I am arguing against my own nature in all this. In my heart I love Truth above all things, and follow and serve her with a devotion that is probably exaggerated. But I can't help seeing that there are two kinds of her. When she is simple and obvious, she seems to reside in bare facts, which we may easily respect too much, for what are they but blackguard carnalities? Preraphaelitism in art, Realism in literature, might be all very well if they would keep their place—which is in the kitchen. Some may want pots and pans, and scullions, and pigs' feet, and ribs of beef described. I don't myself; but it is a free country, and vivid and accurate portraiture of these delicacies may constitute the main charm of literature for some readers, possibly. But Realism wants to take its pots and pans into the parlor: it always overdoes things. "A daisy by the river's brim a yellow daisy was to him, and it was nothing more." Well, what else should it be?—But perhaps I have not got that right. Pass on to our next head.
Truth is not always simple—by no means always. Often she is highly complex, and as much mixed as I was just now; and then you don't know where she is, or what she is, and it gets to be all guesswork. One says, Here, and another says, There: the philosophers upset each other's schemes in turn, the theologians hurl reciprocal excommunications, the scientists of to-day laugh at those of last year. If Pilate meant it this way, we owe him some sympathy and respect. "Speak the truth and shame the devil," they say. Bah! [I think this expletive ought to be spelt Baa.] When you know what the truth is, you are more likely to shame your friends, and become obnoxious and ridiculous. And in most cases you don't know, and if you suppose you do, you are mistaken. I have thought out a way of approximating Truth on a large scale, and more nearly than most succeed in doing; but this is a big topic, and I had better keep it to entertain Hartman with.
O yes; I was to explain why I sometimes use roundabout methods even with him. If you tell all you know to everyone you meet, or disclose your real character, it will generally be a waste of good material which might better be economized. By the way, what is my real character? How should I know? One sees one side of it, another another. I see all that have turned up yet, but there may be many more, thus far latent; and how am I to harmonize them all, and take the average of a succession of phenomena? I am complex, like Truth.
But I must not interrupt myself any more. Let us fall back on the utilitarian basis of ethics. You see, if I had talked like this to Jim when we met last May, he would have put himself on guard and begun to study me, whereas I wanted to draw him out—as I did. I have no objection to people studying me when I don't care to study them; but when there is anything to be done for them you have got to understand them first, and to this end it is best to appear simple and not distract their minds from the contemplation and disclosure of their own qualities: you can play on their vanity if your own does not stand in the road. Hartman has a fine mind, but in his innocent rural way he took for granted that I had stood still since we were together at college. So I played to his lead, and pretended, for instance, to know nothing about poetry; whereas, as you must have noticed, I am pretty well read, and my memory is remarkably copious and accurate. (Clarice did indeed say that I sometimes got the lines wrong; but what she meant was that the passages I quoted in my well-meant efforts to console her were of too gay a character for her melancholy mood.)
In this way I secured Jim's regard and confidence, which I am using for his good: if I had put myself forward, and been anxious to impress him with my importance, he might have looked on me with the cynical indifference which is all the feeling he can afford to most people, and I should never have got him out of the woods. So when I was taking him to Newport, I said what it was desirable to say, and omitted what was not: how else should a rational man talk? And that first night there, I took the tone that he required, as a host is bound to do: sacred are the duties of christian hospitality. Poor Jim is as good as a play; he takes Life in such dead earnest, and expects his friends to be rampant idealists too: so I mounted the high horse for once to gratify him. He will never forget that, nor cease to respect me accordingly: he thinks I was serious then, and joking at all other times. You and I of course understand that Life is but a series of appearances; and if I seem to contradict myself, to say one thing on one page and its opposite on the next, I am only reporting the various phases assumed by facts without and moods within. 'The shield is gold.' 'No, it is silver.' Well, shall we fight about that? Probably it is both. A thing may be black in one light, and white in another, for what I know. Of all fools the positive philosophers seem to me the worst; and the most abject kind of conceit is that of alleged consistency. Why will you insist on a definiteness which has so little place in nature? The world is a chameleon, and you and I are smaller copies of it.
I must try to explain all this to Hartman, and make him see that it is time he took on another color. He has been down in the depths all this while; now let him get up on the heights. But he would never do it of himself, nor without the management of a more practical mind. If I took things as he does, I should be tempted to say, "You monumental idiot, to fling a rash word at a girl as proud as Lucifer, and then to take her hasty repartee as a final verdict from doomsday book!" Happily there is one person around with sense enough to see that both these moon-struck babes are forgivable, and therefore capable of such bliss as may be found in a world of which the best to be said is that we are in very small measure responsible for it. They were both foolish, of course; but what proportion does their joint offence bear to their punishment—and ours? That is the Order of Things—this blessed and beautiful Kosmos.
[Footnote 2: The unwary reader may possibly need to be reminded that R. T. is not to be taken too seriously, especially in this his Apology for Lying.—Pub.]
JANE TO THE RESCUE.
It may seem unfeeling in me to indulge in dissertations like the above at so critical a juncture: but they serve to fill the time while I am waiting for marching orders. I have written to Jim, and that is all I can do at present. Jane thinks differently: she ought to have been a man, she is so fond of action. She got me in a corner to-day.
"What have you done?"
"Done? what should I do?"
"Use a man's tools, that you are so fond of; plain speech, if no more. Have you spoken to Clarice yet?"
"No: why should I speak to her? She spoke to Mabel, not to me."
"Robert, are you ever sincere in anything? When I profess affection for people, I am ready to serve them at their need."
"So am I, and Clarice knows it. She is perfectly aware that I am ready to do this thing, or any other thing within my power, for her at any time. It is easy for her to say what she wants."
"Brother, you are so stupid! Don't you know that it is excessively difficult for her to allude, however remotely, to a matter like this? Say what she wants, she would die first. Do you desire to wait for that? She is not like the rest of us; and a woman is not like a man. You could talk for a week, and turn your whole mind inside out, with no fatigue—except to your audience; but the faintest reference to what I need not name would cost her a painful effort. I told you it was a great thing for her to say what she did to Mabel. That ought to have been enough for you."
"How could it be enough? Do try to talk sense now, Jane. How can I go off blindly on a fool's errand—in her interest, but without commission or instructions?"
"Ask her for them, then. It is ungenerous to put on her the burden of opening the subject. She is doubtless waiting for you to speak, and wondering at your slackness."
"Hanged if I can understand that. How many times have you lectured me about showing her proper respect, and restraining my native coarseness, and what not; and now you want me to go to her like a trooper or a grand inquisitor, and ask about the state of her feelings toward Hartman. I can't do it, Jane. When you get into such a scrape, I might try it, if you insisted—though it would go against me, as Sir Lancelot said: then you could see how you liked it. Clarice wouldn't like it at all; and she has deserved better things of me than that."
"She has deserved better things of you than she is getting. I thought you loved her as I do. So that was only one of your pretences?"
"I love her too well to harass her; to intrude upon her solitude when she does not want me; to pry into her affairs without her consent, and destroy what chance there is that she may call me when she is ready."
"She will never be ready, unless we, that are her first friends, come to her aid against her own pride and shyness. You think me intrusive—a meddlesome old maid, prying into what does not concern me: but, brother, she and Mr. Hartman were made for one another. They were deeply interested, both of them—I could see it plainly: it would have been settled in a few days more, if that wretched misunderstanding had not occurred. He may get over it; he is a man, though he did not seem to be that kind. But she—she is of the deep, and silent, and constant type: she will nurse this hurt till it kills her. I love her, Robert; she has nobody but us. She never knew a thing like this before; it is her first experience. Other men to her were playthings, or bores; she had no friend among them but you. You cannot fancy how hard it is for her; harder far than for a younger girl. She is so helpless, for all her pride—her pride makes her more helpless to speak or act. If I could only help her, now—"
And here, to my amazement, my stately sister broke down in a passion of tears and sobs: I never knew her do such a thing before. I patted, and petted, and soothed her, and did all that a man of humanity and experience does in such cases. I shall apply for the title, Consoler of Feminine Woes, since the business of the office comes to me. It will be Mabel next, I suppose, and then this thing must stop, unless we begin the round afresh. Clarice may naturally want to be comforted once or twice more; but I hope soon to remove all further occasion for that. Jane and I have not been like this since we were children.
"There, there. Sister dear, I would knock any man down, and insult any woman, who said of you what you just said of yourself. You are not an old maid, and you might be a society leader if you cared for it: plenty of women are who have more years and less looks and manners and brains than you. You are as far as possible from a meddler: your fault is that you keep too much to yourself. I am sure Clarice would be touched and flattered by your interest in her: I should, if you took a quarter as much in me. Do you know, I never saw you look so well, or do yourself such credit—till now—as night before last. My heart said amen to every word you uttered, even when you were girding at me; for you thought I deserved it, and in part I did. I will have no more secrets from you—except such as I have no right to impart. If you will, we shall be friends now, and work together in this thing. You always seemed to despise me, Jane; and it is tedious when the affection is all on one side."
"Yes: you used to have enough of that with Clarice."
She was feeling better now. As I may have said on some previous occasion, a little judicious management will do great things for a woman. I must keep this up if I can, and make appropriate responses to all her remarks. I have been too hard on Jane in the past. After all, the tie between brother and sister is a peculiar one—few more so; and, except for the Princess, who is such only by adoption, each of us is all the other has got in that line. Perhaps I ought to have thought of this earlier.
"Clarice appreciates my virtues better now, as I hope you will. But I was going to tell you: I am of one mind and heart with you about this, dear. I have always meant to see Hartman this fall, of course; but it was better that the suggestion should come from Mabel, you see."
"You do tangle things up so unnecessarily, Robert. Mabel would have approved of anything you proposed, as a matter of course."
"Well, my dear, I have no desire to be a dictator in the house, like some men. You all have interests and rights to be respected, and I want you to have your say."
"We would have it more cheerfully if you would take yours—out plainly, in a man's way, you know. Have you written Mr. Hartman?"
"Certainly: that same night, and asked if he wanted me next week. That was simple enough. I'm not afraid of him."
"I can't see why you should be so afraid of Clarice. You've known her all her life, and she is only ten years younger than you. If she were but seventeen, now, and a new acquaintance, I might understand it. You must have it out with her, Robert. If I adopt her style, perhaps you will do as I wish. Remember, we are to work together in this thing, and you are of one mind and heart with me about it; so you must let me direct you. Mind, now!"
I stared: it was an imitation, gentle and subdued indeed, of the Princess as she was in her days of glory—not so long ago, alas!—before the rains descended and the winds blew and the storm beat upon her house of life: the tones were there, and a hint of the arch looks. Where did Jane learn these tricks? And what has come over her? A maiden, even of her years, is hardly warmed to life by a few compliments and caresses from her own mother's son. Can Hartman have waked her up too? She laughed in my face.
"If our plot succeeds, you may be thrown on my society again; and as you are going to be so affectionate, I must fill Clarice's place as well as I can. Meantime, you had better let me guide you; indeed you had."
"That may be; only don't drive me too hard, please. I'm not what I once was: all these emotions are too many for me. Where do you propose to guide me to?"
"To Clarice. Will you come now?"
"Scarcely: a nice reception we should get. This is not a case where two are better far than one. And then it would be three presently, which never answers—when she is one of them. I would rather go alone, and much rather not at all. Guide me somewhere else, sweet sister: or you can go yourself, if you like. But I don't see why she should stand on ceremony with me."
"Not with you, but with her own heart—a more recent acquaintance, and much more formidable."
"But that is there all the same, whether I go to her or she comes to me."
"Yes, but—can't you see? She dislikes to take the initiative."
"So do I. According to you, she has taken it already."
"Yes, and once is enough. You are so slow, Robert: you require so much teaching."
"I know. But don't despair: Hartman says you have improved me a heap, between you. You see, the cases are different. None of you are the least afraid of me—I should be sorry if you were. But I am afraid of you: you are such superior beings. You know you are: you look on my masculine dulness with contempt; and so do I. It is my deep and loyal respect for a woman—which you said I would never learn. Jane, you hurt me then; you have hurt me often. I would have been fonder of you—showed it more, I mean; but affection, repulsed, shrank into the shell of indifference. Be kind, now, and I will do anything you say. You see, I am getting on."
"I wish you would get on toward the business in hand. A nice time Clarice must have had with you. I can see now why she had to keep so tight a rein on you, and to rule you by fear. Will you speak to her, or will you not?"
"Of course I will, before I go. We can't hear from Jim for several days yet. She will probably come to me before that. If not, I'll have to go to her. Jane, there are some things that you don't understand, and I can't explain."
"Queer things they must be, then. I wonder that a man should be such a coward."
"If you were a man, you wouldn't. I don't care to display my courage at home, sister. You are harder than Clarice. You want me to be all around the circle at once, and whatever I do, you find fault. My dear, ever since you spoke, I have been hanging about, to give her a chance to say what she wants. How can I stride up to her and shout, 'Here, tell me what to say to your runaway lover'? She knows all about it, if you don't. I'll wait to-morrow after breakfast; tell her so, if you will. She has only to look at me, and I'll ask her, if she wishes. Then you can scold me to your heart's content for making a mess of it, and being rough and brutal and stupid. Jane, I am doing the best I can. If I could put myself absolutely into your hands, and be but a voice and body to your mind, it might be an improvement; but unhappily that is not feasible at present. Will what I propose answer?"
"Perhaps: I will see. I may have been unjust to you, Robert: you are different from most men, and not easy to understand: you like to let part of you pass for the whole. Whether you are so easy to rule as you pretend to be, I am not sure yet. Well, there is time to find out. If you live by your professions, well and good. Kiss me, dear; good-night."
Since Jane has panned out in this unexpected way, I wish I could tell her the Secret: she might give me some points. But that is impossible—unthinkable, as they say at Concord. Clarice would never forgive me: that would be bad, but not the worst. It would be disloyal to her—distinctly so. That I've never been yet, and I'm too old to begin now. There may be cases in which the end justifies the means, but this is not one of them. No: I must dree this weird (if that is the expression), and hoe this row, all by myself. If I had been bred in the east, I should be tempted to say it was a contumelious responsibility. The next time you want to get into difficulties with a lady, James Hartman, you must do it on some other premises than mine.
Next morning I was nosing about in the library, pretending to be looking for a book, when Clarice came to me and said, "I don't think what you want is here. Leave business this afternoon, and take me to the Park."
If she were to say, "Leave business this year, and take me to Europe, or to Madagascar," I should do it: she would have to arrange the matter with Mabel, but that she could do without difficulty, I have not the least doubt. It would be a loss to Water Street, and my departure would be felt in business circles generally; but they would have to stand it as they might. In this case, however, no heavy sacrifice was involved: for a few hours, or days, or weeks, Pipeline, as Mabel says, can conduct the old stand well enough. What it needs is the feeling that a master mind presides over its destinies, though from such a distance as Newport or the Wayback woods.
We agreed on an hour—that is, she told me to be at the door at two—and I went down town, feeling relieved. It is much better for Clarice to take the responsibility of opening communications, and I wish she would conduct the whole interview, like a major-general with his aid-de-camp or a master plumber sending out his apprentices to mend the pipes—leaving me only to take notes of instructions. But that is too much to expect. It is a delicate task before me, and my talents for such (according to the ladies), are not so eminent that I should be anxious to overwork them. I can manage a man, and some women perhaps; but to catechize and cross-examine her on a subject as to which pride, and honor, and modesty lock a girl's lips—I don't see how I can do it, even with her consent. I would rather smoke my pipe through a powder mill than hurt you, my poor Princess: my clumsy fingers were never made to play about your heartstrings.
I dropped in at Trinity on my way, and put up a prayer; it was that she might make it easy for herself, and for me, though that is a minor matter—keep the game in her own hands, and tell enough to serve her ambassador's need, without his questioning.
She did not keep me waiting: she never had that vice. The change in her is not for casual eyes to see. Outwardly, I have fallen off more than she has; in fact, I have lost three pounds in these last two months. Many a hat was raised, many an envious glance turned toward me, as we spun up the avenue. The fellows at the club, and elsewhere, used to pester me to introduce them, and I gratified them for a while, till she told me she could not have all my acquaintances coming to call, and made Mabel say I must leave off bringing men home to dinner. She never was a coquette; but what is a girl so endowed to do? They would force themselves on her, by dozens, by scores, by hundreds: they overflowed the house and took up all her time; they crowded her life, until she could stand it no longer and stopped it. That is why we live so quietly of late: it is a great improvement. Now, they gaze on her from afar: yet she never had difficulty with any of them—till August, alas. That was my fault, for bringing in a wild man from the woods, who could not be counted on or ruled like the rest, but would flop around in his uncircumcised way and break things. I should never forgive myself for that, if I did not hope to get matters right—and more so than they ever were, for her.
For a time we drove on silently. Then of a sudden, without looking at me, she said very quietly, "Jane told me you wanted to see me, Robert."
O Lord, is this to be the shape of it after all? Well, what must be must, and I will do my stint as a man may. "Did she say nothing else?"
"That you were afraid to come to me. Have I been so harsh with you, or so terrible of late?" Her tone was half arch, half reproachful.
"No, no; far from it. But you know how it is, Clarice. Your trouble is ours, and I am a poor surgeon. How can I put a knife into the wound? I wish it were mine, and mine only."
"I have brought trouble on you all, brother. I ought to have gone away."
"Never; do you think Mabel and Jane would allow that, any more than I? We would all rather break our hearts together, if that need be, than have you among strangers now: it would be worse for us, no less than for you. When you are happy you may leave us; not till then."
"I know. You love me, here, and bear with me, and for me—though I don't deserve it."
"Don't say that—anything but that. My Princess deserves everything—and by Jove, she shall have it. If I knew exactly what she wanted, now—"
All this time we had to be smiling and bowing right and left. You can't make pretty speeches under such circumstances, or do delicate work. I had turned from the main drive, but it was only a little better.
"Let us get out of this, Robert. There are too many people: we can't talk here."
We went by streets which you must know, if you are accustomed to have this kind of business on hand. I trust you are not: a little of it goes a long way. At last we got into a quieter, semi-rural region. Find it out for yourself, if you can: I am not going to tell you the exact spots made sacred by these confidences. Meantime I had been thinking what to say, and it came out with a rush. It is a little easier when you put the third person for the second—yes, that is a good idea.
"If I were sure just what she wanted, she should have that thing, if there is any power in the human will. But I am clumsy, and thick-headed, and make blunders—you have often said so, Clarice, and so has Jane, and even Mabel. She I speak of is of finer clay than others. Her nature has its own laws, which I can understand only very imperfectly. Yes, you know it is so: you have told me that too. O, she need not mind me, nor consider me in the least. I am afraid only of offending or hurting her: I only want to help and serve her, if I can. If she could look on me just as a tool to be used, an instrument in case she desired to produce certain sounds—I wish I were more capable of harmony—as a medium possibly—. But she will not speak—perhaps she cannot. And how can I question her, as if from vulgar curiosity? What right have I?"
Her eyes were wet now, under her veil: I could see it, though nobody else could; and we were on a country road.
"Robert, you are the best and dearest man in the world."
"Hardly that. But I am proud of your approval, and will try to earn it. I have not earned it yet, you know."
"Brother, you rate me too high, and—and her you speak of. What if she had what she wanted within reach, and rudely thrust it away?"
"But she did not do that, dear: she could not. I am sure it is there yet, if she would deign to take it."
"If that were certain, she would have others than herself to think of. So long as it was or might be merely herself, what could she do?"
I began to see light now. "There are others; and though they are of less consequence, her generous heart would not let them suffer. Suppose to one of them this meant life or death, hope or despair, use or uselessness. Suppose one not like most of us, but simple, sincere, and noble, unversed in the world's ways and little loving them, with a great heart early clouded and a strong mind warped thereby, had begun to pin his faith to her I speak of, and in her eyes to see reconciliation to earth and heaven; and then for one rash word, one casual misconception such as comes between any of us, had fancied the cup of promise snatched away, and in his misjudging innocence gone back to his cave of gloom, thinking himself doomed to a state worse than that from which he had been nearly rescued. Would she let him stay there forever?"
"I suppose she ought not—if she could help it. It is well he has better friends than she has proved. But I cannot talk of this: indeed I cannot. It may be weak and foolish, but I cannot. You must do what you have to do in your own way.—No, I will not be such a coward, and so basely ungrateful. O, I understand your position, Robert. You will have to question me: I am sorry, but it is the only way. Ask what you absolutely need to know for your own guidance—I know you will ask no more—and I will try to answer."
I groaned; and then I could have choked myself. Must my despicable selfishness add to her burdens? What are my feelings, my petty reluctance, to her interests? Have I not set myself aside? Are you not man enough, Robert T., to put a few civil queries to a lady, when she has just given you express permission, and even directed you to do so? The less you sneer at cads after this, the better.—I was so long making up my mind to it that the poor girl had to speak again.
"I am very sorry, brother. It is too bad to burden you so. If I could save you the trouble, I would, indeed. O, I appreciate your motives, and your delicacy, and all your efforts to shield and spare me—never fancy that I did not, I have made more trouble than I am worth. If I could only die, and end it all!"
This, as you may imagine, put a speedy end to my shilly-shallying. "That would end it all, with a vengeance. Some other people of my acquaintance would want to die then too—or before. Dearest Clarice, don't talk so. Two things I can't bear—your lowering yourself like this, and your exalting me. I am a hound: if I were half a man, I'd have made it easier for you. It is only that I distrust my own ability, my own penetration, my own judgment. I ought not to need any more instructions—but this business is so important, and I'm afraid of making a mess of it."
"Dear Robert, you lay too much stress on the opinion I pretended to have of you, in days when I only half knew you and thought far too much of myself and too little of others. I know better now. You have the insight of sympathy: your heart will help your head. You will not need to ask me many questions; you can read between the lines."
"I will try. You need not answer in words when you don't want to: just move your head a little, and let me see your eyes. You see, in view of my stupidity, the less risks we take the better: I must have some things down in black and white. Well then: you said something to Mabel about my health, and the fall fishing?"
"Yes. You do need a change; I have had you on my conscience all this while. It is all my doing; and you love me so." Her hand stole into mine.
"That is certainly so. Do you know where I would go if left to myself—if these last months were blotted from the calendar?"
"Of course. Is it necessary to go through all these formalities?"
"I think so: forgive me, dear. I must not trust my intuitions too far: they are not as fine as yours.—You know what construction might be put on my going there now?—Not by the outside world; it has nothing to do with this business, happily. But by any of us; and more especially by—ah—by him?"
Her face was set now, her lips closed tight; but she nodded.
"You have no word to send, I suppose?—No, of course not: how could you? Then if he asks, or if it is necessary to tell him about you, as of course it will be, I am to say merely what I think, so that you are nowise responsible?—Yes, I see. But the main thing to do there is to make observations, and bring my report to you?—Certainly: he must put himself on record before you do, if this is to go on. If? Of course it will: it shall be all right, my dear child. Then it follows that I can't bring him back with me?—Why no: he must bide his time, and fulfil his penance. That is all, I believe: the examination—or the operation, I had nearly said—is over, and you have borne it well. Thank you, Princess; and forgive me for troubling you. You won't hate me, will you, for having to be so horrid, and making you go through all this?—Thank you again. Shall we turn homeward now?—Yes, we'll be there by dark."
She sat very still, and paler than I like to see her. As for me, great beads of perspiration were on my forehead, though it was a cool day. I drove as fast now as the law allows. At last she spoke, and her voice trembled. "Brother, how shockingly we have all misjudged you!"
"No, dear: you did not misjudge me at all. But you have been educating me, and it is fit the best there is in me should come to the front for your service—if it never put its head up before, nor should again. Wait till I come back: I've done nothing yet."
"You have done everything. The rest will be easy for you, compared with this."
"By Jove, you are right there: I'm glad we're through this part of it.—One thing more; about Jane. She loves you as I do; she has been berating me for indifference and slackness in the cause. O, she is a trump: she was crying bitterly last night because she could do nothing to help you, and because I was too lazy and cowardly to move; she has egged me on to this. May I tell her what we have agreed on?"
"O yes, tell her anything you like, and Mabel too. I have made you all such a poor return: any other woman in my place would have trusted you long ago, and been the better for it. But I am so strangely made, Robert: my lips are like a seal to my heart. Excuse me at dinner, won't you? And promise me one thing—that always, after this, you will come to me at once, without scruple, when you want me, on my account or on your own. As if I could be reluctant to talk with you! Tell me when you hear from him, and when you are going, and—anything else. You won't mind my silence, or wait for me to speak? And you must never be afraid of me again."
PLAN OF CAMPAIGN.
The Princess was seen no more that night, and I got away till dinner time. Then I said that she was not coming down, and anxious looks were exchanged, and dark ones cast on me. In return I winked at Jane, and frowned severely on Herbert, who intercepted the signal and began to grin. Mabel, who had seen it too, reproved me for setting the boy a bad example; and thus a diversion was effected. While she was seeing after the children, my sister carried me off to the library: I made her kiss me before I would tell her anything.
"Jane, you may scold me as much as you like after this, and I will never say a cross word to you again. Hartman was right: he said you had more penetration than any of us, and all sorts of virtues. O, you needn't mind about blushing; we are alone. It's true, and I shall hold you in honor accordingly."
"Brother, I hope you have not spoiled your work with careless handling. I always distrust you when you begin your fine speeches."
"That was in the past, which we have put behind us: they come now from the abundance of the heart. We are one, you know, and I am to tell you everything. Jane, I've done exactly as you told me, and given you all credit. She knows it was your move; and it's all right."
"Then you found that your imagination had created, or greatly magnified, the difficulties, and that your fears were unnecessary?"
"Far from it. It was a terrible job for both of us: the mere recollection of it is harrowing. Clarice is laid up, and only my superior physical strength and fortitude, with an hour's recuperation, enabled me to face you all at table."
"Then you must have been rough with her. Brother, how could you?"
"What did I tell you? You drive me, with all your sharp-pointed feminine weapons, to a painful task, and then you blame me because you fancy I've not discharged it as neatly as the angel Gabriel might. She thinks I did, however. Was I rough with you last night? Is it my habit to go around trampling on the finer feelings of our nature? In the hour of woe, when your heartstrings are torn asunder, you will find me a first-class comforter. I thought you knew that already."
"I doubt if Clarice knows it, if you took this tone with her. Can you never be serious, Robert?"
"Good heavens, Jane, what would you have? Have I not been serious through two weary months, and eminently so all this afternoon? I had to be. Let the overstrung bow be relaxed a little now. You remember the Prime Minister, who after an exciting debate used to go home and play with his children?
"As exciting debates are usually conducted in the small hours, it was cruel to disturb their infant slumbers. If you want to do that here you will have to get Mabel's consent; it is out of my province. Best play with your children before they go to bed."
"Children of a larger growth will serve. Bear with me, sister. My faculties have been sorely tasked: I am spent and weary—"
"And you must have somebody to play with. Was that why you were so fond of Clarice, because she sometimes humored you? She could hardly serve your turn now: the poor child is in no jesting mood. Nor am I; nor ought you to be."
"Sister, you wrong me. It is my warmth of heart, my fraternal affection, which you have so oft-repulsed. Mine is a poet's nature. You stare, but it is so: it is only lately that I discovered the fact myself. Like the elder Bulwer, I pine for appreciation, for sympathy—"
"You will continue to pine if you go on like this. I never saw such a man for beating about the bush and talking nonsense. What have you accomplished?—I don't want to pry into her secrets, or ask her to share her confidences, but—"
"Now, Jane, if you have any heart left, I will bring the tear of contrition to your eye. I asked and obtained her permission to tell you all I know, and all we have just arranged."
"Don't be so long about it, then. What are the arrangements?"
So I imparted them with but little modification or reservation; and Mabel coming in presently, I went over the main outlines again. It is not every man who could thus communicate state secrets to his family; but mine never talk about home affairs to outsiders. One point is, they do not attend the Sewing Society: if they did, I should feel less safe. They approved in the main.
"It hardly seems fair to Mr. Hartman," said Jane; "but no doubt it's as much as you can expect from her."
"I should say it was: why, she is acting nobly. If it were any other man, he should, and would, have all the making up to do, instead of putting it on us. You see, you—that is, we—don't exactly know what the quarrel was. He must have been in the wrong, of course."
"O yes, because you are a man. Now suppose I, being a woman, say, 'She must have been in the wrong, of course.'"
"My dears," said Mabel, "let us compromise. They are both human beings; probably they were both in the wrong."
"Happy thought," said I. "We'll fix it that way: then they have only to kiss and be friends. But still, the man is generally expected to open the ball."
"That is," said Jane, "if all does not go smoothly from the start, which can hardly be expected, poor Mr. Hartman is to be sacrificed."
"I would not put it just that way; though he, or any man, ought to be glad to be sacrificed for Clarice. She is naturally first with me, as I should suppose she would be with you—except that, as you pertinently observe, you also are a woman. But never fear, Jane; I'll attend to Hartman's case too. I hope to act as attorney for both plaintiff and defendant, and speedily to reconcile their conflicting interests. It is true I am on a prospecting tour: I have no retainer from him yet. But I shall soon pocket that, and master his side of the suit. O, I'll take him up tenderly, and handle with care."
"Of course you will, Robert," said Mabel. "If there is any quality for which you are distinguished, it is the even-tempered justice of your mind. You can argue on both sides of a case with equal fluency and force, and that quite independent of your personal predilections."
"Just so. But I fear Jane has not the same confidence in my fairness and ability with you, my dear. You will have to talk to her privately, and bring her to a proper frame of mind. She is my only and much loved sister, and I can't go till she has faith in me."
"It is you who are not in a proper frame of mind as to Mr. Hartman's side of this affair, brother. A man has no sympathy, no charity, for another man. You can be all tenderness, and consideration, and faith, and loyalty, to a woman—when she has Clarice's looks; but when it is only an old friend who trusts you, you will laugh, and sneer, and amuse yourself at his expense, and either delude him or hopelessly estrange him."
"Did you ever hear the like? Yesterday, and the day before, she insisted on my going; and now, when I am all on fire to go, she throws cold water on my zeal, and—"
Here my wife interrupted me. "Jane, it is you who show undue levity. You forget that Clarice is my cousin; that is why Robert is so fond of her, and espouses her cause so warmly. I think it is very good of him, and very generous."
"Now you have hit it: Jane, hide your diminished head. Mabel, if Hartman can prove affinity with you, I will take just as much pains for him as for Clarice. But, sister, you and I must be one. I tell you what I will do: I will stay at home all next Sunday, and let you preach to me: then, if you can't fill me to the nozzle with your views, whose fault will it be? Or you might go along, as you wanted to in May. Then you could personally superintend the campaign."
"My only hope is that you will sober down before you get there. In this mood you could do no good at all."
"That's where you are mistaken. Jim expects me to brighten him up: he is not wholly without a sense of humor. But if you think I am going there for amusement, you are out again. I shall take Young's Night Thoughts, and Hervey's Meditations among the Tombs, and a volume or two of sermons, to read on the way, and get my mind attuned to the atmosphere of the place. My jokes there will be solemn and elaborate offerings, prompted solely by a humane sense of necessity. But, Jane, you are in a minority of one. Clarice has confidence in me: you ask her. And so has Mabel: haven't you, my love?"
"Yes, certainly. Why, Jane, Robert is the only person who can possibly manage this affair, since you and I can't well go, and Clarice does not like to speak out herself. We could not commit it to a stranger, you know. Robert knew Mr. Hartman before any of us did; they were old friends at college. He is the natural link between them, you might say. If he will only remember not to laugh in the wrong places, as he did that time we took him to church, when the minister thumped his sermon off the pulpit, and not to tell the wrong stories, as he so often does at table, and not to yawn when Mr. Hartman explains how badly he has been feeling since he left us, he will do very well. You can't expect him to take the same interest in Mr. Hartman as in Clarice: would he care for us as he does, if we were men? Jane, he is pointed out by Providence as the means of reconciling them. You must see that he is to be trusted entirely. Under his supervision it will all come right: I said so from the beginning."
After this, there seemed no need of further remarks. Mabel withdrew early, and I went out to smoke. When I came back, I found Jane again in tears.
"Brother, tell me that you were only playing with me, and that you are really in earnest about this matter, and will do your best to set it straight."
"My dear sister, I will tell you anything you like, if you will only believe me; what is the use, if you won't? Do you suppose I care less for Clarice's happiness than you do—or for Jim's either? I wish you would talk to her, and let her clarify your ideas. Faith, as you may have heard in church, is a saving grace, and essential to peace of mind. Within a month or two you will see whether I fail my friends or not, and then perhaps you will learn to trust me. Jane, I believe in you now, even if you don't believe in me; I would do almost anything to please you. You want me to change my nature: I would do even that, but it is so expensive, and then the new one might not fit as well as what I have now. You are very exacting, but you can't quarrel with me, because I will be no party to such proceedings."
"Brother, it all rests with you. If you will bring them together, I will never doubt you again."
"No, my dear, I'll not hold you to that. You shall doubt me as often as you like; but I will keep my promises all the same."
You see, I am trying new tactics with Jane now. Magnanimity, patient forgiveness of injuries, disinterested and persistent affection, will in time soften the most obdurate. After Clarice goes off, there will be so few of us left that I can't afford to be on any but the best terms with such as remain. And then my sister, when she is willing to do herself—and me—justice, has some quite creditable traits.
TO WAYBACK AGAIN.
I pass succeeding interviews, of which there were several. Poor Clarice had little to say, but was quite willing to listen to any suggestions of mine. What Jane unkindly calls beating about the bush is necessary with a person of her sensitive organization. She seems to feel that she has fallen from her old estate, and is not yet established in a new one. I am satisfied that she never would have made those admissions, slight as they are, and allowed me to go on this secret embassy, if she had only herself to consider. For the first time duty to others has come into collision with her pride, and shaken the citadel of her reserve. Always hitherto she has had things and people come to her; the exercise has been in keeping them off. To want, to seek, to invite—to lift a finger, unless in the way of small and graceful social management—this is new to her, and she takes it hard. The thing I have to do beyond all others is to preserve her dignity: she knows I can be trusted for that, though Jane does not. I can't blame Jane: she has never seen me conduct an affair like this, nor has any one else, for the simple reason that I never had it to do till now. I am only her brother: she has had experience of all my failings, and is imperfectly acquainted with my resources. Mabel is more satisfactory. She has not figured as much as some others in this chronicle; connubial modesty prevents my making her prominent. But she too possesses some very good traits; especially she has a way of bringing forward and dwelling upon points which nobody else would think of mentioning. She used to scold me sometimes, but that was chiefly when she thought I was not treating Clarice well. She lays great stress on ties of blood, and considers herself natural guardian and defender to the Princess, whom she sometimes forgets that I knew for fifteen years before I ever met her. Clarice talks little with her, and no more with Jane: I really believe that her only confidences—which are not much, if measured by words—have been made to me. But they are very fond of each other all the same. I suppose you can understand that much affection can exist with little intimacy. The Princess was cast in her own peculiar mould: I don't want to see many more like her, for they would be poor imitations. None of us ever attempt to pry into her inner life—or to meddle with her outward life either; when she wants anything of any of us, we are ready, and there it ends. She knows we love her, and that is enough.
Hartman, now, is much less impenetrable; though I suppose he will shut himself up like an oyster over the dubious pearl of his precious secret, and give me no end of trouble to extract his contents. But I possess a knife which is able to open his shell. He has answered my letter promptly, and expects me presently. Does he think I am going up there merely to fish and hunt, and hear him talk a lot of rubbish about the Vanity of Life? Or does he scent my deeper motives—discern the Ethiopian within the encompassing pale, as they say in Boston? If so, he is apparently as willing to be operated on as he was before. At any rate he is a gentleman, and knows how to respect a woman—when he takes time to think about it. This is a delicate business for him as well as for the lady—and there is where the awkwardness comes in: from his point of view he can't speak out, any more than she. Well, I'll turn him inside out and manipulate him, if it takes the whole week. Happily I don't have to consider him as I did Clarice; as Jane intimates, a man can't expect to have his feelings spared in the process. What are a man's feelings anyway, compared with a woman's? And what rights has he as against hers? No: between man and man all that can be needed is plain speech and manly frankness—aided by a little diplomacy. I'll break you to pieces, James H., if you are fractious; and I've got the weapons to do it with. It is all for your good, and you'll bless me the rest of your life. One thing must be understood: I can't have you coming to my place and practising your wild backwoods manners on my family, and then sneaking off in the night and evading responsibility. The next time you come you will have to behave yourself, and to stay till Somebody has had enough of you.
Mabel thinks I ought to enliven the account of my trip with descriptions of scenery and the like. But a rock is a rock, and a field is a field, and who wants to know whether a tree is elm or maple? I am not a geological survey, and you can get mountains enough from Craddock. Not that I am insensible to the beauties of Nature—as I have proved before now. How often have I sat upon an eminence, and admiringly gazed at the departing luminary as he sank slowly to rest, flooding hill and valley with tints which a painter might strive in vain to reproduce! I would have to sit there some time to see it all, for I have noticed that with us the Sunset proper does not begin till after the Setting of the Sun is finished. And when the distant mountains assumed a robe of royal purple, and 'the death-smile of the dying day' lingered pathetically on the horizon, my thoughts would soar to the Celestial City, and long to rest themselves upon its pavement of liquid gold. I heard Dr. Chapin say these last words at the first lecture I ever attended, and it struck my infant intelligence that they ought to be preserved. And I too might be a poet if I lived in the country, in constant communion with Nature, abandoning my soul to her maternal caress. But alas, the stir, the scramble, the mad whirl of city life, the debasing contact with low material minds, the daily study of Prices Current, make even of me a muckworm. Still, I might work up a brook or two after I get to the woods, or expatiate on a seven-pound trout: my conscience forbids me to weigh them higher, for I never saw any above three. And yet some men will talk familiarly of ten-pounders!—Or I might analyze the mediaeval garments of Hodge and his old Poll. As for the Wayback houses, they are like any other habitations, only less of them, and few and far between: Jim's is the best, and it is nothing to brag of. You can see much better buildings any day on Broadway. The rural parts, as Lord Bacon observed, are but a den of savage men. It is to see one of these, and resume the interrupted process of civilizing him, that I am about starting on this philanthropic journey, leaving my happy home and the advantages of a metropolis. If the savage breast is open to ennobling influences, it shall be soothed and charmed by the music of my discourse. What loftier, more disinterested task than to reclaim the wanderer, and guide the penitent in the way wherein he should go? I began this soul-raising labor some time ago, but an unexpected hitch occurred in the proceeding: there must be no more such now.
I found Hodge awaiting me at the station: he said that Hartman was arranging the tackle for to-morrow. The fact is, it is one of Jim's notions not to keep a horse, but to depend on Hodge for his communications with the outside world; and another never to see the railroad when he can help it.
"Well, old man," I said as the effete steed began laboriously to get in motion, "how is your valuable health?"
"Pooty tollable. How's them gells o' yourn as wanted to foller ye up here las' time?"
"The ladies are reasonably well, and will be flattered by your inquiries. How is Mr. Hartman?"
"Wall, Square, I ain't none too satyfied 'bout him. He don't say nothin to nobody, but he seems kinder low in his mind, like. Ever sence you played that durn trick on me and him, he's ben someways diffurnt. He—"
"Look here, my aged friend; why should you accuse me of playing durn tricks on people? To what circumstance do you allude?"
"I ain't alludin' to nothin; I says it out plain. If ye don't know, Id'no as I'm called to tell ye. Me an' Hartman was gittin on fust rate, till ye come and upsot us; we ain't used to bein upsot. So when our commydations wan't good enough for ye an' yer gells, ye went and got Hartman down thar in the city, or wharever 'twas. An' Id'no what ye done to him thar, an' I spose it's no good to ask a feller like ye; but he ain't ben the same man sence. That's how he is. He uster be chipper, an' peart, an' clost frens with me; an' now he don't say nothin. Ye can see fur yerself pooty durn soon."
And the native bestowed on me a malign glance. I trotted him out and entertained myself with his paces (which were livelier than those of his nag) for the next three hours. Those who like nature unadorned can find it here. As a specimen of unbridled rancor Hodge deserves a prize. I believe I have got to the bottom of his luminous intellect—not that it was worth the labor, if one had anything else to do. Supposing himself Jim's most intimate friend, he is jealous of me as a rival in that capacity; and he has never forgiven the slight put on his establishment in connection with the girls' proposed visit. I partly appeased him by suggesting that he supply the shanty with a new signboard labeled 'Palace Hotel.' Fortunately I don't have to put up there this time.
Of course he told me a lot of lies. A casual eye could see no change in the recluse: his head does not hang down on his breast, his locks are not long and matted, his sighs do not resound through the primeval forest and scare away the panthers. When you look closely at him, or have been with him long enough, you can see that he is a little thinner, a little older, a little less inclined to chaff—as well he may be. Chaffing is a bad habit anyway, and was his worst fault when I was here before; so far, his woes have improved him. He met me cordially enough, but with no wild demonstration: he seems no nearer insanity than last May. He asked after Mabel, Jane, and the children, but not after Clarice; nor did I mention her, of course. It was not a very pleasant evening, for each of us was watching the other to see what he would say. He knows as well as I do that the enemy has troops in reserve: he is not so unsuspicious as he was. He did not ventilate his theories to any great extent, nor did I see my way to expound my great scheme for the Ascertainment of Truth: the ground ought to be in good condition before you drop seed of such value upon it.
If I thought things would go on like this, I should begin to grumble; but we shall probably get broken in to each other in a day or two, and then I can thaw him out. We talked glittering generalities for a while—the weather, and the war prospects abroad, and the chances of getting deer on the other side of a mountain not far away—like any commonplace boobies at a county fair. Then he proposed for next morning a stream I had not seen, some distance off, which would necessitate a start before daybreak: so I pretended to be tired from the journey, and we turned in early.
A WILD BROOK.
Next day we went some miles along a lonely road, and then through the fields of an abandoned farm. I don't wonder they abandoned it; I am only sorry for the poor wretch who once cherished the delusive dream of scratching a living there; when he died or went back to Canada, he couldn't well be worse off. Nature had but partially reclaimed the land, and we tramped through weeds and grass up to our middle; one might as well be wading a fair-sized river. You have no idea of the dew up here till you have tried it. After a while we struck into the woods, and such woods you never saw—at least I hope so for your sake. Rocks, big and little, generally of the most unchristian shapes—not picturesque, but sprawling; underbrush wherever it had a chance to grow: you could scarcely find a foot of smooth ground. The worst of it was the way the trees lay around loose. The region had not been burned over, at least not for many years; but it did seem to have been cursed, as if Adam's fall had been enacted there. The monarchs of the forest, for countless generations, had indulged a depraved propensity to fall also, and across each other in all possible directions. It was such an abattis as I trust our men, in the war, never had to fight their way through: here it was bad enough without anybody to shoot at you. I would go rods out of my way to get around a great bowlder, and come upon a conglomeration of big trees which had tumbled about till they made a Virginia fence fifteen feet high. Climbing is all very well in its way, but I don't like this kind. The queer thing was that they had not the sense to decay and crumble; the wood was mostly sound enough to be standing yet. I asked Hartman why they did not haul off all this timber, and he said there was no place to haul it to, nor any way to haul it, nor anybody to do the hauling; that fuel was cheap, and the few inhabitants had plenty nearer home; and besides, that it was most ornamental and useful where it was—it afforded exercise to the bodily and spiritual muscles of any anglers from the city who might come that way like me. "You forget the characteristics of this region, which are its advantages in my view. You can get turnpike roads, and teams, and sawmills, nearer home. You come up here to be away from the busy haunts, you know, and to see Nature in her native purity. This stream that I am taking you to is very seldom visited."
"I should think it would be, if this is the way to get to it," I said, as I fell over a root and barked my nose and knees. "What the deuce did we come to such a blanked place for?"
"For trout: you said they were what you wanted. The less fishermen, the more fish. This is the best brook in the county, because it is the least accessible. I rarely come here myself: I've been saving it up this year for you."
We went on, our progress marked by frequent delays and accidents; that it was marked by no profanity was due merely to Jim's reticence and to my exceptional manners and principles. After what seemed to me about twenty miles—though he said it was only one and a half—of this singularly forsaken country, he cried, "Look out now, or you'll fall in. Here is the brook."
It made noise enough to be heard a long way off, but I thought that was something else—some kobolds or other abnormal beings, probably, working at their forges underground. The brook itself was well enough, but it did not seem to belong there; you could not see it till you were on the edge of it. I have fished a good many streams, and tramped through all sorts of woods, but I never saw such a place as that before, and I never want to again. We had left our rods at home; high-toned anglers who carry fancy tackle through such regions leave it along the painful way in small pieces. So we carried merely our baskets—which were encumbrance enough—and what we had in our pockets. You can cut a pole anywhere, and it does not want to be a long one either: take your fly-book if you like, but worms are as good or better. There was no use of wading: you would be more likely to scare the fish so than by staying on the bank, where they could never see you; the difficulty was to see far enough to throw in five feet of line. It was a superior brook—all but the getting to it, and, as I afterwards found, away from it. If it could be removed from its loathsome surroundings and put down in a decent country, I would go there every year. I was going to say that some of the cascades were forty feet high, till I remembered that trout cannot climb as far as that.
"Don't lose your balance," said Jim; "these fish are fierce." They were, in the wilder parts. They would bite like mad, and then wriggle and wrench themselves off the hook before you could get them up the bank. I never saw or heard of such ferocity, except in the celebrated scaly warrior which chased an equally famous fisherman all over an Adirondack lake, jumped across his boat several times, and, if I remember rightly, bit him on the nose. No such adventure fell to my lot on this occasion, though I thought that some of them, when sufficiently near my face, grinned at me as they parted company. Yet none of them were over half a pound, and most of them much less. You can see that this healthful pastime does not produce its usual demoralizing effect on me. When we reached a flat piece of ground, the water would become quiet and the manners of the fish more humane, so that they would come out like chubs. I stood in one spot under a tree, and took twenty-nine in succession. My sister, looking over these memoirs, suggests that they probably were chubs; but Hartman, who was behind me then, came up and saw them, so I have his evidence. He said it was a spawning bed, and I ought to put the twenty-nine back. Who would have thought him capable of such mean jealousy? But he cannot play his tricks on me.
About two P.M. he said we had better start.
"Why, we don't want to reach home much before dark," said I.
"No danger of it. It's much worse getting out of this than getting in. You saw how much path there is: we can't go straight, and it's all chance where we strike the fields. You'd better eat what you've got, and drink all you can: there's no water between this and the road."
"Didn't you take landmarks? Look at the mountains all round."
"They are like the mountains about the Dark Tower Childe Roland came to. I've been here twice before, and missed the way back both times. Nobody ever got out of here without going a circuit to the right, and taking his chances. The natives are afraid to come here: they say there are ghosts—the ghosts of those who got lost of old, and were eaten by bears. That's how we took so many trout. Look to your belt now, and the straps of your basket. The last time I was here, the other fellow lost his fish in the woods, and I made him go back and hunt them up: it was near night before he found them, and his basket was not much heavier than yours is now. If we should have to camp out, we can build a fire, cook some of the fish, and probably avoid freezing: but we'd better try to get out."
I thought so too, and supposed he was trying to scare me; but the sun was nearly down when we saw the fields. We went four times too far, through that beastly region of rocks and dead trees: I think our course was mainly northwest by south-southeast. At last we got back to the house, tired and hungry; but Jim's old housekeeper is a pretty good cook for a native, and there is no better supper than trout that were in the water the same day.
AN INTRACTABLE PATIENT.
When we were settled down to our pipes, I said, "Is this the way you treat the friends of your youth, when they entrust life and limb to your hospitality?"
"I give 'em the best I've got: sorry if it doesn't suit. There's no Delmonico's round the corner, here. What's the matter with you, old man?"
"O, it's not your housekeeping: that's all right. But why did you lead me such a dance, and get me lost in that unconscionable doghole of a wilderness?"
"Did you ever take so many fish out of a brook in one day before? No, of course you didn't. Well, that's why. I told you it would be a rough expedition; but I thought you came here to rough it. You didn't expect balls and a casino, did you? You were here last May."
"Last May I saw nothing as bad as this to-day. You haven't been playing it on me, I hope? Jim, have you got any grudge against me?"
"What should I have? You're deucedly suspicious and sensitive—far more so than I was with you. I believe I let you play on me to your heart's content, and never complained—did I?"
"Jim, I don't like this. There's a change in you: Hodge said so, and I didn't believe him. You're not the same man."
"O, we all change—from year to year, and from day to day. But I ought never to have left these woods, Bob, and that's the truth. You should have let me stay here as I was."
"I meant it in all kindness, for your good, Jim. Surely you'll do me the justice to acknowledge that."
"No doubt. But your philanthropic experiments are apt to be damnably expensive to the patient."
"You couldn't be much worse than you were, according to your own account. Any change ought to have been for the better."
"That was your assumption. Do I strike you as being changed for the better?"
"Well, no, you don't—not to put too fine a point upon it."
He certainly does not. His whole manner is altered. His former gentleness has given way to rough harshness. You have seen how he treats me. It may be his best, as he says; if so, his best is far from good. His bitterness used to be, if I may say so, in the abstract, and leveled against abstractions; now it seems to have a painfully concrete character and aim. His estrangement from the scheme of things, or from his kind at least, was purely intellectual, leaving his heart no more affected than the heart usually is by brain-disorders; now it is moral. He is like a man tormented by remorse, or regrets as savage. But I think I know a cure for his complaint.
After a pause he said, "I don't want to blame you, Bob, and I don't propose to whine. Nor was it any great matter what came to me, wherever it might come from. I thought I was done with the world, and had nothing to fear from it, except being bored and disgusted. There was only one thing I cared about, and that I supposed I could keep. I was mistaken. It was my little ewe lamb—all I had; and they took it from me."
"I thought your live stock was confined to dogs, and a cow, and the tomcat—by the way, I don't see him any more. I didn't know you went into sheep. Was Tommy the ewe-lamb, and did the dogs play Nathan and David with him?"
This I said, thinking to cheer him up a bit; but he only scowled. Really, I must remember Mabel's caution about telling the wrong stories and laughing in the wrong places. "Well, Jim, what was 'it' that you valued so, and who were 'they' who took it away?"
"The prince of the power of the air; the spirit that walks in darkness, and rules in the children thereof. The beautiful order of things generally, and their incurable depravity. All these are one, and the name doesn't matter. If you urged me to it, I might say that you had played a very passable David to my Uriah."
"Who—I? I'm not a sheep-stealer. What would I want to hurt you for? Jim, you're joking, and it's a joke of doubtful taste."
"Do I look like it? You might find a joke in this: you can find them everywhere. I can't."
"As I told you, you take Life too seriously. If you will be more specific, and tell me what you have lost, perhaps I can help you to find it."
"Some losses are irrecoverable. You'd better let it alone, Bob; you'd better have let me alone before, as I've said. You mean well enough; but it's ill meddling with another man's life. You don't know what responsibility you take, or what effect you may produce. I don't say that it's the worst of all possible worlds, but it is such that each of us had best go his own way, and keep clear of the others. When one forgets that safe rule, and mixes with his kind, only harm seems to come of it."
"If that is so, I might better have staid at home now. Methinks your written hand is different from your spoken. I mean—"
"O yes, when I write I try to come out of myself and be decently civil; and so I should to a chance visitor for five minutes, or an hour maybe. But I can't keep it up all day—not to say for a week. You'll have to see the facts, and bear with them. I don't want to be rough on you; but I'm not myself—or not what I was before, or supposed myself to be. It's all in the plan, no doubt; we are fulfilling the beneficent intentions of Nature. Perhaps I'm breaking down, and the end is not so far off as we thought. If so, so much the better: we'll escape that sad old age you prophesied."
Now I am not lacking in humanity, but it does not afflict me as it did six months ago to hear Jim go on in this way. I know what is the matter with him now, and what he is driving at, though I must assume ignorance for a while yet. The patient must tell his symptoms, and then the doctor will give him the physic he needs, and proceed to make a new man of him. That is what I am after now, and the good work must not be spoiled by undue haste. So I put on a decorous air of sympathy, and said,
"That's all bosh, you know. If anything is the matter with you physically, I ought to hear about it; but I don't believe there is. As for the mind, we are all subject to gloomy moods and periods of depression; but they pass, Jim—they pass. You believed in friendship before; hadn't you better tell me what you think ails you?"
"I can't talk about it, except in this roundabout way: what's the use? Best keep to broad principles: the particular case only illustrates the general law. I knew it of old: what business had I to expose myself again? What would you do with a child who will keep on playing about moving cars, or mill machinery? Let him fall under the wheels, and rid the earth of an idiot."
"O no: pull him out in time, and he'll learn better. Well, Jim, you might at least tell me what hand I had in this catastrophe."
"O, none, none whatever: how should you? You never laid any plots for me, and used me for your mirth. You never devised an elaborately concealed ambush, and smoothed it over till I was in the snare. That would be foreign to your open and candid nature. It is very good fun to practice on unsuspecting innocence; but you are far above that."
"See here, Hartman: you talk as if my house were a den of iniquity. If so, I was not aware of it till now. Your ill opinion has not thus far been reciprocated. We entertain none but kind feelings toward you: we all regretted your hasty departure. You were received as a friend, and treated as such, I believe. My wife and sister often speak of you: you could command their fullest sympathy in this, or any trouble, real or imaginary."
"That I never doubted: I owe them nothing but pleasant memories, and thankful good will.—You need not stare at me so: I make no charges, and imply none.—Well, if you must have it, I can say that every member of your family has my absolute respect,—down to the twins; do you understand? If I have any grudge, it is toward you alone."
It was plain that he forced himself to say this—or some of it—as if it were coming perilously near a name he could not utter. He is having his bad time now, as I had mine last week. It is his own fault: he has no need to be so censorious. He had to say what he did, or there would be trouble: some things a man cannot stand, and my best friend would be my friend no longer, if he ventured to reflect upon the Princess.
"I'm glad to hear you say so: the difficulty is simple then, and easily settled. You've got no pistols, of course, and I didn't bring mine. I'll take your rifle, and you can borrow Hodge's old shotgun: if it bursts, it won't be much loss—only you mustn't come too near me with it. There's no danger of interference from the police up here, I judge? But I say, what shall we do for a surgeon?"
"There you go again, turning everything into a jest. Can you never be serious, man?"
"Try to say something original, James: that is stale. Jane asks me that about six times a day, and Mabel frequently, and—and the others. I was serious with you just now, or nearly: had I been entirely so, I might have knocked the top of your head off, and then they would have blamed me at home. You see, they think you are more of a man than you show yourself. To be serious all the time is the most serious mistake one can make in life; and I want no worse example than you. When I go back to town I shall write the Decline and Fall of an Alleged Seeker after Truth, who missed it by taking things too seriously. You are too stiff and narrow and rigid and dogmatic: you take one point of view and stick to it like grim death. You can't get at Truth in that way."
"I suppose you would stand on your head and look at it upside down, and then turn a back somersault and view it from between your legs."
"You express it inelegantly, but you have caught the idea. Truth is not a half pound package done up in brown paper and permanently deposited in one corner of the pantry shelf; she is big and various and active. While you have your head fixed in the iron grip and are staring at the sign 'Terms Cash,' she is off to the other side of the room—and you don't make a good picture at all in that constrained attitude. Your mind has got to be nimble and unbiassed if you want to overtake her, because she is always changing: that is, she appears in new and—to you—unexpected places. I gave you a hint of this in May, and another last summer, but you seem to have forgotten it. O, I could sit here all night and explain it to you, if you were in the right frame of mind."
"No doubt: happily I am not. What has this to do with your defence of buffoonery, and apotheosis of clowns and pantomimes?"
"A pantomime is a very good thing in its way. But that is your illustration; I would rather say opera bouffe, which is probably the truest copy of Life—if we were limited to one kind. But we are not: I tell you, we must have all sorts. There is tragedy in Life, and comedy—that more especially; a little of the other goes a long way. But they are always mixed—not kept apart, and one alone taken in large and frequent doses, after your fashion. Shakespeare understood his business pretty well; though, if I had been he, I would have put in more of those light and graceful touches which hit us where we live, and make the whole world kin."
"Like the Dromios, or the Carriers in Henry Fourth."
"Or the Gravediggers; they are more to your purpose. I want you to see that Humor is the general solvent and reconciler, the key that opens most locks: a feeling for it, well developed, would be money in your pocket. Things don't go to suit you, and you think your powers of the air are frowning, the universe a vault, and the canopy a funeral pall: perhaps the powers are only laughing at you, and want you to smile with them. If you could do that, it would let in light on your darkness. Any situation, properly viewed, has its amusing elements: if you ignore them, you fail to understand the whole. What did Heine say about his irregular Latin nouns? That his knowledge of them, in many a gloomy hour, supplied much inward consolation and delight. You ought to read him more, Jim."
"And Josh Billings, and Bill Nye. Well, that's enough of your wisdom for to-night. We must arrange for to-morrow. Are you up to another scramble?"
"Not like to-day's. Let's take in some decent scenery along with the trout."
"There is a wild gorge ten miles off, with a brook in it. We can take Hodge's mare, put up at a house, and work down the ravine. It's not so bad as the last place, nor so good for fish." I agreed, and we went to bed.
You may think I am humoring Hartman too much, and letting him shirk the subject. But I have a week—more if necessary—and I don't want to be too hard on him. He'll thaw out by degrees: so long as he doesn't blame Clarice, it is all right. He has got my idea about the way to discover Truth now, and it will work in his brain, and soften him. I know Jim: he never seems to take hold at first, but he comes round in time. You just wait, and you will see whether I know what I am about.
The next day we drove to a farmhouse which had annexed some rather decent fields for that region. On one side was tolerably level ground, on the other a cut between two savage mountains. Down this we made our way, taking presently the bed of a small brook: woodroad or footpath never can be there. For a while there was room to walk on dry land: soon the cliffs closed in upon us, on the right rising sheer, on the left sloping, but steeper than I would want to climb. At first the stream was very shallow and narrow, and the fish small and scarce; but think of the creatures that must come there to drink at night! It was the only watercourse for miles, Jim said. He pointed out the tracks of a bear or two, and he thought of a panther; but it is not here I should choose to hunt—your game might have you at a disadvantage. He tried to make me believe that even now some of these beasts might catch us; but that was simply to discourage me from going after them, later on: Jim does not like the chase. My jokes are in better taste: as he is now, I believe the bears could beat him in manners. Near noon we found a place to sit down, where we could see a little of the crags, and proceeded to assimilate our frugal lunch.
"Hartman," said I, "I should think you would want to live up to your scenery, as the ladies do to their blue china. Look at this majestic cliff, whose scarred and aged front, frowning upon these lonesome trout since the creation, has never been profaned by mortal foot."
"Probably not. People very seldom come here, and when they do, they wouldn't be fools enough to try to climb up. They couldn't do it, and it wouldn't pay if they could."
"Well, it is grand, anyway, and it ought to quicken your soul to grand thoughts. In such a scene you ought to feel stirring within you noble sympathies and resolves."
"I can't see much grandeur in human nature, Bob, nor any in myself. If you had thought yourself a gentleman, and suddenly awaked to the fact that you were a cad and a scoundrel, you would be apt to change your tune, and drop the high notes."
Oho, I thought, he is coming to the point. While I was meditating how to utilize this confidence, a small piece of rock fell from above upon the edge of my toes: if it had been a large piece, and fallen on my head, you would have missed this moral tale. When I had expressed my sentiments, he said, "I can't insure you against accidents,—any more than you did me. If I had brought you here in spring, you might growl. The rocks are loose then, and it is dangerous. A man was killed once just below here, and his body never found till the year after." This trivial occurrence seemed to turn his thoughts away from the important topic, and I could not get him back to it.
It was a warm day for the season: once in a while it will be hotter in these sylvan solitudes than it is in New York. While we were in the brook we did not mind that, for we could drop every five minutes and drink. I suppose I consumed some nine gallons of aqua pura during the morning: you can do this with impunity, because there is no ice in it, and the bacteria are of the most wholesome kind. But by and by we finished with the gorge: then we had to go across a sort of common, up hill. There was no water now, and it was hot. After more trees, and a steeper ascent, Jim said, "You'll get a view now." We came out on an open place, with steep rocks beneath. Before us lay a wilderness, with clearings here and there, and a background of mountains. The forests were in their early November bloom; the country looked one great flower. In the Alps or the Rockies they can give this odds, and beat it easily, but it was pretty well for eastern America—and an occasion to be improved. "Jim, if the crags don't appeal to you, this might. If you don't feel up to moral grandeur, why not go in for peace? Let your perturbed spirit catch the note of harmony from this landscape, and drink in purity from this air."
"That is all very fine, and you would make a pretty fair exhorter—with practice. But natural theology is not in my line. These hills look nicely now, but it will be different within a month. If I am to learn peace from a fine day, what from a stormy one? Nature changes for the worse like us, and with less shame: she has no regrets for the past, no care to keep up appearances or make a show of consistency."
"I fear you have been learning of Nature on her wrong side then. Half confidences are in bad taste, Jim. What is it you keep hinting at? It ought to be murder, from the airs you put on about it."
"Leave that for to-night, when we have nothing better to attend to. There is another brook here we ought to try."
We got back reasonably early, much less tired than the day before. Now, I thought, for some progress. "Well, Jim, you wanted to unfold your tale to-night."
"That is, you wanted to ask me about it. You can't do any good, and I don't find speech a safety-valve: but I suppose it is my duty to supply you with amusement. So get on, and say what is on your mind."
He takes this tone to conceal his morbid yearning to ease his bosom of its perilous stuff: I will have his coil unwound pretty soon. If I were not here, he would probably be whispering her name under the solemn stars, and shouting it in tragic tones on the lonely mountain-top; sighing it under the waterfalls, and expecting the trout to echo it. He talks about fishing the home brook the first rainy day, but he must have scared all the fish away from there with his sentiment. I must remember to notice whether 'C. E.' is carved about the forest. He will pretend to hold back; but I will get it out of him.—I made this pause long enough to let him prepare for the examination on which depends his admission into the civil service, so to speak—he will have to be more civil and serviceable than hitherto if he is to pass it, and follow me back to town—and indeed his whole future.
"You say you have lost something valuable. All you had, you said it was; but that is nonsense. You have health, and more money than you want, and brains and education, of which you are making very poor use, and friends, whom you are treating badly. I can't think what you have lost—unless it was your heart, perhaps." This I brought in in the way of afterthought, as if it had suddenly occurred to me. He started, but assumed a tone of cynical indifference.
"My heart? Would I sit down and howl over that? What use have I for a heart, any more than for a poodle? And if I had one, what does it matter what may have become of it?"
"Strayed or stolen, probably. Such things have happened, especially when persons of the opposite sex are about. They are apt to attach themselves to poodles, and vice versa. But if you give me your honor that a loss of heart is not the cause of these lamentations—"
"Why will you press that point, Bob? What is done can't be undone, and what is broken can't be mended."
"And what is crooked can't be made straight, and what is wanting can't be supplied; though these things are done every day and every hour. Why any able-bodied lady of my acquaintance, even those at my own house, limited as is their experience of the world's devious ways—Jane, I mean, or Mabel—could tell you how."
"Robert, I am too old for these follies."
"James, you are the youngest man I ever knew. Any boy of eighteen would be apt to know better how to manage such matters, and—if you will pardon the frankness you employ yourself—to exhibit more sense."
He stared a little, and I gave him time to recover. Then he took up his parable, defensively falling back on the abstract, after his manner.
"Of course I have thought of these things, Bob, and the philosophy of them, if they can be said to have any. They seem much like everything else. Taking Life in its unfinancial aspects, men do things, not because the particular things are worth doing, but as an apology for the unwarranted liberty they take in being alive. 'I am: why am I?' said the youth at prayer-meeting, and everybody gave it up. As an effort toward answering his own conundrum, he entered the ministry. Being alive, we have to make a pretense of doing something, which else might better remain undone. That is why books are written, and controversies waged; it explains most of our intellectual and moral activities. So with society: time must be killed, and we go out for an evening, though we are dreadfully bored and gain nothing at all. So, I suppose, with what is called love. The emotional part of our nature, which is the absurdest part of all, finds or fancies itself unemployed: a void craves and aches in the breast, and the man, as an old farmer once expressed it, is 'kinder lovesick for suthin he ain't got and dunno what.' Almost any material of the other sex, if you allow a little for taste and temperament, will fill the void—in a way, and for a time at least. Darby marries Joan and is content, though any other woman would have served his turn as well. With us of the finer feelings and higher standards, the only difference is that we rant more and sophisticate more, as belongs to our wider range. No one ever felt thus before—because the feeling is new to us, and newer each time it comes: so Festus protests to each successive mistress, perjuring himself in all sincerity. Nor was any mistress ever so beautiful and divine as this one, appointed to possess and be adored by us. All that is purely a mental exercise: carry the illusion a little farther, and it might be practised as well on a milliner's lay-figure. 'He that loves a coral cheek or a ruby lip admires' is simply a red hot donkey, Bob. Nature provides the imbecile desire, Propinquity furnishes an object at random. Imagination does all the rest."
"Just so, Jim. I am glad to find you again capable of such lucid and exhaustive analysis. But how about what is called falling in love, when the wild ass has not been craving to have his void filled up at all, but is suddenly brought down unawares by an Amazonian arrow?"
"He was no less a donkey that he didn't know it, and it only comes harder for him. The fool ought to have been better acquainted with his own interior condition; then he might have eased his descent to his royal thistle, secured his repast or gone without it, and got back to his stable with a whole skin. Otherwise it is just the same. The heart is an idiot baby, Robert: it feeds on pap and thinks it is guzzling nectar on Olympus."
"Exactly, James; exactly. As you say, it is our fertile fancy that does it all. You and I can conjure up women far more charming than we ever met on brick or carpet. If we only had the raw material and knew how to work it up, we could beat these flesh and blood girls off the field before breakfast. Their merits and attractions are mainly such as we generously invest them with; and often they take a mean advantage of our kindness."
I glanced at him sideways, and he flushed and winced. "I would not derogate from women, nor rate myself so high. I meant only that we imagine—well, monstrous heaps of nonsense. For instance, we often fancy that they care for us when they don't—and whose fault is that but ours? There's a deal of rot talked about lords of creation—when a man isn't able to be lord of himself. O, women are very well in their way: I've nothing against them. They are just as good as we—better, very likely; and wiser, for they don't idealize us as we do them."
"Yes, but this idealizing faculty is a very useful one to have. I see you must have found a Blowsalinda on some of these hill farms:—why, man, you're as red as her father's beets. I congratulate you, Jim: I do, heartily. As you say, the tender passion is merely a spark struck by the flint of Opportunity on the steel of Desire; and for the rest, you can enrich her practical native virtues with the golden hues of your imagination. She'll suit you just as well as any of these proud cityfied damsels—after you've sent her a term or two to boarding school; and she'll be more content to stay up here than the city girl would."
I paused to view my work, and was satisfied. The shadows of wrath and disgust were chasing each other over my friend's intelligent countenance. You see, I get so browbeaten at home that I must avenge myself on somebody now and then; and of course, it has to be a man. And then it is all for Jim's good, and he deserves all he is getting. So I went on.
"But seeing this is so, Jim, you ought to be content; and what means all your wild talk of last night and this morning, as if you had something on your conscience? You haven't—you wouldn't—No, you're not that kind of a man. Well then, what in thunder have you been making all this fuss about, and pitching into me for?"