A Romantic Rendering of the Life-Story of Edgar Allan Poe
MARY NEWTON STANARD (Author of "The Story of Bacon's Rebellion")
"They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their gray visions they obtain glimpses of eternity, and thrill, in waking, to find they have been upon the verge of the great secret."
—Edgar Allan Poe, in "Eleanora"
Richmond, Virginia The Bell Book and Stationery Company 1909 Copyright 1909 By Mary Newton Stanard
In the Sacred Memory of My Father and Mother
TO THE READER
This study of Edgar Allan Poe, poet and man, is simply an attempt to make something like a finished picture of the shadowy sketch the biographers, hampered by the limitations of proved fact, must, at best, give us.
To this end I have used the story-teller's license to present the facts in picturesque form. Yet I believe I have told a true story—true to the spirit if not to the letter—for I think I have made Poe and the other persons of the drama do nothing they may not have done, say nothing they may not have said, feel nothing they may not have felt. In many instances the opinions, and even the words I have placed in Poe's mouth are his own—found in his published works or his letters.
I owe much, of course, to the writers of Poe books before and up to my time. Among these, I would make especial and grateful acknowledgment to Mr. J.H. Ingram, Professor George E. Woodberry, Professor James A. Harrison and Mrs. Susan Archer Weiss.
But more than to any one of his biographers, I am indebted to Poe himself for the revelations of his personality which appear in his own stories and poems, the most part of which are clearly autobiographic.
The last roses of the year 1811 were in bloom in the Richmond gardens and their petals would soon be scattered broadcast by the winds which had already stripped the trees and left them standing naked against the cold sky.
Cold indeed, it looked, through the small, smoky window, to the eyes of the young and beautiful woman who lay dying of hectic fever in a dark, musty room back of the shop of Mrs. Fipps, the milliner, in lower Main Street—cold and friendless and drear.
She was still beautiful, though the sparkle in the great eyes fixed upon the bleak sky had given place to deep melancholy and her face was pinched and wan.
She knew that she was dying. Meanwhile, her appearance as leading lady of Mr. Placide's company of high class players was flauntingly announced by newspaper and bill-board.
The advertisement had put society in a flutter; for Elizabeth Arnold Poe was a favorite with the public not only for her graces of person and personality, her charming acting, singing and dancing, but she had that incalculable advantage for an actress—an appealing life-story. It was known that she had lately lost a dearly loved and loving husband whom she had tenderly nursed through a distressing illness. It was also known that the husband had been a descendant of a proud old family and that the same high spirit which had led his grandfather, General Poe, passionately denouncing British tyranny, to join the Revolutionary Army, had, taking a different turn with the grandson, made him for the sake of the gifted daughter of old England who had captured his heart—actress though she was—sever home ties, abandon the career chosen for him by his parents, and devote himself to the profession of which she was a chief ornament. A brief five years of idylic happiness the pair had spent together—happiness in spite of much work and some tears;—then David Poe had succumbed to consumption, leaving a penniless widow with three children to support. The eldest, a boy, was adopted by his father's relatives in Baltimore. The other two—a boy of three years in whom were blended the spirit, the beauty, the talent and the ardent nature of both parents, and a soft-eyed, cooing baby girl—were clinging about their mother whenever she was seen off the stage, making a picture that was the admiration of all beholders.
The last roses of the year would soon be gone from the gardens, but Mrs. Fipps' windows blossomed gallantly with garlands and sprays more wonderful than any that ever grew on tree or shrub. Not for many a long day had the shop enjoyed such a thriving trade, for no sooner had the news that Mr. Placide's company would open a season at the theatre been noised abroad than the town beaux addressed themselves to the task of penning elegant little notes inviting the town belles to accompany them to the play, while the belles themselves, scenting an opportunity to complete the wreck of masculine hearts that was their chief business, addressed themselves as promptly to the quest of the most ravishing theatre bonnets which the latest Paris fashions as interpreted by Mrs. Fipps could produce. As that lady bustled back and forth among her customers, her mouth full of pins and hands full of ribbons, feathers, flowers and what not, her face wore, in spite of her prosperity, an expression of unusual gravity.
She could not get the lodger in the back room off her mind.
Mr. Placide, who had been to see the sick woman, was confident that her disorder was "nothing serious," and that she would be able to meet her engagements, and charged the thrifty dealer in fashionable head-gear and furnished rooms by no means to let the fact that the star was ill "get out." But the fever-flush that tinged the patient's pale cheeks and the cough that racked her wasted frame seemed very like danger signals to good Mrs. Fipps, and though she did not realize the hopelessness of the case, her spirits were oppressed by a heaviness that would not be shaken off.
Ill as Mrs. Poe, or Miss Arnold, as she was still sometimes called, was, she had managed by a mighty effort of will and the aid of stimulants to appear once or twice before the footlights. But her acting had been spiritless and her voice weak and it finally became necessary for the manager to explain that she was suffering from "chills and fevers," from which he hoped rest and skillful treatment would relieve her and make it possible for her to take her usual place. But she did not appear. Gradually her true condition became generally known and in the hearts of a kindly public disappointment gave place to sympathy. Some of the most charitably disposed among the citizens visited her, bringing comforts and delicacies for her and presents for the pretty, innocent babes who all unconscious of the cloud that hung over them, played happily upon the floor of the dark and bare room in which their mother's life was burning out. Nurse Betty, an ample, motherly soul, with cheeks like winter apples and eyes like blue china, and a huge ruffled cap hiding her straggly grey locks from view—versatile Betty, who was not only nurse for the children and lady's maid for the star, but upon occasion appeared in small parts herself, hovered about the bed and ministered to her dying mistress.
As the hours and days dragged by the patient grew steadily weaker and weaker. She seldom spoke, but lay quite silent and still save when shaken by the torturing cough. On a Sunday morning early in December she lay thus motionless, but wide-eyed, listening to the sounds of the church-bells that broke the quiet air. As the voice of the last bell died away she stirred and requested, in faint accents, that a packet from the bottom of her trunk be brought to her. When this was done she asked for the children, and when Nurse Betty brought them to the bedside she gave into the hands of the wondering boy a miniature of herself, upon the back of which was written: "For my dear little son Edgar, from his mother," and a small bundle of letters tied with blue ribbon. She clasped the baby fingers of the girl about an enameled jewel-case, of artistic workmanship, but empty, for its contents had, alas, gone to pay for food. She then motioned that the little ones be raised up and allowed to kiss her, after which, a frail, white hand fluttered to the sunny head of each, as she murmured a few words of blessing, then with a gentle sigh, closed her eyes in her last, long sleep.
The baby girl began to whimper with fright at the suddenness with which she was snatched up and borne from the room, and the boy looked with awe into the face of the weeping nurse who, holding his sister in one arm dragged him away from the bedside and out of the door, by the hand. There was much hurried tramping to and fro, opening and closing of doors and drawing to of window-blinds. These unusual sounds filled the boy with a vague fear.
That night the children were put to bed upon a pallet in Mrs. Fipps' own room and Mrs. Fipps herself rocked the baby Rosalie to sleep and gave the little Edgar tea-cakes, in addition to his bread and milk, and told him stories of Heaven and beautiful angels playing upon golden harps. The next day the children were taken back to their mother's room. The shutter to the window which let in the one patch of dim light was now closed and the room was quite dark, save for two candles that stood upon stands, one at the foot, the other at the head of the bed. The air was heavy—sickening almost—with the odor of flowers. Upon the bed, all dressed in white, and with a wreath of white roses on her dark ringlets, lay their mother, with eyelids fast shut and a lovely smile on her lips. She was very white and very beautiful, but when her little boy kissed her the pale lips were cold on his rosy ones, as if the smile had frozen there. It was very beautiful but the boy was a little frightened.
"Mother—" he said softly, pleadingly, "Wake up! I want you to wake up."
The weeping nurse placed her arm around him and knelt beside the bed.
"She will never wake up again here on earth, Eddie darling. Never—nevermore. She has gone to live with the angels where you will be with her some day, but never—nevermore on earth."
With that she fell to weeping bitterly, hiding her face on his little shoulder.
The child, marvelling, softly repeated, "Nevermore—nevermore." The solemn, musical word, with the picture in the dim light, of the sleeping figure—asleep to wake nevermore—and so white, so white, all save the dusky curls, sank deep into his young mind and memory. His great grey eyes were wistful with the beauty, and the sadness, and the mystery of it all.
The next day the boy rode in a carriage with Mrs. Fipps and Nurse Betty who had left off the big white cap and was enveloped from head to foot in black, up a long hill, to a white church in a churchyard where the grass was still green between the tombstones. The bell in the white steeple was tolling slowly, solemnly. Soft grey clouds hung over the steeple and snow-flakes as big as rose-leaves began to fill the air. Presently the bell ceased tolling and he and Nurse Betty moved up the aisle behind a train of figures in black, with black streamers floating from their sleeves. The figures bent beneath a heavy burden. It was long and black and grim, but the flowers that covered it were snow-white and filled the church with a sweet smell. A white-robed figure led the way up the aisle, repeating, as he walked, some words so solemn and full of melody that they sounded almost like music. The church was dim, and quiet, and nearly empty. The organ began to play—oh, so softly! It was very beautiful, but still the boy shuddered, for he dimly realized that the grim box held the sleeping form that seemed to be his mother, but was not his real mother. Her kisses were not frozen, and she was in Heaven with the angels.
The choir sang sweet music and the white-robed priest said more solemn words that were like spoken music; then the procession moved slowly down the aisle again and out of the door. The bell in the steeple was silent now, and the organ was silent. Silently the procession moved—silently the snow came down. Silently and softly, like white flowers. The green graves were white with it now, like the flowers on the coffin lid; but the open grave in the churchyard corner, near the wall—it was dark, and deep and terrible! The boy's heart almost stood still as, clinging to Nurse Betty's hand, he stared into its yawning mouth. He felt that he would choke—would suffocate. They were lowering the box into that deep, dark pit! What if the sleeping figure should awake, after all—awake to the darkness and narrowness of that narrow bed!
With a piercing shriek the child broke from his nurse's hand and thrust himself upon the arm of one of the black figures who held the ropes, in a wild effort to stay him; then, still shrieking, was borne from the spot.
"Since it seems you have set your heart upon this thing, I do not forbid it; but remember, you are acting in direct opposition to my judgment and advice, and if you ever live to regret it (as I believe you shall) you will have no one but yourself to blame."
John Allan's voice was harsher, more positive, than usual; his shoulders seemed to square themselves and a frowning brow hardened an always austere face. His whole manner was that of a man consenting against his will. His young wife hung over his chair vainly endeavoring to smooth, with little pats of her fair hands, the stubborn locks that would stand on end, like the bristles of a brush, whatever she did. Her soft and vivacious beauty was in striking contrast to the strength and severity of his rugged and at the same time distinguished countenance. His narrow, steel-blue eyes, deep sunk under bushy brows and a high, but narrow, forehead, were shrewd and piercing; his nose was large and like a hawk's beak. His face too, was narrow, with cheek-bones high as an Indian's. His mouth was large, but firmly closed, and the chin below it was long and prominent and was carried stiffly above the high stock and immaculate, starched shirt-ruffles. Her figure, as she leaned against the chair's high back, was slender and girlish,—childish, almost, in its low-necked, short-waisted, slim-skirted, "Empire" dress, of some filmy stuff, the pale yellow of a Marshal Niel rose. Her face was a pure oval with delicate, regular features. Her reddish-brown hair, parted in the middle, was piled on top of her small head, and airy little curls hung down on her brow on either side of the part. Her eyes—the color of her hair—were gentle and sweet and her mouth was tenderly curved and rosy. With her imploring attitude, the sweetness of her eyes and mouth and the warmth of her plea, her fresh beauty glowed like a flower, newly opened. All unmoved, John Allan repeated,
"You will have no one but yourself to blame."
Her ardor undimmed by the chariness of the consent she had gained, she showered the lowering brow with cool, delicate little kisses until it grew smooth in spite of itself.
"Oh, I know I never shall regret it, John," she cooed. "He is such a beautiful boy—so sweet and affectionate, so merry and clever! Just what I should like our own little boy to be, John, if God had blessed us with one."
"I grant you he seems a bonny little lad enough, Frances. But I realize, as it seems you do not, the risk of undertaking to rear as your own the child of any but the most unquestionable parentage. I confess the thought of introducing into my family the son of professional players is extremely distasteful to me."
"But John, dear, you know these Poes were not ordinary players. The father was one of the Maryland Poes and I understand the mother came of good English stock. She certainly seemed to be a lady and a good, sweet woman, poor thing! The Mackenzies have decided to adopt the baby Rosalie, though they have children, as you know; and with this charming little Edgar for my very own I shall be the happiest woman alive."
"Well, well, keep your pretty little pet, but if he turns out to be other than a credit to you, don't forget that you were warned."
* * * * *
And so the little Edgar Poe—the players' child—became Edgar Allan, with a fond and admiring young mother who became at once and forever his slave and whose chief object in life henceforth was to stand between him and the discipline of a not intentionally harsh or unkind, but strict and uncompromising father; who though he too was fond of the boy, in a way, and proud of his beauty and little accomplishments, was constantly on the lookout for the cloven foot which his fixed prejudice against the child's parentage made him certain would appear.
In her delight over her acquisition, Frances Allan was like a child with a new toy. She almost smothered him with kisses when, accepting her bribe of a spaniel pup and his pockets full of sugar-kisses, he agreed to call her "Mother." With her own fingers she made him the quaintest little baggy trousers, of silk pongee, and a velvet jacket, and a tucker of the finest linen. His cheap cotton stockings were discarded for scarlet silk ones, and for his head, "sunny over with curls" of bright nut-brown, she bought from Mrs. Fipps, the prettiest peaked cap of purple velvet, with a handsome gold tassel that fell gracefully over on one shoulder. Thus arrayed, she took him about town with her to show him to her friends who were ecstatic in their admiration of his pensive, clear-cut features, his big, grey eyes and his nut-brown ringlets; of his charming smile and the frank, pretty manner in which he gave his small hand in greeting.
"Oh, but you should hear him recite and sing," the proud foster-mother would say. "And he can dance, too."
She gave a large dinner-party just to exhibit the accomplishments of her treasure—actually standing him upon the table when it had been cleared, to sing and recite for the guests. Even her husband unbent so far as to applaud vigorously the modest, yet self-possessed grace with which the mite drank the healths of the assembled company—making a neat little speech that his new mother had taught him.
The boy's young heart responded to the affection of the foster-mother to a certain degree; but, mere baby though he was, his real heart lay deep in the grave on the hill-top, where the earthly part of that other mother was lying so still, so white, with the roses on her hair and the frozen smile on her lips.
The churchyard on the hill was but a short distance away from his new home, and as spring opened, became a favorite resort of nurses and children. The negro "mammy" who had replaced Nurse Betty used often to take him there, and often, as she chatted with other mammies, her charge would wander from her side to the grave against the wall, where he would stretch his small body full length upon the turf and whisper the thoughts of his infant mind to the dear one below; for who knew but that, even down under ground she might be glad to hear, through her white sleep, her little boy's words of love and remembrance—though never, nevermore she could see him on earth. He would even imagine her replies to him, until the conversations with her became so real that he half believed they were true.
At night, when bed-time came, he said his prayers at the knee of his pretty new mother, who told him jolly stories and sang him jolly songs, and patted him and soothed him with caresses which he found very agreeable, and accepted graciously. But he always took the miniature which had been his dying mother's parting gift to bed with him and he was glad when the new mother kissed him goodnight and put out the light and softly closed the door behind her; for it was then, with the picture close against his breast, that the visions came to him—the visions of angels making sweet music upon golden harps and among them his lost mother, with her sweet face saddened but made sweeter still by that thought of nevermore.
Oh, that wondrous word nevermore! Its music charmed him, its hopelessness filled and thrilled him with a strange, a holy sorrow, in which there was no pain.
With the lovely vision still about him, the picture still clasped to his breast, he would sink into healthful sleep to wake on the morrow a bright, joyous boy, alive to all the pleasures of the new day—delighting in the beauties of blue sky and sunshine, of whispering tree and opening flower, ready for sport with his play-fellows and his pets, and full of all manner of merry pranks and jokes. For in the frame of this small boy there dwelt two distinct personalities—twin brothers—yet as utterly unlike as strangers and foreigners, thinking different thoughts, speaking different languages, and dominating him—spirit and body—by turns. One of these we will call Edgar Goodfellow—Edgar the gay, the laughter-loving, the daring, the real, live, wholesome, normal boy; keen for the society of other boys and liking to dance, to run, to jump, to climb, even to fight. The other, Edgar the Dreamer, fond of solitude and silence and darkness, for they aided him to wander far away from the everyday world to one of make believe created by himself and filled with beings to whom real people were but as empty shadows; but a world that the death and burial of his beautiful and adored young mother and the impression made upon him by those scenes, had tinged with an eternal sadness which hung over it as a veil.
The life of Edgar the Dreamer was filled with the subtle charm of mystery. It was a secret life. The world in which he moved was a secret world—an invisible world, to whose invisible door he alone held the key. Edgar the Dreamer was himself an invisible person, for the only outward difference between him and his twin brother, Edgar Goodfellow, lay in a certain quiet, listless air and the solemn look in his big, dark grey eyes which his playmates—bored and intolerant—took as indications that "Edgar was in one of his moods," and his foster-father—eyeing him keenly and with marked displeasure—as an equally unmistakable indication that he was "hatching mischief."
There were times when in the midst of the liveliest company this so-called "mood" would possess the child. He would fall silent; his mouth would become pensive, his dark grey eyes would seem to be impenetrably veiled; his chin would drop upon his hand; he would seem utterly forgetful of his surroundings. The familiar Edgar—Edgar Goodfellow—would have given place to Edgar the Dreamer, who though apparently of the company, would really have slipped through that invisible portal and wandered far afield with the playmates of his fancy.
At such times Mrs. Allan would say, "Eddie, what are you thinking about?" And brought back to her world with a jolt, the boy would answer quickly (somewhat guiltily it seemed to Mr. Allan—noting the startled expression),
"Nothing." It was his first lie, and a very little one, but one that was often repeated; for he that would guard a secret must be used to practice deception.
Mr. Allan would say, "Wake up, wake up, child! Only the idle sit and stare at nothing and think of nothing. You'll be growing up an idle, trifling boy if you give way to such a habit."
Between the Allans and Edgar the Dreamer a great gulf lay—for how should a dreamer of day-dreams reveal himself to any not of his own tribe and kind? Upon Edgar Goodfellow Mrs. Allan doted. All of her friends agreed with her that so remarkable a child—one so precocious and still so attractive—had never been seen, and Mr. Allan was secretly, as proud of his wrestling, running, riding and other out-door triumphs as his wife was of his pretty parlor accomplishments. Their friends agreed too, that she made him the best of mothers, barring the fact (for which weakness she was excusable—he was such a love!) that she spoiled him, and perhaps permitted him to rule her too absolutely. Was he grateful? Oh, well, that would come in time. Appreciation was not a quality to be expected in children, and what more natural than that the boy should accept as a matter of course the good things which she made plain it was her chief pleasure in life to shower upon him? She was indeed, as good a mother as it was possible for a mother without a highly developed imagination to be.
A most lovely woman was Frances Allan, justly admired and liked by all who knew her. She was pretty and gracious and sunny-tempered and sweet-natured; charitable—both to society and the poor—and faithful to her religious duties. Withal, a notable house-keeper, given to hospitality, fond of "company" and gifted in the art of making her friends feel at home under her roof. If she was not gifted with a lively imagination she did not know it, and so had not missed it. As Mr. Allan's wife she had not needed it. And so she lavished upon Edgar Goodfellow everything that heart could wish. She delighted to provide him with pets and toys and good things to eat, and to fill his little pockets with money for him to spend upon himself or upon treating his friends. Fortunately, the other Edgar—Edgar the Dreamer—was not dependent upon her for his pleasures, for the beauties of sky and river and garden and wood which nourished his soul were within his own reach.
If Mrs. Allan had known Edgar the Dreamer, she would have been puzzled and alarmed. If Mr. Allan had known him he would have been angry. A man of action was John Allan. A canny Scotchman he, who owed his success as a tobacco merchant to energy and strict attention to business. If there were dreams in the bowl of the pipe, there was no room for them in the counting-house of a thrifty dealer in the weed. Meditation had no part in his life—was left out of his composition. He believed in doing. Day-dreaming was in his opinion but another name for idling, and idling was sin.
The son of their adoption vaguely realized the lack of kinship—the impossibility of contact between his nature and theirs, and as time went on drew more and more within himself. The life of Edgar the Dreamer became more and more secret. So often however, did the warning against his idle habit fall upon his ears that the plastic conscience of childhood made note of it—confusing the will of a blind human guardian with that of God. The Eden of his dreams, guarded by the flaming sword of his foster-father's wrath, began to assume the aspect (because by parental command denied him) of an evil place—though none the less sweet to his soul—and it was with a consciousness of guilt that he would steal in and wander there.
Thus the habit that nurtured God-given genius, branded as sin, and forbidden, might have been broken up, altogether or in part, had not the special providence that looks after the development of this rare exotic transplanted it to a more fertile soil—a more congenial clime.
Upon a mellow September afternoon three years after the newspapers had announced the death, in Richmond, Virginia, of Elizabeth Arnold, the popular English actress, generally known in the United States as Mrs. Poe, the ancient town of Stoke-Newington, in the suburbs of London, dozing in the shadows of its immemorial elms, was aroused to a mild degree of activity by the appearance upon its green-arched streets of three strangers—evidently Americans. It was not so much their nationality as a certain distinguished air that drew attention upon the dignified and proper gentleman in broadcloth and immaculate linen, the pretty, gracious-seeming and fashionably dressed lady and especially the little boy of six or seven summers with the large, wistful eyes and pale complexion, and chestnut ringlets framing a prominent, white brow and tumbling over a broad, snowy tucker. He wore pongee knickerbockers and red silk stockings and on his curls jauntily rested a peaked velvet cap from which a heavy gold tassel fell over upon his shoulder.
The denizens of old Stoke-Newington gazed upon this prosperous trio with frank curiosity; the reader has already recognized John Allan and his wife, Frances, and little Edgar Poe—their adopted child.
The sun was still hot, and the refreshing chill in the dusky street, under its arch of interlacing boughs, was grateful to the tired little traveller. As he moved along, clinging to Mrs. Allan's hand, his big eyes gazing as far as they might up the long, cool aisle the trees made, the hazy green distance invited his mystery-loving fancy. The odors of a thousand flowering shrubberies were on the air and he felt that it was good to be in this dreaming old town—as old, it seemed to him, as the world; and there was born in him at that moment, though he could not have defined it, a sense of the picturesquesness, the charm, the fragrance, of old things—old streets, old houses, old trees, old turf and shrubberies, even—with their haunting suggestions of bygone days and scenes.
They passed the ancient Gothic church, standing solemn and serene among its mossy tombs. In the misty blue atmosphere above the elms the fretted steeple seemed to the boy to lie imbedded and asleep, but even as he gazed upon it the churchbell, sounding the hour, broke the stillness with a deep, hollow roar which thrilled him with mingled awe and delight.
Ah, here indeed, was a place made for dreaming!
In the midst of the town lay the Manor House School where the scholarly Dr. Bransby, who preached in the Gothic church on Sundays, upon week-days instructed boys in various branches of polite learning—and also frequently flogged them. This school was the destination of the three strangers from America, for here the foundations of young Edgar's education were to be laid during the several years residence of his foster-parents in London, in which city the boy himself would pass his holidays and sometimes be permitted to spend week-ends.
The ample grounds of the school were enclosed from the rest of the town by a high and thick brick wall, dingy with years, which seemed to frown like a prison wall upon the grassy and pleasantly shaded freedom without. At one corner of this ponderous wall was set a more ponderous gate, riveted and studded with iron bolts, and surmounted with jagged iron spikes. As the boy passed through it he trembled with delicious awe which was deepened by the ominous creak of the mighty hinges. He fancied himself entering upon a domain of mystery and adventure where all manner of grim and unearthly monsters might cross his pathway to be wrestled with and destroyed. The path to the house lay through a small parterre planted with box and other shrubs, and beyond stretched the playgrounds.
As for the house itself, that appeared to the eyes of the boy as a veritable palace of enchantment. It was a large, grey, rambling structure of the Elizabethan age. Within, it was like a labyrinth. Edgar wondered if there were any end to its windings and incomprehensible divisions and sub-divisions—to its narrow, dusky passages and its steps down and up—up and down; to its odd and unexpected nooks and corners. Scarce two rooms seemed to him to be upon the same level and between continually going down or up three or four steps in a journey through the mansion upon which Dr. Bransby guided him and his foster-parents, the dazed little boy found it almost impossible to determine upon which of the two main floors he happened to be. It was afterward to become a source of secret satisfaction to him that he never finally decided upon which floor was the dim sleeping apartment to which he was introduced soon after supper, and which he shared with eighteen or twenty other boys.
The business of formally entering the pupil about whom the Allans and Dr. Bransby had already corresponded, in the school, was soon dispatched, and once more the iron gate swung open upon its weirdly complaining hinges, then went to again with a bang and a clang, and the little boy from far Virginia, with the wistful grey eyes and the sunny curls was alone in a throng of curious school-fellows, and in the dimness, the strangeness, the vastness of a hoary, mysterious mansion full of echoes, and of quaint crannies and closets where shadows lurked by day as well as by candle-light. Alone, yet not unhappy—for Edgar the Dreamer was holding full sway. With the departure of his foster-father, all check was removed from his fancy which could, and did, run riot in this creepy and fascinating old place, and at night he had to comfort him the miniature of his mother from which he had never been parted for an hour, and which he still carried to bed with him with unfailing regularity.
He had always known that his mother was English-born, and somehow, in his mind, there seemed to be some mystic connection between this ancient town and manor house and the green graveyard in Richmond, with its mouldy tombstones and encompassing wall.
* * * * *
Not until the next morning was the new pupil ushered into the school-room—the largest room in the world it seemed to the small, lonely stranger. It was long, narrow and low-pitched. Its ceiling was of oak, black with age, and the daylight struggled fitfully in through pointed, Gothic windows. Built into a remote and terror-inspiring corner was a box-like enclosure, eight or ten feet high, of heavy oak, like the ceiling, with a massy door of the same sombre wood. This, the newcomer soon learned was the "sanctum" of the head-master—the Rev. Dr. Bransby—whose sour visage, snuffy habiliments and upraised ferule seemed so terrible to young Edgar that on the following Sunday when he went to service in the Gothic church, it was with a spirit of deep wonder and perplexity that he regarded from the school gallery the reverend man with countenance so demurely benign, with robes so glossy and so clerically flowing, with wig so minutely powdered, so rigid and so vast, who, with solemn step and slow, ascended the high pulpit.
Interspersed about the school-room, crossing and recrossing in endless irregularity, were benches and desks, black, ancient and time-worn, piled desperately with much bethumbed books, and so beseamed with initial letters, names at full length, grotesque figures and other multiplied efforts of the knife, as to have lost what little of original form might have been their portion in days long departed. A huge bucket with water stood at one extremity of the room and a clock, whose dimensions appeared to the boy to be stupendous, at the other.
But it was not only Edgar the Dreamer who came to Manor House School, who passed out of the great iron gate and through the elm avenues to the Gothic church on Sundays, and who regularly, on two afternoons in the week, made a decorous escape from the confinement of the frowning walls, and in company with the whole school, in orderly procession, and duly escorted by an usher, tramped past the church and into the pleasant green fields that lay beyond the quaint houses of the village. Edgar Goodfellow was there too—Edgar the gay, the frolicsome, the lover of sports and hoaxes and trials of strength.
Upon the evening of the young American's arrival, his schoolmates kept their distance, regarding him with shy curiosity, but by the recess hour next day this timidity had worn off, and they crowded about him with the pointed questions and out-spoken criticisms which constitute the breaking in of a new scholar. The boy received their sallies with such politeness and good humor and with such an air of modest dignity, that the wags soon ceased their gibes for very shame and the ring-leaders began to show in their manner and speech, an air of approval in place of the suspicion with which they had at first regarded him.
When the questions, "What's your name?"—"How old are you?"—"Where do you live?" "Were you sick at sea?"—"What made you come to this school?" "How high can you jump?"—"Can you box?" "Can you fight?"—and the like, had been promptly and amiably answered, there was a lull. The silence was broken by young Edgar himself. Drawing himself up to the full height of his graceful little figure and thumping his chest with his closed fist, he said, "Any boy who wants to may hit me here, as hard as he can."
The boys looked at each other inquiringly for a moment—they were uncertain, whether this was a specimen of American humor or to be taken literally. Presently the largest and strongest among them stepped forward. He was a stalwart fellow for his years, but his excessively blond coloring, together with the effeminate style in which his mother insisted upon dressing him, caused the boys to give him the name of "Beauty," which was soon shortened into "Beaut," and had finally become "the Beau."
"Will you let me hit you?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Edgar. "Count three and hit. You can't hurt me."
As "the Beau" counted, "One—two—three"—Edgar gently inflated his lungs, expanding his chest to its fullest extent, and then, at the moment of receiving the blow, exhaled the air. He did not stagger or flinch, though his antagonist struck straight from the shoulder, with a brawny, small fist.
The rest of the boys, in turn, struck him—each time counting three—with the same result. Finally "the Beau" said,
"You hit me."
Edgar counted, "One—two—three"—and struck out with clenched fist, but "the Beau" not knowing the trick, was promptly bowled over on the grass—the shock making quick tears start in his forget-me-not blue eyes.
The boys were, one and all, open and clamorous in their admiration.
"Pshaw," said young Edgar, indifferently. "It's nothing. All the boys in Virginia can do that."
"Can you play leap-frog?" asked "Freckles"—a wiry looking little fellow, with carotty locks and a freckled nose, whose leaping had hitherto been unrivalled.
"I'll show you," was the reply.
Instantly, a dozen backs were bent in readiness for the game, and over them, one by one, vaulted Edgar, with the lightness of a bird, his brown curls blowing out behind him, as his baggy yellow thighs and thin red legs flew through the air.
"Freckles" magnanimously owned himself beaten at his own game.
"Let's race," said "Goggles"—a lean, long-legged, swathy boy, with a hooked nose and bulging, black eyes.
Like a flash, the whole lot of them were off down the gravel walk, under the elms. Edgar and "Goggles"—abreast—led for a few moments, then Edgar gradually gained and came out some twenty feet ahead of "Goggles," and double that ahead of the foremost of the others.
It was not only these accomplishments in themselves that made the American boy at once take the place of hero and leader of his form in this school of old England, but the quiet and unassuming mien with which he bore his superiority—not seeming in the least to despise the weakest or most backward of his competitors, and good-humoredly initiating them all into the little secrets of his success in performing apparently difficult feats.
It was the same way with his lessons. Without apparent effort he distanced all of his class-mates and instead of pluming himself upon it, was always ready to help them with their Latin or their sums, whose answers he seemed to find by magic, almost.
During the winter before Edgar went to Stoke-Newington, he had attended an "infant school," in Richmond, taught by a somewhat gaunt, but mild-mannered spinster, with big spectacles over her amiable blue eyes, a starchy cap and a little bunch of frosty cork-screw curls on each side of her face. As a child, she had played with Mr. Allan's father on their native heath, in Ayrshire, and to her, little Edgar was always her "ain wee laddie." She had spoiled him inordinately and unblushingly. Also, as she contentedly drew at the pipe filled with the offerings of choice smoking-tobacco which he frequently turned out of his pockets into her lap, she had taught him to read in her own broad Scottish accent, and to cypher.
She had furthermore drilled him in making "pothooks and hangers," with which he covered his slate in neat rows, daily. But it was at the Manor House, in Stoke-Newington, that he was initiated into the mysteries of writing. His hands were as shapely as a girl's, with deft, taper fingers that seemed made to hold a pen or brush, and he soon developed a neat, small, but beautifully clear and graceful hand-writing.
This new accomplishment became at once a delight to him, and as time went on opened a new world to Edgar the Dreamer, who now began, when he could snatch an opportunity to do so unobserved, to put down upon paper the visions of his awakening soul. Sometimes these scribblings took the form of little stories—crudely conceived and incoherently expressed, but rich in the picturesque thought and language of an exceptionably imaginative and precocious child. Sometimes they were in verse. For subjects these infant effusions had generally to do with the lonely grave in the churchyard in Richmond and the sad joy of the heart that mourns evermore; with the beauty of flowers—the more beautiful because doomed to a brief life; with the Gothic steeple, asleep in the still, blue air, and the bell in whose deep iron throat dwelt a note that was hollow and ghostly; with the great wall around the Manor House grounds and with the mighty gate that swung upon hinges in which the voice of a soul in torment seemed to be imprisoned, and with other things which filled him with a terror that
"was not fright, But a tremulous delight."
His learning to write bore still another fruit.
When Mrs. Allan had first adopted him and set apart a room in her home for him, she had placed in a little cabinet therein the packet of letters his dying mother had given him. She had not opened the packet, for she felt that the letters were for the actress's child's eye alone. He, when he looked at it, did so with a feeling of mixed reverence and fascination which was deepened by his inability to decipher the secrets bound together by the bit of blue ribbon tied around it. How the sight of the packet recalled to him that sad, that solemn hour in which it had been given into his hands! When getting him ready for boarding-school, Mrs. Allan had packed the letters with his other belongings, for she was a woman of sentiment, and she felt the child should not be parted from this gift of his dying mother. But at length, when a knowledge of writing made it possible for him to read the letters, he was possessed with a feeling of shrinking from doing so, as one might shrink from opening a message from the grave.
What grim, what terrible secrets, might not the little bundle of letters reveal!
It was not until his fifth and last year at Stoke-Newington that Edgar decided one day to look into the packet. He was confined to his bed by slight indisposition and so had the dormitory to himself and could risk opening the letters without fear of interruption. He untied the blue ribbon and the thin, yellowed papers, with fragments of their broken seals still sticking to them, fell apart. He picked up the one bearing the earliest date and began to read. It was from his father to his mother immediately after their betrothal. His interest was at once intensely aroused and in the order in which the letters came, he read, and read, and read, with the absorption with which he might have read his first novel. They were a revelation to him—a revelation of a world he had not known existed, though it seemed, it lay roundabout him—these love-letters of his parents, literally throbbing with the exalted passion of two young, ardent, poetic spirits. The boy had not dreamed that anything so beautiful could be as this undying love of which they wrote and the language in which they made their sweet vows to each other. His own heart throbbed in answer to what he read. His imagination was violently wrought upon and exquisite feelings such as he had never known before awakened in his breast.
Under the spell of the letters the child-poet fell in love—not with any creature of flesh and blood, for his entire acquaintance and association was with boys—but with the ideal of his inner vision. From that time, his poetic outbursts came to be filled with—more than aught else—the surpassing beauty, the worshipful goodness, the divine love of woman. He was a naturally reverent boy, but for these more than mortal beings, as they appeared to his fancy, was reserved the supreme worship of his romantic soul. Indeed, the adoration of his ideal woman—perfect in body, in mind and in soul, became, and was to be always, a religion to him.
To imagine himself rescuing from a dark prison tower, hid in a deep wood, or from a watery grave in a black and rock-bound lake, at midnight, some lovely maiden whose every thought and heart-beat would thenceforth be for him alone—this became the entrancing inward vision of Edgar the Dreamer—the poet—the lover, at whom Edgar Goodfellow with whisper as insistent as the voice of Conscience, scoffed and sneered, seeking to make him ashamed; but all in vain.
Of course it was to follow, as the night the day, that the boy would find someone in whom to dress his ideal. Upon a Sunday soon after his falling in love, he saw the very maiden of his dreams in the flesh. It was in the Gothic church. From the remote pew in the gallery where he sat with his school-mates, he looked down upon a wonderful vision of white and gold in one of the principal pews of the main aisle. Clad all in white and with a shower of golden tresses falling over her shoulders, she was like a glorious lily or a holy angel. Her eyes, uplifted in the rapture of worship, he divined, rather than saw, were of the hue of heaven itself. He loved her at once, with all his soul's might. Her name? Her home? These were mysteries—sacred mysteries—whose unfathomableness but added to her charm.
After that, service in the Gothic church was a much more important event to The Dreamer than before—an event looked forward to with trembling from Sunday to Sunday. After that too, upon his periodical week-day walks with the school, he would look up at the quaint old homesteads they passed, with their hedged gardens, ivied walls and sweet-scented shrubberies, and try to guess which was the house-wonderful in which she dwelt. Then suddenly, one sweet May afternoon, he discovered it.
It was, as was fitting, the most antique, the most distinguished mansion of them all. He saw her through the bars of the stately entrance gate as she sat beside her mother, on a garden-seat, tying into nosegays the flowers that filled her lap. Stupified by the shock of the discovery, he stood rooted to the ground, letting his school-mates go on ahead of him. She was much nearer him than she had been in the dusky church, and upon closer view, she seemed even more lovely, more flower-like, more angelic than ever before. He stared upon her face with a gaze so compelling that she looked up and smiled at him; then, with sudden impulse, gathered her flowers in her apron, and running forward, handed him through the gate, a fragrant, creamy bud that she happened at the moment to have in her hand.
As in a dream, he stretched his fingers for it. He tried to frame an expression of thanks, but his lips were dry and though they moved, no sound came. She had returned at once to her seat beside her mother, and the voice of the usher (who had just missed him) sharply calling to him to "Come on!" was in his ears. He hurried forward, trembling in all his limbs. Twice he stumbled and nearly fell. The bud, he had quickly hidden within his jacket—it was too holy a thing for the profane eyes of his school-fellows to look upon.
When strength and reason came back to him he was like a new being. Happiness gave wings to his feet and he walked on air. A divine song seemed to be singing in his ears. Mechanically, he went through the regular routine of school, with no difference that others could see. To himself, heart and soul—detached and divorced from his body—seemed soaring in a new and beautiful world in which lessons and teachers had no place, no part. Whenever it was possible for him to do so unobserved, he would snatch the rose from his bosom and kiss and caress it. He only lived to see Sunday come round.
But on the next Sunday and the next she was absent from her accustomed place. Such a thing had not happened before since he had first seen her. He was filled with the first real anxiety he had ever known. Here was a mystery in which there was no charm!
The Wednesday after the second Sunday upon which he had missed her was a day dropped out of heaven. The mild, early summer air that floated through the open windows into the gloomy, oak-ceiled schoolroom, was ambrosial with the breathings of flowers. Young Edgar could not fix his thoughts upon the page before him. The out-of-door world was calling to him. He found himself listening to the birds in the trees outside and gazing through the narrow, pointed windows at the waving branches.
Suddenly his heart stopped. The deep, sweet, hollow, ghostlike voice of the bell in the steeple, tolling for a funeral, was borne to his ears. In a moment his fevered imagination associated the tolling with the absence of his divinity from her pew, and in spite of passionately assuring himself that it could not be, and recalling how lovely and full of health she had been when he saw her through the gate, he was possessed by deep melancholy.
The days and hours until Sunday seemed an age to him—an age of foreboding and dread—but they at last passed by. In a fever of anxiety, he walked with the rest of the boys to church, and mounted the steps to the school gallery.
It was early; few of the worshippers had arrived, but in a little while there was a stir near the door. A group of figures shrouded in the black habiliments of woe were moving up the aisle—were entering her pew, from which alas, she was again absent!
Then he knew—knew that she would enter that sacred place nevermore!
After the service there were inquiries as to the cause of a commotion in the gallery occupied by the Manor House School, and it was said in reply that the weather being excessively hot for the season, one of the boys had fainted.
The June following young Edgar's eleventh birthday found him in Richmond once more. The village-like little capital was all greenery and roses and sunshine and bird-song and light-hearted laughter, and he felt, with a glow, that it was good to be back.
In the five years of his absence he had grown quite tall for his age, with a certain dignity and self-possession of bearing acquired from becoming accustomed to depend upon himself. All that was left of the nut-brown curls that used to flow over his shoulders were the clustering ringlets that covered his head and framed his large brow. His absence had also wrought in him other and more subtle changes which did not appear to the friends who remarked upon what a great boy he had grown—a maturity from having lived in another world—from having had his thoughts expanded by new scenes and quickened by the suggestions of historic association and surroundings.
But with his return, England and Stoke-Newington sank into the shadowy past—their spell weakened, for the time being, by the thought-absorbing, heart-filling scenes of which he had now become a part. The years at the Manor House School were as a dream—this was the real thing—this was Home. Home—ah, the charm of that word and all it implied! His heart swelled, his eyes grew misty as he said it over and over to himself. The clatter of drays "down town" was like music in his ears, the dusty streets of the residential section were fair to his eyes for old time's sake. How he loved the very pavement under his feet, rough and uneven as it was; how dearly he loved the trees that he had climbed (and would climb again) which stretched their friendly boughs over his head!
In a state of happy excitement he rushed about town, visiting his old haunts to see if they were still there, and "the same."
"Comrade," his brown spaniel—his favorite of all his pets—had grown old and sober and had quite forgotten him, but his love was soon reawakened. The boys he had played with, too, had almost forgotten him, but his return called him to mind again and put them all in a flutter. A boy who had lived five years on the other side of the ocean and had been to an English boarding school, was not seen in Richmond every day. Mrs. Allan gave him a party to which all of the children in their circle were invited. In anticipation of this, he had purchased in London, out of the abundance of pocket-money with which his doting foster-mother always saw to it he was provided, a number of little gifts to be distributed among the boys at home. These, with the distinction his travels gave him, made him the man of the hour among Richmond children. And how much he had to tell! At Stoke-Newington it was always the boys at home that were the heroes of the stories he spun by the yard for the entertainment of his school-fellows—the literal among whom had come to believe that there was no feat a Virginia boy could not perform. Now that he was in Richmond, the Stoke-Newington boys themselves loomed up as the wonder-workers, and his playmates listened with admiration and with such expression as, "Caesar's ghost!"—"Jiminy!"—"Cracky!" and the like, as he narrated his tales of "Freckles," "Goggles," "the Beau," and the rest.
One of his first visits after reaching home was to his old black "Mammy," in the tiny cottage, with its prolific garden-spot, on the outskirts of the town, in which Mr. Allan had installed her and her husband, "Uncle Billy," before leaving Virginia.
"Mammy" was expecting him. With one half of her attention upon the white cotton socks she was knitting for her spouse and the other half on the gate of her small garden through which her "chile" would come, she sat in her doorway awaiting him. She was splendidly arrayed in her new purple calico and a big white apron, just from under the iron. Her gayest bandanna "hankercher" covered her tightly "wropped" locks from view and the snowiest of "neckerchers" was crossed over her ample bosom. Her kind, black countenance was soft with thoughts of love.
"Uncle Billy," too, was spruced for the occasion. Indeed, he was quite magnificent in a "biled shut," with ruffles, and an old dresscoat of "Marster's." His top-boots were elaborately blacked, and a somewhat battered stove-pipe hat crowned his bushy grey wool. Each of the old folks comfortably smoked a corn-cob pipe.
"Mammy" saw her boy coming first. She could hardly believe it was he—he was so tall—but she was up and away, down the path, in a flash. Half-way to the gate that opened on the little back street, she met him and enveloped him at once in her loving arms.
"Bless de Lord, O my soul!" she repeated over and over again in a sort of chant, as she held him against her bosom and rocked back and forth on her broad feet, tears of joy rolling down her face.
"De probable am returned," announced Uncle Billy, solemnly.
"G'long, Billy," she said, contemptuously. "He ain' no probable. He jes' Mammy's own li'l' chile, if he is growed so tall!"
"I'se only 'peatin' what de Good Book say," replied Uncle Billy, with dignity.
Edgar was crying too, and laughing at the same time.
"Howdy, Uncle Billy," said he, stretching a hand to the old man as soon as he could extricate himself from Mammy's embrace. "My, my, you do look scrumptious! How's the rheumatiz?"
"Now jes' heah dat! Rememberin' uv de ole man's rheumatiz arter all dis time!" exclaimed the delighted Uncle Billy. "'Twus mighty po'ly, thankee, li'l Marster, but de sight o' you done make it better a'ready. I 'clar 'fo' Gracious, if de sight of you wouldn' be good for so' eyes! Socifyin' wid dem wile furren nations ain' hu't you a bit—'deed it ain't!"
"How did you expect them to hurt me, Uncle Billy?" asked Edgar, laughing.
"I was 'feard dey mought make a Injun, or sum'in' out'n you."
"G'long, Billy," put in his wife, with increased contempt, "Marse Eddie ain' been socifyin' wid no Injuns—he been socifyin' wid kings an' queens' settin' on dey thrones, wid crowns on dey haids an' spectres in dey han's! Come 'long in de house, Honey, an' set awhile wid Mammy."
As they crossed the threshold of the humble abode, Edgar looked around upon its familiar, homely snugness with satisfaction—at the huge, four-post bed, covered with a cheerful "log cabin" quilt made of scraps of calico of every known hue and pattern; at the white-washed walls adorned with pictures cut from old books and magazines; at the "shelf," as Mammy called the mantel-piece, with its lambrequin of scallopped strips of newspaper, and its china vases filled with hundred-leaf roses and pinks; at the spotless bare floor and homemade split-bottomed chairs; at the small, but bright, windows, with their rows of geraniums and verbenas, brilliantly blooming in boxes, tin-cans and broken-nosed tea-pots.
Almost all that Mammy could say was,
"Lordy, Lordy, Honey, how you has growed!" Or, "Jes' to think of Mammy's baby sech a big boy!"
Presently a shadow crossed her face. "Honey," she said, "You gittin' to be sech a man now, you won't have no mo' use fur po' ole Mammy. Dar won't be a thing fur her to do fur sech a big man-chile."
"Don't you believe that, for a minute, Mammy," was the quick reply. "I was just wondering if you had forgotten how to make those good ash-cakes."
"Now, jes' listen to de chile, makin' game o' his ole Mammy!" she exclaimed. "Livin' so high wid all dem hifalutin' kings an' queens an' sech, an' den comin' back here an' makin' ten' he wouldn' 'spise Mammy's ash-cakes!"
"I'm in dead earnest, Mammy. Indeed, indeed and double deed, I am. Kings and queens don't have anything on their tables half as good as one of your ash-cakes, with a glass of cool butter-milk."
"Dat so, Honey?" she queried, with wonder. "Den you sho'ly shall have some, right away. Mammy churn dis ve'y mornin', and dars a pitcher of buttermilk coolin' in de spring dis minute. You des' make you'se'f at home an' I'll step in de kitchen an' cook you a ash-cake in a jiffy. Billy, you pick me some nice, big cabbage leaves to bake it in whilst I'm mixin' de dough, an' den go an' git de butter-milk an' a pat o' dat butter I made dis mornin' out'n de spring."
Edgar and Uncle Billy followed her into the kitchen where she deftly mixed the corn-meal dough, shaped it in her hands into a thick round cake, which she wrapped in fresh cabbage leaves and put down in the hot ashes on the hearth to bake. Meantime the following conversation between Edgar and the old "Uncle:"
"Uncle Billy do you ever see ghosts now-adays?"
"To be sho', li'l' Marster, to be sho'. Sees 'em mos' any time. Saw one las' Sunday night."
"What was it like, Uncle Billy?"
"Like, Honey?—Like ole Mose, dat's what t'wus like. Does you 'member Mose whar useter drive de hotel hack?"
"Yes, he's dead isn't he?"
"Yes, suh, daid as a do' nail. Dat's de cur'us part on it. He's daid an' was buried las' Sunday ebenin'—buried deep. I know, 'ca'se I wus dar m'se'f. But dat night when I had gone to bed an' wus gittin' off to meh fus' nap, I was woke up on a sudden by de noise uv a gre't stompin' an' trompin' an snortin' in de road. I jump up an' look out de winder, an' I 'clar' 'fo' Gracious if dar warn't Mose, natchel as life, horses an' hack an' all, tearin' by at a break-neck speed. I'se seed many a ghos' an' a ha'nt in meh time, uv humans, but dat wus de fus' time I uver heard tell uv a horse or a hack risin' f'um de daid. 'Twus skeery, sho'!"
Before Edgar had time for comment upon this remarkable apparition, Mammy set before him the "snack" she had prepared of smoking ash-cake and fresh butter, on her best china plate—the one with the gilt band—and placed at his right hand a goblet and a stone pitcher of cool butter-milk. A luncheon, indeed, fit to be set before royalty, though it is not likely that any of them ever had such an one offered them—poor things!
Edgar did full justice to the feast and was warm in his praises of it. Then, before taking his leave, he placed in Mammy's hands a parcel containing gifts from the other side of the water for her and Uncle Billy. There is nothing so dear to the heart of an old-time negro as a present, and as the aged couple opened the package and drew out its treasures, their black faces fairly shone with delight. Mammy could not forbear giving her "chile" a hug of gratitude and freshly springing love, while Uncle Billy heartily declared,
"De Lord will sho'ly bless you, li'l' Marster, fur de Good Book do p'intedly say dat He do love one chufful giver."
* * * * *
To young Edgar's home-keeping playmates, he seemed to be the luckiest boy in the world, and indeed, his brief existence had been up to this time, as fortunate as it appeared to them. Even the beautiful sorrow of his mother's death had filled his life with poetry and brought him sympathy and affection in abundant measure.
But bitterness was soon enough to enter his soul. His thoughts from the moment of his return to Richmond, had frequently turned to the white church and churchyard on the hill—and to the grave beside the wall. Thither he was determined to go as soon as he possibly could, but it was too sacred a pilgrimage to be mentioned to anyone—it must be as secret as he could make it; and so he must await an opportunity to slip off when he would be least apt to be missed. He chose a sultry afternoon when Mr. and Mrs. Allan were taking a long drive into the country. He waited until sunset—thinking there would be less probability of meeting anyone in the churchyard after that hour than earlier—and set out, taking with him a cluster of white roses from the summer-house in the garden.
It was nearly dusk when he reached the church and climbed the steps that led to the walled graveyard, elevated above the street-level. Never had the spot looked so fair to him. The white spire, piercing the blue sky, seemed almost to touch the slender new moon, with the evening star glimmering by her side. The air was sweet with the breath of roses and honeysuckle, and the graves were deeply, intensely green. Long he lay upon the one by the wall, near the head of which he had placed his white roses—looking up at the silver spire and the silver star and the moon's silver bow—so long that he forgot the passage of time, and when he reached home and went in out of the night to the bright dining-room, blinking his great grey eyes to accustom them to the lamp-light, supper was over.
The keen eyes of John Allan looked sternly upon him from under their fierce brows. The boy saw at once that his foster-father was very angry.
"Where have you been?" he demanded, harshly.
"Nowhere," replied the boy.
"What have you been doing all this time?"
"Nothing," was the answer.
"Nowhere? Nothing? Don't nowhere and nothing me, Sir. Those are the replies—the lying replies—of a boy who has been in mischief. If you had not been where you shouldn't have been, and doing as you shouldn't have done, you would not be ashamed to tell. Now, Sir, tell me at once, where you have been and what you have been doing?"
The boy grew pale, but made no reply, and in the eyes fixed on Mr. Allan's face was a provokingly stubborn look. The man's wrath waxed warmer. His voice rose. In a tone of utter exasperation he cried, "Tell me at once, I say, or you shall have the severest flogging you ever had in your life!"
The boy grew paler still, and his eyes more stubborn. A scowl settled upon his brow and a look of dogged determination about his mouth, but still he spoke not a word.
Mrs. Allan looked from one to the other of these two beings—husband and son—who made her heart's world. The evening was warm and she wore a simple white dress with low neck and short sleeves. Anxiety clouded her lovely face, yet never had she looked more girlishly sweet—more appealing; but the silent plea in her beautiful, troubled eyes was lost on John Allan, much as he loved her.
"Tell him, Eddie dear," she implored. "Don't be afraid. Speak up like a man!"
She walked over to the table where the boy sat before the untouched supper that had been saved for him, and dropped upon one knee beside him. She placed her arm around him and drew him against her gentle bosom—he suffering her, though not returning the caress.
"Tell me, Eddie, darling—tell Mother," she coaxed.
The grey eyes softened, the brow lifted. "There's nothing to tell, Mother," he gently replied.
Mr. Allan rose from his chair. "I'll give you five minutes in which to find something to tell," he exclaimed, shaking a trembling finger at the culprit; then stalked out of the room.
In his absence his wife fell upon the neck of the pale, frowning child, covering his face and his curly head with kisses, and beseeching him with honeyed endearments, to be a good boy and obey his father. But the little figure seemed to have turned to stone in her arms. In less than the five minutes Mr. Allan was back in the room, trimming a long switch cut from one of the trees in the garden as he came.
"Are you ready to tell me the truth?" he demanded.
Still trimming the switch, he approached the boy. Frances Allan trembled. Rising from the child's side, she clasped her husband's arm in both her hands.
"Don't, John! Don't, please, John dear. I can't stand it," she breathed. He put her aside, firmly.
"Don't be silly, Frances. You are interfering with my duty. Can't you see that I must teach the boy to make you a better return for your kindness than lying to hide his mischief?"
"But suppose that he is telling the truth, John, and that he has been doing nothing worse than wandering about the streets? You know the way he has always had of roaming about by himself, at times."
"And do you think roaming about the streets at this time of night proper employment for a boy of eleven? Would you have him grow up into a vagabond? A boy dependent upon the bounty of strangers can ill afford to cultivate such idle habits!"
The boy's already large and dark pupils dilated and darkened until his eyes looked like black, storm-swept pools. His already white face grew livid. He drew back as if he had been struck and fixed upon his foster-father a gaze in which every spark of affection was, for the moment, dead. He had been humiliated by the threat of a flogging, but the prospect of the hardest stroke his body might receive was as nothing to him now. His sensitive soul had been smitten a blow the smart of which he would carry with him to his last day. "Dependent upon the bounty of strangers,"—of strangers!
Up to this time he had been the darling little son of an over-fond mother, and though his foster-father had been at times, stern and unsympathetic with him, no hint had ever before dropped from him to indicate that the child was not as much his own as the sons of other fathers were their own—that he was not as much entitled to the good things of life which were heaped upon him without the asking as an own son would have been. His comforts—his pleasures had been so easily, so plentifully bestowed that the little dreamer had never before awaked to a realization of a difference between his relation with his parents and the relation of other children with theirs. Brought face to face with this hard, cold fact for the first time, and so suddenly, he was for the moment stunned by it. He felt that a flood of deep waters in which he was floundering helplessly was overwhelming him.
A deep silence had followed the last words of Mr. Allan, who continued to trim the switch, while his wife, sinking into a chair, bowed her face in her arms, folded upon the table, and began to cry softly. The gentle sounds of her weeping seemed but further to infuriate her husband.
"Come with me," he commanded, placing his hand on the shoulder of the child, who unresistingly suffered himself to be pushed along toward his foster-father's room. Frances Allan broke into wild sobbing and placed her fingers against her ears that she might not hear the screams of her pet. But there were no screams. Silently, and with an air of dignity it was marvellous so small a figure could command, the beautiful boy received the blows. When one's soul has been hurt, what matters mere physical pain? When both the strength and the passion of Mr. Allan had been somewhat spent, he ceased laying on blows and asked in a calmed voice,
"Are you ready to tell me the truth now?"
In one moment of time the child lived over again the beautiful hour at his mother's grave. He saw again the silver spire and the silver half-moon and the silver star—smelled the blended odors of honeysuckle and rose, made sweeter, by the gathering dews, and felt the coolness and freshness of the long green grass that covered the grave. Who knew but that deep down under the sweet grass she had been conscious he was there—had felt his heart beat and heard his loving whispers as of old, and loved him still, and understood, though she would see him nevermore? Share the secret of that holy hour with anyone—of all people, with this wrathful, blind, unsympathizing man who had just confessed himself a stranger to him? Never!
A faint smile, full of peace, settled upon his poet's face, but he answered never a word.
There was a stir at the door. John Allan looked toward it. His wife stood there drying her eyes. He turned to the boy again.
"Go with your mother and get your supper," he commanded.
"I don't want it," was the reply.
"Well, go to bed then, and tomorrow afternoon you are to spend in your own room, where I hope meditation upon your idle ways may bring you to something like repentance."
The boy paused half-way to the door. "Tomorrow is the day I'm going swimming with the boys. You promised that I might go."
"Well, I take back the promise, that's all."
"Don't you think you've punished him enough for this time, John?" timidly asked his wife.
"No boy is ever punished enough until he is conquered," was the reply. "And Edgar is far from that!"
Mrs. Allan, with her arm about the little culprit's shoulder went with him to his room. How she wished that he would let her cuddle him in her lap and sing to him and tell him stories and then hear him his prayers at her knee and tuck him in bed as in the old days before he went to boarding-school! Her heart ached for him, though she had no notion of the bitterness, the rebellion, that were rankling in his. As she kissed him goodnight she whispered,
"You shall have your swim, in the river, tomorrow, Eddie darling; I'll see that you do."
"Don't you ask him to let me do anything," he protested, passionately. "I'm going without asking him. He disowned me for a son, I'll disown him for a father!"
He loved her but he was glad when the door closed behind her so that he could think it all out for himself in the dark—the dear dark that he had always loved so well and that was now as balm to his bruised spirit. The worst of it was that he could not disown John Allan as a father. He had to confess to himself with renewed bitterness that he was indeed, and by no fault of his own—a helpless dependent upon the charity of this man who had, in taunting him with the fact, wounded him so grievously. His impulse was to run away—but where could he go? Though his small purse held at that moment a generous amount of spending money for a boy "going on twelve," it would be a mere nothing toward taking him anywhere. It would not afford him shelter and food for a day, and he knew it—it would not take him to the only place where he knew he had kindred—Baltimore. And what if he could get as far as Baltimore, would he care to go there? To assert his independence of the charity of John Allan only to throw himself upon the charity of relatives who had never noticed him—whom he hated because they had never forgiven his father for marrying the angel mother around whose memory his fondest dreams clung?
No, he could not disown Mr. Allan—not yet; but the good things of life received from his hands had henceforth lost their flavor and would be like Dead Sea fruit upon his lips. Hitherto, though he knew, of course, that he was not the Allans' own child, he had never once been made to feel that he was any the less entitled to their bounty. They had adopted him of their own free will to fill the empty arms of a woman with a mother's heart who had never been a mother, and that woman had lavished upon him almost more than a mother's love—certainly more than a prudent mother's indulgence. He had been the most spoiled and petted child of his circle, and the bounty had been heaped upon him in a manner that made him feel—child though he was—the joy that the giving brought the giver, and therefore no burden of obligation upon himself in receiving. If Mr. Allan had been strict to a point of harshness with him, at times, Mr. Allan was a born disciplinarian—it seemed natural for him to be stern and unsympathetic and those who knew him best took his stiffness and hardness with many grains of allowance, remembering his upright life and his open-handed charities. He had administered punishment upon the little lad when he was naughty in the years before he went away to school, and the little lad had taken his medicine philosophically like other naughty boys—had cried lustily, then dried his eyes and forgotten all about it in the pleasure which the goodies and petting he always had from his pretty, tender-hearted foster-mother at such times gave him. But this was different. He was a big lad now—very big and old, he felt, far too big to be flogged; quite big enough to visit his mother's grave, if he chose, without having to talk about it. And he had not only been flogged because he would not reveal his sacred, sweet secret, but had had his dependence upon charity thrown up at him!
Henceforth, he felt, his life would be a lonely one, for he now knew that he was different from other boys, all of whom (in his acquaintance) had fathers to whose bounty they had a right—the right of sonship. Yes, he was a very big boy (he told himself) and he had not cried when he was flogged, but under the cover of the kindly dark, hot tears of indignation, hurt pride and pity for his own loneliness—his singularity—made all his pillow wet.
Comfort came to him from an unexpected source. The door of his room had been closed, but not latched. It was now pushed open by "Comrade," his old spaniel, who made straight for his side, first pushing his nose against his face and then leaping upon the bed and nestling down close to him, with a sigh of satisfaction. The desolate boy welcomed this dumb, affectionate companionship. The feel of the warm, soft body, and the thought of the velvety brown eyes which he could not see in the dark, but knew were fixed upon him with their intense, loving gaze, were soothing to his overwrought nerves. Here was something whose love could be counted upon—something as dependent upon him as he was upon Mr. Allan; yet what a joy he found in the very dependence of this devoted, soft-eyed creature! Never would he taunt Comrade with his dependence upon charity.
"No;" he said, his hands deep in the silky coat, "I would not insult a dog as he has insulted me! Never mind, Comrade, old fellow, we'll have our swim in the river tomorrow, and he may flog me again if he likes."
* * * * *
But he was not flogged the next day. An important business engagement occupied Mr. Allan the whole afternoon, and when he came in late, tired and pre-occupied, he found Edgar fresh and glowing from his exercise in the river, the curls still damp upon his forehead, quietly eating his supper with his mother. She knew, but tender creature that she was, she was prepared to do anything short of fibbing to shield her pet from another out-burst. But John Allan, still absorbed in business cares, hardly looked toward the boy, and asked not a question.
The home of the Allans was never quite the same to Edgar Poe after that night. A wall had been raised between him and his foster-father that would never be scaled. He was still indulged in a generous amount of pocket money which he invariably proceeded to get rid of as fast as he could—lavishing it upon the enjoyment of his friends as freely as it had been lavished upon him. He had plenty of pets and toys, went to dancing school, in which his natural love of dancing made him delight, and was given stiff but merry little parties, at which old Cy, the black fiddler played and called the figures, and the little host and his friends conformed to the strict, ceremonious etiquette observed by the children as well as the grown people of the day.
For these indulgences Frances Allan was chiefly responsible. The one weak spot in the armor of austerity in which John Allan clothed himself was his love for his wife, and it was often against what he felt to be his better judgment that he acquiesced in her system of child-spoiling. He felt a solemn responsibility toward the boy, and he did his duty by him, as he saw it, faithfully. It was not in the least his fault that he did not see that under the broad white brow and sunny ringlets was a brain in which, like the sky in a dew-drop, a whole world was reflected, with ever changing pageantry, and that the abstracted expression in the boy's eyes that he thought could only mean that he was "hatching mischief," really indicated that the creative faculty in budding genius was awake and at work.
For a child Edgar's age to be making trials at writing poetry Mr. Allan regarded as sheer idleness, to be promptly suppressed. Indeed, when he discovered that the boy had been guilty of such foolishness, he emphatically ordered him not to repeat it. To counteract the effects of his wife's spoiling of her adopted son, he felt it his duty to place all manner of restrictions upon his liberty, which the freedom-loving boy, with the connivance of his mother and the negro servants who adored him, disregarded whenever it was possible. Though bathing in the river was (except upon rare occasions) prohibited, Edgar became before summer was over, the most expert swimmer and diver of his years in town, and many an afternoon when Mr. Allan supposed that he was in his room, to which he had been ordered for the purpose of disciplining his will and character, or for punishment, he was far beyond the city's limits roaming the woods, the fields, or the river-banks—joyously, and without a prick of conscience (for all his disobedience) feeding his growing soul upon the beauties of tree, and sky, and cliff, and water-fall.
And so, in spite of the melancholy moods in which he was occasionally plunged by the bitterness which had found lodgment in his breast, the summer was upon the whole a happy one to the boy. He was so young and the world was so beautiful! He could not remember always to be unhappy. Edgar Goodfellow, as well as Edgar the Dreamer, revelled in the world of Out-of-Door. To the one all manner of muscular sport and exercise was as the breath of his nostrils; to the other, whose favorite stories were ancient myths and fairy-tales, all natural phenomena possessed vivid personality. He loved to trace pictures in the clouds. In the rustling of corn or the stirring of leaves in the trees, or in the sound of running waters he heard voices which spoke to him of delightsome things, bringing to his full, grey eyes, as he hearkened, a soft, romantic look, and touching his lips and his cheeks with a radiant spirituality.
The cottage, on Clay Street, to which the Allans had removed soon after their return from England, was in a quiet part of the town. The window of Edgar's own, quaint little room in the dormer roof, with its shelving walls, gave him a fair view of the sky, and brought him sweet airs wafted across the garden of old-fashioned flowers below. Here, such hours as he spent from choice or by command were not lonely, for, sitting by the little window, many a story or poem was thought out; or buried in some favorite book his thoughts would be borne away as if on wings to a world where imagination was king.
* * * * *
In the fall he was entered at Mr. Clarke's school. The school-room, with its white-washed walls and the sun pouring in, unrestricted, through the commonplace, big, bare windows, was very different from the great, gloomy Gothic room at old Stoke-Newington—so full of mystery and suggestion—but Edgar found it a pleasant place in which to be upon that cool fresh morning in late September, when he made its acquaintance. He felt full of mental activity and ready to go to work with a will upon his Latin, his French and his mathematics. Since his return from England, in June, he had become acquainted with most of the boys who were to be his school-fellows, and he took at once to the school-master, Professor Clarke, of Trinity College, Dublin—a middle-aged bachelor of Irish birth, an accomplished gentleman and a very human creature, with a big heart, a high ideal of what boys might be and abundant tolerance of what they generally were. If he had a quick temper, he had also a quick wit, and a quick appreciation of talent and sympathy with timorous aspirations.
It had been Master Clarke's suggestion that his new pupil, who was known as Edgar Allan, should put his own name upon the school register. Edgar, looking questioningly up into Mr. Allan's face, was glad to read approval there, and with a thrill of pride he wrote upon the book, in the small, clear hand that had become characteristic of him:
"Edgar Allan Poe."
He was proud of his name and proud of his father, of whom he remembered nothing, but in whose veins, he knew, had run patriot blood, and who had had the independence to risk all for love of the beautiful mother of worshipped memory. It was with straightened shoulders and a high head that he took the seat assigned him at the clumsy desk, in the bare, ugly room of the school in which he was to be known for the first time as Edgar Poe. He felt that in coming into his own name he had come into a proud heritage.
Mr. Clarke's Irish heart warmed toward him. He divined in the big-browed, big-eyed boy a unique and gifted personality and proceeded with the uttermost tact to do his best toward the cultivation of his talents. The result was that Edgar not only acquitted himself brilliantly in his studies, but progressed well in his verse-making, which though, since Mr. Allan's prohibition, it had been kept secret in his home, was freely acknowledged to teacher and school-fellows.
By his class-mates he was deemed a wonder. He was so easily first among them in everything—in the simple athletics with which they were familiar, as well as in studies—and his talent for rhyming and drawing seemed to set him upon a sort of pedestal.
In the first blush of triumph these little successes gave him, young Edgar's head was in a fair way to be turned. He saw himself (in fancy) the leader, the popular favorite of the whole school. Indeed, he flattered himself he had leaped at a single bound to this position at the moment, almost, of his entrance. But he soon began to see that he was mistaken. While he was conscious of the unconcealed admiration of most, and the ill-concealed envy of a few of the boys, of his mental and physical abilities, he began, as time went on, to suspect—then to be sure—that for some reason that baffled all his ingenuity to fathom, he was not accorded the position in the school that was the natural reward for superiority of endowment and performance. This place was filled instead by Nat Howard, a boy who, he told himself, he was without the slightest vanity bound to see was distinctly second to him in every way.
He noticed that whatever Nat proposed was invariably done, so that he was forced either to follow where he should have led, or be left out of everything. Often when he joined the boys listening with interest to Nat's heavy jokes and talk, a silence would fall upon the company, which in a short while would break up—the boys going off in twos and threes, leaving him to his own society or that of a small minority composed of two or three boys for the most part younger than himself, who in spite of the popular taste for Nat, preferred him and were captivated by his clever accomplishments.
That there was some reason why he was thus shut out from personal intimacy by school-mates who acknowledged and admired his powers he felt sure, and he was determined to ferrit it out. In the meantime his heart, always peculiarly responsive to affection, answered with warmth to the devotion of the small coterie who were independent enough to swear fealty to him. He helped them with their lessons, initiated them into the mysteries of boxing and other manly exercises, went swimming and gunning with them, and occasionally delighted them by showing them his poems and the little sketches with which he sometimes illustrated his manuscript, in the making.
It must be confessed that there was little in these compositions to set the world afire. They would only be counted remarkable as the work of a school-boy in his early teens, and were practice work—nothing more. They served their purpose, then sank into the oblivion which was their meet destiny. But to Jack Preston, Dick Ambler, Rob Stanard and Rob Sully, and one or two others, they were master-pieces.
These boys, as well as Edgar, were giving serious attention to their linen, the care of their hands, and the precise parting of their hair, just then; and a close observer might often have detected them in the act of furtively feeling their upper lips with anxious forefinger in the vain hope of discovering the appearance—if ever so slight—of a downy growth thereupon. For they, as well as he, were making sheep's eyes at those wonderful visions in golden locks and jetty locks, with brown eyes and blue eyes, with fluttering ribbons and snowy pinafores, known as "Miss Jane Mackenzie's girls," who were the inspiration of most of their poet-chum's invocations of the muse. The little hymns in praise of the charms of these girls were generally adorned with pen or pencil sketches of the fair charmers themselves.
Poor Miss Jane had a sad time of it. As the accomplished principal of a choice Young Ladies Boarding and Day School, she enjoyed an enviable position in the politest society in town. Parents of young ladies under her care congratulated themselves alike upon her strict rule and her learning, her refinement of manners and conversation and her distinguished appearance. She was tall and stately and in her decorous garb of black silk that could have "stood alone," and an elegant cap of "real" lace with lavender ribbons softening the precise waves of her iron-grey hair, she made a most impressive figure—one that would have inspired with profound respect any male creature living saving that incorrigible non-respecter of persons and personages, especially of lady principals—the Boy. For the "forming" of young ladies, Miss Jane had a positive forte, but the genus boy was an unknown quantity to her, and worse—he was a positive terror. For one of them to invade the sacred precincts of her school, or its grounds, seemed to her maiden soul rank sacrilege; to scale her garden wall after dark for the purpose of attaching a letter to a string let down from a window to receive it, was nothing short of criminal. For one of her girls to receive offerings of candy and original poetry—love poetry—from one of these terrible creatures; such an offence was unspeakably shocking.
Yet discovery of such offences happened often enough to give her repeated shocks, and to confirm her in her belief in the total depravity, the hopeless wickedness of all boys—especially of John Allan's adopted son.
In spite of her vigilance, Edgar Poe found the means to outwit her, and to transmit his effusions, without difficulty, to her fair charges, who with tresses primly parted and braided and meek eyes bent in evident absorption upon their books, were the very pictures of docile obedience, and bore in their outward looks no hint of the guilty consciences that should, by rights, have been destroying their peace.
Miss Jane was the sister of Mr. Mackenzie who had adopted little Rosalie Poe. Rosalie was, at Miss Jane's invitation, a pupil in the school, but (ungrateful girl that she was) she became, at the suggestion of her handsome and charming brother Edgar, whom she adored, the willing messenger of Dan Cupid, and furthered much secret and sentimental correspondence between the innocent-seeming girls and the young scamps who admired them.
In these fascinating flights into the realms of flirtation, as in other things, Edgar's friends acknowledged his superiority—his romantic personal beauty and his gift for rhyming giving him a decided advantage over them all; but they acknowledged it without jealousy, for there was much of hero worship in their attitude toward him, and they were not only perfectly contented for him to be first in every way but it would have disappointed them for him not to be. The captivating charm of his presence, in his gay moods, made it unalloyed happiness for them to be with him. They were always ready to follow him as far as he led in daring adventure—ready to fetch and carry for him and glowing with pride at the least notice from him.
Some boys would have taken advantage of this state of things, but not so Edgar Goodfellow. He, for his part, was always ready to contribute to their pleasure, and fairly sunned himself in the unstinting love and praise of these boys who admired, while but half divining his gifts. Their games had twice the zest when Eddie played with them—he threw himself into the sport with such heartfelt zeal that they were inspired to do their best. Many a ramble in the woods and fields around Richmond he took with them, telling them the most wonderful stories as he went along; but sometimes, quite suddenly, during these outings, Edgar Goodfellow would give place to Edgar the Dreamer and they would wonderingly realize that his thoughts were off to a world where none of them could follow—none of them unless it were Rob Sully, who was himself something of a dreamer, and could draw as well as Edgar.
The transformation would be respected. His companions would look at him with something akin to awe in their eyes and tell each other in low tones not to disturb Eddie, he was "making poetry," and confine their chatter to themselves, holding rather aloof from the young poet, who wandered on with the abstracted gaze of one walking in sleep—with them, but not of them.
There were other, less frequent, times when his mood was as much respected, when added to the awe there was somewhat of distress in their attitude toward him. At these times he was not only abstracted, but a deep gloom would seem to have settled upon his spirit. Without apparent reason, melancholy claimed him, and though he was still gentle and courteous, they had a nameless sort of fear of him—he was so unlike other boys and it seemed such a strange thing to be unhappy about nothing. It was positively uncanny.
At these times they did not even try to be with him. They knew that he could wrestle with what he called his "blue devils" more successfully alone. A restlessness generally accompanied the mood, and he would wander off by himself to the churchyard, the river, or the woods; or spend whole long, golden afternoons shut up in his room, poring over some quaint old tale, or writing furiously upon a composition of his own. When he looked at the boys, he did not seem to see them, but would gaze beyond them—the pupils of his full, soft, grey eyes darkening and dilating as if they were held by some weird vision invisible to all eyes save his own; and indeed the belief was general among his friends that he was endowed with the power of seeing visions. This impression had been made even upon his old "Mammy," when he was a mite of a lad. Many a time, when he turned that abstracted gaze upon her, she had said to him,
"What dat you lookin' at now, Honey? You is bawn to see evil sho'!"
* * * * *
And now a glimpse of Edgar Goodfellow—the normal Edgar, whom his chums saw oftenest and loved best, because they knew him best and understood him best.
It was a late Autumn Saturday—one of the Saturdays sent from Heaven for the delight of school-children—bracing, but not cold; and brilliant. Little Robert Sully looked pensively out of the window thinking what a fine day it would be for a country tramp, if only he were like other boys and could take them. But Rob was of frail build and constitution and could never stand much exertion. In his eyes was the expression of settled wistfulness that frequent disappointment will bring to the eyes of a delicate child; in the droop of his mouth there was a touch of bitterness, for he was thinking that not only did his weak body make it impossible for him to keep up with the boys, but that it was no doubt, a relief to the boys to leave him behind—that when he could be with them he was perhaps a drag on their pleasure. No doubt they would make a long day of it, this bright, bracing Saturday, for the persimmons and the fox-grapes were ripe and the chinquapin and chestnut burrs were opening. Tears of self-pity sprang to his eyes, but they were quickly dashed away as he heard his name called and saw his beloved Eddie, flushed and glowing with anticipated pleasure, at the gate.
"Come along, Rob," he was calling. "We are going to the Hermitage woods for chinquapins, and you must come too. Uncle Billy is going for a load of pine-tags, and we can ride in his wagon, so it won't tire you."
The other boys were waiting at the corner, all at the highest pitch of mirth, for they saw that their idol, Eddie, was in one of his happiest moods, which would mean a morning of unbounded fun to them. And the ride with old Uncle Billy who, with black and shiny face, beaming upon them in an excess of kindliness, hair like a full-blown cotton-boll, and quaint talk, was an unfailing source of delight to them!
The Saturday freedom was in their blood. Off and away they went in the jolly, rumbling wagon, past houses and gardens, and fields and into the enchanting, autumn-colored woods, where "Bob Whites" were calling to each other and nuts were dropping in the rustling leaves or waiting to be shaken from their open burrs.
As they jolted along, the steady stream of conversation between Edgar and Uncle Billy was as good as a play to the rest of the boys—Edgar, with grave, courteous manner, discoursing of "cunjurs" and "ha'nts" with as real an air of belief as that of the old man himself.
The allegiance of his little band of boon companions was all the sweeter to the young poet because he realized more and more fully as the years of his school-days passed that for some reason unknown to himself he was systematically, and plainly with intention, denied intimacy with Nat Howard and his followers—snubbed. As has been said, they did not hesitate to acknowledge his success in all sorts of mental and physical trials of skill, but in a formal, impersonal way. There was never the least familiarity in their intercourse with him. This, naturally, produced in him a reserve in his manner toward them that they unreasonably attributed to "airs." Their coldness wounded and chilled the sensitive boy as much as the love of his devoted adherents warmed him.