Is this really the character of our war, or is it only an ideal picture of what the war might be? That depends solely upon ourselves.
Our soldiers kindle nightly their bivouac fires from East to West, and set their watch. They are the advance posts of the great idea, which is destined to make a country as it advances southwardly, and to settle it with republicans. If we put it in a single sentence, "Freedom of industry for hand and brain to all men," we must think awhile upon it before we can see what truths and temporal advantages it involves. We see them best, in this night of our distress and trial, by the soldiers' watch-fires. They encroach upon the gloom, and open it for us with hopes. They shine like the stare of a deeper sky than day affords, and we can see a land stretching to the Gulf, and lying expectant between either sea, whose surface is given to a Republic to people and civilize for the sake of Man. Whoever is born here, or whoever comes here, brought by poverty or violence, an exile from misery or from power, and whatever be his ethnological distinction, is a republican of this country because he is a man. Here he is to find safety, cooperation, and welcome. His very ignorance and debasement are to be welcomed by a country eager to exhibit the plastic power of its divine idea,—how animal restrictions can be gradually obliterated, how superstition and prejudice must die out of stolid countenances before the steady gaze of republican good-will, how ethnic peculiarities shall subserve the great plan and be absorbed by it. The country no longer will have a conventional creed, that men are more important than circumstances and governments; we always said so, but our opinion was at the mercy of a Know-Nothing club, a slaveholding cabal, a selfish democracy: it will have a living faith, born with the pangs of battle, that nothing on earth is so precious as the different kinds of men. It will want them, to illustrate its preeminent idea, and it will go looking for them through all the neglected places of the world, to invite them in from the by-lanes and foul quarters of every race, expressly to show that man is superior to his accidents, by bringing their bodies into a place where their souls can get the better of them. Where can that be except where a democracy has been waging a religious war against its own great evil, and has repented in blood for having used all kinds of men as the white and black pawns in its games of selfish politics, with its own country for the board, and her peace and happiness lying in the pool for stakes? Where can man be respected best except here, where he has been undervalued most, and bitterness and blood have sprung from that contempt?
This is the first truly religious war ever waged. Can there be such a thing as a religious war? There can be wars in the interest of different theologies, and mixed wars of diplomacy and confessions of belief, wars to transfer the tradition of infallibility from a pope to a book, wars of Puritans against the divine right of kings in the Old World and the natural rights of Indians in the New, in all of which the name of God has been invoked for sanction, and Scripture has been quoted, and Psalms uplifted on the battle-field for encouragement. And it is true that every conflict, in which there are ideas that claim their necessary development against usage and authority, has a religious character so far as the ideas vindicate God by being good for man. But a purely religious war must be one to restore the attributes and prerogatives of manhood, to confirm primitive rights that are given to finite souls as fast as they are created, to proclaim the creed of humanity, which is so far from containing a single article of theology, that it is solely and distinctively religious without it, because it proclaims one Father in heaven and one blood upon the earth. Manhood is always worth fighting for, to resist and put down whatever evil tendency impairs the full ability to be a man, with a healthy soul conscious of rights and duties, owning its gifts, and valuing above everything else the liberty to place its happiness in being noble and good. Every man wages a religious war, when he attacks his own passions in the interest of his own humanity. The most truly religious thing that a man can do is to fight his way through habits and deficiencies back to the pure manlike elements of his nature, which are the ineffaceable traces of the Divine workmanship, and alone really worth fighting for. And when a nation imitates this private warfare, and attacks its own gigantic evils, lighted through past deficiencies and immediate temptations by its best ideas, as its human part rallies against its inhuman, and all the kingly attributes of a freeborn individual rise up in final indignation against its slavish attributes, then commences the true and only war of a people, and the only war of which we dare say, though it have the repulsive features that belong to all wars, that it is religious. But that we do say; for it is to win and keep the unity of a country for the great purposes of mankind, a place where souls can have their chances to work, with the largest freedom and under the fewest disabilities, at the divine image stamped upon them,—to get here the tools, both temporal and spiritual, with which to strike poverty and misery out of those glorious traces, and to chisel deep and fresh the handwriting where God says, This is a Man!
Here is a sufficient ground for expecting that intellectual as well as political enlargement will succeed this trial of our country. It is well to think of all the approaching advantages, even those remote ones which will wear the forms of knowledge and art. For it is undeniable, that a war cannot be so just as to bring no evils in its train,—not only the disturbance of all kinds of industry, the suppression of some, the difficulty of diverting, at a moment's notice, labor towards new objects,—not only financial embarrassment and exhaustion, and the shadow of a coming debt,—not the maiming of strong men and their violent removal from the future labors of peace, nor the emotional suffering of thousands of families whose hearts are in the field with their dear ones, tossed to and fro in every skirmish, where the balls slay more than the bodies which are pierced: not these evils alone,—nor the feverish excitement of eighteen millions of people, whose gifts and intelligence are all distraught, and at the mercy of every bulletin,—nor yet the possible violations of private rights, and the overriding of legal defences, which, when once attempted in a state of war, is not always relinquished on the return of peace. These do not strike us so much as the moral injury which many weak and passionate minds sustain from the necessity of destroying life, of ravaging and burning, of inflicting upon the enemy politic distresses. There will be a taint in the army and the community which will endure in the relations of pacific life. And more than half a million of men, who have tasted the fierce joy of battle, have suffered the moral privations and dangers of the camp, are to be returned suddenly to us, and cast adrift, with no hope of finding immediate employment, and hankering for some excitements to replace those of the distant field. If little truth and little conscience have been at stake, these are the reasons which make wars so demoralizing: they leave society restored to peace, but still at war within itself, infested by those strange cravings, and tempted by a new ambition, that of waging successful wars. This will be the most dangerous country on the face of the earth, after the termination of this war; for it will see its own ideas more clearly than ever before, and long to propagate them with its battle-ardors and its scorn of hypocritical foreign neutralities. We have the elements to make the most martial nation in the world, with a peculiar combination of patience and impulse, coldness and daring, the capacity to lie in watchful calm and to move with the vibrations of the earthquake. And if ever the voice of our brother, crying out to us from the ground of any country, shall sigh among the drums which are then gathering dust in our arsenals, the long roll would wake again, and the arms would rattle in that sound, which is part of the speech of Liberty. But it is useless to affirm or to deny such possibilities. It is plain, however, that we are organizing most formidable elements, and learning how to forge them into bolts. The spirit of the people, therefore, must be high and pure. The more emphatically we declare, in accordance with the truth, that this war is for a religious purpose, to prepare a country for the growing of souls, a place where every element of material success and all the ambitions of an enthusiastic people shall only provide fortunate circumstances, so that men can be educated in the freedom which faith, knowledge, and awe before the Invisible secure, the better will it be for us when peace returns. A great believing people will more readily absorb the hurts of war. Spiritual vitality will throw off vigorously the malaria which must arise from deserted fields of battle. It must be our daily supplication to feel the religious purport of the truths for which we fight. We must disavow vindictiveness, and purge our hearts of it. There must be no vulgar passion illustrated by our glorious arms. And when we say that we are fighting for mankind, to release souls and bodies from bondage, we must understand, without affectation, that we are fighting for the slaveholder himself, who knows it not, as he hurls his iron disbelief and hatred against us. For we are to have one country, all of whose children, shall repeat in unison its noble creed, which the features of the land itself proclaim, and whose railroads and telegraphs are its running-hand.
How often we have enumerated and deprecated the evils of war! The Mexican War, in which Slavery herself involved us, (using the power of the Republic against which she conspired to further her conspiracy,) gave us occasion to extol the benefits of peace, and to draw up a formidable indictment against the spirit which lusted for the appeal to arms. We have not lusted for it, and the benefits of peace seem greater than ever; but the benefits of equity and truth seem greater than all. Show me justice, or try to make me unjust,—force upon me at the point of the sword the unspeakable degradation of abetting villany, and I will seize the hilt, if I can, and write my protest clear with the blade, and while I have it in my hand I will reap what advantages are possible in the desolation which it makes.
Among these advantages of a war waged to secure the rights of citizenship to all souls will be the excitement of a national intellectual life, which will take on the various forms of a national literature. This is to be expected for two reasons. First, because our arms will achieve unity. By this is meant not only that there will be a real union of all the States, consequent upon an eventual agreement in great political and moral ideas, but also that this very consent will bring the different characteristic groups of the country so near together, in feeling and mutual appreciation, and with a free interchange of traits, that we shall begin to have a nationality. And there can be no literature until there is a nation; when the varieties of the popular life begin to coalesce, as all sections are drawn together towards the centre of great political ideas which the people themselves establish, there will be such a rich development of intellectual action as the Old World has not seen. Without this unity, literature may be cultivated by cliques of men of talent, who are chiefly stimulated to express themselves by observing the thought and beauty which foreign intellects and past times produced; but their productions will not spring from the country's manifold life, nor express its mighty individuality. The sections of the country which are nearest to the intelligence of the Old World will furnish the readiest writers and the most polished thinkers, until the New World dwarfs the Old World by its unity, and inspires the best brains with the collected richness of the popular heart. Up to the period of this war the country's most original men have been those who, by protesting against its evils and displaying a genius emancipated from the prescriptions of Church and State, have prophesied the revolution, and given to America the first rich foretaste of her growing mind. The thunder rolled up the sky in the orator's great periods, the lightning began to gleam in the preacher's moral indignation, the glittering steel slumbered uneasily and showed its half-drawn menace from the subtle lines of poets and essayists who have been carrying weapons these twenty years; their souls thirsted for an opportunity to rescue fair Liberty from the obscene rout who had her in durance for their purposes, and to hail her accession to a lawful throne with the rich gifts of knowledge, use, and beauty, a homage that only free minds can pay, and only when freedom claims it. We do not forget the literary activity with which a thousand ready intellects have furnished convenient food for the people: there has been no lack of books, nor of the ambition to attempt all the intellectual forms. Some of this pabulum was not good for a growing frame; the excuse for offering it may be found in the exigencies of squatter-life. We are a notable people for our attachment to the frying-pan, and there is no doubt that it is a shifty utensil: it can be slung at the saddle-bow or carried in a valise, it will bear the jolting of a corduroy road, and furnish a camp-mess in the minimum of time out of material that was perhaps but a moment before sniffing or pecking at its rim. A very little blaze sets the piece of cold fat swimming, and the black cavity soon glows and splutters with extemporaneous content. But what dreams howl about the camp-fires, what hideous scalping-humor creeps from the leathery supper into the limbs and blood of the adventurous pioneer!
No better, and quite as scrofulous, has been the nourishment furnished by the rhetorical time-servers and polished conventionalists, whose gifts have been all directed against the highest good of the country's mind, to offer sweets to its crying conscience, and draughts of fierce or languid cordials to lull the uneasy moods of this fast-growing child of Liberty. Such men are fabricators of smooth speech; they have brought their gilding to put upon the rising pillars of the country, instead of strength to plant them firmly in their places and to spread the protecting roof. This period of storm will wash off their dainty work. When the clean granite stands where it should to shelter the four-and-thirty States as they walk the vast colonnades together, intent upon the great interchanges of the country's thought and work, this tinsel will not be missed; as men look upon the grave lines that assure them of security, they will rejoice that the time for the truly beautiful has arrived, and hasten to relieve the solid space with shapes as durable as the imagination which conceives.
There must be a great people before there can be a great character in its books, its instructions, or its works of art. This character is prophesied only in part by what is said and thought while the people is becoming great, and the molten constituents are sparkling as they run into their future form. We have been so dependent upon traditional ideas that we suppose an epic, for instance, to be the essential proof that a people is alive and has something to express. Let us cease to wonder whether there will ever be an American poem, an American symphony, or an American Novum Organon. It is a sign of weakness and subservience: and this is a period crowded with acts of emancipation. We cannot escape from the past, if we would; we have a right to inherit all the previous life of men that does not surfeit us and impede our proper work, but let us stop our unavailing sighs for Iliads. The newspaper gathers and circulates all true achievements faster than blind poets can plod round with the story. The special form of the epic answered to a state of society when the harper connected cities with his golden wire, slowly unrolling its burden as he went. Vibrations travel faster now; men would be foolish to expect that the new life will go journeying in classic vehicles. When the imagination becomes free, it can invent forms equally surprising and better adapted to the face of the country.
There is no part of this country which has not its broad characters and tendencies, different from anything ever seen before, imperfect while they are doomed to isolation, during which they show only a maimed and grotesque vitality. The religious tendency is different, the humor is different, the imagination differs from anything beyond the Atlantic. And the East differs from the West, the North from the South; and the Pacific States will have also to contribute gifts peculiar to themselves, as the silt of the Sacramento glitters unlike that of the Merrimac or the Potomac. We are not yet a People; but we have great, vivid masses of popular life, which a century of literary expression will not exhaust. All these passionate characters are running together in this general danger, having seized a weapon: they have found an idea in common, they are pervaded by their first really solemn feeling, they issue the same word for the night from East to West. The nationality thus commenced will introduce the tendency to blend in place of the tendency to keep apart, and each other's gifts will pass sympathetically from hand to hand.
The heightened life of this epoch is another cause which shall prepare a great development of intellectual forms. Excitement and enthusiasm pervade all classes of the people. All the primitive emotions of the human heart—friendship, scorn, sympathy, human and religious love—break into the liveliest expression, penetrate every quarter of society; a great river is let loose from the rugged mountain-recesses of the people; its waters, saturated with Nature's simple fertility, cover the whole country, and will not retire without depositing their renewing elements. A sincere and humble people Is feeling the exigency. A million families have fitted out their volunteers with the most sumptuous of all equipments, which no Government could furnish, love, tears of anxiety and pride, last kisses and farewells, and prayers more heaven-cleaving than a time of peace can breathe. What an invisible cloud of domestic pathos overhung for a year the course of the Potomac, and settled upon those huts and tents where the best part of home resided! what an ebb and flow of letters, bearing solemnity and love upon their surface! what anxiety among us, with all its brave housekeeping shifts, to keep want from the door while labor is paralyzed, and the strong arms have beaten their ploughshares into swords! What self-sacrifice of millions of humble wives and daughters whose works and sorrows are now refining the history of their country, and lifting the popular nobleness: they are giving all that they are to keep their volunteers in the field. The flag waves over no such faithfulness; its stars sparkle not like this sincerity. The feeling and heroism of women are enough to refresh and to remould the generation. Like subtle lightning, the womanly nature is penetrating the life of the age. From every railroad-station the ponderous train bore off its freight of living valor, amid the cheers of sympathizing thousands who clustered upon every shed and pillar, and yearned forward as if to make their tumultuous feelings the motive power to carry those dear friends away. What an ardent and unquenchable emotion! Drums do not throb like these hearts, bullets do not patter like these tears. There is not a power of the soul which is not vitalized and expanded by these scenes. But long after the crowd vanishes, there stands a woman at the corner, with a tired child asleep upon her shoulder; the bosom does not heave so strongly as to break its sleep. There are no regrets in the calm, proud face; no, indeed!—for it is the face of our country, waiting to suffer and be strong for liberty, and to put resolutely the dearest thing where it can serve mankind. In her face read the history of the future as it shall be sung and written by pens which shall not know whence their sharpened impulse springs; the page shall reflect the working of that woman's face, daughter of the people; and when exulting posterity shall draw new patriotism from it, and declare that it is proud, pathetic, resolved, sublime, they shall not yet call it by its Christian name, for that will be concealed with moss upon her forgotten head-stone.
* * * * *
AN ORDER FOR A PICTURE.
O good painter, tell me true, Has your hand the cunning to draw Shapes of things that you never saw? Ay? Well, here is an order for you.
Woods and cornfields, a little brown,— The picture must not be over-bright,— Yet all in the golden and gracious light Of a cloud, when the summer sun is down.
Alway and alway, night and morn, Woods upon woods, with fields of corn Lying between them, not quite sere, And not in the full, thick, leafy bloom, When the wind can hardly find breathing-room Under their tassels,—cattle near, Biting shorter the short green grass, And a hedge of sumach and sassafras, With bluebirds twittering all around,— (Ah, good painter, you can't paint sound!)— These, and the house where I was born, Low and little, and black and old, With children, many as it can hold, All at the windows, open wide,— Heads and shoulders clear outside, And fair young faces all ablush: Perhaps you may have seen, some day, Roses crowding the self-same way, Out of a wilding, way-side bush.
Listen closer. When you have done With woods and cornfields and grazing herds, A lady, the loveliest ever the sun Looked down upon, you must paint for me: Oh, if I only could make you see The clear blue eyes, the tender smile, The sovereign sweetness, the gentle grace, The woman's soul, and the angel's face That are beaming on me all the while! I need not speak these foolish words: Yet one word tells you all I would say,— She is my mother: you will agree That all the rest may be thrown away.
Two little urchins at her knee You must paint, Sir: one like me,— The other with a clearer brow, And the light of his adventurous eyes Flashing with boldest enterprise: At ten years old he went to sea,— God knoweth if he be living now,— He sailed in the good ship "Commodore,"— Nobody ever crossed her track To bring us news, and she never came back. Ah, 'tis twenty long years and more Since that old ship went out of the bay With my great-hearted brother on her deck: I watched him till he shrank to a speck, And his face was toward me all the way.
Bright his hair was, a golden brown, The time we stood at our mother's knee: That beauteous head, if it did go down, Carried sunshine into the sea!
Out in the fields one summer night We were together, half afraid Of the corn-leaves' rustling, and of the shade Of the high hills, stretching so still and far,— Loitering till after the low little light Of the candle shone through the open door, And over the hay-stack's pointed top, All of a tremble, and ready to drop, The first half-hour, the great yellow star, That we, with staring, ignorant eyes, Had often and often watched to see Propped and held in its place in the skies
By the fork of a tall red mulberry-tree, Which close in the edge of our flax-field grew,— Dead at the top,—just one branch full Of leaves, notched round, and lined with wool, From which it tenderly shook the dew Over our heads, when we came to play In its handbreadth of shadow, day after day. Afraid to go home, Sir; for one of us bore A nest full of speckled and thin-shelled eggs,— The other, a bird, held fast by the legs, Not so big as a straw of wheat: The berries we gave her she wouldn't eat, But cried and cried, till we held her bill, So slim and shining, to keep her still.
At last we stood at our mother's knee. Do you think, Sir, if you try, You can paint the look of a lie? If you can, pray have the grace To put it solely in the face Of the urchin that is likest me: I think't was solely mine, indeed: But that's no matter,—paint it so; The eyes of our mother—(take good heed)— Looking not on the nest-full of eggs, Nor the fluttering bird, held so fast by the legs, But straight through our faces down to our lies, And, oh, with such injured, reproachful surprise! I felt my heart bleed where that glance went, as though A sharp blade struck through it. You, Sir, know, That you on the canvas are to repeat Things that are fairest, things most sweet,— Woods and cornfields and mulberry-tree,— The mother,—the lads, with their bird, at her knee: But, oh, that look of reproachful woe! High as the heavens your name I'll shout, If you paint me the picture, and leave that out.
THE SOUTH BREAKER.
IN TWO PARTS
Blue-fish were about done with, when one day Dan brought in some mackerel from Boon Island: they hadn't been in the harbor for some time, though now there was a probability of their return. So they were going out when the tide served—the two boys—at midnight for mackerel, and Dan had heard me wish for the experience so often, a long while ago, that he said, Why shouldn't they take the girls? and Faith snatched at the idea, and with that Mr. Gabriel agreed to fetch me at the hour, and so we parted. I was kind of sorry, but there was no help for it.
When we started, it was in that clear crystal dark that looks as if you could see through it forever till you reached infinite things, and we seemed to be in a great hollow sphere, and the stars were like living beings who had the night to themselves. Always, when I'm up late, I feel as if it were something unlawful, as if affairs were in progress which I had no right to witness, a kind of grand freemasonry. I've felt it nights when I've been watching with mother, and there has come up across the heavens the great caravan of constellations, and a star that I'd pulled away the curtain on the east side to see came by-and-by and looked in at the south window; but I never felt it as I did this night. The tide was near the full, and so we went slipping down the dark water by the starlight; and as we saw them shining above us, and then looked down and saw them sparkling up from below,—the stars,—it really seemed as if Dan's oars must be two long wings, as if we swam on them through a motionless air. By-and-by we were in the island creek, and far ahead, in a streak of wind that didn't reach us, we could see a pointed sail skimming along between the banks, as if some ghost went before to show us the way; and when the first hush and mystery wore off, Mr. Gabriel was singing little French songs in tunes like the rise and fall of the tide. While he sang, he rowed, and Dan was gangeing the hooks. At length Dan took the oars again, and every now and then he paused to let us float along with the tide as it slacked, and take the sense of the night. And all the tall grass that edged the side began to wave in a strange light, and there blew on a little breeze, and over the rim of the world tipped up a waning moon. If there'd been anything needed to make us feel as if we were going to find the Witch of Endor, it was this. It was such a strange moon, pointing such a strange way, with such a strange color, so remote, and so glassy,—it was like a dead moon, or the spirit of one, and was perfectly awful.
"She has come to look at Faith," said Mr. Gabriel; for Faith, who once would have been nodding here and there all about the boat, was sitting up pale and sad, like another spirit, to confront it. But Dan and I both felt a difference.
Mr. Gabriel, he stepped across and went and sat down behind Faith, and laid his hand lightly on her arm. Perhaps he didn't mind that he touched her,—he had a kind of absent air; but if any one had looked at the nervous pressure of the slender fingers, they would have seen as much meaning in that touch as in many an embrace; and Faith lifted her face to his, and they forgot that I was looking at them, and into the eyes of both there stole a strange deep smile,—and my soul groaned within me. It made no odds to me then that the air blew warm off the land from scented hay-ricks, that the moon hung like some exhumed jewel in the sky, that all the perfect night was widening into dawn. I saw and felt nothing but the wretchedness that must break one day on Dan's head. Should I warn him? I couldn't do that. And what then?
The sail was up, we had left the headland and the hills, and when they furled it and cast anchor we were swinging far out on the back of the great monster that was frolicking to itself and thinking no more of us than we do of a mote in the air. Elder Snow, he says that it's singular we regard day as illumination and night as darkness,—day that really hems us in with narrow light and shuts us upon ourselves, night that sets us free and reveals to us all the secrets of the sky. I thought of that when one by one the stars melted and the moon became a breath, and up over the wide grayness crept color and radiance and the sun himself, —the sky soaring higher and higher, like a great thin bubble of flaky hues,—and, all about, nothing but the everlasting wash of waters broke the sacred hush. And it seemed as if God had been with us, and withdrawing we saw the trail of His splendid garments,—and I remembered the words mother had spoken to Dan once before, and why couldn't I leave him in heavenly hands? And then it came into my heart to pray. I knew I hadn't any right to pray expecting to be heard; but yet mine would be the prayer of the humble, and wasn't Faith of as much consequence as a sparrow? By-and-by, as we all sat leaning over the gunwale, the words of a hymn that I'd heard at camp-meetings came into my mind, and I sang them out, loud and clear. I always had a good voice, though Dan 'd never heard me do anything with it except hum little low things, putting mother to sleep; but here I had a whole sky to sing in, and the hymns were trumpet-calls. And one after another they kept thronging up, and there was a rush of feeling in them that made you shiver, and as I sang them they thrilled me through and through. Wide as the way before us was, it seemed to widen; I felt myself journeying with some vast host towards the city of God, and its light poured over us, and there was nothing but joy and love and praise and exulting expectancy in my heart. And when the hymn died on my lips because the words were too faint and the tune was too weak for the ecstasy, and when the silence had soothed me back again, I turned and saw Dan's lips bitten, and his cheek white, and his eyes like stars, and Mr. Gabriel's face fallen forward in his hands, and he shaking with quick sobs; and as for Faith,—Faith, she had dropped asleep, and one arm was thrown above her head, and the other lay where it had slipped from Mr. Gabriel's loosened grasp. There's a contagion, you know, in such things, but Faith was never of the catching kind.
Well, this wasn't what we'd come for,—turning all out-doors into a church,—though what's a church but a place of God's presence? and for my part, I never see high blue sky and sunshine without feeling that. And all of a sudden there came a school of mackerel splashing and darkening and curling round the boat, after the bait we'd thrown out on anchoring. 'Twould have done you good to see Dan just at that moment; you'd have realized what it was to have a calling. He started up, forgetting everything else, his face all flushed, his eyes like coals, his mouth tight and his tongue silent; and how many hooks he had out I'm sure I don't know, but he kept jerking them in by twos and threes, and finally they bit at the bare barb and were taken without any bait at all, just as if they'd come and asked to be caught. Mr. Gabriel, he didn't pay any attention at first, but Dan called to him to stir himself, and so gradually he worked back into his old mood; but he was more still and something sad all the rest of the morning. Well, when we'd gotten about enough, and they were dying in the boat there, as they cast their scales, like the iris, we put in-shore; and building a fire, we cooked our own dinner and boiled our own coffee. Many's the icy winter-night I've wrapped up Dan's bottle of hot coffee in rolls on rolls of flannel, that he might drink it hot and strong far out at sea in a wherry at daybreak!
But as I was saying,—all this time, Mr. Gabriel, he scarcely looked at Faith. At first she didn't comprehend, and then something swam all over her face as if the very blood in her veins had grown darker, and there was such danger in her eye that before we stepped into the boat again I wished to goodness I had a life-preserver. But in the beginning the religious impression lasted and gave him great resolutions; and then strolling off and along the beach, he fell in with some men there and did as he always did, scraped acquaintance. I verily believe that these men were total strangers, that he'd never laid eyes on them before, and after a few words he wheeled about. As he did so, his glance fell on Faith standing there alone against the pale sky, for the weather 'd thickened, and watching the surf break at her feet. He was motionless, gazing at her long, and then, when he had turned once or twice irresolutely, he ground his heel into the sand and went back. The men rose and wandered on with him, and they talked together for a while, and I saw money pass; and pretty soon Mr. Gabriel returned, his face vividly pallid, but smiling, and he had in his hand some little bright shells that you don't often find on these Northern beaches, and he said he had bought them of those men. And all this time he'd not spoken with Faith, and there was the danger yet in her eye. But nothing came of it, and I had accused myself of nearly every crime in the Decalogue, and on the way back we had put up the lines, and Mr. Gabriel had hauled in the lobster-net for the last time. He liked that branch of the business; he said it had all the excitement of gambling,—the slow settling downwards, the fading of the last ripple, the impenetrable depth and shade and the mystery of the work below, five minutes of expectation, and it might bring up a scale of the sea-serpent, or the king of the crabs might have crept in for a nap in the folds, or it might come up as if you'd dredged for pearls, or it might hold the great backward-crawling lobsters, or a tangle of seaweed, or the long yellow locks of some drowned girl,—or nothing at all. So he always drew in that net, and it needed muscle, and his was like steel,—not good for much in the long pull, but just for a breathing could handle the biggest boatman in the harbor. Well,—and we'd hoisted the sail and were in the creek once more, for the creek was only to be used at high-water, and I'd told Dan I couldn't be away from mother over another tide and so we mustn't get aground, and he'd told me not to fret, there was nothing too shallow for us on the coast—"This boat," said Dan, "she'll float in a heavy dew." And he began singing a song he liked:—
"I cast my line in Largo Bay, And fishes I caught nine: There's three to boil, and three to fry, And three to bait the line."
And Mr. Gabriel 'd never heard it before, and he made him sing it again and again.
"The boatie rows, the boatie rows, The boatie rows indeed,"
repeated Mr. Gabriel, and he said it was the only song he knew that held the click of the oar in the rowlock.
The little birds went skimming by us, as we sailed, their breasts upon the water, and we could see the gunners creeping through the marshes beside them.
"The wind changes," said Mr. Gabriel. "The equinox treads close behind us. Sst! Is it that you do not feel its breath? And you hear nothing?"
"It's the Soul of the Bar," said Dan; and he fell to telling us one of the wild stories that fishermen can tell each other by the lantern rocking outside at night in the dory.
The wind was dead east, and now we flew before it, and now we tacked in it, up and up the winding stream, and always a little pointed sail came skimming on in suit.
"What sail is that, Dan?" asked I. "It looks like the one that flitted ahead this morning."
"It is the one," said Dan,—for he'd brought up a whole horde of superstitious memories, and a gloom that had been hovering off and on his face settled there for good. "As much of a one as that was. It's no sail at all. It's a death-sign. And I've never been down here and seen it but trouble was on its heels. Georgie! there's two of them!"
We all looked, but it was hidden in a curve, and when it stole in sight again there were two of them, filmy and faint as spirits' wings,—and while we gazed they vanished, whether supernaturally or in the mist that was rising mast-high I never thought, for my blood was frozen as it ran.
"You have fear?" asked Mr. Gabriel,—his face perfectly pale, and his eye almost lost in darkness. "If it is a phantom, it can do you no harm."
Faith's teeth chattered,—I saw them. He turned to her, and as their look met, a spot of carnation burned into his cheek almost as a brand would have burned. He seemed to be balancing some point, to be searching her and sifting her; and Faith half rose, proudly, and pale, as if his look pierced her with pain. The look was long,—but before it fell, a glow and sparkle filled the eyes, and over his face there curled the deep, strange smile of the morning, till the long lids and heavy lashes dropped and made it sad. And Faith,—she started in a new surprise, the darkness gathered and crept off her face as cream wrinkles from milk, and spleen or venom or what-not became absorbed again and lost, and there was nothing in her glance but passionate forgetfulness. Some souls are like the white river-lilies,—fixed, yet floating; but Mr. Gabriel had no firm root anywhere, and was blown about with every breeze, like a leaf on the flood. His purposes melted and made with his moods.
The wind got round more to the north, the mist fell upon the waters or blew away over the meadows, and it was cold. Mr. Gabriel wrapped the cloak about Faith and fastened it, and tied her bonnet. Just now Dan was so busy handling the boat—and it's rather risky, you have to wriggle up the creek so—that he took little notice of us. Then Mr. Gabriel stood up, as if to change his position; and taking off his hat, he held it aloft, while he passed the other hand across his forehead. And leaning against the mast, he stood so, many minutes.
"Dan," I said, "did your spiritual craft ever hang out a purple pennant?"
"No," said Dan.
"Well," says I. And we all saw a little purple ribbon running up the rope and streaming on the air behind us.
"And why do we not hoist our own?" said Mr. Gabriel, putting on his hat. And suiting the action to the word, a little green signal curled up and flaunted above us like a bunch of the weed floating there in the water beneath and dyeing all the shallows so that they looked like caves of cool emerald, and wide off and over them the west burned smoulderingly red like a furnace. Many a time since, I've felt the magical color between those banks and along those meadows, but then I felt none of it; every wit I had was too awake and alert and fast-fixed in watching.
"Is it that the phantoms can be flesh and blood?" said Mr. Gabriel laughingly; and lifting his arm again, he hailed the foremost.
"Boat ahoy! What names?" said he.
The answer came back on the wind full and round.
"'Speed,' and 'Follow.'"
"Where from?" asked Dan, with just a glint in his eye,—for usually he knew every boat on the river, but he didn't know these.
"From the schooner Flyaway, taking in sand over at Black Rocks."
Then Mr. Gabriel spoke again, as they drew near,—but whether he spoke so fast that I couldn't understand, or whether he spoke French, I never knew; and Dan, with some kind of feeling that it was Mr. Gabriel's acquaintance, suffered the one we spoke to pass us.
Once or twice Mr. Gabriel had begun some question to Dan about the approaching weather, but had turned it off again before anybody could answer. You see he had some little nobility left, and didn't want the very man he was going to injure to show him how to do it. Now, however, he asked him that was steering the Speed by, if it was going to storm.
The man thought it was.
"How is it, then, that your schooner prepares to sail?"
"Oh, wind's backed in; we'll be on blue water before the gale breaks, I reckon, and then beat off where there's plenty of sea-room."
"But she shall make shipwreck!"
"'Not if the court know herself, and he think she do,'" was the reply from another, as they passed.
Somehow I began to hate myself, I was so full of poisonous suspicions. How did Mr. Gabriel know the schooner prepared to sail? And this man, could he tell boom from bowsprit? I didn't believe it; he had the hang of the up-river folks. But there stood Mr. Gabriel, so quiet and easy, his eyelids down, and he humming an underbreath of song; and there sat Faith, so pale and so pretty, a trifle sad, a trifle that her conscience would brew for her, whether or no. Yet, after all, there was an odd expression in Mr. Gabriel's face, an eager, restless expectation; and if his lids were lowered, it was only to hide the spark that flushed and quenched in his eye like a beating pulse.
We had reached the draw, it was lifted for the Speed, she had passed, and the wind was in her sail once more. Yet, somehow, she hung back. And then I saw that the men in her were of those with whom Mr. Gabriel had spoken at noon. Dan's sail fell slack, and we drifted slowly through, while he poled us along with an oar.
"Look out, Georgie!" said Dan, for he thought I was going to graze my shoulder upon the side there. I looked; and when I turned again, Mr. Gabriel was rising up from some earnest and hurried sentence to Faith. And Faith, too, was standing, standing and swaying with indecision, and gazing away out before her,—so flushed and so beautiful,—so loath and so willing. Poor thing! poor thing! as if her rising in itself were not the whole!
Mr. Gabriel stepped across the boat, stooped a minute, and then also took an oar. How perfect he was, as he stood there that moment!—perfect like a statue, I mean,—so slender, so clean-limbed, his dark face pale to transparency in the green light that filtered through the draw! and then a ray from the sunset came creeping over the edge of the high fields and smote his eyes sidelong so that they glowed like jewels, and he with his oar planted firmly hung there bending far back with it, completely full of strength and grace.
"It is not the bateaux in the rapids," said he.
"What are you about?" asked Dan, with sudden hoarseness. "You are pulling the wrong way!"
Mr. Gabriel laughed, and threw down his oar, and stepped back again; gave his hand to Faith, and half led, half lifted her, over the side, and into the Speed, followed, and never looked behind him. They let go something they had held, the Speed put her nose in the water and sprinkled us with spray, plunged, and dashed off like an arrow.
It was like him,—daring and insolent coolness! Just like him! Always the soul of defiance! None but one so reckless and impetuous as he would have dreamed of flying into the teeth of the tempest in that shell of a schooner. But he was mad with love, and they—there wasn't a man among them but was the worse for liquor.
For a moment Dan took it, as Mr. Gabriel had expected him to do, as a joke, and went to trim the boat for racing, not meaning they should reach town first. But I—I saw It all.
"Dan!" I sung out, "save her! She's not coming back! They'll make for the schooner at Black Rocks! Oh, Dan, he's taken her off!"
Now one whose intelligence has never been trained, who shells his five wits and gets rid of the pods as best he can, mayn't be so quick as another, but, like an animal, he feels long before he sees; and a vague sense of this had been upon Dan all day. Yet now he stood thunderstruck, and the thing went on before his very eyes. It was more than he could believe at once,—and perhaps his first feeling was, Why should he hinder? And then the flood fell. No thought of his loss,—though loss it wa'n't,—only of his friend,—of such stunning treachery, that, if the sun fell hissing into the sea at noon, it would have mattered less,—only of that loss that tore his heart out with it.
"Gabriel!" he shouted,—"Gabriel!" And his voice was heart-rending. I know that Mr. Gabriel felt it, for he never turned nor stirred.
Then I don't know what came over Dan: a blind rage swelling in his heart seemed to make him larger in every limb; he towered like a flame. He sprang to the tiller, but, as he did so, saw with one flash of his eye that Mr. Gabriel had unshipped the rudder and thrown it away. He seized an oar to steer with in its place; he saw that they, in their ignorance fast edging on the flats, would shortly be aground; more fisherman than sailor, he knew a thousand tricks of boat-craft that they had never heard of. We flew, we flew through cloven ridges, we became a wind ourselves, and while I tell it he was beside them, had gathered himself as if to leap the chasm between time and eternity, and had landed among them in the Speed. The wherry careened with the shock and the water poured into her, and she flung headlong and away as his foot spurned her. Heaven knows why she didn't upset, for I thought of nothing but the scene before me as I drifted off from it. I shut the eyes in my soul now, that I mayn't see that horrid scuffle twice. Mr. Gabriel, he rose, he turned. If Dan was the giant beside him, he himself was so well-knit, so supple, so adroit, that his power was like the blade in the hand. Dan's strength was lying round loose, but Mr. Gabriel's was trained, it hid like springs of steel between brain and wrist, and from him the clap fell with the bolt. And then, besides, Dan did not love Faith, and he did love Gabriel. Any one could see how it would go. I screamed. I cried, "Faith! Faith!" And some natural instinct stirred in Faith's heart, for she clung to Mr. Gabriel's arm to pull him off from Dan. But he shook her away like rain. Then such a mortal weakness took possession of me that I saw everything black, and, when it was clean gone, I looked, and they were locked in each other's arms, fierce, fierce and fell, a death-grip. They were staggering to the boat's edge: only this I saw, that Mr. Gabriel was inside: suddenly the helmsman interposed with an oar, and broke their grasps. Mr. Gabriel reeled away, free, for a second; then, the passion, the fury, the hate in his heart feeding his strength as youth fed the locks of Samson, he darted, and lifted Dan in his two arms and threw him like a stone into the water. Stiffened to ice, I waited for Dan to rise; the other craft, the Follow, skimmed between us, and one man managing her that she shouldn't heel, the rest drew Dan in,—it's not the depth of two foot there,—tacked about, and after a minute came along-side, seized our painter, and dropped him gently into his own boat. Then—for the Speed had got afloat again—the thing stretched her two sails wing and wing, and went ploughing up a great furrow of foam before her.
I sprang to Dan. He was not senseless, but in a kind of stupor: his head had struck the fluke of a half-sunk anchor and it had stunned him, but as the wound bled he recovered slowly and opened his eyes. Ah, what misery was in them! I turned to the fugitives. They were yet in sight, Mr. Gabriel sitting and seeming to adjure Faith, whose skirts he held; but she stood, and her arms were outstretched, and, pale as a foam-wreath her face, and piercing as a night-wind her voice, I heard her cry, "Oh, Georgie! Georgie!" It was too late for her to cry or to wring her hands now. She should have thought of that before. But Mr. Gabriel rose and drew her down, and hid her face in his arms and bent over it; and so they fled up the basin and round the long line of sand, and out into the gloom and the curdling mists.
I bound up Dan's head. I couldn't steer with an oar,—that was out of the question,—but, as luck would have it, could row tolerably; so I got down the little mast, and at length reached the wharves. The town-lights flickered up in the darkness and flickered back from the black rushing river, and then out blazed the great mills; and as I felt along, I remembered times when we'd put in by the tender sunset, as the rose faded out of the water and the orange ebbed down the west, and one by one the sweet evening-bells chimed forth, so clear and high, and each with a different tone, that it seemed as if the stars must flock, tinkling, into the sky. And here were the bells ringing out again, ringing out of the gray and the gloom, dull and brazen, as if they rang from some cavern of shadows, or from the mouth of hell,—but no, that was down-river! Well, I made my way, and the men on the landing took up Dan, and helped him in and got him on my little bed, and no sooner there than the heavy sleep with which he had struggled fell on him like lead.
The story flew from mouth to mouth, the region rang with it; nobody had any need to add to it, or to make it out a griffin or a dragon that had gripped Faith and carried her off in his talons. But everybody declared that those boats could be no ship's yawls at all, but must belong to parties from up-river camping out on the beach, and that a parcel of such must have gone sailing with some of the hands of a sand-droger: there was one in the stream now, that had got off with the tide, said the Jerdan boys, who'd been down there that afternoon, though there was no such name as "Flyaway" on her stern, and they were waiting for the master of her, who'd gone off on a spree,—a dare-devil fellow, that used to run a smuggler between Bordeaux and Bristol, as they'd heard say: and all agreed that Mr. Gabriel could never have had to do with them before that day, or he'd have known what a place a sand-droger would be for a woman; and everybody made excuses for Gabriel, and everybody was down on Faith. So there things lay. It was raw and chill when the last neighbor left us, the sky was black as a cloak, not a star to be seen, the wind had edged back to the east again and came in wet and wild from the sea and fringed with its thunder. Oh, poor little Faith, what a night! what a night for her!
I went back and sat down by Dan, and tried to keep his head cool. Father was up walking the kitchen-floor till late, but at length he lay down across the foot of mother's bed, as if expecting to be called. The lights were put out, there was no noise in the town, every one slept,—every one, except they watched like me, on that terrible night. No noise in the town, did I say? Ah, but there was! It came creeping round the corners, it poured rushing up the street, it rose from everywhere,—a voice, a voice of woe, the heavy booming rote of the sea. I looked out, but it was pitch-dark, light had forsaken the world, we were beleaguered by blackness. It grew colder, as if one felt a fog fall, and the wind, mounting slowly, now blew a gale. It eddied in clouds of dead and whirling leaves, and sent big torn branches flying aloft; it took the house by the four corners and shook it to loosening the rafters, and I felt the chair rock under me; it rumbled down the chimney as if it would tear the life out of us. And with every fresh gust of the gale the rain slapped against the wall, the rain that fell in rivers, and went before the wind in sheets,—and sheltered as I was, the torrents seemed to pour over me like cataracts, and every drop pierced me like a needle, and I put my fingers in my ears to shut out the howl of the wind and the waves. I couldn't keep my thoughts away from Faith. Oh, poor girl, this wasn't what she'd expected! As plainly as if I were aboard-ship I felt the scene, the hurrying feet, the slippery deck, the hoarse cries, the creaking cordage, the heaving and plunging and straining, and the wide wild night. And I was beating off those dreadful lines with them, two dreadful lines of white froth through the blackness, two lines where the horns of breakers guard the harbor,—all night long beating off the lee with them, my life in my teeth, and chill, blank, shivering horror before me. My whole soul, my whole being, was fixed in that one spot, that little vessel driving on the rocks: it seemed as if a madness took possession of me, I reeled as I walked, I forefelt the shivering shock, I waited till she should strike. And then I thought I heard cries, and I ran out in the storm, and down upon the causeway, but nothing met me but the hollow night and the roaring sea and the wind. I came back, and hurried up and down and wrung my hands in an agony. Pictures of summer nights flashed upon me and faded,—where out of deep-blue vaults the stars hung like lamps, great and golden,—or where soft films just hazing heaven caught the rays, till all above gleamed like gauze faintly powdered and spangled with silver,—or heavy with heat, slipping over silent waters, through scented airs, under purple skies. And then storms rolled in and rose before my eyes, distinct for a moment, and breaking,—such as I'd seen them from the Shoals in broad daylight, when tempestuous columns scooped themselves up from the green gulfs and shattered in loam on the shuddering rock,—ah! but that was day, and this was midnight and murk!—storms as I'd heard tell of them off Cape Race, when great steamers went down with but one cry, and the waters crowded them out of sight,—storms where, out of the wilderness of waves that far and wide wasted white around, a single one came ploughing on straight to the mark, gathering its grinding masses mast-high, poising, plunging, and swamping and crashing them into bottomless pits of destruction,—storms where waves toss and breakers gore, where, hanging on crests that slip from under, reefs impale the hull, and drowning wretches cling to the crags with stiffening hands, and the sleet ices them, and the spray, and the sea lashes and beats them with great strokes and sucks them down to death: and right in the midst of it all there burst a gun,—one, another, and no more. "Oh, Faith! Faith!" I cried again, and I ran and hid my head in the bed.
How long did I stay so? An hour, or maybe two. Dan was still dead with sleep, but mother had no more closed an eye than I. There was no rain now, the wind had fallen, the dark had lifted; I looked out once more, and could just see dimly the great waters swinging in the river from bank to bank. I drew the bucket fresh, and bound the cloths cold on Dan's head again. I hadn't a thought in my head, and I fell to counting the meshes in the net that hung from the wall, but in my ears there was the everlasting rustle of the sea and shore. It grew clearer,—it got to being a universal gray; there'd been no sunrise, but it was day. Dan stirred,—he turned over heavily; then he opened his eyes wide and looked about him.
"I've had such a fright!" he said. "Georgie! is that you?"
With that it swept over him afresh, and he fell back. In a moment or two he tried to rise, but he was weak as a child. He contrived to keep on his elbow a moment, though, and to give a look out of the window.
"It came on to blow, didn't it?" he asked; but there he sank down again.
"I can't stay so!" he murmured soon. "I can't stay so! Here,—I must tell you. Georgie, get out the spy-glass, and go up on the roof and look over. I've had a dream, I tell you! I've had a dream. Not that either,—but it's just stamped on me! It was like a storm,—and I dreamed that that schooner—the Flyaway—had parted. And the half of her's crashed down just as she broke, and Faith and that man are high up on the bows in the middle of the South Breaker! Make haste, Georgie! Christ! make haste!"
I flew to the drawers and opened them, and began to put the spy-glass together. Suddenly he cried out again,—
"Oh, here's where the fault was! What right had I ever to marry the child, not loving her? I bound her! I crushed her! I stifled her! If she lives, it is my sin; if she dies, I murder her!"
He hid his face, as he spoke, so that his voice came thick, and great choking groans rent their way up from his heart.
All at once, as I looked up, there stood mother, in her long white gown, beside the bed, and bending over and taking Dan's hot head in her two hands.
"Behold, He cometh with clouds!" she whispered.
It always did seem to me as if mother had the imposition of hands,—perhaps every one feels just so about their mother,—but only her touch always lightens an ache for me, whether it's in the heart or the head.
"Oh, Aunt Rhody," said Dan, looking up in her face with his distracted eyes, "can't you help me?"
"I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help," said mother.
"There's no help, there!" called Dan. "There's no God there! He wouldn't have let a little child run into her damnation!"
"Hush, hush, Dan!" murmured mother. "Faith never can have been at sea in such a night as this, and not have felt God's hand snatching her out of sin. If she lives, she's a changed woman; and if she dies, her soul is whitened and fit to walk with saints. Through much tribulation."
"Yes, yes," muttered father, in the room beyond, spitting on his hands, as if he were going to take hold of the truth by the handle,—"it's best to clean up a thing with the first spot, and not wait for it to get all rusty with crime."
"And he!" said Dan,—"and he,—that man,—Gabriel!"
"Between the saddle and the ground If mercy's asked, mercy's found,"
"Are you there yet, Georgie?" he cried, turning to me. "Here! I'll go myself!" But he only stumbled and fell on the bed again.
"In all the terror and the tempest of these long hours,—for there's been a fearful storm, though you haven't felt it," said mother,—"in all that, Mr. Gabriel can't have slept. But at first it must have been that great dread appalled him, and he may have been beset with sorrow. He'd brought her to this. But at last, for he's no coward, he has looked death in the face and not flinched; and the danger, and the grandeur there is in despair, have lifted his spirit to great heights,—heights found now in an hour, but which in a whole life long he never would have gained,—heights from which he has seen the light of God's face and been transfigured in it,—heights where the soul dilates to a stature it can never lose. Oh, Dan, there's a moment, a moment when the dross strikes off, and the impurities, and the grain sets, and there comes out the great white diamond. For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,—of Him that maketh the seven stars and Orion, and turneth the shadow of death into the morning. Oh, I will believe that Mr. Gabriel hadn't any need to grope as we do, but that suddenly he saw the Heavenly Arm and clung to it, and the grasp closed round him, and death and hell can have no power over him now. Dan, poor boy, is it better to lie in the earth with the ore than to be forged in the furnace and beaten to a blade fit for the hands of archangels?"
And mother stopped, trembling like a leaf.
I'd been wiping and screwing the glass, and I'd waited a breath, for mother always talked so like a preacher; but when she'd finished, after a second or two Dan looked up, and said, as if he'd just come in—
"Aunt Rhody! how come you out of bed?"
And then mother, she got upon the bed, and she took Dan's head on her breast and fell to stroking his brows, laying her cool palms on his temples and on his eyelids, as once I'd have given my ears to do,—and I slipped out of the room.
Oh, I hated to go up those stairs, to mount that ladder, to open the scuttle! And once there, I waited and waited before I dared to look. The night had unnerved me. At length I fixed the glass. I swept the broad swollen stream, to the yellowing woods, and over the meadows, where a pale transient beam crept under and pried up the hay-cocks,—the smoke that began to curl from the chimneys and fall as soon,—the mists blowing off from Indian Hill, but brooding blue and dense down the turnpike, and burying the red spark of the moon, that smothered like a half-dead coal in her ashes,—anywhere, anywhere but that spot! I don't know why it was, but I couldn't level the glass there,—my arm would fall, my eye haze. Finally I brought it round nearer and tried again. Everywhere, as far as your eye could reach, the sea was yeasty and white with froth, and great streaks of it were setting up the inky river, and against it there were the twin light-houses quivering their little yellow rays as if to mock the dawn, and far out on the edge of day the great light at the Isles of Shoals blinked and blinked, crimson and gold, fainter and fainter, and lost at last. It was no use, I didn't dare point it, my hand trembled so I could see nothing plain, when suddenly an engine went thundering over the bridge and startled me into stillness. The tube slung in my hold and steadied against the chimney, and there——What was it in the field? what ghastly picture?
The glass crashed from my hand, and I staggered shrieking down the ladder.
The sound wasn't well through my lips, when the door slammed, and Dan had darted out of the house and to the shore. I after him. There was a knot sitting and standing round there in the gray, shivering, with their hands in their pockets and their pipes set in their teeth; but the gloom was on them as well, and the pipes went out between the puffs.
"Where's Dennis's boat?" Dan demanded, as he strode.
"The six-oar's all the one not"——
"The six-oar I want. Who goes with me?"
There wasn't a soul in the ward but would have followed Dan's lead to the end of the world and jumped off; and before I could tell their names there were three men on the thwarts, six oars in the air, Dan stood in the bows, a word from him, and they shot away.
I watched while I could see, and then in and up to the attic, forgetting to put mother in her bed, forgetting all things but the one. And there lay the glass broken. I sat awhile with the pieces in my hand, as if I'd lost a kingdom; then down, and mechanically put things to rights, and made mother comfortable,—and she's never stood on her feet from that day to this. At last I seated myself before the fire, and stared into it to blinding.
"Won't some one lend you a glass, Georgie?" said mother.
"Of course they will!" I cried,—for, you see, I hadn't a wit of my own,—and I ran out.
There's a glass behind every door in the street, you should know, and there's no day in the year that you'll go by and not see one stretching from some roof where the heart of the house is out on the sea. Oh, sometimes I think all the romance of the town is clustered down here on the Flats and written in pale cheeks and starting eyes. But what's the use? After one winter, one, I gave mine away, and never got another. It's just an emblem of despair. Look, and look again, and look till your soul sinks, and the thing you want never crosses it; but you're down in the kitchen stirring a porridge, or you're off at a neighbor's asking the news, and somebody shouts at you round the corner, and there, black and dirty and dearer than gold, she lies between the piers.
All the world was up on their house-tops spying, that morning, but there was nobody would keep their glass while I had none; so I went back armed, and part of it all I saw, and part of it father told me.
I waited till I thought they were 'most across, and then I rubbed the lens. At first I saw nothing, and I began to quake with a greater fear than any that had yet taken root in me. But with the next moment there they were, pulling close up. I shut my eyes for a flash with some kind of a prayer that was most like an imprecation, and when I looked again they had dashed over and dashed over, taking the rise of the long roll, and were in the midst of the South Breaker. O God! that terrible South Breaker! The oars bent lithe as willow-switches, a moment they skimmed on the caps, a moment were hid in the snow of the spray. Dan, red-shirted, still stood there, his whole soul on the aim before him, like that of some leaper flying through the air; he swayed to the stroke, he bowed, he rose, perfectly balanced, and flexile as the wave. The boat behaved beneath their hands like a live creature: she bounded so that you almost saw the light under her; her whole steal lifted itself slowly out of the water, caught the back of a roller and rode over upon the next; the very things that came rushing in with their white rage to devour her bent their necks and bore her up like a bubble. Constantly she drew nearer that dark and shattered heap up to which the fierce surf raced, and over which it leaped. And there all the time, all the time, they had been clinging, far out on the bowsprit, those two figures, her arms close-knit about him, he clasping her with one, the other twisted in the hawser, whose harsh thrilling must have filled their ears like an organ-note as it swung them to and fro,—clinging to life,—clinging to each other more than to life. The wreck scarcely heaved with the stoutest blow of the tremendous surge; here and there, only, a plank shivered off and was bowled on and thrown high upon the beach beside fragments of beams broken and bruised to a powder; it seemed to be as firmly planted there as the breaker itself. Great feathers of foam flew across it, great waves shook themselves thin around it and veiled it in shrouds, and with their every breath the smothering sheets dashed over them,—the two. And constantly the boat drew nearer, as I said; they were almost within hail; Dan saw her hair streaming on the wind; he waited only for the long wave. On it came, that long wave,—oh! I can see it now!—plunging and rearing and swelling, a monstrous billow, sweeping and swooning and rocking in. Its hollows gaped with slippery darkness, it towered and sent the scuds before its trembling crest, breaking with a mighty rainbow as the sun burst forth, it fell in a white blindness everywhere, rushed seething up the sand,—and the bowsprit was bare!——
When father came home, the rack had driven down the harbor and left clear sky; it was near nightfall; they'd been searching the shore all day,—to no purpose. But that rainbow,—I always took it for a sign. Father was worn out, yet he sat in the chimney-side, cutting off great quids and chewing and thinking and sighing. At last he went and wound up the clock,—it was the stroke of twelve,—and then he turned to me and said,—
"Dan sent you this, Georgie. He hailed a pilot-boat, and's gone to the Cape to join the fall fleet to the fish'ries; and he sent you this."
It was just a great hand-grip to make your nails purple, but there was heart's-blood in it. See, there's the mark to-day.
So there was Dan off in the Bay of Chaleur. It was the best place for him. And I went about my work once more. There was a great gap in my life, but I tried not to look at it. I durstn't think of Dan, and I wouldn't think of them,—the two. Always in such times it's as if a breath had come and blown across the pool and you could see down its dark depths and into the very bottom, but time scums it all over again. And I tell you it's best to look trouble in the face: if you don't, you'll have more of it. So I got a lot of shoes to bind, and what part of my spare time I wa'n't at my books the needle flew. But I turned no more to the past than I could help, and the future trembled too much to be seen.
Well, the two months dragged away, it got to be Thanksgiving-week, and at length the fleet was due. I mind me I made a great baking that week; and I put brandy into the mince for once, instead of vinegar and dried-apple juice,—and there were the fowls stuffed and trussed on the shelf,—and the pumpkin-pies like slices of split gold,—and the cranberry-tarts, plats of crimson and puffs of snow,—and I was brewing in my mind a right-royal red Indian-pudding to come out of the oven smoking hot and be soused with thick clots of yellow cream,—when one of the boys ran in and told us the fleet'd got back, but no Dan with it, —he'd changed over to a fore-and-after, and wouldn't be home at all, but was to stay down in the Georges all winter, and he'd sent us word. Well, the baking went to the dogs, or the Thanksgiving beggars, which is the same thing.
Then days went by, as days will, and it was well into the New Year. I used to sit there at the window, reading,—but the lines would run together, and I'd forget what 'twas all about, and gather no sense, and the image of the little fore-and-after, the "Feather," raked in between the leaves, and at last I had to put all that aside; and then I sat stitching, stitching, but got into a sad habit of looking up and looking out each time I drew the thread. I felt it was a shame of me to be so glum, and mother missed my voice; but I could no more talk than I could have given conundrums to King Solomon, and as for singing—Oh, I used to long so for just a word from Dan!
We'd had dry fine weeks all along, and father said he'd known we should have just such a season, because the goose's breast-bone was so white; but St. Valentine's day the weather broke, broke in a chain of storms that the September gale was a whisper to. Ah, it was a dreadful winter, that! You've surely heard of it. It made forty widows in our town. Of the dead that were found on Prince Edward's Island's shores there were four corpses in the next house yonder, and two in the one behind. And what waiting and watching and cruel pangs of suspense for them that couldn't have even the peace of certainty! And I was one of those.
The days crept on, I say, and got bright again; no June days ever stretched themselves to half such length; there was perfect stillness in the house,—it seemed to me that I counted every tick of the clock. In the evenings the neighbors used to drop in and sit mumbling over their fearful memories till the flesh crawled on my bones. Father, then, he wanted cheer, and he'd get me to singing "Caller Herrin'." Once, I'd sung the first part, but as I reached the lines,—
"When ye were sleepin' on your pillows, Dreamt ye aught o' our puir fellows Darklin' as they face the billows, A' to fill our woven willows,"—
as I reached those lines, my voice trembled so's to shake the tears out of my eyes, and Jim Jerdan took it up himself and sung it through for me to words of his own invention. He was always a kindly fellow, and he knew a little how the land lay between me and Dan.
"When I was down in the Georges," said Jim Jerdan——
"You? When was you down there?" asked father.
"Well,—once I was. There's worse places."
"Can't tell me nothing about the Georges," said father. "'Ta'n't the rivers of Damascus exactly, but 'ta'n't the Marlstrom neither."
"Ever ben there, Cap'n?"
"A few. Spent more nights under cover roundabouts than Georgie'll have white hairs in her head,—for all she's washing the color out of her eyes now."
You see, father knew I set by my hair,—for in those days I rolled it thick as a cable, almost as long, black as that cat's back,—and he thought he'd touch me up a little.
"Wash the red from her cheek and the light from her look, and she'll still have the queen's own tread," said Jim.
"If Loisy Currier'd heern that, you'd wish your cake was dough," says father.
"I'll resk it," says Jim. "Loisy knows who's second choice, as well as if you told her."
"But what about the Georges, Jim?" I asked; for though I hated to hear, I could listen to nothing else.
"Georges? Oh, not much. Just like any other place."
"But what do you do down there?"
"Do? Why, we fish,—in the pleasant weather."
"And when it's not pleasant?"
"Oh, then we make things taut, hoist fores'l, clap the hellum into the lee becket, and go below and amuse ourselves."
"How?" I asked, as if I hadn't heard it all a hundred times.
"One way 'n' another. Pipes, and mugs, and poker, if it a'n't too rough; and if it is, we just bunk and snooze till it gets smooth."
"Why, Jim,—how do you know when that is?"
"Well, you can jedge,—'f the pipe falls out of your pocket and don't light on the ceiling."
"And who's on deck?"
"There's no one on deck. There's no danger, no trouble, no nothing. Can't drive ashore, if you was to try: hundred miles off, in the first place. Hatches are closed, she's light as a cork, rolls over and over just like any other log in the water, and there can't a drop get into her, if she turns bottom-side up."
"But she never can right herself!"
"Can't she? You just try her. Why, I've known 'em to keel over and rake bottom and bring up the weed on the topmast. I tell you now! there was one time we knowed she'd turned a somerset, pretty well. Why? Because, when it cleared and we come up, there was her two masts broke short off!"
And Jim went home thinking he'd given me a night's sleep. But it was cold comfort; the Georges seemed to me a worse place than the Hellgate. And mother she kept murmuring,—"He layeth the beams of His chambers in the waters, His pavilion round about Him is dark waters and thick clouds of the skies." And I knew by that she thought it pretty bad.
So the days went in cloud and wind. The owners of the Feather 'd been looking for her a month and more, and there were strange kind of rumors afloat; and nobody mentioned Dan's name, unless they tripped. I went glowering like a wild thing. I knew I'd never see Dan now nor hear his voice again, but I hated the Lord that had done it, and I made my heart like the nether millstone. I used to try and get out of folks's sight; and roaming about the back-streets one day, as the snow went off, I stumbled on Miss Catharine. "Old Miss Catharine" everybody called her, though she was but a pauper, and had black blood in her veins. Eighty years had withered her,—a little woman at best, and now bent so that her head and shoulders hung forward and she couldn't lift them, and she never saw the sky. Her face to the ground as no beast's face is turned even, she walked with a cane, and fixing it every few steps she would throw herself back, and so get a glimpse of her way and go on. I looked after her, and for the first time in weeks my heart ached for somebody beside myself. The next day mother sent me with a dish to Miss Catharine's room, and I went in and sat down. I didn't like her at first; she'd got a way of looking sidelong that gave her an evil air; but soon she tilted herself backward, and I saw her face,—such a happy one!
"What's the matter of ye, honey?" said she. "D'ye read your Bible?"
Read my Bible!
"Is that what makes you happy, Miss Catharine?" I asked.
"Well, I can't read much myself, I don't know the letters," says she; "but I've got the blessed promises in my heart."
"Do you want me to read to you?"
"No, not to-day. Next time you come, maybe."
So I sat awhile and listened to her little humming voice, and we fell to talking about mother's ailments, and she said how fine it would be, if we could only afford to take mother to Bethesda.
"There's no angel there now," said I.
"I know it, dear,—but then there might be, you know. At any rate, there's always the living waters running to make us whole: I often think of that."
"And what else do you think of, Miss Catharine?"
"Me?" said she. "Oh, I ha'n't got no husband nor no child to think about and hope for, and so I think of myself, and what I should like, honey. And sometimes I remember them varses,—here! you read 'em now,—Luke xiii. 11."
So I read:—
"And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, 'Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.' And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God."
"Ay, honey, I see that all as if it was me. And I think, as I'm setting here, What if the latch should lift, and the gracious stranger should come in, His gown a-sweepin' behind Him and a-sweet'nin' the air, and He should look down on me with His heavenly eyes, and He should smile, and lay His hands on my head, warm?—and I say to myself, 'Lord, I am not worthy,'—and He says, 'Miss Catharine, thou art loosed from thine infirmity!' And the latch lifts, as I think, and I wait,—but it's not Him."
Well, when I went out of that place I wasn't the same girl that had gone in. My will gave way; I came home and took up my burden and was in peace. Still I couldn't help my thoughts,—and they ran perpetually to the sea. I hadn't need to go up on the house-tops, for I didn't shut my eyes but there it stretched before me. I stirred about the rooms and tried to make them glad once more; but I was thin and blanched as if I'd been rising from a fever. Father said it was the salt air I wanted; and one day he was going out for frost-fish, and he took me with him, and left me and my basket on the sands while he was away. It was this side of the South Breaker that he put me out, but I walked there; and where the surf was breaking in the light, I went and sat down and looked over it. I could do that now.
There was the Cape sparkling miles and miles across the way, unconcerned that he whose firm foot had rung last on its flints should ring there no more; there was the beautiful town lying large and warm along the river; here gay craft went darting about like gulls, and there up the channel sped a larger one, with all her canvas flashing in the sun, and shivering a little spritsail in the shadow, as she went; and fawning in upon my feet came the foam from the South Breaker, that still perhaps cradled Faith and Gabriel. But as I looked, my eye fell, and there came the sea-scenes again,—other scenes than this, coves and corners of other coasts, sky-girt regions of other waters. The air was soft, that April day, and I thought of the summer calms; and with that rose long sheets of stillness, far out from any strand, purple beneath the noon; fields slipping close in-shore, emerald-backed and scaled with sunshine; long sleepy swells that hid the light in their hollows, and came creaming along the cliffs. And if upon these broke suddenly a wild glimpse of some storm careering over a merciless mid-ocean, of a dear dead face tossing up on the surge and snatched back again into the depths, of mad wastes rushing to tear themselves to fleece above clear shallows and turbid sand-bars,—they melted and were lost in peaceful glimmers of the moon on distant flying foam-wreaths, in solemn midnight tides chanting in under hushed heavens, in twilight stretches kissing twilight slopes, in rosy morning waves flocking up the singing shores. And sitting so, with my lids still fallen, I heard a quick step on the beach, and a voice that said, "Georgie!" And I looked, and a figure, red-shirted, towered beside me, and a face, brown and bearded and tender, bent above me.
Oh! it was Dan!
THE SAM ADAMS REGIMENTS IN THE TOWN OF BOSTON.[A]
[Footnote A: This monograph, has been prepared almost entirely from original authorities. Citations will be found in it from letters written by General Gage, Governor Bernard, John Pownall, Lord Barrington, and Lord Hillsborough, which have not been heretofore printed or used. They are from the rich historical collections of JARED SPARKS,—who has liberally permitted the writer to use original papers as freely as though they were his own. Among other sources from which the narrative has been drawn is an unfinished Life of Samuel Adams, in manuscript, by Samuel Adams Wells, for the liberal use of which, and for other papers, the writer is indebted to GEORGE BANCROFT. The materials have been mostly taken, however, from a compilation which the writer has had for several years in manuscript, entitled, "The Life and Times of Joseph Warren."]
As John Adams, in the evening of his life, and in the retirement of Quincy, looked back on the scenes through which he had passed, he dwelt on the removal of the British troops from Boston in the month of March, 1770, as an event that profoundly stirred the public mind, and thus contributed to promote that radical change in affections and principles on the paramount subject of sovereignty, which he regarded as constituting the real American Revolution.
The more this chapter of history is examined, the more there will be found in it to justify the judgment of the venerable patriot. It is fragrant with the political aroma of the time; and the event seems worthy to stand out in the American Revolution, like the Arrest of the Five Members in the English Revolution. It is identified with a great principle. It formed the crisis of an issue of the deepest moment. It culminated in the triumph of the people when roused by passion and high resolve to heroic manhood. The trial-scene was on so important a stage, was so richly dramatic, had actors of such dignity of character, and was so instinct with the national life, as "to deserve to be painted as much as the Surrender of Burgoyne." It was the moment when Samuel Adams, in the name of a resolute people, made the demand, as an ultimatum, for an immediate removal of the troops. The close connection of this patriot with the whole transaction led Lord North, ever after, to call these troops by the title of "Sam Adams's Two Regiments."
The story of the introduction of these troops into Boston, also, is rich in matter illustrative of the springs of political action. The narrative soon shows that it relates to far more than an ordinary transfer of a military force from one station to another. Such transfers are not preceded by long hesitation in cabinets, or by long torture of peaceful communities in expectation of their arrival. Yet such was the preface to the landing of this force in Boston. It was sent on an uncommon service,—a service insulting to a loyal people; and though this people had hailed the flag that waved over it with enthusiasm from the fields of Louisburg and Quebec, they now looked upon it with sorrowing eyes as the symbol of arbitrary power.
These troops were ordered to Boston at an interesting period of the American struggle. The movement against the Stamp Act, noble as it was in the main, had phases that were deeply deplored by reflecting patriots. Such were the riots, attended by destruction of property and personal outrage, which, though common in England, were violative of that reverence for law that was thoroughly ingrained in the American character; and they were, besides, rather in the spirit of hasty and irregular insurrection than of the slow and majestic development of revolution. "We are not able in this way," wrote Jonathan Mayhew, "to contend against Great Britain."