BOSTON: JAMES R. OSGOOD AND COMPANY, LATE TICKNOR & FIELDS, AND FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO. 1874.
University Press: Welch, Bigelow, & Co., Cambridge.
I. The Enchanted Ring
II. Out of Egypt
III. A May Morning
IV. A Brahman
V. A New Man with an old Face
VI. The Vagaries of Helwyse
VII. A Quarrel
VIII. A Collision Imminent
IX. The Voice of Darkness
X. Helwyse Resists the Devil
XI. A Dead Weight
XII. More Vagaries
XIII. Through a Glass
XIV. The Tower of Babel
XV. Charon's Ferry
XVI. Legend and Chronicle
XVII. Face to Face
XVIII. The Hoopoe and the Crocodile
XIX. Before Sundown
XX. Between Waking and Sleeping
XXI. We Pick Up Another Thread
XXII. Heart and Head
XXIII. Balder Tells an Untruth
XXIV. Uncle Hiero at Last
XXV. The Happiness of Man
XXVI. Music and Madness
XXVII. Peace and Good-will
XXIX. A Chamber of the Heart
XXXII. Shut In
XXXIII. The Black Cloud
To ROBERT CARTER, ESQ.
Not the intrinsic merits of this story embolden me to inscribe it to you, my dear friend, but the fact that you, more than any other man, are responsible for its writing. Your advice and encouragement first led me to book-making; so it is only fair that you should partake of whatever obloquy (or honor) the practice may bring upon me.
The ensuing pages may incline you to suspect their author of a repugnance to unvarnished truth; but,—without prejudice to Othello,—since varnish brings out in wood veins of beauty invisible before the application, why not also in the sober facts of life? When the transparent artifice has been penetrated, the familiar substance underneath will be greeted none the less kindly; nay, the observer will perhaps regard the disguise as an oblique compliment to his powers of insight, and his attention may thus be better secured than had the subject worn its every-day dress. Seriously, the most matter-of-fact life has moods when the light of romance seems to gild its earthen chimney-pots into fairy minarets; and, were the story-teller but sure of laying his hands upon the true gold, perhaps the more his story had of it, the better.
Here, however, comes in the grand difficulty; fact nor fancy is often reproduced in true colors; and while attempting justly to combine life's elements, the writer has to beware that they be not mere cheap imitations thereof. Not seldom does it happen that what he proffers as genuine arcana of imagination and philosophy affects the reader as a dose of Hieroglyphics and Balderdash. Nevertheless, the first duty of the fiction-monger—no less than of the photographic artist doomed to produce successful portraits of children-in-arms—is, to be amusing; to shrink at no shifts which shall beguile the patient into procrastinating escape until the moment be gone by. The gentle reader will not too sternly set his face against such artifices, but, so they go not the length of fantastically presenting phenomena inexplicable upon any common-sense hypothesis, he will rather lend himself to his own beguilement. The performance once over, let him, if so inclined, strip the feathers from the flights of imagination, and wash the color from the incidents; if aught save the driest and most ordinary matters of fact reward his researches, then let him be offended!
De te fabula does not apply here, my dear friend; for you will show me more indulgence than I have skill to demand. And should you find matter of interest in this book, yours, rather than the author's, will be the merit. As the beauty of nature is from the eye that looks upon her, so would the story be dull and barren, save for the life and color of the reader's sympathy.
Yours most sincerely,
THE ENCHANTED RING.
One of the most imposing buildings in Boston twenty years ago was a granite hotel, whose western windows looked upon a graveyard. Passing up a flight of steps, and beneath a portico of dignified granite columns, and so through an embarrassing pair of swinging-doors to the roomy vestibule,—you would there pause a moment to spit upon the black-and-white tessellated pavement. Having thus asserted your title to Puritan ancestry, and to the best accommodations the house afforded, you would approach the desk and write your name in the hotel register. This done, you would be apt to run your eye over the last dozen arrivals, on the chance of lighting upon the autograph of some acquaintance, to be shunned or sought according to circumstances.
Let us suppose, for the story's sake, that such was the gentle reader's behavior on a certain night during the latter part of May, in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-three. If now he will turn to the ninety-ninth page of the register above mentioned, he will remark that the last name thereon written is, "Doctor Hiero Glyphic. Room 27." The natural inference is that, unless so odd a name be an assumed one, Doctor Glyphic occupies that room. Passing on to page one hundred, he will find the first entry reads as follows "Balder Helwyse, Cosmopolis. Room 29."
In no trifling mood do we call attention to these two names, and, above all, to their relative position in the book. Had they both appeared upon the same page, this romance might never have been written. On such seemingly frail pegs hang consequences the most weighty. Because Doctor Glyphic preferred the humble foot of the ninety-ninth page to the trouble of turning to a leading position on the one hundredth; because Mr. Helwyse, having begun the one hundredth page, was too incurious to find out who was his next-door neighbor on the ninety-ninth, ensued unparalleled adventures, and this account of them.
Our present purpose, by the reader's leave, and in his company, is to violate Doctor Hiero Glyphic's retirement, as he lies asleep in bed. Nor shall we stop at his bedside; we mean to penetrate deep into the darksome caves of his memory, and to drag forth thence sundry odd-looking secrets, which shall blink and look strangely in the light of discovery;—little thought their keeper that our eyes should ever behold them! Yet will he not resent our, intrusion; it is twenty years ago,—and he lies asleep.
Two o'clock sounds from the neighboring steeple of the Old South Church, as we noiselessly enter the chamber,—noiselessly, for the hush of the past is about us. We scarcely distinguish anything at first; the moon has set on the other side of the hotel, and perhaps, too, some of the dimness of those twenty intervening years affects our eyesight. By degrees, however, objects begin to define themselves; the bed shows doubtfully white, and that dark blot upon the pillow must be the face of our sleeping man. It is turned towards the window; the mouth is open; probably the good Doctor is snoring, albeit, across this distance of time, the sound fails to reach us.
The room is as bare, square, and characterless as other hotel rooms; nevertheless, its occupant may have left a hint or two of himself about, which would be of use to us. There are no trunks or other luggage; evidently he will be on his way again to-morrow. The window is shut, although the night is warm and clear. The door is carefully locked. The Doctor's garments, which appear to be of rather a jaunty and knowing cut, are lying disorderly about, on chair, table, or floor. He carries no watch; but under his pillow we see protruding the corner of a great leathern pocket-book, which might contain a fortune in bank-notes.
A couple of chairs are drawn up to the bedside, upon one of which stands a blown-out candle; the other supports an oblong, coffin-shaped box, narrower at one end than at the other, and painted black. Too small for a coffin, however; no human corpse, at least, is contained in it. But the frame that lies so quiet and motionless here, thrills, when awaked to life, with a soul only less marvellous than man's. In short, the coffin is a violin-case, and the mysterious frame the violin. The Doctor must have been fiddling overnight, after getting into bed; to the dissatisfaction, perhaps, of his neighbor on the other side of the partition.
Little else in the room is worthy notice, unless it be the pocket-comb which has escaped from the Doctor's waistcoat, and the shaving materials (also pocketable) upon the wash-stand. Apparently our friend does not stand upon much toilet ceremony. The room has nothing more of significance to say to us; so now we come to the room's occupant. Our eyes have got enough accustomed to the imperfect light to discern what manner of man he may be.
Barely middle-aged; or, at a second glance, he might be fifteen to twenty-five years older. His face retains the form of youth, yet wears a subtile shadow which we feel might be consistent even with extreme old age. The forehead is wide and low, supported by regular eyebrows; the face beneath long and narrow, of a dark and dry complexion. In sleep, open-mouthed, the expression is rather inane; though we can readily imagine the waking face to be not devoid of a certain intensity and comeliness of aspect, marred, however, by an air of guarded anxiety which is apparent even now.
We prattle of the dead past, and use to fancy that peace must dwell there, if nothing else. Only in the past, say we, is security from jostle, danger, and disturbance; who would live at his ease must number his days backwards; no charm so potent as the years, if read from right to left. Living in the past, prophecy and memory are at one; care for the future can harass no man. Throw overboard that Jonah, Time, and the winds of fortune shall cease to buffet us. And more to the same effect.
And yet it is not so. The past, if more real than the future, is no less so than the present; the pain of a broken heart or head is never annihilated, but becomes part and parcel of eternity. This uneasy snorer here, for instance: his earthly troubles have been over years ago, yet, as our fancy sees him, he is none the calmer or the happier for that. Observe him, how he mumbles inarticulately, and makes strengthless clutchings at the blanket with his long, slender fingers.
But we delay too long over the external man, seeing that our avowed business is with the internal. A sleeping man is truly a helpless creature. They say that, if you take his hand in yours and ask him questions, he has no other choice than to answer—or to awake. The Doctor—as we know by virtue of the prophetic advantages just remarked upon—will stay asleep for some hours yet. Or, if you are clairvoyant, you have but to fall in a trance, and lay a hand on his forehead, and you may read off his thoughts,—provided he does his thinking in his head. But the world is growing too wise, nowadays, to put faith in old woman's nonsense like this. Again, there is—or used to be—an odd theory that all matter is a sort of photographic plate, whereon is registered, had we but eyes to read it, the complete history of itself. What an invaluable pair of eyes were that! In vain, arraigned before them, would the criminal deny his guilt, the lover the soft impeachment. The whole scene would stand forth, photographed in fatal minuteness and indelibility upon face, hands, coat-sleeve, shirt-bosom. Mankind would be its own book of life, written in the primal hieroglyphic character,—the language understood by all. Vocal conversation would become obsolete, unless among a few superior persons able to discuss abstract ideas.
We speak of these things only to smile at them; far be it from us to insult the reader's understanding by asking him to regard them seriously. But story-tellers labor under one disadvantage which is peculiar to their profession,—the necessity of omniscience. This tends to make them top arbitrary, leads them to disregard the modesty of nature and the harmonies of reason in their methods. They will pretend to know things which they never could have seen or heard of, and for the truth of which they bring forward no evidence; thus forcing the reader to reject, as lacking proper confirmation, what he would else, from its inherent grace or sprightliness, be happy to accept.
That we shall be free from this reproach is rather our good fortune than our merit. It is by favor of our stars, not by virtue of our own, that we turn not aside from the plain path of truth to the by-ways of supernaturalism and improbability. Yet we refrain with difficulty from a breath of self-praise; there is a proud and solid satisfaction in holding an unassailable position could we but catch the world's eye, we would meet it calmly!
Let us hasten to introduce our talisman. You may see it at this very moment, encircling the third finger of Doctor Glyphic's left hand; in fact, it is neither more nor less than a quaint diamond ring. The stone, though not surprisingly large, is surpassingly pure and brilliant; as its keen, delicate ray sparkles on the eye, one marvels whence, in the dead of night, it got together so much celestial fire. Observe the setting; the design is unique. Two fairy serpents—one golden, the other fashioned from black meteoric iron—are intertwined along their entire length, forming the hoop of the ring. Their heads approach the diamond from opposite sides, and each makes a mighty bite at it with his tiny jaws, studded with sharp little teeth. Thus their contest holds the stone firmly in place. The whole forms a pretty symbol of the human soul, battled for by the good and the evil principles. But the diamond seems, in its entirety, to be an awkward mouthful for either. The snakes are wrought with marvellous dexterity and finish; each separate scale is distinguishable upon their glistening bodies, the wrinkling of the skin in the coils, the sparkling points of eyes, and the minute nostrils. Such works of art are not made nowadays; the ring is an antique,—a relic of an age when skill was out of all proportion to liberty,—a very distant time indeed. To deserve such a setting, the stone must have exceptional qualities. Let us take a closer look at it.
Fortunately, its own lustre makes it visible in every part; the minuteness of our scrutiny need be limited only by our power of eye. It is cut with many facets,—twenty-seven, if you choose to count them; perhaps (though we little credit such fantasies) some mystic significance may be intended in this number. Concentrating now our attention upon any single facet, we see—either inscribed upon its surface, or showing through from the interior of the stone—a sort of monogram, or intricately designed character, not unlike the mysterious Chinese letters on tea-chests. Every facet has a similar figure, though no two are identical. But the central, the twenty-seventh facet, which is larger than the others, has an important peculiarity. Looking upon it, we find therein, concentrated and commingled, the other twenty-six characters; which, separately unintelligible, form, when thus united, a simple and consistent narrative, equivalent in extent to many hundred printed pages, and having for subject nothing less than the complete history of the ring itself.
Some small portion of this narrative—that, namely, which relates more particularly to the present wearer of the ring—we will glance at; the rest must be silence, although, going back as it does to the earliest records of the human race, many an interesting page must be skipped perforce.
The advantages to a historian of a medium such as this are too patent to need pointing out. Pretension and conjecture will be avoided, because unnecessary. The most trifling thought or deed of any person connected with the history of the ring is laid open to direct inspection. Were there more such talismans as this, the profession of authorship would become no less easy than delightful, and criticism would sting itself to death, in despair of better prey. So far as is known, however, the enchanted ring is unique of its kind, and, such as it is, is not likely to become common property.
OUT OF EGYPT.
But the small hours of the morning are slipping away; we must construe our hieroglyphics without further palaver. The sleeper lies upon his side, his left hand resting near his face upon the pillow. Were he to move it ever so little during our examination, the history of years might be thrown into confusion. Nevertheless, we shall hope to touch upon all the more important points, and in some cases to go into details.
Concentrating our attention upon the central facet, its clear ray strikes the imagination, and forthwith transports us to a distant age and climate. The air is full of lazy warmth. A full-fed river, glassing the hot blue sky, slides in long curves through a low-lying, illimitable plain. The rich earth, green with mighty crops, everywhere exhales upward the quivering heat of her breath. An indolent, dark-skinned race, turbaned and scantly clothed, move through the meadows, splash in the river, and rest beneath the palm-trees, which meet in graceful clusters here and there, as if striving to get beneath one another's shadow. Dirty villages swarm and babble on the river's brink.
Were there leisure to listen, the diamond could readily relate the whole history of this famous valley. For the stone was fashioned to its present shape while the thought that formed the Pyramids was yet unborn, and while the limestone and granite whereof they are built lay in their silent beds, dreaming, perchance, of airy days before the deluge, long ere the heated vapors stiffened into stone. Some great patriarch of early days, founder of a race called by his name, picked up this diamond in the southern desert, and gave it its present form; perhaps, also, breathed into it the marvellous historical gift which it retains to this day. Who was that primal man? how sounded his voice? were his eyes terrible, or mild? Seems, as we speak, we glimpse his majestic figure, and the grandeur of his face and cloudy beard.
He passed away, but the enchanted stone remained, and has sparkled along the splendid march of successive dynasties, and has reflected men and cities which to us are nameless, or but a half-deciphered name. It has seen the mystic ceremonies of Egyptian priests, and counts their boasted wisdom as a twice-told tale. It has watched the unceasing toil of innumerable slaves, piling up through many ardent years the idle tombs of kings. It has beheld vast winding lengths of processions darken and glitter across the plain, slowly devoured by the shining city, or issuing from her gates like a monstrous birth.
But whither wander we? Standing in this hotel of modern Boston, we must confine our inquiries to a far later epoch than the Pharaohs'. Step aside, and let the old history sweep past, like the turbid and eddying current of the mysterious Nile; forbearing to launch our skiff earlier than at the beginning of the present century.
The middle of June, eighteen hundred and sixteen: the river is just beginning to rise, and the thirsty land spreads wide her lap to receive him. Some miles to the north slumbers Cairo in white heat, its outline jagged with minarets and bulbous domes. Southward, the shaded Pyramids print their everlasting outlines against the tremulous distance; old as they are, it seems as though a puff of the Khamsin might dissolve them away. Near at hand is a noisy, naked crowd of men and boys, plunging and swimming in the water, or sitting and standing along the bank. They are watching and discussing the slow approach up stream of a large boat with a broad lateen-sail, and a strange flag fluttering from the mast-head. Rumor says that this boat contains a company of strangers from beyond the sea; men who do not wear turbans, whose dress is close-fitting, and covers them from head to foot,—even the legs. They come to learn wisdom and civilization from the Pyramids, and among the ruins of Memphis.
A hundred yards below this shouting, curious crowd, stands, waist-deep in the Nile, a slender-limbed boy, about ten years old. He belongs to a superior caste, and holds himself above the common rabble. Being perfectly naked, a careless eye might, however, rank him with the rest, were it not for the talisman which he wears suspended to a fine gold chain round his neck; a curiously designed diamond ring, the inheritance of a long line of priestly ancestors. The boy's face is certainly full of intelligence, and the features are finely moulded for so young a lad.
He also is watching the upward progress of the lateen-sail; has heard, moreover, the report concerning those on board. He wonders where is the country from which they come. Is it the land the storks fly to, of which mother (before the plague carried both her and father to a stranger land still) used to tell such wonderful stories? Does the world really extend far beyond the valley? Is the world all valley and river, with now and then some hills, like those away up beyond Memphis? Are there other cities beside Cairo, and that one which he has heard of but never seen,—Alexandria? Wonders why the strangers dress in tight-fitting clothes, with leg-coverings, and without turbans! Would like to find out about all these things,—about all things knowable beside these, if any there be. Would like to go back with the strangers to their country, when they return, and so become the wisest and most powerful of his race; wiser even than those fabulously learned priestly instructors of his, who are so strict with him. Perhaps he might find all his forefathers there, and his kind mother, who used to tell him stories.
Bah! how the sun blisters down on head and shoulders: will take a dive and a swim,—a short swim only, not far from shore; for was not the priest telling of a boy caught by a great crocodile, only, a few days ago, and never seen since? But there is no crocodile near to-day; and, besides, will not his precious talisman keep him from all harm?
The subtile Nile catches him softly in his cool arms, dandles him, kisses Him, flatters him, wooes him imperceptibly onwards. Now he is far from shore, and the multitudinous feet of the current are hurrying him away. The slow-moving boat is much nearer than it was a minute ago,—seems to be rasping towards him, in spite of the laziness of the impelling breeze. The boy, as yet unconscious of his peril, now glances shorewards, and sees the banks wheel past. The crowd of bathers is already far beyond hearing yet, frightened and tired, he wastes his remaining strength in fruitless shouts. Now the deceitful eddies, once so soft and friendly, whirl him down in ruthless exultation. He will never reach the shore, good swimmer though he be!
Hark! what plunged from the bank,—what black thing moves towards him across the water? The crocodile! coming with tears in his eyes, and a long grin of serried teeth. Coming!—the ugly scaly head is always nearer and nearer. The boy screams; but who should hear him? He feels whether the talisman be yet round his neck. He screams again, calling, in half-delirium, upon his dead mother. Meanwhile the scaly snout is close upon him.
A many-voiced shout, close at hand; a splashing of poles in the water; a rippling of eddies against a boat's bows! As the boy drifts by, a blue-eyed, yellow-bearded viking swings himself from the halyard, catches him, pulls him aboard with a jerk and a shout, safe! The long grin snaps emptily together behind him. The boy lies on the deck, a vision of people with leg-coverings and other oddities of costume swimming in his eyes; one of them supports his head on his knee, and bends over him a round, good-natured, spectacled face. Above, a beautiful flag, striped and starred with white, blue, and red, flaps indolently against the mast.—
Precisely at this point the sleeper stirs his hand slightly, but enough to throw the record of several succeeding years into uncertainty and confusion. Here and there, however, we catch imperfect glimpses of the Egyptian lad, steadily growing up to be a tall young man. He is dressed in European clothes, and lives and moves amid civilized surroundings: Egypt, with her pyramids, palms, and river, we see no more. The priest's son seems now to be immersed in studies; he shows a genius for music and painting, and is diligently storing his mind with other than Egyptian lore. With him, or never far away, we meet a man considerably older than the student,—good-natured, whimsical, round of head and face and insignificant of feature. Towards him does the student observe the profoundest deference, bowing before him, and addressing him as "Master Hiero," or "Master Glyphic." Master Hiero, for his part, calls the Egyptian "Manetho"; from which we might infer his descent from the celebrated historian of that name, but will not insist upon this genealogy. As for the studies, from certain signs we fancy them tending towards theology; the descendant of Egyptian priests is to become a Christian clergyman! Nevertheless, he still wears his talismanic ring. Does he believe it saved him from the crocodile? Does his Christian enlightenment not set him free from such superstition?
So much we piece together from detached glimpses; but now, as the magic ray steadies once more, things become again distinct. Judging from the style and appointments of Master Hiero Glyphic's house, he is a wealthy man, and eccentric as well. It is full of strange incongruities and discords; beauties in abundance, but ill harmonized. One half the house is built like an Egyptian temple, and is enriched with many spoils from the valley of the Nile; and here a secret chamber is set apart for Manetho; its very existence is known to no one save himself and Master Hiero. He spends much of his time here, meditating and working amidst his books and papers, playing on his violin, or leaning idly back in his chair, watching the sunlight, through the horizontal aperture high above, his head, creep stealthily across the opposite wall.
But these saintly and scholarly reveries are disturbed anon. Master Hiero, though a bachelor, has a half-sister, a pale, handsome, indolent young woman, with dark hair and eyes, and a rather haughty manner. Helen appears, and thenceforth the household lives and breathes according to her languid bidding. Manetho comes out of his retirement, and dances reverential attendance upon her. He is twenty-five years old, now; tall, slender, and far from ill-looking, with his dark, narrow eyes, wide brows, and tapering face. His manners are gentle, subdued, insinuating, and altogether he seems to please Helen; she condescends to him,—more than condescends, perhaps. Meantime, alas! there is a secret opposition in progress, embodied in the shapely person of that bright-eyed gypsy of a girl whom her mistress Helen calls Salome. There is no question as to Salome's complete subjection to the attractions of the young embryo clergyman; she pursues him with eyes and heart, and seeing him by Helen's side, she is miserably but dumbly jealous.
How is this matter to end? Manetho's devotion to Helen seems unwavering; yet sometimes it is hard not to suspect a secret understanding between him and Salome. He has ceased to wear his ring, and once we caught a diamond-sparkle from beneath the thick folds of lace which cover Helen's bosom; but, on the other hand, we fear his arm has been round the gypsy's graceful waist, and that she has learnt the secret of the private chamber. Is demure Manetho a flirt, or do his affections and his ambition run counter to each other? Helen would bring him the riches of this world,—but what should a clergyman care for such vanities?—while Salome, to our thinking, is far the prettier, livelier, and more attractive woman of the two. Brother Hiero, whimsical and preoccupied, sees nothing of what is going on. He is an antiquary,—an Egyptologist, and thereto his soul is wedded. He has no eyes nor ears for the loves of other people for one another.—
Provoking! The uneasy sleeper has moved again, and disorganized, beyond remedy, the events of a whole year. Judging from such fragments as reach us, it must have been a momentous epoch in our history. From the beginning, a handsome, stalwart, blue-eyed man, with a great beard like a sheaf of straw, shoulders upon the scene, and thenceforth becomes inextricably mixed up with dark-eyed Helen. We recognize in him an old acquaintance; he was on the lateen-sailed boat that went up the Nile; it was he who swung himself from the vessel's side, and pulled Manetho out of the jaws of death,—a fact, by the way, of which Manetho remained ignorant until his dying day. With this new arrival, Helen's supremacy in the household ends. Thor—so they call him—involuntarily commands her, and so her subjects. Against him, the Reverend Manetho has not the ghost of a chance. To his credit is it that he conceals whatever emotions of disappointment or jealousy he might be supposed to feel, and is no less winning towards Thor than towards the rest of the world. But is it possible that the talisman still hides in Helen's bosom? Does the conflict which it symbolizes beset her heart?
The enchanted mirror is still again, and a curious scene is reflected from it. A large and lofty room, windowless, lit by flaring lamps hung at intervals round the walls; the panels contain carvings in bas-relief of Egyptian emblems and devices; columns surround the central space, their capitals carved with the lotos-flower, their bases planted amidst papyrus leaves. A border of hieroglyphic inscription encircles the walls, just beneath the ceiling. In each corner of the room rests a red granite sarcophagus, and between each pair of pillars stands a mummy in its wooden case. At that end farthest from the low-browed doorway—which is guarded by two great figures of Isis and Osiris, sitting impassive, with hands on knees—is raised an altar of black marble, on which burns some incense. The perfumed smoke, wavering upwards, mingles with that of the lamps beneath the high ceiling. The prevailing color is ruddy Indian-red, relieved by deep blue and black, while brighter tints show here and there. Blocks of polished stone pave the floor, and dimly reflect the lights.
In front of the altar stands a ministerial figure,—none other than Manetho, who must have taken orders,—and joins together, in holy matrimony, the yellow-bearded Thor and the dark-haired Helen. Master Hiero, his round, snub-nosed face red with fussy emotion, gives the bride away; while Salome, dressed in white and looking very pretty and lady-like, does service as bridesmaid,—such is her mistress's whim. She seems in even better spirits than the pale bride, and her black eyes scarcely wander from the minister's rapt countenance.
But a few hours later, when bride and groom are gone, Salome,—who, on some plausible pretext of, her own, has been allowed to remain with brother Hiero until her mistress returns from the wedding-tour,—- Salome appears in the secret chamber, where the Reverend Manetho sits with his head between his hands. We will not look too closely at this interview. There are words fierce and tender, tears and pleadings, feverish caresses, incoherent promises, distrustful bargains; and it is late before they part. Salome passes out through the great tomb-like hall, where all the lamps save one are burnt out; and the young minister remains to pursue his holy meditations alone.
We are too discreet to meddle with the honeymoon; but, passing over some eight months, behold the husband and wife returned, to plume their wings ere taking the final flight. Another strange scene attracts us here.
The dusk of a summer evening. Helen, with a more languid step and air than before marriage, saunters along a path through the trees, some distance from the house. She is clad in loose-flowing drapery, and has thrown a white shawl over her head and shoulders. Reaching a bench of rustic woodwork, she drops weariedly down upon it.
Manetho comes out all at once, and stands before her; he seems to have darkened together from the shadow of the surrounding trees. Perhaps a little startled at his so abrupt appearance, she opens her eyes with a wondering haughtiness; but, at the same time, the light pressure of the enchanted ring against her bosom feels like a dull sting, and her heart beats uncomfortably. He begins to speak in his usual tone of softest deference; he sits down by her, and now she is paler, glances anxiously up the path for her delaying husband, and the hand that lifts her handkerchief to her lips trembles a little. Is it at his words? or at their tone? or at what she sees lurking behind his dusky eyes, curdling beneath his thin, dark skin, quivering down to the tips of his long, slender fingers?
All in a moment he bursts forth, without warning, without restraint, the fire of the Egyptian sun boiling in his blood and blazing in his passion. He seizes her soft white wrist,—then her waist; he presses against his, her bosom,—what a throbbing!—her cheek to his,—how aghast! He pours hot words in torrents into her ears,—all that his fretting heart has hoarded up and brooded over these months and years! all,—sparing her not a thought, not a passionate word. She tries to repel him, to escape, to scream for help; but he looks down her eyes with his own, holds her fast, and she gasps for breath. So the serpent coils about the dove, and stamps his image upon her bewildered brain.
Verily, the Reverend Manetho has much forgotten himself. The issue might have been disastrous, had not Helen, in the crisis of the affair, lost consciousness, and fallen a dead weight in his arms. He laid her gently on the bench, fumbled for a moment in the bosom of her dress, and drew out the diamond ring. Just then is heard the solid step of Thor, striding and whistling along the path. Manetho snaps the golden chain, and vanishes with his talisman; and he is the first to appear, full of sympathy and concern, when the distracted husband shouts for help.
Next morning, two little struggling human beings are blinking and crying in a darkened room, and there is no mother to give them milk, and cherish them in her bosom. There sits the father, almost as still and cold as what was his wife. She did not speak to him, nor seem to know him, to the last. He will never know the truth; Manetho comes and goes, and reads the burial-service, unsuspected and unpunished. But Salome follows him away from the grave, and some words pass between them. The man is no longer what he was. He turns suddenly upon her and strikes out with savage force; the diamond on his finger bites into the flesh of the gypsy's breast; she will carry the scar of that brutal blow as long as she lives. So he drove his only lover away, and looked upon her bright, handsome face no more.
Here Doctor Glyphic—or whoever this sleeping man may be—turns heavily upon his face, drawing his hand, with the blood-stained ring, out of sight. We are glad to leave him to his bad dreams; the air oppresses us. Come, 't is time we were off. The eastern horizon bows before the sun, the air colors delicate pink, and the very tombstones in the graveyard blush for sympathy. The sparrows have been awake for a half-hour past, and, up aloft, the clouds, which wander ceaselessly over the face of the earth, alighting only on lonely mountain-tops, are tinted into rainbow-quarries by the glorious spectacle.
A MAY MORNING.
King Arthur, in his Bohemian days, carried an adamantine shield, the gift of some fairy relative. Not only was it impenetrable, but, so intolerable was its lustre, it overthrew all foes before the lance's point could reach them. Observing this, the chivalric monarch had a cover made for it, which he never removed save in the face of superhuman odds.
Here is an analogy. The imaginative reader may look upon our enchanted facet-mirror as too glaringly simple and direct a source of facts to suit the needs of a professed romance. Be there left, he would say, some room for fancy, and even for conjecture. Let the author seem occasionally to consult with his companion, gracefully to defer to his judgment. Bare statement, the parade of indisputable evidence, is well enough in law, but appears ungentle in a work of fiction.
How just is this mild censure! how gladly are its demands conceded! Let dogmatism retire, and blossom, flowers of fancy, on your yielding stems! Henceforward the reader is our confidential counsellor. We will pretend that our means of information are no better than other writers'. We will uniformly revel in speculation, and dally with imaginative delights; and only when hard pressed for the true path will we snatch off the veil, and let forth for a moment a redeeming ray.
In this generous mood, we pass through the partition between No. 27 and No. 29. In the matter of bedchambers—even hotelbedchambers—there can be great diversity. That we were in just now was close and unwholesome, and wore an air of feverishness and disorder. Here, on the contrary, the air is fresh and brisk, for the breeze from Boston harbor—slightly flavored, it is true, by its journey across the northern part of the city—has been blowing into the room all night long. Here are some trunks and carpet-bags, well bepasted with the names of foreign towns and countries, famous and infamous. One of the trunks is a bathing-tub, fitted with a cover—an agreeable promise of refreshment amidst the dust and weariness of travel. A Russia-leather travelling-bag lies open on the table, disgorging an abundant armament of brushes and combs and various toilet niceties. Mr. Helwyse must be a dandy.
Cheek by jowl with the haversack lies a cylindrical case of the same kind of leather, with a strap attached, to sling over the shoulder. This, perhaps, contains a telescope. It would not be worth mentioning, save that our prophetic vision sees it coming into use by and by. Not to analyze too closely, everything in this room speaks of life, health, and movement. In spite of smallness, bareness, and angularity, it is fit for a May morning to enter, and expand to full-grown day.
It is now about half past four, and the crisp new sunshine, just above ground, has clambered over the window-sill, taken a flying leap across the narrow floor, and is chuckling full in the agreeable face asleep upon the pillow. The face, feeling the warmth, and conscious, through its closed eyelids, of the light, presently stretches its eyebrows, then blinks, and finally yawns,—Ah—h! Thirty-two even, white teeth, in perfect order; a great, red, healthy tongue, and a round, mellow roar, the parting remonstrance of the sleepy god, taking flight for the day. Thereupon a voice, fetched from some profounder source than the back of the head,—
"Steward! bring me my—Oh! A land-lubber again, am I!"
Mr. Balder Helwyse now sits up in bed, his hair and beard,—which are extraordinarily luxuriant, and will be treated at greater length hereafter,—his hair and beard in the wildest confusion. He stares about him with a pair of well-opened dark eyes, which contrast strangely with his fair Northern complexion. Next comes a spasmodic stretching of arms and legs, a whisking of bedclothes, and a solid thump of two feet upon the floor. Another survey of the room, ending with a deep breathing in of the fresh air and an appreciative smack of the lips.
"O nose, eyes, ears, and all my other godlike senses and faculties! what a sensation is this of Mother Earth at sunrise! Better, seems to me, than ocean, beloved of my Scandinavian forefathers. Hear those birds! look at those divine trees, and the tall moist grass round them! By my head! living is a glorious business!—What, ho! slave, empty me here that bath-tub, and then ring the bell."
The slave—a handsome, handy fellow, unusually docile, inseparable from his master, whose life-long bondsman he was, and so much like him in many ways (owing, perhaps, to the intimacy always subsisting between the two), that he had more than once been confounded with him,—this obedient menial—
No! not even for a moment will we mislead our reader. Are we not sworn confidants? What is he to think, then, of this abrupt introduction, unheralded, unexplained? Be it at once confessed that Mr. Helwyse travelled unattended, that there was no slave or other person of any kind in the room, and that this high-sounding order of his was a mere ebullition of his peculiar humor.
He was a philosopher, and was in the habit of making many of his tenets minister to his amusement, when in his more sportive and genial moods. Not to exhaust his characteristics too early in the story, it need only be observed here that he held body and soul distinct, and so far antagonistic that one or the other must be master; furthermore, that the soul's supremacy was the more desirable. Whether it were also invariable and uncontested, there will be opportunity to find out later. Meantime, this dual condition was productive of not a little harmless entertainment to Mr. Helwyse, at times when persons less happily organized would become victims of ennui. Be the conditions what they might, he was never without a companion, whose ways he knew, and whom he was yet never weary of questioning and studying. No subject so dull that its different aspects, as viewed from soul and from body, would not give it piquancy. No question so trivial that its discussion on material and on spiritual grounds would not lend it importance. Nor was any enjoyment so keen as not to be enhanced by the contrast of its physical with its psychical phase.
Waking up, therefore, on this May morning, and being in a charming humor, he chose to look upon himself as the proprietor of a body-servant, and to give his orders with patrician imperiousness. The obedient menial, then,—to resume the thread,—sprang upon the tub-trunk, whipped off the lid, and discharged the contents upon the bed in a twinkling. This done, he stepped to the bell-rope, and lent it a vigorous jerk, soon answered by a brisk tapping at the door.
"Please, sir, did you ring?"
"Indeed I did, my dear. Are you the pretty chambermaid?"
This bold venture is met by silence, only modified by a low delighted giggle. Presently,—"Did you want anything, sir, please?"
"Ever so many things, my girl; more than my life is long enough to tell! First, though, I want to apologize for addressing you from behind a closed door; but circumstances which I can neither explain nor overcome forbid my opening it. Next, two pails of the best cold water at your earliest convenience. Hurry, now, there's a Hebe!"
"Very good, sir," giggles Hebe, retreating down passage.
It is to be supposed that it was the plebeian body-servant that carried on this unideal conversation, and that the patrician soul had nothing to do with it. The ability to lay the burden of lapses from good taste, and other goods, upon the shoulders of the flesh, is sometimes convenient and comforting.
Balder Helwyse, master and man, turns away from the door, and catches sight of a white-robed, hairy-headed reflection in the looking-glass, the phantom face of which at once expands in a genial expression of mirth; an impalpable arm is outstretched, and the mouth seems thus to speak:—
"Stick to your bath, my good fellow, and the evil things of this life shall not get hold of you. Water is like truth,—purifying, transparent; a tonic to those fouled and wearied with the dust and vanity of this transitional phenomenon called the world. Patronize it! be thy acquaintance with it constant and familiar! Remember, my dear Balder, that this slave of thine is the medium through which something better than he (thyself, namely) is filtered to the world, and the world to thee. Go to, then! if the filter be foul, shall not that which is filtered become unclean also?"
Here the rhetorical phantom was interrupted by the sound of a very good violin, touched with unusual skill, in the next room. The phantom vanished, but Mr. Helwyse seated himself softly upon the bed, listening with full enjoyment to every note; his very toes seeming to partake of his appreciation. Music is the mysterious power which makes body and soul—master and man—thrill as one string. The musician played several bars, beautiful in themselves, but unconnected; and ever and anon there sounded a discordant note, like a smirch upon a fair picture. The execution, however, showed a master hand, and the themes betrayed the soul of a true musician, albeit tainted with some subtile deformity.
"Heard him last night, and fell asleep, dreaming of a man with the brain of a devil and an angel's heart.—Drop in on him presently, and have him down to breakfast. If young, shall be our brother,—so long as there's anything in him. If—as I partly suspect—old, and a father, marry his daughter. But no; such a fiddler as he can't be married, unless unhappily." Mr. Helwyse runs his hands dreamily through his tangled mane, and shakes it back. If philosophical, he seems also to be romantic and imaginative, and impressionable by other personalities. It is, to be sure, unfair to judge a man from such unconsidered words as he may let fall during the first half-hour after waking up in the morning; were it otherwise, we should infer that, although he might take a genuine interest in whomever he meets, it would be too analytical to last long, except where the vein was a very rich one. He would pick the kernel out of the nut, but, that done, would feel no sentimental interest in the shell. Too much of this! and yet who can help drawing conclusions (and not always incorrectly) from the first sight and sound of a new acquaintance?
There is a knock at the door, and Mr. Helwyse calls out, "Hullo? Ah! the cold water, emblem of truth. Thank you, Hebe; and scamper away as fast as you can, for I'm going to open the door!"
We also will retire, fastidious reader, and employ the leisure interval in packing an imaginary carpet-bag for a short journey. Our main business, during the next few days, is with Mr. Helwyse, and since there will be no telling what becomes of him after that, he must be followed up pretty closely. A few days does not seem much for the getting a satisfactory knowledge of a man; nevertheless, an hour, rightly used, may be ample. If he will continue his habit of thinking aloud, will affect situations tending to bring out his leading traits of character; if we may intrude upon him, note-book in hand, in all his moods and crises,—with all this in addition to discretionary use of the magic mirror,—it will be our own fault if Mr. Helwyse be not turned inside out. Properly speaking, there is no mystery about men, but only a great dulness and lethargy in our perceptions of them. The secret of the universe is no more a secret than is the answer to a school-boy's problem. A mathematician will draw you a triangle and a circle, and show you the trigonometrical science latent therein. But a profounder mathematician would do as much with the equation man!
While Mr. Helwyse is still lingering over his toilet, his neighbor the fiddler, whom he had meant to ask to breakfast, comes out of his room, violin-box in hand, walks along the passage-way, and is off down stairs. An odd-looking figure; those stylish clothes become him as little as they would a long-limbed, angular Egyptian statue. Fashion, in some men, is an eccentricity, or rather a violence done to their essential selves. A born fop would have looked as little at home in a toga and sandals, as did this swarthy musician, doctor, priest, or whatever he was, in his fashion-plate costume. Then why did he wear it?
There are other things to be followed up before attending to that question. But the man is gone, and Balder Helwyse has missed this opportunity of making his acquaintance. Had he been an hour earlier,—had any one of us, for that matter, ever been an hour earlier or later,—who can tell how the destinies of the world would be affected! Luckily for our peace of mind, the hypothesis involves an impossibility.
Whoever has been in Boston remembers, or has seen, the old Beacon Hill Bank, which stood, not on Beacon Hill, indeed, but in that part of School Street now occupied by the City Hall. You passed down by the dirty old church, on the northeast corner of School and Tremont Streets, which stands trying to hide its ugly face behind a row of columns like sooty fingers, and whose School-Street side is quite bare, and has the distracted aspect peculiar to buildings erected on an inclined plane;—passing this, you came in sight of the bank, a darksome, respectable edifice of brick, two stories and a half high, and gambrel-roofed. It stood a little back from the street, much as an antiquated aristocrat might withdraw from the stream of modern life, and fancy himself exclusive. The poor old bank! Its respectable brick walls have contributed a few rubbish-heaps to the new land in the Back Bay, perhaps; and its floors and gambrel-roof have long since vanished up somebody's chimney; only its money—its baser part—still survives and circulates. Aristocracy and exclusivism do not pay.
The bank, perhaps, took its title from the fact that it owed its chief support to the Beacon Hill families,—Boston's aristocracy; and Boston's standard names appeared upon its list of managers. If business led you that way, you mounted the well-worn steps, and entered the rather strict and formal door, over which clung the weather-worn sign,—faded gold lettering upon a rusty black background. Nothing that met your eyes looked new, although everything was scrupulously neat. Opposite the doorway, a wooden flight of stairs mounted to the next floor, where were the offices of some old Puritan lawyers. Leaving the stairs on your left, you passed down a dusky passage, and through a glass door, when behold! the banking-room, with its four grave bald-headed clerks. But you did not come to draw or deposit, your business was with the President. "Mr. MacGentle in?" "That way, sir." You opened a door with "Private" painted in black letters upon its ground-glass panel. Another bald-headed gentleman, with a grim determination about the mouth, rose up from his table and barred your way. This was Mr. Dyke, the breakwater against which the waves of would-be intruders into the inner seclusion often broke themselves in vain; and unless you had a genuine pass, your expedition ended there.
Our pass—for we, too, are to call on Mr. MacGentle—would carry us through solider obstructions than Mr. Dyke; it is the pass of imagination. He does not even raise his head as we brush by him.
But, first, let us inquire who Mr. MacGentle is, besides President of the Beacon Hill Bank. He is a man of refinement and cultivation, a scholar and a reader, has travelled, and, it is said, could handle a pen to better purpose than the signing bank-notes. In his earlier years he studied law, and gained a certain degree of distinction in the profession, although (owing, perhaps, to his having entered it with too ideal and high-strung views as to its nature and scope) he never met with what is vulgarly called success. Fortunately for the ideal barrister, an ample private estate made him independent of professional earnings. Later in life, he trod the confines of politics, still, however, enveloping himself in that theoretical, unpractical atmosphere which was his most marked, and, to some people, least comprehensible characteristic. A certain mild halo of statesmanship ever after invested him; not that he had at any time actually borne a share in the government of the nation, but it was understood that he might have done so, had he so chosen, or had his political principles been tough and elastic enough to endure the wear and strain of action. As it was, some of the most renowned men in the Senate were known to have been his intimates at college, and he still met and conversed with them on terms of equality.
Between law, literature, and statesmanship, in all of which pursuits he had acquired respect and goodwill, without actually accomplishing anything, Mr. MacGentle fell, no one knew exactly how, into the presidential chair of the Beacon Hill Bank. As soon as he was there, everybody saw that there he belonged. His social position, his culture, his honorable, albeit intangible record, suited the old bank well. He had an air of subdued wisdom, and people were fond of appealing to his judgment and asking his advice,—- perhaps because he never seemed to expect them to follow it when given (as, indeed, they never did). The Board of Directors looked up to him, deferred to him,—nay, believed him to be as necessary to the bank's existence as the entire aggregate of its supporters; but neither the Board nor the President himself ever dreamed of adopting Mr. MacGentle's financial theories in the conduct of the banking business.
Let no one hastily infer that the accomplished gentleman of whom we speak was in any sense a sham. No one could be more true to himself and his professions. But—if we may hazard a conjecture—he never breathed the air that other men breathe; another sun than ours shone for him; the world that met his senses was not our world. His life, in short, was not human life, yet so closely like it that the two might be said to correspond, as a face to its reflection in the mirror; actual contact being in both cases impossible. No doubt the world and he knew of the barrier between them, though neither said so. The former, with its usual happy temperament, was little affected by the separation, smiled good-naturedly upon the latter, and never troubled itself about the difficulties in the way of shaking hands. But Mr. MacGentle, being only a single man, perhaps felt lonely and sad. Either he was a ghost, or the world was. In youth, he may have believed himself to be the only real flesh and blood; but in later years, the terrible weight of the world's majority forced him to the opposite conclusion. And here, at last, he and the world were at one!
Suppose, instead of listening to a personal description of this good old gentleman, we take a look at him with our own eyes. There is no danger of disturbing him, no matter how busy he may be. The inner retreat is very small, and as neat as though an old maid lived in it. The furniture looks as good as new, but is subdued to a tone of sober maturity, and chimes in so well with the general effect that one scarcely notices it. The polished table is mounted in dark morocco; behind the horsehair-covered arm-chair is a gray marble mantel-piece, overshadowing an open grate with polished bars and fire-utensils in the English style. During the winter months a lump of cannel-coal is always burning there; but the flame, even on the coldest days, is too much on its good behavior to give out very decided heat. Over the mantel-piece hangs a crayon copy of Correggio's Reading Magdalen,—the only touch of sentiment in the whole room, and that, perhaps, accidental.
The concrete nature of the President's surroundings is at first perplexing, in view of our theory about his character. But it is evident that the world could never provide him with furniture corresponding to the texture of his mind; and hence he would instinctively lay hold of that which was most commonplace and non-committal. If he could realize nothing outside himself, he might at least remove whatever would distract him from inward contemplation. There is, however, one article in this little room which we must not omit to notice. It is a looking-glass; and it hangs, of all places in the world, right over Mr. MacGentle's standing-desk, in the embrasure of the window. As often as he looks up he beholds the reflection of his cultured and sad-lined physiognomy, with a glimpse of dusky wall beyond. Is he a vain man? His worst enemy, had he one, would not call him that. Nevertheless, Mr. MacGentle finds a pathetic comfort in this small mirror. No one, not even he, could tell wherefore; but we fancy it to be like that an exile feels, seeing a picture of his birthplace, or hearing a strain of his native music. The mirror shows him something more real, to his sense, than is anything outside of it!
Well, there stands the old gentleman, writing at this desk in the window. All men, they say, bear more or less resemblance to some animal; Mr. MacGentle, rather tall and slender, with his slight stoop, and his black broadcloth frock-coat buttoned closely about his waist, brings to mind a cultivated, grandfatherly greyhound, upon his hind legs. He has thick white hair, with a gentle curl in it, growing all over his finely moulded head. He is close-shaven; his mouth and nose are formed with great delicacy; his eyes, now somewhat faded, yet show an occasional reminiscence of youthful fire. The eyebrows are habitually lifted,—a result, possibly, of the growing infirmity of Mr. MacGentle's vision; but it produces an expression of half-plaintive resignation, which is rendered pathetic by the wrinkles across his forehead and the dejected lines about his delicate mouth.
He is dressed with faultless nicety and elegance, though in a fashion now out of date. Perhaps, in graceful recognition of the advance of age, he has adhered to the style in vogue when age first began to weigh upon his shoulders. He gazes mildly out from the embrasure of an upright collar and tall stock; below spreads a wide expanse of spotless shirt-front. His trousers are always gray, except in the heat of summer, when they become snowy white. They are uniformly too long; yet he never dispenses with his straps, nor with the gaiters that crown his gentlemanly shoes.
Although not a stimulating companion, one loves to be where Amos MacGentle is; to watch his quiet movements, and listen to his meditative talk. What he says generally bears the stamp of thought and intellectual capacity, and at first strikes the listener as rare good sense; yet, if reconsidered afterwards, or applied to the practical tests of life, his wisdom is apt to fall mysteriously short. Is Mr. MacGentle aware of this curious fact? There sometimes is a sadly humorous curving of the lips and glimmering in the eyes after he has uttered something especially profound, which almost warrants the suspicion. The lack of accord between the old gentleman and the world has become to him, at last, a dreary sort of jest.
But we might go on forever touching the elusive chords of Mr. MacGentle's being; one cannot help loving him, or, if he be not real enough to love, bestowing upon him such affection as is inspired by some gentle symphony. Unfortunately, he figures but little in the coming pages, and in no active part; such, indeed, were unsuited to him. But it is pleasant to pass through his retired little office on our way to scenes less peaceful and subdued; and we would gladly look forward to seeing him once more, when the heat of the day is over and the sun has gone down.
A NEW MAN WITH AN OLD FACE.
About an hour before noon on this same twenty-seventh of May, Mr. Dyke heard a voice in the outer room. He had held his position in the house as confidential clerk for nearly or quite twenty-five years, was blessed with a good memory, and was fond of saying that he never forgot a face or a voice. So, as this voice from the outer room reached his ears, he turned one eye up towards the door and muttered, "Heard that before, somewhere!"
The ground-glass panel darkened, and the door was thrown wide open. Upon the threshold stood a young man about six feet in height, of figure rather graceful and harmonious than massive. A black velveteen jacket fitted closely to his shape; he had on a Tyrolese hat; his boots, of thin, pliant leather, reached above the knee. He carried a stout cane, with a handle of chamois-horn; to a couple of straps, crossing each shoulder, were attached a travelling-scrip and a telescope-case.
But neither his attire nor the unusual size and dark brilliancy of his eyes was so noticeable as his hair and beard, which outgrew the bounds of common experience. Beards, to be sure, were far more rare twenty years ago than they have since become. The hair was yellow, with the true hyacinthine curl pervading it. Rejoicing in luxuriant might, it clothed and reclothed the head, and, descending lower, tumbled itself in bold masses on the young man's shoulders. As for the beard, it was well in keeping. Of a purer yellow than the hair, it twisted down in crisp, vigorous waves below the point marked by mankind's third shirt-stud. It was full half as broad as it was long, and lay to the right and left from the centre-line of the face. The owner of this oriflamme looked like a young Scandinavian god.
There seems to be a deeper significance in hair than meets the eye. Sons of Esau, whose beards grow high up on their cheek-bones, who are hairy down to their ankles, and to the second joints of their fingers, are generally men of a kindly and charitable nature, strong in what we call the human element. One remembers their stout hand-grip; they look frankly in one's face, and the heart is apt to go out to them more spontaneously than to the smooth-faced Jacobs. Such a man was Samson, whose hair was his strength,—the strength of inborn truth and goodness, whereby he was enabled to smite the lying Philistines. And although they once, by their sophistries, managed to get the better of him for a while, they forgot that good inborn is too vigorous a matter for any mere razor finally to subdue. See, again, what a great beard Saint Paul had, and what an outspoken, vigorous heart! Was it from freak that Greeks and Easterns reverenced beards as symbols of manhood, dignity, and wisdom? or that Christian Fathers thundered against the barber, as a violator of divine law? No one, surely, could accuse that handy, oily, easy little personage of evil intent; but he symbolized the subtile principle which pares away the natural virtue of man, and substitutes an artificial polish, which is hypocrisy. It is to be observed, however, that hair can be representative of natural evil as well as of good. A tangle-headed bush-ranger does not win our sympathies. A Mussulman keeps his beard religiously clean.
Meanwhile the yellow-haired Scandinavian, whom we have already laid under the imputation of being a dandy, stood on the threshold of Mr. Dyke's office, and that gentleman confronted him with a singularly inquisitive stare. The visitor's face was a striking one, but can be described, for the present, only in general terms. He might not be called handsome; yet a very handsome man would be apt to appear insignificant beside him. His features showed strength, and were at the same time cleanly and finely cut. There was freedom in the arch of his eyebrows, and plenty of eye-room beneath them.
He took off his hat to Mr. Dyke, and smiled at him with artless superiority, insomuch that the elderly clerk's sixty years were disconcerted, and the Cerberus seemed to dwindle into the bumpkin! This young fellow, a good deal less than half Mr. Dyke's age, was yet a far older man of the world than he. Not that his appearance suggested the kind of maturity which results from abnormal or distorted development,—on the contrary, he was thoroughly genial and healthful. But that power and assurance of eye and lip, generally bought only at the price of many years' buffetings, given and taken, were here married to the first flush and vigor of young manhood.
"My name is Helwyse; I have come from Europe to see Mr. Amos MacGentle," said the visitor, courteously.
"Helwyse!—Hel—" repeated Mr. Dyke, having seemingly quite forgotten himself. His customary manner to strangers implied that he knew, better than they did, who they were and what they wanted; and that what he knew was not much to their credit. But he could only open his mouth and stare at this Helwyse.
"Mr. MacGentle is an old friend; run in and tell him I'm here, and you will see." The young man put his hand kindly on the elderly clerk's shoulder, much as though the latter were a gaping school-boy, and directed him gently towards the inner door.
Mr. Dyke regained his voice by an effort, though still lacking complete self-command. "I beg your pardon, Mr. Helwyse, sir,—of course, of course,—it didn't seem possible,—so long, you know,—but I remembered the voice and the face and the name,—I never forget,—but, by George, sir, can you really be—?"
"I see you have a good memory; you are Dyke, aren't you?" And Mr. Helwyse threw back his head and laughed, perhaps at the clerk's bewildered face. At all events, the latter laughed, too, and they both shook hands very heartily.
"Beg pardon again, Mr. Helwyse, I'll speak to the President," said Mr. Dyke, and stepped into the sanctuary of sanctuaries.
Mr. MacGentle was taking a nap. He was seventy years old, and could drop asleep easily. When he slept, however lightly and briefly, he was pretty sure to dream; and if awakened suddenly, his dream would often prolong itself, and mingle with passing events, which would themselves put on the semblance of unreality. On the present occasion the sound of Helwyse's voice had probably crept through the door, and insinuated itself into his dreaming brain.
Mr. Dyke was too much excited to remark the President's condition. He put his mouth close to the old gentleman's ear, and said, in an emphatic and penetrating undertone,—
"Here's your old friend Helwyse, who died in Europe two years ago, come back again, younger than ever!"
If the confidential clerk expected his superior to echo his own bewilderment, he was disappointed. Mr. MacGentle unclosed his eyes, looked up, and answered rather pettishly,—
"What nonsense are you talking about his dying in Europe, Mr. Dyke? He hasn't been in Europe for six years. I was expecting him. Let him come in at once."
But he was already there; and Mr. Dyke slipped out again with consternation written upon his features. Mr. MacGentle found himself with his thin old hand in the young man's warm grasp.
"Helwyse, how do you do?—how do you do? Ah! you look as well as ever. I was just thinking about you. Sit down,—sit down!"
The old President's voice had a strain of melancholy in it, partly the result of chronic asthma, and partly, no doubt, of a melancholic temperament. This strain, being constant, sometimes had a curiously incongruous effect as contrasted with the subject or circumstances in hand. Whether hailing the dawn of the millennium; holding playful converse with a child, making a speech before the Board,—under whatever rhetorical conditions, Mr. MacGentle's intonation was always pitched in the same murmurous and somewhat plaintive key. Moreover, a corresponding immobility of facial expression had grown upon him; so that altogether, though he was the most sympathetic and sensitive of men, a superficial observer might take him to be lacking in the common feelings and impulses of humanity.
Perhaps the incongruity alluded to had not altogether escaped his own notice, and since discord of any kind pained him, he had mended the matter—as best he could—by surrendering himself entirely to his mournful voice; allowing it to master his gestures, choice of language, almost his thoughts. The result was a colorlessness of manner which did great injustice to the gentle and delicate soul behind.
This conjecture might explain why Mr. MacGentle, instead of falling upon his friend's neck and shedding tears of welcome there, only uttered a few commonplace sentences, and then drooped back into his chair. But it throws no light upon his remark that he had been expecting the arrival of a friend who, it would appear, had been dead two years. Helwyse himself may have been puzzled by this; or, being a quick-witted young man, he may have divined its explanation. He looked at his entertainer with critical sympathy not untinged with humor.
"I hope you are as well as I am," said he.
"A little tired this morning, I believe; I never was so strong a man as you, Helwyse. I think I must have passed a bad night. I remember dreaming I was an old man,—an old man with white hair, Helwyse."
"Were you glad to wake up again?" asked the young man, meeting the elder's faded eyes.
"I hardly know whether I'm quite awake yet. And, after all, Thor, I'm not sure that I don't wish the dream might have been true. If I were really an old man, what a long, lonely future I should escape! but as it is—as it is—"
He relapsed into reverie. Ah! Mr. MacGentle, are you again the tall and graceful youth, full of romance and fire, who roamed abroad in quest of adventures with your trusty friend Thor Helwyse, the yellow-bearded Scandinavian? Do you fancy this fresh, unwrinkled face a mate to your own? and is it but the vision of a restless night,—this long-drawn life of dull routine and gradual disappointment and decay? Open those dim eyes of yours, good sir! stir those thin old legs! inflate that sunken chest!—Ha! is that cough imaginary? those trembling muscles,—are they a delusion is that misty glance only a momentary weakness There is no youth left in you, Mr. MacGentle; not so much as would keep a rose in bloom for an hour.
"Have you seen Doctor Glyphic lately?" inquired Helwyse, after a pause.
"Glyphic?—do you know, I was thinking of him just now,—of our first meeting with him in the African desert. You remember!—a couple of Bedouins were carrying him off,—they had captured him on his way to some apocryphal ruin among the sand-heaps. What a grand moment was that when you caught the Sheik round the throat with your umbrella-handle, and pulled him off his horse! and then we mounted poor Glyphic upon it,—mummied cat and all,—and away over the hot sand! What a day was that! what a day was that!"
The speaker's eyes had kindled; for a moment one saw the far flat desert, the struggling knot of men and horses, the stampede of the three across the plain, and the high sun flaming inextinguishable laughter-over all!—and it had happened nigh forty years ago.
"He never forgot that service," resumed Mr. MacGentle, his customary plaintive manner returning. "To that, and to your saving the Egyptian lad,—. Manetho,—you owe your wife Helen: ah! forgive me,—I had forgotten; she is dead,—she is dead."
"I never could understand," remarked Helwyse, aiming to lead the conversation away from gloomy topics, "why the Doctor made so much of Manetho." "That was only a part of the Egyptian mania that possessed him, and began, you know, with his changing his name from Henry to Hiero; and has gone on, until now, I suppose, he actually believes himself to be some old inscription, containing precious secrets, not to be found elsewhere. Before the adventure with the boy, I remember, he had formed the idea of building a miniature Egypt in New Jersey; and Manetho served well as the living human element in it. 'Though I take him to America,' you know he said, 'he shall live in Egypt still. He shall have a temple, and an altar, and Isis and Osiris, and papyri and palm-trees and a crocodile; and when he dies I will embalm him like a Pharaoh.' 'But suppose you die first?' said one of us. 'Then he shall embalm me!' cried Hiero, and I will be the first American mummy.'"
Mr. MacGentle seemed to find a dreamy enjoyment in working this vein of reminiscence. He sat back in his low arm-chair, his unsubstantial face turned meditatively towards the Magdalen, his hands brought together to support his delicate chin. Helwyse, apprehending that the vein might at last bring the dreamer down to the present day, encouraged him to follow it.
"It must have been a disappointment to the Doctor that his protege took up the Christian religion, instead of following the faith and observances of his Egyptian ancestors, for the last five thousand years!"
"Why, perhaps it was, Thor, perhaps it was," murmured Mr. MacGentle. "But Manetho never entered the pulpit, you know; it would not have been to his interest to do so; besides that, I believe he is really devoted to Glyphic, believing that it was he who saved him from the crocodile. People are all the time making such absurd mistakes. Manetho is a man who would be unalterable either in gratitude or enmity, although his external manner is so mild. And as to his taking orders, why, as long as he wore an Egyptian robe, and said his prayers in an Egyptian temple, it would be all the same to Glyphic what religion the man professed!"
"Doctor Glyphic is still alive, then?"
The old man looked at the young one with an air half apprehensive, half perplexed, as if scenting the far approach of some undefined difficulty. He passed his white hand over his forehead. "Everything seems out of joint-to-day, Helwyse. Nothing looks or seems natural, except you! What is the matter with me?—what is the matter with me?"
Helwyse sat with both hands twisted in his mighty beard, and one booted leg thrown over the other. He was full of sympathy at the spectacle of poor Amos MacGentle, blindly groping after the phantom of a flower whose bloom and fragrance had vanished so terribly long ago; and yet, for some reason or other he could hardly forbear a smile. When anything is utterly out of place, it is no more pathetic than absurd; moreover, young men are always secretly inclined to laugh at old ones!
"Why should not Glyphic be alive?" resumed Mr. MacGentle. "Why not he, as well as you or I? Aren't we all about of an age?"
Helwyse drew his chair close to his companion's, and took his hand, as if it had been a young girl's. "My dear friend," said he, "you said you felt tired this morning, but you forget how far you've travelled since we last met. Doctor Glyphic, if he be living now, must be more than sixty years old. Your dream of old age was such as many have dreamed before, and not awakened from in this world!"
"Let me think!—let me think!" said the old man; and, Helwyse drawing back, there ensued a silence, varied only by a long and tremulous sigh from his companion; whether of relief or dejection, the visitor could not decide. But when Mr. MacGentle spoke, it was with more assurance. Either from mortification at his illusion, or more probably from imperfect perception of it, he made no reference to what had passed. Old age possesses a kind of composure, arising from dulled sensibilities, which the most self-possessed youth can never rival.
"We heard, through the London branch of our house, that Thor Helwyse died some two years ago."
"He was drowned in the Baltic Sea. I am his son Balder."
"He was my friend," observed the old man, simply; but the tone he used was a magnet to attract the son's heart. "You look very much like him, only his eyes were blue, and yours, as I now see, are dark; but you might be mistaken for him."
"I sometimes have been," rejoined Balder, with a half-smile.
"And you are his son! You are most welcome!" said Mr. MacGentle, with old-fashioned courtesy.
"Forgive me if I have—if anything has occurred to annoy you. I am a very old man, Mr. Balder; so old that sometimes I believe I forget how old I am! And Thor is dead,—drowned,—you say?"
"The Baltic, you know, has been the grave of many of our forefathers; I think my father was glad to follow them. I never saw him in better spirits than during that gale. We were bound to England from Denmark."
"Helen's death saddened him,—I know,—I know; he was never gay after that. But how—how did—?"
"He would keep the deck, though the helmsman had to be lashed to the wheel. I think he never cared to see land again, but he was full of spirits and life. He said this was weather fit for a Viking.
"We were standing by the foremast, holding on by a belaying-pin. The sea came over the side, and struck him overboard. I went after him. Another wave brought me back; but not my father! I was knocked senseless, and when I came to, it was too late."
Helwyse's voice, towards the end of this story, became husky, and Mr. MacGentle's eyes, as he listened, grew dimmer than ever.
"Ah!" said he, "I shall not die so. I shall die away gradually, like a breeze that has been blowing this way and that all day, and falls at sunset, no one knows how. Thor died as became him; and I shall die as becomes me,—as becomes me!" And so, indeed, he did, a few years later; but not unknown nor uncared for.
Balder Helwyse was a philosopher, no doubt; but it was no part of his wisdom to be indifferent to unstrained sympathy. He went on to speak further of his own concerns,—a thing he was little used to do.
It appeared that, from the time he first crossed the Atlantic, being then about four years old, up to the time he had recrossed it, a few weeks ago, he had been journeying to and fro over the Eastern Hemisphere. His father, who, as well as himself, was American by birth, was the descendant of a Danish family of high station and antiquity, and inherited the restless spirit of his ancestors. In the course of his early wanderings he had fallen in with MacGentle, who, though somewhat older than Helwyse, was still a young man; and later these two had encountered Hiero Glyphic. About fifteen years after this it was that Thor appeared at Glyphic's house in New Jersey, and was welcomed by that singular man as a brother; and here he fell in love with Glyphic's sister Helen, and married her. With her he received a large fortune, which the addition of his own made great; and at Glyphic's death Thor or his heirs would inherit the bulk of the estate left by him.
So Thor, being then in the first prime of life, was prepared to settle down and become domestic. But the sudden death of his wife, and the subsequent loss of one of the children she had borne him, drove him once more abroad, with his baby son, never again to take root, or to return. And here Balder's story, as told by him, began. He seemed to have matured very early, and to have taken hold of knowledge in all its branches like a Titan. The precise age at which he had learned all that European schools could teach him, it is not necessary to specify; since it is rather with the nature of his mind than with the list of his accomplishments that we shall have to do. It might be possible, by tracing his-connection with French, or German, or English philosophers, to make shrewd guesses at the qualities of his own! creed; but these will perhaps reveal themselves less diffidently under other tests.
The last four or five years of his life Balder had spent in acquiring such culture as schools could not give him. Where he went, what he did and saw, we shall not exercise our power categorically to reveal; remarking only that his means and his social rank left him free to go as high as well as low as he pleased,—to dine with English dukes or with Russian serfs. But a fine chastity inherent in his Northern blood had, whatever were his moral convictions, kept him from the mire; and the sudden death of his father had given him a graver turn than was normal to his years. Meanwhile, the financial crash, which at this time so largely affected Europe, swallowed up the greater part of Balder's fortune; and with the remnant (about a thousand pounds sterling), and a potential independence (in the shape of a learned profession) in his head, he sailed for Boston.
"I knew you were my uncle Hiero's bankers," he added, "and I supposed you would be able to tell me about him. He is my only living relative."
"Why, as to that, I believe it is a long time since the house has had anything to do with his concerns," returned the venerable President, abstractedly gazing at Balder's high boots; "but I'll ask Mr. Dyke. He remembers everything."
That gentleman (who had not passed an easy moment since Mr. Helwyse's arrival) was now called in, and his suspense regarding the mysterious visitor soon relieved. In respect to Doctor Glyphic's affair he was ready and explicit.
"No dollar of his money has been through our hands since winter of Eighteen thirty-five—six, Mr. Helwyse, sir,—winter following your and your respected father's departure for foreign parts," stated Mr. Dyke, straightening his mouth, and planting his fist on his hip.
"Hm—hm!" murmured the President, standing thin and bent before the empty fireplace, a coat-tail over each arm.
"You have heard nothing of him since then?"
"Nothing, Mr. Helwyse, sir! Reverend Manetho Glyphic—understood to be the Doctor's adopted son—came here and effected the transfer, under authority, of course, of his foster-father's signature. Where the property is at this moment, how invested with what returns, neither the President nor I can inform you, sir."
"Hm—hm!" remarked Mr. MacGentle again. It was a favorite comment of his upon business topics.
"It is possible I may be a very wealthy man," said Balder, when Mr. Dyke had made his resolute bow and withdrawn. "But I hope my uncle is alive. It would be a loss not to have known so eccentric a man. I have a miniature of him which I have often studied, so that I shall know him when we meet. Can he be married, do you think?"
"Why no, Balder; no, I should hardly think so," answered Mr. MacGentle, who, at the departure of his confidential clerk, had relapsed into his unofficial position and manner. "By the way, do you contemplate that step?"
"It is said to be an impediment to great enterprises. I could learn little by domestic life that I could not learn better otherwise."
"Hm,—we could not do without woman, you know."
"If I could marry Woman, I would do it," said the young man, unblushingly. "But a single crumb from that great loaf would be of no use to me."
"Ah, you haven't learned to appreciate women! You never knew your mother, Balder; and your sister was lost before she was old enough to be anything to you. By the way, I have always cherished a hope that she might yet be found. Perhaps she may,—perhaps she may."
Balder looked perplexed, till, thinking the old gentleman might be referring to a reunion in a future state, he said,—
"You believe that people recognize one another in the next world, Mr. MacGentle?"
"Perhaps,—perhaps; but why not here as well?" murmured the other, in reply; and Balder, suspecting a return of absent-mindedness, yielded the point. He had grown up in the belief that his twin-sister had died in her infancy; but his venerable friend appeared to be under a different impression.
"I shall go to New York, and try to find my uncle, or some trace of him," said he. "If I'm unsuccessful, I mean to come back here, and settle as a physician."
"What is your specialty?"
"I'm an eye-doctor. The Boston people are not all clear-eyed, I hope."
"Not all,—I should say not all; perhaps you may be able to help me, to begin with," said Mr. MacGentle, with a gleam of melancholy humor. "I will ask Mr. Dyke about the chances for a practice he knows everything. And, Balder," he added, when the young man rose to go, "let me hear from you, and see you again sometimes, whatever may happen to you in the way of fortune. I'm rather a lonely old man,—a lonely old man, Balder."
"I'll be here again very soon, unless I get married, or commit a murder or some such enormity," rejoined Helwyse, his long mustache curling to, his smile. They shook hands,—the vigorous young god of the sun and the faded old wraith of Brahmanism,—with a friendly look into each other's eyes.
THE VAGARIES OF HELWYSE.
Balder Helwyse was a man full of natural and healthy instincts: he was not afraid to laugh uproariously when so inclined; nor apt to counterfeit so much as a smile, only because a smile would look well. What showed a rarer audacity,—he had more than once dared to weep! To crush down real emotions formed, in short, no part of his ideal of a man. Not belonging to the Little-pot-soon-hot family, he had, perhaps, never found occasion to go beyond the control of his temper, and blind rage he would in no wise allow himself; but he delighted in antagonisms, and though it came not within his rules to hate any man, he was inclined to cultivate an enemy, as more likely to be instructive than some friends. His love of actual battle was intense: he had punched heads with many a hard-fisted school-boy in England; he bore the scar of a German schlaeger high up on his forehead; and later, in Paris, he had deliberately invaded the susceptibilities of a French journalist, had followed him to the field of honor, and been there run through the body with a small-sword, to the satisfaction of both parties. He was confined to his bed for a while; but his overflowing spirits healed the wound to the admiration of his doctors.
These examples of self-indulgence have been touched upon only by way of preparing the gentle reader for a shock yet more serious. Helwyse was a disciple of Brillat-Savarin,—in one word, a gourmand! His appetite never failed him, and, he knew how wisely to direct it. He never ate a careless or thoughtless meal, be its elements simple as they might. He knew and was loved by the foremost cooks all over Europe. Never did he allow coarseness or intemperance to mar the refinement of his palate.
"Man," he was accustomed to say, "is but a stomach, and the cook is the pope of stomachs, in whose church are no respectable heretics. Our happiness lies in his saucepan,—at the mercy of his spit. Eating is the appropriation to our needs of the good and truth of life, as existing in material manifestation: the cook is the high-priest of that symbolic ceremony! I, and kings with me, bow before him! But his is a responsibility beneath which Atlas might stagger; he, of all men, must be honest, warm-hearted, quick of sympathy, full of compassion towards his race. Let him rejoice, for the world extols him for its well-being;—yet tremble! lest upon his head fall the curse of its misery!"
This speech was always received with applause; the peroration being delivered with a vast controlled emphasis of eye and voice; and it was followed by the drinking of the cook's health. "The generous virtues," Mr. Helwyse would then go on to say, "arise from the cultivation of the stomach. From man's very earthliness springs the flower of his spiritual virtue. We affect to despise the flesh, as vile and unworthy. What, then, is flesh made of? of nothing?—let who can, prove that! No, it is made of spirit,—of the divine, everlasting substance; it is the wall which holds Heaven in place! If there be anything vile in it, it is of the Devil's infusion, and enters not into the argument."
A man who had expressed such views as these at the most renowned tables of France and England was not likely to forget his principles in the United States. Accordingly, he arose early, as we have seen, on the morning after his arrival, and forced an astonished waiter to marshal him to the kitchen, and introduce him to the cook. The cook of the Granite Hotel at that time was a round, red-lipped Italian, an artist and enthusiast, but whose temper had been much tried by lack of appreciation; and, although his salary was good, he contemplated throwing it over, abandoning the Yankee nation to its fate, and seeking some more congenial field. Balder, who, when the mood was on him, could wield a tongue persuasive as Richard the Third's, talked to this man, and in seven minutes had won his whole heart. The immediate result was a delectable breakfast, but the sequel was a triumph indeed. It seems that the aesthetic Italian had for several days been watching over a brace of plump, truffled partridges. This day they had reached perfection, and were to have been eaten by no less a person than the cook himself. These cherished birds did he now actually offer to make over to his eloquent and sympathetic acquaintance. Balder was deeply moved, and accepted the gift on one condition,—that the donor should share the feast! "When a man serves me up his own heart,—truffled, too,—he must help me eat it," he said, with emotion. The condition imposed was, after faint resistance, agreed to; the other episodes of the bill of fare were decided upon, and the Italian and the Scandinavian were to dine together that afternoon.
It still lacked something of the dinner-hour when Mr. Helwyse came out through the dark passage-way of the Beacon Hill Bank, and paused for a few moments on the threshold, looking up and down the street. Against the dark background he made a handsome picture,—tall, gallant, unique. The May sunshine, falling, athwart the face of the gloomy old building, was glad to light up the waves of his beard and hair, and to cast the shadow of his hat-brim over his forehead and eyes. The picture stays just long enough to fix itself in the memory, and then the young man goes lightly down the worn steps, and is lost along the crowded street. Such as he is now, we shall not see him standing in that dark frame again!
Wherever he went, Balder Helwyse was sure to be stared at; but to this he was admirably indifferent. He never thought of speculating about what people thought of Mr. Helwyse; but to his own approval—something not lightly to be had—he was by no means indifferent. Towards mankind at large he showed a kindly but irreverent charity, which excused imperfection, not so much from a divine principle of love as from scepticism as to man's sufficient motive and faculty to do well. Of himself he was a blunt and sarcastic critic, perhaps because he expected more of himself than of the rest of the world, and fancied that that person only had the ability to be his censor!
If the Christian reader regards this mental attitude as unsound, far be it from us to defend it! It must, nevertheless, be admitted that whoever feels the strong stirring of power in his head and hands will learn its limits from no purely subjective source. The lesson must begin from without, and the only argument will be a deadly struggle. Until then, self-esteem, however veiled beneath self-criticism, cannot but increase. And if the man has had wisdom and strength to abstain from vulgar self-pollution, Satan must intrust his spear to no half-fledged devil, but grasp it in his own hand, and join battle in his own person.
Undismayed by this fact, Helwyse reached Washington Street, and followed its westerly meanderings, meaning to spend part of the interval before dinner in exploring Boston. He walked with an easy sideways-swaying of the shoulders, whisking his cane, and smiling to himself as he recalled the points of his interview with the President.
"Just the thing, to make MacGentle tutelary divinity of so elusive a matter as money! Wonder whether the Directors ever thought of that? For all his unreality, though, he has something more real in him than the heaviest Director on the Board!
"How composedly he took me for my father! and when he discovered his mistake, how composedly he welcomed me in my own person! Was that the extreme of senility? or was it a subtile assertion of the fact, that he who keeps in the vanguard of the age in a certain sense contains his father—the past—within himself, and is a distinct person chiefly by virtue of that containing power?
"Why didn't I ask him more about my foster-cousin Manetho? Egyptians are more astute than affectionate. Would he cleave to my poor uncle for these last eighteen years merely for love? Why did he transfer that money so soon after we sailed? Ten to one, he has in his own hands the future as well as the present disposal of Doctor Hiero Glyphic's fortune! The old gentleman has had time to make a hundred wills since the one he showed my father, twenty years ago!
"Well, and what is that to you? Ah, Balder Helwyse, you lazy impostor, you are pining for Egyptian flesh-pots! Don't tell me about civility to relatives, and the study of human nature! You are as bad as you accuse your poor cousin of being,—who may be dead, or pastor of a small parish, for all you know. And yet every school-girl can prattle of the educational uses of poverty, and of having to make one's own living! I have a good mind to take your thousand pounds sterling out of your pocket and throw them into Charles River,—and then begin at the beginning! By the time I'd learnt what poverty can teach, it would be over,—or I am no true man! Only they who are ashamed of themselves, or afraid of other people, need to start rich."
Nevertheless, he could not do otherwise than hunt up the only relative he had in America. Subsequent events did not convict him of being a mere egotist, swayed only by the current of base success. He did not despise prosperity, but he cared yet more to find out truths about things and men. This is not the story of a fortune-hunter; not, at all events, of a hunter of such fortunes as are made and lost nowadays. But, when one half of a man detects unworthy motives in the other half, it is embarrassing. He acts most wisely, perhaps, who drops discussion, and lets the balance of good and bad, at the given moment, decide. Our compound life makes many compromises, whereby our progress, whether heavenward or hellward, is made slow—and sure!
Here, or hereabouts, Balder lost his way. When thinking hard, he was beside himself; he strode, and tossed his beard, and shouldered inoffensive people aside, and drew his eyebrows together, or smiled. Then, by and by, he would awake to realities, and find himself he knew not where.
This time, it was in an unsavory back-street; some dirty children were playing in the gutters, and a tall, rather flashily dressed man was walking along some distance ahead, carrying something in one hand. Helwyse at first mended his pace to overtake the fellow, and ask the way to the hotel. But he presently changed his purpose, his attention being drawn to the oddity of the other's behavior.
The man was evidently one of those who live much alone, and so contract unconscious habits, against which society offers the only safeguard. He was absorbed in some imaginary dialogue; and so imperfectly could his fleshly veil conceal his mental processes, that he gesticulated everything that passed through his mind. These gestures, though perfectly apparent to a steady observer, were so far kept within bounds as not to get more than momentary notice from the passers-by, who, indeed, found metal more attractive to their gaze in Helwyse.
Now did the man draw his head back and spread out his arms, as in surprise and repudiation; now his shoulders rose high, in deprecation or disclaimer. Now his forefinger cunningly sought the side of his nose; now his fist shook in an imaginary face. At times he would stretch out a pleading arm and neck; the next moment he was an inflexible tyrant, spurning a suppliant. Again he would break into a soundless chuckle; then, raising his hand to his forehead, seem overwhelmed with despair and anguish. Occasionally he would walk some distance quite passively, only glancing furtively about him; but erelong he would forget himself again, and the dialogue would begin anew.
Balder watched the man curiously, but without seeming to perceive the rather grisly similitude between the latter's vagaries and his own.
"What an ugly thing the inside of this person seems to be!" he said. "But then, whose thoughts and emotions would not render him a laughing-stock if they could be seen? If everybody looked, to his fellow, as he really is, or even as he looks to himself, mankind would fly asunder, and think the stars hiding-places not remote enough! How many men in the world could walk from one end of the street they live in to the other, talking and acting their inmost thoughts all the way, and retain a bit of anybody's respect or love afterwards? No wonder Heaven is pure, if, our spiritual bodies are only thoughts and feelings! and a Hell where every devil saw his fellow's deformity outwardly manifested would be Hell indeed!
"But that can't be. Angels behold their own loveliness, because doing so makes them lovelier; but no devil could know his own vileness and live. They think their hideousness charming, and, when the darkness is thickest about them, most firmly believe themselves in Heaven. But the light of Heaven would be real darkness to them, for a ray of it would strike them blind!"
Helwyse was too prone to moralizing. It shall not be our cue to quote him, save when to do so may seem to serve an ulterior purpose.
"I would like to hear the story that fellow is so exercised about," muttered his pursuer. "How do I know it doesn't concern me? That violin-box he carries is very much in his way; shall I offer to carry it for him, and, in return, hear his story? If the music soothes his soul as much as the box moderates his gestures—"