This little Jacques, when I came to his father's house, was a rampant, noisy, cunning child, with the vivacity of French and American blood mingling in his veins, and filling him with strongest tendencies to mischief, and prompting elfish feats of activity. He was not by any means a fascinating child,—in fact, no children ever fascinated me,—but this little fellow was rather disagreeable, a wonder to his father, a horror to his mother, and a great annoyance generally; we were all rather cross with him, and he was universally put down, thrust aside, and ordered out of the way.
This was the state of affairs when I came. It was little Jacques, with a high forehead, white, tightly curling hair, and mischief-full blue eye, who made himself translator of all imaginable inquisitorial French phrases for my benefit,—who questioned, and tormented, and made faces at me,—who pulled my apron, disappeared with my carpet-bag, and placed a generous slice of molasses-candy upon the seat of my chair, when I sat down to rest myself.
Little Jacques ardently loved a sly fishing-expedition on the edge of the marble fountain-basin, and had lured one or two unthinking gold-fish to destruction with fly and a crooked pin. He would sit perched up there at an odd chance, when his father was away, and he dared venture into the saloon,—his little bare feet twinkling against the water, his plump figure curled up into the minutest size, but ready for a spring and a dart up-stairs at the shortest notice of danger. This piscatory propensity had been severely punished by both Monsieur and Madame C——, who could not afford to encourage such an expensive Izaak Walton; but there was no managing the child. He seemed to possess an impish capability of eluding detection and angry denunciations. To be sure, circumstances were against any very strict guard being kept over the youngster. Madame C—— was a very weak woman, a very weak woman indeed,—she declared that such was the case,—a nervous, dispirited woman, whom everything troubled, who could not bear the noise and tramp of life, and altogether sank under it. Destiny had had no mercy on her weakness, however, and had left her to get along with an innumerable family of children, a philosophic husband, who took all her troubles coolly, and a constant demand for her services either in the shop or at the cradle. She could not, therefore, have patience with the incessant anxiety which little Jacques excited by his pranks.
One day Madame C—— had gone out for a walk, leaving the children locked in a room above, five of them, two younger and two older than Jacques; and these together had been in a state of riotous insurrection the whole morning. Little Jacques was not of a disposition to submit to ignominious imprisonment, when human ingenuity could devise means of escape; while his brothers were running wild together, he soberly hunted up another key, screwed and scraped and got it into the key-hole; it turned, and he was out.
Half an hour afterwards, his mother, returning, caught the unfortunate fugitive contemplatively perched on the edge of the fountain-basin. In such a frenzy of anger as only unreasonable people are subject to, she caught the child, shivering with terror, and thrust him into the water. The gold-fish splashed and swirled, and the water streamed over the sides of the basin. It was only an instant's work; snatching up the forlorn fisher, she shook him unmercifully, and set him upon the floor, dripping and breathless. I saw nothing of them until night. His mother had then recovered her usual peevishness, weakness, and inefficiency; the ebullition of energy had entirely subsided. I was curious to know whether the summary punishment had had any effect upon Jacques; but he was asleep, as soundly as usual after a day's hard frolic.
My curiosity was likely to be gratified to satiety. A strange change came over the little fellow after this. To one accustomed to his apish activity, and to being annoyed by it, there was something plaintive in the fact of having got rid of that trouble. The child was silent, mopish, "good," as his mother said, congratulating herself on the effect of her summary visitation upon the offender.
When, however, a month passed without any return of the evil propensities, this continued quiescence grew to be something ghostly, and, to people who had only their own hands to depend on for a living, a subject of anxiety and alarm: it was expensive to clothe and feed a child who promised but little service in future.
"The enfant will never come to anything," said Monsieur; "we could better have spared him than Jean."
To which his wife shook her head, and solemnly assented.
The 'enfant,' however, gave no signs of taking the hint. Day after day his little ministerial head and flaxen curls were visible over the top of his old-fashioned arm-chair, and day after day his food was demanded, and his appetite was as good as ever.
Watching the child, whose blue eyes, now the mischief was out of them, grew utterly vacant of expression, I unaccountably to myself came to feel an uncomfortable interest in, a morbid sympathy with him,—an uneasy, unhappy sympathy, more physical than mental.
No fault could have been found with the motherly carefulness and attention of Madame C——. It was charmingly polite and French. But the sight of her preparing the child's food, or coaxing him with unaccustomed delicacies and bonbons, grew to be utterly distasteful,—an infliction so nervously annoying that I could not overcome it. A secret antipathy which I had nourished against Madame seemed to be germinating; every action of hers irritated me, every sound of her sharp, yet well-modulated voice gave me a tremor. The truth was, that plunge into the water, taking place so unexpectedly in my presence, had startled and upset me almost as completely as if it had befallen myself. A hard-working woman had no business with such nerves. I knew that, and tried to annihilate them; but the more I cut them down, the more they bled. The thing was a mere trifle,—the fountain-basin was shallow, the water healthy,—nothing could be more healthy than bathing,—and, at any rate, it was no affair of mine. Yet my mind in some unhealthy mood aggravated the circumstances, and colored everything with its own dark hue.
I could not give up my place, of course not; I was not likely to get so good a situation anywhere else; I could not risk it; and yet the servitude of horror under which I was held for a few weeks was almost enough to reconcile one to starvation. Only that I was kept busy in the shop most of the time, and had little leisure to observe the course of affairs, or to be in Madame's society, I should have given warning,—foolishly enough,—for there was not a tangible thing of which I had to complain. But a shapeless suspicion which for some days had been brooding in my mind was taking form, too dim for me to dare to recognize it, but real enough to make me feel a miserable fascination to the house while little Jacques still lived, a magnetic, uncomfortable necessity for my presence, as though it were in some sort a protection against an impending evil.
Such suspicion I did not, of course, presume to name, scarcely presumed to think, it seemed so like an unnatural monstrosity of my own mind. But when, one morning, the child died, holding in his hands the bonbons his mother had given him, and Madame C——, all agitation and frenzy and weeping, still contrived to extract them from the tightly closed, tiny fists, and threw them into the grate, I felt a horrid thrill like the effect of the last scene in a tragedy. I knew that the bonbons were poisoned.
So that is the reason I shuddered as I passed through the saloon.
Throwing open the window, a dim light flickered through, and a sickly ray fell upon the fountain. It shivered upon the dripping marble column in its centre, and struck with an icy hue the water in the basin below. The fountain was not in my range of vision from the window; but I often turned to look at it as I opened the shutters, thinking it a pretty sight when the drops sparkled in the misty light against the background of the otherwise darkened room. It pleased my imagination to watch the effect produced by a little more or a little less opening of the shutters,—a nonsensical morning play-spell, which quite enlivened me for the sedate occupations of the day. It was, however, not imagination now which whispered to me that there was something else to look at beside the jet of water and the shadowy play of light. Stooping down upon the fountain-brink, absorbed in contemplating the gold-fish swimming below, and with its naked little feet touching the water's edge, a tiny figure sat. My first thought (the first thoughts of fear are never reasonable) was, that some child from up-stairs had stolen down unawares, (as children are quite as fond as grown folks of forbidden pleasures,) to amuse itself with the water. But the children were not risen yet, and the saloon was too utterly dark and dismal at that hour to tempt the bravest of them. Second thoughts reminded me of that certainty, and I looked again. The figure raised its head from its drooping posture, and gazed vacantly, out of a pair of dim blue eyes, at me. The eyes were the eyes of little Jacques.
I do not know how I should have been so utterly overcome, but I started up in terror as I felt the dreamy phantom-gaze fixed upon me, raising my hands wildly above my head. The hammer which I held in my hand to drive back the bolts of the shutters flew from my grasp and struck the great mirror,—the new mirror which had just been bought, and was not yet hung up. All the savings of a year were shivered to fragments in an instant. My horror at this catastrophe recalled my presence of mind; for I was a poor woman, dependent for my bread on the family. Poor women cannot afford to have fancies; some prompt reality always startles them out of dream or superstition. My superstition fled in dismay as I stooped over the fragments of the looking-glass. What should I do? Where should I hide myself? I involuntarily took hold of the mirror with the instinctive intention of turning it to the wall. It was very heavy; I could scarcely lift it. Pausing a moment, and looking forward at its shattered face in utter anguish of despair, I saw again, repeated in a hundred jagged splinters, up and down in zigzag confusion, in demoniac omnipresence, the uncanny eye, the spectral shape, which had so appalled me. The little phantom had arisen, its slim finger was outstretched,—it beckoned, slowly beckoned, growing indistinct, it receded farther and farther out from the saloon towards the shop.
The fascination of a spell was upon me; I turned and followed the retreating figure. The shutters of the show-window were not yet taken down, but thin lines of light filtered through them,—light enough to see that the apparition made its way to a forbidden spot slyly haunted by the little boy in his days of mischief,—a certain shelf where a box of some peculiar sort of expensive confections was kept. I had seen his mother, with unwonted generosity, give the child a handful of these a day or two before his death. I could go no farther. A mighty fear fell upon me, a dimness of vision and a terrible faintness; for that child-phantom, gliding on before, stopped like a retribution at that very spot, and, raising its little hand, pointed to that very box, glancing upward with its solemn eye, as, rising slowly in the air, it grew indistinct, its outlines fading into darkness, and disappeared.
I did not fall or faint, however; I hastened out to the saloon again. The door of the little room where the coffin stood was open, and Madame stepping out, looked vaguely about her.
"Madame! Madame!" I cried, "oh, I have seen—I have seen a terrible sight!"
Madame's face grew white, very white. She grasped me harshly by the arm.
"What are you talking about, you crazy woman? You are getting quite wild, I think. Do you imagine you can hide your guilt in that way?" and she shook me with a savage fierceness that made my very bones ache. "This is carrying it with a high hand, to be sure, to flatter yourself that such wilful carelessness will not be discovered. Do you suppose," she cried, pointing to the fragments of glass, "that my nerves could feel a crash like that, and I not come down to see what had happened?"
She spoke so volubly, and kept so firm a grip of my arm, that I could not get breath to utter a word of self-defence,—indeed, what defence could I make? Yet I should say, from my mistress's singular manner, that she had seen that vision too, so wild were her eyes, so haggard her face.
Little Jacques was buried. His attentive parents enjoyed a carriage-ride, with his miniature coffin between them, quite as well as if the little fellow had accompanied them alive and full of mischief.
Outside matters, as Monsieur said, being now off his mind, he could attend to business again.
The mirror belonged to "business." I had been writhing under that knowledge all the morning of their absence.
Monsieur took the sight of his despoiled glass as calmly as Diogenes might have viewed a similar disaster from his tub. Monsieur's philosophy was grounded upon common sense. He knew that the frame was valuable. He knew also that I had saved enough to pay for the accident. I knew it, too, and was well aware that he would exact payment to the uttermost farthing. Monsieur, therefore, was quite cool. He laughed loudly at Madame's excitement, and the feverish account she gave of my fright, my deceitfulness, and pretending to see what nobody else saw.
"Little Jacques!" I heard him exclaim, as I entered the room, shrugging his shoulders with such a contemptuously good-natured sneer as only a Frenchman can manufacture; and raising both his hands derisively, he went off with vivacity to his business.
In the morning I left. Monsieur endeavored to persuade me to stay. But my business there was finished. I was quite as cool as Monsieur,—in fact, a little chilly. I was determined to go. Madame was determined also; we could no longer get along together; each hated and feared the other; and Madame C—— having used overnight what influence she possessed to bring her husband to see the necessity of my departure, his objections were not very difficult to remove.
I could not afford to be out of work, that was true, and it might take me a long time to get it; but I was tired to death, and glad of any excuse for a little rest. What, after all, if I did lie by for a little while? there was not much pleasure or profit either way.
I should not grow rich by my work; I could not grow much poorer by being idle. The past year, which I had spent in the service of Monsieur and Madame C——, had been one of constant annoyance and irritating variety of employment. I had grown fretful in the constant hurry and drive, and the baneful atmosphere of Madame's peevishness. Body and soul cried out for a season of release, which never in all my life of service had I thought of before.
I had my desire now. I had put away my bondage. I had ceased my unprofitable labor. The rest I had so long craved was at hand. I might take a jubilee, a siesta, if I pleased, of half a year, and nobody be the wiser. I was responsible to nobody. Nobody had any demands upon my time or exertion. Free! I stood in a vacuum; no rush of air, no tempest or whirlpool stirred its infinite profundity. At length I was at peace,—a peace which seemed likely to last as long as my slim purse held out; for employment was not easy to obtain. Did I enjoy it? Did I lap myself in the long-desired repose in thankful quiescence of spirit? Perhaps,—I cannot tell; restlessness had become a chronic disease with me. I felt like a ship drifted from its moorings: the winds and the tides were pleasant; the ocean was at lull; but the ship rocked aimless and unsteady upon the waters. The heavy weights of life and activity so suddenly withdrawn left painful lightness akin to emptiness. The broken chains trailed noisily after me. The time hung heavily which I had so long prayed for. Long years of monotonous servitude had made a very machine of me. I could only rust in inaction. Some other power, to rack and grind and urge me on, was necessary to my very existence.
So it happened, that, at last, my holiday having spun out to the end of my means, I left the city, and engaged work at very low wages in a country-village. The situation and the remuneration were not in the least calculated to stimulate ambition or avarice; and I remained obscurely housed, incessantly busy, and coarsely clothed and fed, in this place, for two years. They were not long years either. I had no hard taskmaster, however hard my task, no uneasy, unexplainable apprehensions, no moody forebodings of evil, no troublesome children to distress me. At the end of that time I heard of a better situation, and returned to the city.
I had been engaged about a twelvemonth in my new place, a very pleasant little shop, though the pay was less and the work harder than I had had with Monsieur C——, when, one morning, standing at the shop-window, I saw that gentleman pass: very brisk, very spruce, very plump he looked. Glancing in, (I flatter myself that a show-window arranged as I could arrange it would attract any one's eye,) he espied me. A speedy recognition and a long conversation were the result. It was early morning, and we had the store to ourselves. Monsieur was very friendly. His business was very good. Poor Madame! he wished she could have lived to see it; but she was gone, poor soul! out of a world of trouble. And Monsieur plaintively fixed his eyes on the black crape upon his hat. The unhappy exit took place a few months after my departure. The children had gone to one or another relative. Monsieur was all alone; he had been away since then himself, had been doing as well as a bereaved man could do, and, having saved a snug little sum, had returned to buy out the old stand, and reestablish himself in the old place. No one was with him; he wished he could get a good hand to superintend the concern, now his own hands were so full. It would be a good situation for somebody. In short, Monsieur came again and again, until, as I was poor and lonely, and had almost overworked myself just to keep soul and body together, whose union, after all, was of no importance to any one save myself, and as I was quite glad to find some one else who was interested in the preservation of the partnership, I consented to be his wife. It was a very sensible and philosophic arrangement for both of us. We could make more money together than apart, and were stout and well able to help each other, if only well taken care of. So we settled the business, and settled ourselves as partners in the saloon.
Three years had passed, and we were in the old place still. We had been very busy that day. Many orders to fill, many customers to wait upon. Monsieur, completely worn out, was sound asleep on the sofa up-stairs. It was late; I was very much fatigued, as I descended, according to my usual custom, to see that everything was safe about the house and shop. The place was all shut and empty; the lights were all out. A cushioned lounge in one corner of the saloon—my saloon now—attracted my weary limbs, and I threw myself upon it, setting the lamp upon a marble table by its side. With a complacent sense of rest settling upon me, I drowsily looked about at the dim magnificence of loneliness which surrounded me. The night-lamp made more shadow than shine; but even by its obscured rays one who had known the old place would have been struck with the wonderful improvement we had made. So I thought. It was almost like a palace, gilded, and mirrored, and hung with silken curtains. Monsieur and I had thriven together, had worked hard and saved much these many years to produce the change. But the change had been, as everything we effected was, well considered, and had proved very profitable in the end. Better reception-rooms brought better customers; higher prices a higher class of patronage. It was very pleasant, lying there, to reflect that we were actually succeeding in the world; and a pleasant and quiet mood fell upon me, as, hopeful of the future, I looked back at the past. I thought of my old days in that saloon; I thought of little Jacques. Little Jacques was still a thought of some horror to me, and I generally avoided any allusion to him. But to-night, in this subdued and contemplative mood, I even let the little phantom glide into my reverie without being startled. I even speculated on the old theme which had so haunted me. I wondered whether my suspicions had been correct, and whether—whether Madame C—— was guilty of sending her little son before her into the other world. So thinking,—I might have been almost dreaming,—a slight rustle in the shop aroused me. I was not alarmed; my nerves are now much healthier, and I wisely make a point of not getting them unstrung by violent movements, or unaccustomed feats of activity, when anything astonishing happens. I therefore lifted my head calmly and looked about,—it might be a mouse. The noise ceased that instant, as if the intruder were aware of being observed. Mice sometimes have this instinct. We had some valuable new confections, which I had no desire should be disposed of by such customers. So, taking up my lamp, and peering cautiously about me, I proceeded to the shop. The light flickered,—flickered on something tall and white,—something white and shadowy, standing erect, and shrinking aside, behind the counter. My heart stood still; a sepulchral chill came over me. My old self, trembling, angry, foreboding, stepped suddenly within the niche whence the self-confident, full-grown, sensible woman had vanished utterly. For an instant, I felt like a ghost myself. It seemed natural that ghosts, if such there were, should spy me out, and appall my heart with their presence. For there, in that old, haunted spot, where long years ago the spectre of little Jacques had lifted its menacing finger, stood the form of Marie, Madame C——. I knew it well; shuddering and shivering myself, more like an intruder than one intruded upon, I laid my hand upon the chill marble counter for support. It was no creation of imagination; the figure laid its hand also upon the marble, and, stretching over its gaunt neck, stood and peered into my eyes.
"Madame C——! Madame C——!" I cried; "what in the name of God would you have of me?"
"Nothing," she answered,—"nothing of you,—and nothing in the name of God. Oh, you need not shudder at me,—Christine C——! I know you well enough. You haven't got over your old tricks yet. I'm no ghost, though. Mayhap you'd rather I'd be, for all your nerves, eh?"—and she shook her head in the old vengeful, threatening way.
It was true enough. "What evil atmosphere surrounded me? What fell snare environed me? I looked about like a hunted animal brought to bay,—like a robber suddenly entrapped in the midst of his ill-gotten gains. For this was no dead woman, but a living vengeance, more terrible than death, brought to my very door. Some unseen power, it seemed, full of evil influence, full of malignant justice, stretched its long arms through my life, and would not let me by any means escape to peace, to rest. A direful vision of horrible struggles yet to come—of want, despair, disgrace in reservation—sickened my soul.
"I will call—I will call," said I, gasping,—"I will call Monsieur C——; he"——
"Don't, don't, I beg of you!" she cried, catching me by the sleeve, with a sardonic laugh; low, whispering, full of direful meaning, it stealthily echoed through the saloon. "Don't disturb the good man. He sleeps so soundly after his well-spent days! He doesn't have any bad dreams, I fancy,—rid of such a troublesome, vicious wife,—a wife who harassed her husband to death, and murdered her little boy,—he sleeps sound, doesn't he? And yet—I declare, in the name of God, Christine C——,"—and she lifted up her bony finger like an avenging fate,—"he did it!"
I had been endeavoring to calm myself while this woman of spectral face and form stared at me with her maniac eye across the counter. I had succeeded. At any rate, this was a tangible horror, and could be grappled with; it was not beyond human reach, a shadowy retribution from the invisible world. To face the circumstances, however repulsive, is less depressing than to await in suspense the coming of their footsteps, and the descent of that blow we know they will inflict. I had always found that policy best which was bravest. I remembered this now. Dropping my high tone, and soothing my excited features, I beckoned the woman and gave her a chair; I took a chair myself, wrapping a shawl close about me to repress the shivering I could not yet overcome, and I and that woman, returned from the grave, as it seemed to me, sat calmly down in business-fashion, and held a long conversation.
Madame C—— had loved her husband with that sort of respectful, awe-filled affection which lower natures experience towards those which are a grade above them. She had loved her children, too, although they were her torment. Her inability to manage or keep them in order fretted and irritated her excessively. Monsieur, as a philosopher, could not understand the anomaly, that a woman who was perpetually unhappy and ill-tempered, while her children, young, buoyant, and mischievous, were about her, should sympathize with and care for them when sick. He could not understand her conscience-stricken misery when little Jacques drooped after her severity towards him. Monsieur was a kind husband, however, and a wise man in many things. He had studied much in his youth, chiefly medical works, of which he had quite a collection. He could not understand the whimsical nervousness of women, but, when so slight a thing as a child's illness appeared to be the cause of it, could unhesitatingly undertake to remove the difficulty. He had prescribed attentively for the two children who died before Jacques, thereby rendering them comfortable and quiet, and saving quite an item in the doctor's bill.
When little Jacques fell ill, and Madame fretted incessantly about his loss of vigor and vivacity, Monsieur, with fatherly kindness, undertook, in the midst of his pressing business, to give the child his medicine, which had to be most carefully prepared. Sometimes the powders were disguised in bonbons, the more agreeably to dose the patient little fellow; these were prepared with Monsieur's own fatherly hands, and during his absence were once in a while left for Madame to administer. Madame had great faith in these medicines,—great faith in her husband's skill; but the child's disease was obstinate, very; no progress could be discovered. It was a comforting thought, at least, that, if his recovery was beyond possibility, something had been done to soothe his pain and quiet the vexed spirit in its bitter struggle with dissolution. Yes, the medicines were certainly very quieting,—so quieting, so death-like in their influence,—she could not tell how a suspicion (perhaps the strange expression of the child's eye, when they were administered) glided into her imagination (having so great a reverence for her husband, it took no place in her mind for an instant,—it was merely a spectral, haunting shadow) that these things were getting the child no better,—that they were not medicine for keeping him here, but for helping him away. This suspicion, breathing its baleful breath across her mind, weak, vacillating, incapable of energetic action, had rendered her miserable, morose, irritable, more so than ever before. Yet little Jacques in his last hour hankered for the medicine, and craved feverishly the delicate powder, the sweet confection, his father prepared for him.
While inwardly brooding over this unnamed terror, and cowering before this shapeless thought which loomed in the darkness of her mental gloom, an idea entered her mind that I, too, was suspicious that something was going wrong,—that I was watching,—waiting the evil to come. The child died. Her fear for him was utterly superseded by fear for her husband. What if I should find him out and betray him? The anxiety occasioned by this possibility made her hate me. The agony of her little one's departure, the fear of some dire discovery, the consciousness of guilt near enough of vicinage almost to seem her own, combined to nearly distract her mind, and it seemed like a joyful relief when I departed. The sudden release from that constant pressure of fear (she knew I could do nothing against them without money, credit, or friends) made her ill for a time, quite ill, she said. She knew not what was done for her during this sickness,—who nursed her, or who gave her medicine. But one morning, on waking from what seemed a long sleep, in which she had dreamed strangely and talked wildly, she beheld Monsieur, smiling kindly, standing beside her bed with a vial and a spoon in his hand.
"It is a cordial, my dear, which will strengthen and bring you round again very soon. You need a sedative,—something to allay fever and excitement."
"Is it little Jacques's medicine?"
"Quite similar, my dear,—not the powders,—the liquid. Equally soothing to the nerves, and promotive of sleep."
She turned her face away. She had slept long enough. She thanked Monsieur, not daring to look up, but capriciously refused to touch little Jacques's medicine.
"And Monsieur," she said, "Monsieur was very angry. He said I was a disobedient wife, who did not wish to get well, but desired to be a constant expense and trouble to her husband.
"And so, Christine C——, I trembled and shook, and let fall words I never meant to have uttered to Monsieur, and I said he had killed the child, and wished to kill me, that he might marry Mademoiselle Christine. I did not say any more that day. In the morning, Monsieur and I discoursed together again. I declared I would get well and go away. Oh! Monsieur knew well I would not betray him. He was willing, very willing to consent to my departure. He cared for me well, and gave me much money; and I went away to my old aunt, who lived in Paris. I have been dead,—I have died to Monsieur. I should never have returned, but that my good aunt is gone. When I buried her,—shut her kind eyes, and wrapped her so snugly in her shroud,—I thought it a horrible thing to be living without a soul to care for me, or comfort me, or even to wrap me up as I did her when the time was come. I felt then a thirsty spirit rising within me to see my old place where I had comfort and shelter long ago, and to see my children. I have been to see them: they are in B——; they did not know me there. I did not tell them who I was. I have been faithful to my promise. I tell no one but you, Christine C——, who have stepped into my place, and stolen away my home. A prettier home you have made of it for a prettier wife; but it's the old place yet, with the old stain upon it."
Wishing to consider a moment what I should do, half paralyzed, like one who is stricken with death, I left that other ME, (for was she not also my husband's wife?) apparently exhausted, lying upon the sofa, and went wearily up-stairs, with heavy steps, like one whose life has suddenly become a weight to him. What, indeed, should I do? Starvation and misery stared me in the face. If I left the house, casting its guilt and its comfort behind me, where could I go? I could do nothing, earn nothing now. My reputation, now that we were so lone established, would be entirely gone. And if I left all for which I had labored so hard, for another to enjoy, would that better the matter? Great God! would anything help me? Before me in terrific vision rose a dim vista of future ruin, of ineffectual years writhing in the inescapable power of the law, of long trial, of horrible suspense, of garish publicity, of my name handed from mouth to mouth, a forlorn, duped, degraded thing, whose blighted life was a theme of newspaper comment and cavil. These thoughts swept over me as a tempest sweeps over the young tree whose roots are not firm in the soil, whose writhing and wrestling are impotent to defend it from certain destruction. There was no one I loved especially, no one I cared for anxiously, to relieve the bitter thoughts which centred in myself alone. Monsieur awoke as I was sitting thus, in ineffectual effort to compose myself. Seeing me sitting near him, still dressed, the door open, and the light burning, he inquired what was the matter. I had something below requiring his attention, I said, and, taking up the lamp, ushered him down-stairs. My chaotic thoughts were beginning to settle themselves,—to form a nucleus about the first circumstance that thrust itself definitely before them. That poor wretch waiting below,—that forsaken, abject, dishonored wife,—I would confront him with her, and charge him with his guilt. Opening the saloon-door, I stepped in before him. The lamp which I had left upon the stand was out, and the slender thread of light which fell from the one in my hand, sweeping across the gloom, rested upon the deserted sofa. The saloon was empty; no trace, no sign could be discovered of any human being. The hush, the solemnity of night brooded over the place. Monsieur mockingly, but unsteadily, inquired what child's game I was playing,—he was too tired to be fooled with. He spoke hotly and quickly, as he never had spoken to me before,—like one who has long been ill at ease, and deems a slight circumstance portentous.
So I turned upon him, with all the bitterness in my heart rising to my tongue. I told him the story. I charged him with the guilt. He listened in silence; marble-like he stood with folded arms, and heard the conclusion of the whole matter. When I was silent, he strode up to me, and, stooping, peered into my face steadily. His teeth were clenched, his eyes shot fire; otherwise he was calm, quite composed. He said, quietly,—
"Would you blame me for making an angel out of an idiot?"
Monsieur's philosophy was too subtile for me. GUILTY seemed a coarse word to apply to so fine a nature.
He denied having attempted to injure his wife in any way.
"Women are all fools," he said; "they are all alike,—go just as they are led, and do just as they are taught. They cannot think for themselves. They have no ideas of justice but just what the law furnishes them with. It was silly to complain; it argued a narrow mind to condemn merely because the laws condemn. In that case all should be acquitted whom the laws acquit,—did we ever do this? Would his darling Jacques, happy, angelic, condemn his parent for releasing him from the drudgery of life? Was it not better to play on a golden harp than to be a confectioner? Were not all men, in fact, more or less slayers of their brothers? Was I not myself guilty in attributing to Madame a deed in my eyes worthy of death, and of which she was innocent? It was only those whose courage induced them to venture a little farther who received condemnation. In some way or other, every soul is wearing out and overtasking somebody else's soul, and shortening somebody's days. A man who should throw his child into the water, in order to save him from being burned to death, would not be arraigned for the fierce choice. Little Jacques, if he had lived, would have lingered in misery and imbecility. Was a lingering death of torture to be preferred by a tenderhearted woman to one more rapid and less painful, where the certainty of death left only such preference? Ah, well! it was consolation that his little son was safe from all vicissitude, whatever might befall his devoted father!" and Monsieur wiped his eyes, and drew out a little miniature he always carried in his bosom. It was the portrait of little Jacques.
Well, as I have said, Monsieur was a philosopher, and I was a philosopher; and yet I must have been a woman incapable of reason, incapable of comprehending an argument; for the thought of this thing, and of being in the presence of a man capable of such a deed, made me uneasy, restless, unhappy, as though I were in some sort a partaker of the crime. I could not sleep; I was haunted with horrific dreams; and when, in few days, among the "accidents" the death of an unknown woman was recorded, whose body had drifted ashore at night, and I recognized by the description poor, unknown, uncared-for Madame C——, a wild fever burned in my veins, a frenzy of anguish akin to remorse, as if I had wronged the dead, and sent her drifting, helpless, out to the unknown world. A pitiable soul, who preferred misery for her portion, rather than betray the man she loved, or become partaker of his crime, had crept back, after years of self-imposed absence, with death in her heart, to see the old place and the new wife,—and how had I received her? With horror and shuddering, as though she were some guilty thing, to be held at arm's-length. Not as one woman, generous, forgiving, hoping for mercy hereafter, should receive another, however erring. It was a sad boon, perhaps, she had endowed me with; yet it was all she prized and cherished.
With a nobleness of magnanimity, a passionate self-sacrifice, which none but a woman could be capable of, Madame C—— had divested herself of all peculiarities of clothing by which she could be identified. It was only by recognizing the features, and a singular scar upon the forehead, that I knew it was herself. She was buried by stranger hands, however; we dared not come forward to claim her.
The excitement attendant on this miserable death, and the circumstances which preceded it, laid me, for the first time in my life, upon a sick-bed. I was unconscious for many weeks of anything save intolerable pain and intolerable heat. A fiery agony of fever leaped in my veins, and scorched up my life-blood. I believe Monsieur cared for me, and nursed me attentively during this illness.
The fever left me; exhausted, spent, my life shrunken up within me, my energy burned out, a puny, spiritless remnant of the strong woman who lay down upon that couch, I lay despondent, vacant of all interest in the world hitherto so exciting to me. I had not seen Monsieur since this apparent commencement of recovery. A great, good-natured nurse kept watch over me, and fed me with spiritless dainties, tasteless, unsatisfying.
One day, when my senses began to settle a little, and things began to take shape again, I asked for Monsieur. He came and stood at my bedside.
"Christine," said he, "you have no faith in my power of making angels. I have not made one of you. Being divided in our theories, we will divide our earthly goods. We will part. Should you as a woman deem it your duty to inform against me, I shall not think it wrong. I shall bear it as a philosopher. You have no proof, you can substantiate nothing; but it may be a satisfaction. I do not understand women; therefore I cannot tell."
"Monsieur," I answered, "leave it to God to fill His heaven as He thinks best. He has not invited your assistance; neither has He invited me to avenge Him. Since He does not punish, dare I invade His prerogative?"
And we did not part.
We will live together in peace, we said, and the past shall be utterly forgotten; shall not a whole lifetime of unwavering rectitude atone for this one crime?
I accepted my fate,—weakly, in the dread of poverty, in the horror of disgrace, shrinking within myself with the secret thrust upon me. I said we are all the makers of our own destiny, and there is nothing supernatural in life. If this course is best and wisest in my judgment, nothing evil will come of it. I said this, ignorant of the mystery of existence, and inexperienced in that subtile power which penetrates all the windings and turnings of humanity, searching out hidden things,—the Purifier, and the Avenger, allotting to each one his portion of bitterness, his inexorable punishment. "We will live together in peace": it was the thought of a sudden moment of fervor, which overleaped the dreary length of life, and assumed to compass the repentance of a whole existence in a single day.
But destiny holds always in store its retribution. God suffers no dropped stitches in the web of His universe, and the smallest truth evaded, the least wretch neglected, will surely be picked up again in the unending circle that is winding its certain thread around all beings, connecting by invisible links the most insignificant chances with the most significant events.
When I said we will be one, we will endure together, I thought that so, in my enduring strength, I could bear up whatever burden came. I know not how, by what invisible process, the load which I had lifted to my shoulders grew into leaden heaviness,—heavy, heavy, like the weight of some dead soul resting its lifeless shape upon my living spirit, till I staggered under the unbearable presence. I had doomed myself to stand side by side, to work hand in hand with guilt, to feel hourly the dread lest in some moment of frenzy engendered by the dumb anguish within me I might betray the secret whose rust was eating into my soul, and shriek out my misery in the ears of all men.
Monsieur, seeing me grow thin and pale, declared that I must have a change, I must go somewhere, to the sea-shore. To the sea-shore! No, I would not go to the sea-shore, or to any other shore; a stranded vessel, I could not struggle from the place of shipwreck.
Monsieur grew vexed and anxious, when I stubbornly shook my head. And when week after week I still refused, he grew strangely uneasy. I had better go; if I would not go alone, he would go with me, shut up the shop, and take a holiday.
I considered the matter that day. The project was a wild one; at this busiest season of the year, it would be an injury to our business. And what might the neighbors say? It might lead them to unpleasant suspicions. We were not popular among them. No, it would not do.
I explained this to Monsieur very calmly at the supper-table. His face was pale and quiet as usual. He did not interrupt me. When I concluded, he rose as if he would go out, but turning back suddenly and striking the table with his clenched fist,—
"God!" he exclaimed. "Woman would you see me die like a dog? The neighbors! for all I know, they have got me at their finger-ends now,—the vile rabble! That old hag, Madame Justine, at the ribbon-shop below,—some demon possessed her to look out that night when SHE came crawling home. She noted her well with her greedy eyes; some one so like my dear first wife, she told me. There is mischief and death in her eyes. She knows or guesses too much."
"What can she guess?" I asked; "she has only lately come into the neighborhood."
In answer to this, Monsieur informed me that she professed to have been an old friend of his wife's, who, in times gone by, half bewildered with her troubles, had probably dropped many unguarded words in this woman's presence. Madame C—— had died (to her old home) while this woman was away on a visit. "Ah!" she said, "she had her misgivings many a time. Did the same doctor attend Madame C—— who prescribed for little Jacques? He ought to be hung, then. Ah, well, if all men had their deserts, she knew many things that would hang some folks who looted all fair and square, and held their guilty heads higher than their neighbors."
"Well?" I said.
"Well!—you women are so virtuous, you have no mercy, Madame. Go, hang—go, drown the wretch who comes under the malediction of the ladies! Oh, there is nothing too hard for him! And this one owed me a grudge lately about a mistake,—a little mistake I made in an account with her, and would not alter because I thought it all right."
The preparations were going on silently and steadily that night. I would go anywhere now, anything would I do, to escape the fate whose stealthy footsteps were tracking us out. Well I knew, that, once in the power of the law, its firm grasp would wrest every secret from the deepest depths where it was hidden. Once out of the city, we could readily take flight, if immediate danger threatened.
The doors were all closed; the trunks stood corded in the hall. I was down-stairs, getting the silver together. Monsieur was in his room, packing up his medicine-chest. There was no weakness in my nerves now, no trembling in my limbs. I was determined. While thus engaged, pausing a moment amid the light tinkle of the silver spoons, I thought I heard footsteps in the saloon above. Softly ascending the stairs, I met Monsieur at the door. He had come down under the same impression, that some one was walking in the saloon, still holding in his hand the tiny cup in which he measured his medicines. It was full, and Monsieur carried it very carefully, as, opening the door, he looked cautiously about. Nothing stirred; all was silent as death; and walking forward toward the fountain, he straightened himself up, and his white face flushed as he said in a whisper,—
"Christine, everything is ready. We are safe yet; we shall escape. Once away, we will never return to this doomed place, let what will come of it. Yes, I am certain that we shall escape!"
Monsieur took a step forward as he said this, and stood transfixed. The light shook which he held in his hand, as if a strong wind had passed over it; his eye quailed; his cheek blanched to ghastly whiteness. I thought that undue excitement had brought on a fainting-fit of some kind, and was stooping to dip my hands in the water and bathe his forehead, when I saw, distinctly, like a white mist in the darkness, a visible shape sitting solemn upon the basin-edge; the room was very dim, and the falling spray fell over the shape like a weeping-willow, yet my eyes discerned it clearly. Oh, it was no dream that I had dreamed in my young days long ago! That little figure was no stranger to my vision, no stranger to the changeless waterfall. Did Monsieur see it also? He stood close beside the fountain now, with his face towards the spectre. The tiny cup in his hand fell from the loosened fingers down into the water; a lonely gold-fish, swimming there, turned over on its golden side and floated motionless upon the surface.
I scarcely noticed this, for, at the time, I heard the knob of the shop-door turn quickly, and the door was shaken violently. It was probably the night-watchman going his rounds; but, in my alarm and excitement, I thought we were betrayed. I stepped swiftly to the door, and pushed an extra bolt inside.
"Monsieur!" I cried, under my breath, "hide! hide yourself! Quick! in the name of Heaven!"
But he did not answer, and, hastening to his side, I saw the faint outlines of that shadowy visitant growing indistinct and disappearing. As it vanished, Monsieur turned deliberately toward me; his eyes were clear, the faintness was over; his voice was grave and steady, as he said,—
"Christine! I have seen it. It is the warning of death. There is no future and no escape for me. The retribution is at hand,"—and stooping swiftly down, he lifted the tiny cup brimming to his lips. "Go you," he said, huskily, "to the sea-shore. I have an errand elsewhere."
In the morning came the officers of justice; my dim eyes saw them, my ears heard unshrinking their stern voices demanding Monsieur C——. I did not answer; I pointed vaguely forward; and forward they marched, with a heavy tramp, to where the one whom they were seeking lay prone upon the marble floor, his head hanging nervelessly down over the water. He had been arrested by a Higher Power. Monsieur C—— was dead.
The word of the Lord by night To the watching Pilgrims came, As they sat by the sea-side, And filled their hearts with flame.
God said,—I am tired of kings, I suffer them no more; Up to my ear the morning brings The outrage of the poor.
Think ye I made this ball A field of havoc and war, Where tyrants great and tyrants small Might harry the weak and poor?
My angel,—his name is Freedom, Choose him to be your king; He shall cut pathways east and west, And fend you with his wing.
Lo! I uncover the land Which I hid of old time in the West, As the sculptor uncovers his statue, When he has wrought his best.
I show Columbia, of the rocks Which dip their foot in the seas And soar to the air-borne flocks Of clouds, and the boreal fleece.
I will divide my goods, Call in the wretch and slave: None shall rule but the humble, And none but Toil shall have.
I will have never a noble, No lineage counted great: Fishers and choppers and ploughmen Shall constitute a State.
Go, cut down trees in the forest, And trim the straightest boughs; Cut down trees in the forest, And build me a wooden house.
Call the people together, The young men and the sires, The digger in the harvest-field, Hireling, and him that hires.
And here in a pine state-house They shall choose men to rule In every needful faculty, In church, and state, and school.
Lo, now! if these poor men Can govern the land and sea, And make just laws below the sun, As planets faithful be.
And ye shall succor men; 'T is nobleness to serve; Help them who cannot help again; Beware from right to swerve.
I break your bonds and masterships, And I unchain the slave: Free be his heart and hand henceforth, As wind and wandering wave.
I cause from every creature His proper good to flow: So much as he is and doeth, So much he shall bestow.
But, laying his hands on another To coin his labor and sweat, He goes in pawn to his victim For eternal years in debt.
Pay ransom to the owner, And fill the bag to the brim. Who is the owner? The slave is owner, And ever was. Pay him.
O North! give him beauty for rags, And honor, O South! for his shame; Nevada! coin thy golden crags With Freedom's image and name.
Up! and the dusky race That sat in darkness long,— Be swift their feet as antelopes, And as behemoth strong.
Come, East, and West, and North, By races, as snow-flakes, And carry my purpose forth, Which neither halts nor shakes.
My will fulfilled shall be, For, in daylight or in dark, My thunderbolt has eyes to see His way home to the mark.
THE SIEGE OF CINCINNATI.
The live man of the old Revolution, the daring Hotspur of those troublous days, was Anthony Wayne. The live man to-day of the great Northwest is Lewis Wallace. With all the chivalric clash of the stormer of Stony Point, he has a cooler head, with a capacity for larger plans, and the steady nerve to execute whatever he conceives. When a difficulty rises in his path, the difficulty, no matter what its proportions, moves aside; he does not. When a river like the Ohio at Cincinnati intervenes between him and his field of operations, there is a sudden sound of saws and hammers at sunset, and the next morning beholds the magic spectacle of a great pontoon-bridge stretching between the shores of Freedom and Slavery, its planks resounding to the heavy tread of almost endless regiments and army-wagons. Is a city like Cincinnati menaced by a hungry foe, striding on by forced marches, that foe sees his path suddenly blocked by ten miles of fortifications thoroughly manned and armed, and he finds it prudent, even with his twenty thousand veterans, to retreat faster than he came, strewing the road with whatever articles impede his haste. Some few incidents in the career of such a man, since he has taken the field, ought not to be uninteresting to those for whom he has fought so bravely; and we believe his services, when known, will be appreciated, otherwise we will come under the old ban against Republics, that they are ungrateful.
While returning from New York at the expiration of a short leave of absence, the first asked for since the beginning of the war, General Wallace was persuaded by Governor Morton to stump the State of Indiana in favor of voluntary enlistments, which at that time were progressing slowly. Wallace went to work in all earnestness. His idea was to obtain command of the new levies, drill them, and take them to the field; and this idea was circulated throughout the State. The result was, enlisting increased rapidly; the ardor for it rose shortly into a fever, and has not yet abated. Regiments are still forming, shedding additional lustre upon the name of patriotic Indiana.
General Wallace was thus engaged when the news was received from Morgan of the invasion of Kentucky by Kirby Smith. All eyes turned at once to Governor Morton, many of whose regiments were now ready to take the field, if they only had officers to lead them. Wallace came promptly to the Governor's assistance, and offered to take command of a regiment for the crisis. His offer was accepted, and he was sent to New Albany, where the Sixty-Sixth Indiana was in camp. In twelve hours he mustered it, paid its bounty money, clothed and armed it, and marched it to Louisville. Brigadier-General Boyle was in command of Kentucky. Wallace, who is a Major-General, reported to him at the above-named city, and a peculiar scene occurred.
"General Boyle," said Wallace, "I report to you the Sixty-Sixth Indiana Regiment."
"Who commands it?" asked the General.
"I have that honor, Sir," was the reply.
"You want orders, I suppose?"
"It is a difficult matter for me," said Boyle. "I have no right to order you."
"That difficulty is easily solved," Wallace replied, with characteristic promptness. "I come to report to you as a Colonel. I come to take orders as such."
General Boyle consulted with his Adjutant-General, and the result was a request that General Wallace would proceed to Lexington with his command. Here was exhibited the ready, self-sacrificing spirit of a true patriot: he did not stand and wait until he could find the position to which his high rank entitled him, but stepped into the place where he could best and quickest serve his country in her hour of peril.
While Wallace was still at the railway-station, he received an order from General Boyle, putting him in command of all the forces in Lexington. Here was a golden opportunity for our young commander. What higher honor could be coveted than to relieve the brave Morgan, pent up as he was with his little army in the mountain-gorges of the Cumberland? The idea fired the soul of Wallace, and he pushed on to Lexington. But here he was sadly disappointed. He found the forces waiting there inadequate to the task: instead of an army, there were only three regiments. He telegraphed for more troops. Indiana and Ohio responded promptly and nobly. In three days he received and brigaded nine regiments and started them toward the Gap.
No one but an experienced soldier, one who has indeed tried it, can conceive of the labor involved in such an undertaking. The material in his hands was, to say the best of it, magnificently raw. Officers, from colonels to corporals, brave though they might be as lions, knew literally nothing of military affairs. The men had not learned even to load their guns. Companies had to be led, like little children, by the hand as it were, into their places in line of battle. There was no cavalry, no artillery. It happened, however, that guns, horses, and supplies intended for Morgan at the Gap were in depot at Lexington. Then Wallace began to catch a glimpse of dawn through the dark tangle of the wilderness. Some kind of order, prompt and immediate, must be forced out of this chaos; and it came, for the master-spirit was there to arrange and compel. He mounted several hundred men, giving them rifles instead of sabres. He manned new guns, procuring harness and ammunition for them from Louisville. Where there were no caissons, he supplied wagons. But his regiments were not his sole reliance; he is a believer in riflemen, a fighting class of which Kentucky was full. These he summoned to his assistance, and was met by a ready and hearty response: they came trooping to him by hundreds. Among others, Garrett Davis, United States Senator, led a company of Home-Guards to Lexington. In this way General Wallace composed, or rather improvised a little army, and all without help, his regular staff being absent, mostly in Memphis.
"Kentucky has not been herself in this war," exclaimed General Wallace; "she must be aroused; and I propose to do it thoroughly."
"How will you do it?" asked a skeptic.
"Easily enough, Sir. Kentucky has a host of great names. Kentuckians believe in great names. It is to this tune that the traitors have carried them to the field against us. I will take with me to the field all the men living, old and young, who have made those names great. Buckner took the young Crittendens and Clays; by Heaven, I'll take their fathers!"
"But they can't march."
"I'll haul them, then."
"They can be of no service in that way."
"But the magic of their names!" exclaimed Wallace. "What will the young Kentuckians say, when they hear John J. Crittenden, Leslie Combs, Robert Breckenridge, Tom Clay, Garrett Davis, Judge Goodloe, and fathers of that kind, are going down to battle with me?"
The skeptics held their peace.
General Wallace now constituted a volunteer staff. Wadsworth, M.C. from Maysville district, was his adjutant-general. Brand, Gratz, Goodloe, and young Tom Clay were his aids. Old Tom Clay, John J. Crittenden, Leslie Combs, Judge Goodloe, Garrett Davis, were all prepared and going, when General Wallace was suddenly relieved of his command by General Nelson.
Without instituting any comparison between these two generals, it is enough to say that the supersession of Wallace by Nelson at that moment was most unfortunate and untimely, as the sequel proved, fraught as it was with disastrous consequences. The circumstances were these.
Scott's Rebel cavalry had whipped Metcalf's regiment of Loyalists at Big Hill, some twelve or fifteen miles beyond Richmond, Kentucky, and followed them to within four miles of that town, where they were stopped by Lenck's brigade of infantry. The affair was reported to Wallace, with the number and situation of the enemy. He at once took prompt measures to meet the exigence of the situation. He could throw Lenck's and Clay's brigades upon the Rebel front; the brigade at Nicholasville could take them in flank by crossing the Kentucky River at Tatt's Ford; while, by uniting Clay Smith's command with that of Jacob, then en route for Nicholasville, he could plant seventeen hundred cavalry in their rear between Big Hill and Mount Vernon.
The enemy at this time were at least twenty miles in advance of their supports, and a night's march would have readily placed the several forces mentioned in position to attack them by daylight. This was Wallace's plan,—simple, feasible, and soldier-like. All his orders were given. A supply-train with extra ammunition and abundant rations was in line on the road to Richmond. Clay's brigade was drawn up ready to move, and General Wallace's horse was saddled. He was writing a last order in reference to the city of Lexington in his absence, and directing the officer left in charge to forward regiments to him at Richmond as fast as they should arrive, when General Nelson came and instantly took the command. Fifteen minutes more and General Wallace would have been on the road to Richmond to superintend the execution of his plan of attack. The supersession was, of course, a bitter disappointment; yet he never grumbled or demurred in the least, but, like a true soldier who knows his duty, offered that evening to serve his successor in any capacity, a generosity which General Nelson declined. The well-conceived plan which Wallace had matured failed for the simple reason, that, instead of marching to execute it that night, as common sense would seem to have dictated, Nelson did not leave Lexington until the next day at one o'clock; and at daylight, when the attack was to have been made, the Rebel leader, Scott, discovered his danger, and wisely retreated, finding nobody in his rear. The result was, Nelson went to Richmond and was defeated. It is possible that the same result might have followed Wallace; but by those competent to judge it is thought otherwise.
He had a plan adapted to the troops he was leading, who, although very raw, would have been invincible behind breastworks, as American troops have always shown themselves to be. Wallace never intended arraying these inexperienced men in the open field against the veteran troops of the Rebels. Neither did he intend they should dig. He had collected large quantities of intrenching tools, and was rapidly assembling a corps of negroes, nearly five hundred of whom he had already in waiting in Morgan's factory, all prepared to follow his column, armed with spades and picks. In Madison County he intended getting at least five hundred more. "I will march," he said, "like Caesar in Gaul, and intrench my camp every night. If I am attacked at any time in too great numbers, I can drop back to my nearest works, and wait for reinforcements." Such was his plan, and those who know him believe firmly that he could have been at the Cumberland Gap in time not only to succor our little army there, but to have prevented the destruction and evacuation of that very important post.
Wallace, finding himself thus suddenly superseded, his plans ignored, and his voluntary service bluffly refused, left Lexington for Cincinnati. While there the Battle of Richmond was fought, the disastrous results of which are still too fresh in the public mind to require repeating. Nelson, who did not arrive upon the field until the day was about lost, and only in time to use his sword against his own men in a fruitless endeavor to rally them, received a flesh-wound, and hastened back the same night to Cincinnati, leaving many dead and wounded on the field, and thousands of our brave boys prisoners to be paroled by the Rebels. These are simple matters of record, and are not here set down in any spirit of prejudice, or to throw a shadow upon the memory of the misguided, unfortunate, but courageous Nelson.
At this juncture General Wallace was again ordered to Lexington, this time by General Wright, a general whose gentlemanly bearing in all capacities makes him an ornament to the American army. Wallace was ordered thither to resume command of the forces; but on arriving at Paris, the order was countermanded, and he was sent back to take charge of the city of Cincinnati. Shrewdly suspecting that our forces would evacuate Lexington, he hastened to his new post. General Wright was at that time in Louisville. On his way back, Wallace was asked by one of his aids,—
"Do you believe the enemy will come to Cincinnati?"
"Yes," was the reply. "Kirby Smith will first go to Frankfort. He must have that place, if possible, for the political effect it will have. If he gets it, he will surely come to Cincinnati. He is an idiot, if he does not. Here is the material of war,—goods, groceries, salt, supplies, machinery, etc.,—enough to restock the whole bogus Confederacy."
"What are you going to do? You have nothing to defend the city with."
"I will show you," was the reply.
Within the first half-hour after his arrival in Cincinnati, General Wallace wrote and sent to the daily papers the following proclamation, which fully and clearly develops his whole plan.
"The undersigned, by order of Major-General Wright, assumes command of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport.
"It is but fair to inform the citizens, that an active, daring, and powerful enemy threatens them with every consequence of war; yet the cities must be defended, and their inhabitants must assist in the preparation.
"Patriotism, duty, honor, self-preservation, call them to the labor, and it must be performed equally by all classes.
"First. All business must be suspended at nine o'clock to-day. Every business-house must be closed.
"Second. Under the direction of the Mayor, the citizens must, within an hour after the suspension of business, (ten o'clock, A.M.,) assemble in convenient public places ready for orders. As soon as possible they will then be assigned to their work.
"This labor ought to be that of love, and the undersigned trusts and believes it will be so. Anyhow, it must be done.
"The willing shall be properly credited; the unwilling promptly visited. The principle adopted is, Citizens for the labor, soldiers for the battle.
"Third. The ferry-boats will cease plying the river after four o'clock, A.M., until further orders.
"Martial law is hereby proclaimed in the three cities; but until they can be relieved by the military, the injunctions of this proclamation will be executed by the police.
"LEWIS WALLACE, "Maj.-Gen'r'l Commanding."
Could anything be bolder and more to the purpose? It placed Cincinnati under martial law. It totally suspended business, and sent every citizen, without distinction, to the ranks or into the trenches. "Citizens for labor, soldiers for battle," was the principle underlying the whole plan,—a motto by which he reached every able-bodied man in the metropolis, and united the energies of forty thousand people,—a motto original with himself, and for which he should have the credit.
Imagine the astonishment that seized the city, when, in the morning, this bold proclamation was read,—a city unused to the din of war and its impediments. As yet there was no word of an advance of the enemy in the direction of Cincinnati. It was a question whether they would come or not. Thousands did not believe in the impending danger; yet the proclamation was obeyed to the letter, and this, too, when there was not a regiment to enforce it. The secret is easy of comprehension: it was the universal confidence reposed in the man who issued the order; and he was equally confident, not only in his own judgment, but in the people with whom he had to deal.
"If the enemy should not come after all this fuss," said one of the General's friends, "you will be ruined."
"Very well," he replied; "but they will come. And if they do not, it will be because this same fuss has caused them to think better of it."
The ten days ensuing will be forever memorable in the annals of the city of Cincinnati. The cheerful alacrity with which the people rose en masse to swell the ranks and crowd into the trenches was a sight worth seeing, and being seen could not readily be forgotten.
Here were the representatives of all nations and classes. The sturdy German, the lithe and gay-hearted Irishman, went shoulder to shoulder in defence of their adopted country. The man of money, the man of law, the merchant, the artist, and the artisan swelled the lines hastening to the scene of action, armed either with musket, pick, or spade. Added to these was seen Dickson's long and dusky brigade of colored men, cheerfully wending their way to labor on the fortifications, evidently holding it their especial right to put whatever impediments they could in the northward path of those whom they considered their own peculiar foe. But the pleasantest and most picturesque sight of those remarkable days was the almost endless stream of sturdy men who rushed to the rescue from the rural districts of the State. These were known as the "Squirrel-Hunters." They came in files numbering thousands upon thousands, in all kinds of costumes, and armed with all kinds of fire-arms, but chiefly the deadly rifle, which they knew so well bow to use. Old men, middle-aged men, young men, and often mere boys, like the "minute-men" of the old Revolution, they left the plough in the furrow, the flail on the half-threshed sheaves, the unfinished iron upon the anvil,—in short, dropped all their peculiar avocations, and with their leathern pouches full of bullets and their ox-horns full of powder, poured into the city by every highway and by-way in such numbers that it seemed as if the whole State of Ohio were peopled only with hunters, and that the spirit of Daniel Boone stood upon the hills opposite the town beckoning them into Kentucky. The pontoon-bridge, which had been begun and completed between sundown and sundown, groaned day and night with the perpetual stream of life all setting southward. In three days there were ten miles of intrenchments lining the hills, making a semicircle from the river above the city to the banks of the river below; and these were thickly manned from end to end, and made terrible to the astonished enemy by black and frowning cannon. General Heath, with his twenty thousand Rebel veterans, flushed with their late success at Richmond, drew up before these formidable preparations, and deemed it prudent to take the matter into serious consideration before making the attack.
Our men were eagerly awaiting their approach, thousands in rifle-pits and tens of thousands along the whole line of the fortifications, while our scouts and pickets were skirmishing with their outposts in the plains in front. Should the foe make a sudden dash and carry any point of our lines, it was thought by some that nothing would prevent them from entering Cincinnati.
But for this also provision was made. The river about the city, above and below, was well protected by a flotilla of gun-boats improvised from the swarm of steamers which lay at the wharves. A storm of shot and shell, such as they had not dreamed of, would have played upon their advancing columns, while our regiments, pouring down from the fortifications, would have fallen upon their rear. The shrewd leaders of the Rebel army were probably kept well posted by traitors within our own lines in regard to the reception prepared for them, and, taking advantage of the darkness of night and the violence of a thunder-storm, made a hasty and ruinous retreat. Wallace was anxious to follow them, and was confident of success, but was overruled by those higher in authority.
The address which he now published to the citizens of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport was manly and well-deserved. He said,—
"For the present, at least, the enemy has fallen back, and your cities are safe. It is the time for acknowledgments. I beg leave to make you mine. When I assumed command, there was nothing to defend you with, except a few half-finished works and some dismounted guns; yet I was confident. The energies of a great city are boundless; they have only to be aroused, united, and directed. You were appealed to. The answer will never be forgotten. Paris may have seen something like it in her revolutionary days, but the cities of America never did. Be proud that you have given them an example so splendid. The most commercial of people, you submitted to a total suspension of business, and without a murmur adopted my principle, 'Citizens for labor, soldiers for battle.' In coming times, strangers viewing the works on the hills of Newport and Covington will ask, 'Who built these intrenchments? You can answer, 'We built them.' If they ask, 'Who guarded them?' you can reply, 'We helped in thousands.' If they inquire the result, your answer will be, 'The enemy came and looked at them, and stole away in the night.' You have won much honor. Keep your organizations ready to win more. Hereafter be always prepared to defend yourselves.
"LEWIS WALLACE, "Maj.-Gen'r'l."
It can safely be claimed for our young General, that he was the moving spirit which inspired and directed the people, and thereby saved Cincinnati and the surrounding cities, and, in the very face of Heath and his victorious horde from Richmond, organized a new and formidable army. That the citizens fully indorsed this was well exemplified on the occasion of his leading back into the metropolis a number of her volunteer regiments when the danger was over. They lined the streets, crowded the doors and windows, and filled the air with shouts of applause, in honor of the great work he had done.
In writing this notice of Wallace and the siege, we have had no intention to overlook the services of his co-laborers, especially those rendered to the West by the gallant Wright, who holds command of the department. The writer has attempted to give what came directly under his own observation, and what he believes to be the core of the matter, and consequently most interesting to the public.
In the old Cathedral of Winchester stand the tombs of kings, with dates stretching back to William Rufus and Canute; here, too, are the marble effigies of queens and noble ladies, of crusaders and warriors, of priests and bishops. But our pilgrimage led us to a slab of black marble set into the pavement of the north aisle, and there, under the grand old arches, we read the name of Jane Austen. Many-colored as the light which streams through painted windows, came the memories which floated in our soul as we read the simple inscription: happy hours, gladdened by her genius, weary hours, soothed by her touch; the honored and the wise who first placed her volumes in our hand; the beloved ones who had lingered over her pages, the voices of our distant home, associated with every familiar story.
The personal history of Jane Austen belongs to the close of the last and the beginning of the present century. Her father through forty years was rector of a parish in the South of England. Mr. Austen was a man of great taste in all literary matters; from him his daughter inherited many of her gifts. He probably guided her early education and influenced the direction of her genius. Her life was passed chiefly in the country. Bath, then a fashionable watering-place, with occasional glimpses of London, must have afforded all the intercourse which she held with what is called "the world." Her travels were limited to excursions in the vicinity of her father's residence. Those were days of post-chaises and sedan-chairs, when the rush of the locomotive was unknown. Steam, that genie of the vapor, was yet a little household elf, singing pleasant times by the evening fire, at quiet hearthstones; it has since expanded into a mighty giant, whose influences are no longer domestic. The circles of fashion are changed also. Those were the days of country-dances and India muslins; the beaux and belles of "the upper rooms" at Bath knew not the whirl of the waltz, nor the ceaseless involvements of "the German." Yet the measures of love and jealousy, of hope and fear, to which their hearts beat time, would be recognized to-night in every ballroom. Infinite sameness, infinite variety, are not more apparent in the outward than in the inward world, and the work of that writer will alone be lasting who recognizes and embodies this eternal law of the great Author.
Jane Austen possessed in a remarkable degree this rare intuition. The following passage is found in Sir Walter Scott's journal, under date of the fourteenth of March, 1826:—"Read again, and for the third time at least, Miss Austen's finely written novel of 'Pride and Prejudice.' That young lady had a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with. The Big Bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting from truth of the description and the sentiment is denied to me." This is high praise, but it is something more when we recur to the time at which Sir Walter writes this paragraph. It is amid the dreary entries in his journal of 1826, many of which make our hearts ache and our eyes overflow. He read the pages of Jane Austen on the fourteenth of March, and on the fifteenth he writes, "This morning I leave 39 Castle Street for the last time." It was something to have written a book sought for by him at such a moment. Even at Malta, in December, 1831, when the pressure of disease, as well as of misfortune, was upon him, Sir Walter was often found with a volume of Miss Austen in his hand, and said to a friend, "There is a finishing-off in some of her scenes that is really quite above everybody else."
Jane Austen's life-world presented such a limited experience that it is marvellous where she could have found the models from which she studied such a variety of forms. It is only another proof that the secret lies in the genius which seizes, not in the material which is seized. We have been told by one who knew her well, that Miss Austen never intentionally drew portraits from individuals, and avoided, if possible, all sketches that could be recognized. But she was so faithful to Nature, that many of her acquaintance, whose characters had never entered her mind, were much offended, and could not be persuaded that they or their friends had not been depicted in some of her less attractive personages: a feeling which we have frequently shared; for, as the touches of her pencil brought out the light and shades very quietly, we have been startled to recognize our own portrait come gradually out on the canvas, especially since we are not equal to the courage of Cromwell, who said, "Paint me as I am."
In the "Autobiography of Sir Egerton Brydges" we find the following passage: it is characteristic of the man:—
"I remember Jane Austen, the novelist, a little child. Her mother was a Miss Leigh, whose paternal grandmother was a sister of the first Duke of Chandos. Mr. Austen was of a Kentish family, of which several branches have been settled in the Weald, and some are still remaining there. When I knew Jane Austen, I never suspected she was an authoress; but my eyes told me that she was fair and handsome, slight and elegant, with cheeks a little too full. The last time, I think, I saw her was at Ramsgate, in 1803; perhaps she was then about twenty-seven years old. Even then I did not know that she was addicted to literary composition."
We can readily suppose that the spheres of Jane Austen and Sir Egerton could not be very congenial; and it does not appear that he was ever tempted from the contemplation of his own performances, to read her "literary compositions." A letter from Robert Southey to Sir Egerton shows that the latter had not quite forgotten her. Southey writes, under the dale of Keswick, April, 1830:—
"You mention Miss Austen; her novels are more true to Nature, and have (for my sympathies) passages of finer feeling than any others of this age. She was a person of whom I have heard so much, and think so highly, that I regret not having seen her, or ever had an opportunity of testifying to her the respect which I felt for her."
A pleasant anecdote, told to us on good authority in England, is illustrative of Miss Austen's power over various minds. A party of distinguished literary men met at a country-seat; among them was Macaulay, and, we believe, Hallam; at all events, they were men of high reputation. While discussing the merits of various authors, it was proposed that each should write down the name of that work of fiction which had given him the greatest pleasure. Much surprise and amusement followed; for, on opening the slips of paper, seven bore the name of "Mansfield Park,"—a coincidence of opinion most rare, and a tribute to an author unsurpassed.
Had we been of that party at the English country-house, we should have written, "The last novel by Miss Austen which we have read"; yet, forced to a selection, we should have named "Persuasion." But we withdraw our private preference, and, yielding to the decision of seven wise men, place "Mansfield Park" at the head of the list, and leave it there without further comment.
"Persuasion" was her latest work, and bears the impress of a matured mind and perfected style. The language of Miss Austen is, in all her pages, drawn from the "wells of English undefiled." Concise and clear, simple and vigorous, no word can be omitted that she puts down, and none can be added to heighten the effect of her sentences. In "Persuasion" there are passages whose depth and tenderness, welling up from deep fountains of feeling, impress us with the conviction that the angel of sorrow or suffering had troubled the waters, yet had left in them a healing influence, which is felt rather than revealed. Of all the heroines we have known through a long and somewhat varied experience, there is not one whose life-companionship we should so desire to secure as that of Anne Elliot. Ah! could she also forgive our faults and bear with our weaknesses, while we were animated by her sweet and noble example, existence would be, under any aspect, a blessing. This felicity was reserved for Captain Wentworth. Happy man! In "Persuasion" we also find the subtle Mr. Elliot. Here, as with Mr. Crawford in "Mansfield Park," Miss Austen deals dexterously with the character of a man of the world, and uses a nicer discernment than is often found in the writings of women, even those who assume masculine names.
"Emma" we know to have been a favorite with the author. "I have drawn a character full of faults," said she, "nevertheless I like her." In Emma's company we meet Mr. Knightley, Harriet Smith, and Frank Churchill. We sit beside good old Mr. Woodhouse, and please him by tasting his gruel. We walk through Highbury, we are patronized by Mrs. Elton, listen forbearingly to the indefatigable Miss Bates, and take an early walk to the post-office with Jane Fairfax. Once we found ourselves actually on "Box Hill," but it did not seem half so real as when we "explored" there with the party from Highbury.
"Pride and Prejudice" is piquant In style and masterly in portraiture. We make perhaps too many disagreeable acquaintances to enjoy ourselves entirely; yet who would forego Mr. Collins, or forget Lady Catherine de Bourgh, though each in their way is more stupid and odious than any one but Miss Austen could induce us to endure. Mr. Darcy's character is ably given; a very difficult one to sustain under all the circumstances in which he is placed. It is no small tribute to the power of the author to concede that she has so managed the workings of his real nature as to make it possible, and even probable, that a high-born, high-bred Englishman of Mr. Darcy's stamp could become the son-in-law of Mrs. Bennet. The scene of Darcy's declaration of love to Elizabeth, at the Hunsford Parsonage, is one of the most remarkable passages in Miss Austen's writings, and, indeed, we remember nothing equal to it among the many writers of fiction who have endeavored to describe that culminating point of human destiny.
"Northanger Abbey" is written in a fine vein of irony, called forth, in some degree, by the romantic school of Mrs. Radcliffe and her imitators. We doubt whether Miss Austen was not over-wise with regard to these romances. Though born after the Radcliffe era, we well remember shivering through the "Mysteries of Udolpho" with as quaking a heart as beat in the bosom of Catherine Morland. If Miss Austen was not equally impressed by the power of these romances, we rejoice that they were written, as with them we should have lost "Northanger Abbey." For ourselves, we spent one very rainy day in the streets of Bath, looking up every nook and corner familiar in the adventures of Catherine, and time, not faith, failed, for a visit to Northanger itself. Bath was also sanctified by the presence of Anne Elliot. Our inn, the "White Hart," (made classic by the adventures of various well-remembered characters,) was hallowed by exquisite memories which connected one of the rooms (we faithfully believed it was our apartment) with the conversation of Anne Elliot and Captain Harville, as they stood by the window, while Captain Wentworth listened and wrote. In vain did we gaze at the windows of Camden Place. No Anne Elliot appeared.
"Sense and Sensibility" was the first novel published by Miss Austen. It is marked by her peculiar genius, though it may be wanting in the nicer finish which experience gave to her later writings.
The Earl of Carlisle, when Lord Morpheth, wrote a poem for some now forgotten annual, entitled "The Lady and the Novel." The following lines occur among the verses:—
"Or is it thou, all-perfect Austen? here Let one poor wreath adorn thy early bier, That scarce allowed thy modest worth to claim The living portion of thy honest fame: Oh, Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Morris, too, While Memory survives, she'll dream of you; And Mr. Woodhouse, with abstemious lip, Must thin, but not too thin, the gruel sip; Miss Bates, our idol, though the village bore, And Mrs. Elton, ardent to explore; While the clear style flows on without pretence, With unstained purity, and unmatched sense."
If the Earl of Carlisle, in whose veins flows "the blood of all the Howards," is willing to acknowledge so many of our friends, who are anything but aristocratic, our republican soul shrinks not from the confession that we should like to accompany good-natured Mrs. Jennings in her hospitable carriage, (so useful to our young ladies of sense and sensibility,) witness the happiness of Elinor at the parsonage, and the reward of Colonel Brandon at the manor-house of Delaford, and share with Mrs. Jennings all the charms of the mulberry-tree and the yew arbor.
An article on "Recent Novels," in "Fraser's Magazine" for December, 1847, written by Mr. G.H. Lewes, contains the following paragraphs:—"What we most heartily enjoy and applaud is truth in the delineations of life and character.... To make our meaning precise, we would say that Fielding and Miss Austen are the greatest novelists in our language.... We would rather have written 'Pride and Prejudice,' or 'Tom Jones,' than any of the 'Waverley Novels'.... Miss Austen has been called a prose Shakspeare,—and among others, by Macaulay. In spite of the sense of incongruity which besets us in the words prose Shakspeare, we confess the greatness of Miss Austen, her marvellous dramatic power, seems, more than anything in Scott, akin to Shakspeare."
The conclusion of this article is devoted to a review of 'Jane Eyre,' and led to the correspondence between Miss Bronte and Mr. Lewes which will be found in the memoir of her life. In these letters it is apparent that Mr. Lewes wishes Miss Bronte to read and to enjoy Miss Austen's works, as he does himself. Mr. Lewes is disappointed, and felt, doubtless, what all true lovers of Jane Austen have experienced, a surprise to find how obtuse otherwise clever people sometimes are. In this instance, however, we think Mr. Lewes expected what was impossible. Charlotte Bronte could not harmonize with Jane Austen. The luminous and familiar star which comes forth into the quiet evening sky when the sun sets amid the amber light of an autumn evening, and the comet which started into sight, unheralded and unnamed, and flamed across the midnight sky, have no affinity, except in the Divine Mind, whence both originate.