PRUE AND I.
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.
"Knitters in the sun." Twelfth Night.
A WORD TO THE GENTLE READER.
An old book-keeper, who wears a white cravat and black trowsers in the morning, who rarely goes to the opera, and never dines out, is clearly a person of no fashion and of no superior sources of information. His only journey is from his house to his office; his only satisfaction is in doing his duty; his only happiness is in his Prue and his children.
What romance can such a life have? What stories can such a man tell?
Yet I think, sometimes, when I look up from the parquet at the opera, and see Aurelia smiling in the boxes, and holding her court of love, and youth, and beauty, that the historians have not told of a fairer queen, nor the travellers seen devouter homage. And when I rememember that it was in misty England that quaint old George Herbert Sang of the—
"Sweet day so cool, so calm, so bright— The bridal of the earth and sky,"
I am sure that I see days as lovely in our clearer air, and do not believe that Italian sunsets have a more gorgeous purple or a softer gold.
So, as the circle of my little life revolves, I console myself with believing, what I cannot help believing, that a man need not be a vagabond to enjoy the sweetest charm of travel, but that all countries and all times repeat themselves in his experience. This is an old philosophy, I am told, and much favored by those who have travelled; and I cannot but be glad that my faith has such a fine name and such competent witnesses. I am assured, however, upon the other hand, that such a faith is only imagination. But, if that be true, imagination is as good as many voyages—and how much cheaper!—a consideration which an old book-keeper can never afford to forget.
I have not found, in my experience, that travellers always bring back with them the sunshine of Italy or the elegance of Greece. They tell us that there are such things, and that they have seen them; but, perhaps, they saw them, as the apples in the garden of the Hesperides were sometimes seen—over the wall. I prefer the fruit which I can buy in the market to that which a man tells me he saw in Sicily, but of which there is no flavor in his story. Others, like Moses Primrose, bring us a gross of such spectacles as we prefer not to see; so that I begin to suspect a man must have Italy and Greece in his heart and mind, if he would ever see them with his eyes.
I know that this may be only a device of that compassionate imagination designed to comfort me, who shall never take but one other journey than my daily beat. Yet there have been wise men who taught that all scenes are but pictures upon the mind; and if I can see them as I walk the street that leads to my office, or sit at the office-window looking into the court, or take a little trip down the bay or up the river, why are not my pictures as pleasant and as profitable as those which men travel for years, at great cost of time, and trouble, and money, to behold?
For my part, I do not believe that any man can see softer skies than I see in Prue's eyes; nor hear sweeter music than I hear in Prue's voice; nor find a more heaven-lighted temple than I know Prue's mind to be. And when I wish to please myself with a lovely image of peace and contentment, I do not think of the plain of Sharon, nor of the valley of Enna, nor of Arcadia, nor of Claude's pictures; but, feeling that the fairest fortune of my life is the right to be named with her, I whisper gently, to myself, with a smile—for it seems as if my very heart smiled within me, when I think of her—"Prue and I."
I. DINNER-TIME II. MY CHATEAUX III. SEA FROM SHORE IV. TITBOTTOM'S SPECTACLES V. A CRUISE IN THE FLYING DUTCHMAN VI. FAMILY PORTRAITS VII. OUR COUSIN THE CURATE
"Within this hour it will be dinner-time; I'll view the manners of the town, Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings." Comedy of Errors.
In the warm afternoons of the early summer, it is my pleasure to stroll about Washington Square and along the Fifth Avenue, at the hour when the diners-out are hurrying to the tables of the wealthy and refined. I gaze with placid delight upon the cheerful expanse of white waistcoat that illumes those streets at that hour, and mark the variety of emotions that swell beneath all that purity. A man going out to dine has a singular cheerfulness of aspect. Except for his gloves, which fit so well, and which he has carefully buttoned, that he may not make an awkward pause in the hall of his friend's house, I am sure he would search his pocket for a cent to give the wan beggar at the corner. It is impossible just now, my dear woman; but God bless you!
It is pleasant to consider that simple suit of black. If my man be young and only lately cognizant of the rigors of the social law, he is a little nervous at being seen in his dress suit—body coat and black trowsers—before sunset. For in the last days of May the light lingers long over the freshly leaved trees in the Square, and lies warm along the Avenue. All winter the sun has not been permitted to see dress-coats. They come out only with the stars, and fade with ghosts, before the dawn. Except, haply, they be brought homeward before breakfast in an early twilight of hackney-coach. Now, in the budding and bursting summer, the sun takes his revenge, and looks aslant over the tree-tops and the chimneys upon the most unimpeachable garments. A cat may look upon a king.
I know my man at a distance. If I am chatting with the nursery maids around the fountain, I see him upon the broad walk of Washington Square, and detect him by the freshness of his movement his springy gait. Then the white waistcoat flashes in the sun.
"Go on, happy youth," I exclaim aloud, to the great alarm of the nursery maids, who suppose me to be an innocent insane person suffered to go at large, unattended,—"go on, and be happy with fellow waistcoats over fragrant wines."
It is hard to describe the pleasure in this amiable spectacle of a man going out to dine. I, who am a quiet family man, and take a quiet family cut at four o'clock; or, when I am detained down town by a false quantity in my figures, who run into Delmonico's and seek comfort in a cutlet, am rarely invited to dinner and have few white waistcoats. Indeed, my dear Prue tells me that I have but one in the world, and I often want to confront my eager young friends as they bound along, and ask abruptly, "What do you think of a man whom one white waistcoat suffices?"
By the time I have eaten my modest repast, it is the hour for the diners-out to appear. If the day is unusually soft and sunny, I hurry my simple meal a little, that I may not lose any of my favorite spectacle. Then I saunter out. If you met me you would see that I am also clad in black. But black is my natural color, so that it begets no false theories concerning my intentions. Nobody, meeting me in full black, supposes that I am going to dine out. That sombre hue is professional with me. It belongs to book-keepers as to clergymen, physicians, and undertakers. We wear it because we follow solemn callings. Saving men's bodies and souls, or keeping the machinery of business well wound, are such sad professions that it is becoming to drape dolefully those who adopt them.
I wear a white cravat, too, but nobody supposes that it is in any danger of being stained by Lafitte. It is a limp cravat with a craven tie. It has none of the dazzling dash of the white that my young friends sport, or, I should say, sported; for the white cravat is now abandoned to the sombre professions of which I spoke. My young friends suspect that the flunkeys of the British nobleman wear such ties, and they have, therefore, discarded them. I am sorry to remark, also, an uneasiness, if not downright skepticism, about the white waistcoat. Will it extend to shirts, I ask myself with sorrow.
But there is something pleasanter to contemplate during these quiet strolls of mine, than the men who are going to dine out, and that is, the women. They roll in carriages to the happy houses which they shall honor, and I strain my eyes in at the carriage window to see their cheerful faces as they pass. I have already dined; upon beef and cabbage, probably, if it is boiled day. I I am not expected at the table to which Aurelia is hastening, yet no guest there shall enjoy more than I enjoy,—nor so much, if he considers the meats the best part of the dinner. The beauty of the beautiful Aurelia I see and worship as she drives by. The vision of many beautiful Aurelias driving to dinner, is the mirage of that pleasant journey of mine along the avenue. I do not envy the Persian poets, on those afternoons, nor long to be an Arabian traveller. For I can walk that street, finer than any of which the Ispahan architects dreamed; and I can see sultanas as splendid as the enthusiastic and exaggerating Orientals describe.
But not only do I see and enjoy Aurelia's beauty I delight in her exquisite attire. In these warm days she does not wear so much as the lightest shawl. She is clad only in spring sunshine. It glitters in the soft darkness of her hair. It touches the diamonds, the opals, the pearls, that cling to her arms, and neck, and fingers. They flash back again, and the gorgeous silks glisten, and the light laces flutter, until the stately Aurelia seems to me, in tremulous radiance, swimming by.
I doubt whether you who are to have the inexpressible pleasure of dining with her, and even of sitting by her side, will enjoy more than I. For my pleasure is inexpressible, also. And it is in this greater than yours, that I see all the beautiful ones who are to dine at various tables, while you only see your own circle, although that, I will not deny, is the most desirable of all.
Beside, although my person is not present at your dinner, my fancy is. I see Aurelia's carriage stop, and behold white-gloved servants opening wide doors. There is a brief glimpse of magnificence for the dull eyes of the loiterers outside; then the door closes. But my fancy went in with Aurelia. With her, it looks at the vast mirror, and surveys her form at length in the Psyche-glass. It gives the final shake to the skirt, the last flirt to the embroidered handkerchief, carefully held, and adjusts the bouquet, complete as a tropic nestling in orange leaves. It descends with her, and marks the faint blush upon her cheek at the thought of her exceeding beauty; the consciousness of the most beautiful woman, that the most beautiful woman is entering the room. There is the momentary hush, the subdued greeting, the quick glance of the Aurelias who have arrived earlier, and who perceive in a moment the hopeless perfection of that attire; the courtly gaze of gentlemen, who feel the serenity of that beauty. All this my fancy surveys; my fancy, Aurelia's invisible cavalier.
You approach with hat in hand and the thumb of your left hand in your waistcoat pocket. You are polished and cool, and have an irreproachable repose of manner. There are no improper wrinkles in your cravat; your shirt-bosom does not bulge; the trowsers are accurate about your admirable boot. But you look very stiff and brittle. You are a little bullied by your unexceptionable shirt-collar, which interdicts perfect freedom of movement in your head. You are elegant, undoubtedly, but it seems as if you might break and fall to pieces, like a porcelain vase, if you were roughly shaken.
Now, here, I have the advantage of you. My fancy quietly surveying the scene, is subject to none of these embarrassments. My fancy will not utter commonplaces. That will not say to the superb lady, who stands with her flowers, incarnate May, "What a beautiful day, Miss Aurelia." That will not feel constrained to say something, when it has nothing to say; nor will it be obliged to smother all the pleasant things that occur, because they would be too flattering to express. My fancy perpetually murmurs in Aurelia's ear, "Those flowers would not be fair in your hand, if you yourself were not fairer. That diamond necklace would be gaudy, if your eyes were not brighter. That queenly movement would be awkward, if your soul were not queenlier."
You could not say such things to Aurelia, although, if you are worthy to dine at her side, they are the very things you are longing to say. What insufferable stuff you are talking about the weather, and the opera, and Alboni's delicious voice, and Newport, and Saratoga! They are all very pleasant subjects, but do you suppose Ixion talked Thessalian politics when he was admitted to dine with Juno?
I almost begin to pity you, and to believe that a scarcity of white waistcoats is true wisdom. For now dinner is announced, and you, O rare felicity, are to hand down Aurelia. But you run the risk of tumbling her expansive skirt, and you have to drop your hat upon a chance chair, and wonder, en passant who will wear it home, which is annoying. My fancy runs no such risk; is not at all solicitous about its hat, and glides by the side of Aurelia, stately as she. There! you stumble on the stair, and are vexed at your own awkwardness, and are sure you saw the ghost of a smile glimmer along that superb face at your side. My fancy doesn't tumble down stairs, and what kind of looks it sees upon Aurelia's face, are its own secret.
Is it any better, now you are seated at table? Your companion eats little because she wishes little. You eat little because you think it is elegant to do so. It is a shabby, second-hand elegance, like your brittle behavior. It is just as foolish for you to play with the meats, when you ought to satisfy your healthy appetite generously, as it is for you, in the drawing-room, to affect that cool indifference when you have real and noble interests.
I grant you that fine manners, if you please, are a fine art. But is not monotony the destruction of art? Your manners, O happy Ixion, banqueting with Juno, are Egyptian. They have no perspective, no variety. They have no color, no shading. They are all on a dead level; they are flat. Now, for you are a man of sense, you are conscious that those wonderful eyes of Aurelia see straight through all this net-work of elegant manners in which you have entangled yourself, and that consciousness is uncomfortable to you. It is another trick in the game for me, because those eyes do not pry into my fancy. How can they, since Aurelia does not know of my existence?
Unless, indeed, she should remember the first time I saw her. It was only last year, in May. I had dined, somewhat hastily, in consideration of the fine day, and of my confidence that many would be wending dinnerwards that afternoon. I saw my Prue comfortably engaged in seating the trowsers of Adoniram, our eldest boy—an economical care to which my darling Prue is not unequal, even in these days and in this town—and then hurried toward the avenue. It is never much thronged at that hour. The moment is sacred to dinner. As I paused at the corner of Twelfth Street, by the church, you remember, I saw an apple-woman, from whose stores I determined to finish my dessert, which had been imperfect at home. But, mindful of meritorious and economical Prue, I was not the man to pay exorbitant prices for apples, and while still haggling with the wrinkled Eve who had tempted me, I became suddenly aware of a carriage approaching, and, indeed, already close by. I raised my eyes, still munching an apple which I held in one hand, while the other grasped my walking-stick (true to my instincts of dinner guests, as young women to a passing wedding or old ones to a funeral), and beheld Aurelia!
Old in this kind of observation as I am, there was something so graciously alluring in the look that she cast upon me, as unconsciously, indeed, as she would have cast it upon the church, that, fumbling hastily for my spectacles to enjoy the boon more fully, I thoughtlessly advanced upon the apple-stand, and, in some indescribable manner, tripping, down we all fell into the street, old woman, apples, baskets, stand, and I, in promiscuous confusion. As I struggled there, somewhat bewildered, yet sufficiently self-possessed to look after the carriage, I beheld that beautiful woman looking at us through the back-window (you could not have done it; the integrity of your shirt-collar would have interfered,) and smiling pleasantly, so that her going around the corner was like a gentle sunset, so seemed she to disappear in her own smiling; or—if you choose, in view of the apple difficulties—like a rainbow after a storm.
If the beautiful Aurelia recalls that event, she may know of my existence; not otherwise. And even then she knows me only as a funny old gentleman, who, in his eagerness to look at her, tumbled over an apple-woman.
My fancy from that moment followed her. How grateful I was to the wrinkled Eve's extortion, and to the untoward tumble, since it procured me the sight of that smile. I took my sweet revenge from that. For I knew that the beautiful Aurelia entered the house of her host with beaming eyes, and my fancy heard her sparkling story. You consider yourself happy because you are sitting by her and helping her to a lady-finger, or a macaroon, for which she smiles. But I was her theme for ten mortal minutes. She was my bard, my blithe historian. She was the Homer of my luckless Trojan fall. She set my mishap to music, in telling it. Think what it is to have inspired Urania; to have called a brighter beam into the eyes of Miranda, and do not think so much of passing Aurelia the mottoes, my dear young friend.
There was the advantage of not going to that dinner. Had I been invited, as you were, I should have pestered Prue about the buttons on my white waistcoat, instead of leaving her placidly piecing adolescent trowsers. She would have been flustered, fearful of being too late, of tumbling the garment, of soiling it, fearful of offending me in some way, (admirable woman!) I, in my natural impatience, might have let drop a thoughtless word, which would have been a pang in her heart and a tear in her eye, for weeks afterward.
As I walked nervously up the avenue (for I am unaccustomed to prandial recreations), I should not have had that solacing image of quiet Prue, and the trowsers, as the back-ground in the pictures of the gay figures I passed, making each, by contrast, fairer. I should have been wondering what to say and do at the dinner. I should surely have been very warm, and yet not have enjoyed the rich, waning sunlight. Need I tell you that I should not have stopped for apples, but instead of economically tumbling into the street with apples and apple-women, whereby I merely rent my trowsers across the knee, in a manner that Prue can readily, and at little cost, repair. I should, beyond peradventure, have split a new dollar-pair of gloves in the effort of straining my large hands into them, which would, also, have caused me additional redness in the face, and renewed fluttering.
Above all, I should not have seen Aurelia passing in her carriage, nor would she have smiled at me, nor charmed my memory with her radiance, nor the circle at dinner with the sparkling Iliad of my woes. Then at the table, I should not have sat by her. You would have had that pleasure; I should have led out the maiden aunt from the country, and have talked poultry, when I talked at all. Aurelia would not have remarked me. Afterward, in describing the dinner to her virtuous parents, she would have concluded, "and one old gentleman, whom I didn't know."
No, my polished friend, whose elegant repose of manner I yet greatly commend, I am content, if you are. How much better it was that I was not invited to that dinner, but was permitted, by a kind fate, to furnish a subject for Aurelia's wit.
There is one other advantage in sending your fancy to dinner, instead of going yourself. It is, that then the occasion remains wholly fair in your memory. You, who devote yourself to dining out, and who are to be daily seen affably sitting down to such feasts, as I know mainly by hearsay—by the report of waiters, guests, and others who were present—you cannot escape the little things that spoil the picture, and which the fancy does not see.
For instance, in handing you the potage a la Bisque, at the very commencement of this dinner to-day, John, the waiter, who never did such a thing before, did this time suffer the plate to tip, so that a little of that rare soup dripped into your lap—just enough to spoil those trowsers, which is nothing to you, because you can buy a great many more trowsers, but which little event is inharmonious with the fine porcelain dinner service, with the fragrant wines, the glittering glass, the beautiful guests, and the mood of mind suggested by all of these. There is, in fact, if you will pardon a free use of the vernacular, there is a grease-spot upon your remembrance of this dinner.
Or, in the same way, and with the same kind of mental result, you can easily imagine the meats a little tough; a suspicion of smoke somewhere in the sauces; too much pepper, perhaps, or too little salt; or there might be the graver dissonance of claret not properly attempered, or a choice Rhenish below the average mark, or the spilling of some of that Arethusa Madeira, marvellous for its innumerable circumnavigations of the globe, and for being as dry as the conversation of the host. These things are not up to the high level of the dinner; for wherever Aurelia dines, all accessories should be as perfect in their kind as she, the principal, is in hers.
That reminds me of a possible dissonance worse than all. Suppose that soup had trickled down the unimaginable berthe of Aurelia's dress (since it might have done so), instead of wasting itself upon your trowsers! Could even the irreproachable elegance of your manners have contemplated, unmoved, a grease-spot upon your remembrance of the peerless Aurelia?
You smile, of course, and remind me that that lady's manners are so perfect that, if she drank poison, she would wipe her mouth after it as gracefully as ever. How much more then, you say, in the case of such a slight contretemps as spotting her dress, would she appear totally unmoved.
So she would, undoubtedly. She would be, and look, as pure as ever; but, my young friend, her dress would not. Once, I dropped a pickled oyster in the lap of my Prue, who wore, on the occasion, her sea-green silk gown. I did not love my Prue the less; but there certainly was a very unhandsome spot upon her dress. And although I know my Prue to be spotless, yet, whenever I recall that day, I see her in a spotted gown, and I would prefer never to have been obliged to think of her in such a garment.
Can you not make the application to the case, very likely to happen, of some disfigurement of that exquisite toilette of Aurelia's? In going down stairs, for instance, why should not heavy old Mr Carbuncle, who is coming close behind with Mrs. Peony, both very eager for dinner, tread upon the hem of that garment which my lips would grow pale to kiss? The august Aurelia, yielding to natural laws, would be drawn suddenly backward—a very undignified movement—and the dress would be dilapidated. There would be apologies, and smiles, and forgiveness, and pinning up the pieces, nor would there be the faintest feeling of awkwardness or vexation in Aurelia's mind. But to you, looking on, and, beneath all that pure show of waistcoat, cursing old Carbuncle's carelessness, this tearing of dresses and repair of the toilette is by no means a poetic and cheerful spectacle. Nay, the very impatience that it produces in your mind jars upon the harmony of the moment.
You will respond, with proper scorn, that you are not so absurdly fastidious as to heed the little necessary drawbacks of social meetings, and that you have not much regard for "the harmony of the occasion" (which phrase I fear you will repeat in a sneering tone). You will do very right in saying this; and it is a remark to which I shall give all the hospitality of my mind, and I do so because I heartily coincide in it. I hold a man to be very foolish who will not eat a good dinner because the table-cloth is not clean, or who cavils at the spots upon the sun. But still a man who does not apply his eye to a telescope or some kind of prepared medium, does not see those spots, while he has just as much light and heat as he who does.
So it is with me. I walk in the avenue, and eat all the delightful dinners without seeing the spots upon the table-cloth, and behold all the beautiful Aurelias without swearing at old Carbuncle. I am the guest who, for the small price of invisibility, drinks only the best wines, and talks only to the most agreeable people. That is something, I can tell you, for you might be asked to lead out old Mrs. Peony. My fancy slips in between you and Aurelia, sit you never so closely together. It not only hears what she says, but it perceives what she thinks and feels. It lies like a bee in her flowery thoughts, sucking all their honey. If there are unhandsome or unfeeling guests at table, it will not see them. It knows only the good and fair. As I stroll in the fading light and observe the stately houses, my fancy believes the host equal to his house, and the courtesy of his wife more agreeable than her conservatory. It will not believe that the pictures on the wall and the statues in the corners shame the guests. It will not allow that they are less than noble. It hears them speak gently of error, and warmly of worth. It knows that they commend heroism and devotion, and reprobate insincerity. My fancy is convinced that the guests are not only feasted upon the choicest fruits of every land and season, but are refreshed by a consciousness of greater loveliness and grace in human character. Now you, who actually go to the dinner, may not entirely agree with the view my fancy takes of that entertainment. Is it not, therefore, rather your loss? Or, to put it in another way, ought I to envy you the discovery that the guests are shamed by the statues and pictures;—yes, and by the spoons and forks also, if they should chance neither to be so genuine nor so useful as those instruments? And, worse than this, when your fancy wishes to enjoy the picture which mine forms of that feast, it cannot do so, because you have foolishly interpolated the fact between the dinner and your fancy.
Of course, by this time it is late twilight, and the spectacle I enjoyed is almost over. But not quite, for as I return slowly along the streets, the windows are open, and only a thin haze of lace or muslin separates me from the Paradise within.
I see the graceful cluster of girls hovering over the piano, and the quiet groups of the elders in easy chairs, around little tables. I cannot hear what is said, nor plainly see the faces. But some hoyden evening wind, more daring than I, abruptly parts the cloud to look in, and out comes a gush of light, music, and fragrance, so that I shrink away into the dark, that I may not seem, even by chance, to have invaded that privacy.
Suddenly there is singing. It is Aurelia, who does not cope with the Italian Prima Donna, nor sing indifferently to-night, what was sung, superbly last evening at the opera. She has a strange, low, sweet voice, as if she only sang in the twilight. It is the ballad of "Allan Percy" that she sings. There is no dainty applause of kid gloves, when it is ended, but silence follows the singing, like a tear.
Then you, my young friend, ascend into the drawing-room, and, after a little graceful gossip, retire; or you wait, possibly, to hand Aurelia into her carriage, and to arrange a waltz for to-morrow evening. She smiles, you bow, and it is over. But it is not yet over with me. My fancy still follows her, and, like a prophetic dream, rehearses her destiny. For, as the carriage rolls away into the darkness and I return homewards, how can my fancy help rolling away also, into the dim future, watching her go down the years?
Upon my way home I see her in a thousand new situations. My fancy says to me, "The beauty of this beautiful woman is heaven's stamp upon virtue. She will be equal to every chance that shall befall her, and she is so radiant and charming in the circle of prosperity, only because she has that irresistible simplicity and fidelity of character, which can also pluck the sting from adversity. Do you not see, you wan old book-keeper in faded cravat, that in a poor man's house this superb Aurelia would be more stately than sculpture, more beautiful than painting, and more graceful than the famous vases. Would her husband regret the opera if she sang 'Allan Percy' to him in the twilight? Would he not feel richer than the Poets, when his eyes rose from their jewelled pages, to fall again dazzled by the splendor of his wife's beauty?"
At this point in my reflections I sometimes run, rather violently, against a lamp-post, and then proceed along the street more sedately.
It is yet early when I reach home, where my Prue awaits me. The children are asleep, and the trowsers mended. The admirable woman is patient of my idiosyncrasies, and asks me if I have had a pleasant walk, and if there were many fine dinners to-day, as if I had been expected at a dozen tables. She even asks me if I have seen the beautiful Aurelia (for there is always some Aurelia,) and inquires what dress she wore. I respond, and dilate upon what I have seen. Prue listens, as the children listen to her fairy tales. We discuss the little stories that penetrate our retirement, of the great people who actually dine out. Prue, with fine womanly instinct, declares it is a shame that Aurelia should smile for a moment upon ——, yes, even upon you, my friend of the irreproachable manners!
"I know him," says my simple Prue; "I have watched his cold courtesy, his insincere devotion. I have seen him acting in the boxes at the opera, much more adroitly than the singers upon the stage. I have read his determination to marry Aurelia; and I shall not be surprised," concludes my tender wife, sadly, "if he wins her at last, by tiring her out, or, by secluding her by his constant devotion from the homage of other men, convinces her that she had better marry him, since it is so dismal to live on unmarried."
And so, my friend, at the moment when the bouquet you ordered is arriving at Aurelia's house, and she is sitting before the glass while her maid arranges the last flower in her hair, my darling Prue, whom you will never hear of, is shedding warm tears over your probable union, and I am sitting by, adjusting my cravat and incontinently clearing my throat.
It is rather a ridiculous business, I allow; yet you will smile at it tenderly, rather than scornfully, if you remember that it shows how closely linked we human creatures are, without knowing it, and that more hearts than we dream of enjoy our happiness and share our sorrow.
Thus, I dine at great tables uninvited, and, unknown, converse with the famous beauties. If Aurelia is at last engaged, (but who is worthy?) she will, with even greater care, arrange that wondrous toilette, will teach that lace a fall more alluring, those gems a sweeter light. But even then, as she rolls to dinner in her carriage, glad that she is fair, not for her own sake nor for the world's, but for that of a single youth (who, I hope, has not been smoking at the club all the morning), I, sauntering upon the sidewalk, see her pass, I pay homage to her beauty, and her lover can do no more; and if, perchance, my garments—which must seem quaint to her, with their shining knees and carefully brushed elbows; my white cravat, careless, yet prim; my meditative movement, as I put my stick under my arm to pare an apple, and not, I hope, this time to fall into the street,—should remind her, in her spring of youth, and beauty, and love, that there are age, and care, and poverty, also; then, perhaps, the good fortune of the meeting is not wholly mine.
For, O beautiful Aurelia, two of these things, at least, must come even to you. There will be a time when you will no longer go out to dinner, or only very quietly, in the family. I shall be gone then: but other old book-keepers in white cravats will inherit my tastes, and saunter, on summer afternoons, to see what I loved to see.
They will not pause, I fear, in buying apples, to look at the old lady in venerable cap, who is rolling by in the carriage. They will worship another Aurelia. You will not wear diamonds or opals any more, only one pearl upon your blue-veined finger—your engagement ring. Grave clergymen and antiquated beaux will hand you down to dinner, and the group of polished youth, who gather around the yet unborn Aurelia of that day, will look at you, sitting quietly upon the sofa, and say, softly, "She must have been very handsome in her time."
All this must be: for consider how few years since it was your grandmother who was the belle, by whose side the handsome, young men longed to sit and pass expressive mottoes. Your grandmother was the Aurelia of a half-century ago, although you cannot fancy her young. She is indissolubly associated in your mind with caps and dark dresses. You can believe Mary Queen of Scots, or Nell Gwyn or Cleopatra, to have been young and blooming, although they belong to old and dead centuries, but not your grandmother. Think of those who shall believe the same of you—you, who to-day are the very flower of youth.
Might I plead with you, Aurelia—I, who would be too happy to receive one of those graciously beaming bows that I see you bestow upon young men, in passing,—I would ask you to bear that thought with you, always, not to sadden your sunny smile, but to give it a more subtle grace. Wear in your summer garland this little leaf of rue. It will not be the skull at the feast, it will rather be the tender thoughtfulness in the face of the young Madonna.
For the years pass like summer clouds, Aurelia, and the children of yesterday are the wives and mothers of to-day. Even I do sometimes discover the mild eyes of my Prue fixed pensively upon my face, as if searching for the bloom which she remembers there in the days, long ago, when we were young. She will never see it there again, any more than the flowers she held in her hand, in our old spring rambles. Yet the tear that slowly gathers as she gazes, is not grief that the bloom has faded from my cheek, but the sweet consciousness that it can never fade from my heart; and as her eyes fall upon her work again, or the children climb her lap to hear the old fairy tales they already know by heart, my wife Prue is dearer to me than the sweetheart of those days long ago.
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan A stately pleasure-dome decree." Coleridge.
I am the owner of great estates. Many of them lie in the West; but the greater part are in Spain. You may see my western possessions any evening at sunset when their spires and battlements flash against the horizon.
It gives me a feeling of pardonable importance, as a proprietor, that they are visible, to my eyes at least, from any part of the world in which I chance to be. In my long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to India (the only voyage I ever made, when I was a boy and a supercargo), if I fell home-sick, or sank into a reverie of all the pleasant homes I had left behind, I had but to wait until sunset, and then looking toward the west, I beheld my clustering pinnacles and towers brightly burnished as if to salute and welcome me.
So, in the city, if I get vexed and wearied, and cannot find my wonted solace in sallying forth at dinner-time to contemplate the gay world of youth and beauty hurrying to the congress of fashion,—or if I observe that years are deepening their tracks around the eyes of my wife, Prue, I go quietly up to the housetop, toward evening, and refresh myself with a distant prospect of my estates. It is as dear to me as that of Eton to the poet Gray; and, if I sometimes wonder at such moments whether I shall find those realms as fair as they appear, I am suddenly reminded that the night air may be noxious, and descending, I enter the little parlor where Prue sits stitching, and surprise that precious woman by exclaiming with the poet's pensive enthusiasm;
"Thought would destroy their Paradise, No more;—where ignorance is bliss, 'Tis folly to be wise."
Columbus, also, had possessions in the West; and as I read aloud the romantic story of his life, my voice quivers when I come to the point in which it is related that sweet odors of the land mingled with the sea-air, as the admiral's fleet approached the shores; that tropical birds flew out and fluttered around the ships, glittering in the sun, the gorgeous promises of the new country; that boughs, perhaps with blossoms not all decayed, floated out to welcome the strange wood from which the craft were hollowed. Then I cannot restrain myself, I think of the gorgeous visions I have seen before I have even undertaken the journey to the West, and I cry aloud to Prue:
"What sun-bright birds, and gorgeous blossoms, and celestial odors will float out to us, my Prue, as we approach our western possessions!"
The placid Prue raises her eyes to mine with a reproof so delicate that it could not be trusted to words; and, after a moment, she resumes her knitting and I proceed.
These are my western estates, but my finest castles are in Spain. It is a country famously romantic, and my castles are all of perfect proportions, and appropriately set in the most picturesque situations. I have never been to Spain myself, but I have naturally conversed much with travellers to that country; although, I must allow, without deriving from them much substantial information about my property there. The wisest of them told me that there were more holders of real estate in Spain than in any other region he had ever heard of, and they are all great proprietors. Every one of them possesses a multitude of the stateliest castles. From conversation with them you easily gather that each one considers his own castles much the largest and in the loveliest positions. And, after I had heard this said, I verified it, by discovering that all my immediate neighbors in the city were great Spanish proprietors.
One day as I raised my head from entering some long and tedious accounts in my books, and began to reflect that the quarter was expiring, and that I must begin to prepare the balance-sheet, I observed my subordinate, in office but not in years, (for poor old Titbottom will never see sixty again!) leaning on his hand, and much abstracted.
"Are you not well, Titbottom!" asked I.
"Perfectly, but I was just building a castle in Spain," said he.
I looked at his rusty coat, his faded hands, his sad eye, and white hair, for a moment, in great surprise, and then inquired,
"Is it possible that you own property there too?"
He shook his head silently; and still leaning on his hand, and with an expression in his eye, as if he were looking upon the most fertile estate of Andalusia, he went on making his plans; laying out his gardens, I suppose, building terraces for the vines, determining a library with a southern exposure, and resolving which should be the tapestried chamber.
"What a singular whim," thought I, as I watched Titbottom and filled up a cheque for four hundred dollars, my quarterly salary, "that a man who owns castles in Spain should be deputy book-keeper at nine hundred dollars a year!"
When I went home I ate my dinner silently, and afterward sat for a long time upon the roof of the house, looking at my western property, and thinking of Titbottom.
It is remarkable that none of the proprietors have ever been to Spain to take possession and report to the rest of us the state of our property there. I, of course, cannot go, I am too much engaged. So is Titbottom. And I find it is the case with all the proprietors. We have so much to detain us at home that we cannot get away. But it is always so with rich men. Prue sighed once as she sat at the window and saw Bourne, the millionaire, the President of innumerable companies, and manager and director of all the charitable societies in town, going by with wrinkled brow and hurried step. I asked her why she sighed.
"Because I was remembering that my mother used to tell me not to desire great riches, for they occasioned great cares," said she.
"They do indeed," answered I, with emphasis, remembering Titbottom, and the impossibility of looking after my Spanish estates.
Prue turned and looked at me with mild surprise; but I saw that her mind had gone down the street with Bourne. I could never discover if he held much Spanish stock. But I think he does. All the Spanish proprietors have a certain expression. Bourne has it to a remarkable degree. It is a kind of look, as if, in fact, a man's mind were in Spain. Bourne was an old lover of Prue's, and he is not married, which is strange for a man in his position.
It is not easy for me to say how I know so much, as I certainly do, about my castles in Spain. The sun always shines upon them. They stand lofty and fair in a luminous, golden atmosphere, a little hazy and dreamy, perhaps, like the Indian summer, but in which no gales blow and there are no tempests. All the sublime mountains, and beautiful valleys, and soft landscape, that I have not yet seen, are to be found in the grounds. They command a noble view of the Alps; so fine, indeed, that I should be quite content with the prospect of them from the highest tower of my castle, and not care to go to Switzerland.
The neighboring ruins, too, are as picturesque as those of Italy, and my desire of standing in the Coliseum, and of seeing the shattered arches of the Aqueducts stretching along the Campagna and melting into the Alban Mount, is entirely quenched. The rich gloom of my orange groves is gilded by fruit as brilliant of complexion and exquisite of flavor as any that ever dark-eyed Sorrento girls, looking over the high plastered walls of southern Italy, hand to the youthful travellers, climbing on donkeys up the narrow lane beneath.
The Nile flows through my grounds. The Desert lies upon their edge, and Damascus stands in my garden. I am given to understand, also, that the Parthenon has been removed to my Spanish possessions. The Golden-Horn is my fish-preserve; my flocks of golden fleece are pastured on the plain of Marathon, and the honey of Hymettus is distilled from the flowers that grow in the vale of Enna—all in my Spanish domains.
From the windows of those castles look the beautiful women whom I have never seen, whose portraits the poets have painted. They wait for me there, and chiefly the fair-haired child, lost to my eyes so long ago, now bloomed into an impossible beauty. The lights that never shone, glance at evening in the vaulted halls, upon banquets that were never spread. The bands I have never collected, play all night long, and enchant the brilliant company, that was never assembled, into silence.
In the long summer mornings the children that I never had, play in the gardens that I never planted. I hear their sweet voices sounding low and far away, calling, "Father! Father!" I see the lost fair-haired girl, grown now into a woman, descending the stately stairs of my castle in Spain, stepping out upon the lawn, and playing with those children. They bound away together down the garden; but those voices linger, this time airily calling, "Mother! mother!"
But there is a stranger magic than this in my Spanish estates. The lawny slopes on which, when a child, I played, in my father's old country place, which was sold when he failed, are all there, and not a flower faded, nor a blade of grass sere. The green leaves have not fallen from the spring woods of half a century ago, and a gorgeous autumn has blazed undimmed for fifty years, among the trees I remember.
Chestnuts are not especially sweet to my palate now, but those with which I used to prick my fingers when gathering them in New Hampshire woods are exquisite as ever to my taste, when I think of eating them in Spain. I never ride horseback now at home; but in Spain, when I think of it, I bound over all the fences in the country, barebacked upon the wildest horses. Sermons I am apt to find a little soporific in this country; but in Spain I should listen as reverently as ever, for proprietors must set a good example on their estates.
Plays are insufferable to me here—Prue and I never go. Prue, indeed, is not quite sure it is moral; but the theatres in my Spanish castles are of a prodigious splendor, and when I think of going there, Prue sits in a front box with me—a kind of royal box—the good woman, attired in such wise as I have never seen her here, while I wear my white waistcoat, which in Spain has no appearance of mending, but dazzles with immortal newness, and is a miraculous fit.
Yes, and in those castles in Spain, Prue is not the placid, breeches-patching helpmate, with whom you are acquainted, but her face has a bloom which we both remember, and her movement a grace which my Spanish swans emulate, and her voice a music sweeter than those that orchestras discourse. She is always there what she seemed to me when I fell in love with her, many and many years ago. The neighbors called her then a nice, capable girl; and certainly she did knit and darn with a zeal and success to which my feet and my legs have testified for nearly half a century. But she could spin a finer web than ever came from cotton, and in its subtle meshes my heart was entangled, and there has reposed softly and happily ever since. The neighbors declared she could make pudding and cake better than any girl of her age; but stale bread from Prue's hand was ambrosia to my palate.
"She who makes every thing well, even to making neighbors speak well of her, will surely make a good wife," said I to myself when I knew her; and the echo of a half century answers, "a good wife."
So, when I meditate my Spanish castles, I see Prue in them as my heart saw her standing by her father's door. "Age cannot wither her." There is a magic in the Spanish air that paralyzes Time. He glides by, unnoticed and unnoticing. I greatly admire the Alps, which I see so distinctly from my Spanish windows; I delight in the taste of the southern fruit that ripens upon my terraces; I enjoy the pensive shade of the Italian ruins in my gardens; I like to shoot crocodiles, and talk with the Sphinx upon the shores of the Nile, flowing through my domain; I am glad to drink sherbet in Damascus, and fleece my flocks on the plains of Marathon; but I would resign all these for ever rather than part with that Spanish portrait of Prue for a day. Nay, have I not resigned them all for ever, to live with that portrait's changing original?
I have often wondered how I should reach my castles. The desire of going comes over me very strongly sometimes, and I endeavor to see how I can arrange my affairs, so as to get away. To tell the truth, I am not quite sure of the route,—I mean, to that particular part of Spain in which my estates lie. I have inquired very particularly, but nobody seems to know precisely. One morning I met young Aspen, trembling with excitement.
"What's the matter?" asked I with interest, for I knew that he held a great deal of Spanish stock.
"Oh!" said he, "I'm going out to take possession. I have found the way to my castles in Spain."
"Dear me!" I answered, with the blood streaming into my face; and, heedless of Prue, pulling my glove until it ripped—"what is it?"
"The direct route is through California," answered he.
"But then you have the sea to cross afterward," said I, remembering the map.
"Not at all," answered Aspen, "the road runs along the shore of the Sacramento River."
He darted away from me, and I did not meet him again. I was very curious to know if he arrived safely in Spain, and was expecting every day to hear news from him of my property there, when, one evening, I bought an extra, full of California news, and the first thing upon which my eye fell was this: "Died, in San Francisco, Edward Aspen, Esq., aged 35." There is a large body of the Spanish stockholders who believe with Aspen, and sail for California every week. I have not yet heard of their arrival out at their castles, but I suppose they are so busy with their own affairs there, that they have no time to write to the rest of us about the condition of our property.
There was my wife's cousin, too, Jonathan Bud, who is a good, honest, youth from the country, and, after a few weeks' absence, he burst into the office one day, just as I was balancing my books, and whispered to me, eagerly:
"I've found my castle in Spain."
I put the blotting-paper in the leaf deliberately, for I was wiser now than when Aspen had excited me, and looked at my wife's cousin, Jonathan Bud, inquiringly.
"Polly Bacon," whispered he, winking.
I continued the interrogative glance.
"She's going to marry me, and she'll show me the way to Spain," said Jonathan Bud, hilariously.
"She'll make you walk Spanish, Jonathan Bud," said I.
And so she does. He makes no more hilarious remarks. He never bursts into a room. He does not ask us to dinner. He says that Mrs. Bud does not like smoking. Mrs. Bud has nerves and babies. She has a way of saying, "Mr. Bud!" which destroys conversation, and casts a gloom upon society.
It occurred to me that Bourne, the millionaire, must have ascertained the safest and most expeditious route to Spain; so I stole a few minutes one afternoon, and went into his office. He was sitting at his desk, writing rapidly, and surrounded by files of papers and patterns, specimens, boxes, everything that covers the tables of a great merchant. In the outer rooms clerks were writing. Upon high shelves over their heads, were huge chests, covered with dust, dingy with age, many of them, and all marked with the name of the firm, in large black letters—"Bourne & Dye." They were all numbered also with the proper year; some of them with a single capital B, and dates extending back into the last century, when old Bourne made the great fortune, before he went into partnership with Dye. Everything was indicative of immense and increasing prosperity.
There were several gentlemen in waiting to converse with Bourne (we all call him so, familiarly, down town), and I waited until they went out. But others came in. There was no pause in the rush. All kinds of inquiries were made and answered. At length I stepped up.
"A moment, please, Mr. Bourne."
He looked up hastily, wished me good morning which he had done to none of the others, and which courtesy I attributed to Spanish sympathy. "What is it, sir?" he asked, blandly, but with wrinkled brow.
"Mr. Bourne, have you any castles in Spain?" said I, without preface.
He looked at me for a few moments without speaking, and without seeming to see me. His brow gradually smoothed, and his eyes, apparently looking into the street, were really, I have no doubt, feasting upon the Spanish landscape.
"Too many, too many," said he at length, musingly, shaking his head, and without addressing me.
I suppose he felt himself too much extended—as we say in Wall Street. He feared, I thought, that he had too much impracticable property elsewhere, to own so much in Spain; so I asked,
"Will you tell me what you consider the shortest and safest route thither, Mr. Bourne? for, of course, a man who drives such an immense trade with all parts of the world, will know all that I have come to inquire."
"My dear sir," answered he wearily, "I have been trying all my life to discover it; but none of my ships have ever been there—none of my captains have any report to make. They bring me, as they brought my father, gold dust from Guinea; ivory, pearls, and precious stones, from every part of the earth; but not a fruit, not a solitary flower, from one of my castles in Spain. I have sent clerks, agents, and travellers of all kinds, philosophers, pleasure-hunters, and invalids, in all sorts of ships, to all sorts of places, but none of them ever saw or heard of my castles, except one young poet, and he died in a mad-house."
"Mr. Bourne, will you take five thousand at ninety-seven?" hastily demanded a man, whom, as he entered, I recognized as a broker. "We'll make a splendid thing of it."
Bourne nodded assent, and the broker disappeared.
"Happy man!" muttered the merchant, as the broker went out; "he has no castles in Spain."
"I am sorry to have troubled you, Mr. Bourne," said I, retiring.
"I am glad you came," returned he; "but I assure you, had I known the route you hoped to ascertain from me, I should have sailed years and years ago. People sail for the North-west Passage, which is nothing when you have found it. Why don't the English Admiralty fit out expeditions to discover all our castles in Spain?"
He sat lost in thought.
"It's nearly post-time, sir," said the clerk.
Mr. Bourne did not heed him. He was still musing; and I turned to go, wishing him good morning. When I had nearly reached the door, he called me back, saying, as if continuing his remarks—
"It is strange that you, of all men, should come to ask me this question. If I envy any man, it is you, for I sincerely assure you that I supposed you lived altogether upon your Spanish estates. I once thought I knew the way to mine. I gave directions for furnishing them, and ordered bridal bouquets, which were never used, but I suppose they are there still."
He paused a moment, then said slowly—"How is your wife?"
I told him that Prue was well—that she was always remarkably well. Mr. Bourne shook me warmly by the hand.
"Thank you," said he. "Good morning."
I knew why he thanked me; I knew why he thought that I lived altogether upon my Spanish estates; I knew a little bit about those bridal bouquets. Mr. Bourne, the millionaire, was an old lover of Prue's. There is something very odd about these Spanish castles. When I think of them, I somehow see the fair-haired girl whom I knew when I was not out of short jackets. When Bourne meditates them, he sees Prue and me quietly at home in their best chambers. It is a very singular thing that my wife should live in another man's castle in Spain.
At length I resolved to ask Titbottom if he had ever heard of the best route to our estates. He said that he owned castles, and sometimes there was an expression in his face, as if he saw them. I hope he did. I should long ago have asked him if he had ever observed the turrets of my possessions in the West, without alluding to Spain, if I had not feared he would suppose I was mocking his poverty. I hope his poverty has not turned his head, for he is very forlorn.
One Sunday I went with him a few miles into the country. It was a soft, bright day, the fields and hills lay turned to the sky, as if every leaf and blade of grass were nerves, bared to the touch of the sun. I almost felt the ground warm under my feet. The meadows waved and glittered, the lights and shadows were exquisite, and the distant hills seemed only to remove the horizon farther away. As we strolled along, picking wild flowers, for it was in summer, I was thinking what a fine day it was for a trip to Spain, when Titbottom suddenly exclaimed:
"Thank God! I own this landscape."
"You," returned I.
"Certainly," said he.
"Why," I answered, "I thought this was part of Bourne's property?"
"Does Bourne own the sun and sky? Does Bourne own that sailing shadow yonder? Does Bourne own the golden lustre of the grain, or the motion of the wood, or those ghosts of hills, that glide pallid along the horizon? Bourne owns the dirt and fences; I own the beauty that makes the landscape, or otherwise how could I own castles in Spain?"
That was very true. I respected Titbottom more than ever.
"Do you know," said he, after a long pause, "that I fancy my castles lie just beyond those distant hills. At all events, I can see them distinctly from their summits."
He smiled quietly as he spoke, and it was then I asked:
"But, Titbottom, have you never discovered the way to them?"
"Dear me! yes," answered he, "I know the way well enough; but it would do no good to follow it. I should give out before I arrived. It is a long and difficult journey for a man of my years and habits—and income," he added slowly.
As he spoke he seated himself upon the ground; and while he pulled long blades of grass, and, putting them between his thumbs, whistled shrilly, he said:
"I have never known but two men who reached their estates in Spain."
"Indeed!" said I, "how did they go?"
"One went over the side of a ship, and the other out of a third story window," said Titbottom, fitting a broad blade between his thumbs and blowing a demoniacal blast.
"And I know one proprietor who resides upon his estates constantly," continued he.
"Who is that?"
"Our old friend Slug, whom you may see any day at the asylum, just coming in from the hunt, or going to call upon his friend the Grand Lama, or dressing for the wedding of the Man in the Moon, or receiving an ambassador from Timbuctoo. Whenever I go to see him, Slug insists that I am the Pope, disguised as a journeyman carpenter, and he entertains me in the most distinguished manner. He always insists upon kissing my foot, and I bestow upon him, kneeling, the apostolic benediction. This is the only Spanish proprietor in possession, with whom I am acquainted."
And, so saying, Titbottom lay back upon the ground, and making a spy-glass of his hand, surveyed the landscape through it. This was a marvellous book-keeper of more than sixty!
"I know another man who lived in his Spanish castle for two months, and then was tumbled out head first. That was young Stunning who married old Buhl's daughter. She was all smiles, and mamma was all sugar, and Stunning was all bliss, for two months. He carried his head in the clouds, and felicity absolutely foamed at his eyes. He was drowned in love; seeing, as usual, not what really was, but what he fancied. He lived so exclusively in his castle, that he forgot the office down town, and one morning there came a fall, and Stunning was smashed."
Titbottom arose, and stooping over, contemplated the landscape, with his head down between his legs.
"It's quite a new effect, so," said the nimble book-keeper.
"Well," said I, "Stunning failed?"
"Oh yes, smashed all up, and the castle in Spain came down about his ears with a tremendous crash. The family sugar was all dissolved into the original cane in a moment. Fairy-times are over, are they? Heigh-ho! the falling stones of Stunning's castle have left their marks all over his face. I call them his Spanish scars."
"But, my dear Titbottom," said I, "what is the matter with you this morning, your usual sedateness is quite gone?"
"It's only the exhilarating air of Spain," he answered. "My castles are so beautiful that I can never think of them, nor speak of them, without excitement; when I was younger I desired to reach them even more ardently than now, because I heard that the philosopher's stone was in the vault of one of them."
"Indeed," said I, yielding to sympathy, "and I have good reason to believe that the fountain of eternal youth flows through the garden of one of mine. Do you know whether there are any children upon your grounds?"
"'The children of Alice call Bartrum father!'" replied Titbottom, solemnly, and in a low voice, as he folded his faded hands before him, and stood erect, looking wistfully over the landscape. The light wind played with his thin white hair, and his sober, black suit was almost sombre in the sunshine. The half bitter expression, which I had remarked upon his face during part of our conversation, had passed away, and the old sadness had returned to his eye. He stood, in the pleasant morning, the very image of a great proprietor of castles in Spain.
"There is wonderful music there," he said: "sometimes I awake at night, and hear it. It is full of the sweetness of youth, and love, and a new world. I lie and listen, and I seem to arrive at the great gates of my estates. They swing open upon noiseless hinges, and the tropic of my dreams receives me. Up the broad steps, whose marble pavement mingled light and shadow print with shifting mosaic, beneath the boughs of lustrous oleanders, and palms, and trees of unimaginable fragrance, I pass into the vestibule, warm with summer odors, and into the presence-chamber beyond, where my wife awaits me. But castle, and wife, and odorous woods, and pictures, and statues, and all the bright substance of my household, seem to reel and glimmer in the splendor, as the music fails.
"But when it swells again, I clasp the wife to my heart, and we move on with a fair society, beautiful women, noble men, before whom the tropical luxuriance of that world bends and bows in homage; and, through endless days and nights of eternal summer, the stately revel of our life proceeds. Then, suddenly, the music stops. I hear my watch ticking under the pillow. I see dimly the outline of my little upper room. Then I fall asleep, and in the morning some one of the boarders at the breakfast-table says:
"'Did you hear the serenade last night, Mr. Titbottom.'"
I doubted no longer that Titbottom was a very extensive proprietor. The truth is, that he was so constantly engaged in planning and arranging his castles, that he conversed very little at the office, and I had misinterpreted his silence. As we walked homeward, that day, he was more than ever tender and gentle. "We must all have something to do in this world," said he, "and I, who have so much leisure—for you know I have no wife nor children to work for—know not what I should do, if I had not my castles in Spain to look after."
When I reached home, my darling Prue was sitting in the small parlor, reading. I felt a little guilty for having been so long away, and upon my only holiday, too. So I began to say that Titbottom invited me to go to walk, and that I had no idea we had gone so far, and that——
"Don't excuse yourself," said Prue, smiling as she laid down her book; "I am glad you have enjoyed yourself. You ought to go out sometimes, and breathe the fresh air, and run about the fields, which I am not strong enough to do. Why did you not bring home Mr. Titbottom to tea? He is so lonely, and looks so sad. I am sure he has very little comfort in this life," said my thoughtful Prue, as she called Jane to set the tea-table.
"But he has a good deal of comfort in Spain, Prue," answered I.
"When was Mr. Titbottom in Spain," inquired my wife.
"Why, he is there more than half the time," I replied.
Prue looked quietly at me and smiled. "I see it has done you good to breathe the country air," said she. "Jane, get some of the blackberry jam, and call Adoniram and the children."
So we went in to tea. We eat in the back parlor, for our little house and limited means do not allow us to have things upon the Spanish scale. It is better than a sermon to hear my wife Prue talk to the children; and when she speaks to me it seems sweeter than psalm singing; at least, such as we have in our church. I am very happy.
Yet I dream my dreams, and attend to my castles in Spain. I have so much property there, that I could not, in conscience, neglect it. All the years of my youth, and the hopes of my manhood, are stored away, like precious stones, in the vaults; and I know that I shall find everything convenient, elegant, and beautiful, when I come into possession.
As the years go by, I am not conscious that my interest diminishes. If I see that age is subtly sifting his snow in the dark hair of my Prue, I smile, contented, for her hair, dark and heavy as when I first saw it, is all carefully treasured in my castles in Spain. If I feel her arm more heavily leaning upon mine, as we walk around the squares, I press it closely to my side, for I know that the easy grace of her youth's motion will be restored by the elixir of that Spanish air. If her voice sometimes falls less clearly from her lips, it is no less sweet to me for the music of her voice's prime fills, freshly as ever, those Spanish halls. If the light I love fades a little from her eyes, I know that the glances she gave me, in our youth, are the eternal sunshine of my castles in Spain.
I defy time and change. Each year laid upon our heads, is a hand of blessing. I have no doubt that I shall find the shortest route to my possessions as soon as need be. Perhaps, when Adoniram is married, we shall all go out to one of my castles to pass the honey-moon.
Ah! if the true history of Spain could be written what a book were there! The most purely romantic ruin in the world is the Alhambra. But of the Spanish castles, more spacious and splendid than any possible Alhambra, and for ever unruined, no towers are visible, no pictures have been painted, and only a few ecstatic songs have been sung. The pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan, which Coleridge saw in Xanadu (a province with which I am not familiar), and a fine Castle of Indolence belonging to Thomson, and the Palace of art which Tennyson built as a "lordly pleasure-house" for his soul, are among the best statistical accounts of those Spanish estates. Turner, too, has done for them much the same service that Owen Jones has done for the Alhambra. In the vignette to Moore's Epicurean you will find represented one of the most extensive castles in Spain; and there are several exquisite studies from others, by the same artists, published in Rogers's Italy.
But I confess I do not recognize any of these as mine, and that fact makes me prouder of my own castles, for, if there be such boundless variety of magnificence in their aspect and exterior, imagine the life that is led there, a life not unworthy such a setting.
If Adoniram should be married within a reasonable time, and we should make up that little family party to go out, I have considered already what society I should ask to meet the bride. Jephthah's daughter and the Chevalier Bayard, I should say—and fair Rosamond with Dean Swift—King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would come over, I think, from his famous castle—Shakespeare and his friend the Marquis of Southampton might come in a galley with Cleopatra; and, if any guest were offended by her presence, he should devote himself to the Fair One with Golden Locks. Mephistophiles is not personally disagreeable, and is exceedingly well-bred in society, I am told; and he should come tete-a-tete with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley. Spenser should escort his Faerie Queen, who would preside at the tea-table.
Mr. Samuel Weller I should ask as Lord of Misrule, and Dr. Johnson as the Abbot of Unreason. I would suggest to Major Dobbin to accompany Mrs. Fry; Alcibiades would bring Homer and Plato in his purple-sailed galley; and I would have Aspasia, Ninon de l'Enclos, and Mrs. Battle, to make up a table of whist with Queen Elizabeth. I shall order a seat placed in the oratory for Lady Jane Grey and Joan of Arc. I shall invite General Washington to bring some of the choicest cigars from his plantation for Sir Walter Raleigh; and Chaucer, Browning, and Walter Savage Landor, should talk with Goethe, who is to bring Tasso on one arm and Iphigenia on the other.
Dante and Mr. Carlyle would prefer, I suppose, to go down into the dark vaults under the castle. The Man in the Moon, the Old Harry, and William of the Wisp would be valuable additions, and the Laureate Tennyson might compose an official ode upon the occasion: or I would ask "They" to say all about it.
Of course there are many other guests whose names I do not at the moment recall. But I should invite, first of all, Miles Coverdale, who knows every thing about these places and this society, for he was at Blithedale, and he has described "a select party" which he attended at a castle in the air.
Prue has not yet looked over the list. In fact I am not quite sure that she knows my intention. For I wish to surprise her, and I think it would be generous to ask Bourne to lead her out in the bridal quadrille. I think that I shall try the first waltz with the girl I sometimes seem to see in my fairest castle, but whom I very vaguely remember. Titbottom will come with old Burton and Jaques. But I have not prepared half my invitations. Do you not guess it, seeing that I did not name, first of all, Elia, who assisted at the "Rejoicings upon the new year's coming of age"?
And yet, if Adoniram should never marry?—or if we could not get to Spain?—or if the company would not come?
What then? Shall I betray a secret? I have already entertained this party in my humble little parlor at home; and Prue presided as serenely as Semiramis over her court. Have I not said that I defy time, and shall space hope to daunt me? I keep books by day, but by night books keep me. They leave me to dreams and reveries. Shall I confess, that sometimes when I have been sitting, reading to my Prue, Cymbeline, perhaps, or a Canterbury tale, I have seemed to see clearly before me the broad highway to my castles in Spain; and as she looked up from her work, and smiled in sympathy, I have even fancied that I was already there.
SEA FROM SHORE
"Come unto these yellow sands." The Tempest.
"Argosies of magic sails, Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales." Tennyson
In the month of June, Prue and I like to walk upon the Battery toward sunset, and watch the steamers, crowded with passengers, bound for the pleasant places along the coast where people pass the hot months. Sea-side lodgings are not very comfortable, I am told; but who would not be a little pinched in his chamber, if his windows looked upon the sea?
In such praises of the ocean do I indulge at such times, and so respectfully do I regard the sailors who may chance to pass, that Prue often says, with her shrewd smiles, that my mind is a kind of Greenwich Hospital, full of abortive marine hopes and wishes, broken-legged intentions, blind regrets, and desires, whose hands have been shot away in some hard battle of experience, so that they cannot grasp the results towards which they reach.
She is right, as usual. Such hopes and intentions do lie, ruined and hopeless now, strewn about the placid contentment of my mental life, as the old pensioners sit about the grounds at Greenwich, maimed and musing in the quiet morning sunshine. Many a one among them thinks what a Nelson he would have been if both his legs had not been prematurely carried away; or in what a Trafalgar of triumph he would have ended, if, unfortunately, he had not happened to have been blown blind by the explosion of that unlucky magazine.
So I dream, sometimes, of a straight scarlet collar, stiff with gold lace, around my neck, instead of this limp white cravat; and I have even brandished my quill at the office so cutlass-wise, that Titbottom has paused in his additions and looked at me as if he doubted whether I should come out quite square in my petty cash. Yet he understands it. Titbottom was born in Nantucket.
That is the secret of my fondness for the sea; I was born by it. Not more surely do Savoyards pine for the mountains, or Cockneys for the sound of Bow bells, than those who are born within sight and sound of the ocean to return to it and renew their fealty. In dreams the children of the sea hear its voice.
I have read in some book of travels that certain tribes of Arabs have no name for the ocean, and that when they came to the shore for the first time, they asked with eager sadness, as if penetrated by the conviction of a superior beauty, "what is that desert of water more beautiful than the land?" And in the translations of German stories which Adoniram and the other children read, and into which I occasionally look in the evening when they are gone to bed—for I like to know what interests my children—I find that the Germans, who do not live near the sea, love the fairy lore of water, and tell the sweet stories of Undine and Melusina, as if they had especial charm for them, because their country is inland.
We who know the sea have less fairy feeling about it, but our realities are romance. My earliest remembrances are of a long range of old, half dilapidated stores; red brick stores with steep wooden roofs, and stone window-frames and door-frames, which stood upon docks built as if for immense trade with all quarters of the globe.
Generally there were only a few sloops moored to the tremendous posts, which I fancied could easily hold fast a Spanish Armada in a tropical hurricane. But sometimes a great ship, an East Indiaman, with rusty, seamed, blistered sides, and dingy sails, came slowly moving up the harbor, with an air of indolent self-importance and consciousness of superiority, which inspired me with profound respect. If the ship had ever chanced to run down a row-boat, or a sloop, or any specimen of smaller craft, I should only have wondered at the temerity of any floating thing in crossing the path of such supreme majesty. The ship was leisurely chained and cabled to the old dock, and then came the disembowelling.
How the stately monster had been fattening upon foreign spoils! How it had gorged itself (such galleons did never seem to me of the feminine gender) with the luscious treasures of the tropics! It had lain its lazy length along the shores of China, and sucked in whole flowery harvests of tea. The Brazilian sun flashed through the strong wicker prisons, bursting with bananas and nectarean fruits that eschew the temperate zone. Steams of camphor, of sandal wood, arose from the hold. Sailors chanting cabalistic strains, that had to my ear a shrill and monotonous pathos, like the uniform rising and falling of an autumn wind, turned cranks that lifted the bales, and boxes, and crates, and swung them ashore.
But to my mind, the spell of their singing raised the fragrant freight, and not the crank. Madagascar and Ceylon appeared at the mystic bidding of the song. The placid sunshine of the docks was perfumed with India. The universal calm of southern seas poured from the bosom of the ship over the quiet, decaying old northern port.
Long after the confusion of unloading was over, and the ship lay as if all voyages were ended, I dared to creep timorously along the edge of the dock, and at great risk of falling in the black water of its huge shadow, I placed my hand upon the hot hulk, and so established a mystic and exquisite connection with Pacific islands, with palm groves and all the passionate beauties they embower; with jungles, Bengal tigers, pepper, and the crushed feet of Chinese fairies. I touched Asia, the Cape of Good Hope and the Happy Islands. I would not believe that the heat I felt was of our northern sun; to my finer sympathy it burned with equatorial fervors.
The freight was piled in the old stores. I believe that many of them remain, but they have lost their character. When I knew them, not only was I younger, but partial decay had overtaken the town; at least the bulk of its India trade had shifted to New York and Boston. But the appliances remained. There was no throng of busy traffickers, and after school, in the afternoon, I strolled by and gazed into the solemn interiors.
Silence reigned within,—silence, dimness, and piles of foreign treasure. Vast coils of cable, like tame boa-constrictors, served as seats for men with large stomachs, and heavy watch-seals, and nankeen trowsers, who sat looking out of the door toward the ships, with little other sign of life than an occasional low talking, as if in their sleep. Huge hogsheads perspiring brown sugar and oozing slow molasses, as if nothing tropical could keep within bounds, but must continually expand, and exude, and overflow, stood against the walls, and had an architectural significance, for they darkly reminded me of Egyptian prints, and in the duskiness of the low vaulted store seemed cyclopean columns incomplete. Strange festoons and heaps of bags, square piles of square boxes cased in mats, bales of airy summer stuffs, which, even in winter, scoffed at cold, and shamed it by audacious assumption of eternal sun, little specimen boxes of precious dyes that even now shine through my memory, like old Venetian schools unpainted,—these were all there in rich confusion.
The stores had a twilight of dimness, the air was spicy with mingled odors. I liked to look suddenly in from the glare of sunlight outside, and then the cool sweet dimness was like the palpable breath of the far off island-groves; and if only some parrot or macaw hung within, would flaunt with glistening plumage in his cage, and as the gay hue flashed in a chance sunbeam, call in his hard, shrill voice, as if thrusting sharp sounds upon a glistening wire from out that grateful gloom, then the enchantment was complete, and without moving, I was circumnavigating the globe.
From the old stores and the docks slowly crumbling, touched, I know not why or how, by the pensive air of past prosperity, I rambled out of town on those well remembered afternoons, to the fields that lay upon hillsides over the harbor, and there sat, looking out to sea, fancying some distant sail proceeding to the glorious ends of the earth, to be my type and image, who would so sail, stately and successful, to all the glorious ports of the Future. Going home, I returned by the stores, which black porters were closing. But I stood long looking in, saturating my imagination, and as it appeared, my clothes, with the spicy suggestion. For when I reached home my thrifty mother—another Prue—came snuffing and smelling about me.
"Why! my son, (snuff, snuff,) where have you been? (snuff, snuff.) Has the baker been making (snuff) ginger-bread? You smell as if you'd been in (snuff, snuff,) a bag of cinnamon."
"I've only been on the wharves, mother."
"Well, my dear, I hope you haven't stuck up your clothes with molasses. Wharves are dirty places, and dangerous. You must take care of yourself, my son. Really this smell is (snuff, snuff,) very strong."
But I departed from the maternal presence, proud and happy. I was aromatic. I bore about me the true foreign air. Whoever smelt me smelt distant countries. I had nutmeg, spices, cinnamon, and cloves, without the jolly red-nose. I pleased myself with being the representative of the Indies. I was in good odor with myself and all the world.
I do not know how it is, but surely Nature makes kindly provision. An imagination so easily excited as mine could not have escaped disappointment if it had had ample opportunity and experience of the lands it so longed to see. Therefore, although I made the India voyage, I have never been a traveller, and saving the little time I was ashore in India, I did not lose the sense of novelty and romance, which the first sight of foreign lands inspires.
That little time was all my foreign travel. I am glad of it. I see now that I should never have found the country from which the East Indiaman of my early days arrived. The palm groves do not grow with which that hand laid upon the ship placed me in magic conception. As for the lovely Indian maid whom the palmy arches bowered, she has long since clasped some native lover to her bosom, and, ripened into mild maternity, how should I know her now?
"You would find her quite as easily now as then," says my Prue, when I speak of it. She is right again, as usual, that precious woman; and it is therefore I feel that if the chances of life have moored me fast to a book-keeper's desk, they have left all the lands I longed to see fairer and fresher in my mind than they could ever be in my memory. Upon my only voyage I used to climb into the top and search the horizon for the shore. But now in a moment of calm thought I see a more Indian India than ever mariner discerned, and do not envy the youths who go there and make fortunes, who wear grass-cloth jackets, drink iced beer, and eat curry; whose minds fall asleep, and whose bodies have liver complaints.
Unseen by me for ever, nor ever regretted, shall wave the Egyptian palms and the Italian pines. Untrodden by me, the Forum shall still echo with the footfall of imperial Rome, and the Parthenon unrifled of its marbles, look, perfect, across the Egean blue.
My young friends return from their foreign tours elate with the smiles of a nameless Italian, or Parisian belle. I know not such cheap delights; I am a suitor of Vittoria Colonna; I walk with Tasso along the terraced garden of the Villa d'Este, and look to see Beatrice smiling down the rich gloom of the cypress shade. You staid at the Hotel Europa in Venice, at Danielli's or the Leone bianco; I am the guest of Marino Faliero, and I whisper to his wife as we climb the giant staircase in the summer moonlight,
"Ah! senza amaro Andare sul mare, Col sposo del mare, Non puo consolare."
It is for the same reason that I did not care to dine with you and Aurelia, that I am content not to stand in St. Peter's. Alas! if I could see the end of it, it would not be St. Peter's. For those of us whom Nature means to keep at home, she provides entertainment. One man goes four thousand miles to Italy, and does not see it, he is so short-sighted. Another is so far-sighted that he stays in his room and sees more than Italy.
But for this very reason that it washes the shores of my possible Europe and Asia, the sea draws me constantly to itself. Before I came to New York, while I was still a clerk in Boston, courting Prue, and living out of town, I never knew of a ship sailing for India or even for England and France, but I went up to the State House cupola or to the observatory on some friend's house in Roxbury, where I could not be interrupted, and there watched the departure.
The sails hung ready; the ship lay in the stream; busy little boats and puffing steamers darted about it, clung to its sides, paddled away from it, or led the way to sea, as minnows might pilot a whale. The anchor was slowly swung at the bow; I could not hear the sailors' song, but I knew they were singing. I could not see the parting friends, but I knew farewells were spoken. I did not share the confusion, although I knew what bustle there was, what hurry, what shouting, what creaking, what fall of ropes and iron, what sharp oaths, low laughs, whispers, sobs. But I was cool, high, separate. To me it was
"A painted ship Upon a painted ocean."
The sails were shaken out, and the ship began to move. It was a fair breeze, perhaps, and no steamer was needed to tow her away. She receded down the bay. Friends turned back—I could not see them—and waved their hands, and wiped their eyes, and went home to dinner. Farther and farther from the ships at anchor, the lessening vessel became single and solitary upon the water. The sun sank in the west; but I watched her still. Every flash of her sails, as she tacked and turned, thrilled my heart.
Yet Prue was not on board. I had never seen one of the passengers or the crew. I did not know the consignees, nor the name of the vessel. I had shipped no adventure, nor risked any insurance, nor made any bet, but my eyes clung to her as Ariadne's to the fading sail of Theseus. The ship was freighted with more than appeared upon her papers, yet she was not a smuggler. She bore all there was of that nameless lading, yet the next ship would carry as much. She was freighted with fancy. My hopes, and wishes, and vague desires, were all on board. It seemed to me a treasure not less rich than that which filled the East Indiaman at the old dock in my boyhood.
When, at length, the ship was a sparkle upon the horizon, I waved my hand in last farewell, I strained my eyes for a last glimpse. My mind had gone to sea, and had left noise behind. But now I heard again the multitudinous murmur of the city, and went down rapidly, and threaded the short, narrow, streets to the office. Yet, believe it, every dream of that day, as I watched the vessel, was written at night to Prue. She knew my heart had not sailed away.
Those days are long past now, but still I walk upon the Battery and look towards the Narrows and know that beyond them, separated only by the sea, are many of whom I would so gladly know, and so rarely hear. The sea rolls between us like the lapse of dusky ages. They trusted themselves to it, and it bore them away far and far as if into the past. Last night I read of Antony, but I have not heard from Christopher these many months, and by so much farther away is he, so much older and more remote, than Antony. As for William, he is as vague as any of the shepherd kings of ante-Pharaonic dynasties.
It is the sea that has done it, it has carried them off and put them away upon its other side. It is fortunate the sea did not put them upon its underside. Are they hale and happy still? Is their hair gray, and have they mustachios? Or have they taken to wigs and crutches? Are they popes or cardinals yet? Do they feast with Lucrezia Borgia, or preach red republicanism to the Council of Ten? Do they sing, Behold how brightly breaks the morning with Masaniello? Do they laugh at Ulysses and skip ashore to the Syrens? Has Mesrour, chief of the Eunuchs, caught them with Zobeide in the Caliph's garden, or have they made cheese cakes without pepper? Friends of my youth, where in your wanderings have you tasted the blissful Lotus, that you neither come nor send us tidings?
Across the sea also came idle rumors, as false reports steal into history and defile fair fames. Was it longer ago than yesterday that I walked with my cousin, then recently a widow, and talked with her of the countries to which she meant to sail? She was young, and dark-eyed, and wore great hoops of gold, barbaric gold, in her ears. The hope of Italy, the thought of living there, had risen like a dawn in the darkness of her mind. I talked and listened by rapid turns.
Was it longer ago than yesterday that she told me of her splendid plans, how palaces tapestried with gorgeous paintings should be cheaply hired, and the best of teachers lead her children to the completest and most various knowledge; how,—and with her slender pittance!—she should have a box at the opera, and a carriage, and liveried servants, and in perfect health and youth, lead a perfect life in a perfect climate?
And now what do I hear? Why does a tear sometimes drop so audibly upon my paper, that Titbottom looks across with a sort of mild rebuking glance of inquiry, whether it is kind to let even a single tear fall, when an ocean of tears is pent up in hearts that would burst and overflow if but one drop should force its way out? Why across the sea came faint gusty stories, like low voices in the wind, of a cloistered garden and sunny seclusion—and a life of unknown and unexplained luxury. What is this picture of a pale face showered with streaming black hair, and large sad eyes looking upon lovely and noble children playing in the sunshine—and a brow pained with thought straining into their destiny? Who is this figure, a man tall and comely, with melting eyes and graceful motion, who comes and goes at pleasure, who is not a husband, yet has the key of the cloistered garden?
I do not know. They are secrets of the sea. The pictures pass before my mind suddenly and unawares, and I feel the tears rising that I would gladly repress. Titbottom looks at me, then stands by the window of the office and leans his brow against the cold iron bars, and looks down into the little square paved court. I take my hat and steal out of the office for a few minutes, and slowly pace the hurrying streets. Meek-eyed Alice! magnificent Maud! sweet baby Lilian! why does the sea imprison you so far away, when will you return, where do you linger? The water laps idly about docks,—lies calm, or gaily heaves. Why does it bring me doubts and fears now, that brought such bounty of beauty in the days long gone?
I remember that the day when my dark haired cousin, with hoops of barbaric gold in her ears, sailed for Italy, was quarter-day, and we balanced the books at the office. It was nearly noon, and in my impatience to be away, I had not added my columns with sufficient care. The inexorable hand of the office clock pointed sternly towards twelve, and the remorseless pendulum ticked solemnly to noon.
To a man whose pleasures are not many, and rather small, the loss of such an event as saying farewell and wishing God-speed to a friend going to Europe, is a great loss. It was so to me, especially, because there was always more to me, in every departure, than the parting and the farewell. I was gradually renouncing this pleasure, as I saw small prospect of ending before noon, when Titbottom, after looking at me a moment, came to my side of the desk, and said:
"I should like to finish that for you."
I looked at him: poor Titbottom! he had no friends to wish God-speed upon any journey. I quietly wiped my pen, took down my hat, and went out. It was in the days of sail packets and less regularity, when going to Europe was more of an epoch in life. How gaily my cousin stood upon the deck and detailed to me her plan! How merrily the children shouted and sang! How long I held my cousin's little hand in mine, and gazed into her great eyes, remembering that they would see and touch the things that were invisible to me for ever, but all the more precious and fair! She kissed me—I was younger then—there were tears, I remember, and prayers, and promises, a waving handkerchief,—a fading sail.
It was only the other day that I saw another parting of the same kind. I was not a principal, only a spectator; but so fond am I of sharing, afar off, as it were, and unseen, the sympathies of human beings, that I cannot avoid often going to the dock upon steamer-days and giving myself to that pleasant and melancholy observation. There is always a crowd, but this day it was almost impossible to advance through the masses of people. The eager faces hurried by; a constant stream poured up the gangway into the steamer, and the upper deck, to which I gradually made my way, was crowded with the passengers and their friends.
There was one group upon which my eyes first fell, and upon which my memory lingers. A glance, brilliant as daybreak—a voice,
"Her voice's music,—call it the well's bubbling, the bird's warble,"
a goddess girdled with flowers, and smiling farewell upon a circle of worshippers, to each one of whom that gracious calmness made the smile sweeter, and the farewell more sad—other figures, other flowers, an angel face—all these I saw in that group as I was swayed up and down the deck by the eager swarm of people. The hour came, and I went on shore with the rest. The plank was drawn away—the captain raised his hand—the huge steamer slowly moved—a cannon was fired—the ship was gone.
The sun sparkled upon the water as they sailed away. In five minutes the steamer was as much separated from the shore as if it had been at sea a thousand years.
I leaned against a post upon the dock and looked around. Ranged upon the edge of the wharf stood that band of worshippers, waving handkerchiefs and straining their eyes to see the last smile of farewell—did any eager selfish eye hope to see a tear? They to whom the handkerchiefs were waved stood high upon the stern, holding flowers. Over them hung the great flag, raised by the gentle wind into the graceful folds of a canopy,—say rather a gorgeous gonfalon waved over the triumphant departure, over that supreme youth, and bloom, and beauty, going out across the mystic ocean to carry a finer charm and more human splendor into those realms of my imagination beyond the sea.
"You will return, O youth and beauty!" I said to my dreaming and foolish self, as I contemplated those fair figures, "richer than Alexander with Indian spoils. All that historic association, that copious civilization, those grandeurs and graces of art, that variety and picturesqueness of life, will mellow and deepen your experience even as time silently touches those old pictures into a more persuasive and pathetic beauty, and as this increasing summer sheds ever softer lustre upon the landscape. You will return conquerors and not conquered. You will bring Europe, even as Aurelian brought Zenobia captive, to deck your homeward triumph. I do not wonder that these clouds break away, I do not wonder that the sun presses out and floods all the air, and land, and water, with light that graces with happy omens your stately farewell."
But if my faded face looked after them with such earnest and longing emotion,—I, a solitary old man, unknown to those fair beings, and standing apart from that band of lovers, yet in that moment bound more closely to them than they knew,—how was it with those whose hearts sailed away with that youth and beauty? I watched them closely from behind my post. I knew that life had paused with them; that the world stood still. I knew that the long, long summer would be only a yearning regret. I knew that each asked himself the mournful question, "Is this parting typical—this slow, sad, sweet recession?" And I knew that they did not care to ask whether they should meet again, nor dare to contemplate the chances of the sea.
The steamer swept on, she was near Staten Island, and a final gun boomed far and low across the water. The crowd was dispersing, but the little group remained. Was it not all Hood had sung?
"I saw thee, lovely Inez, Descend along the shore With bands of noble gentlemen, And banners waved before; And gentle youths and maidens gay, And snowy plumes they wore;— It would have been a beauteous dream, If it had been no more!"
"O youth!" I said to them without speaking, "be it gently said, as it is solemnly thought, should they return no more, yet in your memories the high hour of their loveliness is for ever enshrined. Should they come no more they never will be old, nor changed, to you. You will wax and wane, you will suffer, and struggle, and grow old; but this summer vision will smile, immortal, upon your lives, and those fair faces shall shed, for ever, from under that slowly waving flag, hope and peace."
It is so elsewhere; it is the tenderness of Nature. Long, long ago we lost our first-born, Prue and I. Since then, we have grown older and our children with us. Change comes, and grief, perhaps, and decay. We are happy, our children are obedient and gay. But should Prue live until she has lost us all, and laid us, gray and weary, in our graves, she will have always one babe in her heart. Every mother who has lost an infant, has gained a child of immortal youth. Can you find comfort here, lovers, whose mistress has sailed away?
I did not ask the question aloud, I thought it only, as I watched the youths, and turned away while they still stood gazing. One, I observed, climbed a post and waved his black hat before the white-washed side of the shed over the dock, whence I supposed he would tumble into the water. Another had tied a handkerchief to the end of a somewhat baggy umbrella, and in the eagerness of gazing, had forgotten to wave it, so that it hung mournfully down, as if overpowered with grief it could not express. The entranced youth still held the umbrella aloft. It seemed to me as if he had struck his flag; or as if one of my cravats were airing in that sunlight. A negro carter was joking with an apple-woman at the entrance of the dock. The steamer was out of sight.