The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 36 out of 51
out, and a doctor's wife must keep her tongue in.
THE PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY.
The Secretary of this association was getting somewhat tired of the
office, and the office was getting somewhat tired of him. It
occurred to the members of the Society that a little fresh blood
infused into it might stir up the general vitality of the
organization. The woman suffragists saw no reason why the place of
Secretary need as a matter of course be filled by a person of the
male sex. They agitated, they made domiciliary visits, they wrote
notes to influential citizens, and finally announced as their
candidate the young lady who had won and worn the school name of "The
Terror," who was elected. She was just the person for the place:
wide awake, with all her wits about her, full of every kind of
knowledge, and, above all, strong on points of order and details of
management, so that she could prompt the presiding officer, to do
which is often the most essential duty of a Secretary. The
President, the worthy rector, was good at plain sailing in the track
of the common moralities and proprieties, but was liable to get
muddled if anything came up requiring swift decision and off-hand
speech. The Terror had schooled herself in the debating societies of
the Institute, and would set up the President, when he was floored by
an awkward question, as easily as if he were a ninepin which had been
It has been already mentioned that the Pansophian Society received
communications from time to time from writers outside of its own
organization. Of late these had been becoming more frequent. Many
of them were sent in anonymously, and as there were numerous visitors
to the village, and two institutions not far removed from it, both
full of ambitious and intelligent young persons, it was often
impossible to trace the papers to their authors. The new Secretary
was alive with curiosity, and as sagacious a little body as one might
find if in want of a detective. She could make a pretty shrewd guess
whether a paper was written by a young or old person, by one of her
own sex or the other, by an experienced hand or a novice.
Among the anonymous papers she received was one which exercised her
curiosity to an extraordinary degree. She felt a strong suspicion
that "the Sachem," as the boat-crews used to call him, "the Recluse,"
"the Night-Hawk," "the Sphinx," as others named him, must be the
author of it. It appeared to her the production of a young person of
a reflective, poetical turn of mind. It was not a woman's way of
writing; at least, so thought the Secretary. The writer had
travelled much; had resided in Italy, among other places. But so had
many of the summer visitors and residents of Arrowhead Village. The
handwriting was not decisive; it had some points of resemblance with
the pencilled orders for books which Maurice sent to the Library, but
there were certain differences, intentional or accidental, which
weakened this evidence. There was an undertone in the essay which
was in keeping with the mode of life of the solitary stranger. It
might be disappointment, melancholy, or only the dreamy sadness of a
young person who sees the future he is to climb, not as a smooth
ascent, but as overhanging him like a cliff, ready to crush him, with
all his hopes and prospects. This interpretation may have been too
imaginative, but here is the paper, and the reader can form his own
MY THREE COMPANIONS.
"I have been from my youth upwards a wanderer. I do not mean
constantly flitting from one place to another, for my residence has
often been fixed for considerable periods. From time to time I have
put down in a notebook the impressions made upon me by the scenes
through which I have passed. I have long hesitated whether to let
any of my notes appear before the public. My fear has been that they
were too subjective, to use the metaphysician's term,--that I have
seen myself reflected in Nature, and not the true aspects of Nature
as she was meant to be understood. One who should visit the Harz
Mountains would see--might see, rather his own colossal image shape
itself on the morning mist. But if in every mist that rises from the
meadows, in every cloud that hangs upon the mountain, he always finds
his own reflection, we cannot accept him as an interpreter of the
"There must be many persons present at the meetings of the Society to
which this paper is offered who have had experiences like that of its
author. They have visited the same localities, they have had many of
the same thoughts and feelings. Many, I have no doubt. Not all,--
no, not all. Others have sought the companionship of Nature; I have
been driven to it. Much of my life has been passed in that
communion. These pages record some of the intimacies I have formed
with her under some of her various manifestations.
"I have lived on the shore of the great ocean, where its waves broke
wildest and its voice rose loudest.
"I have passed whole seasons on the banks of mighty and famous
"I have dwelt on the margin of a tranquil lake, and floated through
many a long, long summer day on its clear waters.
"I have learned the 'various language' of Nature, of which poetry has
spoken,--at least, I have learned some words and phrases of it. I
will translate some of these as I best may into common speech.
"The OCEAN says to the dweller on its shores:--
"You are neither welcome nor unwelcome. I do not trouble myself with
the living tribes that come down to my waters. I have my own people,
of an older race than yours, that grow to mightier dimensions than
your mastodons and elephants; more numerous than all the swarms that
fill the air or move over the thin crust of the earth. Who are you
that build your palaces on my margin? I see your white faces as
I saw the dark faces of the tribes that came before you, as I shall
look upon the unknown family of mankind that will come after you.
And what is your whole human family but a parenthesis in a single
page of my history? The raindrops stereotyped themselves on my
beaches before a living creature left his footprints there. This
horseshoe-crab I fling at your feet is of older lineage than your
Adam,--perhaps, indeed, you count your Adam as one of his
descendants. What feeling have I for you? Not scorn, not hatred,--
not love,--not loathing. No!---indifference,--blank indifference to
you and your affairs that is my feeling, say rather absence of
feeling, as regards you.---Oh yes, I will lap your feet, I will cool
you in the hot summer days, I will bear you up in my strong arms, I
will rock you on my rolling undulations, like a babe in his cradle.
Am I not gentle? Am I not kind? Am I not harmless? But hark! The
wind is rising, and the wind and I are rough playmates! What do you
say to my voice now? Do you see my foaming lips? Do you feel the
rocks tremble as my huge billows crash against them? Is not my anger
terrible as I dash your argosy, your thunder-bearing frigate, into
fragments, as you would crack an eggshell?--No, not anger; deaf,
blind, unheeding indifference,--that is all. Out of me all things
arose; sooner or later, into me all things subside. All changes
around me; I change not. I look not at you, vain man, and your frail
transitory concerns, save in momentary glimpses: I look on the white
face of my dead mistress, whom I follow as the bridegroom follows the
bier of her who has changed her nuptial raiment for the shroud.
"Ye whose thoughts are of eternity, come dwell at my side.
Continents and islands grow old, and waste and disappear. The
hardest rock crumbles; vegetable and animal kingdoms come into being,
wax great, decline, and perish, to give way to others, even as human
dynasties and nations and races come and go. Look on me! "Time
writes no wrinkle" on my forehead. Listen to me! All tongues are
spoken on my shores, but I have only one language: the winds taught
me their vowels the crags and the sands schooled me in my rough or
smooth consonants. Few words are mine but I have whispered them and
sung them and shouted them to men of all tribes from the time when
the first wild wanderer strayed into my awful presence. Have you a
grief that gnaws at your heart-strings? Come with it to my shore, as
of old the priest of far-darting Apollo carried his rage and anguish
to the margin of the loud-roaring sea. There, if anywhere you will
forget your private and short-lived woe, for my voice speaks to the
infinite and the eternal in your consciousness.'
"To him who loves the pages of human history, who listens to the
voices of the world about him, who frequents the market and the
thoroughfare, who lives in the study of time and its accidents rather
than in the deeper emotions, in abstract speculation and spiritual
contemplation, the RIVER addresses itself as his natural companion.
"Come live with me. I am active, cheerful, communicative, a natural
talker and story-teller. I am not noisy, like the ocean, except
occasionally when I am rudely interrupted, or when I stumble and get
a fall. When I am silent you can still have pleasure in watching my
changing features. My idlest babble, when I am toying with the
trifles that fall in my way, if not very full of meaning, is at least
musical. I am not a dangerous friend, like the ocean; no highway is
absolutely safe, but my nature is harmless, and the storms that strew
the beaches with wrecks cast no ruins upon my flowery borders. Abide
with me, and you shall not die of thirst, like the forlorn wretches
left to the mercies of the pitiless salt waves. Trust yourself to
me, and I will carry you far on your journey, if we are travelling to
the same point of the compass. If I sometimes run riot and overflow
your meadows, I leave fertility behind me when I withdraw to my
natural channel. Walk by my side toward the place of my destination.
I will keep pace with you, and you shall feel my presence with you as
that of a self-conscious being like yourself. You will find it hard
to be miserable in my company; I drain you of ill-conditioned
thoughts as I carry away the refuse of your dwelling and its grounds."
But to him whom the ocean chills and crushes with its sullen
indifference, and the river disturbs with its never-pausing and
never-ending story, the silent LAKE shall be a refuge and a place of
rest for his soul.
"'Vex not yourself with thoughts too vast for your limited
faculties,' it says; 'yield not yourself to the babble of the running
stream. Leave the ocean, which cares nothing for you or any living
thing that walks the solid earth; leave the river, too busy with its
own errand, too talkative about its own affairs, and find peace with
me, whose smile will cheer you, whose whisper will soothe you. Come
to me when the morning sun blazes across my bosom like a golden
baldric; come to me in the still midnight, when I hold the inverted
firmament like a cup brimming with jewels, nor spill one star of all
the constellations that float in my ebon goblet. Do you know the
charm of melancholy? Where will you find a sympathy like mine in
your hours of sadness? Does the ocean share your grief? Does the
river listen to your sighs? The salt wave, that called to you from
under last month's full moon, to-day is dashing on the rocks of
Labrador; the stream, that ran by you pure and sparkling, has
swallowed the poisonous refuse of a great city, and is creeping to
its grave in the wide cemetery that buries all things in its tomb of
liquid crystal. It is true that my waters exhale and are renewed
from one season to another; but are your features the same,
absolutely the same, from year to year? We both change, but we know
each other through all changes. Am I not mirrored in those eyes of
yours? And does not Nature plant me as an eye to behold her beauties
while she is dressed in the glories of leaf and flower, and draw the
icy lid over my shining surface when she stands naked and ashamed in
the poverty of winter?'
"I have had strange experiences and sad thoughts in the course of a
life not very long, but with a record which much longer lives could
not match in incident. Oftentimes the temptation has come over me
with dangerous urgency to try a change of existence, if such change
is a part of human destiny,--to seek rest, if that is what we gain by
laying down the burden of life. I have asked who would be the friend
to whom I should appeal for the last service I should have need of.
Ocean was there, all ready, asking no questions, answering none.
What strange voyages, downward through its glaucous depths, upwards
to its boiling and frothing surface, wafted by tides, driven by
tempests, disparted by rude agencies; one remnant whitening on the
sands of a northern beach, one perhaps built into the circle of a
coral reef in the Pacific, one settling to the floor of the vast
laboratory where continents are built, to emerge in far-off ages!
What strange companions for my pall-bearers! Unwieldy sea-monsters,
the stories of which are counted fables by the spectacled collectors
who think their catalogues have exhausted nature; naked-eyed
creatures, staring, glaring, nightmare-like spectres of the ghastly-
green abysses; pulpy islands, with life in gelatinous immensity,--
what a company of hungry heirs at every ocean funeral! No! No!
Ocean claims great multitudes, but does not invite the solitary who
would fain be rid of himself.
"Shall I seek a deeper slumber at the bottom of the lake I love than
I have ever found when drifting idly over its surface? No, again. I
do not want the sweet, clear waters to know me in the disgrace of
nature, when life, the faithful body-servant, has ceased caring for
me. That must not be. The mirror which has pictured me so often
shall never know me as an unwelcome object.
"If I must ask the all-subduing element to be my last friend, and
lead me out of my prison, it shall be the busy, whispering, not
unfriendly, pleasantly companionable river.
"But Ocean and River and Lake have certain relations to the periods
of human life which they who are choosing their places of abode
should consider. Let the child play upon the seashore. The wide
horizon gives his imagination room to grow in, untrammelled. That
background of mystery, without which life is a poor mechanical
arrangement, is shaped and colored, so far as it can have outline, or
any hue but shadow, on a vast canvas, the contemplation of which
enlarges and enriches the sphere of consciousness. The mighty ocean
is not too huge to symbolize the aspirations and ambitions of the yet
untried soul of the adolescent.
"The time will come when his indefinite mental horizon has found a
solid limit, which shuts his prospect in narrower bounds than he
would have thought could content him in the years of undefined
possibilities. Then he will find the river a more natural intimate
than the ocean. It is individual, which the ocean, with all its
gulfs and inlets and multitudinous shores, hardly seems to be. It
does not love you very dearly, and will not miss you much when you
disappear from its margin; but it means well to you, bids you good-
morning with its coming waves, and good-evening with those which are
leaving. It will lead your thoughts pleasantly away, upwards to its
source, downwards to the stream to which it is tributary, or the wide
waters in which it is to lose itself. A river, by choice, to live by
in middle age.
"In hours of melancholy reflection, in those last years of life which
have little left but tender memories, the still companionship of the
lake, embosomed in woods, sheltered, fed by sweet mountain brooks and
hidden springs, commends itself to the wearied and saddened spirit.
I am not thinking of those great inland seas, which have many of the
features and much of the danger that belong to the ocean, but of
those 'ponds,' as our countrymen used to call them until they were
rechristened by summer visitors; beautiful sheets of water from a
hundred to a few thousand acres in extent, scattered like raindrops
over the map of our Northern sovereignties. The loneliness of
contemplative old age finds its natural home in the near neighborhood
of one of these tranquil basins."
Nature does not always plant her poets where they belong, but if we
look carefully their affinities betray themselves. The youth will
carry his Byron to the rock which overlooks the ocean the poet loved
so well. The man of maturer years will remember that the sonorous
couplets of Pope which ring in his ears were written on the banks of
the Thames. The old man, as he nods over the solemn verse of
Wordsworth, will recognize the affinity between the singer and the
calm sheet that lay before him as he wrote,--the stainless and sleepy
"The dwellers by Cedar Lake may find it an amusement to compare their
own feelings with those of one who has lived by the Atlantic and the
Mediterranean, by the Nile and the Tiber, by Lake Leman and by one of
the fairest sheets of water that our own North America embosoms in
Miss Lurida Vincent, Secretary of the Pansophian Society, read this
paper, and pondered long upon it. She was thinking very seriously of
studying medicine, and had been for some time in frequent
communication with Dr. Butts, under whose direction she had begun
reading certain treatises, which added to such knowledge of the laws
of life in health and in disease as she had brought with her from the
Corinna Institute. Naturally enough, she carried the anonymous paper
to the doctor, to get his opinion about it, and compare it with her
own. They both agreed that it was probably, they would not say
certainly, the work of the solitary visitor. There was room for
doubt, for there were visitors who might well have travelled to all
the places mentioned, and resided long enough on the shores of the
waters the writer spoke of to have had all the experiences mentioned
in the paper. The Terror remembered a young lady, a former
schoolmate, who belonged to one of those nomadic families common in
this generation, the heads of which, especially the female heads, can
never be easy where they are, but keep going between America and
Europe, like so many pith-balls in the electrical experiment,
alternately attracted and repelled, never in contented equilibrium.
Every few years they pull their families up by the roots, and by the
time they have begun to take hold a little with their radicles in the
spots to which they have been successively transplanted up they come
again, so that they never get a tap-root anywhere. The Terror
suspected the daughter of one of these families of sending certain
anonymous articles of not dissimilar character to the one she had
just received. But she knew the style of composition common among
the young girls, and she could hardly believe that it was one of them
who had sent this paper. Could a brother of this young lady have
written it? Possibly; she knew nothing more than that the young lady
had a brother, then a student at the University. All the chances
were that Mr. Maurice Kirkwood was the author. So thought Lurida,
and so thought Dr. Butts.
Whatever faults there were in this essay, it interested them both.
There was nothing which gave the least reason to suspect insanity on
the part of the writer, whoever he or she might be. There were
references to suicide, it is true, but they were of a purely
speculative nature, and did not look to any practical purpose in that
direction. Besides, if the stranger were the author of the paper, he
certainly would not choose a sheet of water like Cedar Lake to
perform the last offices for him, in case he seriously meditated
taking unceremonious leave of life and its accidents. He could find
a river easily enough, to say nothing of other methods of effecting
his purpose; but he had committed himself as to the impropriety of
selecting a lake, so they need not be anxious about the white canoe
and its occupant, as they watched it skimming the surface of the deep
The holder of the Portfolio would never have ventured to come before
the public if he had not counted among his resources certain papers
belonging to the records of the Pansophian Society, which he can make
free use of, either for the illustration of the narrative, or for a
diversion during those intervals in which the flow of events is
languid, or even ceases for the time to manifest any progress. The
reader can hardly have failed to notice that the old Anchor Tavern
had become the focal point where a good deal of mental activity
converged. There were the village people, including a number of
cultivated families; there were the visitors, among them many
accomplished and widely travelled persons; there was the University,
with its learned teachers and aspiring young men; there was the
Corinna Institute, with its eager, ambitious, hungry-souled young
women, crowding on, class after class coming forward on the broad
stream of liberal culture, and rounding the point which, once passed,
the boundless possibilities of womanhood opened before them. All
this furnished material enough and to spare for the records and the
archives of the society.
The new Secretary infused fresh life into the meetings. It may be
remembered that the girls had said of her, when she was The Terror,
that "she knew everything and didn't believe anything." That was
just the kind of person for a secretary of such an association.
Properly interpreted, the saying meant that she knew a great deal,
and wanted to know a great deal more, and was consequently always on
the lookout for information; that she believed nothing without
sufficient proof that it was true, and therefore was perpetually
asking for evidence where, others took assertions on trust.
It was astonishing to see what one little creature like The Terror
could accomplish in the course of a single season. She found out
what each member could do and wanted to do. She wrote to the outside
visitors whom she suspected of capacity, and urged them to speak at
the meetings, or send written papers to be read. As an official,
with the printed title at the head of her notes, PANSOPHIAN SOCIETY,
she was a privileged personage. She begged the young persons who had
travelled to tell something of their experiences. She had
contemplated getting up a discussion on the woman's rights question,
but being a wary little body, and knowing that the debate would
become a dispute and divide the members into two hostile camps, she
deferred this project indefinitely. It would be time enough after
she had her team well in hand, she said to herself,--had felt their
mouths and tried their paces. This expression, as she used it in her
thoughts, seems rather foreign to her habits, but there was room in
her large brain for a wide range of illustrations and an ample
vocabulary. She could not do much with her own muscles, but she had
known the passionate delight of being whirled furiously over the road
behind four scampering horses, in a rocking stage-coach, and thought
of herself in the Secretary's chair as not unlike the driver on his
box. A few weeks of rest had allowed her nervous energy to store
itself up, and the same powers which had distanced competition in the
classes of her school had of necessity to expend themselves in
vigorous action in her new office.
Her appeals had their effect. A number of papers were very soon sent
in; some with names, some anonymously. She looked these papers over,
and marked those which she thought would be worth reading and
listening to at the meetings. One of them has just been presented to
the reader. As to the authorship of the following one there were
many conjectures. A well-known writer, who had spent some weeks at
Arrowhead Village, was generally suspected of being its author.
Some, however, questioned whether it was not the work of a new hand,
who wrote, not from experience, but from his or her ideas of the
condition to which a story-teller, a novelist, must in all
probability be sooner or later reduced. The reader must judge for
himself whether this first paper is the work of an old hand or a
SOME EXPERIENCES OF A NOVELIST.
"I have written a frightful number of stories, forty or more, I
think. Let me see. For twelve years two novels a year regularly:
that makes twenty-four. In three different years I have written
three stories annually: that makes thirty-three. In five years one a
year,--thirty-eight. That is all, is n't it? Yes. Thirty-eight,
not forty. I wish I could make them all into one composite story, as
Mr. Galton does his faces.
"Hero--heroine--mamma--papa--uncle--sister, and so on. Love--
obstacles--misery--tears--despair--glimmer of hope--unexpected
solution of difficulties--happy finale.
"Landscape for background according to season. Plants of each month
got up from botanical calendars.
"I should like much to see the composite novel. Why not apply Mr.
Galton's process, and get thirty-eight stories all in one? All the
Yankees would resolve into one Yankee, all the P---- West Britons
into one Patrick, etc., what a saving of time it would be!
"I got along pretty well with my first few stories. I had some
characters around me which, a little disguised, answered well enough.
There was the minister of the parish, and there was an old
schoolmaster either of them served very satisfactorily for
grandfathers and old uncles. All I had to do was to shift some of
their leading peculiarities, keeping the rest. The old minister wore
knee-breeches. I clapped them on to the schoolmaster. The
schoolmaster carried a tall gold-headed cane. I put this in the
minister's hands. So with other things,--I shifted them round, and
got a set of characters who, taken together, reproduced the chief
persons of the village where I lived, but did not copy any individual
exactly. Thus it went on for a while; but by and by my stock company
began to be rather too familiarly known, in spite of their change of
costume, and at last some altogether too sagacious person published
what he called a 'key' to several of my earlier stories, in which I
found the names of a number of neighbors attached to aliases of my
own invention. All the 'types,' as he called them, represented by
these personages of my story had come to be recognized, each as
standing for one and the same individual of my acquaintance. It had
been of no use to change the costume. Even changing the sex did no
good. I had a famous old gossip in one of my tales,--a much-babbling
Widow Sertingly. 'Sho!' they all said, that 's old Deacon Spinner,
the same he told about in that other story of his,--only the deacon's
got on a petticoat and a mob-cap,--but it's the same old sixpence.'
So I said to myself, I must have some new characters. I had no
trouble with young characters; they are all pretty much alike,--dark-
haired or light-haired, with the outfits belonging to their
complexion, respectively. I had an old great-aunt, who was a tip-top
eccentric. I had never seen anything just like her in books. So I
said, I will have you, old lady, in one of my stories; and, sure
enough, I fitted her out with a first-rate odd-sounding name, which I
got from the directory, and sent her forth to the world, disguised,
as I supposed, beyond the possibility of recognition. The book sold
well, and the eccentric personage was voted a novelty. A few weeks
after it was published a lawyer called upon me, as the agent of the
person in the directory, whose family name I had used, as he
maintained, to his and all his relatives' great damage, wrong, loss,
grief, shame, and irreparable injury, for which the sum of blank
thousand dollars would be a modest compensation. The story made the
book sell, but not enough to pay blank thousand dollars. In the mean
time a cousin of mine had sniffed out the resemblance between the
character in my book and our great-aunt. We were rivals in her good
graces. 'Cousin Pansie' spoke to her of my book and the trouble it
was bringing on me,--she was so sorry about it! She liked my story,
--only those personalities, you know. 'What personalities?' says old
granny-aunt. 'Why, auntie, dear, they do say that he has brought in
everybody we know,--did n't anybody tell you about--well,--I suppose
you ought to know it,--did n't anybody tell you you were made fun of
in that novel?' Somebody--no matter who--happened to hear all this,
and told me. She said granny-aunt's withered old face had two red
spots come to it, as if she had been painting her cheeks from a pink
saucer. No, she said, not a pink saucer, but as if they were two
coals of fire. She sent out and got the book, and made her (the
somebody that I was speaking of) read it to her. When she had heard
as much as she could stand,--for 'Cousin Pansie' explained passages
to her,--explained, you know,--she sent for her lawyer, and that same
somebody had to be a witness to a new will she had drawn up. It was
not to my advantage. 'Cousin Pansie' got the corner lot where the
grocery is, and pretty much everything else. The old woman left me a
legacy. What do you think it was? An old set of my own books, that
looked as if it had been bought out of a bankrupt circulating
"After that I grew more careful. I studied my disguises much more
diligently. But after all, what could I do? Here I was, writing
stories for my living and my reputation. I made a pretty sum enough,
and worked hard enough to earn it. No tale, no money. Then every
story that went from my workshop had to come up to the standard of my
reputation, and there was a set of critics,--there is a set of
critics now and everywhere,--that watch as narrowly for the decline
of a man's reputation as ever a village half drowned out by an
inundation watched for the falling of the waters. The fame I had
won, such as it was, seemed to attend me,--not going before me in the
shape of a woman with a trumpet, but rather following me like one of
Actaeon's hounds, his throat open, ready to pull me down and tear me.
What a fierce enemy is that which bays behind us in the voice of our
proudest bygone achievement!
"But, as I said above, what could I do? I must write novels, and I
must have characters. 'Then why not invent them?' asks some novice.
Oh, yes! Invent them! You can invent a human being that in certain
aspects of humanity will answer every purpose for which your
invention was intended. A basket of straw, an old coat and pair of
breeches, a hat which has been soaked, sat upon, stuffed a broken
window, and had a brood of chickens raised in it,--these elements,
duly adjusted to each other, will represent humanity so truthfully
that the crows will avoid the cornfield when your scarecrow displays
his personality. Do you think you can make your heroes and
heroines,--nay, even your scrappy supernumeraries,--out of refuse
material, as you made your scarecrow? You can't do it. You must
study living people and reproduce them. And whom do you know so well
as your friends? You will show up your friends, then, one after
another. When your friends give out, who is left for you? Why,
nobody but your own family, of course. When you have used up your
family, there is nothing left for you but to write your
"After my experience with my grand-aunt, I be came more cautious,
very naturally. I kept traits of character, but I mixed ages as well
as sexes. In this way I continued to use up a large amount of
material, which looked as if it were as dangerous as dynamite to
meddle with. Who would have expected to meet my maternal uncle in
the guise of a schoolboy? Yet I managed to decant his
characteristics as nicely as the old gentleman would have decanted a
bottle of Juno Madeira through that long siphon which he always used
when the most sacred vintages were summoned from their crypts to
render an account of themselves on his hospitable board. It was a
nice business, I confess, but I did it, and I drink cheerfully to
that good uncle's memory in a glass of wine from his own cellar,
which, with many other more important tokens of his good will, I call
my own since his lamented demise.
"I succeeded so well with my uncle that I thought I would try a
course of cousins. I had enough of them to furnish out a whole
gallery of portraits. There was cousin 'Creeshy,' as we called her;
Lucretia, more correctly. She was a cripple. Her left lower limb
had had something happen to it, and she walked with a crutch. Her
patience under her trial was very pathetic and picturesque, so to
speak,--I mean adapted to the tender parts of a story; nothing could
work up better in a melting paragraph. But I could not, of course,
describe her particular infirmity; that would point her out at once.
I thought of shifting the lameness to the right lower limb, but even
that would be seen through. So I gave the young woman that stood for
her in my story a lame elbow, and put her arm in a sling, and made
her such a model of uncomplaining endurance that my grandmother cried
over her as if her poor old heart would break. She cried very
easily, my grandmother; in fact, she had such a gift for tears that I
availed myself of it, and if you remember old Judy, in my novel
"Honi Soit" (Honey Sweet, the booksellers called it),--old Judy, the
black-nurse,--that was my grandmother. She had various other
peculiarities, which I brought out one by one, and saddled on to
different characters. You see she was a perfect mine of
singularities and idiosyncrasies. After I had used her up pretty
well, I came dawn upon my poor relations. They were perfectly fair
game; what better use could I put them to? I studied them up very
carefully, and as there were a good many of them I helped myself
freely. They lasted me, with occasional intermissions, I should say,
three or four years. I had to be very careful with my poor
relations,--they were as touchy as they could be; and as I felt bound
to send a copy of my novel, whatever it might be, to each one of
them,--there were as many as a dozen,--I took care to mix their
characteristic features, so that, though each might suspect I meant
the other, no one should think I meant him or her. I got through all
my relations at last except my father and mother. I had treated my
brothers and sisters pretty fairly, all except Elisha and Joanna.
The truth is they both had lots of odd ways,--family traits, I
suppose, but were just different enough from each other to figure
separately in two different stories. These two novels made me some
little trouble; for Elisha said he felt sure that I meant Joanna in
one of them, and quarrelled with me about it; and Joanna vowed and
declared that Elnathan, in the other, stood for brother 'Lisha, and
that it was a real mean thing to make fun of folks' own flesh and
blood, and treated me to one of her cries. She was n't handsome when
she cried, poor, dear Joanna; in fact, that was one of the personal
traits I had made use of in the story that Elisha found fault with.
"So as there was nobody left but my father and mother, you see for
yourself I had no choice. There was one great advantage in dealing
with them,--I knew them so thoroughly. One naturally feels a certain
delicacy it handling from a purely artistic point of view persons who
have been so near to him. One's mother, for instance: suppose some
of her little ways were so peculiar that the accurate delineation of
them would furnish amusement to great numbers of readers; it would
not be without hesitation that a writer of delicate sensibility would
draw her portrait, with all its whimsicalities, so plainly that it
should be generally recognized. One's father is commonly of tougher
fibre than one's mother, and one would not feel the same scruples,
perhaps, in using him professionally as material in a novel; still,
while you are employing him as bait,--you see I am honest and plain-
spoken, for your characters are baits to catch readers with,--I would
follow kind Izaak Walton's humane counsel about the frog you are
fastening to your fish-hook: fix him artistically, as he directs, but
in so doing I use him as though you loved him.'
"I have at length shown up, in one form and another, all my townsmen
who have anything effective in their bodily or mental make-up, all my
friends, all my relatives; that is, all my blood relatives. It has
occurred to me that I might open a new field in the family connection
of my father-in-law and mother-in-law. We have been thinking of
paying them a visit, and I shall have an admirable opportunity of
studying them and their relatives and visitors. I have long wanted a
good chance for getting acquainted with the social sphere several
grades below that to which I am accustomed, and I have no doubt that
I shall find matter for half a dozen new stories among those
connections of mine. Besides, they live in a Western city, and one
doesn't mind much how he cuts up the people of places he does n't
himself live in. I suppose there is not really so much difference in
people's feelings, whether they live in Bangor or Omaha, but one's
nerves can't be expected to stretch across the continent. It is all
a matter of greater or less distance. I read this morning that a
Chinese fleet was sunk, but I did n't think half so much about it as
I did about losing my sleeve button, confound it! People have
accused me of want of feeling; they misunderstand the artist-nature,
--that is all. I obey that implicitly; I am sorry if people don't
like my descriptions, but I have done my best. I have pulled to
pieces all the persons I am acquainted with, and put them together
again in my characters. The quills I write with come from live
geese, I would have you know. I expect to get some first-rate
pluckings from those people I was speaking of, and I mean to begin my
thirty-ninth novel as soon as I have got through my visit."
THE SOCIETY AND ITS NEW SECRETARY.
There is no use in trying to hurry the natural course of events, in a
narrative like this. June passed away, and July, and August had
come, and as yet the enigma which had completely puzzled Arrowhead
Village and its visitors remained unsolved. The white canoe still
wandered over the lake, alone, ghostly, always avoiding the near
approach of the boats which seemed to be coming in its direction.
Now and then a circumstance would happen which helped to keep inquiry
alive. Good horsemanship was not so common among the young men of
the place and its neighborhood that Maurice's accomplishment in that
way could be overlooked. If there was a wicked horse or a wild colt
whose owner was afraid of him, he would be commended to Maurice's
attention. Paolo would lead him to his master with all due
precaution,--for he had no idea of risking his neck on the back of
any ill-conditioned beast,--and Maurice would fasten on his long
spurs, spring into the saddle, and very speedily teach the creature
good behavior. There soon got about a story that he was what the
fresh-water fisherman called "one o' them whisperers." It is a
common legend enough, coming from the Old World, but known in
American horse-talking circles, that some persons will whisper
certain words in a horse's ear which will tame him if he is as wild
and furious as ever Cruiser was. All this added to the mystery which
surrounded the young man. A single improbable or absurd story
amounts to very little, but when half a dozen such stories are told
about the same individual or the same event, they begin to produce
the effect of credible evidence. If the year had been 1692 and the
place had been Salem Village, Maurice Kirkwood would have run the
risk of being treated like the Reverend George Burroughs.
Miss Lurida Vincent's curiosity had been intensely excited with
reference to the young man of whom so many stories were told. She
had pretty nearly convinced herself that he was the author of the
paper on Ocean, Lake, and River, which had been read at one of the
meetings of the Pansophian Society. She was very desirous of meeting
him, if it were possible. It seemed as if she might, as Secretary of
the Society, request the cooperation of any of the visitors, without
impropriety. So, after much deliberation, she wrote a careful note,
of which the following is an exact copy. Her hand was bold, almost
masculine, a curious contrast to that of Euthymia, which was
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 3, 18-.
MAURICE KIRKWOOD, ESQ.
DEAR SIR,--You have received, I trust, a card of invitation to the
meetings of our Society, but I think we have not yet had the pleasure
of seeing you at any of them. We have supposed that we might be
indebted to you for a paper read at the last meeting, and listened to
with much interest. As it was anonymous, we do not wish to be
inquisitive respecting its authorship; but we desire to say that any
papers kindly sent us by the temporary residents of our village will
be welcome, and if adapted to the wants of our Association will be
read at one of its meetings or printed in its records, or perhaps
both read and printed. May we not hope for your presence at the
meeting, which is to take place next Wednesday evening?
Secretary of the Pansophian Society.
To this note the Secretary received the following reply:
MISS LURIDA VINCENT,
ARROWHEAD VILLAGE, August 4, 18-.
Secretary of the Pansophian Society:
DEAR MISS VINCENT,--I have received the ticket you refer to, and
desire to express my acknowledgments for the polite attention. I
regret that I have not been and I fear shall not be able to attend
the meetings of the Society; but if any subject occurs to me on which
I feel an inclination to write, it will give me pleasure to send a
paper, to be disposed of as the Society may see fit.
Very respectfully yours,
"He says nothing about the authorship of the paper that was read the
other evening," the Secretary said to herself. "No matter,--he
wrote it,--there is no mistaking his handwriting. We know something
about him, now, at any rate. But why doesn't he come to our
meetings? What has his antipathy to do with his staying away? I
must find out what his secret is, and I will. I don't believe it's
harder than it was to solve that prize problem which puzzled so many
teachers, or than beating Crakowitz, the great chess-player."
To this enigma, then, The Terror determined to bend all the faculties
which had excited the admiration and sometimes the amazement of those
who knew her in her school-days. It was a very delicate piece of
business; for though Lurida was an intrepid woman's rights advocate,
and believed she was entitled to do almost everything that men dared
to, she knew very well there were certain limits which a young woman
like herself must not pass.
In the mean time Maurice had received a visit from the young student
at the University,--the same whom he had rescued from his dangerous
predicament in the lake. With him had called one of the teachers,--
an instructor in modern languages, a native of Italy. Maurice and
the instructor exchanged a few words in Italian. The young man spoke
it with the ease which implied long familiarity with its use.
After they left, the instructor asked many curious questions about
him,--who he was, how long he had been in the village, whether
anything was known of his history,--all these inquiries with an
eagerness which implied some special and peculiar reason for the
interest they evinced.
"I feel satisfied," the instructor said, "that I have met that young
man in my own country. It was a number of years ago, and of course
he has altered in appearance a good deal; but there is a look about
him of--what shall I call it?---apprehension,--as if he were fearing
the approach of something or somebody. I think it is the way a man
would look that was haunted; you know what I mean,--followed by a
spirit or ghost. He does not suggest the idea of a murderer,--very
far from it; but if he did, I should think he was every minute in
fear of seeing the murdered man's spirit."
The student was curious, in his turn, to know all the instructor
could recall. He had seen him in Rome, he thought, at the Fountain
of Trevi, where so many strangers go before leaving the city. The
youth was in the company of a man who looked like a priest. He could
not mistake the peculiar expression of his countenance, but that was
all he now remembered about his appearance. His attention had been
called to this young man by seeing that some of the bystanders were
pointing at him, and noticing that they were whispering with each
other as if with reference to him. He should say that the youth was
at that time fifteen or sixteen years old, and the time was about ten
After all, this evidence was of little or no value. Suppose the
youth were Maurice; what then? We know that he had been in Italy,
and had been there a good while,--or at least we infer so much from
his familiarity with the language, and are confirmed in the belief by
his having an Italian servant, whom he probably brought from Italy
when he returned. If he wrote the paper which was read the other
evening, that settles it, for the writer says he had lived by the
Tiber. We must put this scrap of evidence furnished by the Professor
with the other scraps; it may turn out of some consequence, sooner or
later. It is like a piece of a dissected map; it means almost
nothing by itself, but when we find the pieces it joins with we may
discover a very important meaning in it.
In a small, concentrated community like that which centred in and
immediately around Arrowhead Village, every day must have its local
gossip as well as its general news. The newspaper tells the small
community what is going on in the great world, and the busy tongues
of male and female, especially the latter, fill in with the
occurrences and comments of the ever-stirring microcosm. The fact
that the Italian teacher had, or thought he had, seen Maurice ten
years before was circulated and made the most of,--turned over and
over like a cake, until it was thoroughly done on both sides and all
through. It was a very small cake, but better than nothing. Miss
Vincent heard this story, as others did, and talked about it with her
friend, Miss Tower. Here was one more fact to help along.
The two young ladies who had recently graduated at the Corinna
Institute remained, as they had always been, intimate friends. They
were the natural complements of each other. Euthymia represented a
complete, symmetrical womanhood. Her outward presence was only an
index of a large, wholesome, affluent life. She could not help being
courageous, with such a firm organization. She could not help being
generous, cheerful, active. She had been told often enough that she
was fair to look upon. She knew that she was called The Wonder by
the schoolmates who were dazzled by her singular accomplishments, but
she did not overvalue them. She rather tended to depreciate her own
gifts, in comparison with those of her friend, Miss Lurida Vincent.
The two agreed all the better for differing as they did. The octave
makes a perfect chord, when shorter intervals jar more or less on the
ear. Each admired the other with a heartiness which if they had been
less unlike, would have been impossible.
It was a pleasant thing to observe their dependence on each other.
The Terror of the schoolroom was the oracle in her relations with her
friend. All the freedom of movement which The Wonder showed in her
bodily exercises The Terror manifested in the world of thought. She
would fling open a book, and decide in a swift glance whether it had
any message for her. Her teachers had compared her way of reading to
the taking of an instantaneous photograph. When she took up the
first book on Physiology which Dr. Butts handed her, it seemed to him
that if she only opened at any place, and gave one look, her mind
drank its meaning up, as a moist sponge absorbs water. "What can I
do with such a creature as this?" he said to himself. "There is
only one way to deal with her, treat her as one treats a silkworm:
give it its mulberry leaf, and it will spin its own cocoon. Give her
the books, and she will spin her own web of knowledge."
"Do you really think of studying medicine?" said Dr. Butts to her.
"I have n't made up my mind about that," she answered, "but I want to
know a little more about this terrible machinery of life and death we
are all tangled in. I know something about it, but not enough. I
find some very strange beliefs among the women I meet with, and I
want to be able to silence them when they attempt to proselyte me to
their whims and fancies. Besides, I want to know everything."
"They tell me you do, already," said Dr. Butts.
"I am the most ignorant little wretch that draws the breath of life!"
exclaimed The Terror.
The doctor smiled. He knew what it meant. She had reached that
stage of education in which the vast domain of the unknown opens its
illimitable expanse before the eyes of the student. We never know
the extent of darkness until it is partially illuminated.
"You did not leave the Institute with the reputation of being the
most ignorant young lady that ever graduated there," said the doctor.
"They tell me you got the highest marks of any pupil on their record
since the school was founded."
"What a grand thing it was to be the biggest fish in our small
aquarium, to be sure!" answered The Terror. "He was six inches long,
the monster,--a little too big for bait to catch a pickerel with!
What did you hand me that schoolbook for? Did you think I did n't
know anything about the human body?"
"You said you were such an ignorant creature I thought I would try
you with an easy book, by way of introduction."
The Terror was not confused by her apparent self-contradiction.
"I meant what I said, and I mean what I say. When I talk about my
ignorance, I don't measure myself with schoolgirls, doctor. I don't
measure myself with my teachers, either. You must talk to me as if I
were a man, a grown man, if you mean to teach me anything. Where is
your hat, doctor? Let me try it on."
The doctor handed her his wide-awake. The Terror's hair was not
naturally abundant, like Euthymia's, and she kept it cut rather
short. Her head used to get very hot when she studied hard. She
tried to put the hat on.
"Do you see that?" she said. "I could n't wear it--it would squeeze
my eyes out of my head. The books told me that women's brains were
smaller than men's: perhaps they are,--most of them,--I never
measured a great many. But when they try to settle what women are
good for, by phrenology, I like to have them put their tape round my
head. I don't believe in their nonsense, for all that. You might as
well tell me that if one horse weighs more than another horse he is
worth more,--a cart-horse that weighs twelve or fourteen hundred
pounds better than Eclipse, that may have weighed a thousand. Give
me a list of the best books you can think of, and turn me loose in
your library. I can find what I want, if you have it; and what I
don't find there I will get at the Public Library. I shall want to
ask you a question now and then."
The doctor looked at her with a kind of admiration, but thoughtfully,
as if he feared she was thinking of a task too formidable for her
slight constitutional resource.
She returned, instinctively, to the apparent contradiction in her
statements about herself.
"I am not a fool, if I am ignorant. Yes, doctor, I sail on a wide
sea of ignorance, but I have taken soundings of some of its shallows
and some of its depths. Your profession deals with the facts of life
that interest me most just now, and I want to know something of it.
Perhaps I may find it a calling such as would suit me."
"Do you seriously think of becoming a practitioner of medicine?" said
"Certainly, I seriously think of it as a possibility, but I want to
know something more about it first. Perhaps I sha'n't believe in
medicine enough to practise it. Perhaps I sha'n't like it well
enough. No matter about that. I wish to study some of your best
books on some of the subjects that most interest me. I know about
bones and muscles and all that, and about digestion and respiration
and such things. I want to study up the nervous system, and learn
all about it. I am of the nervous temperament myself, and perhaps
that is the reason. I want to read about insanity and all that
relates to it."
A curious expression flitted across the doctor's features as The
Terror said this.
"Nervous system. Insanity. She has headaches, I know,--all those
large-headed, hard-thinking girls do, as a matter of course; but what
has set her off about insanity and the nervous system? I wonder if
any of her more remote relatives are subject to mental disorder.
Bright people very often have crazy relations. Perhaps some of her
friends are in that way. I wonder whether"--the doctor did not speak
any of these thoughts, and in fact hardly shaped his "whether," for
The Terror interrupted his train of reflection, or rather struck into
it in a way which startled him.
"Where is the first volume of this Medical Cyclopaedia?" she asked,
looking at its empty place on the shelf.
"On my table," the doctor answered. "I have been consulting it."
Lurida flung it open, in her eager way, and turned the pages rapidly
until she came to the one she wanted. The doctor cast his eye on the
beading of the page, and saw the large letters A N T.
"I thought so," he said to himself. "We shall know everything there
is in the books about antipathies now, if we never did before. She
has a special object in studying the nervous system, just as I
suspected. I think she does not care to mention it at this time; but
if she finds out anything of interest she will tell me, if she does
anybody. Perhaps she does not mean to tell anybody. It is a rather
delicate business,--a young girl studying the natural history of a
young man. Not quite so safe as botany or palaeontology!"
Lurida, lately The Terror, now Miss Vincent, had her own plans, and
chose to keep them to herself, for the present, at least. Her hands
were full enough, it might seem, without undertaking the solution of
the great Arrowhead Village enigma. But she was in the most perfect
training, so far as her intelligence was concerned; and the summer
rest had restored her bodily vigor, so that her brain was like an
overcharged battery which will find conductors somewhere to carry off
its crowded energy.
At this time Arrowhead Village was enjoying the most successful
season it had ever known. The Pansophian Society flourished to an
extraordinary degree under the fostering care of the new Secretary.
The rector was a good figure-head as President, but the Secretary was
the life of the Society. Communications came in abundantly: some
from the village and its neighborhood, some from the University and
the Institute, some from distant and unknown sources. The new
Secretary was very busy with the work of examining these papers.
After a forenoon so employed, the carpet of her room looked like a
barn floor after a husking-match. A glance at the manuscripts
strewed about, or lying in heaps, would have frightened any young
writer away from the thought of authorship as a business. If the
candidate for that fearful calling had seen the process of selection
and elimination, he would have felt still more desperately. A paper
of twenty pages would come in, with an underscored request to please
read through, carefully. That request alone is commonly sufficient
to condemn any paper, and prevent its having any chance of a hearing;
but the Secretary was not hardened enough yet for that kind of
martial law in dealing with manuscripts. The looker-on might have
seen her take up the paper, cast one flashing glance at its title,
read the first sentence and the last, dip at a venture into two or
three pages, and decide as swiftly as the lightning calculator would
add up a column of figures what was to be its destination. If
rejected, it went into the heap on the left; if approved, it was laid
apart, to be submitted to the Committee for their judgment. The
foolish writers who insist on one's reading through their manuscript
poems and stories ought to know how fatal the request is to their
prospects. It provokes the reader, to begin with. The reading of
manuscript is frightful work, at the best; the reading of worthless
manuscript--and most of that which one is requested to read through
is worthless--would add to the terrors of Tartarus, if any infernal
deity were ingenious enough to suggest it as a punishment.
If a paper was rejected by the Secretary, it did not come before the
Committee, but was returned to the author, if he sent for it, which
he commonly did. Its natural course was to try for admission into
some one of the popular magazines: into "The Sifter," the most
fastidious of them all; if that declined it, into "The Second Best;"
and if that returned it, into "The Omnivorous." If it was refused
admittance at the doors of all the magazines, it might at length find
shelter in the corner of a newspaper, where a good deal of very
readable verse is to be met with nowadays, some of which has been, no
doubt, presented to the Pansophian Society, but was not considered up
to its standard.
A NEW ARRIVAL.
There was a recent accession to the transient population of the
village which gave rise to some speculation. The new-comer was a
young fellow, rather careless in his exterior, but apparently as much
at home as if he owned Arrowhead Village and everything in it. He
commonly had a cigar in his mouth, carried a pocket pistol, of the
non-explosive sort, and a stick with a bulldog's bead for its knob;
wore a soft bat, a coarse check suit, a little baggy, and gaiterboots
which had been half-soled,--a Bohemian-looking personage, altogether.
This individual began making explorations in every direction. He was
very curious about the place and all the people in it. He was
especially interested in the Pansophian Society, concerning which he
made all sorts of inquiries. This led him to form a summer
acquaintance with the Secretary, who was pleased to give him whatever
information he asked for; being proud of the Society, as she had a
right to be, and knowing more about it than anybody else.
The visitor could not have been long in the village without hearing
something of Maurice Kirkwood, and the stories, true and false,
connected with his name. He questioned everybody who could tell him
anything about Maurice, and set down the answers in a little note-
book he always had with him.
All this naturally excited the curiosity of the village about this
new visitor. Among the rest, Miss Vincent, not wanting in an
attribute thought to belong more especially to her sex, became
somewhat interested to know more exactly who this inquiring, note-
taking personage, who seemed to be everywhere and to know everybody,
might himself be. Meeting him at the Public Library at a fortunate
moment, when there was nobody but the old Librarian, who was hard of
hearing, to interfere with their conversation, the little Secretary
had a chance to try to find out something about him.
"This is a very remarkable library for a small village to possess,"
he remarked to Miss Lurida.
"It is, indeed," she said. "Have you found it well furnished with
the books you most want?"
"Oh, yes,--books enough. I don't care so much for the books as I do
for the Newspapers. I like a Review well enough,--it tells you all
there is in a book; but a good abstract of the Review in a Newspaper
saves a fellow the trouble of reading it."
"You find the papers you want, here, I hope," said the young lady.
"Oh, I get along pretty well. It's my off-time, and I don't do much
reading or writing. Who is the city correspondent of this place?"
"I don't think we have any one who writes regularly. Now and then,
there is a letter, with the gossip of the place in it, or an account
of some of the doings at our Society. The city papers are always
glad to get the reports of our meetings, and to know what is going on
in the village."
"I suppose you write about the Society to the papers, as you are the
This was a point-blank shot. She meant to question the young man
about his business, and here she was on the witness-stand. She
ducked her head, and let the question go over her.
"Oh, there are plenty of members who are willing enough to write,--
especially to give an account of their own papers. I think they like
to have me put in the applause, when they get any. I do that
sometimes." (How much more, she did not say.)
"I have seen some very well written articles, which, from what they
tell me of the Secretary, I should have thought she might have
He looked her straight in the eyes.
"I have transmitted some good papers," she said, without winking, or
swallowing, or changing color, precious little color she had to
change; her brain wanted all the blood it could borrow or steal, and
more too. "You spoke of Newspapers," she said, without any change of
tone or manner: "do you not frequently write for them yourself?"
"I should think I did," answered the young man. "I am a regular
correspondent of 'The People's Perennial and Household Inquisitor.'"
"The regular correspondent from where?"
"Where! Oh, anywhere,--the place does not make much difference. I
have been writing chiefly from Naples and St. Petersburg, and now and
then from Constantinople."
"How long since your return to this country, may I ask?"
"My return? I have never been out of this country. I travel with a
gazetteer and some guide-books. It is the cheapest way, and you can
get the facts much better from them than by trusting your own
observation. I have made the tour of Europe by the help of them and
the newspapers. But of late I have taken to interviewing. I find
that a very pleasant specialty. It is about as good sport as trout-
tickling, and much the same kind of business. I should like to send
the Society an account of one of my interviews. Don't you think they
would like to hear it?"
"I have no doubt they would. Send it to me, and I will look it over;
and if the Committee approve it, we will have it at the next meeting.
You know everything has to be examined and voted on by the
Committee," said the cautious Secretary.
"Very well,--I will risk it. After it is read, if it is read, please
send it back to me, as I want to sell it to 'The Sifter,' or 'The
Second Best,' or some of the paying magazines."
This is the paper, which was read at the next meeting of the
"I was ordered by the editor of the newspaper to which I am attached,
'The People's Perennial and Household Inquisitor,' to make a visit to
a certain well-known writer, and obtain all the particulars I could
concerning him and all that related to him. I have interviewed a
good many politicians, who I thought rather liked the process; but I
had never tried any of these literary people, and I was not quite
sure how this one would feel about it. I said as much to the chief,
but he pooh-poohed my scruples. 'It is n't our business whether they
like it or not,' said he; 'the public wants it, and what the public
wants it's bound to have, and we are bound to furnish it. Don't be
afraid of your man; he 's used to it,--he's been pumped often enough
to take it easy, and what you've got to do is to pump him dry. You
need n't be modest,--ask him what you like; he is n't bound to
answer, you know.'
"As he lived in a rather nice quarter of the town, I smarted myself up
a little, put on a fresh collar and cuffs, and got a five-cent shine
on my best high-lows. I said to myself, as I was walking towards the
house where he lived, that I would keep very shady for a while and
pass for a visitor from a distance; one of those 'admiring strangers'
who call in to pay their respects, to get an autograph, and go home
and say that they have met the distinguished So and So, which gives
them a certain distinction in the village circle to which they
"My man, the celebrated writer, received me in what was evidently his
reception-room. I observed that he managed to get the light full on
my face, while his own was in the shade. I had meant to have his
face in the light, but he knew the localities, and had arranged
things so as to give him that advantage. It was like two frigates
manoeuvring,--each trying to get to windward of the other. I never
take out my note-book until I and my man have got engaged in artless
and earnest conversation,--always about himself and his works, of
course, if he is an author.
"I began by saying that he must receive a good many callers. Those
who had read his books were naturally curious to see the writer of
"He assented, emphatically, to this statement. He had, he said, a
great many callers.
"I remarked that there was a quality in his books which made his
readers feel as if they knew him personally, and caused them to
cherish a certain attachment to him.
"He smiled, as if pleased. He was himself disposed to think so, he
said. In fact, a great many persons, strangers writing to him, had
told him so.
"My dear sir, I said, there is nothing wonderful in the fact you
mention. You reach a responsive chord in many human breasts.
'One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin.'
"Everybody feels as if he, and especially she (his eyes sparkled),
were your blood relation. Do they not name their children after you
"He blushed perceptibly. 'Sometimes,' he answered. 'I hope they
will all turn out well.'
"I am afraid I am taking up too much of your time, I said.
"No, not at all,' he replied. 'Come up into my library; it is warmer
and pleasanter there.'
"I felt confident that I had him by the right handle then; for an
author's library, which is commonly his working-room, is, like a
lady's boudoir, a sacred apartment.
"So we went upstairs, and again he got me with the daylight on my
face, when I wanted it on has.
"You have a fine library, I remarked. There were books all round the
room, and one of those whirligig square book-cases. I saw in front a
Bible and a Concordance, Shakespeare and Mrs. Cowden Clarke's book,
and other classical works and books of grave aspect. I contrived to
give it a turn, and on the side next the wall I got a glimpse of
Barnum's Rhyming Dictionary, and several Dictionaries of Quotations
and cheap compends of knowledge. Always twirl one of those revolving
book-cases when you visit a scholar's library. That is the way to
find out what books he does n't want you to see, which of course are
the ones you particularly wish to see.
"Some may call all this impertinent and inquisitive. What do you
suppose is an interviewer's business? Did you ever see an oyster
opened? Yes? Well, an interviewer's business is the same thing.
His man is his oyster, which he, not with sword, but with pencil and
note-book, must open. Mark how the oysterman's thin blade insinuates
itself,--how gently at first, how strenuously when once fairly
between the shells!
"And here, I said, you write your books,--those books which have
carried your name to all parts of the world, and will convey it down
to posterity! Is this the desk at which you write? And is this the
pen you write with?
"'It is the desk and the very pen,' he replied.
"He was pleased with my questions and my way of putting them. I took
up the pen as reverentially as if it had been made of the feather
which the angel I used to read about in Young's "Night Thoughts"
ought to have dropped, and did n't.
"Would you kindly write your autograph in my note-book, with that
pen? I asked him. Yes, he would, with great pleasure.
"So I got out my note-book.
"It was a spick and span new one, bought on purpose for this
interview. I admire your bookcases, said I. Can you tell me just
how high they are?
"'They are about eight feet, with the cornice.'
"I should like to have some like those, if I ever get rich enough,
said I. Eight feet,--eight feet, with the cornice. I must put that
"So I got out my pencil.
"I sat there with my pencil and note-book in my hand, all ready, but
not using them as yet.
"I have heard it said, I observed, that you began writing poems at a
very early age. Is it taking too great a liberty to ask how early
you began to write in verse?
"He was getting interested, as people are apt to be when they are
themselves the subjects of conversation.
"'Very early,--I hardly know how early. I can say truly, as Louise
"'Je fis mes premiers vers sans savoir les ecrire.'"
"I am not a very good French scholar, said I; perhaps you will be
kind enough to translate that line for me.
"'Certainly. With pleasure. I made my first
verses without knowing how to write them.'
"How interesting! But I never heard of Louise Colet. Who was she?
"My man was pleased to gi-ve me a piece of literary information.
"'Louise the lioness! Never heard of her? You have heard of
"Why,--yes,--more or less. To tell the truth, I am not very well up
in French literature. What had he to do with your lioness?
"'A good deal. He satirized her, and she waited at his door with a
case-knife in her hand, intending to stick him with it. By and by he
came down, smoking a cigarette, and was met by this woman flourishing
her case-knife. He took it from her, after getting a cut in his
dressing-gown, put it in his pocket, and went on with his cigarette.
He keeps it with an inscription:
"Donne a Alphonse Karr
Par Madame Louise Colet....
Dans le dos.
"Lively little female!'
"I could n't help thinking that I should n't have cared to interview
the lively little female. He was evidently tickled with the interest
I appeared to take in the story he told me. That made him feel
amiably disposed toward me.
"I began with very general questions, but by degrees I got at
everything about his family history and the small events of his
boyhood. Some of the points touched upon were delicate, but I put a
good bold face on my most audacious questions, and so I wormed out a
great deal that was new concerning my subject. He had been written
about considerably, and the public wouldn't have been satisfied
without some new facts; and these I meant to have, and I got. No
matter about many of them now, but here are some questions and
answers that may be thought worth reading or listening to:
"How do you enjoy being what they call 'a celebrity,' or a celebrated
"'So far as one's vanity is concerned it is well enough. But self-
love is a cup without any bottom, and you might pour the Great Lakes
all through it, and never fill it up. It breeds an appetite for more
of the same kind. It tends to make the celebrity a mere lump of
egotism. It generates a craving for high-seasoned personalities
which is in danger of becoming slavery, like that following the abuse
of alcohol, or opium, or tobacco. Think of a man's having every day,
by every post, letters that tell him he is this and that and the
other, with epithets and endearments, one tenth part of which would
have made him blush red hot before he began to be what you call a
"Are there not some special inconveniences connected with what is
"'I should think so! Suppose you were obliged every day of your life
to stand and shake hands, as the President of the United States has
to after his inauguration: how do you think your hand would feel
after a few months' practice of that exercise? Suppose you had given
you thirty-five millions of money a year, in hundred-dollar coupons,
on condition that you cut them all off yourself in the usual manner:
how do you think you should like the look of a pair of scissors at
the end of a year, in which you had worked ten hours a day every day
but Sunday, cutting off a hundred coupons an hour, and found you had
not finished your task, after all? Yon have addressed me as what you
are pleased to call "a literary celebrity." I won't dispute with you
as to whether or not I deserve that title. I will take it for
granted I am what you call me, and give you some few hints on my
"'You know there was formed a while ago an Association of Authors for
Self-Protection. It meant well, and it was hoped that something
would come of it in the way of relieving that oppressed class, but I
am sorry to say that it has not effected its purpose.'
"I suspected he had a hand in drawing up the Constitution and Laws of
that Association. Yes, I said, an admirable Association it was, and
as much needed as the one for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
I am sorry to hear that it has not proved effectual in putting a stop
to the abuse of a deserving class of men. It ought to have done it;
it was well conceived, and its public manifesto was a masterpiece.
(I saw by his expression that he was its author.)
"'I see I can trust you,' he said. 'I will unbosom myself freely of
some of the grievances attaching to the position of the individual to
whom you have applied the term "Literary Celebrity."
"'He is supposed to be a millionaire, in virtue of the immense sales
of his books, all the money from which, it is taken for granted, goes
into his pocket. Consequently, all subscription papers are handed to
him for his signature, and every needy stranger who has heard his
name comes to him for assistance.
"'He is expected to subscribe for all periodicals, and is goaded by
receiving blank formulae, which, with their promises to pay, he is
expected to fill up.
"'He receives two or three books daily, with requests to read and
give his opinion about each of them, which opinion, if it has a word
which can be used as an advertisement, he will find quoted in all the
"'He receives thick masses of manuscript, prose and verse, which he
is called upon to examine and pronounce on their merits; these
manuscripts having almost invariably been rejected by the editors to
whom they have been sent, and having as a rule no literary value
"'He is expected to sign petitions, to contribute to journals, to
write for fairs, to attend celebrations, to make after-dinner
speeches, to send money for objects he does not believe in to places
he never heard of.
"'He is called on to keep up correspondences with unknown admirers,
who begin by saying they have no claim upon his time, and then
appropriate it by writing page after page, if of the male sex; and
sheet after sheet, if of the other.
"'If a poet, it is taken for granted that he can sit down at any
moment and spin off any number of verses on any subject which may be
suggested to him; such as congratulations to the writer's great-
grandmother on her reaching her hundredth year, an elegy on an infant
aged six weeks, an ode for the Fourth of July in a Western township
not to be found in Lippincott's last edition, perhaps a valentine for
some bucolic lover who believes that wooing in rhyme is the way to
win the object of his affections.'
"Is n't it so? I asked the Celebrity.
"'I would bet on the prose lover. She will show the verses to him,
and they will both have a good laugh over them.'
"I have only reported a small part of the conversation I had with the
Literary Celebrity. He was so much taken up with his pleasing self-
contemplation, while I made him air his opinions and feelings and
spread his characteristics as his laundress spreads and airs his
linen on the clothes-line, that I don't believe it ever occurred to
him that he had been in the hands of an interviewer until he found
himself exposed to the wind and sunshine in full dimensions in the
columns of The People's Perennial and Household Inquisitor.'"
After the reading of this paper, much curiosity was shown as to who
the person spoken of as the "Literary Celebrity" might be. Among the
various suppositions the startling idea was suggested that he was
neither more nor less than the unexplained personage known in the
village as Maurice Kirkwood. Why should that be his real name? Why
should not he be the Celebrity, who had taken this name and fled to
this retreat to escape from the persecutions of kind friends, who
were pricking him and stabbing him nigh to death with their daggers
of sugar candy?
The Secretary of the Pansophian Society determined to question the
Interviewer the next time she met him at the Library, which happened
soon after the meeting when his paper was read.
"I do not know," she said, in the course of a conversation in which
she had spoken warmly of his contribution to the literary
entertainment of the Society, "that you mentioned the name of the
Literary Celebrity whom you interviewed so successfully."
"I did not mention him, Miss Vincent," he answered, "nor do I think
it worth while to name him. He might not care to have the whole
story told of how he was handled so as to make him communicative.
Besides, if I did, it would bring him a new batch of sympathetic
letters, regretting that he was bothered by those horrid
correspondents, full of indignation at the bores who presumed to
intrude upon him with their pages of trash, all the writers of which
would expect answers to their letters of condolence."
The Secretary asked the Interviewer if he knew the young gentleman
who called himself Maurice Kirkwood.
"What," he answered, "the man that paddles a birch canoe, and rides
all the wild horses of the neighborhood? No, I don't know him, but I
have met him once or twice, out walking. A mighty shy fellow, they
tell me. Do you know anything particular about him?"
"Not much. None of us do, but we should like to. The story is that
be has a queer antipathy to something or to somebody, nobody knows
what or whom."
"To newspaper correspondents, perhaps," said the interviewer. "What
made you ask me about him? You did n't think he was my 'Literary
Celebrity,' did you?"
"I did not know. I thought he might be. Why don't you interview
this mysterious personage? He would make a good sensation for your
paper, I should think."
"Why, what is there to be interviewed in him? Is there any story of
crime, or anything else to spice a column or so, or even a few
paragraphs, with? If there is, I am willing to handle him
"I told you he has what they call an antipathy. I don't know how
much wiser you are for that piece of information."
"An antipathy! Why, so have I an antipathy. I hate a spider, and as
for a naked caterpillar,--I believe I should go into a fit if I had
to touch one. I know I turn pale at the sight of some of those great
green caterpillars that come down from the elm-trees in August and
"Afraid of them?" asked the young lady.
"Afraid? What should I be afraid of? They can't bite or sting. I
can't give any reason. All I know is that when I come across one of
these creatures in my path I jump to one side, and cry out,--
sometimes using very improper words. The fact is, they make me crazy
for the moment."
"I understand what you mean," said Miss Vincent. "I used to have the
same feeling about spiders, but I was ashamed of it, and kept a
little menagerie of spiders until I had got over the feeling; that
is, pretty much got over it, for I don't love the creatures very
dearly, though I don't scream when I see one."
"What did you tell me, Miss Vincent, was this fellow's particular
That is just the question. I told you that we don't know and we
can't guess what it is. The people here are tired out with trying to
discover some good reason for the young man's keeping out of the way
of everybody, as he does. They say he is odd or crazy, and they
don't seem to be able to tell which. It would make the old ladies of
the village sleep a great deal sounder,--yes, and some of the young
ladies, too,--if they could find out what this Mr. Kirkwood has got
into his head, that he never comes near any of the people here."
"I think I can find out," said the Interviewer, whose professional
ambition was beginning to be excited. "I never came across anybody
yet that I could n't get something out of. I am going to stay here a
week or two, and before I go I will find out the secret, if there is
any, of this Mr. Maurice Kirkwood."
We must leave the Interviewer to his contrivances until they present
us with some kind of result, either in the shape of success or
THE INTERVIEWER ATTACKS THE SPHINX.
When Miss Euthymia Tower sent her oar off in flashing splinters, as
she pulled her last stroke in the boat-race, she did not know what a
strain she was putting upon it. She did know that she was doing her
best, but how great the force of her best was she was not aware until
she saw its effects. Unconsciousness belonged to her robust nature,
in all its manifestations. She did not pride herself on her
knowledge, nor reproach herself for her ignorance. In every way she
formed a striking contrast to her friend, Miss Vincent. Every word
they spoke betrayed the difference between them: the sharp tones of
Lurida's head-voice, penetrative, aggressive, sometimes irritating,
revealed the corresponding traits of mental and moral character; the
quiet, conversational contralto of Euthymia was the index of a nature
restful and sympathetic.
The friendships of young girls prefigure the closer relations which
will one day come in and dissolve their earlier intimacies. The
dependence of two young friends may be mutual, but one will always
lean more heavily than the other; the masculine and feminine elements
will be as sure to assert themselves as if the friends were of
On all common occasions Euthymia looked up to her friend as her
superior. She fully appreciated all her varied gifts and knowledge,
and deferred to her opinion in every-day matters, not exactly as an
oracle, but as wiser than herself or any of her other companions. It
was a different thing, however, when the graver questions of life
came up. Lurida was full of suggestions, plans, projects, which were
too liable to run into whims before she knew where they were tending.
She would lay out her ideas before Euthymia so fluently and
eloquently that she could not help believing them herself, and
feeling as if her friend must accept them with an enthusiasm like her
own. Then Euthymia would take them up with her sweet, deliberate
accents, and bring her calmer judgment to bear on them.
Lurida was in an excited condition, in the midst of all her new
interests and occupations. She was constantly on the lookout for
papers to be read at the meetings of her Society,--for she made it
her own in great measure, by her zeal and enthusiasm,--and in the
mean time she was reading in various books which Dr. Butts selected
for her, all bearing on the profession to which, at least as a
possibility, she was looking forward. Privately and in a very still
way, she was occupying herself with the problem of the young
stranger, the subject of some delusion, or disease, or obliquity of
unknown nature, to which the vague name of antipathy had been
attached. Euthymia kept an eye upon her, partly in the fear that
over-excitement would produce some mental injury, and partly from
anxiety lest she should compromise her womanly dignity in her desire
to get at the truth of a very puzzling question.
"How do you like the books I see you reading?" said Euthymia to
Lurida, one day, as they met at the Library.
"Better than all the novels I ever read," she answered. "I have been
reading about the nervous system, and it seems to me I have come
nearer the springs of life than ever before in all my studies. I
feel just as if I were a telegraph operator. I was sure that I had a
battery in my head, for I know my brain works like one; but I did not
know how many centres of energy there are, and how they are played
upon by all sorts of influences, external and internal. Do you know,
I believe I could solve the riddle of the 'Arrowhead Village Sphinx,'
as the paper called him, if he would only stay here long enough?"
"What paper has had anything about it, Lurida? I have not seen or
heard of its being mentioned in any of the papers."
"You know that rather queer-looking young man who has been about here
for some time,--the same one who gave the account of his interview
with a celebrated author? Well, he has handed me a copy of a paper
in which he writes, 'The People's Perennial and Household
Inquisitor.' He talks about this village in a very free and easy way.
He says there is a Sphinx here, who has mystified us all."
"And you have been chatting with that fellow! Don't you know that
he'll have you and all of us in his paper? Don't you know that
nothing is safe where one of those fellows gets in with his note-book
and pencil? Oh, Lurida, Lurida, do be careful!" What with this
mysterious young man and this very questionable newspaper-paragraph
writer, you will be talked about, if you don't mind, before you know
it. You had better let the riddle of the Sphinx alone. If you must
deal with such dangerous people, the safest way is to set one of them
to find out the other.--I wonder if we can't get this new man to
interview the visitor you have so much curiosity about. That might
be managed easily enough without your having anything to do with it.
Let me alone, and I will arrange it. But mind, now, you must not
meddle; if you do, you will spoil everything, and get your name in
the 'Household Inquisitor' in a way you won't like."
"Don't be frightened about me, Euthymia. I don't mean to give him a
chance to work me into his paper, if I can help it. But if you can
get him to try his skill upon this interesting personage and his
antipathy, so much the better. I am very curious about it, and
therefore about him. I want to know what has produced this strange
state of feeling in a young man who ought to have all the common
instincts of a social being. I believe there are unexplained facts
in the region of sympathies and antipathies which will repay study
with a deeper insight into the mysteries of life than we have dreamed
of hitherto. I often wonder whether there are not heart-waves and
soul-waves as well as 'brain-waves,' which some have already
Euthymia wondered, as well she might, to hear this young woman
talking the language of science like an adept. The truth is, Lurida
was one of those persons who never are young, and who, by way of
compensation, will never be old. They are found in both sexes. Two
well-known graduates of one of our great universities are living
examples of this precocious but enduring intellectual development.
If the readers of this narrative cannot pick them out, they need not
expect the writer of it to help them. If they guess rightly who they
are, they will recognize the fact that just such exceptional
individuals as the young woman we are dealing with are met with from
time to time in families where intelligence has been cumulative for
two or three generations.
Euthymia was very willing that the questioning and questionable
visitor should learn all that was known in the village about the
nebulous individual whose misty environment all the eyes in the
village were trying to penetrate, but that he should learn it from
some other informant than Lurida.
The next morning, as the Interviewer took his seat on a bench outside
his door, to smoke his after-breakfast cigar, a bright-looking and
handsome youth, whose features recalled those of Euthymia so
strikingly that one might feel pretty sure he was her brother, took a
seat by his side. Presently the two were engaged in conversation.
The Interviewer asked all sorts of questions about everybody in the
village. When he came to inquire about Maurice, the youth showed a
remarkable interest regarding him. The greatest curiosity, he said,
existed with reference to this personage. Everybody was trying to
find out what his story was,--for a story, and a strange one, he must
surely have,--and nobody had succeeded.
The Interviewer began to be unusually attentive. The young man told
him the various antipathy stories, about the evil-eye hypothesis,
about his horse-taming exploits, his rescuing the student whose boat
was overturned, and every occurrence he could recall which would help
out the effect of his narrative.
The Interviewer was becoming excited. "Can't find out anything about
him, you said, did n-'t you? How do you know there's anything to
find? Do you want to know what I think he is? I'll tell you. I
think he is an actor,--a fellow from one of the city theatres. Those
fellows go off in their summer vacation, and like to puzzle the
country folks. They are the very same chaps, like as not, the
visitors have seen in plays at the city theatres; but of course they
don't know 'em in plain clothes. Kings and Emperors look pretty
shabby off the stage sometimes, I can tell you."
The young man followed the Interviewer's lead. "I shouldn't wonder
if you were right," he said. "I remember seeing a young fellow in
Romeo that looked a good deal like this one. But I never met the
Sphinx, as they call him, face to face. He is as shy as a woodchuck.
I believe there are people here that would give a hundred dollars to
find out who he is, and where he came from, and what he is here for,
and why he does n't act like other folks. I wonder why some of those
newspaper men don't come up here and get hold of this story. It
would be just the thing for a sensational writer."
To all this the Interviewer listened with true professional interest.
Always on the lookout for something to make up a paragraph or a
column about; driven oftentimes to the stalest of repetitions,--to
the biggest pumpkin story, the tall cornstalk, the fat ox, the live
frog from the human stomach story, the third set of teeth and reading
without spectacles at ninety story, and the rest of the marvellous
commonplaces which are kept in type with e o y or e 6 m (every
other year or every six months) at the foot; always in want of a
fresh incident, a new story, an undescribed character, an unexplained
mystery, it is no wonder that the Interviewer fastened eagerly upon
this most tempting subject for an inventive and emotional
He had seen Paolo several times, and knew that he was Maurice's
confidential servant, but had never spoken to him. So he said to
himself that he must make Paolo's acquaintance, to begin with. In
the summer season many kinds of small traffic were always carried on
in Arrowhead Village. Among the rest, the sellers of fruits--
oranges, bananas, and others, according to the seasons--did an active
business. The Interviewer watched one of these fruit-sellers, and
saw that his hand-cart stopped opposite the house where, as he knew,
Maurice Kirkwood was living. Presently Paolo came out of the door,
and began examining the contents of the hand-cart. The Interviewer
saw his opportunity. Here was an introduction to the man, and the
man must introduce him to the master.
He knew very well how to ingratiate himself with the man,--there was
no difficulty about that. He had learned his name, and that he was
an Italian whom Maurice had brought to this country with him.
"Good morning, Mr. Paul," he said. "How do you like the look of
"They pretty fair," said Paolo: "no so good as them las' week; no
sweet as them was."
"Why, how do you know without tasting them?" said the Interviewer.
"I know by his look,--I know by his smell,--he no good yaller,--he no
smell ripe,--I know orange ever since my head no bigger than he is,"
and Paolo laughed at his own comparison.
The Interviewer laughed louder than Paolo.
"Good!" said he,--"first-rate! Of course you know all about 'em.
Why can't you pick me out a couple of what you think are the best of
'em? I shall be greatly obliged to you. I have a sick friend, and I
want to get two nice sweet ones for him."
Paolo was pleased. His skill and judgment were recognized. He felt
grateful to the stranger, who had given him, an opportunity of
conferring a favor. He selected two, after careful examination and
grave deliberation. The Interviewer had sense and tact enough not to
offer him an orange, and so shift the balance of obligation.
"How is Mr. Kirkwood, to-day?" he asked.
"Signor? He very well. He always well. Why you ask? Anybody tell
you he sick?"
"No, nobody said he was sick. I have n't seen him going about for a
day or two, and I thought be might have something the matter with
him. Is he in the house now?"
"No: he off riding. He take long, long rides, sometime gone all day.
Sometime he go on lake, paddle, paddle in the morning, very, very
early,--in night when the moon shine; sometime stay in house, and
read, and study, and write,--he great scholar, Misser Kirkwood."
"A good many books, has n't he?"
"He got whole shelfs full of books. Great books, little books, old
books, new books, all sorts of books. He great scholar, I tell you."
"Has n't he some curiosities,--old figures, old jewelry, old coins,
or things of that sort?"
Paolo looked at the young man cautiously, almost suspiciously.
"He don't keep no jewels nor no money in his chamber. He got some
old things,--old jugs, old brass figgers, old money, such as they
used to have in old times: she don't pass now." Paolo's genders were
apt to be somewhat indiscriminately distributed.
A lucky thought struck the Interviewer. "I wonder if he would
examine some old coins of mine?" said he, in a modestly tentative
"I think he like to see anything curious. When he come home I ask
him. Who will I tell him wants to ask him about old coin?"
"Tell him a gentleman visiting Arrowhead Village would like to call
and show him some old pieces of money, said to be Roman ones."
The Interviewer had just remembered that he had two or three old
battered bits of copper which he had picked up at a tollman's, where
they had been passed off for cents. He had bought them as
curiosities. One had the name of Gallienus upon it, tolerably
distinct,--a common little Roman penny; but it would serve his
purpose of asking a question, as would two or three others with less
legible legends. Paolo told him that if he came the next morning he
would stand a fair chance of seeing Mr. Kirkwood. At any rate, he
would speak to his master.
The Interviewer presented himself the next morning, after finishing
his breakfast and his cigar, feeling reasonably sure of finding Mr.
Kirkwood at home, as he proved to be. He had told Paolo to show the
stranger up to his library,--or study, as he modestly called it.
It was a pleasant room enough, with a lookout on the lake in one
direction, and the wooded hill in another. The tenant had fitted it
up in scholarly fashion. The books Paolo spoke of were conspicuous,
many of them, by their white vellum binding and tasteful gilding,
showing that probably they had been bound in Rome, or some other
Italian city. With these were older volumes in their dark original
leather, and recent ones in cloth or paper. As the Interviewer ran
his eye over them, he found that he could make very little out of
what their backs taught him. Some of the paper-covered books, some
of the cloth-covered ones, had names which he knew; but those on the
backs of many of the others were strange to his eyes. The classics
of Greek and Latin and Italian literature were there; and he saw
enough to feel convinced that he had better not attempt to display
his erudition in the company of this young scholar.
The first thing the Interviewer had to do was to account for his
visiting a person who had not asked to make his acquaintance, and who
was living as a recluse. He took out his battered coppers, and
showed them to Maurice.
"I understood that you were very skilful in antiquities, and had a
good many yourself. So I took the liberty of calling upon you,
hoping that you could tell me something about some ancient coins I
have had for a good while." So saying, he pointed to the copper with
the name of Gallienus.
"Is this very rare and valuable? I have heard that great prices have
been paid for some of these ancient coins,--ever so many guineas,
sometimes. I suppose this is as much as a thousand years old."
"More than a thousand years old," said Maurice.
"And worth a great deal of money?" asked the Interviewer.
"No, not a great deal of money," answered Maurice.
"How much, should you say?" said the Interviewer.
Maurice smiled. "A little more than the value of its weight in
copper,--I am afraid not much more. There are a good many of these
coins of Gallienus knocking about. The peddlers and the shopkeepers
take such pieces occasionally, and sell them, sometimes for five or
ten cents, to young collectors. No, it is not very precious in money
value, but as a relic any piece of money that was passed from hand to
hand a thousand or fifteen hundred years ago is interesting. The
value of such relics is a good deal a matter of imagination."
"And what do you say to these others?" asked the Interviewer. Poor
old worn-out things they were, with a letter or two only, and some
faint trace of a figure on one or two of them.
"Very interesting, always, if they carry your imagination back to the
times when you may suppose they were current. Perhaps Horace tossed
one of them to a beggar. Perhaps one of these was the coin that was
brought when One said to those about Him, 'Bring me a penny, that I
may see it.' But the market price is a different matter. That
depends on the beauty and preservation, and above all the rarity, of
the specimen. Here is a coin, now,"--he opened a small cabinet, and
took one from it. "Here is a Syracusan decadrachm with the head of
Persephone, which is at once rare, well preserved, and beautiful. I
am afraid to tell what I paid for it."
The Interviewer was not an expert in numismatics. He cared very
little more for an old coin than he did for an old button, but he had
thought his purchase at the tollman's might prove a good speculation.
No matter about the battered old pieces: he had found out, at any
rate, that Maurice must have money and could be extravagant, or what
he himself considered so; also that he was familiar with ancient
coins. That would do for a beginning.
"May I ask where you picked up the coin you are showing me?" he said
"That is a question which provokes a negative answer. One does not
'pick up' first-class coins or paintings, very often, in these times.
I bought this of a great dealer in Rome."
"Lived in Rome once?" said the Interviewer.
"For some years. Perhaps you have been there yourself?"
The Interviewer said he had never been there yet, but he hoped he
should go there, one of these years. "suppose you studied art and
antiquities while you were there?" he continued.
"Everybody who goes to Rome must learn something of art and
antiquities. Before you go there I advise you to review Roman
history and the classic authors. You had better make a study of
ancient and modern art, and not have everything to learn while you
are going about among ruins, and churches, and galleries. You know
your Horace and Virgil well, I take it for granted?"
The Interviewer hesitated. The names sounded as if he had heard
them. "Not so well as I mean to before going to Rome," he answered.
"May I ask how long you lived in Rome?"
"Long enough to know something of what is to be seen in it. No one
should go there without careful preparation beforehand. You are
familiar with Vasari, of course?"
The Interviewer felt a slight moisture on his forehead. He took out
his handkerchief. "It is a warm day," he said. "I have not had time
to read all--the works I mean to. I have had too much writing to do,
myself, to find all the time for reading and study I could have
"In what literary occupation have you been engaged, if you will
pardon my inquiry? said Maurice.
"I am connected with the press. I understood that you were a man of
letters, and I hoped I might have the privilege of hearing from your
own lips some account of your literary experiences."
"Perhaps that might be interesting, but I think I shall reserve it
for my autobiography. You said you were connected with the press.
Do I understand that you are an author?"
By this time the Interviewer had come to the conclusion that it was a
very warm day. He did not seem to be getting hold of his pitcher by
the right handle, somehow. But he could not help answering Maurice's
very simple question.
"If writing for a newspaper gives one a right to be called an author,
I may call myself one. I write for the "People's Perennial and
"Are you the literary critic of that well-known journal, or do you
manage the political column?"
"I am a correspondent from different places and on various matters of
"Places you have been to, and people you have known?"
"Well, yes,-generally, that is. Sometimes I have to compile my
"Did you write the letter from Rome, published a few weeks ago?"
The Interviewer was in what he would call a tight place. However, he
had found that his man was too much for him, and saw that the best
thing he could do was to submit to be interviewed himself. He
thought that he should be able to pick up something or other which he
could work into his report of his visit.
"Well, I--prepared that article for our columns. You know one does
not have to see everything he describes. You found it accurate, I
hope, in its descriptions?"
"Yes, Murray is generally accurate. Sometimes he makes mistakes, but
I can't say how far you have copied them. You got the Ponte Molle--
the old Milvian bridge--a good deal too far down the stream, if I
remember. I happened to notice that, but I did not read the article
carefully. May I ask whether you propose to do me the honor of
reporting this visit and the conversation we have had, for the
columns of the newspaper with which you are connected?"
The Interviewer thought he saw an opening. "If you have no
objections," he said, "I should like very much to ask a few
questions." He was recovering his professional audacity.
"You can ask as many questions as you consider proper and discreet,--
after you have answered one or two of mine: Who commissioned you to
submit me to examination?"
"The curiosity of the public wishes to be gratified, and I am the
humble agent of its investigations."
"What has the public to do with my private affairs?"
"I suppose it is a question of majority and minority. That settles
everything in this country. You are a minority of one opposed to a
large number of curious people that form a majority against you.
That is the way I've heard the chief put it."
Maurice could not help smiling at the quiet assumption of the
American citizen. The Interviewer smiled, too, and thought he had
his man, sure, at last. Maurice calmly answered, "There is nothing
left for minorities, then, but the right of rebellion. I don't care
about being made the subject of an article for your paper. I am here
for my pleasure, minding my own business, and content with that
occupation. I rebel against your system of forced publicity.
Whenever I am ready I shall tell the public all it has any right to
know about me. In the mean time I shall request to be spared reading
my biography while I am living. I wish you a good-morning."
The Interviewer had not taken out his note-book and pencil. In his
next communication from Arrowhead Village he contented himself with a
brief mention of the distinguished and accomplished gentleman now
visiting the place, whose library and cabinet of coins he had had the
privilege of examining, and whose courtesy was equalled only by the
modesty that shunned the public notoriety which the organs of popular
intelligence would otherwise confer upon him.
The Interviewer had attempted the riddle of the Sphinx, and had
failed to get the first hint of its solution.
The many tongues of the village and its visitors could not remain
idle. The whole subject of antipathies had been talked over, and the
various cases recorded had become more or less familiar to the
conversational circles which met every evening in the different
centres of social life. The prevalent hypothesis for the moment was
that Maurice had a congenital aversion to some color, the effects of
which upon him were so painful or disagreeable that he habitually
avoided exposure to it. It was known, and it has already been
mentioned, that such cases were on record. There had been a great
deal of discussion, of late, with reference to a fact long known to a
few individuals, but only recently made a matter of careful
scientific observation and brought to the notice of the public. This
was the now well-known phenomenon of color-blindness. It did not
Back to Full Books