bradshaw.
That gentleman was far from being pleased with the look of things as
they were represented. What if the Doctor, who was after all in the
prime of life and younger-looking than some who were born half a
dozen years after him, should get a hold on this young woman,--girl
now, if you will, but in a very few years certain to come within
possible, nay, not very improbable, matrimonial range of him? That
would be pleasant, wouldn't it? It had happened sometimes, as he
knew, that these magnetizing tricks had led to infatuation on the
part of the subjects of the wonderful influence. So he concluded to
be ill and consult the younger Dr. Hurlbut, and incidentally find out
how the land lay.
The next question was, what to be ill with. Some not ungentlemanly
malady, not hereditary, not incurable, not requiring any obvious
change in habits of life. Dyspepsia would answer the purpose well
enough: so Mr. Murray Bradshaw picked up a medical book and read ten
minutes or more for that complaint. At the end of this time he was
an accomplished dyspeptic; for lawyers half learn a thing quicker
than the members of any other profession.
He presented himself with a somewhat forlorn countenance to Dr.
Fordyce Hurlbut, as suffering from some of the less formidable
symptoms of that affection. He got into a very interesting
conversation with him, especially about some nervous feelings which
had accompanied his attack of indigestion. Thence to nervous
complaints in general. Thence to the case of the young lady at The
Poplars whom he was attending. The Doctor talked with a certain
reserve, as became his professional relations with his patient; but
it was plain enough that, if this kind of intercourse went on much
longer, it would be liable to end in some emotional explosion or
other, and there was no saying how it would at last turn out.
Murray Bradshaw was afraid to meddle directly. He knew something
more about the history of Myrtle's adventure than any of his
neighbors, and, among other things, that it had given Mr. Byles
Gridley a peculiar interest in her, of which he could take advantage.
He therefore artfully hinted his fears to the old man, and left his
hint to work itself out.
However suspicious Master Gridley was of him and his motives, he
thought it worth while to call up at The Poplars and inquire for
himself of the nurse what was this new relation growing up between
the physician and his young patient.
She imparted her opinion to him in a private conversation with great
freedom. "Sech doin's! sech doin's! The gal's jest as much
bewitched as ever any gal was sence them that was possessed in
Scriptur'. And every day it 's wus and wus. Ef that Doctor don't
stop comin', she won't breathe without his helpin' her to before
long. And, Mr. Gridley, I don't like to say so,--but I can't help
thinkin' he's gettin' a little bewitched too. I don't believe he
means to take no kind of advantage of her; but, Mr. Gridley, you've
seen them millers fly round and round a candle, and you know how it
ginerally comes out. Men is men and gals is gals. I would n't trust
no man, not ef he was much under a hundred year old,--and as for a
"Mulieri ne mortuae quidem credendum est," said Mr. Gridley. "You
wouldn't trust a woman even if she was dead, hey, Nurse?"
"Not till she was buried, 'n' the grass growin' a foot high over
her," said Nurse Byloe, "unless I'd know'd her sence she was a baby.
I've know'd this one sence she was two or three year old; but this
gal ain't Myrtle Hazard no longer,--she's bewitched into somethin'
different. I'll tell ye what, Mr. Gridley; you get old Dr. Hurlbut
to come and see her once a day for a week, and get the young doctor
to stay away. I'll resk it. She 'll have some dreadful tantrums at
fust, but she'll come to it in two or three, days."
Master Byles Gridley groaned in spirit. He had come to this village
to end his days in peace, and here he was just going to make a martyr
of himself for the sake of a young person to whom he was under no
obligation, except that he had saved her from the consequences of her
own foolish act, at the expense of a great overturn of all his
domestic habits. There was no help for it. The nurse was right, and
he must perform the disagreeable duty of letting the Doctor know that
he was getting into a track which might very probably lead to
mischief, and that he must back out as fast as he could.
At 2 P. M. Gifted Hopkins presented the following note at the
"Mr. Byles Gridley would be much obliged to Dr. Fordyce Hurlbut if he
would call at his study this evening."
"Odd, is n't it, father, the old man's asking me to come and see him?
Those old stub-twist constitutions never want patching."
"Old man! old man! Who's that you call old,--not Byles Gridley,
hey? Old! old! Sixty year, more or less! How old was Floyer when
he died, Fordyce? Ninety-odd, was n't it? Had the asthma though, or
he'd have lived to be as old as Dr. Holyoke,--a hundred year and
over. That's old. But men live to be a good deal more than that
sometimes. What does Byles Gridley want of you, did you say?"
"I'm sure I can't tell, father; I'll go and find out." So he went
over to Mrs. Hopkins's in the evening, and was shown up into the
Master Gridley treated the Doctor to a cup of such tea as bachelors
sometimes keep hid away in mysterious caddies. He presently began
asking certain questions about the grand climacteric, which eventful
period of life he was fast approaching. Then he discoursed of
medicine, ancient and modern, tasking the Doctor's knowledge not a
little, and evincing a good deal of acquaintance with old doctrines
He had a few curious old medical books in his library, which he said
he should like to show Dr. Hurlbut.
"There, now! What do you say to this copy of Joannes de Ketam,
Venice, 1522? Look at these woodcuts,--the first anatomical pictures
ever printed, Doctor, unless these others of Jacobus Berengarius are
older! See this scene of the plague-patient, the doctor smelling at
his pouncet-box, the old nurse standing square at the bedside, the
young nurse with the bowl, holding back and turning her head away,
and the old burial-hag behind her, shoving her forward, a very
curious book, Doctor, and has the first phrenological picture in it
ever made. Take a look, too, at my Vesalius,--not the Leyden
edition, Doctor, but the one with the grand old original figures,--so
good that they laid them to Titian. And look here, Doctor, I could
n't help getting this great folio Albinus, 1747,--and the nineteenth
century can't touch it, Doctor,--can't touch it for completeness and
magnificence, so all the learned professors tell me! Brave old
fellows, Doctor, and put their lives into their books as you
gentlemen don't pretend to do nowadays. And good old fellows,
Doctor,--high-minded, scrupulous, conscientious, punctilious,--
remembered their duties to man and to woman, and felt all the
responsibilities of their confidential relation to families. Did you
ever read the oldest of medical documents,--the Oath of Hippocrates?"
The Doctor thought he had read it, but did not remember much about
"It 's worth reading, Doctor,--it's worth remembering; and, old as it
is, it is just as good to-day as it was when it was laid down as a
rule of conduct four hundred years before the Sermon on the Mount was
delivered. Let me read it to you, Dr. Hurlbut."
There was something in Master Gridley's look that made the Doctor
feel a little nervous; he did not know just what was coming.
Master Gridley took out his great Hippocrates, the edition of
Foesius, and opened to the place. He turned so as to face the
Doctor, and read the famous Oath aloud, Englishing it as he went
along. When he came to these words which follow, he pronounced them
very slowly and with special emphasis.
"My life shall be pure and holy."
"Into whatever house I enter, I will go for the good of the patient:
"I will abstain from inflicting any voluntary injury, and from
leading away any, whether man or woman, bond or free."
The Doctor changed color as he listened, and the moisture broke out
on his forehead.
Master Gridley saw it, and followed up his advantage. "Dr. Fordyce
Hurlbut, are you not in danger of violating the sanctities of your
honorable calling, and leading astray a young person committed to
your sacred keeping?"
While saying these words, Master Gridley looked full upon him, with a
face so charged with grave meaning, so impressed with the gravity of
his warning accents, that the Doctor felt as if he were before some
dread tribunal, and remained silent. He was a member of the Rev. Mr.
Stoker's church, and the words he had just listened to were those of
a sinful old heathen who had never heard a sermon in his life; but
they stung him, for all that, as the parable of the prophet stung the
He spoke at length, for the plain honest words had touched the right
spring of consciousness at the right moment; not too early, for he
now saw whither he was tending,--not too late, for he was not yet in
the inner spirals of the passion which whirls men and women to their
doom in ever-narrowing coils, that will not unwind at the command of
God or man.
He spoke as one who is humbled by self-accusation, yet in a manly
way, as became his honorable and truthful character.
"Master Gridley," he said, "I stand convicted before you. I know too
well what you are thinking of. It is true, I cannot continue my
attendance on Myrtle--on Miss Hazard, for you mean her--without peril
to both of us. She is not herself. God forbid that I should cease
to be myself! I have been thinking of a summer tour, and I will at
once set out upon it, and leave this patient in my father's hands. I
think he will find strength to visit her under the circmnstances."
The Doctor went off the next morning without saying a word to Myrtle
Hazard, and his father made the customary visit in his place.
That night the spirit tare her, as may well be supposed, and so the
second night. But there was no help for it: her doctor was gone,
and the old physician, with great effort, came instead, sat by her,
spoke kindly to her, left wise directions to her attendants, and
above all assured them that, if they would have a little patience,
they would see all this storm blow over.
On the third night after his visit, the spirit rent her sore, and
came out of her, or, in the phrase of to-day, she had a fierce
paroxysm, after which the violence of the conflict ceased, and she
might be called convalescent so far as that was concerned.
But all this series of nervous disturbances left her in a very
impressible and excitable condition. This was just the state to
invite the spiritual manipulations of one of those theological
practitioners who consider that the treatment of all morbid states of
mind short of raving madness belongs to them and not to the doctors.
This same condition was equally favorable for the operations of any
professional experimenter who would use the flame of religious
excitement to light the torch of an earthly passion. So many fingers
that begin on the black keys stray to the white ones before the tune
is played out!
If Myrtle Hazard was in charge of any angelic guardian, the time was
at hand when she would need all celestial influences; for the Rev.
Joseph Bellamy Stoker was about to take a deep interest in her
"So the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker has called upon you, Susan Posey,
has he? And wants you to come and talk religion with him in his
study, Susan Posey, does he? Religion is a good thing, my dear, the
best thing in the world, and never better than when we are young, and
no young people need it more than young girls. There are temptations
to all, and to them as often as to any, Susan Posey. And temptations
come to them in places where they don't look for them, and from
persons they never thought of as tempters. So I am very glad to have
your thoughts called to the subject of religion. 'Remember thy
Creator in the days of thy youth.'
"But Susan Posey, my dear, I think you hard better not break in upon
the pious meditations of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker in his
private study. A monk's cell and a minister's library are hardly the
places for young ladies. They distract the attention of these good
men from their devotions and their sermons. If you think you must
go, you had better take Mrs. Hopkins with you. She likes religious
conversation, and it will do her good too, and save a great deal of
time for the minister, conversing with two at once. She is of
discreet age, and will tell you when it is time to come away,--you
might stay too long, you know. I've known young persons stay a good
deal too long at these interviews,--a great deal too long, Susan
Such was the fatherly counsel of Master Byles Gridley.
Susan was not very quick of apprehension, but she could not help
seeing the justice of Master Gridley's remark, that for a young
person to go and break in on the hours that a minister requires for
his studies, without being accompanied by a mature friend who would
remind her when it was time to go, would be taking an unfair
advantage of his kindness in asking her to call upon him. She
promised, therefore, that she would never go without having Mrs.
Hopkins as her companion, and with this assurance her old friend
It is altogether likely that he had some deeper reason for his advice
than those with which he satisfied the simple nature of Susan Posey.
Of that it will be easier to judge after a glance at the conditions
and character of the minister and his household.
The Rev. Mr. Stoker had, in addition to the personal advantages
already alluded to, some other qualities which might prove attractive
to many women. He had, in particular, that art of sliding into easy
intimacy with them which implies some knowledge of the female nature,
and, above all, confidence in one's powers. There was little doubt,
the gossips maintained, that many of the younger women of his parish
would have been willing, in certain contingencies, to lift for him
that other end of his yoke under which poor Mrs. Stoker was fainting,
unequal to the burden.
That lady must have been some years older than her husband,--how many
we need not inquire too curiously,--but in vitality she had long
passed the prime in which he was still flourishing. She had borne
him five children, and cried her eyes hollow over the graves of three
of them. Household cares had dragged upon her; the routine of
village life wearied her; the parishioners expected too much of her
as the minister's wife; she had wanted more fresh air and more
cheerful companionship; and her thoughts had fed too much on death
and sin,--good bitter tonics to increase the appetite for virtue, but
not good as food and drink for the spirit.
But there was another grief which lay hidden far beneath these
obvious depressing influences. She felt that she was no longer to
her husband what she had been to him, and felt it with something of
self-reproach,--which was a wrong to herself, for she had been a true
and tender wife. Deeper than all the rest was still another feeling,
which had hardly risen into the region of inwardly articulated
thought, but lay unshaped beneath all the syllabled trains of
sleeping or waking consciousness.
The minister was often consulted by his parishioners upon spiritual
matters, and was in the habit of receiving in his study visitors who
came with such intent. Sometimes it was old weak-eyed Deacon
Rumrill, in great iron-bowed spectacles, with hanging nether lip and
tremulous voice, who had got his brain onto a muddle about the beast
with two horns, or the woman that fled into the wilderness, or other
points not settled to his mind in Scott's Commentary. The minister
was always very busy at such times, and made short work of his
deacon's doubts. Or it might be that an ancient woman, a mother or a
grandmother in Israel, came with her questions and her perplexities
to her pastor; and it was pretty certain that just at that moment he
was very deep in his next sermon, or had a pressing visit to make.
But it would also happen occasionally that one of the tenderer ewe-
lambs of the flock needed comfort from the presence of the shepherd.
Poor Mrs. Stoker noticed, or thought she noticed, that the good man
had more leisure for the youthful and blooming sister than for the
more discreet and venerable matron or spinster. The sitting was apt
to be longer; and the worthy pastor would often linger awhile about
the door, to speed the parting guest, perhaps, but a little too much
after the fashion of young people who are not displeased with each
other, and who often find it as hard to cross a threshold single as a
witch finds it to get over a running stream. More than once, the
pallid, faded wife had made an errand to the study, and, after a keen
look at the bright young cheeks, flushed with the excitement of
intimate spiritual communion, had gone back to her chamber with her
hand pressed against her heart, and the bitterness of death in her
The end of all these bodily and mental trials was, that the
minister's wife had fallen into a state of habitual invalidism, such
as only women, who feel all the nerves which in men are as insensible
as telegraph-wires, can experience.
The doctor did not know what to make of her case,--whether she would
live or die,--whether she would languish for years, or, all at once,
roused by some strong impression, or in obedience to some unexplained
movement of the vital forces, take up her bed and walk. For her bed
had become her home, where she lived as if it belonged to her
organism. There she lay, a not unpleasing invalid to contemplate,
always looking resigned, patient, serene, except when the one deeper
grief was stirred, always arrayed with simple neatness, and
surrounded with little tokens that showed the constant presence with
her of tasteful and thoughtful affection. She did not know, nobody
could know, how steadily, how silently all this artificial life was
draining the veins and blanching the cheek of her daughter Bathsheba,
one of the everyday, air-breathing angels without nimbus or aureole
who belong to every story which lets us into a few households, as
much as the stars and the flowers belong to everybody's verses.
Bathsheba's devotion to her mother brought its own reward, but it was
not in the shape of outward commendation. Some of the more
censorious members of her father's congregation were severe in their
remarks upon her absorption in the supreme object of her care. It
seems that this had prevented her from attending to other duties
which they considered more imperative. They did n't see why she
shouldn't keep a Sabbath-school as well as the rest, and as to her
not comin' to meetin' three times on Sabbath day like other folks,
they couldn't account for it, except because she calculated that she
could get along without the means of grace, bein' a minister's
daughter. Some went so far as to doubt if she had ever experienced
religion, for all she was a professor. There was a good many
indulged a false hope. To this, others objected her life of utter
self-denial and entire surrender to her duties towards her mother as
some evidence of Christian character. But old Deacon Rumrill put
down that heresy by showing conclusively from Scott's Commentary on
Romans xi. 1-6, that this was altogether against her chance of being
called, and that the better her disposition to perform good works,
the more unlikely she was to be the subject of saving grace. Some of
these severe critics were good people enough themselves, but they
loved active work and stirring companionship, and would have found
their real cross if they had been called to sit at an invalid's
As for the Rev. Mr. Stoker, his duties did not allow him to give so
much time to his suffering wife as his feelings would undoubtedly
have prompted. He therefore relinquished the care of her (with great
reluctance we may naturally suppose) to Bathsheba, who had inherited
not only her mother's youthful smile, but that self-forgetfulness
which, born with some of God's creatures, is, if not "grace," at
least a manifestation of native depravity which might well be
mistaken for it.
The intimacy of mother and daughter was complete, except on a single
point. There was one subject on which no word ever passed between
them. The excuse of duties to others was by a tacit understanding a
mantle to cover all short-comings in the way of attention from the
husband and father, and no word ever passed between them implying a
suspicion of the loyalty of his affections. Bathsheba came at last
so to fill with her tenderness the space left empty in the neglected
heart, that her mother only spoke her habitual feeling when she said,
"I should think you were in love with me, my darling, if you were not
This was a dangerous state of things for the minister. Strange
suggestions and unsafe speculations began to mingle with his dreams
and reveries. The thought once admitted that another's life is
becoming superfluous and a burden, feeds like a ravenous vulture on
the soul. Woe to the man or woman whose days are passed in watching
the hour-glass through which the sands run too slowly for longings
that are like a skulking procession of bloodless murders! Without
affirming such horrors of the Rev. Mr. Stoker, it would not be
libellous to say that his fancy was tampering with future
possibilities, as it constantly happens with those who are getting
themselves into training for some act of folly, or some crime, it may
be, which will in its own time evolve itself as an idea in the
consciousness, and by and by ripen into fact.
It must not be taken for granted that he was actually on the road to
some fearful deed, or that he was an utterly lost soul. He was ready
to yield to temptation if it came in his way; he would even court it,
but he did not shape out any plan very definitely in his mind, as a
more desperate sinner would have done. He liked the pleasurable
excitement of emotional relations with his pretty lambs, and enjoyed
it under the name of religious communion. There is a border land
where one can stand on the territory of legitimate instincts and
affections, and yet be so near, the pleasant garden of the Adversary,
that his dangerous fruits and flowers are within easy reach. Once
tasted, the next step is like to be the scaling of the wall. The
Rev. Mr. Stoker was very fond of this border land. His imagination
was wandering over it too often when his pen was travelling almost of
itself along the weary parallels of the page before him. All at once
a blinding flash would come over him the lines of his sermon would
run together, the fresh manuscript would shrivel like a dead leaf,
and the rows of hard-hearted theology on the shelves before him, and
the broken-backed Concordance, and the Holy Book itself, would fade
away as he gave himself up to the enchantment of his delirious dream.
The reader will probably consider it a discreet arrangement that
pretty Susan Posey should seek her pastor in grave company. Mrs.
Hopkins willingly consented to the arrangement which had been
proposed, and agreed to go with the young lady on her visit to the
Rev. Mr. Stoker's study. They were both arrayed in their field-day
splendors on this occasion. Susan was lovely in her light curls and
blue ribbons, and the becoming dress which could not help betraying
the modestly emphasized crescendos and gently graded diminuendos of
her figure. She was as round as if she had been turned in a lathe,
and as delicately finished as if she had been modelled for a Flora.
She had naturally an airy toss of the head and a springy movement of
the joints, such as some girls study in the glass (and make dreadful
work of it), so that she danced all over without knowing it, like a
little lively bobolink on a bulrush. In short, she looked fit to
spoil a homily for Saint Anthony himself.
Mrs. Hopkins was not less perfect in her somewhat different style.
She might be called impressive and imposing in her grand-costume,
which she wore for this visit. It was a black silk dress, with a
crape shawl, a firmly defensive bonnet, and an alpaca umbrella with
a stern-looking and decided knob presiding as its handle. The dried-
leaf rustle of her silk dress was suggestive of the ripe autumn of
life, bringing with it those golden fruits of wisdom and experience
which the grave teachers of mankind so justly prefer to the idle
blossoms of adolescence.
It is needless to say that the visit was conducted with the most
perfect propriety in all respects. Mrs. Hopkins was disposed to take
upon herself a large share of the conversation. The minister, on the
other hand, would have devoted himself more particularly to Miss
Susan, but, with a very natural make-believe obtuseness, the good
woman drew his fire so constantly that few of his remarks, and hardly
any of his insinuating looks, reached the tender object at which they
were aimed. It is probable that his features or tones betrayed some
impatience at having thus been foiled of his purpose, for Mrs.
Hopkins thought he looked all the time as if he wanted to get rid of
her. The three parted, therefore, not in the best humor all round.
Mrs. Hopkins declared she'd see the minister in Jericho before she'd
fix herself up as if she was goin' to a weddin' to go and see him
again. Why, he did n't make any more of her than if she'd been a
tabby-cat. She believed some of these ministers thought women's
souls dried up like peas in a pod by the time they was forty year
old; anyhow, they did n't seem to care any great about 'em, except
while they was green and tender. It was all Miss Se-usan, Miss Se-
usan, Miss Se-usan, my dear! but as for her, she might jest as well
have gone with her apron on, for any notice he took of her. She did
n't care, she was n't goin' to be left out when there was talkin'
goin' on, anyhow.
Susan Posey, on her part, said she did n't like him a bit. He looked
so sweet at her, and held his head on one side,--law! just as if he
had been a young beau! And,--don't tell,--but he whispered that he
wished the next time I came I wouldn't bring that Hopkins woman!
It would not be fair to repeat what the minister said to himself; but
we may own as much as this, that, if worthy Mrs. Hopkins had heard
it, she would have treated him to a string of adjectives which would
have greatly enlarged his conceptions of the female vocabulary.
In tracing the history of a human soul through its commonplace
nervous perturbations, still more through its spiritual humiliations,
there is danger that we shall feel a certain contempt for the subject
of such weakness. It is easy to laugh at the erring impulses of a
young girl; but you who remember when_______ _________, only fifteen
years old, untouched by passion, unsullied in name, was found in the
shallow brook where she had sternly and surely sought her death,--
(too true! too true!--ejus animae Jesu miserere!--but a generation
has passed since then,)--will not smile so scornfully.
Myrtle Hazard no longer required the physician's visits, but her mind
was very far from being poised in the just balance of its faculties.
She was of a good natural constitution and a fine temperament; but
she had been overwrought by all that she had passed through, and,
though happening to have been born in another land, she was of
American descent. Now, it has long been noticed that there is
something in the influences, climatic or other, here prevailing,
which predisposes to morbid religious excitement. The graver reader
will not object to seeing the exact statement of a competent witness
belonging to a by-gone century, confirmed as it is by all that we see
"There is no Experienced Minister of the Gospel who hath not in the
Cases of Tempted Souls often had this Experience, that the ill Cases
of their distempered Bodies are the frequent Occasion and Original of
their Temptations." "The Vitiated Humours in many Persons, yield the
Steams whereinto Satan does insinuate himself, till he has gained a
sort of Possession in them, or at least an Opportunity to shoot into
the Mind as many Fiery Darts as may cause a sad Life unto them; yea,
't is well if Self-Murder be not the sad end into which these hurred
(?) People are thus precipitated. New England, a country where
Splenetic Maladies are prevailing and pernicious, perhaps above any
other, hath afforded Numberless Instances, of even pious People, who
have contracted these Melancholy Indispositions which have unhinged
them from all Service or Comfort; yea, not a few Persons have been
hurried thereby to lay Violent Hands upon themselves at the last.
These are among the unsearchable Judgments of God!"
Such are the words of the Rev. Cotton Mather.
The minister had hardly recovered from his vexatious defeat in the
skirmish where the Widow Hopkins was his principal opponent, when he
received a note from Miss Silence Withers, which promised another and
more important field of conflict. It contained a request that he
would visit Myrtle Hazard, who seemed to be in a very excitable and
impressible condition, and who might perhaps be easily brought under
those influences which she had resisted from her early years, through
inborn perversity of character.
When the Rev. Mr. Stoker received this note, he turned very pale,--
which was a bad sign. Then he drew a long breath or two, and
presently a flush tingled up to his cheek, where it remained a fixed
burning glow. This may have been from the deep interest he felt in
Myrtle's spiritual welfare; but he had often been sent for by aged
sinners in more immediate peril, apparently, without any such
disturbance of the circulation.
To know whether a minister, young or still in flower; is in safe or
dangerous paths, there are two psychometers, a comparison between
which will give as infallible a return as the dry and wet bulbs of
the ingenious "Hygrodeik." The first is the black broadcloth forming
the knees of his pantaloons; the second, the patch of carpet before
his mirror. If the first is unworn and the second is frayed and
threadbare, pray for him. If the first is worn and shiny, while the
second keeps its pattern and texture, get him to pray for you.
The Rev. Mr. Stoker should have gone down on his knees then and
there, and sought fervently for the grace which he was like to need
in the dangerous path just opening before him. He did not do this;
but he stood up before his looking-glass and parted his hair as
carefully as if he had been separating the saints of his congregation
from the sinners, to send the list to the statistical columns of a
religious newspaper. He selected a professional neckcloth, as
spotlessly pure as if it had been washed in innocency, and adjusted
it in a tie which was like the white rose of Sharon. Myrtle Hazard
was, he thought, on the whole, the handsomest girl he had ever seen;
Susan Posey was to her as a buttercup from the meadow is to a tiger-
lily. He, knew the nature of the nervous disturbances through which
she had been passing, and that she must be in a singularly
impressible condition. He felt sure that he could establish intimate
spiritual relations with her by drawing out her repressed sympathies,
by feeding the fires of her religious imagination, by exercising all
those lesser arts of fascination which are so familiar to the Don
Giovannis, and not always unknown to the San Giovannis.
As for the hard doctrines which he used to produce sensations with in
the pulpit, it would have been a great pity to worry so lovely a
girl, in such a nervous state, with them. He remembered a savory
text about being made all things to all men, which would bear
application particularly well to the case of this young woman. He
knew how to weaken his divinity, on occasion, as well as an old
housewife to weaken her tea, lest it should keep people awake.
The Rev. Mr. Stoker was a man of emotions. He loved to feel his
heart beat; he loved all the forms of non-alcoholic drunkenness,
which are so much better than the vinous, because they taste
themselves so keenly, whereas the other (according to the statement
of experts who are familiar with its curious phenomena) has a certain
sense of unreality connected with it. He delighted in the reflex
stimulus of the excitement he produced in others by working on their
feelings. A powerful preacher is open to the same sense of
enjoyment--an awful, tremulous, goose-flesh sort of state, but still
enjoyment--that a great tragedian feels when he curdles the blood of
Mr. Stoker was noted for the vividness of his descriptions of the
future which was in store for the great bulk of his fellow-townsmen
and fellow-worlds-men. He had three sermons on this subject, known
to all the country round as the sweating sermon, the fainting sermon,
and the convulsion-fit sermon, from the various effects said to have
been produced by them when delivered before large audiences. It
might be supposed that his reputation as a terrorist would have
interfered with his attempts to ingratiate himself with his young
favorites. But the tragedian who is fearful as Richard or as Iago
finds that no hindrance to his success in the part of Romeo. Indeed,
women rather take to terrible people; prize-fighters, pirates,
highwaymen, rebel generals, Grand Turks, and Bluebeards generally
have a fascination for the sex; your virgin has a natural instinct to
saddle your lion. The fact, therefore, that the young girl had sat
under his tremendous pulpitings, through the sweating sermon, the
fainting sermon, and the convulsion-fit sermon, did not secure her
against the influence of his milder approaches.
Myrtle was naturally surprised at receiving a visit from him; but she
was in just that unbalanced state in which almost any impression is
welcome. He showed so much interest, first in her health, then in
her thoughts and feelings, always following her lead in the
conversation, that before he left her she felt as if she had made a
great discovery; namely, that this man, so formidable behind the guns
of his wooden bastion, was a most tenderhearted and sympathizing
person when he came out of it unarmed. How delightful he was as he
sat talking in the twilight in low and tender tones, with respectful
pauses of listening, in which he looked as if he too had just made a
discovery,--of an angel, to wit, to whom he could not help unbosoming
his tenderest emotions, as to a being from another sphere!
It was a new experience to Myrtle. She was all ready for the
spiritual manipulations of an expert. The excitability which had
been showing itself in spasms and strange paroxysms had been
transferred to those nervous centres, whatever they may be, cerebral
or ganglionic, which are concerned in the emotional movements of the
religious nature. It was taking her at an unfair disadvantage, no
doubt. In the old communion, some priest might have wrought upon her
while in this condition, and we might have had at this very moment
among us another Saint Theresa or Jacqueline Pascal. She found but a
dangerous substitute in the spiritual companionship of a saint like
the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker.
People think the confessional is unknown in our Protestant churches.
It is a great mistake. The principal change is, that there is no
screen between the penitent and the father confessor. The minister
knew his rights, and very soon asserted them. He gave aunt Silence
to understand that he could talk more at ease if he and his young
disciple were left alone together. Cynthia Badlam did not like this
arrangement. She was afraid to speak about it; but she glared at
them aslant, with the look of a biting horse when his eyes follow one
sideways until they are all white but one little vicious spark of
It was not very long before the Rev. Mr. Stoker had established
pretty intimate relations with the household at The Poplars. He had
reason to think, he assured Miss Silence, that Myrtle was in a state
of mind which promised a complete transformation of her character.
He used the phrases of his sect, of course, in talking with the
elderly lady; but the language which he employed with the young girl
was free from those mechanical expressions which would have been like
to offend or disgust her.
As to his rougher formulae, he knew better than to apply them to a
creature of her fine texture. If he had been disposed to do so, her
simple questions and answers to his inquiries would have made it
difficult. But it was in her bright and beautiful eyes, in her
handsome features, and her winning voice, that he found his chief
obstacle. How could he look upon her face in its loveliness, and
talk to her as if she must be under the wrath and curse of God for
the mere fact of her existence? It seemed more natural and it
certainly was more entertaining, to question her in such a way as to
find out what kind of theology had grown up in her mind as the result
of her training in the complex scheme of his doctrinal school. And
as he knew that the merest child, so soon as it begins to think at
all, works out for itself something like a theory of human nature, he
pretty soon began sounding Myrtle's thoughts on this matter.
What was her own idea; he would be pleased to know, about her natural
condition as one born of a sinful race, and her inherited liabilities
on that account?
Myrtle smiled like a little heathen, as she was, according to the
standard of her earlier teachings. That kind of talk used to worry
her when she was a child, sometimes. Yes, she remembered its coming
back to her in a dream she had, when--when--(She did not finish her
sentence.) Did he think she hated every kind of goodness and loved
every kind of evil? Did he think she was hateful to the Being who
The minister looked straight into the bright, brave, tender eyes, and
answered, "Nothing in heaven or on earth could help loving you,
Pretty well for a beginning!
Myrtle saw nothing but pious fervor in this florid sentiment. But as
she was honest and clear-sighted, she could not accept a statement
which seemed so plainly in contradiction with his common teachings,
without bringing his flattering assertion to the test of another
Did he suppose, she asked, that any persons could be Christians, who
could not tell the day or the year of their change from children of
darkness to children of light.
The shrewd clergyman, whose creed could be lax enough on occasion,
had provided himself with authorities of all kinds to meet these
awkward questions in casuistical divinity. He had hunted up recipes
for spiritual neuralgia, spasms, indigestion, psora, hypochondriasis,
just as doctors do for their bodily counterparts.
To be sure they could. Why, what did the great Richard Baxter say in
his book on Infant Baptism? That at a meeting of many eminent
Christians, some of them very famous ministers, when it was desired
that every one should give an account of the time and manner of his
conversion, there was but one of them all could do it. And as for
himself, Mr. Baxter said, he could not remember the day or the year
when he began to be sincere, as he called it. Why, did n't President
Wheelock say to a young man who consulted him, that some persons
might be true Christians without suspecting it?
All this was so very different from the uncompromising way in which
religious doctrines used to be presented to the young girl from the
pulpit, that it naturally opened her heart and warmed her affections.
Remember, if she needs excuse, that the defeated instincts of a
strong nature were rushing in upon her, clamorous for their rights,
and that she was not yet mature enough to understand and manage them.
The paths of love and religion are at the fork of a road which every
maiden travels. If some young hand does not open the turnpike gate
of the first, she is pretty sure to try the other, which has no toll-
bar. It is also very commonly noticed that these two paths, after
diverging awhile, run into each other. True love leads many
wandering souls into the better way. Nor is it rare to see those who
started in company for the gates of pearl seated together on the
banks that border the avenue to that other portal, gathering the
roses for which it is so famous.
It was with the most curious interest that the minister listened to
the various heresies into which her reflections had led her. Somehow
or other they did not sound so dangerous coming from her lips as when
they were uttered by the coarser people of the less rigorous
denominations, or preached in the sermons of heretical clergymen. He
found it impossible to think of her in connection with those
denunciations of sinners for which his discourses had been noted.
Some of the sharp old church-members began to complain that his
exhortations were losing their pungency. The truth was, he was
preaching for Myrtle Hazard. He was getting bewitched and driven
beside himself by the intoxication of his relations with her.
All this time she was utterly unconscious of any charm that she was
exercising, or of being herself subject to any personal fascination.
She loved to read the books of ecstatic contemplation which he
furnished her. She loved to sing the languishing hymns which he
selected for her. She loved to listen to his devotional rhapsodies,
hardly knowing sometimes whether she were in the body, or out of the
body, while he lifted her upon the wings of his passion-kindled
rhetoric. The time came when she had learned to listen for his step,
when her eyes glistened at meeting him, when the words he uttered
were treasured as from something more than a common mortal, and the
book he had touched was like a saintly relic. It never suggested
itself to her for an instant that this was anything more than such a
friendship as Mercy might have cultivated with Great-Heart. She gave
her confidence simply because she was very young and innocent. The
green tendrils of the growing vine must wind round something.
The seasons had been changing their scenery while the events we have
told were occurring, and the loveliest days of autumn were now
shining. To those who know the "Indian summer" of our Northern
States, it is needless to describe the influence it exerts on the
senses and the soul. The stillness of the landscape in that
beautiful time is as if the planet were sleeping, like a top, before
it begins to rock with the storms of autumn. All natures seem to
find themselves more truly in its light; love grows more tender,
religion more spiritual, memory sees farther back into the past,
grief revisits its mossy marbles, the poet harvests the ripe thoughts
which he will tie in sheaves of verses by his winter fireside.
The minister had got into the way of taking frequent walks with
Myrtle, whose health had seemed to require the open air, and who was
fast regaining her natural look. Under the canopy of the scarlet,
orange, and crimson leaved maples, of the purple and violet clad
oaks, of the birches in their robes of sunshine, and the beeches in
their clinging drapery of sober brown, they walked together while he
discoursed of the joys of heaven, the sweet communion of kindred
souls, the ineffable bliss of a world where love would be immortal
and beauty should never know decay. And while she listened, the
strange light of the leaves irradiated the youthful figure of Myrtle,
as when the stained window let in its colors on Madeline, the rose-
bloom and the amethyst and the glory.
"Yes! we shall be angels together," exclaimed the Rev. Mr. Stoker.
"Our souls were made for immortal union. I know it; I feel it in
every throb of my heart. Even in this world you are as an angel to
me, lifting me into the heaven where I shall meet you again, or it
will not be heaven. Oh, if on earth our communion could have been
such as it must be hereafter! O Myrtle, Myrtle!"
He stretched out his hands as if to clasp hers between them in the
rapture of his devotion. Was it the light reflected from the glossy
leaves of the poison sumach which overhung the path that made his
cheek look so pale? Was he going to kneel to her?
Myrtle turned her dark eyes on him with a simple wonder that saw an
excess of saintly ardor in these demonstrations, and drew back from
"I think of heaven always as the place where I shall meet my mother,"
she said calmly.
These words recalled the man to himself for a moment and he was
silent. Presently he seated himself on a stone. His lips were
tremulous as he said, in a low tone, "Sit down by me, Myrtle."
"No," she answered, with something which chilled him in her voice,"
we will not stay here any longer; it is time to go home."
"Full time!" muttered Cynthia Badlam, whose watchful eyes had been
upon them, peering through a screen of yellow leaves, that turned her
face pace as if with deadly passion.
Miss Cynthia Badlam was in the habit of occasionally visiting the
Widow Hopkins. Some said but then people will talk, especially in
the country, where they have not much else to do, except in haying-
time. She had always known the widow, long before Mr. Gridley came
there to board, or any other special event happened in her family.
No matter what people said.
Miss Badlam called to see Mrs. Hopkins, then, and the two had a long
talk together, of which only a portion is on record. Here are such
fragments as have been preserved.
"What would I do about it? Why, I'd put a stop to such carry'n's on,
mighty quick, if I had to tie the girl to the bedpost, and have a
bulldog that world take the seat out of any pair of black pantaloons
that come within forty rod of her,--that's what I'd do about it! He
undertook to be mighty sweet with our Susan one while, but ever sence
he's been talkin' religion with Myrtle Hazard he's let us alone. Do
as I did when he asked our Susan to come to his study,--stick close
to your girl and you 'll put a stop to all this business. He won't
make love to two at once, unless they 're both pretty young, I 'll
warrant. Follow her round, Miss Cynthy, and keep your eyes on her."
"I have watched her like a cat, Mrs. Hopkins, but I can't follow her
everywhere,--she won't stand what Susan Posey 'll stand. There's no
use our talking to her,--we 've done with that at our house. You
never know what that Indian blood of hers will make her do. She's
too high-strung for us to bit and bridle. I don't want to see her
name in the paper again, alongside of that" (She did not finish the
sentence.) "I'd rather have her fished dead out of the river, or find
her where she found her uncle Malachi!"
"You don't think, Miss Cynthy, that the man means to inveigle the
girl with the notion of marryin' her by and by, after poor Mrs.
Stoker's dead and gone?"
"The Lord in heaven forbid!" exclaimed Miss Cynthia, throwing up her
hands. "A child of fifteen years old, if she is a woman to look at!"
"It's too bad,--it's too bad to think of, Miss Cynthy; and there's
that poor woman dyin' by inches, and Miss Bathsheby settin' with her
day and night, she has n't got a bit of her father in her, it's all
her mother,--and that man, instead of bein' with her to comfort her
as any man ought to be with his wife, in sickness and in health,
that's what he promised. I 'm sure when my poor husband was sick....
To think of that man goin' about to talk religion to all the
prettiest girls he can find in the parish, and his wife at home like
to leave him so soon,--it's a shame,--so it is, come now! Miss
Cynthy, there's one of the best men and one of the learnedest men
that ever lived that's a real friend of Myrtle Hazard, and a better
friend to her than she knows of,--for ever sence he brought her home,
he feels jest like a father to her,--and that man is Mr. Gridley,
that lives in this house. It's him I 'll speak to about the
minister's carry'in's on. He knows about his talking sweet to our
Susan, and he'll put things to rights! He's a master hand when he
does once take hold of anything, I tell you that! Jest get him to
shet up them books of his, and take hold of anybody's troubles, and
you'll see how he 'll straighten 'em out."
There was a pattering of little feet on the stairs, and the two small
twins, "Sossy" and "Minthy," in the home dialect, came hand in hand
into the room, Miss Susan leaving them at the threshold, not wishing
to interrupt the two ladies, and being much interested also in
listening to Mr. Gifted Hopkins, who was reading some of his last
poems to her, with great delight to both of them.
The good woman rose to take them from Susan, and guide their
uncertain steps. "My babies, I call 'em, Miss Cynthy. Ain't they
nice children? Come to go to bed, little dears? Only a few minutes,
She took them into the bedroom on the same floor, where they slept,
and, leaving the door open, began undressing them. Cynthia turned
her rocking-chair round so as to face the open door. She looked on
while the little creatures were being undressed; she heard the few
words they lisped as their infant prayer, she saw them laid in their
beds, and heard their pretty good-night.
A lone woman to whom all the sweet cares of maternity have been
denied cannot look upon a sight like this without feeling the void in
her own heart where a mother's affection should have nestled.
Cynthia sat perfectly still, without rocking, and watched kind Mrs.
Hopkins at her quasi parental task. A tear stole down her rigid face
as she saw the rounded limbs of the children bared in their white
beauty, and their little heads laid on the pillow. They were
sleeping quietly when Mrs. Hopkins left the room for a moment on some
errand of her own. Cynthia rose softly from her chair, stole swiftly
to the bedside, and printed a long, burning kiss on each of their
When Mrs. Hopkins came back, she found the maiden lady sitting in her
place just as she left her, but rocking in her chair and sobbing as
one in sudden pangs of grief.
"It is a great trouble, Miss Cynthy," she said,--"a great trouble to
have such a child as Myrtle to think of and to care for. If she was
like our Susan Posey, now!--but we must do the best we can; and if
Mr. Gridley once sets himself to it, you may depend upon it he 'll
make it all come right. I wouldn't take on about it if I was you.
You let me speak to our Mr. Gridley. We all have our troubles. It
is n't everybody that can ride to heaven in a C-spring shay, as my
poor husband used to say; and life 's a road that 's got a good many
thank-you-ma'ams to go bumpin' over, says he."
Miss Badlam acquiesced in the philosophical reflections of the late
Mr. Ammi Hopkins, and left it to his widow to carry out her own
suggestion in reference to consulting Master Gridley. The good woman
took the first opportunity she had to introduce the matter, a little
diffusely, as is often the way of widows who keep boarders.
"There's something going on I don't like, Mr. Gridley. They tell me
that Minister Stoker is following round after Myrtle Hazard, talking
religion at her jest about the same way he'd have liked to with our
Susan, I calculate. If he wants to talk religion to me or Silence
Withers,--well, no, I don't feel sure about Silence,--she ain't as
young as she used to be, but then ag'in she ain't so fur gone as
some, and she's got money,--but if he wants to talk religion with me,
he may come and welcome. But as for Myrtle Hazard, she's been sick,
and it's left her a little flighty by what they say, and to have a
minister round her all the time ravin' about the next world as if he
had a latch-key to the front door of it, is no way to make her come
to herself again. I 've seen more than one young girl sent off to
the asylum by that sort of work, when, if I'd only had 'em, I'd have
made 'em sweep the stairs, and mix the puddin's, and tend the babies,
and milk the cow, and keep 'em too busy all day to be thinkin' about
themselves, and have 'em dress up nice evenin's and see some young
folks and have a good time, and go to meetin' Sundays, and then have
done with the minister, unless it was old Father Pemberton. He knows
forty times as much about heaven as that Stoker man does, or ever 's
like to,--why don't they run after him, I should like to know?
Ministers are men, come now; and I don't want to say anything against
women, Mr. Gridley, but women are women, that's the fact of it, and
half of 'em are hystericky when they're young; and I've heard old Dr.
Hurlbut say many a time that he had to lay in an extra stock of
valerian and assafaetida whenever there was a young minister round,--
for there's plenty of religious ravin', says he, that's nothin' but
[Mr. Fronde thinks that was the trouble with Bloody Queen Mary, but
the old physician did not get the idea from him.]
"Well, and what do you propose to do about the Rev. Joseph Bellamy
Stoker and his young proselyte, Miss Myrtle Hazard?" said Mr.
Gridley, when Mrs. Hopkins at last gave him a chance to speak.
"Mr. Gridley,"--Mrs. Hopkins looked full upon him as she spoke,--"
people used to say that you was a good man and a great man and one of
the learnedest men alive, but that you didn't know much nor care for
much except books. I know you used to live pretty much to yourself
when you first came to board in this house. But you've been very
good to my son; ...and if Gifted lives till you ...till you are in
...your grave, ...he will write a poem--I know he will--that will
tell your goodness to babes unborn."
[Here Master Gridley groaned, and repeated to himself silently,
"Scindentur vestes gemmae frangentur et aurum,
Carmina quam tribuent fama perennis erit."
All this inwardly, and without interrupting the worthy woman's talk.]
"And if ever Gifted makes a book,--don't say anything about it, Mr.
Gridley, for goodness' sake, for he wouldn't have anybody know it,
only I can't help thinking that some time or other he will print a
book,--and if he does, I know whose name he'll put at the head of
it,--'Dedicated to B. G., with the gratitude and respect--' There,
now, I had n't any business to say a word about it, and it's only
jest in case he does, you know. I'm sure you deserve it all. You've
helped him with the best of advice. And you've been kind to me when
I was in trouble. And you've been like a grandfather" [Master
Gridley winced,--why could n't the woman have said father?--that
grand struck his ear like a spade going into the gravel] "to those
babes, poor little souls! left on my door-step like a couple of
breakfast rolls,--only you know it's the baker left then. I believe
in you, Mr. Gridley, as I believe in my Maker and in Father
Pemberton,--but, poor man, he's old, and you won't be old these
twenty years yet."
[Master Gridley shook his head as if to say that was n't so, but felt
comforted and refreshed.]
"You've got to help Myrtle Hazard again. You brought her home when
she come so nigh drowning. You got the old doctor to go and see her
when she come so nigh being bewitched with the magnetism and
nonsense, whatever they call it, and the young doctor was so nigh
bein' crazy, too. I know, for Nurse Byloe told me all about it. And
now Myrtle's gettin' run away with by that pesky Minister Stoker.
Cynthy Badlam was here yesterday crying and sobbing as if her heart
would break about it. For my part, I did n't think Cynthy cared so
much for the girl as all that, but I saw her takin' on dreadfully
with my own eyes. That man's like a hen-hawk among the chickens,
first he picks up one, and then he picks up another. I should like
to know if nobody but young folks has souls to be saved, and
specially young women!"
"Tell me all you know about Myrtle Hazard and Joseph Bellamy Stoker,"
said Master Gridley.
Thereupon that good lady related all that Miss Badlam had imparted to
her, of which the reader knows the worst, being the interview of
which the keen spinster had been a witness, having followed them for
the express purpose of knowing, in her own phrase, what the minister
was up to.
It is not to be supposed that Myrtle had forgotten the discreet
kindness of Master Gridley in bringing her back and making the best
of her adventure. He, on his part, had acquired a kind of right to
consider himself her adviser, and had begun to take a pleasure in the
thought that he, the worn-out and useless old pedant, as he had been
in the way of considering himself, might perhaps do something even
more important than his previous achievement to save this young girl
from the dangers that surrounded her. He loved his classics and his
old books; he took an interest, too, in the newspapers and
periodicals that brought the fermenting thought and the electric life
of the great world into his lonely study; but these things just about
him were getting strong hold on him, and most of all the fortunes of
this beautiful young woman. How strange! For a whole generation he
had lived in no nearer relation to his fellow-creatures than that of
a half-fossilized teacher; and all at once he found himself face to
face with the very most intense form of life, the counsellor of
threatened innocence, the champion of imperilled loveliness. What
business was it of his? growled the lower nature, of which he had
said in "Thoughts on the Universe,"--"Every man leads or is led by
something that goes on four legs."
Then he remembered the grand line of the African freedman, that makes
all human interests everybody's business, and had a sudden sense of
dilatation and evolution, as it were, in all his dimensions, as if he
were a head taller, and a foot bigger round the chest, and took in an
extra gallon of air at every breath, Then--you who have written a
book that holds your heart-leaves between its pages will understand
the movement--he took down "Thoughts on the Universe" for a
refreshing draught from his own wellspring. He opened as chance
ordered it, and his eyes fell on the following passage:
"The true American formula was well phrased by the late Samuel Patch,
the Western Empedocles, 'Some things can be done as well as others.'
A homely utterance, but it has virtue to overthrow all dynasties and
hierarchies. These were all built up on the Old-World dogma that
some things can NOT be done as well as others."
"There, now!" he said, talking to himself in his usual way, "is n't
that good? It always seems to me that I find something to the point
when I open that book. 'Some things can be done as well as others,'
can they? Suppose I should try what I can do by visiting Miss Myrtle
Hazard? I think I may say I am old and incombustible enough to be
trusted. She does not seem to be a safe neighbor to very inflammable
Myrtle was sitting in the room long known as the Study, or the
Library, when Master Byles Gridley called at The Poplars to see her.
Miss Cynthia, who received him, led him to this apartment and left
him alone with Myrtle. She welcomed him very cordially, but colored
as she did so,--his visit was a surprise. She was at work on a piece
of embroidery. Her first instinctive movement was to thrust it out
of sight with the thought of concealment; but she checked this, and
before the blush of detection had reached her cheek, the blush of
ingenuous shame for her weakness had caught and passed it, and was in
full possession. She sat with her worsted pattern held bravely in
sight, and her cheek as bright as its liveliest crimson.
"Miss Cynthia has let me in upon you," he said, "or I should not have
ventured to disturb you in this way. A work of art, is it, Miss
"Only a pair of slippers, Mr. Gridley,--for my pastor."
"Oh! oh! That is well. A good old man. I have a great regard for
the Rev. Eliphalet Pemberton. I wish all ministers were as good and
simple and pure-hearted as the Rev. Eliphalet Pemberton. And I wish
all the young people thought as much about their elders as you do,
Miss Myrtle Hazard. We that are old love little acts of kindness.
You gave me more pleasure than you knew of, my dear, when you worked
that handsome cushion for me. The old minister will be greatly
pleased,--poor old man!"
"But, Mr. Gridley, I must not let you think these are for Father
Pemberton. They are for--Mr. Stoker."
"The Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker! He is not an old man, the Rev.
Joseph Bellamy Stoker. He may perhaps be a widower before a great
while.--Does he know that you are working those slippers for him?"
"Dear me! no, Mr. Gridley. I meant them for a surprise to him. He
has been so kind to me, and understands me so much better than I
thought anybody did. He is so different from what I thought; he
makes religion so perfectly simple, it seems as if everybody would
agree with him, if they could only hear him talk."
"Greatly interested in the souls of his people, is n't he?"
"Too much, almost, I am afraid. He says he has been too hard in his
sermons sometimes, but it was for fear he should not impress his
"Don't you think he worries himself about the souls of young women
rather more than for those of old ones, Myrtle?"
There was something in the tone of this question that helped its
slightly sarcastic expression. Myrtle's jealousy for her minister's
sincerity was roused.
"How can you ask that, Mr. Gridley? I am sure I wish you or anybody
could have heard him talk as I have. There is no age in souls, he
says; and I am sure that it would do anybody good to hear him, old or
"No age in souls,--no age in souls. Souls of forty as young as souls
of fifteen; that 's it." Master Gridley did not say this loud. But
he did speak as follows: "I am glad to hear what you say of the Rev.
Joseph Bellamy Stoker's love of being useful to people of all ages.
You have had comfort in his companionship, and there are others who
might be very glad to profit by it. I know a very excellent person
who has had trials, and is greatly interested in religious
conversation. Do you think he would be willing to let this friend of
mine share in the privileges of spiritual intercourse which you
There was but one answer possible. Of course he would.
"I hope it is so, my dear young lady. But listen to me one moment.
I love you, my dear child, do you know, as if I were your own--
grandfather." (There was moral heroism in that word.) "I love you as
if you were of my own blood; and so long as you trust me, and suffer
me, I mean to keep watch against all dangers that threaten you in
mind, body, or estate. You may wonder at me, you may sometimes doubt
me; but until you say you distrust me, when any trouble comes near
you, you will find me there. Now, my dear child, you ought to know
that the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker has the reputation of being too
fond of prosecuting religious inquiries with young and handsome
Myrtle's eyes fell,--a new suspicion seemed to have suggested itself.
"He wanted to get up a spiritual intimacy with our Susan Posey,--a
very pretty girl, as you know."
Myrtle tossed her head almost imperceptibly, and bit her lip.
"I suppose there are a dozen young people that have been talked about
with him. He preaches cruel sermons in his pulpit, cruel as death,
and cold-blooded enough to freeze any mother's blood if nature did
not tell her he lied, and then smooths it all over with the first
good-looking young woman he can get to listen to him."
Myrtle had dropped the slipper she was working on.
"Tell me, my dear, would you be willing to give up meeting this man
alone, and gratify my friend, and avoid all occasion of reproach?"
"Of course I would," said Myrtle, her eyes flashing, for her doubts,
her shame, her pride, were all excited. "Who is your friend, Mr.
"An excellent woman,--Mrs. Hopkins. You know her, Gifted Hopkins's
mother, with whom I am residing. Shall the minister be given to
understand that you will see him hereafter in her company?"
Myrtle came pretty near a turn of her old nervous perturbations. "As
you say," she answered. "Is there nobody that I can trust, or is
everybody hunting me like a bird?" She hid her face in her hands.
"You can trust me, my dear," said Byles Gridley. "Take your needle,
my child, and work at your pattern,--it will come out a rose by and
by. Life is like that, Myrtle, one stitch at a time, taken
patiently, and the pattern will come out all right like the
embroidery. You can trust me. Good-by, my dear."
"Let her finish the slippers," the old man said to himself as he
trudged home, "and make 'em big enough for Father Pemberton. He
shall have his feet in 'em yet, or my name is n't Byles Gridley!"
ARRIVAL OF REINFORCEMENTS.
Myrtle Hazard waited until the steps of Master Byles Gridley had
ceased to be heard, as he walked in his emphatic way through the long
entry of the old mansion. Then she went to her little chamber and
sat down in a sort of revery. She could not doubt his sincerity, and
there was something in her own consciousness which responded to the
suspicions he had expressed with regard to the questionable impulses
of the Rev. Joseph Bellamy Stoker.
It is not in the words that others say to us, but in those other
words which these make us say to ourselves, that we find our gravest
lessons and our sharpest rebukes. The hint another gives us finds
whole trains of thought which have been getting themselves ready to
be shaped in inwardly articulated words, and only awaited the touch
of a burning syllable, as the mottoes of a pyrotechnist only wait for
a spark to become letters of fire.
The artist who takes your photograph must carry you with him into his
"developing" room, and he will give you a more exact illustration of
the truth just mentioned. There is nothing to be seen on the glass
just taken from the camera. But there is a potential, though
invisible, picture hid in the creamy film which covers it. Watch him
as he pours a wash over it, and you will see that miracle wrought
which is at once a surprise and a charm,--the sudden appearance of
your own features where a moment before was a blank without a vestige
of intelligence or beauty.
In some such way the grave warnings of Master Byles Gridley had
called up a fully shaped, but hitherto unworded, train of thought in
the consciousness of Myrtle Hazard. It was not merely their
significance, it was mainly because they were spoken at the fitting
time. If they had been uttered a few weeks earlier, when Myrtle was
taking the first stitch on the embroidered slippers, they would have
been as useless as the artist's developing solution on a plate which
had never been exposed in the camera. But she had been of late in
training for her lesson in ways that neither she nor anybody else
dreamed of. The reader who has shrugged his (or her) shoulders over
the last illustration will perhaps hear this one which follows more
cheerfully. The physician in the Arabian Nights made his patient
play at ball with a bat, the hollow handle of which contained drugs
of marvellous efficacy. Whether it was the drugs that made the sick
man get well, or the exercise, is not of so much consequence as the
fact that he did at any rate get well.
These walks which Myrtle had taken with her reverend counsellor had
given her a new taste for the open air, which was what she needed
just now more than confessions of faith or spiritual paroxysms. And
so it happened that, while he had been stimulating all those
imaginative and emotional elements of her nature which responded to
the keys he loved to play upon, the restoring influences of the sweet
autumnal air, the mellow sunshine, the soothing aspects of the woods
and fields and sky, had been quietly doing their work. The color was
fast returning to her cheek, and the discords of her feelings and her
thoughts gradually resolving themselves into the harmonious and
cheerful rhythms of bodily and mental health. It needed but the
timely word from the fitting lips to change the whole programme of
her daily mode of being. The word had been spoken. She saw its
truth; but how hard it is to tear away a cherished illusion, to cast
out an unworthy intimate! How hard for any!--but for a girl so
young, and who had as yet found so little to love and trust, how
She sat, still and stony, like an Egyptian statue. Her eyes were
fixed on a vacant chair opposite the one on which she was sitting.
It was a very singular and fantastic old chair, said to have been
brought over by the first emigrant of her race. The legs and arms
were curiously turned in spirals, the suggestions of which were half
pleasing and half repulsive. Instead of the claw-feet common in
furniture of a later date, each of its legs rested on a misshapen
reptile, which it seemed to flatten by its weight, as if it were
squeezing the breath out of the ugly creature. Over this chair hung
the portrait of her beautiful ancestress, her neck and arms, the
specialty of her beauty, bare, except for a bracelet on the left
wrist, and her shapely figure set off by the ample folds of a rich
crimson brocade. Over Myrtle's bed hung that other portrait, which
was to her almost as the pictures of the Mater Dolorosa to trustful
souls of the Roman faith. She had longed for these pictures while
she was in her strange hysteric condition, and they had been hung up
in her chamber.
The night was far gone, as she knew by the declining of the
constellations which she bad seen shining brightly almost overhead in
the early evening, when she awoke, and found herself still sitting in
the very attitude in which she was sitting hours before. Her lamp
had burned out, and the starlight but dimly illuminated her chamber.
She started to find herself sitting there, chilled and stiffened by
long remaining in one posture; and as her consciousness returned, a
great fear seized her, and she sprang for a match. It broke with the
quick movement she made to kindle it, and she snatched another as if
a fiend were after her. It flashed and went out. Oh the terror, the
terror! The darkness seemed alive with fearful presences. The lurid
glare of her own eyeballs flashed backwards into her brain. She
tried one more match; it kindled as it should, and she lighted
another lamp. Her first impulse was to assure herself that nothing
was changed in the familiar objects around her. She held the lamp up
to the picture of Judith Pride. The beauty looked at her, it seemed
as if with a kind of lofty recognition in her eyes; but there she
was, as always. She turned the light upon the pale face of the
martyr-portrait. It looked troubled and faded, as it seemed to
Myrtle, but still it was the same face she remembered from her
childhood. Then she threw the light on the old chair, and,
shuddering, caught up a shawl and flung it over the spiral-wound arms
and legs, and the flattened reptiles on which it stood.
In those dead hours of the night which had passed over her sitting
there, still and stony, as it should seem, she had had strange
visitors. Two women had been with her, as real as any that breathed
the breath of life,--so it appeared to her,--yet both had long been
what is called, in our poor language, dead. One came in all the
glory of her ripened beauty, bare-necked, bare-armed, full dressed by
nature in that splendid animal equipment which in its day had
captivated the eyes of all the lusty lovers of complete muliebrity.
The other,--how delicate, how translucent, how aerial she seemed!
yet real and true to the lineaments of her whom the young girl looked
upon as her hereditary protector.
The beautiful woman turned, and, with a face full of loathing and
scorn, pointed to one of the reptiles beneath the feet of the chair.
And while Myrtle's eyes followed hers, the flattened and half-crushed
creature seemed to swell and spread like his relative in the old
fable, like the black dog in Faust, until he became of tenfold size,
and at last of colossal proportions. And, fearful to relate, the
batrachian features humanized themselves as the monster grew, and,
shaping themselves more and more into a remembered similitude, Myrtle
saw in them a hideous likeness of--No! no! it was too horrible, was
that the face which had been so close to hers but yesterday? were
those the lips, the breath from which had stirred her growing curls
as he leaned over her while they read together some passionate stanza
from a hymn that was as much like a love-song as it dared to be in
godly company? A shadow of disgust--the natural repugnance of
loveliness for deformity-ran all through her, and she shrieked, as
she thought, and threw herself at the feet of that other figure. She
felt herself lifted from the floor, and then a cold thin hand seemed
to take hers. The warm life went out of her, and she was to herself
as a dimly conscious shadow that glided with passive acquiescence
wherever it was led. Presently she found herself in a half-lighted
apartment, where there were books on the shelves around, and a desk
with loose manuscripts lying on it, and a little mirror with a worn
bit of carpet before it. And while she looked, a great serpent
writhed in through the half-open door, and made the circuit of the
room, laying one huge ring all round it, and then, going round again,
laid another ring over the first, and so on until he was wound all
round the room like the spiral of a mighty cable, leaving a hollow in
the centre; and then the serpent seemed to arch his neck in the air,
and bring his head close down to Myrtle's face; and the features were
not those of a serpent, but of a man, and it hissed out the words she
had read that very day in a little note which said, "Come to my study
to-morrow, and we will read hymns together."
Again she was back in her little chamber, she did not know how, and
the two women were looking into her eyes with strange meaning in
their own. Something in them seemed to plead with her to yield to
their influence, and her choice wavered which of them to follow, for
each would have led her her own way,--whither she knew not. It was
the strife of her "Vision," only in another form,--the contest of two
lives her blood inherited for the mastery of her soul. The might of
beauty conquered. Myrtle resigned herself to the guidance of the
lovely phantom, which seemed so much fuller of the unextinguished
fire of life, and so like herself as she would grow to be when noon
should have ripened her into maturity.
Doors opened softly before them; they climbed stairs, and threaded
corridors, and penetrated crypts, strange yet familiar to her eyes,
which seemed to her as if they could see, as it were, in darkness.
Then came a confused sense of eager search for something that she
knew was hidden, whether in the cleft of a rock, or under the boards
of a floor, or in some hiding-place among the skeleton rafters, or in
a forgotten drawer, or in a heap of rubbish, she could not tell; but
somewhere there was something which she was to find, and which, once
found, was to be her talisman. She was in the midst of this eager
search when she awoke.
The impression was left so strongly on her mind that with all her
fears she could not resist the desire to make an effort to find what
meaning there was in this frightfully real dream. Her courage came
back as her senses assured her that all around her was natural, as
when she left it. She determined to follow the lead of the strange
hint her nightmare had given her.
In one of the upper chambers of the old mansion there stood a tall,
upright desk of the ancient pattern, with folding doors above and
large drawers below. "That desk is yours, Myrtle," her uncle Malachi
had once said to her; "and there is a trick or two about it that it
will pay you to study." Many a time Myrtle had puzzled herself about
the mystery of the old desk. All the little drawers, of which there
were a considerable number, she had pulled out, and every crevice, as
she thought, she had carefully examined. She determined to make one
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