(Mary Abigail Dodge)
GALA DAYS A CALL TO MY COUNTRYWOMEN A SPASM OF SENSE CAMILLA'S CONCERT CHERI SIDE-GLANCES AT HARVARD CLASS-DAY SUCCESS IN LIFE HAPPIEST DAYS
Once there was a great noise in our house,—a thumping and battering and grating. It was my own self dragging my big trunk down from the garret. I did it myself because I wanted it done. If I had said, "Halicarnassus, will you fetch my trunk down?" he would have asked me what trunk? and what did I want of it? and would not the other one be better? and couldn't I wait till after dinner?—and so the trunk would probably have had a three-days journey from garret to basement. Now I am strong in the wrists and weak in the temper; therefore I used the one and spared the other, and got the trunk downstairs myself. Halicarnassus heard the uproar. He must have been deaf not to hear it; for the old ark banged and bounced, and scraped the paint off the stairs, and pitched head-foremost into the wall, and gouged out the plastering, and dented the mop-board, and was the most stupid, awkward, uncompromising, unmanageable thing I ever got hold of in my life.
By the time I had zigzagged it into the back chamber, Halicarnassus loomed up the back stairs. I stood hot and panting, with the inside of my fingers tortured into burning leather, the skin rubbed off three knuckles, and a bruise on the back of my right hand, where the trunk had crushed it against a sharp edge of the doorway.
"Now, then?" said Halicarnassus interrogatively.
"To be sure," I replied affirmatively.
He said no more, but went and looked up the garret-stairs. They bore traces of a severe encounter, that must be confessed.
"Do you wish me to give you a bit of advice?" he asked.
"No!" I answered promptly.
"Well, then, here it is. The next time you design to bring a trunk down-stairs, you would better cut away the underpinning, and knock out the beams, and let the garret down into the cellar. It will make less uproar, and not take so much to repair damages."
He intended to be severe. His words passed by me as the idle wind. I perched on my trunk, took a pasteboard box-cover and fanned myself. I was very warm. Halicarnassus sat down on the lowest stair and remained silent several minutes, expecting a meek explanation, but not getting it, swallowed a bountiful piece of what is called in homely talk, "humble-pie," and said,—
"I should like to know what's in the wind now."
I make it a principle always to resent an insult and to welcome repentance with equal alacrity. If people thrust out their horns at me wantonly, they very soon run against a stone-wall; but the moment they show signs of contrition, I soften. It is the best way. Don't insist that people shall grovel at your feet before you accept their apology. That is not magnanimous. Let mercy temper justice. It is a hard thing at best for human nature to go down into the Valley of Humiliation; and although, when circumstances arise which make it the only fit place for a person, I insist upon his going, still no sooner does he actually begin the descent than my sense of justice is appeased, my natural sweetness of disposition resumes sway, and I trip along by his side chatting as gaily as if I did not perceive it was the Valley of Humiliation at all, but fancied it the Delectable Mountains. So, upon the first symptoms of placability, I answered cordially,—
"Halicarnassus, it has been the ambition of my life to write a book of travels. But to write a book of travels, one must first have travelled."
"Not at all," he responded. "With an atlas and an encyclopaedia one can travel around the world in his arm-chair."
"But one cannot have personal adventures," I said. "You can, indeed, sit in your arm-chair and describe the crater of Vesuvius; but you cannot tumble into the crater of Vesuvius from your arm-chair."
"I have never heard that it was necessary to tumble in, in order to have a good view of the mountain."
"But it s necessary to do it, if one would make a readable book."
"Then I should let the book slide,—rather than slide myself."
"If you would do me the honor to listen," I said, scornful of his paltry attempt at wit, "you would see that the book is the object of my travelling. I travel to write. I do not write because I have travelled. I am not going to subordinate my book to my adventures. My adventures are going to be arranged beforehand with a view to my book."
"A most original way of getting up a book!"
"Not in the least. It is the most common thing in the world. Look at our dear British cousins."
"And see them make guys of themselves. They visit a magnificent country that is trying the experiment of the world, and write about their shaving-soap and their babies' nurses."
"Just where they are right. Just why I like the race, from Trollope down. They give you something to take hold of. I tell you, Halicarnassus, it is the personality of the writer, and not the nature of the scenery or of the institutions, that makes the interest. It stands to reason. If it were not so, one book would be all that ever need be written, and that book would be a census report. For a republic is a republic, and Niagara is Niagara forever; but tell how you stood on the chain-bridge at Niagara—if there is one there—and bought a cake of shaving-soap from a tribe of Indians at a fabulous price, or how your baby jumped from the arms of the careless nurse into the Falls, and immediately your own individuality is thrown around the scenery, and it acquires a human interest. It is always five miles from one place to another, but that is mere almanac and statistics. Let a poet walk the five miles, and narrate his experience with birds and bees and flowers and grasses and water and sky, and it becomes literature. And let me tell you further, sir, a book of travels is just as interesting as the person who writes it is interesting. It is not the countries, but the persons, that are 'shown up.' You go to France and write a dull book. I go to France and write a lively book. But France is the same. The difference is in ourselves."
Halicarnassus glowered at me. I think I am not using strained or extravagant language when I say that he glowered at me. Then he growled out,—
"So your book of travels is just to put yourself into pickle."
"Say, rather," I answered, with sweet humility,—"say, rather, it is to shrine myself in amber. As the insignificant fly, encompassed with molten glory, passes into a crystallized immortality, his own littleness uplifted into loveliness by the beauty in which he is imprisoned, so I, wrapped around by the glory of my land, may find myself niched into a fame which my unattended and naked merit could never have claimed."
Halicarnassus was a little stunned, but presently recovering himself, suggested that I had travelled enough already to make out a quite sizable book.
"Travelled!" I said, looking him steadily in the face,—"travelled! I went once up to Tudiz huckleberrying; and once, when there was a freshet, you took a superannuated broom and paddled me around the orchard in a leaky pig's-trough!"
He could not deny it; so he laughed, and said,—
"Ah, well!—ah, well! Suit yourself. Take your trunk and pitch into Vesuvius, if you like. I won't stand in your way."
His acquiescence was ungraciously, and I believe I may say ambiguously, expressed; but it mattered little, for I gathered up my goods and chattels, strapped them into my trunk, and waited for the summer to send us on our way rejoicing,—the gentle and gracious young summer, that had come by the calendar, but had lost her way on the thermometer. O these delaying Springs, that mock the merry-making of ancestral England! Is the world grown so old and stricken in years, that, like King David, it gets no heat? Why loiters, where lingers, the beautiful, calm-breathing June? Rosebuds are bound in her trailing hair, and the sweet of her garments always used to waft a scented gale over the happy hills.
"Here she was wont to go! and here! and here! Just where the daisies, pinks, and violets grow; Her treading would not bend a blade of grass, Or shake the downy blow-ball from his stalk! But like the soft west-wind she shot along; And where she went the flowers took thickest root, As she had sowed them with her odorous foot."
So sang a rough-handed, silver-voiced, sturdy old fellow, harping unconsciously the notes of my lament, and the tones of his sorrow wail through the green boughs today, though he has been lying now these two hundred years in England's Sleeping Palace, among silent kings and queens. Fair and fresh and always young is my lost maiden, and "beautiful exceedingly." Her habit was to wreathe her garland with the May, and everywhere she found most hearty welcome; but May has come and gone, and June is still missing. I look longingly afar, but there is no flutter of her gossamer robes over the distant hills. No white cloud floats down the blue heavens, a chariot of state, bringing her royally from the court of the King. The earth is mourning her absence. A blight has fallen upon the roses, and the leaves are gone gray and mottled. The buds started up to meet and greet their queen, but her golden sceptre was not held forth, and they are faint and stunned with terror. The censer which they would have swung on the breezes, to gladden her heart, is hidden away out of sight, and their own hearts are smothered with the incense. The beans and the peas and the tasselled corn are struck with surprise, as if an eclipse had staggered them, and are waiting to see what will turn up, determined it shall not be themselves, unless something happens pretty soon. The tomatoes are thinking, with homesick regret, of the smiling Italian gardens, where the sun ripened them to mellow beauty, with many a bold caress, and they hug their ruddy fruit to their own bosoms, and Frost, the cormorant, will grab it all, since June disdains the proffered gift, and will not touch them with her tender lips. The money-plants are growing pale, and biting off their finger-tips with impatience. The marigold whispers his suspicion over to the balsam-buds, and neither ventures to make a move, quite sure there is something wrong. The scarlet tassel-flower utterly refuses to unfold his brave plumes. The Zinnias look up a moment, shuddering with cold chills, conclude there is no good in hurrying, and then just pull their brown blankets around them, turn over in their beds, and go to sleep again. The morning-glories rub their eyes, and are but half awake, for all their royal name. The Canterbury-bells may be chiming velvet peals down in their dark cathedrals, but no clash nor clangor nor faintest echo ripples up into my Garden World. Not a bee drones his drowsy song among the flowers, for there are no flowers there. One venturesome little phlox dared the cold winds, and popped up his audacious head, but his pale, puny face shows how near he is to being frozen to death. The poor birds are shivering in their nests. They sing a little, just to keep up their spirits, and hop about to preserve their circulation, and capture a bewildered bug or two, but I don't believe there is an egg anywhere round. Not only the owl, but the red-breast, and the oriole, and the blue-jay, for all his feathers, is a-cold. Nothing flourishes but witch-grass and canker-worms. Where is June?—the bright and beautiful, the warm and clear and balm-breathing June, with her matchless, deep, intense sky, and her sunshine, that cleaves into your heart, and breaks up all the winter there? What are these sleety fogs about? Go back into the January thaw, where you belong! What have the chill rains, and the raw winds, and the dismal, leaden clouds, and all these flannels and furs to do with June, the perfect June of hope and beauty and utter joy? Where is the June? Has she lost her way among the narrow, interminable defiles of your crooked old city streets? Go out and find her! You do not want her there. No blade nor blossom will spring from your dingy brick, nor your dull, dead stone, though you prison her there for a thousand years of wandering. Take her by the hand tenderly, and bid her forth into the waiting country, which will give her a queenly reception, and laurels worth the wearing. Have you fallen in love with her—on the Potomac, O soldiers? Are you wooing her with honeyed words on the bloody soil of Virginia? Is she tranced by your glittering sword-shine in ransomed Tennessee? Is she floating on a lotus-leaf in Florida lagoons? Has she drunk Nepenthe in the orange-groves? Is she chasing golden apples under the magnolias? Are you toying with the tangles of her hair in the bright sea-foam? O, rouse her from her trance, loose the fetters from her lovely limbs, and speed her to our Northern skies, that moan her long delay.
Or is she frightened by the thunders of the cannonade sounding from shore to shore, and wakening the wild echoes? Does she fear to breast our bristling bayonets? Is she stifled by the smoke of powder? Is she crouching down Caribbean shores, terror-stricken and pallid? Sweet June, fear not! The flash of loyal steel will only light you along your Northern road. Beauty and innocence have nothing to dread from the sword a patriot wields. The storm that rends the heavens will make earth doubly fair. Your pathway shall lie over Delectable Mountains, and through vinelands of Beulah. Come quickly, tread softly, and from your bountiful bosom scatter seeds as you come, that daisies and violets may softly shine, and sweetly twine with the amaranth and immortelle that spring already from heroes' hearts buried in soldiers' graves.
"But there is no use in placarding her," said Halicarnassus. "We shall have no warm weather till the eclipse is over."
"So ho!" I said. "Having exhausted every other pretext for delay, you bring out an eclipse! and pray when is this famous affair to come off?"
"Tomorrow if the weather prove favorable, if not, on the first fair night."
Then indeed I set my house in order. Here was something definite and trustworthy. First an eclipse, then a book, and yet I pitied the moon as I walked home that night. She came up the heavens so round and radiant, so glorious in her majesty, so confident in her strength, so sure of triumphal march across the shining sky; not knowing that a great black shadow loomed right athwart her path to swallow her up. She never dreamed that all her royal beauty should pass behind a pall, that all her glory should be demeaned by pitiless eclipse, and her dome of delight become the valley of humiliation! Is there no help? I said. Can no hand lead her gently another way? Can no voice warn her of the black shadow that lies in ambuscade? None. Just as the young girl leaves her tender home, and goes fearless to her future,—to the future which brings sadness for her smiling, and patience for her hope, and pain for her bloom, and the cold requital of kindness, or the unrequital of coldness for her warmth of love, so goes the moon, unconscious and serene, to meet her fate. But at least I will watch with her. Trundle up to the window here, old lounge! you are almost as good as a grandmother. Steady there! broken-legged table. You have gone limping ever since I knew you; don't fail me tonight. Shine softly, Kerosena, next of kin to the sun, true monarch of mundane lights! calmly superior to the flickering of all the fluids, and the ghastliness of all the gases, though it must be confessed you don't hold out half as long as you used when first your yellow banner was unfurled. Shine softly tonight, and light my happy feet through the Walden woods, along the Walden shores, where a philosopher sits in solitary state. He shall keep me awake by the Walden shore till the moon and the shadow meet. How tranquil sits the philosopher, how grandly rings the man! Here, in his homespun house, the squirrels click under his feet, the woodchucks devour his beans, and the loon laughs on the lake. Here rich men come, and cannot hide their lankness and their poverty. Here poor men come, and their gold shines through their rags. Hither comes the poet, and the house is too narrow for their thoughts, and the rough walls ring with lusty laughter. O happy Walden wood and woodland lake, did you thrill through all your luminous aisles and all your listening shores for the man that wandered there?
Is it begun? Not yet. The kitchen clock has but just struck eleven, and my watch lacks ten minutes of that. What if the astronomers made a mistake in their calculations, and the almanacs are wrong, and the eclipse shall not come off? Would it be strange? Would it not be stranger if it were not so? How can a being, standing on one little ball, spinning forever around and around among millions of other balls larger and smaller, breathlessly the same endless waltz,—how can he trace out their paths, and foretell their conjunctions? How can a puny creature fastened down to one world, able to lift himself but a few paltry feet above, to dig but a few paltry feet below its surface, utterly unable to divine what shall happen to himself in the next moment,—how can he thrust out his hand into inconceivable space, and anticipate the silent future? How can his feeble eye detect the quiver of a world? How can his slender strength weigh the mountains in scales, and the bills in a balance? And yet it is. Wonderful is the Power that framed all these spheres, and sent them on their great errands; but more wonderful still the Power that gave to finite mind its power, to stand on one little point, and sweep the whole circle of the skies. Almost as marvelous is it that man, being man, can divine the universe, as that God, being God, could devise it. Cycles of years go by. Suns and moons and stars tread their mysterious rounds, but steady eyes are following them into the awful distances, steady hands are marking their eternal courses. Their multiplied motions shall yet be resolved into harmony, and so the music of the spheres shall chime with the angels' song, "Glory to God in the highest!"
Is it begun? Not yet.
No wonder that eclipses were a terror to men before Science came queening it through the universe, compelling all these fearful sights and great signs into her triumphal train, and commanding us to be no longer afraid of our own shadow. The sure and steadfast Moon, shuddering from the fullness of her splendor into wild and ghostly darkness, might well wake strange apprehensions. She is reeling in convulsive agony. She is sickening and swooning in the death-struggle. The principalities and powers of darkness, the eternal foes of men, are working their baleful spell with success to cast the sweet Moon from her path, and force her to work woe and disaster upon the earth. Some fell monster, roaming through the heavens, seeking whom he may devour,—some dragon, "monstrous, horrible, and waste," whom no Redcrosse Knight shall pierce with his trenchand blade, is swallowing with giant gulps the writhing victim. Blow shrill and loud your bugle blasts! Beat with fierce clangor your brazen cymbals! Push up wild shrieks and groans, and horrid cries,
"That all the woods may answer, and your echoes ring,"
and the foul fiend perchance be scared away by deafening din.
O, sad for those who lived before the ghouls were disinherited; for whom the woods and waters, and the deep places, were peopled with mighty, mysterious foes; who saw evil spirits in the earth forces, and turned her gold into consuming fire. For us, later born, Science has dived into the caverns, and scaled the heights, and fathomed the depths, forcing from coy yet willing Nature the solution of her own problems, and showing us everywhere, GOD. We are not children of fate, trembling at the frown of fairies and witches and gnomes, but the children of our Father. If we ascend up into heaven, he is there. If we take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there shall his hand lead, and his right hand hold.
Is it begun? Not—well, I don't know, though. Something seems to be happening up in the northwest corner. Certainly, a bit of that round disk has been shaved off. I will wait five minutes. Yes, the battle is begun. The shadow advances. The moon yields. But there are watchers in the heaven as well as in the earth. There is sympathy in the skies. Up floats an argosy of compassionate clouds, and fling their fleecy veil around the pallid moon, and bear her softly on their snowy bosoms. But she moves on, impelled. She sweeps beyond the sad clouds. Deeper and deeper into the darkness. Closer and closer the Shadow clutches her in his inexorable arms. Wan and weird becomes her face, wrathful and wild the astonished winds; and for all her science and her faith, the Earth trembles in the night, and a hush of awe quivers through the angry, agitated air. On, still on, till the fair and smiling moon is but a dull and tawny orb, with no beauty to be desired; on, still on, till even that cold, coppery light wanes into sullen darkness. Whether it is a cloud kindly hiding the humbled queen, or whether the queen is indeed merged in the abyss of the Shadow, I cannot tell, and it is dismal waiting to see. The wildness is gone with the moon, and there is nothing left but a dark night. I wonder how long before she will reappear? Are the people in the moon staring through an eclipse of the Sun? I should like to see her come out again, and clothe herself in splendor. I think I will go back to Walden. Ah! even my philosopher, aping Homer, nods. It shimmers a little, on the lake, among the mountains—of the moon.
I declare! I believe I have been asleep. What of it? It is just as well. I have no doubt the moon will come out again all right,—which is more than I shall do if I go on in this way. I feel already as if the top of my head was coming off. Once I was very unhappy, and I sat up all night to make the most of it. It was many hundred years ago, when I was younger than I am now, and did not know that misery was not a thing to be caressed and cosseted and coddled, but a thing to be taken, neck and heels, and turned out doors. So I sat up to revel in the ecstasy of woe. I went along swimmingly into the little hours, but by two o'clock there was a great sameness about it, and I grew desperately sleepy. I was not going to give it up, however, so I shocked myself into a torpid animation with a cold bath, it being mid-winter, and betwixt bath and bathos, managed to keep agoing till daylight. Once since then I was very happy, and could not keep my eyes shut. Those are the only two times I ever sat up all night, and, on the whole, I think I will go to bed; wherefore, O people on the earth, marking eagerly the moon's eclipse, and O people on the moon, crowding your craggy hills to see an eclipse of the sun, Good night!
Then the lost June came back. Frost melted out of the air, summer melted in, and my book beckoned me onward with a commanding gesture. Consequently I took my trunk, Halicarnassus his cane, and we started on our travels. But the shadow of the eclipse hung over us still. An evil omen came in the beginning. Just as I was stepping into the car, I observed a violent smoke issuing from under it. I started back in alarm.
"They are only getting up steam," said Halicarnassus. "Always do, when they start."
"I know better!" I answered briskly, for there was no time to be circumlocutional. "They don't get up steam under the cars."
"Why not? Bet a sixpence you couldn't get Uncle Cain's Dobbin out of his jog-trot without building a fire under him."
"I know that wheel is on fire," I said, not to be turned from the direct and certain line of assertion into the winding ways of argument.
"No matter," replied Halicarnassus, conceding everything, "we are insured."
Upon the strength of which consolatory information I went in. By and by a man entered and took a seat in front of us. "The box is all afire," chuckled he to his neighbor, as if it were a fine joke. By and by several people who had been looking out of the windows drew in their heads, went into the next car.
"What do you suppose they did that for?" I asked Halicarnassus.
"More aristocratical. Belong to old families. This is a new car, don't you see? We are parvenus."
"Nothing of the sort," I rejoined. "This car is on fire, and they have gone into the next one so as not to be burned up."
"They are not going to write books, and can afford to run away from adventures."
"But suppose I am burned up in my adventure?"
"Obviously, then, your book will end in smoke."
I ceased to talk, for I was provoked at his indifference. I leave every impartial mind to judge for itself whether the circumstances were such as to warrant composure. To be sure, somebody said the car was to be left at Jeru; but Jeru was eight miles away, and any quantity of mischief might be done before we reached it,—if indeed we were not prevented from reaching it altogether. It was a mere question of dynamics. Would dry wood be able to hold its own against a raging fire for half an hour? Of course the conductor thought it would; but even conductors are not infallible; and you may imagine how comfortable it was to sit and know that a fire was in full blast beneath you, and to look down every few minutes expecting to see the flames forking up under your feet. I confess I was not without something like a hope that one tongue of the devouring element would flare up far enough to give Halicarnassus a start; but it did not. No casualty occurred. We reached Jeru in safety; but that does not prove that there was no danger, or that indifference was anything but the most foolish hardihood. If our burning car had been in mid-ocean, serenity would have been sublimity, but to stay in the midst of peril when two steps would take one out of it is idiocy. And that there was peril is conclusively shown by the fact that the very next day the Eastern Railroad Depot took fire and was burned to the ground. I have in my own mind no doubt that it was a continuation of the same fire, and if we had stayed in the car much longer, we should have shared the same fate.
We found Jeru to be a pleasant city, with only one fault: the inhabitants will crowd into a car before passengers can get out; consequently the heads of the two columns collide near the car-door, and there is a general choke. Otherwise Jeru is a delightful city. It is famous for its beautiful women. Its railroad-station is a magnificent piece of architecture. Its men are retired East-India merchants. Everybody in Jeru is rich and has real estate. The houses in Jeru are three stories high and face on the Common. People in Jeru are well-dressed and well-bred, and they all came over in the Mayflower.
We stopped in Jeru five minutes.
When we were ready to continue our travels, Halicarnassus seceded into the smoking-car, and the engine was shrieking off its inertia, a small boy, laboring under great agitation, hurried in, darted up to me, and, thrusting a pinchbeck ring with a pink glass in it into my face, exclaimed, in a hoarse whisper,—
"A beautiful ring, ma'am! I've just picked it up. Can't stop to find the owner. Worth a dollar, ma'am; but if you'll give me fifty cents—"
I rose fiercely, convulsively, in my seat, drew one long breath, but whether he thought I was going to kill him,—I dare say I looked it,—or whether he saw a sheriff behind, or a phantom gallows before, I know not; but without waiting for the thunderbolt to strike, he rushed from the car as precipitately as he had rushed in. I WAS angry,—not because I was to have been cheated, for I been repeatedly and atrociously cheated and only smiled, but because the rascal dared attempt on me such a threadbare, ragged, shoddy trick as that. Do I LOOK like a rough-hewn, unseasoned backwoodsman? Have I the air of never having read a newspaper? Is there a patent innocence of eye-teeth in my demeanor? O Jeru! Jeru! Somewhere in your virtuous bosom you are nourishing a viper, for I have felt his fangs. Woe unto you, if you do not strangle him before he develops into mature anacondaism! In point of natural history I am not sure that vipers do grow up anacondas, but for the purposes of moral philosophy the development theory answers perfectly well.
In Boston we had three hours to spare; so we sent our luggage—that is, my trunk—to the Worcester Depot, and walked leisurely ourselves. I had a little shopping to do, to complete my outfit for the journey,—a very little shopping,—only a nightcap or two. Ordinarily such a thing is a matter of small moment, but in my case the subject bad swollen into unnatural dimensions. Nightcaps are not generally considered healthy,—at least not by physicians. Nature has given to the head its sufficient and appropriate covering, the hair. Anything more than this injures the head, by confining the heat, preventing the soothing, cooling contact of air, and so deranging the circulation of the blood. Therefore I have always heeded the dictates of Nature, which I have supposed to be to brush out the hair thoroughly at night and let it fly. But there are serious disadvantages connected with this course. For Nature will be sure to whisk the hair away from your ears where you want it, and into your eyes where you don't want it, besides crowning you with magnificent disorder in the morning. But as I have always believed that no evil exists without its remedy, I had long been exercising my inventive genius in attempts to produce a head-gear which should at once protect the ears, confine the hair, and let the skull alone. I regret to say that my experiments were an utter failure, notwithstanding the amount of science and skill brought to bear upon them. One idea lay at the basis of all my endeavors. Every combination, however elaborate or intricate, resolved into its simplest elements, consisted of a pair of rosettes laterally to keep the ears warm, a bag posteriorly to put the hair into, and some kind of a string somewhere to hold the machine together. Every possible shape into which lace or muslin or sheeting could be cut or plaited or sewed or twisted, into which crewel or cord could be crocheted or netted or tatted, I make bold to declare was essayed, until things came to such a pass that every odd bit of dry good lying round the house was, in the absence of any positive testimony on the subject, assumed to be one of my nightcaps; an utterly baseless assumption, because my achievements never went so far as concrete capuality, but stopped short in the later stages of abstract idealism. However, prejudice is stronger than truth; and, as I said, every fragment of every fabric that could not give an account of itself was charged with being a nightcap till it was proved to be a dish-cloth or a cart-rope. I at length surrendered at discretion, and remembered that somewhere in my reading I had met with exquisite lace caps, and I did not that from the combined fineness and strength of their material they might answer the purpose, even if in form they should not be everything that was desirable,—and I determined to ascertain, if possible, whether such things existed anywhere out of poetry.
As you perceive, therefore, my Boston shopping was not everyday trading. It was to mark the abandonment of an old and the inauguration of a new line of policy. Thus it was with no ordinary interest that I looked carefully at all the shops, and when I found one that seemed to hold out a possibility of nightcaps, I went in. Halicarnassus obeyed the hint which I pricked into him with the point of my parasol, and stopped outside. The one place in the world where a man has no business to be is the inside of a dry-goods shop. He never looks and never is so big and bungling as there. A woman skips from silk to muslin, from muslin to ribbons, from ribbons to table-cloths, with the grace and agility of a bird. She glides in and out among crowds of her sex, steers sweepingly clear of all obstacles, and emerges triumphant. A man enters, and immediately becomes all boots and elbows. He needs as much room to turn round in as the English iron-clad Warrior, and it takes him about as long. He treads on all the flounces, runs against all the clerks, knocks over all the children, and is generally underfoot. If he gets an idea into his head, a Nims's battery cannot dislodge it. You thought of buying a shawl; but a thousand considerations, in the shape of raglans, cloaks, talmas, and pea-jackets, induce you to modify your views. He stands by you. He hears all your inquiries and all the clerk's suggestions. The whole process of your reasoning is visible to his naked eye. He sees the sack or visite or cape put upon your shoulders and you walking off in it, and when you are half-way home, he will mutter, in stupid amazement, "I thought you were going to buy a shawl!" It is enough to drive one wild.
No! Halicarnassus is absurd and mulish in many things, but he knows I will not be hampered with him when I am shopping, and he obeys the smallest hint, and stops outside.
To be sure he puts my temper on the rack by standing with his hands in his pockets, or by looking meek, or likely as not peering into the shop-door after me with great staring eyes and parted lips; and this is the most provoking of all. If there is anything vulgar, slipshod, and shiftless, it is a man lounging about with his hands in his pockets. If you have paws, stow them away; but if you are endowed with hands, learn to carry them properly, or else cut them off. Nor can I abide a man's looking as if he were under control. I wish him to BE submissive, but I don't wish him to LOOK so. He shall do just as he is bidden, but he shall carry himself like the man and monarch he was made to be. Let him stay where he is put, yet not as if he were put there, but as if he had taken his position deliberately. But, of all things, to have a man act as if he were a clod just emerged for the first time from his own barnyard! Upon this occasion, however, I was too much absorbed in my errand to note anybody's demeanor, and I threaded straightway the crowd of customers, went up to the counter, and inquired in a clear voice,—
"Have you lace nightcaps?"
The clerk looked at me with a troubled, bewildered glance, and made no reply. I supposed he had not understood me, and repeated the question. Then he answered, dubiously,—
"We have breakfast-caps."
It was my turn to look bewildered. What had I to do with breakfast-caps? What connection was there between my question and his answer? What field was there for any further inquiry? "Have you ox-bows?" imagine a farmer to ask. "We have rainbows," says the shopman. "Have you cameo-pins?" inquires the elegant Mrs. Jenkins. "We have linchpins." "Have you young apple trees?" asks the nursery-man. "We have whiffletrees." If I had wanted breakfast-caps, shouldn't I have asked for breakfast-caps? Or do the Boston people take their breakfast at one o'clock in the morning? I concluded that the man was demented, and marched out of the shop. When I laid the matter before Halicarnassus, the following interesting colloquy took place.
I. "What do you suppose it meant?"
H. "He took you for a North American Indian."
I. "What do you mean?"
H. "He did not understand your patois."
I. "What patois?"
H. "Your squaw dialect. You should have asked for a bonnet de nuit."
H. "People never talk about nightcaps in good society."
I was very warm, and Halicarnassus said he was tired; so he went into a restaurant and ordered strawberries,—that luscious fruit, quivering on the border-land of ambrosia and nectar.
"Doubtless," says honest, quaint, delightful Isaac,—and he never spoke a truer word,—"doubtless God might have made a better berry than a strawberry, but doubtless God never did."
The bill of fare rated their excellence at fifteen cents.
"Not unreasonable," I pantomimed.
"Not if I pay for them," replied Halicarnassus.
Then we sat and amused ourselves after the usual brilliant fashion of people who are waiting in hotel parlors, railroad-stations, and restaurants. We surveyed the gilding and the carpet and the mirrors and the curtains. We hazarded profound conjectures touching the people assembled. We studied the bill of fare as if it contained the secret of our army's delay upon the Potomac, and had just concluded that the first crop of strawberries was exhausted, and they were waiting for the second crop to grow, when Hebe hove in sight with her nectared ambrosia in a pair of cracked, browny-white saucers, with browny-green silver spoons. I poured out what professed to be cream, but proved very low-spirited milk, in which a few disheartened strawberries appeared rari nantes. I looked at them in dismay. Then curiosity smote me, and I counted them. Just fifteen.
"Cent a piece," said Halicarnassus.
I was not thinking of the cent, but I had promised myself a feast; and what is a feast, susceptible of enumeration? Cleopatra was right. "That love"—and the same is true of strawberries—"is beggarly which can be reckoned." Infinity alone is glory.
"Perhaps the quality will atone for the quantity," said Halicarnassus, scooping up at least half of his at one "arm-sweep."
"How do they taste?" I asked.
"Rather coppery," he answered.
"It is the spoons!" I exclaimed, in a fright. "They are German silver! You will be poisoned!" and knocked his out of his hand with such instinctive, sudden violence that it flew to the other side of the room, where an old gentleman sat over his newspaper and dinner.
He started, dropped his newspaper, and looked around in a maze. Halicarnassus behaved beautifully,—I will give him the credit of it. He went on with my spoon and his strawberries as unconcernedly as if nothing had happened. I was conscious that I blushed, but my face was in the shade, and nobody else knew it; and to this day I've no doubt the old gentleman would have marvelled what sent that mysterious spoon rattling against his table and whizzing between his boots, had not Halicarnassus, when the uproar was over, conceived it his duty to go and pick up the spoon and apologize for the accident, lest the gentleman should fancy an intentional rudeness. Partly to reward him for his good behavior, partly because I never did think it worth while to make two bites of a cherry, and partly because I did not fancy being poisoned, I gave my fifteen berries to him. He devoured them with evident relish.
"Does my spoon taste as badly as yours?" I asked.
"My spoon?" inquired he, innocently.
"Yes. You said before that they tasted coppery."
"I don't think," replied this unprincipled man,—"I don't think it was the flavor of the spoon so much as of the coin which each berry represented."
If we could only have been at home!
I never made a more unsatisfactory investment in my life than the one I made in that restaurant. I felt as if I had been swindled, and I said so to Halicarnassus. He remarked that there was plenty of cream and sugar. I answered curtly, that the cream was chiefly water, and the sugar chiefly flour; but if they had been Simon Pure himself, was it anything but an aggravation of the offence to have them with nothing to eat them on?
"You might do as they do in France,—carry away what you don't eat, seeing you pay for it."
"A pocketful of milk and water would be both delightful and serviceable; but I might take the sugar," I added, with a sudden thought, upsetting the sugar-bowl into a "Boston Journal" which we had bought in the train. "I can never use it, but it will be a consolation to reflect on."
Halicarnassus, who, though fertile in evil conceptions, lacks nerve to put them into execution, was somewhat startled at this sudden change of base. He had no idea that I should really act upon his suggestion, but I did. I bundled the sugar into my pocket with a grim satisfaction; and Halicarnassus paid his thirty cents, looking—and feeling, as he afterwards told me—as if a policeman's grip were on his shoulders. If any restaurant in Boston recollects having been astonished at any time during the summer of 1862 by an unaccountably empty sugar-bowl, I take this occasion to explain the phenomenon. I gave the sugar afterwards to a little beggar-girl, with a dime for a brace of lemons, and shook off the dust of my feet against Boston at the "B. & W. R. R. D."
Boston is a beautiful city, situated on a peninsula at the head of Massachusetts Bay. It has three streets: Cornhill, Washington, and Beacon Streets. It has a Common and a Frog-pond, and many sprightly squirrels. Its streets are straight, and cross each other like lines on a chess-board. It has a state-house, which is the finest edifice in the world or out of it. It has one church, the Old South, which was built, as its name indicates, before the Proclamation of Emancipation was issued. It has one bookstore, a lofty and imposing pile, of the Egyptian style (and date) of architecture, on the corner of Washington and School Streets. It has one magazine, the "Atlantic Monthly," one daily newspaper, the "Boston Journal," one religious weekly, the "Congregationalist," and one orator, whose name is Train, a model of chaste, compact, and classic elegance. In politics, it was a Webster Whig, till Whig and Webster both went down, when it fell apart waited for something to turn up,—which proved to be drafting. Boston is called the Athens of America. Its men are solid. Its women wear their bonnets to bed, their nightcaps to breakfast, and talk Greek at dinner. I spent two hours and half in Boston, and I know.
We had a royal progress from Boston to Fontdale. Summer lay on the shining hills, and scattered benedictions. Plenty smiled up from a thousand fertile fields. Patient oxen, with their soft, deep eyes, trod heavily over mines of greater than Indian wealth. Kindly cows stood in the grateful shade of cathedral elms, and gave thanks to God in their dumb, fumbling way. Motherly, sleepy, stupid sheep lay on the plains, little lambs rollicked out their short-lived youth around them, and no premonition floated over from the adjoining pea-patch, nor any misgiving of approaching mutton marred their happy heyday. Straight through the piny forests, straight past the vocal orchards, right in among the robins and the jays and the startled thrushes, we dashed inexorable, and made harsh dissonance in the wild-wood orchestra; but not for that was the music hushed, nor did one color fade. Brooks leaped in headlong chase down the furrowed sides of gray old rocks, and glided whispering beneath the sorrowful willows. Old trees renewed their youth in the slight, tenacious grasp of many a tremulous tendril, and, leaping lightly above their topmost heights, vine laughed to vine, swaying dreamily in the summer air; and not a vine nor brook nor hill nor forest but sent up a sweet-smelling incense to its Maker. Not an ox or cow or lamb or bird living its own dim life but lent its charm of unconscious grace to the great picture that unfolded itself mile after mile, in ever fresher loveliness to ever unsated eyes. Well might the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy, when first this grand and perfect world swung free from its moorings, flung out its spotless banner, and sailed majestic down the thronging skies. Yet, though but once God spoke the world to life, the miracle of creation is still incomplete. New every spring-time, fresh every summer, the earth comes forth as a bride adorned for her husband. Not only in the dawn of our history, but now in the full brightness of its noonday, may we hear the voice of the Lord walking in the garden. I look out upon the gray degraded fields left naked of the snow, and inwardly ask, Can these dry bones live again? And while the question is yet trembling on my lips, lo! a Spirit breathes upon the earth, and beauty thrills into bloom. Who shall lack faith in man's redemption, when every year the earth is redeemed by unseen hands, and death is lost in resurrection?
To Fontdale sitting among her beautiful meadows we are borne swiftly on. There we must tarry for the night, for I will not travel in the dark when I can help it. I love it. There is no solitude in the world, or at least I have never felt any, like standing alone in the doorway of the rear car on a dark night, and rushing on through the darkness,—darkness, darkness everywhere, and if one could be sure of rushing on till daylight doth appear! But with the frightful and not remote possibility of bringing up in a crash and being buried under a general huddle, one prefers daylight. You may not be able to get out of the huddle even by daylight; but you will at least know where you are, if there is anything of you left. So at Fontdale, Halicarnassus branches off temporarily on a business errand, and I stop for the night a-cousining.
You object to this? Some people do. For my part, I like it. You say you will not turn your own house or your friend's house into a hotel. If people wish to see you, let them come and make a visit; if you wish to see them, you will go and make them one; but this touch and go,—what is it worth? O foolish Galatians! much every way. For don't you see, supposing the people are people you don't like, how much better it is to have them come and sleep or dine and be gone than to have them before your face and eyes for a week? An ill that is temporary is tolerable. You could entertain the Evil One himself, if you were sure he would go away after dinner. The trouble about him is not so much that he comes as that he won't go. He hangs around. If you once open your door to him, there is no getting rid of him; and some of his followers, it must be confessed, are just like him. You must resist them both, or they will never flee. But if they do flee after a day's tarry, do not complain. You protest against turning your house into a hotel. Why, the hotelry is the least irksome part of the whole business, when your guests are uninteresting. It is not the supper or the bed that costs, but keeping people going after supper is over and before bedtime is come. Never complain, if you have nothing worse to do than to feed or house your guests for a day or an hour.
On the other hand, if they are people you like, how much better to have them come so than not to at all! People cannot often make long visits,—people that are worth anything,—people who use life; and they are the only ones that are worth anything. And if you cannot get your good things in the lump, are you going to refuse them altogether? By no means. You are going to take them by driblets, and if you will only be sensible and not pout, but keep your tin pan right side up, you will find that golden showers will drizzle through all your life. So, with never a nugget in your chest, you shall die rich. If you can stop over-night with your friend, you have no sand-grain, but a very respectable boulder. For a night is infinite. Daytime is well enough for business, but it is little worth for happiness. You sit down to a book, to a picture, to a friend, and the first you know it is time to get dinner, or time to eat it, or time for the train, or you must put out your dried apples, or set the bread to rising, or something breaks in impertinently and chokes you at flood-tide. But the night has no end. Everything is done but that which you would be forever doing. The curtains are drawn, the lamp is lighted and veiled into exquisite soft shadowiness. All the world is far off. All its din and dole strike into the bank of darkness that envelops you and are lost to your tranced sense. In all the world are only your friend and you, and then you strike out your oars, silver-sounding, into the shoreless night.
But the night comes to an end, you say. No, it does not. It is you that come to an end. You grow sleepy, clod that you are. But as you don't think, when you begin, that you ever shall grow sleepy, it is just the same as if you never did. For you have no foreshadow of an inevitable termination to your rapture, and so practically your night has no limit. It is fastened at one end to the sunset, but the other end floats off into eternity. And there really is no abrupt termination. You roll down the inclined plane of your social happiness into the bosom of another happiness,—sleep. Sleep for the sleepy is bliss just as truly as society to the lonely. What in the distance would have seemed Purgatory, once reached, is Paradise, and your happiness is continuous. Just as it is in mending. Short-sighted, superficial, unreflecting people have a way—which in time fossilizes into a principle—of mending everything as soon as it comes up from the wash,—a very unthrifty, uneconomical habit, if you use the words thrift and economy in the only way in which they ought to be used, namely, as applied to what is worth economizing. Time, happiness, life, these are the only things to be thrifty about. But I see people working and worrying over quince-marmalade and tucked petticoats and embroidered chair-covers, things that perish with the using and leave the user worse than they found him. This I call waste and wicked prodigality. Life is too short to permit us to fret about matters of no importance. Where these things can minister to the mind and heart, they are a part of the soul's furniture; but where they only pamper the appetite or the vanity, or any foolish and hurtful lust, they are foolish and hurtful. Be thrifty of comfort. Never allow an opportunity for cheer, for pleasure, for intelligence, for benevolence, for kind of good, to go unimproved. Consider seriously whether the syrup of your preserves or juices of your own soul will do the most to serve your race. It may be that they are compatible,—that the concoction of the one shall provide the ascending sap of the other; but if it is not so, if one must be sacrificed, do not hesitate a moment as to which it shall be. If a peach does not become sweetmeat, it will become something, it will not stay a withered, unsightly peach; but for souls there is no transmigration out of fables. Once a soul, forever a soul,—mean or mighty, shrivelled or full, it is for you to say. Money, land, luxury, so far as they are money, land, and luxury, are worthless. It is only as fast and as far as they are turned into life that they acquire value.
So you are thriftless when you eagerly seize the first opportunity to fritter away your time over old clothes. You precipitate yourself unnecessarily against a disagreeable thing. For you are not going to put your stockings on. Perhaps you will not need your buttons for a week, and in a week you may have passed beyond the jurisdiction of buttons. But even if you should not, let the buttons and the holes alone all the same. For, first, the pleasant and profitable thing which you will do instead is a funded capital, which will roll you up a perpetual interest; and secondly, the disagreeable duty is forever abolished. I say forever, because, when you have gone without the button awhile, the inconvenience it occasions will reconcile you to the necessity of sewing it on,—will even go further, and make it a positive relief amounting to positive pleasure. Besides, every time you use it, for a long while after, you will have a delicious sense of satisfaction, such as accompanies the sudden complete cessation of a dull, continuous pain. Thus what was at best characterless routine, and most likely an exasperation, is turned into actual delight, and adds to the sum of life. This is thrift. This is economy. But, alas! few people understand the art of living. They strive after system, wholeness, buttons, and neglect the weightier matters of the higher law.
—I wonder how I got here, or how I am to get back again. I started for Fontdale, and I find myself in a mending-basket. As I know no good in tracing the same road back, we may as well strike a bee-line and begin new at Fontdale.
We stopped at Fontdale a-cousining. I have a veil, a beautiful—HAVE, did I say? Alas! Troy WAS. But I must not anticipate—a beautiful veil of brown tissue, none of your woolleny, gruff fabrics, fit only for penance, but a silken, gossamery cloud, soft as a baby's cheek. Yet everybody fleers at it. Everybody has a joke about it. Everybody looks at it, and holds it out at arms' length, and shakes it, and makes great eyes at it, and says, "What in the world—" and ends with a huge, bouncing laugh. Why? One is ashamed of human nature at being forced to confess. Because, to use a Gulliverism, it is longer by the breadth of my nail than any of its contemporaries. In fact, it is two yards long. That is all. Halicarnassus fired the first gun at it by saying that its length was to enable one end of it to remain at home while the other end went with me, so that neither of us should get lost. This is an allusion to a habit which I and my property have of finding ourselves individually and collectively left in the lurch. After this initial shot, everybody considered himself at liberty to let off his rusty old blunderbuss, and there was a constant peppering. But my veil never lowered its colors nor curtailed its resources. Alas! what ridicule and contumely failed to effect, destiny accomplished. Softness and plenitude are no shields against the shafts of fate.
I went into the station waiting-room to write a note. I laid my bonnet, my veil, my packages upon the table. I wrote my note. I went away. The next morning, when I would have arrayed myself to resume my journey, there was no veil. I remembered that I had taken it into the station the night before, and that I had not taken it out. At the station we inquired of the waiting-woman concerning it. It is as much as your life is worth to ask these people about lost articles. They take it for granted at the first blush that you mean to accuse them of stealing. "Have you seen a brown veil lying about anywhere?" asked Crene, her sweet bird-voice warbling out from her sweet rose-lips. "No, I 'a'n't seen nothin' of it," says Gnome, with magnificent indifference.
"It was lost here last night," continues Crene, in a soliloquizing undertone, pushing investigating glances beneath the sofas.
"I do' know nothin' about it. I 'a'n't took it"; and the Gnome tosses her head back defiantly. "I seen the lady when she was a-writin' of her letter, and when she went out ther' wa'n't nothin' left on the table but a hangkerchuf, and that wa'n't hern. I do' know nothin' about it, nor I 'a'n't seen nothin' of it."
O no, my Gnome, you knew nothing of it; you did not take it. But since no one accused or even suspected you, why could you not have been less aggressive and more sympathetic in your assertions? But we will plough no longer in that field. The ploughshare has struck against a rock and grits, denting its edge in vain. My veil is gone,—my ample, historic, heroic veil. There is a woman in Fontdale who breathes air filtered through—I will not say STOLEN tissue, but certainly through tissue which was obtained without rendering its owner any fair equivalent. Does not every breeze that softly stirs its fluttering folds say to her, "O friend, this veil is not yours, not yours," and still sighingly, "not yours! Up among the northern hills, yonder towards the sunset, sits the owner, sorrowful, weeping, wailing"? I believe I am wading out into the Sally Waters of Mother Goosery; but, prose or poetry, somewhere a woman,—and because nobody of taste could surreptitiously possess herself of my veil, I have no doubt that she cut it incontinently into two equal parts, and gave one to her sister, and there are two women,—nay, since niggardly souls have no sense of grandeur, and will shave down to microscopic dimensions, it is every way probable that she divided it into three unequal parts, and took three quarters of a yard for herself, three quarters for her sister, and gave the remaining half-yard to her daughter, and that at very moment there are two women and a little girl taking their walks abroad under the silken shadows of my veil! And yet there are people who profess to disbelieve in total depravity.
Nor did the veil walk away alone. My trunk became imbued with the spirit of adventure, and branched off on its own account up somewhere into Vermont. I suppose it would have kept on and reached perhaps the North Pole by this time, had not Crene's dark eyes,—so pretty to look at that one instinctively feels they ought not to be good for anything, if a just impartiality is to be maintained, but they are,—had not Crene's dark eyes seen it tilting into a baggage-crate, and trundling off towards the Green Mountains, but too late. Of course there was a formidable hitch in the programme. A court of justice was improvised on the car-steps. I was the plaintiff, Crene chief evidence, baggage-master both defendant and examining-counsel. The case did not admit of a doubt. There was the little insurmountable check, whose brazen lips could speak no lie.
"Keep hold of that," whispered Crene, and a yoke of oxen could not have drawn it from me.
"You are sure you had it marked for Fontdale," says Mr. Baggage-master.
I hold the impracticable check before his eyes in silence.
"Yes, well, it must have gone on to Albany."
"But it went away on that track," says Crene.
"Couldn't have gone on that track. Of course they wouldn't have carried it away over there just to make it go wrong."
For me, I am easily persuaded and dissuaded. If he had told me that it must have gone in such a direction, that it was a moral and mental impossibility should have gone in any other, and have it times enough, with a certain confidence and contempt of any other contingency, I should gradually have lost faith in my own eyes, and said, "Well, I suppose it did." But Crene is not to be asserted into yielding one inch, and insists that the trunk went to Vermont and not to New York, and is thoroughly unmanageable. The baggage-master, in anguish of soul, trots out his subordinates, one after another,—
"Is this the man that wheeled the trunk away? Is this? Is this?"
The brawny-armed fellows hang back, and scowl, and muffle words in a very suspicious manner, and protest they won't be got into a scrape. But Crene has no scrape for them. She cannot swear to their identity. She had eyes only for the trunk.
"Well," says Baggage-man, at his wits' end, "you let me take your check, and I'll send the trunk on by express, when it comes."
I pity him, and relax my clutch.
"No," whispers Crene; "as long as you have your check, you as good as have your trunk; but when you give that up, you have nothing. Keep that till you see your trunk."
My clutch re-tightens.
"At any rate, you can wait till the next train, and see if it doesn't come back. You'll get to your journey's end just as soon."
"Shall I? Well, I will," compliant as usual.
"No," interposes my good genius again. "Men are always saying that a woman never goes when she engages to go. She is always a train later or a train earlier, and you can't meet her."
Pliant to the last touch, I say aloud,—
"No, I must go in this train"; and so I go, trunkless and crestfallen, to meet Halicarnassus.
It is a dismal day, and Crene, to comfort me, puts into my hands two books as companions by the way. They are Coventry Patmore's "Angel in the House," "The Espousals and the Betrothal." I do not approve of reading in the cars; but without is a dense, white, unvarying fog, and within my heart it is not clear sunshine. So I turn to my books.
Did any one ever read them before? Somebody wrote a vile review of them once, and gave the idea of a very puerile, ridiculous, apron-stringy attempt at poetry. Whoever wrote that notice ought to be shot, for the books are charming,—pure and homely and householdy, yet not effeminate. Critics may sneer as much as they choose: it is such love as Vaughan's that Honorias value. Because a woman's nature is not proof against deterioration, because a large and long-continued infusion of gross blood, and perhaps even the monotonous pressure of rough, pitiless, degrading circumstances, may displace, eat out, rub off the delicacy of a soul, may change its texture to unnatural coarseness and scatter ashes for beauty, women do exist, victims rather than culprits, coarse against their nature, hard, material, grasping, the saddest sight humanity can see. Such a woman can accept coarse men. They may come courting on all fours, and she will not be shocked. But women in the natural state wish men to stand godlike erect, to tread majestically, and live delicately. Women do not often make an ado about this. They talk it over among themselves, and take men as they are. They quietly soften them down, and smooth them out, and polish them up, and make the best of them, and simply and sedulously shut their eyes and make believe there isn't any worst, or reason it away,—a great deal more than I should think they would. But if you see the qualities that a woman spontaneously loves, the expression, the tone, the bearing that thoroughly satisfies her self-respect, that not only secures her acquiescence, but arouses her enthusiasm and commands her abdication, crucify the flesh, and read Coventry Patmore. Not that he is the world's great poet, nor Arthur Vaughan the ideal man; but this I do mean: that the delicacy, the spirituality of his love, the scrupulous respectfulness of his demeanor, his unfeigned inward humility, as far removed from servility on the one side as from assumption on the other, and less the opponent than the offspring of self-respect, his thorough gentleness, guilelessness, deference, his manly, unselfish homage, are such qualities, and such alone, as lead womanhood captive. Listen to me, you rattling, roaring, rollicking Ralph Roister Doisters, you calm, inevitable Gradgrinds, as smooth, as sharp, as bright as steel, and as soulless, and you men, whoever, whatever, and wherever you are, with fibres of rope and nerves of wire, there is many and many a woman who tolerates you because she finds you, but there is nothing in her that ever goes out to seek you. Be not deceived by her placability. "Here he is," she says to herself, "and something must be done about it. Buried under Ossa and Pelion somewhere he must be supposed to have a soul, and the sooner he is dug into the sooner it will be exhumed." So she digs. She would never have made you, nor of her own free-will elected you; but being made, such as you are, and on her hands in one way or another, she carves and chisels, and strives to evoke from the block a breathing statue. She may succeed so far as that you shall become her Frankenstein, a great, sad, monstrous, incessant, inevitable caricature of her ideal, the monument at once of her success and her failure, the object of her compassion, the intimate sorrow of her soul, a vast and dreadful form into which her creative power can breathe the breath of life, but not of sympathy. Perhaps she loves you with a remorseful, pitying, protesting love, and carries you on her shuddering shoulders to the grave. Probably, as she is good and wise, you will never find it out. A limpid brook ripples in beauty and bloom by the side of muddy, stagnant self-complacence, and you discern no essential difference. "Water's water," you say, with your broad, stupid generalization, and go oozing along contentedly through peat-bogs and meadow-ditches, mounting, perhaps, in moments of inspiration, to the moderate sublimity of a cranberry-meadow, but subsiding with entire satisfaction into a muck-puddle: and all the while the little brook that you patronize when you are full-fed, and snub when you are hungry, and look upon always,—the little brook is singing its own melody through grove and orchard and sweet wild-wood,—singing with the birds and the blooms songs that you cannot hear; but they are heard by the silent stars, singing on and on into a broader and deeper destiny, till it pours, one day, its last earthly note, and becomes forevermore the unutterable sea.
And you are nothing but a ditch.
No, my friend, Lucy will drive with you, and to talk to you, and sing your songs; she will take care of you, and pray for you, and cry when you go to the war; if she is not your daughter or your sister, she will, perhaps, in a moment of weakness or insanity, marry you; she will be a faithful wife, and float you to the end; but if you wish to be her love, her hero, her ideal, her delight, her spontaneity, her utter rest and ultimatum, you must attune your soul to fine issues,—you must bring out the angel in you, and keep the brute under. It is not that you shall stop making shoes, and begin to write poetry. That is just as much discrimination as you have. Tell you to be gentle, and you think we will have you dissolve into milk-and-water; tell you to be polite, and you infer hypocrisy; to be neat, and you leap over into dandyism, fancying all the while that bluster is manliness. No, sir. You may make shoes, you may run engines, you may carry coals; you may blow the huntsman's horn, hurl the base-ball, follow the plough, smite the anvil; your face may be brown, your veins knotted, your hands grimed; and yet you may be a hero. And, on the other hand, you may write verses and be a clown. It is not necessary to feed on ambrosia in order to become divine; nor shall one be accursed, though he drink of the ninefold Styx. The Israelites ate angels' food in the wilderness, and remained stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears. The white water-lily feeds on slime, and unfolds a heavenly glory. Come as the June morning comes. It has not picked its way daintily, passing only among the roses. It has breathed up the whole earth. It has blown through the fields and barnyards and all the common places of the land. It has shrunk from nothing. Its purity has breasted and overborne all things, and so mingled and harmonized all that it sweeps around your forehead and sinks into your heart as soft and sweet and pure as the fragrancy of Paradise. So come you, rough from the world's rough work, all out-door airs blowing around you, and all your earth-smells clinging to you, but with a fine inward grace, so strong, so sweet, so salubrious that it meets and masters all things, blending every faintest or foulest odor of earthliness into the grateful incense of a pure and lofty life.
Thus I read and mused in the soft summer fog, and the first I knew the cars had stopped, I was standing on the platform, and Coventry and his knight were—where? Wandering up and down somewhere among the Berkshire hills. At some junction of roads, I suppose, I left them on the cushion, for I have never beheld them since. Tell me, O ye daughters of Berkshire! have you seen them,—a princely pair, sore weary in your mountain-land, but regal still, through all their travel-stain? I pray you, entreat them hospitably, for their mission is "not of an age, but for all time."
The descent from Patmore and poetry to New York is somewhat abrupt, not to say precipitous, but we made it in safety; and so shall you, if you will be agile.
New York is a pleasant little Dutch city, on a dot of island a few miles southwest of Massachusetts. For a city entirely unobtrusive and unpretending, it has really great attractions and solid merit; but the superior importance of other places will not permit me to tarry long within its hospitable walls. In fact, we only arrived late at night, and departed early the next morning; but even a six-hours sojourn gave me a solemn and "realizing sense" of its marked worth,—for, when, tired and listless, I asked for a servant to assist me, the waiter said he would send the housekeeper. Accordingly, when, a few moments after, it knocked at the door with light, light finger, (see De la Motte Fouque,) I drawled, "Come in," and the Queen of Sheba stood before me, clad in purple and fine linen, with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. I stared in dismay, and perceived myself rapidly transmigrating into a ridiculus mus. My gray and dingy travelling-dress grew abject, and burned into my soul like tunic of Nessus. I should as soon have thought of asking Queen Victoria to brush out my hair as that fine lady in brocade silk and Mechlin lace. But she was good and gracious, and did not annihilate me on the spot, as she easily have done, for which I shall thank her as long as I live.
"You sent for me?" she inquired, with the blandest accents imaginable. I can't tell a lie, pa,—you know I can't tell a lie; besides, I had not time to make up one, and I said, "Yes," and then, of all stupid devices that could filter into my brain, I must needs stammer out that I should like a few matches! A pretty thing to bring a dowager duchess up nine pairs of stairs for!
"I will ring the bell," she said, with a tender, reproachful sweetness and dignity, which conveyed without unkindness the severest rebuke tempered by womanly pity, and proceeded to instruct me in the nature and uses of the bell-rope, as she would any little dairy-maid who had heard only the chime of cow-bells all the days of her life. Then she sailed out of the room, serene and majestic, like a seventy-four man-of-war, while I, a squalid, salt-hay gunlow, (Venetian blind-ed into gondola,) first sank down in confusion, and then rose up in fury and brushed all the hair out of my head.
"I declare," I said to Halicarnassus, when we were fairly beyond ear-shot of the city next morning, "I don't approve of sumptuary laws, and I like America to be the El Dorado of the poor man, and I go for the largest liberty of the individual; but I do think there ought to be a clause in the Constitution providing that servants shall not be dressed and educated and accomplished up to the point of making people uncomfortable."
"No," said Halicarnassus, sleepily; "perhaps it wasn't a servant."
"Well," I said, having looked at it in that light silently for half an hour, and coming to the surface in another place, "if I could dress and carry myself like that, I would not keep tavern."
"Oh! eh?" yawning; "who does?"
"Mrs. Astor. Of course nobody less rich than Mrs. Astor could go up-stairs and down-stairs and in my lady's chamber in Shiraz silk and gold of Ophir. Why, Cleopatra was nothing to her. I make no doubt she uses gold-dust for sugar in her coffee every morning; and as for the three miserable little wherries that Isabella furnished Columbus, and historians have towed through their tomes ever since, if you know of anybody that has a continent he wishes to discover, send him to this housekeeper, and she can fit out a fleet of transports and Monitors for convoy with one of her bracelets."
"I don't," said Halicarnassus, rubbing his eyes.
"I only wish," I added, "that she would turn Rebel so that government might confiscate her. Paper currency would go up at once from the sudden influx of gold, and the credit of the country receive a new lease of life. She must be a lineal descendant of Sir Roger de Coverley, for sure her finger sparkles with a hundred of his richest acres."
Before bidding a final farewell to New York, I venture to make a single remark. I regret to be forced to confess that I greatly fear even this virtuous little city has not escaped quite free, the general deterioration of morals and manners. The New York hackmen, for instance, are very obliging and attentive; but if it would not seem ungrateful, I would hazard the statement that their attentions are unremitting to the degree being almost embarrassing, and proffered to the verge of obtrusiveness. I think, in short, that they are hardly quite delicate in their politeness. They press their hospitality on you till you sigh for a little marked neglect. They are not content with simple statement. They offer you their hack, for instance. You decline with thanks. They say that they will carry you to any part of the city. Where is the pertinence of that, if you do not wish to go? But they not only say it, they repeat it, they dwell upon it as if it were a cardinal virtue. Now you have never expressed or entertained the remotest suspicion that they would not carry you to any part of the city. You have not the slightest intention or desire to discredit their assertion. The only trouble is, as I said before, you do not wish to go to any part of the city. Very few people have time to drive about in that general way; and surely, when you have once distinctly informed them that you do not design to inspect New York, they ought to see plainly that you cannot change your whole plan of operations out of gratitude to them, and that the part of true politeness is to withdraw. But they even go beyond a censurable urgency; for an old gentleman and lady, evidently unaccustomed to travelling, had given themselves in charge of a driver, who placed them in his coach, leaving the door open while he went back seeking whom he might devour. Presently a rival coachman came up and said to the aged and respectable couple,—
"Here's a carriage all ready to start."
"But," replied the lady, "we have already told the gentleman who drives this coach that we would go with him."
"Catch me to go in that coach, if I was you!" responded the wicked coachman. "Why, that coach has had the small-pox in it."
The lady started up in horror. At that moment the first driver appeared again; and Satan entered into me, and I felt in my heart that I should like to see a fight; and then conscience stepped up and drove him away, but consoled me by the assurance that I should see the fight all the same, for such duplicity deserved the severest punishment, and it was my duty to make an expose and vindicate helpless innocence imposed upon in the persons of that worthy pair. Accordingly I said to the driver, as he passed me,—
"Driver, that man in the gray coat is trying to frighten the old lady and gentleman away from your coach, by telling them it has had the small-pox."
Oh! but did not the fire flash into his honest eyes, and leap into his swarthy cheek, and nerve his brawny arm, and clinch his horny fist, as he marched straightway up to the doomed offender, fiercely denounced his dishonesty, and violently demanded redress? Ah! then and there was hurrying to and fro, and eagerness and delight on every countenance, and a ring formed, and the prospect of a lovely "row,"—and I did it; but a police-officer sprang up, full-armed, from somewhere underground, and undid it all, and enforced a reluctant peace.
And so we are at Saratoga. Now, of all places to stay at in the summer-time, Saratoga is the very last one to choose. It may have attractions in winter; but, if one wishes to rest and change and root down and shoot up and branch out, he might as well take lodgings in the water-wheel of a saw-mill. The uniformity and variety will be much the same. It is all a noiseless kind of din, narrow and intense. There is nothing in Saratoga nor of Saratoga to see or to hear or to feel. They tell you of a lake. You jam into an omnibus and ride four miles. Then you step into a cockle-shell and circumnavigate a pond, so small that it almost makes you dizzy to sail around it. This is the lake,—a very nice thing as far as it goes; but when it has to be constantly on duty as the natural scenery of the whole surrounding country, it is putting altogether too fine a point on it. The picturesque people will inform you of an Indian encampment. You go to see it, thinking of the forest primeval, and expecting to be transported back to tomahawks, scalps, and forefathers but you return without them, and that is all. I never heard of anybody's going anywhere. In fact there did not seem to be anywhere to go. Any suggestion of mine to strike out into the champaign was frowned down in the severest manner. As far as I could see, nobody ever did anything. There never was any plan on foot. Nothing was ever stirring. People sat on the piazza and sewed. They went to the springs, and the springs are dreadful. They bubble up salts and senna. I never knew anything that pretended to be water that was half as bad. It has no one redeeming quality. It is bitter. It is greasy. Every spring is worse than the last, whichever end you begin at. They told apocryphal stories of people's drinking sixteen glasses before breakfast; and yet it may have been true; for, if one could bring himself to the point of drinking one glass of it, I should suppose it would have taken such a force to enable him to do it that he might go on drinking indefinitely, from the mere action of the original impulse. I should think one dose of it would render a person permanently indifferent to savors, and make him, like Mithridates, poison-proof. Nevertheless, people go to the springs and drink. Then they go to the bowling-alleys and bowl. In the evening, if you are hilariously inclined, you can make the tour of the hotels. In one you see a large and brilliantly lighted parlor, along the four sides of which are women sitting, solemn and stately, in rows three deep, a man dropped in here and there, about as thick as periods on a page, very young or very old or in white cravats. A piano or a band or something that can make a noise makes it at intervals at one end of the room. They all look as if they waiting for something, but nothing in particular happens. Sometimes, after the mountain has labored awhile, some little mouse of a boy and girl will get up, execute an antic or two and sit down again, when everything relapses into its original solemnity. At very long intervals somebody walks across the floor. There is a moderate fluttering of fans and an occasional whisper. Expectation interspersed with gimcracks seems to be the programme. The greater part of the dancing that I saw was done by boys and girls. It was pretty and painful. Nobody dances so well as children; no grace is equal to their grace; but to go into a hotel at ten o'clock at night, and see little things, eight, ten, twelve years old, who ought to be in bed and asleep, tricked out in flounces and ribbons and all the paraphernalia of ballet-girls, and dancing in the centre of a hollow square of strangers,—I call it murder in the first degree. What can mothers be thinking of to abuse their children so? Children are naturally healthy and simple; why should they be spoiled? They will have to plunge into the world full soon enough; why should the world be plunged into them? Physically, mentally, and morally, the innocents are massacred. Night after night I saw the same children led out to the slaughter, and as I looked I saw their round, red cheeks grow thin and white, their delicate nerves lose tone and tension, their brains become feeble and flabby, their minds flutter out weakly in muslin and ribbons, their vanity kindled by injudicious admiration, the sweet child-unconsciousness withering away in the glare of indiscriminate gazing, the innocence and simplicity and naturalness and childlikeness swallowed up in a seething whirlpool of artificialness, all the fine, golden butterfly-dust of modesty and delicacy and retiring girlhood ruthlessly rubbed off forever before girlhood had even reddened from the dim dawn of infancy. Oh! it is cruel to sacrifice children so. What can atone for a lost childhood? What can be given in recompense for the ethereal, spontaneous, sharply defined, new, delicious sensations of a sheltered, untainted, opening life?
Thoroughly worked into a white heat of indignation, we leave the babes in the wood to be despatched by their ruffian relatives, and go to other hotel. A larger parlor, larger rows, but still three deep and solemn. A tall man, with a face in which melancholy seems to be giving way to despair, a man most proper for an undertaker, but palpably out of place in a drawing-room, walks up and down incessantly, but noiselessly, in a persistent endeavor to bring out a dance. Now he fastens upon a newly arrived man. Now he plants himself before a bench of misses. You can hear the low rumble of his exhortation and the tittering replies. After a persevering course of entreaty and persuasion, a set is drafted, the music galvanizes, and the dance begins.
I like to see people do with their might whatsoever their hands or their tongues or their feet find to do. A half-and-half performance of the right is just about as mischievous as the perpetration of the wrong. It is vacillation, hesitation, lack of will, feebleness of purpose, imperfect execution, that works ill in all life. Be monarch of all you survey. If a woman decides to do her own housework, let her go in royally among her pots and kettles, and set everything a-stewing and baking and broiling and boiling, as a queen might. If she decides not to do housework, but to superintend its doing, let her say to her servant, "Go," and he goeth, to another, "Come," and he cometh, to a third, "Do this," and he doeth it, and not potter about. So, when girls get themselves up and go to Saratoga for a regular campaign, let their bearing be soldierly. Let them be gay with abandonment. Let them take hold of it as if they liked it. I do not affect the word flirtation, but the thing itself is not half so criminal as one would think from the animadversions visited upon it. Of course, a deliberate setting yourself to work to make some one fall in love with you, for the mere purpose of showing your power, is abominable,—or would be, if anybody ever did it; but I do not suppose it ever was done, except in fifth-rate novels. What I mean is, that it is entertaining, harmless, and beneficial for young people to amuse themselves with each other to the top of their bent, if their bent is a natural and right one. A few hearts may suffer accidental, transient injury; but hearts are like limbs, all the stronger for being broken. Besides, where one man or woman is injured by loving too much, nine hundred and ninety-nine die the death from not loving enough. But these Saratoga girls did neither one thing nor another. They dressed themselves in their best, making a point of it, and failed. They assembled themselves together of set purpose to be lively, and they were infectiously dismal. They did not dress well: one looked rustic; another was dowdyish; a third was over-fine; a fourth was insignificant. Their bearing was not good, in the main. They danced, and whispered, and laughed, and looked like milkmaids. They had no style, no figure. Their shoulders were high, and their chests were flat, and they were one-sided, and they stooped,—all of which would have been no account, if they had only been unconsciously enjoying themselves: but they consciously were not. It is possible that they thought they were happy, but I knew better. You are never happy, unless you are master of the situation; and they were not. They endeavored to appear at ease,—a thing which people who are at ease never do. They looked as if they had all their lives been meaning to go to Saratoga, and now they had got there and were determined not to betray any unwontedness. It was not the timid, eager, delighted, fascinating, graceful awkwardness of a new young girl; it was not the careless, hearty, whole-souled enjoyment of an experienced girl; it was not the natural, indifferent, imperial queening it of an acknowledged monarch: but something that caught hold of the hem of the garment of them all. It was they with the sheen damped off. So it was not imposing. I could pick you up a dozen girls straight along, right out of the pantries and the butteries, right up from the washing-tubs and the sewing-machines, who should be abundantly able to "hoe their row" with them anywhere. In short, I was extremely disappointed. I expected to see the high fashion, the very birth and breeding, the cream cheese of the country, and it was skim-milk. If that is birth, one can do quite as well without being born at all. Occasionally you would see a girl with gentle blood in her veins, whether it were butcher-blood or banker-blood, but she only made the prevailing plebsiness more striking. Now I maintain that a woman ought to be very handsome or very clever, or else she ought to go to work and do something. Beauty is of itself a divine gift and adequate. "Beauty is its own excuse for being" anywhere. It ought not to be fenced in or monopolized, any more than a statue or a mountain. It ought to be free and common, a benediction to all weary wayfarers. It can never be profaned; for it veils itself from the unappreciative eye, and shines only upon its worshippers. So a clever woman, whether she be a painter or a teacher or a dress-maker,—if she really has an object in life, a career, she is safe. She is a power. She commands a realm. She owns a world. She is bringing things to bear. Let her alone. But it is a very dangerous and a very melancholy thing common women to be "lying on their oars" long at a time. Some of these were, I suppose, what Winthrop calls "business-women, fighting their way out of vulgarity into style." The process is rather uninteresting, but the result may be glorious. Yet a good many of them were good honest, kind, common girls, only demoralized by long lying around in a waiting posture. It had taken the fire and sparkle out of them. They were not in a healthy state. They were degraded, contracted, flaccid. They did not hold themselves high. They knew that in a market-point of view there was a frightful glut of women. The usually small ratio of men was unusually diminished by the absence of those who gone to the war, and of those who, as was currently reported, were ashamed that they had not gone. A few available men had it all their own way; the women were on the lookout for them, instead of being themselves looked out for. They talked about "gentlemen," and being "companionable to GEN-tlemen," and who was "fascinating to GEN-tlemen," till the "grand old name became a nuisance. There was an under-current of unsated coquetry. I don't suppose they were any sillier than the rest of us; but when our silliness is mixed in with housekeeping and sewing and teaching and returning visits, it passes off harmless. When it is stripped of all these modifiers, however, and goes off exposed to Saratoga, and melts in with a hundred other sillinesses, it makes a great show.