"Play I'm your father, girls, and remember it will be six months before 'that John' will trouble you again."
With which preface the young man kissed his former playfellows as heartily as the boy had been wont to do, when stern parents banished him to distant schools, and three little maids bemoaned his fate. But times were changed now; for Di grew alarmingly rigid during the ceremony; Laura received the salute like a grateful queen; and Nan returned it with heart and eyes and tender lips, making such an improvement on the childish fashion of the thing, that John was moved to support his paternal character by softly echoing her father's words,—"Take care of yourself, my little 'Martha.'"
Then they all streamed after him along the garden-path, with the endless messages and warnings girls are so prone to give; and the young man, with a great softness at his heart, went away, as many another John has gone, feeling better for the companionship of innocent maidenhood, and stronger to wrestle with temptation, to wait and hope and work.
"Let's throw a shoe after him for luck, as dear old 'Mrs. Gummage' did after 'David' and the 'willin' Barkis!' Quick, Nan! you always have old shoes on; toss one, and shout, 'Good luck!'" cried Di, with one of her eccentric inspirations.
Nan tore off her shoe, and threw it far along the dusty road, with a sudden longing to become that auspicious article of apparel, that the omen might not fail.
Looking backward from the hill-top, John answered the meek shout cheerily, and took in the group with a lingering glance: Laura in the shadow of the elms, Di perched on the fence, and Nan leaning far over the gate with her hand above her eyes and the sunshine touching her brown hair with gold. He waved his hat and turned away; but the music seemed to die out of the blackbird's song, and in all the summer landscape his eye saw nothing but the little figure at the gate.
"Bless and save us! here's a flock of people coming; my hair is in a toss, and Nan's without her shoe; run! fly, girls! or the Philistines will be upon us!" cried Di, tumbling off her perch in sudden alarm.
Three agitated young ladies, with flying draperies and countenances of mingled mirth and dismay, might have been seen precipitating themselves into a respectable mansion with unbecoming haste; but the squirrels were the only witnesses of this "vision of sudden flight," and, being used to ground-and-lofty tumbling, didn't mind it.
When the pedestrians passed, the door was decorously closed, and no one visible but a young man, who snatched something out of the road, and marched away again, whistling with more vigor of tone than accuracy of tune, "Only that, and nothing more."
* * * * *
HOW IT WAS FOUND.
Summer ripened into autumn, and something fairer than
"Sweet-peas and mignonette In Annie's garden grew."
Her nature was the counterpart of the hill-side grove, where as a child she had read her fairy tales, and now as a woman turned the first pages of a more wondrous legend still. Lifted above the many-gabled roof, yet not cut off from the echo of human speech, the little grove seemed a green sanctuary, fringed about with violets, and full of summer melody and bloom. Gentle creatures haunted it, and there was none to make afraid; wood-pigeons cooed and crickets chirped their shrill roundelays, anemones and lady-ferns looked up from the moss that kissed the wanderer's feet. Warm airs were all afloat, full of vernal odors for the grateful sense, silvery birches shimmered like spirits of the wood, larches gave their green tassels to the wind, and pines made airy music sweet and solemn, as they stood looking heavenward through veils of summer sunshine or shrouds of wintry snow. Nan never felt alone now in this charmed wood; for when she came into its precincts, once so full of solitude, all things seemed to wear one shape, familiar eyes looked at her from the violets in the grass, familiar words sounded in the whisper of the leaves, and she grew conscious that an unseen influence filled the air with new delights, and touched earth and sky with a beauty never seen before. Slowly these May-flowers budded in her maiden heart, rosily they bloomed, and silently they waited till some lover of such lowly herbs should catch their fresh aroma, should brush away the fallen leaves, and lift them to the sun.
Though the eldest of the three, she had long been overtopped by the more aspiring maids. But though she meekly yielded the reins of government, whenever they chose to drive, they were soon restored to her again; for Di fell into literature, and Laura into love. Thus engrossed, these two forgot many duties which even blue-stockings and innamoratas are expected to perform, and slowly all the homely humdrum cares that housewives know became Nan's daily life, and she accepted it without a thought of discontent. Noiseless and cheerful as the sunshine, she went to and fro, doing the tasks that mothers do, but without a mother's sweet reward, holding fast the numberless slight threads that bind a household tenderly together, and making each day a beautiful success.
Di, being tired of running, riding, climbing, and boating, decided at last to let her body rest and put her equally active mind through what classical collegians term "a course of sprouts." Having undertaken to read and know everything, she devoted herself to the task with great energy, going from Sue to Swedenborg with perfect impartiality, and having different authors as children have sundry distempers, being fractious while they lasted, but all the better for them when once over. Carlyle appeared like scarlet-fever, and raged violently for a time; for, being anything but a "passive bucket," Di became prophetic with Mahomet, belligerent with Cromwell, and made the French Revolution a veritable Reign of Terror to her family. Goethe and Schiller alternated like fever and ague; Mephistopheles became her hero, Joan of Arc her model, and she turned her black eyes red over Egmont and Wallenstein. A mild attack of Emerson followed, during which she was lost in a fog, and her sisters rejoiced inwardly when she emerged informing them that
"The Sphinx was drowsy, Her wings were furled."
Poor Di was floundering slowly to her proper place; but she splashed up a good deal of foam by getting out of her depth, and rather exhausted herself by trying to drink the ocean dry.
Laura, after the "midsummer night's dream" that often comes to girls of seventeen, woke up to find that youth and love were no match for age and common sense. Philip had been flying about the world like a thistle-down for five-and-twenty years, generous-hearted, frank, and kind, but with never an idea of the serious side of life in his handsome head. Great, therefore, were the wrath and dismay of the enamored thistle-down, when the father of his love mildly objected to seeing her begin the world in a balloon with a very tender but very inexperienced aeronaut for a guide.
"Laura is too young to 'play house' yet, and you are too unstable to assume the part of lord and master, Philip. Go and prove that you have prudence, patience, energy, and enterprise, and I will give you my girl,—but not before. I must seem cruel, that I may be truly kind; believe this, and let a little pain lead you to great happiness, or show you where you would have made a bitter blunder."
The lovers listened, owned the truth of the old man's words, bewailed their fate, and—yielded,—Laura for love of her father, Philip for love of her. He went away to build a firm foundation for his castle in the air, and Laura retired into an invisible convent, where she cast off the world, and regarded her sympathizing sisters through a grate of superior knowledge and unsharable grief. Like a devout nun, she worshipped "St. Philip," and firmly believed in his miraculous powers. She fancied that her woes set her apart from common cares, and slowly fell into a dreamy state, professing no interest in any mundane matter, but the art that first attracted Philip. Crayons, bread-crusts, and gray paper became glorified in Laura's eyes; and her one pleasure was to sit pale and still before her easel, day after day, filling her portfolios with the faces he had once admired. Her sisters observed that every Bacchus, Piping Faun, or Dying Gladiator bore some likeness to a comely countenance that heathen god or hero never owned; and seeing this, they privately rejoiced that she had found such solace for her grief.
Mrs. Lord's keen eye had read a certain newly written page in her son's heart,—his first chapter of that romance, begun in Paradise, whose interest never flags, whose beauty never fades, whose end can never come till Love lies dead. With womanly skill she divined the secret, with motherly discretion she counselled patience, and her son accepted her advice, feeling, that, like many a healthful herb, its worth lay in its bitterness.
"Love like a man, John, not like a boy, and learn to know yourself before you take a woman's happiness into your keeping. You and Nan have known each other all your lives; yet, till this last visit, you never thought you loved her more than any other childish friend. It is too soon to say the words so often spoken hastily,—so hard to be recalled. Go back to your work, dear, for another year; think of Nan in the light of this new hope; compare her with comelier, gayer girls; and by absence prove the truth of your belief. Then, if distance only makes her dearer, if time only strengthens your affection, and no doubt of your own worthiness disturbs you, come back and offer her what any woman should be glad to take,—my boy's true heart."
John smiled at the motherly pride of her words, but answered with a wistful look.
"It seems very long to wait, mother. If I could just ask her for a word of hope, I could be very patient then."
"Ah, my dear, better bear one year of impatience now than a lifetime of regret hereafter. Nan is happy; why disturb her by a word which will bring the tender cares and troubles that come soon enough to such conscientious creatures as herself? If she loves you, time will prove it; therefore let the new affection spring and ripen as your early friendship has done, and it will be all the stronger for a summer's growth. Philip was rash, and has to bear his trial now, and Laura shares it with him. Be more generous, John; make your trial, bear your doubts alone, and give Nan the happiness without the pain. Promise me this, dear,—promise me to hope and wait."
The young man's eye kindled, and in his heart there rose a better chivalry, a truer valor, than any Di's knights had ever known.
"I'll try, mother," was all he said; but she was satisfied, for John seldom tried in vain.
"Oh, girls, how splendid you are! It does my heart good to see my handsome sisters in their best array," cried Nan, one mild October night, as she put the last touches to certain airy raiment fashioned by her own skilful hands, and then fell back to survey the grand effect.
Di and Laura were preparing to assist at an "event of the season," and Nan, with her own locks fallen on her shoulders, for want of sundry combs promoted to her sisters' heads, and her dress in unwonted disorder, for lack of the many pins extracted in exciting crises of the toilet, hovered like an affectionate bee about two very full-blown flowers.
"Laura looks like a cool Undine, with the ivy-wreaths in her shining hair; and Di has illuminated herself to such an extent with those scarlet leaves, that I don't know what great creature she resembles most," said Nan, beaming with sisterly admiration.
"Like Juno, Zenobia, and Cleopatra simmered into one, with a touch of Xantippe by way of spice. But, to my eye, the finest woman of the three is the dishevelled young person embracing the bed-post; for she stays at home herself, and gives her time and taste to making homely people fine,—which is a waste of good material, and an imposition on the public."
As Di spoke, both the fashion-plates looked affectionately at the gray-gowned figure; but, being works of art, they were obliged to nip their feelings in the bud, and reserve their caresses till they returned to common life.
"Put on your bonnet, and we'll leave you at Mrs. Lord's on our way. It will do you good, Nan; and perhaps there may be news from John," added Di, as she bore down upon the door like a man-of-war under full sail.
"Or from Philip," sighed Laura, with a wistful look.
Whereupon Nan persuaded herself that her strong inclination to sit down was owing to want of exercise, and the heaviness of her eyelids a freak of imagination; so, speedily smoothing her ruffled plumage, she ran down to tell her father of the new arrangement.
"Go, my dear, by all means. I shall be writing; and you will be lonely, if you stay. But I must see my girls; for I caught glimpses of certain surprising phantoms flitting by the door."
Nan led the way, and the two pyramids revolved before him with the rigidity of lay-figures, much to the good man's edification; for with his fatherly pleasure there was mingled much mild wonderment at the amplitude of array.
"Yes, I see my geese are really swans, though there is such a cloud between us that I feel a long way off, and hardly know them. But this little daughter is always available, always my 'cricket on the hearth.'"
As he spoke, her father drew Nan closer, kissed her tranquil face, and smiled content.
"Well, if ever I see picters, I see 'em now, and I declare to goodness it's as interestin' as play-actin', every bit. Miss Di, with all them boughs in her head, looks like the Queen of Sheby, when she went a-visitin' What's-his-name; and if Miss Laura a'n't as sweet as a lally-barster figger, I should like to know what is."
In her enthusiasm, Sally gambolled about the girls, flourishing her milk-pan like a modern Miriam about to sound her timbrel for excess of joy.
Laughing merrily, the two Mont Blancs bestowed themselves in the family ark, Nan hopped up beside Patrick, and Solon, roused from his lawful slumbers, morosely trundled them away. But, looking backward with a last "Good night!" Nan saw her father still standing at the door with smiling countenance, and the moonlight falling like a benediction on his silver hair.
"Betsey shall go up the hill with you, my dear, and here's a basket of eggs for your father. Give him my love, and be sure you let me know the next time he is poorly," Mrs. Lord said, when her guest rose to depart, after an hour of pleasant chat.
But Nan never got the gift; for, to her great dismay, her hostess dropped the basket with a crash, and flew across the room to meet a tall shape pausing in the shadow of the door. There was no need to ask who the new-comer was; for, even in his mother's arms, John looked over her shoulder with an eager nod to Nan, who stood among the ruins with never a sign of weariness in her face, nor the memory of a care at her heart,—for they all went out when John came in.
"Now tell us how and why and when you came. Take off your coat, my dear! And here are the old slippers. Why didn't you let us know you were coming so soon? How have you been? and what makes you so late to-night? Betsey, you needn't put on your bonnet. And—oh, my dear boy, have you been to supper yet?"
Mrs. Lord was a quiet soul, and her flood of questions was purred softly in her son's ear; for, being a woman, she must talk, and, being a mother, must pet the one delight of her life, and make a little festival when the lord of the manor came home. A whole drove of fatted calves were metaphorically killed, and a banquet appeared with speed.
John was not one of those romantic heroes who can go through three volumes of hairbreadth escapes without the faintest hint of that blessed institution, dinner; therefore, like "Lady Leatherbridge," he "partook copiously of everything," while the two women beamed over each mouthful with an interest that enhanced its flavor, and urged upon him cold meat and cheese, pickles and pie, as if dyspepsia and nightmare were among the lost arts.
Then he opened his budget of news and fed them.
"I was coming next month, according to custom; but Philip fell upon and so tempted me, that I was driven to sacrifice myself to the cause of friendship, and up we came to-night. He would not let me come here till we had seen your father, Nan; for the poor lad was pining for Laura, and hoped his good behavior for the past year would satisfy his judge and secure his recall. We had a fine talk with your father; and, upon my life, Phil seemed to have received the gift of tongues, for he made a most eloquent plea, which I've stored away for future use, I assure you. The dear old gentleman was very kind, told Phil he was satisfied with the success of his probation, that he should see Laura when he liked, and, if all went well, should receive his reward in the spring. It must be a delightful sensation to know you have made a fellow-creature as happy as those words made Phil to-night."
John paused, and looked musingly at the matronly tea-pot, as if he saw a wondrous future in its shine.
Nan twinkled off the drops that rose at the thought of Laura's joy, and said, with grateful warmth,—
"You say nothing of your own share in the making of that happiness, John; but we know it, for Philip has told Laura in his letters all that you have been to him, and I am sure there was other eloquence beside his own before father granted all you say he has. Oh, John, I thank you very much for this!"
Mrs. Lord beamed a whole midsummer of delight upon her son, as she saw the pleasure these words gave him, though he answered simply,—
"I only tried to be a brother to him, Nan; for he has been most kind to me. Yes, I said my little say to-night, and gave my testimony in behalf of the prisoner at the bar, a most merciful judge pronounced his sentence, and he rushed straight to Mrs. Leigh's to tell Laura the blissful news. Just imagine the scene when he appears, and how Di will open her wicked eyes and enjoy the spectacle of the dishevelled lover, the bride-elect's tears, the stir, and the romance of the thing. She'll cry over it to-night, and caricature it to-morrow."
And John led the laugh at the picture he had conjured up, to turn the thoughts of Di's dangerous sister from himself.
At ten Nan retired into the depths of her old bonnet with a far different face from the one she brought out of it, and John, resuming his hat, mounted guard.
"Don't stay late, remember, John!" And in Mrs. Lord's voice there was a warning tone that her son interpreted aright.
"I'll not forget, mother."
And he kept his word; for though Philip's happiness floated temptingly before him, and the little figure at his side had never seemed so dear, he ignored the bland winds, the tender night, and set a seal upon his lips, thinking manfully within himself, "I see many signs of promise in her happy face; but I will wait and hope a little longer for her sake."
"Where is father, Sally?" asked Nan, as that functionary appeared, blinking owlishly, but utterly repudiating the idea of sleep.
"He went down the garding, miss, when the gentlemen cleared, bein' a little flustered by the goin's on. Shall I fetch him in?" asked Sally, as irreverently as if her master were a bag of meal.
"No, we will go ourselves." And slowly the two paced down the leaf-strewn walk.
Fields of yellow grain were waving on the hill-side, and sere corn-blades rustled in the wind, from the orchard came the scent of ripening fruit, and all the garden-plots lay ready to yield up their humble offerings to their master's hand. But in the silence of the night a greater Reaper had passed by, gathering in the harvest of a righteous life, and leaving only tender memories for the gleaners who had come so late.
The old man sat in the shadow of the tree his own hands planted; its fruitful boughs shone ruddily, and its leaves still whispered the low lullaby that hushed him to his rest.
"How fast he sleeps! Poor father! I should have come before and made it pleasant for him."
As she spoke, Nan lifted up the head bent down upon his breast, and kissed his pallid cheek.
"Oh, John, this is not sleep!"
"Yes, dear, the happiest he will ever know."
For a moment the shadows flickered over three white faces and the silence deepened solemnly. Then John reverently bore the pale shape in, and Nan dropped down beside it, saying, with a rain of grateful tears,—
"He kissed me when I went, and said a last 'good night!'"
For an hour steps went to and fro about her, many voices whispered near her, and skilful hands touched the beloved clay she held so fast; but one by one the busy feet passed out, one by one the voices died away, and human skill proved vain. Then Mrs. Lord drew the orphan to the shelter of her arms, soothing her with the mute solace of that motherly embrace.
* * * * *
"Nan, Nan! here's Philip! come and see!"
The happy call reechoed through the house, and Nan sprang up as if her time for grief were past.
"I must tell them. Oh, my poor girls, how will they bear it?—they have known so little sorrow!"
But there was no need for her to speak; other lips had spared her the hard task. For, as she stirred to meet them, a sharp cry rent the air, steps rang upon the stairs, and two wild-eyed creatures came into the hush of that familiar room, for the first time meeting with no welcome from their father's voice.
With one impulse, Di and Laura fled to Nan, and the sisters clung together in a silent embrace, far more eloquent than words. John took his mother by the hand, and led her from the room, closing the door upon the sacredness of grief.
* * * * *
"Yes, we are poorer than we thought; but when everything is settled, we shall get on very well. We can let a part of this great house, and live quietly together until spring; then Laura will be married, and Di can go on their travels with them, as Philip wishes her to do. We shall be cared for; so never fear for us, John."
Nan said this, as her friend parted from her a week later, after the saddest holiday he had ever known.
"And what becomes of you, Nan?" he asked, watching the patient eyes that smiled when others would have wept.
"I shall stay in the dear old house; for no other place would seem like home to me. I shall find some little child to love and care for, and be quite happy till the girls come back and want me."
John nodded wisely, as he listened, and went away prophesying within himself,—
"She shall find something more than a child to love; and, God willing, shall be very happy till the girls come home and—cannot have her."
Nan's plan was carried into effect. Slowly the divided waters closed again, and the three fell back into their old life. But the touch of sorrow drew them closer; and, though invisible, a beloved presence still moved among them, a familiar voice still spoke to them in the silence of their softened hearts. Thus the soil was made ready, and in the depth of winter the good seed was sown, was watered with many tears, and soon sprang up green with the promise of a harvest for their after years.
Di and Laura consoled themselves with their favorite employments, unconscious that Nan was growing paler, thinner, and more silent, as the weeks went by, till one day she dropped quietly before them, and it suddenly became manifest that she was utterly worn out with many cares and the secret suffering of a tender heart bereft of the paternal love which had been its strength and stay.
"I'm only tired, dear girls. Don't be troubled, for I shall be up to-morrow," she said cheerily, as she looked into the anxious faces bending over her.
But the weariness was of many months' growth, and it was weeks before that "tomorrow" came.
Laura installed herself as nurse, and her devotion was repaid four-fold; for, sitting at her sister's bedside, she learned a finer art than that she had left. Her eye grew clear to see the beauty of a self-denying life, and in the depths of Nan's meek nature she found the strong, sweet virtues that made her what she was.
Then remembering that these womanly attributes were a bride's best dowry, Laura gave herself to their attainment, that she might become to another household the blessing Nan had been to her own; and turning from the worship of the goddess Beauty, she gave her hand to that humbler and more human teacher, Duty,—learning her lessons with a willing heart, for Philip's sake.
Di corked her inkstand, locked her bookcase, and went at housework as if it were a five-barred gate; of course she missed the leap, but scrambled bravely through, and appeared much sobered by the exercise. Sally had departed to sit under a vine and fig-tree of her own, so Di had undisputed sway; but if dish-pans and dusters had tongues, direful would have been the history of that crusade against frost and fire, indolence and inexperience. But they were dumb, and Di scorned to complain, though her struggles were pathetic to behold, and her sisters went through a series of messes equal to a course of "Prince Benreddin's" peppery tarts. Reality turned Romance out of doors; for, unlike her favorite heroines in satin and tears, or helmet and shield, Di met her fate in a big checked apron and dust-cap, wonderful to see; yet she wielded her broom as stoutly as "Moll Pitcher" shouldered her gun, and marched to her daily martyrdom in the kitchen with as heroic a heart as the "Maid of Orleans" took to her stake.
Mind won the victory over matter in the end, and Di was better all her days for the tribulations and the triumphs of that time; for she drowned her idle fancies in her wash-tub, made burnt-offerings of selfishness and pride, and learned the worth of self-denial, as she sang with happy voice among the pots and kettles of her conquered realm.
Nan thought of John, and in the stillness of her sleepless nights prayed Heaven to keep him safe, and make her worthy to receive and strong enough to bear the blessedness or pain of love.
Snow fell without, and keen winds howled among the leafless elms, but "herbs of grace" were blooming beautifully in the sunshine of sincere endeavor, and this dreariest season proved the most fruitful of the year; for love taught Laura, labor chastened Di, and patience fitted Nan for the blessing of her life.
Nature, that stillest, yet most diligent of housewives, began at last that "spring-cleaning" which she makes so pleasant that none find the heart to grumble as they do when other matrons set their premises a-dust. Her handmaids, wind and rain and sun, swept, washed, and garnished busily, green carpets were unrolled, apple-boughs were hung with draperies of bloom, and dandelions, pet nurslings of the year, came out to play upon the sward.
From the South returned that opera troupe whose manager is never in despair, whose tenor never sulks, whose prima donna never fails, and in the orchard bona fide matinees were held, to which buttercups and clovers crowded in their prettiest spring hats, and verdant young blades twinkled their dewy lorgnettes, as they bowed and made way for the floral belles.
May was bidding June good-morrow, and the roses were just dreaming that it was almost time to wake, when John came again into the quiet room which now seemed the Eden that contained his Eve. Of course there was a jubilee; but something seemed to have befallen the whole group, for never had they all appeared in such odd frames of mind. John was restless, and wore an excited look, most unlike his usual serenity of aspect.
Nan the cheerful had fallen into a well of silence and was not to be extracted by any hydraulic power, though she smiled like the June sky over her head. Di's peculiarities were out in full force, and she looked as if she would go off like a torpedo, at a touch; but through all her moods there was a half-triumphant, half-remorseful expression in the glance she fixed on John. And Laura, once so silent, now sang like a blackbird, as she flitted to and fro; but her fitful song was always, "Philip, my king."
John felt that there had come a change upon the three, and silently divined whose unconscious influence had wrought the miracle. The embargo was off his tongue, and he was in a fever to ask that question which brings a flutter to the stoutest heart; but though the "man" had come, the "hour" had not. So, by way of steadying his nerves, he paced the room, pausing often to take notes of his companions, and each pause seemed to increase his wonder and content.
He looked at Nan. She was in her usual place, the rigid little chair she loved, because it once was large enough to hold a curly-headed playmate and herself. The old work-basket was at her side, and the battered thimble busily at work; but her lips wore a smile they had never worn before, the color of the unblown roses touched her cheek, and her downcast eyes were full of light.
He looked at Di. The inevitable book was on her knee, but its leaves were uncut; the strong-minded knob of hair still asserted its supremacy aloft upon her head, and the triangular jacket still adorned her shoulders in defiance of all fashions, past, present, or to come; but the expression of her brown countenance had grown softer, her tongue had found a curb, and in her hand lay a card with "Potts, Kettel, & Co." inscribed thereon, which she regarded with never a scornful word for the "Co."
He looked at Laura. She was before her easel, as of old; but the pale nun had given place to a blooming girl, who sang at her work, which was no prim Pallas, but a Clytie turning her human face to meet the sun.
"John, what are you thinking of?"
He stirred as if Di's voice had disturbed his fancy at some pleasant pastime, but answered with his usual sincerity,—
"I was thinking of a certain dear old fairy tale called 'Cinderella.'"
"Oh!" said Di; and her "Oh" was a most impressive monosyllable. "I see the meaning of your smile now; and though the application of the story is not very complimentary to all parties concerned, it is very just and very true."
She paused a moment, then went on with softened voice and earnest mien:—
"You think I am a blind and selfish creature. So I am, but not so blind and selfish as I have been; for many tears have cleared my eyes, and much sincere regret has made me humbler than I was. I have found a better book than any father's library can give me, and I have read it with a love and admiration that grew stronger as I turned the leaves. Henceforth I take it for my guide and gospel, and, looking back upon the selfish and neglectful past, can only say, Heaven bless your dear heart, Nan!"
Laura echoed Di's last words; for, with eyes as full of tenderness, she looked down upon the sister she had lately learned to know, saying, warmly,—
"Yes, 'Heaven bless your dear heart, Nan!' I never can forget all you have been to me; and when I am far away with Philip, there will always be one countenance more beautiful to me than any pictured face I may discover, there will be one place more dear to me than Rome. The face will be yours, Nan,—always so patient, always so serene; and the dearer place will be this home of ours, which you have made so pleasant to me all these years by kindnesses as numberless and noiseless as the drops of dew."
"Dear girls, what have I ever done, that you should love me so?" cried Nan, with happy wonderment, as the tall heads, black and golden, bent to meet the lowly brown one, and her sisters' mute lips answered her.
Then Laura looked up, saying, playfully,—
"Here are the good and wicked sisters;—where shall we find the Prince?"
"There!" cried Di, pointing to John; and then her secret went off like a rocket; for, with her old impetuosity, she said,—
"I have found you out, John, and am ashamed to look you in the face, remembering the past. Girls, you know, when father died, John sent us money, which he said Mr. Owen had long owed us and had paid at last? It was a kind lie, John, and a generous thing to do; for we needed it, but never would have taken it as a gift. I know you meant that we should never find this out; but yesterday I met Mr. Owen returning from the West, and when I thanked him for a piece of justice we had not expected of him, he gruffly told me he had never paid the debt, never meant to pay it, for it was outlawed, and we could not claim a farthing. John, I have laughed at you, thought you stupid, treated you unkindly; but I know you now, and never shall forget the lesson you have taught me. I am proud as Lucifer, but I ask you to forgive me, and I seal my real repentance so—and so."
With tragic countenance, Di rushed across the room, threw both arms about the astonished young man's neck and dropped an energetic kiss upon his cheek. There was a momentary silence; for Di finely illustrated her strong-minded theories by crying like the weakest of her sex. Laura, with "the ruling passion strong in death," still tried to draw, but broke her pet crayon, and endowed her Clytie with a supplementary orb, owing to the dimness of her own. And Nan sat with drooping eyes, that shone upon her work, thinking with tender pride,—
"They know him now, and love him for his generous heart."
Di spoke first, rallying to her colors, though a little daunted by her loss of self-control.
"Don't laugh, John,—I couldn't help it; and don't think I'm not sincere, for I am,—I am; and I will prove it by growing good enough to be your friend. That debt must all be paid, and I shall do it; for I'll turn my books and pen to some account, and write stories full of dear old souls like you and Nan; and some one, I know, will like and buy them, though they are not 'works of Shakspeare.' I've thought of this before, have felt I had the power in me; now I have the motive, and now I'll do it."
If Di had proposed to translate the Koran, or build a new Saint Paul's, there would have been many chances of success; for, once moved, her will, like a battering-ram, would knock down the obstacles her wits could not surmount. John believed in her most heartily, and showed it, as he answered, looking into her resolute face,—
"I know you will, and yet make us very proud of our 'Chaos,' Di. Let the money lie, and when you have made a fortune, I'll claim it with enormous interest; but, believe me, I feel already doubly repaid by the esteem so generously confessed, so cordially bestowed, and can only say, as we used to years ago,—'Now let's forgive and so forget.'"
But proud Di would not let him add to her obligation, even by returning her impetuous salute; she slipped away, and, shaking off the last drops, answered with a curious mixture of old freedom and new respect,—
"No more sentiment, please, John. We know each other now; and when I find a friend, I never let him go. We have smoked the pipe of peace; so let us go back to our wigwams and bury the feud. Where were we when I lost my head? and what were we talking about?"
"Cinderella and the Prince."
As he spoke, John's eye kindled, and, turning, he looked down at Nan, who sat diligently ornamenting with microscopic stitches a great patch going on, the wrong side out.
"Yes,—so we were; and now taking pussy for the godmother, the characters of the story are well personated,—all but the slipper," said Di, laughing, as she thought of the many times they had played it together years ago.
A sudden movement stirred John's frame, a sudden purpose shone in his countenance, and a sudden change befell his voice, as he said, producing from some hiding-place a little worn-out shoe,—
"I can supply the slipper;—who will try it first?"
Di's black eyes opened wide, as they fell on the familiar object; then her romance-loving nature saw the whole plot of that drama which needs but two to act it. A great delight flushed up into her face, as she promptly took her cue, saying,—
"No need for us to try it, Laura; for it wouldn't fit us, if our feet were as small as Chinese dolls';—our parts are played out; therefore 'Exeunt wicked sisters to the music of the wedding-bells.'" And pouncing upon the dismayed artist, she swept her out and closed the door with a triumphant bang.
John went to Nan, and, dropping on his knee as reverently as the herald of the fairy tale, he asked, still smiling, but with lips grown tremulous,—
"Will Cinderella try the little shoe, and—if it fits—go with the Prince?"
But Nan only covered up her face, weeping happy tears, while all the weary work strayed down upon the floor, as if it knew her holiday had come.
John drew the hidden face still closer, and while she listened to his eager words, Nan heard the beating of the strong man's heart, and knew it spoke the truth.
"Nan, I promised mother to be silent till I was sure I loved you wholly,—sure that the knowledge would give no pain when I should tell it, as I am trying to tell it now. This little shoe has been my comforter through this long year, and I have kept it as other lovers keep their fairer favors. It has been a talisman more eloquent to me than flower or ring; for, when I saw how worn it was, I always thought of the willing feet that came and went for others' comfort all day long; when I saw the little bow you tied, I always thought of the hands so diligent in serving any one who knew a want or felt a pain; and when I recalled the gentle creature who had worn it last, I always saw her patient, tender, and devout,—and tried to grow more worthy of her, that I might one day dare to ask if she would walk beside me all my life and be my 'angel in the house.' Will you, dear? Believe me, you shall never know a weariness or grief I have the power to shield you from."
Then Nan, as simple in her love as in her life, laid her arms about his neck, her happy face against his own, and answered softly,—
"Oh, John, I never can be sad or tired any more!"
* * * * *
THE OLD DAYS AND THE NEW.
A poet came singing along the vale,— "Ah, well-a-day for the dear old days! They come no more as they did of yore By the flowing river of Aise."
He piped through the meadow, he piped through the grove,— "Ah, well-a-day for the good old days! They have all gone by, and I sit and sigh By the flowing river of Aise.
"Knights and ladies and shields and swords,— Ah, well-a-day for the grand old days! Castles and moats, and the bright steel coats, By the flowing river of Aise.
"The lances are shivered, the helmets rust,— Ah, well-a-day for the stern old days! And the clarion's blast has rung its last, By the flowing river of Aise.
"And the warriors that swept to glory and death,— Ah, well-a-day for the brave old days! They have fought and gone, and I sit here alone By the flowing river of Aise.
"The strength of limb and the mettle of heart,— Ah, well-a-day for the strong old days! They have withered away, mere butterflies' play, By the flowing river of Aise.
"The queens of beauty, whose smile was life,— Ah, well-a-day for the rare old days! With love and despair in their golden hair, By the flowing river of Aise.
"They have flitted away from hall and bower,— Ah, well-a-day for the rich old days! Like the sun they shone, like the sun they have gone, By the flowing river of Aise.
"And buried beneath the pall of the past,— Ah, well-a-day for the proud old days! Lie valor and worth and the beauty of earth, By the flowing river of Aise.
"And I sit and sigh by the idle stream,— Ah, well-a-day for the bright old days! For nothing remains for the poet's strains But the flowing river of Aise."
Then a voice rang out from the oak overhead,— "Why well-a-day for the old, old days? The world is the same, if the bard has an aim, By the flowing river of Aise.
"There's beauty and love and truth and power,— Cease well-a-day for the old, old days! The humblest home is worth Greece and Rome, By the flowing river of Aise.
"There are themes enough for the poet's strains,— Leave well-a-day for the quaint old days! Take thine eyes from the ground, look up and around From the flowing river of Aise.
"To-day is as grand as the centuries past,— Leave well-a-day for the famed old days! There are battles to fight, there are troths to plight, By the flowing river of Aise.
"There are hearts as true to love, to strive,— No well-a-day for the dark old days! Go put into type the age that is ripe By the flowing river of Aise."
Then the merry Poet piped down the vale,— "Farewell, farewell to the dead old days! By day and by night there's music and light By the flowing river of Aise."
* * * * *
THE ICEBERG OF TORBAY.
Torbay, finely described in a recent novel by the Rev. R.T.S. Lowell, is an arm of the sea, a short strong arm with a slim hand and finger, reaching into the rocky land and touching the water-falls and rapids of a pretty brook. Here is a little village, with Romish and Protestant steeples, and the dwellings of fishermen, with the universal appendages of fishing-houses, boats, and "flakes." One seldom looks upon a hamlet so picturesque and wild. The rocks slope steeply down to the wonderfully clear water. Thousands of poles support half-acres of the spruce-bough shelf, beneath which is a dark, cool region, crossed with foot-paths, and not unfrequently sprinkled and washed by the surf,—a most kindly office on the part of the sea, you will allow, when once you have scented the fish-offal perpetually dropping from the evergreen fish-house above. These little buildings on the flakes are conspicuous features, and look as fresh and wild as if they had just wandered away from the woodlands.
There they stand, on the edge of the lofty pole-shelf, or upon the extreme end of that part of it which runs off frequently over the water like a wharf, an assemblage of huts and halls, bowers and arbors, a curious huddle made of poles and sweet-smelling branches and sheets of birch-bark. A kind of evening haunts these rooms of spruce at noonday, while at night a hanging lamp, like those we see in old pictures of crypts and dungeons, is to the stranger only a kind of buoy by which he is to steer his way through the darkness. To come off then without pitching headlong, and soiling your hands and coat, is the merest chance. Strange! one is continually allured into these piscatory bowers whenever he comes near them. In spite of the chilly, salt air, and the repulsive smells about the tables where they dress the fish, I have a fancy for these queer structures. Their front door opens upon the sea, and their steps are a mammoth ladder, leading down to the swells and the boats. There is a charm also about fine fishes, fresh from the net and the hook,—the salmon, for example, whose pink and yellow flesh has given a name to one of the most delicate hues of Art or Nature.
But where was the iceberg? We were not a little disappointed when all Torbay was before us, and nothing but dark water to be seen. To our surprise, no one had ever seen or heard of it. It must lie off Flat Rock Harbor, a little bay below, to the north. We agreed with the supposition that the berg must lie below, and made speedy preparations to pursue, by securing the only boat to be had in the village,—a substantial fishing-barge, laden rather heavily in the stern with at least a cord of cod-seine, but manned by six stalwart men, a motive power, as it turned out, none too large for the occasion. We embarked at the foot of a fish-house ladder, being carefully handed down by the kind-hearted men, and took our seats forward on the little bow-deck. All ready, they pulled away at their long, ponderous oars with the skill and deliberation of lifelong practice, and we moved out upon the broad, glassy swells of the bay towards the open sea, not indeed with the rapidity of a Yankee club-boat, but with a most agreeable steadiness, and a speed happily fitted for a review of the shores, which, under the afternoon sun, were made brilliant with lights and shadows.
We were presently met by a breeze, which increased the swell, and made it easier to fail in close under the northern shore, a line of stupendous precipices, to which the ocean goes deep home. The ride beneath these mighty cliffs was by far the finest boat-ride of my life. While they do not equal the rocks of the Saguenay, yet, with all their appendages of extent, structure, complexion, and adjacent sea, they are sufficiently lofty to produce an almost appalling sense of sublimity. The surges lave them at a great height, sliding from angle to angle, and fretting into foam as they slip obliquely along the face of the vast walls. They descend as deeply as two hundred feet, and rise perpendicularly two, three, and four hundred feet from the water. Their stratifications are up and down, and of different shades of light and dark, a ribbed and striped appearance that increases the effect of height, and gives variety and spirit to the surface. At one point, where the rocks advance from the main front, and form a kind of headland, the strata, six and eight feet thick, assume the form of a pyramid,—from a broad base of a hundred yards or more running up to meet in a point. The heart of this vast cone has partly fallen out, and left the resemblance of an enormous tent with cavernous recesses and halls, in which the shades of evening were already lurking, and the surf was sounding mournfully. Occasionally it was musical, pealing forth like the low tones of a great organ with awful solemnity. Now and then, the gloomy silence of a minute was broken by the crash of a billow far within, when the reverberations were like the slamming of great doors.
After passing this grand specimen of the architecture of the sea, there appeared long rocky reaches like Egyptian temples,—old, dead cliffs of yellowish gray, checked off by lines and seams into squares, and having the resemblance, where they have fallen out into the ocean, of doors and windows opening in upon the fresher stone. Presently we came to a break, where there were grassy slopes and crags intermingled, and a flock of goats skipping about, or ruminating in the warm sunshine. A knot of kids—the reckless little creatures—were sporting along the edge of a precipice in a manner almost painful to witness. The pleasure of leaping from point to point, where a single misstep would have dropped them hundreds of feet, seemed to be in proportion to the danger. The sight of some women, who were after the goats, reminded the boatmen of an accident which occurred here only a few days before: a lad playing about the steep fell into the sea, and was drowned.
We were now close upon the point just behind which we expected to behold the iceberg. The surf was sweeping the black reef that flanked the small cape, in the finest style,—a beautiful dance of breakers of dazzling white and green. As every stroke of the oars shot us forward, and enlarged our view of the field in which the ice was reposing, our hearts fairly throbbed with an excitement of expectation. "There it is!" one exclaimed. An instant revealed the mistake. It was only the next headland in a fog, which unwelcome mist was now coming down upon us from the broad waters, and covering the very tract where the berg was expected to be seen. Farther and farther out the long, strong sweep of the great oars carried us, until the depth of the bay between us and the next headland was in full view. It may appear almost too trifling a matter over which to have had any feeling worth mentioning or remembering, but I shall not soon forget the disappointment, when from the deck of our barge, as it rose and sank on the large swells, we stood up and looked around and saw, that, if the iceberg, over which our very hearts had been beating with delight for twenty-four hours, was anywhere, it was somewhere in the depths of that untoward fog. It might as well have been in the depths of the ocean.
While the pale cloud slept there, there was nothing left for us but to wait patiently where we were, or retreat. We chose the latter. C. gave the word to pull for the settlement at the head of the little bay just mentioned, and so they rounded the breakers on the reef, and we turned away for the second time, when the game was fairly ours. Even the hardy fishermen, no lovers of "islands-of-ice," as they call them, felt for us, as they read in our looks the disappointment, not to say a little vexation. While on our passage in, we filled a half-hour with questions and discussions about that iceberg.
"We certainly saw it yesterday evening; and a soldier of Signal Hill told us that it had been close in at Torbay for several days. And you, my man there, say that you had a glimpse of it last evening. How happens it to be away just now? Where do you think it is?"
"Indeed, Sir, he must be out in the fog, a mile or over. De'il a bit can a man look after a thing in a fog, more nor into a snow-bank. Maybe, Sir, he's foundered; or he might be gone off to sea, altogether, as they sometimes do."
"Well, this is rather remarkable. Huge as these bergs are, they escape very easily under their old cover. No sooner do we think we have them, than they are gone. No jackal was ever more faithful to his lion, no pilot-fish to his shark, than the fog to its berg. We will run in yonder and inquire about it. We may get the exact bearing, and reach it yet, even in the fog."
The wind and sea being in our favor, we soon reached a fishery-ladder, which we now knew very well how to climb, and wound our "dim and perilous way" through the evergreen labyrinth of fish bowers, emerging on the solid rock, and taking the path to the fisherman's house. Here lives and works and wears himself out William Waterland, a deep-voiced, broad-chested, round-shouldered man, dressed, not in cloth of gold, but of oil, with the foxy remnant of a last winter's fur cap clinging to his large, bony head, a little in the style of a piece of turf to a stone. You seldom look into a more kindly, patient face, or into an eye that more directly lets up the light out of a large, warm heart. His countenance is one sober shadow of honest brown, occasionally lighted by a true and guileless smile. William Waterland has seen the "island-of-ice." "It lies off there, two miles or more, grounded on a bank, in forty fathoms water."
It was nearly six o'clock; and yet, as there were signs of the fog clearing away, we thought it prudent to wait. A dull, long hour passed by, and still the sun was high in the northwest. That heavy cod-seine, a hundred fathoms long, sank the stern of our barge rather deeply, and made it row heavily. For all that, there was time enough yet, if we could only use it. The fog still came in masses from the sea, sweeping across the promontory between us and Torbay, and fading into air nearly as soon as it was over the land. In the mean time, we sat upon the rocks, upon the wood-pile, stood around and talked, looked out into the endless mist, looked at the fishermen's houses, their children, their fowls and dogs. A couple of young women, that might have been teachers of the village school, had there been a school, belles of the place, rather neatly dressed, and with hair nicely combed, tripped shyly by, each with an arm about the other's waist, and very merry until abreast of us, when they were as silent and downcast as if they had been passing by their sovereign queen or the Great Mogul. Their curiosity and timidity combined were quite amusing. We speculated upon the astonishment that would have seized upon their simple, innocent hearts, had they beheld, instead of us, a bevy of our city fashionables in full bloom.
At length we accepted an invitation to walk into the house, and sat, not under the good man's roof, but under his chimney, a species of large funnel, into which nearly one end of the house resolved itself. Here we sat upon some box-like benches before a wood fire, and warmed ourselves, chatting with the family. While we were making ourselves comfortable and agreeable, we made the novel and rather funny discovery of a hen sitting on her nest just under the bench, with her red comb at our fingers' ends. A large griddle hung suspended in the more smoky regions of the chimney, ready to be lowered for the baking of cakes or frying fish. Having tarred my hand, the fisherman's wife, kind woman, insisted upon washing it herself. After rubbing it with a little grease, she first scratched it with her finger-nail, and then finished with soap and water and a good wiping with a coarse towel. I begged that she would spare herself the trouble, and allow me to help myself. But it was no trouble at all for her, and the greatest pleasure. And what should I know about washing off tar? They were members of the Church of England, and seemed pleased when they found that I was a clergyman of the Episcopal Church. They had a pastor who visited them and others in the village occasionally, and held divine service on Sunday at Torbay, where they attended, going in boats in summer, and over the hills on snow-shoes in the winter. The woman told me, in an undertone, that the family relations were not all agreed in their religious faith, and that they could not stop there any longer, but had gone to "America," which they liked much better. It was a hard country, any way, no matter whether one were Protestant or Papist. Three months were all their summer, and nearly all their time for getting ready for the long, cold winter. To be sure, they had codfish and potatoes, flour and butter, tea and sugar; but then it took a deal of hard work to make ends meet. The winter was not as cold as we thought, perhaps; but then it was so long and snowy! The snow lay five, six, and seven feet deep. Wood was a great trouble. There was a plenty of it, but they could not keep cattle or horses to draw it home. Dogs were their only teams, and they could fetch but small loads at a time. In the mean while, a chubby little boy, with cheeks like a red apple, had ventured from behind his young mother, where he had kept dodging as she moved about the house, and edged himself up near enough to be patted on the head, and rewarded for his little liberties with a half-dime.
The sunshine was now streaming in at a bit of a window, and I went out to see what prospect of success. C., who had left some little time before, was nowhere to be seen. The fog seemed to be in sufficient motion to disclose the berg down some of the avenues of clear air that were opened occasionally. They all ended, however, with fog instead of ice. I made it convenient to walk to the boat, and pocket a few cakes, brought along as a kind of scattering lunch. C. was descried, at length, climbing the broad, rocky ridge, the eastern point of which we had doubled on our passage from Torbay. Making haste up the crags by a short cut, I joined him on the verge of the promontory pretty well heated and out of breath. The effort was richly rewarded. The mist was dispersing in the sunny air around us; the ocean was clearing off; the surge was breaking with a pleasant sound below. At the foot of the precipice were four or five whales, from thirty to fifty feet in length, apparently. We could have tossed a pebble upon them. At times abreast, and then in single file, or disorderly, round and round they went, now rising with a puff followed by a wisp of vapor, then plunging into the deep again. There was something in their large movements very imposing, and yet very graceless. There seemed to be no muscular effort, no exertion of any force from within, and no more flexibility in their motions than if they had been built of timber. They appeared to move very much as a wooden whale might be supposed to move down a mighty rapid, roiling and plunging and borne along irresistibly by the current. As they rose, we could see their mouths occasionally, and the lighter colors of the skin below. As they went under, their huge, black tails, great winged things not unlike the screw-wheel of a propeller, tipped up above the waves. Now and then one would give the water a good round slap, the noise of which smote sharply upon the ear, like the crack of a pistol in an alley. It was a novel sight to watch them in their play, or labor, rather; for they were feeding upon the caplin, pretty little fishes that swarm along these shores at this particular season. We could track them beneath the surface about as well as upon it. In the sunshine, and in contrast with the fog, the sea was a very dark blue or deep purple. Above the whales the water was green, a darker green as they descended, a lighter green as they came up. Large oval spots of changeable green water, moving silently and shadow-like along, in strong contrast with the surrounding dark, marked the places where the monsters were gliding below. When their broad, blackish backs were above the waves, there was frequently a ring or ruffle of snowy surf, formed by the breaking of the swell around the edges of the fish. The review of whales, the only review we had witnessed in Her Majesty's dominions, was, on the whole, an imposing spectacle. We turned from it to witness another of a more brilliant character.
To the north and east, the ocean, dark and sparkling, was, by the magic action of the wind, entirely clear of fog; and there, about two miles distant, stood revealed the iceberg in all its cold and solitary glory. It was of a greenish white, and of the Greek-temple form, seeming to be over a hundred feet high. We gazed some minutes with silent delight on the splendid and impressive object, and then hastened down to the boat, and pulled away with all speed to reach it, if possible, before the fog should cover it again, and in time for C. to paint it. The moderation of the oarsmen and the slowness of our progress were quite provoking. I watched the sun, the distant fog, the wind and waves, the increasing motion of the boat, and the seemingly retreating berg. A good half-hour's toil had carried us into broad waters, and yet, to all appearance, very little nearer. The wind was freshening from the south, the sea was rising, thin mists, a species of scout from the main body of the fog lying off in the east, were scudding across our track. James Goss, our captain, threw out a hint of a little difficulty in getting back. But Yankee energy was indomitable. C. quietly arranged his painting—apparatus, and I, wrapped in my cloak more snugly, crept out forward on the little deck, a sort of look-out. To be honest, I began to wish ourselves on our way back, as the black, angry-looking swells chased us up, and flung the foam upon the bow and stern. All at once, whole squadrons of fog swept up, and swamped the whole of us, boat and berg, in their thin, white obscurity. For a moment we thought ourselves foiled again. But still the word was, "On!" And on they pulled, the hard-handed fishermen, now flushed and moist with rowing. Again the ice was visible, but dimly, in his misty drapery. There was no time to be lost. Now, or not at all. And so C. began. For half an hour, pausing occasionally for passing flocks of fog, he plied the brush with a rapidity not usual, and under disadvantages that would have mastered a less experienced hand. We were getting close down upon the berg, and in fearfully rough water. In their curiosity to catch glimpses of the advancing sketch, the men pulled with little regularity, and trimmed the boat very badly. We were rolling frightfully to a landsman. C. begged of them to keep their seats, and hold the barge just there as near as possible. To amuse them, I passed an opera-glass around among them, with which they examined the iceberg and the coast. They turned out to be excellent good fellows, and entered into the spirit of the thing in a way that pleased us. I am sure they would have held on willingly till dark, if C. had only said the word, so much interest did they feel in the attempt to paint the "island-of-ice." The hope was to linger about it until sunset, for its colors, lights, and shadows. That, however, was suddenly extinguished. Heavy fog came on, and we retreated, not with the satisfaction of a conquest, nor with the disappointment of a defeat, but cheered with the hope of complete success, perhaps the next day, when C. thought that we could return upon our game in a little steamer, and so secure it beyond the possibility of escape. The seine was hauled from the stern to the centre of the barge, and the men pulled away for Torbay, a long six miles, rough and chilly. For my part, I was trembling with cold, and found it necessary to lend a hand at the oars, an exercise which soon made the weather feel several degrees warmer, and rendered me quite comfortable. After a little the wind lulled, the fog dispersed again, and the iceberg seemed to contemplate our slow departure with complacent serenity. We regretted that the hour forbade a return. It would have been pleasant to play around that Parthenon of the sea in the twilight. The best that was left us was to look back and watch the effects of light, which were wonderfully fine, and had the charm of entire novelty. The last view was the very finest. All the east front was a most tender blue; the fissures on the southern face, from which we were rowing directly away, were glittering green; the western front glowed in the yellow sunlight; around were the dark waters, and above one of the most beautiful of skies.
We fell under the land presently, and passed near the northern cape of Flat-Rock Bay, a grand headland of red sandstone, a vast and dome-like pile, fleeced at the summit with green turf and shrubs of fir. The sun, at last, was really setting. There was the old magnificence of the king of day,—airy deeps of ineffable blue and pearl, stained with scarlets and crimsons, and striped with living gold. A blaze of white light, deepening into the richest orange, crowned the distant ridge behind which the sun was vanishing. A vapory splendor, rose-color and purple, was dissolving in the atmosphere; and every wave of the ocean, a dark violet, nearly black, was "a flash of golden fire." Bathed with this almost supernatural glory, the headland, in itself richly complexioned with red, brown, and green, was at once a spectacle of singular grandeur and solemnity. I have no remembrance of more brilliant effects of light and color. The view filled us with emotions of delight. We shot from beneath the great cliff into Flat-Rock Bay, rounding, at length, the breakers and the cape into the smoother waters of Torbay. As the oars dipped regularly into the polished swells, reflecting the heavens and the wonderful shores, all lapsed into silence. In the gloom of evening the rocks assumed an unusual height and sublimity. Gliding quietly below them, we were saluted every now and then by the billows thundering in some adjacent cavern. The song of the sea in its old halls rung out in a style quite unearthly. The slamming of the mighty doors seemed far off in the chambers of the cliff, and the echoes trembled themselves away, muffled into stillness by the stupendous masses.
Thus ended our first real hunting of an iceberg. When we landed, we were thoroughly chilled. Our man was waiting with his wagon, and so was a little supper in a house near by, which we enjoyed with an appetite that assumed several phases of keenness as we proceeded. There was a tower of cold roast beef, flanked by bread and butter and bowls of hot tea. The whole was carried silently, without remark, at the point of knife and fork. We were a forlorn-hope of two, and fell to, winning the victory in the very breach. We drove back over the fine gravel road at a round trot, watching the last edge of day in the northwest and north, where it no sooner fades than it buds again to bloom into morning. We lived the new iceberg-experience all over again, and planned for the morrow. The stars gradually came out of the cool, clear heavens, until they filled them with their sparkling multitudes. For every star we seemed to have a lively and pleasurable thought, which came out and ran among our talk, a thread of light. When we looked at the hour, as we sat fresh and wakeful, warming at our English inn in St. John's, it was after midnight.
* * * * *
"Sir Launcelot! ther thou lyest; thou were never matched of none earthly knights hands; thou were the truest freende to thy lover that ever bestrood horse; and thou were the kindest man that ever strooke with sword; and thou were the sternest knight to thy mortall foe that ever put spere in the rest." La Morte d'Arthur.
In the year 1828 there was a young man of eighteen at work upon a farm in Lexington, performing bodily labor to the extent of twenty hours in a day sometimes, and that for several days together, and at other times studying intensely when work was less pressing. Thirty years after, that same man sat in the richest private library in Boston, working habitually from twelve to seventeen hours a day in severer toil. The interval was crowded with labors, with acquisitions, with reproaches, with victories, with honors; and he who experienced all this died exhausted at the end of it, less than fifty years old, but looking seventy. That man was Theodore Parker.
The time is far distant when out of a hundred different statements of contemporaries some calm biographer will extract sufficient materials for a true picture of the man; and meanwhile all that each can do is to give fearlessly his own honest impressions, and so tempt others to give theirs. Of the multitude of different photographers, each perchance may catch some one trait without which the whole portraiture would have remained incomplete; and the time to secure this is now, while his features are fresh in our minds. It is a daring effort, but it needs to be made.
Yet Theodore Parker was so strong and self-sufficing upon his own ground, he needed so little from any other, while giving so freely to all, that one would hardly venture to add anything to the autobiographies he has left, but for the high example he set of fearlessness in dealing with the dead. There may be some whose fame is so ill-established, that one shrinks from speaking of them precisely as one saw them; but this man's place is secure, and that friend best praises him who paints him just as he seemed. To depict him as he was must be the work of many men, and no single observer, however intimate, need attempt it.
The first thing that strikes an observer, in listening to the words of public and private feeling elicited by his departure, is the predominance in them all of the sentiment of love. His services, his speculations, his contests, his copious eloquence, his many languages, these come in as secondary things, but the predominant testimony is emotional. Men mourn the friend even more than the warrior. No fragile and lovely girl, fading untimely into heaven, was ever more passionately beloved than this white-haired and world-weary man. As he sat in his library, during his lifetime, he was not only the awakener of a thousand intellects, but the centre of a thousand hearts;—he furnished the natural home for every foreign refugee, every hunted slave, every stray thinker, every vexed and sorrowing woman. And never was there one of these who went away uncomforted, and from every part of this broad nation their scattered hands now fling roses upon his grave.
This immense debt of gratitude was not bought by any mere isolated acts of virtue; indeed, it never is so bought; love never is won but by a nobleness which, pervades the life. In the midst of his greatest cares there never was a moment when he was not all too generous of his time, his wisdom, and his money. Borne down by the accumulation of labors, grudging, as a student grudges, the precious hour that once lost can never be won back, he yet was always holding himself at the call of some poor criminal, at the Police Office, or some sick girl in a suburban town, not of his recognized parish perhaps, but longing for the ministry of the only preacher who had touched her soul. Not a mere wholesale reformer, he wore out his life by retailing its great influences to the poorest comer. Not generous in money only,—though the readiness of his beneficence in that direction had few equals,—he always hastened past that minor bestowal to ask if there were not some other added gift possible, some personal service or correspondence, some life-blood, in short, to be lavished in some other form, to eke out the already liberal donation of dollars.
There is an impression that he was unforgiving. Unforgetting he certainly was; for he had no power of forgetfulness, whether for good or evil. He had none of that convenient oblivion which in softer natures covers sin and saintliness with one common, careless pall. So long as a man persisted in a wrong attitude before God or man, there was no day so laborious or exhausting, no night so long or drowsy, but Theodore Parker's unsleeping memory stood on guard full-armed, ready to do battle at a moment's warning. This is generally known; but what may not be known so widely is, that, the moment the adversary lowered his spear, were it for only an inch or an instant, that moment Theodore Parker's weapons were down and his arms open. Make but the slightest concession, give him but the least excuse to love you, and never was there seen such promptness in forgiving. His friends found it sometimes harder to justify his mildness than his severity. I confess that I, with others, have often felt inclined to criticize a certain caustic tone of his, in private talk, when the name of an offender was alluded to; but I have also felt almost indignant at his lenient good-nature to that very person, let him once show the smallest symptom of contrition, or seek, even in the clumsiest way, or for the most selfish purpose, to disarm his generous antagonist. His forgiveness in such cases was more exuberant than his wrath had ever been.
It is inevitable, in describing him, to characterize his life first by its quantity. He belonged to the true race of the giants of learning; he took in knowledge at every pore, and his desires were insatiable. Not, perhaps, precocious in boyhood,—for it is not precocity to begin Latin at ten and Greek at eleven, to enter the Freshman class at twenty and the professional school at twenty-three,—he was equalled by few students in the tremendous rate at which he pursued every study, when once begun. With strong body and great constitutional industry, always acquiring and never forgetting, he was doubtless at the time of his death the most variously learned of living Americans, as well as one of the most prolific of orators and writers.
Why did Theodore Parker die? He died prematurely worn out through this enormous activity,—a warning, as well as an example. To all appeals for moderation, during the latter years of his life, he had but one answer,—that he had six generations of long-lived farmers behind him, and had their strength to draw upon. All his physical habits, except in this respect, were unexceptionable: he was abstemious in diet, but not ascetic, kept no unwholesome hours, tried no dangerous experiments, committed no excesses. But there is no man who can habitually study from twelve to seventeen hours a day (his friend Mr. Clarke contracts it to "from six to twelve," but I have Mr. Parker's own statement of the fact) without ultimate self-destruction. Nor was this the practice during his period of health alone, but it was pushed to the last moment: he continued in the pulpit long after a withdrawal was peremptorily prescribed for him; and when forbidden to leave home for lecturing, during the winter of 1858, he straightway prepared the most laborious literary works of his life, for delivery as lectures in the Fraternity Course at Boston.
He worked thus, not from ambition, nor altogether from principle, but from an immense craving for mental labor, which had become second nature to him. His great omnivorous, hungry intellect must have constant food,—new languages, new statistics, new historical investigations, new scientific discoveries, new systems of Scriptural exegesis. He did not for a day in the year nor an hour in the day make rest a matter of principle, nor did he ever indulge in it as a pleasure, for he knew no enjoyment so great as labor. Wordsworth's "wise passiveness" was utterly foreign to his nature. Had he been a mere student, this had been less destructive. But to take the standard of study of a German Professor, and superadd to that the separate exhaustions of a Sunday-preacher, a lyceum-lecturer, a radical leader, and a practical philanthropist, was simply to apply half a dozen distinct suicides to the abbreviation of a single life. And, as his younger companions long since assured him, the tendency of his career was not only to kill himself, but them; for each assumed that he must at least attempt what Theodore Parker accomplished.
It is very certain that his career was much shortened by these enormous labors, and it is not certain that its value was increased in a sufficient ratio to compensate for that evil. He justified his incessant winter-lecturing by the fact that the whole country was his parish, though this was not an adequate excuse. But what right had he to deprive himself even of the accustomed summer respite of ordinary preachers, and waste the golden July hours in studying Sclavonic dialects? No doubt his work in the world was greatly aided both by the fact and the fame of learning, and, as he himself somewhat disdainfully said, the knowledge of Greek and Hebrew was "a convenience" in theological discussions; but, after all, his popular power did not mainly depend on his mastery of twenty languages, but of one. Theodore Parker's learning was undoubtedly a valuable possession to the community, but it was not worth the price of Theodore Parker's life.
"Strive constantly to concentrate yourself," said the laborious Goethe, "never dissipate your powers; incessant activity, of whatever kind, leads finally to bankruptcy." But Theodore Parker's whole endeavor was to multiply his channels, and he exhausted his life in the effort to do all men's work. He was a hard man to relieve, to help, or to cooperate with. Thus, the "Massachusetts Quarterly Review" began with quite a promising corps of contributors; but when it appeared that its editor, if left alone, would willingly undertake all the articles,—science, history, literature, everything,—of course the others yielded to inertia and dropped away. So, some years later, when some of us met at his room to consult on a cheap series of popular theological works, he himself was so rich in his own private plans that all the rest were impoverished; nothing could be named but he had been planning just that for years, and should by-and-by get leisure for it, and there really was not enough left to call out the energies of any one else. Not from any petty egotism, but simply from inordinate activity, he stood ready to take all the parts.
In the same way he distanced everybody; every companion-scholar found soon that it was impossible to keep pace with one who was always accumulating and losing nothing. Most students find it necessary to be constantly forgetting some things to make room for later arrivals; but the peculiarity of his memory was that he let nothing go. I have more than once heard him give a minute analysis of the contents of some dull book read twenty years before, and have afterwards found the statement correct and exhaustive. His great library,—the only private library I have ever seen which reminded one of the Astor,—although latterly collected more for public than personal uses, was one which no other man in the nation, probably, had sufficient bibliographical knowledge single-handed to select, and we have very few men capable of fully appreciating its scholarly value, as it stands. It seems as if its possessor, putting all his practical and popular side into his eloquence and action, had indemnified himself by investing all his scholarship in a library of which less than a quarter of the books were in the English language.
All unusual learning, however, brings with it the suspicion of superficiality; and in this country, where, as Mr. Parker himself said, "every one gets a mouthful of education, but scarce one a full meal,"—where every one who makes a Latin quotation is styled "a ripe scholar,"—it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the true from the counterfeit. It is, however, possible to apply some tests. I remember, for instance, that one of the few undoubted classical scholars, in the old-fashioned sense, whom New England has seen,—the late John Glen King of Salem,—while speaking with very limited respect of the acquirements of Rufus Choate in this direction, and with utter contempt of those of Daniel Webster, always became enthusiastic on coming to Theodore Parker. "He is the only man," said Mr. King more than once to the writer, "with whom I can sit down and seriously discuss a disputed reading and find him familiar with all that has been written upon it." Yet Greek and Latin were only the preliminaries of Mr. Parker's scholarship.
I know, for one,—and there are many who will bear the same testimony,—that I never went to Mr. Parker to talk over a subject which I had just made a speciality, without finding that on that particular matter he happened to know, without any special investigation, more than I did. This extended beyond books, sometimes stretching into things where his questioner's opportunities of knowledge had seemed considerably greater,—as, for instance, in points connected with the habits of our native animals and the phenomena of out-door Nature. Such were his wonderful quickness and his infallible memory, that glimpses of these things did for him the work of years. But, of course, it was in the world of books that this wonderful superiority was chiefly seen, and the following example may serve as one of the most striking among many.
It happened to me, some years since, in the course of some historical inquiries, to wish for fuller information in regard to the barbarous feudal codes of the Middle Ages,—as the Salic, Burgundian, and Ripuarian,—before the time of Charlemagne. The common historians, even Hallam, gave no very satisfactory information and referred to no very available books; and supposing it to be a matter of which every well-read lawyer would at least know something, I asked help of the most scholarly member of that profession within my reach. He regretted his inability to give me any aid, but referred me to a friend of his, who was soon to visit him, a young man, who was already eminent for legal learning. The friend soon arrived, but owned, with some regret, that he had paid no attention to that particular subject, and did not even know what books to refer to; but he would at least ascertain what they were, and let me know. (N.B. I have never heard from him since.) Stimulated by ill-success, I aimed higher, and struck at the Supreme Bench of a certain State, breaking in on the mighty repose of His Honor with the name of Charlemagne. "Charlemagne?" responded my lord judge, rubbing his burly brow,—"Charlemagne lived, I think, in the sixth century?" Dismayed, I retreated, with little further inquiry; and sure of one man, at least, to whom law meant also history and literature, I took refuge with Charles Sumner. That accomplished scholar, himself for once at fault, could only frankly advise me to do at last what I ought to have done at first,—to apply to Theodore Parker. I did so. "Go," replied he instantly, "to alcove twenty-four, shelf one hundred and thirteen, of the College Library at Cambridge, and you will find the information you need in a thick quarto, bound in vellum, and lettered 'Potgiesser de Statu Servorum.'" I straightway sent for Potgiesser, and found my fortune made, it was one of those patient old German treatises which cost the labor of one man's life to compile and another's to exhaust, and I had no reason to suppose that any reader had disturbed its repose until that unwearied industry had explored the library.
Amid such multiplicity of details he must sometimes have made mistakes, and with his great quickness of apprehension he sometimes formed hasty conclusions. But no one has a right to say that his great acquirements were bought by any habitual sacrifice of thoroughness. To say that they sometimes impaired the quality of his thought would undoubtedly be more just; and this is a serious charge to bring. Learning is not accumulation, but assimilation; every man's real acquirements must pass into his own organization, and undue or hasty nutrition does no good. The most priceless knowledge is not worth the smallest impairing of the quality of the thinking. The scholar cannot afford, any more than the farmer, to lavish his strength in clearing more land than he can cultivate; and Theodore Parker was compelled by the natural limits of time and strength to let vast tracts lie fallow, and to miss something of the natural resources of the soil. One sometimes wished that he had studied less and dreamed more,—for less encyclopedic information, and more of his own rich brain.
But it was in popularizing thought and knowledge that his great and wonderful power lay. Not an original thinker, in the same sense with Emerson, he yet translated for tens of thousands that which Emerson spoke to hundreds only. No matter who had been heard on any subject, the great mass of intelligent, "progressive" New-England thinkers waited to hear the thing summed up by Theodore Parker. This popular interest went far beyond the circle of his avowed sympathizers; he might be a heretic, but nobody could deny that he was a marksman. No matter how well others seemed to have hit the target, his shot was the triumphant one, at last. Thinkers might find no new thought in the new discourse, leaders of action no new plan, yet, after all that had been said and done, his was the statement that told upon the community. He knew this power of his, and had analyzed some of the methods by which he attained it, though, after all, the best part was an unconscious and magnetic faculty. But he early learned, so he once told me, that the New-England people dearly love two things,—a philosophical arrangement, and a plenty of statistics. To these, therefore, he treated them thoroughly; in some of his "Ten Sermons" the demand made upon the systematizing power of his audience was really formidable; and I have always remembered a certain lecture of his on the Anglo-Saxons as the most wonderful instance that ever came within my knowledge of the adaptation of solid learning to the popular intellect. Nearly two hours of almost unadorned fact,—for there was far less than usual of relief and illustration,—and yet the lyceum-audience listened to it as if an angel sang to them. So perfect was his sense of purpose and of power, so clear and lucid was his delivery, with such wonderful composure did he lay out, section by section, his historical chart, that he grasped his hearers as absolutely as he grasped his subject: one was compelled to believe that he might read the people the Sanscrit Lexicon, and they would listen with ever fresh delight. Without grace or beauty or melody, his mere elocution was sufficient to produce effects which melody and grace and beauty might have sighed for in vain. And I always felt that he well described his own eloquence while describing Luther's, in one of the most admirably moulded sentences he ever achieved,—"The homely force of Luther, who, in the language of the farm, the shop, the boat, the street, or the nursery, told the high truths that reason or religion taught, and took possession of his audience by a storm of speech, then poured upon them all the riches of his brave plebeian soul, baptizing every head anew,—a man who with the people seemed more mob than they, and with kings the most imperial man."