[Footnote C: See Lossing's Life and Correspondence of General Schuyler, and Professor Moore's paper on Charles Lee.]
With the imposing array of professed histories and historians in view, it is curious to revert to the actual sources of our own historic ideas,—those which are definite and pervasive. The vast number of intelligent readers, who have made no special study of this kind of literature, probably derive their most distinct and attractive impressions of the past from poetry, travel, and the choicest works of the novelist; local association and imaginative sympathy, rather than formal chronicles, have enlightened and inspired them in regard to Antiquity and the great events and characters of modern Europe. This fact alone suggests how inadequate for popular effect have been the average labors of historians; and so fixed is the opinion among scholars that it is impossible for the annalist to be profound and interesting, authentic and animated, at the same time, that a large class of the learned repudiate as spurious the renown of Macaulay,—although his research and his minuteness cannot be questioned, and only in a few instances has his accuracy been successfully impugned. They distrust him chiefly because he is agreeable, doubt his correctness for the reason that his style fascinates, and deem admiration for him inconsistent with their own self-respect, because he is such a favorite as no historian ever was before, and his account of a parliament, a coinage, or a feud as winsome as a portraiture of a woman. In one of his critical essays, Macaulay himself gives a partial explanation of this protest of the minority in his own case. "People," he remarks, "are very loath to admit that the same man can unite very different kinds of excellence. It is soothing to envy to believe that what is splendid cannot be solid and what is clear cannot be profound." And it has been most justly said of his own method of writing history, "He must make everything clear and bright, and bring it into the range of his analysis; his exaggeration chiefly applies to individual characters, not to general facts"; and the reason given for the decided preference manifested for his vivid record is not less true than philosophical,—"We learn so much from him enjoyably." It is precisely the lack of this pleasurable trait which makes the greater part of the annals of the past a dead letter to the world, and wins to romance, ballad, epic, fiction, relic, and poetry the keen attention which facts coldly "set in a note-book" never enlisted. How many of us unconsciously have adopted the portraits of the early English kings as Shakspeare drew them! To what a host of living souls is the history of Scotland what the author of "Waverley" makes it! Charles I. haunts the fancy, not as drawn by Hume, but as painted by Vandyck. The institutions of the Middle Ages are realized to every reflective tourist through the architecture of Florence more than by the municipal details of Hallam. Pyramids, obelisks, mummies have brought home Egyptian civilization; the "old masters," that of Europe in the fifteenth century; the ruins of the Colosseum, Roman art and barbarism, as they never were by Livy or Gibbon. Lady Russell's letters tell us of the Civil War in England,—Saint Mark's, at Venice, of Byzantine taste and Oriental commerce,—the Escurial and the Alhambra, Versailles, a castle on the Rhine, and a "modest mansion on the banks of the Potomac," of their respective eras and their characteristics, social, political, religious,—more than the most elaborate register, muster-roll, or judicial calendar. For around and within these memorials lingers the life of Humanity; they speak to the eye as well as to memory,—to the heart as well as the intelligence; they draw us by human associations to the otherwise but technical statement; they lure us to repeople solitudes and reanimate shadows; and having become intimate with the scenes, the effigies, the monuments of the Past, we have, as it were, a vantage-ground of actual experience an impulse from personal observation and, perhaps, a sympathy born of local inspiration, whereby the phantoms of departed ages are once more clothed with flesh, and their sorrows and triumphs are renewed in the soul of enlightened contemplation.
* * * * *
MY NEIGHBOR, THE PROPHET.
The point of commencement for a story is altogether arbitrary. Some writers stick to Nature and go back to the Creation; others take a few dozen of the grandfatherly old centuries for granted; others seize Time by the forelock and bounce into the middle of a narrative; but, as I said before, the beginning is a mere matter of taste and convenience. I choose to open my tale with the day on which I took possession of my newly purchased country-house.
It was a pretty little cottage, wooden, old-fashioned, a story and a half high, with a long veranda, a shady door-yard, and a sunny garden. I bought it as it was, furniture included, of a gentleman who was about to remove southward on account of his wife's health, or, to speak more exactly, on account of her want of it. I laugh here to think how surprised you will be when you learn that these matters have no connection with my story. All the important events which I propose to relate might have happened had this gentleman never sold nor I purchased; and, as a proof of it, I can adduce the fact that they actually did occur some years before we enjoyed the honor of each other's acquaintance. But I could not resist the temptation of the episode. I am as delighted at getting into my first house as was my little son when he poked his chubby legs into his first trousers.
"Who is my nearest neighbor?" I asked of the former proprietor, when he made his parting call.
"What, the occupant of the new house just below you? I can tell you very little of him. I haven't made his acquaintance, and don't know his name. We call him the Mormon."
"Mercy on us! You don't mean to hint at anything in the way of polygamy, I hope. He doesn't keep an omnibus with seats for twenty, does he?"
"No, not so bad as that. In fact, I don't know much about him. I thought you were aware of his—his style of living," stammered my friend. "Oh, I dare say he is respectable enough. But then we noticed three or four women about the house, and only one man; and so we clapped the title of Mormon on him. Nicknaming is funny work, you know,—a short and easy way to be witty. I believe, however, that he does pretend to be a prophet."
"The Pilgrim Fathers protect us! Why, he may attempt to proselytize us by force. He may declare a religious war against us. It would be no joke, if he should invade us with the sword in one hand, and the Koran, or whatever he may call his revelation, in the other."
"Oh, don't be alarmed. He is quite harmless, and even unobtrusive. A sad-faced, pale, feeble-looking, white-bearded old man. He won't attack you, or probably even speak to you. I will tell you all I know of him. The house was built under his direction about six months ago. I understand that the women own it, and that they are not relatives according to the flesh, but simply sisters in faith. They have some queer sort of religion which I am shamefully ignorant of. At all events, they believe this old gentleman to be a prophet, and consider it a duty or a pleasure to support him. That is the extent of my knowledge. I hope it doesn't disgust you with your neighborhood?"
"By no means. May you find as pleasant a one, wherever you settle!"
"Thank you. Well, it is nearly train-time, and I suppose I must leave you and my old place. I wish you every happiness in it."
And so the old proprietor sighingly departed, leaving the new one smiling on the doorstep. I was just thinking how nicely the world is arranged, so that one man's trouble may turn out another man's blessing, (the illness in this gentleman's family, for instance, being the cause of my getting a neat country-house cheap,) when my attention was arrested by the appearance of a thin, feeble-looking, white-bearded old man, who passed down the street with head bent and hands joined behind him. I stared at him till he got by; then I ran down to the gate and looked after him earnestly; and at last I darted forward, hatless, in eager pursuit. He heard my approaching steps, and put his snowy beard against his right shoulder in the act of taking a glance rearward. I now recognized the profile positively, and began conversation.
"Is it possible? My dear Doctor Potter, how are you? Don't you know me? Your old friend Elderkin."
"Sir? Elderkin? Oh!—ah!—yes! How do you do, Mr. Elderkin?" he stammered, seeming very awkward, and hardly responding at all to my vigorous hand-shaking.
"I am delighted to see you again," I continued. "I have had no news of you these five years. Do you live in this neighborhood?"
"I—I reside in the next house, Sir," he replied, not looking me in the face, but glancing around uneasily, as if he wanted to run away.
"What! are you the prophet?" I blurted out before I could stop myself.
"I am, Mr. Elderkin," he said, blushing until I thought his white hair would turn crimson.
We stared at each other in silence for ten seconds, each wishing himself or his interlocutor at the antipodes.
"I congratulate you on your gift," I remarked, as soon as I could speak. "I will see you again soon, and have a talk on the subject. We have discussed similar matters before. Good day, Doctor."
"Good day, Mr. Elderkin," he replied, drawing himself up with a poor pretence at self-respect.
He was greatly changed. Heterodoxy had not been so fattening to him as Orthodoxy. When I knew him, six years before, as pastor of a flourishing church, Doctor of Divinity, and staunch Calvinist, he had a plump and rosy face, a portly form, and vigorous carriage. He was a great favorite with the ladies, as clergymen are apt to be, and consequently never lacked for delicate and appetizing sustenance. He was esteemed, self-respectful, and happy; and all these things tend to good health and good looks. I propose to make myself famous as the Gibbon of the decline and fall of this reverend gentleman, once so honorably established on the everlasting hills of Orthodoxy, and now so overthrown and trampled under foot by the Alaric of Spiritualism. I do not expect, indeed, that anybody will take warning by my friend's sad history; nor do I insist that people in general would find it advantageous to learn much wisdom from the experience of others; for it is very clear, that, if we attempted only what our neighbors or our fathers had succeeded in doing, we should kill all chance of variety or improvement. It would be a stupidly wise world; there would be no sins, and, very possibly, no virtues; instead of "Everything happens," it would be "Nothing happens." Believing and hoping, therefore, that Dr. Potter's calamities will not be the smallest check upon any person who shall feel disposed to follow in his footsteps, I present the story to the public, not at all as a lesson, but merely as an item of curious information.
Oddly enough, it was on that day of delusions, the first of April, that I stumbled into the Doctor's revival of the age of miracles. I had been engaged for three months on a geological survey in a Western Territory, during which time I had received very brief and vague news from the little city which was then my place of abode, and had not even had a hint of the signs and wonders which there awaited my astonished observation. Reaching home, I made it my first business to call on my reverend friend; for the Doctor, it must be known, was one of my most valued intimates, had baptized me, had counselled me, had travelled with me in foreign lands; we had many interests, many sympathies in common, and no differences except with regard to the extent of the Flood, the date of the Creation, and other matters of small personal importance. I found him in his study, surrounded by those seven hundred and odd volumes, the learning and excellent spirit of which gave to his sermons such a body of venerable divinity, such a bouquet of savory eloquence. He was walking to and fro rapidly, studying a slip of manuscript with an air of serious ecstasy. He did not look up until I had seized his hand, and even then he stared at me as a man might be supposed to stare who had been passing a fortnight with angels or other spiritual existences and unexpectedly found himself among natural and reasonable beings again.
"Ah, my dear Elderkin," he said at last, "I am glad to see you. How are you, and how have you been? Excuse me for not recognizing you at once. I had just lost myself in the consideration of a mystery which I believe to be of the sublimest importance. Oh, my dear friend, I hope you will be brought to attend to these things! They are above and beyond all your geologies; they preceded and will outlive them."
"Indeed!" I replied. "Nothing in the way of chaos, I hope?"
"Look here at this sheet of foolscap," he exclaimed, waving it excitedly. "Do you remember the belief which I have often expressed to you,—the belief that the dispensation of miracles has never yet ceased from earth,—that we have still a right to expect signs, wonders, instantaneous healings, and unknown tongues,—and that, but for our wretched incredulity, these things would constantly happen among us? You have disputed it and ridiculed it, but here I hold a proof of its truth. A month ago this blessing was vouchsafed to me. It was at one of our Wednesday-evening exercises. I had just been speaking of supernatural gifts, and of the duty which we lie under of expecting and demanding them. The moment I sat down, a stranger (a gentleman whom I had previously noticed at church) rose up with a strangely beaming look and broke out in a discourse of sounds that were wholly unintelligible. You need not smile. It was a true language, I am confident; it flowed forth with a moving warmth and fluency; and the gestures which accompanied it were earnest and most expressive."
"That was fortunate," said I; "otherwise you must have been very little edified. But isn't it rather odd that the man should use earthly gestures with an unearthly language?"
The Doctor shook his head reprovingly, and continued,—
"Deacon Jones, the editor of the 'Patriot,' is a phonographer. He took down the close of the stranger's address, and next day brought it to me written out in the ordinary alphabet. Let me read it to you. As you are acquainted with several modern languages, perhaps you can give me a key to an interpretation."
"I don't profess to know the modern languages of the other world," said I. "However, let us hear it."
"Isse ta sopon otatirem isais ka rabatar itos ma deok," began the Doctor, with a gravity which almost made me think him stark mad. "De noton irbila orgonos ban orgonos amartalannen fi dunial maran ta calderak isais deluden homox berbussen carantar. Falla esoro anglas emoden ebuntar ta diliglas martix yehudas sathan val caraman mendelsonnen lamata yendos nix poliglor opos discobul vanitarok ken laros ma dasta finomallo in salubren to mallomas. Isse on esto opos fi sathan."
And so he read on through more than a page and a half of closely written manuscript, his eyes flashing brighter at each line, and his right hand gesturing as impressively as if he understood every syllable.
"Bless you, it's nothing new," said I. "There's an institution at Hartford where they cure people of talking that identical language."
"Just what I expected you to say," he replied, flushing up. "I know you,—you scientific men,—you materialists. When you can't explain a phenomenon, you call it nonsense, instead of throwing yourselves with childlike faith into the arms of the supernatural. That is the sum and finality of your so-called science. But, come, be rational now. Don't you catch a single glimpse or suspicion of meaning in these remarkable words?"
"I am thankful to say that I don't," declared I. "If ever I go mad, I may change my mind."
"Well now, I do" he asseverated loudly. "There are words here that I believe I understand, and I am not ashamed to own it. Why, look at it, yourself," he added, pleadingly. "That word sathan, twice repeated, can it be anything else than Satan? Yehudas, what is that but Jews? And then homox, how very near to the Latin homo! I think, too, that I have even got a notion of some of the grammatical forms of the language. That termination of en, as in deluden, salubren, seems to me the sign of the present tense of the plural form of the verb. That other termination of tar, as in ebuntar, carantar, I suppose to be the sign of the infinitive. Depend upon it that this language is one of absolute regularity, undeformed by the results of human folly and sorrow, and as perfect as a crystal."
"But not as clear," I observed,—"at least, not to our apprehension. Well, how was this extraordinary revelation received by the audience?"
"In dumb silence," said the Doctor. "Faith was at too low an ebb among us to reach and encircle the amazing fact. I had to call out the astonished brethren by name; and even then they responded briefly and falteringly. But the leaven worked. I went round the next day and talked to all my leading men. I found faith sprouting like a grain of mustard-seed. I found my people waking up to the great idea of a continuous, deathless, present miracle-demonstration. And these dim suspicions, these far-off longings and fearful hopes, were, indeed, precursors of such a movement of spirits, such a shower of supernatural mercies, as the world has not perhaps seen for centuries. Yes, there have been wonders wrought among us, and there are, I am persuaded, greater wonders still to come. What do you think must be my feelings when I see my worthiest parishioners rise in public and break out with unknown tongues?"
"I should suppose you would rather see them break out with the small-pox," I answered.
"Ah, Professor! wait, wait, and soon you will not laugh," said the Doctor, solemnly.
"Perhaps not. I am a sincere friend of yours, and a tolerably good-hearted sort of man, I hope. I shall probably feel more like crying. But the world may laugh long and loud, Doctor. All who hate the true revelation may laugh to see it mocked and caricatured by those who profess and mean to honor it. Just consider, while it is yet time to mend matters, how imprudent you are. Why, what do you know of the man who has been your Columbus in this sea of wonders? Are you sure that he is not a sharper, or an impostor, or a lunatic?"
"Impossible! He brought letters to three of our most respectable families. His name is Riley, John M. Riley, of New York; and he is son of the wealthy old merchant, James M. Riley, who has been such a generous donor to all good works. As for his being a lunatic, you shall hear his conversation."
"I should be a very poor judge of it, if he always speaks in his unknown tongues."
"English! English! he talks English as good as your own. A more gentlemanly person, a more intelligent mind, a meeker and more believing spirit, I have not met this many a day. He is still here, and he is my right hand in the work. I shall soon have the pleasure of making you acquainted with him."
"Thank you; I shall be delighted," said I. "Only be good enough to hint to him that I like to understand what is said to me. If he comes at me with unknown tongues, I shall wish him in unknown parts. I can't stand mysteries. I am a geologist, and believe that there are rocks all the way down, and that we had much better stand on them than wriggle in mere chaotic space. Good morning, Doctor. I shall come again soon; I shall keep a lookout on you."
"Good morning," he replied, kindly. "I hope to see you in a better frame before many days."
I hurried back to my hotel, and questioned the landlord about this revival of the age of miracles. He gave me a long account of the affair, and then every neighbor who strolled in gave me another, until by dinner-time I had heard wonders and absurdities enough to make a new "Book of Mormon." The lunacies of this Riley had entered into Dr. Potter and his parishioners, like the legion of devils into the herd of swine, and driven them headlong into a sea of folly. There had been more tongues spoken during the past month in this little Yankee city than would have sufficed for our whole stellar system. Blockheads who were not troubled with an idea once a fortnight, and who could neither write nor speak their mother English decently, had undertaken to expound things which never happened in dialects which nobody understood. People who hitherto had been chiefly remarkable for their ignorance of the past and the slowness of their comprehension of the present fell to foretelling the future, with a glibness which made Isaiah and Ezekiel appear like minor prophets, and a destructiveness which nothing would satisfy out the immediate advent of the final conflagration. Gouty brothers whose own toes were a burden to them, and dropsical sisters with swelled legs, hobbled from street to street, laying would-be miraculous hands on each other, on teething children, on the dumb and blind, on foundered horses and mangy dogs even, or whatsoever other sickly creature happened to get under their silly noses. The doctors lost half their practice in consequence of the reliance of the people on these spiritual methods of physicking. Children were taken out of school in order that they might attend the prophesyings and get all knowledge by supernatural intuition. Logic and other worldly methods of arriving at truth were superseded by dreams, discernings of spirits, and similar irrational processes. The public madness was immense, tempestuous, and unequalled by anything of the kind since the "jerks" which appeared in the early part of this century under the thundering ministrations of Peter Cartwright. That nothing might be lacking to make the movement a fact in history, it had acquired a name. As its disciples used the word "dispensation" freely, the public called them Dispensationists, and their faith Dispensationism, while their meetings received the whimsical title of Dispensaries.
Amid this clamor of daft delusion, Dr. Potter congratulated his people on the resurrection of the age of miracles, and preached in furtherance of the work with a fervid sincerity and eloquence rarely surpassed by men who support the claims of true religion and right reason. Had he brought the same zeal to bear against mathematics, it seems to me he might have shaken the popular faith in the multiplication-table. The wonders transacting in his church being noised abroad, the town was soon crowded with curious strangers, mostly laymen, but several clergymen, some anxious to believe, others ready to sneer, but all resolute to see. As might have been expected, the nature of the excitement alarmed the wiser pastors of the vicinity for the cause of Orthodoxy. They saw that several of the asserted miracles were simply hoaxes or delusions; they suspected that the unknown tongues might be nothing but the senseless bubbling of overheated brainpans; they perceived that the Doctor in his enthusiastic flights was soaring clear into the murky clouds of Spiritualism; and they dreaded lest the scoffing world should make a weapon out of these absurdities for an attack upon the Christian faith. They began to preach against the fanaticism; and, of course, my friend denounced them as infidels. High war ensued among the principalities and powers of theology in all that portion of Yankeedom.
The reaction roused by the unbelieving clergymen reached the Doctor's congregation, and emboldened all the sensible members to combine into an anti-miracle party. At a meeting of these persons a committee was appointed to wait upon the pastor and respectfully request him to dismiss Riley, to cease his efforts after the supernatural, and to return to his former profitable manner of ministration. Dr. Potter was amazed and indignant; he replied, that he should preach the truth as it was revealed to himself; he scouted the dictation of the committee, and fell back upon the solemn duty of his office; he ended by informing the gentlemen that they were unbelievers and materialists. Naturally the dissenters grew all the more fractious for this currying, and held another meeting, in which the reaction kicked up higher than ever. Being resolved now to proceed to extremities, and, if necessary, to form a new congregation, they drew up the following recantation and sent it to Dr. Potter,—not with any hope that he would put his name to it, but for the purpose of ridiculing his infatuation, and driving him to resign his pulpit.
"I, the undersigned, pastor of the First Church in Troubleton, having been led far from the truth by the absurdities of modern miracleism and spiritualism, and having seen the error of my ways, do penitently subscribe to the accompanying articles.
"1st. I promise to cease all intercourse with a blasphemous blockhead named John M. Riley, who has been the human cause of my downfall.
"2d. I promise to avoid in future all rhapsodies, ecstasies, frenzies, and whimseys which throw ridicule on true religion by caricaturing its influences.
"3d. I promise to regard with the profoundest contempt and indifference both my own dreams or somnambulisms and those of other people.
"4th. I promise not to unveil the secret things of Infinity, nor to encourage others to unveil them, but to mind my own finite business, and to rest satisfied with the revelations that are contained in the Bible.
"5th. I promise not to speak unknown tongues as long as I can speak English, and not to listen to other people who commit the like absurdity, unless I know them to be Frenchmen or Dutchmen or other foreigners of some human species.
"6th. I promise not to heal the sick by any unnatural and miraculous means, but rather to call in for their aid properly educated physicians, giving the preference to those of the allopathic persuasion.
"7th. I promise not to work signs in heaven nor wonders on earth, but to let all things take the course allotted to them by a good and wise Providence."
Of course Dr. Potter looked upon this production as the height of irreverence and irreligion, and proposed to excommunicate the authors of it. Hence the dissenters declared themselves seceders, and took immediate steps to form a new society.
It was at this stage of the excitement that I returned to Troubleton and made my call upon the Doctor. I felt anxious to save my old friend and worthy pastor. I saw, that, if he continued in his present courses, he would strip himself, one after the other, of his influence, his position, his religion, and his reason. That very evening, after the usual conference-meeting was over, I called again on him, and found him in a truly lyrical frame of spirit.
"Ah, my dear friend, there is no end to it!" exclaimed he. "The doors are opening, one beyond another. Wonder shows forth after wonder, miracle after miracle. Behind the veil! behind the veil!"
"Indeed!" said I, rather vexed. "You'll find yourself behind a grate some day."
"There is now no question of the physical value as well as the spiritual sublimity of these revelations," he continued, without observing my sneer. "Life and death, the sparing of precious blood, the prevention of crime, the punishment of the guilty,—you can appreciate these things, I presume."
"When I am in my senses," returned I. "But what is the row? if I may use that worldly expression. Has Mr. John M. Riley been brought to confess any state-prison offences?"
"Ah, Elderkin!" sighed the Doctor, letting go my hand with a look of sad reproach. "But no: you cannot remain forever in this skepticism; you will be brought over to us before long. Let me tell you what has happened. But, remember, you must keep the secret until to-morrow, as you value precious lives. Mr. Riley has just left me. He has made me a revelation, a prophecy, which will be proof to all men of the origin of our present experiences. He has had a vision, thrice repeated. It foretold that this very night a robbery and murder would be attempted in the city of New Haven. The evil drama will open between two and three o'clock. There will be three burglars. The house threatened is situated in the suburbs, to the east of the city, and about a mile from the colleges."
"Is it? And what are you going to do about it?—telegraph?"
"No. We will be there in person. We will ourselves prevent the crime and seize the criminals. I shall have a word in season for that family, Sir. I wish to improve the occasion for its conversion to a full belief in these sublime mysteries. Mr. Riley, with three of my people, will meet me at the station. We shall be in New Haven by eleven, stay an hour or two in some hotel, and at half past one go to the house."
"My dear Sir, I remonstrate," exclaimed I. "You will get laughed at. You will get shot at. You will get into disgrace. You will get into jail. For pity's sake, give up this quixotic expedition, and grant me an absolution before the fact for kicking Riley out of doors."
The Doctor turned his face away from me and walked to a window. His air of profound, yet uncomplaining grief, struck me with compunction, and, following him, I held out my hand.
"Come, excuse me," said I. "Look here,—if this comes true, I'll quit geology and go to working miracles to-morrow. I'll come over to your faith, if I have to wade through my reason."
"Will you?" he responded, joyfully. "You will never repent it. There, shake hands. I am not angry. Your unbelief is natural, though saddening. To-morrow night, then, come and see me again and I will tell you the whole adventure. I must be off to the train now. Excuse me for leaving you. Would you like to sit here awhile and look at Humby's 'Modern Miracles'?"
"No, thank you. Prefer to look at your miracles. I am going with you."
"Going with me? Are you? I'm delighted!" he cried, not in the least startled or embarrassed by the proposition. "Now you shall see with your own eyes."
"Yes, if it isn't too dark, I will,—word of a geologist. Well, shall we start?"
"But won't you have a weapon? We go armed, of course, inasmuch as the scoundrels may show fight when we come to arrest them."
"I don't want it," said I, gently pushing away a pocket-pistol, about as dangerous as a squirt. "All the burglars you see to-night may shoot at me, and welcome."
We walked to the station, and found our party waiting for the Boston train. The Doctor introduced me, with much affectionate effusion and many particulars concerning my family and early history, to the man of unearthly lingoes. He was a tall, lean, flat-chested, cadaverous being, of about forty, his sandy hair nicely sleeked, thin yellow whiskers spattered on his hollow cheeks, his nose short and snub, his face small, wilted, and so freckled that it could hardly be said to have a complexion. In short, by its littleness, by its yellowness, by its appearance of dusty dryness, this singular physiognomy reminded me so strongly of a pinch of snuff, that I almost sneezed at sight of it. His diminutive green eyes were fringed with ragged flaxen lashes, and seemed to be very loose in their reddened lids, as if he could cry them out at the shortest notice. I observed that he never looked his interlocutors in the face, but stared chiefly at their feet, as if surmising whether they would kick, or gazed into remote distance, as if trying to see round the world and get a view of his own back. His dress was a full suit of black, fine in texture, but bagging about him in a way that made you wonder whether he had not lost a hundred-weight or so in training for his spiritual battles. His manners were quiet, and would not have been disagreeable, but for an air of uncomfortably stiff solemnity, which draped him from head to foot like a robe of moral oilcloth, and might almost be said to rustle audibly. Whether he was a practical joker, a swindler, a fanatic, or a madman, my spiritual vision was not keen enough to discover at first sight. Beside him and ourselves the party consisted of a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick-maker, all members of the Doctor's church and indefatigable workers of miracles,—plain men and foolish, but respectable in standing and sincere in their folly. Mr. Riley was so commonplace as to address me in English, probably because he wanted an answer.
"Do you accompany us, Sir, on this blessed crusade against crime and unbelief?" he asked.
"My friend, Dr. Potter, has granted me that inestimable privilege," responded I.
"I hope—in fact, I firmly believe—that Providence will aid us," he continued.
"I hope so, too," said I. "But wouldn't it be advisable to have a policeman, too?"
"By no means! Certainly not!" he returned, with considerable excitement. "All we want is a band of saints, of justified souls, of men fitted for the martyr's crown."
"Oh, that's all, is it, Sir? Well, shall we get into the cars? There they are."
The train was full, and our party had to scatter, but Mr. Riley and I got seats together.
"I have not seen you at our meetings, Sir," he continued. "Allow me to ask, are you a believer in Dispensationism?"
"Not so strong as I might be. However, I have been absent from Troubleton for three months, and only returned yesterday."
"Ah! you have lost precious opportunities. You must lose no more. Life is short."
"And uncertain," I added. "Especially in railroad travelling."
"My dear Sir, I hope this road is prudently conducted," he said, with a look of some little anxiety.
"Not many accidents," I answered. "And then, you know, we are always in the hands of Providence. No fear of slipping through the fingers unnoticed."
"No, Sir, certainly not," he remarked, wrapping his moral oilcloth about him again. "Have you felt any extraordinary spiritual impressions since you returned?"
"Nothing lasting, I think. Nothing that a night's sleep wouldn't take off the edge of."
"No desire to lay hands on some sin-stricken wretch and cure him of the evil that is in him?"
Now I did feel a strong desire to lay hands on this very Riley and pull out his snub nose for him; but I forbore to say so, and simply shook my head despondently.
"I know, that, if you would come to our Dispensaries and join in our exercises, you would be sensible of a softening," he observed.
"Yes, in the brain," thought I; but I still remained silent.
"You should meditate upon the value of manifestations, unknown tongues, the laying on of hands, visions, ecstasies, and such like matters," he continued.
"So I have," said I.
"And with no result?"
"Nothing that particularly astonishes me. I think that I hate humbug more than I did."
"That's a good sign," he replied, after a brief, sharp glance of inquiry at me. "This vain world is a humbug, as you phrase it. Dead Orthodoxy is a humbug. Human reason is a humbug. We are all humbugs, unless we are made true by Dispensation. This age will be a humbug, unless it can be wrought into an age of miracles. If you could be brought to hate earnestly all these things, it would be a hopeful sign."
I was on the point of disputing the hypothesis, but prudently checked myself. Suddenly he removed my hat and put his broad, hard palm upon my organs with an impudent dexterity which made me doubt whether he had not been a pickpocket or a phrenological lecturer.
"I lay my hand upon your head and desire you to note the effect," said he. "Can no life come into these dry bones? Shall they not live? Yea, they shall live! Do you feel no irrepressible emotion, Sir,—no shaking?"
"Not a shake," replied I,—"unless it be from the bad grading."
"Evil is mighty, but the good must eventually prevail," he observed, impertinently cocking his snub nose toward heaven.
"I believe you are quite right in both propositions," I admitted. "Cardinal points of mine. But excuse me, Sir, if you could spare my hat, I should like to put it on my head."
I had lost patience with the man, partly because it irks me to have strangers take liberties with my person, and also because I had reached the conclusion that he was simply a shallow dissembler and rascal. In a minute more I had cause to reconsider my charge of hypocrisy, and to question whether he might not lay claim to the nobler distinction of lunacy. The conductor came down the car, picking out Troubletonians with his undeceivable eye, and leaned toward us with outstretched fingers. Mr. Riley rose to his whole gaunt height at a jerk, and laid his hand on the official's arm with a fierce, bony gripe, which seemed to startle him as if it were the clutch of a skeleton.
"There is my ticket," said he. "Where is yours? Have you one for the Holy City? None? Then you are lost, lost, lost!"
The last words rose to a high, clear shriek, which pierced the heavy rumble of the train and rang throughout the car. The conductor, in spite of the coolness which becomes second nature to men of his profession, turned slightly pale and shrank back before this wild apostrophe, with a thrill of spiritual horror at the solemn meaning of the words, (I thought,) and not because he considered the man a maniac. The fanaticism of Troubleton had already flown far and cast a vague shadow of dread over a large community.
Turning abruptly from the conductor, my companion flung out his long arms toward the staring passengers, and continued in his strident, startling tenor:—"I have warned him. I call you all to witness that I have warned this man of his fearful peril. His blood be on his own head! The blood of your souls will be upon your heads, unless you turn to Dispensationism. I have said it. Amen!"
Before he had sat down again I was in the alley on my way to another car, not anxious to become known as the intimate of this extraordinary apostle. I found an empty seat by the Doctor, dropped into it, and told my story.
"My dear friend, give the fellow up," I concluded. "He's as mad as he can possibly be."
"So Festus thought of Paul," returned my poor comrade, with hopeless fatuity.
"Festus be d——d!" said I, losing my temper, and swearing for the first time since I graduated.
"I fear he was so," remarked the Doctor, severely. "Let me urge you to take warning from his fate."
"I beg your pardon, and that of Festus," I apologized. "But when I see you losing your reason, I can't keep my patience, and don't wish to."
"You will wonder at these feelings before many hours," he responded gently. "To-morrow you will be a believer."
"That makes no difference with me now," said I. "I am just as skeptical as if I hadn't a chance of conversion. Why, Doctor,—well, come now,—I'll argue the case with you. In the first place, all Church history is against you. There isn't a respectable author who upholds the doctrine of modern miracles."
"Mistake!" he exclaimed. "I wish I had you in my library. I could face you with writer on writer, fact on fact, all supporting my views. I can prove that miracles have not ceased for eighteen centuries; that they appeared abundantly in the days of the venerable Catholic fathers; that a stream of prophecies and healings and tongues ran clear through the Dark Ages down to the Reformation; that the superhuman influence flamed in the dreams of Huss, the ecstasies of Xavier, and the marvels of Fox and Usher. Look at the French Prophets, or Tremblers of the Cevennes, who had prophesyings and healings and discoverings of spirits and tongues and interpretations. Look at the ecstatic Jansenists, or Convulsionists of St. Medard, who were blessed with the same holy gifts. Look at the Quakers, from Fox downward, who have held it as a constant principle to expect powers, revelations, discernings of spirits, and instantaneous healings of diseases. Why, here we are in our own days; here we are with our chain of miracles still unbroken; here we are in the midst of this geological and unbelieving nineteenth century."
"Yes, here we are," said I; "and we must make the best of it. It's a bad affair, of course, to live in scientific times; and it's a great pity that we were not born in the Dark Ages; but it is too late to try to help it."
"Ah! you answer with a sneer; you are materialistic and infidel."
"Stop, Doctor! Let me make a bargain with you. If you won't call me names, I won't call you names. You are not in the pulpit now, and you have no right to domineer over me."
"But what do you say to all these signs and wonders which I have mentioned?"
"What do you say to the Rochester knockings and the Stratford mysteries and the Mormon miracles?"
"All deceptions, or works of the Devil," affirmed the Doctor, without a moment's hesitation.
"Excuse me for smiling," I replied "It is pleasant to observe what a quick spirit you have for discerning the true wonders from the false."
"You will see, you will see," he answered, and relapsed into a grave silence.
We reached New Haven and took rooms at the New Haven Hotel. I had anticipated a little nap before going out on our expedition; but I had not made allowance for the proselyting zeal of Dispensationists. My poor bewildered friend Potter uttered something which he sincerely meant to be a prayer, but which sounded to me painfully like blasphemy. Next they sang a queer hymn of theirs in discordant chorus. After that, Mr. Riley rolled up his sleeves and his eyes, flung his arms about, wept and shrieked unknown tongues for twenty minutes. Then the butcher, the baker, and candlestick-maker had a combined convulsion on the floor, rolling over each other and upsetting furniture. By this time the hotel was roused and the landlord made us a call.
"What the Old Harry are you about?" he demanded, angrily. "Don't you know it's after midnight?"
"We are holding a Dispensary," said Mr. Riley, solemnly.
"Well, I'll dispense with your company, if you don't stop it," returned mine host. "There's a nervous lady in the next room, and you've worried her into fits."
"Let me see her," cried the Doctor, eagerly. "It may be that the power of our faith is upon her. Which is her door?"
"You're drunk, Sir," returned the landlord, severely. "Keep quiet now, or I'll have you put to bed by the porters."
So saying, he shut the door and went muttering down-stairs. This untoward incident put an end to our exercises. A whispered palaver on Dispensationism followed, during which I tilted my chair back against the wall and stole a pleasant little nap.
It was about half past one when the Doctor shook me up and said, "It is time." We slipped down-stairs in our stockinged feet, got the front-door open without awakening the porter, shut it carefully after us, and put on our boots outside. Mr. Riley immediately started up College Street, which, as all the world is aware, runs northerly to the Canal Railroad, where it changes to Prospect Street and goes off in a half-wild state up country. At the end of College Street we left the city behind us, struck the rail-track, forsook that presently for a desert sort of road known as Canal Street, and kept on in a northwesterly direction for half a mile farther. It was a dark, cool, and blustering night, such as the New Englanders are very apt to have on the second of April. The wind blew violently down the open country, shaking the scattered trees as if it meant to wake them instantly out of their winter's slumber, and screeching in the murky distances like a tomcat of the housetops, or rather like a continent of tomcats. The Doctor lost his hat, chased it a few rods, and then gave it up, lest he should miss his burglars. Once I halted and watched, thinking that I saw two or three dark shapes dogging us not far behind, but concluded that I had been deceived by the black-art of magical Night, and hastened on after my crazy comrades. Presently Riley stopped, pointed to a dark mass on our right which seemed about large enough to be a story-and-a-half cottage, and whispered, "Here we are, brethren."
"No doubt about that," said I. "But what the mischief is to come of it?"
"Oh! let's go back and call the police," urged the baker, in a tremulous gurgle.
"Too late!" returned Riley. "It is given to me to see the burglars. They are inside. They are taking the silver out of the closet. There will be murder in five minutes."
"If there must be murder, why, of course we ought to have a hand in it," I suggested. "Our motives at least will be good."
"Right!" said Riley. "Come on, brethren! We must prove our faith by our works."
But the baker hung back in a most dough-faced fashion, while the butcher and the candlestick-maker encouraged him in his cowardice. At last it was agreed that this unheroic trio should wait in the yard as a reserve, while Riley, the Doctor, and I went in to worry the burglars. Leaving the weaker brethren in a clump of evergreen shrubbery, we, the forlorn-hope, stole around the house to get at a back-door which Prophet Riley had plainly seen in his dream, and which he foretold us we should find unlocked. I was not much amazed to discover a back-door, inasmuch as most houses have one, but I really was surprised to learn that it was unfastened. My astonishment at this circumstance, however, was over- balanced by my alarm at finding that the Doctor still persisted in his intention of entering; for I had hoped that at the last moment his faith would give way, and let him slide down from the elevation of his ridiculous and reckless purpose.
"But you are not really going in?" I whispered, jerking at his coat-tails.
"Certainly," he replied. "The robbers are surely there. The door was unlocked."
"Mere carelessness of the servants. Stop! Come back! Nonsense! Madness! You'll get into a scrape. Respectable family. Good gracious, what a pack of fools!"
While I was rapidly muttering these observations, he was pulling away from me and stealing into the house after his prophet. Finding that there was no stopping him, I followed, in obedience, perhaps, to that great and no doubt beneficent, but as yet unexplained, instinct which causes sheep to leap after their bellwether. We were in a basement, or semi-subterranean story. I felt the walls of a narrow passage on either side of me, and can swear to a kitchen near by, for I smelt its cooking-range. I walked on the foremost end of my toes, and would have paid five dollars for a pair of list slippers. Rather than take another such little promenade as I had in that passage, I would submit to be placed on the middle sleeper of a railroad-bridge, with an express-train coming at me without a cowcatcher. Presently I overtook the Doctor's coat-tails again, and found that they were ascending a staircase. At the top of the stairs was a door, and on the other side of the door was a room, the uses of which I won't undertake to swear to, for I never saw it, although I was in it longer than I wanted to be. All I know is that it seemed to be as full of chairs, and tables, and sofas, and sideboards, and stoves, and crickets, as if it had been a shop for second-hand furniture. I was just rubbing my shins after an encounter with a remarkably solid object, nature uncertain, when somebody near me fell over something with a crash and a groan. Immediately somebody else seized me by the cravat and began to throttle me. Whoever it was, I floored him with a right-hander, and sent him across the other person, as I judged by the combined grunt, and the desperate, though dumb struggle which followed. Now there were two of them down, and how many standing I could not guess. An instant afterward, a muffled voice, like that of a man only half awake, shouted from a room behind me, "Who's there? Get out! I'm a-coming!" This seemed to encourage the individuals who were having a rough-and-tumble on the carpet, for they commenced roaring simultaneously, "Help! murder! thieves! fire!" without, however, relaxing hostilities for a moment.
The next pleasant incident was a pistol-shot, the ball of which whizzed so near my head that it made me dodge, although I have not the least notion who fired it or whom it was aimed at. Female screams and masculine shouts now sounded from various directions. Thinking that I had done all the good in my power, I concluded to get out of this confusion; but either the doorway by which we entered had suddenly walled itself up, or else I had lost my reckoning; for, stumble where I would, feel about as I would, I could not find it. I did, indeed, come to an opening in the wall, but there was no staircase the other side of it, and it simply introduced me to another invisible apartment. I had no chance to reflect upon the matter and decide of my own free will whether I would go in or not. A sudden rush of fighting, howling persons swept me along, jammed me against a pillar, pushed me over a table, and forced me to engage in a furious struggle, exceedingly awkward by reason of the darkness and the extraordinary amount of furniture. A tremendous punch in the side of the head upset me and made me lose my temper. Rising in a rage, I grappled some man, tripped up his heels, got on his chest, and never left off belaboring him until I felt pretty sure that he would keep quiet during the rest of the soiree. I hope sincerely that this suffering individual was Mr. John M. Riley; but, from the rotundity of stomach which I bestrode, I very much fear that it was the Doctor.
All this while the house resounded with outcries of, "Who's there?" "What's the matter?" "Father!" "Henry!" "Jenny!" "Maria!" "Thieves!" "Murder!" "Police!" and so forth. Of course I did not feel disposed to tell who was there; and in actual fact I could not have explained what was the matter. Accordingly I left all these inquisitive people unsatisfied, and busied myself solely with my fallen antagonist. Quitting him at last in a state of quiescence, I knocked over a person who had been attacking me in the rear, and then blundered into a passage, which I suppose to have been the front-hall, just as a light glimmered up in the rooms behind me. It gives one a very odd sensation to tread on a prostrate body, not knowing whether it is dead or alive, whether it is a man or a woman. I had that sensation in ascending a stairway which seemed to be the only egress from the aforesaid passage. The individual made no movement, and I did not stop to count his or her pulses. Without feeling at all disposed to take my oath on the matter, I rather suspect that a negro servant-girl had fainted away there in the act of trying to run off in her nightgown. Upstairs I tumbled, resolved to get upon the roof and slide down the lightning-rod, or else jump from a window. Pushing open a door, which I fell against, I found myself in a pretty little bedroom lighted by a single candle, articles of female costume banging across chairs and scattered over dressing-tables, while on the floor, just as she had swooned in her terror, lay a blonde girl of nineteen or twenty, pale as marble, but beautiful. Right through my alarm jarred a throb of mingled self-reproach and pity and admiration. I tossed a pile of bedclothes over her, kissed the long light-brown hair which rippled on the straw matting, daguerreotyped the face on my memory with a glance, blew out the light, opened a window, and slipped out of it. It is unpleasant to drop through darkness, not knowing how far you will fall, nor whether you will not alight on iron pickets. Fortunately, I came down in a fresh flower-bed, with no unpleasant result, except a sensation of having nearly bitten my tongue off. I had scarcely steadied myself on my feet, when a tall figure made a rush from some near ambuscade and seized me by the collar. Supposing him to be one of our reserve force, I quietly suffered him to lead me forward, and was on the point of whispering my name, when my eye caught a glimmer of metal, and I knew that I was in the hands of a policeman.
"Come in and help," said I. "The house is full of rascals."
Thinking me one of the family, he loosed his hold on my broadcloth and hurried away to the back-door. Whoever reads this story has already taken it for granted that I did not follow him, but that I did, on the contrary, make for the city and never cease travelling until I had reached the hotel. Let no man reproach me with forsaking my friend, the Doctor, in his extremity. I was brought up to reverence the law and to entertain a virtuous terror of policemen; and, besides, what could I have effected in that horrible labyrinth of dark rooms and multitudinous furniture? I rang up the porter, went to bed, and lay awake alt the rest of the night, listening for the return of my companions. No one came: no Doctor, no Riley, no butcher, no baker, no candlestick-maker. I was apparently the sole survivor of our little army. In the morning I walked over to the police-station, peeped cautiously through the grated door of a long room where the night's gatherings are lodged, and discovered my five friends, tattered and bruised, but holding a lively Dispensary in one corner. From that moment I despaired of the Doctor and resolved to let him manage his own monomania. I was still peeping when two of the police and a sly-looking man in citizen's dress came up and stared boldly at the prisoners.
"Well, Old Cock, do you see your game?" asked one of the "force."
"Thaht's him," returned the Old Cock, speaking with the soft drawl of the New York cockney. "Tall fellah thah with thah black eye, thaht's a-goin' it now. Thundah, what a roarah!"
"Well, what is he?" inquired the second of the New-Haveners.
"Joseph Hull, 'ligious lunatic," said the Old Cock. "Was in thah Bloomingdale Asylum. Cut off one night about foah months ago and stole a suit o' clothes that belonged to John M. Riley, with a lot o' money and papahs and lettahs in thah pockets. How'd you get hold of him?"
"Broke into a house eout here last night," related the first New-Havener. "He and them other fellers, and one more that we ha'n't found. I was on my beat 'bout one o'clock, and see 'em puttin' up College Street full chisel. I thought they looked kinder dangerous. So I called Doolittle here, and Jarvis, and Jacobs, and we after 'em. Chased 'em 'bout a mild and treed 'em at Square Russoll's, way up Canal, eout in the country. Three was in the yard and gin right up without doublin' a fist, though they had their pockets chuck full o' little pistols. We locked 'em into the cellar, and then, went upstairs, where there was a devil of a yellin' and fightin'. Hanged if I know what they come there for. They'd been pitchin' into one another and knockin' one another's heads off, besides smashin' furnichy and chimbly crockery, but hadn't stole a thing. The fat one and the long one—them two with white chokers—was lyin' on the floor pootty much used up. There was another that got up-stairs and jumped out a winder. Jarvis was outside and collared him, but thought he was Russell's son-in-law,—ho, ho, ho!—and let him off,—ho, ho, ho! Tell ye, Jarvis feels thunderin' small 'bout it. Ha'n't been reound this mornin'."
"Well, I'll leave my warrant with your big-wigs, and come after my man when they've got through with him," said the New York detective, turning away.
Fearing the return of the enlightened Jarvis, I now left, and, taking the first train to Troubleton, informed some of the leading Dispensationists concerning their pastor's calamity. By dint of heavy bail and strong representations they saved him, together with the butcher and baker and candlestick-maker, from the disgrace of prison and the lunatic asylum. But the adventure was the ruin of Dispensationism. Mr. Joseph Hull had to give up Mr. John M. Riley's valuables, and return to his seclusion at Bloomingdale. Deprived of the apostle who had set them on fire, and overwhelmed by public ridicule, the Dispensationists lost their faith, got ashamed of their minister, and turned him adrift. He disappeared in the great whirl of men and other circumstances which fills this wonderful country. From time to time, during five years, I had made inquiries concerning him of mineralogists, botanists, and other vagrant characters, without getting the smallest hint as to his whereabouts. At last he had turned up as the private prophet of three middle-aged widows.
"Jenny," said I to my wife, "do you remember the night I frightened you so and kissed you as you lay in a fainting-fit?"
"You always say you kissed me, but I don't believe it," returned that dear woman whom I love, honor, and cherish. "Yes, I remember the night well enough."
"Well, that poor Doctor Potter, who was my Mahomet on that occasion, and led me to victory in your parlor, and was the indirect means of my getting my houri,—I have heard from him. He is our next neighbor."
"Mercy on us, Frederic! I hope not! What mischief won't he do to people who are so handy?"
"Don't be worried, my dear," said I. "I sha'n't go over to his religion again,—unless, indeed, you should insist upon it. But here he is, and still a supernaturalist. I am anxious to know just how mad he is. I shall call on him in a day or two."
So I did. One of the three widows met me with a tearful countenance and told me that Doctor Potter had disappeared. So he had. I think that he was ashamed to meet me again, and therefore ran away. The widows thought not. They came to the conclusion, that, like Enoch and Elijah before him, he had been translated. They cried for him a good deal more than he was worth, quarreled scandalously among themselves, sold their house at a loss, and dispersed. I know nothing more of them. Neither do I know anything further of my neighbor, the prophet.
* * * * *
THE PILOT'S STORY.
It was a story the pilot told, with his back to his hearers,— Keeping his hand on the wheel and his eye on the globe of the jack-staff, Holding the boat to the shore and out of the sweep of the current, Lightly turning aside for the heavy logs of the drift-wood, Widely shunning the snags that made us sardonic obeisance.
All the soft, damp air was full of delicate perfume From the young willows in bloom on either bank of the river,— Faint, delicious fragrance, trancing the indolent senses In a luxurious dream of the river and land of the lotus. Not yet out of the west the roses of sunset were withered; In the deep blue above light clouds of gold and of crimson Floated in slumber serene, and the restless river beneath them Rushed away to the sea with a vision of rest in its bosom. Far on the eastern shore lay dimly the swamps of the cypress; Dimly before us the islands grew from the river's expanses,— Beautiful, wood-grown isles,—with the gleam of the swart inundation Seen through the swaying boughs and slender trunks of their willows; And on the shore beside its the cotton-trees rose in the evening, Phantom-like, yearningly, wearily, with the inscrutable sadness Of the mute races of trees. While hoarsely the steam from her 'scape-pipes Shouted, then whispered a moment, then shouted again to the silence, Trembling through all her frame with the mighty pulse of her engines, Slowly the boat ascended the swollen and broad Mississippi, Bank-full, sweeping on, with nearing masses of drift-wood, Daintily breathed about with hazes of silvery vapor, Where in his arrowy flight the twittering swallow alighted, And the belated blackbird paused on the way to its nestlings.
It was the pilot's story:—"They both came aboard there, at Cairo, From a New Orleans boat, and took passage with us for Saint Louis. She was a beautiful woman, with just enough blood from her mother, Darkening her eyes and her hair, to make her race known to a trader: You would have thought she was white. The man that was with her,—you see such,— Weakly good-natured and kind, and weakly good-natured and vicious, Slender of body and soul, fit neither for loving nor hating. I was a youngster then, and only learning the river,— Not over-fond of the wheel. I used to watch them at monte, Down in the cabin at night, and learned to know all of the gamblers. So when I saw this weak one staking his money against them, Betting upon the turn of the cards, I knew what was coming: They never left their pigeons a single feather to fly with. Next day I saw them together,—the stranger and one of the gamblers: Picturesque rascal he was, with long black hair and moustaches, Black slouch hat drawn down to his eyes from his villanous forehead: On together they moved, still earnestly talking in whispers, On toward the forecastle, where sat the woman alone by the gangway. Roused by the fall of feet, she turned, and, beholding her master, Greeted him with a smile that was more like a wife's than another's, Rose to meet him fondly, and then, with the dread apprehension Always haunting the slave, fell her eye on the face of the gambler, Dark and lustful and fierce and full of merciless cunning. Something was spoken so low that I could not hear what the words were; Only the woman started, and looked from one to the other, With imploring eyes, bewildered hands, and a tremor All through her frame: I saw her from where I was standing, she shook so. 'Say! is it so?' she cried. On the weak, white lips of her master Died a sickly smile, and he said,—'Louise, I have sold you.' God is my judge! May I never see such a look of despairing, Desolate anguish, as that which the woman cast on her master, Griping her breast with her little hands, as if he had stabbed her, Standing in silence a space, as fixed as the Indian woman, Carved out of wood, on the pilot-house of the old Pocahontas! Then, with a gurgling moan, like the sound in the throat of the dying, Came back her voice, that, rising, fluttered, through wild incoherence, Into a terrible shriek that stopped my heart while she answered:— 'Sold me? sold me? sold——And you promised to give me my freedom!— Promised me, for the sake of our little boy in Saint Louis! What will you say to our boy, when he cries for me there in Saint Louis? What will you say to our God?—Ah, you have been joking! I see it!— No? God! God! He shall hear it,—and all of the angels in heaven,— Even the devils in hell!—and none will believe when they hear it! Sold me!'—Fell her voice with a thrilling wail, and in silence Down she sank on the deck, and covered her face with her fingers."
In his story a moment the pilot paused, while we listened To the salute of a boat, that, rounding the point of an island, Flamed toward us with fires that seemed to burn from the waters,— Stately and vast and swift, and borne on the heart of the current. Then, with the mighty voice of a giant challenged to battle, Rose the responsive whistle, and all the echoes of island, Swamp-land, glade, and brake replied with a myriad clamor, Like wild birds that are suddenly startled from slumber at midnight; Then were at peace once more, and we heard the harsh cries of the peacocks Perched on a tree by a cabin-door, where the white-headed settler's White-headed children stood to look at the boat as it passed them, Passed them so near that we heard their happy talk and their laughter. Softly the sunset had faded, and now on the eastern horizon Hung, like a tear in the sky, the beautiful star of the evening.
Still with his back to us standing, the pilot went on with his story:— "Instantly, all the people, with looks of reproach and compassion, Flocked round the prostrate woman. The children cried, and their mothers Hugged them tight to their breasts; but the gambler said to the captain,— 'Put me off there at the town that lies round the bend of the river. Here, you! rise at once, and be ready now to go with me.' Roughly he seized the woman's arm and strove to uplift her. She—she seemed not to heed him, but rose like one that is dreaming, Slid from his grasp, and fleetly mounted the steps of the gangway, Up to the hurricane-deck, in silence, without lamentation. Straight to the stern of the boat, where the wheel was, she ran, and the people Followed her fast till she turned and stood at bay for a moment, Looking them in the face, and in the face of the gambler. Not one to save her,—not one of all the compassionate people! Not one to save her, of all the pitying angels in heaven! Not one bolt of God to strike him dead there before her! Wildly she waved him back, we waiting in silence and horror. Over the swarthy face of the gambler a pallor of passion Passed, like a gleam of lightning over the west in the night-time. White, she stood, and mute, till he put forth his hand to secure her; Then she turned and leaped,—in mid air fluttered a moment,— Down, there, whirling, fell, like a broken-winged bird from a tree-top, Down on the cruel wheel, that caught her, and hurled her, and crushed her, And in the foaming water plunged her, and hid her forever."
Still with his back to us all the pilot stood, but we heard him Swallowing hard, as he pulled the bell-rope to stop her. Then, turning,— "This is the place where it happened," brokenly whispered the pilot. "Somehow, I never like to go by here alone in the night-time." Darkly the Mississippi flowed by the town that lay in the starlight, Cheerful with lamps. Below we could hear them reversing the engines, And the great boat glided up to the shore like a giant exhausted. Heavily sighed her pipes. Broad over the swamps to the eastward Shone the full moon, and turned our far-trembling wake into silver. All was serene and calm, but the odorous breath of the willows Smote like the subtile breath of an infinite sorrow upon us.
A DAY WITH THE DEAD.
"Good morning!" said the old custodian, as he stood in the door of the lodge, brushing out with his knuckles the cobwebs of sleep entangled in his eyelashes, and ventilating the apartments of his fleshly tabernacle with prolonged oscitations. "You are on hand early this time, a'n't you? You're the first live man I've seen since I got up."
So saying, he vanished, and reappearing in a moment with a huge brass key, entered the arch, unlocked the gate which closed the aperture fronting the east like the cover of a porthole, and sent it with a heavy push wide open.
Wading through the flood of sunlight which poured into the passage-way——But stop! I was about,—who knows?—in imitation of divers admired models, to tell the reader in choicest poetic diction how the City of the Dead, with its magnificent streets, shining palaces, and lofty monuments, burst upon my dazzled vision,—how I walked for half a mile along a spacious avenue, beneath an arcade of giant elms hung with wreaths of mist and vocal with singing, feathery fruit,—past marble tombs whose yards were filled with bright and fragrant flowers,— among waving grassy knolls spread with the silver nets of spiders and sparkling dew,—through vales of cool twilight and ravines of sombre dusk,—and so on for more than a page, until finally, step by step, through laboriously elegant sentences, I worked my way up to the top of a lofty hill, the view from which to be graphically described as a picture and a poem dissolved together into mingled glory and mirage, and inundating with a billowy sea of beauty the landscape below;—and then further depicting to the delighted fancy of the reader, how on one side was a most remarkable river,—such as was never heard of before, probably,—in fact, a web of water framed between the hills, its rushing warp-currents, as it rolled along, woven by smoking steam-shuttles with a woof of foam,—how, at the entrance of a bay, flocks of snowy sails, with black, shining beaks, and sleek, unruffled plumage, were swimming out to sea,—how another river, not quite so unique as the last, was also in sight, coiling among emerald steeps and crags and precipices and forest,—while beyond, green woodlands, checkered fields, groves, orchards, villages, hills, farms, and villas, all glowed in an exceedingly charming manner in the morning sun;—and then, still further, to say something as brilliant as possible about a certain city, designated as the Great Metropolis,—how it resembled, perhaps, a Cyclopean type-form, with blocks of buildings for letters, domes, turrets, and towers for punctuation-points, church-spires for interrogation and exclamation marks, and squares and avenues for division-spaces between the paragraphs, set up and leaded with streets into a vast editorial page of original matter on Commerce and Manufactures, rolled every morning with the ink of toil, and printing before night an edition of results circulated to the remotest quarters of the globe. And the tall chimneys yonder were to be called—let me see—oh, the smoking cathedral-towers of the Holy Catholic Church of Labor, islanding the air with clouds of incense more grateful to the Deity than the fume of priest-swung censers. All this, and much more of a similar nature, including an eloquent address to the ocean hard by, it is possible I was about to say. But, unwilling to smother the reader beneath a mountain of rhetorical flowers,—which accident might happen, should I resolve to be "equal to the occasion,"—I shall contain myself, and state, in the way of a curt preface, in plain prose, and directly to the point, that I entered a remarkably large and populous cemetery, no matter where, very early one morning,—in fact, you have the gate-keeper's word for it that I was the first person there,—that I climbed to the summit of a high hill and enjoyed the view of a beautiful landscape, just after sunrise; and with this finally said and done, let us proceed.
As I stood listening to the music of the sea-breeze in the pine-forests below, and watching the ships sinking into the ocean from view or dropping through the sky into sight at the rim of the horizon, and the clouds changing their picturesque sunrise-dress for a uniform of sober white, forming into rank and file, marching and countermarching, sending off scouts into the far distance and foraging-parties to scour the yellow fields of air, pitching their tents and placing sentinels on guard around the camp,—amusing myself with fashioning quaint, arabesque fancies,—a sort of intellectual whittling-habit I have when idle,—I was roused from my reverie by the creaking of an iron gate.
Descending a few steps into a cluster of trees, I saw through their leafy lattice-work, in an inclosure ornamented with rose-bushes and other flowering shrubs, a young woman, richly dressed in black, kneeling by the side of a new-made grave. The mound, evidently covering a full-grown person, was nicely laid at the top with carefully cut sods, the dark edges of which projected a little over the lighter-colored gravel that sloped gradually down to the greensward. I was not long in becoming satisfied that the person I saw was a young widow at the grave of her husband, now three or four weeks dead, hither on her accustomed morning visit to display her love and affection for his memory.
Bowing her head, for a few moments she gave way to sobs and weeping, and then, removing the cover from a little willow basket, which stood by her side, she took from it handfuls of bright flowers, and began to adorn the table of sods upon the top of the mound.
As I regard her thus employed, weaving the tokens of her affection into garlands, chaplets, and fanciful devices, arranging their symbolic characters into interpretable monograms and hieroglyphs, matching their colors and blending their hues and shades with the skill of an artist, she becomes more and more absorbed in her work, the tears disappear from her eyes, and the morning light flushes her pale and beautiful face. Is she thinking now, I wonder, of the dead husband, or of something else? What has she found among the flowers so consoling? Do they suggest pleasant fancies, or recall the memories of happy days? Have they, perhaps, a double meaning,—souvenirs of felicity as well as symbols of sorrow? Are they opiates obliterating actual suffering, or prophets uttering hopeful predictions? Or is it none of these things, and does she find her work pleasant only because duty makes its performance cheerful labor? I cannot say what it is, but something has assuaged her grief; for I see her smiling now, as she holds a rosebud in her fingers, and gazes at it abstractedly; and her thoughts and feelings, whatever they may be, are indubitably not of a mournful character;—in fact, I am sure that she never was happier in her life than she is at this moment.
"Happy, do you say?"
Yes, I say happy.
The nature of woman, it is conceded by all men, is a curious, interesting, and perplexing, if not, in respect of positive practical results, a most unsatisfactory study. But nothing puzzles us so much to comprehend as the fact just alluded to. The tenderest female constitution will sustain a burden of grief which would crush a robust and iron-nerved man, and drive him to despair and suicide. A woman rarely succumbs to a calamity; however sudden and overwhelming the initial shock may be, she revives and grows cheerful and happy under it in a way and to a degree marvellous to behold. What singular secret is there among the psychological mysteries of her nature which is able to account for this phenomenon?—A gentle, timid girl of sixteen, whom the sight of a spider or a live snake would have frightened into hysterics, I had once an opportunity, on a tour through Italy, to observe, while she took little or no notice of other works of art, would gaze, as if fascinated, at the writhings of Laocooen and his sons in the folds and fangs of the serpents, at the sculptured death of the Gladiator, and even at the ghastly, repulsive pictures of martyrdoms and barbaric mutilations and tortures,—the hideous monstrosities of a diseased and degraded imagination found in the churches and convents of Rome, which made others turn their backs with a shivering of the bones and a creeping of the flesh. On expressing surprise at such a singular exhibition of taste, I received this innocent, unpremeditated reply:—"Why, I don't like them; the sight of them almost freezes my blood; but—somehow I do like to look at them, for I always feel better after it!" Now is there not involved in this artless answer a possible explanation of the above-mentioned fact? Has not woman, hidden somewhere among her other (of course angelic)—affections, a positive love of sickness, death, sorrow, and suffering, which man does not possess? Is not the pain they cause, in her case, qualified by actual pleasure? Do they not act as a stimulus upon her sensitive nervous system, and produce, somehow, a delightfully intoxicated state of the feelings? Would not this explain her otherwise unaccountable fondness for witnessing the execution of murderers, for the horrible in novels and the deaths and catastrophes in the newspapers, that she has a constitutional relish for such horrid things, and that she enjoys them, not because they are in se productive of pleasure, but just, as is the case with her "crying," because she feels better after it? And I think it would be found, if an investigation of the subject were instituted, that a foreknowledge of this inevitable result, derived from intuition or experience, is the agent which breaks up the clouds of her sorrow: so that, while the grief of a man stricken down by misfortune is an equinoctial storm, dark and dismal, which lasts for weeks and months, the grief of woman is a succession of refreshing April showers, each of brief duration, and the spaces between them filled with sunshine and rainbows.
But the sweets of that widow's present sorrow will be soon extracted. How many weeks will she find it a pleasure to make morning visits here and plait pretty flowers on the grave of her husband?—The grave in the next inclosure furnishes an answer to the question. A few months ago, it, too, was tended at sunrise by just such a tearful woman; but now the wreaths of evergreen are yellow, and the weeds are springing up among the withered garlands. The living partner has visited already the "mitigated grief" department of the mourning store, and the severed cords of her affections have been spliced and made almost as good as new. Not that I would not have it so; not that I believe the grief of woman to be less real and sincere than man's, though it be enjoyed; not that I would have her thrum a long mournful threnody on the harpstrings of her heart, and waste on the dead, who need them not, affections which, Heaven knows, the living need too much.
Retracing my steps, and descending the opposite slope of the hill, I entered a beautiful vale covered with stately tombs and containing a little lake, in the middle of which a fountain was springing high into the air. In a spot so much frequented at a later hour of the day only a single human being was in sight,—a young man, perhaps five-and-twenty years of age, jauntily dressed, and his upper lip adorned with a long moustache, who was leaning lazily upon a marble balustrade, and staring, with a stupid, vacant look, at the massive monument it surrounded. As nothing appeared at the moment more attractive to my eyes, I fixed them upon him. No great skill in deciphering human character is required to tell his past or foretell his future history, or even to read the few poor spent thoughts that flicker in his brain. His father—some city merchant—died last year, and left him a man of leisure, with a fortune on his hands to spend in idleness and dissipation. This is the first anniversary of the old gentleman's decease and departure to another and better world, and the hopeful heir of his bank-stock and buildings has, as a matter of etiquette, come out here from the city this morning to pass an hour of solemn meditation—as he calls the sixty minutes in which he does not smoke or swear—by the old man's grave. I observe him every moment forming a firm resolution to fix his feeble thoughts upon sober things and his latter end, and breaking it the second afterwards: the effort is too much for the exhausted condition of his mind, and results in a total failure. He is evidently well pleased that any attention is directed towards him, and fancies that I regard him as a very dutiful son, and his appearance here, so early in the morning and long before breakfast, a remarkable example of posthumous filial affection. To intensify, if possible, this sentiment in my breast, he has just now pulled out a white cambric handkerchief and pretends to be wiping tears from his eyes. Poor fellow! you have no natural talent for the solemn parts in acting, or you would know that the expression which your face now wears is not that of sorrow, solemnity, meekness, gentleness, humility, or any other sober Christian grace or virtue. But I leave you, for I see something more attractive now. Stand thy hour out, young man! we shall meet again.
"In the other world?"
No: to-morrow evening, as I am taking my accustomed walk into the country, I shall be wellnigh run over by a swiftly driven team; I shall spring suddenly aside, when thou wilt pass, O bogus son of Jehu, with thy dog-cart and two-forty span of bays, dashing down the road, thy thoughts fixed on horse-flesh instead of eternity, and thy soul bounded, north by thy cigar, east and west by the wheels thy vehicle, and south by the dumb beasts that drag thee along.
But, not to introduce the reader to more solemn scenes of affliction and sorrow which are witnessed here during the first vigil of the day, we pass to a later hour. The mourners who come hither in the early morning to decorate the graves of the recent dead, and to weep over them undisturbed by visitors, have now departed. The sun is already high, the dew has disappeared from the trees and the shrubs, and the paths and walks and avenues begin to be thronged with loungers and sight-seers from the city.
I had stopped at the forks of a lane and was hesitating which branch to take and what to do with myself, when a tall and beautiful Willow, standing upon a knoll a few rods distant, with thick drooping boughs sweeping the ground on every side, beckoned to me. On approaching him, he extended a branch, shook me cordially by the hand, and invited me to accept the shelter and hospitality of his roof. The proposal so generously made was at once accepted with profuse thanks, and, parting the boughs, I entered the tent and threw myself upon the soft grass.
Do you ever talk with trees? It is a custom of mine, and I usually find their conversation much more entertaining and profitable than that of most men I know. "Good morning!" I say to an acquaintance. "Fine day," he replies; "how's business?" And so on for an hour, over themes of every nature, the current of conversation rippled with trite truisms, and whirling in the surface-eddies of Tupper's "Proverbial Philosophy." But the tree takes the whole of the Tupperian philosophy for granted at the start, and the truisms which most men utter, and takes you for granted likewise,—supposing neither half of your eyeballs blind, and that you have a soul as well as a body,—and enters at once into conversation upon the high table-land of science, reason, and poetry. The entire talk of a fashionable tea-party, strained from its lees of scandal, filtered through a sober reflection of the following morning, is not equal in value to the quivering of a single leaf. A tree will discourse with you upon botany, physiology, music, painting, philosophy, and a dozen arts and sciences besides, none of which it simply chats about, but all of which it is: and if you do not understand its language and comprehend what it tells you about them, so much the worse for you; it is not the fault of the tree.
I say, I talk with trees for this reason,—because their wisdom is so much greater than that of my ordinary acquaintances,—and further, (to put the major after the minor premise,) because they are virtually living beings, endowed with instinct, feeling, reason, and display every essential attribute of sentient creatures,—in fact, because they have souls as well as men, only they are clothed in vegetable flesh.
"That is transcendental moonshine, and you don't believe a word of it!"
Well, my friend, allow me, then, to tell you, in all charity and with bowels of compassion, that you hold dangerous and fatal views respecting one of the cardinal doctrines of mythology,—yes, to be plain, you are a Joveless infidel, and in fearful danger of being locked out of Elysium; and I shall offer up a smoking sacrifice, the next time I get a sirloin, and pour out a solemn libation, in the presence of my whole family seated around the domestic altar early in the morning, for your speedy conversion.
Know, then, O obtuse, faithless, and perverse skeptic, that these things are so: that ocular and auricular evidence, indubitable and overwhelming, exists, that the arboreal and human natures are in substance one. Know that once on a time, as Daphne, the lovely daughter of Peneus, was amusing herself with a bow and arrows in a forest of Thessaly, she was surprised by a rude musician named Phoebus. Timid and bashful, as most young ladies are, she turned and fled as fast as her [Greek: skelae] could carry her. After running, closely pursued by the eager Delphian, for several miles, and becoming very much fatigued, she felt inclined to yield: but wishing to faint in a reputable manner, she lifted up her hands and asked the gods to help her. Her call was heard in a jiffy, and quicker than you could say, "Presto: change!" she was a Laurel-tree, which Phoebus married on the spot. This was the Eve of the Laurel family, so that all these trees you meet in the world at present must be rational beings, since they are the descendants of the beautiful Greek maiden Daphne. And to satisfy you that this is no foolish legend, but, on the contrary, a well-authenticated fact, clinched and riveted in the boiler-head of historical truth, permit me to assure you,—for I have seen it myself,—that in the Villa Borghese, near Rome in Italy, is an exact representation of the wonderful incident, cut in Carrara marble,—the bark of the Laurel growing over the vanishing girl, and her hands and fingers sprouting into branches and leaves,—supposed to have been copied from a photograph taken on the spot,—for there is a photograph in existence exactly like the marble statue.
We know positively—for we have an equally minute account of the transaction—that the Cypress originated in a similar way. And is it not reasonable to infer, therefore, though we may not find the facts stated in every case, that all trees were created out of men and women, their bodies being miraculously clothed in woody tissue? In the time of Virgil this was certainly the established orthodox belief; for he relates an anecdote, expressing no doubt whatever of its truth, of a party of travellers who commenced one day in a forest the indiscriminate destruction of some young trees, when their roots forthwith began to bleed, and voices proceeded from them, begging to be spared from laceration. And, in fact, hundreds of instances, similarly weighty as evidence, from equally veracious and trustworthy classic authors, might be cited to the point, did time and space permit. But we hasten to the other proof of their essential humanity, which I set out with assuming as an undoubted fact, and which is already foreshadowed in the adventure of the Trojan wanderers just related,—namely, that they possess the faculty of speech.
Tasso, the author of a well-known metrical history, states distinctly, as you shall see in half a moment, that a tree upon one occasion discoursed with Major General Tancred,—
"Pur tragge alfin la spada e con gran forza Percuote l' alta pianta. Oh, maraviglia! ——quasi di tomba, uscir ne sente Un indistinto gemito dolente, Che poi distinto in voci."
And then it goes on to tell the General how it once rejoiced in extensive hoops, wore a coal-scuttle on its head, and rubbed its face with prepared chalk,—(w-w-w-hy! what was I saying? such a mistake! I should say)—was a woman by the name of Clorinda, and is still animated and sentient both in trunk and limbs, and that he will presently be guilty of murder, if he continues to hack her with his sword.