Farmer Loper and the engineer fell to discussing how many bushels of wheat to the acre the neighboring farms had produced, and how many this would probably produce, with various comments on the weather and the soil. A little farther down the table a young farmer was telling of the speed made by his brown mare Kitty,—how she passed every team on the road, and that he wouldn't take a hundred and fifty dollars for her; and farther still, two or three were discussing the affairs of an absent neighbor,—how he had bought the Caldwell place, but, not being able to pay for it, had given a mortgage, and hadn't managed the farm very well, had let the interest run behind, they had heard, so there was a prospect of his losing it.
"I guess he won't have to give it up," said one: "the woman that raised his wife has got plenty of money, and if he can't make it, she'll pay for the place and let them live on it. She's helped them several times already. If he wasn't so lazy and shiftless he might have everything in good shape."
But a conversation which was going on at the lower end of the table interested Elvira most of all. It was about birds, including some of her favorites of the woods and fields which she had noticed a great deal in her solitary rides that summer. The principal speaker was a young farmer whom she had never seen before. He seemed to be acquainted with the names and habits of all the birds which lived in that section, besides many which merely passed through it on their way northward every spring and southward every fall.
"I have kept a record of the time of each arrival," he said, "and notes of rare birds. The bluebird came first, and the humming-bird last. And I discovered two birds that were new to me. One is a Northern bunting. A flock stayed one day in our orchard on their way northward to their summer home, and I succeeded in killing and stuffing a pair. The feathers of the male were a beautiful pink-red. The other strange bird seemed to come with the scarlet tanager, and is much like a pee-wee in shape and size, with feathers of a greenish yellow."
"When do you find time to learn so much about birds?" asked George Loper, who knew only a few of the more common ones,—blackbirds, crows, jays, hawks, and robins,—and had no eyes for the variety of feathered life around him.
"I keep my eyes open as I work and as I go along the road," answered young Farmer Worth; "then I look up their names and read something about them in a book on birds which I have. You've no idea how much enjoyment there is in it. I have quite a collection of birds which I have stuffed, and more than a hundred different kinds of eggs, besides my cabinet of mineral specimens. I nailed two ladders together, and climbed thirty feet above these and got a crow's nest; and this spring we found a hawk's nest in a high tree. We tied a stout twine to a small stone, which we threw over the forks of the tree, and with this drew a large rope over. Then I sat in the noose of the rope, and three boys pulled me up sixty feet to the nest. It was rather scary, I can tell you, and I was glad to get down to the ground again; but I got the hawk's nest."
Then Elvira asked him if he could tell her the name of the bird with a yellow head, but otherwise black plumage, which she had noticed not long before in a flock of common blackbirds; and they were soon in an animated conversation on the subject of birds in general. Elvira had noticed many that summer which she could describe, but whose names she did not know.
Soon the men began to leave the table, for it was not the custom to wait till all had done eating, but for each one to go when he was ready. George Loper went away grumbling that he couldn't see any use in learning about birds: all he wanted was for the crows and blackbirds to keep away from the corn when it was first planted. But Elvira and young Worth talked ten minutes longer, finding more and more that they were interested in the same subjects. Then the women began to clear away the plates and cups and knives, and Elvira turned to assist them, while her new acquaintance joined his companions, who were resting in the shade of the trees. There he encountered some good-natured chaff from the younger members, who began by asking him if he was struck with the school-ma'am. The responsibility of the threshers' dinner being over, Mrs. Loper and her assistants sat down to the table, to eat their own dinner at ease, and exchange remarks with each other, complimenting or criticising their cooking.
"This chicken-stuffin' is real good," said one of the neighbors to Mrs. Loper.
"Well, I don't know," said Mrs. Loper, tasting some of it on the end of her knife: "'pears to me I put a leetle too much sage in it. But the gravy you made, Mirandy, that couldn't be better. Didn't you see how the men kept askin' for it to be passed? And they've et up all the summer squash and all the cream-pie. Taste some of these plum preserves, Mis' Brown, and don't let me forget to send some to your little girls: I remember how well they like 'em. This cake is real light and good, but I was afraid it would fall. This float would 'a' been better if I'd had a little lemon flavor to put in it. But I guess, on the whole, the dinner went off middlin' well." Then, seeing Elvira and Maggie sitting on the opposite side of the table, some deeper thoughts were stirred in her motherly heart, and she began to talk of the daughter she had lost years before: "If Lucy had lived, she'd 'a' been seventeen this spring,—just your age; and you remind me of her sometimes. She always had such red cheeks, and was never sick a day till she was taken down with the diphtheria."
For a while the affairs of the present were forgotten, as the old and never-wholly-healed wound was opened afresh and she dwelt upon her bereavement; but soon the round of work must be taken up, the dishes must be washed, the victuals set away, and supper for the threshers must be planned and prepared. It was best so. "Time, the healer, and work, the consoler," enable us to bear many things which in the first keen freshness of grief seem unbearable.
The threshers thought they would be done by six o'clock, so they decided not to stop for supper at five, as was the custom, but wait for their evening meal till the work of the day was completed. Elvira started home before this time, and good Mrs. Loper not only filled her own little basket, but made her take a larger one packed with remains of the feast.
There were three weeks more of her school, and during that time she saw young Farmer Worth several times. Twice she met him in the road, and once he stopped at the school-house to bring her Wilson's book on birds, which he had promised to lend her. But the day before school closed he came and helped Jack Sapp and some other boys make a platform in the woods, on which the children could speak their declamations and sing their songs, and on the afternoon of the last day of school was present in the crowd of parents, brothers, sisters, and friends assembled on that important and, to the children, most exciting occasion. There were declamations from the third and fourth readers,—"How big was Alexander, Pa?" and "He never smiled again," and "Lord Ullin's Daughter,"—and Maggie Loper held the audience spell-bound by an entirely new one, which Elvira had selected and copied for her out of a book of poems,—"The Dream of Eugene Aram." Then there were songs, and dialogues, and two compositions, one on "Rats" and one on "Planting Corn," which had been produced by their respective authors after much wear of brain fibre and much blotting of writing-paper. Last of all, Elvira read one of Longfellow's poems, after which she said that the exercises of the school were over, but that remarks from visitors would be gladly received. Then one of the trustees arose, and said that education was a great blessing, that he hoped the children of the present day would appreciate their advantages and grow up to be useful men and women, adding that all the schooling he had received was three winter terms in a log school-house, one entire end of which was occupied by the fireplace, and which had no glass windows, the light being admitted through holes cut in the logs and covered with greased foolscap-paper. No other remarks being offered, the audience was dismissed, and the children began in an excited hurry to collect their possessions, and bid their teacher good-by as if for a life-long parting. Some of them even shed tears, and this occasioned the cynical remark from a by-stander, "Them Mays children needn't to take on so: the school-ma'am will have to call at their house often enough before she gits her money."
Soon the spot was deserted, and the squirrels came down from the trees to retake possession of their old haunts, to scamper across the platform, to sniff at the fallen rose-petals of the bouquets, and to nibble the crumbs of cake and bread dropped from the lunch-baskets.
The next outing for the people of Buck Creek neighborhood was the county fair, which occurred in September. They went in spring-wagons, in farm-wagons, in buggies, and on horseback, starting early in the morning, and taking an ample supply of provisions for themselves as well as feed for their horses.
The sunshine poured down hot upon them, and there was much dust, but they were happy. There were crowds of people from all the surrounding country; there were displays of vegetables, fruit, honey, butter, in tents and sheds,—in short, all the products of a farming region; there were cakes, loaves of bread, glasses of jelly, and jars of pickles and preserves, made by farmers' wives; and in the department allotted to needle-work there were quilts of various patterns and various claims to public notice: one had three thousand five hundred and forty-four pieces in it, and was made by a great-granddaughter of Daniel Boone, the pioneer; another was pieced by an old lady of eighty-one without the aid of glasses. Among the live-stock were fat cattle and prancing three-year-old colts, with red or blue ribbons fastened to their manes, indicating that they had received the first or second prize, and fat hogs; there were various breeds of poultry in coops, and before each stall or pen or coop stood a group of spectators, admiring, commenting, or asking questions of the owner; there were agricultural machines and implements, and patent pumps for stock-yards, and improved cross-cut saws, each strongly recommended to the public by a glib-tongued agent. Then there were stands for the sale of ice-cream, lemonade, and peanuts and candy; and no rural beau felt that he had done the polite thing unless he took his girl up to the counter and treated her. When he had strolled all over the ground with her, and perhaps taken her into one or two side-shows, where there were negro minstrels or the Wild Australian Children, he went and sat in a buggy with her, and they talked, and waited for the horse-race, or balloon-ascension, or wire-walking, which was the especial attraction of the afternoon.
"Why, who's that with Tom Worth?" asked one Buck Creek belle of her escort as they were thus sitting together. "I didn't know that he was goin' with anybody?"
"I didn't, either," was the response; then, after a little pause, "I'll swan, it's Miss Hill, the school-ma'am. Who'd 'a' thought they would be here together? I didn't know they were acquainted."
And this remark was echoed by other Buck Creek people as they saw the couple walking together. But there is a law of affinity by which people are drawn together as lovers or as friends, which is like some of the hidden forces of nature: we cannot see their operation, we can only see their results. Some one has made the paradoxical remark that we are acquainted with our friends before we ever see them; meaning that our tastes for the same pursuits or subjects, traits of character that harmonize, views that coincide, have been ripening apart, and, when at last we meet, that is sufficient; it does not require a long acquaintanceship to reveal one to the other.
Young Farmer Worth was now in the habit of frequently calling to see Elvira Hill, and of taking her out riding in his buggy, that being an approved form of courtship in this section. They talked of their favorite books and studies, their ambitions for the future as regarded mental culture, and their individual plans.
Elvira had applied for the position of assistant in the Hill's Station school, and had been engaged as first assistant instead of second, which was better than she had hoped. She would have to hear some advanced classes from the principal's room, and this would require her to study, which would be a source of improvement.
Young Farmer Worth, whose father had died three years before, had bought the home farm, and was now working to pay his older brothers and sisters for their shares in it and to comfortably support his mother in her declining years.
"There are eighty acres in it, well improved, and with good buildings," he said one day, while unfolding his plans to Elvira, "and I think I can make a good home of it, and a happy one, where I can feel independent, and no one's servant, as I could not at any other business. Farming is a profession, and I intend to work with my head as well as my hands, to read and study on the subject, to take the best agricultural papers, and keep up with the times. My fondness for ornithology and mineralogy can be indulged in connection with my work on the farm and without in any wise interfering with it."
In the winter he came occasionally to take her to lectures at Sassafrasville or another neighboring town, and they always found food for thought in what they heard, and pleasure in discussing it afterward.
The gossips said, "There's a match;" but it was not until spring that they were engaged. Then he took her to see his mother, and showed her the old home, the farm, and the improvements he was making. The old lady received Elvira with mingled dignity and cordiality, but, finding her interested in all she heard and saw, warmed toward her more and more, and told much of her own life, unfolding the store of memories on which her thoughts chiefly dwelt nowadays, talking of her husband, the children she had lost, and bringing forth their pictures, opening closed rooms, and showing dishes, linen, and other household goods which dated back to her own girlhood and early married life.
Elvira felt an attachment for Mrs. Worth which deepened when, in the ensuing autumn, her dear grandmother died after a brief illness, and she experienced the loneliness of bereavement and homelessness. The little brown house in Hill's Station was sold, and Elvira went to board with one of the neighbors: she was still teaching in the village school.
When June came round again, with its beauty of earth and sky, it brought her wedding-day. A very quiet wedding it was; but the home-coming, or the "in-fare," to use a good old-fashioned word, was the occasion of much joy and merry-making. It seemed as if all the Buck Creek neighborhood had assembled to welcome the bride. Two of the farmers' wives had been at the Worth homestead all the preceding day, and many of them brought cakes with them.
In the centre of the table stood a roast pig, with an apple in its mouth, and around it were a great abundance of the substantial viands and delicacies usually provided on such occasions. There were also many presents for the bride from her old friends, not costly or fine, but in keeping with their manner of living. Mrs. Loper brought a sheep-skin for a mat, the wool combed out smoothly and colored crimson, Maggie a white crocheted tidy as big as a cart-wheel, Mrs. Sapp a wooden butter-stamp, Mary Sapp a picture-frame made of pasteboard, with beech-nuts glued together thickly upon it and varnished.
So, amid good wishes and rejoicing, the young married pair entered upon their new life together, contented, yet energetic, and happy in the fact that their own lives afforded fulness and enjoyment, and that in their own efforts lay the fulfilment of their ambitions.
LOUISE COFFIN JONES.
INTO THY HANDS.
Into thy hands, my Father, I commit All, all my spirit's care, The sorest burden this dim life can bear, The sweetest hope wherewith its paths are lit! Into thy hands, that hold so closely knit What our blind, aching heart Calls joy or grief,—we know them not apart! Into the hands whence leap The hurling tempest, and the gentle breath Kissing the babe to sleep, The flaming bolt that smites with instant death The giant oak, and the refreshing shower Whose balmy drops make glad the tender flower.
What though, even as lent jewels passing bright, That crowned me happy king For one sweet revel of one night in spring, I must surrender in the morning light, That cold and gray breaks on my tearful sight, Youth, hope, and joy, and love, And—oh, all other gems, all price, above!— The deathless certainty Of the deep life beyond this pallid sun, That golden shore and sea Which to my youthful feet seemed wellnigh won, So fair, so close, so clear, methought I heard The trees' soft whisper and faint song of bird;
What though this fair dream, too, fled long ago, And on my straining eyes There break no more visions of mellow skies 'Neath which dear friends, called dead, move on in low Sweet converse through wide, happy fields aglow With heavenly flower and star,— What though, like some poor pilgrim who from far Sees, through a slender rift In the dark rocks that hem his toilsome way, The clouds an instant lift From countries bathed in everlasting day, I stand and stretch my yearning arms in vain Toward the blest light, too swiftly lost again?
Into thy hands, my Father, I commit This dearest, last hope too, Old as the world, and yet forever new,— The hope wherewith our dimmest paths are lit, With life itself indissolubly knit! That too is well, I know, In thy eternal keeping. Ah! and so Let my poor soul dismiss Each fear and doubt, hush every anxious cry, Forget all thought save this, Some time,—oh, dream of joy that cannot die!— In those beloved hands, a priceless store, All our lost jewels shall be found once more!
A CHAPTER OF MYSTERY.
Science, as a rule, has avoided the subject of Spiritualism. Its results are too much unlike the hard, visible, tangible facts of scientific research to attract those accustomed to positive investigations. And its methods and conditions are usually of a character to set a scientist beside himself with impatience. Crucial tests do not seem acceptable to spirits in general. They decline to be placed on the microscopic slide or to show their ghostly forms in the glare of the electric light, and prefer to haunt the society of those who do not pester them with too exacting conditions. Thus they have been mainly given over to a class of somewhat credulous and, in some instances, not well-balanced mortals, whose statements have very little weight with the general public, and whose strong powers of digesting the marvellous have originated a plentiful crop of fraud and trickery sufficient to throw discredit on the whole business.
It cannot be said, however, that all the adherents of Spiritualism are of this character, or that science has completely failed to investigate it. It has won over many persons of good sense and sound logic, including several prominent scientists, to a belief in the truth of its claims. Were its adherents all cranks or credulous believers, and its phenomena only such common sleight-of-hand performances as suffice to convince the open-mouthed swallowers of conjurers' tricks, it would be idle to give it any attention. But phenomena sufficiently striking to convert such men as Hare, Crooks, Wallace, Zoellner, and the like are certainly worthy of some attention, and cannot be at once dismissed as results of skilful prestidigitation.
In fact, it is evident to those who have taken the trouble to investigate the question seriously, and who do not dismiss it with an a priori decision, that in addition to the fraudulent mediums who make it their business to trick the public, and are ready to produce a new marvel for every new dollar, and to call "spirits from the vasty deep" of the unseen universe in form and shape to suit every customer, there are some private and strictly honest mediums, and many phenomena which no theory of conjuring will explain. To what they are due is another question, in regard to which no hypothesis is here offered. It may be said here, however, that the work of the Psychic Research Society has demonstrated rather conclusively that certain hitherto unknown and unsuspected powers and laws of nature do exist, and that man's five senses are not the only means by which he gains a knowledge of what is going on in other minds than his own. The facts of thought-transference, of mesmeric control, of apparitions of the living, and the like, as critically tested by the members of this society, seem to indicate clearly that mind can affect, influence, and control mind through some other channel than that of the senses, usually over short distances, but in case of strong mental concentration over long distances. That some psychic medium, some ethereal atmosphere, infiltrates our grosser atmosphere, and is capable of conveying waves of thought as the luminiferous ether conveys waves of light, is the theory advanced in explanation of these phenomena. Spiritualists had long before advanced a like theory in explanation of their phenomena, claiming that disembodied as well as living minds have the power of influencing and controlling other minds, through the agency of such a psychic atmosphere, and also of acting upon and moving physical substances through a like agency. As to the probability of all this, no opinion is here offered.
It is our purpose simply to select some of the more striking instances of spiritualistic phenomena, as recorded by scientific observers. Those placed on record by the numerous unscientific and unknown investigators are not the kind of material to present to the general public. Statements of an unusual character need to be thoroughly substantiated before they can be accepted, and the remarkable phenomena adduced as spiritual demand evidence of the most unquestionable character. There is always the feeling that the observer may have been deceived by some shrewd trickery, or have credulously accepted what others would have readily seen through, or that the senses may have been under some form of mesmeric control. Instances of such phenomena, therefore, need to be attested by the names of persons of well-known honesty, judgment, and discrimination, and attended with an exact statement of the tests applied, before they can be accepted as thoroughly trustworthy accounts. Some instances of this character may be here given.
The phenomena known under the general name of spirit-manifestations vary greatly in different instances. In some cases they take the form of strange dreams, in which some warning or information concerning coming events is given that afterward proves true. In others they occur as seeming apparitions of persons recently or long dead. In others, as in the case of haunted houses, there are noises of great variety, moving of objects, opening and shutting of doors, appearances of unknown forms, and all the phenomena which might be produced by an invisible inhabitant of the house who was able to become visible under certain circumstances. More ordinary manifestations are rapping sounds and lifting of heavy bodies, writing either with or without apparent human agency, and mental communication of facts unknown to or forgotten by the persons present. Other phases are those presented by professional mediums,—the tying and untying of ropes, playing on musical instruments, the production of luminous phenomena, slate-writing under tables, and the like. Performances of this character are usually done in the dark, and the fraud which may be present is therefore not easily detected. It is impossible to apply tests under such circumstances, and nothing can be accepted as positive that cannot be tested. Performances similarly surprising are constantly offered by professional conjurers, and nothing claiming the high origin of spiritual phenomena can be received in evidence where trickery is possible or has not been rendered impossible by the employment of adequate tests.
To the same class belong the cabinet performances and the so-called materialization of spirit forms, which have been the favorite cards of professional mediums of late years. So far as yet offered in public, they may be dismissed in the mass as pure trickery. The fact that stage-performers of sleight-of-hand tricks can repeat the cabinet phenomena in every detail, and that the materialized spirit showmen have been caught in numerous instances in the very act of fraud, throws utter discredit on the business. No repetition by new mediums of other forms of the exposed tricks carries any weight. In fact, in a matter of such importance nothing can be accepted as settled until it has been subjected to the strictest scientific tests and every possible opportunity for deceit or trickery eliminated. We are not ready to believe that the spirits of our departed friends are able and willing to talk with or show themselves to us, or create disturbances in the arrangement of our furniture, unless we are absolutely positive that our eyes, ears, and nerves are not being cleverly fooled by some skilled and unscrupulous show-man, or that we are not self-deceived by some temporary vagary of our brains or senses.
In addition to the purely physical phenomena are others of a more or less mental character. One interesting phase of the latter is that of planchette-writing, which attracted so much attention a few years ago. The planchette, a heart-shaped board moving easily on casters, and with a pencil supporting it at one extremity, moves with great readiness when touched by mediumistic fingers, and is responsible for acres of communications purporting to come from the world of spirits, and conveying the greatest variety of information, alike as to the thoughts and deeds of particular spirits and the general conditions of disembodied spiritual existence. In other instances the planchette is dispensed with, and the writing done by a pencil held in the hand of the medium, or occasionally, as some persons positively declare, by a pencil that is held in no mortal hand. In still other cases the medium, either awake or entranced, gives the communication by word of mouth. And this is asserted to be the case not only in respect to brief messages, but in long addresses, which are given every Sunday in our principal cities before large audiences, and in the writing of books of considerable length, but not, as a rule, of any great profundity or literary value. To all these claims, however, we can simply record the verdict "not proven." When a man writes or says anything we want more than his mere assertion to prove that it does not come from his own mind. And, even if we are satisfied that he is not consciously deceiving, the possibility remains that he is affected by some unconscious mental action. We shall certainly not accept his declaration that spirits of the dead are talking through him unless he gives information that could not possibly have been in his own mind, and could not have been received by thought-transference from the mind of any other person present or in rapport with him at a distance. The discoveries in thought-transference open possibilities of mental influence between living persons which aid to explain many hitherto incomprehensible phenomena.
Clairvoyant and clairaudiant mediums fall into the same category. They profess to see forms which no one else can see, and to hear voices which no one else can hear, and describe these forms, or repeat the words of these voices, often with the effect of recalling the appearance or character of deceased persons whom they could not possibly have known. Yet the fact remains that the persons who recognize these descriptions as accurate must have known the parties described, and it becomes possible that the mental impression of the medium may have been received by thought-transference from them. We do not assert that it has been so received. We assert nothing. In fact, phenomena are claimed to occur which it is difficult or impossible to explain on any such theory, or on any other theory yet promulgated. Among these is the conveyance of matter through matter, as of an object from the interior to the exterior of a corked and sealed bottle, of other objects from a distance into locked rooms, of writing by a sliver of pencil in the interior of a double slate firmly screwed together, of the placing of close-fitting steel rings in one solid piece around human necks, and their subsequent removal, of writing and speaking in languages unknown to some or all of the persons present, and a considerable variety of similar performances, declared to have occurred under strict test-conditions. Yet if we cannot explain we retain the right to doubt, and such statements cannot be received as facts except on the strongest substantiation.
The phenomena whose main forms we have here given, but whose actual variety we cannot attempt to give, are offered on the testimony of a great variety of persons, many of whom are plainly too credulous for their evidence to be of any value whatever, while others, who seem to have exercised great caution and cool judgment, are unknown to the general public, and therefore not likely to be accepted as witnesses in such a critical case. Others, again, who are well known and highly respected, have invalidated their testimony by clearly letting themselves be deceived. Such was the case with Robert Dale Owen, one of the main historians of spiritual phenomena, who permitted himself to be pitifully humbugged in Philadelphia by the somewhat famous spirit of Katie King, whose spirit face was afterward discovered on the sturdy shoulders of a very decidedly incarnate young lady. This was one of the first instances of that throng of materialized frauds with which this country has ever since been well supplied.
But there have been numerous investigators of spiritualism who cannot be placed in any such category, many of them men of high standing in the scientific world, whose word is still taken as positive evidence in support of very surprising scientific statements, since they are known to examine and test phenomena with the closest and most accurate scrutiny. This class of observers is particularly abundant in the London scientific world, and includes in its list such noted names as Alfred Russel Wallace, the celebrated naturalist, Dr. William Crooks, whose discoveries in chemistry and physics have been of a remarkable character, and Dr. Huggins, the equally celebrated astronomer. In America the most noted scientific observer was the late Dr. Hare, of Philadelphia, a chemist of world-wide fame. Of those who, if not professed scientists, have been otherwise of high standing, Professor Wallace names, in a recent communication to the "Times," Dr. Robert Chambers, Dr. Elliotson, and Professor William Gregory, of Edinburgh, Dr. Gully, a scientific physician of Malvern, and Judge Edmonds, one of the best known American lawyers. Names of similar reputation in the scientific and professional world might be adduced from Germany and France, prominent among them the late Professor Zoellner, of Leipsic, a well-known astronomer; but the above-given will suffice as evidence that the investigation of spiritualism has not been confined to the unknown, unlearned, and credulous, but has been pursued by men of the very highest standing for probity, learning, sound judgment, and critical discrimination.
The results reached by these men are therefore of great weight, and go far to fix the status of the phenomena examined. We may say here that several of them have become acknowledged converts to the spiritual theory. More generally, however, they have declined to express positive opinions as to the cause of these phenomena, while positively testifying that they are not the result of trickery, but that they indicate the existence of some power or energy in nature which is able to suspend or overcome the operation of nature's ordinary forces. Only two prominent scientists, who have made any pretence to examine these phenomena, have declared that they are in toto the result of fraud. These two are Professor Faraday and Dr. Carpenter. But the investigations made by these noted personages were too trivial to render their decision of any value. Faraday briefly examined the phenomena of table-tipping, and decided that it was due to involuntary muscular movement. Dr. Carpenter reasserted the same, years after this explanation had been shown to be entirely inadequate, and declared that the mental phenomena were due only to unconscious cerebration, or the action of memories and ideas long since stored in the mind, when the consciousness is otherwise engaged and the person is unaware of the activity of his mental stores. This theory, we may also say, is utterly inadequate to explain all the phenomena, and only applies by a strained interpretation to the instances which Dr. Carpenter gives in illustration.
One of the most striking of these instances we may here append. A student relates that a professor had said to his class in mathematics, of which this student was a member, "'A question of great difficulty has been referred to me by a banker, a very complicated question of accounts, which they themselves have not been able to bring to a satisfactory issue, and they have asked my assistance. I have been trying, and I cannot resolve it. I have covered whole sheets of paper with calculations and have not been able to make it out. Will you try?' He gave it as a sort of problem to his class, and said he would be extremely obliged to any one who would bring him the solution on a certain day. This gentleman tried it over and over again. He covered many slates with figures, but could not succeed in resolving it. He was a little put on his mettle, and very much desired to attain the solution. But he went to bed on the night before the solution, if attained, was to be given in, without having succeeded. In the morning, when he went to his desk, he found the whole problem worked out in his own hand. He was perfectly sure that it was his own hand. And this was a curious part of it, that the result was attained by a process very much shorter than any he had tried. He had covered three or four sheets of paper in his attempts, and this was all worked out on one page, and correctly worked, as the result proved. He inquired of the woman who attended to his room, and she said that she was certain no one had entered it during the night. It was perfectly clear that this had been worked out by himself."
Instances of this kind are certainly very curious, and seem to show that the mind, when set in any train of thought by intense concentration, may pursue it after consciousness has been withdrawn. And the result indicates that the mind acts with innate logic when not disturbed by distracting considerations, and can be trusted to do more correct work when thus set going and left to run of itself than when consciously held to its work. Yet an examination of every recorded instance of this kind strongly indicates that no such unconscious mental action ever takes place except when the consciousness has been earnestly directed to the subject in advance, that no marked instances of this activity ever occur except in the unconsciousness of sleep or trance, and that it ceases when the mental excitement that started it has gradually subsided. There is not an instance on record to show that the mind ever originates unconscious action, or that any of its remote stores or powers ever spring into activity without being aroused by sensation or conscious thought. Thus the doctrine of unconscious cerebration has been carried much further than the facts warrant. It need hardly be said that it is utterly inapplicable as a theory to many of the facts adduced by the Society for Psychic Research.
In the year 1869 the London Dialectical Society, an association of cultured liberals, embracing many well-known personages, appointed a committee to examine "the asserted phenomena of Spiritualism." The committee divided itself into six sub-committees, each of which submitted a report, and according to a general report, published in 1871, "these reports substantially corroborated each other." We may therefore quote the more interesting points from the report of one of the sub-committees:
"All of these meetings were held at the private residences of members of the committee, purposely to preclude the possibility of prearranged mechanism or contrivance. The furniture of the room in which the experiments were conducted was on every occasion its accustomed furniture. The tables were in all cases heavy dining-tables, and required a strong effort to move them. The smallest of them was five feet nine inches long and four feet wide, and the largest nine feet three inches long and four and a half feet wide, and of proportionate weight. The rooms, tables, and furniture generally were repeatedly subjected to careful examination, before, during, and after the experiments, to ascertain that no concealed machinery, instrument, or other contrivance existed, by means of which the sounds or movements hereinafter mentioned could be caused. The experiments were conducted in the light of gas, except on the few occasions specially noted in the minutes.
"Of the members of your sub-committee about four-fifths entered upon the investigation wholly sceptical as to the reality of the alleged phenomena, firmly believing them to be the result either of imposture, or of delusion, or of involuntary muscular action. It was only by irresistible evidence, under conditions that precluded the possibility of either of these solutions, and after trials and tests many times repeated, that the most sceptical of your sub-committee were slowly and reluctantly convinced that the phenomena exhibited in the course of their protracted inquiry were veritable facts. The result of their long-continued and carefully-conducted experiments, after trial by every delicate test they could devise, has been to establish conclusively,—
"First. That under certain bodily and mental conditions of one or more of the persons present a force is exhibited sufficient to set in motion heavy substances, without the employment of any muscular force, and without contact or material connection of any kind between such substances and the body of any person present.
"Second. That this force can cause sounds to proceed, distinctly audible to all present, from solid substances not in contact with nor having any visible or material connection with the body of any person present, and which sounds are proved to proceed from such substances by the vibrations which are distinctly felt when they are touched.
"Third. That this force is frequently directed by intelligence."
Of the many experiments described in this report we will quote here but one:
"On one occasion, when eleven members of your sub-committee had been sitting around one of the dining-tables above described for forty minutes, and various sounds and motions had occurred, they, by way of test, turned the backs of their chairs to the table, at about nine inches from it. They all then knelt upon their chairs, placing their arms upon the backs thereof. In this position their feet were of course turned away from the table, and by no possibility could be placed under it or touch the floor. The hands of each person were extended over the table, at about four inches from the surface. Contact, therefore, with any part of the table could not take place without detection. In less than a minute the table, untouched, moved four times,—at first about four inches to one side, then about twelve to the other side, and then, in like manner, four and six inches respectively."
The committee further remarks that after this experiment "the table was carefully examined, turned upside down, and taken to pieces, but nothing was discovered to account for the phenomenon. Delusion was out of the question. The movements were in various directions, and were witnessed simultaneously by all present. They were matters of measurement, and not of opinion or fancy. Your sub-committee have not collectively obtained any evidence as to the nature and source of this force, but simply as to the fact of its existence."
Mr. Sergeant Cox, a member of this sub-committee and a prominent member of the English bar, relates that he experimented elsewhere in the same manner as that above described, and with similar results, a heavy dining-table being employed. Afterward, when all the party stood in a circle round the table, holding hands, at first two and then three feet distant, the table lurched four times, once more than two feet and with great force, and moved to such an extent as to become completely turned round. After the party had broken up, and were standing in groups about the room, the table, which was about two feet from its original position, swung violently back to its proper place and set itself exactly square with the room, with such force as literally to knock down a lady who was standing in the way putting on her shawl for departure.
Mr. Cox, after a close examination of these phenomena, offered a theory in explanation somewhat differing from that already mentioned. He believes that they are due to the action of some psychic force, originating in the nervous system and analogous in character to magnetic attraction. He relates several instances of heavy bodies moving toward the mediums, as if attracted, and remarks, "In another experiment in my own lighted drawing-room, as the psychic [the medium] was entering the room with myself, no other person being there, an easy-chair of great weight that was standing fourteen feet from us was suddenly lifted from the floor and drawn to him with great rapidity, precisely as a heavy magnet will attract a mass of iron."
Another phase of these phenomena, as observed by the committee, was the sudden and considerable change of weight in the table, it becoming light or heavy as desired. To prove this scientifically, a weighing-machine was attached, and the change of weight clearly proved. "One instance will suffice. Weighed by the machine, the normal weight of a table raised from the floor eighteen inches on one side was eight pounds. Desired to be light, the index fell to five pounds; desired to be heavy, it advanced to eighty-two pounds. And these changes were instantaneous and repeated many times."
The most remarkable evidence adduced by scientific observers is that presented by Professor Crooks. He is a chemist of high reputation, the editor of the "Chemical News" and for many years of the "Quarterly Journal of Science," the discoverer of the metallic element thallium, and of recent years noted for his remarkable discoveries in the conditions of matter in highly-exhausted vacuum-tubes. In 1870 he undertook the investigation of Spiritualism, with the full expectation of exposing it as a compound of trickery on the one side and of credulity and self-deception on the other. In January, 1874, he published, in the "Quarterly Journal of Science," a brief compend of the notes of his investigations during the four years preceding. Some of the phenomena here recorded are so extraordinary that they would not be worthy an instant's attention but for the attestation of a witness of such standing, and one accustomed to the employment of the severest scientific tests.
The phenomena recorded, as he declares, with few exceptions, all took place in his own house and in full light, at times appointed by himself, "and under conditions that absolutely precluded the employment of the very simplest instrumental aid." In all cases only private friends were present besides the medium. The mediums employed were the noted D. D. Home and Miss Kate Fox, of Rochester-rappings notoriety. Of the simpler phenomena observed were the movement of heavy bodies with contact, but without mechanism or exertion, percussive and other sounds, etc. He remarks,—
"I have had these sounds proceeding from the floor, walls, etc., when the medium's hands and feet were held, when she was standing on a chair, when she was suspended in a swing from the ceiling, when she was enclosed in a wire cage, and when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. I have had them on a glass harmonicon. I have felt them on my own shoulder and under my own hands. I have heard them on a sheet of paper held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner. I have tested them in every way that I could devise; and there has been no escape from the conviction that they were true objective occurrences, not produced by trickery or mechanical means." Intelligence is manifested by these sounds, "sometimes of such a character as to lead to the belief that it does not emanate from any person present."
He records numerous instances of the movement of heavy bodies when not touched: "My own chair has been twisted partly round while my feet were off the floor. A chair was seen by all present to move slowly up to the table from a far corner when all were watching it; on another occasion an arm-chair moved to where we were sitting, and then moved slowly back again (a distance of about three feet) at my request."
"On five separate occasions a heavy dining-table rose between a few inches and one and a half feet off the floor, under special circumstances which rendered trickery impossible.... On another occasion the table rose from the floor, not only when no person was touching it, but under conditions which I had prearranged so as to assure unquestionable proof of the fact."
As to the power of overcoming gravity, he tested it by the use of a weighing-machine specially constructed and very delicate in its operation, being so arranged that its extremity could not possibly move downward without external pressure. Yet it did so move downward when the medium's fingers were held over it without touching it. This experiment was conducted in a way that renders it absolutely certain that some force beyond those visible to the persons present was in operation.
He also describes the lifting of human bodies without visible external aid: "On one occasion I witnessed a chair, with a lady sitting on it, rise several inches from the ground.... At another time two children, on separate occasions, rose from the floor with their chairs, in full daylight, under (to me) most satisfactory conditions; for I was kneeling and keeping close watch upon the feet of the chair, and observing that no one might touch them."
Among other strange manifestations, he positively declares that his library-bell was brought into a room in which he was sitting with the medium, with locked doors, both he and his children having seen and handled the bell a short time before in the library. Also a piece of China grass was taken from a vase on the table, and before his eyes seemed to pass through the substance of the table. Observation showed that there was a crack in the table through which it had apparently passed. But this crack was much narrower than the diameter of the grass, yet the latter showed no signs of abrasion or change of shape.
As to the intelligence manifested by this strange power he gives the following instance. A lady was writing with a planchette. "I asked, 'Can you see the contents of this room?' 'Yes,' wrote the planchette. 'Can you see to read this newspaper?' said I, putting my finger on a copy of the 'Times' which was on the table behind me, but without looking at it. 'Yes,' was the reply of the planchette. 'Well,' I said, 'if you can see that, write the word that is now covered by my finger, and I will believe you.' The planchette commenced to move. Slowly and with great difficulty the word 'however' was written out. I turned round, and saw that the word 'however' was covered by the tip of my finger. I had purposely avoided looking at the newspaper when I tried this experiment, and it was impossible for the lady, had she tried, to have seen any of the printed words, for she was sitting at one table, and the paper was on another table behind, my body intervening."
The most remarkable phenomena attested by Professor Crooks, however, are those classed as luminous appearances, and particularly as luminous hands. Some of the most striking of those may be here quoted:
"Under the strictest test-conditions I have seen a self-luminous body, the size and nearly the shape of a turkey's egg, float noiselessly about the room, at one time higher than any one present could reach standing on tiptoe, and then gently descend to the floor. It was visible more than ten minutes, and before it faded away struck the table three times with a sound like that of a hard, solid body. During this time the medium was lying back, apparently insensible, in an easy-chair."
"I have had an alphabetic communication given by luminous flashes occurring before me in the air while my hand was moving about among them. I was sitting next to the medium, Miss Fox, the only other persons present being my wife and a lady relative, and I was holding the medium's two hands in one of mine, while her feet were resting on my feet. Paper was on the table before us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil. A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and, after hovering near me for a few seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose up above our heads, gradually fading into darkness."
"In the night I have seen a luminous cloud hover over a heliotrope on a side-table, break a sprig off, and carry the sprig to a lady; and on some occasions I have seen a similar luminous cloud visibly condense to the form of a hand and carry small objects about."
These hands he claims to have frequently seen, sometimes in darkness, sometimes in light. On one occasion "a beautifully-formed small hand rose up from an opening in a dining-table and gave me a flower; it appeared and then disappeared three times at intervals: this occurred in the light, in my own room, while I was holding the medium's hands and feet."
The hand often seemed to form from a luminous cloud. "It is not always a mere form, but sometimes appears perfectly life-like and graceful, the fingers moving, the flesh appearing as human as that of any in the room. At the wrist or arm it becomes hazy and fades off into a luminous cloud.... I have retained one of these hands in my own, firmly resolved not to let it escape. There was no struggle or effort made to get loose, but it gradually seemed to resolve itself into vapor, and faded in that manner from my grasp."
We should not venture to quote these most remarkable statements but for the fact that they are made by a gentleman of such high standing for accuracy of observation, who knew perfectly well that he was imperilling his position in the scientific world and exposing himself to the contumely and accusation of loss of sanity that followed. In regard to this point it need only be said that his most valuable scientific work has been done since that period, and that his statements on scientific subjects are received everywhere to-day as unquestionably accurate and important. That he saw what he believed to be luminous hands there can be no doubt. Whether he was deceived is another question.
As to the producing cause of these manifestations Professor Crooks offers no theory. Whether the power and the intelligence displayed came from some one present or from some disembodied spirit he makes no suggestion, but simply presents the facts as evidence that there are mysteries in nature transcending any that have yet been weighed and measured, and which must engage the attention of the science of the future.
Of the other scientists named, Professor Wallace openly accepts the spiritualistic explanation of these phenomena. He has not, so far as we are aware, published any detailed statement of his investigations, though we have been told that they consisted in part in what is known as "spirit photography," or the taking of photographs of persons known to be dead, by his own private apparatus and in his own private rooms. As to the character of the results obtained by him, however, we are unable to make any statement.
Professor Zoellner also became a believer in Spiritualism, mainly through experiments with the American medium Mr. Slade. He published a work on the subject, in which he advances the theory, which has of late attracted so much attention, of a fourth dimension in space; that is, that, in addition to length, breadth, and thickness, bodies may have a fourth dimension, beyond the powers of human observation. The untying of knots in sealed ropes, passage of matter through matter, etc., he attempts to explain as possibly done by agents capable of working in this fourth dimension of matter. Science, however, is as little inclined to accept this theory as to accept that of spirit communication.
Of the American scientific observers Professor Hare is far the most noted for his critical discernment, his accuracy of observation, and his obstinate determination not to be convinced that there was anything occult in these phenomena. He was remarkably skilful in the making of scientific apparatus, and he tested the phenomena received by a series of instruments of delicate construction and capable of exposing the least attempt at fraud. Those who were present at the circles with him declare that he would frequently make his appearance with a new instrument and a face full of grim expectancy that he would now baffle the powers that had baffled him on previous occasions, and that he would retire with a countenance of settled despondency as the unseen something set at nought his deep-laid plans and secret hopes. It will suffice to say here that his experiments ended in his accepting the spiritual explanation of the phenomena and publishing a work on the subject.
The same was the case with Judge Edmonds, from whose published work we may make a few quotations, as his high standing as a jurist and reputation for veracity and legal shrewdness make him a witness whose word would be accepted without question on any ordinary subject. He gives the following strange experience: "During the last illness of my revered old friend Isaac T. Hopper I was a good deal with him, and on the day when he died I was with him from noon till about seven o'clock in the evening. I then supposed he would live yet for several days, and at that hour I left to attend my circle, proposing to call again on my way home. About ten o'clock in the evening, while attending the circle, I asked if I might put a mental question. I did so, and I know that no person present could know what it was, or to what subject even it referred. My question related to Mr. Hopper, and I received for answer through the rappings, as from himself, that he was dead. I hastened immediately to his house, and found that it was so. That could not have been from any one present, for they did not know of his death, nor did they understand the answer I received. It could not have been the reflex of my own mind, for I had left him alive, and thought that he would live several days."
Of his statements in regard to physical phenomena the following may be quoted: "I have known a pine table with four legs lifted bodily up from the floor in the centre of a circle of six or eight persons, turned upside down, and laid upon its top at our feet, then lifted up over our heads and put leaning against the back of the sofa on which we sat. I have seen a mahogany table, having only a centre leg, and with a lamp burning upon it, lifted from the floor at least a foot, in spite of the efforts of those present, and shaken backward and forward as one would shake a goblet in his hand, and the lamp retain its place, though its glass pendants rung again. I have seen the same table tipped up with the lamp upon it, so that the lamp must have fallen off unless retained there by something else than its own gravity; yet it fell not, moved not. I have known a mahogany chair thrown on its side and moved swiftly back and forth on the floor, no one touching it, through a room where there were at least a dozen persons sitting; and it was repeatedly stopped within a few inches of me, when it was coming with a violence which, if not arrested, must have broken my legs."
Of the phenomena classed under the head of spiritualistic three explanations have been offered. One is that they are purely the result of fraud in the mediums and self-delusion in the believers. A second is that they are due to some unknown law and force of nature, the physical manifestations being ascribed to a psychic energy of nervous origin, the mental to unconscious cerebration. A third explanation is that they are due to the action of disembodied spirits, who are able to return to the earth and make their presence manifest in all the methods above recounted. Of these explanations the first is that given by the general public, and particularly by those who know nothing practically about the subject, but have reached their opinions by their own inner consciousness and without troubling themselves to investigate the facts. That it does apply, however, to much of what is known as spiritual manifestations there can be no doubt. Of frauds under the name of mediums there has been an abundance. Of dupes under the name of Spiritualists there has been an equal abundance. And the tricks of false mediums have been so often detected as to throw a shadow of doubt over everything connected with the asserted phenomena. Yet that it is not all fraud has been abundantly proved by the testimony of the men above named and many others of equal powers of discrimination, and by the occurrence of numerous phenomena under circumstances that absolutely precluded deception, either in medium or audience. To these cases one or other of the second and third explanations must be given. Acceptance of the third, that they are really the work of spirits, would of course settle the whole business and explain all the phenomena in a word. But the great body of critical observers are disinclined to accept this theory, for the reason that many of the scientific class doubt the existence of any spirit beyond the earth-life, that many of the religious class question the possibility of freed spirits returning to earth, and that many of an intermediate class consider the manifestations too puerile and the mental communications given too unsatisfactory and too far below the mental calibre of the professed speakers to be worthy of assignment to any such source. These communications seem usually painted by the mind of the medium, and are often notably feeble, absurd, and valueless.
To the members of this class the second explanation is the only tenable one,—namely, that there are certain extraordinary powers resident in the nervous organism which are capable of acting in opposition to the ordinary energies of nature; that an intangible material exists outside the body and penetrates physical objects, through whose aid the nerve-power somehow operates to produce sounds and motions of bodies; that this nerve-power may act unconsciously to the person who possesses it in even a highly-developed state; that its action may be controlled by the mind, acting either consciously or unconsciously; that old and long-forgotten stores of the memory may take part in this action; and that other minds may act through the medium's mind and set in action his psychic powers unconsciously to himself.
That there is such a supersensible substance, and that the human mind has such hitherto unknown powers, is not easy to admit. And yet when we consider all the facts bearing upon the case it becomes equally hard to deny. The history of mankind is full of stories of occult operations and so-called supernatural performances. Those recorded are, of course, but the merest fraction of those that have been observed. At the present day this world of mystery seems everywhere around us. Outside of what is put on record, almost every person one meets can relate some such mysterious occurrence which has happened to himself or some of his acquaintances. That a very great proportion of this has been self-deception must be admitted. But all mankind is not blind and gullible; and if we strain these stories of the marvellous through the sieve of criticism, some considerable residuum will remain, which must be accounted for by another theory than that of delusion.
The theory above given accounts in some degree for most of the facts, though there are others which it is not easy to make fit in. Such are the instances in which information unknown to any person present has been given. We may instance the writing of the word covered by Professor Crooks's finger, and the answer to Judge Edmonds's mental question concerning his dying friend. Other striking instances of the same character might be given, some of which have happened within the knowledge of the writer. We may give in illustration the case of one gentleman, a prominent businessman of Philadelphia, who received from a medium a statement of the date of the death of a child that had occurred many years before. The gentleman denied the correctness of the date, and gave what he believed to be the correct one. But the medium insisted on the date given. On going home and consulting his family record, to his surprise the gentleman found that the medium was right and he wrong,—that the child had died on the date stated, not on that which had been impressed upon his memory.
Taking the case of mentality as a whole, it is certain that we are yet far from being acquainted with all the powers and mysteries of the human mental and nervous organism, despite all the researches of late years. Nor do we know all the conditions and capabilities of the world of matter which surrounds us, or the possibilities of intercommunication of minds without the aid of the senses. On the other hand, Spiritualists assert that we are equally far from knowing all the possibilities of spirit existence or of communication between embodied and disembodied mind. As to all this, it is perhaps best to remain in a state of suspended decision and await the results of accurate observation to settle the question definitely on one side or other. The investigation now being carried on by a committee appointed by the University of Pennsylvania, under the conditions of a bequest from the late Mr. Seybert, will, it may be hoped, tend to clear up the mystery.
THE STORY OF AN ITALIAN WORKWOMAN'S LIFE.[B]
Si, signora, there are four of us,—Fausta, and Flavia, and Marc Antonio, and I. La Mamma was left a widow when Marc Antonio was twelve years old and Fausta ten, Flavia was eight, little Teresina (who died in childhood) six, and I was only sixteen months old. All the rest can remember Babbo [daddy], and many's the time, when I was a little one, I have cried my eyes out with anger and jealousy because I couldn't remember him too. Babbo was a good man, signora. Never an angry word, La Mamma says,—not one,—in all the fifteen years they were married, and allegro, allegro (cheerful). He was a carrier, and he had only a little time at home; but then he always played with the little ones and made them happy. La Mamma loved him with all her heart; and often she says, "Ah, if I ever come to Paradise, I pray our Lord to make me find my Pietro again." Si, signora, I know our Lord said there was no marrying or giving in marriage in heaven; La Mamma knows it too; but we shall know each other, you know, up there, and our Blessed Lord is merciful, and won't part those who love each other. La Mamma says so; and I hope so, too. If ever I gain the rest of Paradise,—may our Blessed Lord and the Madonna and all the saints grant it!—I want to find my Luigi there too. Well, but I promised to tell the signora how the Mamma brought us all up on only a franc a day. As I said already, Babbo was a carrier. He did well, and sent Marc Antonio and Fausta and Flavia to school, and me to a balia in the country, and put something by besides. La Mamma was a silk-weaver,—one of the best in Florence then,—and she put by something too; for she worked hard every day. Everything went well with them until the day that I came home from the baliatico (period of nursing in the country). I was well weaned, and a strong, fine baby, and the balia was proud of me; and Babbo was so pleased to find me so well and lively that he gave the balia two francs more than he had agreed to do. But Babbo was always generous. Well, the next day La Mamma took me in her arms and went to the silk-shop where she had been at work, to see about selling her loom; for the master of the shop was old and was giving up his business and selling everything: it was just at that time that the silk-trade began to go down in Florence. When the loom was sold, La Mamma put the money in her purse, and then she went to put it in the bank, and then home. When she got into the Borgo degli Santi Apostoli she saw several people standing before our door; but she thought nothing of that, for we lived on the top floor, and there were several other families in the house. But when La Mamma came up to the door, she saw old Martia, her aunt, and Miniato, her brother, there. They were both crying.
"Oh, poverina, poverina! here she is," says Miniato.
"Madonna santissima! how shall we ever tell her?" says Aunt Martia.
"For the love of God, tell me what it is!" said poor mamma, and her heart died in her.
Well, in a few minutes, adagio, adagio, little by little, they told her how it was. Near the Porta San Niccolo a heavy load of bricks had been overturned, and poor Babbo, who was passing at the time, had been badly hurt. His fine gray mule Giannetta was killed. So two troubles came together. After a little the Misericordia brought Babbo home, and they put him in bed, and one of the Brethren stayed to watch him that night. He was badly hurt, and he never took a step again, though he lived for six months. La Mamma did her best: the weaving was over,—she could not have found much more weaving to do, even if Babbo had been able to bear the noise of the loom,—but she knitted, and sewed, and did what she could. Still, the money melted away. Babbo might have been put into a hospital, but La Mamma couldn't bear to part with him, even though he said often, as the days went on and he got no better, that he would rather go into a hospital than lie there and feel that he was eating up the little money he had put away for his wife and children. "Povera Leonora," he used to say,—"povera Leonora, who must work so hard while I lie here and play the signore!" And once or twice he cried a little. But for the most part he was cheerful and bore his pain with patience.
All the time la povera Mamma kept up her courage, and made Babbo believe that the money went three times as far as it did. But it melted away; and, the day before Babbo died, when she counted it over she knew that she had a hard struggle before her. She did not let him know it, however. He thought she had money to last for two or three months. So Easter came round, and still Babbo lay helpless and full of pain. The priest came to confess and communicate him, as he does all the bedridden at Easter-time, and that afternoon Babbo had less pain than for many a day. He kissed and blessed us as usual at bedtime, and then he told La Mamma to call him in the morning, so that he might light the lamp for her. This was because the table with the lamp stood by his side of the bed, and often La Mamma, who had to get up early, used to strike the light without waking him. "But now that I have no pain," says Babbo, "I'll strike a light for you, cara mia, so that you may have that comfort." Easter fell early that year, in March, and the weather was cold and stormy. When La Mamma woke up at four o'clock, the bells were ringing for first mass, but it was cold and dark, and a storm was raging. She could not bear to wake Babbo up, but she had promised to do so, and she had a long day's work before her and no time to lose. So she called him, very gently at first, and then louder. There was no answer, and she touched his shoulder and shook him a little. Still there was no answer, and, being frightened, she leaned over and touched his face. Povera mamma! it was cold as ice, and stiff. Then she put her hand on his heart, but it was still. She jumped up quickly, but, in her fright and grief, she could not find the matches. At last she did so, and then she saw that he was dead. Little Teresa slept between them, and he had her hand in his, clasped so tightly that it was many minutes before La Mamma could set it free. She did so without waking the child, and then she put her into bed with Flavia and Fausta, and woke Marc Antonio and sent him for the doctor. When he was gone she lighted the fire and did what she could to warm Babbo and bring the life back, though her heart told her, as did the doctor when he came, that all was over. By and by the children woke and cried, and La Mamma wondered that she could find words to quiet them, and yet she did. When everything was over and the house quiet, the poor soul felt her heart die in her breast, and would have been glad to lie down and die too; but no, she could not. She had to take out the purse and count the money again, and then she found that after buying a reserved grave for Babbo at the Campo Santo at Trespiano she would have just enough to pay the rent for the next six months. You know, signora, that if a reserved grave is not bought at Trespiano the bodies are put into the fossa comune, and that is the end. The graves are not marked. La Mamma could not bear the thought of that, and so she bought a reserved grave. Then came the funeral; and she called the children together and told them that if they each wanted to carry a taper for Babbo they would have to go without their supper that night. They were very hungry, every one, for, what with the trouble, and the care, and the sorrow of that last day, La Mamma had not been able to cook the dinner, and they had had nothing all day but a piece of bread. Ah, they were hungry! They had cried until they were tired out, and they were as empty as organ-tubes. Marc Antonio has told me many a time about it. "God forgive me," says he, "but when La Mamma said that, I felt the hunger grip me like a tiger, and the devil tempted me, and I said to myself, 'Babbo's gone to the world over there, and what good will a taper do him? He was never the one to want us to go to bed hungry as well as with a sore heart.'" But even while he thought the wicked thoughts the love for Babbo came into his heart again. He burst out crying and sobbing, and cried out, "Mamma, mamma, I don't want any supper to-night; I don't! I don't!" Poverino! he was growing and strong, and so hungry. Fausta and Flavia and little Teresa said the same, but it hurt them less, and they did not cry. And then little Teresa spoke up,—she was always as wise as a little angel:
"Mamma," says she, "the baby must have her supper, mustn't she?"
"Poverina! what would you have?" says La Mamma. "Yes, the poor baby must have her supper, indeed. She knows nothing, poor little one, of the sorrow in the house, or she would not grudge Babbo a taper any more than the rest of you."
Little Teresa smiled, "Then, mamma, I've baby's supper for her," says she. "I did not eat my bread all day, and you can have it now to make a pappa for her."
So La Mamma took me in her arms and went into the kitchen, and then Marc Antonio held me while she and Fausta and Flavia and Teresa made the pappa; and then each one took it in turn to feed me. You cannot know, signora, how often I have lain awake and cried to think that I should have been the only one of us all to eat like a pig that night, while dear Babbo lay dead in the house and the rest were sad and hungry. Pazienza! we need patience in this world, even with ourselves sometimes.
When the funeral was over, La Mamma put the house in order, and then she took out all her papers and accounts and counted over all she had. Just a little of the money that Babbo had saved was left,—enough, if she never touched it, to bring in seventy-three francs a year,—that is, twenty centimes [four cents] a day. She made up her mind that she would never touch it, so that each day, as long as we lived, we might have at least a piece of bread bought with Babbo's money. Then there was the parish, which gave her some help. The guardians of the poor widows appointed a guardian for us,—the Conte Bertoli, a good man, God rest his soul,—and he applied to the poor widows' fund for La Mamma and got her an allowance of fifty centimes [ten cents] a day until Marc Antonio should be fifteen and able to work; and then the Signor Conte himself added to that twenty centimes more, so that altogether La Mamma had a franc a day. But there were six of us. Thankful enough she was to have the franc; but still, as you may suppose, signora, she had to think a good deal and work hard to keep us. The elder children had all been put to a school near by, a nice school, but where Babbo had had to pay for them; now that was changed. Fausta and Flavia and Teresa were sent to the convent of the Doratei Sisters, and Marc Antonio to the Frate Scalopi. There was nothing to pay at either place, and the children were taught well and taken good care of. The convent of the Doratei is in the Via dei Malcontenti, and that of the Frate Scalopi in the Piazza Santa Croce. Marc Antonio and Fausta and Flavia and Teresa used to set off at seven every morning, winter and summer, and La Mamma walked with them, carrying me in her arms. She gave all the children a good breakfast of hot pappa before they set out for school, and some bread and apple, or bread and onions, in a basket, to eat at dinner-time. At night, when they came home, they had a good supper of casalingo [household, i.e., black] bread and milk. Then they were washed and put to bed; for La Mamma was very strict, and never allowed any one out of bed after eight o'clock. As soon as I was two years old I was sent to the Doratei too; and the big dark convent, with the great garden behind, is the first thing I ever remember. The good sisters were very kind to us. They taught all the older girls to read and write, and sew and knit, not only plain sewing, but fine stitching, and open-work, and fine darning, and button-holes, and lace-work, and so on. They also taught them to make beds, and sweep, and dust, and cook a little,—that is, how to make broth, and pappa, and such simple things. From twelve to two every day there was recreation. At twelve all the children, big and little, sat down to dinner in the refectory with the nuns. The nuns had their own dinner,—a very plain one always, for their rule is severe,—and the children had whatever they brought with them. If anything was brought that could be warmed over and made more nourishing, Sister Cherubina never grudged the trouble. When dinner was over we sang a grace, and then we all ran into the garden and had a good game of play. Of course the very little ones did nothing all day but play and sleep. Sister Arcangela took care of them. Sometimes on fine days the sisters used to take us all out for a walk in the country. Twice every week we had religious instruction. Padre Giovanni, our confessor, taught us everything, our Credo and Pater Noster, and our holy religion, and the holy gospel, and all the beautiful stories in the Bible, and the legends of the saints. Which of our Lord's miracles does the signora think the finest? For myself, I always liked the story of the night in which our Blessed Redeemer came to his disciples walking on the water. And then of the older stories I liked the one of poor Joseph and his brethren. What bad devils the brothers were! But God brought good out of evil, and rewarded poor Joseph, who was an angel, by making him a great king. Well, still I am babbling on and telling you about our school, and forgetting La Mamma. I told you she had a franc a day. Our rent cost a hundred francs a year. That was a little more than twenty-five centimes a day, and that left La Mamma about seventy centimes a day for food, and clothing, and lights, and so on. La Mamma worked day and night. Whenever she could, she used to sit up at night with sick people, for that was paid well,—a franc a night; sometimes in grand houses as much as two francs,—and then she could rest in the day-time when we were at school. But, whatever she did, or wherever she went, she always managed to be at the convent gate every evening at half-past five to bring us home. If by any chance she could not do that, Marc Antonio always waited for us and brought us home very carefully. He was a good, steady boy, and never stopped to play when we were with him, and always shut himself in with us at home and did his best to take care of us until La Mamma came back. God forgive me! but I used to think La Mamma very hard in those days. She would never let us go the length of a yard alone; and once when she caught me running out on the stairs to play hide-and-seek with some girls and boys who lived on the floor below us, she gave me such a slap that my ears rang again. Well, to tell truth, we had so much playing in the convent garden, and such a long walk home in the evening, that we were generally rather tired and glad to get quickly to bed as mamma bade us. She, poverina! always sat up, patching and darning, long after we were in bed, so that we might go decently to school.
I remember well the first real dolls we ever had. It was at the Feast of the Assumption, and there was a fair outside the Roman gate. Marc Antonio was to be apprenticed the next day to a very decent vetturino, and he had begged La Mamma to treat us all to some fried dumplings. We were all day at the fair, though of course we bought nothing; but it was a great pleasure to us to walk about and look at the booths full of gay things. We were nearly ready to come home, when Teresina spied some dolls and began to beg for one. She was such a sweet, good, gentle child that La Mamma could not bear to refuse her, especially as she scarcely ever asked for anything. And she seemed to have a passion for that doll, so pretty it was, all in pink and spangles. At last, as she begged so hard, La Mamma gave her ten centimes, and told her that if she could get it for that she might have it; and Teresina bargained so well that she got it for eight centimes; and then nothing would satisfy her but that we all should have dolls. It was in vain that La Mamma said no; Teresina would have her way. And so at last we all had dolls, and La Mamma, poor soul! spent thirty-six centimes! It seemed a mortal sin to her; and she has told me many a time how she lay awake that night and cried, and prayed to God and the saints to forgive her for that wicked extravagance. And yet she could not but feel glad to see how happy we all were with our dolls. And she was glad afterward for another reason, which I will explain presently. Little Teresina never went out again after the Feast of the Assumption. She was the first to fall ill, but before ten days were over we were all (all the girls, I mean,—Marc Antonio was not at home) struck down with smallpox. Teresina suffered most. I remember it well, how strange it seemed to me to hear her calling constantly for water and other things,—strange, because she was always the one who waited on the others, and never before thought of herself. La Mamma did everything for her that could be done, but she grew daily worse. Once mamma brought her doll and put it in her hands. I can see now—my bed was opposite to hers—how mamma watched Teresina, and how Teresina looked at the doll. In my own heart I thought, "Surely she will get better, now that she has her pretty doll." It seemed to me that she must do so. But in a moment she heaved a deep sigh, and said, "Too tired! too tired!" And then she threw the doll away from her and closed her eyes. La povera Mamma picked up the doll and put it away in a drawer, and then she sat still and looked at Teresina, with the tears rolling down her face. Whenever I woke up in the night it was always the same, mamma fanning Teresina or putting bits of ice in her mouth, and never moving her eyes from her, and Teresina no longer restless, but quite still,—so still that I had never seen anything like it. Quite early the next day the archbishop came to confirm her, and while I was looking at the grand robes he wore, and at the priests who came with him, and watching the lighted tapers blow about in the wind, for the window was open and there was a strong draught, suddenly I felt a pain in my head which was worse than anything I had felt before,—a dreadful pain, which made me feel giddy and confused. I felt myself sinking, and I suppose I must have cried out, for I remember that some one lifted me and put a wet cloth on my head. The last thing I saw was Teresina's pale, quiet face, with the white and gold confirmation ribbon bound about her brows. I never saw her again. When I came to myself, days afterward, the corner where her bed used to stand was empty, and I knew, without asking, that she was in Paradise.
Flavia and Fausta and I got well over it, but much disfigured, as you see; and yet God is good, and has sent me as kind and loving a husband as if I had been the most beautiful person in the world.
Well, the time went on, just as before, until Flavia was old enough to be apprenticed to Madama Castagna, the grand dressmaker. She had always been a good, steady, hard-working girl, and, thanks to the good Doratei Sisters, she sewed so beautifully that very soon Madama allowed her twenty centimes a day. She had to work from eight till eight; but of course she could not expect more than twenty centimes while she was learning.
Fausta was not so fortunate. She was a good girl, and the cleverest and quickest of us all,—yes, indeed, cleverer than I am, although the signora does think so well of me,—but she changed too often. First, she wanted to learn how to bind shoes (I forgot to say that they taught that in the convent), and so, while the rest of us were learning to sew and knit, she was binding shoes. Then, suddenly, she thought she would like to learn to weave, and she went to her godmother, the Contessa Minia, and told her so. The contessa was good and generous, and she gave her a loom, and Sister Annunziata taught her to weave. But just at the time that Fausta ought to have been apprenticed, the silk-trade, which, as I said before, had been going down for several years, failed altogether, and Fausta had to sell her loom for what it would bring. Then she thought that she would like to learn lace-mending: so the contessa got her a lace-cushion, and apprenticed her to a lace-mender for four years. Just as her time was out, poor Fausta had a bad fall, broke her right arm and injured her leg, so that for many months she was confined to her bed, and was unable to walk for more than a year. Then, as if the poor girl were destined to trouble, she must needs fall in love, and with a bad, good-for-nothing fellow. La Mamma would not consent, and we all begged and prayed her not to have him, but Fausta was obstinate, and married him. Poverina! she has had one trouble after another, and will have to the end.
As soon as I had passed my fourteenth birthday I was apprenticed to Madama. Flavia was one of her best workwomen then, as she has been ever since. After the first six months I received twenty centimes a day, and at the end of the first year thirty centimes. We went away from home every morning at seven o'clock. La Mamma gave us a good breakfast of black bread and coffee before we set out, and black bread and onions or apples for our dinner. Sometimes, instead of onions or apples, she would give us ten or fifteen centimes; and that we liked better, because then we could make a bank. Making a bank we called it when we put all our money together. Madama had then twenty-five apprentices, and at dinner-time we used to put all our money together and send out and buy something. One would buy anchovies, another ham, another olives, another cheese, and so on. There was one apprentice who always did the marketing for us. Then we used to clear the work-table and set out our food, and dine merrily enough. I was an apprentice at Madama's for five years, and then began to work for myself. If Madama had been willing to pay me a franc a day and give me my dinner besides, I dare say that I might have been there now; but she would not, and so I plucked up my courage and tried my hand alone. For some time before I left her I had been working so well, at cutting out and fitting, finishing, and so on, that she used to give me all the finest and most difficult work to do; but still she never did and never would pay me more than eighty centimes [sixteen cents] a day. None of us got more than that. What we always liked to do was to carry the dresses home, because then the ladies usually gave us something. And at Christmas, when we went to wish our patrons all happiness, we got very nice presents. One Christmas we received thirty francs. When we carried dresses home we generally got twenty or thirty centimes. That made fifteen centimes for each of us, because we always did errands in couples. One night at ten o'clock we had to go quite across Florence in a driving rain to carry a lady a ball-dress. We were dripping wet when we reached her palace, but the dress was in good order, and we hoped, considering the lateness of the hour, and the bad weather, and so on, that the lady would give us something handsome, perhaps as much as half a franc. Well, she was very glad to see us, and, after putting on the dress, she said that she must give us something. And so she did,—five centimes [one cent] to each of us! I swallowed my anger, and put the coin into my pocket, but my companion fitted hers nicely into the key-hole of the hall door as soon as it was closed behind us. "There!" says she; "now my lady miser will have to send for a locksmith, and that will teach her not to be so stingy another time." So we both ran home laughing, in spite of our disappointment. But we were not so fortunate as to get off without a scolding. The next day the lady came to Madama and complained of our impertinence. Madama scolded us a little; but when she heard what a pitiful buona mano the lady had given us, she could not help laughing herself.