The Blind Heart.
A Domestic Story.
By W. Gilmore Simms,
Wagner. But of the world-the heart, the mind of man, How happy could we know! Faust. What can we know? Who dares bestow the infant his true name? The few who felt and knew, but blindly gave Their knowledge to the multitude—they fell! Incapable to keep their full hearts in, They, from the first of immemorial time, Were crucified or burnt. Goethe's Faust, MS. Version.
Confession, or The Blind Heart.
"Who dares bestow the infant his true name? The few who felt and knew, but blindly gave Their knowledge to the multitude—they fell Incapable to keep their full hearts in, They, from the first of immemorial time, Were crucified or burnt."—Goethe's "Faust."
The pains and penalties of folly are not necessarily death. They were in old times, perhaps, according to the text, and he who kept not to himself the secrets of his silly heart was surely crucified or burnt. Though lacking in penalties extreme like these, the present is not without its own. All times, indeed, have their penalties for folly, much more certainly than for crime; and this fact furnishes one of the most human arguments in favor of the doctrine of rewards and punishments in the future state. But these penalties are not always mortifications and trials of the flesh. There are punishments of the soul; the spirit; the sensibilities; the intellect—which are most usually the consequences of one's own folly. There is a perversity of mood which is the worst of all such penalties. There are tortures which the foolish heart equally inflicts and endures. The passions riot on their own nature; and, feeding as they do upon that bosom from which they spring, and in which they flourish, may, not inaptly, be likened to that unnatural brood which gnaws into the heart of the mother-bird, and sustains its existence at the expense of hers. Meetly governed from the beginning, they are dutiful agents that bless themselves in their own obedience; but, pampered to excess, they are tyrants that never do justice, until at last, when they fitly conclude the work of destruction by their own.
The narrative which follows is intended to illustrate these opinions. It is the story of a blind heart—nay, of blind hearts—blind through their own perversity—blind to their own interests—their own joys, hopes, and proper sources of delight. In narrating my own fortunes, I depict theirs; and the old leaven of wilfulness, which belongs to our nature, has, in greater or less degree, a place in every human bosom.
I was the only one surviving of several sons. My parents died while I was yet an infant. I never knew them. I was left to the doubtful charge of relatives, who might as well have been strangers; and, from their treatment, I learned to doubt and to distrust among the first fatal lessons of my youth. I felt myself unloved—nay, as I fancied, disliked and despised. I was not merely an orphan. I was poor, and was felt as burdensome by those connections whom a dread of public opinion, rather than a sense of duty and affection, persuaded to take me to their homes. Here, then, when little more than three years old, I found myself—a lonely brat, whom servants might flout at pleasure, and whom superiors only regarded with a frown. I was just old enough to remember that I had once experienced very different treatment. I had felt the caresses of a fond mother—I had heard the cheering accents of a generous and a gentle father. The one had soothed my griefs and encouraged my hopes—the other had stimulated my energies and prompted my desires. Let no one fancy that, because I was a child, these lessons were premature. All education, to be valuable, must begin with the child's first efforts at discrimination. Suddenly, both of these fond parents disappeared, and I was just young enough to wonder why.
The change in my fortunes first touched my sensibilities, which it finally excited until they became diseased. Neglected if not scorned, I habitually looked to encounter nothing but neglect or scorn. The sure result of this condition of mind was a look and feeling, on my part, of habitual defiance. I grew up with the mood of one who goes forth with a moral certainty that he must meet and provide against an enemy. But I am now premature.
The uncle and aunt with whom I found shelter were what is called in ordinary parlance, very good people. They attended the most popular church with most popular punctuality. They prayed with unction—subscribed to all the charities which had publicity and a fashionable list to recommend them—helped to send missionaries to Calcutta, Bombay, Owyhee, and other outlandish regions—paid their debts when they became due with commendable readiness—and were, in all out-of-door respects, the very sort of people who might congratulate themselves, and thank God that they were very far superior to their neighbors. My uncle had morning prayers at home, and my aunt thumbed Hannah More in the evening; though it must be admitted that the former could not always forbear, coming from church on the sabbath, to inquire into the last news of the Liverpool cotton market, and my aunt never failed, when they reached home, on the same blessed day, to make the house ring with another sort of eloquence than that to which she had listened with such sanctimonious devotion from the lips of the preacher. There were some other little offsets against the perfectly evangelical character of their religion. One of these—the first that attracted my infant consideration—was naturally one which more directly concerned myself. I soon discovered that, while I was sent to an ordinary charity school of the country, in threadbare breeches, made of the meanest material—their own son—a gentle and good, but puny boy, whom their indulgence injured, and, perhaps, finally destroyed—was despatched to a fashionable institution which taught all sorts of ologies—dressed in such choice broadcloth and costly habiliments, as to make him an object of envy and even odium among all his less fortunate school-fellows.
Poor little Edgar! His own good heart and correct natural understanding showed him the equal folly of that treatment to which he was subjected, and the injustice and unkindness which distinguished mine. He strove to make amends, so far as I was concerned, for the error of his parents. He was my playmate whenever he was permitted, but even this permission was qualified by some remark, some direction or counsel, from one or other of his parents, which was intended to let him know, and make me feel, that there was a monstrous difference between us.
The servants discovered this difference as quickly as did the objects of it; and though we were precisely of one age, and I was rather the largest of the two, yet, in addressing us, they paid him the deference which should only be shown to superior age, and treated me with the contumely only due to inferior merit. It was "Master Edgar," when he was spoken to—and "you," when I was the object of attention.
I do not speak of these things as of substantial evils affecting my condition. Perhaps, in one or more respects, they were benefits. They taught me humility in the first place, and made that humility independence, by showing me that the lesson was bestowed in wantonness, and not with the purpose of improvement. And, in proportion as my physical nature suffered their neglect, it acquired strength by the very roughening to which that neglect exposed it. In this I possessed a vast advantage over my little companion. His frame, naturally feeble, sunk under the oppressive tenderness to which the constant care of a vain father, a doting mother, and sycophantic friends and servants, subjected it. The attrition of boy with boy, in the half-manly sports of schoolboy life—its very strifes and scuffles—would have brought his blood into adequate circulation, and hardened his bones, and given elasticity to his sinews. But from all these influences, he was carefully preserved and protected. He was not allowed to run, for fear of being too much heated. He could not jump, lest he might break a blood-vessel. In the ball play he might get an eye knocked out; and even tops and marbles were forbidden, lest he should soil his hands and wear out the knees of his green breeches. If he indulged in these sports it was only by stealth, and at the fearful cost of a falsehood on every such occasion. When will parents learn that entirely to crush and keep down the proper nature of the young, is to produce inevitable perversity, and stimulate the boyish ingenuity to crime?
With me the case was very different. If cuffing and kicking could have killed, I should have died many sudden and severe deaths in the rough school to which I was sent. If eyes were likely to be lost in the campus, corded balls of India-rubber, or still harder ones of wood, impelled by shinny (goff) sticks, would have obliterated all of mine though they had been numerous as those of Argus. My limbs and eyes escaped all injury; my frame grew tall and vigorous in consequence of neglect, even as the forest-tree, left to the conflict of all the winds of heaven; while my poor little friend, Edgar, grew daily more and more diminutive, just as some plant, which nursing and tendance within doors deprive of the wholesome sunshine and generous breezes of the sky. The paleness of his cheek increased, the languor of his frame, the meagerness of his form, the inability of his nature! He was pining rapidly away, in spite of that excessive care, which, perhaps, had been in the first instance, the unhappy source of all his feebleness.
He died—and I became an object of greater dislike than ever to his parents. They could not but contrast my strength, with his feebleness—my improvement with his decline—and when they remembered how little had been their regard for me and how much for him—without ascribing the difference of result to the true cause—they repined at the ways of Providence, and threw upon me the reproach of it. They gave me less heed and fewer smiles than ever. If I improved at school, it was well, perhaps; but they never inquired, and I could not help fancying that it was with a positive expression of vexation, that my aunt heard, on one occasion, from my teacher, in the presence of some guests, that I was likely to be an honor to the family.
"An honor to the family, indeed!" This was the clear expression in that Christian lady's eyes, as I saw them sink immediately after in a scornful examination of my rugged frame and coarse garments.
The family had its own sources of honor, was the calm opinion of both my patrons, as they turned their eyes upon their only remaining child—a little girl about five years old, who was playing around them on the carpet. This opinion was also mine, even then: and my eyes followed theirs in the same direction. Julia Clifford was one of the sweetest little fairies in the world. Tender-hearted, and just, and generous, like the dear little brother, whom she had only known to lose, she was yet as playful as a kitten. I was twice her age—just ten—at this period; and a sort of instinct led me to adopt the little creature, in place of poor Edgar, in the friendship of my boyish heart. I drew her in her little wagon—carried her over the brooklet—constructed her tiny playthings—and in consideration of my usefulness, in most generally keeping her in the best of humors, her mother was not unwilling that I should be her frequent playmate. Nay, at such times she could spare a gentle word even to me, as one throws a bone to the dog, who has jumped a pole, or plunged into the water, or worried some other dog, for his amusement. At no other period did my worthy aunt vouchsafe me such unlooked-for consideration.
But Julia Clifford was not my only friend. I had made another shortly before the death of Edgar; though, passingly it may be said, friendship-making was no easy business with a nature such as mine had now become. The inevitable result of such treatment as that to which my early years had been subjected, was fully realized. I was suspicious to the last degree of all new faces—jealous of the regards of the old; devoting myself where my affections were set and requiring devotion—rigid, exclusive devotion—from their object in return. There was a terrible earnestness in all my moods which made my very love a thing to be feared. I was no trifler—I could not suffer to be trifled with—and the ordinary friendships of man or boy can not long endure the exactions of such a disposition. The penalties are usually thought to be—and are—infinitely beyond the rewards and benefits.
My intimacies with William Edgerton were first formed under circumstances which, of all others, are most likely to establish them on a firm basis in our days of boyhood. He came to my rescue one evening, when, returning from school, I was beset by three other boys, who had resolved on drubbing me. My haughty deportment had vexed their self-esteem, and, as the same cause had left me with few sympathies, it was taken for granted that the unfairness of their assault would provoke no censure. They were mistaken. In the moment of my greatest difficulty, William Edgerton dashed in among them. My exigency rendered his assistance a very singular benefit. My nose was already broken—one of my eyes sealed up for a week's holyday; and I was suffering from small annoyances, of hip, heart, leg, and thigh, occasioned by the repeated cuffs, and the reckless kicks, which I was momently receiving from three points of the compass. It is true that my enemies had their hurts to complain of also; but the odds were too greatly against me for any conduct or strength of mine to neutralize or overcome; and it was only by Edgerton's interposition that I was saved from utter defeat and much worse usage. The beating I had already suffered. I was sore from head to foot for a week after; and my only consolation was that my enemies left the ground in a condition, if anything, something worse than my own.
But I had gained a friend, and that was a sweet recompense, sweeter to me, by far, than it is found or felt by schoolboys usually. None could know or comprehend the force of my attachment—my dependence upon the attachment of which I felt assured!—none but those who, with an earnest, impetuous nature like my own—doomed to denial from the first, and treated with injustice and unkindness—has felt the pang of a worse privation from the beginning;—the privation of that sustenance, which is the "very be all and end all" of its desire and its life—and the denial of which chills and repels its fervor—throws it back in despondency upon itself—fills it with suspicion, and racks it with a never-ceasing conflict between its apprehension and its hopes.
Edgerton supplied a vacuum which my bosom had long felt. He was, however, very unlike, in most respects, to myself. He was rather phlegmatic than ardent—slow in his fancies, and shy in his associations from very fastidiousness. He was too much governed by nice tastes, to be an active or performing youth; and too much restrained by them also, to be a popular one. This, perhaps, was the secret influence which brought us together. A mutual sense of isolation—no matter from what cause—awakened the sympathies between us. Our ties were formed, on my part, simply because I was assured that I should have no rival; and on his, possibly, because he perceived in my haughty reserve of character, a sufficient security that his fastidious sensibilities would not be likely to suffer outrage at my hands. In every other respect our moods and tempers were utterly unlike. I thought him dull, very frequently, when he was only balancing between jealous and sensitive tastes;—and ignorant of the actual, when, in fact, his ignorance simply arose from the decided preference which he gave to the foreign and abstract. He was contemplative—an idealist; I was impetuous and devoted to the real and living world around me, in which I was disposed to mingle with an eagerness which might have been fatal; but for that restraint to which my own distrust of all things and persons habitually subjected me.
BOY PASSIONS—A PROFESSION CHOSEN.
Between William Edgerton and Julia Clifford my young life and best affections were divided, entirely, if not equally. I lived for no other—I cared to seek, to know, no other—and yet I often shrunk from both. Even at that boyish period, while the heavier cares and the more painful vexations of life were wanting to our annoyance, I had those of that gnawing nature which seemed to be born of the tree whose evil growth "brought death into the world and all our wo." The pang of a nameless jealousy—a sleepless distrust—rose unbidden to my heart at seasons, when, in truth, there was no obvious cause. When Julia was most gentle—when William was most generous—even then, I had learned to repulse them with an indifference which I did not feel—a rudeness which brought to my heart a pain even greater than that which my wantonness inflicted upon theirs. I knew, even then, that I was perverse, unjust; and that there was a littleness in the vexatious mood in which I indulged, that was unjust to my own feelings, and unbecoming in a manly nature. But even though I felt all this, as thoroughly as I could ever feel it under any situation, I still could not succeed in overcoming tha' insane will which drove me to its indulgence.
Vainly have I striven to account for the blindness of heart—for such it is, in all such cases—which possessed me. Was there anything in my secret nature, born at my birth and growing with my growth—which impelled me to this willfulness. I can scarcely believe so; but, after serious reflection, am compelled to think that it was the strict result of moods growing out of the particular treatment to which I had been subjected. It does not seem unnatural that an ardent temper of mind, willing to confide, looking to love and affection for the only aliment which it most and chiefly desires, and repelled in this search, frowned on by its superiors as if it were something base, will, in time, grow to be habitually wilful, even as the treatment which has schooled it. Had I been governed and guided by justice, I am sure that I should never have been unjust.
My waywardness in childhood did not often amount to rudeness, and never, I may safely say, where Julia was concerned. In her case, it was simply the exercise of a sullenness that repelled her approaches, even as its own approaches had been repelled by others. At such periods I went apart, communing, sternly with myself, refusing the sympathy that I most yearned after, and resolving not to be comforted. Let me do the dear child the justice to say that the only effect which this conduct had upon her, was to increase her anxieties to soothe the repulsive spirit which should have offended her. Perhaps, to provoke this anxiety in one it loves, is the chief desire of such a spirit. It loves to behold the persevering devotion, which it yet perversely toils to discourage. It smiles within, with a bitter triumph, as it contemplates its own power, to impart the same sorrow which a similar perversity has already made it feel.
But, without seeking further to analyze and account for such a spirit, it is quite sufficient if I have described it. Perhaps, there are other hearts equally froward and wayward with my own. I know not if my story will amend—perhaps it may not even instruct or inform them—I feel that no story, however truthful, could have disarmed the humor of that particular mood of mind which shows itself in the blindness of the heart under which it was my lot to labor. I did not want knowledge of my own perversity. I knew—I felt it—as clearly as if I had seen it written in characters of light, on the walls of my chamber. But, until it had exhausted itself and passed away by its own processes, no effort of mine could have overcome or banished it. I stalked apart, under its influence, a gloomy savage—scornful and sad—stern, yet suffering—denying myself equally, in the perverse and wanton denial to which I condemned all others.
Perhaps something of this temper is derived from the yearnings of the mental nature. It may belong somewhat to the natural direction of a mind having a decided tendency to imaginative pursuits. There is a dim, vague, indefinite struggle, for ever going on in the nature of such a person, after an existence and relations very foreign to the world in which it lives; and equally far from, and hostile to that condition in which it thrives. The vague discontent of such a mind is one of the causes of its activity; and how far it may be stimulated into diseased intensity by injudicious treatment, is a question of large importance for the consideration of philosophers. The imaginative nature is one singularly sensitive in its conditions; quick, jealous, watchful, earnest, stirring, and perpetually breaking down the ordinary barriers of the actual, in its struggles to ascertain the extent of the possible. The tyranny which drives it from the ordinary resources and enjoyments of the young, by throwing it more completely on its own, impels into desperate activity that daring of the imaginative mood, which, at no time, is wanting in courage and audacity. My mind was one singularly imaginative in its structure; and my ardent temperament contributed largely to its activity. Solitude, into which I was forced by the repulsive and unkind treatment of my relatives, was also favorable to the exercise of this influence; and my heart may be said to have taken, in turn, every color and aspect which informed my eyes. It was a blind heart for this very reason, in respect to all those things for which it should have had a color of its own. Books and the woods—the voice of waters and of song—the dim mysteries of poetry, and the whispers of lonely forest-walks, which beguiled me into myself, and more remotely from my fellows, were all, so far as my social relations were concerned, evil influences! Influences which were only in part overcome by the communion of such gentle beings as William Edgerton and Julia Clifford.
With these friends, and these only, I grew up. As my years advanced, my intimacy with the former increased, and with the latter diminished. But this diminution of intimacy did not lessen the kindness of her feelings, or the ordinary devotedness of mine. She was still—when the perversity of heart made me not blind—the sweet creature to whom the task of ministering was a pleasure infinitely beyond any other which I knew. But, as she grew up to girlhood, other prospects opened upon her eyes, and other purposes upon those of her parents. At twelve she was carried by maternal vanity into company—sent to the dancing school—provided with teachers in music and painting, and made to understand—so far as the actions, looks, and words of all around could teach—that she was the cynosure of all eyes, to whom the whole world was bound in deference.
Fortunately, in the case of Julia, the usual effects of maternal folly and indiscretion did not ensue. Nature interposed to protect her, and saved her in spite of them all. She was still the meek, modest child, solicitous of the happiness of all around her—unobtrusive, unassuming—kind to her inferiors, respectful to superiors, and courteous to, and considerate of all other persons. Her advancing years, which rendered these new acquisitions and accomplishments desirable, if not necessary, at the same time prompted her foolish mother to another step which betrayed the humiliating regard which she entertained for me. When I was seventeen, Julia was twelve, and when neither she nor myself had a solitary thought of love, the over considerate mother began to think, on this subject, for us both. The result of her cogitations determined her that it was no longer fitting that Julia should be my companion. Our rambles in the woods together were forbidden; and Julia was gravely informed that I was a poor youth, though her cousin—an orphan whom her father's charity supported, and whom the public charity schooled. The poor child artlessly told me all this, in a vain effort to procure from me an explanation of the mystery (which her mother had either failed or neglected to explain) by which such circumstances were made to account for the new commands which had been given her. Well might she, in her simplicity of heart, wonder why it was, that because I was poor, she should be familiar with me no longer.
The circumstance opened my eyes to the fact that Julia was a tall girl, growing fast, already in her teens, and likely, under the rapidly-maturing influence of our summer sun, to be soon a woman. But just then—just when she first tasked me to solve the mystery of her mother's strange requisitions, I did not think of this. I was too much filled with indignation—the mortified self-esteem was too actively working in my bosom to suffer me to think of anything but the indignity with which I was treated. A brief portion of the dialogue between the child and my self, will give some glimpses of the blind heart by which I was afflicted.
"Oh, you do not understand it, Julia. You do not know, then, that you are the daughter of a rich merchant—the only daughter—that you have servants to wait on you, and a carriage at command—that you can wear fine silks, and have all things that money can buy, and a rich man's daughter desire. You don't know these things, Julia, eh?"
"Yes, Edward, I hear you say so now, and I hear mamma often say the same things; but still I don't see—"
"You don't see why that should make a difference between yourself and your poor cousin, eh? Well, but it does; and though you don't see it now, yet it will not be very long before you will see, and understand it, and act upon it, too, as promptly as the wisest among them. Don't you know that I am the object of your father's charity—that his bounty feeds me—and that it would not be seemly that the world should behold me on a familiar footing of equality or intimacy with the daughter of my benefactor—my patron—without whom I should probably starve, or be a common beggar upon the highway?"
"But father would not suffer that, Edward."
"Oh, no! no!—he would not suffer it, Julia, simply because his own pride and name would feel the shame and disgrace of such a thing. But though he would keep me from beggary and the highway, Julia, neither he nor your mother would spend a sixpence or make an effort to save my feelings from pain and misery. They protect me from the scorn of others, but they use me for their own."
The girl hung her head in silence.
"And you, too," I added—"the time will come when you. too, Julia, will shrink as promptly as themselves from being seen with your poor relation. You—"
"No! no! Edward—how can you think of such a thing?" she replied with girlish chiding.
"Think it!—I know it! The time will soon be here. But—obey your mother, Julia. Go! leave me now. Begin, once the lesson which, before many days, you will find it very easy to learn."
This was all very manly, so I fancied at the time; and then blind with the perverse heart which boiled within me, I felt not the wantonness of my mood, and heeded not the bitter pain which I occasioned to her gentle bosom. Her little hand grasped mine, her warm tears fell upon it; but I flung away from her grasp, and left her to those childish meditations which I had made sufficiently mournful.
Subsequent reflection, while it showed me the brutality of my conduct to Julia, opened my eyes to the true meaning of her mother's interdiction; and increased the pang of those bitter feelings, which my conscious dependence had awakened in my breast, it was necessary that this dependence should be lessened; that, as I was now approaching manhood, I should cast about for the future, and adopt wisely and at once the means of my support hereafter. It was necessary that I should begin the business of life. On this head I had already reflected somewhat, and my thoughts had taken their direction from more than one conference which I had had with William Edgerton. His father was an eminent lawyer, and the law had been adopted for his profession also. I determined to make it mine; and to speak on this subject to my uncle. This I did. I chose an afternoon, the very week in which my conversation had taken place with Julia, and, while the dinner things were undergoing removal, with some formality requested a private interview with him. He looked round at me with a raised brow of inquiry—nodded his head—and shortly after rose from the table. My aunt stared with an air of supercilious wonder; while poor Julia, timid and trembling, barely ventured to give me a single look, which said—and that was enough for me—"I wish I dared say more."
My conference with my uncle was not of long duration. I told him it was my purpose—my desire—to begin as soon as possible to do something for myself. His answer signified that such was his opinion also. So far we were agreed; but when I told him that it was my wish to study the law, he answered with sufficient, and as I thought, scornful abruptness:—
"The law, indeed! What puts the law into your head? What preparations have you made to study the law? You know nothing of languages which every lawyer should know—Latin—"
I interrupted him to say that I had some slight knowledge of Latin—sufficient, I fancied, for all legal purposes.
"Ah! indeed! where did you get it?"
"A friend lent me a grammar and dictionary, and I studied myself."
"Oh, you are ambitious; but you deceive yourself. You were never made for a lawyer. Besides, how are you to live while prosecuting your studies? No, no! I have been thinking of something for you, Edward—and, just now, it happens fortunately that old Squire Farmer, the bricklayer, wants some apprentices—"
I could scarcely listen thus far.
"I thank you, sir, but I have no disposition to be a bricklayer."
"You must do something for yourself. You can not expect to eat the bread of idleness. I have done, and will do for you what I can—whatever is necessary;—but I have my own family to provide for. I can not rob my own child—-"
"Nor do I expect it, Mr. Clifford," I replied hastily, and with some indignation. "It is my wish, sir, to draw as little as possible from your income and resources. I would not rob Julia Clifford of a single dollar. Nay, sir, I trust before many years to be able to refund you every copper which has been spent upon me from the moment I entered your household."
He said hastily:—
"I wish nothing of that, Edward;—but the law is a study of years, and is expensive and unpromising in every respect. Your clothes already call for a considerable sum, and such a profession requires, more than almost any other, that a student should be well dressed."
"I promise you, sir, that my dress shall be such as shall not trespass upon your income. I shall be governed by as much economy—"
He interrupted me to say, that
"His duty required that his brother's son should be dressed as well as his associates."
I replied, with tolerable composure:—
"I do not think, sir, that bricklaying will admit of very genteel clothing, nor do I think that the vocation will suit me. I have flattered myself, sir, that my talents—"
"Oh, you have talents, then, have you? Well, it is fortunate that the discovery has been made in season."
I bore with this, though my cheek was burning, and said—with an effort to preserve my voice and temper, in which, though the difficulty was great, I was tolerably successful—
"You have misunderstood me in some things, Mr. Clifford; and I will try now to explain myself clearly in others. Having resolved, sir, that the law shall be my profession—-"
"Ha! resolved, say you?"
"Well, go on—go on!"
"Having resolved to pursue the study of law, and seeing that I am burdensome and expensive to you—believing, too, that I can relieve you of the burden—I have simply requested permission of you to make the attempt."
"Why, how do you propose to do so?—how can you support yourself—that is relieve me of the burden of your expenses—and study the law at the same time?"
"Such things have been done, sir; and can be done again. I flatter myself I can do it. Industry will enable me to do so. I propose to apply for a clerkship in a mercantile establishment which I know stands in need of assistance, and while there will pursue my studies in such intervals of leisure as the business will afford me."
"You seem to have the matter ready cut and dry. Why do you come to me, then? Remember, I can make no advances."
"I need none, sir. My simple object with you, sir, was to declare my intention, and to request that I may be permitted to refer to you the merchants to whom I mean to apply, for a knowledge of my character and attainments."
"Oh, certainly, you may—for the character;—but as to the attainments"—with a sneering smile—"of them I can say nothing, and, perhaps, the less said the better. I've no doubt you'll do well enough with the merchants. It does not need much genius or attainment for such situations. But, if you'll take my counsel, you'll go to the bricklayer. We want bricklayers sadly. To be a tolerable lawyer, parts are necessary; and God knows the country is over-stocked with hosts of lawyers already, whose only parts lie in their impudence. Better think a little while longer. Speak to old Farmer yourself."
I smiled bitterly—thanked him for his counsel, which was only a studied form of insult, and turned away from him without further speech, and with a proud swelling of indignation at my heart. Thus our conference ended. A week after, I was ensconced behind the counter of a wholesale dealer, and my hands at night were already busy in turning over the heavy folios of Chitty and Blackstone.
ADMITTED AMONG THE LAWYERS
Behold me, then, merchandising by day, and conning by night the intricate mysteries of law. Books for the latter purpose were furnished by my old friend, William Edgerton, from his father's library. He himself was a student, beginning about the same time with myself; though with the superior privilege of devoting himself exclusively to this study. But if he had more time, I was more indefatigable. My pride was roused, and emulation soon enabled me to supply the want of leisure. My nights were surrendered, almost wholly, to my new pursuit. I toiled with all the earnestness which distinguished my temperament, stimulated to a yet higher degree by those feelings of pride and pique, which were resolved to convince my skeptical uncle that I was not entirely without those talents, the assertion of which had so promptly provoked his sneer. Besides, I had already learned that no such scheme as mine could be successfully prosecuted, unless by a stern resolution; and this implied the constant presence of a close, undeviating method in my studies. I tasked myself accordingly to read—understandingly, if possible—so many pages every night, making my notes, queries, doubts, &c., EN PASSANT. In order to do this, I prescribed to myself a rule, to pass directly from the toils of the day and the store to my chamber, suffering no stoppage by the way, and studiously denying myself the dangerous fascinations of that society which was everywhere at command, in the persons of young men about my own age and condition. The intensity of my character, and the suspiciousness which it induced, helped me in this determination. Perhaps, there is no greater danger to a young man's habits of study and business, than a chat at the street corner, with a merry and thoughtless group. A single half hour consumed in this manner, is almost always fatal to the remaining hours of the day. It breaks into the circle, and impairs the method without which the passage of the sun becomes a very weary and always an unprofitable progress. If you would be a student or anything, you must plunge headlong into it at the beginning—bury yourself in your business, and work your way out of your toils, by sheer, dogged industry.
My labors were so far successful that I could prosecute my studies with independence. I had left the dwelling of my uncle the moment I took employment in the mercantile house. My salary, though small, was ample; with my habits, it was particularly so. I had few of those vices in which young men are apt to indulge, and which, when they become habits, cease unhappily to be regarded as vices. I used tobacco in no shape, and no ardent spirits. I needed no stimulants, and, by the way, true industry never does. It is only indolence that needs drink; and indolence does need it; and the sooner drunkenness kills indolence by the use of drink, the better for society. The only objection to liquors as an agent for ridding the community of a nuisance, is, that it is rather too slow, and too offensive in its detailed operations; arsenic would be far less offensive, more summary, and is far more certain. You would seek vainly to cure drunkenness, unless you first cure the idleness which is its root and strength, and, while they last, its permanent support. But my object is not homily.
If I was free from vices such as these, however, I had vices of my own, which were only less odious as they were less obvious. That vexing, self-tormenting spirit of which I have spoken as the evil genius that dogged my footsteps—that moral perverseness which I have described as the "blind heart"—still afflicted me, though in a far less degree now than when I was the inmate of my uncle's dwelling, and exposed to all the caprices of himself, his wife and servants. I kept on good terms with my employers, for the very natural reason that they saw me attend to my business and theirs, with a hearty cheerfulness that went to work promptly in whatever was to be done, and executed its tasks with steady fortitude, neatness, and rapidity. But, even with them, I had my sulks—my humors—my stubborn fits of sullenness, that seemed anxious to provoke opposition, and awaken wrath. These, however, they considerately forgave in consideration of my real usefulness: and as they perceived that whatever might have been the unpleasantness occasioned by these specimens of spleen, they were never suffered to interfere with or retard the operations of business. "It's an ugly way he's got," was, probably, the utmost extent of what either of the partners said, and of what is commonly said on such occasions by most persons, who do not care to trouble themselves with a too close inquiry.
Well, at twenty-one, William Edgerton and myself were admitted to the practice of the law, and that too with considerable credit to ourselves. I had long since been carried by my friend into his family circle; and Mr. Edgerton, his father, had been pleased to distinguish me with sundry attentions, which were only grateful to me in consequence of the unusual deference with which his manner evinced his regard. His gentle inquiries and persuasive suggestions beguiled me into more freedom of speech than I had ever before been accustomed to; and his judicious management of my troubled spirit, for a time, stifled its contradictions, and suppressed its habitual tendencies. But it was with some jealousy, and an erectness of manner which was surely ungracious, though, perhaps, not offensive, that I endured and replied to his inquiries into my personal condition, my resources, and the nature of that dependence which I bore to the family of my uncle. When he learned—which he did not from me—in what manner I had pursued my studies—after what toils of the day, and at what late hours of the night—when he found from a close private examination, which he had given me, before my admission, that my knowledge of the law was quite as good as the greater number of those who apply for admission—he was pleased to express his astonishment at my perseverance, and delight at my success. When, too, in addition to this, he discovered, upon a minute inquiry from my employers and others, that I was abstemious, and indulged in no excesses of any kind, his interest in me increased, as I thought, who had been accustomed to nothing of the sort, beyond all reasonable measure-and I soon had occasion to perceive that it was no idle curiosity that prompted his consideration and inquiry.
Without my knowledge, he paid a visit to my uncle. This gentleman, I may be permitted here to say, had been quite as much surprised as anybody else, at my determined prosecution of my studies in spite of the difficulties by which I was surrounded. That I was pursuing them, while in the mercantile establishment to which I had gone, he did not believe; and very frequently when I was at his house—for I visited the family, and sometimes, though unfrequently, dined with them on a sabbath—he jeered me on my progress—the "wonderful progress," as he was pleased to term it—which he felt sure I was making with my Coke and Blackstone, while baling blankets, or bundling up plains and kerseys. This I bore patiently, sustained as I was by the proud, indomitable spirit within me, which assured me of the ultimate triumph which I felt positive would ensue. I enjoyed his surprise—a surprise that looked something like consternation—when the very day of my admission to the bar, and after that event, I encountered him in the street, and in answer to his usual sarcastic inquiry:—
"Well, Edward, how does the law come on? How is Sir William Blackstone, Sir Edward Coke, and the rest of the white heads?"
I simply put the parchment into his hands which declared my formal introduction to those venerable gentry.
"Why, you don't mean? Is it possible? So you really are admitted—a lawyer, eh?"
"You see, sir—and that, too, without any Greek."
"Well, and what good is it to do you? To have a profession, Edward, is one thing; to get business, another!"
"Yes, sir—but I take it, the profession must be had first. One step is gained. That much is sure. The other, I trust, will follow in due season."
"True, but I still think that the bricklayer would make the more money."
"Were money-making, sir, the only object of life, perhaps, then, that would be the most desirable business; but—"
"Oh, I forgot—the talents, the talents are to be considered."
And after the utterance of this sneer, our dialogue as may be supposed, did not much longer continue.
I did not know of the contemplated visit of Mr. Edgerton to my worthy uncle, nor of its purpose, or I should, most assuredly, have put my veto upon the measure with all the tenacity of a resentful spirit; but this gentleman, who was a man of nice sensibility as well as strong good sense, readily comprehended a portion of my secret history from what was known to him. He easily conceived that my uncle was somewhat of a niggard from the manner in which I had employed myself during my preparation for the bar. He thought, however, that my uncle, though unwilling to expend money in the prosecution of a scheme which he did not approve—now that the scheme was so far successful as to afford every promise of a reasonable harvest, could not do less than come forward to the assistance of one who had shown such a determined disposition to assist himself.
He was mistaken. He little knew the man. His interview with my uncle was a short one. The parties were already acquainted, though not intimately. They knew each other as persons of standing in the same community, and this made the opening of Mr. Edgerton's business easy. I state the tenor of the interview as it came to my knowledge afterward.
"Mr. Clifford," he said, "you have a nephew—a young gentleman, who has been recently admitted to the bar—Mr. Edward Clifford."
The reply, with a look of wonder was necessarily affirmative.
"I have had much pleasure," continued the other, "in knowing him for some time. He is an intimate of my eldest son, and from what has met my eyes, sir, I should say, you are fortunate in having a nephew of so much promise."
"Why, yes, sir, I believe he is a clever youth enough," was the costive answer.
"He is more than that, sir. I regard him, indeed, as a most astonishing young man. The very manner in which he has pursued his studies while engaged in the harassing labors of a large wholesale business house of this city—alone establishes this fact."
The cheeks of my uncle reddened. The last sentence of Mr. Edgerton was unfortunate for his object. It conveyed a tacit reproof, which the niggardly conscience of Mr. Clifford readily appropriated and, perhaps, anticipated. He dreaded lest Mr. Edgerton knew all.
"You are probably aware, Mr. Edgcrton," he replied with equal hesitancy and haste—"you have heard that Edward Clifford is an orphan—that he has nothing, and it was therefore necessary that he should learn to employ himself; though it was against my wish, sir, that he went into a mercantile house."
There was something suppressed in this—a mean evasion—for he could not easily have told Mr. Edgcrton, without a blush, that, instead of the mercantile establishment, he would have made me a bricklayer's hodman. But this, it seems, Edgerton had found out for himself. His reply, however, was calculated to soothe the jealous apprehensions of Mr. Clifford. He had an object in view, which he thought too important to risk for the small pleasure of a passing sarcasm.
"Perhaps, it has happened for the best, Mr. Clifford. You were right in requiring the young man to do for himself. Were I worth millions, sir, I should still prefer that my son should learn that lesson—that he should work out his own deliverance with the sweat of his own brow."
"I agree with you, sir, perfectly," replied the other, with increased complacency. "A boy learns to value his money as he should, only when he has earned it for himself."
"Ah! it is not for this object simply," replied Mr. Edgerton, "that I would have him acquire habits of industry; it is for the moral results which such habits produce—the firmness, character, consistency—the strength and independence—temperance, justice—all of which arise, and almost only, from obedience to this law. But it is clear that one can not do everything by himself, and this young man, though he has gone on in a manner that might shame the best of us, is still not so thoroughly independent as he fancies himself. It will be some time before he will be able to realize anything from his profession, and he will need some small assistance in the meantime."
"I can not help him," exclaimed Mr. Clifford, abruptly—"I have not the means to spare. My own family need everything that I can give. He has himself only to blame. He chose his profession for himself. I warned him against it. He needn't send to me."
"Do not mistake me, Mr. Clifford," said Mr. Edgerton, calmly. "Your nephew knows nothing of my present visit. I would be loath that he should know. It was the singular independence of his mind that led me to the conviction, that he would sooner die than ask assistance from anybody, that persuaded me to suggest to you in what manner you might afford him an almost necessary help, without offending his sensibility."
"Humph!" exclaimed the other, while a sneer mantled upon his lips. "You are very considerate, Mr. Edgerton; but the same sensibilities might prompt him to reject the assistance when tendered."
"No, sir," replied Edgerton, mildly—"I think I could manage that."
"I am sorry, sir, that I can not second your wishes in any material respect," was the answer of my uncle;—"but I will see Edward, and let him know that my house is open to him as it was from, the time he was four years old; and he shall have a seat at my table until he can establish himself more to his satisfaction; but money, sir, in truth, I have not a cent to spare. My own necessities—"
"Enough, sir," said Mr. Edgerton, mildly; "I take it for granted, Mr. Clifford, that if you could contribute to the success of your brother's son, you certainly would neither refuse nor refrain to do so."
"Oh, surely—certainly not," replied the other, hastily. "Anything that I could do—anything in reason, sir, I should be very happy to do, but—"
And then followed the usual rigmarole about "his own family," and "hard times," and "diminished resources," and all those stereotype commonplaces which are for ever on the lips of stereotype insincere people. Mr. Clifford did not perceive the dry and somewhat scornful inuendo, which lay at the bottom of Mr. Edgerton's seemingly innocent assumption; and the latter took his leave, vexed with himself at having made the unsuccessful application—but still more angry with the meanness of character which he had encountered in my uncle.
"She still soothed The mock of others."
It is not improbable that, after a few hours given to calm reflection, my uncle perceived how obnoxious he might be made to public censure for his narrow treatment of my claims; and the next day he sent for me in order to tender me the freedom of his house—a tender which he had made the day before to Mr. Edgerton in my behalf. But his offer had been already anticipated by that excellent friend that very day. Coming warm and fresh from his interview with my uncle, he called upon me, and in a very plain, direct, business-like, but yet kind and considerate manner, informed me that he stood very much in need of an assistant who would prepare his papers—did me the honor to say that he fancied I would suit him better than anybody else he knew, and offered me six hundred dollars for my labors in that capacity for the first year of my service. My engagement to him, he said at the same time, did not imply such entire employment as would incapacitate me for the execution of any business which might be intrusted to my hands individually. I was permitted the use of a desk in his office, and was also permitted to hang out my own banner from his window I readily persuaded myself that I could be of service to Mr. Edgerton—such service as would, perhaps, leave my obligation a light one—and promptly acceded to his offer. He had scarcely departed when a servant brought a note from Mr. Clifford. Even while meditating what he fancied was a favor, he could not forbear the usual sneer. The following was his communication:
"DEAR EDWARD: If you can spare a moment from your numerous clients, and are not in a great hurry to make your deposites, you will suffer me to see you at the office before two o'clock. Yours affectionately, J. B. CLIFFORD."
"Very affectionately!"! exclaimed. It might be nothing more than a pleasantry which he intended by the offensive passages in his note; but the whole tenor of his character and conduct forbade this conviction.
"No! no!" I muttered to myself, as the doubt suggested itself to my mind; "no! no! it is the old insolence—the insolence of pride, of conscious wealth—of power, as he thinks, to crush! But he is mistaken. He shall find defiance. Let him but repeat those sarcasms and that sneer which are but too frequent on his lips when he speaks to me, and I will answer him, for the first time, by a narration which shall sting him to the very soul, if he has one!"
This resolution was scarcely made when the image of Julia Clifford—the sweet child—a child now no longer-the sweet woman—interposed, and my temper was subdued of its resolve, though its bitterness remained unqualified.
And what of Julia Clifford? I have said but little of her for some time past, but she has not been forgotten. Far from it. She was still sufficiently the attraction that drew me to the dwelling of my selfish uncle. In the three years that I had been at the mercantile establishment, her progress, in mind and person, had been equally ravishing and rapid. She was no more the child, but the blooming girl—the delicate blossom swelling to the bud—the bud bursting into the flower—but the bloom, and the beauty, and the innocence—the rich tenderness, and the dewy sweet, still remained the same through all the stages of her progress from the infant to the woman. Wealth, and the arrogant example of those about her, had failed to change the naturally true and pure simplicity of her character. She was not to be beguiled by the one, nor misguided by the other, from the exquisite heart which was still worthy of Eden. When I was admitted to the bar at twenty-one, she was sixteen—the age in our southern country when a maiden looks her loveliest. But I had scarcely felt the changes in the last three years which had been going on in her. I beheld beauties added to beauties, charms to charms; and she seemed every day to be the possessor of fresh graces newly dropped from heaven; but there was no change. Increased perfection does not imply change, nor does it suffer it.
It was my custom, as the condescending wish of my uncle expressed, that I should take my Sunday dinner with his family. I complied with this request, and it was no hard matter to do so. But it was a sense of delight, not of duty, that made me comply; and, but for Julia, I feel certain that I should never have darkened the doors, which opened to admit me only through a sense of duty. But the attraction—scarcely known to myself—drew me with singular punctuality; and I associated the privilege which had been accorded me with another. I escorted the ladies to church; sometimes, too, when the business of my employers permitted, I spent an evening during the week with the family; and beholding Julia I was not over-anxious to perceive the indifference with which I was treated by all others.
But let me retrace my steps. I subdued my choler so far as to go, with a tolerable appearance of calmness if not humility, to the interview which my uncle had been pleased to solicit. I need not repeat in detail what passed between us. It amounted simply to a supercilious offer, on his part, of lodging and board, until I should be sufficiently independent to open the oyster for myself. I thanked him with respect and civility, but, to his surprise, declined to accept his offer.
"Why, what do you propose to do ?" he demanded.
"Do what I have been doing for the three past years; work for myself, and pay my board from the proceeds of my own labor."
"What, you go back to the merchants, do you? You are wiser than I thought. The law would not give you your bread here for twenty years in this city."
"You are mistaken, uncle," I said, good humoredly—"it is from the law that I propose to get my bread."
"Indeed!—You are even more sanguine than I thought you. But, pray, upon what do you base your expectations?—the talents, I suppose."
I felt the rankling of this well-known and offensive sneer, but replied simply to the point:—
"No, sir, upon assurances which you will probably think far more worthy of respect. I have already been employed by Mr. Edgerton as an attorney, at a salary of six hundred dollars."
"Ah, indeed! Well, you are a fortunate fellow, I must say, to get such a helping hand at the outset. But you may want some small amount to begin with—you can not draw upon Mr. Edgerton before services are rendered, and if fifty or a hundred dollars, Edward—"
"I thank you, sir;—so far from wanting money, I should be almost able to lend some. I have saved some two hundred from my mercantile salary"
I enjoyed the ghastly grin which rose to his features. It was evident that he was not pleased that I should be independent. He had set out with the conviction, when my father died, that my support and education would devolve upon him, and though they did not, yet it was plain enough to me that he was not unwilling that such should be the impression of the community. I had disarmed him entirely by the simplest process, and, mortified at being disappointed, he was disposed to hate the youth who had baffled him. It was the strangest thing in the world that such should be the feeling of any man, and that, too, in reference to so near a relation; but the case is nevertheless true. I saw it in his looks that moment—I felt it in his accents. I KNEW that such was the real feeling in his soul. There are motives which grow from vanities, piques, rivalries, arid the miserable ostentations of a small spirit, which act more terribly upon the passions of man, than even the desire of gain or the love of woman. The heart of Mr. Clifford, was, after its particular fashion, a blind heart, like my own.
"Well, I am glad you are so well off. You will dine with us on Sunday, I suppose?"
My affirmative was a matter of course; and, on Sunday, the evident gratification of Julia when she saw me, amply atoned for all her father's asperities and injustice. She had heard of my success—and though in a sneer from the lips of her father it was not the less productive of an evident delight to her. She met me with the expression of this delight upon all her features.
"I am so glad, so very glad, and so surprised, too, Cousin Edward, at your success. And yet you kept it all to yourself. You might have told ME, at least, that you were studying law. Why was it that I was never allowed to know of your intention?"
"Your father knew it, Julia."
"Yes, so he says now. He says you told him something about it when you first went into a store; but he did not think you in earnest."
"Not in earnest! He little knew me, Julia."
"But your telling him, Edward, was not telling me. Why did you not tell me?"
"You might not have kept my secret, Julia. You know what naughty things are said of your sex, touching your inability to keep a secret."
"Naughty things, indeed—naughty and untrue! I'm sure, I should have kept your secret, if you desired it. But why should it be a secret?"
"Why, indeed!" I muttered, as the shadow of my perverseness passed deeply over my heart. "Why, unless to protect myself from the sneers which would stifle my ambition, and the sarcasm which would have stung my heart,"
"But you have no fear of these from me, Cousin Edward," she said gently, and with dewy eyes, while her fingers slightly pressed upon my wrist.
"I know not that, Cousin Julia, I somehow suspect everything and everybody now. I feel very lonely in the world—as if there was a destiny at work to make my whole life one long conflict, which I must carry on without sympathy or succor."
"Oh, these are only notions, Edward."
"Notions!" I exclaimed, giving her a bitter smile as I spoke, while my thoughts reverted to the three years of unremitting and almost uncheered labor through which I had passed.
"Yes, notions only, Cousin Edward. You are full of such notions. You every now and then start up with a new one; and it makes you gloomy and discontented—"
"I make no complaints, Julia."
"No, that is the worst of it. You make no complaints, I think, because you do not wish to be cured of them. You prefer nursing your supposed cause of grief, with a sort of solitary pleasure—the gratification of a haughty spirit, that is too proud to seek for solace, and to find it."
Julia had in truth touched upon the true nature of my misanthropy —of that self vexing and self-torturing spirit which too effectually blinds the heart.
"But could I find it, Julia?" I asked, looking into her eyes with an expression which I began to feel was something very new to mine.
"Perhaps—I think—you could," was the half-tremulous answer, as she beheld the peculiar expression of my glance. The entrance of Mrs. Clifford, was, perhaps, for the first time, rather a relief to us both.
"And so you are a lawyer, Edward? Well, who would have thought of it? It must be a very easy thing to be made a lawyer."
Julia looked at me with eyes that reddened with vexation. I felt my gorge rising; but when I reflected upon the ignorance, and the unworthy nature of the speaker, I overcame the disposition to retort, and smilingly replied:—
"It's not such hard work as bricklaying, certainly."
"Ah," she answered, "if it were only half so profitable. But Mr. Clifford says that a lawyer now is only another name for a beggar—a sort of genteel beggar. The town's overrun with them—half of them live upon their friends."
"I trust I shall not add to the number of this class, Mrs. Clifford."
"Oh, no! I know YOU never will, Cousin Edward," exclaimed Julia, with a flush upon her cheeks at her own temerity.
"Really, Julia," said her mother, "you are very confident. How do you know anything about it?"
The sharp glances of rebuke which accompanied this speech daunted the damsel for a moment, and her eyes were suddenly cast in confusion upon the ground; but she raised them with boldness a moment after, as she replied:—
"We have every assurance, mother, for what I say, in the fact that Cousin Edward has been supporting himself at another business, while actually pursuing the study of law for these three years; and that very pride about which father spoke today, is another assurance—"
"Bless my stars, child, you have grown very pert on a sudden, to talk about guaranties and assurances, just as if you was a lawyer yourself. The next thing we hear, I suppose, will be that instead of being busy over the 'Seven Champions' and the last fashions, you, too, will he turning over the leaves of big law-books, and carrying on such studies in secret to surprise a body, as if there was any merit or good in doing such things secretly."
Julia felt that she had only made bad worse, and she hung her head in silence. For my part, though I suppressed my choler, the pang was only the more keenly felt for the effort to hide it. In my secret soul, I asked, "Will the day never come when I, too, will be able to strike and sting?" I blushed an instant after, at the small and mean appetite for revenge that such an inquiry implied. But I came to the support of Julia.
"Let me say, Mrs. Clifford, that I think—nay, I know—that Julia is right in her conjecture. The guaranty which I have given to my friends, by the pride and industry which I have shown, should be sufficient to convince them what my conduct shall be hereafter. I know that I shall never trespass upon their feelings or their pockets. They shall neither blush for nor lose by their relationship with Edward Clifford."
"Well said! well spoken! with good emphasis and proper action. Forrest himself could scarce have done it better!"
Such was the exclamation of Mr. Clifford, who entered the room at this moment. His mock applause was accompanied by a clamorous clapping of his hands. I felt my cheeks burn, and my blood boil. The truth is, I was not free from the consciousness that I had suffered some of the grandiloquent to appear in my manner while speaking the sentence which had provoked the ridicule of my uncle. The sarcasm acquired increase of sting in consequence of its being partially well-merited. I replied with some little show of temper, which the imploring glances of Julia did not altogether persuade me to suppress. The "blind heart" was growing stronger within me, from the increasing conviction of my own independence. In this sort of mimic warfare the day passed off as usual. I attended the family to church in the afternoon, took tea, and spent the evening with them—content to suffer the "stings and arrows"—however outrageous, of my exemplary and Christian aunt and uncle, if permitted to enjoy the presence and occasional smiles of the true angel, whose influence could still temper my feelings into a humane and patient toleration of influences which they yet burned to trample under foot.
A brief interval now passed over, after my connection begun with Mr. Edgerton, in which time the world went on with me more smoothly, perhaps, than ever. My patron—for so this gentleman deserves to be called—was as indulgent as I could wish. He soon discerned the weaknesses in my character, and with the judgment of an old practitioner, he knew how to subdue and soften, without seeming to perceive them. I need not say that I was as diligent and industrious, and not less studious, while in his employ, than I had been in that of my mercantile acquaintance. The entire toils of the desk soon fell upon my shoulders, and I acquired the reputation among my small circle of acquaintance, of being a very good attorney for a young beginner. It is true, I was greatly helped by the continued perusal of an admirable collection of old precedents, which a long period of extensive practice had accumulated in the collection of my friend. But to be an attorney, simply, was not the bound of my ambition. I fancied that the forum was, before all others, my true field of exertion. The ardency of my temper, the fluency of my speech, the promptness of my thought, and the warmth of my imagination, all conspired in impressing on me the belief that I was particularly fitted for the arena of public disputation. This, I may add, was the opinion of Mr. Edgerton also; and I soon sought an occasion for the display of my powers.
It was the custom at our bar—and a custom full of danger—for young beginners to take their cases from the criminal docket. Their "'prentice han'," was usually exercised on some wretch from the stews, just as the young surgeon is permitted to hack the carcass of a tenant of the "Paupers' Field," the better to prepare him for practice on living and more worthy victims. Was there a rascal so notoriously given over to the gallows that no hope could possibly be entertained of his extrication from the toils of the evidence, and the deliberations of a jury, he was considered fair game for the young lawyers, who, on such cases, gathered about him with all the ghostly and keen propensities of vultures about the body of the horse cast out upon the commons.
The custom was evil, and is now, I believe, abandoned. It led to much irreverence among thoughtless young men—to an equal disregard of that solemnity which should naturally attach to the court of justice, and to the life of the prisoner arraigned before it. A thoughtless levity too frequently filled the mind of the young lawyer and his hearers, when it was known that the poor wretch on trial was simply regarded as an agent, through whose miserable necessity, the beginner was to try his strength and show his skill in the art of speech-making. It was my fortune, acting rather in compliance with the custom than my own preference, to select one of these victims and occasions for my debut. I could have done otherwise. Mr. Edgerton freely tendered to me any one of several cases of his own, on the civil docket, in which to make my appearance; but I was unwilling to try my hand upon a case in which the penalty of ill success might be a serious loss to my friend's client, and might operate to the injury of his business; and, another reason for my preference was to be found—though not expressed by me—in the secret belief which I entertained that I was peculiarly gifted with the art of appealing to the passions, and the sensibilities of my audience.
Having made my determination, I proceeded to prepare myself by a due consideration of the case at large; the history of the transaction, which involved the life of my client—(the allegation was for murder)—and of the testimony of the witnesses so far as it had been suggested in the EXPARTE examination before the grand jury. I reviewed the several leading principles on the subject of the crime; its character, the sort of evidence essential to conviction, and certainly, to do myself all justice, as effectually prepared myself for the duties of the trial as probably any young man of the time and community was likely to have done. The case, I need not add, was hopelessly against me; the testimony conclusive; and I had nothing to do but to weigh its character with keen examination, pick out and expose its defects and inconsistencies, and suggest as plausible a presumption in favor of the accused, as could be reasonably made out from the possibilities and doubts by which all human occurrences are necessarily attended. Something, too, might be done by judicious appeals to the principle of mercy, assuming for the jury a discretion on this subject which, by the way, they have no right to exercise.
I was joined in the case by my friend, young Edgerton. So far our boyish fortunes had run together, and he was not unwilling, though against his father's counsel, to take the same occasion with me for entering the world in company. The term began; the case was one of the last on the criminal docket, and the five days which preceded that assigned for the trial, were days, I am constrained to confess, of a thrilling and terrible agitation to my mind. I can scarcely now recall the feelings of that week without undergoing a partial return of the same painful sensations. My soul was striving as with itself, and seeking an outlet for escape. I panted, as if for breath—my tongue was parched—my lips clammy—my voice, in the language of the poet, clove to the roof of my throat. Altogether, I have never felt such emotions either before or since.
I will not undertake to analyze them, or account for those conflicting sensations which make us shrink, with something like terror, from the very object which we desire. At length the day came, and the man; attended by his father, William Edgerton, and myself, took our places, and stood prepared for the issue. I looked round me with a dizzy feeling of uncertainty. Objects appeared to swim and tremble before my sight. My eyes were of as little service to me then as if they had been gazing to blindness upon the sun. Everything was confused and imperfect. I could see that the courthouse was filled to overflowing, and this increased my feebleness. The case was one that had occasioned considerable excitement in the community, It was one of no ordinary atrocity. This was a sufficient reason why the audience should be large. There was yet another. There were two new debutants. In a community where popular eloquence is, of all others, perhaps the most desirable talent, this circumstance was well calculated to bring many listeners. Besides, something was expected from both Edgerton and myself. We had not reached our present position without making for ourselves a little circle, in which we had friends to approve and exult, and enemies to depreciate, and condemn.
The proceedings were at length opened by the attorney-general, the witnesses examined, and turned over to us for cross-examination. This part of the duty was performed by my associate. The business fairly begun, my distraction was lessened. My mind, driven to a point, made a decisive stand; and the sound of Edgerton's voice, as he proposed his questions, served still more to dissipate my confusion. I furnished him with sundry questions, and our examination was admitted to be quite searching and acute. My friend went through his part of the labor with singular coolness. He was in little or no respect excited. He, perhaps, was deficient in enthusiasm. If there was no faltering in what he said, there was no fine phrensy. His remarks and utterance were subdued to the plainest demands of the subject. They were shrewd and sensible, not particularly ingenious, nor yet deficient in the proper analysis of the evidence. He acquitted himself creditably.
It was my part to reply to the prosecuting attorney; but when I rose, I was completely confounded. Never shall I forget the pang of that impotence which seemed to overspread my frame, and to paralyze every faculty of thought and speech. I was the victim to my own ardor. A terrible reaction of mind had taken place, and I was prostrated. The desire to achieve greatness—the belief that it was expected from me—the consciousness that hundreds of eyes were then looking into mine with hungering expectation, overwhelmed me! I felt that I could freely have yielded myself for burial beneath the floor on which I stood. My cheeks were burning, yet my hands were cold as ice, and my knees tottered as with an ague. I strove to speak, however; the eyes of the judge met mine, and they looked the language of encouragement—of pity. But this expression only increased my confusion. I stammered out nothing but broken syllables and incoherent sentences. What I was saying, I know not—how long I presented this melancholy spectacle of imbecility to the eyes of my audience, I know not. It may have been a few minutes only. To me it seemed an age; and I was just endued with a sufficient power of reflection to ask myself whether I had not better sit down at once in irreversible despair, when my wandering and hitherto vacant eyes caught a glance-a single glance—of a face opposite.
It was that of my uncle! He was perched on one of the loftiest benches, conspicuous among the crowd—his eyes keenly fixed upon mine, and his features actually brightened by a smile of triumphant malice and exultation.
That glance restored me. That single smile brought me strength. I was timid, and weak, and impotent no longer. Under the presence of habitual scorn, my habitual pride and independence returned to me. The tremors left my limbs. The clammy huskiness which had loaded my tongue, and made it cleave to the roof of my mouth, instantly departed; and my whole mind returned to my control as if beneath the command of some almighty voice. I now saw the judge distinctly—I could see the distinct features of every juryman; and with the pride of my restored consciousness, I retorted the smile upon my uncle's face with one of contempt, which was not without its bitterness.
Then I spoke, and spoke with an intenseness, a directness of purpose and aim—a stern deliberateness—a fire and a feeling—which certainly electrified my hearers with surprise, if with no more elevated emotions. That one look of hostility had done more for my mind than could have been effected in my behalf by all the kind looks and encouraging voices of all the friends in creation.
After a brief exordium, containing some general proposition on the subject of human testimony, which meant no more than to suggest the propriety of giving to the prisoner the benefit of what was doubtful and obscure in the testimony which had been taken against him—I proceeded to compare and contrast its several parts. There were some inconsistencies in the evidence which enable me to make something of a case. The character of the witnesses was something more than doubtful and that, too, helped, in a slight degree, my argument. This was rapid, direct, closely wound together, and proved—such was the opinion freely expressed by others, afterward—that I had the capacity for consecutive arrangement of facts and inferences in a very remarkable degree. I closed with an appeal in favor of that erring nature, which, even in our own cases, led us hourly to the commission of sins and errors; and which, where the individual was poor, wretched, and a stranger, under the evil influences of destitution, vicious associations, and a lot in life, which, of necessity, must be low, might well persuade us to look with an eye of qualified rebuke upon his offences.
This was, of course, no argument, and was only to be considered the natural close of my labors. Before I was half through I saw my uncle rise from his seat, and hastily leave the court-room; and then I knew that I was successful—that I had triumphed, through that stimulating influence of his hate, over my own fears and feebleness. I felt sure that the speech must be grateful to the rest of my hearers, which HE could not stay to hear; and in this conviction, the tone of my spirits became elevated—the thoughts gushed from me like rain, in a natural and unrestrainable torrent of language—my voice was clear and full, far more so than I had ever thought it could be made—and my action far more animated, perhaps, than either good taste or the occasion justified. The criminal was not acquitted; but both William Edgerton and myself were judged to have been eminently successful.
The result of my debut, in other respects, was flattering far beyond my expectations. Business poured in upon me. My old employers, the merchants, were particularly encouraging and friendly. They congratulated me warmly on my success, assured me that they had always thought I was better calculated for the law than trade; and ended by putting into my hands all their accounts that needed a legal agency for collection. Mr. Edgerton was loud in his approbation, and that very week saw his son and myself united in co-partnership, with the prospect of an early withdrawal of the father from business in my favor. Indeed, the latter gave us to understand that his only purpose now was to see us fairly under way, with a sufficient knowledge of the practice, and assured of the confident of his own friends, in order to give his years and enfeebled health a respite from the toils of the profession.
My worthy uncle, true to himself, played a very different part from these gentlemen. He hung back, forbore all words on the subject of my debut, and of the promising auspices under which my career was begun, and actually placed certain matters of legal business into the hands of another lawyer. Of this, he himself gave me the first information in very nearly this language:—
"I have just had to sue Yardle & Fellows, and a few others, Edward, and I thought of employing you, but you are young, and there may be some legal difficulties in the way:—but when you get older, and arrive at some experience, we will see what can be done for you."
"You are perfectly right, sir," was my only answer, but the smile upon my lips said everything. I saw, then, that HE COULD NOT SMILE. He was now exchanging the feeling of scorn which he formerly entertained for one of a darker quality. Hate was the necessary feeling which followed the conviction of his having done me wilful injustice—not to speak of the duties left undone, which were equally his shame.
There were several things to mortify him in my progress. His sagacity as a man of the world stood rebuked—his conduct as a gentleman—his blood as a relation, who had not striven for the welfare and good report of his kin, and who had suffered unworthy prejudices, the result of equal avarice and arrogance, to operate against him.
There is nothing which a base spirit remembers with so much malignant tenacity as your success in his despite. Even in the small matter just referred to, the appropriation of his law business, the observant fates gave me my revenge. By a singular coincidence of events, the very firm against which he had brought action the day before were clients of Mr. Edgerton. That gentleman was taken with a serious illness at the approach of the next court, and the business of their defence devolved upon his son and myself; and finally, when it was disposed of, which did not happen till near the close of that year, it so happened that I argued the case; and was successful.
Mr Clifford was baffled, and you may judge the feeling with which he now regarded me. He had long since ceased to jest with me and at my expense. He was now very respectful, and I could see that his dislike grew daily in strict degree with his deference. But the deportment of Mr. Clifford—springing as it did from that devil, which each man is supposed to carry at times in his bosom, and of whose presence in mine at seasons I was far from unaware—gave me less annoyance than that of another of his household. Julia, too, had put on an aspect which, if not that of coldness, was at least, that of a very marked reserve. I ascribed this to the influence of her parents—perhaps, to her own sense of what was due to their obvious desires—to her own feeling of indifference—to any and every cause but the right one.
There were other circumstances to alarm me, in connection with this maiden. She was, as I have said, singularly beautiful; and, as I thought, until now, singularly meek and considerate. Her charms, about which there could bo no two opinions, readily secured her numerous admirers, and when these were strengthened by the supposed fortune of which she was to be the heiress, the suitors were, some of them, almost as pressing, after the fashion of the world in which we lived, as those of Penelope. I now no longer secured her exclusive regard at the evening fireside or in our way to church. There were gallants on either hand—gay, dashing lads, with big whiskers, long locks, and smart ratans, upon whom madame, our lady-mother, looked with far more complacency than upon me. The course of Julia, herself, was, however, unexceptionable. She was singularly cautious in her deportment, and, if reserved to me. the most jealous scrutiny—after due reflection—never enabled me to discover that she was more lavish of her regards to any other. But the discovery of her position led me to another discovery which the reader will wonder, as I did myself, that I had not made before. This was the momentous discovery that my heart was irretrievably lost to her—that I loved her with all the intensity of a first passion, which, like every other passion in my heart, was absorbing during its prevalence. I could name my feelings to myself only when I perceived that such feelings were entertained by others;—only when I found that the prize, which I desired beyond all others, was likely to be borne away by strangers, did I know how much it was desirable to myself.
The discovery of this affection instantly produced its natural effects as well upon my deportment as upon my feelings; and that sleepless spirit of suspicion and doubt—that true creature and consequence of the habitual distrust which my treatment from boyhood had instilled into my mind—at once rose to strength and authority within me, and swayed me even as the blasts of November sway the bald tops of the slender trees which the gusts have already denuded of all foliage. The change in Julia's deportment, of which I have already spoken, increased the febrile fears and suspicions which filled my soul and overcame my judgment. She too—so I fancied—had learned to despise and dislike me, under the goading influences of her father's malice and her mother's silly prejudices. I jumped to the conclusion instantly, that I was bound to my self to assert my superiority, my pride and independence, in such a manner, as most effectually to satisfy all parties that their hate or love was equally a matter of indifference.
You may judge what my behavior was after this. For a time, at least, it was sufficiently unbecoming. The deportment of Julia grew more reserved than ever, and her looks more grave. There was a sadness evidently mingled with this gravity which, amid all the blindness of my heart, I could not help but see. She became sadder and thinner every day; and there was a wo-begone listlessness about her looks and movements which began to give me pain and apprehension. I discovered, too after a while, that some apprehensions had also crept into the minds of her parents in respect to her health. Their looks were frequently addressed to her in evident anxiety. They restrained her exercises, watched the weather when she proposed to go abroad, strode in every way to keep her from fatigue and exposure; and, altogether, exhibited a degree of solicitude which at length had the effect of arousing mine.
Involuntarily, I approached her with more tenderness than my vexing spirit had recently permitted me to show; but I recoiled from the effects of my own attentions. I was vexed to perceive that my approaches occasioned a start, a flutter—a shrinking inward—as if my advance had been obtrusive, and my attempts at familiarity offensive.
I was then little schooled in the intricacies of the female heart. I little conjectured the origin of that seemingly paradoxical movement of the mind, which, in the case of one, sensitive and exquisitely delicate, prompts to flight from the very pursuit which it would yet invite; which dreads to be suspected of the secret which it yet most loves to cherish, and seeks to protect, by concealment, the feelings which it may not defend; even as the bird hides the little fledglings of its care from the hunter, whom it dare not attack.