Though no deception be intended, if pedigrees are lost, criticism is often sorely perplexed to decide upon authorship. Out of the multitudes of pictures in the European galleries, which are so decidedly baptized in catalogues, the public would be surprised to learn how few comparatively can be historically traced to their authors. The majority are named upon the authority of local judges, whose acquaintance with art may be limited to one speciality, or who rely upon such opinions as can be gathered from the best available sources. Hence the frequent changes in the nomenclatures. We cannot, therefore, accept such documents as infallible, except in those cases where internal evidence and historic record are alike unimpeachable.
The difficulty of deciding often arises from repetitions, and the excellence of pupils painting from the designs of their masters, and not unfrequently assisted by them. As we go back in art, this difficulty increases, from the oblivion which has overtaken once well-known names, and from the greater uniformity of processes and the more limited range of motives of the earliest artists.
The great religious masters of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries gathered around them crowds of scholars, who travelled with them from city to city, partaking in their commissions and executing their designs, especially of ex-voto pictures, multiplied in that age by the piety of noble families, to commemorate some special interposition of divine power in their behalf and to honor their patron saints. Their usual compositions were the Madonna enthroned with the infant Jesus in her arms, surrounded by holy personages or angels, with the portraits of those who ordered the paintings, in general of diminutive size to express humility, and kneeling in adoration with clasped hands and upraised eyes. Unless the characteristics of the master-hand are unmistakable in this class of works, they are to be ranked as of the schools of the great men whose general features they bear. And it must not be forgotten that frequently pupils developed into distinguished masters themselves. Taddeo Gaddi and Puccio Capanna worked under Giotto while he lived, and afterwards acquired distinction in an independent career.
A like close relation between master and scholar, the effect of which was to multiply works by joint labor, obtained among the contemporaries of Raphael as well as of Giotto. The precise number of the genuine works of Raphael, owing to the cleverness of many of his pupils, will perhaps never be known. Coindet ascribes to him from one hundred and eighty to two hundred Holy Families alone. Some writers compute the entire number of his paintings at from five hundred to six hundred; others quote twelve hundred as authentic. These exaggerated estimates only prove how extremely popular his designs became and the great number of pictures ordered from them, some of which no doubt had the advantage of being touched by his hand, while all in some way or other bear his mental impress.
Moreover, the great masters frequently changed their methods and styles, so that one might be mistaken for another, and at times studied and copied each other. Andrea del Sarto's copy of Raphael's Leo Tenth passed undetected even by Giulio Romano, who had himself worked on the latter. Rubens and Velasquez imitated and copied the great Italian masters, particularly Paul Veronese and Titian; the Caracci and their followers multiplied Correggios, Raphaels, and the chief Venetians; Girolamo da Carpi of Ferrara the same; and all with a degree of success that has greatly perplexed later generations: their own works, in turn, as they became popular, experiencing from subsequent artists the same process of multiplication. Of the celebrated Madonna of Loreto there are not fewer than ten rival claimants for authenticity; while sketches, studies, and works not directly imitated from, but partaking of the character of great artists, and often clever enough to be confounded with their undoubted works, are not rare. Portraits, being direct studies from Nature, are difficult to decide upon. Hence it is that criticism is so variable in its decisions.
Beside the above sources of perplexity, it encounters another obstacle from the restorations pictures have undergone. Injured by time or obscured by repeated varnishings, they often require some degree of cleaning to make them intelligible. Unfortunately, in most instances, the process is sheer assassination. Many of the best works of public galleries have been subjected to scrubbings more analogous to the labors of a washtub than to the delicate and scientific treatment requisite to preserve intact the virgin surface of the painting. Mechanical operators have passed over them with as little remorse as locusts blight fields of grain. Their rude hands in numberless instances have skinned the pictures, obliterating those peerless tints, lights, and shadows, and those delicate but emphatic touches that bespeak the master-stroke, leaving instead cold, blank, hard surfaces and outlines, opaque shadows and crude coloring, out of tone, and in consequence with deteriorated sentiment as well as execution. The profound knowledge and vigorous or fairy-like handling which made their primary reputation are now forever gone, leaving little behind them except the composition to sustain it in competition with modern work. As bad, however, as is this wanton injury, that of repainting is greater. Inadequate to replace the delicate work he has rubbed off, to harmonize the whole and make it look fresh and new, the restorer passes his own brush over the entire picture, and thus finally obscures whatever of technical originality there might still have been preserved after the cleaning. The extent of injury European galleries have thus received is incalculable. One instance will suffice as an example of many. Some years gone by, the Titian's Bella Donna of the Pitti was intact. Unluckily it got into the hands of a professional cleaner. A celebrated dealer happened to be standing by when it was rehung. Looking at it, he exclaimed,—"Two weeks ago I would have given the Grand Duke two thousand pounds for that picture on speculation; now I would not give two hundred."
Each restoration displaces more of the original and replaces it with the restorer. As the same hands generally have a monopoly of a public gallery, the contents of some are beginning to acquire a strange uniformity of external character, while the old masters in the same degree are vanishing from them. These remarks, however, are more applicable to past than to present systems; for a reform founded on true artistic principles is being everywhere inaugurated.
Oil-paintings gradually deepen in tone; while tempera, if protected from humidity, retain their brilliancy and clearness as long as the material on which they rest endures. The true occupation of the restorer is to put the work given to him in a condition as near as possible to its original state, carefully abstaining from obliterating the legitimate marks of age, and limiting himself to just what is sufficient for the actual conservation of the picture. One of the chief needs of many old pictures is the removal of old repaintings. This done, the less added the better, unless, if a piece be wanting, it can be so harmonized with the original as to escape observation. But this is a special art, and to be done only by those acquainted with the old methods. In perfect condition ancient paintings cannot be. We must receive them for what they are, with the corrodings and changes of time upon them. How interesting in this respect is the Sienese Gallery! Here the restorer has been stayed, and we find the pictures genuine as time itself, and more precious by far to the student than the most glaring and "refreshed" surfaces of those works in other galleries which are the wonder and admiration of superficial observers.
The greatest difficulty of the restorer is to harmonize permanently the new vehicles with the old; for the fresh tints are always liable to assume a different tone from the original, which have already been chemically acted upon by time.
It may be said that the skill which can escape detection in restoration is adequate to successful counterfeiting. This is true only in part; for mending is very different from creating. Instances, however, do occur of such attempts; but they seldom long escape detection, and never impose upon those who have experience in the arts of the restorer. Some years ago a Roman artist for a while successfully passed off his imitations of Claude, Salvator Rosa, and their schools, as originals, at large prices, with the usual guaranties of authenticity. To disarm suspicion, he was accustomed to allow himself to be seen at work only upon cheap, vulgar pictures, pretending he was competent to nothing better. Having sold one of his Claudes for four thousand dollars, the trick being detected, he was threatened with a public prosecution, the fear of which brought on his death.
The favorite field of the early masters was fresco-painting. Unlike painting in oils, it has no resources of transparency, brilliancy, and richness of coloring, but depends for its nobility of effect upon the hardier virtues of art and the more robust genius of the artist. His success lies in strong and eloquent design and composition, with but feeble aid from color. Fresco and tempera paintings were chiefly intended for the interiors of churches or public buildings, whose dim light harmonized their more or less crude and positive tones. It was, however, only through the breadth and freedom of wall-painting that the ambition of the early masters was fully aroused and their powers found ample scope. Out of it they created a world of art unknown and unappreciable by those who cannot view it as it exists in the consecrated localities and amid the solemn associations whence it originated. All over Italy, by the road-side and in the sanctuary, there exists untold treasure of this sort, pure, grand or quaint, telling truth with the earnestness of conviction, and exhaling beauty through aroused feeling and refined sentiment, overflowing with virgin power and exalted efforts. Everywhere untransportable, often in localities untrodden except by the feet of the stolid peasant or the heavy-jawed monk, seen only by enthusiastic seekers, these monuments of a noble art are once more being awakened into vital existence by the piety and taste of a generation whose great joy it is to uncover and restore to the light of day those precious remains which were so often barbarously whitewashed by the clergy of the past two centuries, from no more cogent motive than to give greater light to their churches. Especially in Tuscany every souvenir of ancestral greatness is now cared for with a jealous patriotism honorable alike to the feeling and knowledge of its population. The chief desire of the country is now to reinvest her republican monuments with the character and aspect which best recall her olden freedom and enterprise. And the highest glory that can be bestowed upon these monuments is their careful conservation or restoration as they originally were designed; nothing being added or taken away except to their loss.
Not merely patriotism, but selfish acquisition demands of Italy the strict conservation of art. Her monuments are funds at interest for posterity. Indeed, her livelihood depends in no stinted measure upon her artistic attractions. And nowhere is there a livelier feeling for artistic beauty, greater respect for the past, and a wider-spread knowledge of art. In all times will other peoples come within her borders to enjoy and study that which she can still so lavishly bestow.
Tourists soundly rate Italians for their sordid indifference to their art, attributing to the people at large the spirit of the mercenary or ignorant class with whom they are most in contact. It is true that others may hear, as we have heard, from a noble marquis, in reply to a question about his family-pictures, "Ask my majordomo; had your question been about horses, I could have told you." They may meet aristocratic personages not above acting the picture-dealer in a covert manner, and, still worse, receive propositions to buy works of art robbed from public places. But such instances are uncommon. The common feeling is an enthusiastic pride in, and profound respect for, the names and the works that have done so much for the good and glory of Italy. Even the spirited deportment of the Signorina Borgherini, as told by Vasari, towards a dealer, who, during the siege of Florence, attempted to get possession of certain paintings belonging to her husband, to speculate upon by sending them to the king of France, may still find its counterpart in feeling, if not in fact, among some of the living daughters of that city.
"How, then," she exclaimed, "dost thou, Giovanni Battista, thou vile broker of frippery, miserable huckster of farthings, dost thou presume to come hither with the intent to lay thy fingers on the ornaments which belong to the chambers of gentlemen,—despoiling, as thou hast long done and art ever doing, our city of the fairest ornaments to embellish strange lands therewith? I prize these pictures from reverence to the memory of my father-in-law, from whom I had them, and from the love I bear to my husband; I mean to defend them, while I have life, with my own blood. Away with thee, then, base creature of nothingness! If again thou shouldest be so bold as to come on a similar errand to this house, thou shalt be taught what is the respect due to the dwelling of a gentleman, and that to thy serious discomfort; make sure of it!"
And so she drove the intriguing bargainer away, with "reproaches of such intolerable bitterness, that the like had never before been hurled at man alive." Be it remembered, too, that Vasari was a good judge of the quality of a Florentine dame's scolding, for he had himself in his younger days passed a painful apprenticeship under the weight of Lucretia Feti's tongue.
Criticism is too often local in its tone, being pledged, as it were, to the admiration of its favorite subjects and a corresponding disregard of those with which it is not familiar. Particularly in Italy, where the municipal feeling has been so strong, the partisans of each school were greatly prejudiced. Each people also very naturally prefers its own to another's art, and does not always question its motives of preference. The Florentines have overlooked the merits of their rivals, the Venetians and Sienese,—who, in turn, have reciprocated; while Italy, as a whole, has had but small regard for the works of other nations. England has been slow to recognize the great merits of the Southern schools; and France, Holland, and Germany are equally in the bondage of local tastes or transitory fashions. But true criticism is cosmopolitan. It tests merit according to the standard of the nature on which it is founded, not overlooking excellence in whatever respect or degree. A truly catholic view of art is the result only of its universal study. The critic may be just to all inspirations, and yet enjoy his own preferences. But, as Blackwood observes, too many "are self-endowed with the capacity to judge all matters relating to the fine arts just in proportion to the extent of their ignorance, because it is not difficult to condemn in general terms and to attain notoriety by shallow pretence." Neither "the narrowness of sect nor the noise of party" should be heard in this matter. As a great gallery should represent all phases of art through their several stages of progress and decay, meeting all wants and tastes, so criticism should be based upon a foundation equally broad,—not proud of its erudition nor dictatorial, but with due humility uttering its opinions, prompt to sustain them, and yet ever ready to listen and learn.
"Old masters" are almost a by-word of doubt or contempt in America, owing to the influx of cheap copies and pseudo-originals of no artistic value whatever. It is the more important, therefore, that they should be represented among us by such characteristic specimens as are still to be procured. Some modern artists are jealous of or indifferent to past genius, and sedulously disparage it in view of their own immediate interests. Bayle St. John, in his "Louvre," relates that he heard an associate of the Royal Academy deliberately and energetically declare, that, if it were in his power, he would slash with his knife all the works of the old masters, and thus compel people to buy modern. This spirit is both ungenerous and impolitic. If neither respect nor care for the works of departed talent be bestowed, what future has the living talent itself to look forward to? Art is best nourished by a general diffusion of aesthetic taste and feeling. There can be no invidious rivalry between the dead and the living. Alfred Tennyson looks not with evil eye upon John Milton. Why should a modern be jealous of a mediaeval artist? The public can love and appreciate both. Nor should it be forgotten that it is precisely in those countries where old art is most appreciated that the modern is most liberally sustained.
"Patience hath borne the bruise, and I the stroke."
"I think she's a-sinkin', Doctor," sobbed old Aunt Rhody, the nurse, as she came out of Mary Scranton's bed-room into the clean kitchen, where Doctor Parker sat before the fire, a hand on either knee, staring at the embers, and looking very grave.
Doctor Parker got up from the creaky chair, and went into the bed-room. It was very small, very clean, and two sticks of wood on the old iron dogs burned away gradually, and softened the cool April air.
Before this pretence of a fire sat an elderly woman, with grave, set features, an expression of sense and firmness, but a keen dark eye that raised question of her temper. Miss Lovina Perkins was her style, being half-aunt to the unpleasant-colored baby she now tended, rolled up in a flannel shawl, and permitted to be stupid undisturbedly, since its mother was dying.
Dying, evidently; she had not been conscious for several hours. Her baby had not had its welcome; she knew nothing, cared for nothing, felt nothing but the chill of the blood that stood still in her veins, and the choking of the heart that hardly beat.
Poor child! poor widow! Her head lay on the pillow, white as the linen, but of a different tint,—the indescribable pallor that you know and I know, who have seen it drawn over a dear face,—a tint that is best unknown, that cannot be reproduced by pen or pencil. Yet, for all its pallor, you saw at once that this face was still young, had been lovely, a true New-England beauty, quaint and trim and delicate as the slaty-gray snow-bird, with its white breast, and soft, bright eyes, that haunts the dusky fir-trees and dazzling hill-side slopes when no other bird dare show itself,—a quiet, shy creature, full of innocent trust and endurance, its chirp and low repetition dearer than the gay song of lark or robin, because a wintry song.
But Mary Perkins had never been called handsome in Deerfield; if they said she was "a real pretty girl," it only meant kindly and gentle, in the Connecticut vernacular; and Tom Scranton, the village joiner, was first to find out that the delicate, oval face, with its profuse brown hair, its mild hazel eyes, and smiling mouth, was "jest like a pictur'." So Tom and Mary duly fell in love, got married,—nobody objecting,—went West, and eight months afterward Mary came home with a coffin. Tom had fallen from a ladder, been taken up and brought home dead, and she had travelled back five hundred miles to bury him in Deerfield, beside his father and mother; for he was their only son.
There were about a hundred dollars left for Mary. She could not work now, and she went to board with her half-sister, the Deerfield tailoress.
Mary Scranton was only nineteen; but she did not want to live,—not even for her baby's sake. All her sunshine and her strength went out of this world with Tom, and she had no energy to care to live without him. She did not say so to her sister,—for Miss 'Viny would have scolded her smartly,—nor did she tell Doctor Parker; but she prayed about it, and kept it in her heart all those silent days that she sat sewing baby-clothes, and looking forward to an hour that should, even through a death-agony, take her to Tom. She thought the baby would die, too, and then they should all be together;—for Mary had a positive temperament, without hope, because without imagination; what she had possessed and lost eclipsed with her all uncertainties of the future; and she thought seven times of Tom where she once thought of her child, though she took pains to make its garments ready, and knit its tiny socks, and lay the lumbering old cradle, that she had been rocked in, with soft and warm wrappings, lest, indeed, the child should live longer than its mother. So she sat in Miss 'Viny's bed-room in an old rush-bottomed rocking-chair, sewing and sewing, day after day, the persistent will and intent to die working out its own fulfilling, her white lips growing more and more bloodless, her transparent cheek more wan, and the temples, from which her lustreless hair was carelessly knotted away, getting more hollow and clear and sharp-angled.
And now she lay on the bed, one hand under her cheek, the other picking restlessly at the blanket,—for consciousness was fluttering back.
"Give me the brandy, Aunt Rhody," said Doctor Parker, softly.
He poured a few drops into the spoon she brought, and held it to Mary's lips. The potent fluid stung the nerves into life again, and quickened the flickering circulation; her thin fingers lay quiet, her eyes opened and looked clear and calm at the Doctor. He tried to rouse her with an interest deeper to most women than their own agony or languor.
"You've got a nice little girl, Mary," said he, cheerfully.
The ghost of a smile lit her face.
"I'm content," said she, in a low whisper.
Aunt Rhody brought the baby and laid it on its mother's arm. The child stirred and cried, but Mary took no notice; her eyes were fixed and glazing. Suddenly she smiled a brilliant smile, stretched both arms upward, dropping her baby from its place. Only for one moment that recognizing look defied death and welcomed life; her arms dropped, her jaw fell;—it was over.
"I guess you'd better take the baby into the kitchen, Miss Loviny," said Aunt Rhody; "'tisn't considered lucky to keep 'em round where folks has died."
"Luck a'n't anything," grimly returned Lovina, who had squeezed her tears back, lest the two or three that inclined to fall should spot the baby's blanket; "but I'm goin' to take her out into the kitchen, because I calculate to open the winder in here."
So the baby and Aunt 'Viny went out.
It was a new thing and a hard thing for Lovina Perkins to have a baby on her hands; she would rather have charged herself with the care of a farm, or the building of a house; she could work, she could order, plan, regulate, and execute; but what to do with a baby? There it lay, helpless, soft, incapable, not to be scolded, or worked, or made responsible in any way, the most impracticable creature possible: a kitten she could have put into a basket at night, and set in the shed; a puppy she could and would have drowned; but a baby, an unlucky, red, screeching creature, with a soul, was worse than all other evils. However, she couldn't let it die; so she went after some milk, and, with Aunt Rhody's help, after much patient disgust, taught the child how to live, and it lived.
Mary Scranton was buried next to Tom, and the June grass grew over both their graves, and people thought no more about it; only every now and then Doctor Parker came to Miss Perkins's house to ask after "baby," who grew daily fat and fair and smiling; and on one of these occasions he met the minister, Parson Goodyear, who had come, as Miss 'Viny expressed it, "o' purpose to take me to do, because I ha'n't presented the child for baptism."
"Fact is," continued she, "I ha'n't an idea what to call her. I don't favor callin' of her Mary, because that was her mother's name, and I couldn't think of two on 'em at once; and Scripter names are generally rather ha'sh. Miss Parker, Doctor, kind of favored her bein' called Aribelly, because there was one of that name rather come over in the Mayflower; but I think it's too mighty for a child that's got to work;—what do you say?"
"I think you're right, Miss 'Viny," said the Doctor, as gravely as he could.
"I don't believe in fine names myself. I should think you might do worse than to call the baby Content;—that was your own mother's name, wasn't it? and it was the last word Mary spoke."
"Well, now, that's quite an idea, Doctor! I guess I will."
"And you will present her on the first Sabbath in May?" said Parson Goodyear.
"Well, yes, if I'm spared," said Aunt 'Viny; and, being spared, on that sweet May-Sunday she carried the smiling little child up the aisle of the meeting-house, and had it baptized Content.
Strange to say,—yet not all strange,—before it was a year old, the baby had found its way quite down into the middle of Aunt 'Viny's heart. To be sure, it was a deal of trouble; it would ache and cry in a reasonless way, when nobody could tell what ailed it; it would take a great amount of caring-for with ungrateful silence and utter want of demonstration for a long time;—but then it was so helpless! —irresistible plea to a woman!—and under all Miss 'Viny's rough exterior, her heart was as sweet as the kernel of a butternut, though about as hard to discover. True, she was hard of feature, and of speech, as hundreds of New-England women are. Their lives are hard, their husbands are harder and stonier than the fields they half-reclaim to raise their daily bread from, their existence is labor and endurance; no grace, no beauty, no soft leisure or tender caress mitigates the life that wears itself away on wash-tubs, cheese-presses, churns, cooking-stoves, and poultry; but truth and strength and purity lie clear in these rocky basins, and love lurks like a jewel at the bottom,—visible only when some divine sun-ray lights it up,—love as true and deep and healthy as it is silent and unknown.
So Miss 'Viny's hardness gave way before "baby." She could not feel unmoved the tiny groping hands about her in the night, the soft beatings of the little heart against her arm, the round downy head that would nestle on her neck to be rocked asleep; she could not resist that exquisite delight of miserable, exacting, feminine nature,—the knowledge that one thing in the world loved her better than anybody else. Sorry am I to betray this weakness of Aunt 'Viny's,—sorry to know how many strong-minded, intellectual, highly educated and refined women will object to this mean and jealous sentiment in a woman of like passions with themselves. I know, myself, that a lofty love will regard the good of the beloved object first, and itself last,—that jealousy is a paltry and sinful emotion; but, my dear creatures, I can't help it,—so it was. And if any one of you can, with a serene countenance and calm mind, see your husband devote himself to a much prettier, more agreeable, younger woman than yourself,—or hear your own baby scream to go from you to somebody else,—or even behold your precious female friend, your "congenial soul," as the Rosa Matilda literature hath it, fascinated by a young woman or young man to the neglect of yourself,—although in one and all of these instances the beloved object seeks his or her best good,—then let that superhuman female throw a stone at Aunt 'Viny;—but for the present she will not be lapidated.
Never, indeed, had she been quite as happy as now. Her life had been a routine of hard work. Love and marriage had never looked over the palings at her; and—to tell the truth—she had not suffered by their neglect, in her own estimation. She was one of those supernumerary women who are meant to do other people's work in life: servants, nurses, consolers; accepting their part with unconscious humility as a matter of course; quite as good as the Santas and Santissimas of legend and chronicle, and not nearly so intrusive. So this new phase had its own sweetness and special charm for Aunt 'Viny; the happiest hour in her day lying between daylight and dark, when waistcoats and jackets and trousers were laid aside, the dim light forbidding her to sew, and economy delaying the lamp,—so she could with a clear conscience spare half an hour, while the tea-kettle boiled, for undressing "baby," rubbing the little creature down,—much as a groom might have done, only with a loving touch not kept for horses,—enduing it with a long night-gown, and toasting its shell-pink feet at the fire, till, between the luxury of ease and warmth and tending, "baby" cooed herself to sleep, and lay along Miss 'Viny's lap like a petted kitten, the firelight playing soft lights over its fair head, sealed eyelids, and parted lips, tinting the relaxed arm and funny dimpled fist with a rosy glow, while Aunt 'Viny's face took on a tender brooding gleam that nobody who had seen her in church on Sunday, severely crunching fennel, or looking daggers at naughty boys, could have believed possible. But this expression is an odd wonder-worker. I saw but the other day a bad-eyed, bronzed, "hard-favored" Yankee, with a head all angles, a dirty face, the air of a terrified calf, and the habiliments of a poor farmer; I looked at him aristocratically, and thanked the Lord for my mind, my person, and my manners, in true Pharisaic triumph,—when his little blue-eyed daughter came round the corner and pulled at the tail of his ragged coat. Why, the man was transfigured! I wondered he was willing to shake hands with me when I left him; I knew before that his hands were brown and big and dirty, and mine were little and white and soap-scented; but I thought afterwards I'd as lief have been Peter as myself just then,—and I think so still. Wherefore, young ladies all, learn from this that the true cestus, fabled——No! I shall make an essay on that matter some day; I will not inflict it here.
So, by dint of hard work, Aunt 'Viny brought up her dead sister's child in the way it should go, nor ever for one moment grudged her labor or her time. Neither did she spoil Content by over-indulgence; her good sense kept the child unharmed, taught her hardy and self-reliant habits, made her useful all the time, and, even if Nature had not been beforehand with her, would have made her happy. But 'Tenty had her father's firm and sunny character; she never cried but for good reason, and then screamed lustily and was over with it; fretting was out of the question,—she did not know how; her special faults were a strong will and a dogged obstinacy,—faults Miss 'Viny trained, instead of eradicating; so that 'Tenty emerged from district-school into the "'Cademy's" higher honors as healthy and happy an individual as ever arrived at the goodly age of fourteen without a silk dress or a French shoe to peacock herself withal. Every morning, rain or shine, she carried her tin pail to Doctor Parker's for milk, hung on the tea-kettle, set the table, wiped the dishes, weeded a bit of the prolific onion-bed, then washed her hands and brushed her hair, put on the green sun-bonnet or the blue hood, as the weather pleased, and trotted off to school, where she plodded over fractions, and wearied herself out with American history, and crammed geography, and wrote copies, for a whole year, when Aunt 'Viny thought she might learn her trade, being a stout girl of fifteen, and the 'Cademy knew her no more.
There is but little incident in a New-England village of the Deerfield style and size,—full of commonplace people, who live commonplace lives, in the same white and brown and red houses they were born in, and die respectably in their beds, and are quietly buried among the mulleins and dewberry-vines in the hill-side graveyard. Mary Scranton's life and death, though they possessed the elements of a tragedy, were divested of their tragic interest by this calm and pensive New-England atmosphere. Nothing so romantic had happened there for many years, or did occur again for more; yet nobody knew a romance had come and gone. People in Deerfield lived their lives with a view to this world and the next, after the old Puritanic fashion somewhat modified, and so preserved the equilibrium. No special beauty of the town attracted summer-visitors. It was a village of one street, intended to be straight, crossing a decorous brook that turned the mill, and parting itself just below the church and the "store," to accommodate a small "green," where the geese waddled, hissed, and nibbled Mayweed all summer, and the boys played ball sometimes after school. There was a post-office in the "store," beside boots, sugar, hams, tape, rake-tails, ploughs, St. Croix molasses, lemons, calico, cheese, flour, straw hats, candles, lamp-oil, crackers, and rum,—a good assortment of needles and thread, a shelf of school-books, a seed-drawer, tinware strung from the ceiling, apples in a barrel, coffee-mills and brooms in the windows, and hanging over the counter, framed and glazed, the following remarkable placard, copied out in a running hand:—
No Credit Will be Given in This Store after This Date. Under no circumstances whatever. My Reasons
I cannot buy goods or do business without cash, and as the bulk of my capital is now trusted out with the promise to pay which that promise has never been full filled I deem it a duty to myself and my Cash paying customers to sell goods for cash at the lowest market price.
I shall indeavor make it an interest of my customers to pay cash for all goods purchas by them. I shall offer goods at reduced rates as an inducement for all to pay cash.
If I am asked if I give credit I want this to be my answer
Distrust not, O reader! This is verbatim et literatim a copy.
In front of the "store" was a hay-scale, across the way a tavern, and, at respectful distances along the street, white or red houses, with the inevitable front-door, south-door, kitchen-and shed-floor, lilacs and altheas before the windows, fennel, tiger-lilies, sweet-brier, and Bargundy rosebushes, with red "pinies" and livid hydrangeas, or now and then a mat of stonecrop and "voilets" along the posy-bed that edged cabbage and potato-plots, while, without the fence, Bouncing-Bets adorned the road-side, or blue sea-pinks from the pasture-lot strayed beyond its rails.
Nothing happened in Deerfield; so nothing happened to "'Tenty Scran'," as the school-children nicknamed her. She earned her living now at tailoring and dress-making; for Miss 'Viny was much "laid up with rheumatiz," and could not go about as was her wont. Also, the art and mystery of housekeeping became familiar to the child, and economy of the domestic sort was a virtue she learned unconsciously by continual practice. She went to church on Sundays in a clean calico frock and a white cape, sat in the singers' seat and uplifted her voice in Lenox and Mear, Wells and Bethesda, shared her fennel with the children in the gallery, looked out the text in her Bible, and always thought Parson Goodyear's sermon was intended for her good, and took it in accordingly.
I should like to say that 'Tenty Scran' was pretty; in fact, I have always regarded it as one of the chief pleasures of a literary calling, that you are not obliged to take people as they are, but can make them to order, since it takes no more pen-scratches to describe luxuriant curls and celestial eyes and roseate lips than it does to set forth much less lovely things; but when it comes to stubborn facts, why, there you have to come down to this world, and proceed accordingly,—so I must say 'Tenty was not handsome. She had fresh rosy cheeks and small brown eyes, hair to match the eyes, a nose undeniably pug, a full, wide mouth, and strong, white teeth,—fortunately, since every one showed when she laughed, and she laughed a great deal. Then she had a dumpy figure, and good large hands and feet, a look of downright honesty and good-temper, and a nice, clear voice in speech or singing, though she only sang hymns. But for all this, every-body in Deerfield liked 'Tenty Scran'; old and young, men and maidens, all had a kindly welcome for her; and though Aunt 'Viny did not say much, she felt the more.
But "everybody has their sorrers," as Hannah-Ann Hall remarked, in one of her "'Cademy" compositions, and 'Tenty came to hers when she was about twenty-two. Miss Lovina was almost bed-ridden with the rheumatism that year, and 'Tenty had to come back twice a day from her work to see to her, so that she made it up by staying evenings, against her usual rules. Now about the middle of that May, Doctor Parker's scapegrace son Ned came home from sea,—a great, lazy, handsome fellow, who had run away from Deerfield in his fifteenth year, because it was so "darned stupid," to use his own phrase. Doctor Parker was old, and Mrs. Parker was old, too, but she called it nervous; and home was stupider than ever to Ned, particularly as he had broken his ankle and was laid on the sofa for a good six weeks at least. About the second of those weeks, Content Scranton came to "do over" Mrs. Parker's summer-gowns, and put her caps together after their semi-annual starching.
Of course 'Tenty sat in the "keeping-room," where the old sofa was; and of course Ned had nothing better to do than to watch the gay, good little bee at her toil, hear her involuntary snatches of hymn-singing, laugh at her bright simplicity, and fall in love with her, sailor-fashion,—"here to-day, and gone tomorrow."
'Tenty stayed a long time at Mrs. Parker's that summer; she seemed to get on so slowly with her work, but, as Mrs. Parker said,—
"Why, the fact of it is, 'Tenty is so handy and so spry, I can't see how to spare her. Ed'ard, he wants a sight of waitin' on; and I am so nervous, and husband is afflicted with neuralogy, beside that he is considerable in years, so we can't be around as we used to be; and 'Tenty steps about and gets Ed'ard his books, and his victuals, and fixes his pillows, and keeps the light out of his eyes, so't he isn't contented a moment of time without she's right there."
And while Mrs. Parker was conveying these ideas to Miss 'Viny, they were being illustrated in her own house after this fashion:—
"'Tenty," (three weeks had abolished the Miss,) "won't you give me that blue book off the shelf?"
'Tenty sprang up and handed the book, and went to her work again, beginning under her breath to hum
"Sweet fields beyond"——
"Dear me! this pillow has slipped away. 'Tenty, won't you fix it?"
Jump the second;—the pillow is put straight under Ned's dark curls, though he is so helpless she has to raise his head with one arm and arrange the cushion with the other; then the seam and hymn recommence.
"Sweet fields beyond the swelling"—-
"I wish I had a drink of cold water."
Jump the third;—'Tenty finishes her hymn on the way to the well, and brings the water, and holds the invalid up to drink it, and then the pillows fall again, and the book slips down, and everything goes wrong and has to be re-arranged, and at length 'Tenty goes back to her place by the window quite indisposed to sing, but glowing with a new, shy pleasure, for Ned had looked up at her with those great gray eyes that said so much more than his lips did, and laid his cheek against the stubbed hand that arranged his pillows, and said,—"Oh, 'Tenty! how good you are!" in tones that meant, "and how I love you!" as well, though he did not say it.
So matters progressed from day to day, Ned needing more and more care, till he made his first progress across the room with a cane and the help of 'Tenty's shoulder; after which experiment he began to recover rapidly, impelled by the prospect of getting away from that house and being free to go where he chose again.
For 'Tenty had ceased to amuse or interest him as much as she had done; six weeks had done away with the novelty of her deepening color and shy dropping eyes; beside, she laughed less, almost ceased to sing, sighed softly, and looked quiet and grave, instead of gay and unconscious. It was the old fable of sport to the boys and death to the frogs. She thought he was in earnest; he knew he was amusing himself.
Miss 'Viny noticed the change in her darling, but she was a woman who had acquired wisdom by experience, and she said nothing; she only grew more exacting of 'Tenty's presence, wanted her earlier in the evening, found fault with her food, and behaved generally so unlike her usual stern patience, that Content was really roused out of her dreaminess to wonder what ailed Aunt 'Viny.
As soon as Ned Parker was able to get out of doors again, he was heard of in every house in the village, making himself agreeable after his own fashion,—drinking hard cider with the old farmers, praising their wives' gingerbread and spruce-beer, holding skeins for the girls, going on picnics, huckleberryings, fishing-excursions, apple-bees, riding Old Boker, his father's horse, bare-backed down the street, playing ball on the green, and frequenting singing-school with one pretty girl and another, till all Deerfield shook its head and remarked that "That 'ere Ned Parker was a master-hand for carryin' on." And 'Tenty sewed harder than ever.
What makes me always put love into a story, Aunt Grundy? Why, because love is popular; because nine-tenths of the people who read smile to see the first and faintest hint of the tender passion in what they read; because a story without love is like bricks without straw; because a life without it is a life no doubt comfortable to lead, but uninteresting to hear. Love is your only democrat; Ethelinda in Fifth Avenue, glittering with the clear splendor of diamonds, and rustling like a white-birch-swamp with pale silks, gleaming through the twilight before an opera, and looking violets at Sydney Hamilton over the top of her inlaid fan, is no more thrilled and rapt and tortured by the Disturber in Wings, than Biddy in the kitchen, holding tryst with her "b'y" at the sink-room window. Thousands of years ago, Theseus left Ariadne tearing the ripples of her amber-bright hair, and tossing her white arms with the tossing surf, in a vain agony of distraction and appeal: poets have sung the flirtation, painters have painted it; the story is an eternal legend of pain and passion, illuminated with lucent tints of age and the warm South, outlined with the statuesque purity of classic scenery and classic diction: but I myself never for a moment believed that Ariadne was a particle more unhappy or pitiable than Nancy Bunker, our seamstress, was, when Hiram Fenn went West to peddle essences, and married a female Hoosier whose father owned half a prairie. They would by no means make as lovely a picture; for Nancy's upper jaw projects, and she has a wart on her nose, very stiff black hair, and a shingle figure, none of which adds grace to a scene; and Hiram went off in the Slabtown stage, with a tin-box on his knees, instead of in a shell-shaped boat with silken sails; but I know Nancy reads love-stories with great zest, and I know she had a slow fever after Hiram was married. For, after all, love is the same thing ever since Paradise,—the unwearying tradition, the ever new presence, the rapture or the anguish unspeakable; and while 'Tenty Scran' sat and sewed at Squire Hall's new linen pantaloons, she set every stitch with a sigh, and sewed on every button with a pang that would have made Ariadne put both arms round her, and kiss her long and close, a sister in bonds,—though purple robes with jewelled borders, crescented pearls, and armlets of gold, would not have been at all congruous hugging a sixpenny calico with a linen collar.
Not that Ned neglected 'Tenty; he could not follow her about from house to house, and she had done sewing for his mother, and in the evening Aunt 'Viny always needed her. But more than once he joined her after church, walked home to the door with her, and cheered her simple soul with his familiar looks and tones, and words of praise that made Adriadne Scran' think Theseus Parker a little more than mere man, something altogether adorable. However, she knew he was having a very good time when he didn't see her at all. The real reason why she ached and sighed over Squire Hall's pantaloons was, that she heard Ned in the next room helping Hannah-Ann Hall pack up the dinner for their grand Snake Hill picnic, and diverting the same Hannah-Ann with such wit and humor and frolic, that she declared several times she should split, and begged him not to be so funny.
Now 'Tenty never had a pleasant day, unless Ned was with her,—it had got as far as that; and the idea that he could and did enjoy himself so thoroughly and heartily without her was a dull pang that ate into her soul continually, and made her forlorn. Oh, these women! these pitiful creatures! not magnanimity enough in a whole race of them to be visible to the naked eye! jealous dogs-in-the-manger! If they weren't useful domestically, I should vote for having them exterminated from this great generous world, and give place to some better institution, which no doubt could be got up by the india-rubber companies or the scientific conventions. But as Alphonso of Castile did not make the world, one must take it as it is; and I will say, for the encouragement of philosophers, that I have known one magnanimous woman, and she a beautiful woman, moreover.
So 'Tenty sewed, and ached, and made Aunt 'Viny's bed and her gruel, read her Bible and prayed for Ned Parker, and thought she was growing very old, till one night he asked her to go to singing-school with him; whereupon she put on a pink calico dress, and began to recover her youth most wonderfully.
They went to Master Solon's singing-school, it is true; but they never got home to Aunt 'Viny's till half past nine, and 'Tenty never could remember what tunes they sang; and the singers in church next Sunday asked her why she didn't come in when she got as far as the door, and 'Tenty said she thought the benches were all full! Truth, stern tutor of the historian, compels me to confess that 'Tenty and Ned Parker were sitting on the meeting-house steps most of that evening, in a touching attitude; for Ned was telling her how his ship had come into port and was going to sail again for South America, and he had an offer to join her as second mate; so he had got to say goodbye to his kind little nurse, and so forth and so on, with admonitions never to forget him, and how he never should forget her, and here was a little locket; and finally, sobered by her stifled sobs, Ned bent down his handsome head, and said, softly,—
"Won't you kiss me for good-bye, 'Tenty?"
Dear me! of course she kissed him, and thought how good he was to kiss her, and told him so. Whereupon he got better and better; and when the sexton came to ring the bell for nine o'clock, they only just heard his steps in time to steal away unobserved through the starry darkness, and go round past the pine-grove. So reaching home at the aforesaid late hour, where Mr. Ned became good again when he stooped to unlatch the gate, 'Tenty looked so fresh and rosy and sweet when she came in, that Aunt 'Viny growled to herself, found fault with her gruel, scolded at the blanket, tipped over the teacup, and worried 'Tenty back into stern reality, till the girl stole off to her bed. Not to sleep,—oh, no! Waste such sweetness on sleep? Never! She lay there, broad awake, and thought it all over, and how very nice it was to have anybody love her so much, and how she should like to be handsome and smart and worthy so much honor, till the cock crowed for dawn, and then she fell asleep, nowise daunted by the recollection that Ned had said nothing to her except that she was as sweet as a ripe blackberry and as pretty as a daisy; for to her innocent logic actions spoke louder than words, and she knew that anybody who did so (?) must love her enough to marry her.
So Ned sailed for Valparaiso, and 'Tenty stayed at home. Aunt 'Viny got no better in all those winter-snows and blows; they are not favorable to rheumatism, these New-England airs; so 'Tenty had enough to do; but she was happy and contented. And winter crept by and merged into spring, and spring into autumn, before Deerfield heard any news of Ned Parker; though, in the mean time, one report after another of his being engaged to various girls, at length settling with marked weight on Hannah-Ann Hall, spread over the village and was the theme of Sunday-noon gossips and sewing-society meetings, greatly to 'Tenty's contempt and amusement,—though the contempt was too bitter and the amusement too tremulous to be pleasant. For did not she know better? People don't kiss people when they don't like them: a self-evident proposition, but one that required some assertion and repetition to weigh its right weight in her mind.
Poor little 'Tenty! In that cold November there came a letter to Doctor Parker just as he was getting out of his gig, after a round of visits. The postmaster, going home to dinner, handed it to him, and, going back from dinner, was called in to lift him up-stairs to his bed. Ned Parker had been wrecked off the Horn, the crew took to their boats, and only one boat, with one surviving man to tell the tale, was picked up by a whaler coming back to New Bedford from the Pacific; all the rest were gone. Doctor Parker was old and feeble; this only child was all he had; paralysis smote his body when the smitten mind bowed before that dire knowledge, and he never looked up again. Content would have given anything to go and nurse him; but she, too, was stunned, and in the whirl of that great grief even Aunt 'Viny's demands were no more to her than a dull mechanic routine that she could hardly force her trembling steps to carry through. So she stayed at home, sewing all day and crying all night, and looking generally miserable, though she said nothing; for whom could she speak to? Aunt 'Viny had resolutely kept her suspicions about Ned Parker to herself, though well she knew who had walked home from meeting with 'Tenty in those pleasant autumn Sundays now gone, pleasure and all. But Miss 'Viny believed in silence on such matters, and had held her peace; now it was too late to break it. Nor was 'Tenty disposed to tell her anything; for it occurred for the first time to her innocent soul that she had nothing to tell. So they both went on their way, with secret pity and still endurance.
After a brief illness of three days, poor old Doctor Parker's weary soul and body gave out; he died on a Thursday afternoon, and, in country-fashion, it was proposed to bury him on Sunday, from the church. Sunday came, cold and raw and blustering. 'Tenty took her usual seat in the gallery, but took it early, that she might see the "mourners" come in and fill the front pews kept for them. She wiped away the tears from her eyes, and looked on with a feeling of half envy, thinking of the son to whom no funeral honors should ever now be paid, slumbering in the cruel seas that break and roar about the Horn. She counted the bearers, all known faces; she watched Parson Goodyear into the pulpit; she saw Mrs. Parker on her brother's arm. But there was one other veiled female figure, shrouded also in black, whose presence she could no way account for; and when Parson Goodyear made his first long prayer, and sent up an earnest petition for the doubly bereaved woman before him, what did he mean by adding,—"And Thine other handmaid, in the bloom of her years bereaved of hope and promise,—her whom Thou hast afflicted from afar off, and made a widow before Thee"? What did it mean? 'Tenty's breath fluttered, and she turned cold. Just at that moment, one of her neighbors murmured under her bonnet,—"That's Hanner-Ann, next to Miss Parker; only to think how sly she's kep' it a hull year! And she engaged to Ed'ard all that time! I wouldn't never ha' believed it, ef she hadn't had his letters to show for't, an' a gold watch he gin her; an' Miss Parker says she's knowed it all the time."
Little more did 'Tenty know of psalm or sermon; some whirling sounds passed her, and then a rush of people. She was last to leave the church; and when she got home, and went to make Miss 'Viny's tea, as she tilted the long well-sweep down and up to draw her pail of water, she looked earnestly down the depths of crystal, as if to see what lay below, then quietly opened her left hand above it;—something bright fell, dashed the clear drops from a fern that grew half-way down, tinkled against a projecting stone, made a little splash, and was gone. 'Tenty took up her pail and went into the shed; and Ned Parker's locket lies at the bottom of the well, for all I know, to this day. Thenceforth 'Tenty cried no more; though for many weeks she was grave, wretched, pining.
Winter set in with furious storms and heavy snows, but, strange to say, Aunt 'Viny grew better; she could sit up; at length could move about; and at last, one night when she sat by the fire knitting, suddenly looked up at 'Tenty and said,—
"You haven't seen Miss Parker lately, have you, Content?"
'Tenty shivered a little.
"No, I have not, Aunt 'Viny."
"Well, it appears as though you should go and see her; she's a weakly woman, but she can set her back up dreadful against the Lord's doings, and I don't know but what such kind of people need comfortin' more 'n others. It's a world full o' gales, this is, and everybody hasn't learnt the grass's lesson, to bend when the wind blows."
"The Lord sends the wind, Aunt 'Viny."
"The Lord sends everything, only folks don't allow it; they'd ruther lay it to the door of man, so's to feel free to worry. But the worst thing He ever does send to people is their own way, 'Tenty; and you'll know it before you die."
'Tenty turned away to her work, hardly convinced by Miss 'Viny's wisdom, and inwardly thinking she should like to try her own way for all that. However, 'Tenty suffered far less than she might have done, for indignation helped her; the feeling that Ned Parker had deliberately amused himself with her, while she was in mortal earnest, had lowered him not a little from his height. Then Aunt 'Viny's care diverted her sad thoughts from herself, by sending her upon daily errands to the poor and the sick, so that 'Tenty's pleasant face and voice became the hope of the hour to more than one poverty-stricken or dying woman; and so her own grief, measured by theirs, shrank and withdrew itself day by day, and became something she could now and then forget. And more than all, her naturally sweet temperament and healthy organization helped her to recover.
Myriads have died of a broken heart, no doubt, but it was physiologically broken; grief torments into sleeplessness, sleeplessness destroys the appetite, then strength goes, the circulation fails, and any latent evil lurking in the constitution springs on the helpless and willing victim and completes its work. This is a shockingly unromantic and material view to take of the matter, and brings to nought poems by the hundred and novels by the thousand; but is it not, after all, more true to God and human nature to believe in this view than to think He made men or women to be the sport of passion and circumstance, even to their destruction?
'Tenty Scran' was too healthy to break her heart,—and too unselfish; so she gradually recovered her bright bloom, and went to her work, and took care of Aunt 'Viny, as energetically and gayly as ever. Hannah-Ann Hall married a lawyer from Meriden, and moved away, quite consoled for Ned, within three years; but 'Tenty favored no lovers, though one or two approached her. There are some—women who are like the aloe,—their life admits of but one passion. It comes late and lasts long, but never is repeated; the bloom dies out of its resplendence and odor, but no second flowering replaces it. She was one of these. But what one man lost in her love, a thousand of her fellow-creatures gained. 'Tenty was the Deerfield blessing, though she never knew it herself. All the sick wanted her; all the children pulled at her gown, and smiled at her from their plays; her heart and her hands were so full, no regret found place to nestle there, and silence brooded dove-like over that sorrowful time gone by.
After a while, some ten years after Ned Parker's death, Miss 'Viny took to her bed again,—this time never to rise. Slow consumption had fastened on her, and she knew well what was before her, for so had her mother died; but no saint was ever more patient than she. 'Tenty was the best of nurses, and had even learned to speak of her aunt's death without a tremor in her voice, the last triumph of her unselfishness; for Miss 'Viny could bear no agitation, and yet needed to speak of the event she neither dreaded nor desired.
"'Tenty," said she, one day, "I feel a sight easier to leave you than if you'd married Ned Parker."
"Why, Aunty?" said Content, a light blush only testifying her surprise at this address.
"Because he was a selfish feller; he always was. I believe some women are better off to marry, though I can't say but what I believe a single state is as good; but a woman that gets a real lazy, selfish feller gets pretty near the worst thing there is. I seemed kind of hard, 'Tenty, them days, but I had feelin' enough."
"I don't doubt but what you had, Aunt 'Viny; only one can't see far ahead, you know, when it rains. I'm sure I've been as happy as a clam these last six years, and I don't calculate to resk that by gettin' married, never. Besides, I've learned what you used to call the grass's lesson, pretty well."
Here Parson Goodyear interrupted the conversation, and it never was resumed; for the week after, Miss 'Viny died, and Content was left alone in her little house, "to battle with the world," as people say. But no conflict ensued, since it takes two to make a quarrel, and 'Tenty was on good terms with the Deerfield world. So she lived on, peaceful and peace-making, till forty found her as comely and as happy as ever, a source of perpetual wonder to the neighbors, who said of her, "She has got the dreadfullest faculty of gettin' along I ever see," and thereby solved the problem, for all except one, and that other one 'Tenty's opposite in every trait, Miss Mehitable Hall, Hannah-Ann's older sister, an old maid of the straitest sect, and one who was nowise sustained under the inflictions of life by the consciousness of enough money to support her, and friends to care for her approaching age.
It was Miss Hitty Hall's delight to be miserable: rather an Irish expression, but the only one that suits her case. One bright October afternoon she came over to see Content, bringing her blue knitting, sure symptom of a visitation. 'Tenty welcomed her with her usual cordial homeliness, gave her the easiest chair she had, and commenced hospitalities.
"Do lay off your things, Miss Hall, and set awhile; I haven't seen you for quite a spell."
"Well, I don't really know how to," replied Miss Hitty. "I don't know but what everything will go to rack while I'm away. My help is dreadful poor,—I can't calculate for her noway. I shouldn't wonder if she was settin' in the keepin'-room this minute, looking at my best books."
"Oh, I guess not, Miss Hitty. Now do let me take off your bunnet, and make yourself easy. Bridget can't do much harm, and you're such a stranger."
"Well, I don't know but what I will,—there! Don't put yourself out for me, 'Tenty,—I'll set right here. Dear me! what a clever house this is! A'n't you lonesome? I do think it's dreadful to be left all alone in this wicked world; it appears as though I couldn't endure it noways, sometimes."
"Why, Miss Hitty! I'm sure you're extreme well off. Supposing, now, you had married a poor man, and had to work all your life,—or a cross man, always a-findin' fault, or"——
"Well, that's a consideration, re'lly.—Now there's Hanner-Ann's husband,—he's always nag-naggin' at her for something she's done or ha'n't done, the whole enduring time. She's real ailing, and he ha'n't no patience,—but then he's got means, and she wants for nothing. She had, to say, seven silk dresses, when I was there last time, and things to match,—that's something.—But I'm sure you have to work as hard as though you was a minister's wife, 'Tenty. I don't see how you do keep up."
"Oh, I like work, Miss Hitty. It kind of keeps my spirits up; and all the folks in Deerfield are as clever to me as though I belonged to 'em. I have my health, and I don't want for anything. I think I'm as well off as the Queen."
"You haven't had no great of troubles," groaned Miss Hitty. "I've suffered so many 'flictions I'm most tired out; them is what wears on people, 'flictions by death."
"I don't know," meekly answered 'Tenty; "I've had some, but I haven't laid 'em up much. I felt bad while they lasted; but I knew other folks's was so much worse, I was kind of shy about feelin' too bad over my troubles."
"Well, you've got a real faculty at takin' things easy; now I'm one of the feelin' kind. I set down often and often to knit, and get a-thinkin' over times back, and things people said and did years ago, and how bad I felt, till I feel jest so ag'in, and I get a-cryin' till it seems as though I should screech right out, and I can't sleep, nor I can't do nothing."
"A'n't you borrowin' trouble a little bit, Miss Hitty? I've kind of figured it out that it's best to let the things that's dead and done for stay so. I don't know as we've got any call to remember 'em. 'The Lord requireth that which is past,' it says in the Bible; and I've always looked upon that as a kind of a hint to men that it wa'n't their business, but the Lord's."
"Oh, it's all very well to talk, 'Tenty Scranton!—talk, do!—but 'tisn't so mighty easy to practise on't."
"Why, now, I think it's the easiest way, by a sight, Miss Hitty. I didn't mean to cast it up against you, for I know it's partly natur', but I do think folks can help natur' more'n they're generally willing to allow. I know it does seem as if you couldn't help thinkin' about troubles sometimes, and it's quite a chore to keep bright; but then it seems so much more cheery not to be fretted over things you can't help, and it is such a sight pleasanter for everybody else! I declare, it does seem jest as though the Lord had made this world for folks to have a good time in, only they don't all know how, and I always feel a call to help 'em."
"You're a master-piece to talk, 'Tenty,—but it don't make the difference with me it does with some folks; it seems as if I should ha' had a better time almost any way beside my way. I get more and more failin' every day,—I'm pretty near gone now. I don't know but what I shall die any time. I suffer so with rheumatiz, and I'm troubled considerable with a risin' of the lungs; and sometimes I do think I've got a spine in my back, it aches and creaks so nights."
"Why, I was thinking, since you set here, Miss Hitty, how spry you be, and you've got a real 'hullsome look to your face; I should say you'd grown fat."
"Fat!" exclaimed the indignant spinster; "about as fat as a hen's forehead! Why, Content Scranton! I'm dreadful poor,—poor as Job's turkey; why, my arms is all bones and sinners."
"You don't say so! I guess that's knitting, Miss Hitty; you do knit beautiful. Is that worsted or cotton you're at now?"
Praise allayed Miss Hitty's wounded self-pity. She grew amiable under its slow-dropping dews always, as 'Tenty knew.
"Oh, this a'n't anything to boast of. I call this common knitting; it's a pair of socks I promised Miss Warner for her boy. Speakin' of her boy Ned makes me think;—have you heared the news, 'Tenty?"
"No, I haven't heared any."
"Well, it's jest like a story-book. Ned Parker,—he't was Doctor Parker's son, an' promised to our Hanner-Ann,—he's turned up, it appears. He wa'n't drownded, but he was washed ashore, and the Indians they took him, and he wasn't able to get away for ten year; then a whaler's crew catched sight of him, havin' slopped there, for water, and took him aboard, and he's been the world over since. He calculated everybody to Deerfield was dead and married, so he didn't come back; but now he is a-comin' back, for he's lost a leg, and he's got some money, and they say he is a-goin' to settle down here."
"Has he come yet, Miss Hitty?"
"No, they're expectin' of him to Miss Warner's every day;—you know she was Miss Parker's half-brother's wife."
"Yes, I have heared she was. But, Miss Hitty, don't roll up your work."
"Oh, I must be a-goin',—it's time; my help will be standin' on her head by this time, like enough. I don't see but what one Irish girl is about as confinin' as seven children, I'm sure."
With which despairing remark, Miss Hitty put on her shawl and calash and departed; while Content filled her teakettle and prepared for supper.
But while the kettle boiled, she sat down by the window, and thought about Miss Hitty's news. Her first feeling was one of surprise at herself, a sort of sad surprise, to feel how entirely the love that once threatened to wreck her life had died out of it. Hard, indeed, it is to believe that love can ever die! The young girl clings passionately even to her grief, and rejects as an insult the idea that such deep regret can become less in all a lifetime,—that love, immortal, vital, all-pervading, can perish from its prime, and flutter away into dust like the dead leaves of a rose. Yet is it not the less true. Time, cold reason, bitter experience, all poison its life-springs; respect, esteem, admiration, all turn away from a point that offers no foothold for their clinging; and she who weeps to-day tears hot as life-blood ten years hereafter may look with cool distaste at the past passion she has calmly weighed and measured, and thank God that her wish failed and her hope was cut down. Yet there is a certain price to pay for all such experience, to such a heart as sat in the quieted bosom of Content. Had it been possible for her to love again, she would have felt the change in her nature far less; but with the stream, the fountain also had dried, and she was conscious that an aridness, unpleasant and unnatural, threatened to desolate her soul, and her conflict with this had been the hardest battle of all. It is so hard to love voluntarily,—to satisfy one's self with minor affections,—to know that life offers no more its grandest culmination, its divinest triumph,—to accept a succession of wax-lights because the sun and the day can return no more,—above all, to feel that the capacity of receiving that sunlight is fled,—that, so far, one's own power is eternally narrowed, like the loss of a right hand or the blinding of a right eye! Patience endures it, but even patience weeps to think how the fair intent of the Maker is marred,—to see the mutilated image, the brokenness of perfection!
Not that 'Tenty was conscious of all these ideas. They simplified themselves to her simple nature in a brief soliloquy, as she sat looking at the splendid haze of October, glorifying the scarlet maples and yellow elms of Deerfield Street, now steeped in a sunset of purpled crimson that struck its level rays across the sapphire hill-tops and transfigured briefly that melancholy earth dying into winter's desolations.
"Well, it is curious to think I ever cared so much for anybody as I did for Ned Parker! poor, selfish cre'tur', just playing with me for fun, as our kitty does with a mouse! and I re'lly thought he was a fine man! Live and learn, I declare for't! He let me know what kind of cre'turs men are, though. I haven't had to be pestered with one all my life, I'm thankful: that's one good thing to come out of evil. I don't know but what I should like to feel as wide awake again as I did then; but 'tisn't worth the price."
Saying which, Miss 'Tenty brewed her tea, spread her bread and butter, and with a bit of cheese made her savory meal, cleared it away, washed the dishes, and resumed her work as peacefully as if her life had been all as serene as today.
Ned Parker did come back to Deerfield, and settled there,—a coarse, red-faced, stout, sailor-like man, with a wooden leg. Ten years in Patagonia and ten years of whaling had not improved his aspect or his morals. He swore like a pirate, chewed, smoked a pipe, and now and then drank to excess; and by way of elegant diversion to these amusements, fell in love with Content Scranton! Her trim figure, her bright, cheerful face, her pretty, neat little house and garden, the rumored "interest-money," that was the fruit of years of hard work and saving, all attracted this lazy, selfish man, who, remembering his youth, fancied he had only to ask, to receive; and was struck with astonishment to hear,—
"No, thank you," in a very calm, clear tone, answered to his proposition.
"Good Lord! you women are queer craft! I swear, I thought you'd lay to when I h'isted signals; I ha'n't forgot past times and the meetin'-house steps, if you have, 'Tenty Scranton."
"You've forgotten Hannah-Ann Hall, I guess," retorted the indignant little woman.
Ned Parker swore a great oath; he had forgotten that passage,—though only for a moment.
"Look here!" said 'Tenty, coloring with quiet wrath. "I cannot be friendly, even, with a man that talks that way. You had your sport, makin' believe you liked me, and I didn't know better than to believe you was an honest man. I did think a sight of you then, Ed'ard Parker. I a'n't ashamed to own it. I had reason to,—for your actions was louder than words. But when I come to know you hadn't meant nothing by all your praises and kisses and fine words, except just to have your own fun while you stayed, no matter what become of me, I see, after I'd got the tears out of my eyes, what kind of a self-seekin', mean, paltry man it was that could carry on so with an innocent young girl, and I hadn't no more respect for you than I have for a potato-peeling. I've lived to bless the Lord that kept me from you, and I a'n't going to take my blessings back. It's because I do remember them times that I say No, now. Your locket is at the bottom of our well; but any love I had with it is drowned deeper, down to the bottom of nothing. I wish you well, and to mend your ways; but I don't want to see you here, never!"
After this pungent dismission, nothing was left for Ned Parker but to hobble from the house, cursing to himself for shame, while 'Tenty buried her face in her apron and cried as bitterly as if fifteen, instead of fifty, assailed her with its sorrows.
Why did she cry? Who knows? Perhaps, if you, my dear friend, longing for the face that bloomed, the lips that kissed, the eyes that smiled for you, years ago, should suddenly be confronted by those features, after years of death and decay had done their ghastly work on them, bones grinning from their clinging morsels of clay, you, too, might hide your head and cry with terror and disgust and regret. And again you might not. As I said before, who knows?
But after this, Content subsided into her peaceful routine. Ned Parker drank himself into delirium-tremens, spent all his money, and came upon the town. But at that juncture, the Reverend Everett Goodyear, Parson Goodyear's son and successor, interfered in his behalf, hired a room and a nurse for him, and had him taken care of in the most generous and faithful way for the remaining year-and-a-half of his life. Mr. Goodyear said he was acting for Parker's friends; some said he had a rich uncle, who was moved to compassion at last; some thought it was Hannah-Ann Hall; but only one person knew, and she said nothing.
The day Ned Parker died, the young minister stepped in to see 'Tenty Scran', and told her he was gone. Content did not cry nor smile.
"I'm glad he's rested," said she; "though I haven't no certainty about his state hereafter."
"You must leave that with the Lord, Miss Content," said Mr. Goodyear. "You have done what was right; you can't think He will do less."
"That's a fact; and now I expect my last trouble is over."
"But it has taken almost all your money," hesitatingly replied the minister.
"Well, that's the least of my concerns, Mr. Goodyear," smiled 'Tenty. "I'm spared my hands yet, and I sha'n't want for nothing while they last. When I get helpless, I expect the Lord will take care of me. I sha'n't worry about it till it comes."
"That is philosophy, certainly," said Mr. Goodyear.
"I don't know as it's that; but I guess it's six of common-sense and half-a-dozen of religion; I always thought they was near about the same thing. Fact is, people don't die of troubles in this world; they die of frettin' at 'em, only they don't seem to know it."
"According to that rule, you won't die this long time, Miss 'Tenty," said the minister, unable to resist a smile.
"Well, I don't know, Sir. I guess I shall live as long as I want to; and I expect I shall die content. I a'n't troubled."
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth," murmured Mr. Goodyear, as he walked away.
* * * * *
RECOLLECTIONS OF IRVING.
BY HIS PUBLISHER.
You are aware that one of the most interesting reunions of men connected with literary pursuits in England is at the annual dinner of the "Literary Fund,"—the management of which has been so often dissected of late by Dickens and others. It is a fund for disabled authors; and, like most other British charities, requires to be fed annually by a public dinner. A notable occasion of this kind happened on the 11th of May, 1842. It was at this that I first met Mr. Irving in Europe. The president of the festival was no less than the Queen's young husband, Prince Albert,—his first appearance in that (presidential) capacity. His three speeches were more than respectable, for a prince; they were a positive success. In the course of the evening we had speeches by Hallam and Lord Mahon for the historians; Campbell and Moore for the poets; Talfourd for the dramatists and the bar; Sir Roderick Murchison for the savans; Chevalier Bunsen and Baron Brunnow for the diplomatists; G. P. R. James for the novelists; the Bishop of Gloucester; Gally Knight, the antiquary; and a goodly sprinkling of peers, not famed as authors. Edward Everett was present as American Minister; and Washington Irving (then on his way to Madrid in diplomatic capacity) represented American authors. Such an array of speakers in a single evening is rare indeed, and it was an occasion long to be remembered.
The toasts and speeches were, of course, very precisely arranged beforehand, as etiquette requires, I suppose, being in the presence of "His Royal Highness," yet most of them were animated and characteristic. When "Washington Irving and American Literature" was propounded by the fugleman at the elbow of H.R.H., the cheering was vociferously hearty and cordial, and the interest and curiosity to see and hear Geoffrey Crayon seemed to be intense. His name appeared to touch the finest chords of genial sympathy and good-will. The other famous men of the evening had been listened to with respect and deference, but Mr. Irving's name inspired genuine enthusiasm. We had been listening to the learned Hallam, and the sparkling Moore,—to the classic and fluent author of "Ion," and to the "Bard of Hope,"—to the historic and theologic diplomate from Prussia, and to the stately representative of the Czar. A dozen well-prepared sentiments had been responded to in as many different speeches. "The Mariners of England," "And doth not a meeting like this make amends," had been sung, to the evident satisfaction of the authors of those lyrics—(Campbell, by-the-way, who was near my seat, had to be "regulated" in his speech by his friend and publisher, Moxon, lest H.R.H. should be scandalized). And now everybody was on tiptoe for the author of "Bracebridge Hall." If his speech had been proportioned to the cheers which greeted him, it would have been the longest of the evening. When, therefore, he simply said, in his modest, beseeching manner, "I beg to return you my very sincere thanks," his brevity seemed almost ungracious to those who didn't know that it was physically impossible for him to make a speech. It was vexatious that routine had omitted from the list of speakers Mr. Everett, who was at Irving's side; but, as diplomate, the Prussian and Russian had precedence, and as American author, Irving, of course, was the representative man. An Englishman near me said to his neighbor,—"Brief?" "Yes, but you can tell the gentleman in the very tone of his voice."
In the hat-room I was amused to see "little Tom Moore" in the crowd, appealing, with mock-pathos, to Irving, as the biggest man, to pass his ticket, lest he should be demolished in the crush. They left the hall together to encounter a heavy shower; and Moore, in his "Diary," tells the following further incident.
"The best thing of the evening (as far as I was concerned) occurred after the whole grand show was over. Irving and I came away together, and we had hardly got into the street, when a most pelting shower came on, and cabs and umbrellas were in requisition in all directions. As we were provided with neither, our plight was becoming serious, when a common cad ran up to me, and said,—'Shall I get you a cab, Mr. Moore? Sure, a'n't I the man that patronizes your Melodies?' He then ran off in search of a vehicle, while Irving and I stood close up, like a pair of male caryatides, under the very narrow protection of a hall-door ledge, and thought, at last, that we were quite forgotten by my patron. But he came faithfully back, and while putting me into the cab, (without minding at all the trifle I gave him for his trouble,) he said confidentially in my ear,—'Now mind, whenever you want a cab, Misthur Moore, just call for Tim Flaherty, and I'm your man.'—Now, this I call fame, and of somewhat more agreeable kind than that of Dante, when the women in the street found him out by the marks of hell-fire on his beard."
When I said that Mr. Irving could not speak in public, I had forgotten that he did once get through with a very nice little speech on such an occasion as that just alluded to. It was at an entertainment given in 1837, at the old City Hotel in New York, by the New York booksellers to American authors. Many of "the Trade" will remember the good things said on that evening, and among them Mr. Irving's speech about Halleck, and about Rogers the poet, as the "friend of American genius." At my request, he afterwards wrote out his remarks, which were printed in the papers of the day. Probably this was his last, if not his best effort in this line; for the Dickens-dinner remarks were not complete.
In 1845, Mr. Irving came to London from his post at Madrid, on a short visit to his friend, Mr. McLane, then American Minister to England. It was my privilege at that time to know him more domestically than before. It was pleasant to have him at my table at "Knickerbocker Cottage." With his permission, a quiet party of four was made up;—the others being Dr. Beattie, the friend and biographer of Campbell; Samuel Carter Hall, the litterateur, and editor of the "Art Journal"; and William Howitt. Irving was much interested in what Dr. Beattie had to tell about Campbell, and especially so in Carter Hall's stories of Moore and his patron, Lord Lansdowne. Moore, at this time, was in ill-health and shut up from the world. I need not attempt to quote the conversation. Irving had been somewhat intimate with Moore in former days, and found him doubtless an entertaining and lively companion,—but his replies to Hall about the "patronage" of my Lord Lansdowne, etc., indicated pretty clearly that he had no sympathy with the small traits and parasitical tendencies of Moore's character. If there was anything specially detestable to Irving and at variance with his very nature, it was that self-seeking deference to wealth and station which was so characteristic of the Irish poet.
I had hinted to one of my guests that Mr. Irving was sometimes "caught napping" even at the dinner-table, so that such an event should not occasion surprise. The conversation proved so interesting that I had almost claimed a victory, when, lo! a slight lull in the talk disclosed the fact that our respected guest was nodding. I believe it was a habit with him, for many years, thus to take "forty winks" at the dinner-table. Still, the conversation of that evening was a rich treat, and my English friends frequently thanked me afterwards for the opportunity of meeting "the man of all others whom they desired to know."
The term of Mr. Irving's contract with his Philadelphia publishers expired in 1843, and, for five years, his works remained in statu quo, no American publisher appearing to think them of sufficient importance to propose definitely for a new edition. Surprising as this fact appears now, it is actually true that Mr. Irving began to think his works had "rusted out" and were "defunct,"—for nobody offered to reproduce them. Being, in 1848, again settled in Now York, and apparently able to render suitable business-attention to the enterprise, I ambitiously proposed an arrangement to publish Irving's Works. My suggestion was made in a brief note, written on the impulse of the moment; but (what was more remarkable) it was promptly accepted without the change of a single figure or a single stipulation. It is sufficient to remark, that the number of volumes since printed of these works (including the later ones) amounts to about eight hundred thousand.
The relations of friendship—I cannot say intimacy—to which this arrangement admitted me were such as any man might have enjoyed with proud satisfaction. I had always too much earnest respect for Mr. Irving ever to claim familiar intimacy with him. He was a man who would unconsciously and quietly command deferential regard and consideration; for in all his ways and words there was the atmosphere of true refinement. He was emphatically a gentleman, in the best sense of that word. Never forbidding or morose, he was at times (indeed always, when quite well) full of genial humor,—sometimes overflowing with fun. But I need not, here at least, attempt to sum up his characteristics.
That "Sunnyside" home was too inviting to those who were privileged there to allow any proper opportunity for a visit to pass unimproved. Indeed, it became so attractive to strangers and lion-hunters, that some of those whose entree was quite legitimate and acceptable refrained, especially during the last two years, from adding to the heavy tax which casual visitors began to levy upon the quiet hours of the host. Ten years ago, when Mr. Irving was in his best estate of health and spirits, when his mood was of the sunniest, and Wolfert's Roost was in the spring-time of its charms, it was my fortune to pass a few days there with my wife. Mr. Irving himself drove a snug pair of ponies down to the steamboat to meet us—(for, even then, Thackeray's "one old horse" was not the only resource in the Sunnyside stables). The drive of two miles from Tarrytown to that delicious lane which leads to the Roost,—who does not know all that, and how charming it is? Five hundred descriptions of the Tappan Sea and the region round about have not exhausted it. The modest cottage, almost buried under the luxuriant Melrose ivy, was then just made what it is,—a picturesque and comfortable retreat for a man of tastes and habits like those of Geoffrey Crayon,—snug and modest, but yet, with all its surroundings, a fit residence for a gentleman who had means to make everything suitable as well as handsome about him. Of this a word anon.