For the restorative qualities of Saratoga I have nothing to say. I was well when I went there; nor did my experience ever furnish me with any disease that I should consider worse than an intermittent attack of her spring waters. But whatever it may do for the body, I do not believe it is good for the soul. I do not believe that such places, such scenes, such a fashion of life ever nourishes a vigorous womanhood or manhood. Taken homoeopathically, it may be harmless; but if it become a habit, a necessity, it must vitiate, enervate, destroy. Men can stand it, for the sea-breezes and the mountain-breezes may have full sweep through their life; but women cannot, for they just go home and live air-tight.
* * * * *
If the railroad-men at Saratoga tell you you can go straight from there to the foot of Lake George, don't you believe a word of it. Perhaps you can, and perhaps you cannot; but you are not any more likely to can for their saying so. We left Saratoga for Fort-William-Henry Hotel in full faith of an afternoon ride and a sunset arrival, based on repeated and unhesitating assurances to that effect. Instead of which, we went a few miles, and were then dumped into a blackberry-patch, where we were informed that we must wait seven hours. So much for the afternoon ride through summer fields and "Sunset on Lake George" from the top of a coach. But I made no unmanly laments, for we were out of Saratoga, and that was happiness. We were among cows and barns and homely rail-fences, and that was comfort; so we strolled contentedly through the pastures, found a river,—I believe it was the Hudson; at any rate, Halicarnassus said so, though I don't imagine he knew; but he would take oath it was Acheron rather than own up to ignorance on any point whatever,—watched the canal-boats and boatmen go down, marvelled at the arbor-vitae trees growing wild along the river-banks, green, hale, stately, and symmetrical, against the dismal mental background of two little consumptive shoots bolstered up in our front yard at home, and dying daily, notwithstanding persistent and affectionate nursing with "flannels and rum." And then we went back to the blackberry-station and inquired whether there was nothing celebrated in the vicinity to which visitors of received Orthodox creed should dutifully pay their respects, and were gratified to learn that we were but a few miles from Jane McCrea and her Indian murderers. Was a carriage procurable? Well, yes, if the ladies would be willing to go in that. It wasn't very smart, but it would take 'em safe,—as if "the ladies" would have raised any objections to going in a wheelbarrow, had it been necessary, and so we bundled in. The hills were steep, and our horse, the property of an adventitious bystander, was of the Rosinante breed; but we were in no hurry, seeing that the only thing awaiting us this side the sunset was a blackberry-patch without any blackberries, and we walked up hill and scraped down, till we got into a lane which somebody told us led to the Fort, from which the village, Fort Edward, takes its name. But, instead of a fort, the lane ran full tilt against a pair of bars.
"Now we are lost," I said, sententiously.
"A gem of countless price," pursued Halicarnassus, who never quotes poetry except to inflame me.
"How long will it be profitable to remain here?" asked Grande, when we had sat immovable and speechless for the space of five minutes.
"There seems to be nowhere else to go. We have got to the end," said Halicarnassus, roaming as to his eyes over into the wheat-field beyond.
"We might turn," suggested the Anakim, looking bright,
"How can you turn a horse in this knitting-needle of a lane?" I demanded.
"I don't know," replied Halicarnassus, dubiously, "unless I take him up in my arms, and set him down with his head the other way,"—and immediately turned him deftly in a corner about half as large as the wagon.
The next lane we came to was the right one, and being narrow, rocky, and rough, we left our carriage and walked.
A whole volume of the peaceful and prosperous history of our beloved country could be read in the fact that the once belligerent, life-saving, death-dealing fort was represented by a hen-coop; yet I was disappointed. I was hungry for a ruin,—some visible hint of the past. Such is human nature,—ever prone to be more impressed by a disappointment of its own momentary gratification than by the most obvious well-being of a nation; but, glad or sorry, of Fort Edward was not left one stone upon another. Several single stones lay about promiscuous rather than belligerent. Flag-staff and palisades lived only in a few straggling bean-poles. For the heavy booming of cannon rose the "quauk!" of ducks and the cackling of hens. We went to the spot which tradition points out as the place where Jane McCrea met her death. River flowed, and raftsmen sang below; women stood at their washing-tubs, and white-headed children stared at us from above; nor from the unheeding river or the forgetful woods came shriek or cry or faintest wail of pain.
When we were little, and geography and history were but printed words on white paper, not places and events, Jane McCrea was to us no suffering woman, but a picture of a low-necked, long-skirted, scanty dress, long hair grasped by a half-naked Indian, and two unnatural-looking hands raised in entreaty. It was interesting as a picture, but it excited no pity, no horror, because it was only a picture. We never saw women dressed in that style. We knew that women did not take journeys through woods without bonnet or shawl, and we spread a veil of ignorant, indifferent incredulity over the whole. But as we grow up, printed words take on new life. The latent fire in them lights up and glows. The mystic words throb with vital heat, and burn down into our souls to an answering fire. As we stand, on this soft summer day, by the old tree which tradition declares to have witnessed that fateful scene, we go back into a summer long ago, but fair and just like this. Jane McCrea is no longer a myth, but a young girl blooming and beautiful with the roses of her seventeen years. Farther back still, we see an old man's darling, little Jenny of the Manse, a light-hearted child, with sturdy Scotch blood leaping in her young veins,—then a tender orphan, sheltered by a brother's care,—then a gentle maiden, light-hearted no longer, heavy-freighted, rather, but with a priceless burden,—a happy girl, to whom love calls with stronger voice than brother's blood, stronger even than life. Yonder in the woods lurk wily and wary foes. Death with unspeakable horrors lies in ambush there; but yonder also stands the soldier lover, and possible greeting, after long, weary absence, is there. What fear can master that overpowering hope? Estrangement of families, political disagreement, a separated loyalty, all melt away, are fused together in the warmth of girlish love. Taxes, representation, what things are these to come between two hearts? No Tory, no traitor is her lover, but her own brave hero and true knight. Woe! woe! the eager dream is broken by mad war-whoops! Alas! to those fierce wild men, what is love, or loveliness? Pride, and passion, and the old accursed hunger for gold flame up in their savage breasts. Wrathful, loathsome fingers clutch the long, fair hair that even the fingers of love have caressed but with reverent half-touch,—and love, and hope, and life go out in one dread moment of horror and despair. Now, through the reverberations of more than fourscore years, through all the tempest-rage of a war more awful than that, and fraught, we hope, with a grander joy, a clear, young voice, made sharp with agony, rings through the shuddering woods, cleaves up through the summer sky, and wakens in every heart a thrill of speechless pain. Along these peaceful banks I see a bowed form walking, youth in his years, but deeper furrows in his face than age can plough, stricken down from the heights of his ambition and desire, all the vigor and fire of manhood crushed and quenched beneath the horror of one fearful memory. Sweet summer sky, bending above us soft and saintly, beyond your blue depths is there not Heaven?
* * * * *
"We may as well give Dobbin his oats here," said Halicarnassus.
We had brought a few in a bag for luncheon, thinking it might help him over the hills. So the wagon was rummaged, the bag brought to light, and I sent to one of the nearest houses to get something for him to eat out of. I did not think to ask what particular vessel to inquire for; but after I had knocked, I decided upon a meat-platter or a pudding-dish, and with the good woman's permission finally took both, that Halicarnassus might have his choice.
"Which is the best?" I asked, holding them up.
He surveyed them carefully, and then said,—
"Now run right back and get a tumbler for him to drink out of, and a teaspoon to feed him with."
I started in good faith, from a mere habit of unquestioning obedience, but with the fourth step my reason returned to me, and I returned to Halicarnassus and—kicked him. That sounds very dreadful and horrible, and it is, if you are thinking of a great, brutal, brogan kick, such as a stupid farmer gives to his patient oxen; but not, if you mean only a delicate, compact, penetrative punch with the toe of a tight-fitting gaiter,—addressed rather to the conscience than the shins, to the sensibilities rather than the senses. The kick masculine is coarse, boorish, unmitigated, predicable only of Calibans. The kick feminine is expressive, suggestive, terse, electric,—an indispensable instrument in domestic discipline, as women will bear me witness, and not at all incompatible with beauty, grace, and amiability. But, right or wrong, after all this interval of rest and reflection, in full view of all the circumstances, my only regret is that I did not tick him harder.
"Now go and fetch your own tools!" I cried, shaking off the yoke of servitude. "I won't be your stable-boy any longer!"
Then, perforce, he gathered up the crockery, marched off in disgrace, and came back with a molasses-hogshead, or a wash-tub, or some such overgrown mastodon, to turn his sixpenny-worth of oats into.
Having fed our mettlesome steed, the next thing was to water him. The Anakim remembered to have seen a pump with a trough somewhere, and they proposed to reconnoitre while we should "wait by the wagon" their return. No, I said we would drive on to the pump, while they walked.
"You drive!" ejaculated Halicarnassus, contemptuously.
Now I do not, as a general thing, have an overweening respect for female teamsters. There is but one woman in the world to whose hands I confide the reins and my bones with entire equanimity; and she says, that, when she is driving, she dreads of all things to meet a driving woman. If a man said this, it might be set down to prejudice. I don't make any account of Halicarnassus's assertion, that, if two women walking in the road on a muddy day meet a carriage, they never keep together, but invariably one runs to the right and one to the left, so that the driver cannot favor them at all, but has to crowd between them, and drive both into the mud. That is palpably interested false witness. He thinks it is fine fun to push women into the mud, and frames such flimsy excuses. But as a woman's thoughts about women, this woman's utterances are deserving of attention; and she says that women are not to be depended upon. She is never sure that they will not turn out on the wrong side. They are nervous; they are timid; they are unreasoning; they are reckless. They will give a horse a disconnected, an utterly inconsequent "cut," making him spring, to the jeopardy of their own and others' safety. They are not concentrative, and they are not infallibly courteous, as men are. I remember I was driving with her once between Newburyport and Boston. It was getting late, and we were very desirous to reach our destination before nightfall. Ahead of us a woman and a girl were jogging along in a country-wagon. As we wished to go much faster than they, we turned aside to pass them; but just as we were well abreast, the woman started up her horse, and he skimmed over the ground like a bird. We laughed, and followed well content. But after he had gone perhaps an eighth of a mile, his speed slackened down to the former jog-trot. Three times we attempted to pass before we really comprehended the fact that that infamous woman was deliberately detaining and annoying us. The third time, when we had so nearly passed them that our horse was turning into the road again, she struck hers up so suddenly and unexpectedly that her wheels almost grazed ours. Of course, understanding her game, we ceased the attempt, having no taste for horse-racing; and nearly all the way from Newburyport to Rowley, she kept up that brigandry, jogging on and forcing us to jog on, neither going ahead herself nor suffering us to do so,—a perfect and most provoking dog in a manger. Her girl-associate would look behind every now and then to take observations, and I mentally hoped that the frisky Bucephalus would frisk his mistress out of the cart and break her ne— arm, or at least put her shoulder out of joint. If he did, I had fully determined in my own mind to hasten to her assistance and shame her to death with delicate and assiduous kindness. But fate lingered like all the rest of us. She reached Rowley in safety, and there our roads separated. Whether she stopped there, or drove into Ethiopian wastes beyond, I cannot say; but I have no doubt that the milk which she carried into Newburyport to market was blue, the butter frowy, and the potatoes exceedingly small.
Now do you mean to tell me that any man would have been guilty of such a thing? I don't mean, would have committed such discourtesy to a woman? Of course not; but would a man ever do it to a man? Never. He might try it once or twice, just for fun, just to show off his horse, but he never would have persisted in it till a joke became an insult, not to say a possible injury.
Still, as I was about to say, when that Rowley jade interrupted me, though I have small faith in Di-Vernonism generally, and no large faith in my own personal prowess, I did feel myself equal to the task of holding the reins while our Rosinante walked along an open road to a pump. I therefore resented Halicarnassus's contemptuous tones, mounted the wagon with as much dignity as wagons allow, sat straight as an arrow on the driver's seat, took the reins in both hands,—as they used to tell me I must not, when I was a little girl, because that was women's way, but I find now that men have adopted it, so I suppose it is all right,—and proceeded to show, like Sam Patch, that some things can be done as well as others. Halicarnassus and the Anakim took up their position in line on the other side of the road, hat in hand, watching.
"Go fast, and shame them," whispered Grande, from the back-seat, and the suggestion jumped with my own mood. It was a moment of intense excitement. To be or not to be. I jerked the lines. Pegasus did not start.
"C-l-k-l-k!" No forward movement.
"Huddup!" Still waiting for reinforcements.
"H-w-e." (Attempt at a whistle. Dead failure.)
(Sotto voce.) "O you beast!" (Pianissimo.) "Gee! Haw! haw! haw!" with a terrible jerking of the reins.
A voice over the way, distinctly audible, utters the cabalistic words, "Two forty." Another voice, as audible, asks, "Which'll you bet on?" It was not soothing. It did seem as if the imp of the perverse had taken possession of that terrible nag to go and make such a display at such a moment. But as his will rose, so did mine, and as my will went up, my whip went with it; but before it came down, Halicarnassus made shift to drone out, "Wouldn't Flora go faster, if she was untied?"
To be sure, I had forgotten to unfasten him, and there those two men had stood and known it all the time! I was in the wagon, so they were secure from personal violence, but I have a vague impression of some "pet names" flying wildly about in the air in that vicinity. Then we trundled safely down the lane. We were to go in the direction leading away from home,—the horse's. I don't think he perceived it at first, but as soon as he did snuff the fact, which happened when he had gone perhaps three rods, he quietly turned around and headed the other way, paying no more attention to my reins or my terrific "whoas" than if I were a sleeping babe. A horse is none of your woman's-rights men. He is Pauline. He suffers not the woman to usurp authority over him. He never says anything nor votes anything, but declares himself unequivocally by taking things into his own hands, whenever he knows there is nobody but a woman behind him,—and somehow he always does know. After Halicarnassus had turned him back and set him going the right way, I took on a gruff, manny voice, to deceive. Nonsense! I could almost see him snap his fingers at me. He minded my whip no more than he did a fly,—not so much as he did some flies. Grande said she supposed his back was all callous. I acted upon the suggestion, knelt down in the bottom of the wagon, and leaned over the dasher to whip him on his belly, then climbed out on the shafts and snapped about his ears; but he stood it much better than I. Finally I found that by taking the small end of the wooden whip-handle, and sticking it into him, I could elicit a faint flash of light; so I did it with assiduity, but the moderate trot which even that produced was not enough to accomplish my design, which was to outstrip the two men and make them run or beg. The opposing forces arrived at the pump about the same time.
Halicarnassus took the handle, and gave about five jerks. Then the Anakim took it and gave five more. Then they both stopped and wiped their faces.
"What do you suppose this pump was put here for?" asked Halicarnassus.
"A mile-stone, probably," replied the Anakim.
Then they resumed their Herculean efforts till the water came, and then they got into the wagon, and we drove into the blackberries once more, where we arrived just in season to escape a thunder—shower, and pile merrily into one of several coaches waiting to convey passengers in various directions as soon as the train should come.
It is very selfish, but fine fun, to have secured your own chosen seat and bestowed your own luggage, and have nothing to do but witness the anxieties and efforts of other people. This exquisite pleasure we enjoyed for fifteen minutes, edified at the last by hearing one of our coachmen call out, "Here, Rosey, this way!"—whereupon a manly voice, in the darkness, near us, soliloquized, "Respectful way of addressing a judge of the Supreme Court!" and, being interrogated, the voice informed us that "Rosey" was the vulgate for Judge Rosecranz; whereupon Halicarnassus glossed over the rampant democracy by remarking that the diminutive was probably a term of endearment rather than familiarity; whereupon the manly voice—if I might say it—snickered audibly in the darkness, and we all relapsed into silence. But could anything be more characteristic of a certain phase of the manners of our great and glorious country? Where are the Trollopes? Where is Dickens? Where is Basil Hall?
It is but a dreary ride to Lake George on a dark and rainy evening, unless people like riding for its own sake, as I do. If there are suns and stars and skies, very well. If there are not, very well too: I like to ride all the same. I like everything in this world but Saratoga. Once or twice our monotony was broken up by short halts before country-inns. At one an excitement was going on. "Had a casualty here this afternoon," remarked a fresh passenger, as soon as he was fairly seated. A casualty is a windfall to a country-village. It is really worth while to have a head broken occasionally, for the wholesome stirring-up it gives to the heads that are not broken. On the whole, I question whether collisions and collusions do not cause as much good as harm. Certainly, people seem to take the most lively satisfaction in receiving and imparting all the details concerning them. Our passenger-friend opened his budget with as much complacence as ever did Mr. Gladstone or Disraeli, and with a confident air of knowing that he was going not only to enjoy a piece of good-fortune himself, but to administer a great gratification to us. Our "casualty" turned out to be the affair of a Catholic priest, of which our informer spoke only in dark hints and with significant shoulder-shrugs and eyebrow-elevations, because it was "not exactly the thing to get out, you know"; but if it wasn't to get out, why did he let it out? and so from my dark corner I watched him as a cat does a mouse, and the lamp-light shone full upon him, and I understood every word and shrug, and I am going to tell it all to the world. I translated that the holy father had been "skylarking" in a boat, and in gay society had forgotten his vows of frugality and abstinence and general mortification of the flesh, and had become, not very drunk, but drunk enough to be dangerous, when he came ashore and took a horse in his hands, and so upset his carriage, and gashed his temporal artery, and came to grief, which is such a casualty as does not happen every day, and I don't blame people for making the most of it. Then the moral was pointed, and the tale adorned, and the impression deepened, solemnized, and struck home by the fact that the very horse concerned in the "casualty" was to be fastened behind our coach, and the whole population came out with lanterns and umbrellas to tie him on,—all but one man, who was deaf, and stood on the piazza, anxious and eager to know everything that had been and was still occurring, and yet sorry to give trouble, and so compromising the matter and making it worse, as compromises generally do, by questioning everybody with a deprecating, fawning air.
Item. We shall all, if we live long enough, be deaf, but we need not be meek about it. I for one am determined to walk up to people and demand what they are saying at the point of the bayonet. Deafness, if it must be so, but independence at any rate.
And when the fulness of time is come, we alight at Fort-William-Henry Hotel, and all night long through the sentient woods I hear the booming of Johnson's cannon, the rattle of Dieskau's guns, and that wild war-whoop, more terrible than all. Again old Monro watches from his fortress-walls the steadily approaching foe, and looks in vain for help, save to his own brave heart. I see the light of conquest shining in his foeman's eye, darkened by no shadow of the fate that waits his coming on a bleak Northern hill; but, generous in the hour of victory, he shall not be less noble in defeat,—for to generous hearts all generous hearts are friendly, whether they stand face to face or side by side.
Over the woods and the waves, when the morning breaks, like a bridegroom coming forth from his chamber, rejoicing as a strong man to run a race, comes up the sun in his might and crowns himself king. All the summer day, from morn to dewy eve, we sail over the lakes of Paradise. Blue waters and blue sky, soft clouds, and green islands, and fair, fruitful shores, sharp-pointed hills, long, gentle slopes and swells, and the lights and shadows of far-stretching woods; and over all the potence of the unseen past, the grand, historic past,—soft over all the invisible mantle which our fathers flung at their departing,—the mystic effluence of the spirits that trod these wilds and sailed these waters,—the courage and the fortitude, the hope that battled against hope, the comprehensive outlook, the sagacious purpose, the resolute will, the unhesitating self-sacrifice, the undaunted devotion which has made this heroic ground: cast these into your own glowing crucible, O gracious friend, and crystallize for yourself such a gem of days as shall worthily be set forever in your crown of the beatitudes.
* * * * *
THE FLEUR-DE-LIS AT PORT ROYAL.
In the year 1562 a cloud of black and deadly portent was thickening over France. Surely and swiftly she glided towards the abyss of the religious wars. None could pierce the future; perhaps none dared to contemplate it: the wild rage of fanaticism and hate, friend grappling with friend, brother with brother, father with son; altars profaned, hearthstones made desolate; the robes of Justice herself bedrenched with murder. In the gloom without lay Spain, imminent and terrible. As on the hill by the field of Dreux, her veteran bands of pikemen, dark masses of organized ferocity, stood biding their time while the battle surged below, then swept downward to the slaughter,—so did Spain watch and wait to trample and crush the hope of humanity.
In these days of fear, a Huguenot colony sailed for the New World. The calm, stern man who represented and led the Protestantism of France felt to his inmost heart the peril of the time. He would fain build up a city of refuge for the persecuted sect. Yet Gaspar de Coligny, too high in power and rank to be openly assailed, was forced to act with caution. He must act, too, in the name of the Crown, and in virtue of his office of Admiral of France. A nobleman and a soldier,—for the Admiral of France was no seaman,—he shared the ideas and habits of his class; nor is there reason to believe him to have been in advance of others of his time in a knowledge of the principles of successful colonization. His scheme promised a military colony, not a free commonwealth. The Huguenot party was already a political, as well as a religious party. At its foundation lay the religious element, represented by Geneva, the martyrs, and the devoted fugitives who sang the psalms of Marot among rocks and caverns. Joined to these were numbers on whom the faith sat lightly, whose hope was in commotion and change. Of these, in great part, was the Huguenot noblesse, from Conde, who aspired to the crown,—
"Ce petit homme tant joli, Qui toujours chante, toujours rit,"—
to the younger son of the impoverished seigneur whose patrimony was his sword. More than this, the restless, the factious, the discontented began to link their fortunes to a party whose triumph would involve confiscation of the bloated wealth of the only rich class in France. An element of the great revolution was already mingling in the strife of religions.
America was still a land of wonder. The ancient spell still hung unbroken over the wild, vast world of mystery beyond the sea. A land of romance, of adventure, of gold.
Fifty-eight years later, the Puritans landed on the sands of Massachusetts Bay. The illusion was gone,—the ignis-fatuus of adventure, the dream of wealth. The rugged wilderness offered only a stern and hard-won independence. In their own hearts, not in the promptings of a great leader or the patronage of an equivocal government, their enterprise found its birth and its achievement. They were of the boldest, the most earnest of their sect. There were such among the French disciples of Calvin; but no Mayflower ever sailed from a port of France. Coligny's colonists were of a different stamp, and widely different was their fate.
An excellent seaman and stanch Protestant, John Ribaut of Dieppe, commanded the expedition. Under him, besides sailors, were a band of veteran soldiers, and a few young nobles. Embarked in two of those antiquated craft whose high poops and tub-like proportions are preserved in the old engravings of De Bry, they sailed from Havre on the eighteenth of February, 1562. They crossed the Atlantic, and on the thirtieth of April, in the latitude of twenty-nine and a half degrees, saw the long, low line where the wilderness of waves met the wilderness of woods. It was the coast of Florida. Soon they descried a jutting point, which they called French Cape, perhaps one of the headlands of Matanzas Inlet. They turned their prows northward, skirting the fringes of that waste of verdure which rolled in shadowy undulation far to the unknown West.
On the next morning, the first of May, they found themselves off the mouth of a great river. Riding at anchor on a sunny sea, they lowered their boats, crossed the bar that obstructed the entrance, and floated on a basin of deep and sheltered water, alive with leaping fish. Indians were running along the beach and out upon the sand-bars, beckoning them to land. They pushed their boats ashore and disembarked,—sailors, soldiers, and eager young nobles. Corslet and morion, arquebuse and halberd flashed in the sun that flickered through innumerable leaves, as, kneeling on the ground, they gave thanks to God who had guided their voyage to an issue full of promise. The Indians, seated gravely under the neighboring trees, looked on in silent respect, thinking that they worshipped the sun. They were in full paint, in honor of the occasion, and in a most friendly mood. With their squaws and children, they presently drew near, and, strewing the earth with laurel-boughs, sat down among the Frenchmen. The latter were much pleased with them, and Ribaut gave the chief, whom he calls the king, a robe of blue cloth, worked in yellow with the regal fleur-de-lis.
But Ribaut and his followers, just escaped from the dull prison of their ships, were intent on admiring the wild scenes around them. Never had they known a fairer May-Day. The quaint old narrative is exuberant with delight. The quiet air, the warm sun, woods fresh with young verdure, meadows bright with flowers; the palm, the cypress, the pine, the magnolia; the grazing deer; herons, curlews, bitterns, woodcock, and unknown water-fowl that waded in the ripple of the beach; cedars bearded from crown to root with long gray moss; huge oaks smothering in the serpent folds of enormous grape-vines: such were the objects that greeted them in their roamings, till their new-found land seemed "the fairest, fruitfullest, and pleasantest of al the world."
They found a tree covered with caterpillars, and hereupon the ancient black-letter says,—"Also there be Silke wormes in meruielous number, a great deale fairer and better then be our silk wormes. To bee short, it is a thing vnspeakable to consider the thinges that bee seene there, and shalbe founde more and more in this incomperable lande."
Above all, it was plain to their excited fancy that the country was rich in gold and silver, turquoises and pearls. One of the latter, "as great as an Acorne at ye least," hung from the neck of an Indian who stood near their boats as they reembarked. They gathered, too, from the signs of their savage visitors, that the wonderful land of Cibola, with its seven cities and its untold riches, was distant but twenty days' journey by water. In truth, it was on the Gila, two thousand miles off, and its wealth a fable.
They named the river the River of May,—it is now the St. John's,—and on its southern shore, near its mouth, planted a stone pillar graven with the arms of France. Then, once more embarked, they held their course northward, happy in that benign decree which locks from mortal eyes the secrets of the future.
Next they anchored near Fernandina, and to a neighboring river, probably the St. Mary's, gave the name of the Seine. Here, as morning broke on the fresh, moist meadows hung with mists, and on broad reaches of inland waters which seemed like lakes, they were tempted to land again, and soon "espied an innumerable number of footesteps of great Hartes and Hindes of a wonderfull greatnesse, the steppes being all fresh and new, and it seemeth that the people doe nourish them like tame Cattell." By two or three weeks of exploration they seem to have gained a clear idea of this rich semi-aquatic region. Ribaut describes it as "a countrie full of hauens riuers and Ilands of such fruitfulnes, as cannot with tongue be expressed." Slowly moving northward, they named each river, or inlet supposed to be a river, after the streams of France,—the Loire, the Charente, the Garonne, the Gironde. At length, they reached a scene made glorious in after-years. Opening betwixt flat and sandy shores, they saw a commodious haven, and named it Port Royal.
On the twenty—seventh of May they crossed the bar, where the war-ships of Dupont crossed three hundred years later. They passed Hilton Head, where Rebel batteries belched their vain thunder, and, dreaming nothing of what the rolling centuries should bring forth, held their course along the peaceful bosom of Broad River. On the left they saw a stream which they named Libourne, probably Skull Creek; on the right, a wide river, probably the Beaufort. When they landed, all was solitude. The frightened Indians had fled, but they lured them back with knives, beads, and looking-glasses, and enticed two of them on board their ships. Here, by feeding, clothing, and caressing them, they tried to wean them from their fears, but the captive warriors moaned and lamented day and night, till Ribaut, with the prudence and humanity which seem always to have characterized him, gave over his purpose of carrying them to France, and set them ashore again.
[Footnote 1: The following is the record of this early visit to Port Royal, taken from Ribaut's report to Coliguy, translated and printed in London in 1563:—
"And when wee had sounded the entrie of the Chanell (thanked be God), wee entered safely therein with our shippes, against the opinion of many, finding the same one of the fayrest, and greatest Hauens of the worlde. Howe be it, it must be remembred, least men approaching neare it within seven leagues of the lande, bee abashed and afraide on the East side, drawing toward the Southeast, the grounde to be flatte, for neuerthelesse at a full sea, there is eurey where foure fathome water keeping the right Chanel."
Ribaut thinks that the Broad River of Port Royal is the Jordan of the Spanish navigator Vasquez de Ayllon, who was here in 1520, and gave the name St. Helena to a neighboring cape (La Vega, Florida del Inca). The adjacent district, now called St. Helena, is the Chicora of the old Spanish maps.]
Ranging the woods, they found them full of game, wild turkeys and partridges, bears and lynxes. Two deer, of unusual size, leaped up from the underbrush. Crossbow and arquebuse were brought to the level; but the Huguenot captain, "moved with the singular fairness and bigness of them," forbade his men to shoot.
Preliminary exploration, not immediate settlement, had been the object of the voyage, but all was still rose-color in the eyes of the voyagers, and many of their number would fain linger in the New Canaan. Ribaut was more than willing to humor them. He mustered his company on deck, and made them a stirring harangue: appealed to their courage and their patriotism, told them how, from a mean origin, men rise by enterprise and daring to fame and fortune, and demanded who among them would stay behind and hold Port Royal for the king. The greater part came forward, and "with such a good will and joly corage," writes the commander, "as we had much to do to stay their importunitie." Thirty were chosen, and Albert de Pierria was named to command them.
A fort was forthwith begun, on a small stream called the Chenonceau, probably Archer's Creek, about six miles from the site of Beaufort. They named it Charlesfort, in honor of the unhappy son of Catherine de Medicis, Charles IX., the future hero of St. Bartholomew. Ammunition and stores were sent on shore, and, on the eleventh of June, with his diminished company, Ribaut, again embarking, spread his sails for France.
From the beach at Hilton Head Albert and his companions might watch the receding ships, growing less and less on the vast expanse of blue, dwindling to faint specks, then vanishing on the pale verge of the waters. They were alone in those fearful solitudes. From the North Pole to Mexico no Christian denizen but they.
But how were they to subsist? Their thought was not of subsistence, but of gold. Of the thirty, the greater number were soldiers and sailors, with a few gentlemen, that is to say, men of the sword, born within the pale of nobility, who at home could neither labor nor trade without derogation from their rank. For a time they busied themselves with finishing their fort, and, this done, set forth in quest of adventures.
The Indians had lost all fear of them. Ribaut had enjoined upon them to use all kindness and gentleness in their dealing with the men of the woods; and they more than obeyed him. They were soon hand and glove with chiefs, warriors, and squaws; and as with Indians the adage that familiarity breeds contempt holds with peculiar force, they quickly divested themselves of the prestige which had attached at the outset to their supposed character of children of the sun. Goodwill, however, remained, and this the colonists abused to the utmost
Roaming by river, swamp, and forest, they visited in turn the villages of five petty chiefs, whom they called kings, feasted everywhere on hominy, beans, and game, and loaded with gifts. One of these chiefs, named Audusta, invited them to the grand religious festival of his tribe. Thither, accordingly, they went. The village was alive with preparation, and troops of women were busied in sweeping the great circular area, surrounded by the lodges, where the ceremonies were to take place. But as the noisy and impertinent guests showed disposition to undue merriment, the chief shut them all in his wigwam, lest their gentile eyes should profane the mysteries. Here, immured in darkness, they listened to the howls, yelpings, and lugubrious songs that resounded from without. One of them, however, by some artifice, contrived to escape, hid behind a bush, and saw the whole solemnity: the procession of the medicine-men and the bedaubed and befeathered warriors; the drumming, the dancing, the stamping; the wild lamentation of the women, as they gashed the arms of the young girls with sharp mussel-shells and flung the blood into the air with dismal outcries. A scene of ravenous feasting followed, in which the French, released from durance, were summoned to share.
Their carousal over, they returned to Charlesfort, where they were soon pinched with hunger. The Indians, never niggardly of food, brought them supplies as long as their own lasted; but the harvest was not yet ripe, and their means did not match their good-will. They told the French of two other kings, Ouade and Couexis, who dwelt towards the South, and were rich beyond belief in maize, beans, and squashes. Embarking without delay, the mendicant colonists steered for the wigwams of these potentates, not by the open sea, but by a perplexing inland navigation, including, as it seems, Calibogue Sound and neighboring waters. Arrived at the friendly villages, on or near the Savannah, they were feasted to repletion, and their boat laden with vegetables and corn. They returned rejoicing; but their joy was short. Their storehouse at Charlesfort, taking fire in the night, burned to the ground, and with it their newly acquired stock. Once more they set forth for the realms of King Ouade, and once more returned laden with supplies. Nay, more, the generous savage assured them, that, so long as his cornfields yielded their harvests, his friends should not want.
How long this friendship would have lasted may well be matter of doubt. With the perception that the dependants on their bounty were no demigods, but a crew of idle and helpless beggars, respect would soon have changed to contempt and contempt to ill-will. But it was not to Indian war-clubs that the embryo colony was to owe its ruin. Within itself it carried its own destruction. The ill-assorted band of landsmen and sailors, surrounded by that influence of the wilderness which wakens the dormant savage in the breasts of men, soon fell into quarrels. Albert, a rude soldier, with a thousand leagues of ocean betwixt him and responsibility, grew harsh, domineering, and violent beyond endurance. None could question or oppose him without peril of death. He hanged a drummer who had fallen under his displeasure, and banished La Chere, a soldier, to a solitary island, three leagues from the fort, where he left him to starve. For a time his comrades chafed in smothered fury. The crisis came at length. A few of the fiercer spirits leagued together, assailed their tyrant, and murdered him. The deed done, and the famished soldier delivered, they called to the command one Nicholas Barre, a man of merit. Barre took the command, and thenceforth there was peace.
Peace, such as it was, with famine, homesickness, disgust. The rough ramparts and rude buildings of Charlesfort, hatefully familiar to their weary eyes, the sweltering forest, the glassy river, the eternal silence of the wild monotony around them, oppressed the senses and the spirits. Did they feel themselves the pioneers of religious freedom, the advance-guard of civilization? Not at all. They dreamed of ease, of home, of pleasures across the sea,—of the evening cup on the bench before the cabaret, of dances with kind damsels of Dieppe. But how to escape? A continent was their solitary prison, and the pitiless Atlantic closed the egress. Not one of them knew how to build a ship; but Ribaut had left them a forge, with tools and iron, and strong desire supplied the place of skill. Trees were hewn down and the work begun. Had they put forth, to maintain themselves at Port Royal, the energy and resource which they exerted to escape from it, they might have laid the cornerstone of a solid colony.
All, gentle and simple, labored with equal zeal. They calked the seams with the long moss which hung in profusion from the neighboring trees; the pines supplied them with pitch; the Indians made for them a kind of cordage; and for sails they sewed together their shirts and bedding. At length a brigantine worthy of Robinson Crusoe floated on the waters of the Chenonceau. They laid in what provision they might, gave all that remained of their goods to the delighted Indians, embarked, descended the river, and put to sea. A fair wind filled their patchwork sails and bore them from the hated coast. Day after day they held their course, till at length the favoring breeze died away and a breathless calm fell on the face of the waters. Florida was far behind; France farther yet before. Floating idly on the glassy waste, the craft lay motionless. Their supplies gave out. Twelve kernels of maize a day were each man's portion; then the maize failed, and they ate their shoes and leather jerkins. The water-barrels were drained, and they tried to slake their thirst with brine. Several died, and the rest, giddy with exhaustion and crazed with thirst, were forced to ceaseless labor, baling out the water that gushed through every seam. Head-winds set in, increasing to a gale, and the wretched brigantine, her sails close-reefed, tossed among the savage billows at the mercy of the storm. A heavy sea rolled down upon her, and threw her on her side. The surges broke over her, and, clinging with desperate gripe to spars and cordage, the drenched voyagers gave up all for lost. At length she righted. The gale subsided, the wind changed, and the crazy, water-logged vessel again bore slowly towards France.
Gnawed with deadly famine, they counted the leagues of barren ocean that still stretched before. With haggard, wolfish eyes they gazed on each other, till a whisper passed from man to man, that one, by his death, might ransom all the rest. The choice was made. It fell on La Chere, the same wretched man whom Albert had doomed to starvation on a lonely island, and whose mind was burdened with the fresh memories of his anguish and despair. They killed him, and with ravenous avidity portioned out his flesh. The hideous repast sustained them till the French coast rose in sight, when, it is said, in a delirium of insane joy, they could no longer steer their vessel, but let her drift at the will of the tide. A small English bark bore down upon them, took them all on board, and, after landing the feeblest, carried the rest prisoners to Queen Elizabeth.
Thus closed another of those scenes of woe whose lurid clouds were thickly piled around the stormy dawn of American history.
It was but the opening act of a wild and tragic drama. A tempest of miseries awaited those who essayed to plant the banners of France and of Calvin in the Southern forests; and the bloody scenes of the religious war were acted in epitome on the shores of Florida.
* * * * *
The handful here, that once was Mary's earth, Held, while it breathed, so beautiful a soul, That, when she died, all recognized her birth, And had their sorrow in serene control.
"Not here! not here!" to every mourner's heart The wintry wind seemed whispering round her bier; And when the tomb-door opened, with a start We heard it echoed from within,—"Not here!"
Shouldst thou, sad pilgrim, who mayst hither pass, Note in these flowers a delicater hue, Should spring come earlier to this hallowed grass, Or the bee later linger on the dew,
Know that her spirit to her body lent Such sweetness, grace, as only goodness can, That even her dust, and this her monument, Have yet a spell to stay one lonely man,—
Lonely through life, but looking for the day When what is mortal of himself shall sleep, When human passion shall have passed away, And Love no longer be a thing to weep.
* * * * *
OUTSIDE GLIMPSES OF ENGLISH POVERTY.
Becoming an inhabitant of a great English town, I often turned aside from the prosperous thoroughfares, (where the edifices, the shops, and the bustling crowd differed not so much from scenes with which I was familiar in my own country,) and went designedly astray among precincts that reminded me of some of Dickens's grimiest pages. There I caught glimpses of a people and a mode of life that were comparatively new to my observation, a sort of sombre phantasmagoric spectacle, exceedingly undelightful to behold, yet involving a singular interest and even fascination in its ugliness.
Dirt, one would fancy, is plenty enough all over the world, being the symbolic accompaniment of the foul incrustation which began to settle over and bedim all earthly things as soon as Eve had bitten the apple; ever since which hapless epoch, her daughters have chiefly been engaged in a desperate and unavailing struggle to get rid of it. But the dirt of a poverty-stricken English street is a monstrosity unknown on our side of the Atlantic. It reigns supreme within its own limits, and is inconceivable everywhere beyond them. We enjoy the great advantage, that the brightness and dryness of our atmosphere keep everything clean that the sun shines upon, converting the larger portion of our impurities into transitory dust which the next wind can sweep away, in contrast with the damp, adhesive grime that incorporates itself with all surfaces (unless continually and painfully cleansed) in the chill moisture of the English air. Then the all-pervading smoke of the city, abundantly intermingled with the sable snow-flakes of bituminous coal, hovering overhead, descending, and alighting on pavements and rich architectural fronts, on the snowy muslin of the ladies, and the gentlemen's starched collars and shirt-bosoms, invests even the better streets in a half-mourning garb. It is beyond the resources of Wealth to keep the smut away from its premises or its own fingers' ends; and as for Poverty, it surrenders itself to the dark influence without a struggle. Along with disastrous circumstances, pinching need, adversity so lengthened out as to constitute the rule of life, there comes a certain chill depression of the spirits which seems especially to shudder at cold water. In view of so wretched a state of things, we accept the ancient Deluge not merely as an insulated phenomenon, but as a periodical necessity, and acknowledge that nothing less than such a general washing-day could suffice to cleanse the slovenly old world of its moral and material dirt.
Gin-shops, or what the English call spirit-vaults, are numerous in the vicinity of these poor streets, and are set off with the magnificence of gilded doorposts, tarnished by contact with the unclean customers who haunt there. Ragged children come thither with old shaving-mugs, or broken-nosed tea-pots, or any such make-shift receptacle, to get a little poison or madness for their parents, who deserve no better requital at their hands for having engendered them. Inconceivably sluttish women enter at noonday and stand at the counter among boon-companions of both sexes, stirring up misery and jollity in a bumper together, and quaffing off the mixture with a relish. As for the men, they lounge there continually, drinking till they are drunken,—drinking as long as they have a halfpenny left, and then, as it seemed to me, waiting for a sixpenny miracle to be wrought in their pockets, so as to enable them to be drunken again. Most of these establishments have a significant advertisement of "Beds," doubtless for the accommodation of their customers in the interval between one intoxication and the next. I never could find it in my heart, however, utterly to condemn these sad revellers, and should certainly wait till I had some better consolation to offer before depriving them of their dram of gin, though death itself were in the glass; for methought their poor souls needed such fiery stimulant to lift them a little way out of the smothering squalor of both their outward and interior life, giving them glimpses and suggestions, even if bewildering ones, of a spiritual existence that limited their present misery. The temperance-reformers unquestionably derive their commission from the Divine Beneficence, but have never been taken fully into its counsels. All may not be lost, though those good men fail.
Pawn-brokers' establishments, distinguished by the mystic symbol of the three golden balls, were conveniently accessible; though what personal property these wretched people could possess, capable of being estimated in silver or copper, so as to afford a basis for a loan, was a problem that still perplexes me. Old clothes-men, likewise, dwelt hard by, and hung out ancient garments to dangle in the wind. There were butchers' shops, too, of a class adapted to the neighborhood, presenting no such generously fattened carcasses as Englishmen love to gaze at in the market, no stupendous halves of mighty beeves, no dead hogs or muttons ornamented with carved bas-reliefs of fat on their ribs and shoulders, in a peculiarly British style of art,—not these, but bits and gobbets of lean meat, selvages snipt off from steaks, tough and stringy morsels, bare bones smitten away from joints by the cleaver, tripe, liver, bullocks' feet, or whatever else was cheapest and divisible into the smallest lots. I am afraid that even such delicacies came to many of their tables hardly oftener than Christmas. In the windows of other little shops you saw half a dozen wizened herrings, some eggs in a basket, looking so dingily antique that your imagination smelt them, fly-speckled biscuits, segments of a hungry cheese, pipes and papers of tobacco. Now and then a sturdy milk-woman passed by with a wooden yoke over her shoulders, supporting a pail on either side, filled with a whitish fluid, the composition of which was water and chalk and the milk of a sickly cow, who gave the best she had, poor thing! but could scarcely make it rich or wholesome, spending her life in some close city-nook and pasturing on strange food. I have seen, once or twice, a donkey coming into one of these streets with panniers full of vegetables, and departing with a return cargo of what looked like rubbish and street-sweepings. No other commerce seemed to exist, except, possibly, a girl might offer you a pair of stockings or a worked collar, or a man whisper something mysterious about wonderfully cheap cigars. And yet I remember seeing female hucksters in those regions, with their wares on the edge of the sidewalk and their own seats right in the carriage-way, pretending to sell half-decayed oranges and apples, toffy, Ormskirk cakes, combs and cheap jewelry, the coarsest kind of crockery, and little plates of oysters,—knitting patiently all day long, and removing their undiminished stock in trade at nightfall. All indispensable importations from other quarters of the town were on a remarkably diminutive scale: for example, the wealthier inhabitants purchased their coal by the wheelbarrow-load, and the poorer ones by the peck-measure. It was a curious and melancholy spectacle, when an overladen coal-cart happened to pass through the street and drop a handful or two of its burden in the mud, to see half a dozen women and children scrambling for the treasure-trove, like a dock of hens and chickens gobbling up some spilt corn. In this connection I may as well mention a commodity of boiled snails (for such they appeared to me, though probably a marine production) which used to be peddled from door to door, piping hot, as an article of cheap nutriment.
The population of these dismal abodes appeared to consider the side-walks and middle of the street as their common hall. In a drama of low life, the unity of place might be arranged rigidly according to the classic rule, and the street be the one locality in which every scene and incident should occur. Courtship, quarrels, plot and counterplot, conspiracies for robbery and murder, family difficulties or agreements,—all such matters, I doubt not, are constantly discussed or transacted in this sky-roofed saloon, so regally hung with its sombre canopy of coal-smoke. Whatever the disadvantages of the English climate, the only comfortable or wholesome part of life, for the city-poor, must be spent in the open air. The stifled and squalid rooms where they lie down at night, whole families and neighborhoods together, or sulkily elbow one another in the day-time, when a settled rain drives them within doors, are worse horrors than it is worth while (without a practical object in view) to admit into one's imagination. No wonder that they creep forth from the foul mystery of their interiors, stumble down from their garrets, or scramble up out of their cellars, on the upper step of which you may see the grimy housewife, before the shower is ended, letting the rain-drops gutter down her visage; while her children (an impish progeny of cavernous recesses below the common sphere of humanity) swarm into the daylight and attain all that they know of personal purification in the nearest mud-puddle. It might almost make a man doubt the existence of his own soul, to observe how Nature has flung these little wretches into the street and left them there, so evidently regarding them as nothing worth, and how all mankind acquiesce in the great mother's estimate of her offspring. For, if they are to have no immortality, what superior claim can I assert for mine? And how difficult to believe that anything so precious as a germ of immortal growth can have been buried under this dirt-heap, plunged into this cesspool of misery and vice! As often as I beheld the scene, it affected me with surprise and loathsome interest, much resembling, though in a far intenser degree, the feeling with which, when a boy, I used to turn over a plank or an old log that had long lain on the damp ground, and found a vivacious multitude of unclean and devilish-looking insects scampering to and fro beneath it. Without an infinite faith, there seemed as much prospect of a blessed futurity for those hideous bugs and many-footed worms as for these brethren of our humanity and co-heirs of all our heavenly inheritance. Ah, what a mystery! Slowly, slowly, as after groping at the bottom of a deep, noisome, stagnant pool, my hope struggles upward to the surface, bearing the half-drowned body of a child along with it, and heaving it aloft for its life, and my own life, and all our lives. Unless these slime-clogged nostrils can be made capable of inhaling celestial air, I know not how the purest and most intellectual of us can reasonably expect ever to taste a breath of it. The whole question of eternity is staked there. If a single one of those helpless little ones be lost, the world is lost!
The women and children greatly preponderate in such places; the men probably wandering abroad in quest of that daily miracle, a dinner and a drink, or perhaps slumbering in the daylight that they may the better follow out their catlike rambles through the dark. Here are women with young figures, but old, wrinkled, yellow faces, tanned and blear-eyed with the smoke which they cannot spare from their scanty fires,—it being too precious for its warmth to be swallowed by the chimney. Some of them sit on the door-steps, nursing their unwashed babies at bosoms which we will glance aside from, for the sake of our mothers and all womanhood, because the fairest spectacle is here the foulest. Yet motherhood, in these dark abodes, is strangely identical with what we have all known it to be in the happiest homes. Nothing, as I remember, smote me with more grief and pity (all the more poignant because perplexingly entangled with an inclination to smile) than to hear a gaunt and ragged mother priding herself on the pretty ways of her ragged and skinny infant, just as a young matron might, when she invites her lady-friends to admire her plump, white-robed darling in the nursery. Indeed, no womanly characteristic seemed to have altogether perished out of these poor souls. It was the very same creature whose tender torments make the rapture of our young days, whom we love, cherish, and protect, and rely upon in life and death, and whom we delight to see beautify her beauty with rich robes and set it off with jewels, though now fantastically masquerading in a garb of tatters, wholly unfit for her to handle. I recognized her, over and over again, in the groups round a door-step or in the descent of a cellar, chatting with prodigious earnestness about intangible trifles, laughing for a little jest, sympathizing at almost the same instant with one neighbor's sunshine and another's shadow, wise, simple, sly, and patient, yet easily perturbed, and breaking into small feminine ebullitions of spite, wrath, and jealousy, tornadoes of a moment, such as vary the social atmosphere of her silken-skirted sisters, though smothered into propriety by dint of a well-bred habit. Not that there was an absolute deficiency of good-breeding, even here. It often surprised me to witness a courtesy and deference among these ragged folks, which, having seen it, I did not thoroughly believe in, wondering whence it should have come. I am persuaded, however, that there were laws of intercourse which they never violated,—a code of the cellar, the garret, the common staircase, the doorstep, and the pavement, which perhaps had as deep a foundation in natural fitness as the code of the drawing-room.
Yet again I doubt whether I may not have been uttering folly in the last two sentences, when I reflect how rude and rough these specimens of feminine character generally were. They had a readiness with their hands that reminded me of Molly Seagrim and other heroines in Fielding's novels. For example, I have seen a woman meet a man in the street, and, for no reason perceptible to me, suddenly clutch him by the hair and cuff his ears,—an infliction which he bore with exemplary patience, only snatching the very earliest opportunity to take to his heels. Where a sharp tongue will not serve the purpose, they trust to the sharpness of their finger-nails, or incarnate a whole vocabulary of vituperative words in a resounding slap, or the downright blow of a doubled fist. All English people, I imagine, are influenced in a far greater degree than ourselves by this simple and honest tendency, in cases of disagreement, to batter one another's persons; and whoever has seen a crowd of English ladies (for instance, at the door of the Sistine Chapel, in Holy Week) will be satisfied that their belligerent propensities are kept in abeyance only by a merciless rigor on the part of society. It requires a vast deal of refinement to spiritualize their large physical endowments. Such being the case with the delicate ornaments of the drawing-room, it is the less to be wondered at that women who live mostly in the open air, amid the coarsest kind of companionship and occupation, should carry on the intercourse of life with a freedom unknown to any class of American females, though still, I am resolved to think, compatible with a generous breadth of natural propriety. It shocked me, at first, to see them (of all ages, even elderly, as well as infants that could just toddle across the street alone) going about in the mud and mire, or through the dusky snow and slosh of a severe week in winter, with petticoats high uplifted above bare, red feet and legs; but I was comforted by observing that both shoes and stockings generally reappeared with better weather, having been thriftily kept out of the damp for the convenience of dry feet within doors. Their hardihood was wonderful, and their strength greater than could have been expected from such spare diet as they probably lived upon. I have seen them carrying on their heads great burdens under which they walked as freely as if they were fashionable bonnets; or sometimes the burden was huge enough almost to cover the whole person, looked at from behind,—as in Tuscan villages you may see the girls coming in from the country with great bundles of green twigs upon their backs, so that they resemble locomotive masses of verdure and fragrance. But these poor English women seemed to be laden with rubbish, incongruous and indescribable, such as bones and rags, the sweepings of the house and of the street, a merchandise gathered up from what poverty itself had thrown away, a heap of filthy stuff analogous to Christian's bundle of sin.
Sometimes, though very seldom, I detected a certain gracefulness among the younger women that was altogether new to my observation. It was a charm proper to the lowest class. One girl I particularly remember, in a garb none of the cleanest and nowise smart, and herself exceedingly coarse in all respects, but yet endowed with a sort of witchery, a native charm, a robe of simple beauty and suitable behavior that she was born in and had never been tempted to throw off, because she had really nothing else to put on. Eve herself could not have been more natural. Nothing was affected, nothing imitative; no proper grace was vulgarized by an effort to assume the manners or adornments of another sphere. This kind of beauty, arrayed in a fitness of its own, is probably vanishing out of the world, and will certainly never be found in America, where all the girls, whether daughters of the upper-ten-dom, the mediocrity, the cottage, or the kennel, aim at one standard of dress and deportment, seldom accomplishing a perfectly triumphant hit or an utterly absurd failure. Those words, "genteel" and "ladylike," are terrible ones and do us infinite mischief, but it is because (at least, I hope so) we are in a transition state, and shall emerge into a higher mode of simplicity than has ever been known to past ages.
In such disastrous circumstances as I have been attempting to describe, it was beautiful to observe what a mysterious efficacy still asserted itself in character. A woman, evidently poor as the poorest of her neighbors, would be knitting or sewing on the door-step, just as fifty other women were; but round about her skirts (though wofully patched) you would be sensible of a certain sphere of decency, which, it seemed to me, could not have been kept more impregnable in the coziest little sitting-room, where the tea-kettle on the hob was humming its good old song of domestic peace. Maidenhood had a similar power. The evil habit that grows upon us in this harsh world makes me faithless to my own better perceptions; and yet I have seen girls in these wretched streets, on whose virgin purity, judging merely from their impression on my instincts as they passed by, I should have deemed it safe, at the moment, to stake my life. The next moment, however, as the surrounding flood of moral uncleanness surged over their foot-steps, I would not have staked a spike of thistle-down on the same wager. Yet the miracle was within the scope of Providence, which is equally wise and equally beneficent, (even to those poor girls, though I acknowledge the fact without the remotest comprehension of the mode of it,) whether they were pure or what we fellow-sinners call vile. Unless your faith be deep-rooted and of most vigorous growth, it is the safer way not to turn aside into this region so suggestive of miserable doubt. It was a place "with dreadful faces thronged," wrinkled and grim with vice and wretchedness; and, thinking over the line of Milton here quoted, I come to the conclusion that those ugly lineaments which startled Adam and Eve, as they looked backward to the closed gate of Paradise, were no fiends from the pit, but the more terrible foreshadowings of what so many of their descendants were to be. God help them, and us likewise, their brethren and sisters! Let me add, that, forlorn, ragged, care-worn, hopeless, dirty, haggard, hungry, as they were, the most pitiful thing of all was to see the sort of patience with which they accepted their lot, as if they had been born into the world for that and nothing else. Even the little children had this characteristic in as perfect development as their grandmothers.
The children, in truth, were the ill-omened blossoms from which another harvest of precisely such dark fruitage as I saw ripened around me was to be produced. Of course, you would imagine these to be lumps of crude iniquity, tiny vessels as full as they could hold of naughtiness; nor can I say a great deal to the contrary. Small proof of parental discipline could I discern, save when a mother (drunken, I sincerely hope) snatched her own imp out of a group of pale, half-naked, humor-eaten abortions that were playing and squabbling together in the mud, turned up its tatters, brought down her heavy hand on its poor little tenderest part, and let it go again with a shake. If the child knew what the punishment was for, it was wiser than I pretend to be. It yelled, and went back to its playmates in the mud. Yet let me bear testimony to what was beautiful, and more touching than anything that I ever witnessed in the intercourse of happier children. I allude to the superintendence which some of these small people (too small, one would think, to be sent into the street alone, had there been any other nursery for them) exercised over still smaller ones. Whence they derived such a sense of duty, unless immediately from God, I cannot tell; but it was wonderful to observe the expression of responsibility in their deportment, the anxious fidelity with which they discharged their unfit office, the tender patience with which they linked their less pliable impulses to the wayward footsteps of an infant, and let it guide them whithersoever it liked. In the hollow-cheeked, large-eyed girl of ten, whom I saw giving a cheerless oversight to her baby-brother, I did not so much marvel at it. She had merely come a little earlier than usual to the perception of what was to be her business in life. But I admired the sickly-looking little boy, who did violence to his boyish nature by making himself the servant of his little sister,—she too small to walk, and he too small to take her in his arms,—and therefore working a kind of miracle to transport her from one dirt-heap to another. Beholding such works of love and duty, I took heart again, and deemed it not so impossible, after all, for these neglected children to find a path through the squalor and evil of their circumstances up to the gate of heaven. Perhaps there was this latent good in all of them, though generally they looked brutish, and dull even in their sports; there was little mirth among them, nor even a fully awakened spirit of blackguardism. Yet sometimes, again, I saw, with surprise and a sense as if I had been asleep and dreaming, the bright, intelligent, merry face of a child whose dark eyes gleamed with vivacious expression through the dirt that incrusted its skin, like sunshine struggling through a very dusty window-pane.
In these streets the belted and blue-coated policeman appears seldom in comparison with the frequency of his occurrence in more reputable thoroughfares. I used to think that the inhabitants would have ample time to murder one another, or any stranger, like myself, who might violate the filthy sanctities of the place, before the law could bring up its lumbering assistance. Nevertheless, there is a supervision; nor does the watchfulness of authority permit the populace to be tempted to any outbreak. Once, in a time of dearth, I noticed a ballad-singer going through the street hoarsely chanting some discordant strain in a provincial dialect, of which I could only make out that it addressed the sensibilities of the auditors on the score of starvation; but by his side stalked the policeman, offering no interference, but watchful to hear what this rough minstrel said or sang, and silence him, if his effusion threatened to prove too soul-stirring. In my judgment, however, there is little or no danger of that kind: they starve patiently, sicken patiently, die patiently, not through resignation, but a diseased flaccidity of hope. If ever they should do mischief to those above them, it will probably be by the communication of some destructive pestilence; for, so the medical men affirm, they suffer all the ordinary diseases with a degree of virulence elsewhere unknown, and keep among themselves traditionary plagues that have long ceased to afflict more fortunate societies. Charity herself gathers her robe about her to avoid their contact. It would be a dire revenge, indeed, if they were to prove their claims to be reckoned of one blood and nature with the noblest and wealthiest by compelling them to inhale death through the spread of their own poverty-poisoned atmosphere.
A true Englishman is a kind man at heart, but has an unconquerable dislike to poverty and beggary. Beggars have heretofore been so strange to an American that he is apt to become their prey, being recognized through his national peculiarities, and beset by them in the streets. The English smile at him, and say that there are ample public arrangements for every pauper's possible need, that street-charity promotes idleness and vice, and that yonder personification of misery on the pavement will lay up a good day's profit, besides supping more luxuriously than the dupe who gives him a shilling. By-and-by the stranger adopts their theory and begins to practise upon it, much to his own temporary freedom from annoyance, but not entirely without moral detriment or sometimes a too late contrition. Years afterwards, it may be, his memory is still haunted by some vindictive wretch whose cheeks were pale and hunger-pinched, whose rags fluttered in the east-wind, whose right arm was paralyzed and his left leg shrivelled into a mere nerveless stick, but whom he passed by remorselessly because an Englishman chose to say that the fellow's misery looked too perfect, was too artistically got up, to be genuine. Even allowing this to be true, (as, a hundred chances to one, it was,) it would still have been a clear case of economy to buy him off with a little loose silver, so that his lamentable figure should not limp at the heels of your conscience all over the world. To own the truth, I provided myself with several such imaginary persecutors in England, and recruited their number with at least one sickly-looking wretch whose acquaintance I first made at Assisi, in Italy, and, taking a dislike to something sinister in his aspect, permitted him to beg early and late, and all day long, without getting a single baiocco. At my latest glimpse of him, the villain avenged himself, not by a volley of horrible curses, as any other Italian beggar would, but by taking an expression so grief-stricken, want-wrung, hopeless, and withal resigned, that I could paint his life-like portrait at this moment. Were I to go over the same ground again, I would listen to no man's theories, but buy the little luxury of beneficence at a cheap rate, instead of doing myself a moral mischief by exuding a stony incrustation over whatever natural sensibility I might possess.
On the other hand, there were some mendicants whose utmost efforts I even now felicitate myself on having withstood. Such was a phenomenon abridged of his lower half, who beset me for two or three years together, and, in spite of his deficiency of locomotive members, had some supernatural method of transporting himself (simultaneously, I believe) to all quarters of the city. He wore a sailor's jacket, (possibly, because skirts would have been a superfluity to his figure,) and had a remarkably broad-shouldered and muscular frame, surmounted by a large, fresh-colored face, which was full of power and intelligence. His dress and linen were the perfection of neatness. Once a day, at least, wherever I went, I suddenly became aware of this trunk of a man on the path before me, resting on his base, and looking as if he had just sprouted out of the pavement, and would sink into it again and reappear at some other spot the instant you left him behind. The expression of his eye was perfectly respectful, but terribly fixed, holding your own as by fascination, never once winking, never wavering from its point-blank gaze right into your face, till you were completely beyond the range of his battery of one immense rifled cannon. This was his mode of soliciting alms; and he reminded me of the old beggar who appealed so touchingly to the charitable sympathies of Gil Blas, taking aim at him from the roadside with a long-barrelled musket. The intentness and directness of his silent appeal, his close and unrelenting attack upon your individuality, respectful as it seemed, was the very flower of insolence; or, if you give it a possibly truer interpretation, it was the tyrannical effort of a man endowed with great natural force of character to constrain your reluctant will to his purpose. Apparently, he had staked his salvation upon the ultimate success of a daily struggle between himself and me, the triumph of which would compel me to become a tributary to the hat that lay on the pavement beside him. Man or fiend, however, there was a stubbornness in his intended victim which this massive fragment of a mighty personality had not altogether reckoned upon, and by its aid I was enabled to pass him at my customary pace hundreds of times over, quietly meeting his terribly respectful eye, and allowing him the fair chance which I felt to be his due, to subjugate me, if he really had the strength for it. He never succeeded, but, on the other hand, never gave up the contest; and should I ever walk those streets again, I am certain that the truncated tyrant will sprout up through the pavement and look me fixedly in the eye, and perhaps get the victory.
I should think all the more highly of myself, if I had shown equal heroism in resisting another class of beggarly depredators, who assailed me on my weaker side and won an easy spoil. Such was the sanctimonious clergyman, with his white cravat, who visited me with a subscription-paper, which he himself had drawn up, in a case of heart-rending distress;—the respectable and ruined tradesman, going from door to door, shy and silent in his own person, but accompanied by a sympathizing friend, who bore testimony to his integrity, and stated the unavoidable misfortunes that had crushed him down;—or the delicate and prettily dressed lady, who had been bred in affluence, but was suddenly thrown upon the perilous charities of the world by the death of an indulgent, but secretly insolvent father, or the commercial catastrophe and simultaneous suicide of the best of husbands;—or the gifted, but unsuccessful author, appealing to my fraternal sympathies, generously rejoicing in some small prosperities which he was kind enough to term my own triumphs in the field of letters, and claiming to have largely contributed to them by his unbought notices in the public journals. England is full of such people, and a hundred other varieties of peripatetic tricksters, higher than these, and lower, who act their parts tolerably well, but seldom with an absolutely illusive effect. I knew at once, raw Yankee as I was, that they were humbugs, almost without an exception,—rats that nibble at the honest bread and cheese of the community, and grow fat by their petty pilferings,—yet often gave them what they asked, and privately owned myself a simpleton. There is a decorum which restrains you (unless you happen to be a police-constable) from breaking through a crust of plausible respectability, even when you are certain that there is a knave beneath it.
* * * * *
After making myself as familiar as I decently could with the poor streets, I became curious to see what kind of a home was provided for the inhabitants at the public expense, fearing that it must needs be a most comfortless one, or else their choice (if choice it were) of so miserable a life outside was truly difficult to account for. Accordingly, I visited a great almshouse, and was glad to observe how unexceptionably all the parts of the establishment were carried on, and what an orderly life, full-fed, sufficiently reposeful, and undisturbed by the arbitrary exercise of authority, seemed to be led there. Possibly, indeed, it was that very orderliness, and the cruel necessity of being neat and clean, and even the comfort resulting from these and other Christian-like restraints and regulations, that constituted the principal grievance on the part of the poor, shiftless inmates, accustomed to a life-long luxury of dirt and harum-scarumness. The wild life of the streets has perhaps as unforgettable a charm, to those who have once thoroughly imbibed it, as the life of the forest or the prairie. But I conceive rather that there must be insuperable difficulties, for the majority of the poor, in the way of getting admittance to the almshouse, than that a merely aesthetic preference for the street would incline the pauper-class to fare scantily and precariously, and expose their raggedness to the rain and snow, when such a hospitable door stood wide-open for their entrance. It might be that the roughest and darkest side of the matter was not shown me, there being persons of eminent station and of both sexes in the party which I accompanied; and, of course, a properly trained public functionary would have deemed it a monstrous rudeness, as well as a great shame, to exhibit anything to people of rank that might too painfully shock their sensibilities.
The women's ward was the portion of the establishment which we especially examined. It could not be questioned that they were treated with kindness as well as care. No doubt, as has been already suggested, some of them felt the irksomeness of submission to general rules of orderly behavior, after being accustomed to that perfect freedom from the minor proprieties, at least, which is one of the compensations of absolutely hopeless poverty, or of any circumstances that set us fairly below the decencies of life. I asked the governor of the house whether he met with any difficulty in keeping peace and order among his inmates; and he informed me that his troubles among the women were incomparably greater than with the men. They were freakish, and apt to be quarrelsome, inclined to plague and pester one another in ways that it was impossible to lay hold of, and to thwart his own authority by the like intangible methods. He said this with the utmost good-nature, and quite won my regard by so placidly resigning himself to the inevitable necessity of letting the women throw dust into his eyes. They certainly looked peaceable and sisterly enough, as I saw them, though still it might be faintly perceptible that some of them were consciously playing their parts before the governor and his distinguished visitors.
This governor seemed to me a man thoroughly fit for his position. An American, in an office of similar responsibility, would doubtless be a much superior person, better educated, possessing a far wider range of thought, more naturally acute, with a quicker tact of external observation and a readier faculty of dealing with difficult cases. The women would not succeed in throwing half so much dust into his eyes. Moreover, his black coat, and thin, sallow visage, would make him look like a scholar, and his manners would indefinitely approximate to those of a gentleman. But I cannot help questioning, whether, on the whole, these higher endowments would produce decidedly better results. The Englishman was thoroughly plebeian both in aspect and behavior, a bluff, ruddy-faced, hearty, kindly, yeoman-like personage, with no refinement whatever, nor any superfluous sensibility, but gifted with a native wholesomeness of character which must have been a very beneficial element in the atmosphere of the almshouse. He spoke to his pauper family in loud, good-humored, cheerful tones, and treated them with a healthy freedom that probably caused the forlorn wretches to feel as if they were free and healthy likewise. If he had understood them a little better, he would not have treated them half so wisely. We are apt to make sickly people more morbid, and unfortunate people more miserable, by endeavoring to adapt our deportment to their especial and individual needs. They eagerly accept our well-meant efforts; but it is like returning their own sick breath back upon themselves, to be breathed over and over again, intensifying the inward mischief at every repetition. The sympathy that would really do them good is of a kind that recognizes their sound and healthy parts, and ignores the part affected by disease, which will thrive under the eye of a too close observer like a poisonous weed in the sunshine. My good friend the governor had no tendencies in the latter direction, and abundance of them in the former, and was consequently as wholesome and invigorating as the west-wind with a little spice of the north in it, brightening the dreary visages that encountered us as if he had carried a sunbeam in his hand. He expressed himself by his whole being and personality, and by works more than words, and had the not unusual English merit of knowing what to do much better than how to talk about it.
The women, I imagine, must have felt one imperfection in their state, however comfortable otherwise. They were forbidden, or, at all events, lacked the means, to follow out their natural instinct of adorning themselves; all were dressed in one homely uniform of blue-checked gowns, with such caps upon their heads as English servants wear. Generally, too, they had one dowdy English aspect, and a vulgar type of features so nearly alike that they seemed literally to constitute a sisterhood. We have few of these absolutely unilluminated faces among our native American population, individuals of whom must be singularly unfortunate, if, mixing as we do, no drop of gentle blood has contributed to refine the turbid element, no gleam of hereditary intelligence has lighted up the stolid eyes, which their forefathers brought from the Old Country. Even in this English almshouse, however, there was at least one person who claimed to be intimately connected with rank and wealth. The governor, after suggesting that this person would probably be gratified by our visit, ushered us into a small parlor, which was furnished a little more like a room in a private dwelling than others that we entered, and had a row of religious books and fashionable novels on the mantel-piece. An old lady sat at a bright coal-fire, reading a romance, and rose to receive us with a certain pomp of manner and elaborate display of ceremonious courtesy, which, in spite of myself, made me inwardly question the genuineness of her aristocratic pretensions. But, at any rate, she looked like a respectable old soul, and was evidently gladdened to the very core of her frostbitten heart by the awful punctiliousness with which we responded to her gracious and hospitable, though unfamiliar welcome. After a little polite conversation, we retired; and the governor, with a lowered voice and an air of deference, told us that she had been a lady of quality, and had ridden in her own equipage, not many years before, and now lived in continual expectation that some of her rich relatives would drive up in their carriages to take her away. Meanwhile, he added, she was treated with great respect by her fellow-paupers. I could not help thinking, from a few criticisable peculiarities in her talk and manner, that there might have been a mistake on the governor's part, and perhaps a venial exaggeration on the old lady's, concerning her former position in society; but what struck me was the forcible instance of that most prevalent of English vanities, the pretension to aristocratic connection, on one side, and the submission and reverence with which it was accepted by the governor and his household, on the other. Among ourselves, I think, when wealth and eminent position have taken their departure, they seldom leave a pallid ghost behind them,—or, if it sometimes stalks abroad, few recognize it.
We went into several other rooms, at the doors of which, pausing on the outside, we could hear the volubility, and sometimes the wrangling, of the female inhabitants within, but invariably found silence and peace when we stepped over the threshold. The women were grouped together in their sitting-rooms, sometimes three or four, sometimes a larger number, classified by their spontaneous affinities, I suppose, and all busied, so far as I can remember, with the one occupation of knitting coarse yarn stockings. Hardly any of them, I am sorry to say, had a brisk or cheerful air, though it often stirred them up to a momentary vivacity to be accosted by the governor, and they seemed to like being noticed, however slightly, by the visitors. The happiest person whom I saw there (and, running hastily through my experiences, I hardly recollect to have seen a happier one in my life, if you take a careless flow of spirits as happiness) was an old woman that lay in bed among ten or twelve heavy-looking females, who plied their knitting-work round about her. She laughed, when we entered, and immediately began a talk to us, in a thin, little, spirited quaver, claiming to be more than a century old; and the governor (in whatever way he happened to be cognizant of the fact) confirmed her age to be a hundred and four. Her jauntiness and cackling merriment were really wonderful. It was as if she had got through with all her actual business in life two or three generations ago, and now, freed from every responsibility for herself or others, had only to keep up a mirthful state of mind till the short time, or long time, (and, happy as she was, she appeared not to care whether it were long or short,) before Death, who had misplaced her name in his list, might remember to take her away. She had gone quite round the circle of human existence, and come back to the play-ground again. And so she had grown to be a kind of miraculous old pet, the plaything of people seventy or eighty years younger than herself, who talked and laughed with her as if she were a child, finding great delight in her wayward and strangely playful responses, into some of which she cunningly conveyed a gibe that caused their ears to tingle a little. She had done getting out of bed in this world, and lay there to be waited upon like a queen or a baby.