We had an easy ride the next morning to Nazareth, and a kindly reception from the monks. The hospitality at all these convents is untrammelled by pecuniary conditions; but all travellers who have purses and hearts and consciences do, in fact, on their departure, present the Superior with a sum about equal to the charges for the same length of time at an Eastern hotel. I mention this in the interests of historic truth, and not with any desire to throw a garish light of self-interest upon the cordiality of these Latin "religious." We were in the heart of the little city where He whom millions of human beings call their Saviour and God lived for more than twenty years. Somewhere among these houses that fill the valley and cling to the hill-side was Joseph's home. Not a house, of course, is here now that was here then; all the sacred places they show you—the Virgin's home, the place of the Annunciation, the workshop of Joseph—must be unauthentic; but these hills are what they were. They shut out the great world He had come to redeem, but not the heavens above Him or the sinfulness and needs of the segment of humanity around Him. When we rode toward Tiberias in the early morning there were a dozen or more of the girls of Nazareth going out to Mary's spring, as the fountain at the entrance of the town is called; but their garments were ragged and uncleanly and their swarthy faces heavily tattooed, and, while we were ready to accept the season of the year as an excuse for any deficiency in the attractiveness of the landscape, we could not admit it in extenuation of the uncomeliness of the maidens of Palestine. Their beauty we believe to be almost entirely a fiction of the tourist's imagination.
On our way to the Sea of Galilee we passed through Cana, where they show you still some of the water-pots in which "the conscious water blushed" when it saw its Lord, and crossed the plain of Hattin, on one of whose round, horn-like acclivities the Sermon on the Mount is said to have been given. Here the Crusaders made their last stand against the victorious army of Saladin; and when at nightfall their bugles sounded the retreat, the Holy Land was given over to the unbeliever for centuries:—who is prophet enough to say for how many? As we first saw the lake that afternoon, with the sunlight on it, and the low Moabite hills rising lonely and sad against the blue sky, and Hermon, cold and regal, far away to the north, and yet standing out so prominently as to be the most striking feature in the scene, we felt that Gennesaret had been ruthlessly robbed of her rights by certain well-known critics who, professing to be her best friends, have denied her all claim to beauty except by association. Tiberias ranks with Jerusalem and Hebron and Safed as one of the four holy cities of the Jews, but its houses are filthy huts and its streets muddy lanes. Here we saw the Jew, down-trodden, oppressed, wretched, but still proud, the unhappiest creature, this Tiberian descendant of David, in all the Holy Land, with his long yellow cloak, his hair hanging upon his shoulders in corkscrew curls, and an expression on his wan, sallow face that would force tears from your eyes if you did not know that his life is ordinarily as contemptible as his condition is pitiable. We spent an hour or more in one of the two boats that to-day make up the entire fishing-fleet of Galilee, and then found hospitable shelter under the roof of the Latin monastery, the last that was to open its doors to us in Palestine; and when we rode away on Monday morning we made a vow in our hearts never to speak ill of that part of the Romish Church which presides over the convents of the Holy Land. As our muleteer confessed he was as ignorant as any dog of a European Christian of the route we wished to take from Tiberias to Banias and Deir Mimas, the monks advised us, to save time, and perhaps our purses, perhaps our lives, by taking a Turkish soldier as a combined guide and guard. We sent to the proper official, and two savage-looking fellows came to the monastery. They swore by the beard of Mohammed that our lives would be worth less than that of a Tiberian flea if we went alone, or even with one soldier; they talked our few remaining powers of resistance to death, and we took them at their own price, less one-half, which was conceded to be very liberal on our part. We felt we had a new lease of life, and spent the rest of the afternoon in sweet unconcern and content; but late that evening word was sent that one of the brave soldiers, in consideration of the great risk involved in the enterprise, had concluded to raise his price, and of course his companion, deeply as he regretted it, felt compelled to follow his example. We at once sent back word that our poverty would not permit us to accede to their most modest request, and threw ourselves on the Superior of the convent to extricate us from our dilemma. A guard had now become a necessity, for the poor muleteer was so badly frightened by all the terrible things he had heard, that if we had promised him his weight in gold to be delivered at Beirut he would not have stirred a step unprotected. A request was sent to the commandant of the city, and he was pleased to present us with a Kurdish cavalryman, who was to be our slave for the next four days, if on our part we would agree to pay him well and do as he said. We were now humble. We promised, and the Kurd came riding to the gates of the convent the next morning at the hour fixed for our departure. He was immensely long and lean. He looked hungry all over. Even his musket, longer by some inches than himself, had the appearance of existing on a very low diet of powder and ball. An awful doubt of its efficacy crept into my heart, but we gave him the matutinal greetings of the country, and our cavalcade followed at his heels.
We rode along the lake at a fairly rapid walk to the little mud village of Magdala, the home, it is supposed, of Mary Magdalene. We stopped to breathe our horses at Khan Minyeh, the site, some scholars assert, of the once beautiful city of Capernaum, and then rode along a rocky road to Tel Hun, at the end of the lake, chosen by the best judgment of the day as the actual spot where the city, exalted by her pride to heaven, rested lightly on the earth. We picked our way in and out among fluted marble columns, the very ruins, some insist, of the synagogue which the good centurion built for the city he loved. Here, then, may have been the home of our Lord during those earliest days of his public ministry, the happiest days of his earthly life, before baffled hate had begun to weave its net around him.
Our course now lay due north, away from the lake, across trackless fields covered with round basaltic stones. The Kurd's horse was a better one than ours, and it was all we could do to keep him in sight. The sun was hot. What would it have been on those hills in midsummer? We threw off our heavy coats, that had been more than comfortable in the early morning along the lake, and pushed doggedly on. To our left, higher even than the hill we climbed, was holy Safed, to which it is thought our Lord may have pointed when he spoke of a city set upon a hill, that cannot be hid; and straight before us, the object of our hopes and efforts, was snow-clad Hermon, as beautiful, we thought, as an Alp. We crossed the mountain at last, and, as our horses waded through a deep brook on the other side, the Kurd bent slightly in his saddle, and, reaching down, brought up great handfuls of water to stay his thirst, without stopping for an instant. There was a sly twinkle of pleasure in his eye when the muleteer told him we had admired his skill.
Late in the afternoon we came to the marshy lakes, "the waters of Merom," where Joshua smote the kings of the north, who made a final stand here with their united armies, "like the sands of the sea in number." We should have been glad to find one of their royal palaces in tolerable repair, for we were tired and wanted to stop for the night, but there were no ruined regal mansions in sight, not even a mud hut such as had given us shelter and hunting at Jenin. The sun had gone down, and our horses shivered in the night air. The prospect was gloomy, and grew no brighter as we went on. At last we saw some long black tents across the plain sheltered by the hills; and, while we were wondering what the chances might be of escaping robbery by the Bedawin at this late hour of the night, the Kurd turned his horse out of the bridle-path and headed for the largest tent. The probabilities seemed now about equal that the Kurd was in league with these wild, wandering tribes, and that they would pluck us, and torture us, and bury us without the aid of undertaker or parson, or, on the other hand, that they might welcome us to the few comforts within their command. The sheik was standing, with a half-dozen of his leading men, at the door of his tent, and, as we dismounted, he came forward with much grace and dignity and embraced my friend, kissing him on each cheek. He only waved his hand to me, as a younger and less important personage, and led us into his tent. Cushions were thrown down for us on the bare earth, and we were told to be seated. A little fire was burning just in front of the tent, and around that the privileged persons of the tribe squatted, only the chief and some of his great warriors being under the tent with ourselves. They were as curious as civilized people to know where we were going, and why; and they concealed with difficulty their surprise and suspicion when they were told that our only object was to see the country. No Oriental, much less a Bedawin, ranks that among possible reasons for passing from one place to another. After more conversation than we thought necessary before supper, a dish of rice was brought in, and with it two wooden spoons; but how these came to be in a sheik's tent we thought it wise not to ask. They looked on while we ate, refusing all our entreaties to join with us; but when we had finished, they thrust their hands into the bowl, and, with a deft movement, made round balls as large as a lemon, and shot these with great skill into their mouths. While they ate, my friend asked if he might read them a story. They consented eagerly; and, taking out his Arabic Testament, he read them the parable of the Prodigal Son. A more appreciative company never listened to it. At each crisis of the narrative the sheik looked around and said, "Fayib ketir,"—"Very good,"—and then, as if devoutly making the responses, they all said, "Fayib ketir" I thought I saw one of them brush away a tear as the story was finished: perhaps he was a father with a prodigal son, or something in his heart may have told him that he was a prodigal himself.
They all rose at a signal, and left us to our slumbers. We were to share the tent with the sheik; and when we had laid ourselves down on the cushions and covered ourselves with our overcoats, the sheik came anxiously to my friend and asked "if we would not be very cold with nothing over our heads." The Oriental lets his feet take care of themselves if only his head is warm. The flap of the tent was not lowered, and we could look from where we were lying on the Eastern hills and the stars above them. It was long before I could sleep in such surroundings. We were unprotected in the tent of a Bedawin sheik on the waters of Merom, and all the past faded away: for the moment I did not believe that there were such cities as New York and London and Paris,—they were buried deep under the streets of Jerusalem and Tiberias and Safed. I was no longer an American, but the son of this sheik, destined to be the ruler of all the tribes that dwell in black tents of hair-cloth. My friend lying at my side groaned in his sleep, and the baseless fabric of my dream crumbled. I was myself again, and felt a sharp blow from my own familiar conscience when I found myself smiling with vengeful satisfaction at certain movements of my sleeping friend that made it apparent he was being visited by certain inhabitants of the night that find their way to Bedawin tents as well as peasants' huts. He had been almost untouched when I suffered so at Jenin; and I found my confidence increased in the law of compensation as I watched his struggles, wholly unscathed myself.
Our next day's work was the longest and hardest we had yet had. We were to crowd two days into one. We were well on our way before it was fairly light. We crossed the Jordan on a little stone bridge, and rode straight over the plain to Banias, the Caesarea Philippi of apostolic times. We left our horses in the little village near which the Jordan comes pouring out of a rocky opening in the hills, and, with an Arab boy, hurried at our best pace up the mountain to the magnificent ruins of a mediaeval castle, the finest of its class in the Holy Land. Our Kurd and muleteer were waiting for us as we came down the hill like veritable mountain-goats, and the latter pointed triumphantly to something wrapped in an Arab newspaper under his arm. As soon as we were out of sight of the village he stopped and displayed his prize: it was a chicken, cooked in some unknown but most savory way. It was long since we had eaten anything of the sort, and, leaping to the ground, with the help of a clasp-knife bought in Nablous, the only eating-utensil our party could boast, we bisected our dinner, and, sitting under a gray old gnarled olive, ate it with such expressions of satisfaction as would not be honest, even if allowable, at the grandest civilized banquets.
We sprang again into our saddles, crossed again the plain and the bridge over the Jordan, and pushed over the hills toward Deir Mimas. Our horses were used up even more completely than ourselves; and when the Kurd lost the way, and took us a long and unnecessary detour, we felt it so keenly that we said nothing. It was long after nightfall when we dismounted at the door of a native Christian preacher's house at Deir Mimas. But the struggles of the day were not ended. The Kurd stalked in, and, saying that here his duties ended, demanded a sum at least a third greater than that agreed upon. We fought him with everything but weapons, and, when we separated, the Kurd's pockets were heavier and his heart lighter than was consistent with the eternal fitness of things. We had only to follow a well-made road the next day to Sidon; and there, as we sat at a table spread with a clean, white cloth, on which were plates, and knives and forks, and cups and saucers, and spoons, we concluded that our roughing it in Palestine had at least convinced us that civilized man makes himself want many convenient if not wholly necessary things.
* * * * *
THE EYE OF A NEEDLE.
"I don't know which way to turn to get the fall tailorin' done, now Mirandy Daggett's been and had money left to her," said, in an aggrieved tone, the buxom mistress of the Wei by poor-farm, as she briskly hung festoons of pumpkins, garners of the yellowest of the summer sunshine, along the beams of the great wood-shed chamber. "The widow Pingree, from over Sharon way, she's so wasteful, I declare it makes my blood run cold to see her cuttin' and slashin' into good cloth; and Emerline Johnson she's so scantin', the menfolks all looks like scarecrows, with their legs and arms a-stickin' out. Mirandy's got faculty."
"Seems if 'twa'n't no more'n yesterday that I was carryin' victuals to keep that child from starvin', and now she's an heiress, and here I be. Well, the Lord's ways ain't ourn."
A little old woman, twisted all awry by a paralytic shock, who was feebly assisting the poor-mistress, uttered these reflections in a high-keyed, quavering voice. She was called old lady Peaseley, and a halo of aristocracy encircled her, although she had been in the poor-house thirty years, for her grandfather had been the first minister of Welby.
"I declare, if there ain't Mirandy a-comin' up the lane this blessed minute! Talk about angels, you know. Seems if she looked kinder peaked and meachin', though most gen'ally as pert's a lizard. If things was as they used to be, I should jest sing out to her to come right up here; but, bein' she's such an heiress, I s'pose I'd better go down and open the front door."
But before the brisk poor-mistress could reach the front door her visitor had entered, the kitchen.
"I've been kind of low-spirited, and, thinks I, if there is a place where I could get chippered up it's down to the poor-house, where it's always so lively and sociable; and if Mis' Bemis ain't a-goin' to send for me I'll jest go over and find out the reason why."
The speaker, who had seated herself in a rocking-chair, took off her rough straw hat and fanned herself with it energetically, rocking meanwhile. She was about midway in the thirties, plain and almost coarse of feature, but with a suggestion of tenderness about her large mouth that softened her whole face. She had, too, a vigor and freshness which were attractive like the bloom of youth.
"I was jest sayin' to old lady Peaseley that I didn't know how I was a-goin' to get along without you; but I wouldn't 'a' thought of askin' you to come, bein' you're so rich now."
"Be I a-goin' to lay by and twiddle my thumbs and listen to folks advisin' of me jest because I ain't obliged to work? I'm all beat out now doin' nothin'. Since I've bought the old place—gran'ther's farm, you know—I don't seem to be much better off. I can't go to farmin' it this fall; and what can a lone woman do on a farm anyhow?"
"Farmin' is kind of poor business for a woman; but I do hope, Mirandy, you ain't a-goin' to marry that poor, pigeon-breasted, peddlin' cretur that's hangin' round here."
Miranda flushed to the roots of her thick black hair.
"It looks better to see a man round on a farm, if he can't do anything but set on the choppin'-block and whistle," she said, intently surveying her hat-crown.
"If you want to get married, Mirandy, it seems if you ought to have a stiddy, likely man."
"I don't want to get married. I ain't never thought of such a thing since—well, you know all about it, Mis' Bemis, so I may as well say right out—since Ephrum took up with M'lissy Whitin'."
"Ephrum Spencer was a mean scamp to serve you so," said Mrs. Bemis hotly.
"Now, Mis' Bemus, don't you say anything against Ephrum. You and me has always been friends, but I can't stand that, anyhow. Ephrum would have kept his promise to me fair and square, but I saw plain enough that he had given his heart to her. She was red-and-white-complected, and her hair curled natural, and she'd never done anything but keep school, and her hands was jest as soft and white, and a man's feelin's ain't like a woman's, anyhow: if Ephrum had been hump-backed, or all scarred up so's't he'd scare folks, like old Mr. Prouty, it wouldn't 'a' made any difference to me, so long as he was Ephrum. The Lord made men different, and I s'pose it's all right; but sometimes it seems kind of hard." The large, firm mouth quivered like a child's.
"She was a reg'lar little spitfire, Melissy Whitin' was: there wa'n't nothin' to her but temper. I'll warrant Ephrum Spencer has got his come-uppance before this time," said the poor-mistress, with satisfaction. "Well, I think it's real providential that you don't want to get married, Mirandy, for as like as not you'd get somebody that would spend all your money. I told'em I didn't believe you was goin' to take up with that poor stick of a book-agent."
"Oh, Mis' Bemis, I s'pose I be goin' to have him!" said Miranda dejectedly. "He thinks he's consumpted, and I thought I could doctor him up, and 'twould be a use for the money. And he was a minister once, though it was some queer kind of a denomination that I never heard of, and that seemed kind of edifyin'; and his arm was cut off away off in Philadelphy ten years ago, and yet he can feel it a-twingein'. And he's kind of slim and retirin', and not so unhandy to have round as some men would be. And, anyhow, I've give him my promise."
"Mirandy, I didn't think you was so foolish as that,—and him an imposertor as like as not."
"Everything that I've tried to do since Uncle Phineas left me that money folks have called me foolish or crazy, and I always was reckoned sensible before, if I was homely. Abijah's folks warn me against lettin' John's folks have it, and John's folks against Abijah's, and they say that banks burst up and railroad stocks are risky, and I'll end by bein' on the town. I never heard anything about my bein' in danger of comin' on to the town before. I put my savin's in an old stockin' between my beds, and wa'n't beholden to anybody for advice nor anything. I tell you, Mis' Bemis, there ain't a mite of comfort in riches to them that's got nobody but themselves to do for. Now, I've been wantin' a good black silk for a long spell, and I've been layin' by a little here and a little there, and 'lottin' on gettin' it before long, and I've enjoyed thinkin' about it jest as much as if I had it; and now that comfort is all took away. I can go and buy one right out, and I don't want it. And only see what trouble I've got into about marryin'. I can't eat my victuals, and I don't enjoy my meet'n' privileges, and I don't even care much about knowin' what's goin' on. The Bible says rich folks have got to go through the eye of a needle before they can get into the kingdom of heaven, and it seems jest as if that was what I was a-doin'."
"I don't think that's jest the way it reads, Mirandy; but if it's a consolin' idee to you—"
"I hain't any too much consolation, and that's a fact. But it does seem real good to be here; and if you'll jest send one of the boys after my things I'll stay. I locked up and left my bag on the back door-step."
The poor-mistress confided to old lady Peaseley that "there wasn't as much satisfaction in havin' Mirandy as if she hadn't got proputty, even if she didn't seem to feel it none: she couldn't help feelin' as if the minister 'n' his wife had come to tea;" and she opened the best room, with all its glories of hair-cloth furniture, preserved funeral wreaths, and shell Bunker Hill Monument, and had the spare chamber swept and garnished. The poor-house was certainly a good place in which to get "chippered up." There were few happier households in the county; there was not one where jollity reigned as it did there.
From Captain Hezekiah Butterfield, generally known as Cap'n 'Kiah, an octogenarian who was regarded as an oracle, down to Tready Morgan, a half-witted orphan, the inmates of the poor-house had an enjoyment of living astonishing to behold. It had been hinted at town-meeting that the keeper of the poor-farm was a "leetle mite too generous and easy-going," especially as he insisted upon furnishing the paupers with "store" tea and coffee, whereas his predecessor, Hiram Judkins, had made them drink bayberry tea, a refreshment which old Mrs. Gerald, a pauper whose wits were wandering, and who was familiarly known as "Marm Bony," because she cherished a conviction that she was the empress Josephine, declared was "no more consolin' than meadow hay."
Seth Bemis and his wife made the farm pay: so the town voted to wink at the store-tea. And they suited the paupers,—which was even more difficult than to suit the town officers.
Miranda's arrival had created quite an excitement among the inmates of the poor-house. They had all heard that she had fallen heir to almost ten thousand dollars, and there was curiosity to see how she would comport herself under this great accession of fortune.
Miranda stoutly resisted the charms of the best room, and sat down with the paupers in the great kitchen after supper. For the spare chamber she showed some weakness, for the little back chamber which she usually occupied during her visits to the poor-farm was next to Oly Cowden's room, and Oly had a way of rapping on her wall in the dead of the night for somebody to bring her a roasted onion to avert a peculiarly bad dream to which she was subject; and the next room on the other side was occupied by Jo Briscoe, who had a habit of playing on his violin at most unseemly hours, and, as poor Jo had come through a terrible shipwreck, in which he had lost, by freezing, both his feet and several of his fingers, which latter loss made it wonderful that he could play at all, nobody had the heart to interfere with the consolation which "Fisher's Hornpipe" and "The Girl I left behind me" afforded him at three o'clock in the morning,—nobody, that is, except "Marm Bony," whose room was on the other side of the corridor, and who took Jo's performances as a serenade, and gently insinuated to him that, as Napoleon was still living, she might be compromised by such tributes to her charms. Although she was anxious not to accept any privileges on account of her wealth, Miranda thought she would occupy the spare chamber.
The paupers were all disposed to keep holiday in Miranda's honor. Old Cap'n 'Kiah had donned a collar so high that it sawed agonizingly upon his ears, little Dr. Pingree, a peddler of roots and herbs, who was occasionally obliged to seek winter quarters at the poor-house, wore a black satin vest brocaded with huge blue roses, which had appeared at his wedding forty years before, and "Marm Bony" had adorned herself with a skimpy green satin skirt and three peacock-feathers standing upright in her little knob of back hair. And Jo Briscoe was tuning his violin, evidently in preparation for an unusual effort.
A vague idea that Miranda had arrived at great honor had penetrated poor "Marm Bony's" bewildered brain, and a fancy suddenly seized her that Miranda was the unscrupulous Marie Louise who had supplanted her as Napoleon's wife, and she hobbled out of the room in great agitation and wrath, her peacock-feathers waving wildly in the air. She returned in a few minutes, however, and whispered to Miranda that, "as Napoleon wa'n't jest what he'd ought to be anyway, mebbe they'd better make up." To which proposition Miranda assented gravely, holding the wrinkled, trembling old hand tenderly in hers.
Cap'n 'Kiah felt it incumbent upon him to lead the conversation, being modestly conscious of his social gifts.
He had been a ship-owner, and very well-to-do, until in his old age he was robbed of all his property by a younger brother whom he had brought up and cared for as a son. But the old man had brought to this low level of society to which he had sunk a cheerful philosophy and a grim humor for which many a successful man might well have given all his possessions.
"Rich and poor, there's a sight of human nater about us all, though there ain't no use denyin' that some has more than others," remarked Cap'n 'Kiah sententiously. "And whether riches or poverty brings it out the strongest it's hard tellin'."
"I've always thought I might never have found out that I had medicle tarlunt if I'd been rich," said Dr. Pingree meditatively. The little man had "taken up doctorin' out of his own head," as he expressed it, after finding that shoemaking and tin-peddling did not satisfy his ambition, and was the inventor and sole proprietor of an infallible medicine, known as the "Universal Pain-Exterminator." The jokers dubbed it "Health-Exterminator," but almost all Welby took it,—they must take something in the spring,—and the little doctor, who had a soul far above thoughts of sordid gain, never expected to be paid for it, which made it very popular. It couldn't kill one, being made of simplest roots and herbs; and if one should be cured, how very pleasant it would be to think that it was without cost!
"Sure enough, doctor, mebbe you never would," said the captain. "And I suppose the innercent satisfaction you've got a-makin' them medicines is as great as you could 'a' got out of riches, and without the worry and care of riches, too."
"Not to mention the good done to my fellow-creturs," said the little doctor.
"Jest as you say, the good done to your fellow-creturs not bein' worth mentionin'" said Cap'n 'Kiah, with a grave simplicity that disarmed suspicion. "There ain't no denyin' that poverty is strength'nin' to the faculties."
"Don't give me nothin' more strength'nin than riches in mine," said Uncle Peter Henchman, who boasted great wisdom and experience, based mysteriously on the possession of a wooden leg. "I've been in this world up'ards of seventy years, forty-five of it a-walkin' on a wooden leg, and I hain't never seen that poverty was anything but a curse."
"You've got a terrible mistaken p'int of view, Peter, well-meanin' as you be," said Cap'n 'Kiah, "There's nothin' in nater, and, I was a-goin' to say, in grace, but what you clap your eyes fust onto the contr'y side, and then you're sure there ain't nothin' but a contr'y side."
"I wish I could see something besides the contr'y side of riches; but I hain't yet," said Miranda, with a heavy sigh.
Little Dr. Pingree cast a sidelong look at her, and then adjusted his cravat and considered the effect of the blue roses on his vest. Was a vision flitting before his eyes of the wagon drawn by gayly-caparisoned steeds and bearing in gilt letters on a red ground the legend, "Dr. Pingree's Pain-Exterminator, Humanity's Friend,"—of his own face, beautified by art, adorning fences and walls above this proud inscription, "The Renowned Inventor of the Universal Pain-Exterminator"? This fame, the dream of a lifetime, might now be purchased by money. And he had always admired Miranda.
Miranda caught his glance, and, with the suspicion which wealth had already engendered, divined his thought. Was there going to be another aspirant for her hand?
"The wind's a-blowin up; and what a roarin' the sea does make!" she said hurriedly, to cover her embarrassment. "The only thing I don't like about this house is its bein' so near the sea. It's rainin' hard; and I'm glad of it," she added, in an undertone, to Mrs. Bemis,—"for he won't be so likely to get round here to-night. Courtin' is real tryin'."
"The ocean is a dretful disconserlate-soundin' cretur," remarked Uncle Peter lugubriously; "and when you think of the drownded folks she's got a-rollin' round in her, 'tain't no wonder."
"The ocean's a useful work o' nater, and she's fetched and carried and aimed a livin' for a good many more'n she's swallered up," said Cap'n 'Kiah.
"I expect this world ain't a vale of tears, nohow," said Uncle Peter in an aggrieved tone. "There is folks that knows more'n the hymn-book."
"Well, it is, and then ag'in it ain't, jest accordin' to the way you look at it. There's a sight more the matter with folks's p'int o' view than there is with the Lord A'mighty's world.—Now, Jo, if you've got that cretur o' yourn into ship-shape,—it always doos seem to me jest like a human cretur that's got the right p'int o' view, that fiddle doos,—jest give it to us lively."
Jo tuned up, with modest satisfaction, and two or three couples stood up to dance. Little Dr. Pingree was about to solicit Miranda's hand for the dance, when there came a knock at the door.
Miranda stuck her knitting-needle through her back-hair in an agitated and expectant manner. But it was not the lank figure of the book-peddler, her betrothed, that darkened the door. It was a forlorn woman, dripping with rain, with two small boys clinging to her skirts.
"I suppose poor folks have a right to come in here out of the rain," she said, advancing to the fire and seating herself with a sullen and dejected aspect.
Little Dr. Pingree, who felt the arrival to be very inopportune, nevertheless gallantly hastened to replenish the fire.
The poor-mistress hospitably offered to remove the visitor's wet wrappings, but she shook her head.
"I want to find the relatives of Ephrum Spencer," she said.
"You'll have to go a good ways," said Cap'n 'Kiah.
"The graveyard is chock full of 'em," said Uncle Peter.
"They've kind of died out," explained Cap'n 'Kiah. "They seemed to be the kind that dies out easy and nateral."
"His uncle Hiram isn't dead, is he?" asked the woman, with the strain of anxiety in her voice.
"He died about a year ago."
"What's become of his money?" asked the stranger sharply.
"Well, there wa'n't so much as folks thought," said Cap'n 'Kiah. "He frittered away a good deal on new-fangled merchines and such things that wa'n't of any account,—had a reg'lar mania for 'em for a year or so before he died; and then he give some money to his housekeeper and the man that worked for him, and what was left he give to the town for a new town-hall; but, along of quarrellin' about where 'twas to set and what 'twas to be built of, and gittin' legal advice to settle the p'ints, I declare if 'tain't 'most squandered! But, la! if there wa'n't such quarrellin' amongst folks, what would become of the lawyers? They'd all be here, a-settin' us by the ears, I expect."
"And there isn't a cent for his own nephew's starving children?" said the woman bitterly.
"Ephrum's? Oh, la, no! The old man never set by Ephrum, you know: them two was always contr'y-minded. You don't say, now, that you're Ephrum's wife?" Cap'n 'Kiah surveyed her with frank curiosity.
"I'm Ephrum's widow."
"You don't say so, now! Well, there's wuss ockerpations than bein' a widow," remarked Cap'n 'Kiah consolingly.
Miranda had drawn the younger boy to her side. She was chafing his numb hands and smoothing the damp locks from his forehead.
"Why, how cold your hands have grown!" the child cried. "They're colder than mine. And how funny and white you look!"
Miranda had felt, from the moment when she first saw the forlorn little group, that Ephraim was dead, and yet the sure knowledge came as a shock. But this child was looking at her with Ephraim's eyes: they warmed her heart.
"She knew me, if none of the rest of you did," said the widow, indicating Miranda by a nod of her head. "And I knew her, too, just as soon as I set eyes on her.—Well, you needn't hold any grudge against me, Miranda Daggett. I calculate you got the best of the bargain. Ephrum hadn't any faculty to get along. I've struggled and slaved till I'm all worn out; and now I haven't a roof to cover me nor my children, nor a mouthful to eat."
Miranda sprang up, her arms around both the boys.
"I have! I have plenty for you all. And I've been a-wonderin' why it should have come to me, that didn't need it; but now I know. You come right home with me.—Mis' Bemis, you'll let Tready harness up?"
There were some objections made on account of the rain, but Miranda overruled them all.
She drew Mrs. Bemis aside and confided to her that she didn't want Ephrum's boys to stay even one night in the poor-house, because "it might stick to 'em afterwards." And she shouldn't really feel that they were going to belong to her until she had them in her own house.
So, through the driving rain, in the open wagon which was the most luxurious equipage that the poor-farm boasted, Miranda was driven home with her proteges; while Mrs. Bemis gave way to renewed anxiety about the fall tailorin' and Dr. Pingree heaved a sigh over his vanished dreams,—a very gentle one, he was so used to seeing dreams vanish; and there was consolation in having such an event to talk over.
Miranda's home was a rambling old house, and it seemed deserted and ghostly when they entered it; but Miranda kindled a fire In the kitchen stove and another in the great fireplace in the sitting-room, and the boys, warmed and fed and comforted, grew hilarious, and the ghosts were all dispersed, and it seemed to Miranda for the first time like home.
When she had seen all three cosily tucked into their beds, she went downstairs to rake over the fire and see that all was safe for the night. She found herself too full of a happy excitement to seek her own slumbers. Ephraim was dead; but he had faded out of her life long before; he had been nothing but a memory, and she had that still. He even seemed nearer to her, being in the Far Country, than he had done before. And his children were under her roof; hers to feed and clothe and care for in the happy days that were coming; hers to educate. What joy to have the means to do it with! what greater joy to work and save and manage that there should be enough!
Miranda looked into the leaping flame of her fire and saw brightest pictures of the future,—until suddenly she turned her head away and covered her face with her hands, groaning bitterly: it was only a blackened limb that, standing tall and straight in the flame, took upon itself a grotesque resemblance to a one-armed man. And Miranda remembered her affianced the book-agent. "Oh, land I how could I 'a' forgot! I've give him my promise."
To Miranda's Puritan mind a promise was to be kept, with tears and blood if need were.
"Oh, what a foolish woman I've been! If I had only waited till I found out what the Lord did mean by sendin' that money to me! He wouldn't stand the boys, anyhow: he's nigh and graspin': I've found that out. And I don't suppose I could buy him off with anything short of the whole property. I did think he cared a little something about me, and mebbe he does. I don't want to be too hard on him, but he was terrible put out because I wouldn't give him but three hundred dollars to pay down for that land that he's buy in' at such a bargain. I s'pose I should, only I couldn't help thinkin' he might wait till we was married before he begun to think about investin' my money. No, he won't let me off from marryin' him unless I give him all my money. Yesterday I had thoughts of doin' that; but now there's the boys."
The queer black stick had fallen, and was crumbling away, but it had crushed the last flickering flame. Miranda's fire, like her hopes, had turned to ashes.
She walked the floor restlessly, seeking vainly for a pathway out of her troubles, until she was exhausted. Then she slept a troubled sleep until daylight.
It was a little comfort to get breakfast for Ephrum's wife and boys, although she was so heavy-hearted.
She went across the field to Eben Curtis's to get a bit of fresh fish: Eben had been fishing the day before.
Eben, who was a friendly young man, looked at her pityingly as he put the' fish into her basket. As she was turning away in unwonted silence, he was moved to say, "I wouldn't take it so hard if I was you, Miss Daggett. You're well rid of such a scamp. And maybe they'll catch him and get the money back. La, now! you don't say you hain't heard?" he exclaimed at sight of Miranda's astonished face. "They most generally do get the news up to the poor-house." Eben lifted his hat and ran his fingers through his hair with a mingling of sympathy and pleasure in being the first to impart important news. "He's cleared out, the book-agent has,—got all the money he could of folks without giving 'em any books; and folks say he got some of you. He's been in jail for playing the same trick before; and folks think he'll be caught this time."
"Oh, it's a mistake! He'll come back," said Miranda dejectedly, after a moment's thought.
"Well, he isn't very likely to, because"—here Eben turned his head aside in embarrassment—"because he's got a wife and family over to Olneyville."
Radiant delight overspread Miranda's countenance.
"I hope they'll just let him go," she said. "He's welcome to what money he's got of mine,—more'n welcome." And homeward she went with a light step.
"Women are queer," mused Eben, as he returned to his fish-cleaning. "She's lost her beau and her money, and she's tickled to death."
"I declare, you look just as fresh and young and happy as you did fifteen years ago!" said the widow, with a touch of envy, as they sat down at the cheerful breakfast-table.
Miranda touched Mrs. Bemis's arm as she came out of the meeting-house the next Sunday, Ephraim's boys, preternaturally smooth of hair and shining of face, beside her.
"If it ain't perfane to say it. Mis' Bemis, I feel as if I'd got through the eye of that needle clear into the kingdom of heaven."
The poor-mistress commented upon the saying in the midst of her numerous family that night: "She's got that selfish, tempery woman saddled onto her for life, and she'll work her fingers to the bone for them boys, that ain't anything to her, and won't be apt to amount to much,—for there never was one of them Spencers that did,—and she calls that the kingdom of heaven!"
"It's jest as I always told you," remarked Cap'n 'Kiah placidly. "It's all owin' to the p'int of view."
* * * * *
THE SECOND RANK.
A ZOOLOGICAL STUDY.
It is a suggestive sign of our naturalistic times that so many first-class towns in Europe and America contemplate the establishment of Zoological Gardens. In the United States alone five cities have successfully executed that project. Travelling menageries have taken the place of the mediaeval pageants. Natural histories begin to supersede the ghost-stories of our fathers. The scientific literature of four different nations has monographs on almost every known species of beasts and birds.
With such data of information it seems rather strange that the problem of precedence in the scale of animal intelligence should still be a mooted question. The primacy of the animal kingdom remains, of course, undisputed; but the dog, the elephant, the horse, the beaver,—nay, the parrot, the bee, and the ant,—have found learned and uncompromising advocates of their claims to the honors of the second rank.
Russel Wallace and Dr. Brehm have agitated the question, but failed to settle it,—even to their own satisfaction. The reason, I believe, is that the exponents of the different theories have failed to agree on a definite standard of comparison. The mathematical principle implied in the construction of a honey-comb, we are told, can challenge comparison with the ripest results of human science. The acumen of a well-trained elk-hound, a philosophical sportsman assures us, comes nearer to human reason than any other manifestation of animal sagacity. Elephant-trainers, too, adduce instances that almost pass the line of distinction between intuitive prudence and the results of reflection. Yet if those distinctions suffice to define the difference between reason and the primitive instincts, they should reduce the scope of the question in so far as to make it clear that, instead of measuring the degree of the development of special faculties of the animal mind, we should ascertain the direction of those faculties. Instinct tends to promote the interests of the species, and is limited to the more or less skilful, but monotonous, performance of a special task. Within that limited sphere its competence is perfect. Reason may be often at fault, but its capacity enlarges with practice, and the scope of its application is unlimited. It may be exerted in the interest of the species, of the tribe, of the family; it may devote itself to the service of an abstract principle or subserve the purposes of individual caprice. It differs from instinct as a piano differs from a barrel-organ. The pianist has to master his art by years of toil, but can apply it to all possible variations or extravaganzas of music. The organ-grinder can delight his audience as much by his first as by his last performance, but his repertoire is limited. Reason is indefinite, free, and versatile. Instinct is exact, but circumscribed.
Tested by that standard, the difference between the intelligence of the higher quadrumana—the anthropoid apes, the baboons, and several species of the macaques—and that of their dumb fellow-creatures is so pronounced that it amounts to a difference of kind as well as of degree. Borne, literally limited, but used in French as a synonyme of short-witted, is the term that best characterizes the actions of all other animals, as compared with the graceless but amazingly versatile and well-planned pranks of our nearest relatives. The standard of usefulness would, indeed, degrade the perpetrators of these pranks below the rank of the dullest donkey; but as a criterion of intelligence the application of that test should rather be reversed.
Watch a colony of house-building insects, their faithful co-operation, their steady, exact adaptation of right means to a fixed purpose, and compare their activity with that of a troop of ball-playing boys. Does not the gratuitous ingenuity of the young bipeds indicate a far higher degree of intelligence? Does it argue against the quality of that intelligence that any novel phenomenon—a funnel-shaped cloud, the appearance of a swarm of bats or unknown birds—would divert the ball-players from their immediate purpose? Monkeys alone share this gift of gratuitous curiosity. A strange object, a piece of red cloth fluttering in the grass, may excite the interest of a watch-dog or of an antelope. They may approach to investigate, but for subjective purposes. They fear the presence of an enemy. A monkey's inquisitiveness can dispense with such motives. In my collection of four-handed pets I have a young Rhesus monkey (Macacus Rhesus), by no means the most intelligent member of the community, but gifted with an amount of meddlesome pluck which often makes it necessary to circumscribe the freedom of his movements. One day last spring, when he joined an assembly of his fellow-boarders on a sunny porch, the shortness of his tether did not prevent him from picking a quarrel with a big raccoon. After a few sham manoauvres the old North American suddenly lost his temper and charged his tormentor with an energy of action that led to an unexpected result,—for in springing back the Rhesus snapped his wire chain, and in the next moment went flying down the lane toward the open woods. But just before he reached the gate he suddenly stopped. On a post of the picket-fence the neighbors' boys had deposited a kite, and the Rhesus paused. The phenomenon of the dangling kite-tail, with its polychromatic ribbons, eclipsed the memory of his wrongs and his mutinous projects: he snatched the tail, and with the gravity of a coroner proceeded to examine the dismembered appendage. If he had mistaken the apparatus for a trap, the result of the dissection must have reassured him; but he continued the inquest till one of his pursuers headed him off and drove him back to his favorite hiding-place under the porch, which he reached in safety, though in the interest of science he had encumbered himself with a large section of kite-paper.
On my last visit to New York I bought a female Chacma baboon that had attracted my attention by the grotesque demonstrativeness of her motions, and took her on board of a Norfolk steamer, where she at once became an object of general enthusiasm. The next morning Sally was taking her breakfast on deck, when she suddenly dropped her apple-pie and jumped upon the railing. Through the foam of the churned brine her keen eye had espied a shoal of porpoises, and, clinging to the railing with her hind hands, she continued to gesticulate and chatter as long as our gambolling fellow-travellers remained in sight.
Menagerie monkeys, too, are sure to interrupt their occupations at the sight of a new-comer,—a clear indication that monkeys, like men, possess a surplus of intelligence above the exigencies of their individual needs. Yet these exigencies are by no means inconsiderable. Unlike the grazing deer and the deer-eating panther, the frugivorous monkeys of the tropics are the direct competitors of the intolerant lord of creation. The Chinese macaques, the Moor monkey, the West-African baboons, have to eke out a living by pillage. The Gibraltar monkey has hardly any other resources. Nor has nature been very generous in the physical equipment of the species. Most monkeys lack the sharp teeth that enable the tiger to defy the avenger of his misdeeds. Without exception they all lack the keen scent that helps the deer to elude its pursuers. But their mental faculties more than compensate for such bodily deficiencies. In the Abyssinian highlands the mornings are often cold enough to cover the grass with hoar-frost, yet the frost-dreading baboons choose that very time to raid the corn-fields of the natives. They omit no precaution, and it is almost impossible to circumvent the vigilance of their sentries. Prudence, derived from providence,—i.e., prevision, the gift of fore-seeing things,—is in many respects almost a synonyme of reason. Physically that gift is typified in the telescopic eyes which monkeys share with a few species of birds, but with hardly any of their mammalian relatives, except man in a state of nature. Mentally it manifests itself in a marvellous faculty for anticipating danger. Last summer Sally, the above-mentioned baboon, contrived to break loose, and took refuge on the top of the roof. I do not believe that she intended to desert, but she was bent on a romp, and had made up her mind not to be captured by force. A chain of eight or nine feet dangled from her girdle, and she persistently avoided approaching the lower tier of shingles, to keep that chain from hanging down over the edge, but was equally careful not to venture too near the extremities of the roof-ridge, for there was a skylight at each gable. She kept around the middle of the roof; and we concluded to loosen a few shingles in that neighborhood and grab her chain through the aperture, while a confederate was to divert her attention by a continuous volley of small pebbles. But somehow Sally managed to distinguish the hammer-strokes from the noise of the bombardment, and at once made up her mind that the roof had become untenable. The only question was how to get down; for by that time the house was surrounded by a cordon of sentries. As a preliminary measure she then retreated to the top of the chimney, and one of our strategists proposed to dislodge her by loading the fireplace with a mixture of pine-leaves and turpentine. But better counsel prevailed, and we contented ourselves with firing a blank cartridge through the flue. Sally at once jumped off, but regained her vantage-ground on the roof-ridge, and we had to knock out a dozen shingles before one of our fourteen or fifteen hunters at last managed to lay hold of her chain.
The naturalist Lenz describes the uncontrollable grief of a Siamang gibbon who had been taken on board of a homebound English packet, where his owner tempted him with all sorts of tidbits, in the vain hope of calming his sorrow. The gibbon kept his eye on the receding outline of his native mountains, and every now and then made a desperate attempt to break his fetters; but when the coast-line began to blend with the horizon the captive's behavior underwent a marked change. He ceased to tug at his chain, and, chattering with protruded lips, after the deprecatory manner of his species, began to fondle his owner's hand, and tried to smooth the wrinkles of his coat, with the unmistakable intention of reciprocating his friendly overtures. As soon as his native coast had faded out of view he had evidently recognized the hopelessness of an attempt at escape. He realized the fact that he had to accept the situation, and, becoming alarmed at the possible consequences of his refractory violence, he concluded that it was the safest plan to conciliate the good will of his jailer. From analogous observations I can credit the account in all its details, and I believe that the conduct of the captive four-hander can be traced to a mental process as utterly beyond the brain-scope of a horse, a dog, or an elephant as a problem in spherical trigonometry.
The inarticulate language of our Darwinian relatives has one considerable advantage over the articulate speech of a trained parrot: it has a definite meaning. Mumbling with protruded lips is an appeal for pity and affection; a coughing grunt denotes indignation; surprise is expressed by a very peculiar, sotto voce guttural; crescendo the same sound is a danger-signal which the little Capuchin-monkey of the American tropics understands as well as the African chimpanzee. My Chacma baboon defies an adversary by contracting her eyebrows and slapping the floor with her hands. The vocabulary of a talking bird is no doubt more extensive, but it is used entirely at random. A first-class parrot can repeat seventy different phrases; but an English philosopher offered a hundred pounds sterling to any "mind-reader" who should succeed in guessing the seven figures in the number of a hundred-pound bank-note, and It would be as safe to offer the same sum to any bird that could furnish evidence of attaching a definite meaning to any seven of his seventy sentences. On close investigation, the stories of conversational parrots prove as apocryphal as Katy-King legends and planchette miracles.
Causality—i.e., the gift of tracing a recondite connection of cause and effect—is another faculty which many varieties of monkeys possess in a decidedly ultra-instinctive degree. I remember the surprise of a picnic-party who had borrowed my young Rhesus and on their return tied him up on the porch of a garden-house. During the trip the little scamp had behaved with the decorum of a well-bred youth, but, finding himself unobserved, he at once made a vicious attempt to tear his rope with his teeth. Whenever his boon companions approached the porch he would resume his attitude of innocence, but as soon as they turned away, which they often did on purpose to try him, he promptly recommenced his work of destruction. Their giggling, however, excited his suspicions, and, seeing them peep around the corner, he suddenly became a model of virtuous inactivity. One of the picnickers then entered the garden-house by a rear door, to watch the little hypocrite through a crack in the board wall, while his companions ostensibly walked away and out of sight. As soon as everything was quiet. Master Rhesus went to work again, but at the same time kept his eye on the corner till he was interrupted by a tap on the wall and a mysterious voice from within, "Stop that, Tommy!" Tommy started, peeped around the corner, and looked puzzled. He was sure there was nobody in sight. How could an invisible spy have witnessed his transgression? He then scrutinized the wall more closely, discovered the crack, and dropped the rope with a curious grin, as he squinted through the tell-tale aperture. He had traced the effect to its cause.
Unlike dogs, raccoons, or squirrels, chained monkeys rarely entangle themselves: they at once notice the shortening of their tether, and never rest till they have discovered the clue of the phenomenon. A dog in the same predicament has to content himself with tugging at his chain or gnawing his rope; and the reason is that the wisdom of the wisest dog is limited to business qualifications. He is a hunter, and nature has endowed him with the requisite faculties, just as she has endowed the constructive spider and the bee. Bees and dogs share the faculty of direction, enabling them to find their way home, a talent implying a very miracle of infallible and yet unconscious intuition, and in the strictest sense a one-sided business qualification. The goose, the sturgeon, and the almost brainless tortoise possess the same gift in a transcendent degree; the oriole builds her first nest as skilfully as the last; the young bee constructs her hexagons with an ease and a uniform success that leave no possible doubt that the exercise of her talent is generically different from a function of reason. Instincts may be far-reaching enough to defy the rivalry of human science, but they resemble loophole-guns, that can be fired only in a single direction. The intuition that guides the turkey-hen to her nest does not enable her to find her way out of a half-open log trap. The instinct by which a dog retraces his trail across broad rivers and through woods does not enable him to retrace the coils of a tangled rope. A monkey's talents, like our own, are less infallible, but more versatile, and at the possessor's discretion can be applied and perverted to all possible purposes. Hence also that peculiar interest which the pranks of our mischievous relatives excite even in spectators not apt to appreciate the comic features of the spectacle. In the monkey-house of the Philadelphia Zoo I have seen saturnine burghers stand motionless for hours together, and contemplative children rapt in reveries that had little to do with the hope of witnessing a beast-fight. They seemed to feel the spell of a secret veiled in grotesque symbols, but disclosing occasional revelations of its significance, like glimpses into the fore-world of the human race.
In the fairy-tales of the old Hindoo scriptures monkeys figure as counsellors of nonplussed heroes, and in the crisis of the Titan war the Devas themselves condescend to seek the advice of the monkey Honuman, who contrives to outwit the prince of the night-spirits. In the international fable of "Reynard the Fox," a she-monkey on the eve of the trial by battle suggests the stratagem that turns the scales against the superior strength of the wolf Isegrim. The mens aequa in arduis is, indeed, a simian characteristic. Monkeys never have their wits more completely about them than in the moment of a sudden danger, and a higher development of the same faculty distinguishes the Caucasian from all rival races, even from the sharp-witted Semites. After the conquest of Algiers the French tried to conciliate the native element by educating a number of young Arabs and giving them a chance to compete with the cadets of St.-Cyr. They made excellent routine-officers, but even their patron, General Clausel, admitted that they "could not be trusted in a panic."
Dr. Langenbeck mentions a family of Silesian peasants who seemed to have an hereditary predisposition to the abnormity known as microcephalism, or small-headedness. They were not absolute idiots, but remarkably slow-spoken and all extremely averse to active occupations. An active disposition is generally a pretty safe gauge of mental capacity. Intellectual vigor leads to action. To a person of mental resources inactivity is more irksome than the hardest work, and sluggishness is justly used as a synonyme of imbecility. Exertion under the pressure of want is, however, not incompatible with an inert disposition, and spontaneous activity, the love of busy-ness for its own sake, can be ascribed only to men and monkeys; monkeys, at least, are the only animals in whom repletion and old age cannot dampen that passion. After a full meal an elephant will stand for hours in a sort of piggish torpor; a gorged bird seeks the tree-shade; an overfed dog and nearly every old dog becomes a picture of laziness. Monkeys rest only during sleep. Old age does not affect their nimbleness; they can be fattened, for I have seen baboons as sleek as seals, but, like Gibbon, Henry Buckle, and Marshal Vendome, they prove that the energy of a strong will can bear up under such burdens. Madame de Stael, too, managed to combine a progressive embonpoint with the undiminished brilliancy of her genius, though it is certain that adipose tissue does not feed the flame of every mind. Charles Dickens in his "American Notes" expresses the opinion that no vigor of mental constitution could be proof against the influence of solitary confinement; but the narrow monkey-cages of our zoological prisons show that the minds of the little captives can stand the test of even that ordeal. They play with their shadows, if the nakedness of their four walls does not afford any other pastime.
Docility, on the other hand, is a rather ambiguous test of intelligence. The willingness and the ability to learn may supplement their mutual deficiencies, but differ as radically as patience and genius. Dogs master the tasks of their education by their earnest endeavor to please their master; Jacko excels them in spite of his waywardness. Some boys win college-prizes by memorizing their lessons in conformity with the wishes of a dreaded or beloved preceptor, others by dint of natural aptitude and a love of knowledge based on spontaneous inquisitiveness; and every circus-trainer knows that teachers who understand to avail themselves of that gift can teach a monkey tricks which can neither be coaxed nor kicked into the skull of the most docile dog. Besides, the domestic dog is a considerably modified variety of the family to which he belongs, and in order to appreciate the difference between the natural intelligence of the canines and the quadrumana we should compare the docility of the monkey with that of the wolf or the jackal. In the submissiveness of the dog the hereditary influence of several thousand generations has developed a sort of artificial instinct that qualifies him for the exigencies of his servitude; but submissiveness per se, however valuable for plastic purposes, is certainly not a characteristic concomitant of superior intelligence. In the soul of the Hindoo, the Chinese, and the Eastern Slav, the long-inculcated duty of subordination has become almost a second nature, while the most intelligent tribes of the ancient Greeks were famous—or, from a Chinese point of view, perhaps infamous—for a strong tendency in the opposite direction.
Patience is not a prominent gift of our four-handed relatives, but compensating nature has endowed them with the genius of self-help and its adjuvant talents,—observation, causality, imitativeness, covetousness, and self-asserting pluck. They also possess a fair share of such faculties as inquisitiveness, vigilance, and perseverance, all rudiments, indeed, but the rudiments of supremacy.
FELIX L. OSWALD.
* * * * *
Just out of reach she lightly swings, My Psyche with the rainbowed wings, A floating flower, by winds impelled, The honeyed spray has caught and held. Now circling low, with grace divine, She sips the tulip's chaliced wine. Why should I seek to bring her nigh And find—a simple butterfly?
O isles in ocean's azure set, Like sculptured dome and minaret Your purpled cliffs and headlands rise Against the far-off, misty skies. Yet, thither borne by helpful breeze, As lifts the veil from circling seas, Well know I your enchanted land Would prove but rugged rock and sand.
O friend whose words of wisdom rare Inspire my soul to do and dare, Across the distance wide and drear I will not reach to bring you near. Why cast ideal grace away To find you only common clay? The best of life and thought and speech Is that which lies—just out of reach.
SARAH D. HOBART.
* * * * *
THE PARISIAN COUTURIER.
The couturier—the bearded dressmaker, the masculine artist in silk and satin—is an essentially modern and Parisian phenomenon. It is true that the elegant and capricious Madame de Pompadour owed most of her toilets and elegant accoutrements to the genius of Supplis, the famous tailleur pour dames or ladies' tailor, of the epoch. But Supplis was an exception, and he never assumed the name of couturier, the masculine form of couturiere, "dress-maker." That appellation was reserved for the great artists of the Second Empire, Worth, Aurelly, Pingat, and their rivals, who utterly revolutionized feminine costume and endeavored to direct it in the paths of art, good taste, and comfort. Enthusiasts of grace and beauty, these artists set themselves the task of preventing the inconstant goddess of fashion from continuing to wander off into ugliness, deformity, and absurdity. In their devotion to art, beauty, and luxury, they determined never to forget fitness and comfort, and since their initiative has regulated the vagaries of fashion we must admit that our women have never been the victims of such inconvenient, ugly, and absurd inventions as crinoline, leg-o'-mutton sleeves, the coiffure a la fregate, and the various other monstrosities of the Republic, the Directory, and the Restoration, which, thanks to the traditional supremacy of France in matters of fashion, made their way, more or less modified, all over the world. The modern artists in dress consider justly that what is most important in a dress is the woman who wears it, and that their object should be to set her off to the best advantage, and not to make her remarked,—in short, to make a toilet which will be to the wearer what the frame is to the portrait. The role which the couturier plays, not only in Parisian life but in the life of the whole civilized world, is so important and so curious that I have thought it might interest the reader to see the great artist at home, surrounded by his customers and his assistants, and to catch a brief glimpse of the nature and peculiarities of the creature. My description of the type will be in general, of course, but founded on exact observation of individuals.
The high-priests of Parisian fashion have their shrines up-stairs. Where the highest perfection is aimed at, shops are nowhere. The grand couturier makes no outside show. You will find him occupying two or three floors in one of those plain, flat-fronted Restoration houses which line the Rue de la Paix, the Rue Taitbout, the Rue Louis-le-Grand, or the Faubourg St.-Honore. Passing through a square porte-cochere as broad as it is high, you find on the right or left hand a glass door opening on a staircase covered with a thick red carpet. On the landings are divans, and sometimes a palm of a dracaena. Through an open door on the ground-floor you see the packing-room, where marvels of silk and lace are being enveloped in mountains of tissue-paper to be sent to the four quarters of the globe; on the first floor, or entresol, are workrooms full of girls seated at long tables and sewing under the directing eye of a severe-looking matron; on the second floor are generally situated the show- and reception-rooms. The first saloon is sombre: the ceiling appears, in the daytime, blackened by gas; the walls are wainscoted in imitation ebony with gold fillets, and large panels above the chair-rail are filled with verdure tapestries of the most dismal green, chosen expressly to throw into relief the freshness and gayety of the dresses; on the chimney-piece, and reflected in the glass, is a clock surmounted by a monumental statue of Diana in nickeled imitation bronze and flanked by two immense candelabra; along the walls are two or three large wardrobes with looking-glass doors; in the middle of the room is a table for displaying materials, with a few chairs, and in one corner a desk, where is seated M. Cyprien or M. Alexandre, the bookkeeper. In this room the customers are received by a tall and very elegant young lady, invariably dressed in black satin in winter and black silk in summer. Through this soft-spoken person, who bears the title of premiere vendeuse, or first saleswoman, the customers are put into communication either with the great artist himself or simply with one of the premieres, or heads of departments, if their orders are not of sufficient importance to justify an interruption of the great man in his innumerable and absorbing occupations. Opening out of this first saloon are a number of smaller saloons, all equally sombre, colorless, and shabby-looking, especially by daylight. There are extra show-rooms and trying-on-rooms, besides which there is a special room for trying on riding-habits, and another for the chief of the corsage department, to say nothing of little rooms draped with blue, brown, or red for special purposes. Over these dingy carpets and among these old tapestries and sombre furniture glide noiselessly from room to room young women on whose sloping shoulders and lissome figures the "creations" of Messieurs les Couturiers show to the best advantage. These are the demoiselles-mannequins, or essayeuses,—mute but breathing models, who seem to have lost all human animation in their occupation of mere clothes-wearers, automata with weary faces, whose sole business is to carry on their backs from morning until night luminous vesture. The ordinary pay of the demoiselle-mannequin in the grand establishments is from sixty to eighty dollars a month, with half board; but some of them who have exceptionally elegant figures and perfect bearing are paid fancy prices, reaching as much in rare cases as two thousand dollars a year.
Imagine the appearance of these saloons between two and five o'clock in the afternoon during the season, filled as they are with chattering and finely-dressed ladies,—Parisiennes, Russians with their lazy accent, English and Americans talking in their own tongue, princesses of the Almanach de Gotha and princesses of the footlights, and even of the demi-monde, all united in adoration of the idol of fashion. A confused murmur of musical voices rises in an atmosphere impregnated with the perfumes of ylang-ylang, heliotrope, peau d'Espagne, jonquil, iris, poudre de riz, and odor di femina. The heads of the different departments are seen passing to and fro with fragments of a dress or a corsage in their arms, and amid the buzzing assembly the models move incessantly, like animated statues, silent and majestic. From time to time the voice of the great artist is heard giving brief and imperious orders, or scolding plaintively because a ruche has been substituted for a flounce on the dress of Madame X——, or a light fur for a dark fur on the mantle of the Baronne de V——,—"a pale blonde! The whole thing will have to be made over again. What can I do if I am not seconded?" he asks irritably. "Truly, mesdemoiselles, c'est a se donner au diable!" With these words flung at a little group of employees, the great man appears. He is a short man, dressed in light-gray trousers, a blue coat with a broad velvet collar and silk lappels in which are stuck a few pins for use in sudden inspirations, a flowered waistcoat, and a heavy watch-chain. His head is bald and surrounded by a fringe of dust-colored gray hair, frizzled so finely that it looks like swans'-down. His whiskers and moustache have the same fine and woolly appearance. His blue eyes look worn and faded; his face has flushed red patches on a pale anaemic ground; his expression is one of subdued suffering, due to the continual neuralgia by which he is tormented, thanks to the strong perfumes which his elegant customers force him to inhale all day long. Epinglard, for so we will call him for convenience' sake, rarely dines during the busy season: he is the martyr of his profession. He has a house exquisitely decorated and arranged, but he lives alone, his daily commerce with women having disinclined him to risk the lottery of marriage. Nevertheless, he is much effeminized; and his employees will assure you that he wears cambric nightcaps bordered with lace, and a lace jabot on his night-shirts. His life is entirely devoted to his art, and he conscientiously goes on Tuesdays to the Comedie Francaise, on Fridays to the Opera, and on Saturdays to the Italians or the Circus, because those are the nights selected by rank and fashion, and therefore excellent occasions for observing the work of his rivals. For the same reason Epinglard will be seen on fashionable days at the races, and at first performances at the fashionable theatres, but always alone. In confidence, Epinglard will tell you that he adores solitude and loves his art with undivided and disinterested passion. "It gives me pleasure," he will say, "to see a woman well dressed, whoever may have dressed her. For my own part, I do not care to get myself talked about. I mind my own business and I make my own creations, but I am perfectly ready to admire the creations of others. It is not the mere creation that I find difficult: it is to get my creations executed."
Epinglard talks slowly, precisely, and in a sing-song and hypocritical voice, while his fingers, laden with heavy rings, caress voluptuously some piece of surah or silk. He is in serious consultation with one of the leaders of fashion, the Baronne de P——. Suddenly changing his tone, he calls out to a model who is passing, "You there, mademoiselle, put on this skirt to show to madame," And, turning the model round, he shows the skirt in all its aspects, passing his fingers amorously over the batiste and seeming to give it life and beauty by his mere touch. "And you, Mademoiselle Ernestine, come here, too," calling to another model; who is walking about gloomily with a mantle on her shoulders: "put on Madame A——'s mantle." Then, changing back to his hypocritical tone, Epinglard continues his sing-song monologue to the Baronne de P——, and tells her that Madame A—— is a "great English lady who has deserted her husband and is now living in Paris. She spends about sixteen thousand dollars a year on her toilets. It is a good deal, yes. But, imagine, last month I made a mantle for the Countess Z—— which cost five thousand dollars. Look at that line" (caressing the mantle on the model's shoulders) "and the slope of the hips. It is perfect. And the embroidery and the trimming, all made on the material of the mantle itself by my own embroiderers."
This afternoon Epinglard is in a theorizing mood, and, after having sent for Bamboula, as he calls her familiarly, a dark-skinned model, he drapes her in a pale-yellow tulle dress, and proceeds to lament that so few Frenchwomen will wear yellow, owing to a silly popular prejudice. "Ah, madame la baronne," he continues, "you cannot conceive what lovely combinations of rose and yellow I have made. Why not? There are roses with yellow pistils. Why should not we do in stuffs what nature does in flowers? For us couturiers, as for the painter and the sculptor, the great source of inspiration is nature. There are many of my colleagues who fill their portfolios with the engravings of Eisen, Debucourt, Moreau, and the masters of the eighteenth century. But this is not sufficient: we must go back to nature. I pass my summer in the country, and in the rich combinations of floral color I find the gamut of tones for my toilets. But I am allowing myself to theorize too much. If madame la baronne will be good enough to come to-morrow, I will compose something for her in the mean time. This afternoon I am scarcely in the humor for a creation of such importance." And, with a grave salute, Epinglard passes into a saloon where two ladies are waiting impatiently, particularly the younger of the two, who has come, under the wing of her fashionable relative, to be introduced to the grand couturier.
"Bonjour, Monsieur Epinglard," begins the elder. "I have come to ask you to create a masterpiece. It will not be the first time, will it? My niece is going to her first ball next month, and I wish her to have a dress on which your signature will be visible."
Epinglard falls into a meditative pose, his elbow in one hand, his chin in the other, and looks long at the young girl, scrutinizing not only the line and modelling of the body, but the expression of the face, the eyes, the shade and nature of the hair, reading her temperament with the lucidity of a phrenologist aided by the divination of a plastic artist who has had great experience of feminine humanity. The examination lasts many minutes, and finally, as if under the inspiring influence of the god of taste, Epinglard, in broken phrases, composes the dress: "Toilette entirely of tulle ... corsage plaited diagonally ... around the decolletage four ruches ... the skirt relieved with drapery of white satin falling behind like a peplum ... on the shoulder—the left shoulder—a bouquet of myosotis or violets ... that is how I see mademoiselle dressed." And Epinglard salutes gravely, while an assistant, who has noted down the prophetic utterances of the master, conducts the subject to a room in the centre of which is an articulated model of a feminine torso, with movable breasts, flattened rag arms hanging at the sides, and a combination of straps and springs to adjust the taille or waist,—a most sinister and grotesque object, all crumpled and shrivelled up and covered with shiny, glazed calico. This is the studio of one of the most important of the secondary artists in dress-making, the corsagere. The chief of this department takes the subject in hand, and, with the aid of pieces of coarse canvas, such as the tailors use to line coats, she takes a complete mould of the body, cutting and pinning and smoothing with her hand until the mould is perfect. This is the first step toward the execution of the master's plan. At the next seance of trying-on, the subject passes simultaneously through the hands of several heads of departments,—the corsagere, the jupiere, who drapes the skirts and arranges the train, and the second jupiere, who mounts and constructs the skirt. The corsage is brought all sewn and whaleboned, but only basted below the arms and at the shoulder, and as soon as it is in place—"crac! crac!"—the corsagere, with angry fingers, breaks the threads, and then calmly and patiently rejoins the seams and pins them together so that the joinings may lie perfectly flat and even. On her knees, turning patiently round and round, the jupiere drapes the skirt on a lining of silk, seeking to perfect the roundness, sparing no pains, and displaying in all she does the artist's amour-propre, the desire to achieve a masterpiece in the detail which the masculine designer has allotted to her care. These women who lend their light-fingered collaboration to the imagination of the bearded dress-maker are really admirable in their sentiment of their work, in their artist's ambition, which thinks not merely of the week's salary, but of the perfection of the masterpiece. They seem to find intense personal satisfaction in producing a beautiful toilet, in fashioning a delicate thing which almost has the qualities of a work of art; and when the subject is naturally well formed,—tout faite, as they say,—and not artificially made up with what is called the taille de couturiere, their painstaking knows no bounds.
During these long seances, which last for hours together and occupy so large a place in the day of a woman of fashion, the common love of toilet makes, for the moment at least, the grande dame or the aristocrat the equal of the modest employee, and, while the jupiere is turning round and round madame la baronne, there often takes place a lively interchange of gossip and a review of the plastic qualities of the friends and rivals in beauty of madame la baronne who are also customers of the house. The grand couturier himself is a treasure-house of queer stories and scandals, and naturally his employees take after their master. The couturier, you see, is not a tradesman: he is an artist, and he renders a woman far greater service than the artist-painter, who finds her already dressed and only has to copy her, whereas the couturier dresses a woman not once, but twenty times a year, and each time that he invents a becoming toilet he makes a new creation not only of the toilet, but of the woman. There has, in fact, been a great change made in modern times in matters of dress. Our modern women are no longer content with merely seasonable dresses, appropriate in form and material for spring, summer, autumn, or winter; they are no longer satisfied to have four interviews a year with the dress-maker. On the contrary, every event in social life—a wedding, a ball, a visit to a country-house, the annual excursions to sea-side and mountain—gives occasion for special dresses, or rather costumes, for in modern toilets the element of pure costume plays a considerable role especially in those destined for wear in the country. The modern woman of fashion needs endless morning, afternoon, and evening dresses, tea-gowns, breakfast-dresses, of endless varieties of form, stuff, and color. Hence she is constantly in communication with the couturier, who has every opportunity of examining her morally and physically, confessing her, listening often to strange confidences. Not unfrequently he combines with his artistic career that of a banker. Naturally, ladies who run up yearly bills of twenty thousand dollars for gowns and mantles are often in a corner for want of a few thousands, and the Parisienne in such circumstances often thinks it equally natural to have recourse to the strange creature who dresses her and who thus comes to occupy a very curious position on the confines of society.
The final trying-on of the dresses of madame la baronne is a grand day, and often a few friends, both ladies and gentlemen, are invited to assist at the ceremony; for the Parisiennes recognize in some of their masculine friends, and particularly in painters, certain talents for appreciating dress. Why not? Were not these men the great innovators in modern dressing? and are not men still the great artists in costume? Madame la baronne prepares herself in one of the little saloons. First of all come the skirts and the young ladies who preside over the fabrication of the dessous, or underclothing, for it is an axiom in modern French dress-making that half the success of the toilet depends on the underclothing, or, as the French put it in their neat way, "Le dessous est pour la moitie dans la reussite du dessus." Then follows the tying of the skirt of the dress, which is suspended on hooks round the bottom of the corset, the buttoning of the corsage, the preliminary tapping and caressing necessary to make the folds of the skirt sit well, and then madame la baronne makes her appearance triumphantly before her friends assembled in the adjoining saloon. The great artist himself deigns to contemplate the finished work. Standing off at some distance, so as to take in the general effect, as if he were examining a picture, he gazes upon the dress with impassible eyes, and then, after a Napoleonic silence, during which all present hold their breath, the great man expresses his satisfaction, perhaps even falls on his knees in mute admiration of his masterpiece, or in the twinkling of an eye gives a pinch to a frill or a twist to a plait which transforms and perfects the whole, such is the magic power of those marvellous fingers when they touch the delicate tissues of silk or lace or velvet. Then, while the master is sating his eyes, all the staff of the house defiles through the saloon,—the chief saleswoman, the cutter-out, the chef des jupes, the chef des corsages, the chef des garnisseuses, the premiere brodeuse, and half a dozen other premieeres, who open the door and ask, with caressing intonations of voice and pretty smiles, "Vent-on me permettre de voir un pen?"
What other mysteries are there to be revealed in the house of the couturier? We have glanced at the packing-rooms, the working-rooms with their battalions of girls and women toiling away with their needles by daylight and gas-light. We caught a glimpse of the reception-saloons and the trying-on-rooms, all strewn with fragments of dresses,—disjecta membra,—mountains of silk, and peopled with automatic human mannequins, essayeuses, who, as the moralists will tell you, are all "vicieuses qui ne manquent de rien," and who are destined sooner or later to reinforce the demi-monde. We have seen the process of creating and fitting a dress, the ceremony of trying-on, and the role of the creating artist in all this. Now, to make our indiscretion complete, we have only to peep into the salon des amazones, a room draped in green velvet and decorated with whips, stirrups, and side-saddles. The table in the middle is piled up with heaps of dark-colored cloth and hats with green, brown, and blue veils. At one end is a life-size wooden horse, and presiding over this room is a blonde effeminate young man, whose business it is to offer his clasped hands as a mounting-stone to help the ladies to jump on to the back of the wooden steed, while the tailor arranges the folds of their riding-habits.
Besides Pingat, the most artistic of the Parisian dress-makers, besides Worth, who has a specialty of court-dresses for exportation and showy dresses for American actresses, and whose style is pompous and official, besides Felix, the dresser of slender women, the favorite artist of the aristocracy of birth and talent,—all three so well known that the mention of their names here cannot be regarded as an advertisement,—there are a dozen other bearded dress-makers in Paris whose talent is worthy of admiration, and whose caprices might amuse us if we had time to dwell upon them. There is, however, a grande couturiere who surpasses all her masculine rivals in fatuity and caprice, namely, Madame Rodrigues, the great theatrical dress-maker. Madame Rodrigues always asks the journalists not to mention her by name. "Put simply," she says, "the first dress-maker in Paris. Everybody will know who is meant." This lady regards herself as the collaborator of Sardou and Dumas and Augier. Dumas is her peculiar favorite. "We understand each other," she says, "and he finds that my genius completes his."
Nothing can be more amusing than the scene in her vast saloons about four o'clock in the afternoon. The grande couturiere—Madame, as her employees respectfully call her—issues from her private rooms and finds herself in presence of a score of ladies, not merely actresses, but society ladies, to whom she has given rendezvous for that day.
"I am exceedingly sorry, mesdames," the great artist will exclaim, "but I cannot attend to you to-day."
"But, dear madame, you wrote to me—"
"I must have my dress for to-morrow."
"My ball takes place to-night—"
"Mesdames, I repeat, it is impossible. If one of my assistants likes to take you in hand, well and good. That is all I can do for you."
Then, turning round, she perceives a stout lady who looks imploringly at her, and declares brusquely, "Ah, madame, I have already told you that I cannot undertake to dress you. You are not my style. I do not understand plump women."
"But, Madame Rodrigues—"
"If one of my premieres cares to take you in hand, I have no objection; but that is all I can do for you."
The only thing that calms the great artist is the arrival of one of her favorite actresses.
"Ah, bonjour, Madame Judic: you will have your toilets on Friday—"
"But the first performance is announced for Wednesday."
"They must put it off, then, for I am not ready. We will try your dress for the second act this afternoon." And the grande couturiere settles herself in her arm-chair, calls for her footstool, her fan, her cup of beef-tea, her smelling-salts, and so proceeds to preside over the terrible and imposing ceremony of trying on the dress of a fashionable actress.
Doubtless the luxury of the Parisiennes is not so great now as it was under the Empire; but the falling off in the home trade is partly compensated by the increase in the foreign customers. In Paris alone the dress-making trade represents the movement of fifty millions of dollars a year and gives employment to some fifty thousand women; and many of the elegant society women spend from twenty to thirty thousand dollars a year on their costume and toilet. But it must not be believed that the modern couturier is the first who has known how to draw up big bills, or that the modern lingere is the first who has dared to charge two hundred dollars for a chemise and half as much for a pocket-handkerchief. Dress has always reigned supreme in France at least. Louis XVI. has been guillotined, Napoleon I. exiled, Charles X. dismissed, Louis Philippe and Napoleon III. replaced without their leave by a new form of government. But dress has never been dethroned; and, just as in our own days Dupin thundered in the Senate against the desperate luxury of the Parisiennes of the Empire, so in the eighteenth century old Sebastien Mercier lamented that the fear of the milliners' bills prevented young men from marrying, and so left fifteen hundred thousand girls without husbands! The great dress-makers of those days were Madame Eloffe, the artist who dressed Marie Antoinette, and whose account-books have recently been published; with notes and curious colored plates, by the Comte de Reiset, and Madame Cafaxe, the modiste-couturiere of the Fauburg St.-Honore, celebrated for her exorbitant charges. One has only to consult the curious historical researches of the brothers De Goncourt in order to appreciate the luxury and extravagance of the past century. Imagine that in the wedding-trousseau of Mademoiselle Lepelletier Saint-Fargeau there figured twelve blonde wigs, varying in shade from flax to gold! Madame Tallien alone possessed thirty of these wigs, each of which was valued at that time at one hundred dollars,—that is to say, some two hundred dollars of modern money. None of our modern elegantes would ever think of buying six thousand dollars' worth of false hair. At the same epoch the ladies who had fallen in love with Greek and Roman fashions had abandoned the old-fashioned shoe in order to adopt the cothurnus; and Coppe, the chic shoemaker, or corthurnier, of Paris charged sixty dollars a pair for his imitation antique sandals, with their straps. Alas! Coppe's sandals were no more durable than the fleeting rose, and whenever a fair dame came to show her torn cothurnus to the great Coppe he replied sadly, "The evil is irremediable: madame has been walking!"