A CENTURY OF PAINTING.
JEAN FRANCOIS MILLET.—PARENTAGE AND EARLY INFLUENCES.—HIS LIFE AT BARBIZON.—VISITS TO MILLET IN HIS STUDIO.—HIS PERSONAL APPEARANCE.—HIS OWN COMMENTS ON HIS PICTURES.—PASSAGES FROM HIS CONVERSATION.
BY WILL H. LOW.
These papers, disclaiming any other authority than that which appertains to the conclusions of a practising painter who has thought deeply on the subject of his art, have nevertheless avoided the personal equation as much as possible. A conscientious endeavor has been made to consider the work of each painter in the place which has been assigned him by the concensus of opinion in the time which has elapsed since his work was done. In the consideration of Jean Francois Millet, however, I desire for the nonce to become less impersonal, for the reason that it was my privilege to know him slightly, and in the case of one who as a man and as a painter occupies a place so entirely his own, the value of recorded personal impressions is greater, at least for purposes of record, than the registration of contemporary opinion concerning him.
I must further explain that, as a young student who received at his hands the kindly reception which the master, stricken in health, and preoccupied with his work, vouchsafed, I could only know him superficially. It may have been the spectacle of youthful enthusiasm, or the modest though dignified recognition of the reverence with which I approached him, that made this grave man unbend; but it is certain that the few times when I was permitted to enter the rudely built studio at Barbizon have remained red-letter days in my life, and on each occasion I left Millet with an impression so strong and vital that now, after a lapse of twenty years, the work which he showed me, and the words which he uttered, are as present as though it all had occurred yesterday. The reverence which I then felt for this great man was born of his works, a few of which I had seen in 1873 in Paris; and their constant study, and the knowledge of his life and character gained since then, have intensified this feeling.
Jean Francois Millet was born October 4, 1814, in the hamlet of Gruchy, a mere handful of houses which lie in a valley descending to the sea, in the department of the Manche, not far from Cherbourg. He was the descendant of a class which has no counterpart in England or America, and which in his native France has all but disappeared. The rude forefathers of our country may have in a degree resembled the French peasant of Millet's youth; but their Protestant belief made them more independent in thought, and the problems of a new country, and the lack of stability inherent to the colonist, robbed them of the fanatical love of the earth, which is perhaps the strongest trait of the peasant. Every inch of the ground up to the cliffs above the sea, in Millet's country, represented the struggle of man with nature; and each parcel of land, every stone in the walls which kept the earth from being engulfed in the floods beneath, bore marks of his handiwork. Small wonder, then, that this rude people should engender the painter who has best expressed the intimate relation between the man of the fields and his ally and foe, the land which he subjugates, and which in turn enslaves him. The inherent, almost savage, independence of the peasant had kept him freer and of a nobler type than the English yokel even in the time before the Revolution, and in the little hamlet where Millet was born, the great upheaval had meant but little. Remote from the capital, cultivating land which but for their efforts would have been abandoned as worthless, every man was a land-owner in a small degree, and the patrimony of Millet sufficed for a numerous family of which he was the eldest son. Sufficed, that is, for a Spartan subsistence, made up of unrelaxing toil, with few or no comforts, save those of a spiritual nature which came in the guise of religion.
[Illustration: PEASANT REPOSING. FROM A PAINTING BY JEAN FRANCOIS MILLET, EXHIBITED IN THE SALON OF 1863.
Reproduced by permission of Braun, Clement & Co. This picture, popularly known as "The man with the hoe," was the cause of much discussion at the time of its exhibition. Millet was accused of socialism; of inciting the peasants to revolt; and from his quiet retreat in the country, he defended himself in a letter to his friend Sensier as follows: "I see very clearly the aureole encircling the head of the daisy, and the sun which glows beyond, far, far over the country-side, its glory in the skies; I see, not less clearly, the smoking plough-horses in the plain, and in a rocky corner a man bent with labor, who groans as he works, or who for an instant tries to straighten himself to catch his breath. The drama is enveloped in splendor. This is not of my creation; the expression, 'the cry of the earth,' was invented long ago."]
Millet was reared by his grandmother, such being the custom of the country; the younger women being occupied in the service of the mastering earth, and the elders, no longer able to go afield, bringing up the children born to their children, who in turn replaced their parents in the never-ending struggle. This grandmother, Louise Jumelin, widow of Nicolas Millet, was a woman of great force of character, and extremely devout. The most ordinary occupation of the day was made the subject not of uttered prayer, for that would have entailed suspension of her ceaseless activity, but of spiritual example tersely expressed, which fell upon the fruitful soil of Millet's young imagination, and left such a lasting impression that to the end of his life his natural expression was almost Biblical in character of language.
Another formative influence of this young life was that of a granduncle, Charles Millet, a priest who, driven from his church by the Revolution, had returned to his native village and taken up the simple life of his people, without, however, abandoning his vocation. He was to be seen behind his plough, his priest's robe gathered up about his loins, his breviary in one hand, following the furrow up and down the undulating fields which ran to the cliffs.
Gifted with great strength, he piled up great masses of granite, to reclaim a precious morsel of earth from the hungry maw of the sea; lifting his voice, as he worked, in resonant chants of the church. He it was who taught Millet to read; and, later, it was another priest, the Abbe Jean Lebrisseux, who, in the intervals of the youth's work in the fields, where he had early become an efficient aid to his father, continued his instruction. With the avidity of intelligence Millet profited by this instruction, not only in the more ordinary studies, but in Latin, with the Bible and Virgil as text-books. His mind was also nourished by the books belonging to the scanty library of his granduncle. These were of a purely religious character—the "History of the Saints," the "Confessions" of St. Augustine, the letters of St. Jerome, and the works of Bossuet and Fenelon.
In his father, whose strongest characteristic was an intense love of nature, Millet found an unconscious influence in the direction which his life was to follow. Millet recalled in after life that he would show him a blade of grass or a flower, and say: "See how beautiful; how the petals overlap; and the tree there, how strong and fine it is!" It was his father who was attentive to the youth's first rude efforts, and who encouraged him when the decisive step was to be taken, which Millet, feeling that his labor in the fields was necessary to the common good of the family, hesitated to take. The boy was in his eighteenth year when his father said:
"My poor Francois, you are tormented between your desire to be an artist and your duty to the family. Now that your brothers are growing, they can take their turn in the fields. I have long wished that you could be instructed in the craft of the painter, which I am told is so noble, and we will go to Cherbourg and see what can be done."
Thus encouraged, the boy made two drawings—one of two shepherds in blouse and sabots, one listening while the other played a rustic flute; and a second where, under a starlit sky, a man came from out a house, carrying bread for a mendicant at his gate. Armed with these two designs—typical of the work which in the end, after being led astray by schools and popular taste, he was to do—the two peasants sought a local painter named Mouchel at Cherbourg. After a moment of doubt as to the originality of the youth's work, Mouchel offered to teach him all that he knew.
Millet stayed with Mouchel some months. Then his father's death recalled him home, where his honest spirit prompted him to remain as the eldest son and head of the family, although his heart was less than ever in the fields. But this the mother, brought up in the spirit of resignation, would not allow him to do. "God has made you a painter. His will be done. Your father, my Jean Louis, has said it was to be, and you must return to Cherbourg."
Millet returned to Cherbourg, this time to the studio of one Langlois, a pupil of Gros, who was the principal painter of the little city. But Langlois, like his first master, Mouchel, kept him at work copying either his own studies or pictures in the city museum. After a few months, though, he had the honesty to recognize that his pupil needed more efficient instruction than he could give him, and in August, 1836, he addressed a petition to the mayor and common council of the city of Cherbourg, who took the matter into consideration, and, with the authorities of the department, voted a sum of one thousand francs—two hundred dollars—as a yearly allowance to Millet, in order that he might pursue his studies in Paris. Langlois in his petition asks that he be permitted to "raise without fear the veil of the future, and to assure the municipal council a place in the memory of the world for having been the first to endow their country with one more great name." Grandiloquent promise has often been made without result; but one must admire the hard-headed Norman councillors who, representing a little provincial city which in 1884 had but thirty-six thousand inhabitants, gave even this modest sum to assure a future to one who might reflect honor on his country.
With a portion, of this allowance, and a small addition from the "economies" of his mother and grandmother, Millet went to Paris in 1837. The great city failed to please the country-bred youth, and, indeed, until the end of his life, Millet disliked Paris. I remember his saying that, on his visits from Barbizon to the capital, he was happy on his arrival at the station, but when he arrived at the column of the Bastille, a few squares within the city, the mal du pays took him by the throat.
At first he spent all his time in the Louvre, which revealed to him what the little provincial museum of Cherbourg had but faintly suggested. Before long, however, he entered the studio of Paul Delaroche, who was the popular master of the time. There he won the sobriquet of the "man of the woods," from a savage taciturnity which was his defence in the midst of the atelier jokes. He had come to work, and to work he addressed himself, with but little encouragement from master or comrades. Strong as a young Hercules, with a dignity which never forsook him, his studies won at least the success of attention. When a favorite pupil of the master remonstrated that his men and women were hewed from stone, Millet replied tranquilly, "I came here because there are Greek statues and living men and women to study from, not to please you or any one. Do I preoccupy myself with your figures made of honey and butter?"
Delaroche, won by the strength of the man, at length unbent, and showed him such favor as a commonplace mind could accord to native superiority. He advised him to compete for the Prix de Rome, warning him, however, that whatever might be the merit of his work, he could not take it that year, as it was arranged that another, approaching the limit of age, must have it. This revolted the simple nature of Millet, who refused to compete, and left the school.
A return to Cherbourg, where he married his first wife, who died at the end of two years; another sojourn in Paris, and a visit home of some duration; a number of portraits and pictures painted in Cherbourg and Havre, in which his talent was slowly asserting itself, brings us to 1845, when he remarried. Returning to Paris with his wife, he remained there until 1849, when he went to Barbizon "for a time," which was prolonged to twenty-seven years.
In all the years preceding his final return to the country, Millet was apparently undecided as to the definite character of his work. Out of place in a city, more or less influenced by his comrades in art, and forced to follow in a degree the dictation of necessity in the choice of subject, as his brush was his only resource and his family constantly increasing, his work of this period is always tentative. In painting it is luscious in color and firmly drawn and modelled, but it lacks the perception of truth which, when once released from the bondage of the city, began to manifest itself in his work. The first indication of the future Millet is in a picture in the Salon of 1848, "The Winnower," which has, in subject at least, much the character of the work which followed his establishment at Barbizon. For the rest, although the world is richer in beautiful pictures of charmingly painted nymphs, and of rustic scenes not altogether devoid of a certain artificiality, and in at least one masterly mythological picture of Oedipus rescued from the tree, through Millet's activity in these years, yet his work, had it continued on this plane, would have lacked the high significance which the next twenty-five years were to show.
Having endeavored to make clear the source from which Millet came, and indicated the formative influences of his early life, I may permit myself (as I warned my readers I should do) to return to my recollections of Barbizon in 1873, and the glimpses of Millet which my sojourn there in that and the following year afforded me.
Barbizon lies on a plain, more vast in the impression which it makes on the eye than in actual area, and the village consists of one long street, which commences at a group of farm buildings of some importance, and ends in the forest of Fontainebleau. About midway down this street, on the way to the forest, Millet's home stood, on the right of the road. The house, of two low stories, had its gable to the street, and on the first floor, with the window breast high from the ground, was the dining-room. Here, in pleasant weather, with the window wide open, sat Millet at the head of his patriarchal table, his children, of whom there were nine, about him; his good wife, their days of acute misery past, smiling contentedly on her brood, which, if I remember rightly, already counted a grandchild or more: as pleasant a sight as one could readily see. Later, in the autumn evenings, a lamplit replica of the same picture presented itself. Or, if the dinner was cleared away, one would see Madame Millet busy with her needle, the children at their lessons, and the painter, whom even then tradition painted a sad and cheerless misanthrope, contentedly playing at dominoes with one of the children, or his honest Norman face wreathed in smiles as the conversation took an amusing turn. This, it is true, was when the master of the house was free from his terrible enemy, the headache, which laid him low so often, and which in these days became more and more frequent.
The house, to resume the description of Millet's home, went back at right angles from the street, and contained the various apartments of the family, many of them on the ground floor, and all of the most modest character. It was a source of wonder how so large a family could inhabit so small a house. The garden lay in front, and extended back of the house. A high wall with a little door, painted green, by which you entered, ran along the street, and ended at the studio, which was, like the dining-room, on the street. The garden was pleasant with flowers and trees, the kitchen garden being at the rear. But a few short years ago, within its walls Madame Millet plucked a red rose, and gave it to me, saying: "My husband planted this." Outside the little green door, on either hand, were stone benches set against the wall, on which the painter's children sometimes sat and played; but it is somewhat strange that I never remember Millet at his door or on the village street. He walked a great deal, but always went out of the garden to the fields back of the house, and from there gained the forest or the plain. Among the young painters who frequented Barbizon in those days (which were, however, long after the time when the men of Millet's age established themselves there), there were, strange as it may seem, few who cared for Millet's work, and many who knew little or nothing of it. The prejudices of the average art student are many and indurated. His horizon is apt to be bounded by his master's work or the last Salon success, and as Millet had no pupils, and had ceased to exhibit at the Salon, he was little known to most of the youths who, as I look back, must have made Barbizon a most undesirable place for a quiet family to live in. An accident which made me acquainted with Millet's eldest son, a painter of talent, seemed for a time to bring me no nearer to knowing the father until one day some remark of mine which showed at least a sincere admiration for his work made the son suggest that I should come and see a recently completed picture.
If the crowd of young painters who frequented the village were indifferent to Millet, such was not the case with people from other places. The "personally conducted" were then newly invented, and I have seen a wagon load of tourists, who had been driven to different points in the forest, draw up before Millet's modest door and express indignation in a variety of languages when they were refused admittance. There were many in those days who tried with little or no excuse to break in on the work of a man whose working days were already counted, and who was seldom free from his old enemy migraine. I was to learn this when—I hope after having had the grace to make it plain that, though I greatly desired to know Millet, I felt no desire to intrude—the son had arranged for a day when, at last, I was admitted to the studio.
Millet did not make his appearance at once; and when he came, and the son had said a few kindly words of presentation, he seemed so evidently in pain that I managed, in a French which must have been distinguished by a pure New York accent and a vocabulary more than limited, to express a fear that he was suffering, and suggested that my visit had better be deferred.
"No, it will pass," was his answer; and going to his easel he placed, with the help of his son, picture after picture, for my delectation.
It was Millet's habit to commence a great number of pictures. On some of them he would work as long, according to his own expression, as he saw the scene in nature before him; for, at least at this epoch, he never painted directly from nature. For a picture which I saw the following summer, where three great hay-stacks project their mass against a heavy storm cloud, the shepherd seeking shelter from the impending rain, and the sheep erring here and there, affected by the changing weather—for this picture, conveying, as it did, the most intense impression of nature, Millet showed me (in answer to my inquiry and in explanation of his method of work) in a little sketch-book, so small that it would slip into a waistcoat pocket, the pencilled outline of the three hay-stacks. "It was a stormy day," he said, "and on my return home I sat down and commenced the picture, but of direct studies—voila tout." Of another picture, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, of a young girl, life size, with a distaff, seated on a hillock, her head shaded by a great straw hat relieved against the sky, he told me that the only direct painting from nature on the canvas was in a bunch of grass in the foreground, which he had plucked in the fields and brought into his studio.
On this first day, it would be difficult to say how many pictures in various states of advancement I saw. The master would occasionally say, reflectively: "It is six months since I looked at that, and I must get to work at it," as some new canvas was placed on the easel. At first, fearing that he was too ill to have me stay, I made one or two motions to leave. But each time, with a kindly smile, I was bidden to stay, with the assurance that the headache was "going better." After a time I quite forgot everything in enthusiasm at what I saw and the sense that I was enjoying the privilege of a lifetime. The life of the fields seemed to be unrolled before me like some vast panorama. Millet's comments were short and descriptive of what he aimed to represent, seldom or never concerning the method of his work. "Women in my country," meaning Lower Normandy, of course, "carry jars of milk in that way," he said, indicating the woman crossing the fields with the milk-can supported by a strap on her shoulder. "When I was a boy there were great flights of wild pigeons which settled in the trees at night, when we used to go with torches, and the birds, blinded by the light, could be killed by the hundred with clubs," was his explanation of another scene full of the confusion of lights and the whirr of the bewildered pigeons.
"And you have not seen it since you were a boy?" I asked.
"No; but it all comes back to me as I work," was his answer.
From picture to picture, from question to kindly answer, the afternoon sped, and at length, in response to a question as to the relative importance of subject, the painter sent his son into the house whence he returned with a panel a few inches square. The father took it, wiped the dust from it, absent-mindedly, on his sleeve, with a half caressing movement, and placed it on the easel. "Voila! (There!)" was all he said. The panel represented three golden juicy pears, their fat sides relieved one against the other, forming a compact group which, through the magic of color, told of autumn sun, and almost gave the odor of ripened fruit. It was a lovely bit of painting, and much interested, I said: "Pardon me, but you seem as much or more proud of this than anything you have shown."
"Exactly," answered Millet, with an amused smile at my eagerness. "Everything in nature is good to paint, and the painter's business is to be occupied with his manner of rendering it. These pears, a man or a woman, a flock of sheep, all have the same qualities for a painter. There are," with a gesture of his hands to make his meaning clear, "things that lie flat, that are horizontal, like a plain; and there are others which stand up, are perpendicular; and there are the planes between: all of which should be expressed in a picture. There are the distances between objects also. But all this can be found in the simplest thing as in the most complicated."
"But," I again ventured, "surely some subjects are more important than others."
"Some are more interesting in the sense that they add to the problems of a painter. When he has to paint a human being, he has to represent truth of action, the particular character of an individual; but he must do the latter when he paints a pear. No two pears are alike."
I fear at the time I hardly understood the importance of the lesson which I then received; certainly not to the degree with which experience has confirmed it. But I have written it here, the sense, if not the actual language, because Millet has been so often misrepresented as seeking to point a moral through the subject of his pictures. When we recall the manner in which "The Angelus" was paraded through the country a few years ago, and the genuine sentiment of the simple scene—where Millet had endeavored to express "the things that lie flat, like a plain; and the things that stand up," like his peasants—was travestied by gushing sentimentalists, it is pleasant to think of the wholesome common sense of the great painter.
The picture which I had specially come to see was meanwhile standing covered with a drapery, on another easel, and at length the resources of the studio were apparently exhausted. Millet asked me to step back a few paces to where a short curtain was placed on a light iron rod at right angles from the studio window, so that a person standing behind it saw into the studio while his eyes were screened from the glare of the window. The painter then drew the covering, and—I feel that what I am about to say may seem superlative, and I am quite willing to-day to account for it by the enthusiasm for the painter's work, which had been growing crescendo with each successive moment passed in the studio. Be that as it may, the picture which I saw caused me to forget where I was, to forget painting, and to look, apparently, on a more enchanting scene than my eyes had ever beheld—one more enchanting than they have since seen. It was a landscape, "Springtime," now in the Louvre. Ah me! I have seen the picture since, not once, but many times, and he who will go to Paris may see it. A beautiful picture; but of the transcendent beauty which transfigured it that day, it has but the suggestion. It is still a masterpiece, however, and still conveys, by methods peculiarly Millet's own, a satisfying sense of the open air, and the charm of fickle spring. The method is that founded on the constant observation of nature by a mind acute to perceive, and educated to remember. The method is one which misses many trivial truths, and thereby loses the superficial look of reality which many smaller men have learned to give; but it retains the larger, more essential truths. Though dependence on memory carried to the extent of Millet's practice would be fatal to a weaker man, it can hardly be doubted that it was the natural method for him.
I left the studio that day, walking on clouds. When I returned it was always to receive kindly and practical counsel. For Millet, though conscious, as such a man must be, of his importance, was the simplest of men. In appearance the portrait published here gives him in his youth. At the time of which I speak he was heavier, with a firm nose, eyes that, deeply set, seemed to look inwards, except, when directly addressing one, there was a sudden gleam. His manner of speech was slow and measured, perhaps out of kindness to the stranger, though I am inclined to think that it was rather the speech of one who arrays his thoughts beforehand, and produces them in orderly sequence. In dress he was like the ordinary bourgeois in the country, wearing generally a woven coat like a cardigan jacket in the studio, at the door of which he would leave his sabots and wear the felt slippers, or chaussons, which are worn with the wooden shoes. This was not the affectation of remaining a peasant; every one in the country in France wears sabots, and very comfortable they are.
One more visit stands out prominently in my memory. It came about in this wise. In the summer of 1874 the "two Stevensons," as they were known, the cousins Robert Louis and Robert Alan Mowbray Stevenson (the author of the recent "Life of Velasquez," and the well-known writer on art), were in Barbizon. It fell that the cousins, in pessimistic vein, were decrying modern art—the great men were all dead; we should never see their like again; in short, the mood in which we all fall at times was dominant. As in duty bound, I argued the cause of the present and future, and as a clinching argument told them that I had it in my power to convince them that at least one of the greatest painters of all time was still busy in the practice of his art. Millet was not much more than a name to my friends, and I am certain that that day when we talked over our coffee in the garden of Siron's inn, they had seen little or none of his work. I ventured across the road, knocked at the little green door, and asked permission to bring my friends, which was accorded for the same afternoon. In half an hour, therefore, I was witness of an object lesson of which the teacher was serenely unconscious. Of my complete triumph when we left there was no doubt, though one of my friends rather begged the question by insisting that I had taken an unfair advantage; and that, as he expressed it, "it was not in the game, in an ordinary discussion, between gentlemen, concerning minor poets, to drag in Shakespeare in that manner."
I saw Millet but once after this, when late in the autumn I was returning to Paris, and went, out of respect, to bid him farewell. He was already ill, and those who knew him well, already feared for his life. Not knowing this, it was a shock to learn of his death a few months after—January 20, 1875. The news came to me in the form of the ordinary notification and convocation to the funeral, which, in the form of a lettre de faire part, is sent out on the occasion of a death in France, not only to intimate friends, but to acquaintances.
Determined to pay what honor I could, I went to Barbizon, to find, as did many others gone for the same sad purpose, that an error in the notices sent, discovered too late to be rectified, had placed the date of the funeral a day later than that on which it actually occurred. Millet rests in the little cemetery at Chailly, across the plain from Barbizon, near his lifetime friend, Theodore Rousseau, who is buried there. I will never forget the January day in the village of Barbizon. Though Millet had little part in the village life, and was known to few, a sadness, as though the very houses felt that a great man had passed away, had settled over the place. I sought out a friend who had been Millet's friend for many years and was with him at the last, and as he told me of the last sad months, tears fell from his eyes.
CHAPTERS FROM A LIFE.
BY ELIZABETH STUART PHELPS,
Author of "The Gates Ajar," "A Singular Life," etc.
"THE GATES AJAR" WITH THE CRITICS AND THE PUBLIC.—THE AUTHOR'S FIRST STUDY.—READING REVIEWS OF ONE'S OWN BOOKS.—CORRESPONDENCE WITH READERS OF "THE GATES AJAR."
As was said in the last paper, "The Gates Ajar" was written without hope or expectation of any especial success, and when the happy storm broke in truth, I was the most astonished girl in North America.
From the day when Mr. Fields's thoughtful note reached the Andover post-office, that miracle of which we read often in fiction, and sometimes in literary history, touched the young writer's life; and it began over again, as a new form of organization.
As I look back upon them, the next few years seem to have been a series of amazing phantasmagoria. Indeed, at the time, they were scarcely more substantial. A phantom among phantoms, I was borne along. Incredulous of the facts, and dubious of my own identity, I whirled through readjustments of scene, of society, of purposes, of hopes, and now, at last, of ambitions; and always of hard work, and plenty of it. Really, I think the gospel of work then, as always, and to all of us, was salvation from a good deal of nonsense incident to the situation.
I have been told that the American circulation of the book, which has remained below one hundred thousand, was rather more than that in Great Britain. Translations, of course, were manifold. The French, the German, the Dutch, the Italian have been conscientiously sent to the author; some others, I think, have not. More applications to republish my books have reached me from Germany than from any other country. For a while, with the tenderness of a novice in such experience, I kept all these foreign curiosities on my book-shelves; but the throes of several New England "movings" have scattered their ashes.
Not long ago I came across a tiny pamphlet in which I used to feel more honest pride than in any edition of "The Gates Ajar" which it has ever been my fortune to handle. It is a sickly yellow thing, covered with a coarse design of some kind, in which the wings of a particularly sprawly angel predominate.
The print is abhorrent, and the paper such as any respectable publisher would prepare to be condemned for in this world and in that to come. In fact, the entire book was thus given out by one of the most enterprising of English pirates, as an advertisement for a patent medicine. I have never traced the chemical history of the drug; but it has pleased my fancy to suppose it to be the one in which Mrs. Holt, the mother of Felix, dealt so largely; and whose sale Felix put forth his mighty conscience to suppress.
Of course, owing to the state of our copyright laws at that time, all this foreign publication was piratical; and most of it brought no visible consequence to the author, beyond that cold tribute to personal vanity on which our unlucky race is expected to feed. I should make an exception. The house of Sampson, Low and Company honorably offered me, at a very early date, a certain recognition of their editions. Other reputable English houses since, in the case of succeeding books, have passed contracts of a gentlemanly nature, with the disproportionately grateful author, who was, of course, entirely at their mercy. When an American writer compares the sturdy figures of the foreign circulation with the attenuated numerals of such visible returns as reach him, he is more puzzled in his mind than surfeited in his purse. But the relation of foreign publishers to "home talent" is an ancient and honorable conundrum, which it is not for this paper or its writer to solve.
Nevertheless, I found the patent medicine "Gates Ajar" delicious, and used to compare it with Messrs. Fields and Osgood's edition de luxe with an undisguised delight, which I found it difficult to induce the best of publishers to share.
Like most such matters, the first energy of the book had its funny and its serious side. A man coming from a far Western village, and visiting Boston for the first time, is said to have approached a bartender, in an exclusive hotel, thus confidentially:
"Excuse me, but I am a stranger in this part of the country, and I want to ask a question. Everywhere I go, I see posters up like this—'The Gates Ajar!' 'The Gates Ajar!' I'm sick to death of the sight of the durn thing; I haven't darst to ask what it is. Do tell a fellar! Is it a new kind of drink?"
There was a "Gates Ajar" tippet for sale in the country groceries; I have fancied that it was a knit affair of as many colors as the jewels in the eternal portals, and extremely openwork. There was a "Gates Ajar" collar—paper, I fear—loading the city counters. Ghastly rumors have reached me of the existence of a "Gates Ajar" cigar. I have never personally set my eyes upon these tangible forms of earthly fame. If the truth must be told, I have kept a cowardly distance from them. Music, of course, took her turn at the book, and popular "pieces" warbled under its title. One of these, I think, is sung in Sunday-schools to this day. Then there was, and still exists, the "Gates Ajar" funeral piece. This used to seem to me the least serious of them all; but, by degrees, when I saw the persistence of force in that elaborate symbol, how many mourning people were so constituted as to find comfort in it, I came to have a tolerance for it which even grows into a certain tenderness. I may frankly admit that I have begun to love it since I heard about the two ragged little newsboys who came to the eminent city florist, with all their savings clenched in their grimy fists, and thus made known their case:
"Ye see, Larks he was our pardner—him an' us sold on the same beat—and he jes' got run over by a 'lectric, and it went over his back. So they tuk him to the horspittle, 'n Larks he up an' died there yestiddy. So us fellars we're goin' to give Larks a stylish funeril, you bet. We liked Larks—an' it went over his back. Say, mister, there ain't nothin' mean 'bout us, come to buryin' of Larks; 'n we've voted to settle on one them 'Gates Ajar' pieces—made o'flowers, doncherknow. So me 'n him an' the other fellars we've saved up all our propurty, for we're agoin' ter give Larks a stylish funeril—an' here it is, mister. I told the kids ef there was more'n enough you's trow in a few greens, anyhow. Make up de order right away, mister, and give us our money's worf now, sure—for Larks."
The gamin proudly counted out upon the marble slab of that fashionable flower store the sum of seventy-five cents.
The florist—blessings on him—is said not to have undeceived the little fellows, but to have duly honored their "order," and the biggest and most costly "Gates Ajar" piece to be had in the market went to the hospital, and helped to bury Larks.
Of course, as is customary in the case of all authors who have written one popular book, requests for work at once rained in on the new study on Andover Hill. For it soon became evident that I must have a quiet place to write in. In the course of time I found it convenient to take for working hours a sunny room in the farm-house of the Seminary estate, a large, old-fashioned building adjoining my father's house. In still later years I was allowed to build over, for my own purposes, the summer-house under the big elm in my father's garden, once used by my mother for her own study, and well remembered by all persons interested in Andover scenery. This building had been for some years used exclusively as a mud-bakery by the boys; it was piled with those clay turnovers and rolls and pies in whose manufacture the most select circles of Andover youth delighted.
But the bakery was metamorphosed into a decent, dear little room, about nine by eleven, and commanding the sun on the four sides of its quadrangle. In fact, it was a veritable sun-bath; and how dainty was the tip-drip of the icicles from the big elm-bough, upon the little roof! To this spot I used to travel down in all weathers; sometimes when it was so slippery on the hill behind the carriage-house (for the garden paths were impassable in winter) that I have had to return to primitive methods of locomotion, and just sit down and coast half the way on the crust. Later still, when an accident and crutches put this delightful method of travelling out of the question, the summer-house (in a blizzard I delighted in the name) was moved up beside my father's study. I have, in fact, always had an out-of-door study, apart from the house I lived in, and have come to look upon it as quite a necessity; so that we have carried on the custom in our Gloucester house. We heartily recommend it to all people who live by their brains and pens. The incessant trotting to and fro on little errands is a wholesome thing. Proof-sheets, empty ink-stands, dried-up mucilage, yawning wood-boxes, wet feet, missing scissors, unfilled kerosene lamps, untimely thirst, or unromantic lunches, the morning mail, and the dinner-bell, and the orders of one's pet dog—all are so many imperious summonses to breathe the tingling air and stir the blood and muscle.
Be as uncomfortable or as cross about it as you choose, an out-of-door study is sure to prove your best friend. You become a species of literary tramp, and absorb something of the tramp's hygiene. It is impossible to be "cooped" at your desk, if you have to cross a garden or a lawn thirty times a day to get to it. And what reporter can reach that sweet seclusion across the distant housemaid's wily and experienced art? What autograph or lion hunter can ruin your best chapter by bombardment in mid-morning?
In the farm-house study I remember one of my earliest callers from the publishing world, that seems always to stand with clawing fingers demanding copy of the people least able to give it. He was an emissary from the "Youth's Companion," who threatened or cajoled me into a vow to supply him with a certain number of stories. My private suspicion is that I have just about at this present time completed my share in that ancient bargain, so patient and long-suffering has this pleasant paper been with me. I took particular delight in that especial visit, remembering the time when the "Companion" gave my first pious little sentence to print, and paid me with the paper for a year.
"The Gates Ajar" was attacked by the press. In fact it was virulently bitten. The reviews of the book, some of them, reached the point of hydrophobia. Others were found to be in a milder pathological condition. Still others were gentle or even friendly enough. Religious papers waged war across that girl's notions of the life to come as if she had been an evil spirit let loose upon accepted theology for the destruction of the world. The secular press was scarcely less disturbed about the matter, which it treated, however, with the more amused good-humor of a man of the world puzzled by a religious disagreement.
In the days of the Most Holy Inquisition there was an old phrase whose poignancy has always seemed to me to be but half appreciated. One did not say: He was racked. She was burned. They were flayed alive, or pulled apart with little pincers, or clasped in the arms of the red-hot Virgin. One was too well-bred for so bald a use of language. One politely and simply said: He was put to the question.
The young author of "The Gates Ajar" was only put to the question. Heresy was her crime, and atrocity her name. She had outraged the church; she had blasphemed its sanctities; she had taken live coals from the altar in her impious hand. The sacrilege was too serious to be dismissed with cold contempt.
Opinion battled about that poor little tale as if it had held the power to overthrow church and state and family.
It was an irreverent book—it was a devout book. It was a strong book—it was a weak book. It was a religious book—it was an immoral book (I have forgotten just why; in fact, I think I never knew). It was a good book—it was a bad book. It was calculated to comfort the comfortless—it was calculated to lead the impressionable astray. It was an accession to Christian literature—it was a disgrace to the religious antecedents of the author; and so on, and so forth.
At first, when some of these reviews fell in my way, I read them, knowing no better. But I very soon learned to let them alone. The kind notices, while they gave me a sort of courage which by temperament possibly I needed more than all young writers may, overwhelmed me, too, by a sense of my own inadequacy to be a teacher of the most solemn of truths, on any such scale as that towards which events seemed to be pointing. The unfair notices put me in a tremor of distress. The brutal ones affected me like a blow in the face from the fist of a ruffian. None of them, that I can remember, ever helped me in any sense whatsoever to do better work.
I quickly came to the conclusion that I was not adapted to reading the views of the press about my own writing. I made a vow to let them alone; and, from that day to this, I have kept it. Unless in the case of something especially brought to my attention by friends, I do not read any reviews of my books. Of course, in a general way, one knows if some important pen has shown a comprehension of what one meant to do and tried to do, or has spattered venom upon one's poor achievement. Quite fairly, one cannot sit like the Queen in the kitchen, eating only bread and honey—and venom disagrees with me.
I sometimes think—if I may take advantage of this occasion to make the only reply in a working life of thirty years to any of the "slashers" with whose devotion I am told that I have been honored—I sometimes think, good brother critics, that I have had my share of the attentions of poisoned weapons.
But, regarding my reviewers with the great good humor of one who never reads what they say, I can afford to wish them lively luck and better game in some quivering writer who takes the big pile of what it is the fashion to call criticisms from the publisher's table, and conscientiously reads them through. With this form of being "put to the question" I will have nothing to do. If it gives amusement to the reviewers, they are welcome to their sport. But they stab at the summer air, so far as any writer is concerned who has the pertinacity of purpose to let them alone.
Long after I had adopted the rule to read no notices of my work, I learned from George Eliot that the same had been her custom for many years, and felt reenforced in the management of my little affairs by this great example. Discussing the question once, with one of our foremost American writers, I was struck with something like holy envy in his expression. He had received rough handling from those "critics" who seem to consider authors as their natural foes, and who delight in aiming the hardest blows at the heaviest enemy. His fame is immeasurably superior to that of all his reviewers put together.
"Don't you really read them?" he asked, wistfully. "I wish I could say as much. I'm afraid I shouldn't have the perseverance to keep that up right along."
In interesting contrast to all this discord from the outside, came the personal letters. The book was hardly under way before the storm of them set in. It began like a New England snow-storm, with a few large, earnest flakes; then came the swirl of them, big and little, sleet and rain, fast and furious, regular and irregular, scurrying and tumbling over each other through the Andover mails.
The astonished girl bowed her head before the blast at first, with a kind of terrified humility. Then, by degrees, she plucked up heart to give to each letter its due attention.
It would not be very easy to make any one understand, who had not been through a closely similar experience, just what it meant to live in the centre of such a whirlwind of human suffering.
It used to seem to me sometimes, at the end of a week's reading of this large and painful mail, as if the whole world were one great outcry. What a little portion of it cried to the young writer of one little book of consolation! Yet how the ear and heart ached under the piteous monotony! I made it a rule to answer every civil letter that I received; and as few of them were otherwise, this correspondence was no light load.
I have called it monotonous; yet there was a curious variety in monotony, such as no other book has brought to the author's attention. The same mail gave the pleasant word of some distinguished writer who was so kind as to encourage a beginner in his own art, or so much kinder as gently and intelligently to point out her defects; and beneath this welcome note lay the sharp rebuke of some obscure parishioner who found the Temple of Zion menaced to its foundation by my little story. Hunters of heresy and of autograph pursued their game side by side. Here, some man of affairs writes to say (it seemed incredible, but it used to happen) that the book has given him his first intelligent respect for religious faith. There, a poor colored girl, inmate of a charitable institution, where she has figured as in deed and truth the black sheep, sends her pathetic tribute:
"If heaven is like that, I want to go, and I mean to."
To-day I am berated by the lady who is offended with the manner of my doctrine. I am called hard names in no soft language, and advised to pray heaven for forgiveness for the harm I am doing by this ungodly book.
To-morrow I receive a widower's letter, of twenty-six pages, rose-tinted and perfumed. He relates his personal history. He encloses the photographs of his dead wife, his living children, and himself. He adds the particulars of his income, which, I am given to understand, is large. He adds—but I turn to the next.
This correspondent, like scores upon scores of others, will be told instanter if I am a spiritualist. On this vital point he demands my confession or my life.
The next desires to be informed how much of the story is autobiography, and requires the regiment and company in which my brother served.
And now I am haughtily taken to task by some unknown nature for allowing my heroine to be too much attached to her brother. I am told that this is impious; that only our Maker should receive such adoring affection as poor Mary offered to dead Roy.
Having recovered from this inconceivable slap in the face, I go bravely on. I open the covers of a pamphlet as green as Erin, entitled, "Antidote to the Gates Ajar;" consider myself as the poisoner of the innocent and reverent mind, and learn what I may from this lesson in toxicology.
There was always a certain share of abuse in these outpourings from strangers; it was relatively small, but it was enough to save my spirits, by the humor of it, or they would have been crushed with the weight of the great majority.
I remember the editor of a large Western paper, who enclosed a clipping from his last review for my perusal. It treated, not of "The Gates Ajar" just then, but of a magazine story in "Harper's," the "Century," or wherever. The story was told in the first person fictitious, and began after this fashion:
"I am an old maid of fifty-six, and have spent most of my life in boarding-houses." (The writer was, be it said, at that time, scarcely twenty-two.)
"Miss Phelps says of herself," observed this oracle, "that she is fifty-six years old; and we think she is old enough to know better than to write such a story as this."
At a summer place where I was in the early fervors of the art of making a home, a citizen was once introduced to me at his own request. I have forgotten his name, but remember having been told that he was "prominent." He was big, red, and loud, and he planted himself with the air of a man about to demolish his deadliest foe.
"So you are Miss Phelps. Well, I've wanted to meet you. I read a piece you wrote in a magazine. It was about Our Town. It did not please Me."
I bowed with the interrogatory air which seemed to be expected of me. Being just then very much in love with that very lovable place, I was puzzled with this accusation, and quite unable to recall, out of the warm flattery which I had heaped upon the town in cool print, any visible cause of offence.
"You said," pursued my accuser, angrily, "that we had odors here. You said Our Town smelled of fish. Now, you know, we get so used to these smells we like 'em! It gave great offence to the community, madam. And I really thought at one time—feelin' ran so high—I thought it would kill the sale of your book!"
From that day to this I do not believe the idea has visited the brain of this estimable person that a book could circulate in any other spot upon the map than within his native town. This delicious bit of provincialism served to make life worth living for many a long day.
There was fun enough in this sort of thing to "keep one up," so that one could return bravely to the chief end of existence; for this seemed for many years to be nothing less, and little else, than the exercise of those faculties called forth by the wails of the bereaved. From every corner of the civilized globe, and in its differing languages, they came to me—entreaties, outpourings, cries of agony, mutterings of despair, breathings of the gentle hope by which despair may be superseded; appeals for help which only the Almighty could have given; demands for light which only eternity can supply.
A man's grief, when he chooses to confide it to a woman, is not an easy matter to deal with. Its dignity and its pathos are never to be forgotten. How to meet it, Heaven only teaches; and how far Heaven taught that awed and humbled girl I shall never know.
But the women—oh, the poor women! I felt less afraid to answer them. Their misery seemed to cry in my arms like a child who must be comforted. I wrote to them—I wrote without wisdom or caution or skill; only with the power of being sorry for them, and the wish to say so; and if I said the right thing or the wrong one, whether I comforted or wearied, strengthened or weakened, that, too, I shall not know.
Sometimes, in recent years, a letter comes or a voice speaks: "Do you remember—so many years ago—when I was in great trouble? You wrote to me." And I am half ashamed that I had forgotten. But I bless her because she remembers.
But when I think of the hundreds—it came into the thousands, I believe—of such letters received, and how large a proportion of them were answered, my heart sinks. How is it possible that one should not have done more harm than good by that unguided sympathy? If I could not leave the open question to the Wisdom that protects and overrules well-meaning ignorance, I should be afraid to think of it. For many years I was snowed under by those mourners' letters. In truth, they have not ceased entirely yet, though of course their visits are now irregular.
I am so often asked if I still believe the views of another life set forth in "The Gates Ajar" that I am glad to use this opportunity to answer the question; though, indeed, I have been led to do so, to a certain extent, in another place, and may, perhaps, be pardoned for repeating words in which the question first and most naturally answered itself:
"Those appeals of the mourning, black of edge and blurred with tears, were a mass high beneath the hand and heavy to the heart. These letters had the terrible and unanswerable power of all great, natural voices; and the chiefest of these are love and grief. Year upon year the recipient has sat dumb before these signs of human misery and hope. They have rolled upon the shore of life, a billow of solemn inspiration. I have called them a human argument for faith in the future life, and see no reason for amending the term."
But why dwell on the little book, which was only the trembling organ-pipe through which the music thrilled? Its faults have long since ceased to trouble, and its friends to elate me. Sometimes one seems to one's self to be the least or last agency in the universe responsible for such a work. What was the book? Only an outcry of nature—and nature answered it. That was all. And nature is of God, and is mighty before Him.
Do I believe in the "middle march" of life, as the girl did in the morning, before the battle of the day?
For nature's sake—which is for God's sake—I cannot hesitate.
Useless suffering is the worst of all kinds of waste. Unless He created this world from sheer extravagance in the infliction of purposeless pain, there must be another life to justify, to heal, to comfort, to offer happiness, to develop holiness. If there be another world, and such a one, it will be no theologic drama, but a sensible, wholesome scene. The largest and the strongest elements of this experimental life will survive its weakest and smallest. Love is "the greatest thing in the world," and love "will claim its own" at last.
The affection which is true enough to live forever, need have no fear that the life to come will thwart it. The grief that goes to the grave unhealed, may put its trust in unimagined joy to be. The patient, the uncomplaining, the unselfish mourner, biding his time and bearing his lot, giving more comfort than he gets, and with beautiful wilfulness believing in the intended kindness of an apparently harsh force which he cannot understand, may come to perceive, even here, that infinite power and mercy are one; and, I solemnly believe, is sure to do so in the life beyond, where "God keeps a niche in heaven to hold our idols."
BY ELLA HIGGINSON.
I know a place where the sun is like gold, And the cherry blooms burst with snow; And down underneath is the loveliest nook, Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
One leaf is for hope, and one is for faith, And one is for love, you know; And God put another one in for luck— If you search, you will find where they grow.
But you must have hope, and you must have faith; You must love and be strong—and so— If you work, if you wait, you will find the place Where the four-leaf clovers grow.
A LEAP IN THE DARK
BY JAMES T. MCKAY,
Author of "Stella Grayland," "Larcone's Little Chap," and other stories.
The Windhams and Mandisons were old neighbors, and Phil Windham had always been very much at home among the Mandisons, and especially with Mary, the oldest daughter, who was like a wise, kind sister to him. Now his own house began to break up—his brothers went West; his sisters married; his father, who was a chemist and inventor, was killed one day by an explosion. In these trying times the Mandison household was his chief resource, and Mary most of all.
Then the Mandisons moved away. That seemed to Windham like the end of things. He was awfully lonely, and thought a great deal about Mary in the months that followed, but was not quite sure of himself; though he was certain there was no one else he liked and admired half so much. But in the following winter he went to spend the holidays with the Mandisons, and when he came away he and Mary were engaged.
The next summer the Mandisons took a cottage at the shore, and Windham went to spend some weeks with them. Idly busy and calmly happy in the pleasant company of Mary and all the friendly house, the sunny days slipped by till one came that disturbed his dream. An aunt of Mary's arrived with her husband, Dr. Saxon, and his niece, Agnes Maine. At the first glance Miss Maine challenged Windham's attention. She was a tall and striking person, with a keen glance that he felt took his measure at the first look. She piqued his curiosity, and interested him more and more.
One day he saw her and Mary together, and caught himself comparing them, not in Mary's favor. Panic seized him, and he turned his back on Miss Maine and devoted himself to Mary. Miss Maine went to stay with some neighbors, the Colemans. One night she was caught at the Mandisons by a storm. Mary asked Windham to entertain her, and he went and asked her to play chess. She declined coldly, and Windham turned away with such a look that Mary wondered what Agnes could have said so unkind. And the next day Miss Maine spoke so gently to him that it warmed him all through. Still he persistently avoided her.
The Colemans got up a play in the attic of their large old house. On the night of the performance the place was crowded. The first two acts went off smoothly.
Windham had been helping to shift the scenes, and was standing alone, looking over the animated spectacle as the audience chatted and laughed. Something in the play had made him think of Agnes Maine, though she was not in the cast, and he had not seen her. Suddenly, without any notice of her approach, she stood close to him, looking in his face. Her face was paler than usual, and her eyes had a startling light in them. She said only half a dozen low words, but they made him turn ghastly white. What she said was:
"The house is on fire down-stairs."
He stood looking at her an instant, long enough to reflect that any alarm would result in piling those gay people in an awful mass at the foot of the one steep and fragile stairway. The stage entrance was little better than an enclosed ladder, and not to be thought of.
"Go and stand at the head of the stairs," he said to her.
The bell rang for the curtain to rise, but he slipped back behind it, and it did not go up. Instead, Jeffrey Coleman appeared before it, bowing and smiling with exaggeration, and announced that the continuation of the performance had been arranged as a surprise below-stairs, and would be found even more exciting and interesting than the part already given. The audience were requested to go below quickly, but at the same time were cautioned against crowding, as the stair was rather steep and temporary. As they did not start at once, he came off the stage and led the way, going on down the stairs, and calling gayly to the rest to follow.
Windham had got to the stairhead by this time. Agnes Maine stood there, on one side, looking calm and contained, and he took up his position on the other, and followed the cue given by young Coleman. He began to call out, extolling the absorbing and thrilling character of the performance down-stairs, with the extravagant epithets of the circus posters, laughing all the while. He urged them on when they lingered, and restrained them when they came too fast, addressing one and another with jocularity, laying his hands on some and pushing them on with assumed playfulness, keeping up the fire of raillery with desperate resistance. When screams were heard now and then from below, he made it appear to be only excited feminine merriment, directing attention to it, and calling out to those yet to come:
"You hear them? Oh, yes; you'll scream, too, when you see it!"
All the time, though his faculties were sufficiently strained by the effort he was making, he was watching Agnes Maine, who stood opposite, doing nothing, but looking her calm, pale self, and now and then smiling slightly at his extravagant humor. And he thought admiringly that her simple quiet did more to keep up the illusion than all his labored and violent simulation.
It seemed as if there never would be an end to the stream of leisurely people who answered his banter with laugh and joke. But finally the last of them were fairly on the stair, and he turned to Agnes Maine with a suddenly transformed face.
"Now—be quick!" he called.
But she gave a low cry, looking away toward the farther end, where she caught sight of a young couple still lingering. She ran toward them, calling to them to hurry, and as they did not understand, she took hold of the girl, and made her run. Windham had followed her, and the four came together to the stairhead, but there they stopped, and the young girl broke into wild screams. The foot of the stairway was wrapped in smoke and flames.
There was an observatory upon the house, into which Windham had once gone with Jeffrey Coleman, and he turned to it now, and made the three go up before him. He stopped and cut away a rope that held some of the hangings, and took it up with him. Miss Maine was standing with her arm about Fanny Lee, whom she had quieted.
"Had she better go first?" he asked.
"Yes, of course," Miss Maine answered.
He fastened the rope about the girl, assured her they would let her down safely, and between them they persuaded her, shrinkingly, to let herself be swung over, and lowered to the ground. In this Miss Maine gave more help than young Pritchard, who shook and chattered so much as to be of little use. And as soon as the girl was down and Windham turned toward Miss Maine, Pritchard took a turn of the rope around the railing, with a hasty knot, went over, and slid down it, out of sight. But before he reached the ground, the rope broke loose, and slipped out of Windham's grasp as he tried to catch it.
A cry came up from below. Windham turned toward Miss Maine, and they looked at one another, but said nothing. She was very pale and still. Windham glanced down and around; the fire was already following them up the tower. He made her come to the other side, where the balcony overhung the ridge of the sloping roof, got over the railing, and helped her to do the same, and to seat herself on the narrow ledge outside, holding on by the bars with her arms behind her. He let himself down by his hands till within two or three feet of the roof, and dropped safely upon it. Then he stood up, facing her just below, braced himself with one foot on each side of the ridge, and told her to loosen her hold and let herself fall forward. She did so, and he caught her in his arms as she fell.
It was a struggle for a minute to keep his balance; and whether in the involuntary stress of the effort, or by an instinctive impulse, conscious or otherwise, he clasped her close for a moment, till her face touched his own. Then he put her down, and they sat on the ridge near each other, flushed, and short of breath. Below, on the lawn, a throng of people looked up at them, some motionless, some gesticulating, and some shouting in dumb show, their voices drowned in the fierce roar and crackling that raged beneath the roof and shut in the two above it in a kind of visible privacy. They were still a while; then Agnes asked: "Can we do anything more?"
"No," he answered, "nothing but wait."
Both saw that men were running for ladders and ropes. Presently he asked quietly:
"Why did you come to me?"
She looked up at him for a moment, then answered:
"I suppose I thought you would know what to do."
"Thank you," he said, in a grave, low voice.
After a little the tower blazed out above them, and they moved along the ridge till stopped by a chimney, against which he made her lean. Then they sat still again. The flames rose above the eaves on one side, and flared higher and hotter. Soon they grew scorching, and Agnes said, with quickened breathing:
"We couldn't stay here long."
He looked at her, and the side of her face toward the fire glowed bright red. He took off his coat, moved close to her, and held it up between their faces and the flames; and they sat together so, breathing audibly, but not speaking, till the head of a ladder rose suddenly above the eaves, and a minute later the head and shoulders of Jeffrey Coleman. He flung a rope to Windham, who in another minute had let Miss Maine slip down by it to the ladder; then, throwing a noose of it over the chimney, he slid down himself to the eaves, and so to the ground.
Miss Maine stood waiting for him, pale and trembling now, but said nothing. Mary Mandison was with her; she had made no scene, and made none now.
But there were sharper eyes than Mary's. That night, as Windham strolled on the lawn alone, Dr. Saxon confronted him, grimly puffing at his pipe. Then he said:
"I thought you were an honest fellow."
Windham leaned against a tree.
"I want to be," he said feebly.
"Then you'll have to look sharp," the doctor retorted. "You'd better go fishing with me up-country in the morning."
He went, Mary making him promise to return in time for an excursion to Blackberry Island which he had helped her plan. He got back the night before; and in the morning the party set out, some going round the shore by stage, and some in the boat down the bay.
Miss Maine went with those in the boat, and Windham went with Mary in the stage. Both on the way and after their arrival, he stayed by her, and did all he could to be useful and amusing.
They lunched on a grassy bank, in the shade of a cliff, by a tumbling brook that streamed down from the rocks. By and by Mary remarked that she would like to see where the little torrent came from, and Windham said he would try and find out for her. He scrambled up, and soon passed out of sight among the bowlders. He found some tough climbing, but kept on, and after a while traced the stream to a clear pool where a spring bubbled out of a rock wall in a cave-like chamber near the top.
As he reached its edge, he caught sight of the reflection in the pool of a woman's white dress; and, glancing up, saw Agnes Maine standing a little above him, on a sort of natural pedestal, in a rude niche at one side. She looked so like a statue that she smiled slightly at the confused thought of it which she saw for an instant in his face, but she turned grave then as their eyes met for a moment in a look of intimate recognition. Then he turned his away, with a sudden terror at himself, and leaned back against the wall, white in the face.
She stepped down and passed by him. He half put out his hand to stop her, but drew it back, and she partly turned at the gesture, but went on out of his sight.
He stood there for some time; then climbed down the rocks again, shaping his features into a careless form as he went, and came back to Mary with a forced smile on his face. But he forgot what he had gone for, and looked confused when Mary asked him if he had found it. And she commented:
"Why, Philip, what has happened? You look as if you had seen a ghost."
"I have," he answered.
Mary asked no more, except by her look. Some one came and proposed a sail, and Windham eagerly agreed, and went out in the boat with Mary and others.
They sailed down the bay. On the return the wind died away, and when they got back, the stage had gone with more than half the party, and Agnes Maine was not among those who were waiting. They came on board, and the boat headed away for home.
After landing they had to walk across some fields. When near the house, Mary missed something, and Windham went back for it. He had to cross the road, and as he came near it the stage passed along, with its merry company laughing and singing. They did not notice him among the trees, but he distinctly saw all who were in the open vehicle, and Miss Maine was not among them.
She had climbed up the cliff by a gradual, roundabout path; and after Windham saw her, she had wandered on, lost herself for a while, and got back after both stage and boat had left, each party supposing she had gone with the other.
Windham found a row-boat and started back. He knew nothing about boats; but the bay was very smooth, it was yet early, and he got across in due time. As he neared the island he saw her, in her white dress, standing on the bluff, and looking out toward him.
Off the shore, rocks and bowlders stood thickly out of the water, and Windham threaded his way in among them, thinking nothing of those underneath. The skiff was little better than an egg-shell, being built of half-inch cedar; and before he knew what had happened, the point of a sunken rock had cut through the bows, and the boat was filling with water. With a landsman's instinct, he stood up on a thwart; the boat tipped over and went from under him. In the effort to right it, he made a thrust downward with one of the oars, but found no bottom; and the next minute Agnes saw him clinging to the side of a steep rock, with only his head and shoulders out of water.
She did not cry out; but after he had struggled vainly to get up the rock, and found no other support for foot or hand than the one projection just above him, by which he held, he looked toward her as he clung there out of breath, and saw her eagerly watching him from the water's edge. And her voice showed the stress of her feeling, though it was quite clear when she called:
"Can't you climb up?"
"No, there is nothing to hold by."
"Can you swim?"
She looked all about, then back to him. There was no one in sight; the island was out of the lines of communication, and a point just north of them shut off the open water. But she saw that the reef to which Windham clung trended in to the shore a little way off, and she called:
"I think I can get out to you—keep hold till I come."
She ran along the beach, but not all the way. As soon as she was opposite a part of the reef that seemed accessible, she walked straight into the water, and made her way through it, though it was two or three feet deep near the rocks. He saw her clamber upon them and start toward him, springing from one to another, wading across submerged places, climbing around or over the higher points. And even there, in his desperate plight, as he watched her coming steadily toward him, her eyes fixed on the difficult path, and her skirt instinctively gathered a little in one hand, the sight of her fearless grace thrilled through him, and filled him with despairing admiration.
She came presently to the edge of a wider gap with clear water beneath, and paused for an instant. Windham called out:
"Don't jump; you'll be lost!"
She looked at him a moment, studied the rocks again, stepped back, then forward quickly, and sprang across. She slipped and fell, but got to her feet again, and came on as before. She went out of Windham's sight, but in another minute he heard a rustle above him, looked up, and saw her standing very near the edge, and looking down at him, panting a little, but otherwise calm.
"Don't stand there; you will fall!" he called to her.
She kneeled down and tried to reach over, but could not. She raised herself again, and looked all around anxiously, but saw no one; she had not seen any one since she left him hours before on the cliff. She looked down at him and asked:
"Can you hold on long?"
"No," he answered, "not very long."
She moved back and lay down on the rock, with her face over the edge. It was wet and slippery, and inclined forward, so that she had to brace herself with one hand by a projection just below the brink. Lying so, she could reach down very near him.
"Take hold of my hand," she said.
He raised one arm with an effort, so that she caught him by the wrist, and his fingers closed about hers. She tried to pull him up slowly, but he felt that it was hopeless, and would only result in drawing her off the rock; so he settled back as before. He noticed that she had given him her left hand, and saw that there was another reason besides the necessity of bracing herself with her right. Her wrist was cut and bleeding.
"Oh, you are hurt!" he exclaimed.
"Never mind," she replied; "that is nothing."
He looked up in her face with passionate regret. Her lips were parted, and her breathing came quick and deep. He felt in her wrist the hot blood with which all her pulses throbbed, and it went through him as though one current flowed in their veins. Her eyes looked full into his, and did not turn away till the lashes trembled over them suddenly, and tears gushed out upon her face. An agony of yearning took hold of Windham and wrung his heart.
"Agnes, do you know?" he asked.
And she answered, "Yes."
When she could see him again, drops stood out on his forehead, and his eyes looked up at her with a despairing tenderness. Her lips closed, and her features settled into a look of answering resolve.
"You must not give up," she urged. "Don't let go of my hand."
"Oh, I must!" he answered. "You couldn't hold me; I should only draw you down."
She neither looked away nor made any reply.
"It would do no good," he went on. "I should only drown you too."
"I don't care," she answered. "I will not let you go."
"Oh, Agnes!" he responded, the faintness of exhaustion creeping over him, and mingling with a sharp but sweet despair.
Mary was standing at the door when the stage arrived, and she saw that Agnes was not there. She took one of her brothers who was a good boatman, and started back at once. When their boat rounded the point of the island she was on the lookout, and was the first to see the two they came to succor none too soon. And before they saw her she caught sight, with terrible clearness, of the look in the two faces that were bent upon one another. It was she who supported Windham until Agnes could be taken off, and preparations made for getting him on board; but she turned her eyes away, and did not speak to him.
On the way back she hardly noticed the dreary and draggled pair, who had little to say for themselves. Many things that had puzzled and troubled her ranged themselves in a dreadful sequence and order now in her unsuspicious mind. On their arrival she made some arrangements for their comfort, quietly; then went to her room, and did not come down again.
Windham left early in the morning, went straight back to Dr. Saxon, and told him the whole story.
"I hardly know whether I'm a villain or not," Windham concluded.
"You might as well be," the doctor growled. "You've been a consummate fool, and one does about as much harm as the other. Go home now and stay there; and don't do anything more, for heaven's sake, until you hear from me."
Windham went home, and was very miserable, as may be supposed. Hearing nothing for some time, he could not bear it, and wrote to Mary that he honored and admired her, and thought everything of her that he ever had or could. In a week he got this reply:
"Mary Mandison has received Philip Windham's letter, and can only reply that there is nothing to be said."
This stung him more deeply than silence, and he wrote that he was going to see her on a certain day, and begged her not to deny him. He went at the time, and she saw him, simply sitting still, and hearing what he had to say. He hardly knew what to say then, but vowed and protested, and finally complained of her coldness and cruelty. She replied that she was not cold or cruel, but only, as she had told him, there was nothing to be said. In the end he found this was true, and rushed away in despair.
Mary had seemed calm; but when her mother came in that afternoon and looked for her, she found her in her room, lying on her face.
When she knew who it was, she raised herself silently, looked in her mother's face a moment, put her arms about her neck, and hid her hot, dry eyes there as she used to do when a child.
Late that night those two were alone together in the same place, and, before they parted, the mother said:
"You were always my brave child, and you are going to be my brave Mary still."
And Mary answered with a low cry:
"Yes—yes; but not now—not now!"
For a good while Windham felt the sensation of having run headlong upon a blank wall and been flung back and crippled. But the feeling wore itself out as the months passed.
It was nearly a year before he heard from Dr. Saxon, and he had given up looking for anything from him, when he received a cold note, inviting him to call at the doctor's home, if he chose, at a certain date and hour. At the time set he went to the city, and rang the doctor's bell as the hour was striking.
He was shown into the library, and when the door closed behind him, he fell back against it. Dr. Saxon was not the only person in the room; at the farther end sat Agnes Maine. She knew nothing of his coming; and when she glanced round and saw him, she stood up and faced him, with her hands crossed before her, her breathing quickened, and her face flushed blood-red.
The old doctor leaned back and looked from one to the other, studying them openly and keenly. When he was satisfied, he ordered Windham to take a chair near the window and told Agnes she might go out. She faced him a moment; then went away with her straight, proud carriage. The doctor finished something he was at, then got his pipe and filled and lighted it, backed up against the chimney-piece, and stood eying Windham with something more than his usual scowl.
"Well, young man," he asked, finally, "what did you come here for?"
"I came here because you asked me to."
"No, sir; you didn't," the old man retorted. "I said you might come if you liked."
Windham stood up, trembling, and replied with suppressed passion:
"I came on your invitation. I did not come to be insulted."
"Tut, tut," the doctor rejoined. "You needn't be so hoity-toity; you haven't much occasion; sit down. Have you been making any more of your 'mistakes,' as you call them?"
Windham answered emphatically: "No!"
"Are you going to?" the doctor continued.
"No, sir; I am not," Windham replied, with angry decision.
"Well, I wouldn't; you've done enough," the doctor commented roughly. "You call it a mistake, but I call it blind stupidity, worse than many crimes. Mary is worth three of Agnes, to begin with; but it would be just as bad if she were a doll or a dolt. Any fellow out of swaddling-clothes, who has brains in his body, and isn't made of wood, ought to know that passion is as hard a fact as hunger, and no more to be left out of account. You were bound to know the chances were that it would have to be reckoned with, first or last, and you deliberately took the risk of wrecking two women's lives. I don't say anything about your own; you richly deserve all you got, and all that's coming to you. If law could be made to conform to abstract justice, it would rank your offence worse than many for which men pay behind bars."
He went out abruptly, and after a few minutes returned with Agnes, who came in lingering, and apparently unwilling.
"Here, Agnes, I am going out," he said. "I've been giving this young man my opinion of him, and haven't any more time to waste. You can tell him what you think of him, and send him off."
He went out, and banged the door after him. Agnes leaned against it, and stood there downcast and perfectly still. Windham sat sunk together, as the doctor had left him, waiting for her to speak. But she did not, and after a while he got up and stood by the high desk, looking at her. Finally he spoke low:
"Are you going to scold me, too? Mary has discarded me, and your uncle says I am a miserable sinner, and ought to be in the penitentiary. I don't deny it; but if I went there it would be for your sake. Do you condemn me, too? Have you no mercy for me?"
A flush spread slowly over her pale face. Then she replied softly:
"No, I have no right. I am no better than you."
Two or three hours later Dr. Saxon sat at his desk, when Agnes entered and came silently and stood beside him. He did not look up, but asked quietly:
"Well, have you packed him off?"
"No," she answered under her breath; "you know I haven't."
He smiled up at her. This gruff old man had a rare smile on occasion for those he liked. And he said:
"Well, he isn't the worst they make; he's got spirit, and he can take a drubbing, too, when it's deserved. I tried him pretty well. Didn't I fire into him, though, hot shot!" He fairly grinned at the recollection. "I had to, you know, to keep myself in countenance. I suppose I said rather more than I meant—but don't you tell him so."
She smiled. "I have told him so already; I told him you didn't mean a word you said."
"You presumptuous baggage!" The doctor scowled now. "Then you told him a tremendous fib. I meant a deal of it. Well, he'll get his deserts yet, if he gets you, you deceiving minx. I told him one thing that was true enough, anyway"—he smiled broadly again—"I told him Mary was worth half a dozen of you."
Agnes turned grave, and put down her head so that she hid her face.
"So she is," she answered. "Oh, I'm very sorry—and ashamed!"
"Well, well," the old doctor responded soberly, stroking her cheek, "it is a pity; but I suppose it can't be helped. Mary's made of good stuff, and will pull through. It wouldn't do her any good if three lives were spoiled instead of one. It's lucky she found out before it was too late."
THE LIFE OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN.
BY IDA M. TARBELL.
LINCOLN IN CONGRESS
The following article is made up almost entirely of new matter. It includes six hitherto unpublished letters, all of them of importance in illustrating Lincoln's political methods and his views on public questions from 1843 to 1848, and an excellent report of a speech delivered in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1848, hitherto unknown to Lincoln's biographers, discovered in course of a search instituted by this Magazine through the files of the Boston and Worcester newspapers of September, 1848. The article also comprises various reminiscences of Lincoln in the period covered, gathered especially for this Magazine from associates of his who are still living.
For eight successive years Lincoln had been a member of the General Assembly of Illinois. It was quite long enough, in his judgment. He wanted something better. In 1842 he declined re-nomination, and became a candidate for Congress. He did not wait to be asked, nor did he leave his case in the hands of his friends. He frankly announced his desire, and managed his own canvass. There was no reason, in Lincoln's opinion, for concealing political ambition. He recognized, at the same time, the legitimacy of the ambition of his friends, and entertained no suspicion or rancor if they contested places with him.
"Do you suppose that I should ever have got into notice if I had waited to be hunted up and pushed forward by older men?" he wrote his friend Herndon once, when the latter was complaining that the older men did not help him on. "The way for a young man to rise is to improve himself every way he can, never suspecting that anybody wishes to hinder him. Allow me to assure you that suspicion and jealousy never did help any man in any situation. There may sometimes be ungenerous attempts to keep a young man down; and they will succeed, too, if he allows his mind to be diverted from its true channel to brood over the attempted injury. Cast about, and see if this feeling has not injured every person you have ever known to fall into it."
Lincoln had something more to do, however, in 1842, than simply to announce himself in the innocent manner of earlier politics. The convention system introduced into Illinois in 1835 by the Democrats had been zealously opposed by all good Whigs, Lincoln included, until constant defeat taught them that to resist organization by an every-man-for-himself policy was hopeless and wasteful, and that if they would succeed they must meet organization with organization. In 1841 a Whig State convention had been called to nominate candidates for the offices of governor and lieutenant-governor; and now, in March, 1843, a Whig meeting was held again at Springfield, at which the party's platform was laid, and a committee, of which Lincoln was a member, was appointed to prepare an "Address to the People of Illinois." In this address the convention system was earnestly defended. Against this rapid adoption of the abominated system many of the Whigs protested, and Lincoln found himself supporting before his constituents the tactics he had once warmly opposed. In a letter to his friend John Bennett of Petersburg, written in March, 1843, and now for the first time published, he said:
[Footnote 1: The term "unpublished" is employed in this series of articles to cover documents that have never been published in any authoritative or permanent way. Most of the documents so designated have never, so far as we know, been published at all; but a few have been printed in local newspapers, though so long ago, and under such circumstances, as to be practically unpublished now.]
"Your letter of this day was handed me by Mr. Miles. It is too late now to effect the object you desire. On yesterday morning the most of the Whig members from this district got together and agreed to hold the convention at Tremont, in Tazewell County. I am sorry to hear that any of the Whigs of your county, or of any county, should longer be against conventions.
"On last Wednesday evening a meeting of all the Whigs then here from all parts of the State was held, and the question of the propriety of conventions was brought up and fully discussed, and at the end of the discussion a resolution recommending the system of conventions to all the Whigs of the State was unanimously adopted. Other resolutions also were passed, all of which will appear in the next 'Journal.' The meeting also appointed a committee to draft an address to the people of the State, which address will also appear in the next 'Journal.' In it you will find a brief argument in favor of conventions, and, although I wrote it myself, I will say to you that it is conclusive upon the point, and cannot be reasonably answered.
"The right way for you to do is to hold your meeting and appoint delegates anyhow, and if there be any who will not take part, let it be so.
"The matter will work so well this time that even they who now oppose will come in next time. The convention is to be held at Tremont on the fifth of April; and, according to the rule we have adopted, your county is to have two delegates—being double the number of your representation.
"If there be any good Whig who is disposed still to stick out against conventions, get him, at least, to read the argument in their favor in the 'Address.'"
[Footnote 2: The original of this letter is owned by E.R. Oeltjen of Petersburg, Illinois.]
The "brief argument" which Lincoln thought so conclusive, "if he did write it himself," justified his good opinion. After its circulation there were few found to "stick out against conventions." The Whigs of the various counties in the Congressional district met as they had been ordered to do, and chose delegates. John J. Hardin of Jacksonville, Edward D. Baker and Abraham Lincoln of Springfield, were the three candidates for whom these delegates were instructed.