The summer was passing. Every day the garden-scenes of Watteau became vivid and real; every evening Venice was made possible, when shadowy barks slipped down dusk tides, freighted with song and laughter, and snatches of guitar-tinkling; and when some sudden torch, that for an instant had summoned with its red fire all fierce lights and strong glooms, dipped, hissed, and quenched below, and, a fantastic flotilla, they passed on into the broad brilliance of a rising moon, all Middle-Age mythology rose and wafted them back into the obscurity. It was a life too fine for every day, fare too rich for health; they must be exotics who did not wither in such hot-house air. It was rapidly becoming unnatural. They performed in the daylight stray clarified bits from Fletcher or Moliere, drama of an era over-ripe; they sang only from an old book of madrigals; their very reading was fragmentary,—now an emasculated Boccaccio, then a curdling phantasm of Poe's, and after some such scenic horror as the "Red Death" Helen Heath dashed off the Pesther Waltzes.
If, finally, on one of the last August-nights, we had passed, Asmodeus-like, over the roofs, looking down, we should have seen three things. First, that Mrs. Laudersdale slept like any innocent dreamer, and, wrapped with white moonlight, in her long and flowing outline, in her imperceptible breath, resembling some perfect statue that we fancy to be instinct with suspended life. Next, that Mr. Raleigh did not sleep at all, but absorbed himself, to the entire disturbance of Capua's slumbers, in the rapture of reproducing as he could the turbulent passion and joy of souls larger than his own. And, lastly, that Mrs. McLean woke with visions of burglars before her eyes, to find her pillow deserted and her husband sitting at a writing-table.
"How startled I was!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing, dear?"
"Writing to Laudersdale," he said, in reply.
"Why, what for?—what can you be writing to him for?"
"I think it best he should come and take his wife off my hands."
"How absurd! how contemptible! how all you husbands band together like a parcel of slaveholders, and hunt down each other's runaways!"
Mr. McLean laughed.
"Now, John, you're not making mischief?"
"No, child, I am preventing it." And therewith the worthy man, dropping the wax on the envelope, imprinted it with a Scotch crest, and put out the light "That's off my mind!" said he.
At last September came; a few more weeks, and they would separate, perhaps, to the four corners of the earth. Mr. Raleigh arrived one afternoon at the Bawn, and finding no one to welcome him,—that is to say, Mrs. Laudersdale had gone out, and Helen Heath was invisible,—he betook himself to a solitary stroll, and, by a short cut through the woods, to the highway, and just before emerging from the green shadows he met Mrs. Laudersdale.
"Whither now, Wandering Willie?" said she; for, singularly enough, they seemed to avoid speaking each other's name in direct address, using always some title suggested by their reading or singing, or some sportive impromptu.
"I am going to take the road."
"Like a gallant highwayman?" And without more ado, and naturally enough, she accompanied him.
The conversation, this afternoon, was sufficiently insignificant; indeed, Mrs. Laudersdale always affected you more by her silence than her speech, by what she was rather than by what she said; and it is only the impression produced on her by this walk with which we have any concern.
The road, narrow and winding in high banks fringed with golden-rod and purple asters, was at first completely shadowed,—an old, deep-rutted, cross country road, birch-trees shivering at either side, and every now and then a puff of pine-breath drifting in between. After a time it rose gradually into the turnpike, and became a long, dusty track, stretching as far as the eye could see, a straight, dazzling line, burnt white by summer-heats, powdered by travel. There was no wind stirring; the sky was lost in a hot film stained here and there with sulphurous wreaths; the distant fields, skirted by low hills, were bathed in an azure mist; nearer, a veil of dun and dimmer smoke from burning brush hung motionless; around their feet the dust whirled and fell again. Bathed in soft, voluptuous tints, hazed and mellowed, into what weird, strange country were they hastening? What visionary land of delight, replete with perfume and luxury, lay ever beyond?—what region rich, unknown, forbidden, whose rank vegetation steamed with such insidious poison? And on what arid, barren road, what weary road,—but, alas, long worn and beaten by the feet of other wayfarers! a road that ran real and strong through this noxious and seducing mirage!
A sudden blast of wind lifted a cloud of dust from before them and twisted it down among the meadows; the sun thrust aside his shroud and burnt for an instant on a scarlet maple-bough that hung in premature brilliance across the way. The hasty color, true and fine, was like a spell against enchantment; it was the drop that tested the virtue of this chemistry and proved it naught.
Mrs. Laudersdale looked askance at her companion, then turned and met his gaze. Slowly her lashes fell, the earth seemed to fail beneath her feet, the light to swoon from her eyes, her lips shook, and a full flush swept branding and burning up throat and face, stinging her very forehead, and shooting down her fingertips. In an instant it had faded, and she shone the pallid, splendid thing she was before. In that instant, for the first time this summer, she comprehended that her husband's existence imported anything to her. Behind the maple-tree, the wood began again; without a syllable, she stepped aside, suffered him to pass, and hastened to bury herself in its recesses.
What lover ever accounted for his mistress's caprices? Mr. Raleigh proceeded on his walk alone. And what was her husband to him? He did not know that such a man existed. For him there had been no deadly allurement in the fervid scene; it had stretched a land of promise veiled in its azure ardors, with intimations of rapture and certainty of rest. Now, as he wandered on and turned down another lane to the woods, the tints grew deeper; his eyes, bent inward, saw all the world in the color of his thought; he would have affirmed that the bare brown banks were lined in deep-toned indigo flower-bells whose fragrance rose visible above them or curled from stem to stem, and that the hollows in which the path hid itself at last were of the same soft gloom. But, finally, when not far distant from the Bawn again, he shook off his reverie and struck another path that he might avoid rencontre. Perhaps the very sound that awoke him was the one he wished to shun; at the next step it became more distinct,—a child's voice singing some tuneless song; and directly a tiny apparition appeared before him, as if it had taken shape, with its wide, light eyes and corn-silk hair, from the most wan and watery of sunbeams. But what had a child to do in this paradise, thought he, and from whence did it come? Impossible to imagine. Her garments, of rich material, hung freshly torn, it may be, but in shreds; her skin, if that of some fair and delicate nursling, was stained with berries and smeared with soil; she seemed to have no destination; and after surveying him a moment, she mounted a fallen tree, and, bending and swinging forward over a bough, still surveyed him.
"Ah, ha!" said Mr. Roger Raleigh; "what have we here?"
The child still looked in his face, but vouchsafed, in her swinging, no reply.
"What is the little lady's name?" he asked then.
This query, apparently more comprehensible, elicited a response. She informed him that her name was "Dymom, Pink, and Beauty."
"Indeed! And anything else?"
"Rose Pose," she added, as if soliciting the aid of memory by lifting her hands near her temples.
"Is that all?"
"Little silly Daffodilly."
"Rite,—ah, that is it! Rite what?"
"Rite!" said the child, authoritatively, bringing down her foot and shaking back her hair.
"And how old is Rite?"
"One, two, four, twenty. Maman is twenty;—Rite is twenty, too."
"When was Rite four?"
"A great while ago. She went to heaven in the afternoon," was added, confidentially, after a moment's inspection to see if he were worthy.
"Ah! And what was there there?"
"Pitchtures, and music, and peoples, and a great house."
"And where is Rite going now?"
"Going away in a ship."
"Rite will have to wash her face first."
But at this proposition the child flashed open her pale-blue orbs, half-closed them as a sleepy cat does, and, with no other change of countenance to mark her indignation, appeared to shut him out from her contemplation. Directly afterward, she opened them again, bent forward and back over the swinging, and recommenced her song, as if there were not another person than herself within a hundred miles. Half-hidden in the great hemlock-bough, this tiny, fantastic creature, so fair, so supercilious, seemed in her waywardness a veritable fay, mate for any of the little men in green, bibbers of dewdrops, lodgers in bean-blossoms, Green-Jacket, Red-Cap, and White-Owl's-Feather.
Mr. Raleigh hesitated whether or not he should remain and watch her fade away into the twilight, wondered if she were bewitching him, then rubbed his hand across his eyes and said, in a disenchanted, matter-of-fact manner,—
"Do you know your way home, child?" and obtained, of course, no reply. For an instant he had half the mind to leave her to find it; but at once convicted of his absurdity, "Then I shall take you with me," he said, making a step toward her,—"because you are, or will be, lost."
At the motion, she darted past and stood defiantly just out of his reach. Mr. Raleigh attempted to seize her, but he might as easily have put his hand on a butterfly; she eluded him always when within his grasp, and led him such a dance up and down the forest-path as none other than a will-o'-the-wisp, it seemed, could have woven. All at once a dark figure glided out from another alley and snatched the sprite into its arms. It was a colored nurse, who poured out a torrent of broken French and English over the runaway, and made her acknowledgments to Mr. Raleigh in the same jargon. As she turned to go, the child stretched her arms toward her late pursuer, making the nurse pause, and, putting up her little lips, touched with them his own; then, picturesque as ever, and thrown into relief by the scarlet sack, snowy turban, and sable skin of her bearer, she disappeared. It is doubtful if in all his life Mr. Raleigh would ever receive a purer, sweeter kiss.
He had promised to be at the Bawn that evening, and now accordingly sought the shore, where the Arrow lay, and was soon within the shelter of his own house. The arrangement of toilet was a brief matter; and that concluded, Mr. Raleigh entered his library, an apartment now slightly in disarray, and therefore, perhaps, not uncongenial with his present mood. After strolling round the place, Mr. Raleigh paused at the window an instant, the window overhung with clematis, and commanding the long stretch of water between him and the Bawn, which last was, however, too distant for any movement to be discerned there. Soon Mr. Raleigh turned his back upon the scene that lay pictured in such beauty below, and, throwing himself into a deep armchair, remained motionless and plunged in thought for many moments. Rising at last, he took from the table a package of letters from India that had arrived in his absence. Glancing absently at the superscriptions, breaking the seal of one, he replaced them: it would take too long to read them now; they must wait. Then Mr. Raleigh had recourse to a universal panacea, and walked to and fro across the room, with measured, unvarying steps, till the striking clock warned him that time was passing. Mr. Raleigh drew near his desk again, took up the pen, and hesitated; then recalling his gaze that had seemed to search his own inmost soul, he drew the paper nearer and wrote.
What he wrote, the very words, may not signify; with the theme one is sufficiently acquainted. Perhaps he poured out there all that had so often trembled on his lips without finding utterance; perhaps, if ever passionate heart flashed its own fire into its implements, this pen and paper quivered beneath the current throbbing through them. The page was brief, but therein all was said. Sealing it hastily, he summoned Capua.
"Capua," said he, giving him the note, "you are to go with me across the lake now. We shall return somewhere between eleven and twelve. Just as we leave, you are to give this note to Mrs. Laudersdale. Do you understand?"
"Yah, Massa, let dis chile alone," responded Capua, grinning at the prospect of society, and speedily following his master.
The breeze had fallen, so that they rowed the whole distance, with the idle sail hanging loosely, and arrived only just as the red sunset painted the lake behind them with blushing shadows. Mr. Raleigh joined Helen Heath and his cousin in the hall; Capua, superb with the importance of his commission, sought another entrance. But just as the latter individual had crossed the threshold, he encountered the nurse whom his master had previously met in the wood. Nothing could have been more acceptable in his eyes than this addition to the circle below-stairs. Capua's hat was in his hand at once, and bows and curtsies and articulations and gesticulations followed with such confusing rapidity, that, when the mutually pleased pair turned in company toward the kitchens, a scrap of white paper, that had fluttered down in the disorder, was suffered to remain unnoticed on the floor. The courier had lost his despatch. Coming in from her walk, not five minutes later, Mrs. Laudersdale's eye was caught thereby; stooping to take it, she read with surprise her own name thereon, and ascended the stairs possessed thereof.
What burden of bliss, what secret of sorrow, lay infolded there, that at the first thought she covered it with sudden kisses, and the next, crushing it against her heart, burst into a wild weeping? Again and again she read it, and at every word its intense magnetic strength thrilled her, rapt her from remembrance, conquered her. She seized a pencil and wrote hurriedly:—
"You are right. With you I live, without you I die. You shut heaven out from me; make earth, then, heaven. Come to me, for I love you. Yes, I love you."
She did not stay to observe the contrast between her fervent sentences and the weak, faint characters that expressed them, but hastily sought the servant who was accustomed to act as postman, gave him directions to acquaint her of its reception, and watched him out of sight. All that in the swiftness of a fever-fit. Scarcely had the boat vanished when old thoughts rushed over her again and she would have given her life to recall it. Returning, she found Capua eagerly searching for the lost letter, and thus learned that she was not to have received it until several hours later.
Perhaps no other woman in her situation could have done what Mrs. Laudersdale had done, without incurring more guilt. There could be few who had been reared in such isolation as she,—whose intellect, naturally subject to her affection, had become more so through the absence of systematic education,—whose morality had been allowed to be merely one of instinct,—to whom introspection had been till now a thing unknown,—and who, accepting a husband as another child accepts a parent, had, in the whirl of gay life where she afterward reigned, found so little time for thought, and remained in such mental unsophistication as to experience now her first passion.
As Mrs. Laudersdale entered her room again, the opposite door opened and admitted that individual the selfishness of whose marriage was but half expiated when he found himself on the surplus side of the world.
In the mean while, Mr. Raleigh was gayly passing the time with Helen Heath. There were to be some guests from the town that evening, and they were the topic of her discourse.
"I wonder if we are never to have tea," said she at last, looking at her watch.
"I didn't know you were attached to the custom," said he, indifferently, as he had said everything else, while intently listening for a footstep.
"Ah! but I like to see other folks take their bitters."
"Do not even the publicans the same?"
"You will become a proficient chemist, converting the substance of my remarks to airy nothings through your gospel-retorts."
"Oh, I understand your optics as well. You like to see other folks; taking the bitters is another thing. The tea-bell is a tocsin."
"Pshaw! You don't care to see any one! But shall there be no more cakes and ale? Haven't you any sympathy for a sweet tooth?"
"None at all."
"Not even in Mrs. Laudersdale's instance?"
"Mrs. Laudersdale has a sweet tooth, then?" Mr. Raleigh asked in return, as if there were any trivial thing concerning her in which he could yet be instructed.
"I'm not going to tell you anything about Mrs. Laudersdale."
"There comes that desired object, the tea-tray. It's not to be formal, then, to-night. That's a blessing! What shall I bring you?" he continued,—"tea or cocoa?"
"Neither. You may have the tea, and I'll leave the cocoa for Mrs. Laudersdale."
"Mrs. Laudersdale drinks cocoa, then?"
"You may bring me some milk and macaroons."
As Mr. Raleigh was about to obey, his little apparition of the wood suddenly appeared in the doorway, followed by her nurse,—having arisen from the discipline of bath and brush, fair and spotless as a snowflake. She flitted by him with a mocking recognition.
"Rite!" cried a voice from above, familiar, but with how strange a tone in it! "Little Rite!"
"Maman!" cried the sprite, and went dancing up the stairs.
Mr. Raleigh's face, as he turned, darkened with a heavier flush than half a score of Indian summers branded upon it afterward.
"That is Mrs. Laudersdale's little maid?" asked he, when, after a few moments, he brought the required salver.
"Yes,—would you ever suspect it?" Numberless as had been the times he had heard her speak of Rite, he never had suspected it, but had always at the name pictured some indifferent child, some baby-friend, or cousin by courtesy.
"She is not like her mother," said he, coolly.
"The very antipodes,—all her father.—Bless me! What is this? A real Laudersdale mess,—custards and cheesecakes,—and I detest them both."
"Blame my unfortunate memory. I thought I had certainly pleased you, Miss Helen."
"When you forgot my orders? Well, never mind. Isn't she exquisite?"
"Isn't who exquisite? Oh, the little maid? Quite! Why hasn't she been here all summer?"
"She was always a sickly, ailing thing, and has been at one of those rich Westchester farms where health and immortality are made. And now she is going away to Martinique, where her grandmother will take charge of her, bottle up those spirits, and make her a second edition of her mother. By the way, how that mother has effervesced this summer!" continued Helen, as the detested custard disappeared. "I wonder what made her. Do you suppose it was because her husband was away?"
At that instant Mrs. Laudersdale came sailing down the stairs.
A week previously, when, to repay the civilities of their friends in the neighboring city, Mrs. McLean had made a little fancy-party, Helen, appearing as Champagne, all in rosy gauzes with a veiling foam of dropping silver lace, had begged Mrs. Laudersdale to give her prominence by dressing for Port; and accordingly that lady had arrayed herself in velvet, out of which her shoulders rose like snow, and whose rich duskiness made her perfect pallor more apparent, while its sumptuous body of color was sprinkled with glittering crystal drops and coruscations; and wreathing her forehead with crisp vine-leaves and tendrils, she had bunched together in intricate splendor all the amethysts, carbuncles, garnets, and rubies in the house, for grape-clusters at the ear, till she seemed, with her smile and her sunshine, the express and incarnate spirit of vintage. To-night, stripped of its sparkling drops, she wore the same dress, and in her hair a wreath of fresh white roses. Behind her descended a tall and stately gentleman. She swept forward. "Mr. Raleigh," she murmured, while her eyes diffused their gloom and fell, "let me introduce you to my husband!"
The blow had come previously. Mr. Raleigh bowed almost to the ground, without a word, then looked up and offered his hand. Mr. Laudersdale comprehended the whole matter at a heartbeat, and took it. Then they moved on toward other friends, whom, while waiting for knowledge of his wife's return from her walk, Mr. Laudersdale had not seen. Mr. Raleigh went in search of Capua, and ere long reappeared.
It grew quite dark; the candles were lighted. Rite slipped in, and, after having flown about like a thistle-down for a while, mounted a chair and put her arms about her mother's shoulders. Then Mr. Raleigh, sitting silently on a sofa, attracted her, and shortly afterward she had curled herself beside him and fallen asleep with her head upon his knee; otherwise he did not touch her. Mrs. Laudersdale stood by an open casement; the servant who had carried her note came up the lawn and spoke to her from without. There was no one in the house, and he had left it on the library-table. The pressure of those tender little arms was yet warm about the mother's neck; she glanced sidelong at the sleeping child. "He shall never see that note!" she murmured, and slipped through the casement.
Accustomed to all rash and intrepid adventure during this summer, it was nothing for her to unmoor a boat, enter it, and lift the oars, not pausing to observe that it was the Arrow. Just then, however, a little wind ruffled down and shook the sail, a wind not quite favorable, but in which she could tack across and back; she drew in the oars, put to the proof all her new boat-craft, and recklessly dashed through the dark element that curled and seethed about her. She had to make but two tacks in that hour's impetuous progress, before the house rose, as it had frequently done before, glooming at but a few rods' distance, and loading with odorous breath the air that tossed its vines ere stealing across the lake. She trembled now, and remembered that she alone of all the party had always unconsciously evaded entering Mr. Raleigh's house, had never seen the house nearer than now, and never been its guest. It was entering some dark, unknown place; it was to intrude on a sacred region. But the breeze hurried her along while she thought, and the next moment the keel was buried in the sand. There was no time to lose; she left the boat, ascended a flight of stone steps close at hand, and was in the garden. Low, ripe greenery was waving over her here, deep alluring shadows opening around, full fresh fragrance fanning idly to and fro and stealing her soul away. Beyond, the lake gleamed darkly, the water lapped gently, the wind sighed and fell like a fluttering breath. She would have lingered forever,—she dared not linger a moment. She brushed the dew from the heavy blossoms as she swept on, then the drenching branches swayed and closed behind her; she found a door ajar, and hastily entered the first room which appeared.
There were stray starbeams in this apartment; her eyes were accustomed to the gloom; she could dimly discern the great book-cases lining the wall,—an antique chair,—the glittering key-board of a grand-piano that stood apart, yet thrilling perhaps with recent harmonies,—a colossal head of Antinoues, that self-involved dreamer, stone-entranced in a calm of passion. She had been feverishly agitated; but as this white silence dawned upon her, so strong, yet voluptuous, never sad, making in its masque of marble one intense moment eternal, some of the same power spread soothingly over her. She paused a moment to gather the thronging thoughts. How still the room was! she had not known that music was at his command before. How sweet the air that blew in at the window! what late flowers bore such pungent balm? That portrait leaning half-startled from the frame, was it his mother? These books, were they the very ones that had fed his youth? How everything was yet warm from his touch! how his presence yet lingered! how much of his life had passed into the dim beauty of the place! How each fresh waft from the blooms without came drowned in fine perfume, laden with delicious languor! What heaven was there! and, ah! what heaven was yet possible there!
Something that had flitted from the table in the draught, and had hovered here and there along the floor, now lay at her foot; she caught it absently; it was her letter. To snatch it from its envelope, and so tear it the more easily to atoms, was her first thought; but as suddenly she paused. Was it hers? Though written and sealed by her hand, had she any longer possession therein? Had she more authority over it than over any other letter that might be in the room? Absurd refinement of honor! She broke the seal. Yet stay! Was there no justice due to him? That letter which had been read long before the intended time, whose delivery any accident might have frustrated, whose writer might have recalled it, —did it demand no magnanimity of reply on her part? Had he now no claim to the truth from her? As she knew what he never would have told her an hour later, had she a right to recede from the position she had taken in response, simply because she could and he could not? Should she ignobly refuse him his right?
Whether this were a sophism of sin or the logic of highest virtue, she, who would have blotted out her writing with her heart's blood, did not wait to weigh.
"To him, also, I owe a duty!" she exclaimed, dropped the letter where she had found it, and fled,—fled, hurrying through all the bewildering garden-walks, down from the fragrance, the serenity, the bowery seclusion, from all this conspiring loveliness that tempted her to dally and commanded her to stay,—fled from this dream of passion, this region of joy,—fled forever, as she thought, out into the wide, chill, lonely night.
Pushing off the boat and springing in, once more the water curled beneath the parting prow, and she shot with her flashing sail and hissing wake heedlessly, like a phantom, past another boat that was making more slowly in to shore.
"This way, Helen," murmurs a subdued voice. "There are some steps, Mr. Laudersdale. Here we are; but it's dark as Erebus. Give me your hand; I'm half afraid; after that spectre that walked the water just now, these shadows are not altogether agreeable. There's the door,—careful housekeeper, this Mr. Raleigh! I wonder what McLean would say. Don't believe he'd like it."
"What made you come, then?" asks Helen, as they step within.
"Oh, just for the frolic; it was getting stupid, too. I suppose we've ruined our dresses. But there! we must hurry and get back. I didn't think it would take so long. He can't manage a boat so well as Roger," adds Mrs. McLean, in a whisper.
"Goodness!" exclaims Helen. "I can't see an inch of the way. We shall certainly deal devastation."
"I've been exploring a mantel-shelf; here's a candle, but how to light it? Haven't you a match, Mr. Laudersdale?"
That gentleman produces one from a little pocket-safe; it proves a failure,—and so a second, and a third.
"This is the last, Mrs. McLean. Have your candle ready."
The little jet of flame flashes up.
"Quick, Helen! a scrap of paper, quick!"
"I don't know where to find any. Here's a billet on the floor; the seal's broken; Mr. Raleigh don't read his letters, you know; shall I take it?"
"Anything, yes! My fingers are burning! Quick, it's the last match! There!"
Helen waves a tiny flambeau, the candle is lighted, the flame whirled down upon the hearth and trodden out.
"I wonder what it was, though," adds Mrs. McLean, stooping over it. "Some of our correspondence. No matter, then. Now for that Indian mail. Here,—no,—this must be it. 'Mr. Roger Raleigh,'—'Roger Raleigh, Esq.,'—that's not it. 'Day, Knight, & Co., for Roger Raleigh.' Why, Mr. Laudersdale, that's your firm. Aren't you the Co. there? Ah, here it is, —'Mrs. Catherine McLean, care of Mr. Roger Raleigh.' Doesn't that look handsomely, Helen?" contemplating it with newly married satisfaction.
"Now you have it, come!" urges Helen.
"No, indeed! I must find that Turkish tobacco, to reward Mr. Laudersdale for his heroic exertions in our behalf."
Mr. Laudersdale, somewhat fastidious and given to rigid etiquette, looks as if the exertions would be best rewarded by haste. Mrs. McLean takes the candle in hand and proceeds on a tour of the apartment.
"There! isn't this the article? John says it's pitiful stuff, not to be compared with Virginia leaf. Look at this meerschaum, Mr. Laudersdale; there's an ensample. Prettily colored, is it not?"
"Now are you coming?" asks Helen.
"Would you? We've never been here without my worshipful cousin before; I should like to investigate his domestic arrangements. Needle and thread. Now what do you suppose he is doing with needle and thread? Oh, it's that little lacework that Mrs.——Sketches! I wonder whom he's sketching. You, Helen? Me? Upside down, of course. No, it's——Yes, we may as well go. Come!"
And in the same breath Mrs. McLean blows out the candle and precedes them. Mr. Laudersdale scorns to secure the sketch; and holding back the boughs for Miss Heath, and assisting her down the steps, quietly follows.
Meantime, Mrs. Laudersdale has reached her point of departure again, has stolen up out of the white fog now gathering over the lake, slipped into her former place, and found all nearly as before. The candles had been taken away, so that light came merely from the hall and doorways. Some of the guests were in the brilliant dining-room, some in the back-parlor. Mr. Raleigh, while Fate was thus busying herself about him, still sat motionless, one hand upon the sofa's side, one on the back, little Rite still sleeping on his knee. Capua came and exchanged a few words with his master; then the colored nurse stepped through the groups, sought the child, and carried her away, head and arms hanging heavy with slumber. Still Mr. Raleigh did not move. Mrs. Laudersdale stood in the window, vivid and glowing. There were no others in the room.
"Where is Mrs. McLean?" asked Mary Purcell at the door, after the charade in which she had been engaged was concluded.
"Gone across the lake with Nell and Mr. Laudersdale for a letter," replied Master Fred Heath, who had returned that afternoon from the counting-room, with his employer, and now sauntered by.
Mrs. Laudersdale started; she had not escaped too early; but then——Her heart was beating in her throat.
"What letter?" asked Mrs. Heath, with amiable curiosity, as she joined them.
"Do you know what letter, Mr. Raleigh?"
"One from India, Madame," was his response.
"Strange! Helen gone without permission! What was in the letter, I wonder. Do you know what was in the letter, Mr. Raleigh?"
"Congratulations, and a recommendation of Mrs. McLean's cousin to her good graces," he said.
"Oh, it was not Helen's, then?"
"My young gentleman's not in good humor to-night," whispered Mrs. Heath to Miss Purcell, with a significant nod, and moving off.
"How did you know what was in Mrs. McLean's letter, Sir?" asked Mary Purcell.
"I conjectured. In Mrs. Heath's place, I should have known."
"There they come!—you can always tell Mrs. McLean's laugh. You've lost all the charades, Helen!"
They came in, very gay, and seemed at once to arouse an airier and finer spirit among the humming clusters. Mr. Laudersdale did not join his wife, but sat on the piazza talking with Mr. McLean. People were looking at an herbal, others coquetting, others quiet. Some one mentioned music. Directly afterward, Mr. Raleigh rose and approached the piano. Every one turned. Taking his seat, he threw out a handful of rich chords; the instrument seemed to diffuse a purple cloud; then, buoyed over perfect accompaniment, the voice rose in that one love-song of the world. What depth of tenderness is there from which the "Adelaide" does not sound? What secret of tragedy, too? Singing, he throbbed through it a vitality as if the melody surcharged with beauty grew from his soul, and were his breath of life, indeed. The thrilling strain came to penetrate and fill one heart; the passionate despair surged round her; the silence following was like the hand that closes the eyes of the dead.
Mr. Raleigh did not rise, nor look up, as he finished.
"How melancholy!" said Helen Heath, breaking the hush.
"All music should be melancholy," said he.
"How absurd, Roger!" said his cousin. "There is much music that is only intensely beautiful."
"Intense beauty at its height always drops in pathos, or rather the soul does in following it,—since that is infinite, the soul finite."
"Nonsense! There's that song, Number Three in Book One"——
"I don't remember it."
"Well, there's no pathos there! It's just one trill of laughter and merriment, a sunbeam and effect. Play it, Helen."
Helen went, and, extending her hands before Mr. Raleigh, played a couple of bars; he continued where she left it, as one might a dream, and, strangely enough, the little, gushing sparkle of joy became a phantom of itself, dissolving away in tears.
"Oh, of course," said Mrs. McLean, "you can make mouths in a glass, if you please; but I, for one, detest melancholy! Don't you, Mrs. Laudersdale?"
Mrs. Laudersdale had shrunk into the shadow of the curtain. Perhaps she did not hear the question; for her reply, that did not come at once, was the fragment of a Provencal romance, sung,—and sung in a voice neither sweet nor rich, but of a certain personal force as potent as either, and a stifled strength of tone that made one tremble.
"We're all alone, we're all alone! The moon and stars are dead and gone, The night's at deep, the winds asleep, And thou and I are all alone!
"What care have we, though life there be? Tumult and life are not for me! Silence and sleep about us creep: Tumult and life are not for thee!
"How late it is since such as this Had topped the height of breathing bliss! And now we keep an iron sleep,— In that grave thou, and I in this!"
Her voice yet shivered through the room, he struck a chord of dead conclusion, the curtain stirred, she emerged from the gloom and was gone.
Mr. Raleigh rose and bade his cousin good-night. Mrs. McLean, however, took his arm and sauntered with him down the lawn.
"I thought Capua came with you," she remarked.
"He returned in a spare wherry, some time since," he replied; and thereon they made a few paces in silence.
"Roger," said the little lady, taking breath preparatory to wasting it, "I thought Helen was a coquette. I've changed my mind. The fault is yours."
He turned and looked down at her with some surprise.
"You know we haven't much more time, and certainly"——
"Yes,—don't scold!—and if you are going to propose, I really think you ought to, or else"——
"You think I ought to marry Miss Heath?"
"Why—I—well——Oh, dear! I wish I had held my peace!"
"That might have been advisable."
"Don't be offended now, Roger!"
"Is there any reason to suppose her—to suppose me"——
"Yes, there!" replied Mrs. McLean, desperately.
He was silent a moment.
"Good God, Kate!" said he, then, clasping his hands behind his head, and looking up the deep transparence of the unanswering night. "What a blessing it is that life don't last forever!"
"But it does, Roger," she uttered under her breath,—terrified at his abrupt earnestness, and unwitting what storm she had aroused.
"The formula changes," he replied, with his old air, and retracing their steps.
The guests were all gone. Helen Heath was eating an ice; he bent over her chair and said,—
"Good-night, Miss Helen!"
"Oh, good-night, Mr. Raleigh! You are going? Well, we're all going soon. What a glorious summer it has been! Aren't you sorry we must part?"
"Why must we part?" he asked in a lower tone. "Where is the necessity of our parting? Why won't you stay forever, Helen?"
She turned and surveyed him quickly, while a red—whether of joy or anger he could not tell—flashed up her cheek.
"Do you mean"——
"Miss Heath, I mean, will you marry me?"
"Mr. Raleigh, no!"
With a bow he passed on.
Mr. Raleigh trimmed the Arrow's sail, for the breeze had sunk again, and swept slowly out with one oar suspended. A waning moon was rising behind the trees, it fell upon the little quay that had been built that summer, and seemed with its hollow beams still to continue the structure upon the water. The Arrow floated in the shadow just beyond. Mr. Raleigh's eyes were on the quay; he paused, nerveless, both oars trailing, a cold damp starting on his forehead. Some one approached as if looking out upon the dim sheet,—some one who, deceived by the false light, did not know the end to be so near, and walked forward firmly and confidently. Indeed, the quay had been erected in Mr. Laudersdale's absence. The water was deep there, the bottom rocky.
"Shout and warn him of his peril!" urged a voice in Mr. Raleigh's heart.
"Let him drown!" urged another voice.
If he would have called, the sound died a murmur in his throat. His eyes were on the advancing figure; it seemed as if that object were to be forever branded on the retina. Still as he gazed, he was aware of another form, one sitting on the quay, unseen in shadow like himself, and seeing what he saw, and motionless as he. Would Mrs. Laudersdale dip her hands in murder? It all passed in a second of time; at the next breath he summoned every generous power in his body, sprang with the leap of a wild creature, and confronted the recoiling man. Ere his foot touched the quay, the second form had glided from the darkness, and seized her husband's arm.
"A thousand pardons, Sir," said Mr. Raleigh, then. "I thought you were in danger. Mrs. Laudersdale, good-night!"
It was an easy matter to regain the boat, to gather up his oars, and shoot away. Till they faded from sight, he saw her still beside him; and so they stood till the last echo of the dipping oars was muffled in distance and lost.
Summer-nights are brief; breakfast was late on the next morning,—or rather, Mrs. Laudersdale was late, as usual, to partake it.
"Shall I tell you some news?" asked Helen Heath.
She lifted her heavy eyes absently.
"Mrs. McLean has made her husband a millionnaire. There was an Indian mail yesterday. Mr. Raleigh read his letters last night, after going home. His uncle is dying,—old, unfortunate, forlorn. Mr. Raleigh has abandoned everything, and must hew his own way in the world from this day forward. He left this morning for India."
When you saw Mrs. Laudersdale for the first time, at a period thirteen years later, would you have imagined her possessed of this little drama? You fancy now that in this flash all the wealth of her soul burned out and left her a mere volition and motive power? You are mistaken, as I said.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
A silent, odor-laden air, From heavy branches dropping balm; A crowd of daisies, milky fair, That sunward turn their faces calm, So rapt, a bird alone may dare To stir their rapture with its psalm.
So falls the perfect day of June, To moonlit eve from dewy dawn; With light winds rustling through the noon, And conscious roses half-withdrawn In blushing buds, that wake too soon, And flaunt their hearts on every lawn.
The wide content of summer's bloom, The peaceful glory of its prime,— Yet over all a brooding gloom, A desolation born of time, As distant storm-caps tower and loom And shroud the sun with heights sublime.
For they are vanished from the trees, And vanished from the thronging flowers, Whose tender tones thrilled every breeze, And sped with mirth the flying hours; No form nor shape my sad eye sees, No faithful spirit haunts these bowers.
Alone, alone, in sun or dew! One fled to heaven, of earth afraid; And one to earth, with eyes untrue And lips of faltering passion, strayed: Nor shall the strenuous years renew On any bough these leaves that fade.
Long summer-days shall come and go,— No summer brings the dead again; I listen for that voice's flow, And ache at heart, with deepening pain; And one fair face no more I know, Still living sweet, but sweet in vain.
The law of expression is the law of degrees,—of much, more, and most.
Nature exists to the mind not as an absolute realization, but as a condition, as something constantly becoming. It is neither entirely this nor that. It is suggestive and prospective; a body in motion, and not an object at rest. It draws the soul out and excites thought, because it is embosomed in a heaven of possibilities, and interests without satisfying. The landscape has a pleasure to us, because in the mind it is canopied by the ideal, as it is here canopied by the sky.
The material universe seems a suspense, something arrested on the point of transition from nonentity to absolute being,—wholly neither, but on the confines of both, which is the condition of its being perceptible to us. We are able to feel and use heat, because it is not entirely heat; and we see light only when it is mixed and diluted with its opposite. The condition of motion is that there be something at rest; else how could there be any motion? The river flows, because its banks do not. We use force, because it is only in part that which it would be. What could we do with unmixed power? Absolute space is not cognizable to the mind; we apprehend space only when limited and imprisoned in geometrical figures. Absolute life we can have no conception of; the absolute must come down and incarnate itself in the conditioned, and cease to be absolute, before it comes within the plane of our knowledge. The unconscious is not knowable; as soon as it is thought, it becomes conscious.
And this is God's art of expression. We can behold nothing pure; and all that we see is compounded and mixed. Nature stands related to us at a certain angle, and a little remove either way—back toward its grosser side, or up toward its ideal tendency—would place it beyond our ken. It is like the rainbow, which is a partial and an incomplete development,— pure white light split up and its colors detached and dislocated, and which is seen only from a certain stand-point.
We remark, therefore, that all things are made of one stuff, and on the principle that a difference in degree produces a difference in kind. From the clod and the rock up to the imponderable, to light and electricity, the difference is only more or less of selection and filtration. Every grade is a new refinement, the same law lifted to a higher plane. The air is earth with some of the coarser elements purged away. From the zooephyte up to man, more or less of spirit gives birth to the intervening types of life. All motion is but degrees of gravitating force; and the thousand colors with which the day paints the earth are only more or less of light. All form aspires toward the circle, and realizes it more or less perfectly. By more or less of heat the seasons accomplish their wonderful transformations on the earth and in the air. In the moral world, the eras and revolutions that check history are only degrees in the development of a few simple principles; and the variety of character that diversifies the world of men and manners springs from a greater or less predominance of certain individual traits.
This law of degrees, pushed a little farther, amounts to detachment and separation, and gives birth to contrast and comparison. This is one aspect in which the law manifests itself in the individual. The chairs and the pictures must come out from the wall before we can see them. The tree must detach itself from the landscape, either by form or color, before it becomes cognizable to us. There must be irregularity and contrast. Our bodily senses relate us to things on this principle; they require something brought out and disencumbered from the mass. The eye cannot see where there is no shade, nor the hand feel where there is no inequality of surface, nor the palate taste where there is no predominance of flavor, nor the ear hear where there is no silence. Montaigne has the following pertinent passage, which also comes under this law:—"Whoever shall suppose a pack-thread equally strong throughout, it is utterly impossible it should break; for where will you have the breaking to begin? And that it should break altogether is not in Nature."
The palpableness and availableness of an object are in proportion as it is separated from its environments. We use water as a motive power by detaching a part from the whole and placing ourselves in the way of its tendency to unite again. All force and all motion are originated on this principle. It is by gravity that we walk and move and overcome resistance, and, in short, perform all mechanical action; yet the condition is that we destroy the settled equilibrium of things for the moment, and avail ourselves of the impulse that restores it again. The woodman chops by controlling and breaking the force which he the next moment yields to.
So in higher matters. We are conscious of pain and pleasure only through the predominance of some feeling. There must be degrees and differences again, and some part more relieved than another, to catch an expression on. Entire pain or an equal degree of physical suffering in every part of the body would be a perfect blank, complete numbness; and entire pleasure we could not be conscious of, and for the same reason. How could there be any contrast, any determining hue, any darker or brighter side? If the waters of the earth were all at the same altitude, how could there be any motion among the parts? Hence the fullest experience is never defined, and cannot be spoken. It is like the sphere, which, as it merges all possible form in itself, is properly of no form, as white is no color, and cannot be grasped and used as parts and fragments can; there are no angles and outlines to define and give emphasis.
Hence the pain or pleasure that is definitely shaped in the consciousness and that can be spoken is necessarily partial, and does not go the full circle of our being. We are not conscious of our health and growth, because they are general and not local, and are not rendered prominent by contrast.
The dictionary and the sciences, in fact the whole province of human knowledge, hinge upon this principle. To know a thing is but to separate and distinguish it from something else; and classifying and systematizing are carrying the same law from the particular to the general. We cannot know one thing alone; two ideas enter into every distinct act of the understanding,—one latent and virtual, the other active and at the surface. To use familiar examples, we cannot distinguish white without having known black, nor evil without having known good, nor beauty without having known deformity. Thus every principle has two sides, like a penny, and one presupposes the other, which it covers.
When we come to the intellect and the expression of thought, the same law of detachment and separation prevails. In contemplation and enjoyment there are unity and wholeness; but in thinking, never. Our thoughts lie in us, like the granite rock in the earth, whole and continuous, without break or rupture, and shaped by a law of the spheres; but when they come to the surface in utterance, and can be grasped and defined, they lose their entireness and become partial and fragmentary, and hint a local and not a general law. We cannot speak entire and unmixed truth, because utterance separates a part from the whole, and consequently in a measure distorts and exaggerates and does injustice to other truths. The moment we speak, we are one-sided and liable to be assailed by the reverse side of the fact. Hence the hostility that exists between different sects and religions; their founders were each possessed of some measure of truth, and consequently stood near to a common ground of agreement, but in the statement it became vitiated and partial; and the more their disciples have expounded and sought to lodge their principles in a logical system, the more they have diverged from the primitive sentiment. If the sects would let logic alone and appeal only to the consciousness of men, there would be no very steep difference between them, and each would promote the good of the other. But the moment we rest with the reason and the understanding there must be opposition and divergence, for they apprehend things by parts, and not by the mass; they deal with facts, and not with laws.
The fullest truth, as we have already hinted, never shapes itself into words on our lips. What we can speak is generally only foam from the surface, with more or less sediment in it; while the pure current flows untouched beneath. The deepest depths in a man have no tongue. He is like the sea, which finds expression only on its shoals and rocks; the great heart of it has no voice, no utterance.
The religious creeds will never be reconciled by logic; the more emphatically they are expressed, the more they differ. Ideas, in this respect, resemble the trees, which branch and diverge more and more widely as they proceed from the root and the germinal state. Men are radically the same in their feelings and sentiments, but widely different in their logic. Argument is reaction, and drives us farther and farther apart.
As the intellect expresses by detachment and contrast, it follows, that, the more emphatically an idea is expressed, the more it will be disencumbered of other ideas and stand relieved like a bust chiselled from a rock. It is suggestive and prospective, and, by being detached itself, will relieve others and still others. It makes a breach in the blank wall, and the whole is now pregnable. New possibilities are opened, a new outlook into the universe. Nothing, so to speak, has become something; one base metal has been transmuted into gold, and so given us a purchase on every other. When one thought is spoken, all others become speakable. After one atom was created, the universe would grow of its own accord. The difficulty in writing is to utter the first thought, to break the heavy silence, to overcome the settled equilibrium, and disentangle one idea from the embarrassing many. It is a struggle for life. There is no place to begin at. We are burdened with unuttered and unutterable truth, but cannot, for the life of us, grasp it. It is a battle with Chaos. We plant shaft after shaft, but to no purpose. We get an idea half-defined, when it slips from us, and all is blank again in that direction. We seem to be struggling with the force of gravity, and to come not so near conquering as to being conquered. But at last, when we are driven almost to despair, and in a semi-passive state inwardly settling and composing ourselves, the thought comes. How much is then revealed and becomes possible! New facts and forces are commanded by it; much of our experience, that was before meaningless and unavailable, assumes order and comes to our use; and as long as the breach can be kept open and the detachment perfect, how easily we write! But if we drop the thread of our idea without knotting it, or looping it to some fact,—if we stop our work without leaving something inserted to keep the breach open, how soon all becomes a blank! the wound heals instantly; the equilibrium which we had for a moment arrested again asserts itself, and our work is a fragment and must always remain so. Neither wife nor friends nor fortune nor appetite should call one from his work, when he is possessed by this spirit and can utter his thought. We are caught up into these regions rarely enough; let us not come down till we are obliged.
The fullest development of this law, as it appears in the intellect, is Analogy. Analogy is the highest form of expression, the poetry of speech; and is detachment carried so far that it goes full circle and gives a sense of unity and wholeness again. It is the spheral form appearing in thought. The idea is not only detached, but is wedded to some outward object, so that spirit and matter mutually interpret each other. Nothing can be explained by itself, or, in the economy of Nature, is explained by itself. The night explains the day, and the day interprets the night. Summer gives character to winter, and in winter we best understand the spirit of summer. The shore defines and emphasizes the sea, and the sea gives form and meaning to the shore.
To measure grain, we must have a bushel; and to confine water and air, we must have other than water and air to do it with. The bird flies by balancing itself against something else; the mountain is emphasized by the valley; and one color is brought out and individualized by another. Our mood of yesterday is understood and rendered available by our mood of to-day; and what we now experience will be read aright only when seen from the grounds of an opposite experience. Our life here will not be duly appreciated and its meaning made clear till seen from the life beyond.
The spiritual canopies the material as the sky canopies the earth, and is reached and expressed only by its aid. And this is Analogy,—the marrying of opposite facts, the perception of the same law breaking out in a thousand different forms,—the completing of the circle when only a segment is given. The visible and the invisible make up one sphere of which each is a part. We are related to both; our root is in one, our top in the other. Our ideas date from spirit and appear in fact. The ideal informs the actual. This is the way the intellect detaches and gets expressed. It is not its own interpreter, and, like everything else, is only one side of a law which is explained by the other side. The mind is the cope and the world the draw, to use the language of the moulder. The intellect uses the outward, as the sculptor uses marble, to embody and speak its thought. It seizes upon a fact as upon a lever, to separate and lift up some fraction of its meaning. From Nature, from science, from experience, it traces laws, till they appear in itself, and thus finds a thread to string its thought on.
Without Analogy, without this marrying of the inward and the outward, there can be no speech, no expression. It is a necessity of our condition. Spirit is cognizable by us only when endowed with a material body; so an idea or a feeling can be stated only when it puts on the form and definiteness of the sensuous, the empirical. Hence the highest utterance is a perpetual marrying of thought with things, as in poetry,—a lifting up of the actual and a bringing down of the ideal,—giving a soul to the one and a body to the other. This takes place more or less in all speech, but only with genius is it natural and complete. Ordinary minds inherit their language and form of expression; but with the poet, or natural sayer, a new step is taken, and new analogies, new likenesses must be disclosed. He is distinguished from the second-hand man by the fulness and completeness of his expression; his words are round and embrace the two hemispheres, the actual and the ideal. He points out analogies under our feet, and presents the near and the remote wedded in every act of his mind. Nothing is old with him, but Nature is forever new like the day, and gives him pure and fresh thoughts as she gives him pure and fresh water. Hence the expressiveness of poetry and its power over the human heart. It differs from prose only in degree, not in essence. It goes farther and accomplishes more. It is the blossom of which prose is the bud, and comes with sincerity, simplicity, purity of motive, and a vital relation to Nature.
As men grow earnest and impassioned, and speak from their inmost heart, and without any secondary ends, their language rises to the dignity of poetry and employs tropes and figures. The more emphatic the statement, the more the thought is linked with things. The ideas of men in their ordinary mood are only half-expressed, like a stone propped up, but still sod-bound; but when they are fired and glowing with the heat of some great passion, the operation of the mind is more complete and the detachment more perfect. The thought is not only evolved, but is thrown into the air,—disencumbered from the understanding, and set off against the clear blue of the imagination. Hence the direct and unequivocal statement of a man writing under the impulse of some strong feeling, or speaking to a thrilled and an excited audience. Nature, the world, his experience, is no longer hard and flinty, but plastic and yielding, and takes whatever impress his mind gives it. Facts float through his head like half-pressed grapes in the wine-press, steeped and saturated with meaning, and his expression becomes so round and complete as to astonish himself in his calmer moments.
People differ not so much in material as in this power of expressing it. The secret of the best writer lies in his art. He is not so much above the common stature; his experience is no richer than ours; but he knows how to put handles to his ideas, and we do not. Give a peasant his power of expression, or of welding the world within to the world without, and there would be no very precipitous inequality between them. The great writer says what we feel, but could not utter. We have pearls that lie no deeper than his, but have not his art of bringing them to the surface. We are mostly like an inland lake that has no visible outlet; while he is the same lake gifted with a copious channel.
The secret seems to lie in the temperament and in the transmuting and modifying medium. More or less of filtration does it all. Nature makes the poet, not by adding to, but by taking from; she takes all blur and opacity out of him; condenses, intensifies; lifts his nerves nearer the surface, sharpens his senses, and brings his whole organization to an edge. Sufficient filtration would convert charcoal into diamonds; and we shall everywhere find that the purest, most precious substances are the result of a refining, sorting, condensing process.
Our expression is clogged by the rubbish in our minds, the foolish personal matters we load the memory with. Ideas are not clearly defined, as the drift-wood in the river spoils the reflected image. We feel nothing intensely; our experience is a blur without distinct form and outline; in short we are incumbered with too much clay. Hence, when a slow disease burns the dross and earth out of one, how keen and susceptible his organization becomes! The mud-wall grows transparent. Our senses lose their obtuseness, our capacity both for experience and expression is enlarged, and we not only live deeper, but nearer the surface.
It appears, then, that, as a general rule, our ability to express ourselves is in proportion to the fineness of our organization. Women, for this reason, are more adequate in expressing themselves than men; they stand removed one degree farther from the earth, and are conscious of feelings and sentiments that are never defined in our minds; the detachment is more perfect; shades and boundaries are more clearly brought out, and consequently the statement is more round and full.
One's capacity for expression is also affected by his experience,—not experience in time and space, but soul-experience,—joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, love, hope, aspiration, and all intense feeling by which the genesis of the inward man unfolded. What one has lived, that alone can he adequately say. The outward is the measure of the inward; it is as the earth and sky: so much earth as we see, so much sky takes form and outline. The spiritual, it is true, is illimitable, but the actual is the measure of that part of which we are made conscious. Experience furnishes the handle, but the intellect must supply the blade.
Intense feeling of any kind afterward gives us more entire command over some thought or power within us. Every inundation of passion enriches and gives us a deeper soil. The most painful experiences are generally the most productive. Cutting teeth is by no means a pleasant operation, yet it increases our tools. Our lives are not thoroughly shaped out and individualized till we have lived and suffered in every part of us. A great feeling reveals new powers in the soul, as a deep breath fills air-cells in the lungs that are not reached by an ordinary inhalation. Love first revealed the poetic gift in Novalis; and in reading the Autobiography of Goethe, one can but notice the quickening of his powers after every new experience: a new love was a new push given the shuttle, and a new thread was added.
When we come nearer the surface of our subject and speak of language, we remark that pure English, so far as such is possible, is the most convenient and expressive. Saxon words cannot be used too plentifully. They abridge and condense and smack of life and experience, and form the nerve and sinew of the best writing of our day; while the Latin is the fat. The Saxon puts small and convenient handles to things, handles that are easy to grasp; while your ponderous Johnsonian phraseology distends and exaggerates, and never peels the chaff from the wheat. Johnson's periods act like a lever of the third kind,—the power applied always exceeds the weight raised; while the terse, laconic style of later writers is eminently a lever on the first principle, and gives the mind the utmost purchase on the subject in hand.
The language of life, and of men who speak to be understood, should be used more in our books. A great principle anchored to a common word or a familiar illustration never looses its hold upon the mind; it is like seeing the laws of Astronomy in the swing of a pendulum, or in the motion of the boy's ball,—or the law of the tides and the seasons appearing in the beating of the pulse, or in inspiring and expiring the breath. The near and the remote are head and tail of the same law, and good writing unites them, giving wholeness and continuity. The language of the actual and the practical applied to the ideal brings it at once within everybody's reach, tames it, and familiarizes it to the mind. If the writers on metaphysics would deal more in our every-day speech, use commoner illustrations, seek to find some interpreter of the feelings and affections of the mind in Nature, out of the mind itself, and thus keep the life-principle and the thought-principle constantly wedded, making them mutually elucidate and explain each other, they would be far more fruitful and satisfying. Cousin is the only writer we know of who has made any attempt at this, and we believe him to be the most consistent and intelligent metaphysician that has yet appeared. Surely, one cannot reasonably object to the height in the heavens from which a man steals his fire, if he can feed it with his own fuel and cook meat with it. Though the genealogy of our ideas be traceable to Jove and Olympus, they must marry their human sisters, the facts of common life and experience, before they can be productive of anything positive and valuable.
Proverbs give us the best lessons in the art of expression. See what vast truths and principles informing such simple and common facts! It reminds one of suns and stars engraved on buttons and knife-handles. Proverbs come from the character, and are alive and vascular. There is blood and marrow in them. They give us pocket-editions of the most voluminous truths. Theirs is a felicity of expression that comes only at rare moments, and that is bought by long years of experience.
There is no waste material in a good proverb; it is clear meat, like an egg,—a happy result of logic, with the logic left out; and the writer who shall thus condense his wisdom, and as far as possible give the two poles of thought in every expression, will most thoroughly reach men's minds and hearts.
ITALIAN EXPERIENCES IN COLLECTING "OLD MASTERS."
As the taste for collecting objects of art is rapidly developing in America, it may be not without profit to point out some of the pitfalls which attend the amateur in this pursuit, especially in Italy, that exhaustless quarry of "originals" and "old masters"; though it should be remembered that a work of art may be both original and old and very bad too,—its intrinsic worth being a separate question from its age and authenticity. The results given are drawn from an actual experience of many years.
The most obvious risk is from the counterfeiter,—not from the vulgar shams distributed so widely over the world from the well-known manufactories of paintings in France, England, and other parts, which can deceive only the most ignorant or credulous, but from talent itself debased to forgery and trickery.
Many of the antique bronzes, terra-cottas, vases, classical and medieval relics, so jealously cared for in the collections of Europe, are the clever imitations of a poor and honest artist in one of the Italian cities, whose miniature studio might almost be put inside one of our old-fashioned omnibuses. His designs, taken from genuine antiques, are reproduced with fidelity, and the coatings and marks of time counterfeited by chemical means and skilful manipulation. He sells his productions as imitations, at prices that barely provide him with daily bread, eking out his subsistence by repairs and restorations, in which he is equally happy. Living in obscurity, without the capital or sagacity to make himself known to the public, he is at the mercy of those who are interested in keeping him in privacy and buying his artistic labors at the wages of a clodhopper. His own responsibility goes not beyond fulfilling orders for the imitation of certain objects, the process of which he frankly explains to the inquisitive visitor. But, once in dishonest hands, antiquity and authenticity replace modernism and imitation.
There are two ways of seduction and deceit. The one and safer for the operator is the suggestive, in which appearances are made by consummate tact and artful flattery to excite the imagination of the buyer so that he is led to believe what he desires without compromising the agent. The other is positive intrigue and absolute lying, so nicely done that the wealthy amateur is fleeced often in a fashion that confers a pleasure, and which, though he may subsequently detect it, gives him but a lame chance at redress. In most instances he deserves none. For, stimulated by vanity or fashion, without any true regard for art, he has offered so large a premium for a name, that it would indeed be wonderful, if a corresponding supply were not created. The living artist is sometimes sorely tempted to pander to illusions to secure that appreciation which the world gives more lavishly to fashion than to merit. Michel Angelo tested this disposition, even more current in his time than now; though some say it was done unknown to him. At all events, having finished the statue of a Cupid, after breaking off an arm, it was buried, and in due time discovered, disinterred, and brought to the notice of a distinguished Roman dignitary, who pronounced it to be a genuine antique and paid a large price for it, well pleased, as he had reason to be, with his prize. But afterwards, the deception being exposed, and the proof by means of the missing arm given that it was the work of the then unknown Florentine sculptor, the disenchanted connoisseur was furiously indignant, and disposed to take prompt vengeance upon the parties concerned.
To come back to our own day. Let us suppose a rich collector to have arrived in some well-known Italian market for art,—picture-jockeying is much the same everywhere,—in pursuit of "originals."
Great is the commotion among dealers and their sensali or jackals. These latter are versed in intrigue and mystification, with enough intelligence to tell a good picture from a bad one, and a parrot-like acquaintance with names and schools. They are of all classes, from the decayed gentleman and artist, to shopkeepers, cobblers, cooks, and tailors, who find in the large commissions gained a temptation to forsake their petty legitimate callings for the lottery-like excitements and finesse of picture-dealing. No sooner has the stranger gone to his hotel than a watch is put upon his movements, and bribery and cajolery used to get access to him. It is the sensale's business to discover and offer pictures. He is supposed to know the locality of every one, good or bad, in his neighborhood. However jealous of each other, all are loyally pledged together to take in the stranger. Leagued with the dealer, artist, owner, courier, or servant, with any one, in fact, that by any possibility can stand between the buyer and his object, it has become almost an impossibility, especially for transient visitors, to purchase anything whatever without paying a heavy toll to intermediates. When the conspiracy is widely extended, the augmentation of price above what would be required in direct dealing with the owner is sometimes double or even quadruple. Occasionally, however, by way of compensation for their general evil, the sensali, having scented a prize, offer it first to the amateur, in view of their own increase of gain over what the dealer would allow. In this way, good pictures not unfrequently escape the merchant, and reach the collector at a lower price than if they had gone directly to the former.
The sensali are not without their use in another respect. So indirect and underhand is the Italian's mode of dealing in these matters, and so eccentric his notions as to value, that a foreigner is apt to be speedily disgusted or driven away by the magnitude of demands which in reality the seller never expects to realize. Hence the negotiation is best done through an agent, the buyer having fixed his price, leaving the sensale to make what he can for himself. No purchaser, however, should give heed to any statement about the history or authenticity of the works offered to him through such channels, but rely both for value and facts upon his own resources; otherwise he will be deceived to an extent that would appear almost fabulous to the uninitiated.
Such are the preliminary difficulties that beset the amateur. We will suppose him in connection with the seller, and trace his progress. First, the quality of his judgment and the impressibility of his imagination are tested by a series of experiments as delicate as the atmospherical gauges of a barometer. He is of course not to be entrapped by copies or fabrications. He has a shrewd distrust of dealers, and therefore prefers to buy family pictures or originals directly from chapels and convents. All Italians have a patriotic pride in getting rid of trash at the expense of the foreigner. The more common baits to entrap—by bringing pictures mysteriously boxed, grandly baptized, and liberally decorated with aristocratic seals and eloquent with academical certificates, anointed with refined flattery and obsequious courtesy—having failed, his Eccellenza being too knowing to be seduced into buying the ostentatiously furbished-up roba of shops, they set about to accommodate him with originals from first hands. By substituting old frames for new, dirtying the pictures, and other ingenious processes familiar to the initiated, and then putting them out to board in noble villas, antique palaces, or other localities the most natural for good pictures to be discovered in, spiced with a romance of decayed family-grandeur,—by employing new agents, and by hints sagaciously conveyed to the buyer, his curiosity is excited, hopes raised, and, finally, with much trouble and enhanced expense, he triumphantly carries off the very pictures which in a shop he could not be tempted to look at for fear of being caught with chaff, but which now, from a well-got-up romance, have acquired a peculiar value in his eyes. Not that this sort of delicate mystification is reserved exclusively for foreigners. For we have detected in an altar-piece, borne away as a great prize by an Italian friend from a secluded little chapel attached to a noble villa in the vicinity of Florence, a worthless specimen of an old painter, from one of the secret depositories of the city, which had long been wholly unsalable on any terms.
Honest dealing exists in Italy, as elsewhere, and there are men whose statements may safely be received. But let the purchaser be cautious when led into out-of-the-way places to see newly found originals, and be slow to give heed to stories of churches being permitted to sell this or that work of art because they have a facade to repair or an altar to decorate,—and particularly if there be said anything of an inheritance to divide, or a sad tale of family distress requiring the sacrifice of long-cherished treasures, backed up by a well-gotten-up pantomime of unlockings and lockings, passages through mysterious corridors and vast halls, cautious showings amid a crowd of family-retainers or a retinue of monks. Sometimes the most wary is thus seduced into offering tenfold its worth for a common object thus seen by a carefully arranged light and with artificial surroundings.
Many good pictures are still to be had in Italy, if properly approached by those who know thoroughly the habits of the country. There are, however, but two means of procuring them: either to pay their full value as fixed by rival collectors, or to secure them by fortuitous circumstances for trifling sums. The extraordinary chances of discovery and the extreme variations of price attending this pursuit are curious and instructive. A few examples are worth relating. In 1856, a small picture, by Niccolo d'Alunno, was sold in Florence, by an artist to a dealer, for forty dollars; in a few weeks resold to an Englishman for five hundred; exhibited at the Manchester Exhibition, whence it subsequently passed into the gallery of a distinguished personage for twenty-five hundred dollars. The "Leda" of Leonardo, repainted from motives of prudery by the great-grandfather of Louis-Philippe, was bought at the sale of that ex-king's pictures in Paris, in 1849, for thirty dollars, restored to its primitive condition, and sold, we are informed, for one hundred thousand francs. Ten years ago, an Angel, by the same artist, was found in the old-clothes market at Florence by an artist, bought for a few pence, cleaned and sold to Prince Galitzin for twenty-two thousand francs. The "Fortune" of Michel Angelo, or what was supposed to be, not long since was discovered in the same locality in a disastrous condition, secured for a few shillings, put in such order as was possible, and parted with to a French gentleman for three hundred dollars and a pension of one dollar a day during the lives of the seller and his son. Quite recently one of Correggio's most beautiful works was discovered under the canvas of a worthless picture acquired at a public auction in Rome for a few dimes, at the sale by a princely family of discarded pictures, and resold by its fortunate discoverer for fifteen thousand dollars, although the original proprietor instituted a suit against him for its recovery, but without success. In Florence, within three years past, a fine portrait, by Titian, of the Doge Andrea Gritti, was picked out from a large lot of worthless canvases for six dollars. The Madonna del Gran Duca, at the Pitti, was bought by the father of the late Grand Duke, with some other pictures, of a widow, for a few dollars. Instances like these might be multiplied, to show that in all times prizes do strangely and unexpectedly occur, and that pictures in their fortunes resemble their authors, often passing from extreme poverty into princely homes.
The changes in the money value placed upon the same works in different epochs are also curious. Indeed, a history of the caprices of art would be vastly entertaining. In 1740, at the sale in Paris of M. Crozat's collection, a drawing by Raphael brought only ten francs. The same drawing, at the sale of the King of Holland's gallery, in 1850, fetched fourteen thousand francs. For the "Ezekiel," Raphael, in 1510, had but eight scudi d' oro, equivalent now to thirty dollars. At present, it would bring a fabulous sum, if sold. Within the memory of those now living, gold background pictures of the schools of Giotto and his successors, owing to the contempt the pseudo-classical French taste had excited for them, were brought out of suppressed churches and convents and publicly burned to obtain the trifling amount of gold which remained in the ashes. Amateurs are now more inclined to pay their weight in gold for such as have escaped the ravages of time and Vandalism; and the same government that permitted this destruction in 1859 passed stringent decrees to prevent their leaving the country, sequestering all in public buildings as national property.
Without cautious study and much well-paid-for experience, the stranger has small chance of successfully coping with the artifices that beset his every step. He must be well-grounded in the history of Italian painting, and possess a practical knowledge of the technical execution of its various masters. Haste and ignorance, united to wealth and vanity, are a rich mine for the sensali. To such collectors America—not to speak of Europe—owes many of its galleries of great names, to the very natural astonishment and skepticism of the spectators and the defamation of great reputations. Many of these purchases are the speculations of couriers, who, having artfully inoculated their employers with a taste for originals, take care to supply the demand, greatly to the benefit of their own pockets and the gratitude of those with whom they bring their masters into connection. We have been called by a countryman to admire his gallery of Claudes, Poussins, Rembrandts, Murillos, and Titians, for which he had expended a princely sum, but which there was no difficulty in recognizing as the shop roba got up expressly to entrap the unwary. One picture, worth, perhaps, for mere decoration, fifty dollars, had been secured as a great favor for twenty-two hundred dollars, the "last price" asked for it being three thousand. Another, by a feeble artist of the Carlo Dolce school, had been converted, by a substitution of names and sundry touchings-up, into a brilliant Guercino, at the cost of nearly one thousand dollars, of which the owner got about one-third, the confederates pocketing the rest.
Some amateurs deceive themselves after a manner which acquits the dealer of any participation in their illusions. A gentleman entered a well-known studio in Florence, not many years since, and inquired the price of a picture.
"Sixty dollars: the painting is by Furini," was the reply.
"I will take it," said the gentleman, eagerly insisting upon paying for it on the spot; which was no sooner done, than he turned round to the amused artist and triumphantly exclaimed, "Do you know you have sold me a Murillo for nothing?"
Benvenuti, President of the Academy of Florence, was once asked to attest the originality of an Andrea brought to him by some speculators. "I should be happy to gratify you, gentlemen," he replied, "but unfortunately I saw the picture painted." Nevertheless, certificates were obtained from more facile authorities, and the painting officially baptized for a market.
Certificates and documents need to be received as cautiously as the pictures themselves; perhaps more so,—for they are more easily forged. When genuine, the former are valuable only as they are the opinions of honest and competent judges; and both are trustworthy only so far as they are attached to the pictures to which they legitimately belong.
Genuine pictures have been sold and their documentary evidence kept for skilful imitations. We have even detected in certificates the fraudulent substitution of names. And sometimes, when honestly given, their testimony is of no value. One professional certificate in our possession, of the last century, ascribes the portrait in question to Masaccio or Sauti di Tito: as sensible a decision as if an English critic had decided that a certain picture of his school was either by Hogarth or Sir Thomas Lawrence. Cases are indeed rare, even in the public galleries, in which, outside of the picture itself, there is any trustworthy historical testimony as to its genealogy.
Counterfeits of the old masters of the later Italian schools, supported by false evidence, have at various times deceived good judges and obtained posts of honor in the galleries of Europe. Even when detected, their owners do not always repudiate their spurious treasures. They give their collections the benefit of doubts or of public ignorance. The most noted imitator of this class was Micheli of Florence. In view of his success and the use for a time made of his works, he must rank as a forger, though they are now in esteem solely for their intrinsic cleverness. Some still linger in remote galleries, with the savor of authenticity about them. A Raphael of his make long graced the Imperial Gallery of Russia. He did not confine himself to literal repetitions, but concocted new "originals" by combining parts of several pictures in worm-eaten panels or time-stained canvases, with such variations of motive or design as their supposed authors would naturally have made in repeating their ideas in fresher combinations,—sometimes leaving portions unfinished, ingeniously dirtying their surfaces, and giving to them that cracked-porcelain appearance common to the old masters. One thus prepared was bought at his studio for one hundred dollars, consigned to a priest in the country, in due time discovered, and the rumor of a great master in an exceedingly dirty and somewhat dilapidated state, but believed to be intact beneath the varnishes and grime of centuries, brought to the ears of a Russian, who after a delicate and wearisome negotiation obtained it for eight hundred dollars, and perhaps paid half as much more to the manufacturer for cleaning and restoring it.
Another sort of deception is the alteration of pictures by artists less-known or of inferior reputations to suit more fashionable and profitable names. In this way many works of much local interest, and often indeed of equal merit to those they are made to represent, are exterminated, to the serious detriment of the history of art, Lombardy, Umbria, and the Legations especially have suffered in this way.