A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.—APRIL, 1859.—NO. XVIII.
If we can believe an eminent authority, in which we are disposed to place great trust, the oldest contest that has divided society is that which has so long been waged between the House of HAVE and the House of WANT. It began before the bramble was chosen king of the trees, and it has outlasted the cedars of Lebanon. We find it going on when Herodotus wrote his History, and the historians of the nineteenth century will have to continue writing of the actions of the parties to it. There seems never to have been a time when it was not old, or a race that was not engaged in it, from the Tartars, who cook their meat by making saddle-cloths of it, to the Sybarites, impatient of crumpled rose-leaves. Spartan oligarchs and Athenian democrats, Roman patricians and Roman plebeians, Venetian senators and Florentine ciompi, Norman nobles and Saxon serfs, Russian boyars and Turkish spahis, Spanish hidalgos and Aztec soldiers, Carolina slaveholders and New England farmers,—these and a hundred other races or orders have all been parties to the great, the universal struggle which has for its object the acquisition of property, the providing of a shield against the ever-threatening fiend which we call WANT. Property once obtained, the possessor's next aim is to keep it. The very fact, that the mode of acquisition may have been wrong, and subversive of property-rights, if suffered to be imitated, naturally makes its possessor suspicious and cruel. He fears that the measure he has meted to others may be meted to him again. Hence severe laws, the monopoly of political power and of political offices by property-holders, the domination of conquering races, and the practice of attributing to all reformers designs against property and its owners, though the changes they recommend may really be of a nature calculated to make the tenure of property more secure than ever. Even the charge of irreligion has not been found more effective against the advocates of improvement or change than that of Agrarianism,—by which is meant hostility to existing property institutions, and a determination, if possible, to subvert them. Of the two, the charge of Agrarianism is the more serious, as it implies the other. A man may be irreligious, and yet a great stickler for property, because a great owner of it,—or because he is by nature stanchly conservative, and his infidelity merely a matter of logic. But if there be any reason for charging a man with Agrarianism, though it be never so unreasonable a reason, his infidelity is taken for granted, and it would be labor lost to attempt to show the contrary. Nor is this conclusion so altogether irrational as it appears at the first sight. Religion is an ordinance of God, and so is property; and if a man be suspected of hostility to the latter, why should he not be held positively guilty towards the former? Every man is religious, though but few men govern their lives according to religious precepts; but every man not only loves property and desires to possess it, but allows considerations growing out of its rights to have a weight on his mind far more grave, far more productive of positive results, than religion has on the common person. If there be such a thing as an Agrarian on earth, he would fight bravely for his land, though it should be of no greater extent than would suffice him for a grave, according to the strictest measurement of the potter's field. Would every honest believer do as much for his religion?
But what is Agrarianism, and who are Agrarians? Though the words are used as glibly as the luring party-terms of the passing year, it is no very easy matter to define them. Indeed, it is by no means an easy thing to affix a precise and definite meaning to any political terms, living or dead. Let the reader endeavor to give a clear and intelligible definition of Whig and Tory, Democrat and Republican, Guelph and Ghibelline, Cordelier and Jacobin, and he will soon find that he has a task before him calculated to test his powers very severely. How much more difficult, then, must it be to give the meaning of words that are never used save in a reproachful sense, which originated in political battles that were fought nearly two thousand years ago, and in a state of society having small resemblance to anything that has ever been known to Christendom! With some few exceptions, party-names continue to have their champions long after the parties they belonged to are as dead as the Jacobites. Many Americans would not hesitate to defend the Federalists, or to eulogize the Federal party, though Federalism long ago ceased even to cast a shadow. The prostitution of the Democratic name has lessened in but a slight degree the charm that has attached to it ever since Jefferson's sweeping reelection had the effect of coupling with it the charming idea of success. But who can be expected to say a word for Agrarian? One might as well look to find a sane man ready to do battle for the Jacobin, which is all but a convertible term for Agrarian, though in its proper sense the latter word is of exactly the opposite meaning to the former. Under the term Agrarians is included, in common usage, all that class of men who exhibit a desire to remove social ills by a resort to means which are considered irregular and dangerous by the great majority of mankind. Of late years we have heard much of Socialists, Communists, Fourierites, and so forth; but the word Agrarians comprehends all these, and is often made to include men who have no more idea of engaging in social reforms than they have of pilgrimizing to the Fountains of the Nile. It is a not uncommon thing for our political parties to charge one another with Agrarianism; and if they used the term in its proper sense, it would be found that they had both been occasionally right, for Agrarian laws have been supported by all American parties, and will continue to be so supported, we presume, so long as we shall have a public domain; but in its reproachful sense Agrarianism can never be charged against any one of the party organizations which have been known in the United States. A quarter of a century ago, one of the cleverest of those English tourists who then used to contrive to go through—or, rather, over—the Republic, seeing but little, and not understanding that little, proclaimed to his countrymen, who had not then recovered from the agitation consequent on the Reform contest, that there existed here a regular Agrarian party, forming "the extreme gauche of the Worky Parliament," and which "boldly advocated the introduction of an AGRARIAN LAW, and a periodical division of property." He represented these men as only following out the principles of their less violent neighbors, and as eloquently dilating "on the justice and propriety of every individual being equally supplied with food and clothing,—on the monstrous iniquity of one man riding in his carriage while another walks on foot, [there would have been more reason in the complaint, had the gigless individual objected to walking on his head,] and after his drive discussing a bottle of Champagne, while many of his neighbors are shamefully compelled to be content with the pure element. Only equalize property, they say, and neither would drink Champagne or water, but both would have brandy, a consummation worthy of centuries of struggle to attain." He had the sense to declare that all this was nonsense, but added, that the Agrarians, though not so numerous or so widely diffused as to create immediate alarm, were numerous in New York, where their influence was strongly felt in the civic elections. Elsewhere he predicted the coming of a "panic" time, when workingmen would be thrown out of employment, while possessed of the whole political power of the state, with no military force to maintain civil order and protect property; "and to what quarter," he mournfully asked, "I shall be glad to know, is the rich man to look for security, either of person or fortune?"
Twenty-five years have elapsed since Mr. Hamilton put forth this alarming question, and some recent events have brought it to men's minds, who had laughed at it in the year of grace 1833. We have seen Agrarian movements in New York, demonstrations of "Workies," but nothing was said by those engaged in them of that great leveller, brandy, though its properties are probably better known to them than those of water. They have been dignified with the name of "bread riots," and the great English journal that exercises a sort of censorship over governments and nations has gravely complimented us on the national progress we have made, as evidenced in the existence here of a starving population! One hardly knows whether to fret or to smile over so provoking a specimen of congratulation. Certainly, if a nation cannot grow old without bringing the producing classes to beggary, the best thing that could happen to it would be to die young, like men loved of the gods, according to the ancient idea. Whether such is the inevitable course of national life or not, we are confident that what took place a few months ago in New York had nothing to do with Agrarianism in reality,—using the word after the manner of the alarmists. It belonged to the ordinary bald humbug of American politics. It so happened that one of those "crises" which come to pass occasionally in all business communities occurred at precisely the time when a desperate political adventurer was making desperate efforts to save himself from that destruction to which he had been doomed by all good men in the city that he had misgoverned. What more natural than that he should seek to avail himself of the distress of the people? The trick is an old one,—as old as political contention itself. Was it not Napoleon who attributed revolutions to the belly?—and he knew something of the matter. The "bread riots" were neither more nor less than "political demonstrations," got up for the purpose of aiding Mr. Wood, and did not originate in any hostility to property on the part of the people. It is not improbable that some of those who were engaged in them were really anxious to obtain work,—were moved by fear of starvation; but such was not the case with the leaders, who were "well-dressed, gentlemanly men," according to an eye-witness, with excellent cigars in their mouths to create a thirst that Champagne alone could cure. The juste milieu of brandy, so favored in 1832, if we can believe Mr. Hamilton, was not thought of in 1857. A quarter of a century had made a change in the popular taste. Perhaps the temperance reformation had had something to do with it. The whole thing was as complete a farce as ever was seen at an American or an English election, and those who were engaged in it are now sincerely ashamed of their failure. If foreigners will have it that it was an outbreak of Agrarianism, the first in a series of outrages against property, so be it. Let them live in the enjoyment of the delusion. Nations, like individuals, seem to find pleasure in the belief that others are as miserable as themselves.
Of that feeling which is known as Agrarianism we believe there is far less in the United States now than there was at the time when Mr. Hamilton was here, and for a few years after that time. From about the year 1829 to 1841, there was in our politics a large infusion of Socialism. We then had parties, or factions, based on the distinctions that exist in the social state, and those organizations had considerable influence in our elections. The Workingmen's party was a powerful body in several Northern States, and, to an observer who was not familiar with our condition, it well might wear the appearance of an Agrarian body. No intelligent American, however, fell into such an error. It was evident to the native observer, that the Workingmen's party, while aiming at certain reforms which it deemed necessary for the welfare of the laboring classes, had no felonious purposes in view to the prejudice of property,—and this for the plain reason, that most workingmen were property-owners themselves. Few of them had much, but still fewer had nothing, and the aggregate of their possessions was immense. They would have been the greatest losers, had there been a social convulsion, for they would have lost everything. Then they were intelligent men in the ordinary affairs of life, and knew that the occurrence of any such convulsion would, first of all, cut off, not only their means of acquisition, but the very sources of their livelihood. Industry wilts under revolutionary movement, as vegetation under the sirocco, and they bring to the multitude anything but a realization of Utopian dreams. In the long run, there has rarely been a revolution which has not worked beneficially for the mass of mankind; but the earliest effects of every revolution are to them bad, and eminently so. It is to this fact that we must look for an explanation of the slowness with which the masses move against any existing order of things, even when they are well aware that it treats them with singular injustice. For nothing can be better established than that no revolution was ever the work of the body of the people,—of the majority. Revolutions are made by minorities, by orders, by classes, by individuals, but never by the people. The people may be dragged into them, but they never take the initiative even in those movements which are called popular, and which are supposed to have only popular ends in view. That very portion of mankind who are most feared by timid men of property are those who are the last to act in any of the great games which mark the onward course of the world. Complain they do, and often bitterly, of the inequalities of society, but action is not their strong point.
The American observer of 1829-41 would have seen, too, in the Workingmen's party, and in other similar organizations, only sections of the Democratic party. They were the light troops of the grand army of Democracy, the velites who skirmished in front of the legions. They never controlled the Democratic party; but it is undeniable that they did color its policy, and give a certain tone to its sentiment, at a very important period of American history. The success of President Jackson, in that political contest which is known as "the Bank War," was entirely owing to the support which he received from the workingmen of some two or three States; and it is quite probable that the shrewd men who then managed the Democratic party were induced to enter upon that war by their knowledge of the exalted condition of political opinion in those States. For their own purposes, they turned to account sentiments that might have worked dangerously, if they had not been directed against the Bank. One effect of this was, that the Democratic party was compelled to make use of more popular language, which caused it to lose some of its influential members, who were easily alarmed by words, though they had borne philosophically with violent things. For five years after the veto of the Bank Bill, in 1832, the Democratic party was essentially radical in its tone, without doing much of a radical character. In 1837, the monetary troubles came to a head, and then it was seen how little reliance could be placed on men who were supposed to be attached to extreme popular opinions. It was in the very States which were thought to abound with radicals that the Democracy lost ground, and the way was prepared for their entire overthrow in the memorable year 1840. That year saw American politics debauched, and from that time we find no radical element in any of our parties. The contest was so intense, that the two parties swallowed and digested all lesser factions. Since then, a variety of causes have combined to prevent the development of what is termed Agrarianism. The struggle of the Democracy to regain power; the Mexican war, and the extension of our dominion, consequent on that war, bringing up again, in full force, the slavery question; and the discovery of gold in California, which led myriads of energetic men to a remote quarter of the nation;—these are the principal causes of the freedom of our later party-struggles from radical theories. From radical practices we have always been free, and it is improbable that our country will know them for generations.
The origin of the word Agrarianism, as an obnoxious political term, is somewhat curious. It is one of the items of our inheritance from the Romans, to whom we owe so much, both of good and evil, in politics and in law.
The Agrarian contests of that people were among the most interesting incidents in their wonderful career, and are full of instruction, though, until recently, their true character was not understood; and their explanation affords a capital warning against the effects of partisan literature. The common belief was,—perhaps we should say is,—that the supporters of the Agrarian laws were, to use a modern term, destructives; that they aimed at formal divisions of all landed property, if not of all property, among the whole body of the Roman people. Nothing can be more unfounded than this view of the subject, which is precisely the reverse of the truth. No Roman, whose name is associated with Agrarian laws, ever thought of touching private property, or of meddling with it, illegally, in any way. Neither Spurius Cassius, nor Licinius Stolo, nor the Gracchi, nor any other Roman whose name is identified with the Agrarian legislation of his country, was a destructive, or leveller. Quite the contrary; they were all conservatives,—using that word in its best sense,—and the friends of property. The lands to which their laws applied, or were intended to apply, were public lands, answering, in some sense, to those which are owned by the United States. When Spurius Cassius, a quarter of a century after that revolution which is known as the expulsion of the Tarquins, proposed a division of a portion of the public land among the poor commons, he did no more than had often been done by the Roman kings, with good effect, and with strict legality. Much of the public land was occupied by wealthy men, as tenants of the state; and some of these his law would have ousted from profitable spots, while the rest were to be forced to pay their rents, which they had done very irregularly or not at all. The operation of all Agrarian laws like that of Cassius was, undoubtedly, a matter well to be considered; for, after a man has long occupied a piece of land, he regards it as an act of injustice to be peremptorily removed therefrom, and he ought to have, at least, the privilege of buying it, if its possession be necessary to his support. This feeling must have been the stronger in the bosom of the Roman occupant in proportion to his poverty, but to legal possession he could make no claim. The position he held was that of tenant at will to the state, and he could be legally ejected at any moment. But it was not from poor occupants of the public domain, whose number was necessarily small, that opposition was experienced. It came from the rich, who had all but monopolized the use of that domain; and, in the time of Spurius Cassius, it was complicated with that quarrel of caste which we denominate the contest between the Patricians and the Plebeians. Property and political power were both involved in the dispute. The Patricians knew that the success of Cassius would make against them in two ways:—it would strengthen the Plebeians, by lifting them out of the degradation consequent on poverty, and so render them more dangerous antagonists in political warfare; and it would render the Patricians less able to contend with aspiring foes, by taking from them one of the sources of their wealth. Cassius failed, and was executed, having been tried and condemned by the Patricians, who then alone constituted the Roman people.
More than a century after the failure of Cassius, the Agrarian question was again brought before the Roman nation, on a large scale. This was the time when the famous Licinian rogations, by the adoption of which a civil revolution was effected in Rome, were brought forward. They provided for the passage of an Agrarian law, for an equitable settlement of debts, and that thereafter one of the two Consuls should always be a Plebeian. It is something to be especially noted, that C. Licinius Stolo, the man from whom these laws take their name, was not a needy political adventurer, but a very wealthy man, his possessions being mainly in land; and that he belonged to a gens (the Licinii) who were noted in after days for their immense wealth, among them being that Crassus whose avarice became proverbial, and whose surname was Dives, or the Rich. The Licinian Agrarian law provided, that no one should possess more than five hundred jugers of the public land, (ager publicus,) that the state should resume lands that had been illegally seized by individuals, that a rent should be paid by the occupants of the public domain, that only freemen should be employed on that domain, and that every Plebeian should receive seven jugers of the public land in absolute property, to be taken from those lands which the state was to resume from Patricians who possessed (that is to say, who occupied) more than five hundred jugers. Such were the main provisions of the law, which did not touch private property of any kind. The state was merely to assert its undisputed legal right over the public domain, and the Plebeians became landholders, which was the best thing that could happen to the republic, and which was what was aimed at in every community of antiquity. Even the partial observance of this law was the cause of the supremacy of Rome being established over the finest portions of the ancient world. Had Licinius failed, Rome would have gone down in her contest with the Samnites, and the latter people would have become masters of Italy. As it was, his success created the Roman people; and from the time of that success must be dated the formation of the Roman constitution as it was recognized and acted on during the best period of the Republic. True, the Agrarian law was but one of three measures which he carried through in the face of all the opposition the Patricians could make; but the other laws were of a kindred character, and they all worked together for good. It was the triumph of the Plebeians for the benefit of all. The revolution then effected was strictly conservative in its nature, and whatever of internal evil Rome afterwards experienced was owing, not to the adoption of the Licinian law, but to the departure by the state from the practice under it which it was intended permanently to establish.
The last great Agrarian contest which the Romans had was that which takes its name from the Gracchi, and which began at the commencement of the fourth generation before the birth of Christ. On the part of the reformers, it was as strictly legal a movement as ever was known. Not a single acre of private land was threatened by them; and whoever pays attention to the details of their measures cannot fail to be struck with the great concessions they were ready to make to their opponents,—the men who had literally stolen the public property, and who pretended to hold it as of right. Perhaps it was too late for any such reform as that contemplated by the Gracchi to succeed, the condition of Rome then being in no important respect like what it had been in the time of Licinius Stolo; but one of the most interesting chapters in the history of things which might have been is that which relates to the possible effect of the Sempronian legislation. Had that legislation been fairly tried, Roman history, and therefore human history, must have taken an entirely different course, with an effect on the fortunes of every man born since that time. Whether that effect would have been good or bad, who shall say? But one thing is certain, and that is, that the Gracchi and their supporters were not the enemies of property, and that their measures were not intended to interfere with the private estate of any citizen of the Roman Republic.
Such was the Agrarianism, and such were the Agrarian laws and the Agrarian contests of Rome, which were so long misunderstood; and through that misunderstanding has the word Agrarian, so proper in itself, been made to furnish one of the most reproachful terms that violent politicians have ever used when seeking to bespatter their foes. It will be seen that the word has been applied in "the clean contrary way" to that in which it should have been applied, and that, strictly speaking, an Agrarian is a conservative, a man who asks for justice,—not a destructive, who, in his desire to advance his own selfish ends or those of his class, would trample on law and order alike. It is only within the last seventy years that the world has been made to comprehend that it had for fifty generations been guilty of gross injustice to some of the purest men of antiquity; and it is not more than thirty years since the labors of Niebuhr made the truth generally known,—if it can, indeed, be said to be so known even now. The Gracchi long passed for a couple of demagogues, who were engaged in seditious practices, and who were so very anxious to propitiate "the forum populace" that they were employed in perfecting plans for the division of all landed property amongst its members, when they were cut off by a display of vigor on the part of the government. "The Sedition of the Gracchi" was for ages one of the common titles for a chapter in the history of Republican Rome; yet it did not escape the observation of one writer of no great learning, who published before Heyne's attention was drawn to the subject, that, if there were sedition in the affair, it was quite as much the sedition of the Senate against the Gracchi as it was the sedition of the Gracchi against the Senate.[A]
[Footnote A: We have taken for granted the soundness of the views of Niebuhr on the Roman Agrarian contests and laws, that eminent scholar having followed in the track of Heyne with distinguished success; but it must be allowed that in some respects his positions have been not unsuccessfully assailed. Those who would follow up the subject are recommended to study Ihne's Researches into the History of the Roman Constitution, in which some of Niebuhr's views are energetically combated. The main points, however, that the Agrarian laws were not directed against private property, or aimed at placing all men on a social equality, may be considered as established. Yet it must in candor be admitted that the general subject is still involved in doubts, the German commentators having thrown as much fog about some portions of the Roman Constitution as they have thrown light upon other portions of it.]
The feeling that was allowed to have such sway in Rome, and the triumph of which was followed with such important consequences, has often manifested itself in modern times, in the course of great political struggles, and has proved a powerful disturbing cause on several occasions. One of these occasions has fallen under the observation of the existing generation, and some remarks on it may not be out of place.
The French Revolution of 1848 was followed by an alarm on the part of men of property, or of those whose profits depended on the integrity of property being respected, which produced grave effects, the end whereof is not yet. That revolution was the consequence of a movement as purely political as the world ever saw. There was discontent with the government of M. Guizot, which extended to the royal family, and in which the bourgeoisie largely shared, the very class upon the support of which the House of Orleans was accustomed to rely. Had the government yielded a little on some political points, and made some changes in the administration, Louis Philippe might have been living at the Tuileries at this very moment, or sleeping at St. Denis. But, insanely obstinate, under dominion of the venerable delusion that obstinacy is firmness, the King fell, and with him fell, not merely his own dynasty, but the whole system of government which France had known for a generation, and under which she was, painfully and slowly, yet with apparent sureness, becoming a constitutional state. A warm political contest was converted into a revolution scarcely less complete than that of 1789, and far more sweeping than that of 1830. Perhaps there would have been little to regret in this, had it not been, that, instead of devoting their talents to the establishing of a stable republican government, several distinguished Frenchmen, whom we never can think capable of believing the nonsense they uttered, began to labor to bring about a sort of social Arcadia, in which all men were to be made happy, and which was to be based on contempt for political economy and defiance of common sense. Property, with its usual sensitiveness, took the alarm, and the Parisians soon had one another by the throat. How well founded was this alarm, it would be difficult to say. Most likely it was grossly exaggerated, and had no facts of importance to go upon. That among the disciples of M. Louis Blanc there were gentlemen who had no respect for other men's property, because they had no property of their own, it is quite safe to believe; but that they had any fixed ideas about seizing property, or of providing labor at high wages for workmen, it would be impossible to believe, even if Albert, ouvrier, that most mythical of revolutionists, were to make solemn affidavit of it on the works of Aurora Dudevant. Some vague ideas about relieving the wants of the poor, Louis Blanc and his associates had, just as all men have them who have heads to see and hearts to feel the existence of social evils. Had they obtained possession of the French government, immediately after Louis Philippe, to use his own words, had played the part of Charles X., they would have failed utterly, as Lamartine and his friends failed, and much sooner too. Lamartine failed as a statesman,—he lacked that power to govern which far less able men than he have exhibited under circumstances even more trying than those into which he so unguardedly plunged,—and Louis Blanc would have been no more successful than the poet. The failure of the "Reds" would have been the more complete, if they had had an opportunity to attempt the realization of the Socialistic theories attributed to them, but which few of their number could ever have entertained. They sought political power for the usual purposes; but as they stood in the way of several other parties, those parties united to crush them, which was done in "the Days of June." It is easy to give a fallen enemy a bad name, and the conquered party on that occasion were stigmatized as the enemies of everything that men hold dear, particular emphasis being laid on their enmity to property, which men hold dearer than all other things combined. The belief seems to have been all but universal throughout Europe, and to have been shared by many Americans, that the party which was conquered in the streets of Paris by Cavaignac was really an organization against property, which it meant to steal, and so afford a lively illustration of the doctrine attributed to it, that property is theft. To this belief, absurd as it was, must we look for the whole course of European history during the last ten years. The restoration of the Napoleonic dynasty in France, the restoration of the Papacy by French soldiers, the reestablishment of Austrian ascendency over Italy, and the invasion of Hungary by the Russians,—these and other important events that have happened under our eyes, and which have enabled us to see history in the making on a large scale, all are directly traceable to the alarm which property experienced immediately after the class of property-holders had allowed the Revolution of February to take place, and to sweep away that dynasty in which their principles stood incarnate. The French imperial throne is in an especial manner the result of that alarm. When General Cavaignac had succeeded in conquering the "Reds," a military dictatorship followed his victory as a matter of course, and it remained with him to settle the future of France. The principles of his family led him to sympathize with the "oppressed nationalities" which were then struggling in so many places for freedom; and had he interfered decidedly in behalf of the Italians and Hungarians, he would have changed the fate of Europe. He would have become the hero of the great political movement which his country had inaugurated, and his sword would have outweighed the batons of Radetzky and Paskevitsch. Both principle and selfishness pointed to such intervention, and there can be no doubt that the Republican Dictator seriously thought of it. But the peculiarities of his position forbade his following the path that was pointed out to him. As the champion of property, as the chief of the coalesced parties which had triumphed over "the enemies of property" in the streets and lanes of "the capital of civilization," he was required to concentrate his energies on domestic matters. Yet further: all men in other countries who were contending with governments were looked upon by the property party in France as the enemies of order, as Agrarians, who were seeking the destruction of society, and therefore were not worthy of either the assistance or the sympathy of France; so that the son of the old Conventionist of '93 was forced, by the views of the men of whom he so strangely found himself the chief, to become in effect the ally of the Austrian Kaiser and the Russian Czar. The Italians, who were seeking only to get rid of "barbarian" rule, and the Hungarians, who were contending for the preservation of a polity as old as the English Constitution against the destructives of the imperial court, were held up to the world as men desirous in their zeal for revolution to overturn all existing institutions! Aristocrats with pedigrees that shamed those of the Bourbon and the Romanoff were spoken of in language that might possibly have been applicable to the lazzaroni of Naples, that lazzaroni being on the side of the "law and order" classes. As General Cavaignac did nothing to win the affections of the French people, as he was the mere agent of men rendered fierce by fear, it cannot be regarded as strange, that, when the Presidential election took place, he found himself nowhere in the race with Louis Napoleon. He was deserted even by a large portion of the men whose work he had done so well, but who saw in the new candidate for their favor one who could become a more powerful protector of property than the African general,—one who had a name of weight, not merely with the army, but with that multitudinous peasant class from which the French army is mainly conscribed, and which, containing numerous small property-holders, is fanatically attached to the name of Napoleon. Thus the cry of "Property in danger" ended, in 1851, in the restoration of open despotism, which every sensible observer of French affairs expected after Louis Napoleon was made President, his Presidency being looked upon only as a pinch-beck imitation of the Consulate of 1799-1804. This is the ordinary course of events in old countries: revolution, fears of Agrarianism, and the rushing into the jaws of the lion in order to be saved from the devouring designs of a ghost.
Those who recollect the political literature of the years that passed between the Revolution of February and the commencement of those disputes which eventuated in the Russian War must blush for humanity. Writers of every class set themselves about the work of exterminating Agrarianism in France. Grave arguments, pathetic appeals, and lively ridicule were all made use of to drive off enemies of whose coming upon Europe there was no more danger than of a return of the Teutones and the Cimbri. Had the arguments and adjurations of the clever men who waged war on the Agrarians been addressed to the dust of the Teutones whom Marius exterminated in Provence, they could not have been more completely thrown away than they were. Some of these men, however, were less distinguished for cleverness than for malignity, and shrieked for blood and the display of brute force in terms that would have done dishonor even to a St. Bartholomew assassin or anti-Albigensian crusader. Monsieur Romieu held up Le Spectre Rouge to the eyes of a generation incapable, from fright, of distinguishing between a scarecrow and the Apollo. The Red Spectre haunted him, and the people for whom he wrote, as relentlessly as the Gray Spectre came upon the chiefs of Ivor. He saw in the working classes—those men who asked then, as in modern times they have only asked, "leave to toil"—millions of creatures "regimented by hatred," and ready to throw themselves upon society. In the past he saw nothing so much to be admired as the Feudal System, it was so very summary and trenchant in its modes of dealing with masses of men so unreasonable as to grumble when they were starving. In the present, all that he could reverence was the cannonarchy of Russia, which he invoked to restore to France that golden age in which Crecy and Poictiers were fought, and when the Jacquerie illustrated the attachment of the serf to the seigneur. How this invoker of Cossacks and cannon from the Don and the Neva "to regulate the questions of our age" on the Seine and the Marne would have stared, could the curtain that hides the future have been drawn for a moment, to allow him to see a quarter of a million of French, English, and Italian soldiers on the shores of the Euxine, and eight hundred Western cannon raining that "hell-fire" upon the august city of Catherine under which it became a heap of ruins! Yet the man was undoubtedly sincere, as political fools almost invariably are. He had faith in nothing but armies and forts, but his faith in them was of the firmest. He despised the Bourbons and the bourgeoisie alike, and would be satisfied with nothing short of a national chief as irresponsible as Tamerlane; and if he should be as truculent as Tamerlane, it was not difficult to see that M. Romieu would like him all the better for it. Your true fanatic loves blood, and is provokingly ingenious in showing how necessary it is that you should submit calmly to have your throat cut for the good of society. M. Marat was a logician of this sort, and M. Romieu is, after all, only a pale imitator of the cracked horse-leech; but as he wrote in the interest of "order," and for the preservation of property, we rarely hear of his thirst for blood. Had he been a disciple of Marat, his words would have been quoted annually in every abode of civilized men from Sacramento to Astrachan, as evidence of the desire of popular leaders to lap blood.
What has become of M. Romieu, and how he took Louis Napoleon's energetic measures for laying the Red Ghost in the blood of aristocrats as well as of democrats, we know not. He ought to have been charmed with the coup d'etat; for the man who conceived and executed that measure for his own benefit professed to act only for the benefit of society, the maintenance of the rights of property being kept by him especially in view. He, too, charged his enemies, or those whom he thought endowed with the desire and the ability to resist him, with Agrarianism; and such Agrarians as Thiers and Cavaignac were seized in their beds, and imprisoned,—to prevent their running away with the Great Book of France, one is at liberty to suppose. There was something shockingly ludicrous in charging the hero and victor of the Days of June with designs against property; but the charge may have led Cavaignac to have doubts whether he had not himself been a little too ready to believe the charge of Agrarianism when preferred against a large number of the people of France, whom he had treated with grape-shot by way of teaching them respect for the rights of property. There is nothing like bringing injustice home to a man to open his eyes to its evil nature. Of all public men of our generation who have signally failed, Cavaignac must be held the most unfortunate; for his intentions were excellent, and he died just as circumstances were about to afford him an opportunity to retrieve his fame. His last days must have been the reverse of agreeable in their retrospect; for it must constantly have been forced upon his mind that he had been made the chief instrument in the work of fastening upon the country he loved the most odious of the many despotic governments it has known,—a government that confesses its inability to stand against the "paper shot" of journalists, and which has shackled the press after the fashion of Austrian and Russian dynasties; and all this had taken place, as he must have seen in his retirement, as the consequence of his having mistaken the voice of a party for the voice of France. The lesson is one that ought to go home to the hearts of all public men, and to those of American statesmen in particular, some of the ablest of whom are now engaged in doing the behests of an oligarchical faction in the name of the interests of property.
* * * * *
BULLS AND BEARS.
A slow and weary walk had Mr. Lindsay from the station to his house. It was after sunset, dark and cold, as he turned in at the gate. The house was dimly lighted, and no one save the Newfoundland dog came to greet him at the door. He did not hear his daughter singing as she was accustomed at evening. There were no pleasant voices, no light and cheerful steps in the rooms. All was silence. The ill news had preceded him. His wife without a word fell on his bosom and wept. Clara kept her seat, trying in vain, while her lip quivered and her eyes dimmed, to fix her attention upon the magazine she had held rather than read. At length Mr. Lindsay led his wife to the sofa and sat beside her, holding her hand with a tenderness that was as soothing as it was uncommon. Prosperity had not hardened his heart, but business had preoccupied it; though his manner had been kind, his family had rarely seen in him any evidence of feeling.
Misfortune had now brought back the rule of his better nature, and the routine life he had led was at an end.
"My dear wife, what I have most dreaded in this crash is the pain, the anxiety, and the possible discomfort it would bring to you and to Clara. For myself I care nothing. It is a hard trial, but I shall conform to our altered circumstances cheerfully."
"And so shall we, father," said Clara. "We shall be happy with you anywhere."
"One thing, I am sure, you can never lose," said Mrs. Lindsay,—"and that is an honorable name."
"I have tried to do my duty. I gave up only when I found I must. But my duty is not yet done."
"My creditors have claims which I regard as sacred, and which must be paid, ultimately, at whatever sacrifice."
"Won't the property at the store be enough when you can sell it?" asked Mrs. Lindsay. "You have spoken of the quantity of goods you had on hand."
"I can't say, my dear. It depends upon how much time I have. If I could have effected sales, I should have been safe."
"If they have the goods, won't they be satisfied?" asked Clara.
"You don't understand, my daughter, that all I have is at their command. If the property does not liquidate the debts, then the house, the carriage and horses, the furniture, the"——
The possible surrender of all that had made life pleasant to his family was not to be considered without emotion, and Mr. Lindsay found himself unable to finish the sentence.
"Dear father!" exclaimed Clara, seizing and kissing his hand, as she sat down at his feet,—"you are just and noble. We could not be selfish or complaining when we think of you. Let everything go. I love the dear old house, the garden that has been your pride, the books and pictures; but we shall be nearer together—shan't we, papa?—in a cottage. If they do sell my piano, I can still sing to you; nobody can take that pleasure from us."
"Bless you, my daughter! I feel relieved,—almost happy. Your cheerful heart has given me new courage. Perhaps we shall not have to make the sacrifices I dread. Whatever happens, my darling, your piano shall be kept. I will sell my watch first. Your music will be twice as dear in our days of adversity."
"Yes, papa,—if we keep the piano, I can give lessons."
"You give lessons? Nonsense! But get up, pussy; here, sit on my knee."
He fondled her like a child, and they all smiled through their tears,—heavenly smiles! blissful tears! full of a feeling of which the heart in prosperous days has no conception!
"One thing has happened to-day," said Mr. Lindsay, "that I shall never forget,—an action so generous and self-forgetful that it makes one think better of mankind. I remember hearing a preacher say that no family knew all their capabilities of love until death had taken one of their number,—not their love for the dead, but their deeper affection for each other after the loss. I suppose every calamity brings its compensations in developing noble traits of character; and it is almost an offset to failure itself to have such an overflowing feeling as this,—to know that there are so many sympathizing hearts. But what I was going to speak of was the conduct of my clerk, Monroe. He is a fine fellow,—rather more given to pictures and books and music than is good for a business man; but with a clear head, a man's energy, and a woman's heart. He has a widowed mother, whom he supports. I never knew he had any property till to-day. It seems his father left ten thousand dollars. He knew that my situation was desperate, and yet he offered me his all. It would only have put off the day of failure; but I was selfish enough to be willing to take it. He had deposited the securities for the amount with Sandford, who first borrowed money in the street by pledging them, and then failed to-day. Monroe has lost his all; but his intention was as noble as if he had saved me. I shall never forget it; and as long as I have a dollar he shall share it."
"What a noble fellow!" said Mrs. Lindsay. "How pleasant to think that in this terrible scramble for life there are some who have not lost their humanity, nor trampled down their finer feelings!"
"I couldn't but contrast this kindness on the part of a clerk, for whom I have never done anything beyond paying him his well-earned salary, with the conduct of Mr. Bullion. I gave him my indorsement repeatedly, and assisted him in procuring loans, when he was not so rich as he is now. I know he has resources, ready money,—money that he does not need for any outstanding debts, but which he must keep for speculation. But he refused to do anything. 'Couldn't,' he said, 'really; times were hard; everybody wanted to borrow; couldn't lend to everybody; hadn't the funds; much as he could do to stand up himself.' There was no sincerity in his look. I saw his soul skulking away behind his subterfuges like a spider in the depths of his flimsy web. He seems to thrive, however, in the midst of general ruin. I've no doubt he lives like a vulture, on the dead and dying."
"Is Mr. Bullion that short man, father, with the cold eyes and gruff voice, and the queer eyebrow which he seems to poke at people?"
"Yes, my daughter, that is the man."
"Well, I'm sure, he is coarse, disagreeable, hard-hearted. I'm glad you are not under obligations to him."
"My only regret is that I had the mortification of being refused. I wish I had never asked him. I can't think of his look and tone without a pang of shame, or wounded pride, if you choose to call it so, harder to bear than a blow in the face. I had a claim upon his gratitude, but he remembers a favor no more than a wolf does the mutton he ate a year ago.—But enough of business. The bitterness has passed since we have talked together. Let us be cheerful. Come, Clara, sing some of those sweet old ballads!"
From her infancy until now in her twentieth year, Clara had been constantly with her father,—but she had never known him before.
Early next morning the officer in charge of Mr. Sandford's house was relieved by a brother constable. Number Two was a much more civil person in speech and manner than Number One; in fact, he speedily made himself so agreeable to the housemaid that she brought him a cup of coffee, and looked admiringly while he swallowed it. By the time Mrs. Sandford and Marcia came down to breakfast, he had established an intimacy with Biddy that was quite charming to look upon. One would have thought he was an old friend of the household,—a favored crony; such an easy, familiar air he assumed. He accosted the ladies with great gallantry,—assured them that they were looking finely,—hoped they had passed a pleasant night, and that Number One had given them no unnecessary inconvenience. Marcia met him with a haughty stare which nobody but a woman of fashion can assume. Turning to Mrs. Sandford, she exclaimed,—
"Who is this fellow?"
Number Two hastened to answer for himself:—
"My name, Ma'am, is Scarum, Harum Scarum some of the young lawyers call me. Ha!" (A single laugh, staccato.)
"Well, Mr. Scarum, you can keep your compliments for those who appreciate them. Come, Lydia, let us go down to breakfast. The presuming fool!" she exclaimed, as she passed through the hall,—"he's worse than the other. One can put up with a coarse man, if he minds his own business; but an impudent, self-satisfied fellow must be made to know his place."
"High-strung filly! ha!" (Sforzando.)
"May have to speak to common folks, yet,—eh, Miss Bridget?"
But farther conversation was interrupted for the time. Bridget was summoned by the bell to the dining-room, and gallant Number Two was left alone in the parlor. Meanwhile he surveyed the room as minutely as if it had been a museum,—trying the rocking-chair, examining pictures, snapping vases with his unpared nails, opening costly books, smelling of scent-bottles, scanning the anti-Macassars and the Berlin-wool mats. At last he opened the piano, and, in a lamentably halting style, played, "Then you'll remember me," using only a forefinger in the performance. He sang at the same time in a suppressed tone, while he cast agonizing looks at an imaginary obdurate female, supposed to be on the sofa, occasionally glancing with admiration in the mirror at the intensely pathetic look his features wore.
Marcia, meanwhile, had borne the noise as long as she could; so Biddy was dispatched to ask the singer if he would not please to do his practising at some other time.
"Practising, indeed!" exclaimed Number Two, indignantly, upon receiving the message. "There are people who think I can sing. These women, likely, a'n't cultivated enough to appreciate the 'way-up music. They're about up to that hand-organ stuff of Sig-ner Rossyni, likely. They can't understand Balfy; they a'n't up to it. What do you think, Miss Bridget? Nice figger, that of yours." (Sotto voce.) "None of the tall, spindlin', wasp-waisted, race-horse style about you, like that" (pointing down-stairs). "A good plump woman for me! and a woman with an ear, too! Now you know what good singin' is. I led the choir down to Jorumville 'bove six months b'fore I come down here and went into the law. But she thinks I was practising! Ha!" (Sempre staccato.)
"La! did ye?" said the admiring Biddy.
Tinkle, tinkle, again. Biddy was now summoned to call Charles, and see if he would breakfast. Number Two made another tour of the room, with new discoveries. While absorbed in this pleasing employment, the two women passed upstairs. Marcia could not restrain herself, as she saw him with her favorite bird-of-paradise fan.
"Don't spoil those feathers, you meddlesome creature!"
"Beg your pardon, Ma'am" (with an elaborate bow). "Merely admirin' the colors. Pretty sort of a thing, this 'ere! 'Most too light and fuzzy for a duster, a'n't it? Feathers ben dyed, most likely? Willin' to 'bleege the fair, however, especially one so handsome." (Rubbing it on his coat-sleeve.) "Guess't a'n't got dirty any."
Charles, meanwhile, had risen and dressed, and came out when Bridget knocked; a spectacle, indeed,—a walking sermon on the perils that may follow what are termed "good times." His face would have been pale, except that his nose, which was as puffy as an omelette soufflee, and his left eye with a drooping lid sustained by a livid crescent, gave it a rubicund expression. His knees were shaky, his pulse feeble, his head top-heavy. He declined assistance rather sulkily, and descended holding by the stair-rail and stepping gingerly. Number Two, in spite of his genial, unruffled temper, could not repress his surprise, as the apparition passed the parlor-door.
"A rum customer! Ha!" (Con anima.)
Before the repentant owner of the puffy nose and purple eyelid had finished his solitary breakfast, Mr. Sandford came home. He had obtained bail and was at large. Looking hastily into the parlor, he saw a stranger, with his hat jauntily on one side, seated in the damask-covered chair, with his feet on an embroidered ottoman, turning over a bound collection of sea-mosses, and Marcia's guitar lying across his lap. He was dumb with astonishment. Polite Number Two did not leave him to burst in ignorance.
"All right. Mr. Sandford, I suppose. An 'tachment put on, and I'm keeper. Sorry to disturb a family. But somebody has to. Can I do anything to obleege you?"
"Yes, by laying down that book which you are spoiling. And you may take your greasy boots off that worsted-work, and put the stopper into that Bohemian-glass bottle."
"Beg your pardon, Sir. Didn't intend to make trouble. Boots has to be greased, you know, else they crack all out, an' don't last no time; mine do. This 'ere Cologne is nice, to be sure. I jest poured out a bit on my pocket-handkercher."
"Cologne! It's attar of roses; and you've spilled more than your neck is worth,—taking yourself at your own valuation."
"Why, you don't say this is high-cost? It does smell good, though, ha!"
As he started to go up-stairs, Mr. Sandford saw the linen carpet-cover spattered with frequent drops of blood. He called aloud to his sister,—
"Marcia! are you there? alive? What's the meaning of this blood? Who has been murdered? Or is this turned into a butcher's shop?"
Marcia and her sister-in-law descended, and hurriedly explained the mystery. While they were standing at the head of the stairs, Charles made his appearance, and received such congratulations from his brother as might be expected. He vouchsafed no word of reply, but went into the room where he had slept to get some article he had left. A sudden thought struck Mr. Sandford. He followed Charles into the room, and in a moment after returned,—but so changed! Imagine Captain Absolute at the duelling-ground turned in a twinkling into Bob Acres, Lucy Bertram putting on the frenzied look of Meg Merrilies, or the even-tempered Gratiano metamorphosed into the horror-stricken, despairing Shylock at the moment he hears his sentence, and you have some notion of the expression which Sandford's face wore. His eyes were fixed like baleful lights in a haggard, corpse-like countenance. His hair was disordered. He clutched his cravat as though suffocating. His voice was gone; he whispered feebly, like one of Ossian's ghosts,—
"Gone! gone! Who has it? Marcia! Lydia! Charles! Who's got it? Quick! The money! Gone?"
He rushed into the room again, deaf to any reply. He got upon his hands and knees, looked under the bed, the wardrobe, the dressing-table, the chairs, muttering all the while with a voice like a dying man's. He rose up, staggering, and seized Marcia by the arm, who trembled with terror at his ferocity.
"The money! Give me the money! You've got it! You know you have! Give it to me! Give"—
"Pray, be calm," said Mrs. Sandford; "you shall know all about it."
"I don't want to know," he almost screamed; "I want the money, the money!"
Then dropping his voice to a lower key, and with a tone which was meant to be wheedling, he turned to his sister-in-law:—
"You've got it, then? How you frightened me! Come, dear sister! don't trifle with me. I'm poor, very poor, and the little sum seems large. Give it to me. Let me see that it is safe. Dear sister!"
"I haven't it," said Mrs. Sandford, "But compose yourself. You shall know about it."
He cried audibly, like a sickly child.
"It isn't gone? No, you play upon my fears. Where is the pocket-book?"
"How are you ever going to know, if you won't hear?" asked Marcia. "I wouldn't be so unmanly as to whine so even about a million."
"No, you think money is as plenty as buttons. Wait till you starve,—starve,—till you beg on a street-crossing."
"Listen," said Mrs. Sandford.
"Do, and stop your groaning like a madman," said Marcia, consolingly. "When Charles met with his mishap and fell senseless, we asked the officer to carry him up-stairs. Rather than go up another flight, we had him taken into your chamber. Your dressing-case lay on the table, in the middle of the room, away from its usual place by the mirror. The officer at once seized and opened it. You had carelessly left your money in it. He was evidently informed of the fact that you had money, and was directed to attach it. He counted the package before me, and then put it into his pocket."
During this recital, Mr. Sandford's breath came quick and his eyes opened wider. His muscles all at once seemed charged with electricity. He dashed down-stairs, half-a-dozen steps at a time, and pounced upon unlucky Number Two, who, with the captivated Biddy, was leaning at the parlor-door, listening to the conversation above. Seizing the officer by the throat, Sandford shouted huskily,—
"Robber! thief! Give up that money! How dare you? Give it up, I say!"
Number Two could not answer, for his windpipe was mortally squeezed under the iron grip of his adversary; therefore, as the only reply he could make, he commenced the manual exercise right and left, and with such effect, that Sandford loosened his hold and staggered back.
"There! I guess you've got enough on't. What ye talkin' about money? I a'n't got any of your money."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Sandford, who had followed the infuriated man, though necessarily at some distance, came and grasped his arm.
"The man who seized the money is gone," she said. "This is the one who takes his place."
Sandford was speechless,—but not long. While hope remained, he had whined, begged, cried, implored. Now that he was baffled, discomfited, ruined, his rage broke out. The placid gentleman, whose glossy garb and quiet air a day before made such a picture of content, would hardly be recognized in this furious, gesticulating lunatic, whose oaths and objurgations came belching forth like sulphurous flames. It was on his gentle sister-in-law that the weight of his wrath fell. She tried to pacify him, until she became actually alarmed for her safety, and turned to fly.
"Go!" he exclaimed. "You've done enough. You've ruined me. Pack off! You've beggared me. Now look out for yourself! Don't let me see your face again!"
Trembling and tearful, Mrs. Sandford went to her room to gather her wardrobe. She had not intended to remain a burden upon her brother-in-law. Now she must go at once. Even if he were to repent of his blind rage and ask her forgiveness, she felt that there was an impassable gulf between them.
During the confusion that followed, Number Two, feeling hungry, went down with Biddy to lunch.
"It's about the last ov it here, Sirr," said the girl, "an' we may as well ate what is good and drink something betther than cold wather."
So saying, the best the house afforded was set out;—wines of rare vintages were uncorked, and glasses hob-a-nobbed.
Mr. Sandford, exhausted with his delirium, went to his room, and there languidly paced the floor back and forth, without cessation, like a caged white bear in midsummer. Charles crawled up to his own bed. Marcia remained in the parlor, her busy brain turning over the unusual events of the day, and wondering what loop-hole of escape from their present difficulties could be found.
The door-bell rang. Biddy, occupied with her pleasing duties as hostess, and flushed with drinking crusty old Port and "Lafitte 1844," did not hear. Some sudden impulse or vague prescience moved Marcia to open the door herself. It was Greenleaf. Notwithstanding the untoward state of affairs, she could not deny herself the pleasure of meeting him, and ushered him into the parlor, then fortunately vacant.
A cooler observer would have noticed something peculiar in his carriage as he crossed the hall,—an unnatural pallor, a sharpness in the angles of his mouth, a quicker respiration, and a look of mingled firmness and sorrow in his eyes. A stranger might have thought him in a state of chronic nervous irritability or mild insanity. And truly, a sensitive man, perplexed between conflicting duties, spurred by conscience, yet wanting in courage to do its bidding, presents a pitiable spectacle; it is a position of sharp suspense which no mind can hold long;—relief must come, in heartbreak or darkness, if in no other way.
When Greenleaf parted from Marcia, the morning before, he intended to wait a week at least before telling her of his changed feelings. He did not know what a burden he had undertaken to carry; he staggered under it, like the pilgrim in Bunyan's immortal story. Besides, after he had once come to a determination, he was impatient to see Alice and implore her forgiveness. Minutes were days while he waited. To pass a week in this way was not to be thought of, unless by means of ether or mesmerism he could fly from himself and find peace in oblivion.
"My dear George," Marcia began, "it is so kind of you to come with your sympathy! We are dreadfully cast down. What is to be done I don't know."
"You surprise me! What has happened? I have scarcely been out of my studio since I last saw you."
"But it's in all the papers!"
"I haven't seen a paper."
"What I told you yesterday has come to pass. Henry has failed; so has the Vortex,—and Mr. Fayerweather, the President,—and Mr. Stearine,—and everybody else, I believe. We shall probably leave the house and take lodgings."
Every word was a pang to Greenleaf. Again his heart, full of sympathy for the woman's distress, whispered, "Wait! don't wound the stricken deer!" But he hugged his resolve and steeled himself against pity.
"I am truly sorry to hear of your brother's misfortunes. But with his talents and reputation, and with his troops of friends in business circles as well as in the various charitable societies, it cannot be that he will long be depressed. He will work his way back to his old position, or even a higher one."
Marcia shook her head doubtfully. She had not heard the rumors affecting her brother's integrity, but she saw that his manly resolution was gone, that he was vascillating, broken-spirited, and needed but little more trouble to make him imbecile.
"I was thinking of a case of conscience, as I came here," said Greenleaf. "It was, How far a promise is binding, when it involves a lasting and irretrievable wrong in its fulfilment."
Marcia looked at him in dumb astonishment. He continued:—
"Suppose that you were to find, by-and-by, that your affections had cooled towards me,—that you discovered incompatabilities of taste and temper,—that you felt sure a true union of souls was impossible,—that marriage would be only a mockery?"
"Dear George, how you frighten me! Why do you ask such dreadful questions in such a solemn way? You know I love you, heart and soul."
"But consider the question as an abstract one. I ask you only to suppose the case. Should you thrust conscience into the cellar, stifle its outcries, and give your consent to a profanation of holy wedlock?"
"I can't suppose the case. And I don't see the use of torturing one's self with imaginary evils. The real troubles of life are quite enough to bear."
"I know such a case. I know a man who has to decide it. It is not a light matter for any man, and his is a soul as sensitive as God ever made. He was betrothed to a woman every way worthy; he loved her sincerely. His chief fault, and a serious one it is, came from his susceptibility to fresh impressions. The pleasure of the present had more power over him than any recollections of the past. The influence of the living woman at his side was greater, for the moment, than that of any absent love. In an evil hour, he committed himself to another. She was, doubtless, formed to inspire his passion and to return it. But he was not free, and had no right to linger on forbidden ground. For weeks, nay, months, he lived this false and wicked life, of a different mind every day, and lacking the courage to meet the difficulty. At last he became sure that his love belonged where his faith was due,—that, if he would not live a wretched hypocrite, he must humble himself to confess his criminal weakness, and return to his first engagement."
He paused; he might well do so. Marcia, with some difficulty, was able to say, through her chattering teeth,—
"You seem to take a deep interest in this weak-minded person."
"I do,—the deepest. I am the man."
She rose to her feet, and, looking scornfully down upon him, exclaimed,—
"Then you acknowledge yourself a villain!—not from premeditation, which would give your baseness some dignity, but a weakly fool, so tossed about by Fate that he is made a villain without either desire or resistance!"
"You may overwhelm me with reproaches; I am prepared for them; I deserve them. But God only knows through what a season of torture I have passed to come to this determination."
"A very ingenious story, Mr. Greenleaf! Do you suppose that the world will believe it, the day after our losses? Do you expect me to believe it, even?"
"I told you that I had not heard of the failure. I am in the habit of being believed."
"For instance, when you vowed that you loved me, and me only!"
"You may spare your taunts. But, to show you how mercenary I am, let me assure you that the woman to whom my word is pledged, and to whom I must return, is without any property or expectations."
"Very well, Sir," said Marcia, rubbing her hands, in the endeavor to conceal her agitation; "we need not waste words. After what you have told me, I could only despise such a whiffler,—a scrap of refuse iron at the mercy of any magnet,—a miller dashing into every fight. A lover so helpless must needs have some new passional attraction—that is the phrase, I believe—with every changing moon. The man I love should be made of different stuff." She drew her figure up proudly, and her lips curled like a beautiful fiend's. "He should bury the disgraceful secret, if he had it, in his heart, and carry it to his grave. He would not cry out like a boy with a cut finger."
"Precisely, Miss Sandford. And for that reason you would be no mate for me. My wife must have no skeletons in her closet."
"Men generally claim the monopoly of those agreeable toys, I believe."
"Love is impossible where there are concealments. A secret is like a worm in the heart of an apple, and nothing but rottenness and corruption follow."
"Fortunately, you harbor none. You have turned your heart inside out, like a peddler's pack,—and a gratifying display it made! I am more than satisfied."
"The tone you have adopted is a warning to me to stop. I wish to bandy no epithets, or reproaches. I came sorrowfully to tell you what I have told. I had no fault to impute to you. But I must confess that this morning you have shown yourself capable of thoughts and feelings I never suspected, and I shall leave you with a far lighter heart than I came."
"You expected to see me at your feet, imploring your love and striving to melt you by tears,—did you? It would have been a pleasing triumph,—one that your sex prizes, I believe; but you have not been gratified. I know what is due to myself, and I do not stoop. But there may be ways to punish the betrayer of confidence," she said, with a heaving bosom and distended nostrils. "I have a brother; and even if he is forgetful, I shall not forget."
"I am obliged to you for putting me on my guard. I wished to part otherwise. Be it so, since you will."
He turned to leave the room. Swift as lightning, she ran to the front door and braced herself against it, at the same time calling loudly to her brother. Mr. Sandford came to the top of the stairs and listened with apparent apathy, while the maddened woman poured out her rage. He stood a moment like one in a dream, and then slowly came down.
"There is your cane," said Marcia, fiercely, pointing to the umbrella-stand.
"I give you fair warning," said Greenleaf, calmly, "that you will never strike more than one blow. No man shall assault me but at the risk of his life."
"What is the need of this fury?" asked Mr. Sandford. "I don't want to quarrel with a pauper. You are well rid of him. If you were to be married, you'd only have the pleasure of going to Deer Island for your bridal trip."
"Then you will see me insulted without lifting a finger? Coward! Broken down like a weed for the loss of a little money! I should be ashamed to have a beard, if I had such a timid soul!"
"I trust, Miss Sandford," said Greenleaf, "you do not wish to prolong this scene. Let me pass."
"Oh, yes,—you can go; can't he, brother?"
She opened the door, looking scornfully from the one to the other.
At that moment Mrs. Sandford came down, bringing a satchel, and asked Greenleaf to walk with her until she could get a carriage. He cheerfully promised his aid, and took the satchel. Her eyes were sadly beautiful, and still humid from recent tears; and her face wore a touching look of resignation. She did not speak to Mr. Sandford, who stood scowling at her; but, taking Marcia's hand, she said,—
"Good bye, sister! I never thought to leave you in this way. I hope we shall never see a darker hour. I shall send for my trunks presently. Good bye!"
"Good bye!" replied Marcia, mechanically. "You have a brave gallant! See to it that he is not compelled by Destiny to make love to you on the way!"
Greenleaf, with his companion, descended the steps to the street, making no reply to this amiable God-speed.
Marcia shut the door, and with her brother returned to the parlor. At the head of the stairs that led to the dining-room stood Number Two and Biddy, who in stupid wonder had witnessed the scenes just described.
"Bridget," exclaimed the enraged mistress, "what are you staring at? Come here! Pah! you have been drinking! You, too, you creature!"
Number Two bowed with maudlin politeness.
"You-do-m'injustice, Ma'am. On'y a smallsup, a littlesup, ponmyhonorasgen'l'man."
"Bridget, do you pack up your baggage and be off! Rioting and feasting in the time of our trouble! Ungrateful hussy!"
"I'll do that same, Miss Marshy; but me waages, if ye plaze, Miss."
"Get your wages, if you can. You've broken more crockery and glass, and wasted more wines and preserves, than you ever earned."
"That's always the way, Miss, I've noticed, when missuses was o' mind to get claar of payin' the honest dues. But me brother"—
"Be off to your brother! But first go and cool your head under the water-faucet."
Muttering and whining, the disconsolate Biddy crept up to the attic for her scanty wardrobe.
"Here, fellow!" said Marcia to Number Two, whose foolish smiles at any other time would have been ludicrous,—"go into the kitchen and get sober."
He obeyed like a spaniel.
"Now, Henry," said Marcia, rather more composed, "let us do something at once. It's plain that we can't live here for the house will be stripped; and in our circumstances we would not stay, if we could. That fellow is so far stupefied that we can save what we can carry away. If you have any spirit left, help me pack our clothes and such things as can be put into our trunks. Come! are you dreaming?"
He started up and followed her like a child. With superhuman energy, she ransacked the house and gathered the most valuable articles. Plate, linen, dresses, Parian ware, books, furs, and jewelry were packed, as securely as the time allowed. A carriage and a baggage-wagon were ordered, and in an incredibly short period they were ready to start.
"We have forgotten Charles," said Mr. Sandford.
"True enough," said Marcia. "Go and call him; he is too handsome to be spared from our party just now. Tell him to bring his clothes."
The penitent came down, reluctantly; his nose was still puffy, and the crescent under his eye rather more livid; muffled and cloaked, he was led to the carriage. Mr. Sandford then remembered the cherished parchment certificates and votes of thanks,—his title-deeds to distinction.
"Leave them," said his sister, contemptuously. "What are they good for? A few commonplace autographs in tarnished gilt frames."
Bridget, meanwhile, went off, threatening all sorts of reprisals on the part of her brother, who "wouldn't see her imposed upon by the likes of thim, not he!" From the kitchen, at intervals, came up doleful snatches of "Then you'll remember me," interrupted by hiccoughs, and with involuntary variations and cadenzas that would have driven "Balfy" mad.
All was ready and they drove off. The house wherein had lived a Benefactor of Mankind was deserted.
Greenleaf found a carriage for Mrs. Sandford, and accompanied her to a private boarding-house, where she took lodgings; he then sent the driver back for her trunks, and, having seen her comfortably provided for, returned to his own rooms,—but not to remain there. He desired only to leave a message on his door, explaining his absence. In less than an hour he was in the railway-train, on his way to Innisfield.
To the musing or drowsy traveller by rail how space and time are annihilated! He is barely conscious of progress, only when the brakeman with measured tone shouts the name of the station; he looks up from his paper or rouses from his doze, looks out at the cheerless prospect, and then settles himself for another thirty miles. Time passes as unobserved as the meadows or bushy pastures that flit by the jarring window at his ear. But with Greenleaf, the reader will believe, the case was far different. He had never noticed before how slowly the locomotives really moved. At each station where wood and water were to be taken, it seemed to him the delay was interminable. His eager desire shot along the track like electricity; and when at last he reached the place where he was to leave the train, he had gone through a year of ordinary hopes and fears. He mounted the stage-box and took his seat beside the buffalo-clad, coarse-bearded, and grim driver. The road lay through a hilly country, with many romantic views on either hand. It was late in the season to see the full glories of autumn; but the trees were not yet bare, and in many places the contrasts of color were exquisite. For once the driver found his match; he had a passenger as taciturn as himself. For the first few miles not a word was spoken, saving a few brief threats to the horses; but at last Jehu could hold out no longer; his reputation was in danger, if he allowed any one to be more silent than himself, and he cautiously commenced a skirmish.
A nod was the only reply.
"Belong about here?"
"No," with a shake of the head.
"Ben up here afore, though, I guess?"
"Thought I remembered. Year or so ago?"
"Had a great white cotton umbrill, a box like a shoe-kit, and suthin' like a pair o' clo'es-frames?"
Greenleaf could but smile at the description of his easel and artist's outfit; still he contented himself with a brief assent.
"Keeps tight as the bark to a white-oak," muttered Jehu to himself. "Guess I'll try him on t'other side, seein' he's so offish."
"Knowed Square Lee, I b'lieve?"
"Yes," thundered Greenleaf, looking furiously at the questioner.
The glance frightened Jehu's soul from the red-curtained windows, where it had been peeping out, back to its hiding-place, wherever that might be.
"Well, yer needn't bite a feller's head off," muttered he, in the same undertone as before. "And if ye want to keep to yerself, shet up yer darned oyster-shell, and see how much you make by it. Not more'n four and sixpence, I guess. Maybe you'll come back 'bout's wise as ye come."
Thenceforward, Buffalo-coat was grim; his admonitions to the horses were a trifle more emphatic; once he whistled a fragment of a minor stave, but spoke not a word till the coach reached the tavern-door.
"You can drive to Mr. Lee's house," said Greenleaf.
"Want to go where he is?" replied Jehu, with a sardonic grin. "Wal, I'm goin' past the meetin'us, and I'll set ye down at the graveyard."
"What do you mean?" asked Greenleaf, between anger and terror, at this brutal jest.
"Why, he's dead, you know, and ben layin' up there on the side-hill a fortnight."
"Take me to the house, nevertheless."
"Lee's house? 'Siah Stebbins, the lame shoemaker, he's jest moved into't. Miss Stebbins, she can't 'commodate ye, most likely; got too many children; a'n't over an' above neat, nuther."
"Where is Miss Lee,—Alice,—his daughter?"
"Wal, can't say;—gone off, I b'lieve."
"She has relatives here, has she not?"
"Guess not; never heerd of any."
With a heavy heart, Greenleaf alighted at the tavern. Mr. Lee dead! Alice left alone without friends, and now gone! The thought stunned, overpowered him. While he had been treading the paths of dalliance, forgetful of his obligations, the poor girl had passed through the great trial of her life, the loss of her only parent and protector,—had met the awful hour alone. Hardly conscious of what he did, he went to the churchyard and sought for a new-made grave. The whole scene was pictured to his imagination with startling vividness. He saw the fond father on his death-bed, leaving the orphan to the kindness of strangers to his blood,—the daughter weeping, disconsolate, the solitary mourner at the funeral,—the desolate house,—the well-meant, but painful sympathy of the villagers. He, meanwhile, who should have cheered and sustained her, was afar off, neglectful, recreant to his vows. Could he ever forgive himself? What would he not give for one word from the dumb lips, for one look from the eyes now closed forever?
But regrets were useless; his first duty was to the living; he must hasten to find Alice. But how, where? It occurred to him that the village lawyer was probably administrator of the estate, and could tell him where Alice was. He went, therefore, to the lawyer's office. It was shut, and a placard informed him that Mr. Blank was attending court at the county-seat. The lawyer's housekeeper said that "Alice was to Boston, with some relation or other,—a Mr. Monroe, she believed his name was, but couldn't say for sartin. The Square could tell; but he—wouldn't be back for three or four days."
Leaving his card, with a request that Mr. Blank would communicate to him Alice's address, Greenleaf hired a conveyance to the railway. He could not remain in Innisfield an hour; it was a tomb, and the air stifled him. On his way, he had ample opportunity to consider what a slender clue he had to find the girl; for he thought of the long column of Monroes in the "Directory"; and, besides, he did not feel sure that the housekeeper had correctly remembered the name, even.
We leave the repentant lover to follow on the track of Alice, assured that he will receive sufficient punishment for his folly in the remorse and anxiety he must feel.
It is quite time that our neglected heroine should appear upon the stage. Gentle Alice, orphaned, deserted, lonely; it is not from any distrust as to her talents, her manners, or her figure, that she has been made to wait so long for the callboy. The curtain rises. A fair-haired girl of medium height, light of frame, with a face in whose sad beauty is blended the least perceptible trace of womanly resolution. She has borne the heaviest sorrow; for when she followed her father to the grave she buried the last object of her love. The long, inexcusable silence of Greenleaf had been explained to her; she now believed him faithless, and had (not without a pang) striven to uproot his memory from her heart. Courageous, but with more than the delicacy of her sex, strong only in innocence and great-heartedness, mature in character and feeling, but with fresh and tender sensibility, she appeals to all manly and womanly sympathy.
When the last ties that bound her to her native village were broken, she accepted the hearty invitation of her cousin, Walter Monroe, and went with him to Boston. The house at once became a home to her. Mrs. Monroe received her as though she had been a daughter. Such a pretty, motherless child,—so loving, so sincere! How could the kind woman repress the impulse to fold her to her bosom? Not even her anxiety to retain undivided possession of her son's heart restrained her. So Alice lived, quiet, affectionate, but undemonstrative, as was natural after the trials she had passed. Insensibly she became "the angel in the house"; mother and son felt drawn to her by an irresistible attraction. By every delicate kindness, by attention to every wish and whim, by glances full of admiration and tenderness, both showed the power which her beauty and goodness exerted. And, truly, she was worthy of the homage. The younger men who saw her were set aflame at once, or sighed afar in despair; while the elderly felt an unaccountable desire to pat her golden head, pinch her softly-rounded cheek, and call her such pet-names as their fatherly character and gray hair allowed.
Fate had not yet done its worst; there were other troubles in store for the orphan. She knew little of her kinsman's circumstances, but supposed him to be at least beyond the reach of want. But not many days passed before the failure of Sandford deprived him of his little patrimony, and the suspension of Mr. Lindsay left him without employment. That evening, when Walter came home, she unwillingly heard the conversation between him and his mother in an adjoining room; and then she knew that her kind friends were destitute. Her resolution was at once formed. With as cheerful an air as she could assume, she took her place at the tea-table, and in the conversation afterwards strove to hide her desolate heart-sickness. On going to her room, she packed her simple wardrobe, not without many tears, and then, with only indifferent success, tried to compose her scattered senses in sleep.
Next morning she strove to appear calm and cheerful, but a close scrutiny might have detected the effort,—a deeper sorrow, perhaps, about the heavy eyelids, and certainly a firmer pressure of the sometimes tremulous lips. But Walter was too much occupied with the conflict of his own feelings to observe her closely. While his mother was engaged in her housewifely duties, he took Alice's hand, and for the first time spoke of his losses, but expressed himself confident of obtaining a new situation, and begged her to dismiss any apprehensions from her mind. She turned her face that he might not see the springing tears. He went on:—
"The sharpest pang I feel, Alice, is in the thought, that, with the loss of my little fortune, and with my present gloomy prospects, I cannot say to you what I would,—I cannot tell you what is nearest my heart. Since you came here, our sombre house has grown bright. As I have looked at you, I have dared to promise myself a happiness which before I had never conceived possible."
"Don't, dear Walter! I beg of you, don't venture upon that subject!"
"Why? is it painful to you?"
"Inexpressibly! You are generous and good. I love and honor you as my cousin, my friend, my protector. Do not think of a nearer relationship."
Walter stood irresolute.
"Some other time, dear Alice," he faltered out. "I don't wish to pain you, and I have no courage to-day."
"Let me be frank, Cousin Walter. Under other circumstances, I would not anticipate the words I saw trembling on your lips. But even if the memory of my poor father were not so fresh, I could not hear you." She hid her face as she went on. "I have received a wound from the faithlessness of one lover which never will heal. I could not repay your love. I have no heart to give you."
Thus far she had controlled her feelings, when, kissing his hand with sudden fervor, she burst into tears, and hastily left the room.
She waited till Walter went out; then she wrote a brief note and placed it on the library-table at his favorite corner, and, after bidding Mrs. Monroe good morning, went out as though for a walk. Frequently she looked back with tearful eyes at the home she felt constrained to leave; but gathering her strength, she turned away and plunged into the current that set down Washington Street.
Brave Heart! alone in a great city, whose people were too much engrossed with their own distresses and apprehensions to give heed to the sufferings of others! Alone among strangers, she must seek a home and the means of support. Who would receive an unknown, friendless girl? Who, in the terrible palsy of trade, would furnish her employment?
There was naturally great surprise when Walter Monroe returned home to dinner and Alice was found to be missing. It was evident that it was not an accidental detention, for her trunk had been sent for an hour previous, and the messenger either could not or would not give any information as to her whereabouts. Mrs. Monroe was excessively agitated,—her faculties lost in a maze, like one beholding an accident without power of thought or motion. To Walter it was a heavy blow; he feared that his own advances had been the occasion of her leaving the house, and he reproached himself bitterly for his headlong folly. Their dinner was a sad and cheerless meal; the mother feeling all a woman's solicitude for a friendless girl; the son filled with a tumult of sorrow, remorse, love, and pity.
"Poor Alice!" said Mrs. Monroe; "perhaps she has found no home."
"Don't, mother! The thought of her in the streets, or among suspicious strangers, or vulgar people, is dreadful. We must leave no means untried to find her. Did she leave no word, no note?"
"No,—none that I know of."
"Have you looked?"
She shook her head. Walter left his untasted food, and hastily looked in the hall, then in the parlor, and at last in the library. There was the note in her own delicate hand.
"Don't be offended. I cannot eat the bread of idleness now that your fortune is gone and your salary stopped. If I need your assistance, you will hear from me. Comfort your mother, and believe that I shall be happier earning my own living. We shall meet in better times. God bless you both for your kindness to one who had no claim upon you!
"The dear creature!" said Mrs. Monroe, taking the note and kissing it.
"Why did you let her trunk go, mother? You might have detained the man who came for it, and sent for me. I would have followed him to the ends of the earth."
"I don't know, my son. I was confused. I hardly knew what happened. I shook so that I sat down, and Bridget must have got it."
Tears ran down her cheeks, and her hands trembled so that her fork dropped.
"Never mind, dear mother. Pray, be calm. I did not wish to disturb you."
There was a ring at the door. A gentleman wished to see Mr. Monroe. Rising from the table, he went into the parlor.
"Mr. Monroe," began the stranger, in an agitated manner, "do you know anything of a young lady named Lee,—Alice Lee?"
"Yes," replied Monroe, with equal excitement, "I know her well. What of her? Where is she? Have you found her?"
"Found her?" said the other, with surprise. "Is she not here?"
"No,—she left this morning."
"And left no word where she was going?"
"Let me beg of you not to trifle with me. Did she not hear my voice, my step, and attempt to excuse herself through you?"
"Sir!" exclaimed Walter.
"I beg pardon. I have been in search of her for two days. I could not believe she had eluded me just at the last. I do not wish to doubt your word."
"And who may you be, Sir, to take such an interest in the lady?"
"I can satisfy you fully. My name is Greenleaf."
"Yes. You must have heard her speak of me."
"Never, to my recollection."
"Have you known her long?"
"She is my cousin. It is only recently that she came here, and her acquaintances of a year ago might naturally have been passed over."
"You seem surprised at her leaving you so abruptly. You will join me in making search for her?"
"I shall search for her, myself, as long as there is hope."
"Let me confess," said Greenleaf, "that I have the strongest reasons for my haste. She is betrothed to me."
"Since you have honored me with your confidence, I will return it, so far as to tell you what I heard from her this morning. I think I can remember the precise words:—'I have received a wound from the faithlessness of one lover, which never will heal.' If you are the person, I hope the information will be as agreeable to you as her absence and ill-judging independence are to me. I wish you good morning."
"Then she has heard!" said Greenleaf, soliloquizing. "I am justly punished." Then aloud. "I shall not take offence at your severity of tone. I have but one thought now. Good morning!"
He left the house, like one in a dream. Alice, homeless in the streets this bitter day,—seeking for a home in poverty-stricken boarding-houses,—asking for work from tailors or milliners,—exposed to jeers, coarse compliments, and even to utter want!—the thought was agony. The sorrows of a whole life were concentrated in this one hour. He walked on, frantically, peering under every bonnet as he passed, looking wistfully in at the shop-windows, expecting every moment to encounter her sad, reproachful face.
Walter had been somewhat ill for several days, and the accumulation of misfortunes now pressed upon him heavily. He did not tell his mother of the strange interview, but sat down moodily by the grate, in the library. He was utterly perplexed where in the city to search for Alice; and with his mental depression came a bodily infirmity and nervousness that made him incapable of effort. An hour passed in gloomy reverie,—drifting without aim upon a shoreless ocean, under a sullen sky,—when he was roused by the entrance of Easelmann.
"In the dumps? I declare, Monroe, I shouldn't have thought it of you."
"I am really ill, my friend."
"Pooh! Don't let your troubles make you believe that. Cheer up. You'll find employment presently, and you'll be surprised to find how well you are."
"I hope I shall be able to make the experiment."
"Well, suppose you walk out with me. There is a tailor I want you to see."
"A tailor? I can't sew or use shears, either."
"No,—nor sit cross-legged; I know that. But this tailor is no common Snip. He is a man of ideas and character. He has something to propose to you."
"Indeed! I am much obliged to you. To-morrow I will go with you; but, really, I feel too feeble to-day," said Monroe, languidly.
"Well, as you please; to-morrow it shall be. How is your mother?"
"Quite well, I thank you."
"And the pretty cousin, likewise, I hope?"
"She was quite well this morning."
"Isn't she at home?"
"No,—she has gone out."
"Confound you, Monroe! you have never let me have a glimpse of her. Now I am not a dangerous person; quite harmless, in fact; received trustfully by matrons with grown-up daughters. You needn't hide her."
"I don't know. Some young ladies are quite apt to be fascinated by elderly gentlemen who know the world and still take an interest in society."
"Yes,—a filial sort of interest, a grand-daughterly reverence and respect. The sight of gray hair is a wonderful antidote to any tenderer feeling."
"I am very sorry not to oblige you; but the truth is, that Cousin Alice, hearing of my losses, has left the house abruptly, to earn her own living, and we do not know where she has gone."
"The independent little minx! Now I rather like that. There's the proper spirit. She'll take good care of herself; I haven't a doubt."
"But it is a most mortifying step to us. It is a reflection upon our hospitality. I would have worked my fingers off for her."
"No doubt. But she will merely turn hers into nutmeg-graters, by pricking them with her needle, and save you from making stumps of your own. Oh, never fear,—we shall find her presently. I'll make a description of her, and leave it with all the slop-shop fellows. 'Strayed or stolen: A young lady answering to the name of Alice; five feet and no inches; dressed in black; pale, blue-eyed, smiles when properly spoken to; of no use to any person but the owner. One thousand dollars reward, and no questions asked.' Isn't that it? It won't be necessary to add, that the disconsolate advertiser is breaking his heart on account of her absence."
"My dear Easelmann, I know your kindly heart; but I cannot be rallied out of this depression. I have only the interest of a cousin, a friend, a protector, in the girl; but her going away, after my other misfortunes, has plunged me into an abyss. I can't be cheerful."