But with June comes the most exquisite of our New England wild-flowers, the arethusa, or swamp-pink, as it is often styled, to the great confusion of its delicate, high-born nature with the great, vulgar, flaunting azalea. When June comes,—when the clethra is heaped with its bee-beloved blossoms, and the grass is green and bright as never again in the year, then the arethusa is to be sought. A most unaccountable flower, of all shades, from pale pink to a deep purple, with a lovely shape that I can liken to nothing so nearly as the fleur-de-lis on French escutcheons, it has a delicate, yet powerful, aromatic scent, as if it were an estray from the tropics. One specimen, snowy white, I have seen, and can tell you where to find another. You are to go out along the President's highway, due northward from a certain seaport of Massachusetts. Take the eastward turn at the little village which lies at the head of its harbor, and so north again by the old Friends' meeting-house, which looks in brown placidity away toward the distant shipping and the wicked steeple-houses, into the which so many of its lost lambs have been inveigled. Then be not tempted to strike off down yonder lane, to see the curious old farm-house, relic of Colony times, with its odd stone chimney, its projecting upper story and carved wooden pendants, and its shingles all pierced into decorative hearts and rounds. Its likeness is not in Barber's book,—no, nor its visible form, I believe, (it is many a year since I went that way,) on earth. It became a constellation long ago,—being translated to the stars. Keep on with good heart along the highway ridge, whence you can look down on the solemn, close-set, pine forest, which hides from you the windings of the river, and the beautiful lakelet, where the water-lilies float in the summer. Go on down the valley, past the old tavern,—relic of stage-coaching days, the square, three-story, deserted-looking tavern,—up again a couple of miles or so, till the river has dwindled to a brook and then to a marsh. Here is the place of our seeking. For under the shade of one of those huge granite rocks over which the thin soil of —— County is sprinkled, and which here and there have shaken off the superincumbent dust in indignation at the presumption of man in attempting to farm them,—under that rock—of course I shall not tell you which—you will find the White Arethusa, if you are born under a lucky star.
A little later, the crimson lady-slipper loves to spring up in pine clearings, around the base of the wood-piles which the cutters have stacked in the winter to season. To one born by the salt water there is an especial forest delight in the pine woods. For that best-loved sound of the ceaseless fall of plunging seas upon the beach comes to him there. Many a time I have walked from Harvard's leafy shades and cheerful halls out to the quiet of the Botanic Garden for the sake of hearing the wind in the pine tree-tops. Shut your eyes, and the inward vision sees once more the long line of sandy and shingly beaches, the green curving-up of the surges tipped with dazzling foam,—sees the motionless and blackened timbers of the wreck on the shore, the white wings dipping and turning along the combing tops of the waves racing in upon the sands,—sees the dry tufted beach-grass, and the wet, shining, compact slope down which slides swiftly the under-tow. And what a healthful exhilaration it is to breathe the balm-laden breath of the pine forest, and to tread the elastic slippery-soft carpet of the fallen spiny leaves! Here is the haunt of the lady-slipper, (cypripedium,) a shy, rare flower, like a little sack delicately veined, with a faint musky scent, and large-flapped leaves shading its flower.
In the hot July and August, the scarlet lobelia, the cardinal-flower, is to be found. Never was cardinal so robed. If Herbert's rose, in poetic hyperbole, with its "hue angry and brave, bids the rash gazer wipe his eye," certainly such a bed of lobelia as I once saw on the road to "Rollo's Camp" was anything but what the Scotch would call "a sight for sair een." For the space of a dozen or twenty yards grew a patch of absolutely nothing but lobelia. At a little distance it was like a scarlet carpet flung out by the roadside. If you desire to twine the threefold chord of color, as Mr. Ruskin calls it, I know of no lovelier foil for the lobelia than the white orchis, which haunts the same marshy spots. Those long spikes of feathery and balanced blossoms are the most absolute white of anything in Nature. They positively insist upon the very refinement of purity, as you look at them.
Did you ever see a pond-lily?—not the miserable draggled green-and-mud-colored buds which enterprising boys bring into the cars for sale; but the white water-lily, floating on the silent brooks, or far out in the safe depths of the mill-ponds. The "Autocrat" knows what pond-lilies are, having visited Prospero's Isle and seen the pink-tinged sisterhood of a certain mere that lies embosomed in its hills. But to know them, you must hunt for them,—tramp off to the distant stream, and then, not stand on the bank and wish and sigh, but off hose and shoon, and, careless of water-snake and snapping-turtle, wade in up to their virgin bower, and bear off the dripping, fragrant prize. None but the brave deserve—lady or lily.
But if the stream be too deep and wide, and the lilies are anchored far out among their broad pads,—a floral Venice, with the blue spikes and arrowy leaves of the pickerel-weed for campaniles and towers,—there are yet "lilies of the field" over which you may profitably meditate, remembering that Solomon Ben-David was not so arrayed. Two kinds there are,—one like the tiger-lily of the gardens, the petals curled back and showing the whole leopard-spotted corolla,—the other bell-shaped, rarer, and growing one only on a stalk. Both are to be found in open spaces, bush-grown fields, and airy, sunny spots. It is worth a hot and dusty June walk to get into one of those nooks. You can spend days and not exhaust the study which one little triangular bit of overgrown pasture affords,—spend them, not as a naturalist in close, patient study, because to such a one a square yard of moss is as exhaustless as the forests of Guiana to a Waterton, but as a nemophilist, taking simple delight in mere observation and individual discovery.
"Many haps fall in the field Seldom seen by watchful eyes."
And so all sorts of curious ways are discoverable by the mere wood-lounger. At one time your way is barred by the great portcullis of the strong threaded web of the field spider, who sits like a porter in king's livery of black and gold at his gate. Then you have a peep into the winding maelstroem-funnel of another of the spider family. Poe must have suffered metempsychosis into the body of a blue-bottle, when he wrote his "Descent into the Maelstroem"; for such an insect, hanging midway down that treacherous, sticky descent, and seeing Death creeping up from the bottom to grasp him, might have a clear idea of what was undergone by the fisherman of Lofoden.
Or, if one tire of the open meadows, and the sun be too hot, think of the laurel groves,—not now, as in the Christmas-time, white with snow, but white again with thousands on thousands of argent cups, loaded with blossoms, meeting over your head in arches of flowery tracery, and one solitary tree standing deep in the woods, like a frigate packed with her silver canvas lying out to windward of the fleet of merchantmen she is convoying. The cool laurel groves! Often as one sees that sight, it is always with a fresh shock of pleasure to the frame.
Then, when autumn comes and the leaves change, there is still endless variety for the little basket or botanical-case which swings lightly on your arm or hangs across your shoulder. Owen Jones never devised any ornaments for wall or niche one half so brilliant as the color of those leaves which a dexterous hand will readily group upon a sheet of white paper, where your eye may catch it, as, after achieving a successful sentence, you look up from your study-table. Speaking of leaves, who knows how large an oak-loaf will grow in this New England? I have just sat down after measuring one gathered in a bit of copse hard by the town of M——, a bit of copse which skirts a beautiful wild ravine, with a superb hemlock and pine grove creeping down its steep bank. I have just honestly measured my leaf, and it shows fourteen inches in length by a trifle of nine and a half in breadth.
In the same ravine I found—and in any patch of woodland you may do the like—a perfect treasury of mosses. A shallow tin box or a wooden bowl filled with these and duly watered will give a winter-garden to the smallest lodging. Sun and light are, as Mr. Toots says, of "no consequence" to the moss family. But if one be above such trifles as mosses, and with Young American loftiness aspire to full-grown trees, there is still plenty to do in the most ordinary woodlands. After a chapter of Mr. Ruskin upon Claude and Poussin and Turner, there is nothing like going to the original documents. In default of the National Gallery from London and the Pitti Palace from the other side of Arno, which cannot be summoned into court at a moment's notice, we can solve at least half the problem. Mr. Ruskin may or may not be right about the Claudes; but it is very easy to see if he be right as to the trees. And if we prove him right with his theory of branches and bark, we have a fair presumption that he has eyes to see the alleged falsehoods in him of Lorraine. Now here is a chance to do a little bit of Art-criticism quite unexpensively. Discontented young gentlemen murmur about the education of this people being too practical, unaesthetic, and all that, and sigh for the culture which a foreign land only can give. But a man who has no eye for Nature will hardly learn to love her at second-hand through the mediation of canvas and colors. I should like very much to be able to walk into a Turner Gallery once a week; but, for all that, I would not give up a Connecticut Valley sunset, such as last summer could be had for the looking at. Not Turner, even, could paint those level shadows, all interfused with trembling light, that filled the hollows of the hills across the river, and brought out their wavy contour, and showed the depth and distance of the valley opening miles away. Could he throw athwart the dark mirror of the sleeping water in the gorge, which led the imprisoned river stealthily to the sea, the gliding snows of the sails rosy-white that stole swan-like from behind the bluffs? Could he bring down the rainbow till its hither abutment rested on the centre of the stream in a transparent mist of driving rain, while its keystone was lost in the stooping cloud above? Art is good, as well as long; but time is also fleeting, and, not being millionnaires, with the luxury of a run across the Atlantic at command, let us make what we can out of what we have. It is very probable that architecture, too, is a sore subject to aspiring Young America, who turns discontentedly from the stucco and pine-plank tracery of the new cathedral of St. Aerian. But let Young America go out to the meadows, and discover for himself a group of young elms. There is one I know of, not unattainable by very moderate pedestrianism from the same seaport before alluded to, where a most exquisite arrangement of arches and tracery can be seen. Six or eight elms, their long bending boughs clothed with thick, clinging leafage, mingle their tops, forming a sort of vaulted roof, such as at the intersection of nave and transepts occurs in every Gothic church which has no central tower. More exquisite curves, better studies for a healthy-minded and original architect, could hardly be found. The interlacing branches are suggestive of tracery-patterns, not to be outdone even in the flamboyant windows of York and Rouen. There is no excuse for the squat, ugly, and stupid arches one sees in almost every attempt at pointed architecture, when the elm-tree springs by every riverside in the land.
But it is time to conclude our desultory rambles. It would be pleasant to me to recall many another of my old haunts, spots which, perhaps, were never called beautiful before now, and may not be again for many a day. For they all lie in a very tame and prosaic country, nearly level, the utmost elevation getting hardly a couple of hundred feet above tidewater mark; a country with less natural beauty than belongs to most New England towns,—bare, bleak, rocky, with stunted vegetation and ungenial soil. Yet within its limits there are brooks and marshes and copses and woodlands,—rocks over which the wild columbine hangs its fuchsia-like pendants, and dells where nestle the earliest and sweetest of the wood-flowerets.
And now to come back to the miserable sinner. As schoolboy, as bank-clerk, as teacher, as worker in many ways, he has unemployed leisure in the hours of daylight,—not so many as he should have, perhaps, but still many hours in the course of the month. Shall he go to the livery-stable, the bowling-alley, or the billiard-saloon? Not being a saint, of course he can plead no high-toned sense of need of physical culture, to warrant these indulgences. He goes because he likes it, gets enjoyment, exercise, rest for a mind tasked to the full with the day's work. This he ought to have; and if butting little ivory balls about or propelling big wooden ones will give it him, let him have it, if so be that it cannot be got otherwise. There is no contamination in the cue or the ten-pin; but there is in the habits and associations of the places where they are found. Let us not be maw-wormish about it, but tell the truth as it is. The quasi-gambling principle upon which all such places are conducted stimulates the love of hazard and makes way for the betting propensity to become full-blown. Of course, one can bet, if one have money; two lumps of sugar and a few flies will enable a man to lose the fortune of the Rothschilds, if he will. That is not the question. The billiard-saloons do educate men for the gambling-house, simply because they cannot go to them without either losing their money or winning their games. Beside that, the gaseous, dusty, confined, and tobacco-scented air of those places is not to be compared with our free, open, out-doors hills and meadows, for any hygienic purposes.
But, argument apart, there is a sad New England story, so often repeated as to be almost wearisome, were it not so sad. It is of the fresh, frank, honest-hearted boy, who may be seen behind many a bank-counter. At first, so active, trustworthy, and trusted,—yet with the constant temptation of unemployed time and energies demanding supply of action. Little by little these are supplied,—supplied by the billiard-table and its concomitants. It is the same story,—first, rumors, then equivocation, then exposure. Perhaps a petty sum is all; but, to the austere justice of banking, this is as bad, nay, worse than millions. And then a brief paragraph in the newspaper, and one more ruined young man, sulking beside the family-hearthstone, his father's shame, his mother's unextinguishable sorrow,—a candidate for crime, if he have power of mind and spirit to feel, or an imbecile dependant, if he have not.
Now preaching, whether lay or clerical, will not do much to prevent this, especially if it be pitched (as it commonly is) upon too high a key. Preventing means, or used to mean, when words had a meaning, getting beforehand with anything. And if young Homespun have from the outset something he likes better, he will not take to the ivory balls in pleasant weather, and in rainy weather will be apt to prefer even quite a stupid book to the board of green cloth. Therefore, boys, go,—and girls, too, for that matter,—on flower and moss hunts!—and ye, dear middle-aged people, send them, and go also upon the same! Find something that will tempt you into the woods,—something neither berries nor sassafras,—something which cannot be eaten or sold, but which will simply give you a sense and a love of beauty. These pages have been written to show that it lies at your very doors,—that nothing but stout boots, an old coat or jacket, and an observant eye, is needed. When you come to be saints, or even to be men, there will be plenty of active work to do, if so be that you will only do it. Then, in careful regard to your bodies, you may have hard-trotting (not fast-trotting) horses, pickerel-backed boats, and a billiard-room over the stable,—if your canonization seem to require it. But the saint, if he be true saint, needs no such care. He will get work enough, hard, physical work, if only in trotting up and down the steep stairs of tenant-houses, to keep his digestion in tolerable order. It is only your pseudo-saint, who cuddles himself for the pulpit and the platform, and keeps the safety-valve down with midnight sittings while "rosining up" the furnaces with strong coffee, that will come to grief by collapse of flues. If a man, whether sinner or saint, will run races for the honor of being the fastest boat in the river of popular favor, he must take the consequences.
But for the poor, benighted, heathen sinner, desiring enjoyment that shall be honest, cheap, satisfying, and attainable, I say, in the full faith of the creed of Nemophily,—Get into the woods! No matter what you expect to find there,—go and see what you can find. Don't walk for "constitutionals," without an object at the end or on the way. Keep your feet well shod and your eyes open. Bring home all the flowers and pretty wood-growths you can, and you may find that you have been entertaining angels unawares. Find out about them all you can yourself, and then (in spite of a previous tirade against botany, be it said) go to BIGELOW'S "PLANTS OF BOSTON" and learn more.
SUBSTANCE AND SHADOW.
A fatiguing journey up six long, winding flights of smoothly-waxed stairs carried me to the door of the room I occupied in the Place ——. But no matter for the name of the Place; no one, I am confident, will visit Paris for the express purpose of satisfying himself that I am to be depended upon, and that there is a house of so many stones in the Place Maubert. Here I lived, au premier au dessous du soleil, in the enjoyment of no end of fresh air, especially in winter, and a brilliant prospect up and down the street and over the roofs of the houses across the way, which reached from the Pantheon on the one side, to the peaked roofs and factory-like chimneys of the Tuileries on the other, the dome of the Hotel des Invalides occupying the centre of the picture. I was studying painting at that time,—learning to paint the much-admired landscapes and figure-pieces which I produce with so much ease now and dispose of with so little,—and, as a general thing, was busy, (though I had my fits of abstraction, like other men of genius, during which I did nothing but lie on my bed and smoke pipes over French novels, or join parties of pleasure into the country or within the barriers,) through the day, and often till late in the evening, in the atelier of one or another of the most renowned artists of the city.
At the head of the last flight of stairs in this house was a narrow passage-way in which I was always obliged to stop and recover my breath, after finishing the one hundred and thirty-nine steps that led to my paradise, before I could get my key into its lock; and into this passage-way opened two doors, one of which, of course, belonged to my room, and the other to some one's else. But who this some one else was I was unable to find out. Was it—and how convenient a word is ca in such a case!—male or female? I was persuaded it must be a woman, and as a woman I always used to think of her and speak of her, to myself,—and I thought and spoke of her often enough. Of course, I could have settled the question at once by knocking at her door and asking for a match, but I scorned resorting to such weak subterfuges. But how quiet she was! Occasionally, when, contrary to my usual custom, I took another nap after waking in the morning, instead of going out for exercise and a glimpse of early Paris street-life,—occasionally I used to hear her moving about on the other side of the thin partition which separated our rooms, as stealthily as though she feared she might disturb me. She would light her charcoal-stove, and perhaps glide softly by my door and down stairs, to return soon with the paper of coffee, the, bit of bread, and the egg or two which were to serve her for breakfast, and now and then she would sing to herself, but so gently that I never could hear the words of her song, nor scarcely the air. An evil spirit put gimlets into my head, but I shook them out like so much powder, and resolved to be honorable, if I was an artist. I found, however, that my curiosity was an abominable nuisance, that my morning walks were almost entirely neglected, and that I could not bear to leave my room until I had heard her go out and lock her door behind her. Every day, after her departure, I resolved that she should not go out again without being seen by me, and every time I attempted to follow her in such a way as to escape detection I lost sight of her. I nearly fell into the street as I attempted to reach far enough out of my window to see her as she came out at the street-door.
At last, one morning, when it happened, that, just as I had finished dressing myself and was ready to go out, she opened her door and ran down stairs without closing it behind her, carried away by my curiosity, I stepped out into the narrow passage-way and looked into her sanctuary. The room was a smaller one than mine,—but how much neater! The muslin curtains in her window were as white as snow; her wardrobe, which hung against the wall, was protected from the dust by a linen cloth; the floor shone like a mirror. Her canary hung in the window, and greeted me with a perfect whirlwind of roulades as I stepped into the room. Her fire was burning briskly under a pot of water, which was just coming to the boiling-point, and singing as gayly and almost as loudly as her bird. Over the back of a chair was thrown the work she had been busied with; and on the bed, almost hid by the curtains, was a pair of the prettiest little blue garters I ever saw, even in Paris,—span-new they were, and had evidently been bought no longer ago than the evening before,—and some other articles of feminine apparel, which I will not attempt to describe. I looked into her glass, I really believe, with the hope of finding there a faint reflection of her face and figure. She must have looked into it but a minute before going out. A book, like a Testament, lay on the table. I knew I should find her name on the fly-leaf, and was just on the point of satisfying myself with regard to that particular when I heard her feet upon the stairs; and, with a start which nearly carried away the curtains of her bed, I rushed from her room into my own.
How my heart beat, after I had gently closed my door and was sitting on the side of my bed, listening to the movements in the next room! It didn't seem to me as though I had been guilty of a high misdemeanor, and yet, though I had been prepared for her return, I was as much discomposed as though I had been caught peeping.
So far from being satisfied with this resolution of my doubts with regard to the sex of my neighbor, I now found myself more uneasy and curious than before. Was she young and pretty and good? and what did she do? and what was her name? My thoughts were perpetually running up those six flights and stopping baffled at her close-shut door. I drew ideal portraits of her, and introduced them into all my pictures as pertinaciously as Rubens did his wives, and would often finish out an accidental face in a study of rocks, much to my instructor's surprise and my fellow-students' amusement. It was very remarkable, however, that all these fancy sketches bore a striking resemblance to another acquaintance of mine, who will shortly be introduced, and in whom, until I moved into my now room, I had been exclusively interested,—so much so, in fact, that——But I will not anticipate.
Most of my days were spent on the opposite side of the Seine; and, as I crossed that river, by the Pont Royal, at about five o'clock, every evening, on my way to the Laiterie, at which I usually took what I called my dinner, I always stopped to buy a bunch of flowers, of violets in their season, of a charming little flower-girl, who had her stand, on the Quai Voltaire, and who, by the time my turn to be served came, had usually disposed of nearly her whole stock. Every one who looked at her bought of her. She possessed something that was more attractive even than her beauty; though I question, if, without her glossy brown hair, her soft, dark eyes, her glorious complexion, her round, dimpled cheek and chin, her gentle winning smile, and her exquisite taste in dress—I question, if, without all these, her quiet, modest demeanor and unaffected simplicity and propriety would have attracted quite as much attention as they always did.
I had not bought many bouquets of Therese before she began to recognize me as I came up, and to greet me with a smile and a "Bon jour, Monsieur," sweeter in tone and accent than any I had ever heard before. What a voice hers was! Its tones were like those of a silver bell; and I found that she always had my bunch of violets or heliotrope ready for me by the time I reached her.
My frugal meal over, I was in the habit of visiting a neighboring cafe, where I read the papers, drank my evening cup of coffee, and, as I smoked my cigar or pipe and twirled my posies in my fingers or held them to my nose, would wonder who she was who sold them to me, if she ever thought of those who bought them of her, and if she distinguished me above her other customers. It seemed to me, that, if she had the same angelic smile and happy greeting for them as she always bestowed upon me, they must one and all be her slaves; and yet I couldn't decide whether I really loved her or was only touched by a passing fancy for her.
I looked forward, however, through the day, to my interview with her with a great deal of impatience, and found myself making short cuts in the long walk which led me to her. I used to arrange, on my way, well-turned sentences with which to please her, and by which I expected to startle her into some intimation of her feelings toward me. I was angry that she was obliged to stand in so public a place, exposed to the gaze and remarks of all who chose to stop and buy of her. In fine, I was jealous, or rather was piqued, that she should receive all others exactly as she received me, and almost flattered myself that necessity forced her to meet them with the same sweet smile inclination led her to bestow on me.
This was the state of affairs at the time I moved into my new lodgings, before referred to, in the Place Maubert, and I was suffering these mental torments for Therese's sake, when the appearance, or rather the non-appearance, of my mysterious neighbor aggravated and complicated the symptoms and converted my slow fever into an intermittent. I had called my fair unknown Hermine;—the pronoun she, as it applied equally to every individual of the female sex, and in the French language to many things besides, soon became insufficient, and I took the liberty of calling her Hermine. I was so ashamed of my foolish passion, that I could not make up my mind even to question the porter at the door with regard to her, nor to consult any of my better initiated acquaintances as to the proper course to be pursued, but lived out a wretched succession of days and nights of feverish anxiety and expectation,—of what I knew not.
I was on my way over the Pont Royal, one evening, at my usual hour, and was just coming in sight of my bewitching flower-merchant, when a sudden, and, as I believed, a happy thought occurred to me, and I resolved to put it into instant execution. I am sure I blushed and stammered wofully as I asked for two bunches of flowers instead of my usual one, and I was confident, that, as she handed them to me without a word, but with such a look, Therese's brow was shaded by something more than the dark bands of her brown hair or the edge of her becoming cap, and that her lip quivered rather with a suppressed sigh than with her usual happy smile. I didn't stop to speak with her that night, but hurried away towards my room, conscious—for I did not dare to look behind me, or I am sure I should have relinquished my design—that her large, sorrowful eyes were full of the tears she had kept back while I had stood before her.
I reached my room as soon as possible, and, after assuring myself that my neighbor was still absent, carefully inserted my second nosegay into her keyhole, and rushed from the house as though I had committed burglary.
I was very young then, very romantic, and wholly wanting in assurance. I must have been, or I should never have regarded it as a crime, not against myself, but others, that I was making my days miserable and my nights sleepless on account of two young girls, one of whom I had never seen, and the other of whom was merely a flower-merchant.
When I clambered up to my room late that night, the flowers were no longer where I had put them. I had been torturing myself all the evening with the thought that Hermine might have felt offended, and that I should find them torn in pieces and thrown down at my door, or that she would be waiting for me with a severe reprimand for my boldness and impertinence. But I could find no trace of them, and went to sleep, soothed by the conviction that they had been carefully put by in a glass of water, or were occupying a place on her pillow by the side of her dainty cheek. I feared to meet Therese's sorrowful face again the next night, and was troubled so much by the thought of it through the day, that I fairly deserted her that evening and bought my two bouquets elsewhere. With one of these, which I had taken care should be of a finer quality than before, I repeated my experiment of the preceding night and with the same gratifying result. But the day after, forgetting, until it was too late, that I had given Therese fair cause to be seriously angry with me, habit carried me to my old resort again, though I had fully determined to reach home by another way, and to patronize, for the future, my new bouquetiere, who was not only old and ugly, but of the masculine gender. Habit—and perhaps wish had something to do with it—was too strong, however, and I found myself turning down the Quai Voltaire at the customary hour the next evening.
Much to my surprise, and somewhat to my mortification, Therese greeted me with her old sunny smile. Her "Bon jour, Monsieur," was as cordial as ever; and it even seemed to me—and that didn't in the least tend to compose me—that her eyes sparkled with an archness which I had never seen in them before, and that her voice had in it a tinge of malice, as she held out to me two of her finest bunches, saying,—
"Est-ce que, Monsieur en desire deux encore ce soir?"
I was very angry with her for being in such good-humor, and believe I was anything but aimable or polite with her. Why did she not look hurt or offended and reproach me for my desertion, instead of almost disarming my senseless anger by her gentleness?
"It seems that Monsieur forgets his old friends, sometimes," she continued, as I took the flowers she had been holding towards me, and was fumbling in my pocket for the change.
"Forget!" I stammered; for the temper I found her in had so completely ruffled mine, that I was hardly sufficiently master of myself to be able to answer her at all,—"what makes you think I forget? Am I not here this evening, as usual?"
"This evening, yes,—but last night you did not come; or were you here too late to find me? I"——she paused, and, with her color a little heightened, as though she had narrowly escaped making a disclosure, looked another way,—"Monsieur must have bought his flowers elsewhere, yesterday. Were they as fresh and sweet as mine?"
"But how do you know, Mademoiselle,"—I answered, after I had given her a long opportunity to add what I had hoped would follow that long-drawn-out "I"; (she was going to say, I was sure, that she had waited for me to come as long as was possible;)—"How do you know that I bought my flowers elsewhere, or that I bought any? And where can I find finer ones than you give me?"
"Monsieur is kind enough to say so," she returned. "Can you excuse my indiscretion? I only thought, that, as you never miss carrying a bunch of flowers home with you, and sometimes two," she added, with a wicked twinkle in the corner of her mouth, "you must have found some better than mine, last night. But Monsieur will, of course, act his own pleasure."
Therese had never appeared to me more charming than at that moment. I wondered afterwards how I had been able to tear myself away from her, and was almost angry that I had not thrown down my second bunch, had not vowed to her that I would never desert her again, and had not confessed that the pain I had suffered from my folly had more than equalled hers, since I was never so happy as when I could be near and see her and hear the music of her voice.
And this was my life, and these the pains I used to suffer. Two tender passions held alternate possession of my fickle heart, and a constant struggle was always waging between them for the mastery; and the impossibility of deciding in favor of either of them, which to accept and which deny, prevented my yielding to either. Therese, however, whose real presence I could enjoy, upon whose delicious beauty I could feast my eyes whenever the fancy seized me, and whose voice I could hear, even when separated from her, possessed a fearful advantage over her invisible rival, who maintained her position in my interest only by preserving her incognito and maintaining my curiosity strained to the highest pitch. My acquaintance with Therese became daily more intimate, and was soon upon such a footing as seemed to authorize my asking her to accompany me on a Sunday jaunt to one of the thousand resorts of Parisian pleasure-seekers just beyond the barriers of the city.
She accepted,—of course she did,—and the matter was finally arranged one Saturday evening for the next day. I was to find her at the house of her aunt, who lived in my neighborhood, and who, to my surprise, turned out to be the proprietress of the Laiterie I frequented. Here we were to breakfast, and afterwards take the proper conveyance to our destination, which I think was Belleville.
Sunday came, and with it came such weather as the gods seldom vouchsafe to mortals who contemplate visiting the country. It was one of those cloudless days in early June when all Nature, and yourself more than anything else in Nature, seems as though it had been taking Champagne,—not too warm, but sufficiently so to make out-of-door life a luxury, and an excursion like ours into the country almost a necessity.
Therese, like everything else in Nature on that summer's day, was more gloriously beautiful, in my eyes, than ever before. Hermine's ideal beauty, and with it her chance of success, faded out from my memory like an unfixed photograph, before this charming reality, and Therese ruled supreme. She had dressed herself with a taste which surprised even me, who had so long regarded her as irreproachable, as she was unapproachable, in that particular; and the joy she felt at the thought of a whole day's ramble in the country showed itself in every feature of her countenance, in every movement, and in every tone of her voice. There didn't live a prouder or a happier man than I was, as we made our way arm in arm towards the Place Dauphine, where we were to take the omnibus for Belleville.
We ran wild in the woods and fields all that day, we fed the fishes in the ponds, we made ourselves dizzy on the seesaws and merry-go-rounds, and at last, fairly tired out, and feeling desperately and most unromantically hungry, turned into the neatest and least frequented restaurant we could find and ordered our dinner.
Therese was no gourmande, luckily. Her tastes were simple and harmonized admirably with my slender means. We dined, however, like princes, and drank a bottle of Chateau Margeaux, instead of the vin ordinaire, which was my ordinary wine. Therese's gayety had fairly inoculated me, and, forgetting my usual reserve, we laughed and chatted as noisily as a couple of children.
"Upon my word," cried I, as I caught sight of a bouquet of flowers in the room we occupied, "what a couple of ninnies we have been! We have forgotten to get any flowers to carry home with us. But I suppose you see too many of them through the week to care for them to-day."
"Oh, no!" replied Therese. "I could never see too much of flowers; and besides, you must have a bunch to carry home to Mademoiselle this evening. She will never forgive you, if you neglect her to-day. And what would she think or say, if she knew where you are now and whom you are with? She is very fond of flowers,—when they come from you, I mean."
"Well," I stammered, and my face burned like fire. "What Mademoiselle? And what makes you think that I make presents of the flowers I get of you? I only get them for myself, and as an excuse for seeing you."
"Ah! menteur!" cried Therese, shaking her finger at me with mock solemnity. "Fi donc! c'est vilain. Do you think I have no eyes, or that you have none that speak as plainly as your mouth, and more truly? You try to deceive me, Monsieur!" and the little hypocrite assumed so injured and heart-broken an expression and tone, that I was almost wild with remorse, and cursed the wretch who had placed the flowers in the room, and myself for having noticed them. I should have been hurried into I don't know what expressions of attachment to her and of indifference towards every other individual of her sex, if she had not prevented me by the following startling remark.
"I know to whom you give the flowers you value so much as coming from me. It is to your next-door neighbor, who pleases you more than I do, and whom you have known, perhaps, longer than you have me. Why didn't you invite her, and not me, to come with you to-day? It would have been better."
"Ah!" cried I, "do you know her? She told you about it? Why doesn't she let me see her? Is her name Hermine?"
And almost before I knew it, I had told her the whole story of my passion for my invisible neighbor.
Therese pouted, and turned her back. She put her handkerchief to her face, and called me all sorts of hard names for having brought her there to listen to the confession of my love for another; and turned a deaf ear, or I thought she did, to my expostulations and my protestations that I didn't really care for Hermine,—that it was only a passing fancy, more curiosity than anything else,—and that I really loved no one but her.
She began to relent at last, though I was half inclined to be sorry, for her resentment became her even better than her good-humor.
"Well," she said, finally, "it is too tiresome to quarrel, and I will forgive; for, although you say you have never seen Hermine,—(that is a prettier name than Therese, isn't it?)—she has, perhaps, seen you, and may really love you "—
"But I don't love her," I cried. "I don't want to love her. I don't want to see her. Her name isn't Hermine, I know. I will never think of her again, nor make a fool of myself by putting nose-gays into her keyhole, if you will only not look so sober any more."
"She will be very sorry for that, I am sure," returned Therese, with a smile I could not translate; "and she will miss them very much. I judge her by myself. I always find a bunch at my door when I go home at night"—
"You! You find flowers at your door? And who puts them there?" And I took my turn at being provoked. "You haven't used me fairly, Therese, to make me understand all this time that you cared for no one but me. There is some one, then, whom you love and who loves you?"
"Oh, yes!" she answered, her whole face beaming with a pleasure which made me feel like committing a murder or a suicide; "oh, yes! I believe he does; he has almost told me so. And—and I know that I do. But he is so droll! He is my next-door neighbor, and has never seen me yet, and has never tried to, I believe; but he leaves a bunch of flowers at my door every evening, and calls me—Hermine."
"Hermine! You Hermine? Hurrah!"
And before she could prevent me, I held her in my arms, and, in spite of her struggles, had kissed her forehead, eyes, hair, nose, and lips before she could extricate herself, and then went round the room in a wild dance of perfect joy and relief.
"I knew I could love no one else, Therese-Hermine, or Hermine-Therese! I knew there must be some good and sufficient reason for the unaccountable attraction my neighbor was exercising over me. Why didn't you tell me sooner, mechante? I suppose you never would have done so at all, if we had not come out here to-day. Suppose I had not asked you to come with me?"
"Wouldn't you have asked me?" she answered, with so much winning grace and in such a pleading tone that I found myself obliged to repeat the operation of a few lines above. "Wouldn't you have asked me? I don't know what I should have done," she continued, sadly and thoughtfully. "Oh, yes!" she exclaimed, jumping up and clapping her hands, while her whole face was radiant with triumph. "Oh, yes! then I should have been Hermine, and you would have asked her."
Two happier young people than Therese and myself never, I am confident, returned by rail from a day's excursion in the country. Our happy faces, our rapid talking, and our devotion to each other, which we took no pains to conceal, attracted the attention of all about us,—and I heard one father of a family, who was returning to Paris with a half score of cross, tired, and crying children, whisper to his wife, as he pointed towards us,—"That is a couple in their honey-moon, or else lovers; how happy they are!"
And that is the way in which I stumbled into wedlock. How many others, in their pursuit of what has seemed to them the substance, have failed to discover, perhaps too late, that they were following a flitting shadow,—while I, favored mortal, in my chase of a dream, stumbled upon the greatest real good of my whole life!
* * * * *
THROUGH THE FIELDS TO SAINT PETER'S.
There's a by-road to Saint Peter's. First you swing across the Tiber In a ferry-boat that floats you in a minute from the crowd; Then through high-hedged lanes you saunter; then by fields and sunny pastures; And beyond, the wondrous dome uprises like a golden cloud.
And this morning,—Easter morning,—while the streets were thronged with people, And all Rome moved toward the Apostle's temple by the usual way, I strolled by the fields and hedges,—stopping now to view the landscape, Now to sketch the lazy cattle in the April grass that lay.
Galaxies of buttercups and daisies ran along the meadows,— Rosy flushes of red clover,—blossoming shrubs and sprouting vines; Overhead the larks were singing, heeding not the bells a-ringing,— Little knew they of the Pasqua, or the proud Saint Peter's shrines.
Contadini, men and women, in their very best apparel, Trooping one behind another, chatted all along the roads; Boys were pitching quoits and coppers; old men in the sun were basking: In the festive smile of Heaven all laid aside their weary loads.
Underneath an ancient portal, soon I passed into the city; Entered San Pietro's Square, now thronged with upward crowding forms; Past the Cardinals' gilded coaches, and the gorgeous scarlet lackeys, And the flashing files of soldiers, and black priests in gloomy swarms.
All were moving to the temple. Push aside the ponderous curtain! Lo! the glorious heights of marble, melting in the golden dome, Where the grand mosaic pictures, veiled in warm and misty softness, Swim in faith's religious trances,—high above all heights of Rome.
Grand as Pergolesi chantings, lovely as a dream of Titian, Tones and tints and chastened splendors wreathed and grouped in sweet accord; While through nave and transept pealing, soar and sink the choral voices, Telling of the death and glorious resurrection of the Lord.
But, ah, fatal degradation for this temple of the nations! For the soul is never lifted by the accord of sights and sound; But yon priest in gold and satin, murmuring with his ghostly Latin, Drags it from its natural flights, and trails its plumage on the ground.
And to-day the Pope is heading his whole army of gay puppets, And the great machinery round us moving with an extra show: Genuflexions, censers, mitres, mystic motions, candle-lighters, And the juggling show of relics to the crowd that gapes below,
Till at last they show the Pontiff, a lay figure stuffed and tinselled; Under canopy and fan-plumes he is borne in splendor proud To a show-box of the temple overlooking the Piazza; There he gives his benediction to the long-expectant crowd.
Benediction! while the people, blighted, cursed by superstition, Steeped in ignorance and darkness, taxed and starved, looks up and begs For a little light and freedom, for a little law and justice,— That at least the cup so bitter it may drain not to the dregs!
Benediction! while old error keeps alive a nameless terror! Benediction! while the poison at each pore is entering deep, And the sap is slowly withered, and the wormy fruit is gathered, And a vampire sucks the life out while the soul is fanned asleep!
Oh, the splendor gluts the senses, while the spirit pines and dwindles! Mother Church is but a dry-nurse, singing while her infant moans; While anon a cake or rattle gives a little half-oblivion, And the sweetness and the glitter mingle with her drowsy tones.
But the infant moans and tosses with a nameless want and anguish, While, with coarse, unmeaning bushings, louder sings the hireling nurse,— Knows no better, in her dull and superannuated blindness,— Tries no potion,—seeks no nurture,—but consents to worse and worse.
If such be thy ultimation, Church of infinite pretension,— Such within thy chosen garden be the flowers and fruits you bear,— Oh, give me the book of Nature, open wide to every creature, And the unconsecrated thoughts that spring like daisies everywhere!
Send me to the woods and waters,—to the studio,—to the market! Give me simple conversation, books, arts, sports, and friends sincere! Let no priest be e'er my tutor! on my brow no label written! Coin or passport to salvation, rather none, than beg it here!
Give me air, and not a prison,—love for Heart, and light for Reason! Let me walk no slave or bigot,—God's untrammelled, fearless child! Yield me rights each soul is born to,—rights not given and not taken,— Free to Cardinals and Princes and Campagna shepherds wild.
Like these Roman fountains gushing clear and sweet in open spaces, Where the poorest beggar stoops to drink, and none can say him nay,— Let the Law, the Truth, be common, free to man and child and woman, Living waters for the souls that now in sickness waste away!
Therefore are these fields far sweeter than yon temple of Saint Peter; Through this grander dome of azure God looks down and blesses all; In these fields the birds sing clearer, to the Eternal Heart are nearer, Than the sad monastic chants that yonder on my ears did fall.
Never smiled Christ's holy Vicar on the heretic and sinner As this sun—true type of Godhead—smiles o'er all the peopled land! Sweeter smells this blowing clover than the perfume of the censer, And the touch of Spring is kinder than the Pontiff's jewelled hand!
THE EXPERIENCE OF SAMUEL ABSALOM, FILIBUSTER.
Some time after the departure of the riflemen, a detail of eight or nine men from our company was ordered off towards the lake shore, and soon afterward another smaller one to Potosi, a little village four or five miles to the northward of Rivas, bearing orders to Captain Finney's rangers, who had gone to scout in that direction. The rest of us ate supper, and then lay listening for the boom of the little field-piece, which should tell us that the rifles had met the enemy. But the extraordinary toils and watchings of the last fortnight were too overpowering, and we were all soon buried in dreamless sleep.
In an hour or two I was awakened by horses' feet clattering over the stony pavement of the porteria, or gateway to the square courtyard, in one of whose surrounding corridors we usually slept,—on blankets, cow-hides, or hard tiles, according as each man was able to furnish himself. It was the party returning from their scout on the lake. They unsaddled and fed their animals in the yard, and afterward set about frying plantains and fresh stolen pork for supper. As they talked over their provant in the room behind me, I caught most of their adventure, without the discomfort of rising or asking questions. Near the lake they had chased and captured some natives, whose behavior was suspicious and showed no good-will toward the Americans. The officer of the party, thinking them spies, had carried them part of the way to Rivas to be examined; but, fortunately, perhaps, for the captives, he afterwards relented and set them at liberty. They also talked of a small boy who had peeped out of the bushes as they rode by, and shouted to them, "Quieren for Walker?" (Are you for Walker?) and then adding energetically, "Yo no quiero filibustero god-damn!" darted away out of sight, before any one, who was so minded, could have shot the little rebel.
"Be sure," said one of the men at supper,—a noted croaker and tried coward, against whom I bear a private grudge,—"the boys have learned this from the old greasers; and we are going to have all the people of Nicaragua to fight."
Later in the night, the other party, which had been sent to Potosi, came in with panting mules, excited countenances, and one of their number stained with blood from a wound on his thigh. They told us, that, failing to find Captain Finney at Potosi, they had stretched their orders, and gone forward to Obraja, unaware that it was occupied by the enemy. At the entrance of the village, whilst riding on in complete darkness, they were challenged suddenly in Spanish. Taken by surprise, they replied in English, and, before they could turn their animals, were stunned with the glare and crash of a musket-volley, a few feet ahead of them. They recoiled, and fled with such precipitation that one of the riders was tossed over his horse's head;—however, scrambling to his feet, he found sense and good-luck to remount; and the whole party made good their flight to Rivas, with no further damage than two slight flesh-wounds,—one on the trooper, and one on his mule.
The excitement upon this arrival soon subsided, and I had again fallen into unconsciousness, when a rough shake of the shoulder aroused me, and the voice of the old sergeant dinned in my ear,—"Come here! saddle up! saddle up! You are detailed for Obraja." In a few moments I was mounted, and, with two others of the company, rode out of the gateway into the street. There we found awaiting us a fourth horseman, charged with orders for the riflemen at Obraja, and whom it was our duty to accompany as guard.
After clearing Rivas, we clattered over the road at a fast pace, rousing all the dogs at the haciendas as we passed, and leaving them baying behind us, until we came to where the Potosi road forked off to the right; thenceforward, fearing an ambush, we rode slowly and with great caution, stopping often to dismount and reconnoitre moon-lit fields beyond the roadside hedges. At length, after passing a picket of our riflemen, we came to a large adobe house directly on the roadside, where we found the main body of the detachment encamped and sleeping. The house stood something under half a mile from Obraja, and was the residence of that friendly alcalde who on the approach of the enemy had removed with his family to Rivas, and placed General Walker on his guard. As we rode into the yard, we had some ado to keep our horses from treading on the sleeping soldiers, who lay scattered all round the building, and also in its open corridor fronting toward Obraja. Dismounting here, our courier went into the house to communicate with Colonel O'Neal, the commander of the detachment,—leaving it to us either to tie up, and lie where we were until morning, or pass farther up the road, where Captain Finney's rangers were stationed. I chose to go forward and hear the rangers' story, who, we were told, had had a slight brush with the enemy in the beginning of the night.
After riding near quarter of a mile, I came to another adobe building on the roadside, occupied by a small party, and forming Colonel O'Neal's advanced post, at the distance of four hundred yards or more from Obraja. Here they told me that Captain Finney's company, whilst riding into Obraja early in the night, had been hotly fired upon, and Captain Finney himself was brought off struck in the breast, wounded mortally. The riflemen had as yet made no attack, but awaited daylight. The number of the enemy was not known; though rumor placed it between one thousand and fifteen hundred. Whatever it was, they were apprehensive; for throughout the night we heard them barricading the town with great hurry and clatter; and it gave us sad discomfort to think that in the morning there would be these walls to climb before our men could get at them. It was the occasion of much bitter cursing that there should be delay until this was accomplished, and of one man's protesting seriously that it was, and had been, General Walker's endeavor, not to whip the greasers, but to get as many Americans killed in Nicaragua as possible,—he nourishing secret and implacable hatred against them for some cause. However, I think this judgment weak and improbable, though plausible enough from some points of view.
During the night there was some firing between our party and the enemy from under cover in front, with some few wounds, and one man on our side shot through the hat,—who thereupon, pulling off the injured head-piece, and looking at it gravely, declared he would always thenceforward wear his hat with a high crown; for, said he, had this one been half an inch lower, the bullet must have struck the head:—which drollery, in consideration of the circumstances, was allowed to pass for an exceeding good stroke.
We passed a disturbed and rather uneasy night, fearful all the time of being cut off or overwhelmed. But morning breaking at length, a party of riflemen came up from Colonel O'Neal's camp below, and affairs were immediately changed for the offensive. The riflemen moved forward against the town, whilst the rangers were posted at several points along the road to guard against surprise from the bushes. Among these latter I took my stand. The squad which went forward could not have numbered above sixty men, and was armed with Mississippi rifles only,—without wheel-piece of any kind, or even bayonets. I took them for a party of skirmishers, sent ahead to clear the way; yet they were not followed or supported by any additional force that I saw then or afterwards.
As they passed up the road, I observed that the most listless and dead amongst them were at length stirred up and thoroughly awake,—though not with enthusiasm or martial impatience. Some seemed uneasy and careworn, and glanced about nervously; had their countenances not been unalterably yellow, they would certainly have been white. One fellow near the rear was trembling sadly, and carried his rifle in an unreasonable manner,—promising aimless discharges, and, perhaps, dodgings into the bushes. But this one was excusable, and I may have slandered him; for ague had shaken the life almost out of him so often that shaking was become natural, and little else could be expected of him; and, furthermore, a pale face or unsteady joints are not always weathercock to a fainting spirit. In some constitutions these may come from other emotions than fear; and it often happens that your most lamentable shaker will stand you longer at the breach than the man of iron nerve, with a white liver. I have seen such. However, the majority of these were resolute and dangerous-looking men, and, though without any marks of inordinate zeal, seemed willing enough to fight whatever appeared. They held their rifles in the hand cocked, and, as they advanced, threw their eyes sharply into the bushes on either side the road,—having received orders to shoot the first greaser that showed himself, without awaiting the word.
In a few moments after, the party having disappeared behind a turn of the road, we suddenly heard the cracking of their rifles, mingled with the deeper crash of more numerous musketry; and it was a vivid sensation, new to me, that some of those bullets were surely finding billets in the bodies of men. This seemed an encounter with a force of the enemy outside of the town; and directly we thought, from the movement of the noise, that our riflemen were driving them in. Then there was a louder and more rapid volleying of musketry, which completely drowned the rifles, and seemed to tell us that our men were come in sight of the barricades. This lasted but a moment, when it was succeeded by a scattered fire of fewer guns, and finally by irregular volleys. We knew that our men had fallen back; and we had not once thought it would be otherwise. Indeed, it had been a rarely preposterous enemy who should allow himself to be driven from behind a rampart by that handful of dispirited, men.
Whilst things were on this foot, the courier of last night came up with his guard, having been sent by Colonel O'Neal, who had remained at the alcalde's house below, to get news of the attacking party. As I was still under his orders, I joined him, and rode forward towards the combatants,—not without sundry misgivings, known to most men who are about to enter a fray for the first time,—or the twentieth time, perhaps, if the truth were confessed. We found the riflemen drawn up in the road, protected by the raised side-bank and cactus-hedge from an enemy concealed amongst some trees and bushes, a little distance to the right of the road in front. Above the trees, within pistol-shot, was visible the red roof of a church which stood on the plaza of Obraja, where were barricaded, as they said, over a thousand greaser soldiers. All other sign of the town than this one roof was shut in from view by the abundant foliage which embowered it. As we approached the riflemen, we dismounted and led our horses, fearing to attract a shower from the enemy, who lay in the bushes firing irregularly. The officer of the party told us to report to Colonel O'Neal that he had advanced within sight of the plaza, and, finding it strongly barricaded, and "swarming with greasers," he held it folly to assail it with fifty men, and so had retreated. He mentioned some loss,—very small for the noise that had been made,—of which I remember the name of one Lieutenant Webster, shot through the head. He charged us to ask Colonel O'Neal's permission to fall back on the adobe where we had passed the night, as the enemy appeared to be moving around his right, and he was fearful of being surrounded in the open road. But, directly after, seeing the enemy were in earnest to cut him off, he concluded to fall back on the house upon his own responsibility, and did so, and with the adobe walls around him probably felt secure enough against such an enemy.
We returned to the lower camp, and delivered our report to a boyish-looking person, in unepauletted red flannel shirt, but who was no other than Colonel O'Neal, the officer in command. He was popular amongst his men, and reputed a brave and energetic officer. He probably mistrusted from the first that his force was too small; and hence the delay in the attack, and the dispatch of the little party of riflemen merely to satisfy General Walker. Be that as it may, upon hearing our report, he recalled the advanced party, and immediately sent off to Rivas to say he could do nothing against the town without a reinforcement.
In the mean time those of the men who were off guard lay about under the trees and ate oranges, with which the alcalde's yard was stocked plentifully, whilst such wounded as had been brought in were laid on the floor of the house, and their wounds probed by the surgeon; whereupon, being but young soldiers mostly, there arose loud outcries and dismal bellowings. For my own part, I set about comforting my mule, who had been under saddle since leaving Rivas. I unsaddled him, brought him an armful of tortilla corn from the alcalde's kitchen-loft, some water from the well, and left him making merry as if he had nothing worse ahead of him.
Some time after mid-day the rest of our company came out from Rivas, and we immediately had orders to ride up the road and fire upon the enemy's outpost,—which, as the riflemen had been withdrawn and our advanced picket was now nearly half a mile from the town, promised to be a service of some danger. Therefore one of our commissioned officers, afterwards dismissed the service for cowardice, was here seized suddenly with the colic,—so badly, that he was unable to ride with us at his post. Other sick men being left in quarters at Rivas, we counted now but little over twenty men,—armed with Mississippi or Sharpe's rifles, and some of us with the revolvers we had brought from California. After passing the adobe building, garrisoned last night, but now empty, we advanced with great care, our leader taking often the precaution to dismount and peer with bared head over the cactus-hedge which crowned the right-hand bank of the road and shut us in on that side completely. At every turn of the road he repeated his reconnoissance, so that our advance was very slow, giving a watchful enemy almost time to place an ambush, if they had none ready prepared. It was as sweet a place for a trap as greaser's heart could wish. On our right was the impenetrable cactus-hedge, with an open space beyond, terminated at the distance of a few yards by a wood or plantain-patch. On the left was another wood, matted with tangled underbrush and vines which no horseman could penetrate. On either side half a dozen men might couch in ambush and shoot us down in perfect security.
We passed on, however, without disturbance, or sight of an enemy, until we came nearly to the edge of the town and saw the glistening roof of the church appear above the foliage,—where sat sundry carrion-loving buzzards, elbowing each other, shuffling to and fro with outspread wings, and chuckling, doubtless, over the promise of glorious times. As we go on, suddenly heads appear over the bushes less than a hundred yards in front, and we hear the vindictive whistle of Minie-balls above us. Our leader, calling upon us to fire, began himself to blaze away rapidly with his Colt's revolver. We huddled forward, with little care for order, and delivered some dozen Mississippi and Sharpe's rifles. There were nervous men in the crowd; for, after the discharge, dust was flying from the road within thirty feet of us. However, some aimed higher; and when we looked again, the heads had disappeared. One bold greaser stepped out into the road and sent his Minie-ball singing several yards above us, then darted back quickly, before any of us could have him. We waited a moment to see others, but they seemed to be satisfied;—and we were satisfied,—with prospect of a swarm bursting out on us from the town; so, sinking spurs into our weary animals, we made good pace back to the camp,—not without an alarm that a troop of well-mounted lancers was behind us.
In the course of the afternoon, General Henningsen arrived, bringing a fine brass howitzer, and a small reinforcement of infantry—as those armed with rifled muskets and bayonets were called—and artillerymen; and, after some hours' rest, he ordered a fresh attempt with the howitzer, supported by somewhere near two hundred men. This party was received with so fierce a fire at the barricade that they shrank back, leaving the howitzer behind in the road,—so that the enemy were on the point of capturing it, when a brave artilleryman touched off the piece, loaded with grape-shot, almost in their faces, and, strewing the earth with dead, sent the others flying back to the barricade. This artilleryman told me that an old officer amongst the enemy stood his ground alone after the discharge, and swore manfully at the fugitives, but they were panic-struck and took no heed; and it was his assertion, that, had a small part of the riflemen rallied and charged at this time, they might have gone over the barricade without difficulty or hindrance. As it was, the howitzer was scarcely brought off, and the attack failed ingloriously. Whether this story of the artilleryman were true or false, we heard in other ways, by general report, that the riflemen had behaved badly, and quailed as the filibusters had scarcely done before; though, after all, it will seem unreasonable to blame these two hundred or less, disease-worn and spiritless men, for not whipping ten hundred out of a barricaded town. It may be worth saying here, that, seeing things in Nicaragua from a common soldier's befogged view-point, and having only general rumor, or the tales of privates like myself, for parts of an engagement where I was not present, I may easily make mistakes in the numbers, and otherwise do Walker and his officers, or the enemy, injustice. Yet I may be excused, since I am not attempting a history of the war, but merely some account of my own experience, passive and active.
Late in the evening our company assisted to carry some wounded to Rivas. Amongst them was Captain Finney, mentioned before as the first man struck by the enemy. He seemed to be a brave and uncommonly considerate officer, and whilst being carried in on a chair, suffering with his death-wound, he showed concern for his supporters, and insisted on having them relieved upon the smallest sign of fatigue. He was taken to the quarters of a friend, where he died a few days afterward. The other wounded were carried to the hospital, and, finding no one there to take charge of them, we left them to themselves, lying or sitting upon the floor, dismal and uncared-for enough.
After dark we were again in the saddle and riding out to Obraja, in charge of a commissary's party, with provisions for the detachment of foot. But after getting a little way from the town, we were overtaken by an order from General Walker, stopping the provisions, and directing us to ride on and recall the detachment to Rivas; he having changed his mind about dislodging the enemy at this tardy hour. We reached the camp some hours into the night, and, after a little delay, calling in the pickets, and securing some native women who lived in the vicinity, to prevent their carrying word of our movement to the enemy, the detachment commenced its retrograde march,—leaving the enemy victorious, and free to go where they wished.
I remember, several times on this march, when the detachment had made some temporary halt, seeing a grim-faced dog, of the terrier species, trot along the line to the front of the column, where we rangers stood, and then, satisfied seemingly that all was well ordered, turn himself round and trot back to the rear again.
He did this with such a look and air, that it struck me he felt himself in some way responsible for our party. He was, indeed, if the tales current about him were true, the most remarkable character in all that very variegated conglomerate of characters which made up the filibuster army. He had appeared in the camp long before, coming, some said, from the Costa Ricans, with whom he became disgusted on account of their bad behavior in battle on several occasions when he was there to see. After this desertion, if it were thus, he followed the Americans faithfully, through good and bad fortune, retreat or victory; always going into battle with them,—where he actually seemed to enjoy himself,—trotting about amidst the whewing of bullets, the uptossing of turf, and the outcries of wounded men, with calm heart, and tail erect,—envied by the bravest even. On an occasion when General Walker was attacking the Costa-Ricans in Rivas, the dog entered the plaza ahead of the rest, and, finding there one of his own species, he forthwith seized him, and shook him, and put him to flight howling,—giving an omen so favorable, that the greasers were driven out of the town with ease by the others. Even his every-day life was sublime, and elevated above the habit of vulgar dogs. He allowed no man to think himself his master, or attach him individually by liberal feeding or kind treatment, but quartered indiscriminately amongst the foot, sometimes with one company, sometimes with another,—taking food from whoever gave it, but showing little gratitude, and despising caresses or attempts at familiarity. He seemed, indeed, to consider himself one amongst the rest,—one and somewhat, as they say; and his sole apparent tie with his human friends seemed to be the delight which he took in seeing them kill or killed. With this penchant, it was said, he never missed a battle, and went out with every detachment that left the camp to see that none should escape him unaware.—But enough of him,—strange dog, or devil.
The withdrawal from Obraja was opposed, so rumor said, by Henningsen and other officers; and it certainly had a most depressing effect upon the men, whilst it elated the enemy correspondingly, giving them a degree of confidence which they had never attained to before. It was agreed on all hands, by all critics whom I heard, that, having once begun this attempt, General Walker should have carried it through successfully, even if it required his whole force. However, as only part of the enemy's force was on land, the other part being supposed to be still aboard the steamers or on the island, General Walker possibly feared an attack on Rivas, should he send out a very large detachment,—remembering, too vividly, a former blunder, when he left Granada with all his army to attack the enemy at Masaya, and the enemy, making a detour, came upon his camp in Granada, and destroyed baggage, ammunition, and all it contained.
The next day the foot lay quiet in Rivas, and had rest. The rangers, however, were in the saddle almost continuously, and, what with foraging, broken sleep, and expeditions by day and night, those of us who had garrisoned Virgin Bay were become worried nearly past grumbling. On this day our own company rode out to Obraja, to visit the enemy's picket again, and afterwards to San Jorge on the lake, to guard the transportation of a row-boat thence to Rivas. The boat was one of those borrowed from the vessels in San Juan harbor for the purpose of retaking the steamers, and had been rowed up to San Jorge, and was now removed to Rivas, to prevent its seizure by the enemy,—the garrison at Virgin Bay having burnt the brig, and marched to Rivas, when the enemy first appeared on land at Obraja. So that the whole American force (except the crew of the little schooner in which General Walker and his fifty original followers first came to Nicaragua, and which was lying at this time in San Juan harbor) was now concentrated at Rivas; the enemy being eight or nine miles behind them at Obraja, or on the lake with the two steamers. As we rode through the town of San Jorge, the place seemed almost deserted, and I remember lingering with others to haversack some bunches of yellow plantains which hung in an empty house on the plaza. The delay may have come near being fatal to us, for we heard afterwards that we had been gone but a little while, when a troop of the enemy's horse rode into the place, reconnoitred, and returned in the direction in which they came. Their reconnoissance in San Jorge was explained soon afterwards.
Some time in the last half of the night following, I was detailed, along with a considerable detachment from two mounted companies, to ride on a scout toward Obraja. On the outward ride I was but half-awake, and my recollection of our course is confused: however, I think it was somewhere between Potosi and Obraja that we came to a halt, and I was aroused by some excitement in the party. Pickets were hastily posted in several directions, whilst the officers gathered about some natives awakened from a neighboring hut, and seemed to question them earnestly. We soon heard that the enemy were on the road moving from Obraja, and that a large force had a little while before passed this place going eastward. The natives, prone to exaggeration, declared that this force had been an hour in passing,—with baggage, eight pieces of cannon mounted on ox-carts, several hundred pressed native Nicaraguans, tied and guarded to prevent their running away, and a long train of women to nurse the wounded. The Chamorristas, it seemed, had been around pressing all the native men they could find into service against the Americans; and whilst we were here, two, who had been hiding all day in the bushes to avoid the conscription, came out and asked us to take them with us to Rivas,—they preferring, if forced to take sides, to join el valiente Walker.
This is the stripe of most Central American soldiers. The lower classes are lazy and cowardly, little concerned about politics, and must generally be impressed, let the cause of war be what it may. And I am persuaded, that, since General Walker never harnessed them into his service, as their own chiefs were doing perpetually, but let them swing in their hammocks and eat their plantains, (provided they lived beyond his forage-ground,) un-called-for, they were so far well satisfied with his government. However, their sympathy, supposing he had it, were worth little to him; since it takes a stronger impulsion than this to put them in motion to do anything,—a strong pulling by the nose, indeed,—such as their native rulers know how to apply.—But this is speculative, and neither here nor there.
After getting all the information concerning the enemy that was to be had from these people, the detachment returned to Rivas at a fast trot, with the two friendly natives mounted behind, on such stronger animals as were able to carry double burden. We all supposed, that, now the enemy were again out of cover and on the open road, or, leastwise, in the confusion of a new camp, there would be an immediate attack on them. But General Walker followed his own head; and, after making our report, we saw no stir, and heard nothing until morning,—when it was known that the enemy were all moved into San Jorge, with only some two miles' space between us. This place, being on the lake, was more convenient for provisions, which were easily brought by the steamers from the island of Ometepec and the towns and haciendas along the shore,—and the enemy had gained boldness to go there by our repulse at Obraja: or it may be that the force at Obraja had come down from Granada by land, and so only continued their march to San Jorge,—though the rumor was, that they had landed from the lake, as I have said.
But be that as it may, time was given them to barricade at San Jorge, till near the middle of the forenoon, and then Generals Henningsen and Sanders were sent out with some four hundred riflemen and infantry to drive them into the lake, which lay some few hundred yards behind them. During the first part of the attack, our company remained in Rivas, listening anxiously to the uproar at San Jorge,—every volley fired by the combatants being borne distinctly to us by the east wind. For some time there was a continuous rattle of musketry, with rapid detonations of deeper-mouthed cannon,—at each roar shaking our suspended hearts,—for we knew that our own men were using small arms only. After a while this abated, grew irregular, and almost ceased. An order then came for our company to mount and join the combatants. We galloped down the broad and almost level highway which passes between Rivas and San Jorge, bordered a great part of its length, on either side, by cactus-hedges, broken at various intervals by the grassy by-lanes that run out to the neighboring haciendas or parallel roads. At places where there is a slight elevation, the bottom of the road is worn several feet below the level by the carts which ply between Rivas and the lake. Opposite one of these, where the banks sloped at a sharp angle, we came upon General Henningsen and a detachment of musketeers resting on the right bank of the road, and halted beside them. The men were sitting under the shade of an adobe, refreshing themselves with oranges; and those in the nearest rank were close enough to hand us fruit and keep their seats on the grass. Five or six hundred yards up the road, the large church which stood on the plaza of San Jorge, with the door facing us, and a low wall of white stone running squarely from its side across to the right, ended the vista between banks of green foliage. Our view stretched across the plaza, which seemed to be empty and unbarricaded; and I remember the painted door of the church beyond, the red-tiled roof, the low, flanking wall of white stone, all dazily trembling in the unsteady atmosphere radiating from the heated road,—whilst a cloud of white smoke was sailing slowly away to the west. It was a hot and tranquil scene. But I always think of it with the same secret disgust with which the shipwrecked traveller looks upon the placid ocean the day after the angry storm has passed over it; for it was here I first saw the cruelty of a round shot.
When we came to a halt, there seemed to be a lull in the struggle, and no enemy was anywhere visible, nor was firing heard from any direction. The infantry, though within range of small arms from the town, were concealed by the bushes, and the enemy were scarcely aware of their presence. But when our company came galloping up the road, in full view, their attention was aroused, and we had scarcely checked our animals and exchanged a few words with the foot-soldiers, when a column of smoke shot up from the wall in front.—"Now look out!" exclaimed some one. I looked, but saw nothing to follow, and had turned my attention elsewhere, when I heard a hissing noise, as of something rushing swiftly past, and at the same time turf is thrown into the air, the horses start aside in affright, and outcries of pain and terror assail the ear. After a confused moment, I saw that the shot had struck in the line of infantry a few feet on our right. One man, the drummer of the party, was running about in the fluttered crowd with his hand hanging by a shred, crying, "Cut it off! cut it off! D—your souls, why don't some of you cut it off?" Another lay struggling on the ground, with the fleshy part of his thighs torn abruptly off, calling upon some one for God's sake to take him away from there. But the dismallest sight was a bloody shape, with face to the ground, fingers clutching the grass with aimless eagerness, and shivering silently with an invisible wound. Twisting convulsively, it rolled down into the road under our horses' feet,—and there this human form, which some call godlike, writhed and floundered like a severed worm, and disguised itself in blood and dust.
But it is dangerous to look long upon the wounded; an old soldier never rests his eye there; it is the greatest mistake of the raw one; and it was well enough for some of us that our attention was timely drawn away by alarm of another shot from the town. We spurred our horses up the bank on the left; the foot-soldiers rushed behind the adobe; and this time the shot passed harmlessly down the road. Before another, General Henningsen had ordered us all to move forward and get to cover. The foot stopped in the right branch of a by-lane which crossed the road a little way ahead. The rangers moved into the same lane,—but on the left, and divided by the highway from the foot. Here we were entirely hidden from the town by a belt of small trees and bushes. Nevertheless, the enemy's round shot, tearing through the trees, still pursued, and the Minie-balls, though thrown from smooth-bored guns, sang above and far beyond us. At this place, as near as I recollect, above a dozen men were killed and wounded,—most of them by that first round shot.
Our company shortly after was separated, and placed, for the most part, as videttes, at various points near the town. Some hours after our arrival, (which time was spent by the filibusters in drinking spirits and resting from the late unsuccessful assault,—by the enemy in barricading their position, and drinking spirits, perhaps, likewise,) General Henningsen led an attack with part of the foot,—taking several of us rangers along in the capacity of couriers, to ride off to Rivas at any important turn of the fight and report to General Walker. The enemy had taken position about the plaza, in the church, and behind the stone wall at its side, where they had by this time strengthened themselves with barricades. They had cannon looking towards every assailable point; and also on top of the church, in the cupola, they had mounted a small piece, from which they threw grape against our men advancing on any side. It proved a great source of annoyance throughout the day. Their number was not certainly known, at least among the ranks, but was rumored as high as two thousand men,—Costa-Ricans, Guatemalans, and Chamorristas.
General Henningsen moved up by a straggling street, with an adobe here and there, and the intervals filled up with fruit-trees, bushes, and cactus-hedges. Grape-shot, which may be the saddest thing, touching the body, on earth, made miserable noise above us and miserable work among us; and we couriers had leave to dismount and crawl nearer the ground. General Henningsen gained respect from us by sitting his horse alone. He was a soldier, it is said, from a boy, in European wars,—where this were a feeble skirmish; yet he wore his life here, perhaps, more loosely than in many a noisier battle. However, he seemed calm and easy enough,—never moving his head, even slightly, when the shot whizzed nearest him. General Walker, though a brave man, and cool in battle, will nevertheless dodge when a bullet hisses him fiercely. So would almost all his officers or soldiers, that I had an opportunity to notice. Yet, after all, it is a mere trick of the nerves, and only indicates familiarity and long service, or a deaf ear,—and not want of self-possession or strength of heart. The advance at length became so harassing that the party halted under cover on the roadside, whilst yet some distance from the plaza, and from this lodgment the couriers were sent off to report progress at Rivas.
My post thenceforward was, with that of others, at the head of a lane not far from the town, where we heard the voices of the combatants and the whistling of balls, but could see nothing. After some hours' comparative quiet, the drums began beating a charge again, and every gun on the ground seemed awakened and doing its best. Then there was a loud, heart-lifted shout, which rose above the din, and gave us too much joy; and, a moment after, Colonel Casey, a hard-faced, one-armed man, spurred past towards Rivas, saying, as he went, that our men were in the plaza, the greasers were running, and "we had 'em, sure as hell!" I recollect some one observing, that it were of no use to believe Colonel Casey, for he was the greatest liar in the army of Nicaragua. And shortly after, the firing having ceased, another officer, Baldwin, I think it was, came past and told us, with curses of vexation, that the men had been checked, by command, in the heat of the assault, when the greasers were already wavering,—and that the latter, recovering, had rebarricaded so strongly, that we might now all go back to Rivas and whistle.
However, this failure was not the end. Towards evening, another detachment renewed the assault, and the uproar commenced again. It seems, that, during the whole day, there was no simultaneous attack by all the detachments. Now, it was the infantry who charged,—with the riflemen in reserve, probably to prevent a rout, in case the enemy pursued a repulse; then, it was the riflemen, with the infantry in reserve; and so alternating through three or four charges;—so that there never could have been more than a very contemptible force facing the enemy at one time.
As it grew late, the wagons began to jolt past, removing the wounded to Rivas. Some were drunk and merry in spite of their wounds; and their laughter and drunken sport made strange concert with the cries and curses of the others. I remember one man going by on foot, with a small cut on the brow, from which blood was flowing copiously. He said the wound was a mere scratch,—too slight to have sent him out of the fight, had not the blood run down into his eyes and blinded him, preventing his aim. Yet this small affair brought his death shortly afterwards. The surgeons at Rivas gave him no care,—not so much as to wash his wound, or have him wash it; and the climate is so malignant to strangers, that the smallest cut, with the best care, heals only after long hesitation.
At length night came on, and our men drew off,—foiled at every attempt, having sustained great loss, and, apparently, made little impression on the enemy. They lay on their arms, however, in the outskirts, expecting to renew the attack during the night; and, to assist at this, a party of rangers had orders to leave their horses in quarters, and march on foot to join the others. Quitting our horses with regret, we walked to San Jorge, where the foot lay, awaiting the hour of attack. We found them stomach-qualmed with hunger, weary of fighting, thoroughly disheartened, and provoked against their officers. One told how an officer, whose duty it was to lead the charge, took shelter behind an orange-tree no bigger than his wrist, and shouted, "Go on, men! go on!" when he should have been saying, "Come on!" and how another, become stupid with aguardiente, had tried to force his men to a barricade, when their cartridge-boxes were empty, and their unbayonetted arms useless. There seemed also to have been slackness among the men; and some were lamenting, that the First Rifles were not what they used to be;—anciently they only wanted to see the greasers; to-day they were found taking to the bushes. They all agreed that no great number of the enemy had been killed,—whilst the filibusters, they doubted, must have lost nearly one-third of their men and many of their best officers;—among the number I recollect Major Dusenbury, highly praised.
There was one affair, however, over which they crowed and took fierce satisfaction. They told it thus:—A detached party, of about thirty of them, were seated on the roadside drinking aguardiente, preparatory to advancing. On one side was a cactus-hedge, and a grove of plantain a little in front. Whilst they sat here deeply absorbed in the aguardiente, a considerable party of the enemy got amongst the plantain-trees, and fired a hundred muskets into them at the distance of a few rods. Strange to say, the greasers were so nervous at finding no barricade between them, or were such contemptible marksmen, that not a shot took serious effect; only the demijohn of aguardiente was shivered into a thousand pieces, and the liquor ran out into the grass. The filibusters jumped up astounded and disordered; but, seeing so much good liquor running away wastefully into the grass, they grew terrible. It was an insult and injury which both men and officers appreciated. It gave every man in the troop a personal quarrel with the enemy. "Charge 'em!" shouted the captain; "we'll pay the scoundrels for the miserable trick!" At full speed they swept through a gap in the hedge, and rushed into the plantain-grove before the enemy had time to reload. But when the greasers saw them coming on fiercely, their hearts failed them, and, turning their backs, they fled towards the town. Never were filibusters or men-of-war better pleased than now! They rattled on furiously behind the nimble greasers. They sent howling death into their midst at every step of the chase. They passed bloody forms stretched here and there upon the earth. They followed the flying foe even to the edge of the town, and saw its hostile swarm running hither and thither in alarm.—Alas! General William Walker, why were you not here at this propitious moment, with all your brave spirits, invincible with rum, behind you? Then might you have rushed with the fugitives into the town, and hurled the yellow-skinned invaders into the lake! Then might the flag of Regeneration have waved even at this day over the hills and valleys of Nicaragua,—and the unfortunate author of this history have received a reward for his services!—Ay de mi! Even now, reposing in the shade of the palm-tree, fanned by the orange-scented breeze that blows over the lake, I might drink the immortal juice of the sugarcane, called aguardiente, and dream, and gaze at the cloud-wrapped cone of Ometepec!—But I must forget this.
The dead killed in this plantain-patch were all that our men obtained sight of. How many fell behind the barricades, where all the serious fighting took place, it was impossible to tell; though there was no reason to think that the enemy, fighting under cover, had suffered at all proportionably with our men, or, indeed, had suffered equally, losing man for man, except that ours were the better marksmen.
We passed a cold and sleepless night, awaiting the word to take up arms and advance; but in the mean time General Walker had changed his intention, and, when morning broke, the whole force quitted the outskirts and marched back into Rivas. The killed and wounded by the whole affair were reported officially at one hundred, or thereabout,—underrated, most probably, for effect upon the men. It was enough, however, considering the filibusters had no more than four hundred engaged. Amongst them, though not reported, was that devil-hearted dog which I have mentioned heretofore. He fell, shot through the head, whilst advancing with the others toward the barricade. He was lamented by the whole army,—by many superstitiously, even,—who said he had gone through all Walker's hard stresses so far untouched, and his end was prophetic of downfall.
And it is even true, that from this battle General Walker's prospects clouded rapidly. A proclamation, issued by the Costa-Rican government, promising fugitive filibusters free passage to the United States, found its way into Rivas, and immediately worked immense mischief, and was, indeed, the instrument of his overthrow. The men had no sooner seen it than they began to leave as fast as they found opportunities to escape. Guards were placed around the town, and spies in every company; but it was of no avail; and every morning it was rumored through the camp that this or that number had got off for Costa Rica during the night. General Walker, in a speech which he made a few days after to infuse new spirit, said that these were the cowards,—whose absence was beneficial, and from whom it was well that the army should be purged. However, this was exaggerated. It is true, doubtless, that there were many leaving merely from fear, who would have chosen to stay with him, rather than trust to the promises of a people believed to be treacherous and promise-breaking, and whose hatred they had incurred,—had the battles of San Jorge and Obraja been successful. And, indeed, the filibuster ranks were not wanting in cowards. Cowards might be induced to come on a desperate enterprise like this, through misrepresentation by Walker's own agents; through mere thoughtlessness, or mistake,—not knowing what soldier's metal was in them; or, with the bayonet of Hunger against their backs at home, they might be unmindful of any other bayonet on the distant shore of Nicaragua. (It should be musket-shot, however; for the greasers never found heart to use the bayonet.) And then again, many, who, when they first reached Nicaragua, were no cowards, after a few months' stay, became changed,—by the depressing effects of fever, by loss of confidence in their drunken officers, and by the absence of all incentive to fight stoutly for a leader so unpopular as Walker. It was a common saying, that in this army an old rule was reversed,—the veterans were worse fighters than the recruits. The soldier was at his best when he first landed upon the Isthmus, raw and healthy. After that, he rapidly deteriorated, losing spirit with every battle, until he became at last a thoroughbred coward. Seven or eight greasers to one filibuster was said to be good fighting, at one time; but now three or four to one was thought to be great odds; and before the game ended, I hear, they were become equally matched, man for man, almost. But, whatever General Walker said in his speech, this class of weak ones were not always the deserters. It required some little energy or strength of legs, with which these were unfurnished, to go over to the enemy at San Jorge, or walk down to Costa Rica; and the fact was, that from the first many of the healthiest and liveliest men, whose defection could least be borne, were leaving,—not from fear, mainly, but because by this proclamation they were offered the first opportunity to escape from a disagreeable service to which they thought themselves bound by no tie of love or honor.